This Show Case features seven pieces submitted in response to our fourteenth Writing Prompt: Nothing. 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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The Triumph of Nothingness
by Boris Glikman
By the way things were going, it seemed undeniable that the Universe had given up on matter. The physical world was being slowly destroyed, and nothingness was being given the chance to flourish in all of its myriad shapes, forms and permutations.
As if to prolong and intensify mankind’s agony, the destruction of human beings was left to the very last, thus forcing us to witness the terrifying scenes of all the inanimate matter and all the other species of living creatures being expunged from reality.
Certainly, we were eager and ready to fight back and defend ourselves and the physical world against the encroaching emptiness. But what could we do? How could we battle against the void, how could we defeat it? We certainly could not shoot it, crush it, incinerate it or blow it up. Mankind’s most powerful and most deadly weapons were woefully futile, for no one had ever envisaged having to wage war against nothingness. Nothingness had no weak point, no Achilles heel, and there was nothing we could do but to bemoan our fate.
Once nothing remained of the material world except for mankind, floating in empty space, the nothing-atoms and nothing-molecules commenced to combine ceaselessly and relentlessly in all sorts of arrangements, to take the place of the eradicated matter, and to create bigger and more complex structures of nothingness. More and more varieties of nothing-objects came into existence and countless species of sentient nothing-creatures evolved and proliferated, as we looked on helplessly with a mixture of fascination and dread.
The fact that all of this went against every law of logic and science didn’t seem to matter one iota to the nothing-particles, and they carried on with blithe impunity in their construction of the Nothing-Cosmos.
Then the time arrived when the first nothing-human baby was born. Given that (as the ancient sages had already known) nothing comes from nothing1, it didn’t take long for the population of the nothing-people to explode. These nothing-humans could be seen everywhere, interacting and communicating with one another, manufacturing nothing-goods, building nothing-dwellings, erecting nothing-skyscrapers, constructing nothing-factories, begetting nothing-progeny, methodically and diligently establishing their new nothing-society…
To the nothing-people, we were merely inconsequential specks of matter in the background, fated to be soon annihilated, and the nothing-people ignored us the way we once ignored and took for granted empty space.
And yet, despite all that we had witnessed and experienced, we still clung to our self-centred or rather, matter-centred belief that Nature prefers substance and abhors vacuum2, and that therefore, in the very last minute, Nature would come to our rescue. In fact, as we were now discovering to our dismay, quite the opposite was true for, rather than abhorring vacuum, Nature adored vacuum.
It was only natural for human beings to wonder how this great cataclysm came about and what had caused it. Some speculated that material objects, animate creatures, and mankind in particular had disappointed the Universe, never fulfilling the roles which It had envisaged for them, and that is why all matter had been destroyed, and also why the annihilation of human beings had been left to the very last. Others claimed that matter and emptiness had always vied for domination and control of the Universe, and that this was but the latest chapter in that eternal conflict, with humanity having the misfortune to be caught up in it as an innocent collateral victim. Others yet, in a desperate attempt to console themselves and to rationalise the hideous events taking place, argued that it was entirely apt for vacuum to be taking over the Cosmos, for hadn’t emptiness been the most salient characteristic of the modern world, with people complaining about leading vacuous, meaningless lives and feeling empty inside? And therefore, wasn’t it only the next logical step for that internal, figurative, abstract emptiness to assume external, literal, solid form?
Of course, nothingness had an automatic, inherent superiority over matter in that it was intrinsically flawless in every possible respect. Actually, we already knew that, for hadn’t we always said that “Nothing is perfect”? And so, despite the mortal threat which drew ever closer to our lives, we couldn’t help but be transfixed by the perfect beauty of nothingness, such was its transcendent intensity and power; beauty that was unlike any other beauty that had ever existed in the material world; beauty such that it annulled and made irrelevant all other beauty that came before it; beauty so pure and absolute it could never have arisen and survived in the impure physical world. Only in the meadow of emptiness could such beauty sprout and blossom; only in the form of nothingness could such beauty come into being and become evident; only nothing could create such beauty and nothing could destroy it, and thus the beauty of nothingness was immortal. Perhaps even the laws of logic and science themselves were so overwhelmed by the unnatural, infinite beauty of nothingness that they could no longer function; this allowed the patently impossible and absurd reality of nothing-atoms being the new building blocks of the Universe to come into existence.
It was only when nothingness had taken over that we saw how flawed, inconstant, ephemeral, limited the material world was and how immaculate, immutable, eternal, unbounded the void was by comparison. Indeed, it was clear to us that all matter was but an imperfect form of nothingness, just as existence was but a poor version of non-existence.
I am the last physical being left in the Universe. For some reason, the Universe has chosen me to be the final witness of the complete dismantling of material reality. There are vistas of absolute emptiness stretching out in every direction, a view such that no other being has ever beheld. The Age of Matter has had its day—it has come and gone. Nothingness, in all its countless manifestations of perfection, now rules the Cosmos.
I have written this testament
in the hope that it
will somehow survive
1 “Nothing comes from nothing” (Latin: ex nihilo nihil fit) is a philosophical dictum first argued by the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, and it is associated with ancient Greek cosmology.
2 “Nature abhors a vacuum” is an ancient idea attributed to Aristotle, who articulated the belief that nature contains no vacuums because the denser surrounding material would immediately fill any empty space. This idea was accepted as true by Western science for over 2000 years, with Galileo and Descartes being some of its most illustrious supporters.
At loose ends in Cannes and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
by Mimi Speike
You have to know by now that I’m putting together a book on Maisie Mulot. I lived with her for fifteen wonderful years. During that time, she spoke often of her experiences in Hollywood.
I’ve long had an interest in the history of film. That’s how me met. I tracked her down when I was a film student at NYU, hoping to interview her. We struck up a friendship, and that friendship blossomed. I invited her to share my studio apartment in the West Village, and she accepted gratefully. We were the merriest of roommates until her demise in 1988.
I’ve lived my life in a fog, sometimes seeing situations with relative clarity, sometimes falling into various self-destructive behaviors. In the early eighties, I was very down on myself. I tried to hide it, but there was no fooling that canny little soul. She knew I was in bad shape.
I write. I’d been submitting and submitting, getting, if anything, not for us. Some people bounce back from rejection, but it throws me for a loop. There’ve been days I wanted to disappear down a rabbit hole, never to have to deal with this miserable world again.
I wrote on a word processor that made a god-awful racket when I printed out a page. I’d written daily. Then, for weeks, I wrote nothing. Silence reigned in our little apartment, a sure sign I was in a bad place. Maisie sat me down and gave me a stern talking to.
“This mood you’re in,” she said, “I know it well. Bea1 and I bummed around Europe for a year and a half. My German films had flopped. My French film – a silly thing, I never had hopes for it – I did it for the paycheck. I’d been blacklisted in Hollywood, had no reason to go back there. Bea and I became professional houseguests.
“Bea had lived in France, knew the culture, spoke the language. We entertained, put on dance exhibitions. That was, after all, why we’d gone to Europe in the first place. Bea-zee was highly educated. She could talk to anyone about anything. Me, who’d never set foot in a schoolroom, I let her do the yakking. I jawed with a few folks in the wee hours, they in a state of stupefaction from one substance or another. Other than that, I was my adorable self, all that was expected of me.”
People, I was psyched! She’d dropped names, but never gone into details. Except for, she did talk a good deal about how she’d almost been presented to the Prince of Wales.2 A nothingburger3 out of a cornfield in Kansas (her words, not mine), hobnobbing with the heir to the British throne! Unfortunately, the meet never took place. Events intervened. That it almost happened still thrilled her to pieces.
I feigned astonishment–I’d heard that story many times. She resumed with her train of thought. I nodded, encouraging her to continue, hoping the momentum would result in new disclosures.
She was in the mood to talk. Hallelujah!
“Drifting gets old, babe,” she said, “however pleasant the surroundings. You begin to despise yourself. I’d always had goals. My first goal was to get the hell out of Kansas. My next, to dance professionally. I toured for a season with Denishawn. Then I set my sights on Broadway. Broadway led to an opportunity I’d never yearned for, that fell into my lap. It turned out I had considerable acting ability. I never took a lesson, it came naturally. Which is not to say I didn’t work damn hard at it.
“The talkies put me out of business in that arena. I was in free-fall. On the advice of Bill (W.C.) Fields, I took lessons in sleight of hand. I figured I could work kiddie parties, do card tricks. Wear funny hats. That was the plan. Bea refused to join me in–for her, not for me–an embarrassing venture. She drifted away on her own downward path, a series of unhappy love affairs, that ended with her throwing herself from a fourth-floor balcony of the Tower Terminal Inn in Niagara Falls.”
This I’d not heard before. I had no trouble looking startled. I was startled.
“There’s something I need to tell you. I guess this is the time to do it. I’m slowing down. I feel my body giving out on me. We have to face it, I’m on my last legs. What will become of you when I’m gone? I’ve been sick with worry. Hon! I have, I believe, the answer. You’re a writer, a good writer. You’re going to write my autobiography. That’s right, my autobiography. My name on a manuscript should make them bozo publishers sit up and take notice.
She frowned. “Nah, that’s no good. No one’s going to believe I wrote a book. Just like no one believed I wrote that lesbian mouse stuff a few years back. I was the nineteen-fifties Pet Rock, a cute gag. Hillary, my manager at the time, encouraged people to assume she’d ghost-written those romances. We had a success, but it was too much work for too little pay-off. Hill dumped me. They all dump me, when I don’t turn out the money-maker they’d expected. I’m too much trouble for too little reward. You’re the only one who’s stuck with me.
“Well, doll, I’m going to set you up with a memoir that will sell like hotcakes, or my name ain’t Marcelline Mulot. We’ll call it fiction, wink-wink. We’ll change the names, but the characterizations will be clear to anyone who spent time with that set.
“Ya, another problem. You weren’t around back then. Okay, your aunt was. Your uncle. Somebody. No need to name your source. It’s fiction!”
“You don’t talk about your time in Europe,” I said, hoping she meant it. “I don’t see much in your scrapbooks on it. Clippings–you were here, you were there. Invites. A menu from a luncheon. Dried oleanders from Somerset Maugham’s garden at St Jean-Cap-Ferrat. A snapshot of you with Elsa Maxwell, you looking rather glum, I must say.”
Maisie mimed comical exasperation. “Elsa was ‘on’ all the time. And she insisted I sit next to her at dinner every night. She wore me out. Tallulah Bankhead came to my rescue. She showed up out of the blue. She and Bea hit it off, got very cozy. We confessed our situation, forced to sing for our supper, etc. She promised she could get me work back in London. We piled into her Bentley, off we went. We stopped in Paris, Bea’s old stomping ground, for a fun week, Lulah-belle footing the bill. With a nice paycheck in the offing–she’d fix me up with something splendid, I didn’t doubt it–we’d tipped Maugham’s staff generously and walked away flat-broke.”
Elsa Maxwell! Talullah Bankhead! “You were living the high life, girl,” I told her, “though I’d be hard put to say, from those scrapbooks, whether you had yourself a ball, or whether it was, as you just told me, a period of discouragement.”
Maisie winced. “It was both, child. I think of that interval as the low point of my life: superficially gay; in actuality, empty, enervating amusement.”
That was the one and only time she called me child. That moment is burned into my brain. I always thought I was taking care of her. She obviously felt the same about me.
She sighed. “Do I want to dredge up those memories? Not particularly. But it’s not an account of my time at the top that will sell books. My triumphs are well documented. It’s the dirt I have on hoity-toits partying their hineys off as the world was about to fall off a cliff that will get folks to open their wallets.”
Another first: She allowed me to record our conversations. Listening to the tapes now, I don’t make out too much. Oh, I understand my own voice, asking questions. Maisie’s answers have degraded into squeals and squeaks. Odd! But I transcribed those sessions shortly after they were captured. I had my notes to refer to, thank God.
The manuscript that resulted was rejected by every publisher I sent it to. I gave up on, hid it away. Ten years ago, having acquired some competence in Photoshop, and with piles of crumbling scrapbooks to draw on, I vowed to preserve that material for future film scholars to peruse.
That custodial impulse morphed into the determination to give a published book another go, this time with images making it (hopefully) more marketable. I spent a good deal of time on restoration of material in dreadful shape. Images that were beyond help, I recreated. I admit it up front. I want no accusations of duplicity to tarnish my effort and her legacy. I have the original-condition items safe. Anyone who wants to inspect them (journalists: let’s get this sweetheart the recognition she deserves), contact me at MaisieInHollywood@gmail.com.
Maisie Mulot had enjoyed astonishing early success, and had been spoiled by it. Her charmed life, everything going her way, was a thing of the past.
From the pinnacle, there’s nowhere to go but down. She had once been unable to do anything wrong, that is, anything resulting in undesirable consequences. She was suddenly unable to do anything right. I’ll start with her final American film, The Canary Murder Case, and we’ll go from there.
But not here. I’m way over the word count, and the debacle that was The Canary Murder Case requires substantial explanation. I’ll tackle that can of worms next time.
1 Bea Wanger, sister of legendary producer Walter Wanger, was Maisie’s manager in Hollywood.
2 The future Edward VIII, the playboy prince who married Wallis Simpson.
3 Nothingburger – the term was first used in the 1950s by Louella Parsons to describe a person or idea that’s essentially a whole lot of nothing. Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown used it in the ’60s and ’70s.
20 THINGS ABOUT MYSELF THAT I WILL NEVER REVEAL TO ANYONE
by Boris Glikman
How to Tell if Your Sock is on the Wrong Foot
by GD Deckard
The home looked like any other on the street. It was a two-story house of white clapboard. The roof was steeply peaked to let the winter snows slide off. Steps in the front led up to a porch that wrapped around to one side. A red brick chimney rose up the other side of the house. And the smell of fresh cut lawn gave it the familiar air of just another midwestern home. Only, it hadn’t been there yesterday.
Normally, Monica Smith-Alcott knew exactly what to do. She was the neighborhood association’s president and this was a vacant lot. Or had been. Yesterday. She was sure of that. She left her car in the street, engine running, door open, and advanced on the house with cell phone in hand.
“This is Monica. Can you pull the records on 121 Hickory Way?”
“Um,” Nick paused. “Funny we weren’t notified. That lot sold yesterday.”
“There’s a house here.”
“No. There’s nothing there. It’s a vacant lot.”
“Get your ass over here, Nick.”
Nick Alcott left his car in the street behind Monica’s, his mouth gaping like an open car door. He turned completely around, fixing the known neighborhood houses in his mind in an effort to orientate himself but the house that shouldn’t be there still was.
Monica Alcott-Smith snorted at her younger brother -Smith was her married name. “Well, we can’t have a house constructed here without the approval of the association. What are you going to do about this?” Nick owned the property management company used by her association.
“Let me talk to the owner.” He walked to the front steps of the house, became confused, and returned.
“What?” Monica asked.
“What?” Nick replied.
And so it went. Any attempt to approach the house resulted in confusion and return to the street. Monica tried it. And Nick tried it again. But it was no use. They ended up in the street, frustrated.
The patrol car driven by Deputy Dan Alcott that stopped behind Nick’s car to see what the problem was became the first of a long line of official vehicles bringing officials to see what the problem was. Most became angry. “Put that gun away!” Monica screamed at her older brother. “Damnit Deputy Dan, you can’t just shoot that house! What if the bullet comes back here?”
Inevitably, the army was called in and being the army, they attacked, an operation that served only to clear the surrounding neighborhood and left several soldiers wounded by whatever they had fired at the house which now stood untouched in an otherwise flattened and bare war zone.
It took the science wonks from Homeland Security to figure it out. Several arrived wearing Gucci hazmat suits. They immediately fanned out among the growing crowd of local police, army soldiers, television cameras of course and therefore, politicians. “Monica?” they randomly asked women until one admitted to being Mrs. Alcott-Smith.
“Is that your car at the front of the line here?”
“Move it if you want,” Monica offered hopefully, knowing that would take a helicopter in this crowd and while wanting her car back, not wanting to rent a helicopter. “Oh,” she introduced her brother, “This is Nick.”
“No, no. Uh, I’m Albert, ma’am, Homeland Security. You discovered this… this phenomenon?”
“Yes.” Monica had grown weary of people assuming she knew more about “this phenomenon” than they because she had been the first to report it. “So what?”
Albert smiled at her through his suit’s facetime window. “Ma’am, we think you may have caused this.”
Monica had a practiced stare that did wonders making people rethink what they had just said which she now practiced on Albert.
“Don’t worry!” Albert shuffled his feet. “We can help. Follow me.” He waved his cohorts over to him and waved his cat at Monica and Nick. That’s when they noticed that the guys in hazmat suits were all carrying a cat. “You’ve heard of Schrödinger’s cat? The quantum experiment?”
“Of course,” replied Nick affably. “Cats are smart.”
“Tell me.” Monica was pretty sure her cats were smarter than Nick.
“Schrödinger’s cat demonstrated that reality comes into existence when we observe it. Only this time, there was lag. Nothing has been created.”
“The house,” Nick began.
“No. We’re just seeing a house in a parallel dimension,” Albert explained. “In fact, the only reason we can see that house is because there is no thing in the way. Conversely, we fail to see/bring-into-existence the vacant lot because we keep seeing that damned house.”
The hazmat suits gathered around Albert and sat their cats on the ground in front of the house. “But a cat can ignore anything.”
Sure enough, as the cats scattered, the house flickered and vanished. All that was left was a vacant lot of cats.
The Greatest Story (N)ever Told
by Boris Glikman
by Scott Vander Ploeg
Nihilism is sometimes defined as a belief in nothing, and/or that life is essentially meaningless. For there to be the absence of all, all must exist, else nothing cannot be deduced from nothing. To be clear, the concept of nothingness is dependent on the existence of stuff. If stuff exists, we have to believe in it, so nihilism is technically an impossible belief. It is predicated on the thing it wants to disbelieve.
Writers have been dwelling on these issues since the beginning of time. The biblical concept is that the divine being pre-existed the universe and caused it to come into being. It was—in favor of writers—to begin with a word. Known as logocentrism, the idea of a word of power shows up in D&D gaming as a high-level magic spell, “Power Word Death,” for instance. If God pre-existed existence, then He wasn’t nothing (and it is probably a good idea to not say He was nothing). For existence to be called into being by a word, the word would also precede existence, so that is something, too.
John Milton had great influence in offering an architecture for the universe, including the concept of order coming out of chaos, due to the agency of God. It is this poet who gave us Heaven above and Hell below, Earth in the middle, the chaos a surrounding medium through which Satan flies or swims to make his assault on Earth. None of that is quite depicted in the Old Testament. Chaos, however, isn’t the same as nothingness. It is something like the raw elements that constitute existence.
In more than one of Shakespeare’s plays, probably only the comedies, the standard pun for “nothing” is to treat it as no-thing, and probably more commonly pronounced nō ThiNG, a discernable pause between the two, instead of what we commonly say today: nəTHiNG, all jammed together. It was the joke of the female characters to complain of having no … thing, a fairly obvious phallic issue ha-ha. The no-, or possibly o- thing suggesting the vagina. The additional joke inheres in the fact that it was only men acting on stage, and those dressed as women presumably did have thingy-s, i.e. penises. The most glaring example of Shakespeare’s playfulness with the term is in the title, Much Ado About Nothing. As is typical of the comedy, it ends in marriages—which of course means sex and consequent generation of children. In this situation, no-thing is the goal, the object of desire.
Back in the late 1960s, fantasy author Roger Zelazny developed a concept he referred to as shadow-realities, the precursor for what became known as the multiverse, an infinite series of possible realities. Though such multiplicity strains the human mind to fully encompass, it is not as though a reality exists that contains nothing, because the other realities that are full of somethings are implied as co-existing. In this author’s writings, his Amber series, order is created out of chaos via the demented mind of an elder lord, Dworkin.
I’ve mentioned this before here, but this topic lends itself to this repetition. When William Shatner made a quick visit to outer space, after a career that included acting the role of a captain of a starship, the almost nothing he found himself confronting was terribly frightening, and as the poem goes: “A sadder and a wiser man, He rose the morrow morn” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He learned something from nothing, which means nothing is really something.
Proof of Concept
by S.T. Ranscht
Lonely falling tree
Applause of the one-armed man
Dreamless final rest
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