That Chocolate Kiss

On October 1, 2013, the online writers group LimeBird Writers UK posted a fun little writing contest for their second anniversary:

[C]omplete this sentence: “Chocolate is…”. Write your sentence in the comments section below. We will allow up to 3 entries per person. After the deadline, the Limebirds will decide on which sentence is the most creative, and that person will win a yummy box of Celebrations chocolates!

I submitted the entry below….

…and, I won! It was just a box of Celebrations chocolates, but it felt great to try my hand at something and get chosen as a winner. Winning doesn’t happen that often, for me. Plus, those UK chocolates were darn tasty!

I miss the days of fun challenges like this one. My weeks used to be full of exercising my writing skills between WIPs. Back in those days, I got so much joy out of writing stories, sharing them, hearing what others thought and reading theirs, too. Nowadays, I write and I share, but I don’t get a lot of feedback. I don’t read a lot of other people’s blogs, either. I’m not sure if that’s because my life has gotten busier, the temperature of the writing groups online have changed, or I’m simply not as interested any longer.

I miss my friends the LimeBird Writers, too. I do stay in touch with many of them, and I’m always happy to hear how they’re doing, what successes they’re having, and how they are meeting the challenges in their lives. It’s become more personal, where we know each other as more than just writers. (“Just writers.” Like that’s a thing.) There was a tender simplicity to that old way, though. Maybe what I miss is that feeling of not being as much of a grown-up concerned with politics and global issues. It was fun to be “just a writer” for that little while of my life.

It’s also funny to me, though, to think that the outwardly innocuous act of reading and becoming engaged by an informal online writers group could bring me into touch with so many talented, wonderful people. These are folks for whom I feel no envy, only gratefulness for being allowed to get to know them. They were like family, for a time. They came to know me, too, I think.

Maybe that’s what I really miss, what I really long for. The connection that existed once between me and these would-have-been strangers who found a common thread in our lives as writers poking and pulling at our art and craft.

Happy anniversary, LimeBirds, wherever you are. Your time may have been brief, but I, for one, enjoyed it.

Highs, Lows, and In-Between Interest

HLIB, Take 1

Back in 2014, I joined the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) excitement with a sequel of sorts to an earlier tale, From Hell (A Love Story). FH(ALS) was a raunchy space opera in which I tried to build a bigger backstory for Axton, the running-and-gunning bounty hunter from the 2012 video game Borderlands 2. Part of that backstory was the creation of an original character, Hal, an early (pre-game) partner of Axton’s. I wrote FH(ALS) between late 2012 and early 2014, but I had such fun building that world and the characters in it, I decided to return to that timeline with a host of new adventurers in November of 2014, for NaNoWriMo. The new story was called “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”, and I pounded out that sucker free-form over those wild 30 days, plus an additional six months to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

I posted my day-to-day progression of HLIB on a separate side blog. If nothing else, this process kept me accountable to my projected NaNoWriMo wordcount. Only one person read it…that I knew of. Several days ago, I received an email – more than three years after I’d finished the story – from another apparent HLIB reader:

Email of interest from a reader.

Who knew?

 

HLIB, Take 2

Over the course of the next few years, I wrote a lot more stories following the timeline and characters of “The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens”. When I looked at the original story, though, I found it suffered from the high-octane intensity of being a product of NaNoWriMo. The bones of the story I wanted to tell were there, but it needed work. A lot of work.

I sequestered the original story and put it in my archives, and started on a new and – hopefully – improved version. That version is Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens. It has become a significantly different story since I started the rewrite, with more characters, more conflicts, and more complications. It’s also become a lot more fun to be in that world, for those reasons.

Highs Lows character heights comparison - doodle by Mayumi Hirtzel/bonusparts

HLIB principal characters – height comparison chart – doodle by Mayumi Hirtzel/bonusparts

Regarding that one interested reader’s original question – if I have plans to bring this story out again – the answer is, yes. Will it be the same story? No. Will it be better than it was before? Possibly. Have I enjoyed being in that universe again? Definitely.

I don’t know if readers will like the new HLIB, especially those who are familiar with the original version. I can only try to tell the most interesting story that I’m able to do. It will be a rollercoaster, though. I’ll be sharing more of this story – and my journey writing, or, rather, rewriting it – over the coming months. In the meantime…

Have you ever returned to a story for a rewrite, after a hiatus? Did that story change just a little, or a lot? Did you like the final product more, or less, than the original? Let me know in the comments below!

What Number Seven Taught Me

In the last days of December 2017, a friend pointed me toward a writing competition. The theme for the competition was “Awakenings”. The group that posted the competition welcomed all genres, with a great desire for romance and speculative fiction, among others. I’ve written romance in many forms over the years, from the simple to the unapologetically raunchy. I had only a few days before the deadline, but I’d come up with – what I thought at the time – a straightforward love story set in a pseudo-familiar setting, and one I could finish pretty quickly.

Then I actually started to write it.

What poured from my brain was a twisty-turny, upside-down-reality tale of love, duty, patriotism, relationships, even politics(!) that took nearly a full five months to finish. It wasn’t what I had first planned, and it veered a lot from my original plot. But one lesson I’ve learned through writing fiction is that, when I allow the characters to speak freely, they will forge their own path. More often than not, that path is more satisfying than any I may have planned at the start.

Number Seven

Seven, like so many of my original characters, embraced his being-ness with so much quiet strength and determination, it overwhelmed me. I could think of no other story or character for those five months I wrote. In fact, writing became almost like transcribing. Many times, it felt like he was standing at my shoulder, telling me who should do what and what should happen next. That letting-go is one of the most joyful feelings I’ve experienced as a writer.

Number Seven doodle

Dour Number Seven, a doodle by me.

I said I wouldn’t apologize for Seven’s story, and I won’t. He took me on a new journey into personhood, one I hadn’t considered before. I grew with him, and because of him. He made me open my eyes a little bit wider to the world around me. He’s a bit suspicious, as I am, and he’s quite the serious individual, as I can be. But he also has to trust himself, a lesson I took to heart along the way, too.

If any of this has piqued your interest, you can read “Number Seven and the Life Left Behind”, part 1, here.

What’s Next

I’ve posted this story for free because it’s a project I want to share with people. I am working on a hardcopy version, and when that’s available, I’ll be sure to share that news. In the meantime, if my story moved you at all, I’d encourage you to take a moment to consider where you are in the world today, and what struggles you see, nearby or faraway, hidden or in plain sight. Everywhere, there are people fighting the good fights: for freedom, equality, and love. This story is for them. And for me, and for you, because we’re all in this together.

Now,Thanks

A writer rarely creates a story in a vacuum. People influence us in their own ways. Sometimes, that influence makes it onto the page. Sometimes, it helps us just get to the page in the first place.
Thank you to Sue for giving me the impetus to write this story.
Thank you to Chase for joining me for the ride.
Your thoughtfulness and support means a lot to this lonely writer. 🙂

 

“Number Seven…” part the last [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" original fiction by bonusparts, the last part

part the last

 

A gull cried, sharp but far away. The faint smell of salt tickled the hairs in his nose. He drew a long, chest-filling breath, dragging that air into his lungs.

This wasn’t death.

The world felt cool. The gull cried again. A few more long-drawn breaths, and he heard Natalya say:

“Hello, again, stranger.”

He tilted his head to the sound of her voice and opened his eyes, the lids parting with a sticky click. Slowly, Natalya’s face swam into focus. Her hair was pulled back to her crown, with little flyaway wisps at her temples flowing free, and touched with smoky-brown highlights that brought out her natural complexion. She had very little makeup on, just a touch of darkness and shine at her eyes and lips. He could make out gentle crow’s feet wrinkles around the former, and worry-lines around the latter, but as she came close to him, those all seemed to disappear.

His voice came out a croak: “…hoo-ehrr?” He tried to loosen the phlegm, and a dry discomfort like the run of sandpaper along the membranes inside his throat made him grimace.

She lifted a cup and pushed a spoon to his lips. “Don’t try to speak, yet. The tubes have not been out for long.”

The stuff in the spoon was cold – ice – and, as he sucked on its soothing wetness, she told him:

“You are in hospital. Almost four months, now.”

He drew a breath full of ice that made him cough. He tried to lift himself up but couldn’t do it, instead falling back against the bed beneath him.

A motor whirred as she raised the bed higher, until he was mostly sitting up.

The lines around her mouth deepened into a frown once more. “You were shot,” she muttered, and he closed his eyes, recalling the sound of the gun, followed by a jumble of images and sensations that had nothing to do with being shot: flashing lights, droning beeps, the wheeze of pumping air.

A stroke of her fingers through his hair made him open his eyes again.

“We thought you were going to die,” she went on, when he saw her smile, faintly. “But you proved all of us wrong.” She resumed her slow spooning of ice chips. “There were so many operations, so many tests, so many hours waiting for you to wake up. But through it all, your heart stayed strong. The first time you opened your eyes, you grabbed the nurse by the arm and said, ‘beach’. Do you remember that?”

He shook his head.

She pressed her lips together and passed him another spoonful of chipped ice. “That’s all right. They said memory could be difficult. Anyway.” She nodded across him and chuckled. “We could not bring your hospital room to the beach, so we brought the beach to you.”

He turned his head. On a table next to the bed sat a tiny portable speaker attached to an audio pod, from which the sounds of gulls came. Beside that was a shallow plastic dish filled with seashells, sand, and a few stalks of purplish flowers.

“Kirill refreshes it every day before he goes to work,” Natalya said. “Do you remember him? Our Kiryushenka?”

This time, he nodded.

She snickered. “How could you forget, eh?” She spooned him some more chips. “He and Darya are attached at the hip, these days. Philip suggested they apply for the national athletics program, but, in the meantime, they work in one of those flashy bars you have always hated. She sells liquor to leering businessmen,” she told him in a telling-tales voice, “and he brings drinks to slow-thinking party girls. But, they are happy.” She pulled a quick face. “They also screw like rabbits. I have envied you this quiet room these last few months.”

He managed a weak smile.

She chuckled again as she offered him another spoonful of ice. “Don’t worry. We will find you a place with nice, thick walls before you are released.”

He swallowed the chips before they’d finished melting. The ice scratched, but he didn’t care; he needed to speak. He grasped her hand with the cup – God, he could barely manage it – and rasped, “Thank you.”

Her face went blank for just a moment, before her full smile returned. “Hush,” she said, and tipped another spoon of ice to his lips. “And rest. You need to get better.”

It took time to regain his weight, to say nothing of his balance, speech, and strength. But, just like the last time he’d teetered on the brink, he pushed himself through recovery and rehabilitation with the help and encouragement of his friends, until he was free.

After his discharge from the hospital, he made time for them all.

For Kirill and Darya, that meant listening to the stories they brought back from the bar and the beach, and watching them grow closer. They’d become a more serious couple in his time asleep, though they still teased and lusted after each other, like Natalya had said. They were also keen to make their own way in their new lives. The prospect was frightening but freeing, and they were determined to save up enough to finance a flat together closer to the sea, which both of them loved and took time out of every week to swim in, both singly and as a pair. It seemed as though they were living at least part of their dreams. Maybe they even made love under the stars, sometimes, too….

The main apartment was close to Victoria’s city centre while also being within fair walking distance to the beach. He liked stretching his legs there every day. Without a real job, he needed something to fill his time. And, he enjoyed being just a man, taking time to find his next calling.

Natalya joined him for lots of these walks but not all, especially during the day. She’d discovered a lucrative new lifestyle as a fashion consultant for the city’s population of wealthy retirees. It wasn’t escorting prominent Manhattan businessmen and politicians, but it more than paid the bills for their three-bedroom apartment. And, she seemed happy. So much that Seven felt uncomfortable not being able to contribute beyond some cooking and basic housekeeping.

“Don’t be silly!” Natalya told him on one of their twilight walks along the beach. She’d bought them some coffees to sip against the salty breeze, though she left hers mostly forgotten as she held to his arm like a chatty private tour guide. “You are still recuperating.”

“You heard the doctor,” he reminded. “I am one hundred percent!” He shook his foot out of a tangle of weed that had either washed or been dragged up to the sidewalk. Likely the latter; he’d seen more than one laughing child trailing the vines after them like waterlogged kites. “Or, at least, what counted for one hundred percent before.”

Natalya sucked a click. “You have always put others ahead of yourself. It is time to collect on that. Besides,” she added after a pause. “I like having a house-husband.”

She chuckled, but he drew them to a slow stop. A light silence floated around them on the breeze. They were alone, here, separate from the waning cavorting of amusement-seekers on the sand and the burgeoning bustle of restaurant-goers on the street.

He drew a slow breath, and said, “Natalya.”

“Semyon,” she replied cheekily, though that made him pause again. He didn’t like that old name. It didn’t feel like him, anymore. Neither did Seven, of course; Seven was another life left behind. He’d have to get around to putting in a change-of-name request. Simon, maybe. It didn’t matter, at the moment. He’d left his old life behind, though there was a part of that old life that he still wanted. A part he’d never admitted, until now.

He faced her, and said, “I love you.”

She stopped, too, and her irreverence fell away as she blinked at him.

He kept going. “You are my friend, but also so much more. I would like to be there for you, as you have been there for me. I cannot tell you what that means beyond what I feel in my heart, but, perhaps, I can change who I am—”

“I would not want you to,” she said, shaking her head. A shiny film had bloomed across her gaze, which cleared at a blink that set free a spill of tears down her cheeks. She reached up and laid her palm to his face. “I love the man you are,” she said, her thumb stroking the scarred skin beneath his dead eye. “I have always loved the man you are.”

Something inside him fluttered, and made his breath falter: it went in and came out as a stutter of air. No words could match hers, so he said, simply, “Tasha…!”

She put her arms around his neck and hugged his body close to hers. He did, too, fiercely and briefly. Before they eased out of their clutch, he pressed a kiss to her forehead. Anything more would have felt forced, anything less, not enough.

When they parted, she smiled up at him with a look of deep feeling, her green eyes shining with happiness. She broke into a gentle little laugh. “What do we do, now?”

He took her hand, grasping her fingers loosely but with love, and smiled. “We live.”

 

~~~

And that, as they say, is that.

I hope you enjoyed my foray into speculative fiction. It was a different journey for me to take, one I learned from and loved traveling. If you liked it or you didn’t, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Now, go out and live your life. You only get one.

“Number Seven…” part 11 [original fiction]

"Number Seven and the Life Left Behind" original fiction by bonusparts, part 11

part 11

 

A tickling in his nose nudged him awake. Seven opened his eyes to find himself curled against Natalya, with one arm draped over her. Any alarm he might have felt was quickly negated by the practicality of their position: it was chilly, she was warm, and her blanket was still bunched between them, anyway. His body ignored these pragmatic explanations, however, rewarding him with a sizable morning erection.

As he eased his arm up, she stirred, pulling a sleepy sniff. She half-turned her head toward him, and that bunched her hair between their faces. It still smelled like lilacs.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“To the toilet,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep.”

“Come back? It’s cold.”

“All right.”

She turned onto her side again, and snuggled into the blanket with a satisfied sigh.

The early morning chill prickled the soles of his feet as he crept down the wood floor to the communal bathroom at the end of the hall. He didn’t pause at Kirill’s open door; he could see the bed beyond lay empty and made. Farther down, though, Darya’s door stood cracked, and there Seven did lean for a glance. The room was still and quiet. Darya was, too, her naked shoulders and blonde head peeking above the covers. He didn’t see Kirill, only a rumpled ruffle of blanket on the other side of the narrow bed.

The sharp clatter of the coffee grinder disturbed the peace, and Seven guessed to where Kirill must have gone.

After relieving himself, he made his way downstairs to the kitchen, where he found Kirill pouring some rather thin-looking coffee into two mugs. Seven took care to wait until he’d finished pouring before he announced himself.

“Lessons learned, I see.”

Kirill beamed from the counter. “Good morning! Would you like some coffee?”

Seven walked over, taking particular note of the plate of toast sandwiches that smelled of both sweet jam and peanuts. “Thank you.”

Kirill followed the flow of his attention. “I did not want to use all the eggs,” he explained. “But, there is plenty of bread, so….” He trailed off with a shrug.

“Breakfast in bed,” Seven said.

Kirill’s look of happy pride fell suddenly flat. “Francine won’t mind, will she?”

“Not if you are careful.” Seven watched as Kirill placed the plate of sandwiches onto a larger platter, and muttered, “Speaking of careful.” He fixed the younger man with a pointed look. “You were. Yes?”

“Oh! You mean…! Yes.” Kirill’s grin renewed itself. “All four times.”

Seven dipped his head away and held up his hand. “Please…!”

“Sorry.” Kirill bowed his head. After a moment, he asked, “Were you?”

“Was I what?” Seven asked, his hand still in mid-air.

“Careful,” Kirill prompted.

Seven shook his head. “What are you talking about?”

“You and Natalya,” Kirill said, as an itch started at the top of Seven’s neck. “You wore a condom, yes? I mean, I saw you in bed together this morning—”

Seven rocked backward. “We did not do anything!”

Kirill froze for a brief stare, then returned to breakfast prep. “If you say so,” he muttered, but his tone betrayed mighty skepticism.

“Do not start with me,” Seven told him.

“I did not say anything,” Kirill said, keeping his head down.

Seven leaned close. “You know it cannot be that way between me and Natalya,” he said, his voice straining in an effort to stay hushed.

Now, Kirill looked up again, his face innocent. “Why not?”

“Because,” Seven said, though he halted there for a string of anxious heartbeats. “I have told you about what happened to me,” he managed at last, “during the war. About Erik.”

“Your nurse?” Kirill asked. “The one who did not come with you? Who you did not tell how you felt? Who you said would probably not even remember you?” He sounded neither accusatory nor confused. Nevertheless, Seven felt a clutch of shame in his belly.

“A man does not have those feelings for another man for no reason.”

“But you did have a reason,” Kirill said calmly. “You had been hurt, and he helped you. Just because you felt something for him then does not mean you cannot feel something for someone else, now. You said yourself: you love Natalya—”

“Not-!” Seven shut his eyes and shook his head. “Not that kind of love.”

“Are you sure?”

Seven continued to shake his head, but the memory of Natalya’s warm and gentle touch, and the sound of her snicker, and the sweetly-comforting smell of her hair jumbled like loose marbles in his brain, making it hard to think. The shame became pain, but he managed to get out:

“She deserves a man more than me. One who can provide for her needs.”

Kirill said nothing for a moment. Then: “A man is more than the sum of his measurements.”

Seven looked up, to see Kirill smiling softly at him. He opened his mouth for more rebutting, but no words were ready.

“We cannot help whom we love,” Kirill said. “Or, how.”

Seven coughed up a little smile of his own. “You are starting to sound like her.”

“She taught me many things.” Kirill lifted his chin and touched his chest, affecting an air of wisdom. “But the most important, she said, is to listen to what your heart tells you.” He smiled wider, as he put the mugs and toast onto a large serving dish that functioned as a platter. “Right now, mine tells me to bring this to Darya while I still have the element of surprise,” he said, and was out the kitchen door before Seven could say anything more. Not that he wanted to; stopping Kirill would have been just an excuse not to examine his bouncing, conflicting thoughts.

He picked up his coffee and walked to the windows, peering out at an angle to the yard below, where a street cat rummaged in the rubbish as the light came up over the rooftops. His focus blurred as he sipped absently at his coffee and considered what could come next. Not for Kirill, nor for Natalya, either. But for himself, and the life he could make from here.

For a long time, he’d defined his life by one thing: his job. But it was more than that. It was feelings and experiences, memories and relationships, dreams and desires. And love. What did he love?

He loved Kirill, though not in the way he’d first thought. He loved Natalya, too…though, again – possibly, apparently, if he were honest with himself, very likely – not in the way he’d first thought. She was his friend, perhaps the best friend he’d ever had. She trusted him, accepted him, let him be his own man, whomever that was: Number Seven or Semyon, soldier or bodyguard, friend or…what? Which did she want? And, what did he want?

He wanted to go back to bed, back to Natalya. Maybe she’d be awake, and they could talk. Of course, what was the rush? They had plenty of time, now—

A sharp clang of metal against metal resounded through the house, as rapid and loud as machinegun fire rattling against a tank hull. Seven nearly dropped his cup. The clatter came again, and his more rational mind recognized it as the knocker on the main door.

He set his cup in the sink and padded to the main hall. Francine was coming down the stairs, tying a dressing gown closed around her waist; Alex peered after her from the middle of the staircase. Both of them gave him silent motions to stay back, but he couldn’t help angling himself to see around Francine’s arm when she opened the door.

Number Two showed off his oily smile. “We are sorry to disturb you so early, madam,” he said. Beside him, Twelve removed her sunglasses and scowled.

The coffee in Seven’s belly felt like it curdled at sight of them. He shifted back with a broken breath, at the same time that Francine attempted some cooler civility.

“May I help you?”

“We have found what we are looking for,” Two said, still unctuous. He raised his chin at Seven. “Did you really think you could hide from us? Our surveillance can pinpoint a beetle on a sand dune at eight hundred yards. How long did you think it would take us to find a fool as big as you, even in a city this size?” He took a step to the threshold, but Francine put out her arm, barring his way.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Do you have a warrant?”

Two held up, but Twelve narrowed her eyes and spat, “You are harboring fugitives.”

“They’re refugees,” Francine corrected, and Twelve scoffed.

“They are enemies of the state! They betrayed their country!”

“We did nothing of the sort!” Seven shouted, lunging up to Francine’s side. She turned to him but he brushed away her concern, keeping his full attention on the pair of black-suited agents.

“The state betrayed us.” Seven snarled down at them. “They swore to us liberty, opportunity—”

“And you swore an oath,” Two hissed.

“To protect,” Seven said. “To serve—”

“You serve us!” Two’s eyes went red and his lips peeled back from his gums. “Now, you bring me those athletes, or I will get them myself.”

“You step one foot into this house,” Seven growled, “and I will throw you back out again.”

Francine stepped between them. “This is a diplomatic residence,” she said pointedly. “We have immunity.”

“You have nothing!” Twelve spat, even angrier than Two. “Hand over the athletes. Now!”

Francine put her hand up again. “I suggest you leave, before you start an international incident.”

“And I suggest you get out of the way,” Two said, and pulled her sidearm. It snapped up toward Francine, the metal flashing furiously against the light.

“Fran!” Alex shouted. He trundled down the stairs, but Seven was nearer.

He shoved Francine to the side, behind cover of the wall, and snatched for Two’s gun. The muzzle barked, and for a second, Seven didn’t know where the bullet went. Then a burning pain raced up his arm, and he staggered, clutching his bloodied hand in the other.

Semyon!” Natalya screamed from behind him, just as Two hollered an alarm.

“You idiot! Stop shooting!”

But Twelve’s gun snapped again, and this time, a flood of deafening silence took the place of Seven’s pain and terror.

He lurched in a turn. Natalya came running toward him, but without sound, her voice dissipating upwards as he fell to the floor.

The world dimmed.

She pulled him into her arms.

He wished for more time, but there was none.

0

 

My goal with stories is always that their characters – and their lives – resonate beyond the page. I hope I’ve managed that with Seven and his journey of self-discovery. It has been a strange and wild ride of plot twists, unexpected divergences, and character wrangling these last six months, but I like it. Not perfect, but what in life is?

Speaking of imperfect, I goofed when I planned the calendar for these updates. There is still one more left to go. Since I wanted to get this story done in the month of June, I’ll let you click through to the next part right now, if you so choose. Just follow the link below to read, and let me know what you think, if you like. I’m grateful to hear it all.

Log in here!