Question, May 20, 2022

This Show Case features seven pieces submitted in response to our seventeenth Writing Prompt: Question. 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:

Arrogance

Those submissions are due by the end of Monday, October 3, 2022, and will be published here the following Friday. Please attach yours as a .docx, .doc, or .pdf to an email to stranscht@sbcglobal.net. (Guidelines: any genre, approximately 6 – 1,000 words.)

And please share this Show Case with your family, friends, and other writers.

A Question of Turnabout

by GD Deckard

Half Leper was neither fully awake nor in any mood for foolishness when the doorbell rang. Still, he donned a bathrobe and a pleasant smile. It could be Carma, returning to forgive him for last night’s debacle with the steam iron. Stupid cow. It wasn’t his fault the thing suddenly began working.

The red uniform momentarily threw him, but it was not Carma in her signature red dress. “Your house is on a Cartesian plane.” The odd-looking man who told him this wore a strange uniform and carried a stick over his shoulder with a triangular flag on its end that read, “Tour Guide.” Behind him trailed a line of, presumably, tourists.

“What?”

The man, odd-looking mainly due to his squinty eyes and determined lower lip, pushed the door fully open, brushing Half aside. “Through here,” he waved the line, “and take the first left.”

“Hey!” The tourists entered Half’s living room single file and turned left into his bedroom. He ran to see what they did and that was to vanish. He whirled and grabbed the tour guide by the arms. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Get these people out of here now!”

The guide nodded to the head of the line where the lead person vanished as he reached Half’s bed. “They are leaving now, sir.”

A disturbing question came over Half. “Where,” he asked emphatically, “are they going?”

“Where everybody goes at some point. Don’t worry.”

Half tightened his grips on the man’s arms and shook. “If you wish to leave here in one piece, you will answer my question!”

Clearly affronted and surprisingly strong, the man sputtered and shook his arms loose. “Sir! I am sorry, but I am strictly prohibited from disclosing details.” He took from his pocket a sheaf of documents and leafing to the last page, tapped the bottom line and held it out to Half. With a pen. “Now, if you will just sign here, attesting that you witnessed the tourists going through, our business will conclude.”

Half remembered the handgun in his dresser drawer. “No way. I see them leave but I’m not signing anything until you tell me where they go.” As the man’s eyes turned calculating, Half added, “And I’m not taking your word for it. I want proof.” He stepped back, adopting a more reasonable stance that put him closer to the dresser.

“I can only speak in generalities. These people are going to their next life.”

“Hmm.” Half put one hand to his cheek and rested his elbow on the other. Bending slightly in thought, he moved next to the dresser.

“As for any details, as I said, I can’t say. I really am incapable. That was the reason I got this job.”

“You were chosen to guide others because you are incapable of speaking in detail?”

“Yes. In my previous life, I was a politician.” He sighed. “Also, I’m officially in Limbo and not allowed to get in line yet to see for myself.” He saw Half open the dresser drawer and take out a large stainless steel revolver. “But you! You can see for yourself!” he added hastily.

“How?”

“Join the line.”

“Where would I go?”

The guide just looked at him, as if waiting for Half’s question to catch up to the answer.

“Oh. Well, generally speaking, where do people go?”

“Somewhere familiar. Life is a teaching experience, you know. Just the circumstances will have changed. How, exactly, depends on the exact coordinate that the earth is passing over when you pass through. But it is always apropos and often a question of turnabout.” He pointed to the end of the line now entering Half’s bedroom. “There, fall in! Your question will be answered.”

Half did. He scrawled his name onto the guide’s document and stepped to the end of the line just as it became the front of the line. Surprisingly, there was no surprising transition. He was ringing a doorbell, his arm clothed in a woman’s red sleeve. It looked like his house. He was surprised to see his nude self open the door, holding a steam iron.

“Ahh, Carma! Come in. You’ll enjoy this. Tonight’s theme is hot steamy sex!”

Octoworld

by Boris Glikman

From the top of the hill I saw, to my keen disappointment, that this was not a pleasant coastal town at all, but rather a monstrous octopus of some kind that passed itself off as an urban conglomeration. I already knew octopuses were excellent mimics with highly evolved intelligence and that they impersonated, for defensive and predatory reasons, sea snakes, jellyfish and stingrays, as well as many other creatures. It seemed they had now taken mimicry to the next level and were imitating entire cities. 

What were their motives for doing so, I wondered. What were they trying to achieve? How many other objects or cities were actually camouflaged octopuses? Perhaps the Earth itself, or indeed the whole Universe, was just a cephalopod in disguise?

It was abundantly clear to me now that all those crazy conspiracy theories were right with their claim that a nefarious organisation has spread across the world and penetrated all strata of societies with its harmful influence. Nay, it went much further than that. It no longer was the case of a cabal controlling our world; rather our world literally was one and the same as this evil creature. 

What if I myself was just a sucker on one of its giant tentacles? That would certainly explain why I have so often been gullible and easily deceived. Could this be the reason the Company sent me for a vacation to this “town” – to gain insight into my own nature, as well as into the true character of the world? But if so, then how could I possibly profit from such a devastating revelation of who I really am? 

Questions Surrounding a Long Fly Ball

by Mellow Curmudgeon

Consider the question

Could a long fly ball knock the rider off a flying horse?

Nobody could be riding such a horse in the first place, so I say no.  But

Could a long fly ball knock Bellerophon off Pegasus?

is trickier.  To speak of Pegasus like that is to speak about a fantasy world populated by a flying horse, his intrepid rider, and so on.  Should I say yes?  Maybe not.  Ancient Greeks did not play baseball.

Hmmm.  Odysseus was overqualified for landed aristocracy.  What else did he do before being distracted, first by the Trojan War and then by GPS malfunctions?  In light of all the weird things Homer says Odysseus did on his way home from Troy, saying he had previously been a star outfielder for the Ithaca Hoplites is not much of a stretch, is it?

The Wikipedia article on Pegasus says that Bellerophon fell while trying to ride him to Mount Olympus.  No details.  Hmmm.

Did he fall or was he pushed?

Did Zeus think Bellerophon was coming to sell encyclopedias?  Nope.  Now it can be told.  In a must-win game against the Athenian Athletes, Odysseus hit a long fly ball that should have been a home run landing somewhere in Sparta.  But Bellerophon was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Clunked by the ball as Pegasus winged over the stadium, Bellerophon fell into the Hoplites bullpen.

What did the umpires rule?

This one is easy.  The hit was a ground-rule double because of fan interference.

How Do We Measure Conciseness?

by Mellow Curmudgeon

Had not thought about this question until Word suggested a change in my draft for Questions Surrounding a Long Fly Ball in this Show Case.  Word thought a sentence starting with “In light of” would be more concise if it started with “Considering” instead.  (Yes, the meaning would be the same.)  Big on being concise, I considered but rejected Word’s suggestion.  Word equated using fewer words with being more concise.  While this is a good approximation for paragraphs and longer passages, it ignores syllable counts and how long it takes to read something aloud.

For phrases and short sentences, should we compute some kind of weighted average of things like word count, letter count, syllable count, and reading time?   (Not being a whiz at morae, I usually take syllable counts as a proxy for reading time.)  While I don’t think this would be worth the effort, I also won’t just trust a word count.

Syllable counts and/or rhythm are important in poetry, so I might sometimes prefer “considering” over “in light of” when I write a poem.  For prose, I consider “in light of” to be a little more concise than “considering” and told Word to hush that particular suggestion.

Let’s close with a few couplets:

I think it nice

to be concise.

I value ticks of readers’ time

more than any tocks of mine.

A Question

by Perry Palin

Student conversation and laughter bounced off the hard surfaces of concrete walls, plastic chairs, and Formica tabletops. More than half of the tables were occupied. I was usually there with friends, but today I was alone. 

I sat on a stool at a small, high, round table, nursing a cup of vending machine coffee in a Styrofoam cup. I had my notes and my Norton Anthology open, hoping that I would have an answer in the next hour when the tall bald Professor Crocker looked over the class, settled on me, and asked some inane question about a 19th Century British poem that I may or may not have read. 

Dan came into the room, scanned the tables, and sat on the stool directly across from me. He didn’t say hello. He frowned, and he looked at me. Dan was an Air Force vet and five years older than most of the students, married, and serious about school. We were friends outside of school. I would paddle at one end of his canoe when he wanted to fish any of the small lakes north of town.

Dan said, “Look, I don’t have much time. I have to ask you something.”

“Oh. Okay. So ask it then.”

He broke eye contact with me and looked over my shoulder toward the mural of blue and white sailboats on the wall. “Why haven’t you asked Elin for a date?”

I was stunned for a moment. “What? Don’t kid me, man. She’s engaged.” 

Dan said, “I’m just here to ask you the question.” 

“Are you kidding me? This is a joke, right?  It’s time for you to laugh now at your little joke.” 

He wasn’t laughing. 

I said, “Come on, damn it. She has a ring on her left hand. It’s white gold, or whatever, platinum maybe, and it has a diamond on it and a handful of smaller diamonds. I couldn’t ask her out even if I wanted to.” 

Dan didn’t say anything. 

I was figuring this out. “You’re not asking for yourself.”

After a pause, Dan looked at me again. “She knows that you and I are friends. She asked me why you’ve never asked her out.”

“Elin asked you? She asked you that? Were there any other people there?”

“No. It was just the two of us.” Dan made a show of looking at his watch, and he got off his stool. “Look, I’ve got to get to class. See you on Thursday. We’ll talk about taking out the canoe.”

“Wait. Are you going to report back to her? Are you supposed to tell her what I said?”

Dan wasn’t going to answer my question. He said, “See you on Thursday.” He turned and walked out of the room. Of course he would tell her. 

Elin, blond slender Elin, with a dancer’s walk and bright blue eyes. Blond Elin, of soft cool colors and soft fabrics and movement, Elin of soft music and clear words, with the lilt of a girl raised by first generation Nordic parents. When she caught a strand of loose blond hair and tucked it behind her ear, and she smiled, all colors and all shapes and all sounds would fall away. Then it’s just her smile and nothing else. Elin asked Dan why I’d never asked her for a date. And then there’s the ring. 

My Coffee was cold and bitter. I closed my notes and my Norton. Blond, slender, lovely Elin. What now? What the hell now? 

Let Me Tell You About Bear

by Mimi Speike

For one thing, he doesn’t criticize me like Maisie did. Don’t get me wrong. I never took offense. She meant well.

When Bear and I go out, he riding in my shirt pocket like she did, he doesn’t insist on commenting on folks we pass in the street. Theres an ugly fellow. Get a load of that beauty. 

She almost got me beat up more than once. I steered clear of everyone best I could. That was no solution. It only drew attention my way. 

Bear doesn’t argue with me about what toppings to get on a pizza. I go for eggplant. She despised it. I ordered eggplant and picked it off her portion. She still complained, said the sight of it made her nauseous, looked like innards left behind after a cat gets hold of you. 

I do agree with her on that. I stepped out of bed this morning onto to some squishy stuff that didn’t feel like cat throw-up. It was body parts. I have a cat again. In warm weather, I leave the window to the fire escape open a crack so she can come and go at will. I’ve rescued many a terrified mousie from her and set it back outside.

I’ve made a list–The pros and cons of Maisie versus Bear:

  • Maisie wanted nothing on her pizza but pepperoni. 
  • Bear lets me have my way, always, no argument.
  • Maisie was always trying to smarten me up, clothes-wise. I can’t blame her for it. She’d been an icon of style in her youth. We’d hit the Upper East Side Goodwill for chic cast-offs, spent more than we should have. No matter what label those pieces sported, I never looked like anything but a fashion disaster.
  • Bear, bless his heart, loves me just the way I am, bedraggled most of the time.
  • Maisie was always criticizing my choice of reading material. I love mysteries. She enjoyed the classics. She insisted we spend an hour every night, me reading Dickens to her. 
  • Bear would rather watch TV. He lets me read my Agatha Christie without making wisecracks.
  • I’m a cat person, have been my whole life. That didn’t go over with her, needless to say.
  • I’m able to have a cat again. Her name is Pip. Bear adores her.
  • I’m no neatnik. (That’s putting it mildly.) That used to drive Maisie nuts. She liked everything in its place. 
  • Bear sits on his furniture, doesn’t bitch about anything. A welcome change from my former roommate.

We clashed on many things, but I loved her dearly. Maisie was the only good thing that ever happened to me, until Bear came along. When I first found him, I took him for an ordinary (but super-small) teddy bear. 

I’d gotten comfortable with the idea of a talking mouse, a miraculous occurrence indeed. Has lightning struck a second time? Could I be that lucky?

Bear’s a fine piano player. (The livingroom suite he came with includes a piano.) He taught himself to play the piano! I figured it out. He’d been in that box, in an attic probably, for many a year, nothing to amuse himself with except for a piano. He’s an inventive player. He’s self-taught, obviously.

FYI: Chet Atkins (#21 on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists) said of Mark Knopfler, another self-taught: “It’s self-taught who come up with something new.” 

Bear goes at his instrument with mind-blowing originality. I enjoy his musicality to pieces. I play Dr. John for him, for inspiration. We love Dr. John. Pinetop Perkins, another favorite. Same feel, though the Night Tripper pounds the keys more vigorously. 

Bear plays duets with both of them. How does he manage, stubby digits wholly unsuited to slender keys? He shoots out his claws, tinkles the ivories with as much dexterity as the most accomplished keyboard carouser. 

I have to ask myself: Is Bear a virtuoso bluesman, or is he faking it (brilliantly)? He’s a joker, let me tell you.

Her Own

by S.T. Ranscht

Image credit: Johannes Plenio

30 thoughts on “Question, May 20, 2022

  1. mimispeike says:

    I’m going to comment on these one by one.

    GD, if I gave myself the assignment to write a piece of stylish nonsense, this is what I would aim for. And your phrasing, as usual, is delightful. I would love to limit myself to a veneer of whacky, but compulsive me, I always have to dig deeper. Then it isn’t a short story any more.

    Great fun, very enjoyable.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the chuckles -on many levels- Boris. A good satire is always enjoyable.

    LOL Mellow! Reading that was as much fun as listening to Abbot & Costello describe a baseball game!

    “A Question” is brilliantly written to the theme, Perry. Thank you for that story.

    Once again, Mimi, you weave pretend animals into complex characters and make them believable. Meeting any of them is always a delightful experience.

    Ever consider publishing a book of political haiku, Sue? You have just the wicked wit to do it. 😝

    Liked by 2 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Perry, nicely written, but leaves me wondering: Dan said, “Look, I don’t have much time. I have to ask you something.” What’s so urgent about the asking of this question?

    The writer apparently doesn’t know Elin well enough to make a guess at why she would ask the question. There’s more story to be told, for this to make sense to me. As I often do, I am furnishing my own answers.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Perry Palin says:

      “There’s more story to be told, for this to make sense to me. As I often do, I am furnishing my own answers.”

      That’s just the way I like it.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    Mellow: Very amusing. And I really love the way you talk about language. We all have our issues with Word.

    And I’m in a battle right now with meter and meaning, because I’m rewriting the end of a verse long written. The last few lines never truly pleased me, and I’m trying to put it right.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you Mimi, you are right about that, although a lot of credit also has to go to the artist, Vladimir Kush, who created the painting above – my story was inspired by that painting.. (Apologies for the late reply – I’ve been sick.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. GD – An intriguing idea — “going to their next life”…”where everybody goes at some point”, apparently without dying first. Or if they die at the moment of vanishing, do they actually understand before they go on the tour that’s what will happen? The part of the story that you’ve shared makes me want to see the world in which it’s happening. Your prose’s dynamic rhythm and makes a great read aloud. And, “The guide just looked at him, as if waiting for Half’s question to catch up to the answer.” — brilliant.

    Boris – Insightful and sharp. While I’ve never thought of octopi as inherently evil, you’ve certainly created a vivid image and proposed a disturbing perception of what might be. The open-ended question at the non-ending is one all of us suckers need to consider.

    Mellow – Questions Concerning a Long Fly Ball: Each question’s answer takes us deeper into an absurdly fantastical reality that becomes easier to accept as reasonable and plausible as it leads to yet another question in a stream of consciousness style. Entertaining and fun.
    How Do We Measure Conciseness: Is concision really a function of counting letters or syllables or words or reading time? While counting is an objective measure a computer program can do, maybe concision has more to do with how directly a thought is expressed, relying more on meaning and connotation and implication than numbers. How capable is Word of accurately understanding what your writing truly means? Can it comprehend humor or satire? Does it know when an idea is absurd? Would you rely on Word as a beta reader?

    Perry – You’ve done a good job of exposing how surging hormones can cause a simple question to take on life-and-death weight, and I had to laugh. This situation is reminiscent of junior high or high school when boys and girls who “like” each other have to engage an intermediary to test the waters for them. She might have sent him a note reading, “Do you like me?” with yes or no boxes to check. Once the main character described married Dan as “more serious about school” than the younger students, I anticipated seeing some evidence of that, but instead was surprised both boys (older or married aside, their behavior is that of boys) missed the obvious solution to this tiny problem. Don’t ask her out; admire her ring and then ask her when she’s getting married. Her answer will clear up his dilemma.

    Mimi – For all the narrator’s protestations of love for Maisie, we are hearing more and sharper criticisms of the marvelous mouse while Bear comes across as faultless. Again, this seems more revealing of the narrator than of Bear, but Bear will easily become a beloved character.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    Sue, I feel you are talking to me. I questioned everything. My parents may have done me a favor by creating such a hostile environment that I had no choice but to question everything.

    My sister questioned nothing, from what I could see. At least she didn’t openly rebel, as I did. That’s how she got to the string of creep relationships, culminating in the predator priest.

    I’ve gone through my own hell. Who’s better off? I honestly can’t say. Am I saner than she is? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Here’s to those of us who question everything, for whatever reason. Finding our way past the falsehoods and cons to a sense of confidence in our own judgment. I’m not sure the road always goes through hell, but I believe it results in a better outcome than blindly believing everything anyone wants us to believe.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. @GD: W/o any literal belief in an afterlife, I can still appreciate clever and funny afterlife stories like this one.  But I do have a question.  While “Carma” is a good name for the girlfriend of a protagonist who reaps what he sows, “Half Leper” has me stumped.  For somebody who wants to use a steam iron as a sex toy, “Half Witt” would be fitting (but heavy handed).  What’s behind the protagonist’s name?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mellow,
      If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, you might enjoy the Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings. A minor character in the latter is old Haf Gangree. I love that name and Half Leper is as close as I could come without plagiarizing it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks but no thanks.  Bought the first Lord of the Rings book when it came out in paperback.  Found it too long-winded and boring to finish the first chapter.  The parody is so aptly named that I don’t want to read it either.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Sue, quick question…
    You put your email address on the web. Do you get a lot of spam at that address?
    I’ve been camouflaging mine to thwart the email-address-collecting ‘bots that spammers use to construct mailing lists. But then, I’m thinking of old cautions. Maybe, those ‘bots are no longer a problem?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I look through my spam box before I empty it because sometimes things end up there that don’t belong there, but most of what I see is related to other sites I’ve visited, things I’ve purchased, or politics. I don’t think it’s increased because of random bots. I might be wrong. I rarely receive spam in my inbox.

    Like

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