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

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.

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.

A Downward Spiral

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

Elliot 131
Photo credit: Irish UE

All eyes followed them as First Combat Master Vladimir the Just escorted Elliot the length of the dining hall to a square door recessed into the wall facing the High Priestess’ table. Only half the height of any other door in the Tower, its lock fought valiantly against the key Master Vlad inserted, in a vain attempt to keep the secret it guarded.

Its heavy planks dragged open on hinges rusty from neglect and disuse, the door’s screeching protest pierced all ears and overpowered all pained gasps as the Master revealed a dark opening at the top of a stairway to blackness.

Continue reading “A Downward Spiral”

King Arnie the Former

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

Elliot 033
Photo credit: Grayson Hartman

“Your Greatness, noble King Arnie da Former,” Barry called from the edge of the pool, bowing so low his chin touched the water, “please allow me ta present Cassandra and Elliot, adventurers from far away, here seekin’ asylum in da peaceful Kingdom of Bog.”

Continue reading “King Arnie the Former”

Zen There Was One

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

Elliot Z
Photo credit: dreamworlds.ru

The moon had climbed only a branch or two higher in the tree when Yvonne returned with dinner to find Elliot cleaning dried blood from a slash on his girlfriend’s neck.

Looking away, she patiently reminded herself that her own savory kill still dripped from her talons, and she lay a beakful of mold-garnished leafy greens and a spongy-plump mushroom at their feet. Then, because that suffocating need to show well had woken from its long sleep, she couldn’t stop herself from discreetly tossing tufts of fur and shards of bone down to the charred forest floor.

Resentment simmered in her veins.

Continue reading “Zen There Was One”

Yvonne

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

Elliot Y
Photo credit: wallpaperup.com

The skeletons in bird’s memories weren’t as easy to dispose of as those that littered her life, but she shook them to the dark bottom of her mind with a noisy, full body feather ruffling.

“I beg your pardon. Where are my manners?” she asked with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Welcome. I’m Yvonne. And you are—?”

Continue reading “Yvonne”