This Show Case features seven pieces submitted in response to our thirty-first Writing Prompt: Evolve. 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 S.T. Ranscht
The Universe watched.
A singular speck, scarcely worth noting, divided over and over again, yet clung together as though fearful of the vast, expectant space surrounding it.
The Universe waited.
The breathing speck joined other specks. Generation after generation, their budding intelligence devised ways to use their environment’s resources to make their own lives longer and easier than their parents’.
The Universe smiled.
The specks multiplied and swarmed across the face of their globe until their hunger could be satisfied only by searching the stars for a new home.
The Universe sat back.
“Look at us,” the specks demanded as they huddled in their miniscule ships drifting through the ever-present night.
The Universe listened.
“We are truly the most magnificent conquerors of all time!” they declared as gravity tugged gently on their lives, tilting them toward the unseen, patient center of a galaxy.
The Universe laughed.
by John Correll
“Would I ask you to do anything dangerous?” Abe asked. The American ambassador to East Germany placed a red handkerchief into the breast pocket of his wife.
And she shook her head. “No. But you could ask, maybe once and awhile.” She held the empty manila envelope he had given her with both hands.
Abe kissed her forehead, then stepped back and inspected the handkerchief. “Not with these thugs. Just make sure this is plainly visible.” He tugged it up a little. “The secret police will be looking for this. Two other operatives will leave the embassy after you with the same red cloth to confuse their agents. They won’t know who’s got the real message.”
Barbara waved the envelope lightly. “Which, from the feel of this, isn’t me.” He shook his head. “Then you won’t mind if I add a little present? An empty envelope isn’t convincing. Is it?”
Abe grinned. “Barbara, the envelope is enough. I wouldn’t ask you to do this if it wasn’t important. I mean, life-saving important.”
“But dear, small acts of kindness can save people too. Without them even knowing.”
“I doubt it. These men, the Stasi, are brutes.” Abe crossed his arms.
“I can be hopeful.” She pressed the stiff red cloth against her chest to ensure it stayed in place.
“Now remember, take the tram from Spandauer Strasse to the Märchenbrunnen and sit on the bench by the entrance for ten minutes. Then leave the envelope there. Your duo…”
“Bert and Kurt.” She interrupted.
“Yes. That’s their aliases.”
“Anyways, they’ll waste time waiting for an imagined agent to come and retrieve our ruse.”
“Märchenbrunnen? That big fountain?” She looked down at her schnauzer, who sat at her feet and wagged his tail. “Do you expect Jo to sit around a bunch of ducks for ten minutes?”
Abe pointed a stern finger at the dog. “Play dead, Jo.” Jo presented his paw, and Abe ignored it. “He’ll be fine. I’ll meet you for lunch at the Palasthotel, okay?”
Barbara gave her husband a peck on the cheek. “Later, sweetie.”
Before she left the embassy, she stopped by Ms. Winkles’ office, the head of document disposal.
A marine guard by the door stopped her. “I’m sorry, Mam, but you don’t have authorization…”
“Nonsense, young man. Just ask Ms. Winkle.” She reached around the guard and knocked on the door. From inside, machine sounds, like oxen plowing concrete, muffled the reply. The marine held one arm to block her, turned, and opened the door to hear the answer.
“Ms. Winkle? The ambassador’s wife, Mrs. Polansky, would like to…” he shouted, but Barbara pushed the marine aside as Jo distracted him by peeing on his trousers.
“Hi, Nancy,” Barbara shouted.
“Oh. It’s okay, Tom. Let her in. Just give me a minute.” Nancy fed three industrial paper shredders with multiple documents. “These EBA machines do a fantastic job making cat litter out of the unclassified junk.”
Jo howled at the noise of the shredders. “Nancy, would you happen to have a new pack of Camels?” She tugged Jo’s leash to shut him up.
“What? You smoke?”
“Good Lord, no. It’s for an East German acquaintance.”
“Of course, only the good stuff.” Nancy pulled a fresh pack from her pocket and handed it over.
“Thank you so much. I owe you.” She blew a kiss and then left the embassy with a noticeably fatter envelope.
She crossed the river Spree to Spandauer Strasse and waited for the tram with a handful of locals. On the opposite side of the street, an elderly lady with a bouquet of Alyssums stared at her. Then like Humpty-dumpty learning to walk on mismatched legs, the lady crossed the street for Barbara without heading in her direction. Pensioners in East Berlin were desperate for extra cash, and Barbara’s attire acted like an ice cream truck in August. She didn’t wear the latest fashion, but her clothes sparkled against the drab grays and browns of the East Berliners.
The lady stuck the bouquet under Barbara’s nose. “Would you like to buy a flower, Madame?” The petals rubbed her chin.
“No, thank you.” Barbara turned away to keep from sneezing. So the old woman toddled from one hopeful tram passenger to the next, and one by one, they shook their heads until the lady tottered off.
Within a minute, a crowded tram arrived, forcing Barbara to pick up Jo and fight her way onto the rear entrance. She squeezed in just before the doors closed. But then the doors changed their minds and reopened because a man, clearly from outside, shouted, “Halt.” Barbara stood on tiptoe but failed to discover who had the power to stop the tram. Instead, she heard the driver yell, “You can’t stop the tram. I have an important schedule to keep, you stupid mor… Oh, sorry. Get in.” The doors closed again, and the tram continued.
Pressed against strangers, Jo began to fidget and bite at Barbara’s breast pocket. “Stop it, Jo.” She looked down and realized that her all-important red handkerchief was missing. “Damn it. What did you do with it, Jo?” She tried to look down, but the press of passengers prevented any chance of checking the floor. “Stupid, dog. Now we need to get off and buy a new one. Thank goodness the next stop is Alexanderplatz.”
An old man in a brown trilby standing directly in front of her smiled. “Darf ich behilflich sein, Gnädige Frau?” he asked. At least he didn’t have flowers.
“What? No. Thank you. I’m just rattling off to myself.” Barbara replied in English.
The man shook his head. “Alexanderplatz, here.” He tried pointing, but his hand bumped Jo’s chin, and the man ended up petting Jo’s head instead. “Here,” he repeated.
The tram halted, the doors opened, and the man nodded.
“Danke schön, very much!” Barbara said as she jumped out. She headed straight across the mall to a vast box-like building called the Centrum, East Berlin’s largest department store. Hurrying to the store, she didn’t notice her tram screech to a sudden stop only 50 yards from her exit. Two pot-bellied men in gray trench coats leaped off and pretended not to follow her.
“She’s trying to shake us,” Bert said. He held a cigarette in his mouth like a baby’s pacifier.
Kurt, his portlier companion, nodded. “She’ll try to confuse us in the Centrum. It’s got three exits.”
“We’ll stand between the porcelain and the register. You can see all the exits there.” The pair ran into the store entrance just in time to see Mrs. Polansky take the escalator to the second level. There was no escape.
Kurt ran over to the porcelain, like a puppy finding its mother. “Look, they have the new Karlovarský collection. My wife would love these. They used to be Bohemian porcelain which started in 1804. Can you imagine that? But our Meissen porcelain from Saxony they’re over 260 years old. I got one of the rare 1960 commemorative plates. Just imagine an artistic process that hasn’t evolved over the centuries, except in the West, which has giant robots and massive factories. That’s what I like about our country. Things don’t change.” He held up a coffee cup for inspection.
Bert took his cigarette, knocked the ash into the cup, and blew smoke at his colleague’s face. “Stop talking rubbish and watch the exits.”
“Rubbish? These are collector’s pieces. You just wait.” Kurt ignored his colleague and put items into an empty cardboard box.
Within five minutes, Bert dropped his cigarette on the floor, stomped on it, and puffed smoke like a campfire hit by a bucket of water. “There she is, coming down the escalator. Put that junk down.”
The store clerk by the register noticed the improperly discarded cigarette and screamed, “Hey, you. We have ashtrays over there. Pick that up.”
Bert pulled out his badge and rammed it in front of her face. “I don’t have time for ashtrays, Fraulein.” Then he ran after Mrs. Polansky.
Kurt didn’t follow. He approached the clerk with his box instead. “Sorry about my comrade. His divorce papers just came through yesterday.” Kurt handed the collection of porcelain to her. “This is for our office. I’ll come back later to pick it up. Thanks.” He smiled and ran. The clerk swallowed like eating an unchewed meatball and placed the box behind the counter with shaking hands.
To be continued.
Picture of Kurt’s plate:
by Boris Glikman
my friends and I descended
into the sewers
beneath the metropolis
and discovered the most unusual eel-like creatures
on the concrete banks of the subterranean river.
There they were,
lying close to the river’s edge,
only deigning to bestir
and dip their heads languidly
into the passing current,
when a particularly choice morsel
of human waste floated by.
Their appearance overpowered me
with its repulsiveness.
“How could Evolution ever
conceive and give birth to such a horrible abomination?”
I remember wondering to myself,
“How could Nature ever allow
such a glaring insult against Herself
to arise and flourish;
such a travesty,
such a betrayal,
such a perversion of the very natural order?”
Yet when I looked closer
at these anathemas,
a most astounding feature
revealed itself to me.
Somehow, through some playful whim
of the Goddess who directs
and oversees the evolutionary process,
these overgrown worms
developed human faces.
Nay, not just human faces,
but visages of angelic beauty
such that no earthly woman
would ever dare to possess,
lest the Gods become spiteful and jealous.
This discovery was so unexpected,
the radiance of their mien so intense,
I stood transfixed,
unable to take my gaze
even for an instant
away from these heavenly subterrestrial creatures.
Their eyes looked at me
with all the cognition of a person;
Their facial expressions were those
of kindness, serenity, wisdom.
There were two over to the left,
holding their heads close to one another,
gazing deeply, just like two lovers,
into each other’s eyes.
Suddenly I felt an odd sort of compassion for them.
No fiddle yet. My plot evolves at its own pace, by its own logic.
by Mimi Speike
John Dee is annoyed. “Listen, the both of you.” (He’s addressing Sly and, he believes, the cacodemon O-ek.)
“I’m off to the Red Room. After that, a string sextet, of which I’m proud to be a founding member, will perform. Eventually, you’ll have your chance to do whatever it is you do, but not on my violin. How the hell does a cat work a fiddle? I don’t really care to find out, but it seems I’m going to. Not, however, on my instrument.
“I’ve begged a lend of a pochette. A pochette will do for you.1 It has to. It’s that or nothing. I’ll come for you. Until then, you don’t move from this spot, got it?”
O-ek warns Sly: “Got that, my friend? We sit tight, wait to be summoned.” Sly sputters a response. O-ek translates: “The catkin says, Jack Daw has a line on something. Something dire. Sir Francis must hear of it immediately.”
“You do not,” screeches Dee, “approach Mr. Secretary on your own. Any contact is made through me.”
“The wise thing,” agrees O-ek. “But if we should cross paths with the First Secretary, we want to know it. How’s he dressed?”
Dee is alarmed by the nightmare idea of an unfiltered conversation between the cat and one of the queen’s foremost counselors. “You will not cross paths with him, or anyone. You will wait here, out of sight, until I return for you.”
Sly gives him a look to stop a heart. (Think Grumpy Cat. I’m sure he was a sweetheart, but that face!)
Uh-oh. Best not to offend a demon you’ve only just met. Dee softens his tone. “Sorry, your Honor. Sir Francis is in black. He’s always in black. When I fetch you in, I’ll point him out, I promise.”
“Ah!” cries O-ek. “I may have espied him then, earlier. He was in conference with, plainly, servitors. I took him for the butler, all mim2 and careful, his coat black, a simple frill at the throat. I would expect the great man to be grandly put together.”
“He’s one them Puritans. Troublemakers, the lot of them. Pack ’em up, ship ’em out, say I, to America, to preach to the turkeys. Well, not Sir Francis. He can stay. He’s got to stay. We need him here.”
“Doctor! There is a threat to England’s security, worse than any Puritan. Sir! The queen is in grave danger.”
“The queen is always in grave danger. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“This treason is the work of … this is on the level, I swear… the instigator, this time, is Leicester.”3
“Dudley?” Dee sighs. “He’s a rascal. You’ve got that right.”
“He’s plotting murder. No, I’ll be more precise. He’s plotting regicide.”
“Regicide. Dudley? Ridiculous!”
“Sir Francis is certainly the one to deal with the ultimate court insider.”
Dee rubs his chin. “How come you by this nonsense?”
“Jack Daw overheard it at his Ma’s alehouse in Dover.”
Dee snorts. “A squirt ragamuffin, raised in a dockside dive. A credible source, certainly.”
“He is credible,” insists O-ek. “Highly credible. The kit-cat and I can vouch for him. Can we not, pal o’ mine?” Sly shakes his head vigorously, in agreement.
“How’d you discover the little beggar?”
“I was summoned. By accident.”
“Oh? How does that work?”
“Don’t you summon Uriel?”
“I do not. Kelley handles all that.”
“I could give you the phrase to whistle me up but, you no receptive,4 you wouldn’t apprehend me. Jack Daw called me forth, not meaning to. Him’s no sensitive neither. It was this acute-minded cat who caught on to me. We had an instant rapport.”
“I think I’m losing my mind,” moans Dee.
“The laddie was frantic to report what he knew, but who might take such a one as he, of unprepossessing appearance, to say the least, seriously?” Sly lets go with… Damn! Sure sounds like a chuckle to me. Actually, a series of chuckles.
Dee mutters, “Zooks! Is this what Kelley deals with? I’ve always imagined a spiritual would be more, well, dignified.”
Sly smirks. “You want dignity? You’re outta luck. Daw should better have called up, oh, Juul, maybe. Me, I’m a demon of the imp variety. You’ll have a whole lot more fun with me, I guarantee it.”
“Look, what were we to do? We couldn’t approach just anyone. It had to be someone with connections, able to intervene. Someone of tenacious curiosity, not dismissing a bizarre accusation out of hand. Someone neither baffled by nor afeared of the mystical, for obvious reasons. The cat and I kicked around a few names, settled on you.”
“Well, I just hit the lottery, didn’t I?”
“Doctor! Let me give you a run-down of the situation. Just the high points. Won’t take long.”
“Got to go, damn you. I am expected in the Red Room, by your buddy Del Gado.”
“He’s no buddy of ours. He nearly got poor Pedro first almost throttled, then almost drowned.”
“Pedro. Who’s Pedro? No, don’t tell me. I’m overdue for my game. Finish your tangled tale on the return ride home.”
Sly shrugs. “If we must, we must.”
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Before you fly, one last thing.”
“This ‘a pouchette has to do you’ crap… We’ll decide what does us, thank you very much. And it ain’t a dumb, dinky pouchette. The kit-cat is with me on that. Right, critter?”
Sly arches his back in emphatic agreement.
* * *
1 The pouchette is a small stringed instrument. The kit-violin, as it is often called (also known as a travel fiddle), was designed to fit in a pocket. From the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries it was widely employed, by dance masters and street musicians in particular, and in situations where full-size violins were too cumbersome to carry, or too expensive to own.
2. Affectedly modest.
3. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
4. John Dee did not speak directly with the spirit world. He communicated with one Uriel, and a host of others, through a clairvoyant, Edward Kelley.
The Long Evolve
by GD Deckard
He hung in blackness, devoid of senses, unable to discern his form or his location. He sought a body. There. She was healthy, young. Her baby new. The blackness parted and withdrew behind him. He looked back to see the blackness recede to a tiny dot. He could not remember what lay past that black dot.
He was being lifted up, past (he identified later) crib rails. A varnished wooden plaque on the wall showed a farm scene. The split rail fence fronting the farmhouse ran along a dirt road. A farmer hoed in the garden and a cow munched grass in the yard. There were yellow flowers. Lifted higher, he saw his grandmother facing his mother, holding him out to her, showing her how to hold a baby.
The outhouse sat at the end of the back walk, past the stand of hollyhocks, the hand pump for water, and a small vegetable garden. He and Phyllis were two years old and playing with their pants down. They weren’t the same under the pants.
At four, he was crying, bawling, really, watching his mother crawl up the cellar stairs. His father had knocked her down the stairs. He hit her again and she slumped unconscious.
Earning money from a paper route at fourteen, he bought a .22 rifle from Sears. He didn’t have an alarm clock, but he imagined setting one to ring at 5:AM and dropping it into the river and watching it slowly sink as he went to sleep and that worked. He awoke at five and slipped out of the house to go squirrel hunting in the Ohio farmlands at sunrise. He became a crack shot with that .22 but traded it in on a shotgun for more serious hunting.
Coming down the stairs into the kitchen for breakfast the first thing he saw was his mother’s black eye. She was sitting quietly at the table as were his father and his younger brother. He turned and went back up to his room. He made certain that the shotgun was loaded and that the safety was off. Then he returned to the foot of the stairs and sat with the gun pointed across the table at his father. His father had earned a Bronze Star for valor in combat during World War II and knew exactly what the muzzle of a gun meant.
“The gun is loaded and the safety is off. If you ever hit my mother again, I will kill you. They will put me in jail for a while. But you will be dead.” In the silence he thought of another detail. “If you take my gun away from me, I will get a kitchen knife while you sleep and I will slit your throat.” No one said a thing. They just looked at him. When he was sure they understood, he took the gun upstairs to his room, unloaded it, and went down to breakfast.
His mother had passed by the time that he last saw his father. The man was eighty-four, sitting in a wheelchair, breathing through an oxygen mask. By now, a war veteran himself, he understood PTSD. He knew that despite his rages, the old man had worked hard to provide for his family and in all other ways had treated them well. His mother had accepted that.
After college, jobs, marriages, family, and retirement, the blackness came again. He hung in that blackness, devoid of senses, unable to discern his form or his location.
“What have you learned?”
“A shotgun lets you get up close and personal.”
“Don’t be a wise-ass. Did you evolve at all?”
“I think -now- that my mother was stronger than my father. Her devotion overcame his abuse.”
“Good. You evolved.”
The blackness parted. She looked behind her to see the blackness recede to a tiny dot. She could not remember what lay past that black dot.
Fully Evolved Narcissist
by S.T. Ranscht
“Artists are not necessarily guilty of narcissism simply because they are self-aware and practice metacognition; they are only guilty of being (psychologically-speaking) eternal, inward-fixated infants if they demonstrate through art and action a psychotically-inflated sense of their own egos’ self-importance and permanence.”Carl E. Reed, (1/16/17)
I copy the greats
in my own style. Thus I am
better than them all.
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