This Show Case features six pieces submitted in response to our thirty-eighth Writing Prompt: Long. 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
In No Condition, part one
by Mimi Speike
Sly and Dee hear hacking behind them. While they were engaged in conversation, Delly was at the grapes, with predictable results. She’s gaging, choking, she’s in extreme distress. Sly leaps up, whacks her on the back of the neck. Dee grabs her by the feet and, upending her, shakes her good.
“Ale!” yowls the cat, as panic-stricken as the hung-upside-down hen. “Ale, to wash the blockage down.” Dee’s mug is filled to the tippy-top. Delly, set in front of it, sucks up a good snoot-full.1
“Sweetie!” Sly cries. “You all right, doll?” He turns on Dee. “You over-did there, Doctor. We’re lucky you didn’t give her a heart attack. This gal, she’s gonna make you a ton of money. And not by peering into a hunk of glass, dreaming stuff up.”
“That was Kelley, not me. And he didn’t … huh! … dream stuff up. He was a jackass, yes, but he prognosticated much that proved marvelously accurate.”
“He foretold the Queen would pay me a great honor. I hang a plaque beside my front door: ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth paid a visit to these premises on June 8, 1578’, didn’t you notice it?”
“In a word, no.”
“If my hospitality delighted our Queen — and it did — it cannot fail to please any who might be considering taking advantage of my package deal, a delicious repast bankside, me with my violin, taking requests, followed by an afternoon of enchantment featuring the antics of my feathered prophetess, my raven.”
“Kelley predicted that, did he?”
“Her Majesty passes me on her way to and from her palaces upstream, but she’d never previously stopped. She once dispatched Leicester to consult me on a matter,2 but had never dropped in herself.”
“Everyone gets lucky once in a while.”
“I believe in him, no matter what you say.”
“If I’d toppled from the heights you once held, I’ll lie to myself too. You had it all, honors, offers, the admiration of your peers. Why’d you thumb your nose at all that, come back home, to live hand-to-mouth?”
Dee stiffens. “I chose to serve my country, sir. The concept of loyalty to a homeland is obviously foreign to you.”
“I can accept that,” says Sly. He’s thinking, Let’s get O-ek in on this, with good cop, bad cop.3 The word of a cacodemon has to count for more than that of a cat.
“What a snoutband!” spits O-ek.4
“He’s a patriot!” scolds the cat. “You probably don’t get that, to be attached to the bit of soil from whence you and your forbears sprang. I do. I understand this fool better than you, though you are a flipping demon.”
“No top-dog demon, you idiot! A cacodemon is a functionary, taking orders, not giving them.”
They go at it, until one of them screeches (Sly’s dropped the precise vocal characterization in the heat of the moment), “Dr. Dee! Give Delly a try-out. Delly! Show the gentleman what you’re capable of.”
“Don’t be nervous, hon,” whispers Sly. “I’m going to walk you through an easy step. You can do it, I know you can.”
O-ek takes over: “Just as,” he shoots Dee a severe look, “just as I know she’s receptive, or will be when I get through with her. She has the potential.” He swats himself on the side of the head, prodding his alter ego to action. “Cat! Get off your butt and help her out!”
Dee is dubious. “A chicken, receptive? Hogwash!”
“Your bird prognosticates. You just told me so.”
“It’s an act, you moron! She’s no more receptive than my bedroom slippers.”
“Uncalled for!” snaps the cat. “No need to be rude. Ignore the creep, hon,” he tells her. Follow my lead. Grunting a beat, he slides right. She slides right. Leaning against her, he kicks a leg. “C’mon, girl,” he coaxes. “Your turn.” She kicks, with difficulty. The exertion, combined with propping up a dance partner who towers over her, her stability impacted by a long, greedy guzzle of ale, have had an adverse effect. She staggers, then collapses, motionless but for labored breathing.
Dee’s glad of an excuse to be rid of her. “You sit with her. I’m wanted on stage.”
O-ek won’t hear of it. “You do not budge from this spot without me. I do not budge without her. Walk away from this sweetheart in her condition — can you be that heartless? By Zirp the Agb, I’ll see you regret it.”
Dee’s back on his bench, muttering. Sly lies beside the moaning hen, stroking her gently.
* * *
- Chickens also enjoy beer, and get sloshed on a very little bit of it.
- In 1558, Robert Dudley called on Dee at Mortlake, requesting he discern the best date for Elizabeth’s coronation.
- Cop: An archaic word for the head.
- Snoutband: Someone who interrupts a conversation, typically only to contradict or correct someone else.
Not So Long Ago
by John Correll
Three years previous, El stood across from John at a party for Jerome’s second ballet film. An artsy assembly, where a hundred actors, film crew, and guests clustered with growing boisterousness at the Belvedere Island mansion of an associate producer. El regretted coming because everyone ignored her, and worse, John didn’t recognize her. He hiccupped and finished off his drink without noticing anybody. And to add further frustration, Gino, her date, a dancer and actor, chatted with John’s wife, Josie. She had been a professional dancer with Gino before her marriage. And the two dancers re-kindled a broken relationship with total disregard for their perplexed partners.
A waiter strolled by with a tray of the party’s theme beverage, martinis, and John grabbed a second drink and gulped it down. Then Josie gave him her full glass, which he held for a few seconds until he finished that too. He glared around the room, rolled his eyes, noticed Gino, and turned away.
El tramped off to find the party’s host after ten minutes of boredom. She had met the host, Jerome, in high school when he produced a commercial for her uncle’s company. And during the filming, she developed a teenage crush on him until she discovered he worshiped himself more than anyone. Still, she found his wit and charm amusing. And she had the added perk of being an extra in his commercial, where she discovered that acting bored her into higher education. But she kept up her friendship with Jerome, mostly because he kept inviting her to parties and film sets in places she’d never visited.
After the tenth iteration of Jerome’s next big film project, where the telling gained greater and greater slurred drama, she tramped again. This time she found John reclining on a sofa with six empty martini glasses lined up on a coffee table. He sipped a seventh, watching his wife and Gino doing more than flirting. Maybe John would remember her, or so she hoped. So she entered his atmosphere of gin and sat next to him. He immediately lost interest in his wife and studied her with unsteady, blinking eyes instead.
“Forgive me. I’ve forgotten your name. I’m totally blitzed on this stuff.” He raised his glass.
“Martini. I’m Elizabeth.”
“Martini? Never heard that name before. Italian?”
He closed his eyes as if falling asleep. “I love that name. Elizabeth. You remind me of this girl I met at work before I met my wife.”
“Oh, do tell.”
“I shouldn’t tell you.” He pointed to a gold ring on his finger. “Shh. Married. Can’t you tell?”
El shook her head. “Not really.”
John’s face brightened. “She was cute, but she had this awful boyish haircut and those horrible thick plastic glasses, and she was chubbier than you. But I liked her. We talked and talked. Then she disappeared.”
El reached into her purse and put on her thick plastic-rimmed glasses. “Glasses like these?”
John paused, confused as if he got on the wrong bus. “Hey. Yeah, exactly. But.” He leaned closer. “You look beautiful.”
“You’re drunk. So you went out with her?”
He laughed to the point of crying. “I wish. Sometimes life really doesn’t play ball. I’m like this really stupid rat in a love maze. And every good-looking avenue ends up wrong.”
“But didn’t this girl give you her number?”
“I almost didn’t find it on the couch.” He looked down at the space between him and El. “Like I sat on it.”
“She did leave a number then. Good. Did you call?”
“I did. A week later, but you won’t believe this, do you know who she was?”
“Oh, I think I will. Tell me.” She touched his knee, but he didn’t notice.
“My boss’s niece. Hamish Mann’s. What about that?”
“He’s famous, isn’t he?”
“So true. Jenny told me.” John wrinkled up his nose.
“Jenny?” She let his knee go and raised an eyebrow. Jenny, that woman that dragged him away just as he reached for his card. She ruined her life, and El almost imagined the world being a sweeter place without Jenny.
“You know. From work.” He shook his head. “She knows everything.”
“Yeah. I bet she does.” El nodded and crossed her arms.
“Jenny said, ‘don’t mess with that girl.’ No way.” He rocked his head back and forth and shook his index finger. “And she was so right.”
“Really? So, you didn’t call? Even Though Miss Knows-everything was wrong.”
“Wrong? No. It took me a week to work up my courage. And then, guess what? You’ll never guess.” He placed his hand on top of hers.
“A man answered.”
El scratched her forehead. Maybe John read the wrong number, or it was Peter. “I imagine it could have been her visiting brother mistakenly taking her phone that day.”
“Brother. Ha-ha. You’re funny.” John shook his head and lightly squeezed her hand. “No. I don’t know her name. So I asked if the phone belonged to the niece of Hamish.”
“Mann, her name is Elizabeth Mann. And, so, then what?” She placed her other hand on top of his. He was far more relaxed than the first time.
He topped her hand with his own. “No way. You’re Elizabeth too. That’s so amazing.”
“No, it isn’t. Elizabeth is a very common name.”
“It’s cool. I mean, I liked her, and I like you. What are the chances of that?”
“A hundred. So, what did Peter say?”
John looked around the room as if the President was hiding at the party. “Peter, who?”
“Peter, my bro — I mean, the man you called about — the other Elizabeth.” Did she look so different with long hair and makeup that he couldn’t piece her faces together? Not that it mattered. He’d wake up tomorrow without any idea who he talked to. And he deserved whatever horrid hangover pounded him.
“Right. Peter. He wasn’t nice. Not at all. He said, ‘Fuck off.’ Really rude. There I am, hoping to find the love of my life, and he tells me to fuck off.”
“That sounds about right for Peter,” she said. Peter always messed things up. But then, what about John? If she was the love of his life, then why did he marry that limping, unfaithful, overweight, bubbling ballerina? If an injury hadn’t ended her dancing days, John wouldn’t have met her, and then El might have run into him again. Especially since her uncle was always inviting her for lunch in the city.
John interrupted her speculations. “Not Peter. Her. Can you believe it? She gave me the wrong number.”
“No. You’re wrong.” She slid her hands away.
“Yes. It’s true. I tried three more times. Rich people are mean. It’s depressing. I thought — I don’t know — we had…”
“But I’m not mean. And you had a real connection, maybe?”
“A connection? No, No. Much more. I like you. What’s your name?”
“What do you mean, more?” A passing waiter paused with a puzzled look. He offered her another Martini, but she waved him away.
“Elizabeth. I love that name. Elizabeth. You’re Gino’s girlfriend. Aren’t you?”
El leaned forward and glared at the two dancers. “Second and definitely last date with Gino. And I am most definitely NOT his girlfriend. Your wife can have him.” El looked at Josie. “Why did you do it, John?”
“What? Do what? My grandmother’s called Elizabeth. Isn’t that weird?”
“Why did you ask her to marry you?” She leaned back and re-crossed her arms. John’s lack of romantic foresight began to piss her off.
He shook his head. “No. That’s not what happened. You’re mad at me.”
“I’m not mad at you. But you are married.”
He squinted at her. “She asked me. That’s what she did.”
“She asked you?” El rubbed her chin. Maybe she grabbed him at a drunken moment, or she was desperate. “Then she’s pregnant?”
“Who’s pregnant?” He looked behind the sofa, worried.
“Her.” El pointed at Josie.
“But she doesn’t want kids. You know, between you and me. Just you and me. I think she wanted a big wedding, and Gino didn’t.”
“So, she’s not pregnant.” El waved her hand over her belly.
“She’d tell me that. Don’t you think? She’d scream.”
“I don’t know. Do you truly love her? Why couldn’t you have called me earlier, you jerk?” It must have been a drunken moment.
“Call who at work? You know the minister, the guy performing the cere — cere — mony, said we might not be — what did he say — compatible, something or other. I guess we love each other. But, I wouldn’t mind kids. Maybe six.”
“Oy. Six? Do you love her?” She counted to six with her fingers. Nobody wants six kids these days.
He rubbed his cheeks. “Stop asking me. Of course, I must. We’re together. After Pensal, I deserve some — some — happiness.”
“Who’s Pensal? An ex-wife? But seriously, six?”
“Ex? No, my First Sergeant. No. I’m not going there.” He covered his eyes.
She laid her hand on his thigh. “Where?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “Stop it. Stop being angry.”
She caressed his knee. “I’m not angry.”
“Yes, you are.”
What ghosts had she stirred up in his befuddled mind? His eyes fluttered, frightened to stay awake.
Then John shook himself from slumber. “Why does she want to convert?”
“Who? To what?” El asked.
“Josie to Judi — ism. She goes to this place. Saturdays.”
“That must be it.”
“Are you serious? Gino’s Jewish. He only dates — oh, I get it.” It all made some sort of warped love triangle sense. Gino split with Josie because she wasn’t Jewish enough, and now she’s trying to win him back despite being married to John. And John didn’t have a clue. Josie would hit him like a miss-timed one-ton stage backdrop crashing.
John pointed his glass at their partners, spilling half of it. “Do you think your boyfriend is flirting with my wife?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Un-Determinant? What?” His head drooped back.
“Uhm.” She finished his martini and placed it on the table as John fell asleep.
El watched Gino and Josie leave the party at one in the morning, expectedly together. Half an hour later, John staggered around the dying party, searching for his departed wife. El took pity on him and took him to his home at 2 in the morning in an Uber.
He slept on her shoulder in the car between bouts of apologizing profusely, “I’m sorry. I hate Martini-weenees. You shouldn’t be doing this for me. I’m really sorry. I owe you so much. My head feels weird. You’re my best friend. My bestest. What would I do without you? You’re so nice. Sorry, but you’re beautiful. What’s your name?”
She dumped him on his living room couch and returned to her Berkeley apartment. She gave his marriage a year, but it didn’t last that long.
Under the Night Sky
by SL Randall
Forward: I took GD’s suggestion to heart. Here’s Dunia’s back story. I’m still not happy with it, but I wanted to get this ready for showcase … It needs more work. As always suggestions are welcome. From the last showcase …“He needed to escape the stewing stomach acid overheating his entire being. He needed fresh air.” This line of John’s stuck in my head. As GD put it “The line is a beautiful example of “show-don’t-tell.”
I tried to capture that in this piece. I have looked at it and picked over it so many times … it’s a torrid mess to me at this point! At least I have something to work with … and I can see the scene in my head … just need to convey that in text! The struggle is real! 🤣
The ribbon of green water glinted in the late afternoon sunlight as it meandered from the northeast through stark, arid topography rich in hues of rust and sage, to loop around the mesa in a near perfect circle before continuing its southwesterly journey.
Dunia contemplated the life and death of her father from her perch on the mesa, high above Bowknot Bend and the murky green river. The relics of her father rested in her lap; a folded American flag and a thick manila envelope. She searched the slowly advancing darkness for answers, for a way to ease the anger and hurt. She felt robbed of retribution, of vengeance. How dare he die before suffering for his sins? How dare he die before she could wring an apology from him?
The tread of heavy boots interrupted her thoughts.
Darren crouched beside her. “I almost didn’t come. I do not deserve your anger.”
The hurt in his voice hit her in the stomach. She felt tears but long practice held them back. “I know. I’m sorry.”
Silence stretched as darkness rolled toward them. “You said your dad was an asshole the first time we met.”
Dunia nodded. “He still is, even though he’s dead.”
“Want to talk about it?” he shrugged. “I get it if you don’t, but all that anger you unleashed on me this morning says you’re headed for a meltdown.”
Vicious acid rose defensively. “Who are you to decide when I’m going to have a meltdown?”
Darren stood. “Look, I’m just the guy you work with. I’m not your punching bag, nor am I the cause of your hurt or anger. I’m offering to be your friend and listen, but I will not take your abuse.”
He waited in silence for a long moment before turning to leave.
In that moment, she wrestled with her pain, her anger and her fear to find her voice. This time, when the tears came, she couldn’t stop them. Stifling a sob resulted in a choked plea. “Wait. Please. You’re right. I need to tell someone. It’s just so …” she trailed off, “…hard.”
“Will a fire help?” he asked softly.
The sun slipped below the horizon. Darkness hovered just beyond the glow of the cheerful, warm blaze. Darren expertly tended the fire, its crackles and pops deafening in the silence. Still bruised from her anger, he didn’t want to push her to talk before she was ready. He’d only been working with her for three months. This was the first time he’d seen her lose her cool. It scared him. They worked in dangerous, high-pressure conditions. She handled those situations with ease and confidence. He reasoned the loss of a family member was traumatic for anyone. Personally, he didn’t know.
Dunia’s voice slid through the quiet, like a knife. “I was four when my mom died. It was cancer, but at four I had no clue. I just knew she was sick.”
Darren looked up from the fire. She was looking at the sky, but he could see she was trying to control her emotions. He remained silent.
“Marko, my brother, was fifteen. He never liked me. When no one was watching, he would torment me. At four, I was pretty good at avoiding being alone with him. When mom got sick, dad forgot about me, but Marko didn’t. I did a lot of hiding.” Dunia’s voice lost the hollow edge as she eased into storytelling.
“I’ll never forget the day mom died. The wail that came from my dad still echoes in my soul. I hope to never hear a sound like that again.” Her face twisted in a blend of revulsion and fear. She shuddered, then continued, “Is there such a thing as a honeymoon after death?” her mirthless laughter chilled Darren. “The entire week after mom died was the best week of my life. If I had known, I would have taken my chances with a kidnapper.”
Darren fed more twigs to the fire. He couldn’t look at her. He didn’t know if it was the shadows from the fire or phantom emotions, but the manic mask that covered her face frightened him.
Dunia didn’t notice Darren’s discomfort. The story was emerging, clawing its way from the dark hole in her soul. She wanted it gone. “People loved my mom. They came after the funeral and brought food, cleaned our house, washed our clothes, gave me toys, and spoke kind words. Like the spring run-off, by August you’re lucky if there’s a mud puddle in the creek bed. By the time I turned five, hell descended and moved into our house. Dad found his demons at the bottom of a liquor bottle, or in Marko and me.”
Dunia stared into the fire for a time. Darren opened his mouth to ask questions, then decided it was better to let her talk.
A weary sadness replaced the manic mask. “Marko ran away for a few months and dropped out of school. All my dad did was complain and drink more.”
Darren meant to keep quiet, but he blurted out, “Who took care of you?”
That cold laugh made him shiver. “I did. I found food. I figured out how to wash clothes and bathe myself. I even got myself to school. School was my happy place, even though the other kids were jackasses. None of them were as bad as Marko. Then he came back. I was sixteen by then. Dad ignored me if I stayed out of his way. Marko barged back in and decided he was in charge.
Dunia stopped talking. A vile memory played out on her face. She turned away from the fire and Darren. He waited while she wrestled with the memory. When she spoke again, her voice was low and rough. “He knocked me up.”
“What?” Darren wasn’t sure he heard her correctly. “Your brother did what?”
Dunia collected herself and laughed raggedly. “Yeah, and daddy dearest? He blamed it on me.”
“Did he know it was,” he could barely spit the words out, “your brother?”
Dunia’s cold laughter snaked down his spine. He shivered.
“He knew. Said it was my fault for being a girl. The beating that followed made sure I didn’t need an abortion clinic.”
“Dunia, I’m so sorry.”
She turned, face shining in the firelight, wet with tears. “How ironic, an apology from a man who’s done nothing wrong and the asshole escapes through the pit marked death.” Her tear choked laughter, ragged at first, turned to soul-soaked sobs. She hugged her knees and rocked as she cried.
Darren didn’t know what to do. He hugged his own knees and stared into the fire. He wanted to hug her, wanted to fix it, but out here there was just darkness and a dying fire. Her pain echoed into the night while he watched in agony.
Slowly, silence returned to the desert night, broken by an occasional sniffle or a quiet sob. The flames turned to embers.
“Ah shit.” Dunia broke the stillness.
Darren, immediately alert, “What? Are you ok?”
She laughed. The sarcastic Dunia he knew was back. “I’m alright. Just meant to burn these stupid mementos.”
He sat back. “We can build the fire back up.”
She sighed, “Naw. I read somewhere, there’s a proper way to burn the flag. It’s my dad I hate. Not the flag.”
“What about the letter?”
“I haven’t opened it and I doubt there’s anything he has to say I want to hear, but it’s a thick envelope. Maybe there’s a picture of my mom in there, or maybe even some money. It would be silly to burn money.”
Darren nodded, then said, “How are you feeling?”
She looked upwards. “It’s not as dark out here as I thought. I’ve never noticed the beauty of the night sky.”
Darren used his best tour guide voice. “Utah has some of the darkest skies in North America and is an excellent place to view the Milky Way.”
Dunia’s laugh was a fresh breeze after being locked in a dank cellar. “It’s so big! It stretches from horizon to horizon.”
Darren smiled, relieved the emotional storm was over. He yawned, looking forward to his warm bed. “It’s getting chilly. I think we should either restart the fire or head back.”
“Thank you.” Dunia briefly squeezed his arm. He marveled at how quickly she reverted to her usual self. He hoped she wasn’t hiding her trauma again. “To answer your question, I feel drained, but in a good way. I feel like I lost a sickness in my heart.”
“Glad I could help.” He didn’t want to ruin her peace with too many words, nor was he certain how he felt now. Her past was visceral. He suspected she had a long road yet to travel.
They doused the fire. Once their eyes adjusted, they slowly made their way back to the village. Feeling light, Dunia wanted to savor the beauty of the night sky.
Jenny Was My Girl
by Perry Palin
Jenny was my girl. A year younger than me, she was smart and confident, and I liked to be with her. When I had an idea about something, she had a way of asking questions that got me to sometimes strengthen my resolve, and sometimes see the folly of what I was thinking.
She worked in the family garden and she drove the tractor when her father and brother were baling hay. In the summertime she had a tan on her face and her arms and her legs, and a dozen freckles on her nose and high on her cheeks.
Jenny had the athletic build of a middle distance runner. She was blond with her hair just more than shoulder length, and she kept it in a ponytail or up on her head in a claw clip. She had blue eyes and her nose turned up just a little.
I sat on the couch between Jenny and her little sister. Their mom was in the kitchen. Their dad sat at the kitchen table reading the newspaper. Her little sister leaned on me and looked up and smiled.
I liked to watch Jenny from behind when she got up to walk across the room to get a Coke, and I liked to watch her turn and come back toward me. She smiled and wrinkled her nose then, and she was my girl.
Jenny went with me to school parties and out to eat and to the movies. We held hands in the movies. She went with me to sit on the rocks at the upper falls on Little River. She had only one fault. It wasn’t an affirmative fault, but just an insufficiency in her education. She said she couldn’t see the trout in the deep water below the falls, and she didn’t see the trout in their futile attempts to jump the falls to go upstream. I was sure this could be cured with time and experience.
When we came up from the river to where I had parked in the woods, I would pin Jenny against the side of the car, and we would laugh and then she would let me kiss her before I let her go.
After high school, I went away to college. It was a big change for me. New routines, more students in the lecture classes than we had in our entire high school, and high stakes for the future. Also many new friends and new places. A need to think about what I wanted to do going forward.
When I heard that Jenny was engaged to be married I was shocked. I was blind in my grief. I was disgusted with myself for my stupidity, for my ignorance, for my selfishness, for my arrogance. I had left her behind. I assumed she would be there always. I was wrong. I have remembered all of that for a long time now.
by S.T. Ranscht
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