This Show Case features four pieces submitted in response to our ninth Writing Prompt: Interior. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for this 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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It’s All in Us
by GD Deckard
Gracie reached across the breakfast table and pulled down her husband’s newspaper to get his attention. He was grinning at her. “You have been listening! So, answer me. Why has Earth never been visited by aliens?”
“It’s a big universe. And it’s expanding. I’d be suspicious if they did visit us.”
That piqued Baris’ interest. Gracie was a genius.
She nodded and poked her fork at him. “It’s big and it’s getting bigger. Too big. I ran the numbers last night.” Gracie normally needed only four hours of sleep.
“Earth-like planets. How many have we found; how many are there likely to be; how far apart are they? What are the odds an earth-like planet will develop life? How long for intelligent life to evolve?”
Baris was used to sleeping alone half the night. “What’s your conclusion?” She winced. He smiled encouragingly. Gracie was confident in her numbers, but she never liked to draw conclusions.
“They’re out there.”
“And they haven’t visited us because?”
“Well, living beings do not live long enough to travel through interstellar space. And if they are immortal, there are better ways to spend life than a billion boring years boring between galaxies.”
“Why does it have to be so slow?” He knew enough physics to ask the obvious. “What about faster than light travel?”
“Wishful theories. Matter cannot do that. Energy cannot do that. So, I’m thinking….” She slid a slice of bacon past her teeth in small bites, chewing thoughtfully.
Baris glanced at his watch. He had to leave for work. “So?”
She swallowed. “So, it has to be dead people who travel to other planets. A soul is not subject to physics.”
“Wait a minute, wait. You haven’t demonstrated that there is a soul.”
“But I can hypothesize that life is a fundamental property of the universe, like matter and energy, and that life is neither created nor destroyed. That could explain interstellar travel. Just as we hypothesize that dark matter ‘explains’ the missing mass of the known universe. Or ‘love’ explains why I’m even talking to you.” She stuck her tongue out at him.
Baris locked eyes with his new bride. “You haven’t demonstrated that interstellar travel exists. Or demonstrated ‘love’ to me in like, oh, hours, either.” Gracie’s ice-blue eyes shimmered. Just as they had on the Alaskan glacier when he had first locked eyes with her. After a winter together under the dancing northern lights, they had married and continued the honeymoon. No hesitation. No questions. They had come together like two drops of mercury.
“The same logic applies, Baris. There is no scientific evidence that there are not aliens traveling in space. So, the hypothesis that there are, is based on-“
“Argumentum ad ignorantiam,” he interrupted her. “That’s your logic.” He knew her IQ exceeded his own, and he knew her reputation as a mathematician. But debate was his forte. “Your argument is based on what you don’t know.”
“That’s a start.”
He was on his way to the office when Gracie phoned. “I could tell you that a quantum state collapse occurs when a superposition of several eigenstates reduces to a single eigenstate due to interaction with an observer.”
“OKAY then. Try this. Alternate universes are quantum states. They become reality when perceived by a life.”
He hung up on her because the light changed. But Baris recognized the commercial value of what Gracie was saying. He asked her to help him use it when she dropped by for lunch. He worked for Nerf Dyne, a company that manufactured click-bait for the news and entertainment business.
“Hmm,” Gracie agreed. “But we’ll have to dumb it down. Maybe, use the Schrödinger’s Cat example of something becoming real when observed?”
“Everything is real because we observe it?”
“Yeah. It’s all in us. Relax,” Gracie smiled. “Your readers already believe life belongs in the mental or spiritual realm.”
“Oh, we’ll only imply that. It’s the dead travelling to the stars that’s the real click-bait here.”
Gracie was a genius.
by Perry Palin
Men come from the cities to the shore to cast their baits and lures into the big lake and to fish in the quick falling rivers that run down from the hills. When questioned at home they say, “Well, it sure is beautiful country.” They are right about that, but what they mean is that no, they didn’t catch any of the trout or salmon they were seeking.
What these men don’t know, or don’t want to know, is that the best of the trout, the brook trout, live in the small beginnings of the rivers on the plateau above the lake. The small streams come to rest in ponds behind beaver dams and then wind slowly through beaver meadows and quiet swamps of leaning white cedars, and the brook trout will strike at the flies and the baits of the quiet and persistent angler. The plateau is home to bears and mink and snowshoe hares and ruffed grouse and red tailed hawks, several miles inland and seven hundred feet in elevation above the lake, high above the paved highway and the clean motels with Wi-Fi and hot showers, high above the restaurants featuring breaded walleye and ribeye steaks and cocktails, traced only by narrow gravel fire lanes, and not many of those, and by game trails and the paths of a few fishermen who follow the brook trout.
On the plateau the low hillsides are covered by birch and aspens or a mix of maples and basswood trees. To get to the streams you must cross the spruce swamps that grab at your clothes with sharp dead branches, pull at your fly rod, scratch your face and hands until they bleed, and hook your glasses and drop them where you can’t see. Nearer the streams the spruce gives way to a trackless alder jungle which you enter to find the water by dead reckoning. With good luck you’ll come to a beaver meadow with the leaf-stained narrow stream winding slowly between banks of sharp green sedges.
A man from the city wanted me to take him to the plateau, to the interior. Tom was a friend, seemed fit enough for the work, and we went on a sunny summer day. After a long walk from the fire trail we approached the stream. I told him to fish slowly upstream and I would go below, and catch up with him in two hours. On the banks the wild bees and butterflies danced from coneflowers to swamp milkweed. A light breeze moved in the meadow. The scents were of beaver cuttings and of rich mud and of something else. I caught several brook trout. When I met up with Tom, he had caught none.
“How was the fishing upstream from here?” he asked me.
“I don’t know. I was below you.”
“Well, I heard you go by me through the alders, going upstream, so I know you were up there.”
I thought for a minute before replying. “That wasn’t me. If you heard someone go by, it was a sasquatch.”
He looked at me, incredulous. “No. There’s no such thing.”
“If you want to believe it was a bear or a moose, I won’t argue with you.”
“How can you say it was a sasquatch? Have you ever seen one?”
“I’ve seen two over the years, an adolescent female once, and another time an adult male. Brown stringy hair. Big hands and feet. Not too good looking, by our standards, I suppose. A smell to knock out a buffalo. The male was bigger than you, probably seven feet tall.”
“Come on. You’re kidding me. How did you know one was a female and one was a male?”
“Can you tell the difference between a girl and a man? The two of them had different physical equipment. Should I spell it out for you further?”
Tom was quiet after that. We fished a while longer. He caught nothing. He looked over his shoulder every time a breeze moved through the sedges.
Two years later I was standing quietly in the sedges near a clump of alders. I heard someone approaching and I stopped casting into the water and waited. A large splash downstream got me to turn and look. The wave from the splash reached the water in front of me. A large male sasquatch was standing waist deep, drinking from his cupped left hand. He looked up and saw me on the bank. He climbed out of the stream and stood on the bank, water streaming from his long rank hair. We looked at one another, thirty feet apart. He was tall and muscled, probably three hundred pounds. His hands reached almost to his knees. He narrowed his eyes and frowned, and snapped his teeth like the challenge of a black bear. I raised my hand in a wave. His face softened. He raised his hand in imitation of me, and then walked off through the alders. That was my best catch, fishing the interior.
A conversation with myself.
by Mimi Speike
I take this opportunity to hold a conversation, to investigate a matter I’ve never been clear on. Namely, How the hell did Sly speak? In people-talk, that is? I will conduct a Q&A with Sly, in other words, with myself, similar to the Q&A I find on Salon.com.
Good afternoon, sir. How are you?
I’m not pleased with you. You’ve neglected me. You been spending your hours with my rival for your attention, that damn mouse. How is she, by the way?”
She’s well. She’s thrilled that I just finished her Velvet Rover outfit. So am I. I have one costume to go, then I will get my pages printed out, and give her the final fittings. Thank you for asking. Yes, I am pulled in two directions by two remarkable personalities. I struggle to deal with it. But enough of Maisie. Let’s talk about you. Please enlighten us on how you developed your astonishing ability with language.
Yes, with pleasure. I have been asked many times: how did I come to speak? All I can say is, it was a natural, and, all things considered, quite an easy progression.
The folks around me uttered sounds that conveyed meaning, same as I might say to my brother Bertie: That’s my mouse there. Was me that cornered him. Step aside, let me have at him, if you know what’s good for you.
I imagine you cats also hold conversations. So you had a grasp of the concept.
I had a good ear. I understood a lot of the sounds those people made, though I couldn’t reproduce them. What was my breakthrough? I took voice lessons.
Patsy on my farm sang in the church choir down to the village. The choirmaster judged her to have a fine voice. He gave her a private lesson every Sunday after the service, and she had exercises to do at home during the week. Do re mi, fa so la, and so on. Some of those sounds – if you arrange your mouth in a certain way and push out a breath – were not difficult to ape. Others took a huge effort. But people who want to understand me do. They get used to my failures – as when a Frenchman tries to pronounce th – and recognize a substitution, and that does them as far as making sense of my garble.
Can you be more specific about your process?
Some sounds are made in the back of the throat. Those I have trouble with. But, like I said, the ear gets used to my substitutions and eventually understands what I’m saying, after a fashion.
With baby talk, parents get to the point that they easily decipher infant speech which leaves me scratching my head. Same for a heavy accent. But did you really understand? Were you able to absorb meaning?
You will admit that dogs decipher and act on commands. Why not a cat? If we do not respond to your tiresome exhortation it is because we do not care to, not because we lack understanding.
We’ve read recently about animals who speak to us using buttons with words on them. So there’s that.
Many in the animal kingdom have that potential. It only takes the will to learn. I now modestly put forth the proposition that I was exceptionally talented in that regard. I was, most certainly, a prodigy. Should I deny it?
Surely not. You are an exceptional creature.
Thank you. Whether your readers believe in me or not, I know what I am, and that is enough for me.
For me also. But there is also that proverbial ‘Suspension of Disbelief.’ I have tried to milk that for all it’s worth, adding abundant historical and emotional detail, bolstering an appearance of credibility.
The readers who believe in me are my people. The ones who don’t can go to hell.
I couldn’t put it better myself.
by S.T. Ranscht
I don’t know why I come here.
Every time Shannon found herself on the front walk that was more cracks than pavement, staring up at the three-story Victorian, she had no idea how she’d gotten there, either. If she’d driven, she couldn’t see where her car or the road she must have taken might be. It was as though the house had materialized in front of her. Or maybe she had materialized in front of the house.
There were no other buildings among the gangly trees huddled in thirsty tangles leaning toward the decayed fence that was almost half as tall as the house. Long ago, the fence must have surrounded a vibrant landscape of flower gardens and vegetable patches separated by expansive lawns crossed by gravel paths. There must have been twittering birds flitting from branch to branch. Now, nettles and scraggly bushes snarled together to choke the path and scrabble up the walls. Silence hung from the trees.
Even with its faded yellow paint peeling like a three-day-old sunburn, the house looked friendly — almost welcoming. Although she didn’t remember ever opening the front door, Shannon knew this house. Things might be rearranged or in slightly different condition from the last time she was inside, but she knew its secrets. She felt their weight.
Closing her eyes, she thought, I should leave.
As had happened so many times before, when she opened her eyes, she was in the living room. Age-darkened wallpaper might have boasted cabbage roses and scissor-tailed swallows. Or maybe brain corals and sea monsters lurked just below the grime. Plaster above picture rails mapped the ceiling with hairline fractures and the floor with crumbles and dust.
Her feet carried her across the scuffed, worn boards to the fireplace, where a thick blanket of cold ash, dead evidence of a living past, lay beneath the grate. Pressing her shoulder against the wall beside the mantle, a narrow gap opened. She squeezed into the space behind the fireplace, and the gap vanished. Relief swaddled her. She was safe here, but she couldn’t stay. She faced the decrepit lengths of wood nailed into the hidden wall, a cockeyed mockery of ladder rungs.
A whisper of dread woke something in her brain, but she wasn’t sure if it was a memory or her imagination. She climbed.
Halfway up the wall, she paused at a window overlooking the backyard. Beyond the broken-down fence, a chain of shadows advanced among the trees. They were coming. They came every time she was here, and she never welcomed them.
Would they get in this time?
Did I bolt the front door?
She wanted to go back and check, but somehow she was in the garret at the top of the house, watching the invaders push through the fence into the yard. They didn’t always get that far. Her heartbeat pulsed behind her eyes. Could she get to the door before they did?
Her rush to the stairs skidded to a stop. The top step hung above the wreckage of the others on the floor fifteen feet below. Panic-tinged confusion swirled around her as she spun searching for a way down.
The lift! She ran back to the garret. There, in the corner. More a dumbwaiter than an elevator, it allowed her to fold herself into it and lower the box to the ground.
Extricating herself, she raced to the front of the house. Unknown people, lips pressed straight, eyes hooded, crowded past the window next to the door. Before she could reach the knob, it turned. The door creaked inward.
Shannon threw herself against the door and twisted the deadbolt latch. Outside, commotion surged forward calling her name, banging on the door, the walls, the windows. She fled to the fireplace and pushed next to the mantle, escaping into the gap.
She would stay there until silence returned.
Shannon’s mother wept from exhaustion and fear that her daughter was no longer within reach. Every day for a year, she had come to sit beside her bed, reading out loud, telling her about her family and friends, what they were doing, how much they missed her. Today, for the first time, the doctor suggested they start considering “alternatives” to life support.
She knew in her heart there was only one alternative.