This Show Case features six pieces submitted in response to our twenty-sixth Writing Prompt: Zero. 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.
And please share this Show Case with your family, friends, and other writers.
A Presence of Absence
by Boris Glikman
Some people are defined more by their absence than by their presence, their vacancy having more intensity and power than their being. When these people leave you, their absence acquires distinctive characteristics that their presence never possessed. The presence of their absence assumes a reality all of its own, becoming almost tangible. You find yourself developing meaningful and happy relationships with the vacuities you never enjoyed when in the presence of the actualities.
Other people exist only as outlines, defined by the presence of others around them and when the others are gone, these people fade into nothingness.
by GD Deckard
Roy’s ad on eBay, selling a genuine Arabic Zephirum -sorry no photo available- brand new, with free shipping and always a full refund for any thing returned, earned him a startling amount from less knowledgeable collectors worldwide. All of whom eventually complained on his seller’s feedback.
“Item never received,” was the most common complaint.
To which Roy replied, “I sent you nothing. Look it up.”
Me, Zero. Taniwha, One.
by John Correll
I had a story, fluid and flowing. Full of words, floating and swimming. But sneaky Taniwha in the stream, that fabled Maori monster, swallowed each one till nothing was seen.
Fiercely, I pulled and fought, but the beast broke my grip and left me with naught.
Carelessly, I followed, trying to stop my words from washing away. But tomorrow’s past lost anchor in the depths which drowned out the brightness of today.
Instead, I sank further into shredded paragraphs of zero, where I failed to find a veiled and valid submarine hero.
How John Dee
came to be Associated with the Cacodemon O-ek1
by Mimi Speike
My first venture into scrying occurred in 1581, with Barnabas Saul. Never having attempted the procedure previously, I had nothing to judge him by. A year later, Edward Talbot (who later revealed himself to be Edward Kelley, running from the law) came knocking on my door.
Kelley was a phenomenal scryer, much superior to Saul. We worked well together on the scrying side, less well otherwise. It was not uncommon to have a constable at my door inquiring after him; he had defrauded many in the county.2
I hired him nonetheless. My experience has been that disreputables make the best seers.
One evening, an urchin approached me with urgency in his bearing. I had been invited to a musical evening given by a neighbor of mine. I had hired a coach, not to arrive on foot, dust-caked. Also, my knees are not the best, and it was a mile-long walk.
I had settled myself into the coach. The door was ajar. A face appeared in the opening. A boy of twelve or so said to me: Pardon, sir. Be ye His Honor Doctor John Dee? I nodded curtly.
He continued: I have with me one who wishes to confer with you. He introduced an animal into the car. It claimed the seat opposite me. My impulse was to turn the thing out and be on my way. I was off to consort with Francis Walsingham, I had no time for nonsense. But in a remarkable pair of eyes, I perceived an astonishing intelligence. I felt compelled to inquire: Whom do I deal with here, please?
The creature emitted sounds no one would have thought remarkable, but my attuned ear made out the words: Zir Ol. (Note: Zir is pronounced zeer.) These were Enochian words.3 I had studied the arcane tongue for two years. I translated the sounds as follows. Zir: I am/I be. Ol: myself. The animal had proclaimed–It is I, as if I should have been expecting him. I felt in the schoolroom, called before the master for misconduct.
Concealing my chagrin, I asked again: What manner of being, sir, have I the pleasure of acquainting with?
He spat: Zir O-ek, (I be O-ek). O-ek is a cacodemon, the fallen counterpart of the agathodemon Iaba.The cacodemon is known to have the ability to shapeshift. Before me sat the cacodemon O-ek, in the aspect of a cat. I have a powerful affinity for felines. For him to present as a cat was a canny move.
I next heard: Zir Oma (I be wisdom). I was stunned speechless. Then, more insistently–he was clearly losing patience with me–he growled: Zir Obsog. This one puzzled me. I must have misheard. He had to have said Zir Obelsog, I be deliverer. (FYI: There are no articles in the Enochian language.) I surmised the cat’s vocal apparatus did not lend itself to crisp articulation. But before long he enunciated adequately, if not precisely, in English.4
I continued silent. He yowled–Zir Ooa! (I be eye). I took this to mean: I am a seer. I concluded he was offering to replace the scoundrel Edward Kelley, who had recently forced me to give him a large pay raise by threatening to quit my service, and who had begun to eye my wife Jane in an unsavory manner.5
From that evening, the cat was my constant companion.6 What to call him, particularly in company? It has been said of me that one so learned had not got that way but with the help of infernal powers. To utter the name O-ek in any context whatsoever would have been dangerous. I suggested Zir-O as a safe choice, inspiring no curiosity beyond, Why on earth did you name your cat Zero?
I conceived the alias as a discreet show of respect, but I also related it to Ozongon (winds). I refer you to Hosea 8:7: For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind–whirlwind denoting uncontrollable, often unhappy, consequences. Zir Ozongon suited my new facilitator perfectly.
Zir-O had a love of the dramatic. I was forced to separate what of his jabber might be believed from what was mere theatricality. He did not make it easy for me. But that is the way of spirits. They love to play games with us mortals.
Zir-O flattered my ego. I had never apprehended supernaturals myself; Kelley was my mediary. It was a felicitous arrangement; the receptor of Enochian communications, emerged from his trance, recalls nothing. I recorded Kelley’s babble, and teased out meanings. But I had, in fact, envied his gift extremely.
Zir-O was not one to be called forth (or not) according to his whim of the moment, as with Madimi and the several others I had to do with over the course of my troubled collaboration with Kelley. Ever at my side, O-ek was instantly accessible. I felt very special, supremely honored.
We quarreled over the division of a sum of money awarded us for the success of a joint venture. I cannot fault myself for my behavior. What use had a spirit of that reward? I needed it desperately. We parted, and I’ve not heard from him since.
* * *
- O-ek is, of course, Sly, the hero of my comic misadventure. He turns to Dee for help with a matter involving Queen Elizabeth. Dee is Elizabeth’s Astrologer Royal.
- Kelley, having been convicted of forgery, had his ears cropped. He concealed the mutilation with a black skullcap.
- Enochian was considered to be an Angelic language, and the original language of mankind. All these Enochian terms are taken from The Complete Enochian Dictionary, published by Weiser Books in 1994.
- Sly had memorized a few words of Enochian to impress Dee. He soon switched to the tongue he had spoken since childhood.
- In 1587 Kelley told Dee an angel had decreed they should share all possessions, including their wives. Dee returned (they were in Cracow) to England. Kelley remained behind, and made a fine living off alchemy-obsessed Eastern-European nobility.
- He attended that musical evening with Dee, during which he demonstrated his prowess on the fiddle, a skill mastered when he’d assisted a street-corner busker in London ten years earlier. I will tell that rollicking story another time.
The Answer is Zero
by SL Randall
Tall green grasses swayed overhead.
All Bepé could do was gasp. The verse jump had been like a flat fall, and knocked the wind out of him. Slowly, he caught the air and resumed natural breathing. As breath became the background activity it normally was, he noticed his surroundings. The tall waving grass overhead, the brilliant blue of the sky, and the rich smells. Grass, fertile soil, and was that… poop? His pack, uncomfortably under him, prompted him to roll over. Now he was face to face with an enormous dung pile, teeming with buzzing insects he’d never seen before. That explained the buzz he originally assumed was tinnitus, acquired from the verse jump.
Carefully, he rolled to his stomach and pushed himself up to kneeling. The grasses were still tall and he couldn’t see over them. Pain prodded his body, telling him it was going to be worse later. He ignored the message and cautiously rose to peek over the grass. Where was he and what made a dung pile that large?
A yellow sun sat three fingers over the horizon. He waited. Was it rising or setting? Several minutes passed and his thighs complained about the crouch he held. The sun rose another finger. He had a direction. In the East, the sun blanketed a vast savannah of the tall grasses. Small specks in the air, birds perhaps, circled and dove. Size meant nothing. He still didn’t have a relative measurement of distance in this world. Turning to look north, there was more grass. West and South offered a relief with a line of small scrubby trees with the ground past them rising to hills. In the southern distance, mountains wavered in and out of misty clouds.
Bepé wondered if Dunia was nearby. Certainly they had jumped to the same place and time? He sneezed loudly and froze while intently looking for danger. The only sound was the drone of the buzzing insects.
With a normal jump, he would begin by taking samples and writing notes. This jump, far from typical, left him with a sense of urgency to find Dunia and return them to their own verse. He looked around for the malfunctioning device. “Of course.” he muttered, when he spotted it at the base of the dung heap. He edged toward the heap and stretched out his arm. Quickly, he snatched the device, but not fast enough. Several of the insects descended on his hand. Curious, he peered at them. They were the size of houseflies, but with big bulbous eyes, a proboscis like a mosquito, and a long barbed tail. ‘Reminiscent of a dragonfly, perhaps?’ He wondered, then attempted to wave them away, but they clung to his hand. He used his other hand to swat at the insects. A sharp, stinging sensation rewarded his effort.
Apparently, he wasn’t as tasty as dung and more trouble than it was worth. He watched as they returned to their feast. Examining his hand, he noticed tiny red welts where the insects had latched themselves. Larger, itchy welts appeared on his other hand, where they had stung him with their tails. He hoped the reaction wouldn’t be any worse than a mosquito.
He forgot about the insects when he looked at the device. It had completely reset to factory settings. The screen blinked softly, waiting for input. Bepé did not know Dunia’s company login details and did not want to rewrite any of the data with his own. From his vest pocket, he pulled out his own device and powered it on. Relieved that it seemed to work properly, he powered it off and returned it to his pocket. He did the same with Dunia’s device, in the event it malfunctioned again, but placed it within his pack. He stood and looked out over the grass. It undulated in the light breeze like ocean waves. Aside from the insects and distant flock of birds, he saw no other creatures. He wondered what hid in the grasses and whether Dunia arrived in one piece. Walking in ever-widening circles from his landing point, he was hot and sweaty by the time the sun was directly overhead. Still no sign of Dunia, though he had covered half the distance to the trees.
By now, he was certain Dunia was not in the vicinity. It was time to consider his own survival. Before he decided his next move, a deep rumble shook the ground so hard he could feel the vibration in his chest. “Earthquake?” he asked, looking East over the grasses. His heart dropped to his stomach as his mind fathomed what he saw. Childhood memories of cartoons, then movies, and then his education kicked in, filling in the paleontological details. Bearing down on him at a dead run was a dinosaur. If he did not move, it would crush him under the monstrous feet. He stopped thinking and allowed instinct and adrenaline to take over. He ran for the trees.
Three steps later, he was soaring ten meters above the grass. Fortunately, the dinosaur had him by the pack. He briefly wondered what would give first his arms or the pack straps. Then the dinosaur shook him like a dog with a chew toy. That was the last thing Bepé remembered.
He woke to darkness. One breath in and he knew he could still feel. He gasped at the pain. It hurt to breathe, open his eyes and twitch his hand. He was certain thinking hurt as well. Too dark to look around, he allowed unconsciousness to take over.
A soft breeze woke him the second time. Fragrant flowers just outside his bedroom wafted around. Bepé yawned, stretched, and groaned with pain. His eyes flew open as the memory of where he was returned. The concerned face of a strange woman peered at him. Dark dreadlocks hung about her smooth, brown face. Young, he decided. She wore some sort of animal hide tunic. His mind frantically searched for a reference point. Did he know of any worlds where humans and dinosaurs co-existed? Or had that damn device malfunctioned again?
Bepé winced as the woman prodded his shoulder. “How long have I been here?” he croaked.
She ignored him as she continued her examination.
He followed her with his gaze. He found he could move his limbs without too much pain. When he tried to sit up, she easily held him down. She still didn’t utter a sound. Then she left. He considered trying to sit up again, but found he lacked the energy. Instead, he let his training take over.
The enclosure, constructed of bones, sticks and hides allowed sunlight to filter in through a hole in the roof. He examined the bones. With a chill, he realized it could be the bone of a dinosaur. He looked around at the various dried herbs hanging from the roof. He recognized none of the plants, but attributed the lack of recognition to his inability to examine them closely. Slowly, he let his gaze spiral in toward himself. He reclined on a bed of hides near the dirt floor of the hut. Dead grass clumps still lined the inner edges, which meant they had erected the hut on the grass. Looking at himself, he could only see a lump covered by a hide.
He thought back to being picked up and shook like a dog toy. All he could remember was looking down at the enormous taloned feet. There had been zero opportunity to study anything else. He definitely didn’t remember escaping, and wondered how that happened. He hoped the woman would come back soon so he could begin the arduous process of learning to communicate and get answers.
As if responding to his wish, she came back. Behind her, another figure entered.
In his mind, he felt vindicated for every time he argued with the company that anthropologists needed to interact with the people they studied. The stern woman who stared down at him was magnificent. She wore an elaborate headdress of large, colorful feathers. Ridiculously large teeth framed her face. Draped about her shoulders was a cloak of sleek black feathers, tied across her chest with a leather thong, also adorned with teeth. She had dark intelligent eyes, and if he didn’t know better, a smirk on her face that said he was an idiot. He’d seen that look on his wife’s face many times. Then she spoke.
“Garai Bepeigian?” she asked.
“Garai Bepeigian?” she asked again. “This is your name, is it not?”
“I, yes.” was all he could say. How did she know? How could she speak English? He struggled to organize his brain.
“Very well. I will let him know.” She left the hut.
“But!” Bepé called after her. “I have so many questions.” He finished to himself as the other woman also turned and left.
His mind raced. So many questions and zero answers.
Never Enough Nothing
by S.T. Ranscht
Leave a Reply