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Sand Pits

There was a time in Lotharia, you weren’t nothin’ lest ye had a sea gem. Sea gems was as blue as the sky, maybe bluer, and as beautiful as the stars. Everybody called ’em sea gems, though, on account of they shade of blue being way darker than the washed out sky above ole Lotharia. Some say a merchant from the coast is the one brought ’em here and that’s how they got the name, but people who say that’re dumber ‘n rocks ’cause everybody knows that them stones came outta the Sand Pits just south of the city. Course, some people don’t like to talk about it no more.

See, the area south o’ the city is dryer than a basilisk’s belly and just as rough. Hot as fire, too! Somehow, though, somebody figured out that buried in that dry cracked earth there was sea gems. Only problem was the conditions was so bad, ain’t nobody wanted to go mine ’em. Then somebody got the bright idea that they could make people dig ’em up. Course, Lotharia is civilized folk – nobody wanted to force that kind o’ work on nobody it ain’t fit for. So then somebody asked, ‘Well what ’bout prisoners?’

After a lot o’ talkin’, it was decided that people who had committed the worst o’ the worst kind o’ crimes would get sentenced there. The kind we should just kill off, probably, but sometimes people just don’t feel good about doin’ that sort of thing. Anyway, that was ages ago.

While all them paper pushers got the project started, some other guy went about figurin’ out the best way to get the rocks out. He ultimately figured to dig a giant pit that stepped down in levels, with tunnels branchin’ off each one. At the very bottom, they built a place for the prisoners te live – if you could call it livin’. Into the side o’ the pit, they built the ole Overseer’s house. This smart guy that figured out about the pit, he also figured out how to keep them prisoners in check. This was prolly a good idea since it was going to be the baddest of ’em all trapped in one place.

Then an Overseer was hired, the prisoners was brought in, and the people o’ Lotharia got they sea gems. Became a real hot trade item an’ the city got real fancy after that! Only problem was the people stopped carin’ ’bout the pit they came out of.

Once the minin’ op started, a big ole cloud of dust rose up in that pit. The city people didn’t care because that just meant they di’n’t have to see in and whoever was in there – well, they deserved it. But the people inside the pit? They couldn’t see out. That smart man figured out the pit must’ve also figured there’d be dust, ’cause he’d made some special lights you could see through it all.

A few years later, it was all outta sight, outta mind. People didn’t notice that the people goin’ into the pits weren’t comin’ out and I guess they didn’t think to care. Prisoners, though… they started prayin’ for death before gettin’ sentenced to the Sand Pits. Lawyers started makin’ even prettier pennies off it all, too. This put the Overseer in a bind, though, on account o’ he started runnin’ out of prisoners to run operations. But the people? They still wanted their gems. Guess the city officials turned a blind eye when the Overseer started buyin’ people off the slave caravans that started runnin’ through. Real shady business, that.

Slavery ain’t legal in Lotharia. They got a lot o’ laws there protectin’ people and makin’ sure the right thing gets done. Guess that’s why people just assumed that things was still a-okay down in the Pits. Long as they had them pretty stones, they was happy. Went on a long time, that did.

Some folk say the sea gems, they got darker on account of all the blood it took gettin’ ’em out.

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A Conversation over Rice and Rat

It’s amazing how much war can change a person. When this all started, he’d been tremendously unsure of himself. Even just the sight of blood had made him squeamish! Now he was up to his elbows in the stuff. Of course, Jackson still seemed miraculously the same… but he knew that’s how Jackson wanted it. If you don’t talk much, it’s pretty easy to seem no different. Olivia had become even more a pillar of strength. She seemed strong even when the bards weren’t singing their encouragements nearby – it amazed him. The soldiers around them either seemed tougher and hardened, or looked like a bridge that was about to give under the weight at its center. It didn’t take him long to realize something needed done about this.

He felt foolish after approaching Jackson about it – his response was that war did a good job of sorting the strong from the weak. Essentially, he didn’t care and just saw it as the natural course of things. Olivia humored him, at least. “What would you do for them, then?” she asked.

“I don’t know.. but we have to do something,” he responded, knowing that sending them back to the battle would be sending them to their death; or they’d desert, which was only delaying their death until they were caught and executed for treason.

Olivia sighed, staring at him pensively. He could almost see the gears working behind her tired eyes. She needed sleep, but she’d probably bite his hand if he told her such.

She posed another question, “Have you tried talking to them? Asking why they’re in such a state?”

“Of course! They’re terrified! Not everyone is suited to staring down a sword.”

She looked agitated. That’s not the response she was looking for, “Of course they’re scared. We’re all scared, whether we admit to it or not.” She shot a cautious glance toward Jackson, who was a fair way off but no one was truly sure how far those long ears could pick up sound. Seeing that Jackson seemed oblivious to her previous comment, she continued, “But some can be brave if they have something to fight for. These men aren’t here because they want to be – we volunteered, they’re here on orders. Whatever cause the King is fighting for, most of them could care less. Some take comfort that their death will feed their family for a long time to come, others want glory. Pipkin over there,” she nodded to a boy with reddish brown curly locks sitting by the fire, “he’s got nothing to go back to. If he dies on the field, he takes comfort that it won’t be a slow death in the grip of hunger.”

Olivia shoveled a spoonful of brothy rice and rat into her mouth, eyeing him as she let the information sink in.

“So I just need to give them something to make their sacrifice worth it? Why can’t we just find someone to give them more training? Better training! They need confidence, not consolation,” he argued.

“Tr’ning takesth time, moneh, und fud,” she explained around her mouthful of food. Ladylike was certainly not a quality Olivia prioritized. She continued after swallowing, “Those are three things we’re fresh out of. Give them something to live for. If you can’t do that, give them something to die for. Find out why they’re so afraid of death, then give them something to believe in that’s greater than their fear.”

He pondered this for a while. Olivia took the opportunity to scrape was was left in the bowl into her mouth, then stood to excuse herself – she still had to report to the captain before the sun set. He nodded, and thanked her for the advice. She smiled and they clasped forearms. As they did, he placed a hand on her shoulder. “Take care of yourself,” he said.

She gave him a chiding look, “You know you’re supposed to save that magic for people who are actually wounded…”

“What?” He drew his arms back into a stretch. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You know, you look tired.. should really get some sleep. Take that as an order, Sergeant – a doctor’s order! Now, get going – I have injured people to tend to!” He made shewing motions with his hands.

She turned to go, leaving those chiding eyes on him a few extra moments to drive home her point. He turned his body back to the sick tent and his mind back to finding something that could combat the fear of a painful death.

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Creative Something #8 (based on a dream)

The Captain exited the former library by way of the upstairs balcony, surveying the destruction of a horizon that was now blanketed in the darkness of night. Light poured from the building behind her, creating a soft glow around it that served as a barrier against the creatures that lurked beyond its protection. She always felt a sleeping dread that their power systems would somehow fail, that she would fail, and their camp would fall into the darkness as so many others had; that her people would be ravaged and shredded by its demons. But it was a fear she had to keep to herself, particularly now. They had a visitor.

In her heart, the Captain knew that not all visitors were bad. Some simply had managed to survive and needed a place of refuge. However, others were daring infiltrators from other camps who came to scout out supplies they may be able to steal. Some had no interest in joining their clan, but rather overtaking the location for their own group – some people didn’t like sharing, though there was likely room enough for all. Still others had been driven mad by the darkness, and those were the most dangerous.

People who had been lost too long out there, thinking they could survive in a world that was no longer their own, no longer the world they’d once known, they became confused. The fear gets to you, after a while – the fight that keeps you alive takes over. Some could be saved from this trauma, if given the right treatment, but most were too dangerous and a threat to her people. The Captain and her crew had enforced strict policy against people Wanderers, as they called them. She was convinced, as most were, that these rules were what had kept them alive.

She could already see the man as she descended from the balcony, the steps rising to meet her boot-clad feet, those platforms she’d already utilized swinging from back to front, descending with her as she continued. If she’d stopped, they’d stop as well and hold her suspended in mid air. It was a simple magic, but quite useful. The stranger appeared to be wearing a modified Navy uniform with those distinct blue camouflage pants, a blackened protective vest, and a dark beret. He looked strong, with a determined set to his jaw, as he stood confrontationaly before one of her own soldiers. If she did not intervene soon, there would be a fight; and that would be good for no one.

“Have you come with a purpose, or did you just want to pick a fight?” She directed her question, obviously, to the stranger, then shifted to her own man, “Jones, stand down. I don’t want everyone coming here thinking that we’re rabid dogs in need of putting down.”

By the time she finished speaking, she’d reached the bottom of the enchanted stairs and stepped onto the cold cement of the light-flooded plaza below. The planks that had constructed the steps flew up, returning to their resting spot beneath the balcony, as she extended her arm to the stranger and gave him a wide smile. She was aware it probably wasn’t a warm one. He straightened, shoulders back, and eyed her skeptically.

She said, “I apologize if my comrades offended you. We don’t take kindly to those who may be Wanderers, as I’m sure you can well imagine. I’m the Captain. You asked to see me?”

The man took her hand and gave it a firm shake, still eyeing her skeptically, “Butler. Jermaine. Formerly of the 182nd, Bravo Company.”

The Captain gave a curt nod, still smiling, then extended her other arm toward a make-shift lookout tower where one could observe the darkness beyond, “Shall we, then?”

Jermaine Butler, former navy man, crossed in front of her. Before she followed, she dropped her smile and gave a meaningful nod to the group of soldiers that had detained him. They dispersed, returning to their duties, confident that the Captain would handle the matter appropriately.

To be continued…

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A first encounter

The girl stood cold in the rain, two rabbits dangling from the twine twixt her fingers. The boy had fire but hadn’t eaten in days – she’d watched him closely. This could be mutually beneficial. But what if he took her back to that place? What if he was dangerous? Her stomach growled in response. It was a risk she’d have to take.

She stepped forward from the treeline, allowing the muted glow of the fire to wash over her. Slowly stepping forth, she rose the hand that held the rabbits to make her offer: food for fire. The boy – was he a boy? His hair looked white, like an old person’s – lifted his eyes. His long fingers were already resting on the hilt of his dagger. She gulped but continued her slow approach.

Once she reached the dry edge of the cave, she raised her left hand to signal that she meant no harm. She had no weapons anyway, having abandoned everything at the outcrop; but he didn’t know that. Still she approached, until she reached the edge of the fire. There she stopped, fully extending her right arm to offer up the rabbits. The heat felt so good on her skin she knew she’d cry if he turned her away; or worse yet, die. Their eyes were locked, unblinking, in an intense gaze meant to size up the other person.

His eyes were large with heavy lids and silvery blue Irises. His cheeks, gaunt from hunger, only served to enhance the wildness of the look. Most of him was covered in that tattered blanket she’d seen him with, but she already knew that his figure and frame would not be of too much threat to her at this point. He was too weak. Being armed, however, could easily give him an advantage. The dagger he had was in hand, she could assume the sword was nearby. It was essential she not threaten him and make it obvious that she intended no foul play. She couldn’t be sure that her rain-soaked, shivering body would have the strength or energy to dodge an attack.

She had eyes the color of a dark stormy sky and a look just as threatening. She was thin – probably as hungry as he was – and appeared to have no equipment on her at all, not even shoes. He tried not to imagine the taste and smell of those rabbits as he searched her features. The shape of her eyes and unique coloring of her skin gave her an exotic look, but he would guess she was only a few years younger than himself. Only a child – but children could be dangerous, if underestimated. Around one ankle was an iron clasp and the skin underneath looked bloody and raw. Escaped, he figured; but from where? She was the only one he’d heard in these woods, aside from the two idiots he’d encountered a few days ago. All in all he summed her up as a ferocious spirit but, like himself, a weak and starving body. He made up his mind.

The boy’s eyes flicked to the rock next to him, an offer to sit. She heaved a sigh of relief, quickly rounded the fire, sat, and began untying the rabbits to make their meal.

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The Traveller

There’s no point in trying to remember when this all started, or how. What matters is that it’s happening now.

My life isn’t a continuous series of events running from birth to death. I’ve been all over the globe and seen history, as I was taught it, in the making. I’ve met people I’ve never seen before who know me by name, and I’ve encountered people that I know who don’t recognize me at all. My time just isn’t the same as everyone else’s time. At some point I came into this world, the same old-fashioned way everyone else has: from between my mother’s legs. The difference is that I’ve lived before that time, and I’ve lived long after I should be dead. I’ve even encountered some people I’m fairly certain were present when I died, though the didn’t tell me so.

I’m not telling you all this because I’m afraid of death. Comes to us all sooner or later and I’ve got no qualms with that. I’m concerned with what happens in between. That’s the important part – the stuff that matters. You only get one shot at that and I aim to get it right. The only problem is that I have very little control over that because for some reason, I slip through time.

Time, space… whatever. I could be anywhere in the world at anytime in the world, but as far as I can tell it’s all the same planet. And spoiler alert – there is life on other planets.

Where I go and when are completely out of my control – it just happens. Sometimes it’s as abrupt as turning a corner on Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee 1972 and winding up on Koenigstrasse, Stuttgart, Germany in 2031. Other times it happens gradually, like I’m walking through what’s left of the English countryside on a morning in 3075 and the terrain gradually becomes a little more sparse, the temperature slowly drops, and by late afternoon I’m trudging through a snowy countryside in what will someday be Russia. (I do a lot of walking.) Every time I’m about to make the switch, though, I feel nauseous. It feels like the world is spinning too fast. That could start a couple of days before the slip or a couple hours. And that’s it – the only warning.

For a while, I figured this at least keeps things interesting. I didn’t have anyone to miss, no one to miss me. I could just wander. Everywhere I’d wind up, it seemed like someone could use my help and that’s rewarding. Most of the time I can keep a full belly and good enough company to last the stay. It’s rare that I see anyone more than once, but it’s happened. And I suppose that because it’s happened is why I want to stop it now.

You see, there’s a time in the world when things really go south… and when I say that, I mean they really go bad. I’ve saved a lot of people and lost a lot of people during those times, but whatever it is I’m doing I get to finish it before I make the slip. Except for once.

I’d met this girl a couple of times, but she was never the one I was helping. Then I met her a third time. Figured something important in the universe must be happening around her – whoever or whatever has any control over the travelling thing, they want me to be there – at that place, during that time. So I did what needed done. Only things got a little overrun and we had to make a break for it. We ran. We ran for a good long while and she managed to keep up – not everybody did. The streets of Seattle are an unforgiving place during that time. We finally made it to a safe point, someplace where we could climb high enough that the things chasing us couldn’t reach. I boosted a few guys up, then climbed up myself to help the others. She stayed on the ground, doing what she could to fight off those things. Everyone was up and the others were starting to climb down the other side now. I called out to her, laid flat on my belly, and reached my hand out. She came runnin’. She jumped up and reached her arm out – her hand was going to fall perfectly into mine. I was so focused on it. I decided in that moment that if no one else made it that day, she was going to be the one I’d save. She had to make it. I felt the contact of skin, clamped my hand down on hers and hoisted her up. All 130lbs of 2nd Lieutenant Berry, of the Talon Brigade in what used to be Glasgow, Scotland.

I’d slipped.

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Creative Something #2

There are so many things I want you to know, so many things that I want to say but can’t. I’ll say them here.

When I first met you, we just happened to be attending the same event. You were a friend of a friend. There was nothing special about the encounter. Over time, we became part of the same little group and, over time, people grew and moved on to new places, new jobs. It wasn’t until our original mutual friend had to leave that I realized the whole thing might come crumbling down – that person was like the glue that held us all together. That was the first time I realized I would miss you, and I was surprised by it.

You stayed. I was glad.

The group dwindled, though, and those of us that were left formed closer bonds. As we continued to hang out, I made it a point to get to know you better. Every time I learned something new about you I was excited to learn we had more in common. You seemed excited, too, which made me happy. Sometimes it felt like we were meant to find one another in all this chaos, meant to be friends. I realize I still don’t know much about you in the grand scheme of things, but our time together is limited. It might look suspicious if we spoke only to one another in social settings.

At some point, I started to notice myself sitting closer to you. It wasn’t intentional, at first. Then I found myself hoping that I had arrived in time that the seat next to you would be empty. After a while, I even came to think of it as “my” spot. I wondered if you were secretly saving the seat for me, but tried to push that wishful thought out of my mind. Once I realized I was feeling this way, I made the conscious decision to choose other seats. I forced myself to make conversation with others first and avoid eye contact with you. I had to. Each time we caught one another’s eyes I felt lightning course through my body. Sometimes I would look too long and find myself at a loss of words. Sometimes I started to forget our company, our surroundings…

I wanted to kiss you.

want to kiss you.

But I can’t tell you that… Telling you so would be unfair. It would be out of line. If you were to say you felt the same way, I would feel elated! But the guilt of my actions would consume me. Even if you forgave the transgression, the compromise of my own morals would convince me that I acquired something unjustly; that I am unworthy. So, you see, I can’t say it.

But I can write it. And if you happen to read it, and if you happen to know that this is about you…

What I want you to know is that I can’t get you out of my mind. I look for you in crowds, on the train. I sometimes make up reasons to go out, just so that I might run into you. You’re like a plague in my mind (a pleasant, but torturous one). I think about you so constantly that I have to make up tasks to distract myself – I have to will myself to change the subject. And when I do get to sit next to you, it’s as though every other moment of my life I’ve been missing something without realizing it.

I love you.

I understand, I can’t expect you to respond because you’re with the person you’re with and I respect that. I just really wanted you to know. And if/when things should fall through with this person, I will be here.

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Creative Something #1

Ara looked out the window at a world that was now only a faded perversion of the land she had known in her youth. The trees still stood, leafless trunks with bony fingers that scratched the gray lifeless sky. The grass, once a shimmering sea of gold that bore waves of sunlight, now looked dead and bled of all color. The entire scene looked like one of those old movies that had been stored on celluloid: you could swear it looks black and white, except for a little hint of green or pink here and there. A dry wind rustled the brittle grass, hhssssssshhhhhhhh…. 

How could this happen? Ara felt a pang of guilt. In her teenage years, she had all but convinced herself that this place had never existed. The window and everything she’d seen through it had been just a figment of her imagination. Now, seeing it again for the first time in years and no longer able to deny its reality, she knew that her leaving in some way contributed to the creation of the wasteland that lay before her.

Without thought, her fingers found the small brass latch that held the pane snug inside its frame. It too was browned with the passing of the years. The chipping paint that once covered its wood now only had enough flakes remaining to indicate that it had once been white. The glass, however, was still clean and clear.

Everything was second nature now – she pushed in, lifted up, and slowly let the window swing inward toward her. She couldn’t even remember how she’d discovered the trick to getting it open – she’d just always known; even before she discovered the window. A foul and arid wind blew in her face, so dry that it threatened to draw the very moisture from her skin. hhsssssshhhhhh….. the grass warned.

Placing the heel of her palms on the cracked and chipping sill, Ara leaned through the opening. Her eyes and skin stung a little in the breeze. Everything was warm to the touch, but only in the sense that it wasn’t exactly cold like the world behind her. She got the impression that it had been a long time since the sun had made an appearance here. Looking down, she saw the frame of what had once been a chair. Scraps of fabric and leather hung limp from the arms and former seat. Everything that had once made it a comfortable place to rest was long gone. The only thing left of Burnaby’s tent was a stake hole or two in the ground; no tent, no string, no Burnaby. There was no anything. As she peered down at the former post of her missing friend, Ara realized how many other things were missing from this scenario. hhhhsssssssshhhhhhh…. Where were the birds? The flutterbies? Where were the mole holes and the tracks leading up to them that Burnaby had always tamped down?

There was nothing. Everything was dead or gone.

hhhhssssssssshhhhh…..

In that moment, the whisper of the wind through the grass was like the last rattling breath of a dying friend. Ara quickly drew herself inside, shut the window, turned the little brass lock and slumped against the wall, facing away from the window. The house was heavy with silence. It was so quiet she could faintly hear the bedside clock in the next room, steadily ticking away the minutes.

toc… toc… toc… toc…

I have to go back, she thought.

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