Start your story with “The first thing I noticed about” and go from there. You have 1000 words and two weeks this round.
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
Color prompts are always fun, don’t you think? So far we’ve done blue, yellow, and white. Let’s heat it up this issue with red.
You get a longer writing session this time and double the word count as well. Make the most of it, writers.
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.
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.
A year ago, I started this endeavour as an attempt to balance my writing practice with my Japanese study. It was, essentially, a resolution. Like all resolutions, I faltered many times. I wanted to quit every other week, questioned the conception of such a foolhardy resolution, was puzzled by the evolution of the project. It grew from the seed of my desire to write regularly and became an entirely different tree, filled with the fruits of others’ labours.
Accepting the tree as it was, letting it grow into what it is now, was more meaningful than establishing a better writing practice, it turned out. Supporting others in their own literary resolutions required a creative skill set that I did not possess at the beginning of 2018. Many people question the point of New Year resolutions and this is a much overlooked value of the tradition: setting a goal and heading towards it, even if you end up far away from your intended destination.
One glaring aspect of sticking with this project over the last year has been a very practical one: the realisation that I cannot do everything. Teaching full-time, raising four young citizens of the world, and running this website has consumed all my minutes, leaving no time for my language studies. And since I cannot let go of two of those elements, I am afraid that I must surrender the time given to Mercurial Stories so that I can focus all my non-work/non-parenting time to my studies.
I am an immigrant. I shed the nomadic expat identity when I started thinking about high schools and universities here in Japan for my kids. I have always resented studying the Japanese language because it took away from my writing but I also discovered over the course of this past year that I want to become a translator, specifically a literary translator. My reading and writing skills can still be of use, combined with my ever-expanding understanding of the Japanese language and culture. Thus, I no longer resent the time and effort I must invest. It is a long road ahead of me and first I must dedicate one year to an intense course of study that involves total immersion: reading, writing, and eventually speaking in Japanese for at least 70% or more of my days. This means that editing an English language flash fiction journal will not be feasible.
Know that it is a hiatus, not discontinuation, but it will likely be a lengthy one: it is possible that I will not return here until 2020. The website and FB page will stay alive so you can read (and link to) stories from past issues. And when I have passed my proficiency exams, I will let you know what the next prompt will be. Until then, I just wanted to tell you how grateful I have been for your participation with this “resolution”. Thank you for your stories, your encouragement, your readings, everything. It has been a very interesting journey.
Okay, now on with the show….
This week we have seven resolute stories to get you going for the New Year:
(2) To the Letter by Copper Rose
(3) A One-Liner by Mark Patterson
(4) Why I Do Not Make New Year’s Resolutions by Kelli J. Gavin
(5) Dating at 50 by Karen Petersen
(6) A Village Outing by Sunil Sharma
(7) Unbreakable by L Swartz
I grew up with a kid named Alan. He and I had the same last initial so we were always sitting one in front of the other throughout school. Alan and I shared a love of reading and music, though on both fronts we had vastly different preferences. He liked Megadeath, I liked Bob Dylan. He liked Dean Koontz, I liked Tolstoy. To each their own, I would say now, but it is possible that I was not so open-minded in my youth. Alan, on the other hand, possessed a surprisingly liberal attitude from a young age. Alan could readily appreciate Dylan and Tolstoy whereas I could not tolerate Megadeath or Koontz. I found it particularly irksome when Alan went through a copycat stage with his writing, mimicking Steven King and Dean Koontz in the stories that he wrote for English class. After perhaps a little too much complaining on my part, he wrote a story that featured me.
It was not a long story. Basically, I went over to his house to spend the night with his younger sister and he invited me out for a walk. Living in Florida, there was naturally a swampy area along the path which made it easy for him to tie me up, duct-taping my mouth first, of course, and push me into the water, where I was immediately devoured by alligators. I thought it was hilarious and I did let up on the complaining after that.
Five years ago, Alan died, just a few days shy of his thirty-fourth birthday. His death was sudden and heartbreaking for everyone who had the privilege of knowing him. Today, November 26th, was Alan’s birthday. In honor of my horror-loving childhood friend, I am asking you writers out there to craft some horror stories that would make Dean Koontz’s skin crawl. And, due to the fact that I am busy with the print edition, I am giving you two weeks to complete your stories with an expanded word count of 1000. Let the
blood ink flow, writers.
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