Writing 365

Warning – May Emit High Levels of Random

Writing 365 – Election

I, like everyone else in America, got pretty into the election all throughout 2016. Recent info on fake news sites, foreign influencers, and more has gotten me thinking about how this year’s election was different from the 2012 and 2008 elections. I have only voted in four elections, so I don’t have as much experience as others may have. But I do have a checklist I go through each election – one which I have had to modify for the 2016 election. I thought I’d write it down and see where that takes me.

Original Election Checklist

1. Treat the candidate like you are hiring him/her for a job.

2. Review the candidate’s history. Does he/she keep promises – is he/she an effective politician?

3. Find out who is supporting/funding the candidate. Do you agree with their policies and statements?

4. Make a list of three issues that you care about deeply (mine: human rights, war, global warming). Does the candidate share your stance? Can you live with his/her differences of opinion?

5. Are they any good at politicking? (Debates, rubbing elbows, personality, etc.).

Election Checklist: A Story

1. Treat the candidate like you are hiring him/her for a job.

She walked into her brightly lit office, a mug of coffee in hand. Sitting in her ergonomic chair, she sighed. It was going to be a long week of looking through candidate resumes, trying to find the perfect person for president.

Scrolling through emails, she read cover letters from hopefuls. Some were unique, but many were obviously from a template with information ripped off from the appropriate party’s website.

“I can’t stand these copycats. I want someone unique, someone who seems to do what they say, but who isn’t obviously funded by huge conglomerates. Someone who doesn’t seem to sacrifice his or her principles.”

Out of the thousands of emails sent, she picked one hundred potentials to pass on. Once vetted through her, these potential candidates would have their social media presence scrutinized, their backgrounds checked, and their secrets uncovered. It was going to be a long year.

2. Review the candidate’s history. Does he/she keep promises – is he/she an effective politician?

The vetter came into her office and slammed the folder on her desk, tipping over her coffee and sloshing it into her keyboard. He ignored the mess.

“These candidates are ridiculous!” he yelled. “One has the social media presence of a 9-year-old while the other appears to be just learning what the internet is. One has no history of campaigning, so we have no idea if promises will be kept or not. What am I supposed to do with this mess?”

She glared at him.

“I can only work with what I’ve been given. You do your job, and I’ll do mine.”

“I don’t know how any of these people will appeal to voters.”

“That’s not your job. Just vet them and send them along. The spinners will work out the right cover story for the right candidate.”

He let out a growl, but grabbed his file and stomped out of her office. She stared at her keyboard. What a damn mess.

3. Find out who is supporting/funding the candidate. Do you agree with their policies and statements?

Leaving her office for the day, she carefully removed her company id and replaced it with the company name on the building where she worked. The huge conglomerate fell under many names, holding many shell companies so as to avoid monopoly lawsuits. She was looking forward to a hot bath and a glass of wine when her boss stopped her in the hallway.

“Nice work on candidate selection.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re driving the vetters and spinners crazy, but I want you to know I think you did a great job. Do you know who you’re going to root for in the office pool?”

“I have a couple of ideas on who I think will get to the finals, but I’m going to hold out until they get through the vetters.”

“Good call,” he said. “Well, have a great night!”

4. Make a list of three issues that you care about deeply (mine: human rights, war, global warming). Does the candidate share your stance? Can you live with his/her differences of opinion?

The final conference was always nerve wracking. She had bet $30 on the two candidates she thought most likely to get through the finals, but when entering the conference room, she wavered. Maybe it was going to be the long-term politicians or perhaps the youngest in the group. After all, the Committee liked to work with those who they had not yet sucked dry.

She seated herself in the chair farthest down the conference room table from the old men ringed in cigar smoke. They lounged comfortably at their end, protected by bulletproof glass.

When everyone sat and snifters of brandy were filled on the other side of the glass, the conference began.

“We have made our final decision,” said the eldest man, chewing at the end of his cigar. His face was softened by smoke, but she always imagined deep, wrinkled clefts covering his face, making his skin sag.

Another of the men, the one in the dark gray suit, spoke next.

“We have decided that, for the good of the company, we will go with the candidate that will free up our ability to mine the last of the natural resources. Our pet scientists tell us that, as long as other countries continue to reduce emissions, we can afford to splurge a little and plumb the depths of our shale oil fields. We will have to work fast. We don’t think putting business interests in front of human interests so obviously will work for very long.”

One of the men from management on her side of the glass began typing frantically, sending messages to all of the conglomerate’s companies.

The man in the dark gray suit continued, “We will need our spinners to make up news, to falsify claims, and to work with out of country allies to pull this off without a hitch.”

The Lead Spinner nodded and scribbled frantically on her notepad. She didn’t trust computers, no matter how secure a line was.

5. Are they any good at politicking? (Debates, rubbing elbows, personality, etc.)

One of her candidates won the election. She earned $50 from the office pool and clinked champagne glasses with her officemates. The celebration was shortlived, however. She had work to do, combing the files for all of the other candidates in other key positions – and of course she couldn’t start early enough on the next set of finals.

“Four years can simply fly by,” she thought.

End

That’s about it! See you tomorrow!

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Writing 365 – Snow

We don’t get a lot of snow here in Portland, Oregon, so the fact that it’s snowing right now is a huge deal. Today, I’m going to write a little vignette about taking my dog out in the snow.

Snow

Quiet feet pad across the crystalline white. My dog’s furry body is just right for this kind of weather. I am bundled up with a long sleeve shirt, sweater, scarf, hat, big jacket, and gloves – and I’m still cold. I wish I was wearing long johns.

The world has remade itself for my dog. His tail wags as he snuffles through the gleaming flakes, finding the smells dampened and buried. I forgot my phone, so I’m just listening to the world around me. The wind whistles across the creek, whipping flakes from the trees. Soon, this snow will turn to icy rain.

Clouds above me are tinged blue and gray with the early decline of the winter sun. A crow caws and for a second there is nothing else in the world but the snow, my dog, the endless sky, and me.

That’s about it! I’m excited because not only is it a snowy day, but it’s my bday! I hope everyone else is having a fabulous afternoon.

See you tomorrow!

Writing 365 – Day 7

I didn’t end up writing yesterday, which was a bummer, but I’m back on track today. Today’s story was suggested by my Facebook friend, Eva G. Here’s the prompt:

“THE ROADS ARE ICY!” he screamed from his rocking chair at the hospital window. Outside it was a balmy 89 degrees.

Since I woke up today to a world covered in frost, this one seemed particularly appropriate.

Skidding

I

“THE ROADS ARE ICY!” the old man screamed. He swayed back and forth in his rocking chair, staring out the condensation-covered window into a world of snow and ice. He could picture children sledding down the small hill outside of the hospital, slipping and sliding through the snow. He could almost see the car skid across the road and into the hill – narrowly missing a sledder.

“Mr. Aldridge, please,” said a female voice from behind him. He craned his head back and saw Marie, his young Polynesian nurse, at the doorway.

“That man needs to look out!” he told her.

“Let me help you to your bed,” said Marie, sighing. In spite of herself, her eyes slid to the window. Nothing was going on outside, as usual. Just the huge hospital parking lot stretching out to the road, where traffic flowed smoothly in the warm sunlight. She’d checked the weather before she left for work that morning and she remembered that at 11 am- now – the highs were 89 degrees.

Mr. Aldridge grabbed both handles of his walker. He could smell the snow now, that fresh, frozen scent. His eyebrows furrowed. “Someone should tell those kids to be careful, or they’ll sled right into traffic.”

Marie sighed and guided him to his bed.

II

Mr. Aldridge woke to a darkened room. He looked at his watch. It was only 1 PM, but the snow piling along his windowsill was blocking out most of the sunlight. He struggled for a moment, thrashing around in his sheets until he became untangled.

“Those youngsters out there better be careful,” he thought. Indoors was toasty and warm, but he could feel the cold air coating the window and trickling over to his bed. He pressed the buzzer for Marie.

“Yes, Mr. Aldridge, what….” Marie stopped midsentence and stared at the window. She took a step back, her hand to her mouth.

“Do you think you could rustle up some extra blankets, Marie, and maybe a hot cocoa?” asked Mr. Aldridge, still looking at the snow covered window.

The nurse straightened her spine. There was no way she was seeing what she thought she was seeing. It was September in Los Angles, hardly a chilly season even during an El Nino. This year had been exceptionally hot, not just in L.A., but in the entire world. There was no way on god’s green earth that snow was piling up on that window. She stepped back into the room and forced her legs to keep moving.

As Marie got closer to the window, she felt the cold pouring off of the glass and smelled a crisp, frozen scent. She touched the freezing window, rubbing the condensation off the glass and peering through. Across the parking lot and the road was a small hill covered in children and their sleds. She saw a little boy sledding down the hill toward the busy road. A car wavered and skidded out of control, heading for the hill. She put her hands on the glass and screamed a warning to the man on a collision course, “THE ROADS ARE ICY!”

END

Thanks to Eva G. for the great prompt! I’ll see you all again tomorrow.

© 2016-2017 JULIA SHAW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Writing 365 – A Haiku

I am a little pressed for time and feeling a tad uninspired today. BUT, I did do some baking yesterday, so I thought I’d write a little haiku about that.

Homemade Hot Pocket

Pastry stuffed with eggs

and cheese turned out great last week.

This week, not so much.

End

As you can tell, some weeks are better than others. I think the pastries will still taste pretty great, but they don’t look pretty.

Anyway, see ya tomorrow!

Writing 365 – Day Four

Today I’m not writing off a prompt. I’m exploring an idea I had years ago – back when I lived in L.A. I actually had this idea jangling around in my head, and then I read a book by (I think) Robin Cook and I got really excited that other authors had thoughts along the same lines.

I did list this idea rather vaguely as a prompt here: “A pill that is supposed to cure something causes something terrible instead.”

Because my original idea was that this could, one day, turn into a novel, I am going to try to write just one scene of it – the scene I initially envisioned. I don’t yet have the rest of my ideas in place, but I think that I or someone inspired by this could create something amazing from this vignette.

The Perfect Pill

I

The day everything changed seemed like any other. It was mid-January, chilly as only a Los  Angeles winter can be. At exactly 5 PM, Alice locked the doors to her office and headed to her car. The sun was rapidly sinking, cloaking Bruno Realty’s parking lot in shadow. Alice’s Prius was the only car in the lot, parked close to her building. She always felt creeped out on nights like this, when she was the last person in the complex. Another real estate agent had told her that one night when she was working late, two large men tried to get into the building through the back door. Since then, Alice made sure her keychain pepper spray was in her hand before she headed out.

Despite the worry clutching at her stomach, Alice made it to her car safely, clicking the locks open and hopping into the driver’s seat.

“I probably shouldn’t be so paranoid,” she thought as she locked the car doors behind her.

Alice drove through the dark, above ground lot, wishing for the thousandth time that it was lit by more than two street lamps. She turned on her brights to compensate for the poor lighting, and that’s when she saw the man, standing in the middle of the driveway.

“Jesus!” she shouted. She eased around the man, who didn’t appear to see her. He was staring straight down the sidewalk. Alice turned on her indicator light and peered in the direction the man was staring. Nothing. She thought about rolling down her window and asking if he was okay, but she didn’t. Who knows who this guy was; if he was harmless or if he was a murderous psychopath. She turned out of her lot.

The traffic on Foothill Blvd was usually bumper to bumper, but that night it was light and easy flowing. The change made Alice’s hands relax on the wheel, and the tension drain out of her neck and shoulders. Sitting at a light, she glanced over to the cars parked on the side of the road. Drivers sat, still as mannequins, in the two she could see next to her. She craned her head back, trying to peer into the windows of the other parked cars lining the street, but she could only see shadows.

The light changed, and Alice turned right, her hands once again clutching the steering wheel. She tried not to look at the parked cars she was passing, but couldn’t help seeing the still shadows sitting behind the wheel of each one.

Alice made it onto the freeway onramp, sighing with relief as she navigated down the steep decline onto the 210 freeway. She almost slammed on the brakes when she saw him. A man, standing on the grassy embankment at the end of the merge lane. He seemed to be wobbling between the safety of the turf and the oncoming traffic. Alice whizzed by him, her eyes facing forward. She hit her Bluetooth call button when she heard the slam and screech behind her.

“Siri, call 911,” Alice said.

“Calling 911.”

The phone rang three times, and then the world around her exploded in insanity.

Alice’s breath came in short gasps, her foot slammed down on the gas as cars around her weaved in and out of traffic, several smashing into each other. She whipped the wheel left, and then right, her car careening across lanes and around wrecks happening in real-time.

“What the fuck!” she shouted as a lifted pickup truck with wheels as big as her car came within a centimeter of obliterating her Prius against the center lane divider.

“911, what is your emergency?” asked the voice at the end of the line.

“I’m on the 210 East, and it’s insane! I think I’ve seen about fifteen accidents in the last, I don’t know, minute and a half. We need CHP, we need I don’t know, the military or something.”

The 911 operator started laughing.

“What the hell is going on?” yelled Alice.

“Doesn’t it feel,” the woman paused to let out another whoop of laughter, “exhilarating?”

“What are you talking about?” Alice tasted bile in the back of her throat. She didn’t have time to throw up, she’d be killed by the chaos going on around her.

The woman didn’t answer. She just laughed until her voice ran raw. Alice didn’t have a free hand the end the call, so all she could do was listen as the woman croaked out laughs. She was helpless to do anything when the laughter died, and the banging started, hollow thumps that sounded like a head smashing into something. A wet, gurgling laugh accompanied each thud. Alice wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. Instead, she kept her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel and rammed her car through the maze of vehicles crisscrossing the freeway.

II

Alice wasn’t sure how she made it home, but she did. There were so many accidents blocking the freeway exit that she’d had to drive on the embankment. Something had lodged in the Prius’s undercarriage, creating a constant grinding noise. But at least she had been able to turn off her phone before navigating down the dark side streets to her little duplex.

Generally, she was supposed to leave the spots in front of her building free for guests or in case of emergency, but that wasn’t going to happen tonight. She parked right in front of her gate, wishing she could drive over the chainlink fencing that surrounded her postage-stamp-sized yard.

Instead, Alice unlocked her driver’s side door and bolted out of the car. Fumbling with her keys, she made it to the fence without incident. Her hands shook as she tried to stick her key into the lock at the gate. Instead of getting the right key into the lock, she scratched the key across the gate, almost dropping it. She clutched her right wrist with her left hand and rammed the key into the hole, twisting it and opening the door in the same motion. She slammed the gate behind her. Hearing the automatic lock click home, she slumped down against the fence into the cold, damp grass.

“What is going on?” she asked herself. She shook her head, trying to clear it. “What the hell is happening?”

“I’ll tell you what’s happening,” said a voice on the other side of the gate. “If you’ll let me in.”

Alice turned to see a face peering through the chain link. The woman on the other side was short, her head pressing into the fence, wide eyes staring down at Alice. Her hands came up and clawed at the gate, her fingers pushing through and yanking at the metal.

“Let me in, and I’ll show you how to be happy like the rest of us.”

One hand loosened its hold on the fencing and Alice scooted away from the woman, her throat locking around a scream. The woman threw something. It hit the grass next to Alice, who shrunk away from it.

“Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you. It’ll make you feel goooooood.” The woman’s voice slurred, her smile growing impossibly wide.

Alice grabbed the pill bottle, shaking it and trying to see the label in the dark.

“Thake one,” said the woman, the left side of her face drooping. She looked like a comedy/tragedy mask all on one head.

Alice ran to her front door. She found her keys and scrabbled at the lock. The woman behind her called “Leth me unn,” and began bashing the gate. Alice got her key in the lock, turned it and bolted inside, securing the door behind her. She put on the chain lock just in case, then went to each window in her darkened home, checking to make sure they were all latched securely. She did not turn on the lights.

III

Once the banging at her fence died down, Alice took a chance. She had no rooms in her house that didn’t face an exterior wall, nothing that didn’t have a window where light could leak out. So, she turned on the oven light in the kitchen. There was one window in the kitchen, and it looked out on a wall of tightly packed cypress trees. Behind the trees was another fence, and beyond that was the recess area of the school next door. She was fairly sure no one would be back there since the school entrance was on a different block entirely.

Alice sat on the floor in front of the oven, facing away from the window. That way, if anyone did get past the fence and trees, they wouldn’t see her. She looked at the bottle the woman had given her. According to the label, it was a bottle of Citavenlafaxine and you were supposed to take it once daily.

She pulled out her phone and looked up the drug. The first article was from the FDA:

“FDA approves new antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication with minimal side effects.”

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved new two-in-one antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication Citavenlafaxine. Almost 7% of the US population suffers depression while 18% suffers from anxiety disorders, with nearly 50% of those suffering from depression also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. New Citavenlafaxine has been proven to help those suffering from depression, anxiety, and those suffering from both depression and anxiety.

“We are happy to give the public a new option in their mental health care,” said Alexandra Gronich, CEO of Pharma Inc. “In our testing, we have found that Citavenlafaxine has no-to-minimal side effects, giving doctors a once in a lifetime chance to provide their patients with pure, unadulterated, alleviation of suffering.”

The article went on, but Alice got the idea. Why would that crazy lady throw the bottle at her? And if this drug was causing all the chaos, how did it have “minimal” side effects? Alice’s head was spinning.

She opened her browser again and started searching. She looked up traffic accidents with no real results, she scoured the LA news, there was no mention of what she’d driven through to get home. For a moment, she wondered if she was insane. She wondered if she’d hallucinated everything. But there was the bottle in her hand, as real as could be.

End

That’s the end of the scene I have in my head. I would be happy to hear your thoughts about the story and where it could go from here. I am working on a novel at the moment, so little dribs and drabs like this is what I am going to give you until I’m done with final edits (I know I’ve said I’m done with edits before, but my writer’s group gave me more to work on).

See you tomorrow!

 

 

Writing 365 -Flash Fiction

Hemmingway once wrote the “shortest novel ever.” It goes “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This is the most extreme piece of flash fiction I’ve ever seen, but I love the brevity of this type of story, so I wanted to challenge myself today and write an ultra short story – in 100 words.

The topic: An astrologer waltzes with the sun inside a marble city. I got this one off of Twitter, courtesy of Magical Realism Bot.

Dawn 

Predawn light is the only illumination in the shivery chamber. The King, his astrologer, and twenty of his closest advisors listen as the screams of the Queen echo through the castle, waiting for the first wails of an heir. The newborn howls just as the sun flashes into the room, dancing off each vein in the marble. The astrologer exults, waltzing with the effervescent sun. This child will usher in the age of plenty and, though the old man knows he will not see this dream unfold, he is ebullient. His spirit capers with the sun one last time before a cloud snuffs the light.

End

Okay, this is 105 words. Pretty close though, right? I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction. See you tomorrow!

© 2016-2017 JULIA SHAW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PS: The photo used was found on Flickr at the profile of Photo courtesy of Aurelien Villette. This photo is not owned by me and should only be attributed to Mr. Villette, who does amazing work.

 

Writing 365 – Writing Prompt “Serenity”

I was taking a walk in my backyard yesterday and that inspired me to write this short vignette of serenity. Thanks to my Facebook friend Farrel L. for this prompt.

Creekside

Steam plumes into the frosty air as I blow across my coffee. The morning is crisp, finally feeling like fall, even though it’s now the cusp of winter. Only a few soggy leaves clutch the gray-barked trees lining the creek.

I set up a folding camp chair on my weathered porch, enjoying the song of the rushing creek. In the summer, the water goes down to a trickle, but recent rains have whipped the steel colored waters into a torrent.

The world smells crisp and damp. An undercurrent of loamy soil, rain, and duck dung seep into my nose. Only a couple of yards away, ducks stand by the creek, some quacking and foraging, others content to stand perfectly still, like duck statues. The stillness won’t last long. Once they see me, they will babble themselves into an uproar before heading my direction, hoping for a handout. But for now, the ducks are happy to sit or scrounge in the rain-heavy grass.

The cold seeps into my skin, and I know I will go indoors soon. But for now, I will cup my hot mug, sip my coffee, and listen to the creek as it shushes its way over rocks and roots, waiting for the ducks to come.

End

Thanks for reading! I look forward to writing another story, vignette, or poem for you tomorrow.

© 2016-2017 JULIA SHAW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Writing 365 – Day One

It’s day one, and I already messed up my system! Oh well. Here’s the first story based on my husband’s prompt: “A day in the life of a poor person who lives in a giant metal shack.”

Outside Money

By Julia Shaw

Chapter 1

Maggie woke to the sun glaring in through the Swiss cheese metal roof. She was curled up on her side, her neck at an awkward angle and her muscles groaning. Rustling filled the huge room, just one of the sections in this enormous warren.

Even though her stiff back screamed at her to get up and stretch, she scrunched her eyes closed and tried to sleep for a few more minutes. What really got her out of bed was the damp, morning breath scented air clogging her nose. She sat up and sneezed, banishing any possibility of sleep.

The room stretched into the semi-darkness. Margaret knew that, if she walked for ten minutes, dodging bodies and cots, she’d reach the far wall. But that wasn’t the way to the lav shed or the communal showers. Instead, she shoved her threadbare slippers onto her feet and walked the fifty steps to the nearest doorway. Many of the cots were empty. She sighed. The showers were going to be crowded, and only scraps would be left in the dining shed.

“I should have slept longer,” she muttered, remembering her dream. She’d been a princess in a high tower, contemplating the long, winding stairs and wondering when her servant would come up with chocolate cake. In the meantime, she’d munched on a pomegranate. But, instead of sucking the pulp off of every tiny jeweled fruit, she’d eaten it like an apple.

“Good morning, Margaret,” said the door monitor, Jess. Maggie snapped back into reality. Jess marked the time on her clipboard. “Getting a late start, are we?”

Maggie knew she should have some excuse, like she was working late at the presses, stamping out additional license plates, or that she was filling in for a friend in the company garden. Instead, she nodded.

“Well, the company will be docking a half an hour off your pay if you don’t get a move on. Why not show some initiative and try to be on time anyway?”

Maggie’s head bobbed like a marionette. If Us Corp docked her pay, she was doomed. She could barely afford to rent the bed, buy a ration book, and pay for the lav and showers every day. She knew she’d have to skip breakfast.

As Maggie walked by Jess, the door monitor called after her, “Don’t forget that three o’clock appointment with HR. Better dress sharp today.”

“Right,” thought Maggie, inventorying her meager wardrobe, “like my day could get any worse.”

After her allotted lav and shower time, Maggie rushed back to the living shed. The night shift was still sleeping, so she had to put on her best clothes in a silent frenzy. In the end, she opted for a pair of jeans with only two holes at the knees, a flannel shirt with patches on her elbows, and her work boots. She thought about the dregs of a breakfast she was skipping and told herself she didn’t care.

The presses were burning hot, dangerous, and dirty. Maggie hated them. She couldn’t afford work gloves, so she’d been burned more often than not, and she barely had enough for salve to treat her wounds, so they rarely healed before more injuries accumulated on her limited stretch of skin. Maggie had learned that being extra careful usually meant being extra slow, and the company docked your pay if you didn’t stamp enough license plates in an hour. “Enough” was dependent on the day and on the fastest worker. So, her speed and consistency changed from day to day.

Maggie often wondered who could be buying all of these plates. Were there really so many cars in the world? She vaguely remembered seeing cars zip and zoom around her the one time she tried to leave the confines of the shed. She’d stepped into a world she didn’t understand. The Outside had open land where it was free to walk or sit, and no one monitored you. She’d hoped to make a place in that world, but when the bus wouldn’t take her company money, she had panicked and run home.

That was two years ago, and since then she’d tried to be a good worker, tried to rise in the ranks of the teaming masses. Maybe, one day, she’d get a chance to earn Outside money and could try her trip again.

Chapter 2

The clock struck 2:59 and Maggie speed walked for the door. She’d worked through breakfast, lunch, and up to the last second, hoping to impress HR and the foreman with her dedication. She zipped by the press room monitor, calling “appointment with HR” over her shoulder.

Maggie arrived, sweating and puffing, at the HR office right at 3 o’clock.

“I’m here for my appointment, Maggie Albreicht,” she wheezed at the door monitor. He looked down through a pair of half glasses at her.

“Ah,” he said, “wait here.”

Maggie stood alone int the hall, fidgeting. She breathed in slow and deep, hoping to settle her empty stomach and stop gasping before the meeting. Second ticked by, turning into minutes. She smoothed her hair. More minutes crept past, and she tried not to think about the additional five hours she needed to work to make her daily twelve so she could earn enough to get a quick meal and a bed for tonight. She used to have some extra funds, but paying for the application to Assistant to the Assistant Press Foreman had wiped her out.

“She will see you now,” said the monitor, appearing in the dark doorway.

Maggie gulped down the lump in her throat and nodded, breathing slowly and deliberately as she walked through the doorway, her steps as precise as possible. The shadowed doorway led to a short hallway, the walls lined with corrugated metal, much like the rest of the complex. At the end of the hallway was a wooden door. Maggie almost stopped in her tracks. As far as she knew, there was no wood in the entire complex. But here it was, a wooden door, staring her in the face. She lifted her hand to knock and then stopped. Instead, she rested her hand on the door, feeling the silky smooth finish. The door squeaked and moved inward as she touched it.

“Enter,” said a sparkling voice from the other side.

Warm, yellow light spilled into the dark hall as Maggie pushed the door open. The interview room was whitewashed and sparse with only a large wooden desk and two cushioned chairs. Behind the desk sat a blonde woman dressed neatly in a navy suit. The air wafting from the room was warm, making Maggie realize how very cold she was and how much her unhealed burns stung.

“Maggie Albreicht?” said the woman. Her voice had a lovely, musical quality.

“Yes,” said Maggie.

“Well, come on in and shut the door. It’s freezing out there.”

Maggie walked into the HR office, stroking the warm wood as she closed the door. She felt as if she were in a dream. She’d never seen a place like this, not when she was first officially hired onto the company payroll when she was twelve, not when she was a child growing up in the company nursery, not even on her one excursion to the Outside. Wood was so rare that most of her Outside experience was filled with gaping at the trees in the outdoor common area.

“I know,” said the woman, “it’s all rather extravagant, isn’t it? This is an ancient section of the building. I was all for taking the wood out and replacing it with solid steel, or at least chrome and plastic, but the company didn’t feel it was necessary to spend the money.”

“Very, um, frugal,” said Maggie.

“Take a seat, Maggie, or is it, Margaret?”

“Maggie is fine.”

“Well, Maggie then. You’re here to apply for the Assistant to the Assistant Foreman position, isn’t that right?”

“Yes, I am,” Maggie’s throat closed around her words. She had to squeeze them out in a whisper.

“Don’t be nervous,” said the woman, “I know it can be overwhelming in here, but just power through. If you were to get promoted one day, you would need to need to show some authority.”

Maggie straightened and nodded, thinking of that shadowy figure, the foreman, looming over all of the workers on the catwalks overlooking the press room.

“That’s better,” said the woman. “Now, we already have the position filled – we had it filled months ago actually – I was surprised when I got your application, but since you paid for it, I have to give you the time.”

Maggie’s heart fell into her growling stomach. “It’s already filled?”

“Oh yes, haven’t you met him? It was filled by Daniel Carnackie. Nice boy, if a bit dull. Between you and me, he only got the job because he has family in management.”

“Oh,” said Maggie, thinking of the fifty company dollars, three weeks of labor saved up over a year’s time, that she had paid for this interview. She tried to remember Daniel. He was already fourteen, but new to the press floor. She had figured he was a slow learner, but now she knew that he was in management training that extra two years.

“Yes, well, you can apply next time there is an opening, but I recommend that you get your management degree first. I know you’ve done a few classes, but you keep starting and stopping your education.” She clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “I know management training is hard, but you need to show the company your dedication to the position. You know, lift yourself up by your own bootstraps.”

Maggie nodded, remembering the three classes she’d taken. They were maddeningly easy, not worth the fifty dollar price tag she’d scraped together every time she took one. She had hoped that with an assistant’s salary and reduced hours she would have the time and money to take the additional seventeen classes required for a degree.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, Maggie. I  look forward to talking with you again when you have your degree.”

“It was nice to meet you too,” said Maggie, realizing she didn’t know the woman’s name.

The HR representative looked down at a file on her desk, and Maggie got up. She caressed the wooden door on her way out.

Chapter 3

Maggie finally gave in to hunger at nine pm, when her twelve hour day was finally over. She was happy that she had skipped her fifteen-minute lunch break – it meant that hour-long HR meeting only set her back by forty-five minutes.

“Hey Maggie!” Her friend Vanessa trotted up to her in the dinner line.

“What’s up?” asked Maggie as she spooned out the thin soup and grabbed the hunk of day-old bread she’d paid extra for.

“A bunch of us are going to the library to see that Margot Carter film again. Do you want to come?”

Maggie loved Margot Carter, a woman who truly pulled herself up by her own bootstraps. But she didn’t have the funds to make it.

“No, I can’t. I’m broke.”

“Just borrow from the company, silly. You know we all do it. The interest rate isn’t that bad – it’s only an extra thirty minutes of work a day. Heck, you worked an extra forty-five today.”

Maggie thought about it. She’d been tempted to borrow from the company before, but she’d never been this broke. Even though she wanted to, the time wasn’t right. An extra thirty minutes a day for however long wasn’t worth seeing the movie with her friends. She needed to think about her future.

“Maybe next time, Ness,” said Maggie.

Vanessa shrugged. “Your loss,” she said. “I’ve got to head out now, or I’ll miss the beginning. See ya!”

Maggie dipped her bread in the gritty soup and ate mechanically. Maybe borrowing from the company would be her ticket into management. Her parents had always told her it was a bad idea. They told her it wasn’t worth it. In fact, the reason she and so many had worked part time from ages seven to twelve was to help pay off their parent’s debt. But she had seventeen more classes to take. That was 850 company dollars, over a year’s worth of work. It had taken two years to save the $150 for the three classes she had taken. So, maybe it was worth it. So what if she had a child and he or she had to work hard at a young age. She’d had to do it. And wasn’t it worth it?

Maggie finished her meal and went to bed with a partially full belly, imagining her future in middle management. Imagining that she might one day make Outside money.

The End

I wanted to say a little something about this story. I was inspired by a segment in the podcast On The Media about the lives of the poor in America. Many poor people are considered “lazy” or “taking handouts” when they very often are working hard against a system that is created to keep them “in their place” as it were.

Also, I have been thinking about the practical enslavement that happens in prison, where prisoners are expected to work for very little, while their conditions are getting worse and worse due to corporations now running prisons instead of the state or federal government.  This was brought to the public’s attention in the recent prison uprisings and was supposed to change after the Attica uprising – but it really hasn’t.

Finally, I have been thinking about student loan debt, and how we put a huge burden on young people or their parents just so they have the opportunity to get a leg up or apply for jobs that require a degree.

These systems are broken, but are also often hidden from view – or are something that we think one day will be fixed while we feed into them. So, I hope this story makes you and anyone else considering the state of our nation stop and think about the individuals living and working here.

Thanks for reading! I’ll see you tomorrow for another story!

© 2016-2017 JULIA SHAW, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Writing prompts

Okay, since I’m planning to write every day for 365 days (or more!) I realize I’m going to need prompts. And, honestly, most of my shorts or poems are probably going to be terrible. I wrote one already that I feel very strongly about and then decided it needed more time to percolate – along with a lot more editing.

So, in the spirit of finding prompts for really short pieces (and maybe a few longer ones), I am noting a bunch of writing prompts that I like below. I’ll be adding to them later on as I’m asking friends for additional prompts.

If you’d like to tell me what to write about during the next year – be sure to comment below. All prompts are welcome!

Here’s what I have so far:

1. Write a mystery – Written on 12/31/16

2. The weather

3. Food/cooking

4. You are a ghost

5. A pair of eyeglasses allows you to see alternate realities (description here)

6. Dialog prompt: “That, my friend, is not a dog.”

7. A pill that is supposed to cure something causes something terrible instead Written 12/4/16

8. Exploring how it feels to be a hoarder.

9. Story beginning “Three more days of this.”

10. A day in the life of a poor person who lives in a giant metal shack (request by my husband) Written 12/1/2016

11. You are leaving a Halloween party dressed as a very convincing monster. As you walk home, you run into a real monster who thinks you are one too. The monster greets you. (came from Pinterest)

12. A story inspired by a recent dream.

13. When the aliens came, we thought we were done for, that is, until the spirits of our ancestors awakened. (from Reddit)

14. Create a story about a conversation you’ve overheard.

15. What’s behind that closed door? – written 01/04/2017

16. The apocalypse has happened and you stumble upon a newly built basketball hoop. (request by my husband)

17. You get wealth and power from a witch in exchange for your firstborn. Years pass and you haven’t found “the one.” The witch decides to lend you a hand in dating.

18. Find a poem or story that inspires you. Rewrite in your own words.

19. He has kept his immortality a secret for thousands of years, but he’s having a hard time now that he’s traveling on a generation starship on a 2000 year voyage.

20. The phone rings. The voice on the other end says “We need you again” and hangs up. (came from Pinterest)

21. A child is learning how to use virtual reality to erase reality and replace it with whatever he or she wants.

22. You, a retired professional hitman, have just been woken up in the middle of the night by Death – and he/she has a job for you. (from Reddit)

23. You are one of the people who writes the scripts for dreams. You got the latest time slot and are sick of people waking up before they finish your masterpieces. (from Reddit)

24. On Purge Night part time employees get paid 50 times the hourly rate. You are a pizza delivery guy looking to make big bucks. (from Reddit) – written on 12/11/16

25. The bad guys won and the world was conquered by villain’s armies decades ago. You and your spouse are worried as you suspect your child may be suffering from Chosen Oneness or perhaps an acute case of Prophetic Heroism. (from Reddit)

26. A world where you can make yourself look however you want whenever you want, as if you were in a video game. (request by my husband)

27. A new planet is discovered and found to be in complete anarchy. Things are going pretty well… from the outside. (request by my husband)

28. A coming of age story where a jock was forced to be that way by his father. (request by my husband)

29. You are one of Aladdin’s attendants who was wished in existence for his parade. Now, after all of the fun is over, you have an existential crisis. (from Reddit)

30. Dialog prompt: “I love your dress.” “Thanks. My sister was buried in it. (from Reddit)

I have to give credit to several sources for some of the above writing prompts:

Okay cats and kittens! What other writing prompts do you want me to use?

12/1/2016

Since I last posted, many people on Facebook have given me prompts. I am recording them here – I hope to get to them sooner rather than later:

31. Saucy (from Arlette H.) – written 12/12/16

32. Serenity (from Farrel L.) – written 12/2/2016

33. Adventure (from Heather Y.)

34. Under the stars (from Carolina L.) – written 1/3/2017

35. Teenagers (from Rachel F.)

36. Total freedom (from Shannon H.)

37. Noctilucent clouds (from Tina O.)

38. Why I hate clients (from Allen W.)

39. Walking casually into the room, he smiled and said “This isn’t the beginning, it is just the end,” and then disappeared. (from Mark W.)

40. Your father taught you a strange language when you were young. On your 18th birthday, you find out why. (from Holly R.)

41. Science fiction: Space race to a new, earthlike planet found only five light years away. The first country there claims the whole planet – set in the future. (from Carolina L.)

42. Gratitude (from Diana H.)

43. Healing a broken heart (from Dolores B.)

44. The rising moon flashed its siler rays off Noli’s (my Black Panther friend) head. I sat wonderinf it it was all worth it or not. (from Melanie V.G.)

45. “THE ROADS ARE ICY!” he screamed from his rocking chair at the hospital window. Outside it was a balmy 89 degrees. (Eva G.) – written on 12/7/2016

46. Millennial selfies (from Jason D.) – written on 1/1/17

Wow! I have some creative friends. I bet there will be more – but that’s plenty for now!

12/2 I found some more fun ideas courtesy of @MagicalRealismBot on Twitter. Let’s see what I can make of these!

47. A congressman sentences a swamp to death.

48. A rainbow whispers to a soldier: “I feel so enlightened.”

49. A Babylonian tsarina bans people from owning universes.

50. A fortune teller turns over a tarot card with a mustache on it. ‘Your destiny is to be eaten by a giant clam,’ she says to you.

51. The Aurora Borealis is on vacation in Ohio.

52. An astrologer waltzes with the Sun inside a marble city. – written 12/3/2016

53. A scientist is singing inside Venus.

54. A president wishes to murder winter.

55. One hundred scientists live together inside a giant circus tent.

56. Solve this mystery: A quantum physicist is found murdered in a labyrinth. Beside her is a grandfather clock and a wig.

57. A book collector is writing a history of Varanasi which describes a war against maternity clothing that took place in 3805 BC.

58. A snowman is elected mayor of Los Angeles.

59. In Jerusalem there is a famous ballet company of dancing elephants.

60. A countess sees a shark with a fireflies instead of teeth.

61. A 21-year-old congresswoman is building a house of mirrors that is filled with tomorrow.

62. An undertaker in New York State spends her lunch break stealing shooting stars.

63. An economist can move lakes with his mind.

64. In California there is a mansion which works as a sex worker.

65. A murderer possesses a unique skill: He can understand the language of cypress trees.

66. A mathematician in Kyoto wishes to substitute the world with a bunny.

67. A maharajah rebuilds Paris out of stars.

68. You wake up in a garbage dump. You can hear the faint sound of a horn.

69. An Edgar Allan Poe story in which the murderer turns out to be an ice cream van.

70. There is a supermarket in Africa that is infinitely large.

365 Writing Challenge

I’ve been spending the year slowly editing my book and working – but I haven’t spent very much time doing spur of the moment writing. So, I’ve decided as a new year’s resolution to start writing every single day for a year. I may just write a quick poem or it might be a short story. Either way, I’ll be posting the results of my efforts right here.

I hope this will both get my creative juices going once again – and help me face down my worry that I’m not good enough.  I hope you follow my journey, beginning December 1st!

 

 

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