Wednesday May 27th, 2015

The exercise:

As hinted at in yesterday's post, I'm trying something different today. Well, starting today - and continuing into tomorrow and Friday.

Welcome to the first edition of A Tale In Three Parts.

Basic idea: everybody who wants to join in gets to tell a story, starting from the same prompt, over the course of three days. The hope is that it will allow each of us to put together something a little longer, a little more involved, a little more intricate, that what we cram into a single day's prompt response. Plus it allows for some time between entries to mull things over and for new ideas to emerge that may have remained hidden had the entire tale been written in one sitting.

And because I don't actually have three days in a row that don't run into either 4 line poem, haiku, or 4 line prose days, I figured Wednesday to Friday was our best bet for this. You're welcome to limit yourself to four lines on Friday (I'm pretty sure I won't) but feel free to ignore the limit in favor of bringing your tale to a proper conclusion.

If this works and you guys are in favor of doing it again, I'm thinking I'll bring it back every couple of months or so, with a new prompt each time. I'll be asking for your feedback on Friday or Saturday to see what you think.

Anyway. Without further ado, let's get this started with: The Crossing, Part One.


A thick fog clung to the river in the dark, dead of night. On the eastern bank four cloaked figures stood next to their horses in a silence that seemed to have existed since the dawn of time. They did not shift from side to side, nor fidget with their equipment. Not even their breathing changed. But still their impatience could be felt in the air.

For the ferryman was late.

“Charon would not keep us waiting like this,” the figure standing next to the white horse said at last.

“This is not the Styx, Pest.” The reply came from within the hood of the figure waiting next to the ashen horse.

“Not yet, Dee,” Pestilence replied with a laugh that rattled like dry bones in a dice bag. The other figures turned their gazes toward him but said nothing. Even after centuries of travelling together they still had not grown used to his sense of humour.

“The boatman will come,” Death announced some time later. “He dare not leave us stranded here.”

“No, the matter was arranged by Master,” the figure next to the black horse whispered. “The boatman knows the cost of failing to live up to his end of the agreement.”

“Indeed, Fame,” the final figure said, ignoring Famine’s glare. Innumerable threats had not yet vanquished the hated nickname, so he had recently given up on that tactic. He had yet to decide on an alternative method. “Eventually, our ferryman will arrive.”

“And then, War?” Famine asked through gritted teeth. It was all the worse that the rider of the red horse was the only member of the group without a nickname.

“He will explain himself, Fame.” War gripped the hilt of the great sword at his hip with a gloved hand and shrugged slightly. “One way or another, he will explain himself.”

“Look.” Death extended a long, emaciated arm toward the river, a lone, pale finger extending from the sleeve of his cloak. The others did as instructed and a sound that may have been a contented sigh in another setting, from another group of travellers, arose as they saw the outline of the ferry emerging from the fog. “He comes at last.”


Greg said...

This is a nice idea for more writing, and I like the fact that the prompts will be designed to encourage the continuation of the story. It's not as good as my suggestion yesterday, of course, but I'll live ;-)
Hmm, I wasn't really expecting the Four Horsemen from you, but you've definitely picked out personalities for them, and I think three days of story should really help them develop, so I can already see the benefits we're going to reap. I think my only criticism of what you've written will be something you keep hearing from me: you neglect the sense of smell :) The idea of the four gathered there like that and there being no smell of horse would add to the eeriness of the scene, I think. But I'm keen to read the rest, so it's only a minor comment.

The crossing
The school took children between the ages of five and ten and tried to instill in them an education good enough for them to choose where they'd like to educated after that. Most of the children were pushed by their parents to go on to a technical education, studying maths, chemistry, engineering or industrial process management. A few, usually more free-spirited and with more liberal parents, would head off to the Arts Academy and learn to sculpt, paint or draw, and a very small handful headed off to learn practical skills, like car maintenance, plumbing and printing. The small number of children that ended up in Miss Snippet's class usually ended up making their own way in the world, rapidly, ruthlessly, and successfully.
The school itself was a mock-gothic building set back from the street and encompassed by a green-painted cast-iron set of railings. The railings were ornately topped with spikes that the janitorial staff kept sharpened, and rumour had it that Miss Snippet's class had electrified them at some point as well. No one claimed to believe that, but no one would actually touch the railings to find out either.
In front of the school, across the pavement and a short grassy verge between that and the road, was a school crossing. Between eight and nine, and between three and four, a crossing lady donned her white coat and bestrode it, halting traffic with her hand firmly raised, and chivvying children across from one side to the other. Many of the parents also found themselves hurried across when they stopped to chat with each other.
This Friday morning the skies were a dark grey as rainclouds pushed against one another, trying to find the best position to rain on the children below, and there was a hint of chill in the air that made the mothers and occasional father wish that they'd bothered to slip a jacket on before coming out. The children, scurrying around and yelling to each other seemed utterly oblivious to it.
As Theresa reached the crossing, her son Arthur ran ahead of her, racing across to catch up with his friends, Mark and Nigel, who were already at the half-way mark. The crossing lady smiled and waved her hand at him, and Theresa smiled as well.
Then, just as he reached half-way across the road, he vanished. One moment he was there, the next he was gone. Smiles faded from everyone's face as the adults looked around, puzzled. Had he fallen over? Had he veered off so quickly they'd not seen him? As Theresa crossed to reach the crossing lady, there was no sign of him, just a faint scent of peppermint on the otherwise traffic-fumed air.
Storm rumbled, and the rain began hissing down.

ivybennet said...

I like this idea. I've tried to work on longer pieces, but never really found the incentive. Hopefully this will get me back into the game, so to speak.

Marc, you're characters are so vivid in this section. I love the nicknames each of the horsemen have (poor War, being left out and all). I am intrigued as to where this is going.

Greg, you introduce the setting so beautifully. I thought this was going to be a funny piece about children being scared of their teacher but then Arthur disappeared! I can't wait to find out what happened on the crossing (I think the crossing lady had something to do with it!)

The Crossing:

The box trembled in my grasp, the assortment of articles and tokens rattling against the cardboard. I know the stories said that a box made of an ash maple was desired as the holding vessel but, honestly, who in their right mind could obtain such a thing? Hysteria bubbled up inside me at the thought. A right mind? A right mind wouldn’t be where I was, wouldn’t be going where I was going or intending what I was intending to do.
There was nothing right about my mind at the moment, nor my shitty joke of a situation.
Even though I had triple checked the recipe, and was too far gone down the path of no return to fetch a missing item, I again went through my list of offerings. There was the totem for wind; a peregrine falcon feather I bought off of Ebay. The totem for water: a roughened piece of sea glass, the size of quarter, which I had found on Myrtle Beach when I was seven. The totem for earth: porcelain beads from the local craft store. Fire: ashes from burnt newspaper, wrapped in a small section of the paper that was tied at the top with some string. I had needed a symbol of life, which I found in the form of a discarded robin’s eggshell from the nest outside my house. The symbol for death was the bone from one of KFC’s original recipe chicken legs. There was also the vial of blood—I’m glad there was no specification on how much blood, so I had taken the glitter out of a pixie dust necklace and replaced it with my blood. My left pointer finger was still throbbing, even with the Neosporin and bandage.
Then there was the photograph. Nothing would be complete without it.
Picking out which photograph I would use was the hardest decision of them all. It had to be the best representation of what I had lost though not the best picture I had—if this last resort didn’t work, I didn’t want to lose proof that I had been so close to realizing my dreams and living the life I always wanted. I ended up taking a photo from one of the many rainy days spent doing nothing but watching Netflix and binging on junk food, the one that was taken right after a rather ferocious pillow/tickle fight. The outer images were blurry from the movement and laughter. But the center was sharp as can be, detailing every aspect as though it was a professional portrait instead of a snapshot.
With this photograph in mind, I saw her blushed, smiling face once more as I slowly approached the old crossroads on the outskirts of Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

Marc said...

Greg - sigh, smell. I usually try to make an effort to remember but it slipped my mind this time, obviously.

I am extremely happy to see the setting you've chosen for your three day tale. There are some fantastic details to really bring things to life and that ending was totally unexpected. Some really great work here and I'm excited to see what the next two days bring us.

Ivy - you've got some wonderful details in your piece as well. I love the KFC chicken bone, as well as the Ebay purchase. It's an intriguing start and I will be very, very upset with you if you do not continue it.

*crosses his arms and looks very serious*

Seriously though, find time to fill out the rest of this tale for us. Please.