Bizarre Family Traditions

Your family has always been a little off when it comes to holiday traditions. You eat tacos on the Fourth of July and hamburgers on Cinco de Mayo. How did this whacky tradition get started?

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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206 thoughts on “Bizarre Family Traditions

  1. jordandedwards

    Why Chinese?

    Let’s go back to the Christmas of 1995. My sisters and I as usual, didn’t sleep the entire night before. We could hear our parents moving around outside the entire night before. We finally dozed off around 5 am and as soon as the first sign of sun crept in—an hour and a half later—we got up. My parents must’ve gotten less sleep than we did since I know they were still up when we finally passed out. We wake them anyway since as a rule, they must be up to watch us open the presents! They did well! We were so happy with each present we opened! Once the high from the new toys wore off, we passed out. We spent the afternoon watching Home Alone and other silly movies. Snacking on junk food all day. This was a typical Christmas Day. As usual, mom started working herself into a tizzy early on so that we could have a nice dinner. But this year, she was in rare form. Every single thing she turned out was burnt to a crisp! Let me just clear up any misconceptions going around right now. My mom’s an amazing cook. But maybe the lack of sleep caught up with her? Maybe she had other things on her mind? I don’t know. Whatever it was caused us to have only a small part of a turkey to split between us, sweet potatoes we had to scrape the top burnt layer from, and no dessert!

    Next Christmas comes in just as all the others had. Four sleepless children galloping from their bedrooms towards the tree. Naps, movies, board games, snacks. Mom forgot to shop for the groceries the day before. She gets to the supermarket just as they’re shutting their doors at noon. She decides to try that other supermarket that’s slightly closer to home but usually has nothing she’s looking for. It’s her last hope if she’s going to turn out a somewhat decent Christmas dinner. They’re open for another hour today so she runs in, and finds a few things on her list, albeit, generic brands, some expired but not for too long. She’s not going to be able to pull out all the stops but this’ll do. She gets the chicken in the oven before she finishes unpacking the bags and decides to take a load off for a few before she gets to work on the rest. She dozes off for a minute until she hears a huge thud. She goes in the kitchen to find my dad laid out. He’s stepped on a sweet potato that must’ve rolled from the shopping bag and somehow lands all over the remaining shopping bags. She helps him up and my sisters and I get to work scooping flour and rice off the floor. The tomatoes were obliterated. My mom had to spend the entire night nursing my poor dad back to health. We baked some potatoes to go with the chicken. It was a fine dinner, but we obviously wish we could’ve done that evening over again!

    The next Christmas we get to that point in the day that my mom would ordinarily get to work on dinner. We’re expecting her to get up from our marathon Monopoly game any second now. But she doesn’t. She keeps playing. When it’s over she says she’s going to take a little nap. She comes back out to the living room around 5:00. We decided to let her know she didn’t have to bother cooking dinner for us this year. It seemed she didn’t need us to tell her that since she hadn’t bothered turning the stove on all day. She said she’d heard the Chinese restaurant would be open on Christmas so she gave them a call and placed an order.

    Every year since then, she asks what we want for our Christmas dinner, which she never did in the past. But our answer has consistently been Chinese food. We love her cooking but we don’t miss the mayhem of her preparing it. We also don’t miss her getting up from a board game we’re playing or movie we’re watching so that she can slave away in front of the stove. Even now, 20 years later, when we visit for Christmas, the menu gets passed around so we can all choose what dish we want from the Chinese restaurant.

  2. Craig the Editor

    I am back to being late as usual. I hope you enjoy this offering.

    Family Traditions

    “So that is how we started the family tradition of having hamburgers on Cinco de Mayo and tacos on the Fourth of July!” said Beth as she picked up the one remaining slice of cheddar cheese from Gary’s plate. He looked at her accusingly to no avail.

    It was the Friday night meet up with Mark and Jennifer at the Water Shed Wine bar. The two couples took over a corner booth and proceeded to talk and imbibe the night away. Tonight’s topic was about unusual or non-traditional ways of celebrating the holidays..

    “Frankly, it seems like your family is setting the bar pretty low for unusual family traditions.” remarked Jennifer.

    “Well, I am sorry that I wasn’t raised by a family of circus clowns. Switching holiday entrees is very cutting edge for the Dutch.” huffed Beth melodramatically.

    “So what wild and wacky traditions does your family have, Jennifer?” asked Gary who was trying to signal the waitress for another cheese plate.

    The waitress managed to look everywhere but in Gary’s direction.

    “Say, this Beaujolais is really….uhh,,,,red, isn’t it?”injected Mark.

    “We’re drinking a Merlot and it’s supposed to be red. Now back to the matter of Jennifer’s family holiday traditions….”said Beth with an evil smirk.

    “So, how about this cheese?”inquired Mark trying desperately to steer the conversation in a new and different direction.

    “I’d like more of the cheese” sighed Gary looking forlorn at his empty plate.

    “Oh, for Pete’s sakes, Mark, relax. It’s not that big of a deal. So, my family took a slightly unorthodox approach to the holidays.”

    “It’s just that i feel so embarrassed for you. I don’t think I could ever admit to it.”

    “Please, do tell! We are all on the edge of our seats.” cooed Beth.

    “This will not end well.” thought Mark as he sat back.

    “Well you’re not me, so relax. The thing with my mother was that she was never much for celebrating the major holidays but rather she liked to embrace the forgotten or overlooked holidays. She feels the big traditional holidays.have been commercialized to death. For her, Cinco de Mayo and the Fourth of July have been taken over by the beer companies. So instead she would focus on some of the more obscure holidays.

    “Oh, this should be good.” squeals Beth.

    “Let me think a moment…August is coming up and that means it will be Watermelon Day, very soon. I think its the third. When I was little my mother dressed up my brother and I as watermelons.Talk about cruel and unusual punishments. Imagine being sent off to school dressed as a watermelon.
    Then on, I believe on August 10 is National S’Mores Day, not to be confused with National Marshmallow Toasting Day which is the 30th. We had to dress up as marshmallows only once because my brother decided to toast me one year. Luckily the costumes were flame resistant.
    And also August 30 is Frankenstein Day because it’s Mary Wollenstone Shelly’s birthday.”

    “Wait, don’t tell me, your mother dressed you up as the bride of Frankenstein and your brother as Frankenstein!” injected Gary who was losing any hope of seeing more cheese.

    “No, oddly enough she only dressed us up as items of food, but never people. At the time, I never questioned her motives. I’ve been a carrot, a hamburger, both Swiss and Cheddar cheese among other food items.”

    “I bet you were delicious. ” sighed Gary who’s hopes for more cheese had been rekindled.

    “Hey, that’s my girlfriend!” warned Mark.

    “I meant to say,,,,,she was….uhhh…there’s no good way out of this is there?”

    “So, Mark, what about you? Any holiday skeletons in your closet?” inquired Beth

    “Say. look at the time. It’s getting late. We really should be going. Where’s that waitress?”

    “She’s probably eating all the cheese.” harumphed Gary.

    “Mark’s right we have to work on our donut costumes for next weekend when my mother comes to visit. Plus don’t forget the donut carols.” remarked Jennifer.

    “If only I could!” mumbled Mark under his breath.

  3. SheepCarrot

    (Sorry I’m a little late with this one)

    I lean back in my armchair, my grandson on my knee. He watches me expectantly, waiting for a story. “It was a long time ago, when I was about fifteen. I—”

    “How long ago was that?” he interrupts. His wide blue eyes shine with disbelief that I was ever so young.

    I ruffle his hair. “A looooong time ago.” I wink and he huffs at my evasive answer. “I decided I wanted to go to the old battlefield for lunch that Independence Day, rather than spend it with my boring family.”

    My grandson snickers at this. “You thought Mommy was boring?”

    “She wasn’t born yet, not for many more years.”

    “Wow, you’re old, Grandpa!”

    I can’t help but laugh at his exclamation, and my daughter’s voice drifts out of the kitchen. “Steven, don’t call Grandpa old. It’s not polite.”

    “Sorry for callin’ you old, Grandpa,” he apologizes. “Keep going with the story.”

    “So I grabbed some leftover taco fixin’s from the fridge to take with me, because my mother insisted. I walked out to the battlefield, and saw that there were reenactors out there.”

    “What’s a…ren-i-akter?”

    “A reenactor is someone who dresses up from a different time and pretends they’re back in history. These were soldiers, pretending to fight a war.”

    “Cool! Did they have guns?”

    “Yes, they did. I wanted to get closer, to see the fighting better. But as I did, I realized these were real soldiers. I had somehow gone back in time! I couldn’t believe it! I needed to be careful though, because I didn’t want them to see me.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because they’d think I was a spy, for the other side.” I lean forward conspiratorially and whisper, “You know what they do to spies, right?” Steven shakes his head, his eyes wide. “They put them to death.” I lean back again as he thinks about that, pausing before I keep spinning my tale. “So I’m watching these soldiers from where I’m hiding behind a tree, and all of a sudden I feel something at my back. It’s one of the soldiers.”

    “Oh no!” Steven yelps. “Was he gon’ shoot you?”

    “If I made any wrong moves….” I point my finger like a gun. “Pow!”

    He jumps. “What’d you do?”

    “I raised my hands up reeeaaal slooow…” I lift my hands in demonstration as I speak. “…and I tell him I was just there to eat my lunch. He looked like he’d been short on rations so I thought if I gave him my lunch I could get out of there and get back home.”

    “What’s…ratchens?”

    “Army food. It’s pretty gross stuff, especially a hundred fifty years ago. Well he was looking around like he didn’t wanna get caught with the enemy, ’cause then he could get in trouble with his bosses. I told him there was enough to share, after I convinced him that he’d rather eat than shoot me. So I leaned down and picked up my lunch, and when I turned back to the soldier…”

    Steven’s leaning so far forward he starts to slip off my knee. He catches himself and squirms back in place. “What Grandpa? What happened then?”

    “Nothing. He was gone, just like that.”

    “Grandpa! People can’t dis’pear.”

    “He did! I went out the next year, same day, and I saw him again. I started going there every July fourth, to share homemade tacos with a soldier in the past. We live too far away for me to do that anymore, so we have them instead of hamburgers as a way to remember.”

    My grandson sits quietly for a minute, his young mind processing the story. The look on his face is a conflict of disbelief and awe. He finally hops down and runs to the kitchen where my daughter is making tacos. “Mommy! Is Grandpa making fibs again?”

  4. LilySmiles

    I have a quick question. Does it have to be reoccurring characters or can they be different? Other than the 500 word limit is there any other restrictions? If so what are they? And lastly, do I have to warn you if there are triggers in the story?

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Hi Lily,
      Welcome. There are few restrictions here. Some of us do continuing stories, but, at least for me, that’s a personal challenge. If you read the stories for this week you’ll see varying lengths, as well as differing ways to incorporate, or allude to, the prompt. I’m not certain what you mean by “triggers”. I’ve only been participating for a few months, but have found a welcoming and insightful group from whom I’ve benefited greatly. I hope to read something from you very soon. Reatha

      1. LilySmiles

        Salutations Reatha,
        I apologize for my late response as I was continuing to edit my 10 page paper on a certain medical illness. What I mean by triggers is for anyone who has been depressed and/or suicidal. Such triggers include cutting and self harm, suicide, depression, and others. I have found a few of your stories and they are very well written. Very nicely done. I hope to hear from you soon.
        – Lily

    2. regisundertow

      Hi Lily. Pretty much anything goes. If you want to bring characters back, you can do that. If you want to introduce a new set of characters in a new universe, you can do that also. Few people practically stick to the 500 word limit, but it’s a very useful reminder to keep things short and impactful. As for the triggers, I guess it wouldn’t hurt mentioning them, just in case.

      1. LilySmiles

        Thanks a bunch regis. That really helped me. I just wanted to know about the triggers because its better safe than sorry you know? Wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt.
        – Lily

  5. HalcyonTale

    Note: Please do not mind my bad grammar. Please correct where I am wrong. The story is not as per the prompt so please forgive me.

    Curse of Christmas.

    Whenever someone says Christmas it gives me the shivers. You might think that it is unusual for someone to react like this, but believe me when I say that it would have been better if there was no Christmas.
    It was an incident when maybe I was 20 or something, at that time I was what you may call a ‘Dick’. I was rude to everyone, didn’t care what people would think about me and mostly was an ass to those who were weaker to me in strength or status.
    So it was the 25th, the day of celebration, unfortunately my parents were not home that day. My sister was ill and they had gone to bring her back. It was only a bit past evening when I heard the doorbell ring. I straight away came ‘annoyed’ (I hate people) to answer the door. I pulled the curtain (it was a transparent mirrored door) to see who it was. There I saw this guy standing in front of the door. This looked quiet … well the word should be horrendous. He was quiet old, his face was filled with dirty white beard and had to many scar on his face. His dress was all raged and smelly. To put it simply he was a kind of guy whom you would like to avoid while walking on the road. I asked him who was he and what he wants, without opening the door. To which he said, “Can you please help me with some food”. To tell you the truth I would not have helped him.
    But being who I was, I really did something awful. I gave that guy a box which contained a hamburger, which had actually gone bad. My mother did asked me to throw it away. But well in the end it was quiet useful. I pulled the curtain off and went back.
    No one in my house knew about this incident for I never told it to anyone. Even I had forgot about it. But something bad was waiting for me and what I did back then caught up to me. It was already a year and again Christmas was here. This time everyone in my family was present. My mother was cooking something great and I was waiting for the moment to eat it. And finally the moment came but it was interrupted by a doorbell. My father asked me to answer it, annoyed like always I stood up. It was my uncle, this year even he was invited. When I was closing the door I thought that maybe I caught a glimpse of some guy standing outside looking at me, but I didn’t care because it was time for me to enjoy my food.
    I took my first bite and there it came, a smell so bad that my nostril would burst, a taste so bad that controlling myself from vomiting was quiet a deed. I immediately charged my mother for her bad cooking but to my surprise everyone was eating it without any problem. My mom even tasted my food to prove me how wrong I was. I tried tasting it again and it was still the same. But this time I felt a bit curious why would my food taste like this, it just tasted like … a hamburger which had gone bad. That was the moment when I remember what I had done a year back.I visited many doctors but none could help. Now I knew it was not my mother’s cooking but my deed which was punishing me. And no one can help me but God. I have changed quiet a lot now in hope of getting rid of this curse.
    A curse in which every evening of the 25th of December, my taste goes nasty, anything I eat or drink it all taste the same, like a bad smelly hamburger. It was my Curse of Christmas.

      1. LilySmiles

        Hey umm… I’m really ashamed about asking this but how do I write? Like stories and such. It’s my first time having an account here and I can’t quite figure it out.
        – Lily

        1. Observer Tim

          Hi Lily.

          When you’re logged in, you’ll find a text box and a “Comment” button way down at the bottom of the page. Either write your story in the text box, or write it in a word processor and copy it into the box. Then hit the Comment button to post it.

          As for how to write a story, think and let the words flow from your heart and your mind. But you know that already, I’m sure. 🙂

      2. LilySmiles

        Seeing You

        **This is my first story on here so I’m sorry if I melt your brain. I’m pretty sure its awful. So yeah…. Sorry in advance. Also sort of off prompt**

        Jenna walked slowly towards the table, carefully avoiding the cat. So much work, she thought, and before breakfast to. She grabbed a bowl from the cupboard and a spoon from the drawer. Just as she was about to climb the shelves to get to the cereal she heard a small noise in the hallway. “Jenna Rayne! What on Gods green earth are you doing?” Her mother stood in the doorway, arms crossed. Jenna continued to move about the shelves. “I’m looking for the cereal in its natural habit. Now shh. We don’t want to scare it off do we?” Mom crossed the floor and poured herself some coffee. “I didn’t think you would even eat breakfast this morning.” Jenna was puzzled by this. She ate breakfast every morning. Why would now be any different? “Why wouldn’t I?” Mom tolled her eyes. “Danny, Rose, and Mom are coming.” Oh yeah! Every year we had a barbeque on Christmas day. Jenna knew it was strange but she loved it none the less. Her crush, her best friend, and her Grandmother all come over to eat and have fun. Jenna put away the bowl and rushed upstairs. She dug through her drawers to find something flirty yet fun. She found a green belly top and some red jeans. They didn’t match but she didn’t mind. This will be the year, she told herself. This is it. An hour or so later Rose, Danny, and Grandmother were at Jenna’s door. She let them in and showed them the things they already knew. Danny played video games and Grandmother spoke with Mom about my dance class. Jenna took Rose’s hand and led her to the hallway straight under the mistletoe. “H-hey Rose? There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you…”

        1. Observer Tim

          This is a nice little slice of life, Lily, and as close to the prompt as many others I’ve seen. I have memories of my family barbecuing on Christmas day too, so this brings a definite smile. I like the little gay twist at the end too, especially the innocent sense of it. I was totally fooled by your distraction of putting the relationships in a different order from the names. All in all you did a great job! 🙂

          Welcome to the site, Lily (not that I have any special right to do so). Now the critique:

          1. Please break your story into paragraphs, especially the dialogue. I’m an older guy and I sometimes have trouble separating things when they’re all grouped together. Also, it is proper English, which we should at least give a nod to.

          2. Never apologize for your writing; it is nothing to be ashamed of, and we are mature enough to accept you as you are.

          3. You have to go the box at the very very bottom to get your own first-level comment.

          P.S. I love the image of Jenna climbing on the shelves to find food. The word “cute” doesn’t even come close to expressing it.

          1. LilySmiles

            Thank you very much for your constructive feedback I will make sure to improve next prompt.

          1. LilySmiles

            Im not sure that your comment is directed towards me. If it was well then thank you very much.

    1. Observer Tim

      This is a creepy story that brings to mind the morality tales of bygone centuries, as well as shades of the Brothers Grimm. I very much like it, Halcyon. 🙂

      My red pencil has to say one thing: you used “quiet” where you should have used “quite” on several occasions. The spell checker won’t catch that.

  6. Dennis

    Being Different

    Having parents that grew up in the sixties and seventies certainly made my childhood more, shall I say, interesting. All my friends thought they were the strangest parents in the neighborhood, and for a time, I believed them.

    Let’s take Christmas for example. My brother and I would come down early in the morning and see all these presents. Reading the tags, one would be for Miguel, another for Maria, etc. But we didn’t know any of those people and didn’t see any presents with our names on them.

    “Mom, dad what gives with the presents?”
    “Those are presents for the needy children in our community dear,” said mom.
    “But where are ours?”
    “You have plenty of abundance and so your dad and I thought it best to buy gifts for those in need?”

    Yes, I’m sure you are thinking what great parents I have but I had a hard time explaining this to the other ten year olds in my class.

    And then there were the 4th of July picnics with all the others in our neighborhood. Next to us were the Kowalski’s. My mouth watered at the juicy burgers and savory hot dogs Mr. Kowalski fired up on the grill. Meanwhile, my mother put out all of the fixings for our traditional taco bar, while dad heated up the meat.

    “Explain to me again why on the most American day of the year, we have tacos.”
    “Tacos are just as American as burgers and dogs. We are one big melting pot here and your dad and I want to make sure you remember that.”

    The Kowalski kids stared at us and then began to snicker to one another. I sort of got my parents point, but still.

    So one year, Cinco de Mayo came around and what did my brother and I do? Yep, that’s right, we made hot dogs. To our surprise, our parents were touched by the gesture, believing we were finally starting to see the light.

    At the time, my brother and I were just craving hot dogs, but as I grew up, the wisdom and thoughtfulness of my parents made me see the world differently. Now I carry on those traditions with my own family.

    “It’s almost Thanksgiving and you know what that means.”
    “Falafels!”

    1. Reaper

      With the years you mentioned I was expecting a different reason for the parents going non-traditional on the fourth. I definitely like where you went with this, and that the message was subdued, strong but not heavy handed. If you threw some pictures in this I think it would be a great younger story too. The language might be a bit intense and the subject a little subtle but I think that is actually missing, books that make kids think as well as be entertained. Excellent story.

    2. Observer Tim

      Very nice story of non-conformist parents acting for all the right reasons. This brought to mind a story from one of my co-workers (a moslem) trying to explain Christmas to his 3-year-old daughter, including why they didn’t celebrate it and why she wouldn’t be getting a visit from Santa Claus. It’s wonderfully realistic and very well told; I find myself wondering if it is a little bit autobiographical. Great job! 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I liked it Dennis, a lot. One of our closest friends is of the Jewish faith. He married a Catholic girl. Holidays were uneasy when the children came. They caught on easy enough and their children, grown now, are bi-holiday.

  7. regisundertow

    And another slightly off-prompt story, this time with tacos.

    ***********************
    GONE

    I met her on a Tuesday bumming cigarettes outside a club in Stockholm and by the weekend she had moved in. By Monday, I was foolishly, irrevocably in lust with her. Her things occupied half a worn-out suitcase that quickly disappeared into the closet, behind old print tubes and boxes of negatives. Her knives were moved to the kitchen with the reverence afforded to the toe bone of a Catholic saint, together with her whetstone and whites. I remember muttering to myself, I hope this one’s going to hurt like a bastard when it’s over, or I’m going to feel pretty damn stupid.

    She fits in just fine in this apartment, I thought as she walked around barefoot in a ratty t-shirt and neon blue panties, her wiry hair in a bun with two pencils through it. She’d take her trousers off the moment she came through the door, usually at around four in the morning, stinking of seared meat and side-orders. She’d creep into bed with me, always waking me up in the process. That first week was a blur of my flesh on hers, my face buried in her nape as I took her from behind, breathing in the odors of her world. We’d fuck, then watch the sun surface over the skyline through the open window, the mist rising from the canals. She once told me the world seemed more peaceful while everyone was dreaming and she wished it would stay this way.

    She came here two years ago walking and hitching rides from Syria through Turkey, then mostly on foot through Europe. She didn’t talk about it much, claiming she preferred to live in the now, without a past. There were others accompanying her on the trip, an uncle and two teenage cousins, a boy and a girl. The girl disappeared as they were crossing the border into Serbia. The boy was offered a job by a car engineer in Austria, a man from the same town as them, and he remained. The uncle managed to get her to Sweden, where they were granted asylum status. I had to get him drunk before getting her story and he happily obliged. His broken Swedish was peppered with German when he couldn’t find the right word, but he was happy someone, anyone, was interested in hearing him speak. When I asked him of the scars on her lower back, though, he clamped up. He whispered a thank you and left, his glassy eyes cast down.

    Nothing fancy for Christmas, she whispered in my ear, her legs wrapped around me underneath the blanket. I stroke her earlobe and asked her to elaborate on what she considered fancy. She pushed my hand away. Anything that takes more than an hour to prep. Anything with a French name that has to be cooked in three different ways or double-fried in duck fat. Nothing fancy. Please. Let’s keep it simple. Aren’t you working on Christmas anyway, I asked her. She nodded and turned away, pulling my arm over her. How about tacos? Sure, she snorted, sure, tacos for Christmas. Why not? Let’s make a tradition out of it.

    She must have gone to work on Christmas day at around noon. That’s where I can last place her. I was out taking pictures for the evening edition and, when I got back with minced beef and taco shells in a bag, the closet was open and the suitcase gone, print tubes scattered and negatives strewn on the floor. The knives were in their bag with a post-it note attached, “Take care of them”.

    I got the truth out of the uncle. A text message on her old Syrian cell phone sent by her cousin from Belgium. Her boss told me between fits of swearing (she quit on the busiest day of the fucking year!) that she ran out of the kitchen and jumped into a taxi (and if you see her again, tell her she’s fucking fired!).

    Not sure why I’m doing this. I don’t think I was in love with her, but the undeniable truth is that I just bought intel from a refugee smuggler. Intel on people who would know where a disappeared Syrian girl might find herself in Belgium. People who would know all the brothels and all the mule handlers. I didn’t buy it with money, but by tazing him until he shat himself and almost severed his own tongue. Find the girl, find the woman.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      This guy’s really hooked on this girl, he hasn’t a chance in life until he finds her again. Talk about being captured by a whirlwind of a myth. A very entertaining piece of work, just gritty and raw enough to be well done.

      1. regisundertow

        Truly appreciated, Kerry. I think the girl represents much more to the MC than he thinks. I’ve known people who’ve put themselves in dangerous situations using a man or a woman as an excuse, travelling to lawless places and getting caught up in local conflicts in the process.

    2. Reaper

      The way you wrtie this is really amazing. You kind of hit on what I was noticing in the response to Kerry. The girl is mostly important for the significance your MC applies to her. Which is really sad and makes this even more intense.

      1. regisundertow

        Thank you Patrick. I kind of like these characters. They engage in the greatest form of self-deception, which is being aware that they’re doing it, yet still operating under its assumptions. If people like this story and its characters, I might revisit it.

    3. Observer Tim

      Wow, you’re landing on the heavy social topics, Regis. What drew me in was not the love story but the refugee story, including the loss and abuse that happens to those who escape. I once knew a fellow who escaped from eastern Europe (cold war days) in the back of a hay-truck, including some harrowing moments [yes, the trope has a basis in reality]. For him the adventure was getting out; for others the adventure is trying to build a life from nothing. You combined these perfectly using only implied moments. Excello! 🙂 🙂

      1. regisundertow

        Tim, my fiancee took me out to dinner tonight and I swear we sat right next to the couple from the story. Exactly like I imagined them, it was uncanny.

        There’s a lot of Syrian refugees where I live, here and across the water in Sweden. There used to be lots of pro-Assad people as well, with all the resulting bad blood between the two factions, but that rapidly changed once the IS reared its ugly snake head. A refugee’s story, including your acquaintance’s, is the hero’s journey in its purest form. Other than that, though, what’s happening over there makes my goddamned blood boil. Both you and Patrick once said it’s a writer’s duty to bring up the hard issues. I know I don’t have a large audience, but I’m trying to follow that advice regardless in the small way that I can.

  8. regisundertow

    One more.

    ********************
    THANATOSIS

    The people of this land had the right idea. Not the ones that came after, those in whose wake death and disease followed. I’m talking of the ones who grew out of this earth’s guts like rocks and who roamed these swamps long before the first fool of an explorer got lost in them. Theirs was a faith borne of the world around them. It was borne of mosquitoes and mud and things that are bigger and hungrier than you. The primordial bayou gave life as it took it away and they, the first ones, understood their place in it in ways the city builders never could.

    Did you know there are nine words for dying in their language?

    There isn’t a single one for old age.

    It’s not their fatalism I admire, although their viewpoint appeals to me. It’s their complete inability to feel sorry for themselves. I find myself studying their work, what little is left, and feeling like I’m stealing a glimpse into an otherworldly culture. They see themselves as literal celestial bodies that have fallen from the sky upon inception, their only purpose in life to be swallowed by the bog and become part of the land.

    This belief permeates their culture, their sayings, their rituals. Their faith. Throughout their lives, they prepare for the end.

    **That’s right. Keep thinking of the first ones. Keep breathing. Relax and don’t pay attention to the ache between your shoulder blades, because you’ll want to stretch and there’s no room for that in this box. Keep thinking. And ignore the water dripping.**

    Every faith has several rituals and theirs is no different. Their rituals lack names, but the main one, which I’ve taken to call Thanatosis, is meant to be performed as early in life as possible. Some anthropologists believe its purpose is to mentally prepare the participant, to strip him of all defenses, to drive home the point that this life has an end. An anti-Sacrament. Eternal oblivion instead of eternal life.

    Someone once said, the tragedy of obtaining consciousness is knowing it will end. You start thinking about it for too long, your head is bound to collapse under the realization. That, or you quit your job and climb a clock tower with a rifle. I always theorized the ritual was meant to smash through this process with brute force. Getting to the conclusion while preserving as much of your sanity as possible. The only way to survive in this land with the sword of early mortality constantly hanging over your neck.

    **I can smell decay in the water dripping through the wood. There’s something slithering outside the box, I can feel its scales rattling against it. Don’t panic. Everything is under control. There is no real danger.**

    For years I wondered of that ritual. Its details, its practicalities. Understand, they leave very little in writing. Whatever information I found was second-hand at best, misheard and misinterpreted. But, my family has been around these parts for a very, very long time and our name still commands some respect with those whose ways are no longer acceptable.

    **I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown. When is this over? The putrid water is up to my nostrils and I’m swallowing it with every breath.**

    The DNA test determined the…group I tracked down belongs to a distant offshoot of the family.

    **I can’t breathe.**

    I stayed with them. Studied them for months away from cell reception and anything resembling rescue.

    **I’m dying.**

    And eventually, after gaining their trust and proving myself, they offered to perform the ritual on me.

    **I’m conscious of the moment my heart gives out. Must be a trick of my dying brain, but I see swirling nebulas behind my eyelids. There is no slideshow of my life. Just colors in the infinity of space, colors in which I see my regrets. Regrets for not doing what I wanted in life. Not travelling more. Not loving more. But it’s all over now. The nebulas fade. And my box sinks deeper into the swamp.**

    Hands crash my chest and force the water out. Air is forced into my lungs and my nostrils burn with rotten eggs. I can vaguely feel warmth spreading on my face and distant murmurs around me. I cough and retch the swamp out of me and the murmurs turn into approval. Towering above me is a tree of a man, his coarse black beard the only visible feature beneath a mask of Spanish moss, bones, and teeth. Bulging muscles ripple underneath fat on his naked arms and barrel chest as he helps me stand.

    He puts his hands on my shoulder and the rest of the family does the same. May you understand, he utters solemnly and he’s echoed by voices belonging to men, women, and children. I can’t help but smile as I give the expected response.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        A ritual of near death that is described in amazing detail. A initiation I’m not interested in going through. Snakes, bogs, squiggly things, good thing I’m reading this in daylight.

        1. regisundertow

          Cheers Kerry. I don’t do Southern Gothic as well as Reatha or some of the others, but I love its symbols and its themes. Can’t have enough reptiles under the surface…

    1. Early Blogger

      What Shameless said. Regis, I have a habit of tightening up my right side under stress or tension (unconsciously). I spend a good deal of the time working out my own adhesions and doing breathing exercises to release those musles. After reading your stories (both of them back-to-back) I gotta do it agian! LOL It’s funny, but it hurts damn it. I might have to avoid your stories on my bad days. Incredible writing.

    2. Observer Tim

      Very nice, Regis. It’s a wonderful exposition on the idea of shared trauma as a binding force, and of a culture where fear of death must be released so that what needs to be done can be. I felt like I was there in the middle of the terror, which is incredible for me because I’m already past that stage for other reasons. Fan-freakin-tastic! 🙂 🙂

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks Tim, I honestly appreciate it. There’s this nonfiction book called “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” by Thomas Ligotti that poses a lot of interesting questions regarding mortality and what understanding it does to one’s psyche. I’m not ashamed to say it has achieved what no horror book ever has, to keep me wide awake at night. You have mentioned your episodes, I remember. I feel equal measures guilt for reminding them to you and pride that the story still managed to elicit an emotional response.

        1. Observer Tim

          Please feel no guilt, Regis. For me, remembering feelings like this is not unpleasant; it’s more like remembering a lost love (done that too, even though the “affair of my life” was abusive). The fact that you can evoke it is purely a testament to your skill as a writer.

          If you’d like to know, my memory (non-memory) of death is one that I can’t think about without an overwhelming sense of peace and restfulness. It kind of creeps me out sometimes, so it’s good to get a reminder of that sense of deimos (English doesn’t have quite the right word) that more normal people feel.

        2. Observer Tim

          Wow. I just took a very superficial look into that book (solely the quotes from Goodreads). I hope there is more to it than what is reported there, as what readers chose to bring home seems to me like cyanide for the soul. I can easily believe that it keeps you up at night.

          My only recommendation is to be skeptical of the arguments and the conclusions. I can’t see the flaw from here, but its presence screams out of nearly every word I’ve seen. He appears to be guiding the reader’s perception to go everywhere but acceptance, unless that is in part of the book that is not well-regarded.

          1. regisundertow

            He doesn’t view true acceptance as something that is achievable without going insane, actually. That was what gave me the idea about the story. He does perform multiple leaps of logic to reach his conclusions and seems to be very selective in choosing to present what other people have written on the subject. Having said that, I 100% support the “heroic nihilism” stance he describes- if existence is so utterly devoid of meaning, why not at least make the world better and ease our presence in it?

          2. Observer Tim

            Guess I’m insane then, at least partly. Makes sense; I was wondering about those cries of the lost echoing on the cosmic wind and the pitiful fretful eyes staring in from the dark corners at the edge of the world.

            [ Written with tongue at least partly in cheek. The word that goes before ‘Observer’ in my user name is ‘Outside’. ]

  9. pvenderley

    This is almost twice as long as the word count requirement. But the words started flowing out, and I can’t quite put them back in.

    Attic Zoo

    New Year’s Eve. 1977. We’re eating dinner, and Dad’s shoveling Mom’s hearty ham casserole into his mouth, staring at a space on the wall just above and to the right of the TV.

    “So this buddy of mine comes up to me this afternoon, and he asks me. Hon, whaddya think he asks me?”

    “What are you going to do over the holiday?” Mom’s already bored of this conversation.

    “Exactly!” Dad jabs his fork in her direction. “And I tell him we’re going to do what we always do. Watch the Rose Parade. Ride our bikes,” he looks over at me and grins. “Put away the tree. What we always do.”

    Mom stares at Dad for the point.

    “What we always do. We humans, we’re made of routine. Every year we give flowers on Valentine’s Day, watch fireworks on Fourth of July, turkey on Thanksgiving. Every year, the same thing. Ain’t you bored of that?”
    Mom nods, says nothing. Dad’s coming to a decision. You don’t interrupt that process.

    “This year, it’s gonna be different. That’s my New Year’s Resolution. This year, we will break from the routine. Starting tomorrow.”

    Dad looks at me, now, big and goofy and kind. “Sweetheart. What do you want to do tomorrow?”

    “I like the Rose Parade,” I say with a little whine to my voice. We had just gotten a color TV. I was looking forward to seeing all the flowers just as the announcers described them, and the horses in all their blacks and browns and bays, and Michael Landon.

    “Right, OK, sweetheart,” Dad doesn’t actually cave. “But after that? What then?”

    “I like going to the zoo,” I offer.

    “Dear, the zoo won’t be open on New Year’s Day,” Mom says. But Dad is looking up and to the right of my head, thinking.

    Dad spends most of the Rose Parade telecast stomping around in the attic while Mom and I ooh and aah over the floats and marvel at the names of all the flowers the float builders used, and wonder how they got everything built and decorated. I daydream upon the arrival each horse team, selecting my favorite for the stables I promise myself I will own when I grow up.

    Dad watches the last bit of the parade with us, sweaty and dusty. Mom casts a curious look at his face — he’s both pleased and excited. But he offers no hint at what he’s been doing, and she knows better to ask the buffoon. She picks a spiderweb out of his hair, and curls up beneath his arm.

    “Come on,” he says, grabbing our hands as the last marching band plays on the screen.

    I can’t help think that Dad’s already broken his routine for the year. I’ve never been in the attic, and he’s only been up there when shoving yet another thing that nobody uses, but nobody wants to give away. What he’s done is cleared an aisle in the middle, and arranged the boxes and suitcases and brick-a-brack into orderly cubicles with old stuffed animals on top of each. Dad is crouching in the middle of the aisle, next to the chimney, the biggest lopsided grin on his face.

    “It’s a zoo,” Mom says softly.

    I see Mr. Bear, old and ratty with one button eye. There’s a crocodile or alligator that my Aunt Pat had hand-made for me. And the creepy, bug-eyed, cymbal toting chimpanzee that Dad had got for me when I was three.
    To my right is a sewing dummy with a pink cloth draped over it, and an umbrella handle poking out where a head should be.

    “What’s that?” I ask.

    “A flamingo,” Dad says, and we all giggle.

    Mom gives a little shriek when she looks at the contents of two upended glasses — spiders.

    “That’s the Insect House,” Dad says. He follows that up with a soft: “I’ll get rid of them later.”

    To my left is a coat rack with a feather boa draped over its hooks.

    “What’s that?” I ask.

    “What do you think it is?” he asks back. “There are all sorts of animals in this zoo, if you use your imagination. I can’t possible tell you all of them.”

    “A boa constrictor,” I say, after some consideration. Dad smiles.

    We spend the morning touring his zoo, identifying porcupines and marmosets, steam trunk tortoises and insulation bunnies that I’m not allowed to pet. We peruse the yellow bindings of old National Geographic Magazines, and pull out the issues that have articles about okapi and pangolins and other animals too exotic and weird for a 7-year-old to imagine.

    We leave when it gets too hot to stay up there, both Dad and I tucking a National Geographic or two under our arm.

    It’s like that for all of 1977. Dad scouring the papers to plot new adventures — a train trip to Havre, Montana, a visit to a decoy museum. But eventually we settle back into a routine: that of doing something different than everyone else in the country. Like tacos on the Fourth of July, or going to Stuckey’s for Thanksgiving, or grilling on a cold, wintry President’s Day (“Who says this is any less patriotic than the Fourth?” Dad would ask every year, spatula raised in salute, hunching over the grill in short pants and Hawaiian shirt).

    And so that’s why I’m looking at you, munchkin, and wondering: what new adventures do you want to have this year?

    1. cosi van tutte

      Hi, pv!

      This is a wonderful, lovely story with just the right amount of words. Re-reading it, I can’t find any parts that could be comfortably cut out.

      Also, I love that the dad went through all of that trouble to create a zoo for her. 🙂

    2. fisherlock

      pvenderley, this is an absolutely wonderful story. Heart warming and lovely. My favorite is the boa constrictor part. I know you went over the word limit, but I don’t see how you couldn’t possibly bend the rules a bit for a story as amazing as this.

      I have no suggestions. It’s perfect as is.

    3. Observer Tim

      This is beautiful and heartwarming. The MC’s father must have wracked his brains to figure out all the new ways of having fun. And Cosi is right, there’s nothing that could reasonably be cut out. The story is too big for the prompt, but definitely worth sharing. Great job! 🙂

    4. Reaper

      I didn’t even notice the length to be honest. After I did when you mentioned it. This has that good a flow and wonderful writing. The kind of father we need more of too.

  10. Early Blogger

    I used the prompt title: Bizarre Family Traditions without the full prompt. I thought we were supposed to fill in stories of our own traditions. (real or imagined?)

    Bizarre Family Traditions

    Arleen fell to the floor grabbing her foot in excruciating pain. No matter how many times it happens, she will never get used to it, nor will she ever learn to stop walking barefoot in the house!
    She’s been through this enough times.

    “Breathe in, Breath out…breathe through the pain.” She tells herself.

    Walking through the gritty mess in the small room on a daily basis was bad enough; not to mention the tracking from room to room. She thinks about the hot, humid days of summer spent here, when it isn’t a stretch to pretend being in a small beach bungalow instead, what with the intense smell of salt in the air.

    Looking down at the inch-long cut just under her big toe, she could have sworn she saw it throbbing, but it was most likely just the throbbing of her head as the blood upwards at the onset of pain. It’s a good thing Sonja wasn’t here to witness this yet again.

    And as if on cue, “Ha! You’ve really mastered the art of self-inflicting pain, haven’t you?” she said while working her way to the sink for a cool washcloth.

    “Well, I wouldn’t have to worry about walking barefoot if we didn’t have the nasty habit of throwing sodium chloride all about!”

    “You know the deal. Whenever we gather here for a meal we all must take a pinch of salt and throw it over our shoulders in honor of the Sunday meals we all spent with G mom.” Sonja lowered herself to the floor with the cool cloth and squeezed a little of the water onto the cut on her sister’s foot.

    “aaaaahhhh…Thank you so much! Hey, why is it we do that again?” Arleen asked.
    .
    “You know, I guess you are too young to remember, but every time we sat down to eat, G mom would grace us with one of her tales of when she was young and in the process would inevitably knock the salt shaker over at least a dozen times.”

    “How did she do that by simply telling a story?” said Arleen as she took the rag from Sonja’s hand to clean the area around the cut.

    “I think it was because she spoke more with her hands than anything else. It was kind of comical to watch, really. Each time she knocked it over she’d get flustered and grab the shaker off the table, pour a pinch in the palm of her hand and toss it behind her. If anyone wanted to salt their meal, they would just stand behind her with their plate up against her back!”

    “That’s just silly.” Replied Arleen
    .
    “Yes, but that was G mom for you.” Sonja reflected.

    “What, superstitious?”

    Sonja laughed, “Yes, that too, but I was thinking more along the lines of affectionately clumsy.”

    “Ok, but let’s make a new tradition of sweeping up after our meals. “ The tiny grains of salt began to dig into exposed flesh, and Arleen stood to wipe the crystals away.

    As both girls turned to leave, neither saw the old salt shaker fall to the floor in the tiny kitchen G mom called home for 80 years.

    1. Observer Tim

      Very nice, Sunny/Blogger. I was wondering why the MC would have such severe pain from a cut on her foot; the salt on the floor explains it nicely. On the bright side, sun plus the natural moisture in the air should clear at least some of it up for them, and a damp mop will get the rest. Depending on how deep it is. This is clever and entertaining! 🙂

      I was kind of wondering about G mom; I assume it means grandmother. It might enhance clarity just a bit if it were hyphenated (G-mom).

      1. Early Blogger

        Thanks Tim(?). Yes, G-mom is grandmother. I remember cutting my finger doing dishes one time and my grandmother actually pouring salt on the wound. Burned(hurt) like nothing I’ve every felt before. All I could do was stare at her with my mouth open and making little vowels sounds. LOL I remember thinking too, “Why does she hate me so much.” But she didn’t. I’d seen her pour salt on her own little abrasions. Now I have to google it and see if there is any truth to any healing properties. 🙂

    2. regisundertow

      This tradition is bizarre enough that I can see it happening. Great story. I thought the “Hey, why is it we do that, again?” sentence felt very exposition-y, but it was explained by the MC being too young to know its origins.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Have you ever noticed how warm hearted and full of affection, clumbsy people are? I’ll take the clumbsy any time. When we were bitten by large scorpions, our tradition was to cut the wound with a sharp razor and pour ammonia on the cut Made you forget the sting. Bizarre enough for you?

        1. Early Blogger

          Kerry, my aunt Bettie (grandfather’s oldest sister) used to do that for snake bites. I watched her do it to my brother, except it wasn’t ammonia. She used bleach. After listening to my very adventurous brother (thumbed across the states from PA to Cali twice alone by the time he was 18) wail and seeing his reaction first hand, I don’t remember if my fear is actually of snakes or getting bleach in open cuts. His propensity for seeking and finding danger is most def my reason for staying inside the box. (except creatively where there is no box)

      2. Early Blogger

        You know I’m not happy with that sentence either. But the only reason I did use it was to get the younger sibling aspect out there. She’s too young to understand the tradition behind what she sees as insanity. Thank you for the feed back. I love it! You all write so well, I feel I learn something every time you reply.

        1. regisundertow

          That’s one of the eternal problems, how to present info the characters know intimately without making it sound awkward. It does work here, but you could also have, for example, a younger member of the family question the tradition after having had dinner at a friend’s place and getting surprised that not everyone does it.

          1. Early Blogger

            I like that idea. Could really through some comedy in there too. Friends would be eye-balling each other because the younger one keeps throwing salt all over the place. LOL…WTH?!

          2. Early Blogger

            What?! Throw…not through. lol geez. really need an edit button. my fingers are faster than my brain.

    3. Reaper

      You strayed from the prompt but not the intent in my opinion. See my comments under your early post on that. This is wonderfully whimsical and made me smile when I realized it wasn’t a story about hoarders which was my first thought and filled me with dread. So well done.

  11. Dana Cariola

    For as long as I can remember, my father’s vision of the world had a different spin on it. Take for instance, his thoughts on the hookers, walking along South Broad Street during lunch hour. Rather than view them as repulsive, diseased and dangerous, as most people had. Dear Ole Dad boasted that they were performing their own version of civic protest, by refusing to pay taxes to a corrupt government, openly. That’s how he made sense of the world. A rebel without a clause!

    He would fashion everything around his line of reasoning. And, growing-up in the Farber residence was more like being raised in traveling side show, rather than a suburban home. Maybe, that’s why I chose the entertainment industry as my chosen profession. On stage, the real world doesn’t exist. It’s a black hole from where I’m standing. Like my father always said, “It’s a matter of vantage point. How you view a situation.” And, up here. He’d been right. The world is blackened, like soot. Apart from the occasional cough, from some annoyed patron. You’d never know they existed. And, when the house lights come on after every performance, with their elastic faces, smiling back at you. It confirms everything my father has every said about them all! Make them forget who they really are, even if it’s just for one minute. And they’ll love you for it!

    My name is Ronald Farber AKA Mason Stone; Academy award winner for Best Actor of the year. Sexist man alive, according to People magazine. On film, I make the ladies slide off their chairs. While their husband’s secretly jerk-off, in private during one of my sex scenes with my leading ladies.

    Dad had it all right! Do things your way!

    1. Observer Tim

      This is indeed a fascinating take on the world, Dana. It’s a lovely monologue that could easily be expanded into a personal essay/self help book. Given the MC’s fame, it would likely be a huge success. Great job! 🙂

      It’s kind of tangential to the prompt, but I seldom worry about that.

    2. Early Blogger

      Awesome. Forgot I was reading a short story instead of the beginning of a book. Makes me want to write a bit from the other perspective-someone in the audience. Maybe the annoyed patron. Short clip drew me in rather quickly.

    3. Reaper

      This is good, and could be the intro to a book I’d read. I actually thought you were going for a my dad was Jesus bent until I hit the second paragraph. Fascinating stuff. and in such a short space. Two suggestions. One, ishose as a chosen profession doesn’t need the chosen, it glitched me when I was really getting sucked into your narrative. Second. The last line of your last full paragraph seems a bit heavy handed with the rest of the flow. Or maybe blatant not heavy handed. Either way, as a short I’d suggest finding a way to say it that stays more in line with the nonjudgmental tone of the rest. If you do expand this into something longer I’d say leave it as it is because it starts showing a flaw in the character, which works well.

  12. Early Blogger

    Early blogger is formly Sunnyskies77…had computer woes and couldn’t remember password to WD… :0P

    Anyways, just spent the better part of an hour doing this prompt completely wrong. If I had read a few of the submissions before hand I would have known better….I have issues. LOL

    Back to the drawing board.

  13. Observer Tim

    A MEXICAN DINNER

    “And the winner of this year’s gold medal is… Jen!”

    Wanda slips the ribbon over my head and carefully lifts my hair so it sits properly. Afterward she gives me a kiss on each cheek. Once she pulls back Eric splits the difference; when my mouth is my own again I speak.

    “So what’s the medal for?”

    Wanda answers, “Awesomeness in the face of crazy fans and being a really really good friend.”

    “And for letting me see you naked.”

    I smile at Eric and he blushes deep red. Wanda looks slightly disgusted. She still has a little trouble with that part of the relationship; it’s not that she disapproves, it’s just that a couple of times now I’ve gone to bed with Eric and woken up with her.

    “Look Jen, about that…”

    “No need to apologize again, Wanda. I know your relationship with your brother is, uh,” I cringe at the word, “complicated. Having me around makes it even more so. How about we don’t discuss it and have dinner instead.”

    Eric jumps up, “Great!” He runs to the kitchen and returns proudly bearing a plate loaded with taco fixings, spices and squeeze bottles. He sets it down on the coffee table and looks at me like an eager puppy.

    Wanda says, “You’re the guest, Jen, you go first. What would you like?”

    I point out several things and Eric tosses them into a bowl. Eventually he stuffs the sticky mess of lettuce, cheese, meat and veggies into a tortilla shell. He picks up an unmarked squeeze bottle.
    “Would you like hot sauce?”

    “Let me taste it first.” I do that now, ever since the guacamole incident. He squirts a drop on my finger and I touch it to my tongue.

    “Are you okay?” He quickly offers me a small glass of milk and I down it between gasps. It mostly settles the burning sensation.

    “That’s… hot.”

    “Eric likes it that way. He left part of a taco out in the park one time and the birds were breathing fire for a week.”

    “So… why tacos?”

    Wanda talks as she points out ingredients to Eric.

    “You remember the museum story, how the guard rescued us from our abusing ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’? Well, we wanted to thank her afterwards, so Eric and I offered to take her out for a fourth-of-July dinner. She chose tacos and ice cream, I think mostly for our budget. We’ve done it ever since.”

    “What about Cinco de mayo, then?”

    “Eric barbecues steaks. We have to do it some time.”

    Dinner, like everything with these two, is a bit surreal. After the tacos, Eric brings out ice cream and makes each of us a custom sundae. He puts hot sauce on his, which would have been fine if not for the after-dinner kiss. They take turns feeding me little spoons of ice cream until I can breathe again.

    After that we go out on the balcony and all cuddle together to watch the fireworks display.

    1. Observer Tim

      This refers back to “Night at the Museum” and “Crazed Fan“.

      The gold medal is made of chocolate with a gold wrapper. There wasn’t space to integrate that part into the story, nor was there space to include more fireworks after the city’s display. That second one is left to the reader’s imagination.

    2. regisundertow

      So many undercurrents here. I’ve read it a few times, getting a slightly different piece of the backstory every time. Great way to integrate it with the other two stories too.

    3. Reaper

      I think ShamelessHack’s big words said a lot on this one. Very nice continuation and a very sweet strotry to add to the collection. The pace of this was perfect for the words and kept me captivated all the way through.

  14. Amaria

    My family has always been “unique”. When I invite friends over for Thanksgiving I tell them upfront not to expect the typical Thanksgiving dinner of turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, and apple pie. No, my family has beef tacos. Perhaps I should explain.

    It all began with my mom while she was pregnant with me. She was raised by her army father and moved around a lot. She got to see many places in the world, experience different cultures and even learned a few foreign languages. What she never learn to was how to cook.

    But that did not hinder her in landing a husband. My dad always said he fell in love with her carefree nature and he married her despite the concerns of my grandparents. My paternal grandmother was a very traditional and opinionated woman. She was also the ultimate hostess, who could cook lavish dinners, present the most elaborate dinner table and make it all look so easy. My mom always felt inferior to my grandmother, even after being married to my dad for nine years with two children and another on the way. So mom decided it was time to take on the ultimate challenge – host Thanksgiving dinner. She invited my grandparents along with my two uncles, their wives and small children. It was quite a surprise to the family, most of all my dad and my older siblings, who knew firsthand the extent of mom’s cooking skills.

    However, my mom was not perturbed in hosting the affair. She laid out her plans on executing the perfect Thanksgiving dinner. But we all know there is no such thing as a perfect dinner, and even the best laid plans go astray. So everything that could go wrong that Thanksgiving morning did. The turkey was burnt, the potatoes were stiffed, the stuffing was stale and the gravy was white. There was no way mom was going to serve this to the family and get away with it. So with little time to spare she made the one entre she had mastered while she was at college– the beef taco.

    To say everyone was surprised to see beef tacos, salsa, and rice and beans laid out on the Thanksgiving table is an understatement. My grandmother was speechless, which according to my grandfather, was a first. Yet everyone seemed to enjoy the tacos, especially kids, who thought it was fun eating tacos on a holiday.

    So from that day until now, going on twenty-five years, every Thanksgiving my mom will whipped up her famous beef tacos and we all gather around the table decorated with its finest tablecloth and silverware, passed down from my grandmother, and savor our delicious beef tacos. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

    1. Reaper

      Very quietly sweet, which is the best kind. A couple of words that need an edit pass, like whipped instead of whip in the last paragraph but nothing major. Overall this is just a wonderful story.

  15. JRSimmang

    Don’t know what happened here. It just… came out…

    BURGERS FOR BREAKFAST AND TACOS FOR FOUR

    We were woken up with the sunrise, quite an unpleasant surprise.
    Mom was in a cardboard box, and dad had on his googoly- eyes!

    “Get up!” they shouted, “But stay in bed! Wear your blankets on your head!”
    My brother’s eyes popped open, mouth agape, then started acting like an ape!

    I was so confused, so befuddled, bemused, but I couldn’t help but be amused;
    I grabbed my blankets and wrapped them tight, and told all my family “To all a good night,”

    I put my slippers on my hands, my pants back to front, (who could believe such a silly stunt!)
    and walked backward through the open door, and scooted myself along the kitchen floor.

    My mom spoke in Pig Latin today, “orfay ekfrastbray otatoespay auay attingray!”
    But dad, with his face painted purple, said, “I wanted burgers on this Cinco de Murple.”

    My brother, sitting on his head in a chair, sat up right and smoothed out his hair.
    “Burgers for me, my mother, my mommy. And make it another for my brother Tommy.”

    I held up my hand to cast my vote, and mom, quite perplexed asked, “what’s this aboat?”
    Spatula in hand, hand on her hip, fingers in the chips and dip,

    “Okay, okay, then burgers it’ll be. But, what’ll we have for the 4th of Julee?”
    My dad thought long, and he thought hard, “How ’bout tacos out in the front yard?”

    I must say, and I never do lie, that that was the best, the best 4th of July.
    From that day on, and every year since, our parents’ and us’s experience

    is that we create our histories, and write our own stories,
    because nobody knows us better than us!

    -JR Simmang

    1. Observer Tim

      Wonderful spot of nonsense verse, JR. The complexity of the meter is a bit hard to follow sometimes, but then I’m not accustomed to reading poetry. I love the way you intertwined the insanity and the story to create something entertaining. 🙂

  16. regisundertow

    Been meaning to write this in one form or another for some time.

    **********************
    FAMILY PORTRAIT

    It takes two looks. One at the screen of the laptop I forgot at her place, one at her face to know eloquence won’t count for shit this time. Her words are measured and they taste like she’s been rehearsing them for hours, masking the tiniest quiver in her voice. They make me wonder if there may yet be a way out of this tipping point, some way I may avoid the hurricane sulking over the horizon, but, finally, terminally, she just can’t help it. She blurts it out, her face a burst of red, promises of self-control and dignity evaporating amidst barely contained heartache, and the ground beneath my feet is irreversibly gone. Who the fuck is Sally?! Why are you telling another woman that you love her?! I need a minute to remember which one is Sally. Babe, I smile, there is no Sally. I’m just writing a story in first person. It’s a love story. She shakes her head, her titanic effort to hold her tears not enough. I read your emails, you asshole…

    ***

    It’s in them genes, he tells me. Look at this hair, eh? He motions for me to touch his hair and, when I smile awkwardly, he grabs my wrist and force-runs my stiff hand through his snowy peaks. Good thick Southern hair, like chicken-wire. All the children got it. It’s in them genes, I tell you. I pull my hand back laughing and move my checkers in position, closing off two points. He grins and shakes his head. Gosh, I wish you were one of mine. Truly. He rolls his dice and bears off two of own checkers. You might have been born better at this game, he adds.

    My Godmother brings us glasses filled with the bourbon I’ve brought back from town, her huge smile and her sparkly green eyes unblemished by her 70 years. She asks who’s winning, if we’d like something to eat. She kisses me on the forehead, the same way she’s done since I was at least two heads shorter than her, before disappearing back into the kitchen. His eyes follow her until she’s out of sight and it’s as if a switch is flipped, turning all the ribbing and light-heartedness into melancholia. The shift is so abrupt, so oppressively physical, I fear his heart is acting up again. You alright? I ask, my breakup momentarily out of my mind. He nods, turning his gaze at me, and, for probably the first time for as long as I remember him, his face is devoid of life and warmth.

    There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask of you, he utters as he pushes the dice towards me. Sure, anything, I answer without hesitation and the words are easy to say in their truth. He stares back at the kitchen for a good long moment, before he drops his voice and recounts the story of a woman he met when he was working as a truck driver. I know where this is going from the get-go, yet it still feels like one of the world’s pillars just came crashing down in a cloud of ash. She worked for the company, he says while staring at the game board, and she once accompanied him on a long route. Fact-checking, she’d call it. At the end of the route, she was pregnant, making her the second woman expecting his baby.

    I may not have much time, the doctors say. I heard she named our daughter after me, Alexa. She has my hair and her mother’s Spanish eyes. I called a few favors from some old friends, well-connected fellers. I think I may know where she lives.

    I take a sip and glance over at my Godmother preparing dinner. Anything you want, I say simply. A smile creeps back on his face. I wish you were one of mine, son.

    ***

    Keep your fucking voice down, I hear Dad saying, and nearly gasp at his using a Bad Word, not even knowing what fucking means. Mum’s voice woke me up. It covers my footsteps, as I hide behind the door frame. Did you fuck her? Answer me, you son of a bitch, are you fucking around behind my back? The door is open enough for me to see her charging like a bull, punching him on the face. He shoves her on the floor, like she’s nothing. I’m relieved she falls on her back. I don’t want my baby sister to be hurt before I see her.

    Even on her back, she still bites, her words ripping through flesh, lodging themselves into my memories. You brought her into our home, you introduced that whore to me. Did you knocked her up too?

    I can see him, full of muscle and fat and coarse black hair barely holding back. He turns towards the door and it takes all I got to rush into my bed and pretend I’m sleeping. Only I’m not able to sleep, not for hours. I’m twisting words this way and that, savoring their pleasantly alien texture. Fucking around. I don’t know what it means, but I’m sure I can’t say it out loud. So, I say it anyway.

    1. Observer Tim

      Warning! Dangerous undercurrents! This is a tragic tale of a family that’s broken across generations. It’s amazing the things we learn when we’re not supposed to. Fantastic job, Regis. 🙂

      I’m not totally sure how it fits with the prompt, but … meh.

          1. regisundertow

            Much appreciated Reatha. You see enough of those families in real life, you got to start wondering whether there is something genetic involved or if it’s basically a case of monkey see, monkey do, despite the consequences.

    2. Reaper

      I got really sucked into this. This is another example of what you do so well. Where you break the rules, like speech existing in bubbles and make it not only work but very effectively help you tell your story. An amazing and just all around powerful piece.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks Patrick, truly appreciated. Funny thing is, I hate writing traditional dialogue, so this is a way for me to avoid it. It’s more necessity than design, but I’m glad it works and it adds something to the stories.

  17. Kerry Charlton

    SCRAPPLE, OR BETTER KNOWN AS PAN RABBIT

    EXTREME WARNING!

    Those of you not used to extreme horror, may wish to pass on this prompt response.

    Breakfast at our Philadelphia table usually consisted of a side dish of scrapple.

    Being at a tender age, and forced by a ’clean plate’ father, I ate it with a quarter inch of

    catsup layered on top. On Sundays at my grandfather’s parsonage , it always

    accompanied breakfast, whether we wanted it or not. Pop Pop spread two sunny side up

    eggs across the fried slab of scrapple, drowned the whole mess with catsup and never

    missed a word in his sermon.

    Actually, scrapple worked better then birth control in Philadelphia, keeping most

    of the city’s inhabitants at a young age. You could have your choice with scrapple, die

    from a stroke or a heart attack, it didn’t matter much as long as you kept the population in

    line with the founding fathers.

    And now for the brave and uninhabited I will divulge the recipe.

    Bring a large pot to boil, throw the entire pig head in along with the heart, liver

    and other trimmings. A broad category were called trimmings depending on income. A

    rabbit was welcome to the pot if available, if not a sleepy possum would fit in nicely.

    When boiled down, bones were removed along with the fat.

    Remove the meat, [this is important here], dice it in quarter inch cubes, no one

    could recognize. Set aside. Take the broth, add cornmeal and wheat flower, stir to

    consistency of mush, then add your spices, sage, thyme, savory and black pepper. Come

    to think of it, a little Old Spice would be nice

    Mix this concoction in with the mush, pour in a a square bowl and refrigerator to

    jell. Slice in quarter inch pieces and fry to crisp. My grandmother used lard but you’re

    pulling your string doing that, try butter instead. There’s enough cholesterol and calories

    in this to stop a rhino at full charge.

    Happy eating!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        It is gross thinking of it, Thank you for ypur comments. Do you have any idea what hot dogs are made from? A friend of mine who was a federal meat inspector told me, but it’s too awful to print here, there are young people about.

    1. Observer Tim

      Um, what can I say here? Aside from the visceral description of the ingredients, it sounds kind of tasty. Sort of like meatloaf in extremis. I’ve had sliced meatloaf for breakfast, so this seems not too far off the mark. It’s only extreme horror to the rabbit (or possum, as appropriate). 🙂

      Great take, Kerry.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        There’s no decision to make, if you havent had it by now, stay on the roll you’re on and avoid it . Eat chocolate covered ants intead.

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Because this recipe kept tickling my brain, I googled something my father used to love, and there are similarities between your scrapple and his hog head cheese.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            I’ve heard of hog head cheese, but never tried it and don’t want to. I don’t think I could eat a hog eye.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Reaper for your thoughts. Scrapple came to me, the instant I read the prompt and couldn’t shake the idea. Do you know what Philadelphian’s put in mince pie? Or better yet, can you handle it?

        1. Reaper

          I’m pretty good with most things. Little disturbs me except millenial eggs, soylent green, and collard greens. And I’ve grown okay with that last one. I don’t like everything but I am down to try anything that doesn’t seem outright rotten, so I guess I need to add ludefisk or however you spell that to the list too.

  18. Kaboosh

    I wake up to a loud banging on my door.

    Who can that be? I never have visitors. I go down to the door, and look out the peep hole. My mom, my sister, and my dad stand at the door. I open it hesitantly.

    “What are you doing here?” I ask.

    “It’s July twenty-third!” my mom says, excited. “You know! Family reunion day! You’re hosting it this year!”

    I completely forgot about our annual family reunion. Each year, we meet up at a family members house, and eat random homemade food. I haven’t attended in six years. My parents probably didn’t remind me about it, so that I would feel guilty if I said no right in front of them.

    “Um… I guess you can come in.” I mutter. “I don’t have anything prepared though. I have to change, I’ll be right back.”

    I quickly put on a nice shirt, and feel my amulets. My parents don’t know about them, and it would be sort of awkward explaining it to them.

    I quickly walk down the stairs. My parents are already sitting down at the table. Three containers are on the table.

    “Oh good, you’re back!” my mom exclaims. “Do you have your meal prepared?”

    “No.” I say. “I already told you, I forgot about this.”

    “That’s okay,” my mom says “this should be enough food for all of us. So, let’s share what everyone made!”

    My dad stands up. “I made baked beans with hot dog mixed in.” My dad says that it’s “his special beans”, but I know it comes straight from a can.

    As my sister starts talking about my cookies, my phone vibrates in my pocket. I take my phone out and read the text that was sent to me.

    “You’re probably not coming, but the reunion is at our place today. You know my address. – Dad”

    I stand there confused for a second. I look up at my dad. His hands are resting on top of his container of beans. I quickly realize what’s happening.

    “Sorry. I need to excuse myself.” I say quickly. “I’ll be in the bathroom for a bit.” I try to walk calmly, but my hands are shaking. I go into the bathroom right above my dining room.

    I quickly press my ear to the vent. I hear them whispering, and I catch a few words.

    “Have to… distract… take…. the gems…” I sit up, and hit my head on the sink.

    “Ow!” I say, loudly.

    “Everything all right up there?” my fake mom asks.

    “Yes!” I lie. “I just stubbed my toe! I’ll be right with you guys!”

    I walk downstairs clenching my fists. Suddenly, I think of something. I have to use the power of my red amulet. I quickly wave my hand, and start a small fire in my living room.

    I go to the kitchen. As soon as I sit down, my impostor father asks me, “So, where do you work?”

    “At… at a museum.” I lie. “It was closed down temporarily because of a recent robbe-”

    The smoke alarm starts ringing. “Oh god!” I say. “We have to get out of here!”

    I quickly lead everyone out the door. As my “mom” runs out the door, I see a gold chain around her neck. Her shirt is glowing a soft grey.

    I immediately surround my fake dad and sister in lava. Then i shoot ice cold water at it, creating scorching, obsidian barriers.

    My “mother” then waves her hand, and takes her disguise off. She is slim and pale with deep grey eyes. She flies up, into the air. I try to make fire come out of my shoes, but I shoot up into the air and slam into a wall.

    I rub my eyes, and find myself hundreds of feet in the air. I close my eyes and start spinning. I tilt myself towards the woman, and rocket down towards her. I slam into her, and dig into the ground.

    She tries to push me back, but I keep going deeper. I suddenly stop, and lift my hands. Flames dance across them. I pick her up and rocket her into the air. She won’t be coming back any time soon.

    The amulet was on the ground in front of me. I reach for it, and it rockets into the air. I sigh as I hear it whizzing back down. Well, with great power comes great responsibility. And a lot of chest pain.

    1. Reaper

      So, I read this like a comic set to a book. In that you have a very distinct voice that reads teen, YA or maybe NA. I point that out because I wouldn’t suggest changing too much with the language or you might lose that. However, in this case I would say that you might want to look at reused words. You have phone twice in rapid succession and a lot of rocketing going on. I would suggest changing the second phone to it, and micing up the action phrasing for fying and moving. alsok, in your second to last paragraph I would combinge your second and third sentences. You want short in action but make it more descriptive to fit the comic feel and have flames dancing over them. All minor things but will help the flow a little. As for the story itself, you are continuing to hold my attention and keep me wanting more.

  19. Pete

    We’d just watched the fireworks. Same as last year. Mom, Dad, Michelle and the kids. And me. I was there, rubbery and bleary after a day with the old man.

    It was after ten as Ally set the table. Schedules were like the wallpaper at my parents’ house. Layered and outdated. Mostly ignored.

    “I’m not using this flimsy thing,” Dad grumbled, tossing the paper plate like a Frisbee. Ally froze. His hair was all over the place. His ears hung crookedly and his face was balled up in disgust. Confusion.

    “What are we doing?”

    “We’re eating dinner, remember, Dad?”

    “I want tacos.”

    “I made tacos, Frank.” My mother said. She sounded like a first grade teacher after a long field trip.

    It was always tacos. Dad ate them for breakfast. As a kid I’d never seen him touch anything spicier than ketchup. Now he ripped jalapenos off the plant and plopped them in his mouth. Chewed them up and spit out the stem. Ally ran to the kitchen. Michelle shot me a look.

    I shrugged. We did this every year. And every year we vowed not to stay overnight. Guilt held us captive. We always stayed. But two days there is torture. Our backs were twisted from the saggy mattress in the guest room. My old room.

    Mom came out with a tray. “Okay, everyone at the table. Let’s eat.”

    “I need a beer.”

    Dad the tee-toiler. Now he drank Coors original in the mornings. We took our seats. Jackson fussed about the taco shells. He wanted a hamburger.

    “The show seemed shorter this year. Seems like every year it gets smaller and smaller.”

    My mom’s attempts at normalcy were medal worthy. Outside a bottle rocket screamed. Dad perked up, then loaded his plate with three shells. His back was hunched over and his shirt was unbuttoned to his belly. He scared the kids. Shouldn’t be like this. He was too young to scare the kids.

    “Frank could you pass the taco sauce?”

    Ally sat across from me, next to my mother. Her headband made her look prim and proper, angel like. I smiled at her and she stuck her tongue out at me. Maybe not so proper.

    “So what did you ask Santa for Christmas?”

    Another bottle rocket. Ally shot my father a look of horror. She didn’t understand. I tried to explain but she just thought it was weird.

    Mom cleared her throat. “Frank it’s the Fourth of July, not Christmas.”

    “It’s Christmas somewhere,” he grumbled. Michelle did one of her yoga breaths. She took a bite of her taco. The shell split open. I’d owe her big for this.

    Last night we’d stayed up talking. Maybe it was time for Dad to live somewhere else. For Mom to enjoy her golden years. Eat something besides tacos. Michelle thought she’d never go for it. I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. Dad sipped his beer.

    When he belched Ally giggled. Mom scolded him. He was down to one taco, his mouth a smear of grease. It was as hilarious and tragic to watch the man who’d taught me how to ride a bike lose his shit while singing Jingle Bells on the Fourth of July.

    When he was finished, and every face at the table was equally horrified. Another whistle outside. Dad wiped his mouth and looked at me with an eyeful of clarity.

    “Merry Christmas, son.”

    “Merry Christmas Pop.”

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Heartbreakingly wonderful description of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s. But, I think Dad had a message for your MC in the last lines. Dad knows it’s time to go.

    2. Reaper

      This is horrifying because it is so comical and yet not funny. So some deep part of me wanted to laugh and the rest kept calling it a monster. Now that’s some deep horror in an amazing way.

    3. regisundertow

      Loved this. Part of caring for relatives with a mental illness is that there’s no arguing with them about anything. Tacos at Christmas or the 4th of July? So be it. You just roll with it.

  20. ShamelessHack

    “Pass the tacos.”

    “What’s the magic word?” His father’s black eyebrows furrowed as he adjusted his smoking jacket. “You know how to ask for something politely, don’t you?”

    “Pass the tacos. Please.” The boy’s chubby face showed honest contrition. He watched hungrily as the platter of tacos was passed to him down the long dining room table.

    “He’s very bad, Papa,” the boy’s younger sister offered. “Should we set him on fire and run him up the flagpole? It is the Fourth of July after all.” Her dark eyes slid over to her brother, who was ignoring her and was now gnawing rapidly through his tacos.

    “Stop that kind of talk,” her mother chided her daughter while eying her husband. “We’ll discuss a punishment after dinner.”

    The children’s uncle was anxious to change the subject. “What about a hamburger?” he asked. His glittering eyes were bright. Though it wasn’t very cold in the dining room, he still wore a large brown coat. All eyes went to him.

    “Come, now,” said the father, looking at his bald and corpulent brother. “A hamburger? Really?”
    “You’re kidding,” added the father’s beautiful, dark-haired, sloe-eyed wife. “Today isn’t Cinco de Mayo. You know that.”

    “I have an odd craving.” Uncle would not be denied.

    Suddenly, an amputated hand scurried across the large table, a small plate with a cheeseburger deftly balanced in two fingers. It set it down in front of the uncle, and leaped off the surface of the table to high-five the large man.

    “Traitor,” the morose daughter hissed menacingly at the frisky limb as it disappeared over the edge of the ornate tablecloth.

    The mother looked at her husband, her eyes smoking with an exasperation tinged with desire. “Hamburgers on the Fourth of July? Tacos on Cinco de Mayo?” She pushed her face within an inch of his, her eyes dripping suggestive haughtiness. “What are you going to do about this Gomez?”

    Gomez inhaled her scent, and then jumped up from the table, knocking Uncle Fester into Wednesday and Pugsley. “What am I going to do about it, Morticia?” he asked as he reached for his wife and swept her into his arms. “What do you think I’m going to do about it?”

    The rest of the family knew enough to quickly get out of the way, as the two strode to the center of the dining room floor. Gomez put his hand around Morticia’s waist and flung her down in the first of many exhilarating dips.

    “Tango, Cara Mia, Tango!”

    And they danced away the night like it was Cinco de Mayo.

    1. jhowe

      Da da da da, snap snap. That was comedic genius. It hit me when Thing jumped up on the table that I was in for a treat. This was a perfect example of showing and not telling with the perfect blend of dialog and narrative. The ‘traitor’ comment was priceless.

    2. Observer Tim

      Oh, man, I think my response sense is running a bit fast this week (see my response to Cosi below). I love the Addams Family fanfic, mostly because I’ve been a steady fan since I was five years old. This is wonderful and entertaining on so many levels. Wonderful job, Hack! 🙂 🙂

      At least Morticia didn’t respond to the big question (what do you think I’m going to do) with a more traditional “Je ne sais quoi.” 🙂

  21. cosi van tutte

    My girlfriend, Alana, stared at the pile of crickets and corn on her plate. She just stared at it in deep, deep silence. I’d like to say that she was awestruck, but no. No, I think she was horrorstruck at that moment.

    My dad scooped up a fork-full of crickets and shoveled it in his mouth. He looked at Alana and grinned. Feelers and decapitated heads stuck to the front of his teeth. “Don’t just sit there admiring it. Eat up!”

    She looked at my dad. When she saw his teeth, her face turned pale. “I don’t mean to be ungrateful, especially after you went through all of the trouble of preparing…” She hesitated as if she couldn’t decide on the right word. “…such a meal for me, but this is the Fourth of July.” Her voice dropped into a queasy whisper. “Don’t you have any hot dogs?”

    “Hot dogs? Pffft! Do you know what’s in those things? I do. I used to make them for a living.” He shook his head. “It’s terrible. I could tell you, but—” He shoveled in more crickets and munched them on down. “–it just isn’t right to talk about gross things when people are tryin’ to eat.”

    She gave me a beseeching look. Only to catch me pouring more crickets on my plate.

    “Now, crickets, on the other hand, are all natural. There’s no guesswork or worries about eating crickets. They are what they are. Crickets!”

    “Mmm.” I said as I plucked a couple off my plate. “Crickets fried up in sesame sauce.” I tossed them into my mouth.

    Alana stared off into the distance. “Your son never told me about your…culinary…” She just gave up on finishing her sentence.

    “Oh, that’s because he wanted to surprise you. Not everyone can cook crickets as well as I can. It’s a gift. Although, I must say, MY dad’s buffalo head soufflé…”

    She gaped at him.

    “Now, that was something to brag about. I’ve tried to make it for Thanksgiving, but I just can’t get the brains whipped up into that light, fluffy—”

    She jumped out of her seat, startling me.

    “Is there a problem?” asked Dad.

    “Yes. I mean, no. I mean…I have to go. I can’t…I mean, uhhh…I’m sorry.”

    I rose from my seat. “Are you all right?”

    That’s when her expression turned hostile. She glared at me as if she were blaming me for something bad.

    “What? What is it?”

    “I’ll talk to you later.” She tossed a quick look at my dad, who had resumed eating his meal. “Or maybe I’ll never talk to you again. I don’t know. I gotta go.” She fled the scene.

    Dad shook his head. “I hope you aren’t too serious about her. She seems kind of flaky.” He dumped the rest of the crickets onto his plate and ate them all.

    1. jhowe

      This was highly original and entertaining. I would actually try one cricket but not an entire handful but only if it was fried in sesame sauce like these were. The buffalo head though, maybe not. Thanks for this light hearted little gem.

    2. Observer Tim

      Oh boy, dinner with the Addams family! I love the way you mixed the perfectly ordinary with the absolutely unusual here. And the non-comprehension on both sides was just perfect! Great job, Cosi! 🙂 🙂

      (At least they weren’t paying homage to Soylent Green like the last two responses.)

    3. Reaper

      Beautiful! You know there is a company right now that is selling bugs as protein because of the sources growing more limited. This made me think of that commercial. While I think many will look at the family as odd I would consider this a good test. People eat bugs all over the world, if you can’t give it a try there is no use dating you I say!

  22. Reaper

    So, I think this is part seventeen.

    In the Beginning – The Eucharist

    Chester knew questions were dangerous. Especially ones revolving around religion or ceremony or, worse, both. The treacherous nature of the footing around such grew more intense when the ladies, the term changed from girls to avoid confusion with their daughter, were near enough to turn the answer into a lesson. Yet, he let the question slip without thinking. The ladies perked up. They did not share Chester’s distaste for Nicole’s monologues.

    “It started before I was born. At first it was just secular holidays. My father felt people needed to be shown the foolishness of misusing the word and mocked for building monoliths to the greatness of man when the glory of God was right there. He said it could be celebrated every day. That it was insane to live mediocre, plebian lives that caused apathy to the miracles all around us. It was a travesty to trot out the Word only on special occasions and pretend they were celebrations when they were, in truth, wakes for our faith and souls.

    “It always ate at him that the state had more days honoring the people’s mindless obedience to it than God did for giving us free will to ignore him. It incensed him that even when you included the days for false heathen gods, Caesar still had more. So he ‘threw tradition in the face of the Sodomites and Gomorrahans.’

    “We had foie gras and vodka on Cinco de Mayo. On veteran’s day we ate frog legs and drank German beer. When that wasn’t enough for him we went out on memorial day and painted peace signs on the headstones of soldiers. The best one was his tradition of flying over an English family on the fourth of July. We took them on a tour of the white house, then threw coffee and firearms into the reflecting pool.

    “Eventually, God told him to remember the religious days and keep them holy. So while state days were great fun and rebellion Christmas, Easter, Passover, any day celebrating the true God really, became somber occasions. We celebrated as Christ did, by honoring the Eucharist. Now that he is gone, now that we have the children to think of, now that we have these ladies to train I would like to continue the tradition.”

    “Okay,” Chester sighed, “but can’t you go get the supplies yourself?”

    “You know that’s a man’s job.” She chided in the way she had. Chester could never determine if it was humorous or deadly.

    “But why a bum?” He couldn’t look her in the eyes when he asked. “If we’re fighting to change the world we shouldn’t attack the enemies of our enemies.”

    “Make sure it’s not the bum working with us! Choose another. Chester, you know why. Nobody misses vagrants or whores. When the movement gains steam, after a few more signs we will attack those holding the power. Once we can’t be stopped we can take the war directly to those standing in our way. Until then, we have to fly below the radar but our traditions must be observed.”

    He was about to argue. She stopped his protests with a kiss. The ladies oohed and ahed. He would do what she told him. As he always did. He just hoped his luck with murder was as good as the cop’s.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Ah, Reaper! This is my body, this is my blood! Some of the bizarre observances were pretty clever, and then this! Great job working the prompt into this horror story.

      1. Reaper

        Thanks Reatha. I thought about specifying her asking for a pint of blood and pound of flesh but decided to cut that and hope it came across without the heavier hand leading to it.

    2. jhowe

      This was interesting, informative and entertaining all at the same time. The impending ceremony you elude to is bound to get ugly. Nice job once again.

    3. JRSimmang

      I’m now wondering if Peter and these ladies are connected, since he’s been an accessory up to this point. It might be a great place to introduce him to Chester, Nicole and the baby (babies? I can’t remember if it’s twins or not) that’s on the way. Either way, the good ol’ Father and Chester are a lot more alike than they would care to admit.

      As for this excerpt, I’m enjoying the character building. We’re getting to see the conflict of mission and self. You’ve done an excellent job showing us this with all your characters so far.

      1. Reaper

        I was thinking Peter may have met Nicole in the in between but haven’t decided. It is time to introduce him to the family, just waiting on the right prompt. There are two kids but not twins. There was a two year time jump between the first pregnancy and the second one a bit back in the story. I was slightly alluding to the second child being born already but didn’t overtly state it because I thought at the last second that I might want to include that in an upcoming bit if it seems appropriate, so I used tricks of the camera to avoid stating whether or not she is still in the middle of that second pregnancy. O’Reilly and Chester do have more in common than either of them would like to admit. They are just doing things that they find morally questionable for different reasons, but that is semantics and a personal decision on which one is more valid, if either are, at this point. Thank you so much for all your kind words and comments.

    4. Observer Tim

      Oh cool, and I just complimented Kelly D for the typology and symbolism! This ties in perfectly to the story you’ve been sharing with us O these past months. It’s easy to see where daddy’s movement has slipped over the edge into heresy in extremis. I love the characterization and the explanation. Great job once again, Reaper! 🙂

      I shudder to think what would happen if the old guy had been ‘told’ to venerate the Saints…

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I’m so caught up in this, I can’t wait for next week. Has it beenf our monthsof prompts? It seems like three weeks. I thought I was used to the chill but apparently, I’m not.

        1. Reaper

          Thank you Kerry. In many ways I can’t wait for it either. I’m glad you’re caught up, it means I am doing my job. It has been but it doesn’t seem that long to me either. You know what they say though. Time flies when you’re having hobo for last supper. I am both happy and a little worried that I can continue to chill you. Don’t ever get used to it though, being able to stay someone who is shocked by the darker things is part of what makes you the amazing person you are.

      2. Reaper

        Thank you Tim. Nobody should be ventilating saints. 🙂 That would have been a bad one. I am often fascinated by what makes a person slip over the line into something that started as good and go very far from that. I guess that shows through in this though. Thank you again.

    5. regisundertow

      This took a sharp turn into very dark territory. Excellent stuff Patrick. My reaction was quite audible when I realized what the bum was going to be used for.

  23. 1andonlykellyd

    THE HUNTING IS GREAT!

    Bob has always loved living in the Town of Fort Supply, when people ask him how he can live in a town with a prison and mental facility, he always gives the same answer;

    “The Hunting is great!”

    Hunting is his one true passion, and with the town being surrounded by woods it is perfect, though he feels he doesn’t get to do it often enough. He had gone on his very first hunt with his father when he was only 5 years old and has loved it since that day. He loves the tracking, the waiting, the thrill of the kill, and most of all the food. If Bob had his way, he would be able to hunt enough to feed his family year round, but with his job as a High school principal he isn’t always able to but he likes to make sure there is fresh meat for holidays.

    Bob’s family has always been a little off when it comes to Holiday traditions. He remembers a particular fourth of July Celebration at his house, “You eat tacos on the fourth of July and Hamburgers on Cinco de Mayo”, his friend Phil had said , “How did your holidays get so whacky?”

    “Back in the late 80’s after the Oil boom went bust, Mom always made sure that we had food for our Celebrations, she said that it wasn’t what we ate, but who we were able to enjoy the specific holiday with. Even though times aren’t as tough now as they used to be, the meals kind of just stuck.” Bob replied. That had been 2 years ago, before Phil died of Pancreatic Cancer. It had struck hard and fast but to Bob it seem like yesterday.

    Today Bob has the rare opportunity to hunt. Hippity Hoppity Easter’s on its way! He thought to himself. He always has plenty of quiet time to think when he is out on a hunt, waiting for his prey. Finally, in his sights he sees what he is here for, he had been here hiding by the creek for 2 hours. This is his lucky spot, where they cross almost every time. He takes a slow deep breath, and as he exhales he pulls the trigger on his rifle. “There will be a feast this Easter!” he says quietly to himself and quickly goes about the business of getting his kill home to clean before the meat spoils.

    Finally at the end of the day, with everything cleaned and put away, he sits on the back porch with his arm around his wife watching the sun set. It seems to Bob so long ago that he had heard the Prison siren go off alerting the townspeople that there had been another escape and signaling Bob that it was time to hunt. Oh how he loved to hear the sound of that siren. It was like someone ringing the dinner bell to him

    1. Reaper

      This is creepy and well told. For me, you kind of telegraphed wht he was hunting, but that’s okay. I might suggest adding a line to the end about the next big holiday being one where he looked for an escapee from the asylum, kind of wrap the holidays to the different locations to feed into the twisted tradition of it. Not necessary but would add a little more creep to the vibe. Not that you need any.

    2. Observer Tim

      Wow, this took a sudden left turn into creepyville! You did an excellent job with the setup and the folk tale feel. I got suspicious when you wouldn’t mention what he was hunting, but it was a familiar darkness returning like an old friend. Great job! 🙂

      P.S. I find it strangely synchronistic to celebrate the death and resurrection of a man condemned as a criminal, whose body has been ritually eaten in years since, with a feast of… criminal. This is the dark side of typology, and really makes me think. Lovely hidden depth.

    3. regisundertow

      I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. I think the hallmark of a great story is that it feels like it’s always been there, but it still manages to surprise you. I got the impression things couldn’t have possibly gotten that bad to resort to eating people, but this makes the story all the more creepy.

  24. Trevor

    Word Count: 764

    Mary’s Thanksgiving

    If a stranger came into our house and saw what we had on our dinner table, they’d probably think we belonged in the psych ward. Instead of peas, we have animal crackers. Instead of corn bread, we have brownies. And in the center of the table, in place of a traditional Thanksgiving turkey, we have an elaborate cake that had to be ordered three weeks ahead of time.

    That’s the way it’s been ever since I was 13. But it’s never felt bizarre or unnatural. That’s because I remember how this unconventional tradition started.

    My little sister, Mary, was always an energetic girl. One minute, she would be lying on the couch, fiercely scribbling in her Mickey Mouse coloring book. The next, she would be racing outside to play on her swing set. She had a heart as big as her energy levels.

    But then Mary got sick. Leukemia. Like a hungry bat, it sucked her dry of her energy. For the next few months, she went back and forth between being confined to her bedroom and being confined to a cold hospital room. For almost a year, I watched my once vibrant sister wither away.

    We learned in early November that Mary didn’t have much time left. The new hit us hard. Mom spent the rest of the day in her bedroom and Dad just sat in the living room watching football, as if wanting to pretend our lives had not just been shattered. I didn’t know what to do, so I just sat in my room, staring at the pale white ceiling. I felt lost.

    Thanksgiving was coming around, but it didn’t look like we were going to celebrate. What did we have to be happy about? A week before the 26th, Mary got to come home. She was weak, but she still had a smile on her face. I was amazed by her resilience. Later that night, after dinner, Mary called me into her room.

    “Debby, am I going to be able to go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving?” Mary asked, her voice as soft as a whisper. I wasn’t sure how to answer her question. Usually, she could only stay home for a few days before she was hauled back to the hospital. I had to reply with a lame I Don’t Know. Slowly, Mary rose up from the bed and pointed at the desk across the room.

    “The drawer….” That was all Mary could muster before collapsing back onto the mountain of pillows on her bed. Curious, I walked over to the desk and open the small drawer built into it. Inside was an assortment of mechanical pencils, some loose change, an old pack of gum, and a small pink notebook. I took out the notebook and opened it to the first page. Written at the top of the page in red ink were the words, “Mary’s Thanksgiving Dinner”.

    Below, Mary wrote in great detail her ideal Thanksgiving meal. It was everything you’d expect from a little girl, consisting mostly of candy and junk food. It made me smile. Even in her darkest days, Mary kept her wild imagination.

    “Could we do that this year?” Mary asked me with a big smile. I smiled back at her, cheerful at the idea of spending Thanksgiving with Mary. But in her condition, I knew the idea was impossible.

    And I was right. That night, Mary’s condition worsened and she was rushed back to the hospital that night. The doctors tried to help her, but it was all in vain. Mary only lasted a few hours before she died. The only saving grace we had was that we were by her side when it happened. My mother burst into tears and the doctors had to sedate her.

    As I was getting ready for the funeral, I remember Mary’s notebook. I took it to the funeral and showed it to my family. That’s when Grandma got the idea.

    We would have Mary’s Thanksgiving dinner. In memory of her.

    The dinner was everything Mary had wanted, from the chocolate cake to the pink tablecloth. The mood was upbeat. We all smiled and talked of happy memories, as if Mary were still with us. In a way, she was.

    I still miss my sister. There are still days when my mother will spend hours in bed, overwhelmed by the memories of her youngest daughter. But whenever we sit at Grandma’s dinner table and have cake and Jolly Ranchers for Thanksgiving, it’s like Mary never left us.

    Every year, she’ll be with us in that dining room.

    1. Reaper

      I went through this noticing a tense shift here, a word there, little technical details that could be cleaned up. This is one of those stories though that is so raw and emotional that by the end I was near crying and smiling at the same time and every one of those technical things just didn’t matter any more. I couldn’t even tell you where they were, it was that good.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          You hit home hard with me. It’s been a little less than eight years since we lost Leslie to melanoma. My other four daughters still carry lady bugs to her resting place, Some are large and made of plastic and hang in an oak tree over her grave. Real ones appear to me in the strangest places. We visited our lake house a few years ago, just my wife and I. When I woke in the morning, there were half a dozen lady bugs sitting on the wall behind our headboard, inside our home. It brought tears and happiness at the same time. A very powerful and sweet story.

  25. jhowe

    I’m quite certain I’m the only sane one in the family. Is it wrong to want a traditional cookout on the Fourth of July? Is it normal for a teenage girl to tell her friends not to come by in case your dad says things like, “hey, who invited Miss America,” or “stick around, there’s a taco bar later for all the cool kids.” Give me a break.

    And then there’s my little brother Phillip who reads things like Tolstoy or Shakespeare or some other asinine piece of literary garbage. Would it kill him to read a comic book once in a while like a normal kid? What a freaking nerd.
    But my mother, she takes the cake. She won’t even shell out six grand for my boob job. I mean, my dad makes mega bucks at the foundry. How can I get on a reality show without big boobs? And she says I can borrow the car once in a while if I ask. My friend Lisa has her own car, a Mustang no less. But mom says we can’t afford it. Heck, just last week my dad worked two double shifts. Man.

    Then, get this; my mother praises Phillip for looking into college selections years in advance. And she does it in front of everyone at the taco party. If that wasn’t bad enough, Lisa wanted to take her car and score some weed from these guys she knows across town. She says one of them has the hots for me. Maybe she had a few drinks but my mother told me I couldn’t go because it wasn’t safe. Does she care anything about me?

    So I tell my dad about it and he backs her. I tell him I’m going anyway and he sends me to my room. Everyone sees the whole thing and the room is silent. So I run to Lisa’s car and we roar off and then my dad comes after us in his car. Lisa doesn’t drive the best when she’s drunk but I’m there to tell her what to do. I don’t see what the big deal is. Then the police get involved. I mean, she barely grazed the cop car, took off his side mirror is all.

    So my dad embarrasses me even further by talking to the cop and telling him he’d pay for the damage and get us home. He even tells the cop he’ll talk to Lisa’s parents. Good God. Then the cop lets us go and my dad actually goes through with it and I’m sure Lisa will never talk to me again.

    So now I’m convinced I’ve got the weirdest family in the history of America. There might be some family in Bangladesh that’s weirder but I doubt it. All this would resolve itself if I could just get bigger boobs.

    1. SheepCarrot

      Excellent jhowe! Perfectly captures the voice of a teenager who is certain her entire family is against her. I do believe you made me choke on my lunch with that first boob line though. I laughed through the whole story.

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      I think this is one of the most frightening story ever posted here because I suspect there are many young girls, and boys, who think and act like this one. Very good job of presenting this portrait of a totally self-absorbed, potentially dangerous, person.

    3. Observer Tim

      Real Housewives (of whereever) meets Married With Children! This is hilarious, JHowe, even more so because it’s somewhere inside the plausible range. You created a great voice for your MC and did a wonderful job of inverting the view of the family. 🙂

      1. Kerry Charlton

        A new reality show on County Music Television. I can see it now, Some three hundred pound hick with a straw hat chasing your MC through the woods trying to get a look-see for himself. After six daughters including one ‘step’ I find anything is plsusable. Quite a few chuckle lines here, jhowe.

  26. ReathaThomasOakley

    Night in the historic house museum, continued
    (500 words)

    “Tried to warn you, I tried, but you kept right on snooping. I don’t hold with violence, but the ladies, well, the ladies, that’s them coming up the stairs, say we gotta protect our branch of this family.”

    She hardly believe what the security guard was saying. This nice old man, retired grocer, was claiming to be her distant cousin, from their shared great, great, great grandfather’s second wife. Her maternal ancestor’s body, she was certain, was hidden behind this wall. Tonight, she had thought, she would finally know the truth, the truth her family had been seeking for generations.

    “What do you mean about, about the ladies?” She stammered, clutching the putty knife behind her back. She had also heard a noise on the stairs, but he was blocking her view of the doorway.

    “Miss, you oughta know about that, seein’ how you met them crazy women livin’ out Bithlo way. Ladies get mighty fierce you go low ratin’ their people.”

    “I just want the truth, and I need to get it soon…” She stopped, not knowing how much he knew. The sounds from the stairs had stopped. Where were the women he said he’d called?

    “Soon? ‘Fore the Long Night? Think I don’t know? Think I believed all that nonsense ’bout decorations for Christmas? All your stories ’bout why you was workin’ late? You didn’t fool me. I’m just a man, but I know how the ladies love when the sun turns.” Now, just over his shoulder, she could see that someone was standing there, in the half shadows. But, she didn’t think it was either the librarian, the guard’s sister, or the board president, his cousin. She had to keep him talking.

    “So, you know, you a man. I’m surprised. When my grandmother, the one you are so ready to disparage and dismiss, started teaching me, preparing me, after my mother’s death ten years ago, she said there were secrets to always keep from the men.” The person behind the guard was moving into the dim light of the attic.

    “Nobody told me nothin’, I kept my questions to myself, just listened. I know all ’bout the Long Night and the Long Day, know you been wantin’ to find what you think is here. But, why Miss, why?” He was so intent on his own words that he didn’t see the person now right behind him.

    “Why? I don’t think you know everything about the winter solstice,” she relaxed as the tension left her body. “It’s not all drunkenness and debauchery like some think. But, maybe your women folk didn’t know that. For my family it’s about forgiveness, even for our great, great, great grandfather Homer Hightower, and his sin.” She looked into the face of the smiling young woman, now fully in the light, with her extra teeth gleaming like beacons of hope.

    “Sir, I don’t think you’ve had the pleasure, so may I introduce you to my cousin, The Girl?”

    (Continuing story from last two weeks, which continued the story from BAGGAGE, from March 26, prompt.)

    1. Reaper

      I was wondering where you were going to go with this Reatha. I like the incorporation of the prompt. It was smooth and flawless and I like where this is going even more. Well written, this drew me in so completely.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thanks Reaper, when I read the prompt the entire episode was instantly there. I’m rereading all The Girl stories now that I think I have a Wiccan backstory to pull them all together.

    2. Observer Tim

      Wow. This is a nice continuation, Reatha. It’s obvious you know these characters well enough to take them anywhere. Great job, and a great feel to the story. 🙂

      There were a few places near the end where I got a bit lost as to who was speaking. Also, why is the MC introducing him to The Girl? I didn’t think she’d met her yet. Or I may just be making assumptions…

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Sounds like a story for an old radio drama, think ‘Suspense’, ‘Inner Sanctum’, or ‘Lights Out’ all radio dramas from the 40’s. All had wonderful sound effects added, including the ‘squeaking door’ from Inner Sanctum. I’m really enjoying this continuation series.

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Kerry, that’s it exactly! Stay tuned for next week’s exciting adventure. As part of our community theater work, my husband and I were involved in two radio program reenactments, I was Miss Brooks, and he produced several hundred sound effects. We’d like to do that again. I’d like to write a mystery set in a radio studio that incorporates an old script within the new script.

      2. ReathaThomasOakley

        OT, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m sure this is getting a bit convoluted, so a quick recap. MC and The Girl stories each started in 1960. They are first cousins. When MC’s mother died she learned her family history and went to meet Granny, Myrtis, and The Girl. It’s now 1970, MC had to go to school, etc., so she could get museum director job and find great, great, great granny, possibly hidden in the wall. Whew! I’m working to pull all the stories together, and depending on the next two weeks’ prompts, I hope to soon finish this saga.

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