A CAUTIONARY TALE
Cook County General… Chicago, Illinois… Room 317… 11:30p.m.
Everything hurt. Cheryl looked at her friend and that’s what she saw. And that is what she would probably say when she awoke.
It had all started with that damn PennySaver ad. “Why waste money on a repairman when You can fix it?” “Let us show you the easy way to Do-It-Yourself!” She had told Ethel there was no easy way, and that a few online classes wouldn’t make her an expert on fixing things. But Ethel had replaced the cord on her window shade and fixed her blender, though she was out of her protein shake phase, so she had to give her credit for that.
Earlier that day, Cheryl had just fixed lunch and was going to watch the Big Brother episode she had recorded when the phone rang.
“Is this Miss Cheryl?”
“Hi Dominic, why are you calling me?”
“It’s Miss Ethel. She is going to hospital and you should know.”
Cheryl shifted in her chair and continued filling out the crossword in the Trib. ‘What the hell was Ethel thinking? Well this should teach that do-gooder a lesson. Let the landlord fix the damn dryer.’ Cheryl immediately felt sorry for that thought. ‘But really, any damn fool knows you unplug something before working on it. It says so on the back of the machine. Maybe they didn’t teach that in their fix-it class.’
The nurse had looked grave when Cheryl got to the hospital. Nurse Betty explained that her friend had received a serious electrical shock, but was expected to live. She was sedated and would sleep for sometime, they would call when she was awake. The doctor hoped there would be no lasting effects, but you never know. Cheryl thanked her, and said she would wait with Ethel, if that was okay. ‘It would serve her right if she got one of those white streaks in her hair like Angela Lansbury had in that movie.’
Cheryl was wishing there was another bed in the room when Ethel moaned, stirred and her eyes popped open.
“Where am I? What are you doing here?”
“I’m doing my crossword while I wait for you to wake up. Your dryer repair job didn’t go so well. Do you remember what happened? How do you feel?”
“Ooh, everything hurts.”
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The Speakeasy is back from summer vacation!
- Submissions must be 750 words or fewer.
- Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
- The following sentence must be the FIRST line in your submission: “Everything hurt.”
- You must also include a reference to the media prompt.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
‘Seven plus seventeen equals twenty-four, a nice round number, I like that.’ Bendel Banks was on her way to the public library to change her life. Bendel hated her life. Bendel hated her name. She blamed her misfortune on her parents, who had named her Bendel Banks. Her mother had been a big fan of alliteration, and Bendel had paid the price all her life.
People called her “Bendy” and then, “Hey, there goes BeeBee!” She always thought that sounded like two honeybees stuck together. Little Teddy had first called her that. Their friend Grant thought it should be BB, like the shot in their air-rifles. Grant and Little Teddy had always been her best friends, but now they were gone. They had carried those BB guns everywhere and took great delight in shooting each other. Once they shot Bendel… she told, and that was the end of the guns. She didn’t mind so much when they called her BB, but hated it when others did, or worse Bendy. ‘Now’, she thought , ‘everyone should just call me Biddy, because that’s what I’ve become, an old biddy.’
Bendel was unhappy, friendless and in a job she hated. All because of her unfortunate alliterated name. She spent her free time on-line now, where she did not have to see people. Upon reading a self-help blog entitled “You Too Can Change Your Life… In Seven Easy Steps”, she decided to try Step One. She would change her name. No one would ever call her Bendy again. Things would change, and she could be a new woman, the blog said so.
Going up the granite steps, Bendel felt a lift in her spirits, maybe it was starting to work already. She pushed through the ornate brass door into the hushed interior and asked the woman at the information desk where the baby name books could be found. She had planned to open a baby name book to a page, close her eyes and stick her finger on a name. But, being a big fan of numerology, she decided to take today’s date and use that. It was July 17th, so her number would be 24. She also decided that she would use whatever name it turned out to be, no matter what.
Bendel picked out ‘Modern Baby Names’, closed her eyes and opened to a page. She held her breath and counted down twenty-four names… BETTY! Her new name would be ‘Betty’.
‘Great, so much for getting rid of alliteration. But, I like Betty, and Betty Banks has a nice sound, and I absolutely adore Betty Boop. I feel better already!’
Bendel… Betty replaced the book on the shelf. Making her way through the stacks, she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. People were smiling at her. The woman at the desk said “So nice to meet you, please come again soon.” As she got to the exit, a gentleman held the door for her and winked. Leaving her old life inside, Betty went outside. She never looked back, she just kept walking.
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I enjoyed writing this story. With such an excellent line it work with and a very cool short film, the story just came to me somehow. Be sure to watch the film below and read the story of last week’s winner. Here are this week’s instructions from The Speakeasy Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Purkis:
technology is a tool
And you should use your tools wisely, right? This week’s sentence prompt, provided by last week’s winner,Ted, must be used as the LAST line in your piece.
“She never looked back, she just kept walking.”
Submissions must be 750 words or fewer, and must be fiction or poetry. You must also include a reference to the media prompt.
The video prompt is a short film by Claude Sadik, entitled The Device, which you will find below.
Please visit The Speakeasy and read the other author’s stories… tell ’em “Ted sent me!”.
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In the photograph, I am on the left and my friend Grant is in on the right. I do not know who the little girl is… she may be my cousin Carol, but I don’t know for sure.
“OF COURSE NOT, SILLY!”
“Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes.” Her last words. She has been in a catatonic state since that day.
Elizabeth Grace had been a promising designer, and her sudden decline had been most disturbing to friends and colleagues.
After graduation, she had taken a position at Albrecht’s Department Store, as an assistant window dresser. She fared well under the tutelage of Miss Bethany, and advanced to first assistant in just months. Feathers had been ruffled.
It was just after Albrecht’s shipment of new mannequins arrived that it began. Elizabeth started talking to the old ones. People noticed. She had not done that before.
Hammered by younger hipper stores and internet shopping, Albrecht’s Department Store had been in decline for years, something had to be done. When Oswalt Albrecht III came on board, all department heads had been instructed to find new ways to bring in shoppers, or look elsewhere for employment. In Display, it was Elizabeth who suggested that changing to more stylish models would certainly bring in younger shoppers. “After all”, she said “they have been here since my grandmother was a child. Besides, they’re falling apart. I had to use one of the men’s hands on a lady, to hold her purse.” Oswalt III thought that was a great idea and authorized a sizable expenditure. Miss Bethany was pleased she would keep her job, and put Elizabeth in charge of all floor displays.
Oswalt III loved the look of the new mannequins, with their sleek unstaring faces, but could not bear to part with the old ones. “Save the old ones. I feel I know each one personally, and could not bear to see them go.” Oswalt II had grown up with them too, but was more pragmatic, since storage space was limited. “Save two dummies and all the heads.” So, the display heads were lined up on top shelves around the workroom, and the two old mannequins set in a nostalgic display. A different set of feathers had been ruffled.
Elizabeth took her new position seriously, and could be found working late most nights. Displays were constantly being changed and mannequins dressed and redressed. No one could remember when the voices had started, but sometimes it seemed a violent argument could be heard coming from the display office. When one peeked their head in the door, only Elizabeth would be found, deep in concentration at some task. Miss Bethany was thrilled that Elizabeth had taken charge, it had made her life so much easier. When the voices started, she became concerned. The girls had always named the dummies, and she could only imagine how many different names those old mannequins must have had over the years. Even old Oswalt had his favorites, and called some of them by name. But Elizabeth had taken the relationship to a new level. Miss Bethany knew she talked to them, and swore she had heard them being asked for their advice. But try as hard as she might, she could not catch her. When she asked point-blank, Elizabeth smiled and said “Of course not, Silly!” Miss Bethany had never been called silly, but was not going to press the point, since she had been given a raise and was smart enough to know how she got it. She also was not going to criticize the condition of the work room, which had gotten seemingly messier.
Suzanne in Children’s was the first to notice. Little things at first. A sweater here or skirt there askew on a dummy. Made right, it would be back that way the next day, exactly the same way. Then the switching started. Suzanne asked Mr. Silverleaf, in Men’s, if he had noticed anything strange, he said “Well I wasn’t going to say anything, but if you have seen it too.” They went over to Teen’s and checked with Jessica. Jessica suggested they talk to security, as it had to be happening at night. Mr. Kumar was not aware of any strange goings on, but agreed to have the night guy keep an eye on the displays.
When the mannequins in the windows started losing their clothes the whole store was on alert. And then, the positions of the dummies started changing.
It was Eric who found her. The workroom was in shambles with heads strewn everywhere, their eyes pried out. Elizabeth was in the center staring down, her body shaking, calling their names.
The Challenge is by Editor Suzanne at Apoplectic Apostrophes: “This week’s sentence prompt, provided by last week’s winner, Bethany, must be used as the FIRST line in your piece. Reference must also be made to the media prompt, a painting by Albrecht Dürer… Portrait of Oswalt Krel, who was a merchant for the Ravensburg House in Nuremberg from 1495 to 1503.”
To read other stories on this week’s prompt, go to… THE SPEAKEASY
Well, I am in shock…
The Speakeasy #159… THE LEPIDOPTERIST
Somewhere in Chicago a telephone rings…
“Hi, Ethel. Let me guess, we’re eating Mexican food today.”
“Si, mi hermana. Arturo’s is having a burrito sale. It’s on me.”
‘On me’ coming from Ethel meant she wanted something. Cheryl was proud of her friend for sticking with the Spanish class she had found in the PennySaver, but she was not about to tell her. Most of Ethel’s ‘projects’ lasted a week at best, and it had been a while since the ceramics fiasco.
“Let me guess. You have a new hobby.”
“You know how I’ve always been interested in Entomology, I’m going to be a Lepidopterist!”
“So now you’re taking Latin? What the hell are you talking about, Ethel, some English please?”
“A butterfly collector, Cheryl. I’m going to be a Butterfly Collector!”
“Okay, first of all, where are you going to find a butterfly in the city? Second, how does this involve me?”
“I’ve already collected one. You know how I can’t harm animals, I need you to stick the pin in when I mount it.”
“Oh right, the PETA thing. All right, I’ll do it, but only after Arturo’s.”
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Western & Armitage…
“Uno burrito pollo con extra salsa y beanos, por favor.”
“I’ll have a number seven, Arturo, thanks.”
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Later on the third floor of a brownstone in Wicker Park…
“It’s kind of drab and not very pretty, Ethel. I didn’t know you had a net, where did you find it?”
“I used a jar, Cheryl. It was on the back porch by the light. I don’t want to hurt it and besides those beady little eyes give me the creeps. That’s why you have to do it”
‘All right, give me the pin. Where do you want it?”
It fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still.
“One thing, Ethel. I hate to break your butterfly bubble, but I’m pretty sure that’s a moth.”
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Speakeasy Managing Editor Suzanne Purkis has issued these instructions for this week’s entry in the writing contest:
- Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
- You must include the following sentence ANYWHERE in your submission: “It fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still.”
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Incidentally, if ever in Chicago… Check out Arturo’s Tacos in Bucktown. Fond memories of fabulous burritos after closing the bars…
“Hi Cheryl, it’s Ethel.”
“Why do you insist on announcing yourself every time you call? Don’t you think I know your voice? My phone says who it is anyway. Did you start the poem?”
“Yeah, how’s this… ‘Back-to-back they faced one another, Drew their swords and shot each other’?”
“Ethel. It is supposed to be an Easter theme. Besides, I think that ones’ been done. How about this… ‘Two young hares, rump to rump like dueling pistols, crouched by the gate’.”
“Well the rabbits work, I guess, but why do they have to have guns? How about bows and arrows if they have to shoot something?”
” I could see bows and arrows. Ethel, it is supposed to be a dark piece, they should be shooting something.”
“Wait! Cameras! The rabbits have cameras and they are shooting pictures instead of people. The rabbits are blackmailing people instead of shooting them!”
“That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard, Ethel. No one said anything about people. They should be shooting chicks. Ambushing baby chicks. Besides, how could they work a camera, their paws are too thick.”
“Very funny, Cheryl. Then how could they pull the trigger on a gun, if their paws are so thick? I think we should enter the egg dyeing contest instead of the poetry contest.”
“Maybe you’re right, Ethel, who ever heard of a dark Easter anyway?”
Ethel & Cheryl ‘borrowed’ the Young Hare from Lauren Mortimer, a fabulous London illustrator. Please check out her work.
This week’s Speakeasy submission had to included this line by Alien Aura (last week’s winner) to be used anywhere in the story: “Two young hares, rump to rump like dueling pistols, crouched by the gate.” Editor Suzanne Purkis also instructed us to make reference to the media prompt, which this week is the song Glory Box, by Portishead, which you will find below.
THE MAGICIAN’S ASSISTANT
Spencer listened for Sir David to descend the spiral staircase. He could follow his progress by which tread was creaking. This was helpful information, in case Spencer was doing something that Sir David would not approve. Like looking at his Book of Words.
David Wighton is the only magician to have been granted knighthood in the history of the British Empire, and he did not let one forget. He received this honor from the Queen for his service during the Boer War. He had developed Hypotyposis, and her military advisors were convinced it could be used to good advantage against the enemy. David Wighton was made a Colonel and put in charge of a brigade of magicians and sent to Swaziland. It had come to naught, but he did amuse the Queen with his wonders, and was awarded for that.
Spencer had been in Sir David’s employ for three years. Working with the great man, he was the envy of every member of the BMAU. But, Spencer had become tired of cleaning capes and hats of guano, polishing canes and shuffling cards. He had learned the ins and outs of many illusions, but never the big ones. He longed to make a name for himself. In short, he was tired of being the assistant.
One of the great man’s many achievements was his use of magic words. He did not rely on the likes of ‘Abracadabra’, ‘Presto’, ‘Hocus Pocus’, and certainly not ‘Bippity, Boppity, Boo’. Many thought he made them up, but not Spencer. One day in the library, while re-shelving Sir David’s books, he discovered an heretofore unseen button in the wainscoting. After a push and a click, a panel slid back, and there inside was a notebook and a fragile looking volume that appeared quite old. Spencer knew he had found the Holy Grail of Magic. With shaking hands he removed them and began to read. The notebook contained a history of the Boer War experiment to make the enemy vanish, and curiously the last entry was three weeks ago. Spencer knew the old man was crushed when he had not been asked to help during the ‘War to End All Wars’, and it appeared he was still working on a solution. Upon opening the old book, he felt he was descending through time as words leapt from the page and assaulted his mind. Some words he had heard Sir David use, so he knew he was on the right track.
Many months passed, and the lad practiced his craft, often returning to the book for guidance. It was on this day, with the sun streaming into the library, causing dust motes to dance in the air, that Spencer returned to the book. The panel slid back, but the books were not inside. A sound behind froze Spencer.
“Looking for something?”, Sir David intoned.
“I didn’t hear you come down, Sir”, Spencer was flummoxed.
The magician had descended the stairs by Hypotyposis. “Obviously not, boy, or you would not have been sneaking about. I knew you were up to something. What have you been looking for in my books?”
“A magic word, sir. Something I can use to be great like you.”
The great magician pondered, “I see. Well, I will give you a word I have just discovered that would have won the Boer War.” He whispered in Spencer’s ear. “You only have to repeat it three times. Now please go fetch me some tea.”
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Some weeks passed. Spencer had not been home and his mother was alarmed. His friends in the BMAU had not seen him, and that was not like Spencer. He loved a pint or two, and the chance to brag about Sir David’s latest success. In fact, he had been hinting at his own act soon to come. She suspected foul play.
Sir David’s assistant answered the door, admitting the police. They were ushered to the conservatory, and stood humbly before the great one.
“We have come to ask if you know the whereabouts of a Mr. Spencer Milburn, Sir David. He has turned up missing. Since March 27th, we believe.”
“Yes, most distressing. I had to hire a new assistant. Do you know how much work it is to train a new assistant? I was in the library, and sent Spencer to make tea. I sat there and waited, but he never came back.”
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Submissions must be 750 words or fewer. Fiction or Poetry. Your piece must included the following sentence as the LAST line: “I sat there and waited, but he never came back.” And must include a reference to this video:
The photo is of the famous British magician David Devant, performing his astonishing illusion, Hypotyposis… Spencer is on the far left, I think.
RING IN THE NEW YEAR WITH A BANG!
Somewhere along the Brown Line, an iPhone sounds, startling nearby riders.
Quack!… Quack!… Quack!… Quack! “Hello?”
“Ethel, where the hell are you? Our show’s about to start!”
“Well Ralph is going to have to send Alice to the moon without me, Cheryl. I’m almost to Armitage now, I’ll see you in a bit.”
“You’re on the Ravenswood L? Do not tell me you’ve been to Jeremy’s!”
“We can’t ring in the New Year without fireworks, Cheryl, and he has the best.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. You do remember the school playground last year, Ethel?”
“He says these are much safer ones. Record ‘TV Land’ and we can watch when I get there.”
“If you get here, Ethel. Remember, there is bomb sniffing dogs at Lake Transfer Station.”
“This week’ sentence prompt, provided by last week’s winner, Jeremy, can be used ANYWHERE in your piece.” “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“And the media prompt is a picture, which you will find below. As with all our media prompts, your post shouldn’t be about the picture, but you must make some sort of reference to it in your submission.”
To read J. Milburn’s award-winning story, go to Writing To Be Noticed
ETHEL & CHERYL WRITE A STORY
“‘I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.’ Okay, that has to be the first line to start our story. Not over 750 words, okay Ethel?”
“Wait a minute! What are you talking about, Cheryl? The first line has to be ‘Pass the basil, would you?’. You were late and I’ve already started the story. It takes place on a TV cooking show. Here, take a look.”
“Pass the basil, would you?” “Basil! What are you a @#☠%^#✴︎& Idiot!!!” “I think it goes in spaghetti, Chef.” “But you are not making @#☠%^#✴︎& Spaghetti!!! I asked for @#☠%^#✴︎& Lo Mein!!!” “Sorry, Chef!!! All noodles look the same to me.”
“For crying out loud, Ethel, you misread the instructions! They are introducing the prompt painting with the ‘basil thing’. It has something to with the story in the painting.”
“What story? They aren’t cooking in the painting. I don’t see any basil anywhere, just a skinny-ass dog and some people having a meal. Okay, let’s figure out how they’re using basil, and I’ll save my cooking show story for later, I think it’s hilarious.”
“To each his own, Ethel, but it’s not about cooking. If we want to be writers we need to focus, especially since we’re going to win a prize, we want it to be good.”
“Okay, let’s think outside the box here. We can have ‘the tracks found deep in the snow between the trees’ be the dog’s. And, we can have the cook find them!”
While surfing the web, Ethel came across a writing challenge called The Speakeasy #140, always on the hunt for something new, she enlisted Cheryl to help her. Here are the instructions she came across:
This week our sentence prompt, provided by last week’s winner, EA Wicklund, must be used as the FIRST line in your piece. And the media prompt is a painting.
Pass the basil, would you?
The painting this week is Isabella by John Everett Millais. It’s the first painting he did in the Pre-Raphaelite style and it was inspired by John Keat’s poem Isabella, or the Pot of Basil. Be sure to click on the image to see this painting in its large format because there is a lot going on in it.
- Submissions must be 750 words or fewer.
- Submissions must be fiction or poetry.
- Your piece must include the following sentence as the FIRST line: “I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.”
Incidentally, to read some damn fine Sci-Fi, check out Wicklund’s Fairy Tales.
Suzanne Purkis runs the speakeasy, and can be found at Apoplectic Apostrophes.
The bowl lay overturned on the floor, a rough crack running down one side.
“Grandma’s going to kill me! First her marble slab, now her favorite mixing bowl. HELP ME!!!!!!
“Wake up! Wake up, what’s wrong?”
Twisted up in a sheet and drenched in a cold sweat, I fight to get back into reality, trying to explain the delicious pinks and reds.
“You’ve been playing way too much Candy Crush on facebook!” my friend says.
THE SPEAKEASY #138… This week our sentence prompt, provided by last week’s winner Kianwi, must be used as the FIRST line in your piece. And the media prompt is a picture, which you will find below. As with all our media prompts, your post shouldn’t be about the picture, but you must make some sort of reference to it in your submission. “The bowl lay overturned on the floor, a rough crack running down one side.”
This story kind of came to me in a dream. I had gone to sleep thinking of the prompt line, and I had bought some homemade caramels from a friend at a craft fair, who sells them under the name GrandmaFreysCaramels. And, I have a friend on facebook who plays Candy Crush all the time, it’s one of those games like FarmVille that have people hooked. She’s always trying to get me to play. I’m not sure it was me in the dream, I think I was writing the story in the dream. Those might be clues to how the dream came about… so, I thought I’d use it for my story.
p.s. If you like good caramel candy, order some from Paul. He’s a good guy and coach of the Friday Harbor High School Girls Soccer Team… Division Champs this year… my granddaughter Isabel is a star midfielder.
The lights dim and the white screen comes to life. You mute your cell and settle back with your bag of buttered popcorn. The only day of the year you go to the movies. It has become a tradition now. Oh, plenty of friends invite you over… some feel sorry, some want to fix you up with their girlfriends, and then there’s her folks. You politely decline.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I just like to be alone, and watch the latest holiday movie about fictional families doing what real families do, just maybe a little more outrageously. I’ll go home and have a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce later, I picked one up at Katz’s Delicatessen yesterday.”
You had both been in a pretty bad place when you met. The church basement at Seventh and Pine was a comforting place, you started sitting together. You were told it wasn’t a good idea to form relationships within the group, you thought it was helping.
“I remember when I got my ninety day coin. She got her two month. We celebrated at Katz’s with coffee, pastrami sandwiches, and cheesecake. We kept collecting coins and fell in love.”
You watch the film and cringe when the drinking starts. You still don’t know what made her think she could have just one, and after three years sober. You never saw her again after that Thanksgiving. Everyone was at a loss. Occasionally you hear that someone has caught sight of her.
“Maybe I’ll go tonight. I go to my meetings at the YMCA now, I just couldn’t go back to 7th and Pine. From that day forward, every time I drove past that street corner, I thought of her.”
THE SPEAKEASY… Check out the other writers… Write something yourself!
Here are the Editor’s instructions: This week our sentence prompt, provided by last week’s winner Courtney at IASoupMama, must be used as the LAST line in your piece. And in honour of the coming holiday, our media prompt this week is a video, which you will find below. As with all our media prompts, your post shouldn’t be about the video, but you must make some sort of reference to it in your submission.
“From that day forward, every time I drove past that street corner, I thought of her.”