The Gauntlet 2021 9: The Man Who Hardly Spoke

Challenge 9: Attending a Burial At Sea (Any): Conjure up a captivating tale taking place aboard a whaler ship, and include three different euphemisms for taking a poop. Every third word, when read separately, needs to form a story of its own.

Because I went with the captivating tale first, every three words form a vague, strange and at least a bit abstract story. For a better reader experience, I collected the words together and gave them punctuation. You can read what ensued from that process after the story.


“Want to log an entry? Now’s the last time you should. This Big Guy is gonna go next.”

That was the first time Murphey said anything to me. At that time, I did not understand what he meant, so I just shook my head, confused, while he went into the tiny toilet. I was new on the ship and far from having responsibilities regarding the ship’s logs, but Grandpa used to be whaler back in the day, so even I knew that you did not do anything with logs in the cramped toilet.

Later that evening, when I went to take a poop, I learned what he had meant.

~

During the following days, I learned from both experience and other crew members’ stories that Murphey, although jovial and confident when he did speak up, hardly spoke. The ship’s captain, Wulfric, even said that he was surprised when he spoke to me on my very first day at sea with the crew.

“One summer, we had a woman named Ivy in the crew, and Murph wouldn’t talk to her at all for the first month.” Wulfric chuckled into his coffee. “I think he’s shy around women. Except you, it seems.”

“How does he communicate with everyone then?” I asked, frowning at the comment.

“Gestures. Mostly his hands.” Wulfric shrugged, then cursed when his coffee spilled onto the floor. That was my cue to get back to work.

~

One evening when I was sore from work — we’d managed to catch a whale; unlike the times I’d been on whaler ships of people my grandfather knew from old days, this time I’d had to do a lot of physical work because of it — I ran into Justin and Murphey in the corridor. Or mostly just Murphey since when I turned to corner, Justin was ending the conversation with something about making room for lunch and thus leaving.

That was the first time I heard Murphey chuckle.

That was also the first time I saw that he winked at me.

Thinking about his smile back there in that darkish corridor still makes my heart flutter…

~

As the multiple weeks passed by, the comment about logging an entry somehow remained the only thing Murphey had said to me. Any conversations I managed to have with him outside work and sleep were rather uninformative at best and one-sided at worst. Well, I guess I should have expected the former when I was talking with a person whose main forms of communication turned out to be thumbs-up, thumbs-down, shrug and that damn infuriating enigmatic smile that he liked to give me especially during the times our conversations were mostly one-sided.

I did learn that he either did not know sign language or refused to acknowledge and use his skills at it.

I probably should’ve expected that.

~

“How long have you known Murphey?” I dared to ask Wulfric one evening when he and I were the last ones still eating.

“Hmm… Good quesftion.” Wulfric scratched his neck before taking another bite of his bread. “I fthingkf… that it’s been most of the time I’ve been on this ship. Feels like forever. He used to be a seasonal worker whenever he wasn’t at school when I first came aboard — never actually found out where or what he was studying or if he even graduated — but some years into my career he became a full-time man here too. What about it?”

“Just curious. Was he always this silent?”

Wulfric hummed. “Pretty much. He was a bit more talkative before he started to work full-time, but not enough more for anyone to notice the difference before Al, the captain back then, realized mid-season he hadn’t heard Murph speak a word since we first left the port.” He snorted. “Murph looked so embarrassed when Al asked him to say something to make sure he hadn’t lost his voice.”

“I see.”

Wulfric finished his dinner while I pondered what might have happened to Murphey back in the day. “Welp, I think I gotta go release the Kraken. G’night.”

“Good night,” I replied.

It was probably for the best to finish the dinner and go to sleep. It’s not like I’d get any answers by just sitting and thinking.

Honestly, knowing Murphey, I probably wouldn’t get anything but that damn smile even if I looked for answers.

~

Eventually, the summer season came to a close. The time on Silent Whale was over for the year for the seasonal workers, namely Ian and I.

When we docked at the port, it was time to farewell and head separate ways.

“I hope your teachers are happy to see that you didn’t get snatched by a shark!” Murphey said and laughed with everyone else.

“I’m sure they are,” I told, grinning. “Who else would pay for their work if not us students with our tuitions?”

That was the first time I heard Murphey downright laugh.

That was the last time I heard Murphey’s voice and saw his enigmatic smile.

When we all wished one another the best for the rest of the year, he winked at me one more time before I left.

That was the last time I saw him.

~

A year later, I went back to Silent Whale so that I could work another summer. After a year of questions and memories buzzing in my head, I hoped I would be able to get some answers I hadn’t sought out last year.

“Where’s Murphey?” I asked.

“Who?” Joe, a new seasonal worker, asked.

The crew I’d learned to know last summer all looked away, grief on their faces.

Wulfric was the one who spoke up. “He’s dead. Fell overboard in January and got pulled underwater by something before we could haul him back in.”

“It looked like a shark,” Justin remarked. “There was nothing we could do.”

“I hope your teachers are happy to see that you didn’t get snatched by a shark!”

“I’m so sorry,” I breathed.

All my hopes of talking with Murphey were gone by then, stolen by a hungry shark.

Whatever questions I’d had, they disappeared as the reality of never seeing the quiet man again set in.


“Log? Now’s time. This is next.” -The Murphey to That.

“Did what?” So shook, confused, went. Tiny was the far responsibilities. “Ship’s Grandpa, be in.”

So knew, did anything in toilet.

Evening went, a learned had.

~

The I. Both other stories. Although Confident did, hardly. Ship’s even.

“He, when? To my day? With one had named.” -The Murph

To all first chuckled: Coffee. He’s women. It does, with I, at gestures, hands. Then his, onto that cue back.

~

One, when sore, we’d catch.

Unlike I’d…

Whaler people knew days I’d do of. Because? I, Justin, in. Or Murphey, I, corner.

Ending with making lunch.

Leaving.

The I chuckle, also time that at… About? Back that still heart.

~

The passed comment, an remained thing said. Any managed with work were at one-sided well. I expected. When talking person forms turned.

Be. Shrug. Damn, smile! Liked me? The conversations one-sided?

Learn either know or acknowledge his, it should’ve.

~

“How you?” I ask. Evening and the still good scratched before. Bite bread. That most time on feels. He be worker, wasn’t when came. Actually, where he or… even some?

My, became man.

What? Just he. Silent.

Pretty was more. He work not for notice. Before, captain realized. Hadn’t speak since left.

He looked, when… him… something sure lost…?

I finished while… What happened? Back day. Think.

“Go, Kraken!” -Night

It for… to dinner, to not get by. And knowing probably anything, damn, if… for…

~

Summer to the silent: over year seasonal. Ian, when at it, to head.

I… Teachers to you: snatched shark. And everyone sure.

“I… Who pay, work? Us? Our was time. -Murphey

That last heard. And enigmatic, we. One best, rest year at more. I was time, Him.

~

Later? Back, whale. I, another, a…

Questions buzzing!

Head!!

I, able? Some… hadn’t… last…

I, Joe, seasonal. The learned, last looked on.

Wulfric, one up. Fell. January pulled something. Could back.

Looked shark…

There, we…

I…

Teachers…

To you…

Snatched shark…

Sorry…

All of…

Murphey…

By… By…

Shark…

I’d… disappeared…

Reality…

Seeing…

Man… in…

The Gauntlet 2021 5: Mother Nature’s Strike

Challenge 5: Extraordinariest! (Less than 1000 words, but must be a prime number): … In which a suddenly genocidal Sir David Attenborough has decided it’s time to thin out the human population some, all the time doing what he does best: providing his trademark commentary. Just remember: Sir Attenborough can’t use numbers, names of animals, and all his adjectives have to be superlatives. Moreover, all his lines start and end with a vowel. Wrap up your story with a moralising message which, if acted out, would spell certain doom for humanity.


Behind protective glass and a gas mask, a man stood, watching the obscuring view with satisfaction. “As the gas spread throughout the land, people cried at Mother Nature’s strike against the humanity. Every action they had taken had led to this: the most efficient population cut mankind would ever see.”

The man nodded to himself, wishing he had had the willpower to pull the lever and do this long before things had gotten so bad for their planet. “Even though they would not understand it, this action was for the best of Earth, their home.”

The smile on the man’s face widened. “And all of you thinking it’s not the justest thing to do doesn’t mean that it’s not the most necessary thing to do to survive…”

The Gauntlet 2021 1: Rummy Air

Challenge 1: Needs More Pirate (1000 words or less): Write a suspenseful espionage thriller scene in your setting of choice – could be any time or place in history – but add one parrot-toting, rum-guzzling, Caribbean pirate.


With haste, you put a handkerchief over your mouth and nose. The only good thing about rum was that it did wonders to knock out both Captain Doublehook and his trusty parrot, Featherhook.

However, the most outweighing bad thing about it was that in the Caribbean heat and enclosed ships, it smelled worse than death whenever you opened a door. You suppressed the urge to stumble to the desk adorned with pillaged treasures from all across the archipelago and dry heave into one of the drawers. That could bring unwanted attention and you had only so much time to scan the map before Doublehook would regain consciousness in yet another massive hangover.

As you closed in on the desk, wary of the numerous rum bottles on the floor, you could not help wondering if this stench would make you drunk if you stayed in the room for too long. Featherhook being out on its feet, still attached to its owners shoulder, did indicate as much to you, after all. Nevertheless, while it was an interesting scientific scenario, you wanted to see such experiments conducted only in a controlled environment — something a Caribbean pirate ship would never be, at least not without taking the “pirate” out of it.

Doublehook murmured something between his snores.

You froze, suddenly reminded of the here and now. You had lost your focus — a fatal mistake.

If Doublehook woke up and saw you now, you would be pushed off the plank and the Queen would never get the map to Pirates’ Lair.

[Sept20] Tribble Month 21: Hunting Bounty

The challenge: Get a wordcount from another tribbler and write a story with that wordcount.

My wordcount is 76, courtesy of AmehanaRainStarDrago.


The bounty was big enough for passing the following summer season. If you did not get heavy equipment damages while hunting, that is.

Solonie cursed under her breath. Even with only the critical repairs, the remaining bounty would last until the next spring season. If she fixed or replaced everything, she would have to hunt during the winter season to get money for food.

That would not do. She had to get another bounty this season.

[Sept20] Tribble Month 14: Rice

Challenge: Exactly 150 words and incorporate the last food you ate.


Edicia had slowly become accustomed to the rice the group she now traveled with tended to eat. Most of the time, it was bland — spices and berries were expensive to buy from merchants and hard to come by in the wilderness — but it kept them alive and going, so she did not complain. It was better than running into random directions until she starved because she lacked the skills to forage any kind of food.

Now, she was running away, endangering a group of nobodies and eating their food. Had she not known that her survival was vital for her kingdom, she would have felt deeply guilty about it. However, because of the circumstances and the fact that the group both took her in knowing that she was an important runaway and acted as a camouflage of sorts, she felt only moderately guilty for involving them and eating their rice.

A God of Skies

This August, a series of community challenges launched on Flash Fiction Month’s Discord server: Hydra picks one of the challenges someone in the community has posted into the Suggestion Box. There is no deadline for each challenge, but I’m trying to get the challenges done during the same month they are posted.

The first challenge happens to be one I submitted back in 2017:

  1. Access the FFM Prompt Generator and the FFM Mash-Up Prompt Generator.
  2. Pick the first generated prompt from both generators and combine them.

My prompts turned out to be:

1: I told him he smells of coffee and thrift shops – by Lexi-Cat (Year 2014)
2: Creepy Basements + Sky Writing – by joe-wright

Fun fact: This story started as a first person story but ended up becoming an epistolary one instead along the way.


To whoever picked up and is currently reading this bottled message. There isn’t much time/space for explanation, so I’ll try to be concise. (“try” being the operative word)

I guess this mess started the moment I told him he smells of coffee and trif thrift shops. He laughed it off and told me 2 things I’d never have expected of a God of Skies: he loved coffee to the point of working and living in a coffee shop and all his clothes were from the local thrift shop.

Then again, when I met him, I didn’t know he was a God of Skies up until a night five months and a formed friendship later. We were crashing in the creepy basement of some abandoned house near his shop and he wrote poems I couldn’t understand in the sky when he thought I was asleep.

I should’ve been asleep that night. The moment he found out that I saw what he was doing… well, I’m still not sure what exactly happened. I know that I was unconscious two moments after he turned to see me awake, and when I came to, I was no longer in a basement even though it was dark.

He told me that since I learned of his true nature, he transported me to the plain plane where his kind kept those who had seen them in their element. After that, he dissappeared and I haven’t seen him. Other people I’ve met here have told me similar stories of the gGods they’ve been unfortunate enough to meet and witness.

I really don’t know where I am or how to get out, so if you find this message I sent out… send help, I guess?

FFM 2020 31: Infuriating Computer

No prompt used.

The challenge: Incorporate a real-world event from your personal life from the last 3 days, including today (that is, after July 28th), the story must be magical realism and the story must include three callbacks to previous stories written this month.

My choices of event is from yesterday, when I had to force my laptop to shut down twice during the same day because some relatively recent update to Ubuntu 18.04 has made it have “disconnect from keyboard and touchpad, fuck up playing videos, freeze occasionally and refuse to shut down normally” episodes at least once a day. I did some work and wrote this story on Windows so that an episode like that wouldn’t interrupt me, as Windows only tends to do that while select programs, mostly just games, are on.

I’m not happy about that.

As for the callbacks, I decided to refer to my own stories from this year, in this order:


Gary pressed his laptop’s power button down for the umpteenth time that month. This was the second time the darn thing was acting up today, and he was starting to get frustrated. He needed to get his work done and the stupid thing was not helping at all.

It was even more infuriating than the constant news about Windows 10 updates breaking yet another thing over and over and over again. If only he could afford a new laptop to replace the old one…

Or “if only his sister, Kelly, could use her magic to do something about it”. Actually, he had asked her about it as a joke, but she had told that she could raise the dead — among other things — but not fix computers more hellbent on ruining their users’ days than greedy, warlike aliens ravaging inhabited planets, leaving countless refugees at their wake, or humanity blowing up mechs that are trying to kill them into extinction.

Maybe he should stop reading such apocalyptic stories on his computer. For all he knew, they could frighten the poor thing and be causing its episodes.

Gary chuckled to himself as the laptop booted up. What nonsense. This one’s is just a combination of crappy components and even crappier software. It doesn’t think. There’s no way I’d ever be able to afford a sentient, magic-imbued computer like the one Kelly says her teacher has. And even if I did, it could tell fact from fiction for sure and not get an episode over what I read, not even the raunchy or gory stuff.

Had he not needed to get his work done in time, he might have sidetracked to reading something. However, he could not afford that; the bastard who was currently paying his salary had hidden some crappy extra conditions into his contract in such fine print that he had missed it. He would have to have his reading break later.

Holding onto that hope, Gary logged back in and resumed his work.

FFM 2020 28: Awkward Stranger

No prompt used.

The challenge: 1) Omit one of these elements: filter words, thought words, adverbs, bland verbs and 2) include one of these elements: a bargain, a liminal space, a sacrifice, a stranger.

I chose to exclude filter words and include a stranger.


Raiyo did his best to ignore the shaking of his hands and the uncomfortable feeling of sweat soaking his clothes. If he squeezed his hands together to keep them from shaking and ignored the rest of the issues, perhaps he could make it through his first meeting with the whole department without embarrassing himself.

As his turn to stand up and tell what he had been up to closed in on him, Raiyo thanked his past self for his wise decision of wearing a black shirt.

On the opposite side of the table, one of the coworkers caught his attention when they stood up. The man — their boss, Brian, had addressed them as Levi — sported a plastered, awkward smile on his ghastly pale face and gray eyes that darted all across the room even before he spoke up.
“So, uh…” Levi eyed the other people present. “It’s the same old for me. I have nothing new to report. Everything’s on schedule on my end.”
“You have been here with us for two years now, correct? Have you considered moving up in the hierarchy?” Brian’s question made Levi squirm ever so slightly.
Levi’s eyes were fixed on the conference table in front of Brian instead of the man himself when he answered. “I’m comfortable where I am now. The pay and workload I have right now are perfectly suitable for my lifestyle.”
Brian’s eyebrows shot up. “Don’t you have any ambition?”
“Uh… No?” Levi’s demeanor was picking up higher levels of awkwardness every minute he had to stand and answer to Brian’s questions in front of everyone. “I don’t know what to do with my life.”

Raiyo’s heart jumped at those words; they resonated with him. He had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, either.

Who was this awkward man who seemed to be just as nervous, uncomfortable and aimless as him — and let it show?

In the silence that ensued as Brian tried to come up with something to say, Raiyo made his decision. He wanted to get to know this man and learn how he dealt with life.

Brian’s eyes lit up. Levi’s own widened a little, as if in anticipation of an unpleasant idea to be launched at him.
“I actually have an idea on what new you could do. We have a new recruit, Raiyo,” Brian gestured at Raiyo, who paled when all the eyes turned to him, “who comes from the same studying background as you. He’s currently studying at the local university. You could help with training him and perhaps even his studies. Of course, that would mean that you get a raise.”
Levi stood in place, frozen. Raiyo could have sworn that the poor man’s face got even paler than it already was. Everyone’s attention was fixed on the awkward man again, and the silence increased the pressure each second.

Levi turned to make eye contact with Raiyo. Raiyo gave him a small, awkward smile, a feeble attempt at saying “I’m awkward as well”.

Levi turned back to Brian. “Very well. I’ll do it. Can you get the paperwork for adding that to my contract done today?”
“Absolutely!” Brian grinned. “Thank you, Levi. Myra, do you mind if we skip to Raiyo now that I brought him up?”
Raiyo froze. While Levi did his best to sit down without making any noises, the woman next to him replied, “Of course not. Go ahead, Raiyo.”
Raiyo took a deep breath through his nose and stood up, then plastered a less awkward but just as fake smile on his face. “Hi everyone. I’m Raiyo. Umm… I started here three days ago, so I’ve spent my time training until now.” As he got nothing more than nods, he sat down, relieved.

The rest of the meeting went in a blur as Levi and Raiyo eyed one another, both confused and intrigued by the other’s actions. They could not wait to get out of the meeting to learn more about each other.

Who are you, awkward stranger?