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ZD Writing Competition: Round 40 - Results

Which Entry is Your Favorite?

  • Entry 1

    Votes: 1 12.5%
  • Entry 2

    Votes: 2 25.0%
  • Entry 3

    Votes: 2 25.0%
  • Entry 4

    Votes: 2 25.0%
  • Entry 5

    Votes: 1 12.5%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .

Spiritual Mask Salesman

CHIMer Dragonborn
Staff member
Comm. Coordinator
Site Staff
Welcome back to the 40th round of the Writing Competition!!! (10 more and we're at 50!!!) To start, I want to take a moment to say that I really wanted to host back in February, as usual, but as you all know life events hit me in unexpected ways. So let's give a big thanks to @Azure Sage for filling in for me!

Today is a bit of an anniversary for me: two years ago today I stepped into the role of Writing Competition host... I can't help but think, wow, time really flies by quickly – I feel like it hasn't been that long at all! Over these past few years it's been an absolute pleasure hosting, and I look forward to continue doing it for as long as I can! I was looking back at my first round that I hosted just now, and I was able to piece together the core philosophy I had back then that I still strive for to this day:

To provide thought provoking themes so we can all produce some spectacular creative writing!

So let's get to it! In light of the latest news about the sequel to Breath of the Wild, thoughts about the sky are on my mind a lot lately. This round's theme is:


Whether it's a story taking place in the sky, or heavily focused on analyzing the sky, have some fun with it!

Submit all entries to me via DM by April 23rd, 2022, at 11:59 PM EST (GMT - 4)

As always, if you have any questions just get in contact with me! Happy writing ZD!

Spiritual Mask Salesman

CHIMer Dragonborn
Staff member
Comm. Coordinator
Site Staff
We got 5 entries this month which is really exciting! Plus for the first time in a while I managed to write a piece for the prompt as well, which was a lot of fun!

Voting will end Saturday, April 30th, 2022 at 11:59 EST (GMT -4).

Here are the entries:

At a certain point, the fishes begin to wheel circles above the clouds. Beneath the waves flash schools of birds; scales above and feathers below. The breeze from the north guides the herring downwind and the ocean current gently blows the albatross along its migration. Sunlight glides up from the firmament, moonlight from above, reflecting and shining alike.

Green sea and green sky refuse to part company, as if the deep is shedding the infinite expanse above like a skin. So inseparable they look that one might expect to sail up the edge of the sky and circumscribe what lies between. The sickly clouds and foam clump and stretch and break apart, each robbing the other in kind. When the rain drives down in torrents and gargantuan bubbles from below threaten to capsize ships, the dichotomy plays out like a prisoner exchange.

The court of Poseidon laps at Hermes' doorstep, its breakers rolling along the shore of the heavens. Shimmering, silver tide collecting twinkling stars, burying them beneath the surf, sprouting galactic abyss, spinning through gulfs of stellar brine. Inexorably expanding, condescendingly vast, irreconcilably alike.

And there, man. A point on a lower-dimensional plane, he treads water on the horizon line. Realms beyond his imaginings, gods and monsters there play. The sea collides with the sky, looking both as a single beast, provoking Ouroboros to envy with the spectacle. Naked of scale and feather, man bobs impotently in the liminal niche, a voyeur only. The elaborate gaud of his fecklessness he wears with pride, like the slime of a worm, and his hubris is the adornment of his insignificance. His eyes too weak even to witness the extent of his folly and the wind and waves, too great to witness his labefaction.

Hear then, the fate of man: that his body be buried in the sea and his shadow in the sky, that the body might feed the albatross and the shadow, the herring, where the two may return to the earth as one.
My father was a well-known history teacher in the region. He used to teach about the people who sailed the roughest seas, who climbed the tallest mountains, and who ventured into the deepest forests. But there was one place he always had a fascination with more than anywhere else: the sky. People always laughed at him when he suggested that there could be civilizations that we know nothing about living in the sky. They told him to keep his nose in the history books and teach people what actually happened, not to fantasize about some childhood dream. But I always believed my father. He was the type of man who would scour the archives for hours on end and try to decipher some of the deepest mysterious of the world. He also attended conferences with some of the brightest historians, archeologists, and anthropologists around. He knew his stuff, and I knew he would never kid around about that.

“Hey, Victor. Are you awake? The ship is departing soon.”

I opened my eyes to see my lanky coworker, Larry, rousing me from my nap. That little snooze sure brought back some memories.

The name’s Victor. Victor Braun. I work for a shipment company on the Northern Sea. We deliver all sorts of manufactured goods to those on the nearby islands. This time around, we’re shipping to some island we’ve never heard of, Hakala. Hopefully some of the locals will be able to help us if we get lost. It’s rare to ship to an entirely new location. We’ve been doing this for nearly two decades, so we thought we had the area pretty well scouted.

“Put the rest of the goods in the cargo dock,” I told a loader walking by. “We need to set off soon.”

I got onboard. The wind sure was blowing rough. I looked up at the sky. Clear. But a storm was forecast for later in the day. We needed to make this shipment quickly or we might get stuck in the eye of the storm. Worst case scenario, we would wait out the night in Hakala after making the shipment.

“Lift the anchor!”

And we were off.

It was smooth sailing. Not much to get in the way. But despite our best efforts and consulting our navigator, we could not find the island of Hakala. We decided to stop by the island of Coca.

Coca is well known for its abundance of coconuts. The first man we saw was a muscular blonde with a deep scar on his front. He was walking around shirtless apparently picking some coconuts from the trees.

“Hey, do you know where Hakala is?” I inquired.

“Hmm,” he said, “I saw some people purportedly from that island heading into a cave on the northeast a few days ago. Maybe you can follow that route to find it.”

“Thanks, much appreciated.”

A cave. Northeast. The wind was starting to pick up a little. Eyes peeled, I desperately tried to find it. Wherever it was, it sure was concealed well. Something brown suddenly caught the corner of my eye. It was a barrel submerged in the water pointing northeast. Perhaps it was a trail someone left behind. I squinted into the distance and saw another barrel. Sure enough, that one led me to another. Finally, the entrance to the cave came into sight. The sound of rushing water was louder here.

“What’s going on?”

“Hey, Larry” I called, “Can you go portside and check to see what’s happening up ahead.”

“There’s a waterfall!” he screamed.

Before I knew it, we were dropping down below.

“I better get paid overtime!” I exclaimed.

Our ship hit the water below with a loud thud.

Amazing. To think there was such a cave system hidden out of sight. I thought back to the people that had called my father a quack all those years ago. There are always places few people have visited. Tribes that are so distant as to be unknown to most humans. Perhaps we were onto something here. Maybe we would leave our mask on history today.

The ground started to shake.

“What now?! Is it an earthquake?!” I roared.

“I don’t know!” our navigator shouted back.

This wasn’t good. Our ship wasn’t reinforced for such a situation.

“Continue forward! It’s the only choice we have. All men to starboard. Bring out the oars to help us out too. We’ll need to add some manual labor to make sure we survive this. We’ve all got families back home that still need us. Don’t lose hope.”

This galvanized the crew into action. Everyone gave it their best push. The ground continued to shake. But we grit our teeth and continued to push forward. We could do it. We absolutely could do it.

And then we hit shore.

“Huh?” our navigator asked in a bewildered tone. “I guess there is some land here.”

The rocks were all reddish brown. We had never seen anything like them before. There appeared to be a mist in this part of the cave. It made us all feel extremely myopic.

“Watch your step,” I told the men. “We need to be careful. We aren’t at our destination yet. We need to scout around.”

We made our way across the rocks. There still weren’t any people in sight. But we could begin to hear some vague noises in the distance. It sounded a bit like a steam engine. Was there some kind of civilization here after all? I started to get excited. My father would be proud of our discovery.

A mountain? That’s what the giant object we began to dimly see in the distance looked like. No. There was something coming out of it. That’s what was producing the steam. It was lava! And that explained the rocks earlier. They were igneous rocks. Things were beginning to click. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any people around. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some charred ship parts. Could it be? No other thought made sense. The lava had come in contact with these parts. And there were no other islands we hadn’t explored in this part of the sea. The only place to look was somewhere no one else had ever thought to: the sky.

“Listen,” I said. “This might sound crazy. But I can’t think of any other explanation. We heard that guy on Coca explain that he saw some people go through here and presumably onwards to Hakala. I think that we somehow need to use the volcano to propel us upwards into the sky. There is no other place I can think of.”

“Victor, you must have gotten high off some coconut juice,” Larry laughed. “You can’t seriously think that there is an island in the sky. That’s nonsense. Looks like your old man’s wishful thinking rubbed off on you after all. I thought you were a more practical thinker. I guess I was wrong.”

“We need to equip our ship with some tungsten and nickel alloys. That way we can survive the oncoming lava. Make sure the bottom and sides of the ship are equipped. We’ll use the force of the lava to propel us into the sky. There are no second chances.”

“Wow, you can’t be serious.” Larry said. “That’s insane.”

“Listen, Larry, we’re gotten this far thanks to my leadership as the captain of this ship. If you want off, then get off. Please, all of you. Place your trust in me one more time. Hakala is clearly very well hidden as we saw just getting to this cave. It’s not farfetched to think that there really could be an island in the sky.”

Everyone starting looking around at each other and scratching their heads. I understood that it would be hard for them to accept. They were the descendants of the people who had doubted my father, after all. I guess you can’t change minds in a generation. Change requires gradual progress.

“I’m willing to go along with it,” Johnny said. He was one of the younger members of the crew.

“Yeah, we’ve gotten this far thanks to you,” another man stated.

Some more and more started to go along.

“Ah, what the hell. I guess I’ve got no choice. Count me in, boss,” Larry replied.

“Thank you all for putting your faith in me one more time.”

“Reinforce the keel first. Our ship will become unusable if its bottom is damaged. Then, make sure to also place some metal alongside the sides. We don’t want to expose ourselves to lava on deck either.”

Everyone got busy right away. When they put their minds to something, they were some of the best in the business.

After a few grueling hours of work, the preparations were in place. Now the question was how to get the ship inside of the volcano in the first place. There seemed to be a path alongside the volcano. Perhaps building some wheels below the keel could be the solution. It was okay if they burned away because going down would be much easier than going up.

“Okay, everyone, let’s add some wheels to the bottom of the ship. That way we can make our way up the volcano.”

Everyone got back to work. Another 3 hours passed. It was night time outside already judging by how much time they had spent inside the cave.

“Let’s go.”

Everyone got behind the ship and started pushing it up the volcano path.

“Heave ho! Heave ho!”

“Watch it, navigator!” someone shouted. He had almost lost his footing and slipped below.

“Take responsibility for your next door neighbor!” I shouted. “Don’t leave any man behind.”

The inside of the volcano was in sight. Okay, what would be the best method to get everyone onboard? Someone was still needed to push the ship in, but it’s safer to get some people inside before chucking it in. Jumping into the ship below from a height could result in some broken bones or worse for some of the more frail crew members.

“I think what we should do is get the majority of the crew inside the ship before we finally push it in. Let’s leave a dozen of the strongest guys out here to give it a final shove.”

The crew members started to climb aboard.

“I hope this is the moment when my doubt will be quelled,” Larry quipped.

“Oh, shut it, Larry. Don’t give the captain more of an earful than he’s already had,” Johnny responded.

“Alright, those of you remaining, help me push the ship into the lava below,” I said. “It’s go time.”

Damn. Trying to push the ship with only a dozen or so men was tough as hell. I could feel the sweat pouring down my back. I so need a cold shower after all this is done. But now wasn’t the time to give up. We were strong from loading and unloading all sorts of materials onto the ship ever day.

“Give it one more good push! It’s now or never!”

And the ship went in. The plop of the ship into the lava sent some lava flying up. We took cover behind some rocks before it hit.

“Okay, it’s time for the rest of us to join them. I think it goes without saying that this is one target you can’t miss or it’s the end of the line. This isn’t like the pisser where the unlucky dude on cleanup duty can take care of things at the end of the day if someone misses.”

The guys got an uneasy laugh out of that one. Good. I hoped it helped lighten the mood at least a little.

“On the count of three, let’s jump. One, two, three!”

Everyone jumped. The heat of the lava hit us when we were suspended in the air above it. It made those sweaty summer days seem tame in comparison.

Thump. I touched down on deck. My legs hurt like hell. That was a bit of a rough landing. But I made it.

“Is everyone alright?”

“We need some help over here!” the navigator shouted. “Magnus is barely holding on!”

Magnus was a muscular bearded man in his late 40s. Lifting him up would be tough.

“Hey, you two, help me out,” I said to the Soroy twins. They were some of the stronger dudes on the crew who had also just made the jump.

“The navigator and I will grab his left arm. You two grab his right.”

We grabbed Magnus and gave him a good pull up. That was one hell of a challenge but we somehow managed to pull it off. That was enough scares for one day. We were exhausted. Now it was time for the lava to do its thing.

The rumbling started below us. Good timing. Perhaps it was a coincidence or perhaps it was an act of fate. Either way, we were about to go up.

“Brace yourselves!” I shouted.

It was now or never. Either we would come crashing down into our fiery graves or we would be propelled into a new horizon.

The lava stream came forth. Some of the guys cheered while others closed their eyes fearing the worst. The ship started to take off. We really were ascending. But would that continue? I closed my eyes and thought, “Please let your theory of a sky island be true, father. Our lives depend on what you so voraciously thought existed.”

I could feel the atmospheric pressure start to drop. I opened my eyes. The ceiling of the cave was coming into view. In all of my excitement, I had completely overlooked the fact that we would crash into the ceiling!

“Man the cannons!” I screamed. “We need to blast a hole through this ceiling or we’re going to come crashing down!”

Magnus and Johnny quickly ran to the cannons on deck.

Ready, aim, fire!”

The cannons shot forth.

Moonlight burst forth from the opening. We were going to make it out. Even if the sky island wasn’t real, now we could at least crash back down into the sea and somehow survive if we played our cards right. But I couldn’t let go of my father’s dream that I had inherited. I just knew a sky island existed.

We burst through the clouds. The storm was now in full effect. I could feel rain pouring down on me and the earlier wind had turned into a gale.

“Hold on tight!” I shouted.

Now was the moment of truth. I could see a beach in the distance. So the sky island really was real. But how could we make sure or ship wouldn’t instantly fall down below? I didn’t have time to think. The ship started to fall. It seems my planning could only take us so far. Now I just needed to focus on making sure no one died on the way down.

We landed.

“Huh?” I audibly questioned. “What the heck is going on?”

“Look, captain!” Johnny exclaimed. “The clouds below us are like land. We’re not falling down. And they’re so fluffy. What a miracle that we made it here.”

“Yes, it truly is a miracle,” I retorted. The tears came streaming down my face. I couldn’t stop them if I tried. This is where I had always dreamed of going ever since I was a kid and my father told me that he had suspected the existence of such an island after thousands and thousands of hours of research.

I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“I’m sorry for every doubting you, captain,” Larry whispered.

“Our job’s not over yet,” I said, slowly getting up and wiping my tears. “Let’s find the people of Hakala and complete our delivery.”

“Let’s have some of the men stay back just in case something happens. Navigator, Larry, Magnus, and Johnny, you come with me.”

We divided the materials into parcels to be carried by each of us. As we approached the beach, some windmills came into view in the distance. What a beautiful sight it was. It was people and nature living in unison. That’s what I felt in my soul. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from this culture to take back to the world down below. But there was a forest between us that we needed to cross first. It was unlike any forest I’d ever seen, though. There weren’t many trees, but the trees that were there stretched high into the heavens.

“Who comes there?” a middle aged man inquired from the greenery as we approached.

“Oh, hello, mister, we didn’t notice you there. Is this Hakala?” I asked him.

“Yes, it is. So you’re the company we ordered from. I’m surprised you found us. We rarely allow foreigners to come here. And even fewer actually find their way here. You’re the first visitors here in 80 long years. Please come and meet our elder.”

He led us through the remainder of the forest. Tucking away some large leaves at the end of the path we followed, we suddenly found ourselves gazing upon a city of gold. It was absolutely beautiful. The architecture was extremely distinct with every building having arches and a bell at the top. The windmills we saw earlier were perched atop mountains located behind the city.

“What are the bells for?” I asked the man.

“For this,” he responded. He took out a flare gun and shot it.

Suddenly, a multitude of people came out on top of the buildings and started ringing their bells in unison.

“That’s how we greet strangers,” the man smiled back.

We walked down the main street with lots of people waving at us through their windows. They were dressed in what would be considered summer time clothing down below. It made sense. It was probably hotter up here. The women had flowers in their hair.

I looked around. There weren’t any street lamps or anything that seemed to run on electricity in the sky.

“The elder is just beyond these doors. My job as your guide ends here,” the man said. He left us in front of a giant ornate door made of bronze. I found it ironic that in a city of gold, the elder stood behind a door made from a less valuable metal. But perhaps bronze was rarer up here. Who knows.

We shoved the door open.

“Hello, please make yourselves at home,” a hunched over man with a graying beard told us. A beautiful pond with several lily pads and giant chandeliers above was behind him.

“I presume that you’re the elder,” I responded.

“Yes, I am.”

“We’ve delivered the materials that you wanted.”

“Thank you very much. Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?”

“Yes, I’ll have some beer,” Magnus shouted.

I jabbed him in the ribs.

“Sorry about that. Please excuse my crewman’s rudeness.”

“Haha, it’s alright. It’s been a while since we’ve had someone so lively visit. You may have heard that we rarely get visitors around these parts.”

“I actually wanted to ask about that. Why are you so isolated from the rest of the world?”

“It’s a complicated story, lad. I’ll spare you the details for now, but we once had a group of people come down from the sea below who tried to wipe out our civilization. This was a long time ago. No one from that era is still alive. So, as the newest elder of this village, I’ve tried to restore relations with visitors. That’s why you received such a pompous welcome. But you must understand that some people still approach foreigners with trepidation.”

“I understand. In that case, I don’t want to impose. I hope we can visit again sometime, though.”

“Yes, any time,” the elder replied.

“What about my beer?” Magnus whined.

This time Johnny gave him a jab in the ribs.

“How can we get down from here?” I asked the elder.

“Please use one of our giant seahorses.”

The elder whistled. A pair of eyes came forth from the pond. The men all smiled. Sometimes nature throws you a curveball that sparks your childhood curiosity and the sense of wonder at the world when you see something new for the first time. Yes. We all felt like little kids at that moment.

“Thank you. We’ll attach it to the front of our ship. But how will it come back here into the sky?”

“Don’t worry. These giant seahorses are migratory creatures by nature. They start off their lives in the sky, then move down in the sea below. Eventually, they spend most of their lives on the ocean floor.”

We headed back to the rest of the crew on the ship. All of the villagers waved us goodbye. Looking closer, I could see some lines of worry on their faces. But they hid that worry behind their smiles. I hoped that we could return to alleviate some of their uneasiness over time. We needed to build a good relationship so both sides could prosper.

“Attach the giant seahorse to the front of the ship!”

The men scurried around and did so. I could tell they were exhausted from the journey. Today had been one hell of a day.

The man who had guided us to the town told us that in order to descend from Hakala, we just needed to follow the clouds down below. Supposedly there was a bit of a waterfall. I wonder why we hadn’t seen it coming up.

“Let’s head out!”

“Yeah!” all the men shouted in response.

The giant seahorse led us for what seemed like 20 miles and then the sound of a waterfall could be heard.

“Thank you, father. Thank you for your hard work and research that inspired me to come up to Hakala and finally see the sky island for myself.”

“Brace yourselves!”

“The waterfall cuts off partially down!” Johnny shouted.

“Hah, you always learn something new about how the world operates,” I laughed. “There are islands in the sky and waterfalls which don’t even lead down the sea below.”

“Hold onto your butts, everyone, we’re going home! Let’s all grab some beer together once we’re back!”
Clouds and Birds

It was a hot day in Florida as Cayde and her sister Siy were taking a walk through the Orangegrove city park. Siy looked up at the sky and watched the clouds as the two sat down on a bench.

“Hey, what do you think that one looks like, sis?” Siy asked about a cloud she was pointing to. Cayde responded with a shrug. “What do you think it looks like?” Cayde looked at her sister then up at the cloud. “Hmm... it looks like a bird!” Siy pointed to the back of the cloud which looked like part of a wing.

“A bird? I think it looks a spaceship. Don’t you?” Cayde pointed to the front of the cloud and traced the top half of it. Siy put her hand to her chin. “Uh... yeah... a little! But what kinda spaceship has wings?”

Cayde laughed. “A spaceship piloted by birds. Listen... I have a secret to tell you. Now, you promise not to tell anyone I told you this, okay?”

Siy made a zipping her lips gesture and nodded. Cayde started to tell her a faux story. “Well, you know how I was raised by Koopas, right?” “Yeah. But you were born to human parents.” “Ah ah ah. Not true...” Cayde held her hand up to her mouth and looked around for anyone who was listening apart from Siy, then told her the “secret”. “I’m a bird.”

Siy gasped and put her hands on her cheeks. She never knew her sister was a bird! “Tell me more, tell me more!” Siy bounced up and down on the bench.

“Okay, okay... you’re a bird, too. Mom and Dad never told you because they didn’t want you to fly away.” “Did they say the same thing to you?” Siy inquired. “The Koopas did. Until I found out on my own when I wouldn’t stop pecking things and eating loads of bread.” Cayde snickered silently. She was falling for the story.

“Well, sis. I have a secret, too.” Cayde raised an eyebrow. “What is it?” Siy smiled and started laughing. “Bird is the word!”

Siy hugged Cayde tight. “Bird is indeed the word. You know what it means in Bird?” Siy shook her head.

“I love you.”

What’s the Limit?

29 Nov. 2022

I always enjoy the hum of voices in a crowded venue. It tickles the ears with a low pur, yet it keeps you alert with occasional jumps in volume. It certainly keeps things lively here, that’s for sure. I don’t know what I would do without this atmosphere. Heck, I kind of need it since I play the piano. I don’t play very well, but I get by all right and I am often helped by the (mostly) indifferent patrons of this fine establishment. They have all that they need, the piano be damned. Good borscht and good company. Now that is good living.

The piano keys are both warm and worn as I play out a series of chords. Like I said before, I don’t play very well, and the concept of dynamics eludes me some days. Occasionally, a patron or two might shoot me a puzzled look, but a moment later their eyes are turned back to where they were looking before. Believe me, it used to be much worse. I have the chords to thank for getting me out of those messes, but I’m not sure the piano appreciates it as much. Worn keys and not much variety leaves her a tad downtrodden. I hope that she knows I’m grateful for her all things considered. Armchair critics with borscht in their mouths were the least of my problems. I lost a pretty lucrative gig, and with a daughter to raise on top of it, I was fortunate enough that this piano took pity on my “situation” of sorts. Every bottle of grape juice I own, I drink to her.

Tonight remains like any other. A group of old-timers at the bar sharing stories of good times; a few here with friends murmuring about their weeks; and the couple going out for a first date. It brings a smile to my face; their conversations keep the environment relaxed and lively at the same time. Surely, it saves me the trouble of having to compensate for everyone else! I continue to play my piano, the keys mixing softly and gently with the ringing of voices both vibrant and melancholy. Smiles can be detected for those most observant, but I can’t say I’m one of those types. My mind is either on the piano or something else or another.

30 Nov. 2022

The club is quiet now, with only the footsteps of patrons littering the room with sound. As soon as everyone exits, I take my leave; usually the other staff members take care of any final housekeeping measures. I say my own goodbyes, waving as I exit the establishment. Turning my head to the street, a few lights are on, but one flickers ever so slightly. It wouldn't be an unusual sight if it weren’t for the man sitting underneath it. His back is turned to me; his gaze seemingly stoic, almost transparent. I don’t do it much these days, but once upon a time, I could read people like a book. It was something I did all the time back then. With my curiosity now piqued, I make my way toward the man and sit a couple of feet away.

“Hey, what’s on your mind?” I wave almost stiffly to the man. The man turned his head to face mine, eyes as lost as the wind. He looked at me for a few seconds as if assessing a threat before turning his attention back to where it was just moments ago.

“N-nothing, really,” the man murmurs. He continues to gaze forward. After a moment or two of silent reflection, I craft a slapdash response.

“Nothing, huh? Hard to call it nothing when we’re sitting on the sidewalk past 2AM.” A laugh escapes through my teeth. I suppose I developed a bad habit of laughing aloofly at things. Ultimately, the man turns back to me, likely puzzled by the laughter. With a more sincere eye, he makes eye contact with me.

“I-is that so?” the man chuckles lightly. “...d-do you think there’s more to life than this…?” I recoil slightly, but breathe out a sigh.

“What do you mean?” I inquire.

“Well, like, um…” the man takes a few moments to respond. Both of us begin tapping our feet. “You see, I just got through a bad breakup, had trouble holding down a job and things just went south, one right after another. Couldn’t feel lower, to be honest!” The man coughs out a chuckle, but there is a gleam of sorrow in his eyes.

“Aah, yeah, I see,” I say. “Life has a way of throwing up foul balls sometimes. We either hit one and live another day, or we strike out.” My eyes look down. I’m kind of embarrassed by the comment. I didn’t intend for it to sound profound. Fortunately, the man didn’t seem to bat an eye.

“Huh,” he remarks. “So you’re a baseball guy?”

“Hardly,” I retort quickly. “I’m a piano man myself.” This time, he is much quicker to respond to me.

“Yes, I heard you. You’re not very good, are you?” he teases. I am definitely caught off-guard, but it’s sobering to hear someone else say it aside from me.

“Ah, so you noticed,” I laugh more heartily than before. “Guilty as charged, I suppose.” The last few words begin to sting me somehow. I can’t quite put my finger on it. “You know, piano was never my first option. A few short years ago, I was involved in a more noble profession, or at least some might call it that. Poor judgment on my end led to that opportunity being shelved among other things. So, to answer your question, I would say no. There isn’t necessarily more to life than what we’ve got. Sometimes, we just have to use the hand we’re dealt.”

Those words also begin to sting me, but fortunately enough, the man has been listening intently to have a response at the ready. I would like to say that I too was all ears, but my mind has other plans. Half-listening and half-pondering, I attempt to listen to the man’s words.

“...they used to tell me when I was a kid that the sky’s the limit. That we could do anything if we were set on accomplishing our goals. It seemed so true back then, but now, it’s almost as if the sky is looming over us and closing the doors we want to open.” The man looks up as he speaks, and then turns his attention back to me. “I want to feel that sense of endless possibility again. Even if I can’t have my life back, I want to be able to build something. Something that will at least stand for a little.” After rattling out his last statement, the man fell silent and turned himself back to the apartments across the street from him.

“Well, when you put it like that, it sounds like the sky is cruel!” I smile. “You’re right. Some doors close that can never be opened. I don’t know if I can ever go back to do what I did, but there is some joy in a new start. I may not be good at the piano, but I try to do right by my kid, and I think that she appreciates that. So perhaps we both have been looking at this all wrong. We’re the kind of guys who have our heads in the sky hunting for some ideal when the real possibilities are right in front of us.” I watch the man shift his weight back and forth as if letting out some nervous energy, but he does not say anything to me. We both watch the sky, stars of silver and gold eyeing us equally. I then look over at the man and stand up.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” I nod. He then turns to me and nods back. I wave back to him with a slight accompanying nod, and leave him alone.

Walking home, with the early morning breeze caressing my face, I can’t help but be happy. It is a route I take every day, but even though the dark still dominates the sky, it feels as if the light is merrily waiting for an opportunity to shine. Day and night, the sky’s two performances, are daily viewings for all of us. We can’t move past it, but we can live in it as the performers look upon us. When I finally reach the door, I can only think about one thing.

I hope that her magic practice didn’t make the place too messy.
We’re this high up, let’s not land, not yet…

“Maxwell, shouldn’t we stop? This flying, in the night, we’re going nowhere, and this is pointless,” Replied Ashei, his spirit.
“No, I can’t go back down to the world! Not… yet,” Maxwell replied with sadness. “Ever since you emerged from me, after my mother died in the hospital, I’ve become somebody dangerous, somebody people look away in fear at, and can you blame them?”.
“I’m… A problem?” Ashei asked curiously
“No, I’m the problem,” Maxwell said. “You just make things worse. You’re dangerous, I’m the cause. We’re a family known to have a child born every 75 years with a spirit that follows them, and when I first heard that I was excited, but then… then…!”
“I’m sorry, my companion,” Ashei replied
“Your apologies mean nothing to the destroyed hospital, or the people that got killed,” Maxwell replied angrily. “Don’t you see? Up here we’re safe, soaring through the clouds while flying. No one’s getting hurt, nothing is getting damaged. No one else… is here”

At that moment Maxwell bursts into tears, which brought Ashei to yet another confused and dangerous rage, except here it was safe, and nothing got damaged. When the meltdown stopped, Ashei felt like he gained something. A new power? Possibly. He then unleashed a glowing midnight blue wormhole. Suddenly, both Maxwell and Ashei got sent through it, both yelling and holding on to each other.

Now they were even higher up in the sky, but for some inexplicable reason, it wasn’t hard to breath here. Suddenly, they saw a bunch of memories of Maxwell’s mother everywhere. They were confused, but they listened to them, even though they knew it would probably bring Maxwell to tears.

One was a memory of her mom in the hospital, before she died of her disease. Both had there attention completely on it.

“I don’t think I can hold on… the doctors have done their all, but I worry that I might not be able to hold on. Maxwell… I’m so sorry. What I hope… is that Maxwell in the future visits the places he loved to go with me back then. The amusement park, the lake, the bakery, and his favorite, the beach. Maxwell… I love you with all my heart, and if I pass away, please, don’t grieve forever. Stand with your companion, whenever it comes, and enjoy life as much as you can”

Maxwell froze, standing silent, but this time didn’t shed many tears. Instead he turned his back, and thought to himself for a minute.

“Ashei… I think I know what to do”

And seperately, my short story which came to me as a random daydream. I had this vision of two samurais in robes dueling with katanas atop the clouds. As I started to write about it I decided to fit it into the chess manga idea I've been developing for a while now. I'm still not even set on how my characters will look, and the names are just random placeholder names for now. I hope you all enjoy!

Sunset Duel in the Clouds

Ryuk closed his eyes and smiled as the wind began to gently gust. Calmly he moved his hair back, out of his face.

"I've waited years for this Fuji… to challenge you."

Fuji smirked arrogantly while looking down, the clouds around and below them were glowing hues of orange and red as the sun was setting. Their illusory battle was taking place in the sky, where they were standing atop clouds as if weightless. "I suppose you think you'll be winning?" He inquired.

"Of course, luck has been on my side ever since I started on this path, and I can feel that it will remain!" Ryuk responded. "I know you've never lost a game… but I also have a flawless record. They say your defenses are impenetrable and your attacks fiercely brutal… but sooner or later luck dries up. Everyone has to lose eventually, Fuji. Today I guarantee it won't be me!" Ryuk drew his katana and took his fighting stance.

"Your enthusiasm is admirable, it's such a shame I'll have to crush it." Fuji boasted, drawing his blade as well and taking his stance.

Ryuk thrusted forward his katana, but Fuji blocked this advance with ease. Ryuk continued on with a flurry of slashes, all of which Fuji blocked. Ryuk unsheathed his second retractable katana, which he had concealed until now. "I got you now!!" Ryuk exclaimed. He lunged forward with a spin, both katanas twirling alongside him like fan blades. Fuji dodged aside gracefully, but his katana made contact with both of Ryuk's blades, the force of them knocking Fuji's sole katana out of his hand. They watched as it fell down, disappearing into the clouds.

"It's like I said, old friend, sooner or later luck dries up. You can't win forever!" Ryuk gloated, balancing the hilt of a katana on one finger.

"You're severely misjudging this situation. You see, there is one big difference between us. You rely on luck in all of your games, you've been fortunate enough for that to serve you well, afterall, you've never had to face me before. As for me, I don't use luck. I don't need it! Do you know why?" Fuji asked. Normally an opponent would be extremely flustered at this point, perhaps even tired out, but he had not even begun to break a sweat.

"I'm not exactly sure I understand what you are getting at. I think all you might be doing right now is stalling for time. Why don't you just surrender and make this as painless and less humiliating as possible?" Ryuk chuckled.

Fuji shook his head. "I guess I'll have to show you. Deal your final blow, I am defenseless afterall."

"So be it" Ryuk responded in a dry tone, he was shocked that Fuji was allowing a battle he could not possibly win to continue on. In the blink of an eye he charged forward in a stabbing motion to deal his final blow: the Lightning Strike. In the illusory realm Ryuk can move faster than anyone, in a millisecond he can launch an attack that nobody has ever dodged. With his arms still extended forward, sweat pouring from his brow, not looking up because he didn't need to, he smiled, "Victory is mine!"

"Oh, is it?" Fuji mocked. In shock Ryuk looked up at his blade, Fuji was there, beside it – the stab had not even made contact! Fuji kicked Ryuk while simultaneously taking one of his 2 katanas. Ryuk landed on his back, struggling to stand up.

"Th-that's impossible!!! Nobody can dodge my Lightning Strike!! How?" Ryuk shouted in disbelief, as he finally sat up while gasping for air.

Fuji laughed, "It's what I was trying to tell you… I don't need luck because I know exactly what any opponent will do before they even do it! I knew exactly how this battle would transpire months ago when I qualified for this whole tournament! I knew exactly when you would unleash your Thunder Strike, and I knew exactly where your katana would be at the end of it! I also saw that your special attack is so taxing on you that you cannot recover in time to even continue fighting." Fuji slowly walked forward, "So you see..", he pointed his blade, "luck is completely pointless…", he brought his arm back to gain momentum for his last swing, "when you become as skilled as me!!!"

"I RESIGN!!!!" Ryuk yelled. Their illusory battle was over. The chess board in front of them being one move away from mate in 1.
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Lots of entries this month, and we ended up with a 3 person tie!!

In the event of a tie, the tied participants all win and will be awarded medals!

The winners are: @A Link In Time @Mido and @MightyMario!

Entry 1: @Hyrulian Hero
Entry 2: A Link in Time
Entry 3: Mighty Mario
Entry 4: Mido
Entry 5: @The Dashing Darknut

Congrats to the winners, and a round of applause for the other participants – the pieces made for this month were all really good!

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