Gloria traced the rough texture of the bricks, the abrasive particles of sand and grit catching the tender skin of her fingertips. A concavity caught her attention, and she paused, cocking her head in curiosity. She scratched at the small hole, widening it, and flakes of mortar tumbled to the ground at her feet, littering her shoelaces with their crystalline dandruff.
She reached the bottom quickly enough, and lost interest when nothing of note appeared. She continued on her way, meandering back and forth across the sidewalk, never stepping on a crack for fear of breaking her mother’s back.
Cedric leaned against the street sign catty-corner to Gloria’s wandering dance, and he watched her with bright eyes. Such a girl would likely have some interesting stories to tell, he thought. His mind made up, he crossed the street, Gloria in his crosshairs.
Gloria froze, her sneaker toe millimeters from a large insect blundering its way across her path. She squatted and squinted at the poor thing–a beetle, she judged. She reached out a hand to touch it, and like that, it spread its wings and disappeared into the bright blue sky without a trace. Gloria smiled broadly, unperturbed that her plans had been so swiftly shattered by such an insignificant creature.
She stood back up and prepared to continue on her way, but a man blocked her.
Cedric knew that with his fighter’s build, he could bed intimidating, but he had spent years perfecting his kindly and disarming smile. He used that smile on Gloria, to an unexpected effect.
“And that’s how your mother and I met, kids.”
Ann’s shameful hunger remained unsatisfied. Her fingers curled into claws at the ache in her midsection; the bloodlust was growing. A knock on the window startled her from her reverie, but it was only an acorn tapping on its way down to the ground.
The chicken lottery was scheduled for next week, but Ann didn’t believe she was going to make it that long. She picked up her phone to call the Lord Chamberlain.
After half an hour on the phone, arguing back and forth, the Lord Chamberlain agreed to give Ann an extra entry for every conversion she achieved in the next week. Ann grumbled, because those extra entries did nothing to assuage her hunger now, but she knew this was the best she was going to get.
One of my favorite things to do is go to this random word generator and make something with what I get. Today it was: bloodlust chicken lottery lord conversion shameful. So just keep in mind, when I share something totally off the wall, it’s probably because of six random words.
“Crying won’t help you, just shut your damn face,” she screamed down the stairs without bothering to round the corner and check on the children.
This was not an unusual occurrence; in fact, the children had already spent their combined eleven years of existence avoiding their own trouble without the assistance of the mother who didn’t care whether or not they survived.
Christina’s spindly little legs quivered as she pushed the chair against the side of the counter with all her might. She was determined not to let her little brother Charlie fall. He was only concerned with whether or not he was going to be able to reach the Cream of Wheat, and determining whether or not the three of them would eat today.
Carlotta was almost two; she was the one hungrily crying the corner of the kitchen. Neither of the big kids had been able to reach any food yesterday, and their current father figure had yet to return from his latest ‘business trip.’
“Come down for a minute, Charlie,” Christina called. “I’m going to see if I can stack that phone book on top so you can reach it. Hold on, Carlotta, it’s gonna be okay, I promise. Here, Charlie, use my hand.” Christina was quite the director of schemes for only having just turned five last month.
Charlie stepped atop the phone book that Christina had discovered the night before, and his fingertips brushed the corner of the orange box. “I can almost get it, Chrissy. Almost…got it!” His voice overflowed with delight and pride. Christina caught the box when it slipped from his tiny grasp, and she sighed with relief that it hadn’t hit the floor and burst.
Charlie jumped down and danced over to Carlotta, who he swung up into the air with all the strength he had. “See, we told you it would be okay, baby girl.”
Christina was already filling their bowls with water and Cream of Wheat, prefatory to putting them in the microwave. She was still too young and inexperienced to wonder why the food would be locked away or placed too high for tiny hands to reach when the microwave and oven were perfectly reachable.
The creak of a footstep on the stairs, and all three faces dropped, their eyes widening in fear.
It was their mother.
“Well, isn’t this delightful?” She asked, rhetorically. “Who said you could have my cereal, you little shits?” She bent at the waist, leaning forward to sneer in their faces. “Because I sure didn’t. And your daddy’s still out with his whores.” She straightened back up and crossed her arms, angular elbows framing pointed breasts.
Carlotta took the moment of silence and began her wail anew. Christina’s eyes grew even wider, a nearly impossible feat, and she quickly reached over to cover her sister’s mouth.
It wasn’t soon enough, and their mother took affront as never before, swiping the box off the counter and tearing open the microwave.
“So you want to eat this? You want to eat, you screaming little bastards?” She swept the bowls from the microwave, smashing them against the cabinet door behind the children. The only saving grace was that Christina didn’t have the chance to start the microwave, so the bowls and their contents were still lukewarm .
Carlotta stopped crying, and Christina thanked the powers that be for that, at least.
Denise tightened her grip on the steering wheel as she turned left at the green light. There was absolutely no way that Charles was going to beat her to the restaurant today. She started getting ready for their date a full hour earlier than usual. Even with the extra special care she took with her hair and makeup, she still left nearly forty-five minutes earlier than she normally would have.
The problem was that there was no problem. Denise just ran into new and different problems every time she left the house.
Take last week, for example. How was she to know that she was going to turn down a one way street blocked by a broken down garbage truck? It had just happened, and it wasn’t even on the traffic report later, so she honestly didn’t have any way of knowing.
And last month, when those protesters decided to let the monkeys loose from the city zoo. Nobody could have predicted such a thing, nor that two orangutans would set up shop in the middle of the very street that Denise chose as her best route to the library.
The next light was red, and Denise toed the brake, adjusting the collar of her denim jacket as she slowed. She hummed along with the melody whispering from the car stereo, then reached for the volume knob to turn it up enough to hear the words.
But when she lifted her eyes back to the road ahead of her, a tank. A tank? Cruising down the street in the middle of a major metropolitan area? Denise threw the car in park and threw her hands in the air in defeat.
“I’m just going to stay home and write my poetry from now on. Charles is just going to have to survive on takeout and home cooking, that’s all there is to it.” She dug through her purse until she found her cell phone, and called Charles to repeat herself.
“A freaking tank, Charles. It’s unbelievable, I know. I’m not sure if I should even try to turn around and drive back home. I might get trampled by a brontosaur stampede,” she was beginning to sob. “What did I do to deserve this, Charles? For crying out loud, I can’t even go to the grocery store without a freak hailstorm destroying my windshield.”
That one happened three weeks ago.
Charles did his best to calm down his beloved, but she grew more and more hysterical with each passing second. Finally, he interrupted her long enough to state firmly that he was going to come and pick her up, and he would park her car somewhere safe nearby and come back to get it the next day.
Denise agreed, snot dribbling down her upper lip. She got off the phone and leaned over to open her glove compartment for some napkins to clean up. She straightened in her seat and blew her nose, and sat calmly and quietly, waiting for Charles to show up.
It only took him about ten minutes. With a shock of guilt, Denise realized how close she was to his work, and that he must have skipped out early to come and help her in her hysterical state. She got out of her car and threw her arms around his neck.
“You’re my hero, Charles,” she exclaimed, kissing him. “I don’t know what I would do without you. I’m so sorry for the drama and making you leave work and…”
He interrupted her for the second time, before she broke down again. “It’s perfectly okay, sweetheart. Come on.” He escorted her around to the passenger side of his car. “Now, just wait here a moment, and I’ll go park you right over there,” he said, pointing at the Chipotle across the street. “I won’t be but a few minutes, okay?”
Denise nodded, and as she waited for Charles to return, suddenly wondered where everyone else was. A tank was blocking the road before her, yes, but surely at least one other driver should have come up behind her at this light while she waited for Charles.
The thought occupied her mind so thoroughly that she didn’t even notice Charles come back to his car, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when he opened the door and got into the driver’s seat. She swiped at her nose once more with the napkin and cocked her head at him.
“Where is everyone else today?” The genuine confusion in her tone took Charles by surprise.
“They’re all gone, Denise,” he answered, now feeling as puzzled as she looked. “Don’t you remember? The city closed yesterday. They’re evacuating all of us in two days.” His grew more concerned by the second as he realized that none of this was ringing a bell with her. “Denise, are you even packed yet?”
“But where are we going? And why?” The tears were back in her eyes, the napkin forgotten in the loose fist that lay in her lap.
“Wherever there is room for us, my love. Because of the war.” Charles reached out a hand to comfort her, but Denise flinched away.
“None of this is making any sense, Charles. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just let me out! You’re lying!” The napkin tumbled from her hand as she scrabbled at the door handle, struggling to work it without unlocking it first.
Charles returned his eyes to the horizon. The last time Denise was like this, it took her a full six weeks to come back to him. He pressed his lips together and continued to her house, where he tucked her into bed and packed a bag of essentials for her before falling asleep on the couch.
LRose asked for a prompt; I gave her one, but I fell in love with it myself.
Celeste twisted the promise ring on her finger. She closed her eyes and thought back to when her boyfriend Mark gave it to her.
It was August 27, 2002. After a long after noon studying at the library, the two hungrily moved on to the nearest pizza parlor, Sally’s. It was Celeste’s favorite restaurant, and she loved ordering her pizza and then waiting for it outside on the patio and dining al fresco, every now and then tossing a bit of crust to a hungry bird hopping nearby.
That fateful day, Mark ordered their usual, a hand-tossed pepperoni and sausage with extra cheese and two Cokes. They took their red plastic cups of soda and retired to Celeste’s favorite patio table, the one in the far corner with the cracked umbrella. They sat next to each other, on adjacent sides of the square table.
When the waitress came outside bearing their pie, Mark and Celeste cheered. It was their ritual every time they came to Sally’s. Aside from that one time they scared a brand new waitress and she dropped the entire pizza on the ground, it always went off without a hitch. And a good time was had by all. Today was no different.
They ate in companionable silence, smiling and staring adoringly into each others’ eyes every so often. By the time they’d eaten their fill, though, Celeste was starting to wonder what was wrong with Mark. He was acting differently. Nothing specific that she could put her finger on, just…different. He got up to get a box to put the rest of their pizza in and she watched him with concerned eyes, letting the worry that she’d hidden so well come to the surface.
When Mark came back with the box, he placed the slices into it and closed it up, then walked around to Celeste’s side of the table and got down on one knee before her, pulling a ring box from his jeans pocket. She clapped both hands to her mouth in shock and surprise. So that’s what he’s been planning, she thought.
Mark had a lovely little speech about their youth and how much they loved each other in spite of that and how one day he would ask her to marry him. Celeste began sobbing halfway through, so she didn’t remember the exact words, but she was sure they were perfect. Mark was perfect, and all was well with the world.
When he was done and the ring was on her finger, the one other couple on the patio applauded, and Celeste smiled at them. Mark picked up their pizza and left a tip on the table for the waitress and they left, on their way to Celeste’s house.
They’d gone less than a block when a nosy bar patron leered at them. “What makes you so happy, huh?” she snarled at them. “Give it time, and you’ll find out all your assumptions are wrong, and it’s a rotten world we live in.” Mark tugged Celeste along by the hand, telling her to ignore the woman, that she doesn’t know anything. Celeste nodded, but the seeds of doubt had been planted.
At the next alleyway, the one that Celeste had always, always feared more than any other, without knowing the reason, someone grabbed Mark and pulled him around the corner. Celeste was jerked along behind, refusing to let go of Mark’s hand. She caught a glimpse of someone in a ski mask, and that was all she remembered.
No one ever found hide nor hair of Mark, but Celeste never gave up hope. She lived her entire life knowing that he could be right around the next corner.
Teresa sang softly to herself as she dumped and stirred, dumped and stirred. Today was going to be the greatest day of her life: the day she won The Great Chili Cookoff. This was her year. She could practically taste it–or was that some chili powder that she’d inhaled trickling down the back of her throat? Never mind.
It was nearly four o’clock in the morning. So far, Teresa had managed to keep quiet enough in the kitchen that she remained undisturbed.
And then she dropped the lid to her pressure cooker.
It hit the floor with a solid bang, and then rolled around on its edge a few times, adding to the din. She cringed, and turned to look down the hall. Sure enough, she saw a thin sliver of light pop on beneath the master bedroom door. About three seconds after that, the baby let out a wail. Teresa sighed.
She scooped up the lid and set it gently on the dining room table on her way to the baby’s room. Halfway there, she remembered that she’d left the stove on, and crisp black bits would not win her the title at The Great Chili Cookoff. The baby let out a more piercing wail, and Teresa cringed anew at the sound of the master bedroom door creaking open. Don was not going to be happy.
She tried to fix it, lightheartedly smiling and waving him back into the bedroom. “I got him, honey, sorry for waking you up. Go finish sleeping. Love you!”
Don gave her the stinkeye and kept coming. “I’ll handle the baby, Terry, you go finish that damn chili that you’ve been obsessing over for the past six years. Jesus Christ, if I never eat another bowl of chili, I could die a happy man.” He continued mumbling to himself about chili this and chili that as he opened the door to the baby’s room and then closed it behind him.
Teresa’s face fell, but she returned to the kitchen and turned the stove back on. “This is my year, I just know it. That’ll show you, Don. That’ll show everyone!”
A quick stir moved the black burnt bits from the bottom of the pan to the top, and Teresa sank to the floor in tears.
This year wasn’t going to be her year, after all.
Don came out of the baby’s room and knelt next to his wife, tenderly wrapping his arms around her. “Don’t worry, hon, there’s always next year. You’ll win it yet. I know you will.”
In his room, the baby began his wail anew.