Unfulfilled

As I was walking along the beach one cool spring morning, I stumbled upon an old bottle sticking out of the sand. The glass, once clear, looked cloudy with a sickly green tint to it. I picked it up, curious as I am about strange artifacts. There was something inside, obscured by the grimy exterior. I pried the cork off the bottle and dropped it in surprise as smoke issued forth from it.

As I backed away from the billowing smoke, it formed itself into a vaguely human form.

“I am the genie of the bottle!” the smoke announced in a booming voice. “What is your wish?”

I didn’t respond right away. Several seconds went by as I blinked and tried to convince myself this was just a hallucination. But the smoke genie persisted. I thought I could detect a little impatience in the way it billowed.

“A genie..” I managed at last, masterfully stating the obvious. “So…uhh..does that mean I get three wishes?”

I scratched at my scruffy beard, still trying to determine if what I was looking at was real.

The genie looked taken aback. “Three? Wherever did you get that idea?”

I shrugged. “That’s how it always is in stories.”

“This is no child’s tale,” the genie bellowed indignantly. “You only get one wish. That is all I can grant you. Now, what is your wish?”

Again, I didn’t respond right away. Only one wish to get whatever I wanted? That was tricky. What did I want? A better job would always be nice. Maybe just a ton of money without the job. A girlfriend. Maybe a wife? No, that’d be weird without the girlfriend part first. Peace on Earth? To be honest, that’s a bit broad, and would that really help me? Not to sound selfish, but it was my wish, after all. I hated having to think about big decisions like that. They always made me nervous, which just made me stressed. Any moment now, the panic attacks would start, and…wait, I knew just what I wanted.

“Happiness,” I said.

” Very well then. And what would make you happy?”

I blinked. “Well…I don’t know. Shouldn’t you know?”

The genie shook its smoky head. “I grant wishes. I don’t create them. If you know what can give you happiness, I can produce it for you. But I cannot predict what makes you happy.”

That was disappointing. What made me happy? There were all sorts of little things. Books and adventure films and good conversations. Chocolate chip cookies and dogs and the laughter of loved ones. But was that ‘happiness’? I didn’t know. I had no idea. What could make me truly, eternally happy was a mystery, as obscure and hard to define as the smoky spectre that floated in front of me.

I amended my wish and set the genie free. It was surprised. As it granted my wish, the smoke took on a more definite shape. An old man stood in front of me now, his face heavily lined, several eons of life etched onto it. The lines deepened as he broke into a smile. He thanked me for freeing him and walked away. He stopped for a few moments to admire the scenery around him, the pale sand strewn on the beach, the waves lazily approaching the shore before retreating. With a contented sigh, he kept walking until he disappeared into the horizon.

After a few moments, I resumed walking as well, feeling as empty as the bottle that lay half buried in the sand.

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Halloween Roundup

I’ve finally reached Assignment 19 of Writing 101, about a month after the original assignment was published. Fantastic!

This assignment was about featuring a guest post as part of a collaboration we were asked to consider in a previous assignment. Needless to say, that plan didn’t pan out in any way. So instead, I’ll go with the alternate assignment, which is to feature a roundup of posts that we’ve enjoyed reading this week.

For me, that’s an easy one. A couple of months ago, I had participated in the first WEP (Write, Edit, Publish) Challenge of the year, a bi-monthly blogging event hosted by Yolanda Renee and Denise Covey. It was a lot of fun, and when they announced a Halloween challenge, I was on board right away. I mean, how could I not write a story based around my second favorite occasion of the year?

The challenge took place from October 21st to 23rd, and there were quite a few spooky entries to check out. They’re all included in the link below. Please do check them out, and drop a comment or three! My entry can be found on my fiction blog Tales of Unusual Strangeness, but the direct link to the story’s on the list (it’s number 16):

WEP Halloween Challenge

Happy reading! For best results, make sure you’re completely alone with not a single light on. Bwahahaha!

The Golden Hood

After an unplanned hiatus, I’ve decided to chug along with the last few posts of Writing 101, although the course is now in the archives of WordPress history. I’ve combined two consecutive prompts here. One asked us to tell a story through a series of vignettes, while the other tasked us with telling a story that took place over the course of a single day. Here’s my take on both.

 

It was a morning like any other in the city. Traffic was backed up, trains were running behind schedule and pedestrians littered the streets. People were staring at phones and newspapers, keeping up with events all around the world while paying little attention to the world that was all around them. The explosion took everyone by surprise. A derelict building had caught fire. Emergency workers pulled several bodies out of the building. Alongside, police recovered the charred remains of a white robe with a golden hood.


Karen had woken up before her alarm. She always did. She had a full morning to work through, preparing lunch for the kids and making sure breakfast was on the table before everyone headed out. Once the school bus left, she had a little time to herself. Still dressed in her fluffy night gown, Karen poured herself a cup of coffee and plopped down on the couch to watch some TV.

She flicked through channels idly, passed by the news, and went back again. There was a report about an explosion earlier in the morning in the hospital district. There were a few fatalities. Latest reports indicated that the victims were dead prior to the explosion. Evidence seemed to suggest this was another act perpetrated by the terrorist organization known as the Order of the Golden Hood.

Karen flicked over to a soap opera and went to pour herself some more coffee.


It was just another boring afternoon at the office for Mike Teller. The morning had been full of meetings that only succeeded in wasting everyone’s time, and he was trying to make his way through the post-lunch slump so he could go home and laze around on the couch. He wondered what Karen was making for dinner. His manager dropped by with some real work for him to do, completely ruining his plan to just zone out for the rest of the day.

Sighing, Mike flipped through the project notes that had been handed to him. It was going to be a long afternoon. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Alvin, one of the junior associates who had just joined the company a few weeks ago. Mike casually strolled over to Alvin’s desk and chatted him up. After sufficiently flattering the young man’s ego, Mike handed him the folder with the air of passing on a great responsibility. Go-getter that he was, Alvin got to work on the report right away, while Mike walked back to his desk, ready for two hours of no productivity whatsoever

As Alvin was looking over the folder, a small piece of paper fell out. He picked it up, thinking it was some extraneous note that somebody forgot to staple. Instead, he found a short message, written very neatly in gold ink:

In the name of the Golden Hood

The office was evacuated early that afternoon. The official story was that it was a safety precaution because of a gas leak. But whispers went around that the Order of the Golden Hood had struck yet again, with some sort of nerve gas. Mike decided to go to a nearby bar and get some afternoon drinking in. He hadn’t seen Alvin during the evacuation, and wouldn’t find out about his death until seeing it on the news later.


At about 5:30, Karen heard the front door open. Mike walked in, a little unsteady on his feet. She asked him how his day was, as she always did. He told her what happened. She expressed the appropriate amount of surprise and then went to put dinner on the table. Ever since the Golden Hood’s attacks had intensified, these sorts of conversation were quite routine around the city. The kids were in their rooms, doing their homework; most likely, they were doing anything but that.

Mike and Karen settled themselves on the couch, plates balanced on their laps. The news was on, talking about several more attacks perpetrated by the Order of the Golden Hood. The city was slowly going to pieces, and there was no way to stop it. There was no information on any of the Order’s members, or even how many there were. Even the Order’s objective remained a mystery. It seemed to exist only to spread chaos.

After dinner, Mike and Karen sat around for a bit making small talk, and then buried themselves in their computers.At 10:30 sharp, it was lights out.


Midnight. When the whole city should have been asleep, but many parts were still wide awake, and would be until the early hours.

Karen got out of bed quietly, making sure not to wake Mike. She stripped off her pajamas and opened the middle drawer of her dresser. It was where she kept old clothes that she didn’t wear as often anymore, but buried under the messy pile of disused clothing was something she wore quite often. It was a pristine white robe, neatly folded. Underneath it was a gold hood.

She put on the robe and pulled the hood over her head, almost reverently. It was a good night for chaos.

Nocturnal Pursuits

Today’s assignment was an image prompt. Write a post based on an image. Once again, the good folks at WordPress provided a few images to get the ideas pumping. This one spoke to me, though I was inspired by looking at the thumbnail and started writing from there. The full image is blurrier than I’d thought, which doesn’t quite fit in with the perspective I was going for, but it still fits with the general theme of a city at night.

Neon lights illuminated the night sky, advertising hotels, restaurants and products that few people would actually buy. Cars crowded the streets, streetbound fireflies flitting back and forth. The downtown area of the city was like a carnival after sundown, full of enticing sights and sounds, some of which were only illusions, promising much and delivering nothing. Lydia sighed as she looked out the window. A carnival. And she couldn’t go on any of the rides. Not yet.

She was the lone occupant of a sprawling 22nd floor office. There was a job to be done. Lydia worked late often. In fact, working late was pretty much all she did. She opened another file on the computer and scanned its contents, only half focused on the task. Her eyes drifted toward the skyline. She would love to be standing on a balcony, or a rooftop even, soaking in the night air, letting the moonlight wash over her.

After a few more searches, she found the files she was looking for. They were in a folder labeled ‘Vacation Slideshows’. Of course nobody would look there. She started the download process and turned her attention to the city again. Its twinkling lights, brighter than the stars above them, beckoned to her. The city wanted her. It would have her soon enough. She remembered nights spent looking at the stars, back when the city was so far away and exotic.It had been her dream to live there one day, to be among the glitz and the glamor, an angel with a neon halo. She was living the dream now, in a way. But not quite like she imagined.

The download was complete. Lydia took the flash drive out and pocketed it. She turned off the light on her desk, equally relieved and disappointed that building security hadn’t come by to check the floor. It made things easier for her, of course, but she did enjoy a challenge. She snuck out of the office, making sure the lights were all turned off, walked down the hallway and took the service elevator up to the roof.

It felt good to step out into the night air. Lydia walked to the edge and gazed at the urban panorama spread out before her. She closed her eyes and listened to the city’s constantly thrumming heart. She considered her situation for a moment. Her employers only needed the information before trading began in the morning, and she wouldn’t really get paid till then anyway. That gave her plenty of time to revel in the night. Maybe she’d find another place to rob. For fun, this time.

Bombast and Grandiloquence

I like big words. They make me sound smart.

This has affected my writing to a great extent. I’ve felt compelled to show off my knowledge by using words that would have people diving for the nearest thesaurus. It’s something that has often affected my speech as well; I do sometimes get quizzical looks, or a ‘What did you say?’ because it’s more important for me to strut around like a linguistic peacock than have an actual conversation.

A few years ago, I came across another useful writing axiom, once again attributed to ‘anonymous’: Never use a 5-dollar word where a 50-cent word would suffice. You are, of course, free to use the currency of your choice in that metaphor. That really made me re-evaluate my descriptive writing, and pay closer attention to how my favorite authors use descriptions.

It’s tempting to describe someone’s eyes as ‘azure’ or ‘cerulean’, but I could just as easily say that they were the ‘deepest blue, as if vast oceans were hidden behind them’. It’s a much simpler use of words, but it creates an image for the reader without causing any confusion. Now, reading’s a great way to increase your vocabulary without a doubt, but it detracts from the experience if you have to consult a dictionary every sentence. If a character’s eyes are really that exotic, sure, I’ll throw out ‘azure’. But just describing a pair of blue eyes? No need to get so fancy.

Ultimately, you want to take the reader on a journey. Try to minimize the bumps along the road.

On Writing

Probably the best writing advice I’ve ever come across is ‘write every day’. I can’t really attribute that quote to anyone in particular, as I’ve heard it from various sources. To me, the most useful version of this axiom is ‘Write something every day’. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be a story or just a sentence, whatever keeps the ideas flowing.

Fortunately, it’s something I get to do on a professional level. But I’ve been trying to do that more consistently on the personal front as well. Because of my love of fiction, most of my writing’s been focused on my fiction blog. I’ve been posting a small story there daily and, lately, I’ve added a daily haiku into the mix. It’s a lot of fun putting stories together, and sometimes I find inspiration in the most unexpected places.

Unfortunately, this blog’s been a bit neglected as a result. My posts have been fairly sporadic, and I’ve even had to turn my weekly humor feature, Conversations With A Strange Mind, into a monthly one because I was struggling to post something every week. Granted, writing humor isn’t easy, and I can only use so much mindless, random banter to keep a reader’s attention.

However, there were plenty of topics for me to write about on a daily basis. I just wasn’t doing that. So this week, I’ve been attempting to address that issue. I’ve been feeling a bit ranty of late, though whether that’s something in my temperament or because the blog’s a good ranting platform, I don’t know. Expect to find a few more posts on my pet peeves in the coming week.

Whether fiction or non-fiction, it feels good to write something every day and engage the mind in that process. I encourage anyone that reads this to write something today, even if it’s a simple little phrase. And if you’re so inclined, please share that in the comments. I’d love to see what pops out of your mind.

Thursday Scribbles: Wrong Side Of The Law

Last week, I mentioned a detective story that I’d been working on and had indefinitely put aside. The post also included some character portraits of the story’s main good guys. Below are the remaining main characters, the not-so-nice guys (and gals):

Sketchbook-001

We start of with Dan Finnegan, better known as Nervous Dan. Dan’s a pawnbroker who fences illegal goods on the side, and is also an informant for both the police and some of the major crime bosses. There’s very little going on in the city that he doesn’t know about, but information can be a burden, and Dan’s spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder, waiting for a bullet or a knife to make its way through him. With eyes and ears everywhere, Dan might be able to shed some light on the D.A.’s murder, if he can just calm down for a second.

Genevieve is a lounge singer at the Four Leaves Club. She’s an enigma, but people are usually too mesmerized by her voice and her face to ask too many questions. Charming and soft-spoken, this songstress puts everyone around her at ease, often causing them to let their guard down and reveal their innermost secrets. The D.A. was known to visit the club on occasion, and it’s possible he was there for more than just the music.

Growing up in the slum known as the Boneyard as part of a large but fragmented family, Elizabeth Parker was dealt a bad hand by life. But she decided to change her luck and joined up with a local gang lord to run a small gambling den in her neighborhood. Over the years, Lucky Betty built up her own syndicate and took control of the Four Leaves Club. As the city’s gambling queen, she was one of the prime targets of the D.A.’s campaign. Could she have taken the biggest gamble of her life by snuffing him out?

Bernie ‘The Owl’ Kowalski is the most feared crime boss in the city, with a hand in almost every major criminal enterprise. He’s as vicious as he is cunning, and makes sure none of his activities can be connected to him. Since the arrival of the new D.A., his empire’s been slowly shrinking and he’s found himself on the brink of a gang war. But Bernie the Owl’s not giving up his power so easily. He’s got a plan that’ll knock out his rivals and leave no doubts about who’s in charge. Was having the D.A. killed part of the plan?

So there you have it. These are the 8 principal characters in my story who navigate the various twists and turns that lead to the mystery’s resolution. As I said, I may get back to that at some point. I’ve enjoyed bringing these guys out again the last couple of weeks, and this is the first time I’ve actually written out the character bios, so that was fun. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a burst of inspiration and have the story read by next week….that’s insanely optimistic, though.

But for now, I’m happy to have created a stage and cast of characters for a drama to play out. We’ll see when I get to open the curtain. Perhaps, until then, you can play detective yourself. Who do you think did it?