Volume 3 Issue 3

Like bears leaving their caves after a long winter, we are beginning to ease out of our long confinement, creeping slowly out into the sunlight, squinting, vulnerable. We know that winter will come again but until then we must go outside, we must sit under open skies, roll in grass and decipher the clouds.

Will we remember to appreciate the sunlight, once the novelty has faded? Or will we instead take everything, libraries and plazas and mountain tops, for granted again, as if they are everlasting, as if we are everlasting?

I don’t know, actually, for I do not include myself amongst those who fail to notice the seasons or express their gratitude for a park bench under a sprawling oak. There is a lot to be said for being indoors, for focusing on the small, everyday details that accumulate into our lives. I am already back to work full-time and miss those weeks stuck inside, my creativity unleashed and unfettered by lesson plans and curriculum design.

Perhaps I have always been fortunate in my location, either by the sea or mountains or as I am now, between them both. There was a short stint of my life where I lived in a completely flat urban concrete-scape. It was not for me. It was like living inside, surrounded by trains and glass and humans rushing here and there, consuming, consuming, complaining.

Of course, now even that sounds like a dream, packed commuter trains, festivals crowded with people in yukata, lined with food stalls, squeezing in between other families for flower watching picnics, along the shore to watch fireworks. All of us pressed up against each other, a sea of humans, rolling along, outside but at the same time, inside of a moment in time, contained in our collectivity.

Our isolation forced us outside of that solidarity, exposed us to our individuality, our dependence on interaction and addiction to movement. Now we are opening the door, stepping outside to step back within.


This week, our story is from regular contributor Kelli J Gavin.
Kelli and her writing will be featured in the upcoming podcast episode.

Behold by Kelli J Gavin

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Volume 3 Issue 2: Obituary Edition

I am an avid reader of obituaries. This may seem to be morbid reading material, I realize, but the truth is that obituaries are about life, not death. Yes, it can be sad, especially when it was untimely. The most heartwarming ones are when the dearly departed are in their late 90s and died in their own sunlit beds, surrounded by thirty-nine great-grandchildren. More highbrow newspapers have obituary writers but the average local weekly relies on those left behind to come up with a brief summary of a complex life. Some obituaries just list the person’s role in society: father, soldier, post master general. Others might include their hobbies: fly fishing, salsa dancing, stamp collecting. When the person has had a long illness, they usually have a long obituary as the people around them have had a while to work on the piece, usually with multiple drafts. When the death was unexpected, then the obituary is usually written with the bare minimal of details as the survivors grapple with their shock and grief. All obituaries include a list of survivors, those who will carry the memory of the departed. For it is for those people that obituaries are written in the first place, those who must remember.

I love reading obituaries written by the survivors because they are more intimate, more engaging, more humorous, even, than if a stranger did the deed. Often these sorts of obituaries are riddled with terrible grammar and word choices but that is part of the charm. These are not professional writers but people who were experts on the deceased. They write with sincerity not with concern about correctness. Obituaries are all about function and very little to do with form.

As a writer, you are being given an insight into human life, details into worlds unknown, right there in your local paper. I suggest that everyone who is feeling fearful of death these days go and find an obituary page. Read the stories of those who have gone before us. Remember that death is not an extraordinary event. It is the final page of all of our stories. What is extraordinary is what happens in the preceding pages.


This week we have two stories, one from the formidable Kelli J Gavin, a frequent contributor to Mercurial Stories. The other one is from yours truly.

(1) Kisses, Ralph by Kelli J Gavin
(2) Inheritance by Tiffany Key

Pages: 1 2 3

Volume 3 Issue 1: The 1950s

Hello there and welcome to Volume 3 of Mercurial Stories.

Perhaps you are wondering, considering the global tragedy going on, why I chose such a prompt for this week’s issue. It was not done flippantly, I can assure you. I chose the 1950s as this week’s challenge because it is a time period that is often seen with rose-colored glasses, cited as being a period of innocence and decency. It is the darling of the right wing conservatives, the period the current president of the United States refers to when talking about making America great again.

Of course, like any era involving humans, the 1950s were not great, even for those who benefited from that brief moment of economic prosperity. The 1950s seemed great only when compared to the horrors of World War II. The 1950s was a time of delusion and denial, when the world suffered through a long stretch of post-traumatic stress disorder and treated our collective psychological wounds with consumerism. In America, men returned with night terrors but instead of dealing with what had happened, they bought cars and houses in the suburbs and set themselves up for disappointment. They were sentimental for a time before they intimately knew the raw cruelty of humanity. They set about creating a world that replicated a time period that had never happened; humans have always been cruel and have rarely known peace.

At the same time, those who had not benefited from the status quo, such as minorities and women, came out of the war with the realization that change, even seemingly impossible change, was actually possible. For a while they played along with fantasy, left the work force and returned to the kitchens and fields. But the seeds had already been planted by that point. And when the fantasy was disrupted by what some called disorder and others called progress, well, that was a great period of hope for our species, a period when our capacity for cruelty was balanced with our capacity for compassion and true decency.

I have been thinking about the 1950s a lot lately not because of the nostalgic rhetoric of right-wing pundits but because right now we are facing a similar future. A pandemic is not the same as a war, obviously, but it is a sudden shock to our psyche, as we bear witness to the senseless loss of life that we are incapable, at this point, of stopping. I hear many talk about the things they miss about life before quarantine, as if life can just go back to being normal, as if normal was working for everyone. We are learning a lot during our respective confinements, learning about our priorities and shortcomings, and most of all about our commonalities, our need for connection and interaction. Just as it was impossible in the 1950s to return to a time that never happened, it will be impossible when the pandemic is over to go back to our old mindless habits, habits that were destructive and prohibitive. And yet, just like in the 1950s, I suspect that many will still try to do so (as we see many already doing now), and the result will be something equally captivating and fleeting. I look forward to seeing the dawn of that transition period and the even greater change that will follow.

Until then, stay safe, dear readers and writers.


In this issue, we have four stories of the 1950s:

(1) Rebel In Color by Yash Seyedbagheri

(2) Red Dawn by Mark Kodama

(3) Nineteen Fifty Something by Lynn White

(4) Remote Control by Dawn DeBraal

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Volume 2 Issue 8

For my seventh birthday, my uncle took me and my cousins to the circus. I was not particularly interested in circuses but according to the poster (this was back before the internet), they had the one thing in the world that my seven-year-old heart desired: a unicorn.

So we drove in the cranky Dodge Ram to the sports arena in the nearby city of Jacksonville and went in. Everything was gaudy and tawdry and absolutely fantastic. The roaming spotlights, the smell of elephant shit and cotton candy, the sequins and ruby red lipstick, it was so different from how I usually spent a school night. And then, the unicorn. I gripped my best cousin’s hand in anticipation. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages…

It was not a unicorn.

It was a goat.

I tried not to show my disappointment to my uncle and his wife (second wife so I did not call her my aunt). They had gone through so much trouble for a niece that they barely knew, despite the fact that I lived next door. It was before the scandals, the accusations. We were just family then.

And I did learn a valuable lesson that night, on the cusp of my seventh year: in this life, people will try and convince you that the mundane is sacred. Keep your eyes open for barnyard animals disguised as mythological creatures.


This issue, the last one for a while, features four excellent stories:

(2) The clown that was not by Sunil Sharma
(3) Elasto Man and the Siamese Sisters by Dawn DeBraal
(4) Round and Round by Lynn White
(5) Welcome To My Circus by Kelli J Gavin

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

Volume 2 Issue 6

The first thing I noticed about…

In this issue, writers were asked to use this very leading phrase to launch their stories. The stories this issue are doubled in length, resulting in six juicy stories to satisfy your reading appetite. Enjoy!

(2) Sonya by Kelli J Gavin
(3) Daily Routine by Louis Kasatkin
(4) To Tell the Truth by Copper Rose
(5) Mismatched by Henry Bladon
(6) Reality Show, live! by Sunil Sharma
(7) Resurrecting Shelly by Dawn DeBraal


Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Volume 2 Issue 5: Sticks and Stones


The first time I heard this saying was in preschool. I do not remember the specific context, most likely it had something to do with my fiery best friend with the sharp comebacks, but I remember my confusion. Yes, getting physically hurt was undesirable but surely words were stronger than fists.

A bruise will fade, a cut will scab over, a broken bone will mend, but verbal attacks become permanent landmarks in our memories. The sting of a paddle is far less than a carefully crafted verbal lashing. A victim of spousal abuse will stay with the abuser as long as there is an apology afterward, a declaration of affection and remorse. Loving words can override vile behaviour, over and over again and just as easily work in the opposite direction: vile words can override loving behaviour.

Maybe the true phrase should be “sticks and stones may break my bones but names (or words, as I learned it) will break my heart, crush my soul, and trigger World War III”.

This week, we have six stories that explore this old English rhyme.

(2) Verbal darts do not hurt by Sunil Sharma
(3) Eye on Pete by Copper Rose
(4) Sticks and Stones by Louis Kasatkin
(5) Wishing for it by Kira
(6) Boxed Collection by Kelli J Gavin

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Volume 2 Issue 4: Red


My mother was born a brunette with raven black hair that glowed blue in the sunlight. Her complexion rivalled Snow White, making her an exception in a blue-eyed, flaxen-haired family. She had me later in life, back in the days when thirty-six is older than it is today. Her style had changed by the time I came along, becoming more comfortable and casual than when she had raised my older siblings. I was born at the very end of the seventies but a decade earlier, my mother had been very fashion conscious and made the most of her dramatic features. She never wore pastels or flower prints or anything soft and flowing. My mother kept her color palate minimal but bold, choosing to wrap herself in black, white, and red. Very few people can pull off red on a regular basis but it was my mother’s signature color at one point and deservedly so. Her nails would be bright cherry red as would her lips, matching everything in her wardrobe.

As an adult, I have tried to do the same but red makes my face look flushed and here in Japan, people only have red cheeks when they are inebriated. So I avoid the color for myself though I appreciate it on others. Red is not an easy color to pull off, but those who can do so with aplomb.

Which leads me to the stories for Issue Four. Eight stories showcasing red as a political statement, as a symbol of hatred, of passion, a memory, a dream. All the stories this week are rich with the color, the authors imbuing their prose with a boldness only red can provoke, and doing so with much aplomb.

(2) Old Reds by Lynn White
(3) The Red Beach by Sunil Sharma
(4) The Lover of Tulips by Kelli J Gavin
(5) Red Mantle with Baboob by Andriana Minou
(6) Broiled Flounder by Michael Natt
(7) Butterflies by J. Rohr
(8) Red Flags by Henry Bladon
(9) Vermellow by Debjani Mukherjee

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Volume 1 Issue 36: Oh, the horror.

I have never liked horror stories. As an overly empathetic person, it is impossible for me to watch slasher films or read about the brusque removal of entrails. I have never understood the point of gratuitous violence, of being purposefully revolting, nor have I ever sought to understand. 

With Issue 36’s prompt though, I have begun to consider the appeal. With horror stories, death and gore are expected. The only happy ending is escape. Horror stories address, very boldly in most cases, the senselessness, the obscene viciousness of this life. In dramatic stories, death usually occurs to emphasise life while in horror stories, it is the opposite: life emphasises death. Horror stories give us a safe (albeit offensive) space to examine our human condition along with all its heinous possibilities while (not-so-gently) reminding us that death is part of life (and vice versa). 

My dearly departed friend Alan, the one to whom this issue is dedicated, died at the age of 33, just a week shy of his birthday. His death was horribly simple, shocking in how quickly and quietly his existence was snuffed out. There was no gore, no chainsaw or blade, no pool of blood to step around.
And this is the true horror story: it is incredibly easy to die. An absolute cruelty when you consider how very hard it can be to live. 

The fifteen stories in this week’s issue lead readers in an exploration of fear and fright, using every possible route.

(2) The Crawly Space by Dawn DeBraal
(3) The Auditorium by Kelli J Gavin
(4) Messy by Annalie Kleinloog
(5) Stick Figure Family by Sonora Taylor
(6) The House with Secrets by Sunil Sharma
(7) Madhukar’s Wife by Debjani Mukherjee
(8) Failed Attempt at Prompt #36 by Copper Rose
(9) Inside the Caravan at the Mexican-American Border (or Seasons Greetings) by Karen Petersen
(10) ISLAND by Lauretta Kaplan
(11) All Hail the Printing Press by Lesley Crigger
(12) Final Lot by Christy Kunin 
(13) Masked and Relentless by Kathy Sanford
(14) Don’t Look by Olivia Wagner

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Volume 1 Issue 35: P.S.A.

In Japan, there are PA poles everywhere. Since we are a country so prone to disaster, it is necessary to have them so every citizen can be warned, no matter how remote they might be. During the great Tohoku earthquake, among the heroes who were lost were those city employees- mayors, clerks, secretaries- who stayed to man the PA.

When I lived on the island, the PA was used a lot and not always for emergencies. Most of the time it was to tell the fishermen not to go out due to rough waves but there would also be the announcements about house-raisings or bake sales.

Here in Hiroshima though, I never hear the PA. So last summer when the flooding began and the crackle of the PA was constantly letting us know about landslides and overflowing rivers, about evacuation centers, well, it was to be taken seriously.

Unless, of course, you did not understand what they were saying. My coparent has a way of tuning out Japanese in a rather ignorance-is-bliss sort of way. After a day of the PA blasting warnings and him hearing the announcements as background static, the dangers got close enough to trigger the phone alert system, which were in English on his phone.

He texted me frantically, did you know about this?! Landslides! Flooding! What are we supposed to do, we are in an evacuation zone. Mandatory evacuation! Should we evacuate?

I had, of course, already told him what was going on but until he saw it in English, it was not real to him. They discussed this phenomenon on the news afterward, foreigners continuing about their days as if it was just a bit of rain, while Japanese people cleared the shelves of toilet paper and bottled water, headed for higher ground. 

Perhaps it is a bit like that tree in the forest parable: if there is an emergency warning but you don’t understand it, is it actually happening?

This week we have five stories of public service announcements that warn us, bring our attention to dangers that did not exist until we read about them.

(2) “Symphony No. 9 and terror” by Sunil Sharma
(3) “All about music” by Jose Varghese
(4) “Notice to All Adults (First-World Version)” by Kathy Sanford
(5) “PSA- Please Stop Asking!” by Kelli J Gavin
(6) “Lake Rumour” by Scott-Patrick Mitchell

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

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