Books by Sarah, Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike, a Thousand Elephants, The Greatest Show On Earth


*For those who caught on I was ill (yes, again.)  The problem with my illnesses is that I always try to persuade myself I’m just malingering, and ear infections are tailor made for this, because they just make you feel very tired and not particularly coherent.  I fought with ending a short story for the best part of a week.  Those who know me know how atypical that is but I was sure I was just blocked or lazy or something.  Then the pain in my ears got so bad I was humming to balance the pressure.  That’s when Dan dragged me to the doctor.
Better?  Yeah.  I can think, though I get tired very easily.  OTOH this thing has a really long ramp up, per my older son who is just recovering.  So bear with me if I suddenly forget how to use words and start waving vaguely in print or something.  I should be more or less well in about a week. – SAH*

Book Promo by Sarah

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com.  One book per author per week. Amazon links only.-SAH*

FROM MARGARET BALL:  An Opening in the Air (Applied Topology Book 2)


ProtestS on campus are usually like grackles – annoying, in the way, and ignorable. But when Thalia Kostis invisibly crashes a meeting, she learns that outside money and organizers are planning for a full-out riot, complete with scapegoats and martyrs. Unfortunately, applied math isn’t magic, and she’s in danger when her cover’s blown . Now she and the rest of the misfits at Institute for Applied Topology must figure out who’s behind this and stop it, before more than just their own building goes up in flames!

FROM MARY CATELLI:  The Princess Seeks Her Fortune.


In a land where ten thousand fairy tales come true, Alissandra knows she is in one when an encounter with a strange woman gives her magical gifts, and another gives her sisters a curse.

And she knows that despite the prospects of enchantments, cursed dances, marvelous birds, and work as a scullery maid, it is wise of her to set out, and seek her fortune.

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: Outside



53 thoughts on “Books by Sarah, Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike, a Thousand Elephants, The Greatest Show On Earth

  1. A thousand elephants?!? Are they housebroken? Who is gonna sweep up after those pachyderms, hey? What do they even eat, and who is supposed to feed them? Why can’t you get a normal pet, like a hippo or rhinoceros, or even a platypus duck? Out with them, outside, right now!

      1. Many thanks for the Joe Besser callback.

        In the 1950 Looney Tunes cartoon Rabbit Fire, Besser’s catch phrase “I’ll give you such a pinch!” is delivered by an elephant. [Wiki: Joe Besser]

    1. Fluffy seems to manage them quite nicely They haven’t been inside for quite some time.

  2. Outside? Why can’t our writing prompt be in here, where it would be convenient? I looked outside and I didn’t see any writing prompt. Are you sure it is outside? Maybe you left it in the car – did you check there? I don’t wanna go outside to find the prompt!

  3. I really should get off my butt and get outside. The 560SL’s exterior needs a good wash, and the front bumper is dinged up; I need to install the spare I bought a while back. That’ll give me an opportunity to put the soft top up and let it air out a bit, too.

    Ah, the joys of owning classic Mercedes…

  4. You know you’re having a REALLY BAD DAY when you’re so angry you do dumb things. Like getting a wizard mad enough swap your insides to your outside.

  5. “I think I’m transsexual.”

    “No, you aren’t.”

    The start of my second session of therapy with Stephen Grouse.

    To talk about Stephen Grouse is to talk about my Dad in a lot of ways. Dad…never quite let his ego get in the way of getting things done. He would do a lot of work around the house to fix things and save money, but the moment things started to get out of his competency range, he would find the right person in that competency range to fix that problem. And, he believed in paying it forward-the guy that painted our house had several autistic issues and was living in his van when Dad busted him for a traffic ticket. Dad, being Dad, had talked with him while giving him the ticket and had found places he had painted and hired him. There might have been people with more dedication to detail than him, but they had to be damned few. He might have taken twice as long, but his work was perfect, and you got a house painted that would last nearly twice as long. And, Dad told all his friends about his painter, so he now had more work than he knew what to do with.

    By November, Dad realized that my needs were outside of his competency range, and looked for people to help where I needed it. Which was why I spent three days a week in Krav Maga training, learning how to really fight. At the very least, the fights I had gotten into tended to be a bit more even, and I sent quite a few kids out for actual medical care. And, twice a month on Saturday morning, just after breakfast, Dad would drop me off to see Stephen Grouse at his office in Oakland.

    Stephen Grouse is one of those American success stories that you wished there were more of. Born in the worst parish in New Orleans, never knew who his Dad was, his Mom had about ten kids from six fathers, he managed to get out and joined the Marine Corps. From there, he rose through the ranks, became a Gunnery Sergeant, became an officer and went to college for a Psychology degree. Met his wife while in college and they moved to San Francisco in the mid-‘80s because his wife had gotten a job with the City of San Francisco.

    Black as a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, whipcord thin even as he hit middle age with a massive white smile that he loved to show and loved to share, he had me pegged the moment I walked in the door. He knew the currency to get me to talk about things, and that was stories and personal integrity. By the time I had finished seeing him six years later, I learned about his life, his time in the Corps, stories about how he had traveled, and quite a bit about how the world worked.

    My particular bald statement had come after one particularly bad fight, and my logic was based upon my observations and thoughts.

    Clearly, the world was going to screw me, no matter what I did.

    Girls clearly enjoyed being screwed. (Yes, I know, debatable point.)

    So, clearly, I might as well enjoy getting screwed, so I should become a girl.

    Like I said, fifteen years old and an idiot.

    “And, why would you say that?” I asked angrily. It was my second session, and we were still establishing the nature of our relationship and what we would talk about.

    “You’re not exactly transsexual in your affect and form,” he pointed out. “And, the process of gender reassignment would make you miserable, depressed, and suicidal. And you’re enough of a perfectionist that if you tried to commit suicide, you’d succeed. But, it’s entirely possible I could be wrong. So to cover my bets, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to establish an escrow account for you, and deposit half of the money your Dad pays me into it. When you turn 18, and you still think you’re transsexual, the money is yours to fund your transition. The whole process isn’t cheap, and it will probably run you about forty to fifty thousand dollars, plus the costs per year.”

    Personally, I thought he was full of bullshit and I was going to tell him at our next appointment. Which is why before we got started two weeks later, he handed me paperwork to fill out before we got started.

    It was escrow paperwork, and he had already deposited money into the escrow account. And, it was very simple-when I turned 18, I could use it for medical expenses or give it back to him.

    Honesty and personal integrity. Do you realize just how rare that is in the world?

    Of course, he also added homework assignments. Things like, for example, what exactly was involved in sexual reassignment surgery. Or the side effects of testosterone blockers or hormones. Or the suicide rate for post-op transsexuals. Or the long-term issues for transsexuals and their various future medical issues. And, we can’t forget things like social issues, simple economic analysis of the costs of transition, and the simple fact that I wouldn’t be a girl but just a man with very strange issues.

    And that perfectionism would kick in-if I was going to be a girl, I was going to be a girl. Including periods, pregnancy, menopause…

    But, it wasn’t also doom and gloom, mind you. There were other reading assignments, and other projects he had me do, and it gave me a better idea and a better perspective on my life.

    I still was planning on murdering a whole lot of my “fellow students” before I turned sixteen, mind you.

    But, some of my ardor had cooled because I realized that I wasn’t alone in this, I just was at the bottom.

  6. If you want me to spend more time outside, buy me a membership to an outdoor range.

  7. My brother-in-law raged “No! I don’t want you around my wife! You’re just a thief!”.

    I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t “just” a thief as I was one of the top thieves in the US but then….

    “OUTSIDE” my sister screamed. Hovering in mid-air surrounded by an aura of electrical force, my eight month pregnant sister had lost her temper.

    “Let’s go outside” I said to him.

    “Yes, let’s” he replied.

    I’ll have to hand it to him, I was able to “wrath” through walls but my Titan brother-in-law beat me outside without smashing through walls or doors.

  8. The snow was falling thick and fast, trying to fill in just as fast as she shoveled a path for her wheels back onto the road. At least, Rose thought as she chopped into the heavy compacted snow and chunky ice left by plows, it’ll be easier to shovel the second time.

    Headlights crawled past in the gathering gloom, then brake lights flared, and lit with the bright white of reverse. She straightened up, putting a hand to an aching lower back, and squinted into the snow. Her first impression was a huge man, hulking, and her heart started pounding. The snow shovel was supposed to have a saw in the handle, but she couldn’t get it out in time…

    “Thought I recognized that jacket.” The deep, rough voice was full of lazy amusement, and she let out a breath, recognizing the friendly stranger from the gas station. “Need a hand shovellin’, and a tow?”

    She looked down at all her hard-won effort, and how very little distance it had gone. “I would really appreciate that? I did get a tow strap, just like you suggested.” A few steps back to her car, and the plastic bag that had disgorged gloves and shovel still had the coiled yellow strap wrapped in plastic. She returned, and handed it to him.

    The bushy black beard didn’t disguise the frown. “No hooks? Who the fresh hell sold this to you?”

    “I’m sorry!” She replied, taking a half step back.

    He looked at her, and the frown faded out to something much softer. “I’m not upset at you, darlin’. You don’t know any better.” He looked up at the clouds, and let out a sigh, then back down at her with a little smile. “I should’a told you to get a hat, too. Your hair is covered in snow. It’s no fit night to be outside. Why don’t you go sit in my truck, and warm up while I get you clear?”

    “You don’t mind?” She hesitated, not sure what to do with the offer.

    “Little work never killed anyone, as my da said. Besides, you’re frozen half through. Get on with you.” He held out a hand for her shovel, and waited patiently until she took the hesitant two steps forward to hand it to him.

    1. “So,” his voice came softly, barely louder than the steady beat of the windshield wipers, “What are you looking for in a man?”

      Rose half-hoped, for a moment, that she could get away with pretending she hadn’t heard. But no, that wasn’t going to work. Her face was already prickling with the force of her rising blush. “Um. Someone nice. Steady.” She didn’t look at him then, trying to figure out her way out of the morass. “Boring. Predictable.” That, at least, was something he’d never be.

      “Kind of man who just wants to sit on his front porch with some coffee and watch the weather roll in?” He replied, voice still dangerously soft and mild.

      She could just see him doing that, too, on some old heavy rocking chair with a dog asleep at his feet. “Harmless!”

      He was silent a long moment, and then drew a deep breath. “You don’t want a harmless man.”

      “No?” She wanted to disappear into the seat.

      “No. You want someone dangerous, who wants to be a good man. Men are not harmless by nature. We didn’t rise to the top of the food chain by being harmless.” His knuckles were white on the steering wheel. “Any man who tries to make himself harmless on the outside is lying to himself, and they all turn out bitter and corrosive underneath, lashing out at anyone who does well for themselves, cutting everyone down, and whining about how the world’s always against ’em.”

      Rose felt like she’d stepped off the murky edge of the swamp and into some deeper emotional sea, well in over her head. “Seen that before?”

      “I might not be white collar in a sharp suit, darlin’, but I’ll never tell you you’re stupid or leave you feeling unwanted.”

  9. I heard the llama bugle and ran outside to see what she was worried about this time. She had warned of the approach of my neighbor in the morning, and of a fox chasing a lamb in the afternoon. Now in the early rain dark evening I found her near the gate to the road in the upper pasture. There was no one there. No person, no animal that I could see. My skin prickled as I realized that the gate was unlatched. It started to swing open in the wind from the storm.

  10. She was sick again.  This came as no surprise to anyone.  It not only reduced her ability to write, but came with searing ear pain.  By now we had all learned that should any bearer of germs come anywhere near her there was only the outside chance she wouldn’t succumb.

  11. Outside. Outside was hot, dry, and dusty. I didn’t want to go. But when Dad decided something was necessary, it became inevitable, and so my doom was merely postponed. Next Saturday morning, he took me the two blocks from our house in the subdivision to the fence of the Phoenix North Mountain Park. and said “Sit”.
    “Sit where?”
    “Right here.”
    “But there’s no chair. Or even a rock.”
    “Sit on the ground.”
    “Are you kidding?”
    “People have been doing it for thousands of years. It won’t kill you. It won’t even hurt.”
    I sat. “What do you see?” he asked.
    “A road. A barbed wire fence. Houses.”
    “On the other side of the fence.”
    “Nothing? Really?”
    “OK, I see rocks, dirt, a really steep hillside with more rocks, a bunch of light green scraggly bushes with more rocks in between them.”
    “Better. What else?”
    “What else?”
    “A little bit of dry, yellow grass. Twigs with stickers on them. Ants”.
    We went on in this vein for some fifteen minutes, until finally he stood up and said, “That will do for a start. Now, I want you to get on the internet and see if you can find what kind of bushes and rocks and twigs and stickers ants those are. We’re going to do this every weekend. Each time, you are going to see more.”
    “Because Twitter and Facebook and video games are only a tiny slice of reality. You need to learn more of what’s outside.”

  12. The rain droned on for nearly two weeks without stopping. She looked mournfully out at the ocean.  Grandma sat peacefully knitting.  How could she do that?  They had driven twelve hours to be here, the extended family crowded into that van.  Not once had they been able to play outside.

  13. ‘Use your indoor voice.’ the teacher said.  

    One more time, if anyone said that to him just one more time he would scream at the top of his lungs.  Then they would know.  Then they would understand.  This was his indoor voice.  They would learn to fear his outdoor voice. 

    1. On the HFY* subreddit (, there was a story whose title I no longer remember so I’m having trouble finding it. But the basic premise was the sci-fi setting suggested by that thread you quoted. From vague memory, the protagonist is a human who’s been abducted from Earth, who ends up working at some janitorial-type job at a space station. The station is attacked by a particular nasty group of pirates, of the “shoot first and don’t bother asking questions later because there’s nobody left to answer them” variety. One of the pirates rounds the corner, sees the protagonist, and fires his weapon — a nerve disruptor type weapon that’s 100% fatal to every known species in the galaxy, killing by causing nervous overload. The human protagonist, knowing he’s about to die, has launched himself at the bad guy, throwing a punch that he knows won’t land because he’ll be killed halfway there. But to his surprise, the nerve-disruptor beam hits him squarely… and causes a mild tingling, like touching your tongue to a 9V battery. (Everyone did this as a kid, right?). And his punch lands… and tears the alien pirate’s head clean off. He realizes that he’s actually far stronger than everyone else on the station, including the pirates… and kills pretty much all of them barehanded. He then becomes, essentially, a superhero, with many of the relevant tropes (including some people fearing him for what he could do, even though violence against innocent people isn’t anything he ever would do).

      If anyone knows the story I’m talking about, I last read it several years ago and would like to find it again.

      * Acronym expands to “Humanity, F*** Yeah!”

      1. Okay, a quote from chapter 1 so you get a feel for the story. The group of pirates I mentioned are called the Hunters in the story, and they’ve just found Earth and invaded a hockey game:

        Alpha stepped from its assault pod and fired directly into the chest of the first Prey it saw—one of the armoured ones on the ice. Instantly, the Prey’s bewildered stillness gave way to the panic that all Prey fell victim to when the Hunters arrived. Many emitted high-pitched squeals of alarm, many more stampeded to escape. Around it, the Brood stepped onto the ice and launched Kinetic bolts at anything that moved.

        Each shot knocked Prey flying, and Alpha felt a savage surge of pride. Their Brood would gain much respect for taking on death planet predators and scattering them like any other herd. Alpha could imagine the praise songs and taste the honour-feast already.

        And then the Prey it had shot stood up.

        1. Oh, this is fun! Was going to say “tasty”, but it might now be quite appropriate. 🙂

    2. I’ve see something very like this before in a discussion

      My contribution at the time:

      “Humans band together like wasps — only more so. Humans are willing to work with, help, and even endanger their lives on behalf of other humans whom they have no known blood, marriage, or even contractual connection to. These bands of humans go by various names, such as armies or fleets, but are easily capable of overwhelming all kin groups.”

  14. Reminder: monthly Hoyt donation, may be unnecessary, as I may have overlooked the announcement that recurring donations have been fixed.

    1. You sure? I’ve just gone to the doughnut page and PayPal doesn’t seem to think this will recur.

      1. I’m not saying it is fixed. I am saying I don’t, or didn’t, know. I don’t consider myself to have been paying close enough attention to this site.

        I’m probably going to be trying again to wean myself off, so that I’m better able to focus on the next major project.

        I also haven’t been paying close enough attention to my calender.

  15. Tommy watched Joel place a chair in the cardboard shipping container, and another on the floor next to it.

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Solving a problem.”

    How is that going to solve a problem?”

    “Ones for solving normal stuff. The other one is for thinking outside the box.”

  16. Groucho Marx:

    “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

      1. WikiQuotes attributes it to Groucho Marx, citing “The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention”
        by Guy Deutscher.

        1. Well, then. Unless and until I see contrary information, I stand (well, sit) corrected. Guess I’ve been mis-attributing that for years, (And if Twain didn’t say it, he should have, the piker.)

  17. “Take that back or you’ll be wearing your innards on your outside!” The holler cut through the guffaws and stillness swept the room.

    The sound of the hammers of the sawed-off double-barreled 10 gauge everyone knew Mike kept under the bar was unmistakable. “You fellers best take that outside.”

  18. “How’s the trebuchet coming?”

    “Almost done. Have we got anything to put in it?”

    “We’re at seventy water balloons and still filling them.”

    Jessie nodded in approval at her sisters. She had a feeling that Mom and Dad were going to regret having told them to play outside.

  19. “We need to get some outside help on this,” said Inspector Wiley. “An expert on companions.”

    “Well, there’s that British guy,” replied Luther. “That tech rep from Bio-Wise.”

    “Oh yeah, Nigel Slim-Howland. Can we get hold of him?”

    “Sure,” said Luther. “He’s downstairs in the lockup.”

    “He’s what? Not again!

  20. “Fort Defiance. So really, Mir Defiance.”

    They’d survived the worldwide zombie plague “safe” in orbit. The junkstorm that followed (as control centers “vamped out”). Found enough left at three nearly co-orbital stations to cobble together one viable one. Even gotten a few supply packages lofted on repurposed ICBMs by independents like Markham and Petrova. Saved a precious few working satellites for humanity in return.

    Now they were about to riot over a name. So predictably… human.

    “Why not just Mir?”
    “Skyhome is so obvious!”
    “Defiance is not a Russian word!”

    Oleg Shevchenko stood, a great bear of a man who usually didn’t say much.
    And the room quieted, mostly. Floaters got their magboots back on the floor.

    “Defyants is good old Russian word. Means ‘we lived.’ So I like it.”

    And he smiled the winning, sunny smile that got him through ten-hour shifts in vacuum that would leave anyone else gasping drenched in sweat halfway there. “And whoever doesn’t like it can come Outside with me and find out who comes back.” A smile like winter sun on hoarfrosted granite swept the room one troublemaker to another, from the closest thing to an Indispensible Man left alive above the atmosphere.

    After a brief silence that echoed like cannon fire, Angus MacQuarrie said, “well, then, Mir Defyants it will be.” With a pleasant little smile of his own.

    If only survival could be that easy. For themselves or for humanity.

    [based on pre-existing setting and characters]

  21. My crimes have put me outside the pale of society. They are not to be described. Bandits, cutthroats, and pirates, the scum of the earth, justly look upon me with revulsion. I am condemned to wander endlessly, searching for expiation. Century upon century has passed; when shall I find peace?

    (50 words exactly.)

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