Custom Etymology

[Don’t miss your chance to enter the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition! Impress us with your best story in 1500 words or fewer. Deadline extended to Jan. 15.]

This week’s prompt—which is blessedly devoid of mysterious birds—has to do with a particular passion of mine: etymology. That is, the history of how different words came to be. In my spare time, I research word origins and put together silly blog posts and tweets about them. It’s a fascinating topic with endless discoveries just waiting to be made.

For instance, did you know that the word “Arctic” comes from the Greek arktos, meaning “bear”? That’s because the constellation Ursa Major, “the greater she-bear” (also known as the Big Dipper), is always visible in the northern polar sky. “Antarctic,” then, means “opposite the bear.”

Another fun one: the word “frolic” comes from the Middle Dutch word vrolyc, meaning “happy,” which is a combination of vro-, meaning “merry, glad,” and lyc, meaning “like” (as in “similar”). The root word *preu-, meaning “to hop,” which is also the root of the word “frog,” gives “frolic” the sense of “jumping for joy.”

This week, I challenge you to take the science of etymology to a new level. I’m going to leave this one fairly open-ended, so you can do whatever you’d like with it.

The Prompt: Write a story or a scene about someone inventing a new word—or, alternatively, giving an existing word a new meaning.

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


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119 thoughts on “Custom Etymology

  1. Critique

    A Tattoo and a Ring

    “Don’t worry, be happy.” Bill sang off key in the shower. Turning off the spout, he stepped out and felt a bit dizzy as he grabbed a towel. He’d forgotten to put on sunscreen again, had fallen asleep in the blazing sun on the lounger by the pool, and it didn’t help that he’d downed a few too many during happy hour. Scissoring the towel across his back he winced at the burning sensation. He rubbed a spot clear on the mirror and looked at the sunburned face and blood shot eyes staring back at him – not pretty. She wouldn’t like that. He looked over his shoulder at the purple red of his burned back and the towel fell from his hand. He cracked his neck to get a better look.

    In crude letters inside a heart shape across his left shoulder blade he read backwards: airolG. Gloria? Wasn’t she the bubbly blond he’d danced with. He couldn’t remember how the evening ended. He wanted to throw up.

    Bill snagged the towel off the floor and dragged it savagely across the letters. No change except for the painful chafing on his burnt skin. How did that get there? A tattoo? Had he really been that wasted? The 4-day weekend getaway with his best friends had flown by in a blur of partying and little sleep. They would fly home this evening.

    Linda. His fiancé. Bill’s head started pounding. He’d told her the guys wanted to treat him to one last trip before his single days were over. How he summoned up the courage to tell her and stand his ground – knees shaking – and then she’d slapped him. He remembered the rage that twisted her face when he told her the flights were booked already.

    Craning his neck to get another look he finally clued in that it wasn’t a tattoo at all but an intentional sunburned sign. Had to be Alan and Jeff. It was mean. Immature. They didn’t like Linda that was clear, but to go this far? How long did a sunburn last anyway? He wanted to throw up again.

    The bus to the airport was packed. Alan and Jeff kept their distance. Bill felt panicky and the nausea persisted.

    Once the plane was airborne and the seatbelt sign off Bill got up and walked back to where the guys were sitting. The wary looks on their faces didn’t stop him.

    “What’s your problem?” Alan asked shrinking back when Bill leaned in his fists clenched.

    “Problem? You could say that.” Bill hissed.

    Several nearby passengers began looking around nervously.

    “Settle down Bill.” Jeff swore. “This isn’t the place.”

    “Why did you do it?” Bill glared at them.

    Alan snapped back. “It was supposed to be a joke.”

    Bill stood back. “I’m not laughing.”

    The intercom crackled to life. “This is Captain Warren. Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened. We are experiencing some air turbulence. Thank you.”

    “Take the blinders off Bill.” Jeff held Bill’s gaze. “She’s got a ring in your nose.”

    Back in his seat Bill snapped the seatbelt on and leaned his head back.

    The past few days had been a blast. When was the last time he’d laughed so much and had a good time? A ring in his nose? If he was brutally honest? He hadn’t missed Linda. Didn’t miss her constant nagging how to dress, where to go, what to eat, and what friends were good for him. Alan and Jeff were the best friends a guy could want. Bill shifted in his seat.

    When the plane’s wheels touched down Bill reached back to scratch the itchy ‘tattoo’. His stomach had settled and his mind was made up. The ring would have to go.

  2. Critique

    A Tattoo and a Ring

    “Don’t worry, be happy.” Bill sang off key in the shower. Turning off the spout, he stepped out and felt a bit dizzy as he grabbed a towel. He’d forgotten to put on sunscreen again, had fallen asleep in the blazing sun on the lounger by the pool, and it didn’t help that he’d downed too many beers during happy hour. Scissoring the towel across his back he winced at the burning sensation. He rubbed a spot clear on the mirror and looked at the sunburned face and blood shot eyes staring back at him – not a pretty site. She wouldn’t like that. He looked over his shoulder at the dark red of his burned back and the towel fell from his hand. He cracked his neck to get a better look.

    In crude letters inside a heart shape across his left shoulder blade he read backwards: airolG. Gloria? Wasn’t she the bubbly blond he’d danced with. He couldn’t remember how the evening ended. He wanted to throw up.

    Bill snagged the towel off the floor and dragged it savagely across the letters. No change except for the painful chafing on his burnt skin. How did that get there? A tattoo? Had he really been that wasted? The 4-day weekend getaway with his best friends had flown by in a blur of partying and little sleep. They would fly home this evening.

    Linda. His fiancé. Bill’s head started pounding. He’d told her the guys wanted to treat him to one last trip before his single days were over. How he summoned up the courage to tell her and stand his ground – knees shaking – and then she’d slapped him. He remembered the rage that twisted her face when he told her the flights were booked already.

    Craning his neck to get another look it finally dawned on him that it wasn’t a tattoo at all but an intentional sunburned sign. Had to be Alan and Jeff. It was mean. Immature. They didn’t like Linda that was clear, but to go this far? How long did a sunburn last anyway? He wanted to throw up again.

    The bus to the airport was packed. Alan and Jeff kept their distance. Bill felt panicky and the nausea persisted.

    Once the plane was airborne and the seatbelt sign off Bill got up and walked back to where the guys were sitting. The wary looks on their faces didn’t stop him.

    “What’s your problem?” Alan asked shrinking back when Bill leaned in his fists clenched.

    “Problem? You could say that.” Bill hissed.

    Several nearby passengers began looking around nervously.

    “Settle down Bill.” Jeff swore. “This isn’t the place.”

    “Why did you do it?” Bill glared at them.

    Alan’s eyes glittered with suppressed anger. “It was supposed to be a joke.”

    Bill stood back. “I’m not laughing.”

    The intercom crackled to life. “This is Captain Warren speaking. Please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened. We are experiencing some air turbulence. Thank you.”

    “Take the blinders off Bill.” Jeff held Bill’s gaze. “She’s got a ring in your nose.”

    Back in his seat Bill snapped the seatbelt on and leaned his head back.

    The past few days had been a blast. When was the last time he’d laughed so much and had a good time? A ring in his nose? If he was brutally honest? He hadn’t missed Linda once. Didn’t miss her telling him how to dress, where to go, what to eat, and what friends were good for him. Alan and Jeff were the best friends a guy could want. Bill shifted in his seat.

    When the plane’s wheels touched down Bill reached back to scratch the itchy ‘tattoo’. His stomach had settled and his mind was made up. The ring would have to go.

  3. kimcatwil

    Their relationship had been doomed from the start.
    Kara had pretty much known that when she met Molly. That didn’t stop her from getting involved, against her better judgement.
    Kara had been in New York City for five and a half months now. It was a stark change from small town Illinois, where she had lived out her first 22 years. After high school, she attended community college in the town next to hers, but she had never really gotten away from her conservative family. Of course, she loved them more than anything. She and her two brothers had an almost idyllic childhood, from family Christmases to summer spent laughing and splashing in the lake at their camp. But Kara still knew something else was out there for her. She didn’t know what, exactly, that was, until she met Molly.
    Molly was young and vivacious. Kara was new in town, just getting settled in to her new apartment where Molly had been living for 3 years now. Kara had never met anyone who loved life like Molly. She had never met someone who gave love so freely.
    Kara wouldn’t have ever identified as gay, necessarily. She had dated a few guys in high school and college, although none had really stuck, and she’d never been all that broken up about it. Kara knew shortly that it didn’t matter what her orientation was anyway. She wasn’t interested in men OR women, not in the larger sense, anyway. She was interested in Molly.
    The romance was the definition of a whirlwind. Kara and Molly went from two strangers on craigslist, connected by the mutual need for a roommate, to girlfriends, in a few short weeks. Girlfriends didn’t feel like a strong enough word, though; at least not to Kara. It was like they were soulmates. Two parts of a whole that had been waiting their whole lives to find each other. All that cheesy crap that Kara never believed in. She had found it in Molly.
    Kara had tried her hardest to push out of her mind the fact that her internship in the city was temporary. Six months, the agency had said. If she was lucky, she would get a job offer. But there were ten interns, and usually only two or three got job offers. And, five months into her internship, she had learned she wasn’t one of them.
    Molly had offered to move back to Illinois with her. To start a life in a vastly different environment, just to stay with the woman she loved. But Kara knew the truth- it didn’t matter if she had gotten the job or not. Her family was in Illinois. Her LIFE was in Illinois. And bringing home a woman would just not be accepted.
    On their last night together, Molly and Kara opted to stay in, sharing tearful goodbyes. As they held each other’s embrace, wondering if they would ever be together like this again, Kara asked Molly to say a word. It didn’t matter what word. Just any word.
    “Umm… I don’t know, parachute?” said Molly, the confusion in her voice clear despite the tears.
    “Perfect,” replied Kara. “From now on, whenever we hear the word parachute, or think of a parachute, we will be thinking of each other. The world may be able to tear us apart, but we will always have this one thing. This one word. From now on, parachute means us.”

  4. RebekkahGrace

    Tim was five, and I was seven during the summer that our small town hosted the county fair. Ma helped the other ladies in town get everything nice and pretty for visitors, which left Tim and I mostly running wild about. During the time leading up to the fair, we stayed out of too much mischief, at least enough that Ma didn’t catch wind. That is, until, Mr. Hayes brought his giant, black pig into town.
    He was a beaut! Big and shiny black with thick, prickly hair all over. He was the biggest pig Tim and I ever saw. From the moment we laid eyes on him, all we wanted to do was ride him! For the whole week Farmer Hayes was in town with that pig, we tried to find some way to get to it, but all our plans failed due to the crowds.
    Our chance finally came on the last morning. Mr. Hayes’ pig won the big blue ribbon, and he was going to be brought on big stage for the final ceremony. Timmy and I offered to help corral the pig, while Mr. Hayes took his sheep dog on stage for his blue ribbon. I pushed Tim onto the big pig’s back, and before I could climb on, a big bee stung that pig right on the behind.
    That pig took off across the stage, running faster than I’ve ever seen a pig run before or since. Tim held on for dear life to that pig’s big, black ears. I don’t know how he stayed on his back, but he did – across the stage, through the fence, down the dirt road toward town! He held onto that pig for nearly a mile, before the pig stopped and threw Timmy off.
    The whole crowd of people at the fair ran after Tim and pig. It was a sight to see – Tim riding that pig down the road with the whole county running after him on foot. I ran to the front of the crowd, excited to see Tim riding that pig like a cowboy. The revelation that my hide was going to be tanned real good when Ma and Pa found out didn’t occur to me until after the ordeal.
    When we all finally came upon Timmy, he sat straight up and grinned, all four of his front baby teeth knocked clean out of his mouth. He looked at me standing in front of the crowd, and yelled, “I wode the bwig!” I cheered, the crowd laughed, and me and my brother were promptly taken home by our Ma, who made sure we never attempted such foolishness again.
    It wasn’t long until I heard people recounting the story of Timmy and the “bwig”. Sometime later, I noticed that people were jokingly referring to all the pigs as “bwigs”, especially big, blue medal worthy ones. For years after, even after we were grown, I would still hear someone call, “Here, bwig! Come here, bwig!”

  5. ReathaThomasOakley

    Custom Etymology

    “Dearest husband of mine,” I hesitated. “I have a conundrum,” I finished with a sigh.

    “Yeah,” he said from across our table, spread for the noon time meal, “I had one of those in high school,” he sadly shook his head, didn’t miss a beat. “Never got to use it.”

    (A true story from less than an hour ago, immediately thought of the prompt. BTW, not too many years ago he wooed and won me with his wit.)

  6. Jennifer Park

    34. The Conspiracy

    [Follows “33. The Dumtipaatiiti”, under “Peacock”, but comes before “35. The Servant”, below.]

    Barbara was increasingly convinced that her doubts about the Dumtipaatiiti were on the right track. They did not have emotions as such, but did seem to have at least two distinct affect states—confusion and hesitation—which could be detected in subtle movements of their abdomen. Moreover, while they never seemed to lie, they were very good at withholding information. Of every ten questions or so one asked them, they only answered seven or eight. The Earthlings blamed this on the Dumtipaatiiti’s tendency to overlogick, but Barbara was convinced that this was habitual, and true of their communication with one another as well. One could not possibly build a complex society entirely on free flow of honest information.

    Not only that, when it came to the finances of the planet, the response rate dropped down to three or four out of ten.

    “And they don’t seem to even know that they are doing this,” Barbara explained.

    “So…” Subambassador Darcy Milk’s frown deepened. “So, they are capable of fraud, but are not aware of this.”

    “That, I don’t know. They have the ability to make themselves not hear things. Not be aware of things. Something like that.”

    “So it’s not a lie… More like denial… Or, repression?”

    Barbara nodded. “Yeah, like repressed memory.”

    “Would you call it an ‘affect state’?”

    “Maybe. Some kind of mental hesitation. Subconscious mental hesitation.”

    “They are ‘compartmentalizing’.”

    Barbara yelped, “Yes! Exactly!”

    “Funny word, ‘compartment’.”


    “Compartment. ‘Con’ means together. ‘Part’ means to share. Literally means ‘sharing together’, as in splitting the exploits or something. But, now it means simply ‘to divide’.”

    Barbara was stunned with delight. “That’s excellent! They are separating out their minds, but they are sharing things with one another… like a conspiracy.”

    “Another word that starts with ‘con’,” Darcy observed. “‘Breathing together’.”

    “OK. Dig into their accounting system a bit more. Look out for rounding errors. They probably have some systematic pattern of… I don’t know…”

    “‘System’ is another word having to do with togetherness. Bringing together, gathering together…”

    “OK. Stop it. That’s enough for now,” admonished Barbara.

    “Ah. Apologies, Your Excellency.”

    “You wanna f%^&?”

    Darcy smiled. “So long as you don’t mean ‘strike’ or ‘stab’.”

    “Oh, I very much mean those things,” Barbara smiled back. “And ‘conspiring’.”


    When Darcy died in a ferry accident a year later, her geeky charm—‘geek’, as in ‘circus freak’ or ‘jester’—was not what Barbara missed the most. It was her thoroughness, demonstrated by the large packet of information that arrived the next day.

    The Dumtipaatiiti were, indeed, siphoning off the treasury. Where the stolen funds were going, it was not clear. One could not steal things from the Galactic Union and just keep them on one’s own planet.

    ‘Planet’, from ‘wanderer’.

    Like the diplomats, from ‘pieces of paper folded in half’, scattering in the winds, carrying their messages.

    Darcy, most of all, had been a friend in their wanderings.

    Barbara started to feel angry. ‘Anger’, from ‘anguish’, as in ‘grief’.

  7. amonroe17

    Olivia’s Starling

    “Wait!” I yelled as I struggled to free my boot from the ankle-deep muck I hadn’t seen below my feet seconds before. The two boys didn’t miss a beat, and kept on trudging through the forest. I rolled up my pat leg and yanked on the top of my boot.

    I freed myself with a slurp as the mud gave way. We weren’t in a swamp, but we may as well have been. The August air hung thick and wet in the trees, and the ground was soft and – as I was reminded then – sometimes sludgy. We were due for a storm, but there was no rain in the forecast all week. The only thing left to do was sweat, and we had gotten really good at that.

    “Come on, Olivia!” TJ groaned. My big brother was stuck with me all summer while our parents worked. I was going into middle school that year, and TJ was starting high school. He and his best friend Mark tore around that summer like they needed to squeeze every last ounce of childhood out of themselves before they became men. And I was along for the ride, whether they liked it or not.

    “You OK, Liv?” Mark called over his shoulder. I could feel my cheeks going crimson. Luckily TJ didn’t notice. The last thing I wanted was another one of his embarrassing lectures about how I was too young to notice boys, especially Mark, for God’s sake.

    “Fine,” I call back. I jogged to catch up with them as we reached the clearing with the single maple tree in the middle.

    “Well, do you see it?” TJ asked. Mark stood silent, his gaze lifted toward the top of the tree. There it was. Perched on a branch was the most beautiful bird I had ever seen. Our biology teacher Mr. Morris taught us last year that the flashier birds were the males. They distracted predators from the nest. If that was true, then this bird must have been very manly. His ink-black head was dotted by two piercing red eyes. His chest was royal purple, and his wings melted from azure blue to turquoise. His chest was the color of a blazing fire.

    “Shh,” Mark said. “Just follow me.” The three of us inched closer to the tree. Carefully, we sat down and Mark pulled a fistful of birdseed from his pocket. Mark gave me half his birdseed and we both held out our hands. “Nobody move,” he said.

    We waited in silence for a full minute. My arm was getting sore. I started to think they were putting me on. But then, just like that, the beautiful, rainbow bird soared down from his perch and landed on my arm, eating out of the palm of my hand.

    “What should we call it?” I asked.

    “I was thinking sturnus Olivia,” Mark said. Olivia’s Starling. That time both boys saw my cheeks go red, but I didn’t care.

  8. Moirai-TQ

    The taproom was a nice comfortably, warm temperature. The Minnesota Wild game was on the TV. Zach was behind the bar serving the beer and keeping an eye on the game. Most people were engrossed in the game and didn’t notice when the door opened and let in a quick blast of the cold outside air. Zach turned his head and saw the stranger step in and pause next to the first huge glass window which allowed the patrons to watch the goings on in the brew house.

    It was almost as if Zach was the only who noticed the him. The stranger took off his glasses and used his shirt to clear the condensation from his lenses. He looked up as he put them back on and smiled at Zach. Zach smiled back and did the man head-nod thing. Zach glanced at the group sitting at the bar. Some did shiver a bit when the cold air finally reached them. He noticed that Sally had pulled her zipper hoodie up bit around her neck and went back to her crocheting. He was amazed that she could listen to the game and watch what her fingers were doing and keep it all together in her head. She sat next to her husband, Penn, of 20+ years. He shook his shoulders a little and gave Sally a little hug.

    There was one seat left at the bar, so the stranger sat on that stool. Sally turned from her work and smiled at him, as that seat was next to her. Penn turned and also did the head-nod thing. Leaning over, Zach asked what he wanted.

    “I’ll take the barrel-aged Grand Cru.” His voice had a hint of Minnesota or Wisconsin. Sally heard it right away and grinned.

    “Good choice,” she said. “One of my favorites.” She tapped her glass with her crochet hook.

    He picked up the beer-filled glass, smelled the brown liquid, and sighed with satisfaction.

    “It tastes better than it smells,” Sally added.

    She went back to her crocheting and listening to the game.

    While the game was on, most people didn’t bother anyone else. Everyone was paying attention to the game. Once a commercial came on, people got up to go to the bathroom, order more beer, or talk with a neighbor.

    Zach reached over the bar and introduced himself to the stranger.


    “Mitch. Thanks for the great beer and showing the Wild hockeygame.”

    “We say hockeygame, too. Have ever since we noticed broadcasters saying it. It makes perfect sense.” Sally said this while continuing her crocheting. “Zach’s from Minnesota. Are you, too?”

    “Just visiting from Canada, eh. I have family in town. They don’t like hockey.”

    “No wonder they moved to the US.”

    Chuckles were heard all around.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Both stories, very well done. Reminded me of when newly married from Florida, living in Montana, I was teased about my accent and word choices. But, when I mentioned THEIR accents and different ways of communicating was told they had no accents, etc.

      1. Moirai-TQ

        Completely understand. When I was young and in the USAF, I was stationed at Minot AFB. They talked strange up there! I heard all kinds of new accents up there. This is where I learned how to differentiate between the different regions, apart from the obvious Southern.

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Still on the topic, the Dakotas, and just over their western borders, have a pronounced mid-western flatness, folks in parts of Montana and Wyoming, where I am now, with a cattle history, had, when I first lived in the area decades ago, almost a slight Southerness. Perhaps from Texas/Oklahoma influences. In college I took a fascinating class on regional accents. Didn’t realize coastal Florida vowel sounds were evident even in Maryland. We just knew kids from 35 miles east talked funny.

          Interesting topic. Lots of regionalisms seem to be disappearing. Good you survived Minot.

          1. Moirai-TQ

            Ohio and Chicago had the flatest accents. I’m still pretty good at telling where folks are from. I’m in CO. Waving at you from the colorful state.

            Thanks. Minot was something else. Went to Arizona, West Germany (dating myself), NM, NY, NM, CA, and now CO.

  9. Moirai-TQ

    Brendan, the beertender, was clicking through the guide on the TV looking for something for the mostly male patrons in the taproom. Frank and Joe were relative newcomers and didn’t feel quite comfortable enough to speak up when they spotted NHL games in the list. Brendan turned to the room and looked at everyone. Only the two new guys were watching him. He looked at Frank and Joe, raised his eyebrows, tilted his head, and waited.

    “Hockeygame, please,” said Joe.

    “Any one in particular?”

    “Well, if you don’t the Wild. They play a good hockeygame, dontcha know.” replied Frank.

    “Yea, hockey’s good,” another voice chimed in. “As long as it’s not the Redwings. They suck.”

    “Hockey it is.”

    Frank and Joe moved from the table to two empty seats at the bar. Brendan stuck his hand out and said, “Brendan.”



    “You two are new here. You from Minnesota?”

    “Yep. We just moved here a couple of months ago. We sure miss the hockeygames from our Canadian stations. Thanks for puttin’ on the Wild.”

    Brendan grinned and said, “I know a couple of other people who say hockeygame. They’re not from Minnesota. They’ve mentioned that the game broadcasters say it a lot.”

    “Yea. It’s not an official word, but most players and fans from Canada and the northern tier states use it. As if our accent didn’t announce where we’re from, this did. Cheers!”

    “Cheers, man.”

    With that, all eyes were on the hockeygame.

  10. Beebles

    Hi Jess,

    Posting trouble I’m afraid. Any sign of my story in the ether? I am still checking for naughtiness at my end.

    For those interested I’ll put it on the website under Dalwhinnie’s Chance. Click on the name …

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Dalwhinnie is quite a guy, his outfit is very visual, saw nothing filterable.. Great job creating that world for both stories. Read chapter one of novel, loved the banter before SHE appears. By that final line I was hooked. You’ve been busy!

      1. Beebles

        Appreciate the comment. Not busy with QOSS unfortunately. Just started again on the rewrite. Draft 11! Been stuck for a while but might have broken through today. After three stories I also have an arc for dear old Dalwhinnie. How are your own progressing?

        1. ReathaThomasOakley

          Wow! 11th draft! I am impressed! In November I committed to NaNo for Annie and think I got all the stories finished, January was to be editing month, but while I had the arc contained in a school year, needed a good way to pull it all together. Considering Epistilary (spelling?) form with her detecting note book used as a diary rather than trying to do a consistent, chronological narrative. I fear filling the spaces between adventures would add too many more words. The (neglected) Girl is always with me, in fact I’m working on a 3,000 word piece for the fiction competition I won last year with Annie. I’m also polishing several pieces first seen here for flash fiction contest. I do enjoy learning what others are doing. The very best to you on your work.

          1. Beebles

            Its called inefficiency. As a note of encouragement to others, I submitted draft 9 to a publisher and received a rejection letter so beautifully worded it inspired me more than any of my readers’ comments. Good luck with yours.

  11. phoenixfeather


    Tilly had loved art ever since she was a little girl.
    She was an exceptionally vivacious child from the get go, with a lurid imagination and little regard for social norms. Her youth was spent dancing, singing, shouting, never still for more than a minute. Before she could speak, she warbled constantly. And when she learned, she took to it like a fish to water- her tongue tripping over itself, chattering a mile a minute about anything and everything, but mostly the vast, glittering worlds that existed only in her mind. Worlds of bubbling purple rivers and vast emerald skies, of princes and angels and talking clouds.

    Her parents, on the other hand, were staid, practical types, with sensible jobs and a penchant for simplicity and order. They did little to try to understand their strange, exuberant child- Tilly, likewise, was frustrated by their slow minds and lack of passion, the strict rules they subjected her to.

    It was when she was seven years old that she discovered a means to channel all that insatiable energy. A school trip to an art gallery was all it took, and the course of her life was shifted forever.
    Her classmates, like most children, soon gotten bored with looking at unmoving canvases, and fussed and whined to go home.

    But Tilly, oh, Tilly had fallen in love. The paintings she saw seemed to contain everything that was missing from her own dreary existence, everything she hoped life could be- gorgeous, expressionistic, hopelessly romantic, filled with shadows and hidden passions.

    That afternoon, she went home with a newfound purpose, and begged and whined and pouted to her poor exhausted parents until they relented and bought her a set of paints.

    Tilly painted voraciously. Fantastical things, mostly: distorted creatures with gaping mouths full of stars, kaleidoscopic landscapes, grotesque dog-fish-human hybrids. She had very little in the way of technique- her colours spilling out of lines and dripping down pages. But she was never so happy as when she would emerge from her bedroom, hands and clothes spattered with paint, triumphantly holding a new creation.

    She continued to paint, and create, and fantasize through the years. Whilst her peers concerned themselves with the usual adolescent trappings of boys, gossip and lipstick, she cared only for her brushes and pigment.

    But Tilly was by nature restless and fickle. As she grew older, she became more and more critical of her art; it seemed to her to risk become stale and conventional, the very last things she wanted to associate herself with.

    No, she had to go further. It became an obsession. She felt frenzied with nervous energy, night and day. The canvas wasn’t enough for her anymore, she needed more, always more. The crackling energy of her youth increased tenfold, and painting didn’t help anymore. She felt like she could swallow the world whole and it wouldn’t be enough for her.

    And it was in this manic, morbid state, that Tilly was hit with a burst of inspiration. She had all she needed right there in her home! She got to work with a newly invigorated zeal. Deep into the night and through the next day, she toiled relentlessly. She forgot about school, about life, about everything but her work.
    And finally, after who knows how many hours, she stopped, exhausted.

    Soaked in sweat and eyes gleaming, she looked down at her parents, more beautiful to her than they’d ever been before.

    Cold and crimson soaked, tragically beautiful and morbid.

    This, Tilly decided, THIS, was the definition of art. And promptly collapsed from exhaustion.

    1. Beebles

      Woah, though it did build well, I didn’t see that coming. As a staid parent I am now looking over my shoulder waiting to be turned into a human adagio! I seem to have trouble doing those long timespan type stories. You don’t.

    2. writer_sk



      Your descriptions were magnificent. The build iup of energy and frustration were so well done.

      I didn’t want her to have that gruesome end but sometimes the stories that make one uncomfortable have the most impact.

      I look forward to reading more from you. Wish I’d read earlier in the week. I had trouble getting these all read this week!

  12. BrendanM

    In an office, sitting behind a desk, avoiding tasks to be done. Such as responding to emails, finishing up quarterly report summaries, submitting year end revenue projections to upper management, etc., all the while going all out trying to find the funniest meme on Facebook, seeing what might be on the Amazon home page that you should totally buy, what subreddit has gotten the most upvotes this week, etc. This is, in a nutshell, “dysworking”. Now there are similar words, such as “laziness” and “procrastination”, but they are not quite interchangeable with “dysworking”. Dysworking is far more than just being unproductive or avoiding the highest priority, so read on, and we shall enlighten the world with this new term.
    An appropriate summation for “dyswork” would be “the act of meticulously and enthusiastically being preoccupied with venues of social or entertainment activity that would impede one from accomplishing his or her own main priority for that given time”. The word stems from the English word “work” which means “to be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result, especially in one’s job”, and the prefix “dys-” which is a commonly used suffix meaning “the opposite of”. To be more precise, “dysworking”(verb, present participle, gerund) could be defined as “to be engaged in any mental (or perhaps physical) activity while at that particular time one knowingly should be engaged in another specific activity to accomplish a predetermined goal”.
    The shocking, yet extraordinary nature of the word “dysworking” is that it has not yet claimed a spot in any accredited, reputable dictionary, despite being a habit nearly all teenagers and adults would admit to being all too guilty of calling a personal vice. Furthermore, dysworking has played a role in humanity for centuries, if not millennia. Granted, in today’s world, it has made exponential strides in how frequently we do it (manifested by primarily the internet), but the term is so open-ended, that it has been possible to “dyswork” since the dawn of civilization. Think about it—perhaps one of those highly skilled Egyptian engineers assigned to build the Great Pyramid of Giza decided to play an extra game of competitive checkers, and subsequently punched-in late that day—undoubtedly hurting his chances at getting that impending promotion later that month. Now that really bites, but, would he ever guess that his 21st century descendants would have the same habits? Perhaps by scrolling through “The Onion” to read the most clever Donald Trump article, while they should have been preparing their boss’s presentation for next Monday? Maybe.
    So, that’s the new word—“dysworking”. To wrap it all up, I’m going to leave this on an ironic note. I’m working hard, writing this piece, on my P.C., at my desk job, while immediately to my left, I’ve got a huge pile of paperwork I need to get done by 5 today, and I’m late for my weekly one-on-one with my boss as it is. 

  13. Kerry Charlton



    Do you want to come along? If so all you need is to pass a little test. A voyage of words and phrases no longer used today and therefore they are sinking into a non-reachable void when those who lived and spoke them will no longer be here. For you see, nothing ever remain as it is. So why is that? Personally I have no idea, I’m just here to go along for the ride.

    First of all, the first word of the title, ‘Bumper Bullets’. Any clue at all? Think 1953 Cadillac Series75. Two chrome bullets placed left and right, resembling ‘puppies.‘ This isn’t at all what it means to me. Guess? No, you can’t think of it?. Well girls bras of the fifties had enough metal and steel support, they took the word from the Cadillac. Dancing too close became hazardous for a chest cave. to say the least.

    ‘Blue dots‘, any thoughts on this one? No? Do you want to pass this test or not? You weren’t cool without blue dots. Rear lights on cars brightened as you hit the brake. We removed the plastic red lens and replaced with a lens that had a large blue purple glass in it. The whole rear of the car shone in purple.

    When guys used to talk about ‘skirts‘, what were they referring to? You said girls, right? Wrong! Want a second shot at it? No? Well it’s fender skirts that fit in
    between the fenders and closed the view of the upper part of wheels. Why you ask, dummy ! Makes the car sleek and look lower for heaven’s sake. Did they steal them? Of course, that’s why razor blades were taped to the skirt to keep them safe.

    You’re not doing very well, do you realize? Next word is ‘rings‘, you say you know this one? Compression rings on the cylinders? Wrong, these rings were given to your steady girl and fit snuggly on a girls wrist. Impossible you say? Not if they were Buick rings from a 1954 roadster that sat as a hood ornament. Many a teenager sat a night in jail from stealing these.

    For Pete’s sake, does anyone know what ‘sides’ were. Sides of what you say? Sides of what, did you really say that? Think music, have you spilled your brains out? No? Sides were vinyl records. Oh no, did you really ask what vinyl records are? You’re hopeless.

    One last dying chance, try to think now. The phrase is ‘passion pit’. You with your hand up, what is it? The drive in, God bless you girl, do you have first hand experience? No, you won’t answer? Okay you’re in.

    I leave you with one last thought. Say hello to your ‘drinky bird’.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            I’m not sure we had bad girls either because I never ran into one. The rumor was they existed and the whole thing was probably a pigment of someone’s.insanity.

  14. GrahamLewis


    I have been sometimes asked about the secret societal name used by those of us blessed or condemned to be members of the Order of the Syndrome, membership that promised near immortality. Until now this name has been designated a secret to be known only to members, disclosure of which would result in expulsion and subsequent extinction. Because, to my knowledge, I am the sole remaining member, I see no reason to keep silent. In fact, it is my hope, illusory though it may be, that by revealing the name and its origins, I can to some extent help ensure that the Order remains alive, if only in human memory, after I am gone. How ironic that a group of men seemingly destined to live forever should instead be survived by mere mortals, and their existence reduced to a shell of words.

    So be it.

    The Order of the Syndrome is or was a group of men, always men for reasons of genetics, born with a genetic condition, a syndrome, that endowed them with perpetual life so long as they consumed a daily dosage of medication, colloquially known as the “restorative.” This restorative was compounded from a plant in the botanical family “sempervivium,” which in Latin means “always living.” For those of us born with what we called The Syndrome, the compounded extract therefore bestowed endless life . We called ourselves “sempervivians,” the everliving, the immortals. It should be noted, as an aside, that for those without the Syndrome, consumption of the restorative bestowed almost immediate and always excruciating death.

    We thought we ourselves had cheated death, In fact we had but delayed it. No one anticipated a virus would destroy the sempervivium plants. But it came The last few plants, so far as I know, are in the greenhouse behind this empty shell of a building, once the headquarters of the Order, of which I am now sole resident. I noticed this morning a telltale browning of the leaves, which means the virus has reached even here. I have but a three-day supply of Restorative. After that, I will come to my long-delayed end, as will another of Nature’s failed grand experiments.

    Sempervivian no more.

  15. brookesmith

    “Jordan, since you look so invested in this lesson, tell us, what are we learning about?” My teacher/wicked witch of the west, leaned over her desk and pet her flying monkey. (Maybe the flying monkey is an exaggeration, but you get what I’m saying.)

    I bolted upright in my chair, and frantically looked around the room for answers. I found a cold and unforgiving classroom of middle school nerds staring back at me with empty expressions.

    I racked my brain, and decided to take a long shot. The first word that came out of my dumb mouth was, “Corphards. Yeah, Corphards.” The class snickered, and my teacher looked pleased with my answer, pleased that she could once again prove me wrong. We were in a never ending war that would not stop until one of us faltered. It seemed I had.

    “Corphards? Really? Hah! The girl could’ve come up with something better than that.” Someone laughed.

    My face burned. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Harriet signaling something to me. I acted nonchalant and tried to make out what she was signing to me. She was mimicking gunshots and dead people.

    “Corphards is another word for…..the battle…” I began. Harriet nodded. Another student, a real Nerd King, pointed towards another student, Lexi…? Yes, she was known as Gassy Lexi, for an incident that happened in fourth grade. “The Battle of Lexington?”

    The Nerd King gave me a thumbs up. He put his right hand over his heart. “Yeah, it was the Revolutionary War!”

    The wicked witch looked impressed. “Very good.”

    I smirked and mouthed a silent thank you to Nerd King and Harriet. I crossed my arms and leaned back in my chair, proud for what I accomplished. I saw Harriet and Nerd King high five, but I didn’t know why until the witch spoke, a real evil smile splitting her gharish features.

    “Jordan, it would’ve have been very impressive, if only this weren’t Math class.”

  16. RafTriesToWrite

    This is it. It’s just me and that girl from Russia.

    She needs to go down, hard. So hard that she couldn’t even spell ‘anemone’ if it hit her in the face – which I bet would sting.

    Sasha has been my nemesis since the nationwide competitions. Someone needs to take that Russian girl down. Today.

    The Worldwide spelling bee competitions isn’t something to be joked about. This is the big leagues and my aim is to win. That’s it.

    “Would Sasha and Samuel please come to the left side of the stage.” Mr. Timothée, the judge representative from Europe spoke.

    This is the day. This is my day to win one of these. I’ve read countless of books just to prepare for this day and the only thing that stands between me and that trophy is that little Russian girl.

    I’m ready. Bring it on.

    “Miss Sasha to the mic please” Ms. Sylvia, the judge from Asia ordered.

    My heart is pounding right now. I hope they give the hard stuff to her.

    “Miss Sasha” Ms. Sylvia continued.

    “Yes.” There she goes again, with her thick Russian accent of hers. What a loser.

    “The word is ‘milquetoast’.”

    What?! That’s way too easy! Even I know that, pffshhh!

    “Can I get the origin of the word please?” I rolled my eyes at her. Anyone can spell milk toast! Even I can do it in my sleep.

    “Americanism; after Caspar Milquetoast, a character in The Timid Soul, comic strip by H. T. Webster (1885-1952), who is an American cartoonist” Mr. Jake, the official reader of definitions and origins in this year’s worldwide spelling bee competition spoke.

    “Uhm, can I get the definition please?” Wait, what? Is it not ‘milk toast’?

    “Uh, ‘milquetoast’. A timid, unassertive, or apologetic person.” My eyes widen. I was way off with the word. Perhaps asking for the definition was the right move. But still, it’s not that hard of a word to spell.

    “And as used in a sentence: In Florida, our plants and our weather are boisterously confrontational, but the seasonal changes are milquetoasts.” He continued.

    “Milquetoast. M-I-L……” Sasha pauses, clearly thinking of the next letter which is the tricky part.

    Please be wrong please be wrong please be wrong.

    “Q-U-E-T-O-A-S-T. Milquetoast” She got it.

    “That is correct.” Yes, we know Ms. Sylvia.

    “Mr. Samuel to the mic please” Here we go. It looks like we’re going to need another round for me to win this.

    “The word is ‘straydandybole’.” Mr. Thompson, the representative from Britain spoke. I’m sorry what? My heart pounded harder. What did he just say?

    “Can you repeat the word please?” I asked.

    “C-c-can I g-get the origin of the word please?” My hands are shaking. Why don’t I know this word?

    “Canadian; Created by the comedian actor Jim Carrey at November 2017 in a skit on SNL” Mr. Jake answered.

    Are you kidding me? Was that ever used in a book before?

    “C-can I get t-t-the definition p-please?” My voice more unsteady than ever. I suddenly don’t feel so good.

    “To frolic or to run happily on a field of dandelions without clothing.” The room chuckles but me.

    “S-straydandybole? Uh. S-T-R-A-Y…”

    Long story short, I cried all the way home and Sasha took home the trophy. Sometimes spelling it as it sounds isn’t always the safe route. How was I supposed to know that ‘bole’ was spelled B-O-L-E and not B-O-W-L?

    I should’ve watched more TV.

    1. GrahamLewis

      Reminds me of 5th grade when I and Sue were the top spellers and final survivors. She went down on the word “temperature.” I have since accused her of losing deliberately on such a relatively easy word but she denies it. Funny how well I recall that moment from nearly 60 years ago.

  17. Denise

    I looked out our large office windows. I took a deep breath. I dislike rain and the humidity absorbed in its drops. It wreaks havoc on my hair. I stared at the giant balls of water as they bounced off the window. When the breeze came, it caused the rain to sway like a wet sheet. I shook my head in disbelief as the traffic below roared through the puddles and washed the innocent pedestrians with waves of water. I needed to get out the office and forget about work for a while, even if it meant walking to lunch in a torrential downpour.

    “You ready, Dorothy? Lunch is on me,” I said to my now very hungry co-worker.

    “Make sure you take your bingy-o-ee. Mine doesn’t fit two people.

    “My what?” I asked as my mouth slightly opened. “Dorothy, what the heck did you say?”

    “I said, sweetheart, the rain,” Dorothy replied widening her eyes at the window. “It’s raining, make sure you take your bingy-o-ee.”

    “What the heck is a bingy-o-ee?” I shouted.

    Dorothy gave me a confused look as if she didn’t understand what I said. “Your umbrella, sweetheart, umbrella.”

    “Why not say umbrella? Where did you get bingy-o-ee from?”

    Dorothy giggled as she took her umbrella from the side of her desk. She gazed at it and then at me. “I guess I couldn’t say umbrella correctly when I was a child, so I called it a bingy-o-ee.”

    “Well, jeez, Dorothy after 70 years, you should know the correct name?”

    “Bingy-o-ee is more fun. And I bet you’ll never forget it either,” Dorothy said as she carefully put on her raincoat. She adjusted her belt, placed her pocketbook carefully over her wrist and securely grasped the wooden handle of her bingy-o-ee.

    “Fun? It’s ridiculous, and I will forget it,” I said to her as I reached into the closet to get my coat.

    Dorothy straightened her stance and cocked her head to me. “Did you forget something?” she questioned. “I told you to take your ‘rain element’ with you.”

    “Oh, for God’s sake, give me the umbrella,” I said as I pulled it from her hand.

    I smiled to Dorothy in the elevator as I noticed the other passengers with their bingy-o-ees. She bobbed her head at my observation. We prepared ourselves in the doorway. We lifted our collars, hunched our shoulders in preparation for the attack of the raindrops. Once on the sidewalk, we snapped them open and eagerly stepped under their protective awning. We gingerly dodged the puddles and the waves caused by the traffic and made it to the restaurant. We enjoyed our lunch as the rain unleashed its wetness all over the city.

    Years later, after exchanging office work for mother work, I prepared my little girl to catch the school bus. “Don’t forget your bingy-o-ee, it’s raining.”

    “My what?” she gasped.

    I chuckled to myself. The word left my lips so naturally. I guess I never did forget the word bingy-o-ee and I never forgot to take one when it rained.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      Hello Denise, one of my favorite girl’s.names. Clever response to a difficult prompt. It’s the hard ones we learn from, but you took it and ran with it. Descriptions of the rain were particularly stunning. All and all a great piece of work.

    2. Beebles

      Good poignancy at the end there (is that how you spell it?). As Reatha says it is in such things that we remember people. All families have their own words. On that matter, does anyone else refer to their pjs as dishables? Or use the phrase ‘enough blue in the sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers?’

  18. Bushkill

    I moved my pieces across the Risk game board and held a dominant position across all of Europe and most of Asia. My armies had crushed the last real resistance in the game and I stood at the pinnacle of success. I leaned back in my chair and folded my hands behind my head, proclaiming loudly. “Vini, Vidi, Vici!” For added benefit, I tossed in the obligatory “Losers.”

    Tim, opposite me and in a quandary having just been hammered like an over-ripe melon, looked up over the brim of his dark-rimmed glasses. “You’re saying it wrong.”

    Jim, a man with scarcely a chit left in the game mumbled under his breath. “Loser.”

    I bristled. “You’re one to talk. You don’t have an army big enough to push the Browns off of a football field.” I marveled at the brilliance of my scathing remark, hoping that Jim learned his lesson and stayed quiet.


    Tim looked at me again, smiling from ear to ear. “Nope, you’re wrong. Your pronunciation is all screwed up.”

    I laughed at him. “I call BS. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I stabbed a finger at Italy, squarely under my territorial markers and definitely mine. “I coined the phrase, Batman.”

    “Coins in the era often had a picture of the ruler on them and a few words of enlightenment. Still, you’re saying it wrong.” His smile remained smug as he tilted his head and reveled in unsettling me.
    My macho stance had ebbed somewhat and he hounded after me. “The V in those words and its hard sound in the western European tongues is a misnomer. That isn’t the way that the Latin works at all.”

    “And you’re an expert!”

    “Expert, no, knowledgeable enough about common phrases the masses misrepresent? Yes.” He gave a slight pause, certainly for dramatic effect, though possibly baiting me. “And you are wrong, a member of the masses. A poor, ignorant wretch.”

    I hammered the table, sending plastic armies tumbling and skittering about. “Give it up. Vini, Vidi, Vicci! Everyone knows it. Everyone says it.”

    “Maybe, and they all do it wrong. Common conviction aside, the V is softer, more feminine-sounding to our ears than the harsh and guttural V you use. In the original Latin, the V had a ‘wh’ sound like in ‘what’. That means, phonically, your power-phrase sounds like Weeny, Weedy, Weechie. Perhaps you should raise your pinkie as you sip your tea as well. It affects the mood better.”

    “That’s a crock. No way.” But I was already looking it up on my phone and trying to find a pronunciation of the ancient phrase in its language of the time.

    Tim looked sideways at Jim. “Jim, you know any conquerors that reach for a Weeny to express their power?”

    Jim shrugged his shoulders. “Just the one here with us. Pretty sure Freud had something to say about that behavior, too.” Jim looked at me. “He was Germanic. Lots of hard sounds. You’ll love it.”

  19. Pete

    KJ won’t go down. He just won’t. He squirms and flops and jabbers even after I read him “Earl the Squirrel” three freaking times. I even make up my own alternate ending where Earl sees the beach for the first time.

    KJ isn’t buying it. “Squirrels don’t like the beach, Jackie,” he says. Ugh. I’m not allowed to deviate. Ever.

    “Sure they do,” I tell him. “Haven’t you heard of, um, Squishes?”

    He giggles, shaking his head. “Squishes. No, you made that up. Squirrels don’t like the beach.”

    Back to that. “You know who likes the beach? Me.”

    “Will you take me one day?”

    I promise that I will, someday. But my fingers are clumsy with guilt as I stroke his hair until (finally!) he submits to that impossible lull of little boy sleep. Then, ever so carefully, I slide away and slip on my shoes. I peek in on Dad—out cold. I exhale. After dinner and dishes and bath times and tuck ins, the whole house is settled. I grab my jacket, open the door, say the hell with homework, and rush into the night.

    Heath is parked at the top of the street. A blast of euphoria hits my chest seeing his brake lights, hearing the rickety idle of his old Ford. I tear up the sidewalk, past the lazy chain link, fleeing the worry before it wraps me in its arms.

    I open the door, slide across the bench seats and crash into his warmth. “Hey.”

    A quick kiss and he pulls away, looking me over. “Everything okay?”

    “KJ couldn’t sleep. We have to get back before seven.”

    Heath nods, leans over and kisses me again. I catch his face in my hands. The only face I know that gives instead of takes.
    “Seven, okay?”

    “Yeah, okay.”

    We drive fast, floating, the vents hot from the engine’s work. To my left, the factory lights fill the black, where my father spent twenty years before the day he came home and hung his coveralls in the closet, where they still wait today.

    I push away thoughts of KJ. If he has enough blankets, if he’ll wet the bed again. If he’ll wake up and call me Mom again.


    Crap. Too much thinking. Heath’s eyebrows are up. His jaw set against the dash lights. He’s nothing like my father. But I’d bet my father was nothing like my father when he was in high school. I scoot closer, taking his hand, willing him not to take a job at that factory next year. Or ever. Especially not for me. I’m stuck. He’s not…

    He grips me again. His strong arm around my shoulder. I reach for his hand. We leave the factory groaning and pluming behind us and focus on the road stretched East before us. I want to keep going, like Mom did. But I need to turn back, turn back, turn back.

    I’m telling myself it’s fine when we slow down. I sit up, blinking to life. We’re maybe a few miles outside of town. The song ends.

    “Do we need gas?”

    This was his idea, to bring me all the way to the beach just to see a few waves. He shrugs. “I’m turning around.”

    “What?” I shake my head, loathing the relief that washes over me. “Why?”

    He hoists a smile onto his face. The car swings onto the exit ramp, then back around to the overpass. I lean into the turn, wanting the turn as much as I want him, breathing easier as we head west.

    Past the factory again. I’m torn between regret and relief as Heath promises another time at the beach. He kisses me before I open the door to get out, waif out, to leave this amazing gift of a boy I don’t deserve and walk/not run back down the street. Heath’s brake lights only vanish once I’m inside. And yes, KJ is stirring…calling for me… needing a mother but stuck with a sister.

    I slide next to him and stroke his hair. I wonder what she might be doing as my father snores in the next room. KJ settles in, each breathe heavier than the last until he’s dreaming. And I stare at the ceiling, trying my best to hear the waves crashing…and crashing…and crashing…

  20. rlk67

    Jason walked unsteadily to the stage. Mom and I tried not to laugh.

    Being the valedictorian came at a price. My poor, quiet brother, the one who sat in the back of every class and raised his hand every three years, was about to address over 1500 graduates, friends and relatives. On the high school field in the bright sun rested a large stage occupied with adults possessing long titles, and in the middle was…oh, gosh…The Podium. Unsweet dreams were made of these, to people like silent Jason.

    We tried to prep him, to encourage him, and to build him up. Picturing the audience in their underwear only drove him to the bathroom to throw up. Now, the portrait of dissonance was playing out in front of us. Oh, we were praying hard.

    Jason made it to the stage without tripping. One major hurdle past us. He pulled out his speech and placed it on the podium. Thankfully, there was no wind today. Mom squeezed my hand. It was the small successes which counted.

    Jason cleared his throat. Everything was silent. Jason cleared his throat. He had everyone’s full attention. Jason cleared his throat. The principal was smiling. Jason cleared his throat. I wanted to scream. Stop clearing your throat, doofus! Mom sunk a little into her chair. Jason cleared his throat.

    “sne…pur……” What was he saying? Someone from the stage jumped up and moved the mike closer to Jason’s mouth. “gew…tiu…quip….” The mike is moved again…it’s practically touching his lips.

    “Teachers, administrators, guests, family and friends.” Nice start. Now the joke. “A funny thing happened on the way to graduation.” C’mon…be calm. Don’t blow it. “What is responsibility? How do we make the transition from…” NOOOOO!! He skipped the punchline! Mom put her heads in her hands and started to cry. No, she was laughing. Ok, that was good.

    I took a deep breath. My poor brother, with his voice wavering, tried his hardest to plow through it.

    “And with my father unable to c-c-come today because of work, I know…” Well, ok, at least some people might feel sorry for him and give a sympathetic ear. I knew Mom had wished Dad had taken her to work with her.

    For the most part, Jason was able to navigate through his papers for the next fifteen minutes. Then the end was near. Just get through the ‘commitment and maturity’ part, then the ‘thank-you’s’, and it will all be over. Stop sweating, bro. The finish line is in sight.

    “…the s-s-success of life can be found in…m-mommitment and dadurity.” Say what?! What just happened? People were turning around giggling. Mom was melting.

    “And therefore I would like to mention the importance of thanking your parents, Mom and Dad…” Giggles turned to snickers. Some of Jason’s classmates weren’t so kind. He continued and mercifully reached the end. After shaking hands, he let out a sigh of relief. But people still talked.

    In the local town paper the next day, the headline about the graduation brought everyone in our house to our knees in hysterics. We clipped it, and put it on our wall.

    “HS Valedictorian Emphasises Importance of Mommitment and Dadurity, Thanking Mom and Dad”.

    1. Pete

      This is so well done. Love the voice here, the sister, and the whole story really, I could feel the kid’s nerves. I may have to use the term “Dadurity” at the dinner table tonight. Very funny!


    “Auchlib” she muttered as she perched on the second from the last wooden stair that leads from the upstairs bedrooms to the warm kitchen on the first floor. She has been scrubbing the stairs with a stiff brissel brush dipped in water, working from the top stair to the bottom, twenty stairs in all. Now that she is five her mother said she needs to help around the farm and this is her first real chore. She has been watching her oldest sister baking pies, cakes and cornbread for years now and is looking forward to helping with that chore, but not this chore, it is nasty work. She has also been told she will help with storing the hay in the barn this fall by leading Billy, their draft horse, as he walks down the path to raise the hay into the barn loft. She will enjoy this chore, Billy knows when he hears the bell that rings when the hay reaches the pulley that he needs to turn around and walk back down the path toward the barn, there isn’t much that she needs to do but walk beside Billy and hold the rope. Achlib is her word for protesting because she won’t get into trouble for saying this like she would if she says Auch De Libre.

  22. writer_sk

    “Ziffed that.”

    I looked at the guy training me at my new job as a master control operator. He wore an old pair of jeans and an L.L. Bean parka over a hooded sweatshirt. His hair was long and tucked behind his ears. His face was kind and he looked over his paperwork in a matter-of-fact way. I smoothed out my own hair and folded my hands in my lap. He was like me, your typical TV type: behind-the-scenes, joke around, tough exterior, good under pressure.

    “Ziffernan was an operator who worked his way up to engineer. He was known for covering something up if he made an error. He’d screw up a break, air it over programming and whitewash the discrepancy report. If you blow something up and don’t write it up, ya ‘ziffed’ it.”

    “So, the logs are checked against the playlist but our main concern is on-air. This is the preview monitor, the program and the off-air. Transmitter readings are taken at 15:00 and 19:00 hours. You will be responsible for these five stations. We input the clock starts for prime time.”

    Dan glanced at me while reaching for his lunch bag inscribed with the initials DZ and I noticed
    the yellowish hue in his eyes.

    I was zoning out a little. I’d come from another hub within the company so I didn’t need as much formal training. The CBS Evening News was beginning. I yawned.

    “So, how did you get into the industry, Dan?”

    “My cousin worked in master and he got me the job out of college. I worked at the NYC hub for five years then here for five years. I just got promoted to engineer.”

    The Emergency Alert System started to send tone along with a warning I had never seen. Dan jimmied the cable then unplugged the machine entirely with a “ziffed that” under his breath. He walked away, leaving me alone. I leafed through the log and tried not to worry about the unacknowledged EAS box.

    “BREAKING NEWS!” The news anchor was standing behind her desk wearing her coat.

    “All Americans need to evacuate. Head to the nearest airport or military base. Anyone who has gotten a flu shot needs to get the antidote or they’ll become infected and violent. Those already showing signs of infection will kill. You are in grave danger if a man or woman’s eyes become yellow. Once the transformation begins, a person cannot benefit from the antidote. Regular bullets and weapons will kill the creatures but they can regenerate, I’m being told, within two hours.”

    High-functioning under pressure, I knew I needed a weapon and an escape plan. I ran for the kitchen, grabbed a knife, bolted out the door, down the stairs and into my car.

    “Ziff, no!” our other co-worker yelled.

    I watched in helpless horror as Dan ran at the guy, knocked him down and dropped the heavy TV monitor on his head.

    1. Bushkill

      Ziff! that was good. tough to get the world-ending-beat-report thing to play out in 500 words, but you did a nice job. clearly, your ziffing days are behind you.

  23. Jennifer Park

    35. The Servant

    [There is a chapter skipped between “33. The Duumtipaatiiti”, under “The Vow of the Peacock”, and this bit. You can guess what chapter 34 would have been about.]

    The third attempt at her life was proof enough. A Segye gunship, no less, daring a full-frontal assault. She was on to them. The Duumtipaatiiti were not just siphoning off the Galactic treasury. There was a conspiracy afoot. Perhaps a rebellion.

    Normally, it was the local authority—say, a Prime Minister—who summoned the ambassador of a foreign power to lodge a complaint. When one is the Ambassador of the Galactic Union, however, one could barge in any time one pleased. Still dressed in her cartoon-adorned pajamas, stained with the blood of the Second Lieutenant who died protecting her, Barbara brushed aside the palace guards and angrily entered the Cabinet chamber.

    The Prime Minister greeted her through its translator, “Ambassador Barbarella… What… This is a domestic policy meeting…”

    “Stuff it, you bastard!”

    The Prime Minister shook its head in bafflement. Some words did not translate well.

    “I know what you are up to. I have half the mind to summon the 778th Fleet here, and have you all taken to Vzhdhmnm Bae for interrogations. But, first… Hey!”

    At the Prime Minister’s silent signal, the guards had surrounded Barbara and pinned her down to the ground.

    “Let… gr…” And gagged her as the Prime Minister approached.

    “Your word… for Ambassador… it comes from an ancient word that means ‘servant’ does it not? You are but a servant of the Galactic Union, a servant of the people.”

    “Mrrr! Mrrgrlrl!” Barbara struggled.

    “We, too, are servants of the people. As the guardians of the treasury, we guard the interests of the people… The people whose property the Union has been appropriating… The Union which has become a tyranny. An empire. For the sole benefit of you Earthlings.”

    Barbara struggled some more.

    “As they say on Tima, ‘Government is theft.’ And, you…”

    Barbara had heard enough. With a twitch of her eyeballs, she activated her diplomatic uniform. As the splendorous field of light and plasma materialized, it incinerated her pajamas, and the three guards who were holding her down, and enveloped her in a levitating glory that was revered in vast swaths of the galaxy as divine.

    Just for emphasis, Barbara turned up the part of the spectrum that was the most visible to the Duumtipaatiiti. They covered their eyes in pain and fear.

    Her voice reverberated as she raised her divine hand toward the Prime Minister. “The word ‘ambassador’ does come from an ancient word meaning ‘servant’. What you’ve neglected to look up is that the word, ‘ambaxtos’ means ‘the one who does everything’. I, the Ambassador, am the one who does everything myself!”

    Barbara clutched her hand, and the Prime Minister was folded in half—that’s what ‘diplomacy’ originally meant. With a swing of her hands, she dispatched the thirty or so guards who dared approach her. The rest of the ministers cowered and spread out their arms in deference.

    Barbara killed them anyway.

    A species revered as gods did not need a military fleet to subdue a measly planet.

  24. Russ

    “This… is just experrible,” said Alex.
    The other man walked back to his car front passenger seat (probably ignoring what Alex said, thinking he only misheard) to get something out of the glovebox.
    “This is so experrible,” Alex said again to himself as he walked around his own car and reached for his insurance info. which was on the floor behind drivers seat. Alex got the papers he needed and walked back to the collusion where the other man was waiting. Luckily, they weren’t on a busy street.
    “I’m so sorry, sir,” Alex said. “I was looking away from the road for a second. I’m just so sorry. I feel like an idiot. This is all just so experrible. It was, of course, my fault, so it shouldn’t be too experrible for you. You shouldn’t have to pay for anything. But tell me, is this car special to you? I’m sorry if it is.”
    “What was that word you said? Experrible?”
    “Experrible? Yea.”
    “What is that?” the man asked with his arms crossed, amused.
    “It’s expensive and terrible mixed.”
    The man laughed and said, “I guess that fits this pretty well, doesn’t it?”
    Well, we got everything settled, and I ended up paying the guy $500 bucks. My insurance covered my own car.
    But after that incident, my use of that word, experrible, doubled, maybe tripled, because that guy got such a kick out of it. My family just laughs when I use it, but someday I hope it becomes a popular word and added to the Merriam Webster dictionary.

  25. RealLynneBlum

    For whatever reason, Kena refused to accept anyone’s help with learning English. He had a bigger grudge against help than the Orks had against the Fernas. Despite this, he seemed to be getting along well enough in his studies.

    At dinner he would sit quietly, but I could see his ears twitch and his eyes cut when he heard a word he recognized. I made sure to use simple words so he could follow along the conversation at least some. The others didn’t realize my intention until I told them a few days later. He may refuse our help but that didn’t mean we couldn’t secretly help him.

    His understanding of the words for physical things was fine, but he wasn’t able to quite grasp the meaning of certain emotional words. After learning both Fernas and Spanish in high school I could understand why it was difficult. Everyone had their own words for things. Kena had his own words, and half the time our whole fleet would bet whether or not he spoke some made up language. I think it was, but he had to be able to speak at least to himself. So many days spent alone on a dying planet.

    “Please food water.” He said to one of the cafeteria ladies, who smiled just as sweet as a candy apple, and passed him dinner and a bottle of water. “Thank!”

    One day in particular, my crew was sitting by a window and Kena walked by, his nose buried 4 inches deep in his book as usual.

  26. JARobinson

    *A dreamoir*
    – A memoir of a dream-

    I wonder if she still thinks of me:
    Does she dream about me? If she does, is she feeling it?

    We were in a semi crowded room, our eyes met and I tried to give you the most charming smile I could muster.
    Just as our eyes were leaving each other’s I saw it, I saw in your eyes that my charms may still work. Yours never stopped on me, so I know..

    It seemed as though we wanted to converse although, taboo, may the deed have been; you were there with your new man, a seemingly better one than I. I’ve become damn cold over the years.. but not cold enough to take away your happiness, not again.. never again.
    I decided to leave the room. I let the door close behind me and there you were again, dressed differently, those cute little blue jeans with a faded lime green hoody. To my left you were passing on your way back to the semi crowded room, you had that walk about you. The one of which made it apparent, the weight of your aspirational responsibilities were taking some toll, your hands towing on the drawstrings of your hoody covering your eyes but not your whole face, that tolerant little smile, somehow, as always, sneaking out from underneath your stress.

    Our intellects met again, in passing. I knew that I wanted to speak with you but we both knew.. that I knew that was your call to make.
    No words spoken we passed, I turned around for what may have been my last chance to feel it. Paused in the entry way to the semi crowded room, you began to turn my way, instinctually I turned the opposite and kept walking, to wherever the hell I was going..
    No words spoken.

  27. JRSimmang

    W. SMITH

    A desk warmer. That’s what I’ve become. My hand leaves behind a phantom hand on the surface of my desk, and I realize for the first time that I should have been a doctor. Or horse trainer, or ticket booth ticket collector.

    I blame Hamlet. Without him, Shakespeare would probably have never been the man, just a myth. Excellent job advertising.

    Would I were a fishmonger.

    Someone has to do my job I suppose.

    I turn on my discernotrope and adjust the circumflanges to focus in on a conversation between a man and a woman. Love isn’t in it for them. Perhaps like isn’t even in it for them.

    “I said I had an appointment.”

    “On my birthday?”


    “And last birthday? And Callum’s birthday? And Rosary’s birthday?”

    She needs words.

    “And what about Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or, Jesus H-Christ Melanie, just once can you be there for our kids?”

    Melanie stands opposite the man, her hands glomstricted on her hips.

    I type in a sentence for her, hoping it doesn’t sound too preprogrammed. “I’m trying, Steve. I never chose to be a mother.”

    “Twice, Melanie. You chose it twice.”

    Melanie paced back and forth. Flavius from the Movements Department was showing off again. “How do you like them apples!” he shouts at me, and we make eye contact.

    “Are you on the same channel?” I respond. “Hm, I didn’t notice.”

    “Don’t screw it up, Grammalon!” he taunts back.

    “Steve, look, I’ll… I’ll be there this afternoon.”

    He shakes his head, the universal sign for ‘I don’t believe you.’ “Why don’t you just stop pretending,” he says finally. “I’m giving up on you.”

    Steve turns from Melanie, inhales deeply, and says, “I hoped we could get it to work. I just, I don’t know, there was something there, it was…”

    I quickly type in nescivota.

    “… nescivota.”

    I register the word quickly with the Magisteriocollosum, and get feedback in Melanie. Flavius looks up at me, mouth agape, and I settle back in my seat with my arms folded over my chest. “Beat that, Flav!”

    Steve walks out the door, Melanie trembles, and Flavius clears his throat. “Fine, Grammalon. Next time.”

    People say words are born from thin air. That they fit the moment they are born into. Shakespeare, I’ve heard, added 1700 words to the English language. There are near 7000 languages spoken every day. Well, Shakespeare wasn’t real, and in the end, we all speak the same language anyway.

    I pack up my things for the day, clock out, and make my way past the Exit. It’s not that bad, I tell myself, and get into my anteperiger and navigate home. Another day ahead.

    -JR Simmang

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      My goodness, JR, this is amazing. Sorry it took me so much time to finally read it. I’ve always believed something (with a warped sense of humor) is controlling my words, movements, life, what else would explain all the misspeaks and mistakes I’ve made. Excellent piece, with Shakespeare as bonus.

  28. creaturescry

    General Noah was still recovering from his meeting with Dominic by practicing his swordsmanship. He could just picture his smug face on the blank burlap sack as he thrust his sword at it. He did it over and over again, powered only by pure frustration, until his muscles refused to let him move any more. So instead he lay on the patchy ground staring at the clear sky above. His raw throat gasping for breath, making his heart pounded against his rib cage.
    “If only I could choke him,” he groaned, flexing his fingers into a fist.
    “Choke who Noah?”
    Noah sat up immediately, fear stabbing him in the chest. But the fear dissipated when he saw it was General Harold, and let his body fall back down. Compared to Dominic, Harold was a saint. But even a decent man wasn’t without his faults. He was the same man who stayed out all night sleeping his way through the town. Noah and General Arlan even had a bet going that he had stayed the night with everyone and their grandmother. He had the face to do it with blonde hair, bright blue eyes, a kind face, and a curved moon smile. He wore the smile like a pro, even when he was laying down on the ground next to Noah.
    “Who do you want to choke?” he asked, poking his side, “huh? Who do you want to choke elf boy?”
    “Nobody,” Noah sighed, crossing his arms behind his head.
    “Ah it’s that Noubbile eh?” he nodded thoughtfully, “that ugly little bastard.”
    “A Noubbile?” Noah scoffed, “can’t you curse?”
    “That is a…” he paused for a short while before he began laughing,” its a common troll curse word.”
    “What does it mean?”
    “For one it means that I have got to stop hanging around trolls, second is better left up to the imagination.”
    Noah mentally added Noubbile to his small list of special words. Harold, even if he was familiar with most of the woman in town, was still a good guy. Even when compared to Arlan, the only other decent person in the Kings Army, he still stood as the best in personality. Maybe that was why he was used to work with the few trolls who sided with them and turn them into spies. He couldn’t help but feel that Harold was lucky to be a whole human rather than part elf.

  29. ReathaThomasOakley

    At the Breakfast Table with Marge and Arlee

    “Cottage for a Russian,” Marge said for the third time as she tapped her pencil on the gingham place mat. “Arlee? Did you hear me?”

    “Still can’t believe Bama pulled it off,” Arlee muttered from behind the newspaper sports section screen. “Never’ll hear the end of that at choir practice.”

    “Arlee, please, Dear, AARP says we must keep our brains active, or, well, you know–”


    “Bless you, Dear. Are you catching a cold? Did you use a wipe on the grocery cart handle?”

    “Dacha, Marge. Russian cottage.” He folded the page back. “Like I told you the first time you asked.”

    “Hmmm, but that Polanski family was Russian, weren’t they, and I believe they called their cottage a bungalow, but, that’s too many letters. Ah, wait! CABIN, yes, that fits perfectly. Thank you, Dear.” Marge carefully filled in the squares.

    “Oh, this next one is easy, Arch Designer. Arlee, remember when we were in St. Louis and went up inside the Arch?”

    “I’ll never forget,” Arlee rubbed his wrist where his wife’s nails had dug furrows during the creaky passenger capsule’s descent.

    “I’m sure I remember his first name. Oh, yes, indeed. Four letters! AIRY.” Marge quickly wrote the letters. “Know how I remember that, Arlee? I used that thing I saw on Dr. Oz, called demononics, still don’t like that reference to Satan, but it works.” Marge took a sip of tea. “The arch was high in the air, so it’s easy for me to remember the designer’s name.” Marge hesitated before picking up the pencil.

    “Arlee, Dear, I do wish you would engage your brain more, not just read the paper and watch Sports Center. We’re not getting any younger, and, well, you know.”

    “Yes, Dear,” Arlee responded, right on cue.

      1. Pete

        Me too. This is so well done, with Arlee playing the straight man and Marge delivering punchlines. I’ll have to go back and read again, as I’m sure I missed a couple things but I was laughing the whole way down. Enjoyed this.


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