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Be Mine, ShtoryTime!

Congratulations to this year's victorious valentine,  Penelope Waples

 

"Be Mine, ShtoryTime" 2024 Prompts:

 

Location: BRIDGE

Character: CAB DRIVER

Object: TIARA

 

Read the winning shtory— plus, shtories by first runner-up Beth Cole and second runner-up Sheree Tams — below!

The Queen Maker

By Penelope Waples

The warning light on Cassandra’s taxi flicked on right as she reached the bridge spanning over the cold Atlantic waters. She suppressed a groan, slowing to a gentle stop behind the sea of red lights. Hopefully the aged yellow vehicle wouldn’t crumble into a pile of rust and tires until after she got her full fare. 

 

“Oh wow,” the passenger’s voice startled her. “Bad, huh?” He asked, leaning forward and crowding into her space.  

 

“Well, according to the gps…” she tapped her phone awkwardly before remembering her last customer who had yelled at her for telling him bad news – and stopped herself.  “We should be there soon though,” she lamely added, glancing surreptitiously in the mirror to study him. 

 

He leaned back against the seat making a noncommittal noise. 

 

“Are you sure this is where you want me to drop you off?” Cassandra frowned at the phone. “It’s in the middle of the bridge.”

 

“Yes, yes, the oracle was quite clear.” He sniffed and adjusted his tie fussily, as though it was an everyday occurrence to be dropped off in the middle of rush hour on a historic bridge. 

 

“An oracle?” Cassandra let her eyes travel to the mirror again to study the man closer. He was dressed in a charcoal gray suit, and was toying with a metal suitcase on his lap. 

 

“Yes, we paid quite a lot of money for her.” He cleared his throat. “It’s been a while since we’ve had you know, a prophecy, but it’s worth the gamble. Oracles do that. Well, that’s what Mr. Harvard said, of course, and he’s in charge of the money so I’m not about to go head to head with him. Personally though,” he stage-whispered, “I would have gotten a necromancer. We could just bring back the last guy. Sure, he might be a little decomposed, but I’m sure he’d be thrilled to be back. Photo ops might be rough, though.”  


“Oh?” Cassandra turned her head to the backseat. He’s the best dressed madman I’ve ever given a ride to, that’s for sure, Cassandra thought. The man flicked the latches of the briefcase open. 

 

“Wanna see something cool?” He asked, grinning madly. Cassandra’s stomach dropped, and she braced herself for something awful. 


“Depends on what it is,” she shot back quickly, pulling the phone into her lap and preparing to press the button to call the emergency line.  


“Behold, the Queen-maker.” He grinned at her and presented a gold tiara with flashing emeralds the size of walnuts. She felt her jaw drop as she ogled what was, quite possibly the most hideous tiara known to mankind. 


“Is that real?” She blurted out before she could make her lips stop moving. The man grinned even wider, and dangled it carelessly from his fingertips. Cassandra felt the urge to tell him to put it away before it put out someone’s eye, it was just that awful. 

 

“Yes, it is. The oracle said it’ll help find her. Divinely blessed.” He puffed up his chest, staring at the jewels embedded in the gold. He chuckled a little before shoving the briefcase next to him on the seat. “Anyways, she- the Oracle- was quite clear. ‘At the bridge over the sea… there in yellow… shall she be … a new road … for you and me.’ Pretty straightforward.” He recited slowly from memory, his fingers making tapping motions with each word of the simple rhyme. 

 

“Ah, yes.” Cassandra scratched her head. “Very, I guess?” She looked back at the awful tiara nervously. 

 

“Yes, yes. All prophesied rulers arrive with a flourish, so it shouldn’t be hard to find her. Plus she’s on the bridge.” He flipped the tiara around in his hands while studying it. He frowned and picked at a speck of dirt by an emerald. “Do you think it’s gaudy, Miss…?” 

 

“Oh, no,” Cassandra said, shaking her head accidentally up and down in a clear yes. “She’ll love it.” 

 

The man didn’t notice her clear lack of honesty and she drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. 


“Tell you what, how far is it from here?” The man leaned forward, tiara in one hand and a wad of cash in the other. “I don’t want to miss her.” 


“Oh, it’s just up ahead,” Cassandra said hesitantly, letting him glance at the phone with the solid red threads. 


“I’m going to just… walk,” he said, enunciating ‘walk’ with extreme distaste. “I’ll never make it in time, sitting here. Been fun talking.” He pulled out a generous wad of cash.   


“Yes. I’ll stop the meter then” Cassandra said slowly, watching as he carelessly handed her a mess of bills. 


“Keep the change. I’ll be richly rewarded soon enough,” he said with a sly grin. He popped the door open and stepped out with a flourish, dragging out his briefcase that he scraped against the car door. She tried not to wonder how much yellow paint he had scratched off, and then shrugged. The taxi was a heap of junk anyways. She watched bemusedly as he marched in the bike lane to a nebulous destination to meet a queen-to-be. She wondered if the Queen would be horrified or flattered by the crown he was about to present to her. She glanced in the backseat. It was pretty ugly. 

 

The tiara twinkled obnoxiously in the dimming light in the backseat. 

 

Cassandra swore, and snatched up the tiara, and then leaned on her horn. It made an awful bleating wail, but the sound melded in with the rest of the cacophony of car horns. The man kept walking. 

 

“Hey! Hey, you!” She leaned out the window and howled, holding up the tiara. “You forgot this!” 

 

 He turned, squinting at the yellow taxi. A slow smile spread on his face. Cassandra slid down into her seat. The cars ahead of her pulled ahead. She slowly creeped up to where the man stood. She rolled down her window. 

 

“Your majesty,” he intoned, bowing deeply. 

A Fare-y Tale

By Beth Cole

I don’t know what made  me happier that Valentine’s Day – the hint of an early spring, or my last- minute fare. I was the sole heir to a 4th generation cab company. I clung to my remaining car even though our dying town and Uber’s rise killed business. Our telephone number was permanently etched in many address books, so I got occasional calls for trips to the grocery or doctor. My husband’s small farm barely turned a profit,  and several recent emergencies depleted our savings. We needed money something awful. 

My yellow cab bounced down the country road as I avoided gravelly potholes. The golden sun smiled in the glorious blue sky. Lemony daffodils and candy-colored crocuses dotted the fields. Flocks of robins searched for winter’s last berries as they called from bare trees. The warm breeze felt good on my winter-pale skin and I almost felt too hot in my weathered overalls. 

As promised, Miss Tabitha Godfrey waited for me at the appointed address. A comely young lady with butterscotch waves and a dimpled smile slid into my backseat. Tabitha’s attire was peculiar – she wore a faded terrycloth robe and lugged a huge tote bag. “Miss Rayanne? Take me to the far side of Phipps Covered Bridge, please.” 

I nodded as we sped away. Tabitha craned her neck and looked behind us as I tried to concentrate on the road ahead. Satisfied, she finally stopped. “Whew! I wasn’t followed this time.”

“Excuse me?” Followed?

“Nothing!” Tabitha said lightly. Rattles and zippers told me that she was changing clothes in the backseat. Puzzled, I avoided glancing in the mirror to afford her privacy. Nothing could suppress my shock when I finally peeked. Tabitha now donned a delicate cream gown. A limp bouquet of convenience store flowers wrapped in red cellophane balanced on her lap. She pinned a cheap tiara in her hair that secured a veil over her grinning face. 

“What in tarnation are you wearing?” I exclaimed.

“I’m getting MARRIED today!” Tabitha whooped as she threw her hands skyward in celebration.

“You’re WHAT? How old are you?” 

“Almost eighteen!” 

My mouth gaped. “Can you legally get married?”


“Jed’s friend is gonna fix the paperwork for us. We’ll be fine!” Tabitha pulled out a mirror and continued primping. “We tried getting married last month, but my parents caught us. We planned better this time.”

“And how old is this Jed?”

“Twenty-three,” she boasted.

Shocked, I steered the cab wildly until my hands steadied. Tabitha’s satin clad backside slid wildly across the seat. “And you’re getting married on a bridge?”

“Not ON it! There’s a little park beside it,” she corrected me. “Jed’s pal Virgil is gonna officiate. Virgil has half a bucket of fried chicken he’ll bring for our reception! He’ll drag some guys from the bar to serve as witnesses.” 

A feeling of horror rose in my chest. I drove this child to her doom.

Tabitha read my thoughts. “Don’t think you can change my mind. My friends and family keep trying. I’ve known Jed four months and this is LOVE!” Tabitha’s determined face told me she would get married to Jed somehow. Forbidden love heightened her excitement.  My husband and I were poor but rich with love. But this marriage? I’d have to convince her otherwise.

“Well…..congratulations!” Tabitha beamed at my approval. “Most young people today are afraid of hard work! You’re so brave!”

“Hard work?” Tabitha squeaked.

“Why yes! You’ll be cleaning ALL the time!”

“Mamma said the same thing,” she scoffed. “We’ll hire a cleaning service.”

“You can’t afford a cleaning service when you’re young! No, you’ll be dishwashing and scouring bathrooms nonstop! Those pretty red nails of yours are a goner,” I cackled. 

“But Jed knows I need to finish high school!” she whined.

“You’ll be too busy housekeeping to graduate,” I scoffed. “Your friends won’t want to hang out with an old married woman anyhow. Oh, can you cook?”

“Soup….” 

“What kind?”

“Whatever’s in the can?”

I laughed wildly. “That won’t cut it! You’ll be cooking fried chicken and roast with all the fixings! Every day! And that takes hours.” Tabitha withered further down in her seat. “And weekends? Virgil and his pals will come over and watch football until the wee hours. And you’ll get to cook and clean for them too! ” I smiled brightly. Tabitha looked nauseated. “Don’t worry, you’ll be used to your housewife duties by the time you have babies,” I promised.

“BABIES?!” 

“Of course! Children are a joy but so much WORK! If Jed’s successful he’ll want lots of young’uns’,” I nodded. “Of course, he’ll be too tired to help out when he gets home.” 

Tabitha’s eyes lost focus as we drove through the scenic covered bridge. I parked on the shoulder where three suited young men expectantly stood in new grass. One handsome man with shifty eyes headed toward the car.  “Miss Rayanne, it’s been enlightening.”

 

Tabitha slammed the cab door behind her and marched toward Jed. His grin was replaced by a scowl as Tabitha started beating Jed with her bouquet, a swat landing with each word. “How – dare  --- you --- want – to ---marry---me!!” Jed protected his head with his arms while Virgil and friends fled the scene, leaving an empty chicken bucket in their wake. 

I leapt from my tax as an SUV halted. An anxious middle-aged couple ran but stopped in their tracks as they marveled at Tabitha’s floral assault. “Halleluiah!” the dainty woman clapped. 

The burly man stopped beside me. “Looks like our daughter finally came to her senses!”

“I gave her a little talking to. I laid it on pretty thick.,” I admitted. “Tabitha won’t be getting married anytime soon.”

“You’re a miracle worker!” He eyed my cab. “I’m sure Tabitha didn’t pay your fare. “Here---” he peeled numerous large bills from his wallet, unknowingly rescuing us from financial ruin.

 

Tears sprung to my eyes, grateful for this Valentine’s fare to remember.

Tales from the Crimson Rambler

A.KA. The Common Bed Bug

By Sheree Tams

It is the summer that Madonna comes down with a mysterious  infection. It’s all over the news, possibly sepsis, people are guessing, fans are worried. Madonna’s infection is the  inspiration I need to make that long promised trip to Paris. Apart from the realization that my days here on earth are numbered. Madonna and I live in a parallel universe. She’s a New Yorker, I’m a New Yorker, we both have children, I have relatives who live in her building, her ancestors lived in my building, we both  love to travel. It is the resting place of Jim Morrison, home to the  Louvre, Montmartre, the ruins of Notre Dame and of course  French cuisine.  

 

This year is transitional for me, and I am on the move, I live  neither here nor there. I live in a liminal space, a bridge between two worlds. I have already moved apartments six times  since January. From Crown Heights to the East Village, From Sunset Park to Coney Island, from Flushing to Flatbush. I settle  into one place and because of circumstances beyond my  control I move again.  

Would I be like Oscar Wilde and make Paris my final chapter? Living my best life in a place that has so much to offer while  being exiled and disgraced from the homeland.  

Having no idea how to navigate this time except to keep moving forward, sleeping and eating, while I am still able. 

With less than six months to live, so why not Paris? I try not to  think about my expiry date and what happens when I die. Instead, I stay in the moment and look for one last romance. 

I jump on a flight from Kennedy to Heathrow, then make my way  to London’s Kings Cross St Pancras and the Eurostar Train. The final leg of my journey will be in style.  

The train is so grand, and the well-heeled colony of passenger's drink mega tall Chai lattes with infusions of self-love. They chatter with excitement as they line up to board. In their world I  may not exist. They are the fat cats, the posh kids, the trust  fund babies, they do not see me. I am old news.  

The anticipation takes my breath away. Me of humble beginnings, loathed by many, creeping and crawling my way up  through the ranks and making a place for myself. It has taken  some months, but I am finally here. I made it. This is the royal  banquet I have been dreaming of.  

The train is comfortable and warm with too much legroom. The  Seats are padded and upholstered in every crevice with the  highest quality fabric. The ride is very smooth and serene. Through the well-appointed window I watch the low-lying clouds of England transform from grub to butterfly. England becomes France without the undoing of Brexit. Bright sunshine and  French fields yield yellow sunflowers. This is the way to travel,  living out of a suitcase.  

I decide that this is also my year for fine dining, trying new  international fare. The European cuisine I have always dreamed of and there could be adventure and possibly even romance. I just must get myself out there in the dating world. Forget Tinder and Grindr, I want to meet up close and personal. If I could just cozy up to those hot-blooded Italians or Greek Gods and Goddesses, I would be so content and fully satisfied. 

As the Eurostar pulls into the Gare de Nord, passengers scramble to make the exit but I stay in my seat clinging tightly to my suitcase until the aisles are clear. By the time I exit the  Eurostar it was 6 pm on a warm summer evening.  

On the Paris Metro I head toward Ile de Cite, a common tourist destination. It's rush hour and people are restless and agitated. I see the old and disabled standing while young people sit. I am tired at this point and have no patience to spare. My body slumped on the suitcase against the side of the train like a vagrant, the vibrations lulling me to sleep.  

Parisians are dressed mostly in casual office attire. I think to myself, where are the high fashion trends I see on the cover of Vogue? The Tiaras? The fancy gowns? The crowds are nothing like New Yorkers or Londoners. Parisians have their own brand  of rudeness, they smell different. Suffering no fools, I am at the end of my rope as I call out for a seat, but inevitably nobody  calls back. They don’t hear me; I am almost invisible to them. I  feel small and insignificant, there is no love here. My hunger and thirst are overwhelming, it's been a long journey as I wait  patiently for an opportunity to join the seated commuters.  

It is Pont Neuf where the Taxi Driver first picks me up. A chance  encounter but a feast for my eyes. This handsome portly middle-aged man with a passion for fine wine and exquisite food is a great host. I don’t speak the language, but he seems  to understand my needs. I try to ask him about his life, but he is  a man of few words. Edith Piaf sings out from radio as he takes me on so many tours around Paris. We visit all the sites many times. It is the honeymoon phase. I have no doubt that I have found love again, until the infestation, then it’s time to move on. 

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