Monday, September 26, 2011

Challenge 37: The Reunion

The school compound was unusually quiet. It was unusual to me because the school which I remembered was always filled with the chatter of students, some sudden outburst of a teacher’s reproach or the shrill ringing of the school bell.

“Visiting it again made me realised how I much I missed my teachers.” I had found Sarah mawkish and unnecessarily sentimental when she said this. But as I was pacing along the corridor of the classrooms, I caught myself feeling exactly the same way.

I realised that I wasn’t alone when I heard a voice. “Come on, you can do it!” and followed by the laughter of children.

Out in the fields, there was a family with picnic basket, and picnic mat spread out over the grass.

Her hair sparkled with gold when the evening sun touched it for a moment. The curls, the colour, that hair, I recognised it immediately. Mrs. Sweetman taught us literature when I was sitting for my O’levels. She was the only Caucasian teacher in our school.

Her eyes were the most noticeable. They were blue, the same blue which Sarah and I had described as Smurfy blue. It was the same pair of eyes that had watched us intensely as we tried to write an essay on “The driving force behind Macbeth’s ambition.” It was the same pair of eyes that had seen us through the exams, and the same pair of eyes that was glossy with a little wetness when I got distinction for literature.

No doubt, it was the same eyes. But shouldn’t it be framed with a little wrinkles or some crow’s feet at least?

She didn’t seemed to have aged, which made me realised that it wasn’t Mrs. Sweetman. It wasn’t her. At least not exactly. It has been 14 years, surely no cosmetics could cover that trace so well?

Then I remembered the news about her returning to UK for her retirement. She can’t be Mrs. Sweetman. But those eyes, they resembled so much like hers.

When I was trying to figure that out, she had spotted me. She nodded and smiled, a friendly acknowledgment between two strangers. No sign of recognition from her at all.

I decided to unravel the mystery.

“Mrs. Sweetman?” and offered my hand for a handshake.
As her hand slid into mine, I noticed that her nails were painted orange. The Mrs. Sweetman I knew only stick to red or beige.

“I’m her daughter, Winnie.”

There and then, the puzzle was solved.

“I thought I had travelled through time!” I laughed “How is she? I hope she has been keeping well?”

“Oh you didn’t know?” Winnie’s eyebrows crinkled.

She looked down for a moment before she said “My mother died of cancer last year”

474 words.

This might look easy, but it's quite a tough excercise! :P

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Challenge 1: The Choice

She was sitting on the couch, right leg slung over the left, arms crossed and her lips pouted in an exaggerated way. Her eyes stared fixedly, not taking them away.

The situation became very uncomfortable and it was particularly so with the silence. They had been silent for nearly 30 minutes. The last word said was “Suits you!” and Jason walked away to the kitchen. As Sharon watched him turned his back, she could do nothing else but pointed an accusing finger at me and said “It is all your fault!”

Jason might not give in this time. Nancy could be on the losing ground. The couch became her banishment, taking along the ‘accused’, the cause of the fight, as she had said. She didn’t need chains for the confinement, her piercing stare had replaced that and it was sufficient to instill fear.

Before Nancy moved in, days were happier. We shared the bed, the breakfast, the couch and the TV. We shared a life.

We had our daily morning walks where we would listen to his stories together. Jason would read them out while we were out in the park. As he reads them, he would make some changes here and there, and viola! He has a story to submit to the magazine again the next day.

Before Nancy moved in, days were simpler. Jason could concentrate on his writing, and do what he loves most. Writing was our bread and butter. It was also food for Jason’s soul. He could never feel more alive doing something else.
But Nancy couldn’t understand that. Nancy believes in driving expensive cars, living in big houses and good statuses in the society.

When Nancy moved in the first week, she tried to convince Jason to take his bar exams. By the second week, she succeeded. This should have sounded the alarm that trouble was lurking into our peaceful life.

The book Jason was working on was left unfinished. Soon, he got so caught up with the exams, the book was left forgotten.

Two months later, he passed his bar exams, which was a good thing that was packaged with trouble.

Nancy started suggesting Jason to get employment in a law firm. She started by suggestions, which turned into demands when Jason continued to say ‘No’. Writing was what he wanted to do, Nancy just didn’t get it.

She was relentless. One day, as the three of us were watching TV, Nancy pointed to Rowan Atkinson and said “Look at him, aimless and silly. Being sentimental at the wrong things! Come on, it is just a plush toy bear!”

Nancy always sees different things. She sees Mr. Bean, while we see Rowan Atkinson.
Jason knew that her comment was meant for him. He played along by saying “Well, looks like his bear understood him better than anyone else.”

That was how it all started. Nancy identified a new rival, a new threat.

“No, no dog pound!” Jason raised his voice.

“You have a choice, your wife or this bitch.”

Ouch, that hurts. It is a bad word in the human world.

Finally, Jason threw his arms in exasperation and said “Suits you!”. His words left Nancy’s question unanswered, a choice not decided.

The 30 minutes of silence extended till the night. We went to bed, with the anger, disappointment and frustration still hanging in the air.

The next morning, with the leash in his hands and penance in his eyes, Jason said to me, “I’m so sorry Vicky.”

585 words

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Challenge 35: Picton

I told myself that I wasn’t really expecting to find Simon. Even if he’d made it this far, there was no guarantee, ten years on, that we’d find any trace of him. But from the moment I passed the old airlock where he and I had seen my half-sister Sonia out, which he had himself come and gone through on his later travels, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. A horde of sandflies when I reached the West Coast, and I just remembered the time we’d sat next to the letterbox full of cobwebs. Dad would have cleared them off (if he hadn’t walked out the airlock for good the day before). Simon was just happy to see that something was alive other than us humans.

In my backpack, I have the album that his then-fiance, Jack, gave him for his birthday ten years ago. The first photo is of the two of them on top of one of the mountains in the Nelson Lakes. They’re wearing bulky jackets and you can tell it was windy because Simon’s hair is a complete mess. The last one is of them with (according to Jack) Simon’s mother and his little brother. I guess his dad must have been behind the camera. The photo’s been taken a bit too early. Jack’s got her eyes closed, and Simon’s got his arms draped over his brother’s shoulders, looking down at him with an expression that’s familiar to me. Jack says it’s the last time they saw each other, because the bomb came less than a year later. I don’t know why Simon left the photos behind if he knew he was leaving for good.

Apart from my supplies, I also had copies of the new maps of the South Island. Simon started venturing out to make them quite soon after Dad left – but when he’d done as much as he could, he moved on to the North Island – at least, that was the plan. When the bubble around Christchurch got taken down, they started copying out his maps for the settlement expeditions.

Anyway, I had told myself I wouldn’t find him, so I tried not to be disappointed when, following State Highway 1 and the diversions he’d suggested, I reached Picton without luck. What had I expected, that he’d have built himself a little hermit’s hut somewhere?

The settlers hadn’t come this far north. I’d been on my own since Kaikoura, and I’d been avoiding the towns as much as possible – I didn’t know how fast bodies decomposed and I didn’t want to find out. Simon hadn’t volunteered any information about it. As I wandered along the railway tracks, I got the idea of spending the night in one of the old trains, if I could get in.

As it turned out, it wasn’t hard – like most of the expeditioners I’d brought along enough equipment to break into a building if I had to.I chose a passenger train that was rusting away at the station and went at it until I could pry a door open and get in. There were just three compartments...and something seemed to be wrong – it was far too clean to have been abandoned for ten years.

I found Simon’s stores in the last compartment. There wasn’t much – a few bottles of water, a couple of batteries. Some shrivelled kumara, but I couldn’t tell how old they were.


Word count: 567. This is another one I wrote a while back (over a year ago, actually) so it doesn't quite fit the challenge :P

Monday, June 20, 2011

Challenge 35: A Place to Call Our Own

I can smell his musk on the breeze, a warm enveloping sense of calm. He is close. Through the muddy undergrowth, I run, savouring the kiss of afternoon sunshine as it pours down into the clearing I have chanced upon. Beauty is unspoilt in our wilderness. Here, anything is possible.

On the far side of the field of wildflowers, I pause beside a trickling creek. There are prints in the dirt, the shape of his toes as he leaped. The rain has just begun to drizzle down the back of my neck. In the distance, a hawk screeches as it swoops down to snatch up its prey. Where has he gone? The imprint of his passing begins to fill with water. Worms wriggle their way to the surface as the spitting becomes a torrent.

Sheltering in the hollow of our favourite tree, I feel like this circle, made by the umbrella of her drooping branches, is my whole world. I am safe and warm, wrapped up in his fur-lined leather coat and listening to the pounding of water outside. It was he who taught me where to go in a storm, how to build a fire of the dry twigs and logs we keep hidden here. I know I will find him, once this wild weather passes on. He can’t have gone far.

I drift into a gentle slumber, unfazed by the howl of the wolves. It is full moon tonight, but they will not bother me. I have my knife and know how to use it. Yet another thing he taught me.

My cheek resting against the rough bark, I dream of other days. Two miles north of here, at the base of the canyon, is a cave where we hid my new spear and a pile of nets I wove last autumn. He promised he would teach me to fish with it in spring, and Verdi’s eye is low on the horizon now, so winter is almost over. If I cannot find him by tomorrow, I will go there and wait. He always keeps his promises.

Dawn brings a frost. Blades of new grass crackle underfoot as I tip-toe out, not wanting to disturb the lively birdsong. Scanning the ground brings me new clues as to his direction. He’s headed west, judging by the lay of sticks beside the thorny brickle bush. It is a heady crawl, over a dead oak bough spanning the crevasse. He found it last year, after the big storm. It will be good as a bridge for many years to come.

He has left a bunch of wild blueberries on the other side, a reward for keeping up with him this far. I am eager to catch him up, though I know it is unlikely. I have never managed it yet, though he insists there’s a first for everything. Another day and my nose aches from the cold. My eyes are watering as I lie on my belly, peering over the cliff at the edge of the wastes. Is this what he wanted me to see? They are closer now than last I remember; dark, snaking pipes seeping black ooze as they suck the life from our wilderness. An owl hoots and I frown. It is not yet dusk, there should be no owls. I glance to my left and grin. There, tied to a low swung branch is a braided leather cord laced through a jade riverstone; a gift from my brother for completing his latest challenge. As I pull it over my head, I look for him, but there is, of course, no sign. I am a big girl now and there are many things I must do alone.

Wordcount: 619

Yay! I think this one is a bit closer to the brief - except for the part about using your own characters. I just made these two up on the spot.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Challenge 35: The Grace of Gods


Between tiny moments of brilliance when I wonder at the art of creation, there is only the black. It has been a long journey for my ship and I. There are no borders out here, no sense that the hours or days are ticking by. There is only purpose.


I see traces of you in the solar winds. Your eyes sparkling like the corona of that distant blue sun. Free, formless, you are dancing out here in the vacuum. Angel, I have lost you. You have gone where I cannot follow, my dearest.


How long has it been since those days? We were so young, so naïve. We saw the fall of everything we held dear, watched our people tear themselves apart. You dreamed of a better life, of a new hope.


Together we lifted those we loved. You and I found the cure for death. Machines and technology, healing, repairing, rebuilding our shells, we were forever young, forever learning. We thought we had left all that sadness behind, but we were still so young. Not ready for the power that came with forever.


I pass now and then, through old battlegrounds. I skirt around drifting debris, rocks that were once planets and suns, shards of great ships and weapons of death. There you are again, in my memory, weeping at the pain, the mad rush to possess, to be right. They were our children, you said. We did this.


You stopped them the only way you knew how. Machines could be turned off, could be modified. You held life and death in your hands and they were forced to listen. When it was done, you fled and I followed. Here, a small blue planet orbiting an insignificant star.


The planet turned, the plates crashed and fought, forming mountains and trenches, but still you worked. I wandered those lands alone, waiting for you to find an answer.


Then one day you were gone, a thousand sparkling lights, expanding to touch every part of what is known. I have not the courage to follow. Not yet. For now I am content in my search.

Wordcount: 361 (Way too short i know, but then I don't think this is really a wilderness piece in the way the challenge describes it, so I will do another one anyway)

Challenge 35

Put two characters you already know from your own fiction in a wilderness of some sort. It doesn't have to be a forest. It could be a desert of a big foreign city where the characters don't speak the language. Do not explain to us why these characters have landed in this wilderness. Stick to one POV. Slowly describe the other character, which does not want to be seen but leaves a handful of traces.

Word limit: 600 (+/- 10%)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Challenge 91: It's all in the literature

I just killed someone.

I know you can’t quite tell, but that's because I washed all the blood off my hands. Like Lady Macbeth.

The knife was just there.

The person I killed was a useless old bum on the street - like me, only a bit filthier and with a knack for begging that I never had.

So the knife was just there and it was dark and you were all gone and I stuck it in his gut and pulled it out again, took his little plastic coke bottle with the top cut off that all his coins were in, and went to hang out under the bridge.

Like a troll.

My sunglasses are broken in the middle. They're not really my sunglasses. They're my girlfriend's. I borrow ‘em sometimes when she’s not looking, but she’s here now and she’s not so impressed.

‘Jeeze, Lee, what’ve you gone and done now.’

‘Killed a bum,’ I mumble. ‘Needed the dosh.’

‘You didn’t,’ she says angrily.

I’ve never killed anyone before. I’m starting to feel a bit guilty. Maybe I didn’t really need the dosh, you know?

‘I killed him stone dead and took his coke bottle.’ I start crying. ‘I’m sorry!’ I’m a bad person.

‘Well where’s the cash then, huh?’

‘Must’ve dropped it…’

Maybe there was no coke bottle. Maybe I’m confused like Raskolnikoff. Raskolnikoff didn’t take anything from the moneylender when he killed her. He had a fever afterwards, and he was confused. Maybe getting rid of the bum just made life easier for someone else, if not for me. It was the right thing to do.

‘Lee! There was no cash.’

‘No…but it was the right thing to do. Have I got a fever?’


She’s got her mobile out and she’s calling someone and I know she’s going to dob me in. I should kill her, but Raskolnikoff wouldn’t have killed Sonia.

They put me in an interrogation room. I look for the bottle but it’s not there. The cops must’ve confiscated it as evidence when they took me in. I don’t remember what happened to it, guess I got distracted by the siren.

Shit, now they’ll make me do a court case. I hate court cases. All that yes your honour and no your honour and an uppity jury who half the time made up their minds the minute they saw the defendant looked a bit scruffy.

A woman in a suit comes in, and my girlfriend is behind her. ‘I want to represent myself,’ I say. ‘I used to be a qualified barrister, you know.’

‘I see…’ she frowns at a clipboard. ‘He was working up until last month,’ my girlfriend adds. Her mascara has gone all smudgy over her face and she looks a bit like Alice Cooper.

‘I seem to have forgotten, but was there any cash in the bottle? Or did I do it for more noble causes?’ Am I Dmitri Karamazov? Or am I Raskolnikoff? Or maybe…

‘I was framed!’

‘And who do you think framed you?’ says the woman in the suit.

‘Smerdyakov, the bastard. Of course he’d have wanted the cash. I wanted it too, but I’d never have killed another homeless bum like me. He knew they’d pin all this on me.’

‘Jesus Christ,’ says my girlfriend. I guess it’s fitting that she starts praying. I know they don’t send people to Sibera these days but I imagine if they find me guilty it’ll still be the inside of a prison cell for months.

‘Where did you find him?’ the woman asks my girlfriend.

‘Find him? I didn’t have to find him. He’s been at home the last three weeks. I noticed he’d been a bit quiet but I’m at work all day, and he’d been really stressed at work before he quit. I know there’s some family history of psychosis on his mother’s side, but he’s never had an episode before, not in the four years we’ve been together.’


Word count: 664

I admit to cheating because I don't think this really fits the challenge. Maybe I'll try again later :)

Monday, April 25, 2011


A warm welcome to our newest member, Melissa!

It's been over a year since the blog started, although things have been rather quiet for a while, so I propose another round of introductions - we had one last year (, but if anyone wasn't around then or wants to write something different, please comment away :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Challenge 91: Losing Denver...

"Hi sweetie, how was your day?"

"Fine," Denver grunted.

Mrs Lebowski pulled a tray of cookies out of the oven and slid them off onto a plate. Denver, who had been half way up the stairs, paused and sniffed.

"Smells good."

"Chocolate chip and raisin," she laughed. "I'll trade you a cookie for a story about your day?"

Denver slouched in the doorway, school bag heavy on one shoulder. "That guy in shop - Mitchell Lewis. He stopped Anthony Biggs from hitting me today."

Mrs Lebowski's eyes flashed. "Why would Anthony want to hit you?"

"I dunno, because he's a retard."

"Well it was nice of that boy to stand up for you."

Denver shrugged. "Not like we're really friends or anything."

"Ah." Her overly bright smile returned. "You should try a little harder to make friends, sweetie."

"I have friends." Denver said between mouthfuls of cookie. Half the tray was gone before Mrs Lebowski confiscated the rest "for your father."

"So why don't I ever get to meet your friends?" she asked with a pout.

Denver shrugged the school bag back on and said, "Most of them are on the other side of the world. Online gaming and all that."

"Do you have an online... girlfriend?" Mrs Lebowski took a moment to decide on that last word.

Denver's eyes narrowed. "You know what? That's none of your business, Clare."

She looked like she'd been slapped in the face. Footsteps pounded up the stairs and a door slammed shut. Clare flinched, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes.

Denver didn't emerge again until much later, after George got home.

"Mmm, roast." George gave Clare a kiss. "You know me too well."

Denver made a face behind shoulder length black hair.

"How was your day honey?" Clare asked as George carved the lamb. "Any new developments?"

"The Jefferson Estate looks like it might be a good catch, if I can get my hands on it." George put a slice of lamb on Denver's plate.

"That's lovely darling." Clare smiled.

They ate in silence for a while. Then Clare said, "Someone tried to hit Denver today."

Denver groaned. "Why did you have to bring that up? Makes me sound like a wuss. It's not like he succeeded."

"I wish you wouldn't keep getting into fights, Denny," George said quietly. "That's not how you were brought up..."

Denver scoffed a whole baby potato to keep from responding.

"Maybe you should go easy on the potatoes, Denny." George poured gravy over his own meat. "You are starting to look a bit pudgy."

Denver gave him a scathing look and shoveled another huge spoonful.

"Denver Lebowski." George growled. "Cut the attitude."

Denver stabbed a steak knife into the untouched meat and stood up. "Seriously dad, you call that attitude? I didn't say fuck you for calling me fat. I didn't scream at Clare for thinking I'm gay... even though it's written all over her face every damn fucking day."

"Shut your mouth before I shut it for you." George put his cutlery down slowly.

"George," Clare put a hand over her husband's. "I think Denver has had a hard day. Why don't we deal with this tomorrow after you both have had time to cool down."

George let out a breath and rested his head on his palm. Denver was already gone; motorbike screeching down the drive.

"I don't know what to do about that kid," he said.

"Being a teenager is rough," Clare said. "Losing a mother triply so."

"Denver used to be such a sweetheart though." George asked. "Other kids have lost their mothers and they don't go and... change that much. We should never have allowed that bike..."

"Wasn't our money," Clare replied. "Denver has been working in shop for three years to be able to afford that bike."

"I prefer the online games," George admitted. "At least then I know she's not out getting herself pregnant."

Challenge 91

Leaving Out
Write a scene leaving out some significant detail about the character at the center of the scene. The character could have cancer or just have won the lottery. Don't make us guess - play more with the idea that whatever you are leaving out will naturally flow in around the edges of this description of character in action. Pay attention to the other important details about character than the largest and flashiest ones. Demand of them (and yourself) a range of other traits and confusions.

Word count: 700 (+/- 10%)

Challenge 179: The middle of Nowhen.

I live in Nowhen, an attic above a clock tower. I stare out my window sometimes, watching the people of my city, frozen in the middle of their conversations - or supping cups of tea. Moments, like pictures, hover every 'where' I look, but the when is all up to me. It takes some practice.


There is Mrs. Harper and her old black poodle Tabitha, wandering down main street.


Oh, there she is at her house - Christmas Day - her daughter holds wee Tabitha as a puppy.


And there is Mrs Harper at her daughter's funeral. Tabitha is only a few years old, head on her paws in the drenching rain.

Nowhen is a lonely place. Sometimes I wish I could return...

See, there I am. Over there in the school yard, waiting to go into bat. Or there, sitting at the edge of the school dance, hoping someone will notice me. And there I am, staring up at the clock tower, wondering why the hands have never moved. If only I could tell myself to turn around. Go home, Lily. There is so much of life to live.

I could have been like Kiera, down at the lake, head on Michael's shoulder watching the sun set. Or Susan, trading a frozen moment of pure agony in the hospital over by the theatre for a family full of smiling faces.

There are more than a hundred thousand paving stones in the street below my window. Go back far enough, it is mud. Go forward and it is overgrown with weeds. People leave and never come back. The clock tower stands all alone, hiding its secret. Hiding me.

Mama never knew where I went.


There is Tabitha, sniffing. She barked up at the clock, once. Mrs Harper had stopped to buy tomatoes at the grocer in central park. That was when she lost her dog, and I stopped being quite so alone.

Tabitha and I will never get any older. She is a terrible conversationalist, but then I am not that attentive. Mostly we sit, and I wonder. Maybe I can leave. After all, this is Nowhen, not Nowhere. If I can be here, I can be not here, but how?

Perhaps it is as simple as walking out the door. But that would mean accepting that my 'when' will some day end. I don't know if I am ready... maybe I will watch just a little longer.

Challenge 179: Seal heads

'Too many damn refugees, that's the problem.'
'I haven't seen any,' I said.
'Yeah, but they all get off the boats and stay by the port, of course. Since when do you go down to the port, eh?'
'Is it very different then, with them around?'
Regent adjusted his wreath and shook his head. 'It's crazy. You know they wear seals on their heads?'
'Seals, of course. It's a small breed, they're not so heavy. Looks ridiculous. The kids have baby seals and the adults have grown ones – though when they die I guess you have to start from the beginning again, of course.'
'Is that why they stay by the ports? To feed the seals?' We reached the end of the street and turned around again.

‘We're in modern times, aren't we? Not like it's that hard to get fish.'
'How do they keep them wet? Tubs in the streets, and in their houses?'
'Yep. They don’t have problems here, of course.'
'Least you can tell who they are, of course. Can't hide with a seal on your head.'

'Actually, there's so many of them these days you'd be better off with a seal on your head than a walrus on your ankle.'
'Phew.' I adjusted my own wreath. ‘Can’t believe I haven’t seen any.’

‘They’ll be taking over the city soon. Already wanting their own schools, can you believe. Privately funded – not sure how refugees can even afford that.’

‘Crazy, I thought our schools couldn’t cope with the numbers as it was.’

‘Mmm, they’re putting pressure on everything…schools, housing, water…’

The other end of the street, and I paused briefly to adjust my trouser leg before turning. ‘Water?’

Regent looked a bit edgy. ‘I heard something interesting the other day. They’re saying…they’re not just here because of the war. Maybe that’s why they started coming, of course - I don’t know…but what I heard was that they’re here because of the seals. Not enough water where they come from, and it’s getting too warm.’

‘Er, eh? So they’re coming to take our water instead?’

‘Apparently it used to be like here – green all year – and now it’s practically a desert. Sad business.’ We’d reached the intersection again, and I took my wreath off, looking for a spot to drop it. ‘Time to go, I think. I’m late as it is - Rex needs a bath and I’ve got a load of housework to do, of course.’ Regent took his own wreath off and was about to trample it into the ground, but suddenly changed his mind and placed it on my head, then took mine gently out of my hands and put it on instead. ‘See you tomorrow.’

I smiled, and bent to give a tug at the chain around my ankle, pulling my walrus out of the shade of a bench and into the evening heat.


Word count: 480

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Challenge 111: Life in the polar regions

The kitchen is where I'll sleep. It’s the kitchen because the main stove is in there, but we can't do much cooking.
Our first night is colder than usual, and we're gathered around the stove. Dirk reckons we have fuel for months; we shouldn't stint.
Food we're not sure of, unless we raid one of the caches left by a previous party. Perhaps when the storm lets up a bit.
Mac is leaning against the metal trying to warm his hands. Ten minutes ago, he climbed out the window and started shovelling furiously. I didn't understand until he emptied the big metal pot into the bigger metal pot on the stove. The temperature's dropped now that the snow is melting. I shiver, but Mac grimaces because his fingers are starting to thaw and it burns like hell.
'If I leave my gloves here, anyone can use them,' I suggest. 'Mac, that was a bit stupid, not wearing any.'
Mac shrugs and his indifference bothers me. 'Guess we'd better put our tents up, mate,' he says to Dirk.
Seana comes in from the 'pantry' - the semi-frozen antechamber connecting the main entrance to the kitchen.
'Dehy soup for dinner.' She chucks packets of split pea and of black bean on the table.
'Tents,' says Dirk. 'How about you stay and cook up something hot and delicious, lovelies?'
'Fat chance,' I say, and follow them out while Seana makes inchorent fake-angry noises.

Ekker and Pete are in the other hut trying to fix the radios. Tools are scattered everywhere and though they're both mild-mannered, now they're red-faced and snapping.
'Give it a rest and come put up tents,' Mac suggests nonchalantly, picking up a couple of tent-bags, but they ignore him. 'Where the fuck’s the red screwdriver?' barks Pete.
I cut in: 'Pole's broken in that purple one, I was going to fix it...'
'How can we borrow your gloves if you're coming out?' Mac replies. 'What if you stick around, fix up the tent; Dirk and I will put them up. We could even have a glove each...' he winks.
'I've been inside all day! I want real work!'
'If we weren't in a rush, hon, but we need to do this before the weather turns worse.' Dirk gives me a friendly shove away from the door and I shove him right back. Mac gives me a kinda shrug as he walks out with an armload of tents.
'Fucking patronising bastards,' I tell Ekker and Pete, who are looking for the screwdriver and don’t care. Going back through the pantry for duct tape I pass Seana, who asks me to keep an eye on the stove please and wanders to the other hut.
She spends a few minutes bitching (they're treating her like some kind of second-class wife ‘always on at me about the cooking'; she has to freeze in a tent while I ‘fucking trophy wife’ get the hut because I made puppy-dog eyes at Mac). Like Mac would fall for puppy-dog eyes.
Ekker eventually says 'Don't see you putting up tents,' and she tells him he won't get any dinner if he's like that, and he says there's room for two to sleep in the kitchen so why doesn’t she, though maybe she won't care to now since it'll make her look soft.
'Fuck you,' she says ('Sure!'), leaving the lid of the shit bucket off in the adjoining toilet when she storms off.

Dinner's as good as dehy can be (but don't try the black bean, it's vile). Mac brings out chocolate he must've carted all the way from home. Dirk opens a can of peaches 'so we don't get scurvy'. I didn't get the pole fixed, so they’re sharing a mountain tent. I don't want to sleep inside, after what Seana said, but with her in the other little tent and Ekker and Pete sharing the big one, there's hardly room elsewhere.

Word count: 655. I cut almost 200 words and didn't want to get any more cheated instead :P

Monday, January 31, 2011

Challenge 179

Imaginary Cities
Describe a city that doesn't exist. Concentrate on the food, or the houses, or the organization of the streets, the hand gestures that are somehow related to the geography of the place.

Word count: 500 (+/- 10%)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenge 111: Earthquake House

This house is unfamiliar... eerie at night. Up here in the attic room, I huddle against the wall, sitting on a bed that feels like it was built in the eighteen hundreds. I listen to the wind blowing outside my window and wonder when the next shock will hit. Will I go running to him? Will the roof fall in on my head? I think of my sisters, asleep on the floor below. Will the floor cave in and crush them? It doesn't seem to matter that this house has survived the last three major quakes with barely even surface damage... I am still scared.

I slip out the window onto the balcony. Not the safest place, but I need air. I am suffocating in there. From here you can see the lights of LA, beautiful and yet also a stark reminder of what I left behind today. My own house is down there somewhere, red-stickered and scheduled for demolition. Power is still out in some suburbs - I can see the black patches.

My fingers pick at the peeling paint on the banister. The Howards obviously have not spent much time thinking about maintenance lately... That's cruel, I know. Their father works all the time and the boys have no reason to be thinking about the state of the paint job on the upper balconies. It's not like they ever come out here anyway.

The is a screech of wheels on the gravel and I notice that Dylan is home. I would recognize that bike anywhere. I duck back into my attic room before he notices me watching.

Back to the squeaky bed then. This isn't so bad. I could paint the walls... No. I am not going to get comfortable here. It's not my house.

There is a deep rumble. I tense, knowing it is coming... where do I go? Under the bed? In the doorway? I shrink back into the corner of my bed and watch the window sway in my vision. I will not cry, but I can't seem to stop shaking. Eventually, the house calms down, only shivering a little. I clamber off the bed and feel something akin to sea-sickness. Dammit, why can't you just stand still, you stupid house?

I make myself climb down the ladder. I am not staying up there tonight, I don't care if I have to sleep in Angelette's corvette. I don't want to be in the house any more.

It's on the second story that I see him.

Motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm, his eyes lock with mine and I flush. I am not really dressed to be seen in public.

"Hey," he says in a soft, deep voice. "You okay?"

I nod furiously. Admitting that I'm scared to Dylan is unthinkable...

The tears on my cheeks give me away.

"You want to go out?"

I nod, betraying my own resolve before it has a chance to cement.

"Come on." He doesn't even smirk or try to make fun of me. "You'll want to grab a jacket."

Challenge 111

Use a house in a story fragment. Think about the power of rooms (kitchens, basements, unfinished attics, walk-in closets) on psychology and conversation. In this fragment, make the house a unique, though passive, participant in the unfolding efvents.

Wordcount: 500 (+/- 10%)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Challenge 30: Whydunnit?

He knocked very gently on the frail cottage door, as Dylas always had when they visited. “If she thinks it’s one of the neighbours, she won’t open it,” he’d explained. She was peering through the window, but he avoided looking.

Lanu didn’t see who it was, but it wasn’t one of the villagers, so she opened the door to see Santor on the doorstep, alone. “Come in,” she said, sickened suddenly.
“I’ve got really bad news,” responded Santor shakily.
She had some idea why Santor was there and her son wasn’t. “I know. Come in.” He followed her in and sat at the table. Lanu lifted a kettle from the fire and began pouring hot water into mugs. Santor sat in nervous silence, but she put the kettle down and dropped into a chair without making the tea. “We were trying to free the quarry workers at Haithek. Dylas fought well but he was attacked by two men and…and there was nothing we could do.”

Lanu sat in silence. Her son, attacked by brutal swords. Ever since she’d let him go – over three years now – she had dreaded it. Now it was almost a relief to let go; she need never worry again. But to be killed by those swords…

“I’m so sorry,” Santor repeated desperately. “I never thought this would happen, or I wouldn’t have asked him to come.”
She shook her head. “It was bound to happen. I should not have let him go.”
“You can hardly blame yourself.” But she didn’t blame herself – she blamed him, of course. The whole village would. The outsider, the recruiter, who’d sweet-talked their boy into a harsh – and apparently short - life in the resistance.
She rose and found a woven box of tea leaves, which she stirred into the mugs. “Please,” she set one in front of him. “Was it…was it quick?”
“Yes,” he said hastily, not knowing if it was true, “but he hardly had time to say anything.”
“You…you buried him?”
“At the quarry,” Santor admitted reluctantly. “We couldn’t afford to take them back, the others said. I wish there’d been some way…I brought his sabre.” He bent and removed the cloth-wrapped blade and dagger from his pack but Lanu, although she reached out to touch, didn’t take them. “You can have them.”
He’d rehearsed something while walking into the village, to tell Lanu that her son had been his best friend, that the friendship had kept him sane and human; but what came out was: “They’re all saying he was a real martyr...”
Because he took on the captain, who’d only been doing his job too.
“Oh,” said Lanu softly and it occurred to Santor that she didn’t want to hear it.

At his village, they’d sat around talking the day after it happened – Santor sunk in misery and not ready to do anything apart from huddle in a corner.
“Crazy, taking on their captain when he was already injured,” said Revan, who’d seen it too, with a mixture of admiration and confusion.
“Would we have been able to get out if he hadn’t?”

Santor thought they would have, but he didn’t say it. The others hadn’t talked to Dylas beforehand; they hadn’t heard the frustration in his voice, or the guilt at the violence the resistance perpetrated.

“No, it was definitely the best thing to do, but he never struck me as the all-or-nothing martyr type,” Revan pointed out. “Too shy...too thoughtful... not crazy enough.”
What if they realised Dylas hadn’t done it for them, but for himself?
Why couldn’t he have waited another hour or two until it was over, and taken the straightforward option of saying, “Santor, I’m going back to the peace mission”? But he’d tried already, and got Santor’s ‘It’s worth sacrificing your conscience’ routine.

“Hate to be the one saying it, but before we turn him into a martyr, isn’t it possible he just got impulsive and did something stupid? Maybe he was caught up in the moment and didn’t realise how dangerous it was.”

“You needn’t feel bad,” Lanu added, breaking into Santor’s reflections. “Dylas knew what he was doing. You aren’t responsible for him.”
Santor regained his composure enough to stand. “I should be going.”
“You’re welcome to stay here for the night.”
“No, I should go,” Santor insisted firmly, desperate to leave, finding his way out the door with a mumbled goodbye and an apology.

Lanu shut it behind him and sat back at the table, staring numbly at the mug still steaming on the table. She rubbed her eyes in bewilderment, about to get up to clear it away; then pushed it aside, unable to believe herself. She didn’t care whether it had been quick or if he’d said anything. It didn’t change much. She should have been upset – she was – but underneath it she could feel a slow, dreadful relief surfacing; her resilient will already recovering and being grateful that at least she would never have to worry again. Because, after three years, at least it was all over. As the warm sun crept down her back, Lanu fumbled for something unbreakable to throw, just to hear it thudding against the wall. She rubbed her eyes again, then, resigned, laid her head down on her arms.


Wordcount: 880