Contest 14: Characters in Conflict

Conflict-1 Contest CLOSED for entries. Last date was Thursday, 26 March, 2015. If you missed this, don’t worry! Contest 15 will be coming up shortly.

Hi guys! Hope you’re doing well. After taking a couple of days off after the completion of the Mahabharat Giveaway, normal service resumes with our writing contests. The number, almost imperceptibly, has grown to fourteen. And the good thing is that it seems like we’re just starting to flex our muscles. I’ve not yet received claims from all the winners of the giveaway, so if you’re one of the winners and have not written to me yet, do so soon. If I don’t hear from you before the week is out, I will give your prize to one of the other participants. All right, let’s get down to business.

Topic

conflict-2 The topic today is something most of you will have heard at some time or the other: characters in conflict. That is only a stylish way of saying ‘people who fight’. In our lives, we spend more time in conflict than at peace. This could be inner conflict – where we think and analyze and ponder – our outer conflict – where we argue and fight and cajole and manipulate others into thinking our way (which is, of course, the right way). The conflict could be physical or mental; it could be a minor or major. Today we will write about people in stories that are being needled in some way or the other. To get your creative juices flowing, here are some prompts.

Ideas and Prompts

Here are a list of character ideas. A retiree, an amputee boxer, a ghost, your mother, butcher, prison inmate, lingerie model, painter, a real estate agent, a TV show host, a marginally famous actor, a  male model, a vampire, an alien, a newly out gay adult, a soldier, a prostitute, a mutant, a social worker, alcoholic, a prison inmate, a flight attendant, a stand up comedian, a psychiatric ward patient, your best friend, a vampire, a homeless child, space station resident, a terminally ill patient. Now the idea is that you pick any two of the above list and write a scene involving them both. Ideally you will have some conflict between the two people, and it will be either physical or emotional, internal or external. Here are a few ideas of conflict: 1. A real estate agent trying to sell a house which people think is haunted by a ghost. 2. A terminally ill patient meets a stand up comic. 3. A wrongfully accused prison inmate has a conversation with a corrupt social worker. Conflict-3 Another way of writing this is to use the ‘becomes’ word. So you’re essentially writing the story of a single person who has two or more of the above characteristics. Here are a few examples: 1. A real estate agent dies and becomes a ghost, haunting the house he wanted to sell. (Clearly I’m caught up with real estate agents.) 2. A stand up comic becomes a terminally ill patient. (Or: a terminally ill patient becomes a stand up comic.) 3. A prostitute becomes your best friend. (Or: your best friend becomes a prostitute.) As you can see, there are quite a few ways in which scenarios could be spun out of the above prompts. These specific prompts were given out by a host at one of our Write Club sessions a couple of weeks back, and we all had a lot of fun going to town with them. I’m sure you will enjoy them too.

Form

As always, you can write in any form that you’re comfortable with, be it fiction, nonfiction, memoir or poem. The only ‘rule’ is that you use two of the prompts in the list to spin a story that the rest of us would enjoy reading. The word limit is 500 words.

How do you enter the contest?

1. Join the email list by clicking on the button below. All you need to do is enter your first name and email address. Being on the list will enable me to contact you to notify you if you win, and of future contests, not to mention some great giveaways and offers I keep running. Also, I send out an email every fortnight sharing content about reading and writing. It’s a lot of fun! contest-yellow-button 2. Leave a comment to this post with your entry. If you leave two comments, they will count as two separate entries. The maximum number of entries you can submit is three. If you leave more than three comments, I won’t tell you off (I’m too nice for that) but I will only pick the first three. If this is your first time here and you’re wondering how this whole thing works, please take a look at Contest 13 and Contest 12 for an idea.

What’s the prize?

The best two entries of the contest will be given Flipkart vouchers of 500 rupees each. It looks like this: Flipkart-VoucherNo, you can’t touch it, but you can buy things – especially books! – with it. If you live outside of India, your choices are limited to e-books because Flipkart doesn’t deliver internationally (yet).

How is the winner selected?

Each comment will be rated on three things: 1. Clarity: We should understand what you’re trying to say. Good grammar and punctuation will help. So will a reasonable structure to your entry. Beginning, middle and end. 2. Personal Touch: We’re interested in getting to know you better. So go for depth, specificity and honesty. In narrative pieces, the deeper you take us with you into the scene, the better it is. 3. Beauty of the writing: Make your words sing. Give rich sensory detail. Describe well. Transport us to to your world. Be cogent, crisp and clear. The above three criteria are ranked in the order of importance. So clarity is more important than personal touch. And personal touch is more important than evocative writing.

Rules/Guidelines/Suggestions

1. The closing date for comments/entries is Thursday, the 26th of March, 2015. The winner will be announced on Sunday, the 29th of March, 2015. (Allow a day or two as ‘grace period’ in case there are too many entries.) 2. When you enter comments on this blog, you will find a separate text box asking for your email. I recommend that you enter your email into this, so that I will have a way of contacting you in case you win. Rest assured that I will not use your contact information for any other purpose, shady or otherwise. 3. Sexually explicit or offensive material will be deleted at my discretion. 4. Avoid plagiarism. I will check for it, and remove entries that I think are lifted from elsewhere.

And finally…

Have fun! If you think this is the sort of thing your friends would enjoy, share this post with them and invite them to participate. You can share it with just a click on the sharing buttons below. Images Courtesy: 1, 2, 3

Comments

  1. where do we submit the story?

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  2. When you have lived as long as I have, you learn to appreciate the finest distinctions akin to the dusk, and nightfall. The sun is brighter, and the winds are colder, reminding me that nothing is static for a second – and that thought is a beacon of escape from the quiet trappings of my own mind. As I welcome the silken darkness, the golden orb dips into the sea, bidding short farewell to me and the world. The concrete road sprawls before me like a torn gray carpet that is laid exclusively for me. The cracks on it and in my heart share an unspoken camaraderie as I absently hum a tune.

    Sniff.

    That must be sweet sage! And chamomile! I am never getting used to this feeling of feeling everything. Though sometimes I do feel like a buoy on the ocean, but at least I am not dead. Technically I am. Well, you get the drift. The affliction could be fatal,and rare, with chosen few making it to the other side. We are known as Mors, but humans have spotted us and given us absurd names like vampires/angels of the dark or even cupboard monsters! Dimwits!

    We are everything but those. And we are assigned tasks depending on how well we make the physical change, and our ability to maintain the organized chaos. I still remember the harrowed state I was in, thinking – may be being Chosen to be so is the punishment of all my sins. Eons have passed, and believe me, the pain of the affliction will make you wish you were dead. Not undead.

    Oh, I over think. Just like my Brother – the one who thinks that the task is about but giving humans a hope to live – so that they can grow and dream. He believes that being alive is about sunshine, growth, and beauty in everyone. That blithering idiot. People have always loved him more for his pace, adventures that he takes them on to, and the dreams he presents. He forgets that he was human too – once. He forgets the pain and deprivation we both went through. He forgets that we still depend on these pests for survival. He forgets.

    But I do not. Reaching to the pocket of my over coat, I take out a piece of paper. Yes, old school habit. Not that I need a paper to remind me of what I have to do.

    REBECCA MILES,
    46 B
    RISING SUN ENCLAVE,
    COBBLER STREET

    I normally use the most predictable manner for my job but sometimes, the need to change my modus operandi arises – for a sense of novelty. Even Gods cannot stop me from doing what I do. Ha! Gods. My bad. I am one now.

    The beautiful silver orb seduces the dormant romantic in me. I inhale the sweet scent of the night and focus. On her. Rebecca Miles. I reach to her dwelling in an instant and her scent deeply. Do not misunderstand me, for she is not in proximity to me, but you know? I can feel her. And smell her. And she does not smell so good. I decide to reach to her room directly. Keeping a foot on the ledge of the ground floor window, I hoist myself up on to the parapet of the first floor. Climbing feels good. Natural. I can enter her room from here. I peer in. I only just hope I don’t cause her too much pain. A journey must start with sweetness, and certainly no bitterness.

    Damn. Some feeling I detest. They distract you. I need to focus. There she lay – covered from head to toe with a cotton quilt. I make out a petite outline, as I enter the room silently. Pulling off the covers back slightly, I notice that she is the epitome of innocence. Fair skinned and fragile. But decaying. Her hair is tied in pig-tails, releasing some of the flyaway flaxen hair. My brother would have loved her – no! Spoiled her, with hopes and dreams!

    I walk easily to her bed and place a cold palm on her forehead. No, I do not use fangs this time. She looks pale and almost on the verge of giving up. I have to ensure to do it quick. As if on cue, the power fails, plunging us in darkness as she opens her soft guileless eyes to me. Something long forgotten tugs at my heart. After all, she is no more than 7 years old. Sometimes, I hate my work.

    Her reaction is very different from what I am accustomed to – shrieks and shocks. Instead, she just smiles at me.

    “Rebecca, do you trust me?”

    She nods in affirmative, almost as if she knew I was coming to take her. “Then close your eyes.” She agrees. I softly kiss her burning forehead and place my right hand above her chest. Slowly, I feel her heartbeat fade away. I exhale. In some other dimension, she could have been my daughter. I get up and turn around to leave. I feel a tiny hand slip into mine.

    “They told me Death is scary. But you are really nice.” She gives me her gaping smile. She has two missing teeth.

    “So they say, little girl. So they say.” I lift her up and float out of the window.

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    • “A fine line, that’s all it really is, isn’t it. No judgements, no labels, no finely defined and delicately worded phrases. What dictates that which literally pushes one over the edge. Is it random? Is it not? Is it pre ordained? Or is that justification something the less brave crouch behind?”
      I sat at the café, sipping cappuccino and listening to what was turning out to be an interesting conversation with an unlikely old man. He could be my grandfatherly next door neighbor, my professor from college, my day dreamer art teacher…
      I smiled and nodded, encouraging him to continue. How could I not be intrigued?
      His hesitation at asking if he be allowed to occupy the only spare stool across from mine in the crowded café, is what prompted me to welcome him into the solitude I had thoroughly been enjoying until then. I do my best thinking amidst an unknow crowd, and that’s precisely what I was doing until his arrival. He sat down, breathing hard… after all the strenuous climb up the rocky, roughly hewn stairway, up the side of this sea cliff isn’t for the faint hearted.
      He caught his breathe and waived a waiter over. “I’ll have what she’s having, young man.” I smiled.
      He caught my eye and nodded. “I really can’t afford to memorize new names, I have difficulty hanging on to the more precious of my memories as it is!”
      I nodded politely and made an effort to return to my book.
      He would have none of it. I didn’t expect his next words. “You’re reading about duality. It draws you in, doesn’t it? The inbuilt tension. The inherent conflict.”
      Now, I took a deep breathe.
      I wasn’t sure if I wanted a discussion to ensue or not. Mixed feelings began to whirl within my psyche and I then grinned at the irony: he had managed to make me feel the unresolved. So, that’s how it felt.
      He grinned now, showing tobacco stained teeth yellowed and aged.
      “You’re conflicted: should you be polite and entertain a complete stranger, or not?”
      “And you’re a mind reader, I take it?” I smiled back.
      “No, it’s just that I would have thought the same way, when I way at your age.”
      “So, tell me more” I said, “What’s been your experience with duality?”
      “All conflict is need or want driven, so is the nature of duality. It’s the need for the payoff or perception of the payoff that fuels the forces which propel and sustain it all” He paused, thanked the waiter.
      “One or two cubes?” I asked, pointing to the bowl of sugar.
      “One please. Thank you child” He nodded as I stirred it in amd then he sipped on his steaming hot cup of cappuccino. “Take me, for instance, from what profession would you guess I retired?”
      “Teacher? No! Professor” I grinned.
      “Why?” He countered.
      “It’s a vibe you give out, I guess. Along with the details… the well used sports jacket shiny at the elbows, ink stains on your palm, in a world that is usually ink free? The spectacles!” I pointed out with more glee than I should have shown.
      He regarded me with somber eyes, “Yet, I’m here on assignment. My last one really. I’m a retired hit man.”
      I shook my head in denial.
      “It’s all in the details, child” He looked at me knowingly. “You know, don’t you?”
      “This was inevitable” he gestured around.
      I nodded “This is anticlimactic, almost. I expected trouble to come in the form of someone…”
      “Younger?”
      “Yes.”
      Then his eyes brightened with enlightenment. “You said almost. ?”
      “Yes.”
      “What gave me away? I was the best in my day”
      “My gut,” I replied, as I slowly stood, a second before he keeled over, “It told me that you were conflicted about me.”
      The death throes escaped his lips as a sigh, as I shouted for help.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Good one, Vinisha. Interesting thoughts about duality and conflict woven into the story. I think this is almost opposite to what Pradeeta wrote in her piece: here I thought the story could have given us more in terms of atmosphere, the sense of place that is sorely missing. The dramatic element is great, because whenever you make two people talk to each other in fiction, some sort of drama ensues. I liked how the story ended too, with the hitman being hit. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    • This is a good piece, Pradeeta. Nice atmosphere, good build up, and a decent attempt at characterization too. What I thought, though, was that the piece was too long to be just a mood piece. While the writing was good, I kept wondering where it was going, and good mood pieces tend to let that not happen. Either the piece has to be shorter, or it has to have more dramatic elements (like movement) if you wish to keep it the same size. Simple conflict – like the vampire needing to claim her own daughter, perhaps? – will work just as easily. Some dramatic tension. Good attempt, though 🙂

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      • Thank you Sharath. I personally did feel the urge to shorten the length, but somehow went ahead with the flow. 🙂 I will certainly keep the pointers in mind next time 😀

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  3. The door bell to the mansion shrilly trings out its annoying announcement. I mentally remind myself to remove and replace it with a more mellow one. I know that’s not going to happen.
    I shuffle down the stairway, dying to yell out, “I’m coming, I’m coming, stop ringing that bell! I’m not deaf, I can hear you!” But of course I don’t.
    I straighten up and open the main door with a big grin plastered on my face… after all I’m not foolish. I need this deal to go through.
    The Moseleys stand there trying not to look awe struck. I stiffle a chuckle.
    I never have to actually seek out low lives to con: their greed talks them into it, leaving me, guiltfree!
    Despite the Armani suit, Hermes couple watches and the Versace dress, they ogle the height and stained glass ceiling of the foyer.
    I smile and nod them in encouragingly. They barely notice me. I don’t utter a word, letting them take it all in.
    I feel the lure of the house now as I did the first time I clapped eyes on it. It seeps into the pores of their ambitions, as it once did into mine. I look at it anew, through their eyes: magnificent!
    Unreal. Larger than life.
    They’re beyond excited. Running greedy hands along the finely burnished teak of the banisters as they rush up the stairs. I leave them to it.
    Minutes later they walk back down, out of breathe from exploring and discussing, deciding and planning.
    We’ll take it, they say. Draw up the deeds.
    I nod subserviently.
    Let’s do this!
    I glide past and open the door for them.
    They grin at each other maniacally, thinking that they eon the lottery… so what if it was a distress sale? They never belived in superstitions anyways.
    They walked away, never really realizing that not once had my feet touched the ground.
    Not one word had I spoken.
    Yet again, the house had sold itself.

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  4. She looked at the organized chaos around her, then out of the highly narrow, grilled, soundproofed windows of the ward and finally exhaled. How strange that this place above all others seemed more like home to her than the one to which she had inherited the title deeds.
    Here she found her peace, and her churning thoughts quieted. Ironic really, given that intermittent screams pierced the air with disquieting regularity.
    For this was as honest as you could get: here was the place where the walls came down, and more importantly stayed there.
    She welcomed this for at least it was manifest; no hidden agendas, no drama.
    No gambling fathers, no tearfully fretful mothers, no demanding, ambitious fiancés.
    No demands, emotional or mental.
    Then, despite her current state of mind, or probably because of it, she grinned: anyone seeing the real her would be challenged to state if she was an inmate or their psychiatrist!p

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  5. Isha has just entered the green room to change into a flashy gown which was suggested by her designer Sabi for receiving the award. She had defeated all other contestants for second time to wear the sash with the words “Best Lingerie Model of the Year “. The room was very hot as if there are so many focus lights watching her along with shadows of audience. She always has the haunted feeling when ever she enters the green room.

    Is Sabi hiding behind the mirror? she prayed to god as she walked towards the mirror to checkout. She felt so relieved when the place was just filled with some papers those are used to decorate the ramp platform. ” Just 6 minutes to get yourself on the ramp , Isha” Sabi’s voice was heard from outside the room. Isha could feel the state of relief and security when she realised for sure that Sabi was not anywhere in the room. She quickly moved towards the door to lock as she picked her gown from the hanger.

    Isha locked the door and turned back to walk towards the mirror. Isha’s heart beat did take a pause before it started pounding when she saw Mihila approaching her from opposite side.”When did you come in here? And why?” Isha frowned at Mihila. “You very well know that I am always with you. Why do you ask the same question to yourself?”Mihila replied looking straight into Isha’s eyes. Isha did not respond but kept staring right into her eyes.”So you went to Sabi’s home last night just to win this award, right? I had already told you to take up that as your full time profession. You will get more money and less false accolades.” Mihila said with eyes wide open and raised eyebrows to make an attempt to convince Isha. There was almost a grin and same enthusiasm in Isha’s face but was quickly cloaked by her sharp and angry stare.

    “I do not want this topic to be discussed again.Just try to love me as I am now. Please do not encourage me to become our colleague. Don’t you think we have lot of good memories to be discussed and giggle over? Why do you hover on this all the time?”
    “Because it will be easier for you to be what you really are.And it is not good for you act in your real life. You know that you are already half prostitute and…”
    “Shut up, I am not you. I am a model and paving a way only to become a top model.And…” Isha could not talk beyond that and gulped before she pursed her lips just in the way Mihila has done just before.
    ” But we chose the same thing,selling our flesh.And you are contesting in a competition with your work done in another field. Isn’t it cheating?”Mihila showed her teeth while she gave a sarcastic smile.
    “Do not preach me the values.You are the one who ruined the reputation of our family.” Isha also gave a mocking smile same as Mihila’s.
    “Yes, you may think so, but you know the circumstances that shoved me into this profession. I wanted to win some food but you wanted awards and recognition.Those are deprived from the most eligible models”
    “It is time for me.” Isha said while running one hand through her hair and giving a disapproved stare.
    “I do not want you have a split personality,Isha. It is good to have single opinion rather than two souls.I want us to be together all the time, till we die.”
    Isha did not pay much attention to the last words but she can hear the campaigner’s breaking voice from the stage amid the cheering audience ” Let us.. welcome.. Best Lingerie Model ..of …the year, Miss Isha Mihila..aaa.!!!”
    Isha made her spine straight to take one more glance at the mirror before she leaves to the ramp.She stood up and turned back towards the entrance. Mihila as well turned back and departed in the opposite direction without uttering a bye.There is no sound in the room other than the rhythmic high heels’s steps.She left for ramp to wear the sash
    ” BEST LINGERIE MODEL OF THE YEAR ISHA MIHILA”.

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    • Hi Yaswanth! Welcome to the blog, and thanks for sharing your story with us. It has some interesting elements to it, the split personality, one of which is a ‘respectable’ woman and the other who is a prostitute not comfortable in her own skin. I think this story would have much more effective if you use this entry as your first draft, and then write subsequent drafts, adding layers of subtlety to it, where the dialogue is a bit more cryptic and less direct, leaving enough hints to the reader as to what is happening. I think if you do that, it will be a much stronger piece. Most likely it will be shorter than this one too, but it will be stronger for sure 🙂

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  6. Atika Srivastava says:

    *The Search*

    “Sure, why not?” She hears these words and smiles, “Thank you!”

    I don’t smile back. I can’t smile. She enters inside my one room house and is dazzled.

    “The weather here is so strange. No humans, no animals. Only some bare trees around.” She says, sitting on the wooden cot kept near the entrance. I felt the chilly breeze of the winter evening ruffle though my wee room. I pull the white cloth hanging near the window and start wiping the floor. I know I should have done this cleaning earlier but procrastination. I rub the floor harshly, almost aggressively. My eyes capture a nose ring lying underneat the cot. Her beautiful face appears before me.

    “Are you a painter?” Her voice breaks thru the gusty wind. I love this cacophony.

    “Part-time.” I husked. I sprinkle some water over it.

    “Oh, nice. Don’t tell me that you live here! I’m Sia by the way, a student of DU. I was with my friends but I lost my way and this car broke down. Where do you live?” She flashes a toothy smile.

    I live here. Alone. And yes there’s no one around. People seldom come here. It’s peaceful.” I get up. The cloth has soaked blotches of red. I look at her. She’s looking outsidete window. Her face is placid, I feel captivated. I shake my eyes off her.

    “Keys?” I say for the third time. She glowers at me, blankly. I repeat again, louder this time.

    “Oops! Angry young man!” I hear her murmuring those words under her breath. I stare at her. She bites the tip of her tounge. Angry? I was known to be the most cheerful boy in my college. But the life isn’t a bed of roses. I move the screw driver on the silvery nut and dive into past. I’d freshly entered into college life when my parents died. I fell into a deep abyss, and fnnally landed amidst a labyrinth, hard on the rocks. I prayed extensively to the deaf heaven. A ray if hope was once what I needed the most. I was stuck betwixt icy earth, teal ocean, and soft clouds. I was mu…

    Her voice brings a halt to my chain of thoughts, dragging me into the present. “Hey, what has happened?”

    I sprinkle some water over the complex network of the engine. I close the engine with a echoing bang sound, “Nothing. It’s hot. Will cool down in an hour or two.”

    She silently thanks the lord above. I move inside again. Her eyes fall on the wild flowers blooming at the entrance. She picks them and and gets involved with them. I go past the mirror, fixed on the wall left to the closet. In the mirror, I can see my well-built body. The mirror forms Sia’s image, too. Oh, so she’s here! I turn back towards her. She’s awe-struck. The color of her rosy cheeks turns pale. This is an inexorable reverse action of anyone who sees my reflection upon the mirror.

    Petrified, she moves back.

    “Who… are… Lea… ve…” She’s hyperventilating. A droplet of sweat rolls down her left temple. I can’t sweat. She faints. I hold her by her waist and glower at her face. I wish…

    Buds of anger bloom inside me and I break her head off her body, in a stroke. I keep the body underneath the cot. I’d dump it later. With her head in my hands, I draw near to the closet. I’ve nine heads.

    Fifteen days later…

    I hear a horn blowing outside. As I close the closet, a lady in her mid-twenties enters. She has hazel eyes. I move towards her, crossing the mirror. I stop for a moment to check myself. It displays a well-built body, a man with no head. Yes, I’ve no head. Three months back, my uncle tore my head off my body in this wood. Ever since then I live here. People can stoop so much low for money, isn’t it?

    “My car is acting up, I guess. The area is out of network coverage. Can you… help me… please?” She pants.

    I’m searching for a head to fix it above my body. Will your head help? When shall you come?

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    • Hi Atika! Looks like the ghost and the house prompt became a popular one. I liked this piece, reminded me a lot of that old Ram Gopal Varma movie, Kaun, which was not about a ghost, but still…The touch I found was original in your story was that the ghost has no head, and I would have loved maybe one paragraph of description where the uncle is cutting off the boy’s head, or some back story of the ghost. Would have been nice. Like the ending as well, where the reader gets a chill. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  7. Zinnia Sengupta says:

    As his last days creep slowly, yet surely closer, Mr. Smith contemplates conflict. What is conflict? He asks himself. A few moments of pondering bring him the conclusion. Conflict is his own body fighting against itself. It’s his cancer cells versus his healthy cells. It is a battle inside his very own body where neither can live while the other survives. A patient diagnosed with schizophrenia walks into his ward one day. “Excuse me, sir. What is conflict?” Mr. Smith asks.

    Wahid pauses at the question. The answer floats into his mind, a jarring crack in the middle. “Conflict is my own mind splitting into two clashing, yet somehow merging parts. It is being a different person in the morning and a whole new stranger at night. Conflict is the shards of glass puncturing my brain and fragmenting it every single moment.” Wahid meets his social worker the next day and poses her a question. “What is conflict, Mrs. Rao?”

    The 52-year old veteran had thought she had heard it all. Until now. She blinks. “Conflict is the intense, burning need to help each one of you souls in pain and being able to help but a few. Conflict is being torn between a homeless child and an alcoholic. Conflict is the torturously restricted human capacity to help.” That evening, she has an appointment with her current client, an alcoholic.

    “I have a question for you, Mr. Singh. What is conflict?” The old man wearily rubs his eyes, thinking. “Conflict is alcohol. It is that little niggling voice in your mind urging you to put the damn glass down and get back to your worried wife while your tongue calls out for another drink. Conflict is the look on your kid’s face as he struggles to keep his smile on when you walk in the next day.” Later that night, Mr. Singh drunkenly stumbles into a prostitute’s waiting arms and mumbles, “What is conflict, Rosie?”

    Rosie is slightly surprised, to say the least. Stroking his brow, she whispers softly, “Conflict is a choice, darling. It is choosing between a penniless existence and a soulless existence. Conflict is whether that dirty old alcoholic picks my friend or me.” A few weeks later, Rosie’s client is a young soldier, fresh from the border. “What is conflict, Raj?” she asks him.

    The man’s eyes are dead. He chokes out a few words. “Conflict is war. Conflict is ignoring your best friend’s pleading eyes as you abandon him to save your own life. Conflict is your pathetic attempts at normalcy when all you want to do is put a bloody bullet through your head.”

    Raj is staring at a flickering candle in his dark, empty room. “What is conflict?” he asks the thin air.

    “Conflict is limbo. Conflict is being hopelessly stuck between two worlds. Conflict is me, Raj.”

    Raj looks at his best friend’s bitter smile and grins.

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  8. The handsome young man stood at the entrance, with searching deep-blue eyes. He found her seated on a lonely table by the pool, fiddling with the giant solitaire on her ring finger. His black eyes twinkled.

    He wanted to hold her… and then walk away; he wanted to kiss her… and then bid goodbye; He walked unhurriedly, diligently shooing away negative conversations from last few meetings. As he parked himself across her, they gushed back with a sharp blow in his abdomen, preparing him for another one.

    “You are late,” she greeted, staring hard at him.
    ‘I am sorry’ his mind whispered, “I know” his childish arrogance blabbered, his red eyes staring back at her.
    He counted, 1…2…3…
    “Uzwen, I can’t take this anymore,” she began. “This relationship is a sham. I cannot rot in false hope of a fruitful future. It’s over.”

    “Lillian… I love you. Every year, those six months of separation only get me closer to you. I dream of your eyes, the eyes that light up at the sight of full moon. I dream of your soft hands intertwined with mine, your warm kiss on my forehead and your enchanting voice. I dream of a perfect homo… I dream…”
    “Hang on. It isn’t homo you idiot. Home. H-O-M-E.” Her laughter rang like a love song in his ears. His smile was the brightest star she saw that night.
    “Lillian… I know you love me too and that this long distance is killing you… again. But we can work this out”

    “”Uzwen! By long distance you mean five thousand light years! “
    “Shhh!! Keep your voice down.”
    She continued in a subdued yet hurried tone, “Am married to an alien for heaven’s sake! This is the fourth and final year of your stupid research. After that, what? How will you manage to sneak out of your planet?”
    “Honey, I shall take you with me. You will love my fellow creatures. The femaliens there aren’t half as gorgeous as you are. You shall be the Queen Bee Alien of Zuemzoo”

    “Seriously! What was the topic of research in your second year?”
    Uzwen looked down, his eyes turning a dull grey.
    He answered in a low grumble, “Ghosts don’t exist on Planet Earth. They are just hallucinations of feeble minded earthlings who writhe and rot in their lowly lives.”
    “And you are married to a damn ghost! What about all the hard-earned respect? What if they expel you? I don’t want to be the reason for any sorrow in your life”

    Uzwen stared at her with questioning brown eyes. “Oh sorrow.. LOL. I was confused with burrow. Emotions… duh! ”
    “Love is an emotion too.”
    “A happy one. Lillian… You are my… what you call on Earth as destiny. Let’s live at the moment. Everything shall fall in place. Look, I brought something for you.” He handed over a red box.
    She opened it cautiously, and cheered up instantly. The human eye pendant hanging on a silver chain made her night.

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    • Hi Sahiti! This one began well. I thought the first three lines were very good. Then it sort-of started to fall away a little, with details getting mixed up, and a certain lack of focus that seemed to spring out at me. I liked the concept of the story, a long-distance relationship across the galaxy, and perhaps this will be a good longer story. You should develop it further and see where it goes. Loved the character of the alien as well, where he keeps jumbling up words and emotions. Must make for an interesting relationship 🙂 And the research about ghosts also is a good concept. You should develop this further. Let’s talk. Thanks for sharing!

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  9. Zinnia Sengupta says:

    You need to get out more, Rihaan, his ma always tells him. Little does she know just how real that need is, he thinks with a wry smile.
    He has known he was gay ever since Aryan Sharma had smirked at him in 9th Std and Rihaan’s stomach had suddenly turned into a butterfly conservatory.
    Tons of websites and discussion forums and Youtube videos later, Rihaan had realized that it was high time he came out of the proverbial closet. But the closet was just so bloody comfy, dammit. Not to mention delightfully free of parents or friends or the quintessential Indian relative.
    But the conflict, oh the conflict. He is living a dual life. Rihaan-the-straight by day and Rihaan-the-gay by night. For it is at night, that he gets to talk with the people who truly understand him and feel his pain. Who knew virtual friends would turn out to be so much more useful than his shitty real-life ones.
    And his parents? What would they say? Rihaan’s intestines twisted sharply every time he thought about the look on their faces when they would find out that their only son is gay. Heck, why couldn’t he just be an ordinary ol’ druggie? He’s beginning to think that his parents would take the news of him being a cocaine addict much better than that of him being homosexual.
    That’s it, he decides. He is going to just man up (oh, the irony) and spit it out. Whatever happens, at least he would be rid of the damn conflict. And start his life afresh.
    His parents are watching TV downstairs. Rihaan breathes in as much air as his lungs can hold and walks towards them.
    “Ma. Baba. I’m gay.” he exhales quickly.
    His mother looks away from the television, stands up, and crushes him with the force of her embrace.
    “Why did you wait so long, son?” she whispers, stroking his hair gently.
    As Rihaan struggles to hold the tears back, he feels a warm, strong hand on his shoulder. Baba.
    “We know, Rihaan.” comes his father’s gruff voice. “We’ve always known.”
    Maybe the closet wasn’t quite as nice as he’d thought, Rihaan thinks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Zinnia. This has some beautiful lines to it. I loved the ‘butterfly conservatory’ line, it made me chuckle. And the description of the closet too, as something nice and warm and comfortable. We all live in closets of one kind or the other, don’t we? And it’s always so terrifying opening that door to peek outside. I did not expect the parents to be so understanding, and the sober ending to the piece was at odds with the general witty tone that came before it. But still, I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  10. HE LOVES ME NOT

    Priya loves me and I like her back.
    When we met, we were both nursing broken hearts (my grandpa had passed away) in the university library. Our remedies matched, as did our demands for Stephen King’s latest.
    I’d got one hand on the last copy when she turned the corner into ‘Fiction’, halting just in time to prevent a calamitous introduction between her face and my chest. She was panting, each breath creating a disorderly cadence; her tears were keeping time.
    There were no two ways about it (and I’m proud that I knew this): I let her take the book.
    She must have smiled; I can’t tell, because I was distracted by a dot of dampness on my right shoulder (residual matter of inertia, no doubt). By the time I looked up, all that was left of her was a lingering fragrance of body lotion and a distant jingling of anklets.
    Four days later, she ran into me on the same aisle. She was panting this time as well; but her eyes were smiling.
    “Hi! I saw you from over there,” she said, letting her hand finish the sentence.
    I took a moment to think about what to say. I wanted to sound smart. It had to be snarky, but something capable of forcing a laugh too. Perhaps even an innocent bit of bungling. But also something dignified; something worthy of how enamouring she was. So — mustering all my tact — I said, “Oh.”
    “I wanted to thank you for letting me take the book. That was nice of you. As you could probably tell, I was having a bad day.”
    “Oh. No problem.”
    “Maybe I can return the favour…buy you lunch some time?”
    The following week, we spoke about our first encounter over a lunch I insisted we split the bill for. The reason she was panting was because it was a ritual for her to finish each visit to the library as quick as possible, lest she hang about all day. And the reason she was crying was because her then-boyfriend, Prateek (‘two Ps in a pod’, they joked), had moved to Scotland.

    *_*_*

    Three years on, and I’m her now-boyfriend. When I return from my morning runs, Priya isn’t around to greet me but there are always three dosas and a full glass of avocado milkshake. I drive her home from class in the evenings; the passenger seat recline indicator shows 32 degrees and rarely changes, calibrated to perfection for all 5’3″ of her. We don’t have a superficial moniker to joke about and we’re not drawn to documenting our every moment like other couples around us. In many ways, it is a satisfyingly adult relationship. I just wish I still loved her.

    I’m leaning against the staircase railing outside the library right now. Apart from endorsing the winter, the steel is being a conduit for a lawnmower’s low buzzing. I almost miss the vibration in my pocket because of it. It’s a text message. It’s Prateek.
    Priya walks out of the library, with trademark long steps. She’s at the bottom of the stairs before I know it and has her arms around me. Her face and my chest have also benefited from that day three years ago.
    “Prateek texted, he’s just around the corner.” I’m not too happy about it, and I fear it shows.
    “That’s awesome!”
    But is it really, I want to ask her. Why are we meeting this fellow for the THIRD time this month? Prateek, with his messy hair and his chiselled jaw line, his studly frame and that ridiculous Scottish lilt. Honestly, who acquires a new accent when they’re old enough to marry? I do not like that he’s just around the corner. He’s always just around the corner, ready to jump us with his smile and his expensive cologne. So is it really that awesome, Priya? For us to have this pretentious friendship with your ex-boyfriend?
    As we’re walking to the theatre, I realize her arm is wound around mine but it’s only winter that I’m really feeling. I can’t help but think that the past month is the reason for my dwindling appreciation of Priya. There was no need to greet him at the airport; in all fairness, if I’d known he’d be such a trespasser, I wouldn’t have gone. But I had to do it under the pretext of politeness, like I’m doing now. For Priya, who I’m so angry with.
    “There you are!”
    It’s the familiar deep baritone of our antagonist. Priya unwinds her arm and gallops towards him. His arms embrace her. He greets me from above her shoulder with flexed biceps and a broad grin.
    I no longer feel the winter; just a pulsating want to take Priya’s place in his arms. Priya, who loves me, but with whom I am only madly in like with; because life has made it so that I will never be attracted to her again. And it’s all Prateek’s fault.

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  11. Stray pieces of paper hovered in mid-air. A couple of liquid droplets looped around his forehead and went on to collide with the first thing that came their way. The zero gravity created a stillness in him that belied the agony that his mind was going through. Sunlight streamed in through little round glass windows and refracted off the Space Station inner walls, giving everything a sepia tinge. He liked it – not colour, not black-and-white, but sepia. Out of the corner of his eyes, a single workstation monitor glowed detachedly. And numerous red lights went off everywhere, oblivious to the fact that no one over there cared any more.

    Should I?

    His thoughts travelled a thousand kilometers, back to home.

    Or should I not?

    Just then, Blake floated in through the control chamber. “C’mon buddy”, he said with a grim smile. “I’ve received information that your family is on. And you’ve got roughly four minutes.”

    He returned the smile and made his way through to the workstation monitor that just had a blinking green blip.

    “Any moment now buddy”, Blake chipped in from behind. “So, are you gonna tell them?” he added after a pause.

    “I think I have to, Blake.”

    “Good for you, buddy. See you on the other side.” He disappeared back into the control chamber.

    The screen flashed white and then, without warning, there he was – Jacob. The latest memory of his son was still of a school-going kid. But the Jacob in front of him was anything but. It’s funny how fast kids grow in their teenage. The screen had a lot of static and he had to squint his eyes to search for his wife. But no, it appeared that it was just Jacob out there. There was no one along with him.

    “DAD? IS THAT YOU!?,” Jacob’s voice was screechy, his eyes red. “Your video is breaking.”

    “It’s me, son!! How have you been?”

    “I’ve…” He paused and turned aside for a moment. When Jacob faced the screen again, he appeared crestfallen. “How much time have you got?”

    “Four minutes”

    “No, how much time have you got? They’re not telling me anything here.”

    “A couple of days and then…and then we’re gonna run out of oxygen.”

    “That’s just….” Jacob broke off again.

    “I’m sorry, son. I know it’s horrible to even think of my situation right now. But some things are never going to be in your control and this is one of them. How I wish I could make this easier on you and your mother.”

    “So you’re all just gonna simply die? There’s absolutely nothing you can do?”

    “They can’t get us back to Earth, you would have read it in the news. We don’t have enough power.”

    Jacob shook his head. Did he see tears?

    “Where’s mum? There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you both. To be honest, I did not expect you to be here.”

    Jacob gave a puzzled look.

    “Well, I thought you hated me.”

    “I did, once. But you were just doing your job. And I’ve realized how foolish I’d been. Wish you were back here with me, dad.”

    Should I?

    Or should I not?

    “Where’s Lizzy?”

    “Mum died.” Jacob said bluntly. “Two weeks ago. Car crash. I’m very sorry, dad.”

    “NO! That’s not true….”

    “I’m sorry, dad.”

    It felt as if his brain stopped functioning. All that came up was emptiness. Nothing he could say would ever even come close to describe how devastated he felt.

    The price of you being a space-walker. Your son is going to be an orphan. A son you wouldn’t have had, had you been brave enough.

    “Dad, I know you feel terrible for me. I am scared too. But I’m gonna be – ”

    The screen went blank then. He still stared at it fervently, hoping he would see Jacob again. But he never did. His four minutes were cut short.

    I’m gay, son.

    The words never came out. His wife never knew. And his son would never know. It was the last thing he wanted to get off his chest before he died. But it felt like it didn’t matter any more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This one! 😮
      Amazing, man!

      Like

    • Hi Uday! This is a good one. Starts off with good atmosphere, and I thought it built up well right to the end. I did think that killing the mom off was probably not necessary, because it added another strand that diluted the effect of Blake coming out. It would have been better, I think, if you had focused completely on Blake coming out being the main point of the story, and if you had kept the mother alive, and Blake is basically talking to his son and his wife for the last four minutes about this and that. And yet, underneath, he is thinking whether he should or shouldn’t. And then, finally, you can reveal it at the end. I just think that the death of the mother acts as a distraction here, where you already have enough dramatic elements to play with. Perhaps write that one and send it to me, and I will have another read? Thanks for this, though. It’s very good 🙂

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      • Thanks Sharath. Now that you mention it, it does seem like a better version of this story. Probably I felt like I needed a strong reason why he wouldn’t be able to come out to his family, so used the Mom’s death as a prop. I should probably make this a longer piece, make it first person (?) and keep the Mom alive 🙂

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