Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1,000 Words For Charity - Sue

Title: River's Grace
Three words provided: river, grace, marigold
Word count: 1,000
Fun fact: And so ends this year's 1,000 Words For Charity project. It was a lot of fun and I think I'll do it again.

Grace gazed out of the small kitchen window at the grey clouds looming overhead while scrubbing her tea cup in hot soapy water. Another miserable spring day in Vancouver, she thought, her shoulders slumping and her eyes falling to the sink full of dirty dishes. There had been far too many of those since her River had died. It was like the clouds had been mourning with her those last two months, their shared tears attempting to replace the strong waters that had stood by her side for nearly sixty years.

River was the man she had married, but that was not the name he was given at birth. He had immigrated with his parents to Canada from rural China when he was only four years old; they brought only the clothes on their back, an inheritance cheque from one of his father’s distant uncles, and about ten words of English between the three of them. The communication difficulties had been great, but not insurmountable.

“I can’t make any sense of these scribbles – it’s like finger paint or something,” the young man behind the desk had told his partner with a laugh before looking up at River’s father. “What’s the boy’s name?”

“Yes,” came the reply, accompanied by a quick dip of the head.

“Oh brother,” the man said with a look of disgust. “Not another one of these. Where was he born? Can you tell me that much at least?”

“River!” His father had been very excited, both to recognize one of the words directed at him and to know the answer. His son had been born on a muddy river bank in late summer, a month before he was expected. It had been an ordeal for several weeks afterward, but he had pulled through to become a solemn but feisty young boy.

“It’s quitting time, so that’s good enough for me,” the man said as he typed River, China in the birthplace field on his form and then, with a snorted laugh, River into the name field. He printed a copy for the new arrivals and said, “Welcome to Canada folks – now get out of my sight.”

River had never been bitter about the experience; he liked to think that the immigration officer had simply been helping him to fit in. Grace thought that was a very generous interpretation of events, but she kept that to herself.

Now, seven weeks, four days, eight hours, and forty-three minutes after a heart attack had stolen him from her life, Grace moved from the sink to the stove and turned on the element underneath the bright red ceramic teapot. With trembling, emaciated fingers she pulled open the cupboard next to the fridge and extracted the final box of tea that River had imported from home. She had always liked the misty, swirling artwork on the packages and the mysterious characters that described their contents. After two failed attempts she managed to get the cardboard top to separate from its sides but her hand paused above the opening as she sucked in a ragged breath.

There was only one tea bag remaining.

“Now you’re just being silly,” she muttered, taking it by its string and placing it in her cup. “This doesn’t mean anything… in fact, you should stop worrying about the end of his tea and start being concerned that you’re talking to yourself again.”

Once the tea pot whistled at her, something River had been too polite to do, Grace poured the steaming water into her cup and took a seat in the cushion-laden breakfast nook. She closed her eyes briefly, inhaling the earthy scent she had grown to love, before looking out to the tangled mess that was their flower garden. The snow had just set it free the week before her husband had passed away and he had spent most of that week sorting through his seeds, trying to decide what he would plant first that year. Grace had never understood why it mattered which seed went into the ground first but she still found the yearly ritual endearing.

As she put the cup to her cracked lips the sun’s rays found a hole in the clouds to slip through, landing softly on the east end of the flower bed. That was his favourite corner, she thought with a sad smile, where he always planted the marigolds.

The memory remained floating in her mind as she finished the cup, mingling with thoughts of cleaning, grocery shopping, and needlework. As she placed her cup into the now lukewarm sink water she turned and looked out the breakfast nook window again.

The decision was made so quickly she would later be uncertain that it had truly been her own. She moved into the front hallway and collected her wide-brimmed straw hat and the shoebox filled with flower seeds. On a whim she left her gardening gloves and trowel behind as she stepped out into the cool morning air.

Arriving at the eastern edge of the flower bed Grace kneeled stiffly, placing the shoebox on the damp grass to her right. The dew soaked its way through the knees of her jeans almost immediately but she paid it no mind, focusing instead on the neatly arranged packets of seeds resting in the container.

It would have been intimidating had they not been in alphabetical order – River always took care of the flowers while Grace had been happy to take a small patch of earth for her herbs. She plucked out all the varieties of marigold with a smile, knowing that he would never plant them all together like this. But she wanted all of those reminders together in one spot; she needed them there.

She pulled away a few weeds before digging her fingers into the loam, where she was stilled by a warming thought. Working this soil, the way River did year after year, she thought with an unnoticed tear slipping down her cheek, it’s almost like holding hands again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

1,000 Words for Charity - Rose

Title: A Promise Kept
Three words provided: library, laughter, lingering.
Word count: 1,000
Fun fact: she asked for a romance. She didn't specify what kind :)

The maple tree cast a swaying patch of shade onto the verdant grass at its feet and, when the breeze was gentle, over the wooden bench that faced it from ten feet away. When the wind picked up the shade was swept aside and the sun peered down on the bench and its lone inhabitant, Charlie Poole.

Charlie hardly noticed the changing light, for his faded brown eyes were locked on the sliding glass doors of the building that was just visible under the lowest hanging branch. He seemed to be keeping time by tapping a white sneaker-clad foot on the dirt path that led away from him.

As the sun neared its zenith, the door of the red brick building opened to allow an elderly gentleman to escape its confines. Charlie’s back stiffened slightly at this sight and he seemed to remain seated only with great difficulty. The man made his way over to the park bench, seemingly in a dead heat with an unseen snail, and finally seated himself next to Charlie with two creaks, three groans, and one muttered oath.

“Well Danny, let’s hear it!” Charlie said, now nearly bouncing in place. “What’s she reading this week?”

“Are you really sure it’s not time to give up? I’m telling you Charlie, it would be a better use of your time to practice for the County Lawn Bowling Championships - it’s only two weeks away now! We really need you to be in top form if -”

“Out with it already you stodgy old fool,” Charlie cut in. “I’ve got a good feeling about this one, right down in my bones.”

“You sure that isn’t your arthritis acting up again?” Danny asked, doubt hanging off his drooping eyes and wrinkled forehead. “And honestly mate, I’m not convinced that old rock knows how to smile - forget laughing!”

“Well there’s a first time for everything, right? Besides, I really think I almost had her with that Pride and Prejudice crack last week.”

“Yeah, that was a right corker,” Danny said flatly. “It‘s really not fair though, is it? Only giving you one joke per book like this?”

“Never mind that. Go on then,” Charlie said as he leaned in conspiratorially, “what’s she reading?”

“Do you really think she’ll keep her promise then? I reckon she‘s just enjoying all the attention you‘re giving her,” Danny said before seeing his friend’s expression darken. He held up his hands and sighed. “Fine. It’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. Good luck with that one.”

But Charlie was already deep in thought, his eyes searching for the words that would finally find a chink in his sweetheart’s armour. The sun peaked and began its descent and still no words were spoken. The wind played in the maple leaves, sending several prematurely floating down to earth, and Charlie continued to ponder.

At last, as closing time edged ominously closer, Charlie shot up from the bench and clapped his hands together. He looked down at his friend and smiled an excited, gap-toothed smile.

“That‘s it!” he shouted, ignoring Danny’s embarrassed attempts to quiet him. “This is perfect! I’ve been waiting months for an opportunity like this!”

“Charlie, maybe you should run this one by me first. Bea is retiring in three weeks, remember? If this one doesn’t work you’ll only have two tries left! Let me hear it and then… Charlie! Get back here!”

Charlie, however, wasted no time on his friend’s concerns and shuffled at a steady pace down the dirt path, his hands hovering in front of his large silver belt buckle, his elbows swinging from side to side, and only slightly favouring his bad right hip.

Charlie entered the public library at his top speed and headed straight for the check out desk, where Bea sat reading her latest novel. He made a great show of inspecting the title before rubbing his chin and looking off into the distance. Bea paid him no mind, as usual, until at length he snapped his fingers and smiled broadly.

“So I’ll pick you up at five o’clock on Saturday then,” he said with a nod, turning away.

“I don’t award persistence Charlie,” Bea said, looking up over her lenses. “You still have to make me laugh before I agree to a date.”

“But I already did,” Charlie told her over his shoulder. “You laughed so hard you nearly fell off your chair!”

“And why don’t I remember this?”

“Well,” he said with a sly wink, “time travel is a tricky thing, isn’t it?”

Bea’s eyes narrowed and her mouth tightened. But as she opened her mouth to reply, understanding dawned and her pale blue eyes sparkled. Her lips twitched upwards, threatening to coalesce into a smile, but then were firmly pressed together and flattened into a thin line.

“Nice try Charlie,” she said as she returned her eyes to the pages before her. “Quite clever, actually. But better luck next week.”

Charlie’s face fell and his shoulders sagged heavily as he turned away again. His feet slid across the floor as he made his way towards the exit, as though separating them from the carpet was too much effort. Just as the doors slid open for him a smothered sound made him look back one last time.

He could hardly believe his eyes.

Bea sat behind her desk, her shoulders shaking with barely contained laughter and one wrinkled hand firmly clamped over her mouth. Charlie took two halting steps towards her, shock playing over his weather-worn features, when suddenly a long, clear laugh escaped through her fingers.

Charlie stared at Bea as she regained her composure, the laugh lingering in the air between them as the room returned to its usual soundtrack of hushed whispers and turning pages.

“So… five o’clock then?” he asked, struggling to not look too pleased with himself.

“Yes, five will be lovely,” Bea told him as she buried her face in her book once more. “I’ll see you then. Don’t be late.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1,000 Words for Charity - Nicky

Title: The Captain
Three words provided: zombie, martini, dirigible
Word count: 1,000
Fun fact: I pictured this as an animated short and attempted to write it as one.

Scene: The control room of the dirigible Righteous Liberty. The air is filled with the low hum of electrical equipment, emanating from the various polished brass dashboards arrayed in the background, and black swivel chairs have been placed strategically around the room. White fluffy clouds are visible through a floor-to-ceiling window at the right side of the camera frame.

In the foreground a zombie, facing the camera, is sitting with his feet resting on the bottom of a large, wooden steering wheel with a captain’s hat perched jauntily on his head. Black, straggly hair is bursting from underneath the crimson cap with a large gold star emblazoned on its front. The zombie has a martini glass in one hand and a microphone in the other.

Into the microphone: Ladies and gentlemen, this is a message from your newly… appointed captain, Zoltin Papp.

Zoltin pauses to sip his martini. A wan smile flickers across his face but vanishes before he places the glass on a metal ledge to his right and continues.

I realize that my rise from janitor to captain is unprecedented but I can assure you all that I am, if anything, overqualified for my new position. This thing practically flies itself, really. But enough about that; I have a few things I would like to take care of before I allow you to return to your afternoon festivities.

To begin, I would like to address the unpleasant rumors I’ve heard recently that our previous captain, Sir Tobias Wagner, had a head full of rocks. I would like to assure you all that…

The camera zooms out to find a man wearing a black captain‘s uniform seated on the floor, slumped against Zoltin‘s chair. The top of his head has been ripped open, his chin is resting on his chest, and his tongue is lying heavily upon his bottom lip.

Zoltin leans over and dips two fingers into the dead captain’s skull. He brings the fingers, covered with a dark viscous fluid, to his pale lips and sucks noisily without bothering to move the microphone away from his face.

… this is entirely untrue.

I would also like to take this opportunity to dispel some of the unfortunate… misconceptions circulating the ship about folks such as myself. Firstly, we are not the slow, dragging our feet everywhere we go, arms outstretched all the time types we have been made out to be.

He pauses to prod the captain with a bare foot.

Just ask old Toby here how fast I can be.

Secondly, we are not mindless, ravenous creatures, always hunting for more food. One body can sustain us for three or four days - a week if it is particularly corpulent. I think now is as good a time as any to remind you good folks that the all-you-can-eat buffet is now open 24 hours on deck three.

Zoltin plucks the aviator sunglasses sitting crookedly on Captain Wagner’s nose and places them reverently on his own face. Moments later he takes them off and flicks them off screen with a look of complete disdain.

Finally, as for the idea that we are poor public speakers: well… given my tendency to ramble on, I think the less said concerning that the better, don’t you? “Brains… brains…”? I mean, really now – that’s insensitive and insulting.

Before continuing on, may I ask the control room crew to please return to their stations? There are an awful lot of poorly labelled buttons down here and my curiosity is starting to get the better of me.

Zoltin pulls a cigar from Wagner’s shirt pocket and bites the end off, his uneven, red stained teeth revealed to the camera ever so briefly. He spits the piece onto Wagner’s lap and produces a book of matches from his own shirt pocket. After successfully lighting the cigar he lets it hang out of the left corner of his mouth and returns to his address.

Actually, while I’m at it – a quick note to Tomas, the head bartender. My glass is getting dangerously low right now and I’m still quite parched. Would you get… Johnny to bring me another? He’s a smart young fellow, good head on his shoulders. Two olives this time. Thanks.

I’d like to remind everyone that it has now been five short days since we set sail from Boston and we are still on schedule to arrive in two weeks at our final destination: Paris, The City of Lights.

He places two fingers into Wagner’s skull and stirs them in a lazy circle while staring absent-mindedly out a window which is off screen to his left.

I want the good travelers aboard this airship to be on their best behavior during our visit to this magical city. Try not to embarrass your good country more than your military, government, and previous tourists already have, alright? If word gets back to me about any obnoxious behavior, the offenders will not be stepping back on board my ship – except, perhaps, to be used as sustenance for yours truly.

A door opens along the back wall and control room crew members, dressed in matching pale brown shorts and button-up short-sleeve shirts, begin to slip back into the room one by one. They press their backs against the window and inch their way to their work stations, a mix of revulsion and terror on their faces.

In closing, thank you all for your undivided attention and I look forward to a comfortable, safe voyage for almost all of you. This is your new captain, Zoltin Papp, signing off.

As the screen begins to fade to black, Zoltin looks to his right, a wide smile splits his face in half, and his eyes glow with a dark hunger.

Ah, Johnny, perfect timing! Have a seat, won’t you? I have no earthly idea how these wonderful concoctions are made and I’d love to… pick your brain… on the matter.

The screen goes black and the credits begin to roll.

Monday, June 22, 2009

1,000 Words for Charity - Greg

Title: The Gallery
"Three" words provided: Red5 First-Date EmmaB
Word count: 1,000 again
Might be useful: to read Tagged first. Just kidding, I know it's super long. But the below would make a heck of a lot more sense to you if you did.

“I like this one,” Emma says as she pauses to study a smoky skyline, all greys and blacks and reds. A quick glance at the label tells me that it’s another piece by Greg “Archimedes” Benito, an extremely talented street artist that tags his pieces with random math notations. After a few seconds I spot two pedestrians contorting to form an aleph symbol. “The city could be lit by fire or a sunrise or... whatever I want it to be.”

We’re in the Shady Waters Art Gallery and, since it’s two hours after closing, we have the place entirely to ourselves. I’d had to promise the owner, Kirsten Beamer, positive reviews of her next three exhibits in order to get the key for tonight. Journalistic integrity at its finest, I know.

I nod and smile, just like I did in response to her last three comments, and we continue our limping progress down the hall. God, why can’t I think of anything to say?

This was a huge mistake. I should have just left this as the perfect, unattainable dream of a relationship – the reality is proving to be a crushing disappointment. I can’t believe how awkward this feels. You would think that after all we’ve been through together a first date would be easy. Instead it’s more like Wilkerson, Grozny, and Joel are our tour guides and they keep pointing out our shortcomings.

We stop in unison to stare at a canvas covered in a kaleidoscope of colors that hint at a hidden image. It’s a little bit like staring at one of those cheap stereogram paintings you can get at the dollar store – if you look at it long enough you either see a picture or you get a migraine. I always seem to get the latter.

“Want to make a bet what it’s supposed to be?” I ask, aiming for playful and landing on stilted.

“Sorry, I already cheated,” she says with a smile I would label shy on another woman. On Emma I’d say it’s captivating. She points to the small white card next to the painting and reads, “Architeuthis in heat – version nineteen.”

“A horny giant squid looking for some action? I’d love to see the previous attempts at capturing such a... magnificent spectacle.” Emma gives a little laugh that lifts my spirits and we continue, walking a little closer now. I catch a whiff of her perfume and breathe it in deeply; it’s light and inviting, with a hint of... caramel? I like it.

We’re in the final hallway now and sweat is beginning to gather in uncomfortable places. In unpleasant contrast, my mouth is getting dryer and dryer. As we pass the second to last painting without stopping I open my mouth once, twice, three times but no words are able to escape safely.

“It’s strange being here, with all that madness behind us,” she says as she slows to gaze at the final painting in the hallway. My nerves ease as her focus remains on the swirling clouds of green and yellow hovering above a brick factory. She hasn’t noticed the flickering coming from around the corner yet and, ridiculously, I can’t stop myself from thinking there is still time to turn back. “It’s hard to know what’s real anymore. Was that the dream and this the reality? Or are we sleeping now, only to wake at any time to gun shots and terror gripping our insides?”

Once again I can think of no fitting response, but this time it feels more appropriate somehow. I want to reach out and take her in my arms, to give her comfort and security, but my arms remain dangling at my sides, useless.

“Jeremy, I know you didn’t ask for any part of it,” she says as we approach the end of the hallway, “but I just wanted to tell you that...”

Emma falls silent as we come around the corner and enter the final room on the tour. My chest constricts painfully as I try to discreetly monitor her reaction. I know it’s nonsense but I can’t help feeling this is the critical moment for us. I stand teetering at the precipice and wait for her to push me over or grab my hand and pull me to her safety.

There is only one painting in the candlelit room, covering most of the wall which faces us. On the left edge Q sits at a computer, the electronic green light revealing his grim smile. On the far right a handcuffed Wilkerson is getting shoved off canvas by yours truly – my face is mostly hidden by shadow but the red numeral five on my jacket sleeve erases any doubt about my identity. Slightly to the right of center Puppy is drawing something in chalk on the ground beside her fallen father, her face and expression obscured by her cascading hair.

And standing center stage, one foot placed triumphantly on Grozny’s chest, is the enigmatic Emma B. Her face radiates satisfaction and the entire scene is lit by the brilliant flames of her hair. I open my mouth to explain that I left Joel out of the painting because I didn’t want to ruin it, but the realization that putting that belief to words would have the same effect clamps my mouth shut.

The silence draws out, deepens, and changes colors but I’m unable to make sense of it. I swallow nervously and wonder if there’s something that should be said that I’m completely missing.

But then Emma’s hand finds mine, she rests her head on my shoulder, and all the pain, all the stress, all the tension of the past few weeks melts away in a soft warm glow. We stand like that, side by side, hand in hand, until the candles flicker once, twice, and then go out, returning us to the darkness we have become so accustomed to.

This time, though, the dark feels warm and safe and peaceful. It feels like home.

Monday, June 15, 2009

1,000 Words For Charity - Mom & Dad

Title: The Gift of Fire
Three words provided: love, understanding, thoughtfulness.
Word count: 1,000 on the dot.

On a chilly Saturday in the town of Corner Bay there was a great disturbance that to you I shall now convey. I do hope you’re sitting comfortably? Good, let us get the story underway.

“I don’t understand how this can be!” cried Thomas the fire breathing donkey.

The flames shooting from his mouth, you see, were something that had just developed recently. For all his life Thomas had been just a plain donkey, but since his third birthday admission to his house was only be fee (three dollars a visit, with roasted marshmallows thrown in for free!).

“My poor, poor Thomas, my dear,” said his mother Shelly St. Cyr. “We’ll go to the doctor and get you fixed up, don’t fear!”

On the way to the doctor several passersby were seared but they were kind enough to take it in good cheer. After all it was plain to see, it was really quite clear, that the poor donkey’s apologies were completely sincere. Thomas wanted nothing more than to just disappear.

“It’s okay my love, you don’t have to hide,” his mother told him with arms open wide. “You know that I’ll always be with you, right by your side – I won’t be content until these flames subside!”

“Thanks mom but I just feel so bad!” Thomas replied with eyes so sad. “I just melted the only Sunday dress Miss Ginger ever had!”

“It’s okay, I’ll just knit her another,” he was told by his doting mother. “And between you and me – I might also make one for her brother!”

At this Thomas let loose a fiery laugh - which almost caused the nearby Mrs. Moobell to have her calf! So Thomas and his momma hurried on before someone was burned in half.

They managed to arrive at the doctor’s office without further ado – aside from lighting a bonfire or two. The receptionist (Delilah the shrew) looked up from her copy of True Gossip View and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“Well, there’s a slight problem with my son,” Shelly replied as she wiped from her brow some perspiration. “His breath is so hot it has become a sensation – everywhere we go there’s a conflagration!”

“I can’t say I’ve seen that before!” Delilah said, no longer looking the least bit bored. “Grannies who fell, old men that snored, shore! But by this I’m totally floored! Come along, come along, the doctor will see you in moments and not two seconds more!”

In smoky silence they waited in the examination room, Thomas doing his best not to ignite the straw broom. He knew that in such a small space a fire would be their doom – the whole building would explode with a resounding ka-boom!

“How are you doing today?” inquired the good Doctor Savay as he came through the doorway. He wore big glasses, his long hair was in a state of disarray and, as he was a horse, it was most natural for him to be chewing on hay.

“Oh, put your snack away!” Thomas shouted in dismay. “Please, please, won’t you do as I say?”

The doctor complied with a gentle shrug before giving his mane a thoughtful tug. “So what is wrong, young fellow – have you caught a nasty flu bug? Or perhaps your hide was bruised by a big strong hug? A chipped hoof from a hole you dug?”

“No, no, it’s none of those things! No more can I talk, no more can I sing - each breath that I take comes with smoke rings!”

Doctor Savay was deeply confused and yes, to be honest, more than a little amused. His expression changed little when together by a flaming hiccup his two favourite pens were fused.

“Oh my goodness, a donkey that breathes fire! If I didn’t see it myself I’d call you a liar! But my dear Thomas, the situation is not so dire; lift your head up and hold it higher.”

“But I leave behind me a trail of destruction! No matter what I do I can’t seem to stop this combustion – can’t you help me end all this disruption?”

“My dear boy you have been given a gift! Can’t you see how you could give people’s spirits a lift? Your negative perception just needs a little bit of a shift!”

“Mom, let’s give this doc a pass – he doesn’t care that my breath can melt glass. You know me mom, I hate to be crass – but he thinks this a gift and I say it’s a pain in the -”

“Thomas, don’t be rude! Listen to what he has to say and lose the attitude.”

“It’s alright Shelly,” the doctor said with a laugh that shook his belly. “I can understand if Thomas thinks my brain is made of jelly. He’s not the only one – so does my wife Kelly!”

“Well doc, let’s hear it. Why should I celebrate this condition, rather than fear it?”

“You just have to think of how much better life can be! You’ll have fire with you at all times – no more dragging a barbeque so heavy. No more using matches – you’ll save millions of trees! Don’t think of how much more difficult it is for Me – think of the good you can do for We!”

“Wow doc, you’re right – this I can understand!” Thomas cried out while gratefully shaking his hand. “I’ve got so much to do, so much to plan! I’ll go get started right now by lighting a fire for Stan the homeless man!”

With that Thomas left the office at full speed – no longer giving his own worries the least bit heed. He raced all over town, helping those in need – of a light, of a fire, of any heat indeed. Getting rid of Old Man Timber’s weeds was only one of his many heroic deeds.

And to this very day you’ll find dear Thomas the fire breathing donkey helping everyone in sight – and of course he does it all for free.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

For Family & Three's Company

Alright, this is obviously not working - I barely remember to post here when new chapters go up on Protagonize. So I won't be doing it anymore. You know where to find it, but for the final time - chapters sixteen and seventeen have been posted.

So what will I use this space for? I haven't completely decided yet... but I'm thinking about short stories that will span two or three entries. No regular schedule, just when I get inspired.

In other news: I've updated the look of my Daily Writing Practice blog. I'd been terribly bored with the old layout for far too long and finally got around to doing something about.

That's all for now, I'll be back here when inspiration nudges me in this direction.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cornered & Bridges

Chapter fourteen and fifteen are up.

Beware, the story looks like it might actually be going somewhere sometime soon.