Saturday, February 27, 2010

Challenge 14: The bedroom

It is a medium-sized acrylic lacy shawl with strings coming loose. Pale blue. A plastic doll with curly, bright gold hair, is inside it. Together, they are on the an old-fashioned quilted bedspread, white cotton with orange and brown leaves and cotton frills on the edges and dark brown legs poking out the bottom. On the scratched wood dresser which has four drawers, black plastic and silver metal handles, is a tube of crimson lipstick, curved at the top with a plastic lid, the inside of which has red smears. A pale pink compact with the paint rubbed off and vaguely visible writing; an orange brush with a black ridged handle, ridges following the square cross-section.

A woman holds the brush, its ends frayed, studies her face. The mirror on the left, on top of one drawer, – tall and rectangular - has stains on it, white-fuzzy stains, bits of plasticine, a pair of colourful shiny birds with squished faces on a yellow plastic perch, and a paper cutout of a too-big head attached to a minute neck attached to a skirt attached to skinny legs attached to fat shoes, coloured in with felt-tip scribbles. The mirror on the right, on top of three drawers, is round and rotates on a brass rod when she pushes it.

The woman puts down the brush, sits on the bed. Moves the shawl, finds a thick black textbook lying open. “Case study. John is a 23 year old...” It goes onto the pile between the dresser and the bed, after the yellow highlighter is flicked out of the way. There’s another bookshelf on the other side of the bed, full of novels and poetry. Two shelves, dresser-height but coloured darker. One of the white-painted wardrobe doors at the foot of the bed is held open by a tiny baby rubber duck. There is a girl, in amongst the clothes, stroking a pale green satin-and-lace nightgown.


Word count: 321

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Challenge 21


Use a particular and fairly vivid piece of clothing to tell a story: a sweater worn by two sisters who sleep with the same man while wearing it, or a loud sports jacket someone buys at a Goodwill store before realizing the jacket has three bullet holes in the back... What does clothing say about us? How does it select us, as opposed to being selected by us? Who tells us to buy this or that thing (other than salespeople)? What is the most alluring piece of clothing you've ever seen or worn and why? Why do some people seem to fit their clothes and others not? What do clothes hide? What do they reveal?

Wordcount: 600 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 20: Leaving home

“You don’t understand, I have to be packed and ready to go inside the next hour!”

“But Jimmy will be home by himself otherwise.”

“Mom! I’m going to Australia so you’re going to have to figure that one out for yourself in future.”

Her eyes went all sparkly, like she might start crying.

One, two, three ruby roses on her necklace. Don’t think about making mum cry. They looked expensive, probably a loan from work since she definitely didn’t earn enough to buy something like that. Just turn around and walk away, she’ll be okay. Mum looked amazing in her slinky scarlet gown and ruby slippers. She probably would have been the prettiest one at the company Christmas party. Well it wasn’t my fault she couldn’t go any more. I had already warned her three weeks ago that I was going to be spending Christmas with Dad and Grandma in Aussie. She could have arranged a babysitter for James, but instead she did what she always did, pretend that the things she didn’t like weren’t happening at all.

I left her standing all mute and gummed up in the lounge and retreated upstairs to my room. Sitting on the edge of my underwater bedspread, I wondered if I would miss her when I moved to Australia more permanently next year. That was another thing she was pretending wouldn’t happen. I hauled my aqua Barbie suitcase out from under all the junk in my wardrobe and made a face, promising myself a new suitcase as soon as I got a descent summer job. It was just embarrassing, trundling this thing behind me through the Sydney Airport every time I wanted to visit dad. I think it was mum’s punishment for my betrayal, every time I went over there.

I pushed that thought aside. Focus on packing. There couldn’t be that much to take. Christmas was in the middle of summer in Australia and people wore as little as possible. I chucked in my navy swim-team one-piece, hoping dad might shout me a new, flashier bikini as a Christmas present, but wanting to be prepared just in case. A couple of pairs of blue and white boardies and a t-shirt advertising diet Pepsi and I was pretty much set in the clothing department. I remembered my phone charger and toothbrush, but I didn’t need much more than that. Grandma’s philosophy around my visits was to come with an empty suitcase and go home with a full one and that suited me just fine.

I trundled the bag out into the corridor, tensing again as soon as I left my room. Crossing from my soothing steel-gray carpet into the fiery red of the hallway was like giving away any illusion of having my own space. I was in her world from here to the front door. I just hoped the taxi wasn’t late.

Wordcount: 480

Monday, February 22, 2010

Challenge 20


Write an exercise in which you repeatedly use two different primary colors. Describe these colors without naming them too often - and try to find effective synonyms for the colors without being too obvious about this disguise. Repetition of anything alien to the human elements of a story is bound to influence the way the story sinks into the readers mind. How would red and yellow, appearing over and over again in drapes, carpets, clothes, hand-made ashtrays, or toilet bowls, affect you as a reader? If you know anything about the meaning or symbolism of colors, choose your pair of hues well to play off emotions against each other (red for anger; blue for passivity). Apply this exercise to a situation with which you're already frustrated.

Wordcount: 500 (+/- 10%)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Challenge 19: Queen of the Desert

In the dark heat of the Tyrian summer’s evening, a gang of black-clad desert raiders slip over the border to wreak havoc on the sleepy town of Rika. The sky is lit up by their fires. A cacophony of screams follow in their wake. By morning, they are gone, along with twenty-four new slaves, bound in chains and led out into the blinding white of the desert. Bloodied bodies and a single whimpering babe are all that is left of a once happy village.

Years blur like the hazy desert mirage and soon the Rika orphan is a young woman, Emmy (Sienna Guillory), struggling to survive in the bustling slums of the House Capitol, Varna. When she learns of her tragic past from a craggy old man claiming to be her uncle (Jeremy Irons), she gives up everything to follow him into the desert in search of revenge for a stolen childhood and a mother she never knew.

Beyond the barren sands of the desert, she goes undercover, allowing her uncle to ‘sell’ her to the royal harem for a handful of blood rubies. Now all that is left is to find out what happened to her mother, without falling foul of either of the volatile Princes of the Desert. Unfortunately, her beauty and stubbornness has made her the subject of their latest competition. Her attempts to escape them lead her to making a wrong turn and coming face to face with the Queen, a meeting just as shocking for Emmy as it is for the other woman…

A gripping fantasy film directed by Natasha Arthy (Fighter, Mirakel), Queen of the Desert is a dark and powerful tribute to the bonds between mother and daughter and the things we will do for the ones we love.

Wordcount: 296

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Challenge 19

Canned Film

Write a very short synopsis of an imaginary film, as if writing for one of those video anthologies - perhaps 10,000 Films in a Nutshell. Concentrate of images as much as you can in this summary of a plot or an interesting combination of images and time.

Word count: 300 (+/- 10%)

An Example (David Thomson's summarizing of Howard Hawk's career)

Men and women skirmish in Hawk's films on the understanding that an embrace is only a prelude to withdrawal and disillusion. The dazzling battles of word, innuendo, glance, and gesture - between [Cary] Grant and Hepburn, Grant and Jean Athur, Grant and Rosalind Russell, John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, Bogart and Bacall, [John] Wayne and Angie Dickinson... are Utopian procrastinations to avert the paraphernalia of released love that can only expend itself. In other words, Hawks is at his best in moments when nothing happens beyond people arguing about what might happen or has happened. Bogart and Bacall in The Big Sleep are not only characters tangled in a tortuous thriller but a constant audience to the film, commenting on its passage.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Challenge 18: A brother's jealousy

Sorry this one is way over the word limit, but it didn't make much sense otherwise.

“Where the hell have you been, Dylan?” James said. “Do you know what time it is?”

Dylan looked at his bare wrist and said, “Nope.”

Charlie was curled up, asleep on the couch and the television was still blaring in the corner.

James folded his arms, leaning back against the archway between the dining room and the lounge, just staring at his younger brother. Dylan was a mess. His school uniform was torn and grimy and half of the buttons were missing. James could smell the smoke as Dylan stormed past him towards the stairs.

“Hold it,” he growled.

“Fuck off, James. It’s none of your business.” Dylan stopped but he didn’t turn around.

"J’taime amour," a silky smooth voice purred from the television set. Distracted for a moment, James glanced at the screen to see a young French woman whispering in the ear of a much older business man inside a smoky club.

“Dad left me in charge, so yeah, it is my business,” James said, trying to ignore the way the woman on the television set reminded him of Danielle.

Dylan did turn around then, his eyes stormy as he said, “Believe me, you don’t want to know.”

He glanced at the television just as the older man walked out of the bar, leaving the young woman by herself.

“Look,” James said. “I know I’m not dad, and you don’t have to tell me anything, but you are scaring me Dylan… I don’t want you to be the latest dead kid on the news.”

Dylan snorted. “I can look after myself.”

James tried to consciously relax the tension in his shoulders. The French woman disappeared into the bathroom, her mascara staining her cheeks. If Danielle cried, she would look a hundred times worse. Goth chicks always wore way too much black eyeliner.

Dylan noticed. He was always the more observant one.

“You were a bastard today,” he said softly. All traces of his normal anger were gone as he sat down on the couch, shifting Charlie so that the kid’s head was on his lap. “It’s funny, I thought maybe you had changed.”

James sat on the other couch, staring at the television. Toothpaste and coca-cola competed with Viagra and the Ab-buster 2000, but all he saw was the look on Danielle’s face as he told her she had overestimated the strength of his affection for her. He had been trying to be chivalrous. That was what he told himself. No point letting the poor girl fantasize that there was any chance… Perhaps he didn’t have to do it in front of so many people… but it was just the truth.

“You really were just messing with her, eh.” Dylan shook his head. The French woman dialled someone on her cell phone but no one picked up. She slammed the phone shut and splashed her face with water.

James clenched and unclenched his fists. This was none of Dylan’s business. “What does it matter? If I screw up my relationships, you can laugh. It’s not like you are doing any better.”

“It’s not just you you’re hurting though, is it?”

“What do you care? You hate her.”

“I never said that.”

James blinked, trying to remember why he was so sure that his brother had hated the Goth girl in his class.

“I said she hates me,” Dylan clarified. “Until today, I hadn’t bothered having an opinion.”

The French woman put on some more lipstick, puffed up her hair and pasted on a vindictive smile. She opened her shirt a few buttons and hiked up her mini skirt until the bottoms of her stocking suspenders were visible. Out in the bar, she sidled up to one man after another on the dance floor, searching for someone who would take the bait.

James made a face, unimpressed with her sluttish behaviour. Dylan leaned over Charlie and grabbed the remote, turning off the television. James glanced at him, surprised. Dylan extricated himself carefully and then lifted Charlie into his arms, heading for the stairs. James followed like a lost puppy. When had Dylan, the troubled teen delinquent, turned into the mature one in this family?

Once Charlie was tucked up in bed, Dylan said, “There is a reason why Goths are a minority group.”

“Huh?” James followed him down the hall. “Did you see Dee tonight? Is that why you were out so late?”

Dylan walked into his room and shut the door in James’ face. James just stood there, stunned, trying to process his brother’s words. Minority group. Goths. Suicide. SHIT. He turned the handle, but Dylan had locked the door.

“Is she okay?” he hissed, not wanting to wake Charlie up with a yell.

Dylan didn’t answer. James turned away and began to pace the hall. Surely someone would have told him if Danielle had gone and done something stupid. Angelica would have… No, Angelica only thought about herself and Kitten didn’t speak at all, so she was hardly going to use a telephone. There was nothing for it. He would have to call her.

James pulled out his cell phone and then realized he had deleted Danielle’s number. Idiot. He tried the phone book, but they weren’t listed. Of course not. Their mother was the Head of Security at the Bank of America, she wasn’t going to have a listed number. It was three a.m., but James knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep without knowing that Dee was okay. He raced down the stairs, two at a time, and hauled his Tiger motorcycle out of the garage and then glanced up to see Dylan watching him from the second story with a smirk. Damn him. He knew just how to push James’ buttons. Danielle was probably fine. For all James knew, she and Dylan had cooked up this story to make him feel guilty. Despite that, he knew he had to check on her.

Wordcount: 987

Ode to my Nokia 5310

You arrived all wrapped up,
a special birthday present.
He did all his research,
Tried to ask my opinion, but I wasn’t listening.
“Surprise me,” I said.

I remember that birthday,
Everyone came, dressed up to the nines.
I felt so loved,
but not more than when he stood up and said,
“She may be weird, but she’s mine.”

You had a perfect memory,
dates and names and numbers I was always forgetting.
You woke me up in the morning,
and your little screen reminded me to smile.

He spent so much time,
picking you out of all the choices.
In the end, he bought one of you too…

That night I was foolish,
Past midnight, watching scary movies
Curled up in the cinema seat,
Texting - “Wo ai ni” … I love you
“Wan an” … Good night

I can’t believe I left you behind.
I’m so sorry.
I miss you.
Thank you for being such a good, reliable phone.
(P.S. If you do find your way back home, I promise I’ll give you lots of cuddles and always keep you safe!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Challenge 18


Write a short interior scene during which a TV is on. Let the words and images on the screen interact interestingly with the activity going on in the room. Your characters can be watching the TV, or it can be background noise. Choose your TV show carefully to reflect an interesting aspect of the human situation you're also describing. You might do some research, taking notes with the TV on. Think about the kind of people who have a TV on all the time and don't seem to know about the mute button. Maybe you could play with the notion of TV reality interfering with your characters' reality.

Wordcount: 500 (+/- 10%)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

7 - Family Consciousness: The Flat

We looked up at the façade of the building, and Jinna spoke for all of us.


There wasn’t much else to say. It was grey and cold and concrete, and the idea that we were to live here… I coughed, the infection in my chest a lingering reminder of why we had had no choice.

Momma smiled bravely. She could see exactly how much of a struggle it would be to adjust, but that was not the point – never the point, with Momma. She knew we would manage, and manage with grace, if she had to fight every hour of every day to make it happen.

“Come on, let’s go inside.” There was a slight brittleness to her voice, but otherwise no one who didn’t know her would have known she was sad about this at all.

Jinna, despite her sulk, led the way. It was obvious she planned to swipe the biggest bedroom, but as it turned out she didn’t manage it. None of the bedrooms were big. All the same size, tiny concrete oblongs with cold grey walls and cold grey ceilings and tiny oblong windows with double glazing that was painted shut. If there had been heating, the rooms would have been warm enough to stifle a person. As it was, the glass seemed to shut out the light of the sun as well as its warmth. Jinna looked around and thought about complaining again. There was no point but at thirteen that didn’t usually stop her. Instead she heaved a sigh, and started planning her escape. She ran away with clock regularity, and even if we hadn’t have moved to this hole, she would have been making maps and finding hidey holes anyway. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for her, and saw her making a mental note to keep out of my way as much as possible.

Momma went to work at once, and soon rugs and mats were laid over the tile floors and the chill rising through the soles of our shoes became a little more bearable. Tommy fell and bruised his knee, the role of little brothers one he fell into quite naturally, and the time we spent fixing him up and offering the cheap, too-sweet candy, and cuddling and kissing better made us feel like a family again.

Momma’s face fell when tummies started to rumble. She had seen the kitchen before – we had not. She knew what was coming.

A look passed between us, and without a word I followed her out into the dank hallway. It took a moment to realise that all the bedroom doors had locks, and that we would share the kitchen and the bathroom with others. Momma saw the horror in my face at the idea, but there was no use either of us saying anything.

The kitchen was clean, and there were no cockroaches that we could see. That was the best thing we were able to say about it, and that was said without words. Swiftly we cut the dry rye bread and hard, sour cheese, and found a few mismatched plates. I piled up six, unthinking, and then put two back before Momma saw. I wasn’t quick enough, and the tears pooled in her eyes for a few seconds.

There was no time for sentiment with two hungry children to feed. We strode back down the corridor and plastered smiles on our faces. Jinna saw straight through our insincerity, but she appreciated the effort all the same. Tommy barely even saw the fake smiles. When there was food available he had no eyes for anything else, and we three girls had learned to be grateful for it during this eventful week.

Momma and I took the smallest plates so that our meagre portions would look the same size as Jinna and Tommy’s. I pretended not to see when Momma gave Tommy half her cheese, and she pretended not to see when I gave Jinna an extra slice of bread.

Voices rattled in the corridor, guttural words we didn’t understand and didn’t want to. They made Momma jump, and put a shiver down my spine. Jinna wanted to go out and see, try and speak to the folks who were making such a racket, but she stilled when I glared at her. Momma quietly walked over to the door of the tiny room we had crammed into and turned the key in the lock. My shoulders untensed from their position up by my ears.

Momma swallowed and braced herself to spout the propaganda we all needed to hear to get through the day.

“When Daddy comes back from the front, we’ll find somewhere nicer.”

No one said anything. None of us believed he would ever return. But none of us would ever say it out loud, for then it might be true.

Challenge 10: Ink blots

OOC: It's too long and possibly not what is meant by the challenge but here it is.

I like living here. You meet so many people when you live in a hotel. “Kitten, you're going to need to hop out from under the desk sweety.” says the receptionist, Mandy. Mandy doesn't actually mind me being under the desk, but that is a code to say that my dad is looking for me. Daddy owns the hotel, but he's still nice to the people who work here. “Ok.” I say as I go look for Daddy. He's always in one place when he's looking for me. Mostly because he mentions to one or two people who work here on his way. They tell other people who work here and then one will know where I am and will tell me. It doesn't waste his time 'cause he can do his work there anyway.

“Ah, Katherine.” says Father.
“Hello Father.” I say.
“You remember Mrs Danvers?” he says as I notice that there is a woman in the office with him.
“Hello Mrs Danvers.” I say politely.
“Mrs Danvers has a few questions to ask you.” says Father. “You can use the room just through that door.” says Father to Mrs Danvers indicating the Conference room that is occasionally my play room. “Katherine you are to answer Mrs Danvers questions, don't leave anything out.” says Father. I don't think he likes Mrs Danvers. That sentence is one we use as a code to say 'make everything as difficult as possible for this person. I don't think I have heard Father use that phrase before... I look at him, he is trying to smile, but it doesn't reach his eyes. I may only be six but I know when someone is trying to pretend.
“Yes Father.” I say.
“Well then, come along girl.” says Mrs Danvers.
“My name is Katherine.” I say. “Not 'girl'.” I add. Mrs Danvers does not look pleased.
“Just follow her Katherine.” says Father.
“Yes Father.” I reply following the evil lady to the conference room.

In the conference room I sit down on a chair across the table from the evil lady. She looks a little annoyed but does not protest.
“Well girl.” Begins the evil lady, looking in her bag for something.
“Yes lady?” I ask, she looks even more irritated but I see her contain it.
“What do you see on this card?” she asks holding up a card. She looks a bit smug now. On the card is an 'ink blot' I know what it is because Mandy had a prject for her course on them. She had to show them to people and I did it for her at one point. I look through the 'ink blot' like Mandy told me to.
“A Dragon.” I say. The evil lady looks surprised and a little annoyed again. She pulls out another card.
“And this one?” she asks. I look through it again.
“A unicorn.” I reply. The evil lady looks even more annoyed.
“Last one. What is on this card?” she asks, I can see her wanting me to get this one wrong, I think she picked a really hard card to be sure, she looks almost smug, so I look carefully.
“A Zodiac?” I ask, I'm not sure what a Zodiac is but the card seemed to tell me that was what it was supposed to be. The evil lady almost seems to pale when I give that answer.
“How did you know that?” she demands. I don't think she meant to ask that she seems a bit annoyed at herself for having asked it. But Father said to answer her questions, so...
“The card told me that was what it was.” I tell her.
“The card told you...” repeats the evil lady seeming stunned.
“Can I go now?” I ask.
“Yes... Tell your Father that Maveric blood breeds true.” she says as I am almost out the door.

“Katherine!” says Father happily as I exit. Suddenly I am caught up in a big hug.
“The evil lady says to say that Maveric blood breeds true.” I tell him. I knew I was magical.

5 - Journalism: The DCI's Diary

Diary 2010 Week To View

If found please return to DCI Swallow

25th January

The subject continues to keep to his usual routine. It’s difficult to tell whether he has any awareness of us – although we endeavour to be discrete, the rumour mill will work against us if neighbours become aware of our presence. Given the size of the flat and the thinness of the walls this seems inevitable, but we have several cover stories and counter-rumours to turn to if necessary.

Jones continues to insist that we refrain from mentioning the subject’s name or those of any of his associates even in our written communication. I’m monitoring that situation, too – Jones appears to have a strong case of paranoia where the subject is concerned, but this is understandable in light of his previous postings in the breakaway republics. The subjects links to the republics remain unproven, and all evidence points towards his being a local small time drug dealer who is trying to get a reputation as something more.

Sneyder, the police psychologist assigned to our unit, assures me that she thinks Jones is stable, and there is no doubt that he is an able officer, but all the same it troubles me that he attributes a good deal of power and influence to one petty criminal.

As the subject is well known and this case well documented, I have acquiesced to his wish that we refer only obliquely to the subject. In the long run it will not harm our case.

10th February

Jones’ behaviour continues to concern me. He has taken to muttering words which rhyme with the subject’s name, and were it not for his excellent work deciphering the coded messages we have picked up from our friend on the other side of the street I would request he be taken off the case. Unfortunately he is one of the few code breakers we have available, and as such is indispensible to us here.

After two weeks’ observation the subject still appears to have no intelligence of our presence. The messages we have intercepted have largely been of no consequence, but some of them have given us new leads to follow up. At the end of this month we should certainly have enough to move onto the next stage of the investigation, and I have no doubt that the records we are keeping will help lead to a conviction.

18th February

After some unusual activity from the subject, we have requested back up, which should be with us in a few days. Our suspicions grow that he has finally realised he is under surveillance, and although he will not make a move before the High Tide festival, which he will need as cover to launder the cash we believe is stored in his flat, we are concerned about our safety after that time.

Fortunately this unpleasant development has allowed us to shoot several dozen high resolution pictures of the subject and his associates with firearms which are certainly not legally owned, and can only add to the strength of our case.

25th February

The increased security has certainly given us all some measure of peace of mind, although I fear Jones will need transferring to another unit before the festival is finished. The strain of waiting for a possible attack has lead to increased paranoia, and his increased use of his asthma inhaler particularly concerns me. I am certain that his dependence on the drug is far beyond what is normal even in severe asthmatics, and he would not have been allowed to serve on this team if his health had been judged lacking.

I confess it will be a relief to leave this wretched flat and get back to the office to analyse the information we have collected.

29th February

Jones is dead. The flat is surrounded and we don’t know exactly what is happening outside. It looks like Jones was correct after all. If this record is retrieved, then let our deaths count for something; whoever is assigned to this case in future must be warned that the subject possesses powers that defy description and that the only chance to defeat him is

The diary extract reproduced above was recovered in early March when survivors and bodies were pulled from a destroyed building which was an apparent victim of a terrorist attack.

Mysteriously, police records give no reference to the case, or the officers involved, and even the unusual surname Sneyder gave us no link to any known police force either nationally or on Interpol.

The body from which the diary was retrieved was unrecognisable, having been badly burned in the fire, and no matches were found of any of the victims of the explosion in the dental records currently available to us. Only a small portion of the diary was unharmed, and tests reveal that the security lock had been breached several times before the time of the explosion, although the DCI makes no record of any attempt to break into it.

No other written material, recording equipment, or similar items and devices were recovered at the scene.

We respectfully suggest that the information contained in this report stays confidential until such a time as the subject is identified and neutralised.

- Bacon County Federal Coroner’s Office.

Challenge 17: Moving in

It was strange to think, as we pulled up outside the Howard mansion, that I was actually going to live here. I clambered out of mom’s Ferrari and waded through the heat, hoping the place would have air conditioning. A butler hurried down the stairs to greet us, but I insisted on hauling my own luggage out of the trunk. My little sister Kitty needed more help with her bags anyway.

“Danielle?” There he was, standing in the doorway of his very own palace. Prince Charming himself – James Howard. His voice tasted like chocolate and strawberries. I squinted up at him, an awkward half-grin on my lips.

“What are you doing here?” a second voice said.

My smile fell. Dylan had just joined his older brother and I could almost smell his scorn. Barbara, my mom, tackled the stairs with a bag in each hand. By the top, Dylan looked like a frozen crème puff, sweating in the knowledge he was about to be eaten.

“Not a chance,” he said desperately. “They are definitely not moving in!”

My mom lifted her massive sunglasses and gave the bastard her best ‘I’m going to be your new mother,’ smile. Arthur emerged then and gave mom a massive hug. They actually kissed in front of all of us… Ew!

Mom and Arthur had suddenly sprung their engagement on us all about a week ago and now here we were, saving money in this recession by moving out of our four bedroom house right next to school and shifting into a bloody 10 bedroom mansion in the middle of nowhere. Great.

When I finally made it inside, I was taken aback by how clean and shiny everything was. This place even smelled white. As a dedicated Goth, I officially considered myself to be in hell.

James’ fingers whispered over my hand, making my heart wobble excitedly. Oh, this was so wrong. James took my bag and I didn’t even think of stopping him.

“Come on,” he said, winking. “I’ll show you your room.”

Gods above, I almost melted on the spot. I followed him, doll-like, up the wide colonial staircase and away down a corridor.

“I made sure you got the darkest room in the tallest tower,” he said with a delectable, syrupy laugh. “If you ever open your curtains, you’ve got a great view of the estate.”

He put my bag down on the bed, the duvet cushioning the impact. I didn’t even hear the clink of my crystals crashing into each other, but then I had packed them inside five oversized socks each. I crossed over to the window and peered outside, breathless with the awareness of him, still there, sitting on the edge of my bed.

“So ah…” I said, not brave enough to look around. “Where is your room?”

“On the other side of the house,” he said, a slight tang of regret in his voice. “My dad’s not a complete idiot.”

I did glance at him then. His smile was a sunbeam, breaking through all my shadowy walls.

“I’m here now,” was all he needed to say. In the next moment, he was standing and I was wrapped up in his arms, losing myself in the aria of his kisses. How could I have been so lucky? He should never have even noticed me, hiding in the shadows everywhere I went. How could I be so unlucky? Sure, now we were living together, which was great, except that in three months, when mom and Arthur married, what we were doing was going to be so very illegal.

Wordcount: 607

This is a continuation of New York Girls (my challenge 7), and is part of a story Nightfire and I are developing which has been code named 'The Brady Bunch'

Challenge 17


Use synesthesia in a short scene - surreptitiously, without drawing too much attention to it - to convey to your reader an important understanding of some ineffable sensory experience. Use sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Synesthesia is a description of "One kind of sensation in terms of another" (A Glossary of Literary Terms by M. H. Abrams). An example from Bruno Schulz reads "Adela would plunge the rooms into semidarkness by drawing down the linen blinds. All colors immediately fell an octave lower..."

Wordcount: 600 (+/- 10%)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Challenge 16: Snow globe

There is a shop in Romania that used to sell homemade children’s toys. It is closed now, boards over the windows and graffiti on the wall. The owner died many years ago, shortly after the disappearance of his daughter, Rosanna.

The toys, so carefully crafted, lie in boxes now – gathering dust. On a shelf in the back room, sits a snow globe, about the size of your palm. Look beyond the tired, frosted glass and you will see a miniature world, built with such detail that it might just carry you away. Everything is painted in soft blue hues. There is a little mist and you can see a single tree, coated in snow on the mountain closest. Further back, a citadel is nestled among the ranges, a basilica sitting proudly above the rest.

The door to the basilica almost seems ajar. Look a little closer. Closer now, until you are sure of what you are seeing. The clouds swirl, light flickers behind the windows, you can almost hear the howl of the fierce wind. Pull open that door and step in, out of the cold. The church is lit with candles and a choir of boys sings ‘Ave Maria’ though they are nowhere to be seen.

Look to the altar; a young woman is kneeling alone. Approach if you like, admire the way her curling brown hair sits perfectly and her white dress fans out, framing her like a flower. She will not move, no matter how close you stare. She is a doll, handcrafted, just like the rest. See her glassy green eyes, her painted red lips, bare shoulders like porcelain, face frozen and empty. She waits for a groom who is not coming.

It was nearly fifty years ago that I crept down the stairs, careful not to wake father and disappeared into the night. There was a little church in the forest, only rubble now, where I waited for my lover and the priest who would marry us. But father found me first. You should have seen the fury in his eyes…

The glassy-eyed doll turns her head to meet your gaze. You can try to flinch, to look away or drop the snow globe, but it will not work. Her blood red lips curve wide. She has been waiting for so long.

“Rosanna?” you might say, and it would be a wise thing to try. The name of the beast is sometimes able to tame it. Sometimes, but not today. Would I be so foolish, to bring you here and then tell you how to escape? I need you, traveller.

It wasn’t a lie, before, so much as a careful omission. I was to be a bride. In fact, I married. I revelled in the sting as my husband’s teeth pierced my flesh, in the cooling of my blood as I died and was reborn. My father, religious fool that he was, believed my sin to be his own fault. He built this palace of ice in which to imprison me, to keep me from my beloved. For fifty years, he succeeded. But now you have come, traveller, and your soul is exactly the price of my freedom…

The doll-bride is gone. Walk to the door of the basilica and look up at the sky. See the single beam of sunshine, touching the stone paving before you and melting the snow. Look beyond the light, through the frosted glass and see me looking back. I will put you back on the shelf and perhaps, in another fifty years, you will call to an unwitting traveller of your own. If you are very lucky, she will answer…

Wordcount: 611


First is Lady_of_Night__II by zemotion (Deviant Art) and the second is Adamant_Citadel by alexiuss (also Deviant Art)

Challenge 9: The Blood Countess (R)

WARNING: This contains highly offensive content. Because someone asked for Vampires :D A little over wordcount. I think I disturbed myself...

Challenge 16

Two Paintings

This is another version of two images separated at birth: Write a story that is an attempt to bridge two very dissimilar photographs or paintings. Include the images or links to them in your post.

Words count: 600 (+/- 10%)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

6 - The Royal We: Best Friends

too long again - need more practice!

Also, totally forgot to do number 5...

Frank laughs when mother calls us in from the garden. It’s just as well she didn’t notice. We often get into trouble when we are together, but it’s better than playing alone. We have some good times. Frank doesn’t really have anywhere else to go, so he usually stays over. We don’t mind sharing our things, and we don’t like Frank’s house. It’s old and cold and quiet, with a high roof and stone walls, and no one who lives there ever seems to be at home when we visit. It scares us and so we’ve only been there a few times. Frank had to move there, and is supposed to stay there all the time, but no one checks. It says Frank on the wall and so everyone thinks he must be there.

“Coming!” We get up quickly and run indoors.

“Have you washed your hands?”


Jacob talks more loudly. Frank is mischievous but shy. We get on well because we can help each other out that way.

We go indoors, and mother greets us over her shoulder then starts dishing out dinner. As usual she’s only set us one place, but we don’t mind sharing – we’ve been sharing for months and we’re used to it. If we mentioned it she’d get upset, and we hate it when that happens.

Mother never seems to notice, and she always gives us a big portion anyway. She says Jacob is a growing boy, and we suppose Frank must be too.

We finish in double quick time. Frank eats the cabbage, as Jacob doesn’t like it all that much. Mother is very impressed and we get a big slice of chocolate cream pie. She won’t let us eat it in the lounge – she knows that Frank will leave a mess. Jacob is tidy but when Frank is around you can’t tell that. We cancel each other out.

After dinner we go and play in the garden. There’s a miniature swing-boat, but we’re not very good at making it go. We used to be good at it, but somehow we can’t manage it any more. Mother says that life will get more difficult as we get older, and we think this must be what she means.

The swings are fun, though, even if it’s not the same as sitting on the swing-boat together – Jacob offers to push Frank, but Frank prefers to watch. Frank gets sick easily, and we don’t want to waste any of the pudding.

Our next door neighbour’s cat Smoky jumps over the fence. He hisses at Frank, and won’t let Jacob near him much either. He’s a miserable old animal – we used to feed him from our secret stash, but when we ran out of things he liked he wouldn’t forgive us. Frank tries to pick him up, but the cat slips through his fingers. At least we didn’t get scratched.

Later on we go indoors. Frank wants to stay outside, but really it’s too cold. Jacob is tired and shivering even if Frank never notices the frost. We used to be scared of the dark, but we’re not any more. If we stay together, then we’re both braver.

Frank thinks of a surprise for mother, and we creep upstairs. Frank is best at creeping, and even Jacob can’t hear his footsteps. Frank starts to order Jacob about, but Jacob doesn’t mind. We imagine the look on mother’s face and grin at each other.

“Sweetie, you tidied your room!” Mother is surprised when she comes up. We think she might cry, but she looks happy too. We look at each other and shrug. Neither of us understands parents.

“We both did,” we say, and smile proudly. It’s not really true. Frank had to sit still while Jacob picked up his toys, because Frank makes a mess everywhere he goes. He’s terrible at picking things up. But Frank did tell Jacob how to sort them out, so we did it together really.

Mother looks a little sad. “You’re a very brave little boy,” she says. Jacob thinks she is talking about Frank, but later on Frank says she meant Jacob. Maybe she meant both of us, though neither of us really understands what she means.

4 - The Unstable Self: Pain

with thanks to Gerard Manley Hopkins from whom I have begged, borrowed, and possibly stolen! - The Caged Skylark

I don’t want to be here any more. I wonder if I can escape. I wonder if I can fly away.

She winces even in her sleep. I look down dispassionately at my earthridden, bedridden self. In that bone-house, mean house. But not resting. No mounting spirit here. She’s caged. Trapped. Not a skylark, but a dodo.

What, then, of me? Sprung like a rhythm out of flesh. Flying high. She battered against barriers and gave in. I soar free. I can’t explain.

It’s strange to watch her face contort and to feel nothing. To see my limbs twist with pain. To see her teeth grind together. And to feel nothing.

I look away. The view from the window is green and pleasant. She looks it every day but she doesn’t notice it. She looks, the light enters her eyes, the image is processed by her optic nerve and transmitted to her visual cortex. She looks at it. But she does not see it. I have not seen it before, though I have looked at it every day.

A noise makes me look back to the bed. Eyes have opened. Vision is blurred. She can’t see. I can’t see. I have no eyes. They’re there on the bed and they’re misty and clouded with pain. I wonder how, then, am I looking down at her? At me?

I don’t want to. I float away. She is trapped by her bones, flesh-bound, imprisoned. I am free as a bird, as a dare, as the breeze over a meadow. I can soar. I can sing.

She groans. I sink, pulled down. Don’t! Let me go. She won’t let go. She can’t. She doesn’t know how. She needs a sign.

Rain. A drizzle, falling like tears. She did not look. I did not notice the clouds. I am floating above it all, far away, and lying in this bed, a prisoner of her body.

She can’t escape. The sky is weeping for her and she is trapped here, in chains. The chains bind me tight and she cannot move. The bed is not rest but torture.

I fight back. I rise, slowly, slowly. Looking for a light in the darkness. Looking for sweet release. All she wants is not to be in pain any more. Legs too weak to hold her scramble for purchase on the smooth sheets. Machines beep. Regular. Monotonous. Beep. Beep. Counting away the seconds of a life no longer being lived.

The sun falls on her face and she smiles as I feel the warmth. No pain, just warmth. Welcome. Release.

Sudden fear. Is this what I want? Her body tenses, one last effort against the inevitable. How does she know that this is the right time? Who will promise that what is to come will be better?

A rainbow outside the window. She looks. I see it.

Her spirit sings like a bird released, flying high over the meadows. Her body relaxes back into the pillows, quiet. Pain drains away. I cannot feel anything.

At last at peace. Breathing stills, stops. Heartbeat stills, stops. I soar onwards, chains released.

Monday, February 8, 2010

3 - Unreliable Third: True Love?

it's a bit too long really, but I'm trying to get a few done... I'm going to go back and have another couple of goes at some of them, but I'm posting my first efforts anyway!

Helen smiles at George and tries to ignore the little frown lines around his mouth. He is trying to make her a better person, and it is working – slowly, but it is working.

She turns back to her ironing, standing up straight, ensuring that her back is elegantly poised and her shoulders are not slouched. He hates slouching, but only because he doesn’t want her to get backache. He only slouches himself because of his own back trouble, and he doesn’t want Helen to suffer the way he does. After all, he couldn’t afford for them both to visit the masseuse.

He turns the television up a little higher. He’s forgotten that she hates this show, hates the presenter. He wouldn’t have put it on if he had remembered, but she forgives him, because he’s just trying to relax. He’s been working late, it’s not his fault his job is so stressful. She’s grateful his secretary is such a sweet girl, always so obliging, staying late at work so he doesn’t have to make the phone calls himself. Jeannie. A lovely girl. She even calls Helen herself when George is working late, so that George can get on with things and be home a little earlier. Jeannie is such a pretty thing, she could be a model, but George says she prefers to do something useful with her life.

Helen folds up the last shirt with care as the programme finally finishes and places it in the pile of ironing. George harrumphs and hauls himself up from the settee. There’s a faraway look in his eye that reminds Helen of their honeymoon. She’s about to say something when he catches her eye and frowns again.

“I’m going to bed.” His voice is gruff, but that’s just his way. She knows he loves her. She’s sure that tonight when she goes up he’ll be waiting for her, not turned away and snoring as he has been recently. He’s just been tired, and she can’t blame him for that.

“Can you…?” She gestures towards the pile of ironing, but he puts a hand in the small of his back and grimaces.

“Can’t. Back trouble.”

His terseness can’t cover up the fact that he’s still miles away, looking past her at some memory that softens his expression and reminds her of the man she fell in love with.

She’s sure now that he’s remembering their honeymoon, and once he’s gone up the stairs she starts to bustle about, getting everything quickly tidied away so that her beloved won’t have to wait for long.

She tries not to move too quickly when he is in the same room – she knows he gets irritated when she makes a noise. It’s not his fault – he has sensitive ears. That’s why they rarely have music on. It’s something to do with the beat or the pitch or – Helen doesn’t really understand, but she loves him and she can listen while he’s at work. The neighbours won’t tell.

There’s more to do than she had thought, and she doesn’t want to leave anything untidy. George probably won’t be up before her in the morning, but if he is he won’t want to be tripping over things. It only takes a few minutes, but George is so tired, and when she pushes open the bedroom door he’s snoring. She sighs. She’s disappointed, but not surprised. He’s been working late. Jeannie told her so. Maybe at the weekend he won’t be so tired.

He’s only doing it for her, working himself into the ground so that she can stay in all day and not have to work. He loves her. She knows he loves her. She’s sure of it. She is.

2 - Imperative: The Headmistress (R for mild profanity)

Challenge 15: Dead walking

White is the colour of purity, the colour of my dress, tight with too many pearl buttons. Red is the colour of passion and of sin, the colour of his blood on my hands, wet from the tears as he dies in my arms. Black is the colour of death, the colour of the gun in my hand, loaded and cocked as I turn away to hunt down his murderer.

My almost-husband died that night, the moon shining through the windows of the church where none but the angels of God should have been able to touch us. I thought I had left that life behind me, but now its siren song was calling me back. Out into the cemetery where the bones were whispering, yearning for me to hear their stories, to grant them peace. How could I give something I have never known?

On, into the night, tripping on the hem of my lace gown, stained with his blood and the mud. I rip away as much as I can, discard the useless shoes, run with the ground pressing between my toes. I reach the beach and do not pause for the waves. The one I hunt is barely a shadow in the moonlight, drawing me out, onto the ocean. What a fool I was, thinking to marry in Bermuda; there are too many ghosts here.

Deep beneath the surface lie the wrecks of ancient ships, forgotten by people, hidden by coral and seaweed. One of those shipwrecks is called the Cyclops and the brave men who once crewed her lie now as smooth white shards of bone between her many rotting decks. I can feel them stirring, my foe calling them to his aid. The light of the moon, touching the sea at just the right angle, those bones begin to knit together and the dead walk once again.

Long ago, in the heady perfumed night of Paris, I made the mistake of giving my love to a man, powerful but dark – a necromancer to my ghost whisperer. Such a pair we made, he said, as we danced through the wild streets, defying death and laughing in his face. But my punishment fit the crime. The Black Plague ripped all humanity from my once-lover but I was not so lucky. My heart shattered, seeing the suffering of children, the loss of whole families, lives wasted, dead whispering, blaming me. Incapable of dying, I walked like a ghost through the streets, desperate for any offer of redemption. I could hear the voices. But the dead were always silent to him, pawns in a game without heart, only lust.

Now he had ripped me from the illusion that I could escape my mistakes. My pretence at a normal life was gone, along with a man who loved me in innocence. The dead were walking again and I was the only one capable of sending them back to sleep.

Black is the colour of death, the colour of the inky sea, bubbling with the rising dead. Red is the colour of passion and sin, my life laid bare before God, a small price to end this madness. White is the colour of purity, the colour of the moon on the quiet Bermuda waters as the dead return to the depths and our souls committed into God’s keeping.

Wordcount: 558

Image 1 was:
White is the colour of purity, the colour of my dress, tight with too many pearl buttons. Red is the colour of passion and of sin, the colour of his blood on my hands, wet from the tears as he dies in my arms. Black is the colour of death, the colour of the gun in my hand, loaded and cocked as I turn away to hunt down his murderer.

Image 2 was:
Deep beneath the surface lie the wrecks of ancient ships, forgotten by people, hidden by coral and seaweed. One of those shipwrecks is called the Cyclops and the brave men who once crewed her lie now as smooth white shards of bone between her many rotting decks. I can feel them stirring, my foe calling them to his aid. The light of the moon, touching the sea at just the right angle, those bones begin to knit together and the dead walk once again.

Challenge 15

Two Images Separated at Birth

Think up a vivid, haunting image. Work hard to construct this image so it is not only visible to the reader but exciting and thought-provoking. Then think up another unrelated but equally vivid image. The key to this exercise is to work at composing two unrelated images, two scenes or situations you do not think are part of a story. Now write a story fragment out of the two images.

Wordcount: 600 (+/- 10%)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Challenge 4: Peeking through

A secret is dark and shadowy, slithering itself into new shapes and sizes, new costumes, new guises. I live inside mine the way I live inside my skin, covering myself as best I can but always ashamedly naked underneath my clothing.

I am covered by clothes even in my dreams, even in my subconscious where it does not matter. The uglier secrets deserve more heavy and intricate fabric. Embroidered woollen sock to cushion cracking sole. Padded lace bra to cover taut pink nipple. Layers of stockings and petticoats over gaudy veined thighs.

He lifts his palm to sleeve. Releases a layer. Looks at skin, contemplates clothes and body. One moment. Separate from, secret from the time-world. She breathes his breath.

A modest and lonely window sets sunlight glancing off their dust.

In my dreams I do not feel my own weight, I am not aware of nail or hair or teeth or aching eye. I am not always conspicuously there - a silently fleeting image.

This is not a dream. Underneath his hands there are scars. Scars on soft, intricately creased skin.

Everything I knew of myself was here, within my own private community of secrets and lies, and to strip these layers from me is to betray truths I do not recognise. You catch my breath and hold it there, so that the air inside my lungs might seem familiar even in this newly exposed surreality.

Breath like a fish hook catches in her throat and draws her upward towards his scattered sunshine irises. Dissolved, there is no small puzzle piece of herself she can clutch on to now.

I stand as I am, bare of anything but this moment.

Wordcount: 281

Challenge 3: Morepork

Noah shut his eyes, squeezing his eyelids so that his broad nose wrinkled and his lips curled wide into a half-grin, half-grimace. He listened intently, stretching his ears as far as he could. Out under the open window into the hazy Moana night Noah listened, as the wind hissed at Uncle Jeremy and hushed Mum to sleep.

More… Pork… he stretched his bony middle finger to count the third time he’d heard the ruru craw tonight. His two littlest fingers did grasshopper jumps on his palm, desperate to join the others. Five times, Hinekiri had said.
‘I’ll do the morepork five times at the gate, when I go out to the train tracks after tea.’

Hinekiri didn’t live in the little blue house with Uncle Jeremy anymore. She'd left on the train to go stay with her old aunty Nga in Greymouth. Noah missed his friend achingly. He still counted the ruru calls, and if there were five before the train came, he was sure the next day would be cool. The best, like her.

there it was again. Noah wriggled, and listened more earnestly.

Tomorrow would be Noah’s birthday. Before he’d wormed his way under the sheet to listen so desperately, Mum had wrapped his skinny elbows round her neck and planted a dry kiss on his wide cheek.
‘Happy last night of being nine, Noah’ she’d grinned, but she’d sounded a little sad. Noah had flashed his charmingly crooked teeth at her anyway.

his little finger jumped up to count five and Noah listened, urgently now, hoping for the distant rumble of the train.

Hinekiri was good at doing the morepork. So good that Uncle Jeremy couldn’t tell it was her. Hine was good at everything. She could run down the tracks so fast her thick hair would get all tangled.

She’d made a brilliant hut out of dead branches and toitoi. It was out past the bend in the tracks and over the deep, gouged-out ditch, and you couldn’t even see it unless you got really close to the steep edge. You had to jump over it. Inside the hut there was a blanket and a magnifying glass, and once, Noah had brought some gingernuts for them to share. It was a real pity Hine wasn't here now. There were three gingernuts left and he didn’t want to eat them on his own.

Noah wasn’t sure if – was that it? Was that the train? Perhaps his thoughts were just getting noisier.

Sometimes Hinekiri was late to school after they’d been out across the train tracks to the hut. She’d come to school with red eyes and say her leg hurt and that’s why she couldn’t ride her bike fast enough. After the bell had rung and Noah had scuffed his way back home, Uncle Jeremy would call Mum and grumble he was sending ‘that kid’ round because he needed her ‘outta his hair awhile.’ Then he’d sit in his overalls and turn up the volume on the TV.

Hinekiri would drink a milo at Noah and Mum’s place. She would discover ants with the magnifying glass and let Noah ride her bike, and stay up until her eyes were drooping and her voice was thin. Mum used to bundle her up in a rug then, and take her, soggy with sleep, back to Uncle Jeremy’s. Just before Hine went away though, Mum started putting her to sleep on the couch.
‘Your aunty Nga asked me to look after you,’ she’d say, and plant a dry kiss on her pointed cheek.

Then Hine wouldn’t do the morepork calls for awhile, but Noah always knew that she’d been out to the hut anyway. When they did go flying back out over the ditch, more of the gingernuts were gone.

Noah’s eyes leapt wide open for the rumbling, rushing, urgent train. It had crept up on him again! He took a thick, thrilling breath as his thoughts dashed out into the hazy Moana night, following the clinkety-clink and the whirr and the disappearing hiss. He closed his eyes, more gently this time. Tomorrow would be his birthday and it would be cool, the best! Out under the open window Noah dreamed, as the wind spat at Uncle Jeremy, speeding down the train tracks to soothe sweet Hinekiri to sleep.

wordcount: 721

Friday, February 5, 2010

Challenge 14: Adoration of the Cat

He walked into the room and smiled. A black cat lay curled on the couch beside the window. He sat down on the edge of the bed, eyes fixed on the ball of fur. The cat stretched, yawned, turned around on the spot, digging at the leather with his paws before plopping himself back down and closing his eyes. The young man continued to watch, eyes soft and smiling.

A woman came into the room and, catching sight of him, frowned. She did not disturb him, but walked out again. A minute later she returned with a wine glass in either hand. She sat down beside him, slipping one of the glasses into his hand. She took a sip of the sparkling red liquid, looking between him and the sleeping animal. He wrapped his fingers around the stem of his glass, but did not drink. His tongue slid over his top lip as he let out the barest whisper of a sigh. The woman put glass aside, kneeling forward onto the carpet before the couch. Her long pale fingers smoothed fur, stroking always in the same direction, from behind the cat’s ears around to its curled up tail. The cat woke, purring, stretched and then pouched off the couch, disappearing beneath the bed.

The young man took a sip then, meeting the woman’s eyes. Her cheeks were flushed. She hurriedly peered beneath the bed, cheek pressed against the carpet. He laughed and touched her shoulder. She stood up again, taking another sip of wine. They kissed, apology in her eyes. Beneath the bed, the cat had gone back to sleep.

Wordcount: 270

Challenge 14

No Ideas, but in Things

Write a very brief story told only in images-concrete, simple, visually efficient movements and details. This exercise does not ask you to eliminate people, just to watch what they do and what objects they crave and caress rather than what they say or think about these objects and actions.

Wordcount: 300 (+/- 10%)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Challenge 13: Uh oh...

Do you know what it is to know everything at once and to have everything exist at once, to be writing this message in one moment which goes on for eternity? For every instant spent writing this message to continue for eternity? To be projecting this message in one language but thinking it in all the languages and all the possible permutations of languages, all the non-languages and all the ways of thinking that have and have not existed? To be projecting this message at the start of your world and the end of your world, the start of your universe and the end of your universe and every place in between and outside of it?
Your time is linear. Mine is not.

Do you know what it is to exist, and not exist, in every possible permutation? For everything to exist, and not exist, in every possible permutation? Do you know what it's like? No. You never will.

You think, therefore you are, or perhaps you aren't. That's your problem, and not, and mine, and not. To me, you are, and are not. I am, and am not.

I could spend eternity caring about everything and everyone. I could spend eternity caring about nothing.
Since I am 'God', I do both, neither, everything in between, everything not in between...
Word count: 220

Challenge 13: Ants in the cupboard

Amy and Gerald are arguing. They are human, so they do this quite frequently. There are ants in the cupboard beside Gerald’s foot, but he is not aware of this. The air around Gerald’s face is getting hotter and hotter as he thinks, I can’t do this anymore. There are images in his head also, pictures of another woman he would rather be with but has never actually met. Her face is staring back at him from the television set atop the fridge behind Amy’s head.

Potted flowers on the window sill are unable to extract any moisture from their rock hard dirt; they are drooping and Amy blames Gerald for their death. She says she was away on a business trip and he cannot do anything without her. She remembers how good it felt to be immersed in the warm waters of a place she calls Bali. She feels pain that she is no longer there. The beat of her heart continues steadily, one contraction after another, like the way her body will contract when she squeezes out his baby, still growing in her womb.

Gerald picks up the flowers and puts them into a plastic bin. Amy touches his shoulder, a salty mix hydrogen dioxide on her cheeks. “Sorry,” she says. I need you to grow up, she thinks.

Wordcount: 220

Challenge 13

The spectrum of narrative perspective goes from benighted, flawed, unreliable first-person narrations to godlike omniscience - all-knowing understanding of everyone's thoughts and deepest motives. But God's POV is also, presumably, a first-person narration. What would God see? How would God know a very ordinary set of events - or how could mere human readers see all that a god (let alone God) sees? Since God should know how to be efficient and get right to the point, do this exercise in only 200 words.

Wordcount: 200 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 12: Chaos

Tom put his hand in the hat, fishing around for a moment while the others egged him on.

“Come on, man,” Luc said. “Pick one already.”

“Yeah, tell us who it’s gonna be!” Andy seemed overly excited, like a little kid shaking his presents on Christmas Eve. He was actually bouncing on the edge of the broken desk.

Tom took a deep breath, his fingers closing around a single slip of paper. Slowly, deliberately, he pulled it out.

“Well?” Andy almost squealed.

Tom just kept staring at the paper, his cheeks going a bit pink. Marian, who had been standing by the grimy window, keeping watch, now snatched the flimsy scrap from Tom’s hand. “Anna. That’s what it says.”

Andy burst into peels of laughter. Luc smirked, saying, “This is gonna be interesting.”

“I dunno, guys.” Tom folded his arms, leaning back against the bare cement wall. “Can’t we pick a different one?”

“No can do, brother.” Marian flicked a lighter from her sleeve and set fire to the now scrunched up ball of paper. “You know the rules.”

Tom shrugged, pretending he didn’t care, but he wouldn’t quite meet her eyes either.
“So how are we going to do this?” she said.

“I reckon we make the hit as she’s coming out of class tomorrow,” Luc said, his brow creasing as he scanned the map they had laid out earlier on the dusty floor. “If we set up on level three of the St. James Library, we’ll have pretty good line of sight for the cameras.”

“We definitely want to maximise publicity, so let’s say around lunchtime?” Marian agreed. “This will be our first hit for the year and if it goes down well, membership will skyrocket.”

“Oooh, can I do it?” Andy grinned like a maniac. “I could run in there, guns blazin’ and shoot her in the head.”

“No!” Tom said immediately. “That’s a stupid idea.”

Andy pouted, looking to Marian for support. She shook her head.

“Sorry,” she said. “I agree with Tom. We need something with a bit more intrigue, more style. Maybe a sniper?”

“Mmm… mass panic.” Luc gave a wide, charming grin. “Sounds brilliant, but I would argue for something a little more theatrical.”

“Oh?” Marian looked at him, hands on her hips.

“I say we give Tom this one. We all know his hits provide entertainment for the whole family.”

Andy snorted at that. “Whole family,” he repeated, looking like he might give Tom a big ‘Barney-the-Dinosaur’ hug or something.

Tom crouched down to get a closer look at the map and then shook his head. “You guys realize this is the worst possible hit we could have pulled from the bag, right? Anna is black-belt in my Karate club. If you send me after her, there is no guarantee I’ll be the one that walks away.”

Marian gave an ambiguous, toothy sort of grin as she said, “Either way, we’ll have a nice spectacle and if she wins, she can have your spot.”

“You’re so fucking sadistic.” Tom stood up and headed for the door.

“So you’ll do it?” Marian called after him.

He slammed the door behind him and they could just hear the echoes of his ‘Fuck you’ from the hallway beyond. Marian grinned at the other guys, saying, “He’ll do it.”

Luc sighed, carefully folding up the map and slipping it into a brown manila envelope marked K.A.O.S.

Wordcount: 570

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Our Anistasya, in addition to working away on this blog and her writing exercises, has been sending off query letters to prospective agents for 'The Silver Hawk'. Those of you who haven't yet heard will hopefully be delighted to know that she's received her first request for part of the manuscript.

It's been a most exciting journey so far, and looks to be continuing in the same vein. Congratulations, Anistasya, and good luck!

1 - Reluctant I: Don't Get Caught

Don’t get caught. The best advice an old thief can give, and the old thieves are the ones to heed. It’s easy to say, less easy to do, especially when the guards are coming and the lock picks just aren’t working. It’s a time to consider whether this is a good life path. The door is very ornate, very imposing, and very solid. Wood may seem old fashioned, but when it’s centuries old oak it might as well be cast iron. Coupled with an unexpected state of the art lock it is impregnable to the opportunist thief.

A kick only results in a sore toe and a muffled swearword. Being found isn’t an option – this is not the time to get caught, that’s for sure. The windows on either side of the corridor are starting to look more tempting; falling twenty feet seems a better alternative than having my kidneys used as bongos.

The imposing pillars that line the corridor also provide a little cover for anyone trying to open the window. It’s a small comfort, but in this situation it’s better than nothing. The latch is, naturally, sealed shut, but it is less of an obstacle than the heavy wood of the uncooperative door.

The task is a fiddly one, but doable. The voices are getting closer, but obviously these guards are more easily fooled than some. Doubling back or hiding in a cupboard would seem amateur to an amateur, but in the right situation it can provide those few extra moments to evade capture.

The window finally opens with a noise that could be interpreted as a sigh of relief by those of a fanciful nature. The night air is cold but welcome, like a scent of freedom on the wind.

The drop is enough to give pause, but only for a moment. Whoever designed the gardens planted a shrubbery for this very purpose, or at least never considered a flower bed under the window a security risk. They were foolish, but they earn a quick murmur of gratitude.

Edging out through the window and onto the ledge is the easy part: closing the window again from outside is more difficult. Clearly the architect was less fond of criminals than the gardeners are. It’s necessary, another ruse to give a few moments before the escape route becomes clear to those in pursuit. All those moments add up, eventually equaling a successful getaway.

It’s impossible to close the window entirely. A rush job will have to do. So far these guards have not proven the most observant, and it might just be enough.

Decision: wait and hope they don’t notice the window is ajar, or risk them hearing the rustle of the greenery below? The chill breeze makes the decision – even the stupidest guard will have more trouble ignoring a draught.

At arms length hanging from the ledge the ground still seems a long way away, but it is too late to second guess. Footsteps which have been getting steadily closer for five minutes are now too close to ignore.

A deep breath, a reluctant unclasping of fingertips, and the deed is done. A bush doesn’t provide much cushioning, but it’s better than the cold hard ground. Bruises will have to be ignored for now, a stealthy creep through the shadows stands between me and freedom. The gardener has earned his thanks with an avenue of trees that provide excellent cover, and the outer walls are no barrier to one experienced in burglary.

A moment to brush off the leaves, and a thief becomes an ordinary citizen emerging from an alleyway into the light. Hiding in plain view is another trick the old thieves will teach the young. It’s one of the best ways of following their favourite piece of advice. What was that again? Don’t be afraid to ask – a proud thief is a dead thief in this city.

But always remember. It’s simple. Don’t get caught.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Challenge 12: How predictable can the iconoclast get?

"I think it's a stupid idea," says the boy with the 'Trainee' badge.
"Well, it's got to be someone." This is the woman with sunglasses, who's lounging on the stool.
"Hold on, I'm coming," says a voice from the main building somewhere.

The boy kicks the door to the back room open. "I can't believe you people do this!"
The green-haired man who's shelving in the 400s has emptied his shelf and wheels his trolley back to the issues desk, where he leaves it to join them in the back room. "It took me a while to get used to it too, but management orders, y'know? We really need the stocktake - look what a mess the place is!" He gestures at the ground floor. "It's even worse upstairs. The last two times the university let us close for long enough were both over Christmas, and I was away."
"The students start complaining if you close for no reason," the woman says. "So, who's it going to be? I'll arrange the people for next week."

The green-haired guy pulls up a swivel chair. "I still think Carter Brier. That kid has lost more books this month than everyone else all year."
"What about that woman, know, the old one. She's always doing the shelving wrong, you've had me redoing it."
"No," the man says sharply. "Not one of us."
The woman sighs. "Get on with it, please!"
"Next time, come when the rest of the staff are here. Particularly the Chief Librarian. We need to talk this through."
"Yeah, yeah...and then the place would be full of 'patrons'." She makes little quote marks with her hands when she says 'patrons'. "Well?"
"That book reviewer guy in the student magazine," says Trainee. "He puts his apostrophes in the wrong places."
"Oooh, yeah, him," says green-haired guy. "Can't stand those apostrophes."
"Does he come into the library, though? Do you know what he looks like?"
Trainee folds his arms. "Surely your people can deal with details like that!"
"Ha. We're not that sophisticated. C'mon, don't make this more complicated than it needs to be. Someone who'll be in here Monday, that's easiest. Who's on duty Monday evening?"
"Us, again," says the green-haired guy. "We'll stay down on the ground floor. There will be people shelving on floors two to six on Tuesday morning, and seven to twelve on Tuesday afternoon."
"I'd do all the work I could on the eight floor on Monday, then. You won't get a chance to be in there until you open again. They'll make you open up again as soon as they can, you know. Wouldn't be surprised if you only get two or three days."
"We got a week, last time!" protests the green-haired guy.
"Well, time's've changed. We do what we can."
"We may's well wait till Christmas, at that rate!"
"Can't make everyone put off their holidays. You said yourself, the place is a mess. Besides, can you afford another seven months?"

"It's got to be Brier, then. He's been in Monday nights. And his name came up last round, remember?"
"Shit, remind me never to lose a book," says the kid.
"Lost, damaged, late, ugh! It's disgusting. And he's been here for five years. If he treats his degree as carelessly as his books, we'll have to put up with him for another five."
The woman looks happier. "Right, and would he have any reason for the eighth floor?"
"Hold on..." he goes to the nearest computer and logs on. "I'm looking up his record, his books are more on the sixth."
"Oh, I think that can be managed. Let's have a look?" she studies his photo on the screen. "I'll make sure they check his ID first anyway. Don't want to kill off one of your well behaved patrons."


Word count: 639
The moral of the story is: read the prompt properly before you write anything. I may be coming back to this later :P

Challenge 12

Gather together three or four ordinary people. Let them meet in a businesslike environment—a conference room, a grade-school classroom after school hours, a hotel room that is part of a suite so the bed is out of sight. These three or four people are going to decide to put someone to death. They are not government officials, rogue CIA agents, Mafia lieutenants—they're just plain folks. And the person they choose to execute is also a run-of-the-mill person just like them, except he is slated for death. Stay in this room. Don't follow through on the death sentence. Simply watch the group decide who needs to die and why. Choosing the victim is going to be hard. Keeping the group from simply going after someone who has angered them or cut them off in line or slept with their spouse—that is going to be your problem. This group of executioners should know one another but not terribly well. Don't tell us why or how they've chosen to do this; just accept the situation and try to let them accept it, too. POV—the executioners', as well as the intended victim's in a sense--will matter a great deal. One POV will predominate. You probably want to tell this scene from a dramatic perspective, allowing only spoken words to come out (don't show the executioners' thoughts)

Wordcount: 700 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 2: dirty babies

Wake up nauseous in the night and find blood in your panties, just a little. Go back to sleep, dream about dirty babies. Pull on your favourite skirt and take a panadol, go about the day as though everything is normal. Think everything is normal. Spend a dollar on gum at the petrol station and chew.

Watch the dirty babies at the park and in the prams. Hitch up your favourite skirt and splash in a big puddle when you’re sure no one’s watching. Skip class to tell Emma all about Axel, and Jessica all about Emma, and Karen all about Jessica… and Axel all about you. Spend a dollar on gum at the petrol station and chew.

Find blood in your panties, a little more. Wipe it away and take a panadol. Tell your mum you’re staying at Emma’s, tell Axel you dreamed about him. Dream about dirty babies.

Wake up nauseous and take two panadol. Try to go about the day as normal. Hope everything is normal. Pull on your favourite shirt and leave the top button undone, just so. Skip class to babysit Karen’s dirty baby. Spend a dollar on gum at the petrol station and chew. Tell Karen all about Axel, find Jessica when class is out. Tell Jessica all about Karen and how big her breasts are now.

Do up your top button and go home to get a panadol. Find blood in your panties, more. Tell your mum you have your period and take the packet of panadol. Watch her carefully, with her cigarette and her magazine and her beady eyes. Don’t look her in those eyes. Take a few tampon packets too, so she doesn’t know you haven’t used any in two months. Kick the puddle when you’re sure Mrs Yeates is watching. Look away from the dirty babies at the park and in the prams.

Spend a dollar on gum at the petrol station and chew faster. Find Axel. Don’t look him in the eye. Tell him you dreamed about him. Dream about dirty babies and blood. Squeeze into your favourite jeans and go to class where there are no dirty babies, try to go about the day as normal. Don’t look the teachers in the eye when their voices trill with sarcasm and they snark how lovely it is to have you back.

Find blood in your panties, lots. Skip class to sit in the lavatory and rock yourself, and eat panadol, and flush the lavatory so you don’t have to see what’s in it, and flush it again, and catch your breath like a knife in your throat, and use the strongest language you know when Emma pounds on the door. Let her in. Shake, but don’t sob, and don’t look her in the eye. Let her sit with you, and rock you, and then let her find Jessica and let Jessica find Karen. Let Karen take you to her doctor.

Half listen to the doctor as the words roll out. Be dejected as he pokes you in your belly, resent him as he asks you gently to unzip your jeans. Want Axel. Feel sick as he inspects parts of you that you never wanted to show him. Do up your top button and go home.

Watch Karen’s dirty baby gurgle and her breasts grow. Jump in the puddle when you’re sure Mrs. Yeates is watching. Buy tampons. Spend a dollar on gum at the petrol station and chew. Find Axel. Don’t look him in the eye.

Wordcount: 587! OMG

Monday, February 1, 2010

Challenge 11: Fin's world

The evacuation started around midafternoon. Cowie took me with her to their little hideout - an open alleyway between tall brick houses, which was blocked up by detritus on either end. Bits of wood, a rotting garbage heap, a dead dog and piles of sacking. She was most worried about her man, who still wasn't back. "We're good here," she told me. "They're all caught up in their own business."
"What about Fin though?"
She acknowledged that this was a problem.
They'd had an argument the night before. She thought he wasn't there enough for the boys. He thought the boys wouldn't have anything to eat if it weren't for him. The boys - Et and Ley - and I sat aside in the bedroom while they argued. "They want Ley to get married," Et told me, "but he doesn't even get to go out and work, so I dunno what he'd do with a woman."
Ley said, "It's only Cowie. Since when does Fin care? He'd take me to work if he could."

"We'll never agree," sighed Cowie as we lazed in the corner furthest from the dog. "Fin's such a linear, practical view of the world. Work, marry, children. I want them to grow up in an exciting world!"
"It seems pretty exciting to me," I said wryly.
"But Fin doesn't see it that way! This is my point. His world is just there to be dealt with. He sees a difficulty, he deals with it. Ack, this is not like him." She climbed onto the sacks - not clambering, although she should’ve been. She just climbed right up no problems, peered over. "He sees a difficulty, he should turn up. We're gonna miss the evac, is what. Oi, boys."

Ley put aside the wind-up clock he'd been playing with. "We going?"
"No sign o’ Fin yet."
"We've only been here seven minutes, sheh!"
Minutes don’t mean much here, and I’d never heard any of them asking the time before. Cowie sat next to me again, wrinkling her nose as she moved aside a bit of soggy newspaper. "I want them to experience everything. To enjoy it. To absorb it. To see it through different eyes every day!"

I wasn't sure what to think of this, because Cowie didn’t have a job, and given that attitude in this place, if it weren't for Fin she probably wouldn't have anything to eat either.
Ley and Et started to hit one another. Nothing major – Cowie just ignored it. “Their names are short for Finley and Finnet. I was hoping they’d look just like him.”
“Well, that’s not so exciting, you’ve already got Fin,” I pointed out. “Didn’t you want your boys to be something different?”
Cowie didn’t answer this. “How long’s it been?”
“Eight minutes. We really have to wait in here?”
“No, I want you boys to go down to the ‘port. Me’n Fin will come when he gets back.”
Ley puts his clock in his pocket. “Ya sure?”
I know just as well as Cowie does that they won’t go down to the ‘port. They’ll go uptown where Fin works – it’s a couple of kilometres from here – and try to find him.
“ boys stay here and I’m’na look for Fin. You can come if you like,” she added to me. “But, Cowie,” protests Et. “What if neither of you’n Fin come back?”
“ got that clock. Give hour. Give it an hour, ‘n if neither of us back you should go for the evac.”

I didn't know how far away the 'port was, but Cowie didn't know what an hour was. In our mutual ignorance, we left the boys behind and climbed – well, she climbed and I clambered – out of the alley. The city was dead quiet, apart from occasional yells where someone was still home. We had to duck out of the way a couple times to make sure we weren’t spotted. “I wonder if Fin’s gone to the port without us.”
“Leave the boys behind?”
“He’d take them to work if he could!”
I shut up then, because it was cold and she was upset. We went along like that for a while. And that’s how I ended up being with Cowie when she got to where Fin worked and found all of his stuff, scattered around. All the furniture upside-down. “They must’ve come through here already...”

“Hey Cowie, we’d better head back to the boys,” I say, grabbing her arm. I don’t know what it means, and here I was thinking the walls were holding during the evac, but Cowie’s shaking and sits down on the underside of the upside-down table, staring around like she can’t see anything. I’ve never been here, but I recognise Fin’s favourite pin-cushion with the stuffing coming out. “He’s got it Fin!”
Word count: 805