The SS-51, Pirate Ship

It’s amazing how you can be surrounded by everything and yet nothing all at once. Outside, the beauty of the stars seems to go on forever – an infinite sea decorated with pinpoints of light. The entire universe stretches beyond this ship’s hull, filled with a vast array of possibilities.

Yet space is a vacuum – there is nothing outside the walls of this ship. Any given twinkle could take an eternity to reach.

The universe is very full of life; but at the same time, very lonely.

The SS-51 is a pirate ship. While its crew does not consist of eye-patched swashbucklers, no member belongs to any given world, country, or federation. Once upon a time, they were all part of a particular organization. However, about a year ago, that organization met a brutal end. The crew of the SS-51 consists of the people who had nowhere else to turn but to one another, plus a few good souls willing to help and another few strays picked up along the way.

Hackney runs the med bay and is the one person everyone on the ship knows on a first-name basis. The moment The Academy crumbled, he and Simmons – the psych that we all love or hate – were first in line to offer their help. It’s a wonder they weren’t killed, but luck or fate – take your pick – led them to the right people and they wound up on board. Without their help, this crew wouldn’t have lasted a month.

Lu sits at the helm. She knows this ship inside and out and the gods help you if so much as put a scratch in this baby. Some say she was on the team that helped design the ship, back when it had been intended for deep space warfare; but no one knew her then. Lu was the last in her class to come up for termination. She had three days left when the Release happened. Rumor has it she’s the oldest on deck, but you would never be able to tell by looking at her.

Finally, Crow is the unofficial leader of this ragtag group. After the Release, he’s the one that spearheaded finding everyone that needed someone. There was no government that wanted to cozy up to rogue members of The Academy, and he knew that. Together, we’re the biggest – and most dangerous – bounty that’s every been. Individually, we’re hunted like animals. Crow found people to help us, he got the roster, he found Lu and the ship, and he works to bring – and keep – us together. He’ll never admit to being a leader, though.

SS-51 isn’t exactly paradise – unless, of course, your idea of paradise is a hunk of metal floating through space – but it’s home.

Simmons is mostly responsible for how it’s been divided up. She rearranges things every once in a while to force us into socialization as much as possible (she says that’s our key to ‘rehabilitation’), but some think it’s just to give herself an opportunity to study how we react to change.

What was supposed to be the ‘War Room’ is the social/recreation hall. Living quarters are assigned, currently, around occupational work stations and assignments.

(And… it’s late. I’m tired, on vacation, and a bit under the weather… but here’s a portion of a setting. I couldn’t stand the thought of missing two days of writing in a row! I’m going to be washing dishes by hand for an eternity, dear readers. It was a wise, yet masochistic, decision to designate my partner as the one to assign my punishments. I doubt I’ll have time these next few days to catch up on reading many of your writings – but I’m excited for all the content I’ll have to explore once I’m home again!)

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Frederick’s House

The sky is bigger than big, vaster than vast, and oh so blue! Beneath it rest rolling slopes of tall grasses – waves of green and grain that ripple with the slightest breeze. It’s as if you can watch the wind dance as the whispering stalks bend to its will. They are only parted by a dirt road that winds through the scene – a lazy snake napping among the grasses.

The air here always smells clean as it does after a spring rain, when droplets still cling to blades of grass and a cool wind lingers to push the storm clouds toward the horizon. An extra deep breath might even reveal the soft scent of tulips mingling with the rays of the sun. The tufts of white cloud drift by like leaves in a river, guided by the current.

Following the sleepy snake of a road or the scent of tulips – for both lead a person the same direction – one would happen upon a yellow picket fence guarding a lovely English garden and a small house made from a teacup. Not a small tea cup, mind you – a small house. As you or I could easily find a seat within, the cup and its saucer are quite large, by drinking standards; modest, by living standards.

The wide brim, instead of being filled with tea, holds a sea of bluebells and dark green ivy. The ivy even spills down the side opposite the cup’s handle, to which is tied a simple swing of rope and wood, giving the effect of liquid spilling over. Behind this ivy cascade, mud-caked garden tools rest inside the lip of the saucer, propped against the ceramic facade.

For an entrance, there is a small and round wooden door with a shiny brass nob that looks as if it’s met many palms in its day. Above the door a branch is painted supporting a small yellow and black bird and sporting soft pink blooms, with green buds indicating more are on the way.

Dark blue circles the top of the cup, matching the ring around the saucer it sits in, and full-petaled white and purple blooms adorn the background, separated occasionally by light green leaves. The centers of these flowers are mostly orange and yellow, but are occasionally affixed with a circular window in place of the polleny centers.

The cup and saucer are nestled into a patch of tall grasses, similar to the those waving in the distance. Out front, extending to the yellow picket fence, rests a beautiful garden with honeysuckle vine climbing over parts of the fence, sweet peas nestled against a small stone bench, peonies, irises, phlox, and lillies. Lush foliage busts of a garden well tended, as does the absence of weeds. A lemon tree even grows next to the tea cup’s handle and swing; and beyond, one can see berry bushes extending back to even more garden expanse.

On the small yellow gate, which the grass-bare ground beneath indicates has been opened many a time and again, hangs a sign that reads in firm yet curling letters: Friends Welcome.

Inside lives Frederick.

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Magniloquent Queen

The Queen of Canturbean was very verbose. That is to say… she could be quite magniloquent. Or.. well.. she knew a lot of big words. Words were her power. Soldiers carried swords, merchants carried money, but the Queen armed herself to the teeth with the vernacular. When she spoke, people had the tendency to obey. She could make someone obey with but a whim, but she preferred to do it by persuasion if she could. And most often, she could.

While the King of Lothramire sent his loyal servants to seek out new lands and riches for him, the Queen dispatched squires to gather languages. She was already fluent in six, and a seventh by sight and pen only (she’d never met anyone who could speak it to hear it properly done) but still wanted more.

While the Sultan of Gorgarim invited engineers from ’round the world to improve his structures and lands, she summoned scholars and linguists. Engineers merely helped her to expand the library and decide the most efficient use of space so that it would hold the most books, scrolls, and tablets possible.

While the Princess of Rofhan constructed great walls to keep out the northern invaders, milady built schools and libraries so that all her people may be educated and learn the power of words. The rulers of the land thought her foolish, but she remained confident.

You have no standing army! they mocked.

You have no cache of weapons! they teased.

Should we ever want your land, we could take it and divide it as we please!

And as words have power, once they said this they began to make plans to realize it. The seeds of war had been sewn by their very own lips, though they did not have the wisdom to recognize it.

When the great armies began to march into her land, the Queen of Canturbean sent out her people. Farmers and children and merchants alike, she sent them. “Stop!” shouted the kinsmen of Canturbean. And the invading armies, for reasons they could not explain, came to a halt.

Then she sent her scholars to the land of Lothramire and to the King they said, “Perseus Ramadus McManahan, King of Lothramire, please halt your crusade. Your treasury is bare, your country is poor, and we do not wish to see your great land fade.”

The king, of course, laughed. He was the richest in the land! To prove it to these scholarly men and women, he took them to the treasury vaults himself. The great metal doors were heaved open, giant bolts were drawn back, and the treasury was revealed.

Empty.

“You underestimate the power of words,” they said; and left the king gaping at dusty brick walls as they journeyed to the land of Gorgarim.

The structures of this land towered above the scholars, mighty giants against the bright blue sky. They entered a wondrous palace adorned with statues so similar to real life, one scholar almost asked it for direction. When they reached him, the sultan sat on a throne of gold in a room with painted ceilings and pillars thrice the height of any tree they’d seen.

“Theodore Raftani, O Pearl of the Sand, Sultan of Gorgarim, please hear us,” they pleaded. “Halt your crusade. Your cities are crumbling, your structures are buckling, and we do not wish to see your great land fade.”

The sultan, like the king, laughed. He had made great investments, after all – the best materials money could buy and the best minds from across the kingdom had constructed his cities. But even as he began to pontificate this point, a sturdy pillar of marble that supported a beam in his throne room crumbled to dust.

Reports rolled in of similar occurrences from across the kingdom.

“You underestimate the power of words,” they said and left the sultan to plan for his cities’ repairs.

Next was the Princess of Rofhan, who rested comfortably behind her great protective walls. A horseman was sent to the gates to hear what the scholars had to say. He had heard rumors of the troubles in Lothramire and Gorgarim and his nervousness showed on his face. “Speak,” he said, as brave as he could muster, when the scholars reached the wall.

“We appeal to Aurora Magenta, Princess of Rofhan, to please halt her crusade against Canturbean. Her walls are not as sturdy as she imagines, they hold weakness and could easily be washed away by the tears of the sky – we do not wish to see this great land fade. If she does not heed our plea, she underestimates the power of words.”

The message was carried to the Princess, who thought it absurd. When had rain ever washed away a wall of stone and mortar? What a fool, that Queen.

But come the next spring shower, the walls that surrounded Rofhan slowly melted and gave way under each little drop. By mid-afternoon, the wall was only high enough to keep out a mouse – though even a mouse could climb.

Soon the court of the Queen was filled with the rulers of the land. All had come to plead with this witch of a monarch to restore their lands, admit their folly and formally withdraw their troops with the greatest heap of apology they could manage.

The Queen heard them all. Then she rose and she spoke, “Perseus Ramadus McManahan, King of Lothramire, Theodore Raftani, Sultan of Gorgarim, Aurora Magenta, Princess of Rofhan – kneel; and may there never be quarrel between our lands again.”

For although the Queen knew words aplenty and could speak them again in more languages than most had fingers, she was wise enough to know their power; and to use only what was necessary.

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I don’t know what this is.

Look down.

Waves crash beneath your feet. You don’t know how you’re standing here. There’s a cliff behind you, but there isn’t actually anything beneath your feet. You stand on thin air, looking past your toes at a violent sea of bluish green. White caps froth as the water pushes and pulls against itself, unable to decide where it belongs. For a moment, you understand how it feels and you can feel your own frothy white caps of frustration forming inside. Life is sometimes difficult.

The wind is warm, but fierce. The salty air stings your skin and whips your clothes against your body. The excess fabric flaps behind you. Its sound reminds you of a flag snapping in the breeze. Why are you here?

Above, you see storm clouds rolling in. It’s a turbulent sky with dark clouds rolling atop one another, fighting for a glimpse of the ocean below. You can hear their grumbles as they push one another aside. The air feels electric and the little hairs on your arm even stand on end – or so it feels.

Crack! Boom!

You’re in bed, a soft bed. It’s dark in the room and very quiet… it should be a comforting place and you do feel tired, but this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. Feeling sleepy…

Crack! Boom!

There’s the ocean. You’re facing a new direction, looking along the coastline where those angry waves beat against the cliffs. The sea will only ever see the rock and soil its waves attack – but from your vantage point, you can see the grassy green tops; rolling fields stretch for miles across a picturesque landscape of rolling hills. You imagine somewhere in that distance there must be cows, lazily stomping about the soft earth or perhaps reclining in a patch of remaining sunlight.

With a deep breath you feel that if you lean forward, you’ll be able to direct some form of movement. Sure enough, the slight tilt of your body allows you to move securely forward. It’s not as though you’re going to fall – you actually feel quite sturdy in the middle of the air, and now you can explore.

Where do you go?

With this newfound ability, you suddenly feel free and in control. You know that you may go anywhere you wish. For a moment, this thought overwhelms you. A lush beautiful forest comes to mind, the pyramids, great towering mountains – it’s your discretion.

Except suddenly, you only yearn for home. Not just home… but childhood. It’s not the structure you want, but the comfort. Knowing that adults would protect you. This was a time when you were invincible, and so was everyone around you. No one could die, no one became incurably ill. Life was nothing but a gift.

From darkness, your mind snaps back. You’re at the sea again, staring at the turmoil beneath your soles. What is a soul, anyway? Do you have one? As if to answer your question, the desire wells up inside you to dive into the raging water below.

Without a moment’s hesitation, you plunge downward – into the sea salty water – into the unknown – into the raging waves – and you find… calm. Beneath all that struggle, there is peace. The water isn’t water anymore, yet you float suspended in it as if it were. It’s warm. It’s comforting. You’re enveloped in a familiar embrace.

You’ve found what you seek.

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Frederick and Quarter

Every imaginary friend gets left behind at some point, and Quarter had said more goodbyes than the majority of his friends combined. Some didn’t take it well; but Quarter had found a way to separate his “imaginary” self from his true self. The break ups were always difficult and sad, but when the friendship was complete – which was how he saw it – he got to return home and play in his garden. The children always marveled at the idea that he had a garden.

How do you hold the watering pale? Jeremy had asked him, uncertain of how an elephant could grip a handle with no fingers or opposable thumb.

Well that’s quite simple, Quarter had responded, thinking of an answer that wouldn’t reveal his use of magic. With my trunk! 

In his own home, Quarter was Frederick. Every Friend had two names: one you are born with, the other – and arguably more special of the two – is given to you by your first Child. Frederick had been his given name at birth and Jeremy had given him the name Quarter.

Frederick had been willed into existence by the boy during his last summer before kindergarten. Jeremy had speech troubles and was nervous that his future classmates would make fun of him. This anxiety and helpless desire for a friend allowed him to see the little blue elephant with poofy, cotton-filled ears.

Jeremy’s favorite book at the time was about a stuffed bear named Corduroy, who came to life in a toy store. The first time he saw Frederick, the animated elephant reminded him of this and he shouted ‘Cordur! Cordur!’ The speech troubles prevented him from forming the full name, but that’s what had stuck even after he overcame the difficulties. From then on, Frederick had been Quarter.

Once you’re given a name by a Child, it sticks forever. Every Child after the first somehow just knows the name, even though they believe they’ve come up with it themselves. Frederick was thrilled to have such a good name and such a happy story to go along with it. He found it was quite appropriate, given that a Quarter is always a piece to a greater whole and the whole purpose of Friends was to help someone become themself. As Quarter, he was meant to be part of something greater than himself. In this, he took great comfort.

As Frederick, he’d become quite the mentor in his community. Having been a Friend to so many children, he was the one many turned to when it came time for their split. It’s never easy saying goodbye to someone you love, Frederick would always say, but it’s better to begin the ordeal knowing that you must only see them to a certain point.

He would often walk the young ones through the garden, explaining children like flowers. If you hover over them, they’ll never get enough sun and they’ll never bloom; but for a while, you must make sure they receive just enough of this and that, plus lots of love, in order to become the most beautiful of blossoms.

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Update: Clay Mind

Have you ever experienced one of those days where the entire world seems overwhelming?

That was my yesterday.

We had an unexpected lunch outing at the last minute, which was quite enjoyable but threw my schedule a bit. Upon returning home, I wasn’t quite yet ready to write. I opted instead to miss my deadline of getting started by 2pm, informing my partner he’d have to choose a penalty for me later, and bumbled about the internet for a bit.

I did this in attempts to settle my mind – the opposite happened.

The more I attempted to zone out and calm my thoughts, the more stress I began to feel. People wanted to chat with me, children’s shrieks on the playground seemed louder and more frequent than usual, and I had a plethora of tabs open of things I wanted to read but hadn’t found time for… it all felt like some tidal wave of information I was meant to take in. It was too much.

I promptly shut off the computer, collected a soft scented candle and something to cover my eyes, then drew myself a nice hot bath. The bathroom is the only place you can escape the playground noise. It was quiet, the cloth I put over my eyes blocked the light, and the scent of the candle allowed my mind to drift away from my current environment…

but my mind would not shut up!

I tried some meditation, I tried thinking on the character I wanted to write, creative exercises – nothing worked. I could feel my brain hardening into that unmalleable lump of cold clay coated in slimy mucous it becomes when I’ve reached a point of overload. I refused this and tried to let go of all thought.

My partner came home. We talked. We played some games. Still, I was fried. He encouraged me to power through and I thanked him for it. It’s nice to have someone rooting for you when you don’t want to give up.

Then I thought of transforming this feeling into words, as I had once done when I’d felt too angry to write, then applying that to a character. Nothing came, though. The computer felt intimidating.

So I had an internal conversation.

I reminded myself that the reason I challenged myself was to improve my writing. I’m doing this for fun – to do something I enjoy. If it begins to feel like a job, full of deadlines and stress, I’d be missing the point.

This lead me to one question: If I force myself to bang out my minimum words on an incomplete character and complete the challenge requirement for the day, would I begin to harbour some weird resentment?

Ultimately, I decided not to risk it. I foresee much housework and dish-washing in my near future, but I believe this was the right choice.

When I awoke this morning, I didn’t feel guilty or let down or angry with myself. Interestingly, I did feel like I’d let down my readers a bit… but as most of you are writers yourselves, I also found myself wondering if any of you have gone through anything similar.

How did you handle it? What do you find most beneficial?

This blogging community has truly been much more than I expected. I’ve had the great fortune of connecting with so many wonderful independent writers, it’s as if I’ve tapped into a wealth of knowledge and creativity I never realized existed! So if you’re here and reading this – whether you read regularly or this is the first and only time you’ll ever be by – thank you.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for writing.

Also, I should note that I have kept up with the reading portion of my challenge. I failed to mention it, but on Wednesday I caught up with Yawatta Hosby’s blog, an independent published author, and Carrie over at Magic and Marvels, which is currently the favorite read out of all my subscriptions. Carrie has a very unique way with words and, just as her tagline suggests, it adds a bit of magic to life (or reminds one of its existence) when you read it. Then I found I’ve Infused Myself with Puppy DNA, with his jarring title image but fun and creative writing. I’m still reading through his recent seven-part series on recent life.

Yesterday was Legends of Windemere, another of my favorites (especially when I’m looking for some creative inspiration), and 5 Degrees of Inspiration, which I always overlook and then regret having done so when I return. I did fail to seek out a new blogger yesterday.

Today’s reads will appear at the bottom of the character write up I intend to post later this afternoon.

Looks like today will be quite full! Perhaps this is positive reinforcement that taking yesterday off was the proper decision.

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Hi, I’m John.

Did you notice how Autumn crept in? It snuck in on the Summer’s coattails. The solstice hasn’t passed yet, but you can smell it in the air. If you look out the window, you can see the maple trees across the way have leaves tipped with yellow. The mornings are crisp, as well. Though the afternoons still feel quite summery.

I prefer to call it Autumn, not Fall. Autumn makes me think of color and crisp apples, pumpkin breads and hot cider. ‘Fall’ leads the mind to more unpleasant things – dead leaves, mold, and skeletons. Perhaps it’s simply a strange and abstract association from my childhood. But to me, Autumn is a time of comfort and coming together. We bring in the harvest, we return to school, we retreat indoors to evade the cold, and we share our bounties of food, knowledge, and warmth.

Spring is often associated as a time for new beginnings, but any gardener knows bulbs are planted in Autumn. I would proffer that this is in fact the season of new beginnings.

And if you’ve stuck with me this far, then you must be a soul of inquisitive nature and romantic inclination. You must be every bit as interesting as the imagination could conjure. For that reason, I’d like to introduce myself.

My name is John.

Not ‘John’ in that quintessential anonymity that normally characterizes letters of this type, but truly John. That is actually my name.

I moved to this city seven years ago, into an apartment only two blocks away from this very coffee shop. It was a terrible apartment and I’d often come here just to get away from it. A year later, I found a better place in a different part of the city; and two years after that, I moved into my current residence (also in a different part of the city). Yet despite these moves, I still come here almost every morning. In some ways, it has become almost more of a home to me than the place I rest my head.

A few months back, I noticed a pretty woman that comes in fairly often. What caught my eye wasn’t her hair or her legs or her smile – it was the book she was reading. It was a book I had sitting on my nightstand, prepared for me to tuck into that very evening. I’m not one to approach strangers, but I felt daring in that moment and resolved to ask her about it the next time I saw her – once I’d gotten to read a few chapters.

The trouble was that they next time I saw her, she was already reading something new. It seemed a bit creepy to walk up to someone and begin a conversation about an observation you made weeks ago. When you begin a conversation, the topic should be current and relevant. This would be anything but, and perhaps seem a bit stalker-ish.

I felt a bit disheartened, but this person was still a stranger.

A few weeks later, I accidentally collided with another patron as we both rushed in to escape the rain. The encounter caused this person to drop a couple of items they had clutched protectively to their chest. When I helped the collect the items from the floor, I noted that one of them was the next book in my reading group’s line up. I told the person so as I handed it back and met their eyes.

It was her again.

This time, it was her eyes that held my attention – they were such an intriguing shade of blue. She responded politely as she retrieved her items from my hands, then was off to place her order. Her smile was as quirky and endearing as the pea pod earrings that dangled from her lobes. Her laugh was hearty and genuine, which I found refreshing in a world of flirtatious gigglers.

I decided then that I ought to speak to her. Though what would I say?

Certainly I didn’t want to come across like I’d been watching her, but one does take notice of people who frequent the same areas; particularly if those people seem to share an interest. However, “Say, haven’t I see you around here before?” simply isn’t my style. Nor does it lead to the type of conversation I’d like to have. As I mulled over reasons for an introduction, another concern grew in my mind.

In high school, people often assumed my sister was a vegetarian – even going so far as to save the last meatless salad for her in the cafeteria. She wasn’t. People just looked at her and made assumptions based on appearance. It wasn’t a bad thing, it just wasn’t her. Similarly, people here often look at me and take me for many things I’m not. For the most part, it’s been the charismatic, outgoing, athletic surfer type. I am none of these things. I don’t even like the beach! I prefer mountains. My shy and quiet personality tends to come across as rude to people who have these notions about me, and I feel as though they’re disappointed to discover who I actually am.

When thinking of approaching this woman, I felt afraid that she’d form an impression of me and become disappointed to discover the truth of my personality. I am, contrary to popular belief, a homebody. My ideal Saturday night involves a glass of wine, a pair of pajamas, and good book. Most of the people I consider friends are people I work with, though I generally don’t spend much time with them outside the confines of Monday-Friday, 9-5. While most people collect friends, I collect experiences. It’s one of my goals to collect a small vial of sand from every coast in the world. (For the record, I’m not even certain this is possible.)

How could I convey any of this?

I pondered over it for months, hoping she didn’t vanish in the meantime. Then one day, I started writing. I wrote about how Autumn seemed to have arrived early. I wrote about perceptions and the things I’d want someone to know about me, if they could just know something at a glance. Then I put what I wrote into a small drawer in the table where she always sits.

A couple of week ago, she began looking in the small drawer each time she sat down. Perhaps she was waiting for something in particular or just waiting for something interesting to appear. Today, she found this.

Hi, I’m John. Could I buy you a cup of coffee?

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