The Fourth of Story-a-Day May!

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I didn’t expect to like writing challenges, but ever since I gave NaNoWriMo a try back in 2004, I’ve been hooked. The rules of NaNoWriMo and of Story-a-Day May free my imagination, which might sound contradictory, but it works for me. I’m less of a perfectionist with these challenges. They give me a goal, and I’m happy if I meet the goal. The other months of the year are for rewrites anyway.

The main thing is what gets you to write. There are as many ways to be a writer as there are writers. Only one thing applies–you have to write. If challenges freeze up your imagination, don’t do them. If they help you come up with ideas, fantastic! I don’t need the challenges for ideas. I need for the discipline and for the freedom they give me to write what I want instead of worrying about a hundred things that get in the way of the page (for better or for worse).

Also, writing challenges have helped me meet other writers and other cool people. Like you!

In any event, here’s something for the 4th day of Story-a-Day May. (And for my fellow Star Wars fans–May the Fourth be with you!)

Oh, I’ve decided to write about a character in my novel-in-progress, Drowning Karma. This bit of backstory sets the plot in motion.

Sarah Hunter believed herself to be the direct descendant of a Salem witch. No documents existed to prove her ancestry, but she believed it nonetheless. And her power came from belief.

Sarah raised her three daughters to believe the blood of witches flowed in their veins, and as with any good descendent, each had to find a way honor the family heritage and to remind the world that witches would never be silenced again. Except sometimes a daughter has a way of laying waste to the path set before her, and her middle child was just such a daughter.

Maryl rejected her mother’s stories from the start. She questioned. She argued. And when she hit her teens, she mocked. Her mother was strange and suspicious. Her mother did nothing to fit in. The latest fashions were unknown and school functions held no interest. Maryl hated the clutter, the potions, and the claims her mother made. When her mother refused to take her disdain seriously, Maryl rushed to the local Catholic church and converted.

Waving her rosary at her stunned and confused widowed mother, Maryl demanded, “What good did a witch ever do?”

“I’ve told you a thousand times,” her mother replied.

“You’re a liar,” Maryl said. “Look around and tell me who it’s better to be. The excited or the executioner?”

A rage possessed Sarah like never before, and when the screaming and tears came to an end, Maryl packed her things. She didn’t say goodbye or look back.

Sarah stormed through the house as her other daughters silently watched from the shadows. The youngest daughter finally came forward. Their mother, muttering and swearing, had gone to the room where she kept potions, Tarot cards, and all the odd, lost things that helped focus her mind and channel her power.

“Mother,” the youngest said. “Wait until morning. The sunlight will clear all this away.”

Sarah shook her head vigorously. “She will learn her lesson,” she said, “if it’s the last thing I ever do. I promise you that. I promise with all the beats left in my heart.”

The youngest stepped back, at a loss for what to do. She knew they would all suffer if their mother kept her promise.

Story-a-Day May Day 3!

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Story-a-Day May continues. I might jump around quite a bit from one story to the next. The stars know I should probably focus on one thing, but that doesn’t always work for me. For some semblance of order, I might write stories in threes. Meaning, for three days I’ll write about one story and for the next three days write about another and so on. And with that in mind, here is day three of The Fairy Tale Asylum backstory.

The townspeople said the construction site was cursed. No one knew how the rumor began, but Delia striding down main street demanding whatever took her fancy probably had something to do with it.

The town was hardly a town. Set up by a lost group of settlers too tired and dispirited to go any further, the main street boasted very little. Delia came in, snapped her fingers, and changed things. The owner of the general store added a fresh coat of paint and trim, the saloon replaced broken windows, and the post office put up a proper sign. A boutique appeared on the corner to sell fine dresses to the wives and working girls. Delia loaned money to a few local women to open their own businesses–a salon, a gift shop, and even a haberdashery and hat shop.

The townspeople were grateful and suspicious. They didn’t know where a single woman with no known history could wield such a fortune. One man decided he didn’t need to pay Delia Fairchild back the money he borrowed. He borrowed the money to fix up the church, add a pretty window and a few hymnbooks. He was doing the Lord’s work and that Delia Fairfield acted too high and mighty anyway. She couldn’t boss him around.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that he choked to death the morning after ignoring Delia’s knock on his door. And while everyone agreed hadn’t forced the man to bite off more than he could chew at breakfast, everyone also made sure to pay their debts to Delia on time and with a smile.

A few workers died at her construction. A couple had fallen from a scaffold, and a third was crushed by a tree being cut down to make way for the road leading through the front gates. Accidents were bound to happen on a site, of course, but the workers and the townspeople remained uneasy. Something wasn’t right. Far too many blackbirds alighted on the beams and scaffolding and storm clouds rolled over the place every afternoon though no rain fell.

But Delia Fairfield had never been happier.

Story-a-Day May Goes Another Day

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Day Two of Story-a-Day (after a day spent hawking my wares at a local art festival) means backstory.

Meredith got on the wrong bus. The brightest student in her graduating class, any hospital would be lucky to have her. Nursing, her family said many times, flowed in her blood.

Never had Meredith gotten on a wrong anything. She arrived to everything on time. Her work stayed in order. Nothing excused getting on the wrong bus.

But this morning Meredith poisoned her father. Meredith loved her father. He could’ve lived another twenty years but for his recent flights of fancy. He no longer talked liked the father she knew or expected. Instead, he shared his dreams of prowling in woods and howling at the moon.

The bus jostled Meredith around. She stared out the window. Flights of fancy and tall tales set her on edge. She didn’t want to know about her father’s fall from normalcy and familiarity. She could no longer abide his confusion, and she happened across the poison by accident.

It was an accident, she reassured herself. She’d never really poison a patient. No6t a real patient.

The bus stopped and Meredith stumbled off. She didn’t know where she was. No one would know where she was. She looked around. No one would find her. And any hospital would be lucky to have her. She was the best nurse in her class.

Story-a-Day May and Other Goals

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I love Story-a-Day May. I’ve been working on rewrites for my second novel, Drowning Karma. The rewrites have become much more massive than I anticipated, which is fine, but time consuming. I also really want to go back to Hannah’s adventures at the Asylum. The problem is that I haven’t made the time to straighten out the first half of the story. So, it’s hard to pick up the thread now. I want to go back over what I have and figure out where the story is going before I throw more on.

Tomorrow, I’ll be attempting to sell my art at a festival, and getting ready for that has taken a lot of my concentration today.

But I want to participate in Story-a-Day. I don’t know what to do.

Well, as I think about this, I’ll write backstory.

Delia Fairfield’s father lost everything in the war, but Delia wasn’t one to let a war get in her way. From her father, she stole what money he hadn’t squandered and headed south. Her brothers warned that she was rushing into swamp land and heathen territory, but she’d never heeded her brothers before. She wouldn’t start now.

Mosquitos swarmed around every weary traveler venturing into Florida in those early days, but even the mosquitos avoided Delia Fairfield. She rode her own horse deeper into the state and nothing accosted her–not the mosquitos and not the bandits. She wore a veiled hat to hide her face, not to protect her flesh. From a young age, she understood the power of mystery. That power enabled her to buy the land she wanted even though no one in the area had ever considered selling land to a woman. That power enabled her to hire as many men as she needed to build what she wanted. That power wove itself into the very woodwork of the hospital she insisted had to be built far into the woods away from average patients.

Delia had no intention of ministering to average individuals. She had special patients in mind. Some might have accused her of building a hospital for inmates not patients. The word patient implied freedom to leave, but freedom wasn’t a word Delia thought much about. She had all the freedom she wanted. What did she care about freedom for others?

Once all the workers were in place and the foundation was laid, Delia selected a handful of special workers to escort her on her travels and help her with her mission. She set out into the world to find those special patients she needed. It didn’t take long for her to establish her reputation, and soon unhappy families and spurned lovers were bringing patients to her. She promised to cure every patient of delusion, but cures were never her intention.

Christmas

I wanted to take a break from my manuscripts and write a Christmas story. I ended up with something of a Christmas story, but it didn’t go as planned.

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Angela Green walked home with a bag of Christmas presents, but lights and decorations distracted her, and she turned the wrong way halfway home. She often let herself be distracted. She liked discovering out-of-the-way places and odd treasures no one else wanted.

Holidays lured Angela from her path every year. Her parents gave her string and pebbles to follow home, but she ended up lost no matter their efforts.

No harm had ever come to her though. She’d look up dazed at her surroundings, but she always found someone to bring her home safe and sound. She told her teachers that she was charmed. This got her a detention and a phone call to her parents.

Angela found many amazing things on her wanderings. One year she saw a flock of pink flamingos in a tree. Another year she listened to a retired opera singer singing in her back yard to her dogs. And yet another year she found a circle of polished stones around a tunnel deep into the earth. When she knelt down and looked in the hole, she heard voices from another land. She didn’t tell anyone.

But word spread of the strange schoolgirl who kept getting lost, who scribbled stories in her notebook, and who carried odd things in her bag, like the bones of a sparrow and strands of a mane from a white horse she claimed was a unicorn.

Her parents told her not to draw attention to herself. Angela didn’t understand their warnings. She understood very few warnings. The world was dangerous and wonderful, and what was the point of avoiding danger if it meant avoiding wonder?

Her parents grew more and more impatient. They called a doctor in. He looked at her stories and shook his head. Something about her stories unnerved him. For weeks after reading them he dreamed of giant snow spiders and monsters made of flowers vines. The doctor instructed Angela to focus on her school or she might come to harm. He told her parents that if her stories became any wilder, she’d need closer observation.

This Christmas Eve, she walked back from her grandmother’s house, presents in her shoulder bag and a candy cane she twirled between her fingers. Gingerbread crumbs clung to her jacket. She heard carolers singing a carol she’d never heard before, and that is when she turned right at the corner of 5th and Main when she should have turned left two blocks down.

Angela didn’t recognize the street. She thought she knew all the neighborhood by now. She’d gotten lost down all of the streets at least once, or at least that was what her mother said. But this one felt unknown, and she loved the unknown. The sun was setting behind the houses and porch lights came on along with strings of holiday lights.

However, no people appeared anywhere, and no other sounds reached her except for the carol singers. She walked by picture perfect houses and the sounds of cars faded, as did all the town noises. But Angela focused on the singing.

The street became narrower and narrower, and still she found no sign of the carol singers except for their voices filling the air.

Angela walked and walked, the singing always beyond the next corner. She didn’t know the town went so far. Darkness fell over everything, and she continued on, determined to find the singers and join them even though she didn’t know the songs. She was quick. She knew she’d learn. The voices reminded her of dreams and the taste of clementines.

Of the dreams that rushed back into her thoughts while she walked, one dream loomed over all the others. In that dream she sped along city streets all over the world leaving starlight in her wake. The dream felt so real, she glanced behind her to see if anything glimmered in the air where she’d walked. There was nothing but the empty sidewalk. She kept walking.

Somewhere along the path Angela realized she’d lost the bag of gifts from her grandmother. Her parents would scold her. Perhaps send her to bed without supper. Angela was sorry for the lost of the gifts, but she assumed she could look for the bag on the way back. She was in trouble either way. She was going to be very late, and it was Christmas Eve.

She reached the last house, and the road turned into a path that led into the woods. Stars glittered in the winter sky. She stood at the edge of the pavement, thinking. Go on or turn back?

The singing stopped. The silent night blanketed twelve-year-old Angela Green. A footfall on grass caught her attention and she squinted to see further into the woods. A deer appeared. It stood at the edge of the forest, its black eyes gazing back at her.

Angela imagined the deer called her to follow.

She stepped off the paved road and onto the grass. That’s when she saw the old woman. Angela blinked. How had she not noticed the old woman before? She was tall and elegant, like the movie stars her mother liked to talk about. But she was old. No, Angela reconsidered. The woman had thick white hair that flowed down almost to the ground, but she wasn’t old. Nor was she young. Her skin reminded Angela of her father’s coffee after he mixed in cream. The woman wore a red velvet dress that looked like something out of a picture book.

The woman smiled, and she curled her fingers in a gesture of calling Angela to follow her. Angela did.

The carol singing began again. The two of them headed deeper into the woods, neither speaking until they reached a clearing. Angela started. Wild animals waited—wild rabbits, deer, a stag, foxes, ferrets, and even a couple of wolves. Butterflies and lightning bugs flitted above them all. And in the midst of the menagerie sat a sleigh. Or Angela decided it was a sleigh. She wasn’t that familiar with such things, and something about it struck her as unusual, not quite like the sleighs she’d seen in books, but she settled on calling it a sleigh. She very much wished to touch it.

The woman nodded and stretched out her arm, pointing to the sleigh.

Angela smiled and though her first step was hesitant, confidence settled over her. She knew the woman meant for her to fulfill her wish. She strode through the animals to the front of the sleigh and placed her hand on the highly polished wood. The animals milled around her feet. A fox nudged her with its nose. A wolf howled.

“Why are you showing me this?” Angela asked the woman, though she kept her eyes on the sleigh.

The woman glided over and stood beside her. She too placed a hand on the sleigh. Angela compared the woman’s hand to her own. It was the hand of a very old woman. Carefully, Angela lifted up her own hand and set it back down on the woman’s hand.

The woman nodded.

Angela understood.

This was an opportunity.

Angela didn’t think of her parents. She felt as if she could anything, even fly. The woman nodded towards the sleigh.

The animals moved out of the way, making a path. Angela walked around and climbed into the sleigh. Sitting there, cold came over her. A snowflake drifted down. The woman took her hand from the sleigh and stepped back.

The air wavered. Everything stilled. Angela watched the old woman change. She shortened. Her hair changed as did her clothes. A few moments later, Angela was looking at herself. The woman had become the girl.

Angela looked down at herself, and her school uniform was now a velvet red dress.

Angela picked up the reins as if she’d been doing it her entire life.

“You are now hope in the darkness,” the woman said in Angela’s voice. “It’s your turn.” The woman was a perfect copy of the girl in every way.

Angela nodded. With a tug of the reins, the sleigh lifted into the air.

Once the clearing was empty, the animals wandered away, and the woman, now the girl, turned around and went back the way the original Angela had come. She walked back to the road where she found the bag filled with Christmas presents from the grandmother.

She walked all the way to Angela’s house where impatient parents waited.
“Where on earth have you been?” the mother asked.

“Traveling the world brining hope to whomever I could reach,” the new Angela said.

Her mother frowned. “Well, I guess it’s good you’re home safe.” She then took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Are you excited about Christmas tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

“What do you think Santa will bring you?” her mother asked.

Angela smiled but looked out the window as if seeing a far off world. “I’ve already gotten what I wanted.”

Forgetting and Writing

I’ve been rewriting since the last time I posted, but I forgot I wanted to post anything. I just forgot. My brain is a sieve.

But anyway, I’ve added a new scene into the first half of the manuscript. And here it is! Thanks for reading.

Hannah ran like the old woman had told her to. She ran by strange souls lingering in the hall. They were blurs in the corner of her eye. She thought she glimpsed a girl with flame red hair and a boy made of scars.

She was almost to the door when a lone black bird flew into the hall from the shadows of a patient’s room. The bird swooped and cawed. Hannah jerked sideways to avoid its mad flight, and she crashed into a man wearing a doorman’s uniform. She knocked him into the wall.

The lockpick fell from her hand. Hannah stumbled backwards and looked at the floor for the lockpick. It was her favorite.

“Who the hell are you?” the man asked.

She looked up. His nametag reflected the hall light. “George.”

“I’m George.” He looked puzzled and rubbed the back of his head.

Hannah snorted. She tried to keep one eye on him while she searched for the lockpick. He might be able to lunge and take hold of her, but she sized him up. He wasn’t a man who knew how to deal with someone who fought back.

George continued to rub the back of his head. “Go back to your room,” he said. “You patients can’t be running willy nilly out here. Nurse will have us all hung.” He squinted. “What was I doing?”

At that moment, the old woman caught up with Hannah. “He’s one of Them,” she said.

“I don’t think he’s going to bother us,” Hannah replied still looking for her lockpick. The doorman bent over forward and put his hands on his knees.

“I think I hit my head,” he mumbled.

Hannah hesitated. She’d crashed into him hard, but his apparent disorientation unsettled her. “You okay?” she asked, glancing at him sideways.

He stayed bent over, but he laughed. Then he coughed. He hacked. “Can’t say a patient’s ever asked after me like that. Am I okay?” He leaned even farther forward. “My head hurts.”

“What should we do?” Hannah turned to the old woman. “I think I…”

“I told you not to stop for any reason, and here you are, worrying about one of Them.” The old woman stepped over to the doorman.

A thin line of silver flashed a few feet away. It was the lockpick. She knelt down to snatch it up, and when she stood back up, a loud thud startled her. The uniformed man was out on the floor. The old woman stood over him.

“What happened?” Hannah asked.

“He fell.”

Hannah didn’t know what to do. “But he’s unconscious.” The old woman could’ve knocked him out, but that seemed ridiculous. The old woman couldn’t be that strong.

“He fell hard,” the old woman said. “Now go. Run like I told you to.”

She’s still there.

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I’ve got a multitude of writing projects (because I want to work on all them all the time), but I’ve got a writing schedule now and want to continue this story once a week until the end of the story.

In the meantime, this is where the story picks up.

A cloud of blackbirds descended from the sky. The birds swooped and soared over the asylum grounds. They were a black cloud in the night sky and though they didn’t caw, everyone heard the whoosh and flutter of wings.

Lights in the Asylum flickered. A small girl was climbing through a window onto the roof. Unwittingly she stood on the same spot as the boy had earlier. But when she saw the birds, she reached out to them.

They descended. Wings enveloped her, and when they lifted off again, the girl was gone. If anyone looked up at the right moment when a bit of moonlight hit the flock in the right way, they’d have seen a patch of pale blue of a nightdress.

The night was only halfway done.

Thanks for reading.