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

Pages: 1 2

Volume 3 Prompt 3

A word that has been throbbing on the collective consciousness lately.
500 words or less. Due Thursday, 5/14 by 8 pm EST.
I am in the process of putting together a new podcast episode so one of the writers from the first three issues will be chosen randomly to be interviewed. I will also include a story from each issue to be read on the podcast. Perhaps a little incentive to get those words flowing. All 500 (or less) of them.

Submit here or send to editor@mercurialstories.com.

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 Prompt 2

This week, read through your local paper (I actually read my hometown’s small weekly) and find your protagonist. Find a detail from their life that resonates and go from there. Include a link to the obituary at the bottom of your story (it will not be included in your word count).

Submit here or email me your PDF at contact@mercurialstories.com.

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 Prompt 8

Let’s put on a show this issue, writers: the greatest show on Earth. This issue, let’s put up the big tent and see what we can do. You have 2000 words and an extended deadline, enough time and space to dazzle and wow the audience/readers. Let’s see what you can do, writers.

Volume 2, Issue 7: Heat

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.

(2) On a hot day some strange kinship by Sunil Sharma
(3) In the Heat of the Night by Dawn DeBraal
(4) The Newspaper Reporter by Mark Kodama
(5) Palm Leaf by Abu Siddik
(6) Cremation by Subhash Chandra
(7) HEAT by Louis Kasatkin
(8) Lakeside by Lynn White
(9) Marshmallows by Kelli J Gavin

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

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