SETTING: Your character has an appointment that triggers a certain outcome. You decide on the location – if the appointment is at an office, vacation spot, or house. Most of your story can take place before the appointment, at the appointment, or after the appointment. You decide.
SUBMISSIONS: Scroll down to submit your story.
3 HIGHLIGHTS (include): An appointment (a get together, meeting, or a scheduled vacation), a piece of writing in print, and a flower
WORD COUNT: 750-1,500
DEADLINE: The deadline is always the 25th of the month
3 OPTIONAL PROMPTS TO GET YOU STARTED:
1.) Your character goes to see a psychologist because he/she is feeling left out. During the appointment, the psychologist gives a diagnosis of isolation, having a sense of loneliness. Describe how the psychologist empowers your character to gain a sense of purpose, break free from any racial ideologies or injustices, and/or leave behind the feeling of not belonging.
2.) No gift. No phone call. Feeling hurt and distant from his/her own children, your impatient character keeps hoping they’ll come around. Even though your character is busy at work, he/she plans a fun family vacation that his/her kids will like. Describe a scene from the family vacation and how it helped your character find the benefit of quality time, serving, and/or giving.
3.) Your character does not think he/she needs to prune the front yard. Overgrown bushes make it difficult to get to the front door. A nice neighbor manages to ring the doorbell one day, but your character forgot how to be kind. Describe a change of heart when he/she is given a second opportunity to help and/or interact with her/his neighbor.
More optional conflicts can be found on pages 29-30 in “Writers 750 Emerald Workbook,” written by H.M. Schuldt.
ITEMS THAT MUST BE INCLUDED
1.) An appointment
2.) A piece of writing in print such as a prescription, hotel reservation, or a booklet of instructions
3.) A flower
3 Phases of a Volition Plot
- Not accepting.
- A decision to accept.
Write about a time when you had to serve one another or be served on a family vacation. What did you learn? What did you have to go through?
Write about a crisis you are familiar with, self-examination, and the will to improve.
WORKSHOP GUIDELINES – Skip over this comment section if you are familiar with the Writers 750 Program.
GENRE: Fantasy, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Crime, Comedy, Romance, or a mixture (No erotica)
The main purpose of this workshop is to practice the skill of writing fiction, explore conflict and character development, write a new short stories, and receive good feedback.
RULES & DIRECTIONS –
• Type in English – a minimum of 750 words; a maximum of 1,500 words
• Post your title and word count total in the first line of your story posting.
• ONE entry per person, must be the writer’s original work, a final revision, and a new piece of writing. No multiple submissions. Make sure to post your final revision.
SUBMISSIONS: Location coming soon!
8 replies on “MARCH APPOINTMENTS 103”
Thanks for reading us all – the winning entries are great – hope you feel encouraged to take part in future months
Awards are as follows:
A Broken Promise by Mirta Oliva – Best search
My Life on a Shanty-Boat by Terry Turner – Best detail
Exploration Through Space Time by F.F. Burwick – Best Time Travel – to thousands of years in the past!
Paranormal Psychiatry by Travis D. Jackson – Best rising tension
Disappointment by Arthur Chappell – Best dystopian tragedy
We had a tie for first place! All the stories received points, and it was close. The two winning stories are “Paranormal Psychiatry” by Travis D. Jackson and “My Life on a Shanty-Boat” by Terry Turner. Nice job!
Good job, everyone! I enjoyed reading your story! I hope to see you again in “April Conflicts” THEME: Optimism
“MARCH APPOINTMENTS” Short Story Contest 2021 is now closed. It is time to vote! Please send me your votes in a private message either in a Twitter DM or tap on “Chat Room” above – you will be linked to Writers 750 at Goodreads.
Directions to vote: Select your top 3 favorite stories, and send me your list in a private message. Your first place selection will get 3 points. Your second place selection will get 2 points. Your third place selection will get 1 point.
5 short stories this month in “MARCH APPOINTMENTS”:
Disappointment by Arthur Chappell
Paranormal Psychiatry by Travis D. Jackson
Exploration Through the Spacetime Wormhole by F. F. Burwick
My Life on a Shanty-Boat by Terry Turner
A Broken Promise by Mirta Oliva
A BROKEN PROMISE…
By Mirta Oliva
Rod and I have known each other since childhood. With the passage of time, and I do not remember when or how it happened, we were in love… or so I thought. We went to school and the movies together, plus enjoyed many other activities until we went to different universities. We parted ways with kisses and tears and promises to keep in touch.
Truthfully, I cannot blame him for distancing ourselves from each other—not only that our schools are many miles apart but we have been busy with our loaded curriculum. Thus, the email or phone communication fizzled out almost completely. There was no recrimination–only short and distant details of our routines and accomplishments. But I missed him…
When I won a trip for two to Italy, I immediately thought of Rod. What if we flew from Washington and Georgia directly, making sure we arrived on location around the same time? To my surprise, Ron agreed and we were able to coordinate our arrival in the selected hotel in Rome. My heart was pounding when I opened the room door. I immediately noticed a red rose and a note on the desk. It was from Rod and it read: “Dear Marcy, I arrived much too early so I decided to go to the pool for a swim. Please meet me there. Love, Rod.”
Glad to see that he had made it on time, I put on my new bathing suit and went straight to the pool; however, Rod was not there nor in the restaurant or bar. At the desk, they could only tell me he had taken the key but had left no message. Umm… now this is not the right start. I went to his room and knocked on the door without a reply.
The positive person that I am thought nothing of it. Perhaps Rod went to a market to pick up a sandwich or something and will return promptly. Since I was hungry, I left a note at his door telling him I would be at the hotel’s cafeteria. In this cozy place, I had a cup of coffee with a muffin and waited and waited for Rod until I decided to inspect the pool and other areas but he was nowhere to be seen. I asked the pool waiter if he had seen Rod but based on my weak description, the answer was no, not too many people had been at the pool that day.
A little worried, I went back to my room but my message was still on his door. What could it be? I tried calling him at the new travel phone number but it rang and rang with no answer. And my phone did not ring either.
Tired and sleepy, I laid down on the comfy bed and fell asleep. I woke up at 11 p.m. local time and rushed to see if Rod had arrived but my message was still on his door. I got dressed and went back to the reception desk where I was told Rod had not returned or, at least, checked with them. At that point, I asked the Director to check his room to see if there was any message or any clue as to why he was missing. I went with him and Rod’s suitcase was left open on the bed, possibly when he looked for his bathing suit.
It was time to take some action so I began calling nearby hospitals. At the third call, I was told Ron had been hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street and was in a room, sedated. I rushed to see him and luckily he had no broken bones but had protective bandages in one ankle and a knee. I sat by his side until he woke up well past midnight. Initially, he was surprised and did not remember what happened; however, we were happy to see each other. The doctor agreed to release him in the morning and, in turn, we accepted the doctor’s orders that Rod should rest in his room or at the pool with no activities for the next twelve hours.
Gladly, there were no broken bones or pain so a day later we were on our way to a picturesque tour and were then able to continue the remainder of our two-week excursion of la Bella Italia. The incident was instrumental in cementing our relationship. From then on, emails and phone calls were received and made daily and we began making plans for our lives together post-graduation.
MY LIFE ON A SHANTY-BOAT
by terry turner 1454 words
It was the first day of Summer of 1952 and the banks of the Mississippi river flourished with masses of the golden Butterweed flowers. The steamy moisture rising from the river waters was heavy and oppressive and the paper fan I was waving in front of my face did little to cool my sweat-drenched body.
My parents and I lived on a flat-boat which is also affectionately referred to as a shanty-boat. We spent our Summers in the Saint Louis, Missouri area and traveled South for the winter to the warmer waters of New Orleans.
Living on the river in a houseboat was a simple way of life. We were one of a few families still making our home on the river by the 1950s. During the Industrial age from 1900 to 1940, there were hundreds of flatboats on the Mississippi. Then businesses began to move away from the rivers into the cities and the river people followed for better-paying jobs, schools, and a more respectable way of living. My parents loved the river life and elected not to follow the trend so that is where I spent most of my early years growing up.
Earlier that morning, another riverboat tied up not far from where we were moored. My dad called it an Ark but it was a simple flat-bottom boat like ours except that it was much fancier and had THE PEARL painted on the side in large red letters. I watched as a frail old woman wearing a straw hat, carried a white metal bucket into the woods. An old man with a cane, tall and thin, trailed behind as she made her way with carefully measured steps. I knew the contents of the bucket because all riverboats had one on deck. My dad called it the honey bucket which always made me laugh.
Later that afternoon, the elderly lady and the old man were sitting on their deck in pink ladder-back chairs. I noticed the white bucket had been placed just outside the cabin door. She was knitting something while humming a catchy tune that I was not familiar with and he was smoking a pipe while calculating the approaching storm that was brewing to the West. I caught a faint odor of the tobacco he was smoking which I recognized as cherry-vanilla. My mother and I had planned to walk over to the Ark the next day and introduce ourselves and see if they needed anything that we could share, which was the custom of river folks.
I was hoping they might have some books that I had yet to read in exchange for some of mine. Life on the river in a shantyboat didn’t allow us to stay in one place for very long so school was not an option. Every day was a new day in which we would scour the woods for wild eatable plants such as mushrooms, poke salad, huckleberries, blackberries, sassafras root for tea, and many other such plants to sustain our meager river lives.
There was fish aplenty, crawfish, freshwater muscles, and sometimes a small alligator when, on rare occasions, we were in the delta area. My father didn’t like the delta because of the flooding and snakes but my mother and I loved the warm temperatures that prevail around the Gulf of Mexico. Snakes were a real problem and it was not unusual to find one sunning on our deck. My father taught me to recognize the dreaded and poisonous Cotton Mouth water snake which could be very aggressive.
My mother is Cajun from a small town in Louisiana called Acadiana and very proud of her French heritage. Her long dark hair and olive complexion contrasted sharply with my father’s fair hair and light Germanic skin. I got my mother’s genes although everyone said I have my father’s eyes and nose. My parents presented quite a striking pair and, I am sure, a topic of conversation among other river folks whose paths we crossed along the way. My father treated my mother like a queen and my mother was content that my father was a strong family protector and provider.
Late in the afternoon that same day, the anticipated storm finally arrived. Our little shantyboat heaved and rolled on the turbulent waves as the raging storm grew stronger. The noise from the heavy rain pounding the tin roof of the cabin was deafening. My parents never let their fear show in front of me, but when a large wave lifted our boat and set it down hard, I saw my mother reach for my father’s hand. There was no hiding the concern on their faces as they avoided my staring gaze. Many girls my age would be frightened but I had been through many such storms during my short eight years of life so I was only mildly concerned with this one. The emergency floats had already been moved to a convenient place in case they were needed; something my father always made sure of whenever a storm was brewing. He also held mock emergency drills so we would all know what to do in case of a catastrophe.
By the time the storm’s deluge and angry wind stopped its fury, darkness and an eerie quietness had settled over the waters. It was as though the storm had sucked all life from the river. The frogs stopped their croaking and the Night Heron and Black Rail swamp birds, with their usual nightly repertoire, held their tongues. The only thing to do was go to bed and access any damage to the boat the next morning.
At dawn, as the Summer sun peeked over the eastern horizon, my dad and I went out on the deck to have a look around. I could see the wind had blown down some trees on the other side of the river and their tops were protruding into the water. When I looked downstream my heart skipped a beat. Where was THE PEARL that had arrived the day before? It was there when we took refuge from the storm inside our cabin. I looked quickly at my father who was watching me.
“What happened to the other boat,” I asked with much concern in my voice?
“I heard them leaving early this morning,” he answered and then looked downstream as though he was looking for the boat in the distance. I looked also, hoping to see their boat but saw nothing.
It was then I noticed the white bucket, half-submerged near the riverbank where the boat had been docked. I looked at my father again but he quickly turned away. He probably had already noticed the bucket. I feared the worst and my heart sunk but I didn’t say anything more. As I stared into the muddy waters of the Mississippi, my dad came up from behind with a hug and whispered ‘I love you’ in my ear. Then he went into the cabin and closed the door behind him. I could hear my mother crying and when I looked through the forward window of the cabin, I could see my father comforting her in his arms. I turned my eyes downriver and forced myself to imagine that I saw The Pearl drifting away in the warm morning sun. I suspect my father had done the same thing.
At our next stop, downstream, I saw my father talking to a Water Patrol Trooper. When I asked him what he was talking to the trooper about he said he was checking on the status of the river since the storm.
We never talked about the Pearl afterward and a short time later my parents decided to put me in a boarding school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana against my will. I hated them for that but in time I came to accept their decision knowing they only wanted what was best for me. I missed the river life immensely but letters that passed between us became an essential link to our lives.
I no longer live on that little shantyboat that was my childhood but my parents do and are still much a part of the Mississippi River life traveling, year after year, from New Orleans to Spanish Lake in Missouri.
It has been twenty years since the day of that frightening storm. My busy schedule of appointments as a Saint Louis lawyer doesn’t allow much time but I visit my parents every chance I get. And whenever I hear the rain pounding on the metal roof that overhangs my apartment patio, I think about the pipe-smoking old man and the humming old woman sitting in pink ladderback chairs on the deck of the PEARL, under a warm Summer sun, joyfully floating down the Mississippi.
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Exploration through the Spacetime Wormhole by F. F. Burwick 1164 words
Word of Master Triggs’ success at managing expansion of the uncertainty factor for a usable form of a spacetime wormhole from that had gotten out from the Triggs Uncertainty Factor Research Center. There had just been initial attempts at exploration of it to acquire information, which still had to be gained. Master Triggs decided then pursuing the gain of any information should be pushed further. A qualified person who would go voluntarily would need to go on through the newest usable spacetime wormhole they had produced there. Master Triggs knew just who it should be, who would be right for that. He sent out a note he wrote to be brought to Winston Nada. It read, “Mr. Winston Nada, you are to meet with me promptly at eight thirty tomorrow morning the twelfth at my office. Bring warm clothes, and expect to be gone long before returning home. Master Triggs.”
That morning Winston Nada met with Master Triggs at his office. Master Triggs told him, “Winston, I have need of you for my project, you are far more qualified than anyone. We are using the maintained spacetime wormhole, and have sent objects through it and have pulled them back, and have sent a few animals through it and have them back with us. We need you to go through it and find out what you can for giving us a detailed report of what you see on the other side. You will have ten times your pay for this project.”
Winston sat before him, thinking. Master Triggs could not know of the difficulty he was having. The property dispute had gone on a long time, and it had drained his resources. He was not in a position to turn down an offer of better pay, and even if it was risky, Master Triggs was right to acknowledge there was no one else around familiar with these things who was more qualified for it. He said after reflection, “I accept, I will take along what is needed for recording it, and we will find out conclusively what is there beyond it.”
The operation was to begin a couple of hours later, and in that lab room Winston was equipped with necessary things on him, including the markers, over which he put on warmer clothing he had brought. With the few others involved with this gathered there, as Master Triggs wished him luck, saying, “This is the time,” Winston said, more to himself, “This is it then,” and walked to the sustained anomaly, and went through it.
Where he came out, he found he was on a sloped grassland with high grass and a few small trees in scattered places, on a crisp and somewhat windy day, further ahead there was a wide blue sea in view. No homes, communities, or any people were in view anywhere here. Far off he saw what must have been several, about a dozen, small ruminant animals, like wild sheep. There were just a few insects he noticed of any animals right by. Winston took out a rod which was one marker, and pushed it into the ground before the anomaly he had come through. He then walked on, and looked all around him, as he continued in the direction toward the wild sheep. Every once in a while he placed another marker in the ground.
Winston was going by a few strange trees he did not recognize, and he saw before coming near to the sheep a column of smoke in the direction toward the sea in view further on. He turned to investigate. As he walked up a little rise for a better view, he saw what seemed to be four hits clustered close together. A figure came out of one just then. He saw there in that distance a human figure, with tan skin, and very long dark hair from the head, wearing something like a skin around the waist. The figure came near a fire there, in a firepit between the four huts, and then kneeled there before a container of some sort. A long rod, or stick, was brought through the top holding extensions, and the figure brought it over the fire, and it was then held there from other projections on either side of the fire.
Winston realized the figure, and any other people living there, might have been of the past in his world, and it seemed it would be better not to contact them. He backed away, and went to look at one of the trees that he did not recognize. He made note of the way branches grew out from it, and the form of the leaves. There were a few flowers growing on it, these were different from any flower he had seen. He reached for one and plucked it from the tree.
He looked around again. A movement had caught his attention. He looked in that direction. To his surprise he saw two very large creatures, they were like elephants in appearance, yet seemed still larger, they were wooly, and the tusks were turned in a different way not like those of elephants. It seemed like those great creatures had seen him, they now hurried in his direction.
Winston did not want to wait and find he would be used as a plaything of these monstrous creatures. He hurried along back the way he had come, along where the markers he left showed the way. He has gone far enough that the location of the anomaly that he came through was not really apparent. But he went the right way, going along the way of the markers, while the two creatures came much nearer. But he saw the anomaly then, and hurried through it.
The great creatures must have been surprised, seeing the small one they pursued having just disappeared. But Winston was still surprised himself when he came through the spacetime wormhole.
Once there in that lab room Winston looked about, wondering. Where were the potted plants that had been there? He would not have been away so long that they all would have been moved out. “Where did the potted plants go?” Winston asked.
Master Triggs said, “What potted plants? We never had potted plants. Did you bring back recorded information of what was there?”
“Yes I did. It seems to have been very long ago in the past. I avoided talking with people I saw in the distance, to not have any of the past altered. But it seems something was altered. Oh, I found interesting trees there, and I brought this from one of them which was flowering.”
Master Trigg took the flower carefully from Winston, and he said, “Wow, I should have Farrick, our resident botanist look at this. Farrick, do you recognize what this is?”
“Yes, I actually do. It is a pretty well known species that was in existence for many thousands of years, but has been extinct since the ice ages.”
Paranormal Psychiatry 101
“Okay, Alexandra, Debbie, and…Herb.”
Betty’s eyes darted to the dark, amorphous entity sitting near the entrance door, its “hands” pilfering through an outdoors magazine. Its large, deep purple eyes looked at her, blinking slowly. As Alexandrea and Debbie darted past her, heading towards their psychiatrist’s offices, Herb slowly rose, leaving behind a chair coated in black ooze. The smell of sulfur grew even stronger as he approached. A baby cried as he stopped in front of Betty. Betty could hear what sounded like sniffing.
“Lovely perfume, Betty.” Herb said, his voice deep, demonic. Betty’s smile was fake, a mask to hide her revulsion, disgust, and nausea.
“Thank you, Herb. Its Purple Meadow.”
“My sister would love to have some, where did you buy it?”
“Steph’s and Sara’s, a store on Perry Boulevard, a block south of here.”
“Thanks, I’ll call her later to let her know.”
“You’re welcome.” Betty said, as he floated past her. Looking down, she saw the oily trail that he left on the carpet, a trail that went over the front ends of her shoes.
“I just bought these…” Betty said, cringing as she left the waiting room.
Herb tried to ignore the stares, ignore the wrinkled noses and whispers of Betty and the other psychiatric nurses as he turned and floated down a hallway, noting pictures of mountains, jungles and boreal forests, all in black and white. He tried to focus on the white walls, the blue gray carpet, the shiny brown wooden doors. Looking to his right, he spotted a bathroom door.
“Don’t you dare.”
Herb turned, seeing Betty glaring at him. Another Psychiatric nurse crossed her arms, raising an eyebrow. Herb lifted what looked like two tendrils up.
“Sorry, ladies. I don’t need to go, trust me.”
As the tendrils lowered and vanished, the women kept glaring at him, remembering all too well the red flames that he had caused when he used that very bathroom last month.
Herb reached his psychiatrist’s door, a sign on it stating “Dr. Michelle Tate”. Forming a hand, he knocked on it.
“Come in, Herb.” Dr. Tate said.
Herb opened the door. Looking in, he noticed that Dr. Tate had rearranged her office; the beige cloth chairs for patients had been replaced with red leather ones. The black pine desk had been replaced with a blood red mahogany desk, a small black pyramid on its left side, a violet in a thin glass vase on the other and an odd gray tray in the middle. The new bookcase behind the desk was also blood red mahogany. Some of the same books were there, but there were many new additions, most of them looking brand new. The pictures of Everest and Paris were gone, replaced with those of mustangs and a castle, the latter standing vigil against encroaching fog. A lake, brown, murky and still, lay on the other side of the castle. Below the photo were the words “McClain Castle, Loch Ness”. Turning to the door, Herb was glad to see that a picture of Tate still remained. It showed her gliding off a turnbuckle, about to land on a huge man lying on a mat. Herb had always loved that picture, which was taken when Tate was a pro wrestler, before she got into college and became a shrink. It reminded him of the photos he had of himself, before he changed.
Before I read that ancient spell out loud…
“Hey Herb. How are you feeling today?”
“Wait, hold that thought, how silly of me.”
Opening a drawer, Tate pulled out a large piece of plastic. Walking over to one of the new leather chairs, she covered it with the plastic. Patting it, she turned to Herb.
“There you go.” She said, before walking back to her desk. Herb watched her go, noting her short stature, long red hair and petite frame. Why can’t psychiatrists date their patients? He thought, floating over to the plastic covered chair and sitting down. As Tate sat down, she put her hands together.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better. Well, a lot better. I’ve been going out for walks like you’ve said, or in my case, “floats”.”
Tate laughed, then cleared her throat.
“Now, be honest with me, Herb, and remember; even though you’re now a…well, whatever you are-
“There’s no word in the English language to describe what I’ve become. I’m-
“Let’s just settle for “different”, shall we?”
“Sure.” Herb said, looking downcast. Dr. Tate raised an eyebrow.
“Now, as I was saying, even though you aren’t human anymore, I can still detect when you’re lying. You’re…body language, for lack of a better term, is still the same as when you actually had a body. So, once again…be honest. Have you used any more magic?”
Slumping, Herb sighed.
“Herb, we’ve talked about this! How do you expect to recover if you continue to indulge in magic?”
“But its so much fun! I get to explore other universes and realms, places that I cannot describe! I can make seeds grow into redwoods in a few seconds, or turn housecats into lions!”
“Are not your newfound powers suitable enough? Ever since you acquired your new norm, you can float miles into the air, summon lightning, shape shift to a certain extent, enter others dreams, and so on. Why the sorcery too, Herb?”
“Because it enables to me to do even more, Dr. Tate. Far more! Things that I could only imagine doing even in this form…I can do for real with spells! I can make so many things happen, doctor! It enables me to do so much!”
“And yet it can’t turn you back to normal.”
Herb turned, looking out a window to his right. He studied a traffic jam forming on a bridge. The lake underneath glimmered and rippled, the morning sunlight giving its waters a golden sheen. A tugboat passed under the bridge, a flock of doves flying above it, along with a prop plane that twirled and darted around. The sky looked hazy, with only a few specks of cloud.
“Herb, magic has robbed you of your humanity. Are you going to let it rob you of your sanity as well?”
Herb turned back to her.
“I’m…no, I won’t!” he said, suddenly catching the scent of the violet. He started to feel slight tremors every time he breathed it in.
“Are you going to let it rule you?”
“Then you brought the Ugaritic texts, then, like I asked?”
Taking a deep breath and shivering from the scent of the violet, Herb pulled out of his phantom form a paper bag coated in dark ooze. Opening it, Tate could see papers inside. All were copies made from a huge ancient scroll, one Herb had dug up during an excavation of the ancient city of Ugarit.
“You can’t get to the originals?” Dr. Tate asked. Herb nodded, looking glum.
“They’re locked in the Jerusalem archives. I don’t have access.”
“And these are the only copies you have?”
Sighing, Herb nodded again. As he shook even more from the violet’s smell, Dr. Tate stretched out her hand.
“Give them to me.”
“It…offers so much freedom, Doctor…”
“Magic? The same magic that turned you into a dark black, purple-eyed patch of fog? Some freedom.”
Herb’s eyes almost closed.
“Hand it over, Herb.”
Hesitantly, Herb opened the bag wider and moved it towards her desk. Rising from her chair, Dr. Tate reached into the bag, taking the papers out. As Herb put the bag back inside himself, Dr. Tate pulled out a green cigarette lighter, flicking a flame on. She locked eyes with Herb.
“This is truly the first step in gaining freedom from magic, something that I have striven to get you to do these past six months. This is the beginning of your freedom from your supernatural addiction, the beginning of your new life.”
Looking at the papers, Tate put the flame to them. Herb almost cried as he saw the papers burn, their remains falling into the gray tray. The papers now nothing but ashes, Tate took the tray and put it on the floor next to her burgundy chair. Herb started to quake from the violet’s fragrance.
“Herb, this is a breakthrough, a sign that you are now fully committed to recovery! These six months of therapy were worth it-
Shaking hard enough to move the chair, Herb sneezed. The office exploded, windows, doors and walls turning into shrapnel. As the smoke cleared and screams rose, Tate remained in her chair, covered in soot. Her hair was stiff, stretching out behind her. Her eyebrows had been burnt off. As she glared at Herb, he put a “hand” where his mouth should have been.
“I guess…that this session is going to cost me a bit more than usual…
My appointment with doom has come up at last after five months languishing in the cells listening to loud recorded crying and sighs of despair round the clock. The goons have come to fetch me. That’s goons without a capital G. I could do with some Sellers, Seacombe and Milligan right now. Unfortunately the truncheons these creeps wield don’t make amusing squeak noises when they hit you.
They need me to speak at my trial, so the tight leather mouth-guard that has forced my lips into a frown by atrophying the upward curve muscles is finally removed. I try forcing a smile but all I can do is dribble.
The blob of ink on my arm reminds me of the tattoo they forcibly crossed out, an ink portrait of Saint Boffo, guillotined for squirting a fake flower full of water in the face of the prime minister as a protest against the Sadness Act.
News screens are showing 24/7 footage of starving children, earthquakes, a war in the Near East, and the executions of several well-known and once much loved comedians. Life’s a serious business the capitalists decree. The NLM station logo is emblazoned everywhere. ‘No Laughing Matters’. The party rose on the anti-comedy ticket. Humour is cruel they declared. It was bad enough making crude sexist and racist jokes and political correctness rightly crunched that. But all humour is now seen as inhumane. It is bullying to splatter a guy with cream pie. Slap-Stick is just that, a stick to slap someone with. Clowns are frightening. Look at Pennywise. Puns are punishable. Pratfalls can lead to you falling off a scaffold with a rope round your neck. I should know. That seems to be my inevitable inescapable destiny now.
“God was not joking when he created the Universe,” they declared. Their INF acronym meme caught on. ‘It’s not funny.’
I was among the last of the Northern club circuit stand ups to get taken down when the Frown-shirts gate-crashed our Flat Mirth Society gatherings. I realized it was trouble when the hecklers started throwing rocks instead of insults. Laughter turned to screaming as the agents of the DIS (Destroy Irony Society) closed in. Always leave ‘em laughing’ I yelled defiantly and dropped my trousers as they hauled me off the stage. A few defiant giggles from the equally arrested audience told me I still had it, but for how long?
My gags that night had included gems like ‘We all have to have ‘erals’ now. They’ve taken the ‘fun’ out of being buried’. My last spoken one liner was about replacing doom and gloom end times news stories with reruns of 70’s British sitcoms like Terry And June so we could really end our days on a downer.
So here I am, in the hands of The Ministry Of Misery. I am reminded that I have no right to remain silent. ‘Mime is a crime’ I’m told by a court usher from The House Of Usher who seems more dead than deadpan. He was saying something mildly amusing but failing to recognise a joke even as he uttered it. I had a vague inner chuckle, but my atrophied laughter chords were too weak to let me actually start chortling.
The jury members were all dressed in puritanical black. ‘Tough crowd tonight’ I thought as I yelled to them that they looked like an Oliver Cromwell tribute band. The ghoulish judge snarled and banged his gavel. “The court is no place for merry making.” He yelled.
“What were court jesters for then?” I quipped back as if he was my straight man in a double act. He started hyperventilating. One lady on the jury looked as if she was struggling to supress a smile. I was worried for her as the next case to be heard might be hers if the court officials spotted her grinning.
I realized I had two possible approaches to my case. Wailing and gnashing my teeth in a pledge to never do anything remotely amusing again, or try to bring the house down and go out like a martyr to the god-kings of comedy.
“How do you plead?” the Judge asked.
“Hilarious,” I replied.
The prosecution lawyer, a man who had had his sense of humour removed with his appendix, stood and called out that in mocking the proceedings my plea was obviously one of guilty. I was defending myself as comedians are denied any legal counsel, so I objected, but I was instantly over-ruled.
The Cloud Of Gloom that was out to destroy me started as he meant to go on. He asked how I could smile in the wake of Covid, cancer and concentration camps. I declared that without laughing in the face of adversity we might as well all just commit suicide.
He told me that we are the only creature in creation cursed with a sense of humour. I pointed out the existence of the laughing hyena and the grinning jackass. As the judge demanded my comments be struck from the record I added that Duck Billed Platypuses are pretty funny when we think about it too.
“You condemn yourself with every droll aside’ my prosecution persecutor declared. I counter-blasted with “Take me back into custardy, or better still, take me into custard.”
Someone actually started tittering, but no one saw who it was among the zombies glaring at me from the viewing gallery. I started pulling faces and sticking my tongue out. “Laughter is the best medicine’” I cried, “not to mention a hell of a cliché.”
“Medicine is the best medicine!,” insisted my sombre nemesis. “Aspirin, Paracetamol, Penicillin.”
“Satire, wit, sardonics, “ countered I the accused.
“Enough frivolity,” said the Judge. “This contempt of court’ must end now. Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, please retire and consider your verdict. Remember that trying to offer clemency and leniency will go on your records as evidence that you have leanings towards a modern lack of serious living standards yourselves.”
The jury filed out. I made raspberry flatulent noises as they walked by me. A few of them were smirking.
The recess lasted mere minutes. My fate was a foregone conclusion. It couldn’t have been more of a kangaroo court if the room had been full of marsupials. Oh God I wish I’d used that line in my act.
I was found guilty and sentenced to hang the following dawn with no right to appeal. I sang ‘Ke Sera Sera’ as they frog-marched me out to the cells.
Despite efforts to keep my looming imminent murder a discreet affair, two thousand well-wishers turned out, many sporting mime make up, clown costumes and jester’s pig-bladders. My hands were tied behind my back but my legs were unmanacled. Riot police were already forming a kettling block around the site of my pending demise. Many protesters would be arrested over their spirited protest on my behalf. I was deeply moved.
I declined the offer of a chat with a priest but when asked if I had any last words, I forsook repentance in favour of ‘A funny thing happened on my way here this morning….. ‘ but then I was grabbed by my executioner, a man who seemed to be made entirely of muscles. He hauled me by my prison overalls to the noose and rabbit punched me in the belly so I folded down with my neck settling into the loop of the rope. He bent down to pick out the hood to cover my face and I could not resist the golden opportunity before me for one last laugh. I kicked him squarely up the backside causing him to fall flat in his face.
To my joy the public hysteria and applause was still ringing out as the trap door opened. “True gallows humour,” I shouted and I knew I was about to die with a smile on my face.