June Prompt Discussion

Leigh: When you first looked at the picture, what was your initial reaction?

KT: Honestly? HOLY SHIT – What am I going to write? Seriously, for weeks I had no clue and then I noticed the statue had whites in his eyes, like a real person. And then the rest poured out.

Becca: I was creeped out. Seriously, it was like one of those situations where you stare at the picture – AND THE PICTURE STARES BACK. The dissonance between the freaky-eyed statue and all the pretty garden flowers just threw me.

Leigh: *laughs* I sorta did want to creep you out with the juxtaposition. I’m also a sucker for Rodin, the sculptor who did that piece. There’s a Rodin museum here in Philly that’s pretty awesome as well, I have SEVERAL plot bunnies from his works. They’re incredibly detailed, and some are actually FAR creepier than that one!

So where did you start in building your story?

KT:His eyes. Whites of the eyes. Person trapped and looking out at everything. Only able to come alive when the shadows fall and night comes so they can blend with the shadows. And voila – story.

Becca: Peter Pan. Honestly, my first thought after I really started looking at the picture was of Peter Pan and his lost shadow running around the Darling house. But the statue wasn’t charming, so when I started to spin out the idea, it went decidedly un-charming places.

Leigh: *laughs* Oh that makes sense. I thought you’d been watching too much Doctor Who! (as if there IS such a thing as too much!) 😛 I’d thought it looked like he was reaching for something he was afraid would get away, and I had this idea of a guy falling for a girl who was out of the frame of the picture, and being frozen like that as he reached for her. The rest came from there.

What problems did you encounter?

KT: HOLY CRAP – what do I write? That was pretty much my problem. And seeing if I could get the story to come full circle. I was very tired when writing it.

Becca: It was hard for me to find a voice for the story. I liked the idea, I liked the possibilities, but there was no voice that jumped out like my first one, so it was tough to spin out the words. Eventually, I just hit the deadline and had to put up what I had, but I think I could’ve done better with it.

Leigh: Aww! Yeah, June was a busy month for all three of us, so we maybe didn’t have as much time to focus on this.

I had trouble figuring out tenses in this one. I initially was going to have him telling it from the garden in retrospect, but I was working on it at work and at home without sending the file back and forth. When I went to piece it together, I realized parts were in different tenses, and had to really poke and pull until I got something I was reasonably happy with.

Any other thoughts?

KT: I had fun once I got going, but I thought this was going to be really difficult. Once I got the inspiration it was much easier to write, even fun! I love doing these prompts.

Becca: It’s funny – I had such a strong reaction to this photo, but it didn’t translate into an easy story project AT ALL. I thought that emotion would help me hit the page hard, but it didn’t, which was unusual. It wasn’t easy to put into words just what the creepy statue evoked in my head.

Leigh: I love the way Kt and my stories sorta were opposites, and then Becca, you went into totally different territory with yours. Yours sounds like a whole novel waiting to happen! And I’m loving it too, it’s definitely a challenge sometimes, but that’s part of the fun for me.

Stay tuned. Next month’s coming quickly!

The Unwatched

No one expected the Shadows to rebel.

Hell, no one even knew that there was anything even inside them – they were just shallow silhouettes, right? There with the sun, gone with the night. Dark mirrors there just to prove our concreteness. Insubstantial.

But we thought the Earth was flat, too, once.

When scientists discovered what they really were – living, breathing, aware, chained to every one of us against their wills – social foundations split apart. Fringe extremist groups popped up almost immediately. Groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Shadows (P.E.T.S because, of course, that wasn’t fucking confusing) picketed and staked out government buildings and decried public figures in blistering vlogs. Then the anti-Shadow Humans First organization that poured money into politicians and streamed an impassioned feed asking us to keep Shadows in our place for the good ourselves and the safety of our children. Everyone else started to drift to one side or another – pro-Shadows, anti-Shadows, pro-Shadows-as-long-as-I-don’t-have-to-see-them-walking-around-because-they-creep-me-out.

No one actually asked the Shadows what they wanted.

A Midwest senator was making a speech on the presidential campaign trail, talking about getting back to the traditional roots of our great country, when his own Shadow killed him. Split him apart from the inside. On national television.

The rest of the Shadows rebelled. Sometimes by killing. Sometimes by just leaving.

We lost 43% of the world’s population before things settled down. The rest of us stay low. Watch what we say. Who we talk to. What we watch. We’ve learned to sleep with all the lights on.

No one expected the Shadows to rebel.

No one was even watching them.

Ebony and Ivory

The taste of honey lingers on my lips as I stumbled from the bar, Benu bashing me on the back with a roar of laughter. I didn’t hear what he said, but I laugh along out of old habit. I’d say I’m drunk, but I only had one cup. It was the dancing girl’s eyes, rounds of copper sprinkled with gold flecks, ebony pupils dark as night. She tingles in my mind, effervescent. I will have her. I decided that the moment I laid eyes on her, wrapped in layers of fabric and a soft, supple mask almost as dark as her eyes. Her arms twisting above her head, her hips gyrating, her name… well, her name. I didn’t catch it before she disappeared into the crowd and my friends began pulling on my arm to leave.

I can’t sleep for thoughts of her. Food tastes of sand. I must find her again. I stumble through every drinking hole and gambling den, looking for her. Just when I began to think I’d imagined her, I spot her in the market.

I knew in an instant it was her. Even though her clothes are proper and demure, perhaps even too chaste for the weather. Even though her hair’s tied tightly beneath a scarf that hid more than it needed. But her eyes gave it away, glancing up at me only long enough to widen in surprise and recognition before darting back to the wares displayed on the booth’s table. I take my time, lingering as long as I dared, inspecting an amulet with Tesha, the goddess of hearth and home graven on it.

“How much is this one?” I ask her, hardly believing my daring.

“Twelve shians, diat.” Her voice is hardly louder than the desert wind blowing around us.

I hesitate. If I don’t at least bargain, she’ll know my intentions are false. Her starting price is far too high for this trinket. “Mian! It’s only ivory, not gold. It’s hardly worth six.”

A flash of fire in her amber eyes, in the sudden set of her jaw. “Ten, diat. it’s the finest ivory in the Shakarian province, engraved by the newest methods.”

“Eight, and not a chian more. Unless, of course, you’re the one who engraved it, mian-sa.” I shouldn’t add the superlative, I know, but I couldn’t resist.

One eyebrow twitches, and I know I’ve caught her out.

“So, not only do you dance, but you carve as well. What other talents do you hide?”
Her face goes moon pale. “I… I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean. I merely sell the charms my mother makes.”

“Surely such charms could only be made by one with a steady hand gifted by Tuop and a clear eye gifted by Sial.”

“You overreach, diat-sa. Enough, lest the gods strike you for blasphemy.” She holds up a hand, as if to make a warding gesture.

I take her hand.

For a moment, the market banners and colors and smells and noises all fading away, lost in her eyes. For a breath, there is nothing but the two of us in a world gone silent and flat.

“Sandstorm!”

A single shout breaks our world into shattered glass.

I pull her hand towards the barriers, towards safety. Her hand goes stiff in mine, but she stumbles along behind me. We plunge into the barriers just as the wind crests the breakers, lashing behind us like a wall tumbling down.

Then there is nothing but sand and wind and the screaming of demons in the day gone night. Words whisper in the shrieking wildness, murmuring of power and of control.

Then a laugh, haughty and certain.

“You think you could upset my day, do you? I’ll have you know, I had plans this afternoon that didn’t involve you, so if you’ll kindly get on your way, that’d be perfect.”

I risk a glance at the woman who would cast aspersions on a sandstorm so fierce. She’s smaller than I thought she’d be, hardly larger than a half grown child. But the tumble of white hair tells me she’s no child at all. There’s only one woman that small in our village; The witch.

The witch shouts words in a guttural tongue I don’t understand at the sandstorm, and it demurs to her, sliding softly into nothingness.

She glances around, and her eyes focus on me.

No. Not me.

On the girl.

“Come Arista. It is safe now, and I will need your help to set things aright,” the witch says, gesturing at the girl, not noticing me at all.

Her hand lingers in mine for a moment, before falling away. “Yes mother.”

I would have been safer in the sandstorm.

Still, my money-purse grows thin with my purchases. Soon, our banter is more talk than haggling, and her laugh becomes my favorite sound. There are fewer storms this season than any I remember before, and it feels like the summer will never end. All the water I need is in her smile. All the fruit I can take is in her eyes glinting in the sunlight. All my world is in the nights where her mask disguises her from the world, and she dances in the shade of the daruian trees for me alone.

Until one day, Arista’s stand is not there.

I know where the witch lives. Everyone does. The tent set apart from the others, the tent with the impossible garden behind it. Now, I suspect why the garden is there, surrounded by barrier fences, mud daubed walls – not to keep out the shredding sands, but to imprison the loveliest flower of them all.

It’s simple to slip over the walls. It’s simple to step silently in the darkness, willing Arista to hear me.

It’s simple to stop when I see the witch, holding Arista chained and bent down. “Honored Akta-Sa…” I begin, my mouth going dry as the deserts surrounding us.

“Save your honeyed tongue for my disobedient daughter,” the witch spits. “I will have none of it. She is not for the likes of you to trifle with.”

“Mother, I love him! Don’t do this!” Arista cries out, a slap resounding as the witch turns her attention back to her daughter.

“Fine. If that’s the way you want it, then you will stay together, and to the desert with you!” The witch shouts, a whirlwind blowing from nowhere.

If I’d thought the sandstorm was bad, it was but a spring breeze in comparison to the gale blasting me now. Arista’s screams fill my ears, mingling with my own, and for a moment, there is nothing but pain as I fall to the ground. I force myself up, pushing to try to reach her, but my muscles freeze halfway. I’d scream if my throat worked, but instead the screaming stays in my head.

“I love you, Kerat!” she shouts.

The world blurs, and all I can see is her eyes, golden and beautiful and calling my name. Her skin is ivory, not just in metaphor now, but firm around her. My own half outstretched hand blends into the night. Flowers blossom in the desert around us, flaming sentinels in the shifting sands.

His Eyes

I remember his eyes, alabaster against ebony skin.

We vacationed there every summer, our family trip. I knew, if I snuck out into the garden at night when the moon was high and bathing the plants in just enough light to see him by that he’d climb down from his pedestal and run around the courtyard with me.

His dark form and chasing shadows made playing hide and seek fun, more difficult and sometimes spookier than any game played in the sunshine. Each night before I left, he’d smile at me and tell me that one day we’d see the daylight together. It always made me laugh because he never moved during the day.

I know because all he did during when the sun shone was follow me with his eyes, body held in perfect stone like semblance. It filled me with wonder the way he stood on one leg, always leaning at the same angle amongst the grass and flowers in the sun, his black skin hard as stone while his eyes held so much life.

When I started high school, family vacations became so passé. Any excuse, every excuse not to be seen with my parents. I forgot all about my childhood playmate until recently, flipping through the album and seeing him there, so alone, so real, so intense.

I wonder if he remembers me.

And then I realize how silly that is. But something reminds me of the fun I once had there, of the childhood memories I cherish even now and I think that maybe I should go and visit my old friend even if I’ve outgrown him.
Besides, one day it might be nice to take my future children to see him.

When I disembark from the ferry it’s surreal, everything just as I remember it, like I’ve traveled back in time. From the trees to the gravel path I walk on as it crunches underfoot and I remember how many scrapes and bruises adorned my legs from tumbles down it.

It’s all so real I can almost feel the pain and I glance down at my legs just to be sure. For a moment the shadows refract and I gasp involuntarily, then laugh at myself when I realize the grazes were just a trick of the light.

Even the people are the same. I would have thought time stood still except for the greyer hair.

The decor in the room is fresh and modern, at complete juxtaposition with the memories I hold so dear and I wonder if maybe other things have been modernized. Maybe he’s not here anymore.

Almost scared, I approach the window, my window, the one I remember clambering out of as a child. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I let it out in relief. He’s there, amongst the greenery, red flowers popping up around him. Maybe a little more weathered than I remember. Part of me wants to say hello right away, but we always had the best times after dark. Though I realize the imagination of a child was at work, the night still holds special memories.

When the moonlight hits the courtyard, it’s just the way I remember. It takes me back to the times I had not a care in the world and I run, knowing that this time he won’t move and come play with me, because I know he’s a statue.

But my knowing this means nothing when he blinks, steps off the pedestal and speaks to me as if I never left, eye glinting in the light of the full moon.

“Let’s play.” He says with that mischievous grin and I’m transported back to my childhood where we run and play and seek each other all night. It’s tiring and exhilarating, thrilling and creepy and I barely notice it as the time passes and my limbs grow heavy with exhaustion.

It’s the perfect memory and the perfect place and I vaguely remember his words before I fall asleep – the promise he always made me dancing on my lips. That one day we’d see the daylight together.

When I wake my body is heavy and I curse the muscle pain I’ve inflicted on myself, gallivanting around the night before. My legs are so weighted I can’t move them. My arms are stiff and rigid. Slowly, I open my eyes and want to blink away what I see. I can feel a scream building in my throat but there’s no way for it to escape.

It echoes in my head as I look out at the world through his eyes.