Category Archives: Prompts

Adjust the Mask

I love convenience store people and gas station people and the person in line in front of me. I love the meter reader and the mail lady and the man who came to empty the septic tank. What sound relationships I have formed with these strangers! How fresh my mask is, how centered, how taut, in brief banter with a bank teller.

Any longer and sometimes the mask slides down under one ear but I don’t notice. Sometimes in my compartmentalized world I forget that my true confessions do not have clearance. I divulge too much, forgetting that beige is the color of acceptance, and neglecting to seal emotional efflux and stick to the script. When will I learn that people don’t find my negativity as refreshing as I would in them? Once again I have failed to measure my words but let them fly unfettered into self-reproach. One of these days I’m going to ditch this mask. But for now I straighten it and make a note to replace the elastic band.

Thanks to Be Kind Rewrite for the prompt ‘Adjust the Mask’
Inspiration Monday

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Postcard from Hell

Stephanie at BeKindRewrite has once again provided her weekly prompts for Inspiration Monday IX.

Dear Jimmy,

Well, it’s pretty much what I expected. There are many rooms and levels here. I’m in the TV section, where we are shuttled back and forth between soccer and CNN. We are given plenty of fluids but there are no bathrooms. Nobody talks about why they’re here because we’re not allowed to speak, but each of us knows our sins. We are not allowed books, pencils, or paper. I have to hand it to him, it’s all pretty ingeniously planned for ultimate discomfort. I guess this is permanent, but since no questions are allowed I assume it is. If we fall asleep we are shaken and shown pictures of honor killings and have to praise Allah. Complete attention to the televisions are strictly enforced—at the end of each day we are tested, and if we answer a question wrong the volume is cranked to maximum. This creates dissent among the inmates, which the guards enjoy. If I am caught daydreaming I am singled out to clean the game show room while cranky retired people follow me around describing in detail their recent surgeries while I am forced to politely feign interest. I believe these people are apparitions but they are real enough to me.

Well hon, gotta go. They’re repeating the same tragedies on CNN for the umpteenth time today, but claim there are updates, so I’ve got to pay attention. I don’t want to tell you what I had to do to the guard to smuggle this message out, it’ll just piss you off and I know you have your own problems.

Love,

Debra

Better than Tuna?

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Better than Tuna?

What a bunch of dopes. Look at them down there, always making a big commotion about every trifle. A gnat flies by and they gotta let you know they’re on Stupid Patrol. I get to go outdoors but I don’t need no stinking fence. I’m sitting here on the ledge out of their sight, but my route to the branch that goes into the park is a well-marked course. I like to sit here for a bit and meditate before I go in. I’m quite Zen, you know.

I leap smoothly to the branch and wind my way through the tree into their territory. All it takes is one little meow and here they come. Look at them all barking and howling around the base of the tree. Though my own dogs are much better trained and know they’ll get a sharp slap if they chase me, they just can’t resist acting like a bunch of barbarians when they see me in a tree. Some primitive instinct to corner something I guess. Idiots, will they never evolve? Now their owners are all yelling at them to quit it. Ha ha. Whoa, was that the sound of a can opening? Gotta go!

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Stephanie’s responses to prompts at BeKindRewrite are exploding. It seems like a lot of work for a person who has a busy life. She puts a lot of thought into these prompts, and it doesn’t seem fair to her to combine her excellent prompts with others from different sites. Also, all you have to do is pingback somewhere in your post to Inspiration Monday VIII  or whatever number it is. You don’t have to print your entire story on her website or bug her to look at your story. She’ll be notified of your pingback and give you credit on Monday night. I’m afraid we’re going to lose this wonderful opportunity if we don’t respect these simple rules. I’m not trying to be a dick, but she is just one person, and I for one do not want to overwhelm this brilliant woman who has a full-time job, a book she’s writing, and a lack of sleep she has written about.

Prompt is A Cat in a Dog Park.

Death’s Artwork

I promised Miss Stephanie at Be Kind Rewrite that there would be no evasion of assignments this week. These two pieces of short fiction are inspired by Inspiration Monday VII   and the prompt “Death’s Artwork.”

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Queen for a Day

Josie fiercely protected a shopping cart abundant with the priorities of her life—newspapers, cans, tattered old coats, and bags filled with carefully chosen bits of shiny detritus—castoffs from a world of excess. She had a life once, a husband, children. But that was before the illness and one by one they abandoned her, or maybe she abandoned them. She was not so much old as she was shrunken into a wizened floating sylph—life sucks and then you live. Though she muttered and raved, sometimes pure reason would erupt from her cracked lips, heard only by those who sensed the value of words spoken in cipher.

When I found Josie one morning stiff and cold in an alleyway behind my apartment, I knew there was one last thing I could do before they came to bury her in a pauper’s grave. I bathed her and brushed her tangled hair, discarded the rags and dressed her in a simple blue shift. With her face made up, the years dropped away.

The state provided a simple wooden box, in which I arranged her priceless treasures. A small funeral was held. Other street people came, and they all said that Josie never looked so beautiful.

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Interview with a Lepidopterist

Oh those butterflies are so beautiful! You must have worked on this collection for a long time.

I have. It’s my pride and joy.

You must know so much about butterflies. How do you catch them?

I use the traditional nets. I know just where to find the best specimens. I’ve been all over the world and have some very rare specimens—sometimes I even sell them to make money to further my art!

Wow. Are you a scientist?

No, it’s just a fun hobby.

What happens after you net one?

Well, we have these special pins we use to mount them for display.

No, I mean before that.

You mean how do I arrange them?

No, I mean how do they go from alive to dead? You don’t stick pins in live butterflies, do you?

Of course not, that would be cruel! I euthanize them first.

How?

There are a couple of ways. The most common is to squeeze their thorax. The force breaks their exoskeleton, but sometimes you have to do it twice if they survive the first attempt. The other way is the killing jar. I usually add a few drops of ethyl acetate to asphyxiate it, otherwise they beat their wings against the glass trying to escape, and that damages the specimen.

Oh.

What?

Why not just take a picture?

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Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Once again Stephanie at Be Kind Rewrite has invoked another short piece of fiction from me with her weekly prompts, Inspiration Monday V.

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Don’t Believe Everything You Think

I’m a real people person. I think everybody is entitled to their way of life, no matter what. When people do bad things, it’s not their fault and it’s not fair to judge them. Who says they’re bad anyway? It’s our birthright as humans to act in any way we wish. Who are we to tell people how to behave? Sheesh!

Why should people have to follow some dumb law they didn’t make? We don’t need laws, we need complete freedom to do as we please, it’s a free country! And any religion has the right to practice any level of it they want, in any venue—it’s their religion and we must respect that.

Everybody deep down has a good heart. When we think people are mean or hypocritical or phony, that’s just their nature. It’s wrong to have expectations of people! We should strive to be accepting of every single person or group, and help them express themselves in any way we can.

The kids that killed that dog and hung it from a flagpole in town last year are so misunderstood, they were just having a little fun! And the hoarder in Phoenix who had 200 starving dogs in her house, each to his own! Jesus, people, have some compassion!

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Prompts IV: Epitaph and Gridlocked

Stephanie at BeKindRewrite provides five excellent weekly prompts, which are gaining momentum. In a fit of self-doubt I was ready to quit but she dispensed a much needed slap for which I am grateful. Here are my submissions for Inspiration Monday IV.

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Epitaph

Another giant MacMansion to clean today. Her shoulder was killing her—every vast floor mopped, every walk-in shower scrubbed, every floor-length mirror washed brought sharp pain down her arm. She was tough but life sucked these days. She wasn’t born a housecleaner, shit happens, and it could happen to anybody. She just figured you did what you had to. The snobby Old Lyme money treated her like a servant, but they left the check on the counter, so she tried not to complain.

She dragged her cleaning tray into her third full bathroom of the day and prepared to scrub down the Jacuzzi. She didn’t feel too good, but her motto was to shut up and get it done. She rooted around in her tray for the right spray bottle when she slipped and fell over, hitting her head on the fine Italian double-glazed tile.

“Oh shit,” she mumbled, “I’m out of Tilex.”

The owners found her that night and after calling 911, discussed the annoying problem of finding decent help.

The prompt was His final words were. I hope it’s not cheating too much to have made the adjustment to Her final words were.

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Gridlocked

My younger sister was an unpleasant bitch all her life but I overlooked that when she needed help. Drugs, bad men, no job, no car, no skills, nowhere to go but down. I taught her how to drive, gave her my car, got her a job in a factory, a room in my apartment, a kitten. I was still young enough to believe that family meant something. She was still a shrew, but I thought that with some care she might grow out of her taste for trouble. I learned to tame my own temper lest we regress back to the kind of vicious fights we had growing up.

But there it was, unlocked and untapped, lying carelessly on the floor emanating  the kind of karmic negativity reserved for conscience-stricken souls.

Hands shaking with shame, I opened it. I would recognize her childish scrawl anywhere. I sunk down on the floor with the kitten in my lap and began to cry.

She fucking hates me. Always has, always will.

The prompt was I wish I hadn’t read her diary.

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Some Unconventional Words

My friend and colleague Christine Lindberg is a senior editor of dictionaries and reference books at Oxford University Press—my nickname for her is “Wise One.”  She also writes a bi-weekly language column called  Let’s Look at the Language for a local newspaper near her home in upstate New York. One of her New Year’s resolutions was to choose twelve unusual words and use one in a column each month.

The words are:

digitabulist—n.    a person who collects thimbles
ensorcell—v.  to enchant or fascinate
fricative—n. or adj.   the sound of consonants such as f and th
gaberlunzie—n.   a strolling beggar of medieval Scots origin
haruspex—n.   a religious official in ancient Rome who interpreted omens by inspecting the entrails of sacrificed animals
longanimous—adj.   long-suffering, patient
noisome—adj.   smelly (a word frequently mistaken to mean noisy)
salvific—adj.   leading to salvation
scop—n.   an Old English poet or minstrel
treen—n.   articles, usually antique, made of wood
ugsome—adj.   a Scottish expression for horrible or loathsome
Usonian—adj.   relating to the United States

What word nerd could resist writing a bit of flash fiction using all of these delicious words? Not I.

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Trust me, as a longanimous Usonian digitabulist, I know what hard times are. I have little choice but to embark upon a salvific journey, hoping for enlightenment. First stop, town haruspex, of course, who predicts an ugsome odyssey and hands me some sticky, noisome treen he claims has the power to ensorcell—which I don’t believe for a minute, but I thank him politely as it’s expected.

Weary and disoriented after a month’s peregrination, I seek guidance from a group of scops. Entertaining, yes—but by their refusal to communicate in anything but iambic pentameter, they simply confuse me further. I toss them the treen. “Fricative!” I cry. Am I doomed to the life of a gaberlunzie for eternity?

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