Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prompt The Second

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have arrived at the beginning of our next cycle. Some of you have expressed dissatisfaction with our previous prompts. Please feel free to e-mail with ideas. They will be considered. Also, if you find yourself inspired by something else entirely, feel free to follow that. The prompts are just suggestions, not requirements. For this round, your prompts are as follows:

"It's good for what ails you. Trust me."

"The question concerning Nazism isn't how something like that could happen, but why it doesn't happen more frequently considering our nature."

"I'm afraid I can't help you. You see, as a simple matter of principle, I do not make deals with ghosts."

"A bet on the bookie's death wouldn't pay out anyway."

"I was younger then. And I took more risks."

Due Nov. 10

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Лудостта на пингвина

Казват, че когато пингвинът загуби своята любима, полудява. Върви сред останалите пингвини с невиждащ поглед, издава безумни крясъци, търси тази, която никога вече няма да бъде с него. А когато не я намери, се изкачва на най-високата скала и се хвърля оттам върху камъните долу.
Аз не скочих от най-високата скала. Когато разбрах, че Сара ме е напуснала, отначало не повярвах. Гледах бележката, която ми беше написала със своя изкривен почерк, и си мислех, че е някаква шега. Но постепенно истината стигна до съзнанието ми. Сара не беше от тези жени, които биха се шегували по такъв начин.
Просто беше избягала!
Но с кого? С оня шантав професор, който се изтърси в нашия град да чете публични лекции по сексуална психология! И къде? В оня от Бога проклет град, който по някаква недомислица носи несправедливото име Лос Анжелес. Откъдето се ометох още преди петнадесет години, като се заклех във всичките светии, че никога няма да се върна там.
Но се върнах. Защото не скочих от най-високата скала, но…
На вратата - лъскава месингова табела. На табелата – красиви готически букви: „Проф. Джейсън Ислас“.
Натискам звънеца и след малко отвътре се чуват стъпки.
Вдигам пистолета.
Колт, 45 калибър.


Бележка: Всяка прилика с действителни лица е случайна.


They say that when а penguin loses his beloved, he goes crazy. He walks among the other penguins with unseeing eyes; he gives out insane screams; he looks for this one that will never be again with him. And when he does not find her, he climbs to the highest cliff and throws himself down on the stones below.
I have not jumped from the highest cliff. When I realized that Sarah had left me, at first I did not believe it. I saw the note that she had written me with this rough handwriting, and I thought that it was a joke. But gradually the truth came to my mind. Sarah was not from those women who would joke in this manner.
She had just escaped!
But with whom? With that cracky professor who dumped in our town to read public lectures on sexual psychology! And where? In that cursed-by-God town that through some misunderstanding was christened Los Angeles. From where I got away fifteen years ago, and I swore to all the saints that I would never go back there.
But I came back. Because I did not jump from the highest rock, but ...
At the door - a shiny brass plate. On the plate - beautiful Gothic letters: "Prof. Jason Islas“.
I press the button of the door-bell and presently I hear steps from inside.
I pick up the gun.
Colt, 45 caliber.


Note: Any resemblance to actual persons is incidental.

Waiting For The Muse

My intention is for this to be a short story in three parts. I am making progress, but as of yet, it remains unfinished. In order to respect the deadline, I decided to post what I have up to now, like David did below. I will complete the story hopefully within the next week.


Tristan sat staring into the white porcelain mug in front of him. He had hardly touched it in the last half hour and the black liquid had become undrinkable. It seemed to have congealed as it cooled. Patchy stubble had sprouted on Tristan's otherwise youthful cheeks and his softly rounded chin.

"I'll have something for you soon," Tristan said to his coffee. The man across from him overhead Tristan and interrupted. "When, Tristan?" It wasn't so much a question as a plea, like an exasperated parent talking to a willful child.

"It takes time, Joe." Tristan's eyes darted up from the coffee when he pronounced the man's name. "I just haven't had anything yet, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." And he did know. This was less of a confrontation and more of a well-rehearsed scene. "The thing is, Tristan, I can't wait much longer. To you this is art. But to me, well, it's a business, Tristan. And if you don't work, I don't have a business. I have to go somewhere for results. This dry spell, this isn't good for business."

"You know I'm good for it, Joe." Tristan pounded the table and the silverware rattled against each other. Startled at the noise his fist made, Tristan gripped the table, as if to stop it from shaking. "I've never let you down, isn't that right?" He was whispering again. "I've given you the best stuff."

"You have, Tristan, but it's been too long."

"I'll have something for you." Tristan had grabbed onto his butter knife and was pressing the handle into the checkered table cloth, right next a small burn hole. The blade stuck straight into the air and he was twirling it between two fingers and his thumb.

"You've been back for almost a year now, and you've given me nothing, Tristan." Joe stared straight at him. He hadn't moved the whole meeting. His dark suit and black tie gave him the appearance of a pallbearer. His glasses rested low on his nose and his metal blue eyes peered at Tristan over thick black frames.

"I know, Joe. It's just ..."

"It's what, Tristan?"

"It's just this place. I haven't had any inspiration since I've been back. This place is dead."

"That's not my problem, Tristan. I need something. I don't care about how you feel." That wasn't true, Joe thought.

"Can you give me more time?"

"You've got another week, Tristan, and then you're on your own."

Tristan reached into the bread basket in the center of the table. He stuffed his knife into the bun, tearing it in two. He stuffed one half into his mouth and chewed on it violently. The pallbearer across from him smiled slightly.


That night, Tristan decided to go out looking for inspiration instead of waiting for it to come to him. If this city wasn't forthcoming, perhaps he just needed to look deeper into the crevasses and chase something out.

He splashed cold water on his face and dragged the blade along the skin of his face. A slight knick caused him to gasp and a red spot grew larger in the white foam on his cheek. Tristan ignored it and he rushed to finish up. It was getting late and he could feel himself getting impatient.

Stopping, he looked at himself in the mirror. "Relax," he whispered. "You need to be patient." He breathed the last word several times as he slowed the pace with which he drew the knife along his skin. Once he was finally satisfied, he splashed his face with warm water and buried his face in the white cotton towel to his right.

He knew the perfect place to go, an obscure dive called Oasis. He had been there once or twice when he was younger, before he had started his career. He hadn't known then that it was the type of place he would grow to rely on for inspiration, but now that he found himself back in this city, he immediately remembered it and decided to see what it had to offer.

A pink neon sign flickered above a metal door, the O had burned out. To the right, a squat, muscled man in a tight polo shirt perched on a black stool. He was chatting with two young girls. One, in a short, pink skirt and bright green pumps and the other in crimson fishnet stockings had forgotten their IDs and were mustering up their charms to try to convince the bouncer to let them in anyway. The one in a green skirt, who Tristan decided was named Pink, had cropped hair dyed to match her pumps and a lip ring. The other sported a fierce mohawk. He wasn't sure what to call her just yet. He wanted to talk to her first.

"I don't know, girls," the bouncer wavered. "If you don't have your IDs, I could get in big trouble for letting you in." Pink giggled while her companion jutted her hip out to the right and firmly planted her hand on it. She cocked her head to one side.

"Is this man giving you trouble, sis?" Tristan said as he walked up behind Pink. She turned her head and caught Tristan's steel blue eyes and hesitated. Even though he had just shaved, his tie and suit jacket gave him the appearance of age, especially next to the two girls. The bouncer immediately looked at him. "You with these two?"

"Yeah," Tristan said. "Pink here's my little sister."

"I can't let them in without their IDs," the bouncer explained. Pink studied Tristan's face for a moment, trying to pick up on the game.

She gasped slightly when he suddenly turned to her. "I told you not to forget your IDs, girls." He turned back to the bouncer. "Silly kids. She just turned 21 a few months ago and I'm back in town. So she was excited to take me out when I visited." His voice grew cold and he locked his eyes on Pink's. She shuddered.

"I'm sorry," she slowly exhaled. "I messed up again." She shrugged her shoulders and let her head droop. "Well, sis, you always seem to mess it up." Tristan's voice cut her and she held back an urge to hit him. Instead, she focused more intently on the ground and sheepishly wrung her hands together.

The bouncer was moved. "Look, I don't usually do this, but I'll make an exception. You guys can go in." He watched Pink as he said it. She clicked her shoes together and kissed the bouncer on his ample cheek.

"Thanks! My brother will be so happy!" Tristan put his arm around Pink and smiled at the man on the stool. He also grabbed the other girl's hand. She resisted an urge to pull back. She wasn't going to let her friend go in there alone. And have all the fun.

The three of them disappeared into the dark club.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Third Use of the Knife

When I turned sixteen, I fell in love with a boy from the city of Yiallis. He came to our village marching in a long line of soldiers dressed in blue, and when I saw him I felt the sharp corners of my vision soften. He was blond and tall, the way that they are in the highlands, and he carried his rifle as though he owned the world.

When I told my mother, I saw the fear that entered her eyes, but for me she made herself angry. If your father could hear the way you talk! she said, and sent me to speak with my grandmother. Grandmother made tea, her dark hands trembling as she poured the liquid into the small china, and she asked me about the boy. She has always been a woman I could talk to; someone to be trusted with secrets. I told her what I knew and what I hoped, and she smiled as though looking back on the oldest memory she had.

“Tall and exotic, eh?” she said. “And I suppose when he speaks it is like listening to a kind of music you never knew you needed. And I suppose his eyes are pools of blue that make your heart weep?”

I nodded and we both sighed. Grandmother smiled at me, but the smile turned sad, and she told me the story you are about to hear.

“Granddaughter, granddaughter, here is a story about boys from other villages. Listen close, and think on it:

“Akh was a little village on the western edge of the sea of sands. If you have not heard of it I am not surprised, for Akh was a lonely, dry place in a region of hard beauty and no great renown. And you are not of the Samui-- dark people, like your grandmother, living far north of here-- who call themselves the People.

“The villagers of Akh grew tall and straight as desert dwellers do. They ate almost no meat, for there was only rocky waste for pasture, and drank very little water. Because of this and because the wind of the place stripped the fat from their bones, their arms were brittle sticks upon which muscle would not affix, and their legs were those of a desert bird, stretching the impossible distance from buttocks to ground.

“West, in the lands they had been driven from, the other Samui joked about their unfortunate brothers. They called the people of Akh the Samui-shishi (desert people) and said you could not tell a grown man from his walking stick-- or from a grown woman for that matter. They told their children that the people of Akh had faces like the skulls of dead horses and that they ate their own dead for lack of lamb on feast days.

“Now, I say that Akh is not a place of great renown, and except for the macabre stories told by a few, this is true. But there was once when, for a few days and nights, great events took place in Akh.

“There was a girl-- better to say a maiden, about your age-- in the village, whose beauty and virtues had earned her a place in the stories of the tinkerers, peddlers, traders and soldiers who made their way through the village. Though she was tall and fair, they said, unlike the other Samui-shishi this girl's skin had not been robbed of its softness by the wind. Her face was proud and lovely while her eyes sparkled with wit and intelligence. Her hair-- black, like all of the People's-- lacked the wiry toughness that made every pull of the brush an agony. Rather it cascaded down her face and back like a gentle river. Her body, too, haunted the dreams of many a young man as he lay between a dying fire and his snoring camels in the waste. Imagine the poor man, robbed of his sleep, thinking perhaps that amongst the howling of the wind over his head he hears the call of the one voice he desires above all others.

“The girl's name then, if not the village's, spread west to the heart of things, and like Helen's would in another time and place reached the ears and stirred the blood of probably too many. Beauty, my dearest, is not a tool to be mishandled. It turns men-- and women-- into fools and puppets. You'll see that too soon, if you don't already.

“The name of this girl-- Tala of Akh-- finally reached the ears of a man who felt himself the equal of any beauty of the world. This man was Prince Amontisofaru-- heir of the dynasty that would make him lord of the Samui.

“The prince, himself, was a famous man. He was a great warrior and commander who had expanded the territory of the People through four long campaigns. Amontisolfaru excelled in boxing and swordplay; he was an unequaled shot with bow, pistol or rifle. He'd used shivs to kill bandits, short-swords to carve open professional soldiers and warhammers to brain giants. As a young man the prince, to save a traveler and her young child, had wrested a great tigress into submission. His dark, muscled back would always bare scars from the match, but once the tigress found herself beaten, she bowed her head to the stronger spirit and from that day on she would not be separated from him.

“Amontisofaru's armies had repelled, through courage and cleverness, every enemy who had ever threatened the Samui. He had sacked cities of wonder, ridden to the ends of his empire and led armies of men that covered the plains like a great inland sea. When those same plains were covered with the bodies of the dead and dying so that seagulls finally did come-- flying over miles and days to rip at the rotting flesh in the red sea that the prince had left behind him-- when Amontisofaru's name was spoken in the same hushed tones reserved for vengeful and jealous gods, then the prince decided to return to his capitol and enjoy the peace by looking for a wife.

“Though the capitol held the most talented and beautiful girl to be found amongst the People, they soon learned that their prince was fickle the way that only royalty knows. Amontisofaru casually found fault with all of them He dismissed eligible girls as too short or too fat; too dark, bad posture, too much body-hair. He disliked one girl's ears, another's lips, the breasts of a third. Nor were perfect beauties spared: maidens who had inspired the love-songs and statues of the greatest artists amongst the People were sent away for laughing a way the prince disliked or because they reminded him too much of his mother. Amontisofaru would, in the same afternoon, reject one earthly goddess he found too coldly calculating and a second he found too naively simpleminded. If a girl was too skilled a lover she intimidated the warlord; too innocent and she bored him.

“And so it went on.

“Amontisofaru's ministers began to worry that they would never appease their lord even as they sent the cream of Samui wealth and beauty to kneel at his feet. His commanders began conscripting peasants once more, thinking it would not be long before the prince called on his armies to relieve his frustration through bloodshed.

“Then, one day, the name Tala of Akh began circulating the halls of the prince's court. How it got there, no one can say, but by market day it had passed through the mouths of each and every one of Amontisofaru's servants and finally reached their lord's ears.

“Tala of Akh. It was a peasant name of the Samui-shishi and certainly not beautiful. The stories that accompanied it, though, were incredible beyond belief. The girl, they said, was so wise that she sat amongst the old men of the village to discuss philosophy and was called on to settle disputes within Akh. But is she beautiful? asked the prince. She is so beautiful, they answered, that when the sun descends towards the hills, her family must hide her in one of their huts. For if they leave her out to watch the sun set, it will hover just above the hills to take in her beauty, unable to tear itself away from such grace!

“At this, the prince sat back in his chair. Men told stories about his taming of the tigress, but imagine a beauty who could stay the sun!

“That night, the lord of the People didn't sleep. When morning came, he told his ministers to gather supplies and saddle his charger for a long journey. He told his commanders to send their men and boys home to farm. Then he sent for his royal cartographer and began to plan for the journey east.”

Sita sat in the afternoon sun and watched the sandstorm play off on the horizon. Her feet ached after the long walk from the village to the well. Nearer wells had dried up in the previous months so that the women and children of the village were now forced to walk for the good part of a morning to reach the southern well. For once, when she arrived she hadn't found a crowd shoving for position around the water-hole.

So she took the opportunity-- impossible in Akh with her neighbors always watching-- to sit and think. When the sandstorm hand picked up, she'd decided to stay and watch it run its course. There were old men in Akh who claimed that they could read the future through a sandstorm. Sita studied closely, looking for words, patterns, geometric shapes hidden amongst the whirling sands. She could decipher nothing-- not even the direction from which the wind came.

She gave up then, and began to sing to herself an old Samui song about a falcon who falls in love with the moon and other things that could not be. But when she finally looked up at the storm again, she noticed a pattern emerging. It couldn't be! Perhaps the old men had told the truth?

Sita stopped singing then and wondered what Grandmother Su would council. The old woman had taught all of the girls of Akh a little witchcraft at some point or another when they had come to her with tears or gifts, begging for futures told and love potions brewed. Witchcraft or none, the figure in the storm continued to emerge. Before long she made out a man on a great stallion-- larger then any that had ever passed through Akh-- leading horses across the desert. Beside the horses slinked something long and low.

The girl blinked and suddenly she saw the man and his horses weren't part of the storm at all, but a true vision headed straight for the well where she rested. Sita thought of running for a moment: lone village girls could be worth much in desert slave markets. But where could she go? The man had probably already seen her, could easily catch her on horseback, and the desert terrain offered no places to hide. Running at this point would be worse then useless. So she waited while the rider and his horses approached.

“Girl!” he hailed her from atop the monstrous steed, “Do you know the way to Akh? Can you lead me there or point the way?”

Sita nodded. “I'm from there,” she said. “A morning's walk north will take you to Akh. On your horse I'm sure it would take no time at all.”

The man squinted down at her. He was shorter and darker then the Samui-shishi of Sita's village. He had a well-fed, handsome face that studied her with interest. He asked Sita her name and when she gave it to him, asked if she would like to ride with him towards Akh. The girl looked down at her bare feet and ragged dress and felt her face warm.

Sir, she stammered. She had never ridden a horse; she didn't know how.

He laughed and she felt her face heat even more. Suddenly he was off the horse, standing in front of her. He grabbed her. Thinking that he meant to take her away with him, Sita began to shriek and struggle. When one of her elbows contacted his face with a hard cracking sound he laughed again.

“Stupid village dog,” he chuckled, “I'm not going to rape you.”

He led her then to one of the horses-- a cinnamon gelding-- and took her hand. He placed it on the horse's nose , so that she felt it sandwiched between the rough leather of his hand and the horse's wet breathing. Now he smells you, said the man. Now he's met you.

And he took the now-silent girl and placed her amongst the baggage on the horse's back, along with her buckets of well-water. We'll go slowly, he promised, and they did. Sita marveled at the ease with which the horse carried her and the water. What a wonder it would be to come home this way every day, returning to the village rested enough to work in her father's teahouse!

Eying the rider in front of her, she asked finally: “Sir, who are you? You are one of the People-- you speak our tongue. But you can't be of the desert...”

Just a man searching for a wife, he answered. To which he added: was she familiar with Tala of Akh?

Oh, said Sita to herself. Of course. “Everyone in Akh knows Tala,” she said.

The rider nodded. “It is true then that Tala's beauty stops the sun?”

Sita laughed. “I'm sorry?”

“Do you have to hide the girl at the end of the day so that the sun will remember his duty and fall from the sky?”

“I have watched the sun set many times with Tala,” sighed the girl. “Where do you come from that they tell such stories?”

“The capitol,” said the rider, and he gave a low whistle which brought forth the slinking, low form Sita had seen earlier. It was an enormous cat, and the dark stripes gliding down its orange back told Sita-- from the stories she'd heard-- that it was a tiger. Even in Akh, amongst the outcasts of the People, they told stories about the legendary warrior and his tiger. The prince of the Samui. Amontisofaru.

He cleared his throat then. “Is it true, at least, that Tala is counted amongst the very wisest in your village?”

Sita felt her tongue dry. “That, lord, depends very much on who you talk to.”

She saw the prince's back stiffen in front of her. “And who am I talking to?”

“Someone,” said the girl, “who knows Tala as well as anyone. Her sister.”

“When they reached the village, the hedman of the Samui-shishi was fetched to grovel at Amontisofaru's feet. The hedman was as tall and frail as any of the desert People. Amontisofaru let the old man spread himself and the ground before him and listened to the nervous greeting for a few moments before ordering the bony man to stand. It was like watching a praying mantis slowly rise.

“Village boys were already unloading the prince's horses, bringing forth chests of spices and silks; coins and salted meats and dates. The villagers watched this treasure being unloaded with unbelieving eyes. Young women had already been sent to bring the largest of the village's few scrawny goats to be killed and prepared in honor of their visitor.

“The prince of the Samui stood before his subjects and held out a bolt of the finest red cloth-- the making of a dowry for any of the daughters of Akh. The way he spoke was strange and formal to the villager's ears, but the understood the Amontisofaru's words. The man or woman who brought him Tala would be rewarded.

“He waved the cloth so that mothers and daughters were sent flying to every corner of Akh, screaming Tala's name. In no time she was brought forward, and the prince had his first glimpse of Akh's greatest beauty.
“She was, he reflected, no more lovely then any of the girls of the capitol and her dress and bearing were shabbier then any of them. She could, the prince decided, use a bath and more then a few good meals, but she had the height and the ripe fig skin he would like to see in a son. He took hold of her and studied her hands and eyes and pulled her lips back to examine her teeth.

“'Do you know who I am?' he asked.

“'Yes, lord,' said Tala.

“'And?' he asked.

“The girl looked as though she were about to cry. 'And, lord?'

“Amontisofaru let out a disgusted sigh. 'Enough time in the desert and a goat would look like a goddess. I see now. Well... let's go for a ride, just you and I, that this trip isn't a complete waste. I suppose you can't ride any better then your sister?'

“He put her atop one of the horses, showed her the use of the saddle and reins and leaped onto his own stallion. 'I'll return her to you in a few hours!' promised Amontisofaru with a lewd grin. They rode slowly north of Akh, while the prince's tiger settled herself comfortably between the staring Samui-shishi and the crates of royal treasures.”

The trouble started, as it often does, with jealous young men. They sat in the village teahouse where Sita served them as they yelled at each other about the unfairness of the world. Most of them had worked for years, traveling well outside the village in search of work and wealth that would put them in the position just to speak with Tala, or sit with her under the watchful eyes of her parents.

Now, in one day, the prince had come and ruined everything. He'd ridden in, casually insulted the village's greatest beauty to her face and simply taken her away from the gossip of the village as each of the young men had dreamed of doing.

And when she returns she'll be ruined! they moaned. Even if the prince has no use for her after today, she'll be spoiled for the rest of us!

There were men in the teahouse who wanted to kill the prince then and knives of bone and stone and iron were laid out on the table, so that finally the hedman was forced to stand and call them all fools. The hedman stood, quivering with rage, as the cacophony of the teahouse died down and the young Samui-shishi bowed their heads in respect and shame.

The three uses of the knife, said the hedman. To kill, to cure and to promise. The prince of the People is a master of each of them. Even if you pack of jackals managed to kill Amontisofaru (and you would not), the full might of his armies would burn Akh to the ground.

The hedman told the men in the teahouse a story then that they had heard often as boys. Not long ago, said the hedman, when I was a child, we were not known as the Samui-shishi-- we weren't outcasts-- but lived in a rich and beautiful country with plenty to eat. We were at peace with the other tribes of the People. Then Amontisofaru's grandfather came to power amongst the mountain Samui-- a short, dark folk seen rarely. The hedman of the mountain Samui wanted to unite each tribe of the People underneath him, and he conquered the tribes one after the other. Finally, said the hedman, our tribe was the last to stand against them. When the combined strength of the united People finally broke us, our lands were divided amongst the tribes and we were exiled to the sea of sands.

The hedman shook his head. “Amontisofaru's family is ruthless,” he said. “His tribe is ruthless. And he has the strength of the People behind him. How do you kill a man like that?”

“How did the mosquito kill the lion?” asked a voice from the door of the teahouse. Faces turned to watch Grandmother Su enter.

“She did not kill him,” said the old witch of Akh, “but drove him mad. And for our prince, we shall do the same.”

“Grandmother Su had as much reason to hate Amontisofaru as any of the Samui-shishi. When she was a young girl the mountain Samui had driven her father off the land his family had farmed for as long as the oldest stories claimed. Her older brother went off to fight them and never returned. Her older sister was carried away by a soldier and never seen again.

“Like all those who resisted, her family was pushed east. The land died. As it died so did the cattle and the hope of those who had stood against the new king of the People. Little Su withdrew. As the land truly withered into desert, the nights grew cold and Su sat far from the campfires of the refugees. Far from that meager warmth and those familiar voices, Su began making promises. She spoke alone to the darkness; she orated to the night. No one knew what the girl promised to whatever listened in the night, but all of the oldest villagers agreed that it was during this exodus that Su began to display the weird knowledge that made her a legend later in life.

“When the fleeing tribe began running dangerously low on water, it was young Su who read the wind to lead them to one of the rare freshwater pools that spotted the ever-drier lands. When a sand-storm hit the refugees unexpectedly so that the animals scattered and even the bravest of their soldiers lay with their faces to the earth to escape the cutting shards of rock and glass it was Su who shouted down the wind-- or really, screamed down the wind-- with terrible curses in Samui and some foul shrieking in a tongue no man or woman knew.

“And so what if none amongst them could recall exactly the last time Su's lips had touched water, although the rest of them thirsted endlessly for it? And if Su began speaking and laughing in the cold night, those amongst the refugees turned over on the hard ground where they slept and tried not to hear the girl's words. Her eyes were cloudy white with blindness by the time the girl grew breasts, but most had long since gotten out of the habit of meeting her stare anyway.

“The woman Su would never bare children, but she would gain the title 'Grandmother' at the age of twenty-five. The day she told the refugees to stop, that beyond the place they now stood lay certain death in the wastes, they believed her. That day they became the Samui-shishi, true and involuntary exiles. A village gradually grew up in the valley and the Samui-shishi called it Akh, after the coughing noise the bald desert birds made to each other in the afternoon heat.

“The blind witch, Su, lived for a time in Akh while things were most desperate. She found the Samui-shishi the wells which brought them water and screamed the desert storms away. She made medicine and she made decisions. When coyotes stole a baby girl, she killed one of Akh's few chickens and took it into the desert to parlay. The next morning she came back with the squirming, healthy baby in blood soaked hands and coyotes never stole from Akh again.

“As the years passed and the exiles truly became desert Samui, thin and expert dwellers of the wastes, Grandmother Su was seen less in Akh. She came for feast days and when asked for, but mostly the blind woman stayed away. She lived in a cave with a few cloth mats scattered across the floor and a large skin draped over the door for warmth. Young girls occasionally went to the cave as messengers or to ask Su's advice and found her home dark and dry and tidy. The air smelled of spices. They would find the witch lying in a comfortable heap on one of the mats, weaving complex and beautiful tapestries or just outside the entrance basking in the sun like a lizard.

“The villagers of Akh listened to Grandmother Su. The oldest among them knew what they owed her. If the mountain Samui had Amontisofaru's bloodthirsty dynasty, the Samui-shishi had Grandmother Su's cunning and unnatural power. The teahouse was silent as she began to speak, and even the old hedman would not interrupt her.”

Sita had ceased her movement with the rest of the teahouse when the old woman began to speak. Now she stood quietly and listened to the hatred build in Grandmother Su's voice. The rage and frustration of the young men had been nothing like this. That had been raw and fresh and blindly striking. Grandmother Su's voice held a hatred that had been nourished over the years into a sharp and calculated thing.

“Would you stab Amontisofaru in the gut?” she asked those assembled. “You could not. He would kill scores of you and you would never scratch that thick skin of his.

“Would you poison him?” she asked, raising an eye-brow.

“You might even succeed with that, though the prince has lived his entire life in a court amongst women and men more ambitious and ruthless than you might ever be, my children. Still, you might know a poison the prince has never encountered, a means of delivering it past even his seasoned intuition. And then what?”

Blind eyes studied their silent faces.

“The prince of the Samui is murdered in Akh-- that's what! Deny your hand in it and see where it would get you. Every army of every tribe of the People would come marching across the desert... you've never seen so many soldiers... and this time they wouldn't be content to leave us exiles! No....

“There's a better way. We can bring Amontisofaru endless misery. We can cripple his family and divide the tribes they rule. A more complete revenge can be had, for all that it will have to be secret. Because, in his endless endless pride, our prince has come amongst his last, defeated people without human escort. Without a single witness. We will never have a chance like this again.”

Grandmother Su reached then into her cleanly woven cloak and brought out something which caused the Samui-shishi gathered to draw in their breath. On her hand sat a fat, dark bug with wine-red wings and a tail ending in a long, wicked stinger. The hairs on the bug's six legs were clearly visible to Sita as the creature crawled slowly up Grandmother Su's arm to rest upon her shoulder.

Sita had stopped moving completely; she stopped breathing. She could feel the panic building around her. She wanted to cry out suddenly; to begin pushing her way toward the door and flee.

“Yes...” whispered Grandmother Su, and in the absolute silence of the teahouse the hiss of her voice could be heard by all. “Nako-nako-- the little demon. Don't worry, children. She is not here for any of you. She has agreed to help us... if we will help her. To lay her little eggs in the prince's mind. To bring him madness and the long, slow death.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Knife

I am perhaps being slightly over-eager in beating the deadline by so many days, but I could come up with no reason to wait.

I was not thrilled with any of the first set of prompts, but I did like the idea of writing about knives, so what follows is a poem (in vaguely Shakespearean sonnet form) composed in semi-response to prompt #1.

The knife's a cutting thing, as you have shown,
no matter where or among whom it lands.
The blunt end, you will say, could serve a blow,
but hold the blade and see how fares your hand.
Though, time permitting, you forget that cut
and notice not that now your hand's the knife,
don't be surprised the world bleeds at your touch,
for what you've done today you'll do for life.
Why rack the one who gave you such a tool
as you weren't unaware you'd use for that?
You yourself and she were desperate fools
to neither give nor take the weapon back.
The heart and love have no sharp edges, but
the knife was made for nothing but to cut.
The Death of Julius Caesar
[Image source]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prompt The First

To start things off, we'll do something simple, even if it is potentially dangerous. Here are a couple of options for your first prompt:

1. "It wasn't until that very moment that I finally understood what he had meant by the three uses of a knife."

2. Think of the title of a song-- this is your prompt, but you can't use the title explicitly in your piece.

3. "Have you observed instances of madness in penguins?"

We'll up the ante next time, but for now, this will do. Two weeks from now, try to have your contribution on the blog (Wednesday October 20). Looking forward to seeing what you produce.

Good luck,
The Editors