Zinnia Goes to You Know Where

Today’s story is from the wonderfully witty and wacky pen of Isa Lee Wolf, author of The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management, Better Living through GRAVY and other Oddities, Aunty Ida’s Full Service Mental Institution & Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended).

We’re especially grateful to Isa-Lee for giving up her time to produce this story for us, and not only stepping-in at short notice, but during the blogging A-Z Challenge.

 

“So,” said the woman, smiling as sympathetically as a being could around incisors like two hooked carrots, “I’ve got some bad news.” She hugged her clipboard to her chest. It was seared around the edges.

Zinnia took in air to speak but bent in half from the force of her coughing, heavy sulfur stinging the top of her throat. The being with the carrot-teeth gave her a few sharp whacks on the back. Zinnia strangled in a breath, another round of coughing triggered by the fresh dose of sulfur and this time something else, something sour.

“There there,” the being said unconvincingly. “It happens to everyone at first. Well, almost everyone. Some people are totally fine, which makes you wonder what, exactly, is going on up there.”

As she prattled, Zinnia managed to gain control by breathing through her nose, and only very shallowly. She straightened, her eyes red, tears gathered around the bottom lids.

“Crying already? That’s not a good start. I’m Crystal, by the way, and you must be—” Crystal consulted her clipboard, her translucent ears going flat as she read and perking up again when she finished, “—Zinnia”

“—Zinnia,” Zinnia choked out with her. “Can I get a glass of water or something?” she said, her voice hoarse.

“Nope,” said Crystal, her ears lightly bouncing as she shook her head. “It’s kind of part of the whole bad news deal.”

“That’s…” Zinnia said, looking around at the sandy expanse around her, punctuated here and there with jagged rocks in a slimy black, “kinda weird.”

“Won’t be when we’ve finished orientation. Follow me.” Crystal offered another carrot-toothy smile, revealing molars like cubed squash, and turned abruptly on the ball of her stiletto. The shoes sank deep into the sand with each step, from high heels to flats and back again. Momentarily mesmerized, Zinnia had to hurry to catch up, careful to keep a little distance. The tip of Crystal’s tail was pointy. “And watch where you put your feet, don’t want to end up like that.”

Crystal pointed with nails as curved as those carrot teeth to the top of one of the sharp spires, where someone dangled upside down, the zenith of the rock protruding through his thigh.

“Help?” he said, his tone less than hopeful. “A little help would be nice. You? There? A hand?”

“Can’t we help him?” Zinnia craned her neck too look at him “That looks like it hurts. Can’t we do something?”

“You’re really not getting the hang of this place.” Crystal filled the silence with a guffaw, each ear twitching in its own direction, her skinny tail bobbing with mirth, “get it? Hang? Because he’s hanging? Get it?”

“Doesn’t hurt,” called the man. “Except my dignity.”

“Haven’t learned your lesson yet, have you, Henry? Pride pride pride!” She paused her striding to shake a finger at him, black ash falling lazily from her hand to the ground.

“But I’ve been up here for a while, I haven’t even made it past the doorway.”

“Doorway?” Zinnia said.

“We’ll get there,” said Crystal. She gave Zinnia the old up-and-down. “Maybe.”

“It’s so boring up here.” Henry’s words held a hint of whine.

“If you want to liven things up, I can send the ravens.” Crystal poised her pen over the clipboard.

“That’s OK.” Henry arched back against the rock, crossing his arms over his stomach. “Maybe see you around,” he said to Zinnia, his head craned to an odd angle, his face red from his inversion.

“Maybe?” said Zinnia.

“That’s it, Henry! That’s the spirit!” Crystal marched forward again, fast despite the sunken shoes, and held a hand to the side of her mouth, “I wouldn’t count on it,” she whispered.

“I heard that,” said Henry.

“That’s the point,” said Crystal in that same stage whisper. Zinnia struggled to keep up, the soft sand tying her calves into knots. Following along mostly in Crystal’s footsteps, she scurried to the left to avoid something gray and scuttling she preferred not to get closer to, and as she righted herself on the path in the sand the ground trembled. Then rumbled. Then roared.

Like a dart aimed at $50 target, a black pebble shot upward, skinny and razor-sharp at the top, growing and growing until it towered above them, settling with a final groan.

“Pretty sure I warned you about those,” said Crystal, not bothering to turn around.

“There was this crawly thing…” her words trailed off as Crystal stopped in front of a loose triangle of splintered wood, the boards leaning against each other, sand piled like snowdrifts on the surface.

“In you go,” said Crystal.

“Aren’t you going to tell me the bad news?”

“What fun would that be if I just told you?”

“It would be fun for me,” said Zinnia.

“Exactly,” said Crystal. “In you go.”

“But it’s tiny.”

“In.”

Scanning the ground for any suspicious black rocks, Zinnia dropped to her hands and knees and squeezed through the opening, the pokey bits scraping all exposed skin until they weren’t anymore. She looked up.

She was inside a kitchen, dirty dishes piled on the counter and in the sink, teetering mountains of splotchy white. A woman frantically unloaded dishes from the dishwasher, placing them in the cabinets as quickly as she could.

“Hello,” said Zinnia.

“It doesn’t matter how fast I put them away, there are always more dishes,” said the woman.

“I’m Zinnia,” said Zinnia.

“Always more dishes. It’s never empty. Ever. Never empty.”

Crystal appeared beside her. “Pretty terrifying, huh?”

“She’s emptying the dishwasher.”

“But it never gets empty,” said Crystal in a spooky voice.

“It never gets empty!” said the woman, her words heading toward a sob.

“Can I help?”

“This isn’t that kind of a place, sport,” said Crystal. “You’re an odd one, with all this helping.”

Zinnia shrugged and grabbed a plate off the counter. The moment she touched it, it transmogrified, a sneering face in the center, fire everywhere else, scorching her fingers. It crashed to the floor and shattered into dust.

“Now I have to clean that up, thanks so much,” said the woman. “So much.”

“Told you it wasn’t a helping kind of a place. Come on,” Crystal said, disappearing through the wall. Zinnia tried the same method, whacking into the counter, hard. The towers of dishes shuddered.

“Stop wrecking stuff,” the woman said. There was snickering through the cabinets.

“Use the tunnel, dummy,” said Crystal.

Zinnia crawled back out only to discover she wasn’t in the sand but in a living room, where a man paced back and forth aggressively. A printer beeped at irregular intervals, lights ablaze. Though he held a phone to his ear, they heard both sides of the conversation – such that it was – clearly.

“I’m sorry,” said the smooth computer-generated voice. Something buzzed a warning buzz somewhere. “I didn’t quite catch that. I believe you said ‘End call.'”

“No,” said the man, his voice breaking. “Three. Option three.”

“Got it,” said the computer voice brightly. “Now I need some information about you.” The printer let out a screech and spewed a ream of paper at missile speed. Zinnia plunged back to the floor to avoid certain decapitation.

“I’ve said it a million times,” said the man.

Crystal laughed. .”I love this one,” she said. “It’s one of the examples of leaky technology.”

“Leaky technology?”

“Smith.” The man spat the syllable. “S. M. I. T. H.”

“I’m sorry,” the computer voice said, “I didn’t quite catch that. I believe you said “End call.”

“Yes, we had it first and it spread up there.” Crystal poked toward the ceiling. “Computer operators. No way to get a person. Quite an accomplishment.”

“Darron. D. A. R. R. O. N.”

“I’m hearing you want to start over. Hello, and welcome to our automated system.” Darron lunged at the printer, using the phone to smash it, and the printer to smash the phone. They splintered into tiny pieces as an alarm blared from somewhere, and he knocked the shards to the ground and stomped them.

“There,” he said.

The spot where the printer had been got mushy, then wavy, and a growth emerged, mutating into a new printer as Darron’s hand morphed and changed until it was holding another phone.

“Hello, and welcome to our automated system,” said the computer voice.

“AAAAARrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhggggguuuuuhhhhh,” said Darron.

“Such a hoot,” said Crystal. “This way.” She disappeared down a dark hallway, the walls nothing but amorphous shapes with glowing eyes. At the end stood a massive door, wood planks bound with steel. “This one’s yours.”

“So,” said Zinnia, “I gather the bad news is this is Hell?”

Crystal chuckled, then howled, and then dissolved into something half-snort and half-strangled turkey. “Hell? You think this is Hell? Wait until I tell Z-Bub you said that, we’re very close—”

“No we’re not,” a disembodied voice boomed from everywhere.

“He lets me call him Z-Bub.”

“No I don’t,” said the same voice flatly.

She wiped a tear away with her sleeve, leaving a gray smudge on the red fabric. “Hell.” She shook her hair and those orange teeth glowed dully in the light of the hallway eyes. “This isn’t Hell.”

“Then what is it?”

“I mean you didn’t pay seven parking tickets, never returned a library book, got a little gossipy now and then and pledged to make a monthly donation to Wikipedia then changed your mind. Could you imagine how crowded Hell would be with dolts like you there? Hell.” She shook her head, her translucent ears still sprightly with mirth.

“Then where are we?”

“Hey-Deese.” She swept an arm in a wide game-show model wave, the black ash falling again. “as in ‘Hey-Deese are really annoying things.’”

“You’re kidding.”

“Fine, it’s called the Eternity of Mild Inconveniences, or EMI, but everyone likes mine better.”

“No they don’t,” came that voice again.

“Never heard of it,” said Zinnia.

“No one ever has. We really don’t get the PR talent of the hot place. Anyway, EMI is like the suburbs.” Crystal brushed stay ash from her skirt.

“The suburbs of Hell?”

“It’s actually a mildly intolerable bedroom community,” said the disembodied voice.

“Enough chatter,” said Crystal. With a flourish, she turned the knob on the door, the heavy wood creaking as the door knocker clanged. “In you go,” said Crystal.

“But—”

“Through the doorway.”

“Will it be awful?”

Crystal shrugged. “Awfulish. You probably should have returned that library book. And flossed regularly. Go.”

Zinnia braced herself, took in more of that sulfurous air than she should have, and stepped through.

There stood Crystal, complete with the clipboard. “So,” she said, “I’ve got some bad news.”

 

© 2017 Isa-Lee Wolf

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Alphabets

learn-russian-cyrillic-alphabet

“Miss, miss, miss!” Adam was waving his hand up in the air increasingly frantically. Amanda sighed “Yes Adam, what is it?” “It’s Rudi Miss, he’s not writing a story like you told us to, he’s scribbling rubbish!” Rudi turned to face Adam and blurted out“but …” which Amanda stopped by simply holding up her hand. Rudi obediently fell silent and waited for Amanda to come and look at his book. She bent close to him and asked “is that Russian?” Rudi beamed and nodded: “it is more easy for me to write story in Russian, then translate.” Amanda smiled back, patted him on the shoulder and “that’s just fine Rudi.””Come on everyone” Amanda raised her voice slightly “I want you to keep writing until quarter to. You can finish the story for homework.”

At quarter to Amanda announced: “finish your sentence, then put your books away for tonight’s homework please.” Once the flurry of desk lids banging had died away, Amanda stood up at the board and asked: “Does anyone know how many alphabets there are in the world?” As expected, she was greeted with silence and puzzled looks. “Well, Rudi here knows two alphabets, don’t you Rudi?” “Yes” he replied, “English and Russian.”

“When you’ve gone shopping into Birmingham, have any of you noticed that some of the shop signs are written in a strange lettering” enquired Amanda, “do any of you know what that is?” There were a few hands tentatively raised: “Yes, Sarah?” “It’s Indian Miss.” ”John, what do you think?” “It’s Pakistani Miss innit?” ”Well” replied Sarah, “the people who own the shops are either from India, or from Pakistan, but there actually is no such language as Indian or Pakistani. In fact, there are 22 different official languages in India, although they speak more than 1,600 different languages – but then, it’s a really big country.”

“Wow, that’s a lot” called out Adam. “Yes Adam, it is, and quite a number of those languages have their own variation of the alphabet, although they are based on three main scripts. You see, when we were still running round in animal skins and living in huts, there was a hugely successful civilisation in India, with it’s own music and dance, rulers with palaces, art and architecture, craftsmen making jewellery and weapons, regional food and fashion.”

“One last thing before the bell, what we call English is actually called the Latin alphabet, and it is the most commonly used alphabet in the world at the moment. Rudi’s Russian alphabet is more properly known as the Cyrillic alphabet, because it is used not just in Russia but also across much of Eastern Europe in places like Poland, Ukraine and Croatia. So, as you can see, there are a lot of people using a lot of different alphabets.”

“That’s it for today, I’ll put examples of other alphabets up on the classroom notice boards after half term. But don’t forget to finish your writing tonight!”

© 2017 Debra Carey

 

Whilst doing a quick google search on the subject of alphabets, I came across the following breakdown which inspired my story – well, that and the fact that I was born & brought up in India:

“A quick calculation shows that about 2.6 billion people (36% of the world population) use the Latin alphabet, about 1.3 billion people (18%) use the Chinese script, about 1 billion people (14%) use the Devanagari script (India), about 1 billion people (14%) use the Arabic alphabet, about 0.3 billion people (4%) use the Cyrillic alphabet and about 0.25 billion people (3.5%) use the Dravidian script (South India).”  Source

#second thoughts: A-Z Challenge – the third time round

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I signed up to my first A-Z Challenge almost on a whim. I’d started a new blog with the aim of getting a regular writing routine going, but I had absolutely no idea how or where to start. And this Challenge seemed a good way to get me going. I met a fair few interesting (and encouraging) people during that April and I’ve not looked back since. Signing up on the day before the Challenge started, I had no thought of making things harder for myself by having a theme – ye gods – I just wrote about stuff, stuff I knew, liked, or cared about and it ended up being a mish-mash of serious and frivolous.

The second year I decided to go with a theme and because I was still quite new to this whole writing malarkey, I decided to go for book genres. I was used to writing book reviews, either on Goodreads or on my personal site, so this seemed achievable. I enjoyed the second year. I did a lot of advance preparation, although I left myself with a couple of difficult letters to write (and read up on) which was foolish. Leaving some writing outstanding is one thing, as you can always nail yourself to that chair and type, but the lack of preparation was A Really Bad Idea. In truth, I set myself the challenge of reading an absurd number of new books in order to do the writing. Lesson learned. I also engaged with Twitter for the first time. That decision proved to be a good one and I’m especially looking forward to meeting more new and interesting Twitterati during this April.

Last year, I’d persuaded my writing partner (and co-host here) to do the Challenge as well – and rather late in the day at that. Nevertheless, he tackled it with his usual verve and professionalism and put together a series of beautifully written articles capturing the advice he gives to his doctoral students on the subject of writing up. Did my choice ever feel lightweight and fluffy alongside? Oh yes. But, something else you learn when you review the process – doing this Challenge isn’t about competing with others, rather it’s about competing with yourself. The only aim should be to become a better writer today than you were yesterday. And I believe it does that – so long as you view it as a challenge, as something to push your boundaries.

Speaking of challenges, I gave a lot of thought on whether to include my professional life coaching website in the challenge, but ended up deciding against it. 2016 was quite a year – personally, not just politically – and there’s still a whole lot of spill-over for me to handle. But, I’m beginning to feel my mojo returning and I aim to get both websites participating in the 2018 Challenge.

So, why do we put ourselves through it you may ask? Well, because …

  • it does build a regular writing practice
  • it provides a deadline which isn’t flexible
  • it enables us to join the community of bloggers
  • it allows us to build connections with our fellow writers
  • we’re mad as hatters
  • we just have to write

And what I’ve realised since year two is that last point – there is a need, a drive to write. Life can limit your ability and the time to do so, but that desire, that need is always there. Even after a fallow period, it will find it’s way out to your fingertips.

See you all at 2018’s Challenge!

© Debra Carey, 2017

Alphascrabble

It was, thought Walter, an exciting time to be an apprentice. All this new technology to learn: as well as the reading and writing. Master Barker was a stern but fair man, trying to ensure that Walter learned his craft in a proper manner. Not that he had progressed very far yet. After all it was only a few months since he had gone for the first time accompanied by his father who had duly made his X on the Indenture that bound young Walter to Master Barker for seven years, and incidentally make Walter the first in his family able to read and write!

Now he was learning day by day how to keep the rooms tidy – clean was another matter in the print room where the presses were – but the composing room and the proof-checking room just had to be orderly to ensure that the books were assembled properly. One day, Walter thought, he would be there carefully checking the work of the typesetters, or even learning to read the letterpress upside down and wrong way round. But that could only come after he had learned to read them the right way round!

They were working now on an important job – well when your Master holds the patent to be the King’s Printer most of the jobs were important, but this was specially so. It was a new edition of the Bible in English, and it was such a big project to get it done to time that Master Barker had had to sub-contract parts of the work to other printing houses. There was a constant flow of newly printed sheets to be checked and stacked in proper order ready to make up the copies for the customer to buy and take to his own binder. And that meant that Walter was kept busy long after the journey-men had finished for the day.

“Boy!” The peremptory call came from the man who had just finished setting another page of type. “Take this forme to the press man – and be careful with it. It’s been a difficult page to set.” Gingerly Walter picked up the forme, but alas! the compositor had neglected to ensure that the wedges holding the type in the forme were secure, and the whole page of type cascaded onto the floor! The compositor cursed and aimed a half-hearted blow at Walter’s head, realizing that, in truth, it had been his own fault. “Come on, boy! Pick up that type. I’ve got to set it up all over again now!”

Walter gulped nervously. He knew the pitfalls of type, and his reading was not yet that strong. Nevertheless, he had to start clearing the printer’s pie that lay on the floor. The letter e was quite recognizable, but his hands started trembling: was this b or d, and this; was it a p or q? As Walter sorted the letters the compositor started remaking the page and eventually it was done. The forme, this time properly wedged, was taken to the press and the sheets pulled, dried and stacked.
Two months later Master Barker came into the house in a great rage! “Three hundred pounds fine and my good name being mocked all over town! How did this happen: who checked the sheets?”

“What happened, Sir?” quavered his foreman printer. Barker threw a book at him. “Take a look. It’s that octavo Bible we printed three months ago. Exodus 20, verse 14 “Thou shalt commit adultery. The Seventh Commandment. ‘Shalt’ not ‘shalt not’. Are there any unbound sheets left? Destroy them and get a re-setting done. And get the bloody thing properly proofed this time!”

© 2017 Alan F. Jesson

 

Historical Note
This edition of the King James Version of the English Bible was published in 1631, and is probably the most notorious of the misprinted editions. (The 1612 first octavo edition of the KJV had ‘printers have persecuted me without cause’ in psalm 119 verse 161, rather than the correct ‘princes’!). Robert Barker was originally in partnership with John Bill who died in 1630 and left all his estate including his interest in the King’s Printing House to his son, John Bill II. The Crown Patent was not necessarily exclusive and was the occasion of a lot of litigation in the seventeenth century, which is a fascinating study in itself. It is not entirely clear who was actually in partnership with Robert Barker at the time: the imprint of this edition is ‘Barker and the Assigns of Bill’. Some sources identify Martin Lucas as Barker’s partner, but another source names Miles Fletcher, John Haviland and Robert Young and denies that Lucas was involved.

What is incontrovertible, however, is that the printers were fined £300 (at a conservative estimate about £1.8 million at today’s value) and the whole of the edition of 1,000 copies was recalled. There are around 11 copies known today.

A-Z Stories

A day at the office

Ancient Zymergy: Being a summary of the art of brewing as practiced before the Common Era.  I looked at the tome that lay on my desk in horror.  This was not what I was expecting after only a week in the job. I glanced, as surreptitiously as possible at the other chaps.  Every bally one of them was head down and scribbling furiously, like they were shells doing prep under the eye of some steely-eyed beak.  None of this lot would know anything about that of course, and if pater hadn’t gambled on the stock-exchange, I would still be a paid up member of the Drones Club.  Still, at least I managed to get my sheepskin whilst I was up at Oxford, which, in a roundabout way, led to my current malediction.

Sighing, I picked up my pen, offered a prayer to any saints that might be passing, and, with only a little reticence, carried out my allotted tasks.  I will admit to some wandering thoughts towards my Tutor at Oxford, who would have appreciated the irony implicit in the title of the book.  All the while, I was sure that I was the butt of some practical joke.  It was probably that yaffle of a country bumpkin, that I’d inadvertently bumped into as he was kissing a girl (rather energetically, it must be said), as she was handing him a piece of quiche for his lunch.

I knew I would rue the day I came to this office.  If there was a way of telling him that I had no interest in his girl (even if she was uncommonly pretty) or his victuals, I would do so in a heartbeat.  Glumly, I moved the book from one pile on my desk to another, and picked up the next title.

I looked at the new title again.  I rubbed my eyes and re-read it.  Surely someone must be having a joke at my expense: before me lay ‘Converting Xysti, or new uses for unwanted porticos’.

©David Jesson, 2017

 

The Uncomfortable Whistle-Blower

Mandy walked out of the office with studied care. “It would be just my luck if that big bundle of xeroxed pages stuffed under my tights starts to rustle as I go through security.” Focusing on smiling brightly, she kept her thoughts to herself: “This whistle-blowing malarkey is really not quite my style, but … this latest enfringement … the world simply has to be told”.

Feeling she could expire from fear, Mandy hurried to the the coffee shop rendezvous and headed straight for the ladies. With the door safely shut behind her, she wriggled around until the bundle of papers was out. Bending to rummage in her backpack, she found the yellow ziplock bag Jim had given her last night, shoved the bundle inside, before zipping it tightly shut. Then carefully removing the cistern lid, she placed the yellow bag inside, shut the lid, and breathed. It was done.

“Phew!” Now she just had to wait for the violent shaking to subside and she could go enjoy her cappuccino with Jim.

©Debra Carey, 2017

 

FF Prompt: A Story in A-Z!

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In honour of April’s A-Z blogging challenge, this month’s prompt is to write a story using every letter of the alphabet. It doesn’t have to be in order (A-Z, or Z-A) unless you want to issue yourself that extra challenge. You can also use letters more than once. But you must use them all at least once. Go!

Deadline: 2pm on Friday, 7th April 2017.

 

 

As always, please post your story (or a link to it on your site) in the comments below. If you don’t have a site, please e-mail us via the comments page and we’ll post it for you (suitably attributed, of course).