Failure Is As Failure Does

Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

A recent Writers Coop Show Case presented six successful views of Failure. My revised version is below, but I hope you’ll visit Writers Coop 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.

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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