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Archive for January, 2015

Card Challenge: Day 29

Okay, I confess, this one is 125 words over. It was originally almost 300 words over, but I found some places to cut. I just finally could not find anymore, not without risking the integrity of the story as a whole. So, as the 1200 was an arbitrary limit, and this plot is relatively complex, I’m going to leave it as is. I’ve actually been considering changing the value to 1000-1500 words, just because almost all of my drafts are around 1400 words initially. Instead, I think I may leave the 1000-1200 word goal, but make it a goal and not a requirement. Some stories need room to breath, and sometimes the editing process (to reach an arbitrary word count) is problematic. The word count was just a way to keep myself motivated and not crazy from the amount of time required by this, as well as be succinct enough to tell a story. I do not want it to become something that prevents me from telling certain stories, and I have begun to feel I cannot use certain ideas because I would need more space, which was never my intent. So, I’m going to loosen up the word count restriction and focus on telling short stories (still aiming for 1200 words, but with wiggle room) that I really enjoy.

Also, I added an RSS feed button to the side. It was really just a chance for me to learn how to do that (it’s crazy simple, too), but if anyone wants to follow and get it in a reader, you can! Happy reading!


Card Day 29: A woman in a cluttered chemistry lab pours one vial into a bottle with yellow liquid. In her chest is a heart shaped hole.

Audrey had always poured herself into her work, but this morning was a level of insanity they had not expected. She had been assigned to a government project—along with her specially chosen support staff—months prior, but that morning had changed things. Audrey appeared in the lab like a banshee, her face pale, eyes red, and hair flung to the winds. She screamed, tossed aside equipment, and demanded they all leave immediately. Concerned but unwilling to risk bodily injury, they complied and listened as she locked the door behind them.

In the chaotic, now empty, lab, Audrey sank into her chair and began to cry again, the tears stinging at her raw eyes. It had seemed like a nightmare, walking into her home to find her husband and the bottle of pills, their love consummated so finally. Surrounded by the dull drone of her equipment, she wept quietly, unheard by the confused ears listening outside.

Grief-stricken but determined and brilliant as ever, Audrey used the next night to transport the body to the cold storage unit in the lab. It was not uncommon for her to receive large boxes shipped from confidential suppliers, and so no one paid any mind as she wheeled the dolly down the halls with the large box. Rumors of her outbreak had spread, and those who did see avoided her. Safely back in the lab, she breathed a sigh of relief. Her project would be her savior, she realized.

Audrey—and her now forsaken team—had been assigned a grant to research tissue recovery for serve injuries. It was a nationwide project, and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity for her to make a name for herself once and for all. To the befuddlement of her team, they had also just made a major breakthrough, less than a week before the fated morning. Audrey smiled. She did need to alert the project committee of their new direction, though she guessed that the finer details could go unnoticed. Really, she was simply planning to skip rat trials and jump to the big leagues, providing assistance to thousands of hurting people in months, should her plan work.

_____

She waited outside the bar that night, sitting in her tiny sedan with the heater blasting to keep the cold at bay. It was very late, and her coffee was doing little to keep her sense sharp. Still, it was a necessary cost if her project was to proceed. As the neon signs began to go out up and down the street, she looked for the right straggler wandering from the now quiet establishments. She knew that bone growth would be tricky, and so she preferred to avoid that problem if she could. That meant she needed a subject of approximately 72 inches; other matters could be easily dealt with. She scanned the patrons stumbling out into deserted parking lots until she found one that seemed appropriate. He was within an inch of her height requirement, muscular, blond, and falling over drunk. It was easy to slip him a quick jab of anesthesia. In the few moments of bewilderment he had to realize what had happened, who was behind him, and how to respond. His eyes were already dropping low. Audrey had planned ahead, however, and maneuvered his stumbling form towards the trunk, guiding him carefully over the lip of it as his legs finally gave way beneath him. With a slam of the trunk, she pulled out of the lot and back towards the lab. Another box, another dolly, and the second set was complete.

She had never fully rigged someone up for life support solo before, and it was a long process. Her subject, of course, was breathing and resting quite nicely, but she needed to make sure he was properly hydrated, fed, and sedated for the duration of the process. The next few months would be rigorous, but ultimately he would give his body to save millions. She considered waking him to tell him that, but ultimately decided against it, He was a large man and could likely easily overpower her. After it was all done, and and her husband could discuss the events that had transpired. He was brilliant, like her, and would certainly see the reason, she reassured herself.

Months passed, and her fervor never faded. So intent was her work that people were beginning to suspect that she lived in the lab, tough the rumors never developed into anything more. Her response had left a cloud of avoidance around her that most were too afraid to cross, and she refused to open the door to any knock or offered assistance.

It had taken far more trials than she had expected, with many setbacks along the way. Tissue regenerated so slowly, and the cells took time to accept the retrovirus instructions and DNA. She had lost months waiting for a skin cell to correctly replicate. It had also required far more tissue and DNA samples than she expected. Audrey hated walking into the cold storage unit to see the mangled body, missing chunks of skin, hair, and tissue. It had taken so many more samples, so many more trials and errors than she had ever thought possible. But, it seemed to be working.

The skin was the right shade of pale white, and the hair looked to be coming in just fine, though it was still very short from the close trim she had given her original patient.  When she checked his pupils last, the right chocolate brown eyes stared up at him, finally having overcome the last remnants of slate grey. And today marked the 90th day since the cortical injections into the cerebrum. Sure, some argued that those would not regenerate, but she had seen the cells change and grow over the past days, and she was certain that her plan was flawless. Some of the cells were even on their second regeneration since she began, still holding to the new blueprint she had provided. Sixty days had been the shortest she could have waited, but she needed to be certain with a breakthrough this important.

Her hands shook as she turned the IV off, disconnecting the body from the sedative that had tirelessly worked for months. His muscle tone had significantly deteriorated—a fact she felt bad about—but he otherwise appeared healthy. She had been the perfect nurse throughout it all, rotating him as needed, providing all the appropriate care to his injection sites, washing and shaving his face weekly. She simply had not been able to exercise him effectively, not without jeopardizing the entire project. Now, she waited for those eyes to open.

They did slowly, the pupils growing and shrinking in the light. She waited for recognition to blossom in them, for the refreshing hug she had longed for these past months. But, that never came. Instead, rage burst into bloom, contorting his face into a snarling mask. Her husband dove from the table, leaping towards her. There was nothing human left inside him to control the animal instincts he felt, and so he enjoyed the ability to rip her apart, taste her flesh and blood. She screamed, pleaded with him, but there was never any glimmer of recognition in his animal eyes.

_____

“This is a message from the emergency broadcast system. The public is asked to please remain under quarantine. Those who do not comply will be shot on sight. Researchers continue to seek a cure for the Replicator virus, and vaccines will be made available as soon as possible. Individuals are asked to observe family and friends for any signs of infection, including decreased appetite, change in skin tone, change in eye color, sensitivity to light, and unusual aggression. If you see any of these symptoms, please contact your local response unit immediately for containment. This has been an alert from the emergency broadcast system.”


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 28

Card Day 28: Two snails in an empty stadium are jousting towards one another, their antennae covered by javelins.

The clicking of the keys stampeded through the empty office like a herd of raging bison fleeing certain destruction, tripping over themselves and mounting in haste as they echoed off the empty cubicle walls. Marco sighed, the rapid clicking halting abruptly as he rubbed his tired eyes. He looked at the screen, seeing row after row of accusatory red squiggles identifying every flaw. The report had to be on McGilligan’s desk by open tomorrow, and he still had pages to go. It wasn’t helping that every fifth keystroke was the wrong one.

He pushed back from the desk, leaving the pool of light afforded by the fluorescent light under his cabinet. The floor was surprisingly dark, letting in limited lights from the streets far below, and he felt blinded in the thick darkness.

Coffee was the answer, he was sure of it.

During the hustle and bustle of the day, he never noticed the soft crushing sound of his loaders on the short-trimmed carpet, but now it flowed him along his walk. The tiny break room hummed as he flipped on the overhead lights, bathing the room in a sterile glare that stung at his tired eyes. Shuffling across the linoleum, Marco filled the stained pot with water from the tap, dumped an arbitrary amount of grounds into the basket, and flipped the switch. The smell of coffee quickly filled the air, giving him a reflexive jolt of energy. He waited until the pot dribbled to silence, and then filled the largest mug he could find with the liquid.

Back at his desk, he felt little optimism, even with the caffeine. The cursor still stared and blinked at him, and he let out an unconscious groan which broke through the heavy silence. The silence did not help him think, but only made his isolation all the more present. He sat, feeling the weight of his aloneness and impending failure.

Clicking dispiritedly, he rid his work of the annoying corrections, trying to make it resemble something more than the failed procrastination of a seventh grade history assignment, but ultimately feeling like it was a wasted effort. Then again, it was unlikely anyone would ever even read the report, he cynically admitted. The company had already decided to move forward with the land acquisition, despite protests, and his report was a technical requirement that would get shoved in some folder for the next seven years, then routinely shredded.

It had, at least, been an interesting report to research. He looked into the pros and cons of the acquisition case from a business perspective, talked to residents, protesters, supporters, wildlife experts, geologists, and more specialists than he could imagine. Yes, it was true that the land used to hold some spiritual significance for the area natives. And yes, it was the dwelling place of an endangered slug species. And yes, no one wanted a big corporation setting up shop in their backyard. But, he had not been able to meet with one practitioner of any religious rites in the area, the slugs were not going to be severely disturbed by the building of a complex, and the introduction of the corporation would lead to hundreds of jobs in the community. Ultimately, the report wrote itself, supporting the already decided position.

Still, Marco felt he had to do his due diligence, digging for anything that might later come back as a pitfall of the project. He listed every concern expressed and succinctly dispatched them. Or at least, that had been the intention. Instead, he sat floundering, staring at his screen and trying to remember how he took all of this data and made it say “Great idea, boss!”

Marco jolted in his chair as he thought he heard the distant chime from the elevator. The janitors had already done their sweep of his floor, back before all the lights had gone off and he had been plunged into his solitude. He strained his ears for the sound of someone moving about, walking along the soft carpet, breathing, coughing or clearing their throat. Nothing but silence. Must have imagined it, he answered, wondering if the lack of sleep, isolation, and caffeine were about to trigger some sort of hallucination.

He typed a few lines, summarizing the results of the geological survey that someone had requested. There was nothing found to be all that special, besides some underground caves located relatively far from the build site. His desk was scattered with pages and pages of reports from specialists that some bigwig somewhere had ordered, and he scrambled through them to quote the final evaluation.

There was a thump from somewhere on the floor, the sound of something falling against the walls of a cubicle. Marco froze in his paper shuffling, again straining for any noises. Did offices creak and groan like houses at night? Did cubicles? But he heard nothing else.

“Hello?” he called into the empty space. Nothing responded. Slightly shaken and feeling on edge, Marco realized his coffee cup was already empty. Which meant it was time for a fill up. His walk across the floor was nerve-wracking, especially as he imagined he heard something bumping against the cubicle walls opposite him. But no shadow moved along the alleys, and no one returned his call into the vast space. He focused on making it to the break room.

The light made everything better, and he laughed at his jumpiness. The sounds were probably just the air vents coming on, rattling around the cheap barriers. Only in his sleep-addled state could he get so worked up over so little. He poured another cup of sludge, drinking it as he realized how poor a job he had done making the coffee, and promptly shattered the mug on the floor as he turned around.

Existing—he wanted to say standing, but the thing had no body to speak of—in the doorway was a massive slug, its body stretching back into the shadows. It spotted him and opened its maw of a mouth, displaying hundreds of glistening teeth, dripping with saliva. Slowly, it inched towards him.

Marco realized he was trapped in the tiny break room with no way to leap over the creature and nowhere to run. He grabbed the coffee pot, flinging it and the remaining lukewarm liquid at it, but it barely paused at the collision. Slowly, it crept forward, its jaw opening and closing as if already snacking on his bones

He stumbled back over the chairs, hoping he could at least outrun the thing, when suddenly one of the teeth came flying at him. It sailed through the air like a harpoon, embedding itself deep into his calf. Marco let out of pained yell, stumbling against the wall. His head began to swim, and dizziness took hold. Still pushing himself away, albeit weakly, the slug seemed to be gaining on him. The room was spinning, and the lights were going dim, ultimately fading into shadow.

Marco lay limp and barely conscious as the creature inched closer for the feast. His last thought was that there was no way he was going to get that report finished in time.


Okay, so I’m putting this at the end of everything, but I’m going to be honest, this is the first thing I wrote. This card has me pretty stumped, and I’m trying to take some time to focus on it, come up with some ideas. I figured, while I did this, I could at least go through a bit of my creative process with this. So, I have a card. Some days, the idea just jumps off the page at me, like with Day 26 and the books. Sometimes a word or phrase comes to mind, like “token of affection,” from Day 1. Other days, I look at the card and it just stares back at me. Today is one of those days. My husband is now use to the occasional, “Crap,” from me when I draw my card, meaning whatever is on there has me stumped. As tempting as it is, I do not toss the card back in and try again, but I do have a process.

I start with the background. What is going on? Are there any interesting details that help make it all make sense? (There is stadium seating behind them, but it’s empty). What emotion does it evoke? (Silliness, futility) Any thematic ideas? (Isolation, maybe impending tragedy either perceived or real, effort despite no observers, tedium) Are they actors in the image, and if so, do they inspire anything? (Snails. I am not writing about anthropomorphized snails.) Then I just spend some time rolling these thoughts around, trying to find anything that sticks or seems to coalesce into some idea. Sometimes, I just let go of the details of the image, hold onto the feeling, and try to imagine an opening line (like “Wonder has always been a child’s greatest asset” from Day 6), and then integrate story components from there. And then sometimes I just start writing something, anything, and hope it ultimately makes sense. When I’m feeling a little stuck, I turn to some good instrumental music tracks to help me out, Disparition (the music of Welcome to Night Vale!) is a personal favorite.

Today, I ultimately started with the ideas of tedium, isolation, effort, and perceived doom (and a little Disparition). And then decided I have not done a good horror piece in a while, and I want to. So, there you have it. My creative process, at least for today. I stumbled across this article today, which was fairly interesting. It’s kind of the approach I’ve been taking with these, only I publish them with the caveat that they are first drafts. It’s how I do a lot of my stuff actually, because it does keep me moving and working. Worth a read (and its short)!

Also, and this is kind of important, I learned today that slugs can be predatory, have up to 3000 teeth, and can, in fact, shoot their teeth like a harpoon to deliver neurotoxins to their prey. Slugs just moved up a few notches on my scary creatures list!

Thanks for paying attention to my rambling! Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 27

Card Day 27: A caterpillar is entering a maze. Along the way waits a bird perched on the walls of the maze, but pairs of wings wait at the two exits.

Growing up is tough. Especially when you are spending most of your time trying to cover up a secret as well, which was a reality Angie knew all too well. SAs if being a teenager was not hard enough, she also had the added benefit of nearing her Full Moon Turn for the first time, which meant hair in new and unusual places, irritability, muscle aches, cramps, and occasional voice cracking or growling. So, Angie generally just kept her head down and trudged through high school as if she were invisible, hoping that enough wishing would make it true.

As usual, Angie shuffled into PE and hung by the sidelines until the teacher appeared to take her “doctor’s note” so she could sit out. It would not do for her to get riled up now, especially as her strength fluctuated so wildly. It would raise eyebrows if she slammed another student into the retaining wall during dodge ball. That, and her eyes had the bad habit of dilating into solid black disks when she started to get competitive. No, it was best for her to sit with her feet dangling from the concrete wall, reading her book and working on her math homework. This was her fifth school in as many years, so friends were not very common. It made those long classes feel even longer, but it was an isolation she was used to.

“What’s your excuse?” sneered a voice from behind her. She turned to see a man in a yellow shirt and black shorts, a metal whistle hanging around his neck to complete the uniform.

“Where’s Ms. Jensen?”

“She’s got a cold. So, what’s your excuse? That time of the month?”

Angie dropped her eyes to the ground and began to mumble her embarrassment, holding out the note. He snatched it from her hand.

“Adrenal issues, huh? Don’t want to mess around with that. Have a seat.” He gestured dismissively to the retaining wall that ran around the edge of the field. The shrill edge of his whistle cut through the air, drawing her peers to attention. Throughout the class, she noticed his eyes drilling into her as if she had personally insulted him. Angie tried to keep her focus on the book, but felt his eyes drawing her away as each moment passed. Finally, when she thought she was going to fly out of her skin, the dismissal tone sounded from the loudspeakers, and she was freed. The substitute walked towards her as she packed her things.

“What’s wrong with your eyes?” he snapped.

Angie froze. She had not realized how nervous he had actually made her. “It’s just my condition,” she whispered quickly, darting back towards the dull brick building.

She tried to remain calm the rest of the day, but the events of the morning had left her shaken. Lunch rolled around, and she ate her turkey sandwich numbly, the bustle of the cafeteria spinning around her. The sound of a tray slamming into the wooden table snapped her back to the present. There was the PE teacher, staring at her again. She did her best to ignore him, pulling out the jello cup at the bottom of her brown paper bag.

“Need a spoon?” he asked quickly.

She stuttered, the words getting caught at the threshold of her lips. He slid one down the table towards her, which she picked up with a hurried, “Thanks.” No sooner did the metal touch her fingertips than she felt a white hot pain radiate up her arm. She pulled away quickly, the spoon rattling loudly against the table.

“What’s the matter? Don’t like silver?” He smiled her way, picking up his tray and disappearing through the crowd. Angie’s heart was in her throat as she rushed out of the cafeteria. Her parents needed to know.

Two texts later, Angie cleaned out what little was in her locker and made a beeline for the exit. She had snuck out of so many schools at this point, it was second nature. She waited until the lunch bell rang again, flooding the halls with students, and then joined a group walking their ways to the fields for afternoon PE. It was then just a quick jaunt to the back of the school, where nothing but a struggling chain-link fence separated her from freedom.

Angie was halfway over the fence when someone grabbed her shoulder, pulling her back to the ground. There was the PE teacher.

“You’re really lucky, you know? I’m here in time to save you, give you a normal life. It’s not going to be fun, but…it’s better than the alternative.”

His hand clamped over her mouth as she gathered the strength to scream. She felt a sharp pinch against her neck, the sting of a needle breaking the skin, and was suddenly asleep.

_____

As she woke, she was distinctly aware of the scent of stale, damp air, as well as the stench of the “teacher” from school. That and rough ropes around her wrists. Angie stirred, testing the ropes but lacking the strength at the moment. She wondered what he had given her, because her mouth had an unpleasant metallic tang, while her head pounded like a drum.

“Good morning, sunshine,” he purred. There was the sound of metal tools being moved about, clanging against the wooden table and one another, then the loud screech of a chair on the concrete floor. The man stepped around in front of her, and Angie felt her hackles rise more literally than she had expected. “Keep it calm, little pup. We’ve got the wolfsbane, nightshade, silver, iron, everything we need. You’ll be right as rain in no time.” He smiled an insincere smile and walked back towards the heard-but-never-seen workbench, his heavy hand resting on the back of the chair.

Angie felt her muscles tensing and coiling beneath her skin. It might not have been the full moon that night, but she also understood the utter unpredictability of her first Change. She had hoped for another week, but nevertheless she felt an unfamiliar stretching in her bones.

“I know this is probably terrifying,” for the first time, she heard sympathy in his voice, “but I promise you’ll thank me later. You’re going to get a normal life.”

“What about my parents?” she asked, the words springing unbidden from her lips, trailing into a low growl at the end.

She heard a harsh hiss from behind her. “Yeah, that is a wrinkle, now isn’t it? I mean, I know they are your parents, but…” The words trailed off, their implication hanging heavy in the air. “I do have a job to do.”

H shuffled around, and Angie felt the ropes snap beneath her arms. She felt her skin rippling with the Change. The sound of snapping bones rang throughout her ears as her eyes shifted, her nose elongated, and her teeth stretched to deadly points.

He yelled, and it was painfully loud to her newly sensitive ears. And the sound of snapping bones continued to echo throughout the basement, filling it with the scent of iron.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 26

Card Day 26: A girl stands atop a stack of books, bent to dive off of them and into an open one below. Standing on the open book is a woman—or fairy—in a ball gown, waiting for the girl to dive.

Lose yourself in a good book, he said. Reading will transport you, he said. Myra would have rolled her eyes if she had not been more focused on evading the screeching, fire-breathing dragon charging relentlessly after her. Every flap of its wings was another wall of air slamming against her back, pushing her forward just enough to evade its jagged claws.

Her sides ached and her lungs burned with the constant pursuit, and she gasped for air with shaky breaths as her feet drove inexhaustibly towards some imagined relief. She had not known there was a sleeping dragon in the middle of the forest; in fact, she did not think a forest was a particularly suitable home for a dragon. However, none of that mattered when the behemoth stretched its wings and took flight, eyeing its next meal with murderous glee.

The gale forces against her back began to abate, and she dared hope that she might be outrunning the predator. She risked a glance behind her to see the great lizard rising slowly into the air, its wings blocking out the sun as if it were a massive thundercloud. Then, its head reared back, thin streams of smoke snaking from the upturned nostrils. Her eyes widened in panic, and she flung herself towards the small outcropping of rocks to her side.

The fire rushed past her, its heat stinging her skin, but fortunately leaving it uncharred. It seemed like innumerable waves of fire crashed around her, lashing against the rocks but ultimately unable to overwhelm them. Myra felt sweat pour from her body in response to the heat, only to have it immediately evaporate. Eventually, it abated, leaving the world feeling icy with its absence. She peeked from her hiding spot in time to see the great creature toddle off into the sunset with its leathery wings and bloated body.

She sank against the rocks, feeling them cold against her irritated skin. It might not have burnt her to a crisp, but the exposure left her nerves feeling raw and weathered. Her lungs filled with gulping breathes of the acrid air, enjoying the sweet relief of oxygen despite the lingering haze that filled each mouthful. She tried not to think about it, or about the ridiculous circumstances that had brought her here.

Once her breathing returned to mostly normal, she stood gingerly on aching legs. She must have run for miles trying to escape, or at least it certainly felt that way to her unaccustomed body. Her feet pounded, and she could see blood tinging her socks from the raw blister that had formed and burst in her haste. Myra groaned and considered dropping back to the ground, letting this world spin on without her in the hopes that it somehow left her behind. But as she saw the sun glistening on the horizon, she found the courage to seek some sort of shelter. If dragons roamed the woods during the day, there was no telling what the night might hold.

A dirt path wound through the countryside towards some rolling hills. She could not see any people or structures nearby, and so set off in a direction, hoping something would appear. “Stupid book,” she muttered as she walked, still no refuge in sight.

She had sat down, begrudgingly, to read the book her teacher had offered her. She did not want to read it, but he had been so good intentioned recommending it that she felt she had to. That, and he had a dreamy smile. Myra could not help but feel a flutter in her heart at the memory of that smile. But, one moment she had been reading, and the next she was asleep. It was the moment after that which baffled her. She had awoken outside, wandered around the woods, stumbled upon a dragon, and fled for her life. If her body did not ache so profoundly, she would have sworn it was a nightmare.

The heat burn on her skin left her chilled as night descended. The stars poked out from the sky, pinpricks of icy light in a navy curtain. She did not recognize a single one, though she also knew she would not have recognized one if it had been outside her bedroom window at home. Stars were just not that interesting to her, though she suddenly wished they had been. Instead, her tired feet dragged her protesting body along the path and through the hills.

Eventually, she spotted a small cave. It was, she was certain, unsafe, but it was the only thing resembling shelter she had found. And she was about to collapse after the long, impossible day. The inside of the cave was dark, unlit by the moon or stars. She felt along the walls, leading herself just into the mouth of it, but strictly attuned to the slightest sounds. There were, after all, probably werewolves in there. Or some other equally unbelievable creature. Finally, her legs gave out, and she fell against the sandy floor. There was silence in the cave, silence in the world.

And then, there was light.

The man holding the light was your traditional wizard; long grey hair, messy grey beard, blue cloak, and gnarled staff. The tip of the staff glowed with a silver light, pouring into the cave from his position at the entrance. Myra shielded her eyes from it and tried to edge back into the dark of the cave, but he gave a shout of recognition.

“Ah! There’s where you wandered off to!” He shuffled over to her, and Myra found a wall against her back.

“Who are you?” she queried warily. Hopefully, not a dragon.

“I have a book for you!” he crowed, holding out a faded leather book. Myra eyed it with disgust.

“I’ve had enough of books,” she grumbled.

“Come now, I think you’ll like this one.” He shoved the book under her nose, so close she could smell the old leather.

“I don’t-“

“Here!” He quickly flipped the book open so that she had to see the first page.

“Myra sat in her room,” it began. She looked up at him, only to see her teacher’s warm eyes smiling back.

“What is this? Some kind of joke?” she asked, anger rising in her voice.

“Read.”

Seeing no give in his argument, she complied.

Myra sat in her room, the book forgotten on her lap as she slumbered.” As she read, she noticed the cave walls began to grow thin around her, giving way to the pale turquoise of her bedroom. She continued reading, watching her surroundings shift slowly back into her world until she found herself seated on her bed, reading diligently about a land of wizards and dragons.

Myra leapt from the bed, slamming the book shut. She could see herself in the mirror, her skin reddened, her hair a mess of dirt, soot, and leaves. She gingerly touched her arms and legs, feeling their realness, but aghast at their condition. Without a word, she scooped the book off her bed, and promptly threw it out her window, slamming the glass shut hard enough to shake it in the frame. No smile was worth that.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 25

So, i enjoyed writing this, but it does not really go anywhere. It definitely does not have as much of a plot as I would generally want, but I think it would be fun to revisit this world at another date, so it was fun in taht respect. Still, kind of a weird one!


Card Day 25: Lines in a person’s palm seen through a magnifying glass as rivers of water.

The world was a cracked, dry, broken place. It was half-shattered by the heat, held together by sheer stubbornness and human determination.  Sometimes Daion thought it would spin itself apart, scattering tiny pieces of dust to all corners of the galaxy. Sometimes, he even hoped that would happen.

Today, his throat was parched, his skin was reddened, and his eyes ached with the force of the bright sun. He stood atop a craggy hill, looking around at a brown dessert stretched beneath a rotted orange sky. It was the same in all directions, differentiated by a hill or ruined city on one side that was a different hill or desolate town on the other. He lifted the dusty goggles from his eyes, squinting against the glare as he tried to notice anything in the distance that broke the monotony. Successful, he let out a sharp whistle.

“Trista, gotta camelback, straight ahead.” He had seen the familiar silhouette bopping along behind the rough terrain, its stooped back promising reward. Trista scaled the summit beside him, her hair sticking up haphazardly around her goggles and dust mask, styled in place by the stiff winds and an unhealthy dose of sweat.

“Sweet. I could go for some guilt free refreshment.” He could see the smile stretching across her face, even beneath her protective gear. She adjusted the pack on her back and started clambering down the other side of the hill. Daion followed at a slower pace, watching her haphazard descent as a trail of anemic dust in the air, caught and spun away by a sudden breeze. He took care to avoid the places she slipped into freefall, letting his feet expertly test the shifting terrain for stability. It was just like Trista to rush into everything, unaware of the potential pitfalls waiting along each step. But, in many ways, it was that unbridled adventurous spirit that he so appreciated.

“Don’t strand me up here,” he chuckled, selecting his careful path to more level ground. They followed the shadows, galloping over dunes and hills towards the previously marked salvation. Daion tried not to notice the impossible dryness in his skin and mouth, ignoring the fact that the sweat had dried on his brow. He was certain Trista was fading as quickly as he was, though she continued with the same dogged perseverance. Finally, they crested the hill and saw the familiar grey lump seated on the sand.

“Oy, Brother! Got some respite for some weary bones?” called Trista merrily, sliding to a stop next to the monk. He was covered in pale gray clothing, enough to cover his body, but thin enough to prevent him from cooking under the sun. Nevertheless, his face was red and pinched, sweat dribbling down his brow.

“Yes, of course. Have a rest, have a drink,” chimed the man, pointing to the thick water bag that was now seated beside him. Normally, the bag would sit precariously on his back as he trundled through the wastelands, granting miracles to dying travelers.

Daion filled up Trista’s canteen, and then his own. “Drink, brother?” he offered the weary monk.

The man smiled pleasantly, his eyes saying yes as he spoke. “No, I have my ration right here.” He tapped the canteen on his waist gingerly, and Daion took note of the hollow tone. “This is for the travelers. It is our duty to provide a cup of water to those who wander.”

“Well, you are a life saver, Brother,” thanked Daion as he tipped his canteen back. The water raced over his tongue and throat. It seemed as if the tissue was too dry to absorb a single drop of the water, and it filled his belly quickly. The cool was so refreshing, providing a glimmer of light to his shadowed eyes. Trista’s eyes were closed, and he could see her swishing the water around her mouth in ecstasy. There was the sound of silence, of water trickling from the plastic canteens, and of the two travelers gulping thirstily. Then, just silence. Daion felt the dehydrated headache beginning to fade and he could once again focus.

“Anywhere to sleep around here?” chimed Trista, having emerged from her water-logged fantasy to notice the darkening horizon.

Daion’s eyes shot to the west, seeing the sun as a swollen blister on the horizon, threatening to burst and poor flames across the world. Nature would kill you in the day, but it was humanity you had to fear at night. He could see the same unease flashing across the monk’s face. Daion felt the uncomfortable distrust suddenly chill the air. Yes, the monk had no idea who these two travelers were, and no good reason to reveal his one spot of safety. Providing a cup of water? Sure. Lead strangers to those people he cared about? Never. The monks caring nature left him fumbling over words, unwilling to lie, and unwilling to answer.

“No problem, padre. But we better get going.” He tipped his head toward Trista, and she was on her feet in a blink. “Take a bag for the road?” he asked as he gestured at the hefty reservoir. “Make your trip home a bit lighter?”

“The day is nearly done. Take what you need.”

The nights were cool and lonely. It would have been best to travel then, but the dangers of the road were too great for the two of them alone. Instead, it was time to hunker in their burrows while predators roamed. Daion scattered the sand that displayed their steps off the main path; the wind would have likely taken care of it, but you could not leave something so important in the hands of chance. They slid behind a tangle of rocks, slipping into the deep shadows that whispered security. It was a dinner of stringy jerky and stale dried fruit, with a few precious sips of water to wash it down. Neither of them spoke. It was too dangerous.

In the silence of the night came growls and hisses rom whatever creature still managed to live out there. More concerning were the whoops and hollers of the human creatures that somehow managed to thrive on cruelty and anarchy. Trista squeezed her eyes shut at the sounds, and Daion moved in closer, aware of the memories that were etched on her eyelids.

“I’ll take first watch,” he said, squeezing her hand briefly. She nodded and rolled to the side. Somehow, you got used to sleeping through terror around here. Daion leaned back against the rocks, listening and watching the stars. It was hard to imagine this feeble existence was, in fact, reality.  But, he looked at Trista, already breathing evenly in sleep, and he realized it could be worse. Daion remembered his first months alone, the violence and desperation. Now, he was filled with a strange peace and acceptance of life as I was. And he smiled at Trista as she slept, feeling the familiar ease of friendliness and protection. It was nice to create, rather than destroy. The night raged on, and Daion kept watch, waiting for the punishing eye of the sun to relieve them of the dark side of the human condition.


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 24

Card Day 24: A man sits below a tree, up to his waist in yellow sand. Above him is a tree branch, covered in birds that he conducts in song. From the branch, a spider descends.

Death sat at the edge of the bed, looking at the frail man beneath the sheets. His breaths were shallow and rattling, and his pulse was visible through the paper thin skin of his wrists. Gently, Death lifted his hand and placed it atop the man’s.

Edmund opened his eyes slowly, as if they were held shut by an incredible weight. He did not respond with fear or sorrow to the specter, but smiled the same way he did when his grandchildren roared into the sterile hospital room. It was a look of weary joy, speaking of all the ambivalences long life encompasses. His voice creaked when he spoke, an organ that had deteriorated from the booming orator’s voice of his youth. Now it was a scratchy whisper, wavering like a twig in a summer’s storm.

“I figured you’d come around soon.”

Death smiled, his eyes softening. “It is about that time.”

“You don’t look like I thought you would. Too much….skin.” The rest of Edmund’s words and thoughts faded off as he stared up at death. There was no skeletal face, no heavy black hood. The ephemeral spirit did not even carry a scythe. Instead, Death was a man in a black suit and tie, his hair trimmed and lying neatly in dark brown waves. His shoes were sharp and polished, one balanced precisely atop his knee while the other tethered him to the tile floor. Beside him sat a leather briefcase with complicated looking cylinders on top. In an unsettlingly human motion, Death repositioned his wire-rimmed glasses on his nose and smiled.

“The shock and awe thing really isn’t necessary most of the time,” responded Death calmly.

Edmund grunted his answer, his breathing coming in irregular hiccups. Death gave him a sympathetic look as he carefully weighed his words.

“It is almost time, and it can be time now.”

Edmund closed his eyes, swallowed hard and nodded. He relaxed against the stiff hospital pillows, feeling the last bit of struggle fade out of his body. It was quiet, peace, and freedom. He opened his eyes, feeling suddenly light now freed of his medical burdens, and smiled back at Death.

“That was not nearly as bad as people say,” he chuckled.

Death echoed the laugh, the sound feeling somewhat hollow coming from the man at the end of the bed. “Those who complain have rarely met me. It’s libelous, really.”

Edmund continued to laugh, though there was no clear impetus for it. He laughed until his entire form shook, tears sliding down his ghostly face. He laughed so loudly that, had he still been a corporeal being, the whole hospital would have awoken. After a time, the laughter faded to an occasional chuckle. “What now?” he finally asked between snickers, his voice regaining its youthful tenor.

“Now, it’s time for the Great Beyond. But, as a courtesy, any final requests? Barring harming someone or restoring your life, I’m fair game for last wishes.”

Edmund grew serious for a moment, pondering this unexpected opportunity. “I suppose…” his voice trailed off as he considered the question. “Well, after being locked up in here, I’d like one thing. I’d like to see one last bit of beauty in this life. I miss things besides grey walls, fluorescent bulbs, and tile floors.”

Death nodded, pursing his lips in thought. “That’s a tall order, Mr. Graves.”

Edmund shrugged. “I figure you’re the man who can make it happen.”

In a fluid, graceful movement, Death bent and retrieved the briefcase from the floor. His fingers danced over the tumblers in some well-practiced numbers, the case opening with a satisfying click. “I think I have just what you need.” He pulled a smooth stone from the case, and then closed it with a click. At that sound, the hospital walls faded away, making way for a broad, darkening sky. Edmund joined Death atop some pristine mountain peak, watching the sun set over a valley of impossible peaks and valleys. The colors spread across the sky like a spilled oil painting, creating shades that only existed for that moment. Death turned to Edmund, smiling with pride. “Beautiful, eh?”

Edmund shrugged, looking unimpressed. “I suppose, but I saw more beautiful sunsets when Agnes and I were dating. We used to sneak off to Lover’s Point and watch it set. This is nice and all, though,” he finished, suddenly sheepish and concerned her appeared ungrateful.

“No worries, Edmund. I aim to please, but even I miss the mark occasionally. Let’s try something else.” He delved back into the briefcase, returning with a paintbrush.

“Listen, Death, if the real thing ain’t gonna do it for me, a painting won’t either. I think we can skip that one. I’ve never been one for galleries and all that. My grandson had some art up in those things, and they were beautiful, but most of its just trying to capture what we can see with our own eyes. Or some modern mumbo jumbo.”

Death chuckled and returned the brush. “You’re a man who knows what he likes. I like that. Maybe we change tack.” He snapped the briefcase shut, holding a single sheet of music. The mountain gave way to the concert hall, filled with a celestial blend of instruments and human voices. They rose and fell in harmony, creating a slight echo that left feelings of nostalgia for each passed moment, while spurring the listener into the next marvelous note. The words were unimportant, but the sound seemed to wrap the entire hall in a shell of impenetrable peace. Death looked at Edmund, expecting to see his mouth agape and eyes wide. The man instead had a look of polite appreciation, and smile good naturedly at Death.

“Oh, now this is very nice. Reminds me of when Nina, my daughter, was in choir. She had the voice of an angel. I swear, nothing more beautiful than that.” Realizing what he had said, Edmund fumbled for an apology. “Not that this isn’t nice. It’s quite nice. Beautiful, even. Thank you, Death.”

Death shook his head and sigh. “Edmund, I promised you a last request, and I do take pride in keeping my word. Let me try one last thing. I think I’ve got you figured out.”

Another expedition into the briefcase, another item retrieved. This time, it was a scuffed metal fork. Death smiled as the concert hall walls faded, as the sound dimmed to a memory, and the ruckus of family dinner took over.

Edmund found himself in the midst of a family Thanksgiving some years hence. Nina and her husband John were smiling and laughing, Tracie played the piano while the smell of a slightly overdone bird wafted through the house. Jason and Michael were lying in the floor, putting together a puzzle. He saw piles of coats in the hallway, heard the hubbub of activity in the kitchen were Marsha was putting the finishing touches on the big spread, enlisting a joyful David to cart it all to the long table. Edmund smiled, and Death saw tears stinging at the man’s eyes.

“Well, now, I guess you finally got my number, Death. Nothing more beautiful than that. Nothing at all.”


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Card Challenge: Day 23

Card Day 23: A man sits on a park bench at night, reading the newspaper. The sky above him is filled with, not stars, but letters.

Davis never went anywhere without his book. It was practically an additional appendage, always within arm’s reach. It was a relatively nondescript book, bound in worn brown leather and without distinguishing marks. It resembled someone’s beloved journal with its weathered spine and soft-edged pages.

Davis gazed out the bus window as it drifted along the city streets. His mind, however, was a million miles away. Elise had left the apartment mad this morning, and for the moment his thoughts were occupied with figuring out what he had done wrong.

His morning had been by the book. He woke up and hit the snooze twice before stumbling to the shower. Then he had toweled off and started breakfast. Two slices of toast, and a scrambled egg—though he had to admit he was not really feeling the scrambled egg, but he had to stick to the plan. Elise had been rushing around the apartment because her alarm had gone off late.

She had glared at him sitting and eating his breakfast in peace while she rushed from room to room in search of her shoes, then her phone, then her earrings, then her coat. In a huff, she was out the door with a sharp, “bye,” without even taking time for—

Oh. Davis suddenly understood the importance of the scrambled egg and extra piece of toast which he had scarfed down. She had missed out on breakfast, while he sat there feasting l and watching her frenzy. Of course, he knew it was not his fault, and she would say the same thing later, but it was just one more annoyance on an already off-kilter day. The problem identified, he reached and pulled out the battered notebook.

The vanilla sheet already had some of his scratch marks on it. The top of the page read, Tuesday, May 6, followed by his morning itinerary. He read over the list once more, noting the item squished in between “Breakfast: 2 toast, scrambled eggs,” and “Walking shoes; umbrella.” He was unsure how he had missed “Share,” tucked in there before, but he reminded himself to read more carefully.

Shaking his head, he pulled out a pen and wrote in the book. ‘Elise is mad at me,’ and then closed it without a word.

He rode along on the bus, still turning the problem over in his mind A sudden shudder and groan from the bus made him pause. There was an elongated sigh from the engine up front, followed by some sharp yells and curses from the driver.

The overhead speaker crackled to life. “Folks, I’m sorry. Looks like we have some mechanical issues this morning. I’m going to radio into the station, and I’ll update you once I know something.”

The passengers around him sighed and mumbled, casting frustrated glances out the rainy windows and then back to their watches. Davis did the same, and then realized the importance of his walking shoes and umbrella. Decided, he made his way down the aisle and into the damp streets.

It was only a few blocks, he told himself as he cut down a side alley, and the exercise would be good for him. Cheerily walking along, he paused to pull out the journal. ‘Call her,’ had appeared below his messy handwriting. Without another thought, he secured the journal back in his bag, and pulled out his phone.

Her voice was terse on the phone, suggesting her day had not gotten better. “Hello?”

“Hey, Elli.”

It softened just a bit, but kept an edge. “Oh, hey.”

“Listen, I realize I was pretty insensitive this morning. I knew you were running late, and I didn’t do anything to even help out.”

She sighed and the anger drained from her voice. “No, you were fine. I was just annoyed and started out on the wrong side of the bed. You didn’t do anything.”

Davis chuckled good-naturedly. “Yeah, but I should be there to make your day better, not worse.”

Her response was lost to him as someone suddenly rushed from behind him, ripping at his messenger bag. Davis jolted alert, panic coursing through him, as the canvas bag slipped from his shoulder and into the stranger’s hands. Then the man was off, racing through the alley and towards the busy street. Davis took chase, yelling after him as his phone danced forgotten in his hand. He could just see the man disappearing down another side alley, and so he pursued. But upon arriving, there were no additional signs. Lost, confused, and alone, Davis suddenly became aware of the tiny voice echoing from his phone.

“Davey, are you okay? What’s happening?”

He was breathless. “He stole my bag, El, he took it.”

“Oh my God! Are you alright?”

“He took my journal. What am I going to do?”

He was distantly aware that she was still talking to him, but it sounded like it came from an impossible distance. Davis felt his world crumbling, robbed of the one thing that had kept him on track all these years. Why hadn’t it warned him? Shouldn’t it have given him some signs? Or some way to prevent this tragedy? Numbly, he disconnected the call.

His day faded into a blur of police reports and office chitchat, but Davis felt adrift. He floated through the hours of the day, arriving home about 45 minutes later than he generally did. Elise was waiting.

“Thank God you’re okay! I’m so sorry, babe.” He smiled pleasantly at the remarks, but the numbness persisted.

“I’m fine,” he mumbled, falling onto the couch. What should he watched on television? He had no idea.

“Listen, I know you were really upset about losing your journal, so—“ she pulled a hastily wrapped package from behind her back. “I got you this.”

Davis opened the gift, seeing unfamiliar brown leather and crisply white pages staring up at him. He did his best to smile and appear gracious, but her eyes said she saw the grief.

“I know that journal was important to you and all, especially having it to many years. I can’t replace it, but I thought—“

He cut her off with a genuine smile, carefully concealing the loss he still felt. “It’s great. Thank you. That was really thoughtful.”

She brightened at his words and sincerity, springing from the couch. “Well, I also made you a pretty huge dinner to make up for all the rottenness of today. You can break in the new journal while I finish it up,” she said, disappearing into the small kitchen.

Davis, weary, decided to oblige.

My journal was stolen.’ He stared down at the words, crisp ink on white pages and sighed, before turning his attention to the kitchen where all manner of sounds and smells were emanating. He supposed he would find a way to live without his journal, though it seemed a daunting task. It was like starting life at square one, and that seemed to be a tall order this late in life. Hopeless, he looked back at the new journal, missing the familiar warmth and companionship of the old. But the white page caught his eye, marred by a handwriting not his own.

‘Write.’


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This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.