Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt

Membership

March 23, 2021 Susan Quilty Season 1 Episode 2
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
Membership
Chapters
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
Membership
Mar 23, 2021 Season 1 Episode 2
Susan Quilty

Ready for a story break? In this episode, author Susan Quilty shares a short story based on the writing prompt Membership

You're welcome to suggest writing prompts for future short stories. Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways.

More about Susan Quilty

Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society.  The short stories Susan writes 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.

You can learn more about Susan and her books at  SusanQuilty.com

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/susanquilty)

Show Notes Transcript

Ready for a story break? In this episode, author Susan Quilty shares a short story based on the writing prompt Membership

You're welcome to suggest writing prompts for future short stories. Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways.

More about Susan Quilty

Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society.  The short stories Susan writes 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.

You can learn more about Susan and her books at  SusanQuilty.com

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/susanquilty)

Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 2 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 Membership.

Thanks for joining me for another bit of fiction. As a reminder, here’s how my process works. I choose a word or phrase to be the title of my piece and let that title prompt whatever story comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing. And then, I share that story with you. 

If you have any ideas for future writing prompts, please let me know. Otherwise, I kind of randomly choose them. Today’s prompt came from a promotional notepad sitting on my desk which happens to have the word Membership written across the bottom. Here’s the story I came up with from that one-word prompt. 

Membership

“Hello?”

“Hello! Do I have the pleasure of speaking to Mrs. Almina Solak?”

The cheery voice rang from the receiver with a force that pierced Mina’s ear. Hastily turning down the volume, she answered with a wary, “This is Almina Solak.”

“Oh, Mrs. Solak, it’s so nice to speak to you!” The voice was high-pitched, though likely male. Mina racked her memory for an identity to match its somewhat familiar sound but came up empty. “May I call you Almina?” The voice continued. “Or would you prefer Mrs. Solak?”

“Uh, Mina,” she muttered, realizing that the voice belonged to a stranger. Another telemarketer. “I go by Mina.”

“Mina it is!” The voice was entirely too happy about this decision.

“Uh, who is this?” Mina pursed her lips and looked out the back window. There was snow covering the ground and the driveway looked icy. 

“Oh, my, yes! I should have begun with that,” the voice sang lightly. “My name is Chip and I’m calling from the Part of This World Foundation.”

“Part of…” Mina had only half-listened after Chip shared his name. She was preoccupied with calculating the odds that this bright voice actually belonged to a man named Chip or if it was part of the persona he used to sell whatever it was he was selling.

“Part of This World,” Chip repeated with the same upbeat lilt. 

“I, uh…” Mina waited for him to continue his spiel, but the line stayed patiently silent. 

Mina heard a car start and moved to the front of her small house. Frank Hoffman was scraping the ice off his windshield while clouds of steam billowed out of his tailpipe. He would be one to go out in this mess, Mina thought to herself. Frank was always going somewhere.

“Did you say, part of this world?” Mina asked after shaking herself out of her wandering thoughts and realizing she still held the phone in her hand.

“Yes, ma’am,” Chip answered brightly. “The Part of This World Foundation.”

Mina turned from the chilly front window and walked back into the kitchen where her electric tea kettle had begun to boil. This is nonsense, she thought, while opening a tea bag to place in her favorite mug, but she was intrigued by Chip’s silence. 

Most telemarketers rushed on without pause, barely letting her get in word, as if sure that word would be no. Which it usually was, she conceded, but she often thought she wouldn’t mind hearing them out before making up her mind, if only they weren’t so pushy about it. And, now, here was Chip with his cheery voice and polite pauses, giving her plenty of time to gather her thoughts and respond in her own time. 

“Well, all right then, tell me about this foundation of yours,” Mina prompted grudgingly as she leaned back against the counter. She might as well listen while she waited for her tea to steep.

“Oh,” Chip sounded surprised. “You aren’t familiar with the Part of This World Foundation, I see…” 

This pause had a different weight and Mina stood up taller. 

“Should I be?” This is ridiculous, she scoffed at the defensive clench in her chest. Just another new sales tactic. 

“I’m checking your membership records now…” Chip tapped away at a keyboard with loudly clacking keys. “Ah, yes,” he answered with the sound of a smile. “I see, now. Your husband had managed your account before…” His voice faltered, and Mina felt her lips tighten. 

 

“My husband…?” Her voice was tight. This was not the first call that had tried this angle, though she somehow hadn’t expected it from Chip.

“It appears your husband, Daniel Solak, had assumed your account ownership directly from your mother, which may tell us why you are not familiar with the foundation.” His explanation sounded both reassuring and vaguely concerned, though he quickly put his worries aside. 

“It’s fine!” He went on. “I’m happy to walk you through the options… it’s just been a while since I’ve come across a dormant account where the owner hasn’t been… Well… that doesn’t matter now, does it? 

“I, uh…” Mina was having trouble following Chip’s meaning, but she felt better when he swept his momentary conflict away and returned to his bubbly, confident tone. 

“Previously, you had a joint membership account at the Bronze level. That’s 4 to 7 close friends, each, 3 dozen acquaintances, the Fitness Lite package, a choice of 3 community interests, and 2 volunteer opportunities—No, wait, you had the volunteer upgrade with, oh my, 5 volunteer opportunities. That is a kind way to spend your social credits! The Bronze level also includes up to 2 pets, though it seems you haven’t exercised that option in a few years now. No children, but unlimited bandwidth for friends’ children.”

Mina sat on a kitchen chair; her tea was forgotten on the counter. 

This is a joke, she thought as she watched the snow that had begun to fall. This is a prank, a farce, a scam, a…

“Mina?” Chip’s voice was a bit softer. “Are you still there?”

“What?” Mina blinked the room back into focus. “Yes, I’m here. But this… This is…”

“You had been registered at the Bronze level for quite a while,” Chip continued, “about 23 years, it seems. With the change in your circumstances, you’ll want to consider your other options now.”

Mina stood up to fetch her teacup. I should hang up, she told herself. 

But she didn’t.

“Your individual membership account at the Bronze level would be similar, with some adjustments. However, many in your situation find that this is a good time to try an upgrade. At least for the first year or so. An upgrade to the Silver level would let you maintain your current friendships and activities, while also allowing space for meeting new people and trying out new interests. Then, after some time, you can always reassess and go back to the Bronze level… adjusting for the elements you’d like to keep going forward.

“Although…” he sounded thoughtful, “you’ve let your Bronze level account lapse for several months now, so if you’d rather resume at that level—ease yourself back in—you can always upgrade at a later date.”

Mina pulled her phone from her ear and stared at it with a deep frown. She let her arm go slack and paced around her small living room with her phone dangling by her side. The house was exactly as it had always been, though perhaps a bit dimmer and dustier. It had been some time since she’d had anyone over. Friends had left casseroles and groceries at her door for weeks, but she couldn’t remember the last she’d received. Her freezer and pantry were gradually emptying without being replenished. 

She hadn’t left the house much either. There were solitary walks in the early hours or after dusk, timed to avoid neighbors. There were a few errands, though Mina couldn’t remember the last place she’d gone. She hadn’t felt up to book club, or babysitting at the women’s shelter, or helping at the food pantry. She hadn’t been to the gym in months. 

Mina stopped in front of the fireplace, studying her wedding picture on the mantel, then quickly lifted the phone back to her ear. 

“Chip?” She sounded afraid. “Are you still there?”

“Yes, Mina,” Chip replied pleasantly. “I’m still here.”

Mina took a deep breath and felt tears stinging the corners of her eyes.

“I don’t quite understand all this,” she admitted with a crack in her voice.

“It can be overwhelming,” Chip agreed gently, “but I’m happy to go over all of your options in more detail.”

“Not just the options…” Mina trailed off. She didn’t understand any of it. How it had come about. When it had fallen apart. 

“I’ll explain all of it,” Chip reassured. “We can start at the beginning and go from there. Step by step.”

“This is all new to me,” Mina whispered, glancing around as if someone would hear.

“Yes,” Chip agreed softly, “but it isn’t too late to learn.”

Mina smiled. She was glad she’d answered the phone.

The End

Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed today’s story. You can learn more about me and my books on my website: SusanQuilty.com. You can also find me on social media or support me through my Patreon page. 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]