This Show Case features six pieces submitted in response to our forty-second Writing Prompt: Purpose. 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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The Purposeful Pet
by S.T. Ranscht
by John Correll
I woke up without a purpose. Typically not an issue for me, except today. Should I have one? I checked under my bed, in the closet, the drawers, the kitchen cupboard, the basement, and the dryer. Nothing. No purpose whatsoever.
I opened my emails and discovered tons of purposes — other people’s. All too tedious. But what about my very own?
Perhaps it was time for drastic measures to correct indecisiveness. “Honey, do I have a purpose?”
My wife gave me one of her why-did-I-marry-this-stupid-man glances. “Yes. Take the garbage out, tell Lukas to do the dishes, and take Anika to the train station.” My wife buried motivation in a mountain of tasks. But was that, in itself, a purpose?
I drove home from the station with all my duties completed. And pale purposelessness returned. Then I considered the possibility of a purpose purchase — at the store. Anyone would do.
An overly friendly sales attendant tried to assist. “Can I help you with something?”
“I’d like to purchase a purpose, please.”
“I can give you a free sample of anchovy-flavored gum.”
“What’s the purpose of that?”
“Does it taste any good?”
“I don’t know. I’m too frightened to try it.”
“Maybe not for me, then. Don’t you have something I can buy to give me purpose?”
“Oh, I can give you that. Your purpose is to make a purchase in this store. Doesn’t that sound like a great proposal?”
“I can sell you this packet of anchovy gum for a dollar.”
“You said it was free.”
“That offer expired, but we now have a special; buy one and get the next packet at half price.”
“Are you making fun of my purpose predicament? Are you doing this for a quick profit?”
“No. Definitely not. I’ll throw in a pair of never-wash socks, gratis.”
“Made of paper. Wear-once and throw them in the composter.”
I suspected this attendant was Roy’s younger brother. And that family was bad news. So I excused myself, “Sorry. I need to consult with my partner before making such a preposterous procurement.”
I fled for home and pondered the necessity of my purpose desire. For decades I seemed to have managed without. So why bother now? Indeed, in avoiding purpose, I established a heavenly peace of mind in a place of nearly pure purposelessness — the penultimate purpose.
Sly Lays It Out for Us
by Mimi Speike
“Henny, you moron! Help me find my Clarissa!”
A stable-hand, sunk into a woven willow settle just outside the stable doors, rudely awoken, moans, “And who, pray tell, is Clarissa?”
“A darling hen dressed just like me.” Rose curtsies prettily. “Clarissa is my new little sister. I’m Bunny’s little sister. Clarissa is mine.” Henslow McAllistair smiles. The feisty miss is a friend of his. He’s used to being bullied by her. Actually, he adores it.
Sly’s hanging out the carriage window, grinning ear to ear. “Here you are, at least!” cries the child. She turns back to Henslow. “Boost me into the coach, fool. The cat’s in there. Clarissa’s in there too, I bet you a mug of Ma’s tay,1 fresh from Derry. I know where she’s got it hid.”
* * *
Irish have flooded into London for decades, fleeing the poverty and violence of their homeland. Cheap labor, they work the jobs native Englishmen disdain to take. Porters of the sedan chairs employed over short distances within the capital, those hard-worked, underpaid wretches are mostly Irish. Irish staff the tanneries, the most loathsome of occupations. Sir Francis Walsingham, of slim means, has many such in his employ, and they serve him dutifully, and gratefully.
Hughie the Grame, a song of rebellion on the northern border, has been embraced by the Irish, who despise the arrogant English as much as the highlanders do. That, in case you’ve been wondering, is how Rose knows the tune, and why her audience responded to it with wicked glee. Irish, glib of tongue and supremely musical, heavily represented in the entertainment field, are here tonight in force. Many of them are both quick thinkers and fine actors. The head of Elizabeth’s spy network cultivates their acquaintance with an eye to usefulness in one capacity or another. He has Jeremiah and Hutcheon pegged as future couriers.
* * *
“I’m the little sister Bunny’s always wanted,” says Rose. “She tells me so all the time. Now I have a little sis too. Bunny plays the harp. I play the harp. Bunny keeps a diary, I keep a diary. I want to be just like Bunny. I wish I was Bunny.” She stamps a foot daintily, as she’s watched Bunny do many a time.
“No, you don’t. Believe me, you don’t,” is John Dee’s kindly, but stern, reproval. “I wouldn’t trade my troubles for Lady Sidney’s, nor should you. She’s a very unhappy young lady. Stick with your own basket of woes. Now, off with you! Back to your duties. Your mama has to be wondering where you’ve disappeared to.”
“I doubt it. The less she sees of me, the better she likes it.”
“Then fetch a tray of sweetmeats up to Lady Sidney. She’s feeling low, and you always make her smile.”
* * *
Dee climbs into the coach. The cat ignores him. Dee, cane aloft, is about to signal the departure. The coachman, in place, reins in hand, awaits the cue to flick his whip and bawl, “Gee, there, m’ beauties.”
“Hold up with your tap, Doctor,” orders the cat. “Unless my eyes betray me, yonder comes Bunny.”
It is Bunny, approaching at a jog-trot. “Uncle Dee!” she calls. “Yoo-hoo!”
Dee wants to be gone. He’d pretend not to hear her, but she’s too close for him to carry it off without giving insult.
She’s upon them. “Sir! A word, if you please, before you fly.” Sly’s half out the window. She reaches up and scratches under his chin. “Oh! You are the dearest thing! Uncle Dee! Zero must be mine. I insist on it.”
Dee, mightily annoyed with the animal, would love to hand him over then and there but, obviously, he cannot. “My darling, I must disappoint you. The creature is not mine to bestow.”
“Not yours! Who’s is he?”
“A boy staying with me at Mortlake, name of Daw.”
“Would he be one of the Beardstown Daws? Hortensia is a good friend of mine.”
“I seriously doubt it.”
“May I speak to Master Daw about his …” Sly, dangling just above her, kisses her forehead. “His adorable puss-cat!”
“Your Ladyship is welcome at Mortlake any time, you know that. Make your case to Master Daw and we will see what can be arranged.”
Bunny squeals. She loves being addressed your Ladyship. That part of being married to Sir Phillip Sidney she’s pleased with. Truth be told, she’s impressed by his scholarship, and even more by his connections, she takes after her mama in that regard. Unlike with the mother, hers is a charming conceit. She’s barely seventeen.
Dee yanks Sly inside the coach and pushes him down on the seat. “I’m not a dog,” spits the animal. “I sit when I’m ready to sit.”
“Don’t irk me more than you have.” Dee, eyebrows alive with indignation, raps the ceiling of the vehicle, and they’re off.
* * *
Sly has had a glorious night, he’s in tip-top spirits. His companion is furious.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself!”
“That was fun, don’t ya think?”
“No! I don’t think that was fun!
They ride without further engagement until Sly breaks the spell. “Doctor! You asked, Who’s Pedro?”
“I did,” admits Dee.
Sly sighs. “Poor Pedro. Where’s my sweetheart now? I cut the laddie loose outside Paris. That eats at me, every damn minute of every damn day. Sir! I have a tale to tell that you need to hear.”
I preface my tale with a few brief summation of … uh, my point of view.
Dee closes his eyes. “Can’t this wait? I have a pounding headache.”
“Sir! From my infancy I felt myself a singular individual. I had aspirations beyond the norm for my kind. Small successes fed my resolve to develop my full potential. Each triumph made my next goal seem less an impossible dream. I struggled, but I never, ever, allowed myself to despair.
“I have a lesson to teach all who yearn to escape their so-called Creator-ordained–how many times has that phrase been flung at me?–lot in life. I dare to call myself a tool for good, and my life, a life of purpose.
“Our Queen has earned my respect many times over. I am ready to do what it takes to defend one as dear to me as my own mama. I believe myself equal to the challenge. Doctor! A year back, I prevailed against scoundrels who would give Dudley himself a run for his money. Shortly thereafter, overhearing details of a plot, I was faced with a heartbreaking decision: deliver Pedro to his French grandpapa, or abandon him and pursue a greater good. Who had the superior claim on my allegiance? You know the answer, for here I am.”
“I thought it was Jack Daw who uncovered a plot.”
“I’ll explain, but first let me tell you about Pedro. He was betrayed by Del Gado, then, astonishingly, protected by him. I pray the laddie remains in the care of Madame Jeanne, who loves him like a son. No one gets the better of Madame Jeanne. It’s that thought, that thought alone, that allows me to slumber peacefully. By the way, the crew of the Santa Clara called Gado Gato2 due to his soft-stepping ways. You never knew where he was or what he was up to.”
“Exactly so,” says Dee. “A cunning man indeed. A fine actor, portraying duke or dirtbag with equal finesse.3 A pure tonic to the ladies, or so I’m told, despite that banged-up face. Seducing neglected wives into funneling him information is his specialty. A slick at cards, who knows when to lose. A slick at life; he’s wiggled out of many a tight spot. He and Lord Robert should get on like a house afire.”
- Tay (tea) is how both Scots and Irish referred to a favorite home-brewed concoction.
- Gato is Spanish for cat.
- Does Del Gado have theatrical ambitions? I expect that Sir Francis can hook him up with the top impresarios. Definitely something to think about.
Finding Purpose in Disasters
by GD Deckard
“There,” said Old Spice. For two days, the Alien had been sitting at a hole in the floor of the rail car working on something attached to the undercarriage. Piper and Bob, busy pumping the rail car, paid little attention. Spice was, after all, on Earth to study humans and their artifacts. The impending collapse of civilization had cut his mission short and dried up gas supplies. They were helping him get to Colorado before his ship left. Now, the hole was covered, and he was standing. “You can stop pumping now.”
“Oh,” Piper looked relieved, “We’re there?”
“Where?” Bob looked around at the Alabama countryside, seeing only oak trees, littered fields, and an occasional home.
“No,” said Spice, looking around with Bob. “I mean you can stop pumping now. I fixed the batteries.”
“Batteries?” Piper and Bob backed away from the hand pump. The rail car picked up speed.
“Wow,” Bob sat down and leaned his back on the pump housing. “Great!” He rubbed his arms. “My arms and shoulders are killing me.”
“Wimp,” Piper said, smiling and rubbing her own arms. “Thanks, Spice.” He had picked up Lisbeth, the ventriloquist dummy. Piper told him, “See if you can learn how to throw your voice, Spice,” and she whispered to Bob, “He needs things to do. He’s been depressed ever since the other aliens said they wouldn’t wait for him.”
Spice turned one eye on the dummy while turning the other inward to log onto the Internet. “I found ventriloquism. It seems easy enough.”
“Look, a park,” Piper pointed ahead.
“Could be a golf course,” Bob thought aloud.
“It’s a cemetery.” The Alien had the advantage of built-in GPS. “I must see that.”
Bob looked at Piper. “Fine.” Together, the two slowed the rail car and braked to a stop where a gravel path crossed the tracks. Poppies lined the path leading to a Caretaker’s Cottage. Inside, they found a front reception area lined with chairs.
“I’ve figured this thing out,” Spice indicated Lisbeth, now sitting on his arm, just as the back door opened and a man came in.
“Figured out what?” the man asked. He wore a suit and tie and carried a briefcase.
“Me,” Lisbeth smiled at the man.
Spice glanced pointedly at Bob. “I’m often misunderstood when trying to express myself in human language.”
“Poor baby,” Lisbeth nodded.
“Therefore, meet Lisbeth, my official translator.”
Lisbeth offered her hand to the man. He stared at it, then shook his head and turned to Bob and Piper. Several other well-dressed men and women carrying briefcases entered and took seats. “Alien humor,” the man half-laughed. “I’m glad you could make it. This is a very important meeting. I’m Tyrone Kuuhn. You can call me Ty.” He shook their hands and turned to greet Spice but was met instead by Lisbeth’s outstretched hand. “Uh,” he motioned at the other people, “We are here to facilitate the Aliens’ outreach to Earth.”
“Outreach?” Piper smiled.
“How could you possibly know we’d be here?” Bob wanted to know. “Is there a bug on that railcar?”
“Not exactly,” Ty said. “But there is a GPS locator on all railroad cars. They are needed for inventory control. So, when a hand car was reported missing where you three were last spotted, those of us who own railroads put this meeting together.”
“This is an outreach meeting?” Piper sounded interested. “Oooh. What does your group do?”
“Disaster relief. Always lots of money to be made there, but this, well! Civilization is collapsing. The potential boggles the mind.”
“How do you make money from disasters?” The well-dressed people looked at Piper as if she were a child inquiring about sex.
“The money’s free,” explained Ty. “We use donations and taxpayer money to buy everything the victims need. Food, blankets, medicine, tents, everything. We buy all that stuff from ourselves, of course.” He smiled, “At a profit.”
“So,” Lizbeth folded her arms. “Just what is this ‘outreach’ you have in mind?”
“Well,” Ty told her then caught himself and addressed Spice instead, “Everybody is losing everything, so we cannot count on donations. We are going to have to raise taxes. That is why we need you.” Ty ignored Lizbeth’s raised eyebrow. “Governments find it is easier to increase taxes when the people feel threatened by an outside enemy. That’s you, my friend, since the entire world is now our market.” He smiled and placed a warm hand of friendship on Spice’s arm which Lizbeth promptly bit. “Ow!”
“I am not your enemy,” Spice told him.
“No, no! Of course not!” Ty glanced at the bite marks on his hand. “We know that. Don’t we?” He waved at the other people in the room who all nodded in assent. “And we don’t want anything to happen to you, do we?” The other people all shook their heads.
“If something did happen to Spice,” Bob’s tone was reasonable, “You’d lose your number one enemy and tax revenue would drop.”
“Exactly!” Ty beamed as if, finally, he was getting through. “Look at what happened to defense spending when the Soviet Union collapsed. It took forever to replace those bumbling Russians with the Chinese!”
“But,” Piper asked Ty, “If people think we’re an enemy won’t we be in danger?”
“Of course, but not to worry, my good lady.” He handed Spice a slip of paper. “Log onto this website on the dark ‘Net. It will tell you where to find food, water, and shelter along your route to Colorado. And it can forewarn you of incoming danger.”
Spice took the slip of paper and read it with one eye, the other eye turning inward to log onto the site. “OKAY. Got it. Say, speaking of incoming, there’s a missile coming at us now. It’s about 80 seconds away.”
Lizbeth did a doubletake at Spice’s face and screamed, “Incoming!” She kicked him furiously. “Get me out of here! Now! Now! Oh, damnit. Go! Go!”
Out the door they ran, down the path to jump onto the rail car. Bob jiggled the hand pump and the car lurched forward, picking up speed as the missile whooshed along the flower-lined path to disintegrate the Caretaker’s Cottage and people in suits and ties with briefcases.
“Faster Spice!” cried Lizbeth. “I don’t want people raining down on me!” She buried her face against Spice’s shoulder.
“It’s OKAY,” he held her, whispering, “It’s OKAY, Lizbeth.” He caressed her hair. “This is one disaster where the victims deserve it.”
Prologue, Legend of the Klaus
by SL Randall
The purpose of this piece is the prologue to a novel. One day a question popped into my head: How does a 4th century saint become a jolly fat man in a red suit 16 centuries later?
Then I decided … I’m a writer. I will tell the story the way I think it should go.
So, here is the beginnings of a prologue. Originally, I took a lot of creative license with this, but decided I needed to stick closer to history. I’m still veering off course because St. Nicholas’ family was wealthy. In my portrayal they are farmers.
I’ve stopped where I am for the moment until I decide how to proceed. Historically, Nicholas loses his parents to an epidemic. He is then taken in by his uncle, The Bishop of Myra.
This prologue will end with the death of Nicholas’ parents. The actual novel starts years later when he is ordained as a priest.
Mimi, I am taking notes from you. I like how you stick to the history. That will prove tricky here since I have 16 centuries to span. Already, just for the prologue I’ve had to research irrigation methods, tools, geography, geology, and climate circa 250-350 AD. Not to mention who was pope, and who the Roman emperors were. I’m in no way religious, but the history of religion fascinates me.
Anyhow, Historical fantasy … here is my take! Enjoy.
Papa’s lantern bobbed and swayed. Niko trailed behind Papa’s dark bulk, the glow of the lantern providing an indistinct outline. Stars coated the predawn sky. Niko felt he walked among them. He bumped into Papa’s back.
“Niko boy, watch your step,” scolded Papa softly.
“Sorry Papa, I was walking among the stars.”
Papa grunted, “They are very beautiful, but it will be light soon. We have much work to do.” Papa opened the door to the work shed, situated under a rocky outcrop. “Come Niko, the groves need tending.”
Niko lingered, turning his back on the shed. He gazed at the stars again, following their brilliant clusters to the distant horizon, out over the Aegean Sea. Far below he could hear the waves crash upon the rocky shore.
“Niko boy!” Papa’s voice broke the spell of the stars. Niko turned toward the shed, his eyes following the solid darkness up to the sky. The land rose in stepped layers, the olive trees clung to their rocky terrain. He stepped inside the shed. Papa, already at the work bench had begun to repair the tools, broken from the day before.
“Niko, your tools would last longer if you cared for them better.” Papa sighed, shaking his shaggy head as the boy haphazardly gathered clay water pots, an adze, and an olive picker into a small two wheeled cart. Papa coughed as Niko started for the door.
Niko turned. Papa was looking at the netting and the bags hung on the wall. “Oh,” cried Niko as he hurried to collect them and add them atop his cart. “Sorry Papa!” said Niko pushing the cart before him, through the door. Papa’s voice followed, “Be mindful of the time, Niko boy!”
Niko trundled up the rocky path, pushing the little cart. By the time he reached the top of the grove, light ribboned across the eastern sky. Sweat broke out on his brow to foreshadow the day’s heat as the first rays of sunlight crested the rise.
Niko stopped in the center of the grove at a modest brick cistern to fill the clay pots with water and several long swallows for himself. The entire grove could not be watered in one day, so Niko would tend one section a day. Today his route was up the hill from the well. Fortunately, when Papa was a boy, ollas were placed at the base of each tree. Olla, fat round clay pots, held enough water to irrigate the trees during the dry times. All Niko had to do was fill the Ollas and pick any ripe olives, which were few at this time of the year. During harvest, Papa would hire migrant olive pickers.
Niko worked his way through the trees, filling the Ollas and combing the branches for any ripe olives. By the time the sun was overhead, he had one full bag of olives, a torn net, a broken tine on his picker, and several small rocks to add to his collection.
by S.T. Ranscht
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