Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October Writing Challenge #31: Hollow

Whoa. I did it. I wrote every single day for a month, and I posted it on my blog. I wrote a total of 27,568 words this month and that wasn't without a specific word count goal in mind. That's amazing. Now, I have to do it all over again, but almost double that word count, in order to win NaNoWriMo. Here we go!

Day #31: Hollow

Word count: 646

Owen frowned and held the egg up to his ear. Something… was off. The five eggs, four of which still lay cuddled in the nest, had the correct speckles and coloring to be dragon eggs. But they were lighter than normal.

“What is it?” Evie asked. Owen jumped; he’d forgotten she was standing behind him, waiting for him to turn around in excitement and announce they hadn’t found just one dragon egg but five.

He craned his neck to look at her and shrugged. “Something doesn’t feel right about this. Something…”

He tapped the shell and felt his heart sink. His shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh. The eggs were light because they were hollow.

He twirled the egg around in his hands and searched for something that would indicate why the egg was hollow.

Dragons didn’t lay hollow eggs, of course. That would be pointless. When they laid eggs, the eggs were usually heavy due to the forming baby dragon inside. But if something attacked the nest and stole the contents of the egg, well…

Sure enough, Owen’s finger passed over a small pinprick hole on the surface of the egg. It was no bigger than a hair, and most people would pass over it without a second glance. But Owen had been trained to search for such inconsistencies, especially when it came to eggs.

There were many creatures in the wild that liked to snatch eggs or steal their contents for a meal. There was one in particular that had a razor-thin needle jutting from its clawed fingers that liked to insert into eggs and suck the contents dry. Vampire hedgehogs.

They were similar to regular hedgehogs with their spiny backs and squishy snouts, but unlike regular hedgehogs, they had their vampiric claw they used to eat eggs. Instead of busting eggs open with their mouths and making a mess of their meal, they slid the needle-like claw into the egg, sucked up the contents, and waddled off into the woods without a mess.

It was a cruel trick, Owen had observed, for a mother dragon to return to the nest and realize one of her babies was gone, despite the egg still being in the vicinity. Sometimes the dragon didn’t notice until the other eggs had hatched and it would nudge the empty egg in dismay. Usually, the mother dragon abandoned the egg once the others had hatched and began to grow out of the nest.

Hollow eggs, like the ones before him, were popular for poachers to find and then sell for decorations or custom attired. Owen had seen his fair share of dragon eggs on hats, as jewelry, even as a belt buckle adornment. It made him sad to see the eggs intact, the baby dragons never seeing the world.

“I’m sorry, Evie,” Owen finally said after inspecting each one to find the same kind of hole on all five eggs. “These eggs are empty.”

The small intake of breath between her lips sent a shudder through Owen.

“Empty?” Her voice was so full of surprised innocence, reminding Owen how little of the world she knew. “How can they be empty?”

He turned toward her, one egg in hand, and held it up. “Give me your hand.”

She hesitated, and his face flushed. This constant tension between them left Owen feeling out of sorts, but now didn’t seem like the time to let it bother him. Finally, she lifted her hand and he gently led her fingers over the surface of the egg, stopping when they reached the hole. Evie took the egg and ran her fingers over the surface. She marveled at the small incision, which had destroyed the life of five baby dragons.

“Oh,” Evie said.

Owen turned away from her, tears wetting his eyes as his heart felt like it was breaking apart in his chest like the breaking of an egg.

Monday, October 30, 2017

October Writing Challenge #30: Alone

I like to think of J.J. has a blend between Rey from The Force Awakens and Eleven from Stranger Things. She has power inside of her she's still trying to discover and a past she can't quite remember. She was given her powers for a purpose, but she's also learning to make her powers her own. I'm excited to see where her story takes me, whenever I decide to write it.

Day 30: Alone

Word count: 649

“Hello?” J.J. called. She pounded her fists against the mirrored window. It had to be a one-way mirror. The dimensions of the room, the type of tiling on the floor, the smoothness of the walls--it all screamed interrogation room. Someone had to be on the other side watching, listening.

“Is anybody there?” Her voice felt hoarse from yelling, but she couldn’t quit. If she quit, they might go away.

She smacked her palm against the glass. “Max?”

Even she thought her tone sounded mournful, despite the niggling at her mind that it was all a lie. That was the idea, after all. Play off the pity he felt for her. It had to be pity, she thought. Why else would the smartest person she’d ever meant care so much for her? Why would he take the time to show her around the Institute, teach her how to fight and embrace her powers? Why would he take her to the roof to stargaze or breathe fresh air?

“Max, if you’re listening, please…” Her voice cracked. The warning in her brain rose; more lying. “Please help me. I don’t want to stay here. I’m-I’m scared.”

Her internal lie detector was buzzing out of control, but no one would be able to tell from the outside. It was all in her head. She wasn’t scared. She felt content, actually. No more security guard eyeballing her every step, no professors correcting her faults, no students competing with her, breathing down her neck, pretending to be her friend.

In here, her thoughts were her own. In here, she could only wonder at who watched her. In here, it she was alone.

And before the Institute, before the crazy kids who begged her to join them, before Max, she had wanted to always be alone. Avoid the kids at school, try not to anger the foster parents, stay in her room and read books and play video games. Alone was safe. Alone meant no one was looking, no one was judging, no one cared.

J.J. went to the opposite wall from the mirror and sat down with her back against the smooth drywall, knees pulled to her chest. She looked down at her hands. Her knuckles were still tender from her last bout of boxing, several days ago. She clenched her fingers into fists until her nails bit into her palms. The raw power that ran her veins still frightened her.

Glimpses of the faces, the people, who had faced the wrath of this power flashed through her mind. Bloody, bruised, battered. She had done that.

If she hadn’t seen the footage, the pictures, she might not have believed it. But Max had been right; she was dangerous. Not just because of the power inside her, but what that power was meant to do. What she was meant to do.

It was better for her to be alone. Isolated from the world, from other people. Then she couldn’t hurt them. Then she could be safe from herself.

She leaned her head back against the wall, closing her eyes, her fists curled into her lap. Content washed over her. If this was her fate, so be it. Trapped in a room, no bigger than a storage closet, with nothing but a table and a chair. She would survive, as she always did. One day at a time, alone and safe.

She ignored the prick at her thoughts that detected a lie. This was no lie. It couldn’t be. It was only truth.

The door creaked on its hinges as it opened, and J.J. opened her eyes. Relief flooded through her, despite all the convincing she’d done that being alone was for the best. Because when she looked up into Max’s brown eyes, his brow furrowed in a deep sadness that never seemed to go away, she realized she didn’t want to be alone.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

October Writing Challenge #29: Ghostly

This whole month of writing has been kind of weird because most of the prompts are Halloween themed, or at least spooky, ghost-y themed. I don't usually write spooky or scary stories. So it's been interesting to take a word or phrase that is normally associated with Halloween or spooky and make it fit what I write--fantasy, science-fiction, etc.

Day 29: Ghostly

Word count: 432

He appeared from the shadows, a figure all in gray, and strode toward her. The dim lighting from the street lamp cast his shadow across the rain puddles that marred the alleyway.

“Who are you?” J.J. asked. The question lingered in the air, echoing around her. The sound made her ears tingle. Something was wrong.

The man didn’t reply; he just continued to walk, each step moving him forward in a strange, wavering rhythm. There one second, several steps forward the next. As if he could teleport a little at a time or skip through the air like a ghost.

“Who?” she began again, but then the man was in front of her and moving through her. She jumped back to get out of his way, but he had passed--right through her--and continued to walk.

“Wha-what?” The word bounced from wall to wall, disappearing into the rain-clouded night. J.J. turned on foot, realizing just then that she wore no shoes, and raced after the man. “Wait!”

Her bare feet slapped the wet pavement, sending shudders across her toes and heels. But she didn’t stop.

She chased him, even as if moved further and further away. Every five steps of hers was only one of his. The alley ended up ahead, a chain-link fence blocking the way. J.J. came to a halt, her feet skidding against broken pavement, as the man walked through the fence, just like he had walked through her.

A ghost? She wondered. Willa would tell her that ghosts weren’t real; that she was only seeing someone with abilities. But here and now, in the middle of the city--it was impossible. Brett would tell her the man was most certainly a ghost. Then she’d probably chase after him, no matter the cost. Kal would just laugh. He’d tip his head back, eyes half-closed, mouth open wide to show his perfectly straight teeth, and he’d laugh.

Wait, J.J. thought. Willa? Kal? Brett? Those were her friends. But where were they? Where was she?

She glanced around, rain splattering her face with fat, cold droplets. She was in the city. In an alleyway. A familiar alleyway. Why wasn’t she at the Institute?

She couldn’t remember, yet she knew this place. The alleyway with the chain-linked fence and broken asphalt. The walls with the graffiti splattered brick and the rusty fire escapes zigzagging up the buildings. She remembered the dented trash cans and the plastic bags fluttering in the wind.She had been here before. A long time ago.

That man, she thought, was not the ghost.

She was.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

October Writing Challenge #28: In the Cemetery

To be honest, this writing challenge has been exhausting. I'm glad I've stuck with it thus far, but I'm looking toward November 1 with relief. Although, that does mean NaNoWriMo begins, and I have decided to attempt it, despite not having a story in mind yet. But I'm ready to write a single story, not snippets or drabbles. I want something with a beginning, middle, and end. Something with more development and more connection. We'll see what happens after that.

Day 28: In the Cemetery
Word count: 379

In the cemetery, there is a grave where grass no longer grows. The headstone that pokes above the ground is faded with age. Cracks drizzle down the sides of the stone, like bolts of lightning skittering down the horizon. The once pristine engravings are but scratches across the limestone surface.

It is at this particular gravestone, where the grass does not grow, where a perfect square of dirt covers the ground, that the girl in the blue dress sits.

It is on clear days and dark nights when the girl can be seen. She sits on the dirt, facing the headstone, her hair braided carefully into two down her back. Her blue dress is bright, matching the clear sky and the ribbons in her hair. She wears black, buckled shoes with lacy white socks. She does not turn. She does not move. She does not even breathe.

She just sits in the cemetery, staring at the grave, as if trying to read the words that faded long ago.
On dreary days, she cannot be found, but the dirt around the grave never dampens. It always stays dry and fresh with the perfect imprint of two shoes. On clear nights, she does not dwell at the grave, though one might see her walking about the cemetery, searching, always searching, for something that can never be found.

But on the dark nights, when the moon is shrouded by cloud or wane, she can be heard humming to herself a sad, little song. On clear days, she does not utter a sound, but only sits in stillness and silence.

The stories about the girl at the grave vary. Some say she used to live near the graveyard, before it expanded, and that the spot was a favorite of hers. Where she played with her dolls or read her favorite books. Others think she appeared only after the grave was dug, that her own body lay beneath the ground, separated permanently from her spirit that wanders the cemetery, trying to find rest.

But there are others who know the truth of the girl. Of why she wears a blue dress. Of why she only hums on dark nights. Of why she cannot be found on dreary days.

But those people cannot be found.

Friday, October 27, 2017

October Writing Challenge #27: Battle

This piece is shorter, but I was trying to capture a certain atmosphere, leaning more toward prose poetry than fiction. I don't know if it worked.


Day 27: Battle

Word count: 265

Stars rise as empires fall. A battle cry rises over the horizon of a new dawn. Red streaks the sky in rippling banners, stamped with the golden crests of dragon and lion. Soldiers sit atop horses decorated in gilded plates and braided reins. Their armor glints in the morning sunrise, a shine across their enemy’s gaze. Hundreds upon thousands line the plains at a standstill. They wait for the moment. The clap of thunder as hooves clatter upon barren ground, the whistle of arrows rising above the cloud streaked sky, the clink of swords slicing out of their sheaths, hungry for blood.

Across the chambers of the grassy field, a second army awaits. Their leather strapped chests and limbs crouch in anticipation. Their hands grip wooden bows, their heels grip stone. Knives line the folds of their uniforms, sharpened to a razor apex. Hunkered down in holes and crevices of a rocky fortress, they too wait for the moment. The bellow of horns signaling an approach, the cries for cover against raining arrows, the sounds of shields bracing for impact, ready for blood.

The battle awaits in a breath, a whisper. A hush sweeps over the battlefield. In that stillness is reason for fight, for king, for country, for family, for future. In that quiet there is acknowledgment of what is to happen. Of prayers offered in faith and forgiveness. In that tranquility there is a surge of hope, rising toward the brightened heavens, from both sides of the line.

That hope, collides, clashes together.

And the moment of battle begins with a resounding heartbeat

Thursday, October 26, 2017

October Writing Challenge #26: Ghost child

The more I write about Ursula, the more I like her. I have plans for her, so many plans. It's going to be grand.


Day 26: Ghost Child

Word count: 572

“Who are you?” Ursula asked the boy, who stood in the corner of her room and stared at her with pale blue eyes.

His ashen skin contrasted with his black hair, making Ursula think of her brother. If she had seen him from the back, she might have mistaken him for a shorter version of Ivan. He held himself tightly, as if he might break apart if he’d uncurl his fingers from one another or move his elbows away from his body. Maybe he would.

She’d seen enough weird things in her life to know that the world didn’t make sense. And it wasn’t just the magic and monsters and whole shebang. She’d heard stories from other kids at school. Stories that didn’t make sense, that didn’t line up. Not even with what she’d been taught.

For the first six years of school, the children in Ursula’s family were homeschooled. They were taught magic alongside the regular studies, like math and English, social studies and science. When they reached the age where they understood how to keep a secret, to not discuss the magical community with everybody in the world, they were enrolled in public school. It was a way to balance their lives, their mother had explained. They would have to live in both worlds--the magic and the ordinary--so they would need to learn how to balance. They had to remember who they could speak to about the Witches’ Brew hair salon and who cared about the price of gas on Main Street. They had to know how both worlds worked.

But here, now, Ursula didn’t understand. The boy had appeared out of nowhere. A dark corner one moment, a shadowed by cowing another. Even in the magical community, young children didn’t appear in people’s rooms without warning. The house was protected; even the most powerful of magic users couldn’t teleport inside the house, unless welcomed first.

Yet the boy had.

“Hey,” Ursula said. “I’m not-I’m not going to hurt you. I just…” She stepped forward, hunching her shoulders so she appeared shorter than normal, less threatening. “I just need to know who you are.”

“Go…” the boy whispered, eyes growing wider.

“Go?” she asked. “Ghost?”

It had crossed her mind, especially after the incident with the Ghost Boys, as she had lovingly dubbed the four boys who had appeared on the street outside her window once. They had taken her on a wild adventure that she had carefully recorded in her journal, including pictures. Of course, they ghost boys hadn’t shown up in the pictures. But it still warmed her heart to think of them.

That this child could be a ghost, though, concerned her. Ghost children usually had a problem, which is why they wandered the earth, not finding rest. They could be harder to deal with because they usually didn’t understand what was happening to them; they didn’t realize they had died.

“Ghost,” the boy repeated. Then, he lifted a hand into the air, one finger pointing toward Ursula. His arm shook, his mouth quivered.

“Are you a ghost?” she asked.

But the boy shook his head. “Ghost.”

She realized that he wasn’t pointing at her, couldn’t be. She wasn’t a ghost after all. But instead, he was pointing at something behind her.

Chills ran down Ursula’s spine, but she didn’t let that show. She didn’t want to scare this kid, ghost or not.

Instead, Ursula turned around.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October Writing Challenge #25: Cables

Today has been a real struggle, and the prompts didn't help. I have no idea what this is.

Day 25: Cables

Word count: 706

Cables jut from his torso, connecting in long, looping lines to the machine next to the chair he sits in. His head is slumped forehead, his bangs covering his eyes, but I would still know the shape of that body anywhere. The broadness of his shoulders, the hands that look dainty but could just as easily squeeze your neck or snap it.

Blood pools around each cable, stuck between the metal and the skin it cuts into. He’s wearing a standard gray t-shirt and sweatpants to match. His feet are bare, which makes my job slightly more difficult.

I move through the room, past computer monitors that light up with blinking cursors, green text, and lines that make me wonder what the machine in the corner is recording. Other than him, the room is empty of people. They must have already left when the warning bell rang, or they are on their way to get him. Either way, I don’t have much time.

My breath catches when I step up to him, the blood on his clothes, the tension in his forearms, much more vivid up close. But I have a job to do, and I won’t let this stop me.

He doesn’t move as I began to pull the cables from his body. The metal tips leave small slits, no bigger than a hair, on his chest and stomach, his back and shoulders. Each time I pull one out, a the machine beeps until it is rattling and raging with beeps.

Another warning. Another reason to flee.

I pull him to his feet, where he sways for a moment. I’m afraid he won’t wake up, but then his head lifts, his hair falling back to his open eyes.

“Sydney?”

His voice is a whisper, a finger plucking against my heart.

Instead of responding, I drag his arm over my shoulder and began to lead him away from the chair and out of the room. His chest heaves against my side, breathing in and out sharply, hurriedly as he move. I wonder if he’s been strapped to that machine the entire time he’s been gone. I wonder how weak he must be and what will happen if we run into someone else. I can’t defend both of us with a single gun and cartridge, which is shoved beneath my waistband in a hurry after the last incident.
We zigzag down corridors and hallways, each one lit with strobing red lights that pulse with the warning bell. I ignore it all, focusing on the map I memorized in my head. Turn left here, go straight there, make two rights, and…

I see a silhouette up ahead and pull up. He groans next to me, blood dribbling from a broken cut on his lip. So they weren’t just putting him under tests; they beat him too.

Like they beat all of us.

“Come on,” I say, gritting my teeth and tugging him down another corridor, this one free of people. Our detour delays us, but only by a few minutes. The timer of the bomb pricks in my mind, counting down with every minute, every second we wander these halls.

I never thought I’d be back here, of all places. Never thought I’d return of my own free will. But for him, I’d do almost anything. Even face my nightmares.

At least, I see the door ahead. Troops, my troops, are up and moving, helping people out, loading trucks and driving away. Everyone knows the bombs are in place, about to detonate at any moment and send our worst fears into kingdom come.

I hurry us along, despite his moans, and we reach the doorway. The bright white of sun and snow greets us, and I let out a sigh.

As my boots step outside, rubber meeting stone cold gravel, the bombs go off. The building booms as metal and plaster and concrete rain down on us. I scream and push him forward, into the sunlight, into the safety.

I see one of my officers reach to steady him. As the building collapses around me, I see one last glimpse of him and those brown eyes. Then I shut my eyes and let the building swallow me whole.