In today's story, Invisible Work, Carrie wins some invisible help for her invisible work
Today's prompt was inspired by the extra invisible work that can come up during the holiday season. Sending holiday cards, planning dinners, shopping for gifts, and more. On top of the daily effort that goes into laundry, groceries, cooking, and other chores.
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 78 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 Invisible Work.
It’s the first week of December and we are in the midst of the winter holiday season. For many of us, that includes a steep increase in our invisible work. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it refers to all of the unpaid, overlooked work that needs to be done to run our lives.
Laundry, grocery shopping, housework, bill paying, and so on. With the holidays, we might add in all the work that goes with hosting events and dinners, choosing and wrapping presents, sending holiday cards, and whatever else goes into our traditions.
And so, the prompt this week is Invisible Work. As always, I sat down and wrote a story based on this prompt, with no planning and very little editing. And now I’ll share that story with you.
Here we go:
Carrie had never won a raffle in her whole life. Not at any of the charity dinners she’d attended or at the work functions she organized. Of course, she wasn’t eligible to enter the raffles at her work functions, since she was the office manager who set them up, but still. She’d never won a raffle until she got that strange call from her nephew’s unusual boarding school.
She’d bought some tickets online, using the link her sister had sent her, but wasn’t clear on what the prizes might be. She wasn’t clear about a lot of things when it came to her nephew’s school. It was somewhere upstate, in some mountains from the looks of the pictures her sister showed her. It seemed to be an old institution, since the main building looked like a castle.
And her nephew seemed to be doing well there. He was a bright boy but hadn’t been happy at the public school. Always sullen and withdrawn at family gatherings. Now, when he came home to visit, he exuded a confident charm. His blond hair had also been dyed in some way so it shifted through various colors depending on his mood… or the mood of the room?
It was quite impressive, though Carrie never did get a clear answer on how it worked or why people outside of his school weren’t doing it. He’d only laughed when she asked if he’d dye her that way, too.
It was the second week of December, during her nephew’s second year at that school, when Carrie received the call that said she’d won a prize in their holiday raffle. It was a very good prize, she’d been told. An invisible elf for one week of invisible work.
Carrie had thought it was a joke. Or that she’d misheard the man on the phone. But he assured her that an invisible elf would be handling her invisible work for a full week.
“You know, all of those chores that you’ve been putting off? This is the perfect week to get caught up with the help of your elf.”
Carrie was a little offended by that piece of advice. Who was this stranger to assume she wasn’t keeping up with her chores? Though she had been neglecting the dusting lately, and there were those insurance forms that needed to be submitted… Plus the stack of mail to be filed and the Christmas cards to be signed and mailed.
She stopped herself from running through more of the list. No matter how much she did, there was always more to be done.
“Mind you, it’s invisible work only,” the man on the phone was saying. “The shopping and cleaning up, laundry, that sort of thing. Though don’t be shy about adding your more specific chores like making appointments or choosing holiday gifts. The elf is a whiz at legwork and will give you final approval. Just add a question mark to any item on your list that needs your okay to be finished.”
“My list?” Carrie asked, still unsure about this whole thing.
“Oh, yes, it’s quite simple. Make a list of chores and set it out in the open. Anywhere is fine. Your kitchen counter, your bedside table, wherever. You can make as many lists as you like for the week. Don’t worry about overworking your elf. Elves expend very little effort to complete tasks that seem like a lot of work to us.
“Items will be checked off as they are completed. Oh, and more details may get you better results, but elves are quite good at getting it right even with a vague request. Also, remember to add that question mark if you want final approval! Elves work quickly and won’t wait without that direction.”
Carrie felt dizzy as she hung up the phone. Clearly this was some kind of prank. She hadn’t won anything, and her nephew and his friends had made this call as a joke to see if she would fall for this ridiculous idea.
She decided to make a list of chores to suggest as a punishment for her nephew when she told her sister about this stunt.
First on her list was shoveling the front walk. Her driveway was plowed as part of her homeowner’s dues but not her front walk, and it was still covered in snow and ice from their last storm.
Cleaning her bathroom would be a good chore, too. She made sure to including scrubbing the grimy shower grout in the task. That gave her a chuckle, thinking of her nephew’s face when seeing this list. So she added clean the oven and do the grocery shopping.
Carrie tapped the end of her pen against her chin as she wondered what else she could add and whether her nephew would actually end up doing any of this. Probably not, she sighed, realizing that giving her sister this list might make it look like she’d believed his silly prank.
She put down the pen and made herself a cup of tea. When she came back to throw away the list, she saw the first item was now marked with a bright blue checkmark.
“What in the world?” she muttered to the empty room. Then looked around the kitchen feeling a prickling sensation on the back of her neck. She studied her own writing on the paper beside the checkmark. They were certainly two shades of blue ink.
Her hand shook as she placed her mug on the counter and slowly walked toward the front door. “It can’t be,” she repeated softly. But when she opened the front door, the walk was neatly shoveled.
“It can’t be,” she kept saying as she hurried back to the kitchen, only to see a blue checkmark next to the second item on her list.
Nearly tripping over her own feet, Carrie ran to her bathroom to find every inch sparkling. Including the now bright white grout. Her heart fluttered in her chest. She wanted to say it can’t be again, but it very clearly was. Was… an invisible elf?
Finding her phone on her bedside table, Carrie quickly called her sister. Voicemail. She groaned and left a hasty message. What was next on her list? She closed her eyes and remembered it was to clean the oven. If she went in the kitchen now, would catch the elf? The invisible elf? Or would she see the oven door open with a sponge scrubbing away?
Carrie sat on the edge of her bed. She caught her breath as she stared at her phone, willing her sister to call her back. When the phone didn’t ring, she listened for any sound coming from the kitchen. But the house was silent.
Lying back on her bed, Carrie eyed the bedroom door warily. She gripped her phone and tried to make sense of this situation. Perhaps she was having some kind of mental breakdown. She bit her lip, debating whether to call the doctor, and eventually drifted into an uneasy nap.
When she woke up, Carrie bolted to the kitchen where she found a spotless oven and new groceries stocked in her pantry and fridge. She ran her finger along the side of a cereal box, marveling that it was the kind she normally bought, and wondered again if she was right in the head.
When her sister finally called back, she was rather blasé about the whole thing. Why, yes, Jason did go to a school for the magically inclined. Didn’t Carrie already know that? She was sure she’d explained that before, though Carrie was equally sure she hadn’t.
Her sister was very happy to hear that Carrie had won an invisible elf for a week.
“They are so useful!” she gushed. “Jason hired me one for my birthday—so thoughtful—and it was the best gift ever. You can leave a bowl of berries or nuts out each night with a note of thanks. It’s not necessary, but it’s good form.”
Carrie sat at her kitchen counter and chewed on her fingernail. This was a lot to take in.
On the other hand, she did have a lot of chores that had piled up. And the elf was a prize she’d won… It would seem ungrateful not to use its services.
On another page of her notepad, Carrie had already created a holiday gift list. It included many friends and family members, but she hadn’t decided what to get each of them yet. At the top of the page she carefully wrote Shop for these gifts? Being sure to add the question mark so she would have final say.
She then cooked herself a simple dinner and sat down to read a book while she ate. As she was finishing her meal, an email alert sounded. The new email had links for gift suggestions for everyone on her shopping list.
Carrie spent several minutes browsing through the links and was amazed at the wonderful ideas. She purchased each one, choosing some to be wrapped and sent directly while others could be sent to her to wrap and give locally.
“With two-day shipping, these gifts will be here in time for you to wrap,” Carrie said to the empty room with a laugh. Then hurried to the fridge to make sure she had berries to offer her thanks. This invisible help really was the best gift ever.
Okay, now I want an invisible elf to help with my invisible work! That would be amazing! Anyway...
Thanks for listening to today’s story. If you enjoy Freely Written, please share your favorite stories with friends and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Remember, all of the stories on here stand alone, so you can listen to them in any order.
To learn about my novels and other projects, you can visit my website: SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes.
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]