A Little Bit of Nothing

Word cloud generated by Monkeylearn.com

Here’s a recent Writers Co-op writing prompt: Nothing. It’s really something. I’m always impressed by the variety of responses writers submit. Mine is below, but please take a few minutes to read the rest. And maybe share this post or that one with your family, friends, and followers.

Proof of Concept

by S.T. Ranscht

Lonely falling tree

Applause of the one-armed man

Dreamless final rest

If You Could Really Save Daylight . . .

Image credit: S.T. Ranscht

This is my response to Writers Co-op’s latest writing prompt, “Mashup“. I hope you’ll stop by their Show Case to enjoy all the highly creative and original entries. Maybe they’ll inspire you to submit your own for the next prompt:

Nothing

Guidelines are easy: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words. Submissions are due by April 4, 2022, attached as a .docx to an email to stranscht@sbcglobal.net.

Daylight Savings Bank

by S.T. Ranscht

The first time I used my Facebook — oops, sorry, META — Daylight Savings Bank card, I bought 15 minutes of daylight to avoid having to wake up in the dark the next morning. It was a special occasion — my birthday — and I was leaving on a jet plane for a long-planned, well-deserved vacation in the tropics. If I had jet lag, I figured I wouldn’t miss the 18.3 minutes (15 minutes at 22%) of additional darkness that would trim sunshine off the end of that day to pay for it. If I didn’t suffer from jet lag, I could pay the higher interest rate of 33% (19.95 minutes) to defer payment up till the end of the test period.

At only 25 years of age, I was one of Daylight Savings Bank’s lucky beta testers. Tens of millions all over the world had applied, but only a hundred thousand were chosen by lottery to experience the freedom of deciding how many hours of daylight their days would hold.

You’re probably wondering how this could possibly work — I think we all were. First, every applicant had to read and agree to the 10-page TOS on DSB’s website before META held the lottery. This was meant “to give applicants the opportunity to inform their consent and withdraw their application if they so choose.” Then it got pretty technical — something about transactions “disrupting/resetting circadian rhythms” and extended use “realigning applicable relative longevity standards”.

To me, the most important part was the sliding interest rate scale. I just wanted the longest, sunniest days I could afford. Of course, as beta testers, we didn’t have to pay any money for the extra light or dark — we chose extra light (or dark) at one end (or both ends) of the day, and had to accept an equal amount of dark (or light) plus interest, either the same day or by the end of the 30-day beta testing period. 

Second, the actual process sounded like a METAverse thing on steroids: After DSB’s thorough physical and mental examinations to establish each selected participant’s beginning health baseline, each participant would be “surgically fitted with temporarily permanent lenses” that would enable them to “experience sunlight and darkness on their own schedule.” At the end of the beta test, DSB conducted both examinations again, and traded their lenses out for the participant’s own lenses, which I guess must have been cryogenically frozen, just as rumor had it META’s founder, Mark Z. had been fifty years ago. 

When I won a slot as a beta tester, I was ready. I paid for my own vacation, but the sunshine would be courtesy of Daylight Savings Bank.

After my first timid appropriation of extra sunshine and a daylong flight, there I was, on one of those little South Pacific islands that’s dominated by a super-luxurious resort that looks like it could sink the place. I was so energized, I added five more hours of sun that first night and deferred all payments from then on. From the golf course, you could whack a ball right into the ocean. Imagine snorkeling near a coral reef among exotic tropical fish, giant sea turtles, and sharks. (Just watch out for those golf balls.) Sailing, surfing, wind surfing, parasailing. Hiking, fishing, swimming, canoeing. Waterfalls, bamboo groves, volcanoes. Meal after extraordinary meal. Sea grapes. I did it all, I saw it all, and I needed only five extra hours of daylight every day for 23 days. No wonder I was moving more slowly toward the end.

But my exit examinations established a different explanation. While my body and my mind had successfully reset my circadian rhythms to my eighteen hours of sun/six hours of darkness schedule, my applicable relative longevity standard was now that of a 70-year old woman.

Even worse, my deferred payments were due. I had to live the next seven days in total darkness before DSB would trade out my lenses. Seems to me setting the clock ahead to permanent Daylight Saving Time would have been a much healthier option.

This Isn’t About Football

Kicking Off (© 1973 United Feature Syndicate)

The current writing prompt is Kicking off. My response is below. I hope you’ll take a look at the others over at Writers Co-op. They range from thoughtfully instructive to historically fictional to tragically comical and just plain fanciful. What would you have written? The next prompt is:

License

What would you do with that? I hope you’ll give it a try. Your entry is due by Monday, March 7, 2022. Submission guidelines are easy: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words. Send as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf attached to an email addressed to me at stranscht@sbcglobal.net. Please do join us. We are planning on publishing an anthology for which each author chooses two or three of their own favorite submissions.

And please share our posts with your family and friends.

All You Have to Do

by S.T. Ranscht

It began as a joke, a harmless prank. Isn’t that what big brothers are for?

“It’s true, I promise you,” I told her, “but only special people can do it.” She was six and I was eleven — she had to believe me.

She took one of the rocks from her left hand and threw it at a sapling ten feet away. It bounced off the center of the skinny trunk.

I didn’t let on I was impressed. “Honest,” I said. “Do you want to learn how?”

She pulled back one corner of her mouth and looked at me sideways. “I asked Mommy, and she said no one can fly except in an airplane or a rocket.”

“She said that because she never even flew in her dreams. Sorry, kid, but our mom just isn’t quite special enough to soar like a Condor. Of course, you can spend your life on the ground if you want, and never even try, but then you won’t be any more special than Mom.”

As soon as I said it, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. She launched another rock and it hit exactly where the first one did. Then she turned on me.

“Mommy is too special. She’s the most special mommy in the whole world.”

I knelt in front of her. “You’re right, Sadie. She is. She probably just wants to keep you safe. Flying can be dangerous. It’s tricky to master and easy to get hurt doing it.”

“How? How can you get hurt?”

“You might get caught in an updraft and not be able to escape until it drops you someplace like the North Pole. Or China.”

She looked at me from beneath her scrunched eyebrows. “What’s an updraft?”

“It’s like riptide at the beach,” I said, knowing how much Dad’s warnings about that had scared her, “but it’s in the air and it sucks you up instead of down.”

Shrugging, she threw her last rock at the same spot. Bullseye. “And besides, if I went to China, I could call Mommy and Daddy and they would come and get me. I know their phone numbers, dummy.”

“Well, peabrain, you wouldn’t be able to call if you got caught in the top of a Giant Sequoia or sucked into a jet engine, would you?”

Her shoulders slumped. “No.”

“Okay.” I held her shoulders so we were face to face. “If you want to learn how to fly, I can teach you.”

“How?”

“There’s lots of ways,” I said, ticking them off on my fingers. “Some people just wiggle their toes and they rise up off the ground,” I could see her toes wiggling inside her sneakers. “Or maybe you’ll need to run downhill, spread your arms, and catch the wind.”

Sadie looked around. “We don’t have many hills around here.”

“My friend Doug says if you stand at the edge of something tall like a cliff or a skyscraper and throw yourself at the ground, all you have to do is miss.” I figured what was the harm? Sadie wouldn’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide for at least five more years.

Wrinkling her nose and shaking her head, Sadie said, “I don’t think that would work for me. I’m really good at throwing. I never miss.”

She got quiet. I could tell she was thinking. I stood up.

She looked up at me and narrowed her eyes. “Show me how you fly.”

I was ready for this. “I can’t show you yet because only flyers are allowed to see other people fly. If they let non-flyers see them, they can never fly again.”

“Then how am I s’posta—“

I held up one finger. “I can tell you, and once you learn how, we can fly anywhere, anytime you want.”

She made an exasperated little noise and said, “Okay. Tell me how you fly.”

“It’s easy. I stand with my knees bent just a little, and my arms ready to reach for the sky. Like this.” I posed like I was gonna take a free throw in basketball. “Then I pick up one foot — not too high — and KICK it down, hard, to the ground. Then I take off.”

Sadie stood like I was standing, except her little butt was sticking out. I had to work really hard not to laugh. “Okay, lift one foot…”

“Which one?” she asked.

“It doesn’t matter. Whichever one you want.”

She did.

“Now, KICK it down. Hard!”

She did.

She looked at me. “It didn’t work.”

“It’s okay. Nobody gets it the first time. Show me how you stand again.” Real serious like, I walked around her, looking her up and down. “I think I see your problem. Straighten you back a little, your butt is sticking out too far.”

She did just what I told her to do.

“Now lift your foot…”

She used the same foot as before.

“Now KICK down!”

She did, and of course, she was still standing on the ground. She immediately went into her pose again. Gotta give the kid points for determination.

“I’m gonna try the other foot this time.” She picked it up before I could say to.

“Good idea. Now KICK!”

She closed her eyes and KICKED.

“Gosh, Sadie, I’m really sorry. I thought this would work. I thought you were ready. Tough luck, kid.” I started back for the house.

“Wait! I almost had it, I know I did, but I think I wasn’t standing straight enough. Watch me, okay? One more time. Just one more. Pleeeease?”

How could I say no?

She took her stance. “How do I look? Is my butt sticking out?”

“No,” I said, “you look good. Go ahead, lift a foot.” She chose her second choice again. “Now…”

She kicked down. Hard.

And she shot into the air like she had springs on her feet and wings on her arms!

“Sadie!” I shrieked, “You’re flying!” This was impossible, but there she was, wheeling and tumbling like one of those crazy pigeons.

She bounced a little when she came down way over by a bunch of oak trees, but she landed on her feet. Then it looked like she was picking something up.

When she kicked off again, she rose as high as the tops of the trees before she turned and flew straight toward me.

Flying in a circle above me she yelled, “Now show me how you take off.”

I took my stance, lifted a foot, kicked down hard, and took off — running!

Sadie was right behind me, pelting me with acorns, and calling, “You liar. You can’t fly!”

I shouted back over my shoulder, “Nobody can fly, Sadie. Not even you.”

What can I say? I was eleven, she was six. She had to believe me.

She dropped out of the air, right on top of me. Lying on the ground, we were both all right, but she jumped up, angry.

“You tricked me,” she said. “You’re a non-flyer and you made me fly in front of you and now I’ll never be able to fly again.” And she ran off to the house, crying, “Mommyyyyy!”

It began as a joke. A harmless prank. But as far as I know, Sadie never flew again.

Even I was beginning to believe me.

Interior Doesn’t Mean Decorating

Image credit: Clipart.me

The current Writers Co-op Show Case prompt is Interior. This story is my contribution. Please visit Writers Co-op and read them all. Maybe submit your own piece for the next Show Case. The easy-going guidelines are: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words, emailed to stranscht@sbcglobal.net by Monday, February 7, 2022. The next prompt is:

Jangling

And please share these worthy works with your family and friends!

The House

by S.T. Ranscht

I don’t know why I come here. 

Every time Shannon found herself on the front walk that was more cracks than pavement, staring up at the three-story Victorian, she had no idea how she’d gotten there, either. If she’d driven, she couldn’t see where her car or the road she must have taken might be. It was as though the house had materialized in front of her. Or maybe she had materialized in front of the house.

There were no other buildings among the gangly trees huddled in thirsty tangles leaning toward the decayed fence that was almost half as tall as the house. Long ago, the fence must have surrounded a vibrant landscape of flower gardens and vegetable patches separated by expansive lawns crossed by gravel paths. There must have been twittering birds flitting from branch to branch. Now, nettles and scraggly bushes snarled together to choke the path and scrabble up the walls. Silence hung from the trees.

Even with its faded yellow paint peeling like a three-day-old sunburn, the house looked friendly — almost welcoming. Although she didn’t remember ever opening the front door, Shannon knew this house. Things might be rearranged or in slightly different condition from the last time she was inside, but she knew its secrets. She felt their weight.

Closing her eyes, she thought, I should leave.

As had happened so many times before, when she opened her eyes, she was in the living room. Age-darkened wallpaper might have boasted cabbage roses and scissor-tailed swallows. Or maybe brain corals and sea monsters lurked just below the grime. Plaster above picture rails mapped the ceiling with hairline fractures and the floor with crumbles and dust.

Her feet carried her across the scuffed, worn boards to the fireplace, where a thick blanket of cold ash, dead evidence of a living past, lay beneath the grate. Pressing her shoulder against the wall beside the mantle, a narrow gap opened. She squeezed into the space behind the fireplace, and the gap vanished. Relief swaddled her. She was safe here, but she couldn’t stay. She faced the decrepit lengths of wood nailed into the hidden wall, a cockeyed mockery of ladder rungs.

A whisper of dread woke something in her brain, but she wasn’t sure if it was a memory or her imagination. She climbed.

Halfway up the wall, she paused at a window overlooking the backyard. Beyond the broken-down fence, a chain of shadows advanced among the trees. They were coming. They came every time she was here, and she never welcomed them.

Would they get in this time? 

Did I bolt the front door?

She wanted to go back and check, but somehow she was in the garret at the top of the house, watching the invaders push through the fence into the yard. They didn’t always get that far. Her heartbeat pulsed behind her eyes. Could she get to the door before they did?

Her rush to the stairs skidded to a stop. The top step hung above the wreckage of the others on the floor fifteen feet below. Panic-tinged confusion swirled around her as she spun searching for a way down.

The lift! She ran back to the garret. There, in the corner. More a dumbwaiter than an elevator, it allowed her to fold herself into it and lower the box to the ground.

Extricating herself, she raced to the front of the house. Unknown people, lips pressed straight, eyes hooded, crowded past the window next to the door. Before she could reach the knob, it turned. The door creaked inward.

NO!

Shannon threw herself against the door and twisted the deadbolt latch. Outside, commotion surged forward calling her name, banging on the door, the walls, the windows. She fled to the fireplace and pushed next to the mantle, escaping into the gap.

She would stay there until silence returned.

~~~

Shannon’s mother wept from exhaustion and fear that her daughter was no longer within reach. Every day for a year, she had come to sit beside her bed, reading out loud, telling her about her family and friends, what they were doing, how much they missed her. Today, for the first time, the doctor suggested they start considering “alternatives” to life support.

She knew in her heart there was only one alternative.

End

Once Upon a Time . . .

. . . in the Deep Woods (Image credit: S.T. Ranscht)

Here’s my response to the Writers Co-op Show Case prompt Galaxy. Please visit Writers Co-op and read them all. Maybe submit your own piece for the next Show Case. The guidelines are: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words, emailed to stranscht@sbcglobal.net by Monday, February 7, 2022. The next prompt is:

Jangling

And please share these worthy works with your family and friends!

A Fairy Tale

by S.T. Ranscht

Rumors slunk down the gentle hillsides of the Deep Woods to spread through the encircling villages. A ravenous monster — beast — creature of some sort had awoken to begin devouring all life within its widening range.

The truth was, no one knew how long the unnamed fear may have been awake or lain dormant before the rumors, or even if it had always been there or had arrived from some foreign land beyond their knowledge. Throughout their history, few from any of the villages were willing to enter the Woods. They were too dark, too suffocating, too terrifying. Children played on the safe side of the tall fences and walls their villages had built between the residents and the dense expanse of trees from whence their water sources flowed. Hunters and woodcutters kept their homes in sight whenever they plied their trades beneath the shadowy boughs at the Woods’ fringy edges. And the rare fools who thought to pass through the Woods’ center to get to the other side were never seen again.

~~~

Olaf was not a fool. Everyone he met agreed he was odd but brilliant and quite as far from foolish as it was possible to be. Olaf was an inventor. Villagers from far and wide sought his help from the time he was a young man, not yet old enough to establish his own home away from his parents’. People hired him to solve problems from building better rodent traps to improving their fields’ irrigation systems.

That was how he met Elea. She accompanied her father when he came to Olaf seeking a way to retrieve stricken prey and errant arrows without having to follow them into the Deep Woods. Their meeting turned to courtship, and by the time he fulfilled her father’s commission, they were pledged to one another. During their long — but childless — marriage, his devoted wife was fond of saying, “Olaf is no stranger than you or I, but his brain is unlike any this land has ever seen.”

While Elea was still alive, he created machines that eased her work to keep their household clean and warm. With one, he replaced the wash board she used at the river with a large water tub on legs that stood in the kitchen. Olaf installed a set of paddles in the tub that agitated the laundry when cranked by hand. A pair of hand-cranked rollers attached to the outside of the tub wrung the wash water from the clothing. Another of his inventions ran a grid of clay pipes beneath the plank floor of their little house to connect the kitchen stove to a stove in the bedroom and the fireplace in the main room. Heat that traveled through the pipes warmed the floors, and thence their feet.

When Elea fell ill from a disease that seemed to afflict people in every village surrounding the Deep Woods, doctors determined the illness had come from water tainted at the source. They had no treatment to offer. Village leaders came to Olaf begging for a filtration system that could eliminate the problem. Olaf worked day and night to devise one. It altered the water rather than filtered it, but his success came too late to save his beloved wife. 

With Elea’s death, Olaf took his grief into his workshop and locked his attention on the problem in the Deep Woods. Knowing better than to hike into the Woods, he built an airship powered by wind, steam, and hot air to gain an aerial view and at least a chance of evading capture by whatever deadly presence lurked within. Aboard Elea’s Revenge, once he knew the enemy, he was confident he would be victorious.

He wondered if the tainted water could be used against the creature, and tried mixing it with some of the peculiar powders he had collected over the years. Most of those attempts accomplished nothing, but when he mixed the dark gray and yellow powders with a little of the water and struck a flint over it, the mixture sparked and burst into a swirling stream of flame and smoke and ash accelerating toward the ceiling. Curious. He set about making as many barrels of the mixture as the airship would hold.

~~~

Gnawing, echoing hunger growled through the nagging hollow in the creature’s gut. It couldn’t hear. It couldn’t see. It had no memories and no dreams. It hungered. It wasn’t starving. It simply expanded and absorbed what it encountered. But no matter how constantly the creature fed, it was never enough. It was as though the life it consumed provided insufficient nourishment. Or worse, an entirely wrong kind of nourishment. But it didn’t question. It just fed.

~~~

Olaf steered Elea’s Revenge toward the crown of the Deep Woods, ascending the hillside amidst the humming, ratchety-purr of the ship’s engine. Evening breezes pulled her dozen swollen sails beyond the reach of the Woods’ gnarled branches while the descending sun pushed the airship’s shadow across the glinting canopy.

The shadow crested the hill and vanished into a circle of darkness so deep it might have been a tunnel to the center of the world. Matte black, it had no visible features except its shape and size. Olaf watched in horror as it crept outward, inexorably extracting the ring of ancient trees that leaned into the void.

The airship’s bow dipped steeply toward the ground, shaking Olaf from his disbelief. The inevitable destruction of his world was suddenly clear. Turning the ship hard toward the creature’s edge, he pulled Elea’s Revenge up, gaining speed as it seemed flung from the scene below.

He lashed the tiller to circle the creature far enough away to resist its pull, but near enough to hope to kill it, and lit the first barrel’s fuse. Seconds before it would ignite the mixture, he hefted it overboard. It fell and fell and fell. In the instant before it faded into the gaping maw, it spit a shower of sparks. The creature made no response.

 Olaf stood in stunned silence. Choosing the only option with any hope of success, he ran from barrel to barrel throughout the hold and on the deck, lighting all the fuses. Taking control of the tiller, he turned Elea’s Revenge toward the creature and aimed the prow at its heart.

“I owe you this, my love.”

~~~

The ground beneath the encircling villages shook. Houses shivered. People ran outside to see what might have happened. All who looked toward the Dark Woods saw the column of flame and smoke and ash racing into the twilit sky. As it separated from the Woods, the darkness at its tail blotted out the emerging stars, and still it accelerated upward.

What they would not live to see happened over eons far, far from their world: A swirl of stars gathered in the creature’s wake, colliding and giving birth and sorting themselves into a vast community around the creature itself. Whether to be eaten or thrive might never be known.

Failure Is As Failure Does

Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

A recent Writers Co-op Show Case presented six successful views of Failure. My revised version is below, but I hope you’ll visit Writers Co-op and read them all. Maybe submit your own piece for the next Show Case. The guidelines are: any genre, approximately 6-1,000 words, emailed to stranscht@sbcglobal.net by Monday, January 24, 2022. The next prompt is:

Interior

And please share these worthy works with your family and friends!

Who is Failure?

by S.T. Ranscht

Pointing at one bubble shape on the monitor and then the other, “Two placentas,” the doctor announced. “Fraternal twins. Do you want to know their sex?”

The woman and the man looked to each other. He took her hand, his nod scarcely noticeable. Smiling, she said, “Yes, we do.”

“One son, one daughter.”

The man closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He lifted his face heavenward and breathed out, “Thank God, a son.”

And a daughter,” the woman added.

“As a precaution,” the doctor admonished her, “to lessen the chances of another miscarriage — considering your age and barring chromosomal problems — this time you really must take the pre-natal vitamins. Cut out caffeine and alcohol. No smoking or drugs.” He made a note to the file. “I wish you lived closer to a hospital.”

The man looked puzzled. “But those other five were all girls. This time is different.”

“Is it?” the woman asked.

The doctor shrugged. “Let’s start by seeing if you can make it through the first 20 weeks. Then there’s reason to hope.”

~~~

Together the woman and the man started working on the nursery at the end of week 20.

Now, almost four months later, they stood in its doorway admiring the room they had painted and furnished to embody the woods where Hansel and Gretel had conquered a wicked witch. The man had built a gingerbread doll house for his daughter and a bas relief climbing tree against one wall for his son. The woman had painted a mural of trees with birds and woodland creatures all the way around the room.

On the son’s side, the man added a child-sized tool kit and sporting equipment from every team sport he had played growing up. On the daughter’s side, the woman displayed dolls and stuffed animals and framed photographs of women Olympic athletes. In the center, they placed a rustic bookshelf the man had built filled with books they had chosen together.

“This is a room children will grow up strong in,” he said. “They’ll know they can do anything. Be anything.”

The woman gasped. “It’s time to go,” she said.

~~~

“Meet your daughter,” the nurse said as she placed the first baby on the woman’s chest. The man leaned over them to see his daughter’s face.

“She’s perfect,” the woman said.

“She’s so tiny,” the man said. He looked up to watch for his son.

The doctor whispered something to the nurse, who came to take the man by his arm. “Will you come with me for just a moment please?” she asked. She left him in the hall and closed the door behind her.

Silence hung in the air until the woman’s wail pierced the door.

~~~

The man had taken the tools and sporting equipment out of the room as soon as they brought the baby home. When he started taking the climbing tree down, the woman said, “Please leave it. Girls can climb trees. I used to climb trees.”

The man never went into the room after that.

Now, cradling the girl in his arms the man said, “She never looks me in the eye. Don’t two-year-olds look people in the eye? Is she blind?” He handed her to the woman.

The woman passed a purple stuffed dinosaur over the girl’s face. The girl followed it with her eyes. “She’s not blind.”

“Shouldn’t she be saying at least a few words by now?” the man asked. “Shouldn’t she know how to walk?”

The woman’s voice wavered, “Children learn at different rates.”

The man’s eyes filled. “What’s wrong with her?” He left the house. He did not pick the girl up after that.

The woman held her daughter inches in front of her. The girl’s eyes drifted across and up and down, but never focused on her mother’s face.

The woman’s eyes filled. She put the girl to bed with the purple dinosaur.

~~~

“She’s four years old. Why doesn’t she talk yet? Is she deaf?” Fast and hard, the girl’s father smacked his hands together.

She startled.

The girl’s mother jammed the blade into another potato, guillotining it against the cutting board. “She’s not deaf.”

“Then what’s wrong with her?” he asked yet again, peering into eyes that saw but didn’t comprehend. He turned his back and left the kitchen.

Wrong with her. The girl smacked her hands together. Again. And again. Again and again. And again and again.

The knife clattered on the counter and the girl’s mother stooped to hold her daughter’s hands apart. “Stop,” she said, begging, “Don’t you understand me?”

The girl’s arms yanked away. Her legs lurched her unsteadily out of the kitchen, her hands flapping beside her shoulders like wounded birds. Stop. Stop. Stop.

~~~

“Of course the school can’t handle her,” the girl’s father grunted from behind his cereal box. “She doesn’t talk and she can’t understand any better than a wild animal. Look at her.”

Look, look, look. Undeniably no longer a girl, the young woman stood in the doorway, one foot stamping, stamping, stamping, driven by the hammering thrust of her head-banging bounce. Body wild. Inside see me. See. See. Face swiveling toward him, eyes locking on his for one sticky instant as, arms outstretched, her hands smacked together.

He looked away.

The young woman’s mother smoothed the school’s letter on the table. “It says there’s a school over in Columbus could take her. Says it’s expensive, but they could help her.”

“You know I can’t pay for some expensive school.”

“Or they can send someone to show us how to help her.”

“How much is that?” he asked.

“ ‘No cost to you.’ ”

“Do that one. They can show you how to help.”

The young woman smacked her hands together. Help. Help. Help.

~~~

The young woman’s arms flung semaphoric gibberish above teetering steps defying direction.

Her mother hung back while the home care worker followed close. “When Angeline can’t stop herself,” the worker instructed, “she needs someone to help her.” From behind the young woman, the home care worker embraced her to clasp her arms against her sides and pressed one hand on the top of her head, compelling her feet to stand.

Eyes wide, the young woman alerted. Solid. Body silent listening. I am real. Do they see me?

Her mother fretted, “What if she feels like you’re over-powering her? Can she even understand what you’re doing for her? Won’t that make her want to keep away from you?”

The worker smiled. “She has developed an awareness of people outside herself. Although it might not be possible for us to understand how Angeline judges our interactions with her, she can recognize how her body is reacting even though she can’t always control it.”

“But she can’t tell us what she’s thinking.”

“It’s true she hasn’t developed language the way you and I understand it,” the worker said. “No one is born with language. We usually learn to communicate by watching and listening to people speak — their facial expressions, body language, words and inflections. Your daughter doesn’t read our faces or bodies or vocal tone, but as an infant, she developed her own language.”

“Her own language? Then why doesn’t she speak?”

 “The language of her thoughts would be based on emotions, wants and needs, and primarily visual stimuli rather than words she hears you saying. Her syntax wouldn’t be the same as our spoken language.”

“What does that mean?”

“Her thoughts might be more metaphorical than literal. She might identify objects or feelings as combinations of things she knows that give them fuller symbolic meaning than their names would.”

Angeline’s mother tried to meet her daughter’s eyes. “Will we ever be able to understand her?”

“Many non-speaking autistic people learn to read. If you can teach Angeline to read, you may unlock her ability to express her thoughts. It might not be with speech, but she might use a spelling board or sign language you develop together.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“Let’s help her learn to be still, first.” The care worker released the young woman.

Angeline remained standing as she was for three heartbeats before staggering on.

~~~

Days and weeks repeated until the home care worker’s help moved on.

“So she’s gone. She gave up,” the father accused.

The mother wrung her hands. “She said we don’t need her anymore.”

“Right,” he said, “a total waste of time. The girl still doesn’t talk. She still can’t understand anything that’s going on. She’ll never be anything.” He shook his head watching her lie on the ground.

Still. Sunshine feels my face and fills me. Heart music carries me. Sky presses my arms and legs lying on leafy bed. My body smiles.

They fail seeing I am not failure. I am real.

Her mother sat down beside her with a picture book and took her hand. “Look, Angeline, I want to show you something.”

Angeline’s father stopped shaking his head and watched.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 3d6bf70f-3839-48a7-a833-d4d10d99d42c_1_105_c.jpeg
Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

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.

Let’s Show Off

time-2-nathan-bunney
Photo credit: Nathan Bunney

 

Ugh. Revised and Rescheduled. Sorry for the inconvenience.

writers co-op

Recently, several of us explored ways to expand our little co-op. Having failed to heed the Universal Caution against volunteering, I volunteered to organize two ongoing projects — Writing Prompts and Critique Groups — that might induce authors to participate. Most of those who commented on my ideas supported them. (I suspect they were just happy somebody offered to do something, but I am grateful nonetheless.)

Let’s begin with a Writing Prompt. This isn’t a competition, but all submissions will be shown off in a Show Case posted here on Writers Co-op. Here are some guidelines: Pick a genre, any genre. Use approximately 6 to 1,000 words. The goal is to stretch our author muscles and produce a piece worth sharing with our friends.

The first prompt is:Atrophied.

Submission Instructions: By Monday, October 4, attach your work (as a .docx or .pdf) to an email addressed…

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