May Montage: The First Three Days

May is known in some circles as Story-A-Day  month, and folks that take part try to write a short story a day based on the provided prompts. The challenge is flexible and open to setting your own story writing goals with the bigger purpose being to develop the daily habit of writing! Personally, my primary goal this month is to write a first draft of a prompted short story of about 5000 words to submit to a challenge anthology. So, I’ll be picking and choosing prompts throughout that month that whet my creative juices and help spur me along with the main goal. While I won’t share the ultimate story I’m working on, I will share the shorts I write as we go. So, without further ado — here are the first three.

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Day 1: The Prompt
You attend the funeral of an old friend. Afterwards, in the mail you receive a postcard. It’s from the friend, and it reads “I’m not dead. Meet me Tuesday night at 8 at ___________.” And signed by him/her. First make a list of possibilities for how this could be the case. Begin your story with, or after, the arrival of the postcard.

“You’ve got mail.”

Nonni’s scratchy voice greeted me as I stopped on the doormat and slid my shoes off. Tucking the battered briefcase under the foyer table, and hanging my patched blazer on the rack, I carried my lunchbox into the kitchen. Nonni was shelling peas, a cup of steaming coffee by her elbow. I dropped a kiss on her brow, settling into the chair across from her, and began sorting through the stack of mail.

“And how was today?” she asked. “Any better than yesterday?”

“I suppose,” I took a deep breath and looked at Nonni’s kind eyes. “I only thought about her most of the day instead of all the live-long day. I still can’t believe Jenny’s gone.”

Nonni set the shelled peas aside and wrapped up the empty pods into the old newspaper. She leaned forward and laid a gentle hand on mine before tapping a Winston 100 into her hand and lit it, puffing energetically.

“That stuff’ll kill you, Nonni,” I waved my hand at the writhing smoke and coughed. “Or me,” I added, and then picked up the one piece of mail that wasn’t clearly a bill.

“Damn! I haven’t received a postcard in years. I didn’t think people still sent ‘em!”

I flipped the card over and felt the blood drain from face. It was from Jenny, postmarked two days ago, in the afternoon, from a local post office. It couldn’t be. Two days earlier I was standing at her graveside, wishing the weather would cooperate and weep so I wouldn’t have to. Instead, it had been obscenely beautiful and glorious with a blazing sun, crystal clear blue sky, not a single cloud, and flowers in full bloom.

“What is it, Dave?” Nonni peered at me.

“Jenny,” I swallowed. “She says she’s not dead and to meet her tonight at 8 pm at the Gnarled Oak.” Jenny and I met at least once a week at the neighborhood pub to share a companionable pint and catch up on each other’s week. I hadn’t been in for several months, ever since Jenny grew too ill to meet me there anymore.

“I don’t understand . . . I watched them bury her!”

Nonni inhaled and blew out a reflective puff of smoke, tapping one finger lightly on the chipped table.

“Well, m’boy,” she said, “there’s nothing to do but to get over there and find out what’s going on.”

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Day 2: The Prompt
A socially awkward girl in her early teens is a latchkey kid, alone at home after school as usual. Flipping through channels she lands on one she soon realizes only she can see—and it’s from the future.

Maidie dropped her bookbag on the front porch and dug dispiritedly through her coat pockets for the house key. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the other neighborhood kids clumped in groups, chattering and laughing. The only time she ever spoke to any of them was if they were forced to through group projects at school. Otherwise, she spent her days alone and pretending she didn’t care.

Her fingers finally located the key. It had slipped inside a tear in her pocket lining. Maidie made the tear a bit bigger in her efforts to retrieve the key, and grimaced. She finally wormed it out through the tear and leaned forward to unlock the front door, nudging the heavy backpack on in front of her.

Turning around, she glanced back outside and saw different kids heading up to doors that opened for them, with mostly smiling mothers or grandmothers greeting them. Maidie’s mom was widowed and worked two jobs to make ends meet. Which left Maidie to let herself in, do her homework, the chores and fix a late dinner for her worn-out mother. Maidie didn’t mind, really, and was looking forward to getting a part-time job herself to help take some of the pressure off her mother. And, frankly, to have someone to talk to, even if it was only as a cashier or bagger at the local grocery store.

Maidie was an only child, and had never really understood or liked kids her own age. At Sunday School, she kept to herself, blossoming only when she was helping the older ladies serve coffee and cookies after service, or when she was cleaning for Mrs. Jensen down the street. Adults made sense to her. Kids didn’t. Plus, they were downright mean.

Maidie shrugged off her coat and padded on stocking feet into the kitchen to grab an apple for a snack before turning on the ancient black and white TV sitting on the counter. No one she knew had such an old TV – with rabbit ears even! – and no cable. Their old TV took a little bit to warm up and only offered a grainy picture and fuzzy sound with a choice of three local stations, but she supposed it was better than nothing.

Maidie pulled up a stool and watched the picture slowly come in. Grimacing, she changed the channel from Days of Our Lives to General Hospital to . . . and stopped in surprise. The picture was crystal clear and in color.

“What the heck?” Maidie leaned closer. It was like nothing Maidie had ever seen, with people strolling arm and arm in clothes that rippled and changed color and style every other step. There were sleek, translucent buildings towering high above but not blocking the sun. Instead, the sun slanted through the buildings, falling upon carefully manicured lawns and shrubs. Maidie peered closer and realized what was missing.

“There aren’t any cars!”

No sooner had the words come out of her mouth, a large spherical shape crossed the screen, floating somewhere midway between the ground and the tops of the buildings. Maidie gasped in dismay as people stepped out of the device. She fully expected they would fall to their deaths below, but instead they drifted down to land lightly on the sidewalk below.

“This can’t be real,” Maidie flipped the channels and saw what she expected to see of the afternoon’s soap operas, and then flipped the channels again.

“It’s still there,” she murmured. “I don’t think I’m dreaming. But what is it? What am I seeing”

With a start, she realized there was a low voice speaking and she turned the volume up.  It was no language she had ever heard before. Frustrated, she started to turn away before she realized that the language was changing . . . and changing again, and again, and again. Almost, as if the voice was repeating a message over and over in many different languages to make sure the message was heard loud and clear.

Finally, the voice spoke in English: Please listen carefully to the following emergency broadcast. This is a message from five hundred years in your future. We have come back across time to warn you of the crisis that is very near. Many of you will die – only a few will live. Take heed and prepare. You must plan on eating from stored provisions for the next year and staying safely below ground while the war happens above. Take only what you need to survive. Leave all else behind. Those of you who survive will start again and create the world you now see for your kin. Please, remember those of us yet to come.”

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Day 3: The Prompt
People called him The Doll Maker. Nobody ever wondered aloud why every doll had the same face.

People called him The Doll Maker. Nobody ever wondered aloud why every doll had the same face. They only wondered in their minds, because askers disappeared, never seen again. An unwitting person would ask the fateful question, and the people would hush in dismay. The Doll Maker would cup the unfinished doll’s blank face in his gnarled hands, peering from under bushy eyebrows at the asker before setting the unfinished doll on the shelf above. The next day the doll would be done, it’s face the same as the doll before and the doll to come. The asker was gone.

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I’ve Missed You So

Day 9’s prompt: All things suck until one life-changing event . . . hmmm . . .

“If at first, you don’t succeed . . .” Bailey paused, and Julius continued, “Just throw that shit out?”

“That’s my preference,” Bailey crumpled the letter. Three times she had tried to write, and each time she crumpled the paper up, tossing it out. How does one give parents important news when they refused to acknowledge your existence?

“It’s your life, babe.” Julius kissed her forehead. “Gotta run. Late for work.”

“Go on.” Bailey watched Julius walk down the sidewalk and disappear around the corner.

She sighed, shaking her head. Her parents steadily rebuffed every attempt to reach out to them. Bailey had celebrated Thanksgiving and birthdays alone for the first time in her life. Cards and presents were returned unopened. Phone calls went unanswered. Doors were left locked. Once she and Julius got together, her parent’s had firmly closed their hearts and home to her.

Bailey had cried too many times to count on Julius shoulder, going through what seemed like boxes of tissue. She didn’t know what to do, except say screw it and move on. She was losing her ability to hope, and just felt beaten down. Her body literally ached. Although that could be the radiation treatment effects, too.

Bailey wandered into the kitchen, uncovered her aging cellphone, and took a deep, steadying breath before dialing with shaky fingers.

She was getting ready to disconnect the call, when it suddenly picked up.

“Bailey?” A familiar voice wrapped itself around Bailey’s heart, squeezing gently.

“Mom?” Bailey felt tears sting her eyes. “Mommy?”

“Oh, sweet girl,” her mother breathed softly into the phone. “I’ve missed you so.”

Bailey sat slowly down in her chair, feeling something unclench inside. “Oh. mom,” she said, “I’ve missed you so. I have so much to tell you.”

Just One More Bounce, Please

On to week 2 of September’s writing challenge. Day 8’s prompt is to write a story about wanting something and not having the power to get it, once, twice, thrice . . . until . . .

“He really is intent on his playing, isn’t he?”

Jana smiled fondly across the park at her four-year old grandson, energetically bouncing his stuffed Tigger against the wooden play structure, singing with atonal enthusiasm, “The most wonderful thing about Tiggers . . . is Tiggers are wonderful things!”

“He’s says Tigger is always asking for just one more bounce. It’s like Robin thinks that ragged old toy is alive. I swear, the interior life of a child knows no bounds.”

“Do you think he remembers?”

Jana took her eyes off Robin and looked her oldest friend somberly. “If there’s any justice in the world, at all, no.”

Both adults looked across at the giggling child and the stuffed Tigger. Robin had tucked Tigger under one arm, scrambling up the toy. At the top, he dropped Tigger to the ground, with the injunction to remember, “They’re tops are made out of rubber. They’re bottoms are made out of springs!”

The Tigger landed awkwardly on the beauty bark below the Big Toy and fell to one side. Robin climbed over the side and jumped after Tigger. Jana half-stood, heart in mouth, to holler, “Robin, stop!” and watched as the boy landed gracefully, snatching Tigger up and hugging him tight.

“I also swear he thinks he can fly.” Jana shook her head, heaving a sigh, half-watching Robin as she packed empty sandwich wrappers and juice boxes into Robin’s Tigger-themed lunchbox. She paused, listening to Robin’s piping voice explain that Tigger’s ” . . . tops are made out of rubber . . . and bottoms are made out of springs!” ending with a plea to Tigger to “just how him one little bounce, all on his very own.”

“The therapist thinks how he plays with Tigger, asking him to show him just one little bounce is how he’s processing what he saw when . . . ” Jana felt bile rising in her throat, with its now-familiar gag reflex kicking in. She swallowed convulsively and looked off across the playground, her eyes swimming.

“I’m so sorry, Jana. This is more than you ever bargained for, isn’t it?”

Her friend paused, and then stood up herself, brushing the bits of bark off her pants and tugging her coat more firmly down around her hips. “When do you think he’ll be able to attend preschool so you can come back to work? We miss you.”

Jana snorted. “Who knows?” and gave her friend a quick hug before heading over to where Robin sat, cradling his Tigger in his arms, eyes far away fixed on some hidden memory.

Jana could hear the quaver in Robin’s voice as he stroked the Tigger’s head. “It’s okay, Tigger. You’ll bounce when you’re ready to . . . I know you will.”

Jana sat quietly down next to Robin. She could feel the wintry sun on her back, while a brisk breeze ruffled her prematurely graying hair into her eyes.

Robin looked up at her. “I can’t remember the next words, Gramma. Tigger won’t bounce if I can’t remember the words.” Tears started to fill his eyes and Jana smiled reassuringly.

“We’ll sing it together, Robin, okay?”

He nodded, and Jana started at the beginning in a low and soothing voice. Robin sang with her, his voice steadying. By the time they reached, “They’re bouncy, flouncy, pouncy, trouncy,” Robin was up and jumping himself, thumping the Tigger’s spring-loaded legs vigorously onto the metal slide next to him . . . “fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN!”

“Catch, Gramma!” Robin charged back up the Big Toy, and dropped Tigger into Jana’s waiting hands. She obligingly held Tigger.

“Bounce him, Gramma, bounce him!”

Jana leaned down, bouncing Tigger off of the beauty bark beneath her feet while Robin slid down the slide, singing at the top of his lungs, “But, by far the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is he’s the only one!”

Jana handed the Tigger over to her grandson, and held out her hand.

“Let’s head home. It’s nap-time.”

Robin pulled away, dashing back up the Big Toy.

“Just one more bounce, Gramma, please? One more? Please?”

 

Broken Mirror

Today’s prompt invited us to go back to the “like me/not like me” characters and focus on dialogue. So, here’s one more snippet of the mirror series. Enjoy.
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“Mother . . . mother . . . mother?”
 
“Really, Luellen. Once is enough. And then wait to be acknowledged. How many times must I tell you, once and wait. Repeat it after me . . . re-peat-it-af-ter-me!”
 
“OW! . . . Once and wait . . . once and wait . . . once and wait . . . aieee.”
 
“Stop that dreadful sniveling. I don’t wish to hear it.”
 
“Yes, mother.”
 
“Do you hear that, Luellen?”
 
“No, mother.”
 
“Exactly. Now, finish your breakfast. We have much to do today.”
 
“Yes, mother.”
 
“Well?”
 
“Mother. Why is Rayanna serving us breakfast?”
 
“I don’t know to whom you’re referring, Luellen.”
 
“Her, mother! Right there! Taking your plate. Rayanna. Can’t you see her?”
 
“I will tell you this exactly once, Luellen, so listen closely. You no longer have a sister. She is dead to us, do you understand me? Dead. Never speak her name again . . . and wipe your eyes. It’s nothing to cry about.”
 
“Ye-ee-s, mo-mo-mother . . .”
 
“There’s my good daughter. Now, finish your breakfast. The maid is waiting to clear the table.”
 
 

Mirror Reprise

Today’s writing prompt was to write about someone very different from yourself. It seemed logical to try the point of view of another character in an earlier prompt. Start with that short and then see what you think . . .

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“Maybe it would show a world free from her.” Luellen glanced at her sister crouching in a nearby corner. Steam rose off the mop bucket, shrouding the tangled, greasy mess of her hair.

The grimly upright woman standing in front of her murmured, “Be still.” Luellen choked back laughter, bowing her head and tracing the tiled floor pattern with her eyes, instead. Mother gazed impassively into the mirror for several long minutes, before giving a slight nod. The salesman half-bowed as he backed slowly out of the room.

“Leave me.” Mother sat slowly down on the upholstered chair behind her, continuing to gaze into the mirror as though there were nothing else to be seen in the room.

When Mother spoke in that dead, flat voice, it was best to obey immediately.

Luellen’s sister never seemed to learn that lesson. Luellen had cowered many times behind chairs or doors as her sister resisted Mother’s lessons and subsequent punishments for disobedience.

Until one morning, Luellen’s sister came to the table dressed as a serving maid. The bruises were plain on her face, and traces of the latest whipping were bleeding through the back of her sister’s dress. Over time, her sister’s role was downgraded again and again, until now she was dressed in rags and scrubbing floors.

“You have no sister,” was Mother’s only response the one time Luellen dared to ask her Mother why her sister was dressed as a serving maid.

Luellen passed by her sister, not glancing at her. Would her sister ever learn? In the end, obeying Mother was just another game. One that Luellen intended to win.