Title Writing Prompt Challenge Round 4 — R. G. Broxson Submission

This is the fourth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: readers voted for their favorite title out of a list we provided, and we each wrote a story using the winning title.

The winning title for Round 4 was Cold Heart. For them interested, the Round 4 Title voting results are found HERE.

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. The same thing goes if you find yourself not interested in finishing a story. 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 Gary’s submission.

Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Gary’s:

Ripped from the tabloid headlines, this is a ‘what if?’ story that combines the talents of modern-day actors with the masters of great literature. Written in true Vonnegut fashion, this story will turn Hollywood upside down and put classic literature back in the bonfire.

Cold Heart

Copyright 2022 — R. G. Broxson

(3,900 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)

“Action!” The lead actor opens his eye-lined eyes, stretches, yawns, then looks directly into the camera and flashes a devilish smile.

“Cut! What the hell are you doing?”

“What, what?” the actor explodes indignantly, arguably doing some of his best acting off camera. “The script says I wake up and…I’m a Beatle.” He put his finger to his chin. “That leads me to my next question,” he admires his freshly painted fingernails. “Am I playing John, Paul, George, or Ringo?”

“Did you even read the script?”

“Skimmed it. My agent told me I would be getting paid up front. I just assumed I would be playing a randy but loveable pirate, but a biopic is doable?”

The director, an Italian impresario, breaks down. Speaking mostly with his hands and expressive face, he is barely able to explain in English, his second language, “No! You are not a pirate; you are not a Beatle. You are a bug.”

“Did you say bug?” The actor is no longer acting; he is truly surprised.

The director turns to his producer that sits behind him in a shadow and makes a gesture of disbelief.

The silhouette shrugs back.

Turning back to the muddled actor, the director takes a deep breath, shakes his head, pushes past a camera, and walks into the small room on the set. He speaks to the middle-age child.

“You are Gregor Samsa, the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s classic novella The Metamorphosis. In the opening scene, you wake up in pre-war Europe and find that you have been transformed into a very large insect. Now, I need you to act like a bug.”

“That’s the second time you said bug. What do you mean by bug?”

Emilio Scorlioni bites his lip and approaches the actor. “John…can I call you Johnny?” His flailing hands settle and clasp together in a symbol of unity at his breast.

Johnny grunts.

“Again, we are re-imagining Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Did anyone brief you on that?”

“Maybe,” Johnny mumbles.

“Well, then, you might recall from the table-read that you are playing the lead, Gregor Samsa.” Emilio paused, hoping some of this would sink in and the actor would come around.

After a long moment, Johnny stands up, twists his moustache, for some reason he bows, and then asks, “So… John, Paul, George, or Ringo; which bloody Beatle? Please don’t tell me I’m playing that bloke that bailed out before they became famous.” 

The director places two fingers to his wrist, then to his neck. His doctor had warned him regarding his stressful vocation. He turns to his producer, “We’ll use CGI for the first bug scene.”

~ 0 ~

“My apologies, Em. I’ve spoken to my people,” Johnny nodded toward his agent, “and they assured me that this project of yours is…important. That you are making a serious indie-flick about this, this bug guy. A thing like this kicked off Jeff Goldblum’s career, and I could use a kickstart about now, you know, considering all the crazy press lately. So, what do you say, mate; let’s make a movie.” Johnny smiles and the room lights up.

“You realize that you aren’t British, right?” the director whispers to Johnny as the two bring it in for an awkward man hug.

“I’m whatever you need me to be, Em. I’m an actor.”

~ 0 ~

 “Here’s the set-up, Johnny. In this next scene, your boss comes to see why you are running late for work.”

“Yeah, yeah, I read it…most of it…some of it…the first and last lines. I’m really feeling this scene, Emmy.” Johnny bounces on his toes, cups a palm under his chin, twists his neck with an audible crackle, shrugs his shoulders and wiggles his fingers like a pitcher getting ready to deliver his best fast-ball.


The camera pans to Sean Penn standing at a locked door. He pounds on it and says, “I trusted you, Gregor. I was about to make you an assistant manager, give you a raise. You have brought great shame on your colleagues and your family. Come with me now to the train and I will make an excuse for you to the supervisor.” The older man played by Penn wears gray, his beard is gray and his face is gray.

New scene: Johnny is peering at the chief clerk through the keyhole in his room. He sees the gray man and realizes that if he does everything right in his career, he too will end up bland and colorless, but he has no other choice.

Johnny, as Gregor, places his mouth onto the bedroom doorknob. He twists and turns in an effort to open the locked door from the inside. Gregor, even as an insect, only wants to get back on the hamster wheel. He needs to work to support his family. His father is sick and retired; his mother is used to a comfortable lifestyle; his sister is hoping to go to the university one day.

Gregor fastens his insectile mandibles around the brass doorknob, spits out the key, and finally manages to open the door. He is proud of his accomplishment and waves his articulated antennae as the door swings open. The gray man sees the bug, its mouth bleeding out a thick brown liquid. He backs away from the room in horror and disgust; he calls the thing an abomination as he trips over a brightly colored chair, a chair carefully selected to contrast his pallor.  

“Yes, yes,” the director whispers. “This is good.”

“Cut! It’s a take.” For the first time since starting this project, he actually smiles.

Sean Penn gets up and brushes off his gray slacks.

The director clasps the actor’s hands. “Great work, Sean. Just the right amount of rage and frustration.”

“Kafka has always been one of my favorites,” Sean muses. “His unique methods of coalescing the existential plight of the proletariat and the hopelessness of mankind’s struggle…” 

Johnny steps out of the room and spits onto the floor between the two men. “I don’t know what kind of knobs you gents put in your mouths,” he said to Sean Penn and the director, “but I prefer keyholes.” He emphasizes his point by sticking out his tongue and flicking it erotically. Sean and Emilio laugh along uneasily.

~ 0 ~

 “For the next scene, Johnny, your sister enters your room and finds you crawling on the walls. She will not be afraid, but will try to speak to you and feed you. Capiche?”

“I savvy, but what are these sucker things the prop guy strapped on my hands and feet?” Johnny stares at his hands as if they had somehow sprouted scissors.

Emilio looks back to the producer in the corner of the sound-stage. “Well, Johnny, we want this scene to be as realistic as possible, so I’d like for you to actually try and crawl up the walls like a bug.” He waits, thinking this might be a problem. 

“Sure thing, Emmy.” Johnny slapps the wall with his hand-suckers and begins pulling himself up a bit at time, using his feet-suckers to stabilize his progress until he gets used to the devices. “This is fucking awesome!” he says, half-way up the wall. “I feel like that wall-crawler in the comic book films, you know…”

“Spiderman?” Emilio assists.

“Right, Aquaman,” Johnny agrees.

“Perfect, Johnny. Just hold tight for a few moments while I get your sister set up for the scene.”

“No worries, mate. I could hang out here all day.” He inches up to the top of the wall and decides to experiment with the ceiling, making odd popping sounds each time he dislodges a sucker-cup. Upside down, Johnny feels like the world is finally starting to make sense until he hears the director’s cue.


The door opens ever so slowly. The hinges are new and make no sound. Emilio makes a mental note to add ominous creaking noises in post-production.

“Halloo,” a female voice calls from outside the door. The bad German accent makes Emilio cringe.

“Gregor? I’ve come with some milk and bread, your favorite.” The woman enters the room nervously, looking left then right. She holds a tray with a bowl of milk and a few slices of white bread. She bends and looks under the couch, placing the tray on the floor.

From his vantage point, Johnny looks down on the woman’s head and hair. She looks and sounds familiar, but he cannot identify the actress from this odd angle. He appreciates her cleavage and becomes even more curious. Then he sees the tattoo—Persian script stipples the woman’s shoulder and across her back. Johnny shrieks “Succubus!” and becomes dislodged from the ceiling. He falls onto the screaming woman—his ex-wife.

“Cut!” Emilio calls through a prank-gift bullhorn bestowed to him by Martin Scorsese.

The gaffer, the key grip, the best boy grip, and several other uncredited pronouns rush into the small room where the two actors are tangled in a heap of arms and legs with very little movement.

Emilio’s first thought is I’ve killed them. I’ll never work in this town again.

“Johnny, Amber, are you alright?” the director’s brain goes Baldwin.

Then a groan rises from the bodies. “My sister? How the hell could you cast this cold-hearted harpy as my sister? My sister is a saint, or saintess, whatever.”

Johnny untangles himself from the knot, stands wobbly in an attempt to get his sea-legs, and replies, “Yes, Emmy, I suppose, my appendages are intact, Em,” then he tugs up on his package, “but you must know that this woman has broken one thing that can never be mended, she has broken my ever-loving heart.”

“Heart? When did you grow a fucking heart?” the woman unsprawls herself and rises to her feet coolly, as though she might possibly be accustomed to extricating herself from this type of tangle.

The director surreptitiously signals a keep-it-rolling twizzle of his finger to the cameramen. The red light remains on.

“I demand a parlay,” Johnny pirouettes, shouting to the director. He puts his arm around the man and walks him to the edge of the stage. “Emmy, my dearest friend, what new level of hell have you subjected me to?”

“Johnny, I thought you knew,” they both look into the shadows where Johnny’s agent and Emilio’s producer both seem to have faded from sight.

“The casting director assured me that the combo of you and Amber would be BOG?”

“Box office gold? Are you daft, man? This is going to be box office garbage. She’s not really an actress, you know, she only acts the part of an actress, and not very well, I must add. She plays the part of an alcoholic very well, but she couldn’t even fake a single orgasm in two years.”

“We have a short list of people that will work with you Johnny, and a very small budget,” Emilio puts his bullhorn down.

“What do you mean by a short list, Emmy?”

“Johnny, you are a leper. No one will touch you. You couldn’t play a pirate in Penzance right now. You couldn’t get a cameo in 23 Jump Street. There is a very short list of desperate actresses that will even consider co-starring with you, considering your recent publicity.”

“Who, my dear Emmy, rather whom is on this so-called short list?” Johnny stands defiant, hands on his hips and raises his foot—stealing from his nemesis, Captain Morgan.

“Johnny, even the Desperate Housewives passed. Only your ex-wives and girlfriends said yes. Jennifer Grey, Winona Ryder, Kate Moss, Juliette Lewis, Amber, and a few others are willing to share the stage with you…but only you as a bug.”

“So they must still carry a flame for me.” Johnny smiles, twisting his moustache. 

“Old flames, Johnny? Perhaps. You’ve seen the old black-and-whites where the villagers carry pitchforks and torches to the monster’s castle? If that is what you are referring to, then yes, they still carry old flames for you.” Emilio dramatically flicks open a lighter producing a blue blaze and holds it to a medically prescribed doobie dangling from his lips. He inhales deeply and blows the resulting smoke into Johnny’s face.

“It’s time we got one thing straight. This is my film, Depp. You do not choose the cast, you do not choose your lines; you do not choose when it’s time to take a dump. I’m in charge; I’ve got an airtight contract and my lawyer’s last name is Goldstein. So, what do you say, mate, can we get back to work?”

“Yes,” Amber says for the both of them.

~ 0 ~

 “Scene three: your parents have become desperate for money and are forced to lease rooms to bring in money that your job loss has deprived them of. Your sister will play her violin for the guests after dinner. Johnny, you watch from under the couch. Places, everyone. Action!”

Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and Samuel L. Jackson sit at a rough wooden dinner table. They all look Jewish-ish, sporting long silver beards and wearing a variety of hats (Johnny initially thinks this is a ZZ-Top reunion). Elbows fly and utensils scrape on chipped porcelain plates as the trio saw, spear and gulp brown meat placed before them by hostess Dame Helen Mirren—the mother of the bug. The men chew, grunt, and conspicuously thank no one for the meal as Helen stands behind them with a pitcher of non-descript fluid awaiting any type of praise; even a belch or fart would do.

Sir Patrick Stewart—Gregor’s rather formal father—suggests that Grete, Gregor’s younger sister, played by Amber, entertain their guests with some music as they sip coffee and fold and unfold the daily paper. Patrick Stewart is dressed in a uniform, not unlike his Star Trek tunic, replete with a stiff, embroidered collar and shiny pips indicating some type of stature.

“She can’t play a violin,” Johnny interjects. “She’s tone deaf and has the hands of a toddler. She metamorphed me on our first date. I went from Jack Sparrow to Long John Silver in the palm of her tiny hands; that’s the main reason I married her.”

Amber holds up both of her small hands with middle fingers prominently displayed. “I wish I was tone deaf. If I have to hear your Tom Petty solo again, I will jam ice picks into my ears.” She makes tiny dagger fingers on both sides of her head, accenting this look with crazy eyes and duck lips as if posing for a social media selfie.

“That’s great for Twatter, Amber, but you are in the presence of truly accomplished actors. We have all graced the stage at the Oscars. You are lucky to get a lick on Facebook, even if you show your tits. Maybe Elon will slum date you, just don’t show him your crazy too soon.” Johnny waits for the inevitable response.

“Your dick is so small,” she seethes (the cameras still rolling). “At first I thought you were part White and part Asian, you know, CockAsian; now I see you are just a cock roach.”

“You, my soul-sucking sister, would have made a much better pirate than my ‘ol avatar, Jack Sparrow. My pirate was always in search of adventure and treasure, you,” he places his hands on the sides of her face, “you are truly the best gold-digger.” Johnny smiles with caramel eyes and gold-capped teeth.

“I love it when you smile like that,” Amber reaches for her ‘brother’ in a very inappropriate way as the camera rolls.

“We didn’t budget for marriage counseling here, people. We need to get through this shoot as professionals. Now, as your sister plays the violin, you, Johnny, listen from under the couch in your room with the door open. You are the savage beast soothed by music. You think about your plan to send her to University. The music makes you crawl out into the dining room where the three guests see you. They are appalled by your appearance and announce that they will not pay for their lengthy stay, and will perhaps sue the Samsas for damages and misrepresentations.”

Mel Gibson starts with a bastardized version of his ‘will you fight for freedom?’ speech from Braveheart. He picks up a small tray with homemade jam on it that Helen Mirren has set upon the table as a condiment. He scoops the blueberry jam and spreads it across his face. It matches his Hollywood-blue eyes. He soon strays from the subject and quickly loses momentum when Bruce Willis belches loudly and covers the exhalation with “Yippee-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!”

“Fire all weapons,” Patrick Stewart commands as he reaches for a platter of apples set as the centerpiece. He carefully selects a ripe apple from the pile. He palms it and slings it at Gregor, his son, the bug. “One from your father, the better Captain,” he announces as the apple bounces off Gregor’s carapace. He picks another. “This one is for frightening your poor mother,” he flings it frailly at Gregor. Helen gasps. It is also deflected.

“Harder!” a voice says from off the stage. Patrick Stewart stops. “You throw like a girl,” Greta says. She takes the apple from his hand, winds up and pitches it. These apples are rock-hard and rusty red; Emilio hopes the academy will recognize that they are not just convenient projectiles, they are symbols: cold, hardened hearts. The original fruit of betrayal turned sour by lost hope and diminished expectations. This last apple sticks into Gregor’s flesh. It breaks the filmy brown shield and embeds itself into his vulnerable thorax.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What we got going on here, people?” Samuel L. Jackson pushes back his chair and flips his silver beard over his shoulder, the cameras swings to him. “We’re all going to be little Fonzies here, dig it?”

The actors look at Samuel, somewhat confused. “Bruce, what’s Fonzie like?”

“Yippee-Ki-Yay, motherfucker! Fonzie’s cool.”

“Thass right, Fonzie’s cool. And we are all gonna chill out, my brothers and sisters.”

The three guests, led by Jackson, stand, turn and bow to Helen Mirren, remove their neck napkins, and exit the stage.

“And stay out!” Patrick Stewart shouts as the trio departs.

“Cut!” Emilio announces pensively. “I think we drifted a bit off script there, but maybe we can clean it up in editing.”

~ 0 ~

 “Alright, Emmy, this is the last scene. So, when do I get to, you know, morph or Hulk into the hero of this whacky flick?”

“Johnny, be honest. You didn’t read Kafka or the script, did you?”

“Skimmed it,” Johnny lies.

“I’m afraid, Johnny, you don’t find the treasure, save the ship, or get the girl in this one. You just waste away and die. That last apple, the cold heart, festers and poisons you. The cleaning woman finds you and tosses your dried-out husk out with the trash. Your family forgets you but finally starts to find a way to get along, even better, without you. That’s a wrap.”

“That is the saddest, stupidest ending I’ve ever heard, Emmy.”

Emilio weeps.

Johnny consoles. “You know, I’ve been in this business since Jump Street. Look around you, Em.” Johnny pirouettes and sweeps his arms in a 360 around the stage. “You’ve attracted a great deal of talented actors. They, we, have all been Hollywood superstars. But they…we…now have something else in common. Maybe we can use that edge, Em,” Johnny smiles 14 carat gold. 

“If you want my advice,” Johnny winks at Emilio, “we’ll do something a bit different than what the studio expects. What do you say, mate?”

~ 0 ~

Emilio and Johnny walk in circles in the lushly-carpeted lobby of the quaint theater as the producer and his minions settle in for a previewing of the film. The lights dim, a spotlight zooms in and Pauly Shore peeks through a heavy, fringed curtain. He pushes his way through the fabric and onto a stage where cameras and gaffers are part of the shot. The camera follows him and a man holds a microphone boom over his head. “This is where the magic happens,” Polly starts. “This is where stars are born…and where stars fade.”

Pauly Shore wears a silver leotard and tries to look serious. As MC, he says, “In tonight’s episode of Washed Up, we bring to you, the royalty of reality TV. Yes, these are the golden-age kings and queens of stage, repurposed from the five dollar DVD bin at Walmart. Who, by the way, is also a sponsor.”

“Think back to junior college; everyone except you, Mr. GED,” he points to the fish-eye camera, “how’s that surfing career working out for you?” He pauses for the surfers to get it. “It’s okay, bros and hos. I only went to junior college for the beer.” The audience raises a glass and applauds gratuitously.

“Maybe you college chums remember that English Lit professor that tried to convince you that the German author Franz Kafka was a tortured genius? He may have even forced you to read The Metamorphosis. Now that’s torture,” Pauly is rewarded with a titter from the studio audience, some from real readers and some from worriers that feel they aren’t adequately prepared for the pop quiz.

“This week, our stars, Johnny and Amber, will reenact this bug book along with the help of your former favorite A-list actors. And you can join us every week as we watch classically trained actors completely ruin classic novels.” Pauly steps aside and the giant curtain peels back to reveal the silver screen.

The opening scene is the setting sun on an ocean shore. Waves are lazily lapping at the white, shell-dappled sand. Crawling on elbows and knees, onto the beach, is Johnny Depp dressed in his Captain Jack Sparrow getup. He breathes heavily, spits water and flicks seaweed from his tricorn hat.

“Ahoy there, mates!” Johnny smiles with gold-capped teeth as he stands and brushes nautical annoyances from his overcoat and buckles. He looks deep into the camera and addresses his fan base. “Captain Jack is back from Davey Jones’ locker to tell you another dark yarn from the literary masters, in a way that only your favorite pirate and his washed-up friends can tell it.”

The camera pans back and reveals a curvy, blond mermaid at Johnny’s side. Her method of standing erect is not revealed to the audience. Her fishy tail, however, waves comically behind Johnny’s head. “You’re gonna love getting Washed Up with Johnny and Amber. Dive in!” 

A wave can be seen building behind the unsuspecting couple. It quickly grows into a tsunami and crashes over them, splashing onto the camera lens. As the water recedes, the dripping title Washed Up is revealed on the screen. A Caribbean musical score plays and opening credits roll. The first scene begins:

“Action!” The lead actor opens his eye-lined eyes, stretches, yawns, then looks directly into the camera and flashes a devilish smile.

“Cut! What the hell are you doing?”

“What, what?” the actor explodes indignantly, arguably doing some of his best acting off camera. “The script says I wake up and…I’m a Beatle.” He put his finger to his chin. “That leads me to my next question,” he admires his freshly painted fingernails. “Am I playing John, Paul, George, or Ringo?”

“Did you even read the script?”


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:

E. J. D’Alise submission<<link

Perry Broxson submission<<link

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