Sep 18, 2009 by

Fourth Fiction Challenge 5Round 5 Challenge: Incorporate this image into your next passage of no more than 500 words. You can interpret this challenge as you see fit.

*click on thumbnail for a larger image


Mr. and Mrs. Smith of 33 Banks St. are the first Cambridge couple to disappear. Melanie first met Mrs. Smith three years earlier at her weekly weaving hologroup. In what was her first holographic projection, Mrs. Smith spoke as a guest instructor on the near-extinct craft of Lavar Kerman carpet weaving. Mrs. Smith had studied under the Persian master Farshid Kiyanfar a year before he was killed during the Iran War in the 2013 atomic strike by the private contractor Shield, formerly Xe, formerly Blackwater. Mrs. Smith’s weaving virtuosity and collection of exquisite handwoven carpets awed the class. Most of them were still working on their first niqab.

(The veil-with-miniskirt combo entered the fashion mainstream when Iranian-French designer Aisha first unveiled her Niqab Series during the 2021 Milan Fashion Week. It offered over-privileged youth an outlet for undisruptive rebellious expression, making it popular on elite campuses like Harvard. Handwoven niqabs and skirts commanded even more respect).

The rise of holographic projection had allegedly redefined the preconditions for friendship and community. The three major holograph providers, which merged into one megacompany in 2018, heralded holographic communication as a revolution in human interaction. Genuine, face-to-face human exchanges, they claimed, were no longer geographically restrictive. Holoadvert catch phrases like “Why Be Lonely” and “End Global Loneliness” covered the airtrams. Within a decade, holography overtook cell phone communication as the industry standard.

Although Melanie conducts cutting edge genetic research, she lacks utopian technologic enthusiasm. She prefers “real-person” exchanges, as the unfashionable practice of meeting in flesh is now called. Also, she never shared her peers’ retro-fetishist romanticization of weaving. Weaving is simply a meditative relief and creative complement to her lab work.

When Melanie learned Mrs. Smith lived in Cambridge she paid her a visit. Mrs. Smith took on Melanie as an apprentice, initiating her into the art of carpet weaving, while Melanie used her CloneLife connections to offer Mr. Smith – who suffered from degenerative eye conditions that had gone untreated ever since Medicare was abolished under the 2014 Freedom of Choices Act  – research treatment in opthamological gene therapy, CloneLife’s safest experimental program.

Mr. Smith was among the first humans whose color blindness was reversed after an injection behind his retina of a gene that produces the color-producing protein L-opsin. Another experimental course cured his strabismic amblyopia. Mr. Smith joked his wife had unfairly pressured him to cure his lazy eye, which he’d always been fond of despite the degraded vision. Over the mantelpiece he kept a framed photograph of his younger self that displayed his stray amblyopic right eye.

No one knew exactly when the Smiths were first abducted because the elderly couple only left their apartment for Mr. Smith’s bimonthly retinal gene injections. Melanie first discovered their absence when she stopped by their apartment on a late September morning to show Mrs. Smith her latest carpet with interwoven genome designs. She doesn’t yet know that it is because of her helpful interventions that they are now dead.

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  1. Another masterpiece.
    Keep on weaving Rhae. You’re in my top 3 favorite fourth fiction writers.

  2. A clever use of the image, very subtle. Lots of intriguing possibilities building up and I like the balance between an evolving future, the rise of dominant power bases and the remaining human desire for “real-person” communication, something that always remained deep seated in our psychological development.

    Your place in the next round must be secured.

  3. I haven’t been able to get the image of the “niqab” out of my head since I read it – which means you’re winning at planting images and having them retained.

    I’m intrigued at your mention of “medicare” given that is the name of our universal health care system here in Australia.

    I’m glad to see Melanie here again and being able to have her deep needs juxtaposed against cultural “trends” such as the hollographic relationships.

    Weaving is a VERY interesting choice of past times, given it has ancient roots. Like JD I think you can be assured of a place in Round 6.

  4. If the previous rounds have taught me anything it is that no one can ever be assured of anything. Regardless of how far I make it through the rounds, what is more important to me is that the story, and the ideas driving it, resonate with the readers. I am pleased that this seems to be the case with the three of you.

    Jodi, Medicare is a form of government-run social insurance here in the United States primarily for seniors over 65. Medicare and Medicaid–which provides for minimal health care to a limited number of low-income individuals–constitute our government’s meager total commitment to the health of its populace. It is scandalous that a country as wealthy as ours does not offer free health care to all of its citizens in the same way that it offers a free police force and free schools. The United States ranked 29th globally in infant mortality in 2004, the latest year such data were available for all countries (October 2008 data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics). Ironically, despite offering so little, the US outspends any country in the world on healthcare, second only to Canada. It has the rare honor of having the most expensive and one of the most inefficient health care systems in the world.

    A large sector of the public here in the US would prefer a Canadian-style health care system, but in fact the Australian system is far superior. Few people here know about it. Most of the public gets their news from the corporate media and the kind of rabid rightwing talk shows that Frank surely listens to. This propaganda explains why some of the poorest people in this country humiliate themselves at town hall meetings by campaigning against their best interests and, unbeknownst to them, on behalf of giant insurance providers in trying to stop Obama’s health plan (which to be clear offers only an improved version of the inefficient, wasteful, privatized insurance system now in place). If the facts were ever presented to the public, Americans would overwhelmingly demand a single-payer health care plan. But they’re never going to get those facts from the major TV outlets or newspapers. The efficient US propaganda system, which gives the illusion of free, lively debate, ensures the public stays in the dark. As Noam Chomsky said, when the state loses the capacity to control people by force, it must find another way to keep the unruly masses in check: mind-control. What violence is to totalitarian states, propaganda is to democracies.

  5. Still liking the ideas in here, but still not sure who I am supposed to be caring about. I know I have said it before, we need a character clearly marked as through which the reader will experience the world of the novel. I would say you are safe for another week, though as you say, nothing is certain, but if the field we smaller I would be less sure of this.

  6. Yes, you’ve mentioned it several times. Melanie must be flat for your taste in fiction. You want more emotion to come through. That’s why you don’t care about her. That’s okay. So long as you care about the ideas, that’s enough.

    • Melanie is the main character? I think the whole preamble and the focus on telling not showing is what has kept me from engaging with her. Perhaps it is just a style thing and I am simply not getting this. The ideas are interesting though so you still have me as a reader at the moment. I think I’ll give your past stuff another blast through to see if that changes my view.

      • Fair enough, Dan. I haven’t decided yet myself if Melanie is the main character. As you’ve surmised my interest is more in non-fiction than in the anthropocentric – or should I say charactercentric – realm of fiction.

  7. Auggie

    you’re making this contest your soap box. that’s fine, but what the hell is this story about? sight for the poor? i confess. i voted for you this time.

    • The only reason you accuse me of standing on a soapbox and not Tuck is because you share the same foot space as him. As for confessions, you’re better off taking them to the priest, where they belong.

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