Beatrix got home from school and went to the kitchen for a snack. She dropped her satchel on the floor next to the table and rummaged through the fridge.
“Can I help you find something?” Freddy asked her.
“No thank you, here’s some cake from last night. I’ll just have a sliver of this.” She pulled the cake plate from the second shelf, cut a slice off, put it on another plate and headed back to the table.
“Hey, hey , hey,” said the fridge, “put that back in here.” The door swung open and Beatrix returned the cake to the shelf she had gotten it from.
“Sorry, Freddy,” she said. “Mrs. Brown gave us a big assignment today and we have to turn it in tomorrow. I don’t know how I’m gonna get it done.”
“Mrs. Brown? Is that your English teacher?” asked Sammy the stove.
“Yeah,” Beatrix answered. “She wants a 500 word story done by tomorrow! I don’t know what’s gotten into her. She’s usually much more realistic than that.”
“What’s it supposed to be about?” Carla and Sharla, the chair twins asked in unison. Beatrix smiled. Those two always spoke in stereo. She didn’t know how they did it. It was almost like they shared a single mind.
“She wasn’t real clear on that,” Beatrix told them all. She told us to use our imagination. She said we could make it a fairy tale, or a prose poem, whatever, we wanted to do. Anthropomorphism, that’s what we’re studying. She told us that lots of stories can be cited as examples of anthropomorphism and she even read us one today, ‘The North Wind and the Sun’. It’s a fable, an old story, by this guy named Aesop about a contest between the wind and the sun. The wind loses.”
“So what’re you going to write about?” asked Terry the toaster. Terry was afraid of heights and he always sat well back from the edge of the counter.
“I don’t have the faintest idea,” Beatrix told him. “I don’t have much of an imagination. I can’t comprehend how anyone could expect a couch to get up and walk across the room, and who would think about talking to a table, or even talking animals? That’s crazy stuff.”
Everyone turned their heads and looked at Tanya but she wasn’t saying anything. Her Formica top sat stoic, unmoving. Only a slight ruffling of the napkins in the wire holder gave away that she might even have been listening, maybe giggling just a little. The chair twins nudged her legs, in unison. Finally she laughed.
“All right, all right, I’ll tell you a story that you can use, but you better take good notes girl. I’m only going to tell it once.”
“Thanks a lot, Tanya,” Beatrix said and she fished a notepad and pencil from her satchel on the floor.
“The story is about a family of rabbits,” Tanya the table began. “One of the rabbit children was named Peter.”
When I opened my email and found a message from Jenny DeMarco I thought, for sure there had been a mistake.
I thought twice before I opened it. What if it was spam or malware, what if it contained one of those ransom viruses (virus? virusi? viruseses?)? It might destroy my computer. That would be bad.
On the other hand what if it was really an email from Jenny DeMarco? She was one of my favourite authors. I’d read everything I could find that she had ever written.
She was the undisputed master of horror, and the stuff she wrote was powerful scary.
Read during daylight hours only scary.
Try to make sure that there are at least three other people, whom you have known for years, in the house when you are reading scary.
I had to risk it and I opened the email. It was from Jenny DeMarco. The Jenny DeMarco; and she was contacting me to see if I would be interested in consulting with her for a new novel that she had planned; that was pretty much all she said in that first message.
Why would she want me? I cover the political beat for The Times. I wasn’t sure how I could help, but I had her email address. I replied.
Dear Ms. DeMarco:
I received your message today and I am intrigued. I love your work, but you write horror stories. I am a journalist writing about politics. I’m not sure how I can help you but would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further.
Less than ten minutes later my computer dinged. I had a new message. It was from Ms. DeMarco.
Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly. I’m a fan of your work too. I read The Times and I find that your understanding of the political situation at the local level, the state level, and especially at the national level is phenomenal.
That understanding is what I would like to tap into because, as you mentioned: I write horror stories. You write politics.
That’s what scares people these days, politics.
I want to tap into that fear. I want to have people too scared to keep reading my book and yet even more afraid to put it down. I think you can help me to do this.
I will of course give you credit in the book and we can work out a deal wherein you get a percentage of the royalties.
If this sounds agreeable then let me know and we can kick off this new partnership with a barbeque at my house.
Take your time, but please don’t wait too long.
I look forward to hearing from you,
25 minutes writing, 8 minutes to edit and format. I got one prompt in and I call out 32.
I played the fool for a 1st Class Machinist’s Mate when I was in the Navy, his name was Dancing Bear. Everyone has nicknames in the Navy. Mine was ‘Dad’. I was studying the hydraulic systems on the boat, of which there are more than one, and I had decided to go to Dancing Bear for testing because if he signed you off on hydraulics then no one, I mean no one, ever questioned your knowledge of those systems. You were good as gold! I wanted that.
I studied for three or four weeks and when I felt like I was ready, I went down to lower level, and found Dancing Bear standing watch over some of the atmospheric equipment. I told him I needed a check out on hydraulics.
“Have you studied this?” he asked, “Are you ready?”
I nodded my head and handed him my paperwork. I didn’t think he could stump me. I took a seat on a stool, where I could see him and took a deep breath of the oil soaked air, oil soaked with just a hint of amine and the subtle, piquant undertones of diesel fuel.
He took the pile of paper I handed him and flipped through it to see who had signed me off on other systems.
“Hmmm,” he said to himself. “OK, I’ll start with an easy question… Why does the main hydraulic header (primary pipe) run on the starboard side of the boat and the vital hydraulic header run to port?” He checked a couple of the gauges on the equipment he was monitoring and made some notes on his clipboard, waiting for me.
My stomach dropped, I had no idea what the answer to this ‘easy question’ was. I tried to make something up about keeping the systems separate in case of collisions or damage to one side of the ship. It kinda made sense in a weird, grasping at straws kind of way.
Dancing Bear listened to me stammer for awhile. “I thought you said you’d studied this?” He tossed my stack of paper back at me and said, “Come back when you can answer the easy ones! And, don’t try and go to anybody else either because I’ll know, and I’ll negate their signature. You gotta come back down here – to me.”
I thought he sounded disappointed. I felt like I had let him down. I felt like I had let myself down. I gathered my papers and with my tail between my legs I retreated to middle level to study harder.
For three weeks, I read everything available on our hydraulic systems, I studied piping diagrams, I studied schematics. I ran my hand over every inch of hydraulic piping on the boat. I knew all the valves – what they did, how they were identified, where they were located. I asked other Machinist’s Mates and they all said the same thing.
“Whose signature are you going for?”
“I’m not going to just give you the answer then. He’d find out and I gotta work for him!” They’d point me to some obscure reference material, “Try looking here,” they’d say. And I would miss sleep reading the new material.
Finally, defeated, I went back to him. “I don’t know man,” I said. I’ve read and studied everything I could find but I just don’t know.” I waited for him to either chase me away again or give me a hint. I didn’t want the answer, just a hint.
“Gimme your papers, Dad,” he said, “I’ve been watching you chase this down. I’m impressed with your effort so I’m going to tell you the answer.
“There is no particular reason. That’s just the way it worked out. But, I’ll bet you know more about hydraulics now than almost everybody else on this boat; even the guys who work for me.”
He asked me a few more questions. The answers came easy. Then he signed me off ‘Qualified in Hydraulics’.
Dancing Bear was neither an unappreciative cad nor a spoiled brat. He was a teacher who helped me to teach myself what I needed to know. The entire crew was in on it; either because he had told them or because they had intuited it from my probing.
My self esteem rocketed that day because I had handled the situation just right, and I knew that I would be successful on this boat. My respect for my shipmates increased that day because they worked with Dancing Bear to help me help myself. My opinion of Dancing Bear jumped that day because in an environment where you have to trust every single crew member with your life on a daily basis he made sure that everyone knew they could trust me and that I could trust myself.
Last Friday night as I returned home from work I was approached by a series of vendors, each one offering to make my dreams come true. I had never been approached by these kinds of people before and on this particular night, there were four such incidents. Yes, four. Incredulous as it might sound I was intrigued by the way the events unfolded. I’m home alone now and I had to write this all down before my memories of the events faded. I can scarcely believe it myself:
I tidied up my desk and filed the papers I had been working on. I took the time to lock the ledger book in the small document safe hidden in the wall of my office. The pencils I had used that day went lead down, into a cup I kept carefully positioned to the left side of my desktop. I would carve the tips to a point first thing in the morning of the next work day and put them lead up in the cup on the right side of my desktop. I liked to have the ready pencils positioned closer to my writing hand. It kept things simpler, less confusing.
“Good night, Miss Evans,” I said to my secretary as I passed through the outer office.
“Have a wonderful weekend, Sir,” she replied, and she scurried through the door to my domain to dust and tidy up before she took the bus home to wherever it was that she lived.
At the ground floor, I pushed through the heavy brass entry doors on the front of The Filmont Building, where I worked on the third floor. My boss worked on the fifth floor and Mr. Filmont worked on ten.
On the sidewalk I turned north and began my three block stroll to the train station. It was a pleasant day so I carried my overcoat. I hadn’t traveled even half a block before I was approached by the first pitchman. He wore a straw boater and a bowtie. His jacket was a tight, bright plaid and he was surrounded by urchins whom he continuously shooed away. “Get away kid… Ya bother me.”
“Hey buddy,” he said. “I wonder if you can help me out. I’m working my way home after having been down south for the last seven weeks. Have you ever spent any time down south? I have; and let me tell you – On the whole, I’d rather have been in Philadelphia.
“Anyway, I find myself a little short for a ticket so I want to sell this ‘Magical Staff of Protection’. I can let you have it for only 50 cents.”
“That’s no ‘Magical Staff of Protection’!” I said, “It’s just a walking stick.”
“Have you ever been smacked up the side of your head with a walking stick? Have you ever had your feet pulled out from under you with a walking stick? I don’t think so. Those are chores reserved exclusively for a ‘Magical Staff of Protection’” He pushed some of the children out from underfoot with the crook at the top of his walking stick.
I stopped, “Let me take a look at it.” I held out my hand and when he gave it to me I examined it closely before holding it back out for him. “I’ll give you a nickel.”
“Deal,” we shook on it.
At The Station
A tattered man, in need of a haircut and smelling strongly of cheap booze and tobacco was working the crowd on the platform. I tried to eavesdrop, to hear what he was saying, or more likely selling, but he spoke too softly and I couldn’t hear.
When he got to me he continued to speak softly, “Good afternoon, sir. I have a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am willing to make available to you tonight only.” He lifted the top of a box he held clutched in his hands and inside I saw a cracked and worn leather aviator’s helmet. The chin strap seemed to be torn.
“It’s ‘The Helm of Focus’.” He said and looked over both shoulders as if afraid someone might hear.
I smacked him above the ear with my ‘Magical Staff of Protection’ and he dropped like a box of rocks. I wasn’t in the mood to hear his sales pitch and I had been anxious to try out my recent purchase. It seemed to work well.
Just then my train arrived and I boarded the third car from the front, taking my usual seat.
On The Train
Things really started to get interesting on the train. I took my seat and almost immediately regretted not having purchased a paper from the newsstand. I had nothing to read for the duration of the ride. Oh well, it was what it was. I focused on the window and watched the rapidly changing landscape as we moved from downtown, to uptown, to edge of town, to countryside. I made my mind blank, thinking of nothing.
That’s why I was startled when someone plopped down heavily next to me. Quickly I turned, brandishing my ‘Magical Staff’. Luckily, I realized before using it that it was an attractive young lady who had sat down. She stuck out her hand to shake.
“Hello, sucker,” she said, “My name is Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan but folks call me Texas, on account of that’s where I’m from.” She winked and fished in her bag to pull out a silver flask. Promptly removing the cork from the flask she took a long draw, wiped her lips with the back of her hand and offered the bottle to me. Without thinking I took it and had a taste. It was gin and I spit it out.
“What?” She said, “you a teetotaler?” she laughed and took back her bottle, taking another taste before re-corking it and dropping it back in her bag.
“That was gin,” I said. “Gin’s illegal in this country. The bootleg stuff they sell here could make you blind or even kill you.”
“Not my stuff. My stuff is made by legitimate distillers in Canada or South America. If you’re drinking Texas Guinan’s hooch you’re drinking the good stuff. I call it my ‘Elixir of Courage’. You’d be surprised how brave you become after you’ve had enough of my stuff.
“Hey,” she said as if the idea had just occurred to her, “I recently opened a speakeasy on W. 54th Street, called the 300 Club. Why don’t you stop in tonight? The elixir’s cheap and so are the girls. You might surprise yourself and have a good time. Things start hopping around midnight.”
I nodded my head. She stood, smiled and moved to the next car.
I stepped off the train at my stop. It was only a short walk home now. I spotted someone I knew. Leaning up against a light post by the staircase, on the platform, where I couldn’t miss her was Miss Texas. I’m not sure how she got past me on the train or how she moved so quickly to the stairs. She fell in step with me and linked her arm to mine.
She smiled, “Hey, Sucker,” she said endearingly, “I forgot to mention one little thing. I have something for sale that you might be interested in.”
“What might that be?” I asked.
“It’s called ‘The Amulet of Attraction’” she said and she pulled it out from under her blouse to show me. It hung around her neck from a chain and seemed to glow in the dark Connecticut night.
“I don’t think I need that, Texas. You look plenty attractive to me.”
“Come on now, Cowboy. Of course I do. I’m wearing the amulet. I look attractive to everybody. If you wore the amulet you would look attractive to everybody. You remember those girls I mentioned at The 300 Club? They wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off you if you were wearing this.”
I stopped, “How much?” I asked her.
“Two hundred dollars,” she said.
“Will you take four hundred,” I countered.
“You drive a hard bargain, Cowboy, but I’ll do that for you.”
“I’ve got the cash at the house.” I said, “Can you follow me home?”
This week marks one year since the beginning of what has evolved into The Blog Propellant. In celebration, Ms. Rose is providing a prompt every day this week. This is the second. Check it out and play along, if you dare!
George leaned against the limestone building. He was waiting for the vampires to come out and watching the moon. The rough hewn stone felt good against his back; the buttery sliver of a moon, that could have held water, was visible behind a thin layer of clouds and the cool light drizzle made the streets more slick than wet. He would need to watch his step. As twilight deepened the streetlights came on one at a time. The occasional passing cars flicked on their headlights, as if choreographed.
The silence became oppressive.
From a distance his ears picked up the tap, tap, tap, of stiletto heels on pavement. The sound grew louder as the wearer approached and he could see her red shoes at the end of the block before he could see her face. When she moved under the streetlight he was smitten. Red shoes. Clinging red dress cut just below her knees and slit daringly up the side. Her red hair was a mass of soft curls, piled high on her head and her full lips matched the dress. When she saw him she stopped and dug in her bag coming out with a cigarette.
“Got a light, Mister?” she asked, holding the smoke easily up to her lips, between her fingers.
George pulled matches from his jacket pocket, “sure babe,” he said. He held the match longer than he needed to, in order to study the depth of her eyes. She blew smoke to the side and batted her long lashes.
“Are you looking for company?” she asked.
“I’d love company, doll,” he replied, “but you better beat it. I’m waiting for the vampires.”
She shrugged her shoulders and moved on. He watched her walk and listened to the echo of her heels till the band of pachucos came around the corner.
Time to get busy, he melted into the surrounding darkness.
Private Beauregard S. Gillette was looking forward to tonight. He could feel in his shoulder that rain was a’comin’. He licked his lips in anticipation. He liked dark and stormy nights. It felt like tonight was going to deliver. He sat in a straight back chair by an upstairs window, waiting; and remembered his death.
Beau had been dead since just before Christmas in 18 and 64 when Bill Sherman got to Savannah. Beau’s unit had been called out to defend the perimeter. He had gone along with the rest. He had died there. He was crouched next to the road, pistol in hand; a grand old house stood just the other side of the road. Some of its outbuildings were burning but the main house was intact. The first wave of Yankees had just gone through. The ground was littered with corpses but he knew there would be more. He now had enemy soldiers behind him and in front of him. He waited, and never saw it coming. There was nothing heroic or noteworthy about his death. The mini-ball struck him in the neck and went all the way through. The shock of getting hit dropped him to his butt. Less than a minute later he fell again, onto his back. Closing his eyes he felt his life ebb while his heart pumped blood onto the green grass and weeds at the verge of the road.
Next thing Beau knew he was inside the house across the road from where he had been killed. It was crowded that night, filled with lost souls, just like him. They were the spirits of men who had died fighting in the surrounding countryside. There were no uniforms. No way to tell who your enemies were. He noticed that strangely, without uniforms, they all looked alike. At that moment he realized that it hadn’t been the men he had hated – it had been the uniforms. He hung his head, lamenting that he had given his life for something as stupid as the hatred of another man’s clothes.
No one ever came back to the old house, no one living anyway. More spirits arrived with the second wave of Sherman’s men. Although the house had been lousy with ghosts when Beau arrived it seemed perfectly capable of accepting these newcomers as well. Card games broke out, someone had a mouth harp so there was music, some men just sat and cried. They swapped stories about their lives before the war. Some spoke of families, wives and children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sweethearts. Some spoke of lands, or wealth, or jobs, or plans that would never be realized. They spoke of home and what they missed, what they would miss.
Beau tried to leave the house. He was from Savannah and he wanted to go see how the city had fared. He wanted to check on his young bride, but he couldn’t leave. None of them could. It seemed that they were imprisoned in this old antebellum manse.
He noticed, though, that some of them must have been finding their way out of the house. He became self obsessed, thinking only of himself. There was no team here, no band of brothers, it was every man for himself, but there was no animosity. They simply inhabited the same space and cared not a whit for one another. He had no way to measure time. No sundial, no watch, no calendar to be had. He figured it had been about a year when he noticed that their ranks had dwindled. Almost half of the spirits had found a way out. He began to watch and search. He wanted out. Meanwhile, their numbers continued to decrease. Today there were only two. Him, and James Wilson Scott, an old man from Pennsylvania who sported large grey mutton chops. Mr. Scott sat on the floor in a corner all day mewling. Beau ignored him most of the time.
The old house wasn’t going to last much longer, Beau knew. Storms, high water, relentless sunshine, and neglect were taking their toll on his prison. He was hoping the storm tonight would finish the old mansion off. He hoped that when the house was gone he would be free to go.
With the sunset came a breeze and clouds began to roll in from the east. Beau danced a little jig when the first drops of rain began to fall. The wind picked up and the rain began pelting. Oh, yes, indeed. It was, in fact, a dark and stormy night. He figured it was a hurricane coming in from the Atlantic. A direct hit from a hurricane should be just what they needed to take this old house down. He sat in the window and watched the storm unleash its fury. At the peak of the storm he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Mr. Scott and he looked lucid.
“This could be the one,” Scott yelled over the wind and Beau nodded his head in agreement.
When the house went it was sudden – one minute it was there, the next it was not.
Congratulations are due for Ms. Rose. She does a great job with The Blog Propellant and I, for one, have a great time responding to the challenges she throws out there. Thank you ma’am for all the work you put into this site.
I was having a difficult time with these photos and this required sentence. When I occasionally find myself stuck for an idea I find it can help if I just start writing. That’s what I did and as usual my mind veered towards the absurd so that’s what I wrote. But as I wrote this drivel an idea began to percolate for a real story. I’ll have another go at this tomorrow. In the meantime you can read this. If you choose to comment please be gentle! I will probably assume any “Likes” are mistakes or possibly just sarcasm. Gracias.
Rupert licked the tip of his pencil, he had stalled long enough. Pushing his hair back from his face, with his fingers, he hunched over his notebook, pencil poised. He pushed his hair back again and pushed his glasses up on his nose but before he could hunch over again he wondered if he needed to lick the pencil lead one more time.
Why do I do that anyway? He wondered. Is it necessary to get the pencil to write? He didn’t know. It was just what he had always done. Who taught me to do that? Was it Mom? Dad? Some teacher I had in my formative years? He didn’t know so he pushed his hair back and licked his pencil.
Once upon a time…
Nah, too cliché, he crossed it out.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
I think I’ve heard that before, probably already been done, he crossed that out too.
It was a dark and stormy night…
That’s better, but he didn’t just cross that one out he blacked it out. It had definitely been done before.
He wrote, “Oh, yes, indeed. It was, in fact, a dark and stormy night.”
That might be better, he thought, and paused. Rupert set down his pencil to read it again, and he did. He read it silently. He read it aloud. He read it with feeling. He stood up and read it as he paced across the room. He read it to the mirror. He read it to the cat. He read it with his hair falling in his face then he pushed his hair back and read it again.
Too many commas, he thought. I should use some semicolons or em dashes instead. He began to rework his opening line:
“Oh, yes; indeed. It was in fact – a dark and stormy night.”
“Oh, yes, indeed. In fact, it was, a dark; and somewhat stormy; evening.”
“Oh, yeah – Baby! Dark and stormy are pretty much ruling the night.”
“Yeah, yeah, it was dark, but that was to be expected. It was nighttime after all. The weathergirl on channel 7 had predicted storms tonight too but she didn’t say what kind. Thunder? Electrical? Rain? Snow? He couldn’t be sure what to wear so he had best just stay inside. He’d cuddle up with the cat and watch reruns of “Jeopardy”, or maybe “The Jetsons”. He loved “The Jetsons”.
Rupert pushed his hair back from his face. He knew that his tongue was black by now. He looked at the photographs he was using for inspiration. It was dark in only one of them and in that one it was foggy. There were no storms at all. The others were taken during the middle of the day; clear blue skies.
Maybe this is what writer’s block feels like, he thought, then he tore that page out of his notebook. He crumpled it up and tossed it into the wire basket he kept next to the small desk. He pushed his hair back and licked his pencil. He wrote:
Mr. and Mrs. Rupert Jetson
Rupert + Jane and drew a heart around it
Jane and Rupert sittin’ in a tree
He ripped that page from his notebook as well and tossed it in the wire basket with the other. He sighed; Jane Jetson was one of his favourite actresses. Pushing away from the desk he made his way upstairs. He paused to scratch the cat behind the ears, and yawned.
El Presidio Real de San Francisco now known more commonly as The Presidio (Spanish for either Prison, Garrison, or Fortress) is a park that was once a military base on the northern end of the San Francisco Peninsula it is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It had been fortified and functioning as an active military base since 17.September.1776. Originally by Spain, then Mexico, then the United States.
The US Congress, as part of a cost cutting program, voted to end the active military use of the facility in 1994, and The Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service. They boast visitor’s centers, museums, shops, and educational facilities. It’s mission has changed.
Here are some shots of “The Commissary” door, still looking squared away and ‘very military’.