Monday, May 7, 2007

Working Stiff

This is from Lucas's "first line challenge." I hope you enjoy.

Beyond all I've seen, this was the worst. Trust me, that's saying something. In the six years I've worked for Midregion Hospital--four of them in the morgue--I've seen some bad things. But the sight of Dr. Miller, President and CEO, onstage with a singing chicken and six-foot dancing polyp had to be the strangest.

I adjusted my camera and zoomed in on the doctor. The hot lights melted his makeup a bit, and as the singing chicken drew nearer he started to sweat. Under the streaky orange panstick, his skin had a greenish cast, giving his face the appearance of a rotting squash. If he didn't get off stage soon, his face would melt off completely. I checked my watch--five minutes until break--and got the powder puffs ready. He'd be in soon for a touch up.

Through the zoom lens, I could just make out the face of the girl in the chicken costume. Melanie, Dr. M's secretary. I was only slightly surprised he'd put her in the role. The bigger surprise is that she'd even stayed over a year as his secretary. Dr. Miller tended to chew up and spit out pretty young things like her before breakfast. None of his assistants ever lasted long.

Heck, in truth, I'm surprised I've lasted this long. After a couple of years of trying to acclimate to "life" in the morgue, my ideals and morals slowly becoming twisted, I knew had to get out of there before I lost what humanity I had left.

It was in the morgue that I learned the truth about healthcare. We weren't there to help people get better. We were there to help them die more comfortably and line our own pockets while we did so. After all, if everyone got well, the hospitals would be out of business and the doctors would starve. Can't have that, now can we?

So after an unsuccessful job search elsewhere, I finally put my secondary degree to work and made a lateral move from the morgue to the Audio/Visual department. Now I spend my days in such exciting ventures as filming our CEO dancing with polyps during Healthy Diet and Colon Cancer Awareness Week instead of poking around stiffs.

Ah, speaking of stiffs, I could see the gruesome twosome--Bill and Todd, former coworkers from below--headed my way. Even if I hadn't seen them, I would have known they were there. The air around me grew cold as they neared. Working in a refrigerated room left one with a chill that never seemed to leave.

"Hey, bud, you joining us for lunch?" Bill clamped a cool hand on my shoulder. "Dr. M's giving away free eats."

"Nah, I think I'll just hang out here and get some work done."

"He thinks he's too good for us working stiffs now." Todd laughed at his idea of a joke.

"You can run, but you can't hide--you'll always be one of us," said Bill, stretching out his arms and wiggling his fingers in my face in a bad Frankenstein impression.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." I turned my attention back to the camera. I was so not one of them.

"Suit yourself, that's more food for us." Bill shrugged and left with Todd.

The scene wrapped up and Dr. Miller came in for a touch-up. "I do hope you'll join us downstairs for lunch. I've a special treat planned," he said, his dead eyes trained on mine.

Crap. Now I'd have to go. I usually avoided the basement cafeteria because it was on the same floor as the morgue. Now that I'd moved out of that department, I didn't want to run into the old gang.

"I'd be happy to, thank you." Crap, crap, crap.

Two hours later, I knew I had to at least make an appearance. I took the elevator down, deciding I'd stay for a minute, make sure Dr. Miller saw me there, then leave. I was greeted immediately by a huge buffet table and the gruesome twosome.

"The high and mighty arrives! So glad you could join us!" Todd's false jollity grated my nerves.

"Told ya he couldn't resist," Bill joined in. "Here, have some chicken fingers and join us."

He handed me a plate and my stomach rumbled. I looked around. The food did smell wonderful. I took the plate and followed them to a table by the kitchen, spearing a baked potato on my way.

Todd laughed at me as we sat. "Don't tell me you're still trying to go vegetarian?"

"I thought this was "Healthy Diet" week?"

"Chicken is healthy, didn't you see one on stage? Dig in." This from Bill.

I looked at my plate, a mental war raging with my stomach. The aroma was heavenly and the food looked fresh. Just one bite wouldn't hurt, would it? I grabbed a piece of chicken and chomped down.

"I thought this was breast meat?" I said when I hit bone.

Bill laughed. "Are you kidding? Dr. Miller got all the breast meat. We get the rest."

"Figures. So what's this?"

"Fingers and toes." Todd jerked his head toward the kitchen. I followed his motion and saw the trash can that now held Melanie's costume.

My gut jerked and rolled. I closed my eyes against tears as waves of shame rolled over me. It was a long moment before I could finally speak again.

"Do we have any barbeque sauce?"

Monday, April 2, 2007

Lucas' First Line Assignment

Well, this is actually not really what Lucas asked for--a short story of no more than 1500 words, starting with the first line he'd provided--but once I started writing these characters, I saw their story would be a lot more than 1500 words. I fell in love with them (and the ones not introduced in this bit), but since the first line was his, and the concept came from there, I'll give you the first 1500 words or so of:

Herald in Merriland

Chapter One

The rain plummeted to the ground like tiny meteorites. Herald Weaver (his mother thought the alternate spelling was romantic) feared it might turn out to be one of those days as he gathered his briefcase and umbrella in preparation for his interview. His fears were confirmed twenty minutes after he’d left the house and his umbrella failed to open a second time.

He dashed from his car into the building that housed the law offices of Kimble, Bramble and Bernstein, and took a moment to gather his thoughts before boarding the elevator. He checked the nearby glass-plated directory to verify the address and saw his reflection. The hair he’d so meticulously combed to the left this morning now dripped in six-inch long strands over his right ear and his clothes were soaked through. He carefully smoothed the strands back into position, stepped into the elevator, and tried to convince himself that things could only get better from here.

Lighted numerals marked his way up each floor...two...three...four. Herald glanced down to pick up the briefcase he’d sat on the floor next to the useless umbrella. He shook the case slightly to remove some of the water. A ping announced he’d arrived at his destination and Herald turned as the doors of the elevator slid open. He faced a solid brick wall. He wondered if things could possibly get worse.

A hand reached through the wall and grabbed him by the throat.


“You look like an angel,” King Barak whispered to his sleeping wife.

The facts that she outweighed him by over fifty pounds and snored louder than the rusted muffler of a pickup truck traveling a dirt road did nothing to diminish her ethereal beauty in his eyes.

A rap at the door turned his attention away from the queen.

“Enter!” he commanded. He didn’t fear waking his wife; in fact, he needn’t have whispered earlier. She’d been under a sleeping spell for almost a year.

A tiny man in a red pointed hat entered and bowed, his hat falling forward as he bent.

“Yes?” Barak heard the excitement in his own voice and tried to control it.

“I believe so, yes, Sire.”


Herald didn’t have time to scream. He was jerked through the wall so fast he hadn’t even had time to register the fact that the very strong hand around his throat was attached to the very strong arm belonging to Dildo Pong, bodyguard of the Wizard Tom, Magician and nephew to the King of Merriland.

(Perhaps it should be mentioned that Dildo’s mother once heard a story about a chunky hero named Bilbo and thought it a nice name for her chunky baby boy. Unfortunately, Mrs. Pong was also a bit hard of hearing. Tom’s mother, on the other hand, lacked the romanticism of Mrs. Weaver and Mrs. Pong, and felt “Tom” was a perfectly suitable name for a boy, no fancy spelling needed. She still would have done the same had she known he'd grow up to be a great wizard, which tells you something about her.)

Herald still didn't know any of this because he fainted as soon as he saw the disembodied hand appear in a brick wall where a brick wall shouldn’t have been.

Tom, however, knew everything.

“I got him!” Dildo shouted, holding the limp, soaking form of Herald by the neck and bouncing him up and down.

“Good job, Dildo. Now please put him down gently so that we can have a look at him,” Tom said with a voice that suggested years of practice being patient with seven-foot tall bald men with long feet and short attention spans.

“Hmm...” the wizard hummed as he walked around the slumped form of Herald. “He’s a bit...wetter than I would have expected.”

“I didn’t do it!”

“I wasn’t accusing you, Dildo, just making an observation.” Tom pulled a wand out of his robe sleeve and said, “Anyway, we should clean him up some before the king arrives. I’ve already sent one of the garden gnomes so they should be here soon.”

“What you got in mind?” Dildo’s protruding brow furrowed, giving his lone eyebrow the appearance of a caterpillar with cramps.

“Just leave it to me and you keep an eye on the door. Signal if you see the king coming,” said Tom.

“What sorta signal?”


“I ain’t sick.”

Tom took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly. “All right then, just stamp your foot to let me know if you see them coming,” he said.

“Which one?”

“That one,” said Tom, pointing at Dildo’s size 24 left foot. (His right foot was a size 24 also, just to be on the safe side.)

Dildo nodded and lumbered toward the door pointing at his left foot and mumbling “this one, this one, this one.”

“Now, as for you...” Tom turned and pointed his wand to the dripping figure on the floor. “Resecate!”

Herald’s hair and clothing dried instantly, though his hair had fallen over his right ear again. He was still out cold.

“Curious,” Tom mumbled as he looked at Herald’s hair. He wondered if it was a lawyer thing. He wouldn’t be surprised. He’d never met an attorney before, but he’d heard rumors and studied the scriptures. Some rumors he’d scarcely believed, but faced with the crumpled form of Herald Weaver, he thought there might be some truth.

“King’s comin’!” Dildo stamped both feet and bellowed.

“Shit.” Tom shook the prone man and jerked him to his feet. “You’d better get ready,” he said to the now-blinking Herald. “We don’t have much time.”


“What was that? Did you feel something?” Mimsy asked her familiar, Septimus. (It was widely believed Mimsy had no mother, which was in fact, not true, but which she let people believe because when you’re an apple-cheeked, pert-nosed, curly-haired witch named Mimsy you take what you can get by way of inspiring fear.)

Septimus glanced up from licking his paw and stretched. He’d felt nothing but the warm pull of an oncoming nap.

“Nothing? You didn’t feel as if someone just came into the world, but... one left?”

Mimsy shivered. Septimus yawned and curled into a bit of sunlight on the back of the sofa.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Mimsy said darkly as she pulled the cat from his perch. “We have work to do.”


“Uncle Bara-- Sire!”

Herald watched, bewildered, as a man in a wizard costume (flowing robe, tall pointy hat with gold stars on it) and a giant bald man in green pants and brown leather vest bowed before another man wearing a royal costume (ermine robes, large crown.) Just behind the royal was what looked like a living garden gnome (attire too frightening to describe.)

Herald groaned. This was worse than one of those days. "Where am I?” he asked.

“You are most welcome here, at Ernie’s, in Merriland!” the royally dressed man’s voice reverberated on the stone walls.

“Ernie’s? Maryland!” Herald looked around the group in panic.

Attorney, Sire,” said the man in the wizard’s cap. “Singular. ‘Attorneys’ is plural. Common mista...that is, common interpretation... that is, not so common because only the most learned men have access to the scriptures...” his voice trailed off and Herald noted beads of sweat forming around the rim of the man’s conical hat.

“That’s what I said, Tom,” the king said after a heartbeat’s worth of silence. “Your hat must be too tight over your ears. I’ll see to it you’re issued a new one. You should have told me you were having trouble hearing with that one.”

“Thank you, Sire,” said Tom, adjusting his hat. “I didn’t wish to be any trouble. You’re very thoughtful.”

Herald shook his head and spoke again. “Would someone please tell me where I might find the law offices of Kimble, Bramble and Bernstein? I’m late for an appointment.” He lifted his briefcase to make the point.

Everyone backed up a step and looked at him in alarm, except for the king who was grinning broadly.


Mimsy pushed Septimus away from the black bowl of water on the table and peered into it. She saw only her reflection.

“I know I felt something.” She turned to the cat, “Septimus, fetch my cards.”

Septimus dipped a paw into the water then licked it.

“Good idea,” said Mimsy. “See what you can come up with while I check the cards.”

She hurried to a nearby cupboard, retrieved a small, black velvet bag and returned to the table. She took the Tarot cards out of the bag and began to shuffle carefully. Two cards slipped out, face up, onto the table.

Justice and the Magician.

Mimsy picked up the Magician. “Tom, no doubt,” she muttered. “But what’s he up to?”

She pictured him clearly and rejected the thought that the blue hat with gold stars complemented his blond hair and blue eyes. He was a wizard, for crying out loud. Undoubtedly up to no good.

She blinked away his image and put her other hand over the Justice card. A terrible image began to grow in the back of her mind and arrived, full bloom, in the front. She snatched her hand back and stared at Septimus in horror.

“Surely, even he wouldn’t try something that dangerous, would he?”

"I wouldn’t put anything past him,” Septimus said. (Actually, what Septimus said was, “mreow mrerp,” but Mimsy was sure she’d heard him correctly.)

“Well, we’ll just have to bring in reinforcements then,” she sighed, gathering herself together.

After Mimsy had written the necessary letter, she pulled her black robe and traditional witch’s hat from the same cupboard from whence she’d taken the cards. She intensely disliked traditional garb, preferring soft sweaters and loose cotton trousers when home alone, but she was on a mission. Further, she had a public image to maintain.

Unfortunately, that image looked something like this: at sixteen, Mimsy stopped growing upward at five feet tall; her breasts, however, continued to grow outward for the next several years as if they expected to belong to someone’s six-foot tall, three-hundred pound grandmother. The effect when she closed her robes was that the material fell straight from her impressive bosom down to the floor, giving her the appearance of a squat, black chest of drawers with a hat on top. Because of this, and her face's natural tendency toward roundness, most people assumed Mimsy was fat, when in fact, she only weighed a hundred pounds. A good twenty of that was in her bra.

Nevertheless, she closed her robes, settled the hat over her red curls and marched out the door.

Former Assignments

I'll be posting an assignment from Lucas in a bit, and decided to add some former bits from my other blog here.

(These are assignments and posts before I started this blog - just want to have the writing accessible in one spot.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sternberg Assignment from Feb. 7, 2007


Stewart Sternberg, Great Cult Leader & Writer, assigned this last week. I'm not an official part of his writing group but I like to participate in his assignments, as well as spread the word about the great and powerful Stu, hence I've started a separate blog just for that purpose.

Here's the first draft of last week's assignment. Unfortunately, today was the first chance I had to work on it. Oh, well. Without further ado, I bring you:

February 1964

Yellow light spilled beneath a frilled lampshade, pooling unkindly in the valleys of Mrs. Miller’s face as she frowned over her knitting.

“Fudge,” she muttered as she dropped a stitch. Those darn bugs were on the radio again. She laid aside the yarn and needles to snap off the switch.

“Beatles.” She spat out the word as if it tasted foul in her mouth, and resumed her knitting, jabbing the yarn with the sharp sticks.

‘Eileen’s probably happy,’ she thought. Her daughter, home from college for the weekend, loved the group. Mrs. Miller shook her head.

Andy Williams, now there’s a singer.

She wound the yarn up and around the needle, her eyes misting. So much had changed, so quickly. She blinked back tears and looked at her work.

The scarf she knit would match her blue hat. Let Eileen complain no one wanted to wear pillbox hats anymore; she was keeping hers. The hat was a tribute--a way of showing respect to the First Lady. It didn’t matter who was president now; as far as Mrs. Miller was concerned, Mrs. Kennedy would always be the first lady. Her fingers faltered slightly and she dropped another stitch. She wound the wool more tightly; if she weren’t careful, the whole thing would come undone.

Eileen. Mrs. Miller redoubled her efforts, knitting quickly. She’d hoped Eileen would have come home from college with a fiancĂ© by now, but she showed no signs of it. If anything, the girl seemed more restless by the day. What’s happening to my daughter?

She sniffed slightly. Her hands shook as she thought of the Roberts’ girl down the street. She’d had to leave college and go live with relatives. She closed her eyes and said a quick prayer. “Please, Lord, don’t let my daughter turn out like that.”

When she opened her eyes, she saw she’d dropped another stitch. She laid the scarf on her lap and rubbed a weary hand over the bridge of her nose. She startled as Eileen bounded into the room, swooping down on her in an impulsive hug.

“Bye, Mommy! I’m going out--see you later!” She gave her mother a kiss and skipped toward the front door, unaware that the button of her coat sleeve had snagged the yarn.

Mrs. Miller’s mouth moved, but made no sound. She could only watch in horror as all her work unraveled.