This Show Case features five pieces submitted in response to our thirty-seventh Writing Prompt: Kind. 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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A Kind of Purple
by GD Deckard
Roy’s moribund car all of a sudden erupted with the death rattle and gave up the ghost in the impenetrable abdomen of Wolverine Forest, a darkened locus feared by locals ever since Hezbediah Precious, beloved of God, had led his followers into its bowels never again to be seen. At least, that is what some helpful new friends at Pilgrim’s Bar & Grill had elaborated when pointing out this fire trail to Roy as a shortcut back to the Interstate. Come to think of it, he had probably erred in trusting them. Their clothes suggested they robbed the homeless. And none wore matching shoes.
He got out of the car cautiously. For a daunting moment he stood in the eerie night, listening warily. The only familiar sound was the tink-tink-tink of the engine cooling. The air was purgatory hot and still as breath in a coffin. Through darkened clouds, a gibbous moon cast a dim pall of grey light across the misshapen trees surrounding him. In the distance a wolf howled at some magnetic north known only to lupine memory.
Locking the car, he turned to walk back the way he had come when he spotted a trail into the forest that seemed to lead straight in the direction of Pilgrim’s Bar & Grill. Good. The trail remained straight, but as the earth turned, Roy sensed he was walking in a different direction. Something just ahead was watching him.
A long-bearded man in stiff black clothes and pointy pilgrim’s hat loomed out of the grey moonlight. The tall figure was grim, but thin and not threatening. He thrust out a cross as if to ward Roy off. “Stop!” The fingers holding the cross were white as cooked fish and streaked with coarse black hairs.
Roy stopped. “I just need to go to Pilgrim’s bar. I won’t cause trouble.”
The apparition’s stentorian voice reverberated in Roy’s ears. “Pay to pass!”
“This place,” the denizen of Wolverine Forest’s voice stumbled now, and became as bleak as the murky woods, “This place is bleak. I miss colored things. Bring me something purple and I will let you pass.”
Sensing a desperate customer here, Roy offered, “I just happen to have something purple at this moment. What will you pay me for it?”
The patriarchal pilgrim from the past paused. Then with his free hand he took something from his pocket and held out his fist to Roy. His grubby fingers uncoiled like maggots readying to strike. “Spanish dollars. Pieces of Eight. Worth real money to collectors now.”
Roy withdrew a notebook and wrote down everything that had just happened and exchanged the notebook for the handful of coins. “Here is the story of everything that just happened. Exactly as described.”
The venerable genarian peered at the story in the light from a jack-o’-lantern mushroom. “Omphalotus olearius,” he explained. “It’s bioluminescent. Um, what is this? Oh. Wait.” His grim mouth widened into a killer clown’s grin. He waved Roy on. “This is purple prose!”
by John Correll
This is a second attempt at the start of a Novel, Novella, or story I can’t control the size of because I can’t stop. As Sandy pointed out, the first attempt from our previous Prompt was too dark to fit the rest of the story.
So, fellow scribblers, does this new start make you want to read on, or did you fall asleep with your forehead hitting the delete button on your keyboard? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, no matter how harsh and diabolically evil. Who knows, if this morphs into a novel, you might shine in the spotlight of the acknowledgments. Don’t scoff; I’m certain somebody, somewhere, must read the acknowledgments.
Love travels up and down, like an elevator, not always sure and sometimes hopelessly stuck. John didn’t mind the getting stuck as long as love stayed.
He stopped at Jody’s desk with a rose and card, knocking the wooden “Internal Communications” sign off her desk.
“Uhm, did a woman ask you for a card just now?” he asked, fumbling to get the sign back in place. He caught his breath after sprinting up the stairs.
Jody adjusted her glasses to scrutinize him. “No. Not that I can recall.” She nudged the sign herself after shooing his fingers away.
“Really? I mean, could I ask a favor?”
“Sure, John. Anything for you.” She smelled the flower. “Wonderful.”
“I’m playing a mystery game with — a colleague. If she asks you, could you give her this card?”
“And the rose is for this woman?”
“No. That’s for you.” He gave her today’s rose since he had plenty.
Jody held the rose by her nose. “You are too sweet. Thank you. But I’m sorry, I prefer dating someone at least older than my youngest son.”
John’s eyes bulged like he’d just mistakenly asked his mother on a date. “Oh. No. I didn’t mean it in that way. It’s for the favor.”
“What a pity. That French place would have been a treat.” She examined both sides of the card. “There’s only a five-digit number.”
“That’s all she needs for the next clue. It’s kind of like Clue-do.”
“Fun. So, when can I play?”
“Uh. You want?” John looked away and covered his mouth.
Jody laid the rose on her desk. “Never mind. I’m way too busy. But how will I recognize ‘this woman’? Does she have a name?”
“I hope so.”
“I don’t know. I call her El. Because we usually meet on the elevator. But I missed her today.”
“Weird, John. She’s a colleague?” She opened her purse and dropped the card in.
“I hope so. Otherwise, she’s an industrial spy.” John fidgeted with the wooden sign.
She slapped his hand lightly away. “Hammish won’t like that. We had one last year. He just sat in meetings and said he was from accounting.”
“She’s on a first-name basis with some staff. I assume they are staff. Or maybe everyone’s a spy.” John tapped his fingers against his thigh.
“Probably not a spy.” John nodded. “Are you trying to ask her on a date and haven’t figured out how to yet?” John nodded more. “Have you considered actually giving her the rose?”
“I’ve been trying. Believe me.”
Jody closed her eyes for a few seconds, just like his mother, spelling out how hopeless he was with women. “Do you have a picture or something?”
John presented a snapshot of El he’d secretly taken when she passed through the lobby. Jody swiped it larger.
“Holy-shit. I think she’s taken, dearest.” She opened a page on her computer screen and pointed, then tapped several times until John noticed.
“Wedding bells for film producer-director Jerome Lanolder? Seen here in Pantoga, the posh DC eatery, with Elizabeth Mann, the daughter of Homeland Security director, Richard Mann,” read a tabloid headline.
The image showed El and a man sitting in a cafe. The man held her hands and kissed them passionately as she beamed, laughing back at him.
John gnashed his teeth and clenched his fists, looking ceiling-ward.
Jody continued, “That was yesterday. And do you know who Richard Mann is?”
“The Homeland Security director?” he answered. Jody closed her eyes again.
“He’s Hammish’s brother. I’m sorry, but the CEO’s niece might be out of your league. And did you know that Hammish went to Washington DC last week because his brother, Richard, was in hospital?”
John shook his head and stood transfixed by the image of El with another man. His stomach twisted, his mind shrank, and angry loneliness strangled every thought. “No. I didn’t — just give it to her. Thanks, Jody.” He turned to leave.
“But the news says she’s in Washington, not here in Chicago.”
“I just saw her disappear in the elevator.” He headed for the same conveyance.
Jody shook her head. “With her new husband?”
John fled faster in despair. “No.”
He needed to escape the stewing stomach acid overheating his entire being. He needed fresh air.
The elevator descended, carrying collapsing hopes of happiness. But on the first floor, he achieved utter despair. A numb state of total devastation staggered across the lobby without a clue if fresh air ever existed. Unable to hold back the suffocating thoughts tearing canyons through his mind, he surrendered. How? Her love lost, twice. He struggled onwards, resigning himself to a life of getting fat on light beer and falling asleep rewatching Game of Thrones, alone. Completely alone.
And there, in the exact same cafe chair where he fell in love, sat the guy that fired a nuclear warhead through his heart.
John sped up until he grabbed the empty seat next to the man whom he longed to vaporize from the solar system. “Jerome Lanolder?”
Jerome inspected his oversized watch, surprised. “Yes. Look, sorry, but I’m meeting someone now.”
“Of course.” John sat and realized Lanolder was the man he almost pulled a pistol on in the Brownstone. The Brownstone, where he spent three nights — with El, alone. John grabbed the table to stop himself from strangling that man.
Lanolder whipped out a card. “If you’re looking for a part. Stacy, my casting director, can chat with your agent.”
“I’m already in one of your major productions. And it was going pretty damn well until you showed up.” John put his weight on the table. “So — are you planning the big day — or just eloping?”
“Pardon. Sorry, I can’t comment to the press right now. We’re still discussing…” Jerome stalled when he spotted El approaching. She stopped short of the table and glared at John. “Elizabeth. Sorry, this reporter was just leaving.” Lanolder winked at John.
El turned away as if needing to talk to herself. She rattled her fists, shook her head, stomped a foot, and turned back.
She glared at John. “A reporter!? Right. Go away. Now.” But John wasn’t about to let the only woman who transformed his existence into a confused, tangled wrecking ball of bliss marry some pompous ass. He pushed an empty chair towards her and motioned for her to sit and join the party.
Lanolder did a double take. “You two know each other?”
Elizabeth nodded, sat, and crossed her arms. Her normally cool composure cascaded into disheveled chaos.
John touched El’s knee, concerned. “You okay, El? You look pale.” She nodded. Which troubled him more. Lanolder upset her. His fury sparked. John shut his eyes to witness his nemesis devoured by a starving tyrannosaurus rex. No, not helpful. Calm.
Slowly, John turned towards Lanolder with an expanding I’m-selling-you-an-extended-warranty smile. “Hi, I’m John.”
John looked at El. “Oh, I’m ‘the John’ now.” A stiletto jabbed into his foot. She obviously didn’t share his calm.
Lanolder cleared his throat. “John, listen. I have some significant personal business to discuss with Elizabeth. So if you would scoot off and debug your computers or whatever you do.”
“That’s up to Miss Mann,” John said, rubbing his foot. “But I wouldn’t miss this — for the world. Or has that line been taken?”
“Yes, and you don’t compare.”
El stared at John. “I wouldn’t say that.”
Jerome loosened his collar. “Elizabeth, consider my proposal. Please. We had such a nice time in DC. I mean, besides your father, of course. The flight to LA is this evening. I’ve sent you a ticket.”
“Running away?” John said.
Jerome glared at him and then faced El. “Dearest, he won’t make you happy. Look at him. He’d be more at home on the farm, turning the hay with a pitchfork. Is that what you want? No offense, Mister?”
“Renovier. The pleasure’s mine. I could use a good pitchfork — about now.” John thumbed a suspender from under his jacket. He liked them even if El didn’t.
Jerome snorted. “Elizabeth, it won’t last. In the end, you’ll come running back. Why don’t you spare both of us this drama of befriending the working classes.”
El remained silent. Jerome frowned and tapped his fingers. John smiled and looked back and forth between El and Jerome, like watching two tennis players preparing to serve, simultaneously for the same game.
After a couple of minutes, Jerome studied his watch. “I’m sorry, I need to go. Remember my feelings and your family. Please, Lizzie.”
He left, and El rocked with crossed arms, staring at her knees. “God, I hate the name, Lizzie.”
John leaned closer, putting an arm around her. “El, do you want to talk? Maybe you need to lie down? You’re not seriously going to marry that guy?”
She choked a short laugh and slapped her thighs. “I want a steak. Now.”
Comply or Be Fired
by SL Randall
Green River Retreat
Dear Ms. Faro,
Adventravia would like to extend the position of Sr. Researcher to you. We are aware of your recent acquisition of a doctoral degree in theoretical physics. This qualifies you for a position on an elite team of researchers and scientists in the Adventravia science division.
Salary and benefits to be negotiated once the Non-Disclosure Agreement, provided by Adventravia’s legal department, is signed.
Should you decline our offer, you will be separated from Adventravia as we have eliminated your current position.
Please contact our representative at the number listed below with your decision.
Human Resource Officer, Adventravia
“What kind of work?” Dunia held up the paper in her hand. “There is nothing in this letter about the work!”
“It’s scientific research, using math and, you know, scientific stuff.” Darren continued to put things in a box. “For a doctor of physics, you are kind of dense.”
“Dense?” she dismissed his jibe with the shake of her head. “What is the research they propose? My official title is Dr. of Theoretical Physics. I specialize in the theory of quantum gravity. They didn’t even get my title correct! I don’t see how a travel company, like Adventravia, has much use for my field.”
“That mouthful of alphabet soup you just spouted is exactly what Adventravia wants, but until you sign an NDA, I can’t tell you anymore.”
“How do you know what Adventravia wants?”
Darren closed and taped the box. “I’ve already signed the acceptance letter for my new job. They have given me full disclosure.”
“Can’t tell you until you sign your own letter.” He nodded at the paper she clutched in her hand. “You might not want to crumple that too much.”
Dunia frowned. “This letter is a threat to comply or be fired!”
Darren sighed. “I thought you would be happy for this opportunity.”
“Did you tell them about my degree?”
A mischevious grin spread across his bearded face. “Maybe?” he admitted. “Look Dunia, as much as I enjoy the great outdoors, I’m not getting any younger. At some point, I will not be able to do this. I’d like a job that pays more and has a retirement benefit. This is my ticket out of mediocrity. I’ve enjoyed working with you and I’d like to continue by having you on my team.”
“Wait.” She squinted at him. “Your team? What is your new job?”
“I’ve said too much. Sign the NDA and we can talk about everything. Don’t sign and this will be goodbye.” He gave her a hopeful smile and shrugged. “I have a cab to the airport first thing in the morning.” He picked up his backpack and the box. As he walked out the door, he said, “Don’t take too long. The offer has a time limit.”
Dunia watched him go. Curiosity burned in her chest. She read the letter again. Why was she so reluctant? Because Darren would be her boss? That couldn’t be it. He had been her boss for the last nine years! He taught her everything she knew about wilderness survival. Things her father thought girls shouldn’t or couldn’t do, Darren encouraged her to try. She was happy out here. Like Darren, she knew she would eventually need a ‘real’ job, which is why she went to school and achieved her doctorate. Why was she suddenly in the middle of an existential quandary? For the first time, she realized her education was simply to learn. The various degrees were notches in the journey, but not the destination. Her educational path through quantum physics engendered more questions than answers, but her desire to understand the mechanics of the universe had only grown stronger with knowledge. She supposed she would eventually work with a research group dedicated to gravitational theory but had not really given it much thought. Indeed, she had planned to take more courses in the fall.
This offer by Adventravia had come out of the blue.
She sank into the desk chair and let the letter rest on the desk. Nine years ago, she had arrived in Utah with a bunch of friends, fresh out of high school. She and her friends lost touch as she let her childhood fade into the past. A childhood bereft of happy memories.
A barrage of beatings, abuse, shame and loss had prompted her escape from her father’s farm in West Virginia to Utah. He had died shortly thereafter. A military chaplain had been waiting for her at her Quonset when she returned from a tour, to inform her of his passing. She had known of his service in Viet Nam. It had happened long before she was born. Whatever he had experienced consumed him when her mother died of cancer. Her brother had been old enough to take over the farm when their father slipped down that dark hole of addiction, pain, and anger. Dunia grew up waiting for the day she could escape. She endured her father’s pain and her brother’s anger at having to raise her as the target of their abuse.
She had empathy for the fresh-faced young chaplain, trying to deliver the news as kindly and gently as he could, but she could not keep the coldness out of her voice. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here on the behalf of the son-of-a-bitch I never wanted to see again. He can rot in his grave, or hell, or wherever he went. I want nothing from him or his bastard son.”
The chaplain had tried to hand her the folded American flag in its glass encased box. She stuffed her hands in her jeans pockets to avoid receiving the relics of her father. “Give it to someone who can appreciate it. These things mean nothing to me.” He had gone after that, murmuring blessings of peace at her. The next day, she found the flag and letter waiting for her at the main office. Darren hadn’t known of her past and couldn’t know why she was so angry. That night she had taken him to their favorite camping spot, lit a bonfire and burned the flag and unopened letter. She told him what growing up had been like for her. After that, she told him she never wanted to discuss it again.
A few weeks later, a lawyer had shown up with a check from her father’s estate. She would have told the lawyer to take the check and give it away. Darren had stopped her. That check paid for her education. He had been right. Her dad owed her that.
She was grateful to Darren for his friendship and the way he looked out for her. He had been more of a brother to her than her actual sibling. But she did not like being rushed or pushed into decisions. This was both. She felt trapped. Darren was leaving in the morning.
It finally hit her.
Darren was leaving. It seemed so sudden and without warning. Yet, she knew it wasn’t. Three months ago, he asked her what she planned to do after she graduated. She had shrugged it off and didn’t take the conversation seriously.
“Dunia. What do you think of me as a project manager?”
“A what? For whom?”
“For Adventravia. They have openings at the corporate offices in New York.”
“New York? Why would you leave Utah, or the West? I thought you came out here to get away from civilization.
“I’ve been here for twelve years. It’s been a great job but I can’t do this all my life. I want, no, I need, something more.”
“Do you even know what a project manager does?”
“Yes. I do. I have a BA in Business.”
“So? You don’t have any experience.”
He looked hurt. “How can you say that? Of course, I do! Who do you think has been running this operation? Bob? Hardly. Bob’s already halfway through a sixpack before noon. When’s the last time you saw him go on a tour? He should be retired. The company will force him out at the end of this season.”
“You could take his job, couldn’t you?” asked Dunia hopefully. She had been in the middle of finalizing her thesis and not really paying attention. She had been looking forward to the simplicity of summer tours; All action and no brain power. She didn’t realize how much Darren wanted to move on, or how restless he was.
He’d gone quiet. Further discussion would not change his mind.
She had forgotten the conversation. Now it came back with clarity. While she studied, Darren had ensured they both would advance within the company. A twinge of selfishness made her blush. Darren had been her best friend for the last nine years. She took him for granted. It was a wonder he didn’t just leave her here.
Dunia read the letter again. A good reason to decline the job did not exist. She picked up the phone. When the secretary answered, she said, “Hello. May I speak with Mr. McWright?”
Secrets and Sighs
by Mimi Speike
“I’m telling ya,” says Sly, “she has the gift, nascent, needs development, but unmistakable. I’ll bring her along myself if you don’t feel it worth your time and talent.”
“My raven,” says Dee, “Mavis by name, is an impressive presence. A mean mouth on her! And that face! Everyone who steps into my parlor in is awe of the black bird. A chicken? Not in the same class. I’ll pass on the chick, thank you.”
“This gal’s got potential, I’m telling ya. And she has a charming personality. Here’s your chance to team-up with an adorable side-kick, as opposed to the bad-tempered bird you currently employ.”
“I said she’s mean-mouthed. I did not say bad-tempered. she’s actually a sweetheart. I taught her to curse. It’s an act. You’ve not set eyes on her. How can you call her bad-tempered?”
“I know ravens. Nasty, every last one of them. Doctor! Am I, or am I not the cacodemon O-Ek? You’d do well to heed my advice.”
“Frankly,” says Dee. “I have doubts about you. I believed you at first, so shocked was I to be addressed by a cat. I’ve had an hour-long coach ride in which to reassess that reaction. I am aware of another possibility.”
“Hold it right there! Answer me this: How is it that I speak to you? With, I believe, some facility. Don’t tell me you doubt that.”
“I am not a receptive, and that’s a fact. I convinced myself, briefly, that I had somehow acquired that ability, so keen was I to believe it. No, the reality is that I require an intermediary in order to connect with the spirit world. Edward Kelley was one of the best. We parted for personal, not professional reasons. You’re a hallucination, perhaps. I am in touch with a man, a physician, who is studying the phenomenon.”1
“Hallucination! What mumbo-jumbo is that?”2
“A hallucination is the unintentional creation of a vision, from within, by the brain, that seems, to the afflicted party, absolutely real. I’m not saying you are one. I’m saying you could be.”
“You believe in Madimi, apparently, but not in me? You see me. Did you see her?”3
“I did. I think I did.”
“What does that mean?”
“I saw a shimmer.”
“Did the shimmer speak to you?”
“Kelley relayed the message, as was his function.”
“I’ll bite. What was the message?”
“Sorry, I am sworn to secrecy.”
Sly’s been playing this for laughs. He’s had enough of the game. “I’m a cacodemon! I’m equal if not superior to this Madimi. We are colleagues. There’s no need to keep the information from me.”
“With all respect, sir, you may be a cacodemon.”
“Then I’m a vision out of your own brain-matter, that I have less and less respect for. Hey, whatever floats your boat, my friend. But have you thought this through? You’d be spilling a secret to yourself. This is no breach of confidentiality, you dodo. You may speak freely without breaking a sacred vow.”
“If you’re a projection of my own making, out of my own frankly bewildered brain, I don’t need to tell you, do I? You know it already.”
* * *
The gardens at Barn Elms are Francis Walsingham’s pride and joy. Horticulture is one of his hobbies. (Another is falconry.) In the summer months, he spends as much time here as his schedule permits. (He is on Elizabeth’s Privy Council, which meets daily, though only a few of the ten members attend consistently.) A nasty ailment–he has had bouts of kidney stones all his adult life–gives him a reason to repair to his country estate to rest. He pleads his infirmities more and more.
Delly is wandering through an herb garden full of exotic aromas. Such riches, a short hike up the hill from her barnyard, full of bugs, and little else. The flavors! The abundance! Even the worms taste better up here.
Her eyes have been opened. Can she ever again be content in her coop, knowing what awaits on the brow of the hill? She’ll look up, see the willows running along the ridge, and go mad with longing. Paradise, only a short distance away. Delly sighs.4 Damn that cat. Better her eyes had not been opened to bliss not meant for such as she. She’s headed in the direction of raised voices, savoring the moment, when she spies … Grapes. A pear. Cheese. Biscuits. A feast! She’s full to bursting with herbs, but she’s not passing this spread by, no way.
She nibbles, wiggling her toes with pleasure. The pear, glorious. (Sir Francis is famous for his sugar pears.) The cheese! Like no cheese she’s ever tasted. (Cheese ends are sometimes to be found among the scraps tossed into the pig pen.) And, her little heart skips a beat, grapes, the nectar of the Gods! She adores grapes. If she gets her claws on two or three grapes a year, that’s a lot. Here’s a mound of them, and no rival for the goodie in sight.
Chickens have no teeth. They cannot chew. They may pierce the skin with their beaks, capture a bit of the juicy innards, consume the treat that way. Sadly, an overeager bird may be tempted to gulp a globule of goodness whole. This often ends in disaster. If you gratify your favorite chicken with a grape, do her an additional kindness. Cut it in half.
* * *
- The word “hallucination” was introduced into the English language in 1646 by the physician Sir Thomas Browne, from the derivation of the Latin word alucinari, meaning to wander in the mind. To Browne, ‘hallucination’ meant a vision ‘depraved, that receives its objects erroneously’. I say the phenomenon was described decades earlier.
- The word mumbo jumbo entered the English language in the 1730s as a corruption of a Mandingo term. The mumbo jumbo, a costume “idol”, was used by locals to frighten women into submission, to settle disputes or bestow punishment. Other spellings include munbo jumbo, numbo jumbo, mumbo chumbo, and mamagyombo “magician who exorcises troubled ancestor spirits.” The French word is moumbo-dioumbo, Portuguese, mumban-jumban. Sly picked up the term during his ramblings along the Mediterranean.
- Madimi: One of the spectres Dee believed he’d interacted with.
- Chickens make a range of soft sounds, some of which might be interpreted as sighs. Believe as you will, I say chickens sigh.
Seeing the Unseen
by S.T. Ranscht
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