Science has invented a pill… your spouse doesn’t want to die.

Writing Prompt:
Science has invented a pill that will cure any illness and prolong life for another twenty years, at the expense of your personality. Anyone who takes the drug will become an entirely different person, with a completely different set of interests and memories.

Your spouse is terminally ill and doesn’t want to die.

“As you can see,” Dr. Mortem concluded, “We don’t recommend Paraphenyloxomene for every layman.” He carefully cleared his throat with a polite medical cough, then continued in the same bored tone he’d been using for the past fifteen minute lecture, “I encourage you to look into the options we discussed at our last meeting before going this route.”

Finally turning his attention to Ken and I, the doctor stopped speaking. Given his tone, somewhat-slumped posture, and the fact that he was making eye contact with the wall art somewhere above our heads, I wasn’t certain Dr. Mortem actually expected a response. I began to wish the assistant was back. Then, at least, we’d have literal excuse for saying we felt like we were talking to a machine.

“Well,” I began, to help the doctor understand that we were still there, and able to speak, “We understand the risks. As I said when I first asked about it, we really wondered if you had any patients who had used it and if they thought it was worth taking.”

I saw Dr. Mortem animate slightly at my mention of “any patients” and cringed a bit inside. “I’m sorry, but we respect our patients’ privacy and I couldn’t tell you that information.” He slumped back to resting position and now studied the light switch.

I wondered why we would be charged the doctor visit for this, when I’d found out just as much doing my own research.

I looked over at Ken, who sat miserably slumped in his plastic chair that matched my own. I reached over and took his hand. As usual, he slowly, painfully rotated enough to look back. He gave me as much smile as he could muster: the effort and expression I’d always loved.

“Dr. Mortem,” I said clearly and slowly, “We understand the risks.” I turned from Ken and tried to get the doctor to meet my eye, then continued anyway, “We’re out of time, and we’ve decided to take Diversis.”

Sighing, Dr. Mortem stood and collected his tablet. He tapped the screen authoritatively a few times, frowning in the reflected glare of its filtered display. Soon, he held the device out to us. A lengthy page of legal agreement scrolled before me.

His hand shook slightly in the strain of the lightweight computer, so I relieved him of it and began reading.

“You’ll receive a copy to review at your leisure,” he intoned.

“Thank you,” I answered him, continuing to read. It was like any other medical disclaimer I’d read in my life, up until the Possible Side Effects section. I wished the researcher had livened things up a bit to alleviate the main, uncontested outcome of Diversis, but all prescriptions must have the same, dry author.

“Less common side effects include dizziness, lethargy, upset stomach, dry mouth, mild nerve pain, and weight loss.” I read first, out of interest. Everyone knew about the main effects, the ones I was avoiding even though Dr. Mortem all but tapped his foot as I tried to be thorough. I distracted myself in perusing these milder ones.

Like any human drawn to morbid news, however, my focus irresistibly pulled upward. “Main side effects include, but are not limited to: personality alteration, complete memory loss, mood swings, lack or loss of previous interests, and all effects associated with the aforementioned effects.”

“You’ll both need to sign, unless your husband has granted Power of Person to you,” Dr. Mortem supplied, nearly shifting forward with impatience. The man had lower body mass than Ken. I wondered if he ever went long distances unassisted.

Sighing, I allowed the text to scroll to the end. I hesitated, at the proverbial point of no return.

I felt a touch at my right elbow. Surprised, I turned to see Ken staring intently at me. His eyes shifted pointedly to the tablet. As wordlessly as he had been for about a month, I moved the device within his tenacious reach. If he’d had the muscle control, I was sure he would have put his tongue between his teeth the way he used to when concentrating, as Ken wrote his name as slowly and clearly as any kindergartener.

He made a slight noise as his hand dropped to his side, and I pulled the screen back. The consent for treatment line still held a space for my signature, but I stared at the blank space with dread.

I loved Ken, so much. Marriage wasn’t like the movies, though. Marriage was two people deciding to live together after initial attraction and the decision to make sharing your possessions easier. We’d had to reconnect and readjust every few years as goals, jobs, children, natural brain chemistry, and disease had sauntered in and shaken up our comfortable dynamics.

“I’ll need your signature, too, or we can’t move forward,” Dr. Mortem prompted.

Ken grunted.

Resisting my overwhelming urge to smash the whole thing to the floor, I signed my own name next to my husband’s. “Goodbye, Ken,” I whispered. I handed the tablet back to Dr. Mortem.

Basic Rules of Writing, AKA How to Not Suck

Where do you start a story? How do you explain a situation? Describe a person? Paint the landscape ’round the subject?

Some authors allude to a running away of characters once they are formed. “They write themselves!” Those writers explain. Most others warn of much more work than that.

Whatever way you wish to describe the process, one thing is certain: you have got to make whatever you write interesting.

And so, I present to you a brief tutorial of How to Jazz Up a Paragraph of a Story.

Sample Paragraph (Warning: really boring):
Sam is a man. Sam owns a dog. The dog is a golden retriever. Sam and his dog went on a walk to the park. They walked around the park. They came back home.

1. Redundancy.
For the love of Sam, use different words. That is the point of a thesaurus. Besides replacing overused terms like “Sam” with “He” or “The man,” this also means you need to not always begin the sentences the same. Try putting the action first, like, After walking around the park, the pair returned home.

2. Descriptions.
Sam is not just a man. Sam has a height, a weight, blood pressure, blood type, interests, hair color, bad habits, and a golden retriever. Speaking of, Sam’s dog probably has a name.
Instead of Sam is a man, try Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens did not fit one’s usual description of a man.

3. Show, not Tell.
If we wanted Dr. Seuss or Dick and Jane, we’d pick those up and read them to Kindergartners. Your audience is not likely to be such a young crowd. Therefore, you need to think about the situation your character is in and describe events and landscapes and such.
I often imagine myself watching what I want to describe. I start to feel the wind sifting the hairs of my arms as the grass waves in a soft shush of sound near my feet.
See?
So, try Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park.

4. Be Specific.
This option is a bit of icing on the cake.
Being specific means that an author needs to write something the reader can relate to very personally.
Let’s take Sam, since we’ve brought him this far. Instead of just a park or a golden retriever, name them. Or, if you don’t really want to, have something happen at the park or have Sam be thinking about a troubling event many people think about.

5. As a Grammar Fiend, Please Fix Spelling and Grammar, Too.
That’s fairly self-explanatory. You have tools, and a few annoying friends who love to correct people’s mistakes.

And now, Class, let’s re-write our paragraph using what we’ve learned:

Tall, pale, and lanky, Sam Stephens didn’t fit one’s usual description of a man. Sam’s dog didn’t mind. Of course, golden retrievers didn’t usually mind much of anything, particularly when they were walking outside on a fine day. Sam stretched one long leg in front of another as he and Captain strolled down the sidewalk. A slight breeze ruffled Captain’s fine coat, distracting Sam from moody considerations of Sylvie. Sylvie didn’t exist out here; she was back in the dark apartment, behind the door he’d slammed after grabbing the dog leash. Bright streams of summer sunbeams played across the moving pair, as they walked briskly beneath the arched entry-gate of the nearby park. Friendly passersby said, “Hello,” and “How are you?” to the handsome dog and his owner. They couldn’t stay long, however, and Sam knew it. After walking around the park, the pair returned home.

Recurring Story: Eight

The story her father had given her that morning niggled at the back of Wil’s mind, though she didn’t know why. She thought it must be because he hardly gave into requests lately. Rob still worked swing shifts at jobs so he could be home for Cynthia’s treatments and doctor visits. With everything going on, he hardly felt up to talking or even smiling.

Wil held the happy feelings of memory in a small area of her mind as she glided through dissipating fog toward the sprawling school building. Happy, chattering groups of teenagers passed her. Silent, dark forms of seriously solemn schoolmates stalked by. Average young adults found others and nervously discussed upcoming assignments. They were all pulled inexorably to the doors and swallowed in.

Sometimes, Wil felt school was a prison. She rarely enjoyed attending. She was not one of a pair in a couple of silent types, or even an average sort to worry over tests. Wil was also definitely not chatty among a group of other trend-setting bubble heads.

As she watched groups of her peers like a momentary anthropologist, however, she admittedly felt envy. Wil hadn’t met and made any friends since moving to this school shortly after her birthday in September. She was old enough and experienced enough by now to tune out ridiculous encouragement by school counselors and teachers -but, they were correct in that even one friend would make school exponentially more tolerable.

Exponentially… Wil’s mind lingered over the word. She realized she’d been drifting the wrong direction and corrected herself to head instead toward her locker. She was going to be late for math.

Taking her mittens off so she could open her locker, Wil set her things on the ground and spun the combination on the lock. It sprung open, and she was surprised to see a folded paper sitting in the bottom among the dust.

Wil stealthily looked around, but only caught the eye of a few clueless chatterers in groups with other vacuous participants. Clearly, no one standing near had any idea about her, her locker, or its contents.

Always up for variety and adventure, Wil reached in and unfolded the page. It had a serrated edge and blue lines to tell where it had been extracted from. Half expecting there to be nothing on it, since careless people put garbage everywhere, Wil was surprised to see writing across the middle.

Unfortunately, the writing was not done in letters customary for American English, nor in their usual order. Her excitement increased a bit more; this was a code!

“It probably reads ‘Your an idiot,'” thought Wil, “With misspellings included. Or, it’s not really meant for me.”

Still, she burned with a curiosity to solve and read the cryptic message. It had been in her locker. Hopefully, this message really was for her. Hopefully, it would be some sort of clue to a mystery of great import. She would decipher these symbols and save the…

The school bell echoed deeply through the halls, stirring standing bodies to slowly walking ensembles.

Wil put her backpack and other books inside, and shut the door. Pocketing her secret, she smiled. Math class would be a lot more interesting today.

The demon who has haunted your family for generations…

Writing Prompt
The demon who has haunted your family for generations pays you a visit to tell you you’re next.

“Now, remember, children: Aunt Millie will be here in five minutes. No; don’t you give me that face! Robbie, don’t groan like that. You aren’t going to do that when she comes, are you? No, you’re not. Owen, get over here and let me tuck in your shirt.”

I pretended focused interest in my book as soon as Deb began talking. She always thought I couldn’t hear her, but my poor body automatically came to attention whenever her pinched nasal tone rang through the halls. If only she’d not decided to stand in the foyer to command the boys, then I could have slipped upstairs or out back.

Too late.

“Jim!” Footsteps.

“Jim, honey,” she paused behind me, gathering patience. She’d recently read a marriage book that recommended communicating in a way that made each of us feel acceptance. So far I’d had decreased yelling, but increased audible sighing.

“Jim, did you hear about your Aunt Mildred?” I heard her footsteps come around the couch, then hazily made out Deb’s body shape beyond my mystery novel. She had a hand on a hip.

“Yes?” I asked, neutrally. I shouldn’t have.

*Sigh* (That was Deb)

“I said Aunt Mildred would be here in five minutes. You’re the one who told me about it last night.” She gave me her stern face. “At eleven o’clock last night.”

My face betrayed my attempts at nonchalance as I felt it scrunch into a guilty expression. “Oh, yeah.”

I smiled sincerely up at Deb. “Thanks, Deb! I’ll go make sure the front porch looks inviting.” I got up and was outside before she could realize I had escaped. I heard another exasperated exhalation just before I pulled the door carefully closed.

A car noise nearby made me jump. I turned to look, but the offender was merely a passing VW. She wasn’t here yet.

Despite what assurances my wife gave us, I was with my boys: Aunt “Millie” was not an event to look forward to. I thought to run an errand or request an out of town convention from my boss, but knew that wouldn’t work.

My dad used to try avoiding her. But If he ran to the store, Aunt Mildred would wait. I still remembered her stiff, high-buttoned, lacy-collared form sitting disapprovingly straight in our front room chair, waiting with a stern frown for his return.

And no matter how impromptu my dad planned business trips, his dear aunt would always plan a surprise return visit the minute his car came home from the airport.

I realized now, upon reflection, that I had also heard my father ruefully exclaim, “I should have known better.” When pressed, he’d mumble something about Uncle Earl never being able to shake Mildred, either.

I frowned. Something wasn’t quite right.

A robin called to his friend from across the yard. Another bird answered cheerfully.

From inside the house, I heard a yell, scrambling feet, and “M-o-o-o-o-m!” Deb’s high tones soon followed, plus a smack that may have been something falling and not a love pat to some offender’s rear end.

Tuning it all out, I set my book on the front porch bench. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed.

“Hello?” My mother’s unsure voice asked, although I knew she would have seen my name on her screen.

“Hi, Mom!” I said brightly. “It’s Jim.” I paused, then joked, “Your son.”

“Oh, hi, Jim dear. How are you?” Mom said. I could hear her smile. She was always willing to play along, which made her a fun grandmother for my children.

“I’m good.” I studied the hideous flip-flop and water balloon wreath on our front door. “I was just calling to ask you a question, Mom.”

“Okay, dear. Shoot.” I could mentally picture my mother settling onto whatever chair she was near, even if she was out shopping.

I toyed with a stray balloon. “I just wondered if you could tell me about Aunt Mildred.” She didn’t respond, so I continued, “You know, is she my great aunt? Dad’s? Earl’s?” Nothing. “She’s been around for a while,” I added, teasing.

“Mom?” I asked, then frowned and looked at my phone screen. The call had dropped.

“Hello James,” a familiar female voice clearly enunciated behind me. I froze, then turned.

I hadn’t heard a car, but her suitcase sat by her feet. I hadn’t heard footsteps, though she still wore those black antique boots with the hard soles. I should have at least noticed the birds were no longer chirping.

“Au-Aunt Mildred,” I managed, pocketing my cell phone. She hated them and refused to have them in her presence.

“Yes,” she stated. Her ageless eyes bored into mine. “I’ve come, just as I promised, James. You’re next.”

The Recipe to Success?

Message_1496287946393

Tasty, homemade, fresh, slightly ruined.

“I make this all the time for corporate events. Everyone asks me for a copy of the recipe.”

1 Decade of wasted effort
20 Queries to friends
5 Self-help books, or more, to taste
6 Counselling sessions
42 Inspirational quotes

1. Set your life to 360º.

2. In a large bowl, add the first five ingredients until piecey and coarse. Stir until Tendinitis and/or Depression force you to stop.

3. Pour wasted effort/quotes mix into prepared online post, adding personal details so that friends may comment inauthoritatively. Pretend to feel justified.

4. Sit without improvement for 3 months.

5. Find yourself through a healthier medium; by finally, actually, simply concluding that you really are the key to your own success.

6. Remove fermented, molding mass from internet and dispose of properly.

7. Serve, and enjoy!

The Saddest Song

The saddest song does not sing truth.
The wittiest writing is not the wisest.
The loudest voice is not correct.
The strongest shove does not show strength.
Yet
We cry, and pay the weeping beggar.
We laugh, and share the snarky satire.
We turn and listen to the yelling.
We vote for the bully to be in charge.