August 25th, 2020

meow, cat, Siamese, catty

Writing Challenges

This week's Odd Prompts challenge over at More Odds than Ends was from Becky Jones:


That big closet in the hall is very convenient. It’s quite large and makes for good storage space. One day you realize that there is way more stuff in there than it should be able to hold. You decide to clean it out. As you reach into the back of the closet you discover that it is much larger than is physically possible. What’s going on?


I fiddled around with this one for a while, trying to continue it from last week's challenge. At first I was thinking of the hall closet at my grandmother's house, and how it was always so full that we never realized just how much she had in it until we had to empty it out after the funeral. But I couldn't figure out a good way to get my protagonist inside the house.

Then I got to thinking about the supply closet at the Elementary Building, and playing with the idea that the kid who was turned into a bobcat had been sent there to retrieve something for a teacher, and got a little too curious. However, I still couldn't figure out how exactly my protagonist establishes communication with the bobcat, so I decided to jump ahead to when she gets back there and starts investigating.

The Crowned Inspector is another villain character from my grade-school fictional worlds, inspired by a character in one of the Madeline stories who demanded a dog be sent away as unfit to be in a girls' school, along with the stern warning the lunch monitor gave us when a health department inspector was to come, which sort of got conflated in my fertile young mind to create a villain with ornate headgear. Somewhere in our storage unit is at least one drawing of her -- and I think she also had a sister or daughter who was just as much trouble in my childhood story-world. Once I actually put all these pieces together to make something resembling a coherent story, her presence will have to be foreshadowed in the earlier episodes in the school buildings, in a way that leads my protagonist to assume that Of Course this woman is in cahoots with Sly Fox, forgetting that there's not necessarily a Villain Team, and villains can often work at cross purposes

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As I approached the entrance of the Elementary Building, that familiar knot of apprehension began to twist in my gut. The last time I'd been here, I'd barely extricated myself from a very unpleasant confrontation, and it was quite possible that Mr. Robeson would have given all the teachers a description of me and instructions to be on the lookout.

But now that I knew what was going on with the supply closet between the girls' and boys' restrooms, I had to get in and investigate. The hidden door behind the mats on the north wall of the gymnasium was always a part of the secret world of my childhood stories, but there'd never been anything about the supply closet having extraordinary powers. But then the whole "bigger on the inside" thing sounded like something straight out of Doctor Who, which I didn't discover until I was in my freshman year of college.

I pulled the door open, halfway expecting an alarm to go off. But things were more relaxed back in the 1970's, when fear was more about nuclear war than school shooters.

How innocent we were back in those days.

I glanced at the school library and the teachers' lounge, but both doors were closed. Now to head up the stairs to the second floor and check out that supply closet.

Even after having been away from this place for four decades and change, I still walked up the stairs on the right, a habit that had been ingrained into us as students here. If I let myself go up on autopilot, would I head for Mrs. Frieselder's room or Mrs. Kaisch's?

Now was not the time to indulge in such experiments, especially given that school would be in session. I didn't need to go walking into a classroom and having to explain to the teacher what I was doing wandering around the school. Somehow I doubted that I went to school here and wanted to see what it looked like now wasn't going to go very far.

When I opened the glass doors at the top of the stairs, I could hear voices coming from the various classrooms, but not well enough to pick out what was being said. At least I didn't have to worry about setting off any alarms – such a different experience from my visits to local schools in the Grinnell area to do presentations on various historical topics, where I had to be escorted by a staff member with the necessary key cards.

Part of me wished I could take enough time to peek into the rooms and try to gauge which year this was by who was teaching and whether I could recognize any of the students. But the last thing I needed right now was anybody noticing me and wondering why a strange woman was wandering around. Especially if they looked at my sneakers, considering they were a style of athletic shoe that wouldn't even come on the market until well into the next decade.

The supply closet door was closed, but at least it wasn't locked. Then again, this was a much more trusting era. Sure, there'd been an incident when someone had been swiping candy from the boxes for the sixth-grade candy sales, but that had been a one-time thing from before I started school, which I only heard about from Mrs. Lawrence – or had it been Mrs. Holt? One of the teachers who'd been there since the back of forever, and had some of my classmates' older brothers and sisters and was apt to mix up the names, or treat them by whatever reputation their older siblings had established.

It looked pretty much the same as I remembered from my days as a student in this building. High shelves on both sides, stacked with textbooks and other classroom supplies. I didn't see any boxes of candy, so it was possible that the sixth-grade candy sales hadn't started yet. The window on the far wall to let in light, and a ceiling lamp for cloudy days, or if the janitor came in at night for some reason.

I squinted a little and scanned the area. Sometimes the secret doors would show up better in my peripheral vision. On the other hand, it was also possible that I needed to start unloading the shelves before I'd be able to discover it – which meant that I would have to be very careful to avoid any traps that might be hidden behind it.

Footsteps approached the door. I turned, expecting Mr. Robeson or maybe one of the teachers.

Instead, there stood a tall woman of imposing demeanor and disapproving expression. She wore a spectacularly ornate piece of headgear, a bulbous thing constructed of vertical straps of metal topped by a globe that might be glass.

"May I ask what you are doing here?"

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I finally was able to get a flash fiction story written for the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. I tried and abandoned ideas for stories in the Grissom timeline and the Chongu Empire 'verse, and finally settled for a rather mainstream story of a retired Air Force officer's research on an old airmail navigation beacon system (which by the way is a real thing -- a number of those concrete arrows are still scattered around the countryside, and they're so big they're actually visible from Low Earth Orbit as well as from an airplane).

As usual, you can participate in Odd Prompts by sending a prompt to oddprompts@gmail.com to be assigned a random prompt in turn, or check out one of the spare prompts that are always available. And there'll be a new word and picture prompt up at Indies Unlimited on Saturday.