Spec Faith 2016 Summer Writing Challenge

I’ll give a first line, and those who wish to accept the challenge will write what comes next—in 100 to 300 words, putting your entry into the comments section of this post. “What comes next” may be the opening of a novel, a short story, or a completed piece of flash fiction—your choice.
on Aug 15, 2016 · 84 comments

Spec Faith 2016 Summer Writing ChallengeIt’s time for another Spec Faith Writing Challenge.

As a reminder, here’s how this particular challenge works:

1. I’ll give a first line, and those who wish to accept the challenge will write what comes next—in 100 to 300 words, putting your entry into the comments section of this post.

“What comes next” may be the opening of a novel, a short story, or a completed piece of flash fiction—your choice.

In keeping with Spec Faith’s primary focus on the intersection of speculative fiction and the Christian faith, writers may wish to incorporate Christian elements or to write intentionally from a Christian worldview, but neither is required. Likewise, I’d expect speculative elements, or the suggestion of such, but entries will not be disqualified because of their omission.

2. Readers will give thumbs up to the ones they like the most (unlimited number of likes), and, if they wish, they may give a comment to the various entries, telling what particularly grabbed their attention.

By the way, I encourage such responses—it’s always helpful for entrants to know what they did right and what they could have done to improve.

3. After the designated time, I’ll re-post the top three (based on the number of thumbs up they receive) and visitors will have a chance to vote on which they believe is the best (one vote only).

4. I’ll again sweeten the pot and offer a $25 gift card (from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble) to the writer of the entry that receives the most votes (as opposed to the most thumbs up). In the event of a tie, a drawing will be held between the top vote getters to determine the winner.

And now, the first line:

Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear.

Finally, those silly little details we all need to know:

  • Your word count does not include this first line.
  • You will have between now and midnight (Pacific time) this coming Sunday to post your challenge entries in the comments section.
  • You may reply to entries, giving thumbs up, this week and next. To have your thumb-up counted to determine the top three entries, mark your favorite entries before Monday, August 22.
  • Voting begins Monday, August 29.

Feel free to invite any of your friends to participate, either as writers or readers. The more entries and the more feedback, the better the challenge.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
Website ·
  1. Hannah says:

    This is not an entry. I find it a little frustrating that this and the last prompt have named the character you will be writing about. The names, especially this one, dictate modern or at least familiarly mortal context and seems strangely out of place in the Speculative category. I’m sure many people will be able to come with awesome and fitting entries, but for more fantastical writers, the modern human name severely handicaps their creativity.

    • Hannah, any time there’s a given first line, there are some limitations that presents. But what I’ve learned from reading the challenge entries over the years is that those who want to find a way around the limitations, can.

      So in this summer challenge, perhaps the character was named after an inscription on an old building or a time traveler who came to the 23rd century or after an alien from a planet called Earth. Really, part of the fun of this contest is to see what your imagination can do with what you’ve been given to work with. I hope you can find a way to make this work for you.


    • Sparksofember says:

      Maybe we could submit and vote on prompts, every now and then, just for fun?

  2. Royce Hunt says:

    Neither could she speak of the many things she heard. Not everyone is gifted to be able to hear colors or see music. To Josie, a Monet was a symphony. Mozart bathed Josie in an abstraction of oranges and yellows. Yet, when loud music was combined with too much visual stimulation, she could feel the sound and colors. It was like her skin felt like being burned and scratched at the same time. Her doctors would describe such sensations as her wiring being wrong or defective. Other just thought Josie was retarded. She knew otherwise. She just couldn’t speak to tell them – at least not in a way others could hear.
    It was in the magic of the warm Autumn colors that Josie noticed a pattern. It was a song of sadness and decay mixed with hope. Hope is what she and her stressed parents needed.

  3. Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. After ear surgery, she was hearing the rush of sounds around her in a way that overwhelmed her data feeds and left her helpless. She retreated to the space station reading room – a quiet space where a deaf girl could retreat without talking, even a deaf girl who had received ear surgery. Muffled with ear protectors, she was discomfited by the shushing sound of the ear protectors against her hair, the tiny squeak of her legs against the plastic of her chair, and a strange buzz that faded and echoed through her head, unlike any of the other sounds.

    That buzz had breaks and pitch changes that reminded her of the raised braille marks her friend Dusty used to read. She tuned into the sound and started to write down her interpretation of it on her data-pad. Long dashes, short ones, a dot, then three slurred dots of sound with minor pauses, and then silence. The pattern repeated.

    Josie wrote it over and over again, and then she sent it to Dusty’s data-pad, asking if she could interpret it. Dusty replied quickly.

    -Who sent you this? It says: Help Needed. Urgent.-

    -I’ve been hearing it since surgery.–

    -Let’s tell the Captain.-

    Josie sent the whole thing to the Captain via her data-pad.

    The Captain didn’t reply right away.

    Josie felt a hand on her shoulder.

    The second mate stood by her chair. He signed for her.

    Josie nodded and followed him.

    In the Captain’s cabin, Josie and Dusty were asked questions. Dialogue was slow.

    When the conversation ended and the SOS beacons were checked for confirmation, the Captain sprang into action.

    Josie’s odd hearing saved a life.

  4. Tim W Brown says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. A brief not-quite-hidden glance from a lady on the bus reminded him to put on the ear buds. With the ear buds, nobody bothered when his head bobbed to a rhythm they didn’t hear. With the plug pushed into a pocket, nobody could tell he’d left his MP3 player at home. The sounds filling his ears – ‘music’ he called it – came from everywhere. It was an odd mix of sounds, sometimes discordant, sometimes almost in harmony, rather like a grade-school orchestra warming up for a Bach concerto. When the chime sounded for his stop, Josie pushed through the crowd and onto the sidewalk; as always the music shifted. Each person, each thing had its own theme, a kind of musical aura. The crowded bus was a cacophony of little concertos, each slightly out of tune and out of synch with the others. Josie felt relieved to step onto the sidewalk and into the park, where the simpler, quieter tunes from the concrete slabs, the trees, bushes and grass formed a relaxing background music, with only the occasional surge of complex and less harmonious music of passersby and their dogs.
    In all the time since Josie had first heard the music, there had never been lyrics – no words at all. It had been a constant yet uneven aural flow. A sudden chill hit his spine when he suddenly heard, for the first time, a voice speaking actual words. The words were not in any language Josie understood, but the voice was full of spite and anger. Looking around to find the speaker, there was nobody visible except a sad-looking older man slumped on a bench.

  5. She took a deep breath and quieted her soul, preparing for that still small voice.

    “Okay God. I know that we can turn to you in every need. That your word always has an answer for us. But I don’t remember it saying anything about fairies…”

    She opened her eyes and gazed once more at the tiny beings nestled in a half circle among the grass that was staining her own mountainous knees. Fingers the size of eyelashes reached out to her imploringly.

    Josie didn’t get an answer, but she felt a strength and a certainty rise within her. As gently as one would try to catch a floating bubble without popping it, she scooped up the delicate fairy whose wings were already crumpled like a broken butterfly.

    “I know you created all things, and want us to take care of them. Even if I don’t recognize this one, I know she is your child.”

  6. The voice belonged to Dakooth Blorjibag, her younger cousin by a few months. Hearing it would be a regular enough occurrence, if Dakooth hadn’t been away visiting one of his friends in Mongolia.

    She’d started hearing Dakooth’s voice in her head the day after he left. Her father had said it wasn’t anything to be worried about. As a doctor, he had experience with these kinds of things. Hearing voices belonging to other people was a relatively uncommon condition, but all symptoms were expected to fade within a few weeks.

    For now, Josie would just have to put up with hearing every word of Dakooth’s prattling. If only she was hearing the voice of a master poet or musician. Instead, she was forced to listen to Dakooth during all hours of the day. He was annoying enough when he was living next door. Inside her head, he was unbearable. How would she ever concentrate on her schoolwork long enough to get it done?

    Josie winced as Dakooth swore. He was abusing his privilege. His parents never would have let him use that word at home.

    “I have a cousin with a really weird name,” said Dakooth, presumably talking to his friend.

    Josie rolled her eyes. Her name may have been a little bit unusual for modern times, but it had been common enough back during the 21st century. She had been named after her great-grandmother.

    • Khai says:

      I’m really a fan of the humor, and the curious, quirky, creative future you’ve set up to explore that doesn’t have high stakes or revolution or dystopia. Makes me realize I need to be more positive, so my wold building is more “bubbly” 😀

  7. Josie MacDonald wasn’t hearing things – at least not things other people could hear.

    Fear crawled up my throat. I held the phone to my ear, unable to keep my feet still on the kitchen linoleum.

    “You have reached the Lobere Mental Health Center,” said a robotic voice for the twentieth time. “Your call is important to us. Please remain on the line.”

    It was too late, wasn’t it? I’d committed her. If I tried to get her released, would they ask why? Would they try to commit me too?

    Jordan toddled past, carrying a wooden duck in his arms. I ran my hand over his honey-colored curls.

    The creatures would come again. The voices. The figures fading into sight. They might try to speak to Jordan next time. They might whisk him away…suck him into that other dimension-place.

    My chest constricted until I could barely breathe. “I just want my mom back, okay?” I whispered back at the automated message. “I was wrong. I don’t know what to do. She said used to fight these creatures. So someone please, please pick up. Pick up soon…” My eyes prickled with tears. “I need my mom back.”

    A click resounded on the line and a voice fired out like a shot. “Mrs. Simmons?”

    My fingertips went numb. The doctor with the strange eyes and the icy hands – I thought he worked at the other hospital! I thought we’d gotten away from him.

    He spoke again, smooth and cool this time. “Hello, Mrs. Simmons. I want you to repeat everything you just said…very…carefully.”

    “Um…” I backed up against the counter. “May I speak to the hospital administrator please?”

    “Of course, ma’am.” His voice dripped through the speaker like a liquid drug. “You hold on there, and someone will be right with you.”

    A loud buzz smacked me out of my shock.

    The doorbell.

  8. Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. Her parents spoke in hushed tones as they asked the precinct doctor how to make it stop.

    Her father glanced around the makeshift office. “It’s like that old Far Side cartoon, remember the one? The people would be doing one thing while their shadows did what they really wanted to do. Josie doesn’t hear what people say, she hears the true intent of their words.”

    Her mother’s knee bounced, “She doesn’t even realize she’s hearing it so she responds to their intent, not to the words coming from their mouths. She’s only ten but you can see the danger it puts us all in.”

    Josie sat between them watching their lips form words that didn’t match the ones she heard, “She’s our only daughter. We’re desperate. We’re so afraid. She’s going to get us all killed. Please tell us you have the answer. We’re helpless.”

    Dr. Kraus stared hard at Josie. His eyes were the color of emeralds, like the rainbow in the storybook she left behind when they fled after the first invasion. They were beautiful but not kind. Josie’s parents heard the doctor say, “Of course, I see the problem. I have the perfect solution.”

    As Josie slid from her chair and dropped to the floor, her hands over her ears, they realized she heard something quite different but not in time to escape the bullets from Dr. Kraus’s top-drawer handgun. Josie would long remember the words she heard that changed her destiny, “In my service, your daughter will prove to be the most effective interrogator the regime ever had against the revolutionaries.”

    Ten years later, she still remembered that no matter what she’d done – or was about to do, she once was loved by good, godly people. What would they think of what she’d become?

  9. Posted for David James

    Josie MacDonald was not “hearing things” – at least not things other people could hear. Some would call her delusional, but really she had no clue what it was and realized no one else could hear nor talk about it. Good thing she was at home the first time. Her mom thought she was just upset over her dad leaving.

    At the mall she wandered down the steps to the food court and the sound began again. She knows she is hearing this. The scritch-scratch SCREETCH!!! that wakes her up at night in a cold sweat.

    Yet here…..it was even louder.

    Could that be from the acoustics? Perhaps, but it could be something else.

    She followed the sound to a coffee shop with few patrons. It vibrated off the walls in the coffee shop. But this was no coffee grinder nor espresso machine.

    The walls even seemed to move.

    So now she was “seeing things” as well as “hearing” them.

    She walked over to a corner table. Listening. Watching. It seemed to go back and forth along the walls. The remaining customers began leaving. Soon, all that remained – isolated from the rest of the mall – were the employees, herself, and an elderly gentleman reading a newspaper.

    The store was otherwise empty when the dark entity stepped out from a crack that appeared in the wall.

    Josie froze.

    Was this what she had been hearing the past two weeks? What was she going to do?

    The employees kept about their duty as if nothing occurred.

    The man with the newspaper put it down and looked in her direction. The entity was between them.

    “You should go back where you came from if you know what’s good for you.”

    Josie thought he was talking to her.

    A rough, deep, scratchy sound emanated from the creature, and she realized it was speaking.

    “Oh, it’s you. What are you doing here?”

    “Protecting this city from the likes of you. Care to test that?”

    The entity reentered the crack and it sealed up and the sound was gone.

    The elderly man picked up his newspaper again, but noticed Josie staring at him.

    The employee grinding coffee said, “Don’t worry about old Harry there, he’s always seeing demons that are trying to invade the mall.”

    Josie didn’t – couldn’t – respond to the kid.

    “You, you saw it, and told it to leave, didn’t you?!”

    Harry took a harder look at her. Then a realization came over his face. “Son of a – you saw it too, didn’t you?”

    Josie nodded.

    The employee at the grinder turned to another at the register and said, “Now we’re going to have two weirdos in here all the time!”

    by David James

  10. Audie says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. But that would soon not be true.

    First there had been the dreams, visions of cyclopean structures long hidden within the crushing darkness of the ocean depths, noneuclidean architectures that no human mind could comprehend or rationalize, let alone navigate.

    But what drew him was the music, a suffocating cascade of vast and unearthly harmonies and alien rhythms that ceaselessly echoed through his mind, but that he could only imperfectly express through the tortured shrieks of violins, the brash disharmonies of trumpets, the arrhythmic thunders of timpani, and other herculean attempts to draw extraterrestrial and even transdimensional sounds from mere man-made instruments.

    Yet above even the music was the song, lyrics composed of words no human tongue was fitted to speak, in a language as old as time, as old as thought, as old as the stars. And so Josie again set his pen to his musical score, and wrote down his attempts to put into a human language the words sent into his feverish and fractured mind by that terrible and powerful inhuman will that he could not even dream of resisting. “Ia R’lyeh! Cthulhu fhtagn!”

  11. Anthony O says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. Shortly after she had gone deaf, she started to hear things when she was alone. What she heard she could only describe as a man humming. She had never heard the tune, nor anything so calming before. It was a low, slow song, and as she heard it, she could almost see in her mind the hummer working on something over a table, humming contentedly as he worked. After determining that it wasn’t a hallucination, a difficult process to say the least, they took her to the local telepath.

    The telepath, an old man who insisted that everyone call him Uncle Mario, had lived a remarkably unremarkable life for a telepath. Since his retirement, he had become something of a psychiatrist for the small town, and worked with the few telepaths in the area on controlling and understanding their powers.

    After listening to her parents tell him the problem, he had them leave, and he listened to the humming with Josie. He closed his eyes, listened, and smiled. He invited the parents and talked to the three of them with his powers. “It’s not a hallucination, that sound is… interesting. Since telepathy uses the electromagnetic spectrum to work, sometimes things that create powerful electromagnetic interference can interfere with telepathy. No one has been able to determine the source of what you’re hearing, since so few can hear it. Some think that it is the background radiation of the universe. Some, including myself, because of its tune, think that it is the echo of the Almighty when he created the universe.”

    Ever after, she treasured those moments when she was alone. She would sit quietly and listen to the Creator hum. And one day, she shared it.

  12. Sparksofember says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. He’d woken up with a pounding headache and a cacophony of voices overwhelming his ability to think. But his wife was asleep in bed, the kids still snoozing in theirs. The house was dark and otherwise empty – so why was his world so loud?

    He stumbled to the bathroom and downed three aspirin, splashing a handful of water into his mouth to help them go down. Sinking to the floor he clutched his head between his hands, struggling to remember those pressure points Bonnie always touted for her migraines. That’s right – his temples! He shifted his hands and pressed, praying urgently for the pain to dissipate. As he rubbed his fingers in a circular motion, the voices began to shift and focus.

    He heard his wife’s voice singing but he could still see her sleeping form under a mound of blankets across from the bathroom door. He also heard laughter that sounded just like Suzy and Jann when they played dolls together. He squeezed his eyes shut and listened harder. Someone was crying… about an avalanche of pickles? And someone else–he thought he recognized the voice of Bryce two doors down– was laughing maniacally and bragging about his new monster truck?

    Josie’s fingers dropped from his face and he gaped, unseeing, past the towels hung haphazardly over the shower rod. Could he…be hearing…dreams?

  13. Brian Thomas says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. She knew because she’d asked.

    Over and over again.

    The sleepy-eyed attendant couldn’t be bothered to give her the time of day. He only repeated his “Tickets? Tickets, please,” mantra as he strolled down the center aisle.

    Can he not hear that, Josie wondered, as she pressed herself against the seat so he could slip by without tripping over her petticoat layers.

    He didn’t even notice.

    The old man reading his newspaper, its headline proclaiming ever-deepening tensions between the free and slave states, couldn’t hear them either she guessed. He wouldn’t remove his nose from the pages when she spoke to him and only shook his paper indignantly when she ruffled the page.

    The howling of hundreds, thousands, of voices continued echoing through the train car, through her head, through her soul.

    The voices of the damned, she thought, a cold chill running up her spine, despite the heat of the day and uncomfortable warmth of her traveling coat.

    That’s when she saw him. A short, odd little man standing at the back of the train car with funny spectacles on his nose and a strange watch in his hand. He was watching her.

    “Can you hear it?” She asked as she approached him.

    He smiled. “Hear them? Well, I suppose I can. I don’t really notice anymore, to be honest.”

    “You don’t notice?!” She was appalled. How could he possibly not-

    And then she saw the slumped figure in the seat next to him. A young woman, pale with death.

    Wearing Josie’s coat.

    The man smiled and opened the door that led from that car to the next. From that world to the next.

    “Your seat is the way, now my dear.”

    The voices of the damned screamed through the portal. Voices no one could hear.

    And now her voice was one of them.

  14. Sarah Nicole says:

    And even at this moment, she couldn’t see, but that was her own choice. She had closed her eyes and just allowed her hand to gently brush against the keys of the piano. The rhythm sang to her. It reminded her of better days, days filled with laughter. When all was right with the world. Days still vivid in her memory, even though it had been so long ago.

    The rhythm suddenly stopped as Josie’s eyes flew open, someone had touched her. Startled, she looked up into the eyes of her brother. She almost smiled at how apologetic he looked at having scared her.

    “I’m sorry,” he motioned with his hands. “I didn’t know how to get your attention. Father wants you in the house.”

    Josie nodded and stood quickly. Father couldn’t know, no one could know that she still played the piano. She hurried out of the little cabin, her secret place, knowing that he brother was following closely.

    She was near the edge of the woods when he grabbed her arm. She turned and looked up into his pleading face. “You should share your secret with dad. It is a gift that shouldn’t be hidden.” He signed with his hands.

    No. She shook her head. Music was forbidden, especially music coming from her. She couldn’t do it. “You know I can’t, you know they wouldn’t like it.” She signed back to him.

    “They have nothing to do with this. It is your life. You need music, and the world deserves to hear your story.”

    “No. I can’t.” Josie turned and began briskly walking back to the house. Her brother didn’t understand. This was something only she could hear, she was certain of it. No one would understand.

  15. Katherine says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things- at least not things other people could hear. She couldn’t hear the stomp and thud of her little brother’s feet as he ran down the stairs. She couldn’t hear her mother’s low laugh, or her father’s passionate dinner-table speeches, or the excited chatter of her best friend. She couldn’t hear the normal sounds of everyday life, but she wasn’t deaf, although she couldn’t tell the doctor, or her parents, or the school counselor that without earning herself a trip to a padded room.

    She heard bells. Ringing, clanging, sonorous bells, the kind that echoed in the steeple of the abandoned church near Abbey’s Pond or above the old courthouse that sat in the middle of the town square. She heard the harsh scream of winds above a snow-covered desert that had never seen the light of a sun, just a cold, eternal moon. She heard the babble of a billion inhuman voices, the mocking laughter of that unearthly court, and the rich, melodious voice of the Winter Queen, as she pronounced her curse on Josie MacDonald.

    A curse, hidden in the offer of a farewell gift, from a spiteful queen angry that one of her guests would choose to leave. Josie would forever hear the sounds of the realm of Reverie. Hear every word, every shout of anger and whisper of sorrow. She could hear Reverie, but not the sounds of Earth. She could not even hear her own voice! Despair tasted bitter in her mouth. Eventually, the contrast of what she saw and what she heard would drive her insane. She’d thought of killing herself, but Mad Thomas’ words stayed her hand. Instead, she wandered through the woods, looking for someone that probably didn’t exist. Chained, half-mad priests weren’t exactly reliable sources of information, but the faint whisper of hope was all she had.

    • Ooh – I’d definitely be interested in reading more. Sounds like the fairy realm?

    • You’ve done a good job developing the setting and the character. I think it could even be stronger if her wandering in the woods, searching for someone, came earlier. When I know that a character wants something, is trying to reach something or achieve something, I’m more inclined to keep reading to find out if they succeed or to learn why they need to do whatever it is. Still, you’ve accomplished a lot in a little space. Nice job.


  16. Audie says:

    There are a few things I hope you’ll clarify about the rules, because I’m a bit confused

    First, August 22 is Monday, not Sunday. I hope you can make clearer which day is being referred to.

    Also, is Sunday/August 22 the last day for entries, or the last day to vote? I wonder about this, because if I remember right from the last contest, there was maybe a week after the last entries for people to vote on the entries.

    Or is it that Sunday/August 29 will be the last day to general voting, or for the voting on the finalist entries?

    • Yes, I’m very confused, too. Honestly, I hate that votes trickle in with the entries – even though later entries have won in the past, I still feel the earliest ones have an advantage.

    • Audie, at midnight (Pacific time) today (Sunday) is the last day to enter the contest, but if someone enters just before the deadline closes, they deserve time to have readers evaluate their entries, so people can vote for the entire week. I’ll post the top three on Monday, August 29 and we’ll have a poll for visitors to vote for the winner. Hope that helps.


  17. When do thumbs ups need to be sumbitted? Sunday isn’t the 22nd??

    • I changed the post to “Monday.” Thanks for pointing out the error. (You and Audie). Thumbs count until midnight, a week from today.On Monday August 29 I’ll post the top three vote getters and the poll which visitors can use to select the winner. Sorry for any confusion.


  18. Deborah Lawrence says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. But, she kept trying anyway.

    The tutorials to “see” had been a piece of cake in comparison. It only took a half dozen times to hear, “Seer, what do you see?” before Josie could answer correctly most days. She was the class envy, and proud of it.

    “You only saw the clock tower? I saw the trees that would come from the apple you had at lunch,” she had bragged to Daisy.

    But, this test was eating her lunch. Now, she was the jealous one. Karen had boasted of hearing Saturn’s rings hum, Mason heard an earthquake speak, and Daisy claimed to hear the soul-sick cries soaring from windswept mountains.

    Frustrated, Josie kept trying. She tried so hard that her head ached from a relentless throbbing.

    Once more, her instructor asked “Hearer, what do you hear?”

    Josie said, “Master, I cannot hear a thing for all this pounding in my head.”

    “Well done, child,” the Teacher said. “You have mastered the art of hearing.”

    Josie wanted to feel proud, but she was puzzled. “How is that possible? I just want the pounding to go away.”

    “Your eyes indeed see, and your ears indeed hear, but you have not yet learned to correctly interpret these things.”

    “Master, tell me how to bear this pain.”

    “You were never meant to bear it. What you see or hear is not as important as what you do with what you know. And, you learn what to do from right here,” the Master said, pointing to his chest.

    “I see—from my heart.”

    He shook his head. “Not yours. Mine. The pounding you hear is my heart.”

    Josie was silent for a few moments. The arrogance was gone. She bowed her head to say, “Teach me, Master, for I have much to learn.”

  19. Khai says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear.

    The voices in her head were organic input.

    My right hand shook before me as I pointed the pen at the MRI – EEG scans overlapping on the hologram of her brain.

    “They pop up randomly! Songs, pictures, colors, ideas.” She was exasperated. She seemed like the kind of girl who was used to finding the sense in things.

    “Can you give me another example to search?” I prodded.

    “Just yesterday when I was staring at a really old painting – one that hangs on a wall, with a man on a cross.” She said.

    “Yes I’m familiar with those myths.” I said. “You said it’s been easier than looking at normal screens.” I prompted.

    “Well I heard, ‘Living for something and dying for something are the same thing, different circumstances.'” She twisted her hands in her lap where she sat on my exam table.

    “Dr. Mordant?” I started scratching my beard. A fretful, unsanitary habit I was trying to break.

    I tuned into the reviews, message boards and journal articles on cognitive neurology published in the last 24 hours. I heard no pings. I was on my own.I swiped angrily through everything and for once my frame cleared. The sight disturbed me.

    “Dr. Mordant!” She shouted. Her amber eyes were dull, in pain. “Am I crazy?” She was so fatigued she could not muster up an expression to match her distress.

    I face-palmed all the info again.

    “Josie,” I breathed shakily. I pointed with the pen, and the holo of her brain rotated. “The traumatic brain injury short circuited your wiring. But it is reigniting here.” The left temporal lobe lit up. “But only your NATURAL neurons seem to be repairing themselves. Not the Nanites. Nor the implants.”

    “And I think your brain is talking to YOU.”

    • Sparksofember says:

      I’m intrigued but confused, too. I don’t quite understand what is going on.

      • Sparksofember says:

        Oh – and I really liked how it was not from Josie’s POV!

      • Khai says:

        Lol this is what happens with word limits 😀
        I am still getting the knack for it. I pared this down a lot – like the last challenge. But since you asked:

        In the near future, Josie has had brain trauma and cognitive impairment. Now she is slowly recovering and her brain is processing information and allowing reflection and thoughts. This is terrifying and isolating because not only is she in pain- she has never had an independent idea. Everyone else’s brain (Including Dr Mordant’s) is in a constant state of receiving info, connected to the Internet through nanites and bio implants-like hers used to be.

        Their own field of vision is an iPad screen right in front of them. They walk around waving their hands and poking the air. They literally never come to a conclusion without reaching for other feedback. They are always connected, always have input from Apps and comments and articles and tweets on the Net. There is no creative, solitary output. They are not socialized to make decisions apart from he collection of opinions and “knowledge” out there on the web. It feels too insecure.


    • Cassie Stevens says:

      The scenario is really intriguing! The hook at the end leaves me eager for the rest of the story.

      The confusing bit for me is the paragraph with the first “Dr. Mordant?”. Before that, it’s really easy to tell who is talking because of the paragraph breaks and the way the dialogue is attached to that character’s actions. This one, if I’m reading it correctly, has Josie still talking, but it’s the doctor’s ‘turn’ at dialogue, followed by another paragraph by the doctor. You might try swapping that one and the next to see if it flows better. 🙂

      Otherwise, it’s nicely paced–and I also like that it’s not from Josie’s POV.

  20. Cassie Stevens says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear.

    MacDonald acquaintances filed past to say their final farewells to her mother while Josie fought to hold a neutral expression on her face. Her eyes watered from the glare off the coffin and its stand. She’d picked wedge heels to go with the black dress, and they sank in the soft turf when she shifted in place.

    As super powers went, she usually wished she could throw fire from her fingertips—something impressive and obvious. A healing touch could have prevented this graveside ceremony. But no, it was the unvarnished truth for Josie—public and private versions of every statement crystal clear in her inner ear. She heard it all, whether the dual tracks were jarring dissonance or harmonious truth.

    Martha MacDonald had lived by the creed that gifts were meant to help people. As long as Josie could remember, she’d watched her mother’s kindness be taken for granted, taken advantage of, and spurned. Josie’s attempts to be helpful by passing on what she’d read in people hadn’t been welcomed. All truth-speaking had got her was a reputation for sharpness and belligerence.

    “Your mother will be missed, Miss MacDonald.”

    The stranger wore a sharp black suit and aviator sunglasses. His smile was white and even—bland and unassuming, just like his statement—but there was an odd void behind his voice, a screaming silence where one of the tracks was supposed to be.

    Suddenly, the sunshine felt cold on Josie’s skin. It’d taken her years to distinguish between what she was meant to hear and the private versions, but now, without the other to balance it, she didn’t know which one she was hearing.

    She’d wondered what it would be like to be normal. This was not how she wanted to find out.

    Fireballs would have been so much less complicated.

  21. Josie MacDonald was not hearing things–at least, not things other people could hear. Usually, it was the other way around. Even with the cochlear implants, Josie could not always hear the music that others swayed to, the words that others responded to. She was cocooned in a world of her own.

    But then she began to hear things outside of natural hearing–or even aided hearing.

    When she met her friend Wren at the coffee shop, Wren’s face and lips spoke of the upcoming fundraiser for Wren’s non-profit, but Josie heard her voice sobbing. “I miscarried again last night. Please assure me that it is not my fault.”

    When she spoke to her aging father, she understood that he was talking about the crops and the tantrums of the old tractor, but she heard, “I am proud of you, girl. I could sit all day and talk to you about nothing and it would be the most full something an old man could wish for.”

    But when she went to sleep at night and turned off her implant to sleep, the sounds still filtered through her mind. She heard a chorus of voices, the people of the city, sighing outside her window. “There is more. We know there is more. Show us what we are meant for.”

    It was then that Josie realized that she heard the cry of souls.

    • I like this! But I think the last line is telling. I prefer to figure this out on my own. But for a set up to a full story, this is really good. Makes me wonder how she feels about knowing what others aren’t saying. I mean, KNOWING, and not assuming. That would be a powerful or scary ability. Good work.


      • Thanks, Rebecca! Great comments. I can always count on you to give valuable feedback. 🙂

        I volunteer once a week as a peer counselor at a pregnancy center and a lot about helping people is hearing what they’re not telling you. God gives wisdom! I’ve often wondered how my communication with others would change if I could hear what is spoken in the hush of their souls.

  22. Connie Driver says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things — as least not things other people could hear. Anyone else just heard the wordless creak of titanium and steel as it held against the vacuum pulling at the hull. But Josie heard the whispers in the ship’s groans. The metal whispered to itself. The engine moaned and reached out with a piercing crack of metal.

    The entire ship shuddered. The engine’s groan slowed and ground to a stop. Horrified anticipation spread, fear running like water over the ship and crew alike.

    The engine breathed a sigh of relief with the last gust of air through the ventilation shafts. The lights flickered and died. Their high-pitched squeals of laughter faded as the shadows grew. The emptiness beyond the hull filled the silence and pulled, sucking at the ship and running an eager touch over every bolt. The walls shuddered, their whispering growing louder, more fearful. The engine’s silence held relief.

    Josie knelt and rested a hand against the bulkhead. “What is it? What do you fear?”

    The engine remained silent and the walls ceased their muttering. Overwhelming silence filled Josie’s head.

    But just for a moment. The vacuum pulling at the ship’s hull pulled something else with it. The song, far in the distance. And the heat … the terrible heat that made the engine crack in protest and the walls shiver.

    Ghost-heat shot up Josie’s arm. She yelped and pulled her arm back. A distant joyful shout from a crew member …

    And an anguished groan as air rushed through the shafts and the ship heaved forward once again. And even though the air was again full of shouts and whispers and moans, Josie could still hear the heat calling, pulling …

    Pulling them closer.

    • Interesting concept. I like the unique idea of her hearing heat. I would like to know what she thinks she needs to do about it or how she reacts to it, whether this is new to her or not a surprise at all. I like when she asked the ship what it felt. That gave me a glimpse at her as a compassionate person. There’s a like to like here.


    • Katherine says:

      Fascinating, but I got a little confused. Was the ship in pain from the heat?

  23. John Turney says:

    Josie MacDonald was not hearing things—at least not things other people could hear. Standing on the beach, the wind off the Irish Sea wiped her hair about and blew the salty air into her face. She watched the waves, and wished to hear them. But the illness ruined her hearing.

    That October morning would change her.

    She closed her eyes.


    Her eyes few open. She hadn’t heard a voice in years.

    Where seconds before she’d been alone, now a shadowy figure thrashed in the water beyond the breakers. Josie stepped toward the water.

    A hand grasped her shoulder.

    No, said a new voice.

    She turned to see a shimmering figure of genderless shape. It spread lucent wings longer than it was tall. And it was tall. Had to be nearly seven feet tall.

    Tis a trap. To drown you.

    This creature did not speak words, yet she heard them in her head.

    Help! I can’t swim.

    She wheeled to watch the person struggling. He went under the water and came back up spitting water.

    “He’ll die if I don’t help him,” Josie yelled.

    If you help it, you will die.


    That is a deceiving spirit sent to lure you to eternity.


    You have been chosen to do a great work. That creature was sent to stop you.

    “From what?”

    The swimmer spoke from just behind her. To destroy the human race. A faint smell like rotten meat tainted the air.

    The shimmering creature spoke, choose today whom you will serve. It held out an amulet of gold on a bronze chain.

    Choose wealth, said the swimmer, holding out a grapefruit sized diamond.

    Josie reached for the diamond. The dark creature smiled, its fetid breath flowing over her. Instead, Josie grabbed the amulet.

    • Katherine says:

      Good story! I like the concept. My only suggestion is that she either get closer to the deceiver and almost drown, or that she have to hesitate just a little before choosing good. It seemed fairly easy. Sometimes evil is overt, but sometimes it’s not.

What do you think?