First Impressions

This week on Trifecta, the word was

DEATH
1a : a permanent cessation of all vital functions : the end of life
b : an instance of dying disease causing many deaths>
2a : the cause or occasion of loss of life
b : a cause of ruin <the slander that was death to my character — Wilkie Collins
3 capitalized : the destroyer of life represented usually as a skeleton with a scythe

I figured, with a prompt like that, how could I not dust off my imagination, stretch out my fingers and jump back into writing again.  Some of the other responses I’ve read so far are amazing – you should check them out, or submit your own!

This piece of art is called “The Playground Called Life”, and it’s a photomanipulation.  The artist’s name is Michael Vincent Manalo, and he’s from Manila, in the Phillippines.  All his artwork has a great surreal “There’s a cool story behind this” feel to it.  Check him out on DeviantART or at his website.

Nick gazed over his teacher’s shoulder at the dark figure at the front of the bus.

“We should postpone the trip. Looks like rain.”

“Take a seat, Mr. Ryan”

He took a seat next to a preppy-looking blonde, dread twisting his stomach.  I only lasted three days at this school, he thought, sourly.

Shadow shrouded the girl to the point that Nick couldn’t see her.

DID YOU HAVE AN ENJOYABLE THANKSGIVING, NICHOLAS?

Nick glared. The girl narrowed her eyes at him and snapped, “What?”

Why are you doing this?

I BEAR WITNESS FOR THESE OCCASIONS, NICHOLAS, I DO NOT CAUSE THEM. I REGRET THAT YOU ARE HERE TODAY.

Nick laughed bitterly.   His seatmate pressed herself back against the window.

IT IS GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

“Yeah, well, the feeling isn’t mutual.” The shadowy presence flickered briefly, And Nick found himself glaring at a girl whose presence he’d forgotten. He blushed. Said it aloud. Again. Awesome.

Nick could feel the grains of sand slipping one by one through the hour-glass.

Death stood, its darkness dissipating like smoke.

HOLD ON TIGHT.

Nick cranked his music up louder and wedged his body in between his seat and the next, knuckles white. Despairing, he called out, “Brace yourselves!”

Last time I move somewhere with cliffs, he vowed.

The bus snapped sideways, and existence narrowed to a roar of terror, crumpled metal and short-lived weightlessness.

Nick relaxed his grip on the seat and dropped to the bus roof. He blinked in surprise when a second metallic thud echoed through the silence. he girl took in the bloodied and crumpled forms of her classmates in mute horror.  She couldn’t see Death gently lifting their souls into its embrace.

Nick couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“How are you even alive?” he blurted out.

“Luck? Your timely warning?  How did you know what was going to happen?”

Death runs in the family, that’s how.

Warmth and colour seeped back in as Death departed.

“Women’s intuition?”

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Lines

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood

This week on Write on Edge, the Red Writing Hood prompt was:

write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece about a time someone crossed a line, legally or ethically. Explore the motivation of your character and possibly the consequences of his or her actions. In 450 words or less.

Check out the other responses, or post your own by following the RWH link above.

Apparently I’m feeling a bit maudlin lately.  This continues right after Cheap in the Necessary storyline.  If you want to read it all in order, check out the Fiction tab at the top of the page.

The picture below is by Vivi, click on the image to check out more of her work on Deviant Art.

I shivered in my underwear, shifting uncomfortably on the toilet lid.  Face cupped in my palms, I felt the icy water falling from my hair, dripping down onto my legs and drizzling down my calves.   I struggled to maintain some kind of composure. I was tired of being that girl.  The crying girl.  For once, I’d like to get mad or sad or flustered without that prickling sensation behind my eyelids, the blurry shiver of salt water welling up and blinding me.

The narrow strip of vision I had showed a vacant sink, the overflowing garbage can, cheap crumpled paper towels scattered around it.

“Your shirt is almost dry,” Joanna called out, over-loud above the rattling whoosh of the old hand dryers.  “I don’t know about your jeans, though – you might just have to put them on damp.”

“O-“ I croaked.  Coughed, tried again.  “Ok, thanks.”

“What?!”

“I said OK!” I tried to sound cheerful.

A few minutes later, she passed my newly rinsed and dried shirt over the stall.  It still smelled like gravy.  Or was that my hair?  I ignored the wet that soaked through the shirt the moment I flicked my braid behind me and snagged the damp jeans from the door.

Beggars can’t be choosers.  I sighed and swung open the stall.

“Are you ok?”  I asked, surprised.  She’d been all fire and fury while helping me rinse smears of starchy potatoes out of my hair.  Now, she looked worse than I did.  Her eyes were haunted and watery, her face was drawn and haggard.

A grin fluttered weakly across her face, but crumpled in an instant.

“What’s wrong?”

“Her brother-“ Joanna pressed her fist against her mouth.  I tried to remember ever seeing her as upset as this before.

“What?”  I laid a comforting hand on her arm, but she stepped away.

“Nothing.  It’s just… nothing.  I should never have said anything about him.”  She hugged herself tight, staring down for a long moment.  She met my eyes and whispered, “Do you think I’m a bad person?  Like… really bad?”

“What? No!”

“You were mad at me for not caring about your feelings.  And I…  Katie and I… we used to be friends.”  Eyeliner tears traced black down her cheeks.  “And I used it against her, just like I did to hurt you, only… worse.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat.  I couldn’t believe she was acknowledging that behaviour so openly, so apologetically.  The difference between now and that night at the club was like night and day.

“You were just trying to protect me.”

She let out a sob and sank to her knees.  “I used her dead little brother to hurt her.”

Research

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-Hood  Friday is Red Writing Hood, and this week, they brought back an old prompt.

The instructions are as follows (and long, so if you don’t care about how I got the plot, just scroll). Word limit is 500.

Pick four numbers, each between 1 and 10.

Write them down so you remember.

The first number will be for your character, the second your setting, the third the time and the fourth will be the situation.

Then take the four elements and combine them into a short story.

All four you picked MUST be your main elements, but you can add in other characters, settings, times and situations.

  • Character

1. A new mother

2. An actress

3. A recent high school graduate

4. A waitress

5. An alien

6. A homeless man

7. An elderly woman

8. A freshman in high school

9. A college student

10. A musician

  • Setting

1. The woods

2. A wedding reception

3. A party

4. A restaurant

5. A mall

6. A park

7. A beach

8. A lake

9. A baseball game

10. A seminar

  • Time

1. Winter

2. During a thunderstorm

3. The morning after prom

4. Spring

5. December

6. Midnight or around midnight

7. Summer

8. In the middle of a fire

9. In the middle of a snowstorm

10. The afternoon

  • Situation

1. A death

2. Secret needs to be told

3. Someone has or will hurt someone

4. A crime has occured or is about to

5. Someone has lost/found something

6. Someone is falling in love

7. Reminiscing on how things change

8. There has been a family emergency

9. Something embarrassing happened

10. Someone has just gone to the doctor.

My numbers: 5832

Alien; A Lake; The morning after Prom; A secret needs to be told

I only just re-read that, and realised that I used the ocean instead.  A body of water is a body of water…Just go with it.

Check out the rest of the posts HERE, or link up yourself!

***

The pre-dawn air was chilly, so I draped the jacket of my tux over her shoulders.  She lay with her head on my chest, bare legs prickled with goose bumps.  Females here dressed so inadequately for the temperature.  It was strangely alluring, like so much about her.

Like the way she always smelled of baked goods.  She couldn’t cook, and yet, even now, skin salty from the ocean spray, her hair still smelled like cinnamon and vanilla.

“Hey,” I whispered, shaking her shoulder, “The sun is rising.”

She groaned as she awoke, pushing herself upright on the dune and smiling down at me, her cinnamon hair hanging down in front of her eyes.  She shivered and pulled my jacket tighter around her shoulders before rejoining me.

We watched as the first glimmer of light tinged the clouds along the horizon, as the first sliver of beaming golden light rose up out of the water, scattering sparks out across the choppy waves.  I wondered if the sun rise had always been so beautiful, or if it was seeing it through human eyes, and that made it so.

She smiled at me and said, “I had the best time last night.  I mean, prom was like, wow, but being out here with you was so…” she held her arms out wide, “huge.  It was amazing.  Is amazing.”

“I’ve been meaning to tell you something,” I stumbled over my words in my rush to get it off my chest.  “I’m not who you think I am.”

I could see her unease growing as she sat upright, but couldn’t think of how else to say it.

“I’m not human.”

The story poured out of me, every detail.  How I was chosen to adopt a temporary earth-form, in order to study the people from here, where I was from, and how I really, truly did care for her.  She was shocked and a little bit frightened, but she told me she still loved me.

I told her about how I was meant to find a suitable mate and reproduce.  She froze.  I clutched her hands in mine.

“I figure that after all we did last night, I’m definitely pregnant.  My mission is complete and I have to leave.  I wish you could come with me, but I’ll take good care of our baby.  They’ll be transporting me shortly.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat as I said this, the human emotion overwhelming.  Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones kicking in already.

“You’re a boy.”

I nodded.  Humans sometimes said very non sequitor things.

She rolled her eyes and spoke slowly.  “Women get pregnant.  Men get women pregnant, but women carry the baby.  You’re a space-travelling race who can impersonate other species, and you didn’t bother to check in on which half of us got pregnant?!”

As understanding dawned, I felt a tingle in my skin.  The horror of it all struck me right about the same time as my feet struck the deck of the ship.

DEC-tAcular

I am so impressed, and yet also vaguely disappointed.  Impressed at these highschool students who are so very Impressive in this competition (which I’ll explain in a moment) – impressive in the work they had to put into this, impressive in their presentation skills, and people skills, impressive in their focus and in their ability to come up with so many ideas with such limited information and such a limited amount of time.  And vaguely disappointed in past-me, that girl who was in high school and participated in math contests (ya, I was that nerd), and was average on the swim team, and worked on the newspaper (seriously, I was that nerd… every school has one), and got good grades, and who would not have been able to do anything like what these kids did, even with training.  Why didn’t past-me do things like this?!

DECA, for those of you who don’t recognise the name, is a business and entrepreneurship competition for high school students.  They compete in a wide variety of categories, in a wide variety of topics, doing both written and presented work.  One of the competitions is a presentation of an idea for increasing brand recognition or sales – these students research companies, talk with people who work there, create surveys, and work on their proposal all year, generally as soon as the previous year’s competition is finished – they come up with a business plan for their idea and basically pitch the idea, cost estimates and all, and showing how this idea will improve brand recognition or raise sales, or a combination thereof. 

The competition I was judging on Monday was a role-play.  The students picked their category (ie, travel and tourism, quick-serve, restaurant management, accounting, etc), and were given a case 10 minutes before they had to pitch their idea to me – an idea they had to come up with in a 10 minute period, and then had 10 minutes to pitch to me.  They had to explain to me where the costs and benefits to ‘my’ company would be, what types of advertising would be most effective, what the target demographic would be, how to solve problems with a currently implemented business plan.  They also had to ensure that they included some key terms in their presentation, and that they adequately covered all the points they were given for the case.  It was intense!  I think, to come up with the same ideas as they did, I’d have had to spend a few hours pondering the topic, and doing some online research about business in general.  I learned things from some of the presentations that I hadn’t even been aware were lacking from my base of knowledge.

This judging I did was for Provincials – over 5000 students from high schools from around Ontario, competing for a limited number of positions on the team that would go to compete in the United States at the Internationals competition.  I can only imagine just the kind of quality performances the judges at that competition must witness, if a lot of what I was seeing wasn’t ‘up to par’ for going on to Internationals.

I am definitely not a great presenter – or even a minorly talented one.  I’ve progressed from the high school version of myself who needed a podium or podium-like object in front of me in order to rest my cue-cards on it, because my hands were shaking so hard that I couldn’t read anything off them.  I still feel that band of terror compressing my chest, but, by my last year in university, no longer stuttered and stammered breathlessly while staring with determined focus at the corner of the room with the fewest people I knew in it (sorry to those very discomfited people!  I really wasn’t plotting your doom, just seeing visions of my own.).  I’ve even been told that I interview very well, and project confidence (who’d-a-thunk it?) when speaking.

However, having spent an entire day watching these presentations, I have a few comments about presenting, or being interviewed.  First and foremost… breathe.  BREATHE.  Slowly, and not loudly, but do it, because paranoia about whether the presenter is going to collapse keeps the judge on the edge of her seat for the wrong reasons.  Another thing I noticed is that there’s good eye-contact, and BAD eye contact.  And I know this is something I had issues with during my presentations, so I do know it’s hard to do well.  Don’t open your eyes extra wide and stare deep into the judges’ (or interviewers’) eyes as though trying to communicate telepathically or set them on fire.  It’s creepy, and the interviewer (especially if there is only one) feels as though they are required to return the eye-contact the entire time you’re doing this, hoping that enough eye-contact will give them warning as to whether your plan is to set them on fire or chat mind-to-mind. 

Congrats in general to all the competitors I encountered in Provincials, and to those I didn’t.  Extra CONGRATS to the people going on to Internationals – Go for the Gold… or whatever the top prizes are at Internationals!  Both high school-me and I will be cheering you on.