3-hour Fiction

NIC’s 3-hour Fiction Contest is an annual literary competition, designed to see what you can write in three short hours.

The contest was brought to NIC by English Instructor, Stephen Schoenhoff, after he heard about Vancouver’s notorious three-day novel-writing contest. There were more than 40 entries in NIC’s very first contest.

“I wanted to give short story writers an opportunity to show what they can do under pressure,” said Schoenhoff.

Writers are given a prompt and three hours to complete their work. A panel of NIC faculty and staff will judge the stories based on readability, creativity and the degree to which they weave the required elements into the story.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you lock people in a room and ask them to write their way out,” said Schoenhoff.

2020 Contest

The 2020 edition of the contest was split into three separate competitions over the summer months. It was also launched virtually for the first time, opening the contest up to writers from across the region and beyond.

Orangutans bend forward,

use leaves as cover

and wait for the

crushing rain to stop


and the ladybug mother,

I just discovered, laid her eggs

in between the spikes

of a thistle; the perfect crib


and the chatter of meerkats,

warning each other there is

a reason to duck in and hide

and the tricky bird, airborne


its name escapes me now—


imitates meerkat danger call

and they duck in and hide

this bird then steals

the meal they had


and of course too, there is the man

the one who is always limping,

rain or shine, I see him

downtown all the time


and the woman, the one with dark hair

who hop-skips when she is high

yes, that one, the one with sores on her face

I see her too, even when she is not there


and the teenager, the one who hangs out

by the bridge in the woods

below the middle school

yes, him, the one who moves like a shadow


where are their meerkats,

now that everything is sideways—

is there a call for them,

urging them back inside?

Deep Love

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph and Wilma Browning had purchased 15 Glengarrison Pier with a thorough and comfortable understanding that the house would shake.

It was, after all, a floating house, and as such, was bound to sway and bob with the gentle movements of the ocean, even in a port as calm as Afton Rock.

But as they sat down to Sunday brunch, and the eggs jostled about with vibrations of a rather more persistent, rhythmic nature, they couldn’t help but feel they had been led astray by their sales agent.

“Rental opportunity,” said Joseph Browning, staring into the black heart of his bitter, resentful coffee as it rippled with in time with the distant, thumping pulse. “Legal suite. That was what he told us.”

“And that was what we got,” said Wilma Browning. “And what we put in the advert.”

“We both know this is not what we had in mind.”

“We also both know that we need the income to make this work.”

“Income,” Joseph snorted. He picked up the soggy brown envelope off the table between them and waved it at her, its contents gently clinking inside. “Pearls. Absurd. Whoever heard of paying rent in pearls?”

Wilma sipped her orange juice and gazed pointedly away out the porthole, staring deeply into a grey sky with clouds that looked positively inadequate compared to the storm brewing in their kitchen. “Every time you take them to the Pawn shop, you always settle on exactly what’s owed us,” she said. “American dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros, Pounds, Rubles, pearls, who cares what we’re paid in, so long as we’re paid?”

One of the plates vibrated towards the edge of the table as if it were making to commit suicide (and who could blame it?). Joseph caught it with one hand and crunched some bacon. “I just wonder,” he said between bites, “come tax time, is the government going to take one look at our file and slap the cuffs on us for these mysterious cash deposits I get from those Pawn shop visits?”

“The government doesn’t care about us,” Wilma said. She looked him dead in the eye. “They have bigger fish to fry.”

Joseph scowled. “Why did I marry you?”

She smiled petulantly at him.

A new song picked up and another dish made a run for it. Joseph reset it back to purgatory at the centre of the table and stood up. “I’m going to have a word with the tenant,” he said.

Wilma sighed. “Don’t lose your temper, you won’t get anywhere,” she said.

“Just a word.”

Wilma sighed again.

Joseph stepped out of the kitchen and into the tight, tiny hallway that led to the stairs, front door, washroom and maintenance room of their little floating home. He reached for the maintenance room door, but something out of the corner of his eye stopped him. He straightened his glasses and took a second look, towards the front door.

Someone had drawn something on it.

It was a pattern of some sort, yellow-blue in colour, varying slightly in shade. The shapes that formed the pattern were almost tear-drop shaped, with a tapered point at the top and a wide, semi-circle bottom. They were laid out in a perfect square, measuring about 10 shapes high and 10 wide. The whole pattern measured about an even square foot.

Joseph ran his hand over the pattern. Whatever it had been painted or drawn with, it had had time to dry and adhere to the wood in the door.

“Wilma!” he shouted.

“Yes?” she called back from the kitchen.

“Did you paint this thing on the door?”

“What thing on the door?”

“This…” Joseph grasped for the right words. The pattern certainly reminded him of something, but he couldn’t exactly say what. “This…thing.”

“That sure helps narrow it down.” Wilma peeked her head out into the hallway. “What thing?”

Joseph pointed.

“No.” Wilma popped back into the kitchen.

“Did the tenant?”

“How should I know? Ask him yourself, since you’re going to bother him about the music anyway.”

Joseph frowned. “I suppose I will,” he said. He jerked open the door to the maintenance room. The endless buzz-thump of electronic dance music grew louder in intensity. Joseph stepped into the room and closed the door behind him.

Inside were all the utilities their floating home needed. The water-proofed breaker box, the sewage filtration system, the water collector and purifier, and the floor hatch that peeked into the flotation structure of the house. Joseph went to this last feature and flung the hatch open, letting in a blast of synthesized beats.

“Excuse me,” Joseph yelled down into the mix of water and poly-plastic structure. “Excuse me!”

The music cut off abruptly. A thick foam of bubbles formed on the surface of water beneath the hatch, burbling about in quiet fury. And then a wide green face with a wide green mouth, and eyes spaced wide apart broke out of the water and goggled upwards at Joseph indignantly.

“What?” the huge fish croaked.

“Sorry to disturb you,” Joseph said. “It’s just, well. It’s just that it’s Sunday brunch?”

“Is this a social call?”

“No, no. Nothing like that.”

“Well,” the fish tilted its head and fixated one eye on him. “If it’s official business, you’ll have to post a notice. That’s part of our rental agreement.”

“Hold on now, I just want to talk to you about the music,” Joseph said.

The fish stared at him, cold and unblinking as only a fish could. “What about it?”

“Like I said, it’s Sunday brunch, and my wife and I-”

“What does Sunday brunch have to do with my music?” the fish interrupted. “Do humans eat with their ears?”

The fish’s voice was like a garbage disposal backing up, and set Joseph’s teeth on edge. “No,” he said as calmly as he could. “But we like a little peace and quiet while we eat.”

“Is it…” the fish turned its head the other way to give Joseph a look at its other eye. “Overpowering your conversation?”


“To the point where you cannot hear each other speak.”

“Well, no, but-”

“The rental agreement clearly stipulates that if a conversation can still be had at normal volume that this does not constitute a violation of quiet enjoyment. Anything else?”

Joseph sputtered. “But, but-”

“Anything else?”

“No, but-”

“Good day then.” The fish made to dive.

“Wait, yes, there is one more thing.” Joseph was determined to come away with something, anything. “Did you…paint something on the front door?”

The fish stared him down.

“Like a…like a pattern of something?”

“A pattern.”

“Yes. Teardrop shaped. Kind of. Actually…it sort of has the same…colour as…” Joseph leaned over, squinting through his glasses.

“The front door is not part of the lease agreement therefore I would not intrude on that area,” the fish said. “Moreover I lack paint, brush, and, oh yes, you may have noticed, the ability to walk on land. Good morning, landlord.” The fish dove back underwater, and the music flipped back on.

Joseph glared at the rippling water. “Good morning to you too.” He slammed the hatch shut and went back to the kitchen.

Wilma was washing the dishes. “How did it go?” she said, her back to him.

“You can hear it for yourself,” Joseph said. He caught himself. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to…I can help with that.”

“It’s already done,” Wilma said, still looking away.

Joseph awkwardly fidgeted in the doorway. “I can get going on cleaning up the spare room, then.”

“I did that two days ago while you were smoking out on the pier,” Wilma said, turning to face him at last. “Yes, I know you’ve started again. You think you can wash the smell away with mouth wash, but it gets caught in your moustache, too.”

Joseph threw up his hands. “Fine, you caught me,” he said. “But what do you expect? The stress-”

“So kick him out then,” Wilma said. “Kick him out.”

Joseph opened and closed his mouth a few times. “I can’t,” he said at length.

“Then you have no one to blame but yourself.” Wilma turned away from him and idly scrubbed at the countertops.

Joseph reached out for her, unconsciously, then drew his hand back. “Fine,” he said. “I’m going for a walk along the pier.”

He slammed the door as he left, but the sound was lost among the thumping music from below the house.

* * * *

Glengarrison pier was deserted as always. Afton Rock had been small town to begin with, a lonely place on a forgotten jut of land on the East Coast of Canada. But when the fishing industry really went downhill, most of the town went with it. Joseph and his wife had the run of the pier; most of the remaining ships and boats moored at Friedland Pier, several blocks away. Occasionally, a smaller craft would pull in and dock for maintenance or for other needs. But increasingly, these brief drydocks had become permanent, leaving behind rotting wood and broken hulls, the skeletons of a bygone age of ships and sailing.

Joseph kicked at some of the decaying boat carcasses as he strolled by, venting his empty frustrations. He still remembered the first time he saw Wilma, standing on the dock as his boat came in. A crowd of people had gathered to celebrate the return of the first official catch under the banner of Blue Sea Fish Fingers. She had bright red hair back then, and he remembered catching her up in a hug, his muscled arms scooping her up with ease and spinning her about.

Blue Sea Fish Fingers had gone first. Then the muscles. Then the red hair.

Now he wasn’t sure what would go next.

“Excuse me,” a voice called out.

He jumped with a start, and looked about. Nobody was in evidence.

“Down here,” said the voice.

He peered down below his feet at the pier. Nothing.

“Hellooooo,” said the voice, and this time a hand reached out from below, waving.

Joseph crouched down on his hands and knees and peeked out over the edge of the pier.

A large clutch of netting was caught among the tall supports that held the pier up. And in the netting, looking rather calm if a bet bedraggled, was a woman without a stitch of clothing on. This would have been the first and immediate concern Joseph dealt with, had he not also noticed that from the waist-down she had the body of a fish.

“Oh,” Joseph said aptly.

“Yes, hello,” the mermaid said. “I wonder if you could give me a hand?”

“Oh,” Joseph said again.

The mermaid sighed. “Look, I know you humans have your hangups, but they really are just breasts, everyone has them, so please get over it.”

“What? No, I wasn’t staring at…I didn’t mean to…”

“A knife would be handy, thanks.”

Joseph reflexively patted his pockets. As luck would have it, he had stepped out the door with the trusty swiss army knife that had served him so well on the fishing trips of his youth. He pulled it out and lay flat against the dock, stretching his hand out. The mermaid reached up and took the knife.

“Nice,” she remarked. “I could definitely use one of these in my line of work.” She started to cut at the net.

“Work?” Joseph said. “What kind of work?”

“It’s a bit hard to explain,” the mermaid said. She freed her other hand. “Suffice it to say, I’m here looking for someone. Maybe you know him?”

“Not many people around here any more.”

“He would stick out regardless, not being a person. He’s a fish.”

Joseph raised an eyebrow. “A fish?”

“Yes. Big scaly thing. Fins. Like me, only without the fun bits up top.”

Joseph clasped his hands and sat on the dock, staring out to sea. “What…ah, what do you want him for?”

“Well,” the mermaid said, slicing through the net and freeing her tail. “He hurt some people back where I’m from. And I’ve come here to bring him back and account for that.”

“So you’re like a policeman?”

“Policemerman, thank you very much. But yes.”

Joseph twiddled his thumbs. “Makes sense,” he said.

The mermaid, free at last from the net, abruptly pulled herself up on the pier and stared at him suspiciously. “You’re awfully calm about all this,” she said.

Joseph swallowed hard. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“Most people, they see me, they either act like dumb frat boys and jump into the water, or they freak out and run screaming. You’re just…sitting there. And I just told you I’m looking for a murderous fish. Again, not even batting an eye.”

Joseph gulped again. “I could jump in the water if it would make you feel better?”

The mermaid folded her arms across her chest. “If you know something, you should tell me now.”

Joseph scratched his head. “Look, maybe I know where your fish guy is,” he said.

“Just a fish, not a guy. Where?”

“He…it…is renting the bottom of my floating house.”

The mermaid stared at him. “Renting.”


“Take me there right now.”

“Hold on!” Joseph said. “Look, what will you do to him if you find him?”

“I’ll take him away, of course.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. See, he’s our tenant. We need him!”

The mermaid leaned in close. “Find a new tenant,” she said.

“It’s not that simple,” Joseph said. “Look at this place. It’s falling apart. Nobody wants to live here. And me and my wife…” He shook his head. “I don’t know if this will make any sense, but…this is our home. We met here. Grew up here. We wanted to raise a family here. But…things didn’t work out that way. Still, we made the best of it. Stuck around, while others left. But if we don’t have any income, we can’t afford to keep paying the moorage fees, and if that happens we’ll lose the house. And if that happens…” Joseph bit his lip. “I’m worried. We fight, you see. We fight a lot. Because we’re hurting. And if this is the last thing keeping us together…well…I’m worried that will be it. She’ll leave me. Do you understand?”

The mermaid looked at him evenly. “So I’m to understand,” she said carefully. “That you’re harbouring a fugitive, because that fugitive is paying to keep your marriage intact?”

Joseph pursed his lips. “Okay, when you put it like that-” he said.

“What’s your name, human?”


“Joseph, let me give you some advice,” the mermaid said. She sat with her fin dangling over the dock and patted the spot beside her. Joseph scooted up. “A house is a thing. You can replace a thing. But from what you’re telling me, it sounds like you and your wife may have lost a lot of things that you can’t easily replace. Am I right?”

Joseph looked out to the ocean. “I suppose,” he said.

“I think you need to face up to that, my friend. One way or another.” She patted him on the hand. “Now. Can you please take me to your fish tenant?”

Joseph smiled painfully at her, and nodded.

* * * *

“A policemerman,” Wilma said stonefacedly, after Joseph and his naked companion had explained the situation.

Joseph and the mermaid bobbed their heads like seagulls. Bob bob.

“And you’re here to arrest our tenant.”

Bob bob.

“And take him away.”

Bob bob.

“And you drew the thing on our door?”

“Oh no,” the mermaid said. “That was the advance team, spreading the word. The sea lice would’ve drawn that. It’s a wanted poster.”

Wilma took another look at the front door as they stood in the hallway. “Not much of a likeness, is it?” she said.

The mermaid looked annoyed. “That’s very human of you,” she said. “We sea-creatures identify each other in different ways. That’s a closeup of his unique scale markings.”

Wilma nodded. “His FIN-ger prints,” she said, leering at Joseph.

“Why did I marry you?” Joseph said.

“So,” the mermaid said. “Will you let me in and take him?”

Wilma shrugged. “I don’t see why not. I don’t care.”

Joseph looked away.

The mermaid flopped over to the hatch. “All right,” she called out over the music, which was still pounding at their ear drums. “Listen up, Franklin. You come out of there, right now.”

Franklin?” Wilma whispered to Joseph.

“What?” Joseph whispered back.

“You just…you don’t expect a majestic talking fish to be named…Franklin.”

“What would you think?”

“I don’t know, something more exciting like…LL School J.”

“Why did I marry you?”

“Shh!” the mermaid hissed. “I think he’s up to something.”

The music cut off. There was a tense silence, and then the hatch exploded upwards as a powerful jet of water streaked out. The mermaid took the hatch full on the chin, her head snapping back and the force sending her flying backwards.

The fish popped it’s head out. “You’ve got no power here, shelley!”

“See, that’s more like it,” Wilma said.

“I don’t think that’s her name, hon, I think that’s more like a slang term, like copper or bobby or-”

“Shut up you two!” the fish shrieked. “Now back off, or I’ll clock you again.”

The mermaid leapt forward.

The fish sprayed water again.

This time, though, the mermaid was ready. She flipped open Joseph’s swiss-army knife. The corkscrew attachment. And corkscrewed through the spray of water, like a water polo player on steroids.

She grabbed hold of the fish and held the knife at his corpulent throat. “Gotcha!” she said. “All right, show me your fins.”

“Blasted stupid-” the fish grumbled, and reluctantly flipped over his fin.

“Hmm,” the mermaid said. “This is a problem.”

The fish smirked wickedly.

“What is it?” Joseph said. “You’ve got him, don’t you?”

“I might not,” the mermaid said. “His fin doesn’t match the posters. Look at the scale pattern. It doesn’t quite match.”

Wilma nodded. “You’re right. The shapes are bit off. Does that mean you have the wrong fish after all?”
“It means I can’t be certain. He could have altered it.”

“He must have!” Joseph cried. “I told him about the pattern. He must have shed his skin while I was gone.”

The mermaid shook her head. “Can’t prove it though.”

“Let me go then!” the fish wriggled.

“Not just yet.” The mermaid turned to the couple. “If you two could be independent witnesses, that would be enough proof to make the arrest stick.”

“But we don’t know him at all,” Wilma said. “He never even told his name was…” she sighed again in disappointment. “Franklin.”

“Wait,” Joseph said. “I think maybe I have something. But before I do…” he took Wilma’s hand in his own. “Wilma. I need to tell you. We could lose the house without Franklin’s money.”

“That’s right!” the fish croaked. “Think about your house!”

“Shut up,” the mermaid said, and elbowed him in the gills.

Wilma let Joseph hold her hand. “We could lose the house?” she said.

“Yes. And if that happens…I’m worried I could lose you, too. I’m worried this is the last thing keeping us together.”

Wilma smiled at him. “Oh Joseph,” she said. “I know things haven’t been easy. But…you’re still the same fisherman I married. You always will be.”

Joseph kissed her hand softly. “I love you.” He stood up. “Just a moment,” he said to the mermaid.

A moment’s rummaging later, he returned with sheaf of papers. “I remembered seeing that pattern before. It took me a moment to remember.” He held up the cover page. “The lease agreement. He signed it with his fin. Look familiar?”

The mermaid grinned triumphantly. “Gotcha, buddy.”

The fish burbled miserably. “Curse my love of minutiae,” he said.

* * * *

Sunday brunch the following week was eerily silent.

“Pass the butter please,” Wilma said.

Joseph nudged the still, silent tray over to her.

Wilma’s knife dragged across her toast in a dry scrape. “How much money do we have?”

“Enough for two more months,” Joseph said, staring out the window.

She placed his hand on his. “Let’s make them a great two months, then,” she said, smiling.

He nodded.

A bag came sailing through the window and clocked on the head. “Son of a submariner,” he cried. “What in the-” The bag lay burst open on the kitchen table. Pearls. Hundreds of them.

“And a note,” Wilma said. She read aloud “’Thanks for the help, humans. Here’s your reward money for aiding in the capture of the dangerous fugitive,’” Wilma rolled her eyes. “’Franklin.’ How tedious.”

“Good grief, Wilma,” Joseph said. “There’s got to be at least a hundred times what Franklin was paying us on a monthly basis here.”

“So you mean…?”

“We can stay. We can stay as long as we like.” He lifted her up from the table and hugged her tightly, then looked into her eyes. “You do want to stay, don’t you?”

She brushed a hand across his cheek. “Of course.”

They shared a long kiss.

She sighed wistfully. “It will be a bit quiet without all of this excitement, though,” she said.

“No more loud music, though!” Joseph said happily.

“Yes,” she said. “I never did care for those deep, thumping beats. Which is odd,” she smiled mischievously. “Because usually I adore sea bass.”

Joseph sighed. “Why did I marry you?”

2019 Contest

2019’s 3-hour fiction contest asked for a story that had at least two characters – Ryan and Kelsey. Ryan is traveling in Ireland and Kelsey is an old love that Ryan treated like crap and then dumped. Ryan stumbles into Kelsey at a wake. Kelsey doesn’t recognize Ryan, but it’s an act. Kelsey is after revenge, while Ryan hopes for redemption The end of the story, true to the wake, affirms that laughter is often better than tears.

Here are a few of the stories from that contest.

At least the wine was criminally priced, and warm, and the snow was pretty to watch through the airport windows, adding to the snow-globe reality of my current situation. A tiny drunken fish in a giant tank I was. It was shaping up to be a race to see if my flight would board before I became too inebriated to stagger fourth. I regarded myself, in the shape I was in, and wondered why I had no desire to visit Ireland. I guess it was likely Dad’s influence, often as wrecked as me now and expounding on the beauty of the hills, and the girls, of Ireland. How everything that was good and sweet was in this far off place. In those moments he would look right at me with such sadness and disappointment, a country he could not understand, a foreigner in his house.

When I landed I called Burt to let him know I made it. He was the assignment director and the author of my current geographic location.

Good to hear from you, Ryan my girl, you got the address for the Air B&B? Make sure you make deadline. See ya.” Was his usual set of instructions.

Like a hostage being taken to the hideout, the cabby didn’t want me to find the airport ever again as we took every narrow and winding street to the house that would be home-base for the next few days.

The house was not charming in any way Irish I noted, as I waited for my host to answer the door.
“She’s not home” the neighbor lady said from her adjacent front door. “She expecting you?”

Walking down the street, suitcase in hand, Google Maps had told me there was a pub yonder where I could await the return of my hostess. The drizzle cast a filter of unhappiness over everything. A rather crappy vibe in which to begin writing about this likely charming sea-side town. I had to change my attitude.

I noted that there were an amazing mount of parked cars on this street, more so than the street of my Air B&B. Laughing and talking reached my ears before I saw a tight knot of smokers huddled beneath the generous eves, drinks in hand. It was 11:45am, and a Tuesday. I must have been staring obviously as they hailed me over. I was heartely welcomed into the group like a long lost relative. Soon I found a drink in my hand and answering questions about how my flight was and enquiries as to where I’d be staying. They asked if I’d had a chance to talk to Laurie before he ‘went’. I began to laugh realizing that they mistook me for someone else who should be attending what I now realized was a wake. When I told them they laughed so hard that the starlings flew up out of the tree in the yard. They welcomed me again, taking my bag and hearding me into the house towards the buffet, assuming my hunger.

With a plate piled high in one hand and a drink in the other, standing in the middle of the room felt like being on a crowded downtown bus with all seats taken. I downed my drink and placed the glass on the only horizontal surfaces to gain the use of my hand to eat the sandwiches. The windows fogged from the chatter of all ages pressed together in happy company. My shoulders relaxed as I absorbed an unfamiliar feeling of welcome. My commrads had melted into the crowd leaving me to savour the warmth. The movement of people was like ocean currents and soon carried me out of the livingroom and towards the dining room. It was quieter here, as sorrow had caught their voices fast. Again the knot of silent people opened their circle to allow me into stand before the plain wood coffin of Laurie. Nobody lamented that he did not have enough time in this world as the man in the box was as old as tradition. A slender woman tenderly stroked the long white hair from his temple, her green shawl falling down her arm. I burst into tears and I could not stop. Hot embarrisment mixed with past sorrows filled my chest with stones and burned my face. As much as I wanted to, I could not run, held fast in this gentle circle of grievers. An arm came around me, and a Kleenex box floated before my blurry eyes. Several tissues later I still could not stop. All I could think is that my Dad should be there, about how his death was nothing like this, how we did not know how to honor his loss with a gathering such as this one, how he was starved for home. My knees became weak, the knowledge of my sizemic shift transmitted to the kind arm around me and I was lead to a chair, Kleenex box parked at my feet.

Are you alright” a soft male voice broke through my watery misery. A man was crouched before me, peering into my face with warm brown eyes. “Oh yes, I’m fine” I managed between involuntary shudders. He held up the box of tissue again. “Maybe we could step out into the air?” he asked, like it was an invitation to take flight. I laughed, blowing a small snot bubble at the thought of it and followed his form through the crowd.

The geriatric screen door resisted our departure, but once outside I felt like I’d been tossed into the Atlantic, the cold taking my breath away and focusing my mind in the present. I turned towards my kind service-dog of a friend to see the face of Kelsey.

Afraid that I may not be in my right mind at the moment, I looked at him with open wonder. Could this be him? A decade older and in a part of the world I’d never expected to see a friend. It is remarkable how much can be remembered in an instant: junior high school, spin the bottle, dating, breaking up, dating again only to break up agian, and then me dumping him like a jerk when he proposed.

I’m so sorry” is all I could choke out hoarsely.

Oh, never mind, funerals bring all our feelings up to the top where we can see them” he said in a silky Irish brogue. I immediately felt even more stupid for thinking that he was my Kelsey.

Why don’t we take a walk down to the water?” he suggested.

We walked down the centre of the street until we came to a brambled covered cliff edge, the horizon and the ocean blending together seamlessly, back in the snow globe. We decended stone steps the old Laurie would have traveled upon as a child until we reached the sand. The cliff stood behind, a new world before us, I sobbed as I filled myself up with the salty air of this dream world.

You know that this is where the Kelpie live” he said.

They are like mermaids?” I replied.

Yes, but they can be deadly, you know you can call them right to this very spot” he explained. “Would you like to call them?” he asked.

I nodded.

Well then, you will have to stop crying and think of something happy because we will need to laugh” he said. “We must laugh like we are so pleased with a joke between ourselves that we may never stop.” He began to laugh, he put his hands on his hips and laughed, while I made a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a sob. He pointed at a passing seagull and laughed as if it had just blessed the top of a bald man’s head and laughed harder. I made a hiccoching noise but then could not help laughing at his laughter, so much so that I sat right down on the cold wet sand, tears of laughter now running down my face. He plopped down too and we soon quieted, just looking out into the emmence fog.

Well, I don’t see your slippery girls” I said.

Ah well, it was a good try”

maybe laughter doesn’t work, maybe we have to reciet an epic poem or toss in dead herring, maybe crying attracts them after all, you know, an animal in a weakened state is easy prey.

Ah no, not at all, crying is looking inward and creates a sourness in the soul that likely tastes bad, but laughing is throwing your very fine energy out into the world, and that is what they are attracted to” he explained. “Laughter can be heard farther away than crying, is the saying we have here, did you not see that magic at work at old Laurie’s wake, Ryan?”

Ryan admired his new look in the bed and breakfast washroom mirror. He had never worn a beard before but this last year was one of becoming more confident in himself and his abilities as a writer and someone who could converse with all ages and cultures. It was a prerequisite since he had chosen to blend two major things into his future. The first was a desire to travel to as many countries and destinations his inheritance would allow. At his point he knew he could do all of Europe, most of the middle east and the orient, and even get down under and to New Zealand as well as to the British Isles and area including Ireland where he now found himself preparing for a day of photography and interviewing the locals about their customs related to death and the events that typically happen around the end of life. The travel magazine he had successfully published in a number of times was featuring death as the topic for the entire issue and assigned a collection of writers to travel to different countries and research firsthand how their dead are honored. He also liked the new glasses that made him look more scholarly and trusting as someone you wouldn’t mind taking into your home as a stranger and world traveler and writer; and allow him to share such personal information about their lives, and in this case their death and the ceremonies that surround saying a final good-bye to a loved one while still keeping them in your heart.

The owners of the bed and breakfast had generously given their evening to Ryan the day he arrived to offer him a glimpse of what he would experience the following day when he attended an Irish wake. The untimely death of an old surfing buddy brought him to Ireland. It was crazy to think that the two of them had surfed together for years in the decent sized waves off Long Beach British Columbia and only got into trouble a few times when they tried to harness the power of sizable Pacific Ocean storms off the west coast of BC. He had known Paul since his university years, and was even invited to come along to Ireland to experience the massive waves generated by the vicious storms in the North Sea that are seldom mentioned in the travel brochures. An exceptionally brutal storm had produced waves that his friend had never challenged before. He overestimated his surfing skill set and paid for it with his life. Now he would be having an Irish wake to celebrate his life with a small group of friends from way back in his university and surfing days.

Ryan regretted not taking Paul up on his invitation to join the surfing adventure in Ireland; but he also realized that he would have been out with Paul challenging the unforgiving waves with him when death came calling. The group from those glory days in Tofino had made their way from across Canada to pay tribute to a great friend and surfing buddy.

He wondered if Kelsey would be one of those who dropped everything in her busy life to take a vacation in Ireland and help send Paul on his next adventure. Ryan was never able to completely eliminate Kelsey from either his mind or heart. Their time together had been an erotic combination of friendship turned to love with a distinct flavor of lust. He had never had another physical and emotional bond like the one that he and Kelsey had experienced. The magic of those beach and surfing days, combined with the intimacy and laughter they created together by the fireplace in the oceanside cabins was a forever memory that had never been matched by the reality of any relationship since they parted ways.

Ryan could also never bring himself to face the pain that he had caused in himself and the devastation his departure from Kelsey had produced that nearly destroyed the beautiful lady he had once promised to share his life with. Together they had envisioned the world travel locations that both had on their bucket list; and possibly surf since many of these had excellent beaches and waves. In retrospect how could he have chosen a journalist job in another province over the life that both had visualized with the other person. They even spoke of the rocking chairs that each would have together on their seaside porch rocking and watching the sun dip into the Pacific before sharing a hot tub and a hot time on their waterbed listening to the crashing surf outside their window in the neighboring community of Ucluelet. They even bought a lot just on the border of Rainforest Estates where the land stretched out to brag about being the furthest westerly homes in Canada. How would she react when she saw him and how would he be able to offer her an apology that would truly describe the everlasting pain and regret he would forever feel? He knew that the flowing tears that had waited almost 10 years to flow would at least demonstrate the level of sincerity and add credibility when he ushered the words “I’m so very sorry for giving up on us and for not believing that what we dreamed could and would have become reality if only I had put you first. Will you ever be able to forgive me for destroying our dream? How will I ever be able to forgive myself for letting you go for a job and the dream of being a writer and journalist?

We could have combined both our dreams of being together and my dream of becoming a writer. Now I get to experience travel without anyone to share the adventures with, other than a few thousand readers who can’t possibly share the cultures I’ve lived, the surf I’ve ridden alone and the sunsets that take the color from my life as they die each day without love or laughter. When I left you I left a part of my heart behind that I will never recover. I also recognize that the wound I inflicted on your heart and soul is not one that can be repaired by words that float in the air and are then vaporized by regret. As the west coast singer Valdy sang “Love is not leaving her alive”.

Ryan had his digital recorder on throughout the life lessons he was being taught by the B & B owners. He listened and smiled when they described the joyous occasion he was about to experience at the Irish wake. He would be laughing far more than crying over the departure of his friend. Yes, he would go into the “viewing room” and say a few words to Paul, laying in the casket; but the tears that will flow from his soul will be no match for the laughter that will erupt when the group got together and shared the outrageous stunts that they had experienced with Paul and the happy memories that will flow over them and take their sadness away. Like the surf they once shared, the power of the ocean and the crash that it produces will be the tsunami of love for their departing friend. How could they not laugh and share an Irish brew just thinking of the massive waves that Paul will be riding in the heavens above. Some speculated whether the afterlife would be more of a thermal hot pool environment that Paul would sometimes allude to when he would tell you that you could either chose to “Go to work and the hell that awaited us in many of our mundane lives or come share the waves and go to heaven with him”. Besides, they also knew what a kind and generous soul he was and God was not going to let this kind of lover of life to be lost on some downer who could never see the light beyond the fires that burns around him.

The day of the wake was typically Irish; a drizzly of rain, a hint of the possibilities of trouble combined with fun, and of course the green fields and forests providing the backdrop for medieval castles and ceremonies that kept the peasant spirits alive, even when it was to celebrate the dead. He arrived close to the beginning of the wake and the music that came from a small group of community musician that often provided the dance tunes for the living and the celebration of life music for the dead. The spread of sandwiches and nibbles of all kinds reminded him more of a wedding than a funeral; or in this case an Irish wake.

He was eager to get together with the group that had flown at different times on different airlines in order to celebrate the differences and similarities in the lifestyles of those living, with Paul who died and took with him a certain irreverence for the seriousness of life responsibilities and the limitations of those who could not believe in the magic of living each day with fewer filters and no regrets.

The owners and those at the wake both offered a quote that is often heard and celebrated during an Irish wake: “Laughter can be heard farther away than crying”. Ryan loved that quote and made a note to include that as a focal point with his photographs and the article he was writing on travel in the Emerald Isle. He also knew from his life with Kelsey and the death of their relationship that his crying and tears sitting alone on the beach could only be truly heard and felt by someone connected to his heart and soul; while the laughter he heard when the group and especially Kelsey shared good times could be heard even above the roar that is produced daily by the ocean smashing into the land.

Then he saw her: or more to the point he saw her bronze tan, the flowing hair that the sun had caressed daily, the well-shaped body sculpted by an outdoor life filled with exercise disguised as having fun in a wetsuit, with a hint of her vegan lifestyle and peppered with a zest for life that could not be dampened by the morning fog off long beach or the near daily rain that gave that area the nickname Wet Coast. Her lips held the memories of the intimacy they once shared together; the smile that softened your inhibitions and gave encouragement for your lust to grow. Right here, right now he wondered, and feared, would she immediately recognize the new improved Ryan; and how long would it take her to translate that into a slap across the face and the condemnation that would follow for the loss and pain from her dark side and the memories she could never extinguish, that overshadowed her light side and the optimistic side of her that kept the dream alive that she might someday meet another Ryan and the future that once grew in them both. Ryan had caused that miscarriage of happiness and now it was time to face the music in that tragedy.

Ryan inched his way toward her until finally they were side by side at the table serving wine, beer, and spirits. Both had chosen a red wine; a drink resurrected from memories of bonfires on the beach and lovemaking in the sand warmed by the sun. He said hello and she said hi. He remarked on how sad it was to lose a friend like Paul. She responded with a comment that agreed that those who came into your life as surfing buddies and friends, some with privileges; then left without reason that took your heart and dreams away with them were often the hardest to let go, especially when you couldn’t understand why they left in the first place. He talked about how life sometimes had a plan B for you while you were trying to make sense of your own plan A; while she talked of the unpredictability of life and the ocean; and how big plans and even bigger waves could smash the life out of happiness and even the best swimmers and surfers.

Did she really not recognize him? Did he really not recognize that she had moved on and left his deception and lack of vision of their future together in the setting sun over a calm and disappointing sea? They enjoyed the Irish music; they loved listening to the laughter that drown out any tears and crying that Paul’s drowning had produced; and they danced together for the evening, even when others were lost in conversation and cheering their surfing buddy and the larger than life that was available to all and accepted by only a selective adventuresome few.

Ryan held her tight as they danced the slow waltzes; Kelsey kept her distance when the Irish jigs were being demonstrated and attempted even by those with two left feet. They shook hands at the end of the evening and at the end of what Ryan was sure was a serendipitous meeting that may have ended much differently if she had recognized who he was; and he had recognized what future she had to offer.

The next morning Ryan shaved off his beard, switched glasses to his back-up pair that were like the ones he used to wear when he and Kelsey were a couple, and headed for the airport to return home to the reality of a writer and the realization that he might well have let go again to the one that got away.

He boarded the plane and headed to the back with the other peasants headed home to their unfulfilled life that now had a green flavor and memories from having visited a beautiful country with warm and fun-loving people who accepted you for who you are in the hear and now, and not for who you might have been and the mistakes you might have made. The plane lifted off, the pilot greeted the passengers and explained their flight conditions and ETA back in Canada and the flight attendants began their customer service routine.

Ryan had no idea what to expect when the flight attendant informed him that he had been upgraded to first class. He followed her up to the front of the plane and into a comfortable seat with a glass of champagne waiting to celebrate the first moment of the rest of his life. Kelsey swung her seat around as he sat down and offered her glass up for a toast: “Here’s to us Ryan, and to days filled with surf and sand, and to nights filled with love that I’ve been waiting for us to share. Oh, I should mention that I prefer you clean-shaven to that beard you sported at the wake for Paul”.

Have you ever noticed the way the new moon in a night sky looks like a finger nail clipping flung across a black granite counter? Paddy used to clip his nails in the bathroom and he never cleaned them up, left that job to me. Our counter was black which is why, I suppose, I noticed it,” said short, well-dressed woman whose glasses hung on the tip of her nose.

“You’re right…absolutely right! It does look like a finger nail, now that you mention it. Well, now I suppose there’s no chance of you ever forgetting the bugger, is there?!” said a second just-as-old lady with a grass-green bag hung over her arm. With that comment, the two women burst into a cackle that bubbled across the floor and filled the room like the head of a frothy pint of ale fills a glass.

Overhearing this banter, Ryan felt the bulge of her own laughter rise from her gut and pop out of her mouth, as sudden as a belch. Just as suddenly came a vision of the man lying in the casket in the next room, alive and bent over a black granite countertop, fingernail clippings wheeling through the air, dusting the counter with galaxies—a hundred little moons for his wife to clean up. One for each year that he lived.

Ryan didn’t know anyone at the wake, but now, drinking in the merriment as if it were champagne, she wished they were her family. She had arrived to Ireland only the day before. She was on assignment for “Mystical Planet,” a travel blog for which she frequently wrote. Her plan was to follow a trail that was supposedly still worn from wear by faerie folk. Having not quite recovered from jet lag, Ryan decided to spend an extra day in Dublin and as the Blarney stone would have it, strolling into the bar closest to her Airbnb, The Fourleaf Clover, she landed in a wake—an unfamiliar ritual, a celebration of life that she had always wondered about.

Looking around, Ryan realized that she’d happened upon a veritable pot of gold for her research. The old folks here, surely, believed in faeries, had probably seen a couple in their lives, and could give her something to write about if her own wanderings proved fruitless. Now she just had to make up some cockamamie story about how she knew Paddy. “Thank God, I know his name,” she thought.

Ryan crossed the smoky bars of light slanting across the room from the front window, eyes fixed on an older gentleman seated at the bar and the empty stool beside him. As she did, she thought about the legend of the people who turned sideways into the light. What were they called? The Tour-Danin? Tua-da-da? “Perfect,” she thought, “that’ll be my ice breaker!” Putting the smile in her eyes, she strode up to the bar. As she hopped up into the seat beside him, the bartender, who had been pouring shots on the back counter, turned to face them, “what’ll it be?” she asked.

A spike of lightening ripped through Ryan—blasted her mind to smithereens. The bartender was, without a doubt, Ryan’s first girlfriend. Ryan, realizing she was attracted to personality rather than gender, came out of the closet at age twenty-one. Now at age 40, and single, after having several serious boyfriends and girlfriends, Ryan didn’t think much about her sexuality. People were people and some of them were interesting while others were not, which made them either attractive or not. Kelsey was one of the interesting ones. They had even spoke of marriage at one time, before it was legal. Ryan remembered talking about vows. “Til death do us part” seemed strange to Ryan. “Why would death result in parting,” she asked Kelsey, “when it was souls that were coming together in union?” She recalled Kelsey’s answer, here, now. “I think they’re wrong about that too.”

A warehouse of memories tumbled down on Ryan as she took in Kelsey’s features—older but unchanged in their uniqueness. Soft brown hair curling around rosy cheeks, more chiseled now than they were in her youth, and clear blue eyes that reminded Kelsey of an Icelandic sky. There was something of a pink carnation about Kelsey’s mouth. Everything about her, Ryan mused, was reminiscent of a garden. Kelsey exuded a kind of floral abundance, something that made you want her around. Following the initial shock, and the brief joy of being back in the garden, Ryan felt a long- dormant volcano begin to stir. She tried to suppress the burning heat as the memories of her infidelity returned, but her cheeks, she could tell were red.

“These are on the house,” said Kelsey, pushing a shot of something golden toward the man and Ryan. Her eyes were vacant, showed no signs of recognition.

Kelsey’s voice derailed the train of thought which, to Ryan, felt as if it were stuck on a mobius track. Had she even been breathing? In hopes that Kelsey really didn’t recognize her, Ryan attempted a disguise, Ryan muttered “thanks Mate,” in an Australian accent. Kelsey nodded blankly and asked again, “what can I getcha?” her own voice laced with the flair of the Irish.

“A pint of Beamish,” Ryan, again forcing her best Aussie accent, caught the attention of the man beside her. He turned to face her with a look of astonishment and blurted in almost undecipherable brogue, “who are you?”

Ryan had experienced many inconvenient moments in her life, but this took awkward to a whole new level. Her mind at this moment would have been the envy of all aspiring yogis. A blank void incapable of thought. She thought she might vomit when someone started ringing the big brass bell hanging on the far end of the bar. The man beside her turned to look and Kelsey turned to look while Ryan leapt off the stool and fairly sprinted through the double doors leading to the side room where Paddy lay face-up in his casket. “The bell must’ve been a call for everyone to gather near the bar”, she thought as she found herself alone with the body.

Paddy was dressed in a dark blue suit. His hands were folded neatly across his abdomen. Ryan couldn’t deny, his fingernails were perfect. She started laughing, low and quiet at first, but soon she was laughing hard and loud. She didn’t know where it was coming from, nor did she have control. It reminded her of when she first smoked marijuana. Weed always had her in hysterics. She and Kelsey would get so stoned together; they did crazy things like trying to eat popcorn with their toes and then practically died from laughing so hard that they could not breathe. She remembered watching “Death at a Funeral” and laughing so hard that she peed her pants. Even memories from her youth flooded back. It was as if every humorous thing she had ever seen, thought or done now came back in a torrent, in a celebration of life, as she bent, convulsing with giggles over Paddy’s body. And maybe it was because the tears streaming out of Ryan’s eyes blurred her vision, but it looked to Ryan as if the corners of Paddy’s mouth lifted into a smile.

Startled by the notion that the dead man was coming back to life, Ryan abruptly stopped laughing. Hearing the floor creak in the new silence, Ryan looked over her shoulder to find the mourners, all 50 of them, eyes wide and mouths agape gathered behind her. In that moment she remembered something she read a few years back, “Laughter can be heard farther away than crying! They heard me!” She withered.

“Hello, my fair girl,” said the woman Ryan had overheard discussing her dead husband’s fingernails, “do you mind telling us just what you think you’re doing in here, alone with my husband?”

Ryan couldn’t tell if the woman was joking or not. She desperately hoped for a witty remark to fly out of her mouth like a lark at daybreak, but it didn’t come. She was sure she would’ve won if there’d been a contest for palest person in the room. She knew there would be no brass bell to save her now. Her only hope was that Paddy really was coming back to life, that he’d sit up and say, “Ain’t life grand?!” Or something cheesy like that.

Should she reach for his hand and say, “I just found out he’s my birth father”?

She could always fold her arms into wings and start clucking like a chicken, her go-to response for getting out of tight situations when she was younger. “Out-freak the freaks” was her teenage motto.

Kelsey was thinking that she could admit that she just wanted to be part of a wake to experience a celebration of life that she knew nothing about; this seemed to her the most reasonable way out. “And of course,” she suddenly remembered, “she would have to speak to Kelsey and apologize for her bad behavior. Explain she was just a kid who needed validation from others back then. That she was different now.”

And then, as if on cue, Kelsey came striding through the group of family and friends like a flower, gracefully sliding across the room on two long stems. She walked right up to Ryan, put her arm tightly around her and said, “she’s with me.”

As they made their way back through the crowd, who accepted this explanation as willingly as they swallowed their Jameson’s, Kelsey whispered into Ryan’s ear, “I always hoped that death would bring us back together.”

2018 Contest

The 2018 Three-Hour contest takes place at a wedding and it has to start with that first line.

When Jerri stepped out on the patio, she saw three people from the wedding party she would have to convince if she hoped to get out of this angry crowd alive.

Ok. Jerri was a character, not in the wedding party. She looked down, and saw she’s wearing a blue knee length floral summer dress, her hair pinned up, and her legs shaved. Obviously, this virtual reality stuff didn’t care about matching with your actual personality. She stood tall and poised. She looked around at the crowd with hatred, and suspicion. Life and death, eh? The goal was getting out of this game alive.

Her mind turned to all those insipid movies with sinister plots of “bad guys” using these hooked-up specimens for evil purposes – harvesting their organs for the black market…

Jerri sat on the patio swing and watched the crowd, gauging her next move. Ugh. She wondered if she refused to cooperate: what would happen? Who cares? I didn’t want to play this stupid game anyways. How did she get roped into this again?

It’s Steven’s birthday. They don’t see each other that often these days, living in different towns. This was an event. We’re here, doing this is the spirit of family and togetherness. Forget that. Next year, he’s getting a gift card. None of this supposed bonding. She doesn’t even know what character he is. She doesn’t even know the stupid plot of this game. Ugh.

Ugh. Ok, Jerri, she pep talked herself. Go ask someone what’s up.

She looked around from the swing at the stupid pool, with all those inflatable pool toys bobbing about, inner tubes as giraffes and flamingoes; there were banquet tables full of snack foods and crystal ware, a tiered cheese tray, that classic chocolate fondue.

Jerri cursed the game makers, the arcade owners, her mother for having Steven, Steven for being born and organizing such monstrosities as this, and at herself for agreeing to be a part of this. What a waste of time; she could be campaigning with the Green Party right now.

Ugh. Changing one’s attitude is so hard.

Jerri looked down at the slip of her papers in her hand, and reread the ridiculously vague instructions.

When Jerri stepped out on the patio, she saw three people from the wedding party she would have to convince if she hoped to get out of this angry crowd alive.

Three people from the wedding party to talk to, huh? Let’s see, there is the maid of honor, a decked-out, big-bosomed, gal with heavy make-up. Jerri felt like punching her. Hmm…Maybe that’s Steven in character? Then there’s the ring bearer- a six-year-old with cats decorating his suspenders. And there’s that shortest groomsman, who might not even be five feet, complete with a balding head and a gigantic mustache.

Ok, she clenched her jaw, and got up of the swing and stomped her way over to the six-year-old with cat suspenders. Wait, where did he go?

He scowled at her approach, and ran. He hid under the table. She swooped in under the table top, and knelt beside the boy.


He glowered at her. Not a quick sell. He had already set up his Hot Wheels and collection of candies in neat separated piles on the ground.

“Why is everyone angry?” she asked.

He grunted, then said “Leave me alone.”

She rolled her eyes, then stood up, grabbed the table top, lifted and raised the table above her head, and with a scream like the Hulk, threw it over into the pool where it sank into the deep end.

The boy looked up at her with wide eyes, grabbed his toy and candy collection, and scampered under another table across the courtyard.

She sat at one of the tables, and laid her head down. Someone bumped her, grabbed her skirt and tugged. She looked up. It was the nine year old flower girl, who handed her a carnation. “Don’t mind Jackson,” she said. “He doesn’t like the crowds.”

“Thanks.” Jerri took the flower offering and tucked it in her hair. “Why is everyone so angry?”

The little girl turned around and walked away as if she didn’t know English. Jerri’s eyelids kept getting heavy. Ugh. How to get in the game? How to get over this inertia? Go, go, go. Interview people, for Pete’s sake.

Jerri went off to the small mustached balding man who had his fingers in the remains of the wedding cake, stuffing his face.

“Why is everyone angry?” She asked.

He stared at her, then smeared his handful of cake into her face. She froze, then licked her lips, tasting the frosting. Super sickly sweet. Then she grabbed the bowl of punch and dumped it on his head. A food fight ensued.

Jerri did not get out of the wedding alive. One of the guests threw a crystal jug, and it hit her temple, breaking a vein, and her brain clogged with the blood. The ambulance was too late.

[{You are rerouted to Scene 3 to Choose your next adventure”}] appeared in Jerri’s vision. –ZAP-

When Jerri stepped out on the patio, she saw three people from the wedding party she would have to convince if she hoped to get out of this angry crowd alive.

Huh. So this is like Groundhog’s Day, eh? No enlightenment. No attitude change. We tried hurling tables, we tried the food fight, and we tried moping and sleeping, but no such luck. How does one get out of this stupid game?

Well…Jerri shrugged her shoulders, strode over to the blonde bedecked maid of honor, and punched her square in the nose. The blonde dropped like a stone backwards, into the pool. She came up above water, spluttering and nose gushing blood.

Not the best way to meet friends and influence people.

Someone grabbed Jerri from behind, hoisted her up, and threw her in the pool. As she tried to surface, the dark shape jumped in again, and grabbed her, holding her underwater while she thrashed and struggled for her life. The stranger would not let go. Soon Jerri’s movements lessened, and stopped altogether.

[{You are rerouted Scene 3 to “Choose your next adventure”}] appeared in Jerri’s vision.

When Jerri stepped out on the patio, she saw three people from the wedding party she would have to convince if she hoped to get out of this angry crowd alive.

Jerri went back to the patio swing and lay down. She thought about the other people in her life that would find a way to make this fun, to push the limits, to use this time to explore the world or their abilities. She cursed them and went to climb a tree like she imagined David would do.

All the trees were nicely shaped and pruned. Such lovely big limbs, perfectly placed. She climbed up and up and up, surveying the crowd below, listened to the birds, and zipped up her jacket tighter to shelter herself from the breeze that was picking up.

She plucked some apples, and started throwing them at the people in the crowd, mostly missing, but in general adding to the chaos below. She nailed a few guests in the head, and they collapsed. The nine year old and six year old clambered over and up the first few branches. She dropped an armload of apples on their heads, and they dropped to the ground, unconscious.

Some people came over to check on the kids, then looked up and yelled profanities. They started throwing the apples back at her. One lucky throw pegged her, and she dropped.

[{You are rerouted to Scene 3 to Choose your next adventure”}]  – ZAP –

When Jerri stepped out on the patio, she saw three people from the wedding party she would have to convince if she hoped to get out of this angry crowd alive.

The crowd was angry? She was angry. She wanted to cry. She did. Ugh! Her battlecry rang through the air, and she ran over to the tables, hurling them over, one after the other. The crystal smashed. The bride screamed. The 4 tiered white frosted cake smashed as it hit the floor, and Jerri jumped up and down on it, stomping it, punching it, throwing it as hard she could at anyone and everyone in reach. She threw chairs into the pond. She pulled down the hanging decoration. She screamed, a wordless long unending note chockful of frustration and hatred and rage. Someone tried approaching her, but she had turned blind in her own world, and just lashed out, claws out, limbs swinging, fists pounding, striking anything and everything within reach.

Somehow big hands grabbed her, maneuvering past the mania, and hoisted her into the pool. The flood of chlorinated water didn’t jolt her; she thrashed for another full five minutes until her body gave out, exhausted, and she floated on her back, looking up at the clouded sky, with the speckles of particle floaties dancing in her vision. She laid there, labored breathing, occasionally spluttering when water went up her nose.

A flamingo inflatable floated over and she grabbed ahold, and looked about. A wave of cold came over her. She still couldn’t see anything. This blindness is so frustrating. She felt insanely frustrated again. She cried again. So cold. She kicked her legs. Kicked and kicked and kicked. She went to one side of the pool, then kicked her way to the other side. Kick, kick, kick. She got lost in the motion. It was soothing. Kick, kick, kick. So hard to think. Her tears melded into the water, and she kept kicking. Kick, kick, kick. Water lapped. She let go of the flamingo, and started doing front crawl, reaching as far as she could, trying to use her whole leg to kick, as her lifeguard friend had told her last summer. She couldn’t think. Kick, kick, kick. Just keep kicking. Just keep swimming. Dorrie’s jingle from “Finding Nemo” echoed in her head. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…swimming…swimming. “

She felt a wave of nausea, and burped. She abruptly stopped swimming, and dove down to the deep end floor, sitting on the bottom, feeling the pressure on her ear drums, thrusting her arms to keep her below water. Quiet.

Suddenly her watch beeped. She peered down.

[{“Time’s up” }] glowed on the screen.  –ZAP-

Reality came back into view. Jerri waited. The game host attended to each of the other participants, then unbuckled and unplugged Jerri from all the wiring. The host beckoned and gestured Jerri to follow him.

“Watching your performance showed unexpected strength. We are training an elite team in virtual reality to prepare for the imminent war, and you are chosen to join these ranks for the next six months. You are expected to report her at 8 am in one week. Please tie up your affairs and inform those necessary. We will be watching. See you in one week.”

Jerri staggered out. She reunited with her family, hearing them chatter about their experiences in the game. She kept silent, reeling from how her life had just transformed. She decided to head to the pool.