Pre-podcast Live Writing Sprints – January, 2021

Author’s Note: If you watched one of my writing sprints LIVE on my facebook page, you can click on the corresponding date to see the text in full. I am not going to edit these, just copy/paste from my working document onto this page. -J.R. Nichols

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Today’s Prompt: Write a story containing the following five words: available, Inflation, Insistence, royalty, transition.

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“From all available information, it appears they left in a hurry, sir.”
Peterson did not respond. He registered the question, but only as a data point; nothing about the private addressing him – his calm voice, his efficient manner – permeated the wall that was his concentration.

“Is it this way?” He asked, walking before the answer came toward the heavy metal door someone had propped open. 

The whispers of the privates milling around outside returned t0 tickle his cerebellum.

A tunnel…

Indoors…like a mine shaft…

Never saw anything like it…so dark in there

Thought I would die…

 Without a second thought he stepped from the well lit operations and control room into a hall so dark he almost stopped walking before Stubbins commanded a torch be lit. He kept on, pressing into the darkness as the others scrambled into a formation that simultaneously illuminated his path yet kept it free from stumbling privates.

“Not much further, sir,” Stubbins said, falling into place next to Peterson when the formation was finally moving in an orderly manner through the tunnel.

Peterson noticed none of this – other than the change from dark to light. His vision was focused, his mission, singular.

I must see them for myself.

Down they went, the ramp turning in an unpredictable fashion until they reached another metal door – this one closed.

“Sir,” Stubbins said, and then the two men only looked at one another. 

“I’ve been briefed,” Peterson said.

Stubbins nodded, and they entered.

The briefing Peterson received prepared him for many things; the solemnity of the environment beyond the door, the dim lighting, the stadium seating, and the enormous viewing window opposite.

It had not, however, prepared him for what he saw on the other side of the glass.

That material had been redacted – and he had fought for the right to the information it concealed, information he would later give his life in exchange for not receiving.

Today’s Prompt: : Use the following five words in your story: imported, flowery, miniature, disgusting, dynamic

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I hadn’t had imported salami since I’d gone inside and I had to slow myself after three slices. Absorbed in a cloud of garlicky heaven I didn’t notice her quiet movements in the corner of the room until she sat a bowl of something steaming in front of me.

“Mush,” she said, lifting a corner of her chin toward the bowl. “Plentiful here, if somewhat bland.” she made the chin-tip gesture again, this time toward the platter of cold cuts. “That there’s not something we have all the time.” her cheeks went crimson. I knew why; she’d likely traded something for the cold cuts that couldn’t rightly be purchased in a market stall.

I wanted to tell her it was alright, that the things I’d seen inside and the things I’d seen in Libre Solvo had ruined me for any ideas of what common or decent folk were supposed to be like. Out there, folks did what they had to do to survive. Didn’t seem to matter to me none that this pretty little pebble found herself washed up in a town that would judge the kind of choices she made. She was feeding me, and I intended to pass an evening or two there, and that was all I needed to know – save for maybe what her end of the bargain might be.

She turned from me to busy herself with a mound of the white, sticky stuff she’d heaped onto the counter. I sipped my soup and watched her work, pulling the dough first this way then folding it over upon itself, then turning it and pushing it away from her, over again in a rhythm that overtook me; before I realized it I was lifting my spoon and processing the mush with my molars in time to the sounds of the salp of the dough against the smooth wood countertop and the creak of the floorboards beneath her feet as she rocked with the effort.

A sound from a corner of the room stopped my spoon in mid-air. Her anxious glance confirmed what I suspected – there was an infant there, in the bureau drawer, perhaps, or maybe tucked into the basket next to it – one I hadn’t seen before. 

Our eyes met. She uttered the single word, “please.”

It was too late. “I’m sorry Ma’am. I have my orders.”

“No,” she screamed. I stood and crossed the room to reveal her sin, and then it was like every other time – she was on me with the ferocity of a dust devil, clawing at my jumper and biting at whatever bare skin she could get to – my neck, my shoulder, even my calf once I managed to get her down. But I was relentless, and unstoppable, as she well knew. I never understood why they bothered to resist.

Today’s Prompt: : “Planning is everything”

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…The seventh child came just as the foreclosure notice dropped into the printer tray on the desk of the mortgage officer who would stamp it with the date and the phrase, “executed,” before dropping it into her outbox and heading out for a salted caramel late….

The baby was a redhead, like her sisters before her, and her only brother wept in confused delight as she was presumably washed and wrapped and handed to her mother. He’d never seen her, of course, relegated as he was to the spot under the window – had only heard the one precious squeak, earned for sure by the old widow lady, who’d managed to rub out of her after a couple minutes of tension-filled silence. 

That silence had been the worst of it – worse than all Mama’s screaming and all the unkind words she’d muttered – certainly certain her precious Matthias was nowhere at all within earshot.

“He had only just heard and processed, “she’s a little girl,” before that big long silence had come.That silence had been the longest of his short life – the space in which he imagined the soul of his sister hovered, suspended somewhere between this world and the one beyond.

That’s when  the tears had started, streaming down his face with a speed that alarmed him. Now, his hands worked double-time slapping them away as he headed out on his only assignment – running over to the barn to tell Pa it was all over. 

“A sister, Pa!” he shouted, even though it wasn’t good to shout so much around the cows. He repeated the news a second time, in a more reserved tone, as Pa jumped from his stool and clapped him heartily on a shoulder.

“Another blessing,” Pa said, and the smile went all the way to his eyes. 

“I know we was hoping for another man around the place, Pa,” Matthias said, feeling both confused and relieved that his father didn’t seem the least bit upset.

“I know we was.” Pa’s arm slipped around Matthias’s neck and they began the a long mosey back over to the house. Matthias wanted to run, to excitedly shout to the world about the wonder and miracle that was visiting their tiny cabin, but he understood that sometimes, Pa’s way – the slow way, was better.  Pa’s next words would confirm his instincts were right.

“We was hoping for a young man, but the Lord has given us the blessing he sees we need. Young women are delightful, as you know.”

“Yes, Pa.”

“Each of your sisters has been a blessing to us.”

“Yes, Pa.”

“And imagine what a mess the town would be in if they didn’t have your sister heading up the schoolroom.”

Matthias did not have to respond. The rest of the journey as made in silence. Matthias tried hard to remember why it had once seemed so important to get a baby brother. He shook his head.

“I don’t know what I’ve been so worried about, Pa.” he said. “I know everything is going to be just fine.”

Today’s Prompt: : “I have a ridiculous amount of ___”

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“There is no way we are getting through all of this today.” Jerry pulled off one of his gloves with his teeth and immediately regretted the maneuver, looking down at the garbage bag he had recently filled.

“I know, but if we keep going, we might be able to see the floor before we knock off for lunch.” Mel’s energy seemed never-ending, though her quest to conquer mocha lattes was also seemingly perpetual, and, an admittedly jealous Jerry considered, might have accounted for some of that extra energy and pep in her step.

Their daughter, Belinda, was also still going strong, as she had been the one sent off to fetch on each of the coffee jaunts. It had been done for her own protection – the girl loved her grandmother but was entirely insect-phobic. She was currently blissfully sweeping piles of empty water bottles into a recycling container. Jerry winced, remembering the gigantic cockroach he’d encountered in that corner only an hour before, and reached for his wallet.

“Belly, why don’t you run on up to the Aco and get us another box of trash bags.”

“Dad, I just got back from the store!” She said the final word with an exaggerated swoop, turning it into two syllables, and morphing it into a word that sounded like, “stor-uh.”

“Don’t sass your father,” Mel said, polishing off her fourth mocha latte and slamming the cup into the bag jerry supported. “It’s a good idea for you to get out. Breathing this stuff ain’t good for anyone.”

“You’re in here, and you’re pregnant,” Belinda said, folding her arms and nodding significantly at her mother’s middle.

Mel’s eyes grew wide and I saw the muscles of her jaw tighten in the way they do when she is keeping herself from saying something I know she would regret. Since, for once, I actually have a clue what that might be, I speak up.

“Belly, come on. You know your mom’s not ready to talk about that, yet.” I moved to pull a twenty from the billfold.

“Well we’d better talk about it soon,” the teen huffed, snapping the bill from my hand before I had it half out of the wallet.”

“Just not in front of my mother, thank you very much,” Mel snarled in a half whisper, but most of it only bounced impotently off Belinda’s back as she headed for the door.

As if the words had conjured the little raisin, Mel’s mother appeared from seemingly nowhere, as though she had manifested from the crumpled and discarded papers I’d passed on the way into the family room.

“I have an unusual amount of time on my hands, lately,” she said, and it was all I could do to keep from crying. She stood, hands on hips, looking first this way, and then that, surveying what she must see as her kingdom of precious treasures. My heart broke for the diminutive creature, standing alone among the detritus of her marriage – her life, but having offered her help more times than I could imagine, and having dug her out of her self-inflicted nightmare more times than

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