For anyone who hasn’t logged in before, Like The Prose is an annual writing competition which involves receiving a writing prompt each day in June and having 36 hours to write and submit a story. I took part for the first time in 2019 and it was a great way to make me step out of my comfort zone and tackle themes and genres I hadn’t thought of before. Last year, I took part again and was pleased to finish the challenge for the second year running with thirty new stories written in thirty days. I also signed up to the Facebook group for LTP and had the privilege of reading others’ submissions as well as making new friends who also love writing – and this led to a number of us contributing stories to an anthology of thirty stories written during Like The Prose.
I’m now back for a third year and happy to see lots of familiar faces taking part once more. Our first prompt arrived last night and, as in previous years, I’m posting my written responses on this blog each day in June. The short story below is based around the theme of waiting. I had all sorts of ideas such as someone waiting for the right moment to propose, waiting to kiss someone for the first time, waiting for the phone to ring, or waiting in a hospital to see if a loved one would survive – but one of the competition rules is that all stories must be new and I’d already written stories on all of these themes within the past year (you can find them on the Reedsy website) so knew I’d have to do something different. So, this first prompt is a bit of a first for me as I’ve abandoned my usual genres to write something a little more surreal as the characters in my story wait for a strange supernatural being called Jimli…
Waiting for Jimli
“Are you sure your family wants me around at a time like this?” Eric whispered.
Milena stopped adjusting her golden plaits just long enough to fix him with a hard stare. “It is the Czech custom,” she intoned. “My family would think it rude if you were not here with us to wait for Jimli.”
Eric still wasn’t sure he understood this bizarre ritual. From what he could make out, no one expected Milena’s grandmother to last out the night – but instead of a few family members sitting quietly by her bedside, it seemed as if half the village had turned out to watch as the old woman waited for some kind of spirit to appear at her bedside and tell her it was time to leave the mortal world. He’d seen some strange customs during the three or four months he’d been living in Lukov – it was only six miles away from the pickled cucumber business in Znojmo that was in the process of being taken over by Eric’s UK condiments company and it had been easier to find accommodation here – but when his work colleague, Milena, had invited him to a ‘party’, this hadn’t been what he had in mind.
“Remind me again what Jimli’s like,” he said now. Was he like the Angel of Death? Or perhaps he was more like Charon, the ferryman whom the ancient Greeks believed had taken the souls of the recently departed across the River Styx to the land of the dead.
Milena seemed amazed by his ignorance. “Jimli is many things,” she began. “He has one hundred relatives and they are all his father. He eats his hatchlings, and then he weeps over his greed. His carriage is drawn by ten fat slugs and so the hour of death comes slowly.”
She was mad, Eric thought. Quite mad.
“But we must all wait for Jimli,” she continued, “whether we are young or old. If Jimli does not see us waiting, he will hunt us down and steal our breath while we sleep.” She lowered her voice still further. “Every night, when we go to sleep, there is a kouzlo we must recite: one that will ward off evil yet let Jimli know he is welcome. If he knows he is welcome, he will not trouble the sleeper.”
“What does he do to people who forget to say the words?” He didn’t believe any of Milena’s story, of course: it was superstitious nonsense; but a part of him needed to know.
“Jimli will enter through the window and then he will find the sleeper’s bed…” Milena’s voice was hypnotic and slow. “And he will place his heavy hand on the sleeper’s shoulder and shake the sleeper to wake him up. And the sleeper’s eyes will open but at the same moment, his blood will freeze in his veins and he will be one of the mrtvoly: the living corpses who have no place in heaven or in hell but must wander the streets of memory for thousands of years until they turn into dust.”
She was absolutely bonkers – they all were. Well, he wasn’t going to sit around waiting for Jimli all night: he was going home now.
Stifling a yawn, he turned to Milena. “I’m sorry I can’t stay all night. I’ve got an early morning presentation tomorrow – it’s the new packaging for the pickled cucumbers.” He yawned again. “Anyway, I’ll need a decent night’s sleep…”
But it looked as if he would be staying after all, for a wave of fatigue suddenly overwhelmed him and he found himself sinking back down onto the sofa and closing his eyes. If he could just doze for a few minutes, he should be okay, but sleep was seeping through his entire body.
“You do not know the words of the kouzlo.” Milena’s voice echoed in his subconscious. “When Jimli comes, you will be unprepared.”
“Jimli’s not coming,” he muttered in his sleep. “He’s just a figment of people’s imagination.”
And that was when a heavy hand fell on his shoulder…
He came to with a start, opening his eyes to find a strange man shaking him. “Did you arrive on flight JML1? I have been entrusted with meeting an Englishman named Hopwood who will be working with my company.”
For a moment, he blinked in surprise, and then it all came back to him. He was in the Czech republic. He’d been sent here to oversee the new business merger with a pickled cucumber business in Znojmo.
“Thanks,” he said as he rose to his feet. “I didn’t mean to drop off like that. It must be jet lag.” His new colleague was still staring at him, so he held out his hand. “My name’s Eric. And you’re…”
The man smiled. “Just call me Jimli.”