Symbolic Animals

By A. Burnham Shute (Moby-Dick edition – C. H. Simonds Co) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Herman Melville’s nautical classic Moby Dick debuted in the US on November 14, 1851. As you may know, the story follows the adventures of a protagonist self-described as “Ishmael” as he sets out on the whaling ship Pequod with the obsessive Captain Ahab on a quest to exact revenge upon the albino sperm whale that bit off Ahab’s leg. 

The whale in the story is rich with symbolism, and its meaning varies depending on the chapter and the character describing it. To Ahab, the whale is a manifestation of evil. To Ishmael, it suggests a threatening reversal of the concept of whiteness as purity. The whale also variously represents imperialism, racial inequality, masculinity, the limitations of human understanding, and an unknownable God.

The Prompt: Write a story or a scene involving an animal that symbolizes something else. It can represent a concept, an experience, an emotion, a historical moment, or anything else you can think of.

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


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269 thoughts on “Symbolic Animals

  1. Tysheena Jackson

    In replacement for a story this week, I have a song recommendation that I think would fit this past week’s prompt fairly. The song is called “Howl” written by Jonsi and Alex. It is an instrumental piece. I recommend listening to it (until the end, it’s the best part) with your eyes closed. And then, if you’re up for it, let me know how you felt? What you saw and thought of?

    Best,
    Tye

  2. reallykenneth

    It was rarely a night that came with good sleep as Lenny would long for Marie the most then. On the most sleepless of nights, like tonight, Lenny would walk up the street to the bar and have a few drinks to lighten the shadows of loneliness. He could see it was packed and thought for a moment about heading back home but heard a familiar song playing from inside. Once he opened the door, the song hit his ears with certainty and filled his mind with memories. Lenny ordered his Gin and Tonic at the bar and headed out to the patio. The cool air and gentle breeze comforted him as he took a generous sip from his glass and dissolved into the song that was playing. He choked back the tears and washed them down with Gin, refusing to give in in public.

    Just as he gathered himself, the patio door opened behind him. An older woman walked through and took a seat at a table next to Lenny’s. She looked to be well into her fifties but still maintained the beauty of her younger years.

    “Hello” She greeted with a smile, before lighting her cigarette.

    Lenny nodded, not wanting to start a conversation. The two of them enjoyed their vices in silence, both seeming to be deep in thought, when a puppy came trotting up to the patio area. Her tail wagged back and forth and she let out a friendly bark before squeezing between the gates and sitting directly in front of Lenny.

    The woman took notice and smiled at the pup. “Well, she clearly likes you.” She said.

    Lenny never liked dogs and, although Marie loved them, he never gave in and got one. The pup stood on her hind legs and rested her paws and head on Lenny’s lap.

    “Not the dog loving type, I assume?” she asked.

    Lenny moved the dog off of him and explained, “It’s hard to love anything nowadays, knowing it’ll eventually leave you.”

    The puppy slowly walked over to the woman who put the cigarette out and picked her up. She began scratching behind the pup’s ear and replied, “I know what you mean.”

    Lenny felt a hint of anger rise in him. “Did your wife die on your anniversary, too?” He snared.

    The puppy let out a loud bark, sensing the oncoming tension.

    “My husband, actually” She said. “And it was on my birthday; seven years ago today.”
    Lenny’s head fell in shame. “Hey, look, I’m –“

    “It’s ok.” She interrupted. “Have a good night Mr.?” she asked, holding her hand out.

    “Lenny” he responded, shaking her hand.

    “Well, Lenny,” she said, as she placed the puppy next to his feet, “Take good care of her.”

    Lenny felt something as he watched her walk away. The pup sat in front of him, whimpering, possibly feeling the same way he did. Lenny looked at the woman again and asked, “How did you get over it?”

    The woman stopped and turned to Lenny, shooting a kind smile at him.
    “Meet me here tomorrow and I’ll tell you.”

    1. madeindetroit

      Very well done. Excellent narrative and dialogue. The holes in his heart could be filled in so many ways by that little pup. They obviously need each other and I would love to read what happens the next day.
      Great job!

  3. Bushkill

    Symbolic Animals
    (a little late, but I got it done this week.)

    My drive home from work fills me with unanswered questions and leaves me wondering why I continue this path. I work hard at my job and am the best corporate rep in my department. An analysis of the stats shows that I am more productive, by the dollar, than anyone else in my section. My closed files, representing completed tasks and business programs, is thicker than the others, and my client list and contact list are second to none.

    When corporate announced that it would look to elevate a member of the section into a middle management role, I thought there would be little doubt it was me. The rest of the cast just didn’t measure up.

    Wrong! I pull over and get out to look over the gorge I pass on the way home from work. It’s pretty this time of year.

    Jerry swooped in with a presentation the likes of which he has never offered for his clients or his company and the front office was caught unprepared. He carried them away with data digs into obscure minutia and a colorful whiz-bang and fully interactive presentation. Board members could even use their phones to respond to his questions which charted responses in real time and allowed him to direct his answers in the area of greatest need.

    I got flattened.

    It’s not that my current boss is bad, it’s that Jerry isn’t a company guy. Jerry is all about Jerry. He is last to arrive, first to leave, and always has a reason to not be at corporate events. That he just owned me on the presentation to the Board is, in a word, deflating. I felt cornered and trapped by my own failure to rise to the level needed and now, if I was lucky, they would keep me in my current position. But who knew? The company wants to get leaner and shed unwanted weight and a guy at my salary who is competent but underwhelming when it counts might have a hard time staying around when there are hungrier and cheaper options.

    I shake my head and lean forward on the short wall that separates me from the chasm and river below. A crash from the branches above me startles me and an eagle hurtles out of the trees in a steep dive. The massive creature, its species known for sitting in trees for hours waiting for the right quarry, is clearly on a mission.

    Racing beautifully on unseen currents of air it flairs its wings at the last second and stabs its talons into the river. When it flaps its wings for lift its talons pull a writhing fish from the water and the eagle flies to the other side of the river, its catch in hand before it disappears beyond the next ridge.

    Beautiful, really, but I think I’ll update my resume when I get home.

    1. SummerStars

      Was Jerry “swooping” in like a bird intentional? Because I liked that, I thought it was a clever connection. My guess is that either Jerry is the eagle and the narrator is the freshly caught fish, or the narrator is the eagle, biding his time. My favorite section was the part where you described Jerry and his presentation; “whiz-bangs,” and all that. I liked the description there a lot.

      1. Bushkill

        Yes Jerry swooped. He knows he doesn’t need to wow everyone, just the right ones. So he saw an opportunity and took it. And yes, the MC, is the fish, trapped and caught and likely to be out of a job all together.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Having been in two cut throat.occupations for more than a lot of people live, I have felt the claws ripping at my shoulders more than once. Tell him to shake it off for it probably happen again. Very.imptessive <Bushkill.

    2. Moirai-TQ

      Jerry pi55e5 me off. I, too, think merit is what we all should strive for and not just the whiz bangs. I’ve known lots of Jerrys. I also detest the. I’m that fish and been gutted too many times.

      Very moving, bushkill. Thank you for putting my feelings out there with you. Comrades in arms.

  4. Jsoul21

    At age 28, Bo had the fortune of never seeing combat. He had been a part of the U.S. Army for the past 8 years of his life and the most dangerous thing he’d done so far was jump out of plane. He was a simple graphic designer for the Army and although he was teased a lot for his job, he didn’t mind it at all. He respected those chose combat jobs, but Bo never had any desire any doing jobs involving him killing others. Obviously he is still a Soldier and his prepared to do whatever his country requires of him, but there is no need to go searching for it he would tell himself. That all changed when Bo came down on orders to Afghanistan. One of the Combat Cameramen was doing his job poorly, and the teams didn’t want him to go on missions with them. They were sending the private back, and bringing Bo in. Although Bo wasn’t Combat Camera, he had been training in photography for over a year, and his superiors trusted him to get the job done.
    Now Bo is sitting in a brief, listening to the Commander explain the mission to the team. They warn Bo that this particular mission is going to be dangerous and Bo didn’t have to go on this one if he didn’t want to. Of course Bo didn’t want to go, the team had already lost three people in the area they are going to. However, Bo believes in duty and personal courage over fear. He is soldier who will not shy away from any mission.
    “Of course I want to go sir,” he states.
    The night before the mission, Bo spends the rest of the night praying. Bo has always been a believer, constantly concern for his soul because of sins. He prays for himself, his fellow soldiers, and for the enemy.
    Early the next morning, Bo and the other soldiers set out for their destination. Hours after reaching their destination, Bo found himself wondering why is he in a place where everyone wants to kill him. Bullets were showering the wall he was hiding behind, as the soldiers around him were returning fire. Bo had been shakily taking pictures between fights, and Bo is working up the courage to peep over the wall and shoot back. Bo doesn’t want to kill anybody, but he doesn’t want to roll over and die either. He looks over wall, sees a target, asks for forgiveness, and pulls the trigger. He sees somebody fall before ducking backing to cover. His heart dropped. He’d done a lot of things wrong, but he never broke a Commandment. Fighting back tears, Bo continues to return fire until receives a bullet through his chest. He falls on his back, gasping for air as blood fills his lungs. In his final moments, Bo sees a white dove fly over and land on the roof of a building. Bo smiles and closes his eyes knowing peace.

  5. JosephFazzone

    You laughed at us.
    You pitied us.
    You disrupted our lives daily.
    You have boasted, you have bragged
    Nothing worth mentioning
    Nothing worth forcing us to listen to your tall tales.
    You are king, you would say.
    Listen or die!
    Yes, you are, King.
    The rains have been heavy, your majesty.
    You came to us for help.
    All your strength, not an ounce of it, can save you.
    But we can.
    We know a way
    A path too meek for your grandeur, or girth
    Had you not laughed, pitied, mocked, or bullied.
    Had you not devoured so many of us.
    We are not friends.
    This isn’t a world for friends.
    Your size is your weakness.
    We take no delight.
    The water comes.
    You are too big to fit through.
    Goodbye, King.
    We take no joy.
    You, and your roar will not be missed.
    Another will come just as awful as you.
    Someone always comes.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Joseph, this is as bleak as it gets and so true through history. Never the less the human spirit survives and the world is cold and silent, they that are considered unimportant will rise in their glory. You hint about the downtrodden having strength . However without love or passion. What a world you have painted here. So much.poverty and yet failure of the mighty to contain itself So much.symbalismthr rushing of water. The drowning of the world savee for the Arc

    2. Bushkill

      How forlorn your last line sounds. It reminds of the lines at the end of a classic 80’s movie:
      Lewis! Lewis!
      Murphy … I’m a mess.
      They’ll fix you. They fix everything.

      Just the deadpan, lack of emotional hope in the statement sells it all.

  6. Not-Only But-Also Riley

    He continuously had to adjust his grip on the gun to avoid it sliding out from his sweating hands. Gracefully, the deer moved through the trees, not even bothering to break a branch or crunch a leaf. He tried to do the same as he again hoisted the weapon back up into his palm.

    Staying quiet is the trick, his father had told him when he had first taken him out to hunt when he was only ten years old. Now he realized the irony in this advice. His father was the loudest person he would ever know. He talked loudly; his huge feet hit the ground loudly; his rough hands could slap something with a sound louder than thunder. Even his dress was loud. Bright red would scream from the flannels he always wore. Even the camouflage he wore while hunting seemed to do the opposite of what it was supposed to, and tear through the world surrounding it.

    He took his mind off of his father, when the deer suddenly leaped away. As he lowered the gun, he looked around to see what had caused the deers sudden decision, but he saw nothing.

    “Whatever,” he mumbled through his beard to himself, bringing the beer can next to him up to his lips. With the p*ss colored drink running over his tongue, his first hunting trip with his father again came to his mind.

    He remembered how at the end of the day he and his father had sat around a campfire, the cold that often comes with darkness biting at their uncovered fingers and faces. That was what he had assumed caused the redness of his father’s face until his tree trunk of an arm lifted to put a cold can in his son’s face.

    “Try it,” he smiled. They had been sitting in silence, until these dreadful words spilled from his mouth with the smell of coming home late, of his hunting buddies, and of mom being beat.

    What was he supposed to do? He had never been hit before, but the tower of a man that was his father was squeezing the can slightly too hard. He took the can, his father smiling wildly as he tipped it at his lips and let the p*ss spill into his throat.

    It burned. He dropped the can, and it spilled into the dirt as he coughed out what he had swallowed. His eyes watering, he looked up at his father, who had not moved, but the look in his eyes had become as loud as the rest of him.

    “My son. My own f*cking son. I knew you were a p*ssy. You couldn’t even shoot that deer in it’s f*cking head,” he spoke calmly, but he spit as he did. It was true. He hadn’t been able to shoot the deer that they had seen earlier that day, and his father hadn’t said a thing. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

    That night, they drove home in silence, and they got back earlier than they had planned to. He didn’t care. He was just happy that his father hadn’t hit him, because he knew that he could’ve.
    No, his father didn’t hit him until he was in college, and he came home to tell his parents that he was gay. He was old enough to fight back, but he didn’t bother to do anything. He just let him do it.
    Again he was taken out of his thoughts as the deer stepped back into view. And this time, he shot that deer in it’s f*cking head.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Wonderful descriptive, full of symbolism about the deer. How evil a portrait you paint of the father. However it is not as evil as it seems. The man has no soul or feeling, probably killed by the boy’s grandfather as the fault line matches though the dynasty of fault and despair.

  7. Kat

    The man had a peculiar taste in his mouth and spat every so often on the stained garage floor. He would then go back to swinging down his axe.

    “New in town? Why’d you decide to make this your home?” The man asked the small black spider nestled in the corner of his ceiling. He then nodded to an empty answer and smiled with rust covered teeth. After every swing he would look back at the spider and its new web, but the little creature was still.

    “Well, you ain’t a spy or the cops would have been on my tail by now,” The man tried grinding his axe through the stubborn material, “You feel at home here? Bet you do.” The man smiled again, but then shook his head with a grimace, gargled out mucus from his throat, and spit on the floor.

    “Air is flavored with you,” he said staring at his work, “gonna make my new little friend here leave.” The man looked up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and started to wonder what the web would feel like against his skin. He imagined falling in its trap, and wrapping around it by the delicate legs. Thinking of what his web would look like, he opened his eyes and looked down at his work. Messy.

    “Like it here, huh? Guess we are a lot a like. Is that why you decided to set up shop right where I do my work?” The man put down his axe with a clunk then leaned on the table with his dirty hand holding his head up. “Never had a friend before, and we both kinda are the same. We sure are scary, but I ain’t scared of you and you sure aren’t scared of me.”

    He closed his eyes again and thought about the scary things. It was less than a minute before he slammed his fists against the table. He looked up, “sorry,” he said and grabbed his axe. The man lifted it above his head, but before he could swing it down he shook his head, coughed and spit on the floor.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Heaven only knows what is on the floor. You have built a mystery only the reader’s imagination can surmise. The tone of your story bites hard and it is true to style. Never dreamed this prompt could bring out such.mystery and hurt.

    2. madeindetroit

      This is quite a character you’ve created here. loved the narrative and flow of the writing. The imagery was great. Also, the mannerisms and dialogue came together to tell a great story!

  8. Kerry Charlton

    A GIRL NAMED ANNA

    When our boys were about to enter their teens and Becky was fourteen, we had a family conference about having a dog for them to help raise. Our poodle was getting on in age and too small to rough house like the children wanted. We drove to the outskirts of Dallas to an established breeder of Samoyeds. If you’re not familiar, they look like white wolves, about the same size only with personality of a lollypop of kindness and gentle as a large dog can be.

    Bred for hundreds of years by the Samoyed tribes of Russia from huge wolves, the meanness and danger was bred out through generation after generations. It is said a man took more pride in his Samoyed than his wife. As an after fact, the men seemed to sparse out while the dogs increased in number.

    The kids named her Anastasia or Anna for short. She grew to 85 pounds, rather large foe a female but quick on her feet and a wonderful guard dog. Two years later we moved to San Antonio, and my last trip, I hooked a large trailer full of plants and left with Anna. She hd never been on a leash or ridden in a car, ever. And the drive was 285 miles south. I envisioned the worst.

    Upon opening the car door, I stood there wishing I didn’t have to pick 85 pounds of dog up and try to convince her to get in.

    “Are you ready to go girl?”, I announced. She jumped quickly into the passenger seat, sat up straight and stayed that way for three hours as she enjoyed the view. . I talked to her all the way to the rest stop abnd sang her favorite song, ’How dry I am.’ She howled in all the right places.

    San Antonio was quite different from Dallas and we struggled to adjust. Anna didn’t care and made friends with all the children and neighbors, the fire department and police department on the next street. Anna lived outside because she wanted to but one polite bark at the screen and we let her in. One Saturday we shopped across town and a fierce thunderstorm split the heavens. We headed home and no Anna. I drove the streets and saw no sight of her.

    Heartbroken, we sat in the sunroom and started making signs. The phone rang, Lanore answered and she spoke a moment,

    “Kerry, it‘s the fire department, They found her,. she had wandered in herself.

    “Okay, I’m on the way.”

    “Hold on a minute, the fire chief wants to talk to you.”

    ‘Gad.’ .I thought, . ‘Big ticket coming, stupid leash law.’

    “Mr. Charlton, can we keep her till five? The boys love Anna.”

    Six years went by, Anna started to limp on one leg.

    “A tumor“, the vet said. We can operate but it might come back”

    And it did. After three surgeries, “We can not keep doing this. If it comes back again………”

    “ I‘ll take good care of her,” I said and it did. We bandaged her leg so she could walk and she displayed no pain, until Halloween night. A costume party, I as Rhett Butler, Lanore was Scarlet. We came home early, Anna lay on the kitchen floor, the tumor had burst and she didn’t want to soil the carpet. We carried her and drove to an all-night clinic.

    A young lady was by herself running it,

    “I can operate and close the wound but you’ll have to assist me.”

    I held her for an hour and a half. She moved not a muscle as I talked to Anna the whole time. When I gathered her in my arms to take her home, the vet said,

    “I’ve never seen anyone this devoted and she knows how you feel.”

    Two weeks later, Anna went to heaven. At that time of my life, it was the worst thing that had ever happened. Later on I would find else wise. A love affair between a man and a dog? Oh no, it was a lesson in life I will never forget.

    ‘Give your all to humans and animals alike and it will come back to you, threefold.’

    Twenty nine years ago, I lost my teacher of what life is all about. I will never forget ‘A girl named Anna.‘

    /

    1. mydecember76

      This is a great story Kerry! I love dogs! This is a great story to show the bonds they build with their humans! Brought a tear to my eye, but also put a smile on my face. Thank you!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you for your kind words about an old man and his faithful companion. My wife and children all felt the same way. There was no limit to Anna’s love.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks Joseph, I wish you could have watched her as she pulled our youngest son up and down the streets of Dallas. Jeff holding on to a long leash and Anna running at three quarters speed so he didn’t fall off his skateboard.

    2. J.Fujimaru

      What a dog! Strong and with a warm heart. This is such a lovely story. I liked the drive scene from Dallas to San Antonio. ” She howled in all the right places!” My uncle has a dog who sings along to any musical accompaniment. They also live in Texas.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thanks J, it was a marvel to me being her first trip in a car
        Children small and under six would knock on our door and ask,
        “Can Anna come out and play?”

  9. mydecember76

    Thank you to everyone who reviews my writing! I hope it is enjoyable!
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________
    The fox guides me through night, the stink of the town permeating my nostrils and coating my mouth. This is the smell that bears sickness, the smell of death and corruption of the soul. Knowing stealth was vital for these undertakings, we crept along the backsides of the buildings. Passing the governance house and the church, I am reminded of the moral and ethical inadequacies that have called me. Peering between the buildings, I can see littered throughout the town, brothels, gambling houses and taverns. Neighboring each one were numerous ramshackle dwellings crowded on top of one another. These dens fashioned of varying combinations of wood, clothing and miscellaneous throw away items would of course shelter the poor. But it wasn’t the families in the shanty houses that were our concern this night; only the large house at the edge of town.

    Quietly we move with purpose to the task ahead. I freeze as voices crash through the heaviness of the cold. Two town guards, too occupied in conversation to notice us, were blocking the only entry. I creep closer to them and glance at the fox on its hind legs regarding the situation. It returns my look and sprints at the guards, through the legs of one, then the other and races toward the opposite end of town, the guards yelling and giving chase.

    I pull the iron pick and steel dagger from my coat and open the door lock. Slipping inside, I carefully close the heavy wooden door. Taking the stairs to the second level, I peer through the crack in the door to the first room. Many nights, the girl in this room cries in vain for mercy, pleading for the pain to stop. Tonight she sleeps peacefully, the fox curled up next to her. I clear my throat and the fox opens its eyes, stares at me, but doesn’t move. A slight smile and a second quiet “ahem” brings the fox off the bed.

    We make our way down the hallway to their room. Hesitating at the door to be sure both are asleep, I step inside. The bed is against the far wall, the fireplace opposite its orange shadows flickering across the room. I could just make out his face propped up high as if some great human nobility in the clouds. I draw my weapon. It did not matter if he felt remorse. It no longer mattered that both the church and the court fail to protect the girl. And, while the mother peacefully sleeps in all of her complicity on the other side, I tighten my grip on the heavy handle and lean over him. I wait for the glint of the steel shaft in the firelight and quickly push my fist into his mouth at the same time ramming the steel into the base of his skull. If you call upon mercy, it shall be given. Returning to the cold night, we walk the path of redemption.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      You took me in with the first sentence and didn’t let me go to the last. It is a brutal revenge on the killer who may or may not be related to the girt
      I think.perhaps he is or he wouldn’t take the task otherwise. The style is fast. Accurate in.it’s description and what makes it terrifying is the matter of style doing the murder. Sure of it mark.

      1. mydecember76

        Thank you Kerry! I appreciate the time you took to read this! What I had in mind was that the killer and fox were one. The animal aspect guiding the human aspect to bring mercy, not for the abusive father, but for the little girl who had prayed, or called, for it. Not sure that came across, but that is what was in my brain. I would value your opinion if there are any changes you can suggest.

    2. SummerStars

      I thought this was a really interesting way to take the prompt! I like the connection between the fox and the killer; it seems like it’s leading him to what he needs to do next, which is really intriguing. I wasn’t expecting an assassination, but I really like the way the story ended.

    3. J.Fujimaru

      The town you’ve described is the perfect setting for corruption! Terrifying scene! I’m not sure I would want to know what happened to the girl… But then again I’m curious.

  10. SummerStars

    She has a necklace, a silver necklace.

    It hangs around her neck daily. She tugs and teases the charm that nestles in the hollow of her throat. Daily. She tweaks it in the line at the coffee shop. The shop is bright and warm and loud and the coffee-donut air is comforting (almost) but she can’t think about it. She can’t feel it. There are three people in front of her to order. She is rehearsing her lines. For the play. For what to say. (What do people say, she wonders. How do I look like them?). And so her fingers are on the charm of her necklace.

    Tweaking, pulling, sliding.

    Her chest feels tight. Like someone took all the warm buoyant air of the café and stuffed it in her lungs and now it has nowhere to go. It just pushes at her insides. There is one person in front of her now and he is leaving. She is walking forward and trying to remember to breathe and speak at the same time.

    She feels like exploding.

    The charm on her silver necklace is a bird. It hangs around her neck.

    Daily.

    She taps her fingers in class. Sometimes. Other times she is twisting them into her hair. Up and

    Down. Up and

    Down.

    Occasionally it is her heel tapping on the floor. But only during the times when her legs are not tightly wrapped up instead. Like cinnamon sticks. Or the stripes on a candy cane. Tight still twirling coiling.
    During class she is not tapping or twisting or coiling. She is writing. Writing helps. She listens. Intent. Complete utter mental occupation to erase the facts from her memory
    .
    Fact one. She is nervous. It is hard to breathe like it was hard to breathe in the coffee shop. She writes and listens and does everything and anything except dwell on the thought that is whispering in the back of her mind. The thought that won’t go away. The what-will-you-do-what-will-you-do-if thought. The thought that rolls around and around her head like a penny in a tube.

    Fact two. She is nervous but that is an understatement. She is nervous because of the what-will-you-do thought, the thought of oh-my-God-please-don’t-make-me-do-it. The prayer she feels with every tight still twirling coiling inch of her. The prayer that begs anyone listening not to make her talk because every part of her is tight and coiling with the fact that she cannot do it.

    Fact three. The silver spread-winged bird on her necklace is heavy. It hangs around her neck. Daily.
    And that is her life. Day-dawn to day-dusk. Sun rise and sun fall. Down with the clouds and up with the stars. That is to say, that is her life. Always.

    And she has a necklace. A silver necklace.

    It hangs around her neck. Bird nestled in the hollow of her throat.

    It makes its nest there.

    Daily.

    1. mydecember76

      I enjoyed this! Very poetic! Sort of makes me think of anxiety. I imagine the bird “nestled in the hollow of her throat” as something akin to a sparrow or a song bird. Do you know what kind of bird it is?

    2. madeindetroit

      What a phenomenal job symbolizing the silver necklace wrapping around the mc’s throat, choking the life out of her. The anxiety and pain this character is experiencing is brought to the surface by a ‘bird nestled in the hollow of her throat’. You describe this feeling so powerfully. Who hasn’t been there? Great writing!

    3. Bushkill

      Nice writing and solid imagery with the choker, the albatross, and the chain. imprisoned she is. And how will she order her tea and scone when her turn at the counter comes?

    4. J.Fujimaru

      The choker and the bird are great contrasting symbols. The bird reminds me of freedom and voice. The choker makes me feel restricted and choked up. The MCs anxiety becomes a physical sensation because of the way you write about that choker. Very poetic!

  11. 1andonlykellyd

    Emma sat, staring ahead at nothing in particular. The television was on -as usual- but there was no programming of much interest to her lately. It had been 6 months since the accident that paralyzed her and she was falling deeper and deeper in to depression.

    She noticed a black flash from the window next to her chair and with great excitement, she quickly wheeled her chair to the front door of her house. The full panel of Plexiglas gave her a better view of the yard, though she rarely looked out.

    Duke’s out again! She thought to her herself, watching in awe as he darted here and there in a frenzy of exhilaration at his latest escape. Oh! How she loved to watch him run. His slick onyx coat glistened in the warm summer sun. His strong leg muscles worked their hardest flexing and lengthening as he bounded to the next yard.

    Duke’s owner, Bob was next, frantic in his pursuit, and stumbling momentarily over the sidewalk as he tried to wrangle his mischievous pooch. Finally Bob was able to capture his escapee and lead him back to his yard, where he placed him in his enclosure making extra sure that the fence closed and latched.

    Emma sighed and moved her chair back, away from the door.

    1. 1andonlykellyd

      Thanks for the comments! I wanted to keep it simple and hoped that I wasn’t being too obvious. I haven’t posted or written here for almost a year and a half! Trying to get back in the swing of things.

  12. Michelle F.

    Cold chills run up her legs as her bare feet hit the kitchen tile. She flips the switch. Light painfully pierces the darkness. Her face recoils. She slams her eyelids shut. Slowly she peaks between her crusted eyelashes.

    “Son of a biscuit!” she cries in pain gazing around the kitchen. “Well, why did I come in here?” Then she spies it sitting on the counter playfully hiding behind last night’s dirty dishes. A merciful sense of peace washes over her as she steps closer to her precious coffeemaker. Her hand blissfully reaches for the coffeepot. The suddenly bang! Crash! Bruno comes running in fright. She can hear his nails hitting the tile floor reminding her she has yet again forgotten to clip the dog’s nails. “Add it to the list,” she murmurs. Immediately behind the dog, comes her daughter, Kendra, squealing unintelligibly.

    “Mom! Help. . . I’m going to throw up!” Kendra squawks out in a decibel clearly disturbing the dog. Bruno chases his nub of a tail three times, gives up and then hides himself under the woman’s robe.

    “Bruno! Stop it!” she commands. He doesn’t listen. “Kendra, what is going on? Go to the bathroom if you are going to throw up!” She shouts while pushing Kendra towards a more acceptable location to vomit.

    “Mom, stop. I’m not really going to throw up. There’s a roach! A roach in my room,” Kendra cries.

    “Oh, for crying out loud, Kendra, why didn’t you just kill it?”

    “I tried, but I missed and then it chased after me. After both of us.”

    Bruno hides his head beneath a paw and lets out a shameful moan.

    Frantically running from his room with one leg still in his Star Wars pajamas and the other empty pant leg dragging behind him like a runaway fire hose, Joshua blurts out in panic, “Wait! Don’t kill it!!! Don’t kill Tommy!”

    “It has a name? You named a roach!?!” the woman questions

    “I found him last night, and I secured him in a box. Well, I thought I had secured him.”

    “Listen, you little dip. . .”

    “Kendra!” the woman interrupts as she heads towards Kendra’s room. The girl quietly stares at Joshua and slices her finger across her neck.

    “Show me where the roach was,” the woman demands from Kendra’s room.

    “Don’t kill him,” Joshua pleads, “He’s my science experiment.”

    “You’re going to be my science experiment if you don’t shut up!”

    “Kendra!” the woman scolds. “Where,” she shouts as she grabs a shoe from Kendra’s floor.

    “On my desk.”

    In horror the woman slowly absorbs the contents of the desktop. Empty soda cans are strewn about. A half eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich teeters delicately on the edge of a crumb filled plate. A dirty soccer jersey hangs over the back of a chair barely hiding a well worn, hole filled bra.

    “Kendra Dianne Jones!!!”

    “What,” Kendra asks in mock innocence.

    “No wonder you found a roach in your room! There are probably hundreds of them in this mess!”

    “Oh, Mom! Now I really am going to throw up!” Kendra cries as she runs from the room with Bruno following close behind.

    Joshua’s eyes light up with pure ecstasy, “Really, hundreds?”

    “Joshua, get out! Go get ready for school! You too, Kendra, the bus will be here any minute!” she shouts as she scans the room for the offending roach. “Kendra, I don’t see it.”

    “Tommy!” Joshua corrects

    “Tommy. I don’t see Tommy.” The woman shuffles back to the kitchen with a very determined focus towards her coffeemaker.

    “Bye, Mom,” Kendra calls as she runs out the door.

    “Mom, where’s my lunch?” Joshua asks.

    “Oh, crapola! I forgot.” The woman turns from her coffeemaker to face Joshua.

    “Mom, language.” He hands the woman a box on his way out the door. “If you see Tommy put him in this. I made the air holes smaller this time.”

    The woman begrudgingly takes the box. Finally, the house is quiet. The woman curiously surveys the kitchen. Then she sees it, like a beacon in the darkness, a holy light from heaven, the coffeemaker right where she had left it. Peace, once again, mercifully washes over her. The woman firmly grabs the handle of the carafe. Suddenly she is assaulted with a cold faint tickle on her hand. Frozen in fear, she slowly lowers her gaze. Then she sees him securely perched on her hand, brazenly staring at her. Tommy twitches his antenna as if to say, “Your move, woman, your move.”

    The woman releases a primal scream and hurls the coffeepot across the tile floor. The carafe crashes into a myriad of shiny shards. She sinks to the floor whimpering in defeat. The pile of shards gently shakes, and like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Tommy emerges. Atop the pile, Tommy sits surveying the landscape of the room. Then slowly with victory in his steps, he saunters down the pile and into Kendra’s room.

    1. JRSimmang

      Michelle, you hit the nail on the head with this one. The interactions between Joshua and Kendra are spot on, and I enjoyed Mama Jones’s internal dialogue. I do wonder why everyone else was named while she wasn’t. Was that an intentional choice?

  13. Jennifer Park

    [The Opening of the Darth Barbara saga.]

    Chapter 1. The Discovery

    Every time she returned to Earth, Subambassador Min Kyohyeong made time to visit Abgujeong, her old college haunt. This was a neighborhood that had long been in decline, where even the roving masses of street urchins dared not go into the crumbling highrises. Miraculously, her favorite café was still in operation. She always ordered a cup of hongcha.

    In the past few years, packs of dogs had displaced the orphans as the dominant life form in the neighborhood. This seemed even more miraculous, as there was not nearly enough food-generating economic activity on which these scavengers could depend.

    It seemed, the more powerfully Earth dominated the galaxy, the more these backwood neighborhoods declined.

    Through the window, the Subambassador watched a pack of dogs as they confronted a hapless street merchant, pushing his inedible wares in a hand cart. The merchant, not having much of a choice, stood his ground, and snarled back at the head of the pack.

    The large mutt seemed to consider his options, and decided to back off, and led the pack away to their next prey.

    The merchant did not seem to be relieved by this at all, and looked around nervously.

    The Subambassador’s attention shifted away.

    ====================

    The sudden and bark-heavy return of the pack of dogs got the Subambassador’s attention. They were going after a group of well-dressed people coming out of a shop. Gangsters. Parasites sucking off what little life people were squeezing out of the declining economy.

    The gangsters instinctively reached for their weapons, but something made them stop. The mutt-leader made a gesture that silenced the pack, and approached the best dressed of the gangsters, one leader to another, and made an odd gesture with his head.

    The gangster looked up, to his left, and gave a quick nod.

    The Subambassador frowned. That was a nod of deference. To whom?

    As if on signal, the pack of dogs withdrew again, and dashed across the street. The Subambassador tried to see where they were headed, but could not. It was as if they were responding to a higher authority, and the face of the head-mutt brightened as he…

    There was a terrifying screech.

    It was from the kind of wheeled jalopy that could only be found in these backwoods. It was trying not to hit the dogs, but had failed, and crushed the head dog.

    The jalopy did not have any passengers, and the people along the street mostly ignored the accident. In fact, since there was no law enforcement action, the jalopy soon continued along its way.

    The pack of dogs seemed at a loss. They circled around their leader’s dead body, sniffing, whining, pawing.

    Then, just as suddenly, one of the dogs gave out a loud bark, and started rushing off.

    A new leader had emerged, and she was heading toward her higher authority.

    The Subambassador left the café in a hurry, to see where they were headed.

    To her surprise, there stood a child.

    1. J.Fujimaru

      Jennifer, thank you for the Darth Barbara intro story! I’m looking forward to seeing how this will connect to the others. The scene with the dogs is an intriguing beginning!

      By “Subambassador” perhaps you mean “Chargé d’affaires.” During the ambassador’s absence the Minister (or Consul for smaller missions) becomes the head of the mission. They’re often just called “chargé.”

  14. Moirai-TQ

    Reworked. Hope you like it.
    ++++++++++++++
    The vulture was back. He sat planted on her chest, making it hard for her to breath, his feet feeling like talons biting into her skin. His head hanging from his hooked neck like a pendulum of a grandfather clock. His red eyes stared into her eyes daring her to move him. She wasn’t able to get him to move. He won this battle that night.

    That night, Kelsey’s dreams bothered her. She was running and never getting away from whatever was chasing her. She wanted to stand her ground, but didn’t feel like she had that extra bit to try to stake. At least whatever it was wasn’t overtaking her. She did feel its hot breath on her neck and that irritated her. She just couldn’t run any faster.

    A couple of weeks later, that damned vulture was back. Kelsey glared at it like she was going to twist its ugly head from its fleshy neck. Just twist and pull until its head was in one hand and the neck was in the other. The vulture tried to raise its right eyebrow to mock her, but it wouldn’t go up. He knew she was getting stronger. She willed it to get off her chest and fly away. The vulture started to lose its grip; its feet were sliding down her torso. The vulture stopped himself close to her navel and dug in.

    The next afternoon, Kelsey sat at the table with her soon-to-be ex-husband to finalize the details about the child support and visitation visits. She dreaded these meetings, as he was used to her being a doormat and giving in to his demands. She took a deep breath and calmly stated what she wanted and why. She’d had advice from the local legal aid group as to what was normal for his income level; she assumed he had received similar advice from his lawyer. He agreed with the child support, but started to argue about visitations. Kelsey took a digital recorder out of her purse and set it on the table.

    “What is that!?” demanded Mitch.

    “It’s a digital recorder. This way we don’t have to take notes. I’ll get it transcribed and send you a pdf of the transcription and an mp3 of the recording. That way, there’ll be no mis-understanding as to what we agreed upon.” This was one of his tricks, as he would try to get he flustered during an argument and then provide a recording of it. She learned early on that he recorded all their conversations.

    “I want the kids every other weekend and every Wednesday. I’m sure you could use a break from your work and the hassle of the kids. You know how annoying children can be,” said Mitch. He was trying to push her buttons.

    Grrrrrr Kelsey thought. I won’t dignify that comment. “I agree with the every other weekend, but I’d like to keep them during the week. If you have a special event or something like that, then we can discuss those. Once the kids get used to us not living together and the divorce, we can talk again about different visitations.”

    “Why are you preventing me from seeing my kids? You are such a bi7ch!” Mitch’s face darkened with rage.

    “Mitch, I don’t appreciate you calling me names. If we cannot discuss this calmly, then I will bring my lawyer into the discussion. Remember, you agreed to pay the divorce fees.” Kelsey took a deep breath and continued. “I’d also like you to remember that you weren’t home a lot with me and the kids. Certainly not for their birthdays or important events in their lives. I’m not stopping you now. Your relationship with our children will be up to you. I won’t bad-mouth you in front of them and expect the same level of respect from you.” She waited and looked at him to acknowledge what she said. She held her ground. She was outwardly calm, but inwardly a mess. She also wanted to throttle Mitch for being such a controlling SOB. She was very happy to be out of that marriage.

    His face started to return to normal, but he was still irritated. He nodded his head, as he knew better than to speak. This new and assertive Kelsey didn’t please him. He also knew she would follow through with what she said.

    She took another deep breath. “OK. For holidays. I like the idea of every other holiday and then switching the next year. For Christmas, we can take turns with the 24th and 25th. How does that sound?”

    Mitch started to say something snarky; his face getting a little red. Kelsey raised one of her eyebrows ever so slightly. Mitch nodded and added, “I’ll take the 25th this year.” Kelsey nodded in agreement and said it was OK.

    “Birthdays. If they fall during the week, then I get them, and you’ll get them the next weekend. This is even if it’s not your scheduled weekend. If the birthday falls on the weekend, then you still get them on that weekend, even if it’s not your scheduled weekend. Does that sound OK?”

    Again Mitch nodded. He wanted to push for more, but he also knew she was right. He’d never let her know that, as he would appear weak. He always had to be right in front of her. He was dismayed at the new Kelsey sitting across the table from him. Women were supposed to be weak.

    That night, the vulture was sitting on her knees. Its feet were not pressed into her skin. Her eyes were still strong and glaring at it. She told it to just go away and not come back.

    1. JRSimmang

      Moirai, I’m sure it’s not much fun reliving the emotion of this time in your life, and all I have to say is thank you for sharing. I think the dialogue added that much needed punch, and there’s a new depth to Mitch present now. Thanks again!

    2. J.Fujimaru

      Great rewrite! The dialogue brings a lot to the scene: tension, emotion, backstory, and clarity. Thank you for sharing a difficult personal story with us. I was young when my mother went through this, but I can imagine how brutal of an experience it can be just from having watched her.

  15. RafTriesToWrite

    “Look at that sloth momma.” I tugged her dress. The yellow one she wore on church when my classmate Andy tripped on the mud puddle on the way out of church. It was a fun day.

    “This is an all sloth zoo baby.” Momma said to me something about sloths, something about why they’re always so slow. I forgot what it was, but I know it was funny.

    “Oh. What does that mean momma?” I tried asking, maybe she might jog my memory.

    “It means you’re tired baby.” No, that’s not it momma.

    “But you said so yourself momma, we’re in a zoo. Plus I’m not tired at all.” I contested. We started walking to other places that had different sizes of sloths.

    “Oh baby.” She gave me that look. That look that she always gave me many years ago, back when I was 6. It’s the same look she gave papa on her wedding photos. Then she hugged me and I woke up crying.

    “Hey, hey sweetie. What’s the matter?” My 38 year old Papa barges in. He always does that whenever I’m in trouble.

    “It’s the same dream again papa. The sloths, the zoo, momma and her dress.” Papa took some tissues from my stash and wiped my tears.

    “Oh sweety. I miss her too.” He sat on my bed beside me, hugged me then tucked me in. It was 4 in the morning and I couldn’t sleep anymore.

    I remember now what momma told me when we visited the sloths that day. The reason why they were so slow is because they’re really lazy like me when momma says I have to wipe the dishes dry. I hated that.

    Though, I never really associated sloths with laziness at all.

    I associated sloths with death more than laziness. That was my first impression on sloths, I thought sloths were dead because they don’t move much at all. I cried the first time I saw a sloth because I thought it was dead, only to know later on that they just don’t move much.

    Just like momma, that day at the hospital. She looked like a sloth, lifeless and dull. I wish my curiosity hadn’t gotten the better of me. Seeing your momma “go” like that at such a young age is just too much for a kid.

    1. JRSimmang

      What an interesting “symbolic animal”, Raf. At first, I could only assume where you were headed, but by the end I completely understood. In a way, the sloth is a lot like our ability to get over death at such a young age.

  16. Big Tastey

    He grew up the middle child in a family of seven. Isolated on the family farm high up on a hill, he didn’t have anyone close in age to play with, but he was never alone.

    He ran through tall grass while startled grasshoppers jumped in the air around him. He followed butterflies in flowered meadows as they floated from petal to petal. Surrounded by chestnuts, he watched as squirrels spread their limbs and flew from branch to branch. He tended to his apple tree high in the hills, watching for worms, and quickly picking up any fallen apples before they spoiled.

    During his tenth summer he created a game. He called it the listening game. The game was simple to play. Listen for a sound, then look around and find the source of the sound. Once you found it, go on to the next sound until you’ve found them all.

    He sat cross-legged in short grass where he wouldn’t be disturbed. The first sounds he heard were from the tree shading him from the sun. He watched it sway in the wind, and he matched every movement of its branches to their corresponding sounds, keeping track of each, becoming confused every now and then, but then going back and recounting each sound until he knew every sound from the tree. He filed them away in his mind and ignored them as he searched for more sounds farther away.

    He played the game for weeks and his hearing grew better with each passing day until the day came when he heard everything around him. Content with winning the game he sat with his eyes closed in the silence he had built deep within himself. Then he heard a new, faint sound. It might have been a feeling it was so soft. He slowly turned his head to try and locate its source. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked down at his feet. The source of the soft sound was there in the grass. He heard a thump and then another. He understood what was happening.

    By his feet in the grass a line of ants were carrying bits of leaves home to feed their young. An ant struggled to climb over a twig and when it did, it fell to the other side with a thump. He matched every movement of the ants to their corresponding sound. He listened to the marching of the ants.

    He realized the ants were ignoring him as they went about their lives. Their single purpose was to stay alive, and their whole life would be lived in the short grass. His finger, thrust into their path, was only an obstacle for them to overcome. They would never know the broader world or the wonders it possessed.

    Slowly he understood more. He wondered what godly finger might be in his own path. Would he recognize it for what it was? Or would he simply march along with the ants.

    1. J.Fujimaru

      Next time someone asks me what my spirit animal is, I’ll say ant.

      This reminds me of the work of photographer Andreas Gursky; he makes us feel like ants. His setting is urban, whereas yours is nature.

      And I agree with JR. This piece is intriguing and I can see this becoming part of a bigger story. A lot of themes you can explore here.

          1. rlk67

            Thanks. I’m more intrigued than anything. I wonder which word triggered their system. It’s a complete mystery to me, and not really worth the trouble. The absence of another cat story won’t turn the world over.

  17. JRSimmang

    WE, CANNIBAL

    A curiosity, as I sat perched on the Trondelag, this weather. It was unseasonably cold, also unreasonably cold, and the jacket and undergarments I brought with me were poor insulators.

    “I see the first of them, sir,” Izzy whispered over the breeze.

    “Where?”

    “There.” He pointed over the crest of the hill at the writhing mass of Norway lemmings.

    Admittedly, it was a Disney movie that piqued my interest in the rodent. At first, the project concerned the singular mentality of the lemming colony. Then, I noticed a unique trait among several of them. It was a small population at first, then more surfaced.

    On their chests, smack in the middle of their forelegs, was a deep merlot spot. Simple evolution, I suppose, a way of separating one faction from the other. The odd thing was the spots have been appearing within generations, without the benefit of natural selection, without the benefit of macroevolution. At first I thought they were sterile, a trait not uncommon in Darwin’s ant species, and they too would sacrifice themselves first at the sign of predators. However, this proved to not be the case. They turned out to be bait for predators instead, then, in a drastic turn, would lead the predators to the unmarked lemmings and escape with their lives. The unmarked lemmings, then wound up as feast for the ermines and weasels who have been led en masse to the susceptible creature.

    “Do we begin tagging, sir?” asked Izzy, his binoculars dangling from his neck.

    “Yes. Let’s start by casting a large net, one that’ll cover from here to that promontory.”

    My team started setting up the digital readout scales and interference nets, and I walked toward the rodents. Something caught my eye about 200 yards to the northeast.

    There was a congregation of lemmings, totaling somewhere near three dozen encircling a lone lemming. I stooped behind a boulder, grabbed my notebook and pen, and held up my recording binoculars.

    Each of the lemmings in the circle had that same crest. The one in the middle was missing it.

    Curious behavior. The lemming in the middle was constructing a primitive structure, stones mixed with twigs. He placed one stone on top of the existing pile. The lemmings in the circle started yapping at him, and one of them rushed in to knock the stone off. Another jumped in to remove another. Then another. Then another until the stone pile was removed.

    The lemming in the middle had already gathered another stone and placed it back where his pile once stood. He retreated and scrounged around for another.

    Finding one that satisfied him, he shuffled it to the pile.

    Again, there was chatter, yapping, and the two stones were removed from the pile.

    The circle became tighter around the lone lemming, who was paying no mind to the crowd of lemmings, which had grown in number now estimated to be near 70. I furiously scribbled notes.

    The circle shrunk tighter, tighter, and tighter around the lemming without the mark. My heart was racing, faster, faster, as the circle became a mass, and the mass writhed and squeaked and tore through the silence of the hills.

    The wind stopped.

    And in the pure tranquility, the crowd thinned, and what remained in the center of the circle was a crimson pool.

    Cannibal.

    Survival of the fittest? I wrote.

    Negative. Survival of the foolish.

    Lemmings do not truly exhibit colony mind, but seek to eradicate they who do not conform.

    “We’re finished,” radioed Izzy.

    I jumped, startled from my thoughts, and grabbed at my walkie-talkie. “Forget it,” I said. “Pack it up. It’s a hopeless cause, and the only hope we have is that they starve themselves out.”

    I stood, walked on wobbly legs over to the dead. I wondered how many more had faced this same end, and how many more would face it in the months to come. Humans, what a gift we have to witness the wonders of nature.

    -JR Simmang

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Whow, Wow, how visual can a story be? You just showed us. Imagine a brood of Democrats ana a gaggle of Republicans acting like this. Just open the door to Congress and get a good look. You weren’t by any chance going political, were you?

    1. J.Fujimaru

      As a child, I was traumatized by hamster cannibalism. I saw one on the cage floor sprawled out like a tiger rug, skinned! Little rodents are terrifying! I have more guts now and I can handle a bit of morbidity so I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Could this be a series? Evolutionary biologist observes odd behavior in animals and looses faith in mankind? I would definitely read it.

      1. JRSimmang

        The same thing happened to me with a pair of rats I had. I thought I had to females, but when little baby rats started showing up, I knew it was time to have “the chat” with my parents. Then, when one of the babies turned into an amuse-bouche, I knew I had to have a very different “the chat” with my parents. They assured me they didn’t eat a sibling I didn’t know I had.

        I may be tempted to continue this. We’ll see if I can bring the MC back next prompt (hint, hint, Jess). You’ve given me some inspiration, JF.

    2. Big Tastey

      thank you for commenting on my story JR. I found your story to have an interesting concept on conformity. By saying ‘Survival of the foolish.’ I take it you’re making the argument that there is strength in diversity? I’m not the brightest bulb in the pack, so if I got it wrong I apologize. I also think linearly, so the Yoga-speak first sentence confused me, but after re-reading I liked it.

    3. GrahamLewis

      Years ago I had a white rat, a rescue rat from a college psych class. My daughter had a pair of hamsters. I kept the hamster cage on top of the rat’s wire cage. One night a hamster escaped. The rat grabbed him, pulled him into the cage, and you can guess the rest. Thank goodness I got up first and cleaned it up before daughter came down. I learned a lesson, and so did the hamster — except he never got a chance to benefit from it.

  18. BBwrites

    Ramsha was not like the rest of the lions in her pack. It was habitually in a lions’ blood to stay with the pride; but Ramsha wanted to explore and to wander. Often she would wake in the middle of the night, and slowly creep away from her sleeping family to explore the forest. From the other side of the lake she would drink in solitary. She would climb the highest in the tree, and run the fastest and furthest through the tall grass. There was a whole world beyond the pride, and many more animals she had heard the adults speak of that she longed to see, like the giraffes or hopefully even the rhino. As she grew older, the mothers taught the daughters how to hunt. Ramsha learnt quickly, and excelled. She became the best hunter, able to hunt on her own, and was admired by all in the pride. But she still longed for a life other than the pride and to hunt. She spoke to her mother and father, who said that she was their finest hunter and the pride would not survive without her there. Each time she was sent to hunt, she started to wander further and further from the hunt. One particular day, they had been on their way to hunt some cattle. Ramsha knew they were capable so she wandered off, certain to speak to another animal that was not a lion today. After what must have been hours of creeping through the heat, she found it! A Rhino! A huge, horn faced rhino. She controlled her excitement and stopped herself from bounding over to greet him, her right paw frozen slightly off of the ground. The rhino grazed gently, completely unaware of Ramsha’s presence. Suddenly, he looked up, directly at Ramsha with eyes wide. The rhino said something to her and while she tried to work out what he said, he started to run in the opposite direction. Ramsha couldn’t help herself, and launched herself sprinting after him, calling for him to stop, she just wanted to say hello. There was a horrendous bang that echoed around them, and Ramsha felt an excruciating pain in her hip.
    “Poacher!” the Rhino bellowed once more, louder this time for her to hear. He disappeared into the forest and Ramsha’s amber eyes filled with tears. She blinked them away and continued to sprint, faster than she had ever before, deep into the forest.
    Her energy was low and she could no longer run. Her golden fur was beginning to matte with her blood. She found a small stream and immersed herself in the water, panting for her breath. The wound was burning, and she was losing blood fast. She shut her eyes and wept. Questioning why she had strayed, why she had not listened to her family. With her eyes still shut, she felt a presence close by. She sprang up, and found herself face to face with a giant bear. Ramsha whimpered, her body in severe, undeserving pain. The bear gently reached out to her face, and stroked her. “You will be okay my friend,” said the bear, “you are stronger than you know.”
    “I wanted to see a rhino. I wanted to speak to him,” she said weakly, and lay beside the bear.
    “And now you can say you have seen a rhino and spoke to a bear, and I can say I spoke to a lion,” said the bear, pulling her close, “now rest, my dear friend.”

  19. Moirai-TQ

    The vulture was back. He sat planted on her chest, making it hard for her to breath, his feet feeling like talons biting into her skin. His head hanging from his hooked neck like a pendulum of a grandfather clock. His red eyes stared into her eyes daring her to move him. She wasn’t able to get him to move. He won this battle that night.

    That night, Kelsey’s dreams bothered her. She was running and never getting away from whatever was chasing her. She wanted to stand her ground, but didn’t feel like she had that extra bit to try to stake. At least whatever it was wasn’t overtaking her. She did feel its hot breath on her neck and that irritated her. She just couldn’t run any faster.

    A couple of weeks later, that damned vulture was back. Kelsey glared at it like she was going to twist its ugly head from its fleshy neck. Just twist and pull until its head was in one hand and the neck was in the other. The vulture tried to raise its right eyebrow to mock her, but it wouldn’t go up. He knew she was getting stronger. She willed it to get off her chest and fly away. The vulture started to lose its grip; its feet were sliding down her torso. The vulture stopped himself close to her navel and dug in.

    The next afternoon, Kelsey sat at the table with her soon-to-be ex-husband to finalize the details about the child support and visitation visits. She dreaded these meetings, as he was used to her being a doormat and giving in to his demands. She took a deep breath and calmly stated what she wanted and why. She’d had advice from the local legal aid group as to what was normal for his income level; she assumed he had received similar advice from his lawyer. He agreed with the child support, but started to argue about visitations. She held her ground. She was outwardly calm, but inwardly was a mess. She was taking slow, deep breaths to keep calm.

    She reminded him that he wasn’t home a lot for her and the kids and thought that every other weekend was a good place to start with the kids now. Every other holiday and the weekend after their birthdays if they fell during the week. He was trying to push for more, but saw that she was being resolute. He was dismayed at the new Kelsey sitting across the table from him.

    That night, the vulture was sitting on her knees. Its feet were not pressed into her skin. Her eyes were still strong and glaring at it. She told it to just go away and not come back.

    1. JRSimmang

      I think this piece deserves more space. Will you continue it elsewhere? The vulture archetype is intriguing, as is the interplay between Kelsey and the bird. I think the piece would be stronger with dialogue instead of exposition in paragraph 4. Great choice of circumstance!

    2. J.Fujimaru

      The vulture archetype is great. The way that Kelsey’s interaction with it changes throughout the story is a brilliant metaphor for compartmentalization.

      1. Moirai-TQ

        Thank you!

        When I was going through counselling after THAT divorce, I was visited by a vulture. It took several months for it to get to the foot of the bed and then never come back. THAT husband was a real piece of work and took forever for him to realize that he could no longer push my buttons.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Something based on survival leads me to believe that I should be extra polite to any woman over the age of eight. That’s right eight not eighteen you see I have been highly trained by two wives, six daughters between us and eleven grand daughters. So perfect are my manners that I am still rushing to open doors for everyone to show I still have the strength to open any door. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this and will file the thinking process along with every thing else the girls have taught me.

  20. ShamelessHack

    The view from this height was endless.
    “Don’t let me go.”
    “I won’t, Anne. You must know that by now.”
    “Yes, I know how you feel. You’ve proven it to me with your powerful and careful touch–even while bringing me here. Now please don’t fight them any more.”
    “I must. It’s my destiny.”
    “They’ll kill you if you fight.”
    “Sorry, Anne. It’s my Karma.”
    “Please, please! Just give up. They’ll let you live, they…”
    Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!
    “Oh, they’ll let me live, eh? Tell that to the bullets.”
    Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat!
    “You can still surrender!”
    “No, never! Here, stand right there, Anne. Be careful, and hold on. I have to fight them.”
    Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!
    STAB! STAB! STAB! STAB!
    BOOM!
    “See! I got one of them!”
    “But there are more of them, too many! You can’t fight them all off!”
    “For you I can.”
    “But those are armed planes! All you have are your qui—”
    Rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat-tat-a-tat!
    “Aughh‼”
    “Oh God, you’re hit!”
    “Ooof! Remember me always, Anne. I love you…”
    “No! No!”
    Rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat!
    STAB! STAB! ST–!
    Rat-a-tat-a-TATATATATATATAT!
    “Ugh, oooh, goodbye my love.”
    “No‼”
    “Goodbyyyyyyyyyyyyye…”

    ****

    The huge body slammed into 34th Street, flattening three police cars and a fire engine. Giant quills exploded outward in a deadly hail, crashing through nearby windows, arrowing into cars and busses, and skewering innocent passersby.
    Chief Reilly carefully approached the monstrous dead body. He turned to his companion.
    “Well, the airplanes finally got him.”
    Officer O’Malley stepped over a giant quill, took off his hat, and looked upward toward the top of the Empire State Building. “Sure’n it wasn’t the airplanes that got him, Chief,” his voice was bitter.
    “T’was beauty killed the porcupine.”

    1. jhowe

      I’ll admit, I wondered about the stabbing during the firefight. Now that Godzilla the Porcupine has been revealed, it makes sense. Really entertaining. I enclosed your promise to Jess below:
      Be sure Jess, that my next offering will closely follow your prompt, giving careful attention to the contemporary issues of “imperialism, racial inequality, masculinity, the limitations of human understanding, and an unknownable God.”
      You won’t be disappointed…

      I think you hit on them pretty thoroughly… sort of.

      1. ShamelessHack

        Perhaps my allegory was a tad too subtle after all, John.

        Jess is new around here, though her inevitable corruption and acquiescence to the dark side is imminent. You know what happens with these prompt submissions–close association breeds contamination and all that. Just crossing the “t”s, etc…

        Hack

    2. mydecember76

      This reminds me of another Beauty meets Beast story. So you know, I actually read this out loud to my husband, performing the voices of Beauty and Beast as well as the sound effects and we were cracking up! Thank you for this!

  21. Beebles

    Dropping in to join in the ‘hats off to Jess’ thread. Thought provoking challenges and so well contextualised. Good Job. Being short of time of late I point readers to the story I posted at the end of last week’s prompt and in the manner of our PMQs ‘refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave before.’

  22. cosi van tutte

    The wolf sat quiet and hidden in the gloaming. It was his favorite time. No longer day and not quite night. The day creatures had gone to sleep, but the night creatures had yet to awaken.

    They were all vulnerable in the gloaming.

    He stretched out and yawned wide. His white fangs flashed in the almost dark.

    He arched his back and thought many happy thoughts.

    So many vulnerable creatures slept, waiting for his bite.

    He left his den and sauntered through the gloaming. He felt quite safe, but he kept his ears sharply alert just in case.

    ***

    There was something quiet and hidden in the gloaming.

    Its fangs flashed in the dark as it trailed after the wolf on soft, soundless feet.

    1. jhowe

      Good one Cosi. I read this twice and came up with two outcomes. My first one was the hidden creature was a bigger, more powerful threat to the unsuspecting wolf. Then I thought it could be another wolf, perhaps a female with designs on the male. I vote for the latter for the sake of the wolf, but I fear the first one is correct.

  23. Russ

    I once knew a man named Jimmy. Boy, he could play the guitar. I would go to his house daily, and listen to him play. He played the most beautiful songs.

    But one day, I went to his home, and he wasn’t there. He’s always here at this time, I thought to myself. Well, I went home a bit disappointed and in want of some beautiful music.

    I walked over the next day. I knocked in the door, and Jimmy answered the door in a hurry. “Russ! My friend, Russ! You wouldn’t believe what happened to me yesterday! It was unbelievable!”

    “What happened, Jimmy?”

    “Come inside, I’ll tell you all about it.”

    So I went inside with Jimmy, and I had a seat on one of his comfortable chairs.

    “Well, Russ,” Jimmy started, sitting on the couch. “I was out on the porch playing the guitar early in the morning. I was playin’ quietly, so I wouldn’t wake anyone. And well… a GIANT SONGBIRD landed in the street! I know you won’t believe this… but well, the bird started twitting and twitting in the most beautiful sound. I stopped playing guitar, and walked out to it in awe. It was beautiful, Russ. Well I went up to it. Now, it was about the size of a horse. I went up to it, and it flapped its wings and slowly went up in the air. I was in awe, and didn’t care that it then picked me up with its talons by my torso, and off we flew. We flew and flew. It was amazing. We were above the clouds, below the clouds, over cities, over farms, over hills. And eventually we landed in the midst of a clearing in the middle of a forest. Well the bird walked and led me over up a hill, and there I was in the midst of giant nests on the ground. The birds were twitting and twitting most beautifully. They, of course, couldn’t use words like we do, but they had a guitar there amidst their nests, and I played it with their twitting, and we all played music for a long while. Well, when they could see I was ready to leave, it was night now, the bird flew me back! We landed last night at around 2 in the morning, and here I am now!”

    1. Russ

      Thanks guys.
      So if it’s past tense first person… should I say “I thought to myself” like I did in the second paragraph? It just put the thought?

      I mean in that second paragraph I think adding that “I thought to myself” makes more sense.

      1. SummerStars

        If you’re writing what happened from a first person point of view, you don’t need “I thought” after everything, just after the character’s specific thought, which you do in the second paragraph. So that’s correct, although I think just “I thought” is fine, I don’t think you need “to myself,” since it’s in first person and we know the protagonist is the one thinking. I enjoyed your story by the way; I love the idea of man and nature coming together to create art.

  24. J.Fujimaru

    “It has claws, and bites,” she said.

    “Oui, Madame!” We saluted in unison.

    It didn’t stop us. We were spies for the Guinean people with countless missions surrounding the “Sally Conspiracy.”

    We sneaked into enemy territory. The corridor was a maid’s masterpiece, spotless. I slipped and hit a “Nimba” sculpture that heaved and began to tip. It rattled back into place.

    “Fatima!” Ishmael pinched my arm.

    He heard whispers of a coup d’état. Some of the African masks on Madame’s wall were Sally’s minions; some were not. Only he could hear the whispers. I followed orders. It was my brother’s favorite game.

    We tiptoed into the bedroom. Sally c#cked her head and studied us with cool yellow eyes from above. We shared the silence to size each other up: Revolutionaries against Dictator, Queen against Conspirators. Then Sally’s shrill cackle brought Madame bursting in.

    “Out, you little sh1ts!” She yelled, as she shooed us out.

    “Out, you little sh1ts!” Sally repeated, as she flapped her wings.

    Madame taught the whole house English. The parrot and Ishmael were her best pupils. I was her worst. The rest of the help fell somewhere in between. Madame called English the “lingua franca,” because, “outside of Guinea, it’s more useful than French, Susu, Malenké, or Fula.” I didn’t understand why French wasn’t the lingua franca or why I had to learn another language. Madame only spoke English. Sally spoke two languages: English and Parrot. I had more interest in learning Parrot.

    When we were older, Madame let us pet Sally. “It’s African, like you,” she explained as we stroked the smoky feathers. We already knew. We had seen grey parrots feeding on the Cassia trees in Father’s village. There weren’t many birds in the city where Mother’s new husband lived. We missed the birds. We missed the village.

    I grew out of Ishmael’s games. He did too. I took over when Mother couldn’t work anymore. Ishmael left Conakry for Dakar, Paris, then San Francisco. Sally became my new accomplice. She sat on my shoulder when I mended Madame’s sundresses, but she kept out of the way when I dusted. She was clever. I never told Madame that in the early mornings Sally would open her cage to sit by the French windows and watch the wilder birds. It was our secret.

    Madame was rarely happy with Sally. “You’re disgusting,” she’d say, pointing to the dry patches where the parrot had pulled out chunks. When Madame had guests over, Sally perched obediently in her covered cage. Feathers fell to the floor. She was silent.

    When her cage was uncovered it was a fracas. Madame vs. Bird. Sally knew as many dirty words as her madam did. “African Dirt!” was one of her more innocent phrases, but once, she used it on the Ivoirian Ambassador’s wife.

    “What did your bird call me!” The Ivoirian’s face had flushed a beautiful shade of cherry-ebony I had never seen. I wondered if my face could do that. Madame’s couldn’t. Hers was papaya-pink.

    After that, Madame never let Sally out. She was a “diplomatic problem.”

    Madame didn’t know I was Sally’s accomplice. When we were alone, I would take Sally to lounge in the salon. She picked at my braids and I tickled the soft ivory feathers on her cheeks. We were blind, ignorant, and diplomatic, playing the game of peace.

    I didn’t think it could go on any longer. I was right. One day, the cage was empty and the window open. I wasn’t surprised; I had similar aspirations.

    I wish I had said goodbye.
    _____________________________________

    I like to think that I’ve out-grown that girl, and then I’ll turn a corner that brings me back. It takes nothing. In front of a Victorian mansion, a tropical garden struggles to grow in the Northern California climate. I can imagine her reclining in her African print deckchair. If I see Madame will I thank her? Tell her off? Ignore her?

    I see my reflection in one of the windows. The same smoker’s grey covers my skin. It’s the face of Madame, or any grown woman, etched with the lines of grown-up worries. Then the window opens to reveal the shrill voice of tropical birds within. The mansion must be crammed full of them. There’s a familiar sound of Parrot in the chaos, a clear decrescendo like the cartoon sound of falling, delicately bluesy.

    “Sally? Is that you?”

    1. jhowe

      This was really good. It seems possible there could be elements of truth to it, but maybe you’re just a great writer with an endless imagination. Well done.

      1. J.Fujimaru

        Thank you, J. I do not need an imagination. I live in Guinea, a country that comes to my doorstep each day to remind me I’m in a special place. Just now, on my way to the vegetable stand, I saw a pig (not a Guinea pig but a full grown Guinean pig, oink, oink) happily swimming in the gutter. That said, there are quite a few elements of “untruth” in the Timneh Parrot story. The pig story is 100% true.

      1. J.Fujimaru

        Thank you, JR. This means a lot coming from you, especially considering the setting of your two stories this week. Two very different places but I really felt I was there.

        Ishmael is full African/Guinea from les fôrets de Guinée. At least this one is. There are many “Ishmaels” in this country. But who knows, perhaps he becomes a New Yorker and maybe he boards The Starbuck. 😉

    2. Big Tastey

      Thank you for commenting J. Your story is wonderful. I like how you play with words, and the cadence of your writing. There’s a wistfulness in this story. If I had to guess as to how you would greet Madame, it would be with kindness.

  25. jhowe

    The weasel drooled with eagerness as the fat hen pheasant walked up the path to his den in a hollow tree. He watched, bewildered, from a nearby thicket as she knocked with her sharp beak.

    “Is anyone home?” said the hen.

    “Oh, hello,” said the weasel as he walked up to her from behind. She was taller than he with strong legs and sharp talons. As tempting as it was he could not risk a confrontation without an advantage. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”

    “I’d like to hire you?” she said.

    “What for?” This was highly unusual. He was the only private investigator in the forest but had never been hired by anyone near the bottom of the food chain.

    “I need you to find my chicks,” the hen said with a series of clucks in the language all forest creatures could understand.

    “You don’t say.”

    “I’m afraid so,” she said with a voice laden with fret. “They all went missing this morning and they’re so helpless.”

    The weasel sucked in a stream of drool and quickly agreed to take the case. “Helpless you say… such a dreadful situation.”

    Following his ultra-keen sense of smell, the weasel found the chicks’ trail in no time. He pictured a table laden with roasted pheasant and quickened his pace.

    “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” said the fox who was blocking the path.

    “Oh, nowhere in particular,” the weasel said with strained pleasantness.

    “Methinks perhaps you have something in mind I should know about.”

    “Oh, don’t be silly.” The weasel saw a patch of wild raspberries and he hurriedly ran to it whereas the fox would get caught up in the briars and be unable to follow. Sometimes being short and wiry had its advantages.

    The weasel soon found the trail of the chicks again and set off. After traveling for some time he heard peeping from a clearing up ahead. He slinked even lower and crept closer. The chicks were pecking at an ant hill, feasting on the scurrying insects. Oh great, thought the weasel. Now they’re going to taste like disgusting ants. Oh, well, nothing that a good roasting won’t fix.

    The weasel gathered the chicks and led them back to his den, avoiding the area where the fox was last seen. Upon arrival he found the fox sitting on a rock near the hollow tree. “My my, what have we here?” the fox said.

    The weasel was at a loss. The fox was much bigger and much stronger than he. His only hope was to abandon the chicks and make his getaway. But the problem was, he couldn’t do it. The chicks really were helpless and he couldn’t just let the fox devour them. “Leave them be!” he said.

    “And what, may I ask, are you prepared to do if I refuse.” The fox sidled closer.

    The weasel attacked with speed he didn’t know he possessed. The fox, though, with his superior strength soon overpowered him and pinned him to the ground. “That was a very foolish thing you did weasel.” The fox bared his considerable claws and prepared to strike when a shriek was heard from behind and a pair of sharp talons sank into his thick fur. The hen pheasant stomped over and over on the fox’s back which gave the weasel the opportunity to sink his small sharp teeth into the furry leg. The fox yelped, swatted at them and ran off into the thickest part of the forest.

    The hen gathered her chicks, thanked the weasel and they all waddled off. She had left a small basket woven from prairie grass that contained three pheasant eggs. The weasel drooled with vigor as he carried the basket into his den.

    1. snuzcook

      Fun story, jhowe! Now, is it just me, or don’t all good private detective stories end with the shamus thinking he’s getting the chicks when all he gets is a basket of eggs?

    2. creaturescry

      I’m curious now after reading this what other sort of cases the weasel handles? Anyways this does remind me of many of the Picture books I’ve read in the past. Can’t go wrong with talking animals, especially Weasel detectives!

  26. ShamelessHack

    Along with John Howe, I too would like to thank Jess Zafarris for supplying us with new and interesting prompts. Be sure Jess, that my next offering will closely follow your prompt, giving careful attention to the contemporary issues of “imperialism, racial inequality, masculinity, the limitations of human understanding, and an unknownable God.”
    You won’t be disappointed…

    Hack

      1. Kerry Charlton

        John, you show every bit of talent we were aware of. I have idea we have stopped at your outer layer of talent
        I for one am eagerly waiting for you to run in all directions. I have a feeling we only have seen about 10 percent of your ability. Loved the story as you already know. Go from here and soar!

  27. JRSimmang

    THESE OLD BONES

    It was Heaven, least as I was concerned, least as far as I could tell. Right down the house a little ways, there was a trail blazed by the locals out to this promontory we called Blindman’s Bluff. The locals called it something else, though. Something sacred.

    Thing was massive, though. I’d only been to the top once, and it nearly took me all afternoon to gather up the strength to go back down. Saw the old man there. He must be the chief. He was all up in feathers and face paint. He just sat there, done up and cross-legged on his blanket, cradling something like it were a baby, but I didn’t get a good look at it. I didn’t want to get too close. He was busy.

    The last time the rains came was almost a year back. There was hardly any snow last winter either. Thankfully, we had a well dug before we moved out here, otherwise we’d be dried up like a family of grapes. The locals, though. I had no idea what they was gonna do.

    “I’m gonna offer, ma,” I said during dinner.

    “Gonna offer what, Langley?”

    “I’m gonna ride out to the natives and ask them if they need help.”

    “You are?”

    “Yep.”

    “Can I come?” piped Shaun.

    “No.”

    “How ’bout me?” asked Luke, my oldest son.

    “No.”

    “Me?” tried Anna-Beth, my oldest daughter.

    “No. And no one else, dammit.” I shoved a forkful of greens into my mouth. “Besides, you’d only slow me down, and ma needs as much help as she can get ’round here.”

    “When you plannin’ on headin’ out?” Ma squared with me.

    “Tomorrow morning, after breakfast.”

    “Alright, get on with it then,” she sighed. “Not sure why you’d want to, but you’re gonna do it anyway.”

    I nodded, finished my dinner, then walked out to pack up my sack and saddlebags. The nights out here were the reason I came out. The sky was older than all of us, but aged like wine, more and more spectacular as the years get on. It could be that I was craving beauty, that we all do the older we get because we get so used to seein’ death and the ugliness of people. I leaned against my fence and listened to the heat escaping up and out of the land, into the night, and out of the world.

    That was when he caught my eye.

    The old man sittin’ up on Blindman’s Bluff with a small fire.

    I looked back in to the house through the window, looked at my horse, grabbed my saddle and headed to the bluff.

    By the time I made it up, it must’ve been three hours until sunrise. There he was, still as stone, staring off into the east.

    “Ahem, sir?”

    He didn’t move.

    “Sorry to bother you, uh, chief, but I couldn’t sleep neither, and I had to ask you something.”

    He didn’t move.

    “See, there’s a drought, and well, we have a -”

    “Shhhh.”

    “Ahem, uh. It’s just that-”

    “Sh,” he held out his left hand. “Sit.”

    I took off my hat, and walked over to his left side. He shifted over to make room for me on his blanket. “Thanks,” I said. “You speak English?”

    He nodded.

    “Good,” I sighed. “You see, me and my family we-”

    “Sh.” He pointed off to the east. “The sun, it rises in that direction, and with it comes the heat of the day. With that comes the anger of the desert.”

    “Okay?”

    He held out his other hand, and pinched in between his finger and thumb was a giant gold feather, tipped with ruby, and innervated with sapphire. It splintered the light of the fire, and I was unsure if I could ever see the whole thing all at once. “She will return.”

    “Well I’ll be… What bird gave you that one?”

    “Bird?”

    I thought he’d finish, thinking the question was rhetorical, and we sat in silence for a few moments. “Yeah, bird.”

    “This, friend, was no bird.”

    “Okay, now you lost me.”

    “You are only lost because your belief is in your way. You are inflexible.”

    “Look,” I said. “I wanted to offer you and your people water from our well. It’s still full.”

    “I know,” he replied. “And we will politely decline.”

    “Okay,” I muttered, then stood up to leave. “If’n things get bad, chief, our door’s open.”

    I mounted my horse, tracked back down the side of the bluff, and the closer I got to the ground, the cooler the night air became. I looked up into the sky for the familiar stars to guide me back home, but a cloud had moved in, obstructing my view. The temperature dropped again several times, and I spurred my horse on faster.

    She wasn’t happy about it, and fought me, but when I felt the first drops on the brim of my hat, she hated that even more. We rode straight through at a gallop as the sky opened up a flood, drops as big as my head, and splashed all over the trail. We rode through the cold and the wet and the vengeance of a rainstorm that had been imprisoned for a year. I could hardly see through the sheets that fell, so I thank God my horse knew the way.

    It was sunup by the time I closed Gracie’s pen, but the sky was still rolling in the dark. Ma was standing on the porch shouting something at me. In her hand, she held a feather. A gold feather, one tipped with ruby, an innervated with sapphire.

    -JR Simmang

    1. snuzcook

      It struck me as very satisfying the context in which you chose to place your story, JR–or is it a parable? It could be any millennium, any planet, any pairing of societies. But your story tells it so very, very well.

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      Great take on a different kind of settler, beautifully written. I met Larry MacMurtry a bunch of years ago in Big Horn, Wyoming, just had to throw that in.

  28. Pete

    Gary arrived two minutes early for his interview and took the only seat available in the stuffy warm lobby at Vita-Life Insurance. His nose twitched and his eyes watered. He only half turned to the lady next to him but it was enough. She was a cat lady. Gary could smell it on her clothes and lurking beneath the tangy perfume that did little to cover the smoker stench that did little to hide the fact she kept a box of feces in her home.

    Gary closed his eyes and practiced the breathing techniques he’d picked up at his anger management classes. But the deep breaths only ushered in the cat smells, and closing his eyes only conjured images of the incestuous creatures crawling all over the woman, kneading with urine-stained paws and licking her arms and face as she hummed a showtune. Why was she humming? How was he supposed to focus?

    Now she was smiling at him. Gary nearly vomited. He pulled out his phone to make a call when she asked about his day. Gary clenched his jaw. She was prying with her cat claws at his personal life, this keeper of cats. More deep breaths.

    Gary too spoke to cats but they knew better than to speak back. When he was four an orange cat had bit him on the nose so that he would release its tail. Gary still had the scar, and he had one of those Exxon cat tails to remind him of what derailed his life. But now he was afraid this lady knew. That maybe she could read cat scars like hieroglyphic messages. Maybe they told her that when driving, he often swerved to hit cats, not miss them whenever they had the misfortuen to go skittering across his path.

    He wiped his brow. He stood and wobbled over to the security desk to ask about the bathroom. Great. They too could tell he ran over cats. He rushed to the stall and vomited.

    The cat lady was still there when he returned. And she was still covered in fur. White fur, black fur, orange fur. She was a mess of calico, without a wedding ring, and far too old for options outside the feline persuasion. What was she doing there, at an insurance company trying to get a job? Gary almost left. But then he’d have to tell Jamar, his parole officer. Besides, why should he be the one to leave? Gary thought there should be a sign. One that read: NO CAT LADIES ALLOWED.

    Oh, but wouldn’t that just spark some national outcry. Gary shifted in his chair, clenching, getting agitated, turning slightly so that she wasn’t reading his scar. He had to get this job, Jamar kept bugging him about his employment.

    The door opened. A man and a woman appeared. “Gary Alderman?”

    Gary stood. He wiped at his jacket. He was happy to be free from the smelly cat woman, even if he was trembling with nerves. No matter, he would go into the interview room and wow them with his charm and charisma.

    He took a full breath, when the cat lady touched his arm. “Good luck to you, Gary.”

    She knew his name. And she’d touched him with her hairy cat arms. Gary nearly screamed. He felt a quiver. The scar on his nose tingled. His stomach folded and he tried to swallow a gag that quickly morphed into a sneeze. This was no good. His throat twitched and he knew.

    He was going to snomit.

    “Gary?” The interviewers stepped closer. Gary waved his arms frantically. He tried to warn them to step back. He tried to shield them, to hold it, to stop himself from blowing it all out. But it was no use. Gary exploded.

    And the cat lady got the job.

    1. snuzcook

      “Snomit” is delightful, as is the phrase ‘keeps a box of feces in her house.” As a former cat lady myself, that resonates. Really enjoyable read, Pete. Great chuckle for the end of my day!

    2. creaturescry

      Love how you described the cat lady and Gary’s reaction. Reminds me of a time when one of my cats bit me on the nose. I didn’t quite get a scar like Gary did, but it really hurt.

    3. J.Fujimaru

      This was incredibly enjoyable. I read it a few times. Loved the phrase “keeps a box of feces in her home.” Reminds me of how odd some of our “normal” behaviors are depending on the perspective. It’s takes someone like Gary to remind us of that.

    4. JRSimmang

      I thought the descriptions are absolutely salubrious in this piece, brought the characters to reality. I wonder if the cat-lady is a true cat/lady hybrid, and she somehow had feline telepathic abilities, which is why she knew his name, having received messages from the cats that have speckled Gary’s past.

  29. snuzcook

    Rain dapples the serene surface of the lake, tenderizing it, torturing it, making the mirror squirm and writhe. Searching for Samson now is futile.

    Still, Dad told me that fish rise in the rain, when the sky darkens with premature twilight, and the needle punctures of drops agitate the water like an endless swarm of midges ready to be eaten.

    Gentle memory, it devastates me. The man who loved me as his little girl but turned away to other things when I needed him most. Or was I always just one of many things, not strong enough to hold his attention, not needy enough to compel him to take my side in a competition for loyalty?

    Being a daughter seems to be a shiny thing, a bauble. There are situations when it is a joy for the parent to claim a child, to confirm their place in the proper order of things when confronted by other parents putting their family photos on display, or to enforce their capacity to reproduce in a world where so many couples do not. My mother has a box of such things, ornaments to wear for the appropriate occasion. “I have a son in the army. I have a daughter away at college. I sell Herbal Vitamins from home. I have a cupboard full of tomatoes and peaches and pickles I have canned. I volunteer with seniors. I am diabetic. I teach Sunday school. I have a sister who died of cancer. My husband is a recovering alcoholic.”

    I feel the anger awakening within me, the tightening of my core as if the sinews around my organs have contracted to make me smaller and less vulnerable. I could roll up into a ball here on this dock. I could roll off the wet planks into the water and sink down among the weeds and the rocks and the bits of lost things. There in the gently wafting currents would I unfold and spread and take up space, floating away to oblivion? Would I be nibbled by the fishes until the edges of my being are indistinct, and I become unrecognizable, a phenomenon of the lake.

    The rain has stopped, and the water once again is calm. Looking down I see the sky and the clouds unclenching to reveal blue reflections in the living surface of the water. Beyond the mirror is shadow, and the shadows is movement. Could it really be Samson, gliding in and out of the pilings?

    I reach into my pocket for a bit of bagel wrapped in napkin. I squeeze off a crumb and drop it delicately upon the water like a dandelion fluff, like a bit of down, like a midge supported by the water tension. Samson rises. His back and dorsal fin bump through the surface. He is not as large as I remember, but he is big, as long as my forearm. I look down and the crumb sits in the center of my reflected face. Samson’s mouth shoots forward, sucking in the crumb, my offering, my lure. And then he is gone.

    1. jhowe

      Dang, Snuz, that was well done. What a wonderful collection of sentences. When I first started reading, I told myself I’d comment on that great first paragraph, but heck, they’re all good paragraphs, so now what am I supposed to say?

      1. snuzcook

        Thanks, jhowe! To answer a rhetorical question, tell me … that the metaphors hung together and were not gratuitous–I was really plumbing the depths, here. ;0)

    2. Pete

      This is the sort of writing that makes me envious. If I tried something like this I’d fall flat on my face (or into the lake). I particularly loved the fourth paragraph, thought it was perfect. Great read.

    3. GrahamLewis

      I hope this isn’t a duplicate. it didn’t seem to stick the first time.

      Very nice, very touching, very obvious pain. Dad’s fishing advice is especially poignant. And I loved the line about being a daughter/being a bauble.

    4. J.Fujimaru

      Snuzcook, the scene, that you have so poetically painted, is enchanting. There are many great ideas in here as well. “Being a daughter is a shiny thing, a bauble.” My favorite.

    5. JRSimmang

      I thought it interesting the emotion the MC has toward the water, and toward Samson, almost reflecting the turmoil between her and her father and then projecting it on Samson. She keeps him as hope, much like she wanted to be seen as her father’s hope, only to be completely unhappy in the environment. Deep, like the water, and poetically written.

      1. snuzcook

        Thank you JRimmang. A technical question open to anyone: Would this be a more powerful piece if paragraphs 4 and 5 were eliminated? Granted they hold some strong images, but wondering if keeping the focus on he father thread might be more eloquent.

        1. JRSimmang

          Paragraphs 4 and 5, for me, soften the MC. The story, taken as a whole, needs the humanity of her to contradict the animal of Samson, to be his “Delilah.” In a way, we need the fish to remain strong where her father could not. The fish is singularly focused on the bits of food, while the MC wanted her father to be singularly focused on her.

          I would thin out the mother’s list of conveniences, change “wafting”, and end paragraph 5 with a question mark. You may want to take 5 as an opportunity for your MC to reflect on how washing out to the depths would be an improvement on her life.

          1. ReathaThomasOakley

            I think 4 and 5 add more depth to your MC. In fact, sorry JR, I loved how the mother’s “ornaments” could be seen as the reason the father is how he is. Great piece of writing.

          2. snuzcook

            Thank you, JR and Rheatha. I aspire to craft (which for me means understanding why PP 4 and 5 should or should not be included) as opposed to my usual seat-of-the-pants writing (which means throwing the words upon the wall to see if they stick). That’s why I value this site so much.

    6. mydecember76

      You’ve painted a picture with your words! It is very poignant. I agree that paragraphs 4 and 5 should be left in as it gives some back story and depth to the MC.

  30. ReathaThomasOakley

    (A slight reworking of a piece from September, 2016. It fit the prompt.)

    . . . to the marriage of true minds. . .

    “River’s rising,” my man pulled his boots off, put them on the porch railing. “I seen the moon shining off the water, through the woods, just ’bout ten feet out, ain’t never seen it that close.” The Palatlakaha runs behind our place, but it usually runs a ways off. He fishes behind Ray Wright’s place, down the road south of us, so he don’t have to fight the bushes and saw palmetto, laughs he ain’t no bush hogger with signs nailed on telephone poles up and down 27.

    “You or Ray hear anything?” I asked, but knew he’d of told me right off if he had. Here it was, end of April and we hadn’t heard nothing. “Coffee’s hot.”

    “Yeah, that’d be good. I’m just gonna sit here on this step a spell, night’s nice.”

    He was staring off into the underbrush when I brought two cups back.

    “You move that butt over ’bout a foot so’s I can sit down.” He laughed, but moved over and took a sip.

    “How long this coffee cooked?”

    “Well, if I’d knowed you was gonna stay in the bushes that long…”

    “Yeah, I know. Thought I heard something, so didn’t come right back.”

    “Think it’ll be tonight?” I drank some coffee. “You’re right about this, musta boiled it. Sorry.”

    “Signs all there,” he put his arm around me and pulled me over. “You gotta do this?”

    “You know I do. It’s our way, ‘sides folks up Gainesville way depend on me, like they do cousin Sissy on the Ocklawaha, like they did did my mama and her mama before.” I leaned up against him, so close I could feel his heart beating against my side. “It’s our way.”

    “But, after you told me what happened to your granny, I don’t want that for you.”

    “Yeah, I reckon we all learned from that, coulda just been her time, too.” I slung the rest of my coffee off to the left.

    “What’s that?”

    “I threw my coffee…”

    “No, that ain’t it, listen…”

    Then I heard it, the low walk, what sounded like a big pine log being pulled through the weeds and reeds. I held my breath until it came, a bellow I knew started deep down in his belly. In my mind I could see him rearing back with that long mouth opening, teeth gleaming in the moonlight.

    “I don’t never get used to that,” he shivered.

    “Billy Bowlegs,” I stood and handed him my cup. Then came the second bellow, lower, but louder, then the high walk sound. “Old Osceola’s back. Didn’t know if he’d make it another year. Gotta get my stuff ‘fore the fightin’ starts.”

    He was still sitting on the step when I came back out wearing my high boots, holding the gaff hook what had been Granny’s.

    “This just don’t seem right, they ain’t dogs or even hogs, they’re gators.”

    “Rather face a gator over a hog any day,” I stood above him and ruffled his hair, wild and white in the dark. “I tried to tell you, but you wanted me anyhow. I gotta go.”

    At the edge of the brush I turned back to look at my man, my good man all hunched over on the step. He wasn’t ever gonna understand, but not once had he tried to stop me, not once.

    “I forgot to take your boots in, you better do it. I seen that Black Racer on the porch this afternoon and they like to crawl inside boots.”

    1. snuzcook

      Reatha, this is mesmerizing. You set the scene very effectively so as I read it the voices are not so much hushed but muted by their surroundings. I confess that I am not 100% sure I understand what she is going to do–is she hunting the gators, or somehow wrangling them for some steward-esque purpose? Or is it a battle for the sake of the battle and the night and the inevitability of it? She knows them so well it seems unlikely she is simply going to dispatch them. (Doesn’t so much matter as I worry myself over my own obtuseness.)
      I absolutely love the last line and how it brings us back to the title.

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you. In the original she’s recording the mating sounds. I used the alligators as a symbol of danger, but he trusts her to survive and respects her decision. Yeah, obtuse. This week was crazy, but I wanted to get something up and remembered this story.

        1. snuzcook

          Ah, that makes perfect sense. Clarification–your writing is anything but obtuse! My personal failing is sometimes being unable to cross some invisible line of understanding and I use the ‘O’ word in describing my failing. This week I was truly inI my own little bubble of incomprehension in all the iterations of my daily life. Always, your stories are a wonderful treat!

    2. J.Fujimaru

      Reatha, I love how different this is from the other stories I’ve read of yours so far. I especially enjoyed the dialect in this piece. And as always you’re an excellent storyteller and creator of living/breathing characters!

      1. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, JR. I’ve been trying to read your poetry each day, even if I don’t have time to comment. There’s good stuff over there, and yours is some of the best.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Well Reatha, you’re edging toward Samuel Clements with your prose. Another time, another world. And then.you throw me on highway 27 which if I remember correctly is the way it used to be to drive from Miami to Tallahassee! Memories and more memories. The power increases more and more. You are closer to lift off.

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Yep, 27 right up to the capitol. Took this to writing group on Saturday, they thought I should have explained more, but this is Wyoming, not Florida where most folk of a certain age would understand.

      2. ReathaThomasOakley

        Thank you, Summer. While I did rewrite a bit, the alligator is from an old prompt. My time right now is crazy busy, but I try to get something done each week.

  31. GrahamLewis

    WHAT I WILL REMEMBER

    So the question is, which animal has etched itself most sharply against the panorama of my long memory. The obvious candidates spring to mind. I feared the sabre-toothed tiger, the epitome of savage power, until it ultimately fell victim to its own perfection as times changed. I met the dodo, whose gentle indifference to danger made it easy prey and a symbol of the risk of innocence. The seemingly endless herds of American bison offered a testament that vastness in number does nothing to guarantee survival. Then there’s the absolute savagery of the black mamba, secretive and toxic always looking for fight, the sort of snake that inspires nightmare, and nearly ended my life. But that’s another story, another topic for another time.

    The animal that has touched me most deeply is none of these. It’s neither rare nor savage nor of impressive size. It’s the American cottontail rabbit. Not just any cottontail. The one who lives in the backyard of my 21st century home. These rabbits don’t live long, three years at most, the merest flash of time in a life like mine. But he is the purest example I know of unpretentious undemanding existence.

    Like all rabbits, he lives on the verge of terror, an essentially defenseless food source to almost every predator, from fox to hawk to human. But this particular fellow has grown to trust me. Not blindly; he is genetically programmed to be on guard, and I respect that. But he sometimes comes to my back door looking for a handout. When I see him, I shake the can of food and he edges forward. When I move, he tenses. If I move too quickly, he bolts to the edge of my sight. But if I carefully pour out some food and stand still enough, he will eat as I watch, just out of my reach. One morning I saw him sprawled on the grass near the porch. Those who know rabbits tell me that when they do that, it means they feel secure. It was mute testimony to his trust in me.

    I hadn’t seen him for weeks, and sadly presumed, excuse the pun, he had fallen prey to one of his enemies, or disease, or a passing car. But early yesterday morning, a damp, cold, November dawn, I saw him near the door, his fur matted by the morning mist, his eyes bright as always. I shook the can, and he came to me.

    His demonstration of trust touched me more deeply than any other animal had ever done. I wore that trust as a badge of honor for the rest of the day. And I will probably wear it for the rest of my life. If I do nothing else of note in my remaining years, I can always know that I lived long enough to earn the trust of a wary rabbit. And I doubt there can be any greater accomplishment.

    1. J.Fujimaru

      Love the idea of such an old soul earning the trust of a rabbit! I think that the best writers take something as simple and humble as a rabbit and show us, the readers, the significance of it. I think you did these beautiful creature justice. Great work!

    2. JRSimmang

      This piece feels like it’s been torn directly from a memoir. I’d like to know this person, someone deeply attached to the life lived and aware of the impact each moment has had. This anecdote has drifted softly on the top of my head and melted into it.

  32. creaturescry

    Once upon a time there was a creature named Gort. it was a sad creature really which took on many forms and sizes throughout the history of man. They existed in silence, creeping through the darkness, keeping an eye on man and whatever he did. Then one day in the middle of the worst winter the world had ever seen, a Gort made himself known. It was an unspoken rule that Gorts never communicated, aided, or made themselves known to man. But there he was, a fuzzy worm creature with a feather on his head sitting on the table. He was about the size of a medium cat, brown, and had three black eyes.

    “Good day Humans,” the Gort said, bowing his head, “I be Peter the Gort, here to aid ya.”

    “A Gort?” the mother asked, holding her three little children close, “what might a Gort be?”

    “Aye that i don’t know meself,” Peter sighed, slumping slightly, “but here i be.”

    “What are you here for then?” the father added, moving between the Gort and his family.

    “Don’t quite know that either good sir, but here i be.”

    “Proclaiming that you’re here isn’t going to help any…Peter,” the wife said peeking over her husband’s shoulder.

    “How might I be of service then?”

    “My children are hungry and must be fed, if you can find a way to…”

    “Then they may eat me.”

    The woman’s face twisted and she shook her head violently, “we couldn’t possibly eat something that speaks.”

    “You eat the birds, the deer, and the fish lass,” Peter argued, scooting down the table, “do they not speak?”

    “No…”

    “Aye and there is where you be wrong me dear, they all speak, for I have heard them. They be intelligent and kind as you are, but does that top ye from eating them? Nay my dear.”

    Before the mother could argue any more the Gort had thrown himself into the pot which hung over the fire. Some say that the Gorts sacrifice to save the poor family was admirable, but the Gorts would beg to differ. For a child from one of the children of that mother and father would become the worst tyrant king. Ruling the land with an iron fist which never could be broken. Sadly only the Gorts knew this since they could see into the future, and saw mankind’s demise.

      1. creaturescry

        Thank you Pete. I was worried it may have been a little to short, but it looks like it turned out alright. (except for the many grammatical errors I didn’t notice until after I posted it)

    1. jhowe

      This is thought provoking and entertaining, creaturescry. Kind of like the doctor that delivered Hitler wondering what he’d dropped the little guy on his head.

    2. madeindetroit

      What a wonderful take on this prompt. I love the character and the name Gort you’ve created here. And the rhe beginning never gets old. Would love more…
      Great job!

      1. creaturescry

        Thank you madeindetroit. I’m not sure what to think about my own little monsters (Gorts), but I’m glad you liked them. I’m not even really sure how I came up with the name for them in the first place.

      1. creaturescry

        Thank you snuzcook. I guess it is a little dark for a story about a large fluffy Gort named peter. Looking back at the piece I do see what you mean by a pinch of last weeks prompt being in there.

    3. JRSimmang

      This piece is reminiscent of the Grimm Brothers’ tales, dark and brooding with a valuable lesson to be learned. I found the Gort fascinating, a bit like a leprechaun, eager to help but always with motive. Is it humans’ overinflated ego that will ultimately destroy us?

      I suppose only the Gort know.

      1. creaturescry

        Thank you JRSimmang. I never really thought about Peter the Gort being like a Leprechaun, but the more I think about it I can see it. He is a twisted little guy.

    4. mydecember76

      Very creative! I wonder what would possess Peter to make himself known to the humans when it was against the Gort philosophy? Then his self-sacrifice to feed the future tyrant-king? Perhaps to aid in mankind’s demise? Most interesting twist! I also look forward to more from the Gorts!

  33. jhowe

    I’d like to take a moment and thank Jess Zafarris for her efforts in putting out the Creative Writing Prompts every week. Her prompts are fresh and challenging with a lot of flair. I like the pictures and the little write-up she does to introduce it. I’m glad Jess takes the extra time to put out something truly worthy of a Writer’s Digest publication. Now, if I could only think of an symbolic animal…

    1. Moirai-TQ

      I agree! At first I didn’t like them, as I thought they were leading us too much into one direction. I don’t like to be told what to do when it comes to non-work related things. I, then, realized that she was just enriching our lives with background info. Trivia that isn’t trivial. Expanding our minds and knowledge.

      Thank you, Jess, for all you do for us!

    2. Jess Zafarris Post author

      Thanks very much for this kind and excellent feedback! I have seen a few comments here and there asking for prompts with varying levels of difficulty and open-endedness, so I’ll be sure to incorporate a better range into my repertoire going forward as well. But I do love incorporating imagery and contextual information as well, so I’ll aim to keep that up in most cases. 🙂

      Thank you again!

      1. writer_sk

        I liked this one and the one about Kyzlak the best but it’s because my personal preference is fiction.

        Once J brought it up I realized I appreciate the informational piece above the prompt.

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