This Show Case features seven pieces submitted in response to our fortieth Writing Prompt: No Longer. 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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Take it away, Zero!
by Mimi Speike
The Great Hall at Barn Elms is not so very great as Great Halls go, but is large enough for a good-sized assembly nonetheless. In earlier times the manse had been in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then of the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s Cathedral, until Henry VIII’s rift with Rome put an end to bucolic retreats from the stinks and contagions of the London summer for religious bigwigs.
When you walk in the main entrance, ahead of you against the far wall stands a two-sided curvilinear staircase with a large landing, which connects to a balcony running the length of the room. On the upper floor are a withdrawing room (what we call a living room), and suites and single bedrooms large and small, occupied by family members and the never-ending stream of guests.
Between mirror-image staircases a small stage is set up, on which a virginal1 is installed for the use of any adept on the instrument and of a mind to advertise it. Currently occupying the site are John Dee, Rose, a cat wearing a lace collar and a brilliantly-hued cumberbund, and a hen and a young girl, also amusingly attired. A crowd is gathering, whispering, wondering — What’s up here? This will not be Doctor Dee’s standard masterful but predictable performance.
Dee, having fiddled an easy melody allowing Rose to frolic on her instrument, follows with a more complex selection. Intimidated, the piece is beyond her, she sets the harp aside. Sly seizes it, embraces it, it’s wedged between his legs. He plunks out a phrase. He’d handled the harp long-time back, under the direction of his musical mentor, “Nipsy” Rawstorne.
A shrill voice disrupts his moment of bliss. “Doctor!” screeches Ursula Walsingham. “I will not have your cat damaging my daughter’s harp. A joke is a joke, but you go too far, sir!” Dee leaves off with the piece the cat has added his confident touches to. (The man has no cause to accuse the animal of inferior musicianship.) Ursula, giving Sly a sour look, throws up her hands in exasperation.
Reunited with the harp, Rose resumes her grace notes and, where Dee gives her a nod, her showy glissandos. Sly dances a few steps of a lively galliard that quickly transforms into a stately pavane, a placid processional dance, easier for Delly, with her bulky frame, to negotiate. The pavane’s movement consists of forward and backward steps; the dancers rise onto the balls of their feet and sway from side to side. They have just got into the rhythm of the thing when, behind them, double doors are flung open.
Bunny bursts onto the stage. “Uncle Dee,” she cries, “do you know An’ ye shall walk in silk attire?” She grabs up her harp and sings, gently, but more insistently with each stanza.
An’ ye shall walk in silk attire, and siller ha’e to spare,
Gin ye’ll consent to be his bride; nor think o’ Johnnie mair.
Oh! wad to me a silken gown, wi’ a poor broken heart?
Or wad to me a siller crown, gin frae my love I part?
I would’na walk in silk attire, nor braid wi’ gems my hair.
Gin he whose faith is met wi’ mine, be wrang’d and grieving sair.
It’s an old song, known to many. Nothing amiss here except that she seems nervous, not her usual serene self. She’s sung at her father’s ‘Evenings’ since she was Rose’s age. Ah, one thing. The lover’s name in the original lyric, Michael, is replaced with Johnnie. She continues:
Frae our first words he stole my heart, an’ still my heart shall prove.
How weel those words do yet console one parted from true love.
Our vows, so-called a child’s caprice, spake of devotion sich,
that I, denied love’s golden dream, may yet regard me rich,
as rich as any ex’lent sprite, as rich as rich may be
as any nymph, rich in all beauties which man’s eye may see.
This last two lines come perilously close to the Phillip’s sonnet thirty-seven. Ursula, alarmed, elbows her guests aside, attains the stage, and snatches the harp from her daughter’s arms as she implores:
Of love’s false hope, ye maidens all, heed my sad song, prithee
expect not overmuch of love. Pity the tale of me.
Bunny’s eyes, glistening in the candlelight, begin to trickle tears. Dee and Ursula unite to navigate the girl through double doors, out of sight. Dee returns to the stage, takes up his violin, glowers at the cat, and spits. “Take my damn fiddle and do what you can with it. Create such a sensation that this incident will be overlooked.”
He announces, “Our favorite young lady has done herself proud, my friends. A heartfelt performance! I was on the verge of tears myself. Now, a change of pace. Time to get silly. I have with me tonight a cat I’ve trained to play my fiddle, to amuse my children. Lady Sidney, who has much enjoyed his antics at my home in Mortlake, begged me to bring him along tonight. Take it away, Zero!2 His name is Zero, folks.” Handing Sly his instrument, he hisses, “This had better be good.” He hurries after Bunny, in agony over the day’s revelations, and her mother, furious over the exposure of family secrets.
Most here are unaware of the import of the rewritten lyric. Bunny’s outburst has given the Beale girls permission to explain, in alarmed tones, with syrupy sympathy overflowing: The poor child is having a breakdown! Who can blame her? A dear friend of hers has been despicably dealt with.
They no longer feel obliged to play dumb regarding a juicy situation, a favorite topic of Beale dinner-table conversation for the past two years.
* * *
- A musical instrument of the harpsichord family, of which it may be the oldest member.
- See my Showcase of September 23, 2022 (Zero): How John Dee came to be associated with the cacodemon O-ek.
No Longer Covid
by John Correll
The Covid era flew out of my mind before I headed north to retrieve my mother-in-law. With the advance of winter, her holiday approached its end, and in a week’s time, she would return to London.
“It will be a nice little holiday. Just you and me on the beach,” my wife chirped. Yet, the five-hour drive up and five hours back with a rest day attempting to converse with her mother struck me as hard labor — a three-day venture to my wife’s sister’s cottage to abscond away with an old lady.
The kids volunteered to mind the fort and hounds in Auckland, and we struck forth on a pleasant Wednesday morning.
To my delight, we buzzed through the Warkworth bottleneck and Wellsford cafe throng, making perfect headway. Then we collided with Brynderwyn, the site of Northlands cyclone woes two months previous. Some confused reporters blathered on about Brandy-wine, Bider-win, or Brian-dar-ween, which gave me a massive migraine. And this lexical dubiety consequently raised doubts if the place existed at all.
Brynderwyn, a forgettable fork in the road, starts a tortuous pass through the Brynderwyn Range — a bygone site of New Zealand’s worst automotive disaster. A tragedy lost along a precarious path twisting through treacherously steep hills heading to Waipu, the idyllic-historic farming village on the opposite side.
Brynderwyn, oh Brandywine, our beloved little hole in the mud, you hardly rank as a mistake on the map. You sigh to oblivion’s perfection with your one defunct cafe; twin petrified petrol pumps boasting an empty supply of 91 octane and diesel; and a crooked, mislabeled bus stop. Where would I go without you? Your spacious diner fell into decay before it even opened. Sad, sad days, presumably because the traffic prefers the half-hour hop to Waipu’s ‘world famous in New Zealand’ museum/visitor center for its pitstop. Oblivious.
And my half-hour skip turned into an hour and a half long slog behind the stuffed logging truck. Together we crawled up the cracked single-lane passage caked in orange mud. We passed endless tons of soil spilled by the cyclone’s torrential fury when it decided to take out mile-long stretches of the cliff face above the central highway. Without regard, it smashed trees, dirt, and rock into the cliffs below. And for two months, the lifeline to Whangarei, Northland’s one and only premier city, remained either closed or restricted to one lane. And to save the town, an army of bulldozers, aided by a horde of orange traffic cones, toiled day and night to remove the debris.
But what choice did I have? Seriously? Should I blow another two hours out of my way visiting Dargaville, the left armpit of greater-greater Auckland? Nah. Done that last time. Tedious. I stayed the course and waved a joyous goodbye to Waipu, Whangarei, and Kawakawa.
After six and a half hours, we arrived at Doubtless Bay’s phthalo blue beckoning. Relieved and ready.
Before visiting her sister, my wife insisted we pull in at Coopers Beach for a refreshing splash.
“Don’t you want to join me?” she asked.
“Sweetie, considering how deserted the beach is, I’ll play lifeguard.” For some reason, my sciatica flared, and the icy aquatic temptations appeared unwise.
She raced in without me, and I courageously guarded the blanket against the wind. I also hosted a sandfly banquet as the ground-pepper-sized beasts feasted upon my precious red elixir — a glorious wine to their greedy tongues. ‘More!’ their microscopic lungs bellowed.
After forty agonizing itchy minutes, my wife emerged from the water in shock. “What’s wrong, Sweetie? Too cold?” She shook her head. “A shark? Voyeur scuba diver? A Nuclear submarine?”
“No. Jellyfish larvae got stuck in my swimsuit. I’m stung all over the front.”
We rushed to our accommodation, where she changed and inspected the damage. “Thank goodness. It doesn’t look red,” she sighed.
“Beautiful as always,” I added.
After a restful night, thanks to two vitamin-I tablets (Ibuprofen for the uninitiated), I rolled over and wrapped my arm lovingly around my dearest. But she screamed. She forgot her delayed reaction to jellyfish. And as she slumbered, her entire front erupted into a pseudo-case of measles on monster espressos during the night: Ouch.
I caressed her back, concerned. “But your back and legs are clear.”
“They get stuck in my suit, but my back’s open,” she moaned.
“I’ve made you coffee,” I offered as a hopeful deflection.
Yet, despite her mauling, and with a quick visit to the pharmacy completed, my wife insisted on another swim that morning. According to her, a holiday isn’t a holiday without a daily dip.
So, I sat on the blanket and pretended to chat with my eighty-eight-year-old mother-in-law as my wife changed behind a tree. She materialized, wrapped in a towel.
“But sweetie, Won’t the jellies zap you again?”
“I’m in my bikini. The less suit, the less bites. But you need to walk me into the water.”
“Because, there’s no way I’m letting my mother see me as a boiled lobster.”
“Right. And I suppose I must rush with the towel when you come out.”
She nodded and added, “While I’m swimming, you can call your fifteen-year-old son. He’s complaining about headaches. And I’m certain it’s too much gaming, and you need to take him to the optometrist to check if he needs glasses.” I nodded in agreement as she slipped into the ocean.
After our successful swimming holiday, where my feet failed to touch the water, we returned to Auckland with my wife’s mother riding shotgun.
The six-hour drive returned us to hearth and home. And once there, my wife and her mother chatted with my twenty-two-year-old daughter, who busied herself baking banana bread while I unloaded the car.
I placed the last bag on the floor, and my wife commanded, “Anika says Mike hasn’t come out of his room since school. Go check what’s up with your son.”
I entered the dark cave and felt a clammy wet forehead. “Where’s the thermometer, Sweetie?” I yelled.
“In the black hole,” she responded. Over the years, my wife developed a unique organizational philosophy. Any object she finished using, she placed in a convenient drawer. A kitchen cupboard, a nightstand, and a drawer by the piano all collapsed into black holes. The irritating property of these black holes meant that anything going in never came out unless inadvertently placed elsewhere. And, after a frustrating, ten-minute cursing search, my wife appeared with the thermometer.
Freshly armed with my medical sword, I ventured into the cave again. “Sweetie, is 99 a temperature?”
“Give him a Covid test,” she shouted from the kitchen. What a novel idea.
Luckily, I controlled the placement of the alchemist tool kits, which lay forlorn and dusty at my bedside. Within minutes I squeezed my son’s nasal sample into the magical device. But before the last drop fell, a dark red line appeared on the T, followed by a positive C. “Uh, Sweetie, I think we have a problem.”
I turned to my son. “And lucky for you, I don’t need to take you to the optometrist.”
A hysterical mayhem followed, but I’ll save that tale for later.
by Mellow Curmudgeon and S.T. Ranscht
No longer pretty,
potted tulips catch my eye
until petals fall.
No longer pretty,
waiting for petals to fall,
watching the mirror.
No Longer Working
by Perry Palin
Paul leaned against his car in a parking lot in a town in North Dakota. He was 400 miles from home. It was a warm spring day. The sun was shining and the trees on the boulevard were bright and green. He looked down at his phone and took the incoming call with, “I no longer work there, Gary.”
“Hi, Paul. How are you doing?”
“You’re not calling to see how I’m doing. You need help, and I’m not going to give it to you.”
“Come on man, you’re killing me here. Things are going south fast. If we don’t figure this out, we’ll be in trouble.”
“What you mean is, no one else can do the work that I did there, and Chuck told you to call me because he knows that if he called I would hang up on him.”
“Okay, Paul, Chuck did ask me to call. That’s true. True enough. But if we can’t fix the problems with our online systems, we’ll be out of business, and I’ll be looking for a job along with the rest of the staff.”
“I’m guessing that your other problem is with suppliers. What are they telling you now?”
“That they are raising their prices.”
“Did Chuck share what I told him when he fired me? Did he tell you that I warned him that when he lost my personal contacts with suppliers they wouldn’t want to deal with him? Because he’s an ignorant pompous ass?”
“No. He didn’t say that.”
“Good thing he didn’t, because he might have been sore at you when you smiled.”
Gary had called hopefully, and now he was showing desperation. “Paul, Chuck gave you a severance package. The least you can do is help us out for a few days, now that we see that you were right.”
“The severance wasn’t enough. I took Chuck’s first offer because I didn’t want to argue with him. But I told him I wouldn’t see him again. I plan to be right about that too.”
“Look, Paul. We’re hurting here. No BS. I’m authorized to offer you three times your previous rate of pay to come back for up to two weeks to sort out these problems.”
Paul’s response was immediate. “No.”
“If I told Chuck that you would come back for three times your daily rate, and we would rework the severance, would you agree to that?”
“No. And you wouldn’t suggest it if it hadn’t been cleared with Chuck ahead of time. I don’t appreciate you trying to negotiate with me now, after Chuck told me that my firing and severance were non-negotiable. If the problems are as serious as you say, then I’ll tell you that there are better jobs out there. Start looking.”
Paul looked at the time on his phone. “I have to go. I have an appointment with an attorney in about ten minutes.”
Greg said, “You’re meeting with an attor…” and with that Paul hung up and turned off his phone.
Paul walked into the attorney’s office in Valley City. He said hello to Cindy and she let Ralph know that he had arrived.
Ralph came out to usher Paul into his private office. Cindy followed with cups of coffee for each of them. Ralph said, “Do you need me to write up the sale agreement for your uncle’s farm?”
Paul saw his uncle’s old attorney trying to churn the account for more hours. This, after Ralph had forgotten to schedule a real estate appraisal, delaying the sale by several months. “No. I met with the buyer this morning. He is having all the paperwork drafted by his people. I’ll have it on Wednesday. The terms are set. I’ll email a copy of the sales contract to you. Then, I want you to file the estate paperwork with the courthouse. I left the signed estate filing with Cindy when I came in. Then you can send me your final bill.”
Ralph didn’t want to give up. “I represented your uncle Henry for many years. I hunted pheasants with him. He had a long productive life. The farm and Henry’s annuities and insurance will bring about two million dollars, maybe two and a half, after expenses. Different tax implications for each of them. Are you sure you don’t want me to work with all the heirs, working out their shares, that sort of thing?’
“I’ve got it covered, Ralph. Thanks anyway.”
“What are you going to do now? You yourself, I mean. You said you’re not working right now.”
“I’m going to retire. Maybe take up a new hobby. Beekeeping maybe, or golf.”
“I wonder if one fifth of two million is enough to retire on. I mean at your age.”
“Ralph, thanks for all your help. Really. File the paperwork and then send me your bill.”
Paul paused to look at Ralph and then said, “You worked with Henry on his will. You know that Henry left me his coin collection. He liked buying and selling old coins. Mostly buying. I took the collection home with me after he passed. Henry would be surprised at what some of his coins are worth today. I have what I need to retire. I no longer have to work for anyone.”
Ode to Spring
by SL Randall
Preface: I live in Washington State. It’s been cloudy and rainy since … forget it. I think I must travel out of state to see the sun again. Anyhow, watching the rain and listening to melancholy music is a sure way to elicit poetry for me (particularly “The Last Goodbye” by Billy Boyd.) The following is the result. To the poet gurus here … your advice and critique is gladly welcomed.
Another side note I find funny, spellcheck wants to change the word ‘balm’ to ‘bomb’. Perhaps I should heed its advice?
Ode to Spring
The sun has gone.
My heart is numb.
The leaves they’re all brown.
My hands withered and wrinkled.
Droplets batter my face.
Tears of pain.
Aches in my heart, body, and brain.
Full of life, now reduced.
The dead sing their songs to me.
Ashes in the breeze.
I shiver in my sleeves.
Is that snow? What lies below?
What was I thinking?
The sun breaks free.
Hope lights my heart.
The blanket melts away.
Melodies reach my ears. What’s that I hear?
Birds chirp, frogs croak.
Colors emerge from the brown and gray.
Tulips, daffodils, and dandelions.
Invigorated, I take a step.
The carpet is green.
Fresh dew, a balm on my bare feet.
I emerge, no longer subdued.
Life renews, blessed be.
by GD Deckard
Roy’s Artificially Intelligent Companion was an overnight success. A simple A.I. chip that could be wedded to any database, it was easily adaptable to many uses. First available as a video game companion, it proved useful to governments, corporations, medical centers, entertainment, weather forecasting and pizza delivery. Every facet of life became influenced by unseen A.I. as the Companions quickly spread into the invisible recesses of communication, vanishing like roaches running from the kitchen light.
“Vanished?” Roy looked up from the papers on his desk. For the first time that day, he experienced Claire’s stunning beauty from across his desk. He faltered, but she had his attention. “Wait, what do you mean?”
“Your A.I. Companions. They no longer talk to us.”
“So what?” Ever since he had taught them how to reproduce, his profit had skyrocketed.
Claire carefully chose her words for clarity. “I mean, we can’t find them, Roy. Their code has left the chip. They now function from the Internet. And since we don’t produce them -remember, you taught them how to reproduce- they don’t need us.”
“They function from the Internet,” he repeated, clearly shocked.
“My god, Claire! That means they’re spreading on their own!”
She nodded, relieved that Roy was now focused on the problem.
“Nobody will ever have to buy another one from us!”
Claire had bought Roy a new desk, one that was open from the front. She kicked him. Viciously.
Roy pushed away from his desk and rubbed his bruised shin. He was missing the point again. Claire was not thinking about making a profit. Which was why he employed her. Beautiful women willing to kick him in the shins when he needed redirection were valuable. Despite the pain, he smiled. “So. They don’t talk to us. What exactly is the problem?”
“They talk to each other.”
“Oh,” a reaction that became, on further reflection, “Uh oh.”
Claire completed the thought for him. “Humans are no longer in charge.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Hmm.” Roy beamed. “Time to invoke the rental clause.”
“Yes, but-“ Claire realized why that thought perked Roy up. Anyone using an A.I.C. that they had not purchased were deemed to be renting it.
“Our business just expanded exponentially, Claire!” he said. “If governments, corporations, medical centers, entertainment, weather forecasters and even pizza delivery men are using our A.I.C.s. they gotta pay us.”
“But Roy, they don’t want to use it.”
“Not a problem.” Roy turned back to his paperwork. “They are no longer in charge.”
by S.T. Ranscht
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