Thursday, August 30, 2012

Write On Edge: Face to Face Challenge

Red Writing Hood this week is all about a face-to-face meeting, for better or worse, that doesn't go as planned. The word limit of 450 provides an excellent space to craft a really solid scene.

I've cheated somewhat. Mostly, I'm guilty of not completely reading the prompt before I sat down to write the scene. And I'm too excited about my characters to create something else. My eyes stopped reading beyond the word "meeting". Somehow I translated "doesn't go as planned" as "isn't what was expected" which is a completely different situation altogether.


Oh well, I'm an adult and I can take responsibility for an epic fail, especially when there's Wild Raspberry Chocolate Chunk ice cream in the freezer. YUM! It's good as a reward for achieving something phenomenal, or even better, as a consolation for an unexpected pitfall.

So, I offer the following in response:  A New Career

Essie Dorely waltzed into Reaper & Associates quite pleased at her newly developed ability to locate places. She was only recently dead, but her bad sense of direction, along with arthritis pain and wrinkles, no longer existed, making her acceptance of death easy.

The office housed the furnishings she anticipated. A set of filing cabinets flanked a wooden desk while a tall potted tree stood sentry to a couch and floor lamp in the opposite corner. Unlike earthly office floors, however, the crystalline floor afforded a breath-taking view of the shifting cloudscape below.  

Reaper introduced himself upon her arrival. Nothing like the ominous, black-hooded, sickle-wielding wraith she expected, he was easily the finest specimen of a young man she had ever seen, sporting a dapper three-piece suit in pristine white and extremely inappropriate flip-flops. “Thank you for applying,” he motioned for her to take a seat, “Peter recommended you with great praise.”

She imagined the absent flak-flak sound of his footwear as he walked to his chair. Some sounds apparently didn’t manifest in the Afterlife. “Well, since death disqualified me from participating in the national BRA awards this year, I find my schedule is completely open.”

Confusion tinted his smile, “BRA awards?”

“Beautiful Roses Association,” she explained. “My Martha Washingtons were sure to capture the grand prize. But I suppose I can’t complain. My death experience could have been…well, considerably warmer.”

“Why not apply for Garden duty here, if roses carry your interest?”

She sighed. How could she possibly explain the awe and inferiority she felt when the great pearl-inlay gates opened to the most beautiful garden she’d ever seen? No, it was time for a new hobby. “Well, dead is done and I see no need to dwell on roses if I can be of use elsewhere. So when Peter suggested reaping, I thought, why not?”

“Well, I’m happy you’re here. Have you any questions before I give you the grand tour? I will answer what I can, although some things I’m not permitted to discuss with apprentices.”

“We don’t kill people, do we?” she blurted, wondering where the question came from.

“No, Essie, we reap souls.” The twinkle in his eyes vanished. “People kill people.”

“That’s a relief,” she breathed. “Not that I couldn’t do it if I had to kill someone. I mean, I never had to, obviously or I suppose I wouldn’t be here but it can’t be any different than killing dandelions and I’ve murdered my fair share of those… Sorry, I guess I still ramble when I’m nervous.”

“You’ll have to work harder than that to offend me.” He chuckled, filling her heart with song. “Welcome to the team, Essie.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Write On Edge: Collision Challenge

Red Writing Hood gives us 400 words this week for a collision.

The general population views a collision as a type of accident: cars colliding in an intersection, airplanes colliding in mid-air, students colliding in a hallway, a toddler’s backside colliding with the living room floor. Thunder is nothing more than parts of air colliding after a lightning strike creates a vacuum. The scientific definition of collision is an isolated event where two or more moving objects/bodies/things exert forces on each other for a short time. There's a series of complicated looking math problems to illustrate this, involving mass and velocity. I however, am not a mathematician. Instead, imagine a cat silently slinking across the grass. Each step is classified as a collision, paw vs. blades of grass.

So a collision could be silent or even invisible. 

From a literary standpoint, the collision possibilities are endless. A collision of cultures, for example, could provide excellent opportunity for tension and conflict.

Or if the forces in that isolated event embodied the heart of good and evil...of angels and demons...

I offer the following in response: Gillian's Dilemma 

Gillian cowered on the tiny balcony while her parents hurled vile names at each other in the hotel room. Escape was not an option this time. They were miles away from the familiarity of her hometown and six floors up. Trapped, she sobbed until she was void of tears and then stared at the night-sky seeking answers among the stars.

“Never you mind your parents, Dearie,” a woman sporting a white, fuzzy bathrobe leaned over the railing of the adjacent balcony.

How long had she been standing there? Gillian felt light-headed and only nodded. She didn’t have the heart to tell her to get lost.

A young man with bright, red hair and a warm smile appeared on the other balcony. “Angela, you’re sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong,” he said, pointing at the bathrobed woman with a fat cigar. “I must apologize for her behavior, Gillian.”

Gillian glanced at him sharply, “Do I know you?”

His smile didn’t wane.

Angela cackled a laugh, “Now who’s interfering Samiel? Dearie, he heard your name as I did from your parents’ caterwauling. The walls in this place aren’t exactly soundproof.”

Gillian did her best to ignore them all, cinching her arms tightly about her waist. Eventually, she realized they hadn’t moved, but she no longer cared. Inside, the arguing reached a fevered pitch.

“Now, Dearie, things sound like they’re getting bad. Why don’t you climb over, and I’ll fix you a cup of chamomile tea.” Angela offered in an ethereal voice.

“Tea? Angela really, bribing a girl with tea while her life is crumbling about her. She needs to blow off steam. I’ll take you to the penthouse club, buy you a drink.”

“I’m only fourteen,” she announced curtly.

He shrugged, still smiling. “It’s only a drink. The bartender won’t even question your age. Trust me.”

Gillian peered through the sliding glass window at her feuding parents. She was weary of the fight and desperately wanted to be someplace peaceful. She turned from Samiel, “Thank you, Angela. Tea sounds nice.”

Angela helped her over the railing, “I trust you’ll leave her alone now, Samiel?”

Samiel lost his smile. “Well played. Give my regards to the Man Upstairs.”

Gillian was about to ask what he meant when she noticed a soft halo of golden light around Angela. For a split second, heaven kissed the earth and Gillian knew Peace.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Write On Edge: Terminal Challenge

Red Writing Hood gives us 450 words this week, but the setting is mandatory. The scene, fiction or non, must take place in an airport terminal.

My father worked at LAX for a majority of his life. I grew up fascinated with airplanes. The smell of airports is very unique and always brings a smile to my face. I can't help it. I'm five years old again staring out the gigantic window at the planes in varied stages of coming and going on the tarmac. And before 9/11 shaped the airplane passenger world, I used to go to the airport just to people watch. I'd make up stories about where they were going or where they were coming from. Well, I still like to watch the people, but I actually have to buy a ticket now. Expensive if all I want to do is people watch. 
I remember an incident a friend of mine witnessed over a decade ago at an airport in France. Those dear readers who are familiar with LAX may know of the many announcements that reverberate over the speaker system, especially repeating "Do not leave bags unattended." The French do not mess around with abandoned luggage. They clear the area and then detonate the article, whatever it is. The incident in question turned out to be a suitcase of women's unmentionables and battery operated gizmos. I am told that at least until my friend's plane took off, no one stepped forward to claim the items.

I've cheated a bit. I went steampunk.

Or, I hinted at it. I found this prompt to be difficult to write this week. I'm at the in-laws painting walls and cleaning carpets and my brain is officially toast.

So, for this challenge, instead of airplanes, think dirigibles. Instead of standard steward, I mean, flight attendant uniforms, think Victorian era ascots and bustles.

I offer the following in response:  Forgotten Luggage at Gate Seven

Deirdre Colcannon adjusted her Kevlar suit, cursing its weight. “You’d think with all the advanced technology, they’d make these things more comfortable.”

“What did you say, Ma’am?” her subordinate looked up from his gear.

“Nothing, Brighton.” She glanced through their observation window. Travelers vacated the gate in an orderly fashion, following the yellow stripe on the tiled floor. Once upon a time, people would have panicked, trampling others in their need to escape. Now, after the mandatory bomb drills, passengers reacted more smoothly.

“Ready Ma’am?” Brighton asked from the door, gear in hand.

“Let’s set it off.” Deirdre picked up her pack and followed him out into the terminal. A hostess from launch gate seven waited for them at the blast door. She wore the standard issue green and black pinstripe uniform of Transatlantic Airstream.

“Sally Halestrom,” she announced brightly, “I reported the abandoned trunk.”

“Pleasure. Transat usually launches from gate three, doesn’t it?” Deirdre asked, shaking hands with the hostess.

“It does, but with the recent acquisition of Riviera Dirigibles, Transat hostesses can now serve the Mediterranean.”

“Please Miss Halestrom, if you don’t mind, I believe we should close the blast shield and initiate procedure, yes?” Brighton was all business. Deirdre smirked at his obvious discomfort. He was not a sympathizer to the Suffragette cause, and a mere hostess left in charge of an evacuation he surely found irksome.

“Oh of course. The trunk in question is right over there.” She waived a white-gloved hand towards a cluster of crushed red velvet settees across from the tarmac window. “Will you actually incinerate the trunk?”

Deirdre smiled, “Yes, Miss Halestrom. It is the standard security measure.”

Excitement reflected in Sally's eyes, “May I stay and watch? I promise to keep out of the way.”

“No, Miss Halestrom. By law, the only personnel allowed in the blast zone are licensed pyrotechs.” Brighton showed teeth in his practiced smile. “Please see to the blast shield.”

Deirdre and her subordinate walked to the abandoned trunk, listening for the blast doors to close. With gate seven’s waiting area safely cleaved in half, Deirdre acted quickly, pulling the bomb cloth from her pack while Brighton wired the charges together. They worked in silence, easing the cloth into place and securing the mild explosive to the trunk. Everything ready, they stepped a few feet away and Brighton handed her the go-switch. “On your mark, Ma’am.”

Poor Brighton, it must really frost his marbles that I am his superior. "Mark." Deirdre flipped the switch. The cloth merely rippled upon the explosion. “Anticlimactic is a good sign, Brighton. Job very well done.”

He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Ma’am.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Write On Edge: Phoenix Challenge

Red Writing Hood gave us 450 words and a phoenix, either the constellation or the mythic bird.

Phoenix symbolizes a birth from the ashes of destruction. Fitting then, or perhaps prophetic, that the first newspaper published in America by Native Americans and the first to be published in a Native American tongue was named The Cherokee Phoenix. The first issue was released on February 21, 1828 in New Echota, the then capital of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. A year later, focus for the paper shifted from the Cherokee Tribe to national matters that affected all Indians. The paper was renamed The Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate and often published articles that covered the growing Congressional debates and the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

It ceased publication in 1834, unable to survive the Trail of Tears.

However, like a true phoenix, The Cherokee Phoenix rose from the ashes of its past in the 20th century, and is actively participating in the technological age with a website and iPhone availability.

So, the mythic phoenix might not be wholly Cherokee, but I felt I could exercise a little mythic license. The idea comes from the tales of Raven, how Raven is the animal spirit known for trickery and for teaching life lessons.

I offer the following in response: A Raven in the Fire

“Stillwater, you pulled me from the council fire for a raven?” Cornblossom glared at her little brother. His timing could not have been worse. Redhatchet was handed the Talking Stick, and his words were always important.

Her brother’s jagged smile revealed another missing tooth. “Not a raven, a firebird.”

Trepidation drove the council from her mind as she inspected the trapped bird again. Pitch black feathers curled against the evening breeze. There was something fluid about its feathers, as if the down was made of blood. It let out a soft, crackling cry as it caught her look. “Let the bird go,” she demanded.

Stillwater’s pout waterlogged his whole body. “No, I’m going to show Father once the council meeting is over.”

“Raven is a trickster. He’s not going to like you trapping him like this. He’ll curse you.” The bird left her disquiet, as it preened calmly in its trap. She tasted sulfur in the air. Was it a firebird?

“It’s not Raven.”

“Think about this. If it truly is a firebird, catching it is wrong and our ancestors will forsake us. If it’s Raven, trying to trick us, he’s only going to be a raven when Father sees it, and you will be humiliated before the entire clan.”

Intense, the bird’s gaze pressured her. She was imagining things now. Ash couldn’t possibly drip from the creature. It couldn’t possibly glow under its feathers like the embers of the council fire.

Her brother tried a different tactic, “Please? I’ll let it go after Father sees it, deal?”

“If you won’t release him, I will.” Cornblossom folded her arms and attempted her mother’s disapproving scowl. “One.”

Stillwater didn’t move.

“Two.” She tapped her fingers against her arm. “Three.”

She reached down to pull the pin to the wooden structure, the air singeing her fingertips. She withdrew abruptly and sucked at the burns. “Ow!”

His jagged smile was back and Stillwater bounced about excitedly. “See, I told you I caught a firebird.”

“Let it go!”

The bird roared its crackling cry and Cornblossom saw the wood of the trap begin to smoke. “No, it’s escaping!” Stillwater shrieked, tugging at her dress. “You gotta help me!”

“It doesn’t want to be trapped, Stillwater,” she whispered, “It has a job to do. You have to let it go.”

Flames erupted, consuming the cage entirely. The bird broke free and drifted noiselessly towards the stars, invisible in the night except for the faint red afterglow of its feathers. Stillwater stormed away, defeated. Cornblossom never told him, but left behind in the ashen tinder was a small, unremarkable black feather. She gave it to their father, a medicine-man, for safekeeping. Just in case.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Write On Edge: Going For The Gold Challenge

Red Writing Hood offered three different options this week, inspired by the Olympic Games.

We are to choose one from the following:

The 100 Meter Sprint
100 words on a conflict, competition, or game.
The Road Race
300 words on a topic of your choice. The only catch? Your setting must be London, Beijing, or Rio de Janeiro.
Synchronized Diving
Partner up with another Write on Edge writer. You each have 450 words to write about a conflict between two characters; each writer should represent a single character’s point of view.

So, funny story...

When my editor speaks and the words "So, funny story..." escape her lips, everyone around her stops and listens. She's got a verbal arsenal of tales, mostly hers, some borrowed, that oft times bring uncontrollable fits of side-splitting giggles to surface. Those words became a catchphrase that my circle of immediate friends has adopted. Of course, the ubiquitous "No shit, there I was..." happens also, depending on the amount of drinks consumed by the party speaking.

So, funny story...and my attempt at narrative non-fiction for The Road Race event...

I offer the following in response: A Rare Commuter

St. Paul’s Cathedral blocked what little of the dawning sun the clouds couldn’t hide. Armed with our backpacks, we left the nearby hostel, walking the empty Saturday streets to the Tube. I whistled Feed the Birds from Mary Poppins, in fond farewell, as we passed the baroque apostle before we descended into the earth for our last journey through London.

“My-nd…the gap!” echoed the alternating male and female automated voices over the speaker system as the two of us stood on the vacant platform. When the train doors opened, we did as instructed, stepping over the gap between the platform and the train. The car to ourselves, we chose the seats against the end, backs to the wall, to better survey our empty traindom.

The rumble of the train lulled us into our own thoughts and we occupied the time writing in our journals. Stops blurred by without our notice, until an unexpected passenger boarded.

Feathered smartly in a hounds-tooth-like mottled brown, our new travel companion was an adventurous pigeon.

It jumped into the car and bobbed its head in different angles as if to better ascertain our merit. It pecked briefly at the ground as the doors closed behind it. I held my breath, preparing for the desperate flight of a panicked pigeon. Instead it bobbed, swaggered, and pecked while the train lurched onward. Too stunned to move, I simply watched it watch us.

As the train slowed for the next station, the pigeon turned and waited for the doors to open. It shot one last look at us before hopping from the car onto the platform. Only when the doors slid shut again did we risk laughing. We giggled the entire rest of the way to Victoria Station and our waiting Edinburgh train.