Why I’m Afraid of The Desert’s Edge
By Miss Janet L. Hughes
Because our metallic green Ford Galaxy was heavily laden with our most prized possessions.
Because Mom needed Aunt Wanda’s help with me and Lil’ Sis.
Because Texas was half a continent away.
Because the horde of uniformed attendants rushed to us across the concrete.
Because the black smoke and flames were engulfing us.
Because the power-steering line ruptured and spewed fluid all over the hot engine.
Because my four-year-old self watched sparks spit and hiss as they dropped under the car to the pavement.
Because Dad couldn’t help even if he wanted to.
Because the men spent all day going all over town to find parts.
Because Mom cried when she was only charged cost and not a dime of labor.
Because this was the last California station until the other side of the desert.
Because we needed gas.
Because the Air Force had taken Dad away by air ambulance for cancer treatment.
* * *
The writing prompt I used to develop my piece is as follows:
Fill in the Blank: Why I’m Afraid of ________. Now write twelve or so sentences beginning with Because . . .
My Because exercise is mostly taken from a real-life experience. An imagination is necessary to write poignant, compelling prose, but I also think using actual experiences from the writer’s life, true stories they hear from others, and even current events, elicits emotion from the reader, which I think should be the writer’s ultimate goal.
Miss Hughes is settled in San Antonio, Texas. She claims Native-Texan status despite being born in England, and wasting the first four years of her life living elsewhere. She earned a Family Financial Planning degree from Texas Tech University, so naturally she became a career technical writer and event planner. She has traveled to all fifty states and is visiting foreign countries 16-19 by the end of the year.
Here’s one for you to try: THE WORD BECOMES FLASH. Here are some quotes. Choose one or more that sound intriguing and don’t think too much at first. Just start writing. I’m guessing that themes will present themselves to you and that you’ll discover some intriguing characters.
“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
“I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.” Ludwig Wittgenstein
“Sorrow is so easy to express and yet so hard to tell.” Joni Mitchell
“Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories - and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.” Alice Munro
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” Philip Larkin
I stared from my seat at the full bar to the black cliffs and settling mist. “Looks lonely out there.”
The man Finbar turned to me: “Wailing winter winds put roaring on the sea, but that’s just a kiss you hear now, lad.”
“So it is, to be sure,” and the door closed behind the voice that entered the pub, to sit facing the fire, knee-high Wellies stretched to the heat of peat and coal.
“Ye’ll be late for the cable car Danny Duff, sittin’ with this rabble.” The bartender spoke without rising.
“Be stayin’ for the storm, and a whiskey will protect me from hearing about the sea from men sailin’ it from mountain farms.”
I waited for the others, for their response, then joined their laughter. An outsider must not choose a side if it can be avoided. And out there, beyond the cliff-fall to the sea, the rugged, weeping, bold, purple hillsides of Dursey, curtained in gray gale, drove even the weathered to the hearth. I nodded to stand another round.
Danny Duff faced us now, from his chair across the room, wet back to the heat, and tipped to me his hat. “It’s a rare thing to find a good man on a tall stool—a welcomed rare thing it is.”
And as night edged the day, adding darkness to the gray, we shared Guinness and whiskey in quiet communion until even the storm had enough and we all went our ways beneath a starred sky.
* * *
Larry teaches literature and writing and holds the Smith Writers Chair at Nichols School, which allows him to bring poets and writers, from around the country, to spend time in his classes. He has two poetry collections—Tying a Poem and Dancing with That Woman at Whiskey Woes. He’s had stories and poems published inBorder Senses, Grit, Chest Journal (medical), Buffalo Rising, The Potomac, Grit, Illya’s Honey, The Plaza (Japan), Buffalo Spree, and Third Wednesday, among others.
Lest We Forget
J. K. Dowdy
Sir Percival Blackney II
Most senior cat Percy finally shed that feline coil and was laid to rest between two key lime trees on Saturday, November 5, two days after taking to the bed in true Appalachian fashion.
It must be said that he approached this transition with a quiet dignity and knightly composure; qualities notably absent, curiously enough, during his former lengthy life.
Ever the inadvertent comedian, Percy's main hobbies included digging chicken scraps out of the garbage and occasionally falling off the dock. He leaves to cherish his memory: Sister LuLu, aka Wild Thing, adopted companion Lloyd (Spawn of Satan), and the remaining Dowdy-Hamilton family, as well as the construction crew working at his Uncle Bill and Aunt Bryanne's house across the street.
In lieu of any formal services, the family and close friends may gather at a later date to turn over the kitchen trash can one last time.
Godspeed, Boykee: We hardly knew ye.
* * *
As a professional horticulturalist living in St. Augustine, Florida, Jean has been involved with her husband's family nursery business since the late 1970's. The fact that she sometimes wakes up screaming in the night at the retail public's insistent murder of Latin botanical nomenclature is probably proof that she should just lighten the hell up a bit; maybe try to get out more, catch a movie or two, have a couple of beers with some old friends.
Re John's THE DEAD BEAT flash prompt: A good obituary always makes this Appalachian heart swell; indeed, it's the one newspaper section I never ever miss. And while I seem to have become the official obituarist for both my immediate and extended families, the crafting is definitely a group effort which becomes more and more cathartic as the years progress. We cry, we laugh, we get on with it. The passage of beloved pets also demands its own recognition, I think, lest we forget the least of these our brethren.
Here’s one for you to try: THE BAG. A man is found dead in a flophouse. All of his belongings are in a green duffle bag. Open the bag and go through it.
Make a list story about what you find. Be as precise as you can with each item.
No need to comment—the accumulated items should add up to a portrait of the man (or woman, if you’d like).
Bewildered in Boise
Let’s begin on an up beat as I ask from the jump, does Tom write “Tom” on your forehead? Has he ever? Or on the forehead of one of your one-of-each? or both? The Labradoodle? (With “Tom” on the collar or scannable chip? we’d be in real trouble).
Yes “Tom,” we can only agree, is extremely possessive, greedy, selfish and paranoid. Writing his name on everything to prove ownership is just flat-out overzealous when it comes to the milk, the banana peels. Well you know the implications.
When you use a screwdriver are you intimidated by his name on the handle? Just a little? Do you feel guilty showing photos of your children to visitors? (Kind of like you just took your parents’ car out without permission?) Face it, doesn’t your rear-end feel as comfortable in a “Tom” chair as in a “Bewildered” chair? Maybe more? Really, Mrs. Boise?
I think you should pour a glass of milk, put your feet up, turn on the flat screen, and peel yourself a banana any darn time you want.
There are two ways to go here:
When “Tom” sees you “trespassing” with abandon and asks why, just say because. When he says because why, tell him he really needs to deal with his false possession-obsession disorder or get himself some professional help. You might suggest he begin by thinking it all over on a nice long walk with his mislabeled doggie.
If all else fails you might think about writing your name on all permanent laundry pens in the house. Face it, “Tom” is bananas.
* * *
Tom Todaro is a retired copywriter, poet, actor, and folk artist living and learning in “the other Duluth,” Georgia. He keeps writing stories, but they always become poems. Tom self-published his first book, Complete Confetti, in 2013, and is working on his next.
Dear Abby and I go way back and when I saw her in the FLASH! exercise it was like old times. Who doesn't like reading and writing about gossip, complaints, and weird dudes.
Here’s one for you to try. DEAR DIARY. Write your short-short story in the form of a diary entry or a series of entries or as a journal entry or entries. Perhaps an entry by a character you make up. Or a character you borrow from history or from fiction. Raskolnikov’s diary? The diary of the woman money lender he killed? Holden Caulfield’s journal? That waitress who smiled at you this morning? What secrets is she keeping in that diary?
Apparently, I Lied
I lay between the sheets and rolled my head to the left. Moonlight slithered through the blinds, shone on his pillow and confirmed what I already knew. Jack was gone. Still, I refused to sprawl out to claim the bed as mine.
At work, my real estate partner, Darlene, was very supportive.
“I can’t believe how he just up and left you. He falls off the wagon and then vanishes without even a goodbye.”
Shut up, Darlene, I thought. You don’t know the half of it.
I grabbed my keys and bolted toward the door, “Got to run, three showings today.”
Jack was tiptoeing near skid row when I met him four years ago. After earning his thirty-day sober chip from AA, he moved in. By day, he supervised the local garden center, by night, he continued attending meetings.
Everything was hunky dory until I stopped at home one midday for a quick lunch. A red work apron, belonging to some petite blonde named Sandy, was splayed on the kitchen floor. I followed the passionate moans and groans drifting toward me through the patio doors. Our backyard had become Jack’s playground. That bastard and his little hussy hadn’t even made it to the bedroom.
The following week, Darlene walked out back and raved, “I love your new garden, I bet all that digging in the dirt has been therapeutic for you.”
“You have no idea,” I replied, as I finished tamping the ground and kicking the last hunks of mud from my rusty shovel. It was old and worn, but it certainly got the job done. I pulled my denim sleeve over my glove, hiding what blood remained.
Darlene continued, “Too bad Jack isn’t here to enjoy it.”
“Yes.” I smirked. “Too bad.”
* * *
The first publication for Wendy May Douglas (at the age of fourteen) was a piece addressed to the President of the United States. The poem, protesting the Vietnam war, was featured in the Newark Sunday News and was subsequently mailed to then President Richard M. Nixon.
Wendy cannot resist harvesting memories and planting them in fictional tales. She is a grown Army brat, a former social worker, and a current lover of sea turtles in coastal North Carolina.
“Apparently, I Lied” was simply the header of a general email I sent recently to John Dufresne. John challenged me to write a Flash! of 300 words or less, as apparently, that title begged a story. This is my first foray in very short story writing.
Here’s one for you to try: THE DEAD BEAT. Now is your chance to write an obituary that is also a very short story. You might want to read obituaries in newspapers or check in with the website of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers for some suggestions and examples. London’s Daily Telegraph has the best obits in my opinion. This can be funny, ironic, sad, whatever you feel. Consider the life of your character and any struggles that he or she may have had. Did that struggle lead to the death? Consider the subject’s public life and his or her private life. Consider who is writing the obituary. A devoted child? A loving spouse? The newspaper’s obituary writer? What does the writer bring of himself or herself to the narrative?
Metal Pipes Tied to the Roof of Trucks
Because Cara Fisher had a laugh like a machine gun. Because she liked to talk about children. Because her mother made lasagna from scratch. Because the sun reflected off her tan breasts. Because her father liked me. Because she urged me to apply for college. Because she was the only girl who said yes. Because she kissed me like I wasn’t her brother. Because she was young. Because I said we needed to see others in college. Because life is too goddamn short. Because when the truck stopped suddenly, the metal pipes flew into the back window of her car.
* * *
J. J. White has been published in several literary journals and magazines, including, The Homestead Review, The Seven Hills Review, The Grey Sparrow Journal, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post 2016 and 2018 anthologies. His has had three novels published by Black Opal Books. He was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize for his short piece, “Tour Bus.” He lives in Merritt Island, Florida. www.jjwhitebooks.com
Fill in the Blank: Why I’m Afraid of ________. Now write twelve or so sentences beginning with Because . . . Here’s J.J.: My Because exercise is mostly taken from a real-life experience. An imagination is necessary to write poignant, compelling prose, but I also think using actual experiences from the writer’s life, true stories they hear from others, and even current events, elicits emotion from the reader, which I think should be the writer’s ultimate goal.
Here’s one for you to try: FLASH DRIVE. Your short-short story takes place in a car or a pickup or an RV. On the road—the great American myth, the romance of the highway. Your central character is driving. He’s alone or with a companion or with several. What does he see out the window? In the rear-view mirror? The radio is on. What’s he listening to? Where is he going? Why there? What is the promise at the end of the road? What’s the weather like? What time of day is it? Is there trouble up ahead? Tension in the car? How much gas is left in the tank?
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.
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
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
* * *
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
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.”
“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.
* * *
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.