Last summer, the heat was a killer. Every day, the news reported more causalities of the brutal heat wave, old people, young people, people who worked outside, played outside. A first grader died during a short excursion to the local park, prompting a nationwide campaign of keeping the children indoors, protecting them from the heat.
And now that summer dawns again, everyone is worried. Will the heat be as cruel this year, will it make us suffer, make us melt?
Heat, anthropomorphized into a killer so that we have not something to blame but someone.
In this issue’s collection of eight stories, heat influences and threatens, heat appears as an actual weapon and as a vehicle of remembrance.
This is our first photo prompt but it will not be our last. I selected this one because it just says so much: a powerful emotion is captured but along with it, a stillness. Is he reacting to the newspaper before him or is he hoping the newspaper will distract him from something more disturbing outside of the frame? Or is he reacting to anything at all? Perhaps the sun is too bright, perhaps he is exhausted from taking care of his colicky grandson so his daughter could get some much-needed sleep. So many story possibilities in this one picture, six of which are laid out with incredible creativity in this week’s issue.
(2) Lunch by Dawn DeBraal (3) Trash by Kelli J Gavin (4) Submerged Vanity by Henry Bladon (5) In the cafe by Sunil Sharma (6) Father’s Day by Michael Natt (7) A Search by Debjani Mukherjee (8) The Obituary by Mark Kodama (9) The Other Side by Brandy Bonifas
For the last three nights in a row, a marten has run across my path. I am rather certain that it is not the same marten, for each night I was in a different neighborhood when it happened. My reaction, on the other hand, was the same each time: exhilaration.
I live in a suburban neighborhood surrounded by mountains on three sides and a very shallow sea on the other. Occasionally, I will get an alert from one of my kids’ schools warning us about boars or monkeys roaming the streets, having left the comforts of their forest for the chaos of cars and supermarkets. I have never actually seen the undoubtedly disorientated beasts but I like the idea that I could see them.
So spying the martens, their slim copper bodies racing across my path, thrilled me. Martens are solitary creatures, controlling a carefully selected territory and only socializing for the usual Spring flings. They prefer the woods but it is not uncommon in Japan for them to establish their habitat in human-dominated regions since every neighborhood is a mixture of modern concrete buildings and old houses with sculpted gardens. Not ideal but they are opportunists and make do with the hand dealt them. They use shallow drainage channels as their main routes but occasionally have to cross a regular street, as I witnessed this past week.
My days, on the other hand, feel decidedly not wild. I work and then come home and prepare for the next day of work, repeating until the week is spent. My food is wrapped up in clear cellophane, my sleep is determined by digital pulses instead of the lightening sky. My choices have become rote; everything feels tame, controllable, and infinitely so.
The flash of the martens disrupts that delusion. That sleek red streak of fur is unconcerned with my PTA meetings, my dentist appointments, my tests that need marking. The martens are living a wild life within our constructed tameness.
We humans are less honest than the marten. We live a pretend life, making up to-do lists to distract us from our own primal nature. We don’t want to be part of nature’s cycle because we know its rotation; instead we encase ourselves with material goods, petty obligations and expectations, thinking that the weight of them can sever our animalness, our birth and bloom, our decay and demise. We keep detailed day-planners and drink Frappuccinos and build highways and shopping malls and pretend that we have a better grip on life than the humble marten, scurrying through the wilderness that surrounds us all.
I knew when I selected this week’s prompt it that there were many ways to interpret the term. And as usual, the writers delivered. Issue 2 features prose and poetry that explore all forms of wildlife and wild lives.
My mother always has some bizarre detail woven into her letters about the mundane. Last week, I got one that included this gem: so your brother had a blackout up there (the electricity, not your brother) and he and the neighbor went to investigate. Turns out a raccoon had bit into the transformer somehow, messing everything up. And they know it was a raccoon because the poor thing was there on the ground, still smoking.
Which made me think, we have not had any stories focusing on the other species of this world. Of course, the word wildlife could be twisted into different meanings and that is fine. Just make sure the story includes wildlife of some sort or the other and you will be aces.
As always, 500 words or less and due on Thursday, February 21st by 8 pm.
Hey there and welcome to Volume 2 of Mercurial Stories.
My grandmother had always said she detested the smell of roses, called them funeral flowers, and because she was my first kindred spirit on this planet, I adopted this attitude towards the beloved bloom.
So when Frankie Oscar the Third showed up on Valentine’s Day at my junior high school with a dozen of them cradled in one arm and a heart-shaped box of chocolates covered in fake roses in the other, I found myself more nauseous than delighted. Nauseous and embarrassed. I had gotten a bigger present than any other 8th grader and from my high school boyfriend at that. I should have felt smug as well as delighted. But I did not.
The note he had included in the card made it all the worse. It read just like all his other letters, I love you, sweetheart. Again, wasn’t that what I was supposed to want to read? And yet I found it incredibly boring, the same sentence over and over, hastily scribbled on wide-ruled notebook paper.
My mom told me that I was supposed to keep the roses in the empty chocolate box, a sort of romantic trophy that I would eventually be sentimental for. So I cut off the flowers’ heads and tossed them into the box then stored it at the back of my closet. Later, on a laundry-washing weekend home from college, I came across the chocolate box when looking for an old marbled composition notebook. There inside were the rose heads, their red petals now shriveled and black. The sickly sweet smell flooded the room. I put the lid back on, walked out to where my father was burning a pile of leaves, and tossed the box in whole.
It might seem a little strange, in light of that story, that I should select, for a story due on Valentine’s Day, the prompt “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. And yet I decided on it because I assumed that my writers would have wide-range of perspectives about the holiday. And I was not disappointed.
Today we have five stories with titles from the now extinct Conversation Hearts candy, the small candy with big messages.
This year, the American confectionery company Necco went bankrupt and the classic Valentine’s candy Sweethearts went down with them. After 116 years of manufacturing sugary conversation starters, people will have to rely on their own wits to express their adoration.
For this week’s prompt, I want you to select a Sweethearts’ message and use it. The message should also double as the title. There are many lists of messages available such as this one or this one. And, as usual, 500 words, due 2/14 by 8 pm est via Green Submissions (as a PDF please).
Feel free to write me with any questions or concerns: email@example.com.