the best of 52|250's fourth quarter

Tell me that old story again…

Each quarter, we challenge our most frequent flashers to write a new story. For this last frequent flasher special, we asked Len Kuntz, Stephen Hastings-King, Susan Tepper, Matt Potter, Doug Bond, Catherine Russell, Susan Gibb, Linda Simoni-Wastila,  Kim Hutchinson, Robert Vaughan, Martin Brick, and Guy Yasko to put a new twist on an old story. The challenge was to take a well known tale (a fairy tale, a mythical yarn, an urban legend, a proverb, a childhood story, etc.) and give us a unique take on it.  And here, once more, our 52|250 writers rise to meet the challenge — with murder, with witches and princesses, with stories of falling down and getting up again, with new beginnings and unexpected outcomes.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Len Kuntz 

There are always storms. Sometimes they start in her brain and escape as billowing wind through her temple and today is one of those days as the sky cries out in black thunder a twister churning turning her house loose from its roots and casting it and her and Toto over a fence a hill a horizon over the jagged arc of a rainbow.

These new kids are strange, lank giants, somber, telling her to “Follow the beaten brick road,” and when she does, Dorothy meets a steel woman, a ferocious jaguar and a human crow. She says, “Stay away from me, I am a black widow.”

Dorothy — this girl with the shaved head and piercings down her ear, jaw and nose — knows she must find “Zo” — Alonzo — if she’s ever to get home. Zo has the answers, the scripts, the keys to the universe.

She fights off flying wildebeests. She beats back warlocks and soldiers. She throws grenades, slings arrows and slices the air if anyone dares get near her.

When she finds Zo, he’s bare-chested, seated on a throne. He holds a staff, tells her to come forward, says he will grant her wish.

So Dorothy does. She steps up, and in one sure swoop, she drives the hatchet through Zo’s heart.

He takes a last gasp, asks, “Why?”

What no one ever understands is Dorothy doesn’t want to go back. Home is her old hell. No one will hurt her here. She’ll make sure of it.

Prometheus by Stephen Hastings-King

Through the blue and pink haze of sunset A watches the boats follow hanging lanterns toward shore until he cannot hold up his head any more.

Again they anchored near him. People came to look. There was nothing to see. But it was a summer afternoon on the backshore so they barbequed, smoked joints and drank beer amidst the transistor radio garble made from baseball games.

The sentence is what separates him. No-one from town speaks to him. When he speaks, no-one hears. Chained on his back to a stone in the sun, A is veiled by the majesty of the Law.

He would have imagined it otherwise had he imagined it. Vultures would spiral toward him again and again through the same spaghetti western afternoon.

Adrift in time, he lays quite still. He has given up trying to pull his arms from the cuffs and the fantasies of chewing off a hand.

With the dusk come the ants marching pheromone trails across his skin.Then with the collapse of the breeze, mosquitoes and midges and flies are a tiny crown of thorns.

Another night spreads its labyrinth of tiny sounds and invisible advances.From a child he has been afraid of the dark.

Cindy by Susan Tepper 

Each of my three ugly stepsisters has her own BMW. I was given a boy’s bike. It rains a lot here making it hard to get around. I can’t wear skirts because of the bar. My stepsisters pick through the clothes my stepfather brings home (he’s in the garment trade) and they take all the best things: Prada, Theory, Missoni, Donna Karan. Basically I get their hand-me-downs. By the time I get them the clothes are stained and torn and ruined. My stepsisters are all fat and I’m not. The clothes billow. I’m so ashamed. Also I’m not allowed a proper salon haircut. The oldest stepsister puts an orange mixing bowl on my head. Sit still Cindy she says. Then cuts around. My hair comes out in a circle. Boys laugh calling me a light bulb with hair. I don’t sleep nights anymore. I dream of escaping but where? How far would I get on that bike before the crummy tires go flat? I think about all the ways to kill myself. I could boil some hemlock (there are hemlock trees in the yard) and drink a cup of hemlock tea. I could steal my stepmother’s Valium and swallow the whole bottle. I could pick the lock on my step-father’s desk and take out his revolver. I could shoot myself in the mouth. All of these would be effective ways to die. No one would miss me. Except… I would miss me.

Lard by Matt Potter 

He hadn’t changed much. Still blond, blue-eyed and on-the-make.

I, naturally, looked quite different. Since winning TV’s World’s Wickedest Witch, I’d used some of my prize money wisely. But that money couldn’t last forever.

I raised my eyebrows — difficult with a drooping right eye, still swollen nose and Botoxed-forehead. “What’s in it for me, Hansel?”

He dragged on his cigarette and blew smoke in the air. “Don’t get me wrong: you’re still a cunt. But we can both benefit from it.”

I sat back, crossing my arms over my recently-renovated super-cleavage.

“We have a big reconciliation on Oprah’s new show: tears, sobbing, snotty noses. Then we do a shitload of interviews.”

I picked up my iced tea and sipped it through a straw.

“That leads to our own show — At Home in Da Gingerbread House — where you take in a group of black orphans and we show them love and respect and fashion sense.”

I shook my head. “Crippled kids give me the creeps.”

“They’re not crippled, they’re black.”

“It’s gotta be in the contract,” I said, stabbing the table with a green finger. “No crippled kids.”

“Then we have a big argument: you’re old school disciplinarian. I’m hippy-dippy New Age. Huge ratings.”

I put my drink down. “So where does this leave the United Lard Producers?”

Hansel’s mouth dropped open.

“I know they’re your sponsor.”

“Oh,” he swallowed. And smiled. “That’s the next show. When we start a Sumo school and you need to stack on the weight.”

The Most Interesting Man in the World by Doug Bond

Sure, we’re used to a certain level of celebrity in town, but when The Most Interesting Man in the World moves in literally NEXT DOOR, well the girls on the Giving Committee practically clawed me to pieces. Still, I was Chair. I could taste the big score. Tuesday after Labor Day I shimmy into that scoop neck, the one I save for the hottest weather, stiletto up along the hedgerow, lift the heavy knocker and tap three times on his big front door.

“Come in! Come in!” he says, totally naked, flying well up the mast. “Just working through some revisions…Kama Sutra for Dummies. Ghost writing, of course.

”He sits us down upon peach colored silk cushions adorned all around with Junglecock feathers. He’s drinking beer, with lime. I ask only for water.The parlay builds uneventfully until finally, just as I feel worked up for the pitch, a small device on the floor between us begins to vibrate.

“Springsteen!…What now?” Tapping out a quick reply, he asks me “Are you missing the Big Man too?” And, stroking his long gray beard, adds….

He will rise again, I’ll see to that.When I make him the offer, straight up, he stops me, says “No! No! No!” explaining that while yes, he is a devoted supporter of charity, he prefers for them to be his own.

So, yes, I did in a sense leave empty handed, but I can’t say that in the end I was unable to persuade him to give.

They don’t know Jack by Catherine Russell

While the executives sat in their skyrise suites at International HeadQuarters, the company’s founder — relegated to a closet-sized office — broke pencils and plotted revenge. Soon he’d grab that golden goose and make them pay. Then he’d show all the beancounters in corporate what he was really worth. In the meantime, the CEO’s wife had inside tips she wasn’t sharing with her husband, and Jack knew he could play her like a harp. Soon, he’d topple the corporate behemoth by writing his own history in the blood of those who had wronged him.

The Search for Prince Charming by Susan Gibb

She was my best friend so I listened and sympathized. There was little I could do; I have no real concept of what a possibly pregnant princess does that would be different than a commoner, but I suspected that the field was more open.

“It was at the ball!” she sobbed. We were sitting on her bed and I just kept handing her tissues. “I had too much champagne!” I nodded solemnly. “What am I going to do?” A new wail rose from deep inside her. I imagined the fetus rolling around covering its ears.

“It’s okay, Cindy,” I said, “it’ll all work out somehow.” Though I kind of suspected it wouldn’t be easy. Her mother, the Queen, was a self-absorbed snob and the King, well he was merely a figurehead, but he had the whole military at his command. They wouldn’t be happy at all about the heir to the throne being knocked up by some guy she met at a dance.

“I’ll ask around,” I said. “Don’t tell them yet.”

But Cindy could be your typical princess; cunning and expectant of others cleaning up whatever mess she got herself into. Next thing I knew they were combing the countryside, guest list in hand, taking DNA samples of each guy in the county.

I’ve got to say, it all worked out well, better than we even planned. My brother was indisputably named the father and I, now a Duchess, and my new sister-in-law get along great.

Humpty Dumpty Sat On a Wall by Linda Simoni-Wastila

I don’t remember much about falling off the wall, but what I do remains vivid — first the rending crack, a shaking sigh, and the green of the grass, each blade a perfect sword. My insides oozed out and coated the ground with a pearly sheen. The stark brilliance of the sky pained my eyes. Angels sung, a low thrumming hymn, and this peace, this grace overtook me and I cried, I cried, I was so happy! But then the men came in their shiny white jackets and picked up my brittle shards. My mind slithered down the hill, a rainbow of gold and pink and black. They caught the black but the rest escaped, and they bundled us up and carted us away in a screaming car and deposited us in a room without color or light and here I stay, swaddled like a baby, me and the black.

To this day, most people think I fell off the wall. Saying so kind of smoothes over the awkwardness of that event, just like calling someone who is rip-roaring drunk indisposed. But I know the truth, and until I speak it they will keep me here. “For your safety,” they tell me. Meanwhile, they bring me teeny white cups filled with luminosity: blue triangles, orange ovals, yellow spheres. Sometimes I swallow, sometimes not. What keeps me sane is the memory of that day looping through my shell of a head, the only other color in my otherwise black-and-white world.

Sweet Pea by Martin Brick
Sweetie didn’t help much with the move: slight frame, nice nails. Mostly directed him. Unending clothes and that big canopy bed of hers. He didn’t mind, attracted to her ability to conjure the past. She made him feel like opening doors. Feel like paying for everything. Feel like standing when she entered a room. He indulged her. Felt right to call her princess.

Though tired it was their first night living together, so he nibbled her neck. She giggled, and let him take the lead.

He was buried in the scent of her hair when she said, “I don’t like the bed here.”

“Hmm?”

“Headboard’s too close to the window. Will you move it?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Can you now? It’ll make this better. Please?” Eyelashes bat.

He agreed, got up, utterly ridiculously naked, pushing the bed around. She pointed, he obeyed, several moves before they slipped back in.

Then she whimpered, “There’s something wrong with the bed.”

“We’ve moved it everywhere.”

“No, something under the sheet.”

Her timing was atrocious, but he knew from experience that there was no point in arguing. They got up and stripped the sheets, finding nothing.

“I felt something,” she assured. And to prove her point, laid back down. “It’s there. Must be under the mattress.”

So he slid the mattress away and on the box spring found a pearl earring, size of a pea. “A-ha,” she exclaimed.

“You felt that? Through the mattress?”

“Put the bed back,” she commanded. “It’ll be perfect now. ”

Ascent  by Guy Yasko
To the metronome of dripping leavesI passempty dachas, deserted spas

windows gaping, breathing cloud

stone bodhisattvas, red scarves dark with moisture.

A stream spills from milky grey. We move together in different
directions, saying nothing.

I climb to the pass on boulders — pebbles for giants. I have lost my
stream, my leaves, my bodhisattvas. I sit and eat, half-expecting
shapeshifters and giants to join me.

Over the pass, in the sunlight,

I am no longer certain they did not.

Horatio’s New Tune  by Kim Hutchinson
Work hard, the old proverb went, and you will succeed. This is the land of opportunity.The old folks shouted it out, loud and proud, all the day and nightlong.
As a child, he had wondered if succeed was related to greed, the way his elders spoke.

As time wore on, the houses and playthings and payments grew larger and larger, until few people thought of paying things off any more. Instead, they thought about living a lifestyle, and just being able to make all of their payments, forever and ever.
By the time he was old enough to work, the old adage was still oft repeated, but it began to change. This is the land of opportunity, if…. There was no limit to the number of ifs, and a new one could appear at any time, anywhere, without warning.

Success, no matter how defined, became something for a few rather than the many, no matter how hard anyone worked, either those who succeeded or the rest.

Now, no one sang the old chant anymore, and if they tried, they were most often silenced with angry, hungry stares. It had been exposed, always more truism than true. Meanwhile, the many watched a few try to escape Fate by singing and dancing and scheming for unimaginable riches on something paradoxically known as reality TV.

As the contestants sing and backstab for their supper, the faint refrain of the old saw hangs hollow over the land.

Hydrogen is Number One  by Robert Vaughan
We perched on high stools in Earth Science. Mr. George asked Stan about Periodic Elements: Iron, Fe, a brief description. I looked across the aisle. Stan was scared. I’d known him since kindergarten, never hung out.“Hello? Stan?” Mr. Parker pressed, meaty jowls quivering.

Stan stammered, “I’m sorry, Mr. P-Parker. I don’t know the answer.”

Mr. Parker smirked, “Well, gee Stan. Anything about the Periodic Table that you do know?”

Stan looked down. Sue Simmons lip trembled, like she might cry.

“I know h-hydrogen is H. It’s, it’s like, it’s n-number one.” Stan’s voice squeaked.

I wanted to clap. Way to go.

Mr. Parker’s eyes narrowed. “That’s great. Any idiot would know that.”

I closed my eyes. “Why are you such an ass?” I was shocked the words came out. Mr. Parker lurched, grabbed me from my seat. The class cheered.

After Vice- Principal Conrad lectured, I started three days of in-school suspension. My crime? Insubordination. I had to look that up in the dictionary.

************

During dinner, Mom said, “I’m proud you supported that poor Stan, honey. Please, no more bad words.”

“Stan picks his boogars and wipes them on the bus seats,” Melinda said.

I glared, chewed another forkful of spaghetti.

Dad said, “You sit there all day? That sucks, there’s a list of things to do around here.”

I nodded. “In-school suspension. It’s called insubordination.” My new favorite word.

Mom went to the kitchen to get more pasta.

He said, “Next time, don’t be so stupid.”

Advertisements

3 responses

  1. Such original takes on classic stories! I’m envious of their humor and wit. But in a good way. 😀

    October 3, 2011 at 4:06 am

  2. estelle bruno

    enjoyed everyone of these great stories.

    October 3, 2011 at 9:13 pm

  3. Great fun to read, and I’m guessing a lot of fun to write, too! Goodbye 52/250 – good work guys – great reading you!

    October 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s