Red Paint

Feb 18, 2020 | Fiction

I sat on the floor, cross-legged, “Lotus style,” attempting for the 5,678th time to transcend something or other by way of meditation. This was supposed to be therapeutic; instead, it made me itch. Invisible hives. I fidgeted, waiting for the tranquil chime that would signal the end of this torment and let me get back to work. My Captain thought this would be “therapeutic.”

Work. The work was therapeutic. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

How could I sit here, clearing my mind of all thought, focusing on nothing, when out there – out there – were children being bought and sold like blow-up vinyl sex toys? Made to endure unimaginable things, things that were taboo even in the fantasies of normal men and women? Working undercover had given me urgent purpose, but a deep sickness had taken root in my mind, and in my heart.

This was not the cure.

I no longer understood the term, “tolerant.” My Captain thought my devotion to the job was “unselfish.” Far from it. The last case had unfolded like layers of filo pastry, each one revealing an oppressive layer of nuts beneath treacly sweetness. Slender waifs, dressed up like dolls, used up, discarded–at first, we had thought it was a warehouse for mannequins from the children’s department. Disjointed arms, legs akimbo. Our minds refused to process the scene.

No. Center. Listen to the burbling of the artificial waterfall at the front of the studio. Make the mind a blank.

No, not “unselfish,” Captain. Unselfish would be helping those children, not sitting here with taboo fantasies of my own. I imagined those men we’d arrested, three weeks ago. Imagined them, walking free on some technicality while their slick dick of a lawyer grinned, the way one does after winning a Chess match, crushing the King in a meaty fist. Nothing more than a game, to him. I wondered if he kept a spare set of pawns at home. I imagined those men, their blood splattered like crimson paint from a can lobbed by a cannon against whitewashed walls. I imagined the art gallery where that wall might hang, even as I might hang for painting it. That was…satisfying, if not positively uplifting.

Center. Focus. The work was killing me. Not working was killing me faster.

At last, the chime sounded, and I was free to return to the work.

This story inspired by  and the words: Tolerant, Transcend, Tranquil, Therapeutic, Taboo, Undercover, Unselfish, Uplifting, Urgent, Unfold.

To whomever romanticized the notion of the writer, hunched over a bit of parchment in an attic room, eating nothing but gruel and subsisting on cheap whiskey or laudanum, go jump in a lake. I am suffering from seasonal allergies and find that, and lack of sleep, to be not at all conducive to creative thought. Sure, we slog through. But this is not the dream. The dream (and I am living it) is a well-functioning computer, a soft blanket, a comfy armchair, and hefty doses of pseudoephedrine, washed down with filtered eau du tap, and a good snort of oxymetazoline hcl. Not having a stuffy nose would help a lot.

Prunebutt the Muse is back. “Excuses, excuses,” he sneers.

Funny, Prunebutt the Fuzzball makes a decent handkerchief.

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Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Debbie D.

    Your words have transported me into the detective’s mind so vividly; I can picture all of it. Using the assigned prompts to weave such a spellbinding tale shows remarkable skills. Applause, applause!

    P.S. I hope you feel better soon!
    Debbie D. recently posted…SANTORINI: GREEK ODYSSEY PART XII #WWMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Thank you, Debbie! I’m so glad I could convey that through the congested brain fog! LOL I’m trying SO hard not to use the nose spray (it’s so physically addictive, really only prolongs the misery) but saline and Sudafed just aren’t QUITE doing the trick. At least it’s not a cold or the flu – no fever or sore throat. That you enjoyed my little story is GOOD medicine!

  2. Mitchell Allen

    Ah, the twisted, wrought-iron creation from a brain in altered state. I’m glad you’re doing the challenges again; I’ve always enjoyed what you could conjure from the constraints of ten random words.

    May the fog lift soon!


    Mitchell Allen recently posted…Extra-Savory PerceptionsMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Didn’t I ever tell you this used to be an exercise in one of my college classes in Freshman year? The professor would give us 5 unusual “$50 words,” and we were to write a single, grammatically-correct (non-run-on) sentence using ALL of them, and demonstrating we understood their meaning.

      Compared to that? This is almost relaxing.

      I love the challenges, and I do want to do them more regularly. I’m not kidding when I say that a stuffy nose is not conducive to creativity, but that shouldn’t matter. There is no “perfect time” to apply butt to chair and write. It’s the same sort of thinking that leads to believing you can’t get anything done until the Bullet Journal is all perfectly laid out and decorated. It’s called “procrastination.” Which is fine, when you’re putting off the writing for the day job, or spending time with your family, but it’s kind of stupid when you’re just sitting there waiting for the fog to lift.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…Not Just a “Difference of Opinion” or “Politics” #Values #DeplorablesMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri


      I’m tired of looking around the neighborhood at the gas stations built to replace the lovely little mom and pop restaurants, or all the Walmarts replacing specialty clothing boutiques. But I’m well aware I can’t keep them in business if I only go twice a year.

      I realized, looking at the scarcity of comments over there on CCC, the same might happen. Don’t let that happen. I come back there when the well runs dry. I’ll try to do better.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…Asibikaashi #WednesdayVersesMy Profile

  3. Mitchell Allen

    I don’t recall that college story! Great way to flex the imaginative muscles.
    I understand you sentiment about the CCC. It was just time for me to move on. Shane was the glue, Kathleen (and before her, yours truly) were merely gatekeepers.


    Mitchell Allen recently posted…The World-wide EruvMy Profile

    • Holly Jahangiri

      I thought it was the other way around – that you’d taken over for Kathleen, but then I see her commenting and it’s not your style, it’s hers.

      And you’re right – I think the world of you and her, but Shane was the glue. Well, might’ve been Shane and the painkillers I was on when I first found that site. Can’t believe it’s been that long. What IS he up to these days, do you know?
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…Stolen ValorMy Profile

      • Mitchell Allen

        He seemed fine, the last time he wrote to me. He is very busy as an editor.


        Mitchell Allen recently posted…The World-wide EruvMy Profile

        • Holly Jahangiri

          That’s a good thing! I hope he’s got plenty of work from people who can pay what he’s worth. 🙂

  4. Corinne Rodrigues

    You made me put myself in the detective’s place and feel all the anger and the helplessness. I do wonder how they cope and carry on with life seeing so much evil!

    I’m wickedly wishing that the seasonal allergies continue if they make you churn out these gems, Holly. But then I’m not wicked. Do get well soon.

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Ah, thank you, Corinne! I am feeling better! Now it’s work and time standing in the way, but I’ll churn again soon! 😂😉

  5. Esha

    Great exercise to try out sometime, Holly! Your vivid imagination and the fluidity of words transported me into another world!

    • Holly Jahangiri

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      You should give it a try! A new word list goes up weekly. I like this sort of prompt – much more open ended than the sort that suggests too much of the story – the “Write about a dog, a pail of sand, and a millionaire” sort of thing.


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