Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

I just saw a local weather map – apparently our country was replaced by a giant oven set on broil when we weren’t looking.

To make matters worse, my local Starbucks store was closed today for no apparent reason.

Definitely a sign of the impending apocalypse.

The poor cat keeps moving from surface to surface in the house, trying to find one that is cool.  The dog always choose to hang out in his wading pool on days like this, but somehow the cat isn’t interested in that option.  His loss.

Ah well, this too shall pass.

In the meantime, I think I’ll distract myself by doing some writing – perhaps  a story with an arctic setting?  I’ll give today’s story prompt and random words a try and see where they lead me.

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.

Ready?

What if: “Your character makes a surprising discovery?”

Feel free to interpret the “What if” any way you choose and include any (or all) of the following random words:

disobey        lethal             heist               freckled

tooth            gurgle           furious           flags

arcane          corpse           chalk              challenge

pattern        danger          extravagant    dynasty

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!

14 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

  1. I thought I should do a secret room in honor of last Wednesday’s post. I couldn’t get “heist” in. Still practicing!

    The Secret Room

    Mabel hated to disobey her mother, not. The grande dame of extravagant prognostications, Wilhelmina Winifred Farley-Emsworth, citing unnamed dangers, had utterly forbidden Mabel to take down the wall they all knew hid the secret room.

    “Typical,” a furious Mabel said. The prohibition followed a pattern Wilhelmina Winifred had established long ago for the old family mansion, fighting tooth and nail to keep everything exactly as it was when she was a girl.

    Mabel lived for a challenge, especially a challenge that Wilhelmina Winifred threw down. She waited until her mother went to the library to review some arcane historical records, and then, armed with a lethal-looking sledge hammer, went to work.

    First she removed the objects covering the doomed wall—the old, freckled mirror; the display of flags representing the countries that fought in the Crimean War; the heavy buffet sideboard. Then she put on her safety goggles, planted her feet, and swung her sledge hammer.

    The hammer went through the lathe and plaster like butter, sending a chalk-like dust ballooning through the room and a dry gurgle through her lungs. Mabel hadn’t really considered the mess she’d be making. But exposing the beautiful stonework they knew was back there would be worth it, no matter what Wilhelmina Winifred thought.

    Mabel swung the hammer until her arms ached and the dust cloud obscured the far reaches of the room. Eventually, she was finished, the wall down, bits of wood and plaster littering the floor, the secret room finally exposed. She waved her arms, clearing the dust and her vision.

    There, revealed, was the hidden room, with its beautiful parquet flooring, sumptuous stonework, and—a surprise—tiled fireplace. Oh, yes, and the mummified corpse. Mabel rolled her eyes.

    “Typical,” she said.

    • Yay, Mabel! Kay, you may be still practicing, but you can’t leave us hanging like this 😉 . Am guessing the mummified corpse is the missing Cedric Charles (or something like that?) Farley-Emsworth?

    • There was always a pattern. It just took an expert to see it. Compared with the Great Mesopotamian Heist of ‘19, the current scenario was barely a challenge.

      The desiccated corpse, a pitiful assembly of dust and bones at the center of the arcane chalk circle, raised a whole undulation of flags to Inspector Le Francais-Typique.

      “Farley-‘Emsworth,” Jean-Hugues Typique pronounced carefully, noting the distinctive houndstooth check of the corpse’s exquisitely tailored three-piece suit and extravagant silk cravat. “Probably the missing heir to the dynasty. Cedric Charles, I believe.”

      “Cedric?” Mabel stared agog at the freckled mess on the exquisite parquet flooring. “I thought he was lost five years ago, in the sandstorm of Algiers.”

      “Bloody typical.” Wilhelmina’s furious tones snarled from the doorway. “Mabel, what did I say? I ordered you not to demolish that wall. I warned you it could be lethal. And still you chose to disobey me…”

      Willie’s voice rose to an eldritch shriek as her feet left the floor. She raised her right hand to the panelled ceiling like a deranged disco dancer, then lowered it slowly, arm outstretched, index finger pointed directly at Mabel’s heart.

      Merde.” Francais-Typique gasped. “Mademoiselle Farley-‘Emsworth, you are in mortal danger—”

      Time stood still as Mabel stared up at the woman who claimed to be her mother.

      “Wilhelmina Winifred Will-o-the-Wisp, return whence you came.” Mabel waved her hand energetically right, left, and straight ahead, fingers crossed in the timeless sign against evildoers.

      A gurgle, a hiss, a wisp of smoke. And Wilhelmina was gone.

      • Oh, my gosh, that is FANTASTIC!! I absolutely *love* what you did with the place! 🙂 That Wilhelmina, I knew she was trouble. Poor Cedric Charles. We thought he’d been lost in the Algiers sandstorm, but no. And Mabel! She is something else. Thank you, Jilly!

      • How wonderful! Love the continuation of the story. That’s just the kind of thing I hope for with these writing sprints.

        Of course now I want a series of stories featuring “Inspector Le Francais-Typique”.

  2. Again this exercise has enabled me to write a chunk of a future act in my current work in progress. It’s a sprint cum snippet – although rather a long one, for which I apologise, but it took all that time to fit in the entire list of words.Thanks once more for this wonderful opportunity.
    “‘Isn’t this nice, Hayden!?’ Paula Goodfellow exclaimed. ‘Having folk join us for dinner.’
    Her son surveyed the hotel group’s flagship restaurant. It was, as usual, buzzing with activity. Green waistcoated waiters deftly conveyed dishes on silver salvers to the diners seated round circular tables covered in the usual rose-coloured damask cloths. Others poured wine or champagne into crystal glasses and tall flutes, while soft piano music drifted from the dome-shaped Golden Cage in the centre of the room, where Anton played his latest compositions. More of his ‘easy listening’ stuff.
    ‘Normally we eat in the bistro,’ she added, addressing the assembled party. ‘Sometimes it’s good to be just a little more extravagant!’ She let out a gurgle of laughter and smiled widely, displaying a gold tooth towards the back of her mouth, on the top row.
    From across the table, Ella explored the tanned, freckled face, and wide, amber-coloured, friendly eyes, crinkled at the edges from exposure to too much sun, like the rest of her skin. Lying on the deck of a cruise ship, by the swimming pool, was a pastime she indulged in regularly, it appeared, until it was time to sip cocktails in the bar, then be a guest at the captain’s table. Yes, Paula Goodfellow had chalked up quite a few voyages in her time, according to Hayden, when she wasn’t travelling the world by the Royal Scotsman, South Africa’s Blue Train, or through western Canada on the Rocky Mountaineer. And when not engaged in these activities, she stayed in some of the world’s most elite hotels, the Golden Cage being no exception. His mother was intrepid, Hayden explained, never afraid. Danger was not a word that entered her vocabulary. But when you always travelled first class and stayed in luxury, what danger was there to face?
    Now another adventure lay ahead, one Ella, and the others, had seemingly agreed to, not that anything had been confirmed. After Paula and Hayden’s extravagant invitation to dine as their guests in the Michelin five star restaurant, it would probably be quite rude to disobey such a request.
    ‘You must all come to ‘Mask City’!’ Hayden had announced, as soon as the sonnet reading was over at The Globe Theatre, after he’d invited them to dine at the hotel, and had told them the destination to which he and his mother were headed on the Orient Express. ‘To Venice!’ he toasted, lifting a flute of Proscecco, which, despite Martin’s disparaging comments about the drink in the past, now seemed to be perfectly acceptable. It came from the Venito region, Hayden said, so what better way to salute their forthcoming trip?’
    Everyone lifted their glasses.
    ‘To Venice!’ they chanted.
    Fixing the fiery amber eyes, just like his mother’s, on Grace, Hayden reached out his glass across the table, challenging her to clink hers against his. Returning his stare, she cooperated. In turn each clinked glasses with the other until everyone had partaken in the exercise. Several waiters appeared silently, as if from nowhere, and laid down tantalising, colourful and skillfully arranged hors d’oeuvres.
    ‘Isn’t November a somewhat strange month to be going?’ Saul queried, tucking into a salmon and spinach fish cake, dipped in lemon mayo, and clearly trying his best to get out of the proposed trip. ‘It’s the ‘acqua alta’ season by all accounts. I’ve read about it.’
    Hayden speared a beef brisket ball, which he’d drenched in Asian slaw, as if relishing the idea of such unsuitable travel conditions.
    ‘Sure – and often the city gets flooded. I’ve seen pictures of tourists standing under umbrellas in the plastic booties sold by street hawkers, splashing around like kiddies in a paddling pool.’
    ‘Sounds ghastly,’ Daphne said. ‘Doesn’t look as though they’ll be much chance to wear Kezia’s stilettos, in that case!’
    Paula, immersed in a plate of chicken liver parfait after smearing it with red currant jelly, laid down her knife and fork and fixed the amber eyes, serious now, on Daphne.
    ‘Oh – but there will – think of all the wonderful evening dinners we’ll be attending!’
    Daphne gave a little smile and bowed her head.
    ‘I was joking, Mrs. Goodfellow!’
    ‘Call me Paula – please! And I’m pleased you’re joking Daphne, because I for one, won’t be participating in any of Hayden’s wild schemes on this trip. Looks like you and I will be holing up somewhere real nice, enjoying lots of parties.’
    ‘What wild schemes?’ Harriet demanded, swallowing down a mouthful of seared tuna.
    ‘Yes – what wild schemes?’ Grace echoed, looking up from her cocktail glass of Posh Nosh Prawn Cocktail, with tomato salsa and a shot of Bloody Mary. Ella wished she’d chosen it, rather than the cauliflower fritters, scrumptious though they’d tasted. A Bloody Mary was what she needed right now. Things weren’t boding well.
    Saul was staring at Daphne intently.
    ‘So you’re really serious about going?’
    ‘Of course – how could I refuse such an offer? – after all it isn’t everyday you get invited to the most beautiful city in the world.’
    ‘True,’ Harriet said, her mouth still full of food. The alert grey-blue eyes darted from Saul to Daphne. She seemed to have noticed the same as Ella – that these two oldies could make quite the pair in romantic Venice, seated side by side in a gondola, gliding down a canal, together.
    ‘What wild schemes?’ Grace repeated, scooping up more prawns, covered in the salsa and placing it in her mouth with a long handled silver fork and spoon.
    ‘My mother’s referring to the Festa della Salute,’ Hayden said. ‘It commemorates the end of the plague in 1630, which killed off about a third of Venice’s population. It’s one of my students’ favourite history topics at present, so I’m going to see it for myself.’
    ‘What happens exactly?’ Harriet asked.
    ‘There’s a pilgrimage across a bridge of boats in the Grand Canal, to the church of the Santa Maria della Salute, to light a candle and pray to the Virgin. It’s a spectacle I don’t intend to miss!’
    ‘And the only reason why we’re going in November,’ Paula growled. ‘Hence why I’m set to enjoy myself in other ways, instead of looking at corpses.’
    So much for Paula’s apparent lack of fear.
    ‘No corpses mother – at least not any more.’
    Paula’s amber eyes grew even larger than their normal size.
    ‘You mean they were stolen?’
    Hayden laughed.
    ‘That’s right – a veritable heist!’
    Hayden caught Grace’s eye and winked at her. Her skin had turned pale, like the white marble bust of Edward Prentice in the hallway of her Holland Park home.
    ‘Is that why you chose to wear the plague doctor’s outfit at the ball?’ she challenged.
    ‘Of course – I bought it specially – wanted to look the part!’
    Grace laid down her spoon and fork, leaving the remains of the Posh Prawn Cocktail.
    Saul also laid down his knife and fork, but on an empty plate.
    ‘Sounds like a damned expensive university trip. My old department would never have sent me off on The Orient Express, that’s for sure!’
    ‘Mine neither! This is purely on mother!’
    ‘At least November the first’s passed so we can give All Saints Day the skip!’ Paula said. ‘Locals visit the deceased in graveyards and cemeteries then. There are corpses – lots of them!’
    The waiters arrived to remove the plates.
    ‘So how do we propose to travel?’ Saul inquired. ‘I don’t think, unless I’m mistaken, the rest of us will be taking the Orient Express.’
    ‘I intend to take it,’ Grace said, eyes still on Hayden. ‘I can always find a way to get on at the last minute. I usually do.’
    Saul gazed at her intently, as he’d done at the end of the ball, when their masks were lifted.
    ‘I’m sure you can, Mrs. Upshaw.’
    ‘But the rest of us will be flying?’
    It was the first time Ella had spoken, since they’d all clinked glasses.
    ‘I think so. And we need to find somewhere to stay,’ Daphne said, ever practical.
    Hayden mopped his lips with a damask rose napkin, the same pattern as the tablecloth.
    ‘No problem. I’ll do the bookings for all of you – plane and hotel. Leave it with me.’
    The second course on its way, a wine waiter appeared and refilled their flutes with more prosecco.
    ‘I’ll need all your details for starters.’ Hayden turned to Saul. ‘And to think you’re a writer and I don’t even know your full name.’
    Saul stared down at the tablecloth.
    ‘Says a lot for my career. It’s Prentice – Saul Prentice.’
    Grace took a swig of prosecco and almost choked on it. Paula patted her on the back. Grace shrank away from her.
    ‘Prentice – that was my maiden name.’
    ‘I thought so,’ Saul said, tight lipped. ‘Your grandfather was Edward Prentice, my father, wasn’t he?
    Harriet gasped.
    Grace’s face had returned to the shade of the marble bust. Through Saul, Edward Prentice looked remarkably like the way Ella had imagined him, with the features filled in.
    ‘Then Saul is your uncle?’ Paula blurted out. ‘That’s amazing!’
    The others fell silent. What a trip this was going to be, Ella thought. Especially as Paula Goodfellow was ‘Yankee’, and ‘Yankee’s’ behaviour on social media posed a threat to both the shoe shop, the country at large, and more immediately, the arcane, lethal world of the Prentice dynasty. For secrets they held, aplenty, there was no doubt about that. Like Paula’s imagined corpses, their past was about to be dug up. Harriet’s face had turned the same furious shade as Grace’s tomato salsa.”

  3. Pingback: Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints: August 16th 2019 – Freedom Writing

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