#vss365: skeptic

‪Little sunlight pierced the canopy so deep in the wood. Dead leaves, branches, and were those bones?crunched under my feet. I heard a strangled cry and called out to our guide. “Zia?” No answer. I’d started the hike as a Sasquatch #skeptic but I wouldn’t end it that way.‬

#vss365 ongoing story

UPDATE: HEY, IT’S DONE (SUCH AS IT IS)!

VSS365 is a daily twitter writing prompt, a challenge to write a Very Short Story less than the length of a tweet. I thought it would be fun to try to make a longer story out of a series of prompts starting with June 1 and see how long I can keep it going. Prompt words are hashtagged.

The real estate agent gestured broadly. “It’s hard to find a #littoral dwelling like this in your price range!” “Isn’t this the house where the family disappeared without a trace?” “Well, yes, but the double-paned windows—“ I drank in the view. “I’ll take it.”

I could swear I heard someone humming, but I was alone in the house. What was that song? It was so familiar. A knock at the door made me jump. A tall woman carrying a #hydrangea in an unusual blue vase said, “Welcome to the neighborhood. I hope you’ll stay.”

‪I poured a cup of tea for my new neighbor. “What do you know about the people who used to live here? I heard they just disappeared.” She shifted in her seat. “Tea isn’t strong enough for this. I’ll need a bit of #potvalor if you’ve got a drop of brandy.”

“Someone wanted them out of the house. It was straightforward at first, the mailbox riddled with #buckshot and threatening calls. But then it got weirder. Music playing somewhere in the house, creepy stuff.” Chilled, I hummed the song I’d been hearing. “That’s it!”

I was walking down to the mailbox when something fluttered in the breeze. I moved closer and saw…I’m not sure what. Like a snake had #sloughed off its skin, only bigger. And human-shaped. I tried to grab it but a gust of wind blew it into the road.

I tripped over something and fell onto something hard. A bone, with bits of #sinew still clinging to it, much bigger than the rabbits and squirrels I’d seen around here. I ran into the house and slammed the door, just as the strange song began to echo from upstairs.

A green light briefly filled the room. I looked out the window and saw nothing. The #aurora wasn’t visible this far south. What could it have been? I thought I saw a dark shape out in the yard, but when I blinked, it was gone.

I ran to the door, hoping to catch the dark figure in the yard, but a sudden #languor overtook me. My steps slowed and then stopped. I sank to the floor and my eyelids became too heavy to keep open. The nightmare I had next raised more questions than answers.

Someone was holding a glass to my lips. An #effervescent liquid tipped into my mouth. I swallowed. “You were on the floor when I came in,” my neighbor said. “This is a #panacea my grandmother brewed.” I remembered the dream I’d had. “There’s something under the house.”

“This tastes weird,” I said. “#Sapid, right? Like drinking flowers, but not in a bad way. All the women in my family learn to make this tonic.” “What happened to me?” I asked. “I think the spirits came to warn you, but they don’t always know their strength.”

“I’ve become #inured to the spirits’ visits, but they seem to have hit you hard. You were on the floor when I came in. Do you remember what they told you? You said something about under the house.” “I’m supposed to dig,” I said. “In the cellar.”

“Go get a shovel!” I put down the cup of liquid #ambrosia and stared. “You want me to dig up the cellar floor now?” I realized I felt energized and excited, not even a bit afraid of what I might find down there. “When the spirits tell you to do something, you get moving!”

My shovel struck something hard, and I brushed away the dirt, revealing a wooden trapdoor. It seemed my cellar had some long-forgotten #penetralia beneath. “Is this what I’m supposed to find?” I whispered. I felt a breeze that might have been a sigh.

I descended the stairs into the hidden room and shone my light around. It was mostly empty, but I spotted an old-fashioned #carrel against one wall. A pile of dusty books waited on its surface. One was open. I sat gingerly in the rickety chair and began to read.

The dusty tome chronicled all the phenomena I’d witnessed in the house. “Did the people who disappeared write this? ‘When the #zephyr blows and the moon is new’–” My neighbor was impatient. “What’s next?” “It ends there. Were they writing down how to find them?”

“So what next?” she asked. “They wrote to search the #benthos at the deepest part of the lake. So I guess we go fishing? Or dive?” I thought about the cold, murky water. Who knew what was down there? Could it be the Parishes themselves, slowly nibbled down to their bones?

We sat in the canoe, watching the fishhook drop until it was lost in the murk. We hadn’t used bait since we weren’t hoping for fish, but something stranger. And we found it. Tiny lights began to #constellate around the boat and the pole nearly jerked out of my hands.

The silver of the fishhook glowed in the mass of eerie lights, which were suddenly extinguished with a loud GULP as something very large #ingurgitated the hook and nearly pulled me into the water with the fishing pole. I’d seen that shape before, lurking in my front yard.

As she reeled in the line, the stone of her necklace began to glow, so bright I had to shield my eyes. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s a #periapt my grandmother made me to protect me from things like this.” The dark shape broke the surface of the water. “And we need it!”

“What in the world is that?” I asked as the creature broke the surface of the #submontane lake. “It’s not from this world. Or the next.” It stilled in the glow of her amulet as if transfixed. “I think it can tell us where to find the missing people.”

It was hypnotized by her amulet, its urge to flee become #velleity in the glowing stone. She released the hook from its mouth. At her prompting, it began to speak in a series of meaningless grunts. “I know where we have to go next. I always knew I’d have to return.”

“Where are we going?” I asked. “To the place where my grandmother first took #tellurian form. I’m not entirely human–it’s why I can hear the spirits and understand the lake creature.” I expected something dramatic, but at the end of the dark path was…a hole.

A #rubiginous light emanated from the crater. I heard a soft humming. “That’s the song I’ve been hearing in my house! What’s making it?” “This is where the spaceship carrying my grandmother crashed. She was able to take human form, but some of the spirits linger here.”

A hush fell on the #verdant wood as she kindled a fire and emptied jars and vials into the pot hanging over the flames. “This should either give the spirits human form or send them back home,” she said, and she began to sing.

She #slathered her naked body in the potion and began to dance around the fire, still singing the eerie melody that had haunted me since I moved into that house. Strange lights began to billow towards her, and I waited to see what the spirits would do next.

The #viridity of the forest seemed to intensify for a moment before the strange lights winked out. “Oh,” she said softly. “I’ve sent them home. I’d rather hoped they’d take human form. It’d be like having my grandmother back.”

“Is this #escapade finally over?” I asked. “Almost. The trapped spirits have gone back to their home planet, but don’t forget the lake monster. Or the thing that tried to eat you at your house. They have form, so we’ll have to deal with them physically.”

“Heads we tackle the lake monster first, tails the #basilisk in your yard.” I watched the coin flash in the air, unsure which to hope for. “Tails. Okay, we save the #sculling for later. I’ll drive; you google ‘how to kill a basilisk.'”

“Can’t you do that chanting thing you did with the spirits?” “Not once they take physical form. What did you find out about the basilisk?” “Well, we can either wait for the new moon and–” “Let’s #nix that idea and get this done today.” “Okay, where can we find a sword?”

“No sword. Let’s see, we have a tire iron, jumper cables–” “I think this potion will work.” “You think?” “Well, grab the tire iron just in case.” I didn’t see exactly what happened in the ensuing #chaos, but the basilisk was gone and a green shimmer floated skyward.

“The potion works!” she said, as the green light billowed toward the stars like an #angel. “You can put down the tire iron now.” “To the lake?” She held up a vial. “To the lake!” “What will I do without all these ghosts and monsters around?” “Have you considered macrame?”

She flopped back into the boat in exhaustion. “Well, that’s the lake monster done, then!” “I suppose we’d better start rowing home.” “Yes, there’s still the #demogorgon to contend with.” “What!” “Just kidding! Our adventure is finally over. Want to get a drink?”

THE END

Notes: The pacing could use a lot of work, and I think I left some plot holes. Not everything makes sense. But it came to some kind of resolution, and it was a fun exercise. The words for June were…challenging, to say the least, and they pushed the story in places I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t see aliens coming at all until, hey, there they were. I started with no idea where it was going, and I got there in there. I’ll probably do this again, and I might do a rewrite of this idea into a real story where I actually remember to name one of the main characters and tie up the loose ends.

Motherhood in the New Age: Revised

I’m playing with the sci-fi microfiction I produced for the NYC Midnight 100-Word Challenge. I liked what I did, but even when I submitted there were things I didn’t feel I conveyed as well as I could have. I thought I’d post the original, the judges’ feedback, and my current revision (I may revise further). My prompts were: Sci-Fi genre, “changing a diaper” (action that must be included), and “million” (word that must be included).

Original submission:

Shala was putting a diaper on her orphaned nephew when the Farhope lurched. She gathered him up, holding both the last child born on Earth and the first child to be born in the Mars colony. Bronwen’s team would lay the groundwork for the million people to follow. Despite her lack of relevant skills, Shala had refused to stay behind, giving birth alone on a dying planet. The baby in her arms laughed, the baby in her belly kicked, and she felt a surge of joy and belonging. 

“I think it’s peeing on you,” Asha said, and the spell broke. (100 words)

Revision:

Shala was putting a diaper on her orphaned nephew when the Farhope lurched. Her stomach, already stirring with morning sickness, rebelled against the motion. She gathered up the fussing boy, her body protecting both the last child born on Earth and the first child to be born in the Mars colony. Her partner Bronwen’s team would lay the groundwork for the million or so people to follow and Shala had refused to stay behind to give birth alone on a dying planet. The crew barely tolerated her presence out of respect for their captain, but she heard the murmurs about her uselessness. The baby in her arms laughed, the baby in her belly kicked, and she felt a surge of belonging and purpose.

“I think it’s peeing on you,” Asha sneered as she walked past, and the spell broke. (139 words)

Feedback:

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1801}  You build a detailed world with this story. Kudos. You’ve established so much about the past of these characters and the planet they are coming from , as well as the HIGH STAKES for Shala. In so few words! You do well to add details about Shala’s character. You give us a good sense of how she is feeling and what kind of world she is living in. (That being said, you bring up to other characters who we learn nothing about. why?)   {1943)  I really enjoyed this sweet, endearing story. I loved the portrayal of Shala’s love for her nephew, and for her unborn child. I liked the concept of the two babies, one as the last to be born on Earth, and the other, as the first to be born on Mars. I thought the ending was very cute, as the baby did what babies do, and peed on her! A really entertaining story – well done!  {1913}  You have a sweet story and an interesting setup. I particularly like your backstory, as with it, you show us a lot of Shala’s personality.  

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1801}  Regarding the ending – the pee joke is an unnecessary addition that has little to do with the story told previous. BUT if you really want to keep it, you need to do 2 things. 1) You need to couch the backstory with living in the present moment. SO the beginning of the story needs to be Shala and Asha in the present moment. Then we can go into Shala’s head, thinking about her circumstances. That way when we go back to Asha, we know who she is and we get the sense of the beginning and end of Shala’s “spell.” And 2) You need to build the tension a little bit more in the Shala “spell” so that the peeing is a shock. The sharper the contrast, the funnier it is.   {1943)  The concept of Shala “holding both the last child born on Earth and the first child to be born in the Mars colony” was very clever. I would maybe think about using this sentence later in the story, after we know she’s pregnant. When the sentence comes early in the story, it seems like it is referring to the orphaned nephew being two things, which of course is impossible. I don’t think it quite works as a teaser for the fact she’s pregnant, as it causes us to stop to process the meaning. However, it is a brilliant sentence, and I think it would work really well at the end.  {1913}  I suggest you develop Shala’s goals further. Apart from taking care of two babies, what does she want? Even if she doesn’t have relevant skills for this mission, show us more about what she plans to do after giving birth.