Friday, September 30, 2011

Prompt #39: This is the short version of my story, the simplest way I can possibly tell it.

            I meander through the shelves, the microchip reader in my hands. The connected earbuds dangle to the floor, swinging centimeters from my feet. I stop at random and squint to read the labels.
            A wrinkled hand reaches over my shoulder, presses one of the buttons. The microchip slides out of the slot with a hissing sound.
            “I think you will find this one acceptable,” my grandfather smiles at me, then shuffles off. I watch him turn the corner before I reach up and, pinching the microchip between my fingers, pull it from its place.
            I put it in the reader. I start down the row, thinking about where I might go to listen to the story, when I stop and rush back. This label is especially hard to read, the words almost not able to fit. “The Story of the Princess and the Words that Needed to be Spoken, but Couldn’t Be.”
            I snort. It’s a typical grandfather made title.
            I decide to stay in the library to listen and settle down into one of the big chairs. A sigh escapes me as its cushions hug my back. When I was little, I would pretend I was sitting on my mother’s lap as she told me stories. Those feelings of safety and comfort still linger in the fabric.
            One of the servants appears, sets a cup on the small table beside me.
            I smile. “Thank you.”
            She smiles back and nods, but leaves the room immediately.
            I insert the buds in my ears one by one and put the player on the arm of the chair. Then I press play and close my eyes, the middle-aged voice of the narrator sweeping over me.

            “Our society had four tiers. My family was assigned the label of tier two. We could not speak more than 500 words a day.
            “My father was gardener to the royal family and sometimes he took me to work with him. He knew I liked the plants. The roses were my favorite. One day, I went to the place where the bushes were kept and found a girl sitting on the only bench.
            “‘Who are you?’ I demanded.
            “‘Alysa,” she told me.
            “‘What are you doing here?’ I asked, looking down at her.
            “‘I live here, hon.’
            “I was more curious then angry so I sat beside her. My next question was asked not out of ignorance, but because her feet were bare.
            “‘Are you one of the slaves?’ I whispered it because if she was it meant she was a first tier. First tiers were not allowed to speak. I liked her. I didn’t want to turn her in.
            “She laughed. Someone else of her status would have yelled at me for such an offense. ‘No. I’m the princess, silly.’
            “My father called then. Princess Alysa grabbed my hand when I tried to stand. ‘Will you be here tomorrow?’
            “I had no definite answer so all I said was, ‘I’ll ask if I can.’
            “I couldn’t. And I couldn’t. And I couldn’t. It was another week before my father took me back to the palace. And she was sitting there waiting. And the next time, too.
            “‘I wish you could come over every day, Stephn.’ She always added some kind of tag to her sentences when she talked.
            “‘Me too.’
            “She smiled when I said that.
            “Within a few weeks, my family moved right into that palace, the servant quarters. We all got jobs. Mine was just the oddball kind, for the cook, the stable hands, anybody who needed it. None of them were allowed to keep me long though. Everyone knew what my real purpose was.
            “‘I can’t wait ‘til I’m queen, my darling Stephn.’ We were teens.
            “‘Why’s that?’ I was lying in the grass.
            “She swung her feet when she answered. They passed right over my face. ‘Because then I’ll be fourth tier. Then I won’t have to make sure I say at least 1,000 words a day. Then I won’t have to draw out what I want to say to make sure I’ve said enough.’
            “I was silent for a minute. I leaned up on my elbows. She stopped swinging her feet. ‘I would give anything to be able to say 1,000 words a day.’
            “She blushed, red as the roses. ‘I’m sorry, Stephn. I just didn’t think.’
            “I stood up. ‘I know. You don’t ever have to think about anything that comes out of your mouth.’ Then I walked away.
            “I didn’t go out to the garden the next day. But the day after that I did. And she was waiting. Just likes always. But she refused to talk.”

There is a long pause. So long I’m about to hit the eject button.

            “They gave her a warning. But still she refused to talk. They threatened her tongue. No words passed her lips. I begged her to talk, wasting all the day’s words. The small word counter around her throat, the symbol of two and three tiers, remained at zero. They cut out her tongue. She smiled when she showed me. I cried.
            “She was demoted to first tier automatically. She lost everything. Her throne. Her home. Her parents. Her roses. Me.
“I was ordered not to follow her. Was told they’d take my tongue, too. So I didn’t. But I had someone watch her. I paid high for it. No one wants to spend their words on another man’s business.
“All was good. She was happy, if lonely, I was told. And then came the day. The memory of it is etched onto my brain.
“My informant rushed through the door and told me in broken sentences that Alysa was dying. At that moment I did not think about my tongue. I just ran.
“I remember the feel of her forehead, how hot it was. When I touched her, she opened her eyes and smiled. Then she pointed to a cradle in the corner. I crouched over it. A baby, a girl, was inside, sleeping. She chose that moment to awake, crying. I picked her up and turned to Alyssa. But she was already gone, her lips turned up in a forever smile.
“I rocked the baby in my arms until she fell back asleep. My tears hit her face. I took her with me when I left. Took her far away. I swore she would have freedom of speech.
“So far, I have achieved my goal.”

The story is over. I know it. I feel it. But I keep my eyes closed. My eyelids start to itch. I sigh and open them. Grandfather is sitting in the chair across from mine.
I laugh, but it’s a small, awkward sound. “Glad our world isn’t like that.” It’s a feeble attempt to keep things normal. To keep things the way they were before. When everyone could say what they wanted and when my mother and father died in an accident and when my grandfather was really my grandfather.
“Why are you showing me this now?”
His whole body sinks a little lower into the chair. “You needed to be prepared.” His voice is aged, dry, but it matches the one on the microchip down to the syllable.
“For what?” My heart starts pumping so loud that I look down at the reader, thinking the thumping is coming from inside it.
The chimes of the door bell echo through our house, bouncing up stairs and down hallways to reach us. We’re quiet as we listen to the maid pad across the floor, the creak of the door hinge, the maid’s scream.
“For that.”

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You Are an Imago in the World of Publishing but Sometimes Even Spiders are Shown Mercy

The agent sat in her armchair, a manuscript nestled in her lap. Miasma hung in the air, brought upon by the dim lighting and the storm outside. It coated her tongue. Her eyelids drooped, and she rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands before starting to read. She couldn't help but oscitate at the first sentence, but by the end of the first paragraph she was laughing, all signs of sleepiness gone.

Behind the windows, the sky grew darker, not a drop of sun shining through. She squinted to see and kept reading. The paper crept closer and closer to her nose. Her eyes screeched to a halt at the end of the last line. She stared at the last period, then slowly set the manuscript down.

Thunder crashed right aside her window. A mirror on the wall fell and cracked. The agent jumped, awakened out of her revery.

She hugged the submission, excitement bubbling up inside her. It wasn't perfect. There was a elephant-sized lacuna in the plot and some synchronicity wouldn't hurt. But the writing, and the characters, and the voice. She sighed, happy.

She stood and hurried to the phone, hoping the line wasn't down.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Prompt #37: Seriously, it was the worst thing I could have chosen to choke on.

            “Your Majesty, a man requests an audience with you. He claims to have found the cure.”
            Cirabel took one last swig of her tonic and dropped the small bottle into her pocket. She placed her palms lightly against her cheeks, sighing at the feel of smooth skin beneath her fingers. “Bring him in.”
            The courier bowed, then turned on his heel to retrieve her visitor.
            She straightened, leaning her head back against the chair. The courier gestured her guest inside and shut the doors behind him, leaving the two of them alone.
            A peasant stood before her, a hood drawn over his head. He clenched something in his hands. He stared down at it, not meeting her eyes.
            Cirabel cleared her throat.
            The man shifted his feet, but did not speak.
            She huffed. “I have been told you have found the cure I seek.”
            He glanced up at her, but quickly returned his gaze to his hands.
            A sigh blew between her lips. “You may respond.”
            “Yes, Queen Cirabel, I believe I have found the antidote you seek.” He spoke quickly at her command.
            “You believe?” Her voice was shrill. “Are you trying to kill me? What if, because you simply believe, I had drunken your ‘antidote’ and died of poison?”
            “I… I have,” the peasant stuttered, “I have t-t-tested it.”
            Cirabel’s voice dropped, becoming light and fluffy, and a beautiful smile appeared on her face. “Oh? Then I’m sure you won’t mind drinking some of it yourself.”
            The farmer looked down at the container in his hand. “How will we know if there will be enough for you if I drink some of it?”
            “I’m sure you can get more.”
            She did not look away until he unstoppered the beaker in his hand and tilted it towards his mouth, letting half of the contents spill down his throat. He swallowed and replaced the cork, his arms falling back to his sides.
            He stood that way for seconds, minutes. Not one thing about him changed.
            Finally, Cirabel said, “Well, at least it won’t kill me. Bring it forward.”
            The sound of his rough shoes against the floor pounded into her head. She ordered him to stop before reaching her. His hand stretched out, the vial held out to her.
            “Herald,” she called. “Come serve this to me.”
            The courier reappeared, rushing to her. He snatched the glass from the peasant’s hand and poured the liquid into a goblet he had brought with him. He knelt before her, extending the cup.
            She wrapped her hand around the chalice and he released it. “You are excused.”
            Herald nodded and left.
            Cirabel twisted her hand, looking at the goblet from all sides. “Do you know what would happen to you if you have brought me what I have so desperately searched for?”
            He nodded.
            “Do you know what would happen to you if this is a fake?”
            The man shivered, but nodded.
            “Good.” She lifted the cup to her lips and drank.
            It slid down easily, but left behind a film. She gripped the end of the arm rests, leaning forward and trying to clear her throat. She coughed and hacked but her throat still felt sticky and coated. And, on top of that, the coughing made her chest hurt.
            Cirabel’s eyes grew wide and she placed a hand against her chest. Breathing was hard. Air came out of her lungs in wheezes. Her left hand grasped the chair harder and she glanced at it. A cry left her mouth when she saw her fingers, the gnarled bones and veins showing through.
            She ran her palms across her face, feeling years of wrinkles. “No, no, no,” she whimpered.
            Her hand fumbled in her pocket, finally producing her tonic. She shook almost too badly to remove the lid. After eons it popped off. She swung it back, drinking all of it at once. Her throat closed around it, her body rejecting it. The coughs started again, and her wonderful, youthful medicine spewed across the floor.
            She tried to stand, but her legs were too frail to support her and she fell to the ground. She curled into a ball, soft sounds spilling out of her.
            A hand touched her shoulder. Herald kneeled next to her, a sad look on his face. “Oh, Lady Cirabel. You finally have what you wanted so badly. But what have you done to yourself in the process?”

Prompt #36: I know all the best places to hide. But there are certain precautions you need to take if you don't want them to smell you.

            I am walking by the school when the cry sounds. Everyone freezes, their eyes going wide and turning up to the sky. Then the emergency siren sounds and all the people start moving double-time, sprinting for the trenches. I’m in the middle of the crowd, my feet pounding against the ground, praying I won’t trip, fall.
            Everybody streams over the side of the closest ditch, looking like a human waterfall. Once they hit the ground, it’s as if they disappear into thin air. I slide down into the dirt, scramble for cover under the overhang, all the hidey holes filled. Across from me a teacher, by her clothes, holds a child, pressing the little girl’s face to her chest, covering her eyes.
            It is dead silent, still. No one dares breathe. Another cry rents the air, a hunter’s call. A small body falls in front of me, sobbing. The boy is on his hands and knees, frantically searching for a place to hide. I bite my lip, my gaze meeting the woman’s across from me. I reach forward and grab his wrist, pull him to me. He leaves a trail behind him.
            I place my hand on his head. “Shh, you have to be quiet. He’ll hear us.”
            He nods, bites his lip. He shakes against me.
            A shadow passes over the trench, leaving us in darkness. I scoot my back against the dirt wall, taking short gasps of air through my mouth. The shadow moves slightly, but stays above us. He is circling.
            The ground is no longer dry, but damp with sweat. It drips along my neck, my legs, making them itch, but I refuse to move.
            And then there is the sound of running. Someone who didn’t quite make it to the trenches is going for it, taking their chance while he is distracted.
            The shadow disappears and the sun glares down on us once more. I squint and press my face into the boy’s hair, wishing I could block my hearing just as easy. The scream of the poor victim reaches my ears.
            It’s not the reasonless scream it usually is though. It’s a word, a name. “Kylan.”
            The boy jerks in my arms. I try to hold on to him, but he wriggles free. I grab his pant leg just as he manages to stand up. “Mama.”
            I drag him down and back under the overhang before he can attract the hunter’s attention. Tears leave clean streaks on his face. He bangs his small fists against my shoulders, my chest, my stomach. The thought that I could just let him go comes to me, but I keep a tight grip.
            A screech, another scream that is quickly cut off. Kylan screams at the ugly ripping noise that follows and he will not stop. I place my hand over his mouth. He bites down on my finger, hard, so hard, but I don’t care. As long as he is quiet.
            The flapping of wings, loud, powerful, taking off, sweeps over everyone. Stirred dust falls over the edge of the trench, getting in my lungs, making me cough, making everyone cough.
            I’m standing and coughing though. People are crawling out of holes everywhere, like some great termite infestation. They’re dusting themselves off, climbing out of the ditch.
            Because he’s gone. He’s found his meal.
            When they’re out, the remaining citizens pause and bow their heads, lay their hand over their heart. The brave watch the great bird of prey disappear into the distance. He’ll be back when he gets hungry again, but for now, he’s gone.
            I climb out first and reach down for the boy, holding his frail frame as if I always knew how to do it. He wraps his arms around my neck, buries his face in my shoulder. I look for him, look after his mother’s murderer.
            “Sh, baby, sh. It’s going to be okay.”
            People stare at me, but I ignore them, keep looking toward the horizon, patting his back, whispering reassuring words.
            The teacher comes up to me. “I’ll take him.”
            I don’t want to let him go, but I have to. He has to go back to school. I pry his fingers away. She takes him gently and turns away.
            The populace is going back to their lives, to what they were doing.  They walk past me, going to the exact spot they stood before the alarm sounded, planning to move on from there as is procedure.
            I take a deep breath and go to follow. A man walks beside me. He glances toward me. “You shouldn’t have lied to him. You know as well as I that things are not going to be okay for that boy.”
            I nod, my shoulders dropping.
            If the hunter likes the taste of today’s meal, Kylan will be his next whether by the hunter’s own design or the town’s.

Prompt #35: This could all be over in a matter of seconds... Should I or shouldn't I?

            She drummed her fingers against the table, resting her chin against the side of the box. Her eyes flicked lazily, left and right. Suddenly, she sat up with interest. She reached into the box, touching one of the tiny buildings in the corner. “Expand.”
            It blew up. The roof disappeared and gave her a clear look at the inside. She stood up, leaning forward to see over the edge.
            The floors were see-through, allowing her a clear view. Blue and pink figures moved around everywhere, many with spots of grey. Underneath all the bustling activity, motionless black figures rested all lined up in rows.
            “Zoom. Level four.” Parts of the hospital melted away. The fourth floor enlarged, the characters growing bigger.
            Her head was practically in the box. She reached out a hand and touched the door to one of the many rooms. “Zoom. Focus. Sound.”
            The room was now all she saw. Its occupants were no longer merely pink or blue. The color of their skin, their clothes, and the features of the faces showed just as clearly as if she watched a TV. Voices came out of invisible speakers. They were soft.
            “Is she getting any better?” The man who spoke had wrinkles all across his forehead and around his lips. They weren’t etched deep; they were still fresh.
            There was a deep sigh from the other man. “I’m afraid she’s taken a turn for the worst.”
            “How bad is it?” The question was so low she almost didn’t catch it.
            “Up volume. Twenty,” she commanded.
            The voices swirled around her head, blocking out everything else.
            “She may leave us at any moment,” the second man boomed.
             Sobs traveled through her ears. She brushed them off as easily as cobwebs. Her eyes stayed rooted to the scene.
            The second man, the doctor, placed his hand on the griever’s shoulder, squeezed. “I’ll leave you alone.”
            She straightened up and placed her hands on either side of the box. “Expand full.”
            She blinked and the box and the table disappeared. Bright, sanitary lights crashed down on her eyes and she squinted. The smell of sickness covered with orange hit her nose. She was in the hospital room.
            The man scooted closer to his wife, taking her hand in his. Her breath wheezed from her lungs as she slept.
            She stepped forward, touching the invalid’s arm. “Analyze.”
Colors flashed over the woman’s body before settling. Gray grouped around her brain, with the occasional black speck making its appearance. Blue surrounded her barely beating heart. The rest of her flamed red.
She removed her hand. “Present possible outcomes for option one.”
Events fast forwarded around her. The heart monitor stopped. Nurses and doctors rushed in. The surroundings changed. A casket was being put into the ground. Everyone cried. One man stood in the shadows, a smile on his face.
“Stop.” She was back on the deathbed. The man laid his head against the side of the bed.
“Present possible outcomes for option two.”
Again the colors and people moved quickly around her. The woman’s eyes opened. She sat up. A doctor appeared at the man’s cry, frantically checking her vitals. The background changed rapidly as their lives were played out.
“Stop. Contract.”
The box was back, the room placed neatly inside it. She sat back in her chair, her fingers gripping the edge of the table. A hologram appeared in front of her. Two boxes. Two options.
She twined her fingers together, resting her chin upon them. “Review outcomes for option one. Forward to example twelve.”
The setting of the box flashed to the smiling man. He was featured in the next slide, sliding a letter into a mailbox. And then there was another man, an important man, laid up in a hospital bed. Just like the woman.
She reached her hand up and lightly touched the second box. The hologram disappeared.
She leaned forward, watching the results of her choice. The heart monitor picked up, the regular beeps increasing. The man raised his head. The woman opened her eyes. Her husband sprang up, getting firm grip of her hand, and called for a doctor. The woman sat up, looking around in wonder.
“Contract full.” The room and hospital shrunk, her usual view restored.
She set her chin against the side of the box.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Prompt #38

[That sweltering calm I'd never known
Blue skies and home]

            I stood in the new place, my left foot coming to rest by my right. A chill ran down my spine, my teeth beginning to chatter. I cupped my elbows, twisting as far around as possible while being sure to keep my feet flat.
            Slender, naked trees rose up around me, their branches dropping small flakes, making it appear as if it still snowed. Wind whistled through the forest, raising goosebumps along my exposed skin. Wetness started to seep into my shoes.
            My knee twitched, preparing to take a step and move on from this place. I paused, however, when I caught sight of the boy.
            His skin and clothes were so white that I might not have seen him had he not moved. He sat in the snow, caught in the process of making angels. A giggle rose in my throat for he looked to be at least a foot taller than me. His green eyes, widened in surprise, added a splash of color to the washed out backdrop.
            “Hello,” I said, my voice feeling incredibly small.
            He rose, clumps of snow falling from his legs. He took a step toward me, resulting in a soft crunch. “Hello.”
            “Could you tell me where I am?” My lips were cold against each other.
            He drew close enough that I could see that his eyelashes were like icicles. “You are in the forest, just outside of the home of the Prince of Wales.”
            “Ah.” My breath clouded around us. “And what year might it be?”
            An uneasy expression crossed his face, as if he did not know what to think of me. “1778.”
            “Thank you,” I let the sentence hang.
            “George. And you are?”
            My face felt frozen, so that when I smiled, I worried that my skin might crack. “I am the wanderer Mycele.”
            George nodded and then he must have noticed the redness of my face for he exclaimed, “Look at the clothes you wear. You must be bitterly cold. Please, come with me to my home where you can warm by the fire.”
            “Do you live close by here?” I stalled. I knew if I were to go as if to follow him, I would disappear and move on. And it was not often that I enjoyed conversation.
            “Why, yes. Did I not mention that we are near the home of the Prince of Wales?” He raised his eyebrows.
            “Indeed you did. I assume you live there, then.”  I rubbed my hands along my arms, the coolness of my fingers raising the hairs.
            “My dear, Mycele, I am the Prince of Wales.” He laughed. “Now come, let us warm you up and find you more suitable, dry things.”
             “I cannot follow you to your home.” Even as I spoke, I shivered.
            A frown creased his face. “Why, that is insanity. You will catch pneumonia.”
            “I cannot come with you,” I repeated.
            He crossed his arms. “And why not?”
            I swallowed and opened my mouth several times, waiting for an answer to spill out. “My feet are frozen to the ground,” I said lamely.
            George laughed again, placing his hand on his forehead. “Why didn’t you just say so? Here, let me help you.”
            “No, thank you.” I stuttered as he reached his hands around my waist. “I’m fine, really.”
            “Don’t worry. It won’t hurt. I will simply slide you right out of your shoes.” He pressed his body against me and lifted.
            I squeezed my eyes closed, preparing myself for the new scene that was sure to meet them. My feet dangled in the air for what felt like eternity. Hot breathe blew in my face. “You can open your eyes. It’s over.”
            The green of George’s eyes filled my vision. He still held me, his chest pressed to mine. He coughed uncomfortably and went to set me down.
            “No,” I cried.
            He paused.
            “I mean,” A fierce blush crept over my face. “I don’t have anything to cover my feet. The snow will surely burn them.”
            He grinned, looking as if he was holding back laughter. “Of course. I’ll just carry you to my home. It isn’t far.”
            George threw my legs up over his other arm, holding my weight easily. I let my head fall against his shoulder, glad for the warmth. He turned and headed home, leaving a footprint in the middle of his angel.

            My feet have not touched the ground in fifty-two years. My muscles have forgotten how to walk, though my mind still remembers the motions.
            I have my assistant carry me out to the forest, set me down in the exact place I met George. The earth is warm from the sun and my toes curl in the dirt. I look over, a young memory of George playing out before me. A phantom of snow makes me shudder.
            “Augustus, please step back.”
            My assistant backs away, still ready to catch me if I should fall.
            “What you are about to see may frighten you. When it is over, return home. Tell them you haven’t seen me. You don’t know where I’ve gone. They will search for me, but I assure you that they will not find me.”
            Pity crosses his face. He thinks I have gone mad at the loss of George.
            I ready my legs, give him one last smile, take a step, and vanish.
            I end up in a clearing, in a forest. In the snow there is the outline of an angel with the impression of a rather large foot inside it.
Prompts #35, #36, and #37 will be posted on Saturday.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How Far I've Come

Recently, while at my great-grandmother's house, she showed me a picture book that I had written and illustrated at her house in 2005. I would have been about eight. In the timeline of my writing career, BUCK THE BAAING HORSE is displayed as the first story or 'book' I ever wrote.

Of course, it is deeply flawed. There is information given that isn't needed and information that is needed sometimes isn't thrown in until the last second. I gave my characters names but half the time still simply called them 'the frog' or 'the cat'. My tenses switched. The ending was a complete clique. (And from an illustrator's point of view, my drawings weren't very consistent.) But everyone has to start somewhere and the fact that I recognize all this now just shows how far I've come.

Why am I bringing all this up? Today is my blogiversary. Exactly a year ago today, I posted my first blog post entitled 'At the Bottom'. I discussed how writing and publishing takes time and my preparedness to work toward those goals. I talked about THE LULLABY rewrite and what my hopes for it were.

Your first step onto the mountain doesn't bring you directly to the top. The first word of a novel doesn't bring you straight to the end.

While I still may be working on that rewrite, I've come damn far in a year. I'm mere chapters away from being finished with the rewrite, I have a whole other manuscript, I've written a short story almost every week in 2011, I wrote a poem a day for a month, I've come up with plenty of new ideas, I've found critique partners, and I've gotten to almost 200 followers on this blog. Who knows where I'll be next September 18th?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Prompt #34: The first time I walked into that classroom was also the last.

            Mayburry High. South entrance. The small offshoot hallway to the right. The last door. Room 320. Third row of desks. Fifth from the front. Samuel Higgins. Me. My eyes are on the clock, watching the red second hand revolve, wanting class to be over, wanting to leave. But I can never leave.
            There’s a wet, sloppy, squelchy sound. A dissected frog stares up at me, the zombified creature squatting on my desk. Its throat expands as it ribbets. Mrs. Ralls glances up from the computer, sees me, and stands, her long pink talons almost puncturing the soft wood of her desk top.
No one else moves. They don’t turn around to look at me, or twist to face Mrs. Ralls. All eyes are on the dusty chalkboard. Where they’re supposed to be. Where mine should have been.
I try not to look at her. I try to focus on the wall as if I’ve been staring at it the whole time.
“Mr. Higgins, please approach the front.”
I meet her gaze. I fail.
She crooks a finger at me.
I push myself out of my seat. My legs wobble slightly around the knees and my toes tingle with a slight pain, but it feels good.
Six steps find me at her desk. I crane my head back to watch her face as she talks. The movement of her lips is funny, something you have to get used to.
“You’re going to do a problem for me.” She turns and picks up a piece of chalk, pinching it between two fingers.
All the skin on my face crinkles as she starts to write on the board. The wrinkles smooth out and my jaw goes slack when I see the length of the problem. It stretches from one end to the other in print that couldn’t be read from the back of the room.
“Solve.” She taps the chalk against the blackboard.
An endless amount of numbers and letters and symbols swirl through my brain. “How?” I choke out.
She doesn’t reply.
I clear my throat. “What exactly am I supposed to solve?”
“The problem.” Mrs. Ralls places the piece of chalk in my hand and settles herself back behind her desk, clicking away at solitaire.
I glance behind me. The girl in the front row has her eyes trained on my back. It takes twenty full seconds before she blinks. I turn back around.
The figures start to blur, running into one another. I squeeze my eyes shut and take a deep breathe through my nose. When I peel my eyelids back, the yellow writing is clearer, crisper.
The letters stick out, screaming hints at me. I squint at them, trying to recall eighth grade math. And then what I’m supposed to do clicks. A small smile plays along my lips. I touch my chalk to the board.
I start with the x’s.
I subtract and add and move a million different things. The scratching is strangely soothing. And finally, finally, I get my solution. A simple number and a solitary letter, a variable as I now remember it.
I write it to the side, circle it. Then I erase all the work that is no longer necessary, rewrite the problem, and start again for y.
My brain spits answers and instructions at me and suddenly the challenge is no longer challenging. I can’t seem to write fast enough.
My hand stops. The silence hangs, failing at pressing down my excitement and triumph. I set the chalk down, the clink clanging inside my head. I fold my hands in front of me and step back.
Ms. Ralls continues to look at her computer screen, but she’s not moving around the cards.
“I’m finished.” My words are slurred and feel funny leaving my mouth.
She turns slowly in her desk chair, letting it squeaking all the way. She glances at the word, sees my answer proudly displayed in the middle.
“So you are. But is it correct?” She rises and picks up the chalk, making small marks as she checks it.
The smile is no longer on my face, instead sweat drips along my body, soaking my clothes, making them heavy.
She makes one last mark. “Well, Samuel.”
A million sets of eyes drill into me.
The corner of her mouth attempts to lift into a grin. “You have solved the problem. Congratulations. You have proven yourself one smart cookie.”
I have to fight my face muscles to keep from beaming.
“Of course, those are the only kind I eat.” My muscles surrender.
She shakes her hands out in front of her as webs stretch between the fingers. Her back hunches over, her arms and legs growing longer. She blinks, blinks, blinks, and the whites of her eyes are gone, just giant, bulbous pupils remaining. Her mouth stretches with more than a smile, her teeth poking through.
I back up, trying to get away, but the army of dead dissected frogs surrounds my feet, forms a wall. My vocal cords are no longer functioning and my feet seem too small to hold me anymore.
Just before her lips come down over my head, I look to the right.  The girl in the front row is suddenly blinking quite a lot.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

When A Door Opens, It Usually Closes Afterwards

The door swung open, his fake silhouette framed by the light.
            My muscles tensed, but I didn’t press against the wall. I was ready. Yesterday, exactly twenty-four hours ago, I hadn’t been. But today, I knew I was.
            The simulation, the same one that came every day, stepped into my cell. His lips parted.
            I interrupted before the preprogrammed message could start. “You’re not my father. Leave me alone. I don’t want to hear your lies. I’m not going to help you. No matter what you say. No matter what you promise.”
            His mouth hung open. A wrinkle line appeared between his eyebrows. “Vela, it’s me. We have to hurry. They’re close.”
            A knot wrapped around my heart, pulling tighter, tighter. A tear slid the down the side of my nose. “No. You’re lying.”
            I flinched when he reached to touch me. “Vela, you must listen—”
            Then there were other people in my room, too many people. And they dragged him away, touching him, physically touching him, his body solid under their hands.
            I realized my mistake too late. I ran forward, but was pushed back. I landed hard, a cry springing from my throat.
            The door swung shut.
-200 words

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Prompt #33: I closed my eyes and reached into the class treasure chest. Uh oh. THAT'S not a pencil.

            The Handless are a common sight. Their stumps show that they were not worthy, they were not chosen, they were too tainted for the Box. I am used to seeing them, but not one of the people surrounding me are Handless.
            A million fingers touch me as I make my way to the stage, to the Box. They look happy like they’re supposed to though most of their smiles don’t reach their eyes. The Pure are not supposed to judge but they do. The scar along my back proves it.
            The metal stairs clang under my feet. Everything is dull, grey metal. Everything, but the wooden Box. The sun reflects off the diamonds inlaid into its design, making the edges appear sharper, ready to cut.
            I stop in front of the Box, my last step dying in the air. The tips of my fingers tingle. I turn my head to the side, look across the stage to the sidewalk that signals the end of the Unmarked ground. My mother stands as close to the grass as she dares. She catches my eye and smiles, raising her arm to wave. Her smile stutters, and she shoves her arm back into her altered pocket. They say you never get used to the absence. I believe it.
            The Purist clears his throat. He stands to the side, ready to begin the Ceremony. My eyes jump back to the Box. The music begins, light but primitive. It vibrates my every nerve.
            “Jas Wilbro, do you agree to accept the judgment of the Box, no matter what it may be?” Each word feels like a needle pushed into my palms.
            “I do.”
            The front of the Box slowly opens. Black swirls inside, a never-ending tunnel.
            “The Box asks for your hand.”
            I raise my right. It visibly shakes. My knuckles jerk but I keep my hand flat. A sign of compliance. A sign of faith. That is their reasoning behind it.
            My arm is in the Box up to the elbow. Goosebumps run up my skin, traveling all over my body. The music stops and the air hangs limp, ready to be filled with a scream at any moment.
            The muscles in my shoulders relax one by one as the seconds tick by. I am a hundred pounds lighter.
            The Purist seems to wait longer than usual before saying the next words. “Please display the Box’s verdict.”
            I throw my hand into the air, fingers splayed. The applause builds from a drizzle to a downpour. I look to my mother, relief splashed all across my face. Tears shine on her cheeks.
            The offering of the second hand is simply traditional. The Box has made its decision and will stick with it. I thrust my left arm inside its maw, not allowing myself to think of how this would have changed if the Box had chosen differently.
            I rest flat on my feet, but when the pain comes, they arch high as well as my back. A loud keening spills from my mouth. The tendons of my arm stand out as I try to wrench my hand away. The Box refuses to give it up.
            Finally, finally, my arm comes free. I stumble backward. The Purist catches me before I fall off the stage.
            I cradle the stub that was my left hand. It throbs along with the pulse in my ear. The severed bone is clearly visible. I cannot take my eyes off of it.
            Everything, everyone, is quiet, except me, soft sounds continuing to drop from my lips. The Purist sets his hand against my back and turns me to face the crowd.
            “Jas Wilbro, the Box has deemed you its equal in matters of the Pure and the Tainted.”
            I hear it, but I don’t care. The only thing I care about is the fact that I can still feel my fingers moving, even though they’re not there.

            There is no longer such a thing as the Handless. I have done away with that practice. I myself have a mechanical hand to replace the one I lost. It neither looks nor feels the same, but it works when it’s needed.
            Sometimes I go back to what was once known as the Unmarked ground but is now just a piece of history. I stand in front of the rusted metal stage. Then I walk up the steps. They make just as much noise as they did that day. And I stop at the place where it happened, a foot away from the box.
            And that is where I am now, today, this very second.
            It sits on its table, forlorn and forgotten. I don’t remember what about it intimidated me. It was just a box. Just a wooden box.
            I stretch my right hand out to touch it, to feel its grooves beneath my fingers. It feels cool. I step closer, letting my hand run along the back side.  I press my check down against the top and close my eyes.
            My finger finds a hole. A frown crosses my face and my eyes flicker open. My hand wraps around a thin rope, almost completely weathered through. I lean forward, trailing the rope as it goes from the hole in the box to a hole in the stage.
            The sound of my heart is loud and my hand starts to tingle as it always does in times of stress or excitement. I jump from the back of the stage. The rope almost touches the ground. I grip it and pull. A squeaky hinge splits the air as the box falls open.
            My mouth goes dry. I climb back onto the stage. With the rope in my hand, I can’t stand directly in front of the box, but if I stretch, I can still see inside. I pull the rope one more time. A little bit of light reflects off the metal blade as it falls right where a wrist would go.
            I work my numb fingers, forcing them to relieve the rope. I am frozen, as if I have turned into metal as well. Rage brings the warmth back to my body, flooding my limbs. I grab the box, my mechanical hand scraping awkwardly against it. I throw it off the stage as hard as I can, the frayed rope trailing behind it like some sort of demonic tail. It hits, the edges cracking, bounces, and falls to pieces.
            Then I leave and call an assembly of those who still call themselves the Pure.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

How I Didn't Waste A Month

So how did it go, Brooke?

Hmmm? Oh, you're talking to me? Could you repeat the question? How did what go? Camp NaNoWrimo? Umm... yeah... about that... You all remember my goal, right? To finish my rewrite? That didn't happen. I let myself get distracted (I blame it on school) and I got very little writing done. The month, however, was by far a waste.

When I started the month, I had 22,210 words. I now have 40,026 words. I wrote 17,021 words during August, almost doubling my word count. (I know the numbering is a little off. It's because I tweaked my chapter titles. Post about that subject coming soon.) I only have four and a half scenes left to write from which I'm hoping to gain around 5k. I would have more pretty stats for you (like my average word count per day) but they already wiped the stats from the Camp NaNoWriMo site.

I will continue on with my rewrite and aim to finish in the next two weeks. At the end of which, I will do a happy dance (which you might get to see).

What would you do a happy dance for?