Story a Day Challenge – Day 3 – Right (Maze)

The Prompt

Your character is lost in a maze with the instructions to find a very important document or treasure hidden in its center. Or perhaps the character has lost this important thing, and must find it before the wrong person does. Added bonus points if they must battle a minotaur, dragon or fearsome magical villain.

(A touch pressed for time, so kept this one relatively short. I also followed the prompt a little  more literally, but still had fun coming up with something I hope is interesting to read. RAFO if I get bonus points today!)

 

Right

Daemu clawed at the dense foliage as she rounded another right turn, sounds of pursuit growing ever closer. Always turn right, right?  she thought. Does that even work?  Again and again she turned right. Dead end.

Panicked, but trying to keep her directions straight, Daemu spun around. Toward her pursuers. There has to be more than one with all that racket. Sprinting forward, arm outstretched to follow the wall to her right, Daemu started turning before she could even see the turn. She had felt the curl of the corner first.

She felt the rush of air as her hunter turned the opposite direction only yards after she had passed. For the first time Daemu was grateful for the near darkness. Right, right, right. She snarled in frustration as she was blocked again and had to backtrack.

I’m never going to get out!  Forget riches or treasure. The thing Daemu wanted most was her freedom. Right, right, right.

The  dimly lit open space in the center of a swirl caught Daemu so by surprise that she stumbled. Passages spun out like tendrils. There were seven of them. No. I came through one. Only six. Daemu whimpered at the thought of doing everything she had already done up to six more times. And what if one of these leads to a different spiral with seven more tendrils. Would I even know?

Sobbing in exhaustion, Daemu collapsed. She couldn’t take it anymore. I really will never get out. The finality of the thought broke her heart and she felt numb. Stuck. Forever. She sighed and turned back toward the path she had emerged from.

Instinctively, she took a step back when the man burst through, sword raised. Why is he so small? she wondered, then wondered again at the absurdity of the thought. Daemu screamed in pain as the blade plunged home in her heart. Fire blossomed before her eyes and she was consumed by it. Her final thought: Free!

*****

Henri flung his arm in front of his face to protect it from the fiery blast. Dragon down, he thought, panting. Now to get out. Always turn right, right? He clawed at the dense foliage as he rounded his first right, sounds of pursuit not far behind. Does that even work?

Story a Day Challenge – Day 1 – Butterflies (Disappeared)

After reading about the September Story a Day challenge on a fellow writer’s blog, I decided that this was a better vehicle for driving my writing right now than the novella assignment I was going to work on that I mentioned in a previous post. I simply don’t have an idea strong enough for a larger project right now. This new challenge will both allow me to write (good or bad) every day for the whole month, not having to worry about how everything fits together, as well as help me hone my short storytelling. I’ve never felt like I was any good at short stories. This will let me practice.

You can find the details of the challenge here, but essentially, I will get emailed a new prompt every day. Here’s the first: “Today, write a story that features people disappearing.”butterfly cardThis story at least partially inspired by this card my mother made and sent to me.

Butterflies

Nobody noticed all the butterflies. They were too busy stapling missing children flyers to all the old wooden electric poles. Every one of them was so full of paper, all overlapping, that very little of the dark wood was visible. Worried eyes filled with tears. Mothers cried silently in empty children’s rooms. Or were found wailing not so silently in the streets.

Theirs was a quiet town usually. It was one of a handful of smaller communities that had to drive half an hour to the local “big” city to go grocery shopping. There weren’t really that many children to begin with. Or butterflies. What was unusual about the place, though, was their higher than average child abduction rate. Much higher. Even that metric paled in comparison to the numbers in the last two weeks. The only two schools in town, one elementary and one middle/high school, were closed. Parents kept the few remaining children close. In most houses, the parents took shifts watching, as if they were soldiers in wartime. This was not an unreasonable response. 84 of the 113 children in their small community had disappeared.

***

All Sophia wanted to do was go outside and play. That was all. She rolled her eyes at her mama when she gasped, cried, shook her head, shook Sophia, yelled, then cried some more. Sophia hadn’t seen her friends in ages and all her mama would say was that they had gone away. Mama would bite her lip then check all the doors and windows. Sophia yelled, thrashed, and sobbed into her stuffed elephant when she was told to go to her room and stay there.

Forlorn, Sophia stared out her window as the light faded. She calmed as she watched the lightning bugs flickering on the edge of her yard. They danced in the branches and she wanted so much to dance with them. Her eyelids drooped and she sighed softly as sleep pulled at her.

The lawn moved. It fluttered. Pale blue, violet, yellow, and green in the twilight. A million wings rippled toward a small child’s window. Her eyes had drifted closed, fine lashes resting softly on pale pink cheeks, with just the hint of her earlier tears making them glisten.

***

92  of the 113 children were now missing. Eight more had disappeared in the night. Men railed at their wives who had fallen asleep. Women silently blamed husbands who wouldn’t admit to dozing. One woman, full of regret and anguish, tumbled from her front door and into the street to join the wailing throng. She had no one to blame but herself. “SOPHIA!”

Mama never noticed all the butterflies. She sobbed wordlessly, her shoulders heaving. A tiny yellow and blue butterfly flew into her hair, fluttered among the strands, tickled her ear. Not getting a response, it flew off, over the house and into the line of trees at the edge of the yard to wait for lightning bugs to dance.

 

Writing Prompt – dragon/polishes

She breathes a fine, warm mist onto the surface of the bright jewel resting on the cushion before her. Swirling a silken scarf across the gleaming facets, the jewel catches the flickering candlelight and scatters it across the piles of riches and onto the colonnade of stalagmites. The light continues to bounce around the cavern until it fades into the darkness of the vast ceiling above.

She breathes a deep sigh as she relaxes into the luxuriousness of the mounds of treasure. The metal of the coins is cool against her skin. The jagged edges of uncut gems press into her, drawing tiny rivulets of blood, reminding her of life through pain. The delicate textures of silk, satin, and velvet soothe her flickering fingertips.

She breathes in sharply as she hears the tumble of stone on stone past the steady drip and trickle of the underground grotto. On edge, she pulls herself silently to her feet, the riches around her momentarily forgotten as she begins to hunt.

She breathes, deep and slow, as she waits. Waits. Waits. Ah! There it is. The clink of steel against stone. Not her usual prey, but one she especially enjoys hunting. Sinuously, she moves toward the sound, every fiber of her being keyed toward it. Dipping slowly into the pool that lies between herself and the narrow tunnel through which her prey moved, she inhales before plunging under the still surface of the water. The movement makes a small ripple of sound that echoes around the chamber before seeking escape through the tunnel. In the time it takes to reach his ears, she traverses the pool and pulls herself, dripping, from the water.

She breathes in a hiss when she hears the distinct rasp of steel being drawn from its sheath. Silently and fluidly, she navigates the darkness, her mind focused, her body tingling, her eyes sharp. She sees the pale glow of his torch highlighting all the sharp angles of the rough hewn passage. Slowly, she creeps toward the glow, watching warily for the glint of torchlight against metal.

She breathes steady and slow. Twelve heartbeats slow. A spark of light catches her eye. Ah! There it is. She forces herself to tremble and slowly, with precise intention, reaches a hand out to grasp the stone wall to her right, the first view he will have as he rounds the nearest bend.

She breathes raggedly, contorting her face into an approximation of fear, as she stumbles toward him. His sword clatters to the cave floor as he gasps in shock at the sight of her, naked, dripping, and obviously terrified. Recovering quickly, he reaches for her as he retrieves his weapon. Murmuring some sort of chivalrous nonsense, he awkwardly removes his cloak and wraps it around her shoulders, all while backing them both back toward the cave entrance. Her safety. Then the dragon.

She breathes in tiny  gasps as she whimpers, her fists clutching the cloak tightly, trying to look as vulnerable as she can. They break out into the purplish gray glow of early twilight. The hesitation is clear on his chiseled face, or at least as much as she can see of his exposed jaw beneath his helm and the sharp blue of his eyes from within the slits. After all, dragons are most active at night. While pretending bravery, they all prefer to try their luck when it is stacked in their favor.

She breathes out in a rush as she “faints” into his bumbling, but strong, arms. The edges of his armor bite into her flesh, reminding her of being alive through the pain. As he cradles her against his chest, she hides an exultant smile under his strong jaw.

*****

She breathes rapturously, chest heaving, as he collapses beside her. She allows him to pull her close to him as she turns to lay on her side. A flash of light, a glint, a reflection across the room catches her eye. An ornately gilt mirror. Her reflection. Tousled golden hair, flushed pink skin, bright green eyes with golden sunbursts flaring out from around a pupil, that between one sleepy blink and the next, is decidedly reptilian. She stretches lazily and then…

…she breathes a long slender stream of smoke.

Author’s note regarding this exercise: After writing the first paragraph, I realized I wanted to start the second with the same two words. I recognized that I could only really get away with this if I made it an intentional motif, so I decided to challenge myself. Could I successfully tell a story in which every paragraph began with the same two words? Almost immediately, I began to imagine an ending (I’m bad at endings) and the story took shape. In this case, I would say it was successful in that it helped form the story and round it to completion, something I often struggle with, especially in shorter works. What do you think? Want to give it a try? I shared my writing prompts in the title if it inspires you. Pick your two words. Turn them into a story.

**Lightly edited second draft.**

“Getting Ready” to Write

I’m scared.

I admit it.

It’s been long enough since I’ve written anything of either length or quality that I actually haven’t started writing anything creatively in the month since I quit my job to be a writer. I’m afraid that I haven’t got anything to say. I’m afraid that none of it will be good. Or that no one will want to read it. I’m afraid that I’m the slacker in Drew Chial’s recent post.

I’ve been trying to get in the right headspace to create something. I had felt so drained of creative energies that I didn’t feel like I could put pen to paper and create anything. I felt that way before.

When I was first starting to take my writing seriously, as a Sophomore in High School (the only Sophomore accepted in the class full of Juniors and Seniors), I stared at a blank page and wouldn’t let it conquer me:

Idiocy

Idiocy stares at me from the gleaming white of a paper that has not been written on. The paper lies flat with no features on its smooth face. Nothing to write. Nothing to hold. Nothing to love down to the depths of my heart and nurture as I would a child. My life is blank for writing is my life and there is none and I want to scream out across the polluted traffic of life that is a city to be carried over the mountains and into a valley of peace so they know that all is not well with the mentality of our souls. A distant cry answers mine and I am taken on a dream to the place that I once called home… and I write.

I write as I never have before. I write of a sense of freedom that captures my heart. I write of the sweet innocence of a child who has not yet been marred by the pessimism of the ages and who, by some bizarre chance, dares to dream. I write of mothers watching their children with the hope that they might be better than their pot-smoking, free-loving parents. I write of a world, a time, that has passed and may be forgotten in the turmoil of a time that does not understand. I write of the fantasies of a dreamer’s dream, the mystical myths of fairies that might whither in the cold, harsh world of a dragon who thrives on the humiliated hearts of the peasant. I write of the promise of a happy world that is adorned by the hopes of men. I write of that promise being broken into tiny shards of glass, that was once a glorious stained-glass window in a cathedral where the sun never shone. I write of the child who was not afraid of dreaming dying, as all the optimism is sucked out of him by his peers, like life-sucking leeches and he becomes a carcass of what he used to be. He becomes like the creatures around him without the daring light of hope in his eyes. He is taken over by the vanities of men and he remembers nothing of his innocent childhood ambitions. He remembers nothing until he sees a child with a starry-eyed look about her and he wants, with all his heart, to be like her again, but he can’t. Instead he wants to take her down to himself and destroy her happiness as people once destroyed his own. In anger, he shatters her dreams and he can almost see them crash down into a heap like a house of cards. Repentantly, he tries to help her fit the pieces back together, but he can’t… the light is gone forever from the dull, gray eyes of a child who knows too much hate.  Idiocy.

Is it quality writing? Not really. But I wrote something, when I had nothing. I needed to remember that. I needed to be reminded that writing takes practice. It’s not something that you turn off or on with a switch as long as there is enough “energy”. Writing almost needs to create its own energy.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I have mentioned before that Brandon Sanderson is among our favorite authors and my husband recently introduced me to a series of videos that were actually taken during one semester of his class at BYU. I’ve decided to follow along with his class a year and a half later. It will give me a chance to learn more about my craft while constantly having manageable goals to reach. Over the course of the semester, each student is meant to produce a novella (35K words), while participating in writing groups and/or workshops. Each week a one thousand word submission is to be sent to the writing group (I’ll likely post mine here) for critiquing.

The first assignment is pretty simple and is composed of two parts. The first, more of a status to return to, a few sentences regarding where you are or what you want to accomplish during the coursework:

Write. Write even when there are no words. Write when there is no energy. Write when angry, depressed, tired, brilliantly happy or serene. Write every day. Just write.

The second part of the assignment is to share something you’ve already written with the writing group (my blog readers!). Technically, I could count Idiocy, shared above. But it’s not one of my favorites and I felt like this was supposed to be on opportunity to introduce the writing group to your style. Who shares something they don’t like as an introduction? Me, apparently. Below, is to make amends. It’s not a story. You may not even like it, but I do, so it’s for sharing. This was from a high school writing practice completely off the cuff, but I love the imagery and flow.

Floating Sky Child

Floating sky child is laughing deliriously and no more trees hear his deep singing. He picks up his feet and plants them precariously on the wind that shakes the world. His old skin falls to the earth, creating yet another mountain and his laughter echoes against it and the skins of his past lives. With each new existence, an ocean of thought is ushered in and the brightness of the sky child’s eyes waxes. He opens his arms and embraces the new thought, new hope. His childish gurgle grows deeper with time and with progression, progress slows to a trickle because the sky child is old. His skin hangs like a canvas sack and he can no longer open his arms to the new. His voice is deep and he sings a melancholy melody that scrapes his own soul raw. He pulls himself from out his skin and it falls to the earth, creating yet another mountain. No more trees hear his deep singing and the floating sky child is laughing deliriously.

Cracked

I haven’t really read much in the last three years. For someone who wanted desperately to be a writer, a published author, in her youth, this is a terrible state of things. I got lost in the rat race, so to speak. Work is pretty much what I did, with very little leisure time. What time I did have was spent in front of the TV or killing dragons on the computer. Brainless. Boring. As little creative energy required as possible

And then the stress started pouring in to fill any and every possible moment where I might have otherwise been capable of creating anything.

I had wanted to move. I lived in a dry, flat, windy place, devoid of the scenery I felt would be conducive to my writing. I tried off and on, when we lived there, to create. I found myself rewriting other people’s stories once I’d had a chance to go back and reread. I hadn’t meant to do it, but I saw their influences and I didn’t feel like I had my own story to tell (I’m not even sure if I do now, but that’s beside the point) and so I stopped writing. I stopped creating. I stopped reading.

I worked.

So, we managed to move. My job is the one we took the transfer on. It’s not an exciting or glamorous job, but it was something I felt I could do. For five years I kept wanting to leave, looking at the money, then deciding I could work a couple more years. There was always something else I wanted to accomplish financially before I felt like I could leave, relying on my husband’s income alone. I was being smart, responsible.

And then everything crumbled. Nothing was right.

It doesn’t really matter what went wrong with the job. There were a lot of things. None of them will matter in two weeks when I’m done.

The point is I cracked.

I broke.

It was like that long list of possible side effects they go over in a commercial for medication. May cause sleeplessness. May cause increased depression or anxiety. May cause suicidal thoughts. I never really thought about it enough to do anything, but I thought about it. That was enough to scare me into analyzing my life. It was enough to scare me into telling my husband that there was a problem and it needed to be fixed. It was enough for me to realize that I had stopped living, I was barely existing, and I was unhappy.

So I quit.

I’m usually not a quitter. I don’t like feeling like I’ve failed at life. Failed at the traditional work life. I almost just quit, no notice given. After all, it’s not like I ever want to work in Corporate America again. But that’s not the kind of person I am. I gave two weeks notice. They asked for two more. I agreed because of who I am and because it needs to be done the proper true way.

Like Auri.

My husband has been trying to get me to read. Like I said, I’ve barely read anything in the last three years. Usually, if I’ve managed to read something, it’s only been what I could squeeze into a vacation or road trip. Bits and pieces of some of our favorite authors, like Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Haydon, and Patrick Rothfuss. He’d been telling me about The Slow Regard of Silent Things by the latter. Kept telling me I would enjoy it. I never found the time or energy to pull it up on my Nook and read it. Remember, I was hardly existing.

Then, at the end of my third to last week at work, he offered me a bubble bath.

Held captive by the bubbles, he sat beside the tub and started reading it to me.

I could tell, not far in, that it would be a story best read to oneself rather than to have read to you. Patrick plays with words. You can’t catch the nuances when it’s read aloud. So I took it from the bath to my bed to read.

I didn’t read it all at once. I wasn’t ready for that. I had to dip my toes in. I had to nibble at it. I had to take it in the bite-sized chunks that it was given. As short as it is, I don’t think Auri’s tale is one that is meant for straight-through reading. Not for me anyway.

I saw myself a little too much in Auri. She’s cracked. She’s broken. She has a panic attack in the middle of the story that could have been written for me. It was written for me. I felt almost ashamed at the similarity. I’m not supposed to connect too personally with a crazy main character. One that crashed and burned so spectacularly in the “real world” that she has to hide away in her own reality and practice her craft in secret.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone.

Then I read Patrick’s note at the end of the story. The story of the story. The story of how so many other people reacted (in some ways at least) the way I did. The story of how this is a story that isn’t for mainstream. “This story is for all the slightly broken people out there.”

This story is for me.

And it helped me share my cracked and broken bits.

And it helped me to write something.

RIFTing with a Guild

Ok, so I don’t often write about gaming. In fact, this blog is so little used I bet most of you forgot that it existed.

But I am a gamer, at least casually (don’t judge) and so there is occasionally something I have to say on the topic.

Feeling Lost

It feels like Psyn and I have been drifting through various games over the last year and a half. We used to play WoW pretty solidly for a couple of years, until SWTOR came along and wooed me with fantastic personal story lines. Not long after my smuggler reached max level, Guild Wars 2 was released & the chance to play a pretty game (I have previously said I am drawn to such) without having to pay monthly for it, pulled me in for a while. The world story wasn’t enough to really pull me in longterm and besides being able to be in higher zones, I didn’t really feel like my character progressed as she leveled. A couple of months later the new WoW expansion was released and I wanted to explore all the pretty new zones. Again, it wasn’t long before the charm and freshness wore off and we started dabbling back in the other games that we had played off and on for 18 months (with several months of non-gaming thrown in).

You see, we wanted to play, but had a hard time finding something that really engaged us.

Enter the RIFT Free-to-Play announcement

A little history now. We had played RIFT for about a month after release. In fact, it was the game that inspired my first ever gaming blog post. Since we were subscribed to another game at the time, we decided that would couldn’t afford to be subbed to two at once. We pretty much decided to stick with our other game because that’s where all of our friends were at the time. Besides, as much as I loved chaining rifts the night I spoke of in my first post, when I came back to that lower zone on a new character a few weeks later, I was behind the pack that formed at release and hated it. The zone was pretty empty and when I tried to tackle rifts with the one other person that was on, we were slaughtered. I determined that the rifts and invasions were too imbalanced for someone who prefers to spend their time in leveling zones. We moved on.

So, back to this drifting between games time. I actually hadn’t really paid much attention to the F2P announcement from RIFT. Psyn did, though, and decided to update the game on his computer to see if much had changed. He talked to me about it and I decided to install it on my computer (we had played when I had a previous computer) to give it a go. We had a blast! Apparently we also both had strong cases of beginner’s luck. Psyn looted a purple Gulanite Hellbug mount from the first rift we closed together (I got a pet) and then I picked up an orange Deeps’ Lock Box just outside Sanctum while questing. The orange one can offer the highest level rewards if opened at max level, including epic gear.

Something was definitely different this time around. The zones were packed due to the F2P announcement, but everything also felt so much smoother and balanced. The rifts no longer seemed overpowering to the people available to fight them. They were still definitely a challenge, but we found we could 2-man some rifts and even solo them if we took things slow. The first time we had played, all the soul choices had overwhelmed me. This time I used a premade role and only started deviating from it when I was comfortable. We went mad with crafting and gathering (always a good sign if we’re willing to invest time/energy in these) and just continued to have a fun time.

Social Creatures

I mentioned on Google+ that we were having a fun time with the game and my friend Belghast over at Tales of the Aggronaut invited us to join a chat channel so we could chat while playing. Until this point, we’d pretty much been on our own, the two of us tackling all the things and tearing them up. We are inherently social people, though. The thing that pulls us into a game more than anything is that sense of community and friendship. We were getting a bit lonely. So, we chatted away in the channel whether anyone else was there or not.

But apparently something else was going on with the people whose guild we would eventually join. A group of friends and gamers who had banded together through several games and were existing as a guild within a guild were at a point where a decision would need to be made about where and how they were going to have a permanent home. The overwhelming response was that they wanted their own guild again, even if it meant building it from the ground up. As prospective members, we were asked to vote and we were 100% behind the small but close-knit guild plan. The guild was formed while we were on vacation, but we were quick to join once we were home on Monday night.

What a world of difference the right guild makes

Within minutes of joining the guild and logging in to their mumble server, a large portion of the guild had mentored down to my cleric’s level and were tearing rifts apart for an invasion in Freemarch. Together, we destroyed the guild quest to close 100 rifts and it felt incredible to be a part of something. Could they have closed rifts in higher level zones? Yeah. The rewards would have been the same (thanks to RIFT’s very well balanced mentoring system) but they chose to come hang out with the newbie. Even last night, while playing my higher level (dinged 40 last night!) mage of the opposite faction, a guildie found us and mentored down to clear an invasion in Moonshade (I think that’s the name of the zone).

I suppose what this has taught me is that the people really do make all the difference. Sometimes game features or mechanics push people away. Sometimes it’s just not your cup of tea, like how I felt about TSW. But if two games are created equal (or close to it, because let’s be real, no game is exactly like another) in terms of fun, but one has a community where everyone is out for themselves and another encourages helpful behavior, I know which one I am choosing. Especially if you have a chance to be in the kind of guild I found. It’s a guild where everyone who joins is the friend or family of someone who is already there. It’s a guild where the rules are simple, but if followed leave you with a home, a community and a family instead of just a guild tag. Can the guild accomplish great things together? Of this, I have no doubt. But being a part of close, tight-knit group, whose goal is just to have fun and enjoy the game?

Yeah, this is the home for me.

Whispers

Because Jason really liked this one, I’ve decided to share it with all of you:

She couldn’t block them out anymore. Every moment a new whisper assaulted her ears like a warhorn, each louder and more urgent than the next.

Fiona wasn’t sure how or when they started because at first they were soft, quiet undertones that murmured like a gently flowing stream. Constant, but almost soothing in their constancy. She quickly became used to them. They were a conglomeration of unintelligible babbling. If any emotion could be associated with them, she would have said they were cheerful. The tone always lifted her mood and she would find herself smiling for no reason.

That’s when the rest of the village started to whisper about her being touched. Initially, they just smiled and nodded, taking more time to explain things to Fiona than was really needed. They thought she was simple. Fiona would grow impatient with them and snap that she wasn’t an idiot. The tone of the whispers changed, both those of the villagers and the ones that apparently only she heard. The villagers became suspicious of her and the whispers became suspicious of them, catching the young woman who heard both in the middle. She didn’t smile as much anymore.

The whispers no longer soothed Fiona. They made her odd. They made her uncomfortable. They made the children throw rocks. The whispers snarled in retaliation and the children ran from the scowl on her face.

Everything was spiralling out of control. Fiona couldn’t stop the whispers and she couldn’t make things right with the village. She tried to explain past the screaming whispers in her head, but her words only made the mothers huddle their children close as the men fingered the hilts of their knives. Their eyes threatened, so the whispers threatened in return. Volume dropped to a low, angry rumble and it terrified Fiona.

She had no choice. She had to leave or either the whispers or the villagers would kill her. They would crush her between their anger.