I met with a group of writer friends and we talked about our various works in progress and our plans for this November’s National Novel Writing Month. We also partook in a couple writing challenges, taking prompts from The Writer's Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction from The Editors of Fresh Boiled Peanuts. The first line of the following two shorts came from that book. We then read our writings out loud. What was interesting was how six people could hear the exact same line and come up with six wildly different stories. Here are the two I wrote:
“You’ll notice my wife doesn’t drink,” Calthrop said, waving a casual hand toward the woman seated in the easy chair. “Wise of her, considering her condition.”
He raised a delicate china cup to his lips, sipping at the hot brew he had liberally doctored with lemon and sugar. Four lumps I counted, and wondered how anyone could tolerate anything that sweet. My cup was empty. I wasn’t thirsty, much to my host’s dismay.
I tried not to breathe too deeply for fear of asphyxiation via lemon furniture polish. Like the room around us, Charles Calthrop was a testament to immaculate fastidiousness. I knew he was a college professor, lecturing in English literature with a specialization in Victorian era poetry. He looked like he belonged in that time. Every hair on his head was ruthlessly in place and his suit jacket revealed exactly one and a quarter inch of crisp white cuff. The crease in his slacks was razor-perfect and I could easily see my reflection in the shine of his shoes.
His wife’s expression never seemed to change. Amanda Winters-Calthrop sat in the Queen Anne chair opposite me, her legs crossed and showing only her lower legs and ankles, her hands folded delicately in her lap. Her face showed the same soft smile it had held when her husband introduced us, her eyes the same far-off, slightly unfocused look behind her tinted glasses. A serene, quiet woman, so different from so many others I’d met in the course of my career. She was obviously content to let her husband command this meeting, even thought she was the reason I was here.
“And what exactly is her condition?” I asked. “Her family is quite worried. They haven’t heard from her in some time, which is why they called me.” In spite of the fact that she was right there in the room with us, I couldn’t help referring to her as if she were absent.
“Are you sure I can’t get you something, Detective? Some water? Or a soft drink? I assume you won’t drink anyting hard while you’re on duty.”
“Water,” I said, giving in. Calthrop would not be comfortable unless I had fully accepted his hospitality. “Water will be fine.”
“Still or aerated?”
“Tap is fine.”
“Very well.” He set his cup down and crossed the room to the wet bar. I turned my attention to his wife, trying to gain her attention, but wasn’t successful. Was she drugged? Is that why she seemed…not quite there?
Calthrop returned with a glass of iced water. A wedge of lemon floated on the top and I could tell he had squeezed some of its juice into the water. I took a drink and set it down. The water tasted bitter, something the lemon juice should have countered.
“Now,” I continued. “Your wife’s family—“
“I will give them a call later this evening,” Calthrop said. “Explain the situation. They’ll understand.”
“Why don’t you tell me and I’ll tell them for you.” The scent of lemon grew stronger and I found myself almost dizzy with it. I shook my head, but that did nothing to clear it.
“I’m afraid that won’t do,” Calthrop said, but I couldn’t hear him. As I sank to the floor, I looked at Amanda. My dying eyes stared as a worm slowly slithered out of her still, soft, dead mouth.
“You want me to believe in God? Fine. I believe he’s one twisted S.O.B.”
The smiles on the faces of the eager missionary Christians on my doorstep never faltered, but their eyes gave away their sudden attack of nerves. Obviously their training had never prepared them for someone like me. I pressed on.
“He’s a loving God, yet He smites those who oppose Him. I’m supposed to love Him and be afraid of Him at the same time. And He impregnates a virgin and then lets the resulting Child die. I’m supposed to believe in someone like that?”
The face of the young man on the left—I silently dubbed him “Lefty”—cleared and he seized the opening. “He sent His Son to die for our sins—“
“Which shows He’s in need of some serious therapy and a healthy dose of medication. Sorry. I’m glad you have something to believe in, but I can’t accept someone who’s so contradictory.”
“But He can do so much for you if only you’d let yourself believe—“
“You already know what I believe,” I said, cutting “Righty” off. “Now believe this: get off my property or I’m calling the cops.”
I closed the door in their faces, ignoring the tract “Lefty” tried to push off on me. I waited a minute, then checked the peek-hole. They were gone.
“Good riddance,” I muttered and returned to my desk so I could finish my sermon for this Sunday.