Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Prompted Writing: Dinner Plans

Green leaves 'walking' across your screen

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

For those of you who have just joined us, I’ve set myself a project for the month of March: Create 4 pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts from Punch for Prompt.

On week 1 I posted the short story ‘Will You Help Me?‘ about a little old lady being asked for help.

Last week I posted ‘Obedient Tongues‘ about a family in Eyam during a plague outbreak in 1666.

Last week’s story was based on the prompt “She lit the candles on the table first,” to which my Creativity immediately added, “And then she lit the table!

That story was a rather harrowing look at the past. To prove that writing prompts are completely versatile, I’m now going to take that same beginning and do something completely different with it.

Ready?

Dinner Plans

Gemma lit the candles on the table first.

Then she lit the table.

Not deliberately. Her hands were shaking, there was a gust from somewhere and…and… Who knew it was so easy to set things alight?

She dropped the packet of vintage matches and darted about her quarters searching for something to put the fire out.

She needn’t have bothered.

“Warning,” enunciated the computerized voice through the smooth metal panel on the wall. “A fire hazard has been detected. Evacuate the room immediately. Atmosphere will be vented.”

The room’s lights flashed and an alarm whooped.

“Evacuate the room immediately.”

She grabbed her plant and rushed out the door. The panels automatically shut, leaving her standing in the well-lit corridor cut off from the chaos. The noise absorbing foam of the wall and floors made her feel dizzy, like she was floating alone in space instead of safely encased in a ship.

“Ah,” said the captain, as he sauntered around the bend in the corridor and saw Gemma. “What’s this? The welcoming committee?”

She heard the merest whoosh from behind the doors as the air within her quarters was purged.

“You shouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of waiting out here for me,” he grinned, stopping in front of her. “I’m perfectly capable of using the bell.”

“Um,” was all she could get out. He was knee-weakeningly handsome. The sweep of his brown hair across perfect, olive-coloured skin set off his roguish features and chisel-edged jaw. The ensemble left her speechless every time she set eyes on him.

“Who’s this?” the captain asked, pointing to the leaves and flowers emanating from pot in her arms.

“Zander,” she said.

The plant stuck a tongue out of one of the blooms and blew a raspberry.

Gemma quickly swiveled the pot so the flowers were facing the other way. The captain wiped pollen from his face and uniform.

“Sorry,” she said.

The captain waved his hand in the air. “Never mind.”

They stood there, looking at each other. Gemma used her free hand to tug the collar of her uniform.

“So,” said the captain, rocking back and forth on his feet, “Are we eating in the corridor or are you going to invite me in?”

“Ah,” she said, causing a speck of something to catch in her windpipe. She coughed. The speck lodged itself, forcing her to cough harder. Her eyes watered. Her nose watered and threatened to overflow. “Would you mind holding Zander?” she said, thrusting the potted plant into the captain’s reluctant arms.

She fished a self-cleaning tissue from the pocket of her uniform and blew her nose. Not the most refined of noises, she knew, but when one had to clear the sinuses force was key. After carefully wiping the tears from the corners of her eyes, she folded the tissue and placed it back in her pocket.

She looked up at the captain and gasped, very nearly starting her coughing all over again.

Grabbing the pot, she pried the plant’s leaves from around the captain’s throat.

“I’m very sorry,” she said, offering another tissue to him as he coughed and teared up in his turn. “Zander’s a bit…”

“Psychopathic?” spluttered the captain.

“Territorial.”

The captain refused the tissue, sniffing instead. “Was there dinner involved in this invitation somewhere? Or did you just invite me around to meet the pet?”

“Dinner. Definitely dinner.” She turned back to the door and pressed the Open button with her thumb.

“Please wait a moment as the pressure is normalized,” said the computer.

“Normalized?” The captain’s eyes widened. “Did something happen?”

“Oh, nothing really,” said Gemma, shrugging her shoulders and trying to make her giggle sound natural. “Just a tiny mishap.”

The doors slid open. Gemma, the captain and Zander leaned in.

“How little a mishap?” said the captain.

What had once been a perfectly set table with salad, bread rolls, finely sliced chicken and baked vegetables was now a carpet of food which generously covered floor, furniture and walls. The grates through which the atmosphere had made its exit were clogged with food and a charred table cloth.

Gemma bit her lip and blinked back her disappointment.

“Did you cook dinner yourself?” he said.

“Yes.” She picked Zander’s tendrils out of her hair. “You said you liked ‘old style’ evenings, so I did some ‘home cooking,’ lit a couple of candles and…” She rubbed her eye vigorously.

He smiled and gently pulled her hand away from her face. “When I said ‘old style’ I meant 2D movies and popcorn.”

“Oh.”

“Tell you what, why don’t we go down to the mess and get some good modern grub. What do you say?”

She sighed and smiled back at him. “Maybe that’s a better idea.”

“On one condition.”

Her brow furrowed. “Yes?”

“Plant boy stays home.”

She laughed. “One minute.” She stepped back into her quarters and replaced Zander on his stand in the middle of the room. Then, dusting her hands, she turned her back on the disarray and decided she was going to have a lovely evening.

The doors slid shut.

Zander unfurled his leaves and slowly climbed down the lattice to the floor. He surveyed dinner. Feeling thoroughly pleased with himself, he picked up a piece of chicken in his leaf and began stuffing it into the nearest flower.

 *****

So, as you can see, writing prompts can lead to anything you can imagine.

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with!


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Prompted Writing: Obedient Tongues

Tongues of fire

To celebrate the launch of Punch for Prompt, I’ve set myself a project for the month of March: Create 4 pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts.

Last week I posted the short story ‘Will You Help Me?

The next prompt I got from Punch for Prompt was: “She lit the candles on the table first.”

My Creativity immediately added, “And then she lit the table!” Although this sounded completely weird, I decided to roll with it and see where it led.

With that beginning, the story could turn either into something funny or something dark. For this story, I decided to explore the darker side.

This story is based on real events, but more about that later.

So, without further ado, here is this week’s short story.

Obedient Tongues

I lit the candles on the table first, for old time’s sake. Then I lit the table.

I stepped back, holding my skirts behind me, as I watched the flames discolour the surface of the wood, turning it black and biting into the cracks between the planks. The wax of the candles began to cry as the heat melted them, their small flames still flickering atop their wicks.

I could hear my husband’s voice in my memory, as if it were yesterday and not fourteen months ago.

“Now children,” he had said, as the first deaths were being mourned in the street. “Remember what the Good Book says. ‘Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire.’

Each of my five dear children had stared at him, wide eyed – afraid but listening to every word their father spoke.

He pointed to the gentle, glowing candles on our family table. “See these. They remind us of how we should use our tongues. Guard your words. They are powerful things, capable of causing damage far beyond this small room.”

How little those beloved children understood of the horrors we were about to face, and how much we would lose.

Now I watched villagers carrying their clothes, bedding and other belongings out onto the cobbled streets to be burned. The heat of their fires melted the snow, leaving mud.

I admired every resident of Eyam, those living and dead. There was not one coward among them, for which the surrounding villages should be eternally grateful.

My darling Jane walked out of the house, carrying our own bedding. Without looking at me, she threw the sheets and blankets onto the growing flames and then turned back to the cold, empty building that was once full of children’s laughter.

“We shall not speak a word out of place,” my husband had said. He’d firmly believed that one’s thoughts, fear, anger, pain and grief should all be held inside. “For every man shall bear his own burden,” he reminded me one night as I lay across our bed, silently crying. Stoicism was the only way he could hide his dread.

In the evenings as we ate, watching both the candles and our words, the wind would relay sounds from the village street. The wailing, the fear, the death. My sweet children would stare harder at their bowls, wiping the last morsels with their bread and ignoring the adults around them. My husband would look at me, knowing our neighbours’ unguarded words could set their houses, and the whole village, aflame. Unguarded words could turn conviction to doubt, then to panic and then undo all our hard work.

The announcement was made in June. We stood in the green, tree-lined valley for church services, grateful to worship together without touching our neighbours. Proximity brought fear of spreading the plague.

The reverend spoke loudly, his voice carrying down the valley. The town would quarantine itself from the outside world. No one would leave the village until the plague was ended.

There were murmurs, sparks of spoken flames which threatened to break forth. “If the healthy left now, maybe they would be saved,” said some. “Or maybe they would succeed in spreading this blight wherever they went,” said others. Thankfully, the reverend was a persuasive man.

His wife, beloved by the villagers as if she were our own blood, had already been lost to the plague. His children had been sent away to safety in Yorkshire when the plague had first broken out. By supporting a village quarantine, he sacrificed his future with the rest of us.

The obedient eyes and obedient mouths of our household held their silence as we watched neighbours fall, some within hours of the first dreaded signs, others hanging on to the last vestiges of life for three or even four days.

Then one evening, while eating our meal, our children watched their own father fall ill. The candle light flickered as we waited for the inevitable. My pain and grief burned within me, as it did within the children. We buried him quickly and quietly in our garden. He deserved to be presented for burial, to be given a service with mourners, to be laid in the church graveyard, but this was yet another sacrifice made on behalf of the living. As unjust as it may have been, our family said not a word out of place. Not a word as four of my children died, one after the other, leaving only Jane.

As I watched the flames Jane came again, throwing another bundle on the fire. This one contained father’s precious books and more clothing. I watched her turn and noticed the trickle of a tear down her face.

The flames were hot now, violent in their crackling, forcing me to take another step back. I noticed the edges of the paper curl in agony and the fibres of the clothes crumble to ashes. A lone baby bootie, the last reminder of my youngest, was consumed before my eyes.

Fourteen months after it started, when it seemed our small village could bear the ravages of the plague no longer, the reports of deaths began to lessen. A quarter of our number remained alive.

When it became apparent the quarantine had succeeded, the reverend asked one further sacrifice of us – to burn all our belongings. As always, he led by example, burning everything he owned, including his wife’s possessions.

Now the air was heavy with smoke, as each family stared into their own fires and contemplated what they had lost.

Jane’s arms shook as she came down the path for one last time, carrying Elizabeth’s doll and the remaining small pieces of clothing, her face wet from the tears which overflowed from deep within her.

Not fire from within, but water.

What had the Good Book said about water?

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Deep waters. Secret waters left undrawn for too long.

I looked back at the fire; the flames lower now having almost finished their job. The candles were melted beyond recognition, the papers and clothes reduced to ashes and the furniture merely charcoal remnants. But there was a feeling of freedom amongst the pain and loss.

The ordeal was over. We had done our duty. Now we could begin to talk again.

I turned to Jane. She watched the last flickers of fire fade. I put my arm around my daughter, my only remaining kin, and felt her flinch at my touch.

I drew a breath and opened my mouth, ready to use my tongue to begin drawing up deep waters.

The words caught in my throat, held there by the smoke of the dying embers. I felt tears well up in my eyes and my heart, reminding me of my own hidden waters. I pulled Jane closer. We would draw up those waters together.

*****

For more information on the town of Eyam and their quarantine, see this Wikipedia page and this page about the people involved. You can also see photographs of the town here including a plaque commemorating one family’s loss.

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with.

Next Friday I’ll be posting my next piece. Stay tuned.


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Prompted Writing: Will You Help Me?

An elderly lady's cane

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

To celebrate the launch of Punch for Prompt, I’ve set myself a project for the month of March: Create 4 pieces of writing based on Charlotte’s writing prompts.

You’re welcome to join the project and have some writing fun of your own! It’s very simple:

  1. Punch for a writing prompt.
  2. Write.
  3. Polish.
  4. Post.

The prompt I got was ‘Will you help me?

I must confess, I don’t follow Charlotte’s instructions when using writing prompts. Instead of writing straight away, I play. I allow my Creativity to mull over concepts and explore possibilities before I start actually writing.

What thoughts did my Creativity and I have when presented with this prompt?

Usually those who ask for help are helpless – small children, the elderly, displaced mice. But what if we turned that on its head?

That led to this short story.

Will You Help Me?

Grace MacDonald felt the 83-year-old muscles in her back, already protesting the morning walk, grumpily spasm as she spent the energy needed to stand up straight. Her focus changed from the speckled cement footpath below her feet and walking cane to the jeans and checked shirt of the stranger standing in front of her.

“I beg your pardon,” she said, conscious of the squeal from her hearing aid as she pushed it deeper into her ear.

“Will you help me?” said the man.

It had been many years since anyone had asked her such a question. In her school teacher days, students were always asking for help. Then there were her own children asking. Before she knew it, there were grandchildren asking. And then, yes, the last request for her help had been from the lips of her husband. Two days before his heart attack, his weakening fingers getting the better of him, he asked her to help him with the top button of his shirt.

Fifteen years ago had been the last time someone asked her for help. Since then, she’d been the one doing the asking.

“Help you? What with?” Now that she had straightened fully, she could get a better view of him.

He was a large man. ‘Strapping’ they would have called him back in her day. He towered over her, his muscular shoulders twice as wide as her frail frame.

She pulled her knitted blue cardigan tighter across her chest. What on earth could this brute of a man want help with? She glanced behind him. The butcher’s was only 200 metres away. If she called out…

“I’m looking for a street.” He slid a beefy hand into his shirt pocket.

Her heart sank. This area had changed so much over the past twenty years. When her children had gone to school, Ashville was a town in its own right. Now the area was swallowed by urban sprawl. Homes had been demolished and trees cleared to make way for apartment buildings and new roads. Everything was different. She could barely find her way to the corner store and back, let alone give directions.

The paper crackled in his hand as he unfolded it. “Berkshire Rise is the name,” he said.

“Oh.” A relieved smile touched her lips. “You’re very close. It’s two blocks that way.” She gestured up the road behind him.

“Wonderful.” His face softened. “I’m looking for an old house. Number 14. Do you know it?”

She nodded. “A beautiful house it was. Jacaranda trees in the front garden. But it’s not there anymore. Torn down for some new development.”

His big mouth drooped. “No. Really? I’ve come all this way and…” He ran a hand down the side of his face. “I was born in that house. Hoped I could come back and see it one more time.”

A breath caught in her throat with a wheeze. “You’re not one of the Sikes boys, are you?”

“Yes, Billy Sikes. That’s me.”

She laughed. “I remember you. You used to come and play in our backyard with my children. I even have a couple of photos of you in the album.”

“Mrs MacDonald! Of course! You made the best lemon meringue pie I ever tasted. Photos, eh? I’d love to see them.”

“Well, so you shall.”

With that she slowly turned around and walked him back to her home, all the way helping him recall the distant childhood memories he’d hoped to find.

It felt so good to help again.

*****

Now it’s your turn. Punch for Prompt and see what you end up with. It’s great fun!

Next Friday I’ll be posting my next piece. Stay tuned.