Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt


March 01, 2022 Susan Quilty Season 1 Episode 53
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
Show Notes Transcript

In today's story, Tautology,  a sensible nature can also be helped by some street smarts

Today's prompt came from my friend David Fisher. Thanks, David! I wasn't sure where to go with this one but started typing and let the story take shape as I worked the prompt in. If you have a story prompt suggestion, please let me know! Message me or look for Freely Written on Facebook. 

More about Susan Quilty

Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society.  Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.

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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 53 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:


Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.

[Light piano music]

Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Tautology

As a quick reminder, here’s how this podcast works: I write a bit of fiction from a simple prompt, with no planning and very little editing, then I share the story with you. 

The stories here are short, about 10 minutes each, and they can be wildly different in style. It really is whatever comes to mind when I sit down with a prompt, and, sometimes, my mind is a pretty strange place to visit. 

Our prompt today comes from my friend David Fischer. I often ask for prompts that are a single word or a short phrase because they give me room to take a story in any direction. This one may have caused some overthinking as I stared at the blank screen, wanting to do the word justice, but eventually, I pushed those thoughts aside and just started typing. 

Here’s what came up:


It was a sunny but cold day. A moderate breeze came in with the waves that lapped against the pier, causing the harbor’s few passersby to huddle into their lined jackets and scarves. It was too soon for sailing, though the scattered shops and restaurants were open for lunchtime visitors.  

Robby wove his way between two groups of chatting customers and darted toward the pier. He moved quickly, ignoring the wind as he focused on reaching his destination before his friends left the harbor without him. His tail swished sharply, and his whiskers twitched in anticipation. 

The end of the pier was not Robby’s idea of a decent meeting place. It was bad enough in the summer with all the boat farers milling around but worse in the early spring when spray from the freezing water added a chill to the already cool air. But Robby had been outvoted, as usual. 

Robby was a sensible cat. Much more sensible than the others that roamed the harbor. He believed in logical thought above the messiness of baser instincts and often looked down on his companions’ flightier methods of decision making. Yet he was pragmatic enough to see the value in being part of a gang and did his best to see the good in his companions. 

As he neared the end of pier, Robby saw Felix, Leslie, and Gina lounging in a patch of sun. The old riverboat moored beside them blocked the brunt of the wind and brought the laughter of the diners within its small restaurant. 

Silly people, Robby sneered to himself. Imagine choosing to have lunch on a boat with open windows on such a brisk day. But then here he was meeting in the open elements instead of in a sensible location like the warm alley behind the bagel shop. 

“You came,” Felix observed wryly, while Gina absently washed her face with a dainty paw. 

“Of course, he came,” Leslie responded tersely. “We can all see that for ourselves.”

Robby declined to respond and settled himself on the driest patch of planks he could find. These meetings were tedious, yet he felt a curious relief whenever he arrived to find his companions where they’d said they would be. It was reassuring, he supposed, to have expectations met. 

“Do you think Ginger will come?” Felix asked, unphased by Leslie’s irritation. 

“Ginger?” Robby’s ears pricked at the unfamiliar name. “Who’s Ginger?”

“She said she’d try,” Gina sighed. “Though she wasn’t keen on the location.”

“Ginger?” Robby tried again.

“She thought it would be better to meet behind the bagel shop,” Gina went on airily. 

“That would be warmer,” Leslie agreed with a shiver.”

“What? But I suggested that!” Robby interjected hotly. The others cast blank gazes in his direction. “I did,” he continued. “I said it was a warmer location until we get into full spring.”

“It was plenty warm the other day,” Felix observed. 

“Practically summer,” Leslie agreed.

“Yes, but it isn’t summer yet and was bound to get cold again.” Robby scowled. He did not like their penchant for declining his advice and then seeming to forget he’d given it. 

Gina groomed her tail, keeping out of the debate. 

“Who is Ginger?” Robby repeated, looking between them for a sign of recognition. It wasn’t unusual to have a new cat pass through, but it was rare for one to be invited to their regular meetings. 

“No one important.” Gina settled into a crouch and looked down the length of the empty pier. “Or maybe she is.”

Robby’s eyes darted from one companion to the next. 

“Well, is she important or is she not important?” Robby insisted. “It’s one or the other and can’t be both.”

All at once, an orange tabby leaped from the deck of the riverboat to land deftly by Robby’s side. Robby bristled and shot to the far side of the pier, chilling his paws in a shallow puddle. 

“That’s a tautology,” the interloper told him with a smirk. 

“What?” Robby sputtered, though his response was lost in the greetings being offered by Gina and the others. 

“You came!” Felix called out with more joy than he’d used when noting Robby’s arrival. 

“Of course,” Gina purred. “After you told me so much about your friend, I had to meet him for myself.”

She turned toward Robby majestically. 

“Robby, correct?” 

“Yeah, that’s him,” Leslie answered offhandedly, though she was clearly impressed by Ginger’s regal air.

Robby was not as impressed. He was confounded by this strange cat’s appearance, and he did not like to be confounded. Ginger sat back and swished her tail in amusement. 

“Ginger is new in town,” Felix supplied helpfully. 

“We met her the other day,” Leslie added. “And we invited her to join us.”

“That doesn’t bother you, does it?” Gina asked archly. 

“Why would it bother him?” Felix grinned. “Robby’s as easygoing as they come!”

Robby padded back to the group, ignoring the stifled laughter. He wasn’t ashamed of his strong opinions and knew they had saved them all from mishap on more than one occasion. Though he didn’t much like being teased in front of an outsider.  

He took a seat and tried to match Ginger’s confident bearing, though he feared he came off more prim than self-assured.

“It is what it is,” he responded breezily.

“Another tautology,” Ginger teased, her eyes glinting as Robby’s spine stiffened.

“A what?” Leslie cocked her head like the dachshund that lived in the hat store at the far end of the harbor. 

“A tautology,” Ginger explained sweetly. “It means saying the same thing twice in a slightly different way, or in this case, in the same way. It is has to be what it is, what else would it be?”

The others didn’t quite understand, but picking up on her teasing, they laughed at Robby just the same. 

“A tautology is also a logical construction,” Robby replied through clenched teeth. 

“Yes,” Ginger agreed mildly. “As you showed earlier when asserting that I am either important or not important, but not both.”

She wasn’t wrong, but Robby did not know how to respond. He was disconcerted. Confounded and disconcerted. It was unpleasant and doubly unpleasant with wet paws on a breezy pier. 

“Oh, I’d say you’re important!” Felix complimented. “Smart as Robby but twice as charming.”

Stung, Robby pulled back and glared at his companions. Though they had their differences, they’d roamed together for nearly a year and Robby had come to think of them as a family of sorts. 

“He’s kidding!” Leslie laughed, seeing the hurt on Robby’s face. 

“Yeah, just kidding,” Felix reassured, padding over to run his furry side against Robby’s stiff body. “Now let’s get to someplace warmer. The alley?” 

They turned and followed Felix down the pier. Leslie and Gina crisscrossed playfully while Robby and Ginger hung back.

“I didn’t mean any harm,” Ginger offered softly. But Robby walked on silently. 

“I can tell you’re different than them,” she tried again. “Like me.”

Something in her purred words raised a long-buried emotion in Robby’s heart. 


Ginger cut in front of him, bringing him to a halt as she circled once then sidled close. 

“I have owners,” she confided. 

A thrill ran from Robby’s whiskers to the tip of his tail. Owners. The word brought a flash of memories. A soft bed, warm hands, a dish of food twice a day. 

“Up on the hill,” Ginger went on. “They let me roam as I please and welcome me home each evening.”

Home. The word echoed through Robby’s mind, bringing back the day he’d foolishly darted out of his own home and never found his way back. He didn’t like to think of that day. Or of the days since, when he’d worked to ingratiate himself with the group as he learned to hunt and scrounge for scraps on the boardwalk. 

“When I met the others, they told me about you,” Ginger continued. “How you don’t quite belong.”

Robby began walking again, trailing his group as he listened to her soft words. 

“I had a brother once,” she confided, lowering her voice so the others wouldn’t hear. “It’s been lonely without him, for my family as well.”

Robby plodded forward in a daze, no longer feeling the chill of the breeze. They were back on the boardwalk where people passed on their way out of restaurants and shops.

“I can’t promise anything,” Ginger purred, “but my family might like you…”

Robby stopped in place, watching Felix, Leslie, and Gina winding their way toward the bagel shop and the warm alley behind. There would be scraps in the bins soon. Bagels, cream cheese, and maybe even a bit of lox.

“What if…” Robby stopped himself, remembering the feel of hands in his fur with a fierce longing. “What if I’m not fit to be a housecat anymore?”

Ginger sat beside him, watching the others get farther ahead. 

“Then it is what it is,” she said softly. “But you won’t know until you know.”

Robby’s heart softened at the warmth in her eyes, and he decided that, sometimes, taking a risk is the most sensible decision of all. 

The End

Thanks for taking a story break with me today. If you’d like to suggest a prompt, you can visit the Freely Written Facebook page or send me a message. You can also learn about my novels and other projects on my website, or support my writing through   

Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you. 

[Light piano music]