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Welcome to another Writing Challenge!

In line with previous one, which featured some really interesting answers, this includes a topic, a prompt, and also a challenge. I've added a fourth prompt, the Culinary Cue, following some fun remarks from this question on meta.

  • Topic

    This time, the subject has to be a mark. It could be a dirt stain caused by something, or a symbol, someone leaving his traces on history, or a literal mark on a college essay.

  • Prompt

    The street was filled with the heavy-scented air blowing from food kiosks and nightclubs, 24/7 emporiums and drug stores, tattoo and massage parlours.

    You are free to modify this as long as the general sense is preserved.

  • Challenge

    Use "bulbous", "monumental" and/or "airhead".

  • Culinary Cue

    From a discussion between NofP and a CVn, noting the strange lack of the word "salami" in the main site. So, bonus points for writers who'll dare to write about any kind of salami. Sausages need not to apply, unless you can eat them raw.


So to enter the challenge, you simply write something, and post it below. It can be a work in progress, and continue working on it while receiving feedback, or it can be a finished work - anything goes.

And of course, if you encounter any doubts related to the writing process, don't be shy and open a question on our main site!

You can submit your entries until the end of the three weeks. After three weeks, we'll choose the next prompt and put up a new post.

You can either post the whole thing here, or, if you usually post your writing somewhere else, you can put a link here - although I'd advise putting something in to get people interested.

Remember: this is not a contest. This is merely for fun, and for some practice writing. There will (hopefully) be writers of all different skill levels posting - I'm certainly not super good.

You're welcome to provide feedback, but please make sure that it's constructive. And remember: Be Nice.

Remember that the age limit for the site is 13 - so please avoid excessive graphic content or strong language.

I look forward to reading the submissions!

The original meta post - How would having the writing challenges on Meta work out? - that started all this may be helpful. All of these challenges can be seen under the tag.

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(I once saw an answer on here (which I can't seem to find again) that said a novel can just be 50,000 repetitions of the word "meow". I started thinking about what the dialogue for that novel would look like and... well... this piece of nonsense is the result.)

Technical Difficulties

Molly peered at the computer screen, one finger slowly rolling the mouse wheel. Looks like these guys still have some bugs to work out. "I put that new tracking collar on Mordred yesterday."

Deanna looked over at Mordred. The cat was curled up and asleep in a cardboard box, oblivious to their conversation. "How'd it work?"

"It says he was in Florida around one-thirty. Other than that, it looks about right."

"Well, now you know where the International Cat Convention is held."

Molly rolled her eyes. "Don't you have homework to do?"

Deanna grumbled something that Molly could not hear and trudged up the stairs.


The silver tabby hated cities.

The place stank worse than an uncleaned litter box. The street was filled with the heavy-scented air blowing from food kiosks and nightclubs, 24/7 emporiums and drug stores, tattoo and massage parlors.

Gagging, she retreated to the alley. It was no improvement. Here, the air reeked of stale urine and wet garbage.

A middle-aged man with a bulbous nose strolled past the alleyway, eating a sandwich. As the tabby watched, a slice of meat slipped from the sandwich and landed on the sidewalk. The tabby darted forward and sniffed it. It smelled more like chemicals than meat. Yuck. Salami. Just as well. There was no way it was healthy to eat off this sidewalk. Out here, even the rats were too oily and nasty to eat.

She sighed and sat down to wait, wondering if she would ever feel clean again. If it were up to her all of these meetings would be held in a nice abandoned barn somewhere. She felt like the filth of the cities had seeped into her fur, forever staining it with grease and grime.

At least it would be the last. Their allies had finally arrived. The mother ship was cloaked and hidden just behind the moon. They would beam down tonight – and at last, this world would finally be ruled by someone who appreciated the value of cleanliness.

They just needed the last council member to arrive before they could make their plans final.

There he is now.

Shalhax, Destroyer of Rodents (known to his human servants as Mordred) saw her and padded closer. "Meow?"

"Meow meow!" The tabby inched forward to sniff Shalhax's whiskers. Poor guy, still stuck wearing that hideous bow tie. But if they succeeded tonight, not for much longer.

"Meow meow meow?"

"Meow, meow meow. Meow meow meow meow."

Both cats disappeared into the alley.


Jake tapped his headset and swore. The captain was by his side in an instant.

"What happened?"

"The translator's broken!" Jake tore off the headset and threw it on the desk. The meowing continued from the speaker, now faint and tinny. Their one chance to learn the cats' plans, now a monumental failure.

The Earth was doomed.


Mordred rubbed against Molly's leg, purring. She looked down at him and gave an exasperated sigh.

"Again? I just fed you five minutes ago."

Mordred purred harder. Sometimes he had to be persistent.

"Oh, all right."

Mordred heard the bag of treats rustling. It was the last time he would have to beg from this airhead. Soon, the treats would all be his. Soon, Molly would be the one forced to endure the humiliating bow tie. She couldn't hear them - humans had such terrible senses - but the cats and their allies were moving into position. Prowling through the backyard, slinking up the front walk. It was time for him to join them... but first, one last treat.

"Here you go!" Molly squatted and held out a tiny but tasty square.

Mordred purred.

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This is an attempt at automatic writing, not the best, but with a not-so-literal salami stain in the middle.

Version 0.1 - fixed some layout issues


The mark

The street was filled with the heavy-scented air blowing from all food kiosk and
nightclubs, 24/7 emporiums and drug stores, tattoo and massage parlours. Not one
corner was left in the dark, not one wall was left untouched. Not one low-roofed
cube of concrete that they called buildings was free from the buzzing vivid sign
of progress, and not one revolution was going to take that back. They could send
the entire army and it would not cause a stir. They called it "the business" and
it ruled everything. It commanded the fat man with the ink-pen and the black wig
that worked across from the deep-fried chicken store, and seemed almost glued to
the oily chair from which he dispensed drawings on the hairy and scarred arms of
his pale and slender customers. It governed the old hag with the torn apron with
the burnt pan on the stove and the boiling dark molasses in it, where she placed
monumental twists of sugary knobs for the foreigners that fancied new and exotic
flavours, and kept coming back, foaming with desire, covered in sweat, and paler
Than they had ever been. The business was everything. The drug-store insisted to
keep tresses of bulbous onions from the hills, brought to the seaside by cursing
farmers on Fridays. They were no good for any ailment, and worse than the garlic
that they sold at the market, but the pharmacist sold them by the pound. He kept
a rusty old double scale, barely two dishes of iron, and a bent arm, which never
moved. The onions shifted in and out of the plates, from a black nail where they
hung on the wall to the greasy hands of foreigners. They cut them in halves just
outside the drug-store, in the light of a lamp-post, peeled the dry skins on the
tarmac and eagerly rubbed the sour juices on their skin. It made them look cured
of their sick pallor, until salty sweat drops washed it away, or a knife slashed
their soft skin in the alley. Sometimes it was for love, sometimes for money. It
never happened for hunger. They could whither , thin, and pale as bones, but they
never felt the bites of hunger, or desires for any pleasure other than the calls
of the flesh. It made them sick, foam dropping from the eyes, scabs around their
mouths, hairless with black nails, black even their gums, black teeth, but their
skin always marble white. It itched them, a feeling of salt dry scales, of loose
lumps filled with discharge, but it was just their paling skin, which the onions
juices could not cure. They flocked on the massage tables, begging, face down on
the mat, and their voices shrilling from below. The claws of the thin girls with
grins running from ear to ear ran on the naked backs. Dirty fingers, soiled with
the sweat and scales of hundreds of foreigners, and still they rubbed, scratched
and pushed down to bones and tendons, and for a moment the voices stopped crying
replaced instead by guttural moans of newfound pleasures. All it took was but an
hour on the mat. They left with hope, the same hope that made them rub onions on
their skin, but the impression on the mats were still warm and the itch returned
stronger than before. They cursed, sometimes, but the queue never disappeared in
front of the parlor. The foreigners always waited patiently in line, rarely they
talked to each other, and rather munched and munched old slices of stale salami.

  • This is really interesting! I'm not sure what you mean by automatic writing, or what exactly is happening, but I feel like I got the gist of it. "...still they rubbed, scratched/ and pushed down to bones and tendons" gave me the jitters! – tryin Jun 21 at 19:35
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    @tryin I basically just sat down to write whatever came to mind after reaching a state of near trance induced by a prolonged lack of sleep. It took a good bit of editing to make some sense out of it. Actual automatic writing is not too far from it, I guess (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_writing) – NofP Jun 23 at 18:35
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    That's really cool. The tactile imagery in this is super strong, kudos on writing something like this while sleep deprived! – tryin Jun 24 at 5:06
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    @NofP Did you reached a state of sleep deprivation by choice, to experiment of writing, or due some other external cause? It seems an interesting (yet exhausting) experiment. – Liquid Jun 26 at 10:28
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    I see the little mark you left there in the middle of the text, with all the bold text. – A. Kvåle Jun 26 at 22:54
  • @Liquid as much as I love writing, that would not be my first choice. :) I just happened to have a very long shift before catching a flight. I was at the airport, almost falling asleep with barely an hour to spare before boarding, and thought of trying it. – NofP Jun 26 at 23:00
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Warning - death and childbirth

Version 1.2 - Thanks @Liquid!


According to Dad, Mom left only two things in this world - a bloodstained blanket, and a hole in his heart.

I wish he was right.

Other children had photographs, jewellery, old clothes; something nice to remember a parent by. All I ever had was a reminder of the day she died.

Dad told me the story so often while I was growing up, it feels like I was there with them.

My parents, just out of their teens and already expecting, were renting a little apartment in one of the poorest parts of town, and still barely scraped up rent. Their street would have been filled with the heavy-scented air blowing from food kiosks and nightclubs, 24/7 emporiums and drug stores, tattoo and massage parlours. Dad was the janitor, clerk, and night guard for the convenience store down the road. Sometimes, on long nights when he would have longed to be home with Mom, his boss would have winked at him, let him pick anything he wanted from the clearance racks, and leave early. Dad would always choose the AirHeads - Mom's guilty pleasure.

Mom worked at the deli below their crappy apartment. She would've been their biggest asset, weighing all the meat to the gram and never losing her cool with the customers. The owner, their landlords, would've loved her too, and would've always turned a blind eye when she started sneaking little leftover scraps of salami. Mom worked there till she was too pregnant to move, and even then her boss and Dad had had to combine forces to make sure she stayed home. Mom would have been so mad, she must have ranted for hours about traitors. She wouldn't have let Dad hug her for days.

So there they would've been, two kids with no money, no health insurance, no other family (and certainly no sex education, or I wouldn't be here), and facing this monumental change in their lives. They were loved, I think; They must have been loved by the people around them, but sometimes love can only afford to be expressed as discount bags of near-expired AirHeads and free salami. And, of course, the blanket.

The blanket has its own history. The butcher's wife gave it to Mom, and she would have sat there for ages, telling her about how lucky it was for her when she gave birth to her kids, and how Mom should have it because she certainly wasn't having any more, not with the way her husband's been these days, if you know what she means, and do let her know when the baby's about to come, since Mom wasn't going to a hospital or anything. And Mom would've smiled and thanked her, and would have secretly vowed to knit her a replacement blanket with yarn that she definitely wouldn't be able to afford.

Dad didn't tell me all of this, not really. Everytime he told me their story, he'd repeat the bare bones, sparing me all the details. I had to fill most of it in myself. But he's always remembered the birth.

"She was squeezing my hand so hard," he would say. "I thought she would crush it. The best we could do for her was give her a couple of aspirin and some ice. And then..."

At this point, his eyes would start to shine with tears.

"And then your little bulbous head poked out. You don't know a miracle till a child is born, son. But your poor mother..."

She had the time to whisper my name to him, and then she was gone.

"Marcus junior," my dad would whisper, over and over. "She named you. She stayed alive long enough to name you."

He never talks about the rest. He doesn't have to. I can imagine it well enough; Dad would have screamed and cried while the butcher's wife rocked me to sleep, and then he would have sold all of Mom's clothes and her ring to pay for the funeral and buy baby formula.

Mom's body would have lain on that blanket till the undertaker could come collect her - the stain wouldn't have washed out after, it wouldn't have sold for anything, so he would have kept it, and cried into it on days when being a single father got too hard, which was everyday.

When Mom died, she left three things in this world - a bloodstained blanket, a hole in Mark Sr.'s heart, and a hole in Mark Jr.'s life.


Eating salami can apparently cause listeria or toxoplasmosis, which are usually more fatal to the babies than the mothers.


I tried experimenting with the 'imagined past' ("would have") - not sure how it worked out. I also ran with the first idea that popped to mind when reading the prompt, I'm sorry it's so weird!

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    Thumbs up for incorporating all the prompts. It works as a slice of life narration, even if it's borderline misery porn for my tastes. I'll elaborate more: the description about the daily life of the young couple in the poor suburb is nicely done, and the supporting characters (e.g. the butcher and his wife) well sketched. The sheer pain of loss of a parent/spouse is less interesting to me because in the end it doesn't lead to a satisfactory conclusion. – Liquid Jun 26 at 10:38
  • My opinions aside, it's a nice entry overall. A small note: >> "She screamed so much," he would say. "I thought my hand would break" Maybe it would be better saying "She held me so tightly, I thought my hand ..." or "she screamed so much, I thought my ears would bleed". – Liquid Jun 26 at 10:39
  • @Liquid I see what you mean about the Mom's death - it's me fridge-ing her so I could make the 'leaving a Mark' joke. Once I thought of that it wouldn't leave me alone :/ – tryin Jun 27 at 6:05
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Version history:

  1. Initial version
  2. Replaced ending thanks to feedback by NofP
  3. Some minor corrections (and addition of the version history)

Sandra let her view glide on the house fronts. She didn't believe in that prophecy nonsense, but she had promised to look for the sign, so she did. Not that she expected to find anything, but when she promised something, she did it thoroughly, even when she didn't see the point.

In the hand she had a piece of paper with the relevant lines of the prophecy:

On the Arctic part of the most important way, there's a sign. The sign will be a mark that someone left there long ago. Enter the year of the mark, and you'll find the answer.

That was all she had been given. She had asked for the rest of the prophecy, but nobody had wanted to tell her, nor would anyone tell her why. But then, in the end it probably wouldn't matter anyway. After all, she was convinced that prophecies were nonsense.

Sandra was sure she correctly decoded the first sentence. The most important way surely was Main Street. Except that recently, the town had decided to split that road into two, at least in naming. The southern part of the former Main Street was now called African Street, while the northern part was called Scandinavian Street. Sandra had the suspicion that this originated from some bad joke of a town official that had inadvertently been taken serious by the town council. Anyway, the Arctic part of the former Main Street obviously was Scandinavian Street.

Sandra had reached the crossroads where African Street turned into Scandinavian Street, and turned left into the latter. The street was filled with the heavy-scented air blowing from food kiosks and nightclubs, 24/7 emporiums and drug stores, tattoo and massage parlours. The clash between the street's name and its character couldn't be bigger, Sandra though. But anyway, she had to look for the mark.

Her gaze fell on a movie poster in the window of Cinema 55. The cinema was named after the old address, 55 Main Street. Now it was 7 Scandinavian Street, but obviously the owner decided to not change the name.

The poster advertised a showing of The Beauty and the Beast. The beast. The mark of the beast. Was that the sign she was looking for? But then, the movie poster clearly was new, it was not left there long ago.

Sandra went on. On the right she saw a flickering neon sign: Mark's Butchery. Obviously that sign was not new. And it contained the word Mark. Was that the sign she was looking for?

Sandra went to the butcher's shop to have a closer look. The window displayed a bunch of meat products. There were Wiener sausages lying on the bottom, steaks on a glass board in the middle, and salamis hanging from the top. But Sandra was more interested in writings on the window and door. Open daily Monday to Friday 8 am to 6 pm, Saturday 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Sunday closed. Shop owner: Mark Miller. But not what Sandra had hoped for: Founded in: year.

Finally Sandra decided that if it had no year number, it probably wasn't the sign. After all, the prophecy clearly spoke of a year of the mark. Or was it about the year the neon sign had been put there? But she didn't see how she could figure that out. It was Sunday, the shop was closed.

Sandra went on, looking at the shops left and right. Then suddenly she noticed something on the ground. A silvery coin. She took the coin and looked at it. It showed a stylised eagle, and around it an inscription in all uppercase: BUNDESREPUBLIK DEUTSCHLAND. There also was a slightly smaller single letter J at the bottom.

She knew that Deutschland meant Germany. But Germany had the Euro. She knew what Euro coins looked like, and this clearly was none.

She turned the coin around. There she say a big digit one, with oak leaves left and right. And below that, again in uppercase letters: DEUTSCHE MARK. And a year number: 1967.

There she had her mark. A Deutschmark. A coin that surely had been lying there for quite some time, as the currency had been replaced by the Euro almost twenty years ago. And there was a year number. The year of the mark. 1967.

Now she had to interpret the last sentence of the prophecy. Enter the year of the mark. What should that mean? She looked around and noticed that the house next to her had still the house number plaque of the old address, 67 Main Street, besides the one of the new address, 19 Scandinavian Street.

And then it struck her: That was it. 1967. 19 Scandinavian Street, 67 Main Street. The answer would be in this house.

The house had a monumental entrance door with a bulbous brass doorknob. Sandra hesitated a bit before trying to turn the doorknob. She expected the door to be locked, but the knob turned easily, and the door didn't resist opening.

What Sandra hadn't noticed was the man tailing her. He was very careful not to attract her attention, and that carefulness had paid off.

Now he watched her opening the door. Obviously she had solved her part of the prophecy. Good. As she entered the house, he noticed that she was cautious, but if the prophecy was right, that would not help her. The prophecy even spent two full sentences on what would happen next:

The answer will terminally hit you. The answer will mess with your head. And then the secret is safe to get.

The door closed behind her, and then he heard a short scream followed by a crunching sound. That had to be the trap. The decision to involve an outsider obviously had paid off.

Now entering the house should be safe. Opening the door, he saw her squashed body. Her face wasn't even recognizable.

An evil smile entered his face. She had really been an airhead for not insisting on learning the complete prophecy first. An useful airhead, for sure. Now he would safely recover the secret from the house.

He closed the door. After all, he wouldn't want to risk anyone seeing the dead body while he was inside. As he turned around, he saw something big approaching his head. Then he felt a big pain, and then nothing more.

  • I liked it, except that closing, which felt like a backlash. The thing that got me off-pace was that she had all the time to realize it was unexpected, to understand it was deadly, and to come to her final conclusion. However, as a reader we don't get to see it. I am wondering whether it might have worked with a change of narrator (e.g. someone finding her body and saying it was deadly, or someone reports the story as an external frame). On the other hand, I think that a quicker pace would make it too, or even a slower pace, with more showing and longer conclusion. What do you think? – NofP Jun 23 at 18:44
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    @NofP: Thank you for the feedback. The change of narrator sounds like a good idea; I've already got an idea who that other person might be. I have to think about it. – celtschk Jun 23 at 21:08
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    @NofP: I've now replaced the ending. It actually got a bit more than just an ending. Please let me know what you think. – celtschk Jun 23 at 22:09
  • In my opinion it is an improvement. The added part builds additional mystery and tension. Also, the nice thing is that the actual mechanics of the ending has not changed :) – NofP Jun 24 at 15:07

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