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.

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.”

Customer Service?

“And I-uh-I will all-ways love yooo-ooo-oou!” I belt out, then pause to strike a pose as the thrilling, albeit low-quality notes continue bravely on through the overhead speaker.

“Sharon, report to customer service. Customer waiting,” rudely cuts off the rest of Whitney’s (muted) boisterous tones.

I frown, and try to remember what I was doing on this aisle, before grabbing a random shelf item to sing into. I appear to be in the Clearance section. I am still holding my makeshift microphone.

“What the -” I think to myself, looking more carefully at my hand. It seems to be a tube full of glittering solution. I thought it was Princess-themed body lotion for girls or something, but now I see impossible phenomena: swirls of color float sporadically inside the bottle like miniature Northern Lights.

“Wow,” I breathe, a bit mesmerized.

“Dab. Da babba!” My infant son demands, smacking at the bottle awkwardly with his wet hands and breaking my concentration.

I smile at him. “Sorry, bub. We’re going now.” I notice I’ve picked up the crazy parent tendency to talk to my child, even though I am certain he doesn’t know what I say. I shrug. Maybe, I hope he does. Maybe I’m really just telling myself.

Absently, I allow him to pull the sparkle tube into his hands and I push the cart down the aisle.

“Squeee!” He excitedly screams, shaking his new toy. He tries to eat it.

“Now, Sam,” I begin, about to lecture a ten-month-old on the dangers of foreign paint.

“May I help you?” A man asks. I look up and see an oddly-dressed store associate. He looks as though he took his blue uniform vest home and embellished it with tassels at the corners. In fact, dangling fringe seem to be his thing; since there are also tassels on his slippers and his hat, and he sports a goatee.

“Whatever,” I think to myself. “They are scrambling for employees right now.” I smile at the strange man. Aloud, I answer, “No, thanks.”

He bows. “I was speaking to the Young Master,” Odd Associate clarifies, gesturing toward my son. “I didn’t understand his request.”

“Huh?” I ask, my face showing confusion. Perhaps this associate wasn’t all there. I mentally plan an exit strategy.

“Ah,” Odd One says. “I forgot to introduce myself.” He straightens up, smooths down his clothes and announces, “I am Amijd, Genie of Akmand. I am here,” he bows again, “to grant your wishes.”

If my face showed some concern with the confusion at first, I am certain concern -or, more accurately, alarm- is all I express now. I begin backing towards the other end of the aisle.

Amijd looks surprised. “I did try,” he hastily adds. He reaches behind him and pulls out a squeegee. I stop, and stare at it, and him.

He sees the look, and explains, “Young Master asked for a ‘squeee!'” Amijd looks apologetic. Sam gets excited. “Squeeee!” Sam squeals again, dropping the effervescent container and reaching slobbery hands out for the window tool instead.

Amijd steps forward a bit in reflex of the falling bottle, but it lands harmlessly next to Sam in the cart basket. Amijd appears relieved, and he instead places the squeegee into Sam’s hands.

I look at the overly-friendly Middle-Eastern man, standing expectantly near us and smiling. I look at Sam, trying to eat the corners of a black plastic sponge. I look at the swirling colors of the dropped toy.

Still eyeing “The Genie of Akmand,” I carefully pick up the bottle and wipe it off on my jeans. Amijd, if possible, looks even happier. He bows to me. “What wish do you command?” He asks.

“Well,” I begin. If there is any truth to this wish thing, it seems worth it to try. I look around the store, at the merchandise in my cart, and at Sam. “Well, how about, ‘I wish to have all of my purchases paid for today?'”

Amijd’s face clouds in concentration, then he waves his hands and says, “Done!” He looks hopeful. I look down at my basket. Nothing seems to have changed.

“Um. Okay,” I say. I decide to go to the checkouts, in case something looks different there. I turn and walk that way. The genie follows, his slippers softly shuffling across the waxed titles.

We reach the checkout, not without some odd looks from other shoppers. The checker seems unimpressed, though I’m sure she’s seen some odd getups working here. She scans my items in a bored manner. “That’ll be $65.83,” she says, looking out the window.

I glare at Amijd, who changes his pleased look for concern. I pull out my credit card and slide it through the machine. “I even had to pay for that squeegee,” I tell myself.

“Have a good day,” Checker automatically intones, as she hands me my receipt and starts scanning the next person’s items.

I gather up my bags and start walking to the doors. Amijd skips right along.

Once outside, I stop. I look at him. “What the heck?” I ask. “I still had to pay for everything -even Sam’s ‘wish’ you gave him!”

The genie is surprised. “I granted that everything was paid for,” he defends. I think about that. He is technically right. I groan. I didn’t want this kind of wishing, the kind where you might get dropped in an ocean if you don’t specify where you want to be when given a long-lost treasure.

“That’s not what I expected,” I tell the smiling tassel man. He looks thoughtful for a bit, then says, “Ah. I will try harder. But,” he adds, “I may only grant you two more wishes.”

“Of course,” I think. I look down at Sam, who has successfully gnawed a strip of the sponge away from the plastic. I try to think. “Any wishing for more wishes?” I ask. Amijd shakes his head, his tassel swaying across its hat and his head.

I think some more, hard. “Okay.” I pause. “I wish for our car to be paid off, but not by me, my husband, or any relative.” I look at Amijd as he does his frowning and hand-waving. He looks up. “Done!” He announces.

Just then, a crossover SUV peals into the parking lot. I catch a glimpse of a blonde woman applying lipstick, with a cell phone clenched between her cheek and shoulder. Half of a second later, she misjudges her turn into the stall and smashes into the side of my car.

I stand there, aghast. “Amijd!” I yell. “Damid!” Sam repeats, giggling. I watch the woman get out, still holding her phone. She looks at what remains of my car, from different angles. She seems to be trying to find a position at which the damaged vehicle does not look completely smashed in.

I might suspect coincidence, if not for the affably pleased oddity standing near me, and the fact that Blondie seems to have no damage to her car. I check the parking lot for any other random maniacs, and cross with my cart to the accident scene.

The blonde woman is still walking about, her black heels clicking loudly on the asphalt. “Hey!” I say. She stops, and looks up at me. I can see that she didn’t finish her makeup job.

“Oh my! I am so sorry!” She says, her apology fighting to show through the botox in her face. “I don’t know what happened, dear!” She finally detaches the cell phone, and flips her hair over a shoulder.

“You call the police, honey,” she points at me. Somehow she has already extricated her insurance information. “They always take a while to get here, so I’ll just pop in the store and be right back for my statement,” she says as she hands me her card.

“Thanks, dear. Sorry again.” I watch her blonde hair and black shawl walk away to the echoing sounds of her shoes. The store doors close behind her.

“One more wish, Master,” I hear near my elbow. I look from the toll-free phone number of Blondie’s car insurance company to the expectant, goateed man. I’m considering calling the police for two reasons now.

I have the feeling Amijd won’t leave till I’ve spoken my last wish, though -as tempting as arrest sounds right now. So, I try to think of a harmless wish as I dial the number to report accidents.

I’m put on hold.

“Okay, Amijd,” I say, holding my own phone with my shoulder. “I wish to lose twenty pounds.” He mumbles and waves his hands as the operator finally comes on the line.

“Hello. Yes, I’d like to report an accident,” I say. I glance around, happily noticing that Amijd is gone. I look back at my car and say, “Yes, we’d like an officer. It’s at- wait! Where’s Sam?!”

Hello, My Name Is

“Welcome to our little engagement.” A middle-aged woman smiled up at me. She was dressed like a 50’s commercial of a housewife at an evening ball. “Please, find your name tag and join the group.” She gestured to the table in front of her with a well-veined hand ending in Avon-pink fingernails. Her smile was practiced and her actions just slightly exaggerated.

I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see a camera crew. But, no; there was just a normal wall, various potted artificial trees posted at two unobtrusive doors, and an empty, dark hallway beyond the open doors.

I turned back to the white tablecloth of name tags with their friendly hostess. She smiled graciously again, waiting. Looking down at the options, I was not certain which name was mine. What sort of party am I at? I wondered as I read over them.

“Perhaps,” the woman began, reaching forward and brushing slightly against her rose corsage, “This one, dear.” She picked up a sticker and proffered it to me in the light grip of those nails. I took it, read it, nodded slightly at her expectant look, and adhered it to my chest. She held out her hand for the backing, and smiled up at me as she disposed of it somewhere behind the rectangular table and her folding chair.

“Refreshments will be served in half an hour. Please enjoy yourself before then.” I had been dismissed. She stared at the doors behind me, where I could hear the sounds of more guests approaching. I took one last look at her vintage updo; large, starburst earrings; and rouged cheek. Then, I stepped around the table and into the room beyond.

Intentionally-dim lighting shadowed a small open area with more of those artificial ficus clumped artistically round the walls. A few other women were standing idly: one, drawing a drink near a white tableclothed food area; two chatting with feigned reactions of hilarity at the opposite end of the table; a final woman looking pensive as she meditated on the fine silk leaves of the east wall’s foliage.

I walked slowly toward the drink area as well, though I was not really thirsty. I tried to walk in a way that looked graceful and confident. I knew that I really looked barely-stable and uncertain. As if to make that point, my left toe caught on the floor and I stumbled somewhat. No one seemed to notice and I successfully drew closer.

I stopped and examined the table settings, using that as an excuse to also smooth down the cotton dress I seemed to be wearing. The punch and its drinker were to my left; the chatting women and plant-studier were to my right. A pile of clear plastic plates sat in front of me and various stratifications of empty cake plates, platters, and bowls led eventually to the conversing couple.

“Hi! I’m Confident in Public but Not in Intimate Relationships,” an unexpected voice to my left said. She was a perky and -yes- confident voice. I envied the self-assured tone and slight Southern drawl of her enunciations. Turning to see what face was associated with this introduction; I was greeted by a mid-length, auburn bob curling slightly around a friendly, open face. The hair and face were attached to a slender woman sporting a dress much like my own, in a bold shade of red instead of my pastel blue. The exact words she greeted me with were written boldly on the white square sticker attached above her left breast. She was the punch-drinking woman, and was standing next to me with a hand outstretched expectantly. Her other hand was holding a cup full of red drink.

Not having another obvious option, I took her hand. She applied just the right amount of pressure; a grip that was comfortably, confidently tight but also soft and gentle. “Ah,” she nodded, as I released her tight grip quickly, “I see.” She had read my name tag. I blushed and moved my eyes away from her direct gaze. I pretended interest in the laughing women, who took that exact moment to pause awkwardly in their falsely familiar exchange.

Confident took a sip from her cup, and studied the other women with me. She swallowed and nodded toward them. “That’s More Creative Than Logical and Talks Too Loud. They’re fun. You should go introduce yourself.” She studied my tag again, and generously added, “I’ll go with you.”

She started forward purposefully, and I trailed behind. I tried to imitate her gait without looking like the circus monkey I was certain I resembled.

“Hi, Creative. Hi, Loud,” Confident greeted the women. They smiled and turned to Confident expectantly. “Anything happen while I’ve been gone?” She teased. They laughed; Loud’s a noisy, irritating imitation of sincere gaiety.

“I’d like you to meet my new friend,” Confident gestured to me, standing hesitantly to her right. I saw their smiles fade a few levels as their focus turned on me, then a few more as they made out the words on my sticker.

“Hi,” I said, trying to sound like I hadn’t noticed the dimming effect I’d had. A bit too late, I held out my hand to shake theirs. They reciprocated, in turn. I knew my grip was not as perfect an act as my “friend’s,” but I attempted to imitate the feel of hers as I touched hands with silvery-clad Creative and orange-dressed Loud. Having completed this ritual, we all stood around idly wondering what to do next.

“Well,” Confident supplied finally, “Don’t let me interrupt you two.” She smiled and winked at them. “I know you were having a great chat just now.” The others looked relieved, smiled back at her, and nodded in agreement.

“Oh, yes,” Loud answered emphatically. I saw Creative step back very slightly though she still looked at her companion with pretended pleasure. “Creative here was just telling me about a very funny friend she met back on her first day of college.” She laughed annoyingly again; Creative joined in, more quietly and less annoyingly.

“Sounds great!” Confident responded, adding an assured giggle of her own. I smiled weakly. “We’ll go pop over to see Introvert. Then maybe you can tell us all about it when we come back.” They nodded agreeably (“Sounds good!” Loud exclaimed.) and we continued on to the artificial plant and a quiet brunette still appearing to examine it.

“Hello, again, Innie,” Confident said as we approached the last woman’s area. A petite, long-haired woman of some mid-age turned slowly to blink at us through round eyeglasses. She smiled slightly and intelligently at the space between us.

Confident failed to catch Introvert’s eye. Shrugging, she laid her punch-free hand on my shoulder in a friendly manner. “My friend here just arrived so I brought her over to meet you.”

The small woman turned her body to me, and I was able to read her label: Introverted Intellectual. I smiled. This was always a sort I could speak with, at least somewhat. The conversation depended on whether I had any experience with the topics she had, and how conversant she felt at the time.

As I mused, Introverted frowned and studied my name. I felt a compulsion to turn or hide it, and she was only the fourth person to be introduced to me.

Introverted’s small frame stayed slightly hunched forward, almost seeming to give to the weight of her hanging hairstyle. Her head and glasses pointed upwards to meet my eyes. “I’m pleased to meet you,” she told me softly, sincerely.

“Pleased to meet you,” I replied, pleasantly surprised but also cautious. I knew no one was actually pleased to meet me.

I caught an action from my peripheral vision: Confident taking another casual drink to fill the silence. “Ah,” she began. Introverted and I politely turned her direction. “I see some more ladies have arrived.” Confident nodded toward the door and we looked as well. A party of four or five newcomers was clumped around the hostess’ table, plus two more just through the door. The green, pink, gray, turquoise, brown, white, and yellow movement was a garden of blowing flower tops.

“I’ll just pop over and settle these folks in,” Confident continued. She smiled at me; I timidly returned it. She smiled at Introverted; she was still studying the entranceway. “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll be back again to introduce y’all later.” Confident walked off confidently, ready to bring her necessary order to those tangled weeds.

Introverted and I relaxed in the brief silence and shared solitude. I wondered how many more people I’d have to meet, and who would have to meet me, before the distraction of food.