Coffee and a Story

31 DaysDay 24: CLOTHES {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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Coffee and a Story

Every morning it’s the same routine: a full pot of coffee at home to fuel my social media addiction (it’s for my art, so it’s okay) and then sift through the piles of laundry for the day’s painting or sculpting clothes, twist my hair into some kind of pile on the top of my head, take up my supplies and head out the door for the brisk (sometimes cold, sometimes just fast-paced) walk to the Symphony T-stop, and wait. The green line isn’t bad if you’re on the B, C or D lines; the E line, however is hit or miss. And there’s nothing worse than coming down the stairs and seeing a train pulling out of the station because that means you’re probably looking at at least a 15-minute wait. It’s good to have a book and earbuds even if they’re only props.

It was during this morning routine that I first met Clarence; okay, so it was more that I was accosted by Clarence, but it got better after that. Book open in my hands, earbuds snugly in my ears with nothing playing, I caught his movement in my direction out of the corner of my eye. And, see, the thing is, once you’re under the streets at the Symphony station, there aren’t many options for avoiding characters like Clarence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those highfalutin types who side-steps the homeless issue in this city, but I’m also not much of a morning person when it comes to a ranting, raving and somewhat inebriated homeless sort.

But there he was – Clarence. And he was on a B-line for me, so I did the only thing I could; I lowered my book and looked up at him. The first thing you notice about Clarence is that amidst the grunge and the second-hand clothes he wears an ascot and not just one of those fake puff tie ones that you slip on over your head, but a genuine silk Victorian-style ascot. A shining silk purple compass ascot. It will cause you to do a double take, which is what happened right before Clarence began his ranting monolog directed at yours truly (but, I’m pretty convinced that I attract crazy).

And no matter how much sour whiskey odor he ferried in my direction on his breath, no matter how many expletives he peppered his speech with, there was no way I was abandoning this moment until I knew the story behind that purple compass ascot. With the composure of the Pope, I sat and withstood Clarence’s barrage. I knew I had more stamina that a man who was three sheets to the wind at 8:15 in the morning. So, I sat and I waited. I waited as another E-line train entered the station and passengers exited and other passengers boarded. I waited while Clarence paused to get his train of thought back on track. I waited while my bloodstream demanded more coffee immediately.

When at last Clarence finished his tirade, I stood, looked him squarely in the eye and said, “I need coffee. You need coffee. Let’s get that coffee, sir.”

At first he bucked, but it was coffee and the likeliness of food and time with me (okay, that last part may be a bit of a stretch, but either way), and so he agreed.

We all have a story, don’t we? Whether we’re okay with it or not. Whether we are creating it or just letting it happen to us. We all have a story. Even people like Clarence. Please note, I don’t say that because I don’t think Clarence’s story is less important than anyone else’s; but because I know his story is invalidated every day. And yet, there he is. Eyes bright and curious beneath the alcohol haze. Mind brilliant unless also under the influence of alcohol. Beauty in every beat of his heart.

And that incredibly beautiful ascot he wears and holds dear.

I don’t know why life chooses to beat some people up and not others, but Clarence happens to be one of those people life is beating up and I have yet to figure out why. His voice is a rich baritone and his wit is sharp and he’s a weathered Broadway star. He’s acted, he’s sung, he’s danced, he’s presented at the Tony’s (thus the gorgeous ascot), he’s recited spoken word poetry. He is a gift to this world. And yet, I pass him daily near the Symphony stop in the E-line.

So far, he has refused my offers of help and cheerleading.

I think, what he needs is, well, to be needed. To help someone else. And what he doesn’t know is that I am a prime candidate for that. I scrape by and I believe in what I’m doing. But, so did Clarence. I need his wisdom and his wit. I need his help.

Anyway, today, in the studio I share with five other artists, Clarence sits and adjusts his ascot, taking it off and deftly retying it so that it is perfect. His smile is beautiful behind the stained teeth and weathered face and I hope that my brush strokes will capture him and his essence. And I hope, I pray, that he will continue this mentoring that he doesn’t even realize he’s providing.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule, especially with these exercises and this challenge. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually. But not lately.}

Writing Prompt: CLOTHES - Use a particular and fairly vivid piece of clothing to tell a story: a sweater worn by two sisters who sleep with the same man while wearing it (at least initially), or a loud sports jacket someone buys at a Goodwill store before realizing the jacket has three bullet holes in its back. What does clothing say about us? How does it select us, as opposed to being selected by us? Who tells us to buy this or that thing (other than salespeople)? What do clothes hide? What do they reveal? {Exercise 21 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

Search and Rescue

31 DaysDay 23: CLOSET {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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Search and Rescue

We broke up at 9:17 p.m. Tuesday night. Who breaks up on a Tuesday? But, I guess when you finally decide you’re going to break up, you do it as soon as the next opportunity presents itself. For us, that was Tuesday night. Study group night for our Senior presentations. Me, Jack (the artist formerly known as my boyfriend; seriously, he’s an artist, mixed media mainly), my best friend, Amber, and Margo, Delia, Ryan and Luke.

The group session ended at 9:10 and me and Jack? We ended at 9:17. I wish I could say that I had some idea, but I didn’t. Honestly? I was sure we’d make it all the way through college, come out on the other side and travel to Europe before getting jobs. If I’d had to predict that we’d break up, I would have said it would happen in Italy over an incredible spread of antipasto, bread and red wine. All I know is I’m still going to Europe after college, and I’m starting in Italy.

Anyway, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m standing outside Jack’s apartment. He’ll be in class right now, the class I’m skipping so that I can be here. In all his hurry in breaking up Tuesday night, he forgot to ask me for the key he gave me, the key I’ve used a thousand times before. I’m not exactly sure why I’m here or what I’m hoping to accomplish with this little adventure except that part of me wants to sneak in here all ninja like and erase all evidence that we ever dated.

I’m just about to fit the key into the lock and for a split second I wonder if he didn’t ask for the key back because he’s changed the lock. I have no idea why I even think that, but I guess you never know, right? I mean, I never expected him to be the kind of guy to break up with me at 9:17 p.m. on a Tuesday night, so maybe he’s the kind of guy who changes his locks after a breakup. The key slides in smoothly, just like the thousand times before and I slip inside closing the door gently just in case maybe he’s decided to skip class, too. After a moment, I call out, Hey, Jack, it’s Laurel, you here? 

Only silence responds and I set to work, starting in the living room, taking pictures from their frames and tucking them in my messenger bag. Methodically, I move around the room collecting photos and retrieving books I gave him for gifts or loaned him from my personal collection, and, if you must know, poking around things I haven’t seen before to see if maybe he broke up because he was cheating on me. I decide to skip the kitchen for last, mostly because almost all of our eating at Jack’s was takeout on the couch in the living room or on his bed in front of the television. Cooking took place at my place and I was usually the chef while he sat in one of the kitchen chairs sipping his wine and regaling me with stories of his childhood. And honestly? It seems like everything interesting that happened to him happened right up until he graduated from high school. His stories never spanned our time here at Boston College.

Well, that just leaves the bedroom and, up until now, this has pretty much just been a recovery mission, you know? A search and rescue of my things and my memories from his space. But now, well, now a wave of nausea hits me like a tsunami and I think my messenger bag probably won’t be big enough to carry all the stuff that reeks of me from Jack’s room. With a deep breath, I start on the left side of the door and move around toward the bureau and the closet and the nightstand that I used and know holds a lot of my trinkets.

I’ve barely gotten the first picture frame undone and am removing the photo when I hear a key in the lock. A glance at the clock confirms that class isn’t over yet and he’s back too soon. With few options, I dash into the closet and fumble for a place to sit, stashing my messenger bag against the back wall and shoving aside some shoes and shoe boxes and squeeze myself into the corner just in case he decides he needs a different shirt or something. And I can’t help myself, I squeeze my eyes shut and pray, begging God to create a hedge of protection around me from spiders or other gross crawling things.

As I lean my head against the wall, I listen and realize that there are two voices; that Jack isn’t alone. For several minutes there is an animated conversation in the living room though I can’t make the words out quite clearly. Curiosity prickles up my spine and neck as I hear noises that sound like objects being touched, picked up and replaced. Animated conversation that lilts up and down, like a girl’s voice, follows the sounds of the objects being shifted around. The empty frames, I think. I didn’t bother to put them back together or right them. So much for my ninja search and rescue mission.

The girl’s voice seems to do a lot of the talking in the living room and I wonder who she is. His sister, Marian? One of our study group? Much to my chagrin, Jack and company enter the bedroom. My eyes have adjusted to the darkness of the closet, though the horizontal slats help with that, allowing in a bit of dull light. Above me I can smell leather and my mind immediately pictures Jack in his bomber jacket heading out to a movie or a club. Here’s hoping he and whoever he’s with aren’t planning to head out like that and that he wants this coat.

“You didn’t get her key back?” the woman’s voice says. It’s familiar, but I can’t quite place it yet.

“Never occurred to me,” Jack says. “Look, it’s not a big deal.”

“It doesn’t bother you that she let herself in and rifled through your stuff?” she says.

I catch my breath. No, it can’t be. It seriously cannot be her.

Jack doesn’t say anything and I’m guessing he just shrugged it off because that’s typical Jack. Water off a duck’s back and all that.

“I’d be at least a little pissed if I were you, that’s all.”

It’s her. It’s definitely her. Amber. My best friend.

“Well, I’m not, okay?” Jack says and Amber doesn’t respond. The light shifts and flutters and I picture Jack moving around to where she is standing, giving him her pouty look with her blue eyes wide and locked on his. There’s nothing but silence and I imagine them standing close, moving closer, an urge to kiss coursing through their hands that are barely touching. I’d put money on the fact that Amber will make the first move mostly because that’s just her style with guys.

There’s a loud bang, as if something on the dresser was knocked over, but not just one of the empty frames I left behind.

“Damn,” Jack mutters.

“Are you okay?” I hear Amber closer now, moving toward the bureau. Perhaps Jack backed away suddenly, bumped into the bureau, hitting his arm and knocking over one of his trophies. Or, maybe it’s the opposite. I picture Jack and Amber in each other’s arms, their first kiss. Is it there first kiss? In their passion, he stumbled into the dresser.

“I’m fine,” Jack says, but his voice says otherwise, cracking slightly and he clears his throat. “So, hey, I’m supposed to be making you dinner,” he says, “and I’m a pretty damn fine chef, too.”

“So you say.” I can hear the teasing in her voice. She’s obviously flirting with him and I can see the dimple in her left cheek as she smiles at him, hoping to reel him in quickly. “I guess you cooked a lot for Laurel,” Amber says.

Bad move, Amber. She’s always been too easily jealous and I was his girlfriend after all.

“Ah, no, actually,” Jack says.

“Oh, really?” Amber attempts to capture that lilting flirty voice of hers, but doesn’t quite get it.

“Laurel loved to cook, and, well, I loved to watch her cook,” he says. “We did takeout here because, well, I didn’t want her to know I could cook.” He clears his throat again.

“Wow.” That’s all Amber manages and I imagine her face as she looks at Jack, trying to read him, trying to guess what she should do next. But Jack doesn’t give her time to figure it out.

“You know, I haven’t been shopping yet. What do you say we grab a pizza on the way to the movies?”

“Sure,” Amber says lightly. “We’ll do the dinner thing another time.” She’s managed to recover a bit because I’m pretty sure I hear a smile in her voice. I’m guessing her blue eyes are blinking a few extra times and that she touched him lightly on the arm. “For now,” she says, “pizza sounds great. Tell me you’re a pepperoni guy.”

“Among other things,” Jack says, and I hear the lightness making its way back into his voice, too.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually.}

Writing Prompt: CLOSET - Write a story in which the narrator is snooping around an ex-boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) apartment because he or she still has a key. The whole story takes place in a closet in the bedroom that the narrator retreats to when the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend comes home with the narrator’s best friend. The narrator must endure, inside the closet the interaction of this couple. Describe only what the narrator can see and smell inside the closet and what she can hear and guess is going on outside the closet. Simply show us the events unfolding outside his view, spending as much detail as you can on what is happening rather than on the emotions of the trapped, guilty, outraged observer. {Exercise 23 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

The Velvet of Dusk

31 DaysDay 22: SYNESTHESIA {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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The Velvet of Dusk

Twilight hovered just above the surface of the grass, it’s tentacles tickling the ground with its imminent arrival and Priya basked in its tingle. How she loved this time of day, dense with the smokey scent of dusk and promise. The bangles on her arms and ankles tinkled with hues of green and blue, bidding the day good-bye as Priya moved gracefully through the shimmery grass. To Priya, everything seemed far more vivid in the thick dusk than at any other time and she twirled about like a girl, her arms outstretched to catch the drops of twilight as they fell to the earth. Just as her laugh sparkled with gaiety and glittery hues, Amethyst stepped from the shadows just beyond the village followed by Lolly.

This was Lolly’s first visit to Priya’s dwelling and she stood with her mouth agape as she studied Priya’s graceful motions that seemed to stir up scents of lavender and lilac. It was almost intoxicating as the purple scents wove around all of them like vines that tethered them to the earth lest they float to the heavens on the clouds of color.

Aware of their presence now, Priya paused in her movements and smiled widely at them.

“At last, I am to meet thee, Lolly,” Priya said, moving to embrace the young woman.

Lolly curtsied and bowed and tangled her feet and moved forward, falling in a heap at Priya’s feet. Priya fell beside her and absorbed her into a hug and her aura and twilight danced around them with swishing skirts of gray wool dusted with gold dust. Priya laughed a harmony of notes that filled the air and pulled Lolly to her feet so that neither was worse for the wear.

“Tis a pleasure to meet you Miss Priya,” Lolly said.

“Please, only Priya, my girl,” Priya said and winked at Amethyst who watched the twilight bring forth the stars and the fireflies, tinkling notes on a piano that built to a chord and then to a crescendo; the night an orchestra of harmonies.

“There is much to learn, my dear Lolly, of the ways of auras and visions and dreams, but I understand that you are well versed in these things.”

Lolly hesitated a moment. “Only very slightly,” she said.

Priya could not help but smile at the young woman for her apprehension was as thick as the aroma of her onion lentil stew. “My dear Lolly, Amethyst is much to great a judge of character and ability to introduce anyone to me who is not up for the learning.”

Lolly looked to Amethyst who was wrapped in the thick velvet of dusk. Amethyst nodded and smiled. “She speaks truth, my dear,” Amethyst said. “You have the gift.”

“And that is for tomorrow, when the sun dances upon the clouds to the lilting notes of the morn,” Priya added. “Tonight is only about this moment, the stars that drip their honeysuckle upon the night and the moon that spreads its beams far and wide for us to bathe in like a warm bubbling spring. The night is ours to embrace.”

“Indeed,” said Amethyst, who lowered herself into the soft grass and closed her eyes and let the night cover her like a soft, familiar blanket.

To the side, Lolly stood, arms out and palms up to soak in the honeysuckle that dripped from the stars, and smiled.

{stop}

This morning, I’m wondering if perhaps this is the land where the blue twinkling light named ANRAÍ comes from in the story, Sophia and HenryWhat do you think?

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually.}

Writing Prompt: SYNESTHESIA - Use synesthesia in a short scene – surreptitiously, without drawing too much attention to it – to convey to your reader an important understanding of some ineffable sensory experience. According to M.H. Abrams in A Glossary of Literary Terms, synesthesia is a description of “one kind of sensation in terms of another; color is attributed to sounds odor to colors, sound to odors, and so on.” Use sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. {Exercise 17 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

By the Willow Grove

31 DaysDay 21: TWO IMAGES SEPARATED AT BIRTH {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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By the Willow Grove

It wasn’t that the journey to the well was all that far, but that the journey wound its way through the Dark Forest after the sun had sunk well below the day’s origins and Arabella’s mother was perhaps entirely too superstitious when it came to the Dark Forest and the tales that the Healer often spun of visions and magical creatures and a point of crossover near the willow tree grove. The Healer spoke of times, when the moon was not quite full and when change rustled on the wind that carried forth each new season, that members of the quiet village nestled in the mountain valley of Faywyvern went missing. The lore involved mundane tasks that lured villagers into the Forest: gathering berries, hunting small game, fetching water from the well. And then, they were gone. Disappeared.

Arabella’s nightly journey for water almost always involved Caelan, the boy Arabella’s mother had chosen as her future husband and helpmeet. Caelan was 16, only one year older than Arabella, and Arabella towered over him by a good two inches and could outrun him without much effort. Still, to appease her mother, Arabella traveled to the well each night with Caelan and the two had grown into friends during their evening journeys for water and Caelan could almost always make Arabella laugh.

“Mama, I’ll be going to Caelan’s and then on to the well,” Arabella called into their small cabin.

“Tread carefully, my girl,” her mother said and looked up into the night sky to judge the phase of the moon and to test the changing winds.

“Yes, Mama,” Arabella said.

Caelan met her on the path between their houses and the Forest with an already glowing torch and took one of the buckets from Arabella’s hands. “Adventure awaits,” he said and winked.

“Mama is sure that tonight is the night of the changing winds and the eclipsing moon and the we surely will disappear like the morning mist.”

Caelan smiled. “Would it be so awful to get lost?” he said and Arabella laughed.

“Ah, only for Mama,” she said. She followed Caelan into the Forest and the darkness, letting him guide their steps with his torch. He shifted the bucket into the torch-bearing hand and reached a hand back for hers. Arabella smiled in the darkness as their feet followed the familiar path. They barely needed the torch; their feet could carry them by rote through the brambles and over the roots and rocks that lined the path to the well. Even so, Arabella was glad for the torch as they journeyed further into the Forest. Tonight the Dark Forest seemed to personify its name and the darkness cloaked around them and she held tightly to Caelan’s hand in front of her.

In the silence, Arabella was lulled by the sound of their tromping feet on the dirt path until she heard a whispering in front of her. “What is it that you speak?” Arabella said. Caelan looked back at her. “Not a word,” he said.

Arabella wondered for a moment, peering into the darkness on either side of them. A few steps further, she heard yet additional whispers and she stopped upon the path. Caelan approached her.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Do you not hear the whispers around us?” she replied. He shook his head. “There, there it is again,” she said, but again Caelan shook his head.

“Perhaps it is but the wind,” he said. This time it was she who shook her head. She peered again into the darkness on either side of the path, this time her eyes catching a warm yellow glow not far from the path. She pointed toward the light. “But you do see the light yonder there,” she said. He nodded.

Without a word, the two veered off in the direction of the light, treading carefully over the uneven Forest floor. As they drew nearer, Arabella noticed a painting in a gilded frame propped against the trunk of a tree. The golden frame reflected a light from further on so that they could not see the subject of the painting without Caelan’s torch. Arabella pressed into Caelan and placed one hand over his on the torch as they passed it over the painting. Although oddly out of place, it seemed but a simple painting and nothing extraordinary. But upon closer inspection, the willowy figure who stood with her back to the painter, a shimmering veil draped over her auburn curls was increasingly familiar. The other figure appeared taller because he was closer to the painter. He stood holding a glowing torch that lit his brown wavy hair with a golden hue. One of the girl’s hand was extended back toward the young man and he was reaching his toward hers. Though they were not yet touching, there was a definite intimacy to the gesture and to the painting itself.

Arabella looked into Caelan’s round brown eyes and said what she guessed they must both be thinking. “Why is there a painting of us propped up against a tree near the Willow grove?”

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually.}

Writing Prompt: TWO IMAGES SEPARATED AT BIRTH - Think up a vivid, haunting image. Work hard to construct this image so it is not only visible to the reader but exciting and thought-provoking. Then think up another unrelated but equally vivid image. The key to this exercise is to work at composing two unrelated images, two scenes or situations you do not think are part of a story. Then write a story fragment out of the two images. Many stories are simply a set of these vivid images, loosely or complexly connected. The best fiction makes us unable to forget the pictures it lays out for us in fascinating, logically illogical arrangements. {Exercise 15 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

The Legacy

31 DaysDay 20: WITNESS PROTECTION {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

{start}

The Legacy

Tessa wound her way along the trail on a majestic black steed barely noticing the changing colors of the leaves or the smell of the coming rain. Her mind was focused not on the route but on the destination, her arrival in the training village and what role she would be assigned. As the daughter of a peasant, chances were good that she would be assigned to work outside in the weather. She’d heard rumor of girls like herself being given work of endlessly hauling water from the well outside the village, of tending to the grounds around the knights’ lands or of being assigned as an apprentice to the village growers. Tessa couldn’t help but sigh at the prospects that lay before her and she grasped the sword that hung gallantly from the saddle of her horse – her brother’s legacy, him having died in the war against the Callifents just a year ago. A gifted warrior who had mentored her brother in the fine art of swordsmanship and battle, Tessa was determined to seek something other than the usual assigned roles she would be expected to fill.

The trees grew denser and the trail narrower and Tessa slowed her horse’s gait. She was in no hurry to reach the training village. Unfortunately, her brother’s servant, Edward traveled with her, several feet behind, or she would spur on her steed for parts unknown. Edward had been charged with seeing that Tessa arrived in the village a fortnight from their embarking upon the journey, and already they were closing in on that arranged arrival. As demurely as she was able, Tessa glanced over her shoulder for Edward’s whereabouts; he had been no more interested in accompanying her on this journey than had she and his pace continued to slow and distance his presence from hers. It was one of the only blessings for which she could find herself grateful.

Just ahead, Tessa thought she sensed movement along the trail and she pulled up on the reins so that her horse, her brother’s horse, slowed to barely a walk. She allowed Edward to close the gap between them as she scanned the forest that surrounded them. In between the clopping of Edward’s horse’s hooves, she sensed another presence and looked back at Edward. Suddenly, an arrow whooshed through the air to her left and pierced Edward through the throat. He immediately slipped from his saddle and fell to the ground with a dull thump. Tessa brought her horse to a stop, her eyes scanning the woods around her, one hand holding fast to the sword, the other gripping the handle of a dagger with which she could hit a target from a good one hundred paces away.

From the darkened forest, a figure in full knightly armor on horseback appeared in front of her and she lowered her eyes.

“My good Sir,” Tessa said, still not looking at the figure in front of her.

“Your name and your destination,” the man said.

“Yes, my Lord,” Tessa said. “I am Phoenicia Hollingberry of the Summerloch Hollingberries traveling to the Village of Freyden, my Lord.” Tessa bowed her head and waited his response to her words.

“My Lady, I shall escort you to Freyden,” the knight told her.

Tessa let a small gasp escape her lips and gripped her cloak tightly around her as she bowed her head even lower. “Oh, my Lord, what am I to do about my servant?”

The night nodded solemnly and surveyed Edward’s fallen form. “I extend my apologies to you, Maiden Hollingberry, for this unseemly loss, but I fear we must keep moving lest we find ourselves on this path after the sun fades and danger threatens.”

“It is such an untimely death,” Tessa said, holding her tongue despite her desire to address this man’s actions of such ill-intent.

“You have my sympathies, indeed, dear Maiden, but your safety is in question and your continued travel is imperative,” he said.

Tessa nodded as demurely as she could and finally met his gaze though she tried to keep the challenge from her eyes.

“You carry a sword, my Lady,” the knight observed.

“Indeed,” Tessa replied. “I carry the memory of my dear brother in this sword, my Lord. It is all I have left of my family and their memory. It is our legacy.”

“Perhaps you will allow me to transport it for you, Maiden Hollingberry.”

Tessa gritted her teeth and held tight to the handle of the weapon, taking strength from its smoothness and from the knowledge that she had shown her brother how to wield it in battle. After a moment, she spoke as softly as a Lady should in such circumstances. “My good Sir, if you will accompany me to the Village of Freyden, but allow me this time to mourn my servant’s death and my brother’s also, I will present this sword to you upon entrance to the village. I beg thee, my Lord.”

The knight regarded her for a long moment and acquiesced to her request as he drew his horse alongside hers. “Shall we then proceed to Freyden?” he said.

“Indeed,” Tessa replied. “Indeed we shall.” And as she spurred her horse to a gait matching that of the knight beside her, Tessa’s mind began to weave together a plan that would not only honor her brother’s and her family’s legacy, but one that would seal it into the written history of the land, starting with the Village of Freyden.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually.}

Writing Prompt: WITNESS PROTECTION - Put a character in a situation entirely new to the character, e.g., college, a new school, a new job, a new city or country. Let the character improvise a new identity, as most of us do when we’ve moved into a new world. This exercise should not be about the new situation but about how the character adjusts herself and her mind to new situation. What everyone should understand of this exercise is that each new person or friend in our lives who has any impact on us changes us slightly and sometimes significantly. Our social selves are made up of dozens and even hundreds of these subtle transformations. {Exercise 76 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

Pizza and Perogies

31 DaysDay 19: TEACHER {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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Pizza and Perogies

Jasia stood in the hall with two bags of groceries and stared at the door: 6B. Natia was expecting her but she didn’t know about the groceries and Jasia wasn’t sure how to introduce the idea that she was here to introduce her to the secrets of their grandmother’s uszka recipe and that Jasia would be making the traditional Polish dish for Christmas Eve dinner this year. It was something their mother and grandmother had discussed for several days over the phone and then in person. Jasia was elected to help her sister appreciate the family tradition, especially the making of the food. Jasia sighed.

Jasia knocked and sucked in her breath.

Natia swung open the door, beaming from ear to ear, “We are going to have so much fun. I’m so glad you’re here!” Natia ushered her sister through the door. “What’s all this?” she asked Jasia, taking one of the bags out of her sister’s hands and peering inside. She stopped and looked up at Jasia. “No. No. Please, tell me this isn’t what I think it is,” Natia said.

Jasia wound her way to the kitchen. “We haven’t cooked together in forever,” Jasia said over her shoulder.

“With good reason,” Natia replied, dropping her bag on the kitchen table with a thunk and pulling out the various ingredients and studying each one as if it might hold the secret of life. She lined the boxes and jars and flours up on the counter next to the stove. “Why can’t we at least make something more…” She paused. “Something more bad for us and maybe even sweet and calorie laden?”

“Okay, well, we can,” Jasia said, “after we make this.”

Natia looked at her younger sister and narrowed her eyes. “So this is why you called me up and asked to come for a visit?”

Jasia shook her head wildly. “Seriously. That’s what you think?”

“What should I think, Jaycee,” Natia said, using the nickname she’d given Jasia when they were in elementary school and the kids were teasing Jasia about her name and about being Polish. Natia’d taken to calling her sister Jaycee in front of the other kids and told her sister she should use the name in school. They never told their parents, and especially not their grandmother. Everyone thought coming to the United States was going to be a dream come true, and in many ways it was. But kids were mean wherever you lived, but together, Jasia and Natia had not only survived, but thrived.

“Okay, look, I made the mistake of saying I was coming to see you when Gran was over for dinner,” Jasia said.

Natia groaned. “Oh, Jaycee, what were you thinking?”

“Obviously, I wasn’t,” Jasia told her. “I’m sorry. I was just so excited to visit.”

“It’s okay,” Natia said, and pulled her sister onto her lap. “I still love you.” Jasia wrapped her arms around her sister’s neck and hugged her tight. How she missed having Natia around. “Shall we get started? Get it over with so we can order a pizza and watch some bad movies?” Natia asked, poking her sister in the ribs.

————–

They were almost half way through the dough making process, which essentially meant kneading the dough for what seemed like the length of eternity to get it to the right consistency, when Jasia decided she should probably break the rest of the news to her sister.

“Please tell me this looks good enough,” Natia said.

“Almost,” Jasia told her, causing Natia to sigh.

“Gosh, this is so boring,” Natia said. “I can’t believe women make such a big deal out of stuff like this.”

Jasia cleared her throat. “So, Christmas is almost here.”

Natia looked at her like she was crazy, “Jacye, it’s October.”

“Well, yeah, but there’s the planning and stuff.” Jasia looked at her sister out of the corner of her eye.

“I’m calling this done,” Natia said. Jasia reached a hand into the dough and pronounced it good and they covered it for the necessary 20 minutes. “I’m going to call and order the pizza.”

“Okay, but we still need to make the uszka once the dough is ready.”

Natia dropped into one of the kitchen chairs. “Seriously, Jayce, do you like doing all this stuff?”

Jasia stopped stirring the borscht and looked at her sister, considering this. As she continued stirring, she said, “It’s not all so awful, Natia. Sometimes, when you’re spending time with your sister, it can be kind of fun.”

“Okay. But you do this all the time with Mama and with Gran.”

Jasia shrugged. “Not all the time.”

“But do you like doing all this stuff, Jayce?”

Jasia turned around. “Yeah. Sometimes,” she said. “Why do you resent it so much?”

Natia sighed. “I don’t resent it. Not specifically,” she said. “I resent the expectation of it, you know?” Jasia didn’t say anything. “I actually like the dish. And I like to cook, even uszka and perogies. But I don’t like being guilted into it, that’s all.”

“Wait. You. You make these?” Jasia asked.

“Only once or so a month,” Natia said.

“But whenever you come home–“

“Like I said, I don’t like the Polish guilt of it all,” Natia said. “I don’t like–“

“The judging?” Jasia finished for her.

Natia got up and grabbed two small tumblers from the cupboard and poured them each a glass of red wine. “Exactly,” she said, handing her sister one of the glasses. Jasia looked at the mess on the counter and the stove and the kitchen table. She was hungry and starting to feel tired from the drive. Without hesitation, Natia took her sister’s hand and pulled her toward the living room where she has several DVDs set out on the coffee table and several junk food choices. Natia took her sister’s glass and put hers and her own on the table next to a bag of cheesy puffs and then Natia flopped onto the couch, pulling her sister down with her. Both girls kicked off their shoes and sunk into the cushions.

“Mama doesn’t believe this, but I love who we are. I love the story of our parents and our grandparents and the fact that our relatives survived some of the toughest times this world has known,” Natia said. “And I carry that with me, almost every day, you know, that strength, that survival.”

The doorbell rang and Natia thanked the delivery guy for the pizza and tipped him generously.

“But I don’t want to be told who I am,” Natia said. “I know who I am. I want to be accepted for that. So I do a lot of pushing.”

The two sisters looked at each other for several moments. “I guess I didn’t get that,” Jasia said. “I’ve just sort of let things happen.”

“Which is funny,” Natia told her, “because that’s not who you are at all. Not since we stood strong in third grade and declared you Jaycee and you embraced being Jaycee and Jasia. You’re amazing, Jayce. And people, including Mama, need to see you that way.” Natia headed into the kitchen for plates and the bottle of wine. “Hey,” she called, “what do you want to do with this dough.”

Jasia thought for a moment and smiled. “Toss it. You are more than ready to make Christmas Eve dinner without practicing Gran’s uszka technique.”

Natia appeared in the doorway. “Wait. What? Christmas Eve dinner?”

“Thus the groceries, the borscht and Gran’s recipe,” Jasia said.

“Do you think I can bring wine?” Natia said.

“I sure hope you will. Better uszka–“

“Better memories,” they said together.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually.}

Writing Prompt: TEACHER - In a short scene, have one character teach another character something that changes the teacher. There are different types of teachers and students in novels and films. Don’t be satisfied with the most common types of teacher-student relationships. {Exercise 75 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}

What’s at Stake

31 DaysDay 18: WANTS {the prompt follows at the end of this post}

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What’s at Stake

“What time do you have?” James asked the guy behind the counter.

“Eleven twenty-three.”

“Thanks,” James said. He dialed Hannah’s number again, but this time it went right to voicemail. “Can I get a little more coffee?” James punched in George’s number and waited. Finally, on the fourth ring, George picked up.

“I’m busy,” George said.

“Yeah, me, too. I need a favor,” James said.

George groaned on the other end of the line. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Hannah?”

“That’s the favor,” James said.

“Man, if you don’t know by know –“

“Cut the crap, George and listen,” James told him. “Hannah was supposed to be here at least twenty minutes ago.”

“She’s late. So?”

“So, I can’t reach her. She didn’t call, no answer at her house and cell goes to voicemail,” James said. “It’s not like her.”

“Okay.”

“I want you to trace her calls.”

“You serious?” George said. “It’s only been twenty minutes.”

“Just do this for me,” James said.

“Yeah. Sure. Give me a few minutes, I’ll call you back.”

“Thanks,” James said and hung up. “Can you put this in a To Go cup?” James took the coffee and went outside and paced back and forth in front of the diner, looking up and down the street, but there was no sign of Hannah. It was getting colder and the few people on the street hurried along into the bars or apartments or cars that lined the street. James’ phone rang and he answered it before the first ringtone finished. “You’re fast, dude.”

“Am I speaking to James Pierce?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

“Who is this?”

“Who I am is not as important as who I’m with,” the guy said. “Say hello, Hannah.” There was a pause. “Oh, sorry, she can’t come to the phone right now, but she sends her regards.”

“Who is this?”

“I’m sending a video stream to your phone, James, so you can see that this is not something to ignore.”

James’ phone signaled the arrival of a video and he clicked over to the link. There, on his phone, he saw Hannah, tied to a chair, her hands and ankles bound to the chair. She was blindfolded and there was something that looked like a bomb under her chair. James watched her as she squeezed her fists closed, then opened them and then squeezed them closed again. Opened, closed, opened, closed, opened, closed. And the toe of her left foot tapped sporadically.

“What do you want?” James asked, gritting his teeth.

“Oh, well that’s simple, James. You have access to information I need. It’s an even exchange, information for Hannah’s well-being.”

“What information?”

“Right. That’s an important detail.” The guy laughed a short, maniacal laugh before continuing. “That’s simple. The schematics for ADX Florence and Senator Christof’s itinerary for Thursday, November 16.”

“Neither of those are simple.”

“But they are necessary if you want to see Hannah again,” the guy told him. “Oh, she mentioned that the pregnancy is really making her nauseous, by the way.”

Before James could say anything else, the phone went dead. “Son of a bitch.” He took in a deep breath and sank onto the curb. “Son of a bitch.” His phone rang again and he closed his eyes and answered. “Listen you son of a bitch–“

“James, it’s me, man,” George said.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Want to tell me what’s going on?”

“Did you get anything?” James asked.

“There were a couple of jammed numbers.”

“Find them. Get me names, addresses, whatever you’ve got,” James said.

“It’s going to take me some time,” George told him.

“I don’t have time,” James said. “Just get it, George.”

“Yeah. Sure.”

James stared into the night sky that was drowned out by the city lights. Prison schematics and the Senator’s itinerary. What the hell is this guy trying to do? James wondered. And how had he managed to get to Hannah?  His phone rang again and this time he stared at it for several seconds, working out what little plan he could make without knowing what was at stake except for Hannah’s life.

{stop}

{Just a reminder, we try to keep these writing exercises to 30 minutes maximum, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. And I will say that in order to keep my writing within the 15 to 30 minute time, I create playlists on Spotify that allow me to put together songs that come close to 30 minutes. I also select music that fits with the story idea and help inspire the words I write. When the final note plays on the last song…I stop writing. Usually.}

Writing Prompt: WANTS - write a story in which two characters both want the same thing, and if one gets what she wants, the other can’t have what he wants. Great literature is often built on such conundrums. We watch the great tragedies of Shakespeare or the Greeks unfold and come to this sort of point where resolution is impossible – Hamlet can’t obey his father’s ghost and his mother’s wishes at the same time. The best stories have the simplest problems at their heart. {Exercise 72 from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. Note, this is an affiliate link}