Ariel finally reached the mythical Water’s Surface; the world above her ocean was arid and scorching and windy and terrifying… and wonderful.
I actually thought of two (albeit related) story starters for this picture.
Scrambling onto the sinking scraps of her sales shack, Sally swore to cease selling seashells by the seashore.(18 words)
As she stepped onto the chair sunk into the shallow tide, it occurred to Meg that this was the strangest flash mob she’d ever participated in. (26 words)
Today’s very short story/sentence is inspired by another picture from a 25-word Writer’s Digest Contest:
The toddlers still held enough innocence to believe the white dust was snow, but Sasha knew too well the stinging scent of a forest fire.
The blog Bibliokept regularly posts interesting pictures that I want to use as creative writing prompts. The most recent photo was so bizarre and evocative that I couldn’t pass on writing at least something inspired by it. The story I came up with is, I think, appropriately weird.
The weather report flickered out of the holo-projector. Seven-eight percent chance of acid raid this evening. How did the weather forecasters decide on that precise number? Why not round up to an even eighty percent? Would the clouds really mind if we expected just a dash more toxicity to spill from their bowels?
“Don’t forget your umbrella,” she said to no one in particular as she glanced out the parlor window.
The sky choked with the black fumes of the refinery. Fine may have been in its name, but living so close to the beast was anything but. Every day was an umbrella day. Every day was a day for face masks and very long baths with soap that never quite removed all of the chemical residue omnipresent in the air.
She stepped out of her house, opening the black umbrella to the thick smog. She wondered how much more of this she could take. Much as she wanted to leave the city, anywhere that was once worth moving to now sat under the ever expanding seas. It’s amazing how tropical the climate can get when the heat of industry is forever trapped by its black cloud bi-products.
Hover cars stood abandoned along the road she walked to work. The asphalt had long been broken by crabgrass and tree roots as the cars took to the skies. With their solar cells now impossible to charge under the eternal cloud cover and gasoline a thing of myth, most found it easier to just walk. She adjusted her face mask as she passed the rusted out hull of her own craft. The solar cells hover cars were such a fabulous idea but in the end they, like everything else, were too little too late.
She heard the hissing of the acid rain before anything else. As the droplets pattered from the dark sky, they bit at the fabric of her umbrella. She realized far too late she’d grabbed the wrong one. Why did she even bother keeping her fabric umbrella when metal was the only thing that was truly protective these days? Her carelessness would be her downfall.
She looked back to her apartment. Too far to walk without scarring damage. Her umbrella was being eaten away above her. She sighed and tilted the umbrella back. The acid didn’t feel as she anticipated. She expected pain and torture. As the droplets hit her face and burned the mask, she felt…freedom.
At last, the gas released from the burn of her umbrella ignited. A plume of fire engulfed her face. She stood by the abandoned hover cars and waited for the flames to overtake her body and for the smoke could carry her conscious away.
At last, she could leave.
Title: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls Author: Katie Cross Genre: YA, paranormal fantasy (self)Published: March 21st, 2014 Length: 308 pages
I can’t remember how I found out about MMSG, but I’m glad I did. This story follows Bianca, a sixteen-year-old who’s inherited a curse placed by the diabolical Miss Mabel. Since someone thought it would be a good idea to give Miss Mabel a school of girls to watch over, Bianca has to go to that school and confront Miss Mabel in order to have the curse removed and save her life as well as the lives of her mother and grandmother.
What I liked/will be drawing inspiration from:
As I read, I was actively aware of how solidly this story was paced. It felt like a well-oiled machine. Part of that probably stemmed from Bianca having a plan (sort of) for getting her curse removed, so the beginning of this story in large part followed that plan. There aren’t a lot of “extra” scenes. There are points where Bianca spends time with her school friends but many/most of those conversations still contribute to Bianca’s quest for curse-freedom. The friendship scenes were also quick and nicely spaced, so they gave me some breather room between the more dramatic scenes.
With the story set at a school for magic, it would be temping to look for comparisons to Harry Potter. As I was reading, I actually kept thinking about the movies The Worst Witch and The Witches ( I have not read either of those books, so I can’t say how similar they are to MMSG), which worked out in the book’s favor because I loved both movies as a kid.
A final thing I loved was all the Girl Power™. No silly, forced love-triangles in this book. In fact, there are barely any guys period. It’s all about the ladies solving their problems (or making them worse) for themselves. While Bianca’s a bit of a poor planner, she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her two main friends were also interesting characters who I hope continue to develop in the future books. They’ve got a fiestiness I like. And of course, there’s Miss Mabel, so strong and yet so evil.
I’m a little conflicted about the Bianca-Miss Mabel dynamic. It’s established from page one that Miss Mabel is a terrible person who shouldn’t be trusted. However, there are many points where she ends up helping Bianca become stronger. So I kept thinking, “Wait… is she evil? Is she training Bianca to become her evil sidekick? Is she not evil at all and Bianca’s just an unreliable narrator? What does evil mean anyway?” Pretty sure I over-thought it, but I’m curious to see how this dynamic develops over the other books as well.
What I might’ve written differently:
Honestly, I can’t think of anything I didn’t like in this book. The one thing I might have liked to see more of was world-building. The story is set in a land called Antebellum that is organized into five networks (countries, I suppose). The geography and history that’s necessary to understand the plot is covered, so I didn’t feel like anything was left out. But the story was very focused on the school that not much was shown of the rest of Antebellum or how things work there. One line in particular stood out to me, about how non-magical mortals had moved out of Antebellum to get away from the witches. That left about a million questions in my mind: Where did they go? Where are they now? Why flee the witches, were they slaves or something? What’s outside of Antebellum (I pictured it as an island continent)? Etc. I assume there will be more world-building in the future books, and if all of my world questions are answered then I’ll be satisfied.
All in all, I give Miss Mabel’s School for Girls 4 out of 5 stars.
A few months ago, Writer’s Digest had a contest to write a 25-word or less sentence for the following photo. When I saw it, I immediately thought of a story. I don’t know if I did a good job of capturing it in 25 words, but here it is:
As he stared through the balcony bars at the city’s empty night sky, he wondered if she could see stars through her prison cell window.
A few weeks ago, Rachel Marek at A Writer’s Discrepant Memoirs and Other Tales, posted a picture writing prompt that immediately sparked not just one but TWO story ideas. Unfortunately, I was bogged down with work and didn’t have the time or energy to run with either of them. So I’m doing it today instead. Story idea one is fantasy, while idea two is more realistic/crime-ish. I think I’ll post idea two at a later date.
Also, I realized this is my second post involving trolls. What can I say? I love Scandinavian mythology.
The closer Gisla crept to the old stone bridge, the clearer she heard the screams. Heard was perhaps not the most precise sensation. The howling cries echoed through her mind like memories desperate to be reviewed. Every voice set her hair on edge. They felt as familiar as her own and yet each time she approached, the bridge wailed out a new cacophony of voices. The number of souls snatched into death on Trollwaker Bridge promised that it would be an eternity before Gisla felt a repeated presence.
“Why do you do this to yourself?” Agmund whispered. He placed his gloved hand on her upper arm. The leather caught on the breaks in her chain mail armor.
“I’m building my endurance. Like running up the mountain, the more I expose myself to the voices the less they’ll wind me.”
“We don’t need to build our endurance. We need to finish our rotation. In a month, we’ll be sent back down the mountain to finish our service in the lap of relative luxury.”
“And what if they don’t call us back?” Gisla finally turned around. The iron arrows in her quiver clinked against each other. She’d never have enough to do significant damage.
“I’m focused on the task at hand, Gisla,” Agmund muttered as he pulled the wolf tighter around his shoulders. The frigid north wind whipped along the river, whisking up flecks of ice from the frozen surface. The bridge guards stood firm as cold stun their raw cheeks.
“That’s why we’re a good team. You look at the now, I’ll look toward the future and save your hide when the Flesh-Eater steps through the fog.”
“That won’t happen,” Agmund muttered.
They glanced at the fog that swirled around the bridge. The lamps spaced along the walk taunted the villagers. Light granted safe passage in otherwise dark channels. Light should show the villagers away from their humble trade post and further into the mountains. No one had walked safely across Trollwaker Bridge in generations and yet the lamps burned on, unlit by any natural hand. They were a mockery of their own existence.
“We should just tear it down,” Agmund said as they continued their marching formation. It helped to keep their joints from freezing.
“Then we’ll loose our only path to the Western Wilds.”
“Assuming they still exist. If the Flesh-Easter’s taken over our bridge, who’s to say it hasn’t taken over the villages out west?”
The guards stopped their unprofessional chatter as Runa the Eldest approached them. Gisla cringed at the crone’s bulging joints, her left hand crippled in a permanent claw form. She had layered shawls and animal pelts over her hunched back. The guards bowed in respect to the village’s eldest member as she turned her face up to them. Her skin was a network of cavernous wrinkles that Agmund imagined she’d earned for each loved one she’d seen perish.
Not that she saw much, being blind.
“How is our old bridge?” The woman’s voice rolled off her tongue like the fog over the frozen river. Gisla had to bend over to better hear her.
“Nothing to report this evening, Honorable Eldest. Would you like us to escort you back to your cottage?”
“I have had the strangest premonitions,” she said to herself as she shuffled passed the guards. They quickly out paced her and blocked her route to the bridge. Neither wanted to fish a granny out of ice water as the sun was setting, especially since she’d likely die as soon as she stumbled over the river bank.
“You know, I remember when the masons came to build the bridge,” Runa continued. This time she turned toward the guards who listened solely out of respect. Agmund rolled his eyes toward his partner. “They said it would provide us easier passage to the mountains in the west. They set up villages in the Wilds. We thought if we could go to them, we could tame them. No one thought that the Wilds might want to come to us.”
Runa might have been going deaf as well. The watchtower’s belt cut through the still air but she did not flinch from her stoicism. From the center of the village, the deep clang echoed down the streets. Villagers ran into their cottages, bolted their shuttered and tucked away safe in their beds that could never protect them. If the Flesh-Eater crossed the bridge, the village would be flattened in a few of its mighty strides.
“Stand back, granny!” Agmund shouted, loosing his respect as he flung out his hand to keep the woman behind him. He drew his shield off his back and ran forward. A divot reinforced with iron and gold marked the shield point set a meter from the start of the bridge. He slammed the shield into its place.
Guided by the wisdom of the bridge masons, his shield made its presence known across the mouth of the bridge. Agmund had never had his shield presence tested before, at least not by a monster as formidable as the Flesh Eater. The skulls scattered and shattered on the evenly laid stone before him signified what happened to the shieldwarriors who failed to rebuff the Flesh Eater’s advances.
Agmund swallowed deeply as the bell tolled behind him. He checked his stance and redoubled his concentration. The Flesh Eater would not pass his post.
Gisla heard the screams louder than ever. She drew three arrows and nocked them across her bowstring. Even as an expert archer, she couldn’t be sure her weapon would slow the Flesh Eater. It would never stop him, but perhaps a few well-landed arrows would sting its eyes enough to send it back into the fog.
“Gisla, where is it? Can you see anything?”
“Shh! And no!” She scanned the bridge but saw nothing other than rolling fog and flickering lamps.
“The Flesh Eater approaches,” Runa bellowed behind them.
“Go home, granny!” Agmund shouted.
A ground-shaking boom signaled the monster was in deed on the bridge. Agmund felt Gisla at his back. She felt the strength of his shield.. Together, they could keep the Flesh Eater at bay. Together, they would survive and bring news to the encampment at the base of the mountain. More guards would be needed, by the sounds of the second boom. When they survived together, they would bring more–
“For Bodil! For Skalla! Arnsborg!” In a shrieking battle cry, Runa dedicated her sprint to the bridge in the name of those who had fallen before her. With all her layers of shawls and pelts, it was no surprise that she had hidden a few hefty swords. The sight of the wizened crone wielding them with expert dexterity and sprinting with the passion of the realm’s finest berserkers kept the guards gawking where they stood.
“One of us should… go after her?” Agmund muttered amid another boom. Gisla hesitated before lowering her bow and running after the woman.
“Runa, come back. The Flesh Eater will end you,” Gisla beckoned through the fog. Voices shrieked at her, words warped by the horrible deaths they’d suffered. She could hear Runa’s muttering in the direction of the bridge wall. The old woman sounded too far away, the bridge was not that wide.
“Show yourself Flesh Eater!” the woman hollered.
The boom fell far too close to Gisla. She looked up at the dark shadow around her. The form was not quite human, the height not quite mountain. It ambled toward the village.
“Agmund, it’s coming for you,” Gisla yelled to her partner. “Flesh Eater, I am here for you. Take me.”
The archer raised her weapon as the shadow turned and lowered itself. She tightened her stance as the lumpy, disfigured face of the troll cut through the fog. Long ropes of droll fell from its open mouth. A tendril whipped Gisla across her cheeks. She squinted through the acidic skin and bared her teeth at the troll. It did the same.
“I am Gisla the Iron Archer, daughter of Hrund the Valiant and Sigmar the Shieldmaiden. It is by my arrows that you shall be slain, Flesh Eater.”
“You wish to slay me, tiny one,” the troll laughed. The scent of blood and rotting flesh was ripe on its breath. “None who walks in the light and sees by the guide of the sun has might enough to slay me.”
The troll’s jaw snapped open. Gisla unleashed her arrows. They settled like tooth picks in between jagged teeth. She reached for more but knew she had little chance of reaching its eyes. The bridge groaned as the troll’s mouth descended.
“Gisla, brace yourself.” The archer held her arrows as the troll’s teeth pinged off Agmund’s shield presence. Seconds later, he barreled out of the fog and stood like a wall before her.
“I am Agmund the Shieldwarrior, son of–”
“Spare me sermon, slightly less tiny one,” the troll grunted. It gripped its ringing head and drew back into the fog. The howls of its victims amplified the blow from the shield.
“But she got to–”
“What are you doing? You need to protect the village!”
“I am. A shield is useless without its arrows, and the arrow is useless without its shield.”
“I imagine you thought that sounded better in your head,” Gisla grunted as she hefted the bow.
The troll’s daze was wearing off. Agmund knelt before Gisla and projected his shield around them. If they could not hold its position here, they had little chance to keep it away from the village. The only hope was for Gisla to land her arrows, and for Agmund’s shield to hold against the troll’s considerable heft.
“If you can, have it fall to the side,” Agmund said as Gisla drew her bowstring.
“And for Runa!”
Gisla felt the old woman’s tiny feet land on her shoulders before she could react to her final battle cry. The weight shoved the archer downward. The loosed arrows pierced the stones. Before Agmund could grab her, the old woman launched herself from her archer perch like an arrow of flesh and bone. She held the swords in her gnarled clutches as she careened toward the troll’s emerging face. It opened it jaws, a greedy glint in its dark eyes.
Runa’s swords pierced the troll’s palate. It snapped its jaws closed. The guards braced themselves for the sickening crunch of her bones between its teeth. Instead, the troll’s smile faded. It let out a deep groan and clawed at its eyes. With a final shriek that could have rivaled its victim’s, the troll tumbled forward.
Its body lay heavy over Agmund’s shield presence. He grunted as he willed the body to roll over. Gisla kept arrows at the ready and approached the body. She wouldn’t exclude the possibly the Flesh Eater feigned death.
A stream of dark, steam blood oozed along its jaws. She peered inside. Runa was gone, swallowed during the fall. Her swords had been pushed up by the troll’s tongue.
“It looks like they’ve pierced one of its eyes from the inside.” She gagged and drew away, covering her face with a gloved hand. “Yes, she ruptured its eyes. Smell that?”
“That’s worse that rotting elk carcass,” Agmund choked.
“It’s why we’re trained to aim for the eyes, not that the arrows ever pierce through much of the eyelids. They’ve got skin like rock, you know.”
As Gisla and Agmund returned to their post, the fog dissipated. In the twilight, a second bell rang clear. It had been hung for generations but this was the first night its song had played. The sweet twinkling notes summoned the villagers from hiding.
The Flesh Eater had fallen.
“Our guards have done it!” the village chief shouted as he ran to greet Gisla and Agmund. The stench of troll saliva and blood was still thick on them, a sign of their victorious battle. “They have slain the Flesh Eater!”
“No, it was Runa the Eldest,” Gisla admitted. “She made a warrior’s sacrifice and gave her life to rescue the village once and for all from the Flesh Eater’s gluttony.”
The archer turned to her shieldwarrior and said, “It was as the troll declared. None who walks in the light and sees by the guide of the sun had might enough to slay the Flesh Eater. It was Runa the Eldest, She Who Walks in Perpetual Dark, who landed the final blow.”