First Tries and Second Chances

NeeksWriteWeek1

Maybe you know Neeks? Well, if you don’t, this is a great introduction!

Over at her neekswrite blog, sweet Neeks has started a brand new contest of sorts, called “The Short and the Long of it.” Each week, Neeks will give her readers 3 words to use as prompt for a story or poem. It doesn’t matter how long or short the story/poem, though there are a few standing caveats regarding subject matter and word usage (specifically, no XXX, no swearing, no harming of children). For Week 1, we’ve been given these three words:
Plaid Moisture Defenseless

Now, my own judgment on what counts for XXX and harm is somewhat lapsing, these days, so I’m posting here instead of over at Neeks’s blog. Plus, my entry goes over 500 words, though only a bit. I’m also horribly mired in one particular story right now, so my mind couldn’t jump from these characters as readily as I might have liked. I did tweak them, though, but I think any readers of the sci-fi story will get ’em right away. Anyhow, here goes….

She pinned the clothes to the line, the sum total of her life: two denim coveralls, six colored shirts, three plaid miniskirts, and a pair of baggy trousers. Candy-cane-striped socks and boyshort underwear. And one lone dress, slender and colored crème, little more than a slip, really. But, it always made her feel a real woman. A fact everyone else on the planet conveniently seemed to forget.

Except for him.

Sure, twenty-seven wasn’t what she’d been looking for. But, she’d come to know him for who he was. More than just a hunter, grifter, or rogue. She knew him as a man. She’d heard it in his voice, felt it in his touch, tasted it on his lips. Against them, she’d been defenseless.

Sure, nineteen was young. But, he saw her for who she was. More than just a hacker, mechanic, or getaway driver. He saw her as a woman. He’d told her so in his whispers to God when they were alone beneath the stars, in the pattering of her heart when he’d squeezed her hand as they’d run, and in the tart need of his kiss before he’d made his farewell, followed by a hushed promise to return. Left with only that, she’d felt naked.

That had been a week ago.

Of course, she’d worried he’d been waylaid by roving scavengers or bandits. But, worrying didn’t make the time pass any faster. And, of course, she’d wondered if he’d been diverted by other, more…familial distractions. But, wondering didn’t make it true.

So, she waited. And tinkered. And washed. And put her clothes on the line, watching the dewy wetness in the creases dry beneath the desert sun…until she heard the rustle of tyres in the dirt.

The cloud of his stop was still hanging in the air as he jumped from the driver’s seat, with the spryness of a boy closer to her age than his. He scooped her up with a whoop and spun her about, hushing his own voice against her lips.

She laughed when they parted. “I can’t believe they let you go,” she said, smoothing her fingers over the scar at his temple, where once there had been the insignia of the hunters’ guild.

He grinned up at her, still caught in his arms. “Nobody’s gonna tell us what to do. Not anymore, and never again.”

She just laughed again, flicking away the moisture on her lashes with three quick blinks.

Her tear bounced to his cheek, making his grin soften. He squeezed his arms tighter around her, murmuring, “You ready to marry me, darlin’?”

She bobbed her head, a fresh slew of tears brimming on her lashes. “Just let me get my dress,” she said, and grabbed his face to kiss him again.

She spent her wedding day in that crème slip of a dress, but not her wedding night. That, she spent in his arms and a wind of rough motel sheet that kept them together for what felt like it could be forever.

“I love you,” she whispered during one relaxing lull.

His face, half-lit by the streaming moonlight from the window, smiled down at her. “I never want to be with anyone else,” he said, and bowed his head to hers.

She closed her eyes and waited for the press of his kiss, when something wet touched her lips. Again, wet.

She licked them. Salt.

She opened her eyes but couldn’t scream, despite the dripping blade sticking out her new husband’s neck.

Behind his head, she saw the black mask of a hunter, who muttered, “You won’t.” His eyes flashed to hers, as he added, “Daddy says it’s time to come home.”

This one took me to a place I hadn’t expected. So, I think I’ll borrow from Neeks’s own name, here, and end with… EEK!

Why not try your hand at Neeks’s new contest? It’s great fun!

Confettifall Christmas Contest – Processing a submission

Earlier this week, LimebirdVanessa over at Limebird Writers posted the 25th edition of their Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest. The series in itself is full of great opportunities for writers of all genres, interests, and skill levels, but one of them stood out in particular: the Confettifall Christmas Contest. Head on over to the Limebird Writers post to get the full details (and more!).

You back? Okay.

As you’ve read, the Confettifall Christmas Contest is to create a 140-character story. Confettifall’s site says there is no particular theme for this contest, so we could write whatever we wanted, with a few caveats (no profanity, no pornography, and no poems this time around). Ordinarily, these guidelines alone would hamper my ability to tell a story, but with only 140 characters to do the deed, I couldn’t waste my character count on foul words or play. I’m wordy enough as it is!

I wanted to have a very simple theme – romance/revenge – and a moment from my past struck me. On a lark, I’d gone to a palm reader with some friends of mine. We each had our pasts/futures read, with varying degrees of accuracy. The experience was mostly just a five-dollar jaunt into something silly we’d never done before, a fun way to pass the time while we waited for the guys in our party to show up. But, one line from my fortune teller stuck with me that night, and has continued to stay with me for many years. You’ll see what I mean….

Below is the process I took for this particular challenge. It’s pretty standard to my normal challenge process, though I’ve put in some of my internal monologue, just to keep things interesting:

Goal: Write a story in 140 characters.

First try:

The tarot reader had been spectacularly wrong on most counts: she had no children, no white picket fence, no important job. Certainly, the loving, faithful husband bit was a joke. But, the old woman had said one thing that had resonated with young Cecilia: “That which you cannot create, you are destined to destroy.”

Jace, her “loving” and “faithful” husband, never saw the shot coming.

Character count: 386. Okay, that’s way too long, but I’ve got an idea going. Now, to start whittling.

Second try:

While wrong on most counts, the psychic had made one correct prediction: What Cecilia couldn’t have, she’d destroy. Shame Jace didn’t hear it, too, or he’d have known about the gun.

Character count: 181. Not bad, but it doesn’t punch. And, 41 characters too many.

Third try:

What Cecilia couldn’t have, she would destroy. That had been her tarot reading.

Jace had called it cryptic nonsense. Maybe if he’d listened, she wouldn’t have shot him.

Character count: 167. I like this one better. It’s closer, but STILL too many characters. Need to whittle it down by 27.

Fourth try:

“What you can’t have, you will destroy,” the psychic said.

Her husband called such advice money-grabbing malarkey.

Maybe. She still shot him, though.

Character count: 147. I’m drifting into slightly more black comedy territory, here. Maybe not a bad idea.

Fifth try (Starting to wear thin):

“She told me, what I can’t have, I’ll destroy.”

“Bull,” her husband said, swinging his wandering eyes back to her.

“Really?” she said, and shot him.

Character count: 146. I’m starting to hate this contest. And my writing.

Sixth try:

“The psychic said, what I can’t have, I’ll destroy.”

“Bull,” her husband said, swinging his roving gaze her way.

Maybe. She still shot him.

Character count: 140 (tested in a Twitter window). Huzzah! Perhaps this isn’t prize-winning material, but I’ll leave this one where it stands. While fun in terms of a contest challenge, it’s not quite worth it to spend any extra time on.

The whole exercise took me about an hour, from first initial draft idea to what I came up with at the end. Even though this is an “official” contest with a prize and everything, I decided I wouldn’t spend more than an hour on it, just so it wouldn’t distract me all day from the rest of my writing projects. But, it was still fun.

What do you think? What sort of process do you go through for prompts/challenges like this? On a less writer-y note, have you ever had your fortune told?

Believe it or not

This week, Lillie McFerrin’s prompt for her Five Sentence Fiction challenge is “LETTERS.” Hop on over to Lillie’s site to check out other worthy entries, or try your own!

Ancient-book-Desktop-Wallpaper

John didn’t believe, because belief granted power, giving purpose, tooth, and fang – and more, with numbers – to what should have stayed amorphous clouds of mere ideas. He’d read the texts, studied the stories, but always kept his distance from the mysticism: stay back from the fire and don’t get burned.

His colleagues challenged him, of course, with goads and pranks designed to make him crack, but he never gave in. He even snorted in disdain at their latest joke: a leather-bound book delivered to his darkened doorstep by unknown courier, its hackneyed prophecies scribbled in umber ink. No one would call him a frightful fool, so he read, deeper into meaning and long into the night, until he decided he’d learned enough to state his dedication to the cause of his study and his own stoicism…when his heart stopped, and he stared, as the letters on the page moved.

My primary major at university was English Literature (with a double in Classical Studies – super-employable, that combo), but I also took a few classes in Theology, for which my institution was known. Beginner theology is pretty standard stuff: a lot of translation and interpretation, with a heavy dose of well-chronicled history, believe it or not. Throw in some sociology and cultural studies, and it becomes more of a snooze-fest. I did have one class, though, that both totally sparked my interest in the field while at the same time completely freaking me out. It was a guest lecture by one of the Jesuit brothers who was a rather renowned demonologist (yes, they are real; William Peter Blatty supposedly consulted with this priest in regards to his novel, The Exorcist). He stood in front of a class of about fifteen students and told a story very similar to the one I’ve written above: about being up late one night in his seminary room or wherever, reading some so-old-it-farts-dust manuscript, and seeing the letters on the page move. Not just waver, but actually f—ing shift on the page. It remains perhaps the most awesome and most frightening thing I’ve ever heard…because, whether it really happened or it was just his tired eyes playing tricks on him, he believed it.

I remember wanting so badly to experience this sensation. So, I went to the university library and tried to make it happen.

FULibrary_FromStreetThe university library was a converted cathedral, a real Gothic throwback in the middle of the city. The inside is very modern, more so now than even during my days there, but when you looked up at that monolith of a central tower from the street, especially at night, it made for an imposing sight. In the stacks, it got even worse:

the london library photographed october 2010.Cramped quarters and rickety spines all around. But, I remained determined. If anything weird was going to happen, it was most likely going to happen in the library. I mean, we had a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum, for pity’s sake! So, with the Dewey codes for the demonology texts scribbled in an uneasy hand on the index card in my fingers, I made my way up to the Theology stacks. I remember feeling giddy as I scanned the guide numbers on the shelves. And then, walking halfway down a deserted aisle, the numbers on the card and the numbers on the shelf matched up.

I stared at that book a long time. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I do remember it had a brown spine, with that gold leaf lettering that always seemed so popular on highfalutin’ academic texts. It looked relatively untouched, too. I remember that, as well. Because I thought, Why is this book just sitting here, as if in wait? (I was pretentious enough at that stage to have thought the phrase “as if in wait.”)

Now, I’d like to say I picked up that book and nothing happened…or, that something did happen. The truth is, I pulled an awkward teenager move and picked up the book three titles to the right and muttered under my breath something like, “Oh, this is the book I’m looking for,” even though no one else was about. Years on, though, I often consider that moment of standing in the stacks: what could have been or what I might have learned. The power of belief, if you will.

It’s a marvelous thing.

Did you work in any writing challenges, this week? Did you challenge yourself some other way? (You don’t have to have become a demonologist.) Let me know!

Lovestruck and Lost

“Has he ever said, ‘I love you?’”

“No.” An indifferent shrug. That question seemed to nag at everyone else; it wasn’t the first time it had come up in conversation. “But, he doesn’t have to.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

Again: “No.” And, again, a shrug. “They’re just words.”

“But they’re words you’re supposed to say, when you feel that way.”

A chuckle, but without mirth. “The last time he said those words were to his wife.” A quick shake of the head loosed the congealing doubts, like marbles startled in a jar. “I don’t think he’ll ever say them to anyone again.”

“What about you? Have you ever told him?”

A pause, now, to consider that: the step not taken, for both their fears. Then, another, slower shake. “It wouldn’t change anything. He’d still be who he is. We’d still be where we are.”

“Lovestruck?”

It was a guess. A good one, more accurate than not, come through a witting, impish smile.

It would have been nice to smile back. But it wouldn’t have been true. So, with a stilted, breaking breath, the muttered honest answer:

“Lost.”

My brain is such a mess at the moment, this sort of melancholy piece is all I can get out, right now.

I hope you all are doing all right, out there!

Love and Marriage, for all

Overnight station shifts often meant solitude while he waited for a call to come in, a trial Scott considered a lonely necessity at its best and a nerve-wracking tedium at its worst. Some of the other men on the squad appreciated the quiet away from wives and children. Not Scott. Noise and commotion had become a part of his life these last seven months, but it was worth it for the blessing of little Emma.

Finchy wasn’t nearly as exciting to be around as his daughter (or his wife), but he was company to keep the silence and boredom at bay well enough. And, he seemed lonely, of late. He was also a more than passable cook, so his offer of bringing supper to the station to hang out was one Scott couldn’t refuse.

“That was great, mate,” Scott said as he eased back a bit from the duty desk. “Thanks.”

“Sure,” Finchy replied easily, and took a long swig from his water bottle.

Looking at his empty plate, Scott chuckled. “I love my wife, but I’m lucky she knows how to use a microwave. You’ll make some lady very happy, some day.”

Finchy blew a snort from around the mouth of his bottle. “I don’t think there’s any woman to satisfy me that much.”

“You just haven’t found the right one, yet.”

“Yeah,” Finchy muttered in a lazy drawl. “Rub my nose in it.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Scott told him. “There’s a lot more than just this village, you know. I mean, I didn’t meet Venus here.”

“I know,” Finchy said. “I was there, too.”

Scott fell silent, reminded of that flashy, crowded club on the first night of Newquay’s Blue Surf competition almost three years past, where Finchy had spotted that Black beauty with the killer smile and unflappable attitude. Every member of their crew – save Neville – had tried to pull her, with no success. Of course, the next day, they’d found out she was a surfer in her own right: Vee, they called her, “for Victory,” though she’d introduced herself to Scott in particular as Venus Pritchard. Thinking back on it, now, his scores that comp had been shit…but he’d had a hell of a night in her bungalow to make up for it.

Lost in those memories a moment, he didn’t notice Niall swoop in from the outside and plant himself in the other seat across the desk until he opened his mouth:

“Did you know Nev is-” He dropped his voice. “-a poofter?”

Scott looked at him in mild surprise, while Finchy furrowed his brow and said, “Yeah, I know. And don’t call him that.”

“Whuh-!” Niall said, leaving his mouth hang open a second. “You knew? How long have you known?”

Finchy shrugged. “He told me, like, two years ago.”

Niall pointed at Scott. “Did you know?”

Scott nodded, feeling a bit lame. “Yeah. He told me and Venus a while ago, too.”

Niall fell back against his chair. “Did everybody know but me?” He turned to Finchy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why?” Finchy said, and raised his brow with sudden interest. “Are you gay, too?”

“No!”

“So, if you’re not interested in him, why should you care?”

Niall paused a second, his face gone blank; Scott figured he hadn’t thought that far. Of course, he didn’t usually think at all….

“Well,” Niall struggled out, now. “What if…What if he fancies me?”

“He doesn’t,” Finchy replied readily.

“How’d you know?”

“Because no self-respecting human – gay or straight – would ever fancy you.

“All right,” Scott muttered, extending one hand. “That was a little uncalled-for. We all have to work together.”

“That is exactly my point!” Niall said, pointing one finger around at them again, as he half-stood from his chair. “I-! I mean, we all are in…very close quarters…a lot, and…well, sometimes, I don’t wear anything under my suit, and what if, you know, when I take it off, that’s, like, too much a temptation for him? Or something?”

“Jesus!” Finchy said, scolding. “He’s not a rapist.”

Niall went from looking ill at ease to pained. “No, I’m not saying that, but-!”

“Listen,” Scott told him in a low voice, leaning across the desk. It felt a bit like speaking with a special needs child, but Niall did have some special need, at the moment. “Nev’s always been this way. You’ve known him for years, and it’s never bothered you before.”

“Well, I didn’t know before!”

“What difference should it make? He’s still Nev. He’s still ace on his board, and he’s still our mate! The way you feel about him shouldn’t change just because you suddenly found out he’s gay.”

Niall paused, as though thoughtful. Scott couldn’t easily tell; the look of contemplation on his face was so foreign.

“Yeah,” Finchy said then. “You’re an idiot, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you.”

Shooting him a guarded look, Niall murmured cautiously, “How do you feel about me?”

“You’re an idiot,” Finchy repeated, making Scott snort a chuckle under his breath. Then, sitting up from his lackadaisical lean, he added, “And another thing: Whenever you go straight skins under your suit, you don’t take that off in front of any of us. Nobody wants to see that!”

Alianca braille

By Luistravasso (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, news came of the passage into law in England and Wales the ability for same-sex couples to marry. Some stipulations still apply, of course, because government doesn’t make anything easy, these days. But, it’s a step forward toward the equality that should have existed for couples of all variations years ago. Here in the US, the status of a person in general – including marriage – is determined by the individual states, so it creates a much more divided issue, depending where you happen to live.

I won’t get into any controversy of marriage – or laws associated with it – here. The news did prompt me to scribble down this bit of free writing, though, which I always appreciate, no matter what the impetus.

I’ve always seen Scott as “the dad” of the crew. Because he is one, but I also thought his perspective – coming from being in an interracial relationship – gives him an extra insight into other less traditional romances. And, I like the idea of hearing from some of the supporting characters in the story.

As for Niall…. Poor Niall. At heart, he’s a good guy. He’s just…not terribly quick. I hope his struggle with his own articulations, here, paints a picture of someone who’s just a little confused, not truly bigoted, especially against a friend.

Now, it’s stiflingly hot, here, so I’m going to grab my own wetsuit and head for the beach. And maybe I’ll go skins, too.

How do love and marriage figure in your stories, if at all?

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