Author Archives: cds

About cds

Colin D. Smith, writer of blogs and fiction of various sizes.

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge Recap: Week 3

The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is three weeks old already? Wow! Since we take a break on Sundays, I’m taking this opportunity to catch you up on all the 100-word flash fiction stories I’ve written so far. Thank you again to everyone for the great prompt suggestions. I literally could not have written these stories without you!

A-G: See the Week One Recap

H-M: See the Week Two Recap

N: Now or Never

O: Octogenarian

P: Pansies

Q: Quirky

R: Reconnaissance

S: Scarecrow

What will Monday’s “T” story be? I have absolutely NO IDEA! But I’m open to suggestions. Come back tomorrow to find out which prompt I selected…

Scarecrow

As we continue our A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 100-word flash fiction fun, we come to the letter S. Once again, you didn’t fail me yesterday in the comments. An excellent selection of possible prompts. There were one or two I considered strongly, then along came first-time commenter Atherton with a prompt word I just couldn’t resist. So, with thanks to Atherton, here’s today’s story:

SCARECROW

Jack and Lucy had never found Farmer Pyke’s scarecrow very scary. Its fawn raincoat and sack trousers didn’t even frighten the crows. The kids decided it needed a make-over.

They waited until dusk, then stole into the field. They gave it a black sweater and a pair of black jeans. Lucy drew black circles for eyes, and red lipstick where his mouth would be. A black wig finished the look.

Smiling at their Goth scarecrow, they went home.

Next morning, Farmer Pyke found his chicken coop broken into. Three chickens dead.

Decapitated.

No-one noticed the blood on the scarecrow’s hands.

We take a break on Sundays, so I need some possible T prompts for Monday. Thank you! 🙂

P.S.: Don’t forget to look out for my daily #vss365 stories on Twitter (@colin_d_smith). Also, literary agent Janet Reid is running a flash fiction contest on her blog today. If you want to see some amazing 100-word flash fiction, check that out. Maybe even enter yourself. There’s a prize for the winner…

Reconnaissance

Day… what day is it? Friday? And we’re at the letter R in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories based on commenter-suggested prompts. You all had some good ideas, too, some of which I may use for longer stories. For today’s, however, I chose one of AJ Blythe‘s prompts. One of the things I like about flash fiction is it gives you the opportunity to dabble in different styles and genres without the commitment of a novel or short story. This is another experiment. I hope you enjoy it!

RECONNAISSANCE

Three buildings. One large flanked by two smaller. Possibly weapons sheds.

Gil took out his phone and sketched a map of the locations.

“Don’t move!”

He felt the barrel of a gun against his head, so he complied. His captor marched him to the large building and pushed him toward an officer behind a desk.

“He was making notes on this.” His captor threw Gil’s phone to the officer, who inspected it.

“We’ll keep this,” he said. “Lock him in the store house.”

From the safety of the smaller building, Gil gave the command: “Detonate.”

Shame. He liked that phone.

Can I get some suggestions for tomorrow’s letter, S? Only eight more to go! 🙂

P.S.: For my Patrons, there’s a bonus R story on my Patreon site. Support my writing habit at $1/month or more, and you can have access to this and other stories posted there!

Quirky

Today’s A-to-Z Blogging Challenge letter is Q. I was pleasantly surprised by all the suggested prompts in the comments yesterday for today’s 100-word flash fiction story. I even received a mail-in suggestion from Cecilia Ortiz Luna, who offered “Quantum.” I thought about a number of them, and stories came to mind, but they would need more than 100 words (and more than a few hours) to do them justice. In the end, I chose one of debscarey‘s prompts:

QUIRKY

“Jessie Markham,” the girl said, leaning across the table, giving the man in a suit an exaggerated handshake. She took off her knitted Viking hat, and sat, mussing her blue and orange hair.

“Bob Reed,” the man said. “Tell me about yourself, Jessie.”

“Call me Jess. Or Jeleesa-Jan-Jericho. Or later.”

“Later? Oh… I see.” Bob smirked.

Jessie suddenly glared at him. “I like to read. And write. And sing. Shall I sing for you now?”

“That’s okay.”

Jessie grinned. “I like your tie, Bob.”

“Uhhh… thank you…”

Under the table, Bob sent a text.

Mike. She’s perfect!

Second date?

YES!!!

Not many more to go. Do we have some prompt ideas for tomorrow? The letter will be R, of course. Thanks!

Pansies

The letter for today on the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge is P. I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories based on commenter-suggested prompts. I was spoiled for choice yesterday. So many good suggestions. In the end, my 13 (nearly 14) year old daughter chose the prompt. She wanted me to use Jane Burgess‘s suggestion, “pansies.” We had a cat called Pansy who died last year. So, in honor of Pansy, here’s today’s story:

PANSIES

It was late, so Joe suggested a short-cut through old Mrs. Parker’s garden. We figured it’d be safe; she was probably asleep.

It was a large garden, overgrown with weeds and wild bushes.

I tugged Joe’s sleeve and pointed to a sign:

Beware of the Pansies

“Pansies?” said Joe. “Who’s scared of flowers?”

We were nearly to the other side when we heard a growl. A pair of yellow eyes stared at us through the dark.

“Joe…”

Another pair of eyes appeared. We ran.

As we fled, I heard a lady’s voice: “Aww Pansy, Pansy Junior. Did someone wake you?”

Tomorrow’s letter is Q. I’m very much looking forward to (i.e., I’m terrified to see) what prompts you’ll suggest! 🙂

Octogenarian

It’s “O” day on the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, where I’m writing 100-word flash stories every day this month based on commenter prompts. Yesterday you all spoiled me for choice. Such an abundance of O-letter suggestions! In the end, I went with one of AJ Blythe‘s prompt for the theme. But you may find one or two other prompt suggestions in the story…

OCTOGENARIAN

Maybe I shouldn’t have beaten Kitty Mays three times at checkers. Though I suspect something else was in the water that day. Oxytocin, perhaps?

I entered the lounge. The home has lovely soft chairs and a large television. Kitty, George, Edith, and Robert were watching an opera. Kitty glanced at me. The others did likewise.

“She’s 73.”

“Youngster,” George hissed.

“I’ll be 80 in 7 years,” I said with a smile.

“Thinks she’s funny,” Robert growled.

Kitty picked up a walking stick, and shared a look with her friends.

“One of us has to go.”

I left and never returned.

Tomorrow’s letter is “P” so I need a plentitude of prompts for my P-story. I look forward to your suggestions! 🙂

By the way, today’s my wife’s birthday. She’s far from an octogenarian, so I couldn’t incorporate her into the story. But I wanted to wish her a happy birthday anyway! xxx

Who Review: Timelash

On the way to Andromeda for a holiday, the TARDIS encounters a time tunnel. While trying unsuccessfully to navigate around it, the Doctor and Peri end up on the planet Karfel. This is not the Doctor’s first visit, however, and the locals seem pleased to see him again, especially since last time he and his companions saved their planet. But that was a long time ago, a few regenerations back, when Karfel was a different place. Now it is ruled by the despotic Borad, who makes pronouncements via video screen, and has the Maylin, the most senior member of the board of counselors, act as his enforcer. The people are constantly monitored by closed circuit cameras. Insurrection and rebellion are punishable by death, or exile in the Timelash, which casts the miscreant into time and space. This is the time tunnel that found the TARDIS, and as they passed through, the TARDIS crew was visited briefly by someone going the other way–the ghostly form of a woman with a talisman. It seems this woman grabbed the talisman from the Maylin before being thrown into the Timelash, and now the Maylin wants the Doctor to use his TARDIS to retrieve it. To ensure compliance, the Maylin has one of his people give Peri a tour of the facility, during which she is to be captured and held prisoner until the Doctor’s return. But the Borad is wary of the Doctor. He has already wiped Karfel’s history books of stories from his last visit, but his legend continues to be spread word-of-mouth. If the Borad has his way, this trip in the TARDIS to trace the talisman may well be the Doctor’s last…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Where to begin talking about “Timelash”? Regarded by many Whovians as not Who’s finest hour, and as much as I try to look for the positives, I have to agree. So maybe I should start with the positives. There are some, really. Trust me!

The first positive is the Borad. We don’t see him fully until later in the story, and when we do, he is a masterpiece of make-up. Part human, part Morlox, his face blending from one to the other in a fine piece of prosthetic craftsmanship. And the actor underneath, Robert Ashby, plays him so well, with a quiet, menacing demeanor, never shouting, but exuding power with every line.

Next, I’ll give a shout-out to Herbert. A delightful character, portrayed brilliantly by David Chandler. His enthusiasm, excitement, and trepidation are balanced well, especially considering who he is… which, if you haven’t figured it out by the end, is revealed by the Doctor in the closing scene. Morlox? Vena? Invisibility? Time Travel…? I like that end reveal, by the way. It was a nice touch, and I recall being both surprised and glad when I watched it first time around.

I also like the idea of the Doctor returning to a place he visited long ago, especially when that past adventure was one we haven’t seen, and involved a companion we haven’t met. It adds another layer of mystery and speculation, which is always good for the fans. The down-side of it here, as opposed to, say, in “The Face of Evil,” is that it really serves no plot purpose only to give the Doctor credibility and a reputation with the inhabitants.

Which brings us to the problems, of which there are myriad, and not one single person to blame for them. The writer, the producer, the script editor, the director, and the actors, and the designers all contributed to both the good and the bad. When it’s remarkably good (e.g., “Vengeance on Varos”), everyone can take a bow. When it’s remarkably bad, I’m afraid the shame-faces are shared too. Perhaps the biggest issue for me is the tone. It’s all too… panto, as in Pantomime, that great British tradition of campy, family-friendly, audience-participation theater. Some scenes avoid being over-played (e.g., the Borad’s chambers), but some are borderline ridiculous, like the fight scene at the beginning of episode 2, and, worst of all, the Borad’s finale when he gets pushed into the Timelash. I almost expected the cast to take a bow at the end!

It seems the show under-ran, so extra scenes were quickly written in, and it shows. The scene with the Doctor and Peri squabbling over where to go at the beginning is irritating. And the scene where the Doctor and Herbert argue over why Herbert shouldn’t be there is painful, almost as painful as the scene he played out with Peri just moments before having the same argument. The padding was so obvious, and inelegantly handled.

The Sixth Doctor’s character, which had settled down nicely over the past two or three stories, has suddenly reverted back to the crotchety, argumentative, demeaning egotist we met in his first story, “The Twin Dilemma.” This is jarring, and very unwelcome. I like where Colin Baker had taken the Doctor’s mellower, albeit still a bit full of himself, persona, and I thought it worked well. This, however, is possibly one of the most disappointing aspects of “Timelash.”

Put all this together with sets that are okay, but not special, Morlox that look no better than the Drashigs of 13 years previously, and tall android guards that look like giant Munchkins with their squeaky sing-song voices, yellow hair, and blue faces. What were they thinking?! Who thought this was a great idea?!

I know I’ve given the show a beating, but if I might just put the final boot in the gut, what’s with the TARDIS’s unexplained escape from the missile strike, and the Borad’s return by means of cloning? For a start, how hard would it be to explain that the TARDIS is invincible, or to have the Doctor working on some clever shield enhancement at the beginning of the story (instead of that inane argument with Peri), that comes into play at the end? Talk about deus ex machina (no, don’t, I think this story has that covered). And where was the Borad’s cloning experimentation mentioned previously? That’s right, it wasn’t! This was so obviously a device thrown in at the end so they could bring the Borad back for one last hurrah. Let’s call it a diabolos ex machina. Whatever, it’s lazy and it sucks.

Do I need to say this is not must-see Who. Sorry to say, but try as I might to be as generous as possible, “Timelash” has to be one of the worst of the Classic era. Watch it if you’re a completist, or if you just like watching car wrecks. Otherwise, feel free to skip it. Please.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 16:1-3

1 And I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Depart and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God onto the earth.” 2 And the first went out and poured his bowl onto the earth, and there was a bad and painful sore upon the men who have the mark of the beast and worship his image. 3 And the second poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became blood as of a dead person, and every living soul, those in the sea, died.

Last time we discussed chapter 16 generally, making comparisons between the bowl, the trumpets, and the Exodus plagues. We noted, once again, how important the entire Exodus event is not only for these judgments, but for Revelation as a whole. As a picture of the gospel, God’s dealings with Israel with regard to Egypt is used by the Lord (through John) to show how He is dealing, and will ultimately deal, with fallen mankind. The way He freed Israel from bondage to Pharaoh and judged the Egyptians is a type of the way God has rescued His people from bondage to sin, and has secured their spiritual safety while He brings judgment upon the earth.

We are now ready to start digging into the bowl judgments in more detail. The chapter opens with a voice from the temple, which we understand to be the voice of the Lord. As previously noted, the temple is the place where God resides (symbolically, in any case). It makes sense, then, that the voice from the temple would be the Lord speaking.

God commands the angels with the seven bowls to commence pouring out the wrath of God toward the earth. In chapter 14, we saw two harvests. The first was Jesus harvesting his people from the earth. In the second, an angel harvested the earth-dwellers (i.e., those who are not the Lord’s) and threw them into the winepress of of the wrath of God. I think what we’re about to see is an expansion of this. That’s not to say the church has been physically removed from the earth during this time. Indeed, if we believe these judgments have been going on throughout the church age, that can’t be the case. The ultimate judgment is condemnation and eternal punishment, from which believers have been preserved through the blood of Christ shed for them. The believers’ security is that whatever the Lord may unleash upon the earth in terms of punishment, they have an eternity in His presence promised to them. The rest of the world does not.

The “bowls of the wrath of God” is definitely judgment language, echoing Hosea 5:10, Jeremiah 10:25, and several places in Ezekiel. In those passages, it is either God’s judgment against Israel for breaking their covenant with Him, or His judgment against those who attack God’s people that’s in view. Both concepts are relevant to Revelation, as we will see.

The first bowl delivers “a bad and painful sore” on all who bear the beast’s name. Most translations make this plural, but the Greek is singular. I don’t fault the translations for using the plural here since the singular makes for awkward English. The meaning of the verse doesn’t change whether it’s “sore” or “sores.” This is a sore that is experienced by a large number of people, so it’s not inappropriate to translate it “sores.” But why is the Greek singular? A possible reason is because John (under Holy Spirit inspiration) is underscoring the connection between this vision and the Exodus plague of sores. While God preserved Israel from the physical plagues, He warned them that if they did not keep His commands, they will experience suffering like the Egyptians did. In Deuteronomy 28:35, a passage where God is detailing some of the curses that will befall Israel if they are unfaithful to the covenant they made with Him, He threatens bad sores, presumably like the ones visited upon Egypt. However, the Hebrew is singular, as is the LXX (Greek Old Testament) translation.

Not only does this use of the singular connect Revelation 16:2 with Deuteronomy 28:35 in terms of the sores, but I think it makes another important point about the nature of God’s judgment. As I said, God warned Israel against breaking His covenant, and failing to keep His commands, i.e., the Law. We need to remember that it’s our failure to keep God’s Law that condemns us. That Law did not come into existence on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20), but has been written on our hearts since Creation. That’s how God could hold Cain liable for murdering Abel, for example. “You shall not murder” was carved into the human soul before it was ever etched in stone. All of humanity is guilty of breaking God’s Law. Just take the first two commandments and it’s clear we are all born as Law-breakers. That’s why no-one is innocent before God. We are all justly condemned, and only the blood of Christ can save us from the penalty for that sin.

Are these sores literal? While I don’t rule out the possibility that God’s judgment may manifest itself physically, there are two main reasons why I think we’re supposed to understand the sores symbolically. First, the fact that the mark of the beast mentioned in the same verse is clearly symbolic (as we discussed previously, the mark on the forehead denotes ownership). It would be inconsistent to have a literal sore on those with a symbolic mark in this vision. Secondly, our understanding is these judgments aren’t something that’s going to happen in the future. These are judgments that God has been pouring out upon the earth since Christ’s ascension. If the sores are literal, we’d be able to identify the non-elect quite easily!

If the sores are not literal, how should we understand them? Perhaps, like the symbolic “mark” of the beast, the sores are a “mark” of God’s wrath. It’s not so much the sores themselves that are the judgment, but the suffering that goes along with them. In Deuteronomy 28, God’s judgment is said to come with madness–mental anguish and psychological turmoil. We also noted a similar reaction to the scorpion sting in Revelation 9:4-6, the fifth trumpet. Particularly striking is verse 6, which speaks of men “seeking death but not finding it.” This is a consequence of sin. When you disobey the Lord, and you live contrary to the way God designed for you to live, it should come as no surprise that you will experience all manner of psychological disordering. Granted, Christians are not immune to mental health issues, but even that is a result of the Fall. I think the point is that unbelievers, through their rebellion, expose themselves to the full consequences of their sin. And while the Christian can seek help and comfort in the Lord, no such help is available to the earth-dweller who has rejected the only true source of hope and healing.

The next bowl turns the sea into blood. There’s another clear parallel here with Exodus 7:17-25, the first of the Exodus plagues (and also the second trumpet, Revelation 8:8-9). In Exodus 7, the Lord turns the Nile into blood. All the fish die, the river stinks and becomes undrinkable. And it’s not just the Nile that’s affected. All the waters of Egypt become blood, “their rivers, their canals, and their ponds… there shall be blood throughout the land even in vessels of wood and vessels of stone.” Note, the water didn’t just have blood added to it. The water became blood. It literally turned from H2O to hemoglobin. The Egyptians resorted to digging beside the Nile to try to find usable water. In Revelation 8:8-9, a great mountain is thrown into the sea, and one-third of the sea becomes blood, killing one-third of the sea creatures and destroying one-third of the ships. Aside from the horror of dead fish floating on blood, the symbolism here is of economic disaster, and of famine. Fishing was a major industry in those days, and in the communities to which Revelation was originally addressed, this kind of catastrophe would have had devastating consequences.

Two phrases stand out to me in verse 3 as unusual. The first is “blood of a dead man” or “blood of a corpse” (Greek: haima hōs nekrou). This phrase is unique to Revelation 16:3 in the New Testament and the LXX. How is “blood of a dead man” different to “blood of a man”? Why qualify with the adjective “dead”? What’s the significance of that? It could be a counter-parallel to the idea of the “life blood” (Greek: haima psuchōn) that we see in Genesis 9:5, when the Lord tells Noah not to eat the blood of meat, or shed another man’s blood (i.e., commit murder). This isn’t life-blood but death-blood. But is it simply making the imagery more vivid? Maybe the fact that the dead were considered unclean, and blood was also thought of as ritually impure (as well as unsanitary), serves to double- or triple-underscore the utter uncleanliness and uselessness of water turned into blood.

One of our study group who used to be in law enforcement gave an interesting insight. It seems the blood of someone whose wound is mortal (i.e., they are dying) is a darker color than the blood of someone whose injury is non-life-threatening. It’s possible this “death blood” is what John is referring to, either to give us an indication of the blood’s color, or to affirm it’s association with death, uncleanliness, impurity, uselessness, and judgment.

Another suggestion is that John is indicating that this is blood shed unto death, not blood sacrificed unto life, like Jesus’ blood. Again, the point being that this is judgment against those who belong to the beast.

I don’t think any of these possibilities are mutually exclusive. Some or all of them are possible. After all, that’s the nature of symbolism. One symbol can represent layers of meaning.

The other phrase that stands out for me is “every living soul, those in the sea.” English translations usually smooth this out, but that’s a more literal rendering of the Greek. Why the qualification “those in the sea”? Isn’t it clear from the context that we’re talking about all the life in the sea, since the water has become blood?

The first thing to note is the use of the word “soul” (Greek: psuchē). This might suggest that John is referring only to humans, since only humans have a “soul.” However, the word can be used broadly to refer to “life”–that which animates all creatures. In this sense all animals, as well as humans, have a “soul.” This is certainly the ancient Greek understanding of the word, and this broader definition is perhaps behind some New Testament uses. For example, passages that refer to the taking of “life” (Matthew 2:20 and Romans 11:3, to name two) use psuchē.

Given that broader usage, it’s possible the reference here is to all life on earth being affected. We’ve seen the “sea” as a symbol of the source of all evil in the world, so this could refer to all the earth-dwellers. But I think the point here is that the sea turning into blood affects all the sea creatures, and John is simply emphasizing that every sea creature died. In Revelation 8, only one-third of the living creatures in the sea died. Here, it’s total annihilation. This indicates to me a progression over time. The world does not get the full blast of God’s judgment from day one. Over the last 2000 years, the Lord has restrained evil in the world, but now and then lifted His restraining hand that we might get a glimpse of the punishment our sin deserves. One day, that restraint will be lifted fully. And that’s what we’ll see in coming chapters when John gets a glimpse of that final day.

We’ll continue with the seven bowls next time…

Now or Never

It’s the start of week 3 of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. I’m writing 100-word flash fiction stories based on prompts given by YOU! Of course, there’s always the chance that no-one will comment, leaving me with no prompts and nothing to write about. We came close to that over the weekend, but thankfully Dena Pawling and One Of Us Has To Go saved the day with some great suggestions. Of the prompts they offered, I went with one of Dena‘s:

NOW OR NEVER

I knew the window would be small. Thirty seconds max. Some think that’s plenty of time, especially for a professional.

They don’t understand.

It takes a steady hand. Concentration. Thirty seconds is no time to get in the zone.

Especially when Security is maybe thirty-one seconds behind you.

It’s not that I hated the guy in my sights. Seemed nice enough. But if you want your candidate to advance, you’ve got to do what’s necessary.

I had it. Perfect shot. Three… two…

A bullet hit my arm. I dropped the rifle.

“Threat neutralized,” a guard shouted. “Inform Chancellor Hitler immediately!”

What will be the theme of tomorrow’s story? I’m sure you have some excellent “O” words or phrases to offer. I’ll pick the one that inspires me most. 🙂

P.S.: Don’t forget to leave a link to your blog if you’re also doing the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge!

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge Recap: Week 2

Since the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge takes a break on Sundays, I’m using this opportunity to post links to the stories so far. Thank you all once again for providing the prompts that have inspired each of these stories. We only have a few suggestions for tomorrow’s letter (N), so please feel free to comment with your ideas.

A-G: See the Week One Recap

H: Horrendously Hairy

I: Ice

J: Jockey

K: Killer Tomatoes

L: Lost Horizon

M: Murdering Malcolm

What will our N story be? Find out tomorrow!

P.S.: If you’re enjoying these stories, be sure to comment, like, follow, hunt me down on Twitter, become a Patron, etc. Thanks!