In the Stillness.

iStock_92375959_WEBIn the stillness, where harmony mingles with silence,

When your soul finds a moment of still repentance,

Where the breeze swooshes softly through green summer tresses,

And the sky is a brilliant blue in the heavens,

Where the tired finds strength and the pain, an ache,

And you remember the loss for your mistakes,

Where healing wounds find soft reprieve,

and the aching heart is allowed to grieve,

Before the day’s clangings begin to sound,

Is a chance that an inkling of joy may be found,

And ears filled with noise, begin to listen,

to the chirping of birds and a buzz in the kitchen.

Where words of hope let the busy soul rest,

And a yearning for peace to fruition is met,

The clouds above shift in puffy white quells,

And she is found; here in the stillness.

 

Photograph: iStock

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The Pool.

Writing Prompt: Dream-catcher: Write something inspired by a recent dream you had.

pool2

Black patent heels clicked on the polished floor and echoed through the empty room as the group of ambitious professionals walked along the edge of a still pool. The glass windows reflected off shiny black tiles as a man led the small group of advisors through a maze of rooms, expertly furnished to look like a regular upper class home, but holding some small mysterious exhibit of genius scientific invention in each room. The group of professionals were made up of mostly junior associates and one senior business developer, all hungry for the prospect of winning new business. They walked expertly poised behind the Prospect, like a lioness in a hunt during the summer deserts of Arabia.

The Prospect, a middle-aged man wearing a perfectly fitted three piece suit stopped and turned to address the group with glass eyes and distinct certainty, his manicured hand waving in the direction of the pool.

“This area is our pool of nano-technology. It’s a wave of the future that has not hit the market yet. We’ve recently finished our testing phase. The nano-technology has the ability to enter the human body and report back information that we’ve previously never been able to detect.”

“What type of information?” asked the Senior developer, standing confidently but eager to learn more.

“It depends on the subject. In some cases, we’ve only been able to return information of about the vitals of a human, but in others feelings, emotions, dare I say…thoughts?”

“Thoughts?” the Senior had unmasked curiosity now, disbelieving and yet completely open to the possibility of what the Prospect proposed.

“Yes,” A small, knowing smile broke then. Fluidly, he walked the group closer to the entrance of the pool. “Think of it as the tree in the Garden of Eden. We have discovered the ability to know the good and evil of a person.” His eyes gleamed then, a reflection of indulgence and the knowledge of his own brilliance.

“Indeed?” asked the Senior.

“Yes. Quite. I can understand your hesistance. However, we remain true to our claims. In fact, we are happy to open this up to a member of your team. We assure you there is no harm.” He paused, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “In fact, we’d be quite pleased if one of you would be willing to enjoy the experience of our technology. We assure you that while it looks like water, you won’t get wet. This is purely the nano-technology’s base of homeostasis.”

When the pause lengthened into silence, the Prospect continued, completely relaxed.

“I assure you, no harm will come to any members of your team.”

The Senior weighed the risk in mere seconds and concluded that by refusing, he would subject himself and his team to the ridicule that they neither trusted the technology nor were willing to expose their thoughts to the Prospect. Both would lose the deal quickly and absolutely. It was settled. One would go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Penny stepped slowly into the shiny pool as her team of advisors looked on, rapt with curiosity as to what she may be exposed to. As the most junior member of her team and due to her willingness to prove to the Senior that she had what it took to keep her spot on the highly sought after business development team, she had volunteered. This Prospect would seal the firm’s financial fate for the remainder of the year, and she knew that her willingness to enter the pool could lead to the final vote of confidence from the Prospect for them to move forward with their deal.

She was on step three and the water, no, nano-technology circled her black pant legs fluidly, yet it didn’t feel like water. It’s gritty. The Prospect had assured her that changing her clothes would not be necessary since the nano-technology would remain in the pool whenever she chose to exit.

“Just enter the pool…and swim, my dear,” he had said.

She glanced back momentarily, and the Senior gave an imperceptible nod of approval for her to continue. With heart pounding, Penny took one final gasp and plunged into the pool.

The gritty fluid entered her ears, nostrils and throat. She felt the miniscule robots lift each trendil of hair and crawl along her scalp. As they lifted her eyelids and crawled along her cornea, the panic set in. No. Stop! Stop! She opened her mouth to scream but she couldn’t because the the tiny robots weighed heavily on her body, keeping her submerged in the pool. She was on her back now, arms outstretched, and eyes unable to close as she stared at the ceiling. Something is wrong. This doesn’t feel right.

Muffled voices could be heard about the water, but they were calm, not reflecting the complete dread she was now feeling. I can’t move! Help!

The nano-technology seemed to creep along every crevice where oxygen would reside and overtook it greedily. At the moment when she thought her body would gasp for air and panic climaxed into a frenzy, the nanobots seemed to become suddenly content and settled, no longer moving along her skin and insides. They held her a moment longer and finally, she was able to break free, swinging her arms violently and breaking the threshold of the pool, gasping for air. Yet, the moment she stood, her body no longer seemed to need air and she found herself breathing completely normal, despite the racing of her heart. She glanced at the circle of men now, no longer caring for the daring feat she’d just made, only to find calm faces staring back at her. She could see the Senior was pleased, yet his small smile of approval fell short of bringing any level of satisfaction. Before she could speak to explain the experience, the Prospect stepped forward to address the group once more.

“And, so as you can see, Ms. Hill is completely fine and dry as ever,” he glanced at her then, with a satisfied smile. Penny touched the sleeve of her suit then, letting her fingertips graze the dry cotton. Her thoughts felt hazy.

“This is the last of the exhibits we have in the house, so if you and your colleagues are ready for it, we may exit the pool area and head to the gardens for a few matches of tennis. How does this suit you all?” The Prospect addressed the Senior, and the juniors behind him mumbled their united approvals. They appeared to have forgotten about her, and she stood frozen, remaining three steps in the pool.

“Penny, dear, please do feel free to change your clothes for the match. We have some dressing rooms in the area right past the pool where you may change. We’ll meet you outside this door when you’re ready.”

Penny decided to give her mind time to adjust and exited the pool area as told through the swinging doors to the right of the pool as everyone else exited to the left. She had her bag with her and noticed it slung on her shoulder but couldn’t remember how it had gotten there, and as she looked at the four walls around her, realized she didn’t know how she had entered the dressing room she was in either. Somehow, it seemed she was losing pieces of her memory, maybe a few minutes at a time, maybe less. Penny all of a sudden didn’t know. The room is spinning. Why is the room spinning? The walls…they’re not straight? Penny didn’t know if she had managed to change into her tennis outfit or not, but she tried to keep the panic at bay as she exited. She opened the dressing room door and leaned heavily against the wall outside the room, feeling dizzy. Yet, when the next door was opened in the hallway, she was in a room identical to the last, a dressing room. Penny turned around, trying to find her way back to the pool she had left but every door she opened led to another dressing room. I can’t find my way back! The walls spun into shapes and the doors twisted, making it harder for her to find the knob on each one.

She wanted to panic, but the fog in her mind was getting thicker, and her ears began to ring. Suddenly, and without warning, she found herself back in the hallway where her colleagues waited. They turned eagerly, ready to begin their tennis game.

“Penny! What took you so long? Are you ready?”

“Penny? Are you okay?”

The Senior walked towards her, separating himself from the group to speak to her privately. Penny staggered towards them, her body feeling heavy as the muscles in her legs atrophied beneath her.

“Pull yourself together, Penny. Think of the impression you’re making,” the Senior said, but his muffled words seemed to reach her from under water, and his image blurred before her, as if the nano-technology was slowly overtaking each of her senses.

She had enough clarity left to realize that something had gone horribly wrong, and wanted to ask the Prospect if he had known this would happen all along or if it was just some horrible mistake, but the question died on her lips because with that…..she woke up.

First Blood.

Writing Prompt:B001-5-FLR-blk_e0fab306-e1cf-4f55-9fe7-a420eb58463c_1024x1024 BATTLE UNTIL SOMEONE DRAWS FIRST BLOOD

Johnny’s feet danced over the colorful rubber as small swishes of air escaped with each jab.

Spfft. Spfft.

Beads of sweat glistened and rolled off his body effortlessly. He jabbed into the air and fluidly moved around the room to a melody whose rhythm was only known by instinct. A scar hovered above his eye and crept into his eyelid, a jagged line from a worthy opponent.

“Jab! Jab!” Tony yelled at him, the sweat towel draped over his shoulder. “Move those feet, Johnny. I saw Vince in here last week moving twice your speed.”

Johnny lifted picked up his step under Tony’s watchful eyes. Vince don’t have nuttin’ on me.

Tweny minutes later, Johnny shrugged off his boxing gloves, and looked into the keen eyes of the weathered face in from of him, his tan skin like leather. Tony had trained his father and many others in the small gym in the Bronx.  Their bond went deep, and he trusted the gruff, gray haired man crouched over his cane before him.

“Whaddya think, Tony?”

“I think you’re slower than that tortoise in all those kids’ stories, Johnny!”

“Ah, come on, old man.”
“Whatever you do, Johnny. Never forget the fire.” Tony’s hand, knuckles thick with arthritis and years tried from punching in the ring, reached up to rest on Johnny’s naked shoulder.

An unspoken word was passed. They both knew what they fought for. They drank from the same cup of survival.

“Now let’s get back to it,” Tony grumbled at him.

Johnny entered the ring, ready to spar.

The boxing championship was two days away, and he needed to win. Not for the money. Or for the cheers. His muscles ached and that pushed him to step faster, jab harder. He fought for respect.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Come on, Vincie. You got this.” Vince had lost count, but listened to the whistle of the jumprope hiss past his ears again…again…again. Okay, doubles!

The scream of muscles deprived of oxygen sent a thrill up his arms and into his neck. He was stronger than he’d ever been, and he drove forward. Faster. Faster.

“Good job, Vincie. You hit 500!”

Vince bent and heaved for air, temporarily blinded by the salty sweat that seeped into his eyes. He threw back his ebony head and a rain of droplets landed on the cement wall behind him. He stepped towards Nick, tossling his baby brother’s hair.

“Come on, man. Don’t mess with my hair like that, Vincie.”

Vince smirked.

“Do you think you’re gonna beat ‘im, Vincie?”

Vince rested his shoulder against the boxing ring’s post. “I don’t know, Nicky. Make you a promise, eh?”

Bright eyes filled with an adoration that Vince knew he didn’t deserve, and it weighed heavily on his shoulders, heavier than anything he’d lifted in this small, hazy gym. He can’t live this life.

“You make an A on that history exam, kid, and I will win this fight for you.” He lazily chewed on his mouth piece.

“I hate history.” Nick gritted.

“Yeah, but you’s need to know how to be a smart kid, Nick. You got potential. So, let me do what I is good at, and you go make sure you get that book smart in your head. You hear me, kid?”

Nick nodded, and Vince snatched the large history book from the bag at his feet and tossed it at him. His small frame caught it clumsily, and a slow smile broke on their faces. Nick carried it under his arm to the office and glaced back as he reached to the doorframe.

“I want that title, Vincie.”

“You got it, kid.” Vince put his helmet back on and entered the ring.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cheers erupted as the announcer finished his long-voweled monologue into the microphone.

“Leeeeet’s get ready to RUMMMMBLE!”

The familiar bell dinged and the mat opened up for Vincie and Johnny’s Round 1 fight in the championship.

Vince threw the first punch, landing hard against Johnny’s cheek, and they danced away from eachother again, sensing each other’s movements. They’d fought before.

Johnny surged forward next, landing a leathered punch on Vince’s well-oiled arm, drawing it down from his eyes, before throwing his left first forward to his temple. Simultaneously, Vince drew up his right arm, swinging with his left towards Johnny’s abdomen. Their arms twisted until the referee pulled them apart.

Their feet danced again, and they took turns then, each running towards eachother, throwing leathered punches in rhythm. Instinct met memory as they both landed and took blow by blow for 10 rounds.

Round 11 arrived and Johnny’s feet felt heavy. Tony was right. My legs are stone. He refused to look into the knowing eyes of Tony who stood with rapt attention as a silent pillar in his corner, afraid that it would reflect a truth back to him that he dared not recognize. Fear was not the way to win a fight. Johnny blinked against the fatigue. One. Two. Forward, Johnny. Forward.

Vince felt the tightening of his stomach as the aching nausea threatened to return as it had done so frequently lately. His puffy and swelling eyes searched the stands, looking for Nicky. He just needed a glance. There. His body physically relaxed and the ache was replaced by a renewed vigor.

This time, Vince was the first to land a punch. He charged before Johnny had a chance to react. He could see Johnny was tired. His feet were lagging and the tips of his feet were no longer completely leaving the mat. He knew this was his opportunity. He knew his body would fade fast, but the adrenaline would push him to the level he needed.

Johnny took the punches, letting them land hard against his stomach twice, then twisted and danced to the left of where Vince had charged. He knew his slowness was a weakness, but he also knew he could take a lot of punches. He had never dropped in a fight. He wasn’t going to begin now. Johnny’s chin visibly lifted and he charged back.

Vince blocked the first punch, and the second came hard against his shoulder. He felt only a slight loss of momentum as his body took the brunt of the force. He raised his arms to block as Johnny landed fist after fist, slowly backing him into the corner. One. Two. Three. Get out of here, Vince! The ring in his ears blocked out the screams and cheers of the fans as they hungrily devoured what they had come to see… a reckoning.

Thud. Thud. Vince pushed against Johnny in one last powerful surge. It was enough space to break free and dance to the middle once more. Vince knew he had little time. His body ached more and more and he knew the swelling would soon block his eyesight, leaving him at a disadvantage. He breathed deeply and surged forward.

Crack!

The sound of Vince’s fist against Johnny’s face reverberated through the stands as the sounds of mingled cheers and cries died on excited tongues and eyes looked in awe as a hush fell.

Johnny was down!

Vince stared through one eye, feeling the swell of his eyelid finally take the last of his vision in his right eye. He leaned, feeling the energy drain from him. Please. God. Let him stay down.

Johnny’s eyes raised first, before his head, and a look of mingled shock and disappointment swung to his. Shock that he’d fallen.

The referee’s count began.

“10!”

Vince saw the struggle in Johnny’s eyes as he recognized the struggle within him to rise.

“9!”

Johnny could only feel the sting on the side of his jaw and the ringing in his ears muffled the sound of the referee’s words. Get up, Johnny! GET. UP.

8!”

Johnny felt something savage within him and he let out a guttural yell of pain and determination.

“AGHHH!”

“7!”

He felt rather than consciously knew that his body was rising. A sweaty hand ground into the mat first as he pushed his torso upward and swiftly planted a foot underneath him until he was kneeling.

“6!”

Johnny glanced at Tony, willing himself to find something there. Tony stared with the same calm, knowing eyes that he had always seen there. They both knew he didn’t fight for Tony. He fought for himself, for what he had to prove.

“5!”

“Get up!” Tony yelled for him. Johnny leaned into his knee and willed himself forward. Up.

The moment his feet were firmly planted on the mat, the aroused spectators roared to life, reminding him that they’d been watching, they’d seen his internal struggle for victory and they hungered for it too.

Johnny’s eyes met Vince’s once more and held. They were not friends, but they knew eachother. Vince’s eyes answered the question Johnny did not ask, but it was there anyways. Respect.

The referee motioned them forward, and the dance once more began. Training and agility training took them the remainder of the round as punches were thrown with arms of stone in the last remaining moments of their willpower.

The bell dinged. The match was done.

The scores were tallied and they stood, prepared for the outcome next to the announcer.

“And the Heavyweight Champion is….. Vince Palatelli!”

Vince sunk to his knees. A champion. Nicky raced to him then. “You did it, Vincie. You did it! And wouldn’t you know Vincie, I got an A on that history test!” Vince smiled through swollen-eyes as tears welled. Tony shushed Nick as they helped Vincie out of the ring and to his locker room.

An hour later, Vince was leaning over the sink, staring at the red in the sink. He knew it wasn’t from a lip wound. The nausea. Cancer. He was leaving a champion…but the life he led had drawn first blood.

 

Bad Blood.

BAD BLOOD* :Write a scene in which two old friends have a fight that threatens to dissolve their friendship for good. It could be a fight over a clash of values or a personal betrayal. Towards the end, show that there is a glimmer of hope that they will reconcile.

Why: Conflict (whether internal or between characters) is the lifeblood of great plots. If everything is easy and straightforward for your characters, the stakes are low and the reader invests less emotionally. [Credit: Writer’s Digest]

Daniel dropped to his knees into the icy tundra, the blood on his fingers staining the snow as it crunched beneath his weight. His breath came in thick puffs as he heaved for air. The vastness of Russia’s wasteland stretched before him.

“Relent.” Viktor hissed through a tight jaw, his eyes pleading, but resolved. His hands in fists, ready to throw another hard punch, if necessary.

Daniel spit.

“You know I won’t.” His voice sounded weak, and the weight of the circumstances before him felt heavier. He pulled his protesting body up, attempting to stand.

“You need not worry about Mary. I will see that she’s taken care of,” said Viktor.

Daniel eyed his brother. His adopted brother, but his brother. As boys, the language barrier had not broken the immediate bond between the two. A Russian boy and an English clockmaker’s son. They has been quite the pair. Inseparable, like two lions in a pride, surviving in a world barren to them, knowing they were stronger together than alone. That was before. Before they loved the same woman…

He stood then. “Keep Mary out of this, Viktor,” he gritted.

Viktor took a step forward, away from the ears of his regiment. His eyes remained passive. Shoulders squared. A force to be reckoned with by any other right, and a flicker of emotion passed between them then was gone, replaced by the icy cold.

“I don’t want your pity, brother.” Daniel’s head raised, unashamed. His shoulders were broad and his fit frame would have been a worthy adversary for his brother, had he not been locked in a dark cell for the past months. He didn’t know how much time had gone by anymore. He hoped it was only months.

“Good. You do not have it. I warned you, Daniel. I warned you that if you chose those pariahs, that this would be your end.” His voice held indignation, laced with an emotion that parodied as regret. “But, you took her with you. You tainted her!” His eyes flashed now with resentment and a rising anger.

Calm, Daniel. You won’t save her or yourself if you react.

“Viktor, she chose me,” Daniel proceeded slowly, with a gentleness he forced. For her sake. “Mary wanted this. This life.”

“You’re a vagabond,” he spat, vehemence lacing each word. “Those Jews, they are nothing! No, I will not stand by and see you ruin her.”

A fist landed firmly again in his stomach with a thud, and the breath again escaped him. Despite himself, he dropped to his knees once more. His gut churned as he saw the Mauser pistol Viktor pulled from his parka. If it weren’t for Mary, he’d take his bullet bravely, ready to embrace death. Oh God, there is so much that must be done. Mary!

“Viktor, don’t do this. Not for me. For Mary. If you care for her at all, please do not kill me. She’s with child, Viktor. I am going to be a father. Do not rob my son of what we were robbed of, a family, a childhood!”

He watched as his words hit Viktor at its intended mark. He didn’t have the strength to fight physically anymore, but he appealed to the one piece of Viktor he knew still remained. Despite his success as a Russian Colonel, the formidable man in front of him, deep within his soul, still yearned for a place to call home. A family. It was the last shred of hope he had.

Viktor staggered back, as though stung.

“She’s with child,” His voice came out in a breath, nearly a whisper.

Daniel hurried on. “Yes, we think it might be boy. Please. Don’t do this.”

Viktor’s hand lowered, the tip of his pistol pointing to the icy snow instead of at his heart. He stared at Daniel, eyes narrowed, as if weighing the balance of his life behind the guarded eyes. They reflected both flashes of his childhood and the man he knew Viktor had become. Hard and unrelenting.

“Take him away!” Two guards rushed up at the orders, pulling him up by the armpits and dragging his wasting body towards the jeep they’d arrived in. His head hung in weariness.

As he was dragged past, Viktor reached out and grabbed his arm in a vice. His eyes smoldered. His next words came slow and with great intensity.

“You will not be released, moy brat. But, I promise you, with all that is in me…I will love her.”

Daniel tensed then, swinging against the arms that held him. “No! Viktor! You touch her and I promise I will kill you!” He swung, the ache in his muscles screaming with a fire that fueled him. “Do you hear me, Viktor? I’ll kill you!”

Viktor took only a small step back, and let him swing, as if knowing his words had cost Daniel. Daniel’s fist connected with his jaw, his arm. The guards, renewed in vigor, swung him to the ground, and placed heavy booted feet on his chest, slowly crushing his remaining air out, and Viktor came to him.

“Don’t do it, Viktor. You can’t take this back.” Broken, a tear escaped and slid down his temple onto the ice. “Mary wouldn’t want this.”

“You mean me? She loved me before you! She will learn to love me again.” A pang of fear rang as he saw that he believed it.

“She won’t, Viktor. She loves the Christ. She will never part with her faith. You know this.”

“Pleading with me will do nothing, Daniel. My mind is set.” Viktor raised to his feet to end the conversation, sealing his fate.

“Promise me, Viktor. Promise me one thing.” Viktor hesitated, glancing down at him, seeming willing to listen to his request. “Promise me you’ll let my baby, my bo-” His voice broke despite himself. “Promise me you’ll let him follow his mother’s faith.”

Viktor hesitated and a long moment passed as he prayed to God for a mercy beyond his understanding.

Da, he will know your Christ.”

And with that, the crunch of snow as the man who had once been everything to him, walked away, with everything belonging to him in this life. The sun reflected off the snow and blinded his eyes. Dear God, please get me through another day. May she fight until you provide a way.

Photo credit here.

True Lies.

Writing Prompt:

take 15 minutes to craft a short story based on the following idea. The key to a good writing prompt exercise is to let the story flow naturally from your fingers. Don’t overthink it – this is just for fun!

T R U E L I E S:
Create a scene that builds to the revelation of a secret. You can write the revelation first or last. It’s completely up to you. An optional twist: have your character’s secret actually be a lie. Consider the traits of the secret holder. Why is not as important as how the secret is revealed and of course what happens next.

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I do admit that this took me longer than 15 minutes. I’ll work on my timing! 

Kate’s fingers ticked at the typewriter deftly and with precision, the tips of her nails clacking slightly against the hard plastic keys. She paused to raise the delicate spectacles back to the bridge of her nose, and brushed a wisp of reddish hair behind her ear. She needed to get this report to the General before two pm and it was nearing one thirty five. Her nails clicked faster.

The creak of the door brought her eyes to the entryway, past a hazy lobby where the last visitor had smoked a cigarette.

“May I help you?”

A man with broad strides, a tailored suit and handsome features approached the desk in three steps.

“Yes, Miss..?” He raised an eyebrow.

She paused. “Miss Haywood.” She thought she noted a hint of surprise, but decided she’d imagined it.

He proceeded smoothly. “Yes, Miss Haywood. I was wondering if you’d be so kind as to let the General know that his nephew has arrived.” He smiled, flashing white teeth in a lazy smile.

Kate couldn’t remember the General mentioning a nephew. Although, to be fair, he rarely mentioned anything to her other than reports and the timing of his meetings with government officials. She’d seen little of his real life. She gazed again at his features. Smart. Keen eyes, perhaps a little too keen, and a mouth that tilted boyishly. She saw very little of the General in his face. He is a nephew…

“Yes, certainly.” She decided not to get his name. If the General had a nephew, he’d certainly know it, wouldn’t he? What if he has more than one, Kate? She raised her eyes back to him. This man could be dangerous…in more ways than one.

“I do apologize. May I get your name?”

She thought his eyes twinkled slightly. “Of course, Miss Haywood. You may tell him Jack is calling, his only good-looking relative.” He winked, his gaze fixing on her face with an intentness that made her blush. The audacity! She’d seen plenty of his kind at the local pub on Friday nights, boozing and flirting with every woman that dared glance at him. Maisy had asked her to go last Friday, and she was certain she’d stay home this weekend. The only man who had asked her to dance had clumsily stepped on her foot twice and had slurred the whole song.

Kate straightened in her chair, feeling emboldened by his demeanor.

“Well, Mister Jack, the very good looking relative, I’m sorry to say that the General is not in. Shall I let him know that you called?” She picked up her pencil with a raised eyebrow, prepared to take a mock note of his visit. Of coure she wouldn’t forget he’d called. Kate, you’re being ridiculous. You know the General is sitting comfortable as ever in his plush leather chair in the next room!

For some reason, she didn’t care. Kate hesitated, afraid she might be thinking too highly of her position as secretary. Then again, she was secretary to the General of the British Intelligence office. She was sure she could explain her need for skepticism should the question arise. And it would.

He rubbed his chin in thoughtfulness. “Funny. I was sure I just saw him step out of his motor car a few minutes ago, returning from lunch perhaps.”

Her stomach quelled, but she remained firm. “I’m sure, Sir. I’m sorry but you must be mistaken.”

“Am I? Oh, what a pity.” He tskked. He glanced longingly behind her at the closed door. “My mother, his sister, well, she’s been ill lately, and I was hoping to bring him by.” His voice became genuine, and she sensed a true disappointment in his words.  His eyes remained riveted on the door.

At that moment, a muffled creak could be heard from the office behind her. She nearly rolled her eyes. The General’s chair! Of all the blustery-headed ideas, Kate. Keeping the General from his own nephew! Just apologize and show him in.

She felt heat creep up her neck and redden her face in embarrassment. She swallowed against a tongue of sandpaper and looked back at him somewhat sheepishly.

“Mister…Jack, I’m terribly sorry,” she rushed apologetically, seeing the nice secretarial job she’d landed nine months ago begin to disappear into thin air. Blasted red hair! Mother always told me I had a temper to match it. “It appears I am mistaken about the General being in. He must have slipped past me when I went to the ladies’ room. Please forgive me.”

She stood to open the door and let him in when she heard a thud and muffled groan. Oh no!

Her eyes met with his and in one fluid motion, he was behind the desk with a finger pressed to her lips to remain silent, forbidding her to make a sound, his boyish features replaced by a sober, commanding presence. She blinked. What just happened? The General! The stranger, Jack, was standing near the door, his ear pressed against the dark wood grain. It’s like he expected something to happen. She hesitated. Should she trust him?

Kate sat shakily, her eyes riveting to the pistol he held in his right hand. He stepped back and with a swift kick, the door to the General’s office flew open. She held back, crouching next to her desk chair, unsure, before curiosity got the better of her and she crawled to the edge of the doorway, peeking inside. She watched as he aimed his gun methodically to each corner of the room, clearing the room. Where is the General?!

He turned and lifted his eyebrows, as he spotted her huddled on the floor in the doorway. She shuffled to stand but the pencil skirt she’d worn kept her from rising in a ladylike fashion. You’re smooth as an eel today, Kate. His hand reached out to her, and for a moment she didn’t take it.

“I promise, Miss Haywood, whatever has transpired with the General, it is not I that had a part in it.” He signed and ran a hand through dark brown hair, an unruly lock falling on his forehead.

She grabbed his hand and stood to see the boyish smile had returned. “I thought for a moment that I might not gain the trust of General Howard’s secretary. I’m glad you’ve changed your mind about me…seeing how I’m his nephew and all.” He winked again. The scoundrel.

“I can assure you, Mister whatever-your-name-is, that while I don’t know where the General is or what has happened to him, you are just as high on my list to blame you as the next handsome bloke that waltzes in the office looking for him.”

The side of his mouth tipped. “So you think I’m handsome?”

“You are being ridiculous! I need to go to the police about this. Which by the way, why do you have a gun? I don’t remember the General ever saying he had a nephew, especially one in the military.” She eyed him suspiciously.

“Calm down, Miss Haywood.” He chuckled softly, which further unnerved her. “I will admit…I am not the General’s nephew.”

Her eyes narrowed at him, waiting for further explanation as to just who he was and why he had appeared right when the General had disappeared.

“However, I am an officer in the British Intelligence, and we’ve suspected for awhile now that the General has been in somewhat of a…well, shall we say a compromising situation.”

She waited, expecting him to go on. When he didn’t, she pressed for more.

“What type of compromising situation?”

“Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to say?”

“Not at liberty? From whom?”

“My superiors. Miss Haywood, I need you to think very clearly for me. What time exactly did the General return from his lunch?” His head lowered slightly to look at her directly, and she felt the strength in her legs give way.

“I don’t know. I think it was close to one fifteen.” His eyes narrowed slightly and took hold of her forearm gently.

“You’re ashen. I’m sorry. I’m sure that was quite the scare.” His voice held none of the arrogance from before. “I wish I could give you more information, truly. Just know that the General was not what he seemed.”

She felt the past nine months flood to her memory, as if every moment could be a clue to something greater that she had missed before. She thought of the long afternoon lunches he took, the men who’d come to visit. Was the man with the mustache in the lobby before lunch suspicious looking? She could only remember that the cigarette he’d smoked had appeared to be his last one. He’d appeared calm except for the slight tremor in his hand when he’d lit his cigarette, but she’d assumed it was due to that.

“You mean he was a…spy?” She nearly croaked on the last word, and cleared her throat.

“I wish you wouldn’t put it so directly.”

“Why?”

His eyes softened and her stomach took a small dive when he reached up to tuck the wayward wisp of red hair behind her ear again. “Because…when I walked in here, I didn’t expect to meet a wide-eyed, beautiful secretary caught up in a web of trouble.” She opened her mouth to protest, to be indignant, but he held up his finger once more to her lips. Be careful, Kate.

“One more moment, please, Miss Haywood. Let me properly introduce myself. My name is Ben Carlisle. I’ve been on this case a very long time. We expected the General to make his move today, but we didn’t know when which is why I risked exposure by arriving here today. We planned on meeting with him, hoping to foil his plans. Unfortunately, it appears I need to work on my acting skills, as sadly, it appears we just missed him. I blame my partner. He mentioned posing as a rather sloppy drunk the other night at a pub to snoop out the dear old secretary of the General to see if she knew anything. He assured me you were clean as a whistle, but I’m disappointed as I can see he kept some of the truth from me now, for you’re neither old or dull, as he led me to believe.” His mouth tipped again mischeviously.

“Why, I..!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be sure to clobber him later.”

“You and your partner are impossible, Mr. Carlisle!”

He laughed then, a good hearty sound from his belly and raised his hands in surrender. “Please, I’m sorry for teasing you.” The twinkle was back.

A small smile slipped without warning from her.

“Would you be willing to accompany me to coffee, Miss Haywood? Unfortunately, I have a lot of details to go over with you regarding the General, and I admit, I’m looking forward to more appealing company than that clumsy partner of mine.”

She smiled then, feeling a small shift within herself that both frightened and excited her.  Deep down, she knew she was taking a small step of faith towards this unpredictable, handsome stranger.

“Well, Mr. Carli-“

“Please. Call me Ben.”

“I like my coffee with cream, Ben.”

He held her gaze as a satisfying smile spread.

“After you…”

“Kate.”

“Lovely.” He murmured, so soft she almost couldn’t hear as he followed her through the hazy lobby, a gentle hand resting ever so slightly on the small of her back. He shut the dark wooden door behind them.

 

Character.

Continuing on my journey of Larry Brooks book, Story Engineering, includes delving into the world of character building.

Larry breaks down characters into three components:

1. What the reader sees
2. Why we see it
3. What we actually get in a character within a story

I thought I’d practice within the next paragraphs. A dive into General Cuthbert – his attributes as we see them, why he has those attributes and then how those are necessary within the story.

General Cuthbert has a meticulously trimmed mustache, delicate spectacles and a hard, domineering presence. He flicks his newspaper just so next to the crackling fire where he sits with his steaming cup of black brew. He only nods to Hattie, his maid, when she rings to bring him his morning breakfast which has been the same for as long as either of them could remember, two hard-boiled eggs.

General Cuthbert was a man of war, and he’d seen lives lost on his military journey. His father had served in World War I and had stopped by his bedroom door each morning to check the careful making of his bed as a young boy. While his father had never been verbal in his affection, the pride he had marked in his eyes, was General Cuthbert’s lifeblood in his youth. The careful discipline his father had instilled in him had saved his own life more than once, and he hoped, a few others on the battlefield too.

General Cuthbert is now head of a division within a secret organization that leads spies behind enemy lines during World War II. His meticulous planning can only succeed when cunning is involved; which is not a trait he’d been born with. As the fire popped in front of him, his gray eyes raised, and a flicker of hesitation was born there, for his mind wondered just how he was going to rescue two of his agents who’d been captured. He wondered if discipline would be enough. His eyes snapped back to his newspaper and his rough fingers reached out to crack the shell of his egg against the cedar table.

Discipline would be enough. It had to be.

Story Engineering.

I’m reading a very informative book about story writing. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks has some excellent structure in it to help the creative writer learn the important elements of story writing. Since I’m in the “concept” phase of writing, I decided to go ahead and tackle this book at the onset.

When looking back at this blog, I started more than two years ago *gasp* with the intended goal to go through some writing books and well…just begin. As with all good attempts that don’t apply any level of discipline to them, my efforts quickly veered off track and here I am, once again, attempting to put my derailed train back on its tracks.

That being said, it is hard to spare the time for writing when you’re a working mom with a toddler and many other demands so I’ll cut myself a little slack.

….
Slack.
….

Okay. Now, that’s done – let’s get to it!

The first element of successful writing, according to Larry Brooks is CONCEPT.

Concept is different than an idea, or even a premise, and definitely different from a theme. A concept could be labeled as an idea outside of the literary realm, but within the writing world, we need to differentiate it. A concept takes an idea a step further and allows it to spread its wings a little so that it can become a story. A premise is a concept, that has brought a character into the mix. Therefore, these layers have increasing complexity, so I’ll move from idea to premise. Being new to this, my plan is to spend some time practicing.

Idea: A story about survival.

Concept: A story about hiking the canyons of western North America. The hiker loses important supplies and has to find a way to survive.

Premise: A man in his 30’s travels with his friend to the canyons of Utah when a terrible accident causes the tragic death of his friend. He must work to keep himself alive on meager supplies until he reaches safety.

So, it may not exactly be original – I’m sure I’ve seen this movie before, or one like it before, but we’ll get there.

Idea: A story set during World War II about a romantic tragedy.

Concept: A German solider and Jewish dress maker have fallen in love and are torn apart by the war and Nazi Germany’s ambitions.

Premise: A German solder who grew up with his next door neighbor, a beautiful Jewish dressmaker, must put his feelings and plans to pursue her aside when he becomes a part of the Nazi army. He struggles to decide if he should pursue love or his political ties. He is ultimately responsible for taking her and her family to a Jewish concentration camp.

Idea: A love story about an Irish immigrant.

Concept: The struggles faced by an Irish immigrant upon leaving his homeland and coming to the Americas, where work and food are scarce and biases run rampant. He struggles to make his way in the face of adversity and still maintain his honor.

Premise: An Irish immigrant boards a ship to escape the plague in hopes of finding work in New York City. He struggles to find work until he is finally convinced to be the brawn in a nefarious scandal cover-up. The daughter of the head mastermind is trying to escape her father’s deceitful world, when their paths collide. She doesn’t trust him, and he doesn’t have a way out, but circumstances pull them together where love and a creative escape plan collide.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that a good story will ultimately be written. I haven’t yet explored character development, scene execution, theme, structure or determined the best writing voice, but everything has to begin somewhere, including a story.

Now, to go practice.