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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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 email@example.com.
The heat is on. It is heating up. The heat is killing me.
Heat is a very diverse word, one that carries multiple meanings. And with summer revving its engine in the Northern Hemisphere, it seems like a good time to include the word in our stories for this week.
Note that the deadline for this week is Friday rather than Thursday.
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!
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.