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Writing Prompt “Unwanted Gifts”

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16 thoughts on “Writing Prompt “Unwanted Gifts”

  • Yearnings

    “We didn’t know what to bring for you.” The guests were arriving, laden with wrapped parcels. One of them grabbed Pippa with force and planted big smacking kisses on her cheeks. Pippa took the gifts and passed them to Suke, her mother, who was standing by her and also welcoming the guests.

    “Pippa wrote ‘no gifts’ on the invitation card. You probably missed that.” Suke placed the presents in a box, in a corner of the hall.

    “More likely ignored the request and came for curiosity’s sake,” Pippa thought, faking a smile.

    “How can you come empty handed to this so called, ‘Celebration of living together’?” One guest responded.

    “People give gift vouchers or money.” Pippa said. With her elbow Suke nudged her in the ribs.

    “ You have good jobs, you don’t need money.”

    “Not cheap and cheerful presents either.” Pippa nearly said.

    “That’s Pippa and Nash way of celebrating. They are not traditional. They don’t wish for a priest to seal their commitment. They are just celebrating their life after living together for the last seven years.” Suke defended her daughter. She steered Pippa away from the guests. “I told you people will talk.”

    “Am I bothered? They expect a big wedding party. I obliged.”
    ‘When are you going to get married?’ Pippa imitated her guests’ voice. “Next it will be, ‘When are you going to have children?” Suke smiled.

    “Marriage is a life sentence, outdated, out of fashion. Look how miserable these married people look. Some will divorce after a few years.” Nash heard some of the conversation as he joined them.
    He spread his hands.

    “Great lecture!” Pippa rolled her eyes and bit her lips. “You don’t have to validate your opinions.” Pippa turned to her mother. “Leap year this year! I asked him to marry me. He refused. He was appalled that I dared to suggest marriage.”

    “I hate being pestered. I like doing things my own way.” Nash explained. “I didn’t want this either but Pippa went ahead and invited all these people without my approval.” He walked away to talk to some men who had gathered in a group.

    Everybody were seated and the waitresses hovered around the guests serving food and wine whilst Pippa, Nash and their families sat on the main table. She and Nash gave a speech and thanked everyone for their attendance. People laughed, whilst others pasted a smile over their faces. They whispered to each other when Roland, Pippa’s best man and childhood friend, got up to deliver his speech.

    “That’s another weirdo! Never had a girlfriend!” Some informed each other amongst the laughter as Roland cracked a few jokes.

    “Do me a favour, Roland, take these unwanted gifts to the charity shops. Someone will make use of them and they will benefit the charities. I’m so pushed with time. I’ve to set off early in the morning for my honeymoon on that cruise ship.” Pippa asked Roland for help.

    “With pleasure.” Roland hoisted the box of presents whilst Pippa carried some loose ones and shoved them in the boot of his car. “Have a good time! See you when you come back.” Roland got into his car and drove off.

    Suke was watching from the window when the taxi driver dropped Pippa at her house. She came out to help her carry her luggage into the house. Later, they sat down to eat and Pippa caught up with the gossips that she missed whilst she was on honeymoon. That evening, she came down, sat on the sofa to knit and watch television at the same time.

    “Baby clothes! Who is expecting?” Suke asked Pippa with a frown on her face and her eyes moving from Pippa to the wool on her laps.


    “Are you? This is wonderful! I’m going to be a grandmother!” Her mother clapped and locked her fingers together. “How far are you gone?”

    “Three months.” She raised her face to her mother’s to observe her reactions. “The baby is Roland’s.”
    The happiness and smile dissipated from Suke’s face. Her mouth closed and opened like a fish’s.

    “That’s not a nice thing to say.” Suke said as she recovered from the surprise. “Roland is not into women. You’re best mates!”

    “Don’t jump into conclusions mother.” Pippa clicked on the knitting needles furiously. “We made me a pack when we were very young, that if we reached the age of thirty five and are not married by then, we would start a family. It was a joke at the time.”

    “What does Nash..?”

    “He doesn’t even know about it.” Pippa put her knitting down and patted the seat for her mother to sit by her. “Nash and I have grown apart in many ways, mum. We have always been convenient to one another. I want more now. My priorities have changed and his have remained the same. He longer, provides for my needs. I crave for a deep relationship and a family. He still wants the good time in life.”

    “I’m disappointed and flabbergasted.” Suke looked down with a sad expression, then looked back to her daughter, “But,I’m so thrilled to be a grandmother. I have been waiting for this for a long time. Nash will leave you.” She added.

    “I’m out of this unproductive relationship. This is my life and I’m going to live it my way,” Pippa reached out for her mother’s hands and held them tightly.

    “You always have, Pippa.” Suke said. “You’re a good girl really.” She paused as she thought, then observed, “The new generation is so weird. Last month you were a bride with no wedding ceremonies and then you went on honeymoon on your own and now you’re having a child through insemination. What has this World come up to? I wonder what your dad would say if he was alive.”

  • Phil Town

    “No, Pastor.”

    “Caitlin, now, don’t be silly.”

    “But I don’t want to.”

    “You don’t think you do, but you do. Believe me.”

    “I don’t. Please don’t make me.”

    “It’s the will of God, Caitlin.”

    “But I might get pregnant, Pastor.”

    “Then that will be a gift from God.”

    “Please, Pastor. No. Nooooo!”


    Caitlin swatted away a mosquito. Matty sat beside her on the porch, fanning herself with a magazine. She could sense something was up with her best friend. She was four years older than Caitlin but had known her since she was in diapers, and 15 years of friendship had given them enough empathy for Matty to know not to force it. Caitlin turned to her as if to speak, then turned back, kicking at some moss on the step. But what was inside her head was too strong for her.

    “I’m late,” she blurted.

    “I knew there was something. How long?”

    “Long enough. And I’ve done one of them tests from the store. I’m pretty sure.”

    “Oh, Cate! Who was it? Josh?”

    “It don’t matter who. I just know I’m in trouble. My pa’s gonna kill me.”

    Caitlin burst into tears, her shoulders bucking in time with her sobs. Matty put her arm around her.

    “There, there.” Matty stroked Caitlin’s hair and stared out across the dusty, rutted street at the waste ground beyond. She frowned and sighed heavily.

    “I’ve got a bit of money, Cate, what my grammy left me. I know someone who’s done it – she went up to Seattle. You don’t need to get your pa’s say-so there. We’ll get you sorted. Don’t worry.”

    Caitlin lifted her head to look at her friend, smiled thinly then burst into tears again.


    “Are you sure you don’t want to tell your father, Caitlin?”

    “I’m sure, miss.”

    “Call me Helen. All right, so we’ll have to do some tests, and there’ll be some interviews, too. If all goes well, we can do the procedure by the end of the week. Will that be ok?”

    Caitlin turned to Matty, who nodded and squeezed her hand.

    “That’ll be fine, miss. I mean Helen.”


    Matty led Caitlin through the bright white corridor towards the front door. Caitlin was unsteady on her legs and had to lean on the older girl.

    “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

    “You didn’t have to go through it, Matt.”

    “I know. Sorry.”

    They pushed open the glass doors and emerged into the sunlight.


    On the other side of the street was a group of about a dozen people, mostly women, standing behind a railing, some of them holding placards. One of them had called out when she saw the two friends shuffle into the street. The rest of the group joined in.

    “MURDERER! MURDERER! MURDERER!” It became a chant.

    “Don’t take no notice, Cate. Let’s find a cab.”


    Matty began to lead her friend along the street, away from the baying crowd, but Caitlin stopped dead in her tracks.

    “What you doing Cate?! Don’t go over–“, but it was too late. Caitlin had broken away from her and was making her way with difficulty across the road. Matty went after her and gave her an arm.

    “MURDERER! MURDERER! … murderer.” The chant died down as Caitlin approached. The members of the group looked at each other for a hint of what to do next. When Caitlin started speaking, there was a hush.

    “You may think you know me, you folks. But you don’t. You don’t. And you don’t know how I come to be here. Oh, you may see me as a skank, but it ain’t like that. I ain’t. And I’ll tell you why.”

    The members of the group had lowered their placards and were looking uncomfortable. There was something about the youth, candor and innocence of this girl that had them on the back foot.

    “You know who the father would have been? A pastor. That’s right, a pastor!”

    Matty looked at her wide-eyed; it was the first time she’d heard this.

    “And you know what this pastor, this man of God, said to me before he done it? He said ‘Caitlin, it will be a gift from God’. Well, that wasn’t no gift from God I had in my body … That was a gift from the devil! And I wasn’t going to bring no devil’s child into this world, no way!”

    Some of the people behind the railing were looking at the ground, some had turned their heads, others were looking at Caitlin now with moist eyes.

    “And another thing. The girls and women that come here – they ain’t doing this through wanting. They’ve likely got stories that are pretty similar to mine, you know? So just think on that before you go calling people ‘murderers’.”

    She shook her head and turned to her friend.

    “C’mon, Matt. Let’s go home.”

    They turned and arm-in-arm walked slowly down the street to find a cab, leaving the now-silent group behind them.


  • Dean Hardage
    Captive Superman
    Dean Hardage ©2016
    Word Count: 866

    “Wake up, Terry.”

    Terry began to stir inwardly, emerging from what had seemed like an eternity of distorted and painful dreams.

    “That’s it, wake up.”

    That voice. It was familiar. Suddenly his mind snapped fully awake and aware. The voice he was hearing was his own. It wasn’t like hearing yourself on a recording where all of the effects of hearing yourself from the inside were gone, it was as if he were talking to himself. But he wasn’t.

    “No, you’re not talking to yourself. Now please wake up and respond?”

    Terry opened his eyes to a muted glow, a flat but still comfortable raised platform he was lying on, and not much else. He could not discern any walls or ceiling and the source of the diffuse light.

    “That’s better. Now we can talk.”

    “Who’s ‘we’,” Terry asked, “and why do you sound like me?”

    “Well, as to the second question, when you were, ah, taken aboard we downloaded your brain. All of your personality traits and idiosyncrasies, including internal speech patterns were included of course. Using that as a database for translation and communication results in a ‘voice’ that sounds to you like, well, you.”

    Terry quailed just a bit at the thought of being ‘downloaded’ but rallied instantly.

    “Ok, still waiting for the answer to my first question.”

    “I would think you would have already guessed. You’ve been ‘abducted’ by aliens for study. Oh, no, we’re not going to probe you or use you for breeding purposes. Those stories are fictitious and most likely the result of unbalanced minds. You have been thoroughly studied and many of those procedures would have been painful if we had not suppressed your conscious mind. We apologize for the dreams. It took us time to separate out your conscious and unconscious since we do not possess such a dichotomy in our minds.”

    “So why are you talking to me now? You could have just wiped my memory, given your ability to access it so directly.”

    “Indeed, but that is not our way. We have incurred a debt to you for the information we have gleaned and wish to provide some recompense for it.”

    “You mean like money or something? Gold, diamonds?”

    “Nothing so crude. Your concept of wealth is quite primitive and your race will outgrow it if it survives. No, we have given you something that is of real value.”

    “You’ve obviously never tried to rent an apartment in New York or you’d know that ‘wealth’ has use but go ahead and tell me what you want to give me.”

    “We have already given it to you. While we were examining you we found numerous shortcomings in your physical structure. We have corrected them. You will be significantly stronger, intelligent, and resilient than any of your fellow beings.”

    “You mean you’ve made me into a superman?”

    The voice actually chuckled.

    “What a quaint notion. No, you won’t be ‘able to leap tall buildings in a single bound’, but you will not be vulnerable to most biological pathogens and resistant to most toxic substances. Your self-repairing mechanisms have been optimized as have your neurological functions. You will find your memory is now perfect and your ability to reason critically have also been enhanced.”

    “Maybe I’ll be an athlete then, play professional sports and make a fortune on my own.”

    “That, of course is up to you. We feel you have been reasonably compensated for your discomfort and any other difficulty our interference has caused. You will now be returned to your home.”

    And just like that, Terry was in his bed at home. He might have dismissed it as a dream but for the fact that all of the scars on his arms that he had grown so used to seeing every day were gone. The skin was unblemished, all of the marks of his life experiences wiped away. He jumped up and looked into the mirror and saw himself as he might have been when he was a young man of eighteen but with fully matured features. Heck, he felt eighteen again, full of energy and ready to conquer the world.

    Fully aware of what might happen to him if his new state of being was made public, he was circumspect in exercising his new physique and mind. He began to read voraciously on every subject, joined a gym and worked out regularly to make sure his musculature could be explained. Whenever an opportunity presented itself he used what he’d been given to help others. This last became more like a second job for Terry and he patrolled his neighborhood and the surrounding area each night. He stopped numerous robberies, mischief, and one murder to become something of a local urban legend.

    Unfortunately he hadn’t been cautious enough. An enterprising reporter caught a photo of him with his face recognizable and his identity had been revealed. Now he was a ‘guest’ of the government and he was again being studied. His hosts were not as polite or principled and he knew he might never leave this facility. He fought the specially reinforced restraints as the door to his room opened again…

  • It started with a thump. Black midnight giving way to the lights on it the house. What was it? A thump. We counted the dogs, and they were snoring.

    A bang made me jump. I grabbed my Louisville Slugger and crept down the stairs. What would the wife think if I wasn’t man enough to make the thumps and bumps go away?

    Crashing to the floor, the glassware cabinet shed its fragments. That made me wince and wish I had my slippers. No, I wished for my boots, plain brown boots with thick soles.

    “What is it honey? Is there any reason for the noises?”

    “We just lost all of our fancy glassware. I can’t find the reason so far. Stay up there and keep a hand on the phone.”

    Sudden darkness fell as the power went out.

    “Oh, this can’t be good,” I muttered.

    Then a strange cry came from the kitchen. It was a whoo whoo diwhooooooey. A barred owl in my kitchen?

    I stepped cautiously to the door and peeked inside. On the table was a beautiful owl with a package wrapped in green magnolia leaves. A cat sat on one of the chairs as if attending a dinner. On the other side of the table sat a possum. His sharp teeth gave his smile an eerie quality.

    “I must be dreaming.”

    “No, you aren’t. Sit down human, we have a present for you.” The cat was obviously in charge of translations.

    “Why me?”

    “Shouldn’t you say ‘what is it first’?” The cat purred his way off the seat and over to me. “Sit down, human, or I shall have to sharpen my claws a wee bit?”

    I sat down. The cat placed a napkin in my lap.

    “I’ll get the drinks,” called the possum.

    Soon we all had carrot juice in front of us. I sipped mine and wondered why they were here. I still thought I was asleep, after all, these things don’t happen.

    “Ahem,” said the owl. “Open the present, please.”

    I reached gently toward the pile of leaves. There is was, right under the raspberries that had been crushed to glue the leaves together, a key. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before.

    “This is the key to the ark you will be building. Water levels are rising again. God would have come to explain this all himself but he’s currently in Syria trying to make sense of the violence there. You have trees, black locust trees in the back. The ark can sit on the common ground where the water runoff goes. I don’t think it will take long before you have waterside property.”

    I groaned. “An ark? But I can’t tell a cubit from and ice cube. Can’t you find someone more qualified?”

    “Time is short,” the owl hooted. “I wouldn’t waste time.”

    The cat quoted, “As it says in the Cat Book of Faith. Do as you are told by the cat, the owl, and let not the shrew pull you from your task, for time is precious.”

    “The Cat Book of Faith? Really?”

    The cat chuckled. “Silly human, create this ark or become washed up. Now, back to bed with you.”

    It was more than I could handle. I picked myself up, cautiously avoided the glass fragments and went back to bed.

    Morning came a bit later than usual. My alarm clock didn’t sound until eight o’clock. Panicked I ran downstairs where my wife was packing a lunch for me.

    “Eat quickly, dear. The carpenters are on the way.”

    Shining in the center of the table was the key. Next to it was a beautiful lock.

  • Romesh Chopra
    The Idealist

    It was the St. Valentine’s Day.
    I was very excited t to have a wonderful time with my dear wife on this day. She has all the qualities that a man could dream of in a wife, Loyal, sincere, charming devoted to the house, never nags or shows her tantrums and is a damn good cook. Even after two kids, she has maintained her figure. She always wants to appear attractive to me, this I heard telling her sister on the phone. I must have donated diamonds in my previous birth to have such a virtuous and comely wife.

    Ours is a small office with 11 members of the staff and I am the boss. On this day, they asked for permission to leave the office early which I readily granted, so that I can leave early. But, my P’A., Lily did not, which surprised me as she is young and very pretty. Just when I was going to leave, she came to my cabin and gave me a pack of deodorant which I have never used before, as I don’t like its odor. Our fingers touched and I felt a sensation, it surprised me as the sexologists don’t count it as a sensational zone. I profusely sprinkled the deodorant on my shirt and its smell intoxicated me. She smiled and I took her hand and kissed it, her smile broadened and I kissed her cheeks. She sighed and her lips pouted and quivered. This was an invitation to kiss her which I sportingly accepted. We started passionately hugging and kissing. Soon, she was in my lap. We crossed the limits and at the right moment, the idealist in me warned me- Hey man, you don’t have the rubber. I went to the wash room.

    I had bought a dozen apples for my wife which she relishes. I gave 4 of them to Lily as a Valentine’s Day gift. She was too pleased and thanked me with hot smooches

    At night, when her household work was over, my wife nudged me. when I was fantasizing, I heaved,” Oh Lily, my Lily!”
    “Lily!? That’s the name of your new secretary.”
    “I call her Miss Abraham to keep my distance. You’re like a lily flower. Henceforth, I’m gonna to call you Lily.”
    She laughed and hugged me tightly. Suddenly, she freed herself with a jerk,” You smell of scent.”
    “You have been sleeping with that bitch.”
    “Who? Where?”
    “That fucking chit of a girl; named Lily!”
    I lifted one hip in protest, “There is no bed or sleeping couch in my office.”
    She pushed me down, “Sure of that, she has one in her bedroom.”
    “She left early. She had a date with her boyfriend.”
    “Give me her number.”
    “Just give me a few minutes to explain.”
    “So, you could concoct a story.”
    “No, so that I can edit of the fucking boring details.”
    There was an eerie silence. An idea struck me and I shook my head in mock disgust, “I was in the metro. It was jam packed. A heavily scented lady was sitting on my left side, whenever the train moved or stopped with a jerk, that fatso fell on me and her bloody scent traveled into my nostrils.”
    “You should have moved to the other side.”
    “I could not, on the right side a gay, smelling of some cheap deodorant, was clinging to me.”
    “How you knew hat he was a gay!”
    “He offered me his services, gratis” I picked up my shirt lying on the floor and brought it close to her nose and took a long pause, “Now say, I slept with a boy.”
    She still seemed to be doubtful. I thought it better to sob, as my wife is very sympathetic by nature, which I did, “In our ten years of married life, have you ever seen me even ogling at a girl? I even deliberately avoid shaking hands with the ladies, which you have told me more than once. That shows my character!” Smugly I stopped sobbing. She shrugged her shoulders; doubt was there still in her eyes.
    I thought better to cry to remove an iota of doubt in her mind, which I did. I can cry at will, I learnt this art as a child as my parents gave me what I wanted only when I cried.
    She became thoughtful and then placed my head on her bosom and began consoling me.
    We reconciled and celebrated our dear saint’s day till early hours, in between she continuously said, ‘Sorry’. That excited me. Now, I felt like consoling her, but decided against it.

    I can’t think of living for a day without my gorgeous wife, the mother of my two wonderful kids. Moreover, she is a fantastic cook and I am a foodie.

    I just can’t break the tender heart of a 21- year old beauty that is damn in love with me; the idealist in me compels me for that. Human compassion is part of my life and I just can’t escape from it. But, I must plead with her, never to use the scent except on off days. I am sure, she will agree. She deserves a raise; definitely!

  • Unwanted Gifts
    The girl stood in the doorway. Her body tensed as she watched the inhabitants of the house opposite go about their business. Her ragged clothing marked her, but she had a princess’s fineness apparent under the pale grimy skin, the tousled mane of dark auburn hair that straggled down her back and the delicacy of her bearing. She wore her rags as if they were finery from one of the top fashion houses. Poverty had not broken her back or her spirit; but it toughened her.
    ‘Psst. Natasha.’ The whisper caught her by surprise and startled she turned, nearly dropping the bundle of rags she clasped to her emaciated chest. Another girl came out of the shadows. This one had none of Natasha’s elegance. She was street bred and brash. Natasha frowned.
    ‘What do you want? Why did you come? Please? I need to do this alone Bronny.’
    ‘Doncha wanna see ifna they is pleased or someit?’ Bronny’s voice had none of Natasha’s intonations or fineness of speech. But for all her roughness, Bronny was cluey in sizing up situations and people.
    ‘What do you mean?’
    ‘Let me drop the bairn bye tha door. Than ye ken see if they is gunna treat ‘im like blud or nu. You watch. Anyways do ye think ye can do it? Me, I doubts it. Ye won’t wanna let the wee un leave ye arms.’
    Natasha moved the rags to gaze hungrily at the babe’s face. He was nestled against her shoulder – sleeping the contended pure sleep of a newborn not yet awake to the wiles of the world. One thumb disappeared into rosebud mouth that moved rhythmically from time to time. She felt her heart tearing between the boundaries of love and duty.
    ‘I must.’ She moved the rags over his head, but before doing so, she quickly bought a finger up to trace the butterfly shaped birthmark at the base of his collar bone. She kissed him gently and then, hesitantly passed him over to her unwelcome companion. ‘It is probably best. You. I may lose my courage when it comes time.’
    She turned away into the shadows, the scent of the child remained within her. She breathed deeply.
    ‘Wait.’ She whispered just as Bronny turned to walk across the street. She snatched one of the rags closest to the child’s body saturated with his newness. Then she breathed in the baby sweetness and put it inside her ragged vest. Bronny shook her head in disbelief at the girl’s softness. She had half a mind to tear the cloth from the foolish girl, but chose not to do so. No use keeping memories on the street. You needed to learn to live day to day and leave the past for thems that had the time.
    Natasha moved to a doorway adjacent to the house she had watched for that short time. She saw Bronny take her child across the street to place him in the doorway. Then she swung her fist three times, fiercely at the door and skittered down the street and through the lane near where Natasha waited and watched.
    The gaslights glistened moistly in the misty rain that had begun to blur the edges of the street lights. The darkness was soft as downy cotton wool dyed a purplish hue sprinkled with gem lights.
    The heavy door opened. A young servant looked out. Then down. She saw the rags and went to move them off the doorstep with her foot. She stopped. Shocked she opened the bundle. Her hands flew to her face, and then to the bundle which she brought up and held at waist height. She held the bundle away from her as if it were something diseased and filthy. Not a child. Natasha’s heart leapt to her mouth and she barely suppressed a moan of anguish. What hope would her child have with a woman like that?
    The servant closed the door with her foot. It shut with a resounding clunk.
    Natasha waited. She was about to leave her shadows and return to the abandoned building that she and a few others called home for now. The place where she had birthed the babe two days ago, just four days shy of her fifteenth birthday.
    The door opened. An older woman this time. She had the bundle of rags clasped tightly to her chest. The resemblance to the girl was remarkable. It was Natasha with twenty years of time added. Elegant, yet severe, as sadness marked her movements and her voice.
    ‘Tashie, TASHIE, please? Please?’ Her voice was a harsh whisper.
    She rocked the baby for a few minutes back and forth. Then she looked down the street both ways, until she stared into the shadows where Natasha waited.
    ‘Natasha, I cannot. I want to. I would. But your father has forbidden it.’
    She placed the baby on the pavement. She spoke again this time more loudly.
    ‘He has erased your name. You are nothing to him. You are no longer family. Nor this baby, your son. He says ‘I have three sons. They do not disgrace me. He told me only yesterday when someone asked after you, ‘I have no daughters. Only sons.’
    She paused. A slight sob muffled her voice. ‘I am afraid, if you come, he will kill you and the child. Take the child. It has more chance of life with you. You are its mother.’ She sobbed once. A deep growling choking sound. She patted the bundle once more and fled indoors. The bundle began to mewl an impatient sound that grew in volume.
    Bronny and Natasha both waited. Then quick as fly buzzing, Bronny ran lightly to scoop up the bundle and bring him back to her friend waiting. Both fled into the night.
    Only later among the rags did she find the envelope put there by her mother. There was £2,000.00 in notes wrapped in a small apologetic note from her mother. Small consolation for losing a mother’s and a family’s love. Natasha bought clothes for her and the child. Then she bought a ticket to Australia.
    Perhaps in a new land, she would find peace. Perhaps she could call herself a widow. At least now she had means. Means to support herself and the child. The gift she could have given her parents; their first grandchild, she would keep him to herself as she herself was an unwanted ‘gift’ – a daughter.
    She had wanted their love. Instead she got money – a poor substitute. Yet her tears had dried inside her, withering her emotions to a dried resin. She and her son were orphans now. Unwanted gifts needing to be desired for who they were.

    Jack McDaniel

    “That’s more than just an empty lot with junk piled in it. It’s home to half the barrio’s greenery, even if it is just weeds grown wild, and a place we all pass by without noticing. That’s history, a time capsule. Back there,” Bird said, nodding, “that’s an old General Electric from before the plague, before Pan21. Audrey Steinholtz – who lived in that house behind the lot until she died from the virus – put it there.”

    “How do you know that?” Asked Kraut, “you weren’t born when it was put there. Been there longer than any of us have been in the barrio.”

    “Mom. In some of her more lucid moments my mom was somewhat of a local historian. She knew all kinds of trivial stuff. Used to tell me all kinds of things. Said places like this lot had a life of their own. We’d know that, she would say to me, if we ever just took the time to look and listen. She said the same thing about our HealthPals.”

    She looked at her wrist where the mandatory HealthPal was embedded. Bird squinted towards the abandoned refrigerator, trolling remembered things her mother had told her.

    “Mom said Steinholtz was sort of uppity and didn’t want to just give it to anyone. Just left it there, thinking someone would take it. Seems everyone in the hood knew what Audrey Steinholtz was like and didn’t want a refrigerator looking down its nose at them. So it just sat. All these years now and the door has fallen off and rust is eating it away. Then the whole barrio, kick-started by Pan21, just took on a life of its own and became a repository of forgotten things and people, like that old General Electric.”

    “Damn,” said Kraut, staring.

    “Way it is now in the barrio. Most needy people in the whole damn republic but they can’t get past a grudge, even to their own benefit. But that’s not half as bad as the story behind that freezer on the right.” Bird pointed. “Clergy found a body in it one night, though my mom may have been strung out on Synth when she told me that story.”

    “Not hard to believe. Around here,” said Kraut, “the dead show up every day. Hell, the clergy probably put it there.”

    “Now the dead show up. Not always. According to the chronicles of Veronica Karten – that would be my mom, pretty name, huh? – it wasn’t a local. Some girl from Cherry Creek. And this was back when the barrio wasn’t the barrio, when the future looked different, before Pan21 showed up, before the dead became a regular part of the landscape.”

    “You see all of that, when you look at it. Don’t you?”

    “If you are going to change something, Kraut, you have to first see it for what it is, how it got to where it is now. Otherwise, what really changes? What can you overcome, if not its history?”

    “You going to change history, Bird?”

    “That’s the Barrio. There. Republic of Texas waste, sloughed off, rusting, growing neglected and more invisible every day, camouflaged by a bunch of lowly weeds. Things don’t like becoming invisible. A place like that festers, becomes angry and then starts lashing out, inviting worse things – just for attention, if nothing else.”

    Bird turned, looked at Kraut. “We aren’t going to change history. We’re going to change the future. We’re going to turn that lot into a museum and tell the Barrio’s story so we never forget and never let it happen again. So we can build something here. Something that gives life. Doesn’t take it.”

    “How are we going to do that? How are we going to change the world?”

    “We change the world by changing ourselves, Kraut.”

    “And I get to be a part of this? I can do this?”

    “Life is change, Kraut. And you and the rest of us are its agents. We can let things go and effect change, however minimal, by ignoring the place and pulling our heads back into our shells and becoming like the discarded appliances over there. Or, we can make the place in our own image, demand more, better, imagine the life we want. But this is where it starts. Right here.”

    Both turned and looked towards the rusted history in front of them, the forgotten shards of existence, the everyday detritus of lives once lived. Somehow, from the wreckage a vastly different future was forming, growing, demanding attention. Who better to make it happen than them?

    A quad hovered close by, drifting a bit on the breeze. It’s propellers a quiet hum, a bit of background noise in the modern world. Like the HealthPal the quad was a constant reminder that everyone was expected to stay in line and that everything was connected. Though in the barrio those connections were flimsy at best. Bird rubbed her wrist, contemplating.

    Softly, with an eye on the quad, Bird said, “We don’t have to live the lives they tell us to. We don’t have to be slaves, cogs in their machine. The barrio is like the wild west. We can write our own rules. We don’t have to live by theirs. You can cover a lot of ground, Kraut, just taking small steps. Our revolution begins because we decide we want flowers instead of weeds.”

  • The Gift of Children

    “Mr Hartley’s table? He’s not down yet, but, uh, his uh … partner …. is sitting at the table over there, by the window …”

    The waiter’s voice trailed off as he took in the situation.

    Kim Hartley looked across the elegant hotel breakfast room to where the young woman was tucking into fruit salad. The morning sunlight streamed into the room, glinting off the cutlery. The woman tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she took a sip of juice. She exuded happiness.

    “She’s a bit too gorgeous, don’t you think?” said Kim. “The home-wrecking little bitch.”

    “Mrs Hartley,” said the waiter, softly, “Please can we just – ”

    “Don’t worry, Julio. I won’t disturb the peace. This will only take five minutes. No blood, I promise.” She smiled.

    “You two, sit there and wait,” she added, turning to the two teenage children behind her. The boy, the older of the two, raised his eyebrows and shuffled over to the empty table by the entrance. His sister looked pleadingly at her mother, but recognised her look and sat too.

    Lucy Talbot looked up from her fruit salad, and saw the shapely and smartly dressed woman striding towards her, as much as anyone can ever stride in a pencil skirt and high heels. It took a couple of seconds for her to recognise the person on a torpedo trajectory towards her. When the penny dropped, so did her jaw.

    “Oh shit!” she thought. Instinctively, she stood and looked over to the restaurant entrance to see if Ralph was anywhere to be seen. But no, only the waiter who shrugged theatrically, his eyes widening.

    Lucy gestured with thumb and little finger to call Ralph down from their room. Kim caught the gesture, and pivoted to fix a menacing stare at the waiter, mouthing to him “Don’t you dare!” The waiter took the wiser course, at least for the moment, and then was distracted by other guests arriving for breakfast.

    “So this is you,” said Kim, looking her husband’s new lover bottom to top and down again. “I must say, you’re his type.”

    Lucy gave a half-nervous, half defiant smile. “Kimmy, please.” She extended a hand to shake, but seeing it would be rejected deftly turned it into a gesture to take the seat opposite her.

    “You don’t get to call me ‘Kimmy’.”

    They both sat.

    “This is awkward,” ventured Lucy.

    “But wouldn’t you say ‘inevitable’, given that you’ve been screwing my husband for months and now plan to set up home with him?”

    “I – ”

    “I knew he was shagging someone, I always do. But when he told me last night …”

    Kim threw her hands up in a gesture of disbelief, nearly knocking the coffee pot from the waiter who had appeared beside her. “Yes, black coffee. Thank you.”

    Lucy visibly relaxed. It seemed this could turn into the civilised conversation she was hoping for.

    “You are quite beautiful,” said Kim. “What you see in my paunchy, raddled, fifty eight year old, extremely wealthy sleazebag husband, I’ll never know. What’s the age difference? I’d say about thirty-five years?”

    “Thirty two, actually.”

    “Oh, almost twins!”

    Lucy sighed, and smiled thinly. “What was the age difference between you and Ralph when you broke up his first marriage? Eighteen years, wasn’t it?”

    “Touché. But he was better looking then. And so romantic. But you’ll learn. He loves the conquest more than the occupation.”

    “Kim – Mrs Hartley – you may not believe it, but we are really in love.”

    “Sure, he’ll love you when you spread your lovely legs. But when your hips spread, and your waist, and those rosy cheeks start to droop into middle-aged jowls – will he love you then?”

    Lucy shook her head with smiling disbelief. “We are in love. Can you understand that? We plan to start a family.”

    “He told me. Sounds like you’ve started already. Good bait. He’s soppy about kids for the first three months. Then forgets who they are when he starts chasing his next floozy. You’ve done well, though, I have to give you that. Maybe you can turn him into a doting dad who does the school run and helps with homework, rather than topping up their bank account when he feels guilty about something. Good luck with that!”

    “Kimmy, you don’t know me. Or Ralphie, it sounds like. I want lots of children, a big family. I’ve always wanted that.”

    “Really?” said Kim, sitting back in her chair and eying Lucy intently. “Lucy. Let me give you some woman-to-woman advice, mother-to-mother. Children are like cancer. Sometimes they get you from the inside. Mostly though they pop out painfully and then destroy your life from the outside.”

    Lucy jolted with the harshness of these words. “You don’t – ”

    “Look over there at my two, Clueless and Comatose. Aren’t they wonderful?”

    Lucy looked across to the table by the entrance. She saw a nervous girl of about twelve staring intently at them, and a sullen boy of about fourteen engrossed in his phone.

    “The ones with the suitcases?” asked Lucy.

    “That’s them. And now they’re yours, my gift to your family yearnings. And you’ll have his first two, Shameless and Feckless, back from college in a couple of weeks. You did say you want a big family, sweetie.”

    Kim stood to go. She opened her handbag and placed some car keys on the breakfast table. “These are the keys to the Peugeot. You’ll need the space. I’m taking the Porsche.”

    She waggled her set of Porsche keys in front of her. Then she leaned forward and spoke softly to Lucy. “I’m cashing in. Don’t leave it as long as I did to do likewise.”

    As she stood to leave, her husband walked slowly towards her.


    “Ralphie, darling! I’ve decided to get a life. See you around,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. Then she walked away, winking at the waiter as she left.

    (994 words)

  • Magical Impulse

    “Good luck!” whispered Damien as his elder brother Thor stole out of the palace in his bid to reach Abouleth, the city of learning. Safely outside, he found Damien waiting. They hugged and Damien wished him good luck, and said, “One day Lord Magica will be very proud of you, Thor,” he said slightly teary eyed. He had never been separated from his older brother before.

    Thor hugged his brother one last time, and departed on Damien’s red and gold dragon that would drop him to university and return before anyone woke up. He took only minimum belongings and left behind the crystal that his father had gifted to him when he had come of age. He had not used it.

    Thor was thrilled to be a history student of the University of Abouleth, reputed to be the highest learning centre in the world. It was nestled at the heart of a pristine circle of hills. Rolling green could be seen for miles around and the university was like a city unto itself, totally self sufficient. The best part was that it was totally absent of the hustle bustle that marked the noisy but hidden village of Magica, home and learning centre for students of magic. He could study history in peace, without having to hide from Lord Magica, his esteemed father and lord of the ‘village’.

    He sat now pouring over his history books with absolute delight.

    “How I wish, I could actually see all these events happening!” he said aloud, absolutely fascinated. The Egyptian, Greek and Indian civilizations were said to be the oldest civilizations and it seemed that they had had communication with aliens! The legends of Lemuria and Atlantis fascinated him. If only there was some way to actually witness those events and have proof!

    “There is!” said a voice in the room.
    Thor jumped up in alarm. Growing up in Magica had meant getting used to a lot of strange things but this was a Mundane university. He dug in his bag till he found the culprit in the form of a glowing ruby. Thor had the distinct feeling that it was laughing at his expense though the ruby had no eyes or mouth to speak of.
    “Followed me did you?” he asked the crystal with a resigned sigh.
    “I have been bonded to you by your father,” said the ruby. “I will be there wherever you go!”

    Thor groaned.

    “So about that trip to the beginning of Egyptian civilization. Wanna go?”

    “No! I want no part of magic! This is precisely why I left Magica!”

    “As you wish kid. You’re the boss. But consider, magic might not be the scary thing you think it is.”
    So saying the ruby winked out.

    But as days passed, the thought gnawed at him, and he was tempted to indulge into the magic. Just a little bit. Only to experience history.
    But Thor was strong and decided instead to follow some whisperings that had reached his ears.

    There had been rumours of a time machine being built and they were looking for people to test it out. Thor planned to be in that first group. Only problem was shelling out the money they asked for. Somehow he managed it and registered for the program.

    He was excited to see the groundbreaking technology they had discovered. Soon, the day of the trip dawned.

    Thor was at the venue before time. Soon the captain of the travelling ship was explaining how the machine worked. It was a sleek machine that looked like an atm with a round space in it as though something still had to be inserted. And then it was time for the big reveal.

    “The element that we have discovered to power the time machine is going to be groundbreaking in all of science though they are very rare. We call it the Spirenstone.”
    With a flourish, he took off the red silk cloth covering the great discovery. It was his ruby!
    Thor almost jumped out of his seat. The ruby winked at him.
    “I told you magic isn’t what you think it is!”
    “It’s just a name for things science can’t explain yet!” he said with inspiration.
    The others were staring at him with their mouths agape. The captain started spluttering.
    “You should really give back all of Thor’s money to him. Or I won’t go. All your sponsors…” said Spirestone sweetly.
    The trip had been amazing! He had seen the Egyptian civilization develop. He had seen all their ‘gods’ only another name for aliens. He had seen Atlantis rise and drown… Next he was going to Lemuria. They couldn’t explore everything in one day!

    “So that’s how I became a magician and introduced the world to the benefits of it,” Thor finished to his captive audience in Magica.

    “Ultimately you followed your path, son. We often find our destiny in the path we take to avoid them,” said the Lord Magica.

    “Wow that has to be the most amazing story about the first time using magic!” said Damien excitedly.

    “Oh that wasn’t the first time!” chuckled Spirenstone.


    “That was when he asked me to conjure money to apply for the program!”

    Everyone burst out laughing as Thor blushed.

  • Travis B Keys
    Unwanted Gifts

    The broken remnants of Flu Floppers, Charlie-In-The-Box, and Thingamabobs—strewn haphazardly across the floor of the workshop—are a contrast to the elderly gentleman, clothed entirely in red and white, who sits calmly in the center of the chaos. In one of his hands is a delicate china tea cup decorated with red and green candy canes. It’s filled to the brim with Chamomile tea, a drop of honey, and hint of lavender—just the way he likes it. In the other hand is a mallet.

    His cheeks are rosy from exertion. His bloodshot eyes glimmer with a mixture of fading anger and sadness. His huge, black belt is unfastened allowing his protruding belly to jiggle with each ragged breath that he takes.

    “I’m getting too old for this shit,” he says to himself before taking a sip of tea.

    He sits there for hours—one scuffed black boot perched on a rung of the stool, the other planted firmly on the floor. The pieces of the china tea cup are now indistinguishable from the destroyed toys resting at his feet. In its place in his hand is his full, white beard that he strokes thoughtfully.

    “Times have changed,” his deep, joyless voice says. “Children have changed.” He glances to where a shiny electronic tablet sits on a shelf. “I, too, must change.”

    With a sigh, he heaves his weary body off the stool and gingerly makes his way towards the door, the mallet dragging behind him. Before he turns off the workshop’s light, he glances back at the unwanted relics.

    “Only three hundred sixty-four days to change,” he says regrettably as the dark envelops the room.

  • Renette Steele
    Writers hangout
    Unwanted gifts

    Will the real writer please stand up.

    “Well, who do we have here?”

    “Grace, your honor”

    “Grace, Grace, Ha yes, Grace, You are bestowed the gifts of voice, volume and imagination, use them well for His glory.”

    I know we are each special and given our own unique gifts but what on earth is one to do with the gift to gab and do it loudly, to be able to dream on top of all that?

    As a child my gifts seemed to get me into an awful lot of trouble, I spoke to loudly in class, often getting punished for talking to much. I remember once in kindergarten I got sent to the principal because I talked through nap time. Oh, I stayed on my rug, but my mouth just wouldn’t stay closed.

    My grandpa once said,
    ”If you can go sit on that chair and sit still and be quiet for five minutes I will pay you a quarter.”
    That was the longest five minutes of my life, but I got my quarter.

    “Well, who do we have here?”

    “Grace, your honor.”

    “Tell me Grace, why are you here?”

    “Your honor, it seems my mouth and imagination, have gotten me into a fix once again.”

    “Go on.”

    “I was on my way home from the library, you know just walking down the street minding my own business, being about dusk, my mind making up all kinds of scenarios, suddenly I tripped over something. Letting out a blood curdling scream, sprawled on the ground, I looked back to see a body.”

    “A Body?”

    “Yes, a body, I ran home, told my roommate I’d tripped over a murdered dead body on Hawthorne. That its executioner was after me. Before I could fully explain she was on the phone with the police. I tried to get her to hang up but it was too late. I gave her my run down before the officers arrived. She was laughing so hard, but then realized we were in a fix.”

    “I should say you are young lady. Proceed”

    “Well, like I said, my imagination was running wild, it was almost dark, I was so caught off guard from the fall, I thought someone was out to get me, they had knocked me to the ground to do who knows what. I looked about, the body just lay there not moving, a bloody mess, then it twitched. That’s when I got up and ran for my life. The noises around me became spookier, I could only think whoever had done this was now after me. I could feel them following me, watching me. That’s what I get for reading murder mysteries before I leave work. Any way the Officers came, I told them my tale and here I am, in trouble for making a false report, only I didn’t my roommate did.”

    “I see, why don’t you tell me more.”

    “Okay, like I said I was walking home not paying any attention but dreaming about things. When I tripped. I screamed, a bunch of lights came on, I ran. It all happened so fast, yet, so slow. It all seemed so real. The murdered body laying there, the criminal not far away.

    The truth of the matter is, well, I tripped over a cat who was stalking a mouse or I should say playing with a mouse, but I didn’t know that until the cat who’d hidden behind the garbage reached out and made the mouse twitch and in my defense the mouse was dead. My roommate panicked and called before I could stop her.”

    “It is a crime to make a false report to the police, I suggest you learn to word your accounts a little more carefully. You have however been entertaining, I can see it was all a mistake. I suggest you learn to write your adventures in a book or tell them on stage rather then trouble us.”

    So now I know what to do with the gift to gab, talk loudly and imagine all kinds of things.

    I am a Writer, a speaker, an entertainer for the LORD.

  • Surprise!

    © 2016 Anika Madison
    998 words

    Harold is always full of surprises. Mary never knows what to expect. Harold always has something in his hands when he comes home from his road trips. Being a truck driver keeps him on the road for weeks at a time. Therefore, when he comes home, Harold always wants to have something special for the love of his life.

    Twenty years ago, a gorgeous green-eyed woman, with long legs and a bright smile came striding into Harold and his brother Mike’s new barbershop. It was their grand opening and Harold was hoping that Mary was his congratulatory gift. She wasn’t.

    That day Mary’s elegant stride went past Harold and over to his brother Mike. Harold wasn’t surprised because Mike always got the pretty girls. He turned his attention back to the opening celebration. The partnership ended within a year and Harold began training to be a truck driver. Over time, he made some great investments that yielded a large return.

    One day while on the road, Harold thought about a story Mike told him. It was about a wealthy man who was lured into the woods by two friends and never seen again. The man’s riches were stolen by the mastermind of the kidnapping. Mike told him it was based on actual events. Mike was always telling Harold scary stories.

    Two years later, Mike did his usual and threw Mary over for what he considered to be the next best thing. Anytime Mike was introduced to a woman who was prettier and had a lot of money, he moved on.

    Three months after Mary became Mike’s latest ex, Harold asked her out on a date. They dated for three years before getting married.

    Mary is enjoying being married to the true love of her life. She looks forward to the gifts he brings after his long road trips. She loves surprises and Harold always delivers. However this evening’s surprise was different.

    Mary goes through the routine of putting on the dress that Harold loves to see on her. She slips into the high heels that helps her provide her best stride. Then she sits at the beautifully decorated dining room table and awaits her surprise that is due in ten minutes.

    An hour passes and Mary begins to get nervous. Her unanswered phone calls makes her contact the one person she hates the most. Mike.

    Suddenly she hears a phone ringing outside her front door. Recognizing the ring, Mary reluctantly goes to the door and looks out of the peep hole. It is Mike holding a bouquet of roses and a gift box.

    Mary opens the door, walks away and sits at the dining table as Mike enters. Mary doesn’t look up from the beautifully decorated table. She has a bad feeling.

    Mike takes a deep breath and gives her the most horrible news. When Mike notices that Mary doesn’t respond, he starts over. She stops him instantly. Then she runs the words back in her head like the lines of a script.

    “Harold was in an accident. His truck plunged over a railing. Harold never had a chance. I am sorry. He’s gone.”

    The words “he’s gone” play over and over again like a broken record in Mary’s head. She feels sick. Then six words make her even sicker.

    “But I am here for you.” Mike says with lust in his eyes.

    “Does this fool think he is going to take Harold’s place?” Mary’s heartache turns to rage.

    She takes the unwanted gifts that Mike brought her and throws him and the gifts out of the house.

    Mary’s happy life becomes a nightmare. As months go by, her nightmare gets worse as the newly single Mike, continues to offer his “condolences”. Once again, his last ex stopped meeting his criteria, therefore he had to move on.

    Mike hates being alone. Realizing that he was never totally over Mary, Mike is now trying to slither his way back into her life. It is not working.

    Three months go by and something strange is happening. No one is able to recover Harold’s remains. Search parties have constantly come up empty.

    Mike wants to move ahead with a memorial service, but Mary along with Harold’s parents refuse. Mike tries to convince them to move on. They all ignore his requests and Mary also ignores his advances. She thinks Mike has done something to Harold, but she has no proof.

    Two months later there is a knock on Mary’s door. Without thinking, she quickly opens the door to a strange man on the other side. The man rushes in and Mary runs to her bedroom and slams the door closed. She dials 9 on her cell phone, but before she can finish she hears a weak but familiar voice outside her bedroom.

    She hangs up and slowly opens the door to find a straggly looking man with worn clothes and a matted beard. Tears run down his grungy yet gorgeous familiar face. His loving eyes are fixated on hers.

    Realizing that she is about to have a long awaited reunion with the love of her life, Mary quickly moves forward with her arms stretched out. Before they can enjoy their warm embrace, a slip of the tongue from another voice tells a secret that has been kept hidden for months.

    “How did you get out? I had you…” Yells a man that came into the house with Harold’s brother Mike. Mike puts his hand over the man’s mouth. Driving by, Mike noticed the opened door and slipped in.

    Harold embraces the love of his life, whispers something in her ear, turns around and closes the bedroom door.

    Harold looks over Mike’s shoulder and nods to the two big burly men behind Mike. Mike instantly recognizes them. The men grab Mike and his friend as a menacing grin forms on Harold’s face.

    Glaring at Harold, Mike asks, “How did you get here?”

    Harold walks up to Mike “Your kidnappers can be bought.”

  • The Handkerchief

    The handkerchief lay in her hand. She stood, staring down at it in disbelief.

    ‘Well, look at you now; gotten all selective and ungrateful have you? ‘

    The envelope had fluttered down, landing onto the chair beside her, torn open; not so carelessly as to tear the stamp, but roughly enough as to be quite jagged along the top edge betraying her eagerness.
    The contents had been extracted and the card read before being placed onto the chair to rejoin the discarded envelope.
    In it were the usual expressions of warm birthday wishes and hopes for a great year ahead.

    It wasn’t the envelope or the card that caused her to stare in disbelief; but the handkerchief. That is a whole other thing.

    ‘What was she thinking in sending me a handkerchief?’

    ‘Shame on you for being so ungracious!’

    She flinched momentarily as the words bit in and toyed with her conscience.
    Quickly recovering her composure she set her face defiantly before retorting in self righteous tones.
    ‘No I am not ungrateful. How can you say that?

    ‘I say it,’ the voice cut across her, ‘because you know full well that your parents taught you from a small child to always appreciate every gift you receive, no matter how big or how small.’

    ‘It’s just that, hasn’t anyone updated her on hankies versus tissues? This is the twenty first century for crying out loud! ‘


    Her forehead concertinaed into furrowed lines as she continued to stare down at the handkerchief.

    ‘I was watching you. You plucked the mail out of the letterbox with the eagerness of a money-grabbing vulture, recognised the pink envelope and the handwriting of your long time friend.’
    You held it, shook your head dismissively as you realised there would be no grand sum of money within.

    ‘No, you can’t accuse me of being like that.’

    ‘I repeat; you are ungrateful because she has never forgotten your birthday, even after you moved away and didn’t bother to make regular contact. To you it is a given to find her card in the letterbox, and knowing that it is always more than just a card.’

    ‘True.’ She conceded, a little guiltily.

    ‘She always includes a token gift doesn’t she?’

    ‘Yes; so what are you getting at?’

    ‘You tell me now, what is a gift?’

    ‘That’s what my dilemma is, you goose. I know full well what a gift is.

    ‘Remind yourself again. Time, thought and money has been spent in deciding and selecting a gift to celebrate your birthday and to convey continuing friendship.’

    ‘But; why did she choose a handkerchief?’

    ‘Why a handkerchief you say. Well, why not? Your petulance is unbelievable. You’ve become far too hoighty toighty these days. Don’t nice people accept gifts with genuine gratitude irrespective of whether they like it or not?’

    ‘Don’t; that’s not fair.’ She wanted to cover her ears to block out the incessant nagging.

    Ha, not fair? It’s true and you can’t deny your ingratitude.

    ‘I always appreciate her thoughtfulness and her dedication to remembering my birthday. She is never late. You don’t know everything Smarty Pants. If you were smart you would have seen that I looked happy to get her card. My dilemma is that I don’t want the handkerchief but I don’t have the heart to discard it.’

    She studied the detail. White cotton, lace edging, and embroidered pink flowers and green leaves, neatly folded in quarters and packaged in clear cellophane; all feminine and girlie.

    ‘Sweet, but I won’t use it. What shall I do?’

    ‘Sit it somewhere. Let it help you decide its fate.’


    For days now it has sat on her desk, not letting her rest easy.
    She tried walking by with one eye closed yet compelled to glance at it. She tried to ignore it, hoping for the moment of inspiration that would bring reprieve.

    ‘You have a problem?’


    ‘Then throw it out.’

    ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you know she is my friend and she means well.’

    ‘Then unwrap it and stick it into your drawer.’

    ‘Right; to sit with all the other languishing handkerchiefs, that I don’t have the heart to throw out.’

    ‘Oh, getting all sentimental now?’

    ‘I have no time to listen to you playing your silly games. She turned toward her desk.

    Today was going to be busy. She got to work on her assignments; that is until…

    ‘Oh, don’t you hate that?’

    The printer had stopped and refuses to continue until the cyan ink cartridge is replaced.

    Exasperated she yanked open her desk drawer selecting a new cartridge. Out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed the handkerchief.


    Quickly she looked away refusing to be drawn back into the conscience debate, and attempted to open the cartridge packaging. It wouldn’t budge.

    ‘So you are going to give us a show of packaging rage now hmmm?’

    ‘It’s a recognised rage, the same as road rage, so get over it.’

    She reached for the scissors kept in the desk caddy, jabbed the point into the plastic wrap and pushed.


    Immediately blood popped out onto her finger. Horrified, she saw her finger begin to bleed profusely, running along the length and about to drip onto her paperwork.

    ‘Less haste more speed. See, there is no point ranting and raging.’

    ‘First aid… stem the bleeding.’

    She looked around frantically searching for something clean to wrap around the finger and apply pressure.

    ‘C’mon, I need something clean, think!’ Her eyes began turning toward the … ‘No!’

    ‘Use the handkerchief!’

    ‘No! I can’t do that!’

    Her eyes swung like a pendulum between handkerchief and bleeding finger.

    ‘Yes, do it!’

    Pain pushed its way into her consciousness; blood began to drip onto her paperwork.

    ‘Alright then!’

    Blood spread into the fibres of the white material turning it crimson. Blood soaked embroidered flowers. White became red.
    She gave the bloodied handkerchief a cursory glance, opened the rubbish bin and dropped it in.

    Appeased, the voice of conscience quietened.

  • Kenneth Cartisano
    In 1692.

    Abbie burst in gasping for breath. She slammed the door, then leaned against it with one hand over her racing heart.

    Her best friend, Bess, said, “What? What is it? What’s wrong, Abbie? You look like you’ve seen a spirit.” She rushed over and gently urged her to a chair near the middle of the primitive cabin.

    Abbie hid her face in her hands, and was on the verge of sobbing. All she could do was shake her head and cry.

    Bess brought her a handkerchief and offered her some tea that was already on the stove. In a stern voice she said, “Now tell me Abbie, what’s got you so upset?”

    Abbie shook her head in disbelief. Haltingly, she explained to Bess. “My daughter Claira. My daughter’s got the gift, Bess.” She started sobbing again.

    “There-there Abbie. So what? I’m happy for you, and Claira.”

    “But you don’t understand Bess. She doesn’t want it, she thinks it’s a curse.”

    Bess went and stoked the fire savagely. Still holding the metal poker she turned to face Abbie and said, “Maybe it is a curse. We don’t get to choose who has it and who doesn’t. Surely you explained all of this to Claira.”

    “I didn’t have time, Bess. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. She wouldn’t listen to me.

    Bess looked pained. “By the time you realized? She’s thirteen, Abbie. You should’ve seen it coming. You should’ve been looking for the signs.”

    “I know, I know, Bess.” After a time she said. “What am I going to do?”

    “What do you mean? Where’d she go?”

    Abbie pressed her lips together but said nothing.

    “Do you think she went to the village elders?”

    “I don’t know, Bess. I don’t think so. I mean, she’s confused, but I don’t think she’d do anything that drastic.”

    “I was a little confused myself when I got the gift,” Bess said. “Not knowing at first what was being thought, and what was being spoken. It was like a murky cloud of sounds in my head. People would look at me all funny like, and I thought they were doing it on purpose. But I soon realized the confusion I was feeling was written on my face, and that’s all people really knew. No one knew what was going on in my head. And then it finally dawned on me, that I knew what was going on in their heads.”

    “And then you met Mary,” Abbie said.

    “And then I met Mary, and others like me, and you,” Bess agreed.

    “Where’s your daughter now, Abbie? Can you read her?”

    Abbie shook her head. “Uh-uh. That’s part of the problem.”

    “She’s more of a receiver than a transmitter, then?”

    “Yeah, Bess. She hears everything, and she doesn’t know how to tune it out yet.”

    “For the love of God—all right, we’ve got to find her first. Then we’ll worry about…”
    She was interrupted by a pounding on the door. It rattled the room so much that dust motes fell in sprinkles from the ceiling.

    She knew who it was, she could read their minds. “It’s the elders,” she hissed. “She’s brought the damn elders down on us.”

    Abbie started to cry again, as the pounding resumed with more urgency.

    “Bess cracked open the door and a small crowd of people stood there. The Minister, the church Elders and Abbie’s daughter at the forefront. Fat flakes of snow swirled around them, some sticking to their hats and sleeves.

    Abbie’s daughter raised her arm and pointed. “That’s her. She’s one of them. I’ll bet my mother’s in there too. They’re both witches.”

    The next morning, they paraded Bess and Abbie out of the makeshift jail, and into the so-called magistrates office. A crowd had gathered to cast insults, and a few stones, as they made their way from one rickety building to another. Bess caught sight of Abbie’s daughter, shoulders slumped, being escorted by the Minister’s wife. Bess focused all of her mental power on Claira’s mind. ‘Listen to me Claira, listen to me for your own sake.’

    She thought she saw Claira’s posture change. She looked around nervously, until finally, her attention settled on Bess. Their eyes locked. ‘Listen to the Minister’s mind, Claira. Listen to what he’s thinking.’

    Bess was then pushed roughly into the Magistrates office who proceeded, with great pomp, to read certain documents, legal proclamations and other officious sounding nonsense.

    Half the town of Salem milled around outside the building as Abbie’s daughter was carefully led inside. Several onlookers nervously moved to one side to let her pass. As the daughter of a suspected witch, she could hardly be above suspicion herself.

    As Abbie and Bess were led to the front of the room to face indictment, Bess could see a change come over the face of Claira, it was a look of suspicion, distrust: And she was looking at the Minister. Bess kept her eyes on Claira, the noise and confusion in the room seemed to fade into the distance. Finally, Claira turned her attention on Bess.

    With all the attention she could focus on Claira, Bess thought, ‘Do you see what I mean, Claira? Did you read his mind?’

    The seconds ticked away as Claira looked back at the Minister, then at the crowd of people around them. Then she looked back at Bess and nodded solemnly.

    The noise in the room subsided as the Magistrate banged his gavel. “All right now. Who accused these women of witchcraft? Please step forward. All eyes turned toward Claira, thirteen years old, bundled in blankets, dark circles under her eyes. Voices murmured, ‘that’s her,’ ‘that’s her daughter,’ ‘my word.’

    The diffident young girl faced the Magistrate. “I made it up sir. I made the whole thing up.”

    They were released. After a while, the charges were dropped. But there were other women like them in Massachusetts, and they wouldn’t be so lucky.

  • The Dress

    Sixteen year old Teena wanted a red dress. The following Sunday was her birthday and her parents were taking her to a party. No, they were not celebrating her birthday but were attending a high profile engagement party.

    So Teena and her parents went shopping. They agreed to buy Teena a red dress but didn’t like any of her choices. Her mother chose one with a cowl neck which would tone down her big bust and a long flowing skirt which would give her the much needed extra height. Of course, they would make Teena wear three inch high heels. Her father chose a dress that had a square neck to flatten her chest but which practically possessed no back.

    Teena wanted out but was stuck with her parents and their choices. She made one last attempt at choosing a dress but was unanimously vetoed out by her parents who felt that the dress will make her look like a pumpkin.

    Finally the parents bought a nice chiffon floor length dress and Teena by then was too tired to protest. Trying out so many dresses in a span of one hour made her hungry and she wanted to escape her parents fast.

    The d-day arrived and Teena was dressed up under the close supervision of her mother. Teena hated the way she looked. Her back was bare, her hair was piled up with soft tendrils framing her pimply face, which were carefully hidden under thick layers of makeup. She stuffed her feet into the high heels and tottered out with her parents.

    The party was in full swing when they arrived. The engagement was about to happen. She sat demurely on to one side but was immediately drawn into a chat with a good looking man in his early 40s, who called himself Ron.

    Feeling reckless and rebellious, Teena chose wine from the passing waiter and flirted with the handsome man. It was a new experience for her. She freely offered her contact number and email ID to Ron.

    Two days later she received a call from him, who, she learnt later, was a casting agent for films. He also helped his friends to resource models for making ad films. Teena agreed to meet Ron that day for lunch. She could easily bunk her last two classes and meet him.

    Ron offered to feature her in a lingerie ad, if she was fine. Teena could not think of a better way to rile her parents, who she knew were trying to get her married off into a wealthy family. She was in no doubt of her attractive assets but unattractive face. She agreed eagerly to the offer.

    The ad film was shot and was now being aired on TV, her stills were up there on hoardings and the new lingerie brand was a huge success.

    The brand threw a celebratory party. Teena was being hailed as the new ‘hot bod’ and every young model, actors, tycoons wanted to meet her. Teena’s parents arrived at the party as the guests of the lingerie brand’s CEO’s wife.

    As the new ‘hot bod’ hugged, kissed and flirted with youngmen, the two made a beeline to meet the model. Ron too was there with his hand at the small of Teena’s back, guiding her gently to meet guests.

    Teena turned to her right and was shocked to find her parents ready to air-kiss her. The collective jaws dropped. Her parents only wanted their baby girl, however ugly, to marry early to a rich but not so good looking son of an industrialist.

    And here was Teena, hitherto unknown, for her assets flaunted in the faces of every man from 8 to 80 years of age, firing their imaginations. The unwanted gift of fame, if wreaked havoc with her parents’ sensibilities, worked wonders for Teena’s self confidence.

    Calmly, Teena turned away tucking her arm into Ron’s arm and floated away to hug and kiss other important guests.

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