Writers showcase, Monday, August 29, 2016

(Make the most of the time you have…)

Let Time Be A Game

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(Ready for back to school? If not, start here!)

From “Northern Mississippi University Fall 2016 Reminders” by Anonymous

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(The last line will make you smile.)

The Rule of Asses

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(Some handicaps life gives us; others we may create ourselves. Fight against all of them.)

https://thestoryfiles.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/restart/

Exercising the craft—August 22, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: A stream-of-consciousness. Just write. Go where the word takes you. The Prompt: Temptation

http://oneminutewriter.blogspot.com/2016/08/one-word-wednesday_17.html

*****

We sat in ragged concentric circles around the priest, listening to his chants meant to accompany the spirit of the recently deceased to heaven. As he prayed aloud, the priest used a ladle to pour clarified butter into a small fire that burned in a metal container. A few elderly women keened in the corner. All around me I heard people sniffling and fighting tears, their emotions, the reality of losing someone so beloved.

My heart clenched, which surprised me. I didn’t think I react. Well, to be honest, I didn’t know what I would feel. Whether a reaction would come at all. But now…this…

As I watched the smoke swirl upward, a few wisps of my anger floated with it. The clenching in my chest tightened until my mask cracked. It didn’t break completely, and it certainly didn’t fall away. But the cracks let in something I had not felt in a long time: regret.

Right then a few threads of temptation unspooled and found their way through the cracks. Those threads needled their way into my heart, and the temptation became so great I almost did it. I almost stood up right there in the middle of the religious ceremony and said what everyone was thinking: that I was wrong. I had been responsible for the heartache. The strife.

I was the reason the family shattered. Pieces of hearts and lives now spread across the years and memories we all shared. I allowed my own ambitions to propel me around and over and through anything that stood in the way of what I wanted.

Just then my younger sister-in-law stood up and went to the kitchen. I didn’t move my head at all, just watched her with my eyes. She filled a glass of water and brought it back for the priest. As she sat back down on the floor, she used the hem of her sari to wipe her tears. Her eyeliner had streaked, but she didn’t know. She let her emotions run all over the place along with her makeup.

And I remembered. I remembered that my ambition was justified. My anger was justified. My sister-in-law was weak, and that was why she let herself go in front of all these people.

Just like that my temptation backpedaled and returned to its bobbin.

Exercising the craft—August 15, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: They met in a motel parking lot under the light of a full moon.

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/under-the-moon/

*****

They met in a motel parking lot under the light of a full moon.

It was the first time in a month—since the last full moon, really—that they’d met. Too much had happened. Too much kept them apart.

A fire burned in the distance. They stood in the moonlight and watched as the flames consumed another building. The entire town had remained ablaze for the better part of a fortnight, and they had watched and wondered and worried about one another.

Now they stood within arm’s length of one another with the light of the moon mingling with the light of the fire.

“How is your family?”

“We’re managing. Yours?”

“The same.”

“What do you think about all this? Do you really think what they say is true?”

“Who, the foreigners?”

“Who else?”

“They have certainly fulfilled their promise. Our country will never be the same.”

The whistle of a train blared in the distance. It arced over the sound of snapping and crackling from the buildings. A small explosion caused a flare-up, and the sound of exploding glass pushed toward them. They heard the train whistle again, and they both wondered whether it had come closer.

One of them had to get on that train. Neither of them wanted to. It meant death, surely, but worse: it meant the end of everything they’d ever known.

They’d grown up next door to one another. Life was hard sometimes, but everyone knew to stay clear of the foreigners. The people with pale skin and even paler hair. The ones who had come more than a century earlier promising easy trade and friendship and had instead taken the life of those who had inhabited the country for millennia.

The people who, upon their leaving, had rent a single country into two jagged pieces.

They stood under the full moon and thought about it all. Yes, they’d gained independence, but it had come at a steep price. They no longer belonged to the same land. To one another.

The whistle sounded again.

“What if we were to run away?”

“What?!”

“Run away. Leave all this behind. Find a new life.”

“But…our families. My mother. Yours. Our siblings. Our fathers. They taught us to have pride in our country, to stay and fight for it no matter what.”

“How can you say that? There’s no our anymore! Don’t you understand?! If we don’t leave, they will force us against one another!”

“Do you understand what you’re asking me to do? You’re asking me to leave everything we’ve ever known, to forsake everything to turn away from the people who have loved us, the only life we’ve ever known—”

“All I understand is that nothing will ever be the same. Nothing. Will be. The same! They’ve burned our cities!”

They didn’t burn anything! It was our own people, our own—”

The other paused, shocked into silence for the moment.

“How can you say that?”

“Because it is our people carrying the torches and throwing the rocks. Our people who have allowed themselves to be blinded!”

“By them! Please, Ravi, do not allow them to win like this! We need to get out, get away from here. We will find a way to come back for our families, to make sure they are safe—”

Ravi laughed, and his incredulity at the thought sounded louder than the train whistle.

“Do you know what you are saying, Ashraf? You sound as if you are stuck inside a movie. This is not Bombay Talkies. There is no happy ending! Partition is happening, and our people are paving the way with our own blood. We need to stay here and make sure our families do not become a part of that sacrifice.”

With his hands on his hips, Ashraf hung his head and then looked back toward the city as it burned.

“Don’t you understand, they will make us choose sides,” he said, imploring his closest friend. “They will force us against one another!”

He flung a hand toward the city that now represented one side of a border.

“This will destroy our friendship! You have always been my brother. Do not allow them to do this. Do not you understand, this is their real victory!”

Ravi glared at the boy who he had stolen mangoes with in the blistering heat of summer and who had shared short glasses of tea with him on the train station platform in the teeth-chattering cold of winter as they waited to return to the university.

“You may find it easy to abandon your family. I will not! You are my brother in name, but they are mine in blood and blood will always run thickest. I cannot leave them for some ridiculous, childish notion that everything will have a happy ending. You are blind, Ashraf!”

Ashraf inhaled sharply. He tried to remember that Ravi had suffered the same things he had: the same sleepless nights listening to gunfire, to the shattering of glass as looters threw rocks against windows and stole at will. He forced himself to focus on the tension they had all felt in the last year. Everyone knew something was coming. Gandhi had gained so much support it was impossible to ignore the man’s cry for the British to “Quit India.”

They’d all wanted the same thing. But not like this. Surely Ravi didn’t want it at this cost.

“Ravi, please, listen—”

“Just go home, Ashraf. I have nothing more to say.”

Ravi turned and left the parking lot without another look back. Ashraf stood there a long time looking at the sign that advertised the place…what was left of the building and its sign, in any case. They had heard the stories of the men who came here, and even some boys, to discover and relish the pleasures of manhood. Once they had even joked about it themselves.

Before my nikaah, Ashraf had jested.

Before I take the saat phere, Ravi had responded.

They had spoken like boys on the cusp of manhood, jibing about a final hurrah before their respective weddings. Boys who had nothing else to worry about. Ravi’s parents had even approached a girl’s family about a prospective match. But that was before.

Before the rioting and the confusion. Before the blood and the trains crossing the border that started with passengers and arrived full of bodies. Before a foreign country declared that one land should become two.

Ashraf fought down the burn of tears in his throat, then turned toward his own home.

Exercising the craft—August 8, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: Six bodies were found at six separate parks over a six-day period. Each of them had expired in the same way.

https://promptuarium.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/all-the-sixes/

*****

She sat on the sofa in her apartment living room cradling a mug of coffee. The media had continued with the circus for the last five days, and she’d watched every minute of it. All the bigwigs had aired information about the murders; CNN had started devoting a solid hour every single evening during primetime to analysis.

Much of the information was filler; they only had so much to go on, after all. But the deep pockets of Atlanta had started attracting law enforcement heavyweights to talk on the air about what had happened. A killer had struck six times in less than a week, and the town of Autumn Falls, Illinois, had practically shut down.

All six victims had been shot in the leg somewhere between the knee and the ankle, clearly to slow them down, the FBI director asserted with a knowing nod. CNN heads had bickered quietly the day before the director appeared about who to name their expert, but finally they’d chosen a young male reporter who managed to exude the best combination of eagerness and expertise. The CNN reporter stated that some of the victims, at least, could have overcome the bullet to the leg if the murderer hadn’t followed it up with a slingshot rock to the midsection of the body. The bullet indicated criminal intent; the slingshot confirmed it.

The murderer hadn’t dithered, the director and the reporter both agreed. Forensics confirmed that the blade to the neck had come soon after both the gun wound and the slingshot injury. The person behind the killings knew who he wanted to target and did it quick. Nothing was taken from the victims, and none of them were assaulted in any other way. The murders were most definitely personal, and the man behind them had an agenda.

The murderer was a man, the FBI director declared, most likely in his mid to late thirties and middle class. This was someone who had some if not all of his college education and who was patient. A man who wanted to fulfill a personal crusade and not go after strangers. A cautious man.

She listened to it all and let go of the mug long enough to run her had through her wet hair. She’d spent an extra long time in the shower, the stress of the evening imploring her to stand under the hot spray a little longer. CNN had managed to get the chief of Autumn Falls police on Skype, and he looked exhausted. She knew how he felt because she felt the same. She just wanted it all to be over.

The entire town of 30,000 residents had allowed shock to herd them into their homes early. Autumn Falls residents would often speak with the kind of pride that can only be found in small towns of its award-winning park system. Maybe Autumn Falls didn’t have famous celebrities, but it had parks that made other towns drool. City managers from all across the country came to Autumn Falls and consulted with the mayor of this idyllic little place to find out how to install and maintain these amazing green spaces that encouraged its residents to come out at all hours of the day and enjoy the outdoors.

The residents loved and respected their parks. Although the Autumn Falls Park District had a dedicated crew to clean up, and they usually had to after one of the town’s many summer festivals, the residents themselves usually took initiative to keep their parks clean and green. More than one senior citizen had been spotted tugging at a few weeds in patches claimed in an unofficial capacity.

But now…now the weeds went untouched and the chalk on the sidewalks looked less like children’s drawings and more like random bits of color. The boots of the Autumn Falls PD had blurred the details. They were looking for another pair of boots.

She put the mug on the coffee table and leaned back against the sofa. Without warning tears leaked from the corners of her eyes and slid down her face. She brushed them away, but they didn’t stop.

So tired. She was so tired of this entire event. She just wanted to go back to her normal life. Life Before the murders. When he was still with her, still woke up beside her every morning and traced her face with his fingers. When they packed up everything on a whim and drove to Chicago for the weekend to enjoy food and window shopping.

They didn’t bother going into the fancy stores. They knew they couldn’t afford anything there, and it only made things worse to go inside and feel the temptation of capitalism at its best. But they didn’t stop one another from peering through the glass from the sidewalk.

She missed the way he pulled her close for a kiss on those sidewalks. The way he pulled her close when they were in bed together. The life they’d just begun to build.

The tears began slipping faster.

Now he was gone. She couldn’t believe it, couldn’t quite force herself to face the truth. She ignored the memories of the news reports of his horrific murder. She went to work and smiled at people with a plastic face and did her tasks and came home. But he was still gone. It didn’t matter how fast she completed her assignments or how hard she worked to excel; none of that frenzy brought him home.

Nothing would.

Oh, so tired. She was so tired of carrying this weight around. So tired of herself, of her naïve assumption that they were “meant to be.” They were meant for nothing but sorrow.

That’s why she made the decision to unburden herself. She’d carried that sorrow with her for every day of the last three years, and she couldn’t carry it anymore. So she decided to offload it. She decided to hand it back to the person who had given it to her. After three years of painstaking research she’d gotten her answer of who that person was, and she wanted to return the sorrow he’d given her with interest.

She scrubbed her face and stood with purpose, the same purpose that had filled her a week ago. After taking her coffee mug to the tiny kitchen and washing it, she went to the dining nook and surveyed her instruments. Weapon, meticulously serviced; slingshot, taut for another throw; serrated knife, carefully scrubbed.

The experts had gotten all the details right but one. They’d forgotten about the scorn of a woman.

Exercising the craft—August 1, 2016

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: A character opens the front door and discovers a bouquet of flowers on the doorstep. But the flowers have a hidden meaning. What do they symbolize? Who left them there? How does the character react?

http://www.writermag.com/writing-prompts/bouquet-of-secrets/

*****

Katie raced through her morning routine. She’d stayed up way too late memorizing lines for the next round of auditions for the TV show, and somehow her cell phone alarm had betrayed her this morning. If she didn’t get to the diner within 15 minutes of the start of her shift, she’d lose this job too.

After a cursory shower and pulling her hair back into a ponytail, Katie had managed to fly into her uniform and grab her keys when the doorbell rang.

Oh, crap, now what? I don’t have time for this!

The bell rang again, and then the person knocked. Katie checked her watch, heaved a huge sigh, and jogged to the front door. When she opened it, her foot hit a long box on the threshold. Just as she looked up, a man held up a hand in a farewell and got into a car. “Crown Florist” said a large magnet on the passenger door.

Katie’s breath caught. She didn’t want to pick up the box. Didn’t want to read the card that would be inside.

Maybe it’s not what you think. Maybe that cute cameraman got your info from the audition list and…

The stark white cardboard drew her hands downward, even as she knew that the cameraman had just flirted with her. He had no intention of getting involved with another hopeful loser, another brunette who spent her days standing in long lines to get into auditions with makeup melting and spirits dipping. The cameraman probably had his sights set on sitting in the director’s seat one day so he could be on the other side of the clipboard. The rejecting side.

She picked up the box and brought it inside, kicking the door shut behind her. She’d been so sure that this last audition had gone well. They’d called her back twice. The last one was just supposed to be a formality, one of the junior producers had assured her. The part was as good as hers. She just had to come in and blow them away at the final audition.

But now there would be no more audition. Not for that show, at least. The rumors about the director’s idiosyncrasies had proven true, about the flowers in any case. New actors joining the cast received phone calls and a Lincoln Town Car sent to the front door to pick them up for a meeting with the production crew and other cast members.

Actors not chosen received a box of flowers. The variety of flowers changed from show to show, production to production, but the director never wavered from the gesture. Something to soften the sting of rejection.

All anyone felt was thorns.

Katie dropped the box on her small breakfast table and pulled the lid off the box. She could feel the crushing of her heart in the rustle of the tissue paper that surrounded the mixed bouquet. The cheerful flowers dimmed everything around them, and Katie wanted to push the box on the floor. Instead she pulled a small envelope out of the box.

“To Jennifer Rushmore: Thank you for your hard work! Your strong audition impressed us, and we encourage you to come back and audition for a future production! Regards—”

An intern had probably received the tedious task of stamping the bottom of the cards with the director’s official signature. Katie pulled out a chair at the table and sat down, her knees not bending so much as buckling.

Clearly a new name hadn’t worked in her favor. Her agent had suggested using a stage name, and Katie chose “Jennifer.” It had worked incredibly well in front of Aniston and Lawrence and with some marked success in front of Lopez and Garner. She’d considered “Jessica,” but she didn’t want to be associated with only moderate success like a Biel or an Alba and definitely not with Simpson.

After some debate with her agent, they settled on “Jennifer” and stuck with her original last name. It had an all-American sound to it, her agent had said. Girl-next-door meets girl-with-mountainous-potential. So she’d changed her name, blown money on keeping her highlights and extensions fresh, and didn’t step within a hundred feet of an audition in anything less than four-inch heels.

In the end, however, it hadn’t mattered. She’d still gotten a box of flowers.

Anger swelled inside of Katie, and she stood so quickly that she bumped the table. The vase from T.J. Maxx teetered before righting itself, but it didn’t matter. When she dragged the box off the table, the vase caught the tail end of the box and flew against the wall. It shattered, but Katie’s anger kept her moving.

She went to the front door not more than twenty paces away from the table, grabbed the doorknob, and threw the door open. It rebounded off the wall, but by then Katie had already stormed across the threshold. She hurled the box down the front steps with a scream.

With tears streaming down her face, Katie went back inside and this time dropped onto the sofa. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed as the prospects of her acting career and her job at the diner dripped against the dull carpet of her apartment and disappeared.