WEP Challenge April 2019: Pepper's Jewel Box

Pepper in her mid-twenties

Once they finished clearing out the costly storage unit, Pepper and Quetzalcoatl’s next task was to focus on cleaning out and selling off Pepper’s squalid mobile home. Quetz hoped to purchase a modest home of his own with money from the trust fund that Larry had set up for him, and it was understood that Pepper would live with him as she had been for the past seven months in his apartment. Pepper was moved by her son’s kindness and proud of how much he’d grown up during the past few years.
Quetzalcoatl brought Pepper’s old jewelry box with him, and they headed home. The young man innocently supposed that organizing the box would be a positive activity for his mother, who was still down on herself for her inability to continue doing the physically difficult work that she had always done before the stroke which caused her near-fatal accident. She was ashamed that she and her son, whose autism prevented him from working a normal job, were living in poverty.
Gerry sat next to Pepper on the couch which had been her bed since moving in with Quetzalcoatl and watched her sadly. She sensed him and acknowledged him, but both were afraid to take things further.
“We’d hurt each other with the things we want to say,” Pepper thought.
Pepper opened the jewelry box and frowned.
“Cheap costume crap,” she heard her estranged daughter Ixchel’s voice admonishing. “Have a yard sale and sell this shit off. I needed a mother and I got a good-for-nothing hoarder instead!”
Pepper pushed Ixchel’s voice from her mind, but the damage was already done. The self-loathing kicked in and quickly began to spiral. She took an onyx crystal pendant adorned with an opal cabochon from the box. This piece had always been one of her favorites when she was a miserable young mother who still believed in magic and was convinced that one day Kris Rooiakker, the actor with whom she had become obsessed, would show up at her door and rescue her from her unhappy lot in life.
“Silly, ridiculous bitch!” Pepper snorted. “She had one-year-old twins depending on her, and she spent her days watching Kris Rooiakker’s movies over and over again, believing that by focusing on him she would be able to communicate with him telepathically and he would find her. Well, he found her on the astral plane, ready and willing, and he used her, but he certainly never came to her rescue, and why would he? Fat, easy bitch, good for nothing but a lay.”
“Oi! Whose fault is it that a bleedin’ psychic vampire took advantage of an emotionally vulnerable soul?” Gerry demanded. “Like to know how that’s supposed to be your fault, I would.”
“You’re a ghost and you’re probably not even here,” Pepper sniffed dismissively.
“Well, you have that partway right. I’m a tarted-up ghost with flappity black feathery wing-things sprouting from me shoulders. Do you know, Pepper, that I watch over you whenever your energies ain’t so bleak that I can’t break through? You probably ain’t open to hearing it, but I still love you, and I ain’t given up on us yet.”
Pepper relented when she sensed that Gerry’s eyes were filling with tears. She held out her arm and sensed the warm energy of his spectral body.
“My ghosty,” she said softly. “My fetch.”
“Always yer fetch,” Gerry agreed. “Now, you’ve other people telling you that these pieces ain’t any good ‘cause they ain’t got a high price tag attached to them. Me, I took pride in avoidin’ shite that had the high price tag, even when I was making enough bread that I could afford it. Me family was dirt-poor, but me parents was savvy as they come. Da could fix anything and Mum could mend anything and stretch a few ingredients into a meal that satisfied us all. Long as you don’t somehow find out about the gas barrages that me and Paul used to launch against each other after some of them bean and cabbage feasts, you might be able to keep convincin’ yerself that I’m sexy.”
“Don’t forget, I have a brother too,” Pepper laughed. “Anyway, boys are expected to fart. Girls are expected to hold it in until we explode. Fortunately, my brother labored under no delusions that I was a lady, but I’ll allow you to keep pretending that I am, should you wish.”
“Yer my foul-mouthed, sexy lady. But I am rather put out at the way yer always puttin’ yerself down. Ain’t yer fault that life was so hard on you and ain’t nobody seemed to see fit to do nothin’ but criticize everything about you.”
Pepper picked up her old wedding ring and gazed at it remorsefully.
“Larry tried to encourage me. He was and still is my friend, and I care about him deeply, but I was never in love with him. It wasn’t fair to him to marry him knowing that I could never love him the way he deserved. But we did end up with Quetz and Ix, and that’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Pepper put the ring back and picked up a charm bracelet.
“My mother gave this to me when I turned twelve,” she said. “I haven’t worn it in years. My wrists are too damn fat.”
“So, get some chain and extend it. Fuck’s sake, Woman, do I have to think of everything?”
Seeing Gerry’s impish grin in her mind cheered Pepper. She felt his warm hand on her back. She reached to tickle his slender torso and he laughed.
“Oi, you are a bad one! But I’m a glutton fer punishment. I like when we play like this.”
Pepper brought a broken locket from the jewelry box.
“I wish I had the money to fix the locket with your picture,” she lamented.
“You will, Love. We’ll find a way. Even if you can’t believe right now, I’ll keep on believing for both of us.”

~Cie and Gem~

1000 Words

Pepper Baiij and Gerry Clifford are the major protagonists from Team Netherworld's long-running WIP, Fetch, which was initially conceived in late 2014. Although this piece works as a chapter in the larger story, we believe it also works as stand-alone flash fiction.
We would like to congratulate whoever wins the challenge in advance. Cie would like to avoid setting off World War III in her head and, therefore, is not going to read the post which announces the challenge winner. 
I don't mean to be a spoilsport, and there are no sour grapes. Whoever wins deserves it. I am well aware that it will not be me, and I'm okay with that, just so long as I don't have to see the hard evidence of my defeat. It's hard enough living in my own head on the best of days.


  1. Never say never. This reader and very occasional writer has won the challenge.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your tale, and sadly relate only too easily to the drag of negative self talk. How far have you got with Fetch and can greedy readers access any more of it?

  2. Kind thanks, dear Elephant's Child. You've warmed my heart! At this point, I publish occasional chapters of Fetch here sometimes. The main blog for it is private and is, frankly, a bit of a disorganized mess! But it's wonderful to find that someone has an interest in the story!

  3. Old jewel boxed are always full of memories, aren't they? Every piece has a story to tell, and sometimes those stories are even older than the current owner of the box.
    Well done!

    1. Thank you.
      I have several old jewelry boxes. The pieces aren't really worth anything, but they're important to me.

  4. Good story. It's hard to live in one's head, or even on the psychic plane. Depression is a real bear. And adding a stroke and lack of money doesn't help. But you've made the story come alive. Good work.

    1. Yes, that it is. Pepper is somewhat autobiographical, although she is much more interesting than I am. I lost my job a couple of years ago when I had a small stroke while working a night shift homecare job and fell into a very deep sleep or a brief period of unconsciousness. At this point I live in poverty. If it wasn't for my son's kindness, I would be homeless. It can't be easy for him, as he is disabled as well.

  5. We all need someone like Gerry in our lives!!
    I enjoyed your story!
    Regardless of the outcome of any contest - the true joy is in writing the stories :)

    1. The forebrain knows that.
      The nasty inner voice doesn't give a rip.
      I've fought with this thing for more than half a century. I can't guarantee that I'll be in a good part of the bipolar cycle when I read the announcement, so best I don't read it. I really don't care if I win, I just don't want to give the inner critic more fuel for the bonfire.

  6. Hi,

    I like your story. I could tell there was more to it and I am very happy to hear that it is a part of a novel that is still in the making. Great. As for the Challenge and who wins, don't give up.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

    1. Thank you, Pat. I really don't care about winning. It's just that my inner critic is a brutal asshole.
      I highly doubt this story will ever be published. But I work on it now and then.

  7. The world in this story is clearly rich and filled with interesting characters. You captured my interest with this short piece. I want to know more about Pepper and her life. Well done!

  8. There's so much going on here that I'm curious about what happens next. I'm also curious about why her kids named Ixchel and Quetzalcoatl. Why are the mother and daughter estranged? Why is the ghostly Gerry hanging around, protective?

  9. Women are their own worst enemies for putting themselves down. The characterisation felt authentic. The onyx and opal piece sounds super dainty and beautiful. Very often the attachment to a piece has nothing to do with the price tag, and not just for jewellery. Very well portrayed in the flash. Well done.

  10. I'm sure that Pepper will think of something too!

  11. Hi Cie - certainly lots of innuendo there ... ideas left open ... so many things could happen. You've obviously written lots about these characters - so it'll be great to read and get to grips with their approach to life - congratulations - cheers Hilary

  12. I think it stands well on its own. Nice job. Enjoyable read.

  13. Thank you all! I hoped it would stand on its own, but I also think it's kind of cool that people were able to determine that there is back story with these characters.
    Re: the children's names
    Pepper's ex-husband is Latino. The names are a nod to his ancestry.
    She and her daughter were just a bad fit. It happens sometimes. I never felt like I fit in with my family. I tend to only tell my mother very superficial things. She knows very little about who I actually am because whenever I've tried to open up to her, she criticizes me and then I feel awful for a long time afterwards.

  14. Greetings.
    The best way to improve your skills is by writing.Entering challenges like this one also force you to write better. I think it would be good if you got some writing books, so I'll leave you with a few links.

    My first recommendation is: Self-Editing for the fiction writer. Any edition is good. https://www.amazon.com/Self-Editing-Fiction-Writers-Second-Yourself/dp/0060545690/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=self+editing+for+the+fiction+writer&qid=1555698516&s=books&sr=1-1

    And I just bought this one, it's really good.
    Rivet Your Readers with deep point of view.

    I guess the links don't work.

    1. Ms. Williams, I am sure you don't mean it this way, but honestly, your comment comes off as seriously spammy, and I almost didn't publish it.
      I am an Amazon affiliate myself. I publish my affiliate links on my own blog, not in comments on other people's blogs. If I have a book to recommend, I will create a post doing so.
      You might think about the way you worded this as well.
      "The best way to improve your skills is by writing."
      Well, good thing I've been writing for close to 50 years then. I should be an expert by now.
      I would like to interact with fellow writers, not someone trying to sell me products on my own post.

    2. Hello Real Cie. I think Nancy was responding to the note you left at the bottom of your entry which came across as maybe you were insecure about your writing. I know you're not! You're a great writer!

    3. Hi Denise,
      I wouldn't say I'm not insecure about my writing. I'm insecure about everything! My note at the bottom references the fact that I have World War III going on in my head pretty much every day, and I don't need to exacerbate it. On a good day, meh, who cares who wins what and when? On a bad day, feeling like I suck at everything will only make things 1000% worse. It was actually a reference to my precarious mental health, not to my hack writing.
      I have an affiliate marketing blog, and trust me, I get some extremely spammy comments. Any comment loaded with links looks spammy to me from the get-go.

  15. Wow, there so much going on here. It sounds like an intricate world that reflects the harshness of reality and blends in a bit of mystique. I like the ghostly Gerry. I want to know more about him and Pepper, and why her children have such unique names. The grit and sorrow of this is very relatable; depression is real and adding other health and financial concerns doesn't help. Excellent piece.

  16. Hello there. I love this. It reads fine as an extract. I'd like to read the complete story one day. Perfect for the prompt. Thanks for writing for WEP!

  17. I love your character's interesting names, especially Ixchel and Quetzalcoatl. I've been fascinated by the ancient central american legends. We even called our Cavashon - dog - Quetzal. (I'm quarter Chilean.)

  18. You painted some very vivid characters here. That's not easy to do. Nice work!

  19. I'm wondering about the names Quetzalcoatl and Ixchel... interesting.
    Gerry is quite a fun ghostly character - and protective too.
    I liked your story.

  20. I've known people like this. It's hard. good character description.

  21. Enjoyed this story, and I've known a few people who put themselves down as well. It's too sad that some come to believe that's all they deserve. Well done.

    1. I learned from an early age. Pepper is a bit autobiographical, if I'm to be honest. Thank you for your kind words.

  22. This was soo real and there are so many layers to this - I can't wait to read more. I think this is my favourite entry so far.


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