At a recent writers’ group meeting (most of us were fanfic writers) we were given prompts to pick from a hat and a time limit for writing.
My first linked prompts were: ‘a historical personage’ and ‘coming out’. That, in fifteen minutes, produced the following:
A ghost talking? I can see your disbelief. But we’re all ghosts now, those of us who were here two millennia before you. Yet to me it is yesterday and I need to tell someone about it. You’ll do.
The word in the forum was rumour built upon rumour until even the youngsters were scrawling their ideas on the walls; black, white and ochre graffiti. ‘Who the woman in the relationship?’ they scribbled. ‘Who the one shamed?’ Drawings asked questions as rudely as words; laughter came alike from merchant, soldier and slave. But no-one really knew the truth of it; it was all suspicion and turmoil, envy of those in high position, belief that leaders might or even should have feet of clay.
I could have told them. Throughout the campaigns, military and political, I remained silent and so did he. We never spoke of what we shared, even to each other, of the hot sweaty grappling that ended in heaven-sent release. The army was, in any case, a forgiving environment where what men did in tent or camp stayed there and did not follow them back to Rome. And yet it hurt, somehow, to pretend we were no more than friends or colleagues, hurt not to acknowledge the real, closer relationship.
We all knew events were spiralling out of control. We all knew secrecy could breed sourness on every side and that every public mask could hide a growing private bitterness. I knew in my heart that jealousy and a fear of power would eventually rot and spoil what we had together. But I had never thought that love could turn around as if from north to south, into hate.
I never intended to out myself or my lover. Then as I felt my life seeping away, the dagger thrusts hurting my heart more than my body, I could not help but say, with what I knew was a tone of injury beyond mere death, “Et tu, Brute?”
My second pair of prompts were: ‘Merlin (the show) or Arthurian legend’ and ‘threesome’. Another fifteen minutes gave me this.
Before the fighting began, before their armies were drawn up behind steel lines, before it was too late… and yet perhaps it was always too late? Anyway, they drank together, trying to find some way back. Drink loosened their tongues and their moods. Drink fuelled a pissing contest, real and metaphorical. Whose piss arced furthest? They were too drunk to measure with any accuracy. Who was the bravest? Gawain might know but he wasn’t there. Who was the most daring? They took time in a confused fashion to tease apart the ideas of bravery in the face of immediate danger and daring in rushing to face danger that had not yet appeared. Who was the best lover? They could hardly ask Guinevere.
The last two questions merged. It seemed the answer could be had from anyone, male or female. They did not so much invite Mordred as hijack him and take him to one of their beds. It wasn’t clear whose bed it was but Guinevere, at any rate, was not in it.
Consensual but very drunken sex followed. If they fumbled and were less than brilliant in their loving, well, all were drunk and unobservant. They all swore a solemn oath on the grail they could not see never to tell Guinevere, or anyone else. Mordred pronounced, his judgement as weighty as that of Paris but less intelligently reached.
Next day they awoke together but fled apart, each thinking someone had played a cruel hoax when they had been in their cups. None of the three could ever recall anything of the night other than a faint feeling that their relationships were not quite as they used to be. Not that, in the end, it mattered.
I always love this sort of exercise, but I can’t convince my writers’ group to participate. Love your flashfics. The use of historical characters means that the reader already has a heap of backstory to give context to the writer’s few words – a great tool of the trade of flash fiction writing.
Thanks! I really enjoyed writing them and it would be good if you could persuade your group that it’s a fun – and educational – exercise! You could create your own set of characters – including historical ones – and prompts. Later the same day we played Slash – you are given a set of cards – ten, I think, with various characters, real and fictional – and then the person in charge (the dealer, and thereafter the winner of each round) sets a question e.g. how did they meet? what did they like/dislike about each other? what happened when one interviewed the other for a job? You choose the pairing from your cards and tell a brief story. The winner is decided by the person who set the question. The questions and pairings don’t have to be romantic though the official game suggests that. That was also an exercise in thinking quickly and presenting a credible (or funny) story almost instantaneously – highly recommended!