The White Ribbon [Repost]

Prompt: Halloweeny

YPE_001
Carmen’s hazelnut cake did not take first place at the bake-off, nor even second place, but that was not the strangest part.

She knew the secret ingredient (ginger) and she used fresh hazelnuts from the tree in Paul and Ruth’s backyard; the batter was fluffy and light and the cake perfectly risen and golden tawny in colour. But the usual Hazelnut Cake won the contest yet again. It was allegedly a blind tasting so Carmen couldn’t cry foul. The second best cake came from Cheryl-Ann something, who squealed like an orgasmic pig when her name was announced.

No, the strange thing was, shortly after she returned home and put the coffee on, she heard her beloved Uncle Matt and Auntie Thomasina knocking shyly at her back door.

She knew it was them before she saw them through the glass panes. Auntie as plump as ever, he with a stern angular face masking a tender heart; in the same homely clothes they’d worn when she last saw them, so long ago, in the church.

She asked if they would like some cake and coffee and they happily agreed, and sat at the kitchen table while Carmen sliced her hazelnut cake and poured hot coffee from the electric percolator on the counter.

Auntie Thomasina and Uncle Matt chatted about their dogs, and the possibility of a thunderstorm, and about the potholes on the road leading to their home, which had lain abandoned for over twenty years.

Uncle Matt still had that exceptionally persistent cowlick in his hair, now grey, at the back of his head, only kept in place by some kind of hair shellac that Auntie Thomasina used to pick up at the pharmacy. He’s too old to worry about cowlicks, she laughed. In response, Uncle Matt took out a small blue velvet box and opened it to reveal an engagement ring, one small diamond in a setting of white gold. Would you do me the honour? he asked Thomasina.

They told Carmen who murdered them. It was their neighbour, Clement, who had been in a dispute with them over an easement. He was a nasty sort, they told Carmen. Was he still alive?

Carmen said she would definitely find out, and refilled their coffee cups.

This cake is delicious, said Uncle Matt. Is there ginger in it?

Perhaps you could bake our wedding cake?  said Auntie Thomasina.

Her cake had only taken the white ribbon, but Carmen said: “I would be delighted.”

They didn’t hear her. They were gone.


  • Original Prompt: Ghost, August 17, 2016
    Reposted with minor edits.
  • Cartoons return tomorrow!
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Nona [Repost]

Prompt: NASA 

Catesby-Redheaded-Woodpecker

Well, it is confirmed. We overshot Mars. Someone miscalculated. Opposition was off and now we have a new destination. Oops.

First medical officer Rosa was crying about it. I felt little sympathy for her, because her tears demonstrated that all her chatter about Jonathan Livingston Seagull and her place in the universe and her oneness with the being that some call God, etc. was bullshit.

Since he was the first navigator, John had no time to ponder and went to work right away with course changes and trajectories. He didn’t like to ponder much, at the best of times.

First engineer Will was close to tears, because he probably knew better than anyone if this old bucket could make it to Beta Omega. Will had legendary eyelashes. As second engineer I had a good idea whether or not the craft could withstand the extra distance, too. Slim chance, I believed, but slim was better than none. I saw the cup half full, in other words, while Will saw it half empty.

As first communications officer, I had the charming task of telling the other four, whom I hadn’t seen in six weeks. Two of them, Chris and Haven, were scheduled to be rotated back to us, while Sara and Ed were going to welcome Rosa and Will. We did this rotation, ostensibly, to prevent the contempt of familiarity.

I went through the tunnel and rang the doorbell. We observed little courtesies like that on this journey. Chris opened the hatch, then reflexively checked his watch. “Hi,” I said. “Rotation is not until another three days.”

“Too bad,” said Chris. “I’m about to murder Ed.”

“I’m about to murder Rosa,” I told him.

Chris got everyone together in the dining room, and I explained the change in plans, relying on technical terms and euphemisms to mask the nuclear-strength emotional bombshell. I was met with a stunned silence. Ed spoke first.

“Beta Omega?” he said. “That’s B-O, not very auspicious.”

“Shut up, Ed,” said Chris. “What is the estimated time frame on this?”

“Two years til landing,” I said.

“Fuck,” said Sara.

“No return,” Haven, mistress of the obvious, said.

Ed, supply and distribution officer, told us fuel, food, water, and oxygen would get us there. We already knew that. We thought about it constantly and checked on it compulsively, no matter what the destination.

Sara, first science officer, looking up from her laptop, told us that Beta Omega was a friendly, and the only one. It would be possible. Just. Good old Sara. Glass half full.

Haven said, “I would like to convene a meeting at 1900 hours to discuss how to handle this.” Haven liked porn. I knew this because I knew what everyone watched, and what everyone read, and what everyone wrote.

“What’s for dinner?” I asked.

“Spaghetti,” said Chris. “My Nona’s recipe.”

We all thought a moment about Nona, and how Chris would never set eyes on her again, nor his father or sisters. Nor Alice, his niece, or Chief, his chocolate lab.

We thought a moment about our families. I thought about the woodpecker, the stupid one that woke me early on weekends by hammering on the metal chimney spout.

Some of us thought about sex. I glanced at Chris. My choice for daddy of the millennia, for the first born on the first world, the inauspiciously named B-O. He had a soft spot for Sara. I might have to do something about that.


  • Original Prompt: Longing for Gravity, February 27, 2016
    You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?

Corn for Tallness

Prompt: Express yourself


My dear Wednesday,

I (and you, and anyone) have the opportunity to express myself (yourselves) for thirty days this November, which is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, or Nano. The idea is to sit down with a fresh sheet of real or virtual blank paper and start writing— about 1600 words per day for a total of 50,000 words (about the length of Catcher in the Rye) by the end of the month. A first draft of a book. A novel. Written by me/ you.

I’ve met the challenge every five or six times I’ve “competed”— it is an honour system tally. You post your word count to the NaNoWriMo website and your finished manuscript, which they mechanically verify and then declare you a Winner. You get to print out a full colour certificate, frame it, and hang it on the wall of your office or dining room or nail it to the fence.

I am generally a “pantser” which means I start writing without the benefit of detailed outline, as opposed to a “plotter” who organizes most the structure, theme, plot, and characters ahead of time.

This year I am trying the Save the Cat formula, which divides the story into three acts with specific pivotal plot points (called Beats) in each. So I actually have a story outline, but as yet no defined hero character at all.

I realize plot and character are interactive; each forms part of the other. As the plot affects the character, so does the character affect the plot.

…So what makes a compelling character?

I await your answer.

Seriously.

Meanwhile, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons, only the first of which is even tangentially related to today’s casual prompt, “express yourself”?

cartoon decorator-farming-new-yorker-cartoon_a-G-9180543-8419447

cartoon freshly-ground-pepper-new-yorker-cartoon_a-l-9476900-8419449

cartoon man-on-deserted-island-writes-tuesday-nov-27-dear-diary-still-no-si-new-yorker-cartoon_a-l-9168868-8419449


Peace, love, and lots of writing,

~~FP

Callexis [Repost]

Prompt: Fantastic

Face sail Catrin-Welz-Stein

It was the most worthless bit of magic I had ever come across. The most amazing too, since magic and I did not cross paths very often; but still, damn near useless, except that the magic brought her to me.

The man said his name was Isaac. I’d heard of Isaac, he was well known in the world of dark trading. It wasn’t his real name, and he had a small army of minions, including lawyers, messengers, and mules to do his bidding. My collection was well-known, and when Callexis came into his possession, he was generous enough —and shrewd enough— to make me one of the first calls he made.

She was exquisite. Not studded with a myriad of precious jewels, only jade, but beautifully, masterfully, and lovingly crafted, with intricate patterns of vine leaves twining across her cheeks and around her eyes, the gleaming polished gold set off by the brushed, and inlays of copper, whose greenish tinge was like the venerable sister to the milky jade.

Exquisite.

Of course I wanted her. I pretended to bargain. The back and forth lasted days, until, as Isaac fully realized I would, I conceded to the near-full asking price from fear another buyer would snatch her away from me.

But how to get her across the ocean and across the country? It was not my concern, as her safe delivery was an element of the price, but I still wondered, and worried, since I wanted her so badly and shuddered at the thought of her being discovered and confiscated before I held her in my hands.

I was to meet the train, and the transaction would take place in my apartment.

When we were safely ensconced in my private den, with orders not to be disturbed, I asked the gentleman— he was a distinguished-looking man in his sixties, French, by his accent —to show me Callexis. He had only a small case with him, at which I tried not to stare.

His smile was sly, but without aggression, similar to the smile of the beautiful Callexis. Instead of reaching for his case, he reached up to his face with his hands, and in the next moment he had her, in his arms.

She shimmered. She was perfect.

“What just happened?” I asked. Callexis had appeared out of thin air. I rubbed my forehead.

“I don’t know, Monsieur,” said the man, whose name I never did know. “It is not trickery, and I do not claim to understand it. It made my voyage simple, and detection impossible.”

“What did?”

“She did,” he said. And he brought her to his face again, and she disappeared!

I had no efficient way to determine if I was dreaming, awake, hallucinating, or witnessing a magic trick the likes of which I had never seen.

“It is no trick,” the man said again. He reached his hands to his head again, and when he brought them down Callexis was again in his possession.

“Does Isaac know about this?”

“He chooses not to consider it,” said the man.

We completed our transaction, and I remained in the den, alone, with Callexis. I put her on the black marble stand that I had readied for her, and sat in my high-backed chair and stared for quite some time. I got up, put her on my face, as there were loops to fit easily over the ears, and went to the mirror. There was no Callexis, just my own countenance, staring back at me in bewilderment. I felt a tingling in my scalp, barely noticeable. I removed the mask and put her back on the stand. The tingling dissipated.

What are you? I asked. What is the purpose of this worthless magic? In grand fairy tales the mask would make one invisible, it would take one to other worlds, propelled into fantastical adventures, not perform magic as mundane and pointless as the mask itself disappearing.

What is your power? I was unable to take my eyes from her face, now both glimmering brightly and cast into deep shadows by the lamplight.

Callexis stared back at me with her sly smile, a smile that was also, I suddenly realized, complicit and strangely intimate. She, here in front of me, was as different from her pictures, from the way she appeared in my dreams, as a carousel pony was from a wild stallion.

I tried to smile back, but could not.

 


Community Service

Prompt: Community

1950 Brownie Uniform

Dear Wednesday,

When I was nine or ten it became urgently necessary that I join the Brownies. This community group was a kind of junior Girl Scout troop, whose uniform was a delicious chocolate-coloured dress with a belt, a scarf, a tam; a little military in nature. On Fridays all the Brownies in my elementary school wore their cool uniforms to class and then afterward went on to their exclusive Brownie meeting. It was imperative that I become one and learn their secrets and most important of all, strut my stuff in the uniform.

It took months of pleading with my mother because the outfit wasn’t cheap, but I somehow convinced her I would be a lifelong Brownie with community-minded virtues, and also be completely out of her hair on any Brownie excursions.

A Brownie was a legendary figure, a kind of fairy. How cool is that?

A brownie or broonie (Scots), also known as a brùnaidh or gruagach (Scottish Gaelic), is a household spirit from British folklore that is said to come out at night while the owners of the house are asleep and perform various chores and farming tasks. The human owners of the house must leave a bowl of milk or cream or some other offering for the brownie, usually by the hearth.

Hmm. Details. On to my first day as a Brownie!

Oh my, the uniform was glorious. I would have badges of accomplishment all over it! I stood up straighter in my classes that first Friday, in sisterhood with the other proud Girls in Brown with the same name as a delicious moist fudgy treat!

The gathering took place in a classroom where all of the desks had been pushed against the wall to make room for the, er, big toadstool that Grey Owl, a big mean-looking lady who led the group, had placed in the center. We all sat cross-legged on the linoleum tiled floor and then I’m pretty sure that before we all paid our weekly dues (a quarter or a dime, I forget which) someone danced around that papier-mache toadstool. What kind of shit is this? was my un-Brownie-like thought.

But the Brownie Mystery Trips! These were well-organized bus excursions to unknown destinations, maybe to a farm or a zoo or a museum or a water park. Who could say? It could be anywhere!

Funny thing is, I have no memory of any of the destinations. Perhaps they were to a nuclear plant? Or a brain-wiping research facility? I do remember part of one trip though, in the bus, charging through the countryside with my fellow Brownies, all of us excited in a very Brownie, lady-like way. I pretended I was allergic to bridges. I wasn’t sure what “allergic” actually meant, but I had a vague idea and decided to scam my Brown Sisters of the Bus, so I made quite a show of sneezing every time we drove over a bridge, large or small. Grey Owl said nothing, bless her. I got blessed, often— every time I fake sneezed.

The thrill of being in a virtuous para-military community organization with cool uniforms was beginning to wear thin. The odd Mystery Trip did not truly compensate for the big toadstool, not really. The last straw were the badges. I earned only one badge during my short tour with the Brownies: Dishwashing. Dishwashing! Where were the badges for spelunking or chainsaw sculpting or archery? My mother (proudly) stitched my one badge onto the sleeve of my uniform. I think it had an image of a teacup or something on it, a tribute to my knowledge of how to properly wash, rinse and set dishes on a rack to dry.

I’m pretty sure my mother used that badge against me in retribution for an expensive uniform I only wore for a few months. I know I got way more dish duty.

May I now present a few of my favourite cartoons loosely related to today’s casual prompt, “community”?

cartoon my-client-is-willing-to-do-community-service-new-yorker-cartoon_u-l-pgs22v0

cartoon boy-scout-break-glass-1

cartoon would-you-like-to-buy-some-girl-scout-crack-new-yorker-cartoon_a-G-9178735-8419449


Peace and love,

~~FP

Jimmy the Wrist [Repost]

 

accordion_on_the_beach

Bernard’s mother was the accordion player in an ethnic folk band. They called themselves the Charlie Manson Quartet, and played for dances and weddings in Legion and Elk halls up and down the valley.

Of course, this was years and years before the Charles Manson family committed bloody murder in California. Bernard remembered guitarist Charlie Manson as the most benevolent kind of year-round Santa Claus, with his premature white hair and trimmed beard. Except when he drank, which was actually rare, he was a jolly trickster, who made charming but suggestive jokes in between songs, told the most ridiculous tall tales about fishing in the lakelands, and played Chinese Checkers with a fierce competitiveness.

The other band members were Harry Porter, the bass guitarist, and Jimmy “The Wrist” Corcoran, so named because he drummed a full spring wedding season with his left wrist in a cast. Bernard wasn’t sure the wrist ever healed properly, but the fracture never seemed to affect his drumming, which was odd. Or maybe he just wasn’t a very good drummer.

Jimmy was kicked out of the band after The Incident, and they never replaced him, using a small electronic rhythm device instead, which turned out to be a good thing because they could sell the van and just go from gig to gig in Harry’s massive old Lincoln, which had room for the three of them and their instruments. They became the Charlie Manson Trio.

Bernard’s mother was a pretty brunette, with doe-like brown eyes and a shy demeanour, though she really was, Bernard remembered, a crackerjack— smart, funny, and talented. She could play any kind of keyboard fluently and had a low, sweet singing voice.

She loved the water and Bernard remembered many summer afternoons at the beach, he digging in the sand for creatures— clams, mussels, burrowing sea bugs of all kinds —which he put in a big plastic washing tub filled with sand and water. Sometimes he waded on the shore in search of painted turtles, but didn’t put them in his washtub aquarium anymore because one young turtle ate all his collected clams. He brought them to his mother to be duly admired, and released them again.

Sometimes at the beach his mother read books from the library, sometimes chatted with Bernard about his collection, but mostly she liked to lean back in the blue and yellow strapped lounger in her swimsuit, and feel the sun. He remembered her humming, tunes the band played for people to dance to, or little patches of songs that she made up.

Bernard remembered one day, filled with the lazy sounds of waves lapping the shore, seagulls squawking overhead, his mother humming. The sunlight shimmered behind her, and he saw another, larger silhouette appear alongside.

“Hi Bernie,” said Jimmy The Wrist, waving stiffly. “Why don’t you go play in the water or somethin’?” Jimmy had a funny part in his hair, too close to the centre, which made him look a bit like Jimmy Olsen from the comics.

Bernie turned to his mother, who sat up in her lounge chair and ruffled his sandy hair.

“See if you can find another turtle — you can show Jimmy,” she said to her son.

People always looked strange on the beach when they were fully clothed; awkward and out of place. Jimmy wore a starched white shirt, open at the collar, and a pair of grey slacks with a belt. His shoes were polished black leather and fastened with shoelaces.

Jimmy joined Bernard’s mother on the lounger, perching on the edge, while Bernard waded ankle deep in the cool water. He hadn’t learned to swim yet, and wasn’t allowed to go any deeper.

All was well until Bernard heard loud voices. “No, I’m not!” his mother shouted. Bernard froze, and then he saw Jimmy stand up and slap his mother hard across the face. She screamed and Bernard started to propel himself from the shore towards them.

Before he reached his mother, before the blonde couple down the beach or the man at the concession stand up by the parking lot could react, a seagull, a raggedy old grey and white seagull, flew straight into Jimmy’s face.

It flew in with its beak and claws out, tearing up Jimmy’s clean-shaven face and neatly-parted hair. It fluttered its broad wings and flew away. There was blood.

Jimmy flailed around blindly, and Bernard’s mother put a towel into his hand, Bernard’s towel that had the Superman crest on it.

Jimmy was gasping and crying, the towel pressed to his face. Bernard reached his mother just as the young couple did, and she clasped his hand tightly, her other hand on her cheek. The man at the concession stand then arrived with a heavyset man in uniform, who, after talking in low tones to Bernard’s mother and the young couple, invited Jimmy to come along with him. No one seemed in a great hurry to tend to Jimmy’s wounds, but he was quiet now, and walked away with the officer silently, subdued.

Bernard’s mother knelt in the sand and enveloped Bernie in her arms. He could feel her breathing heavily, and feel the heat from the cheek that had been so forcefully struck. She hugged him tightly, and he looked over her shoulder at Jimmy and the officer in the parking lot as the officer opened a white car door and Jimmy bent to get inside. Just before his bloody face disappeared into the back seat, the old seagull returned, circled, and shit on the top of Jimmy’s head.

“We’ll get you a new towel,” Bernard’s mother, unseeing, whispered in his ear.

 


  • Original Prompt: Beach, May 5, 2016

Paper or Plastic

Prompt: Fright


Dear Wednesday,

I’m interested to know if your experience when you sat down with yourself to identify what frightens you was the same as mine: My mind went blank. I apparently have nothing to fear? I tried to muster up some goosebumps about an impending hurricane or perhaps an atomic bomb or maybe a vicious home invasion by psychopaths in masks.

Nope, those images did not appear, probably because the likelihood of such scary events is next to nil. How fortunate I am. Now I will ponder that for a few minutes…

But of course there are things I do fear. I actually have an irrational fear of earthquakes (since I currently live far from any fault lines). I will run screaming if a fat moth or Junebug flies too close. The thought of torture makes me break out in a sweat. Death is a big one, but I both fear it and am curious about it. You know, joining a universal and glorious spiritual meld of souls has a certain appeal.

I’m afraid of embarrassing myself. Afraid of the dentist. Afraid of drunk drivers. Afraid of old age. Afraid of relentless stupidity (seriously, look what happens when stupidity votes). Afraid of my neighbour’s dog. Afraid of absolute darkness. Afraid of squirrels.

Just kidding about that last one. I suppose one way we control or defuse our fears is by finding the funny side of them– which usually involves us realizing that we generally have no influence over what scares us so laughing them off and moving along. To continue one of the best segues into my cartoon selection ever, may I present a few of my favourites relating to today’s casual prompt, “fright”?

cartoon hogging covers

cartoon paper or plastic

cartoon satan


See you tomorrow for Throwback Thursday!

Love and peace,
~~FP