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12thkey's picture

Ms. Ishmael's Box

By 12thkey in Teleport Us

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When retired teacher Ms. Ishmael is shot and killed by crossing guards on the front lawn of a local high school it's up to Det. Washington to find out why she refused to stop when challenged -- and to uncover what's so important about the box she was carrying when she fell.


klahol's picture
klahol from Stockholm, Sweden is reading Black Moon February 27, 2013 - 10:26am

Solidly written. 

I might have liked a little more exposition about how the world had come to shooting little old ladies for not stopping at a school.  Shades of Newtown? 

The act of bringing the books could have felt a bit harder for the protagonist. Maybe if you described a process where he's assailed by ads, movie trailers, download links before actually getting to the book. Seemed central to the story that books and reading them had become very uncommon in the future. Might have beefed that up a little. 

Overall, a stellar read. Loved it. Great work! 

12thkey's picture
12thkey from Richmond, VA is reading Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay March 1, 2013 - 7:47am

Thanks much!  Valid criticisms all.  Honestly, I think I might have attempted too much in just 4,000 words of space.

Sarah Cannon's picture
Sarah Cannon March 3, 2013 - 10:41am

I was just looking at mine this morning and feeling like I'd done the same thing. Intriuged by your concept. Off to read now!

scifiwriterguy's picture
scifiwriterguy from Chicago, IL is reading Iscariot by Tosca Lee February 27, 2013 - 8:37pm


Well done mate. I really liked the genetically modified dog and found her the most interesting bit of the story. I wanted her to play a more central role as the plot developed and was disappointed that she didn't. However, that's simply an opinion and likely not easily implemented.

I think the reveal at the end works, but lacks emotional punch, especially since the teacher isn't very sympathetic. You do humanize her with Washington thinking of her like his grandmother, but I think you might heighten the ending's impact by sharing a bit more about her.

I agree with klahol that the story could use a bit more world building.

On the whole, a fine story. Thank you for sharing.

Kind Regards,


12thkey's picture
12thkey from Richmond, VA is reading Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay March 1, 2013 - 8:17am

I appreciate the feedback!  It may have been a mistake to paint the old woman in such neutral shades.  I was tightrope walking between the dark dystopian feel and the redemptive ending, not wanting to mess it up with too much light.  Well, if storytelling was easy, anybody could do it, eh?  We press on!

Dean_Freeman's picture
Dean_Freeman from Wakefield is reading Ghost In The Shell 2 February 28, 2013 - 8:29am

A really well constructed story. I do agree with the above mostly, that either the realisation that she was just trying to hand out books, or that a cop in a future world that doesn't care about books begins to see things differently needs a little tweaking. Just a slight suggestion (which you did do by mentioning terrorism) one way, to make the ending have a little more impact.

But then, I liked that the story was a consistent, steady pace that seemed to match the pace of an old lady carrying books in a box, if you know what I mean!

Thank you


12thkey's picture
12thkey from Richmond, VA is reading Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay March 1, 2013 - 8:19am

Thanks Dean!

ArlaneEnalra's picture
ArlaneEnalra from Texas is reading Right now I'm editing . . .. March 16, 2013 - 6:13pm
Such a sad story with all too great a chance of becoming reality.  You did an amazing job with this one!  What writer wouldn't see a world without books as a nightmare.  A few minor things I noticed:
  • Page 2: "The rain had stopped for the moment, but the windshield was dotted with rain and the sky was dense with clouds."  That's awkward, how about changing the second rain to "water" or "droplets" ?
  • Page 5: The chunk that starts with "A wing backed chair ..." feels off to me.  You have floor used twice in that sentence.  Maybe replace the second one with room and then rearrange the next sentence like: "Mismatched bookcases, many of them half empty, lined the walls."  It's probably just a pet peeve, but it throws me off to see that kind of repetition when I'm reading.

Excellent work!

12thkey's picture
12thkey from Richmond, VA is reading Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay March 18, 2013 - 2:26am

Thanks so much for your compliments and suggestions (you're totally right of course about the rain thing, how did I miss that?)! 

I got the idea when thinking about how much more kids read when I was coming up.  I'm troubled daily by the demise of the corner bookstore, the alarming and ever increasing rate at which eBooks are replacing paper books, the reduction of attention spans into twitter-sized A.D.D. portions, and so on.  It's all just a symptom of the stinking creep of philistinism that is cloying at the soul of our civilization. 

I've actually toyed with making this short piece a chapter in a novel.

Thanks again!

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) March 18, 2013 - 5:59am

This is very well written, with a solid voice, and a weight of sadness that I really liked.  My only real issue is that I didn't feel that much for Ms Ishmael, she's too much of an enigma.  It means that the ending lacks a little weight, though it is a nice reveal.  Agree with scifiwriter - would have loved to have seen more of Sadie. 

courtshipofthemonsters's picture
courtshipofthem... from Seattle, Washington is reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen March 22, 2013 - 12:58pm

Your prose is so enjoyable to read. I was wrapped up in the mystery of what had happened to Ms. Ishmael and why. I too loved the genetically modified dog, interesting touch. The technology you featured was so realistic, I could definitely see society progressing to that point. It was believable. The dialogue between the cops was fun to read, especially the banter between Washington and Li. I did feel some details were a little unnecessary to the story and slowed the pace. For example, we see a little too much of Washington and how his day unfolds when the story should be more action-paced and focused towards Ms. Ishmael. I also felt the ending should have been more "in-your-face", so to speak. The story builds and builds and then the ending doesn't quite hit the level the story has been building to. I like the concept, I like the character of Ms. Ishmael toting her outdated books, but I wanted to be more shocked at the ending.

Still, this was an excellent piece. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing.

12thkey's picture
12thkey from Richmond, VA is reading Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay March 27, 2013 - 5:24am

Thanks Adam and COTM!  I'm definitely going to undertake a rewrite with all of the great feedback I got from everyone.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations March 28, 2013 - 5:52pm

Cheat! ;) The use of Sadie the dog at the start could easily (and probably should) have been done purely by describing Washington watching the dog - so you shoe-horned it into a bigger role to make sure you met the spec. Okay, okay, I forgive you!

Nice piece, well told, though it could be trimmed a little to better effect, I suspect. Perhaps drop the trip to the Korean restaurant. And simplify the description of the "alphadavid" system. Reduce it to Washington and Li (does Dillon need to be there?)

I'd suggest also the Dewey system not being referred to - not if books are a rarity - even Washington wouldn't know about them? Just the sheer number of books on display would be a remarkable thing in that day and age.

If you want to shoehorn some more "Book" related story into it, then maybe Washington could ask at the school she was shot outside, if they could think of any reason why she would be carrying books there?

And much as I like the ending, drop the idea that Washington wants a toilet tank cover, and heck that you're describing his bodily functions!

Ultimately, a sad story about the passing of printed books, but frankly, I'm hardly surprised as everything will be done on the tablets - including reading poetry! Good work, thumbs up!



12thkey's picture
12thkey from Richmond, VA is reading Cards as Weapons by Ricky Jay April 1, 2013 - 10:44am

Thanks Liam, I agree mostly with your criticisms now that I re-read the story 'cold.'  You know, sadly, the story itself may not age well.  Even the nostalgia associated with books will itself likely be dead soon.  Then again, I think Asimov was foretelling the demise of books in the 60s (was it his character Wendell Urth who was archaically swimming in books?) and the paper book is still around.  So there may be hope!

Adam Christopher's picture
Adam Christopher May 5, 2013 - 10:37pm

Hello hello,

Well, I loved this. It feels like the start of a whole mystery novel, and in a very wordcount you managed to create a great double-act in Washington and Li. I want to read more of their investigations!

In terms of the parameters of the challenge, the story fits - just:

1. Explore a utopian/dystopian theme - The setting was great. It's the future and the world is ever so slightly different. It felt like a realistic progression of our present day, and there were little hints here and there that intrigued me. However, while it's not utopian, I'm not sure it is dystopian either. It seemed like a tough place, and clearly something has happened (there aren't any Sundays anymore), but it wasn't clear. I suspect, had the story continued, we would have found out some more about what makes this world an unpleasant place.

2. Feature a technology that's scientifically plausible - I guess the enhanced dog covers this point. It's subtle but plausible.

3. Feature a non-human character - the dog again! And actually, the dog is great opening, but also highlights the biggest problem of the story, with is point-of-view.

In the beginning, the POV appears to be that of the dog, but then it shifts to her handler, Baker, and then it shifts to Washington. The POV is unclear here, and a little confusing - especially at the beginning, where we are looking to see who our main character is. We work out that it is Washington, but only after a page or two. POV should be kept very clear, and when it changes, use a section break (or chapter break). Other than that, the writing was pretty solid. You had some sentence subjects around the wrong way, some occassional wobbles with description, but nothing that couldn't be picked up on another edit pass (or better yet, picked up by beta-reader, if you use them).

The story itself was great... and then it stopped. I'm not sure what was actually going on with the boxes of books, or why Ms. Ishmael was shot. The story could have been twice as long, or even expanded into a novel. Which is great, because I love long stories, but here it felt like chapter 1.

I'm a sucker for police procedurals and detective stories, so this was definitely a story for me.

-- Adam