OFFICIAL EVENT ☼ Tales From Iwaku: Summer 2022 (Entries + Reading Call Date!)

Added to Calendar: 09-30-22


in the name of whoever you believe you need
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Romance, modern, high fantasy, comedy, post-apocalyptic.
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Welcome one and all to the third TFI!
I'm so happy to get this going and show off all the talent that Iwaku members have to offer. The submission period has ended and we have multiple cool reads for you to peruse! The three winners will choose between our selection of prizes, including copies of Nickelodeon All Star Brawl, Suzerain or digital commissions from either me or fellow member @riise!

As a reminder, this TFI's themes were:
- rebirth
- temptation
- irony

Don't forget to join the Iwaku Discord server in order to attend the live reading and discussion of these pieces on Friday, September 30th at 6 PM CST. The winners (chosen by our judging panel, featuring @Nemopedia, @Dusk and I) will also be announced during the call.

Before you start reading and giving feedback, please remember that this is not meant to be a thread where we viciously attack people's writing. Criticism is allowed as long as it is constructive and not an attack on the writer themselves. Let people know what they did right (they were brave enough to share their writing with us, after all!) and if there's anything that you think they could improve on, but do so in a respectful way! Here are some possible questions you can answer with your reflections on each submission:
- Are the themes apparent in the piece? Do they fit well?
- What struck you about the writing style?
- Did it surprise you at any point? Is the interpretation original or unique?

Please avoid assigning number or letter grades to submissions, since they are not only completely subjective, but they don't really add anything to your critique of anyone's work.

Without further ado, here are the submissions!

Salvation with a Dash of Snake Oil
By: @TerraBooma

Word Count: 1245
Chosen theme(s): Rebirth, Temptation
Chosen format: Short Story

“You know if you sign that card, you’re going to get yourself killed, right? Lexi, listen to me. It’s a bad idea. You don’t know what these guys are capable of.”
Ray’s caution was like a tic, digging into her side. Pulling her down. She wanted to scrub him off and never think of him again. But unlike tics, there was something far more sinister about Ray.

Sometimes, when she was at her lowest point; he had the gall to pull her back up.

It was the start of summer; the best time of year to get yourself into the worst time of your life. Alexis had quit her shitty job, and thrown her jerkwad of a manager a mean right hook for all the times that he’d dared to make some comment or other about her body. She’d dumped Daniel; he’d only been using her to get to Clarice anyway. But it somehow still stung like a betrayal.

So there she was. Sitting in a booth next to the dingiest diner in town, pounding back her third coffee with the last dollars of her ever shrinking bank account. But it wasn’t the bitter taste of burnt caffeine that kept her fixed to her seat, staring at the back of the crisp smelling office cardstock that promised to change her future.

Caduceus Corporation. Speedy Delivery to your New Life.

She could remember it all, the dingy smoke in the bar as she drank her life away. The snake’s words. Honey on her ears. It was probably all lies, but did it matter? Like the twin adders snaking around the staff on the card, the Snake promised to ferry her off to somewhere the pains of today weren’t digging into her heart and leaving jagged scars.

Work. Daniel. A note for her mom and dad. It had all been so easy. Cancel the cards, end the accounts. Caduceus Corp would take care of the rest. She’d sign the card. The Snake said he’d know when, and then Alexis wouldn’t be.

But then Ray had found her;

Kind, honest, always supportive Ray.

His venom was the sweetest kind of agony; short, honest, and full of optimism.

“I know it’s been rough, but we’ll find a way to pull through this. I…listen, Danny was a jerk anyway, you can find a new job! Think of the good stuff, right? Your sister’s going to graduate soon, isn’t she? I know you want to be there for that.”
Shut up. Shut Up. Dammit, Ray, shut up. She didn’t want to think about Cheyanne. She was just 14. She didn’t know how bad the world was going to be. It’d take a few years, but she would understand.

“She’s a big girl now.” She snapped. Breaking heartstrings powering her vitriol. “It’s just moving to high school. Besides, it's not like she’s ever had my back.”

“Lexi, c’mon. You know better than that. She’s barely a teen. She doesn’t know anything. But she has your back when it counts. Remember Prom? She helped you wash your hair after you got egged.”

Memories flooded her mind. Soft words, compliments of her dress. It was a sweet memory. Chey had been so jealous of her dress. Such a beautiful emerald, it had made her so happy…

And then it’d all been ruined. Heather thought she was making a move for her man, and the “pranks” had started. Spilling punch on her dress. Throwing dirt on her name, and when that hadn’t been enough to ruin her dream night, Heather had finally just dumped the punch on her head and thrown some eggs on her face. Even if she knew she had the ‘high ground’, it didn’t change the feeling of cold juice running down her legs. The squelchy, moist feeling of egg drying in her hair, ruining all the hard work that she’d spent putting herself together. Mascara ran down from tears as she fled from the venue feeling as small and useless as ever.

Even her good memories were steeped in suffering and pain. There wasn’t anything worth holding onto here. Not now, not ever. Better then to make fresh. Get a new start and find a new life.

“She was joking about it just a few weeks later. She didn’t care how I felt. How angry I was. No. If she was worth sticking around for, then she’d have done anything else.”

“Hey, that’s not- Okay, fine. But…if you won’t stick around for your family. What about me? I’ve had your back since grade 3 Lexi. We’ve gone through worse than this. We’ll get through it again.”

And for once. Ray was right. Memories flashed through Alexis’ mind like a prism catching sunlight. The one warm spot in her life. When she fought against her bullies in grade four, he’d helped and spent detention with her. When she was getting over her first breakup, he’d been there, ice cream and rom-coms in hand. When Heather dragged her name through the mud, he was the first one to stick up for her. Risking high school defamation in the name of having her back. He’d been loyal time and time again. Kind; time and time again. A true friend, every step of the way.

The only thing worth sticking around for.

But was it enough?
She closed her eyes. The young woman weighing the scales of a new life. A new city, a new world. She could find some different path, leaving her family behind. Never have to worry about that shitty job or Heather or what she was doing ever again. On the other hand; Ray. Warmth. The comfort and temptation of everything good that she already had. Chey was young, but she might turn into a real friend as they grew older. She was already kind. Ray had always been kind. This life, it still had kindness.

That kindness was the sweetest form of venom. Pooling in her legs, anchoring her on the spot and rooting her in this tumultuous pond even as the waters rose around her.

It wasn’t a new life. That siren call had a far stronger pull for the disillusioned young woman. No matter what sweet poison Ray tried to peddle her way. He’d just have to get over it too. They’d all get over her someday.

She stopped listening to Ray. Proclaiming something about their friendship, about building something new, finding a new job. She tuned him out like bad white noise as she swiftly signed the card. There was a soft green glow on the edges; she didn’t question it. Like a dose of morphine, the finality tuned everything into a blissful unfeeling abyss. She looked across the booth.

He was objecting.

She stood up.

He was pleading.

She walked away.

She didn’t look back.

As Alexis walked outside and to the street; the warm sidewalk radiating the heat back up at her like a red carpet to hell, she didn’t have to wait more than five minutes before a large black SUV pulled up beside her. It was the kind the villains always rolled around in in action films. The vehicle rumbled to a stop next to her. A snake in a man’s body rolled down the window, looking at her through the hollow veneer of mirrored glasses. She could see everything she hated looking into those mirrored eyes.

The Snake smiled.

She got into the car.

And that was the end of Alexis Montoneé.

Word Count: 1061
Themes: Rebirth/Temptation/Irony (really tried to hit all three marks, let's see if I pulled it off)
Chosen Format: Short Story

Trigger Warnings: Suicide and Self-Harm, potentially, though... not in the sense one usually thinks of when considering these. I tried to make that less intense, hopefully it doesn't bother anyone. Still, fair warning.

“Look, we’ve finally found it! It’s… somehow smaller than I thought it would be…”, a woman managed to exclaim as she gathered up her reserves of strength to trot up a dune of dark red sand, between buildings long ago abandoned, from which rusted pillars of metal that could have once been called street-lamps sprouted like artificial trees. There, at the very top of the dune, glowing in the darkness of a city that had gone entirely silent centuries ago, sat a small sapling. A plant so small and innocuous one would easily miss it were it not for the fact that not a single other plant existed in this barren waste anymore. The woman and the man who followed behind her had traveled vast swaths of wasteland and ruined cities just like this one, and clawed for survival in the interminable amount of time it had taken to reach this point. They were the last living beings in this world. However, they were called to it, not born from it. This world had called them here to begin the process of its rebirth…

She and the man she had come to trust over this long and harrowing journey. He had protected her from many threats on the long path here, even the other seekers of the sapling who had come to this world with them. The man followed up after her quietly as they approached the little sapling… only knee-high, and yet radiating with infinite potential. A promising future lay before them, its roots embedded in the sand. This tiny sapling was the key to creating a new world out of the bones of the old one.

The man finally spoke. “It’s right here. A world of flowers, just for you.”, he looked down upon the little tree as the two stared at it. A small smile formed on his face, something the woman hadn’t seen in the entire time they had spent in this barren hell. Indeed, there had been no reason to smile since coming here. Naught but violence and sadness had transpired since they had come to this world on a promise of a new one. One that they and the other seekers could have for themselves, but there was only one sapling, and many who desired its wish-fulfilling power. Thus there had been much bloodshed on the hunt for it.

“Just for me…?” The woman looked up to the man, the smile having faded from her face as she questioned him. The man nodded, the edge of his lips moving ever so slightly as he closed his eyes… There was a slight sadness in that smile.

“Flowers for you alone. I lied. This tree will only grow for one dream… I knew that before we came here. But mine is not a dream worth blooming anymore. I realized that a while back…”, he sighed, as he drew a blade from a sheath at his side. Worn, chipped metal, spattered with bits of black, dried blood, scraped against the sheath as it emerged from its resting place. A piece of metal that once could have been considered a work of art, reduced to a crude implement, as if to exemplify the journey it had been through. It was not the weapon of a brave warrior or hero, but one of a killer. The man had drawn this cursed weapon many times. Each time the blade was drawn from its sheath, it demanded the price of a life in exchange for its power, and each time its user lost a part of themselves. But In a world like this, that was a fair bargain. This time would be no different. This was the moment of truth… it was him or her, and yet… The woman showed no fear, only confusion.

“There was once a dream I had before I came here, but… I’ve forgotten it. Now, all a tree born of my dreams would make is another wasteland…”, he sighed, gripping the hilt of the cursed sword as his hand trembled, willing himself not to use it. “Even now, I can’t do it. I knew I would have to kill you to get my wish… I thought about it, I planned to, but… You trusted me. I realized that if I did, there would be nothing left of me. You still trusted me, still cared about me, even though I’ve become a monster.”, the man admitted, as he lowered the weapon, thrusting its tip into the sand of the dune, and kneeling down beside it. This weapon, that had taken the lives of so many others with dreams of their own by his hand, would exact its final price from its wielder. The grip, if you could call it that, was a crude wrapping of cloth that barely held back the edge of the cursed weapon’s tang, and began to bite into his flesh as he held it, kneeling there. It was clear at this point his intent, as fresh blood flowed down the rusted blade into the red sands below, dampening the roots of the sapling.

The woman began to cry, reaching out to the man to shake him. “You don’t have to do this! We can share it! I… I didn’t do anything… you fought so hard just to come here! You earned it, we’ll see the flowers together!”, she pleaded, tears cleaning paths down her dirt-smudged face, but the man simply shook his head. The sand continued to drink his offering as the woman wept.

“This is enough for me.”, he replied, his hand finally dropping from the hilt of the blade, as his body relaxed.

And from the sand around the sapling, shoots began to sprout, quickly blooming into vibrant flowers, which spread down the dune. The sapling that lay before her rapidly developed into a sweet-smelling tree from which many pink flowers erupted upon its branches. The once hellish wasteland was quickly developing into a world teeming with life, and at its center sat the sad woman who had lost the last thing she had held dear to her to receive everything she had ever dreamed of, and the body of a man who had thrown away everything he had ever dreamed of for the one thing he held dear. Their dream had come true. The world was abound with beautiful flowers.

Redemption in the Rain
By: @Red Thunder

Word Count: 1466
Chosen theme(s): Rebirth, with a bit of temptation and irony for flavoring
Chosen format: Short story

The sky threatened rain. He looked up, concern lining his face as the lightning lined the sky. The thunder followed, rumbling across the plain like great drums beat upon by giants. Dreary gray blanketed the blue behind it, casting everything in a dull shadow. It was half-hearted, a weary attempt on both the parts of sun and cloud to enforce their own will on the land. Or perhaps an uneasy truce, each waiting to see what strength, or weakness, the other might show.

Caen struggled to remain standing, his legs promising to give out at any moment. The pursuit had not broken off, he was certain; the Judgment of the Tower was relentless, and they never stopped. Not even for the rain.

Another step, and his knees buckled. They rested against the green turf violently. Another rumble from above- or perhaps from behind. The Judgment's horses? Likely; Caen was a pariah, and they eliminated pariahs with prejudice. The rest of his body followed the lead of his legs, and he fell over, rolling onto his back as he did. The clouds roiled above him, white and gray and black twisting amongst themselves in a devious dance. They squeezed together, a cloth being wrung out.

The first drop fell on his head; Caen watched it as it fell. Instinct begged, screamed at him to flee. The rain is coming, it said, and he knew it was true. Even as the drop fell on his cheek, sizzling as it burned away a thin layer of his skin, he remained still, only a grimace to show his discomfort. It would be a mercy, to die in the rain; his death would be quicker here than at the hands of the Judgment. The turf about his head hissed in the wind, a sure sign of the impending storm. Who would find him first, he wondered: the Judgment or the rain?

Burdened by thoughts of death, his mind sought comfort. Rhiannon's face, bright and cheerful as the noonday sun in the spring, filled his mind. Oh, for what might have been. Oh, for the joy they'd have had together. Oh, for the home their love might have built. Oh, for the life that grew within her. He smiled in spite of himself. But it was soon weighed down, self-deprecating and melancholic thoughts pushing away his joy. The Judgment had demanded his involvement in the Southern Cleansing. And he'd complied, leaving his wife to fulfill his duty. Now, they persecuted him for it; evidence of their misdeeds must be erased, lest the Emperor of All hear.

The rumble was unmistakable now. A thousand hooves beat the ground in rhythmic unison, perhaps no more than a mile away. Each man was to a one was a zealot, ready and indeed eager to die for their cause. The Southern Cleansing had not been a mission of secrecy only; the battle the Tower had waged against the nations of the South had been violent and brutal, and those that survived had earned prestige for their own violence and brutality. Now, as they had brought Judgment to the South for its blasphemy, so they brought it to him. Caen closed his eyes, begging whomever might listen that the heavens might open and death come swiftly.

I have other plans for you.

Caen sat bolt upright, eyes wild as he looked about. He had heard that, yet there was no one about.

"Hello? Who's there?"

You persecuted Me, but you will do great things in My name. Caen heard again, in his ears and not in his mind. Yet he still saw nothing.

"Who are you?" he called, heart beating heavily in his chest.

I am the Source, and I will show you wonders.

The Source. That heathan god the southerns worshipped. Caen felt his face twist even as thunder rolled across the sky once more.

"Liar! You are a demon!" Across his forehead, he made a gesture, the sign of Judgment against the blasphemous. "Judgment doctrine teaches the southern nations follow false deities!"

But his heart shook in his chest; the priests he had found during his clandestine mission had been- oddly devote for demon-followers. Silence met his accusation, and even the approaching cavalry had become muted. His gaze strayed upwards, and he was a lightning bolt frozen as in ice on the sky.

"Let us say you are a god," he said, just managing the words. "How could you have just left the southerns to-"

The heaviness suddenly in the air was not of the storm, for it was not simply exterior. Caen felt it in his mind and his heart, and he blanched. He had just participated in the nations' Judgment; did he now ask how it was allowed? His cheeks grew hot with shame, and he said no more. The thought of Rhiannon came to him, her face now filled with disgust. She hated what he had done; did she know? He could almost bear the thought of Judgment, but to consider his wife hating him was too much. Stomach churning, he bent forward, dry heaving.

"What must I do?"

Do not despair, the Source said. The sky had opened a crack more, and several raindrops fell to the ground. The rain merely slid down each grass leaf, but it chewed into the back of Caen's hand. Wincing, he drew it close. You will be My instrument of redemption, of mercy and judgment for the Tower. And to the Emperor.

Caen balked. The Emperor of All was notoriously rigid in his adherence to the Virtues of All. Moreover, he summarily executed any contradiction to them. As if to drive the fear deeper in, a trumpet blasted across the plain, combining with the hoofbeats to feel like an earthquake.

"But I am one man!" Caen cried, face now upturned in supplication. "And a criminal now, at that! What shall I do against the Emperor's might?"

The sound that followed might have been a mountain splitting in twain, muffling to nothing the echo of the approaching cavalry. Lightning had impacted the small valley between Caen and the army. The horses screamed, but not from fear of the violence before them.

With the swiftness of retribution, the sun had relented in its battle with the clouds. The storm held the victory, and the floodgates were open. Rain in a torrent beat down upon both man and horse. The acrid odor of their dissolving flesh filled the wind even as it blew toward Caen. He sat on his knees, the agonized cries of the dying filling his ears. It was the sound of his safety. Not just his, but that of many a villager who might otherwise have faced Judgment at their hands. Tears of relief mixed with the rain as it dripped down his face.

His breath caught in his throat. The rain did not burn him! It was the greatest fear of every man, woman, and child on the Continent, was the rain. Nigh on all it touched, it burned like serpent's venom. Yet here he sat, unhurt.

And so shall you bear My word on your tongue to the Emperor and to all his kingdom: repent, for True Judgment is near.

Caen did not, could not reply. It was so much to think about: to go from one risk to a greater one, perhaps the greatest. But could he refuse?

"Will I be forgiven?" he pleaded, hopeless. "Can I be forgiven?"

There is forgiveness for those who seek it, came the reply. For those who love justice and mercy, truth and love.

The rain faded even as the odor did. Caen was silent, eyes downcast. Justice for the unrepentant. Mercy for the sorrowful. Truth for the ignorant. Love for the downcast. Did he commit to that?

"My wife. She-"

An idiotic question. Rhiannon was compromised as soon as he was himself made criminal. Yet the worry that flooded him was overcome by a quiet confidence. If the Source would send Caen, the Source would care for Rhiannon. The wind stirred again, having died with the rain, and a sweet scent fell on him. It filled him with hope.

"I will go," Caen said, standing. He faced the direction from which the Judgment of the Tower had come. There was uncertainty ahead. But there was also redemption and, perhaps, mercy for the Tower.

And I will go with you and before you. Do not fear.

Taking a deep breath, filling his lungs with wholesome smell that rode the wind, Caen began the trek back to the Tower from whence he'd fled.

For the Creature
Word Count: 292
Chosen theme(s): Irony
Chosen format: Prose poetry

You, feckless fowl, I despise you. Your presence is tainted. Your fetid name makes me scowl. Your lineaments, they trickle through my veins like dew— fickle and foul, crude and blue.

You disgust me. Your cast is haunting, spruce and eerie. The glow of your spheres harrows my core. Every trace of your marrow is repulsive.

You are unworldly, anomalous. A puzzle I could never crack. An image I could never fathom. A mirage I could never touch. A dream I could never end.

Swainish monster, must you pique me so? Why do you settle before me and drivel? I cannot stand you. Yet, why does your voice wrenches my body? Why do your tones strew in florid shades? Why do you dwell in my senses? Must you appear sublime in my eyes?
I do not want to see you. I do not want to think of you.

Withal, I could never understand why my spirit lingers closer to you. I could never understand why my recollection mirrors your countenance so clearly. I could never understand why my heart covets for another glimpse of your enveloping lamps. Of you beams, of your brushes, of your flesh.

And yet, your consciousness remains as placid.

Why can it not be you, dandelion? Do you not feel the same? Why does your ingenuity not etch my silhouette as I paint yours? Do you not feel the zeal as vividly? Is it simply a game?

Ruminate on me. Fancy me. Embody me. Seize me. Shelter me. Nourish me.
Think of all the remnants that define me. My frame, my limbs, my ego… as I reminisce yours.

You, graceless cherub, I hate you. You taunt me with your semblance. Now my soul cannot endure without your existence.

Nothing is Sacred
Word Count: 870
Chosen theme(s): Rebirth and Temptation
Chosen format: Short story

TW: self-harming behavior, implied suicidal ideation, religious trauma

There was no moonlight reflecting on the water tonight. The barest hint of black something hung in the clear sky.

He padded barefoot along the concrete edge of the pool to where metal steps led down to the shallows, sitting with a faint echoing clang on the top rung and letting his legs ease into the chilly water. His clammy palms smoothed over the bars to either side of him as he peered down. In the absence of the pool light—the bulb shattered and never replaced—his calves dissolved into murky, meaningless shapes below the surface.

A deep breath, chlorine stinging his nose and throat. Eyes closed against the dark.

Half a beat later, he pushed off and allowed himself to plunge.

Arms and legs drawn in tight, he sank like a brick, mouth clamped shut. The cold wetness seeped into his clothes, sending his hair swaying haphazard around his face. The fear set in after, just as cold and just as frantic; he hugged his knees tighter on his way down.

Five seconds and his toes turned to blocks of ice. It was too early in the year for shorts and t-shirts, let alone for night-time dips in the pool. Ten seconds and his swirling stomach faded away into a dark corner, replaced by the hazy curve of a smile so bright it was burnt into the back of his eyelids and the sound of a clear laugh ringing in his ears. Down here was the only time he could really see, really hear them. Right in this spot, as if their very essence had rubbed a permanent mark on the artificially white bottom of the pool. The last place he'd witnessed them.

Not the last thing the pool had witnessed.

Fifteen seconds. A stab of something where his heart used to be. Get in with me, he could almost hear. Water's fine.

Once upon a time, he'd believed in something, if only because his parents took him to church every Sunday and had him study his verses and say his prayers before bed and parts of it had sounded nice and good and right. The parts where someone loved him, and he could be forgiven, and in the end nobody was alone. The part where no one ever really left you.

That church was where he'd been baptized, before he could even speak to say the words church or God or sin or comprehend their meanings. Dipped into a little round basin months after his birth and declared saved. Born new in God's eyes, blameless and pure. Adopted by the greatest Father.

His shoulders shuddered and he adjusted his grip on his knees. Twenty-five seconds. That smile had never shone in church. That smile was a secret that lived only in closed rooms and the shade of trees and his slowly aching chest, until it hadn't lived anywhere at all.

Eyes opening to slits, he looked up through the ripples of stinging water at black sky studded with attempts at stars and the gnawing lack of a moon. Afterimages of a sunny, lazy summer afternoon clawed at the corners of his eyes, fighting to superimpose.

A smile. A giggle. Hair brushing his face, silk-soft and waving gently, so unlike his own. A beckoning crook of a long finger.

Scared? the voice whispered. Knowing.

Terrified, he answered. Aching. Color bursting against his eyelids and hiding that horrible and revelatory smile.

Forty-five seconds.

I've got you. You just have to follow my lead.

He'd always been more comfortable letting others tell him what to do, how to act, when not to think. Being alone with himself was an exercise in misery. It was freeing to just let it all go and sink, sink, sink into something that could carry your entire weight. Somewhere along the way he'd forgotten that some things eventually broke.

Fire in his chest, now. It tore through him faster than he'd expected and he had to sink his teeth into his lip before more than a smattering of bubbles ripped their way out and fizzled up into the night. Fifty seconds.

Just a little longer. A little longer and he'd be done and maybe maybe maybe he could rest. Maybe he could drown the ghost that lived at the bottom of the pool and stared back at him with a dimpled smile and fathomless eyes that knew all of his parts. Maybe he wouldn't be this anymore. So many maybes and wanting and prayers to no one.

Can I tell you a secret?

That mouth was benediction and damnation and it had devoured his insides and left him hollow. Who even was he anymore? Not pure. Certainly not blameless. Son of nobody and nothing. Verses replaced with a single name sighed reverently into the fevered church of their own making.

A smile. A laugh. A beckoning finger. A broken promise.

Sixty-one seconds and he broke the surface like he broke everything before it, air punching its way into his lungs and head spinning and eyes fixed on the stars bursting overhead like fireworks.

A smile. A laugh. A name on those lips.

He didn't feel clean, but it was close for a little while. Until it wasn't.

Word Count: 1479
Chosen theme(s): Temptation
Chosen format: Short Story

From the desk of Adam Suzuki

37 Windsor Road
WV41 3KF
13th June 1969​
Dear Jesse,

I send you this letter seeking your advice. It is nothing less than a cry for help from your friend who is in dire need of it. I know it is sudden, but I trust you above everyone else I have met in my life. You have always been my best friend and my greatest confidante. I know everything said in this letter will be kept between the two of us always.

I apologize for starting this letter without at least asking how you have been since your move to Toulouse. But I felt that it would be read as disingenuous the moment I dived into my purpose of sending this letter in the first place. I hope your time there is well-spent and short of any problems. My problem started with the Summer class I signed up for.

As you know, I had to retake my British Literature class and it came with the arrival of a Scandanavian boy. I am certain I mentioned him before. He is a white boy, brunet with freckles, and speaks worse English than even our own parents yet still he speaks so much. His name is Leif and while at first, I thought nothing of him, he's now become a centerpiece of my thought process.

I don't know when it started, I don't think there ever is a clear-cut date for these sorts of things. They blend like the season, you never know when Summer truly turns into Autumn or Winter into Spring. You wake up one morning and you just notice it.

I have tried to trace back how and why, but the most vivid thing that I know and feel is the pull to him that I wrestle with in the here and now. I had only spent time with him because he had no other friends, it was as simple as that. But at some point, between the discussions of Oscar Wilde and Virginia Wolf, sharing cold tea and biscuits on warm mornings, and whining about our professor -- well, I was whining, he only listened and nodded, I began wanting to be around him.

Wanting, Jesse. But the wanting didn't stop there, with each week, the wanting became more, demanded more. I began wanting to see him when he was far, wanting to hug him when he smiled at me, wanting to touch him. It makes my body wrack with guilt for this unnatural desire and I haven't the slightest idea of how to stop the want.

I don't think he's noticed yet. I don't understand how he can't see how it is practically strangling me. He only smiles his clueless smile and has tried to invite me over to his flat for strawberries. Strawberries are not what is on my mind, and don't trust myself to left alone in closed doors with him. I'm afraid of what mistake I will make and I can't risk it.

Jesse, what should I do? You always helped me right any of my wrongs and get my head straight in the past. I hope you don't turn your nose at me. There is no one more ashamed of me than myself. Please, write me back quickly.

Forever Your Friend,
Adam Suzuki

37 Windsor Road
WV41 3KF
20th July 1969​
Dear Jesse,

Thank you for responding to me as fast as you could. I know you must have been startled and concerned by my initial letter, but your words comforted me a lot. And I took your advice.

I began to distance myself from Leif and now we only talk in class regarding the subjects of class. If he had not noticed anything before, he has now, but that is not my problem. I've been focusing on studies and spending time with family, anything to distract myself.

I don't think it has changed what I felt, however. If anything, it only intensified the feeling. I don't know if it could be considered a feeling alone when it consumes my entire body, not just my mind. I never knew a heart could ache so much and for long. The pain of longing is not something you get used to.

Pain is one thing, but dreams are another. They don't come frequently, but when they do come I feel ruined by my own perversions. They aren't explicit, not usually, but they still make me shake when waking. And they always leave me wanting to feel the real thing.

Is there any way I can rid myself of them? You would think I would hate sleeping, but knowing it is the only way I can see him, and be with him in that way, makes me go to bed early. I know it is not good news but you are the only one I can express these things too.

Forever Your Suffering Friend,
Adam Suzuki

37 Windsor Road
WV41 3KF
31st July 1969​
Dear Jesse,

I talked to Leif. Outside of class. And we didn't talk about British literature. We just spoke.

I think the details would bore you, or more likely disappoint you further. I know that I am weak-willed and me starting this letter about how I could hardly hold out is the clearest sign of it. For a whole day I was too scared to even write you back when I failed so miserably to follow through on your advice.

But I need to walk this through with someone and you're my consultant and friend. He told me he missed me and all the time we spent together. I know in my head how wrong I am, but there is also a feeling that feels just so right when talking into, leaning into him, being with him.

I haven't touched him, not even when between us was just 10 cms. You have no idea how badly I wanted to cross those 10 cms, but I did not. I still have some strength about me.

The part that makes me resent him a little is that he doesn't seem like he would mind it if I did. I swear to you, without words, his eyes were beckoning me to. No, I think begging would be a more accurate word. That partial resentment isn't enough to stop me from wanting to touch cave anyway.

The wanting never went away when I was without him, but it hurts o much worse now that I've had a taste of his company again. And now I resent myself more too.

I have discussed so much of my own issues that I have yet to even tell you what we talked about. You will find this news to be good if you continued reading this far. I hope you have.

Leif is no longer going to be attending school. He told me he would be dropping out of college and returning to Sweden to take care of his mother. He told me that he missed me, that he would miss me even more. And he asked me see him before he went and still share those damn strawberries.

This should be great news, I know that. I know that more than you and especially more than Leif. But he missed me, and he will miss me and it does nothing to lighten my heart. I'm sinking and soon I will be swallowed whole.

Tell me what I should do, Jesse. Tell me not to do something stupid. Tell me to let this one go and pass.

Your Dumb Fucking Friend,
Adam Suzuki

37 Windsor Road
WV41 3KF
1st August 1969​
To Leif,

I'm sorry I can't meet you. And I'm sorry I ignored you for so long. But I think this is how we should part.

I hope you won't hate me. I hope you will miss still miss me, because I will miss you. Even now I miss you as I write this letter. To say you are a good person would be a lie. Because you're so much more than that to me. Not a friend, but more. I can't give a word for what you are to and I know that's awful.

But I'll miss you. And I l------

37 Windsor Road
WV41 3KF
1st August 1969​
Dear Jesse,


I am going to have some strawberries.

Your Quitter Friend,
Adam Suzuki

Sitting in the garden of a friend who wasn't quite a friend, Adam breathed for the first time in a long time. The pain that ached consistently stopped, the weights that tried to crush him were lifted, and the misery that plagued him dissipated. He gave in. Nothing made him happier.

And after waiting so long, he finally shared those strawberries with the white freckled boy, and something far sweeter.

I Dreamt of You in Another Life
By: @Niightmare

Word Count: 587
Chosen theme(s): Rebirth
Chosen format: Poetry

waking up to paradise,
my feet sink into the warm sand.
I look over at the evening sky
and the hues of citrine
paint my skin
with the colors
of your love.
the sea air tickles my nostrils,
dragging me further
into the depths
of nostalgia.
of course,
I could never be somewhere
so beautiful,
so mesmerizing,
without you.

we have been here before.
your presence,
cradling my body
like a warm blanket,
is more familiar to me
than the back of my hand.
I call out to you,
feeling your discomfort
in pulsating waves.
beautifully captivating eyes,
and a heart-stopping face
by the setting sun;
you do your best
to shake away the sadness
with that sweet smile.
my heart aches
at such an earnest attempt.
my love,
it is okay
to cry.

blinking bleary eyes,
shaking off barely a moment.
everything is different.
but your presence
wraps its arms around me,
and suddenly,
I know.
not you,
it's exactly you.
a foot taller,
hair messily tied back,
and lankier than ever,
I still know
that you were the one
I was meant to find.
my heart
cannot deny you.

your hunched form
paces ever so slowly
upon the yielding carpet.
you're muttering something,
not looking at me
when you speak.
my hands cup your tensed face.
I have only seen you this way
a few times before.
my heart is in my throat.
I coo to you;
is there something
you are ashamed of?
your words?
your feelings?
do you feel
as if you owe me something?
an apology?
an act of service?
my love,
do not be afraid.
owe me nothing.
and you will
lose me.
I will
be here with you.
if I have done wrong to you
then it is I
who should suffer.
have we had this conversation,
long ago?

your head prods my shoulder.
I look up,
and there you both are.
you're talking to me now,
while at the same time
you're rambling on to yourself.
I watch you
leaving the room
as you pull me in for another embrace.
where did you go?
are you blaming yourself
for something you haven't done wrong?
have I made you feel this way?
don't smother yourself
trying to make anyone else happy.
two halves of the same whole,
torn asunder by the endless lack of time.
you pull in separate directions
as you try so hard
to come together.
I yearn to pull you both
into my bosom.
these words ring in my head
as familiar as the chirping of birds.
I've known you
for both a moment
and a lifetime.

I push the door open,
following you
to the snowy white room.
your hair is different.
your skin,
your clothes,
even your gender.
yet you look at me
with that smile
that always stuns me.
no one else
in this room
there is no doubt in my mind -
I am led by my heart
into your waiting arms.
for some reason,
I feel at peace.
I could only ever feel this way
with you.
I would give you the world
if only
to make you smile
for a moment.
the universe will come next.
you deserve everything
and I dedicate my life
to giving everything I can
to you.

my love,
even if we are separated
by lifetimes,
my soul will always
find its way back
to you.
whatever happens,
my existence is bound to yours.

I will meet you again.

By: @Kuno

Word Count: 1493
Chosen theme(s): Irony
Chosen format: Short Story

The city sleeps like the kings of the savannah, a lion amongst its suburban cubs. In the morning it will wake, the roar of traffic and people and music once more dominating the space about it, but for now its denizens are cradled in its quiet hum. Only the street lights remain on, fractals of such piercing through the blinds of my bedroom window. The clock by my bed reads close to three as I dress hurriedly in the dark.

I was already awake when they called me. When one spends as many a night amongst the stars of Earth and sky as I do, you grow accustomed to rising where others fall, the black of night as familiar as Soweto’s people. Most of the calls are from the agency; CID believes in full autonomy of their investigators at all hours, and I, being at the forefront of our current war, am most readily available in the witching hours.

It is precisely three am when I park in front of the Embassy Hotel in the central part of the city. A tired-eyed concierge watches me through the glass, a dutiful smile crossing his dark features. Even as I return it, a part of me wonders if his friendliness is less due to his own manners and more in part to the car I drive. An even smaller part of me searches his eyes instinctively, looking for something untoward.

Moments later, a man emerges from the hotel lobby.

“I hope you’re not hungry,” I say in lieu of greeting. “This might take awhile.”

“Not at all,” comes his breathy reply. He is a girthy man for a European; the seat belt latches, pulling taut over his generous middle. He grins at me and extends a hand. “It’s good that we formally meet. Franklin Haas.”

I shake his hand firmly. “Constable Nkosi.”

When the agency had first told me that a reporter was coming all the way from Germany to write a piece on our efforts to cull the coming incursion, I will admit I was staunchly against it. The crisis itself was a delicate subject, and to draw attention to it so gaudily put South Africa once more in a negative sphere of focus. But against all protests, they insisted on it. Our president wanted to show the world that we were moving past the sins of our past, and in so doing were eradicating every trace of every blight that had once corrupted our society. The invaders, they claimed, were no different; outnumbered, I had no choice to comply. I tried not to let my displeasure with the decision show then, and I try not to now, not with Mr. Haas in the car. Reporters, after all, watch and note everything.

Something tells me that he had been up all night in anticipation of my call. Like all journalists, there is an eagerness, a burning hunger in his eyes as he pulls out pen and paper for notation. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch him scribble something down at the top. The day’s date: 24/9/1998.

“I hope I may have some time to ask a few questions before we get there.”

“Of course.”

“If I may–” My brow twitches at the politeness, and even more at the shuffle of papers. “So this…‘invasion’ here in Johannesburg–”

“Mostly Soweto,” I correct.

“Soweto, yes. Apologies. There have been many names floating around for the creatures plaguing this city, such as skin-walkers, kishi or, eh, popobawa. How would you characterize them? In your own words.”

“Bugs. That’s all they are.” The words come out harsher than intended, and I frown. “Fancy names only sensationalize them more. They are just bugs, and we are working to purge them.”

I heard the other names before. Back when they had first emerged amongst the black populace in the 80s, little notice had been given them. But the dissolution of apartheid and Mandela’s ascent to power meant that the curses plaguing Africans would no longer be ignored, and that meant putting the incursion sharply into focus.

We talk more as I drive towards the southwestern edge of Johannesburg. I show him the CID headquarters where interviews are conducted, the most popular sightings for the skin-walkers, and a few other areas of interest. Predictably enough, Haas cottons on to the monsters themselves and continues to press, push, and prod for more specific information. Finally, I relent.

“Bugs are monsters amongst us. Tall, gaunt, insect-like beasts that take the shape of humans and try to live in our midst by stealing human skins, robbing others of their lives for their own convenience. Call them what you want; they’ll soon be gone. The government is making sure of that.”

“Yes, yes, I heard the president was allocating funds specifically towards that endeavor…”

The engine revs violently as I speed up to blow through a light turning red. Haas continues his quick notations, undeterred.

“How?” He suddenly asks.

“How what?”

“How do they– I’m sorry, you, the agency, determine who is a bug and who isn’t? Are there signs or patterns or looks–”

I swerve to avoid a stray dog, perhaps harder than necessary, and Haas cuts off to brace himself against his seat. It is then that, involuntarily, a small gasp escapes him as he suddenly notices his surroundings. I glance at him, my smile small and sad.

Between the ravages of apartheid and the new blight upon them, Soweto is a fledgling flower struggling to grow out of a small crack in pavement. To go from the sprawling mansions of Johannesburg to the crumbling rows of pillboxes so sharply is a slap to one’s senses. Unable to help himself, Haas stares out the window, drinking it all in. I watch him in silence.

“We rely on tips,” I finally answer, and he turns to me, blinking. “For the bugs. The locals know now to report neighbors and friends should they begin to act strangely or keep odd hours mostly confined to the night. That’s when the bugs are most active…they can’t control it. Blinking, too, is unnatural to them. They must force it. And the most important one: sugar water.”

“Sugar water?”

”Ne. Sugar water. Half each content. Bugs cannot go long without so, nor can they resist it. I have some here–” I pat a thick plastic jug between us soundly, its sweet scent wafting through “–for them. Just like real insects.”

“And what do you do? Once you find them and determine they’re a bug?” The dutiful scribe has returned to his post, the march of ink continuing across his canvass. “Or should I say, what do the locals do?”

“Don’t you know?”

He begins to say something, but I shush him, pointing ahead of us. We have come to a slow stop; we are deep into Soweto now, on the very outskirts where tiny homes resemble hovels and the wild encroaches on civilization in leaps and bounds of tall grass and bush. Far into the distance, a light beckons from beyond the homes; flames, licking against a massive wood piling, reaching up towards the sky. Tiny blobs of color dotted the area around the bonfire. There is a crowd gathered there.

Mr. Haas stares. “What are they doing?”

“You asked what people do with the popobawa they find.”

There is a beat of silence before the confusion on his face dissolves into horror. I pretend not to see it, even as my own stomach twists into discomfort.

“I do my part, Mr. Haas. And they do theirs,” I continue quietly, starting up the car once more. “It’s a matter of survival. And fear. Combine the two, and people will take things into their own hands. Violently, if necessary.”

It is nearly dawn when I return him to the hotel. Mr. Haas is appropriately somber in the wake of seeing the burning bodies, his earlier enthusiasm having tapered some. Still, it does not dissuade him from asking more questions.

I, on the other hand, have reached my limit of being interviewed.

“Tomorrow then,” He insists. His hand is sweaty around my own as he shakes it. “Perhaps I can sit in on an interview.”

“Maybe so. I’ll talk to my boss for you.”

I watch him enter the lobby before I pull off. I don’t drive for long; there is a burning, itching worry in my mind, one I have when talking with anyone for too long, and it is not long before I pull over to the shoulder of an empty road. Hurriedly, I pull the rearview mirror towards me. I lean in close, staring deep into my eyes, hoping not to find–


I pat my eyes once, my blood running cold at finding them dry and red.

It had been too dark for Haas to notice. I had forgotten to blink.

Please give a hand for our amazing participants this time and I hope to see y'all in the discussion call!


Chaotic Lawful
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I got to read them early and I can say that each and every one of them was great! :D Now to choose!

Trigger warning, though: some stories have mentions of suicide.
  • Bucket of Rainbows
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he is half my soul, as the poets say
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romance. angst. drama. modern. fantasy. supernatural. adventure. crime. period pieces.
I'm so excited to read them all and even more excited to hear them read out on call ☺️
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And a mini shoutout to Kuno because A+

Manna Beast

Your lips, my ass; they should meet.
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All day, every day
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  3. Primarily Prefer Male
-Fantasy with means of magic and sword based feelings, i do prefer a bit of romance in stories
-Modern with again a fantasy feel
-Cut in anything with a bit of Romance and I can give it a try.
Damn, so many good ones! I've got conflict of saying which one really stood out to me since they were all just amazing!


[*screaming into the void intensifies*]
Invitation Status
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It varies a lot depending on my schedule, unfortunately.
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Psychological horror
Body horror
Dark fantasy
Low fantasy
Weird West
Gothic horror
Southern Gothic
Gaslamp fantasy
Space saga
Space Western
Space opera
Modern fantasy
Crime drama
Medieval fantasy
Big turnout and some awesome entries. I really enjoyed For the Creature and Bug particularly.


elegance is more important than suffering
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Slice-of-Life, Gothic, Horror, Fantasy
All of these submissions are fantastic! Well done to all of the creators. Choosing a winner is going to be a hard decision for our judges, for sure.


in the name of whoever you believe you need
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Romance, modern, high fantasy, comedy, post-apocalyptic.
Just a note that people should be receiving the new TFI participation and winner trophies soon! :D Once the results are out for this one, I'll be giving out trophies for this round as well.


in the name of whoever you believe you need
Original poster
Invitation Status
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Posting Speed
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Writing Levels
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  3. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. No Preferences
Romance, modern, high fantasy, comedy, post-apocalyptic.
This is today !!!!! :D Please come hang out with us to hear the winners announcement + discuss these cool submissions with us.