Writing for Fun: The Messed-Up Result

So, a few weeks ago I wrote about the wacky writing experience I’d had with Sharon from my writing group. We’d met up at a local restaurant to chat, eat, and write. What I think started out as a serious attempt to write something good quickly degenerated into fun and nonsense, but the experience was freeing. (Click on the link above to read more about it). Anyway, I’d mentioned that if ever Sharon agreed to it, I’d post the story we came up with. She’s a great sport and agreed. So, I’ve posted it here. Now, please note that this is an exercise. The goal was to reignite the creative juices while feeding off the energy of another person. No editing, no rewrites. Pure expression of thought. Doing this, and seeing the results (which are humbling), just served to remind me that writing for the sake of writing should be fun: I forgot about performance anxiety, the desire to be perfect, and of doing things right. We laughed a lot. Bonus! And, though the story itself isn’t totally comprehensive, I enjoyed trying to emulate as much as I could someone else’s style (maybe we rubbed off on each other)–a means of stretching my own style and voice. And, if I look hard enough at the result, I can pick out many ideas, styles, and themes worth exploring. So, all in all, I thought the exercise was a success. For those who don’t know how it worked, all we did was agree to write 350 words before handing off. That’s it. As there’s no title, I just threw one in. Oh, and there’s a strong language warning: we stayed in character for this one. So, without further ado, please enjoy…

 

When You Call 9-1-1, Make Damn Sure You Do it Right the First Time

bridge

The light from the street light falls across the trees, a burst of light grey quickly falling away into shadow, like dusk. In the alley, I hear the cats mewing, then spitting, yelling and screaming as they begin to fight .They are mean bastards, cats.  All teeth and claws. And those eyes that watch you, captivate you with omniscient heavy-lidded knowingness.

I walk faster, away from the alley, across the bridge and away from town . My footsteps echo, and I wonder if they reverberate enough to wake the sleeping troll. When I step off the cobblestones and touch the soles of my feet to the street, only the quiet running of the stream is heard. The troll sleeps. The cats war. Yet I have escaped will walk on.

“You really think you’ll make it out alive, do you?”

“Shut it,” I say, pulling my collar up to my ears.

“Now, now, I’ve held my peace all this time, though it nearly ended me. You have to hear me now.”

“I told you to shut it!”

“But Simon—“

I stuff my fingers in my ears—childish, but it always seemed to work. He wouldn’t let me be, otherwise. Talk, talk, talk, jabber, jabber, jabber. But that is how my father had wanted it. A conscience, a needle that always pointed north for his wayward son who needed one.

That’s what he thought, anyway.

“That little mess you left behind, Simon, what do you plan to do about it?”

I shrug. “Dunno. They can rot for all I care.”

I sensed him bristle, pictured rather than saw him grimace. I never really saw him, come to think of it. But I knew him, and he knew me, intimately.

“Listen, just go away. I’m almost at the limits, now. Once I cross over…”

“Stay,” he said. “We can fix this.”

“I don’t want to. Tell the old man he can go to hell, too.”  Then I thought about it, laughed to myself and blocked him out again. “Well, I guess he’s already on his—“ 

“LAST LEGS????? Is that what you want, Simon? You want me to spell it out????? L-A – ”

“SHUT UP! I said!” As if the “I said,” adds the emphatic to the first. Pathetic is the ‘ic’, the ‘tic’, that’s what it is. That’s all.

The little mess I left behind. I know what he’s talking about. I turn into a darker-lit stretch of this cobblestone … as if darker even works here. It’s so dark, I’m having illusions, or is that delusions? I see an oasis of light. A pinprick. Yet if I glance above, the orange glow of the street lamps lend enough to this landscape of endless row houses that I could even see the detail of the door, if I wanted to. If I wanted to, I could make out more than the door. I could land myself straight on the window frame and go right through the windows, all two of their double-strength, triple-insulated glass.

I won’t though. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for the kiddies, still awake I see, as I walk by. What time is it? 10, 11, 2 a.m.? Who lets their kids stay up so late? I’m in front of one place now, and through the curtains. They haven’t rolled the whole thing over; there’s a place where the cloth is folded still, too thick, or wrinkled, or something like that, and I can see in.

“SIMON! I’m talking to you! Why do you always pretend, go somewhere else when I’m TALKING???!!!!”

I shake with the intensity of his anger. My collar has fallen, and my ears, exposed. I pull the shirt’s neck up over my ears. Again. Repetition is part of it, I realize. If I repeat, repeat, repeat, maybe I can magic him away. It’s worked before.

“That little mess you left behind. What are you going to do?”

Inside the brownstone there’s a flicker, a flame. From here, I can’t really make out what the source is, but it’s like an insistent candle calling the family into their current gathering. I concentrate on that flame.

There’s a raging beside, behind, probably in front, but I stand on these two feet and give him everything I have. Swaying. Concentrating on that flame.

“If you’d give me a second’s peace then I wouldn’t have to play these mind games,” I finally say, calmer now but still focused. The flame still burned in my head, it’s after image flickering and fluttering, thin like the birth of an idea.  

“What are you going to do?” he asks. His voiced is tense. He knows what’s coming. He’s known it since the alley cats, since my footsteps echoed across the lifeless bridge. And because he knows, I smile.

I head towards the house.  There’s a stick on the ground. I pick it up, flip it once in my hand, and keep walking. The approaching lawn is well-kept, dark green. Not one weed. Well, not for long.

“This isn’t a game, Simon.”

“Of course it is.” I hurry now, skipping across the grass, dodging the garbage and recycling bins already carefully set out, early. Such good and careful citizens.  The lid’s snapped tight. Not even the raccoons can get in.

A dog barks. I duck behind one of the bins and count to twenty, waiting out the following silence, just to be sure.

“I can bind you, you know. It’s painful.”

“I know. Dammit I know!” Other than his voice inside my head, the neighbourhood is quiet. Peaceful. So quiet and peaceful I want to scream just to break it. What I want are the thugs, the angry teens out for kicks, thirsty for trouble like me. The stick feels heavy but right against my palm. It’s perfect for what comes next.

His voice is louder in my head. “Do you think she would want this?”

I grip the stick. I pictured bashing his head in with it, only he had no head, no body. Just this damn annoying voice running like poison water though my head. “She left me, idiot. That’s why I’m doing this.”

Damnit! Ouch! Someone’s left something out here, on this kept lawn.  In the light beyond the pulled drapes, I can make out something, like a face. A DAMNED DOLL! What the fuck? One hand on the stick. Safe there. The other I use to pick up this wretched thing, the face peering out, small lips set in a grimace.

There’s a moaning, a grueling kind of murmur, a shudder through my hands. “There you are, Simon. There you are.”

Shit!  The doll lands on the toe of my left shoe. Shit!

“What are you doing?”

“Simon, I told you. I told you this is it. The big one. This is what you’re made for. Now, take that stick. No, not like that. Hold it high. This is what you’ve come here for. So what are you waiting for?”

He’s right. I’m struck by how accurate he is. Many years, too numerous to stand here and count, like I’m some rabid mathematical fucking genius in the middle of this lawn with this pursed-lipped doll behind my heels. If I don’t hurry, there will be more than the doll at my heels.

Here I am. At the door. Through the spiral of window on the left, the right, just above my brain, I make out a staircase. That’s right. There are two floors here. No, three. The basement. A finished basement, with a ping-pong table that’s often folded, so that one lonesome can play by himself, back and forth, against the folded green board … teasing him into believing he’s actually playing some goddamned game. Solitaire stuff. And the air hockey table. With the problematic fan that sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t; and when it’s not working, you have to kick the thing, or maybe you’re not a kicker. So maybe you wait, turn it off, on. A million times, every time thinking, “This is going to be it! I can play again.” Thank God, ‘cause what else are you going to do down there?

Down in the finished basement, with the stupid ping-pong paddle in your hand, and the board turned up, so you’re playing yourself, your own goddamned self. Or on, off, flicking the switch on the air hockey set, knowing that the second you try this again, the air will start flowing again and you can throw it at him! More than get it into his goal! You can beat him, beat him with the red mallet, red like cherry pie and things shouldn’t be that red.

Shit. Just stepped on that pursed-lipped doll’s head. It cracked; a round egg with no yolk, pieces bunched on the grass. Good riddance.

“Back to the cobblestone, Simon. Let’s cross back into the centre of town, where it’s safe. You can’t hurt anyone there.”

“Nowhere is safe, Simon. Haven’t you figured even that out yet?”

I kick the door. It flies open. Cheap locks mean easy deaths. I raise the stick and dash into the house.

Or I thought I did. Stupid slick-tongued voice in my head, stupid mind-controlling piece of shit Father-given impulse controlling freak. Living in my head. Deciding what I can and cannot do.

“Fuck you,” I say.

“I warned you. If you fight it, it’ll start to hurt.”

“I’ve always hated you.”

“And I never hated you.”

“Because you’re not fucking real!”

By then, the Father slid into the hallway.

“What the—Gina, call the police! Some asshole has walked into the house—with a stick!”

I hear the woman whimpering in the kitchen, fiddling and dropping the phone.

“For fuck sake, woman! By the time you call we’ll all be dead!”

I’m fighting him. I picture the stick crushing the man’s head, like a real china doll, brains and blood and bone spattering across the white tile. Pain flares up my legs and down my arms, but I use it, fight it, incite it. The wife is in the kitchen, squealing to 911 but the stick bashes her in too, crushing her stupid body against the wall and then, down the hall—

“Gah! Stop it, asshole! It frigging hurts!”

“You’d gone too far. I had to so something.”

___________________________________________

Falling onto the kitchen tiles. “I could crack my head!”

“That’s what you want, isn’t it? To crack?”

“What are you doing?”

But it’s not him. There’s a voice outside the one inside. I can barely turn my head, hand’s underneath my shoulder. I’m coiled on the floor. Can’t look. Seems like red is everywhere now. A fucking meat pie or cherry or rhubarb or strawberry or… blood?

“I SAID, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

The voice, familiar. Like a faraway time. Maybe it’s mine. I swing up on one elbow. There he is, standing in the door frame of the kitchen, the living room light shining against the outline of his face, neck, heavy shoulders. His torso. What is he doing here?

“I told you it would hurt if you continued. I told you.” He’s shaking his head like some grand know-it-all, patronizing the hell out of me.

I see he has the stick in his hand, only there’s only a half of it; it’s splintered, like some Godzilla came around and broke off the top. I think of the air hockey table, without air, the cats fighting out there, I swear I can still hear them. You’d think someone would have put them, the doll, the whole world out of its misery.

And with one eye still turned to the red tiles, I think of the cobblestone street I’d just left. I sense him in the doorway, arms crossed, half of the stick hanging out of one hand. He’s waiting for an answer. To what?

“Honey, the police are on the way.”

It’s the woman. She’s hiding behind the wall, talking to her husband from the safety of the kitchen, where the knives, and vinegar and all the sharp tools are. She’s probably eying them all, trying each one out for size.

I look up, and the man is backing away from me, crab-like, scuttling across the floor, dumbstruck and just looking, dumb.

“What the—who are you people? Where the hell did he come from?”

My head is spinning. My arms and legs are still burning, hot like hell itself had opened up under me; it lava had become my blood. I wipe the blood from my face but more keeps running down from the cut. “He’s my nemesis. The devil. He’s evil incarnate and he’s just saved your miserable, frigging, Ikea-perfect lives.”

He moves from the door, not the crab-man but him, devil-man, uncrosses his arms and grabs me by the scruff of the neck. “Poor boy has no manners,” he says to the stupefied father. “His mother just left him and all. You know, youth, no direction. Lost souls and all that. It’s a terrible epidemic.”

“Piece of shit, no good meddling father!” I swat at his hand, but it grips like an iron collar.

“Sorry for your trouble, sir. We’ll be going now.”

“Honey?” calls the wife. “The police…?”

“I-I…”

“Have a good night, you two. I’m sorry for the disturbance.” He drags me along the tiles behind him, we cross the threshold and I’m back on golf green.

“You’re nothing but a party-pooper.”

“That’s my job, Simon. Father’s orders.”

I get to my feet, follow him along the road until we get to the cobblestone bridge.

Here the entrance spreads out to darkness, all the way across there’s the lone street lamp beating down on the other entrance, as if someone’s about to make his grand entrance … or would that be exit, as if the one person on this bridge, under that street lamp is some kind of star of the evening. Some goddamned movie star. But here, there’s nothing.

He’s silent now, my father. Everything is silent now. I touch the stones that make up the hand railing of the bridge. It’s ancient, this thing. Came across a storm a few years back, and almost thought it would suffer from it. But no, still standing.

What are you going to say about a troll bridge after all?

That must be why he’s silent. This is where I leave him, or him, me.

“You got to promise me. You have to promise me.”

“What? What do you want now?”

“That you’ll shut it down.”

“Shut it – ”

“Shut down your mean streak. You have to, before you destroy all of us. Your mother too.”

“What the hell does she have to do with this?”

“You know what she has to do with this!” My father crouches by the entrance, or exit, or whatever you want to call it, of the bridge. Cobblestones. Cobbled together. He crunches up, like a … well, yah, like a troll, and quietly moves along the shredded grass here, to the current below.

“Your mom is feeling it, Simon. She’s feeling it now, and you have to stop this. We’re not getting any younger.”

There he crouches. Troll Father. Waiting for the next traveler to cross.

I’m yelling. “Oh, yeah?! And what riddle are you going to ask now? They’re almost used up, aren’t they? All the answers! We KNOW all the answers! Father!”

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Writing for Fun

Fall has certainly lived up to its name this year; so far I’ve dealt with the ‘fall’ of significant relationships and most of you have already heard of my grandmother’s recent passing. Folks, it’s been a tough few months. And we haven’t even hit November yet.

From quotes.lol-rofl.com

From quotes.lol-rofl.com

Still, there have been a few high points. After wanting to for a really long time, I finally got the courage to terminate the contract with the company that published my book, The Purple Morrow, so that I could regain full publishing and distribution control. So, for the last few weeks, I have been learning to format and, poof! like magic, the book is now available on Smashwords and its affiliates. And the best part is it wasn’t hard. I might be blogging about that experience soon so I won’t get into all of that now. Re-launching on Kindle (and eventually CreateSpace) is next. But major thumbs up to me for going ahead with this, as I’ve been afraid to tackle this project for months. Yay, me!

…What else has been going on…? What else…?

Oh yeah. The madness.

From funny-pictures.picphotos.net

From funny-pictures.picphotos.net

Last week, the day after our family loss, I went for supper with Sharon from my writing group. She’s such a neat lady: great-big smile, super-smart, funny, and endowed with a really unique writing style and voice. Earlier that week while feeling blah from the falls of Fall, in the hopes of jump-starting my creative flow I had put out a call to the group to see if anyone was into doing a collaborative writing activity. Also, I’d been in ‘editing mode’ so long it was hard to transition back into ‘creation mode’. Anyway, Sharon was game and we met at some neat little local restaurant/microbrasserie. She stuffed me good with the restaurant’s massive onion rings while she sampled their beer and I sipped red wine.

Anyway, a little while later, my stomach full of fries and sausages and onion rings, she pulled out her laptop. I was scared. I mean, okay, this was the reason we’d decided to meet in the first place but…I hadn’t written anything new is ages! And this was Sharon, English lit maven, smooth-talking poet…and then there was me. Internet-bred writer and sorta graduate (not at all) from the Writing School of Hard Knocks and Getting My Ass Kicked by Better Writers. I started to sweat. Grabbed my glass and gulped water. Signalled the waitress for more.

“Throat’s dry. Keep it coming.”

“Beer? Wine?” the waitress asked.

“Hell, no! Water! I’m thirsty!”

She nodded and walked away, but as she withdrew I thought that maybe I should have more wine. Then I could pass out, avoid this terrible mistake of a meeting and, when I came to, blame the whole thing on the ‘the spirits’.

Mercifully, Sharon went off to powder her nose but then I was stuck with the blank screen, cursor flashing like its sole purpose was to remind me that I had nothing to say. At all.

I’m going to suck. Whatever I write is going to suck. She’s a serious writer. The group is made up of serious writers. I’ll suck and she’ll tell everyone. I’ll have to quit, or move—we might see each other at the mall or Target. Everyone will know I’ve lost my voice. Craaaaap!

I started to write. I’d been staring outside the restaurant’s back door and noticed the street light was casting a greenish-yellow light across the boughs of the trees; the effect was kind of neat.

Describe it.

Capture the mood and then go from there. If it sucks, well, it sucks.

So I continued to write. 350 words was the limit we had agreed on before handing off. Now, I at least I was writing. It wasn’t so bad. But what was, was knowing that Sharon, who had since returned, was waiting to follow-up on what I had started. From over the top of the screen, I could see her politely giving me my space, looking at her phone…

“Alright, done”. I handed her the laptop. “I have no idea what I wrote, but…”

She took it, scanned what I wrote and was off. Damn, she was fast!

So, we go back and forth like this a while, all serious about the sacred activity of writing, of creating–until she started to giggle. I have no idea what she read that set her off, but suddenly, she was smiling, nodding and typing away. She kept on giggling and kept on typing while I wondered WTH was so funny since I hadn’t intended to create a comedy—what’s funny about a sociopathic teenager bent on a bloody home-invasion???–but I wasn’t really disturbed. I figured at least she was writing and not looking askew at me, gnashing her teeth as she snaps the laptop closed to dash off to hail a cab out of there.

I read her section. It was good. It contained her trademark style. Cool. But it also had some funny stuff in it.

I started to giggle. And giggle some more until I couldn’t stop. Then we were both giggling, laughing out loud like no one else was in the place, writing, handing the laptop to the other, giggling and writing some more…

The night finally ended. We had to go home. But I didn’t want to. I’d had way too much fun.

Clearly, in light of the last few months I’d needed that. But on the other hand, as we talked, we remembered that writing should be fun. Yes, as writers we have specific goals and we work hard, striving to get the next project done, submitted, or edited. But fundamentally, writing should be something we do because we enjoy it—something that leaves us elated, pleased, content. I had actually planned to post the story we’d written, for kicks. I’m just waiting for her permission, if she gives it. Later that night, though, she emailed me saying that long after getting home, she was still laughing, and I admit that for a few hours afterwards, so was I.

I write best when I don’t care about people’s expectations. That night’s experience was a reminder that I should write because it’s fun, that I should worry about the rest (finesse, editing, ‘perfecting’) after I’ve gotten the story out onto the page.

So the message? Enjoy yourself! Write nonsense if you have to. If you’re feeling stressed or stuck about a project, stop, breathe, and think about why you are doing what you’re doing and reset your goals. Or, try an interesting writing exercise with a friend and feed off their energy. Laughing, BTW, is an excellent stress reliever. It can help clear out the crap and leave you feeling relaxed and focused so you can tackle that troublesome project.

From plus.google.com

From plus.google.com

Anyway, I just might post that story one day, so stay tuned. And stay tuned for more information about The Purple Morrow and the sequel, Wolf’s Bane, which I am beginning to prepare in earnest for release in the New Year. I’ll be posting updates, excerpts, and maybe even a cover reveal, too, as the release date approaches. And as usual, drop me a line. I love to hear from you. Do you have any funny writing stories? How do you deal with getting stuck in a rut or feeling insecure, untalented, or like the well has just plain run dry?

Until next time!

Taking Writing into the Community: A Class Visit

June 6, I went to visit my daughter’s class to talk about writing. The class had already published a book in their French class with a local writer based on an original idea, and their English teacher had been busily working with them to teach them the basics of story writing. So when I got there, I felt like they were primed.

The Thank You card from the class

The Thank You card from the class

Now, I’ll be honest. I was nervous. I don’t write stories for children and I kept thinking, “How am I going to hold the attention of 20 grade 2 students…and not embarrass my daughter???”

Well, I succeeded, I think. I decided to show up equipped with a few things to talk about, just in case. So, I spent the night before hunting through the Jungle (otherwise known as the basement) looking for old binders containing my writing from my teen-aged years, figuring I’d show them how things were done ‘old school’ (ie. With pen and paper). I packed the biggest book I could find, Patrick Rothfuss’s A Wise Man’s Fearyou should have seen their eyes pop and their jaws grow slack when they heard it contains over 1000 pages and more than 151 chapters! lol I also brought a copy of one of my all-time favorite books as a kid, a silly romp called Morris and Boris by Bernard Wiseman as well as my laptop to show them different writing programs and my blog.  

It was fun! The kids asked great questions, they participated well and before you know it, two hours had passed.

One of the activities we did was break the students up into groups to complete a writing exercise like ‘real writers’. They came up with their own prompt words and then each student was asked to come up with one to two sentences for their group story. They were encouraged to just have fun and to be creative. I have transcribed them below EXACTLY as they were written. These are the prompt words: DOG, PIZZA HUT, STONE AGE, YELLOW, LOST

The students' stories. They got to write on the BOG paper with markers!

The students’ stories. They got to write on the BOG paper with markers!

Group 1: The Dog who Got Lost in the Stone Age

Once upon a time their was a Dog. He was eating at Pizza Hut. He went in the frorest and he got lost. He saw honey he wanted to eat the honey. So he eat the honey. He turned yellow. He saw a time machine. He went inside. He saw aliens in the stone age. So he got scared. He tried to eat the rock. He broke his teeth. He tried to fix his tooth with a rock. The rock got stuck to the honey. The aliens took the dog. He was scared. Then the aliens took the dog back to the present. He was happy! Then the next day it was Christmas. Then it was Easter. The Valentine’s Day. Then it was his birthday. The End!

By Chloe, Adam, Flo, and Danika

Group 2: The Dog and the Cave Man Stone Age

Once upon a time there was a golden retriever. He went to the pizza Hut and he found a cave man. The cave man ate all the pizza. The dog was sad. He got mad. Then he wanted to go home but he was lost. He saw a yellow light. It was mustard. He said ware’s there is mustard there is a resterront! He said I wand a hot dog! The end.

By Claudia, and Isabella and Tyler

Group 3: Untitled

Once upon a time there was a yellow alien who had a pet dog. His favorite restaurant was pizza Hut. He was going to the pizza hut for his birthday. He was about to eat and then he couldn’t find his dog. Then a chidah brot him back to his oner. They they went to a time mashin and whente to the stonige. Two days later the time machine brought them back to the pissa Hut and ate pizza.

By Ludvic, Océanne, Noah and Lacey

Group 4: The dog in stone age

Once there was a dog name Filbert. He was lost in the stone age. He was yellow and hungry. Then Filbert saw pizza hut in the middle of nowhere. The pizza was made out of stone. Then a man found the dog and he tried to kill jim. But Filbert bit his butt and ran away. Filbert ran to his time machine and went home. The end!

By Brennan, Nivea, Liam, Kevin

Group 5: Untitled

Onece upon a time there was a dog that was yellow that loved pizza. So we went to pizza hut and bought five cheese pizzas. The pizza had yellow cheese on it. His enemy the witch took two peaces of the hot pizza. Then the Stone Age came out of the ground. He pooped on every won. When the Stone Age pooed on them. They thought it was chocolate. Then the people ate it!!!!!!!!!!!! Then 1000 million days later there was a girl who was lost in a scary and creepy forest. She wanted to go to pizza hut. But she did not no where pizza hut is. The friendly dog came in the forest and found the girl. So the dog brought her to pizza hunt! They lived happily ever after the end

By Seann, Megan, Victoriane, Gabriel

As a writer, this visit was one of my favorite experiences. The kids were eager and interested and they took to the writing activity with fervor. It reminded me I was that age when I decided I wanted to be a writer. I just hope that if any of those students are thinking about pursuing writing that they will be encouraged to go for it, and that those who never thought about it before might change their mind. In any case, I am grateful to Miss Kim, their teacher, for inviting me to visit with the class and to the students for giving me an experience I won’t forget.

photo 1

Thank you!

 

The Desert Marker (Chapter 2): A Campfire Story

Marker James is led into the desert by a fraud of a priest to find a man named Po and a mysterious Well…What’s it all for? Phil Partington and I thought it’d be a fun exercise to start a Campfire story, so  few days ago he got the ball rolling by posting Chapter 1. Today, I throw my hat into the ring with…

 Chapter Two: Laughter in the Desert (674 words)

“What’s your stake in all this?” James suddenly asked. He had no idea where the question came from, or why he dared ask it—he suspected that if he got on the man’s bad side that Mr. Smoke would have no trouble cutting his throat and leaving his lifeless body for the desert animals.

“Besides the money?” Mr. Smoke grinned and jingled the coins—James’ coins–in the leather purse attached to his belt. “I want to see if you can do it. Many have tried. All failed. But I figure someone from up there—“ he jabbed a fat finger at the clouds, “should have the guts and skill to get it done.”

“It’s because I’m from…beyond…that I’m…sick. Anyway, it`s got to work; there’s no other option.  The Well is the only thing that can help me. And the others.” James hated telling the man anything more about himself than the little he thought he should know, but Mr. Smoke had the answers he needed which gave him the power. Besides, James thought, maybe the more he talked, the more Mr. Smoke’s lips would loosen up. James wished he had some strong liquor and a good pipe and smoke-weed on hand to help with the job, and cursed the fact he didn’t.

Mr. Smoke, though, appeared intrigued. He watched the clouds passing over the amber sky and the suns as they sunk lower in the west. “The others, huh? How many are you talking?

James thought fast. How much should he tell? How much did that fake priest already know, and if he lied, would the imposter know? “About a hundred,” he answered, deciding to answer as close to the truth as he dared.

Mr. Smoke closed his eyes. “That many, huh? And will you all be coming down if you find this Well and if the rite works?”

Again, James hesitated. “That’s the plan.”

Mr. Smoke grinned, but not in a nice way. In fact, the humorless expression and the bared, broken teeth sent a shiver through James’ chest. “You know Po won’t like that one bit. Nope, not at all.”

“How could you possibly know that?” James asked, backing away. “You said you’d never met this Po character.”

“Well, dunderhead, in case you haven’t yet figured it out, Po is the Well’s guardian. You think he wants it taxed like that? The Well is what maintains the planet’s balance. You upset it and–“ Mr. Smoke didn’t finish, but kept his eyes on the sky. Shadows were starting to deepen and skulk across the desert sands as the sleepy suns finally met the horizon.

But James wasn’t paying attention. He was thinking about how his gamble had worked: Mr. Smoke had talked. “Well, yes, the Well is energy—“

Mr. Smoke whirled around to stick a finger in James’ chest. “More than mere energy, idiot! What do they teach you morons up there, anyway?” 

“Care to educate me?”

Mr. Smoke eyed James for a few moments, and a look bordering on understanding pinched his face. “No,” he answered, pulling away. “I don’t.”

Seeing the moment of opportunity passing, James blurted, “You still didn’t say how you know any of that. You know, I think it’s time I met Po for myself!”

Mr. Smoke started to laugh. The sound rumbled from deep within his chest, growing louder and louder by the second until rude guffaws exploded from his mouth. “You stupid, dumb, idiotic, fool of an ass,” Mr. Smoke said when he regained his breath. “I am Po.”

At that, a searing flash like lightning streaked from the sky, striking Mr. Smoke dead on. His body instantly disintegrated and billowed into a cloud of what looked like black powder. Then, rolling across the desert, louder than the constant grinding of the shifting sands, James heard the maddening notes of a mocking laugh; its volume made the standing stones rattle. Then a blast of wind bore down on the spot and all signs of Mr. Smoke were gone.

Care to join in? What will James do now? Who are the people living in the clouds? What the heck is this Well and how or why can it heal? Only YOU can fill in the blanks! 500-700 words isn’t much–give it a go! Click here to see the rules and here to read Chapter 1.