Monday, January 28, 2013

Week 5: WoE La Douleur Exquise Challenge

Write at the Merge gave us a picture of Bancroft Tower, Worcester, MA under a stormy sky, and the French expression: La Douleur Exquise (the exquisite pain).

The Exquisite Pain refers to the heart-wrenching, gut-churning, violent sickness from love for someone one cannot have, but even this is an over-simplistic definition. It's not unrequited love, it's more like Romeo and Juliet, just worse.

There's a poem by Alfred Noyes titled The Highwayman that embodies this for me. It's one of the few poems that I would say I love. The imagery is haunting and the plot is expertly woven with danger and suspense. It has inspired a couple of films, a few music orchestrations, and even sparked a few novels.

I wanted to take a minor character from the poem and write a scene from his perspective. I also took the liberty of setting the story in Colonial America. Call it...a history nerd's fan-fiction.

I offer the following in response: The Landlord's Daughter

Timothy watched Elizabeth plait her hair from the sycamore shadows of the moon-soaked yard; his vigil that of tireless nightly devotion. Her sloe-black eyes would search for him in the dark from her second-story window, and find him not. “Soon, my love,” his dreams whispered. “Soon we shall wed, then your father shall grow old and infirm, and I shall run the inn, and find another to ostler.”

He slipped deeper into the shadows as a rider approached, the hooves of his steed clattering over the cobbles at an urgent gait. Timothy had seen that popinjay several times before her window, pledging oaths and stealing promises. Fury flamed his cheeks as he was forced to witness yet another pointless exchange. “A kiss for luck, my sweetheart, I’ve another prize tonight,” the rider spoke, standing in his stirrups to reach her fingertips with an outstretched arm.

Timothy, still cloaked in darkness, leaned closer to better hear their conversation. The melodic voice of his sweet, sweet Elizabeth sang like a nightingale, but there was so much concern in her tone. What did she fear? Surely not for the life of the brigand. Surely ‘twas naught but Christian compassion that colored her words so. “The Redcoats have been by," she whispered. "I overheard an officer mention a spy working in these parts. I beg you, do not go this night.”

“That gold is desperately needed. The Continental Army will not survive the winter months without that supply.”

“Return to me,” she replied. Why does she say such things? Does she know it makes me angry? Does she know I shall have to punish her? Ah, but no, she is an innocent in this. I shall forgive her.

“I shall be back before the light of dawn. If they should press me, I'll take to the moor until I can shake them. I'll then be back by midnight. Hell cannot keep me from you.”

She loosed her braid and her black hair tumbled long and free about him. The rider nuzzled the cascade. It was all Timothy could do to keep from charging the popinjay. The blade in his boot would make quick work of the man’s neck, but her eyes did not deserve to see such terrible things.

The steed turned west with its rider, the darkness of the moor swallowing any trace of them. The brigand was gone and Elizabeth concealed once again behind protective shutters. Timothy turned to the stables and chose a patron’s mare and tack to carry him to the British outpost. You shall see, my sweet Elizabeth. He cinched the saddle tight about the mare and reached for the bridle. Once he is captured, you shall see that you have been quite the foolish, foolish girl. And there will be nothing left to keep us apart. Not the popinjay, not the inn nor your father, not even that treacherous moon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Week Four: WoE Friends and a Heart Challenge

Write at the Merge this week gave us a picture of a brick-paved heart and my favorite quote from Groucho Marx:

"When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying 'Damn, that was fun!'"

I return to the hijinks of Sticky and his friends and their quest for chocolate, the result of the last week's link up.

I offer the following in response: Operation: Chocolate

A full moon smiled from atop the midnight sky, and stars kept their silent vigil over the world below. Sticky pressed against the windowpane of the farmhouse he frequently visited. His friends mirrored him, eager faces squished to peer inside. “This is where I found the secret figerie pie,” he explained, his whisper fogging the glass. “The farmer lady is sure to have chocolate.”

“What’s a chocolate anyway?” Pocker asked as he wedged himself between Topple and Lily-fathri.

“The Seeress showed me," Sticky replied. "It’s brown and lumpy, or black and smooth, or even sometimes, it’s so scared it turns white.”

Topple peeled away from the window and crossed his arms. “Aw, I never get to see the Seeress use the Pearl. That’s not fair. You get in trouble all the time and yet you get to see her use the Pearl.”

Uh-oh. If he feels slighted, he’ll use all his flight energies on camouflage to be stubborn and he’ll get us caught. Sticky thought, exchanging glances with his sister.

Sellamina didn’t hesitate. “Topple, the Seeress thinks you’re far too important, keeping watch for balinogs.”

“Oh,” he said, relaxing. “That makes sense.”

“Let’s go find some chocolate.” Sticky focused his desire for the window to open, magic surging through his heart. When enough energy was collected, he tapped the glass and the window opened a crack.

They crawled across the sill, mindful to avoid anything that could snag their wings, leaving a trail of foot and hand prints in the fine layer of dust. A poof of magic escaped Lily, dampening her silvery shimmer, and all the dust and prints disappeared from the surface. “Well, it needed cleaning,” she stated when she caught their looks. “And we shouldn’t leave tracks behind anyway.”

“Yeah or the balinogs could find us.” Topple agreed, causing a tired sigh from Sellamina.

Sticky shrugged and pointed towards a jar at the far end of the room. “I think that’s where the chocolate is.”

They flew single-file through the airspace to the cold granite countertop. Bright, metallic bobbles glittered inside the jar. With a bit of convincing, Topple helped Sticky and Pocker pool their energies to open the lid. The hiss of a vacuum destroyed pushed a bloom of nutty sweetness into the air. Sticky understood in one sniff why the Seeress was so keen to have one. He salivated instantly, “Ooh, it’s edible.”

“They look like little bells. Do all chocolates look like little bells?” Lily breathed.

Pocker looked just as awestruck. “Are they called chocolate because they’re made of chalk?”

Topple frowned, “Chalk never smelled like that.”

Sticky attempted to haul a bell out by its white paper string, but halfway through the effort, the metallic wrapper unraveled and the chocolate fell to the countertop. “Chalk never looked like that,” he said.

Sellamina bit into the brown lump and glowed. No trace of balinog poisoning remained in her skin, and she shimmered brighter than Sticky remembered. “And chalk never tasted like that!”

Monday, January 14, 2013

Week 3: WoE Gossamer & Affinity Challenge

Write at the Merge this week gives us two words for inspiration - Gossamer and Affinity - which we can use within our 500 word count or not.

Both these words screamed Sticky and friends to me, so I'm returning to the pixies' world.

I offer the following in response: Summoned to Seer's Well

“You’ve got something on your chin,” Sellamina licked her thumb to wipe the smudge away.

Sticky pushed her away gently before rubbing his cheek. “Sella, stop. I’ll do it.”

Lily and Pocker exchanged troubled glances. “What does Seeress want to see you for this time? What did you do?” Pocker asked.

“I didn’t do nothing,” Sticky replied with less conviction than he felt, his stomach in knots.

Sellamina folded her arms, the shimmer gone from her skin. While her health was improving daily, her energies still suffered from the effects of balinog poisoning. Sticky knew she’d be irritated with him if she could just summon the effort. Instead, worry pooled in her eyes and she sniffed. “Well, even if you did do something to offend her, Sticky, I’m sure she’ll understand that you didn’t mean it.”

It wasn’t the first time Sticky had been summoned to Seer’s Well, nor was it even the fifth. The last time, though, the Seeress made it known that he was dangerously close to being shunned. A shunned, clan-less pixie was certainly a dead one. Facing exile from his sister, his friends, and his beloved woods scared him more than facing down a balinog. His lower lip trembled, “I’ll miss you most, Sella.”

Tears slipped from her eyes. “Oh stop. There’s no need to be dramatic,” she chided, wiping the dampness from her cheeks.

“Sticky-tagger?” the cricketer chirped from the curtained thicket. “The Seeress is ready.”

Friends piled on him, engulfing him in a winged circle of hugs that threatened to keep him in his place. He managed to wrap his arm around his sister, cradling her close. “I-I have to go, now,” he forced the words through the lump in his throat, and the circle dissolved around him.

Timid and alone, Sticky struggled to keep pace behind the cricketer. Seer’s Well was at the end of a narrow shaft and buried in the earth a million seasons ago. In the center of the grand chamber lay the Pearl, the obsidian-black vessel the Seeress used to divine pasts and predict futures. Cricketers and clan-elders would fill the cavernous space on celebration days, packed in so tight there wasn’t room for wings to move. This day though, the Well was unoccupied, save for the Seeress perched on her throne of acorns behind the Pearl.

“Come, Sticky-tagger, come.” The Seeress stretched out a welcoming hand, her silvery gossamer-wings glistened with honeydew. “Let us not stand on ceremony.”

Obedient, Sticky hastened to her side and blurted out his fears, “Seeress, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

She looked confused, “Sorry for what?”

Sticky sniffed, “For whatever it was I did that I'm being shunned for?”

She smiled, her eyes twinkling merrily. “Oh, child, I’m not shunning you. I was going to ask you for a favor.”

“Oh?” Sticky asked, hope returning to his heart.

“Yes, you’ve an affinity for all things human,” she leaned closer to whisper, “I was wondering if you might fetch me a bit of chocolate.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Week Two: Write at the Merge Balloons and Nirvana Challenge

Write at the Merge was introduced last week, replacing the old Red Writing Hood format for prompts. This week we were challenged with a photo taken in Turkey of a group of hot-air balloons in the shadow of a setting sun, and the unplugged version of Nirvana's Plateau. The picture inspired my location this week, and the song lyrics made me think of a desert cemetery. Before you ask, no, I don't know why. I have no idea if that was the intent of the song-writer. I can't say I've ever really listened to Nirvana. That band wasn't on my list of "had to have".

This week I return to Ivy's campaign to rescue Mitch. We last met her at an art gallery in Washington, D.C. She's currently following leads and going on wild-goose-chases, discovering that this conspiracy cuts deeper than she ever thought possible.

I offer the following in response: A Phrygian Market

Hot-air balloons hung above the desert plateau against the Phrygian twilight, like ink-blots floating on orange vellum. Jet-lagged and out of her element, Ivy followed incomplete directions from her hotel through the park to the marketplace. Pausing in the lingering heat to catch her bearings, she compared her map to the mosque-dominated skyline. She double-backed a block and turned at the old cemetery, walking south beyond the planted dead waiting for resurrection. The marketplace appeared at the edge of a centuries-old apartment row; its banners bright as balloons against ancient masonry.

She wormed her way through the crowded bazaar booths, her lungs struggling to process the foreign air heavily laden with unfamiliar spices and body odors. Strange languages resembled nothing more than spoken gibberish to her ears. She felt like a pinball in an arcade game, jostled off shoulders and displays, alone in a sea of human kickers and slingshots.

“You like this rug? You want to buy this rug?” a monger blockaded her way with a red paisley carpet.

“No thank you,” she replied, barely registering the questions were in English. She tried to push by, but the man didn’t budge.

He forced eye contact. “You want to buy, Ivy Tanner.”

She stopped; a deathly chill gripped her soul. “You know me?”

There were large, toothless gaps in his smile. “We have mutual friends,” he whispered. “Perhaps you would prefer a green one?”

Ivy eyed him with suspicion. Every fiber in her being screamed trap. Still, she replied, “Or blue?”

He waived her inside his shop, “Yes, yes, come! I have more inside. You come pick. I give you good price.”

The world outside was locked away and she was ensnared in the stale darkness of the tiniest commercial threshold she ever crossed. “Look Pal, my embassy knows where I am. If I don’t return by-“

A humorless, inhuman laugh slithered from the shadows. “Miss Tanner, fear not. We have no interest in your death.” A shape stepped into the meager light.

Shit! Her breath caught in her lungs. The man was in the pictures she smuggled from the nightmare of Equator, the village in the shadow of Volcano Wolf of Isabela Island. “I’m leaving,” she snapped. “I’m in no mood for games.”

He gripped her arm as she turned to the door. “I want what you want, Miss Tanner.”

“What I want is to be out there and away from you. Just who are you anyway?”

“Lou Marston,” he let her go. "I believe we can help each other."

 “I don't require help, least of all from you.”

"Perhaps," he rubbed his chin, "but I know you're looking for Mitch. I happen to be as well. We could pool our efforts, Miss Tanner."

Her stomach plummeted as she assessed her situation. The door behind her represented her hope for freedom: out of reach and closed.