Week 30 of Odd Prompts

That’s a nice large even number, at least in terms of the 52 weeks of the year. Funny to think that we’ll most likely wind up doing this for two whole years. What started as a little challenge to prod writers into a routine has evolved into… well, I’m not sure what. We’re still evolving I think.

AC YoungWhen she unwrapped her present it turned out to be a mantle, made of expensive cloth and decorated with metallic thread.nother Mike
Cedar SandersonSomething scuttled in the shadowsLeigh Kimmel
Fiona GreyThe birds floated frozen in midair.AC Young
Leigh KimmelUnder the magnolia tree sat…Fiona Grey
Becky JonesThe cat lay on the table, reading a book about ________.Cedar Sanderson
nother MikeNo one understood how it got there, but the MRI showed that the pain in your back was really a ….Becky Jones

Didn’t get a prompt in? Pick a spare, any spare! We’d love you to join us on this strange journey, and it really is a good way to get your writing going.

SpareStuffed into the chimney of the old house was…
SpareAs it turned out, artificial intelligence was not the item we should have been concerned about.
SpareWhat dreams do katydids have in their slumbers? And what nightmares?
SpareThe broken pencil in the emergency room didn’t look like something the doctor would normally put a cast on…
SpareSomeone slipped a large wad of money into your carryon luggage…

You too can send in a prompt, to oddprompts at gmail dot com. The more, the merrier. If you don’t want to be challenged by a randomly assigned prompt, then just put ‘spare’ in the subject line of your email and we’ll put it in the spare sheets.

And with that, I’ll see you next week! Post your response in the comments, and see what other writers make of their Odd and whimsical prompts as well.

(Header Image: “Dissolving” by Cedar Sanderson)



  1. This week I was prompted by Fiona Grey: The birds floated frozen in midair.

    This one was built backwards, with my solution to how the prompt’s picture arose inspiring a story in front of it.

    Sergeant McCrimmon looked through his binoculars at the prisoner-of-war camp on the other side of the grassland. The defences looked to be focussed on preventing a rescue raid from space, and they were formidable – which was why the Imperial Commonwealth was only attempting to fly the prisoners out. The camp designers appeared to feel that the planetary defences sufficed to ensure that a rescue team on foot was unlikely, for the defences were much less impressive in that direction.

    Still being careless was not what any of his team were trained to do. They would assume that the defences were potentially deadly until they had been bypassed.

    He put the binoculars back in their holster, and looked around at his team. Two other marines – dressed like him in pure matt black – and three from Army Special Forces – dressed in very dark grey with their crossed daggers symbol in black on their upper arms.

    The team had been assembled on WIC Kestrel, an Assault Carrier named after a Raptor-class vessel destroyed during the Ulysses’ War. The Kestrel had transported them to the edge of the system, where final preparations had taken place. A short faster-than-light hop in and the Kestrel launched its fighters to raid the planet’s military facilities on the other side of the planet. While the cover mission was hopefully distracting the planetary defences the Kestrel dropped close to the atmosphere before the drop shuttle was released. The drop shuttle took the team down into the atmosphere before dropping them off. The team had landed safely on the other side of the mountains from the camp, while the drop shuttle returned to the assault carrier. The Kestrel was then supposed to collect its fighters and hop back to the edge of the system, there to wait until required.

    The team of six had then hiked across the mountains. McCrimmon had developed a new appreciation of his Army Special Forces colleagues – while the marines had identical minimum physical criteria, they focussed on skills in space; on a planetary surface the Army Special Forces had the edge, and showed it during their long hike. Some marines called them “grass hats”, a reference to the Commando berets they wore when not on operational duty, but on multiple occasions it had been the ASF men who had spotted the best way through the hostile terrain.

    One final set of checks as the local sun dropped below the horizon. Communications Specialist Tailor still had the portable external communication system, and it still worked – very important, for there was no other way for the team to call the Kestrel back into the system to pick them up. All rifles and other essential equipment were double and triple checked. Around them in the trees a few bird calls could be heard – it seemed that the local species migrated at night at this time of year.

    Night fell, and the camp’s searchlights lit up – old technology but still very effective. Something wasn’t right, the searchlights weren’t covering the entire area, there were gaps between the arcs covered by the beams. McCrimmon took out his binoculars again, and scanned the area for passive infra-red sensors. Yes, there were a few, covering the gaps just in case someone carelessly assumed that the searchlights were all the camp was equipped with. But the designers had been careless – as the technology in his binoculars mapped the areas covered by the infra-red sensors he noted that these didn’t overlap with the searchlight arcs. The gaps weren’t wide, but he thought that there was a way to thread the needle between them. Careless – but then how many stories were told of well defended castles that had fallen because whoever had designed the defences had assumed that no-one would be able to scale the cliffs.

    McCrimmon picked what looked to be the widest gap, and scanned it very carefully for signs of mines – better to assume that his team were being lulled into a false sense of security by a deliberately flawed set of overt defences than risk leading his team into a deadly trap. But there were no such signs. Either the mines had been set so long ago that nature had eradicated all the tell-tale signs (but not so long ago that the mines had started to leak dangerous materials into the surrounding soil) or there weren’t any. McCrimmon didn’t like relying on enemy carelessness, but it looked to be the best route to the camp walls. He carefully memorised the passage relative to the edges of the searchlight arcs, then communicated it to the rest of the team.

    Just before they headed out he gave the IC marine call to arms: “We Serve.” Ordinarily it would be at full volume, but under the circumstances piano was much more appropriate. The other two marines gave the response: “We Serve Forever,” at the same volume. The ASF soldiers made no response – McCrimmon wandered what their call to arms might be, it was never revealed to outsiders.

    One-by-one they crept down from their hiding places in the trees and made their way across the dark field. At the narrow passage they went through one at a time, no-one entering until the previous soldier or marine had exited. McCrimmon went last, and didn’t relax until he’d made it through as well.

    The camp walls had a watch tower on each corner, and one in the middle of each side. There would be enemy soldiers in each of them – and the team had to temporarily capture most of them without the alarm being sounded in order to complete their mission. All would be ideal – but the planners didn’t think it was worth the risk, for as soon as shifts changed all would be discovered, and the longer the team took to capture the watch towers the less time they would have to rescue the prisoners.

    This was the period of most danger. To maximise the time they had to complete the mission it had been agreed that the team would climb the walls not long after shift change. After the team had arrived the previous night they had observed this taking place one hour after night-fall, and then every three hours thereafter. If this pattern continued then it would be another twenty minutes until shift change, and the team would wait another ten minutes after that to ensure that the old shift was well away from the walls before attempting the climb. But even with their black and dark grey night operations gear it was still possible for an alert guard to look over the parapet and spot the six of them huddled against the wall.

    It was with great relief that they all heard the sounds of the watch being changed over to the night shift. Ten minutes later the men all got out their climbing gear and silently scaled the wall. Corporals ap Gwynedd and Sutton (of the ASF and marines respectively) were the first over the parapet. They were equipped with the ultra-fast acting incapacitating darts – a much more silent way of disabling the guards than shooting them, even with modern silencers bullets still made a noise. The corporals headed towards the watch towers on their respective sides. For security reasons the towers had been built without any doors – it didn’t help the defenders very much. Three hisses each from their weaponry and all the guards in two of the towers were down.

    The rest of the team swarmed up onto the walls, and the six guards were swiftly trussed up and disarmed.

    McCrimmon issued the next set of orders. “For the next part of the operation we’ll be out of line of sight. Use tactical frequency 5-delta, encryption alpha-7-gamma. Necessary communications only. The emergency code is ‘Achilles will be late’.”

    For the next stage of the mission they split into groups of three, the marines going clockwise around the camp, the ASF going anticlockwise. The corporals went first and continued to meet with success. Within an hour five towers were temporarily in the possession of the attackers. Only the three on the wall opposite the one the team had climbed remained untaken. But the prison wasn’t yet full. According to intelligence (the marines and ASF hated relying on this) only one of the barracks was being used, and that was in the half that the attackers partially controlled. Which one was not known, nor was the location of the camp’s shuttle craft. For that the team had to capture the administrative offices.

    The marines were the closest. They made their way down from the walls and crept silently through the camp. At every junction they took the necessary steps to avoid any night-time patrols – they may need to take them on eventually, but the later the better.

    At night the administrative offices were not that well defended. The two guards on the entrance were easily disabled, trussed up and placed out of sight. There was no-one inside. The marines swiftly hunted out the data they needed.

    A few swift communications later and all six converged on the barracks in use. Here the guards were much more alert, silence was no longer the best option. A short firefight later, surprise being key to the team’s victory, and the barracks was opened. The prisoners were released, the first out arming themselves with the enemy’s weaponry.

    Now it was time to get out of here. The camp had been alerted to their incursion, and would soon be aware of the breakout attempt. So, shortest route to the shuttle craft it was.

    It was a running firefight at times, as patrols were encountered and the rest of the camp guards were roused from sleep and joined the fight, but surprise was still on the side of the attackers. They made it safely to the shuttle craft and selected the largest of these. Everyone boarded, no-one complaining about the extremely cramped conditions.

    Lance Corporal Milton (ASF) took the pilot’s seat and the craft shortly lifted off. Milton directed the craft back towards the woods they had come from, weaving as he went. It was a good job he did, for one of the three towers the team had left alone opened up with a stasis beam.

    Milton continued to weave as he went, not only to throw the gunners off their target, but also having to dodge the migrating birds that he had noted were now flying north-to-south above them. The stasis beam continued to miss the shuttlecraft, but not the birds.

    Once the shuttle was above the planet’s atmosphere Communications Specialist Tailor activated the portable external communication system and sent out the pre-arranged coded signal on wide-beam.

    Milton’s difficulties weren’t over, for the planet was starting to scramble fighters to take the shuttle craft out. He turned the craft away from the planet and started to weave once more.

    A few minutes later the Kestrel suddenly appeared overhead, and disgorged its fighters once more. The shuttle craft docked in an open hangar as soon as possible. Less than fifteen minutes later the Kestrel was heading back to Imperial Commonwealth space, mission successfully completed.

    Behind them a few hours later the senior military commander on the planet reviewed the resultant carnage. He looked up and saw the after-effects of the stasis beams. The birds that had been caught in the beams were still floating frozen in mid-air. He turned away from the sight in disgust and set about figuring out who or what was to blame for the fiasco.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oho! Rescue the prisoners, and… freeze the birds, too! It’s a very well done little experience, going in with the rescue team… now can we get the rest of the space war? I mean, it feels as if there is a larger battle going on, with this just one little bit of the war!


      • It might be a while, I’m afraid. I’m currently about half-way through the Ulysses’ War, and there’s no room in the plot for this incident, so I’ve had to set it in a later conflict. A much larger, multiple-year, multiple-system conflict. Planning it out will be a challenge – something to look forwards to I hope…

        Liked by 2 people

  2. AC Young prompted…

    When she unwrapped her present it turned out to be a mantle, made of expensive cloth and decorated with metallic thread.

    Oh oh, a present. Unexpected? Perhaps with meaning beyond the obvious? Hum…

    A quickie…

    Heather knew her birthday was going to be special. After all, she was twelve years old now! And her family had sent presents from all over. Her parents had invited all her good friends, and they had a wonderful party. Then it was time to open the presents at last.

    Her friends giggled and ate their cake and ice cream while she opened the presents. A doll! A big one, with several dresses. And someone else had sent a sewing kit and cloth, with patterns for more doll dresses. Oh, she was going to have fun.

    Then she tore the brown paper off another one. When she unwrapped her present it turned out to be a mantle, made of expensive cloth and decorated with metallic thread.

    She held it up, and looked around as her mother gasped.

    “Mom? What’s this?”

    Her mother rushed over and stroked the arm of the coat.

    “It’s… well, it’s a wizard’s cloak. But who would send…”

    Her father looked at the wrapper, and pulled out the sticker that had been on it. He read it, and frowned.

    “It’s from the wizard council. So it’s real.”

    He looked around the table, and shook his head.

    “Um, if you don’t mind, would you all take your cake and go home now? We will send extra portions with you.”

    Her friends all looked surprised, but the promise of extra portions turned the trick for most of them. They picked up their cake as her mother brought out waxed paper and paper bags, and sliced extra thick slabs of cake for them to take with them.

    Except for Winifred, of course. She watched, then shook her head when Heather’s father tried to get her to move.

    “No. If Heather is a wizard, I want to help her.”

    (Hum, that could be interesting…)

    (Or maybe…)

    The Mistress of Storms sat back in her throne and sighed. Another birthday. And the presents were many, but she always felt so lonely. Of course, having a corona of small lightnings always dancing around her did mean that any ordinary person who got too close would feel her shocking presence, but… she also had all the fun of controlling the weather throughout the land. Well, let’s see what they have come up with this time.

    “Bring forth the presents!”

    The big box that her first councilor brought was intriguing. What had he come up with?

    When she unwrapped her present it turned out to be a mantle, made of expensive cloth and decorated with metallic thread.

    She lifted it, and tilted her head.

    “A coat? Why?”

    The first councilor smiled and said, “Put it on. Let’s see if it works.”

    She stood and pulled it on. It fit well, and… the little lightnings disappeared! She looked around herself in amazement. Ah, she could see them, catching on those metallic fibers, and running down to the floor, where the hem trailed, and they ran into the floor and away.

    She blinked, and held out her hand. The first councilor took a deep breath, stepped forward, and… touched her hand. There was no shock! She reached out and grabbed his hand.

    “Are you really all right? No pain, no shock?”

    He nodded. She bit her lip, and then grabbed him in a hug. It was the first time she had been able to just touch someone since she had come into her magical powers.

    (Hum, that one is kind of interesting…)

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