Another prompt, another round of great stories to choose from. Check the stories out below and vote for your favorite!
A Dish Served Lukewarm
Old Will’s an odd duck. While he has moments of seriousness, with an actual glum appearance that would depress even a happy baby, he simply cannot resist the urge to pun. It is even in his name…he’s always announcing that he knows his puns give those around him the willies and he never tires of it.282 words by Bill Engleson (@billmelaterplea)
May, his long-suffering wife, even threatened once to pack her bags and hit the road. That gave him pause…for about two seconds. For the next week after, he started calling her “Jack” and singing that song…you know, “Hit the road, Jack,” and trust me when he got to verse one, the one that starts, “Old woman old Woman oh you treat me so mean,” it did not go over well.
While all that nonsense was going on, the world was feeling like Covid had bit as much dust as it was going to.
And then that guy in Moscow started the Russia Ukraine thingy. War, I guess we mostly called it, even if he didn’t.
It was sort of like that Spanish Flu time except there, the war started first. Maybe it was more like WW2…with Depression as the poverty epidemic.
Whatever it was, it was a dark time.
Then Will decided to have a party.
Invited his best friends, a few from his bubble, and a few others.
Bring the red wine, he said. I’ll serve up a big red pot of PUTINesca and we’ll swallow Vlad whole.
Well, let me tell you, that was one hearty meal and for a moment we all felt that we had the future right there on our plate and that all would be well.
The fireplace popped; an orange burst refracting through the brown in my glass. I was three drinks in – or four – but the answers still weren’t coming.
The shape on the couch snored softly, a mess of hair poking out from a blanket. I’d taken him from his home. He came willingly, trusting through fear that I would protect him in this new world. But he’ll wake up and his mom won’t be here and his dad won’t be here and this won’t be his bedroom. What will he say then? Will he cry? Will he pretend that it’s okay to try to please me?
What will I do then?
I can’t stay in this room any more than he can. For one thing, it isn’t real. It’s a refuge that I can escape to – and I apparently can bring this kid to – but it’s transient. If I blink, I can see the world around me, what most would call the real world.
I’m trying not to blink.
My chest tightened at the thought of what happens to him when the life I’m actually living intrudes as it inevitably will. I’ll go back to my job and house and family, and those are good things, even when the world around them is a nightmare. But where will he go? Will he go back home, to a life where he can’t remember the last time when he felt safe? I told him that it can get better, that it will get better, but will that be enough? He’ll have to back in the dark places that we grew up in, and my words are just words.
I looked again at my younger self and took another drink. He has no one to protect him except me, and none of this is real.300 words by drmag00 (@drmag00)
Copper stench burned Erin’s nostrils with fetid undertones she couldn’t bear to consider. The clash of blades and the anguished roar of battle were more felt than heard. Unseelie defenders rallied around her, turning the tide back on the rebels. But it was too late. The Nightwall had been sundered, and the sight assaulted Erin’s mind as if she were the one who had touched The Dark.
“Why?” Erin emptily asked her Unseelie sister, Morrigan.
Morrigan was still catching her breath from breaching The Nightwall by singing at it. A fortification from before time, left by the First Gods to protect the world, and Morrigan broke it with a song.
“It had to be done,” Morrigan’s hoarse voice was harsher than usual. “The world gave me the power to end its suffering. I had to use it.”
“No,” tears blurred Erin’s vision and washed her cheeks. “I can’t believe that. I won’t.”
With a prayer of apology to the plants she knew wouldn’t survive the twilight, Erin called The Green to grow around them—cutting Morrigan off from her rebels.
The Seelie sorceress implored her sister, “You’re not well; come back with me, and we’ll find a way to heal your mind.”
Fatigue, and possibly sorrow, flashed in Morrigan’s eyes. Her response was soft as she only ever was for Erin.
“I’m not mad. And even if I were, it is too late for me to be forgiven.”
“On that, we agree, traitorous bitch!” the Unseelie King entered the flowered dome, obsidian greatsword in hand.
Morrigan saluted her monarch with her longsword. He spat and charged her. Even exhausted, Morrigan would have defeated any other foe. Instead, Erin fell to her knees as the King kicked her mortally wounded sister off his blade through the breach into The Dark.299 words by David A Ludwig (@DavidALudwig)
“God, I hate my job.” I picked up my fork, and stabbed a few green beans, stared at them, and then stabbed a few more.
Jen watched, “Are you going to eat, or just here to murder the beans?”
“I’m not hungry.” I lied. “Why do I still work here?”
“Because you have bills to pay?”
She was right. That was the reason I still worked there.
Jen shook her head, “What did those poor beans do to deserve such abuse?”
“I’d quit in a heartbeat right now, you know.”
“But you won’t. You’d have to find another job. Another place that pays you just enough to keep you alive, and desperate to keep working to pay the bills.”
I finally ate the green beans.
Jen grinned, “See? Hungry wins.”
“I tell myself lies about working here, you know.”
“What are your lies?”
“I like the people, and the work. That I help other people by working here. That I’m keeping my family alive, giving my kids a chance for a better future.”
She took a long chug from her soda. “I tell myself the same things.”
I took a chug from my soda, “Truth is, if I did quit, where would I go?”
She chomped down on the last bite of her salad. “Takes months to find another job, if you can find one at all.”
I nodded. “You know how to do your job at the company that owns you, but that job is not the same as any other job, anywhere, for any company.”
Jen continued for me, “And they won’t train you, so they won’t hire you, so you end up stuck, in a job you hate.”
“Thanks, Jen. I’m better now.”
We finished our lunches, and went back to work.295 words by Mark Ethridge (@mysoulstears)
The Slim Red Door
Tucked in the corner of the Prime Minister’s office is a slim, red door which dominates all his thoughts. Nobody who watches him work would know. All his usual routines trotted out with their usual gusto. The president of Japan is called ‘a fine good chap’ to stony silence during a call with Tokyo. Cheers of ‘bravo’ and promises of ‘drinkies at sundown’ for subordinates who deliver good news. A yucca plant takes the brunt of all the bad. It doesn’t judge, like the device behind the slim, red door.258 words by Stephen Shirres (@The_Red_Fleece)
At five twenty-nine, he stands up. Open red boxes left abandoned across his desk, their secret available to anyone who wants them. He walks across to the slim red door and opens it.
Behind is a cupboard containing a pair of VR goggles hanging on a hook and a hard plastic, orange chair. Purchased from his old day school, it is too small for his adult bulk. The discomfort is worth the memories of potential and dreams.
Halfway through putting on the VR goggles, he closes the door before pulling the goggles over his eyes. His vision is blackness cut into squares by green lines.
“Mummy,” he murmurs and in the distance, she appears, a deep-fake replica drawn in pixels. She slowly walks towards him and soon ruffles his hair, a memory of genuine happiness. “I have sinned.”
“You can’t sin,” she says, the deep-fake voice almost right. “Only weak men sin and no son of mine is weak.”
He finds it harder and harder to believe her.