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Writing Prompt: Loneliness

To a little girl in Kentucky, I’m Maxine. Maxine is twelve, loves Taylor Swift, and daydreams about marrying Harry Styles one day. To a bored housewife in Vancouver, I’m Ricardo. Ricardo – or Ricky, as she calls him, thinking she’s being clever – is an undercover erotica writer who claims she’s his muse. To a long-haul trucker usually on the road between Portland and San Diego, I’m Nadine. Nadine is the daughter he didn’t know he had, who tells him stories of her mundane life and keeps him sane on the road. I’m a hundred other things to a hundred other people, but what I really am is just their loneliness reflected back at them.

I’m the voice they want to hear when there’s no one around, the comfort of knowing someone is there for them when there isn’t anyone else. I’m their drug, really, though they don’t know it. The thing they turn to when they need to forget just how desperate and hurting they really are.

It’s unpleasant work, but it has to be done. Without me, the alternatives would be worse. A spirit much worse than me would come to them, then… and nobody wants Ixtab, goddess of suicide, doing any more than she already does.

So I pretend to be their friend, their lover, their lost family member, and keep them going just a while longer. Sometimes they grow out of it; like forgetting a childhood imaginary friend, they move on and find something else to live for. That’s what I hope for when they stop communicating. But I can’t ever be sure. I can’t actually see them, or interact with them; I’m just words on a screen or a scrap of paper. I’m always afraid Ixtab got them in the end, and judging from the content of some of their letters, I’m sure she has. But I’m a more hopeful sort.


Fiction: Little Miss No Name

Most other kids are made with love and happiness; I got here from sadness. Most other kids have mommies and daddies; my daddy went away a long time ago, and I’ve had lots of mommies. Most other kids have names, something their mommy and daddy gave them that’s just theirs, something that tells them who they are… But not me. I’m just Little Miss No Name, always looking for a mommy who loves me, who’ll tell me who I am, who’ll give me a name and make me happy like the other little girls.

My last mommy almost gave me a name. She found me in a dumpster, where I was playing hide and seek with my friend Oscar. Oscar was a bug, a big crunchy one who liked to crawl in my hair and chew on my fingers. He wasn’t very nice, but at least he knew I was there. Then she saw me, cried out to her own mommy.

“Momma! There’s a doll in the trash!”

“Sheila, leave that alone. You don’t know where it’s been.”

The mother sounds tired and cranky. She’s not even really paying attention. I don’t like her. It reminds me of my first mommy, how she’d forget about me and leave me behind. I bet she drinks the brown stuff from the big, smelly bottles, and gets mad when she does.

The little girl hangs her head and scuffs her feet. I can tell her mommy’s been like this to her before, probably a lot. I know she’s going to take her mommy’s hand and keep walking, leaving me alone with Oscar again. It makes me sad… It’s been so long since anybody saw me, and I could hear how much she wanted me. My eyes hurt, and everything looks all shimmery; I feel something wet run down my face.

The little girl looks back at me. With the wetness in my eyes, she looks like I opened my eyes under the water, all wavy. She starts tugging her mommy’s skirt.

“Momma! The dolly’s crying! We can’t just leave her!”

Her mommy doesn’t care; she’s already tugging Sheila farther down the street, farther away from me and Oscar. I wish I could make the hurting in my eyes stop, so I could see her better, see her as well as she must have seen me, but it just gets worse. Oscar doesn’t seem to mind. He’s rolling around in the wet spots, laughing.

The mommy stops, staring through one of the store windows. I think it’s one where the plastic ladies wear funny clothes. The little girl tugs out of her mommy’s hand and runs to me. She’s smiling, happy. She reaches out for me, but then frowns.

“Ewww, gross,” she says as she brushes Oscar off my face. I shake like I do when it’s too cold outside, but from happiness. How long since someone touched me? I don’t know. I feel bad for Oscar, though; he goes tumbling back into the trash. But he’ll probably be okay.

“It’s okay. I won’t let any more bugs touch you. But it’s quiet time, kay?”

She giggles, and the sound of her laughter is like music. Sometimes, when my first mommy was happy, she’d play music on a big plastic box that spun little plates on top. They were loud and scratchy, and sometimes skipped, but they were happy songs. But not as happy as this.

She picks me up and stuffs me in the little backpack she carries, then zips me in. It’s dark in there, and full of secret sounds. Pencils and quarters hug me in the dark, and I get bounced around a lot while she skips back to her mommy.

Outside I hear the mommy yelling at the little girl. Scolding her for running off. My new mommy says she’s sorry, but she doesn’t sound sorry. She sounds happy, the kind of happy that  you want to share but can’t because you’re not supposed to tell people why you’re happy. Her mommy doesn’t seem to notice. Just drags her — and me! — along with a jerk.

I was in that dark place for what seemed like forever, getting bounced around as my new mommy skipped along with her mommy. Every time they’d talk, I could hear my new mommy sounding more and more antsy. I knew she wanted to take me out and play with me, but she had to wait. I was a secret, at least for now; if her mommy knew she’d gotten me out of the trash, she’d probably get in trouble, maybe even get a spanking like my old mommy used to give me, or something even worse. I’d probably go back in the trash, and wouldn’t even have Oscar anymore. I didn’t want that, so I was oh-so quiet and tried to be patient.

It was quiet for a while, except for a low hum. I think the mommy was driving somewhere. Then I got jerked around some more, and there was a slam, and some bouncing. Another slam and I could hear Sheila laughing, bounding off somewhere with her bag on her shoulder.

It was really bright when she opened the bag, hard to see anything except the shape of her head surrounded by light. I tried to blink, but couldn’t. After a minute it cleared up and I could see that we were in a bathroom. Sheila lifted me up and hugged me tight. I could smell shampoo – the kind that smelled like berries – as her soft curls rubbed on my cheek.

”We’re gonna get you cleaned up, okay? Then you won’t be so smelly, and we can have our first slumber party!”

I didn’t know what a slumber party was, but having her actually want me around made me happy. I tried to hug her back, to nod my head, to say “Thank you,” but couldn’t. Sometimes it was really hard to move and do things, even when I really wanted to.

She lifted me up and sat me down on a big white chair. It was cold and smooth beneath me. She even made sure my legs were pointed the right way. I was happy about that. My first mommy wasn’t always so careful, and sometimes hurt me. Sheila bent over the tub – and what a nice one, so big and sparkly white! I’d never seen one like that before – and played with the knobs for a minute. Clean water began splashing out of the tap.

From somewhere beyond the bathroom door, I heard her mommy shout in a voice that was kind of blurry and funny sounding, reminding me again of my old mommy and her bottles. “Sheila!? You’d better be getting in that tub! No funny stuff, ya hear?”

Sheila looked at the door, looking mad. She rolled her little blue eyes, winking at me before she answered. “Yes, momma!”

Sheila started tugging at her shirt, then stopped and titled her head at me. Her eyes widened, and she shook her head. “I forgot! Just a second!”

She turned and scurried out of the bathroom, coming back a second later. She was holding something behind her back, and her smile was even bigger.

“It’d be silly to get you clean if I just put you back in that messy thing, wouldn’t it?”

She picked me back up, tugging off the scrap of burlap that I always wore. When it came over my head, it caught on my nose for a second, and I could smell Oscar’s trash heap, old stains from my first mommy’s special bottles, and the stuff that came out of Mister Meow-Meow. It made me sad; sometimes I still missed my kitty. Maybe my new mommy would have one, or even let me have one. But then it was off, and Sheila held out what she’d come back with.

It was a dress. A little pink one, with a unicorn on the skirt and frilly white stuff on the sleeves. It was the prettiest I’d ever seen, and even prettier for being the only one I’d ever owned. My first momma never let me have dresses, and none of the others had ever given me one before they went away and left me behind.

  “I hope you like it. But we can’t put it on you until you’re clean, okay?”

She set the dress aside, then took off her clothes and took me into the water. It was warm, nice; a lot better than the garbage bin. Sheila took extra time with my hair, scrubbing it really good with some pink stuff that smelled like candy and made my hair extra shiny. She even brushed it out and put a rubber band in it when she was done, so I had a ponytail like her.

I didn’t want to leave the tub. It was so warm and clean, and steam was everywhere, making me feel like we were in our own safe place, just Sheila and me. But we were clean and I could hear her mommy thumping around downstairs. If we didn’t get out soon, she’d probably come up, yelling for us to get out and asking if we thought water and heat were free. I never knew the answer, because my first mommy always called me stupid no matter what I said when she asked me that. So even though I didn’t want to leave, I was glad when we were out and the drain began making its slurping sounds.

Sheila put a towel around herself, one of the fancy ones with sleeves. Then she picked me up and used a washcloth to scrub me dry. It tickled, but I didn’t laugh. Something bad might happen if I laughed. So I was quiet while she scrubbed me, and then she put me on the counter and started brushing her teeth.

I could see into the mirror, and I didn’t even look like me anymore. My skin and my hair were clean and shiny. No more bug juice, no more ash on my face. I looked happy and clean, like little girls are supposed to. I don’t ever remember looking like that before. Sheila stopped scrubbing her teeth and smiled down at me.

“We gots to brush your teeth, too, or they’ll fall out.”

She scrubbed her toothbrush on my teeth for a second. It tasted minty, and was a little gross – Ewww, germs! – but I knew Sheila was being nice, so I let her. When she was done, I did feel better, and my teeth didn’t feel all loose and bloody like they sometimes did, so maybe the germs were good for me.

Sheila pulled the little pink dress over my head, making sure my arms were in it the right way and not bent into weird shapes. It felt so nice and soft, not all scratchy like the shirt I used to wear. Then she shrugged into her own pajamas – they were blue, with horses and chickens on them – and tugged me along into the room next to the bathroom.

“Bedtime,” she said to me, as she tucked me into her bed, under a big fluffy blanket with a smiling sun on it. “You have to be quiet for a minute. Momma’s going to check on us.”

She slid in beside me, making sure the covers were over my head. It was hot and a little stuffy, but the smells were great: dryer sheets, the candy shampoo, a bit of crumbled cookie. I heard a door open, and heavy breathing for a while, then a too-loud and sad voice that sounded sort of like Sheila’s mommy.

“You brushed up? Get all clean? Didn’t touch my perfume, did you, cupcake?”

I didn’t like it. It reminded me too much of my first mommy. She called me cupcake, too… But hardly ever meant it in a good way. And why would we touch her perfume? We smelled good without it, didn’t we?

“Yes, momma.”

“Then go to sleep.”

“Yes, momma.” Sheila sounded sort of sad. I bet her mommy asked her the same things every night, and probably never said “I love you” or asked if she had a good day, like the mommies on TV sometimes did.

I could hear Sheila’s mommy breathing, slow and heavy like an old car engine, for awhile longer. Sheila held me tight, shivering against me, quiet as a mouse. Then the door clicked shut and the mommy was gone again. Sheila sighed and stopped shaking.

“Kay. She’s gone,” she whispered. Her breath tickled my cheek. “Sometimes she stays and watches longer. It’s weird.”

She pulled me out from under the blanket, and hugged me tight.

“But it’s okay, now. We have each other, right?”

I wanted to nod, to agree with her. But I still couldn’t move. Sheila seemed to understand, though. She giggled – quietly, so the mommy couldn’t hear – and squeezed me to her.

“We’ll have to give you a name. But I don’t know any good ones.”

Her face pulled down, lips squished together while she tapped her chin with one finger.

“My daddy used to say that if you couldn’t think of something, you should go to sleep. When you wake up, you’ll know. He said that your brain keeps working when you’re sleeping. My daddy was always right, so we’ll name you in the morning after I dream it, kay?”

I couldn’t believe it. I was going to get a name! A real name, like other girls had! I didn’t think I’d be able to sleep. I was too excited. I bet that’s what Christmas is like. I lay there, safe in Sheila’s arms, wanting to laugh and scream and jump up and down, but not even able to twitch my fingers in the nest of Sheila’s hair.

It was a little bit later when my new mommy’s breathing became soft and slow, and I could see her eyes were shut and her mouth was open. She was drooling a little. Ick. That’s when the really hard part started. Waiting, knowing something good was going to happen, not wanting it to be dark anymore just so I could learn my name. It was a really long time. I must have counted to a million or more. Then the door clicked open, with a little beam of light from the hallway creeping over Sheila’s face.

There was a shadow in the doorway, looking tall and scary. I thought it was Sheila’s mommy, watching us like Sheila said she sometimes did. Then she lifted her arm and started tapping her nails on the door. I started to shake, and got cold all over. I’d seen that before, somewhere. Somewhere not good.

She took a step into the room, moving like a scary shadow and not like people are supposed to. Something shiny was in her hand. She coughed, a wet, nasty sound.

“Well, well, well.”

It wasn’t Sheila’s mommy. The voice was wrong. I shook harder, and now I was actually shaking. My eyes were burning, and water was coming out of them again. I remembered what it felt like to cry again.

It stepped closer and leaned over us. It smelled, a brown smell that made me want to puke and made my nose close up.

“You’ve been a very, very, naughty girl.”

She cocked her head, and the light hit her. Of course it wasn’t Sheila’s mommy.

It was my mommy. My first mommy.

She reached out with one hand – the one that didn’t have the shiny thing – and twisted her fingers into my ponytail. She felt dirty and hot and something sticky was all over her hand. Some of it dribbled on my face and across Sheila’s blanket, making red smears and ruining the sun’s happy face.

“Very naughty. But mommy knows what to do.”

She yanked me out of bed, away from Sheila’s arms, dangling me by my hair. It hurt, and I wanted to kick and scream and bite. I had done that once. A long time ago, before I was in the garbage, before my other mommies. But all I could do was twitch one leg.

Sheila rolled over, making little cooing noises like a kitty. She flopped her arms around at the spot that I’d been, and started to sit up. I wanted to tell her to be still, to pretend she was still sleeping. Maybe then my mommy wouldn’t do the bad thing. Sometimes if you hid, my mommy forgot or stopped. But I could only make a small little gasp, not even really a whisper.

Mommy’s other arm came up, and the hall light shone on what she had. I tried to scream again, and this time it was a little louder, but still not loud enough. She jabbed her arm down, her skinny, stinky arm bulging. The red, sticky stuff was dripping from her hands, and had splashed all the way up her arm. I wondered if my mommy had found Sheila’s mommy first. Probably. The sharp, shiny thing, one of the big knives that mommy’d always told me not to touch, was clean though.

“Naptime, cupcake.”

Sheila’s eyes popped open. She tried to scream. The knife went into her chest, and more sticky stuff – redder and brighter than what was already on my mommy, but still the same – flew up. I couldn’t see, mommy was moving so quick, but more of the red stuff was flying and Sheila was thrashing and twitching, like she was trying to swim in her bed.

The way she looked as her eyes closed, the sounds she was trying to make, the blood everywhere… It reminded me of something. I remembered everything. All my old mommies, good and bad. What happened to them. But above them all was the lady who had me by the hair and had a knife stuck in my new mommy. Just like she’d done to me, once.

I was mad. Madder than I’d ever been. And it helped. I screamed, and for the first time in forever, someone other than me heard it. My mommy shrieked and jumped back, dropping me on the floor and pointing the knife at me. It hurt – Sheila’s carpet wasn’t the thick, cushy kind – but I could move, too, and I managed to get up pretty quick. I looked up at my mommy.

She looked scareder than the girls in the movies where they got chased by bad men in hockey masks. I’d been scared like that, too. Of her. But not anymore.

“Stay back, you little slut!”

She’s not mad anymore. Not strong. Not in charge.

I am.

“You hurt my mommy,” I say. Because Sheila was a better mommy, a real mommy. She’d cleaned me, and held me, and was going to give me a name, things the bad lady here hadn’t ever done.

My voice is different. Louder than I thought it’d be. Scarier. My first mommy steps back, and starts swinging at the air, still mumbling that I should stay back. She smells like a diaper, and I see a wet spot on her pants that isn’t blood.

“You hurt me,” I say, and take a step. It isn’t easy; I have to think real hard to make it happen. But the second step is easier. The third is even easier than that.

Mommy drops the knife and starts to cry. The knife lands next to my foot, and a bad thing comes into my head. A very bad thing. But, mommy never worried about doing bad things to me. She did bad things to me, and to other people, whether they were good or bad. And mommy was definitely bad.

I bend down, and pick up the knife. It’s hard – the knife is big, almost as big as me, and hard to grab from all the wet red stuff on it – but I manage. The red stuff gets all over my arms, and my pretty new dress. I’m sad for the dress, but I feel even stronger, and oh so angry.

“When you play, you’re supposed to take turns. Right, mommy?” She doesn’t answer me. Just falls to her knees, covering her face with her hands like we’re going to play peek-a-boo. But the bad thought is still in me, and I don’t want to play peek-a-boo, or ring around the rosie or patty cake. I didn’t think mommy was going to like this game.

But I would.

“My turn, mommy.”

I take another step. And another. And one more.



Ill, Again

God bless my wonderful constitution…

…is what I’d love to say.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a wonderful constitution, and the cavalcade of meds they’ve got me on don’t help any; immunosuppressants for the win, am I right? So yet again I am sick, though worse than last time. Nausea, fever, coughing fits, the whole nine. Hooray.

So I have to ask for patience from my adoring public. Going to try to do a writing prompt a little later, but don’t know if it’s going to happen. I know every time I’ve warned that I’ve pulled through… but I’d rather warn and then manage than stay silent.

Stay well, everyone out there.


Writing Prompt: Colorblind

Most people are gray. Walking around, not knowing it, they’re trapped in thick smoke the color of ash, living their whole lives thinking they’re feeling the great highs and lows of passion and depression, love and hate.

They’re lying to themselves; they feel pale echoes of those things, all that their rotten, broken souls can endure.

It wasn’t always that way; people used to come in all colors of the rainbow, their little personal ecosystems flashing brilliant red and orange and purple, thundering into deep black or royal blue. Most people then were like that, but time wore on, souls got tired, and most of them now are just gray.

That’s why it’s such a treat to see the old brilliant colors again, to see someone wreathed in virtual fire or lugging around a jet black cloud of depression. The last one was almost a year ago. I’m lucky to have found another one so soon.

I’m hungry, you see. Hungry for what produces those lovely auras, that little spark that’s almost entirely died out amongst you humans. I get by – we all do – on the scraps that are left at the table. The dry, dusty taste of a gray soul suffices for survival, but not for flavor. The ones who can conjure other colors, they are like a five-star banquet meal, and stave off the hunger for months at a time, instead of only hours.

There. That one. Little kid, looks like. It’s hard to see him through the bright reds and yellows that surround him. Doesn’t matter. He’s angry about something. That doesn’t matter, either. No one will notice when he’s gone. They’ll barely turn their heads when they realize he’s not shouting at his mother or a stray cat or an empty box or whatever it is that has caught his ire.

Then he’ll be mine. All mine.

And I am oh so hungry.


Writing Prompt: Nobody

I live upstairs, even above the attic. My room is that space just above the ceiling, where the raccoons scurry about and the mildew smell comes from when you don’t run the air conditioner for six months.

I’m always here; I hardly leave my room, but I never leave the house. Even when my family is gone, I’m still here.

They never gave me a name, so I took one for myself. When they’re not here, and the answering machine kicks in, it says “Nobody’s home, so leave a message.”

That makes me Nobody. And Nobody is always home.


Got Sick

Woke up this morning with all the signs of impending illness: weird taste in the back of the throat, slight fever, headache, runny nose, asthma tuned to 11.

I don’t think I’m going to manage a writing prompt today. I’m not too upset about it, since I’m technically “ahead” from all the days I did two or three, but still feel a bit down.

Hopefully this passes quicker than I’m expecting, so I can get back to work. Stay safe, everyone.


Writing Prompt: Menagerie

They called it Katy’s Menagerie, but Kathleen Maclendon thought of them as her children.

A thirty-foot section of wall, rounding two corners, was devoted to thick glass shelves and recessed accent lighting, and in nearly every bit of real estate on those shelves, dolls were crowded in.

Some of them were recent acquisitions; American Girls or Barbies. Others were older – one of her pieces of pride was an original Little Miss No Name, still with a tear on her cheek – and others could even be considered antiques, old china dolls bought at auction from decrepit estates that had last been remodeled sometime in the last century.

Every one of them had a name: Susie, Annabelle, Robert. Hundreds more. Only Katy could keep them all straight, and sometimes when she had visitors and one of the dolls was called by the wrong name – by accident or maliciousness, Katy was never sure – she would apologize to Naomi or Hayley or Liam later, and make sure they had special lap time.

Lap time was the best for her, because it was then she didn’t feel alone. She would take down one of her dolls, and speak to it and cradle it gently. She would tell it about her day and ask what they had been up to, which of the other dolls had been naughty that day, which had performed some unseen kindness.

Though they never talked back, Katy imagined that they did, and it made her feel better. It served as a balm on her troubled, lonely soul. So it was, and so it would be, forever and ever, amen. Or so she thought.

Then came the day when, at lap time, Jose really did speak back to her.


Doctors, Doctors Everywhere

Got another new doctor today. This one basically heard me out, threw his hands up, and said “I can’t help you.”

Then he backtracked, saying what he could do was offer referrals to a shrink, a pulmonologist and a disability assessment specialist, and he could take some more blood for some more tests – apparently when it was suspected arthritis, the previous doctor neglected to check for the rheumatoid factor, which would strike me as an important factor to look for if you think someone might have arthritis, but hey, I’m not a doctor – printed out the referrals and then sent me on my way.

I really wish Dr. House was real. Maybe he could fix me. It would turn out to be some stupid thing that was missed, some minor detail, and he’d catch onto it and make me magically well. Plus, I might get to meet Dr. Cameron. Bonus points there.

So that’s where it stands; I have dumbfounded yet another member of the medical profession, who decided all he can do is play with seven vials of my blood like some kind of bizarre biblical metaphor, and offload me onto specialists. Hooray.

I am so sick of doctors. I wonder if that’s a disease or condition in and of itself. Probably.


Just Write. Right?

“Write,” the voices say. “Write,” the internet says. “Write,” my friends say.

Well, that’s all fine and well, but in order to write, one not only has to have the urge and the ability, one has to have something to write about, which is where the problems start cropping up.

I can’t think of anything of value to put down on the page. I wrack my brain, trying to think of something – anything – and come up empty. It’s getting to the point where I dread my pledge to do a writing prompt every day, because coming up with something for those is becoming its own special kind of torture.

There isn’t much that changes or occurs in my daily life; I have very little input or stimulation. I suppose that causes part of it; garbage in, garbage out as some programming wit or another once said. But I’m not exactly in a position to seek out that stimulation, either… and that’s aside from the current plague.

I’m still going to keep trying with the writing prompts, but if they dry up and nothing takes their place, you’ll know why.


Writing Prompt: Library

Perfect lighting illuminates a square of floor that gleams so brightly one might almost believe it is not only resistant to the marks left by hundreds of shuffling feet, but somehow actively repels them. Every wall seems to stretch for miles, both up and along the room, and every one is packed with books.

As you approach one of the shelves, you see each has small lettering detailing the title of each tome, and each one is a name. Some of them are thought provoking – Cain, Lee Harvey Oswald, Ted Bundy – while others are not as familiar – A. Jonas Cruz, Mordechai Wilton, Ben Holmes – but you think you grasp the theme.

Wanting to be sure you take down one of the books with an unfamiliar name – this one is titled Herbert Jameson – and flip it open. Inside are intricate drawings of a murder scene, no detail left without comment. Pages and pages are filled with precise handwriting detailing the killing, including all of the events that led up to it and the aftermath. The final page is marked with heavy black letters that only say “Unsolved.”

You take down another, and another, some famous names and some not, and they are all the same; photos, drawings, detailed psychiatry reports. Always that final page, sometimes marked “Solved,” others “Unsolved,” and others still – Oswald’s, for example – marked “Mystery.” That’s when you realize what you’ve stumbled on.

It looks – and is – a library. A very special reference library. Every one of the books details a murderer, from the man who smothered his wife because she wouldn’t stop nagging and was never caught all the way up to Jack the Ripper’s canonical five… and beyond. A library of murderers, just waiting for someone with the right key to come, waiting to expose its secrets to the right soul.

You take down the book marked “Ripper,” and go to leave. That’s when you discover the door you came through, the one that was supposed to lead you into the Albany Public and took you here instead, is gone. Turning around again, trying to fight the panic, you notice what escaped you when you first came in: a small desk tucked just out of the range of the lights. On the desk is a small, hand-lettered sign.

“Help wanted,” is what the sign says. Underneath that, in smaller lettering, it says “Position filled. Sorry.”

Next to that on the desk is a name plaque. It says “Head Librarian.”

The line beneath that is your own name.

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