Writing Prompts – Creative Copy Challenge #139

Today’s words are from Justin Matthews, absent form the CCC for a while but back for the long haul now that his baby isn’t so demanding!

BET YOU CAN’T do this writing prompt. Take the 10 random words below and, in the comments, crush writer’s block by creating a cohesive, creative short story tying all of them together! And remember: after (if) you finish, highlight your words and click the bold button to make them stand out and help you determine if you forgot any words. (If you’ve missed previous writing prompts, we BET YOU CAN’T do those, either.)

  1. Esoteric – relating to that which is known by a restricted number of people.
  2. Alliterative – having the same consonant at the beginning of each stressed syllable; “alliterative verse”
  3. Cantankerous – Ill-tempered and quarrelsome; disagreeable
  4. Pistol
  5. Mundane – ordinary
  6. Spoiled
  7. Jaded – Worn out; wearied
  8. Marlinspike – a pointed iron hand tool that is used to separate strands of a rope or cable (as in splicing)
  9. Hoodoo – Magic healing and control, especially in African-based folk medicine in the United States and the Caribbean; Voodoo; one who brings bad luck.
  10. Victim

NOTE: Don’t copy and paste from MS Word. Use a program like notepad that removes formatting or just type in the comment field itself. Also, finish your submission, THEN bold the words. Thanks. (And don’t forget to tweet this and share it with your friends.)

Resources you should check out:
Thesis: Best Damn Theme on the Web
Collective Ink Well: Personalize Your Thesis Theme
Third Tribe Marketing: Marketing done the right way
Story Structure Demystified: Best damn writing book out there


95 Comments on “Writing Prompts – Creative Copy Challenge #139”

  1. Shane Arthur says:

    “Mmm…Billy, dis is some good, chunky, wet cheese! Not like those other mundane cheeses we’s gotten from the government. I ain’t jaded or nothin’, but I’m doubtin’ how they was able to get it inside this here plastic carton? They must be Hoodoo magicians or somethin’.”

    “I ain’t esoteric or nothin’, and I ain’t no expert in fermentation, but I think you’s a victim of mistaken identity. Dat’s not cheese, Bobby. Dat’s spoiled milk.”

    “PPPTTT! PPPTTT! Euhhhhhhh Billy! Like, gag me with a marlinspike why don’t you!”

    “Cut the cantankerous cryin’, you kooky, curmudgeonly, country kinfolk before I pistol-whip you.”

    “Billy, what’s with all dat threatening alliterative dialog?”

    “I’m just practicing for Justin’s Creative Copy Challenge today. He likes da violent genre. But nevermind dat. Just put dat milk back in the frig and grab me dat jar of toe-jam next to the mountain oyster casserole.”

  2. Cathy Miller says:

    His fellow cops considered Michael’s esoteric interest in dead bodies to be beyond strange.

    “I’m telling you, Stapleton, you missed your calling. You should’ve gone for morgue patrol.”

    Lieutenant Michael Stapleton looked up from the list of the murdered.

    “I’ll leave that to our capable medical examiner. Have you seen this list?”

    “Yeah, the papers are having a field day with the growing length.”

    “No, I mean the first and last names. They’re alliterative.

    “There you go again showing off that Ivy league education.”

    “I’m serious, Scott. Look at them – Amanda Andrews, Bethany Black, Carol Childers, Debra DeMarco. The bastard is going through the alphabet,” Michael grumbled with cantankerous furor.

    “Maybe he hated grammar school.”

    Ignoring his partner’s stupid cop humor, Michael lifted the evidence bag with the pistol inside. It was found at the last crime scene. What was his game? This was no careless killer. Just what message was he trying to send?

    While murder investigations were full of mundane tasks, Michael never minded the details. After all, it was those small details that nailed the killer. And it was Lieutenant Stapleton who more often than not who did the nailing.

    But, Michael wasn’t spoiled by his high percentage of closed cases. He had not become so jaded that he didn’t treat each new case as if it was his first.

    The pistol wasn’t the only evidence. Next to the first body, the cops found a knife, a marlinspike at the second, an empty vial and duct tape at the third and fourth murder scenes.

    Michael didn’t know what kind of hoodoo, psycho game the killer was playing, but he vowed there wouldn’t be a double-E victim.

  3. Wilbert was the most amazing victim Dr. Johns had ever treated. Accustomed to spoiled rich kids coming into the emergency room with overbearing and cantankerous parents who were only concerned with keeping the latest, mundane episode from the media, Dr. Johns nearly always projected a jaded bedside manner. Wilbert, a gangly, pimply and – frankly, ugly – teenager from Walnut Heights, was anything but coddled. He immediately beguiled the doctor with his lilting, sing-song voice. Relating the events that brought him to the emergency room, he spun an esoteric, alliterative tale that had the whole ER mesmerized:

    “I was walking me pit bull, Pistol Pete
    “den found a dead man at me feet.
    “Him eyes were hooded, him jaw was slack.
    “him dead awhile, de blood were black.
    “I stooped me down to close dem eyes
    “before de spirit in him flies.
    “Too late, I hear him mama scream
    “Her run and slip in bloody stream
    “I catch her up before her falls
    “dat lady kick me in de balls!
    “Me lay on ground to catch me breath
    “Inhaled hoodoo of dead man’s death.
    “De mama scratch me, bite me too.
    “Den kick some more with bloody shoe.
    “De final straw which I no like,
    “She stabbed me with dat marlinspike!”

  4. Anne Wayman says:

    (Have I told you how much I look forward to doing these? Thanks!)

    I’m a victim of my own hoodoo, pushing a marlinspike in my own dreams. I am jaded, spoiled, distracted by the mundane. Except, of course, when I’m a pistol, a cantankerous old broad alternatively alliterative and almost always articulating and asserting the esoteric.

  5. Lydia says:

    One minute Garrett was sitting on the pier awkwardly splicing rope with a marlinspike as seagulls flocked the shore at low tide, the next he was lying in bed with a crimp in his neck . It hadn’t seemed like a dream at the time but now that he thought about it there was something odd about arguing over whether Canada would ever agree to give Alaska back to the U.S. with a cantankerous TV news reporter while you both repaired fishing and boating equipment.
    His alarm hadn’t sounded yet. Garrett wondered what time it was and if it was worth trying to go back to sleep. He looked up at the ceiling.  A Luger 9mm P08 pistol shimmied across an otherwise mundane ceiling. Ok, this was definitely still a dream. Maybe he could wake up if he started with his legs? Garrett wiggled what he thought, hoped were his actual toes. He could feel…something. The wiggle travelled up to his knees, hips, waist.
    “Ready, set, kick!” he thought as loudly as he could. Nothing. Maybe something a little more alliterative would do the trick?
    “Ready, rise, run!” he thought. Still nothing. The scent of spoiled strawberries filled the room. Something large was walking up to his bed. Its skin was as jadedly soft and ragged as the algebra tests he used to turn in at the last possible second in high school. Its bones were as sharp as the splinters that dug into the back of his knees at Bible camp when the evening preacher hinted at esoteric knowledge while Garrett and his friends counted down the hours to the next bonfire.
    The creature’s raspy tongue flickered at his throat, its talons tickled his elbows. Garrett didn’t know whether he should be terrified or ticklish. And then it sneezed three times in succession and a dollop of green mucous landed on his late grandmother’s comforter.
    “If this is some sort of hoodoo message,” he thought, “it’s not working. All this “victim” wants to do right now is wash my bedding.” At that moment the creature and its secretion vanished and Garrett discovered that he could once again kick his legs. He sat up, winced as he stretched his sore neck and stood by his bed.
    A pillow lay on the floor, half of its length swallowed by the shadows and dust bunnies under the bed.
    “At least I now know why my neck is sore,” he said and walked out of the room.

  6. Thought I better hurry and get a post to my own words up!
     It seemed like another mundane day on the job as the sun rose over the city. Detective Reynolds was finishing up some paperwork before the day really got going. He was on his second cup of coffee, nasty and black as all of the milk in the breakroom was spoiled. None of that crappy powdered stuff either. The department should really invest in….something. The detective was brooding.
    He needed some of the early city air to clog his lungs and wake him up. He left the police station via the back stairs so no one saw him leave. He got into his dilapidated city issue car and rolled towards Grand Park, his intention to sit and think of nothing for a while, trying to clear the cantankerousness that was building in him.
    26 years on the job had left Mal Reynolds jaded. Days went by where he longed for the spirits that he had given up, longed for the family that had deserted him, and stared at the pistol that could end it all. His life was esoteric, there was no one to share it with. But he carried on, day by day, hoping something would happen to make his life mean something again.
    Today was that day. He was sitting in the park when his phone rang. He sighed heavily and answered it. “Reynolds” He said in a tired go to hell voice before listening intently. “Where” he asked, and began running for his car. He hung up the phone as he put the car in gear and spun the tires getting out of the parking lot. First, the portable flashing light he put on the roof of the ancient brown Ford, next he hit the siren that had been built into the grille.
    “Damn dirty dilapidated den of drivel!” He cursed alliteratively when he was really worked up. Time sped by in the hum of tires and his own muttered curses until he reached a dilapidated warehouse on the very edges of town, just inside is jurisdiction.
    The victim had yet to be identified, the scene still fresh as the two teenagers that had found the body. Trying to find a quiet place for some juvenile sex had turned into a horror movie. Detective Reynolds smiled at that as he walked through the door, ducking the crime scene tape already decorating the place.
    One look told him it was bad, just how bad was yet to be uncovered. “The victim is a white male, approximately six foot two, dark hair, I can’t tell the color.” He said into a small digital recorder. “The scene is, well, gross. The northeast corner of the warehouse has the victim laid spread eagle with his head in the corner. Or what is left of his head. Presence of clothing seems to indicate no sexual component.” He moved around the body slowly dictating into his recorder.
    “There are strange symbols written on the wall in what I assume is blood.” He continued. “We need photos and interpretation but they seem to be voodoo or hoodoo or something like that.” “Apparent murder weapon is near the body, coated in blood. It looks to be a heavy piece of steel….like a chef’s sharpening steel or a marlinspike. Crime scene will determine.”
    The crime scene unit did arrive a short time later and begin the grisly investigation and recovery. Detective Mal Reynolds mundane day had been made interesting…and possibly life changing.

    • Shane Arthur says:

      @Justin: I love broken yet determined characters like this. Carry on with this indeed.

    • Justin, first, thanks for the lovely words! Second, thanks for the lovely opening scene to what I hope will join the collection of periodicals available here. 🙂
      He needed some of the early city air to clog his lungs and wake him up.
      As a former city dweller, I can fully appreciate that line.

    • Chris Fries says:

      Excellent, Justin.  I love the gritty urban edge. I have no doubt that Reynolds will get to the bottom of the case, and I’m eager to follow along as he does.  Nice job.
      And also — thanks for the great words!  They were perfect for the retro murder mystery series I’m working on.   Although…  I seemed to have worked them all into an action-less scene in a library, LOL!

  7. Tanja Cilia says:

    Another day, another Hoodoo victim shot in the centre of the forehead, point-blank with a pistol, and another alliterative poem with esoteric mumbo-jumbo attached to the body with a marlinspike run through his heart – probably before he was shot.  At his last place of work, the cantankerous Inspector Blue had been the archetypical jaded cop; he’d seen it all. Life in the boonies was too mundane for words.  Here, he was spoiled for choice as to which of the zillion cases awaiting his attention he’d tackle first.

  8. Rebecca says:

    William could be a victim of his own doing, and he wanted to change that. His mundane life was about to change in a way he’d only imagine. He stopped at his brother’s iron works shop to say goodbye. Alexander was too busy making a marlinspike and barely looked at his brother. He grunted a goodbye and quickly shook his brother’s hand. It would be a day he’d soon regret. William’s insides felt like they were spoiled; he never traveled by himself. William left for the South and looked forward to the esoteric nature of this part of the country. He was jaded from traveling but managed to smile when he reached New Orleans. However, Williams was unaware of the cantankerous woman who was waiting for him. It was rumored that Shelby Quinn was skilled with the Hoodo. People swore they heard her speak in alliterative verses whenever she was in town. They believed it was her way of cursing people. They also believed Shelby made her husband put a pistol to his left temple and pull the trigger in order to get his money. Whenever she walked into the General Store, people quickly left.

    • LOL. I love this one, Rebecca. Sounds like a pitch for a screenplay!

    • Lydia says:

      What a story!
      I wonder what Shelby Quinn’s version of it would look like? Does she actually practice Hoodoo or are the people around her overreacting to events that have natural causes? It’s amazing to see how quickly public perception of an individual can change based on the true (or untrue) things people say about them.

    • Chris Fries says:

      Nice job, Rebbecca!  I’m especially curious about Shelby — shs’s already a fabulous character and we’ve barely even met her yet.

    • For some reason this made me think of the Salem Witch trials and the women accused of “cursing” men with their wiles.  Good story.

    • Shane Arthur says:

      @Rebecca: Well done. You made me want to reach out and tell poor William to run for the hills.

  9. Rebecca says:

    Thanks Mitch! And thanks for the reminder … I started another short film and need to finish it 🙂

  10. meek willed says:

    As my mother rant started become jaded on my nervous and she try to get Gran to have a go at me (the same Gran ho could carry a pistol but instead carry a supposedly hoodoo enchanted marlinspike) but Gran spoiled mum argument by making me out to be the victim of sue seductive charms I left them to arguing as I wondered about the few esoteric who knew about me and sue and why out of all of them the ones i was related to had to be so dam cantankerous why not gust happy  for me and mundane like other family.
    I though my mum had started thinking of me as an adult after she stopped calling me the alliterative “merrily meek” but I guess I was wrong.

  11. Chris Fries says:

    Hey all! Running late this week, but here’s the latest installment:

    The Look of Murder — Part 12

    Joan Dawkins was a reference librarian at the Main Library branch on Woodward.  She was sweet, stacked, and as sharp as a tack, and we’d had a fling several years ago, and like it had gone with most of the dames I’ve been keen on, it didn’t last too long.  But unlike all the others, I still kept in touch with her.  For a gumshoe like me, a smart broad who knew her way around the library and the city records department downtown was a godsend, so I tried to stay on her good side, even though all the romance had dried up and blown away long ago. 

    After leaving Thurston Motors, I tried getting the addresses or phone numbers of Albert Salari and Warren Powell from an operator, but hadn’t had any luck, so I decided to pay a visit to Joan.  She was great at dredging up esoteric information and helping me find shifty people who didn’t want to be found. I figured she’d have no problems giving me a few tips on the whereabouts of two upstanding professional gents who’d be among the last to meet with Thurston at his office.

    You mention ‘librarian’ to most any Mac on the street and he’ll picture some frumpy old spinster, but in my book, Joan was a bombshell.  Curvy and brunette, she looked as good as ever when I slid up to her at the reference desk.  The only bow to the librarian image was a plain sweater and glasses on a chain that she currently had perched at the end of her nose.

    “Hey, Doll,” I said.  “Take any plugged nickels lately?” 

    She looked up from a thick, musty book filled with drawings of rope and splicing.  She frowned and removed her glasses.  “Well, if it isn’t the elusive Mr. Sharpe. To what do I owe the extreme honor of your distinguished presence?”  She crossed her arms.  “Oh wait, let me guess — you must want something, right?”

    I saw her expression and then I remembered that I’d stood her up for dinner last month.  Damn. 

    But it hadn’t been intentional.  I’d been hot-tailing a client and forgotten about the date.  Not that it had even been a date; that was all in the past.  It was just supposed to be dinner.  No big deal.  But it wasn’t hard to tell that she was still irked.

    “Look, Sweetie.  I’m really sorry about dinner; I never meant for the night to be spoiled.  I already tried explaining and apologizing weeks ago; you don’t have to keep on being so cantankerous.”  I gave her my best smile, raised my right hand, and put my left over my heart, “I swear: bona-fide business beckoned, my beautiful and best-beloved babe.”

    She snorted. “Don’t give me your alliterative Hoodoo, Sharpe.  I’ve known you too long, and am I’m too jaded to fall victim to your empty sweet talk.”

    But she at least was grinning. I just blinked innocently as she looked at me, and then she laughed.  “Alright, Sharpe,” she said, “you’re out of the dog house. So what do you need?”

    “Thanks, Hon.  I’m looking for information on two men; a guy named Albert Silari and a Warren Powell.  Both have had dealings with Thurston Motors.  Powell has interviewed for a job in the past week, and Silari may even work there.  Let me know what you can find on them.  Home addresses would help a lot.”

    “So when do need this by?  Yesterday, as usual?”

    “Yeah,” I nodded.  “The sooner the better.  I’d like to pay a call on the gents today if possible.”

    She shook her head.  “I don’t know why I let you do this to me.”  Then she sighed, stuck a piece of paper in the book she had open on her desk, and then closed it with a soft thud. “Fine.  I’ll save the research on rare marlinspikes I was doing for Professor Kline and see what I can find on your Joes.  Go grab a bite and I’ll see what I can dig up.”

    “Thanks, doll, I really appreciate it.”  I turned to leave.

    “Hey wait a second,” she said before I’d taken two steps.  I looked back.  “The least you could do for a girl is buy her a sandwich, so hold off on eating.  Take a walk and have a cup of java, then you can take me to lunch when you get back.  Give me at least an hour.”

    “Sure thing, kiddo.” 

    I left and walked around for a while to kill time, thinking about Margaret Thurston and Charles and his unidentified girlfriend.  Could Margaret have known about the girlfriend?  That was the question I kept coming back to.  She didn’t seem to give any hint of being the betrayed woman when she’d come to my office.  Yeah sure, I’m not always the best at knowing what women are thinking or even what they want, and my judgment may have been affected by how attractive I’d found Margaret, but all I picked up on was a woman genuinely concerned over her husband’s absence.  She just didn’t seem like some broad who’d already knocked off a cheating husband.

    So in spite of what the police had with the film, or whatever they might be thinking, I still couldn’t picture it.  But I needed to find the girlfriend to get more of the real dirt.  In the meantime, I was sure hoping I wasn’t wasting time by trying to re-trace Thurston’s steps before he’d gone to the cabin.  But Thurston might have mentioned something to either of them before he’d left.  The only way to know for sure was to talk to Powell and Silari. 

    I kept checking my watch as I walked, and after an hour I headed back to the library.

    “So did you find anything?”  I asked Joan when I returned.

    “Some, but nothing too exciting,” she said. “It’s all just mundane information about two men who work in the automotive industry.  If you’re looking for two seedy criminals, I doubt these are your guys.  Neither one’s probably ever even held a pistol.”

    “That’s OK, give me what you got,” I said and took out my notebook.

    “No war records on either; they both evidently stayed civilians.  Silari’s the one I was able to find the most info on.  He’s been published several times in the design journals.  Received awards.  Pretty well known in those circles, it seems.  But I can’t find any link between him and Thurston Motors.  He’s worked for Fulton Automotive for years.  Powell, on the other hand, had almost nothing on him, but he does work for Thurston Motors.  He’s been listed in their company directory for the last three copies I checked, and that’s as far back as I looked.  Other than that, I couldn’t find much on him.”

    “Well, it’s a start,” I said. “Did you get phone numbers or addresses?”

    “Yes.  I checked the Wayne County housing records and was able to find addresses and phone numbers on both of them.”  She gave me the details and I wrote them down. 

    “Thanks, Doll,” I said, and started to leave.

    “Whoa there, Silver.  What about lunch?”

    I looked at her, flustered, and felt stupid.  I’d already forgotten.  “Well, how about–”

    She laughed and interrupted me. “Yeah, I know.  How about a rain-check?”

    I shrugged.  “Well–”

    “Jeez, Sharpe.  I can’t believe it; isn’t htis just swell?  Stood up again,” she said, but at least her smile was still there. 
    “Fine.  Go.  You can make it up to me.”

    “I will.  I owe you.  Really.”  I started walking away.  I’d try Silari first.  He seemed more important and was closer.  I looked back at Joan.  She was re-opening her book on ropes and hooks and looked up as I left.  She gave me a wink. 

    I smiled back, tipped my hat before putting it on my head, and then headed for the door.  Like I’d said: Joan was a godsend.

  12. Rebecca says:

    @ Lydia … I too wonder what Shelby’s version would be like. Unfortunately, the public jumps to conclusions based on fear instead of facts.
    @ Chris … Thanks! I think Shelby’s an interesting character as well. I’m not sure if I’ll expand the story into a short story, novel, or screenplay … you never know!

  13. Rebecca says:

    @ Chris … I forgot to add I’m enjoying The Look of Murder. I wonder, did Margaret know about the girlfriend? Very intriguing 🙂

    • Chris Fries says:

      Thanks, Rebecca!  I really appreciate that — very glad to hear you’re enjoying it.  And your question is one of the key ones, indeed!  But you’ll just have to keep reading to find out.  😉

  14. Little late to the game was so busy, but I managed to whip together this little poem:

    Shaman Healing
    Alliterative esoteric hoodoo
    spoiled flesh cleaved by marlinspike
    jaded mundane cantankerous victim
    bones cracking like pistol shots on the mend
    wounds are recovered, arm as good as new

  15. Rebecca says:

    @ Justin … Thanks for the feedback! You could be onto something (???)

  16. Anne Maybus says:

    For some reason I can’t bold here. It’s not giving me any option. 😦

    She drove madly through the night, her car the marlinspike dividing the strands of past and future as she headed north. Escape. That was all she could think of. A new life and freedom lay ahead.

    The moon spurted though the bush and left stains of light on the road. It was hard to see but that didn’t slow her down. She pushed harder on the pedal and watched the line on her speedo climb. The moonlight strobed as the trees got bigger and the branches leaned drunkenly overhead. It was a perfect night for a little hoodoo.

    Turning on the radio for company, she sang along happily until the alliterative sounds of ‘Better Be a Better Boy’ got on her nerves. Pushing at the buttons searching for something less mundane to listen to she stumbled across Esoteric. The rich sounds rang out into the night and she laughed to herself at the humour of listening to a doom band.

    Pulling in at the all night café in the next town, she grabbed a coffee. The car looked more jaded than she did, as though it wasn’t really enjoying the adventure. She thumped on the boot as she went past and muttered “Cantankerous old bugger. I hope you’re enjoying the trip.”

    The squeal of her tyres as she hit the bitumen again spoiled the silence of the night. She sped through town after town and marvelled that she hadn’t caught the eye of the traffic cops.

    Just before dawn she slowed and turned off the main road and into a side track that wound through the scrub. Her excitement was building and she could feel the devil in her smile. Climbing out of the car she skipped through the dust to the back of her car.

    Thumping on the boot she whispered, ”Honey, we’re home” then tossed her head back in crackling laughter.

    She hit the remote locking device and the boot popped ajar.

    Nothing happened.

    She waited until she couldn’t take it anymore. She bent over and raised the boot to peer inside.

    The body was curled up inside the cramped space and he looked dead.

    But there was nothing dead about the pistol he was pointing at her face.

    “Who’s the victim now, honey?”

    A short time later the car drove off. The sun was rising and the road was free. So was he. Stretching out his legs he made himself comfortable for the journey ahead.

  17. Chris Fries says:

    @Anne above:
    Excellent, Anne!  I laughed aloud at the marvelous ending — ‘Who’s the victim now,’ indeed!
    Wonderful mood and terrific payoff at the end!

  18. Rebecca says:

    @ Shane … Lol! William can’t resist temptation 🙂

  19. margaret says:

    It doesn’t take a marlinspike or pistol to the head or some esoteric hoodoo to make me become
    a victim of the mundane.  I will admit, however, that I am somewhat spoiled and jaded and must have variety, humor and a sense of enjoyment in my life.
    Alliterative does not necessarily mean boring!
    A cold, cautious, calculating, cacophony of crap, however, does tend
    to make me cantankerous!

  20. Troy Worman says:

    I listened to Mott the Hopple’s All the Young Dudes tonight thought of my old friend Jim.
    We were two unspoiled sex pistols of the lower middle class, born into a mundane blue collar life on the west side of Jacksonville. The jaded cantankerous old coots about us thought us queer.  But in truth, the esoteric nature of our vibe was no more than a mutual love of alliterative verse. After high school, Jim got mixed up with this Hoodoo chick from Miami.  “I’m just a victim of love,” he told me the last time we spoke.  Then he was gone.  They found his body in a canal off Alligator Alley with a marlinspike buried in his skull.

  21. Kelly says:


    11am. She sat in the auction-house, breathless, paddle placed delicately in her lap like a loaded pistol. The assembled crowd—cantankerous pickers, jaded dealers, and fascinated gawkers—retained their usual poses of nonchalance or ignorant excitement as lot after lot fell victim to the auctioneer’s alliterative hawking and firm gavel.


    Somebody would always jump in when the mocking started. If she’d seen it once, Iris had seen it a thousand times: the bidding heated up right after the first bidder gave in to the mockery, and the final price would be almost exactly the number they’d started with.

    “Sssssold! —brilliant-buyer-beat-youall-at-NINE-hundred-fifTY!”

    Most days, you might as well just stick price tags on the stuff. The auctioneers knew exactly what bidders would do with every item.

    Most days, being a regular was pretty mundane.

    Sometimes, the economy or the weather or the playoffs would change the dynamic. Different people would show up. The collective psyche of the regulars was on edge and they all didn’t “feel like it” at once. The bids would sit in the toilet most of the day, and the auctioneer would give up on witty banter and throw dirty looks as if he didn’t know how he’d feed his kids that week. It might heat up at the end when they all realized they had too much money left in their pockets, or it might be a night to meet the gang at the bar afterwards and commiserate. The hawkers and the hawked-at, playing their familiar game with esoteric rules that varied only by whispers and nods, were all struggling to make their way on the same razor-thin margins. Sometimes, that demands beer.

    Iris felt bad for the newbies, though, because sometimes it looked just like that on the outside, but it was really a room full of electric eels. The pros’ head-hanging, lint-picking silence wasn’t a sign of disdain on those days; it kept their concentration from being spoiled while they waited for The One.

    The One they all knew the house had missed.

    Oh, the hoodoo the pros engaged in on those days! Everybody had their own method of circling their prey. Some watched it from a distance. Looked to see who else was looking. Sized up the competition. Some casually ate a hot dog two feet away from The One, barely glancing at it, yet with every hair on their bodies on end, alert for the slightest motion from other pros. Some raised eyebrows in disgust when others neared The One—the eyebrow of “You gonna bid on that piece of crap? No wonder you can never buy a round when we get out of here.” There was a lot of yawning. Yawning shows everyone else you don’t give a damn. Sorting out who does give a damn from who’s really bored was half the thrill of the sale. You had to be very careful to act as if it was any other day—but the very act of, well, acting, made the whole place reek of tension. Or so you thought…. On those rare days when you were the only one to recognize a gem, while house and all were sleeping on the job, all the posing and prancing could pay off big time. The regulars lived for those days, and relived those days, in endless rounds of bragging among themselves.

    She was never much of a people person. She was regular enough to exchange smiles around the auction house, but not regular enough to cause resentment when she sat down, quietly, and placed the paddle in her lap. Wary socializing was the rule for most, trying to feel each other out, but they knew Iris didn’t go in for chit-chat. She was there to buy The One, they all knew, but they’d never know what it was. Iris sat in icy blonde perfection, barely breathing while she absorbed the drama around her—and from the minute she walked in, everyone else seemed to have difficulty breathing, as well.

    Iris sat down, made sure she had the auctioneer’s eye, bid on a few small items for herself to test the waters, and waited.

    She sent just one text message during the day, reaching into her purse and hitting the send button, pulling out a tissue or a cough drop to mask her actions. The message said, “5 minutes.”

    The man or woman she was picking for on that day, casually stepped into the back of the house.

    There was no way to guess which newbie was hers, unless you could spot their studied calm, their dead aim on only one item they’d never walked past, and their uncanny ability to win the bid without getting suckered.

    7pm. The bidding had nearly died down on an old piece of wrought iron that the auctioneer’s assistant held a bit cautiously above his head. The pointed end had him worried, especially at the end of the day when his arms were getting tired. Just as the gavel was about to fall on the last, 400 dollar bid, a tall man standing at the back of the house in a slightly wet overcoat shook the paddle he held in his crossed arms, ever so slightly.

    “Four-hundred-fitty-toyousir, any-more?” The auctioneer never looked surprised when bidding re-started as he was ready to call a piece. It was part of the game, he knew, to act so uninterested that you couldn’t be bothered to bid ‘til the last second, but when a new face played the game that well, it was a bit odd.

    At four thousand, he did raise his eyebrow slightly. Dealers rarely kept bidding with a determined outsider on their backs—“Live to bid another day,” goes the motto of any sane professional, but this time was different. A third bidder got in for a few, realizing he must be missing something. The waters were a bit too hot, though, and he jumped back out at 10 thousand. Looked like somebody was going to get suckered. The room was completely still, save the nodding heads of two men.

    “14-5-going-once, going-twice—Jerry, you got any more in you?—no?—then-tothemaninthegreycoatfor-14-thousand-5-hundred… (big pause for effect)… sssssSOLD!”

    The next month, the true auction hounds read it in the trade paper—Marlinspike authenticated from the Mayflower sells for 85,000 dollars at Christie’s Americana sale.

    The One! Stolen from under their noses! Not bad for the man in the grey coat and his ten minutes’ work.

    And not a bad cut for Iris, the picker who never settled for razor-thin margins.

    • Lydia says:

      This sounds like the beginning of a novel.

    • Chris Fries says:

      Wow!  Kelly, I love, Love, LOVE your writing — every story is creative, captivating, totally unique!  Absolutely wonderful!
      You should put together a personal blog, highlighting all your fabulous stories!

      • Kelly says:

        You should put together a personal blog, highlighting all your fabulous stories!

        Aw, shucks. Thanks, Chris. ‘Course the party’s right here, y’know, so I’m happy to let Shane collect my stories on my CCC Community page.

        (Which I visit with shameless frequency, on days when I need to be reminded of what it’s like when I can let my creativity go truly wild and free. After I let these stories go, revisiting them is oddly like reading someone else’s stuff.)

    • Shane Arthur says:

      @Kelly: Okay. Print this one out. This replaces your best ever submission by far. The first paragraph along qualifies this as the best even. I just started watching a series on cable called Auction Hunters. Super cool show.

      • Kelly says:

        Shane—I’m not a picker, obviously, but I have times when I have to be a regular, so I know the lay of the auction houses pretty well. Believe it or not, the word “pistol” was what set this whole story in motion—I pictured that paddle in her lap and I just went with it.
        Weird how words associate with totally unrelated ideas in your head sometimes!! Glad you liked it!

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