What’s In a Name?

I’ve often found the Greek legend of the woman Cassandra to accurately mirror my life at times. According to the Greek myth, a woman named Cassandra was cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe her true prophecies. The last time I was reminded of this tale, a gas leak went on in my house for months because no one believed me when I said the house smelled like natural gas.

Creative Writing Prompt: What’s In a Name?

Build a character’s traits based on the meaning of their first or last name. You may have to consult a baby name website or Ancestry.com. Write a scene or story starring your new character.

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

22 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?

  1. AvatarCindy

    “Bucky,” “Stretch” and “Pin Head” were just a few of my nicknames at Lovell Elementary School in Circle Pines, Minnesota. Being a thumb sucker until first grade left my two front teeth sticking out. It didn’t help that they were the size of two dominoes. I was always the tallest kid in school and so skinny that my mother once brought me to the doctor because she thought I had worms.
    I’d been endlessly teased and bullied but pretended that the name calling didn’t hurt and spent most of my childhood crying myself to sleep.
    As a troubled teen, drugs became my best friend. When I turned fifteen I was expelled from Minnesota after getting caught dealing and sent to San Jose, California to live with an Aunt, whom I had never met.
    A few years later, I was dating a married guy who wore a toupee. His best friend owned a modeling agency in Milan, Italy. My life changed when his friend asked me do a photo shoot and the pictures were beautiful. I had my model portfolio, ready for Europe.
    When I arrived in Milan, my modeling agency was excited for me to start working.
    The following day, I hopped on a bus to my first appointment at an office on a narrow one-way alley hidden in the tangled city of Milan. There on Via Borgo Spesso, wearing no make-up, jet lagged, dressed in the same Rolling Stones T-shirt and jean skirt from my flight, I caught my reflection in a window. It was hard to believe that just forty eight hours ago, I was throwing up in a cab on my way to the airport. Twenty-four hours ago, I arrived in Milan, my luggage lost, all I had in my backpack was my modeling portfolio and a scrap of paper with the name of a modeling agency on it. I arrived in Italy broke, not knowing a soul, and speaking zero Italian. All that I had going for me was my looks, and I wasn’t always pretty.
    I brought myself back to the present moment, my hands were moist from exhaustion and a tinge of fear.
    I opened the heavy glass doors that lead up an opulent staircase. I thought to myself, “Well, you’ve made it this far, nothing to be afraid of now!”
    A secretary walked me to a lavish office. There, a well dressed, bearded man with a receding hairline waited for me. He was sitting behind a massive, ornate mahogany desk covered with fashion magazines and sketches. He stood up, shook my hand and in his thick Italian accent he introduced himself as Gianni Versace. I had heard the name Versace, but didn’t think nothing of it. It was probably a good thing, because I talked to him like he was an old friend. We spoke a bit more, and the meeting ended with a hug.
    Versace hired me for my first paid modeling job, the cover of the women’s wear daily magazine. From there I was off and running, traveling the world and living the rarefied life of a top model. My long legs quickly landed me a role on a popular Italian TV comedy and I became a national celebrity, rolling in dough and living large. 
    I was no longer “Bucky,” the tall, skinny girl from Minnesota.

  2. Avatarleviathan93

    Never in the two weeks, the two weeks resplendent with the anticipation of the rainy season, did I ever learn of Danny’s last name. I would guess that he had a generic English last name like Smith or Gardiner. Knight perhaps suits him just fine. Last names survive longer than first names, yet they are so banal, alienated from whatever their origins are. Yes, someone’s great grandfather may have been a blacksmith, but that spell encased in the name Smith most likely will not be indicative of any of that person’s bearing in the present society. While first names, first names that end after one individual cadences in his temporary existence, that name is a prayer, a spell, a dog tag of sorts. Danny, I still remember the scenic lookout view at Hai Van Pass where we roosted for a while as we gazed at the rolling waves in the distance.

    What drew me to you? It must have been the first motorbike ride you took me on when we first met in Saigon. We had a few cans of beer to drink and our faces were flushed with a pink reminiscent of medium-rare steaks. I was sure that our alcohol level were way past beyond the legal limit, and yet, and yet everything you said, all of your gestures that night were branded in my head. Like a permanent engraving on tombstones. I remember the speed, the rush, the acceleration as you tried to best the red lights. Nothing indicated to me that you were out of your zone. Perhaps you were just a masterful rider. I felt safer being on your bike than I ever did inside the cars I had been trapped in all my life. I can still recall my heartbeats as we evaded the pedestrians at Nguyen Hue walking street. We lost track of time, we could not ascertain if the vehicle ban was still at place at that hour. The crescent moon hung lightly near the towering offices. You took liberty navigating your way around, as if ‘one-way’ signs were non-existent. We were the king of the streets that night. Lawless and limitless.

    When you asked me if I wanted to go with you to Da Nang the next day, I stared at you mockingly. You did not even need to ask. I was completely spellbound by then. You see, prudence was a quality that I had developed after years of living with a sterile rhythm. City humdrums mean nothing to a square personality. Life in bigger cities felt dead. I was ready to loosen up a little. To see the world. To be more like the version of myself inside my dreams. Throw away this entrenched preparedness, learn to dance an unrehearsed choreography. Take me away, anywhere.
    As we savoured the vista, our conversation modulated from key to key. Each modulation fresh and lucid. Minor passages of our first heartbreaks were adorned with light bagatelles, anecdotes we thought would be a good embellishment to the whole music we were experiencing on that vast, winding road. And then, the etymology of our names. Always a favourite topic. It trumps personality tests or the false hope of astrology for me. With what prayers were you let out in this world with, Danny?

    ‘Daniel, like from the bible’ you said

    ‘What, lion tamer?’ I caressed your cheeks. You smiled. Your red cheeks baring itself to the bright midday sun. I was suddenly aware of the roars of the ocean and the intensity of your dark brown iris.

    ‘Let God be thy judge’

    And then you kissed me.

  3. AvatarVicki2042

    Some people say a name gives you power. Or that a person becomes their name and you can’t imagine them being anything else.

    What if your name isn’t really your name?

    I’ve had three names in my life. One for each family I’ve belonged to.

    Jane is the name I’ve held the longest. It means a ‘gift from god’ or that’s what the Phillips told me. I was their gift from god.

    From social services more like it.

    I hand the attendant my boarding pass and she smiles at me. Bright lipstick and perfect flicks of eyeliner extending the slope of her eyes to that of an exotic almond shape. “Hello Jane” she beams brightly at me. I wonder if she aches from smiling like that all day.

    “Hello” I smile back but with half as much vigor.

    She points to the end of the aisle where my seat is. A window seat so I can stare out at the space between me and 20,000 feet of nothing. Wonderful I grip the cross around my neck. I’m not really religious, more superstitious than anything else. I feel as though some force will protect me from falling out of the sky if I have it secured around my neck.

    I hate flying. I feel so out of control. I need control.

    Once I’m settled in my seat I set myself up for the next five hours of anxiety. I’ve got a playlist downloaded. I’ve looked at the movie selections. My snacks are stowed in the pocket in front of me. My boarding pass sits on my knees as I contemplate the four letter word that has become my definition. That has plagued my life since I was eight. Before that I was Beth. Bethany.

    Jane, a gift from god. At first I felt special, like the Phillips were actually my gift from god. They plucked me from a group home that was only marginally better than my previous foster home and took me to the biggest house my eight year old self had ever set eyes on.

    Four car garage, swimming pool, my own bedroom with an ensuite! I had died and gone to heaven. It was a dream come true for the first couple of months as Jane. They had changed my name the day they picked me up from the home. They said Bethany just wasn’t right. I didn’t realise until much later that what they really meant was it just didn’t fit. It wasn’t long until I realized it was me that didn’t fit.

    Five hours until I land in New York. Five hours and a whole country away from the Phillips. Five hours and I can be whoever I want to be.

    I think back to the name I started this miserable existence with and the person who decided it fit me before I could even become a someone. I was Daisy for the first four years of my life. Then I was Bethany, then Jane. Who would I be next?

    1. Avatarwriter_sk

      Hi Vicky

      This was very well done and should be continued. It drew me right in. Firstly, the concept was so strong and to the prompt. Second the metaphor regarding the 20,000 feet worked.

      There was one paragraph that was repetitive but otherwise an intriguing piece in every way.

  4. Avatarmadeindetroit

    HOOCH

    The boy pedaled his bike along Hastings Street in the Black Bottom at a furious pace, the early evening air thick as molasses against his damp skin and the sounds of distant jazz music tickling his ears. He swerved the bike around chalkboard signs restaurants advertised dinner specials: Coney dogs, chili cheese fries, chicken livers, mincemeat turnovers, and apple pie. Inside, soda jerks served up Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, root beer, and Detroit’s favorite, Faygo Pop. At the north end of Hastings Street, suitably named Paradise Valley, the marquee over the Horseshoe Bar blazed “Count Basie Tonight” in red neon and the Silver Grill Saloon’s white lights flashed Ella Fitzgerald’s name as bright as the moon over the Detroit River.

    The boy turned north on Orleans Street and stopped in front of a three-story clapboard house. Automobiles lined both sides of the street and sat single file on the narrow driveway. Around back, a thick steel door with three deadbolts guarded entry inside. The back door was customary in places like this. He banged three times on the door. A slot high on the door slid open and a pair of bloodshot eyes appeared. A heavy voice penetrated the steel. “Hooch, git in here quick. Madam Lil been lookin’ for you.”

    The door squeaked open and the boy shuffled in. “Sorry I’m a late Otis, my sis fell ill again. Had to help momma with her medicine.”

    “Madam Lil got a special delivery for ya, Hooch. Go on now an git.”

    The boy peered up at the thick black man, a retired boxer with arms the size of the boy’s waist. “Otis, stop callin’ me Hooch. My name’s Benny. My momma says Hooch is a sinful word, illicit whisky an all.”

    “Don’t mean nothin’, Hooch. Better hurry. Madam Lil gittin’ angry.”

    The boy followed a narrow hallway until he reached the living room. The place stunk of sweat, cigarette smoke, and stale beer. Cab Callaway was playing on a wind-up Victrola and two antique brass slot machines stood against the front door. A small crowd gathered around one, watching the wheels spinning frantically and yelling for the one arm bandit to spit a few coins into their pockets.

    Old Log Cabin whisky courtesy of the Purple Gang flowed into tumblers half filled with Vernor’s and five-cent schooners of beer topped the plank bar. Half the bulls on the Detroit Prohibition Squad bellied up, sipping whisky or gin and waiting for their favorite girl to descend the grand oak staircase and lead them upstairs. The other half wisely sat home with their wives and babies and stashed away the fix for a rainy day. Madam Lil says “Probition ain’t gonna last forever.”

    If momma knew he worked in this ‘den of sin’ she would switch his behind until he bled. Of course, the money he earned paid the rent and most of sis’s medicine.

    A voice shouted from behind a cloud of smoke hovering over the bar. “Hooch, best get in to see Madam. Special delivery tonight.”

    Johnny Braddock was tending bar tonight. His crisp apron sparkled white in the dim light and a red bow tie on a shirt with garters shined like the midday sun. Johnny boasted to any patron willing to listen he serves pink gin to Babe Ruth whenever the Yankees come to town. The Babe frequented Madam Lil’s house and got special treatment. He was allowed entry through a secret door in the basement and whisked up to the third floor. “No need to let everyone in town including the newspapers know the Babe was visiting a ‘house of impropriety,’” Madam Lil would bellow.

    The boy scurried behind the bar and approached Madam Lil’s office on quiet feet. She looked up from her desk and frowned. “Bout time, Hooch. Captain Jenkins is waitin’ for his whiskey.”

    The boy lowered his eyes to the floor. “Sorry mam. Anne coughin’ somethin’ terrible today.”

    “I’m sorry Hooch. I pray for the girl every day. Come in here.” She opened a drawer and removed a bottle Old Log Cabin and thick envelope taped at the seams. Madam Lil chuckled. “Captain usually takes delivery in the flesh but tonight his wife had other plans. His favorite girl, Annabelle is upstairs makin’ hay with another gent. I need you to take this whisky and this packet over to Captain Jenkins double time. Can’t trust nobody else.”

    “Yes mam.”

    “You eat today?”

    The boy looked up. “No.”

    “I got a pot of gumbo on the stove and corn bread in the oven. When you get back, you eat then help Johnny. Last night of summer in the Valley. Gonna be busy.”

    The boy turned to leave and stopped. “Mam, can you stop callin’ me Hooch. That name don’t fit me.”

    Madam Lil sat back in her chair and smiled. “No harm meant. It’s a silly nickname. Mostly everyone here has one. Means you’re part of my family. I’ll call you Benny if you prefer.”

    The boy grinned. “It’s okay mam. Like you always sayin’, Probition ain’t gonna last forever and either will Hooch.”

  5. AvatartheREALpotter

    The sunlight that shone through the canopy above began to turn the amber shade which meant there wasn’t much time before darkness settled into the valley below.
    Braden let out an exasperated sigh as he looked up. Normally he would really enjoy watching the sky turn different shades of color as the sun dipped below the mountain peaks but this wasn’t one of those days.
    He didn’t like to find himself this deep in the valley with nightfall so close at hand. It wasn’t safe and to make matters worse, he had lost his short sword earlier in the day during an incident that he cursed about repeatedly as he walked diligently back toward his village which lay just beyond the forest clearing near the base of beautiful mountains.
    He had been hunting since morning and by midday hadn’t anything to show for it spare a few missing arrows. He’d ventured too far into the forest alone, he began to realize, if he came across any company it could be a problem. His people weren’t occupying this wide valley alone. Although, they didn’t usually have many encounters, the sightings of other tribes had increased recently and so he caught himself thinking whether he should return before his luck ran out.
    Just then, the thicket quickly parted as a large, low object hurdled toward him. He hardly had time to notice the kind of beast it was while he grabbed at the hilt of his blade. Within the matter of a few seconds he had been plowed into so hard he flipped over and cracked his head on a miniature boulder that lay nearby. As he slipped from consciousness he watched a wild boar continue running past him with his sword stuck in its hide, bouncing along with the rhythm of its stride.
    When he later awoke to find that the sun appeared to have moved a few paces, he quickly got to his feet, which turned out to not be so quick at all, and considered if he should go in search of his sword. He cursed at the thought of losing it out here but realizing time was of the essence, he decided to return home with haste.
    Braden now found himself squinting ahead as the final rays of sun departed. He sensed he was getting closer as the trees began to slightly thin out a bit. The smell of a bonfire wafted through the evening breeze and his thoughts drifted to dinner. He hoped someone had better luck than he had today. When he saw the orange glow peeking through the black trees ahead of him, he broke into a light run, excited to have made it back in one piece but his heart sank into his belly as the tree line gave way to a horrid sight. He dropped to his knees, choking on his grief and on the smoke in the air as he looked upon his entire village engulfed in flames.
    He didn’t know who would’ve done this but he knew he wouldn’t bear this loss peacefully, he resolved through gritted teeth and clenched fists.

  6. Avatarpven

    Goat stood motionless, listening to the incantations rise and fall beyond the thick dark curtain in front of him.

    “What’s your name?” the Conservator asked.

    “Goat,” he replied softly.

    The Conservator chuckled. “No, no. Your new name. Post-transmutation. What will we call you then?”
    Goat turned his head to look at the thin, reedy man standing at the edge of the curtain. “Goat.”

    A flicker of confusion crossed the other’s face. “I don’t think you understand.”

    “I do.”

    “This is your metempsychosis. Complete this, and you will not be the same man as you once were. You will walk out of that chamber reborn. With that rebirth, a new name. Something that reflects your purity. Your power. A name unfettered by the regrets and fears of your past.”

    The voices rose and a light bloomed beyond the curtains, exposing worn velvet and threadbare edges.

    “My father’s name was Goat. As was his father before him.”

    “Yes, yes.”

    The light blazed, cutting around, then through the curtain as if it did not exist.

    “Do you know why my father named his only son Goat?”

    “I, um, no.”

    “I come from Heathervole. The only habitable space within the Ginspur Montane. Surrounding us, vertiginous cliffs on which barely anything can live, save for the goat. Bounding from ledge to ledge no wider than your foot, turning each hardscrabble shrub that stuck out between the cliff faces into a feast. Fearless from a young age. Persistent in the face of unyielding nature. Survivors, falling only after they take their final breath.”

    The light receded. Goat watched shadows return to the dirty floor.

    “I am Goat.”

    “A proud heritage, to be sure,” the Conservator replied. He lowered his voice, chilling the air around them. “Now, let me make sure you understand. When you pass through that curtain you will be transformed. You will become a new person.” He took a slight breath and emphasized each word. “You. Will. Leave. That. Past. Behind.”

    Voices down the hall beckoned for the next candidate. The Conservator parted the curtains with his right hand, and asked again: “What will be your name?”

    Goat looked down the adumbral hall, curving down and to the right like a chute. He allowed the silence to enshroud him, to shut away the Conservator, to focus and clear his mind as he had been taught.

    “Oreamnos,” he said, and stepped into the hallway.

  7. AvatarAmaria

    “Regina”

    Regina dropped her bag by the door as soon as she walked. Exhausted, but glad to be finally home. Yet she knew she was not free to rest on her laurels. The day was not done.

    She could hear the television in the living room, where her son was supposedly doing homework. She found her daughter in the kitchen grabbing a snack after returning home from cheer practice. Regina had to start dinner. As she start to gather the food together, she received a text from her husband saying he was running late at work. Regina still has laundry to do and papers to grade.

    Her mother told her as a child that her name was royal. Regina meant “queen”, but Regina did not feel like a queen whatsoever – more like a commoner with too much on her plate.

    But this is the life she wanted and pursued. The good husband and children with the lovely house on the block. The teaching career that would allow her to stimulate the minds of young children. There was no one to blame if she was tired and beaten down from the everyday grind.

    Regina wished she could just collapse on the sofa, like her son did almost every weeknight. She wished she could allow someone else to cook dinner, wash clothes, grade papers, and get the kids to bed. But their family couldn’t afford to hire outside help.

    Her grandmother used to say that a woman’s work is never done. Regina believed that in her bones. After making dinner, graded papers, helping her own kids with homework, doing a load of laundry, seeing the kids to bed and listening to her husband’s problems at work, Regina was beyond tired.

    She sat alone in the living room near midnight. With a glass of wine in her hand, it was the only time she really could sit in stillness with her thoughts. She imagined running away for a weekend. She would pack her bags and leave a note for her husband with a list to things to do until she returns. But Regina would never do such things. Such thoughts were too selfish. Her family needed her. Besides, a part of her was afraid that if she walked out the door with a packed bag, she may not want to come back.

    She sipped her wine slowly under the moonlight. She stretched out across the sofa, lounging in a way she imagined a queen would do with servants at her beck and call. However Regina only had these fantasies to hold over her over.

    “Tomorrow is another day” she thinks to herself. Another day of the daily grind, or perhaps the day where she will do more than just dream of packing that weekend bag.

  8. AvatarPete

    My own family thinks I’m cursed. I’m not. Sure, I have an uncanny knack for accidents. I once gave myself a black eye while clipping my toenails. I’ve nearly ruptured an ear drum trying to put a shirt on. If there’s something to knock over, into, break, spill, tangle, fumble, flop, snap, crack, or scramble, I, Colton Clutts, will find a way to make it happen. Even my shadow is a tripping hazard. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

    But cursed? Nope.

    I’m pouring cereal when Mom walks in and gives my shoulder a squeeze. “Colt, how are you doing sweetie?” she says, glancing at my sister Abby. They’re trying hard not to laugh, it’ s annoying. Whatever. I get back to damage control.

    “I need to make sure that video didn’t—” My phone buzzes across the table. A text from Zach.

    Dude u r famous

    Abby only shakes her head. “If only you had listened to me.”

    She’s at her usual spot at the dinner table, a deck of playing cards spread out in front of her. Cards she thinks could have “protected me” from falling off the stage last night at rehearsals. I was attempting to flit across the stage—because I’ve been cast as a fairy and I’m told fairies flit—when I stumbled a few steps too far and took a bit of a spill. Spill as in I plummeted off the stage and into a ladder that knocked onto a podium which crashed into a stack of speakers. I pull up the link on my phone. Great. It’s all been posted for the world to see.

    More Crunch on the counter. “I’m too busy for make believe.”

    “Suit yourself,” she says with a giggle.

    I shovel in three bites. Abby’s smile reaches for her ears. I drop my spoon into the bowl. Clank. “What?”

    “Get it? SUIT. Yourself?”

    Mom pours her coffee. “Oh sweetie, don’t worry, it happens to your father too.”

    “Oh my gosh,” Abby gushes, “Remember when he Dad off the ladder hanging the Christmas lights?”

    “Or when he got tangled up in the mini-blinds,” Mom adds, and they’re off, reliving every mishap, pointing and giggling. I ignore them and get back to my phone, 2,268 now. I scroll to the comment section. (Tip: if you ever find yourself on YouTube, do not read the comments. Some things are better not seen).

    Mom and Abby continue to live it up. “What about when he hit himself in the head with the golf club?” my own mother says, abandoning her usual guise of neutrality. From there they go on about the day Dad came home with that big hulking lump on his head. He’d been golfing with some guys at work, and well, the details are sketchy.

    “The Clutts family curse,” Abby whispers. “I’m sure glad I’m protected. Aren’t you, Mom?”

    My sister thinks she’s a witch. She talks nonstop about curses and spells, hexes or jinxes while she keeps tabs on the moon and casts all sorts bunk spells then makes up excuses about why they never work. If that’s not bad enough, she’s got a black cat named Spook who hisses at anyone not named Abby. She asked for a cauldron for Christmas.

    Seriously.

    It started last Halloween. She dressed up and never came out of it. I told her being a witch is no way to survive middle school, but she didn’t listen to me? Nope. No one listens to me.
    Mom sips her coffee, says that she is, lending legitimacy to Abby’s foolishness. But I can’t help myself. “So what about Dad?” I say, crossing my arms to hide a prickle of chill bumps. “Why can’t you ‘protect’ him?”

    Abby holds up four jacks, tilting her head at me like I’m dense. “I’m afraid it’s too late for Dad. He’s too old and his curse is too strong.” She leans in closer, getting all super dramatic. “But there’s still hope for you. Maybe.”

    My parents try to roll with Abby’s uh, witchiness. My dad calls it goth. Again, I’m not sure if it does her any favors in middle school, but when it comes to the curse—if there is such a thing, which there’s totally not—she’s been spared. Anything she does (besides casting spells), she does well. Violin. Dance. Chinese Checkers. She’s otherwise perfect. So our parents ignore the fact that she would have been burned at the stake a few centuries ago.

    I try to scoff but it’s like I can’t find my breath. But I can’t sit here and let my younger sister clutter my head with family curse nonsense. The slips and scrapes over the years. Dad coming through the ceiling from the attic. His blackened fingernails whenever he uses the hammer, how he sometimes falls up the stairs. He spills and splatters, nicks and dents. Dad can crack fine china from three rooms away. And I’m his only son. Where Abby got Mom’s sandy blonde hair, I inherited my father’s dicey relationship with gravity.

    “Colt,” Mom says, breaking my trance “Just remember, the best thing we can do is to take caution. Slow down. That’s what I tell your father. It’s what Grandma told Papa. And what Great Grandma…”

    “Mom, I got it.”

    “He’s got it all right,” Abby says, staring at my phone. She swipes and replays the video. Again the crash of the cymbals. The howls of laughter. “He’s got it bad.”

    1. Avatarpven

      You pulled me in with the opening, but started to throw me out of the story with certain details.
      “More Crunch on the counter.” I had to wonder what that was, because you only stated that Colt is pouring cereal. Which could have been anything. It’s a good detail, however, indicating that he’s even clumsy when pouring a bowl of cereal.
      “Get it? SUIT. Yourself?” Confession here, I didn’t get it. Likewise with the four Jacks. Personally, I would think that if she’s trying to pull off being a witch, she would try reading tarot cards, which are more fraught with meaning. But if she’s applying cartomancy, not all the Jacks are fraught with peril (pretty much just the Spades and the Clubs).
      “Again the crash of cymbals.” Earlier, you didn’t indicate falling into musical instruments. So I wasn’t sure why you’re hearing cymbals.

      Overall, it’s a fun read. I just tripped over those details.

  9. AvatarNot-Only But-Also Riley

    PERSONS

    I look at the baby, and it’s cute I guess, but not really anything to get excited over. I can tell from my sister’s crooked smile and lingering eyes that she wants me to say something about it, and I’m even more sure of that when she says, “So what do you think?”

    I give the baby a little squeeze, to which it responds with a guttural noise I can only assume comes from a continued connection to our hunting and gathering ancestors.

    “Squishy,” I answer her, and hand the weird, red human back.

    “Squishy? You’re holding your nephew for the first time, and all you’ve got to say is squishy?”

    I go through a mental list of the observations I’d made while holding the baby, but none of the other ones seem worth sharing. Doctor Kartikeya said at our last session that I needed to work on thinking before speaking.

    “It smelled kind of weird I guess,” I finally mumble and shrug. My sister gives me a look she used to give when we were kids, and I think about how long it’s been since I’ve seen that look, and how long it’s been since I’ve seen her. Luckily, I still know her looks, and this one means: Why do you have to act like a robot all the time?

    “What do you want me to say? It looks great. It’s a, uh, great… baby.”

    Now she scowls at me and starts walking away. “You can leave now,” she says in a little staccato sentence, and even I can tell that she’s about to cry, so I follow her, even though I’ve never been in this house, and it’s a lot bigger than the apartment she used to be in.

    I finally find her in the baby’s room, setting the baby down in the crib, and smiling at it, and sure enough, there are tears in her eyes.

    “I didn’t leave,” I tell her from the doorway, and she does a little jump that makes me smile.

    “I figured,” she turns to me. “Why do you have to be like this?”

    Dr. Katikeya and I actually prepared for this question, but that’s just making me even more stressed out. I forget everything we practiced, so I wing it.

    “I just am,” I respond, and I surprise myself because it sounds a little sad, as if to add, “And I wish I wasn’t.” She turns to me. Her tears have gone, but her eyes are still red, and I can’t help but smile because it reminds me of the crying fits she used to have.

    “Okay,” she says, “I’m sorry.” Then she ushers me over to the crib.

    I walk over and look in, and the baby is staring up at her with big green eyes.

    “Like dad’s,” she tells me, and it takes me a minute to realize she means the eyes. “I wanted you to notice how they’re like dad’s.”

    “They are,” I agree, even though I can’t really see anything in them. She must hear this in the way I said that because she laughs a little. “What did you name her?” I ask because I realize I don’t even know this little baby’s name. Dr. Katikeya said names can help me appreciate personhood.

    “Philadelphia.”

    “That’s a strange name,” I blurt out, and kind of regret it.

    “It’s a strange world,” my sister coos, I’m not sure if to me or the baby, “this is the only thing that isn’t.”

    1. Avatarpven

      This opening line struck me as odd: “I can tell from my sister’s crooked smile and lingering eyes that she wants me to say something about it, and I’m even more sure of that when she says, “So what do you think?” ” I wondered: ‘why do we need to write: “and I’m even more sure of that when she says?”
      And then I read the rest of the story and found that that line is so perfectly in character with your quirky narrator. So that’s good, and a quick way to establish a character, and yet I wonder… would it challenge a reader to move on to a different story? I’m not sure.

      Pete says he needs more backstory, and I agree. Your narrator is an interesting character, and I kept reading to figure out if you included any exposition as to why that narrator has to be like that. You didn’t. Good on you.

  10. AvatarJennifer Park

    [Jennifer: “Fair Phantom”, “the fair one”, “white wave”.]

    18.

    The Enforcement’s main office was located in an old eSports arena. A delicious irony, since videos of eSports were the first to be blamed for Data Singularity. Mind you, data traffic for eSports broadcasts were barely a blip in the overall data consumption, but when these broadcasts were recorded, collected, and archived by each and every fan, that did become a bit of a problem. What was it about eSports such that people wanted to collect every single episode, watch them again and again?

    What was it about fantasy novels such that people collected them, read them repeatedly?

    “Harry Potter! I have all the Harry Potters. Only the twenty-fifth book was after the Singularity, as I recall,” tried the reader as Jennifer made yet another attempt to locate the entrance. The signs kept her moving around the colossal building in a counter-clockwise direction, and Jennifer was sure she had gone at least two-thirds around.

    Finally, she came across an officer. She was holding something tightly against her trenchcoat, and waiting to cross a street. Jennifer called out, “Excuse me!”

    The officer looked startled. Without a word, she dashed across, barely maneuvering around a streetcar.

    Without thinking, Jennifer chased after her. “Excuse me! Officer!”

    The officer started running faster, and looked over her shoulder not at Jennifer, but toward the Enforcement building.

    Jennifer stopped, a strange sensation on her head prompting her to stop. “You better look.”

    “No.”

    “You’d be pleased,” said the sensation.

    “No. I don’t want to know.” Jennifer decided to push herself forward, away from the building.

    “You already know,” insisted the sensation. “You…”

    No!” Jennifer interrupted. “No. That is not true.”

    “What is not true?”

    Jennifer was now running. “I don’t know! I don’t know what you are talking about!”

    “Just… look…!”

    Jennifer bit her lip. She honestly did not know what was about to happen, and yet she knew that she knew what it was. She knew that she did not want to know.

    “Say… what is that?” That was the reader, peeking out of the pocket.

    Jennifer kept running. She had almost caught up to the officer.

    But, the officer, she wasn’t running anymore. She had stopped and was now staring at the Enforcement building, gaping. Even as Jennifer arrived, panting, determined not to look.

    And yet the officer was not the only one staring, gaping. So were dozens of others along the street.

    The power of rubbernecking. The power of the gaping mob. Jennifer could not help herself.

    She turned around.

    Not so high above the Enforcement building was an object. It was large and bulbous. Globby.

    A giant drop of liquid.

    White.

    Large.

    It was moving down impossibly slow, but with inexorable force.

    As it landed, it splashed minimally, just enough to envelop the whole of the building, but not enough to reach the streets.

    The building was whited out.

    “Oh, it’s you!” exclaimed the officer, her face inexplicably brightening up. “Our Phantom!”

  11. AvatarEyeShadow

    I was never a big fan of my name, Wolfgang. Stupid fucking name. What the hell were my parents thinking? They were aloof, artist types, always with their heads in a book in the dimly lit “study”. By study, it was really the smallest bedroom in our house that they converted into their private sanctuary. By dimly lit, I mean if Sue didn’t put a scarf over every fucking lampshade in the house, we may have had some illumination. Instead, it was like spelunking in our cave dwelling. I never understood their weird aversion to light.

    It was just the three of us. They always insisted that I call them Sue and Franc. Like the light, they also hated being called Mom and Dad. We lived in the small town of Cecil, and everything was nearby; Franc’s Bookstore where both Sue and Franc worked, the supermarket, school, coffee shops, restaurants, everything was close enough. We didn’t have a car and we really didn’t need one. We walked everywhere.

    I remember when I turned fifteen and started asking them about getting a driver’s license. They objected of course.

    “Why do you want to drive when everything is mere footsteps away?” They would argue, with half a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t drive. It would go something like this – like a stage play with each reciting their memorized lines.

    “It’s harmful to the planet.” Sue, fingers forming a round earth shape.

    “You’ll get in an accident.” Frank, slamming his fist on the table.

    “You’ll get a girl pregnant.” Sue, continuing the interpretive dance, stuffing a couch pillow under her shirt.

    “You’ll get shot by the cops.” Frank, with his index finger pointed at me and thumb in the air. Click, with his tongue.

    “You won’t get enough exercise.” Sue, jogging in place.

    “And you’ll become obese!” Franc, puffing his cheeks out like an idiot.

    “Okay, okay, forget it”, I’d say and just walk away.

    If I’d bring it up again, the same theatrical scene would take place. Occasionally, they’d switch their reasons and throw in something new and ridiculous that would make us all laugh.

    “You’ll get hemorrhoids from sitting too much.” Or, “You’ll pick up a hitchhiker and get chopped into pieces. We’ll never find your body!”

    I started feeling weird when I turned sixteen. I mean really weird. I can’t describe it. It was a feeling that I didn’t belong in Cecil and something was just not right. Franc and Sue seemed more standoffish, like they were pushing me away. They could be heard whispering in their study while combing over old books. They started locking the door. I could hear the pages turning, the slamming shut of a book. Sometimes, it sounded like they were throwing stuff around. Every so often, it sounded like there were other voices in the room. While they were in the study – door locked. While they were at work – door locked. Cooking dinner – door locked.

    “What the fuck is going on in there?” I would ask. “Why are you locking the door?”

    “It’s a fucking mess in there. You’ll get dust allergies.” Franc would respond. “Just stay out.”

    “We have to tell him.” Sue would interject and Franc would give her the stink eye and hold his finger to his lips. “Shhhhh.”

    “God, you fuckers are crazy! Go play with your voodoo dolls.” I finally exploded. “You suck! You really fucking suck!” I stormed out of the house, and slammed the door so hard that the windows busted out. I knew I was in big trouble but I had to get out of there. Walk it off. Blow off some steam. You get the picture.

    Why couldn’t I have a normal life?

    It was a little after midnight when I found myself walking down the sidewalk toward town. I was so pissed I felt like my head was going to explode. I felt the pounding of my heart in my chest and the boom, boom, boom, was thumping in my head giving me the worst headache.

    I walked past my school and continued until I heard footsteps. They weren’t behind me and I didn’t see anyone. It was just the sound of feet on the ground. I stopped, listened and tried to figure out where it was coming from. The town was dead, no traffic. All quiet, except for the sound of someone walking.

    And there he was. He just appeared; the outline of a man, like a shadow. He stood motionless in the alley behind Franc’s Bookstore. I no longer heard the footsteps. I was looking at him, yet I still couldn’t see him.

    “Wolfgang.” He called out my name.

    I was frozen. I couldn’t move.

    “Wolfgang.” He spoke in a calm, low voice, like some old Dracula movie. “Wolf….gang.” He just slowly repeated my name.

    I walked toward him. I didn’t want to approach him but my feet were leading me in his direction, l had no control over my body. I was panicking but couldn’t stop. What the fuck. Maybe I’m just dreaming. Yeah, that’s it, this is a dream, I thought. I closed my eyes. Wake up. Wake up Wolfie. WAKE THE FUCK UP!

    I opened my eyes. This wasn’t a dream. I was standing right in front of him. This shadowy dark figure loomed over me. In the darkness, I couldn’t see his face. But I could feel and smell his putrid breath, hot and bitter, reeking of rotten meat, blowing into my face.

    I couldn’t move.

    “Wolfgang. Finally we meet.” The scary shadow dude spoke.

    “Who are you? Why am I here?” I was shaking, trembling, pissing in my fucking pants.

    “Wolf…..gang, you should have figured out your destiny by now. You are standing in the path of wolves, your journey begins now.”

    I could hear howling quickly getting closer and louder until I could see the eyes of two, no three, four, six wolves running toward me. FUCK! Not another teenage werewolf story!

    1. Avatarpven

      I think you have two stories here.
      The first: why aren’t you allowed to drive?
      The second: why aren’t you allowed in the study?

      I *think* you put the car thing in there because you wanted to explain why your narrator, of driving age, didn’t just drive away in a huff. As it is, however, it’s a considerable distraction because it doesn’t go anywhere. I’d recommend you take it out, and use it in another tale. It could be fun to fully explore.

      IMO, the study should be the dominant venue in this story. Imagine the narrator struggling to break into the study when Franc and Sue are out. Imagine him discovering what books they’re reading. Imagine that scary shadow dude coming out from behind the gauzy curtains, revealing the open window he’d effortlessly stepped through. You could keep all the other elements, but provide a focus for your reader in a dusty, gauzy zone.

      1. AvatarEyeShadow

        Thank you very much for the feedback. You are absolutely right. Your opinion and ideas are very helpful!

        1. Wolfie can’t drive because he needs to be on foot in order to discover the path of the wolf and 2. he’s prohibited from the study because Franc and Sue are trying to figure out a way to protect him through their bizarre collection of old books. They thought they had more time.

        Thanks again – this thing just started writing itself.

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