Author Archives: Leigh Caroline

Interstellar Incorporated

The cryptosand beneath my feet glows with bioluminescent algae, the windows dynamically created to form paths beneath the swirling white waves of the Interstellar Inc Headquarters. It’s a bit ambitious of a name, when we haven’t even cracked our solar system’s shell, but give us time. The paths to the star aren’t as clearly marked as the glowing patches that lead me step by step to the launch prep room.

I shouldn’t have snuck out last night, but I had to say goodbye. I owed her that much. It’s not like we ever had a future together, with my leaving the planet for the next nine years and all. That’s assuming nothing goes wrong and I even survive. Even now, with all the safety protocols and fancy devices we have, people still die in space. Radiation, collisions, equipment malfunctions, even sabotage and terrorism are always possibilities. I knew the risk when I signed up, but I had as many stars in my eyes back then as there are out there, and no one had laid a finger, much less anything else, on my heart.

Would I change my mind?

She’d asked me, and I’d hesitated. That hesitation was all the answer she really needed, not hearing my stammered explanations. I couldn’t. I have no other options, even now.

I belong there, as I’ve never belonged here. The ice fields of Europa, while bitter and hostile and deadly, sing their siren song far louder than anything on old Earth. It’s stronger than the lure of her kisses, of her touches, of her breath on my neck, of our hair twining together against the sheets. It’s stronger even than the cracks through my heart at leaving her.

I strap myself into the life support gear, the helmet shifting to fit just so. It’s quiet, beneath the senseless banter we throw around like a beach ball at a bonfire. The words are meaningless, coating the real thoughts with sugar to make them palatable.

What we say: I shouldn’t have had those burritos last night. My suit had to go up three sizes.

What we mean: I’m starting to regret this already.

What we say: We’ll be the ones regretting it when you start off gassing.

What we mean: We’re all frightened.

What we say: It still smells better than your momma.

What we mean: I’m going to miss it here.

My jumpsuit and built in life support clings to me as I enter the capsule. As I leave her behind, the only words on my mind are the flight checklist and “all systems go”.

If she is still here, if she still calls my name when I return… Then maybe.

The launch goes as smoothly as launches ever do; that is to say, two minutes of hell, 6 minutes of holding our breath, and then the release of utter joy.

Still, it will take 2 years, 6 months, and 25 days for us to get there, spend 3 years researching, and another 2 years, 6 months, and 29 days to return. The few extra days are for prelanding checks before we reenter the atmosphere. Just to make sure we don’t explode after traveling 1,256.6 million kilometers and waste all that fresh water.

There’s nothing like it left here. The chemically synthed water just doesn’t do it for the elite, and they wouldn’t lower themselves to drink water from the chemical sludge once called oceans.

It’s good enough for me, and for her.

I have to get her out of my mind.

There isn’t enough space in the galaxy to run from the ache inside me.

Still, I see her face in my every dream. And still, all those years later, when I land, her gravity will pull me back again. It always does.

January Fireside Chat

Smiley face

Did you have an idea for this one right off when you sat down to write this, or did you have trouble coming up with your story?

KT: Actually I didn’t. I kind of went into it blind. My only vague notions was personification of the snow encased sakura blossom. And well, you saw what I came up with 😉

Becca: I pretty much never have an idea straight off, even for the prompts I pick. I always have to stare at it when I’m under the gun and see what pops up.

Leigh: Strangely, I always have ideas right off. Maybe that’s why I keep getting ahead. 😉 Sometimes I actually go through 3 or 4 ideas before I really settle on which one I want to do.

We’ve been doing this for a while now. Any ideas of things you’d like to change up or do differently? Anything you really like that we do?

KT: I think I’d like to see us use some like first lines or something. Where we all pick a first line, or phrase that has to be the first thing in the story – and see where each of us takes it. Text based can inspire so differently than pictures. I’d also like a song round for us. Each of us picks a song and we all use said song as inspiration for that month.
I do love that every time we take a picture and use it as a prompt, we all pretty much come up completely different ideas etc

Becca: I mean, I think it continues to be a good way to stretch and try out new ideas on a smaller scale. It’s good practice, and it really helps me experiment.

Leigh: That could be fun, KT! We’ll have to play with that. 😀
Have you changed how you’re picking prompts as we go on?

KT: Not really. I need to see the picture and think ooooo – and that’s basically how I do it. It’s a gut feeling thing. Always is with me.

Becca: Not really. I just go into our prompt pool and surf the photos until something stands out to me. If there’s a few of them, then I try to factor in past prompts and silly things like what season it is to figure out which one would be best.

Leigh: Yeah, I’ve been keeping the seasons in mind too. You guys are lucky, I was joking with one of my other friends about picking a picture of a robot hugging a duck as a prompt, just to see what you would do with it! I resisted. Barely. 😉

Any other thoughts?

KT: I’d actually like it if once in a while we could get a guest writer to pick a prompt and then do their own take on their picture as well. Maybe on a 5 Friday month or two. I think that could be fun.

Becca: I know the idea was to post something every week, but I’m wondering if these Q&As are adding much? The stories seem to go over pretty well, but these discussion posts don’t really pull the same kind of pageviews.

Leigh: Thanks lovelies! I know it was short notice this month, I’d thought today was going to be February, so THANK YOU for the scramble! I’m all in favor of guest posts, any volunteers out there? SPEAK UP! 😀

Dormant

When the first snows begin to fall, my valley is coated in silence. The river crusts over quickly, the slow trickle not enough to keep the top flowing long against the insistence of the ice. The trees are bare already, the bright hues of autumn faded away with the last lingering remnants of warmth. Nothing remains but the white of the snow and the smoke rising from my chimney. My stores are full: venison and rabbit salted and jerked and dried, vegetables wrapped in burlap, jars of preserves lining the wall and herbs dangling from the ceiling to brighten up the dark winter days. This valley is bountiful, and it is all mine. No one disturbs me here.
That’s just how I like it.

It’s not that I hate people, but you can’t hear the flowers when surrounded by the noise of people living. Flowers are peaceful, with a rhythm all their own when they sing. Their songs are honey and colors, scent and softness. Now, when the snow falls and coats the barren trees, the flowers hum only lightly, lost in the dreams of winter. The only noise interrupting them is me and Kit, my hound. He whines as I open the door, watching the snow fall. He hates the cold. It never bothers me. Nothing does these days. My life goes by in a dance of seasons, each drawing inexorably to the next. Winter is the intermission before the symphony of spring.

Near the end of winter, the cherry blossoms play the interlude, coaxing the daffodils from their snow-covered slumber. And every year, they make me cry, for it is another year.. No. It is impossible. The cherry blossoms are far, far from now, and the winter winds sing a lullaby through the trees.
There is little left to do now, but keep chopping wood, so I do. Cracks echo from the walls, a snare drum to the heartbeat of the valley.

My axe pauses, the feeling the stutter stop of another heart coming too close. They don’t know I’m here, they can’t. The ground whimpers at the touch of unfamiliar footfalls, but while I cringe, they are far away still, far enough not to immediately flee. That doesn’t stop my heart from quickening to spring speeds and sending my hands quivering as I flee into my cabin.

The steps come closer, down the mountain trail that soon will be impassable with snow and ice until well after the cherry blossoms fall. At the rate the snow is falling, it won’t be long at all until my valley is safe for the winter. If I had anywhere else to go, I’d hide from this strange interloper, but in this steady snowfall, there’s no other option. I am not a cherry tree, to blossom through the ice.

Finally, the stranger’s steps pause, but they’re too close, practically right outside my cabin. My heart skitters in my chest, the axe clutched in my hand heavy. Could I use it? I’ve never had to, no one in these years has dared to intrude on the witch of the valley.

“I have journeyed to the end of the world for you. Will you open your doors to me?” The voice is no stranger’s, though it has been long indeed since it last caressed my ear.

My heart soars like an eagle, the axe falling carelessly to clatter on the timber floor as I throw open the door to the one person I could ever imagine sharing my valley with, the man I sent away on an impossible quest so long ago for fear of my heart breaking.

He stands with a cherry tree limb in his hands, the flowers bright pink and wrapped in snow. “You sent me to find a cherry branch in blossom before the first snows fell. I searched throughout the world until I found it, though now that the snow has begun to fall, you will have to take my word that this branch had begun to bloom before this morning.”

Trembling, I take the branch and let it sing a symphony of my love. As the song spreads, I feel it grow until the whole valley is in bloom. Cherry trees burst into pink blossoms and cloaked in snow shadow daffodils and violets and roses, all shoving snow aside in a riot of colors in celebration as my heart blossoms open.

If it breaks now, I can regrow it.

January 2014 Prompt

New year, new month, new prompt!


The Lake of Bones

I’m not a villain. You eat hapless chickens and cows and pigs. At least my prey has the chance to choose another fate.

They choose to come here, to the Lake of Bones, to where the pine trees stab at sky and water alike. But look closer. It’s not quite the same, for I stand in the water, the sword cleaving me in two.

Some who see me think it’s the way the clouds cast shadows on the shale and limestone of the riverbed; an optical illusion nothing to be afraid of. They wouldn’t work for me anyway; it’s flavorless with no imagination. I suppose if I were truly starving I could eat it, but it wouldn’t satisfy. It’s junk food, no sooner eaten than I’m hungry again.

I do try to conserve, you see.

Some, though, see me for what I am. I can always tell, no matter how cool they try to play it. It’s in the way their eyes light up and the way their nerves all sing with discovery and the lightning burst of newness.

The smart ones leave then, and I let them. They go back with Ideas; a lady of the lake, a brutally slain Princess/Queen/Prioress/Sorceress. Their stories feed me almost as much as the ones who become my dinner.

But some, with that spark of creativity and without the wisdom to leave well enough alone… Those few dive in, headfirst. They fling themselves into the fray, and when they pull the sword from me, it turns on them.

I drink the blood it spills then draw them closer and slip their frlesh from their bones.

They don’t mind, I promise. They’re done with it. Why shouldn’t I use it?

When I have fed, I am free.

I never get far. My new flesh is unfamiliar and I stumble at first, adjusting it to my needs. This one, you see, started out too long for me, so I pull the skin up and in, tucking it into itself. I don’t bother taking the organs, they just get in my way.

The air always feels amazing when I emerge, like an invisible massage, like the best sex of any of my lives.

If I am good, and with luck, the people they came with never even notice the change. Humans are good at ignoring the impossible. Still, they always find a reason to leave, then, leaving me alone. I say I’ll catch up. I say I’ll be there in a minute.

None of them ever look back. I like to think they know, that they’ll carry the tale with them.

I walk along the edge of my lake, I climb up the path along the edge of the trees, I try to find it.

Somewhere, on this mountain, is the key that will get me out of that lake for good. Somewhere is a scabbard, once jeweled, probably rusted now, and I have never found it. I don’t know what will happen, after so long, if I do find it.

Maybe I’ll be free of this hunger at last.

Maybe I’ll just be free.

The fog finds me, eventually, rolling in like a storm, galloping towards me like a beast. It sears at my borrowed flesh, it aches in my bones, breaking the connections as it seeps through the cracks and crevices and pores. When it freezes me out, it blows me away, light, drifting. Every time, I think I can just fly away, be free of this curse. Every time, I scream in frustration and pain as the sword slices me in half again.

Someday. Someday I will find that scabbard. Someday I will stop this cycle.

Until then, I will feed. And you, you will carry my story and lure fresh meals to the Lake of Bones.

December prompt


Prompt Discussion: November

It’s been a while since the month has had the extra week to do one of the discussion posts. Hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving! We managed to drag our tryptophan coma’d butts together (okay, okay, by an email chain, but still!) to give you a little insight into our processes.

Leigh: OK, so Becca, what made you pick this prompt? KT, what did you think when you saw it?

Becca:To be totally honest, it was so long ago, I don’t really remember! I actually forgot that I picked this one, and I thought one of you had! 😀 But looking at it again, I can see why I probably gravitated toward it–with the starkness of the city all around and these two living focal points: the boy and the plant

KT: My first thought was hmmm, why is he running? Second thought was ooo a green shoot, a green stalk, a bean stalk OOOOO JACK AND THE BEANSTALK 😀

Leigh: Yeah, that’s one of the hazards of us working ahead. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’d work to pick them one at a time for the current month, just given how chaotic our schedules are. There’d be a lot more issues with delays and such then, I suspect. I know at first, I was actually more focused on the space beyond the end of the alley. I was going to do something more with that initially, until I noticed the plant.

How did you progress to your story idea from those first thoughts?

Becca: I mean, I think the obvious question is: why is this boy running? Y’know, the question of who he is and why he’s there and what is this place–those were the drivers. Like most of my stories, I had a first line first, and once that pops into my head, I let it spin out.

KT: I wasn’t too sure how to go about it, but I wanted to incorporate a sense of urgency in the run from the stalk. I mean, it looked purposeful to me, so I wanted it to have a great purpose – both the stalk and the run. Then I got the first couple of lines and it just flowed from there.

Leigh: I loved how we all came up with unique ways of looking at this picture. There was that moment of decision, for me, if he was running away from the plant or towards something else, and I felt like that was the end of the story and beginning of another, but that the plant was a catalyst somehow for both.

Becca, I know you mentioned having trouble with this prompt. Any idea why? KT, were you flummoxed too?

Becca: I think partly I had a little trouble connecting with my own prompt. And then the first few ideas I had were too similar to what you and KT had already put up. In the end, I only found my footing when I let go of the notion of trying to incorporate the plant into the story. I don’t feel like I could’ve added anything more to that that the previous stories hadn’t already done much better.

KT: I was a little flummoxed (which, by the way, is an awesome word). I’d just got through NaNo and still had my head partially in that world. Not all of us are super organized with our prompts like SOME people *cough Leigh cough* So, it took a bit for the idea to germinate and kick in. But once it did, the only trouble I had was getting it to come out the way I wanted. I was pretty happy with it though.

I’m really loving the challenge some of these prompts pose for me. I find that I have to push myself a little harder to see inspiration. It kick starts my brain which helps with the rest of my work. And fitting a story into such a small pace is always difficult. I’m still in awe of how different our end results are from one another.

Leigh: Yeah, I know, I’m almost always ahead. Otherwise I’d be perpetually behind! I kept fiddling with this one, trying to get the voice to do what I wanted. But it came together, slowly but surely. I might have to play with this one’s world more another time, there’s something totally creepy about a place where plants are almost unheard of.

Thanks lovelies! Happy Thanksgiving, happy Chanukah, and let the shopping mayhem commence!

Forbidden Biomaterials Will Be Removed

We gathered around the strange thing poking up through the cracks in the pavement in our alley.

“What is it?” Billy asked. Being the youngest, he could ask the question the rest of us were too proud to voice.

“Maybe it’s a wire?” Sam suggested, the ends of her hair dangling into her face like some automata with broken cables.

“Nah…” Chris leaned back against the brick walls, all nonchalant like he always does. Towering over the rest of us gives him power. The fact his dad is the Boss has nothing to do with it.

I peered closer while I waited for Chris to come to an authoritative decision The thing was green like a power button, but darker, with two larger bits sticking out on thin filaments, and two smaller bits coming from the center of those filaments. It didn’t smell right. None of us were brave enough to touch it, but I leaned closest, trying to figure out what it could possibly be.

An alien? Nah, aliens would move more than that. Maybe some sort of new spy equipment? Nah, it looked too fragile for that.

“I think we should wait and see what it does,” Chris finally pronounced. It was as close to admitting he had no better clue than the rest of us as he would get.

Wait and see.

A week went by and the thing made 2 more of those wide green bits. They looked different than the others, more rounded and a little bigger. More bits like that came, and they started to smell. It was a strange smell, one we had no name for. We needed a name to call it, so we called it the Thing and said we smelled like the Thing, but we didn’t know what it was. We didn’t ask, not the teacher bots or our parents. It was our secret, and ours alone.

Only it didn’t stay that way.

It was on my way to school, so I saw it every day. I saw them, the Cleaners with bright orange metal skins warning of danger, cover the Thing with a dome. As they rolled out of the alley, they went right past me, blocking it so I couldn’t see at first what they’d done.

The Thing was gone.

There was the smallest dark spot where it had been, but nothing else.

The news spread in whispers and gasps, but Chris merely leaned back against the playground wall and sighed. “I know what it was now. They were called plants. It’s the only thing that gets the orange ones out.”

I felt the word on my tongue, strange with the newness, stinging like hot sauce. Plants. The others tripped over the usual questions, hows and whys and where’d it come froms, the word sounding just as crazy coming from them as it felt on my mouth. Plants.

He just shrugged and kept leaning as if he had to hold the wall up.

We never told a soul.

But when school let out and started again, I kept my eyes peeled.

I knew, I just knew. If it was there once, it could happen again. And this time, I’d find a way to hide it and discover what secrets it held.