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Archive for January, 2015

Card Challenge: Day 6

Card Day 6: A small boy, dressed in a star-covered cape and wizard hat, holds a candle within an incandescent light bulb.

Wonder has always been a child’s greatest asset. Some individuals are particularly suited to kindling that wonder, turning it from a mere child’s fancy into a way of viewing the world as a magical place resting beneath a mundane veil. Charlie’s grandfather had always been that kind of man.

Age had exacted a toll, but had not withered Charlie’s Pappy. The man still stood proud, if slightly shorter and more stooped than before, with the same light sparkling in his blue eyes. Even the newly added bifocals did nothing to hide that glimmer. Charlie followed the man through the narrow hallway stuffed with mementos and memories.

“Your dad keeps telling me to clean this place out,” grumbled the elder as he shuffled along the hallway, “but I keep telling him that I’ve only got a few good years left. And damned if I’m going to spend them doing spring cleaning. When they plant me at the church, they can take a match to the whole place. Until then—” he reached for something half-submerged in a box of tissue paper—”I prefer to enjoy my collections.” In his hand was a cheap magic wand, black rubber with yellowed white tips. “Abracadabra!” he shouted joyfully as a bunch of cramped, smashed, and faded fabric flowers sprung from the end. He laughed, and Charlie smiled.

“I’m not sure that’s one of your best tricks,” Charlie chided jovially. His grandfather shrugged his shoulders and moved along.

“There’s always bound to be some duds. Can’t please everyone all the time. Can’t even please some people any of the time. You just have to worry about yourself, Charlie, and finding what makes you happy.”

Having reached the dusty kitchen, Charlie pulled the metal tin from the top of the refrigerator and pulled out two tea bags. His grandfather had the water already on the stove by the time he found two mugs in the cabinet.  “I’m going to rinse these out. They’ve gotten some dust in them,” he titled the mugs toward his grandfather, as if the man was to inspect and verify his claim. Instead, he waved him towards the sink.

Dusk had fallen quickly, Charlie noted as he stood over the sink. It was in those last blue-grey moments of the day, just before night fully descended. He reached to the wall and flicked the switch to turn on the over-sink light. There was a brief burst of light, then a soft pop and darkness.

At the table behind him, his grandfather snorted. “Darn fairies. Learnin’ too fast these days.” Charlie smiled; he had forgotten the old fairy story. Or, more accurately, he had not remembered it recently.

It started on a rainy day in mid-July. Charlie was over for a week with his grandparents in the summer. He and his grandfather were working on tilling the back garden for the second bean planting, and it had been Charlie’s job to run back to the shed for fertilizer. The shed was a tiny building, crammed full of various tools, as well as other odds and ends Grandmother had banished from the house. It was narrow and long, with no windows and a single creaky door. Charlie did not mind the shed too much, but the knowledge of spiders and possibly snakes lurking in the back often made him pause for the light before entering. Only, this time, it hadn’t come on.

“Light’s out, Pappy,” he called, trying to keep his nerves in check. The fertilizer was all the way in the back, past all the tools and cobwebs. It had seemed smart to store it back there in April, out of the way until time to plant again, and safe from any water that might blow in through the cracks around the door. Now it seemed frightening; a minefield lay between Charlie and his prize.

His grandfather stood from the dirt, brushing his hands onto the chest of his coveralls. He walked over and gave the pull string another tug or two. “Well, so it is. Darn fairies. You just can’t depend on them when you need them.”

Charlie smiled, noticing the glimmer of a smile in his grandfather’s eyes. “Fairies, Pappy?”

“Well, of course! How do you think that there light bulb works?”

“Well, dad says that the ‘lectrici—”

“Oh, your dad would say that. He never believed in fairies, you see. No, no, the truth is much simpler than all that ‘particles’ and ‘resistance’ talk. Ya’ see Chuck, fairies like to use light bulbs to train up their kiddos. All fairies are, of course, magical, but it takes a lot of hard work to learn how to use those powers right.”

Charlie nodded along dutifully. He was at that awkward age where he was old enough to notice the sly smile on his grandfather’s face and recognize the fantasy of the story, but young enough still to hope that is might somehow be true. He hung on every word, building a world where such beautiful fantasies could really exist. “So, how do they use the light bulbs?”

“Good question. You see, fairies used to have to practice out in the middle of everything. For fairy kids, that was especially dangerous. There are all sorts of things out there dangerous to fairies: hawks, snakes, spiders, just to name a few. Then, some folks got to talking with them, and came up with a plan. People would build some little glass homes, and the fairies could pop in and learn their magic anytime they wanted. The fairies thought this was a marvelous idea. Now, of course, people couldn’t have lights flashing on and off all hours of the night, so they agreed to put a switch. When they flipped the switch, it turned on a fairy vacancy sign, and ‘poof’ there came a fairy to get in some good training.”

“Then what happens when the light goes out?” asked Charlie, a tenor of concern in his young voice. His grandfather smiled broadly.

“Well, your fairy has graduated. Learned all he or she can, and is now out to see the big wide world. It’s a bit sad, of course, but you just get a new bulb and a new fairy will find its way to you. Ready to start some training?” His grandfather reached up to one of the talk shelves, pullign down a faded and dusty box. He tugged at the cardboard, revealing a new light for the ceiling. Charlie smiled and nodded, then paused.

“Pappy, if there’s a fairy in there, why can’t I see it?”

His grandfather looked confused for a moment. “What do you mean, kiddo? You see the light, right?” Charlie nodded. “Well, then you see the fairy. What did you think they looked like?” His grandfather gave a strong, barking laugh, and deftly replaced the failed bulb.

“Study hard, but not too hard,” Charlie advised the new light bulb above the sink, tapping it softly with his index finger. “I think I got you a dumber one this time.” He settled back into the present with the whistling kettle and his grandfather’s laugh. Wonder was always a child’s best asset, and some people never outgrew it.

This one is a bit weird, but it was at least fun to write. I’m going to be travelling over the next few days, and so, while I hope to keep up, it may mean I have to use one of my skip days. I’m just not sure I will have time when I’m not driving/interviewing/working over the next couple of days. But, the show will go on, it may just hit a minor snag. Thanks for reading, and I 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 5

Card Day 5: A dark haired woman walking through the snow toward a red rose.

Alaina walked swiftly through the snow, enjoying the sound of the icy surface snapping beneath her quick steps. She was on her way to the market today, and that meant it was certain to be a lovely time. From the nearby pines, birds chirped cheerily in the early morning air, hopping from branch to branch and shaking snow from the branches as they climbed. She smiled, enjoying the feelings of the sun on her skin. Snow was all she had ever known. Hers was a world of glistening crystals and frozen silence in the air. It was a world decorated with white garlands along every tree limb, set to twinkling by the tender rays of the sun.

Some of the oldest elders in her village told of times where there was no snow, or at least very little of it. They pointed to the gnarled fingers of empty grey trees and told tall tales of times when those had been filled with broad, thin, green leaves. Alaina scoffed at these stories, especially as they tried to claim those same trees held orange, yellow, and red leaves. They could not even keep their stories straight. These were their fables, alongside stories of talking animals and immortal gods. It was on days like today that she felt the true weight of their foolishness around her. Old timers were simply so close to death; they had to imagine some paradise, she thought. Though why their paradise demolished the pristine beauty of this world she would never understand.

The woods were up ahead. The boughs of the evergreens there knit together, turning the bright morning into early dusk. It was where she often went to think, to calm down, to breathe when life got hectic. She had been spending more and more time there recently, and her feet knew the paths all too well after the past few months of many thoughtful walks. But today, she had a goal that meant she could not explore and meander. Today, she must go to the market to buy sewing materials for her mother.

The trees creaked with a staunch breeze from the north, snow drifting from their branches as the trunks swayed rigidly. She felt a cold hand moving up her spine, the hair on the back of her neck rising at the darkness and the unsettling sound. The sun had disappeared behind some fresh, steel grey clouds, and the cold around her served to deepen the chill. She knew, of course, that it was merely the wind and clouds, but it nevertheless left a knot in her stomach. There must be a storm on the way, she reasoned, which began to calm her nerves. She had noticed the snow growing thin in some areas, so a replenishing storm was just what was needed. The chill along her back diminished, but refused to dissipate entirely. It arced with ferocity at each grown of the tall trees above her, making her jump at the sound of damp snow falling from the heights. Just a storm making its way in.

Her mind fled from the thoughts of the uneasy feeling in her bones, marking out the path ahead of her. The stream crossed her path ahead, a sheet of pale white that would be indistinguishable from the surrounding snow if she had not walked this path so many times. After that, she had another seven minutes to walk through the trees, and then would cross the river. The market should be set back just a short jaunt from the river, full of smiling people and brightly colored oddities to tempt her purse strings. She had been saving, and, perhaps after picking up the threads and fabric for her mother, she could buy something herself. She needed a new skinning knife, she remembered, and certainly there would be a nice one for reasonable coin. Her disquiet ebbed as she thought about the lovely things awaiting her. After such a walk, a hot chocolate and hot pastry was certainly in order.

Her thoughts led her, distracted, to the stream. She was already imagining the warmth of her lunch, and neglected to give the proper attention to the slick ice. Her feet suddenly betrayed her, skating along the clear surface in opposite directions. She flew backwards, her head cushioned by a drift of snow. Her hands, however, shot along the jagged ice, skinning her palms an angry red. She blinked a few times, the breath knocked from her, and took a quick assessment of the aches and pains. Her tailbone hurt, as did her hands. One ankle throbbed dully, but she judged it unlikely to be indicative of a sprain or break. Otherwise, she felt mostly intact, excepting her bruised pride. Fortunately, there was no one there to see her splayed across the ice like a toddler on her first outing.

Alaina pushed herself to sit, glancing around to reorient herself. It happened to the best, she thought, and gingerly moved towards the bank to get to her feet. She was not certain she could yet trust her ankle on this ice, and another fall certainly was not going to be helpful. She shuffled to the edge, and then froze, her eyes not certain how to interpret what she was seeing.

The bank was not snow covered. There was a distinctly open patch, dark, muddy brown that contrasted with the vibrant purity of the snow. That was not all, either. In the midst of the ugly brown, something green reached from the surface, ending in a deep red bloom. Alaina had ever seen anything like it, and her mind raced along the old timer stories. Some red flower, not the snowdrops she was used to, but something stark and rebellious in its brilliant color. She blinked, as if expecting the illusion to vanish. Had she struck her head, she wondered?

With shaking fingers, she reached out towards the strange flower. She touched the petals quickly, drawing back as if they might immediately bite. Yet the flower stood placidly, innocently, smiling in the snow. Alaina reached out again to feel the velvety sooth rows of petals standing in their symmetrical formation. She reached to the stem, grasping it suddenly, only to withdraw. This time, it had bitten her. She glanced at the thorns along its stem, then at the small pinprick of blood on her finger. What a dangerous thing.

More careful this time, she plucked the red flower from its planted spot. If she had never seen such a thing, surely others would be interested as well. Alaina hurried along her way to the market, excited to show off her prize and amaze those around her. Perhaps she could cultivate these things, make herself a healthy living selling the lovely plant. She held the flower gingerly, showing it to all who would look, and easily gained a moderate crowd. Suddenly, the crowd parted, letting Marjorie through. The old timer took one look at the flower, her eyes growing wide with amazement.

“The thaw,” whispered the old woman. At her words, the clouds opened up, raining for the first time in years on the frozen world.

Day five done, which is pretty cool! It’s a pretty minor victory, but I’m proud of myself.  I also spent most of today making fantastic cupcakes–dark chocolate with strawberry filling and dark chocolate icing. Love it, and love having different ways to be creative on what is, in my neck of the woods, a snowy quiet day. Soon, my vacation is over and its back to the grind, but it has been great. I’m really enjoying this project so far, though it is daunting. I hope you have been enjoying the stories as well! I’m trying to vary the style, theme, characters, and genre of different ones, though I am just generally writing whatever comes to mind from the card prompt. Also, these are pretty much first-pass stories, meaning I have done basic editing and proofreading, as well as making sure I stay in the word count, but they are otherwise unedited. So, please let me know if you have any suggestions on how to improve. Happy reading!

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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 4

Card Day 4: A boy investigates a large, open clam shell on the beach. Pearls are scattered along the inside of it, and footprints lead away from the shell.

The beach was hazy with the early morning sun, the evening’s fog still clinging to the hope of a new day. Daryl liked it at this time of day, so serene. The fog muffled even the echoes of the seagulls overhead, transforming the beach into his own private thought chamber. The tides rolled in, impervious to the fog, and brushed at his toes with cool tendrils. He breathed deep of the salty air, enjoying the quiet and the cool touch of sun and fog against his skin.

Ahead of him, footsteps appeared in the sand, seemingly from the midst of the ocean itself. Daryl simply assumed that meant the tide had washed the rest away, or the owner had simply enjoyed a soggier walk thus far. He put it from his mind, instead inspecting the steps that joined him. They were slender and almost impossibly shallow in the moist sand, leading off along the edge of the tide. Glancing behind him, Daryl saw a matching—significantly heavier—set of his own trailing off into the distance. There was something poetic in the image, of two travelers missing each other through the impossibility of time. He shook his head, freeing it from the overly reflective thoughts of his recently woken brain.

The beach only led one way, however, and so Daryl continued his morning walk, careful not to mar his companion’s steps. To him, they provided all the comfort of human contact without the irritation of sharing his morning with another soul.

The beach curved along the path, the tides droning their constant rhythm as they slinked along the low tide markers. Daryl felt his mind wandering, skipping along the waves and meandering along the beach. He made a game of planting his step perfectly in line with the light, steady prints of his mystery companion, leaving an identical path in the sand. Lost in thought and his own silly walking exercise, he found himself surprised by the sudden turn in the steps. Backing away from the beach, they led towards an outcropping of stones. He paused, torn. Did he continue following the steps, seeking whatever adventure might await him, or did he continue his path. There was some part of him that felt sad and anxious with the thought of deserting his fellow traveler, and another part that urged him to see what might lie beyond. Then again, he was also distinctly aware of the possibility that he could appear as a terrifying stranger, stalking someone along the beach, should he continue.

It could not hurt, he finally reasoned, to at least see where the steps led. Perhaps there was a parking lot somewhere nearby, or a kitschy beach restaurant. He pressed ahead.

The steps led to a tangle of rocks, each smoothed carefully by the relentless tides. Beyond the rocks was a small opening in the cave, distinctive footsteps marking the sparse sand at the entry way. He knew he certainly risked appearing as a completely creepy character, but his interest was also piqued. It would be nothing, he thought, to dart in and explore. It was not like his fellow walker owned this stretch of beach. And, they might even welcome some friendly company in their isolation.

The shadows closed around him as he entered the small cave. The tunnel actually seemed to lighten ahead, and Daryl felt disappointment rise. So, just a short break through the cave. He was unlikely to finally meet his companion, he bemoaned. Nevertheless he pressed forward, and felt his jaw drop as he grew closer to the glowing light. Rather than a short jaunt, he found himself tucked into a sheltered cavern. The top opened up to a blue sky that was now streaming sunshine, letting the rays filter down to crystal clear water below. Daryl was in shock, at once enraptured by the beautiful surroundings, and yet equally confused because he was certain no such place could exist without someone finding it before. Yet no tourist umbrellas dotted the scene, nor were there the government mandated wooden posts guarding the opening to the chasm. It was undisturbed.

Undisturbed, he thought, but for the lovely woman seated next to the water, her back to him. Long, black hair fell down to her mid-back, lying softly against pale skin. Her hair glistened with what appeared to be pearls, the minerals wrapped around the strands almost as if they had formed there simply as adornment. Daryl felt sudden embarrassment and discomfort, quickly turning to leave, but not before stumbling over the loose rocks of the floor. She turned to face him, blue eyes swimming in a lovely round face. Her lips, red and full, broke into a smile. She patted the ground beside her.

“Me?” Daryl asked, pointing to himself as if she could have been confused by the surrounding crowd of observers. She smiled wider and nodded. Surprised by his fortune, Daryl made his way to the rocky beach beside her. He settled to the ground, giving her a nervous grin, and then dropped his feet into the water next to her. Or he meant to. Only, when he looked down, her feet were not feet at all, but a single, pale green fin arcing through the water. He rose immediately, stumbling back toward the entrance. But she stood, lithely pursuing him with worry in her eyes. She stood on two legs, ending in dainty feet that matched the steps he had so dutifully followed. Her eyes were sad, brimming with tears, and she gently tugged his arm back towards the water.

The water played a trick on him, he reassured himself, only to watch her legs dip below the surface and transform once again into the single fin. Daryl felt he must be dreaming, must be hallucinating, or had eaten some really bad seafood the night before. She gestured towards her fin, then lifted it from the water to reveal two slender legs. Her face was lit by a vibrant smile as she shared her secret, and Daryl felt his discomfort ease. It was bizarre and utterly unbelievable, but what was life without adventure? He sat, enjoying the sun and the muted sound of the waves beside this lovely and mysterious woman.

Eventually, he noticed the water seeping in the door through which he had entered. The tides must be rising, he thought. He stood, fumbling for his words. “I—I have to go. It’s getting late, and—” her face broke into a deep frown. “I—I really enjoyed it, I just—”

Without warning, the woman struck with savage speed, her arms encircling his legs as her body dove into the crystal water of the cove. Daryl fought against her toward the surface, but her hands cut deep into his chest, holding him down. The beautiful woman of before was replaced by some wretched, water-logged thing, its eyes lifeless and black as a fish’s. Her lips were thin, narrow, revealing narrow, needle-like teeth. She held him below the water as he struggled, as the water ballooned from his chest in ascending bubbles. Daryl saw the sun shimmering above him, and watched it slowly grow dark.

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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 3

Card Day 3: A white candle, dripping red, slowly burns through a thin rope stretched above it.

Her legs shook, tapping out a tireless rhythm that she hoped would stave off the fatigue pulling at her eyelids. To say she was tired was an understatement, as egregious as trying to describe her condition with the simple term “exhausted.” Kara was quickly collapsing in on herself, unwound by a week of sleepless nights. Her eyes hung heavy with deep grey bags, and her head pounded with a relentless pulse that, in most circumstances, would have made sleep impossible. But in her state of sleep deprivation, it instead seemed to rock her and lull her towards sleep, the only cure and the most certain poison.

“The train is now arriving in the station. The train is now arriving in the station,” droned the mechanical woman overhead. That was the ninth train she had watched roll in, and she could see the security guard beginning to eye her warily. She had been seated there for nearly three hours, head hung low and eyes foggy with regrets. He was, likely, certain that she was carefully selecting the wheels to end her misery. Kara stood on wobbly legs. She liked the train station because of the constant noise, the hubbub of people coming and going. But it was clear she had overstayed her welcome. She slipped in just as the sliding doors swung closed behind her. She would go down a station and take watch again. It was getting late, she mused, so perhaps it was time to find some shady 24-hour joint serving stale coffee by the pot.

She sat, trying to find a balance between relief for her aching joints, and enough discomfort to last the ten minute ride to the next stop. Her neck ached and her eyes burned. She tried blinking quickly to clear away the nagging sting, but found her lids had grown even heavier. In her mind, some sibilant voice whispered that relief was waiting if she would just hold her eyes closed for one second more. Her head was heavy, as were her limbs, her tongue, and most importantly her eyes. So heavy, that surely one second more would not make a difference.

Kara snapped her eyes wide, staring once again down the moonlit path towards a listing shack in the deep woods.  A single candle burned in the window, a beacon directing her feet down the muddy path towards the door she never wanted to see again. Her feet moved of their own accord, pulling her forward in a daze. While her thoughts screamed, her body remained relaxed and calm, taking confident strides towards the rickety wooden door.

She could hear humming from inside as her fist rapped against the warped wooden boards. It was a song that awakened deep ambivalence within her. On the one hand, there was a rapid, lilting quality to it that reminded her of times spent in laughter, frivolity, and adventure. It was the image of a smile. Yet there was some twist or turn to the notes which promised a bleak future and ultimate despair. Kara felt herself at once drawn to it and repulsed, but unable to ultimately do anything but what her body demanded. The humming grew louder as the door opened.

The woman standing there was stooped with the weight of many years, her face a haggard mask of deep set wrinkles forming fissures in her face. Her hair spun out in wispy strands of spider silk, catching the flickering candlelight and disappearing with the shadows. The milky white, unseeing eyes fixed Kara firmly to the spot as her lips cracked into a toothless grin.

“Kara, Kara! I thought you had lost the way to me. Do come in.”

The woman shuffled to the side, gesturing to the large, dark interior. The room was bare but for the candle, a pile of yarn, a sturdy three-legged stool. And the ancient frame of the loom. Without another word, the woman made her creaking way to the stool and began the loom rocking once again. ”You came at the perfect time. I’ve nearly finished your tapestry here. I think you will love it!” crowed the old woman, her fingers moving deftly over the strands like spiders spinning a web.

Kara was frozen, the fear inside of her spilling through her mind like an avalanche while her body remained solid, still, unmoving, and unaffected. In and out came the steady breaths from her lungs as her heart plodded along its natural course. Only inside could Kara feel the panic building at the woman’s words. She had to wake up before the piece was finished. She had to break free. Only her everything was suddenly captive, enthralled, and enslaved by the soothing sound of the woman’s voice. The humming returned, fitting the rhythmic motions of her hands as the carefully directed the loom in the woven dance.

“Just the finished touches now, dear. Can’t have a strand out of place in something this important, eh?” Her hands danced over the surface of the nearly finished square of fabric, its contents hidden by the unsteady candlelight. Apparently satisfied, she lifted it valiantly into the light, dragging a tail of yarn behind her. “Here it is! All for you!”

The fear in Kara’s mind overflowed into her body as she saw the forsaken tapestry. On it, she saw her body lying lifeless on cold pavement, her arm pulling away at an impossible angle while blood leaked from her head. The threads ran dark, deep crimson in a amorphous pool, silhouetting her broken body in the street. Kara screamed, her legs finally free to drag herself towards the door. Perhaps she still had time to escape the woven fate.

The woman smiled broadly. “I knew you’d love it.” She carefully drew a pair of long, rusted scissors from the pocket of her moth-eaten housecoat, drawing them briskly across the remaining strings with a sharp snap. As the metal ripped through the final pieces of yarn, Kara felt her eyes snap open.

The train was around her, gliding softly into the station. “Now arriving at Nornwood Station. Please watch your step when exiting to the platform,” cautioned the cheery voice from above. Kara stood, her legs protesting with the sudden burst of movement, and bolted onto the platform and towards the stairs. She took them two at a time, climbing eagerly towards the crisp blast of evening air. She gasped, ridding herself of the foul stagnant air from the dreamt cabin, her throat raw from her scream.

Kara looked for the diner on the corner, seeking it like a beacon of safety after what she had endured. Had she been in time? Her feet hurried across the pavement, swift to escape the woman’s hum, but not swift enough to outrun the squeal of brakes fighting—and losing—against rain-slicked streets.

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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 2

Card Day 2: A castle floating through the sky from a hot air balloon.

Mark carefully navigated the narrow passage between the spires, pushing the throttle to pull himself from what, in the hands of a less experienced pilot, would have been a certain fiery explosion. The controls were smooth beneath his hand, reacting not as mechanical components, but as some biological extension of his own will. For Mark, such things had always come easily. The plane was not an object hurtling through the air, but his own consciousness speeding towards his desired ends.

He brought he plane to rest, his heroics having, once again, saved the day. He pulled the needed coordinates from the copilot’s chair, handing them off to the waiting private, who hurried off with a look of admiration and awe. Mark smiled, a swagger to his steps, scanning the hustling faces until her found the one that met his eyes with a sultry stare. She moved towards him, her hips swaying side to side hypnotically as green eyes pouted at him from above full red lips. Her hair fell in perfect golden curls, brushing up against her pressing breasts. Her eyes were hungry and amazed, taking in his tall physique, his cavalier grin, his heroism and success.

She reached him from across the tarmac, her eyes never leaving his body. Her lips found his, pulling him closer so he could feel the rise and fall of her chest, the fullness of her breasts, the heat of her desire. Mark thrust himself into the moment, the passion, the—

–sound of laughter jolted him from his momentary revelry. He looked about, quickly, taking in the pool of sticky drool on his desk and the disapproving stare of his third period history teacher. Ms. Spinham fixed him with decidedly less interested stare, but one that cut to his core with all the ice of the dream woman’s warmth.

“I’m not sure that level of enjoyment is appropriate for World War II, Mr. Cavanaugh.”

A giggle rippled through the classroom again as Mark fumbled to pick his fallen glasses off the desk, muttering an embarrassed apology as he tried to make himself small in his chair. Gary gave him a woeful half smile from across the room, shrugging his shoulders in solidarity. At least, Mark reasoned, he had an ally in the battle that was high school.

“That was brutal,” groaned Gary as they melded into the mass of students. Mark shook his head.

“You don’t have to tell me. It’ll be the end of the semester before I live that down.”

“Hey, it could’ve been worse.”

Gary’s attempt at reassurance was flimsy at best, and Mark was in no mood to graciously accept the trite sentiment. “Really, Gary? How could that have been any worse?” Mark snapped, throwing his hands up in the air in defeat.

Gary knit his brows together, a flash of irritation in his eyes. “At least all that moaning wasn’t talking, compadre. You could have been all ‘Oh, Janice, Janice, kiss me harder.'” His words had the magical ability to cut through the din of the hallway during passing period, and Mark felt the color further drain from his face. From around him, people turned to glance his way, not bothering to hide their smirking faces. It did not take long for the whispers to start. To his credit, Gary looked similarly pale, and threw him a half-apologetic glance before distancing himself from the heartily labeled social pariah. Mark sighed. This too shall pass.

Fourth period, Science. Fifth, lunch. By that time, Gary had developed a sufficient apology, and cautiously shared the table with him. Sixth was English, and nearly the end of the day. Mark slouched into the classroom, trying not to make eye contact with all the grinning faces waiting to make some remark. Not making eye contact did not stop them from making the comments, but Mark reasoned it gave him plausible deniability that he ever heard them. Mr. Stonebrook began the lesson on the early works of American literature, scrawling dates and authors across the board with reckless abandon. Mark tried to keep up, but soon found himself doodling fantastic castles, as well as a dubious self-portrait topped with a marvelous crown. Of course, to an outsider looking in, the scribbles more closely resembled the fallen walls of a ramshackle shack, and his crown appeared to be misshapen antlers protruding from a potato, but Mark amused himself nonetheless. Until his felt the heavy silence of the classroom.

Mark looked up from his doodles to find Mr. Stonebrook smiling at him. “Can you read the next paragraph?”

Mark floundered. “Uh—I think I can—” his fingers danced across the book as his eyes tried to sneak a glance at the page number. “What’s the first word?”

“She walked.”

Flustered, uncomfortable, and uncertain he was on the right page, Mark began reading, his words coming in starts and stops as he eyed the class for any sign of mistake. Fortunately, the paragraph ended without event, and Mr. Stonebrook turned his smiling gaze to the next student.

After an eternity of forced attention, the bell rang and freed Mark from the building. He hurriedly packed his bag, but was stopped by Mr. Stonebrook’s friendly voice.

“Stay a minute, Mark?” Mark nodded, mute, and waited by the door of the room until it was finally empty. “I got you request to write you a letter of recommendation for college,” began his teacher, “and I’m more than happy to. I was just wondering if, maybe, you know—” Mr. Stonebrook was stumped, and Mark could see it clearly. The man stumbled for a few more moments over the words before they finally spilled out. “Have you, just a thought, but maybe considered community college or a trade school? I mean, they can both be great options.”

Mark was stumped. He stared at his teacher for a moment, before mumbling some sort of assent with a forced smile. Mr. Stonebrook smiled.

“Good, I just, ah, just wanted to see what your plans were. Have a great afternoon.”

Freed, Mark walked home in solitude, finding his way back to his room for another round of peace and quiet. He lay back on his bed, visions of fighter pilots and beautiful damsels dancing through his head. He smiled. When you could imagine as well as he could, did it really matter what the reality was? He closed his eyes, opening them on a dense jungle. Behind him, gunfire tore through the surroundings, overwhelming the frenzied yells of his pursuers. Mark lifted himself into the branches of the tree, scaling them swiftly as his eyes picked his targets from the underbrush. It was good to be the best.

Full confession, this is one paragraph over two pages, but…it’s close, and the dialogue took up a lot of room. By word count, it is equal to day one, so I may adjust to 1000-1200 words max rather than the page count, just to keep dialogue from messing me up! Also, this is inspired from the card as seen through the lens of the “building castles in the air” idiom, in case it wasn’t clear. I thought about a fantasy piece about a flying city, but I kind of like this one better. 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.

Not Dead! Plus, the Beginning of a New Challenge

EDIT: If this posts a dozen times, I apologize. WordPress is giving me some weird issues.

I’m not dead! It may have certainly seemed like it over the past few weeks, but it is not the case. I was hoping to return sometime mid-November, but life just got messy. I was majorly burned out on everything, meaning I had the energy to do the bare minimum in class, take sufficient care of my clients, and collapse into a puddle of human on the couch each night. It, frankly, has been two months filled with stress, anxiety, disappointment, and frustration, with some bright spots thrown in. Admittedly, those bright spots generally included a complete shirking of all responsibilities. Not to say I wasn’t doing anything. I did some beta reading, even editing an entire book for someone. (Interested? You can contact me about beta-reading/editing here!). I also successfully bought Christmas presents for the important folks in my life, took final exams, and traveled to visit my family and in-laws (in geographically distinct places) over the holiday. Now, life enters a new season of busy, but I at least have a little charge in my batteries.

That said, I am introducing a new topic on the blog. I always try to “write more” for my New Year’s resolution, and this year there is a project I have wanted to tackle. I’m not sure if anyone is familiar with the game Dixit, but it is amazingly fun and simple. It is a game of creativity and problem solving, played with large cards. These cards have various scenes on them, with a wide range of subject matters. They are really unique cards (created, according to the box, by Marie Cardouat). If you are a game fan, go out and buy it. My challenge to myself is to write a short (1-2 page max) story about each card over the next 84 days. I can be long winded, and so I am keeping myself to a pretty strict page limit to force myself to condense ideas and tell simple stories effectively. I also need to inspiration to write daily, and these cards seem to promise a challenge and a good base to jump from. I debated providing some visual form of the card to accompany each, but I really could not come up with something that preserved the copyright of the material while being effective, so I will simply include a verbal description. If you want to follow along at home, go buy yourself the game and you’ll be able to find most cards.

While it goes without saying, I’m going to say it anyway. This is in no way associated with the actual game itself, nor is it sanctioned or approved by the creators, publishers, or anyone. I’m doing this all on my own, without anyone’s blessing or permission. (Which also means my urging you to buy the game is purely because I really enjoy it, and like to share things I like). This is just something I am doing for myself. My goal is to make each story stand alone, without any need to reference the cards to understand or appreciate them, but to use those as inspiration. The card draws will be random, but I will not repeat a card. There are 84 cards, so I should have 84 stories in just a few months time. We’ll see how it goes. My hope it to do 84 sequential days, but life does have a way of flinging wrenches into plans. Rather than make it something that is a failure after one missed day, I want to provide myself the room to pick back up if I get off by a day or two, so I am giving myself until April 1 to finish this. That gives me six days to miss, if necessary.

Without further ado, this first card-inspired story.

Card Day 1: A gold ring around a lock of braided hair.

The ring was heavy in her hand, its gold band carrying supernatural weight. Michaela could remember a time when it had been light as air, levitating her hand into everyone’s view. She had proudly displayed the thing, simple as it was, her eyes beaming as her cheeks ached with the effort of so many smiles. Only now it weighed like a stone in her hand, and like an anchor to her heart. Her cheeks were dragged down by the weight into a permanent frown, and her eyes were dull with grief. She breathed deep, steeling herself, and let the simple ring fall into the bottom of her drawer. It hit the wood with a thunk, like the sound of fresh dirt on a sealed lid. This time, she did not cry. Her tears were well-spent.

She had hoped that sealing away the reminder would lessen the weight pushing down on her shoulders, but that childish hope was defeated y the somber reality. No, the weight remained, a heaviness in her lungs that made each breath an exercise in diligence. For what was far from the first time, she wondered what would happened if she stopped so carefully forcing her lungs to inflate and deflate, leaving them to her own devices. The logical side scoffed at such an idea, but some broken part embraced the childish hope that there would be rest.

Five months, thirteen days. Her solemn calendar made her feel all at once the immediacy and the distance between that night five months and thirteen days ago. In one sense, she was so close to those times that had been happy. She could remember the sound of his voice, the color of his eyes, and the scent of his cologne. She remembered their jokes and secrets, all the plans and dreams built on a foundation of sand. Of course, with this happiness, there was the immediacy of the pain, always seething right below the surface. She remembered the numbness replaced by searing pain as she held the phone in her hand. The cold, crisp, practiced words on the line tethering her to a reality she so desperately wished to flee. The tears, the sobs, the dismal task of selecting the perfect coffin as she played the role of the grieved not-yet widow. It was all right there in that moment, separated from the now by a few breaths.

And yet, it was all so distant, as if viewed from some satellite orbiting above. Decades had passed since that phone call, wearing and eroding her heart and soul with the cruel passivity of time. Her body felt the ache of his missed presence, and the small token she had sequestered around the hat—his favorite sweatshirt, his pillow, the baseball cap her wore religiously—had already lost his scent. The season had changed, cool spring winds wiping away the winter tragedy. The world spun, steadily erasing him as each day passed. And so, she felt his distance even as she felt that she would, at any moment, awaken from this dream that had held her so long captive.

But today, she had put away his ring, tucking it along with the notes and letters, the small tokens of early love that remained a touchstone of overwhelming emotion. She had placed her letters along with his, creating a sacred space for a love that once was and had been swiftly extinguished. In some fantasy, she imagined that the drawer held some secret time capsule, some reality where the words of her letters blended with his even as the little drawings and strange gifts –like the plastic spider from the Halloween party or the photostrip from their first date—rewrote and gilded their history, preserving both lovers into eternity. An eternity they had planned to pledge this very day, five months and thirteen days from when it all fell apart.

Silence was the enemy. Michaela had learned that early in her grief. In silence, her thoughts had free rein to twist her memories and her longings back to times that had been brighter. It obscured the present under a haze of nostalgia, paralyzing her to her spot. She rose from her seat of dutiful grief and turned on the radio, finding some station filled with the buzz of guitar and nasally singing. The words and sounds mattered less than their presence, and she felt her protective barrier of avoidance close in once again. Her ring finger felt bare, naked, weightless, but she carefully redirected her thoughts. She needed to make the grocery list.

‘Bread, milk, tea…’she dutifully recited in her mind, running through her cupboards carefully, ‘a box of pasta, two cans of sauce, cereal.’ Her thoughts paused, suspended in the minute decision of which brand to write down. He had always loved the name brand with those tiny marshmallows, something she had always hated but nevertheless devoured over the past five months. She kept the box there just for him. Her pen hovered over the paper, and she felt she was suddenly at a crucial crossroads. ‘Cereal-Cheerios.’ She wrote it without thinking, without pondering the implications. She immediately redirected her thoughts back to the music playing, letting the dangerous grocery list lie dormant for a moment. It was some sugary pop song, blaring enthusiasm and recklessness to cover what Michaela assumed was deep-seated pain.

She couldn’t sit still. For five months, she had been a ghost wandering her home, floating from room to room with no purpose other than to remain moving. It was a pattern she did not foresee soon breaking. She pushed back from the table and walked towards her room. Perhaps a shower would wash away the heaviness of the day, freeing her to continue her well-practiced avoidance.

Michaela froze in the doorway. On the top of the dresser was the ring, resting accusatorily atop the flowery invitation for their wedding. The looping words spelled out the day’s date, a cheery font chosen in a happier time. While this caused a pang of grief to slice through her, it was the mirror that made her freeze. Written in a thick, brown dirt, the word” forever” scrawled its way across the glass with shaky and broken strokes.

Over the sound of the music, Michaela heard three strong raps on the apartment door. She trembled as she walked down the long hallway to the door, past the smiling faces in dusty picture frames. She peered through the peephole as his eyes stared back. Michaela placed her hand on the strangely cold doorknob, her eyes wide with a mixture of fear, hope, and panic. Grief, she reminded herself, could easily play tricks on one’s mind. That was one lesson she had learned from her counselor early on, after many nights of waking with the certainty those were his footsteps in the living room or his weight in the bed next to her. She tried to calm her breathing, prepare for the inevitable disappointment of a deliveryman or well-meaning neighbor. But some part of her, the part that could not explain the ring or the cemetery script, hoped and feared.

Michaela opened the door.

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