This Show Case features five pieces submitted in response to our fifth Writing Prompt: Entitled. 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 Chip Pentium
Those in the basement pool area were the lucky ones. The electromagnetic death passed overhead, killing loungers on the east balconies instantly. Guests and staff on the west side of the prestigious Las Vegas hotel received a reduced dose of radiation that let some live for hours longer. The shock wave followed several minutes later, distance having drained its fury. Windows vanished in puffs that showered glass shards onto the grounds. A rolling thunder briefly shook the building.
Sounds from the shock passing overhead vibrated the water in the pool. Ripples formed and spread and merged. “What the fuck was that?” Damond Hiller demanded.
The old man floated righteously upright in the water, reminding his bodyguard of some cartoonish character. An image of Yosemite Sam formed in Frank Carter’s mind. “Sir? Probably a sonic boom. Nellis Air Force Base is a few miles east of here.”
Upstairs, they looked about at the devastation. “That was some sonic boom, wasn’t it, Frank?” Others from the pool had followed them, expressing disbelief, mostly in curses. Everybody ran to check on family and friends but returned at a slow walk. Those able to place phone calls confirmed that the destruction was worldwide.
“They’re dead,” Damond angrily shouted. He was referring to the unlucky few who lay mostly unconscious in the halls and rooms opposite from where the radiation blast had struck.
“No! We have to help them!” A heavyweight man bent over his wife, whimpering. “She’s suffering, Damond.”
Usually, Damond listened to whatever Darryl Hanson the Third had to say. The twerp’s inherited wealth was vast, and he could be counted on to invest in anything Damond recommended. Damond had also inherited money but unlike Darryl, he knew how to take advantage of his position in society. His fortune grew while the only thing growing around Darryl was his girth.
But things had changed. Finance’s digital counters no longer mattered. Money had vanished like windows in a nuclear blast. His life depended on physical resources now, and he was entitled to whatever he needed. He had to seize food, safe water, shelter. And the unquestioning obedience of others. He needed useful people. He didn’t need useless ones.
“We can’t just let her suffer, Damond,” the fat man pleaded with him.
“OKAY, Darryl,” he sighed. “Frank, gimme.” He held out his hand, beckoning, signaling with his other hand that he meant the gun in Frank’s shoulder holster.
Sly, for once in his life, is ashamed of himself.
by Mimi Speike
The Santa Clara, a merchant vessel, has been captured by English pirates off Aquataine. A few crewmembers are being evacuated to (comparative) safety on the aggressor. The Clara, severely damaged, will be left to drift.
Sly: He’s a cat. Who talks. (When he’s of a mind to.)
Feo: Sly’s nemesis aboard the coastal trader. Also a cat.
Pedro: a runaway Duke, in disguise. His uncle wants the boy eliminated. Pedro gone, the title is his. The pirates are after a duke. They thought they had him, but Pedro and Sly have managed to convince them he’s an English lad.
Gato: (actual name, Hernando del Gado). A crewmember on the Spanish ship. No cat, but he’s landed on his feet nonetheless. A good talker himself, he’s sold his services to the Englishmen. Meredith is their captain.
“Over here, son.” An Englishman indicates a group waiting to clamber down the rope ladder into a transport.
Pedro and Sly have been sitting on a crate, awaiting instructions. Feo appears, clutching a comb, his prized possession, between his teeth. “Here I am,” he mumbles, “set to go.”
“What makes you think you’re coming?” spits Sly.
“Gato’s going, ain’t he?”
“Where he goes, I go. I told you last night.”
“That’s rum-talk, you dingleberry! He’s ain’t taking you!” Sly turns to Pedro. “Creep here thinks Gato’s gonna save his ass for him.” They both snicker.
Feo looks at his toes. How could he have been so silly? Who wants a smelly old codger of a cat, no manners, idiosyncrasies aplenty, none of them endearing. A tendency, at his advanced age, to diarrhea. Regurgitation at the most inconvenient moments, on a lap, for instance. Hairballs expelled, revolting masses of fur and what-not, the bane of a long-hair. Nor is he a treat for the eyes: a chewed-off ear, a skin disease, open wounds his pal smears with a salve. He’s insulted by most everyone. But not by Gato, who brushes dried vomit from his fur, and tidies up his rear end, restoring his dignity. He’d thought himself thick-skinned until Sly happened along.
Sly gets his goat. That one, so damn superior, always pushing it in your face. The windbag has declared himself dedicated to the improvement of minds, and takes for granted that they should be extravagantly grateful for his interest in them.
That wasn’t quite it, as Feo came to understand. Sly is not simply fond of the sound of his own voice (though he is). He’s a math whiz. He can’t believe that, properly coached, anyone in the world would not be as enchanted with algorithms as he.
It was a charming peccadillo, it made you want to tackle equations yourself. But there was no escaping the reality that you couldn’t multiply, and never would. The enthusiastic tutor would not give up on you. You were subjected to lesson after lesson, until you put your foot down.
“Let a know-nothing be,” Feo had implored. “I don’t get it, never will.” Sly would pooh-pooh his student’s negativity and prepare another lesson. Feo had made the mistake, at the outset, of showing an interest in self-improvement. Sly, thrilled at the possibility of molding a tabula rasa, a blank slate, pure potentiality, into a superb instrument of intellectual accomplishment, exulted that he’d finally found a willing pupil. He’d given up on Pedro.
Feo, after his initial blowup over increasingly annoying exhortations, had moderated his antagonistic attitude. This was a matter to chuckle, not to rage, over. He’d borrowed from Sly’s stash of pencil and paper, without permission, to try to make progress secretly, on his own. Sly had accused him of thievery. He’d been subjected to such a stomping and yowling, back up, tail vibrating, such a tantrum, that he’d vowed to steer clear of the crack-pot from that instant. He was no intellect, never would be. Huh! What did the fool have worth stealing, anyway? (Plenty. You’ll have to read the book.)
Feo and del Gado had both led difficult lives. When Gato confided his dreams for a warm hearth, a soft bed, and a small garden plot, it had sounded damn desirable to the cat. He’d never considered leaving the sea, it was all he knew. With Gato at his side, the thought of starting over no longer frightened him. It was dawning on him that a human caress could be a lovely thing, that some men were kind, and scratched you under the chin. Even a butt-ugly, mistrusting cat might find a protector, and it was a relationship to be treasured. He’d never been a lap-cat. He was not cuddlesome. He’d learned to be wary of human contact, thus, he’d never attracted admirers.
Feo, demoralized, drops his comb into a coil of rope. Gato gone, he won’t need it. No one but Gato has ever shown an interest in grooming his snarled fur. Unable to hide his dismay, he collapses, his features registering despair so profound Sly shudders to see it.
“Where’s m’boy?” a voice calls. “Where are you, you old fart? Come to Papa!” Gato scoops up the animal and joins the queue waiting to depart.
“What d’you think you’re doing?” snaps Giles Goodwin, in charge of the evacuation.
“He’s with me!” Gato snaps back.
“In a pig’s ear,” snarls Goodwin.
Gato stands his ground. “Let’s see what your captain has to say. He wants me to do a job for him. I’m more than willing to do it. But I must have this critter along.”
Meredith, catching wind of a ruckus, hurries over. “Trouble, Mister Goodwin? I asked you to superintend a smooth retreat. What’s the beef here?”
“Another loon has got to drag his cat with him.” Goodwine glowers at Del Gado, and at the cat shivering with apprehension in his arms.
“He don’t go, I don’t go,” insists the Spaniard. He appeals to Meredith. “Humor me. I’ll be the more disposed to please you.”
“Into the skiff with them, Mister Goodwin,” growls the captain.
“In!” Goodwin’s voice is flat, his eyes are slits.
“My thanks, Captain,” calls Gato. The man has rushed away. To Goodwin, he gives a frozen fish eye.
Gato and Feo, and Pedro and Sly, are seated in the boat. Gato cradles his cat. Feo, his face buried in the crook of his pal’s arm, shakes and gasps and gurgles, comforted by the man who supposes him terrified of the confusion all around him.
“Easy,” Gato croons. “You’re safe, sweetheart. It’s you and me against the world, old man. No one – no one!” – he’s been murmuring into Feo’s ear. He raises his voice so Pedro will hear – “no one has an animal sweeter, or smarter, or braver than you, m’darling.”
Feo raises his head, spies Sly sitting opposite, flares his nostrils, pokes his nose back into the fabric of Gato’s coat, and continues to bawl, not from fear, but from joy.
Sly says nothing. In the presence of such pain, what is he to say? Any solace he might offer would be woefully inadequate. At that moment he loathes himself.
A Lost Chapter of the Book of Genesis
by Carl E. Reed
The stentorian voice boomed out o’er the lush greenery of the acres-large garden: “Eve! Me damn you! Show yourself. You too, First Rib!”
Loin-clothed Adam and Eve emerged from the rustling bushes to stand squinting into the sun in a lush-grassed meadow situated amongst flowering shrubs and leafy-bowered trees. Foxes, badgers and wild dogs trembled in burrow and den; birds twitched and stutter-stepped nervously along wind-whipped branches.
“I see you are now wearing clothes!” remonstrated the thundering, basso-profundo Voice. “Who told you to cover your nakedness with cloth?”
“First of all,” said Eve, standing hip-shot and shouting into the sky, “I should hardly dignify a strand of twisted cloth ’cross the genitals with the trumped-up moniker ‘clothes’! ”
“We tried fig leaves—” ventured First Man.
“Shut up, Adam!” snapped Eve. “I got this.”
“Impertinent little beast—” boomed the Voice.
“Don’t you talk down to me, chauvinist pig!”
“I’m up here” roared the Voice, “you’re down there! I’ve no choice but to talk down to you.”
“Well,” said Eve, conceding the point, “I suppose that’s true—but the problem is one of design, eh? You could incarnate as flesh and come down here to talk to us at eye-level if you so desired.”
“Later,” said the Voice. “Many millennia from now. After I send myself to your offspring to preach and get crucified upon a Roman cross as an only-begotten son who is me and also a Sacred Ghost: Three-in-One; all the Ones aspects of the Three and paradoxically, the One entire.”
“Err—” said Adam.
“He’s trippin’, ” Eve whispered. Then, assuming a more upright stance and shaking a clenched fist at the clouds. “Why are you so concerned that we’re no longer wandering about starkers? You some kind of voyeuristic pervert?”
Thunder boomed and lightning crackled.
“Know that the Lord Your God does not indulge in such demeaning practices! Or revel in objectifying prurience. I check from time-to-time to ensure that you have not been devoured by lions, tigers, or wolves—or infested with lice—or shit-spattered by rampaging bands of screeching, poo-flinging monkeys. ’Scuse me for caring.”
“Appreciate that!” called Adam brightly.
“Stop simpering,” said Eve, throwing a sharp elbow into her mate. “God!”
“You talking to me or simply exclaiming?” inquired the Voice.
“Talking to you,” said Eve. “What is it you really want to know?”
“Why have you eaten from the Tree of Knowledge?”
“I can explain that!” piped Adam, voice high and screechy.
Another sharply thrown elbow into Adam’s ribs.
“I said I got this,” Eve hissed. “God!”
“Yo! Still here.”
“How can you set us down in a garden next to a Tree of Knowledge, knowing nothing, yet expect us to forever ignore the temptation of a tree of enlightenment?”
“You spoke to the serpent—”
“Serpent?” Eve interrupted. “I talked to a flying squirrel.”
“I see,” said the Voice, momentarily thrown. “And . . . what did this, ah . . . loquacious aeronautical rodent say?”
“He said the apples were red, ripe, rich and delicious!” cried Adam. “And organic! Boy howdy—all true!”
Eve rounded on Adam. “I swear, one more word out of you and you’ll never experience the ecstasy of goofy-faced-locked-hip-spasming again! Do I make myself clear?”
“Perfectly, dear.” Adam stared fixedly at his feet.
Eve tilted her face back up to the sky. “I ate from the Tree of Knowledge in order that certain ontological and epistemological categories and conditions be both better explicated—I mean to say fully digested, intellectually speaking—and integrated into an Eve-volving weltanschauung. Get it? ‘Eve-volving’. Clever, eh?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Eve,” softly rumbled the Voice, “the word was ‘entitlement’. ”
“No, no . . . that can’t be right,” protested Eve. “Last showcase the word was ‘devolving’, so it only makes good, counterbalancing, lexical sense that the follow-up-showcase ‘e’ word would be its polar opposite: ‘evolving’. See?”
“This was a pass/fail exercise,” pronounced the Voice, “and you have failed.”
“Wait! Wait!” cried Eve, hands to either side of her head. “Uh . . . I think I’m entitled to—”
“Too late,” declared omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, invisible Sky God of the Hebrews.
“Damn it!” said Eve.
“Thy wish is my command,” said the Voice. “Effective immediately, I banish thee and O. H. M. (original human model) from the garden of Eden. Henceforth a state of ever-lasting enmity shalt exist betwixt woman and flying squirrel. O, woe is thee! And the squirrels—they shalt never evolve into the gregarious, parchment-scribbling, pterodactyl-sized scribes I’d intended the species become. But back to thee: Thy female descendants shalt roam the earth and know the pangs of hunger and thirst and slow internet dial-up speeds, and they shalt bring forth children in their turn in pain and lamentation and high anxiety. Valium shalt only partially assuage womanly angst.”
“Lord, m’man—” First Rib began.
“Shut up, Adam!” said Eve. “Don’t grovel.”
“Who’s groveling?” said Adam, taking a step back from his wife. “The bitch made me eat the apple, Lord! You don’t have to go all blood-and-thunder and ‘old-timey’ language on us—I mean me. You know she’s just impossible unless I give in to her every whim.” He spread his hands in supplication. “I should suffer alongside her?”
“Yes,” said the Voice.
Adam and Eve were hurled from the Garden of Eden. They crashed into cushioning sand dunes just outside gargantuan, golden padlocked gates.
Man and woman rose from the dunes, brushing sand from their eyes, hair and loincloths.
“Well, I suppose we must now make the best—”
Eve’s eyes were kindled hell fires. “What did you call me?”
BLAKE FORESTER, PHD
by Perry Palin
Blake Forester, PhD, drove his newly mortgaged yellow Camaro 2 SS slowly through the campus, looking at the spring leaves on the trees and the sunlight and shadows on the solid sandstone buildings. Students strolled on the brick walks, and a gardener worked in a flower bed. He found the parking lot that Sheila, Dean Granstrom’s assistant, had mapped for him in an email. His appointment was for 10:00 AM, and he was neither early nor late. He entered the building that held the offices of the College of Arts and Sciences, and walked past the dean’s office suite to find a men’s room where he could comb his hair in front of a large mirror. He opened the door to the dean’s outer office at 10:00 AM sharp.
A thin, attractive blond woman looked up from her computer and smiled. “Dr. Forester, I believe?”
“Yes, Dr. Blake Forester. And you are Sheila. Thank you so much for arranging my visit.” Blake smiled and let a wink escape his right eye.
“You’re right on time. I’ll let Dean Granstrom know you are here.” She rose from her chair and opened the door to an inner office. After a quick exchange with the dean, she told Blake he could go in.
“Good morning Dean Granstrom. I had a fine room in the hotel. Sheila was very helpful. I hope you’ll tell her how much I appreciate her help.”
Dean Granstrom’s white hair met his collar. He was sixty years old, a little heavy, wearing a blue shirt and a tan sweater vest, unpressed chinos, and brown laced shoes. Granstrom sat at his desk and looked at Blake over the top of his glasses. He took off his glasses and placed them on his desk. Blake was dressed more formally, but with polished tassel loafers.
Granstrom rose to shake Blake’s hand. “Let’s move over here to talk.” He led Blake to two leather armchairs with a small table between them. “Coffee? Soft drink? Tea, maybe?”
“I would like a cup of coffee. Dark, organic Columbian, black.”
Granstrom went to the door to ask Sheila to bring the beverages. The two men exchanged pleasantries until the coffee arrived. Blake sipped his coffee and made a sour face.
Granstrom said, “Well, let’s get down to business. What do you consider your strengths for the position for which you have applied?”
“I appended a list of my publications to my vitae. Have you read them? My dissertation is on the rust on the under side of the leaves on the north side of a bean plant. You may know that bean rust infects a large minority of our soybean fields, reducing yields and income to farmers.”
“I saw the list. For our purposes here, why don’t you tell me what your research found.”
“The rust is the same on the north side of the plant as it is on the south side.”
“I see. Tell me why this is important.”
“It was original research. Not everything has an immediate application. But it’s important to know that the rust infects both the north and the south sides of the bean plant.”
“And that led to your PhD?”
“Yes it did. I’m proud of my work on it.”
“We are looking for someone to teach three courses each term of lower division classes, starting with plant biology, unless there is a lab involved, in which case it will be two courses each term. Tell me how you will prepare for each class session.”
“I’ve seen a lot of professors at work. I’m sure that won’t be a problem for me. I certainly won’t let it get in the way of my research.”
“And what research will that be?”
“My work on bean rust. I will be in the lab for twenty-five to thirty hours each week, except when I travel to read at conferences, and for the holiday and summer breaks, or course.”
“You’ve seen the terms of our compensation plan for new associates, I assume.”
“Yes, and I want to talk about that. I could start at the top of the salary range, or a bit beyond, but not for less.”
“I have some leeway on salaries, but I don’t have total control.”
“Really, Dean Granstrom, I have my doctorate, and I’ve had two post-doc assignments, albeit short ones. My mother makes more money than your salary range, and all she had done for 30 years is teach high school English.”
“This is one year appointment, as are all our new hires, with the possibility to renew.”
“If the compensation can be settled, I will come for a four-year tenure track contract, with a minimum of a ten percent salary increase each year. That will move me in the direction of what I am worth. You won’t want me to spend my time looking for a position at another college. With a four-year commitment, I won’t need to be looking until year three, unless, of course, tenure is assured by then.”
“Hmmm. I think we’re done here. I trust you had a good night at the hotel.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you for that. Not every college will pay for accommodations. I upgraded to a suite when the first room had a too small bulb in the desk lamp, and the minibar and the room service breakfast were adequate. I’ll see that Sheila gets the bill sent to her.”
“Thank you, then, Dr. Forester, for coming in. I’ll be making my decision in a week or two.”
“I’m looking forward to joining you, Dean Granstrom.”
They rose, shook hands, and Blake walked to the door. In the outer office he made a point to see that Sheila wore no rings on her left hand. He smiled and told her that he looked forward to getting to know her. Sheila smiled professionally as Blake left the office.
Dean Granstrom watched the door close behind Blake. He moved to his desk, turned Blake’s resume face down at his left and picked up the file for the next candidate, who was due in half an hour.
I’m Just Really Good at My Job
by S.T. Ranscht
“Hello, Adam. Welcome to my world. Your world.”
“Uhhh… thank you?”
“I know, it’s all a bit too glorious, isn’t it?” the world’s owner confided gleefully.
Adam hesitated. “Well, I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘glorious’.”
The owner seemed taken aback. “I should have thought it was obvious.”
“Not to me,” Adam admitted. “I mean, compared to what?”
“Oh. Right.” A pause followed.
“Can I ask you a question?” Adam ventured into the pause.
“Yes, I have granted you that ability.”
“Okaaayyy… How did I get here?”
The owner’s glee returned. “That’s a great story. I suggested that we make man in our own image, and everyone agreed—“
“That’s not important. I’m this world’s Project Manager, so you’ll deal only with me.” The PM hurried on, “Anyway, I made this dense fog cover the entire globe so everything everywhere got really wet, and then… I made you out of mud. Mud! Then, you know the thing with two holes in the middle of your face?”
“I wasn’t sure you knew that word. Yes, your nose. Get this — I blew into it and guess what happened. You came. To. Life.”
“Huh.” Adam tried to rub the confusion out of his brain by massaging his forehead. Hard. “That’s not really much of a story. I don’t mean that in a negative way. This is just constructive criticism you can take or leave. It has good plot points, but your execution is weak. Not enough world building. No character development. No tension. The climax is contrived — all those periods, supposedly to give each word equal impact. And no resolution.” He shook his head. “I’m just saying it could be a really compelling story if you added more detail. Some dialogue. Motivation. Why, for instance, did you decide to blow into my nose?”
“Thank you for your feedback,” the PM said in a way Adam thought sounded a little pouty. “I’ll consider it if I ever decide to tell that story again.”
“So, what am I supposed to do?”
“Well, I had a couple of ideas. You get to name every living creature and growing thing.”
“What? Like Javier, Su Mei, and Thaddeus? Or Spot, Splashy, and Flighty?”
“Not what I had in mind, but the deal is made and it’s up to you.”
“Maybe something more evocative of each living thing’s life story,” Adam contemplated. “Yes, that would be much more interesting.”
“As you wish,” the PM acceded. “And you get to till the land in this garden. You know, grow more plants. For food.”
“That sounds like tedious, backbreaking, thankless work. No thank you. What are my other choices?”
“Other choices? I was hoping this wouldn’t come up quite so soon — especially because I’m having second thoughts about its wisdom — but, yes, having made you in our image, I thought it would only be fair to grant you free will, too. You may do anything you want — except for two tiny exceptions. So. I can hardly wait to find out: What do you want to do?”
“I’m not sure you really mean that, but,” Adam announced, “I want to be a writer.”
“Oh. I’m afraid that’s not an option.”
“But you said, ‘anything’.”
“That I did, but I haven’t invented writing yet,” the PMsplained with forced patience.
“Then maybe I just invented it,” Adam countered. “After all, I am free to define myself, correct?”
Adam decided right then that, even though he couldn’t see the PM, the tone he’d just used was accompanied by eye rolling. Adam filed that image away for future stories.
“I’m curious,” Adam began, “Why can’t I see you?”
The PM chuckled in a pitying way. “Looking upon my face would be too overwhelming for you, a mere man.”
“Really? I would have thought, having made me in y’all’s image, y’all would have a face like mine. What’s the real reason you’re hiding? Are you hideous and misshapen? Scarred beyond belief? Or just everyday ugly?” In the silence that followed, Adam imagined the PM glaring at him, crossing his arms, and tapping his foot in an aggravated way. The power he felt inspired his first naming. “Hey, do you see that sinuous, slithery creature over by the apple tree? I’m going to name him ‘The Great Deceiver’.”
The PM scoffed, “That’s not a proper name. That’s a title.”
“Precisely,” Adam agreed. “I’m a writer. A storyteller. And I just entitled your glorious creature’s life story.” Adam’s grin radiated a heavenly glow. “But I thank you for your feedback.”
The PM drew a deep breath. “Adam, I am going to give you a gift. You may name her whatever you deem appropriate, but I will call her Eve.”
“I don’t need a companion,” Adam replied. “In fact, I don’t want a companion. Writing is going to be a solitary job. A companion would just be a distraction.”
“Perhaps so,” the PM allowed, “but a writer is entitled to an editor.”
A frown crept over Adam’s face. “That sounds really annoying.”
If the PM’s face had been visible to him, Adam would have seen his first nastily satisfied smile.
Dedicated to GD and Carl with love and affection. And joy.