Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

Welcome to the end of another week.  We’re in the midst of that burst of summer-like weather that always seems to occur as soon as the summer clothes have been moved into storage.

I spent part of this week at an environmental conference where discussions veered from “it’s too late; we’re all going to die” to “don’t worry; we’ve got a plan.”

I tried to spend my time with the “we’ve got a plan” folks, and to make sure I had cake when I had to be around the others.  It all seemed to work out okay.

There is little in my world that can’t be made better with a latte and a piece of really good cake.

Sadly, the areas of California that are currently on fire are going to need a little more than cake to make things better.  If you could send thoughts for reduced winds, cooling temperatures and safe evacuations, I’m sure they’d be appreciated.

After days of thinking about carbon emissions, power grids, and politics, it’s time for something completely different.  I’m thinking giving today’s story prompt and random words a try would be just the thing.

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 needs to make a big change”

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

foggy        wasp           bachelor    gargoyle

hound       flavoring    feudal        aftermath

lantern      cough         anxious     endorsement

glossy        knowing     saint          endless

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!

13 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints

  1. Jilly, Elizabeth, and I decided that I would use this opportunity today to wrap up the continuing saga of Jordy and Jenny and their twins. I used all the words but “flavoring,” and this last segment is pretty long and more grim than previous installments. I tried to add links to the previous installments, but technology escaped me today.

    Full Circle
    The foggy day had cleared by mid-morning, although the sun had yet to break through the overhanging clouds. The endless rain had stopped some time during the night, leaving the pavement and trees glossy and dark with moisture. It wasn’t a perfect day to take the girls for an outing, but Jenny had been anxious about Elspeth’s cough, and she thought, if she wrapped the twins up well, the fresh air might do them good.

    Jordy, his bachelor days seemingly behind him, had called off work on the opera festival venue for the day because of the rain. The aftermath of the wind and rain had left the stone slick and the wood too damp to proceed with safety or finesse.

    “Where shall we take the wee ones, then?” he asked, turning off the kitchen lantern. The sky had lightened to a pale grey; dim light filtered softly through the windows.

    “I thought we could walk to the churchyard,” Jenny said. “I’d like to look for Alanis McLeish’s grave. And maybe visit the Blessing Stone, thank it for the girls.”

    “Wear your wellies,” Jordy said. “It’ll be wet in the lane.”

    The walk to the churchyard was a short one, and as they entered by the cemetery gate, Jenny shivered at the gargoyles that decorated the old church.

    “It looks so feudal,” she said.

    “The church is seventeenth century,” Jordy said, casting a knowing look over the structure. “They’re supposed to scare away evil spirits, so maybe you could think of them as reassuring.”

    “Reassuring. I’m not sure that’s much of an endorsement.”

    “They’re practical, too: they convey water from the roof and away from the side of a building to protect the masonry.”

    “Maybe I’ll just focus on the saints.”

    Jordy grinned, tucking Jenny’s free hand into his.

    “You said you wanted to search for Alanis McLeish. Let’s see if we find her.”

    They strolled through the small graveyard, looking at the gravestones. Many were obscured by lichen. Under a huge oak, they found her: a small plain stone next to an even smaller one.

    “Alanis McLeish,” Jenny read. “Here she is!”

    “The words are almost disappeared,” Jordy said, squatting down and brushing away the moss. “Look. It says ‘1565 to 1590. She paid for her crimes.’ I wonder what crimes she committed?”

    Jenny shivered again. “She was so young.”

    “Twenty-five. And she had the twins. Here’s their stone next to hers.”

    “ ‘Caitlin and Aisling McLeish,’” Jenny read. “ ‘Together in death.’ That’s sort of creepy.”

    Jordy stood as Isla started to fuss.

    “You wanted to check out the MacHugh Blessing Stone? I’m ready for that.”

    They strolled over to the stone and perched on its hard surface just as Maeve, the village seer and beekeeper, her professional headgear in place and her lumbering hound Bilbo galloping ahead, came into view. She swatted a wasp away and perched on the edge of the stone.

    “Children,” she said, smiling at them. “A glorious day today.”

    Jenny realized the sun had come out, turning the drops on the wet grass into brilliant, sparkling diamonds.

    “It is,” she said in surprise.

    “You’ve been looking at Alanis McLeish,” Maeve said.

    “We have,” Jordy said. “She’s been gone a long time.”

    “She’s waited a long time for you,” Maeve said.

    “Excuse me?” Jenny said. “What are you talking about? I don’t think so.”

    “You saw her ghost,” Maeve said.

    Jordy and Jenny exchanged glances.

    “How did you know that?” he asked.

    “You must have,” Maeve said. “You’ve got her babies.”

    “They’re our babies!” Jenny said. “And they aren’t ghosts!”

    “Of course not,” Maeve said, stoking Elspeth’s soft cheek. “They’re as real as you or me.”

    “Do you know who their parents are?” Jordy asked. “We should find them. Make sure they’re abandoned. Or—whatever.”

    “They’re your babies,” Maeve said. “Alanis gave birth to them. Now they’re yours.”

    Jenny frowned. Had Maeve flipped her lid? She wasn’t making any sense.

    “You better explain,” Jordy said. “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “It’s an old story in the village,” Maeve said. “Everyone knows it; I suppose they thought you knew it, too. That’s why everyone knows you’re the parents. Didn’t you wonder why no one asks you any questions about them?”

    Jenny had wondered about that.

    “For more than one hundred years, back in the 1500s and 1600s, there were perhaps 6,000 witch trials in Scotland,” Maeve said. “Probably many factors contributed to the hysteria, but two themes were heresy and healers who do wrong.”

    “Those themes were common for witchhunters everywhere,” Jenny said.

    “Yes,” Maeve said. “Local lore has it that Alanis McLeish was accused of both. First, she got pregnant by the local minister, who was married. She might have been unwilling, we don’t know for sure. But she named the father of her babies, that’s what started it all.”

    “She would have been an outcast,” Jenny said. “Just for being unmarried and pregnant.”

    “Yes, Maeve said. “The minister denied it, but there must have been a scandal. They knew each other, of course, but she was a healer by family tradition and helped made her income by picking and selling mushrooms. The minister was fond of mushrooms. So she was at the rectory fairly often.”

    “I think I see what happened,” Jordy said.

    “Evidently she’d been able to keep her condition a secret for some time, but then the twins were born. They were sickly and ultimately died from some kind of disease. The minister said it was god’s will.”

    “Nice minister,” Jenny said.

    “One day, the minister died after Sunday dinner,” Maeve said. “It was determined that poisonous mushrooms were the cause. Alanis was blamed.”

    “So what happened?” Jenny asked, although she knew what had happened.

    “The witchcraft trial decided that Alanis was in a pact with the devil. That she’d lured the minister into evil ways. That the sickly babies were the result of her sins. That she’d murdered the reverend.”

    “Had she?” Jordy asked.

    “We’ll never know for sure,” Maeve said. “But she was a healer. It would have gone against her teachings. In any event, she was killed for it.”

    “What a terrible story,” Jenny said. “But it doesn’t explain—”

    “At her moment of death, Alanis swore that her babies weren’t dead, that they’d have a second chance at a better life, a safer life. That they would return one day, healthy and happy, to this churchyard, where she could watch over them until their rightful parents came, who would love them as she had and care for them as she had not been able to.”

    “What?” Jenny said, unable to take it in.

    “And the babies appeared to you,” Maeve said. “And whatever you said to Alanis convinced her that you loved them. So now you’re their parents.”

    “That’s quite a story,” Jordy said. “But—really? It’s folklore, Maeve.”

    “It’s in the church records,” Maeve said, nodding toward the church. “Written down. For all to see. Look for yourself.”

    Jordy turned to Jenny and took her hands in his.

    “We can check the records later,” he said. “But I believe Maeve. I think we’re parents. Elspeth and Isla’s parents.”

    “Yes,” she said. “I think we are.”

    “We’d best get home,” he said. “We have plans to make. And it’s time for tea.”

  2. (-: The words gave me a good start, but I abandoned them half way through. Thanks for the fun prompt!

    The gargoyles on the Gothic Instagram Museum (est. 2018) of Samukappu, Japan looked far less threatening than the live crows that gathered on the ledge in the dusk. They all huddled together comfortably, though, like a grotesque mother hen with her dark, thick-billed chicks. Avery wondered if it was a good idea to meet Mr. Miura here, after hours, to look at the translations of the museum placards. In the clear light of mid-morning, he’d seemed like an eccentric little man who wore a cape. Her big burly boss, Mr. Suzuki, had clapped Miura jovially on the back and told Avery she’d get comp time for going out to the fake castle.

    “Those foreign tourists love Instagram. I can see it will be a big hit,” Suzuki said. “I was in the same grade as Miura. The little guy was always coming up with great stuff for our school plays. A bit weird, but he’s all right, Miura. Please assist him in any way you can.”

    It was a foggy night now, with tendrils of white rolling across the lawn like lost kittens looking for home. The Insta-Castle loomed, gray and forbidding, and the rough-hewn door seemed like it would absorb her knocks. Avery hesitated before touching the lion’s head knocker, when a voice buzzed and garbled through the unobtrusive doorbell. “Miss Avery, I was expecting you. Please come in.”

    The door swung open, silently, and the hall beyond was stone, with flickering orange LED torches casting a hellish light on the suits of armor. Avery took four steps in, and felt the cool breeze down her back as the door swung shut. Something touched her elbow and she gasped.

    “I’m so glad you could come,” Miura said. He was still dressed in a black suit and cape with red lining, from this morning. He removed his monocle and breathed steam on it with an anxious cough, polished it, and put it in his pocket. “I’m afraid we’ve had a bit of a problem this evening in our 19th century dress display area. One of our tourists was molested.”

    “Oh my god!” Avery said. “What happened? Did they catch him?”

    “Him?” Miura patted his breast pocket with the monocle in it. “Her? Them? No. We did not catch any of them. There were 15 eyewitnesses on the tour group, and they didn’t see a thing, except the poor girl writhing in front of the Astor Halloween ball gown. Her friends assured us that she’d never acted that way before.”

    Something cold touched the back of her knee, and she jumped and shrieked.

    “Oh, Mocha, you silly old boy,” Miura said. Avery was relieved to see it was a dog, but maybe the droopiest dog she’d ever seen. He looked like the bloodhound from some old detective story. “He’s very popular with the girls. He’s got his own Insta-page,” Miura said while ruffling the dog’s ear.

    Miura stood up. He was the same height as Avery, and his eyes were a deep, chocolate brown, she noticed for the first time. “If you don’t want to look at the placards tonight, I’ll understand.”

    “Well, do they think the guy is still in the building?” Avery asked. “What do they think happened?”

    “We were in the Ball Room, and I was preparing to lead the guests into the library. The other tourists were scattered throughout the ball room, taking pictures with the wax works, and two of them in particular were near the only other door. The poor girl screamed, and her friends said she seemed to beat off an invisible attacker. She said whatever was trying to strangle her, but no one saw anything. The two tourists near the door said they felt a draft shortly after the screaming stopped, but otherwise nothing was noticed.”

    “In short, Miss Avery, we think it was a ghost.”

    Oh, no, not here, too, Avery thought. She thought she was done with ghosts when she left her family’s haunted hotel in Missouri, but it seemed that ghosts got around.

    “We have a Buddhist priest in there, assessing the situation, but . . . .”

    “You’d better show me in,” Avery said.

    “All right. Follow me,” Miura said. He opened double doors and there was the ballroom – three chandeliers hung from the ceilings, and as a nod to October, there were jack o’lanterns piled in all the corners and up a majestic staircase that led to a mezzanine for musicians. Frozen in mid-dance were the waxworks, each with a digital placard in Japanese at their feet.

    “The castle is a mash-up of several Viennese palaces, so you’ll note the light and airy baroque feel,” Miura said. Avery shivered. In the flickering of the chandeliers and pumpkins, the spacious room did not feel light and airy.

    “Do you have any lights?” Avery asked.

    “Unfortunately, this is it.” Miura smiled in apology. “We close at five, and during the winter, so when the budget ran out, lights in the public places were one of the first sacrifices. Ah, here is the famous Vanderbilt Queen Bee costume.”

    Talk about a WASP, Avery thought, although she admired the striped pinafore that turned the Edwardian gown into a recognizable bee. The mannequin was dancing with a Harlequin clown, and all of the figures were in fancy dress.

    “I have the text of the placards in the office, but I thought it was important for you to see the costumes you’ll be describing,” Miura said.

    Avery gazed at the marvelous figures, shadowy in the bad light, but with rhinestones catching the random flickering of the LEDs, sparkling in the dark. One of the figures moved, and Avery gasped as it rose to full human height.

    “Ah, that will be the priest,” Miura said. He strode over to the man, decked in the black robes of a Buddhist priest, and Avery and Mocha followed. A swift exchange of Japanese followed, full of words that Avery had never heard of before, or seen in any textbook. She did catch the word “angry spirit” several times, though. The priest shook his head, bowed to them, and left the room.

    Miura sighed. “There’s nothing he can do tonight. We will have to wait for a more auspicious day, he says. Come, let me show you the rest of the costumes.”

    Mocha gave a low growl and his hackles rose. Avery saw him pointed directly at the mannequin in a black bat costume. And then she saw something else . . . a vapor seemed to outline the mannequin, then separate from the dummy and coalesce into a vaguely womanish shape.

    “Mr. Miura,” Avery said. “Can you see what I see?”

    “What?” Miura looked intently from Avery to the mannequin and back again. “No. I see nothing. What do you see, Miss Avery?”

    The vapor took no face, no details beyond the arms that stretched towards Avery’s neck. Avery peeped a little bit and skipped backwards, while Mocha lost his mind and began barking furiously at the apparition.

    Oh, Avery hated this feeling. Confronting a long-gone semi-sentient being was never a happy experience, but when they were mad and murderous? Avery could feel the anger and unhappiness rolling off the woman in waves of coldness. Even Miura shivered, although he was still looking at the mannequin.

    “Do you see a light?” Avery asked in English.

    Avery could almost hear a sucked-in gasp of outrage before the ghost pounced and pulled Avery’s hair. “Ouch! Stop it, right now.” Oh, Avery wished she had her ghost busting kit, but she’d thought all that was behind her. Instead, she crossed her fingers of her left hand, and poked the ghost in the chest, with the intent of moving her back. Not to harm. Just to ward off. The ghost moved back to an arms-length away, still trying to grasp Avery. Then she suddenly gave up and collapsed. Stooped over and weeping, if Avery was not mistaken. Mocha laid down on the floor and whimpered.

    “Whose dress was this?” Avery whispered to Miura.

    “Avalon Astor. She was murdered in it. Strangled and left behind the roses, they said in the court deposition. The notorious playboy, Geoff Whitehead, was given the electric chair for it.”

    The ghost seemed to stop weeping, to move her featureless face towards Miura.

    “He died?” Avery asked. “It seems nobody told Avalon about it. Avalon, he says Geoff died in the electric chair.”

    The apparition began to dissolve, slowly at first and then rapidly into a mist that disappeared, bottom to top. “She’s gone,” Avery whispered. Mocha pressed hard against her legs, and she gave his soft ears a fondle.

    Miura let out a pent-up breath. “I am very glad you came tonight. I am afraid many of the articles in our museum have a sad history. I will ask your assistance in helping me to apologize to the former owners of these artifacts. If you are so inclined.”

    So inclined? Oh, hell, no, Avery thought to herself. But then Miura thrust out his hand, as if sealing the deal, and she noticed how cool and collected he had been, and what a handsome smile he had. She took his hand and shook it. Tomorrow, she’d ask her grandmother to send her ghost busting kit.

  3. Pingback: Jilly: Victorian Tales of Terror – Eight Ladies Writing

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