Who doesn’t love a good side quest? You know, the thing that distracts you from important business of whatever it was you’re doing. This week’s writing prompt for the writing challenge: “You’re going about your business when you find someone with a light above their head… they have a side quest for you! What’s the side quest?”
Let’s see what our talented writers have come up with!
Jester’s Quest for the Good Stuff
By Anne Reynolds
I talk to my mom on the phone nearly every day, which I did even before I moved four hours away from her for a job in southwest Virginia.
When you talk on the phone nearly every day, it can be hard to find something new to talk about. But today, after she ran down the news from the neighborhood where I’d grown up decades before, I had my own story to share.
“Check this out,” I started. “I was getting ready to go to the dump this morning and the darndest thing happened.”
“The dump?” she repeated.
“You know, those county recycling and trash sites, where they’ve got those retired guys working.”
“I don’t know why you don’t just get trash pick-up,” she sniffed.
“It’s the country, Mom. We don’t do trash trucks. They’d be a mess on these roads. But let me tell the story.
“I was on my way to the dump and of course said goodbye to Jester.”
“That crazy cat.” Mom didn’t see the point in cats. But when one moves to a new place, not even a cat-disdainer can deny the importance of good company. And that’s my cat.
“Well, as I said goodbye, he looked at me, and you know how he usually doesn’t look all that bright? Well, today, he looked different. As if there was kind of light in his eyes.”
“Okay,” she said. I could hear the frown.
“And then he told me to make sure to go to the Big Lake Coffeehouse on my way to the dump. And to ask for the snickerdoodles, but only if the German Baptist girls were working. ‘They won’t be at the counter,’ he said, ‘you’re going to need to ask.’”
“German Baptist, Mom. Listen, I’ve got to wonder if you’re paying attention sometimes. They’re our local folks who kind of look like Mennonites? But they drive cars? And the ladies’ long dresses are really bright colors? Anyway, Big Lake Coffeehouse has a couple of young German Baptist girls working behind the counter and I like going in to chat with them.”
“Do they have anything in particular to say?” Mom was taking a tone that hinted that she already knew the answer to her question.
“Not so much, but you know I love to hear their Franklin County accents. And they’re always nice. So I went in, I asked for snickerdoodles, and one of the ladies asked if my cat had sent me.”
“You’re making this up.”
“I’m not! She asked and I was surprised but I said, yeah, he did, and she just nodded and bagged up a couple of snickerdoodles. I’m eating one now, it’s great. But that’s not the strangest part.”
“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
“Mom, stay with me. The girl turned to me and said…”
“Does she have a name, this girl?”
“Sarah. Let me tell the story. She handed me the bag and said, ‘I hear Melvin’s working at the recycling site today.’ And I said, ‘I know Melvin.’”
“He’s a guy at the dump. Everyone knows Melvin. He’s the one with the dog named Chase but he pronounces it, ‘Choice.’”
“Oh, yeah. Listen, sweetie, where are you going with this story?”
“I’m getting there! I told her that in fact, I was on my way to the dump, and she nodded and said, ‘You can tell him that Sarah said to ask him about the good stuff.’
“’The good stuff?’ I asked. ‘Good stuff,’ she said. And now I was really wondering, but I just took my cookies and coffee and headed over to the dump.
“Melvin was there, like he always is, and he came up and said, ‘Hello, young lady,’ like he always does, and I said hey, but I also said, ‘Melvin, I was just talking to Sarah over at Big Lake and she told me that you had some good stuff over here.’”
“This is a great story, Natalie.”
“Mom, you tell me stories about the squirrels in your yard. Hang in there for just a minute more. So Melvin looks at me and asks, ‘Did you get the snickerdoodles?’ and I was like, how does he know? but I said I did and asked if he would like one.
“He said no, but then he said, ‘I’ve got something to go with those cookies,’ and he kind of waved me over to the little shack that they have for the guys who work at the dump. I got out of the car and waited on the porch. He came out with a little paper bag.
“’It’s apple butter,’ he said. ‘If you like it, I can get you some more.’
“Well, I took the bag and could feel two glass jars inside, but before I could say anything about it or offer to pay him, Mom, this little black kitten popped out onto the porch.”
“So now you’ve got a new cat. This is a long story to tell me about another cat.”
“How did you guess? But hang on, that’s not the craziest thing. I got home with the kitten and my snickerdoodles and my apple butter bag, and I looked inside, and the other glass jar was – you’re never going to guess.”
“You’re right, I am not going to guess.”
“It was moonshine!”
“Moonshine! It had a label on the jar: damson plum.”
“I hope you threw it right out. You don’t know what’s in that!”
“Well, Franklin County IS the moonshine capital of the world, Mom.”
“That was in the Depression. And you told me that the ABC store sells that stuff down there. From a real company.”
“Natalie, let me get this straight. Your cat. Told you to get some cookies from some religious kooks. Who sent you to the dump. For some moonshine and a kitten?”
It sounded so silly, hearing my mom tell it. “I suppose that’s the size of it,” I admitted.
“Really, dear, I am worried about you living down there. You honestly should move back up to the city where we have some civilization.” She sighed, as if to emphasize that she knew her wisdom was falling on deaf ears. “Okay,” she concluded. “I need to go to the bathroom. Have a good day with your new cat.” And she was gone.
I put the phone down and sipped my coffee, now sweetened with a dose of damson plum. Damson plum that had been given to me. By a native. As I looked over at Jester, who was happily cleaning the face of his new friend, Snickerdoodle, I smiled and savored the sweet taste of belonging.
The Real Stuff
by Molly Claflin
BRING* Students came flooding out of the building as the bell struck the room. It was the beginning of summer vacation. Most of my friends were going on some big trip, but all I was planning to do was hangout in the forest in my backyard. I boarded the bus, but I had to cover my ears because of the noise. I could tell people were excited for three months of sleeping in, as most of us were severely sleep-deprived. I watched the bus pull out of the bus loop, barely holding in my urge to scream.
When the bus screeched to a stop right outside my house, I was ecstatic. I just imagined all the things that I would do this summer. I walked up the narrow path to my brick house at the top of the hill, dropped my stuff in my bedroom, wrote a quick note to my little brother when he got home, and headed down into the forest. It was astoundingly colorful. I hadn’t seen flowers like that in years.
“Pssst!” I turned my head to see what had called me. “Over here Isle. Go towards the giant spruce tree in front of you. I need your help.” I didn’t see anyone, so I was confused. I looked at the tree that the voice told me to, and out of the blue was a face.
“AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!” I screamed “TALKING TREE!” I was shaking, but the face just gave me a smug, sarcastic look.
“I am not a talking tree.” The face replied. “I’m a shapeshifter. DUH! I’m just taking the place of a tree to find children to do my bidding.”
“Wait what?!” I replied. “I can help you if you need it, but don’t use children for evil purposes!”
“Why would I be hiring children for evil purposes?!” The face replied. “I just need some toilet paper from the store!”
“I can get you some toilet paper, if you want.” I replied. “It can’t be that hard? Can it?”
“Good luck Isle!” The voice replied. “You’ll need it. Here’s 20 bucks, if you can find the toilet paper, you can keep the change.”
I left the forest, money in hand. I thought to myself How hard can it be to get toilet paper at the store. Then I remembered that a great storm was due to hit us in a few weeks. Now I see their point. The streets were abuzz with people preparing for impact. The store was overrun with people, stocking up on everything from pecan to baby food. Suddenly I saw the struggle. The aisle of paper products was bare, and a rumble had broken up for the last toilet paper.
“Hello,” I said to the worker trying to break up the fight. “If I give you 100 dollars, can I have the last toilet paper?”
“Oh, heck yeah!” the worker said. I handed him the money, took the toilet paper and left. I had the greatest idea ever. I thought I might play a tiny little prank on the shapeshifter.
Once I got home, I put the toilet paper in my basement. After toiling for a couple hours, I had my greatest piece of artwork yet, a fake pack of toilet paper. I came up with a couple clues to the location of the real paper, hid them around the forest and made it back to the shapeshifter. I gave her the phony box and she thanked me. As I walked home, I began to wonder if they would ever get the real stuff.