this blog series is called APADO
i write a post for every single day-o
although the commitment is a little bit frightening
backdate posting is saving my timing
*dum dum dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum*)
(it’s one o’clock in the morning and i have no idea what to post about and maybe – just maybe – i just want to have some fun tonight. so i apologize in advance.)
I starting writing The Sentinel in July. More specifically, I started building on a little sliver of an idea that had been rattling around in my brain for approximately thirteen hours.
Gotta love pantsers.
What I came out with was a story that
had much more promise than I was used to my stories having
was cohesive enough to be read by outside sources and get a second opinion on
and deserved a sequel.
I left a lot of things unexplained in The Sentinel. It was sort of on purpose – to get into the things I didn’t elaborate on would have taken away the focus that I’m so proud of the story having. So I’m writing a sequel to:
build more on the themes and arcs I set up in the first part
and retrospectively elaborate on some things I brushed over in The Sentinel. I’m not sure if this is the thing I’m supposed to do, but considering that I’m a Fauxthor™ and don’t care, I’m doing it anyways.
Working cover for now:
Working teeny-weeny blurb:
Gwen feels that the faster she runs away from her fears, the taller they seem to loom over her. In an effort to take back what’s rightfully hers, she quests to find her roots, her scars – and perhaps a strength she didn’t know she possessed.
I’m really trying hard not to spoil anything. Hehe. Because the first Sentinel only worked on a basis of being stomach-churningly twisty.
I’m still not sure I’m ready for Nano to begin in four measely days. But I’d love to hear about your Nano projects! Talk my ear off. I’m listening.
(How am I already 2/3 of the way through APADO? It seems like it’s gone by pretty quickly. Who knew that posting once a day would be so much fun?)
(Also I apologize for yesterday’s sorry excuse for a post. I was in a hurry. In fact I didn’t even go through that twice. And I’m really, REALLY regretting that. Hehe.)
I don’t think it’d be fair to say that I “do” photography. Do I like taking pictures? Yes. Do I think about taking photos all the time? No.
Really, the reason I take photos is to create a visual trigger for something I could describe in more detail. Be that a place I really love, or good times with friends and family, that’s the extent of my “love” of photography.
(And then I turn around and take photos for my blog and that has nothing to do with visual triggers. I hate it when I can’t make a reason for something absolute.)
I’ve got a folder called “Lanscapey stuff”. (To say that my file naming system is bizarre is an understatement.) In addition to myriads of blurry photos I can’t decide if I should delete or not, it’s got a lot of my visual triggers in it. Today, I’ve decided to pull ten of those out of the vault and see if I can jar my memory.
Back before I knew how to use a camera, I went to the Grand Canyon and had the opportunity to take the photos of a lifetime.
Unfortunately, hardly any of my pictures turned out to be any good. However, there were a few good shots, like this one.
But do photos really do this place justice? In real life, this place was bigger than any frame. All I could see from one side of the horizon to the other was the canyon, the striped rocks descending down toward the river. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so small.
Icy trees look pretty cool.
I froze my fingers off trying to capture how cool it was. My hot breath hanging in the air, my hands trembling, but a triumphant smile spreading across my red face as I got a shot that looked alright. That was an interesting afternoon.
I took a camping/hiking trip to Caprock Canyons State Park – a ton of my “good” photos are from that trip. The area is really arid, but we heard that there was a cave where a bunch of ferns grew naturally, thanks to a spring and some irrigating rocks. So we hiked to the unimaginatively named Fern Cave.
I was not disappointed.
It was at least ten degrees cooler on the enormous rock I was sitting on – just the thing to cheer up a group of hot, dusty hikers. The constant drip of the water off the edges of the ferns echoed off the sides of the little alcove where they hung, swinging in the breeze, growing despite the desert around them.
And I saw a wild frog for the first time. That was pretty neat.
During that same trip, we got so hot in the afternoon that we decided to go drive around in the car for some relief and some wind through our hair. We wandered down a bunch of country roads and by several farms and ended up finding this relaxing tunnel of scraggly oak trees:
It was so quiet here, I could here my own thoughts.
We also found a dirt road that led out to the middle of nowhere that was sort of anticlimatic but very pictreusque.
I think the most wonderful thing about this photo is that there are absolutely no power lines – just the ribbon of caliche stretching for a good mile and the tawny brush swaying as the wind tickled the top of it.
But to be honest, God’s beautiful creation is everywhere.
Like this gorgeous sunset that painted the sky back home one night. Not even the power lines can spoil this one.
I guess all my good landscapey stuff photos are taken while hiking and camping. Go figure. Needle Rock is a neat natural monument on a Boy Scout ranch in Fort Davis.
Unlike the Grand Canyon, pictures do this one visual justice. But they don’t show the feeling of passing under this spire of twisted rock, the shadow that falls over you as you stare up at it in awe, the sun sparkling from behind it…
Yeah, I swear all my good photos are hiking photos.
My brother had wandered ahead of us when I took this photo. I didn’t realize until I went back through all these photos that he makes this photo eighty times better. A man, walking all alone in the desert while stormclouds loom over him…
…I promise no more camping photos. Hehe.
Sometimes, a new angle changes everything.
These icicles look really neat from the underside. Kind of like teeth, I imagine. What’s even cooler is how the ones on the right are bent from the winter wind blowing them as they melt.
And finally, oleander flowers.
They’re some of the prettiest things out there, and they come from the strangest source. Who would’ve thought that these big, green, lumpy bushes would have nice flowers?
I can’t decide if this was a photography post or a writing post. Maybe it was both.
I suppose I need to start taking my camera more places. Who knows what I’ll find that’ll a visual trigger?
(is-thay is pado-ay, y-may og-blay eries-say at-thay i’m ired-tay of troducing-inay. one ost-pay ery-evay ay-day or-fay the tire-enay onth-may of ober-octay.)
(I’m going to pretend like I actually know what I’m talking about today okay? Okay.)
As I’m sure you’ve heard a million times, a complex character is a good character. One of the ways that authors flesh out characters is by giving them flaws. But I’ve seen time and time again where a character’s flaws aren’t actually flaws. I’m hoping to shed some light on the subject of flawed characters with some examples and a lot of satire.
But are your characters’ flaws actual flaws?
For it to be a flaw, it has to actually have an effect. If your character has anger issues, they have to actually hurt friendships and make things difficult. Because is it really a flaw if it has no impact?
If you say that your character’s flaw is clumsiness, but all their clumsiness does is make them endearing, is that really a flaw? What about dropping the important object and breaking it? Tripping over a sleeping guard’s foot?
When you give your character flaws, make sure they actually have an impact.
(this post marks the halfway mark of apado – the only blog series that I know of that involves posting once a day for the entire month of october and chocolate-covered cactus fruit.)
(okay tess, let’s not rant about this little booger of a book. focus on the calming piano music. the sun’s getting real low.)
(with that in mind, we’re going to keep this brief)
Since I apparently have a knack for triggering people with my thoughts on critically acclaimed works, let’s talk about Great Expectations and everything I dislike about it everything it has taught me about storytelling.
If you like this book, I don’t mean you any offense. You’re totally allowed to like what you like and no one’s stopping you. In fact, I’d like to hear what it was that made this book worth it for you.
But for me?
I was done with it after about chapter four, but for some strange reason, I read the entire thing. Maybe it was a willpower issue.
At the end of everything, I thumped it closed, took a deep breath and said aloud – “I hated everyone and everything in that book and I’m so glad it’s over.” Of course, hate is a very strong word and I try to avoid overusing it…but this was not an overstatement.
There are a few reasons why I was so frustrated with it.
For starters, it’s very verbose. This is the least of its problems, but I kept on losing track of what I was reading because I was distracted by one of his incredibly long sentences. I read that the story was originally published in serial format – a little each week, paid by the word. It shows. The interruptions and rambling made me focus less on the actual story and more on his unorthodox way of saying things.
It also feels kind of creepy. In my opinion, the synopsis on the jacket doesn’t merit the spooky, crumbling-to-pieces setting and tone the book has. Everything is disturbed, off-kilter and missing the spark of vivacity and brightness that most classics have. I don’t like this feeling for the same reason that I don’t like Tim Burton – it creeps me out.
(Can we also talk about how Pip has this huge crush on Estella even though she treats him like a doormat and he knows it? I don’t think that’s flirtatious banter anymore, buddy. I think that’s abuse.)
Romance advice aside, though, the characters were the biggest problem in this story. I had to ponder as to why I was so indifferent toward them, seeing as one of the only good things about this book was the diverse cast. After a while, I finally cracked it.
I hated everything about this book because I didn’t care about any of the characters. Their goals, their ambitions, their expectations…all of it was lost on me because I couldn’t get over their whiny attitudes, intense revenge plots, and so on. There were barely any people in the book that I felt like I could stand behind, and this made everyone’s goals seem pointless.
I guess the thing with Great Expectations is (for me) that the cast fails to complete the goal of every character: to build a connection with the reader and get them hooked into the story. If no one cares about a character, they’re not going to care about their goals, the plot, or the point the novel is trying to make.
This is a really important point that I want to emphasize before I talk any more about character creation. The only way to keep a reader’s interest is to maintain that connection from the page to the real world.
Nothing is as important in storytelling as this.
tl;dr: I have to like your characters to care about your book.
(i’m now two weeks into APADO – a freaky-awesome blog series that has me posting something every single day. it’s been fun. and panic-inducing. and fun.)
(golden rule of blogging: when you’re stuck, go back and look at something you haven’t touched in at least a year. you will have inspiration.)
I guess I had never realized just how much I written until, back in March, I decided to make a cohesive list of everything I’d ever written. It was not a simple task. Instead of just listing my Nanowrimo novels, I dug through my old notebooks and found even the scraps of stories I’d started and abandoned.
Really, I’ve already spoiled how many words that adds up to, but now I have to prove it. Right?
Let’s get into it.
2015’s YWP sorry excuse for a novel was A Falcon of Gold. Also known as the most horrible piece of garbage to grace my writerapp. Somehow 40k words long.
2016’s novel, A Charger In Command, was the equally trashy, but at least not stereotyped. And it was the first Nanowrimo I actually won. 50k words.
I got busy in 2017, starting in April’s camp event with the 15k words of ridiculously confusing narrative entitled The Taiso Senshu. It’s so inchoerent it’s not worth anything, but it was good practice.
July 2017’s camp project was the first one I was actually somewhat proud of, even though it’s just as confusing as the others. The secret is the characters. Brother Robinweighs in at 50k words.
For the actual event in 2017, I wrote up Project Orion, which has promise but is a mess. It’s still on the brain, though, and I may rewrite its not-so-abhorrent 50k words.
I didn’t do any actual writing for this year’s April camp, but in July I wrote a 50k word novel called The Sentinel…which is still missing a scene or two, and honestly I need to fix that.
A Genius In Paradise/Egg Pie: I tried to rip off Counting By 7s, got about 3k words in, and quit. I have it somewhere in my files, but I can’t find where.
The Journeyman is a world-building venture involving anthropomorphic dogs and four books worth of information? I haven’t gotten past 9k words with it – mostly because though it would make a beautiful movie, it makes a horrible book.
These are all the little random stories I’ve ever created. I’m not even going to try to explain them. I’d average that each one is about a thousand words long.
Runaway “Crimple” The Daweseseses Gurks Yearbooks Cierra Leone Detective McPheean Autumn & The Chair (oh this story was weird!) Phreedom Phor Phinn Sonata Island Penney & Mr. Dawson Island-Group-Wreck Grandma’s Tuition Riiin & Rory – The Basement Wild Horses Army Horses Westwood That Tablecloth Skirt RfR Substory
This adds up like so:
255k words from Nanowrimo + 14k words from short stories + 12k words from abandoned stories + ~19k words from little snippet stories in notebooks =
All-time estimate: an even 300,000 words!
I almost can’t believe it. And I’m going to add 50,000 more words to this count next month.
I hope this didn’t come off as bragadocious. Regular posting resumes tomorrow.
(you’re reading APADO, my wittle one-post-a-day-for-a-whole-month series that i somehow haven’t failed yet.)
(a bunch of disclaimers: i’m not a master author, in fact i legit just called myself a fauxthor™ and it’s true. however, i’ve received a lot of praise for the characters i come up with. i’m going to try to ride the line between hoarding the knowledge i have and puffing myself up bigger than a wacky arm-waving inflatable tubeman. let’s hope i don’t step into either too much.)
(and now i’m like “isn’t it a bad thing to doubt myself? but isn’t it also a bad idea to think you know more than you actually do?” hello anxiety, i haven’t missed you but here you are.)
(now let’s turn this into a series)
Characters are an integral part of fiction. Actually, they’re more than half of what storytellers worry about. They can make or break a story, and they often do – which is what we’re going to take a look at today.
Trigger warning: my preferences are weird. Even if you don’t agree with everything I say, please be nice about it.
I recently sat down and watched Interstellar.
Let me first preface this by saying that I’m not a scientific person and only understood about 52% of this film’s dialogue. There was a lot of infodumping, which I’m not a fan of.
(quick, poorly-written plot rundown for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie: earth is dying and no one’s sure how to fix it. cooper, our main character, is alarmed that his daughter’s bedroom seems to be alive – there are morse code patterns in the dust in the floor, books falling off the shelf in morse code messages, etc. they say pretty much two things: a set of map coordinates and the word “stay”. visiting the map coordinates reveals the secret location of nasa’s last base and the main plot: earth is about to become really uninhabitable and cooper, due to his experience as a fighter pilot, will be needed to help execute one of the two plans. “plan a” is to relocate all of earth’s population to another planet. “plan b” is to leave the population to die and take 700 new embroyos to a new planet to start a new colony and save humanity. all the characters are on different sides of this ethical question. cooper and his team fly off into space to have a look at some planet prospects. long story short, nothing looks good and everything’s sad and we lose one of the crew members. they’re running out of fuel, too. in order to get to the last chance of a planet, cooper volunteers to go off into the black hole that’s messing with the time of everything and honestly i didn’t catch how all of this is working because infodumps. once in the blackhole (which somehow works as like a time sphere/way to communicate with the past and future?) cooper realizes that this was a horrible idea and he should never have come and tries to tell his past self to “stay” (books coming off the shelves and stuff). i have no idea what happened here. murph is grown up now and gets stuff going back on earth because he can also somehow communicate with her through this watch that he gave her. everyone evacuates, somehow they rescue cooper, cooper learns that his female friend went to start that embroyo colony on the last planet and that she’s all alone and vows to go rescue her. THE END.)
I was extremely disappointed at the end of it. I was expecting this movie to be amazing – it’s Christopher Nolan, for crying out loud. Though I will give it props for its amazing visual effects, terrific music, and interesting take on the “end-of-the-world” idea, it commits a sin that makes me never want to see it again: blank, thin characters.
Now, I understand that I am not the target audience for this film (it’s very popular in the nerdy, scientific circles) but this is a problem that could have been fixed with just a little more time and a little less word salad.
Yes, they have a few motivations and remotely memorable personalities, but they don’t seem to do anything. Things are happening all around them, and they react to them, but their reactions are the only thing they’re giving to the movie. The black hole, the space travel, the time discrepancies and the emergencies push out the characters and take over the plot.
And we never answer the big ethical question this movie asks (save the living or start over?) because the characters don’t have enough screentime or enough depth to make a choice. They’re weak, passive, and almost forgettable.
I could have loved this movie if the characters had been given more time of day. It was visually beautiful, sported terrific world-building, had a larger-than-life stake, and would have made an amazing point if they had gotten around to answering their ethical question. They didn’t answer the question because the characters were too weak to form a good opinion.
Interstellar was a frustrating movie because the characters weren’t allowed to lead the plot.
Now, an example of a horrible plot with terrific characters: Thor: The Dark World.
(Please lower your stones.)
This is a hated movie. This is a weird movie. This is one of the “worst” Marvel movies in the entire franchise, and yet I enjoyed it way more than I should have. Its merit is with one thing and one thing only: the characters.
(quick plot rundown: there’s this creepy alien liquid virus called the aether, unleashed in some ancient battle, and it’s super gimmicky and the sole reason why this movie is weird. after the events of everything in all the movies leading up to this in the MCU, loki’s being imprisoned for invading earth, thor is trying to make peace in what’s going to be his new kingdom, and jane foster, his girlfriend, is really wishing he were around more often. there’s going to be a cool cosmic convergence thing happening, which will make people be able to travel between the nine realms and meet eachother, yay. a portal has already appeared in a warehouse. although jane and darcy don’t know where it leads to, it definitely takes things places. jane, without realizing it, follows a similar portal and gets infected with the aforementioned space virus, the aether…and it really doesn’t make sense. meanwhile, back on asgard, heimdall, everyone’s favorite gatekeeper/living nest camera tells thor that he can’t see where jane is anymore, prompting him to go to earth to find her. he finds her, she’s full of aether juice, and it’s not good. we learn that the aether is connected to this creepy pale dude named malekith who plans to take over the nine realms…or something. he wants the aether cuz it’s apparently able to be weaponized. he attacks asgard looking for it, because thor brought jane there, and frigga, thor’s mother, dies protecting her. malekith and his dudes are barely repulsed. thor has a plan, and it’s a hairbrained scheme, really, but it just might work and it’s all they can do. with the help of loki (who thor convinces to help him based on frigga’s death), the warriors three, sif (who’s causing tension because she’s romantically interested in thor), and jane, thor goes to try to find and stop malekith. which he sort of does. thor and loki trick him into getting the aether out of jane, but they fail to destroy it and loki dies (well, he doesn’t really, but we don’t know that yet). the aether isn’t in jane anymore (?) but it’s now roosting in malekith. the convergence is imminent. the warehouse portal apparently led to the place where they were, so thor and jane (minus loki and everyone else) go to earth to try to beat malekith, who’s planning to unleash the aether while the convergence thing is going on and so destroy all the worlds. they have a big fight, thor beats him up, he gets crushed by his own ship and dies, the aether is contained in an infinity stone and stashed away, problems have been solved and yay life is good until the next thor adventure, which i didn’t like but oh well. THE END.)
Yes, we have a similar weird space-themed plot with confusing element (what exactly does the Aether do again?) and word salad. Yes, we have a movie almost devoid of anything good. It’s the exact opposite of Interstellar: the plot is horribly paced and confusing, yet… I liked it. And I certainly wasn’t the only one.
It’s obvious now that the main difference between Interstellar and Thor: The Dark World lies in the characters. In T:TDW, the characters are actively driving the story, despite the Convergence-thing being out of their control. They’re going after the cosmic liquid space virus. They’re reluctantly teaming up.
In fact, most of the conflict is character-centered, despite this movie’s overly-massive stakes. This doesn’t make it any less confusing, but it makes it infinitely more likable.
If the characters had been reactive, this movie would be utter trash. It still kind of is. But the characters bring it from a -70 to a 5/10.
yes, I just praised Thor: The Dark World and trashed Interstellar:
If your characters are flat, uncompelling, and make no choices of their own, they can take your A+ amazing plot and turn it into something without a soul.
If your characters are well-rounded, decisive, and bounce well off eachother, you can take something confusing and weird and make it mostly enjoyable (even if it’s still confusing and weird.)
A story is only as good as the people who are making it happen. As an author, the very worst thing you can do is just make them react to what’s going on.
(this is APADO, the ambitious, reckless blog series where I attempt to post once a day for the entire month of october. and really, i’ve only been succeeding by writing at night. for some reason, i am way more motivated at night.)
(and we’re back to information/advice posts. i’m tellin’ ya, life’s a steeplechase.)
(people are probably going to skip this one due to all the text. i tried, y’all.)
One of the things that I had to get used to when I started working around horses was that things weren’t exactly like I’d seen in the movies. Pretty much every cliche about horses was dangerous, stupid, or just unrealistic.
And once I’d discovered this fact, it seemed that everywhere I looked, I saw an innacuracy. Movies, books, bucket lists…it was almost too much to handle, for a while.
Since then, I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everyone has thirty million horse books or the time to read all of them. More recently, I thought it might be a good idea to go over some basic tips for writing more realistic interactions with horses.
So let’s dive into it!
What, exactly, is a horse?
This seems like a stupid question. It’s not.
A horse isn’t like a motorbike. Yes, you can steer it and change its speed, but a horse is a living, thinking creature. It has a mind of its own, and unless it’s undergone some incredible obedience training, it’s not going to blindly follow your reins and legs. Like people, horses are imperfect and have personalities. So they’re going to be stubborn, lazy, or fearful at times.
What’s a horse capable of?
Since horses aren’t machines, even the strongest, hardiest breeds get tired and grouchy. They can’t be expected to work endlessly. They need frequent breaks, plenty of food, and lots of care to keep in top condition.
Another thing that’s easy to forget about horses is their endurance. Galloping is hardly ever practical. Yes, racehorses can reach incredible speeds, but only because they’re carrying a minimal weight over a short distance. And galloping is dangerous over uneven terrain – a slippery rock or a log in the path could trip a horse and possibly break his leg, which will shut down his travels for months.
Even though it’s not as beautiful, the most efficent gait is the trot. A well-conditioned horse will be able to keep up a trot for much longer than a gallop – not to mention that it’s easier on the rider, too.
What’s a rider capable of?
It’s hard to see this from the ground, but riding is not just sitting on a horse and letting him do his thing. It’s an exhausting sport, especially for a beginner or for someone who hasn’t ridden in a while. The faster you ride, the more quickly you’ll tire out. Riders need just as many breaks as horses, perhaps even more when you count in what people are usually thinking about when they make their horseback escape.
A few other notes:
The reins of a bridle, which are attached to a metal bit in the horse’s mouth, are not a substitute for a lead rope. Tying a horse up by the reins could mean a broken bridle or severe injury in a horse’s mouth if he spooked and tried to pull away from the hitching post.
Jumping on horses is not a good idea. It hurts their backs, makes them cranky, and usually ends with a crowhop or a buck.
Horses don’t have terrific vision. Their depth perception works a lot differently than a human’s. A horse will probably smell something coming before he sees it.
Horses have a lot of blind spots. They can’t see directly above or below them, under their neck, or behind their tails. If someone’s standing in one of these blind spots, there’s a good chance he’s going to get kicked.
And gentle horsepeople are smart horsepeople. No matter how heartless or cold a person is, he’ll take care of his horse because a horse is an investment. Mistreating it will not only hurt the horse, but the person’s pocketbook.
Horses are a lot like people. They’re unpredictable, they get tired, and they need proper care. They can’t be expected to gallop everywhere or jump huge jumps, no matter how urgent the situation is. Abusing horses isn’t just harmful to the horse, but also to the owner, because the horse is an investment that should be taken care of.
And please, please, pleasenever tie a horse by just the reins.
(wow it has been ages since i’ve posted here on steeplechase. i apologize for that. school and animation projects and stuff like camp nanowrimo have been keeping me busy.)
(i have 50 followers! should i be doing anything special for that milestone?)
(PO = Project Orion. my wittle novel project that takes up most of my brain RAM these days.)
March 30th: This Camp, I’m going to go through my 2017 Nano, Project Orion, and edit it into something I can give to beta-readers.
April 6th: Well, this novel is ridiculous. I don’t know why I forgot that it’s spazzy, weirdly-paced, and has the craziest rambly details. (Yeah, three paragraphs about comic book plotlines are not really important to the story.) So let’s just rewrite the stupid thing. What could go wrong?
April 15th: I haven’t progressed in days. And the more I think about it, the more stupid it is. My inciting incident is horrible, there are characters that do nothing for the plot, and my setting is irrelevant. I guess I could write it…but I’m bored. And if I’m bored, what are my readers going to be like?
April 25th: Help. This is going to be the first Nano I’ve ever lost. I need to talk to Madison.
Madison: Change your goal.
Me: What I need to change is my story. Madison: So why don’t you?
Me: Like…plotting? Madison: Yep. Change your goal to a plotting goal. Write out stuff about your story. You’ll be better off.
Goal: 50 pages of planning, notes, character development, or ranting on how horrible PO is. (Well, I didn’t want to rant, but I ended up ranting in some places. Hehe.)
I completed the goal: at 11:45 pm on April 30, 2018.
Translation: I WROTE 50 PAGES IN FIVE DAYS. And 23 of those pages were on the last day. HAHAHAHAHA *psychotic laughter fades into the distance*
You know what time it is.
It’s time for…
Project Orion ADHD Notes: Snippets
Here we go.
(Snippets that are LIKE THIS (and then like this) are page titles. You can see what I’m talking about in the picture above.
Hurricane Snippets (run for your lives)
How did the flashdrive get into the antique shop anyways? It’s like they found it behind some Hubba Bubba or something…I really don’t need anymore throwbacks to The Winter Soldier in this nano. I ALREADY HAVE A COMPUTER MAN AND A COMPLETELY ALTRUISTICALLY ADORABLE MC.
Before we get any further in, I should probably say that most of this was written past 3:00 in the morning. It gets a little….well, I called it ADHD planning for a reason. (K.M. Weiland would personally kill me.)
Ways to tipoff the tipoff (brainstorming): – a robbery of something important – a break-in … – a natural disaster … – FLYING MANTA RAYSSSSSSS
(“Flying manta rays” is a house term usually describing that-thing-that-you-never-planned-to-put-in-your-novel-but-ended-up-in-there-because-you-were-like-“Hey-wouldn’t-manta-rays-look-cool-as-flying-animals?-Like-seriously-they-could-flap-their-unifinwing-and-be-like-a-living-magic-carpet.”
Or it refers to deus ex machina. Either one.)
And Nero is just hating everyone. XD.
(Nero is the main antagonist.)
Nero has no sympathy for: – his colleagues – his fellow Davi-followers – his friends – anyone’s feelings – anyone’s plans – anyone’s self-esteem – the lawmakers – anything. PERCENT OF HIS BRAIN USED FOR CARING: 0%.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION (whoops, I don’t have one?)
It’s like you accidentally bought a T-rex thinking it was a frilled lizard.
I want to waste paper and do this the fun way.
(Don’t look at me like that. All I wanted to do was draw bubbles and arrows. *pfft* Hypocrite.)
Omw. Is this a good ol’ classic story? I love it. It’s a familiar story…IN DISGUISE……
DO THEY KNOW OR NOT? (settling how stupid Leo and his frens are)
Looks like I need to add this to the plotty plot thingie.
(I just called my plot a “plotty plot thingie.” SAY THAT AGAIN, IN SLOW MOTION.)
Kablam – Project Orion!
In the words of a wise man: “This is legitness!”
And then poor Dav-Davs kicked the bucket, because cancer.
(Prehistory. No one dies of cancer in PO.)
Meet Mystical Hipster Who Now Looks Like A Hipster Raisin Because Hipstering Is So 2018.
(Post history. I wanted to think about a sequel so that I’d know how to end PO. So I made up a new character…accidentally…and she’s weird. Oh boy.)
*crickets* What was I talking about?
MJ GETS TRIGGERED (and other stories)
GOOD THINGS ABOUT PO (i want to feel good right now) Leo Cordova. Never mind, all the charries. But Nero in particular. AND SYRE SHANKHOR. LEMME HUG DAT BOI. … Heterochromia. STUFF. ACTUALLY. HAPPENS. It’s so sequelable. … Wide variety of MBTI. Diverse charries and……………………………………… THE FACT THAT I MADE ALL OF IT UP.
Thus endeth the snippets. *dies*
Wow. I didn’t expect you to survive that. But here you are, ready to be barraged with…
PO is a long way from being done. I mean a distance-from-the-Sun-to-Pluto long way. But it is started, and I have something like a game plan for it. Yay.
Tess’ Tentative Schedule For Completing Project Orion
(okay half the reason I named it Project Orion is so that when people ask me what I’m doing, I can be like, “Oh, I’m working on….” *mysterious toss of head* “…Project Orion.”)
By May 13th:Finish planning. Write out a little guide sheet so I can remember where I need to foreshadow my ridiculous plot.
May 14th – June 30th:Write it. Yeah, just like that. This is Draft #2. (Draft #1 is the aforementioned piece of trash that meanders around and uses weird metaphors.)
July 1st – July 30th:Take a break from PO and write something totally different for July camp. I can’t go burning myself out…
August 1st:Release PO to my hungry beta-readers…
…that I need to have a definitive list of.
I know several of you have raised your hands when I’ve asked you if you want to beta read. But I don’t have a list list.
If you want to beta read PO, you must sign up below. It is MANDATORY. If you do not fill in the simple form below, then you will not be on the list of beta readers and that first chapter will not show up in your inbox on August 1st. Even if you’ve told me in person, or through the camp message board, or anywhere else – YOU. MUST. SIGN. UP. WITH. THIS. FORM.
(Look, I even made it a Typeform, so it would be fun. Link opens in a new tab.)
How I know I’m excited about PO
I think about my charries like they’re real.
When I’m doing something, I muse about how each of my charries would do it.
I make references to it, laugh hysterically, and then stare at everyone around me like not getting my personal jokes is a social crime.
I write about it in my journal once a night.
My next animation will feature PO charries (because my people drawing skills have gotten wayyy better)
I made virtual Funko Pops of all of them.
Ahahahaha! You want to see the Project Orion Funko Pop collection, don’t you? Time for another round of…
Steps to complete secret mission and unlock the PO Pops:
In one of the pictures in this post, I shared my last name. Find my last name and write it down.
Go to the Secrets page (located on the top, next to the trophy shelf. It’s hard to miss.)
Enter my last name as the password in all lowercase.
See the Pops. I also provided a link to the tool I used to make them. But I’m not going to give you that link here….you’ll just have to go unlock the Secrets page. >:)
Leave a comment, if you want.
Did you sign up for beta reading? Which snippet was your favorite? How was your Camp Nanowrimo?
(I’ll respond to whatever you comment below – probably in all caps/no caps/complete disregard of grammar and punctuation, which is awful in writing but somehow okay in commenting? I never understood that, but I do it anyways. :))
I suggest you grab yourself a large bowl of something snackable, because you’re going to be here a while if you choose to read the entire thing.
I hope you do – I spent a really long time and most of my remaining brain cells on it. I think it is the longest AAWC entry (6,782 words) and my wordcounter says it should take you 25 minutes to read it.
I’m not saying it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever read, or the best thing I’ve ever written. I just want you to read at least one of the parts. They all tell a story together, but they can be read seperately.
Here we go.
“Mr. Pierce, the daily papers are here.”
“Send them in.”
His secretary didn’t make eye contact as she pushed the stack of papers onto his desk. She closed the door behind herself as soon as she possibly could, as if she had just laid a bomb on his desk.
Three weeks ago, the bomb would have been Carson Pierce. But today, as he grabbed The Wall Street Journal and read the headline (“Pierce’s ‘New City’ Prepares For Citizens”) he felt inexplicably joyful.
Pursing his lips into a tight, witty smile, he skimmed over the article. They were right about most things, like how his dream, his life project, would be coming to life in British Columbia by March. And for the first time, they had nailed down what the New City was – not a communist society, not a socialist community, but an ingathering of like-minded people. That was all he was after.
For weeks, the media had hurled every stick and stone they could find in his direction. According to the reporters and newscasters, this undertaking of his was a denial of rights, a slap in the face to humanity. And if they got their way, he’d be jailed for letting this idea come into fruition.
But he hadn’t been jailed, hadn’t been forcibly stopped at all. They had only tried to intimidate him, tried to keep him from doing what he knew was brilliant.
Of course, the media was very good at making a mountain out of a molehill.
But it could also be that they were only fighting because they knew this was the last chance they had to blow steam at him.
He set The Wall Street Journal down and propped his feet up on the desk. It had taken fifteen years to get here – sixteen, almost. But finally, the future was becoming the present. He smiled at the thought of the New City slowly coming together according to the plans he’d drafted, the plans that had begun as a scribble on a cocktail napkin.
Carson had been an underling once. He’d worked at a law office, hired to be a “motivated, forward-thinking manager”, as he’d underlined on his resume. But as the weeks wore on, he saw that he was more of a paper pusher than anything – a paper pusher with big ideas, though. He thought it was a shame that those ideas were never given time of day.
Eventually, he grew dissatisfied with his job. It wasn’t like he’d ever been satisfied with it, but he could now tell that there was no light at the end of the tunnel he’d gone down. Every morning, when he saw the buttons assembled in neat rows in the elevator, he imagined himself pushing the button for the top floor, the boss’s office. He’d take a seat behind the boss’s desk, handle the important papers, make decisions and make things better than they were now.
But the more petty tasks he did, the less satisfied he was with even the boss’s job. Finally, in a fit of frustration, he threw down the papers he was carrying and marched, jaw set with determination, to the elevator.
He was made for more than this. He had grown past what everyone thought he would be. He was too big a fish for this little pond. His ideas were going to take him places.
Beaming confidence, he decisively pressed the button on the elevator. No longer was he a paper-pushing underling. This big-ideas man was going up.
Since the day he’d told his boss that he quit, he had struggled with the idea of his talents being wasted. He knew that to go back to a company, to submit himself underneath the autocratic rule of a boss and manager, would get him in the same place he’d just gotten out of.
So after many a night of staring at what he could be, the idea hit him full force. He would be his own master. He would listen to no one but his heart. And he would make sure that no one with talent would have to endure what he’d grappled with.
He leaned back in his desk chair and sighed. And to think that all of this could have come about earlier, had he been surrounded by like-minded individuals.
Picking up The Chicago Tribune, he smirked at their doubting words, their trivial worries over his grand scheme.
What could be wrong about being right?
He took a sip of his coffee and sighed. Unlike-minded individuals were so……annoying.
He knew he wasn’t supposed to be behind the rusty chain link fence. But so long as no one but the No Trespassing sign was watching, it was fair game, because in the south side of town, words held no sway. Only actions.
His feet pounded up the perforated metal steps, echoing into the empty concrete pools streaked with graffiti. The grip tape on his skateboard chafed the inside of his arm as he hustled past the ghosts of summer swimmers. Ten steps, ten taps of his feet, then a left turn, ten more taps, up what was once the tallest water slide for miles around.
He thought he could hear voices chattering around him, apprehensive excuses, laughter as friends stifled them. But nothing stirred except the lanky young man in the dirty tank top and baggy shorts, his onyx-black hair in his dark eyes, his skateboard with the rust-spotted axles tucked under his arm.
He came to the very top, finally, the wind cutting through the torn spots in the faded canopy. Setting the skateboard on the splintering boards, he decisively put his left foot over the four rivets on the deck, the rivets he’d be trusting his life with. He pulled his reluctant gaze up to the path of butter-yellow plastic in front of him.
Then, with a decisive swallow and a mighty push with his right foot, he was sailing down through the slide.
The raspy sound of skateboard wheels, combined with the wind whistling past his ears, made him not hear what was waiting for him at the bottom.
One moment, he was free, banking up the curves and spirals as he flew faster and faster. The harsh wind brandished his face, matching his heavy breathing as he rounded the bend. He glanced over the edge for a fleeting second, admiring the height he’d have to fall from if he bent too far into a turn. But with a toss of his hair, he disregarded it, and as he came closer and closer to the drop at the end, he let out a loud whoop of rebellious joy.
But then it was too late. He saw them too late, saw what was about to happen, and couldn’t do a thing about it. As his shout faded into echoes, he was under arrest, handcuffed, pushed into the back of a squad car. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear his skateboard gliding away on the bottom of the empty pool.
Then all was quiet.
What finally gathered Fang’s wits about him was an intelligent-looking policeman handing him a sheet of important-looking paper. He stared at the rows of monospaced type, each one telling him something he already knew.
Fang Hong-Sun, aged twenty-two
Arrested September 22nd for trespassing
Arrested October 14th for trespassing
Arrested October 30th for trespassing
Arrested December 7th for trespassing
Arrested January 4th for trespassing
Arrested January 16th for trespassing
Arrested February 28th for trespassing
The events of yesterday came flooding back to him. Running his fingers through his hair, he sighed. He glanced at the calendar on the peeling cinder block wall behind the desk. Then noticed that the policeman was watching him.
“You’re Fang, aren’t you?” he said,taking a seat next to him on the only bench in the sweat-soaked police outpost.
He nodded, crumpling the paper up in his rough hands.
“I gotta say, you’re a bit different than your average hoodlum.”
Fang looked at him with questioning eyes.
“See, you’re the first kid I’ve had in here who looks genuinely sorry for what they’ve done.”
“Why shouldn’t I be?” he muttered. “Freaking community service hours won’t be feeding my family.”
The officer nodded his head. “And that’s the other thing – you’re not as selfish as they usually are. Cigarette?”.
He shook his head. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t kid yourself,” he replied, putting the pack of cigarettes back in his shirt pocket. “You’d like to think you’re just as much of a delinquent as the rest. It’s a ‘cool’ lifestyle, y’know? But I can tell you’ve still got a good heart.” He raised his hand as Fang opened his mouth. “Don’t try to deny it. It’s true.”
Fang closed his mouth again, letting the words roll around in his mind as he tried to make sense of them.
“You’re still young. And even if you weren’t, you’d have a chance to turn around regardless. Everyone does. It’s your choice.” He patted him on the back. “You can continue on with this miserable life, dodging cops and getting arrested, or you can become someone who can make a difference.”
The phone rang noisily, interrupting him. He stood up and strode over to the desk. “Remember that,” he said, pointing at him, then picked up the receiver.
In less than five minutes, that policeman had undone everything Fang had absorbed in the past ten years. Ever since he was too big to be supervised, he’d lived by the law of the street – join the gang or get out. Every young man lived by it, every girl admired it. He had never realized what really made him up, something he never would have admitted for his life.
Deep within himself, an ember long since dormant slowly awoke. Today would be the day he truly broke free. Right here, right now, in the musty police outpost. Clenching his fists, he took a deep breath.
Then, as he exhaled, the rebellious, rule-breaking Fang, the Fang who was always in trouble and always feared someone would catch him, melted away.
The policeman hung up the phone and started rifling through some papers piled on the desktop. Finally, he found what he wanted. Handing a newspaper to Fang, he pointed to an article bedazzling the front page.
“Being who you know you are will get you further than you think,” he said, sitting on the desk. “Read it.”
The days of social class are gone. The days of crime and poverty are history. The future is here.
He was trying to think of something to break the silence when she did the honors for him. “It’s such a nice night out,” she said, staring up at the clear night sky dotted with brilliant stars.
“I know,” he replied. “It’s perfect.” He contemplated saying something romantic, something quotable, but all the words evaded him as soon as the thought crossed his mind. So he laid back in the crunchy brown grass instead, breathing in the smell of dirt and dew, of whistling wind threading its way up from the ocean.
She stared down at him with her bright green eyes, then shrugged and lay down next to him. He thought about reaching over and taking her hand in his, but suddenly his hand was a paralysed ice block. As they lay there, together, close enough to be friends, but not close enough to be more, he wondered if he’d ever work up the courage to tell her that he loved her.
Of course, he’d always loved her, but recently more so. He couldn’t decide exactly what it was that suddenly kicked things off in his head, but as he lay, thinking things over, he decided it was the fact that she would be leaving forever before the end of the spring.
“I guess this is the last time I’ll be able to do this,” she mused, and for a second he thought she had read his mind.
“Do what?” He knew what she meant. That is, he hoped that what he thought she meant was what she meant.
She chuckled. “You know what. Lay out here in the grass and pretend like you don’t have any responsibilities. That’s what.”
“You sure you’re going to like that life?”
“That has to be the fifteenth time you’ve asked that question.”
“And this has to be the fifteenth time you haven’t answered it,” he said softly.
She closed her eyes, sighing. “Romy, if I didn’t think it would be the most fulfilling thing in the world, I wouldn’t be leaving behind everything I’ve ever known to live it.”
You mean you wouldn’t be leaving me, he thought. You wouldn’t be deserting a friendship that was different, special, for what’ll be the future. He said nothing as he tried not to reminisce over the world they’d built together, the world she would destroy when she left for the New City.
If only he could go back to eighth grade and slam the door in the sordid faces of the New City Recruitment Bureau. Then they would have never seen her, she would never have seen them, and they could remain the way they were for always.
But no, the minute her beautiful green eyes had locked upon the brochure they’d pressed into everyone’s hands, she’d been gone. She’d always wanted to ‘leave her mark on the world’ (that was always how she put it), and this was the chance. And though he didn’t want to admit it, she was perfect in every way for the program. There was nothing he could do.
That fateful day, the first brick in a wall between them had hit the floor with a thump. And as time went on, more bricks clinked on top of that brick – knee-high in tenth grade, chest-high in twelfth, until he could barely see the top of her head from behind the red facade separating them. And tonight, as the stars twinkled overhead, he felt as if the wall was being mortared with cement. He’d waited too long to break it down.
But he had never wanted to stop her, because the New City was where she belonged. Whether or not she realized he would miss her so much was something he couldn’t tell.
“You’re going to miss me?”
He swore she could read minds. “Of course.”
“I wish you could go, too.” She sat up, hugging her knees.
“Why didn’t you take the offer when you could?”
He absent-mindedly plucked a handful of dry grass and let it flutter away in the wind. “Too young. Too stupid.” He bit his tongue. “Didn’t know it would tear me up inside later,” he trailed off.
She was silent for a long time, then sighed. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.”
“Nothing.” He sat up as well, eyes still focused on the stars. “You’re not supposed to do anything.”
The pause that followed only poured salt in the wound he was clutching.
She finally spoke. “Maybe I’m not supposed to do anything. But that won’t stop me from trying.”
“Trying to what?” he asked.
Turning toward him, she said practically, but not coldly, “I’d be an idiot if I let everything we’ve been through be a waste.”
“But that’s going to be how it is. Because I’m not perfect.” He had all reason to be depressed, but he still felt guilty for letting the words drop with such bitterness.
“That’s not it.”
“No, it is.” He ran a hand through his hair, trying to keep his voice from faltering. “Look, I want you to follow your dreams. More than anything else in the world. I only wish I could be there to follow them with you.”
She was quiet, but she was smiling the kind of smile that told him more than she could say.
“Please don’t leave me.” he said quietly. “Don’t leave me to deal with everything.”
“Come with me,” she said softly. More of a suggestion than a command.
“You know that’s not possible.”
“I wish it could have been.”
As he sat in a puddle of regret, he thought he saw, out of the corner of his eye, her coming closer and closer to him. He couldn’t quite tell why, but next he knew, she was hugging him. And he was hugging her back.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“I’m more sorry.”
“Don’t do anything stupid,” she admonished him.
“I’ve already done the stupidest thing I could ever do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I fell in love with someone way out of my league. I don’t even know why.” Hands on her shoulders, he looked dead into her eyes. “All I know is that I should never have let her go.”
She wasn’t used to deciding anything for herself. It wasn’t that she couldn’t, or didn’t like to – on the contrary, actually. Now, as she turned over in bed, kicking off the bedclothes, she decided that would change.
Stumbling through the dark attic room to the window, she thrust it open and let the cool breeze flow through her curly hair and silk nightgown. Thousands of stars glimmered overhead, most of them dimmed by the orangey glow of street lamps and headlights. But a few dared to shine on, like pinholes in a dark suit showing the white shirt underneath.
Annaliese leaned on the windowsill, breathing in the assortment of smells that permeated the night air – bagels toasting in ovens, preparing themselves for the morning; exhaust from the tailpipes of enigmatic taxis going on enigmatic missions. She wondered, as she sat there, smelling, how long it would be before the only thing she could smell were the smells of the New City, the City that would live without bagels, taxis, or enigmatic missions.
Or not being able to sleep. Or lonely attic rooms. Or crime, punishment, or danger. She no longer grappled with its limitations. The New City was her destiny. It had been her destiny since she was six. And ever since the day she’d found out that she was near perfect, she’d been told not to waste a thought on anything else.
Of course, just because she was told not to didn’t keep her from dreaming. She had learned to live in her head. She was convinced that the best things in life were the ones that were hers and hers alone. No one ridiculed them, no one questioned them – so long as they never stepped out of the microcosm of her imagination.
They would have to continue to only exist for her, though. As she stared out over the dim cityscape, she tried to come to terms with the fact that these fancies of hers would never live. They would never see the actual light of day, for silly ideas like owning a sandwich shop or an art gallery were unwanted in the new city.
She fingered the necklace she wore round her neck. Chains. That was what it felt like. This being-perfect-thing had started as a delicate anklet, something beautiful to be proud of. But as time wore on, as she had found that she was more free-spirited than she looked, it had thickened into a shackle that kept her from the world.
If only she could leave behind everything she had ever known and find the true meaning of life. Because even though she didn’t know what the meaning of life was, she had a feeling it had something to do with the restless, dissatisfied state she’d been in for weeks now.
If she wanted to, she could escape. She could leave this future behind and find a new lot in life. But then there was the chance that something could go wrong, or that she was just being stubborn and dragging her heels. That always seemed to be the answer that came to mind.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t escape. The window to a future she could choose was open. All she had to do was jump. But she felt guilty, when she thought about the time she would have wasted and the people she would disappoint.
So she leaned on the windowsill and sighed, filling her lungs with the cold air.
She would have to remain a prisoner to this life. She couldn’t put a finger on why she felt she had to, but it was something like a call of duty.
She ran her fingers over the neat stacks of glossy pamphlets, admiring their beautiful design almost more than the text inside them. Jonathan had done such a wonderful job with them. They were so inviting, she was confident that no one would be able to resist the urge to pick one up and find the glorious truth that lay within.
Picking one up, she fingered it, her blue eyes lingering over the picture of the fountain and the stately serif text – The future is here. Yes, the future was here, and even more pleasing than the pamphlets – and to think, she, Colette Cambridge, was part of it.
Breathing in the sweet, plasticine smell of new paper and full-color ink, she glanced over the blocks of text she knew by heart. Everyone at Westwood did. For they were what every student lived, breathed and dreamed about – perfection.
And to think, that a mere five years ago, she’d wanted to be a veterinarian. What a meaningless, stupid job, compared to the task at hand. But that was before the school had become fully Elite (the only one in the nation to do so). The process had seemed brutal at the time, but now she was glad that the closed-minded, dull students had been expelled. “There are plenty of resources in this world, but none for those who choose to be blind to the impending Day Of Reckoning.”
But neither Colette nor any of her fellow students worried too much over the Day Of Reckoning. It was a long way off, according the supervisors, and it distracted from what needed to be done now.
Sometimes, when she’d been too young and stupid to understand what good she was going to accomplish, she’d thought about what she would miss when she left for the New City next month. But now, she never gave that dreary, pointless life a second thought. She was living for nothing but the future, the New City, and the new way of life she was going to forge out of this cesspool of useless society.
She turned around as she noticed Jonathan coming through the doorway, up to his eyeballs in another case of pamphlets.
“These look amazing,” she complimented, setting the brochure down. She tried to catch his eye, but he turned away.
“Hello?” She waved a hand in front of his face, trying to catch his attention. “Something wrong?”
“Uh,” he stammered, setting the pamphlets down. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. I just didn’t expect to see you here, that’s all.”
“But you should be surprised, not nervous.” Taking a seat on the table, she crossed her legs, waiting for him to perk up. He didn’t.
“I – I gotta go,” he said hastily.
“Without telling me why you look so nervous?”
“If I did,” he muttered, “you wouldn’t like it.”
“Wouldn’t like what?”
The silence that followed only built up the tension that was already mounting in Colette’s chest.
“Colette, I, uh…” He peered out the door, then closed it securely again. “Alright. I’ll tell you. If anyone sees me talking with you, I’m gonna be expelled.”
She was stunned, but confused, as if he’d told her about the death of a relative she never knew she had.
“There’s a rumor going around,” he said, biting his lip, “that they’re going to expel you.”
She couldn’t believe it. “Me?” The straight-A student, the perfect candidate, practically the poster child of the entire New City project? It had to be a mistake.
He nodded. “You.”
“But why?” she questioned, the tension starting to grip her throat with fear and dread. Her stomach flopped around as she tried to grasp the unthinkable concept Jonathan was poking at her.
“They say,” he said steadily, adjusting the glasses on his nose, “that there’s a question about your lineage.”
“My lineage? Jonathan, you’ve got to be kidding.”
“I wouldn’t kid with something as important as this.”
She tried to convince herself that he was kidding, but Jonathan wasn’t the type to joke around. Especially not with her legitimacy.
He also wasn’t the type to spread a stupid, common rumor.
Pushing past him, she didn’t stop striding until she reached her dormitory.
Three days later, a knock on the door woke her and her roommate up. But unlike her roommate, she had a sinking feeling that she knew what this mysterious knock was about. Creeping up out of bed, she picked up the envelope that had been slid under the door. Her name was tapped out on the front in cold, lifeless monospace.
Tearing into the envelope, she knew what the letter said, but was still desperate for a last chance, an unexpected miracle.
But, like the rest of society, miracles were an imperfection.
Colette Cambridge has been removed from the List Of Candidates due to a discrepancy in her heritage. She will be given twenty-four hours to vacate the premises before further measures will be taken.
It was as if the perfect, glassine world she’d been in for so many years had shattered, leaving her, as broken as its surface, in the pieces of glass.
Nothing was real anymore. She had been taken off the list.
Unable to control herself, she fell on her knees and sobbed.
He could see his hot breath pushing past the cold mist all around him. Closing his eyes, he allowed his fingers to slip off the reins, trusted the careful, plucky horse he rode to keep him from the thousands and thousands of feet beneath him. The bridge groaned, the sound of the ropes stretching over the cracking boards adding to his queasiness. If he had anything to lose, he would never have tested his luck like this. But if he did happen to slip, if he plummeted toward the ground faster than a shuttlecock, not a single soul would care.
He told himself he wouldn’t open his eyes until the danger was safely past. But if he really was going to hold by that philosophy, he would be blind forever. For the life he had chosen when he’d dug underneath the fence like a mangy runaway dog was one fraught with danger – danger and loneliness. So he peeled his dark eyes open and forced himself to stare at the enigmatic boulders and towering cliffs.
He felt Horse step up, snorting and shuddering – finally, the ground was hard and stable. Who knew what lay around the next bend, behind the next ghostly elm tree, but for that moment, they were safe.
Sighing deeply, he tried to let his numb mind catch up with what he’d done since midnight. When the moon had been directly above him, just a sliver of silver in the black-blue abyss, he had been sweating like a waterfall despite the chilly night air, partly from nervousness, and partly because he was digging harder than he’d ever dug in his life. He’d already escaped the sordid building buried beneath the ground. It was a safety bunker, but they had used it as a prison.
After he’d dug about three feet down, he’d found the bottom of the fence’s concrete base. In all the things he was worrying about (would they notice the shovel was gone? would they hear it scraping against the concrete? would the clouds that had just blown in uncover the moon and expose him?), he didn’t hear them coming up behind him.
Suddenly there were hands all over him, heavy hands grabbing him, restraining him. Kicking and struggling, he writhed in their grasp, slipping and twisting until he was inches away from his captor’s face. The clouds parted, revealing its handsome features.
“Sebastian,” he breathed, shrinking away from the man’s gaze.
“Joseph,” he replied. “Joseph, Joseph. What kind of Cain are you trying to raise here?” Holding both of Joseph’s skinny arms behind his back with but one of his hands, he gestured to the shovel and the hole.
“Not trying to raise anything,” Joseph said nervously.
“Then maybe you can explain to me why you’re trying to escape, you little sneak.” He shoved him up against the fence, the chain link rattling with Joseph’s teeth. “You know the rules.”
“I know them,” he spat back.
“Then why didn’t you memorize the one about imposters not being tolerated?” He shook him by the collar of his shirt, enjoying the way his captive’s head jerked back with every painful jolt.
“What was I supposed to do?” Joseph argued, feeling a bit dizzy. “Staying here kills me, leaving kills me, so I might as well see if I get lucky -”
He was cut off by the taste of dirt and the sharp pain of his tongue between his teeth. The breath knocked out of him, he could only lay there, like a dying rabbit, as Sebastian hurled curses, insults, threats and swearing at the limp body at his feet.
“Satisfied, or are you gonna need some more?” Sebastian asked, kicking him squarely in the ribs.
He slowly sat up, clutching his side, not what he should do. He couldn’t make a break for it – the hole was too shallow still, not even big enough for his underfed, spindly body. Grabbing onto the fence, he hauled himself to his feet and stared Sebastian in the eye.
“Whatcha gonna do, punch me?” Sebastian asked, smoothing his dark, wavy hair back over his head.
“If I could,” Joseph muttered, “I would.”
“What a fighter!” he laughed, cuffing him across the jaw. “Should have fought harder, then maybe you wouldn’t have been found out.” Digging his shoulders into Joseph’s thin chest, he bulldozed him along the fence until he tripped into the hole. His ankle twisted underneath him as he stumbled back at the ground, and he winced in pain as he felt his whole weight land on top of it.
Sebastian smiled at his handiwork. “Too late, though, tough guy.”
An idea was forming in Joseph’s cluttered mind. Behind him, he could feel the concrete sagging. A bash from something – almost anything – would pull a chunk loose, making a hole just big enough for a starving escapee. He glanced over at the shovel, within arm’s reach of him.
Without thinking, almost without knowing what he was doing, he lunged for the shovel, only to be choked around the neck by the collar of his shirt. Hands dangling inches from the shovel, Sebastian pulled him up inches from his face.
“Okay, buddy. You got any last words? Not like they matter.”
Something about the look in Sebastian’s eyes made Joseph’s throat grow tight with fear. Was he serious? His eyes flashed from the shovel to Sebastian and back again. “Are – are you going to kill me?” he stammered.
“If you reach for that? Definitely. If you stay still like a good boy, I might.”
Joseph bit his lip. If Sebastian didn’t bash his brains out here, he’d haul him in front of the Assembly, and they’d turn the lights out for him. But if he took the risk, he would have at least a tiny chance of survival…
Gathering up the last bit of energy he had in him, he kicked Sebastian as hard as he could in the shins. His surprise made his hand slip, its grip slacken for just a second, and in that tiny window of time, Joseph darted for the shovel. Dodging Sebastian’s efforts to grab him again, he held the shovel like a battering ram and dove into the hole he’d dug.
The shovel’s rusted point hit the foundation, throwing shards of concrete into his face. Flailing his legs wildly (Sebastian was trying to grab them, and was getting close) he rammed the foundation over and over again, like a human jackhammer. Finally the block gave way, crumbling into the wet, muddy soil.
And quick as a weasel, he pulled himself through the tiny space, gritting his teeth as the rubble tore red, angry marks across his back. Before Sebastian could reach into the hole, he was on his feet, forcing his twisted ankle to run for all he was worth. The wind whistled past his ears, crept under his ripped shirt and tousled his dirty hair. Though his entire body was in some sort of pain, his back smarting, his side still throbbing, his ankle complaining sharply every time it hit the dewy grass, he didn’t so much as look back.
When he finally slowed down, he could barely breathe. The cold air made his lungs feel like they were about to burst out of his chest. Stumbling to a nearby rock, he threw himself on it, wheezing and panting as he tried to catch his breath. Then, he cautiously turned his head back towards the New City. A siren called faintly, weakly, but so far, he’d outrun them. He was free.
His breath was slowly returning to him, and though the gulps of air he took were shaky, his pulse was lowering, body relaxing, preparing to lay on the rock for at least an hour. But he knew he couldn’t do that. He would have to keep running, before demons with dogs and guns came after him.
The realization that he was now a pawn in the great political game playing out in offices and courtrooms disturbed him. When he’d gotten himself into the New City, he’d only intended to have a better life, a life he’d been denied in what they had abandoned. But as things had progressed, and that better life had been harder and harder to achieve, he’d found he was breaking more rules than before. He was stepping over more boundaries, getting around more inspections, and finding more loopholes.
The only thing that had kept him on this death-dance was the fear of punishment – terrible punishment. Every morning, after the broadcasts about the new future and the doom of the rest of the world, the rules of the New City were read aloud. And every morning, Joseph tried not to squirm in his seat as he heard words like “torture”, “imprisonment” and “death.”
He would never forget the last four days as long as he lived. Locked in the dark without a blanket or food, every day wondering how much longer he’d have to sit in the damp before they sentenced the pitiful thing he’d become to death. Finally, he came to the conclusion that no matter what he did, he was probably going to die. And he would rather take the road to death that had an overgrown game trail towards living.
A rustling noise broke off his thoughts, instantly putting him on edge. He froze, his entire body tense with fear. Dropping to his knees, he burrowed down in the grass, trying to calm himself. Then he dared to look up at the thick undergrowth.
He was relieved when he saw the slender ears and thick mane of a grey horse step out through the trees. Its reins lay slack around its neck, stirrups swinging and banging against its sides. The horse snorted, shuddering as the cold wind chilled the foamy sweat on his neck and chest.
Then Joseph spied the crest on the saddle’s overloaded panniers. So this horse was like him – a runaway. He slowly pushed himself up out of the grass, trying to stay undetected. Who knew what it would do if surprised by a human, especially since it had obviously gotten rid of its rider.
But the horse’s ears twitched in his direction. Instantly, every muscle was taut beneath the grey coat as he took this new threat in. Joseph knew he had one chance to get this horse on his side, and seeing that he had a sprained ankle, he’d need a way to keep running.
So he relaxed himself and stood up, leaning on the boulder for support. Then he saw the canteen swinging from the horse’s side. That was the key. A thirsty horse would trust someone with water. If only he could get to it.
He limped a step forward, but the horse stepped back cautiously. “Whoa, there, buddy,” Joseph said softly. “You need water. I need freedom.”
The horse, still breathing hard, relaxed a bit at the sound of his gentle voice.
Joseph stepped forward once again, but this time the horse only tensed. Though it took him longer than he would have liked, he eventually came close enough to the horse to lay a hand on its neck. The horse flinched at his touch, but as he rubbed it, talking to it in a low, even voice, it relaxed enough for him to grab the canteen from its saddle.
Uncapping it, he poured some of the cold, sweet water into his cupped hands. The horse stretched out its neck, the bit clanking against his teeth as he thirstily sought the water. He gulped it down in an instant, snuffling his hands for more, which Joseph gave him.
Finally, after more handfuls of water than he could count, the horse was able to look at him without showing the whites around his dark eyes. Joseph leaned against him, relieved to see that the horse didn’t hesitate this time. Fingering the reins, he stumbled over to the boulder, used it as a stepladder to slip onto his back. The horse’s ears went back in apprehension, but it didn’t spook. So far, so good.
Joseph had never felt the true feeling of partnership until that moment. He knew it wasn’t him who was telling the horse what to do. He had only helped it keep going. Now he was hitching a ride to freedom, literally. The horse plunged into the forest, directed by an unseen force called instinct. And Joseph didn’t care where the horse went, so long as it was away from the New City.
He leaned onto the horse’s neck, absorbing the motion of the horse’s careful footsteps. If only he hadn’t ever tried this, tried to be someone he knew he wasn’t. If he hadn’t tried to cheat the system, this never would have happened. And because of that, technically the New Citizens had a right to treat him the way they did.
Or did they?
No, he wasn’t truly Elite. No, he wasn’t perfect. But he had done what they’d asked, followed their rules (except those of initiation), tried to become one of them. Didn’t his wish to be one of them make him a perfect choice?
But that wasn’t how it was. They did far more harm to him than he had done to them. He was trying to be one of them, and they despised that.
People who did to any human what they had done to him, both in body and in spirit, couldn’t be the perfect specimens of homo sapiens.
The realization filled him with regret, with wishing he hadn’t been carried away by their delusions of grandeur. Their ideas of perfect were the most flawed ideas he’d ever seen, now that he thought about it.
But what could he do, now that he was a fugitive, on the run with a technically stolen horse?
He knew what he could do.
Joseph turned back and looked at the bridge, the swinging thing he’d trusted his life with. He’d crossed that bridge forever. Never again would he risk everything to go back. Instead, he would make sure no one would go across that bridge again, only to slip and fall as he had.
If there was one thing he could do with himself, he could make sure no one made the same mistakes he had made. He could tell the truth about the Elites, spread around their true colors. The whole world would now know what perfection looked like.
The western sky flared with color underneath the heavy clouds, the sun clawing rays of light through them as it sank beyond its zenith. And as the colorful sky faded into blackness, the longest, most tumultuous day of Joseph’s life ended.
If you made it all the way to the end, you deserve a large can of peaches.
There we go. Enjoy while I prove that everything tallies up.
1 point for entering;
6 points for picture prompts:
5 points for written prompts:
“…It’s your choice.” He patted him on the back. “You can continue on with this miserable life, dodging cops and getting arrested, or you can become someone who can make a difference.”
“Please don’t leave me.” he said quietly. “Don’t leave me to deal with everything.” “Come with me,” she said softly. More of a suggestion than a command.
“I fell in love with someone way out of my league. I don’t even know why.” Hands on her shoulders, he looked dead into her eyes. “All I know is that I should never have let her go.”
“If you reach for that? Definitely. If you stay still like a good boy, I might.”
The window to a future she could choose was open. All she had to do was jump.
12 points for illustrations:
5 extra points for one of those being of a zenith;
14 points for including two 15-word sentences with 4 verbs, 2 nouns and 2 adjectives:
The harsh wind brandished his face, matching his heavy breathing as he rounded the bend.
He felt Horse step up, snorting and shuddering – finally, the ground was hard and stable.
And 1 point for mentioning my team name:
The horse plunged into the forest, directed by an unseen force called instinct.
1 + 6 + 5 + 12 + 5 + 14 + 1 = 44 points.
Any thoughts on The New City? It was way too long, wasn’t it? And to think I wanted to keep each scene under 500 words. So much for that goal XD
I’m not going to think about writing anything for at least a week.
I should have done this wayyyy earlier. As a result, it’s sort of awkward. But here it is, it uses all three prompts, and it’s somewhat on time. Enjoy or cringe – it’s your choice.
Syre could think of a lot of places he’d rather be than where he was. Maybe in a coffee shop with a hot chai latte. Or better yet, under his pet snake’s heat lamp. But he was sitting on the steps outside Peridot Institute, watching the wind toss withered leaves into the oncoming traffic, and wishing desperately that he’d worn his thermal shirt.
He was waiting for his friend Sasha to crash through the doors behind him, the doors that had been locked five minutes ago, just when he’d figured that she wouldn’t mind him changing their meeting spot. He’d tugged on the handle, pleading with his eyes, but Mr. Summerlin had shaken his head and pocketed the keys. Thus rejected, he’d taken a seat on the cold concrete and crossed his arms – more because of the cold than because of his attitude.
Daring to pull up the sleeve of his coat, he checked his watch. She’d been in Miss Jae’s office for thirty minutes now. Whatever she was in trouble for, she’d gotten into it deeper than the Black Forest. He wondered whether he should go home and hear all about it later. Even though he knew she’d be mad at him for deserting her, anything was better than waiting here for another half hour. And besides, it took longer to walk home with Sasha than to walk home alone because she got sidetracked easily and always wanted to explore. If he went ahead and left, he would save himself ten or fifteen frigid minutes.
He was about to get up (and potentially kindle her irritation) when the doors opened behind him. Sasha quickly slammed them shut again, like she’d detonated something inside. “Come on, before they know it was me!” she hissed, nearly dragging him by his hood as he stumbled to follow her.
“What’s up?” he asked as they took off down the sidewalk at a swinging walk.
She dug in her pockets for her mittens, resisting the urge to run. “I might have, just possibly, broken the statue of that old dead guy with the chair.”
“You broke Adam Weishaupt?”
“So that’s how you say his name,” she muttered. “Uh huh.”
Syre chuckled. “Is it fixable?”
“So long as they don’t notice it. I just cracked the base, that’s all. It fits right together again, no problem. I just have to glue it when no one’s looking and – voila! Vice Hopped or however-you-say-it is still standing. Sitting, I guess.”
He shook his head. “How’d he break?”
“I was trying to hurry and get out. Ran into him.”
“Miss Jae sure kept you awhile, didn’t she?”
“What’s up?” he asked, knowing he was treading on thin ice. He tried to catch her eye, but she turned away.
“It’s my stupid grades again.” she muttered.
This wasn’t the first time Sasha had been chastised for grades. She was smart enough, Syre knew, but he felt the problem was that she couldn’t spit back the important information they were required to know – especially in timed tests under Miss Wilshire’s eagle eyes. Naturally easygoing, she was a deer in the headlights when pressed, and both she and Syre knew it. But there was nothing he could say, because he’d made a 99 on the last test. Sasha’s nines had been turned upside down.
So he said nothing, let the hum of passing cars and idling engines fill the space between them.
On any other day, they’d be talking about whatever they saw as they started the long walk to the Straus Square Metro. Every day, twice a day, they had to pass under the concrete-and-steel beam beast known as Brooklyn Bridge, admire the teeny shops set up underneath, their fading signs written in half-Korean. After passing the graffiti-tagged vans and were out of the bridge’s shadow, they only had a few blocks before they would trip down the stairs into the subway car at exactly 4:00.
But today, things would be different. The metro had left without them already due to Sasha’s delay. The other thing Syre was realizing was that he couldn’t let her keep being so dejected. Her optimism, her carefree happiness that she usually had, was what had made them instant friends in the first place.
Biting his lip, he put his arm around her shoulder.
She glanced at his hand hanging next to her backpack strap. Then she looked at him. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing.
“It’s an arm around your shoulder.”
She chuckled, shaking her head. “Okay.”
“Look, I know you’re not feeling so great.”
“Yeah.” She sighed.
He looked at her, waiting for her to elaborate.
She kicked a rock in the sidewalk, averting his eyes. “It’s like, all my life I’ve thought everyone liked me just the way I was. And now all the sudden I’m not good enough.”
“I’m sure it’s not that.”
“No, it is. You remember why both of us are in this school.”
He nodded. “Because of what they saw in us.”
“Yeah. But you’re more the type they want. And now I feel like an idiot.”
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s true,” she muttered.
“Except Leo,” he offered.
She looked at him as she pushed her glasses up her nose. “Don’t you remember? You’re supposed to call him Mr. Cordova now.”
“Well, sure, I’m supposed to, but since when have I followed the rules? Besides, he likes Leo better anyways.”
Syre felt like he was about to grasp the real problem, the thing that had hid behind her braces-clad grin for what must have been months. There was no way to find out for sure (she wasn’t in the mood for spilling her guts right now, he could tell), but it had something to do with Leo.
When Syre had first met Sasha, she’d had a friend in Leo. An odd friend, for sure, considering that he was years older than she was and certainly caught up in more than she knew existed, but a friend nonetheless. She was the captain of a ragtag baseball team, now defunct for school. And then there was him, the mysterious kid who had become friends with her in the most peculiar circumstances.
Now, since Peridot Institute’s reopening, Leo taught the new generation with the other alumni of the school. Busy and enjoying the new life he was leading, he treated Sasha more like the rest of his students. Yes, he was much more partial to her than to anyone else, but the magical thing they had forged out of simply being neighbors was gone. And moving to this new school full of studious, motivated, hero-material kind of people had made her feel like she didn’t belong.
He didn’t want to tell her that Miss Jae might be right, but that seemed to be the case. Even though her unorthodox look at the world was what had gotten her into P.I, she needed to straighten up to succeed. And that was something he felt she would never be good at. He was pulling off alright, but he couldn’t see her being as sober as he was and still being Sasha.
But did he seriously want her to straighten up? Wasn’t she, weird optimism and all, what had changed everything for him? She wouldn’t be any different – it wasn’t like her. And then everything suddenly made sense.
For the first time in her life, Sasha was lonely. Leo, the one who listened faithfully to her weird ideas, was too busy for her. She didn’t have any other friends at this new school except himself. But now he felt like their grades, his success and her capers, had put a division between her and everyone she loved.
He glanced at her pensive face. She was probably jealous, too.
“Look,” he said, feeling just a bit guilty about that, “Let’s go home a different way today.” Just as they were about to cross Broadway, he turned her to the right.
“Why?” she asked. Something sounded different about her voice.
“I dunno,” said Syre, searching rapidly for a newsstand. There had to be one around here somewhere. It was prime time to sell evening papers, they were in a business district…and if there was one thing that could cheer her up, it would be a comic book.
The two of them had disagreed minorly on comics since they’d met. Syre always felt guilty for buying something as silly as a comic book, when there were other better uses of money. But to Sasha, comics were her hobby. She collected comic books, loved everything about them. She called it looking through a giant camera. Once she’d mounted the ladder and peered through the enormous lense, she could see a world larger than the world she lived in, and that enchanted her.
What she needed right now was to feel the way he felt about her – that she was perfect just the way that she was, and that someone cared about her.
He dug in the pocket of his jeans, fingering the five-dollar bill he’d slipped in there earlier.
“So maybe there’s a place I wanna stop by, is that okay?” he asked.
“Sure,” she shrugged.
Finally, he saw it on the green of a nearby park, its red and blue banner flapping in the cold February wind. NEWSPAPERS – MAGAZINES – COMICS, it advertised.
She felt them walking towards it. “I – uh…I don’t have any money, she faltered.”
“Don’t sweat it,” Syre replied, slipping the bill into her hands. “On me today.”
She stopped in her tracks and looked him dead in the eyes. “But you think comic books are stupid,” she questioned.
“Well, the person I know who likes them isn’t so…”
Her smile flooded back to her face. “Oh, gosh.”
“What are you waiting for?”
It was like doing just that had switched off her depression. In between thanking him, she started talking, just like she used to. It came slowly, awkwardly at first, but soon he could tell she’d forgotten she was lonely. She was back to her old self, talking to whoever would listen, or even pretend to listen. Grey eyes bright again, cheeks red from the biting wind, she looked her old self again.
Their boots crunched in the icy, dead grass. “A laser gun,” she was saying. Syre was so busy thinking about her that he hadn’t been listening. “And then Beta looks at him and says, ‘Did you just shoot down, and possibly kill, Santa?'”
Syre laughed as hard as she did, not really because whatever Christmas-exclusive edition of Inventions Prime was so funny, but because he was overjoyed to see her back to her normal self.
As she pored over the books (and Syre stood watching), the newsboy leaned over and whispered, “Hey, kid, did you see it?”
“No?” Sasha looked at him.
“Christmas is back.”
“Are you serious?” she asked, picking it up. “This is the one I was telling you about, Sy, you gotta come look.”
Syre came and laughed over the zany, ridiculous pages with her. But he found himself looking at her smile more than Beta. Christmas wasn’t the only thing that had returned. The Sasha he knew and loved was back.
I didn’t want to have to go through all the explaining but it would have made almost no sense if I didn’t. I also wanted to stop it when he saw the newstand, but I needed to use the other two prompts.
I’m setting a new record here! I used all three prompts:
She called it looking through a giant camera. Once she’d mounted the ladder and peered through the enormous lense, she could see a world larger than the world she lived in, and that enchanted her.
“A laser gun,” she was saying. Syre was so busy thinking about her that he hadn’t been listening. “And then Beta looks at him and says, ‘Did you just shoot down, and possibly kill, Santa?'”
As she pored over the books (and Syre stood watching), the newsboy leaned over and whispered, “Hey, kid, did you see it?”
“No?” Sasha looked at him.
“Christmas is back.”
I also used my team name:
Whatever she was in trouble for, she’d gotten into it deeper than the Black Forest.
Lamely, albeit, but still.
I also drew these two stupid drawings that I didn’t put in line because I’m not proud of them (and I failed on the backgrounds and ended up cutting them out):
Syre waiting on steps. His hair isn’t yellow irl, sorry.
Walking home. Sasha on left, Syre on right.
So yes, this entry was hurried, but it’s an entry!
Welcome back to what I’m calling The Saga Of Nedicent 😉 This installment is a bit rushed, and I regret that, but I’m the one personally responsible for holding back the next challenge because I begged Zielle to let me turn in late. Sorry, guys. So here it is, from Millicent’s POV.
A cold gust of wind threaded its way through the crowded buildings of Burton-On-Thames, blowing the fishermen’s hats away and unraveling the braids on the working horses. It crept up under the hood of my cape, taking a piece of my dark hair loose from behind my ear and sweeping it across my eyes. I pushed it off in annoyance as I pulled the warm, red cloth tighter around my thin shoulders.
At the corner where Shobnall Street and Borough Road interstect, a stylish carriage rattled through a puddle, sending a stinging spray of dirty, melted snow and pebbles in my direction. Fortunately, the cloak caught most of the stains, and how fortunate, too – I would have hated to see the silk I foolishly chose to wear today ruined by a careless, flippant, stuck-up coachman.
It always seemed to happen that way with me. I started the day telling myself I was going to be elegant, composed, and upper-class. Then, I’d get caught up in whatever I was doing and end up dirty, tired, but triumphant. Today was no exception. This morning, when I’d awoken, I knew in the back of my mind that I had important, troubling things to do. But my favorite silk dress called out to me from the wardrobe, just begging me to wear it and look sophisticated, dainty and upper-class.
If I had really been a part of the upper class, I would have been up in a drawing room, wearing silk slippers and possibly playing a spinet on this blustery January day. But though my father had money, he was an outcast of society, and so here I was, continuing the chain of eccentricity as I splashed through the puddles in his boots.
Finally, I came to the address I was seeking, climbed up the stairs between the two stone dragons guarding its entry. The townhouse was slowly being conquered by armies of vivacious ivy and overgrown bushes. The gardener that used to maintain the foliage had died almost a decade before. So had, for that matter, the cook, the maid, and the butler.
And now, Sir Giles Dawson himself was no more.
I hadn’t believed Father when he’d broken the news to me. It didn’t seem possible that he could no longer be living the square, gothic townhome hidden by leaves. But it had been true, unfortunately. And being his only real friend, it was my job to go through the dark, cozy rooms and gather the things he wouldn’t have wanted to be sold.
It pained me, to stand there, to know that there would be no Sir Dawson waiting for me inside, his feet propped on the footstool, his knobbly hands on the book in his lap, his square shoulders covered by the damask bathrobe he always wore. He wouldn’t greet me with his elusive smile, ask me to throw another log in the fireplace, or complain to me about how unjust the world was.
Everyone always whispered behind my back about my friendship with him, but always loud enough for me to hear, so they could impart to me their views on my visiting him. The ladies thought I had no business associating with an unrelated man four times my age. That would be true if he weren’t so lonely and sour and fed up with the world that had rejected him. I was good for him, Father said. Father’s friends, however, called me a forest maiden – because I ‘associated with the animals of the forest, particularly the grumpy, cross, bear known as Sir Dawson’.
I raised my hand to the the brass knocker, the griffon’s head on the door, then remembered that no one lived within anymore. I used to have knock – it was a stipulation of his. Then he’d say, “Herein!” in his gruff voice, and I’d unlock it with the key I had.
Those days were sadly passed, though. I reached into the pocket sewn to the inside of my cloak, pulled out the brass key with the cobalt string round the top of it. I slid it into the keyhole. The click it made as it met the lock seemed to echo in the entryway. As I pushed the heavy, mahongany door open, a smell of stillness met me. If it was possible for loneliness to smell like anything, this was its scent.
The entryway was dark, even darker after I closed the door behind me. I reached for the little table next to the door, found the matches and lit a candle. The only reason I knew they were even there was because I’d put it there.
The haunting, dancing, yellow-orange light filled the low-ceilinged entry, with its foreboding paisley carpet, sordid walls and oppressive crown moulding. The parlour, or, what I could see of it through the doorway to my right, was a pool of blackness. So was the dining room on my left and the hallway before me. I moved toward that hall, the light creeping over the floor and pushing away the darkness that surrounded me. At the same time, it felt as if the dark was breathing down my neck, getting closer and closer behind me as the candle danced away.
Sir Dawson had not entertained a single person while he had lived here. So, naturally, the dining room and parlour both were frightfully bare. Not a single trinket or item of intrigue lived in them, not even to gather dust. The only thing I ever recalled seeing in the dining room that wasn’t a piece of unmoved furniture was a set of blue wedgewood dishes peering out from behind the glass doors of the china cabinet. I’d learned they’d been his only inheritance from a long-dead uncle he never had liked. There was a personal joke accompanying them, one that made him smile saucily every time he thought about the set. But it was a joke I would never know.
I skipped those two rooms entirely, aiming straight for the stairs at the end of the hallway. I knew he didn’t have anything he cared about downstairs, because he lived upstairs, where his bedroom and study were. And this was where I knew he kept the only possessions that mattered to him.
The light trembled about as I took it up the stairs, each step bringing me closer to the rooms of reminiscence and memories. Never did I imagine that these memories would be painful to recall.
I arrived at the top of the stairs, my feet dragging slower and slower. I might as well get the hardest part over with, I figured. So even though I did not want to open that door and drown myself in a torrent of retrospection, I forced my wrist to turn the doorknob and my feet to step over the threshold.
Sir Dawson’s study, his office, was where he had spent most of his time. But it didn’t feel like it belonged to him anymore, not without his robed countenance sitting in the chair, telling me that I was fashionably late. Without him there, without his watchful gaze on the bookshelves, his feet on the footstool, his papers and ink on the desk and his curmudgeonly voice resonating through the wood paneling, the study felt as if it were in mourning, too.
My skirt brushed against the blackout curtains pulled agressively over the windows. I wondered who had done that. He’d always liked them open, despite his reclusiveness – he had liked to ‘look down upon the street, so’s I know what I’m missing’ (his words, not mine).
Why did I love him so much? The question flitted through my self-conscious as I ran the tips of my fingers over the book still face-down on his endtable, open to the place where he’d left it. He was a pessimistic curmudgeon at best; a depressing crank with barbarian manners to the less accepting set. I put up with his antics, though. Furthermore, I actually saw him as a friend. But why?
I kept mulling it over as I opened the curtains, letting in the soft, ambient light, filtered through the sordid January clouds outside. Securing them with the ties on the wall, I looked around at the room, still awaiting its master’s return. I hadn’t the heart to say that Sir Dawson wasn’t coming back. I could barely convince myself that truth.
I shook my head to clear it. Though I would have loved to sit in the chair he’d sat in for so many hours and let my emotions flow freely, I had a job to do. It was up to me to make sure that his important things were safe from his so-called friends. I strode over to his desk, trying to let the confidence pulsate through me. He had to have written a will. In my tulmultous state of mind, I needed to have everything spelled out for me.
He had said he kept the most important things out of sight. I opened the drawer on his desk, which was little more than a writing table. In that drawer, amid a nest of various papers, writing utensils, and a bundle of red string, was the document I sought.
He wrote it out on very thick, very nice paper, with a seal on the top. I took it over to the window so I could read the cramped, crabbed handwriting.
Last Will And Testament Of Sir Giles Dawson
I, Sir Giles Dawson, of Burton-On-Thames, Essex, England, declare this Document to be my final Will and Testament.
After jumping through the hoops of legality (no, he was not married, he had no children, either), the document circled round to the part everyone would be hanging on – if he had any friends, that is.
To Miss Millicent Blair, the daughter of Mr. John Blair, of Burton-On-Thames, Essex, England, the following is to be bequeathed: the set of wedgewood china in the dining room; in the bedroom, the marble bust of Plato, along with any books to be found near and around the bed; and in the study, the library, writing desk, green wingback chair, globe and porcelain elephant.
There was not much more to be read after that paragraph, just that he wished everything else to be sold and the money given to none other than myself. I lay the paper down on the windowsill and sighed. What was I to do with these things now? They didn’t look the same without him.
I meandered out the door, still thinking, only half-noticing what I was doing. The light from the windows now spilled out over the threshold. I opened the bedroom door, barely discerning the form of the tall, four-poster bed as I made straight for the window. As I pulled back the curtains, the room awoke in shades of grey, just as the study had.
His bed was unmade. I proceeded to pull the sheets up to the top, pulling a book or two out from the foot of the mattress, where they’d become tangled in the bedclothes.
Plumping the pillows and setting them right, the thought that I was essentially being a maid crossed my mind. I pushed it out promptly. It was worth getting dirty to set everything in order for him.
There was a small pile of books on his sidetable, burying the ornate glass oil lamp with the dirty chimney. I stacked them neatly, arranging them from largest to smallest. As I kept adding to the stack, picking up the books scattered on the floor and over the top of the dresser, I realized that Sir Dawson’s insomnia had been more severe than I’d thought. He must have kept the oil burning very late every night to read all of these.
Soon I had at least five and twenty books stacked neatly on the bench at the foot of his bed. It occurred to me that the room smelled quite nasty, rather like sleep and smoke. Unlocking the window, I slid up the casement, and let the blustery but refreshing breeze ruffle the curtains around the bed. Then I went over to the wardrobe.
Two suits were hanging on the front of it. I opened the door to reveal his hastily stuffed closet. Running my hand between the suits to smooth them out, I realized that he probably only had the other two out because he hadn’t any more room inside. And it wasn’t like he wore anything but his dressing gown, anyways. As I lifted the tails of a musty-smelling tailcoat, something in the bottom of the wardrobe caught my eye, faintly luminiscent. I picked it up. It was the gold banding across the spine of yet another book.
Hauling thirteen more books out of the wardrobe, I began to see that I had a ticklish problems on my hands. I couldn’t take these books, not when felt like they still belonged to him. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them if I could still hear his voice reading a paragraph out of them.
As I was bent over, reluctantly checking to see if there were any more books in the wardrobe, something brushed against my cheek. I pushed it out of the way, but it swung back towards me. I fingered it. It was the tailcoat.
With the fabric in between my fingers, a conversation slowly twirled its way back to my consciousness.
They say two hundred books are published every day.
It had been nearly a month since that night, the twenty-second of December. Thirty-eight books, plus the five or six hundred in the library on the other side of the wall, equalled – I rubbed the tailcoat between my fingers as I made the calculation – roughly ten percent of the books Mr. Glasscock should have read by now.
I stood there, still fingering the tailcoat, staring at the stack of books, for a solid minute, as the realization occurred to me.
I could not decide for the life of me what it was.
Yeah, it’s not as good as Ettiquette. But I stretched out something Millie could have told Ned in one line to 2500 words. NAILED IT.
I intended to illustrate this but yeah I’m still working on those faces. XD But I did mention my team name and the prompt in the same sentence – bonus points?
Father’s friends, however, called me an elfin maiden – because I ‘associated with the animals of the forest, particularly the grumpy, cross, bear known as Sir Dawson’.
1 point (participation) + 1 point (prompt) + 1 point (team name) = 3 points
*whimpers* Oh, that’s frightfully low. Go Team Forest!
What did you think? Are you looking forward to the next installment of Ned and Millie’s story? It’s going to be told by a very side character this time…
Sayonara, I’m going to try not to cringe at this piece,
You are baking in your kitchen this fine day,January Sixteenth, Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eighteen. Suddenly there is a knock on the door. A letter flits through your mail slot and skids across your floor. You pick it up, fingering the soft grey envelope. Your name is typed on the front by an antique typewriter.
Without stopping to bother with a letter opener, you tear into the envelope. A card falls out. It reads:
You are invited to Tess’ Fifteenth Birthday Blog Bash! (Fifteen referring to her age, not how many years the Bash has been running) Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 Bring your favorite sugary treat. Location: on Steeplechase
You set the letter down on your kitchen table and comb your countertops for something edible. You find a half-eaten package of cookies and a roll of refrigerated bread dough. That’s right – you were making apple turnovers. It appears you have two options here.
If you grab the cookies and hurry right over to the party, skip to part 2. If you decide something homemade would be better than something store-bought (and half-eaten), put your turnovers in the oven and go to part 5.
Cookies under your arm and hoodie over your head, you arrive at the big oak door. Your fingers tremble from the cold as you knock twice on the door – why’d it have to be so chilly today? It must be thirteen degrees below freezing, you decide. After a very prolonged pause, the door opens. Tess is standing in the entryway, clad in plaid pajama pants, earbuds in her ear. She looks you up and down and says – “You’re not here for a party, are you?”
“Yes,” you reply. “I got your invitation.”
“Already?” She takes her earbuds out and facepalms. “Oh, no.”
“What?” you ask, confused. Wasn’t there supposed to be a party?
“Come in,” Tess beckons, closing the door behind her. You notice your surroundings – there are bags of groceries on the counter, cleaning supplies next to the fireplace, and a stack of books next to an oversized armchair.
“I’m so sorry,” she apologizes, clearing the pencil shavings out of the chair so you can sit down. “I’m so not ready yet! I shouldn’t have asked those ninjas to deliver the invitations. They did it way too quickly!”
You see that there’s no other choice. If you don’t help Tess get this party together, then it’s going to be a flop. She’ll be so embarrassed. Reluctantly, you say, “Well, I can help you.”
“Really?” she says, pushing a piece of her hair out of her face. “You’d do that?”
“I wouldn’t want your birthday to be awful!” you say.
“Oh wow, you’re Superman himself, oh thanks!” she exclaims, giving you an overenthusiastic hug. “I made a list yesterday of things I need to do. Have a look, do whatever you like!” She thrusts a list into your hands. The only things you can read on it are:
Set up music
The rest of the points are so hurried, you can’t tell what they say. But considering you can’t get dressed for Tess, it looks like you have to make a choice:
If you decide to set up the music, head over to part 3. If decorating is more of your area of expertise, go to part 4.
Tess hands you a Rubbermaid tub full of CDs. “Just set it up on the folding table over there.” She opens her dryer and drags out a tobyMac T-shirt and a pair of jeans. She then disappears into the bathroom.
You set the CDs on the table and examine them. Some Owl City, some Royal Tailor, lots of tobyMac and tons of epic soundtracks. You finger one of these – it’s called LEGO Universe. A play through the tracks brings up a pretty good song for a party. You write it down to burn it on the playlist.
Eventually, you’ve sorted through the CDs and come up with a playlist. It’s got a lot of driving beats and fun songs. But then you wonder – would karaoke be a good idea?
If you think that hearing all your blogfriends’ Taylor Swift impressions would be a fun idea, set it up in part 8.
If you think you’ve done enough damage, go to part 9.
“I’m so glad you’ll decorate. I’m not so good at that kind of thing!” Tess laughs. She tells you that the decorations are in the plastic bags on the counter and heads off to get dressed.
You inspect the decorations she bought – balloons, streamers and…a pinata? It looks very classic, the basic donkey with the multicolored paper strips glued to it. But you wonder – where are you supposed to hang it? There isn’t a chandelier or anything in the room.
You set the pinata down and hang up the streamers, curling them once or twice to give them that great-looking cartoon party flair. Then you run out of breath blowing up balloons (you’re inclined to believe they’re made of dishwashing gloves instead of thin latex) and hang them around, because you don’t see any helium anywhere.
Tess comes out, wearing a tobyMac T-shirt and a pair of jeans. “It looks great in here!” she exclaims.
“Where did you want me to put the pinata?” you ask.
“Gerald?” Tess laughs. “I only bought him ‘cuz I thought he was cute.”
You chuckle, knowing that it would have been traumatic to see him get whacked to bits anyways.
Advance to part 15.
The turnovers are radiating away in the oven, making your mouth water. Every whiff of their beautiful scent reverberates cinnamon and apples, two of the most wonderful things about winter. And on a day as cold as this, hot pastries will be the absolute hit of the party, you think.
It’s finally time to take them out. They’re little triangles of golden-brown perfection and the filling is peeking out the sides. They’re so decadent looking. Maybe you should sample one of them? After all, there are an entire dozen.
If you decide to test one, go to part 6.
If you strengthen your resolve and resist, go to part 7.
You take one of them off the baking tray. It’s soft and gooey, still plenty warm from the oven. You take a bite. It’s flaky on the outside, but the inside tastes like heaven itself. They’re everything you love about McDonalds’ apple pies but without the trans fat. You reach for another. It’s so warm and soft and juicy.
You take a deep breath and close your eyes. Oh, these turnovers are just scrumptious.
When you open your eyes, there are three left on the tray.
With the realization that you just ate nine apple turnovers in one sitting, you begin to panic. Tons of questions fill your head. How did you eat all those turnovers? How are you going to burn it off? And, more urgently, what are you going to bring to the party? Three apple turnovers aren’t going to cut it.
You work out that you have two options: to go to the store and get more turnover-baking ingredients; or to show up to the party without anything and hope everyone else brought enough sugar. But one thing’s for certain – you’ve eaten your share of sweets for today.
If you decide to go to the store, head to part 12. If you shrug off the responsibilites and just go with the flow, breeze over to part 11.
After the turnovers cool, you wrap them up in printed cellophane. It has red and green snowflakes on it. You hope she won’t notice that they’re leftover from your Christmas baking. You tie a pretty bow to seal them up and smile at your handiwork. Baking is so much fun.
Without further adieu, you put on your hat, scarf and coat and slide your fingers into your gloves. Then, you tuck the precious turnovers into your arms and walk over to Steeplechase.
It’s colder outside than you realized. The wind is pushing against your face, giving you a blush that Covergirl would try to sell. The tips of your fingers are cold, even through your gloves. And, worst of all, you’d decided to wear jeans today, so the frigid, stiff denim is making it hard to walk.
Finally, the door looms ahead of you. You sigh a sigh of relief, your breath hanging in the air. The turnovers made it – and so did you.
Go to part 16.
“Karaoke?” Tess shrugs when you tell her about your idea. “Why not? It sounds great to me. If you’ll set that up, I’ll see what I can do about decorating.”
You don’t push it, even though you know that combining Tess with a tape dispenser, easily unravelled streamers and balloons is a recipe for having everything look like a pinata. Rather like the pinata she bought, actually, which is sitting on the counter. You inspect it with a smirk. It’s a goofy-looking donkey festooned in ribbons.
“Where are you going to hang this up?” you call as you watch Tess rummage around in the kitchen drawers for tape.
“Whaddaya mean?” she asks. “Gerald is staying right where he is.”
“You think I’d be cold enough to whack an innocent donkey to bits? No thanks.” She pats him on the head. “Gerald can be the mascot.”
You shrug and burn one more CD of good karaoke songs, wondering what things will end up looking like once Tess is through with it. Finally, with the stereo plugged in and everything set up, you turn around.
All Tess has accomplised in this time is making a curtain door out of most of the streamers. She tosses a cardboard core over her shoulder, where it joins two others. “There,” she says, extending her arms. “Isn’t it great?”
You laugh and offer to help blow up balloons. Slowly, but surely, you get these spread out around the room in something close to a decorative manner.
“Well,” Tess says, “it’s not a cartoon party, but it looks pretty good if you ask me. Thanks for all your help, I couldn’t have done this without you.”
“You’re welcome,” you say. “Anything to -“
You’re interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Here we go!” says Tess, opening it up.
Go to part 10.
It’s no secret that Tess is decorationally challenged. You offer to help her as you see her coming closer to the bags of decorations.
“Thanks,” she says, handing you the bag. “I’ll just hand you tape, ‘cuz I’m not so good at this.”
You laugh. Then you set to work hanging up streamers and balloons. Soon, the whole room looks great. But when you reach for the pinata, Tess stops you.
“Nuh-uh,” she says. “That’s Gerald. He’s not to be abused by candy-greedy savages armed with sticks.” Patting him protectively, she places a party hat on his head.
Just then, you hear a knock at the door.
“Let the party begin!” she says, and opens it.
Go on to part 15.
“Welp,” says Tess, bopping a balloon over your head, “this isn’t a picture-perfect party, but it sure is great!”
You have to agree. Even though there aren’t any streamers anywhere else, everyone’s been having a grand time making their entrances through the curtain. The music is perfect – just the right variety of songs. And the half-package of cookies you brought is now an empty package. That’s good, right?
You look over. Tess is standing on the folding table with one of the karaoke mics. “Is anyone ready for some karaoke?”
There’s a general consensus of “Yes!”
“I know we all want to sing our hearts out, but there’s one person who helped make all this possible. If it weren’t for the help I got this morning, you’d have opened this door to find me in my pajamas. Let’s hear it for my helper, aye?”
The guests cheer. Tess looks you in the eye and tosses you the microphone.
“Come on up!” she says.
Thanks for helping out with the party! Comment the lyrics of your favorite song – don’t be shy!
You knock on the door, hoping whoever answers it will think the goodies you were supposed to bring are underneath your coat. Then you can sneak over to the table where everyone else has piled their stuff and get away with being a leech.
The door opens. Tess is standing there. There’s a streamer over her shoulder, obviously thrown by an enthusiastic friend.
“Hey!” she says, hugging you. “Thanks for coming!”
Oh no, you think. She’s going to feel that there’s nothing under my coat! Do something!
“I came without turnovers, unfortunately,” you manage to say. Then you add, in a confidential whisper, “I ate them all.”
Tess cracks up. “Well, those have gotta be some killer turnovers. Oh well. It’s you who I wanted to see, not your baked goods. Though, turnovers are hard to beat.”
The two of you laugh and she welcomes you inside.
Come on into part 16.
When you finally get to the store, the bakery’s closed, reminding you that if you don’t hurry, the party will be over. Since there’s no time to go back to the house and make something, you are stuck with the offerings of the bakery case. And there’s not a lot to choose from.
You narrow it down to two things. The first is any of the many varieties of cookies on the low shelves. They’re ubiquitous, but safe.
The second is a cake with Thomas The Tank Engine on it. It’s very appealing, being that lovely azure color and all.
If you buy the box of cookies, go to part 13.
If you take a risk with the TTTE cake, go to part 14.
Treats in hand, you arrive at the door, ready to party. You knock three times, knowing that Tess will think of that famous line she loves to use in her stories – “once for purpose, once for luck, and once more for good measure”.
She opens it up. “Hey! Thanks for coming! Those look great!”
You laugh. Good old food-oriented Tess. “You’re so welcome! Happy birthday!”
She welcomes you in, plops a party hat on your head, and shows you where the treat table is. Lucky for you, there’s cupcakes, baclava, and a bowl of Reese’s Cups, but no cookies. It looks like the safe option was a pretty good bet. Setting your tray of cookies next to the other desserts, you step away and join the party.
What kind of cookies did you bring? Say it in the comments!
You hope Tess hasn’t grown out of it. You hope she won’t think you’re insane. You hope your listening to her weirdness will pay off. You knock twice on the door, bracing yourself. Tess opens it. She has her mouth open to greet you when she sees the cake.
“Oh. Wow. Is that a THOMAS CAKE?” she squeals. “HOW DID YOU KNOW ABOUT MY SECRET FANDOM?!”
“It’s just the blogosphere, Tess,” you say, sighing with relief. So she hasn’t grown out of it.
She relieves you of the cake, holding it triumphantly above her head. “A THOMAS CAKE!” she exclaims. A mixture of cheering and nervous laughter erupts from the other guests.
You sit down in a chair off to the side, glad to be off your feet. Well, if it took the misfortune of eating all those turnovers to bring that much geeky excitement to Tess, the calories were worth it, right?
You certainly hope so. Your other hope is that you’ll dance the rest of the calories off.
Did you know that TTTE is Tess’s weird obsession or did you just guess? Say so in the comments!
The party is a huge success. Everyone’s laughing and talking, the music sounds great, and best of all, the decorations are spot-on. “I really have to hand it to you,” Tess says as she pats you on the back. “I’d have been up the creek without a paddle if you hadn’t bailed me out this morning.”
“It’s no big deal,” you say. “I’m always ready to help a friend.”
“I know that now!” she laughs. “Enjoy yourself tonight. You deserve it.”
You glance over at the treat table. “Don’t worry. I will.”
What delicious treat do you choose from the table? Comment below – it can be literally anything you want!
The party’s been fun. Everyone’s been here and talking, the food’s been great, and everyone has been grooving all night. Tess taps you on your shoulder as your hovering over the treat table. “Hey,” she says. “Thanks for coming! I really appreciate it. You really have made the party feel like a party!”
“You’re so welcome!” you reply. “Thanks for hosting it!”
“It wouldn’t be the same without you, though!” she smiles. “Enjoy yourself tonight!”
You glance down at the table of treats below you. “Oh yes, I will!”
What treat do you choose from the table? Comment below – it can be literally anything you like!