Friday, May 31, 2013

Prompt: The Harp at the Watchtower on Top of the World

Jens considered resting at the spring where he stopped to drink and pour cool water over his head. Three days climbing in the mountains, and no sign of the mysterious music that haunted his village. The passage itself was easy enough. The forests were ancient, with thick crowns to shade the deep leaf litter.

He wondered if there were ever lightning strikes or fires. He had seen no sign, but he would be in big trouble with no breaks to head for shelter if a storm blew into the Karstorn Pass. Clouds tended to bounce back and forth across the mountain ridges for days at a time.

There had been no animals on the ground or in the trees since he started his climb at the base of the Pass. Jens missed the racing foxes and flying squirrels that had kept him company until then. He still kept a wary eye out and swept the ground with his walking stick for hidden vipers. They lazed in the leaves and struck without warning packing a whallop that would kill him within minutes, this far from a healer. He had a few small charms in his pack, but he couldn’t afford any miracles.

Leaving the spring, Jens continued uphill, and within two hours he reached the treeline. As the view opened up around him, he drank in the cool mountain air and the sight of the entire Pass spread out below him. He’d never been so high. He didn’t think anyone had. No one from his village, certainly.

But looking up, he saw that someone had indeed been higher. There was a lone watchtower at the bare peak of the mountain. He thought it would take another hour to reach, but distances were deceiving in the high mountain air. The tower was stone, square, and tall. It had no adornments that he could see. The door must be on the far side, because there were only small windows staggered up the two walls in his view. If the pattern was true to the paintings he’d seen of the ancient Karstorn Keep, then there were four sets of windows per floor around the tower. He could see six, no, eight pairs on this side. Eight stories tall. Why would such a tall tower be needed way up here?

Jens shielded his eyes and looked across the Pass to the other peaks, searching for another tower. He couldn’t see any. Perhaps he would see watch flames at night. He shook his head at the mystery and started up the mountain meadow to the tower.

An hour later, he found he had still farther to go. He sat on the open ground and drank some of the cold spring water and ate a little jerky he had left from the last inn. While he rested, the first notes sounded from the tower above. Jens jumped to his feet, spilling the water from his dromedan. He began to run toward the tower.

The music continued. Hard notes, slow, one by one at first, then running faster together as in a dance. Jens found himself breathing in time to the music even as he pelted across the meadow. Reaching the tower at last, curiosity warred with caution, and he slowed to turn the corner. Leaning against the wall overlooking the open Pass was an enormous harp, intricately carved in gleaming blond wood and standing taller than Jens’ head. As he stared, he saw there was a balcony of sorts across the tower, the height of the harp’s broadest reach. Behind the strings of the harp, a small, wizened man ran back and forth. His long white hair and beard framed his face in a wild halo, as unkempt as his threadbare tunic and pants. Completely focused on his task, he played the harp with astonishing skill.

He saw Jens and stopped with a loud twang on one string. They stared at one another without speaking for a long moment, then he clapped his hands and jumped down from the balcony to the ground in one graceful leap. “Well, that’s that, then. I’m off. Stick to the main schedule and watch for any signs of trouble. Good luck!”

Before Jens could overcome his surprise to say the first word, the small man had moved with startling speed to cross the meadow. By the time Jens managed to call after him, he waved a hand without looking back and disappeared into the trees. Jens stared after him, then up to the harp, in disbelief.

Now what?

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Time writing:
40 minutes

May word count:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Prompt: Restless flight over the hidden lake

Thanks to Alexandra Semushina for permission to use her beautiful artwork, "The Secret Lake"!

Chiri flew straight up into the darkening sky, her black hair and orange robes wrapped around her body and streamed below her outstretched arms. There was no science, no calculation to how high she could go. When she felt she was high enough, almost even with the surrounding peaks, she stopped, pulling her energy in to her center so that she hung suspended in the air, hair and fabric now floating up around her with their inertia. She looked out to the horizon and slowly spun around. There were a few birds flying high in lazy circles as the sun set. Smaller birds homing to roost in their hidden nests. The entire valley was her roost, the lake her nest. Her eyes followed the shoreline, seeking movement, company, prey. There was nothing.

With a wild scree, she folded in half and pushed her arms below her head, straightening into a dive that sped toward the mirrored surface like a flaming arrow. A body length above, she flipped sideways and flew straight over the water, orange trails splashing droplets in her wake.

She flew to the tallest tree and perched high over the water, feet dangling loosely against the broad branch as she braided the long strands of her hair before darkness claimed the valley for the night. Fingers swept through the pattern while sharp eyes kept watch across the valley. A family of turtles slid from a half-submerged log into the water, trailing bubbles down to the mud where they burrowed in to sleep. A young fish slapped the surface in the middle of the lake, attracting the notice of a tired hawk who rested with his last catch in a neighboring tree before returning the day’s final meal to his hungry chicks and mate.

Chiri sometimes slept in the trees, but she preferred the lake’s sheltering comfort. She stood and balanced on the branch, arms outstretched, looking up to the first gleaming stars and the slender new moon. Who had taught her to wish on the first star of the night? “I wish I may, I wish I might,” she whispered. But she would not speak her dreams aloud. They kept shelter in her silence.

With one last nod to the moon, Chiri dove down and this time flew straight into the water, barely a splash marking her passing. The gossamer fabric shed the water even as it passed through, pulling straight behind her without creating any drag to slow her down. She dove deep below the surface, into the crater in the middle of the lake. At the bottom she leveled out once more and floated to the ledge that concealed her nest. She breathed in the water and felt it stream through the delicate gills across the back of her neck. No light filtered down from the night sky, and with one last hopeful look, Chiri ducked under the ledge to wait for whatever the morning might bring.

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Time writing:
20 minutes

May word count:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Prompt: How much are your memories worth?

Paul stepped nervously into the pawn shop. He’d never been before, and he’d heard the rumors. It wasn't at all what he expected. Clean and well lit, there were display tables around the edges, leaving space for the reclining chair in one corner. A lanky guy about his age lay in the chair, one arm thrown over his eyes, the other stretched out to the side. Paul took in the enormous man holding the arm and thought about turning around and walking back out.

The giant looked up and smiled at Paul, and it was clear he understood Paul’s uncertainty. “What can I do for you, kid?” He asked in a warm voice. Paul shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets. The man nodded and said, “Wait a minute, we’re almost done here.”

He held a small rectangular device against the young man’s arm, and after a moment, he thumbed a button and set it aside, laying the arm back in the guy’s lap. “Okay, Joe. Take a minute. You know you get dizzy when you jump up too fast.”

The guy in the chair lifted his other arm away from his face and sat up. He looked over to Paul and gave a spacey smile. “No way, man, I’m all good. Got places to go, now you hooked me up.”

The giant shook his head. “Okay, okay, Joe. Take it easy. Try not to spend it all in one place. I can’t take more until, um, Monday. So you got to get through the weekend.”

Joe jumped out of the chair and wobbled a little as he headed for the door. The giant called after him, “Joe? Don’t go to any of those junk shops. They won’t give you as good a deal anyway, and they don’t take care of you!”

Joe waved airily and pulled the door open with more strength than was needed, stumbling back with a giggle as he careened outside.

The giant waved Paul over. “Come on. First time, huh? I can always tell. Don’t worry, it don’t hurt, I’m the best in the biz.”

Paul sat down in the chair, fighting his anxiety. “Um, is it going to make me high or something?”

The giant laughed.  “You mean like Joe? Naw, he’s an addict. He came in like that. If anything, it will relax you. Now, let’s see what you got.”

Paul looked up in surprise. “You mean, you can see it?”

“Sure. How else could I price it for you? Don’t worry, it's easy – I just run the scanner--” he held up the little box “—over your arm, and it gives me a preview of the memory you’re selling.”

“How does it know which one?”

The giant raised an eyebrow. “Well, you got to hold it right in front of your mind, of course. But you can see the preview too and let me know it’s the right one. Most folks don’t really care, anyway.”

Paul flinched a little. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do this, after all. The giant seemed to understand and sat quietly until Paul sat in the chair and rolled up his sleeve. He took Paul’s hand and stretched out his arm, rolling it up so he could hold the scanner over his tricep. He ran the scanner for a moment, and Paul watched curiously. He didn’t feel anything, actually, except cautious relief.

The giant pursed his lips and put the scanner down. He sat for a minute, looking at the ceiling without saying anything, Paul was starting to wonder what was wrong when he spoke. “Son, you need to take that to the bank. I’m going to give you a name to ask for. She’ll take good care of you.”

“Oh, okay, I guess—”

“Then you need to go straight to the police.”

Paul stared at him and gave a short laugh, expecting the man to join in. He didn’t. He wrote a name on his card and handed it to Paul.

When he reached for the door, the man said quietly, “Son, you be careful with that memory. I’m serious. The bank, then the police.” He hesitated, then said, “It’s worth a lot of money. But it could also be worth your life.”

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Daughter’s piano lesson

May word count:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Prompt: Cobra, rifle, blue, harp, pteranodon (use at least 3 of these)

Sandra slowly pulled her pad from her knapsack, thumbing to the music and flicking into the classical selections. She tapped into one without looking and recognized Carlos Salzedo’s harp concerto. She slid the pad slowly onto the leaf litter, then pulled her hand back to her side. The king cobra hadn’t moved from its initial coiled striking pose, but as the harp tones filled the air, it began to sway, first its head bobbing up and down, then undulations down its neck and body, until it lost its coil form and lay writhing in pleasure on the ground.

Sandra stood and stepped back, then pulled the pad towards her with the toe of her boot. She took a couple of steps farther away before she bent to retrieve it. The cobra was still moving in time to the music, and she briefly wondered whether it would follow the sound, but it didn’t seem to notice as she continued backing away.

Sandra turned and almost walked into the man standing in the center of the trail, his rifle still pointed at the cobra. She shoved him away in irritation. “Honestly, Jason! I have it under control, thank you. Now get the hell out of my jungle, will you?”

He grinned and slung the rifle behind his back, turning to walk next to her. “Well, technically, it’s not a jungle,” was his only comment.

She growled and he laughed. She tried not to notice his flashing blue eyes or the dimple she used to kiss on his cheek. “I was quoting Livingston. And you know damn well that according to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, the Nilgiri Reserve is, in effect, mine. What are you doing here, anyway?”

“You mean other than watching you charm king cobras? Nicely done, by the way. I remember taking you to that Salzedo anniversary concert.”

Sandra shook her head. She remembered it too, and she didn’t want to. “Jason,” she growled again. “What are you doing here?”

He stopped suddenly, and she swung around to face him. All the humor was gone from his face. She felt a shiver of unease.

“They’re going to do it, Sandy. They’re going to activate the protocol.”

Sandra felt her heart constrict. She took a slow, deep breath to keep the panic at bay. “Where?” she whispered.


She paled but didn’t say a word, just turned and started walking back to her camp. He didn’t follow right away.

“What are you doing, Sandy?” he called.

“What do you think? I’m going,” she said without slowing her stride.

“I have a plane ready to go,” he offered. She did stop this time and looked back at him, considering. She nodded once and continued walking away.

Jason smiled grimly and tapped the comm button on his watch. “Mission accomplished. I’m bringing her in.”

Dogs in house:
Houdini, Brindle

Sarah Chang: Selections

Time writing:
~40 minutes, including Google time

May word count: