The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
No. 39, September/October 2015

Editor's Note:  

Editor's Note: We are a nation of sports fanatics. Ever wonder why? Could it be because we have an innate love of stories? All of our games have unique settings, a cast of characters, plus tension and conflict that neatly end in a clear resolution. Consider the following:

Football - A thriller novel: A large cast of violent characters trying to dominate an opposing group, set in a larger than life setting. The hero (our quarterback) leads his team to victory in a struggle with a talented evil villain (their quarterback) as the clock ticks against a deadline.

Baseball - A literary novel: The characters are almost as important as the game. The setting is well defined but can be a large setting or a small one. the timing is leisurely, with a few points of intense action and emotion, but the plot goes on. Finally, in the end, there is a resolution, more  or less, although it may be anti-climatic. But the itself game was more important than the results. 

Basketball - A short story: A tightly confined setting, a small cast of characters, a short time frame, an intense conflict filled with sharp give and take, ending in a speedy resolution

Track & Field - Flash fiction. Not enough time to define the characters, but the setting is obvious and the action is fast and furious. The resolution defines the end the story.

Lawn Bowling - a cozy mystery? And soccer?- (insert your answer here)

It would be fun to go on and on like this, sitting around a table matching our sports to their 
literary counterparts, but the underlying point remains - We love our games because they have all the elements of a great story: Setting, characters, tension, conflict (another name for plot), and resolution. Even after the game is over, we continue to recount the stories, both talking about them and writing about them  - who did what, against whom, how tense it was, and how it was finally resolved. When the tension remains high to the end, with resolution coming just before time runs out, the more we love it, and talk and write about it later. 

Maybe that is how our stories began, before we had the ability to imagine our own stories, then to write them down, so we could enjoy them over and over.

All of which makes us proud to present our own all-star line up for our Sept./Oct. issue of BWG Writers Round table.

In this issue: We are happy to present the work of  Rich Mantle, the third place winner of the 2015 SHORT STORY AWARD competition, as our featured author, backed by wonderful poets and authors by Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios, Patricia Perry Donovan, Marina Favila, and Debra H. Goldstein as our &More contributors. As usual we round out our line up with a wonderful Diane Sismour interview with romance author Jennifer Apodaca, and the always fun Betty’s Tips. 

Happy reading!

Our Featured Story
Third Place Winner, 2015 Short Story Award

Rich Mantle has traveled widely across the States and around the world having visited more than twenty countries and lived in five of them. He is an obsessive reader of fantasy and science fiction, and is currently studying the experimental mathematics of cosmological engineering. When on this planet he resides in Allentown. PA, with his wife Mei-Sheung, one last remaining fledgling daughter, and their dog, Artie.

The Banquet

 Rich Mantle

The banquet hall was a battlefield. Along the right wall hung the standards of his followers: bright silver, proud scarlet, blues and polished oak. The left wall bore the banners of his enemies: bloodied, burned, ripped and broken. Before him the melee of revelers. The din and clangor of steel on steel, of metal on wood and bone, shouting, laughing, carousing. Ravaged carcasses of beasts, charred and hacked to the bone lay strewn across the tables: hare, duck, pheasant, boar - disemboweled and partially devoured.

Wasn’t that the way of things; some must die that others may live. He had always preferred action to contemplation but now thoughts of death inveigled themselves into his every activity.

Forty, no longer at his peak, he comforted himself, but still on the plateau. He pushed himself back in his great chair, the thick scarred fingers of his hands intertwined on his growing paunch. It was not that he liked food overmuch, but he enjoyed the activity of eating, the physicality of it: grinding through tough tendons, ripping muscle from bone with a twist of his head, the satisfying crunch of the occasional pickle. For today he had eaten enough. Enough.

“Enough” – the word resonated through him.

During his reign he had ended the lives of uncounted numbers of people, many with his own sword but most with just a word. “Forward.” “Hold this ridge.” “Spare none.” His word - the arbiter of life and death. Could then the gods end his life with just a word? A strange thought engulfed him. Was his life just a meal for the gods? Would the moment come that one of them would sit back and say simply, “enough” and his life would be snuffed out, everything devoured but the bones, or perhaps, the choicest morsels still untouched, the table simply abandoned?

He looked at the table before him still laden down with food, but he had had enough.

“Enough,” and he would be gone. It was disturbing.

What then of those taken in their prime? He shivered. His thoughts went to his beloved wife, Janine and their baby daughter, Ruth, only eighteen-months-old when she and her mother were struck down by plague. Was this the gods, finding their food distasteful or simply, their appetites jaded, saying “enough” and with a brusque sweep of an arm sending plates and food clattering to the floor, and one tenth of his people dead?

He was becoming morbid and morose. He shook his head vigorously from side to side as if to dislodge these increasingly saturnine thoughts. This was nonsense! The gods did not interfere in the humdrum lives of humans.

Here was a question he could not fathom. He could plot strategy and tactics better than anyone he knew of. He could wait patiently for just the right moment to strike. He could sit quite comfortable thinking of nothing without boredom, but this, he found he could not deal with. So, the Council it must be. This was not a question for Privy Session and this public setting was totally unsuitable, and yet, having them answer such a question in public might bring some unexpected response. Thus decided, he acted.

The king eased himself forward, his gnarled hands grasping the worn lion heads carved into the arms of his great chair. His chamberlain, standing attentively at his side, raised his ebon staff and struck it three times with great force on the wooden floor. “Attention all! The King speaks!” he trumpeted. The room seethed as people hurriedly found their seats and the loud chatter fell to desultory whispers.

“I have faced death many times in battles and in plagues. Foe and friend and family I have seen die and have buried. I am not afraid of death.” The king’s gravelly voice rolled across the room, his words greeted by a roar of approval and the thumping of hands on tables. “I have lived many years, and have seen, yes, and caused, a great deal of death, I am no stranger to death. Though no one wishes to die, death still comes unsought for each of us. Why, I ask, is it that all must die?”

Turning his head slowly, the king’s keen eyes narrowed as he looked into the face of his military commander seated on his right, a lean, wiry man with steel-blue eyes who scratched the ever present stubble on his chin with the two fingers remaining on his left hand. His face showed no reaction except for one querying eyebrow that asked, “Are you serious?” After a moment he stated simply, “All things must die, my liege. One can only ask to die well.” Like the king, he was a man of few, well chosen words.

The king knew, that facing his men, he would have added, “Just make sure it’s the other bloke that dies well.”

The king’s piercing eyes moved on to the bishop seated by his commander, who harrumphed, looping his thumbs into the folds of his robe. “Your majesty, we all come from the dust, by the grace of the gods, and to the dust we shall all return.” Before he could launch himself into a sermon, the king interrupted.

“My Lord Bishop, a homily best kept for worship, perhaps.” Though he had not expected any profound answer, the king found himself becoming irritated.

The king’s eyes travelled from counselor to counselor, “It is the nature of life that death comes.” “Only the greatest of rulers continues to live after his death – forever in the hearts of his people” With each unsatisfactory answer the king became angrier.

The king’s youngest, recently installed counselor saw that dark, brooding face turning towards him and his eyes darted around the room searching for escape. Far at the back of the room he spotted the worn brown cloak of an itinerant, who must have taken advantage of the of the king’s hospitality to spend one night out of the bitter cold. As the king’s gaze fell upon him, the young man took a deep breath and waving his left hand toward his unsuspecting victim said, “Your majesty, it is obvious that none of us have the answer that you seek. But we have here a guest, an itinerant, who has no doubt travelled far and wide across the land and perhaps he may have an answer for you.”

The young man sighed audible relief as the king turned and looked directly to the back of the hall. There stood a young, heavy set man, his hair an exuberant flourish of curls that had pushed back the hood of his thin, dark cloak so that it hung over his right shoulder.

“Identify yourself,” demanded the king.

“My Lord, I am a wanderer on a pilgrimage to Mek to visit the temple of the dreaming gods,” came the man’s quiet response.

“What answer does a pilgrim have to my question?”

“My Lord, do you need to eat?” His fluid voice, deep and soft, filled the room.

There was a strangled gasp, a choked laugh and the room shuddered into absolute, expectant silence. 

The king’s appetite was well known, as was his temper.

“Of course I eat, fool. All things must eat to survive,” roared the king.

The king’s neck swelled with anger and he stared hard at this imbecile, yet the man stood quite calm. His face and composure showed neither fear nor obsequiousness. The king felt curiosity striving with his anger, there had been no mockery in that response. He laughed and in a quieter voice added, “I see by your threadbare cloak, that you are itinerant. I assume that you are also shoe less and walk barefoot across our stony winter roads.”

The man silently nodded his assent, and the king continued, ”As you have undergone such privation to be with us, I will hear what you have to say.”

The man bowed slightly once more and raised his right hand to indicate the king’s advisers. It was a muscular hand, one used to wielding the heavy iron hammer of a smith. That hand made a small gesture, a half twist of the wrist, thick fingers splayed. Encompassing the king’s counselors it simultaneously diminished them. “Your wise men have spoken, uh, wisely.”

“Your majesty has spoken truly that all things must eat to survive and there is little to add, except this; when you no longer need to eat, you will no longer need to die.”

The king heard, uttered one dismissive grunt, sat back in his chair and indicated to his chamberlain that the meal continue.

Early the next morning, while the castle stood in that quiet before the sun had thought to rise, the pilgrim with his hand on an unattended postern door was about to leave. He stopped at the echoing of heavy footsteps and a heavy hand fell on his shoulder spinning him around. The voice of the king sounded rough in his ears. “This night I have not slept. I have walked the halls thinking on what you said.

The need to eat and the necessity of death, how can these two be compared? Refraining from eating leads only to hunger and certain death.” Such thoughts had caused unaccustomed turmoil in the king’s mind. “Tell me, pilgrim, what does this mean, surely you must eat?”

The traveler looped his arm around the king’s and seized the king’s left shoulder in a grasp as powerful as the king’s own. The pilgrim squeezed hard, so that they stood there like two old friends saying farewell, and chuckled. The king was shocked by this overt disrespect. With clenched teeth he muttered,

“You do not touch my person, and you address me as ‘My Lord’.”

“When you stand before your people you are king and so I address you as ‘My Lord’, but look, now, we stand here as fellow travelers and so I address you. To your question I say, I eat or I do not eat as I choose.”

“When there is food you eat, when there is no food you do not eat. That is simple enough. You carry no pack.”

“I have no burden.”

The king grasped the traveler’s sturdy arm more tightly through the thin fabric of his cloak, bringing his face close to the ruddy, wind-chapped face of this stranger and continued, “You are no god. Only the gods do not die – then shall not the day come that you die?”

“When that day comes, then I shall die.” He paused several moments before adding, “or I shall not die.”

After some moments of silence, the king realized he would receive no further clarification. He released the young man’s arm, nodded to him and watched as he opened the door and stepped out into the freezing predawn.

“This path leads away from Mek. You should leave by the main entrance - that is the road to the land of Keeps.”

“Whichever way I travel, I am always on the path to the temple of the dreaming gods.”

“I could envy you your simple life.”

“There is nothing to envy. My life, your life, all life – it is the same life.”

On that the door closed and the king was left alone.

The king lived long. He became a much thinner and more thoughtful man. Many said that he ruled well.

Late one evening as he looked out of his bedroom window over the darkening land of his kingdom the events of that night were with him. “If I am truly just a meal for the gods, then my life has been a rich one: lots of wine and meat, very few vegetables. Perhaps the cause of a little constipation,” he smiled to himself. “But I believe I am master of my own life.” He thought back over his life, a full life indeed. He smiled again. How very rare, two smiles in two minutes.

And then he said quietly to himself, “Enough.”

Top Ten . . .
Reasons to Write a Top Ten List

Members of BWG

1. To get a job with David Letterman. Ooops--too late!

2. To show Mrs. Nischwitz, your kindergarten teacher, that you can count to ten.

3. Because it's a lot easier than writing a Top 100 List.

4. Because you could make a Top Pi list, but that would be irrational. 

5. To feel you've accomplished something while on hold with tech support. (But since your call is very important to them, you might end up with a Top Fifty.)

6. Because no one has ever been able to write a Top 9.783 List.

7. To pass some of your wisdom on to your children and grandchildren.

8. Because it's a great way to procrastinate going to the gym, cleaning your house, or writing your novel.

9. Because it's way more uplifting than writing a Bottom Ten List.

10. Because you're a Featured Author with Bethlehem Writers Roundtable!








competition opens

January 1,


We will accept children's stories (preschool-middle school ages) of 2000 words or fewer to compete for cash awards and publication. 

See Short Story Award tab above for more information.

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