This Show Case features nine pieces submitted in response to our twenty-fifth Writing Prompt: Yesterday. 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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by SL Randall
Bepé pulled his hat further down to shade his eyes from the painful glare of the sun. The dead planet was a wasteland of scrubby brown bushes, still air and a hot sun baking everything. Just yesterday, he sat in the lush garden of his home, sipping a cocktail and reading the specs for this assignment. He thought he had appreciated that moment. Now, lips dry and cracking, he took a swig of warm water and decided he did not know how to appreciate anything.
Dunia, his intrepid assistant, measured the area of the dig they had identified as their research domain. The archeologists had picked the site clean, made their extensive notes about what they found, and now it was Bepé’s turn to examine the site. His report would detail the people and their lives as they inhabited the area. He hated the archeologists. As much as they fussed over the site, they left a lot of destruction in their wake. He didn’t understand why the company made him go in after them. With his multiverse device, he could visit any moment along the timeline and give a much better anthropological report.
Dunia stood up and waved at him from where he had placed the perimeter fence. Bepé bent down, picked up his overloaded pack, and slung it over his shoulder. Two steps later, he was flat on his back, struggling for air. His ears rang from the concussive explosion, which momentarily blinded him. He rolled to his hands and knees, gagged and gasped for air. The stupid thought of “I am grateful for air” ran through his head. His head swam dizzily as his blurred vision receded to normal.
“Dunia,” he croaked with the strength of a whisper. Seared in his memory was Dunia, arm out waving, smile frozen as the bright flash consumed him. “Dunia!” he shouted, this time his rasping cry penetrated the ringing in his ears. Bepé stumbled to his feet and lurched to the spot where Dunia had stood only moments ago. Confused by the lack of destruction and no corpse, Bepé examined the scrubby dead bushes. Why were they not charred cinders? Aside from Dunia’s boot prints, evidence of the blast only remained in the ringing of Bepé ears. A flashing red light caught his eye. Dunia’s multiverse device rested in a prickly bush. Bepé retrieved it, ignoring the thorns that tore at his hand.
The device was undamaged, but the flashing red light showed an error message scrolling across the screen. “Warning, Verse jump in twenty seconds.” Yet there was no countdown. He wondered if Dunia was still alive. Bepé was afraid to reset Dunia’s device. It was the only clue to where and when he had gone. He thumbed the history button, but the warning scroll continued to flash. He looked around the dig site. Maybe Dunia had only transported close by and needed help. A small voice in his head said it was unlikely, but he search the site, anyway. By the time he was done, the brutal sun rested on the horizon. As hot as the day was, the night would freeze any moisture hanging around.
Bepé went back to where he last saw Dunia. He switched off Dunia’s device and waited until it rebooted. Immediately the device resumed flashing red, but the countdown scroll now marked ten seconds, then nine. Frantically, Bepé tried to switch it off again. The off button didn’t respond. A green light flashed, the device’s robotic voice intoned, “Verse jump imminent.”
For the second time that day, Bepé found himself on the ground, gasping for air. Was it only yesterday he lay in his soft bed, bored and wanting to get back out in the field?
The Persistence of Past’s Presence
by Boris Glikman
Once you get past Cloud Nine, quaint villages, roads made in the old-fashioned way and people dressed in the long-ago outmoded clothes appear in the sky, for this is where the past goes to reside once it has been replaced by the present down on Earth. If this sounds preposterous, it is only because we are so focussed on the present that we never stop to think about what happens to the past once it has passed. And the truth is that the past also needs a place to dwell, for it can not just disappear into nothingness.
Not all passed moments migrate up to the sky though. Some make their way to the far-off, mythical continents; others opt to move underground, while more than a few are happy with any nook they can find. In any case, a veritable mass exodus of elapsed seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years is unceasingly taking place for they are yesterday’s news and are no longer wanted nor needed by the world.
Each moment has its moment in the sun and is then replaced by the next moment that enjoys its own limelight, until it too is left behind. At one time these instants were embraced with enthusiasm and love, were the centre of attention. But as soon as their lifespan expires, they are discarded like useless garbage or noxious waste. And so they must depart for other regions, to find some niche where they can live out the rest of their days, forsaken like a neglected grandparent.
With each new day creating 86,400 refugee seconds, 1440 refugee minutes and 24 refugee hours looking for a haven, retirement space for spent time is at a premium and homelessness is rife. And so you often see bygone days subsisting in horrific conditions, like vermin or beggars on the street. Nor is there any rhyme or reason to their living arrangements – a minute from a million years ago might be sharing close quarters with an hour from a week ago.
Some gone instants you encounter are in pristine condition, for no one had made any use of them; they are a literal waste of time and so have to retire with their full strength still intact. Other passed instants are decrepit and worn-out, for they were utilised so much in the present.
Every moment thinks it will live forever in the present, that it is special and different from all the other moments that have ever existed or will ever exist. Yet it too lasts but for an instant and is then no more, gone from the outer world’s presence. Some moments cling to the hope that they will never be forgotten, but, although memories of them might linger in the mind for some time, it is inevitable that, once the essence of their sentimental worth has been sucked dry, they will become as dispensable as the hollow shells of devoured crustaceans. In such a way past moments vanish from the inner world’s presence too and no trace of them remains in either reality.
Yesterday – A Song Parody
by Boris Glikman
This is a video of the Australian opera singer Ayse Goknur Shanal performing this song parody.
Ode to My Birthday, or Time’s Musical Travels
by John Correll
Yesterday I dreamt of sixty-four with a year to retire, when tomorrow I turn four.
And tomorrow turns to Peter, Paul, & Mary singing Michael Row Your Boat Ashore. Three players, oblivious as the desert floor slips off its white coat for orange.
These Utah chameleon sands change afterward, then, and now. They shift with me, bouncing twice on the back seat, squealing because Michael’s my middle name. The Major behind the wheel laughs, turns up the volume to twenty-one and returns the guard’s starched salute as we exit the Tooele Army Depot. Behind us, two Nike-Hercules snarl a nuclear menace at our departure. Their hollow punch projects a movie I’m too young to see: The War of the Worlds from fifty-three. But I watch anyway and suffer nightmares.
Heading for the main road, the landscape’s altering colors blind. Their shining hides the rusting 1940s tow truck turning the wrong way. And not seeing, my father doesn’t stop. But…
The explosion rips me from the sunset’s marvel to the Mustang’s floorboards. Mid-60s Seat belts are an option ignored.
Five minutes later, I wait unbroken on the curbside with another crying four-year-old, the tipped-over tow-truck passenger. We stand together, peering like ants at the pyramids.
Through the blue steam floating from my father’s totaled Ford, the monster of all tow trucks, like a Martian tripod, rights the other boy’s upside-down ride.
The old truck rocks twice as the radio’s song dies.
And sixty years later, one crucial question remains unanswered; what tows the monster truck when it crashes?
But the song plays, again and again, propelling me back.
I close my eyes on the cutting channel where history repeats with all its smells, sounds, and sensations.
And cracking time, more lyrical fractures haunt my ears:
Boney M.’s – Rivers of Babylon rings as my inebriated German cousinanswers another question. “You can dance all night,” he says in the hungover sun of Costa Brava.
Public Image Ltd.’s – Rise sings to the crumbling East German frontier as the bewildered guards wave me through without bothering to inspect my documents.
Doctor Bombay’s – Rice & Curry whistles as I rush from Nausori to retrieve my daughter from pre-school at the starting gun of the 2000 Fijian coup d’état (happily, I rarely hear this one).
Polo & Pan’s – Feel Good moans during a pandemic lockdown as I return from the store without toilet paper. I imagine it could have been worse.
In the never-ending orchestral chaos, when time’s music suffocates, I open my eyes and close my ears to life’s pounding presence.
A bizarre confrontation.
by Mimi Speike
Sly: the hero of my story. He’s a cat, by the way.
Zagi (Burutzagi Zumaya): Archbishop of Haute-Navarre.
Bixenta (Bix), a wealthy widow (so she presents herself) who had once been a prostitute in a high-class brothel in Paris.
Augustin Ladouce, aka Mangouste (French for mongoose): the Dominican priest sent to investigate a miracle had been one of her best clients.
Gusto/Gus/Gustave d’Ollot: Minister of the Treasury for Haute-Navarre.
Bittor: Crown Prince of Haute-Navarre.
King Jakome of Haute-Navarre: Sly’s friend and mentor for close to a decade.
Ortzl: another cat, nearly identical to Sly in markings.
Burutzagi Zumaya and Gustave d’Ollot have concocted a scheme to stage a fake Visitation of the Virgin Mary. They tell Prince Bittor it’s for the good of the kingdom but it’s really to fund their individual pipe dreams. Bixenta and the two sons of the Captain of the Household Guard have been enlisted to encounter Virgin Mary. The boys, Igon and Eder Zendegi, are Sly’s bodyguard, he needs a bodyguard, he has made many enemies at the court of Haute-Navarre. They are also his best friends.
* * *
“Augustin Ladouce,” Bix whispers.
“I knew him by another name.
I’m writing my sister to prepare her.”
“Prepare her for what?”
The door swings open. Ladouce and LaRue are in, tailed by the flustered sentry.
“How delightful,” snickers Mangouste, pleased with the scene he’s interrupted. Zagi has the distraught woman in his arms.
“As I suspected! You have a paramour. I have all I need to destroy you, utterly, utterly!” He croons the threat, caressing each word in turn.
The moment to act is upon her.
She relaxes into a slink. Hand on hip, her back to the intruders, she coos, “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Lafitte, I’m delighted to see you after all this time. Are you well? But of course you are. You are always well. What will it be tonight, chérie? Shall I be Daemona, your Mistress of Dark Desires?”
Ladouce grabs her arm, spins her around, studies her face for a long minute. “Out!” he screams. “All of you! I must be alone with the female.”
“LaRue may go,” says Zagi. “He is your creature. Eneko, you remain. I want you as a witness.”
Bix runs her fingers through her hair
and moistens her lips.
“Daemona, she purrs, we love her, do we not? Or shall you be the savage Hussar, I the shy milkmaid you love to rape? Or, do we play your favorite of all our silly games?”
“Shut your mouth!” orders Ladouce. “Cease!”
She looks down, then up. The merry-eyed temptress is vanished. She is serene. “Young man, she murmurs, you love me deeply. Come to me! Be one with me! Merge with me as we pray. Anoint me with your joyful offering, born of your perfect love. Say your little prayer. You remember … Hail Mary, full of me, blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed be the sweetness of thy vise-like womb, receiving the ultimate expression of my reverence. O most gracious Mary, that never was it known … O Mother of the Word Incarnate, in your mercy …” She sighs. “I’m afraid I don’t recall the exact words.
“Let’s see … what came next? Yes, the Hail Marys. He could keep these up for half an hour, a line, a thrust, a line, a thrust … Hail Mary, Temple of the Most Blessed Trinity … Hail Mary, Celestial Rose of God … Hail Mary, my sweet hope … Mary, most amiable … Mary, most admirable.” She winks at Zagi. “The crap comes back to me after all! I always,” she sputters, “who could dare to contemplate otherwise? … always thought him a monster got hold of a cassock, acting a filthy fantasy. He’s more twisted than ever I imagined.”
“Lies!” screeches Ladouce. “Foul, baseless lies! The two of you conspire against me. I’ve never met you, Madame. Never!” He shrieks at poor, petrified Eneko. “One a madwoman, the other a scoundrel. I have exposed a disgusting hoax. They are desperate to discredit me.”
“Never met you? How do I know you have a childhood injury, a gouge on your upper leg, inches from your privates?”
“Expose the area,” Zagi tells his cringing priest.
“Keep away, damn you,” orders the Dominican.
“The Chief Constable sits down the street. He can be here in twenty minutes.”
“What do I do to keep this between us?” is the sullen surrender.
“Better. Much better. I’m sure we can work this out. Obviously, a favorable verdict in regard to the Visitation. The woman’s past kept secret, she’s suffered enough. Write your report, make a signed copy for me to keep. Pack your belongings and be gone, never to be heard of again.”
Sly bats Zagi’s calf.
The two step away. Zag is in a state of supreme bewilderment. At this point he questions nothing. He rejoins the group. “One more thing. “You’ll perform a baptism today. Have your carriage readied for a departure immediately after. Sir, you have investigated me. Are you aware my hobby is to write silly plays? I have a fine farce in mind.
“A young priest haunts the brothels of Paris, requiring his hire to portray the Virgin Mary to an adoring supplicant. I think many females in Paris acted the role for you. I will assert to my friends there – of whom I have many – this is a true story. I do not name names. The monster, now a power in the church, will have his revenge on me. I am close to a naughty duchess who loves my work. This she will adore. Bix, my dear, you will collaborate with me. The details you provide will be the making of me, or, rather, of us. I will split my earnings with you. Eneko! At daybreak, take my coach to the palace. Inform His Majesty the hoped-for baptism is set for noon. Do not return without him.”
Jak had considered wrapping Sly in swaddling, a hostile animal rendered immobile. The cat now welcoming the rite, the royal christening gown may be utilized. The King wants his friend to be inducted into the Body of Christ with all pomp. This will be a memory to cherish forever, for the both of them.
Here we are then: you, me, Sly, Jakome, Ladouce, and Zagi. We’re in the Lady Chapel, a small projection on the east wall of the cathedral.
Here’s a fun fact:
In Chaucer’s time, baptisms were performed on the church threshold. An unbaptized infant, not yet a Christian, was not allowed into the structure. Does this thinking hold in Haute-Navarre at the close of the sixteenth century? Let us assume it to be so.
The cat will be inducted safely apart from the coming and going in the nave. Many drop by Good Shepherd for a peaceful moment in the midst of a busy day. If a snoop, attracted by odd doings in a normally vacant alcove, has the gall to investigate, there’s an escape route feet away. A door feeds directly onto the street. Ladouce is stationed at the door. He’s a wreck. He wants this over.
It has been explained to him that he is to do a kindness for the king, that a dotty old man might be freed of a comical but profoundly painful anxiety. He has no choice but to comply, but he sees a way to do so without violating the tenets of his faith.
Zagi’s a wreck also. Jakome’s getting his blasted baptism–from a representative of the Inquisition! He’ll have no reason to question the validity of the rite. That’s one problem solved. The more worrisome situation is, has he fallen victim to the Muruzábal weakness of mind? Until he can bear to confront the possibility, how-so the cat might verbalize, he’ll pretend to hear nothing.
Sly is good as gold, silent and still. The king cradles him as lovingly as if he were a precious newborn. Jakome is torn. He’d prayed for this, for years. But it means his long-time advisor is one step closer to hitting the road. The king has tears in his eyes. Of joy? Of sorrow? I say both.
LaRue sits in the waiting coach. In the cathedral, some sort of leave-taking is underway, from which he is excluded. This abrupt departure mystifies him, but he doesn’t ask questions. Mangouste Ladouce is in one hell of a mood.
Ladouce starts with a caveat. “Bear in mind, my friends, that my words have no power in and of themselves. If there is authority in a baptism, it is from Jesus, not the one performing the rite.”
The Old-Catholic Ritual of Infant Baptism.
More or less.
- An address precedes the service: Through baptism, men are made partakers in the meritorious redemption of Jesus Christ, yadda, yadda. (These openers go on and on.)
- The Priest shall breathe on the child, and say: Almighty, everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look graciously down upon this, uh, childlike being,1 banish all darkness from his heart … (more on and on).
- The Priest shall sign the forehead and breast of the child with the sign of the cross, pronouncing, I sign thee with the holy cross to remind thee that he bids thou take up thy cross and follow him.
- The Priest places in the mouth of the child a little salt. Receive this salt as an emblem of wisdom; the Lord grant it thee unto everlasting life. (Sly’s tail is whipping frantically under a garment proportionately as long as that of the grandest wedding dress.)
- The Priest pours water in the form of a cross on the head of the child. I baptize thee in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. (He endures three dumps of water onto his forehead, running into his eyes. Yukko! He’s being a very good boy.)
The basics gotten through,
“Your Majesty, hear me. He who loves God above all things and desires to do as God asks endows himself with a Baptism of Desire. A formulaic induction advantages a newborn, providing a safety net until he is able to absorb church teaching, but a fully-formed personality, having found his way to faith, gains salvation by his own wise choice. This ceremony is therefore redundant, but I see no harm in freeing you of anxieties that the Archbishop has seen fit to confide to me.”
Laduce is covering all bases. “An animal, Majesty, being not heir to the original sin that plagues you and I, nor prone to our deceit, this creature being as innocent as Adam on the day he was formed, I view my participation today as a symbolic exercise confirming a state of grace that already exists.”
Innocent as Adam himself! A sweet line to lob at his lugs next time they accuse him of cheating at cards. Oh, the cat is enjoying this. He manages to keep a straight face; he snorts a bit, is all. It’s the king who reacts with an eye-roll.
“Amen,” hisses Ladouce. Then he bolts for his carriage, screaming, “Driver! Get me out of this hellhole! Good riddance to the miserable lot of them!”
- The text I have in front of me reads ‘child’. This is Ladouce’s canny substitution.
A Long and Winding Road
It’s a month since the baptism. Sly assists the king at audiences and receptions as he had. They walk in the garden, discussing everything under the sun.
There is one disharmony. Every time Sly brings up leaving, Jak recounts his latest nightmare of being friendless and afraid, making the cat feel like a piece of shit for wanting to go. The perennial bone of contention, the animal’s opposition to the One True Faith, has been dealt with. They hear mass together. He prays with the man nightly. What more must he do to be allowed to withdraw from court gracefully?
In Down-Town there is dancing in the streets. Faithful are pouring in, visiting the site and renting rooms. Two afternoons a week the castle is opened to viewing for a donation to a restoration fund. Jakome’s new argument is, “You cannot leave now. You’re an actor, is that not what you’ve been telling me for the last I-don’t-know-how-many years? Bela and I are going to build a pageant around the wonderful Booted Cat. Zagi’s agreed to write us plays for you to star in. Here is an opportunity you can’t pass up.” Poor Ort! Now, along with being read the Decameron, he’s going to be getting acting lessons and talks on stagecraft.
The site is sparsely set up. A mega-tall sculpture of the Virgin has been commissioned, but is months from completion. A banner hung off the top of the cliff announces: Our Lady of Ardi Gasna appeared on this spot. Support a memorial. Donate below.
Gusto’s several carts sell his elixirs, and he’s building a hostel down the road for those able to pay his price, the fee to include two meals a day:
Dine in comfort and tranquility
to the music of The Pipers Three.
Choose from a menu supervised by the
renowned French chef, Hercule Depardieu.
There’s no denying that Gus is one hell of a businessman.
Bittor hands out paper cones of miracle milk and sells his cheese:
Virgin Mary’s Taste of Heaven Ricotta!
Mother All Merciful Cheesecake Divine!
Bix chats with visitors while painting her watercolors:
An original artwork created before your eyes.
Take it home for a modest price.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays she’s at the palace, hawking watercolors of the Booted Cat, her sister–and Apirka!–filling in for her on the field. Joska has quit her position with d’Ollot to paint full-time. Her artistry surpasses that of Aprika, but Apirka’s work sells at a brisker pace. She was on the field that day. This is a source of friction between them.
What happens …to all these goofballs,
but especially to poor, frazzled Ortzl?
Sly is going to prepare him to take over the role of the Booted Cat in the not-so-distant future. Ort’s no actor. He struggles to please a tough taskmaster. But he’s had a taste of the high life, and he doesn’t want to walk away from it. He’s going to do his best.
We’ll hear from all these folks again
in the final book in this series, The Prodigal Returns.
by Perry Palin
It’s a three hour drive to the cemetery. I don’t make it every year. I stopped at my parents’ headstones. My mother died over 60 years ago, and my father almost 40 years ago. His headstone was leaning a bit, toward hers. I walked through the cemetery to visit the graves of neighbors, friends, and high school classmates. Some of them died early, of accidents, or disease, or addictions. More are added every year. For the first time in four years I sat on the green plank bench, in the shade of the cedars between the old and new parts of the cemetery. I sat on the left side of the bench with my right arm stretched along the back.
The air was warm and the shade was welcome. It was August, the warmest month north of the big lake. A red-tailed hawk rode thermals in the blue sky over the long grass north of the graves. A breeze brought from the edge of the woods the scents of wild flowers and of birch trees after a rain.
A light gray SUV came slowly around the outer drive, and then turned into the road down the center of the cemetery. It came slowly, passed in front of me, and stopped just beyond the bench. The driver shut down the engine. She hesitated a minute, then opened the driver’s door and emerged, closed the door, and came around the back of the car. She wore open toed sandals, dark blue jeans, and a white button down shirt. She sat on the bench next to me, and without a word, leaned into my side, and put her head on my shoulder. I closed my right arm around her and rested my cheek on the top of her head.
We sat together wordlessly. She breathed slowly, deeply, then began to tremble. I gave her my handkerchief and she wiped her eyes. Her body was warm and fit nicely against my side. After twenty minutes, she sat up and leaned toward me. She kissed me on the cheek. Then she got up and moved toward the car. She stopped, came back, sat down next to me, put her hands on either side of my face, and kissed me on the lips. She straightened again, smiled sadly, got up, and moved toward the car again. She got in behind the wheel, started the engine, shifted gears, and drove slowly out of the cemetery.
The woman is a mother and a grandmother, both several times over, and has a stable, happy family life. I have a wife who is a good match for me, and children and grandchildren, and I have a good life.
When that girl and I were young, we were a couple. I liked her very much, and maybe I loved her, and maybe she loved me. When I went away to college, and she still had a year of high school, I was inconsistent, and I was often not there. I thought I could reunite with her in my own selfish time. And when I heard that she was expecting, and she would soon marry the father of her first child, I was blind with grief for what I had lost through my own stupidity.
I can’t bring back those yesterdays when I hurt her, and when I failed us both. I thought she hated me, or, even worse, thought nothing of me, until I met her in the cemetery at my parents’ graves, and she at hers’. And now every few years, we chance to find one another on the bench in the cemetery, with a hawk overhead, and the scent of wildflowers from the edge of the woods, and we are still in love.
by S.T. Ranscht