This Show Case features six pieces submitted in response to our thirtieth Writing Prompt: Decay. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for the Show Case page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt, which you can find on the Show Case home page.
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by Boris Glikman
It started out inconspicuously,
a small pimple
on the lower left of his back,
something no one
would ever give a second glance.
It didn’t even itch,
so demanded no instinctive scratching.
a small cyst at first,
then into a larger and larger one
acquiring along the way the powers
of perception, cognition, speech, reason.
It became more and more dominant
in the running of his life ’til
there came a point
when he realised
he had become
He now was the awkward,
ugly lump of shapeless,
useless flesh that needed
to be amputated
at the soonest possible opportunity;
discarded with other medical waste,
or better still,
pickled and preserved
for eternity as a freakish
a talking, reasoning pustule
that apparently possessed
all the features of a well-developed human being.
He clearly saw how all this time
he had deluded himself
into believing he was a real person
who deserved love,
all the rights
every member of society should possess
he was just a cyst
that somehow grew,
assuming the proportions,
the attributes of a person.
Woe is . . .
by SL Randall
A veritable fount
of decay …
Message Lost to Memory
by John Correll
“Captain Thornton.” General Musgrove strolled into his adjutant’s office.
“Yes, General.” The Captain held his hands together at chest level as if he planned to drink from a water tap or contemplated starting a prayer.
“Did Hanson send a message?” Musgrove examined the Captain’s hands.
“What are you doing with your hands, Thornton?”
“The message.” The Captain held up his hands, and Musgrove sneezed, blowing Dust into Thornton’s face. “Bless you, sir.”
“Just Allergies. And the message?” The General took out a handkerchief.
“You blew it into my face, sir.” Thornton stifled a cough.
“The dust? My apologies.” Musgrove wiped his nose.
“Yes, General. Hanson’s message.”
“Splendid. And what did the message say?”
“I’m not sure, sir.”
“What do you mean? Just give me the message.”
“I can’t, sir.” Thornton dusted his face and shirt.
“Hand it over. Chop-chop, man.” The General offered his hand in expectation.
“Sir, the courier delivered the envelope addressed to HQ, and as your adjutant, I opened said envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper.”
“Hanson’s message, excellent.”
“Precisely. I started to read this letter, and, to my surprise, the paper turned from white to yellow. As if it were decomposing itself.”
“Ah. One of Hanson’s party tricks; a decaying message. Splendid idea, what?”
“Not quite. You see, I was caught unprepared.”
The General pointed to Thornton’s desk. “What about that pen there?”
“Yes, but I couldn’t find my writing pad.”
“Oh.” Musgrove picked up a piece of chalk by the board on the wall. “And this?”
“By the time I noticed that sir, I was too busy trying to keep all the decaying pieces in my hands.”
The General picked up the envelope from Thornton’s desk. “Right. And you didn’t notice Hanson’s warning, in red, on this?” He slapped the envelope in his hand. “The warning stating that you have a pen and paper ready before opening?” The adjutant shook his head. “But, you do remember the message?”
“No, sir. I think the shock, sir. Gone. I can’t remember a word.”
Musgrove pointed at Thornton’s dusty shoes. “If you’re going to be a twit, Thornton, you should do so with spit and polish.”
Thornton glanced down and then stood alternately on one leg to wipe the tops of his shoes with the back of his pants. “I beg the General’s pardon. That was the message.”
“How did you become Captain, Thornton?”
“My uncle, sir.”
“The Earl? Decent chap. I chatted with him before the war at the Guard’s match. When was that? Thirty-eight, I believe. Well, there’s nothing for it. Get Hanson on the horn.” The General pointed at the luggage-sized box with a hundred dials and knobs opposite the chalkboard.
“The radio, sir?” The General nodded. “Me?” Thornton asked, and the General waved at the box. The Captain approached the radio and opened a manual laying on top. He leafed through the book, adjusted a handful of dials, flicked a few switches, and pulled a couple of knobs until the box squealed. He stared at the General for a moment, then picked up the microphone. “Rubber Ducky, this is Mamma Ducky, over.”
The radio responded, “Mamma Ducky, this is Rubber Ducky, over.”
“Major Hanson? Is that you?”
“Damn it, Thornton, what did I tell you about using my name over the radio?”
“Sorry, Rubber Ducky. General Musgrove would like you to send the message again.”
“You didn’t read my warning, Mamma Ducky?”
Thornton shook his head, and the General wrestled the microphone from his hand. “Listen, Major. Be a good man and send the message again.”
“Sorry, sir, but that’s not possible.”
“Say again, Major.”
“We shouldn’t send the same message twice over the same channel, sir. Jerry will cotton on to our ciphers.”
“Blast, Jerry. Send me the bloody message, Major.”
“I can’t, sir.”
“And why is that?”
“I’ve run out of self-decaying paper, sir.”
“Rotten piece of luck, Major.”
“I’m certain the Prime Minister is anxious to have his request, whatever that may be, expedited as quickly as possible. Isn’t that so, Major?”
“Just repeat it over the radio, Major.”
“You heard me, Major. Or should I say, Rubber Ducky?”
The radio fell silent for a half minute, then Hanson’s voice returned, “I suppose there’s no harm in repeating the most urgent part of the message, sir.”
“I’m all ears, Major.”
“The PM requests a box of La Aroma de Cuba, or failing that, a box of Romeo y Julieta immediately, sir.”
“Say again, Major.”
“Does the PM realize that there is a war on?”
“He’s enjoying it immensely, sir. Jerry took a crack at him on the bridge this morning. It took me ten minutes to get him to step down from the line of fire.”
“Yes, sir. Multiple times.”
“For ten minutes? Unfortunate.”
“Never mind, Major. I’ll see what we can do. Thornton, turn it off.” The Captain flicked a switch, and the General placed the envelope on the desk. “Bloody, God-awful cigars. Captain, see if Field Marshal Montgomery can help.”
“He doesn’t smoke.”
“What? What about Bomber Harris or that American fellow, Eisenhower?”
“What about that other American bloke, Colonel LeMay? I swear he puffed a cigar like the express to Glasgow.”
“Assigned to the Far East. Something about smoking Tokyo. There is General Patton.”
“You can’t be serious? Another American?” The Captain nodded. “I guess it can’t be helped. But Monty better not find out about this, Thornton. Otherwise, we’ll both be court-martialed. The Field Marshal despises that man.”
“Mum’s the word, sir.”
Decay and Persistence
by Mellow Curmudgeon
Done with chlorophyll,
cinquefoil leaf still has ideals
from its long-gone youth.
A Man with a Plan.
by Mimi Speike
While Mary lived, Elizabeth’s life was in danger. She had not been able to bring herself to sign her cousin’s death warrant. For years, she had kept to her own well protected properties, but was now lured from Whitehall and Hampton Court by an old friend, who tweaked the vanity of an aging queen.
“Highness,” he teased, “shall it be said our charming Queen has lost the youthful taste for novelty? That our gay mistress is no more tempted by extravagant fun? I recall with pleasure the time we had nine years ago. I intend to top it. Wouldn’t you love to see what I have in mind?”
“I am an old woman,” she would reply. “The whole world knows it.” He was expected to vigorously demur.
In her youth, Elizabeth had been striking: slender, pale-skinned, with masses of auburn locks. The years had done their dirty work. Her hair now grew in patches. She wore wigs, caked her wrinkled, pocked face with cosmetics, and seldom laughed. An open mouth revealed broken, blackened teeth. Seemingly oblivious to her decline, she play-acted nubile desirability. She demanded constant reassurance that she had not decayed, that a physical splendor still dazzled the eye and touched the heart.
She was, by inclination and necessity, a coquette. A pose of girlish caprice advanced a shrewd foreign policy. She dangled a matrimonial alliance before several foreign swains, playing them one against the other, buttressing the shaky security of her island kingdom.
She gloried in the pageantry of courtship, the compliments, the games, the presents, and dreaded the ultimate surrender that marriage required of a woman, the surrender of power. She placed no faith in the longevity of affection. Her father’s violent passion for her mother, the impetus for the rift with Rome, had turned into a rage to be rid of her.
Of all her suitors she never loved but one, and never was so cared for in return. They were well suited, lively, quick witted, audacious, similar in taste and temperment. But even if she were free of the burden of state, and had she not experienced at arm’s length enough marital discord to discourage her own foray into that uncertain realm, still she would not have had him. Subservience was hateful to her. By the laws of God and man, a husband was master, even to a queen.
He was six feet tall, muscular, a handsome brute, relentlessly masculine. He was a man of whom it was said, no court in Europe could produce a more impressive figure. Everything about him radiated energy and ambition. Catastrophically proud, he craved power.
She flirted with him outrageously. Her behavior scandalized the country. Insulting speculation ran rampant, but no pregnancy ensued, stirring new talk that she avoided marriage because of an inability to fulfill wifely duties from some physiological deformity.
Although she refused his repeated proposals, she periodically resurrected hope in his breast as a tether, to keep him by her side. The dalliance became a farce that amused the court and instructed every ambitious young man in how to get ahead.
If one would gain her patronage, he must court her as if she were a girl of eighteen, and honor her not only as the Queen of England, but as the Queen of Love. Her affectations: the ancient bared breast, the ridiculous simpering, must be applauded. The sight of a gap-toothed crone, complexion smeared with a quarter inch of the lethal white lead-based make-up of the period, must not engender other than an admiring fascination with the strange effect. Females of rank, other than the Queen’s own women, were unwelcome at court. Fresher faces emphasized her extreme artificiality.
Court etiquette proscribed a pose of faithfulness to the Virgin Queen. He who acknowledged other charms offended. If a favorite strayed, he was banished, his career damaged and possibly destroyed. Robert Dudley had known this punishment, and had wormed his way back into her good graces three times. When he pressed for marriage, she would push him away. Spurned, his eye wandered. Abandoned, her passion flared. He understood the irony of the situation. His reckless spirit both inflamed and infuriated her. He walked a fine line between accommodation and alienation.
Lately, she’d snubbed him. He was grown old, she whispered to her ladies, although they were the same age. Sycophants insisted she looked a good dozen years his junior.
Despite his graying hair and growing corpulence, women still found him attractive. The court buzzed about his stable of mistresses. His uncontestable sexual vitality made her feel even more of a prune than she had. He had finally married, secretly. If that were to come out, it would be the end of him.
His principal source of income was the monopolies he controlled, awarded at Elizabeth’s pleasure, up for renewal every five years. He was the son and brother of traitors who had been executed for their involvement in the Lady Jane Grey affair. The family’s estates had been confiscated by the crown. When she came to the throne, properties had been restored to her dear childhood companion. Everything he possessed was the result of her good will.
In 1584, Dudley’s sole legitimate heir, able to inherit his title, died aged four. That loss sent him into a frenzy of despair. Despair became delusion. Delusion became genuine derangement.
Therein hangs my fanciful tale of a desperate man with a desperate plan that, thankfully, never was implemented. Sly and John Dee shut it down, quietly.
You won’t find it in the history books. Francis Walsingham himself never learned of it. Due to the dicey religious dynamic, and the fact that he and Dudley were friends and political allies of longstanding, they didn’t trust him to do the right thing.
by S.T. Ranscht