Seven Days of Story-a-Day May

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I wrote yesterday, but had to go to a wedding and never got around to posting. Mayhap’s I’ll post that in a little while. In the meantime, I wrote something today. It’s a continuation of a story and it seems there’s a lot more story to tell. Yay! In any event, thanks for reading!

Ida Wayward Ravenstar didn’t speak to anyone. That wasn’t her job. Millie-Marie greeted the mourners. Her smile and lilting voice comforted those who walked in the door. Of course, Millie-Marie had recently received the news and her days at Mortar and Crow Funeral Home were about to end. The Illness came to everyone eventually if accidents or crime didn’t claim them first.

Ida watched her coworker console a young a man. They sat on a velvet bench under an archway of white lights. Ida couldn’t see the Illness yet, but surely that would change. Soon her skin would thin to paper and peel. Her lungs would begin to fail and her thoughts would cloud. Ah, there it was. The clue. Even though Millie-Marie kept her hands clasped tightly together as if in prayer, Ida spotted the tremor in her left hand. It always started in the left hand.

In the early days, a few people resorted to amputating their left hand as a preemptive measure. How could the Illness begin without that vein going straight to the heart?
But the Illness was too clever for that.

It was so clever, no one could discover where the Illness came from or what could stop it.

Ida sometimes dreamed the Illness was laughing at them, especially after it took her mother. Her father was saved from the cruelties that came at the end of the disease. He’d been stricken, but he’d gotten only to stage four when he was shot. Ida had taken the bullet as a blessing. It worked faster than the Illness.

It was a shame about Millie-Marie. She wasn’t really as kind as she pretended to be for her job, but she was interesting and brave, two qualities Ida greatly admired.
Ida shook the thoughts from her mind. She had work to do. Going outside to take her place behind the hearse, she kept her eyes down. Her hair fell forward and covered her face. That was how mourners liked her best.

She stood silently until the trumpet sounded. The procession moved forward and she followed walking behind the slow moving hearse. Hired mourners mixed in with a few authentic ones watched her go by. The hearse, a wagon pulled by one of the few horses left alive, thudded on the rutted, potholed road. The casket shifted and bounced with the turn of the wheels.

Ida didn’t spend much time wondering about the corpse. What was the point when she had enough of the living to worry about. It was only a matter of time before they each took this final journey, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be the last to go. Maybe a cure for the Illness would be discovered soon, but there’s be no good news in so long, she couldn’t imagine what good news might be.

But the procession reached the funeral home’s main gate, and it was time for her to sing the lament.

Your form carries on your heart
but all is silent and unmoving.
Nothing more to ask.
What more now needs proving?

Ida spoke in perfect rhythm. She never missed a step or faltered in the words, and her tears flowed freely. Her constant tears had long been a source of awkwardness and stares. Now people stared but in respect and she got paid. It discomfited her, sometimes to realize she needed death to feed her family. No funeral, no cash. But people were going to die anyway, and she had to eat.

The procession had almost reached the graveyard when she felt a strange sensation in her left hand, and tried to pretend she felt nothing. She managed, barely, to keep singing. Her pinky twitched. The Illness had come.

Moments ago she’d been worried about being the last of her siblings to die, but unless her brother killed himself with his addictions, she’d be the first. The Illness didn’t taken that long. not really. A month perhaps. Six weeks if she were lucky. Or not so lucky. The end was a painful, ugly process.

They reached the gravesite and the pallbearers rushed forward to removed the casket from the hearse. She stilled her voice and thought of Millie-Marie back at the funeral home. No, they were too young to die. It was unfair. They hadn’t done the damage to the world that unleashed the Illness. The injustice burned furious within.

Ida stepped away from the hearse. She watched the handful of mourners grieve. Who was a real mourner and who was not? usually she could tell, but not at the moment. Her emotions rocked too far one way and then the other.

No, she wasn’t going to die in this scrub of a town, singing for coins, and begging her siblings to behave. No. She was going to die out in the world, collapsing in the middle of a cause. She would not go gently. She had much left to prove.

Without waiting for the funeral home director, Crick Mortar, who stood nearby overseeing the proceedings, to signal it was time for her to depart, she began the walk back. She’d stop at the funeral home and talk to Millie-Marie. She’d make the girl see they could live a lifetime in a month. They run out into the world and trample everything if they had to. They would live, or die trying.

 

Until next time, best wishes.

Story-a-Day May! Day 5

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I skipped yesterday. Well, i didn’t time travel or anything. I just mean I didn’t write an actual story. I did write. I rewrote several scenes for my novel! And I’m glad I did. But I don’t know if it qualified for Story-a-Day.

In any event, I wrote something new today for my A Night in a Graveyard and Other Stories of Immortality. I don’t really know where these stories are going, but nothing usual there.

So, here’s a very, unedited draft of a beginning (for what it’s worth).

As the end of the world came closer, people gave up their rituals for the dead. A few hardy souls held to tradition, but they found themselves at funerals several times a day. Not everyone possessed enough tears or compassion.

But Ida Wayward Ravenstar had been crying and never stopped. So, the day she came of age, she put her tears to use. Someone had to earn and her parents were dead. Most everyone’s parents were dead by this time. Her older brother was nearly dead, his soul clinging to life in spite of his addictions and foolhardiness. “Don’t look for sense or fairness in who life blesses, my little love,” her mother used to say. “You’d have more like finding a puff squirrel that can make tea.”

Now the five Ravenstar children needed to count on themselves. Thomas Courage, 19, scavenged for trash and bits to sell down at the recycling yards. Or he did when he wasn’t sitting in the trash with needles in his arms. Clarence Mighty, 14, worked in the apple fields. On a good day he could bring the bruised apples home. Apples were the last fruits to grow, the News declared. And one day they’d be gone as well. But a bright red apple was worth it’s weight in gold, and a job in the orchard hard to get. The job made Clarence the lord of the house, not that he was much for lording over others. Mostly, he demanded someone else make his bed, a flimsy cot under the window. It was the one the chore he couldn’t abide.

Ida’s younger sister, Nellie Peacemaker, 12, managed to get a job even though the law said she was supposed to be in school. Everyone laughed at that. The government might as well have ordered them to fairyland for the likelihood of it. Nellie worked delivering messages. She was quick and exceptionally small, the gift of being premature and malnourished their mother said. “Be grateful.” Nellie could scramble under barbed wire and through gaps in fences. Security cameras recorded her image as a shadow and she barely made a sound on the gravel when she ran. She was also very good at keeping secrets, and everyone in the neighborhood trusted her. She never delivered a message to the wrong person and she never spoke out of turn.

The youngest of the five Ravenstar children, Frances Zeal, 8, didn’t have work. She was good at finding flowers in hidden places, cracks in sidewalks under shadows, in alleys behind garbage cans, and the rich ladies who managed to survive in the graceful, dilapidated houses would always buy these tiny blooms. The money from a real flower could feed the children for a week, but such gems were hard to find. Frances could always find them, but she could not make them grow.

Ida, 16 and a fountain of tears, found work at the Mortar and Crow Funeral Home, a sprawling metroplex of offices, viewing rooms, temples, prayer rooms, crematoriums, and financial services, boasted a full range of mourners for hire. A family could hire grandmothers in black, some who wailed and pulled their hair and some who prayed quietly at the grave. Whole families could be chosen to tell pre-written stories of the deceased, burnishing tales of generosity and bravery. There were young women who would throw themselves on the ground, dressed in flowing black dresses, proclaiming their undying love. Ida did none of that. She specialized in following the funeral procession, her long hair streaming, silk flowers woven in, and tears steadily streaming down her lovely young face. Aside from her ability to cry from sunrise to sunrise without effort, she could recite any prayer or poem for the dead.

Ida Wayward Ravenstar was a vision of heaven, speaking like an angel, and many a funeral goer fell in love with the sight of her.

“Mother would die if she knew what you were doing,” her brother Thomas said one day as they sat together on their sagging, ratty sofa.

“She’s dead already,” Ida replied. She ran a brush through her hair. “And she’d want us to eat. Francis might be able to go back to school if I keep working.”

“You work for murderers,” he said.

Ida stood to check her reflection in the tarnished mirror on the opposite wall. “They just bury the dead. Someone needs to.”

“They do everything they can to keep us dying,” he continued. “They stopped the building of the new hospital. They bought the drug companies and stopped development of new drugs. Death is where the money is and they make sure of it.”

“Rumor is all that is.” She wiped away the tears she couldn’t stop and placed her brush on the shelf. “You’re one to talk with those needles you keep jabbing yourself with.”

He looked down at his lap.

“You don’t want to give Mortar & Crow money? Then stop bringing about your own funeral.”

Thomas tugged at thread twisting out from the seam of his jeans. “Don’t give me a funeral, Sis. Leave me in a ditch like the rest of the poors.”

“We’ll do such thing! You’ll have a proper funeral and I’ll walk behind your coffin and say the best prayers. Of course I will.”

“We all know we can’t afford that.”

“It’s what we’ll do! And I’m done talking about it.” She flounced out of the room to the kitchen, where she’d scrounge something to eat. Clarence had brought home a loaf of stale bread and a few slices of cheese, and she hadn’t had her ration yet that day.

Thomas listened to his sister in the kitchen where she’d sit alone at the table crying those endless tears over bread. “You’ll find no body to bury, Sis,” he whispered. “That’s one promise I can keep.”

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

Story-a-Day May–Day Three, People!

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This is for A Night in a Graveyard and Other Stories of Immortality. I’m sharing more today, but it is still just a start.

Lindy Tremaine dug graves. She operated the backhoe and drove the dump truck. She dug small graves for cremations and infants when necessary. Sometimes, Kap helped, but he liked to keep busy in the office, filling in forms and holding the hands of mourners. He was far better at letting people cry than operating heavy machinery.

Lake Belle had two cemeteries, and most people preferred the other, grander, well-trimmed cemetery across town, Bright Belle Memorial Park. They had a full staff available and a sleek coffee maker in their welcome office.  The Night Path Cemetery didn’t compare. They buried the homeless and the patients from the nearby asylum. They buried prisoners and the Jane and John Does. In truth they didn’t have many funerals, and Lindy spent most of her time pulling weeds and cutting grass. She worked the crematorium and fixed whatever needed fixing. The toilets needed new parts or a bit of jiggery-pokery at least once a week and the sprinkler system demanded constant tweaking. She kept busy and she kept her distance from the mourners as best she could.

Tears unsettled her as much as false cheer. She didn’t mind the questions a few visitors dared ask. A favorite question was if she’d ever seen a ghost. “Of course,” she’d say. “All the time. We have tea at midnight and make fun of the living.”

On this lovely spring late afternoon, Lindy sat on a concrete bench overlooking the front half of the cemetery. A funeral was scheduled for the next day and she’d finished setting up the tent over the grave. She was proud of her day’s work. Undoubtedly the family wouldn’t notice the perfection of the grave’s dimensions, but they had more important things on their minds.

Kap would wander by soon to inspect her work. She smirked at the thought. They both knew she did excellent work, better than even the specially trained gravediggers at Bright Belle with their newer, shiner equipment. He’d stand by the gravesite and pretend to know what he was looking for. He’d nod seriously and tell her, “A plus, Tremaine.” Possibly he’d check to make sure no dirt smudge the shine of his shoes. Then he’d ask her if she wanted to go get a beer.

Lindy wondered who was being buried. She hadn’t looked closely at the file. Her job didn’t require names. The lowering sun coated the cemetery like gold, her favorite light of the day.

What did it take to talk to ghosts? Did anyone ever manage it? What could the dead possibly say? If heaven existed, and she didn’t believe it did, surely ghosts spent too much time doing heavenly things to be bothered gossiping with the living. If heaven didn’t exist, what did ghost have to talk about? The insides of caskets or the ability to walk through walls?  This struck Lindy as poor material for a long conversation.

Her phone vibrated. Kap. “Yeah?”

“There’s a gentleman here in the office,” Kap said.

Lindy nodded, studying the shadows stretching out behind the tombstones. “And?”

“Says he’s a professor and he needs our help with some research.”

A cloud of starlings wavered overhead, greeting the end of the day. “And?”

“Says he and his students study the paranormal. They want to set up here for the night. Film what happens. You know the drill.”

She did. Every so often, someone came along asking to spend the night in the cemetery. Bright Belle always said no. Lindy appreciated being asked. It was better than the kids who snuck in on dares and beer, littering and damaging angels. She and Kap liked to say yes. It made them feel as if they were thumbing their noses at Bight Belle’s protocols and policies. “Fine,” she said, wondering if Kap would make this professor sign the waiver. There was no official waiver. Kap had made one of his own on the computer. Forms helped him justify his suit and slightly higher pay.

Kap hesitated.

“And?” she asked.

“He’d like one of us to stay with them, him and his students. Just to keep an eye on things and be, you know, an impartial witness.”

Lindy waited, but Kap said nothing else. “And you want me to be the one to stay?” she finally asked.

“Well…I’ve sort of got a date tonight.”

She sat upright. “You? You’ve got a date?”  Who? Her mind raced to think of someone, but she came up blank. But it was not the sort of thing he’d lie about. He’d think he was jinxing himself to lie.

“It’s no big deal really. I was going to tell you, but… yeah. And anyway, you’re way more outdoorsy than me, right? You know the grounds and all.”

“Yeah, sure.” She stood up. “I’m on my way to the office. Hey, you told the professor about the service we got tomorrow.” She headed up the hill to the main path. “The family isn’t going to want students all over the place.”

“Yeah, yeah. He understands. He promises they won’t even know they’re there. They’ll be like ghosts.”

“Ha. Very funny.” She hung up the phone and shoved in her back pocket. Maybe this group knew what it was doing. Maybe this time, she’d see a real ghost.

 

Thanks for reading! And keep writing if that’s what you do.

Day 2 of Story-a-Day May!

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I’m not posting entire stories, but here’s the beginning of what I worked on today. This is back story for a manuscript in progress–The Book of Astrophilia. It is my sci-fi fairy tale. And this bit tells about a few of the passengers (secondary characters) on a ship traveling the stars.

The sisters, Jezebel and Skye, smuggled food from the kitchens to the boy they kept hidden in their room. Fabule Earl didn’t eat much, and between them, the girls provided just enough food to keep him quiet. Although he would’ve stayed quiet anyway. He’d do anything for the twins, especially Skye, whose blank, black eyes never saw him but whose hand always held his when he had bad dreams.

The backstory isn’t actually very long. I just explain their motivations and why Fabule loves one sister more than the other and why they’ve hidden him away in their cabin. Of course, they aren’t the main characters of the novel, but I like knowing why everyone in my stories is doing whatever it is they’re doing. Who knows how much of that backstory will make it into the final draft.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow I hope to work on another story.

Story-a-Day May Returns!!

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I have so many stories to finish, it is foolhardy to try Story-a-Day May again, but I can’t resist its siren call.

What about you? Are you writing?

I hope so.

And for this year’s writing madness, I have a plan. And my plans tend to end up like old school paper maps. I get them and they’re nice and crisp, folded perfectly, and a short while later they’re folded the wrong way and stuck in a nook somewhere in my car to be pulled out every once in a while as if I’d never seen it before in my life.

Anyway. Today is day one of Story-a-Day May! Congratulations to anyone writing out there, too.

For Day One, I’ve started a new story and it begins like so,

Miranda Magpie Jones did it for love. Which isn’t much a surprise to anyone who follows stories of humans making mistakes.

What is a surprise to some folks is what happened when she woke up on the dirt path that ran along the old graveyard. Of course, she didn’t wake up as you, dear reader, might think. Miranda Magpie Jones, 45, returning college student, always in a financial bind, and thoughtlessly in love with her professor had died earlier that evening in an unexpected, lurid fashion.

The working title is A Night in a Graveyard and Other Stories of Immortality. It’s inspired by a story my mom once told me.

But I’m also going to use this month to revisit other manuscripts in progress, write backstory or character profiles. And we’ll see where it all ends up.

I’m also getting ready for an art sale, and that takes precedent this year. This first week shouldn’t be too hard since I’m on vacation and can’t spend any money. What else to do but make things and tell stories?

When classes start back up…fingers crossed and wishes made!

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

What Do They Want?

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An important question when writing a story is what do the characters want?

I know what the main character, Hannah Robinson, wants. But the others? I’m still thinking about that.

And who is the antagonist? An individual? The Asylum itself?

I can’t move forward until these answers are resolved in my own mind.

Returning to the Asylum

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The fire roared across the grounds, and they all scrambled to get out of the way. The flames rolled after them as if it wanted to find every soul in reach.

Hannah ran through the front gates. She assumed the others were behind her. They should have been, but she didn’t look back. She kept running, faster than she’d ever run in her life. Down the dirt road, pain stabbing at her side, her breath burning in her chest. Coming to the curve, she finally stopped. Gasping, she leaned forward, her hands on her knees. “Nate? Clem? Mer…edith.” She took another short, sharp breath. “Dad?”

No one replied. She straightened up and turned around. She was alone. In the distance, behind the stone walls, the fire raged. Orange sparks and gray ash spun overhead in the night sky.

Dread flooded Hannah’s heart. She had to go back.