Title Writing Prompt Challenge Round 1 — E. J. D’Alise Submission

At long last, the first round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, you can read about it HERE and HERE. For them interested, the title voting results are found HERE.

As a quick summary, we solicited titles, readers voted on a favorite, we each wrote a story using that title.

The winning title was The Great Metaphysician.

The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).

This, then, is my submission.


The Great Metaphysician

Copyright 2022 — E. J. D’Alise

(1,890 words – approx. reading time: about 7 minutes based on 265 WPM)

Who am I?
~ 0 ~

They watched from beneath a rocky overhang as the ominous lights traveled in and out of fast-moving and angry clouds, briefly illuminating their fearful faces. It looked as if fantastic figures battled above and around them, powerful beings venting their anger about something or other by blowing down some trees and setting others on fire.

By the light of the flashes preceding the rumbles of thunder, they could see the river rise and remove any trace of their campsite and meager possessions. They also caught a glimpse of the people across the river being swept away by the raging waters.

At dawn, cold, hungry, and lacking sleep, they surveyed the scene and sought to understand why they had survived and why the others hadn’t.

For the next few days, as the small tribe foraged for food, the topic dominated their conversation.

~ 0 ~
Who am I?
~ 0 ~

The King, striding purposefully along the Sacred Way and up through the temple entrance, pondered the fate of his nation. His apprehension ebbed and waned for days, his mind vacillating between hope and despair, certainty and doubt, courage and fear. He now looked forward to receiving a clear sign from the god Apollo through his messenger, Pythia.

Once among the imposing columns, laurel leaves in hand, he stopped before the head priest he’d previously met. The priest had instructed him on how to phrase the question, had accepted the gifts to the Oracle, and had guided him through the rituals involved in asking his question.

Heading to the adylon, the King was in a heightened meditative state, a resigned calm descending upon him. He had done all he could.

Before entering the small room where the Oracle awaited, the priest stopped to pour water over a goat tied to a metal ring on the wall. The goat shook. Had the goat not reacted, it would have meant Apollo was not present, and the Oracle was not ready.

Entering the adylon, he saw the Oracle; a middle-aged woman in a state of frenzy from having inhaled the sacred fumes that opened her mind to the voice of Apollo. She gave her answer.

“Await not in quiet the coming of the horses, the marching feet, the armed host upon the land.
Slip away. Turn your back. You will meet in battle anyway.
O holy Salamis, you will be the death of many a woman’s son between the seed time and the harvest of the grain.”

After the priest interpreted the Oracle’s message, the King’s spirit fell, for this was the second time the Oracle had foreseen the fall of Athens and the triumph of King Xerxes and his Persian army.

Upon leaving the temple, the King ordered the evacuation of Athenians to the nearby island of Salamis.   

~ 0 ~
Who am I?
~ 0 ~

“I loved my mother.”

“That may be, but she was a sinful woman.”

“But she was absolved, her sins forgiven.”

“Yes, she did not fulfill her temporal punishment obligations.”

“She had planned a pilgrimage and was devoting time to help in matters of the Church, but the sickness overtook her before she could complete her tasks.”

“You may pray on her behalf or donate your time in her name, and it will shorten the amount of time she’ll spend in purgatory.”

“How long will she remain in purgatory? How long do I need to pray on her behalf?”

“That is not for me to say.”

“You don’t know?”

“No, I mean, it’s not for me to say. Only the Pope can grant indulgences. Also, some archbishops and bishops.”

“How can I maximize my efforts to help my mother get to Heaven faster?”

“Well … you could donate money to the Church. The Church could then use the money to do good. They can do more good on her behalf with your money than you can do on your own.”

“I’ll see how much I can give each month. Thank you, Father. You have eased my concern and my distress.”

~ 0 ~
Who am I?
~ 0 ~

George drifted into wakefulness a full twenty minutes before his alarm, causing him to smile. It meant that he had a good night’s sleep, which set him in a good mood.

It didn’t last long.

“An unexpected event will catch you off-guard today. Meanwhile, someone you trust is plotting against you.”

George mulled over the second part of his personalized Horoscope email.

Could it be Jim? It had to be! He should never have confided in Jim, telling him of his interest in the new office temp. Did Jim mean to go after her himself? Maybe Jim meant to sabotage a potential relationship by spreading lies about him.

His mind sorting through scenarios and probabilities, George ate his toast without even being aware of it, surprised that both pieces were gone when he reached for another bite. He picked up the plate, rinsed it, and set it in the sink. Normally, he would empty the clean dishwasher and then put the rinsed plate in it, but the promise not to stack dishes in the sink would have to wait until he sorted through the rest of his horoscope.

“An unexpected event …”

George — ignoring the irony — pondered what the event could be. Something to do with his car? Or was it work? The project he’d been working on for a month had just been completed, the customers happy, and his boss pleased that the customers were happy. Perhaps something had come up with the planned rollout of the new software upgrade. It was mostly stable and rarely crashed, meeting the client’s requirements, but what if they’d changed their minds?

George allowed himself a brief smile as his mind went the other way — “Maybe I’ll win the lottery!” he thought before remembering he didn’t play the lottery.

Picking up a post-it pad, he scribbled “buy lottery ticket” on the top sheet, peeled it off, and stuck it to his briefcase so he’d remember to swing by the liquor store on the way home.

Picking up the phone, he read the rest of the horoscope.

“The movement of Jupiter will affect your luck today. You may want to avoid taking chances.”

George pondered what constituted “chances”. He had planned on going to the gym after work for an extra-long workout. He’d been lax with his commitment and had missed going three days in a row. Perhaps the gym was too dangerous a place. Maybe it would be best to come straight home after work.     

Apprehensively, George read the last of his horoscope . . . and blanched.

“The trine aspect of the malefic stationary Saturn to the Moon could create fears of different grounds in the person. Mars is positioned in the 8th house, which gives a potential problem with the blood pressure. The 6th-12th house analysis indicates a need for a regular check up of the male organs. Overwork and stress caused at work can create a disease. This is visible from the stationary Saturn in the house of money.”

George read the passage twice, even as chills shook his frame and his legs felt weak and unstable.

…male organ…

George sat in the nearest chair and nearly dropped the phone as he tried to dial it.

“Hello?”

“Jim, can you do me a favor?” George asked.

“Sure, buddy. What’s up?”

“Can you tell the boss I can’t come in today? I need to go see a doctor.”

“Are you alright? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” George replied. “I need to go and get a checkup.”

“Sure,” Jim replied, “I’ll tell him. Jesus, George, you got me worried. Hope everything is OK.”

“You and me both,” George replied. “Thanks.”

After ending the call, George hit the speed-dial for his doctor. He’d try the emergency clinic if he couldn’t get in today. Unfortunately, it might cost a bit more, and indeed, the insurance won’t pay for extra tests. This will definitely hit his pocketbook, but there was no way around it; horoscopes didn’t lie. 

~ 0 ~
Who am I?
~ 0 ~

“I’m telling you; it is actually disc-shaped, with the Arctic in the center and the Antarctic forming an icy barrier around the edge.”

“That sounds easy to prove or disprove. I know ice climbers who would love the challenge of climbing such a cliff.”

“They can’t; NASA guards it to prevent people jumping off the edge.”

“Why would people want to jump off the edge?”

“Laugh if you want, but I’m telling you, the Earth is flat.”

“Tell that to Eratosthenes.”

“Who?”

“He was the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. He used survey results available at the Library of Alexandria. You know, back before Christ was born.”

“How could he do that? Technology was primitive back then.”

“At noon on the solstice, he measured the shadow of sticks in two distant cities. By knowing the distance between the cities and the difference in the length of the shadows, he used geometry to calculate the arc, and hence the circumference.”

“Wait a second! Accurate timekeeping wasn’t available back then, especially between distant cities, and the definition of ‘noon’ is the Sun directly overhead, ergo, no shadows.”

“True, and some of his assumptions were wrong, but he came close; within 2%, if I remember correctly.”

“You’re telling me that using wrong assumptions, he came up with the correct answer, but you question my assumptions?”

“Hmm . . . Okay, then, take Posidonius. He used the height of a star from the horizon as seen from two distant locations. By measuring the height difference from each location, he calculated the angle and, knowing the distance between the two places, calculated the circumference.”

“Wait . . . you could do the same with a flat disk. The farther away you go, the smaller and lower a point in the sky will appear. It’s only by assuming a sphere that you’re justified in calculating a circumference. If you assume a disk, you’d be calculating the star’s height above the disk!”

“(sigh) . . . we could go with the work of Al-Birumi, which you could duplicate on your own just by going to any mountaintop. Look, we could sit here all day and rehash all the science that goes into knowing what we know, but what’s the point? You’ll find excuses to believe whatever you want to believe, no matter what I say. Heck, you probably don’t believe we went to the Moon.”

“We didn’t! I can tell you about how they faked it!”

“No thanks. Let’s change the subject.”

“Want to talk sports? I’ve been reading about all the curses afflicting different teams.”

~ 0 ~

“Who am I?

 “I’m your brain, the Great Metaphysician. I serve up whatever reality you want. Bigfoot, aliens, lizard people, secret cabals, deities, ghosts, conspiracies . . . really, anything you want. Just name it, and I’ll help you focus only on what confirms your beliefs and let you ignore the rest. Heck, I’ll even develop new beliefs that you can then spread to others!

“We’ve traveled a long way, you and I, so you know you can trust me . . . it’s other people’s brains that lie!”

THE END


If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.

If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:

R. G. Broxson submission<<link

Perry Broxson submission<<link

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