Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 3

This post continues my entries for author Chuck Wendig’s December Flash Fiction Challenge.

My entry for Part 1 is here.

My entry for Part 2 is here.

What follows is my entry for Part 3. Josh Loomis wrote the first part, and Jon Jefferson wrote the second part.

UPDATE: Josée De Angelis picked this one up for Part 4, and Mozette finished it with Part 5! I’ve pasted their continuations of the story below mine.

Within the Church

by Josh Loomis, Jon Jefferson, Courtney Cantrell, Josée De Angelis, and Mozette

Josh wrote (201 words):

“This is never going to work.”

The witch looked over her shoulder as she drew the pentagram on the wall with red chalk. “If you have a better idea, Father, I’m all ears.”

“Believe me, I wish I had a better idea than drawing these things on the walls of my church.”

“Do I need to remind you that you’re the one that called me?”

“And if my Bishop knew, he’d probably excommunicate me faster than you can say ‘Martin Luther.’”

“He might react that way if he knew about all of the guns on the premises, too.”

Father Benjamin looked up from the shotgun he was loading. “This is America, Miss Crenshaw. Everybody has guns. Even the clergy.”

“Those are the shells we discussed?”

“Silver buckshot soaked in holy water? Yes.”

“Good.”

Crenshaw looked up as the pounding began on the doors. “I knew I should have started there…”

“At least they’re only coming from one direction.” Benjamin worked the shotgun’s pump action as he moved towards the door. “Finish what you’ve started. I’ll hold them off.”

“What, and let you fight it alone?” Abigail Crenshaw dropped the chalk, drawing the silver sword from her dark scabbard. “Not a chance.”

Jon wrote (198 words):

“This is as good a time as any,” Father Benjamin said. He grabbed the handle of the door and gave it a turn. He rammed his shoulder into it and slammed the door into the hall against the creatures in the hall.

They shambled as their bones clacked together. Skeletons, creatures of dark magic mobbed the hall. They weren’t just science experiments gone wrong. The bones assembled at the point of convenience.

Some had three and four arms, others had leg bones growing out of their skulls. A hodge podge of dark evil waited for Father Benjamin and Abigail to join them in the hall.

He burst into the hall blasting rounds from the shotgun into several of the skeletons near the doorway. Their bones exploded in a spray of powdery bone shards. Abigail followed his lead. Her silver sword swung in a wide arc severing bones as it swept through the group.

“Back to back,” Benjamin yelled. “Don’t let them through.” Another blast of the shotgun brought them closer to clearing out his side of the hall.

“Having fun yet deary?” she asked. The silver of her sword flashed through the skeletons that charged her en masse.

Courtney wrote (204 words):

Father Benjamin grinned. “Just like my seminary days.”

Two skeletons darted beneath sword and shotgun, circling to attack from the sanctuary end of the hallway. Abigail lunged at them.

“Crenshaw! Wait!” yelled Benjamin.

Too late. A third skeleton slid between the witch and the priest. Then a fourth. Abigail shrieked as the first two surrounded her. Benjamin took aim, but his gun gave no more than a click. Empty.

With a roar, he reversed the gun and slammed the stock into one skeleton’s head. The skull shattered, but the bones dragged at him as he thrust the barrel against the still-standing skeleton. Abigail took the head of one hellspawn pinning her to the wall. But the last one kept coming, and more poured into the hall behind Benjamin.

“I warned you not to get in my way,” said a voice.

All around them, the skeletons froze. Abigail’s cry echoed in the sudden quiet as she thrust her swordpoint through her final attacker’s skull. Together, she and Benjamin turned toward the end of the hall.

Beyond the motionless horde stood a figure in purple robes. A hood hid the face, but the skeletons’ puppetmaster was unmistakable.

“Hello, Gillian,” said Abigail.

“Hey, Abby,” came the answer.

Josée wrote:

“Long time no see” Abigail said, still holding her sword ready for attack.

“Yeah, sorry about that. You know, I’ve been busy, or I would’ve called… How’s Mom?”

“Mom?!” This from Father Benjamin. He turned sharply to Crenshaw, his prayers forgotten, his fingers loose around his cross.

“You didn’t know this, Father? Abby and I go way back. To the womb, actually.”

Gillian took a step forward. “But don’t worry. Just move away, let me get the stone and I’ll go on my merry way.”

“You were never a good loser, Gill. My spells are stronger now.” Abigail advanced, her sword held high, her other arm at her back for balance.

“This changes everything!” Benjamin cried out.

Abigail, not changing her stance, directed her words to Father Benjamin behind her but kept her eyes on Gillian: “What do you mean? Why?” Gillian chuckled. Yes, she chuckled, a frosty, chilling chuckle. Her skeletons waited for her orders.

“There’s a reason why I asked you here, Ms. Crenshaw. It had to be a Crenshaw witch for this to work. Now I know why.” Gillian’s cold, loud laugh shook the hall and the skeleton bones rattled.

Mozette wrote:

Benjamin glanced at the remaining skeletons. They waited for their next command from Gillian, but he wondered if Abigail could also command them.

“Oh put down that piece of metal, sister. We can work this together.” Gillian’s eyes sparkled, “After all we are twins.”

“Yeah…you’re right.”

Did he hear Abigail correctly? She lowered her weapon to her side slowly, placed it into its scabbard, smiled at the priest and muttered an incantation under her breath. A moment later, all the skeletons exploded into dust as though he had shot them all.

Gillian’s eyes widened, “No!”

“Like I said, my spells are a lot stronger than they used to be.” She smiled, “And, unlike you, I can walk either path of wicca – dark or light – so if you want to play…let’s play. But you leave the stone here.”

Fear skittered across her sister’s face, “And if I want it?”

Father Benjamin and Abigail exchanged a knowing look as she spoke, “Well, you’ll have to kill me. And you know what will happen if you do…”

Her sister’s face paled, “Oh, shit, the stone isn’t a thing, it’s a person.”

“Not exactly.” Father Benjamin shook his head, “It’s twins…sisters of opposing powers.”

“So, do you really want to collect the stone, when, by supernatural laws, we’re not even supposed to be breathing the same air unless we’re in a church?” Abigail challenged.

Gillian groaned, “Fine…I’ll leave.” She raised the hood of her cloak again and faded from sight.

Benjamin turned to Abigail, whispering, “Did we lie to her?”

“No.”

THE END

Or not! Here’s Josh Loomis with an alternate ending (to follow Josée’s part):

“Chalk.”

Abigail blinked, sword still at the ready, processing what she’d heard. “What?”

“Chalk!” Benjamin repeated. “Toss it back to me.”

Abigail’s free hand fished around to find it. Skeletons shambled towards the pair as she threw the chalk back towards the priest, without looking. Benjamin had to step towards it to catch it. The skeletons reached out, and Abigail’s sword flashed. Gillian laughed as her sister moved to defend the priest.

“This would be a great deal easier if you just gave me the stone, sister. Are you really going to defend this… this man?”

Abigail shook her head. “And you gave me shit for staying in school.”

“Abby!”

It was the first time he had used her given name. She turned, and saw him holding up a black slate. On it in chalk was a complex circle, ringed in runes, that Abby recognized instantly. Without hesitation, she sliced the palm of her left hand on her blade, and slapped the slate Benjamin held. Instantly, there was a loud pop, and the skeletons collapsed.

Abigail turned, and Gillian was gone.

“Here.” He began wrapping a cloth around her hand.

“How…?”

“Later. Right now, we have a church to clean up.”

THE END

Flash Fiction Challenge: Continuing Someone Else’s Story, Part 2

This is for Part 2 of Chuck Wendig’s December flash fiction challenge. (My entry for Part 1 is here.)

I’m late posting this, but hopefully it will still count.

COLD

by Shane Vaughan, Courtney Cantrell, Adrienne, Wanderer, and Jonathan Bray

Shane wrote:

He is cold. It’s always cold around this time of year. The sun decides it’s had enough and pops off for a quick solstice nap. Not that he minds. He’s used to the cold by now.

He props his collar up, puffs his scarf to cover all exposed skin; all that dead, gray skin. He tucks his gloves down over the wrists and sucks on the butt of his last cigarette. Damn things never last. His wife used to say it’d give him cancer, not that it matters now. He lowers his woolen packer hat over his brow and stares at his reflection in a shopfront window. He used to recognize himself, now what is he?

It had all happened so fast; the heart attack; cracking his head on the tile floor; the ethereal sensation that he was losing life, as though it were seeping out of a hole somewhere. And then the doctors. The nurses. The scalpel. He saw it all, from outside his body. He watched as they operated, trying so heroically to save his life, but in the end the line went dead.

So what the hell is he doing back on Winthrop street in high Winter, and how did he return?

Courtney wrote (206 words):

He shuffles down the sidewalk, leaves skittering at his feet. They’re as dead as he, but at least their hop-skipping gives a pretense of life. The cold slows him, as though he’s walking through vats of the red gelatin his daughter snacks on. Childish giggles echo in his memory.

He wonders what his funeral was like. What they wore. How they sat. If her tears were as loud as her laughter.

Did his grave the next morning warrant an investigation?

His sluggish foot kicks a loose rock at a passerby. The woman glances at him, frowning. But then her eyes widen. He already knows her thoughts. Too many other well-meaning lips have spoken them. Sir? You look ill. Can we help?

And in undertones: Is he contagious?

That question always makes them back away. Even now, the woman veers aside, covering her mouth and nose with her hand. Just in case. Can’t be too careful.

If only he could tell them this is no illness they can catch by breathing his air. He shies away from them, too. Even in the cold, they smell too good. He places his hand over the scarf covering his own mouth. Even through the wool, he can feel the fangs.

Adrienne picked up my thread and continued:

He had forgotten how hungry he is as he studied his reflection in the shop window. Now, as he turns and watches the woman scurrying away, he wonders if anyone would notice her absence. A sharp pain brings him back to reality. He was clenching his jaw tightly, piercing his lower lip with his fangs. It wasn’t the first time he’s done this. Luckily he heals quickly. Shaking his head, he turns away from the woman, now a small dot a few blocks away. Now is not the time to slip up.

He keeps moving, fighting the cold breeze as it assaults his legs and threatens his pace even more. Behind him, a shadow flits under the yellow street lamps, quickly concealing itself in the shadows once more. He smiles. His lengthy pause in front of the shop window had done the trick. His plan is working beautifully.

Every move he had made since he dug himself out his own grave had been witnessed by that shadow, and it was now time to find out who, or what, it was. He turns the corner and immediately enters through the first door he comes to. The house has been vacant for years, and it is the perfect place for a predator to trap his prey.

Wanderer continued with:

The house smells slightly damp and musty. Strangely comforting, he thinks. It reminds him of the cool dark earth and the way it clung to him as he clawed his way out of the ground. A cracked mirror hangs crookedly on the wall and he unwraps his scarf, looking at his face in the spider-webbed surface. His skin looks like the cracking dried mud of a riverbed. He turns away, sliding into an alcove in the entryway. It wouldn’t do to have his pursuer spring the trap too soon.

He swallows against the wave of hunger that comes over him. No. He only wants answers. Why should a thirty five year old man with no history of heart disease drop dead of a heart attack? And why should that same man refuse to stay dead? There was a slight tickle in his gums and he consciously breathes through his nose until the fangs retract. He has a good idea why he isn’t dead or, more accurately, why he is undead, so the question is how?

He hears the front door creak and lowers into a crouch, reminding himself he only wants answers. The aroma of warm blood fills the foyer.

Jonathan Bray concludes with:

The shadow moves forward into the dim light, revealing a woman. Her face known, but not placed. He grabs her and shoves her against the wall.

“Why have you been following me?”

She screams. “Please, take what you want. Just don’t hurt us.”

“Us?” He looks around, photos of of his daughter appear and fade like dying ghosts. This was their house. What happened here? How long has he been like this?

“Where is she?”

A memory half recalled. His wife, a drink, then pain. He reaches for her she laughs. Darkness. His daughters voice in the darkness, a melodic grapnel for his soul.

“I’m sorry.” She whimpers.

Fangs sink into her before he can think to stop. She withers to a corpse in his arms, the blood runs to rot. He chokes, spits the dry gore from his mouth. The corpse is familiar. The ruined dress and wispy hair. He called her wife.

Footsteps run, he follows. She’s older now, but it’s his daughter. He smiles with bloody horrific teeth.

“This isn’t what I wanted.” She stabs the knife into her heart.

“No!”

The house is empty, numb. Now he waits for the cold. He’s used to the cold.

THE END

New Flash Fiction Challenge: 200 Words! Part 1

Below, please find my entry in Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge: writing the first 200 words of a story which other writers will finish.

House of Memory

by Courtney Cantrell, Renee Elizabeths, Simon B., and ?

“I was cleaning bean sprouts when I heard the news.”

As Feral’s voice wavered out into the silence of the crowd, Berien Ghantek squirmed in his seat. The new boots pinched, and the formal shirt’s stiff collar made his neck itch. He tightened his grip on the banner pole. Above his head, the bright red flag twitched. If he kept his hands on the pole and his mind on his duty, he wouldn’t give in to the urge to scratch.

“One remembers every detail of that moment.” Feral cleared her throat, but her ancient voice remained raspy. “The earthy scent of the sprouts. The tiny snapping sounds as they broke beneath my clumsy fingers. The cold splash of water at the pump. I was but a young girl then, but we Ghanteki have not forgotten. As every year, today we remember and raise our house standard to our queen, Alarena Bright-Eye. May her rest be peaceful, her rising soon, and her vengeance entire.”

“SHE SHALL RISE,” replied all of House Ghantek.

Trembling, Berien got to his feet. Although he forced his gaze to stay on Feral, he could feel the more than five hundred Ghanteki eyes shift to his face.

Story continued by Renee Elizabeths:

“H-house Ghantek remembers the F-f-fallen Queen!” he stammered.

Annoyance flashed in Feral’s eyes, but the crowd shouted their response anyway. As she’d said herself, they’d been doing this for decades now, and they only had the one line to remember anyway.

His throat got tight and Berien swallowed a cough as she began her second reading. Feral would have him scrubbed raw and purified every day for a month if she decided he hadn’t taken this seriously.

It was just too hot. Couldn’t Queen Alarena have waited a few weeks until autumn to die?

Of course, then it would probably be raining.

The crowd shouted again and Feral began her third reading, this one about the battle to come. Her words washed over him, filling Berien’s ears without bothering to catch his attention. It was almost over now.

“House Ghantek defen–” The third standard-bearer cut off with a squeak.

Berien followed his gaze to the prayer tower at the back of the crowd. The priest there, a new man fresh from the monastery, stood and threw off his ceremonial robes.

“SHE SHALL RISE!” shrieked his withered corpse.

Thunder boomed, shaking the world, and the altar burst into white-hot flame.

Simon B. continued with:

The crowd gasped and turned as one. Berien watched with them in disbelief as a dozen robed acolytes tore themselves away from the throng and joined the skeletal figure upon the tower. The bearer who’d been interrupted – a blade-sworn whose name he couldn’t remember – had fallen to his knees, repeating his pledge over and over.

Feral was going to go absolutely pastoral. Berien looked over his shoulder to her for guidance, grimacing at the collar digging harshly into his neck.

The old matriarch stared dumbly past him. Her usually stern expression was gone; she stood, transfixed by the flames, as horror and confusion fought for purchase on her face.

A scream snapped Berien’s attention back to the prayer tower. The group of priests were pushing back into the crowd. A flash of steel, another shriek – more urgent, this time.

They’d armed themselves.

Berien laid down the Ghanteki standard as respectfully as he could and felt an illicit flush of relief as he realised he wouldn’t be leading the parade later on. He pulled open his shirt, unfastened his rapier and stepped down from the stage, making his way deftly through the surging, pressing bodies of the crowd.

Decorum be damned.

__________

Who’s next? : )

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Resource: Ent Larva and Dances With Testicles

Or: Writerly shenanigans with words, cuz that’s how I roll.

In case you didn’t know, I grew up in Germany and speak German fluently. I also speak a fair amount of French and a smattering of Italian, and I’ve had four years of Ancient Greek. This is the reason why in many of most of my novels, I make up words such as “Saltmarch” and “banegold” and have characters who speak in dialects. (I’m trying to dial back the dialect stuff, since it turns off some of my readers. See? I love y’all enough to kill my darlings!)

*ahem* Where was I?

Oh. Languages. Yes. Well, today I read something German that included the word “heimsuchen.” I’ve always considered it a peculiar word. It’s used to describe uncomfortable or scary events, mostly related to natural disasters. It’s translated as beleaguer, infest, devastate, afflict, obsess, haunt.

So, a stalker “heimsucht” a victim. Or Moore, OK, was “heimgesucht” by tornadoes on May 11th. Or the spirits “heimsuchen” the graveyard. Et cetera.

But directly translated, “heimsuchen” means “homeseek.”

That just flips my bangerang switch penchants all over the place. Homeseek. It could be a verb: the action of a specially programmed missile. It could be a noun: a tiny creature you carry around with you on your quest, only for emergency use when you’re hopelessly lost in Thornbird Forest. It could even be an adverb, although I don’t recommend those and don’t know how you’d use “homeseekily,” anyway.

Ooh. A title. Pillars of the Twelve: Homeseek (totally arbitrary number). Go do something with that.

The more I thought about this strange word “heimsuchen” and its incorrect translation “homeseek,” the more excited I got about finding other German words or phrases to translate into fantasy/sci-fi inspiration. So I did some pondering and came up with the following. Use at will–it’s all free inspiration! Credit me if you like, or not. But don’t be surprised if I use some of these myself. ; )

German word: PECHVOGEL

Correct translation: jinx, unlucky person

Direct translation: tar bird

A mech bird that dumps tar or something equally unlovely upon citizens for public infractions? A bird made of tar, created by a wizard to plague people?

German word: SÄUFERSONNE

In this case, the correct and direct translations have to be one and the same, because I don’t know of an English phrase for this. The word translates to “drunkard’s sun” and refers to the moon: Either the person is too drunk to tell the difference and thinks the moon is the sun; or s/he spends the day sleeping off a hangover and never sees the actual sun, so the moon must suffice.

But it makes me think of the phrase “drinker’s sun,” which leads to “drink the sun,” which could be really creepy in some evil ritual by the bad guys in a fantasy story.

German phrase: HEILIGER STROHSACK

Correct translation: Holy mackerel!

Direct translation: Holy straw sack (Batman)!

German word: HEUSCHRECKE

Correct translation: grasshopper, locust

Direct translation: hay scare

German phrase: SCHWEIN HABEN

Correct translation: to be lucky

Direct translation: to have pig

I think this would be awesome in a fantasy novel with villager characters. : )

German word: EISBEIN

Correct translation: knuckle of pork (in cooking)

Old usage: ice skate (noun)

Direct translation: ice leg

German word: ENTLARVEN

Correct translation: to unmask

Direct translation: to de-larva

Maybe Tolkien’s ents start out as larva? I dunno. O_o

German word: ELFENBEIN

Correct translation: ivory (the dentine, not the color)

Direct translation: elf leg

What’s the connection between elves and elephants? Write it!

German word: HOTTEHÜ

Correct translation: horse (babytalk)

Direct translation: rightleft (noun)

German word: FRIEDHOF

Correct translation: graveyard

Direct translation: peace yard

German word: EIERTANZ

Correct usage: to beat around the bush

Direct translation: egg dance

BONUS: can also translate to “testicle dance” O_o

German word: JEMANDEN MUNDTOT MACHEN

Correct translation: to muzzle someone, to shut someone up

Direct translation: to make someone mouth-dead

So there you have it, folks! Some of my favorite, inspiring mistranslations. Feel free to share which of these inspires you — and then go write it! Or draw it, or paint it. Whatever you want!

Me, I’m having visions of mouth-dead elves made of ice, tending to peaceyards full of larva that hatch into tiny trees, all whilst dodging the tar birds sent to drink the sun.

Dances With Eggs. Because really, why wouldn't you?

Dances With Eggs. Because really, why wouldn’t you?

Of Figs and the 9th Circle of Hell

Sometimes, I am a nerd.

Okay, yes, most of the time. And nerdery happens on this blog pretty much all of the time. This post about Google Analytics is a good example.

I had an awfully cramazing good time with that post, and a few days ago I was tooling around in Google Analytics again, and I thought to myself, “Self, you really should write another blog post about keywords, because that was just rockin’ awesome fun,” and myself replied, “Heck YEAH.”

So. Here are a few recent keyword phrases that have led people to my blog. Some of them make sense. Some of them, in the timeless tradition of haiku about refigerators* ***, do not. But I am going to answer them anyway. Because that’s just the kind of sweet, kind, helpful person I am. Booyah.

Six Keyword Searches…

…in order of my amusement:

1. three creative sins

Not sure what we’re talkin’ about here, y’all. If it’s three sins in creativity, how’s about this?

  1. Letting other people tell you how to be creative.
  2. Telling yourself “I’m not good enough to (insert creative activity here).”
  3. Neglecting to hone your craft.

If it’s creatively-executed sins you’re looking for, this might not be the blog you’re looking for.

(Email me.) ; )

2. what is the german word for “here”

The German word for “here” is “hier.”

BANGERANG. Next question.

3. what to write on my first blog post?

Most importantly: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? Why are you blogging? Why do you care? This is pretty much The Question you should answer for yourself before you even write that first blog post. If you do that, you’ll forge a connection with your readers before you even have any. Readers, that is. I know this is very meta, but trust me, I’m an expert**.

4. why are short stories short?

Um.

Because they’re not long?
Because they’re not novels?
Because short story cat is short story?

It’s because of reasons.

Oy.

5. why grocery shopping is the 9th circle of hell

Shopping carts in parking spaces. Packed aisles. Twenty-five cash registers and only 3 checkers. Sugar cookies jumping out at you from every endcap. The woman in bunny slippers, curlers, and a see-through blouse. The guy at the meat counter who turns to you with wide, shining eyes and says, “Have you tried this ground chuck? You should try this ground chuck!

I really don’t think I need to elaborate on this.

6. writing a story about court

You’re writing a story about ME? You are fantabulous! I love you! You are my new favorite person for the next ten minutes! Do I get a superpower? Oooooh, can I be telekinetic? And have vorpal unicorn morphing powers? I wouldn’t mind a teleporting ability, too, since I’ve kind of been wanting to go to Australia lately. Thanks!

_______________________

* I misspelled “refrigerator” as I was writing this post. I happened to be writing this post while at Consortium Time. I turned to Aaron and Becca and said, “I need someone to write a sci-fi story about a device that regenerates figs. It would be called a ‘refigerator.'”

They were not amused.
Although Becca said I had her until “figs.”

** Also, I seem to be a pathological liar.

*** Jessie mentioned haiku this week, which is why Japanese poetry is so randomly present in this blog post. Gadzooks, Brain.

Growing Up in Bowel Town: Marauders

From Ghosts of Bloggings Past:

I grew up in the German city of Darmstadt, which literally translates to “Bowel City,” which I choose to render as “Bowel Town” because it sounds funnier. My first home in Darmstadt was an apartment building at Roßdörferstraße 55 (which loosely translates to “Horse-Village Street” — I swear I am not making this up). We lived for eight years in a two-bedroom apartment on what Americans would call the third floor but Germans call the second.

The building’s first floor housed a “Konditorei,” which I guess would be a pastry shop or confectioner’s shop to those of the English-speaking persuasion. The presence of said pastry shop resulted in the most amazing scents that drifted daily up the stairwell and into all the apartments, making everyone in the building crave Butterhörnchen a whole lot more often than fortnightly, lemme tell ya.

The baker’s names was Herr Gibis, and before I started 1st grade, he took to wife a younger woman with two children. Their names were Marcus and Sylvie. Marcus was my age, and Sylvie was a year younger, and they lived with Herr and Frau Gibis in the only apartment on the first floor, behind the pastry shop.

Marcus and Sylvie and I became fast and great friends. I could tell oodles of stories of our many outside adventures, including the ones about how Marcus chased me and his sister with daddy longlegs. But that is another story and shall be told another time.

The story on my mind right now is The One Where We Got Into The Bug Spray. You see, adjacent to the back of our apartment complex and beyond a low chainlink fence brooded this squat, square, white building with a fire escape. (The fire escape figures into yet another tale, as does the chainlink fence, but again, that is neither here nor there right now.)

In this squat, square, white building lived an old woman. I suppose now that she must not have been very old at all — probably between 40 and 50 years of age — but to us children (we were now 10, 10, and 9, respectively), she seemed ancient. I only ever caught a couple of glimpses of her, and my only memory of her is long, dark hair in a bun, and shoulders wrapped in a fringed shawl. But Marcus and Sylvie must have seen her more often than I did, because they said her name was Maria and she didn’t like children.

It quite possible that Marcus and Sylvie were making this up.

Anyway, we were fascinated and terrified. Maria didn’t like children; ergo, we qualified as unlikeable. There was a chainlink fence — obviously, a barrier we were not meant to cross. Mystery, darkness, and danger lurked at this far end of the apartment complex. The lure of the squat, square, white building was irresistible.

I don’t know where Sylvie was on that fateful day, but she wasn’t with us when Marcus and I climbed over the chainlink fence, our hearts thudding wildly in our small chests, our eyes darting over our shoulders again and again in case A Parent should suddenly appear. But, undaunted by fear or threat of parental disapproval, Marcus and I scaled the fence (it was all of four feet high) and found ourselves on terra incognita: Maria’s backyard.

Eerie light filtered down through leaves overhead. An unnatural hush descended, as though even the birds were shocked into silence by our audacity. We were shocked into silence by our audacity. The air felt heavy.

The shed beckoned.

It was squat, square, and wooden, with a tin roof and all sorts of gardening implements leaning against its rickety frame. My memories progress as though I’m flipping through photographs, and the next picture shows Marcus and me, not entering the shed, but inside the shed, and Marcus is holding a sort of pressurized pump can, and we’re deep in the fantasy of marauders surrounding us, barring our escape, shouting for us to give up and come out, there’s nowhere left to run, and Marcus and I are looking at each other with huge, excited eyes, and we know that this moment is The Grandest Adventure EVER.

Meanwhile, the marauders were advancing. They were at the door. They were breaking in. We defended ourselves with the only weapons available: magic sleep-dust spray guns — what else?

Of course, when we got back to our side of the backyard universe (not having had the guts to approach the squat, square, white building proper, defeated marauders notwithstanding), the fantasy quickly broke into smithereens when The Parents smelled not magic sleep-dust on our clothes but insecticide, with which we had sprayed not only the imaginary marauders, but also each other, and generously. Because, as anyone with half a brain can tell you, magic sleep-dust magically turns into a restorative and palliative powder when used on a friend instead of against a slavering, primitive marauder.

I don’t remember what happened to Marcus, but I got a spanking and an afternoon in the bathtub, being scrubbed down with great vigor by my mother, who was not impressed.

That was our first adventure centered around Maria’s squat, square, white house…but it was not to be our last.

In Which I Think My Navel Is Helpful

Hile, inklings!

If you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have, because that’s just the kind of sedulous inklings you are), you know that I generally post something on this blog every Tuesday and Thursday —

— and you’ll have noticed that I missed Thursday last week.

You’ll also have noticed that today is Wednesday. At least, it’s already/still Wednesday where I live.

Wednesday usually means no courtcan.com blogpost, except that today it does mean a courtcan.com blogpost.

“I’m explaining to you because you look nervous.”

(Odds bodkins, but I love that line.)

“That’s not the point!”
“So, what is the point?”
“The point is…the point is…I’ve forgotten the point.” (Love those ones, too.)

The point is, I’m blogging off-schedule, and I’m enjoying it, and I’m doing it today because I wanted to share links with you.

These links are to posts I’ve written for friend and colleague Aaron’s Pogue’s Unstressed Syllables. I want to share these particular ones here, because as I re-read them, I feel encouraged and enlivened.

Ha! That sounds awfully navel-gazer-ish. ; ) But I’m not talking about energizement based on my own writing. I’m talking about remembering how people and ponderings brightened a corner of my writing world. If there’s a chance such blogpost remembrances can brighten someone else’s corner, I don’t want to pass up an opportunity to share those remembrances here.

So. Here they are in random order:

1. What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Twitter, in which I showcase some favorite tweets that rally us all to be more passionate humans and bolder writers.

2. What I Learned About Writing This Week…from My Writers Tribe, in which, for the first time, I chronicle the pitfalls and possibilities of being around people who don’t think my writerly brain qualifies as mental ward material.

3. What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Getting Edited — oh, the horror? Just how bad is it for someone to spirit your baby (READ: novel) away and vivisect it?

4. What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Taking a Shower
Even writers have to get clean sometimes. (Yes, we must needs leave the house occasionally and be presentable so as not to frighten the children.) But what about the purification of the writer’s soul? Our spirits need uncluttering, too. How’s about a fresh start to everything?

5. What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Observation, Redux
Watch them when they don’t know you’re looking. It’s fascinating, and it will open your heart to the poignant beauty in everyone around you.

So click through, read, enjoy, ponder, commiserate, decry, invigorate, challenge, rejoice. Leave comments over there, or come back here and share your questions, comments, concerns, and cookies! I’d love to hear from you. : )

Have a cramazing day!

Play Cowgirl — If That’s for You

Greetings, dear inklings! Today, you get the privilege of hearing a fresh, lively, lovely voice that’s not mine. ; ) Patricia Middleton has been my friend for the better part of two decades — which means I’ve benefited from her wit, her enthusiasm for life, and her creative inspiration for nearly 20 years.

That’s pretty cramazing.

Dear readers, I like you a lot. So it’s my great pleasure and honor to share Patricia’s voice with you. It just wouldn’t be meet for me to hoard her away all to myself, would it? ; )

I hope she inspires you as much as she does me.

Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl from Toy Story

Patricia writes:

There is a feeling that I loathe. It is the feeling that amidst everything — whether I am busy or bored — there is something important I need to do that I am forgetting.

It’s always getting under my skin, constantly nagging at the back of my mind, and I feel that time is slipping away, time that could have been, should have been used to do….what?

Perhaps it’s easiest to explain by identifying when I don’t have that feeling. They are the times when time is flying by, in the best sense possible. When I’m having fun, creating, and forgetting all worries to lose myself in the joy of creativity. I recently realized that this sense of happiness and not just well-being, but best-being, was very akin to a child at play.

Frivolous Cowgirl?

“Play” for some conjures up this dread of inanity, of meaningless frivolity, of time wasted. I contend that for creative people, play is not only constructive, it is hard work…but we’re having so much fun we don’t mind much.

With that in mind, think about the things you did as a child that made you happiest. Let me share a few examples from my own childhood and draw out the patterns as an example.

What did I do creatively when I was a child? (Let me mention that as the oldest of eight kids, I never lacked for playmates.) My earliest creative memory was of playing “C.P.” with my brother. “C.P.” stood for “Cowgirl Patricia” and consisted of me drawing a map of a ranch on paper and pretending that I was the ranch owner, using my toy dogs and horses (who could talk) to make up stories. My brother played along as my ranch hand.

It’s Showtime, Y’all

Later, when more of my siblings were able to join in, I wrote “plays” for us to perform. I usually starred, not always out of vanity — but being the oldest and the author had its privileges. In one I was “Red Squirrel,” an Indian princess who was kidnapped and had to be rescued by whoever was my favorite brother at the time.

I loved “Mathnet” from the old PBS “Square One” show. I adored Detective Kate Monday, so I set up an “office,” gathering props and costumes to mimic the show. Later I discovered animated films. I was enthralled with stories that well-told and well-drawn, and found that with practice I could imitate the artwork. Not only did I constantly sketch Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, I got my youngest siblings to play “Voices”.

This was quite a process. We’d (I’d) decide which movie to re-create, then we’d (I’d) assign parts via a (rigged) lottery. We’d recite as much of the dialogue and songs from the movie as we could before we fell asleep, and often took up where we left off the next night. I constantly corrected lines or inflections to be sure they were letter-perfect. I don’t think we made it all the way through a movie very many times, but everyone loved playing.

It was so much fun making up a world, inviting my siblings to interact as characters, and spinning a story together.
Looking back on this, a few patterns emerge: I loved making/imitating fictional worlds/storylines/characters, I enjoyed being a main character, directing (willing) accomplices, and there was a major effort to accentuate the visual in each case. You can guess where I’m heading…a fabulous career in theatre!

You can imagine my delight when I started college and discovered the fabulous world of theatre! (And consequently discovered my acting “skills” needed work.) I did it all….sound, lights, costuming, makeup, props, directing, and finally…acting. Not only acting on stage in a few plays, but winning a place in my college’s touring improvisational troupe, which wrote its own material and went to dozens of summer camps and youth gatherings to perform.

The Proof in the Pudding Pathos

I loved (nearly) every minute of it. I learned that peers were much less tractable than my siblings and that not all my ideas would be accepted. After graduating with my Liberal Arts degree, I went on to work for a few months at a regional theatre.

Then the dream ended. I sent out resume after resume, but couldn’t find any theatre work. I moved back home and took a job at a bookstore. I reasoned that I loved books, and I desperately wanted to live on my own. Besides, it’d only be temporary, right?

Seven years later, I acknowledged that I was burnt out. I’d quit drawing, the retail hours made working on any show impossible, and I was writing 1 or 2 skits a year. I was constantly discontent, snappish, angry with myself, moody, you name it…I was a mess.

I quit…right before the economy dropped and jobs became scarce, doubly so in my city where the aviation industry laid off thousands. For the first month, I was pretty happy. I had time to draw, write, read, play piano…and of course I sent resumes to every theatre within a three-hour radius. The second month, that radius increased to six hours (after all, I wanted to be able to visit my family every now and then).

The third month found me broke, frantic, and desperate for ANY job, my faith in everything crumbling to bits. I was writing (thanks to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron), but it was full of despair and pathos. I finally found a “temp” job as a proofreader. I was proofreading…tax forms.

It has got to be one of the most boring jobs on earth. I have been doing this for the past three years. While it’s much less stressful and offers better hours than the bookstore, I am still unable to find opportunities to volunteer my time at any theatre. It seems to be quite the close-knit community, and unless you know someone, it’s tough to break in.

I found myself spiraling downwards once more…feeling hopeless, like I’d never get to do what I wanted to, and despising myself for my lack of courage to face financial and personal hardships for my art.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Brighten Things Up a Little

There is a silver lining to my cloud. I haven’t found my happy ending yet, but I have found some happiness. This is due in part to the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which articulated for me for the first time how someone with great intelligence and a great sense of responsibility could still be true to herself, which in turn “brightened the corner” (to borrow Courtney’s catch-phrase) for herself and everyone around her.

Like many intellectuals, I have continually berated myself for not being able to “think” my way out of my funk (rut, routine, personal hell, whatever phrase you find apt). Gretchen acknowledges that we do need to spend time to think about what is going on in our lives….but that shouldn’t be the end of the matter. One needs to actively identify one’s priorities and define obstacles and act to change what you can to gain happiness.

This does not come naturally for me. Seeking opportunity, sure. Making time to be creative…I could do that with practice. Making creativity a priority even though I don’t have the perfect outlet or constant support…that’s a little harder. Setting creative goals? SO not my thing. I don’t even like to make “to do” lists. Yet I’ve found that the joy of conquering a creative goal is proportional to the challenge.

Pick Your Poison Pudding

Remember not every creative activity is for you…you may want to love it, you may even be good at it, but if you have to force yourself to do it and get no joy afterwards, it’s not what you were meant to be doing.

As much as I’d love to direct theatre someday, I hate conflict, and I’m not a natural leader. As much as I admire great costuming, I don’t enjoy sewing beyond the occasional button replacement. If you’re striving to make time for your creativity, make sure you don’t waste it doing things that are creative, but not enjoyable. Remember your time is precious! Get as close to creative nirvana as you can!

Don’t replace your creativity with someone else’s. Books, television shows, and movies are great for inspiration…but wouldn’t it be better if they were yours? Sure, what you create may not be an instant hit, but it’s experience you didn’t have before.

Am I going to produce my latest script? Nope. Let someone read it? Maybe after a rewrite or three. Am I sorry I spent the time doing it? No. You can read all the scriptwriting tips and tricks in the world, but until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, theory will remain just that.

Were you concerned with rules and structure as a kid? Nope. You knew what you loved, instinctively knew what was good. You took the best parts and ignored everything else, followed your gut, did whatever put made you smile.

Have fun! Who cares what anyone else thinks? They’re just weird grown-ups, after all.

So go…play!