Consumption Chic

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The princess awoke amidst heraldry and cushions. Her red lips and flush cheeks were perfection straight out of bed. She put no hensbane in her eyes, as they were already bright.

She coughed into a handkerchief as she stood and found blood left behind. Such is the price of beauty!

(50 Words)

***

As part of my series where I showcase different prompts across WordPress, this was written for 50 Word Thursday.  In addition to the photo, Kristian and Teresa gave this quote:

“Her lips were red and perfectly shaped, her cheeks blushed prettily when she spoke.”
– Neil Gaiman, Stardust.

If you’re looking for a flexible prompt, look no further than 50 word Thursday!  You can do anything as long as you write in increments of 50 words.

My response was inspired by the fashion trend in the Victorian era to look like you had consumption (or tuberculosis).  People would do things like dilate their pupils to look pretty, or give themselves that healthy flush that was indicative of certain stages of the infection.  Consumption chic was so popular, in fact, that it actually delayed diagnosis of tuberculosis in many women who followed the trend.  CRAZY.

A Trip to the Well

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Sally lugged the bucket of water up from the well.  Her hands stung from the day of labor, but the taskmaster wouldn’t ease up.  She picked up the pail and carried it while the foreman fiddled with his whip.

Struggling to remain standing, Sally tripped and spilled half the water in the bucket.  She chanced a look at the foreman, hoping emptily that the foreman hadn’t noticed.

Scared of the whip, she dumped the bucket and ran towards the foreman.  She placed the empty bucket over his head, punched him in the gut, and took off for the Railroad.

***

This was written for the March 21st Carrot Ranch Prompt, ‘Bucket of water.’  I thought about how so many people, especially women, are enslaved to carry water – even today.  I chose to take a Southern slavery setting because it’s been most well taught to me, but it’s disturbing that so many people have to struggle and hurt for something I get to have so easily.

Picture by Hansben on Pixabay.

Carve the Cake

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The cake melted like butter beneath his carving knife. He chiseled through the icing and fondant, into the raspberry jam and vanilla center.

“What did you wish for, Pop-pop?”

Pop-pop gave the granddaughter a toothless smile.  Though his eyes were clouded from cataracts and his body now feeble, he put the knife to the table smoothly and handed his “little pet” a slice of cake.  “If I tell you, will you promise to make it come true?”

“Yes.”

“I wished to share another cake with you next year, sweetie.”  He pinched her cheeks and cut another slice of cake.

***

 Besides being my normal Carrot Ranch Friday, it just so happens that today – March 15th, 2019 – is Andrew Jackson’s 252nd birthday.  I celebrated by making gold half-eagle cookies (which you don’t get a picture of because I should be a contestant on ‘nailed it’ and they’re terrible) and finishing this month’s reading.

Fun fact: Jackson did have a grandaughter, Rachel, who he loved dearly and called his “little pett” in letters because he couldn’t spell for shit.  He lived to see many more birthdays than literally anyone expected he would.  In fact, he’d lived through so many things he shouldn’t, that people started asking him for medical advice.  Ol’ Dr. Jackson would prescribe his patients thing like melting brown sugar in a brandy fire then mixing it all together and drinking it, dissolving mercury chloride in warm milk and drinking it before bed, or even performing surgery on yourself (which he had done).  Many people continued to vote for him long after he died.

So please, have a pleasant day!  Enjoy freedom, peace, prosperity, and all that you may have with you.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

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“All dis for jus’ a speakeasy.”  Detective Banks spat, surveying the grisly scene by the garage.  “Deez gangsters are despicable.”

A beat cop with Tommy gun in hand nodded.  “Yeah, all four of the shooters had to’ve been real bad guys.”

“All four of ’em?  Where you pullin’ that number from, kid?”

The beat cop shrugged.  “Nowhere.”

“Old ladies in the ‘partment cross the street says four cops did it.  You know anything ’bout that?”

“No.”  The beat cop sneered, held his Tommy gun a little higher.

Detective Banks spat again.  “Case looks unsolvable.  Now, clean this mess up.”

***

This was written for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction challenge for February 14th, Valentine.  And what can be more Valentine’s than the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, save for the martyrdom of saints? 

Historical Info: On February 14th, 1929, some of Capone’s south-side gangsters teamed with a couple corrupt cops to slaughter 7 enemies in the North Side gang.  Though there were suspects in the murder, none of them were ever arrested due to lack of concrete evidence.  In this flash, I make the connection between rampant police corruption – which Chicago had at the time – and the unsolved mystery.  

A Farmer’s Wife

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Della’s nails always had earth under them.  Despite the bonnets and sleeves she wore, her skin would never be as milky-white as fashions required, as the folks in town would desire.

She surveyed the plains, ready for tilling and fertilizer.  Her horses swished their tails, her husband stood behind the plow.  In one hand she held the reins to another horse that pulled a wagon laden with manure, and with the other she held a pitchfork ready to toss the fertilizer onto the ground.

This smelly job would enrich the earth and keep the farm running, her family fed.

***

This was written for the January 10th Carrot Ranch Challenge, Enrich.  My teeth are doing well, I think, so the alarm is over!

True Love

He was a friend of mine. I bought his headstone and put him in the earth.

His parents were poor, but I was sure he wouldn’t have had even a wooden marker tied with twine.

He’d been kind to me at the stamp mill, seen me as an equal, a confidant.  We were to be married, a convenience to him and freedom to me, if God hadn’t chosen to take him home.  His parents were ever grateful that I was willing to hide their ‘mistake.’

But how could John’s life be a mistake when I loved him so deeply?

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***

This was written for this week’s historical Carrot Ranch Prompt on Cora Kingston and John Yendow.  I’ve taken ENORMOUS liberties with John’s life and Cora’s sensibilities, but who knows? 

Stagnation

In the quiet between rounds of shelling, I heard a scream just outside.  I shook my head – nothing I could do for the poor sot in the poison crater.  It would just get me killed.

Craters spotted what used to be a lovely field.  From my trench, across no man’s land, and all the way to Jerry were holes filled with stagnant water, chlorine gas, and corpses. And one of those holes contained a screaming British soldier. “Water!” he cried, certainly afraid of the filth he lay in.

I scratched my stubbly face with dirty nails.  How could we just leave him there?  I couldn’t take the wailing any longer!

Dirt from the sandbags fell onto my helmet as I scrambled up the side of the trench.  Men grabbed at my shoes, shouted, “Basil!  God, Basil, what are you doing!?”

Flames.  Smoke.  Blood.  I trudged through shelling.  Bullets whizzed by.  At last I fell in the screaming man’s crater.

I removed the lid from my canteen and poured my water onto dead lips.

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***

This was written for the inaugural Wacky Weekend Challenge by Dark Netizen.  If you don’t already follow him, DO IT.  He comes up with so much material that is absolute gold. 

In addition, as we commemorate 100 years after the end of the war that shaped our current global landscape, I hope to remember – albeit in a very removed fashion – what suffering real people had to endure to bring us the world we know today.  Our global community can all grieve for what could have been and what has been lost as a result of the tragic World Wars.  Never forget on this Veteran’s Day. 

Top o’ the Mornin

I put my shrapnel helmet on my head and shoved the leather strap beneath my chin.  The shelling no longer woke me from sleep, nor did the smell.  I stretched what little I could in the trench without letting a finger go above the ridge where bullets whizzed.

I crawled off the pile of khakis taken from the dead and wiped some of the flies from my face.  Every breath smelled like feces and freshly rotted flesh.  I shuddered.  Being late to my post would brand me a coward.

Like every person leaving the night’s post, I shook the stiff, rigor-mortis hand of a man who’d died in the first assault on the beach.  I was with the team that had tried to bury the dead, but the limbs refused to stay under the beachy grave.  This hand remained eternally in handshake grasp, ready to greet us every waking.

“Top of the mornin’ to you.”  I gave the good fellow a good shake.

At first I jumped when the dead man, having rotten for more than a month, pushed the sand from off his body and rose from the bloodstained beach.  I let go of the hand and jumped back just a bit, but this was nowhere near the worst or most surprising thing I’d seen since arriving on the shores of Gallipoli.

The man hit the side of his head to get the sand out of his ears and some of the more degraded pieces of his body.   “Wow… how long was I out?”

I shrugged.  “Couple months or so.”

“And they didn’t discharge me?  Even if I had to walk back to Suffolk, it’d be better than…”  the dead man gulped and put his skeletal hand to his chest.  “This is the beach I remember.  I remember the shelling.”

“Look at your hand.  You’re very, very dead.”

He flinched when he saw the blackened, bloody hand.  “Gah!”

“It’s a bloody mess.  Damn all the admirals and politicians to Hell,” I said.

“What should I do now?”

“Honestly, if I were in your position, I’d just lay back down and be dead.  Thought about it a couple times, myself.”

He nodded and lay back down.  “Top of the mornin’ to you.”

***

Recently, I’ve been listening to the Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast ‘Blueprint for Armageddon.’  This was inspired by the portion about the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign in WWI, then with a tiny slice of undead.  Despite the undead in this story, I think the way Carlin describes WWI shows how the actual war was so, so much worse than anything I could have possibly written.

If you like military history and aren’t EXTREMELY well read about WWI, Carlin’s Hardcore History is great.

Mightier than the Sword

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The vagabond put his sword up to the noble’s throat.  “Hand over your coin.  I’d hate to spill your blood over all that pretty velvet.”

The nobleman smiled.  “You took out my driver, then?  Slaughtered my guards by yourself?”

The vagabond’s face darkened.  He pushed the nobleman back, keeping the sword close to the rich man’s fur-lined neck.

“Alright.  I’ll give you my purse.  But it’d be a mistake – I can offer you more.”  The nobleman brandished his gold coins.  “I have need of a driver, of guards.  You seem to be a man of certain skill, and I pay well.”

The pressure against the noble’s neck relented.  “How well?”

***

This was written for the Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt.  I liked the 110 word prompt this week, and I tried hard not to let the prompt word – brandish – describe a weapon. 

Let no one tell you that money isn’t the most powerful, double-edged weapon of them all. It is, and that kind of sucks.  

Love in the Hidden Valley

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My hand touched hers.  I pulled away instantly and looked into the stranger’s face.

Luscious lips.  Doe’s eyes.

“Sorry,” I said.  I flexed my fingers.  “You first.”

She batted her eyes, showing off those long lashes.  Her tent dress had a psychedelic pattern in blazing hot pink, and a tight, yellow ribbon cinched her waist.  After she gave me a sheepish grin, she took the handle labeled ‘ranch’ and drizzled a helping over her lettuce and tomatoes.

She pursued some raisins, leaving an opening for me to grab the ladle.  “You like ranch too?” I asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“I just found out about it.  It’s so fresh, you know.”  I cleared my throat.  “So, uh, you come here to get salad often?”

She shook her head, and her beehive remained solid with all the hairspray.  “First time here.  My dad just got a new job in town, and he said the prospects of landing a good man in LA are slim.  So here I am.”

I walked with her, forgetting the sour beans I’d wanted to add.  I held my plate with one hand and flicked some ashes from my cigarette into an empty table’s ashtray.  “Get outta town!  This is only my third time here.  You think Daddy would let you out of sight long enough to grab a drink sometime?”

She chuckled.  “You look like you couldn’t hold much.”

“That just means I spend less money getting wasted than the other guys.  Economic bargain.”   I felt around in my pockets for a pen.  “Here.  This is a good bar – bit hole in the wall, but not too communist, you know?”

She chuckled.  “Friday?”

“Sure,” I answered.  “I show up at around eight.”

She gave me a wink.  “I’ll tell Daddy not to wait up.”

***

This was written for the September 25th Free Write on the Carrot Ranch.  The prompt was ‘Ranch Romance,’ and the first, second, and third things I thought of were literally all Bonanza or Gunsmoke plots – but I couldn’t submit that! 

So, time running short and my brain about to explode, what did I come up with? 

A story where people fall in love over ranch dressing.  In the 60’s.  

That’s why this exists.  You can thank Clorox (who owns Hidden Valley Ranch).