Title Writing Prompt Challenge Round 8 — Perry Broxson Submission

This is the eighth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.

The Round 8 Title — Dear John — was chosen by Gary. Perry will choose the title for the next round.

As a reminder, the writing challenge has no restrictions, and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. Most of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range, with a few 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 goes if you are 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 Perry’s submission.

And, here’s the blurb for this story:
Teddy is an uptight trivia nerd, too obsessed with factoids to live his best life. After missing a critical question on John Denver, Teddy focuses his big brain on knowing all there is to know about the deceased musician . . . including Denver’s tragic and mysterious death. Who knew that God simply needed a tenor to join his heavenly band?

Dear John

Copyright 2022 — Perry Broxson

(3,500 words – approx. reading time: about 13 minutes based on 265 WPM)

It started in a bar, as most good stories do. This bar was called Good Fellas and it was located in Colorado Springs. It was Trivia Night, and Teddy was on fire. He was one question away from winning a Broncos’ jersey signed by Elway. He licked his greasy fingers and waited to write down the winning answer to the unasked question. After all, it was in the Music Category – his wheelhouse – and he hadn’t missed a music question since 2011, the last year that Amy Winehouse refused to go to rehab.

The host of the trivia game was a pigtailed pixie of a girl that called herself Alhandra, Holy Knight of the Palatine Guard. It was a Dungeons and Dragons thing, and it bored Teddy to tears. He thought she was cute, but the chainmail and leathers seemed a bit much.

Teddy was an IT guy. Nerdy, but attentive to the opposite sex. He likened himself to a George Harrison on the sexy scale. Not a Pretty Paul, by any means. Nor an edgy John. A rung above Ringo, he hoped. A solid George: with his uneven teeth and wispy whiskers and mop of unwashed hair. Yes, a George. A late bloomer. A quiet maestro.   

Alhandra pointed to the monitor and read the final question. “What famous singer’s real name is Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.?” She winked at Teddy, assuming that she’d tossed him a softball.

Teddy looked around the crowded bar. Teams at tables huddled and mumbled and through some quasi-democratic process produced an answer. He had no companions to query, no friends to consult. He was a team of one – and that was just how he liked it.

Why wasn’t the answer coming to him? He sipped his Sprite and swiveled on his stool.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t tried to become a team player. He had. Indeed, he’d been heavily recruited because he was really, really good at trivia. But the interpersonal politics had tainted the games for him. Once, in a championship match, he’d let a pushy Goth girl named Molly bully his team into a wrong answer. Molly insisted that Alanis Morissette sang the theme song for the Spongebob Squarepants movie. He, of course, knew it was Avril Lavigne. But the mob went with Gothy Molly and their team finished second. Second – a euphemism for First Place Losers. Since then, he’d gone solo. He and his giant brain sat on corner stools in corner bars on Wednesday nights, sipping Sprites and answering the hell out of irrelevant questions. The way Teddy figured it was: Some people played chess. Some played the banjo. Some people stayed at home and played with themselves. He played trivia – not just on Wednesday nights for orange jerseys signed by retired quarterbacks – he played trivia every moment of his waking life. Teddy consumed trivia the way blue whales consumed krill. Mostly, it came in through his ears. He was never without his air buds. Never without and an interesting audiobook or podcast or Ted Talk, fire-hosing facts into his gray matter.

On this random Wednesday night, Teddy patronized Good Fellas. He liked their cheese sticks and the Sprite was always cold and fizzy; he also liked the way Alhandra ran the game. He’d rather play for cash prizes, but the jersey looked pretty cool. He was sure he could get 500 bucks for it on E-Bay.

Alhandra pointed her plastic dagger at the monitor and asked the question again. “What famous singer’s real name is Henry John Deutschendorf Jr.?”  

Then she pointed to the digital clock. “Thirty seconds. And remember, this is the last question. It’s worth double points. Anybody can win!”

“Deutschendorf,” Teddy mumbled to himself. “An East Prussian province founded in the 14th century. Means ‘German Village.’ What popular singer is of a Germanic heritage? One that likely kept the given name Henry or John – probably John. Maybe Johnny. Johnny Mathis? No. Johnny Rivers? No. Johnny Rotten? No. Johnny Paycheck? Johnny, Johnny, Johnny . . . Johnny Cash?”

“Five seconds,” Alhandra called, her speaker feeding back an ear-piercing squeal. “Write something and toss it in the box. Three, two . . .”

Teddy did write something and did get it into the box, barely. Returning to his table, he felt uncertain – a queer feeling for him. He sipped his Sprite as Alhandra pointed to the monitor. “And the answer is . . . John Denver! Mr. Rocky Mountain High himself!”

Nine of the nine tables in Good Fellas erupted into raucous applause, celebrating themselves for their collective genius. He was the only doleful sole in the establishment. He’d written Johnny Cash. He was wrong and everyone else was right. The answer was John Deutschendorf Denver. Of course it was. He saw it so clearly now. Those Slavic features. Those Aryan eyes. That tousled blond hair. Of course it was John Denver. First prize was a Broncos’ jersey – a Denver team. Alhandra loved themed trivia games. It all made sense now. How could he have been so stupid?

To Teddy, the barroom celebration sounded like a farmyard of braying ridicule. He washed down his cheese sticks with Sprite, slipped off his stool, and slunk toward the door. Before he could exit, someone grabbed his hand. It was Alhandra, Holy Knight of the Palatine Guard.

“Tough night,” she said.

Teddy was unclear if it were a question or condemnation. He shrugged and muttered, “John Denver . . . stupid John Denver. Should’ve known.”

“You came in second,” she said cheerily. “That’s amazing for one-man team.”

“I gotta go,” he said, uncomfortable with compliments.

“Wait, Teddy,” Alhandra said, “I was thinking . . . if you’re at all interested in D and D, my friends and I get together Friday nights at my place. Would you like to come?”

Slowly, Teddy moved toward the door. He needed air. It was just so peoply in the bar. And now – now he was being asked questions. Not about the Yardbirds or Foo Fighters or how many teeth Keith Richards had left, but personal questions.

“I, uh,” he stammered. “I’ll think about it.”

He then fled the building as if it were on fire. As he tramped through puddles in the parking lot, he heard Alhandra calling into the rain, “Wait, you didn’t give me your phone number!”


After calling his boss at Geek Squad and getting two weeks of PTO approved, Teddy set out to learn everything there was to know about the “country boy”, John Denver. His mission was to rehabilitate his intellectual reputation by becoming the foremost expert on the deceased singer. He started with Denver’s discography, of course, playing some 300 songs and poems and prayers on a loop. While listening, he read biographies and hagiographies and consumed fan forums by the skull-full. Still, he did not feel that he sufficiently knew the soul of the man that had pleaded for country roads to take him home, and for sunshine to warm his shoulders. Something was missing. Something critical.

After hours of sweaty meditation in a YMCA sauna, it occurred to Teddy that it was not the life of Denver that bedeviled him, it was the untimely death of the boyish tenor that perturbed him. Sure, John Denver had had the requisite celebrity divorces and struggles with sobriety, but he was America’s optimistic son. How could he have crashed and burned – literally – before the watchful, worshipful eyes of his fandom?

Indeed, there was speculation that Denver had flown his two-seat kit aircraft into Monterey Bay on purpose. The purpose being, to end his life by suicide. But Teddy couldn’t reconcile that abject act with the hopeful, halcyon music that filled the world with reverie.

Where had the darkness come from? Where were the demons? These were the non-trivial questions that Teddy needed to know. Answers he must acquire – or die trying.

Late one night, Teddy watched the movie Oh, God! with George Burns and John Denver. It was Denver’s first hack at Hollywood acting. He played Jerry Landers, a mild-mannered supermarket manager that is chosen by God to speak to humanity on His behalf. A modern day Moses story, but without the slaves and plagues and parted seas.

From his couch, Teddy munched on cold pizza and swigged Sprite. It was nearly 2am and the movie was plodding and preachy. He couldn’t sleep. Must be the caffeine, he figured. Perhaps a slow bowl of ganja would offset the stimulant.

He stoked a bowl and held the smoke, allowing the THC to infuse his lungs and junk up his brain. It felt good to quiet his mind, idle it down from a Ferrari to something manageable like his old Subaru. From the smoke, sweet sleep seeped into his bones and rubberized his body. When Morpheus completed his somnambulant job, the dreams crept out of the shadows and claimed the stage.


Teddy awoke behind a yoke. He was in a plane. No, he corrected, he was flying a plane. Not just any airplane – it was the Rutan EZ, the same experimental aircraft that had crashed and killed John Denver. He reached for the canopy latch.

“I wouldn’t do that, John,” a croaky voice said.

With great effort, Teddy turned in the cramped cockpit, attempting to see his single passenger. As he suspected, it was George Burns . . . glasses, cigar, and tilted toupee.

“I’m Teddy, not John. And why shouldn’t I?” Teddy asked. “It’s just a dream. I’ll bail out and land on my couch . . . where I am . . . sleeping and dreaming this stupid dream.”

“Or,” George said, blowing a smoke ring, “you could die.”


“It’s a thing,” George Burns said casually. “Die in a dream, die in real life. What do I know? I’m only God.”

“You’re not God. You’re a dead, vaudevillian comedian,” Teddy said. “You played God in a very mediocre ‘70s movie.”

George cleared his throat and handed Teddy his business card. The gold print read: God. I’m kind of a Big Deal.  

“For the purposes of this dream,” God said, “I’m God. And that’s not all, Teddy. You’re John.”

“John Denver?”

“No, John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” God mocked. “Of course John Denver.”

 Suddenly, the plane juddered. Then it dipped. Then it leveled.

“Oh, God,” Teddy yelped. “What’s happening?”

“A little turbulence, and suddenly you know my name,” God joked. “But seriously, it’s worse than turbulence. You’re running out of fuel in the starboard tank. This is when you’re supposed to switch to the port tank, John.”

“But I don’t know how,” Teddy said. “I’m an IT guy. I fix laptops. I don’t know how to fly a plane. And I’m not John Denver!”

“Do me a favor,” God said. “Take off those aviator sunglasses and turn them around. Take a look at your reflection.”

Teddy did the thing. God was right. He was John Denver. Big teeth, blond bangs, blue eyes . . . there could be no doubt.

“I shouldn’t have smoked the whole bowl,” Teddy said. “And that pizza . . . those anchovies. Oh, God, I want to wake up. This is too real.”

“You wanted to know everything about John Denver’s death,” God reminded. “You’re about to find out, John.”

Teddy pinched himself. When that didn’t work, he punched himself in the nose, causing a little trickle of blood. He wiped it and looked at the red smear, astonished. “I’m bleeding. I’m in a dream and I’m bleeding. This can’t be real.”

“Oh, it’s real, John,” God said. “As real as Monterey Bay. Look down . . . we’re losing altitude.”

The light blue of the sky gave way to the dark blue of the waters. “I don’t want to die,” Teddy bawled. “I’ve got so much to live for.”

God laughed. “You don’t really believe that, do you?”

Sensing a way out, Teddy argued: “I do, I do, I do. I was going to write a book. I was going to travel. I was going to find a girl . . . get married . . . kids, house, dog, cat. You name it, I was going to do it.”

“So why haven’t you?” God asked, blowing smoke into the cockpit.

“Well,” Teddy stammered, “there’s work. My job keeps me busy. And my hobbies.”

God snorted. “You mean trivia?”

“Yes,” Teddy defended. “I’m an autodidact. I like to learn new things. What’s wrong with that?”

“I guess it’s safer than flying experimental aircraft,” God said.

Teddy flinched as the single engine belched a veil of smoke.

God took a long, luxurious drag from his cigar and exhaled a similar veil of smoke. The smoke morphed into a familiar shape. It was a guitar, Teddy saw. Not just any guitar, it was Lucille.

For the moment, Teddy forgot that he was freefalling to his death. “That’s Lucille,” he called out, “B.B. King’s Gibson 335. How’d you do that?”

“I’m God, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. I keep thinking you’re George Burns . . . this is so trippy. Why are you showing me an iconic guitar?”

God said, “I’m glad you asked, John. As we’ve established, you’ll be dead soon. Five minutes, tops. Be that as it may, I’d love to welcome you as a new member of our band.”


“Yes,” God said, “Heaven has a band. We call it the Holy Rollers . . . like the name?”

“Not really,” Teddy said. “But who’s in it?”

God smacked his lips and said, “Instead of telling you, why don’t I show you?”

There was a flash in the cabin and the smell of peanut butter and bananas. George Burns had been replaced by the King of Rock and Roll.

“Elvis,” Teddy said, craning his head around.

“The one and only,” Elvis said, in his soft southern drawl. “We need a tenor, Johnny boy.”

“But, Elvis,” Teddy protested, “you were a tenor.”

Elvis quipped: “I was, until I gained tenor or twenty pounds, Johnny boy. Get it?”

Teddy laughed politely. “Tenor or twenty,” he repeated. “That’s . . . that’s funny.”

Elvis sneered and said, “As my weight got higher, my voice got lower. Hey, where’s the stewardess on this flight. I need a sammich.”

“Elvis Aaron Presley,” Teddy thrilled, “I can’t believe it’s you.”

“And I can’t believe first class has gotten so cramped,” Elvis said, wriggling his pelvis in the small seat. “Here’s the thing, Johnny boy, we’ve got a big gig coming up in the next thousand years, and we need to win this competition.”

“Competition,” Teddy asked, intrigued. “Like a battle of the bands?”

“Yeah,” Elvis said. “We battle Hell’s band, Brimstone. And Hell’s got some purty fine musicians: Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Marley, even Karen Carpenter.”

“Wait,” Teddy objected, “Karen Carpenter is in Hell?”

“Yep,” Elvis said. “Jesus said there could only be one Carpenter in Heaven.”


“Naw,” Elvis said, “I was jokin’. She fucked her brother.”

“Oh,” Teddy said, uncomfortable. “Well, what about Mama Cass? She’s a tenor. Is she in Heaven?”

“Sure is,” Elvis said, “but between you and me, she’s a little on the thick side, Johnny boy. And a face made for radio . . . know what I mean? So what do you say, you gonna join the Holy Rollers and help us whup the Brimstones?”

“I’d rather live,” Teddy said, looking down at the increasing sea of blue. “Is that an option?”

Elvis swallowed some pills and said, “That’s above my paygrade, son. Let me get the Big Guy back in here.”

There was another flash and Elvis was replaced by God. “The answer is no,” God said. “So you might as well sign with us. Here, I have a contract. Please use your legal name, Deutschendorf. There’s a lot of lawyers in Hell that will shred us on technicalities.”

“The Brimstones,” Teddy asked. “Is there a representative for Hell’s band that I could speak with?”

“Look,” God said, “that’s not necessary. I’ll make you a Saint. You won’t have to do any of that purgatory jazz. You can leapfrog over Etta James and Buddy Holly and Marvin Gay and be the front man for the Holy Rollers. And . . . wait for it . . . you get to sing praises to ME!”

“As compelling as that sounds,” Teddy said, “I’d still like to speak with a Brimstones’ rep.”

“Christ, Almighty,” God said. “Okay, okay . . . but you’ve only got two minutes until you crash and drown and die. So make it quick.”

The flash flashed and God was replaced with Sid Vicious, singer for the Sex Pistols. Teddy got a waft of sweat and vomit.

“All right, ya twat,” Vicious snarled, “you don’t want nothin’ to do with the Rollers. The whole lot of ‘em are poofs and wankers. Join us and I guarantee Janice Joplin will suck you off before every show.”

Teddy considered the offer. “I’m intrigued. What else you got?”

“Maybe you like boys,” Vicious ventured. “How about if Liberace sucks you off while Freddy Mercury does butt stuff?”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Teddy said. “What I mean is – well, I really want more time. More time to live. More time living . . . living life.”

Flash. God appeared wearing George Burns’ centenarian skin and store-bought hair.

“You’ve got one minute,” God said. “Make your case.”

Teddy peered down at the rising bay. His engine had completely seized from fuel starvation, despite there being 90 gallons in the port tank. He could see froth and foam and flipping fish. He could smell salt and the stench of rotted aquatic flora.

“It’s simple,” he said. “I’m seeing my life – like a film reel. And it’s a shitty movie. If I were in the theater, I’d walk out and demand a refund. The star of the movie is a dud. He’s complacent and lazy and uninteresting. He’s pretentious and aloof and unfriendly. He’s self-absorbed and self-loathing . . . he’s me. Not John Denver – a man idolized by millions. Me. Teddy. First place loser in a trivia contest at Good Fellas.”

“Thirty seconds,” God said, replacing his glasses with swimming goggles.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Teddy sighed.

God adjusted his toupee and spat out a piece of tobacco leaf that had flaked off his stogie. “A prayer might be nice,” God suggested. “I mean, I’m right here. Go ahead, give it your best shot.”

“Prayer,” Teddy said. “I haven’t prayed since I was nine.”

“You asked for a light saber,” God said. “A real light saber.”

Teddy snapped, “And you failed me.”

“Listen,” God said, “you’re going to crash into Monterey Bay in twenty seconds. Do you want to pray or not?”

Teddy looked through his windscreen. The blue bay filled his field of view. He wondered if death would come instantaneously, or if he’d submerge and drown.

“Dear God,” he started, then stopped.

“Dear John,” God prompted. “What would you like to say to me?”

“I,” Teddy continued. “I guess I’d like to apologize.”

“Hmm,” God said, “for refusing to join my heavenly band?”

“No,” Teddy said, suddenly unconstrained. “No, I want to apologize for wasting my life – my one and only life. The gift you gave me. The gift of Life. It was much better than a light saber, and I squandered it.”

“Is that all?” God asked, striking a match with his thumbnail, relighting his cigar.

“Yes,” Teddy said. “That’s all. Except this.”

“Say it now,” God said, “you’ve got 10 seconds.”

Teddy released the yoke. He’d been pushing down on it, hoping the nose would angle upward. He thought of Carrie Underwood’s song, Jesus Take the Wheel, and laughed. “I guess there’s nothing left to do but thank you.”

“Seven, six, five,” God said.

“And to say,” Teddy finished, “that I’d do it better . . . if given the chance. I’d do it better.”


“Four seconds,” the host said. “Get those answers in. Last chance. Three, two, one.”

“Here,” Teddy said, feeling as though he’d just landed on his barstool from outer space. He waved a paper and ran to the stage. “Here,” he panted, “the answer came to me in the nick of time, Alhandra.”

The girl with pigtails and chainmail took the note from Teddy’s hand and smiled. “Did you get it right?” she asked. “Did you write down John Denver?”

Teddy lifted his eyes to hers, looking fully into her beautiful face. He shook his head no and said, “Trivia. Seems so trivial. I was thinking about taking up another hobby.”

“Like what?” Alhandra asked.

“Like Dungeons and Dragons,” he said, beaming. He then turned and walked out of Good Fellas, into the rain.

Alhandra, Holy Knight of the Palatine Guard, announced the trivia winner. When she finished, she unfolded Teddy’s note. It said: “I’m free Friday nights. Give me a call, Teddy.” His cell number was hastily printed. And there was something else. Something odd. The note was written on the back of a damp business card with gold print.  


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

R. G. Broxson submission<<link

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