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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Word Prompt: Winter

In the coldest winter the world had ever seen, ice coated the roads in every state – except the southern tip of Florida where the balmy air never dipped below 45 degrees. Arizona and Southern California were blanketed with two feet of snow – they were the lucky ones. Most regions were trapped, or completely hidden, under ten, fifteen, and twenty feet of densely packed ice and snow, which didn’t have the misfortune of turning mushy and gray because no one dared to venture outside their homes.

In the nation’s capital, politicians paced the halls of their opulent McMansions and moaned about the sinking stocks on Wall Street. With three-fourths of their citizens unable to report for work, the economy was spiraling at lightning speed toward a devastating depression. The fact that almost half the country was blacked off the grid from extensive power outages, which couldn’t be patched until the snow was cleared, didn’t unnerve them as much as their personal loss of wealth, but they would not admit that out loud. At least not while they were stuck – literally – in this wintry mess beyond their control.

Nature’s frigid vengeance didn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon as she dumped piles of snow into front yards across the midwest like a wife enraged by her husband’s latest affair. She shrieked and howled; her frenzied outbursts kept the neighbors awake at night. The more nosy ones peeked through the curtains every now and then to witness her insane destruction. By mid-January, even the agnostics found themselves praying every night for reprieve from the madness.

Around this time the mayor of Philadelphia received a call from the White House, which was as white as it could be in fifteen feet of snow. The mayor stuttered with shock when he heard the President command, “Dan, we have to give the American people hope. I don’t care what you have to do to make this happen, but on February second, your groundhog has to stay above ground. Consider this an executive order!”

With the weight of a nation on his shoulder, Mayor Dan couldn’t sleep more than an hour each night for the two weeks leading up to his annual groundhog event. His groundhog Phil, on the other hand, had no problem continuing his hibernation in the underground hut where he resided each winter. Nevertheless, Dan visited the slumbering animal every day and begged for his help.

“Phil, if you can hear me in your groundhog dreams, I need you to work with me. Please don’t run inside you hutch on Saturday. I can’t promise you much, but I’ll do my best to set you up in a groundhog palace for the rest of your days if you can do this one little thing for me.”

On the big day, the Mayor’s neighbors relocated Phil to a small hutch and lugged him outside to an icy clearing, which they had been shoveling for weeks. Despite their best efforts to find grass, the ground was still covered in three feet of ice, but with a news camera focused on their expressions as they carried the hutch to its spot, they pretended this didn’t worry them in the least. Besides, Mayor Dan had a back-up plan to keep Phil distracted – behind the cameras, he’d placed a bowl of peanut butter crackers, which he knew the groundhog loved to eat, in hope of luring him outside the box for more than two seconds.

Nevertheless those with power held their breath when the mayor opened the hutch door and prodded Phil to come outside. When the sleepy groundhog staggered from his box, he peered at the glistening white walls ten feet away and sniffed the 10-degree air. A trace of peanut butter wafted to his nose, enticing him to take one cautious step on the strange-looking ground. When the cold ice stung his paw, he glanced down, and shuddered with alarm. Without giving a second thought to the peanut butter, he turned and bolted for safety in his wooden cave. While everyone outside groaned and mourned six more weeks of frozen hell, Phil squealed and shook with fear at the horror he’d seen, for the ground had displayed something worse than a shadow to the groundhog – it had revealed his reflection.

– Written by Miss A

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Word Prompt: a Monster

It has fangs – a mountain range of jagged points with yellow stains, which you can see best when it leers forward and roars hot steam in your face frozen with fear. The whites of its eyes are actually a burning orange which bleeds into the yellow rings circling shiny, black pupils. When it glares at you with lids half-closed, its eyes look like spitting flames eager to consume you in fire.

The reptilian scale-like texture of its face, palms, and soles are an anomaly. The rest of its looming bulk bristles with plush, tangled black fur as coarse as horse hair. In light, the hair reflects an indigo hue. I would like to run my fingers through the knots and straighten them smooth, but seeing its claws are the size of my entire head, I’ll keep my arms closer to myself.

To emphasize its massive girth, it rises like a bear on back haunches as thick as redwood trunks; its roar bellows twenty volumes louder than a lion. The most agile tiger would retreat and hide if it encountered this thing. This monster.

Dwelling in morbid chambers, abandoned by science when government grants disappeared into military defense, the monster emerges from its lair to hunt prey and clamber back inside. It is afraid of the natural light. Accustomed to flickering fluorescent tubes lining dingy walls, it doesn’t know what to think of the round orange ball with infinite strength and luminosity. Or the pristine blue ceiling from which it hangs. This is why the monster creeps around the mountain at night. Sniffing for a kill. The whiff of fresh meat.

Campers and stranded hikers, beware. It might be coming for you. If you glance into the cluttered brush and see two specs of fire glowing among the blackened leaves, or feel a draft of warm, sticky air in the coolest hours of night, you’ll know it’s near. Watching, waiting, scoping out the next meal. Fat or lean, tall or small, loud or quiet, your physical traits make no difference to the beast at large. Its innate sixth sense lunges for one who possesses the most fear. Only the brave souls escape to share the tale about the monster who wanted to devour them alive.

– Written by Miss A on January 12, 2013

365 Things_a Monster

Word Prompts: Pizza/Platypus

Mr. T decided to challenge himself by using two prompts in one of his stories:

So Rick said, “Hey, what about that new pizza place that just opened on 5th?”

We all agreed. Pizza sounded great. The fact that Rick and Ty had just eaten there the day before and already wanted to go back sold me on the idea. Rick Shaw and Ty Ming had been two of my best friends since we were kids, and all three of us were really into pizza. We had eaten at EVERY pizza place in town. Well, except me. I’d eaten at every place in town but Platypus Pizza on 5th. I would have gone yesterday with Ty and Rick, but I had to help my brother move into a new apartment. I was sort of skeptical about the place anyway because they had a weird gimmick.

They kept a platypus in a cage on display in the middle of the dining area. Supposedly, the cage was all glass and had a small hole in it so you could feed any unwanted pizza crust or other scraps to the platypus. It was supposed to be good luck to feed the platypus a whole piece of pizza. Ty even had a special way to fold up his slice so that he could fit it in the hole. The hole was about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and the pizza slices at Platypus were rather large, so this was no easy task.

Ty was one of those math super nerds that always had some genius scientific way about everything he did. Sort of like Shortround from the Goonies. Come to think of it, he actually looked a bit like Shortround. He said that the only way to get the whole slice of pizza into the hole fully in tact was to fold it the way he folded it. He used this weird-looking, rolled-up “s” shape, and it really worked. Every time he’d push the slice through the hole, it landed face up, nice and flat, on the floor of the platypus cage. Then the overfed, fat…no, really fat platypus would shuffle over and slowly eat the greasy slice of cheese and bread pie.

It was actually really sad to watch. There were always a few kids that would point and laugh, but Ty, Rick, and I hated what this pizza place was doing to this poor animal. This poor, magical, healing creature of alien descent. We were all strong advocates of animal rights. Well, except maybe Rick. His family owned fighting opossums. Rick said he didn’t approve of the sick practice, but he’d always laugh when he brought it up. Funny enough, Rick was the only one who would feed any of his pizza to the platypus. He said he didn’t believe in luck, but I think maybe he just didn’t want to waste any pizza. He’d always eat every last crumb off his plate, and after the plate seemed totally gone over and cleaned, he’d lick the pizza grease off of it.

Rick’s family was really poor and they would get mad at him when he went with us for pizza. They’d tell him to give them the money he made working at the dry-cleaning plant, and he did, but he always hid a little bit for what he called the “pizza fund.” Since the plant couldn’t legally hire him, they paid him cash. Every Friday, after he was finished filling the machines with a chemical called “perc,” he’d go over to the table in the boss’s “meeting room.” There were twenty little white envelopes under the table and he was allowed to take one. Each of the employees were allowed one envelope every Friday, and no one ever dared take more than one envelope.

There was a story that went around the plant about the little girl who took two of them one Friday afternoon. Singh I think was her name. She was never seen again. Supposedly, she took the second envelope because the one she got the week before only had three dollars in it. The envelopes always had three bills in them. You never knew what you were going to get. Sometimes it would be three ones. Sometimes it would be three twenties. Sometimes it would be three hundreds. Then on Christmas every year, each envelope would have thirty-three bills in it. The idea was that over the course of fifty years the employees would each make about $300,000, or about $6,000 per year. It never worked out this way though. It always seemed like some of the kids were luckier than others. Poor Singh was one of the unlucky ones. Rick said that she picked a three-dollar envelope for six weeks in a row. Her whole family was starving and she took that second on that sixth week out of desperation. No one knows what was in the second envelope, but she never did return.

No sir, Rick did not believe in luck. He was on track to make his $6,000 this year and he wasn’t about to feed one crumb of pizza to the fat, fat platypus. Ty and I on the other hand were scared to death of leaving that pizza place without offering some to the good-luck gods which apparently the platypus was good friends with. Even though we despised the atrocity bestowed upon this poor animal, we wouldn’t dare leave without feeding him…at least our crust.

– Written by Mr. T on January 11, 2013

Word Prompt: Stars

The chill of night kisses my cheek,

Drawing white steam from purpled lips,

Begs me to seek the warmth of home,

Four blank walls, insulating heat

I would go, were I not frozen by stars,

A million twinkling lights attached to time,

Darkness – the infinite ceiling – floating around us

Illuminates their lucid brilliance –

Beauty in crisp shadows of a sunless world

Untouched by clouds, dust, fog,

The universe mapped before my eyes,

An atlas of points I’ll never see

Beyond the gravel where I stand

The stars rest out of reach.

– Written by Miss A on January 8, 2013

Word Prompt: Photograph

In the photograph, I lean against the banister, a white glove clutching the rail to steady my giddy nerves. My bare shoulders are hunched forward. I am nervous in the floor-length, strapless white gown, which I bought, with my own money, for three hundred dollars. It is simple. No lace, frills, or taffeta, I told the woman at the store. I am not that kind of girl.

My gown might be the cheapest of all the girls at this affair, but their ornate dresses are absent here. Somehow, in a moment I can’t recall, my father and I are the first to arrive in the stairwell from which he’ll escort me into “society.” Society is holding beers and cocktails in the other room and getting drunk. My father holds a Miller Lite in one hand, a napkin in the other. He sits on a wooden ledge jutting from the wall and smiles into the camera. He sees beyond the lens, into the soul of whoever takes the picture. His eyes possessed that special power, even when he got sick.

He is already sick, but we don’t know about the malignant cells building ropes around his bowels. We think we have escaped the worst. We have no idea how bad things will become. In retrospect, the black hallway beyond the door in the background is an eerie foreshadow to the abyss in which we’ll descend ten weeks from now. We are halfway there. I am closer to the darkness, but I gaze at my father, who is my light shining the path that has kept me pressing forward for over twenty years. I attended this event for him, not me. I would be anywhere else, preferably hundreds or thousands of miles away from the “society” I have no desire to impress.

Which makes it ironic that I’m nervous about my shoes. The guidelines mandated they be white. Mine are the color of tarnished silver. I could not afford new shoes after purchasing the gown and gloves. And traditions are stupid. I decided to rebel against the rules, in my typical passive way, and at this moment when the camera flashes, I am second-guessing my choice, worried that one of the fuddy-duddy members of the elite will spot the gray heels when my father guides me into the grand ballroom and scold me afterward for breaking the sixty-year code of dress. I wish my dress dragged on the ground like the other girls, instead of floating half an inch above the ground, as the woman at the store recommended to keep the hem from turning black. I wish the whole dress was black. Then my gray shoes would not be an issue. I could have painted them black more easily than bleached them white.

This photograph is one of the last good ones with my father and me. It is perfect, but tragic at the same time. We will never again have this moment – this candid opportunity to share the same space, just the two of us, and smile for a camera which catches us unaware. When poets and philosophers proclaim time is our most precious and fleeting commodity, they are never wrong.

– Written by Miss A on January 5, 2013

Word Prompt: Grandmother

She places the empty mixing bowl on the kitchen table. With a wheezing grunt, she pulls two cans of fruit cocktail from the cupboard and a can opener from the rickety drawer which droops to the right when it’s pushed shut. Her pale, crinkly hand lines up the opener’s jagged blade along the metal rim of a can and twists the silver bows to cut through the lid. Golden syrup seeps from a slit and dribbles over the side. A drop of sweetness lands on the table. My little sister traps it with her finger and plops it on her tongue.

She can have the syrup. I want the two or three pinkish-red cherry halves hidden between the mealy apples, peaches, and pears. I know my sister wants them, too. It’s always a race to scoop them in our spoons.

That’s why my grandmother waits until both cans are opened before she tips them over the bowl and dumps their fruit into the hollow cave with a single shake. She hands out the spoons last. I know better than to put my finger in the soupy lake, but my precocious sister ignores the rules because she is three. I am four.

“Get your fingers away from that bowl,” my grandmother snaps. She says she has eyes in the back of her head, but how they can see us through all her thick gray waves of hair, I will never know.

My sister retreats her hand and pouts. She doesn’t like being told what to do. My grandmother doesn’t care. She shuffles to the table with a spoon gripped firmly in each hand.

“I don’t want to hear a word of fightin’, you understand?” she says in her raspy voice. “You two behave yourself ‘n eat quietly. I’m goin’ to the other room to have a smoke.”

She drops the spoons in front of us, and my sister and I are off to the races, kneeling on our chairs to stretch farther across the table. We dig frantically through the mounds of undesirable fruit to find the cherry prize.

My grandmother is already gone; she’s in the living room lighting up her own lunch – a Virginia Slim.

 

– Written by Miss A

Word Prompt: Villain

I bet you wish you’d never met me

Never turned your back while I was with them,

Left to my own devices as you handled the call –

Someone saw smoke before there was a burn

Scorching the room where you tried to trap me,

Lock me in darkness, then flee from this place.

The fire I threatened to cast was false hope

One of us would die – I wasn’t sure it would be you

I feared it might be me –

The one you tricked into holding your flesh

Peeling like decayed petals around your neck

Where my arms could not go –

It was promised to another – the curly accomplice

Willing to stand there and watch me torn,

Ripped apart, as a meal for your soul.

I’m not sorry she’s scared of fire

Rising from leather arms holding what is mine,

Partly yours, never hers to own –

Though you wanted it that way

I found a crack in the stalemate

After you were forced to step outside

Flames licked the lighter fluid, lapped the floor

Sliding across wood, colliding against walls,

Paving a path to the back door

Where wooden fingers slap my ears

Desperate for the roar that exclaims

The look of horror personifying your undead face.

– Written by Miss A (inspired by a zombie nightmare!)