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Stories and Poems from October Prompt of the Month

Circe, a brunette in a transparent blue gown, sitting in a chair with two lion's heads on its arms, a cup in one hand and a staff in the other. Behind her is a mirror where Ulysses can be seen kneeling in front of her.
Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses by John William Waterhouse

In response to The Colton Review's October Prompt of the Month (write a work that features a character or figure that is usually cast in the background), the Meredith community sent in stories and poems. Read them all below!


by Kate Polaski

The smell of latex floods my senses as I pull on the gloves to keep the blood off my hands. The other nurses tell me that someday soon I will become immune to the sight of blood, I will stop physically recoiling every time a fresh wave of bodies is brought in, but it has not happened yet. I am still deeply shaken as I approach the nearest soldier.

“Hullo there, nurse,” he mutters, Cockney accent strong despite the fading volume of his voice, “You here to make me all better?”

“Yes, of course. All better,” I repeat back as I tie a cord around his upper arm, desperately trying to staunch the bleeding. I recognize the type of wound on sight. I've seen so many shrapnel wounds from exploding shells in the past few days that I have become almost numb to them. Almost. We are so close to the battlefield that sometimes, if the wind is right, I can hear them going off. And while some of the other nurses say small prayers for our soldiers every time a rattling boom shakes our supply carts, I think of the men I am surely going to have to attempt to patch up, and those I will fail to save. The bodies who we will have to send home to their families, (if they even get there, on cars across the ripped up moors and then on boats across the channel). I think about the nurses on the other side too. Surely there must be German nurses? Women like me who signed up to leave their homes for the aid of their king and country, helping the men fight this war that they must think is so important? I think nothing could be this important, to send the bodies of so many young, able, men past me. What could be worth this? I wonder if the German nurses are wondering the same thing.

I force my mind away from its foolish wanderings as I tighten the cord on this soldier’s upper arm. Despite my best efforts, the blood is not stopping. I breathe in and out shakily. He reaches out, slowly, as if it is taking the last of his strength, and grabs my hand. He squeezes it, so gently, and I squeeze back, trying to tell him that I am still here. But the look in his eyes, his soft brown, boyish eyes, tells me he is too far gone. I sit with him, a few more moments, until his breathing stops for good. Then, I allow myself a small indulgence. I brush his hair out of his eyes with the least bloodstained of my gloved fingers. Even though I doubt its effectiveness, I still mumble a short prayer for his soul, before moving on to the next man, adjusting my gloves to go back into the fray.

The Tale of Roxelana

by Dorothy Dors

In a time where women’s beauty had a price tag on it,

Roxelana was considered the ideal women to be sold at a high price

Her unusual ginger beauty made her rare

and the demand for this type was high

At the end, she was sold to the new sultan

Once in the palace, she was the most beautiful among the beautiful

She was one of the one hundred concubines who stayed in the harem,

meaning the forbidden place, where women were given the

greatest luxuries the empire could offer,

luxuries that were unusual for a women in the land of the 1500s

The women were highly educated

And always dressed in the finest clothes and Jewels

The struggles of the poor and hungry were foreign to her

Her unusual Ukrainian beauty captured the attention of the sultan

He choose her for one night

Everyone was delighted for her to spend the night with him

then he can move on to a new concubine

Everyone gave her lessons on how to please the sultan

But, then he choose her to come to him again

Again and again and again

Then everyone became jealous, and furious,

and wished they did not give her the lessons on how to please him

Mahidevran, his first lover and concubine and the mother of the heir to the throne,

hated her the most

Roxelana was now his second favorite, but he spent more time with her than his first favorite

Roxelana was not Roxelana anymore

He named her Hurrem and she made it will known in the harem

That the sultan named her hurrem, meaning the cheerful one.

One day, Mahidevran called her “soiled meat,”

Hit her and scratched her face

The sultan called for her once again

Hurrem replied that she is not worthy of his love and attention

Because she was “soiled meat”

He called her again and she appeared

And told him her version of everything

Mahidevran became the second favorite or the last favorite

Hurrem gave him a son

The rules were one mother, one son

But, she gave him five sons and a daughter

The outsiders were intrigued about this chaos

They came to the theory that Hurrem used black magic

To get her ways

The sultan eventually freed her and married her

She became the wealthiest women in the empire

This is the tale of Hurrem, who once was Roxelana

From enslaved to a sultana


by Krista Wiese

They say a picture is worth a thousand words

and so we weave until our pierced skin stains our

needles blackberry red and our voices appear

as colorful threads on the tapestry before us.

We weave the way we screamed when ripped

from husband and homeland, when raped

by your bravest heroes, when traded

between your men like goblets or cattle—

silently, painfully. The only sound in the hall:

the whirring of our fingertips tying loose ends,

knotting rainbow string. In colors, we said

what we wanted to say—we mothers, daughters,

wives, widows. We said it with a picture

so that maybe our words would have some worth

to you, the ones who keep us quiet

while wearing the clothes we weave.

Hera’s Peacock

by Olivia Slack

My beloved watchman’s eyes became peacocks’ feathers

at my command when my husband ordered him killed.

The watchman had helped me when infidelity

struck again—as it always did,

as it would continue to do.

I know my husband, his impulses

uncontrollable as the storms that flow

from his fingertips and the curses that fly

from his lips when he discovers

that I have killed another of his mistresses.

My birds carry my watchman’s spirit across

the mortal plane, waiting for my husband to find another,

to realize again that I cannot meet his needs,

for what can such an aged goddess offer him

that a young, fresh mortal woman cannot?

I say I can offer death, for any of those who take

my family away from me,

or who are taken by my husband.

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