Monday, December 31, 2012

FLASH FICTION DUEL - FARMER'S DAUGHTER AND NINJA


The sun set over a frostbitten coffee saloon, and I stared her in the eye. Her finger twitched over the SHIFT key. Mine found familiar notches above F and J.
It really is super-friggin'-awesome.
Recursion not included.

Then the call rang out. We both typed furiously.

Heidi and I went on a date last night. At Starbucks, I put my super-friggin'-awesome Christmas present (which I used to type this) through the paces in a writing contest against my word-hobbyist wife.

I used an iPad app, Inspiro (which is also pretty cool) to generate a random scenario, which we used as a prompt to write a flash fiction story in a half hour.

The prompt:

A FARMER'S DAUGHTER SPREADS THE ASHES OF A NINJA.

Our results were wildly different, and I think both were pretty successful. If you feel inspired by the prompt, write a quick story and link to it. There are so many great ways to take this.

Here are the stories, for your amusement and consideration.

Ladies first.

— — — — —

SHADOW OF THE LIGHT 
by Heidi Stoffel 

Katja lifted one tired hand from the cliff face in front of her and struggled to find a new handhold in the sheer face of the mountian before her. She grunted as she felt the sharp rock cut yet another slice in her already battered hands. The top of the cliff face loomed only ten feet above her, but that ten feet felt insurmountable to her battered body.

As she steadied her right foot in yet another indent, Katja sighed and wondered for the thousanth time why it was she who was chosen for this task. The miles had fallen beneath her feet until she barely recalled the way home to her father's farm. How she missed the quiet cooing of the Roc as they settled down to sleep in the aviaries and the clattering roar of the gryffons as they frolliced in the fields. The gryffons she helped raise were some of the best to be found in the seven kingdoms, her father had taught her well. But most off all she missed her poor father. It was fall, he must be tending their fields even now. How would he manage with her on the quest set before her and her brother, Kale, drafted to the Dark King's army. Her mother had left them several winters before, unable to take the loss of her youngest to the wild boars that roamed the forest nearby.

Katja's feet found solid ground at last and she paused her assent long enough to readust the straps on her overlaiden backpack. Then she continued, always onward, never stopping for more than a day, The third of seven groves was before her, barely three hours distance.

Finally she pulled her battered body up and over the incline onto the top of the towering platau upon which the third grove grew. She quickly drew the urn from the bag as she sat, giving her muscles their much needed break. The dark obsidian urn, which had formed simultaniously upon the death of it's occupant, glowed with a soft purple light pulsing gently toward her destination. Wiping the dust from her climb from it's surface, Katja turned her recently turned eagle sharp eyes toward the villiage she knew must lie along her path. Seeing no activity, she placed the urn back upon her pack reverently. As she stood her muscles protested, exhausted from their long exersion. Katja could not oblige them with their well deserved rest until after she spread the ashes in the grove mere hours away. She has spent far too much time at the last villiage and has wrongly estimated the time necessary to climb the cliffs behind her. She had not known the Autumn King's propensity for the abrupt angles and heavily wooded forests.

The revered Anatolia had greatly stressed the importance of the days of the spreading. If Katja did not succeed she would not gain all the power of her predecesor, and the Five Kingdoms of Light would fall to the Dark King and his minion, the Summer King. Katja would not be able to save the lives of her brother and friends who had been pressed into their services or those of her father and the remaining free people of the Light. Winter, Autumn, Spring, Light, and Water were on the verge of collapse under the merciless pounding of the Dark and Summer Kings' Armies. Were Katja to fail all the kingdoms would fall into permanent darkness and heat as the dark kingdoms already were.

Katja still wondered why she had been chosen, a young farmer's daughter of little importance. What would the great ninjas want from her? What made her worthy of Anatolia's sacrifice? She who had never born a lick of power or magic her entire life. A dwarf had never been honored by the ninjas, asked to join their ranks as one of the five. None had ever been deemed worthy before. Katja had initially felt crushed under the pressure, but time had lessened the pressure as she had had little contance with the world since the great ninja's death.

Katja wiped the sweat from her brow and looked for a path around the small villiage that inevitably loomed before her, she had little time for the plesantries required of a visiting trainee. There would be time for that soon, once she had completed her task. Picking a path, she next check the sun, just under an hour left before the deadline. She picked up the pace and quickly moved into the thick golden woods before her.

The glow of the urn increased as she neared the sacred grove until the purple light nearly obscured the bright gold of the trees around her. Katja dreaded the travel into the dark kingdoms with this glowing urn. It would give her away more quickly than anything she could do on her own.

She spotted the grove before her, it looked much as the other did. Thick trunked trees rose up in a cresent shape surrounding a small clearing where grew the sacred Nightleas Flowers of the Ninjas. Only a true ninja could touch them without dying. Katja had yet to try her hand at it, not truely believing she was meant to be a part of the group. The trees glowed a soft purple in responce to the urn. Katja hurried knowing that soon the glow would fade and and darken, the power gone.

Katja felt rather than saw the creature that dropped down upon her with a hiss. She pulled free the thin sword given her by the dead ninja who's ashes she caried and quickly flipped out of the way, softly dropping the pack, allowing her to move more freely. She gasped in surprise as the black cobra of the Dark Kingdom lunged at her exposed throat. Jerking backwards into a roll, Katja pulled up her sword and quickly tried to score upon the dark scaly body. She used her small size to her advantage, making herself into as small of a target as she could. They danced in a circle the cobra and her striking and defending. Katja did not allow herself to think about the dark poison that reportedly did not kill you, but rather petrified you so the snake could more easily devour you, taking weeks to finish the task all while keeping you alive in unspoken agony. She watched for her opening as she had learned from the first spreding, where the knowledge of the ninja sword was made known to her and quickly striked drawing dark, gleaming blood from the cobra's throat. It struck at her a few more times before finally dying. Katja quickly applied the lesson of the second grove and arranged the snake for burrial, honoring it as a worthy foe, saying the anchient prayer over it:

May the Lady of Light use you, most honored foe, for her bidding.
I regret the loss of life necessary in this most dark moment,
but now may you begin your journey into the light of our mistress.
Long may her beauty reign and her mercy fall upon us, the least of her servants.

Then Katja cleaned her sword and harvested a fang from the snake, adding it's streangth to her own. Then she grabbed her bag quickly storing the fang and ran to the clearing.

She unclasped the lid to the strongly glowing urn and quickly drew out a small handful of the Ninja Anatolia, and spread it softly over the beautiful white Naightleas Flowers, which glowed even brighter until the light filled Katja's vison.

Then knowledge began to pour into her mind, passing on the knowldege of those who came before.

— — — — —

I think her story is pretty badass. After reading it, she informed me that she had come up with a rather sizable backstory in the two minutes of prep time afforded us. Heidi is really good at the epic-level story thinking.

Below is my offering, which you will find to be an entirely different tack.

— — — — —

ASHEN SHADOW 
by Jonathan Stoffel 

"You're a fool, Belinda," the farmer mutters.

"Please, Daddy, show some respect," Belinda replies, stroking the top of the jar, gentle as she knew the man must have been.

"I am not so inclined," her father says. "I've got to deal with my burned barn and you're here holding some cockamamie funeral service."

Belinda huffs and shakes her head, blonde pigtails bobbing about her flushed cheeks. "Did I act this way when we said goodbye to Mother?"

The farmer scratches at his gray stubble then mops a handkerchief across his shiny bald head. "Of course you didn't, Be. That's because your mother actually existed."

The wind picks up, sweeping Belinda toward the lake. Is this the right time to do it? she wonders. The breeze brings the scent of charred wood, a reminder of the terrible conflagration which nearly took her life.

"Of course he exists," Belinda says with a sad smile. It shortly turns into a scowl. "He's why I didn't die in that fire!"

"Honey, despite what you think you saw--"

"I didn't see anything!" Belinda cuts in.

The old man holds up a consilatory hand. "Of course, Be, of course. Despite what you DIDN'T see, ninjas don't really exist."

"You don't know, Daddy. You've always lived on this farm."

Her father hooks his thumbs into his overalls. "Now that just ain't true. I spent a year with your great uncle Roberto in the city."

Belinda rolls her eyes. "Dad, if there were ninjas in the city, do you really think you'd have seen it?"

The farmer grimaces, hand finding its way back to his chin, and a thought strikes him. "If they can't be seen, then how do they shave? Can't see 'em in a mirror either, I wager."

"Stars, Daddy, they're not vampires." Belinda shakes her head.

"Van... fires?"

"And they can be seen when they want to."

"But--"

Belinda holds up a hand to shush him, a gesture she picked up from her mother. It's just as effective as when his wife used to do it. The farmer closes his eyes and sighs as his daughter places the urn down on the beach.

"You told me at Aunt Carol's funeral," she says slowly, "that tain't right to argue when we're honoring the dead."

The two stand above the contained ashes and say nothing for several long moments.

"Could you say something, Daddy? In memory of him."

"Belinda, I didn't know him and--"

"Daddy, he SAVED me."

Under his breath, the farmer mutters, "He 'saved' your galdurn puppy dog, and kept you from runnin' in like a fool after it." The old man clears his throat and clasps hands behind his back.

"Mister, uh, Ninja sir," he starts. "I owe you a debt of gratitude. You, er, kept my only daughter safe..." The farmer sneaks a glance at his misty-eyed daughter to confirm he's on the right track. "...and you saved her poor puppy from the barn. Thank you."

"Say somethin' about his sacrifice," Belinda hisses, presumably whispering so the ashes wouldn't hear.

"Ah, of course, of course." The farmer coughs. "Your, uh, sacrifice--"

"And honor. Say honor!"

"Look, it's my funeral speech, okay? Yes, your sacrifice and honor mean the world to me, and we'll cherish your memory forever and ever." Turning to his daughter, he throws up his hands. "Good enough?"

"It will have to do," Belinda replies wistfully and sweeps toward the urn as the breeze picks up again.

With a murmured thank you, Belinda opens the jar and spreads its ashen contents out over the lake.

The cloud of gray spreads over the water and ever-so-slowly dissipates into the daylight.

The farmer spies a tear slipping down his daughter's cheek and rolls his eyes.

"Time to go, Be. There's a lot to do."

Father takes daughter by the arm and leads her toward the farmhouse.

"I think he really cared about me, Daddy."

The farmer stretches his neck around and, facing the lake, suddenly spies what looks like a dark-dressed figure standing facing him, stony and silent.

In an instant, the figure seems to nod. The farmer blinks, and the shadow is gone.

He sweeps the lakeshore and sees nothing. There couldn't have been...

"I think you're right, Be," he murmurs. "I think you're right."

— — — — —

I had a lot of fun writing this. The idea sprang forth as an amusing story revolving around the farmer's daughter falling in love with a ninja she had never seen, but I couldn't think of a way to do this well.

Again, I am interested to see any other takes on this prompt.

Heidi says we will likely do this a few times a month, so look forward to more duels forthcoming.

Mostly unrelated:

You're out of your element!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday, How Do I Loathe Thee?

Monday, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. 
I loathe thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when falling out of sight
For the ends of weekends and the rat race.
I loathe thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I loathe thee freely, as men strive for night.
I loathe thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I loathe thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I loathe thee with a hate I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I loathe thee with the breath,
Scowls, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but loathe thee better after death.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Flash Fiction: Beyond the North Wind


The beam of light painted a rainbow on Julia's eyelids, warming her face, and she fluttered awake. The light emanated from the crystalline ceiling, playing across her prone form.

"Jules."

She shifted to glance at the soft-spoken man seated beside her and nearly fell off the moss-covered stone slab by jerking away from him. His strong brow wrinkled, quickly changing from happiness to concern.

Julia thought it must have been happiness, at least. The utterly smooth white face was hard to read, his pale blue eyes beneath snowy brows cool as ice and not quite settled on her.

His eyes flicked to hers.

A shiver rumbled through Julia as she met his gaze, though the room was perfectly warm.

"Are you well?" the man asked, leaning toward her.

She inched away, her hands pressing into the spongy moss and giving her little to grip.

Julia had never seen moss like this. Had she?

Her muscles ached as if she had slept on them wrong.

"Let me call for the healer," the man said, his voice a steady rumble that seemed overlaid with a musical lilting a pitch higher than the words he spoke. He stood and she realized his colorless chest was exposed, revealing hard lines and toned muscle shifting beneath the almost translucent skin.

Without realizing it, Julia put a hand out to halt him, breathing out the word, "Wait." Her fingers gripped his firm arm. He did not tense at her touch, which Julia knew must be significant.

The man sat back down, concern knitting his arched eyebrows. With the motion, his bone-white hair fell around his neck, framing the strong jaw set in a slight grimace.

Part of Julia twisted to see him upset, but that did not make sense. She shook her head to clear to knock the cobwebs out and finally asked, "Where am I?"

Gesturing with a wide sweep of his hand, the man said, "The greenhouse. We always talked about coming here, but I didn't expect it to be under these circumstances."

A faint tickling at the nape of Julia's neck made her think he was telling the truth, but she did not recall ever conversing about such a place. With his gesture, she could not resist taking it all in, though her eyes chided her momentarily for leaving the broad shoulders of her companion.

Plants sprouted from both the ground and from lines of pots. The earth containers were not in rows like Julia expected, but rather in concentric circles with just enough room in one section to walk through. From her elevated position on the stone slab, the potted plants seemed a playful maze, and yet the space seemed efficiently plotted.

Green dominated, but bright colors splashed the entire garden, reds, yellows, purples, and blues all flaring out from exotic flowers and strange fruits. The yellow-tinted light from the uneven crystal ceiling fell on the plants in soft, precise shafts.

"You like it even better than I had hoped," the man murmured, hand resting on the moss near hers. The warmth of his skin radiated across the inch separating them.

"It's the only place we have that could reasonably aid your recovery from hypothermia," he went on, his smile its own source of refreshing light to Julia. At the same time, a faint memory of pain gripping her hands, feet, arms, legs, and finally clutching about her head and chest before all went numb.

It seemed a dream, or rather a nightmare, and as she reached to recall it, the memory slipped out of her grasp.

Julia closed her eyes, trying to get ahold of her swirling thoughts. The stranger, odd as he may be, was an attracting force. She shut that part of her thinking out for now with an effort of will and focused on the most important thing.

"I don't remember..." she started, then felt unsure how to finish the statement. What did she not remember? It seemed impossible to peg down exactly what was missing. "I don't know how I got here. Or where here is."

"I brought you," the pale man said. "We came together, to Hyperborea." He paused, considering. "I believe that is what mortals of your tongue have called this land in days past."

He reached to take her hand and she reflexively took it away. His crestfallen expression gnawed at her, but she needed her space right now.

"Jules," he whispered. "Don't you remember me?"

A tear slipped down her cheek and she silently chided herself. No time for emotions until the logical side was firmly established. Her mind, her heart, paid this instruction no heed as she shook her head.

His mouth fell open slightly. "I am so sorry, Julia." He slumped and drew his lean legs to a crossed sitting position then took a deep breath. "It's me, Tiresias."

At the name, a swirl of sensations hit Julia. The Arctic expedition, her team scouting across that frozen wasteland for a basecamp site, and a shadowy face of a man. She felt it must be Tiresias. He had joined them at the last minute, but still Julia got the sense they had spent much time together.

Though she tried to root out those hazy memories, another presented itself in stunning clarity: the ice beneath her feet cracking.

Frigid water had washed over her as the field broke apart and she scrambled to get up onto the next chunk of ice.

The chill had quickly turned her limbs numb, and blackness shortly followed.

“My team?” Julia asked in the barest whisper.

Tiresias looked uncertain. “They may be well, but we have not located them yet.”

Julia swung her legs over the side of the stone slab. “We have to find them.”

Tiresias touched her knee and a jolt of sensation shot through her. “We will,” he promised. “Together.”

——————————

Genre: Paranormal Romance
Setting: The Hollow Earth
Element: Amnesia

Let it be said that combining amnesia with romance and trying to fit all of that into 1000 words is Not Easy. Just for fun, have a setting which is probably interesting enough to warrant its own thousand word description, but is not particularly 'romantic' (though it fits well enough with the 'paranormal' side of things).

I feel like I made a fair attempt, though I know it gets a bit weaker as it goes on. My 'problem' is that I keep thinking in longer works, as if this is the introduction to a novel, so I don't really tell a whole story in the course of the flash fiction piece.

I know it can be done, because I've read some good flash fiction. I suppose it's just something I'll have to develop.

Regardless, these Game of Aspects challenges are fun.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Withdrawal


It took longer than I expected, but I am coming down off the high from attending Worldcon. It had to happen, I know, but it's a letdown.

The tough part will be keeping on moving forward and not letting self doubt wrap its spindly fingers around my throat while it whispers sweet-you're-nothings into my ear. As it happens, I am something.

I am a writer.

If you are unsure, observe the sentences preceding that statement: I did, in fact, write those. Of course, something that simple is not always enough to prove it to me, but shouldn't it be?

Writers write. Granted, I have not been doing an excessive amount of writing as of late, but I still am writing. I will continue to write until I either decide it's enough or am rendered completely unable to do so. I don't anticipate the former any time soon, and have little control over the latter, so I shall soldier on.

I considered apologizing for the stereotypical self-hyping I CAN DO THIS blog post, but as it happens, I apologize for way too much in my life. I need to cut it out because, in so doing, I take myself less seriously. I should not apologize for writing the post I need.

Plus, people with whom I am hypothetically and arbitrarily arguing, it's my blog. I can write what I want.

This blog does not see much activity, largely because I feel like I have nothing interesting to say. That's a crock, though, because when I was at Worldcon, people seemed genuinely interested, and for once I wasn't even faking.

I promise I will avoid a separate stereotype: the I'M GONNA BLOG MORE JUST YOU SEE post, because that's the proverbial nail in the coffin for your average blog.

Here's what I will say instead: I'm going to write more. Some of that writing will find its way to this blog.

No promise of a certain number of words, nor a stringent schedule of X posts per month.

Just more.

It is enough.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Flash Fiction: Blood Orange


This is the most gruesome story I have ever written.

Blood Orange

"You did this to yourself."

Tate looks up from hands on the bar countertop. Tate's hands. Lightly scratches at scab on puffy knuckle.

The woman is familiar to Tate. Wonder what she means, why she said it.

Tate asks.

The words bulge through vocal cords, an unexpected deep rumbling. Tate coughs and massages throat.

She scoffs, rich dark eyes rolling, but Tate knows the expression masks sorrow. How?

Her dark skin stands in sharp counterpoint to this pale, freckled arm (Tate's arm) that she reaches toward. The woman pulls her hand away and Tate's arm itches furiously. She opens her mouth to reply.

"Hey there, boyo," chirps the bartender, a man who has harrassed Tate nonstop since the night began, with his cheeky grin pushing up delicately trimmed chops on his young face. Pulls Tate's attention. "Fancy another round, then?"

Tate glances back to the woman.

Gone.

The hotel crowd has swallowed her, it seems, though the open bar area is not that full. Predominantely middle-aged business folk, a couple covertly kissing in the back corner; he pulls away with her lips on his. Where could the woman have gone?

A glance at the bar shows Tate's drink is empty. Surprising. Not even sure what it was. With a shrug, Tate nods, nails raking across bared arm. Employer footing the bill, and a little social lubricant couldn't hurt.

A stout glass slides, a bottle flips, some ice tumbles. Tate watches with fascination, and the young man notices. The bartender crouches down and comes up with a orange, grabs the paring knife to open it wide.

A smooth dark hand slides over the orange just before he cuts down, and Tate leaps up from the stool to cry out.

The blade, honed to a keen edge, passes through the skin of the fruit and Tate chokes as red pours over the cutting board, grips and pulls at wiry hair.

Source
With a sly smile, the bartender holds up half the severed citrus, oozing crimson cruor. "Blood orange," he confides. "Secret family cocktail, comin' right up."

Tate's mouth splits as hormones react involuntarily to the man's advances. The swelling is... strange, and despite it, Tate, shifting uncomfortably and settling back into the seat, is disappointed.  Not that Tate expected anything from the man, but for him to be interested in Tate like this...

"You can't blame them for your choices," the woman whispers in Tate's ear, prickling the skin.

Tate whips the stool around, but she is nowhere to be seen. All that remains is a crawling sensation in Tate's crotch. Try to make it look casual. Tate never realized how difficult it could be, digging in for relief around the extension. Warmth spreads across Tate's fingers.

Tate sighs, half frustration, half relief, and wipes fingernails across pant legs, painting archaic symbols in the old ways, wondering what it would mean if scryed.

"Oy, Red," the bartender says, leaning in a bit closer and indicating the older gentleman seating himself at a far table. "I'm s'posed to tell you that's your man." The boy dimples as he winks, his face slurring into that pit. "Must say I'm a bit jealous of him."

Tate blinks with Tate's eyes and grips the drink with Tate's hands. The bartender's smile falters, then slips entirely off his face. He shakes his head and turns away, leaving it on the bar.

Focus on breathing.

Tate must, for these lungs seem either unable or unwilling to recall the way.

It does not matter, as long as Tate has air enough to speak to the old man, now settling himself at the table with clenched, darting eyes and steepled hands before his lips.

Emerson. Tate flashes on a manila folder with the man's photograph, dossier, and mission directives.

Paperclipped to that folder had been a grainy surveillance photo of a lanky red-haired man meeting him in a dark corner of London Heathrow Airport.

Standing from the stool, Tate sways. Too much alcohol? What is Tate's limit? Not sure. Probably fine.

Finding footing on overlong legs, Tate approaches, and the man sees Tate.

Heart pounding an unfamiliar rhythm, Tate pauses to catch a breath, take a drink.

It's... good.

Not Tate's normal preference, but in this business, tastes change. Another sip, deeper, and the blood orange stains Tate's cheek with its dark juices.

Choking on the drink, Tate, over the rim of the glass, sees the woman pass behind Emerson, go to the couple making out in the corner. She glances over her shoulder, then somehow gets around them. The kissing girl has thankfully reacquired her lips.

Worrying lower lip with teeth, Tate steps between some merrymakers, contorting body to be well clear of them, and sets the drink down on the table, stony silent. Must wait, never the first to speak.

"Where are you?" the familiar woman calls. Tate glances around, does not see her, does not answer, but the question echoes in Tate's ears. Emerson does not seem to notice, finally speaks.

"It is darkest before dawn."

Tate's mind instantly clicked to the countersign. It had been drilled over and over, and Tate speaks it aloud with as much ease as can be mustered as Emerson's head bobs. "As dark as men's souls before the Light."

"It has been too long, old friend," Emerson murmurs, reaching into his jacket. His head still wobbles as if he is listening to fast paced music. Tate watches the hand, trying to ignore the perpetual motion. The sticky spot on Tate's cheek beckons, fingertips wipe at it. Tate is surprised to find stubble there and scratches at it.

An envelope hits the table. Emerson sighs as a soft blue glow catches beneath his palm, unlocking the contents within. With the non-scratching hand, Tate hesitantly inches the envelope closer.

The old man's hand remains still, but his fingertips trail along with the thin parcel, stretching as Tate pulls, elongating and popping, knuckles crackling and disjoining.

"Where am I?" The woman shrieks.

Finally, Emerson lifts his spindly fingers, tapping them across the table in a nervous gesture. Tate rushes to put the envelope into the shirt's neck, a roomy storage until Tate's jacket can be retrieved, and jumps to see the woman standing just beside, hands to her head, clutching rich, dark locks.

Fingernails bite into tender flesh below the jaw as Tate pushes harder and the warmth seeps down Tate's fingers. Still, the itching burns. Deeper.

Deeper.

Looking back at Emerson, Tate sits back with a start. Tate had not noticed until now how disfigured he is, jaw pushed in, skin on half his face burned and eyelid gone to show one ever staring blue eye beneath his shock of bone white hair. His lips peel back in a terrible scowl, skeletal teeth clenching tight and clack together almost comically as Emerson speaks.

"Are you quite all right?" Tate bites back a laugh, bites Tate's lip instead.

Emerson shudders visibly, somehow returned to a normal visage, just like the dossier photo. "Look, I don't have much time. Where is my-- good gracious, you're bleeding!"

"Where are we?" Tate and the woman scream. Tate's fingers burrow deeper, searching for an answer. The other hand lifts the drink, gives Tate one last gulp, then smashes the glass across the table.

Holding his legs across his face as a shield, Emerson blinks his five eyes at Tate only once before fleeing. A snarling face whips its tongues at Tate from Emerson's backside, taunting, but Tate does not care.

The remains of the glass slice into Tate's leg.

Burrowing.

Flashes of the training sear Tate's mind.

Corpus nihil est. 

The body is nothing.

Tate cares nothing for the body. Blood flows freely as Tate burrows deeper.

Mens est omnia. 

The mind is everything.

But where is the mind?

It has to be here somewhere.

The glass shard is Tate's shovel, and Tate's body the dig site.

Hotel guests skitter about on their legs bent back at impossible angles, eyes flying wild. The kissing couple, man's head in girl's hands, flee overtop of Tate, who now flounders on the floor, carving away. A mad rush, tik-tik-tik of insectoid legs carrying inverted bodies with flailing entrails away from Tate's earnest search.

A strong grip pulls at Tate's arm, struggles for the glass shard.

Tate fights back, but blood loss leaves Tate cold and weak. Still, as the bartender comes into view, hardly recognizable with the antennae wrapped round his head, Tate protests.

"I must find myself!"

Cutting his hands at the end of tentacular arms, the bartender finally gets the improvised knife away from Tate.

"Not like this, you won't," he says. "We'll find you some help, we will."

As the man holds Tate's wrists against the ground, Tate spies the woman crouched, wide-eyed, beside him. She lays next to Tate.

There is no help for Tate, except for Tate, but this seems a good sign.

The blackness closes in around Tate.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Moon Dwelling Dragon Tamers


The pale band of light reflected off the dusty ground and Murukan's mount gleamed blue and green like the Earth hanging just over the horizon. The beast below him rustled, impatient. Murukan put a strong hand down on its head, understanding.

They had waited a long time, hiding in the darkness.

The shadow had protected them, but as the Earth moved to fully block out the light of its star, it would now usher them forward into a new age.

A new age when mortals could not so easily cast aside their gods.

Murukan turned to see another lizard scale up the side of the crater to him, bearing Korrawi. He would not want this without his mother by his side. She had adorned her dark skin with bright feathers and dried leaves, remnants of her possessions when outcast, waving lazily in the light pull of this rock.

"They are all prepared," she intoned.

Without looking back, Murukan gave a curt nod. Those following knew the stakes, knew what failure meant. His people were not meant for oblivion.

He did not need to see all of the winged beasts in rank behind him along the barren gray landscape, waiting for the signal.

Korrawi pulled a strand of red from her arm and took Murukan's spear. She wrapped the wreath about the haft, tying it tight so the petals brushed his hand when he took it back. He inclined his head in thanks, and felt more than heard a cheer of enthusiasm from those he led.

The band of white shrank before him as the star was covered and he tensed, sensing the great lizard feel his readiness. The beast was a beautiful agent of destruction. The iridescent scales beneath his hand shone blue in the some light, green in others, and overlay each other in a truly marvelous pattern.

It was also a true friend through these dark times. Soon, they would live together in the light once again.

The Earth finally and completely blocked out the sunlight.

Murukan bellowed and lifted his spear and all of the great lizards, each bearing a valued companion, leapt forward in unison.

Dark dust swirled about behind them, but the dragon-borne battalion was quickly clear of it.

In seconds, Murukan felt the change to near weightlessness. He took his eyes off the target for just a moment to see what a thousand years of preparation had given him.

Dozens of immortals, seated low on the backs of flying beasts, zoomed behind him. Korrawi led a slightly separate group, knowing her orders, but was close enough still for him to see them all together.

They all glowed in the dim light offered by the star flaring around the edges of the planet's atmosphere.

True artistry.

Murukan turned back to focus as the Earth slipped its fingers around him. It pulled at him.

It welcomed him home.

A fierce grin took his face as he tucked in low on his lizard, which spread its mighty wings. The green wings were tough and opaque, covered with a fascinating pattern of what he always took to be large round blue eyes. They rocked and swayed as he steered them toward a mainland target, having no desire to land in the great waters.

The fires of descension engulfed him, and the lizard, now properly oriented, used its wings to deflect much of the heat. The roar of the blaze and wind deafened even Murukan, but he did not let this distract him.

The mortals would pay.

They broke cloud cover and streaked through the air. Murukan's beast made a fair attempt at saving the flight by spreading its wings, but even so, they hit the ground and dug a trough through man-made stone and metal contraptions.

As steam rolled off of him, he checked the lizard. Stunned, but fine.

Mortals exited metal boxes he had not pushed aside and stared at him, at his glowing orange speartip.

These would be the beginning.

This would be where he started.

And so he did.

Hana Gartstein , Source

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Worldcon... Woah.

Source
I'm back from Worldcon, hosted in Chicago, and my mind is ablaze with the possibilities.

This is all real.

Writing is a real career that real people can choose.

I mean, logically, I understood that all along, but now I've seen it. I saw in the flesh many folks who were just pixels before. And I discovered I belong there.

The convention is huge by my standards, though small compared to, say, Dragon*Con or especially ComicCon. Still, the number of attendees at the hotel is comparable to the population of my town.  At first, I stood in dumbfounded shock and awe as the sheer mass of it overwhelmed me.

Fortunately, I was not alone. My ever-supporting wife (@HStoffel), who worked hard to ensure this trip would happen, stayed by my side and gave me the occasional push (read: kick) when necessary.

Also, I had a friend: the energetic, charismatic M. Todd Gallowglas (@mgallowglas) initially urged me to attend Worldcon and, I'd say, went well out of his way to ensure I had the best, most frenetic experience possible at my first con ever. The man is truly passionate, and I look forward to seeing where he goes with his career. (Check out his blog here.)

The inimitable Todd Gallowglas at
his reading for Halloween Jack
I met many who I follow on Twitter and conversed with them, and for the first time in my life truly felt like I was in the right community. I have developed the ability to adapt to social situations, as many do, but 'coping' is not the same as 'fitting in,' and I now know where I fit. I am a writer. I really appreciate everyone who took the time to open up and share a bit of their time and lives with me.

Sure, there's that lingering doubt that eventually I'll be discovered as a fraud. Someday, the Real Life Authorities will halt me and insist I give a reckoning for deigning to live my life in such a 'frivolous' manner.

But as I now cruise down the highway at six over the speed limit and see all of these other crazy people passing me, I feel fairly confident the reality cops will pull them over before noticing me slipping by.

Time to push the pedal a little harder.




Friday, July 27, 2012

Bad Respawn


I slip, rocks skittering down the slight hill, and the giant bellows, now aware of my presence. I shake the time skimmer bracelet loose on my arm and activate it on reflex.

The monster's roar shakes my very core, threatening my concentration as I push my will into the magical artifact. I had known this path would be risky -- the guardian giant is infamous for his keen senses, but there had to be a path through this cave where I could slip past. The time skimmer would give me as many chances as I needed to find it.

The giant stomps toward me, muscles bulging tight against its skin, and I break out in a sweat, glancing down at the time skimmer. The bracelet fairly hums with a faint power, two metallic, intertwined snakes consuming each other in an ancient symbol of infinity. I know I performed the correct steps, so why does the magic not activate?

Sneering at me, the giant grabs a club that could easily have been an uprooted tree, and I backpedal. This is not what I expect at all from the skimmer. The ancient books on the bracelet -- the ones which have not been destroyed or locked in deep, inaccessible archives -- assure that it works.
Source

The tree club waves over the giant's head and I make my decision -- time to run. I've never heard of anyone upsetting this foul beast and living to tell about it, but maybe there's a chance...

I stumble over broken bones as I turn to flee, a collection of prior intruders. My stomach lurches as the giant smashes the ground just behind me, popping me off the ground and tangling my legs. I attempt to roll to my feet, but the giant swats me aside and I land on my back,

Pain shoots up my spine, and I can do naught but stare up in terror as the giant heaves his club for a finishing blow, and an intense buzzing fills my ears. My body vibrates, and I feel suddenly very fluid.

Crystalline blue light washes over me, then I pour slowly into my own body. Before I can do anything, I watch, as...

I slip, rocks skittering down the slight hill, and the giant bellows, now aware of my presence. I shake the time skimmer bracelet loose on my arm and activate it on reflex.

"No!" I yell at myself, coming back into control, but it matters not.

The monster's roar shakes my very core.

The bracelet hums.

I run.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Zed: A Poem

My poem is a sestina. In class, I was told to copycat another poem, so I chose “ Altaforte” by Ezra Pound. Other than matching its structure, I opted to go for iambic pentameter as well. 



Source: KnowHr

Zed

I. 
I lurch awake and hear the frightful moan
These mindless husks seek only to eat brains
There's no recourse left me but to run
I duck and dodge but get cut off by fire
They close in, I grab for any weapon
I bring the baseball bat to stop their bite

II. 
Their jaws are strong, a chunk of wood they bite
A cry calls out, disdain shown in a moan
A shame, in games the bat is prime weapon
I toss the bat and flee to keep my brains
The mass of them has squelched the roaring fire
Push through the crowd and set out on a run

III. 
I thought that I'd be able to go run
But then they bear down on a girl to bite
I throw one by the shoulders into fire
It somehow does not silence its sick moan
The girl is easy target, just for brains
I'm scared but then she hands me a weapon

IV. 
Blast the flamer; shotgun – better weapon
The girl agrees it's time for us to run
Will his cohorts go for rotten brains?
Maybe they will stop here for a bite
My gut wrenches when I hear them all moan
The city must be cleans├ęd with the fire

V. 
A car explodes, stops us with its fire
Another one is dead; empty weapon
The girl does not have any shells; I moan
I know we cannot keep them on the run
Glancing down at her hand I see a bite
I realize I have not used my brains

VI. 
The girl tries to help herself to my brains
Her teeth rip flesh, arm feels like it's on fire
I scream, terror at what it means, her bite
Her face shocked, as if hit by a weapon
I lay there as she gets up to go run
It's not long till I join those who just moan

VII. 
No brawn will do, brains are your best weapon 
Stay far away, fire others and run
Or you will soon be one to bite and moan

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Living Critically


Since beginning my writing career, one bit of advice has stayed with me at all hours. 

When reading, read critically, to understand the inner workings, the style, the author's strengths and weaknesses, and so on.

By Gilles Barbier, source
This applies to other forms of media, like watching movies, playing games, or even deciphering the scribblings in bathroom stalls.

I find myself more engaged with the story in ways - trying to pick out the flow of the plot, for example. I am more aware of a book's flaws, too, but I learn from them.

It's not the most pleasant way to, say, watch a television show. Sometimes you just want to be entertained. That's fine, but being new to writing fiction I feel I need to take every learning opportunity I can get.

Or, I did feel that way.

Until my critical eye turned itself upon my life.

My friend has moved away. This happens, and is to be expected. To be honest, I moved across the country last year and was gone for months before eventually returning to the area, but it didn't feel this way.

This time, it hurts.

Without overburdening with details, I feel like our friendship is waning, and it's all my fault. We get along great, and when we get together it's nothing but good times. Still, I know he's becoming distant, and I strongly suspect that it's because of some things that I've done which, while not wrong, still drive a wedge between us.

By Gilles Barbier, source
Now that he's gone, and there's no real way to deal with it now that I've realized the problem. Really, there never was a way.

While he was here, we could hold onto the tenuous threads that bound our friendship. With him so far away, I fear it's the end.

It hurts.

My inclination is to distance myself from the hurt, to cordon it off in a dark corner of my mind and never go there again.

No, my inner writer says.

Don't turn away from this.

Embrace the pain. Savor the simple honesty of the emotional turbulence.

This is some good stuff. You'll be glad you went through this later because you'll be able to write richer, fuller, more genuine characters. Bask in the tremors of your soul, as these will breathe true life into the stories you wish to tell.

You're going to feel it either way. Take the benefit while you may, though it troubles you further momentarily to face it.

Don't waste this.

So I embrace it, for once not shoving aside, dismissing, calling it pointless, or bottling it up.

It hurts.

I hope something good comes of it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Red Guillotine


Chuck Wendig, writing-advice-face-kicker extraordinaire, issues a weekly flash fiction challenge over at his blog, terribleminds. I have been meaning to participate, and then it occurred to me that I should perhaps solve this problem by actually writing.

Go figure.

Word of advice: this week's theme is "Over the Top Pulp Insanity," which happens to translate to "somewhat violent" in my case. Therefore, if anyone comes expecting exactly the same thing as my last flash fiction entry, Wisp, then... read with care, dear reader.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Over-encumbered

Wow!

I must be a real writer! 

I'm about to look at my work in progress (currently at 15,000 words) and say, "You know what, manuscript? It's been a good run, but it's just not working between us. We need to re-evaluate our relationship if it's going to ever be real, and that means taking it back to the beginning." 

Source: shirt.woot!
And my manuscript... well, it's a good sort. Overall, I think it wants this to work, even if it's painful. 

I hope so, anyway. I'm going to have to take the knife to it, get some of the crap carved off and get the story back on track. 

I realized my problem about a week ago. I'm trying to write a relatively light-hearted story, and though it will have serious overtones, it should never get truly dark. And yet... 

I overwhelmed my protagonist. 

I hit him with too much, too fast. He's just a kid, and I knocked out basically every support structure he has all at once. I mean, yeah, I want to do that, sadistic demigod author type that I am, perched atop my anthill with a magnifying glass-topped pen, but the pace overwhelmed him, and that translated to me feeling overwhelmed. 

At first, this felt a bit silly to me. Why should I give a rodent's meaty bits about my story's hero going through a bit of trauma when I already know he's going to triumph? 

I see two good reasons: 

1) I sensed, subconsciously, the story isn't quite right. Trying to write from 'tainted' material gave the entire project a sense of doom and gloom that didn't match the attitude I desired. (Perhaps, with more experience, I will be able to write past this and go back and fix it in retrospect. I hope so. This will save me a lot of time... and misery.) 

2) I don't exactly know where I'm going with the story. You know that triumph I mentioned? I'm not actually so sure about it. I hardly dare enter the debate of 'State of Plotter v. Pantser and Discovery Writers United 4Evar' until I have a few finished works under my belt, but I'm fairly sure that having a general target is a good idea. I don't really know what to do with the second half of my book. This plot is problematic. 

This post is problematic. As in overlong. Still, it helps me hash out my thoughts on my second attempt at the beginning of my book. I'll likely recycle nearly all of what I wrote, but starting anew seems the best choice. 

I welcome any feedback. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hold Me... Accountable

Let me add my voice to the chorus and just say: moving sucks.

I've been in various stages of moving for the past four months. Our previous apartment, across the street, was a temporary situation, and we could never settle down, never truly unpack. Some of those around us were extraordinarily inconsiderate in ways that I found unavoidably distracting. Boxes everywhere, half our belongings still packed, instability regarding our living situation and financial issues, all while each utility offered its own brand of trouble to our lives.

None of this, no matter how much it may have frustrated me, or interrupted me - or downright held me squirming against the floor - is intended to be an excuse. I don't want an excuse. I simply need to explain the reasons I have been absent from writing for so long.

My new writing space, in a corner where the laundry
machines normally go. Also notice - editing my blog post
in the picture. SO META. 
I choose to do so in this public forum in order to seek greater accountability for my actions. I have a terrible habit of taking responsibility for that which is beyond my control, and I need to apply what positive aspects I can from that to taking responsibility for the rest of my career, and for my life.

I know I can't expect Internet-folks, with their own lives and problems and worries to be a legitimate source of accountability, but saying it here feels better than hiding in my corner and whispering it to the Ferocious Dustbunnies of Xanathar-6. (Maybe I need to get a little more ventilation in here...)

I have not given up on writing, nor on storytelling in general, as these are my passion. However, I have given up on so many various attempted-passions in the past that I feel discouraged. Don't get me wrong - nothing has captured my interest quite like storytelling and creative work. I know I can succeed in this field, and I look forward to future accomplishments, whatever they may be. This is only to say that my career is currently on the knife's edge.

I can handle rejection. This will not slow me down. What I can't take is slurring through each day feeling like I've accomplished nothing. If it seems like I've failed, these failures all stack up on me and become overwhelming.

Therefore, I must start with a fresh perspective. I can remember the... troubles of the past (my mind wants to call them failures, but honestly, I wrote one and a half first drafts in the three months I was working), and push forward without giving myself such lofty goals.

To fix some of my previous mistakes:

  • I will not, at first, give myself a word count goal for the day. It's impossible for me to not have a soft target in mind, but I need to not feel disappointed for coming up short. 
  • I will not set a hard target date for completion of any work (if it is not strictly necessary) until I am back into the swing of things. 
  • I will only work on actively writing one large project at a time (editing previous projects is something I need to start doing, and shall). 

These might seem somewhat negative (all 'Thou Shalt Not's), but I need the restrictions to keep me from entangling myself in a mire of self-loathing goop. My wife keeps encouraging me to take some time out of my day to look at the bright side. Would it be strange for me to actually schedule a reminder on my iPod touch to do so? I have trouble taking such positivism seriously.

I have formulated a rather regimented schedule, about which I shall write later. It probably needs adjustment, and could use the opinions of more experienced day-to-day writer types. Look out for it in the next week.

Thanks for sitting through the semi-onerous musings of a writer trying to start again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wisp


A garbage truck jangles over the bridge behind him. He nearly leaps off by reflex.

No.

It must be a decision.

It seemed a difficult decision moments ago, but now exhaust clogs his lungs. The biting of concrete saws pierces his ears. She swore she would never leave, and he buried her.

He stares down into the abyss, wondering if it holds any more comfort.

She had been different, like him, a perfect pairing. She had told him she would go, yet remain. He had not believed.

Copyright Ben ReiersonSource; Creative Commons License
A light breeze brushes his cheek, and his gaze follows a blue butterfly away from the pit, toward the horizon. The wind brings faint whispers, a language foreign to him, though she had claimed to try to teach him. To prepare him, she said.

He had played along, knowing it to be just one of her eccentricities.

Was it?

The butterfly disappears into the boughs of her so-called sisters, and for a moment, the construction crews cease, the traffic stops, and he strains to listen.

The rustling tongue is still unfamiliar, but somewhere in the hissing, he almost hears beckoning, urging. Pleading, even.

The lives of those around him resume, and yet he still hears the almost-words. A scent of honeysuckle drifts over the stench of burning oil.

A tear slides down his face. She had taught him to taste the sweet flowers.

He closes his eyes and basks for a moment in the soft wind, the sunlight embracing him.

With a sigh of resolution, he heaves himself over the guard rail and walks back to his home, his garden, his love, who - though now only a sapling - will keep her promise to be with him forever.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Undead with Heart - A book review

Today, I decided to publish a review of a fantastic book I recently finished. I highly recommend you bloggerfolk check Mark out both as an author to read, as well as someone with whom to connect online.

The blog may occasionally feature books I deem worthy of your attention. Fear not, book shepherds. The fact that your book has not yet reached my blog does not somehow reduce its inherent worth. (Clearly, everyone's self worth is tied up in whether or not I find time to blog about them.)

This self-delusion is brought to you by... Caffeine.

Caffeine. The legal addictive stimulant. 

Now let the review commence. Make it so!

Things to Do In Denver When You're Un-Dead by Mark Stone 

In a world where we don't like to think about nasty fantasy creatures cavorting about - make that our world, today - we have the BSI, the alphabet agency responsible for acting as bouncer to the supernatural club.

Our protagonist, Kal Hakala, is the veteran knee breaker for the BSI, surviving years longer than the average field agent. The story drops us with him on a relatively routine supernatural cleanup job, and things seem pretty quiet for the first couple of chapters.

Stone then does a good job of tossing you right into the thick of things, telling you just enough to keep you informed while still leaving a sense of uncertainty.

Kal Hakala, is intense and still believable, a fine line many authors have trouble walking these days. He's a pleasure to follow through the story, bringing plenty of sardonic wit to some otherwise dark and gruesome situations. He is not, however, without feeling - Stone successfully forces Kal to face his deeper emotions in an organic fashion that I found satisfying.

On a personal note, I found that I could relate to Kal's fury sessions. It's something I have to fight myself, and seeing him try to cope with the internal rage drew me closer to the character, where I'm sure for some others it would somewhat alienate him.

Upper middle short Scandinavian with
a peculiarly twisted mind... just what we
need to bring the pain to our characters!
Kal led a varied cast of characters. Each member of the BSI managed to be distinct without that 'hey-look-this-is-my-one-defining-characteristic' feeling. I also found the peculiar philosophy of the BSI agents regarding their 'Green Peas' intriguing. The government agency manages to take on its own culture I haven't yet seen in fiction.

The story proper, once it gets started, moves at a rocket-sled-to-hell pace, with maybe a pit stop for some refreshing waterboarding. Solving one problem spawns two more (sometimes literally). Stone grabs hold of the plot, just as Kal grips a deathlock on the problem at hand, and neither seem to know how to let go.

The only complaint I have is - to be very fair - really a stylistic choice. Stone uses a lot of flashback sequences to communicate backstory. Granted, these are still well crafted, and tell us important aspects about our protagonist. Realistically, this 'complaint' is equal part 'compliment,' because the fact is that the present day story was so gripping that I just wanted to get back to it and find out what was going to happen.

Stone brings up several questions throughout the narrative, and only answers some of them in the course of this book. Be aware that you'll need to read more books in the BSI series to find all the answers - but by the time you're to the end of 'Things to Do in Denver When You're Undead', you should be more than prepared to make that commitment.

This book is well worth your time, especially as it presents you an opportunity to check out this new author.

Find Mark Stone here: http://markeverettstone.com/

He's also on Twitter as: @M3verettStone

Find 'Things to Do in Denver When You're Undead' on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Things-Den...