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Monday, March 31, 2014

Ultreia INK: Write Night - Part 2!

Back in November, I had the opportunity to read one of my pieces in front of an audience!  It was a great experience!  Well thankfully, I will have a chance to do so again!

If you are in the South Bend area and would like to hear me read two of my short pieces on Tuesday, April 8th, along with other local writers, we would love to have you!  From personal experience, I know that some of the other writers are phenomenal.  The event starts at 7:30, but doors open at 7.  It will be located at a building called LangLab, which is a converted furniture factory.  The address is 1302 High Street, South Bend.  The building is amazing, and I was lucky enough to get a tour the last time I was there.

As I started earlier, I will be reading 2 pieces.  The first is a very short piece, Spin-out, which I wrote back in January after I nearly died.  The other piece is an edited version of Haptic Malware, the piece I wrote in February.  I realized that it would work better when told in 1st person.

I know it is short notice, but I only just found out that I was accepted!  If you can make it, I would be honored.  If not, know that I am still thrilled to be able to share my work with others!

For more info, check out their facebook page here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Letters of Charles Bastian

I have been working on a short story for some time now, on and off for about 7 or 8 years.  It is a piece of historical fiction which takes place in 1832 Carlisle.  I cannot stress enough how much time, research, and spirit this piece has taken.

It all started off with a movie my brother and I watched in college, The Haunting (released in 1999).  It was a terrible movie.  Everything in it was awful, from the acting to the plot to the terribly computer graphics that the director thought we would find scary.  What's worse, it is a remake of a 1963 movie which is massively superior (according to rottentomatoes.com, 86% versus the remake's 17%).  Even the parts that had the potential to be scary ended up as either simple gore or bad cinematography.

Afterwards, we discussed how terrible it was, and how we would have improved it.  I think we learned a lot about suspense and how to really scare the pants off someone just by bouncing ideas back and forth.  And those ideas started to form into a story.  It was crude at first, but we knew it would have something to do with death.  Not simply people dying, but what happens afterwards, to the bodies.  It probably didn't help that we'd seen a documentary not long before about the history of autopsies.

And that was it.  It went nowhere for a while.  Then I had to write a short story for a creative writing class and this one instantly popped into my mind.  I stayed up all night (literally) and wrote the rough draft of the piece in one go because I simply could not get over it.  What I realized was that using an unreliable narrator offered more potential for misleading and scaring the reader.  It could give the reader that "AHA!" moment, kind of like when you're watching a mystery and you solve it just before everyone else does.  Unreliable Narrator is hard to pull off, but I was obsessed.  I was also obsessed with a trend that happened decades earlier, the open-ended short story.  You might recall a story from grade school about a man who fell in love with a princess.  He was caught by the king and put in an arena, forced to make a choice.  Behind one door was a lion that would kill him.  Behind the other, a woman that he would marry then and there and subsequently be exiled with.  The princess knew which door held which thing, and he looked to her to make the decision for him.  And that's it, the end.  You don't know which door she chose for him.  To be honest, that ending kinda sucks.  I wanted to make an open-ended story that wasn't so sudden, like it was only open-ended because the author got tired and gave up 90% of the way through.

I married these three ideas into my story.  The class loved it.  But that was it.  I rewrote it for my own edification, improving upon it by adding more details that could be taken to support either ending the reader chose to believe.  And I rewrote it again.  I submitted it to a contest, but needless to say it did not win.  I didn't touch it again until now.

I decided to rewrite it again.  I grounded it in history.  Humanities Act of 1832?  Easy.  The disappearance of William Hare?  Absolutely!  London Burkers?  Of course!  I even found scanned documents from an asylum in England around that time!  Although the story has changed, I feel it still tells the same scary tale it started out as, but this time there's more than a hint of truth to it.  If you read my story and are curious about anything in it, chances are it was real and you will learn something about history.  I even emulated the writing style and took painstaking steps to ensure that no language in the piece is something they wouldn't have said in the time and place.  I learned more about the time period than I could ever put in the piece.  Sure, I could have added that Dr. Parkinson was once on trial for "scheming" to kill King George using a popgun and a poison dart, but that wouldn't have been anything more than info-dropping or name-dropping.  But I did add that the main character doubted the motives of the good doctor.  When I had my critiquing group read it, they loved it!  But it still wasn't good enough for me.  I fixed the errors I saw, tied up the inconsistencies, and addressed the concerns of the critiquing group.  Which, of course, required more research.

Now it is off to the Historical Novel Society for its 2014 Short Story Award.  In May they will send out a long-list of 10 or so entries.  These will all be published in ebook format!  On July 1st, the winner will be announced and given $2000 in addition to having the work published.  I don't know if I will win, and to be honest, $2000 is not much for the amount of work I put into the story.  But I am proud of it nonetheless, even if it loses!  I would consider the piece to be one of my best.  If it doesn't win, I doubt it will be because the piece is poor, but rather that the judge didn't like the first 5 lines.

No, you will not be seeing it on this blog.  In fact, it is doubtful I will post it even if I lose, like I am doing with the Dark Crystal Author Quest.  For starters, it can be submitted to another contest, while the Dark Crystal story cannot.  It also could be simply published.  However, if I publish it here, first, chances of it getting picked up by someone else diminish.  But do not fret!  If you know me, I may let you read the piece if you are interested.  If not, I will keep submitting it for publication or contest.  And when it does get released, you can rest assured I will be posting about that.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Ghost of the Crystal - Part 4

Kleo sat down beside Morra again and used a small water skin to wet a piece of cloth.  She attended to Morra's arm with a smile.  "I'm Kleo, from the Grottan clan.  And that is Minn, a Dousan from the Crystal Sea."
"I've never met either of your kind before," Morra said as Kleo pulled a small bone needle from a pouch at her side.  She threaded the needle with a bit of string and started patching up the tears in Morra's sleeve.  All the while, Minn was busy in a rucksack, pulling out supplies that he could spare and setting them on a blanket.
"Well, we don't usually leave the caverns," Kleo said.  "A week ago, I'd never met a Dousan before, either.  I found him wandering on his own while I was gathering herbs.  He told me he's the eldest son of his village's matriarch, but got separated from his party when they entered the Maze of Many.  I took him out of the maze by a shortcut and decided to help him until he found his clan."
Prril, as if upset that she had been left out of the introductions, jumped into Morra's lap and pressed her head against the gelfling's chin, lifting her pointed forelegs to do so.  She yawned, revealing a mouth of very sharp teeth and two tongues side-by-side.  "And what is this little one's name?" Morra asked and began to pet her.
"Prril.  She is my bond-kin," Minn said.  He took his hands from his work to gesture over his chest as he spoke.
"And how did you all meet?" Morra asked.
"We only met this morning," Tyrin said as he walked around the clearing with Jag-Ben.  "The Dark Wood has only a few trails through it, and our paths crossed.  It is better to travel together, is it not?"
Morra nodded.  "Yes.  It is.  I used to travel with my younger brother often, but now he is… missing.  My mother's body returned to Thra long ago.  So now I travel with my father.  We were heading to The Gathering with some traders and nobles.  Before we knew it, one of the traders was gone.  No one knew anything had happened until three of them had disappeared.  We split up to look for them, but didn't get very far.  One by one we disappeared.  When I heard my father cry out, I ran to him.  He was hanging upside down by a tree and there was a white figure with him.  I hid.  I could see my father right through him.  It was the Hunter, I'm sure of it.
"I must have made a noise because he turned and looked right at me.  I ran, but he cut me off.  Everywhere I went, he was there.  It was like he was herding me."  She trembled again.
"When was this?" Jag-Ben asked.
"An hour, maybe two.  Maybe I lost him.  I- I just don't know!" Morra said.  Kleo put an arm around her and let them lean together.  "Father is the only family I have left," Morra murmured, looking away.
"Well, for tonight, we are your family," Kleo said.
A loud crack echoed through the woods.  Everyone jumped.  When they saw Tyrin cutting down a long branch of blackwood from a nearby tree, they breathed a collective sigh of relief.  The rest of the tree had recoiled from the cut, bringing the wounded stump close to its trunk quickly and up out of the gelfling's reach.  Tyrin tested the branch's strength by pushing his knee against the makeshift staff and pressing his full weight into it.  He looked satisfied and pulled a small knife out of his rucksack to whittle away at the tip.  Only the sounds of the woods' denizens accompanied him.  He had only just begun when he realized the others were staring at him.  "What?"
Jag-Ben picked up what he thought was a small round rock covered in moss.  Instead, it quivered in his hand and made a squealing noise when he threw it at Tyrin.  The small woodland creature bounced off his chest, gave a grunt of displeasure, and scurried away into the underbrush.  "Don't ya go scaring th' others like that.  If there's someone out there, and I'm not saying there is, we're in danger enough by having a fire.  We don't need ta be attracting any more attention."
"I want to go look for her father," Tyrin announced.  He continued to whittle away until the tip of the staff ended in a long, quill-like point of white.  "If the Hunter followed her out here, then he may still be alive.  Is anyone with me?"
The gravitas of the announcement struck the group.  Several moments passed with only the light growl of the fire before Jag-Ben spoke up.  "I'm in.  Ya'll need the company.  Besides, I've dealt with th' Spriton before."
Minn shook his head and indicated the surrounding camp with his hands.  "I will stay.  Guard."
"No!"  Morra pulled herself to her feet.  "You don't know me, you don't know my father!  I can't let you risk yourselves!"
"Shall I make you a weapon?" Tyrin asked Jag-Ben, despite Morra's insistence.  She pulled on his spear in protest.  The two found themselves struggling over it.  Kleo was trying to calm them down, and even Jag-Ben started getting involved.
"Why are you being so stubborn?" Morra complained.
"Why won't you let us help you?" Tyrin countered.
Minn waved his hands in urgent fashion.  "Quiet!" he commanded, but his soft voice was overwhelmed by the others.  No matter how loud he tried to be, he could not garner their attention.  It was Prril's piercing cry as her tail was pulled that brought the group to silence.  "Sorry, girl," Minn apologized as he straightened out her tail and petted her along the back in recompense.  Prril did not look happy with him.  She padded towards the fire to recover her wounded pride, her head high and her tail swaying indignantly.  But as she lowered herself to the ground, Prril stopped short and swiveled her ears forward in alarm.
"What is wrong, Minn?" Kleo asked.
"Listen."  The group was quiet, expecting him to speak, but instead he motioned to the trees.
"I don't hear anything," Tyrin said, then widened his eyes in fear.  "The woods are silent."  He tried to recall just when the sounds of life had ceased, but couldn't.  Everyone was on high alert.  Morra wrested the spear from Tyrin's grip and brandished it towards the woods.

They all moved back towards the fire to gather their things quietly.  "Hahhhh."  No one could tell where the sound came from, but it sent shivers through them.  "Hahhhh… hahhhh…"  It sounded excited, like someone was on the verge of laughter.  Morra 's wings fanned out and she pushed her back against Tyrin.

[ Link to Part 3 ] -- [ Link to Part 5 ]

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A short parable - work in progress

I decided I wanted to try to write a parable.  The only problem is, knowing how parables in the bible are written, I'm not sure what the moral should be.  So it is currently a work in progress.  It might worm its way into a novel of mine... it might not.  I don't know yet.  Tell me what you think.

Two vassals were summoned to meet their lord for the first time to see which of the two would be given a place in the lord's court.  The first vassal showed up to the lord's house wearing his best fineries, clothes which most men could not afford, to show how successful he had been in working the land that had been given to him.  The second vassal, however, gave away his clothes to the poor and arrived wearing only simple rags that were soiled by the long journey. The lord rebuked him, saying, "Why do you insult me by appearing before my court in such fashion?"  The second vassal said, "I do not mean insult, my lord.  I thought it would be better to give the fruit of my labors away to the people who live under your rule than to spend it on fine clothing."  The lord was pleased and turned away the first vassal, then gave his own coat to the second and invited him into his court.

Well, what do you think?  Of course, it could also be about a feud between the two vassals, or the lord may have ended up being one of the people the second vassal gave his belongings to.  Or perhaps the first vassal pleas his case, saying that he wanted to represent the wealth of the lord's land.  Any thoughts?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Kingdom of Love

It's that time, again.  Another religious post.  Again, if you do not care to read my religious post, feel free to skip on to Part 4 of The Dark Crystal, where we'll meet the antagonist.  I am also working on other short stories, so in a month or so those will return as well!  I am going to be submitting a piece to yet another Ultreia INK Write Night, so if you all think one of my short stories is outstanding (or at least better than the others), please leave a comment below and let me know!  Now onto the religious post!  I promise they will be short.

We had two sermons these past two weeks that got me thinking, and I just wanted to share my insights.  The first is about The Lord's Prayer.

Every good Christian should know at least some version of the Lord's Prayer.  All of them include (and are quite possibly the quintessential examples of) the 4 tenants of prayer: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (ACTS).  If you are not familiar with these terms, I will break them down.  Adoration is praising God ("hallowed be thy name!")  Contrition is expressing sorrow and asking forgiveness of sins ("forgive us our trespasses").  Thanksgiving is... well, giving thanks (OK, I'll admit, this one is hard to find in here, but it is feasible that "as we forgive those who trespass against us" is thanking God for that opportunity).  Supplication is asking God for things ("Give us this day our daily bread").  This is the one I grew up with:

Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy Kingdom come*, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

You may remember this from Matthew 6:9-13 or Luke 11:2-4.  This version includes the added doxology at the end, though my days in Catholic school got me used to eliminating that final statement.  And I never did understand why there is such a fight over the use of "trespasses" or "debtors."  Personally, I think Luke's "sin" is best.

But I digress.  Time to explain that asterisk.  It really does bug me when I see one that has no accompanying explanation.

* Thy Kingdom Come.  This is often called the "Second Petition."  But what does this mean?  Are we asking God's Kingdom to come down to Earth, much like Zion in the Revelation to John?  Is it a plea to allow the peace and understanding of God to come into our daily lives?  Perhaps it is one of these, perhaps it is both.  Or perhaps this is not some passive thing.  In all my years, I've always assumed (and gotten the impression from others) that this is part of supplication, asking God for something.  But what if this is adoration?  What if I am proclaiming it, not as something I wish to ask of God, but as something I wish to announce to God!  "Thy Kingdom Come" is a call to action.  After all, this is the prayer Jesus gave us as an example of how we should pray to God.  We have also been told that faith without action is nothing.  So perhaps the same is true for prayer.  We shouldn't simply pray for God to make changes in our lives and then sit back and wait.  We need to then take the initiative and do it!  Increasingly, God's miracles, God's acts, are not things that happen to us, but things that we make happen, things that happen through us.


This brings me to the second part of this post.  This week we had a guest lecturer, Rev. Scott Gunn of Forward Movement.  This is the group that makes Forward Day By Day, Lenten Madness (my money is on J.S. Bach, but I'm secretly hoping for St. John of the Cross), and countless other books and curricula for the Anglican Communion.  I liked listening to him a lot and I may see if I can write some of the meditations for Forward Day By Day, if they will let a talentless blogger with an audience of 60 in.

In his sermon today, he spoke of God's love bringing happiness.  And that, as per the norm, got me thinking.  First of all, I want to point out that there is a difference between "happiness" and "joy."  Joy is more a state of happiness, an everlasting happiness.  It is the opposite of despair, which is like a state of extreme sadness and despondency.  Happiness, that elusive emotion we all strive for, can come from many things, but most of those things boil down to some form of love.  This could be love of money or nice things (which would result in a shallow, short happiness), love of a friend (which would result in a much greater happiness), or even love of a spouse or child (which can lead to a deep, profound happiness).  But what happens when that love is taken away?  Things break.  People move away and die.  Are you really "loving" that person any longer if they are dead?  To love someone means you put their needs first, but dead people have no needs, beyond perhaps prayer.  I know this can be hard to understand or hear.  And on the other side, it is nearly impossible to feel and see the love of someone who is dead; they do not interact with us excepting in cases of rare miracles. The longer that person is gone, the more out of mind they will become, which is all part of the healing process.  They may always be a part of you and change who you are, but they are still gone.  So, in a sense, the happiness that comes from love is not permanent.

God's love, however, which is called "agape," is permanent.  It is knowing this love that can cause true Joy.  But how do we sense it or know it?  It's not like we can just walk up to God and get a hug, is it?  Well, there is something to be said about sharing a hug with a stranger, or even a friend.  It means even more to listen to someone in distress, to share a meal with a homeless man, to be a friend to those in jail who have no friends, or to give your coat to someone who has none.  To know God's love means to express it, to live it.  It is not the same as the other types of love, which can be appreciated without action on our part.  To appreciate agape (which, I'm sure many a theologian will tell me is actually impossible), we have to share our love with others.  For if God is love, then sharing love with all those around us is sharing God's love and sharing the joy that can come with it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ghost of the Crystal - Part 3

"Over there!  It's a gelfling!" Kleo cried and quickly rose to her feet.  No sooner had she reached the edge of the clearing than a girl with long, braided hair of silver broke out of the darkness and into the warm light.  Her beautiful white and green garments had been soiled by mud and torn by the underbrush.  The intricate braiding in her hair was falling into chaos as a tangle of loose strands fell around her face and shoulders.  Behind her, a pair of gossamer wings clung tightly to her back.  She fell into Kleo's arms, trembling.  "Shhh, it's all right.  You're safe here.  Come, sit by the cookfire with us."
The girl looked up.  Her hazel eyes darted around the clearing nervously.  They could see that her pale face was beset with fear.  The closer she got to the fire, however, the more its light and warmth calmed her.
"What happened?  Are you all right?" Tyrin asked worriedly when the girl was seated near the fire.  He pulled a water skin off his shoulder and knelt down beside her to offer it.  Likewise, Kleo took the blanket off her shoulders and wrapped it around the girl.  Kleo's small, dark wings fluttered for a moment when they were freed.
"Th-they're all gone," the stranger said.  She clutched the water skin with both hands, but did not drink from it.  "It was so fast."
"Who's gone, girl?" Jag-Ben asked while looking around the woods in worry.
Minn put another log on the fire and stoked it into a lively, dancing flame.  In the bright light, they could see red, swollen scratches ran along her left arm where her sleeve was left in tatters.  She also had a small, light blue tattoo of an inverted triangle on her cheek.  Kleo sat behind her and worked at the braid in her hair, unraveling it.
"My convoy.  I can't believe they're gone."  As the girl spoke, Prril jumped off Minn's shoulder and walked up to her to sniff at her hand with blunted snout.  It didn't take long for Prril to steal a scratch or two.
"Convoy?" Tyrin asked.  "Are you lost?"  She shook her head.  "Who are you?  Where are you from?  Are you also heading towards The Gathering?"  Kleo gave him a stern glance, wordlessly telling him to not hound their guest with questions.
Regardless, the girl nodded.  "I'm Morra.  I was supposed to represent the Vapra Clan at the Gathering, but now I don't think I'll make it.  It's after me, I'm sure it is."  The fear in her eyes returned.  "I shouldn't be here.  We're not safe.  It's still out there."  Her gaze darted about as if she could hear things in the woods the others could not.
Jag-Ben picked up a stick and waved it about in front of him.  "Hmm. 'It' was probably some o' the Spriton Clan.  We're in their woods, and they dunna take kindly to visitors," he said, stamping his thick, green boots on the ground defiantly.
"It wasn't a gelfling.  We're all in danger here," Morra said and stood up to leave.  Tyrin took her by the hand.
"What's out there?  If you're too scared to say it, then show me through dreamfast," he said.  She jerked her hand out of his roughly and looked at him with abject horror.
"It was The Hunter."
"Bah!  He's just a myth!" Jag-Ben grunted.  "The Spriton are known for their scare tactics.  I'm sure what you saw was a just ruse meant to frighten.  If they mistook your people for their rivals, the Woodland–"
"No!  I saw him with my own eyes!  No gelfling is that tall, that fast. He had four arms, a bent back, and holes, holes for eyes!" Morra declared.
"It had to be a trick!"  Jag-Ben turned away with a grunt.  Kleo walked up to him and put her dark hand on his shoulder.
"It's all right, Jag-Ben," she said and smiled.  "I know it can be hard to hear what you believe isn't true, but I'm sure she saw something out there.  Whatever it was, maybe we can help."
Morra drew her arms around herself.  "It was no trick!  He saw me.  Those eyes, they didn't look at me, they looked into me, through me.  And the way he wheezed.  It wasn't like he was tired, but excited."
"Here, sit down, warm yourself.  You shouldn't go back out cold and hungry," Tyrin said, leading her to a seat by the fire.  Prril cried piteously at Morra and rubbed against her legs, prompting a brief smile from the girl.  Minn pulled the charred piece of meat from the spit over the fire, then wrapped it in a leaf and handed it to her.
"Thank you," she said and brushed a strand of white hair from her face before eating.
"All we have is given to us by Thra; it would be wrong for us to keep things for ourselves.  I am Tyrin.  I've traveled from the Silver Sea in the North to see the land and its people.  When I heard of the Gathering, I had to come see it for myself.  To think the Arbitrator herself has called for all the clans to congregate.  I've heard nothing on what it is all about."
"The Silver Sea?  You've come a long way, then.  Did you cross the Claw Mountain?"
He shook his head firmly.  "I might love adventure, but I am not that foolhardy.  No, I came through the grasslands and the Swamp of Sog.  You've, uh, met Jag-Ben.  That's where I ran into him.  He's gruff, but has a good heart, and no one is more dependable," Tyrin said.
Morra appeared more relaxed now and nodded to Jag-Ben, who answered with a humph! of mild protest.

"Yeah, well there's still no Hunter," he retorted.  "But, if there's something out there, we'll keep ya safe.  I've gotten that lad out o' more than a few scrapes in the last month, haven't I?" Jag-Ben said and gave Tyrin a knowing smirk.  "I've traveled with him to keep him out of trouble!"

[ Link to Part 2 ] -- [ Link to Part 4 ]

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ghost of the Crystal - Part 2

This is my entry to the Dark Crystal Author Quest.  I decided to split it up into several parts.  To see it all, go to the "Dark Crystal" label on my sidebar.

Ghost of the Crystal part 2

Tyrin clapped his weathered hands together.  The sharp sound was followed by a moment of silence; even the dull thrum of insects paused for breath.  The three faces of his fellow gelflings, all turned towards him in entrancement, made Tyrin crack a smile.  If there was anything members of the Sifa clan loved more than exploration, it was regaling others with tales of adventure.  Tyrin was no exception.
"I could smell the dendrie's rotting breath as its jaws closed a hair from my face.  Luckily for me, Jag-Ben had heard our struggle and grabbed the beast by the tail.  They fought and wrestled, but in the end, the beast succumbed to Jag-Ben's strength."
One of the mesmerized gelflings erupted into a hearty, convivial laughter, holding one thick, hairy hand to his round belly.  He had a hint of deep green about his features that made him appear wilder than the others.  "That's quite the tale, Tyrin!  I hardly recognized meself in the story," Jag-Ben said after his laughter died down.
"Then it's true?" one of the others asked.  Her slight build was framed in a dark tunic and snuggled into a blanket near the fire.  The only thing darker than her skin were her pitch-black eyes, wide with wonder.
"Oh, o' course it's true, Kleo," Jag-Ben told her.  "Only this particular dendrie was about as long as yer forearm, from snout to tip."
"Can't fault me for embellishing a little," Tyrin said as he sat down on a log.  He grabbed the last skewer from over the fire and inspected the indistinct char on it that had once been meat.  "Stories are always more interesting than reality.  I'm sure we will all hear our fill of fantastic tales once we are at The Gathering.  I, for one, would love to hear what tales a warrior like one of the Spriton would share."
"If they dunna kill us before we leave their forest," Jag-Ben warned and trained his eyes on the canopy.
"The Gathering is tomorrow and so near their lands.  There's never been anything like it before.  I doubt even they would attack a traveler right now," Tyrin said.
"I'm not so sure.  They're a violent bunch, them Spritons.  Very territorial."
A shiver ran through Kleo as she, too, began to peer about the clearing with her dark gaze.  Tyrin put the skewer, meat and all, back over the fire.  "How about some music, Minn?"  He nodded at their final companion
The third gelfling nodded and began to play an exotic, wavering melody on the instrument that sat in his lap.  It was made from a string that had been stretched along a bent rod.  A gourd was attached at one end with a hole that had been bored into it.  With one hand he manipulated the string, the other struck it repeatedly with a slender shaft.  As he played, he watched the fire from behind pale fabrics that covered his body and face, leaving room only for his eyes.  A sparkling cloak of fine crystalweave had been wrapped around him to keep him warm against the night air.  Curled up at his feet was a small creature, hardly more than a gelfling's leg in length, with a slender body and a tail nearly twice as long.  Its pointed ears flicked about whenever a certain note was played, but its eyes remained closed.
"Ya know, there are some stories that dunna need embellishing," Jag-Ben said.  He stood up and wandered about the fire.  "There is a tale among us Drenchen of a spirit what likes to eat young gelflings.  None has ever seen this ghost, this Trapper, and lived ta tell of it.  But sometimes at night, we can hear him gnawing at the bones of 'is latest kill."  He waved his hairy hands over the fire and lurched towards Kleo with a guttural growl, who squealed and pressed up against Minn.  Minn's hand slipped and struck an off-note before he ceased the music.  Although he didn't seem to mind the girl against his side, the creature at his feet flattened both ears in mild annoyance and thumped her tail on his leg.
"We have a similar story," Tyrin said.  "Only, we call him 'The Hunter.'"
"The Hunter is in our legends, too," Minn said in a sing-song voice.  As he spoke, his hands formed eldritch symbols in the air.
Tyrin swung a gemshorn off his shoulder.  It was made from the ribbed tip of a mounder horn.  His clothing was nearly as worn as his hands.  Each loose stitch, knick, and faded patch told the story of days traveling beneath the three suns.  Even the rich color of the old horn had been bleached almost completely out of the instrument.  "What do your people tell of this spirit?" he asked, then put the wide, blocked end of the gemshorn to his lips and played a simple, yet haunting melody to set the mood.
"Well, we know the Trapper is tall and heavy," Jag-Ben said as he paced around, "from the size o' the footprints and trails he leaves behind."
"Footprints?" asked Kleo, perking up some.  "Spirits don't leave footprints."
"Well, I've never seen the footprints meself. I believe it ta be just a mother's tale ta frighten 'er children."
"What else do they say?" Minn asked with a flourish of his hand and settled against Kleo.  Jag-Ben was only too happy to continue.
"Legend 'as it that the only sound ya can hear from the ghost is heavy breathing.  But by the time ya hear it, it's too late.  No matter where ya go, ya'll end up in a trap.  I 'ad a cousin who said she heard it once.  She was with some friends collecting reeds.  Before they knew it, half o' them were gone.  And then she heard the breathing right behind her.  She ran and-"

The creature at Minn's feet pulled its ears back and growled.  Minn ran his hand along her back.  "What's wrong, Prril?  Is something out there?"  A moment later, a loud crack sounded in the woods.  Tyrin lowered the gemshorn as the gelflings all looked around the woods.  Another crack, closer than the first, narrowed down their search.  Prril moved in a graceful flash of sandy fur, balancing on her master's shoulder as she bared her teeth and arched her body.  After a third snap, they could all hear footsteps crunching along the ground in haste.

[ Link to Part 1 ]    --   [ Link to Part 3 ]

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ghost of the Crystal - Part 1

This is my entry to the Dark Crystal Author Quest.  I decided to split it up into several parts.  To see it all, go to the "Dark Crystal" label on my sidebar.

Ghost of the Crystal part 1

Branches and twigs whipped against Tyrin as he rushed through the woods, tearing at his weathered clothing.  These strange, dark woods were filled with dangers, but he ignored them.  He ignored the bite of the cold night air, the sting of the thorns that brushed against his shins and arms.  He ignored the nets and ropes that would sometimes spring up at his heels, each one threatening to end his hasty journey.  Tyrin instead kept his mind focused on where he was going.  Every sense was at its peak.  They had to be to notice the traps that lay before him.  Although the screams of his companion had died away, he didn’t hesitate or try to find his bearings; that would only bring disaster.  All he could do was head towards where he remembered her voice calling from.
The darkness of the woods lifted in an instant as he burst into a large clearing.  Before him lay the only sight that would give him pause: Morra.  She hung doubled-over from the limb of a magnificent, gnarled tree.  Had it not been for her silver hair, Tyrin would have mistaken her for one of the tree's many seed pods that were suspended around the clearing.  A rope was tied around her mid-section, binding her arms to her sides.  She dangled above a slender spear made from the blackest of woods.  It was planted in the ground with its fang-sharp tip facing the girl.  Tyrin instantly recognized the makeshift weapon; he had fashioned it himself.  However, this trap was certainly not one set by gelfling hands.
After a moment of inspection, Tyrin heaved a sigh of relief and walked towards the girl and the spear.  When she heard his footfalls, Morra's ear twitched.  She lifted her head, brow wrinkled with lines of worry.
"Tyrin!" she said in a hushed tone.
"Morra!  You're all right!  I was so worried," he said, speaking louder than he meant to. "Is he nearby?"
"I don't think so.  Tyrin, don't come any closer!  It's a trap!"
Tyrin chuckled.  "Well, I can see that.  Now give me a moment and I'll have you out of there," he said.  "First I need to get rid of this thing…"  He stepped up the spear and reached out to grab it with his strong, callused fingers.
"No!  You don't understand!  It's a trap for you!"
Her words were too late.  He had already pulled the spear free.  The ground gave way under his feet.  The look of terror on Morra's face grew further away as he fell into shadow.
Tyrin gripped the spear tightly.  He had only met Morra that night, and already he had seen that expression of dread on her face twice.  Broken bits of wooden lattice tumbled about him.  When he looked down, Tyrin saw nothing but blackness.  Instinct kicked in and he tried to pull the spear down to give him something to hold onto.  Instead, the ends lodged themselves into the soft, moist dirt and held fast.  Tyrin nearly lost his grip when it jolted to a halt.  One hand slipped free, but he managed to find purchase in the dirt wall with his foot and push up to the spear, then wrapped his arms and legs around it.  The dirt settled.  His eyes adjusted.  He was trapped near the bottom of a narrow pit.
"Tyrin?  Are you all right?" Morra called.  The urgency in her voice had changed to concern.
"I think so.  I can't believe I fell for such an obvious trick."
Tears welled in Morra's eyes.  "Tyrin, I'm so sorry.  I didn't want anything bad to happen to anyone. I should have just let him have me."
"Don't say that.  As long as we're still alive, we have to keep trying, to keep fighting.  I think I can see the bottom, now.  It's not far.  I'm going to try to jump for it."  He let himself hang by his arms and swung his legs back and forth.  Tyrin let go, throwing himself at the curved wall of the pit.  His tough hands scrabbled at the dirt and slowed his fall enough so that he landed on the earthen ground without injury.  "I made it!"
As he wiped the dirt from his hands, Tyrin took in his surroundings.  The ground was littered with bits of broken wood that had once made up the trap he had triggered.  The dirt walls were moist and free of roots or handholds.  He leaned his back against the wall and sighed.  "Now what?  I can't reach the spear.  There's no way out.  How did I find myself in this situation?"
Morra clenched her jaw through the tears.  "Tyrin, don't you dare give up like that," she said sternly.  "You just told me that we had to keep fighting, and you were right.  We just need a plan.  Can you climb at all?"
"It's too wet and slippery.  There's some wood down here.  Maybe I can use it."  Tyrin put his mind to escaping and gathered up some lengths of wood.  He tore his sleeves off and ripped them into strips, which he used to bind the wood into a pole.  "I don't know if this is going to work…" he said as the pole grew longer with each addition.  When he leaned it up against the side and tested its strength, it held steady.  Tyrin grinned and started climbing up the pole.
"Morra, it's working!  Morra?  What's that light?"  He fell silent just as he reached the spear.  A deep, menacing breath echoed down the into the pit, making Tyrin's hair stand on end.

"Hhahhh… Thought you could get away?"  The voice was raspy, almost like a breathy growl, and deep.  Before Tyrin could react, a thin, translucent arm reached into the pit.  It grabbed the pole and twisted with immense strength.

[ Link to Part 2 ]

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Nightmare Fuel

I had a nightmare last night.  Well, a series of them.  I do not often have nightmares.  I know this because I remember a large number of dreams I have.  At least for a good number of hours.  Only in looking back on this dream was I able to really determine what was going on.

This nightmare was what I would call a "meta dream."  That means it was aware of the fact that it was a dream, but I wasn't.  At least not at first.  Similar to a lucid dream but the DREAM had the lucid part.  It started out as a normal dream, I believe my daughter was in it.  But at some point she was taken away… and then bad things started to happen.  It was almost like a home invasion, but the invader was not human.  It was too thin. too gaunt, too strong.  Its face was like a mask and the rest of it was black.  And it started to torture me.  I was tied down.  I was thrashing my head from side to side.  When I finally looked next to me, I saw a disturbing figure, almost human but with red stripes against its white face.  The only problem was… I had already woken up.

I was indeed awake when I saw that figure, and I remember calling for help.  I don't know if I actually said anything or if that was in my mind.  It was meant to be a shout, but what I heard, which could have been internal, was a whimper.  I couldn't move my arms, only my head.  And I was worried that it would be going for my daughter.  It took a few seconds before I was finally able to move again, and the figure vanished like the dream it was.  It had been lying next to me one moment, looking disfigured and torn open, and then it was all a memory…  Of course, when I went back to sleep, it continued.  At this point, the first figure, the thin one, was taunting me.  It knew I was dreaming, that I was asleep, and that I could do nothing about it.  I didn't get a very restful sleep last night.

I believe I just had my first instance of sleep paralysis.  I was likely awoken during my REM cycle, which is when you dream.  The brain has a mechanism that paralyzes the body during dreams so you don't actually act things out.  Sometimes, when you are suddenly awoken, this mechanism can be slow to turn off…  but it can also cause very realistic and terrifying hallucinations.  Strangely, I did some research on this a few weeks ago, specifically about the "hag" phenomenon.

When I look back, I can see some things that would have triggered this.  The first is that I went to bed late last night.  I was a bit depressed at failing to be even mentioned in the Dark Crystal contest.  When I get depressed, I tend to lose the desire to sleep or eat.  I also had seen an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Riker and other crew members go through the classic "alien abduction" scenario.  And that night, just as I was heading to bed, I heard a strange and disturbing sound that made me worry that someone was breaking in.  It's a big house, and with three cats such sounds occur from time to time.  I fell asleep while intently listening for footsteps, breathing, floor creaking, what have you.  My mind was going over what would happen, if I would be able to get to Addy in time, or if the intruder would even think to look in her hiding spot.  It was prime nightmare material, I tell you.

I hope I don't have another episode.  When you find yourself unable to move and staring at something that should not exist, when your daughter is threatened and you can do nothing about it… it is enough to make a guy not want to sleep again.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dark Crystal

Well, it's that time.  The results of the Dark Crystal Author Quest are out.  And...

I am not in the top 5.  Not even the top 25.  :(  I have to admit, I thought my story was better than that.  I put plenty into it, and it's hard knowing that all that work can go nowhere.  I don't have the rights to write in that world.  Frankly, the term "fan-fiction" does not sit well with me.  Of course I should congratulate all those writers who did make it into the top 25, but to be honest that is a hard thing to do for me.  Maybe I'm selfish after all.  I know, I should read some of the other entries to see what they did and how so I can improve my own writing, but not right now.  I've also lost my password for the dark crystal forums and it will not let me reset it...

I think the hardest thing for me is knowing that I'm nothing special.  That being said, this week's short story will in fact be my entry.  Someone may as well read it.  Critiquing is appreciated.