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Penance

Jean K. Dowdy

 

It was, of course, a mistake to have set out all the tender salvias so late in the season, but the lone bare furrow between those French Babette carrots and Mr. Murphree’s multiplier onions seemed to beg for this rich mix of purples, reds, and salmon to complement that wild burgundy business of basil and petunias along the back fence. But one shouldn’t expect more from the garden than what one is prepared to give; so here we are, on this frigid mid-January morning, pulling frost cloth and mulch aside just long enough to water with warmth from the well and whisper this small apology.

 

* * *

 

Jean is a displaced Appalachian who has now spent most of her post-graduate school life on the banks of a saltwater river in the relative wilds of northeast Florida. Her hobbies include tending a rather unruly vegetable garden and wishing she could play the cello that sits, mockingly, in the shadowed southeast corner of her bedroom.

It was hours before Jean could speak after reading Cynthia Chinelly's "A Significant Weather Event of My Childhood," page 69 in John's book Flash! The resultant epiphany of this book has completely altered her personal approach to the written word, because, and just, wow.

 

Here’s one for you to try: MY SUMMER VACATION. Your narrator is an innocent, a child of six or seven. He or she has had a thrilling and joyous summer holiday and has listed all the wonderful activities and the friends and family who shared the holiday. At the shore, maybe. In the mountains or a forest. In tents, in cabins, in motels. The narrator will sign his or her report, so be sure to give him or her a name. We can feel the child’s excitement and delight, but beneath the narrative we sense something else, something the child is unaware of, something darker, something ominous and alarming. Your job is to insinuate the menace into the child’s cheerful composition.

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We wanted to be able to recreate the festivities and the magic (heka) of the Ancient Egyptian Burial for today's cook, using common ingredients lying around the pantry. No need for elaborate art on the walls and cartouches on display, unless your family just happens to collect them. Abandon those jars for the pickled body organs and the stone box – we've a nifty upgrade on the embalming cocktail that's bound to get you there even before you're dead. A potent combination of sweet and sour, supernatural and occult, this one will float you and your guests down the Nile for sure.

Resurrection Sangria (serves one):

We make our Sangria one glass at a time – be sure to collect the car keys! In a pinch you can substitute religious fervor or political radicalism for the dementia.

Combine in a shaker:

                One jigger of dementia praecox

                One tablespoon of coarse brown sugar of a misspent youth

                One dash of the sourness of holding a job

                A glorious dollop of color from the sunrise you never see, sleeping in

               One ounce of brandied dreams, unfaded

 

Shake over ice made from childhood’s liquid energy.

Add lemon slices for curb appeal.

Serve immediately in an Anubis-emblazoned glass with a dollop of tamarind on the rim.

For extra authenticity, ring each glass with a Thoth amulet.

*        *        *

Scott is currently working on his fifth novel and second novella. He lives in northern New Mexico, after stints in the Netherlands, Scotland and Norway, plus less exotic locations. He’s worked for a power company, a lumberyard, an energy company, and a winery. He has three books out, through Southern Yellow Pine and Fomite.

The genesis of this story came from the observation of a Norwegian friend that “only old people are interested in fancy drinks and gourmet food.” Story as recipe.

Here’s one for you to try: FEAR AND LOATHING. Here’s your title. “Why I’m Afraid of _________.” Fill in the blank. It could be a proper name, but it doesn’t need to be.

  • Start each sentence of your story with “Because” and make a list of all the reasons for your fear.

  • The story needs to be a hundred words long, let’s say. The list should build, take us somewhere. It should not hit a single note, but modulate. Modulation is how you make music not just rhythm. It should provide tension. You’ll get it right in revision.

The Blackberry Files

By Jeff Cowart

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TO:   Our Neighbors in the Farm Road 61 Vicinity

FR:   The Blissful Farmer

RE:   Blackberry Depletion

Recently it has been brought to our attention that blackberries have gone missing from the bushes we have cultivated along the path leaving from the lower field and traversing the edge of the woods on the way to the river. Several days ago these bushes, which were nurtured and encouraged by our spouse, were literally heavy with ripe blackberries. Today, on survey, we have noted a significant depletion of the blackberries and found evidence of a plethora of denuded stems where plump, ripe berries ready for harvest should be attached.

While we stop short of leveling a direct accusation toward anyone, we do believe that the depletion of the blackberries must have involved human hands picking them. We have spent considerable time assessing the soil on the pathway that runs alongside the blackberry patch and can find no tracks that resemble those of an animal. We did, however, discover a trace of a track just to the north of the thicket that resembled a waffle with a “swoosh” embedded in it and, from what we were able to discern from an internet search, this pattern matches that of a Nike running shoe. We do not wear Nike shoes of any type and therefore could not have imprinted the soil with such a pattern.

In order to keep this incident contained without escalation, we are asking that anyone who may have knowledge of this recent blackberry depletion in this particular location please step forward voluntarily to discuss the issue with us. While we recognize that some of these depleted blackberries may have indeed been consumed, based on our assessment of the total depletion, we assume not all could have been consumed. We would consider a successful resolution at this point to be the return of the unconsumed blackberries and a pledge from the wearer of the waffle-pattern shoe to refrain from further depletion of the blackberries at this location.

For further information, or to propose an alternative resolution, please contact me at: info @ theblissfulfarmer.net

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Jeff Cowart is a Louisiana native and a blackberry cobbler fan who drifted happily west and is now settled in San Antonio, Texas. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Louisiana State University where he first studied creative writing with Warren Eyster, David Madden, and Kit Hathaway. As a newspaper journalist, he practiced the craft in Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia and now offers communications advice and counsel to others for pay.     

Jeff’s story was inspired from this Flash! writing prompt from John:  FORMABLE. Write a very short story in the form of a business memo, but it can’t be about business; in the form of a recipe, but it can’t be about food; in the form of a prayer, but it can’t be addressed to God; in the form of a TV Guide blurb, but it’s not about a show. 

Here’s one for you to try: GETTING PERSONAL. Now it’s your turn to write a very short story in the form of a personals ad. So: who are you? Where are you? How old are you? Who are you looking for? How can you appeal to the person of your dreams? What do you want from him or her? Who will you be sending the ad to?  Do it in three hundred words.

Nineteen Times Twenty-Three

                  By Jim Herod                           

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I saw the trucks coming.  When the first was little more than two hundred meters away, I walked into the middle of the road, removed my shirt, and waited. I wanted the soldiers to know that I did not wear bombs.

I held my palms together as the trucks came, horns blowing and people screaming. The soldiers beat on the roof of the truck, yelled, and waved their guns.  

I wanted to cover my ears, but I did not. I started to say the times tables. “Seventeen times one is seventeen. Seventeen times two is thirty four. Seventeen times three … .”

By the time I was nearly finished, one of the soldiers had walked to me. He covered me in his shadow. He was a giant.  When everyone was quiet, listening, he asked, “What are you saying?”

I used the best English I knew. “I know times.”

“What?”

“Times,” I said it again.

He snorted, turned back to the trucks, and then looked down at me again. “What is nineteen times twenty-three?”

I folded my hands, bowed to him, and said, “Nineteen times twenty-three is four hundred thirty-seven, Honored One.”

The American soldier laughed. “How old are you, boy?”

“Seven and three quarters.”

“Where is your daddy? Or, mama?”

“They are dead.”

“Where do you live?”

I pointed to the rubble that had been my home.

He stood there for a while looking at me and the wrecked walls. Finally, he said, “Do you want to come with us?”

He did not take my raised hand. Instead, he reached down and picked me up. “Fourteen times six?”

I told him fourteen times six, and fourteen times sixteen as we walked to the trucks.

 

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Jim Herod was raised in an enchanted place a little south of Selma, Alabama. He was educated at the University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina. Thereafter, he spent thirty-five years talking about science and mathematics at Georgia Tech, the United States Military Academy at West Point, the University of Montana, and the University of Karlsruhe. Herod now lives and writes at the edge of The Nethermost in Grove Hill, Alabama.

Jim’s story grew from this writing prompt in Flash!: “A voice. You write the story, but a narrator, whom you create, tells it. Who is telling the story and how is she telling it? And what is the sound of her voice? That narrator may or may not be a character in the story. Choosing a narrator is a matter of point of view: where do we stand to view the events or event of the story; into whose consciousness, if any, do we delve?” Jim writes: “The exercise on page 79 of Flash! provokes lots of stories. This one combines fear and bravery.

Here’s one for you to try: FORMABLE. Write a very short story in the form of a business memo, but it can’t be about business; in the form of a recipe, but it can’t be about food; in the form of a prayer, but it can’t be addressed to God; in the form of a TV Guide blurb, but it’s not about a show.