Thursday September 10th, 2009

The exercise:

Alrighty, today I'm going to provide you with the first line of your poem or prose and then you get to take it from there. Sound good?

Okay, here it is: The streets were thick with fog...


Fair warning: Mine got... a little long.


The streets were thick with fog, the still air was weighed down by the heavy stench of garbage left out too long, and the only sound that reached my ears was the hollow echo of my footsteps. Late nights in the city should never be that quiet.

I turned one corner, then another, and another. I had no idea what street I was on at that point and would never have found my destination if it weren't for the neon arrows pointing the way at each intersection. Their regular red flashing led me on, like an angry electric heartbeat that could not be denied. I didn't know where or why, only that I had to follow the arrows.

The final sign directed me down a narrow back alley. I hesitated before entering its confines, briefly intimidated by the increased concentration of the stench and fog which had been blessedly dissipated by the width of the streets I had been travelling on. But I went in - I had no choice.

After only two steps were taken I was forced to cover my mouth and nose with a silk handkerchief - I don't know if it helped any, but it felt better than doing nothing. I could barely see beyond the tip of my outstretched hand and my once shiny black shoes were gaining a new, much less pleasant polish. I emerged from the other end of the alley after what seemed like an eternity, stumbling and confused. There had been no more signs, no indications of where to go next.

But then I felt the new weight in my pocket.

I reached a reluctant hand into my right front jacket pocket, my fingers finding a plain white envelope that held only my name on the outside, printed neatly by a steady hand. I looked around me, out of habit only - someone would have needed to have been within six feet to see what I held - before opening it. Inside was a photgraph of my daughter, asleep on a metal operating table. With trembling fingers I turned it over to read the note on the back.

If you want her back in one piece, bring five million dollars to the Waterfront train station at 11 pm tomorrow night.

"Five million?" I asked the shadows around me with a raspy laugh. "For that self-centered princess? They can keep her."


Greg said...

Hehe, the ending to your story is as cold as the start-words suggest the scene is! I can't help but wonder if this man doesn't get inspired by Tagged's Grozny though....


"The streets were thick with fog... I'm sorry, I mean, the streets were thick with frog... er, do I?" The story-teller looked up, puzzled, from the manuscript on her lap. In front her in a neat semi-circle were twenty or so schoolchildren all paying attention, and behind them was the schoolteacher who was keeping them that way.
The teacher smiled thinly, her lips white and pulled taut against her teeth, and said,
"Oh yes, the streets were definitely thick with frog. This is a Bible story, one of the ten plagues of Egypt. I've taken a couple of liberties--" she giggled, revealing yellow-stained, surprisingly sharp teeth, "--like dialogue rather than reported speech, but I'm sure that won't detract too much from your reading."
The story-teller smiled but her heart wasn't it in, and returned to the text.
"...The streets were thick with frog, and the people of Egypt all had slimy feet from squelching their way through them every day." She paused, and looked up again.
"It says that there's an activity here?" She sounded bewildered now. "I don't see what we could do--"
"Children," interrupted the teacher, "get out your frogs."
The children all obediently opened their bags and took out various containers, all of which proved to hold frogs, most looking slightly suffocated.
"Now, remove one shoe, and the sock from the same foot."
The children obeyed in silence, and the story-teller felt the cold fingers of dread starting to close slowly around her stomach.
"Very good. Now, squelch your frog with your foot so you can feel what the Egyptians of the time would have felt."
The story-teller ran, trying not to scream.

Salynne Wilde said...

Felt like I was there Marc!
Greg-fabulous writing-loved the biblical reference-very, very creative. I'm shuddering...

I got a little carried away (about a thousand words) so will leave only part to whet your appetite & you can check the rest out on my blog.

The Deadbeat
The streets were thick with fog and Phineas wandered aimlessly. He drew his thin wool coat closer and his gnarled arthritic hand tried to hold the collar closed. Stupid, crap thumb that couldn’t bend to hold anything, bugger arthritis, and now he was faced with this confounded damp mist. None of it made life any easier.

It was a typical English side street lined with brick row houses and if he squinted he could make out a succession of off–duty black taxi’s sitting at the curb. It was early in the morning before the majority of people got up but it really could have been any time of day because the pea soup murk imprisoned any chance the sun had to proliferate its rays. The roads were empty and the city was relatively quiet although Phineas could hear the murmur of traffic from one of the major arteries several blocks away. His eyes scanned the pavement below and watched his own black shabby shoes taking step after step. He looked up.

The glare of the computer screen burned his eyes. The typed words on the paper captured what he had been seeing in the world that inhabited his head this morning. It was now 4:30 am and Phineas realized he’d been sitting at the computer for at least an hour. His body clock had gone out of whack several weeks ago and it seemed that he was waking up every morning around 3 o’clock. Sometimes he was able to turn over and go back to sleep, other times when he could not settle he got up so as not to disturb his wife and went downstairs to the office to do work or to write.

This morning when he’d finally gotten up after tossing and turning for what felt like hours he decided he was going to start a novel. It would be great; he had the outline, plot and characters in his head. He’d obviously been writing and typing for some time, but where had the time gone? Had he been walking the foggy street for.....

Marc said...

Greg - hmm, I hadn't thought of Grozny actually. In fact I didn't decide how I would end it until I got to the end.

Delightfully creepy tale you told there. Made me squirm.

Salynne - ack, cliffhanger! Must go read the rest now.

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

Now that Greg mentions it, the narrator does seem a bit like Grozny somehow. I hope, though, that the narrator has bit of a change of heart... but I kind of doubt that'll happen.
- - - - -
The streets were thick with fog, which wouldn't have been too odd for this town at this time of day, but natural fog is almost always a pearly white. The vapor surrounding me as I briskly wound my way home had almost a tinge of purple. Perhaps it's just me, but anything with a hint of purple usually put me ill at ease. I shrugged my shoulders, trying to pull my coat closer, and quickened my pace a little.

About halfway home, I couldn't help but feel like I was being tailed. It was unlikely, given the time of day, and in my line of work it's a feeling I've grown accustomed to, but something about that fog that kept me nervous. I glanced over my shoulder a few times, but laughed at myself each time I did. "You're being silly," I told my nervous mind. "Even if somebody was following you, who in their right mind would do it so close to daylight?" Anyone who had any sense wouldn't dare to pull something hasty at that hour of the morning.

In any event, I ducked into an alley to take a shortcut. I didn't want to be out there any longer than I had to be.

The fog was much denser in that back alley than it was in the street, and became a more coherent purple. "Maybe this shortcut wasn't such a good idea," I admitted under my breath. Sharply inhaling, I picked up the pace.

But as I took in that breath, my head seemed to spin a little. Unsettled, instinctively I gasped again. More dizziness, another breath. My progress slowed dramatically as I spiraled into the positive feedback loop's chokehold. Rasping I staggered into a side alley, awkwardly falling to my knees.

I prayed the fog would be thinner closer to the ground, but my hope disappeared quickly into the vapor surrounding; my head was swimming faster than ever. As I struggled to retain conciousness I heard footsteps approaching from either end of the alley. I could see shadows looming over me as one of them spoke.

"Don't worry about being tailed, the earliest they'll notice this one's disappeared is tonight." The voice steadily got further away. "But by that time he'll either have cracked, or be suffering the consequences."
- - - - -
Could've come across better, but one can only expect so much at 6:25 in the morning.

Monica Manning said...

Everyone's submissions were wonderful! They could all easily be expanded into something longer.

* * *

The streets were thick with fog. Minute tornadoes swirled around her feet as she walked purposefully, her hands crammed into her coat, the collar turned up against the chill. Straight, raven-black hair, seemed to sparkle as the streetlight reflected off the tiny drops of moisture. Impatiently pushing a few stringy strands away, she shot an annoyed glance at …

“Cut it out!” Anger shot off her in waves. “You’re pissing me off!”

He glanced away, shrugging. “I’m just doing my job.”

“Well it’s annoying.” She walked faster and he lengthened his stride to keep up with her.

If he didn’t accomplish the mission, he would certainly be punished. And eternal damnation was not something he wanted to experience. He was unsure what the gods expected him to learn from this mission, but he was determined to succeed. No matter how irrational it seemed.

They arrived at the tall building she called home.

She fumbled in her bag, looking for ...

“That’s it!” She shoved at him hard so that he stumbled back two steps. “I’ve had it. Go back to wherever you came from.”

“I told you already...”

“Yeah, I know.” She dragged a hand through her wet hair. “You’re being tested, the gods sent you to be my Narrator, yadda yadda yadda.” She looked up at him, into those deep grey eyes that seemed to reach right into her soul. If he wasn’t so annoying, she could actually let herself get lost in those eyes. “I don’t care,” she whispered. “You’ve been following me around all day. Aren’t you done yet? I have a boring life. There’s not much to Narrate.”

He slipped into the elevator with her just as it closed and followed her to the penthouse unit. At the door, she turned to him, a bemused look on her face. “You can’t come in.”

“Oh, but it says so in the Decree.” He pulled a piece of tightly rolled parchment from his cloak and unfurled it. She snatched it from his hands and scanned the paper, her eyes growing wide as she read.

“You idiot!” Dropping the parchment on the floor, she opened the door to her unit and slammed it resolutely in his face. He picked up the scroll and read it through once again.

“Oh my.”

There, clearly written in the Lord’s intricate penmanship was the Decree that he should be her Navigator.

Not Narrator.

“Oh my,” he repeated.

Marc said...

Woah, two more posts on this one! Excellent :)

g2 - that was some great tension and pacing. Very sinister. So of course I thoroughly enjoyed it :)

Monica - that was fantastic. It took me a bit to figure out what was going on, but once I did... so enjoyable. Brilliant ending :)

Monica Manning said...

That's because I didn't notice the italic formatting didn't come through when I pasted. Sorry about that. :-( It looks better on my blog ... and makes more sense.