First off – are all readers from Southern California safe after Thursday’s earthquakes? Probably not quite the way you planned on spending your 4th of July, was it?
I used to love earthquakes when I was a kid. These days I don’t find them quite so much fun, especially when there are damages involved. A good reminder though to make sure the earthquake kits are stocked and accessible – just in case.
Things were quiet here at the Writing Castle on Thursday, well until the illegal fireworks started after dark. I’m not sure the cat is ever going to come out of hiding. Fortunately, nothing seems to have caught on fire, so the day counts as a win.
According to the news, some folks spent their Thursday skiing in Tahoe. Seems bizarre that there is still enough snow to ski on just a few hours away from where we are in bare feet and shorts.
While I won’t be heading to the ski-slopes anytime soon, I do have a long weekend ahead with plenty of time at my disposal. I don’t have any definite plans yet, outside of giving today’s story prompt and random words the old college 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), if you’re not feeling random, 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, I hope today’s story prompt and/or random words will catch your creative fancy.
What if: “Your character found a hidden passage?”
Feel free to include any (or all) of the following random words:
beekeeper cosmic hobby symbol
captivity harlot restless rude
domino blindly identical grasp
warmth coconut exit murder
I look forward to seeing your stories in the comments. If you’re not feeling in the writing mood today, or don’t have time, feel free to post suggestions you might have for future “what-if” prompts. Ideas are always welcome.
Happy writing to all!
No time to do the sprint this week, but can offer another snippet from a previous novella, part of my series in progress. My modern day Cinderella character undergoes a rite of passage (another take on a secret passage?) in a quirky shoe shop she has visited under false pretences. Unfortunately she comes up against her deadly enemy in so doing. Hope it’s okay to share…..
” Kezia opened the door to the white cupboard to reveal a long mirror fixed onto the inside of it. She took out a shoe gauge and placed it on the pink carpet in front of Ella. Removing her flat black ballet pumps, Ella rested her right foot onto it, while Kezia sat on a small stool and slid the marker guide against her toes. Kezia repeated the process for the left foot – just to be sure, she explained, when shoes were made specially for the client, one had that little luxury attached: to have two perfectly fitting shoes, something you could never hope for in a high street store. Ella tried to imagine Fennel hobbling around in ill-made killer heels. She didn’t entirely like herself for thinking such evil thoughts, but she shouldn’t blame herself either, especially in the circumstances. And try as she might, the vision of Fennel doing so, refused to come.
‘Size 4 – amazing! Both the right and left foot exactly the same, just as I suspected. Perfect!’
Ella could have told Kezia that straightaway, but her guilt at concealing the lost red shoe in her bag tugged at her conscience.
Kezia was up on her feet again. She opened a drawer, to reveal a row of transparent stiletto heels, each for the right foot, lying on their side. She removed one from the end of the row. Just like a glass slipper. Then another, from another drawer, for the left foot.
‘What a clever idea!’ Ella said aloud, without thinking.
‘Yes – each one is disposable. Once tried on, they go to the workshop so that the cobbler can use them to model each shoe. No-one ever tries on a template shoe that has been on the foot of another person. That wouldn’t do at all – not here!’
Kezia pushed the shoe gauge aside, and replaced it with a footrest. Taking one of the templates, Kezia raised Ella’s right foot onto it, and slipped on the appropriate template shoe.
Kezia sat back on the stool and opened out her hands, palms facing upward, as if saying ‘Look what I’ve brought about!’ She didn’t need to though, the gesture was more than sufficient. Instead she said:
‘You never told me your name.’
‘You didn’t ask,’ Ella thought.
‘Ella,’ she replied.
‘Ella.’ Kezia rolled the name on her tongue, as though she was tasting a soft-centred chocolate. ‘‘Cinder-ella’ – there you have it! Here – try the other one.’
Ella placed her right foot, with the shoe still on it, down on the carpet, and raised the other onto the foot rest. Kezia slipped on the left template.
‘Now you have a pair! Go – look in the mirror!’
Ella stood up, for the first time wearing a pair of four and a half inch stilettos on both feet. She wobbled over, and placed a hand on the sofa’s armrest to steady herself.
Kezia threw back her head and laughed. The deep green eyes sparkled now.
‘It’s all in the mind, you know. You can do it – walk the walk – just look ahead – put one foot in front of the other.’
Ella could only see the reflection of a skinny girl in a flimsy white cheesecloth dress, splattered with mascara. Chestnut ringlets, uncombed, fell onto her shoulders through which peeped a tear-streaked face and swollen big brown chestnut-coloured eyes. What a mess! She looked like a ghost, especially in the transparent stilettos, displaying her toes painted in pale pink nail varnish. Her shoulders drooped. She wobbled again.
Ella inhaled deeply and tried to imagine it was herself on the catwalk of her imaginings, not someone else. All she had to do was keep her eye on the mirror, like the spot at the end of a tightrope, and walk towards it – her body would do the rest. Slowly she placed her right foot in front of the left. Another wobble, but ever so tiny, this time. Then another as the left foot passed in front of the right.
‘Remember – head up, shoulders back!’ Kezia prompted, standing alongside her. ‘See yourself dressed differently Ella. Something body hugging – an evening gown, perhaps.’
The vision of a long red satin dress with a diamante brooch at the cleavage replaced the one Ella saw in the mirror. The plastic shoes had morphed into red satin, with tiny ruby red gems bordering the rim. And the woman that faced her was none other than Fennel, strawberry blonde hair piled high, with curling tendrils framing her face.
‘That’s better Ella – you’re nearly there – you can do it – you can!’
Fennel’s image grew closer until she stood right in front of her. Ella banged into her again, just as she’d done at the entrance to the arrivals hall at the airport terminal, but this time the blow was hard against her forehead.
The mirror! Ella had walked into the mirror. Staggering on the four and a half inch heels, she reached out her hands and grabbed hold of the cupboard door. It swung back; Ella just removed her hand in time before her fingers were jammed in the narrowing crank.
‘Congratulations!’ Kezia announced. ‘Ella – you shall go the ball!’
From ‘The Shoe’: a novella under wraps.
Oh! So mysterious! Kezia, her magic mirror, and the transformations . . . such a lot of fun!
Thank you so much, you’ve given me so much hope with this story!
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What a fun snippet! I’d love to go to a shoe shop like that. And I love the name Fennel. I must think about the possibilities of using vegetables for the names of my characters, too. It can be both amusing and appropriate. Thanks for the post!
Thank you so much for your words of encouragement – as always. Fennel got her name by strange means!
Always the best kind!
The footsteps outside the summer breakfast room were louder and sounded numerous. Martha and Jonas had the foresight to grab candles, and I had the Pullman book which had opened the secret passage. Papers fell from the book, and I grabbed them and shoved them into my tote.
Exit, stage right. There was a bookshelf just inside the passage, dusty and decorated with spider webs. I could just make out the titles in the candle-light. *Safety on the Railroad* and *A Narrow Escape*, with a gap in the middle. The door to the breakfast room opened, and the shouting began, although I couldn’t see how many pursuers we had in the pre-dawn gray.
On impulse, I shoved the Pullman book into the gap on the bookshelf, and the gears and machinery started grinding again, as the door to the secret passage closed. Porky-pie, already a dozen feet or so down the passage, barked sharply at us. “Let’s go,” I said. “Follow that dog.”
Jonas and Martha hopped off the revolving circle of floor, and we followed Porky-pie down the dark passage. Odd stairs led us downward, one step at a time and at random intervals, so we couldn’t progress as fast as we’d liked. Still, we had time. I could hear the enraged voices of Ash, Sam and the caretaker, and one more baritone, and the pounding on the secret wall that kept us on different sides.
“Where does this passage go?” the baritone demanded to know.
“I’m not sure, sir. It’s not on any of our secret maps.”
“Well, then, barricade this door. We won’t have them slipping back this way. Contact the groundskeepers, and you two . . .”
At this point, he stopped bellowing, and we were too far to hear the rest. Porky-pie led the way, sniffing diligently, and sneezing every 100 yards from the dust and spiderwebs. We were coming closer to the exit . . . I could feel the breeze getting stronger, and it was fresh, not stale.
And then we were plunged into darkness. The thing about candles is, they blow out. Jonas cursed. “I’ve dropped the darn thing,” he said.
Martha, so practically, said, “Quick, grab Katie’s hand. Katie, can you lead us?”
I reached behind to grab Jonas’s hand, and put my other hand forward, and blindly groped. It was pure luck that I grabbed Porky-pie’s tail. He gave a quick yip in surprise, but then proceeded onward. “This way, guys. Porky-pie knows the way.”
It wasn’t dawn yet when we emerged into the gazebo by the creek, but it was light enough to see the beekeeper. It was impossible to see his face . . . or even his (?) sex behind the bee veil and domino cloak. They were a ghost in black protective clothing, without shape or form.
“Did . . . did the owner tell you to stop us?” I asked.
“The Assassin?” The beekeeper tilted their head to one side. Their voice was weirdly pitched and gave away no secrets. “No, no. The bees told me you were coming. They told me to tell you that you have two paths. One way lies sweet nectar, reward and fame, and justice will be served. The other way lies death.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, it’s too early for this shit,” Jonas moaned, and Martha hushed him.
I gulped. Porky-pie was restless and pulling gently, but since I still had his tail, he didn’t go anywhere. “So, can you tell us which one is which?”
“No, I don’t know.” A few bees buzzed around their bonnet, then flew off . . . half down the path to the creek, and half towards Old Man Petersen’s farm. “The bees don’t know either. They only know that you must choose.”
Great. Thanks, beekeeper. I hope I kept any frustration from my face. The beekeeper creeped me out, and I hoped they weren’t fate in disguise. I was very much afraid they were a Symbol, and part of some great cosmic joke being played on us for stakes we couldn’t afford.
But Porky-pie, simple dog that he was, had no questions. He pulled toward the creek.
“Thank you, beekeeper,” I said. The beekeeper nodded, and turned to their hives. They looked back. “You look identical to Cathy. But you are too young to be her daughter.” Then they left. Ugh. Beekeeping was their game, cryptic remarks were their hobby. The only Cathy I knew was my grandmother, Catherine, who I was named after.
The beekeeper turned once more before reaching the hives. “Cathy was a harlot,” they said in a voice that carried over the lawn. How rude! Yet, so conversational was their tone, I couldn’t take any offense. Anyone who knew my grandmother would know she was prim and proper to a fault. I shrugged. We were losing time.
“We need to go back to the creek,” I said, and Martha nodded in agreement.
“My god,” Jonas grumbled. “My shoes are getting soaked, and my legs are getting all scratched up. I hope this little adventure of yours is about done.”
“Maybe the police will be with Bob, investigating his murder,” Martha said. “Maybe they can give us a ride back to the warmth.”
“Martha,” I said. “I don’t think the caretaker called the police. He’s in cahoots with the Assassin, and we’re going to have to avoid all his other employees if we want to escape captivity.”
“Then why are we going to the creek?” Martha asked.
“Everything leads there,” I said. “The cards, the dog . . . even you being here with us – you are a water witch.”
Jonas snorted so loudly I was afraid for his eardrums. “All this garbage. What we need is a phone and a lift back to civilization.”
“Do you think we should go over to Old Man Petersen’s then?” I asked. But it was too late . . . two portly groundskeepers burst through the shrubbery. We had a head start, but they would catch us if we ran towards Old Man Petersen’s. Then I remembered . . . the Ford was on the beach. Maybe Nasty Sam and Ash-honey had left the keys in it. They had been very busy following me and Porky-pie to the USB stick when we arrived. It seemed like something they would do.
“Follow me!” I said. “Let’s get down the creek and to the beach.” I dropped Porky-pie’s tail, and we all ran for it.
Let’s hope those keys are in the ignition and nothing gets in the way of getting there.
Another fun installment, Michaeline. Can’t wait for the next part of the adventure. I’m guessing we haven’t seen the last of Sam or Ash-honey.
I don’t want to spoil anything . . . because spoilers. And also, because your words might send me down a different path after all! I certainly didn’t see that beekeeper coming!
Thanks, as always, for a great word set! (I didn’t get coconut in, but oh well. I think that was the only one.)
How exciting this story is turning out to be! The faceless beekeeper gives me the creeps.
Can’t wait for the next instalment.
Thank you! My Girls in the Basement sometimes just give up the ghost and wander away to something else, but this has held their interest. And, I suspect I’m on the home stretch here; I think I can make it last until the end of July, or possibly until the middle of August. Nice bit of summer distraction (-:. I have some idea about what’s going to happen next, but Elizabeth’s words have brought a new character or strange twist to the proceedings every single time. So, who knows?
(I think the beekeeper belongs to a series that will never get written; I don’t think we’ll see them again. I’m not sure what’s under that veil either. I have a horrible suspicion that it’s a person made of bees! But it could be just an immortal old person, or even just an ancient normal person who has one of those artificial voiceboxes — smoking since before the War, kind of thing, and got throat cancer. It doesn’t have to be decided until it’s important to the plot, so I’ll leave my options open.)
Looks like you’re on a roll! Will you publish the story? I’ve found Elizabeth’s writing prompts so amazingly helpful, and if I don’t get time to do the sprint, then at least by sharing a snippet, it helps keep me on point. The two sprints I did really helped focus the proceedings immensely. In fact the one I did last week, which was the start of the next novella after the one I’m currently working on, inspired me to just keep going. I’ve ended up writing half of the first act! I wrote a blog post about it on my blog a few days entitled ‘A Change is as Good as a Rest’ if you’re interested, where I give this lovely blog here a bit of a shout out. I’m not one of the ‘Eight Ladies’ but have become somewhat active here since discovering it, and I sincerely hope others don’t mind my somewhat frequent appearances on this Friday sprint. I shall be away for a couple of weeks and off the internet too! Maybe a good thing as I shall be relying on pen and paper and copious notes. A change is indeed as good as a rest.
I’m really glad it’s helpful! I think that’s what Elizabeth had in mind when she started the program. I know that I’ve found it to be very inspirational . . . sometimes the only writing I get done in a month will be a sprint.
If I get my act together, I’ll probably publish this in a story collection of contemporary romantic fantasy; I think since I “published” it here, I can’t get it into any short-story magazines unless I revamp the whole thing considerably.
And to tell the truth, I’ve got bigger potatoes to revamp and revise, so this will probably be just a nice marketing tool, or perhaps a nice extra to offer fans.
In the meantime, it’s been a lot of fun to write, and I’m happy just to entertain a few people here on the blog.
Have a nice vacation! We’ll be here when you are ready to come back!
Thank you! Keep writing!
Just for reference:
Episode 1: https://eightladieswriting.com/2019/05/24/elizabeth-friday-writing-sprints-22/
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