This is a work of fiction.
As soon as I took the gag out of his mouth, the male Leader of Worship started screaming for help. Quickly, I gagged him again, and then I listened. I heard a distant voice. So did he. He smiled.
It took a few seconds before I could hear it properly. It sounded like a young woman. I did not want to hurt anybody, but I couldn’t allow my interrogation of the male Leader of Worship to be stopped. If she found us, which it sounded like she was about to do, I would tie her up and let her go when I could.
I grabbed a length of vine and hid behind a tree.
It wasn’t long before I heard her footsteps, which sounded oddly familiar.
A hand pushed some leaves aside, and then I saw a young woman with my daughter’s face. On trembling legs, I came out of my hiding place.
As soon as she saw me, she said, “My father.” She looked around and saw the male Leader of Worship in his canoe. “You!” She looked back at me and said, “Have you seen his Partner of Worship?”
“Yes. She’s tied up in another clearing. I was just about to interrogate him, but first, I . . . don’t understand how you . . . didn’t fall to your death.”
“Let’s go down to the river and talk.” I followed her nimble form as she navigated the complex path down to the water’s edge. When we got there, we leaned against trees on opposite sides of the path.
“My daughter, speak.” She smiled.
“It was terrifying. I was falling. I tried to grab the air but there was nothing. It was so bad, I don’t have the words for it. It wasn’t real, yet it was. There was a scream trapped in my spirit, and I could see rocks and branches flying by, but I couldn’t reach any of them to grab hold. Dad?”
“I was only a step’s length away from the ground, do you understand? No, don’t answer that, nobody can understand, me least of all. I was this close,” she demonstrated with her thumb and index finger, “when I heard a sound and felt something grabbing me. It hurt. It felt like I was being stabbed in both sides. I thought death would feel like a great blow or like nothing at all, but it was like there were spears being driven into me. I thought it would never end, and I hung there for centuries looking at a flat, gray rock just below me.” She slid down the tree and sat on the ground.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. I kept staring at the rock that was supposed to kill me when I struck it, but I was bleeding, trying to scream, and still somehow alive. The ground inched closer and the pain in my sides was tremendous. Then I was on the ground, on my stomach on that flat rock. Whatever had stabbed me let go, and then I actually saw it. It was a huge grayish brown bird with a wooden seat strapped to its back, and there were bags suspended from each end of the seat. I thought I was dead and dreaming in the spirit world, but I was bleeding and feeling the pain in my sides. There were pools of my blood on either side of me and they were so incredibly red against the gray rock. I started to shiver and I didn’t think this was what death felt like. Do you have any food?” I reached into my pockets and pulled out handfuls of red berries. She saw them and squealed with delight.
After she’d eaten them, she said, “Thanks. The bird wasn’t moving, and I couldn’t, so I just lay there waiting to bleed to death on that flat, gray rock. I heard a sound and then the children I had sketched climbed out of one of the bags. They helped a young bird out, and soon, they were standing in my blood. ‘What’s that red stuff?’ the sister asked her brother. ‘Blood,’ he said. I feared that they might not recognize me and would walk away, so I said, ‘help.’ They did.” She smiled at me. The breeze played with our hair and birds sang in the trees.
“I know the birds and the children,” I said. “What happened? How did you find me? Where are they now?”
“The mother bird was dead. Saving me was her last act. The young bird climbed onto my back and put her wings against my sides and held pressure until the bleeding stopped. I was an egg and she kept me warm. Then the children brought me food and water. There wasn’t much preserved meat, and the young bird needed protein, so once I was able to get up, we found fish, insects, and worms for her. After a few days, I went for a long walk and was resting before going back, when I saw the man who’d offered me a ride. Dad?”
“I love him. There really wasn’t room for my mother in his little bicycle cart. He still feels bad about that. He’s a hunter, and he came back with me and caught meat for us. My father?”
“Yes, what is it, my daughter?”
“I have his child in me. You’ll be a grandpa!”
“Then you must eat these,” I said, and pulled the rest of the berries out of my pockets. She grinned, took them, and devoured them.
She wiped her face on a leaf, looked up at me, and said, “Where is my mother?”
I told her the truth. She cried until her tears ran out.
“We must return to where she was drowned. If we can find her, we can free her trapped spirit.” I nodded.
“Do you have more to tell me before I question the male Leader of Worship?” She shook her head. “Would you like to come with me?”
I showed her where to find more berries, and then I went to the clearing where the male Leader of Worship was still tied in his canoe.
“I’m going to make sure you don’t do any more screaming for help,” I said. I searched his canoe, and found food, blankets, and tools. Among them was a well-sharpened knife. “See this?” I held it up. He glared. “If you scream, I’m going to gag you, and then use this on your privates. I know how to stop the bleeding and just exactly which leaf to use to turn the wound to fire. So, my advice to you is that when I remove the gag, you start talking immediately.” I took out the gag, and he didn’t scream. “What I want to know is simple. Why?”
“I was getting bored.”
“Of living up there on that mountain and running the temple. The birds were nice for a while, but then they just became chores, and the children became chores as soon as they were born.”
“Okay, so why didn’t you pack a bag and leave? You could have gone somewhere else and done whatever didn’t bore you. Why the dark tide?” He smiled.
“The gods showed me the way. I asked for a vision of what would make life more interesting, and they reminded me about an old legend the Leaders of Worship before us told to me and my Partner of Worship. A roiling cloud from the ground was exactly what was needed. All kinds of fun things would happen. I didn’t need the children or the sitting bird or the eggs, but my Partner of Worship was warm and comfy at night, so I took her with me. Can I have some berries?” I shook my head. “Why not?” I reintroduced him to the gag, and went to the berry bushes to talk to my daughter about going to rescue her mother’s spirit.
She wasn’t there. I walked among the bushes but there was no sign of her.
Had I dreamed the whole thing? It had all seemed so very real, but my dreams usually did. Had I truly fallen for my own mind’s desperate lie? I couldn’t remember waking up, but somewhere between talking to my daughter and interrogating the male Leader of Worship, I must have done so.
Part 8 will be posted on Friday, June 12.
Need a link to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6? Here you go!
It’s interesting how the meaning of words changes over time, but even more so that we don’t often think about the words we use, and where they come from. A remarkably good (or bad) example of this is the word “lousy.”
The dictionary definition, or at least the first one, is “remarkably bad,” “poor quality,” “dirty,” and “mean.” We say things like, “His writing is lousy,” or “She’s a lousy photographer.”
Now, consider the second definition: “Infested with lice.” So why don’t we say “licey?” One louse is rarely encountered or talked about, and yet, over a thousand years ago, the adjective was derived from a singular noun.
The original meaning of something very dirty and infested with lice has changed to the fairly tame put down “lousy” is today. I doubt most people even think of lice when they hear or use it. I only noticed the connection when I was rereading the Little House on the Prairie books, and somebody uses it, along with “lazy,” to describe a teacher. Something in my brain clicked. Lousy. Louse. Lice. Makes perfect sense.
To conclude this post, I’d like to share two poems by Robert Burns:
To a Louse
To a Mouse
. While I certainly do not approve of his saying that the louse should leave the lady alone and go bother some poor people (what a lousy thing to say!), I do enjoy Burns’s language and poetic style. I also admire how he shows compassion for the mouse whose home he’s destroyed.
If you were my dad,
I would never once be late,
Also not human.
Setting is crucial to creating something your Readers will love, and if you struggle with it, then you’re like me.
Getting setting right might be easier if stories took place entirely in one location, but they seldom do, so writers have hard work ahead. We have to constantly change the scenery, move in and out of it, and describe it just enough for it to serve its purpose. Since only the Author knows the story, I can’t say how much or how little you need to describe the places your characters are in, but these three tips are intended to help you, the Author, figure that out.
- Remember it. It’s easy to sort of forget they’re in a room when your characters are talking to each other. That’s okay, because you’ll revise and you can add setting details later. Just remember it and make notes to yourself to add some description and actions in between dialog.
- Imagine the setting and write it down. You probably don’t need to do this with every part of your setting, but you might find it useful to draw a picture of your teenage character’s bedroom where she and her two friends will spend a large part of the book, or make a rough sketch of where the furniture is in a living room if there’s a big family meeting and you need to keep track of who’s where and what they’re doing. Even if you don’t need all those details for your story, it’s nice to have them available.
- Have fun. Setting isn’t a chore. It’s an integral part of a story. Your story. The one your Readers are going to love.
Dancer in silk robes,
Infused with the rising sun,
From Day One, I’ve struggled to come up with interesting post titles. No more.
Cristian Mihai from The Art of Blogging has written The Art of Crafting a Brilliant Headline. It’s a post worthy of being saved, printed out, and kept near at hand when you’re blogging.
It’s Saturday night, and Rita is offered a choice: either stay in the job she hates but be able to pay the bills, or reply to Matt’s e-mail…
Short story previously published in six parts on this blog, and when it was finished, I put it together on a page for your convenience.
This is a work of fiction.
The canoe drifted toward the house, and I thought it was going to collide with it, but it skimmed past the corner of it and carried me downstream. I had nothing left in the world except the canoe, the clothes I wore, and my daughter’s sketches. If I could ever get free of the river, I could earn food, clothes, and tools, and as long I had the bag strapped to my chest, life was still worth living, even without my wife and daughter by my side.
As the current carried me along, I had the luxury of looking at my surroundings. On either side of the river, there was submerged flatland, and the detritus of daily lives uprooted could be seen floating at times: a wooden toy, boards, and even whole houses that must not have been anchored sufficiently. I also saw people paddling canoes similar to the one I was in. Whenever I did, I watched, and gradually, I copied them, until I achieved some ability to navigate. I had nothing of use with which to barter for food, so I did not approach any other boats.
When night fell, I stopped paddling, and let the canoe drift in the moonlight. I didn’t dare sleep, for fear of inadvertantly ramming another boat.
At first light, I started paddling again. The banks were steep and the river was quite narrow, and I noticed that the scenery was passing by at an increasing rate of speed. Ahead of me, there was a bend in the river, and I couldn’t see what lay beyond, but I could certainly hear it! I became anxious, but there was no way except forward, so I kept paddling.
I rounded the bend and all was chaos. The canoe plunged down a cascade, and somewhere between air and water, I was dumped out of it. After what seemed like an endless fall, I landed in water. I flailed and thrashed, terrified of losing my breath and having my soul trapped there forever. I tried to regain my canoe, but I couldn’t find it in the tumble and tumult of roaring water.
Everything fell calm. My head was above the surface, and I blinked and looked around. The river was broad and there were trees and bushes on the banks. To my right, very close, there was a canoe, and somebody was pulling themself into it. It wasn’t mine, but I hoped that whoever it belonged to would share. I threw myself in that direction, kicked with my legs, and gained the side of the boat. I grabbed hold of it and pulled myself in. I landed beside the owner, and then I saw her face. It was the female Leader of Worship. Soon, I was going to get some answers.
“Let’s get out of the river,” I said. She nodded. I took the paddles and navigated us toward the right bank. When we reached it, the canoe touched down and I stepped onto dry land, and with that, I regained all of my confidence and anger at what had happened. “Come with me, please,” I said. She climbed slowly out of the canoe, and followed me up higher, until we came to a clearing. A short time later, she was tied with vines to a tree. I found a small piece of wood that would serve well as a gag, popped it into her mouth when she opened it to cry out for help, put a leaf over it, and glued it in place with resin from a nearby evergreen. I checked that nothing was covering her nose, started to go look for berries, but then I thought I’d better check the river, in case there were others who had fallen into the cascade and who were now boatless. I couldn’t swim, but I could throw them strong vine ropes and pull them in.
As I neared the river, I saw a canoe with a man in it. It was the male Leader of Worship. Quickly, I ducked behind a tree. Had he seen me? I peered out. He’d reached the bank and was tying his canoe to a tree. He finished and stepped back into it, and I watched as he began to untie something. I took my chance. I sprinted to his canoe, jumped in on top of him, tied him up, and then gagged him. I unfastened his canoe and dragged it until I found a second clearing. I tied the canoe to a tree, and went in search of red berries.
Once I’d eaten, I went to the first clearing, where the female Leader of Worship was bound.
I removed the gag from her mouth and said, “Tell me why you left your children behind.”
“I didn’t,” she said. “Have you seen them?”
“Yes, but I believe they are dead, although I haven’t seen their bodies.” Tears streamed down her cheeks, and it was a while before she spoke again.
“My Partner of Worship asked me to pack clothes and food and he’d help the children and the sitting bird. He’d already put the bicycle cart onto the father bird’s back, so all I had to do was load it. I packed what we needed and called to him that I was ready.” She took a deep breath to replenish her courage. “He came but the children and the sitting bird weren’t with him. He put me in the storage area of the bicycle cart. I heard him lock it and sit down at the front of the bicycle cart, and order the father bird to take off, or he’d take me out and do things to me in front of the father bird’s eyes. The father bird took off. Do you understand what I’m saying?” I nodded. “He made him fly until he had no spirit left. He flew and he flew, and he didn’t stop until he had just enough left to land us safely. As soon as we touched the ground, he collapsed beneath the bicycle cart.”
“Would you like some berries and some water?” I said. She nodded.
After she’d eaten and drunk, she said, “He took the bicycle cart off of him, folded him up, and shoved him into it. He opened the storage space, and made sure I had a good look. ‘The children are dead,’ he said. ‘The sitting bird and her eggs are history.’ ‘Why?’ I asked. He smiled at me, and said, ‘I was bored.’ I didn’t understand, and I still don’t. I asked him to explain, but he hasn’t spoken to me since. May I sit down?” I loosened the vines, helped her to sit, and retied her. “I heard what happened to your daughter.”
The sketches! With shaking hands, I removed the bag from my chest. I opened it, took out the folder, and we both stared in horror at the mangled mass of paper.
“The river,” I whispered. “That soul-stealing river did this.” She nodded. “Who made my daughter draw sketches of your children?”
“I asked her to. My Partner of Worship admired them, but he had no part in commissioning them. I asked what she would like as payment, and she said that being allowed to hold them and to play with them was all she needed.”
“What happened to you when the flood came?”
“The gods told him that the river was going to overflow its banks, so when it started to rise, he put us in separate canoes and tied them together with vines. Everything was fine until we came to the waterfall. Somewhere on the way down, the canoes became separated and I ended up in his and he in mine.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Are you going to let me live?”
“Before I determine that, I must speak with your Partner of Worship.”
“I know not where he is.”
“I do. He’s bound and gagged in his canoe in another clearing. But before I go, take breath! If what you have recounted is true, then the children, the mother bird, and one young bird are alive.”
“How can that be? They were left behind.”
“Yes, but so was I, and I found them. I packed the children and the young bird into the bags that were attached to the wooden seat, strapped the whole thing onto her back, and she flew us until we had to take shelter from that storm in the cleft of the mountain. I was the only one on the ground when she flew away, and I haven’t seen her, the children, or her young since. Now I shall leave you, and go interrogate your Partner of Worship. I’m afraid I must return the gag to your mouth, lest you call out and alert somebody that we are here.”
Need a link to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7? Here you go!
I post a haiku on Mondays, but I can never have too many and I like starting them with writing prompts.
Prompt (first word that popped into my head): find
A computer screen,
The mind wishing to know things,
Hands on the keyboard.