Tag Archives: writing exercises

Wednesday Write-In #70

The words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In this week were:

architecture :: low pitched :: uncanny valley :: shot :: falling

Und, here is what I made of them (mit apologies to Herr Freud):

Image: easyhiker.co.uk

Image: easyhiker.co.uk

The Return

Now stumbling, now falling, the runaway crashed through the undergrowth.

He was sure he smelled smoke, and even more sure that he smelled food; nobody has a keener nose for the fragrance of roasting meat than a person who has not eaten in three days. The scent was sharper than his fear.

The downward-sloping ground drew him on, on, on, as though there were weights attached to his chest. He could hear a rushing river – or was that just his pulse, throbbing in his ears? – and a collection of colourful, low-pitched roofs came into view through the clinging trees.

Brambles nipped at his exposed skin and ran their fingers through his clothes, as though they wanted him to linger. Angrily, impatiently, he shook them off and, spurned, they fell aside to let him pass, turning away so they didn’t have to watch.

Then, like the forest had spat him out, he shot out of the scrub and tumbled, head over heels, straight onto a muddy track which wore its stones close to the surface.

‘Whoa!’ came a voice. To the runaway, it sounded like a shout from the bottom of a well, or a call distorted by distance. Familiar, and yet not. It made him think of dust in his drinking water, or dirt sprinkled over his porridge. It made his stomach clench like a fist. I’m delirious, he told himself, trying to clear his mind.

The runaway was vaguely aware of a hot snorting just above his face and the clattering of hooves forced to come to a sudden halt on uncertain ground. The rattling of an empty cart made him flinch, instinctively, fearing the bite of its wheels on his unprotected flesh. He tucked his head into his arms and rolled to one side, bracing himself.

‘Now, Myrtle! Ho, girl!’ came that same voice, thickened and warped but woven of the same threads as one he knew so well. ‘Easy, now.’ The runaway heard a thump of dismount, and then a strong hand on his shoulder. ‘Now, then. Now, lad. Are you hurt?’

The sound of the voice clawed at the runaway’s heart. He couldn’t answer. Trembling fit to shake his body to pieces, he squeezed his eyes tight shut. It’s impossible!

‘I won’t hurt thee, boy,’ said the man, his words making the runaway feel sick despite their gentle tones. ‘Can you not even tell me your name?’ The boy breathed, every inhalation feeling like boiling oil, as his heart thunk-thunked at double speed. It cannot be, he told himself, trying to calm enough to think clearly. But I have to know.

Forcing his eyes open, the boy glanced at the face of his questioner, and it was his dead father’s face in every respect, except – except – it seemed to change and stretch as he looked at it. Its architecture was wrong, the struts supporting the flesh twisting as he watched. The muscles shifted beneath the skin until it was another face entirely, one which looked like his father but wasn’t, and through it all the man smiled, as though this horror was causing him no pain.

‘But, I – I buried you,’ said the boy through clattering teeth. ‘Three months hence, with my last penny. I’ve been running ever since, fleeing your debtors. I’ve been – I’ve been barely surviving…’ His voice trickled away, absorbed by the silent air. No birds sang around them, and the smoke from the chimneys rose straight and strange in the stillness.

The boy’s eyes flicked back to the face of the man who had almost run him over, and those eyes he knew so well gazed back at him in a way he’d never seen before.

‘Welcome to Uncanny Valley, lad,’ smiled the man who was, and was not, his father. ‘Everything comes back here, eventually.’

 

Wednesday Write-In #69

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

monkey see :: attraction :: solid :: complete :: whisper

And here’s what I made of them…

Image: en.academic.ru

Image: en.academic.ru

More Than You Can Chew

It’s at moments like this that James wonders how he ever felt any attraction toward the woman who calls herself his wife. On all fours beside him, her hair askew, she looks like that nineteenth-century dragon carving he’d finally managed to flog, for a fraction of its cost price, a few years before. She even has the teeth, and everything.

‘It’s monkey see, monkey do with that child!’ she says, in a hoarse whisper. ‘He sees you cramming everything around you into your mouth, so of course he’s going to do the same!’

‘Just shut up and keep looking, will you? Greg’s barely eating solid food yet. I don’t see how, or why, he’d shove a jade figurine into his gullet.’

‘Well, I’m telling you,’ she says, sitting up onto her knees. ‘I’m telling you, that’s where it is. We need to get him to hospital, right now.’

James’ eyes fall on their son, gurgling happily in his high chair. His gummy grin beams across the room and he waves one chubby, grubby hand at his mum and dad who are, as far as he’s concerned, playing a very funny game. What a complete idiot! flashes across James’ mind, and immediately, he hates himself for thinking it. He blows his son a kiss, making the little boy dance with joy.

‘That figurine is worth more than our car,’ he murmurs to his wife, keeping his eyes on his son. He imagines a green glow sliding down into Greg’s stomach, working its way through his intestines, ever-so-slowly squeezing its way round corners on its long, long journey. God knows what state it’ll be in by the time it comes out.

‘All the more reason for getting him seen by a doctor, now,’ she grumbles, rolling to her feet with fluid ease. ‘Who’s a good boy!’ he hears her say as she nears the high chair, making Greg crow with pleasure. ‘Who’s the best boy? Come on, now, darling. Let’s go for a ride in the car! Yes? Come on.’ Greg stretches and bucks against his restraints as his mother starts to unstrap him.

‘I’ll go and get the keys,’ James mumbles, getting up off the floor with as much grace as a dying elephant. His knees and hips and ankles click and creak, and his heart races as he straightens himself. ‘See you outside.’

Grace is too preoccupied with the baby to reply. Honestly. You’d think I wasn’t even here, James thinks, swallowing a mouthful of acid. I’d like to see you keep this roof over our heads without me! He turns on his heel and makes for the hallway, grabbing the keys as he goes. Jasper is lying in his basket by the radiator, as always.

‘Hello, old man,’ murmurs James, risking a crouch. His knees pop again, and he balances himself against the wall as he rubs the dog’s greying head. Jasper looks up with eyes like two lost souls, feebly licking his chops. ‘We’ll be back soon, once this ridiculousness has been dealt with.’ James’ fingers lose themselves in Jasper’s dark, silky coat.

‘Get up,’ snaps Grace, suddenly appearing behind him, a quizzical Greg in her arms. ‘Or have you forgotten we have a sick child?’ She strides past him, yanking the front door open and leaving it to smack against the wall.

James turns back to Jasper, biting back his anger.

‘Don’t look so mournful, old friend. I won’t be long. When I’m back, we’ll go for our constitutional, right? Me and you, two men alone.’ He leans down and presses his face against the top of Jasper’s bony head. ‘Look after everything until we’re back.’

James gets to his feet, slowly, and follows his wife and son out the door. Jasper’s eyes follow his master, full of silent pleading. He takes another painful swallow as he watches James lock the door, and as he hears the car’s engine roar away. He flops his head back on his paws and tries to breathe.

It had looked like such a tasty treat, you see. Such a lovely colour, and the perfect size for nibbling. Jasper coughs, feebly, and closes his eyes against the pain.

 

 

 

Wednesday Write-In #68

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

man’s best friend :: diamond :: bulge :: mail :: stew

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Image: thefenceline.co.uk

Operation Dognap

‘Come on, you little idiot,’ muttered Ade. ‘Look! Steak! Mm-mm!’ He waggled the drying lump of meat between the slats of the fence. All the dog did was bare his teeth and growl, very quietly. He didn’t move an inch from his post beside the back door, and his tiny, sparkling eyes glared out of the gloom.

‘Man’s best friend, my eye,’ whispered Dagger, getting to his feet.‘What do we do now then, eh?’

‘We go to Plan B, don’t we,’ sighed Ade. ‘The full Monty.’

‘The what?’ Dagger wrapped his arms around himself. ‘If you think I’m droppin’ my drawers in this weather – ‘

‘Nah, you twit,’ snapped Ade. ‘Think about it. Why are we here in the first place?’

‘To get the dog,’ mumbled Dagger, his thoughts skittering about behind his eyes like dead leaves on a winter breeze. ‘But ‘e isn’t playin’ ball, the little –‘

‘Yeah, yeah, all right. So if ‘e won’t come to us, what can we do?’

‘Go down the pub and forget about this whole thing.’

‘Most amusin’,’ said Ade, in a voice like freshly poured cement. ‘Nah. If ‘e won’t come to us, we go to ‘im. Right?’

‘By ‘we’, you mean me, don’tcha?’

‘Well, I ‘ardly mean myself. I am incapacitated, if you remember.’

‘A broken ankle is hardly incapacitated, mate,’ muttered Dagger, already eyeing the garden wall with suspicion.

‘I’d like to see you sayin’ that if it was your ankle in question. The man ‘as to pay for ‘is actions, yeah? And we’ve already decided –‘

‘Yeah, yeah – kidnap the mutt, leave a ransom note in ‘is mail box wrapped around a lump of meat, tell ‘im next time it’ll be the dog’s ‘ead, or whatever. Draw ‘im out. Get ‘im to face yer.’

‘Precisely,’ answered Ade. ‘Now. Let’s give this meat one more try, and if ‘e won’t take it, then it’s Operation Dognap. Right?’

‘Just get on with it,’ sighed Dagger, crouching once again. Ade was sprawled on the cold ground, his injured foot stuck out in front of him. He dangled the meat through the fence again, and this time the dog hopped forward, just once. His head cocked to one side.

‘Diamond,’ said Ade, smiling. ‘That’s it, little fella! Come on!’ The dog took one hesitant step, and then another. Ade widened his smile, sticking his fingers out as far as he could, dangling the meat closer and closer. Then, he flicked it forward. It landed on the cement ground with a faintly moist smack.

‘Now you’ve gone and done it!’ whispered Dagger. ‘If ‘e don’t eat it –‘

‘Look, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Is ‘e, or isn’t ‘e, wolfin’ it down?’ The dog leapt upon the steak like a hunter on his prey. Within seconds, he’d eaten nearly half the meat.

‘Just another minute now…’ said Ade, gripping the fence and pressing his eye to the gap.

‘Is ‘e – ‘e is! That dog’s swayin’ on ‘is paws!’ hissed Dagger.

‘Drugged meat, my friend,’ replied Ade. ‘Now, ‘op over and grab ‘im.’ Still muttering, Dagger scaled the wall. Lightly, he dropped into the garden and picked up the dog, and the remaining meat. Together they made a rather strange bulge under his jacket.

Ade hauled himself to his feet as Dagger let himself out of the garden.

‘Now, we’ll let your owner stew for a while, won’t we?’ said Ade, running his finger lightly over the unconscious dog’s head. ‘We’ll see how many walks ‘e takes you on with two broken ankles, yeah?’

The dog snored in reply as his captors hobbled off into the night.

 

NaNoWriMo is DoneThankGodOh!

Look at this! Image: NaNoWriMo.org

Look at this!
Image: NaNoWriMo.org

So – my apologies for the lack of my usual broadcast this fine Wednesday morning. I have a story in my brain-pan based around this week’s CAKE.shortandsweet’s wonderful prompt words – which are, for the curious, ‘free sample’, ‘sear’, ‘clan’, ‘daytripper’ and ‘spray’ – but I fear it will have to wait for a little longer.

For, dear reader, this morning – in the last few moments! – I have managed to write my fifty thousandth word, and validate my NaNoWriMo novel.

Image: bubblews.com

Image: bubblews.com

I now intend to make myself a celebratory cup of coffee and sit in a darkened room for a little bit. I may cheer, but I will be doing it very, very quietly.

The good news (or, well, the better news, maybe) is that, while I’ve reached my NaNo goal, I am not yet finished with Emmeline’s story. It will take at least another 10,000 words to see the story through, and then I can think about editing it and polishing it and letting other people read it. I am pleased with how it’s gone so far – I think, for a first draft, and a first draft written in a white heat, at that, it’s reasonably strong material – but a good, thorough edit will soon put the whole thing to the test. If it wobbles at the first breeze, or starts to fall apart as soon as I make the barest change, then I know I’m in trouble.

However, from me, and from Emmeline, and from Thing, it’s a fond ‘farewell’ for the moment. I’m off to rediscover what it’s like to be a human adult who goes outdoors and does stuff besides stare at a computer screen and think, but just as soon as I can I’ll let you all know how the story of Emmeline is getting on.

For this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my intrepid heroine, make no mistake!

Congratulations to any of my fellow NaNo-ers out there who are starting the validation process – and to those who couldn’t find it in their hearts to take part this year, perhaps 2014 will be your year.

It’s worth it – trust me!

Image: NaNoWriMo.org

Image: NaNoWriMo.org

Wednesday Write-In #66

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

collar :: cold hard cash :: medicine :: dirty :: spirit

Image: narayana-publishers.com

Image: narayana-publishers.com

First, Do No Harm

‘Unless you want one o’ my boys to start feelin’ your collar, you’ll pay up. Right now.’ When he smiled, his gold tooth gleamed behind its sticky film of saliva. The goods sat inches from me, neatly laid out in their padded case; I looked down at the vials, rows upon rows of them, and tried to focus. Lack of sleep was making my thoughts thick and heavy.

‘But this isn’t what we agreed,’ I said.

‘Two dozen. Morphine. Delivered. What’s not part of the agreement?’ he snapped.

‘I assumed you’d provide hypodermics,’ I said. ‘All of ours are headed for incineration. Without needles –‘

‘Not my problem, matey,’ he replied, in a voice like a broken power line or a loose mooring rope. ‘All I want’s the cold hard cash – what you owe me, fair and square – and that’s our business concluded.’

‘But you know I can’t leave the city to get more! Even making it as far as here was a huge risk!’

‘Look, son,’ replied the man, leaning in close. His breath was rank. ‘This situation ain’t good for nobody, unless you count the fellas makin’ the weapons. I need to make a livin’, you need to keep savin’ the children, or whatever. Pay up and we’ll both be on our merry way. Good lad.’

I closed my eyes.

Broken streets. Homeless children. Ravaged faces. Walking wounded. Tearing, ripping agony in the eyes of the injured. The relief this medicine would bring. The pleading on their faces. Please. Help us. You must know how to help us.

The rampant infection and disease that using dirty needles would unleash upon an already terrible scenario. The clamping in my gut at the very thought of it.

There have to be clean needles here. Somewhere.

I opened my eyes and stared right at him.

‘Fifty thousand, wasn’t it?’ I said, in a low voice. I reached into my pocket, hoping the tiny click as my arm straightened out wouldn’t be heard over the phlegmy mess that was his breathing. I felt the mechanism in my sleeve release and a reassuring weight dropped into my hand, the solidity of the cool metal around my fingers making my choice seem simple. I still couldn’t believe I’d made it through security with this on my person, but I was only a doctor, after all. I was harmless. Right?

‘Yeah. Fifty thou. That’s the spirit,’ he grinned, licking his teeth and sitting back. He turned, slightly, looking away from me for just long enough. He raised his hand to gesture to his bodyguard. Come closer, he indicated, and the man obeyed without question.

Just as well, I thought as I brought my hand out of my pocket, my cold fingers wrapped around my pistol. I wouldn’t have had enough range on this thing to take them both out, otherwise.

Pulling the trigger was harder, and infinitely more simple, than I could ever have imagined.

Wednesday Write-In #65

This week’s words were:

First date :: competition :: sprint :: prayer :: rats

Image: acatholiclife.blogspot.com

Image: acatholiclife.blogspot.com

Final Vows

‘Rats. My hands are shaking so badly. I didn’t think… well. I didn’t think they would. You know?’

‘That’s normal. You’re nervous. Completely to be expected. Now – hold still. I want to fix your hair, just here.’

‘Thanks. I wasn’t sure how to get the veil to sit right.’

‘No problem. Look – if it helps, I know how you feel. I was where you are, not so very long ago.’

‘Long enough ago, all the same.’

‘Hey! Cheeky… Anyway. You know what I’m saying. This isn’t a ‘first date.’ You’re not in a competition, with yourself or any other woman. This is your day.’

‘Yeah. I know that. Thanks.’

‘It’s easy to forget it, though. When you’re facing the altar, and it’s just you and Him…’

‘It’ll be wonderful, though. Won’t it?’

‘The best thing you’ll ever experience, in this life.’

‘No pressure.’

‘No pressure. Now, shall I leave you in peace? You’re good to go, when it’s time?’

‘Yes, sure. And thanks, again. Without you – well, without you I wouldn’t even be here. But perhaps a little quiet prayer, just – you know. Before I make my way to the church. It would probably help.’

‘Wise idea. And – hey. Will you do one thing for me?’

‘Sure. Anything. What?’

‘Don’t do like I did, and sprint up the aisle. God will wait for you, okay? Trust me.’

‘Oh – yeah. He’s been waiting all my life, I guess. He can wait a few more seconds, right?’

‘Right. See you in church, Sister Dominic.’

‘Wow, that sounds good.’

‘Doesn’t it? Such a well-chosen name.’

‘Well, thank you. I haven’t earned it yet, though. I hope I’ll be worthy of it, too.’

‘Oh, I have faith enough for us both. You’ll do just fine.’

‘With your help, and His.’

‘Both of which you can rely on.’

‘I know. Thank you, again.’

‘You look beautiful, you know. You’re shining.’

‘Really? That’s what love does to a girl, I guess.’

‘Exactly. Say a prayer for me, won’t you?’

‘For you, always. Forever.’

‘Amen.’

Wednesday Write-In #64

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet‘s Wednesday Write-In were:

handful  ::  deadline  ::  birdsong  ::  headache  ::  resonate

 

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

 

The Dead Line

‘There’s only a handful of them left, now,’ said Winter, her voice obscured a little by the hiss from her oxygen mask. ‘We call them the ‘deadline,’ but that’s just a joke, really.’ She entered her access code into the security lock, the anonymous beepbeepbeep sounding loud and out of control in this dark, hermetic space.

‘Because they’re dead, technically,’ replied Stanhope. ‘I get it. Funny.’

‘Not really,’ she replied, looking back over her shoulder to smile at him. ‘But thanks for saying so.’ He shrugged, flashing her a grin, as the airlock whirred open to admit them. They stepped through, Stanhope doing his best not to stare into the vast chamber beyond. Be cool, he told himself. All in good time. Quickly, they got into their protective suits, making sure every joint and seal was secure. Stanhope took a few breaths inside his helmet and flexed his gloved fingers.

‘Okay. So, do you feel all right? Enough air?’ Her voice jolted him out of his thoughts.

‘Oh – yeah. Sure.’ He adjusted his heads-up readout, trying to look competent and calm.

‘If you start to get a headache, or anything, you tell me straight away, right? That can be a really bad sign, particularly in here.’

‘Sure, sure. I’m fine, honestly.’ He turned to face her, swallowing back a sudden sense of nausea. ‘I’m just excited, I guess. Honoured to be here.’ Her only reply was another smile, and Stanhope shuddered away a stab of guilt.

Then, a green light flashed above their heads.

‘Airlock’s done,’ said Winter, strengthening her stance. She shook out her shoulders and rolled her head around. ‘Won’t be long, now.’

‘Sure,’ he said. A trickle of cold sweat, like the finger of a corpse, ran down the centre of his back.

Then, the door opened, and they were sucked through.

All Stanhope could see were stars, at first, stars everywhere, jostling for space, whirling and roaring and sweeping past his head. They grew, changed colour, changed shape as he watched, dragging tendrils of burning light across his retinas.

‘It’s not going to hurt you!’ he heard Winter yelling, from ten million light years away. ‘Just breathe easy, and go with it.’ Right, he thought. Go with the flow. He gritted his teeth as the lightshow faded out and oceans of world-bending sound started to pound through his ears.  His head felt like a metal bowl, resonating and echoing with the weird screams and trills that were coming from somewhere deep inside this gigantic cavern, where the ancient gods were.

Then, he heard something that sounded like birdsong – except no bird in creation ever sounded like this. The sound was so full and rapid and loud that he felt his brain start to cave in as he listened.

‘What’s going on?’ he called, forcing his eyes open. His heads-up display showed his vitals, which were elevated, and the ambient temperature, which was dropping faster than he could believe. ‘Winter? You there?’

‘The gods are singing,’ she said, her voice like a rush of cold air across the surface of a glacier.

‘Singing? What are you talking about?’ He felt a clutching pain in his chest, like a vacuum grabbing at his heart.

‘Do you know why they call us the Dead Line?’ said Winter, in a voice that was not hers.

‘W-Winter? What’s happening?’ Stanhope coughed, a bubbling agony working its way up his body. He coughed again, and a mouthful of his hot blood spattered across his heads-up display. He moaned, knowing it was already too late.

‘Do you know why they call us the Dead Line?’ repeated Winter – or, the thing using her voice.

‘Please!’ Stanhope gasped. ‘Spare me!’

‘You came here with a device inside your body,’ replied a voice that sounded like ten million Winters, all speaking at once. ‘A device you wished to use to kill us. Why should we spare you?’

‘I was wrong. I – I am sorry. Please.’ Stanhope’s vision was darkening. ‘I was following orders – doing the work of those who believe you should be destroyed. We –‘ Stanhope gasped as a wracking pain twisted him in half. ‘We no longer need gods!’ He tasted his own blood on his tongue as he spoke.

‘No man needs us now more than you do,’ said the gods.

‘Yes,’ said Stanhope, and died.

‘Do you know why they call us the Dead Line?’ the gods asked, but there was nobody to answer them, so they answered themselves.

Because our bodies are dead, and nothing lies beyond us.