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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do join us. We are planning on publishing an anthology for which each author chooses two or three of their own favorite submissions.
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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.”
“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.”
“Now, KICK it down. Hard!”
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.
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 email@example.com by Monday, February 7, 2022. The next prompt is:
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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.