This Show Case features six pieces submitted in response to our twentieth Writing Prompt: Time. 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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Once Upon a Time in Cumbria
by Mimi Speike
As a kitten, Sly’s favorite game was playing pirate on a washtub ship he’d built in the barn. Previously, he’d attempted to reach the Spice Islands. Herk (a hedgehog) quit that expedition after Ferd (a frog) had been promoted over him because he’d been afraid to stand look-out in the crow’s nest.1 This will be an illustrated book. I set the scene in a short intro:
Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.
He’s on a tear. Him, over there. That’s right. A cat. You cool with that? On his high horse, looks like. Of course, when was he not? I say, so what? Part of his charm, and no real harm. Check out that lid! Got up, this kid, for something. Ya! Some la-dee-da.
Hmmm. Seems that he, just home from sea, is bound for court, there to consort with Good Queen Bess, his patroness. (He says.) This should really be good. I know the guy. He’s a damn riot. Expect, shortly, his report.
Sly recites his rhymed report to Herk:
You are, said she, all dignity, of splendid parts, the best of hearts, a noble mien, a judgment keen, uncommon brave. Fearless.
God save Your Highness, my abashed reply. I am your true servant. But who, well born or no, lofty or low, would not harry Philip’s navy as I did do, to flourish you?
Her answer, this: She bent to kiss my startled forehead. Even more surprisingly, she dandled me upon her lap and bid me nap, and set to teasing out my fleas and drowned them in a cup of gin.
Her perfumed dress, musky sweetness, and diverse stinks – she doth, methinks, but rinse her face, no other place – caused me to swoon both smart and soon.
Caressed awake, begged to partake of high spiced meats and other treats, I nourished me right lavishly. Dainty I grazed. She hugged me, praised me well profusely, turned me loose, winked and withdrew, my interview concluded.
Ho! You want to know, of course you do, for I would too. You wonder, Is she fair?
A frizz of red-gold hair pathetic spare, hid ’neath a wig, the thimblerig a comic sight, the bug’s delight, flipping alive, a hopping hive, twists, rolls and braids, lacquered cascades stiffly a-shine, luster the sign of tender, toothsome, blooming youth.
The teeth: likewise a-sheath, behind met lips. But little slips by of the Hey-Nay-Nonnie-Nay.3 You get a smile once in a while, no genuine, expansive grin or jolly bray, as must betray dentals broke, black, a number lacking. Lead paint coating face and throat, a gross, opaque, thick whiteish make-up of a sheen. Peau opaline, they laud it.
No! A ghastly glow, a greasy mess, none dare confess it so, nor own near to a crone, cadaver-pale, a vain female.4
“He dares to mock our queen, the blockhead,” muttered Herk. “The clod’s berserk! This is head-lop talk here. Atop of Traitor’s Gate (well populated, they do say), on vile display, noodles on pikes, the mouthy likes of this hurrah and his hoo-hah.
“Sir Rants-a-Lot!5 Have ye forgot? You planned to speak on Mozambique. Discourse on your far eastern tour. All well and good the Queen, but would ye nae report that gay disport? Boast on that, Rants. Here be yer chance to make me sigh for the glee I, fed up, refused, feeling ill-used.6
This conversation, in which Sly makes an indecent proposal, continues in part two.
- Hedgehogs can climb upwards. Going down is much more difficult for them.
- She was no juicy young thing at this point, but she demanded to be treated as if she were.
- Effusive high spirits.
- Females at court wore a white lead-based make-up. I don’t doubt Elizabeth loved it because it covered pockmarks on her face, the result of her having had smallpox.
- Sly is a big fan of the Arthurian legends. His friends have given him this nickname.
- Herk had been demoted from First Mate and replaced by Ferd on a previous voyage. He’d quit that expedition in a huff.
Once Upon a Time in Cumbria: A Singular Conversation
by Mimi Speike
“We soon attained,” the cat explained, “so-called Gran Can.7 We thereupon researched our next step. Some perplexed, warned off our spree, we stubbornly, well mapped and well provisioned, hell-bent on Good Hope, resolved to grope past old Cape Storm. Let me inform you, from first-hand, ye understand, Bartolo’s ding is more the thing.8 We took a bashing, we did. Brash, high spirits fled, high hopes flat dead, we beat retreat, a none-too-fleet crestfallen slog back to Big Dog.”
“Ye never got out to Kolkot!”9
“Nay. Nowhere near.”
“Nor spied that queer . . . what was the name?”
“So! If an’when d’ye intend another go at that Cape Blow?”
“If! Churl! How can ye doubt it?”
“An’, will I be took to have a look?”
“Nossir, not if ye sneer an’ miff at my do – so, and sulk, and throw one o’ yer fits. You an’ yer snits! Tell me this: How, unless ye vow to reform, dare I – well aware of your react – don’t pout, it’s fact – drag ye along, ye damn ding-dong?”
“Ding dong! I’ll prove you wrong, sir. You’ve wounded me, sir, with that there slur. Ding dong, my eye! Well, I say, fie! Henceforth, my cry, sir: do or die!”
“Look here, m’ boy, the hens annoy us both. What fun, to make us run, or, in your case, coil up, your face encircled by your quills. Now, my idea is that you hurdle at the boogers. Grit, a go-for-it sabers-drawn rage of a rampage. Squeeze out some sass at least. Bad-ass belligerence might teach them sense.
“Herk! Strut your stuff, show me some tough. The Dodo bird is vile, I’ve heard, swift to attack, a maniac. If ye can’t buck a common cluck, how do ye spar with a bizarre, the mandible no budgie-bill, huge nasty chop there, laddie, whopper sharp claws, too, to tickle you, to pieces, see. Listen to me!
“Hog! I transport not to cavort, but to observe, conclude, conserve, write a smart piece on the gross-geese to impress Dee, that scholarly.11 Then too, a pair of the right rare hook-beaks presented our regent may well lead to a sweet accrue: bribes, rake-offs, fees, gratuities which are the joy of royal employ.
“My Queen, I’d cry, observe ye my companions, how they know to bow to a great queen – their gay routine, the stand-out few dipping on cue in hats and ruffs and ankle cuffs. Think you not I should gratify exceedingly with my raree?12
“My adjutant has got to want to engage the monstrosity. You must agree to partner me, decoy, distract, whilst I extract from the nest-nook . . . Damn! Now you’re shook, you start to curl. Crap, kid! Unfurl!
“Us two shall snatch up not-yet-hatchlings, oversee their infancy, tutor noblesse and politesse as must enthrall them in Whitehall. You, sir, shall rout the female out of the brood nest. I do the rest. I do the deed, haste with all speed to the inlet, where, canvas set, I watch and wait for my First Mate.
“Those beady eyes are big as pies. How come? For why? Speak to me! I feel your unease. Hear me out, please. My Uncle Dek – poor slob, a wreck – takes his wee dram down the White Ram. It’s on the house, thanks to their louse of a macaw, who pecked Unk raw one blighted night in a bar fight.13
“A bowl of stout, says Unk, is ’bout the best set-right for any fright. Let’s us adjourn yonder to learn the truth of it. We get ye lit, eh? What the hey, right? This here way, this roly-poly-rigmarole, no ifs or buts, it’s crazy nuts. Where’s that defiant do-or-die? Let’s hit the Tup14 and buck you up. Unk’s there, I bet, right now. We’ll get a slurp, a bite . . . if he ain’t tight, his sage advice.”
“Truly, how nice. So very kind but, ye don’t mind, I’d wedge m’self into a hedgerow to console, no thanks th’ bowl o’ what-ye-will gut-fuddle-swill. Look here,” said Herk, fighting a smirk, “it’s not for me, such cruelty. Tis your problem. I pity them poor innocents, hornswoggled hence, the Mama’s heart broken apart. Petition Ferd, who you preferred to me last voyage. He’s your boy.”
“I queried that there dandiprat. I talked me blue, I promise you. Get this: the coot has him a cutie. Fool’s done fell under her spell. Hell nor high tide nor the world wide convinces him to ditch the bimbo. Solid smitten, is the twit. Dear Lord Above! The frog’s in love!”
- Gran Can: Short for Gran Canaria, an island in the Azores. Gran Canaria means Great Island of Dogs. Sly calls it Big Dog.
- Named Cape of Storms by Bartolomeu Diaz; renamed Cape of Good Hope by John II of Portugal.
- The Dodo was a large, flightless bird native to Mauritius, east of Madagascar. The first recorded mention was by Dutch sailors in 1598 but I insist on believing a sailor had written about it twenty years earlier, and that Sly knew of the creature.
- John Dee, a foremost scholar of the period, figures prominently in Sly’s disruption of an assassination plot against the Queen in my series of novellas.
- Raree show: a peep show. Any unusual or amazing show or spectacle.
- You’ll read about the incident in book three of Sly! A Rogue, Reconsidered. Since that evening, Sly’s Uncle Declan, confronted by a bird of any size, curls into a fetal position and whimpers.
- A Scottish term for a male sheep, in other words, a ram.
Next: A Frog in Love
A Life in the Day
by Boris Glikman
It is close to midnight, February 28 of a leap year. Summer is coming to an end and autumn is just a few minutes away. I look back wistfully at all the things I could have done during the holidays, but never had or made time for.
It is then that an extra day of summer drops out of the blue and lands next to me. Twenty-four hours, fourteen hundred and forty minutes, eighty-six thousand, four hundred seconds lie pristine, shiny-new on the ground, each moment pregnant with promise, mine to own, to sculpt into any shape I like.
I skip merrily around it, celebrating the extra day which has been gifted to me by heaven. Now is the time to live to the fullest degree, like I’ve never done before, to seize the day in the most literal sense possible and to hold it tight in my arms, the way that no one has ever carpe diem-ed before, to enjoy and savour every instant of life, for a miracle has happened and the death sentence which hangs over all mankind has been deferred for 24 hours by the Governor in the Sky.
But then niggling doubts begin for an inextricable question confronts me, a question that has held a pincers-like grip on my mind all my life, yet I am no closer to finding the answer: How to live my life? Or, the same question reduced to its quotidian form: How to get through the day? That’s life’s toughest challenge. If I can solve it, then I’ve got it made.
A brand new day shimmers before me in all of its multitudinous facets, in all of its innumerable permutations, while I just stand there dumbfounded, overwhelmed by the infinite choices swirling before me. I know not what to do, unable to reach out and hold on to even one possibility.
It is so tempting to take the easy way out, to waste the day, to do nothing, for is there a more delicious guilty pleasure than squandering one’s life away in idyllic idleness? But no, I must honour this day, raise this bonus cup of life and drink it to the very last drop for, after all, if life is a miracle, then being given an extra day to live is a miracle doubled.
Should I spend this day in silence, solitude and stillness, witnessing every moment, writing down even the faintest, most fleeting thought and feeling arising within me, so I can leave a record of my being for posterity? Instead of drifting, like a jellyfish in the ocean, through this day, going through the same motions of the same old routine, can I awaken to its true magic and beauty?
Will I experience this day as it really is, cleansed of all the grime which besmirches and distorts its true visage, unshackled from all the trivial annoyances, all the petty frustrations which make life such a grind in day-to-day existence? Will this day shed the dowdy garb with which it conceals its features and stand before me in all its natural, radiant glory?
Should I grab this day by its legs, turn it upside down and give it a good shaking, so that all the secrets it has stashed in its hidden pockets come tumbling down at my feet?
Should I live this day as if it is the very first day of the rest of my life or as if it is the very last day of my life?
What would it be like to live your very last day, like a condemned man? Can you imagine breathing your very last breath, uttering your very last word, tasting your very last bite of bread, waking for the very last time, seeing yourself in the mirror for the very last time, marvelling at the sky’s beauty for the very last time, checking the time on your watch for the very last time, feeling certain, for the very last time, that death is something that only happens to other people?
It is impossible to accept there will come a time when we will experience our last moments, yet all of us will have our final day, hour, minute, second…
The decision lies with you.
Every day you are given twenty-four immaculate gems, all neatly assembled into one resplendent ornament. Not everyone is privileged to receive such a gift.
Will you wear it as a burden or as a treasure?
1) In Australia the seasons are reversed and summer is considered to end on 1st of March.
Not this Time, Bonkers
by GD Deckard
The interstellar ship of galactically feared slavers fitfully orbited Earth. This slave ship was manned exclusively by members of the dreaded Bonkers family.
The planet below seemed to hop about as Commander Total Lee studied it through the bridge porthole. Coffee sloshed from his cup onto his Vest Of Supreme Medals. “Tell Half I want a smooth orbit for once!” he instructed his first mate, Pretty. Half was the ship’s engineer, and he always did what Pretty told him to do. She was dangerous. Not that Total’s vest wasn’t already the color of dark roast Sumatra from previous maneuvers by Half. But coffee was expensive. Most planets could not grow it. This one looked promising.
“Looks promising,” his Science Officer mumbled, flipping through pages of data. “Coffee-growing areas. Indigenous slaves.” Quantum Lee looked up at his commander. “A complete package. What say we send Actual down?” Actual Lee managed the Red Shirt Platoon, traditionally the first to touch down on a new planet.
“Tell Actual to bring back a slave and some coffee. A hundred kilos.”
“Uh, he can’t bring all that back without leaving one of his men down there, Commander.”
Total stared at his Science Officer. “He always does.”
The Red Shirts fluttered down into a sunny afternoon, riding the air currents to stay on target before deploying their parachutes. It is not that High Command considered them less valuable, they had been assured. But room on the landing pod was limited to the pilot, Actual Lee (irreplaceable), and his irreplaceable cargo. Dependable rumors circulated that their return to the ship would be discussed at a future staffing meeting.
In a field below them, an old tomcat watched with growing interest as the fluttering forms grew to recognition. Scratch Daddy felt a surge of foreboding that flexed his skeletal muscles and flared his nostrils. Those Red Shirts could not be allowed to land on his planet. A direct descendent of Schrödinger’s’ cat, Scratch Daddy understood things about space-time in ways no cat could explain. His back arched until he stood on his claws. His tale rippled time and the timeline changed to one with a clear sky. Good, he thought, the red things had been pushed away, back into space on the other side of the planet. The old tomcat stretched and lay down in the afternoon sun.
Aboard the slave ship, Science Officer Quantum Lee expressed the exact opposite of eureka: “What the fuck!”
Commander Total twitched at the thought that something was amiss. “What now?”
“The Red Shirts. The patrol we just parachuted to the planet? They fucking missed it!”
“The planet. They’re orbiting on the other side now.”
“That can’t be good. They weren’t dressed for orbiting.”
“They’re dead, Sir.”
“All of them?” Total considered what his science officer was telling him. “Of course. That’s a record for Actual. A whole platoon.” He drummed his fingers on the little tin drum that his mother had given to him when he was four. “What went wrong?”
Quantum studied the readouts from his quantum instruments. They were too peculiar to really understand. A cat? “I’m not really sure, Commander. It could have been bad timing.”
by S.T. Ranscht
I should be doing the dishes. I hate having dirty dishes in the sink. It’s distracting and offensive, and these have been waiting in the sink since yesterday. Why? Because of Origami Girl. I started reading it last night immediately after dinner. It is quite possibly the best time travel story I’ve ever read in the vast universe of time travel stories I’ve sought out, looking for… what? A rational explanation? A factual basis? An instruction manual?
As Origami Girl herself explains it, each of us is a time map, folded into our own shape suspended in the current of time — in current time. Each crease is a segment of what we think of as the “timeline”, bent to create the unique path each of us takes through our own life. Of course we share similarities — after all, there are thousands of cranes, maybe even more frogs — but our creases will never be identical to anyone else’s, differing in length and sharpness. So we drift through time believing we can’t go backwards like dogs who catch the source of an intriguing scent on a tailwind breeze or leap ahead like energetic manta rays. BUT, if we understood how to unfold and re-shape ourselves, we could add new lines to our map. The old fold lines would still be there, but we would have new creases, new paths through time: forward, backward, intersecting, overlapping — maybe even completely disconnected.
Origami Girl’s life is a jumble of future, past, and present. There is no grandmother paradox in her universe. Once you are brought into existence, it doesn’t matter if you go back in time to before your parents were born and kill one of your grandmothers. (Well, it matters in the sense that it would be a crap thing to do, and if you stick around in that timeline, you will probably end up in prison.) The point is: You still exist because you’ve already been born in a timeline in which your grandmother didn’t die. It makes perfect sense. To me, anyway.
Getting back to Origami Girl, she once found herself at her own conception where she ensured she would be born male. Another time, she was her own sibling. Another time she was her own grandmother. Luckily, that wasn’t a timeline in which she went back and killed her. Or maybe it was — after all, the murdering version of her would still exist. Either way, experience taught her there is no natural law of chronology that would prevent her from going on adventures with any number of versions of herself.
So here I’ve been sitting, all night long, cuddled up in my comfiest armchair, immersed in Origami Girl’s time map. I couldn’t set it aside no matter how the sink full of dirty dishes weighed on my OCD. And why, you may wonder am I telling you this?
I’m telling you this because I am making a momentous discovery. As I unfold myself from my comfy chair, I am folding myself into an ever-so-sightly different shape, and going back in time far enough to do the dishes before I originally sat down to read. And now, having already read Origami Girl the first time I lived through this night, I’m headed off to bed for a good night’s sleep before I face, not a new day, but a day that was new yesterday.
Is Time Travel a Fantasy?
by Mellow Curmudgeon
No. It just happens
(whether we like it or not)
on a fixed schedule.