Elizabeth: Friday Story Time and Sprints

Do you hear that?

It’s the sound of the phone not ringing and no one trying to tell me who or what to vote for; one of the many great things about our current election cycle finally being over.  Well, technically, it’s not completely over, there are still a few races that are too-close-to-call and lots of other drama still going on, but at least the ballot-casting part of the process is done.

The races are all decided here in my area of the country, which is good since the state seems to be on fire again (still?), so people have more immediate things to focus on.   I’m thinking a mass rain-dance might be helpful, or maybe we could tip the country just a bit so the rains from the east coast could drain over here.

The fires are nowhere near me, but the air is very smoky here.   It probably didn’t help that there was a car on fire on the side of the road when I was driving home this evening.  It definitely seems like a good time to stay inside and curl up on the couch with the cat, a cozy blanket, and some coffee and do a little writing.  Since I seem to have written myself into a corner in my current manuscript, I think I’ll try to shake some creativity loose by giving today’s story prompt a try.

Care to join me?

For those of you working away on a story (whether a first draft or a polished version on its way to publication), we’d love to hear a bit – whether it’s a scene, a paragraph, or even a phrase that you are especially pleased with and would like to share.

If you don’t have a story in progress, or just want to work on something new, maybe today’s writing prompt will catch your creative fancy.  Thanks to all who have been playing along these past few weeks – keep those stories coming.

Ready?

Here we go:

“A family reunion takes an unexpected turn when someone spikes the lemonade”

Feel free to include any (or all) of the following random words:

banquet              disconnect          offender          explosion

dazzling              doughnut           episode            chill

anger                  addictive             echo                 smoke

accomplice         hospital               alarm               tennis

Whether you’re sharing a bit of your current work or writing something fresh based on the writing prompt, we hope you’ll join us for today’s Story Time.

Happy writing to all!

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Friday Story Time and Sprints

  1. Ooh, fun set of words! Sadly I’m desperately behind with All the Things, so will have to offer you a snippet of the WIP instead:

    The sun had barely crept over the horizon when Kiran tapped at young Daire’s door, but the prince was dressed and waiting. Soft boots, loose overshirt and trousers, and the ill-contained impatience of a dog who’d been promised a walk, despite the fact that the lad probably didn’t get to bed until the small hours. His guards found his fathomless energy exhausting, but this morning Kiran found it welcome. He had frustrations of his own to work off.

    “Randsen. At last.” Daire threw on a soft leather jerkin and left the laces hanging loose. “Let’s go.”

    “Where?”

    “Out of here.” The prince flung his arms wide. “I need air if I’m to survive another five days in this grim fortress.”

    “There’s some open moorland about an hour away. At first we’ll be riding through farmland, but that’s good.” He let a little commanding officer authority creep into his voice. “There’s something I need you to see.”

    Daire wrapped his hands around his throat and let his tongue loll out. “Randsen, I’m sick up to here with farms and farriers and broadswords and all the other mundane topics the people of this relentlessly pragmatic kingdom find so fascinating.”

    “This is important, sire.” The prince preferred informal address in private, so Kiran used the honorific sparingly, when he needed to press his point.

    Daire sighed gustily. “Very well. If I must.”

    “I think so.” Kiran softened his tone. “You’ll get a good gallop, open skies, and a view all the way to the sea afterward.”

    The prince grinned. “At least you honey your decoctions. Let’s go.”

    The air was as deliciously crisp as a freshly picked apple, the sky above them clear and cloudless. The land and its inhabitants were still deep in slumber, the causeway as empty now as it would be crowded later. By mutual consent they talked in harmless generalities until they reached the road. Daire’s purebred stallion, all shining golden coat and white mane, was as restless as the lad himself, but the prince held him easily.

    “I suppose I should thank you for your prompt action last night,” Daire said. “King Felix was furious. Anyone would think Lady Christal hurt herself on purpose.”

    Kiran’s hands tightened on his reins. “She did.”

    “Are you sure?” Daire ran a hand through his already disordered curls. “Why would she do something so stupid?”

    “Not stupid, desperate,” Kiran said. “His Majesty ambushed her. She didn’t wish to dance with you but she couldn’t refuse, so she found a courtly—if painful—way to solve her problem.”

    “Oh.” The prince chewed his lip, frowning. “Why didn’t she want to dance with me?”

    Kiran let the lad wrestle with that one for a while.

    “I believe she doesn’t want to marry you,” he offered at last.

    • Thanks for sharing some of your work in progress, Jilly. You’ve certainly made me curious about the story. Can’t wait to see the whole thing.

      Good luck with All The Things. I’m working on Just One Thing and finding that challenging enough.

  2. What a fun passage, Jilly! And interesting, too, since Daire as he’s presented here is a more sympathetic character than I’ve always thought him to be. Dumb, yes, but more sympathetic!

    I, too, am wrestling with All the Things, but I REALLY want to do a family reunion sprint, so if I get another chapter revised, I’m doing it. Thanks, Elizabeth!

    • Thank you! An unexpected benefit of writing Christal’s book has been getting to know Daire better. He’s spoiled and showy, but not all bad and not half as dumb as he appears. Eventually he even grows a backbone and interesting things happen to him, though sadly he is not destined for a classic Happy Ever After…

  3. Okay, I might have used up all my creativity in my revisions today. This story seems awfully long and has no good ending. But I had to stop. Perhaps the memory of bad family reunions in my own past were a blockage! So here it is.

    The Lemonade Bowl

    Pickles McCaffrey bit into the chocolate-cherry doughnut with deep satisfaction, anticipating and then savoring the explosion of chocolatey sweetness and the tangy tartness of the cherries that flooded her senses. The dough was dense and elastic, providing a wonderful chew, and the chocolate icing was perfection, smooth and creamy, with a light dusting of chocolate sprinkles that added just enough top-side texture to keep her happy. The doughnut alone would have been enough to get her back to her first family reunion in more than ten years.

    Pickles finished her doughnut and wanted another. Mary Elizabeth’s homemade chocolate-cheery doughnuts were positively addictive. This was her second, and she’d secreted a third in her purse, safely and securely wrapped in a leak-proof sandwich bag, which she planned to enjoy later, after she got back to the hotel.

    Pickles sat in the shade by the tennis court, watching her Uncle Bob and cousin Bob (very confusing) play a lopsided doubles match against Aunt Franny and cousin Martha. Aunt Franny had been a college tennis star and all-round athlete, a dazzling competitor who’d almost made it to the Olympics in the javelin toss. Martha was but a distant echo of her mother, but she could more than hold her own against the hapless Bob(s). Really, those guys, even separated by a generation as they were, were like first-time offenders of all sports. And really, just about everything else.

    From the corner of her eye, Pickles noticed her 90-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Maybry Farthington Smith McCaffrey, a remarkable woman who’d buried three husbands and profited handsomely from all three, totter toward the beverage table, where fresh lemonade, bottled water, and small cartons of, god forbid, milk were displayed in trays of ice. Granny Dot liked her tipple. Pickles was not about to raise the alarm, but she could recall an episode some years ago where Granny Dot had…well, best leave that memory for another time.

    Granny Dot reached the banquet table and—leaning into it as though she needed the support, which she most certainly did not—slid a flask from the handbag she suspended from her skinny, wrinkled arm. Hands concealed by her lace-edged handkerchief, she twisted off the flask’s top and dumped its contents into the lemonade.

    Well, dang. Pickles hated to sound the alarm on Granny Dot, but she better take action before one of the toddlers got hold of the lemonade and wound up in the hospital.

    She wiped her fingers and mouth clear of any chocolate-cherry doughnut crumbs or icing that might have lingered on her person and then stood up and sauntered over to the table, where Granny Dot was taking a cup of lemonade from her nephew, George McCaffrey III, the biggest blowhard lawyer in all of Talagoosie County. So Granny Dot had an accomplice, did she? George was now, in addition to blowing smoke in the courtroom, also providing a smoke screen for Granny Dot at the thirty-fifth reunion of the McCaffrey Family Civil War survivors?

    “Granny Dot,” Pickles said when she got to the table. She picked up one of the chilled bottles of water and cracked the top. At least Granny Dot wouldn’t have had a chance to adulterate this particular beverage. “George.”

    “Pickles,” George said.

    “Pickles, honey,” Granny Dot said.

    “You have to get rid of the lemonade,” Pickles said, taking a swig of the water. “Besides the kids who might drink it, you know Cousin Orrin has been on the wagon for fifteen years. You don’t want him to fall off.”

    “Buzz off, Pickles,” George said. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “Sure, I do,” Pickles said, feeling the first flash of anger she’d felt at this misbegotten shindig since she showed up. She hadn’t been to a family reunion in years, but she wouldn’t be a party to bad things happening the first time she showed up in since forever. No doubt her mother would blame her, just for spite.

    “Granny Dot, let’s see that flask in your handbag.”

    “Leave it, Pickles,” George said, his voice sounding more irritated than commanding. Granny Dot gripped her handbag tighter, her gloved hands, like little bird claws, clinging to the alligator handle as if it were a lifeline. Pickles hated to disappoint Granny Dot, a woman with whom she had no quarrel, but George was a bully and a card cheat, and she’d do nothing to aid him.

    “Pickles, honey, can we talk over here for a minute?”

    Pickles turned her head to see another aunt, her Aunt Freesia (Granny Dot had found a letter she liked and stuck with it, using it for the names of all her kids) looking anxious.

    “I’ll be there in a minute,” she said.

    “I need you now,” Aunt Freesia said.

    “Don’t let anybody drink that lemonade who shouldn’t,” Pickles said to George and went after Freesia, who tottered away on ridiculously high heels. She took Pickles’s arm when they got to the swing set, and she sank gratefully onto the bouncy horse, crossing her legs at the ankles and folding her hands in her lap.

    “Just leave the lemonade, honey,” she said.

    “What? You know about the lemonade?” Pickles felt the ground beneath her shift, a giant disconnect in her world view.

    “Sure, everybody does. You would, too, if you came back a little more often. We just let Granny Dot have at it with her flask. Why do you think we don’t put beer out? Granny Dot likes to feel like a rebel, and we like to give her that. It keeps her young. We don’t let anybody drink it who shouldn’t.”

    “Oh.” Pickles felt like a fool. “So George knows?”

    “Of course, dear. But if it’s any comfort to you, he’s still a blowhard and the dumbest lawyer in three states. That hasn’t changed.”

    Well, George hadn’t. But maybe she had. She better get back and see what Granny Dot, the old bat, was up to now.

  4. Part of my NaNo for today. Thanks for the inspiration! I didn’t use all of the words, but I used enough to get started.

    I took a long swig of my lemonade; the stress of my new position as a watchdog for the Imperium was starting to take its toll, and I couldn’t drink anything stronger on duty. It was refreshing, but it was something fancy and gourmand – one couldn’t expect less from Mrs. Merchant’s kitchen, I suppose. It probably had hydroponic herbs flavoring the thing. I grimaced slightly, but then quickly put on my best poker face. Mrs. Merchant was watching.

    She sniffed delicately at the lemonade and took a sip herself, then paled. “Nanny, take the children to their cabin, and feed them from the emergency rations tonight. Goodnight, sweethearts!” And she kissed each adorable tot on the head and shooed them off with their nurse. Then she marched over and ripped the lemonade from my hands, and poured it into the soup toureen.

    “Specialist First Class Donovan, that is what Weedsy tastes like. How much of the lemonade did you drink?”

    I thought back to the levels dropped. “About 50 ml?”

    “Oh, dear,” my nominal charge said. “You’d better strap yourself in to the flight seat over there. You are in for a rough night.”

    This was part of my stress – even though I was supposed to be keeping an eye on The Duchess – er, I mean, Mrs. Merchant, at every turn, she was keeping an eye out for me. I almost wished I had the Weedsy-infused drink back in my hand; already, I was starting to feel a warm glow of euphoria.

    “Who would put Weedsy in your drink?” I asked. “Everyone on this ship is part of your husband’s company, and I assume you’ve vetted everyone personally, as well.”

    “It’s probably the chef. Again.”

    “Again?”

    “Yes, he’s probably mad about the banquet last week. I made him change all the dairy-based sauces and dressings at the last minute because it turns out the Betelgeuse partners are all lactose-intolerant. But a bunch of farting manufacturers would be in no mood the next day to sign a business deal. Chef Rene is a genius, though, so let’s try to get through this as gently as we can. He knows I can identify the Weedsy, so he probably wasn’t counting on anyone taking more than a sip.”

    I thought back to the long, long glug I’d consumed. And then my vision was obscured by whirling doughnuts, emanating from the dazzling chandelier, which had suddenly taken on a purplish tinge.

    Weedsy was addictive; was I going to be discharged? Was I going to wind up on the street, begging for nickels for my next fix? Anger overwhelmed me and turned the doughnuts a bright strawberry-pink. I fought my way through them. I was going to strangle the Duchess.

    She was sitting in her own chair, getting ready to buckle in when I managed to fight through the knee-high carpet to get to her. She brushed me away.

    “For God’s sake, Donovan, pull yourself together. Get in your chair and buckle in before you embarrass yourself. The Weedsy is starting to get to me, and I won’t be able to help you, either.” The buckle twisted itself out of her hands, and turned into snake before deflating down the side of the chair like a Dali-designed safety device. I started to cry.

    “Too late,” she moaned. She patted me on the head with her swimming paddles. “Say good-bye to your fine motor control for the next, oh, four hours, I’d say.” She turned to her AI biocat. “Drake, play some soothing trippy music.”

    “Yes, mistress,” Drake replied. “Last autumn’s number five smash dance hit, ‘Tennis Episode’, coming up. Do you wish me to notify the captain?”

    “Oh, no,” the Duchess said. “Let’s keep him out of this if possible. Have Chef Rene impounded, though, and let the security officer know the situation, and that we are not to be disturbed unless there’s blood or fire.” She started looking at her fingers, which had turned into fascinating flowers. I stared as well, mesmerized.

    “Yes, mistress.” And then Drake disappeared like a Cheshire cat, first his tail and then his body, and his disembodied head grinned at me for a full minute before disappearing to. To be honest, I wasn’t completely freaked out by this. It seemed like a very Drake sort of exit strategy.

    “Is this your first Weedsy trip, Donovan?” the Duchess asked.

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Well, it is absolutely essential to keep a cheerful and positive attitude, and try not to move. Most Weedsy deaths stem from clumsiness. Try to keep entranced by your left toe; I’ve always found that a good strategy. Most people can’t do a lot of damage with their left toe.”

    I tried to remember where I’d put my left toe. It wasn’t in my pocket, nor at the end of my knee. I had a hunch that it might be close, though.

    That’s when the fire alarm went off, and I almost forgot my big toe. Almost – I was proud to keep it in mind, and happy to think of my big toe with pride and love. It was a wonderful big toe.

    “Damn,” said the Duchess.”

    “It’s a hallucination,” I said. “So many weird, weird hallucinations.”

    “Weedsy messes with your spatial perceptions and your vision, but it doesn’t do much to your auditory. And it doesn’t coordinate hallucinations – if you heard a fire alarm, then it’s probably real.” She giggled, but it was a sad, nervous sort of giggle that indicates screaming somewhere in the back of the head.

    “It’s a fire alarm,” I confirmed.

    “Double-damn,” she said softly, then bellowed, “Drake!” Drake appeared, smile first.

    “Ye –”

    “Are the children safe?”

    “Yes, mistress. The fire is in the kitchen. The chief of security is busy wrestling Chef Rene to the ground. He’s down, but the grease fire is starting to spread.”

    “Not the sprinklers.”

    “The showers have been activated. The spatters from the grease are starting to spread.”

    “Damn! De-activate the showers, and cut oxygen to the kitchen.”

    “Done, mistress. But the door is open.”

    “Oh, shit!” The Duchess oozed to her feet, like a blanc mange standing up straight, and bounced off the doorway before heading down the hall. I found my big toe (oh, how I missed you, my big toe!) and pushed off from the ground, determined to follow and protect.

    Through the door, the kitchen looked like an inferno – the last thing we could have on a space ship was open fire. If it got to the oxygen tanks, the entire ship could blow up. The Duchess batted at the door panel once, twice, three times, and finally the doors closed.

    “Flood the room with carbon dioxide, Drake. Especially through the ventilator hood – that’ll take care of the stove fire. When the fire is out, re-instate the oxygen supply immediately, and get the CO2 sent to hydroponics.”

    “Shall I notify the captain, mistress?”

    “No! Don’t notify the goddamn captain. Keep him out of this. Unless I’m out of action. Then I suppose you’ll have to.”

    “Yes, mistress.”

    Somehow, the Duchess managed to open up the fire cupboard, and pulled on a fireproof suit. I tried to help her, but she batted away my crab claws. “Donovan, observe. This is going to be one doozy of a learning experience for you.” Oh, yeah, that it would be.

    “Mistress, Chef Rene has passed out.”

    “Good. Fire status?”

    “The fires on the floor are out, but the stove fire continues. Security chief Reynolds has passed out.”

    “Damn. Keep the carbon dioxide going for two more minutes. They’ll be OK.” She struggled with a giant moth . . . which turned into a fire-smothering blanket before transforming into a small Moomin creature. “Open the doors, Drake, and let me in. Add the oxygen in 30 seconds. Open a channel for Donovan to watch.”

    The security screen next to the door flickered on, and the Duchess went through. I watched as she managed to wrangle the Moomin creature into a sort of gray origami which ate the fire on the stove.

    “Oxygen restored,” Drake intoned. Security Chief Reynolds began stirring, then came back to consciousness fairly quickly, and managed to truss Chef Rene like a turkey before the evil cook could escape.

    The doors opened, and Security Chief Reynolds took his prize into the hallway.

    “Curses, foiled again,” Chef Rene said, and Reynolds rolled his eyes.

    “Take him to the brig and have the medicos take a look at him there. Then come back and strap us in. I think I have a half an hour left of this Weedsy trip, but poor Donovan there is in for a long night.”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    “Stay positive, Donovan.”

    “Yes, ma’am. I’ve found my left toe, ma’am.”

    “Good work, SFC. Now, let’s think of daisy-covered fields as we make our way back to the dining cabin.”

    And that was the first disaster I survived with the Duchess. It wouldn’t be the last.

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