Sample Submission for the Writing Challenge!
by Jaime McCall
(Example for the prompt: A drunk man in a bar mistakes “you” for his buddy and starts confessing “the truth”. What is the “truth?”)
I walked into the bar, feeling as nervous as if I were walking on a stage to meet a crowd of surly, impatient, strangers. This made perfect sense, of course, since it was more or less what I was doing. The bar scene was as unfamiliar to me as the waters of the Bermuda triangle and almost as mysterious. I would not have come at all except for an impetuous rebellion, a middle-finger raised to prove to the world that I too could be attractive and social.
I was already regretting it. The fact that my coat was longer than my skirt hadn’t bothered me as I left the house but it was exceptionally distressing now. There was at least one upside to it, though. By holding the coat closed, I could feel less of a fool.
Still, I had made the effort to drive to this “authentic” Irish pub and I had too much pride to turn away now. I scanned the bar, looking for a place to stand or sit – preferably one at least three chairs away from everyone else.
I had to compromise. My chosen spot at the bar had me standing more or less by myself, just one chair away from a man I only glanced at. I had the impression of blonde hair and dark clothing, but nothing more.
Making eye-contact felt beyond me and I shied away from the risk of it.
“Hey there, honey,” the bartender called, warm and friendly. My smile was immediate, my gut exceptionally easy to fool. Warm? Friendly? Must be an ally! “What’ll you have?”
“Bailey’s please,” I said politely.
“Coming right up,” the bartender promised and, sure enough, he shortly delivered. The shot was small. I drank more than that at home without paying six dollars for it. However, I did have to drive later and couldn’t complain.
I had my wallet out even as he placed the glass down.
“Not staying long, then?” He seemed disappointed.
I blinked and spluttered some sort of lame explanation. A lie about meeting someone, I think. I guess coming in for just one shot of a fairly tame drink was kind of odd. The bartender accepted the fact that there’d be no large tip coming from me and moved on to other customers.
He didn’t realize that I was going to tip him well anyway, even if I’d only ordered one drink. He’d called me “honey”.
I’d only taken a few sips of the sweet, smooth drink when the man next to me began to laugh. It was subtle at first but it didn’t stop. I glanced at him automatically.
“Go on,” he said to me, lips twisted. His elbow rested on the bar top and his hand danged a glass in front of his mouth lazily. He regarded the amber liquid inside intently and I hesitated.
“I’m… sorry?” I offered meekly.
He barked another laugh and shook his head, “Of course you are. You’re always sorry.” He looked right at me, “But never about the right things.”
I could think of nothing to say to that. I was fairly certain I didn’t know this man. He was older than me and somewhat disheveled, though not poorly dressed. I was often horrible with remembering people, but I was fairly sure I’d remember one who knew me well enough to make that sort of observation. I searched bloodshot-blue eyes, hoping to fan some spark of recognition in my currently blank mind.
His eyes remained hard, angry, and absolutely unfamiliar to me.
I shifted my weight uneasily. I did not like people, whether they were friends or strangers, to be angry at me. “I…” I began, my voice meek yet again, “I don’t think I’m who you think I am?”
He leaned in sharply and the scent of beer washed over my face, “And whose fault is that? How many times did you run away from me? Hide? I thought you hated me.” He shook his head. “Hell, for a time I thought you were allergic to me or something. I don’t know. I was fairly stupid back then.”
He straightened once more and I carefully exhaled the breath that fear had caught in my throat. I did not, however, release the death grip on my glass. I think I had some insane notion of crashing it into his head if he got too close again.
“You should have let me see you,” he continued quietly, mercifully turning back to his drink. “I was all fixated on chasin’ her, being good enough for her, but I could have used knowing that someone…someone cared.” He drank in a curt, almost violent motion, as if he wanted to drown his memories in the rush of that gulp.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, entranced as sadness cast hollows and angles in his face.
The apology prompted a rueful smile and I could see that even this poor shadow of the expression suited him. It made me realize that he was handsome, if not worn thin about the edges. There were lines around his mouth that spoke to a great deal of smiling in the past. Just… not now.
“So am I,” he set his drink down, “I spent my whole life forcin’ people to… notice me. To give a damn. I thought that… of course I’d have to prove myself to make someone love me. Even when you told me, I didn’t think you meant… it didn’t sink in.”
He stopped himself then, taking a long breath. His balance wavered, then resolved, “The truth is, Clytie, that if you’d been a little braver, you’d of tracked me down after the fight when you tol’ me. You’d of have made sure I understood that you cared, that you’d always cared. An’ if I’d been a little braver, I’d have faced you… wouldn’t have let myself think you meant just as friends. Would have let myself believe…”
I blinked rapidly, my eyes wide. I had to say something. There had to be something I could say…should say. He was splintering right in front of me, words launching into the air and falling like bricks to shatter on the ground at my feet.
But before I could think of anything, he straightened, shoulders thrown back. He took a wobbly step away from the bar, “Come to think of it, if she’d been a little bit braver, she wouldn’t have married me jus’ so she wouldn’t be alone. Would she?”
He looked at me again and he smiled brightly, eyes filled with anguish tainted humor.
“Guess that means we’re all cowards, doesn’t it?”
For a breathless moment he just stared at me, stared at his Clytie. His throat worked, swallowing convulsively. I wondered if he was going to try to touch me and wondered even more what I’d do if he did.
Then he blinked and the moment was broken. He lurched, turning on his heel, and staggered quickly to the door.
My lips parted and I took a single step after him before the knowledge of my inadequacy reined me in. Something. Say something! “Find me!” I called out, somewhat inanely, “You… find Clytie and…we need to talk. Okay?”
He didn’t turn around, though his hand went out to a table for support as he made the turn for the door. He disappeared past the frame before I could think of something better to say and when I finally got up the courage to run after him, he was long gone from the street outside.
I don’t know if he even heard me.
By Melissa Rogers
(Example for the prompt: Plate of Fear)
Yvette knew there was going to be trouble when their mother began meddling. The cauldron was bubbling in a promisingly noxious way. Ursula was adding a pinch of white granules that may have been salt… or arsenic. The recipe called for both. Everything was going splendidly. And then Mother came in.
First, she sniffed. Then she stirred. Then she took a small ladle-full and watched it glop back into the cauldron. Her eyes widened. “But, you haven’t added a single eye of newt! I guess you’ve forgotten. Let me find it for you.”
Ursula gave Yvette a frustrated look and continued stirring the thick, green substance in the cauldron. Of course they hadn’t added eye of newt, or eye of any amphibious creature. That was a medieval practice, long since abandoned by the more modern set of witches, but did their mother acknowledge any such thing? Of course not. She was so old-fashioned! It was embarrassing. Yvette sighed, determined to be patient. After all, they were running out of time and they couldn’t waste any of it arguing with their mother.
“This recipe hasn’t got any eye of newt in it, Mother.”
Yvette’s mother ignored her and began hunting through the pantry. She pulled out a jar of spider legs and a small packet of grave digger’s dust.
“You’ll need this. Mmhm, yes, and this. By the cat, it must be in here somewhere!” she exclaimed. “No respectable witch doesn’t have eye of newt in her pantry. Yvette, when was the last time you went shopping?”
“This morning,” Yvette responded, only a little snappish. She took the spider legs and dust and set them on the counter, hoping Mother would not notice that she didn’t put them in.
“And you didn’t pick up any eye of newt?” her mother nearly shrieked, upsetting a sleeping raven perched on the windowsill. It croaked irritably and hunched further into its feathers. “Eye of newt is the ingredient of success in every concoction!”
“Not since two centuries ago,” Ursula muttered rebelliously. She tossed a lock of her blue hair over one shoulder and continued stirring, a bit more furiously than Yvette liked. Their dish did require a certain degree of care.
“Well, your Aunt Mildred will surely have something to say about this,” their mother said forbiddingly. Her cell phone came out and a moment later, their aunt’s high pitched voice was emanating through the receiver.
“Yes, not a single eye of a single newt has been added to the cauldron,” their mother said with solemn horror. “I know! I told them they were doomed to fail as well!”
Yvette and Ursula traded a long-suffering stare and returned to their precious cauldron of boiling sludge. They had been working on this recipe for three days, nurturing it with every carefully chosen ingredient, lovingly tending to every slowly rising and exploding bubble of gooey green slime. They were extremely proud of their cauldron of goo and they were sure that it would have the intended effect.
So long as their out of date relations didn’t spoil it.
“Mother!” Yvette interrupted her mother’s tirade with her sister. Her mother stopped and looked at her eldest daughter. “I’m sure you have a lot to do to make ready for tonight. Why don’t you let us finish up and we’ll meet you there? I promise, everything will be just fine.”
“Upstart youngsters,” came their aunt’s voice over the phone.
“Old-fashioned biddies,” muttered Ursula. The cauldron gave a hiss and a glop. Ursula dropped a chicken leg into it and it quieted down.
Their mother looked very concerned, but she finally nodded.
“Mark my words,” she uttered. “This will not end well for you!”
The girls sighed with relief as their mother left them alone at last.
“She’s unbearable!” Ursula exclaimed. “Always telling us what to do. As if she always knows best. Seriously. Mothers!” Yvette, less rebellious than her sister, still nodded feelingly at this sentiment.
“It’s hard for her to believe that the younger generation actually knows a thing or two, you know?” she consoled her sister.
Ursula stomped around a bit, but eventually calmed down. The cauldron bubbled meekly. It was soon ready and they packed it into their car and drove it through town to the appointed meeting place.
Three hours later, the time had finally come. Yvette wrung her hands as she stood in line with Ursula and several other ladies of various ages, all dressed up very nicely, all extremely nervous.
Three impressive individuals assembled in front of the cauldrons. The first was a tall, wiry man with a beard that threatened constantly to dip into the contents of the cauldrons, but always curled up at the last minute as he ladled a bit of the dish onto his plate. The second was a short, round woman who had likely been around since the beginning of Time. She wore a pince-nez that was constantly slipping off her very short nez and her small, blue eyes gleamed as she studied, tasted, and scribbled on her pad. The third, most intimidating of all, was a very small black and white cat with bored yellow eyes and a propensity for turning up his nose at certain cauldrons that he would not even condescend to look upon. The owners of the cauldrons shivered as he approached their concoction.
Ursula and Yvette squeezed each other’s hands as the three arrived at their cauldron. Each one had a pile of gelatinous green goo put on his or her plate. Each one tasted the substance, pondered it, smacked his or her lips consideringly. Then, to Yvette’s shock and Ursula’s delight, they heard the small cat say in a low voice, “Charming. Possibly the best I’ve ever tasted.”
“Indeed,” added the woman. “Good, old fashioned plate of hot, steaming fear. Haven’t had that in years.”
“Quite nice,” the tall, wiry man mumbled into his beard. “Quite nice indeed.”
The contest ended and when the judges named the winner, Ursula and Yvette were ecstatic to receive their first trophy for the Best Dish at the Witch’s County Fair.
“Lovely dish,” said the female judge, as she placed the medals around the sisters’ necks. “Though I have to say, I do feel like there was one ingredient missing. Just one, and it would have been over the top.”
“Oh, no,” whispered Ursula, shooting Yvette a tortured glance.
“An eye, even just one eye of newt,” said the judge, “could have made all the difference.”