Mark of Child: Part 3

Mark of Child: Part 3

When Leticia opens the door to her place, everybody’s senses were immediately assaulted by the sweet smell of incense burning in her apartment.

“Just a old habit,” Leticia says, as she takes off her shoes and enters the dimly-lit unit. She snuffs out the powdery sticks burning away in a jar on the dining table. “My grandfather use to light these around the house every night, to keep away bad spirits.”

“I don’t think bad spirits in America would know that,” Matthew jokes as he and the girls cringe at the sickly sweet odor. Taking Leticia’s lead, they remove their footwear and place them into the shoe stand before following her into the house.

Taking in the interior, they can see Leticia’s heritage and beliefs marking their presence in every corner of the apartment. On the floor next to the door, there is a little altar with an offering of fruit in front of it. Next to it, a strange statue of a deity or humanoid creature stands guard over the door. It looks like a miniature big-headed human with claws drawn in a threatening stance.

Looking into the living room, two wooden carvings are on the walls, one is shaped crudely like the head of a tiger, while the other resembled a boar with tusks. They hang on either side of a larger altar, table-sized this time, ladened with offerings of meats, fruits and more incense. From the door, Joan can see an intricate octagonal box in the centre, and in front of everything lays a thickly bound journal.

“Is that the book,” Joan asks, walking up to touch it. Her hands are almost on it when Leticia suddenly snaps, “Don’t!”

Joan pulls her hands back immediately. Flushing, she quickly offers her apologies. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“That’s my grandfather’s altar,” Leticia explains, “We don’t remove anything from it until we ask him for permission. That’s how we show our respect to the dead.”

“Sorry,” Joan mumbles as she walks back to stand beside her scowling sister.

“Try not to touch anything else will ya.”

“Take a seat, I need to make ready first before I can get the book,” Leticia says, scrubbing her hands at the kitchen sink before toweling them dry.

“Do what?” Penny asks as the three of them settles down onto the sofa.

“Like I said, I need to ask for permission.”

An awkward silence fills the room as Leticia moves in front of the altar and starts chanting in another tongue.

Penny and Joan looks over at Matthew who only shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t look at me,” he whispers, “This is the first time she’s invited me over.”

The three of them look on with bated breath, listening as Leticia’s chanting grows louder. Her body quivers, swaying from side to side as she enters into a trance-like state before their eyes. Joan, frightened by the ominous chanting, squeezes herself next to Penny and holds on to her tightly.

Matthew rises from his seat, but Penny puts a firm hand on him and indicates with her eyes that he should sit down and let this play out. Minutes pass as the pungent cloy in the air starts to make everyone uncomfortable.

Joan breaks into a cold sweat as her eyes fixate on the swaying motion of Leticia, unable to blink or turn away. She is all but ready to bolt, when finally, the chanting stops. The air seems to clear as everyone starts to relax again, breathing easier.

“Leticia?” Penny asks in a soft voice.

The still body of Leticia does not respond. Her eyes, still closed, start to twitch. Suddenly, she speaks again, in the same language she used earlier. Not in a sing-song chant, but in conversation. From her speech, it is evident that Leticia is speaking to someone or something in this room. Questions, answers, a few replies that sound like yes, then she starts to giggle out loud.

A creeping chill went down Joan’s back. The ritual happening before her is just too too much for her young mind to take. “That’s it, I’m out,” she says, making for the door.

Penny hisses at her and tells her to sit down, “You wanted this remember?”

“I don’t care anymore,” Joan replies, acting impulsive out of fear. She runs to the door and pulls it open, ready to run home if need be.

“Where are you going Joan? Grandfather says yes.”

The hairs on Joan’s back starts to stand. Leticia is speaking to her directly. Turning around, she sees a smiling Leticia, book in hand, back to her normal self. “Oh my god Leticia, I’m so sorry, but you scared the shit out of me!” Joan exclaims, awash with relief and laughing at her own cowardly behavior.

“Not to worry Joan, I should have warned you all before I started,” Leticia says with a good-natured smile. “Believe me, I feel the same way when I hear some Christians shouting when they pray.”

“Joan, get back in here!” Penny snaps, staring crossly at her sister for making yet another scene.

“Relax Penny, it’s all cool,” Matthew says, turning to smile at Joan as he intercedes on her behalf. Sheepishly, she returns to her spot as the rest gathers around the living room table.

With everyone in place, Leticia kneels down onto the carpeted flooring in front of the sofa, and places her grandfather’s book in front of them. “I must warn you, this is a book about magic, life and death. Inside, you will find many disturbing things. Some will be familiar, like the drawing of body parts. Others will be alien to you. My advice is to focus only on what you need, and forget the rest of what you see.”

Matthew and Penny nod in unison, turning to look at Joan. Still feeling a little shaken, Joan swallows hard before nodding her head, remembering full well that she is the one who asked for this in the first place.

She stares at the book, and its simple unmarked binding that laid forbidden just moments ago. Now, it’s about to spill its secrets on a group of unsuspecting youths. Somewhere inside its worn pages, is a centuries-old formula that could turn back the clock and repair the damage that Joan had inflicted on herself. All they need to do now, is find it.

Leticia opens the cover of the books, flipping delicately through its thick fibrous pages. The book is written in the language of her people, a deviation of modern Malay that has been adopted widely by the city folk. Words start in one handwriting, and end in another, as countless generations of bomohs add to its collective knowledge.

Each page is filled with notes and little corrections as Leticia scans through them, trying to make sense of the scribbles. But for the rest, it is the pictures accompanying the words that give them pause.

Crudely inked drawings, some no more than scratches, depict creatures and demons in various forms. Bats, tigers, boars, and even the insects of the earth all seem to play a part in inspiring the drawings within.

But these are only the first. As Leticia’s hand flies through the pages, the monsters take on human forms. A head here, a hand there, twisted beings fill entire pages in morbid detail. Some are shambling beings with guts turned inside out, others have additional limbs extending from their rears. Naked horrors, with neither mouth nor genitals jump from the pages, filling their heads with grotesque images of sexless beings crawling silently towards them.

“Ah here we are, childbirth. This is the section. Keep an eye out for a symbol that looks like the the word Janin somewhere in here. J-A-N-I-N. It stands for fetus, which is what we are looking for.”

Why did she have to mention that, Joan shudders at the imagery of floating fetuses. She closes her eyes and sees them, little unformed babies trapped in translucent wombs red with blood. They stare at her with black unblinking eyes, waving webbed hands and crying out for her.

“Please… can we just stop for a moment, please… let me… let me… Oh god I can’t breathe.”

End of Part 3

<– Part 1   <– Part 2

Should be pretty obvious where I’m going with this now. Still I’m having a lot of fun with this story and have a lot more I want to write. Apologies about some quirks with the PoV of the story. I’ll get them sorted out next time. I still haven’t figured out whether I want to go from Joan purely, or try some other approach. 

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Mark of Child: Part 2

Mark of Child: Part 2

An hour later, the girls arrives outside the dorm room of one Matthew Banks, a struggling student doing his graduate thesis in tribal cultures at the local university.

“Now, just leave the talking to me. If there’s anyone who can tell us about mystic magic, it’ll be him,” Penny says, petting her hair and adjusting her blouse to make sure nothing is out of place.

“He studies black magic?” Joan asks with fascinated eyes.

“No, he studies the people who studies black magic. He mentioned it… at some gathering. ”

“How did you know him?”

Penny stares at Joan with a look that says mind your own business, before knocking on the door.

From inside the room, came a loud tumbling noise and the creak of the wooden floor boards underneath. Whispers emanate from the room as the girls can clearly hear the voice of a man and woman coming from inside.

From the corner of her eye, Joan could see Penny’s expression, going from one of shock only moments earlier, to one of black hatred.

The door opens,  and a wide-eyed handsome blonde with a head of bed hair opens the door, pulling on a shirt. “Penny, what are you doing here?”

Forcing a smile, Penny cut right through the pleasantries. “We need your help Matthew. My sister, Joan, here has some questions which you might be able to help with.” she says, throwing a quick glance behind the man. “Are we interrupting anything?”

Matthew smiles and brings out the girl hiding behind the door. She walks to the door wrapped in the blanket. “This is Leticia, she’s an exchange student from South East Asia.”

“Hi,” says the attractive dark-skinned Asian girl clearly used to American sensibilities and freedom by now. Still she hides herself behind Matthew. Pleasantries and introductions are made once again as a visibly black-faced Penny shakes the hand of Leticia.

Oblivious, Matthew turns to Joan. “So which part of tribal culture are you interested in?” he asks, happy to meet a fellow enthusiast.

“Not exactly culture,” Joan answers, uncomfortable in discussing this in the open. “I’m interested in finding out more about their medicine. Is there somewhere we can go to discuss this somewhere more quiet?”

“Sure, there’s a cafe nearby, give us one sec and we can all go together.”

Joan wanted to tell him that they wish to speak with him privately. But the doors closes before she can act. The couple get dressed behind closed doors, while Joan watches a brooding Penny pace the floor outside. In minutes, everyone is ready and they made their way to the cafe.

Sitting down, Leticia volunteers to get the drinks while the three of them talk, relieving the girls the pressure of having to get rid of her.

“So, tribal medicine?” Matthew begins, getting things rolling.“Which cultures would you like to start with. African, Aborigines, American Indians?”

Joan looks at Penny, who decides to speak on her behalf of her sister. “Matthew listen, I’m going to be very direct here. We’re trying to find out if there alternative methods that these woman… you know, control the number of children they have.”

Matthew blinks, staying silent for a moment. He’s clearly not prepared for such a query. “Wow, that’s a very specific question, umm yes I’ve.. hmm.. I’ve read about such primitive birth control methods before. I could direct you to a few books or research papers if you like…”

“No Matthew, not birth control, I’m talking about abortion here. And were looking for someone someone familiar with such tribal practices in this town. We need his services now,” Penny says as a matter of fact.

Matthew narrows his eyes, “Wait, are you…”

“Look, just help us alright.”

Leticia returns with the drinks. “Hey, what you guys talking about?” she asks, joining in the conversation as she takes the seat beside Matthew.

“Tribal abor…medicine,” he mumbles, racking his brains for an answer to Penny’s query.

“Oh, what about it, maybe I can help,” Leticia says casually, stirring her latte. “My grandfather use to be a medicine man in West Java.”

The girls suddenly perk, Joan especially. After all the luck she’s had today, this is probably the first piece of good news she’s heard all day.

“What do you mean medicine man?” Penny asks suspiciously, unwilling to divulge too much to this man-stealer from halfway around the globe.

Leticia shrugs. He cares for his village, you know. Medicine, rituals, customs, the whole deal. Where I come from, we call him a bomoh, which literally means tribal shaman.”

“Leticia’s family comes from a long line of Javanese chieftains and bomohs,” Matthew adds, holding her hand and smiling at her. “They’re very highly respected by the tribesmen. For the longest time, her ancestors stayed in the jungles of Sumatra before they moved into the city,”

Joan can hardly believe her luck, she casts aside all worries and the doubts of Penny as she proceeds to tell them both the truth. Matthew sits back in his chair and whistles a long note as Joan finishes her tale, while Leticia looks on at her with heartfelt sadness.

“Oh you poor dear! I know how you feel, the same thing happened to my aunt long ago as well. Such things are a death sentence in tribal cultures back then. Woman who get pregnant without a husband are deemed to be evil spirits, and the child in their womb is cursed to be the devil’s child.

“What happens to these women?” Joan asks, expecting more to the tale.

Leticia shrugged, “Where my family comes from, they bury the woman alive. My grandfather once told me that you can still hear them screaming from under the earth for days after that.”

Joan’s face turns a ghastly white. Suddenly, getting screamed at by father and ridiculed by her friends doesn’t seem like so big a deal after all.

“Wait, how do you know all this?” Penny asks, still not entirely trusting of this woman.

“When he was alive, grandfather taught me the ways of the tribe,” Leticia explains, “That is until my father found out and burned everything in my room. He had a big fight with grandfather over this, he doesn’t want any more black magic in the family.”

“Strange, I could have sworn you used a love charm on me,” Matthew jokes, throwing Leticia a cheeky look while Penny fumes in silence.

“Wait, what black magic?” Penny asks, interrupting the lovebirds.

“Never mind that Penny, can we go back to the woman, what did they do if they want to avoid their sentence?” Joan asks, anxious to hear where this is going.

Leticia smiles, “My grandfather had a remedy if these woman came to him before they got caught. Of course, its a secret, the tribal leaders will never stand for such a thing.”

“That’s great!” Joan screams, jumping up in her seat. She could hardly believe her ears. This night seems to be getting better and better. Thank god they had the luck to find Leticia here. Matthew is turning out to be quite a bum.

“But…” Penny cuts in, staring at Joan to calm down, “There’s always a but somewhere inside, am I right Leticia? ”

She nods, “Yes, black magic always comes at a cost, at least that’s what it says in the book.”

“You even have a book on this? Joan asks, getting more and more impress with Leticia by the minute.

“Didn’t your father burn everything?” Penny interjects.

“Yea, well grandfather gave it to me for safekeeping before he died. My family has no idea that it even exists. It’s a strange book, you’ll know what I mean when you see it,” Leticia says, sipping her latte.

Eyes light up across the table. “You have the book here?

“Of course, I can’t leave it with my parents,” Leticia smirks, looking at us like it should be obvious.

Tiny wheels in Joan’s head starts to click into place. She leans forward and looks at Leticia with serious eyes, “Will you help me Leticia?”

“I don’t know Joan,” Matthew says urging caution. “You should let me take a look at it first, maybe…”

“No, I can’t wait. Will you help me?” Joan asks again.

“Joan, Matthew’s right.” Penny says, siding with reason, “We’re dealing with something we don’t understand here.”

Joan turns and glowers at her sister, “Penny, you promised me anything.”

“Yes but…” Penny looks at the hopeful eyes of her sister and knows that this is a lost cause. “Alright fine, whatever. Leticia, you’re sure it’s going to be safe?”

Leticia nods her head. “Our ancestors have been using it for generations, can’t see what’s wrong. Of course, we might need to find the necessary herbs, that might prove tricky.”

“Between the horticultural lab and greenhouses here on campus, the medicinal shops in Chinatown, and the weird gypsy place down on the west end,  I’m sure we’ll find what we need,” Matthew suggests, actually saying something useful for the first time.

“Well! Let’s get started,” Joan says to all the waiting faces, eager to get this over with once and for all. Matthew and Penny look at each other grimly as they reluctantly agree.

“Great, to my apartment then,” Leticia chirps, “Let’s see what grandfather’s book has to say.”

 END PART 2

<– Return to Part 1

Please let me know how this passage is able to capture your attention. I’m trying to build up the thing here, but might be too draggy. But basically, I’ve passed the first pillar here and will be delving into the action proper soon. Also looking for a more readable theme, looking at Mimbo Pro. 

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Binge Writing: When To Stop

Writers Block

This is a personal experience piece, not a writing guide. Just want to make the distinction clear here.

My Own Binge Writing Experience (Plus Updates)

Okay, things have been a bit weird lately. I’ll go on a writing binge on Monday and in a half-trance, cough up over 3,000 words (plus another thousand over words on other stuff), then the very next day, wake up feeling very lethargic and braindead to a very ineffective writing session. I’m just writing Mark of Child for now, which started as a rewrite of another story, though I intend to re-look Alone In The Crowd in future.

Mark of Child isn’t proving itself to be popular, but whatever, I’m enjoying myself. Up to 7,000 words now with large chunks of rewriting. I already know the major plot points, it’s the minor ones in between that I need to work out. You won’t be able to see much from what I’ve posted, but these two stories are some of my most complete start-to-end stories in that I already know what I want for both of them. If nothing else, I enjoyed myself writing them. Alone gave me a lot of trouble as I tried to play with the tenses, but it got me going and I’m getting the hang of present tense now, even preferring it. But we’ll see, I’m still learning the ropes. There’s more to the writing then I initially though.

For Mark of Child, as long as it goes swimmingly and I don’t suddenly hit a dead end, I should be good to go the distance for a mini-novella at 20,000 – 25,000 words with a hard limit of 30,000 I’ve set myself. I don’t like horror fiction that goes on forever, since well, horror plots tends to be pretty thin. Should be done in 3 weeks so please forgive me if I ignore my blog for a while. That is usually a good sign however as it means I’m doing something more productive.

Is Binge Writing Acceptable?

Then again, I ask myself if this famine or feast approach to my work is acceptable. Going back to the topic my previous article on Write Habits, I asked the question of how do most writers write. That is a question I’ve been asking myself, since lately, I’ve been questioning my own dedication to just sit down and write. For example, a very popular writing boot camp, NaNoWriMo advocates a sort of disciplined approach to getting out that first novel. 1,667 words per day for a month and you get a 50,000 word novel. That methods works for a lot of people since the time factor forces them to ‘just do it’ and realise the writer in them.

Lindaghill seems to be a prime example of someone who found her mojo after taking part in one of these boot camps and has completed the first draft of a 200,000+ epic. She has done something probably less than 0.001% of this world has done. I’ve been giving her a lot of shout outs lately since I am learning a lot from her.

But, like a round hole and a square peg, I just can’t do it. The more I try to adhere to a “write this amount of words,” “sit down from this time to this” approach, my mind just goes blank. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the process, but I seem to be someone who goes with the flow more than the method. So rather than force myself to write, I decided to stick to my approach and try to refine it.

Binge Writing Help

Turn’s out I’m not alone, and what I’m doing isn’t that wrong from a creative perspective. An article from Scriptmag that seems to understand what I am going through, and has some sound advice from seat-of-the-pants writers like me, to balance our style with the discipline of method writers. The motive of trying to achieve this balance is most aptly put by Ernest Hemingway.

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

The article in Scriptmag actually speaks out against writers like me, but in a good way. It tries to teach us to control the force within instead of curbing it altogether. This control is to combat one of the biggest problems people like me face – We write without a plan, we write with the flow, we write to our hearts content, then suddenly brick wall. You look back and you see what you have written and how you can angle it to go forward, but no deal. Eventually you give up, move on and start the whole process over again.

Some useful tips from the article include gems like this:

2. “Leave yourself a rough edge.”

Cory Doctorow says, “When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day’s knitting so they know where to pick up the next day — they call it the ‘hint.’ Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night — it’s hard to build on a smooth edge.”

Reading the article, I’ve come to several conclusions

Do not binge write to the point you are writing for the sake of writing Ideas are flowing, but haven’t had time to cook in your imagination. You’re just filling the page with empty words as you try to lead yourself somewhere, meandering through pointless dialogue. Just writing when you run out of ideas is GOOD, but not when you’ve ready gone a couple of thousand words in and refuse to stop.

Do not binge write trying to squeeze every last possible idea This is the reason why I binge write. One idea comes, leading to another, then another. OMG! I need to put all this down, then you start writing and writing until you’re drained. Turns out the next morning, you don’t know where to begin. Refer to the Ernest Hemingway quote above.

Do not binge write and expect the same results every single day This is one of the biggest killers for me. I’ve wrote 3000 words on Monday, why can’t I do it again? A good day tends to set us up for failure especially if you try to hold yourself to the lofty standard of one day. It’s better to look at the average over say a week, since binge writing takes the energy away from the very next day.

Declare yourself satisfied with your work I like this idea from the article and used it for a while. You have a goal in mind for today’s writing. You hit it, STOP! You have some other ideas in your head, make some notes, put down the key points, move on. This links to the second point about letting ideas stew for a while. You realise you end your writing on a high and eager to go the next day, instead of drained and fatigued.

To conclude, since I’ve done it again, and written another thousand word post. Let me just say find a method that works for you, learn it, explore it, question it. But more importantly enjoy it. This applies to the bigger world as well, not just writing. There is no just thing as black and white, right or wrong. Be it 250,000 essays on bondage or 20 word haikus. But not trying to learn more about your craft is a deadly sin. I will always keep questioning and learning, until the day I die.

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Mark of Child: Part 1

Mark of Child: Part 1

Joan Eckart is late.

Sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for the test strip to pronounce her sentence, she wonders who it was that got her into this mess. The boys in her life have been a blur lately, moving on faster than she can change her Facebook status.

“Joan, are you ok in there?”

“Just a sec,” she looks closely at the test strip and shakes it vigorously, “Come on, minus baby, minus!”

“We’re going to be late, the show starts in ten.”

Joan ignores that comment. She does not feel like going to the show anymore as the faint symbol of the plus sign lights up. Right now she just wants to sit here and cry.

Gripping the strip tightly, she closes her eyes and begins to pray, willing the little spot on the paper to turn red. “Please God,” she utters under her breath, “I promise to be good from now on, just please!”

Joan opens her eyes again, and stares into the blue abyss of the plus sign shining into her face. Suddenly, everything in her life feels like they have fallen apart. Why me damn it! 

In need of a second opinion, she pulls another pregnancy test kit out from under the sink, ripping out its contents and peeing on the strip again.

“Joan!”

“I’m coming!” she chucks the box and wraps the urine-stained stick in a wad of paper, stuffing it into her pocket. Taking one hard look at her dilapidated self in the mirror, she opens the door and sees Penny waiting for her outside the bathroom with stern eyes and folded arms.

“Spill it, what you doing in there?”

“Leave me alone Penny,” Joan sighs as she brushes past her elder sister.

Penny grabs her by the arm, “Hey! We’re all worried about you.”

“Yea whatever,” Joan replies, shrugging off the hand and storming into her room. Right now, all she wants is be left alone with her thoughts.

Penny comes after her, “Joan, you know you can tell me anything, right?” she says, sensing that something is very wrong.

“I’m fine, just leave me alone.” Joan says, crashing on her bed and burying her face into the sheets.

“Suit yourself, want me to get you dinner?”

Joan shakes her head, laying there silently until Penny walks out of her room.

Alone for now, Joan turns to her computer immediately and begins searching the web for homemade remedies to get rid of pregnancies. The first page of results she gets all claim to be safe herbal methods, but none of the sites look trustworthy.

She puts a hand on her belly and imagines the life growing inside, contemplating her choice between being a child murderer and a single mother. Either way, when her father finds out, he is going to kill her.

Joan needs to talk to someone desperately. In her mind, she thought about Patricia from school. Joan has seen her outside hanging around older men. She’s probably an expert in this subject already, maybe she should confide in her.

Picking up her phone, she dials her number. She and Patricia have never been close actually, but they did work on a school project once. Maybe she’ll remember Joan.

“Hello?” came a husky voice across the line.

“Hey Pat, it’s me Joan, listen I…” Joan hesitates, realizing she hasn’t thought about what she wanted to say.

“Yea?”

“I’m just wondering you know, since you’re so popular with guys and all… You probably know a lot. Do you know anybody who can like.. fix me up?” The last words were uttered very deliberately as Joan starts to think that maybe asking Patricia is not a good idea after all.

“Fix what up? You mean like you’re pregnant?”

“Errmm… Yes,” Joan squeaks into the phone.

Patricia bursts out laughing. “Oh my god, you got yourself knocked up, and you’re calling to me for advice? This is hilarious!”

“Oh, it’s not me, it’s a friend,” Joan lies, trying to cover it up by laughing it off as a joke.

“Save it sister, I don’t know what kind of girl you think I am, but I’m definitely not dumb enough to let a man stick me with a kid. Haven’t you heard of protection?”

“Well I just thought you might know someone…”

“You thought wrong sister, wait till the other girls in school hear about this,” she laughs before hanging up.

Joan drops her head to the desk, feeling her world spiraling out of control now. She sobs uncontrollably as the walls of her room start to close in on her, filling her with a sense of dread and loneliness. What she wouldn’t do to make the thing growing inside her disappear. Right now, she needs a magician, not a doctor.

Penny hears the crying from the outside and rushes into the room. “What is going on Joan,” she asks, distressed by the terrible state of the sister. She goes up to Joan and cradles her head in her bosom, soothing her with gentle words.

“Joan whatever it is, I promise you I’ll help. Just tell me what’s going on.”

Teary-eyed, Joan looks up at Penny, “Swear you won’t tell father?” she says in between sobs.

“I swear, now can you please tell me,” Penny answers, looking at her sister with reassuring eyes.

Joan takes a deep breath. “Penny…”

“Yes?” Joan says, coaxing her sister.

“I’m pregnant.”

Penny stares at her younger sister. “Are you sure about this?” she asks, as calmly as she can given the circumstances.

Joan nods her head, and pulls the tissues out of her pocket. Taking out the crumpled strip, she shows it to her sister.

“Christ,” Penny exclaims, seeing the faded plus sign on the stick. “How Joan? When? Who?”

Joan shakes her head, not knowing the exact answer herself, “Help me Penny please,” she begs, holding on to her sister with both hands.

“What do you want me to do, find you a doctor?” Penny replies at a total loss.

“Help me get rid of it.”

Penny is shocked, “I… I don’t know how Joan, I’ve never done this before.” Her first thought is to tell father, and let the adults handle this the way they usually do.”

“You’re older, you have friends, ask them!” Joan pleads.

“I’ll think of something,” Penny mumbles, left without a choice. “But first things first, I want you to see a doctor.”

Joan shakes her head violently. “No way, this town’s too small for secrets like this. Besides, my friend knows and she’s going to tell everyone.”

“What sort of friend is that?”

“Believe me, if I had known, I wouldn’t have told her.”

“Well, once your teachers find out, it’s over anyway,” Penny shrugs, trying to get Joan to see the light.

Both girls sit around quietly for a moment, as they try to find a solution to the predicament. Joan’s thoughts are still on radical ideas like the herbs she read about online, while Penny focuses on possible alternative treatments.

“You know, there’s more to medicine than doctors and hospitals,” Penny finally says, thinking out loud.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m thinking maybe African witchdoctor, I don’t know for sure, but they practice medicine too, don’t they?” Penny shrugs. “Just a thought, if you don’t like the idea…”

Joan rolled her eyes, but the more she thinks about it, the more she likes how that idea sounds. At least it’s better than trusting advice from random strangers on the internet.

“I don’t know Penny, how do we start looking? I don’t think these guys have sites or anything on the internet.”

Penny stands up. She picks up Joan’s jacket from the floor and throws it at her sister’s face. “By getting your ass into the car.”

“Where are we going?”

Penny smiles, “Like you said, I have friends.”

 END PART 1

Note, this is rewrite using the intro from the Flesh Eater story, but this is now a new work. Objective here is not to go all blood splattering from the get go and try to tell a tale that leads up to it first. 

Part 2 Here

Part 3 Here

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Experimenting With Horror

Can you tell it's going to be a scary book?

Can you tell it’s going to be a scary book?

I’ve been experimenting with horror/monster fiction lately as I wander through the vast fields of literary options, seeking to settle myself into a comfortable niche. So far, I kind of like it here in Scaresville, finding its sweet spot between the need for fanciful creations and tried and tested settings a very appealing one.

Without even noticing it, I’ve realised that most of my last few half-written stories in the last few weeks have been steering towards that direction. More importantly, I also come to see that I’m to focus on the story from the get go instead of trying to describe or make up the world.  I can express my fiction beyond the limitations of natural laws, yet have a grounded setting that can be typical without being branded as overly cliche.

It’s just something that the reader has come to accept and expect in this genre, that it is ok for Regular Joe to have a couple of coffee in the morning, run into some weird monsters in the afternoon, and save the world in time to have dinner. Rinse and repeat. In fact, if you take the same story, change up the monster/ghost/murderer, it will usually still work without any need for lengthy explanation.

My Journey towards Horror

I originally wanted to go with fantasy, but my beef with it is that it’s become boxed in to a expected set of creatures and myths. E.g. a clean-shaven dwarf who wields a mean bow, prancing through the forest and enjoys strawberries immediately breaks the mould, and you have to try to justify it, i.e. he was raised by the elves etc. Wide universe, but extremely boxed-in.

Then I tried my hand at Science Fiction. Immediately, I found it unsuitable for the shorter kind of fiction that I like. The best ones need to be grand, need a lot of believable science or nonsense leading up to the big reveal and are generally one trick ponies as I have mentioned in my Michael Crichton article. If you read those that succeed like Philip K. Dick (Minority Report) or H.G. Wells (World of the Worlds), they’re actually thrillers / war stories with a sci-fi setting.

My last attempt was actually peeking into the realm of superhero fiction. Maybe it’s just me again, but I kept facing the same issues as in Sci-Fi, while basing my characters off popular ones, so that people already have a picture in their head when I mention them. A crutch I eventually felt that I did not like.

So yea horror. Smooth going so far, though my problem now is the climax. Just a series of smaller battles leading to the big one ala Godzilla, or hold off the violence and make the violent erupt as a build up to the climax ala King Kong. I’m not going to try Stephen’s King arbitrary-in-your-head sort of horror for now. Just going to go with something physical first to muddy the waters.

Journey Through The Darkness

Journey Through The Darkness

My thoughts about the Genre

The best ones all play tricks in your head. They don’t always need to be unexpected, as long as it’s screwed up enough such that the twist that eventually comes still feels satisfying enough. That’s the sweet spot I mentioned earlier. People already know what to expect, yet you still have the liberty to throw a few bones at them and make them crave for more. Readers who complain about typical plots / writing shouldn’t be reading books on murder and monsters anyway while still complaining about the plot. That’s like complaining about Dwarves are cliche in a fantasy realm.

–  The monster isn’t important, the story is. Like superheroes, people already expect the monster to be just that, a monster. It kills people, they know. A man with a knife, he’s going to kill someone. I’ve tried to make my creatures sound or scary, and tried to make my setting more fascinating. But in the end, at the meat is still going to be the story. Origins is an extremely popular topic that readers love, followed by the typical agendas on why it does what it does. Whether the freaky clowns nose is red and round or green with snot doesn’t really matter beyond the initial visualisation. Oh, and the gimmick that your creature does, makes the story interesting, but doesn’t make the story.

Always start with the mundane. A fascinating monster in a bombastic setting sort of takes away the focus from the appearance of a monster/killer. Stick with the mundane or a concept that can be easily understood to make your creature and the story around it stand out.

For example:

The Midnight Snack. 

Peter walks into the kitchen, looking for a snack. In the dark, he notices the carton of chocolate milk sitting on the counter and his eyes perk up. One of the kids must have left it behind while they were packing for their sleepover. Without so much as a thought, he unscrews its top off and chugs it straight from the carton, wondering where the hell his wife is. She was suppose to be back from her book club at eleven.

In the dark, he fails to notice that the red liquid trickling down his chin.

This milk tastes a bit salty, he thinks to himself, smacking his lips as he wipes the dribble off with a hand. Probably just another one of those new fangled flavours that the kids love. Satisfied now, he walks back up the stairs to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Halfway up though, his stomach starts to gurgle and churn. Not feeling so good, he sits on the steps and rubs his tummy. Wait what’s that bump? Lifting up his shirt he stares at his flabby skin and the tiny lump thumping vigorously at him from the inside.

If anyone of you noticed, yes I took the same plot from my earlier story and just plonked it here with a different setting. Still sort of works. 

Other great posts about Horror on WordPress

Alone In The Crowd: Part 1 (Present Tense Rewrite)

Alone
OMG! Present tense is ridiculously hard to pull off, I must have written over 5,000 words in the last 5 hours trying to make it sound right. And that’s for like only 1500 words in a second rewrite! I’ve actually edited much more beyond this point, but I am not satisfied with the results in the next section – present tense in a dialogue setting – which is actually Part 2 of the story, For now, please let me know how does a present tense version of the story sounds. To give you a comparison, here is the old one in past tense. Please be brutally honest, I don’t want to waste too much time on present tense if it doesn’t work. Thanks
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EDIT: Reuploaded, rewritten. Mostly to remove long-winded bits and extraneous dialogue.

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Alone In The Crowd: Part 1 (Present Tense Rewrite)

I’m alone in here, surrounded by people who use to know me, listening to the idle chatter buzzing all around. The clink of wineglasses punctuates the constant drone, and I can hear gratuitous cheering ever so often, signaling the arrival of another fresh face to the party. People who never keep in touch for fifteen years suddenly behave like old friends, hugging and doling out the high fives, filling the air with the sickening cloy of their pretentious bull.

Sitting in my corner, I roll my eyes at the elaborate facade on display, wondering just how many superlatives they can add to a compliment before it becomes drivel. High school reunion, nostalgia, whatever. The spirit of good cheer takes one look at the toxic dump that is my memory of Glendale High, and dies without even trying. Just as well, since nobody here seems to notice me.

I entertain myself with a beer, watching and waiting for that something bad that inevitably happens at parties like this. Drunks and tight spaces were never a good combination for anything. I’m betting either loudmouth there by the window gets pushed off by a raging drunk, or blondie here in the short skirt ends up with that dickhead leering at her from across the room. Whatever it is, I feel it already. Somewhere in this this room, my latest muse awaits.

“Get lost skank!”

“Shut up whore!”

The music stops. I look up. Two women on the dance floor are in a cat fight. They scream and they scratch, ripping into one another with their manicured nails, apparently over the bemused man in the middle trying to break them up.

The drunken sadists in the room howl for blood. “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

I watch the fight from my little corner, enjoying the spectacle as I feel my arousal building. I always had a thing for bloodsport. Here’s hoping that one of them snatches an eye out. That’ll be a fine way to start the night.

It doesn’t happen. Their friends come and pull them apart kicking and swearing. The music starts up again and small talk continues. It’s as if the fight never happened.

An hour later, I’m still sitting in my corner adding scratches to the table with my keys. The bartender who hands me my fourth beer tells me to stop. This party sucks, and so is this story. I need to find something better. Maybe if I didn’t start the night as a depraved writer in a party full of people ignoring me.

Wait, what’s this?

I see her squeezing her way through the heaving bodies on the dance floor. Perhaps it’s the dim lighting, or perhaps it’s the booze. Whatever it is, it has to be something that makes people do stupid things, since she’s waving to me right now.

“Peter, hey!” she shouts above the music

I shuffle deeper into my little corner, trying hard to ignore the female protagonist making her entrance into my story. I’m not very good at romantic fiction.

“Hey!” she says, walking up and taking the seat beside me.

“Hey,” I reply, what else am I suppose to say?

“Remember me?” she asks in a jingly voice that reminds me of one of those secretaries in Mad Men.

I look her over once and rack my brains. Long brown hair, porcelain skin, white fleshy thigh… If I’ve seen her before, it’s probably part of my private movie collection.

‘Sasha Grey?” I say, trying my luck.

She gives me a bewildered look before breaking into girlish laughter. “Nice try Peter, I’ll take that as a compliment. It’s me Lyla.”

I roll her name on my tongue, finding it unfamiliar.

“You are Peter right?” She says hesitating.

I nod once. It’s been a while since someone has called me Peter. I go by my pen name now, Borris Black. Peter Pendleton just doesn’t inspire the same vibe when you’re trying to sell horror for a living.

“Wow, it is you, how have you been!” she says, flashing a megawatt smile and tucking her luxurious mane behind her ear. “Words out that you’re some fancy writer now eh, must be exciting to see your work in public.”

“A little,” I say, scrunching my eyes as I try to place her name and face again. For the life of me, I cannot recall ever meeting a Lyla.

“You don’t remember me do you?” She says, giggling at my effort. “Braces, black glasses, dorky hair, ninth grade?”

Social protocol dictates that I should have an idea now, or at least pretend to remember while I smile and play along. But since I honestly can’t remember and don’t give a damn about what others think, I shook my head politely. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about my life back when I was a Peter.

“It’s okay,” she says, making a good sport out of being forgotten. “Let’s just start over. Hi, my name is Lyla Fisher, I’m a fashion designer and I’ve just moved back to Glendale. I’ve been living in New York for a while, but I miss my family, so now I’m back. Please to meet you Peter!”

“Borris. Borris Black.” I reply, correcting her. As far as I’m concerned, Peter Pendleton was dead and buried. “I go by my pen name now, please to meet you Lyla.”

We shake hands, which probably makes Lyla my friend now, though I still have no idea what this woman wants from me.

“So Peter… I mean Borris, how’s life,” she asks, getting my name right as she leans in towards me.

“Busy, you know, writing stuff. ”

That was a lie. I actually haven’t written anything of worth in the last eight months, which makes my claims of being a writer pretty dubious. But then again, I am trying.

“What are you writing now?” Lyla asks, twirling her hair with a finger as she takes a half step forward.

“Just started on my second novel, thought it’ll be fun to come over and say hi to the folks, maybe get a few ideas.” I lie again.