Halloween Fiction in a Flash: “Treasure”

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a big fan of the 100-word flash fiction model. It creates a structure that imposes discipline, as does the sonnet. There are rules. My process is to keep a tight leash on my sentences but not self-edit much in the draft phase. The fun comes when I do a word count and have to start paring down, replacing, refining.

There is an effort to collect 100-word stories on this site, 100 Word Story.

I got started with Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts. This Halloween story, “Treasure,” is for my friend Eric Douglas. I like what Eric says, “(T)his particular brand of flash fiction is telling a complete story in 100 words. Not more. Not less. It can be a lot of fun. And it can also be challenging. Sometimes what is most important is what is left unsaid.”

I will share Eric’s full Halloween 2015 round-up on Esse Diem on or after Friday, October 30.

I hope you enjoy my story. I’ve always been fascinated with how simple curiosity can morph into obsession and losing touch with reality.

I’ll leave the rest unsaid.

John William Waterhouse, Psyche opening the golden box , 1903.

John William Waterhouse, Psyche opening the golden box , 1903.

Treasure

It was a place to hide treasures. How what she considered “treasure” changed, she couldn’t remember.

Things from the woods behind the house, the path to school. First leaves or seeds, but soon feathers. What once had a heartbeat. Claws, then tails, whatever could be preserved. That Halloween, the treasures were recent.

“Who’s next?” Seth held a flashlight under his face in the dark.

He passed her treasure box to the left, and Jeff shivered. “I’ll go.”

Then, “EW! I know that’s just spaghetti in there! That’s worse than the peeled grape eyeballs!”

No, she thought. It’s so much better.

Scary Ghost Stories and Tales of the Glories

campfire-tales

“An English tradition for hundreds of years was telling stories in front of the winter fire. They did this especially around the Winter Solstice which falls a few days before Christmas. I’ve said for years the winter solstice is my least favorite day of the year. It has the shortest amount of daylight and the longest night.

Imagine what it was like for someone 500 years ago, wondering if this was the year the night finally won over the day and the days kept getting shorter and shorter until it was night 24 hours a day. No wonder they huddled around the fire for warmth and no wonder the only stories they could think to tell had ghosts in them.”

via Season brings out the ghost stories! – Books by Eric Douglas.

Loren Eaton’s annual 100 Word Storytelling is just around the corner . . .

River Town Holiday #buzznuggets!

Following are some of my favorite moments from the 6 stories that make up the book in which I have some short fiction, River Town. It’s getting some nice word of mouth and social media energy. Any part readers of Esse Diem would like to play in that energy is more than welcome!

Oh. and there’s this. River Town makes a nice holiday gift . . . You can buy it here. And if money is tight, you can follow the authors on Twitter. That’s like gold to us some days, too!

Hayden Lowe may or may not have killed a man out west. No one seems to know why he’s back in River Town, though his friend, Lillian Conley, is keeping a private journal full of clues. Will Captain JD Dawson lose his beloved sternwheeler, the Miss Jayne Marie, in a winner-takes-all bet? Julia Hubbard has a secret project, Andrew Wilson is plotting on the dusty streets of River Town, and what about that strange Dame Roxalana? There is more to Roxie than anyone is willing to say. The men in the coal mines around River Town seem to be developing a mysterious condition that no one can explain, yet everyone is whispering about it. Before all is said and done, each of these characters will intersect in unexpected ways. The resolutions are as suspenseful as they are satisfying. River Town is a collection of short stories set in 1890s West Virginia. The combined work of six different authors, the tales range from adventure to romance, from intrigue to fantasy. Each story stands alone, yet together they take readers to a time along the Kanawha River just after the Civil War when families were still struggling to recover and before the railroad came through the mountains. The river was the center of everything.

Every storyteller has his own style, her own approach, and a unique way of operating a character. To see the same characters driven by different people was like seeing the same person from other perspectives. The characters’ personalities were fuller and better developed. I got to know them better than I could have if they were all written by one author. I was hooked.

— editor/Author Eric Douglas

Rufus had a lot to say, but he’d only say it if he trusted you. That was the way of River Town in general.

— Author Eric Douglas

From “Hayden’s Return” by Katharine Armstrong Herndon (@kaherndon)

Hide in the woods?
For a minute he wondered if the Captain could get him off the boat without being seen. But then he remembered Jack had seen him, and the old woman, and probably someone else he hadn’t even recognized.
It was too late for hiding.

 

From “They Hold Down the Dead” by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher (@ElizGaucher)

The two adventurers walked in silence for a few minutes. Then Hayden said, “You’re brave. I thought you were. I really came up here to find out if you want to see something I found, but it’s not for cowards. Do you want to see it?”
Lillian realized that, no, she really did not want to see something like that, but it was too late now.
“I’m not a coward, she said. “What is it?”

 

From “Racing Miss Jayne Marie” by Eric Douglas (@BooksbyEric)

Glancing up from his log book, JD saw Winthrop, the owner of the Miss Jayne Marie, standing on the dock with his personal secretary, Phiillips . . . “Phillips” was all JD ever heard Winthrop call the man. JD had never heard Phillips speak.

 

From “Being True in River Town” by Jane Siers Wright (@JaneSiersWright)

Dawson nodded. He was in Julia’s debt and it was clear to him she was about to call in the favor.
“I have another such student who needs to reach Parkersburg in order to catch the B&O train to Harper’s Ferry.”
“Why Parkersburg and the B&O? She could go south to Beckley over land to catch a train from there.”
“A southern route would not be the most convenient for this passenger, Captain.”

 

From “Hearing the Past” by Shawna Christos (@ywrite) of James River Writers, “Hearing the Past”

His hands shook as he hunted for the latch. Andrew tried to remember if it had made any sound when he entered ahead of his captor.
He couldn’t remember but it didn’t matter. He had realized there would be no turning back. None for the man his father had hired, and none for Andrew on his present course.

 

From “Wail” by Geoffrey Cameron Fuller (@GeoCamFuller)

At his oak desk in Mr. Winthrop’s house — for the last time, in all likelihood — Francis Treet Phllips swings the ledger closed and runs his palm across the aged leather. A full accounting. The pieces are all arrayed in their places, each and every one. To Mr. Winthrop, the game begins tonight, after the race, but Phillips knows it is already finished.)

 

Enjoy these snippets? Read more here: https://essediemblog.com/2013/08/14/river-town-buzznuggets/

Halloween Fiction in a Flash: Big Dogs Drag Things

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a big fan of the 100-word flash fiction model. It creates a structure that imposes discipline, as does the sonnet. There are rules. My process is to keep a tight leash on my sentences but not self-edit much in the draft phase. The fun comes when I do a word count and have to start paring down, replacing, refining.

There is an effort to collect 100-word stories on this site, 100 Word Story.

I got started with Loren Eaton’s Advent Ghosts. This Halloween story, “Big Dogs Drag Things,” is for my friend Eric Douglas. I like what Eric says, “(T)his particular brand of flash fiction is telling a complete story in 100 words. Not more. Not less. It can be a lot of fun. And it can also be challenging. Sometimes what is most important is what is left unsaid.”

I hope you enjoy my story, based on the real life reporting of my friend Rick Wilson about his Great Pyrenees dog, Arpad. Arpad is a legend in my house. I’m living life now with my first-ever large breed dog. So far, no body parts have come home. But I know they could.

I’ll leave the rest unsaid.

Photo courtesy of Rick Wilson

Photo courtesy of Rick Wilson

Big Dogs Drag Things Home

Big dogs drag things home. An enormous thunking and I pull back the curtain. It’s a bloody leg. Hair, bone, skin. A hoof. Must have been a deer. I don’t know where she found it or why she thinks I want it. The scent? A late-night walk in the woods. I could see everything in the natural light.

The drain is clogged again. The tub is stained. I get out, brush my teeth, look at them. Look at my face. She licks my ankle, gazing up, patient. I unlock the large breed iron crate I tell everyone is for her.

An Esse Diem Halloween Story 2013: The Man by My Bed

Last year I posted a rambling ghost story from a dream I had. You can read it beginning here.

This year my friend Eric Douglas posted his own (Call of the Raven Mocker), and I was inspired to share another dream. At least, I hope that’s what it was.

A few nights ago I opened my eyes in the dark to see a man standing beside my bed.

The man was not anyone I knew. My husband lay beside me, sound asleep. Only he and I and our child live in our house. I knew this man was an intruder.

He was illuminated by a strange orange light, and it appeared to emanate from something he was holding his hand. He was scanning around by the head of the bed, and on the floor. He didn’t see me looking at him.

I held my eyes wide open. I felt as if I blinked or closed my eyes or moved in any way, that is what would allow him to see me. He might think I was still asleep if I just didn’t move at all.

In my mind, I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream to my husband, to wake him to face this man, to help me. But inside I knew I was too frightened to make enough noise to do anything but alert the intruder to my awareness of his presence. The whole time, my heart rate was steady. I could not figure out why it wasn’t pounding.

Finally I realized it was a dream of some kind. I forced my eyelids closed. I knew when I woke up this would all be gone.

I waited a minute and opened my eyes.

The man was still there. He looked right into my eyes. I started blinking my eyes as fast as I could. Wake up wake up wake up this is not real. Wake up wake up wake up.

Each time I opened my eyes, he was still there. I finally closed my eyes as hard as I could and eventually the sun came up.

Last night when I was giving my daughter a bath, for the first time ever she stopped playing  and said, “I want out. I want out now.”

“Why?” I asked, confused.

“Because I do. I just want out right now.”

I took her out. I put her to bed.

Two weeks after I first saw him, when I open my eyes I still see his shadow beside my bed. Not the orange light. Not his eyes.

But he is still standing there.

River Town #buzznuggets

Concept cover for River Town

Concept cover for River Town

In the brave new world of self-publishing (and even of traditional publishing), writers carry more of the water than ever when it comes to promoting and supporting a book.

If one is shy, or fearful of seeming self-absorbed, this can be a daunting task; fortunately, I am not much of either these days.

Following are some of my favorite moments from the 6 stories that make up the new book in which I have some short fiction, River Town. It’s getting some nice word of mouth and social media energy. Any part readers of Esse Diem would like to play in that energy is more than welcome!

Hayden Lowe may or may not have killed a man out west. No one seems to know why he’s back in River Town, though his friend, Lillian Conley, is keeping a private journal full of clues. Will Captain JD Dawson lose his beloved sternwheeler, the Miss Jayne Marie, in a winner-takes-all bet? Julia Hubbard has a secret project, Andrew Wilson is plotting on the dusty streets of River Town, and what about that strange Dame Roxalana? There is more to Roxie than anyone is willing to say. The men in the coal mines around River Town seem to be developing a mysterious condition that no one can explain, yet everyone is whispering about it. Before all is said and done, each of these characters will intersect in unexpected ways. The resolutions are as suspenseful as they are satisfying. River Town is a collection of short stories set in 1890s West Virginia. The combined work of six different authors, the tales range from adventure to romance, from intrigue to fantasy. Each story stands alone, yet together they take readers to a time along the Kanawha River just after the Civil War when families were still struggling to recover and before the railroad came through the mountains. The river was the center of everything.

From Hayden’s Return by Katharine Armstrong Herndon

“All I hear is splashing,” he said, indicating the paddlewheel.

The Captain stopped at the rail and looked down into the churning darkness below them. “Son,” he said finally, “I know every sound this river makes, and that last splash wasn’t one of my favorites. Now suppose you tell me what sort of trouble you brought onto my boat.”

From They Hold Down the Dead by Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher

Hayden never returned to the Conley property, and though Lillian wondered if she would ever see him again she was comfortable with his disappearance. The strange event in the woods had frightened her into trying to forget about the heart stone entirely, and as Hayden was the only witness it was easy to pretend it had never happened.

From Racing Miss Jayne Marie by Eric Douglas

“Mr. Hamrick, I’ll take all the power you can give me now,” JD ordered into the brass tube while keeping a firm hand on the boat’s wheel. “And now for my last trick,” he said under his breath. 

From Being True in River Town by Jane Siers Wright

“It’s just hard — hard and scary — but I hear it. I hear my real life callin’ me . . . ”

From Hearing the Past  by Shawna Christos

Andrew moved restlessly in his chair as he bit his lip to remind his mouth to speak carefully. He knew things were changing, even here in this backwoods. Things were changing, but apparently being able to choose your own path wasn’t one of them.

From Wail by Geoffrey Cameron Fuller

He parts the lace to look across the river and down over River Town. Soon it will be filled with commerce, tugs loaded with coal, gravel, the last of the salt, all of it owned by Phillips and his people, being transported on his ships, and when they get the rail lines extended, a brand new game will be underway, and with the assistance of the Great Dark, that game will be even more lucrative.

(Thanks to Jeff James, Bob Coffield, and as I recall Mark Wolfe for “#buzznuggets.”)

River Town | Creating Collaborative Storytelling

I am very pleased to contribute a character and story to the forthcoming anthology, River Town. River Town is a collection of stories edited by West Virginia author and film maker Eric Douglas; Eric is interviewed below. River Town will be available in August on Amazon.com via Eric’s Visibility Press.

My story, “They Hold Down the Dead,” centers on a 16 year old girl named Lillian Conley who lives on the hill above the river with her wealthy family and finds herself drawn into a dangerous mystery tied to Indian legend. Other contributing writers are Katharine Herndon and Shawna Christos, both of Richmond, Virginia; Jane Siers Wright of Charleston, West Virginia; and Geoffrey Fuller of Morgantown, West Virginia. I am honored to write with them.

Concept cover for River Town

Concept cover for River Town

You have an interesting project in the works right now with several other writers. What is River Town all about, and how did it develop?

When I was an adolescent, I read the Thieves World series, edited by Robert Lynn Aspirin. It was a great series where a group of writers created characters for a location and then they shared them with each other. They all wrote about that same location using those same characters and it was the most amazing dynamic. You got to see the same characters from different writers’ perspectives.

I moved home to West Virginia after being away for nearly 14 years, and I thought it would be a great chance to put something like that into play here. I had never written fiction about West Virginia and wanted to try it out.

Five writers and I have each thrown characters into the pot and we are writing about River Town. It is essentially Charleston, circa 1890. We have the dynamics of the “frontier nature” of the area and the marked differences between the coal barons, miners, and townspeople. I’ve really enjoyed reading the stories my fellow writers have put together. It has been so much fun to watch as they used each other’s characters.

Sometimes writers get a bit proprietary about their characters. Characters  are like our children in our minds! When another writer has my character doing something, I think to myself, “He wouldn’t do that!”  Then I step back and say, “Perception is reality.” Another person in the town might see his actions differently.” As writers, we have these characters in our heads, and we see them doing things and reacting to events, but our readers might not see those same characters the way we do.

I am really pleased with the stories we have in this first set. After we publish River Town as an anthology of the short stories, I hope we will do several more. We can add other writers as new characters come to town. It could be a whole series!

(A version of this interview first appeared on a blog by Heather Isaacs.)