Well, This Was Fun

Photo credit: Brylan Ranscht

The latest Writers Co-op Writing Prompt Challenge Show Case is up for your enjoyment. The prompt was Entitled, and I’ll share my contribution here, too. I hope you’ll peruse the rest of them, and consider submitting a piece of your own for the next prompt:

Failure

Those submissions are due by the end of Monday, December 13, 2021. (See the Show Case for oh-so-easy submission guidelines.)

I’m Just Really Good at My Job

by S.T. Ranscht

“Hello, Adam. Welcome to my world. Your world.”

“Uhhh… thank you?”

“I know, it’s all a bit too glorious, isn’t it?” the world’s owner confided gleefully.

Adam hesitated. “Well, I suppose that depends on what you mean by ‘glorious’.”

The owner seemed taken aback. “I should have thought it was obvious.”

“Not to me,” Adam admitted. “I mean, compared to what?”

“Oh. Right.” A pause followed.

“Can I ask you a question?” Adam ventured into the pause.

“Yes, I have granted you that ability.”

“Okaaayyy… How did I get here?”

The owner’s glee returned. “That’s a great story. I suggested that we make man in our own image, and everyone agreed—“

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“That’s not important. I’m this world’s Project Manager, so you’ll deal only with me.” The PM hurried on, “Anyway, I made this dense fog cover the entire globe so everything everywhere got really wet, and then… I made you out of mud. Mud! Then, you know the thing with two holes in the middle of your face?”

“My… nose?”

“I wasn’t sure you knew that word. Yes, your nose. Get this — I blew into it and guess what happened. You came. To. Life.”

“Huh.” Adam tried to rub the confusion out of his brain by massaging his forehead. Hard. “That’s not really much of a story. I don’t mean that in a negative way. This is just constructive criticism you can take or leave. It has good plot points, but your execution is weak. Not enough world building. No character development. No tension. The climax is contrived — all those periods, supposedly to give each word equal impact. And no resolution.” He shook his head. “I’m just saying it could be a really compelling story if you added more detail. Some dialogue. Motivation. Why, for instance, did you decide to blow into my nose?”

“Thank you for your feedback,” the PM said in a way Adam thought sounded a little pouty. “I’ll consider it if I ever decide to tell that story again.”

“So, what am I supposed to do?”

“Well, I had a couple of ideas. You get to name every living creature and growing thing.”

“What? Like Javier, Su Mei, and Thaddeus? Or Spot, Splashy, and Flighty?”

“Not what I had in mind, but the deal is made and it’s up to you.”

“Maybe something more evocative of each living thing’s life story,” Adam contemplated. “Yes, that would be much more interesting.”

“As you wish,” the PM acceded. “And you get to till the land in this garden. You know, grow more plants. For food.”

“That sounds like tedious, backbreaking, thankless work. No thank you. What are my other choices?”

“Other choices? I was hoping this wouldn’t come up quite so soon — especially because I’m having second thoughts about its wisdom — but, yes, having made you in our image, I thought it would only be fair to grant you free will, too. You may do anything you want — except for two tiny exceptions. So. I can hardly wait to find out: What do you want to do?”

“I’m not sure you really mean that, but,” Adam announced, “I want to be a writer.”

“Oh. I’m afraid that’s not an option.”

“But you said, ‘anything’.”

“That I did, but I haven’t invented writing yet,” the PMsplained with forced patience.

“Then maybe I just invented it,” Adam countered. “After all, I am free to define myself, correct?”

“Yeeesss.”

Adam decided right then that, even though he couldn’t see the PM, the tone he’d just used was accompanied by eye rolling. Adam filed that image away for future stories.

“I’m curious,” Adam began, “Why can’t I see you?”

The PM chuckled in a pitying way. “Looking upon my face would be too overwhelming for you, a mere man.”

“Really? I would have thought, having made me in y’all’s image, y’all would have a face like mine. What’s the real reason you’re hiding? Are you hideous and misshapen? Scarred beyond belief? Or just everyday ugly?” In the silence that followed, Adam imagined the PM glaring at him, crossing his arms, and tapping his foot in an aggravated way. The power he felt inspired his first naming. “Hey, do you see that sinuous, slithery creature over by the apple tree? I’m going to name him ‘The Great Deceiver’.”

The PM scoffed, “That’s not a proper name. That’s a title.”

“Precisely,” Adam agreed. “I’m a writer. A storyteller. And I just entitled your glorious creature’s life story.” Adam’s grin radiated a heavenly glow. “But I thank you for your feedback.”

The PM drew a deep breath. “Adam, I am going to give you a gift. You may name her whatever you deem appropriate, but I will call her Eve.”

“I don’t need a companion,” Adam replied. “In fact, I don’t want a companion. Writing is going to be a solitary job. A companion would just be a distraction.”

“Perhaps so,” the PM allowed, “but a writer is entitled to an editor.”

A frown crept over Adam’s face. “That sounds really annoying.”

If the PM’s face had been visible to him, Adam would have seen his first nastily satisfied smile.

Devolving

The Sky (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

Legitimate research into the benefits of LSD in treating PTSD is currently in the mainstream. The lesser known fact is that this kind of research has been conducted since the 1950s.

So maybe this short story in response to the prompt “Devolving” will strike a chord with you. Maybe not, but I can vouch for the hallucinations, and hey, the realizations sure felt profound. More than that, they’ve stayed with me all this time.

But if you don’t identify with this story, try one of the others over at Writers Co-op. (I am particularly fond of Curtis Bausse’s My Brother’s Keeper.)

We would love for you to join us. The next prompt is “Entitled”. (See Writers Co-op for the very easy submission guidelines.)

From the Highest Heights

by S.T. Ranscht

“Blotter acid?” Damon asked. “What’s blotter acid?”

Robert fidgeted and rolled his eyes waiting for his tab.

Stephanie drew a card and moved her piece to the next yellow square. “It’s just a different delivery system,” she said. “Blotter paper gives you extra fiber with none of the empty calories of a sugar cube. Even diabetics could take blotter acid.”

“Okay, okay,” Robert leaned across the board with his hand out. “Nobody here is diabetic are they?”

“Check your attitude, Bob. If you have a bad trip, it’s gonna ruin it for all of us, and Mom and Dad will find out.” She gave a little square of soft paper to each of the boys and placed one on her tongue. Zipping the rest up in the baggie, she smacked Robert’s hand away when he reached for it.

“Hey!” He looked offended. “You’ve got plenty. I just want one more. What’s your problem?”

I’m not the one with a problem. Don’t be an idiot. You don’t know how strong this stuff is yet.”

Damon held his square between his thumb and forefinger, studying one side and then the other. “How long till we feel it? How will we know if it works?”

“If it’s good stuff,” Robert said, mashing his between his molars, “15 or 20 minutes, maybe less. And you’ll know, believe me.”

“It’s not always the same for everybody, even from the same batch. But Robert’s right — you’ll know,” Stephanie assured him. “Just don’t start laughing.”

“Why not?”

“You won’t be able to stop. Whose turn is it?”

Robert snatched a card. “Mine! Cool, double blue.” He hopped his piece from the next blue to the one after that.

With a doubtful look on a face anticipating disaster, Damon squeezed his eyes shut as he slowly brought the tab to his mouth. Stephanie and Robert watched him chew and swallow.

“Take your turn,” Robert urged.

Damon drew Plumpy. “Crap!” He moved his piece all the way from Princess Lolly to the bottom of the board.

“You’re going the wrong way, man,” Robert said with glee, jumping to his feet. “I’m gonna go get something to drink. You guys want anything?”

“Do you have Dr. Pepper?” Damon asked without much hope.

“Dr. Pepper?! Who drinks Dr. Pepper?” Robert wanted to know.

“There’s some out in the garage,” Stephanie said. “If you want it cold, I can put it in a glass with ice.”

“That’d be great,” Damon said. “Thanks.”

Robert and Stephanie left the room.

~~~

When Stephanie and Robert returned, Damon was bent over the board, staring intently at the Peppermint Forest.

“Look at this, you guys,” he commanded. “The trees. Are waving. In the wind.”

Stephanie started to laugh and clapped her hand over her mouth instead.

“It’s woooorkiiing!” Robert sang.

Stephanie handed Damon his drink. “What’s this?” he asked.

“Dr. Pepper,” she reminded him.

He took a sip. “Wow. It tastes like… being buried alive. But in a good way.” His other hand swept past his eyes. He looked worried. “What’s wrong with my hand?”

“Nothing,” Robert said. “It’s just trails.”

“Let’s go outside,” Stephanie suggested.

They got as far as the front porch. Robert shut his eyes and leaned back against the house. Damon stood at the rail scanning the sky. Stephanie sat in the rocker but didn’t rock.

“If I don’t move,” she announced, “this is just a chair. I have the power to define my surroundings.” She watched Robert for… ever. “What are you doing, Bob?”

Without moving or opening his eyes, he answered, “I’m”

Fifteen minutes passed.

“sitting”

Fifteen more minutes passed.

“on the”

Fifteen more.

“steps.”

“What do you see?” she asked.

After several minutes, he said, “The temperatures are coming off me in different colors.”

“Cool,” she said. “Let’s take a walk.”

“I don’t think I can,” Robert objected.

“Yes, you can,” she told him.

“I can’t feel my legs.”

“It doesn’t matter. They know what to do.”

Damon whimpered, “I can’t stop them.”

“Who?” Stephanie asked. “What are they doing?”

“The words,” he answered. “They’re marching in my head.”

“What words?” Robert asked.

“Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are ABCDEFG HIJK elemenopee Mary had a little lamb—”

She took Damon by the hand and led him down the steps.

“Whoa,” Robert said. “You just went through me and I disappeared.”

“Can you walk now?”

“I think so.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Damon looked closely at his hand holding Stephanie’s. “There’s so much energy.” He looked at Stephanie’s face. “Can you feel it?”

Stephanie looked surprised. “Yes. It feels good.”

Robert tripped over something as he passed them. He stopped to investigate. “Look. It’s a rock. But feel it.” He held it out to his sister. He whispered conspiratorially, “It’s not solid.”

“Neither is your foot,” Damon offered.

“That’s right,” Robert remembered. “So my foot should have gone right through it.” He stopped. “Oh, no. I’m in the wrong universe.”

“You know the story about the infinite number of monkeys typing on an infinite number of typewriters for all eternity?” his sister asked him.

“Typewriters?” he countered.

“Eventually, they will type the complete works of Shakespeare.”

Damon’s eyebrows scrunched together. “Can they read?”

“No. Monkeys can’t read.” Robert sounded indignantly certain.

“They don’t have to read,” Stephanie clarified. “Their typing is totally random. But if they type forever, they’ll type everything that ever was, and everything that will ever be. In every universe.”

“And a shit-ton of complete nonsense,” Robert added.

They stood silent for no one knew how long.

Looking up, Damon declared, “The sky. Oh my God. I just realized the sky goes all the way to the ground.”

Robert followed Damon’s gaze. “Does it go all the way up?”

Stephanie joined them. “No.”

“Why not?” Damon asked.

“Because of Space,” she said.

Damon’s jaw dropped. “Wow. That’s real.”

Robert turned to look at her. “Is that where the monkeys are?”

She cocked her head and scrutinized him. She started laughing a gasping, unstoppable tsunami of absurd laughter. So did they.

She dragged them back into the house to collapse on the living room floor, briefly aware — but not really caring — that they had lost control. Only Stephanie noticed how grungy the walls looked. Like they were covered with cobwebs. It would take hours to clean them off.

This trip was definitely over.

Bummer.

Join us!

Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

Something’s happening over at Writers Co-op. The latest writing prompt, Catharsis, attracted some powerful pieces of writing. Maybe you’ll write something for the next prompt: Devolving.

I’d like to share the short piece I wrote for Catharsis with you. Judge for yourself whether or not it’s one of the powerful ones, but please take a look at the others, too. They’re all worth your time. And maybe let me know what you think of mine.

Pivot

by S.T. Ranscht

The second child wasn’t like the other four. Or like any of the other kids any of them knew. Sure, she had two of everything she was supposed to have two of, and one of everything else like most of the other kids, but her mind didn’t work the same way the minds of everyone who knew her worked. Except for her dad’s. More analytical. More precise. More inquisitive.

But even the two of them perceived life, its puzzles and problems, its values and goals, as propositions so different from one another that their perceptions might have been those of species as alien to each other as if one were carbon based and the other were based on silicon. Or antimatter. His admitted only empirical, rational, fact-based evidence as valid foundations for any answer, argument, or choice. Hers appreciated those aspects of reality, but also embraced the intuitive, feeling, and sense of justice and interconnectedness of all things that painted the biggest Big Picture possible in the vastness of the Universes.

But because he was older and more experienced, he made sure she knew there was something fundamentally wrong with her perception. Her understanding. Her questions. Her conclusions. Her choices. Her self.

And because she was younger and knew so little, she believed him even when a tiny, muffled voice in her head, incapable of screaming, muttered, “He’s wrong. Isn’t he?”

She stopped sharing her thoughts with him.

It was her shamefully, never-to-be realized potential, he said, that convinced the educational testing system she should skip a grade and spend the rest of her school career competing with students older than she was. 

Was it any wonder, then, that in a house full of family, in a world full of people, she always felt alone? Unseen. Unheard. Unappreciated. Just like her dad.

Till one budding Spring day, sitting in Trig, as Mrs. Jordan — with a run in her nylons that one of the other girls referred to as “the run in her leg” — worked at the chalkboard to explain logarithms to her classroom of 11th grade advanced mathematicians, something inexplicable happened and everything changed.

She was fifteen and as pure as they say driven snow is. She was healthy and had eaten a nutritious breakfast. Sunshine poured in the windows. But the walls fell away and she was instantaneously surrounded by black sky and stars — with an electric blue e-curve floating in space like an out-of-body umbilical cord, and the unshakable certainty that humans did not invent math, but merely discovered it, and a sense of presence that imbued her with the knowledge that she knew what it was most people think of as God.

~~~

When the classroom fogged back into being, she couldn’t tell how long she’d been gone. Leaving the room at the end of class, she felt as though she were gliding six inches above the floor. She told only her best friend about what had happened, and she gasped, “You just experienced cosmic consciousness!”

Whatever it was, it purged her of self doubt. She kept asking questions and seeking answers for the rest of her life. Self-contained. Confident. Fearless.

She never told her dad.

Weird Shorts

sue ranscht
Cover Art by Ian Bristow

Each of us has at least one weird friend who defies convention and relishes the bizarre. It’s even possible many of us are that friend. Of course, there are degrees of weirdness — I, for instance, consider myself to be on the charmingly eccentric side of weird as opposed to being on its totally bonkers, crazy-eyed, bat-eating, raggedy edge.

However, even if I were, I would still enjoy indulging in other people’s weird literary thoughts — like the stories in The Rabbit Hole — just as much as I enjoyed writing “Life Changing” for this anthology.

I hope you’ll consider acquiring a copy or two, in paperback or for Kindle, for your weird friend and yourself. The proceeds will benefit the Against Malaria Foundation, a GiveWell top-rated charity.

Weird Stories

Halloween is the last day to pre-order this excellent collection of 35 weird stories for only $1.99. (For a taste of their tone, see a few of their blurbs below.) Beginning November 1, the ebook price will be $2.99, or you can have a paperback book to hold in your hands for $12.50. Even better, the proceeds go to the Against Malaria Foundation, where $2 buys one life-saving mosquito net. (AMF is one of GiveWell’s top-rated charities.)

The Rabbit Hole will be an intriguing addition to your library, and would make a welcome gift for anyone who cherishes a few hours of escape from Normal — or even the New Normal.

1a, The Rabbit Hole
Cover art by Ian Bristow

Foggy
A father and daughter’s boating trip is ambushed by a mysterious, underwater tormentor.

I Should’ve Known Better
There’s just one thing wrong with his beautiful luxury apartment: it’s a transdimensional portal.  Will the Flying Demon Things get him before he gets one of the centaur Babes?

The Scroll and the Silver Kazoo
You never know who (or what) will show up at an open mic event.

Quicksilver Falls
A mysterious phenomenon puts the future of the world in the hands of a simple Tennessee farmer and sparks the world’s strangest writing competition.

Satori from a Consulting Gig
Management consultant Frank Dow has a new client: God.

The Adventures of Conqueror Cat
Herr Trinket (a sharp-eyed and even sharper-tongued shelter cat) traverses an interdimensional rabbit hole into poochlandia to explore the enduring timey-wimey dog-cat dichotomy.

Eggs On End
Claudia had a secret: she was ordinary – agonizingly, mind numbingly ordinary.  But all that was about to change.  And it would all begin with eggs.

Life Changing
Lawrence decides to exercise his brain to avoid his Alzheimer-stricken mother’s fate, but when his life twists beyond recognition, he can’t escape the possibility that lost minds must be somewhere.

Carolina Brimstone
The passion of the zealot is proportional to the power of the demon inside.  Constance Hennfield’s fervor knows no bounds.

Thanks to Mellow Curmudgeon for compiling these blurbs.

TimeJump

My latest deep dive:

TimeJump Icon
TimeJump (Image credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

The App, my entry for the 2018 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest, is morphing into an interactive story I’m also submitting to Echoic-Mobile-Press for consideration.

Natalie and Vihaan are beta testing their TimeJump app. Sending text messages into the past, it lets you fix memory glitches or have the chance to say what you wish you’d said or know then what you know now. When the Feds try to steal it, the TimeJump team races to keep them from weaponizing the awesome power to know the future. ~~ The Pitch

The ScreenCraft contest will announce its quarter-finalists in January 2019, semi-finalists in February, and the winners in March. One of my stories quarter-finalled two years ago, but the entry pool is deep so individual odds of winning are preciously low. The most compelling reason to enter is the option to receive feedback from a professional entertainment industry reader. Their insights into both the story’s potential and the existing market are invaluable.

Echoic Mobile Press is a new publisher currently beta testing their interactive story app. They’re actively seeking authors who are willing to work with them to establish a library of stories from poems to short stories, to serials, to novels. The authors don’t have to know anything about interactive story telling going in — Echoic will help its authors build their worlds and create an interactive experience for the people who purchase the app. Think choose-your-own-adventure books, but more involved. They also plan to publish non-interactive ebooks that the app stories come from. They’re also happy to create app stories from stories or books an author has already published somewhere else. And their submission response time is only 4 weeks.

Oh, yeah — they pay their authors, too.

So I should hear good news or nothing at all from them by the end of November.

Space, Time, and Raspberries, the Picture Book

“I will not be its illustrator.” S.T. Ranscht, author of Space, Time, and Raspberries.

“Good.” Everyone viewing this page.

 

Raspberries
Blowing a big, wet raspberry at Einstein’s Absolute Speed Limit (Image credit: S.T. Ranscht, Not a Real Artist)

The only thing Raspberries wants is to go as fast as lightning. But when the teacher says, “Nothing can go as fast as lighting — it’s a Scientific Rule,” Raspberries must either give up the dream or keep trying to break the Rule, even though no one knows what will happen if the Rule breaks.

My beta readers (ages 5-9) — and their adults — have given me such excellent feedback on my most recent edits, that I believe Space, Time, and Raspberries is finally ready to meet the right publisher.

Let the hunt begin.

Signature

Take a Breath

Glad you could join us for the next restful episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning to the beginning, and reading really fast…

Elliot 279
Photo credit: Geoff Gallice

Beneath the churning web, agony’s wail rode the final unbreaking wave as it crossed the field to leave behind the silent, still shallows of death. The enemy Flyers who dared to attack its surface learned too late that the struggle to destroy it only drew the attacker further under. Those who witnessed it from above soon retreated toward The Arids.

Vernon and Ambassador Arturo waited at the web’s edge where an escaping whisper of breath hinted at the Wildlands ants’ approach. Commandant Marabunta was the first to emerge.

Continue reading “Take a Breath”

Above and Below

Glad you could join us for the next tangled episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning to the beginning, and reading really fast…

Elliot 278
Image credit: mirmiran-architecture / fogdenphotos / S.T. Ranscht

The gluey silken lattices fell like a curling wave, spreading across the battlefield as the Alliance Flyers approached the Hive. Enemy land troops ran, but the smothering webs overtook them and trapped them where they stood. Arids Flyers, circling low after the retreat sounded, tangled in the ropey strands and fell, unable to escape. Webs continued to rain across the clearing, blunting the impotent struggles of the doomed, advancing toward the Hive.

Continue reading “Above and Below”

Flights of Death and Glory

Glad you could join us for the next flighty episode of Elliot’s Adventures. If you’re new here, you can catch up by returning to the beginning, and reading really fast…

Elliot 277
Image credit: Tomás Saraceno / Guido Limardo

The Alliance’s call to retreat rang out beneath the approaching shadow. All land and air forces, except the Freelands bees, pulled back to the Hive tree, beating away the closest attackers to defend and hold the royal residence to their deaths if necessary.

Ripping away from its parent darkness and speeding toward them, a smaller shadow became Sam and Clifton leading their company in a desperate race to reach Central Fen ahead of the growing darkness. Sweeping past the swarm still tormenting the enemy vulture, Sam yelled, “Retreat! Run! Get back to the Hive!”

“Captain,” Clifton called, “those are Freelands bees—”

Continue reading “Flights of Death and Glory”