Who else can’t wait for Camp NaNoWriMo to begin? (And is glad that 1 July falls on a weekend…)
This weekend I will be (word) sprinting from morning to evening, hoping to burn as much calories as jelly beans contain. Jelly beans — the snack of champions.
Before I start scribbling away at my 40 000 word goal, though, I first have to make a proper list of everything that I plan to work on during Camp NaNoWriMo. You see, I’m going to work on finishing the short stories I started during my Start Writing Fiction course — like “A Corpse and a Ghost Flower” — and continue with The Box of Secrets.
The Box of Secrets
Hey, I just found your blog – what’s The Box of Secrets?
The Box of Secrets is my current Patreon fiction and takes place in Airtha-Eyrassa, the world in which The Ruon Chronicles will take place. To read more stories set in the world of Airtha-Eyrassa, simply go to the The Ruon Chronicles site.
Flash fiction and snippets of short stories…
The third draft of “A Corpse and a Ghost Flower” got good feedback from the writing course, I am glad to say! This “draft” is part of the flash fiction I had to write for that course. The story I am planning to set in the same world and with the same characters, however, will be about 10 000 words in the end. Except if I get a surprise like I did with The Box of Secrets…
A Corpse and a Ghost Flower
Beneath the full moon the muted sounds and earthy smell of the graveyard were more visceral than in the brightness of the day. Aidan picked his way through the rows of graves and sentinel-like tombstones. An owl hooted and Aidan swung to look at the ancient elm tree. Widened brown eyes relaxed and he ran a hand through his short hair when he realised that the owl had only taken fright at the spectral figure that was always waiting by the tree when the moon was full. He lifted a hand in greeting. So did she.
Like his uncle before him, Aidan had started to grow fond of some of them. At the very least they helped him to find the elusive ghost flowers that were sought after and was said to be able to heal a thousand maladies. And in a large city like this, there were always more than enough maladies to go around.
He reached the oldest part of the cemetery. Here, most of the lichen- and moss-covered graves had been long forgotten. They had been here long before all the factories, machines, and smoke drenched the city and its masses in black fog. The lantern he carried spluttered and he took a moment to check it before moving on.
The only spirit that still remained in this part of the cemetery was that of a girl no older than five, dressed in her best white dress. She was sitting idly on one of the tombstones now, legs dangling down as if it was a garden bench.
“I found a ghost flower,” she said when he spotted her. Her grin showed two missing front teeth.
“You did?” Aidan asked. “Where?” He held out his hand to her, as if she was a flesh-and-blood child. She jumped down from the tombstone and skipped over to him. The hand that slipped into his was deathly cold.
Aidan’s dark eyes roved over the grass and dead leaves until he spotted the sage-like plant with moonlight-white seven-petalled flowers that had sprung up during the night. He knelt down, placing the lantern carefully beside him. Hands that may in a different life have been suited to play the piano, had been hardened by work; the soil of the graveyard worked into his pores so that he felt as if he could never quite be rid of it. As a gravedigger and groundsman he was as much a part of the graveyard as it was of him.
He took a knife from the pocket of his hand-me-down coat and cut one of the three flowers from the plant. Aidan grimaced as the ghost flower stained his fingers with red, blood-like sap. He carefully wrapped the flower in a clean cloth and slipped it into his pocket after the knife. When he straightened, the spirit girl had once again disappeared and he started his walk back to the newer graves alone. He patted his pocket. The flower – and the health it would return to his neighbour’s daughter – would serve as penance for the other job he had tonight. The long breath he let out misted in the air in front of him. He had to pay his debts somehow.
He fetched a shovel and length of canvas and headed to the newest grave.
“They tell me you were an awful miser,” Aidan said to the grave. “That some of the biggest buildings in the slums belong to you,” his voice trailed off. “Yet I am still sorry that I cannot leave you undisturbed. But I am not taking the woman who died in childbirth. And that is the only other grave new enough. Perhaps this will be some payback for all the suffering you have caused. All I know is I’ll be dead before I see a ghost flower bloom on your grave.”
Once the top of the casket was revealed, Aidan broke it open and heaved the man from his resting place. It did not take long to strip him of his clothes and wrap him in canvas. He put the clothes back and filled the grave once more before leaving the damp soil of the cemetery behind him.
Aidan shifted the heavy canvas into a more comfortable position on his shoulder and shuddered. For all the times he had done this, he still gagged at the idea – and smell – of carrying a dead body through the misty streets of the city after the witching hour. He struggled down the putrid night-black alleys as fast as his limp would take him, an old handkerchief bound over the lower part of his face to try and keep the smells at bay.
When at last he reached the school’s door, he carefully placed the corpse on the ground and knocked twice. Muffled footsteps sounded within and a man not much older than Aidan, and clutching a lantern, opened the whitewashed door. The light shone into Aidan’s eyes, making him squint and lift a dirt-covered hand in front of his face.
“Good evening, Master Gregory,” Aidan said in a low voice. “I brought him.”
“Put it inside.”
“Aidan heaved the body into his arms and carried the miser’s corpse to one of the tables. His hand lingered on the dead man’s brow for a moment, a silent prayer sounding in his mind.
“I’ll need a new one next week,” Gregory’s voice broke through the holy words Aidan were reciting.
Aidan nodded. He knew his fate all too well; the freedom he had sacrificed for Gregory’s medical help.
“Mister Wright, I do believe you have forgotten something.”
“I —”Aidan checked the canvas before he realised what Gregory referred to. “Thank you for your help,” he stuttered and headed back out into the early morning cold, making for home. He wrapped his patched coat around him as the wind tousled his hair and stung his nose and ears. In the distance a bell tolled.
Here are two of the other short stories I will also be working — and building — on.
Character Sketch – “Telling Half a Truth”
Markus looked at himself in the mirror for a moment, taking in the gaunt features before starting to apply a thin layer of makeup. Through the years he had learned well how to mask the signs of what little sleep he managed to get. He sighed as he put the makeup back in the drawer. So many of the spirits would just not leave him alone until he’d listened to their messages.
The face that looked back at him from the mirror had a healthy glow now – now he could start seeing clients. His cheap plastic watch beeped the hour and the carnival music started playing outside. He pulled at the white shirt he was wearing. He preferred calling his work clothes costume-party-gypsy-chic. It was what people expected him to wear.
He walked the short distance from his trailer to the tent where he plied his trade. Some of those who had arrived early at the carnival grounds already gazed at the red and purple tent with curious expressions. Markus knew that, before the end of the day, at least one of them would have come to visit him. It was like people just knew when spirits were there to speak with them.
Markus ducked into the tent, bending almost double because of his height. Green eyes that had seen too much of life darted around the tent to make sure everything was in its place before he sat down at the table and ran a hand through dark shoulder-length hair.
Tightness gripped his chest as the spirits closed in around him. He sat down at the table, drumming his fingers on the wood.
“You’ll have to step back,” he said to the spirits only he could see. His voice had a subtle English lilt to it, betraying a youth spent in England.
All but one of the spirits stepped back — an elderly man with a thin grey moustache and a birthmark covering part of his face. Markus glared at him.
His first clients — four bubbling teenage girls — entered.
“So,” one said, sitting down and sticking out her palm, “what does my future hold?” She giggled and Markus wished his childhood years had been so carefree.
The elderly man stepped forward.
“I am her grandfather,” he said.
“Coming to… take her to the light. There’s going to be a car crash this afternoon.”
Markus took the girl’s hand and stared at the lines on her palm.
“In your future I see a lot still happening,” Markus said. “You will have one great love in your life.” The girls giggled.
“And Peter is here, hoping to see you. You’ll find him by the cotton candy.” Markus grinned at the girl’s surprised expression. It was difficult as hell being a real psychic, but when he could give someone some happiness it seemed worth it.
The girls paid and rushed out of the tent.
“Thank you for not telling her,” the elderly man said and Markus nodded.
“Blogger in church”
She shifted her weight slightly to one side and felt the thin prayer cushion, with its embroidery of a trinity knot, give way under her knees. Tendrils of hair that would not be tamed by hairspray fell over her face. Around her the church had fallen silent after the end of the sermon. Outside were the sunlit sounds of cars leaving the premises, of people talking animatedly, of a newly baptised baby crying. Behind her, on the worn wooden pew, lay an open prayer book that did not match the others in the church and bore her grandmother’s name on the inside of the front cover. Beside it was her laptop, purse, and a Bible as worn as the wood below it.
“Our Father,” she mumbled below her breath, but the next words of the well-known prayer would not come; the words drowned by her racing thoughts and the comments she had just read. No words would come.
A tear dropped from her chin onto the red shirt she was wearing, leaving a darker red stain on the fabric. She wiped over her face with one hand, not caring if she smudged what little makeup she wore. She was after all, she thought, hardly the stock photo, picture perfect blogger that she’d hoped she was going to turn out to be when she first started leaving posts on her own site. Long but frizzy auburn hair, a face covered in acne marks and arms always covered by long sleeves to hide the lines of scars that marred them, hardly said ‘cover girl’. “All she really has going for her,” she’d overheard her mother once say, “is that her eyes are two different colours”.
She clutched her hands together and leaned her forehead on them as if the act of supplication could reverse time and take her back to before she had opened her laptop and read those comments. In the darkness behind her eyes an old demon awoke once more and bared its razor teeth in a wide grin. “Just one cut,” it whispered to her and she wondered how it was possible for this demon to have not only woken up again, but to be whispering to her in the very church she sat in every Sunday. Just like that he’d invaded her safe space, just like the trolls who spewed their vitriol into the ether of the internet ruined the one way she had of showing her true self to the world. Just like that, with one whisper from within, her holy space had been defiled. She looked up at the wooden cross that hung in the front of the church, stared at the coloured glass scenes of the windows on either side, and saw the world blur around her as more tears welled up in her eyes.