Character Content

Today in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made his “I Have a Dream” speech, which you can read in full here—or watch a segment below.

 

In his speech, Dr. King famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Writing Prompt: Character Content

Consider what it means to be judged by the content of your character. Write a scene in which an individual is not judged by the content of his or her character, but by something else entirely. It doesn’t have to be skin color, but perhaps another physical attribute or factor beyond the character’s control. What impact does this judgment have?

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45 thoughts on “Character Content

  1. Jennifer Park

    17. The Revelation

    [Follows “14. The Surprise”, “15. The Boor”, and “16. the Archsecretary”, posted below. Sorry about posting so many, and this chapter deviates even more from the prompt, but I had to get to Tim’s death… You can see a listing of the Darth Barbara saga chapters—all of which are posted under WD prompts—by clicking on my name above.]

    The mood at the embassy was jubilant. Not only was the treaty mutually advantageous, the Ga were also open to divine removal of other minerals they did not want.

    With the archsecretary’s position still open—Siti and her co-occultists across the Union having been eradicated—Tim had to fill in for her, wearing her uniform. Barbara felt compelled to complement him. “You look quite divine.”

    “Thank you, Minion.” His divine voice reverberated formulaically, but Barbara could tell he was smiling.

    * * *

    As the ceremony droned on, Barbara started to tense up. It was reported that the occultists had coconspirators among the local dignitaries, and they were the most likely to strike at the climax.

    A suspicious move by the Secondarysatrap.

    A flick of the antennae by the Generalcommander.

    Too many nods by the Sciencecontroller.

    Nothing came of any of these signs.

    * * *

    For the public proclamation marking the end of the ceremony, the Protocolcontroller came to the front of the stage. The audience rose up in respect.

    The Protocolcontroller bowed down to acknowledge, but then, unexpectedly, collapsed forward, his body twisting sideways, his breathing gear tossing off awkwardly.

    Barbara reached for her weapon.

    So did the Gattic honor guard.

    Here and there, some of the high-ranking dignitaries started to collapse in the same manner.

    Barbara and the guards looked everywhere to see where the weapons were. Gattic projectiles were self-propelling and self-guiding, so they could be coming from anywhere.

    Improbably, the Ambassador’s diplomatic uniform zapped off, revealing her near-naked body. She collapsed forward.

    Barbara rushed to her side. So, this was the plot. Assassinations coupled with sabotage of the diplomatic uniforms.

    Tim’s uniform was the next to zap off, and one by one the other Union diplomats were revealed to be mere mortals, eliciting gasps among the panicked audience.

    Two of them were collapsing as well.

    “Tim!” Barbara cried. He was next, she was sure.

    She was wrong. The projectile that she spotted was coming for her.

    She didn’t see that, in fact, so was Tim. He lunged his near-naked body over her, bringing her to the ground.

    “Tim? Tim!!!”

    He did not respond.

    Barbara had to react quickly.

    Per protocol, she turned on her own diplomatic uniform. Because it had not been calibrated for ceremonial use, it expanded into an overly large, overly bright sphere, engulfing the whole stage and all the Earthlings. As her body levitated up, she could finally spot the two assassins in the back of the audience. She shot them dead with her projector.

    Against protocol, Barbara started to speak. In fluent Gazhum. Again, because of lack of calibration, her voice was loud and vibrant.

    Divine.

    “Your insolence has forced me to Reveal Our True Form!”

    “What the f^&* is she doing?” whispered one of the guards.

    Barbara was thinking the same. She spotted and killed yet another assassin.

    She was, obviously, improvising.

    “Behold! We are One! We are Many! Heed not the Manifestations, for I am One, the Divine!”

  2. Jennifer Park

    16. The Archsecretary

    [Follows “14. The Surprise” and “15. The Boor”, posted below. This story arc is very impatient with me; have to get to Tim’s demise! You can see a listing of the Darth Barbara saga chapters—all of which are posted under WD prompts—by clicking on my name above.]

    [TRIGGER ALERT: mayhem in the last few lines]

    In just over a year, Barbara’s world had turned completely upside down.

    She had thought of Tim Billat as a pretty-boy-spoiled-brat. Turned out, he was a sincere and loyal moralist who thought nothing of exposing his father as a fraud and a villain.

    She had thought of the Fourth Estate as her ticket to the top, to join the power behind the power. Turned out, it was a hot mess of infighting factions who cared more about embarrassing one another than about shadow governance.

    She had thought of her Estate handler as a wise confidant. Turned out, he was an indecisive coward who was hedging his bets across two, maybe three factions, and was miring Barbara into the mess.

    She had thought of Lotte Kohlberg as an idiotic whiner and an incompetent bigot. Turned out, she was a capable investigator and a shrewd strategist who had leveraged the Estate-infighting to get a tidy promotion to ambassadorship at Ga-2. If she could successfully negotiate the hydrocarbon export treaty, her star would rise even further; the planet had massive quantities of this stuff that the residents had never needed to use, and there were plenty of idiotic species willing to sign over their planets for a steady supply.

    And she was a generous lover who could make both Barbara and Tim feel like the most important person in the world, even while she ranted about her frustrations with the locals and her staff.

    “And don’t get me started on Siti,” now her archsecretary.

    Barbara would really rather she did not. Not in the middle of what she was doing to Barbara.

    “I know she is planning to undermine me, but why doesn’t she just make her move?”

    Speaking of moves, Tim had to interrupt what he was doing to respond, “Well…”

    “It’s a rhetorical question, Tim!” Barbara observed, half-moaning. Really, he was just too sincere sometimes.

    * * *

    Much to Barbara’s dislike, Siti was all about prim and proper. Barbara and her handler, who was in the governance faction of the Estate, knew that Siti and some other elitists were working on a scheme to embarrass the Galactic diplomatic corps, just to show who was the real boss.

    Unfortunately, as far as Barbara could tell, Siti did everything by the book and rarely did anything remotely suspicious.

    At least in public.

    Hence Barbara’s unilateral decision to break into her chambers.

    Nothing remarkable in the living room.

    Then the bedroom. Nothing.

    Then the guestroom. “Holy…” The sight that greeted her rendered Barbara speechless.

    [TRIGGER ALERT! MAYHEM!]

    Blood.

    Blood everywhere.

    Three carcasses. Earthling carcasses, on cooling tables. Methodically and not-so-methodically cut up into tiny pieces.

    Words in a language Barbara did not recognize scrawled all over the walls. In blood. And other fluids.

    Vats of fermenting meat.

    A clean plate and some flatware.

    An altar with the likeness of an occult deity.

    Barbara had to say, she was impressed. She would never have thought Siti had it in her.

  3. EndlessTwist

    It would be nice to hear your thoughts on my answer to this prompt:
    What it means to be judged by the content of your character is that people don’t judge you by your looks or your beliefs, they judge you by how you act.

    “THE WORRIES IN MY HEAD”: By Maya Henderson

    “You’re so fat it’s ridiculous!”, Tara spat.

    Maya flinched as if the insult was a bullet that was shot straight into her chest. She hated it when Tara made fun of her obesity, and she had just about enough of it! “It’s not my fault! I have to eat whatever my mom can afford!”

    Tara rolled her eyes carelessly, “Well your mom should either get a better job or put you up for adoption!”

    Maya felt her eyes moisten. She didn’t want to cry at school, but no one judges her mom that way! Her anger reached her breaking point!

    “DON’T YOU DARE JUDGE MY MOM LIKE THAT!” Maya screamed at the top of her lungs.

    Tara froze, dumbfounded from her friend’s new confidence. Maya started shaking from her sudden outburst, but kept her back straight. Other kids and teachers heard the screaming, and turned their heads to look at her from across the cafeteria, but Maya didn’t care. Her anger and determination blinded her from all feelings of embarrassment and shyness, and replaced them with a confidence she never felt before. The confidence to stand up for herself. Her self-confidence.

    “And you definitely can’t judge me like that either! Do you even know how much your words affect others!” Maya paused, looking Tara directly in the eyes, her voice tone and expression softened slightly. “Do you love your mom?”, Maya asked.

    “I-I” Tara stammered nervously. Now every eye was on her, and every mouth was closed, awaiting Tara’s answer. Tara knew what she had to do. It wouldn’t be easy, but it had to be done! For her sake, for everyone’s sake! She took a deep, quivering breath, knowing that the next words that would utter out her mouth would change everyone’s view of her forever. For all her life she had not told a soul about what went on at home. She kept it locked up in her head forever, thinking that she could deal with it herself. But now she knew. Now she knew that she had to let her secret go, for now she realized it had turned her into a different person, someone she didn’t want to be. So she would set her secret free, so that her friend can help her fight it. With her voice also quivering, and tears streaming down her face, she said, “I love my mom, but”, she paused, finding her next words difficult to say. Maya, now with a softened look of concern on her face, had noticed the tears on Tara’s cheeks. Tara continued hesitantly, “my mom doesn’t love me.”

    Maya, with a face now also streaked with tears, rushed over and hugged her friend. At first, Tara just stood there, frozen and surprised by the sudden embrace, but eventually gave in to the hug, and wrapped her arms around her friend also. Her tears were uncontrollable now, and she started sobbing. Maya and Tara held the hug for a minute or two longer, then finally pulled away.

    “Thank you”, Tara sniffled. She awkwardly wiped her nose on her sleeve. “I think I owe you an apology”, she said while staring at her feet.

    Maya gave a warm smile, “You’re already forgiven”, she said while putting a hand softly on Tara’s shoulder.

    Tara now noticed a significant difference in her emotions. Her feelings of hurt, rejection, and anger, were now replaced with love, kindness, and best of all, peace.

    The impact that this judgement has is that it hurts Maya’s feelings badly, so she finally stands up for herself. Because Maya stood up for herself, Tara was able to notice how her words affect others and herself! This got Tara to tell Maya what’s been bothering her and get the help she needs.

  4. Jennifer Park

    15. The Boor

    [Follows “14. The Surprise”, posted below. This story arc is very impatient with me… You can see a listing of the Darth Barbara saga chapters—all of which are posted under WD prompts—by clicking on my name above.]

    Subambassador Kohlberg complained often and undiplomatically about being confined to the air-bubble embassy. “Why won’t these greaseballs let us go on land?”

    The inhabitants of Ga-2 had the distinction of being the only known species in the galaxy to have developed their technological advancements entirely under water, therefore having mastered nuclear fusion and space travel without ever inventing fire or electronics. Their command of aqueous chemistry and recombinant genetics made Ga-2 an important industrial site, and was unsubtly protected by Union forces.

    Barbara kept her quiet. Her job was to guard the subambassador.

    And to spy on her, on the Estate’s behalf.

    And to keep an eye on her subsecretary, a strayed Estate spy who was up to something.

    And, for Tim, tap into…

    Barbara had lost count of how many conspiracies she was now part of.

    The subambassador activated her diplomatic uniform, a field of light that made her appear divine. It was also a protective shield that could function as a weapon. Her subsecretary fussed about, adjusting the settings yet again. “Drives me nuts. 30,000 square meters is barely enough for a walk. OK. Let’s just go.”

    Wearing helmets that hid their species affiliation, the guards followed meekly as the divine diplomats marched out into the ceremonial ballroom.

    * * *

    “Another effing ceremony… I swear, the Ambassador is trying to drive me insane.”

    “But, this is an honor,” the archsecretary tried.

    Tim kept quiet, as did Barbara and the other guards.

    The subambassador glared at the archsecretary with a strange expression. She pouted a little, glanced at Barbara, and then, changing her facial expression completely, rolled her eyes. “I don’t wanna.”

    “Please…”

    * * *

    “I really have to go to the bathroom. Turn this d@mn thing off,” The subambassador demanded.

    “But…” They were late.

    “Just do it. You, come with me.” She pointed at Barbara. “The rest of you stay here.”

    She started marching down to the bathroom without waiting for the uniform to turn of completelyf. “Don’t let anyone come in,” she commanded as she entered the restroom.

    Unexpectedly, she dragged Barbara into the restroom and pinned her to the wall. Barbara did not get a chance to fight back.

    “I know who you work for.”

    “…”

    “Tell them this: I want protection. Here…” She shoved a piece of Chicklet into one of Barbara’s pockets. “Got it? Now, go outside. I really do have to pee.”

    Barbara almost whimpered as she was shoved out the door.

    * * *

    Tim was flabbergasted. “She just gave it to you?”

    “It’s exactly what you needed, isn’t it?”

    Tim blinked. “Mostly, I’m surprised… impressed that she… did this at all… She has three spies watching her. And she is such a…”

    “Boor? Idiot? Petulant child?”

    “Exactly.”

    Barbara nodded. “What are you gonna do?”

    The information implicated Tim’s father in a nefarious plot. “I… don’t know…”

    “May I suggest… blackmail?”

    Time was taken aback.

    That was such an unpedigree thing to do.

    But, then, so was this nefarious plot.

  5. rlk67

    Oh, how Carl missed his grandfather. His idol had been torn from him. Every movement, thought, and utterance was with such grace. And then there was the mustache.

    “My grandpa has a handlebar mustache!” he used to say to his confused friends. He illustrated it with a flair of his crayon. Carl wanted that amazing, awesome mustache framed on his wall. He drew it again and again on the paper.

    When Carl obtained enough hair under his nose, he would have that mustache for himself. And the day finally came.

    “You want me to make you what?!” asked Sam his barber.

    “Just see what you can do.” Carl’s heart went faster.

    Oh, it was beautiful. And his grandfather stared back at him in the mirror.

    “Well,” commented grandma later that week,”it sort of…well…maybe reminds me of him, I m-mean…” Uh, was grandma trying not to laugh? “It’s just that…your grandpa looked…well…different than you, so…”

    She obviously couldn’t express her profound emotions into words. Whatever. He was thrilled. And the principal at his teaching interview would love it too.

    “S-s-so why do you want t-to work here…excuse me a s-s-second…” Mr. Vapor was snorting. Must be allergies. In the end, Carl just got the job, because he was the only candidate.

    Ahhh, the first day of school. Bright beginnings. “Ok, class, listen up. My name is Mr….”

    “MUSTACHE!” cried out three kids in the back row all at the same time. What were the chances?

    “Excuse me? Now as I was saying…”

    “Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right up! Who wants to win a prize?” yelled a boy in the front?

    “No, no! He looks like the Monopoly Guy on the box!” screamed another. They all laughed. “Hey, where’s Boardwalk?” “I got a community chest card!” “B & O Railroad! Toot, toot!”

    All was lost. Carl went home and cried. Then he left he apartment again.

    “You want me to do what?” asked Sam the barber.

    “Ah,” said grandma later that week. “So you shaved it off. Well, that’s exactly what grandpa did when everyone laughed at him soon after he grew it.”

    “You mean…?”

    “Yep. But I knew how much it meant to him, so for his 50th birthday, I told him to grow it back. And that’s how you remember him.”

    Carl smiled.

    “By the way,” grandma grinned, “you do look just like him.”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      You painted a wonderful personality of both your grandfather as well as your grandmother. We don’t necessarily pay attention to our parents as we should but our grandparents, the opposite is true and you point that out in your story. A refreshing slice of life you portray.here in a gentle response. A good job here, especially the reaction in his class, how embarrassing.

    2. dragonchef

      Maybe Carl can grow his back when he turns 50 and retires from teaching – or is replaced by a robot.
      Kids can be cruel, it’s true. But, what do they know? Grandmas know best.
      Good story RL.

  6. Kangarooo

    Manoj was walking to his home that evening. In the same path that he took all the time, only that day, he also found himself feverish. Feeling like he was floating away, Everything around him seemed as if they were a mirage.

    The people walking in his way murmured about him.”He looks like a madman. Stay away from him.”
    And they did walk further away from him as they walked past him. Such murmurs were futile as he was almost in a state of trance.

    As he kept walking on the road, he noticed the road was painted in bright orange. It was illuminated in that colour by the sodium street lamps above. He looked up at the lamp near him and to his own surprise, he shed a tear.

    He was filled with a lot of thoughts and emotions when he noticed the light. The street lamp was providing the light in the absence of the sun. It was a proxy to the sun as the radiant sunset was denied to him by the gloomy blanket of cloud. Providing light in times of darkness was such a beautiful thing that made him shed a tear.

    He continued walking to his home. The path was now laden with a stream of golden flowers. He made sure he didn’t step over any of the flowers and felt guilty when he stepped over some of them that he had crushed such a beautiful thing. He started feeling giddy as he lifted his leg to avoid the flowers.

    The people who walked past him still avoided him with looks of disdain and of disgust. He fell down on the road at the same place on the flowers. His consciousness was slowly fading away from him. He hoped that someone would come and help him get to a hospital.

    His face was lying down on the road gazing at the golden flowers. The blossomed flowers looked as if they were a group of trumpets.
    “What kind of sweet music does these trumpets blow?” he thought before he finally closed his eyes in peace.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Well there may better ways to pass into the next world but dying facing flowers seems to be okay way
      The descriptions of his walk and people’s responses seems very real because they shun sickness and death because they don,’t want to be bothered. It ‘s a start truth. Your story was very moving. Good write.

    2. Kerry Charlton

      Well there may better ways to pass into the next world but dying facing flowers seems to be okay way
      The descriptions of his walk and people’s responses seems very real because they shun sickness and death because they don,’t want to be bothered. It ‘s a start truth. Your story was very moving. Good write. I really enjoyed

  7. GrahamLewis

    HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT

    This time it’s factual.

    Longer ago than I care to admit, I started law school. Among all other experiences, some expected, some not, I met a fellow student, two years my senior (meaning he was about to graduate). I didn’t really talk to him, because I didn’t know how — he had a hideously deformed face consisting mostly of scars and scar tissue, no ears, with tightly-stretched skin that was often red and weepy. No hair. In classical and movie jargon, and without political correctness, he looked like a monster. I never knew where to put my gaze, I didn’t want to stare but didn’t want to look away. He was soft-spoken, and sort of defiantly shy. I think he was used to making people uncomfortable.

    I learned from a classmate that the guy had been in a car wreck in high school and trapped in the back seat of a burning car. My reaction was probably predictable — I admired the guy not only for enduring life like that, but also for entering into a profession that would likely require a lot of public speaking. I saw him not as a person so much as a hero. Though I barely knew the real him, if at all.

    In my third year of law school I was clerking for a solo attorney, and I happened to mention the burned guy, expecting the attorney to share my admiration. Instead, the attorney was scornful. When I asked why, the attorney said the burned guy, now in practice, usually represented people seriously injured in car crashes. Seemed admirable, again. But, the attorney explained, the burned guy was taking advantage of his condition — standing before the jury, his scarred face was a constant reminder of pain and suffering. No judge would admit that sort of evidence because it would be inflammatory and likely to unduly prejudice the jury — but no one could stop this guy from being in court. In all likelihood he knew exactly what he was doing, exploiting his appearance.

    Bottom line, few knew or cared about the personal man within, only the fearsome appearance outside. Enduring hero or shyster lawyer, he was/is a person inside, hidden in plain sight.

    1. dragonchef

      Huh! Well, I did not see that coming. But I knew of someone just like the “burned guy.” He used to stand in the middle of a busy intersection in the middle of winter every winter, in Georgetown, DC, without a shirt and sometimes in shorts, exploiting the third degree burns over what appeared to be 80% of his body, panhandling. Rumor had it he acquired over .25 mil doing that. Not sure he survived to enjoy it though.
      Excellent take on the prompt, Graham.

    2. Kerry Charlton

      Not only do you admire him. But so do I I was in college dating a girl who.had a close friend who was attacked by polio as a small child and crippled over most of his body..
      She introduced me.and we, the three o us,f became good friends
      He liked the stock car races and we would drive him to the track. Of course he couldn’t,’t walk.so I would lift him out of the front seat and place him in a wheel chair and the races were fun
      as the cars tried to destroy themselves. Sure there were looks and turn aways. he was used to, I was not. Tis a cruel, unforgiving world world but I have fond memories of him.

      1. GrahamLewis

        I almost wrote about my three years working as a live-in attendant with a pair of quadraplegics. Evolved from unrealistic admiration to learning to accept them as flawed, e.g. normal, people. One thing that stood out — the well-meaning people who would say, “make room for the wheelchair” and by doing so totally overlooked the person sitting there.

  8. jhowe

    The grey goateed man walked aimlessly, stifled by the heat. His robe became entangled often, but he refused to remove it. The beasts he encountered prodded him with staffs of charred wood and they jeered irreverently. Through tears and sweat, the small man called out repeatedly.

    “Judge not and ye shalt not be judged!”

    A reeking beast in a tattered cloak stood in his path, an open book in its hand. It eyes shone brightly, as if ready to burst into flames. When it spoke, the man shuttered at the sound.

    “Judge William R. Hanson?”

    The man nodded, his mouth too dry to speak.

    “Welcome to your new home,” the beast said. “I’m sure you’ll be very comfortable.”

    Hanson worked his tongue around his mouth and spat. He tried to control his bowels but failed. The beast laughed and slammed the book shut. It turned to leave and the judge called out.

    “You can’t keep me here!” He ran to the beast. “There will be hell to pay if you try.”

    The beast turned and knocked him to the ground. “Hell to pay you say?” It laughed again. “Let me write that down, hell to pay. I thought I’d heard it all.”

    “I’m a respected, God fearing, law abiding man of high standing.”

    “It’s funny,” the beast said. “You repeatedly quote the Lord about judgment, but you failed miserably in this regard during your mortal times.”

    “God will set me free. I swear He will.”

    “Do you think,” the beast said, eyes aglow, “that He really wants you?”

    “Of course I do. I prayed to Him every night.”

    “But yet, you accepted considerable sums of money from conglomerates and corporations for favorable judgement. Is that your idea of respect? Regardless of the damage to humanity?”

    “Much of that money was donated. My legacy will show me to be a man of God.”

    “Tell that to the people dying from drinking chemically laced water, the people who lose their homes in the name of progress, the people who fight every day to keep their jobs that barely pay the bills.” The beast squared its shoulders. “Shall I go on?”

    The judge charged, ramming the beast with his body. Two others sprang to action and grabbed the man by the arms.

    “I’ve changed my mind,” the beast said. “You will likely not be comfortable here after all.” He opened the book and slashed at the page with a pen.

    “Where are you taking me?” the judge called out as he was led away. “I demand to know.”

    “You’ll find out soon enough.” Its laughter filled the air. “And don’t forget to pray.”

    1. dragonchef

      Good story J. Vivid. Reminding. Reprimanding. Convicting. I love it.
      I take it the “Beast” is the devil? The devil who, as the Bible states, won’t be doing much in the way of judgement. come that blessed day? Nonetheless, a good read.
      One question though, in the second paragraph it says, “A reeking beast in a tattered cloak . . .” Reeking usually implies something objectionably odoriferous. Whether physically or metaphorically I believe it still needs a comparison to justify the noun. Of course, I could be wrong. If my question stinks, just say so.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Now you have me looking around corners and over my shoulders. To see who I trampled. Recently. Dreams have their way with me but I did enjoy your story. But if I meat the beast in a dream, you’re certainly going to hear about it, John. Excellent descriptions made me uncomfortable.

    2. GrahamLewis

      I generally liked it. Just a couple comments. First, the word should be “shuddered,” not “shuttered.”

      Second, I was bothered by the use of the word “judge” as part of the man’s name. I know that on earth it generally is — the joke among judges, to a new judge, is that he/she will never go by the first name again. But I really doubt anyone in an evil afterlife would use it, except maybe sarcastically (which maybe you meant but I didn’t see it). Maybe you could more subtly mention that he had been a judge in life, and that’s why you call him that.

      Minor points. Good work.

  9. Kerry Charlton

    IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
    PART TWO [
    Chapter One Is Below]

    Randell pushed the start button and twin Johnson 75 horsepower engines guided the boat from the marina toward the ancient turn style bridge separating the barrier island from the main land of New Jersey. ‘All those years my brother and I fished for sea bass’. Randell thought, ‘how many eons ago was that?’ Denise knew his silence wasn’t a bad sign, but rather a reflective one. She sat very close to him and waited.
    She wore a light aqua sweater, white petal pushers and sandals to match, an outfit straight from the middle fifties. He smiled at Denise and reached for her hand as the Chris Craft passed the north end of Avalon and headed east toward an open sea. Sea gulls circled the craft and issued their call for a bite of something. Randell placed his open hand in a bait bucket and threw some lunch to the gulls, creating a sky full of confusion and pleading calls for more.
    “How many years since an ice cream soda, Randell?”
    “What a great idea, soon as we pass the break point, south it will be ’till we dock at the Avalon pier for Charlie’s. Do you think he’s still there after all this time?”
    “I know he is but don’t expect to pay fifteen cents like high school.”
    “Well maybe we can go ‘Dutch.”
    “I doubt it, I’m not a cheap date. How much fuel does this ship carry?”
    “Two tanks of 45 gallons each. About twenty seven dollars. I think I can swing the sodas.”
    Two lonely souls who barely knew each other found themselves at ease with each other and in due time they fell in love, the old fashioned way. Their life together read like an epic journey. Randell’s grandfather happened to be Chairman of the Board of General Motors before he retired. As far as Denise, her family founded the Pennsylvania and Ohio Railroad in 1846. So the issue of the ice cream soda did not exist.
    Our couple married the next year despite dis-approval from Denise’s family. It took years before Randell was accepted into the fold. The reason was certainly not the wounds he suffered from the war but rather his family history did not have five or more generations from anywhere.
    Oh yes these things do actually happen. Denise and Randell started a non profit organization called New Horizons, a rehabilitation organization for veterans from any war. That life giving company grew to eighty five chapters throughout the nation. In 1985, Denise and Randell were named by Time Magazine as couple of the Year.

    So what is this story really about? It’s pretty simple, one model might be “One Brick At A Time.” Another might have a handle as, ‘There Is No Way You Can Fail If You Carry God With You.’ My favorite happens to be, Bing Crosby singing, ‘Would You Like To Swing On A Star?’

  10. writer_sk

    Very well done, Jennifer. It seemed Tim would’ve had the upper hand but Barbara definitely did.

    The back and forth was very conversational, real and natural.

  11. Kerry Charlton

    This prompt was used earlier this year. I’m reposting as a beginning for this week’s prompt, then I’ll add chapter two.

    IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

    The afternoon sun bathed the yacht basin at Avalon. A playful breeze danced

    across the water causing tiny waves. It refreshed Randell Whiteworth’s face as

    he stopped a moment from polishing the ebony deck of his Chris Craft. The

    twenty four foot beauty had been left to him by his grandfather who had passed

    recently.

    The year was 1963, eighteen years since Randell had returned from the

    Pacific Theatre in a hospital ship more dead than alive. Having survived the

    battle of Okinawa, he did lose his leg there. His face was scarred badly, but

    seven operations later, he was passable. Still his fiancé had faded away and he

    said good riddance.

    A look of pain crossed his face but then returned to a relaxed smile as he started

    to polish again and sang a song , the third stanza he liked the best,

    ‘Then I was thirty five it was a very good year,

    It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls

    Of independent means.

    We’d ride in limousines

    Their chauffeurs would drive

    When I was thirty five/’

    “Hello the boat.” The woman’s voice drifted to him. He swung his head to a vision of

    beauty standing on the dock.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t see you.”

    “You have a beautiful voice. Do you sing professionally?

    “No, I just drift off and sing sometimes. Would you like to come aboard?”

    “Oh yes, your boat is beautiful. My name is Denise.”

    He helped her aboard and as he touched her hand, he felt a slight shiver.

    “My grandfather’s boat. I love it too.”

    “We went to high school together, don’t you recognize me?

    “ Of course, you were a knockout. Now you’re gorgeous I might say.”

    “Thank you.” She started to blush.

    “I am so proud of you Randell, we all watched the news when President Truman

    placed the metal of honor around your neck. You looked so regal in your marine

    uniform.”

    “Ancient history Denise, look at my face.”

    “That’s not fair, I loved your face but was too shy to tell you. You think that makes a

    difference? Not to me, I see who you really are.”

    She started to cry softly

    “Why are you crying? Not for me?”

    “Oh no, can’t a girl cry for being happy?”

    “Sit here Denise and I’ll fix some coffee.”

    “That would be nice, it’s warm today or maybe it’s me. Why did you disappear for so

    long?”

    “I really don’t know, after breaking up with Barbara, I didn’t want anybody to see

    me.”

    “Don’t you know it doesn’t matter at all, I’ll prove it.”

    She reached over and kissed him sweetly.

    “I wanted to do that since high school but you were going steady.

    “To the wrong girl. Want to take a spin around the island?”

    “I’d love to, can I make a quick call?”

    “Certainly, there’s a two way in the cabin, left side.”

    He tried not to listen but it was crowded aboard.

    “James, take the car home please. I’ll be awhile and call you when I need you.”

    They went back on deck and as Randell untied the boat, he noticed a Rolls drive

    away.

    “Yours,” he asked.

    “Yes, does it bother you?”

    “Does it bother you to run around in it?”

    “No silly, kiss me and start the engine.”

    1. dragonchef

      Is it just me or does Denise seem to be a very faced-paced woman…of means. How does that adage go again? “If it seems to good to be true…” A shy girl in High School – did her adult wealth give her bravery, I wonder. Good for Randell if she actually is good. But, I would definitely want to know more about her, were I he, despite knowing her in HS. Unless, of course, he just doesn’t care and blindly appreciates the all-too-quick attention.

      …It was a very good year – The Kingston Trio…
      Wow! You did get around

      …polishing the ebony deck of his Chris Craft…
      I assume you are stating the ebony lumber here?
      Chris Craft primarily uses teak to build its decks, with a few other fine hardwoods thrown in here and there. Ebony, however, is an extremely dense wood. So much so that it is one of few woods that actually sink in water. Not a good idea for a boat.

      …A look of pain crossed his face but then returned to a relaxed smile …
      Was there someone else around to see his face do this, and then say so either mentally or verbally? Or was he looking at himself in a mirror?

  12. Not-Only But-Also Riley

    Red Light Tales

    His cardboard sign whimpered at us from the side of the road. I turned to see if mom had noticed him, but she was focused on the changing of the traffic light, not the tiny moments while it was blushing. Not this man’s red light tale.

    His face was gray and dull. It sagged toward the earth as if it might fall off if it weren’t being held on by a strap of steel wool hair connecting his long, graying beard and the uncombed animal’s nest sitting on his head.

    His clothes were tattered, and the gray of his skin and the gray of his jacket had become one: the rough, textured skin of elephants stretched across his entire being. Whatever white had used to live in his shirt was lost in a sea of unidentifiable yellow, orange, and even purple stains. It was no longer a shirt, but a canvas for a sunset painting that would sell for millions if painted anywhere else.

    His eyes were gray, but like his shirt, they may have once been crisp. Somewhere in them, behind their crust and moisture, a faint, youthful blue called out in a manner similar, though much more subtle and morose, to his cardboard sign. But this could be easily overlooked; their grayness adding to the rest of his monochrome existence. Under the eyes, he had a bulbous nose and a thin line that didn’t frown or quiver, but looked simply tired.

    Underneath this he clung to the cardboard sign, gripping it like the bars of a jail cell, trapped in the prison of his poverty. I wish his message had been poetic, or beckoning, but it was not. Instead, it was almost pitiful in its simplicity. Need Money. Written in a red marker that had grown dull with sunlight and age, a blood that had dried, but a wound that hadn’t healed.

    But eventually the light turned green. And he was forgotten.

    And while I can feel sorrow, I will never know who he is, or who he was, or who he might be in a world where somehow he wasn’t laid off, and kept going to Alcoholics Anonymous, and never voted for a president that is everything he is not. He would explain that he wasn’t always like this, if ever asked. But I would never know that from his red light tale. I would never know that he was as much of a by-product of my life as the carbon dioxide the car had left to live with him.

    1. dragonchef

      NOBAR – Wow! Extremely touching story. So many great lines here that to list them all and then say why I liked them would take more space than even your story took. Suffice it to say, you are a force to be reckoned with (grammatically incorrect statement, but who’s looking?). Your writing style here is transcendent, and you very well could have stepped into a climate all your own.

      But now for the nitty gritty picky stuff. I couldn’t list all that liked in such a short space, but if you will allow me, there are a couple touch points . . .
      1) Second paragraph you describe his steel wool hair, then go on to describe his beard, only to return back to his hair. A little tidy up by going only in one direction would make it flow better.
      2) This one may or may not be valid, actually, but in paragraph four you give him a “monochrome existence,” Yet, in paragraph three his shirt, “was lost in a sea of unidentifiable yellow, orange, and even purple stains. It was no longer a shirt, but a canvas for a sunset painting that would sell for millions if painted anywhere else (elsewhere?).” That last sentence was superb, by the way.
      Anyway, a fantastic take on the prompt. Hat’s off to you.

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      Powerful description. For several years, as I’d pass a street corner in Orlando, I’d see a woman with a shopping cart at the mouth of an alley. When the light was red I’d take time to look and wonder. I decided she was my age, or maybe younger. Just a few years ago, when I was living back in Central Florida, the hoptital where I spent time was just a block away from where she’d been. Your story made me wish I’d stopped way back when.

  13. James O'Dae

    ROBBIE

    As Robbie made his through the grocery store, he heard people talk about him under their breath. He’d walk down an aisle and hear a curt exhale of air, then see the back of someone walking the other way. Someone who’d rather not shop in the same vicinity as him. All the people staring, then they’d look away when he caught their glance. Each aisle was the same.

    It wasn’t until check out, Robbie met a friendly face. The electronic smiley face on the self-checkout screen was happy to help Robbie with his purchase.

    “Oh Mommy, look!” a little boy shouted from behind his mother’s shopping cart. The mother pulled in line behind Robbie, and he didn’t have to turn his head to know the kid was going to say something rude. “Can I touch him?”

    Robbie heard the mother whisper something to the child, and the kid was quiet for a few moments. Robbie was almost done scanning his items and felt something hit him square in the back of the head.

    “Oh Jesus, Max!” the mother hissed. Robbie turned and saw that she was picking up a candy bar the kid had thrown at him. “I’m so sorry about that.”

    Robbie froze. He took an extra moment to process what the woman was saying to him. Robbie had never been apologized to, or had his feeling regarded.

    “Did you feel that?” the kid half shouted. The mother tried to hush him up again, but the kid persisted. “Do you have a brain?”

    “Max! Stop it,” the mother said. She gave an apologetic look to Robbie before she backed her cart away and dragged the kid to a different checkout. That apologetic look burned in Robbie’s internal memory. It was like the woman regarded him as a real person.

    Robbie took a moment to get back to his finishing his purchase. If he could smile, he’d be smiling.

    On his way out, a man purposely bumped into Robbie, causing him to drop his bags full of food. “Is all that for you, dumb-bot?” The man laughed. “Won’t human food rust your innards?”

    Robbie stooped to pick up his items and put them back in the bag. The fruit would was bruised, he’d need to get replacements. A human hand handed him the ice cream carton he had dropped. It was the kid’s mother. Her sight made Robbie’s processors whirr harder for a split second. He took the carton of ice cream from her, and she didn’t flinch.

    “You’re very kind,” Robbie vocalized.

    “I had a Robbie growing up. He was hung from a street light one time, just running errands. After that, my parents were afraid to let him leave the house. We spent a lot of time together.”

    The mother turned to her kid, who had been staring at the interaction, and called him over.

    “Max, this is a Robbie. He’s as real as you are.”

    1. dragonchef

      James, have you seen the show Humans? If not, you should. Very much a series about this prompt dealing with exactly your premise. Which brings me to say, reading your post I feel like I had just watched a scene from the show. In other words, very well done.

    1. Jess Zafarris Post author

      Sometimes it takes me a few hours to get to posts that are awaiting moderation, but I do my best to check at least twice a day. Thanks for being patient!

  14. ReathaThomasOakley

    (True story, not exactly to the prompt, but close.)

    Assumptions

    It had been awhile since Daddy and I’d been bowling, Mama didn’t care for it, too noisy and you could never be sure those shoes were clean. Brother’d discovered girls, so with a father and a sister to possibly cramp his style he’d declined the invitation to the known pickup venue. My first year of college’d been busy even though the community school was only thirty miles away, but that night I was free and there we were.

    In retrospect, and with fifty years to ponder, I’m not certain it was bowling my father enjoyed. Because he knew pretty much everyone in town, most of his time was spent shaking hands, slapping backs, trading incredible tales, and laughing, a lot.

    As we waited for a lane he spied some friends and I sat, planning my future which did not, even with a four-year scholarship, include staying in Florida, a condition of the grant, for three more years. My thinking was interrupted by a girl from my high school, who was a year behind me.

    “Reatha!” She said, her name has disappeared. “Wow, haven’t seen you since last year. Where’ve you been?” The next few minutes were spent catching up, then. . .

    “And, where’s Sally?” One of my closest friends, also a year younger. “One Friday she was in English, then Monday, she wasn’t. Everybody’s wondering.”

    “Oh, I guess I thought folks knew. Sally got married.”

    “Married? I didn’t even know she was pregnant.”

    “She’s not,” I said.

    “My goodness, married and not pregnant? Why’d she do that?”

    Our lane opened, but even if there’d been time I wouldn’t have explained about the hidden home-life tall, dark, beautiful Sally escaped when older, stable, good-guy Bob proposed. I’d made a statement and immediately Sally’s character was called into question, because, at least at our school, girls who got pregnant were obviously having sex. And, girls who had sex were, well, you know.

    Sally and Bob had three beautiful children, but the early marriage eventually took its toll. After the divorce Sally had some interesting adventures. I treasure a framed photo of us with another friend taken in front of the biker bar she owned in a tiny central Florida town. Sally died a few years after that, way, way too young. But, through it all, her character never changed.

    1. Jennifer Park

      So, you seem to have had all these poignant moments in your life… or is it that you are able to see the poignancy in the kind of “ordinary” moments that the rest of us don’t see in our own? I would choose you to write the story of my life, for sure.

  15. Jennifer Park

    14. The Surprise

    [Follows “13. The Offer”, under “Give Them a Hand.” I had actually pretty much written this in my head, and Jess’s prompt gave me the perfect angle. And then I had some extra time at work. Fortuitous! You can see a listing of the Darth Barbara saga chapters—all of which are posted under WD prompts—by clicking on my name above.]

    It only took two stolen glances before Barbara and Tim found each other in bed. Tim had just joined Barbara’s diplomatic support team as a protosecretary for a subambassador being dispatched to Ga-2. He was a year ahead of Barbara at the Holly, and was the second-ranking member of the Estate there, until Sandi spurned him and took on Barbara as her lover.

    So, on paper, Tim should have resented Barbara.

    He was also from the pedigree-est of pedigree-est families, rivaling Sandi’s. Barbara had noticed that, within the Estate, there was a mild schism among those who valued pedigree and those who valued efficacy. Those who belonged in the latter group tended to see Barbara as an asset. Those in the former did not.

    So, on paper, Tim should have disdained Barbara.

    But, then, here they were, finding each other irresistible.

    Still, Barbara did not fully trust him. It was all about fleshlust, she figured, nothing more.

    Little did Barbara know that, in a few chapters, he would valiantly and bravely sacrifice himself to save her life.

    “I know we shouldn’t talk about our assignments, but I want to ask you for your advice,” he said one day as they got ready for work.

    Barbara pretended that she did not hear him. Although each knew that the other was a member of the Estate, discussing Estate business with anyone other than one’s own handler was a breach.

    Besides, she did not trust him. “See you soon,” she said sweetly as she left.

    The next morning, he tried, “Hypothetically… suppose you are… watching someone… spying on someone…”

    Barbara ignored him again. “Have a lovely day,” she said with a kiss.

    That evening, he tried, “Look, I know I don’t deserve your trust. Heck, you should probably try to kill me. But. I do respect you.”

    Barbara did not let on that she was surprised to hear this. “For my body, is it? Or is it the mind?”

    Tim sighed, thoroughly deflating his pedigree, I-care-nothing-of-your-kind air. “Barbara, I need your help. Seriously.”

    “Don’t you have advisors? Your daddy’s friends?” She said mockingly.

    Tim looked up, and, unexpectedly, there were tears in his eyes.

    “Oh, hey…”

    He started to sob.

    Barbara held him until he regained his verbal ability.

    “I… I’ve discovered something. I cannot trust anyone. I’m desperate. I can’t even trust my handler. You…”

    “You can’t trust me, either.”

    “That’s the thing. I’ve always thought… I’ve always admired you.”

    “What?” Tim had been nothing but a stuck-up snob to Barbara. Even during sex. That was part of his appeal, if anything.

    “You… are what we all aspire to be, Barbara.”

    “Now I really don’t trust you,” she said scoffingly.

    Tim finally smiled. “You are what the Estate should be. We are the shadow government. We should rule and govern. You’ve always done that.”

    Barbara was completely taken aback.

    “Please, help me… For the sake of the Union…”

    Now, that sounded convincing.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      In several chapters, and especially this one, I can see where you might fill out the story. That is a very good way to get your essential “story” written. You did a great job in this one giving the reader more about Tim with his emotional plea to Barbara. Continuing to be interesting.

    2. writer_sk

      Very well done, Jennifer. It seemed Tim would’ve had the upper hand but Barbara definitely did.

      The back and forth was very conversational, real and natural.

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