The Assignment


© J. Hardy Carroll

“I’ve got to write a hundred words about that?” The creative writing student balked when his instructor placed the ornate clock on his desk, which was to be used as a writing prompt.

“That’s the assignment, Mike. What’s the problem?”

“It’s hideous.”

“It’s an antique.”

“It’s repulsive.”

“Then you should be able to write a piece of flash fiction about something hideous and repulsive.”

“Do you remember the scene from ‘Office Space’ where Peter, Michael, and Samir take the office printer out and smash it to pieces? I can write about that.”

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields photo writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 100 words long. My word count is 92.

Yes, that was more or less my reaction to seeing the prompt. Not all prompts are created equal and this one rubbed me the wrong way, so that’s what I wrote.

Oh, for those of you who haven’t seen the excellent 1999 film Office Space, here is a YouTube video (unedited, so language) of the infamous destruction scene of the office’s constantly malfunctioning printer.

To read other stories based on the prompt, visit

39 thoughts on “The Assignment

  1. I have felt that way many a time at prompts, though I was hoping you might dig to find out where this photograph came from. The Bily Clock Museum in Spillville, Iowa is right up your alley. Time travel, classical music, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh all intersect in a town of fewer than 500 people.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I remember at least one essay written in high school (many long years ago) which spent its required number of words complaining about the assignment itself — why it was unjustifiable or invalid, why the subject was uninteresting, and other similar protestations. I don’t recall if I actually turned it in or received a grade for it. I don’t recall receiving any punitively low grade — therefore I must have expressed my protest well enough to satisfy my teacher’s goal for the writing assignment if I did turn it in.

    The photo above, though, brought to my mind the opening line to that old song: “My grandfather’s clock was too large for a shelf, so it stood ninety years on the floor”. This one, despite its very large size, does appear to be sitting on a very large, especially-constructed, dedicated shelf. Of course, if in your story you smash it, it certainly will “stop, short, never to go again”. We can only hope that in doing so you will not discover that its owner or its maker is an old man whose demise coincides with the destruction of the clock, like the unfortunate owner of the literary “Portrait of Dorian Gray” who died when it was destroyed.

    The above paragraph, it may be noted, exceeds the 100-word limit, though a little judicious trimming could pull a 100-word story out of it, I’d expect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The exact quote is, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

      I have also heard it said that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so I guess the student in question didn’t see that the clock had “beauty,” although according to this source, we shouldn’t say that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It is also said: “There’s no accounting for taste.” A similar Hebrew saying translates as: “About taste and fragrance there can be no argument.” In these cases, and the one about beauty, what is being said is that there can be no objective standard applied to a subjective evaluation. That’s not quite the same as denying that there may exist objective qualities to an object, place, sensation or situation that can be evaluated objectively. The article you cited asserts that the “beauty” saying originated as a defense against snobbery, which is based on arbitrary standards set by some group attempting to assert and defend its claim to superiority. One can find such snobbery in the fashion industry, and perhaps somewhat less so in the fine arts which have been challenged so often by new styles of abstraction, but there are no doubt other areas where it might appear.

        In this case, the clock was presumably functional, and clearly it exhibited intricate craftsmanship — its operation might even be entertaining to watch, now and again — but those qualities might be insufficient justification for one to wish to possess that object or to afford it space in one’s home or to spend much time admiring its good qualities (or writing an essay about it). It might also possess negative or undesirable qualities, such as being noisy when one might prefer quietness, or being expensive to maintain, or requiring space that could better be devoted to something else of different or more desired functionality, or it might clash artistically or stylistically with other preferred elements of one’s décor.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. enjoyed the way you found your inspiration and had that personal connection.
    This ornate clock is not what i want in my house – but I did not react the way did – or i mean your student writer – but you really showed us an alive person who has an opinion – and that was FRESH

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Poor time piece, it’s not it’s fault. If it was placed in a cluttered Victorian room, such as owned bySherlock Holmes, it would appear so different. But I did enjoy how you tackled the prompt. I guess many writers will react in that way at some piont to a prompt.


  5. You should never murder a clock first thing in the morning before your cup of coffee. I have a horrible feeling that you might’ve unleashed a thousand demons putting an axe through that clock. After all, if you get 7 years bad luck for accidentally breaking a mirror, what length of sentence should be metered out for murdering a clock either in thought or in deed?
    Best wishes,


  6. Your story made me chuckle. It’s wonderful how everyone sees something different in the photo prompts each week, we’re all moved uniquely.

    I just wanted you to know, James, its not that I’m lazy it’s just that I don’t care…and don’t take my stapler!! Haha (Office Space, a family favorite).

    Liked by 1 person

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