Week 22: Prompt

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Inspired by the neverending heatwave…

Look forward to seeing your stories this week. And hey, how about inviting a friend to give it a try this week? The more the merrier, right?

See you Thursday!

Volume 1 Issue 21: Nonsense Word

(image from here)

This week’s prompt was a little more challenging than others, more strict in some ways. Reading around an unknown word, divining its meaning or simply accepting your ignorance, is something that we usually advance out of as readers. (Unless, of course, you learn how to read in a second language, in which case, dealing with unknown words is just part of your daily life.) It is an uncomfortable feeling and yet we readers persevere for the sake of the entire story.
This week we have five stories brought to you by returning contributors Kelli J. Gavin, Sunil Sharma, Tim Clark, and myself along with a story from a first-time contributors, Mimi and Miguel Rodriguez.

I hope you enjoy fafflabing them as much as I did!

My 11-Year-Old Daughter 
Kelli J Gavin

No one ever told me that having an 11-year-old daughter would be so challenging.  Having an 11-year-old son was one thing, he is now 15, and aging was something that was considered inevitable and even sometimes a nonevent. My daughter seems to be on a mission to make me prove that I somehow received the highly coveted Able To Parent Card at some yet to be discovered by me University. Some days, I think I know what I am doing, and others, I lose my cool when I pick up a fourth discarded wet swimsuit off the floor. She is at the awkward, challenging age, right between childhood and being a teenager.  I sometimes want time to slow down and keep her as my baby. Other times, I can’t wait for her to mature a bit, for her to be able to make better informed decisions and for her to desire to take better care of her possessions.

Summers are hot in Minnesota.  We try to accomplish all that needs to be done in the mornings before the heat and then we find reason to slumber in the shade or accomplish other indoor tasks that are calling our name. In the Dog Days of Summer, summer school is over, and the kids are awaiting fun times at the cabin and at the Minnesota State Fair. But these days can be long.  After a book or two have been read, chores have been completed, summer homeschool curriculum has been checked and rechecked, and miles and miles have ridden on bikes and scooters, the neighborhood kids seem to reconvene after lunch at our house and in our pool.

Because my daughter swims many times a day, and has yet to discover that she has the ability to hang up a wet swimsuit and towel over the banister of the deck to dry in the sun, I often spend the first 10 minutes when I get home from work doing these things and scoffing.  I greet my husband warmly as we discuss the happenings of the day and what I will make for dinner. By that time, my kids usually discover that my work day has ended and the onslaught of questions begin. Mom, can I go to Funky Minds on Wednesday? Can Albert come over for dinner? What time are you taking me to Vacation Bible School tomorrow afternoon? And about 15 more.

When I study my kids while they are in full blown question asking mode, I finally look at my daughter. I mean really look at my daughter.  Her hair is disheveled and ratted up, damp from her morning swim, her glasses are smeared with the sweat and filth of a hot summer day.

“Babe, your glasses are mess. It looks liked you licked them.” A tell her a little flustered. She removes her glasses from her face as I reach for them.  I want to explain to her that shuvblenderting isn’t a bad thing. That she could shuvblendert from her dad and he would be happy to be of assistance. But she won’t hear me. She thinks that I am pointing out all that is wrong with her.  I quickly clean them, smile at her, kiss her sweaty forehead and replace the glasses on her beautiful face. I answer a few more questions when she then tells me she is starving and wants to know when dinner will be ready.

In all my parent wisdom, I think, oh my goodness. This is the perfect opportunity to teach her that shuvblenerting is an important thing to do. “Well, sweet girl, I have a lot of vegetables and a salad to prepare.   I need to shuvblendert.” She gladly joins me in the kitchen when she realizes that dinner will be ready if we both work together. As she starts peeling carrots and I put a pot of water on the stove, I begin. “Sweet girl,  I came home today from work and I was so tired. I saw all of your swimsuits and towels strewn everywhere. I have asked you many times to be sure to hang a wet swimsuit over a deck chair or lay it flat on the table. And I have also asked you to hang the towels flat over the deck banister to dry in the sun.  I need you to promise that you will only wear one swimsuit a day and that you will always turn it right side out and lay it flat to dry. I shouldn’t need to be the one to do these kinds of things when I get home from work. You are 11, and absolutely able to hang up your suit and towel. If not, you can always shuvblendert.”

She looks at me with ocean blue eyes and smiles. “Mom, thanks for telling me what you need from me.  I can’t promise you am going to remember to do it every time, but I will try. You know, I have a lot of important places to go and people to see.”  Her humor shines through sometimes at most ridiculous times. She knows what she is doing. She is avoiding reprimand by attempting to make me laugh. It works. I first, fight a smile and control my laughter. Then, my lips betray me and creep up into a toothy grin only my mother could love.  We laugh freely together, and I pull her into an embrace, carrot peeler and all.

No, I may not receive more assistance around the house from sweetheart of a daughter. But I will get to laugh with her, love her and encourage her and always teach her to shuvblendert.


Kelli Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).

Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com

The game
Sunil Sharma

They were the dreaded RASUB!

And tough to crack!

Post-lunch, the ritual started.

The man called God ordered: Proceed!

The second man, identified as Charles Ludwig Dodgson, intoned: KO.

The third man, Homer and the fourth, Nietzsche, repeated: KO.

The hymn KO-KO reverberated across the hall and corridor.


The director was aghast.

—What the hell!

—Watch for few more minutes, sir!

The deputy pleaded.







The director was incensed:  Sheer nonsense!

—A daily game!

—Find out the meaning of this drivel! Some real conspiracy here! Find out.

—Yes, sir.


The group was given third-degree. The interrogators insisted for the hidden meaning.

The frail victims shouted: KOKOKO!!!

—What does KO mean? The chief asked.

—Key O— Key O— Key O— KO-KO!

—What does it mean?

When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.

—Which is to be master…

The interrogators gave up.


The inmates were intellectuals feared for their theories that altered perceptions and critiqued the System.

Part of a shrinking movement called RASUB—some got murdered; others disappeared or shot down; many died in jails—these four minds were committed to the safest haven—the Asylum—by declaring them as mad.

They were the enemies—for claiming that everybody was divine and therefore equal.

The State did not like such a philosophy.

It was the job of the director to eliminate threats.

Non-sense is subversive!

That was official decree.


The group kept on chanting: KO. KO. KO.

The director and his team were driven nuts.

They could not make sense of the chant. The Director brought in specialist that worked hard to understand the game but miserably failed.

The more the four were tortured, the fiercer the recital: KO-KO.

As if their sanity depended on this mantra!


The Home Department sent the ultimatum: Three days to unravel the meaning!

On the brink, the portly director joined the group in disguise—for better understanding of their world and mental processes.

God said: Proceed!

Dodgson said: KO.

The director said: KO.

They all stood up, linked arms, closed eyes and started dancing as initiates in the mysteries.

God said: They can kill body, not mind!

Others shouted: KO.

God said: They can kill minds, not thoughts!

The group shouted: KO.

God said: We are all one. We all are God!

Blasphemy! Thought the Director.

God sang the loudest:

They can maim us

But not our spirit

And— not our songs

That defy time!


Superman: KO! KO! KO!

They all chorused: KOKOKOKO! KOKOKO!

God: Next?

Dodgson: NUF!

Nietzsche: Finnegan and Jabberwocky! Godot.

Dodgson: Love math, time travel. Back from 1865.

The director recommended: Commit them to the dungeons. Saboteurs and their verbal games—lethal!

Lastly: TEL METH TOR! They are GO-GAUG— advanced creative people, best understood in future only!

He was also put in that hell!


Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:


For more details, please visit the blog:


Tim Clark

“Balderdash.” The man said, his deep voice boomed, echoing off the concrete walls, bouncing around the room.

He was dressed in a waist coat with long tails, a bow tie in a complimentary color, a striped shirt and wore a top hat. He carried a walking stick that turned into a sword. I know this because he threatened to run me through, after slicing my donut in half.

We were sitting in the coffee shop next to the laundromat out on Highway 61.

“This coffee is great. And I am starving.” I said to my roommate. We were getting ready to go see a Steely Dan concert in Red Rocks outside of Denver, and were doing our laundry so we would have some clean clothes. We were excited, smiling and laughing, it was going to be fun.

Right in front of our table the man sprang into existence, out of thin air, dressed in a way that made me think of the last century.

He pulled his sword out of his cane, swung it through the air with a menacing, terrifying hiss of agitated air, and sliced my donut in half. Cream filling sticking to the glinting steel, oozing on to the neatly bisected paper plate, and the cleanly cut plastic table cloth in a creepy, unwholesome way that will change the way I look at donuts forever.

I looked at my roommate, and he was staring at my dying donut, unable to take his eyes off the misery unfolding on the table.

“I have been looking for you. All through time and space, across countless universes. I have come to run you through. Like the animal you are.” He said. The sword flashed again, knocking my coffee cup into the wall. Dark liquid ran down the grimy cream colored walls. I smiled at the counter person, trying to assure him that it was my coffee, but not my fault. He glared at all three of us and went to get a mop.

“I… I’m… you… why would you want to kill me?” I finally asked. Trying to think of a reason anybody would want to hurt me. I was nobody, and nobody knew me, and nobody disliked me, at least not enough to kill me, I thought.

“Grandpa, that isn’t him.” A voice said, and a woman flowed and rippled into solidity beside him.

“It isn’t?” The man asked.

“No.” She said.  

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I thought you were someone else.” The man said, trying to reassemble my donut, his hands working, fumbling, a lop sided smile breaking across the deep shade of red spreading across his face.

Then they were gone.

“I’m not sure we should have breakfast together anymore.” My roommate said.

Tim Clark lives in Columbus, OH, where he works for a small warehouse.  He is proud of his marriage, but he would have to ask his wife how many years it has been. He has a blog about life and the perils involved. You can see it here,
Life Explained.

He writes occasionally and with pride for Street Speech, a local homeless advocacy newspaper. He is a contributor for Mercurial Stories, Writer’s Newsletter, Cross and Bull Stories, and has stories in anthologies from SmartyPants Publishing and the coming edition of Blank Tapes. He is particularly vain about his monthly column on The Wild Word. Tim is in the act of writing his first novel, based on a series of short stories, and random memories and imagination.

Mimi and Miguel Rodriguez

Are we living a todeloe life? 

She was texting with a friend as we were walking to the beach. Towels and cold water in a bag, her hand on mine. It was late afternoon, the city busy with a mix of locals and tourists. Not a cloud in the sky.

– He is calling me todeloe! 

Why would he do that?

– I just asked if he had ever been in a threesome

That explains it.

– But are we?

There is a book we like to read. “Call me by your name” from Andre Aciman. There is a chapter in that book where the two main characters are at a book reading in Rome.

“Oliver, sei un todeloe”

I couldn’t tell if he was being called todeloe because of the two babes he had wandered in with or because of me. Or both.

“Se l’amore” he replied.

It’s love, I replied

What is there in an adjective? It is just a way to assign attributes to a noun. There are adjectives that are absolute, like sweet or red. There are adjectives that are relative, like todeloe. You need a frame of reference to call someone todeloe. A todeloe in rural Texas is someone having a fourth beer. A todeloe in Rome is a guy walking into a party with two babes and his boyfriend.

Does it really matter what you are called? I don’t go through life looking for approval from others. I don’t try to impose my way of thinking in others either. I’m too busy being happy and admiring the beauty in the world for that.

I actively choose to be in love with my girl. She happens to like girls, at least one of them. I happen to like girls too. I understand her and can relate. Heck I can share my secret moves when making love to them with her. I even explain my tricks to her in herself as we make love.

Will I let an adjective stand between me and happiness? Is the person calling us todeloe the shepherd calling the lost sheep back into the corral? Or is that the person that got lost in the pursuit of happiness? Straitjacketed by a list of things you should do or not do set by a group of people more interested in the survival of their community than in the happiness of their members. 

So, my love. I’m busy being happy. I’m busy admiring the beauty in our love. I am busy planning our next adventures, which might or might not involve another girl for you. I am busy enjoying the moment with you, sharing our thoughts and our feelings. I am busy admiring the drawings that you make, or reading the words that you write which give me a glimpse in that beautiful mind of yours. Is this called living a todeloe life? I prefer calling it living it a happy life.

Authors’ Bio:

We are a couple in love writing about our adventures together. She is the creative half, artsy and perfectionist. He is the rational part, good with words and total chaos.  Bear hugs and short dresses… Together we look at open relationships, arrangements, and what it means to be loved in the 21st century. We publish in Medium under: https://medium.com/@ursushoribilis

Tiffany Key

“James, get out of that tree. I am telling you for the last time, mister.” The boy was midway up the tree, on the thickest branch, the one that splayed out into three fingers, giving James a decent platform to rest.
“Never,” he called down to his mother. “Not until you give me back the vonnox.” His mother put her hands on her hips.
“I told you, James, the vonnox is not meant for little boys.”
“But you let Beth have it.”
“Yes, and Beth is not a little boy now is she?”
“It’s not fair. Robert’s mom lets him use the vonnox all the time.”
“I’m sure that is not true. Robert’s mom is not stupid.”
“I didn’t call her stupid. Robert’s mom is just really nice, nicer than you even.”
“Oh, is that so? Well, nice or not, I am not going to let you hurt yourself just because you got something in your head.”
James looked towards the house and saw his older sister leaning out the bathroom window, dangling the vonnox from its long, metal prongs. Beth was grinning.
“Mom, Beth’s making fun of me now.” His mother turned around just as Beth pulled herself and the vonnox back into the bathroom. She sighed.
“I’ll take care of your sister later.” She stood staring up at her young son. She knew bringing the vonnox into the house was a mistake but her mother-in-law had insisted. And without her husband around anymore to help defend her from his mother’s ideas and opinions, she had learned that it was better to accept defeat than to lose every battle. Less energy spent that way, she reasoned. James had turned towards the trunk and she could not see his face at all anymore. All this fuss over a stupid vonnox. And of course, once he gets it, he’ll lose interest. But if she gave it to him, well, it would horrible if anyone found out. Better to resist than live that down, no matter the nuisance.

“Okay, fine, suit yourself. I am going in where the air-conditioner is running and there are brownies cooling on the kitchen counter. Half walnut, half plain.” No response. “Okay, then, I hope you know how to get down from there. Your father lent the ladder to Uncle Charles so I can’t rescue you once you get scared.”
“I’m not going to get scared, “ James said, his voice low but determined.

“Well, I am going in now.” She looked up and saw her son clinging to the tree like a baby monkey clings to its mother. Sighing, she made her way across the green lawn, doubling back only after she was out of James’ line of sight. She sat down under a pine tree right behind James’ oak. She thought of her husband, lost out in the world, and her wild hope that the vonnox would make life easier.

“Mama! Mama!” James cried.
“I’m here, darling,” his mother responded, jumping to her feet. “Don’t worry, baby, I won’t let you fall.”

About the author:

Tiffany Key is a linguistic navigator and amateur anthropologist who lives in a decent-sized closet with four fierce contenders near a shallow sea. Her work as appears and disappears here and there. She records cognitive flights of fancy at:



Volume 1 Issue 20: Hometown

Welcome FL Amelia Island 2008 WBlog

With this week’s prompt, I admit, I was inspired by the fact that I had been reconnecting with some of my old friends from our rather unique hometown (unique in that it belongs to us) and thinking about how even on the other side of the planet, the place still has a hold on me. This is not a unique feeling, I know, which is why it makes for an interesting prompt. Of course, several people commented that they did not have a hometown, something they share with my own children who have been dragged all over this mad world by their restless mother. This has resulted in my children being envious of my roots, of having a shared place to remember. Sure it is just a place but our hometowns (or lack of them) shape us, more than we would probably like to admit.
This week, we have a collection of excellent hometown tales from Sunil Sharma, Lesley Crigger, Kelli J Gavin, Elena Bitner, Julie Wakeman-Linn, and myself.

Such diverse perspectives on an idea that many of us take for granted as being a universal experience, I am sure you will enjoy reading these as much as I did.

Thank you to all the contributors and be sure to return next week for a new prompt on Monday.

Memories of a small town
Sunil Sharma

Maxim Gorky in north India!

Back then, Ghaziabad was liberal and art loving. Tree-lined roads; quaint bungalows; big parks; schools, colleges and hospitals—an ideal address.

It was his hometown—neat, ordered, tranquil, educated, liberal, middle class.

And truly cosmopolitan.

On that evening, returning home, he found a solitary bookshop on the Station Road. And the Master there!

His life-long tryst with the Russians began that instant. Every fortnight, the young man would trudge there for a Pushkin, Gogol or Chekov. Gave tuitions, saved money for the classics; hard cover and well-produced, yet affordable for a lower-middle-class student, doing an M.A in English.

Exhilarating encounter!

The shop slowly became a magnet for the enthusiasts: over cups of chai, debates over the Immortals and comparisons with the French and the English were conducted. The translated books in Hindi and English, mainly from Russia, were displayed there, along with some Hindi magazines and stationery items. The owner was a failed writer and wanted to make a living by selling literature of a foreign country in a dusty town, 28 km away from Delhi, the Capital of a post-colonial country.

The literate town did not disappoint the bookseller.

Ghaziabad was getting urbanized and industrialized fast in the 1990s. A bunch of idealists tried surviving in that bleak space by staging a Brecht and/or holding poetry sessions, Ghazal evenings, painting exhibitions, some place or other.

It was pure oxygen!

The initiates would discuss Kurosawa, Ray, Fellini or Osborne.

Often, international film shows were held through a film club; being artist was bliss for the out-of-the- job dreamers, young rebels!

A lean and intense man, Raghav Verma was deeply attached to his town: Still small— every street, face and café, familiar. Neighbours=family. People smiled at the strangers.


Comfortable zone!

You truly belonged there.

… death of Pa altered things forever. He had to seek a job. The town suddenly grew very small and stifling! No opportunities. He bid a teary farewell to a place whose winds and waters had nourished a yearning soul and body…akin to bidding goodbye to a poor mother!

Reality sank in. He left for Mumbai in the late 1990s and found a calling as a screen- play writer. He got money and recognition in a mega city of million aspirations.

Ghaziabad became a receding landscape. A different age!

On a recent visit in 2018, after more than a decade, he found his hometown transmogrified!

Ghaziabad had grown heavy and ugly. The old lanes brimmed with shops. Each street was a mini-market. Malls, multiplexes, bars.

Ghaziabad— an open baazar. Fancy cars. Bikes. Pizza and Big Mac outlets. Beauty- massage parlours.


Where is his Ghaziabad?

Small becoming big; big, bigger; a mad race!

He searched for old cultural landmarks—the bookshop, old cafés, theatres.


Ads of deep discounts; happy hours and sales, in every corner; everything was on sale.

Sadly, Gorky has been exiled by Porsche…forever!


Sunil Sharma is Mumbai-based senior academic, critic, literary editor and author with 19 published books: Six collections of poetry; two of short fiction; one novel; a critical study of the novel, and, eight joint anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism, and, one joint poetry collection. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.

Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA:


For more details, please visit the blog:



More Secrets Everyone Knows
Lesley Crigger

The trouble with small towns is they’re full of secrets. Secrets the entire community knows but never admits to outsiders.  

Everyone knows Deputy Dodd sells moonshine from the trunk of his cruiser. Moonshine Otha Queen distilled on the back 40 of his crabgrass choked property. Everyone knows because everyone buys it. Including the pastor that crawls up into the pulpit every Sunday morning and preaches a 45-minute sermon on which new and exciting way you’re going to hell, not limited to hard rock and diet Pepsi. The same pastor that dons a white hood once a month, strikes a match and burns a cross. If you ain’t white you don’t drive into Endicott and you sure as hell don’t do it after dark on a Saturday night. And for the love of God don’t drive a shitty Honda with all probability of breaking. And if you are white, you don’t talk about what happens to shitty Hondas that break down on dark roads and you don’t mention what was in the barrel that washed up the Shawnee River last winter.

 Reigning consensus is Ashley Greer was drunk or on a methamphetamine high when her two-year-old daughter drowned in a shit-stained toilet. Some people, in hushed voices, questioned if she did it on purpose. Months later all people could do was remember the rambunctious, curly haired nymph with a gleam in their eye, shake their heads and wonder.  

 More secrets everyone knows. 

The biggest secret that plagues a small town is the one they tell each other. That they care. Sure, when Ashley’s kid turned face up in a bowl of piss, the community threw an auction in the name of charity. Said whether Ashley was negligent or even responsible, the child deserved a proper funeral. Besides, Nathan, the child’s father was a stand-up member of the community. A volunteer firefighter-no less.

Old ladies baked cakes, crafters made high priced-shit, local vendors donated goods. The community came out to show support-. Mostly they spent their money and talked behind each other’s backs all while smiling at each other’s faces. Told Nathan how sorry they were. Told each other they’d never be as blind as he was. Wasn’t he at least a little responsible? He knew Ashley had problems. How could he leave a child in her care? Well, she was his mother, she had rights.    

More secrets everyone knows.

Meanwhile lives are being rearranged, destroyed. There was a time and place when a light could have been shed on such a secret, but people kept it hid instead. Or did they? Was it ever a secret? Was it ever hidden? Or just kept within the family, within the community?

That’s the trouble with small towns- they’re full of truths.  


The Grass That Sways
Kelli J Gavin

When the grass sways from the mighty wind

And hits my ankles and brushes my legs

I fondly remember a simpler time when

I thought being outside was my job

When mom and dad would send us out

To play all day and return for food

Maybe even water and an afternoon rest

Under the big oak tree in the front yard

When dirt was something to seek

And I knew all the birds by name

Because they kindly called out to me

Each morning to come and play

My sister and I would join in the fun

A few neighbor kids by our side

We would run and play and sing and

Shout and chase each day away

In the country the freedom we had

To explore and create new adventures

Each day led to the promise of sleep

Every night our heads hit the pillow

I now find myself lingering outdoors

And seeking out the wind and the rain

The sun and even the shade because

I miss what I had when I was a child

Nothing to distract me from the fun of

Each new day when dishes and laundry

And meals seemed to be ready for me

I know it was all done by my mom

I thank her for enabling my sister and I

To take in all the sights and sounds

Of which our country home offered

To us in abundance each and every day

Our mom insisted that we be kids

And enjoy all the nature that surrounded

Us on every side and in every season

Oh how I loved my job as a kid


Today I will explore

Today I will walk in the fields

Today I will pick flowers

Today I will enjoy the grass that sways

27629333_10216219743193098_42171232456058480_oKelli Gavin lives in Carver, Minnesota with Josh, her husband of an obscene amount of years and they have two crazy kids. She is a Writer, Professional Organizer and owns Home & Life Organization and a small Jewelry Company. She enjoys writing, reading, swimming, and spending time with family and friends. She abhors walks on the beach (sand in places no one wishes sand to be), candle lit dinners, (can’t see) and the idea of cooking two nights in a row (no thank you).

Find Kelli on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @KelliJGavin

Blog found at kellijgavin@blogspot.com

If You Listen Hard Enough
Elena Bitner

If you blink, you’ll miss it. Flybys on the highway who never know of the things that happen just beyond that single overpass exit. Some nights, it’s nothing at all. All three thousand, eight hundred, and thirty-five of us find our way to bed without anything more exciting than a parking ticket for leaving your car running outside the Allsups.

But some nights, like nights where the moon is just a bit too full, or the comets fly by just right, you’ll hear it. Children screaming because their momma’s being beaten half to death in front of them and nobody cares enough to call the police cause she’ll just be right back over there next week. Momma’s got nobody else, you see. Her family over in Ranger already abandoned her for shacking up with a married man. Nevermind that his wife left him years ago.

On some nights, like Friday nights when most of the dads are so far into their eighteen packs that they forgot their kids were supposed to be at home by ten, you’ll hear some pretty interesting sounds. You’ll hear music out in the desert and a young girl’s voice singing along with some of the boys. Boys she’s known all her life, boys she lets touch her wherever they want to cause they make her feel loved. Boys that’ll protect her from anyone else who tries to touch her, who’ll let her get good and drunk before they try and do it themselves. That way she’ll be able to feel alright about it in the morning.

If you listen hard enough, you might even hear her crying while they do it.

On church nights, that’s when you’ll hear the laughter. The sounds of family. Everyone’s spent their Sunday morning listening about the evils of the world, so they hold their breath and listen to the quiet night and think twice about that next beer. On nights like that, you’d almost think you could call the place home. Almost.

You there on the highway, you should probably just keep on driving, though. Our Allsup’s got only the bare essentials and the gas is a hell of a lot cheaper over in Abilene. You should just go ahead and blink. Close your eyes and don’t try to listen too hard as you pass, either. Cause if you listen hard enough, you’ll hear the devil walking through the streets of my hometown. Nope, you should probably just keep on driving.

Author’s Bio:
My name is Elena Bitner and I work in the education field in West Texas. I am from humble roots in East Texas and the first in my family to make it as far as I have, so I have come a long way from that hometown. I have a master’s in Creative Writing where my thesis was centered on exposing the atrocities of Southern neglect, abuse, and substance addiction.


SoDak Snow and Sky
Julie Wakeman-Linn

“We’ll need the license plate number for your parking pass,” the nurse said to Bridget.

 A static electric smell filled her mother’s hospital room. Bridget, desperate for fresh air, said, “I’ll get it.”

Outside a squall had begun. The weather had been clear when the airport shuttle dropped her off. Now a gauzy curtain of snow blurred the parking lot.

With her mom’s car in the far corner, Bridget’s plan to read the license plate from inside wouldn’t work. Running into a snowstorm wasn’t optimal, but preferable to doing nothing in the hospital room.

The snow gusts raced toward the south like they wished to pass over South Dakota on their way to Oklahoma without stopping. An inch or two of snow had accumulated already on the sidewalk. Bridget snapped her khaki safari jacket and stepped outside.

Under the hospital’s awning, Bridget gulped in fresh air, but iciness filled her mouth. She raised her hands to breathe through her bare fingers.

Stepping off the curb, her footing slipped and she wind-milled her arms to stay upright. A blast blew up her sleeves. The cotton of her jacket stiffened, trapping ice crystals next to her knit shirt.

Millions of crystal shards—none of them pretty snowflakes—showered her arms, her shoulders, her hair.

The howling wind carried the sound of an 18 wheeler passing by on Interstate 29. No bird sounds at all, only the lonely truck.  Her Serengeti was never empty of calling cape doves and buzzing grasshoppers. South Dakota wind blasted like it could peel her skin off her cheeks.

“You need some help?” A bass voice called.

At the corner of the building, a guy in a snowmobile coverall held a shovel in one hand and a cigarette in the other. His gloves draped out of a pocket.

“I’m fine.” She didn’t want any help from anybody. She’d managed her life for the whole time since she left South Dakota and she would keep doing so.

The snowfall, coating the car in gray-white dust, made the license plate unreadable. She brushed it clear. MSL. Her mother hadn’t changed her vanity plate, a last birthday present from Bridget’s dad.

Her hands, covered with the wet refreezing crystals, burned. Her breasts ached under her jacket and her knit shirt. In Tanzania’s heat, she’d wear only her sandals, underwear and her blue linen sundress.

Dingy clouds muffled the sky from the western horizon to the eastern. In summer these dark clouds would spawn tornados. Serengeti clouds were cumulous, enormous puffs of white sailing by on their way to the Indian Ocean.  Over the savannah, some part of the sky was always blue.

Weighed down by these January clouds, Bridget reached the entrance and brushed her chafing hands over her hair, her arms, and her thighs to knock off the snow. She gripped her travel pack strapped around her waist to feel the cardboard edge of her airline ticket. She wouldn’t stay in Sioux Ridge long.

Author’s Bio:
Julie Wakeman-Linn edited the Potomac Review for a dozen years. Over twenty short stories have appeared in lots of wonderful journals. Her next one is forthcoming from Evening Street Review.

Walk On By

Tiffany Key

My aunt met me in the lobby of the hotel.
“We’ll walk, if you don’t mind. I need to stretch my legs before the service.” We walked past the golf shoe store, past the speciality bookstore for birdwatchers, past the ice cream parlor on the left and the one on the right, past the weird drug store that never took down their Christmas decorations, past the old bank that was now a tapas restaurant, past the old church that was now a bank.

“You know, I had just had lunch with your mother, right before the accident. I had been telling her to get that tail light, well, you know your mother, she never could listen”. My aunt dabbed at her eyes with an old tissue ball that she pulled from the inside pocket of her purse. There were still three blocks to go until the funeral parlor.

At the intersection, we waited for a line of log trucks to pass, the traffic light swaying as stray branches brushed against it. My aunt, nodding towards the Episcopal Church catty-corner, said, “You know, they got themselves a woman priest in there. Half of the congregation was in an uproar but then what were they going to do? They are too good for the Baptists and not religious enough for the Catholics. They would have been welcomed by the Methodists but they’ve also got a woman preacher. Of course, there’s the Presbyterians but everyone always forgets about them.”

The light changed and we walked on the disheveled sidewalk, grey and white hexagons cracked and displaced by knotty oak roots. We would jump from grey to grey as kids, avoiding the white ones along with the cracks, not wanting mothers with broken backs. To our right, the haunted Victorian house where my friend’s brother rented the attic: we would sit on his splintered balcony, smoking pot while her brother and his friends played their guitars poorly and talked about what they were going to do once they got out of this town.

We passed the old hospital that was now a law firm and headquarters of our State Representative. Across the street was the old high school that was now the school board and, right next door, in the sprawling white colonial revival house, was the funeral home, crowded with people there to bid farewell to my mother. My sister was inside already, making sure our mother’s pearls were laying properly.

My aunt slowed to a halt, looking at the line of cars trying to turn into the narrow drive.
“What a mess”, she said, then looped her arm through mine. “Had they put the new boardwalk down at Main Beach when you were here last? Shall we go have a look?”
And like that, we walked down toward the ocean, past my dead mother and her dead sister, past the alligators in the marsh, past the recreation center with the new heated pool, until there was nothing before us but the horizon.

About the author:

Tiffany Key is a linguistic navigator and amateur anthropologist who lives in a decent-sized closet with four fierce contenders near a shallow sea. Her work as appears and disappears here and there. She records cognitive flights of fancy at:



Week 18: Prompt: Starting Over

Hi there.

Did you miss me? I know a few of you did and I do appreciate the messages of concern, truly. I am sorry I did not leave a note telling you about my extended absence but at the time it was a bit impossible (technical issues). All is fine now so we can press along.

This week’s prompt, appropriately enough, is STARTING OVER. 

Remember the rules?

500 words or less. Due Thursday by 8 pm EST. Submit to mercurialstories@gmail.com.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Volume 1 Issue 17: Abnormal Normalcy

We had one submission this week, by returning contributor Tim Clark.
Please enjoy.


Coffee through the ages
Tim Clark

In our offices, here at Life Explained, Multi National Corp there is a picture on the wall. It is old, it was on the wall when we moved in, the building is old, and had been abandoned for years. One of the associates who considers himself an avid, amateur historian feels it may be an example of an early daguerreotype. Not that anybody cares. Daguerreotype, photograph, big deal, nobody cares, pretentious bastard, anyway.

In the picture there are several men dressed in suits with waist coats standing to the sides of and behind a seated woman. The men all look somber and serious and normal, to our mind for the photographs of the time period. But, the expression on the woman’s face is what really stands out. She looks completely shocked; her face is screwed up in pain, and disbelief.

It has been a subject of speculation since we moved in. One day we decided to find out what caused such her to react in such an unusual manner.

Combining an iPod, a microwave, three dimensional printer and an abandoned nuclear reactor from a scrapped Los Angeles class submarine we assembled a time machine.

One bright, sunny warm morning, we grabbed some Starbucks Venti Espresso with an extra shot, pulled the lanyard that kicked off the whole shebang, and traveled back to the seconds before the photo was taken. Five minutes later we were back.

“Well, how did it go? Did you make it to the right time?” Jonas, the chief engineer asked. He had worked hard on the lead shielding. Melting down hundreds of fishing weights and forming a blanket to wrap around the center core, and keep the radiation in check.

“Did anybody get hurt?” Ol’ Doc Mullen asked.

“No, everything worked fine, better than we could have imagined.  We ended up in the exact right place, at the precise time, right before the shot was taken, which is amazing, considering this was our first attempt. Everybody made it back, without a scratch. It was a complete success, for us, anyway.” I said.

“Well, why does she look that way?” Asked a dozen voices echoed around the room.

The travel party all looked at Bob, the legal expert we had taken along, just in case, you never know when you might need a lawyer, you know.

“I spilled my coffee, a whole Venti right on her lap, just before the shot. She was so mad we barely got out alive.” Bob said, looking defiantly at the crowd.

“Oh, I see.” And people went back to their cubicles, or over to the coffee shop.


Week 17: Prompts

In this week’s news we saw a tragedy of four people killed while dining early in the morning at a Waffle House. Watching/reading the coverage, the aspect that struck me was how fixated everyone was on the nudity of the shooter. There are many bizarre details to this story but his nakedness is definitely ranking high, which is fascinating to me.
So for this week’s story, write about an event, negative or positive, but include a bizarre aspect that overshadows the rest of the story. For example, you could write about how a couple struggling to conceive were finally able to start their family and a clown delivered the baby. Or how a high-schooler got a football scholarship and his father and she-wolf mother were so proud. You get the idea. Normalcy, tragedy, triumph but with one detail that is distractedly off.


500 words, Friday morning (8 am- I am adding 12 hours because I am late this week.)
Send to mercurialstories@gmail.com.

Volume 1 Issue 16: Text Msg/Email

I did a really poor job getting the word out this week about this project and I am sorry about that. In my defense, I am a teacher at the beginning of a new school. My own (biological) kids have seen me for maybe an hour total this week. The fact that I am here now with two stories to post is a definite victory.
Enough of my excuses. On with the show. Our two stories this week come from the mighty Debbie Felio and myself. It was actually a fun prompt and one we might revisit later on in the year.
Hope you enjoy reading. See you on Monday.


Debbie Felio
                           u home?
                                                                    gg to hospital
                                                                     what else?
                                                                     I told you last week
                       you hid it well
                                                                      ??? wtf???
                      know what it will b?
                                                                      baby’s breath
                                                                         r u drunk?


Tiffany Key

Hello Mari:

This is a reminder that you had a student loan payment in the amount of $795.73 that was due on 12/10/2016.

If you haven’t made a payment, please do so today. The easiest and fastest way to make a payment is online.

We also offer these other payment methods:

By phone:


By mail:

Dept. of Education, FedLoan Servicing,

P.O. Box 530210, Atlanta, GA 30353-0210

Currently, your payment is due on the 10th of every month. We do offer the option to change your due date if a new date would make it more convenient for you.

If a due date change isn’t right for you, you could:

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Please do not reply directly to this message. Instead, Contact Us with any questions.


To Whom It May Concern;


Hello there. Thank you for reminding me of my debt. I do have lots of questions actually. One of my questions, for example, is how am I supposed to pay 700 dollars a month when I cannot even get a part-time job? I mean, I know the downfall of the economy is not (entirely) your fault but seriously, I have a Master’s degree and cannot even get hired at a gas station. Do you know how hard it was to walk into that Shell and ask for an application from a man who looks like he was tongue-bathed by a pitbull? But I smiled and said thank you, even laughed when I turned in the application and he said he’d have to make sure they had a shirt large enough for my “tig bitties”, as he put it. All that and I did not even get an interview.
And now I can’t go into that Shell even though it was the closest one to my house. I only applied because I could walk there which is a big plus since my car broke down back in June. I have been riding my younger sister’s bike to the grocery store, my main occupation now that I live back at home and help take care of my dad, who’s on disability. My mom never has time to go shopping because she is working three part-time jobs after she was laid off from the restaurant she was managing. Manager there for twenty years but then the new developments came and all those franchise restaurants…
And then my dad with his accident and now everything is just, well, exhausting. Every day I wake up tired and every night I lie in bed wide-awake, trying to unravel the mess of my life so I can find the little knot where I went wrong.
So, yes, I know I am overdue and no, I haven’t forgotten about you. It is just I have to have money in order to pay you. If things change, I will definitely make a payment but honestly, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.



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Volume 1 Issue 14/15: Twins

Well, hello again.

I hope you had a nice break. I had a break but it was not nice. In fact, well, I don’t need to go into it. Let’s just say I was so busy doing things I did not want to do that I did not even have a chance to write my story for this post. Which is a shame because it was going to be good (because all stories are good before they are set down on the page).

Anyway, we did have one contributor to this week’s prompt, Mike Raven with his story “Twins Parted”, a story of brothers, bravery, and regret. Hope you enjoy!

And please come back on Monday for the usual treatment (four days, 500 words).


Twins Parted

Mike Raven (mike.raven@gmail.com)

There is a madman, held, in the back of a monastery.
But we are not there yet.
He’ll come, soon enough.

A finely polished longsword, shining in the rays of the midmorning sun, sliced horizontally through the air. Borne by a fighter in his early twenties, adorned in fresh chainmail. The young man had blue eyes, the same blue as the sky on a clear summers day, with a mop of black curled hair.
A handful of inches before its target it came to a sudden halt, hitting and digging into a thick wooden shield.
The eyes of the bearer of the shield gleamed momentarily as they began their counter attack, but the act of defending against the blow had focussed their attention on the young man, and as a result had missed something.
That something was another finely polished longsword being thrust through his backplate, ending somewhere in his ribcage. Suddenly unable to fight, he dropped to his knees, and then fell flat on his face.
A foot was implanted on the dead mans back to aid the killer in pulling the longsword out of the corpse.
“Thank you.” the first fighter said to the other one, who had the same summer sky eyes, the same mop of curled hair, and the same fresh chainmail.
“Don’t mention it, brother.”

Isan and Heran were identical twins, sons and squires of the knight Sir Belden. The knight and his companions were entrusted with protection of the small town of Sudtone in the Kingdom of Guthrum. Whilst only a small town, they had experienced several incursions by viking raiders seeking to pillage whatever they could get their grubby hands on.
“Well fought,” Sir Belden greeted his sons, who were sat round a small fire cooking a stew. He had been at his stables, where attendants had put his horse to bed and helped to remove his armour.
“Thank you, father.” both Isan and Heran intoned synonymously.
“What say you deal me a portion of that food, eh?” the knight declared with a big smile. Isan picked up a spare bowl and brought up to the stew pot just as Heran dug a large serving spoon deep into the pot and lifted up a goodly portion of the hearty meal.
“Thank you, boys,” Sir Belden said as he received the bowl, filled with hot meat and vegetables in a thick sticky gravy.
There was but a few moments of silence before one of the sons spoke up.
“Father – Sir Belden – we wished to ask you,” spoke Isan, “about knighthood.”
“Hmm,” grunted the knight between mouthfuls, “I thought you might. The time is coming, is it not?”
“Of course,” he went on the say, “this would be the end of your close brotherhood, you realise.”
“We can part-” Heran said, which would have been more convincing if, barely a heartbeat apart, Isan had begun to utter the same words.
Sir Belden smiled. “You boys are close. Closer than any other brothers I have ever had the fortune to meet. And that does not happen often.”
“When the time comes, you will part, and you will struggle. But you will both learn and survive, of that I have no doubt.” he said, reassuring his sons.

Sir Belden retired for the night early that evening, sleeping under a stout oak tree, and encased within a large thick patched blanket, and the boys sat next to the cooling embers of the cooking fire, talking about life, themselves, and the future.
Talking so much that they didn’t spot the danger.
A spear, wooden haft and ferrous tipped, slid smoothly over Isan’s shoulder. With a gasp, he and his brother turned.
A pack of vikings were but twenty yards away. A second spear, aimed true, was let loose towards Heran, but he managed to dive out of its way so it rattled harmlessly on the ground. With a roar, the vikings ran at the boys.
“Father! Wake up!” Heran shouted. The knight woke with a curse and wrestled to get out of the blanket. Heran and Isan scrambled to draw their swords, barely making it in time.
The boys parried spear thrusts from several of the raiders, and, wordlessly, acted together. Isan deflected a foolhardy thrust from one viking upwards, while Heran ran his sword deep into the viking.
Heran opened his mouth to cry in victory, but instead his head was neatly taken off by the swing of a viking held sword.
Isan stumbled backwards, mouth opening and closing in terror.
Sir Belden ran forward, clutching a longsword that he used to run through one viking, and then slash wounds into a second. He swore.
“There’s too many of them! Isan, run!” he roared.
Isan dropped his sword, turned, and fled. He never looked back as the vikings encircled his father, impaled him on their spears, and looted his corpse.
He ran.
And ran.
He ran, and escaped the vikings.
But he couldn’t escape himself.

Sometimes in the monastery, you can hear the cries of a madman.
Sometimes cries of rage, sometimes of sadness.
But the cries always have a tinge of insanity.
They come from a room at the back of the monastery, a room with a single small window, and a heavily barred door.
Periodically meals are brought to the room. Sometimes those meals are eaten.
Sometimes they are flung against walls, and then scraped off the walls and eaten as hunger kicks in.
The monks aren’t sure of his name, although sometimes he can be heard to utter, or shout, the word “Father”.
And, of course, “Heran”.

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