Fun With Words

Week one assignment for the YeahWrite poetry class, Fun With Words. Poetry is somewhat new to me. I never made it much past Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. Not that I haven't enjoyed some others here and there, but I never sat down and dove into it. My class is starting week four today and it's been a wonderful experience so far.

The first assignment had us categorizing our word pools (our favorite words and phrases) into happy and sad. We then produced a short poem using one of those sets in order to convey intention. My favorite part of this was creating my word pool and then asking other people about their favorite words/phrases. Now I know that my Dad likes rhododendron and my daughter likes "how 'bout dem apples?"

So, what are your favorite words? 

Here is my first stab at poetry since I emo'd out an unrequited love poem in my high school creative writing class.

Low and Slow

Syncopated
staccato
striations
of groovy glow.

Piping
hot
crescendos
of cerulian streetcars

Moonlight slicked across
amethyst
anticipations

Thanks for reading,
J.L.

 

YeahWrite Super Challenge Rd1 - Twelfth Night

I wrote this flash piece for the first round of the YeahWrite Super Challenge.  It had to be under 1,000 words.  My prompts were:

Group 2: Putting shoes on someone else / Opening night at the carnival

In this context, the “someone else” need not be human, but the action cannot be putting on one’s own shoes, nor putting shoes that belong to someone else on oneself. A carnival can be anything from a state fair to Mardi Gras but not a rock concert or similar gathering, nor a permanent installation like Disneyland.

These prompts were killing me so I did a little research on the origins of the word Carnival.  I knew it was related to Mardi Gras but knew nothing about its more Pagan beginnings.  I was hooked on the idea of warding out winter demons and wondered what it would be like if the warding didn't work.  

The title came naturally because the original period of Carnival started right after Twelfth Night.  I had no clue that Shakespeare had a play with the same title.  Apparently this caused the contest judges to think that I had somehow crafted a spin on Shakespeare's comedy.  

Oops.  

A smidge of a content warning:  It's in the horror genre (bloooooood) and also contains a little bit of adult...suggestion, I guess.  Nothing explicit though.  

I included the judges' feedback at the bottom.  Despite their confusion it looks like I'm moving on to the second round!  I will probably do a search on all my titles going forward...


Tinker shivered in the early evening air, despite his cloak, and strained his ears against the sudden squawking of crows overhead.  His donkey, Beatrice, nudged her muzzle against his shoulder.  He petted her and whispered calming sounds while he scanned the surrounding trees for the source of her discomfort.  It was Twelfth Night and he was in a hurry to get to the next town before the bells signaled the beginning of Carnival and the warding of the winter demons.  

His head snapped to the left at the sound of crackling brush.  From shadows so black they seemed to swallow the surrounding light, a hooded figure stepped gracefully onto the path.  The figure held up one masculine hand in a gesture of peace and the other it offered back toward the shadow.  The shadow produced another hand, feminine and petite, which grasped the proffered hand.  Next came a bare foot that led to the most beautiful woman that Tinker had ever seen.  

She was covered in a cloak of silk that slid over her lithe body and matched the icy blue of her eyes.  Unlike her partner, her hood lay open, revealing pale blonde locks that fell about her shoulders and a smile that invited Tinker to take his fill.  Beatrice snorted her displeasure as the strangers stepped toward them, breaking the woman’s trance.  

“We mean you no harm, good tinker.” The man’s voice reflected the shadow he had just departed.  “We are only passing through.”  Tinker found no comfort in the man’s too large smile that crept from under the hood.  Glancing toward the woman, Tinker winced at the sight of her feet in the dusting of snow.  

“Sir,” Tinker said, reaching for his pack, “I see your companion is without shoes for your journey.  I have just the right thing, if you have interest?”  He pulled out some leather and blue ribbon.  Again, the man gave a smile that had Tinker’s hairs standing on end.  

“We have only just arrived in this-” The man glanced around. “-realm and have no coin for trade.”

“Frayne, not all trade requires coin, my love.” The woman smiled at her companion and then suggestively at Tinker.  “A tinker’s life must be a lonely life.”  Frayne chuckled and shook his head.

“Our time is short here, Allura.  Perhaps the good tinker would accept our debt until we reach the town ahead?”  Tinker blushed at Allura’s insinuation but nodded at Frayne, anxious to be off.  He bent down to wrap Allura’s makeshift shoes onto her feet.

“Aye, and we should hurry.  Dawn approaches and I want to be safe in a bed when the warding starts.  The woods are a dangerous place during Carnival.” Tinker finished and stood, face flushing further at Allura’s smile.  She waved her hand, dismissing his fear.

“You have no need to fear the winter demons, my tinker.” She smiled and offered her arm. “Now, let us find an inn.  I am weary.” Her laugh caught Tinker’s breath as he turned to the path.

*

Tinker woke to the sound of bells in the distance.  He sat up in bed and cold sweat trickled down his face and onto his bare chest.  His dreams last night had been vivid, alternating between Allura’s sweet laugh and pleasurable touch and Frayne’s terrifying smile, his face awash in blood.  After dinner and drinks in the main room of the inn, he remembered bidding them goodnight at the door to their room.  Now he wondered what was dream and what was memory.  

Pale light shone through the window across from his bed, and he wondered why the bells seemed so distant.  By dawn’s light, the ringing should have filled the streets of the small town, accompanied by the revelry of Carnival.  He stood and walked to the window, searching the streets for the men carrying large bells on their backs and wearing demon masks, for the women and children tossing fistfulls of sweets.    

The snow-laden streets below were dotted with crimson, the mutilated bodies of the townspeople strewn about the road.  Tinker backed away from the window, his breathing ragged.  He turned and ran from his room to find the door to Allura’s and Frayne’s room open, the space empty and the bed untouched.  Had they left before the demons came?

Tinker ran down the stairs of the inn and into the main hall.  He was greeted by the barkeep, slouched in a chair, a red smile sliced across his neck.  Tinker ran toward the open front door, nearly tripping over the arm of a patron lying bloodied beside a bench.   Focusing on the doorway, Tinker lurched forward, his lungs heaving.

His bare feet met the snow and stones in a shock of cold.  He slid to a stop in the middle of the street, carnage surrounding him.  His eyes darted, searching for a way out of this nightmare.  He could see the steeple of the church in the distance, the bells calling to him.  He ran toward them, trying to ignore the massacre in his path.

The door to the church lay open and Tinker followed a path of bloody footprints through the snow and up the steps.  It was colder still inside, the air frosting as it left his mouth.

“Tinker, my dear friend!” Frayne’s deep voice beckoned.  “We have been waiting for your arrival.”  Tinker stared in disbelief at the hordes of demons dancing in the aisles.  Allura sat on the altar, her legs crossed in front of her, Frayne to her right.  They were both slick with blood.

“What have you done?” Tinker’s voice wavered.  Allura’s smile was blinding white, encased in red.

“Sweet Tinker, you were born this evening.” She pointed to the baptismal font. “See for yourself.”  He walked forward and leaned over the side, catching his reflection in the water.  He knew now, his dreams a terrifying reality.  Tears streamed down his face, clearing trails in the blood that covered him.  


What the judges really liked about Twelfth Night:

  • You did a fantastic job striking a balance between the allusions and putting your own spin on the play. The way you wrote Tinker's horrific realization in the church ended the story with force and impact.
  • This piece effectively employed allusions to both Shakespeare's play and Christianity; particularly the celebration of Candlemas/the Feast of Presentation. Pairing one main character with a donkey, establishing two of the other main characters as vampiric twins, and setting the final scene in a church successfully drove home those connections.

Where the judges found room for improvement:

  • While Tinker's innocence is charming, his quick trust of the shadow travelers from a different realm on the eve of Demon Carnival could perhaps use a bit more justification than "the lady was pretty." There's an opportunity for the demon characters, especially Frayne, to be a bit more flushed out. The voice of the story seems pretty focused on their smiles.
  • This work could have benefited from a more thorough incorporation of the action prompt into the plot. In such a thoughtfully constructed piece, the reasons for putting shoes on Allura were incidental. This story brought many fresh perspectives to existing tropes, however the sexual tension between Allura and Tinker didn’t successfully introduce anything new.

I have a feeling that Allura and Frayne will show up somewhere in my writing down the road.  

As always, thanks for reading!

Jenny

 

Fiction War: Decisions, Decisions

Fiction War: Decisions, Decisions

There was someone in the trunk.

     James could hear her moaning where he stood next to the driver’s side door of the old Chevy Caprice.  He knew he should have ignored Bobby’s call earlier that morning.  He should have thrown his goddamned phone into the river when he saw the number on his screen. 

Flash Fiction Challenge - Round 2

Judging for the first round of the challenge that I completed in July came back late last week and I placed fifth in my group of 35, giving me 11 points. I had entered assuming that I would not score in the top 15 and get any points. I figured this was just good practice with a lot of opportunity to learn how to critique and how to be critiqued without melting into a ball of self doubt. 

Actually scoring, and doing so high enough that it puts me in a good place to possibly move on to the third round, freaked me out. So I was sure then that I would end up with the dreaded political satire genre for the second round.  There was no way I could be so lucky to get another genre (like horror from round 1) that I've read extensively. I read the genre description for political satire about 5 times each day so I could be prepared. 

Friday night came and, as I was finally wrangling the kids into bed, we stopped and stood around my laptop to read my next writing prompt, sent to me by email.

  Location: A bank

Item: An oxygen tank

Genre: Political satire

 

Riiiiiiiight. At least the kids had fun watching my horror stricken face.

So, here you go. Mind you, this is political satire and uses current events as a backdrop. You may or may not agree with it, but let's still be friends. Cool?

 

********* 

The Gold Standard

The contents of a little girl's piggy bank are thrown into chaos when the new gold backed coin enters the mix.

****** 

Lydia lays, staring at the ceiling above her, bored out of her mind. She is tired and wishes she could fall asleep but the ceiling fan clicks and hums obnoxiously with every rotation.  Despite the fan’s best efforts, the air tastes stale to her and the layer of dust on the furniture in her neighbor's spare bedroom remains unprovoked by the tepid breeze.

“Everything in this house is so old and decrepit,” she mutters to herself, sitting up.  “Why couldn't Dad bring me along to Mexico? Missing school is not that big of a deal.  It's only second grade.” 

She grins at her own clever use of ‘decrepit,’ which she had learned while reading her Dad's last investigative report on the infrastructure breakdown in the United States.

“Even Miss Greenly is decrepit,” she smirks.

Lydia had arrived that morning at their neighbor's, Miss Greenly's, house before the sun was up.  Her Dad had promised it would only mean one night staying with her but to Lydia that was forever.  She was sure Miss Greenly was 300 years old.

 

She had met them at the door and led them back to the living room, shuffling the whole way with a cane and rolling a big, green oxygen tank with her.  The skin on her face and arms was spotted and paper thin.  She was creeeepy.

Miss Greenly had eyed the piggy bank Lydia was clutching and smiled knowingly.

“If you're trying to keep your money safe from all the hooligans running around this neighborhood, I know how you feel,” Miss Greenly's voice scratched. “All these empty houses attract them like moths to the flame. But don't you worry child, our new President is going to take care of it.”

Lydia's Dad had explained that her bank held money from all the countries he had visited and how Lydia liked to keep it with her while he was gone.  Miss Greenly had pulled out a brand new gold quarter and held it out to Lydia.

“I bet you don't have one of these yet!” she wheezed. “I already traded all my old money in for the new gold standard.  The President sure knows what he's doing.”

Not wanting to offend Miss Greenly, Lydia had whispered a “thank you” and deposited the quarter into her piggy bank.

 

Sunlight now peeks in through the slats on the bedroom window.  Lydia yawns and stretches.  The bed creaks in relief as she slides off it onto the floor. Laying on her stomach, she picks up the pink, ceramic pig bank, removes the plug from its belly and watches the coins cascade down onto the area rug. 

She loves all of the different sizes and colors of the coins. When her Dad comes back from a new country he always brings her some money and they cuddle together while he tells her stories about the people he meets.

Lydia removes the new gold quarter from the pile and sets it down next to the rest of the coins. She recognizes the man on the shiny face of the quarter and involuntarily shivers. President Grump scares her.  He yells a lot on the news shows about how horrible people are that come here from other countries and how they need to leave.  Her Dad is on his way right now to report on the wall that President Grump is building on the Mexico border.

She blames President Grump for having to stay with Miss Greenly. She used to stay with her friend Maria but Maria's parents were sent back to Mexico and now their house is empty.  Remembering how much she misses her friend, she starts to cry quietly.

 

“And we will build a wall!  It will be huge!”

Lydia picks her head up, finding that she is now surrounded by curving, pink walls and a pink ceiling. She wipes her eyes and sits up, looking around for the person speaking. 

She must be seeing things. Across the pink room is her new gold quarter, standing on a stack of uncomfortable looking pennies in front of a crowd of more coins.  He is gesturing wildly with the tiniest golden hands she has ever seen.

“We'll build a wall. A wall of Pesos!”

Lydia can hear a tinkling noise and she realizes that some of the coins standing closest to the Golden Grump are clapping. Others are standing farther away and they look nervous. She recognizes her Syrian Pounds looking particularly scared.

“It will stretch from one side. Yes, you heard me! One side to the other side. It will be a wall!”

The motions of his tiny golden hands are mesmerizing as he waves them around.  The Pesos are crying as they are stacked on top of each other.

“We need to separate out the real Americans from all these guys. Yeah.  The ones stealing our jobs.  The rest of those Pesos and those Syrian Pounds need to file back to the other side of the wall.”

“But President Grump,” shouts Lydia, “isn't Mexico part of America?”

“Of course, I know that little girl. I mean this hemisphere, right? We need to keep the jobs here! All those dirty immigrants taking our jobs!”

The Golden Grump gestures wildly again and topples forward from his stack of pennies into the crowd. Lydia walks closer to the front while he gets back on to his pennies, grumbling at them as he climbs.  His once shiny surface is now deeply scratched, revealing an old coin beneath the gold.

“President Grump, your family were immigrants from Germany.  I can see the Deutsche Mark under your gold!” yells Lydia.

“Just ignore that, young lady. I'm a great American! Nothing like those dirty immigrants. You need to wake up.”

 

“Wake up, child!” Miss Greenly is shaking her shoulder lightly.

Lydia looks around the bedroom to find her Dad standing in the doorway looking scared.

“Lydia dear, we need to leave,” her Dad says quietly. “My flights were cancelled. They've closed the borders.”

 *********

  Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. If I can stay within the top 5 of my group after this round I will get to move on to round 3 and my kids will have another opportunity to laugh at my misery. 

Peace, 

Jenny

Flash Fiction Challenge 2016

Since my last post (over a year and a half ago!) I've been a tiny bit busy. It's been an amazing year and a half. I've had a baby, married my best friend, and started a brand new family. In September I sat for the first half of my CMA certification and only missed it by a handful of points. Eventually, I will give that a try again once the baby lets me sleep consistently.

In November I tried something very new.  I signed up for National Novel Writing month (NaNiWriMo). That was a crazy experience but I'm very glad that I did it. And I have about three-quarters of a book finished!  I really enjoyed getting the opportunity to write on a daily basis even though that time schedule was extremely stressful. (50,000 words in 30 days! - thank God for my dear husband's patience)

Now that our wedding is over I thought maybe I should try to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard...whatever) again and I signed up for flash fiction challenge 2016. I decided at nearly the last minute and I almost chickened out because it scared the crap out of me to realize that people would actually be reading my work. Only a few people that I know and love have seen any portion of my novel. You know, the safe people that love me and are more likely to smile and tell me how much they love it. 

This flash fiction competition requires that you write a 1,000 word short story in 48 hours. Right when it begins you are given a genre, location and an item that all have to be used in your story.  Then it is judged and ranked within your group. In September we'll do it once more with a different prompt. The two scores will be totaled and the top 5 go on to the next round. That is terrifying. But since I'll never get anywhere with my writing bug if I don't go out of my comfort zone, I jumped in.  

My group's prompt was as follows:

Genre: Horror

Location: a barge

Item: ice pack

And...here it is... 

______________________________

It May Concern You

 

July 23, 2016

 

To Whom It May Concern-

That sounds a little formal for the situation but, what the hell.  This isn’t some Dear Diary or Last Will and Testament.  And I’m sure this will concern you.  So there you have it.

The blackouts have started.  It’s only a matter of days after that - two or three at the most.  I’ve done everything I can think of to keep you safe.  God only knows if it will be enough.  God help you all if it’s not.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, you know?  I should have been walking back into my crappy apartment tonight.  Down the water stained hallway and past the family of roaches that moved in three months ago.  I should have been getting up tomorrow morning from that damn mattress that kills my back and smells like piss.  I was going to march right into the bank, probably still reeking of the grime of this barge, and I was going to hand that check to the teller.  The pretty one that always looks at me like I’m not even human (well, isn’t that ironic now – HA!).  God, I was going to show her.  I was going to watch those beautiful blue eyes go all big and round when I asked her to cash it out for me.  $250K for one trip.  My final bon voyage.  I would buy myself a little hut somewhere in the south pacific and shack up with some pretty little local.  But hell, that’s the least of your worries right now and I don’t think I have much time left to finish this.

To limit your surprises, you’ll want to stay out of the two cargo containers I marked with an X.  In fact, burn them.  Scratch that.  I don’t know how this will react to fire.  The guy that was going to give me that big fat check would know.  He and my deckhand, Jimmy, are in one of the marked containers.  Or what’s left of them.  I’m in the other.  I hope you find this letter first.

I blacked out again.  It’s so damn hot in here.  My last ice pack is sitting on the back of my neck but it’s not really helping.  The blue gel was mostly liquid when I brought it in here with me.

I could tell he didn’t get out much when he slumped down into the chair next to me in that shithole of a bar two months ago.  Some scientist.  He was shaking out of fear, but he didn’t back down.  I respected that.  He refused to tell me his name so I can’t help you there.  Said he needed someone to move his cargo quietly.  He had all those specifications about keeping it cold.  Cold.  In the middle of July in South America!  I made him all sorts of promises for that money.  I didn’t intend to keep most of them.  The more promises I kept, the less money I kept.  I’m sorry for that now.  God am I sorry.

It’s starting.  God help me, the change is starting.  It hurts so much.  Feels like I’ve been walking across burning coals.  I need to finish before I can’t handle it anymore.  Before the screaming starts.

Jimmy and the scientist stopped screaming two days ago.  I watched as they changed – as they screamed.  The noise was relentless.  The screams rang in my head as their eyes bulged and backs twisted.  The screams changed to shrieks as they began frantically scraping their claws against the walls.  I watched as their oxygen supply slowly dwindled.  Two days.  I saw what will happen to me.  What is happening now.

Was this my fault?  I rigged up the cooling system as cheaply as I could.  More money for me!  When it broke he wouldn’t stop yelling at me.  Screaming about heat and oxygen and the rate of growth.  I sent Jimmy in to help him move all those little glass vials into our coolers.  I promised him we would dock that night and fix the cooling system.

Have you ever seen real fear?  When I was just a little shit, six years old, my Ma and I sat together on our couch in the living room watching Happy Days reruns.  I loved watching that show before bed.  The Fonz was my hero.  Cuddled up next to her, I can smell her gardenia perfume.  My Ma was a quiet, classy lady.  I can still see her laughing in the glow of the TV.  She smiles down at me, I smile back up at her and then our front door slams open.  Ma’s beautiful eyes go wide with the fear and her mouth drops open as she sucks in a breath.  Her last breath.  My Pa must not see me there in the corner of the couch and he pulls out his gun and shoots her.  Screaming.  So much screaming!  Now he turns it on himself.  I look away but I can still see the blood and little bits of brain as it slides down the wall behind him.

It won’t be long now.  I’m losing my grip on reality.  It feels like I’m breathing underwater.   

The look on my Ma’s beautiful face, that’s the same look that was on that scientists face when Jimmy dropped that vial.  He looked up at me with those eyes and I knew we were dead.  He screamed at me to close the door but I wasn’t getting stuck in there!  He tried to trip me but I kicked him in the face and slammed the door shut and locked it.  Then I watched them change.  Then I watched them die.

You will know if I’m still alive.  The screams can be heard through the walls.  I can only hope that the lack of oxygen kills me first.  Or It.  I’ve done all I can to keep you safe.  Don’t try to save me.  Save yourself.

____________________________

Since the next part doesn't start until September I will probably try some of the prompts from the other groups. There are a number of other genres that frighten me a little (understatement). I'll post them up here as I do. Feel free to throw down some constructive criticism if you'd like or just watch as I continue to make myself horribly uncomfortable for the sake of self growth. 

  Thanks for reading ~ Jenny

Deep breath

I have always had a deep passion for how our brains work and why we do what we do.  

That's why I decided to become an accountant!

Not really.  I started school for Psychology and/or Social Work at which point I found myself married and needing to quickly help support a child.  I enjoy problem solving and can Math well enough so I jumped over to accounting because they get paid in money, unlike social workers.  Plus, I already had one child I could not afford and if I had stayed in social work I risked bringing every child I worked with home with me because HOW DO YOU NOT?  

I have been very blessed in the opportunities that have been thrown my way in my career.  I have a great job and it allowed me to scrape by after my divorce.  I truly love where and with whom I work.  I enjoy being an accountant and it keeps my mind very busy.  

Even with all that, I have the constant feeling that I should be writing.  I have tried repeatedly to start books.  I get just so far and then lose the thread of the story.  Mostly that is because I realize that someone might actually read it one day and THEY'RE ALL GOING TO LAUGH AT ME.  I read all the inspirational things.  All the things that say I just need to jump in there and do it.  I have this horrible disease though called chronic humanity.  My brain, like others with this disease, likes to tell me things.  It doesn't even care if they are true or not. 

I have been watching a lot of friends and loved ones diving in and doing the hard things.  I have been filling up lately on all the inspirational stuff I can.  I am in the middle of so many self help books that could probably write my own.  I keep putting it off.  How am I supposed to write when I don't know what to even write about?  How am I supposed to write about something when I am so broken myself?  I keep researching to figure out how to get myself past all these symptoms of my humanity that are holding me back.  It's rather interesting stuff.  But what can I write about?!  Oh, wait.

So here I am.  I'm diving.  There is a good chance that I put my mask and tank on wrong and I will end up in the emotional hospital.  I plan to write about all the stuff that makes us human.  The things that affect me (anxiety, depression, perfectionism, impatience, crying during commercials about babies and puppies).  The things that affect you (you know you get a little verklemped during those commercials too, don't lie).  All of our imperfections and our perfections.  Really, whatever comes to mind because well, it means I'm writing and maybe my brain will stop nagging me about it.  

Thanks for reading,

Jen