Category Archives: Prompts

500 words or less on a given topic.

Out Damned Spot!

A woman who cleaned with great zeal

peeled back her Good Housekeeping Seal

to find the damn thing left a telltale ring

that diminished the honor’s appeal.

(Note: This limerick was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt on the topic Good Housekeeping.)

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That’s Rich!

“Anything good?” Freeman asked, while dumpster diving behind a splendid restaurant with best friend Mo and acting as the lookout.

“Dunno yet,” Moe said from deep inside the dumpster, “but something smells good.”

The two men were once neighborhood regulars in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, but increased drug trafficking, political demonstrations and drunken crowds from pro sporting events had chased them north along Aurora Avenue to downtown Everett in the vicinity of Hewitt and Colby avenues.

“Check this,” Moe said, handing Freeman a remnant of steak. “I think it’s filet mignon.”

“What’s that brown stuff on it? Mustard?” Freeman asked.

“No, I think that’s foie gras.”

“What’s that?”

“Force-fed goose liver. Popular in France. Rich people like it slathered on meat. Or a cracker. Kinda like caviar.”

“Don’t care for caviar,” Freeman said. “Too salty.”

“Give it a lick, and tell me what you think,” Moe replied. “There’s more here if you like it.”

Freeman ran his finger over the meat and then over his tongue.

“Tastes kinda rich, but not bad!” he said, savoring the taste for only a moment before taking a full bite of steak. “I do believe it adds something to the meat. And the beef ain’t half-bad to begin with.”

“Think so?” said Moe, still deep inside the dumpster and talking through his own mouthful of food. “Gotta watch myself. Rich food doesn’t agree with me. Got a fussy gall bladder. Heartburn troubles, too.”

Freeman was about to concur when a door in the alley suddenly flew open and a dishwasher from restaurant emerged with a fresh can of refuse.

“Get outta here, bum,” the worker called out as Freeman dropped the dumpster lid and sped away on foot. The dishwasher then muttered something about needing a lock as he lifted the lid and dumped the contents of his can on Moe before going back inside.

“Moe, Moe, you all right,” Freeman said after slipping back.

“Yeah, great,” Moe replied. “He got me good. Covered in bisque, crab and some other shellfish . . . Oh, my god, its oysters Rockefeller!”

“Save me some.”

“Would you like bread with that, Sir? Some salad perhaps? We have what once looked like a lovely Caesar here. Or a house salad with blue cheese.”

“Gimme the blue cheese. You know I don’t like Caesar,” Freeman said. “All that raw egg. Can’t be too careful about what you eat.”

“I hear you, man,” Moe replied. “Bad enough just eating the stuff you recognize. Even at that, I’ve read some food nowadays has crushed up beaver anal gland – castoreum they call it – mixed in as a natural flavor additive.”

Stop,” Freeman said, “you’re making me sick.”

“It’s probably the foie gras,” Moe replied. “It’ll pass. Just have a cigarette – although I hear there’s castoreum in ciggies, too.”

“Great,” Freeman said. “Next time I see someone coming, I’ll just slap the pavement with my tail.”

(Note:  This was written as Writers Kickstart prompt (500 words or less) on the topic, That’s Rich.)

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Witch Story

Karen Persdatter wasn’t as wicked as some folks thought. She had a reputation in the Dunderlandsdalen as a trollkjærring – literally a Norwegian troll woman, but more like a witch or sorceress in the English translation. They say she could throw a spell that would make your hair fall out, or perhaps make your cow give blood instead of milk. But she never did anything like that without a reason. Folks mostly just kept their distance.

Born in 1734 at Østerdal farm in Nordland near the head of Rana Fjord, Karen married Jon Larssa from nearby Vesterfjelt farm and they had several children, most of whom died young under mysterious circumstances that were never recorded in the parish archive, which at that time kept the whole family ostracized from the church. But there were two daughters, Ragnhild and Ane, who supposedly learned a few tricks from their mother.

No one knew where Karen picked up the witchcraft, because those who knew her as a girl saw nothing odd in her behavior. It was not until Karen was married and cartoon witchbegan losing children that folks who crossed her began suffering misfortune, although there was nothing to link any of that to Karen, except for her freely expressed contempt for anyone or anything connected to the church. That and an ugly redness that developed in one eye.

Jon Larssa froze to death on a hunting trip when Ragnhild and Ane were still young, but folks say Karen was able to provide for them from a slab of shoulder meat that hung in the shed and mystically restored itself whenever portions were cut out. They also kept some chickens, a milk goat and a few sheep, and along with a rocky garden patch, they managed to raise everything needed except the one thing Karen wanted most – grandchildren.

When both daughters came of age, Karen asked them which of the parish bachelors they fancied most, and she then mixed a special drink that made the two favored men fall in love with her daughters and marry them. Karen warned her daughters that the spell could be broken if they ever told the husbands how they’d been tricked. Years passed and both couples produced children before the two sisters one day argued over whose kids were cutest, and Ragnhild blurted out that Ane was so ugly she was lucky their mother had a magic potion to even get her a man.

Ane’s husband overheard the fight and instantly became so enraged over Karen’s trickery that he cut her down with an ax before killing everyone else in like manner. He then set fire to the house and perished himself by remaining inside.

Neighbors saw the flames and rushed over, but it was too late. The stock was dispersed, and someone even made off with the shoulder meat from the shed, but it was consumed in a matter of days, and that was the last that anyone thought about Karen and her brood.

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt based on four tarot cards: the Ace of Wands, the Sun, the Stars and the Four of Swords.  The story is loosely based on a  nineteenth century Norwegian folk tale told by Mikkel Mikkelsen Saghaug Tørrbekkmoen (1805 – 1894) to Rana researcher Ole Tobias Olsen. Karen, Jon and their daughters are real people from my family tree.  For more on Norwegian witches, check this link about the Vardø witch trials of 1662-63.)

Lisbeth Movin portrayed the historical Norwegian witch Anne Pedersdotter in the 1943 film “Day of Wrath.” Unrelated to my ancestor Karen Persdatter, Anne was burned at the stake in Bergen in 1590.

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Gator Baiter

It was a probably a bad idea in the first place for Ned “Buck” Tyler to flip off the impatient biker  trying to get around his shiny Airstream trailer with the “Buckeye Buck” banner on the gravel road leading from Gator Lake in central Florida.

The finger from the Ohio State football junkie went up in answer to the biker’s shaking fist as the speeding motorcycle approached the diver’s side window of Ned’s scarlet and gray Suburban, en route to the OSU-Florida game in Gainesville after an overnight stop to buy booze, sex and some alligator meat. Ned didn’t actually intend to run the biker off the road, but he lost control a bit on the loose gravelGator face with only one hand on the wheel and drifted over enough to push the biker onto the soft shoulder and subsequently off the road and into a swamp water bath.

“Whoa, sorry there, pal,” Tyler uttered, although not sorry enough to stop, or even slow down. “That’s what you get for messin’ with the Buck.”

Buck Tyler always had an inflated image of himself ever since playing sousaphone in the OSU matching band and, more than once, getting to dot the “i” in the band’s script OHIO halftime maneuver. An insufferable Buckeye booster ever since, he bought the Airstream to supply home luxury at every OSU road football game he could get to, pulling into tailgate areas on Friday afternoons and usually staying until they threw him out on Sunday night or Monday morning.

He hit Gainesville right on schedule and made himself at home, cranking up the OSU fight song to play incessantly and setting up Lois, his bodacious Buckeye mannequin cheerleader with the nicest pompoms you ever saw, outside the trailer door. He then started to grill gator steaks, drink heavily and swap barbs with all the Florida fans within shouting distance, promising everyone a sound thrashing on game day.

The Gator baiting went on past midnight, when a drunken Buck finally retired for the night, unaware of the swamp-stinky figure that strolled into the tailgate area looking for the Airstream with the Buckeye Buck banner. Next morning,  when security was called to determine what had happened, funny how nobody had seen or heard anything.

They found the Suburban inoperable from a half-rotten gator snout stuffed into the tailpipe. Lois lay headless, armless and topless, wearing only a pair of men’s UF swim trunks with a cucumber stuffed inside the front, while her head, arms, cheer suit and pompoms smoldered nearby next to a half-can of kerosene.

There was a gaping hole in the back of the trailer, where someone appeared to have cut through with a chain saw, but there was no sign of Buckeye Buck.

“Hmmm,” the security chief muttered as he surveyed the damages. “Fella must’ve gone a little overboard with his partying last night. Gonna have to write him up for that open fire!”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt containing the following elements: an Airstream trailer with back ripped off, a sousaphone, a rotten alligator snout, a half-can of kerosene and a headless, armless female mannequin in men’s swim trunks.)

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Taking Five

 “Jeez, I need a drink!”

“There, there, Annie, have some Kool-Aid,” June said cheerfully, as she filled a Dixie cup on the table in the bible school teachers’ break room.

“Jell-O shot would be more like it,” Annie shot back. “Where do these kids come from? Their parents must be zoo animals!”

“I hear you,” said Betty, holding a battery-powered fan near her neck with her eyes closed. “I got one boy who can’t keep his fingers out of his nose — unless they’re in his mouth. And he’s worn the same t-shirt for three days! Still has the grape juice stain from Monday, and here it is Wednesday! Who bathes this kid? Who dresses him?”

“Think you’ve got it bad? I’ve got pee stink,” chimed in Holly between puffs from a Marlboro, which she exhaled through a window. “Someone in my class wet themself, and it’s dried and I’m not sure who the culprit is. But in this heat, it’s like someone put a cat box under the table. Makes my eyes water!”

“Now, now, they’re just children. Everyone just relax and have a cookie,” June cooed.

“Children from hell!” Betty responded, with open eyes. “Snotty, noisy and stinky with the attention span of chickens. And I’ve got a whiner: ‘Everyone’s picking on me. Joey touched me! Trudy made a face!’  Little sniveler, I just want to tell her to shut up!”

“We’re just a free lunch and day care for most of these kids,” Annie added. “The parents don’t give a hoot about Christian education. Never see them in church. Just dump the kids off and don’t look back. Off to work – if they even have a job – or off to the salon, or the beach, or the couch or wherever there’s happy hour.”

“Ladies, please!” said the matronly April Strutt, June’s mother and the bible school coordinator, entering with a rush that threatened to turn all into pillars of salt. “We’re just three days into this, with two more to go, and we can’t lose anyone at this point.

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years, and, believe me, I’ve just about seen it all. Cranky kids. Booger eaters. Pee’ers and snivelers. But you know what? They’re all God’s creations, and we owe it to them to try to bring a little bit of Jesus into their lives. The fact that all of you are here, grumpy or otherwise, testifies to His power to call us to service. Nobody says this is easy, at least no one who’s ever done this before. It takes a truckload of commitment.  But if you trust in God and pray for His assistance, you can reap the rewards of  . . .”

“Oh, please,” Betty interrupted, “don’t feed us that heaven stuff. I’m not in the mood.”

“No,” the older woman said. “I was going to say, mojitos at my place on Friday!”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt on the topic Group of Five.)

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Squeamish Scouts

How many boy scouts does it take to kill a chicken?

Just one if he has anything but sand in his scrotum. Trouble was, my buddy Gale and I both showed a squeamish side at our first Caveman Cookout as members of Troop 50 in the woods of Camp Sevenitch.

We were town boys, 12 or 13 at the time, and we came fully prepared with the limited gear allowed to each two-man team: our sleeping bags and rain ponchos, one shovel, a compass, three matches, our pocket knives and the clothes we wore. Oh, and they gave us each a raw potato to go with our live poultry.

We had no trouble hunting down our hen by following the compass directions given to us. The bird was right where it was supposed to be, tethered to a tree, where there was no escape unless cut free by an imbecilic scout who failed to hold on.

We left our hen tied as we built a fire and fashioned a lean-to from our joined ponchos. Some scouts would wrap their chicken in leaves and cook it by burying it under coals, along with the potatoes. We weren’t into that. We thought roasting on a spit was the way to go, once the chicken was dead.

“You do it,” I said.

“Naw, go ahead,” Gale replied.

Older scouts had told us the best way to kill a chicken was to simply hold the head, spin the bird a couple times and then snap the head off with a quick jerk. But that didn’t fly with us, as jerking  the head off seemed about as civil as biting it off.

“Tell you what,” Gale said after protracted deliberations. “I”ll cut the damn head off if you’ll just hold him.”

“Fine,” I said. “You kill it and I’ll clean it.”

The act should’ve been routine. But when the chicken began flapping and squawking as Gale started to saw through the neck, I lost my nerve, and grip, and the bound bird flopped to the ground, still very much alive.

“Geez, couldn’t you just hold on for a few more seconds,” Gale said.

“No,” I said. “I have this thing about live chickens. It’s all I can do to even touch one.”

The second assault involved the shovel, swinging it ax-like. But the chicken refused to lie still and play Marie Antoinette. The result was a badly beaten, but still breathing bird.

Cutting to the chase, we then used the tethering cord to hang the hen like a horse thief, before Gale finally did what was necessary, using gravity to maintain stretch while sawing though the neck.

Plans to roast her on a spit fell through when we had trouble pulling all the feathers. An attempt to burn off the feathers begat both a bad smell and a blackened bird, which was only partially consumed – with raw potatoes – before all leftovers were cremated.

(Note: This was written as a WritersKickstart prompt on the topic of Roles.)

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Fishing with Boo Radley

“Drop the knife, Boo, and grab the net!”

It was our first strike of the day, and it felt like a big one as I reeled away, having cut the troller motor to set us adrift while tending to business.

Boo nearly fell as he barreled from the seat where he’d been cutting bait to the side of our 24-foot Boston whaler, leaning over the cloudy river water with our net.

“Comin’ up now, buddy. Get the net ready. Get it in the water and come up from behind and lift up. There, you’ve got him. Nice job. Now hold the handle up and close it before . . . ”

Robert Duvall made his 1962 screen debut as Arthur “Boo” Radley in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Too late. A wave came up and lifted my salmon right out of the net before Boo could react, allowing the fish to throw the hook and flop free.

“Son of a bitch, Boo. We had him right up to the boat. Right in the net. Son of a bitch.”

Arthur “Boo” Radley looked incredulous. It happened so fast he had no idea what he’d done right or wrong. But his eyes showed hurt, misting up just like the morning air around us at Buoy 10 at the mouth of the Columbia River. He said nothing, which wasn’t a surprise as he’d said very little all morning except an occasional, “OK then!”

A glum and rather oafish man, Boo never said much at home either, since moving from Georgia all the way across the county after his close kin died and relatives in Portland set him up in group care. But I got him to sorta smile once when he overheard me telling the caregiver she had all of the charm of a drill sergeant but only half the looks. That cost me my working privileges at the home, but not my visiting privileges.

“It’s all right, Boo. We’ll get another fish. A bigger one,” I added hastily, trying to take back the guilt that was cast, as I fired up the motor to get the boat back under control in the crowded waterway teaming with fishing boats criss-crossing from every direction.

The second strike hit Boo’s pole, and he leaped up to grab it and set the hook, just as another boat clipped ours while maneuvering to land a fish of its own.

“Look out, idiot,” said an angler from the other boat, reaching over to grasp Boo’s line and cut it with a knife. “Get the fuck out of the way. We got a fish on here!”

Luckily, the fellow was wearing a life jacket, as Boo suddenly threw himself headlong over our railing and theirs, catching the line cutter chest-high and taking both men over the far side and into the water.

The other guy got fished out, but Boo never did surface to answer the charge of being a crazy, wild-eyed bastard.

“Just a quite guy from one of the group homes nearby,” I told the sheriff. “Seemed kinda shy, in fact.”

(Note: This was written as a Writers Kickstart prompt on the topic: Take a favorite literary character and write about them in a new chapter, scene or circumstance. Check this for a character study of Harper Lee’s memorable boogeyman from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”)

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