Short Story: Lullaby

For the New Years Eve short story challenge this year, I had a really hard time starting a short story and sticking with it.  After making a couple jokes with some of my writing friends about writing a six word short story, I decided to try it.  I ended up with this.


Her lullabies comforted me years later.

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Project “Cyberspace”: Excerpt from Chapter One

As mentioned a few times in previous posts, I started a new story.  My current working title is Sleeping in Cyberspace, but I usually call it Cyberspace.  I wrote the first chapter not so long ago, and I thought I’d share it.  So ta-da!  (Critique is appreciated, but mostly I just want you to enjoy it.)

And then he was in.

Ceveth glanced up from his tablet screen, making sure that Dazant hadn’t glanced his way. To his relief, Dazant was still staring out the window, oblivious. Kivessa saw him, and waved her hand impatiently, mouthing, Get back to it before he looks over!

Forcing his attention back to the tablet screen, Ceveth swallowed down the guilt, the paranoia, and everything else that came with what he was doing. Mostly the guilt. He tried to tell himself that he’d had no choice, that Kivessa had forced him into it, but she really hadn’t. He’d been eager.

Eager to break into another person’s identity, and use their money to purchase something.

Oh, he felt so guilty. And yet, he didn’t stop.

“C’mon,” Kivessa whispered, keeping her voice just barely soft enough that Dazant wouldn’t hear it. She shot Ceveth another impatient glare.

He took another breath and ignored her. He had already broken in. That’d been the hard part–but then, this was the risky part. He reconnected his tablet to Izioth–glanced again at Dazant–received another glare from Kivessa–clicked the purchase. Instantly, the confirmation window appeared, requesting that he press his right thumb against the screen so it could scan his thumbprint and confirm his identity and his purchase. With another nervous swallow, Ceveth pulled up the program he’d written so that he could get around having to put the thumbprint in, or else it would recognize that not only was his thumbprint different than the identity he had broken into, but his thumbprint would also pull up all the records of his past. And then the purchase would be cancelled and police-droids would be surrounding the building any moment.

Dazant suddenly said, “I think we need to find a new safe-house.”

Ceveth startled, but Kivessa kept her cool. She shot one last narrow-eyed glance at Ceveth, then regarded Dazant as if nothing in the slightest bit suspicious was happening. “Why’s that?”

Ceveth fidgeted in his seat, pulling his knees up and resting his tablet against them, so if Dazant decided to glance over, he wouldn’t see the tablet. The program wasn’t as fast as Ceveth wished it was, and it would be another few moments before the purchase actually went through. Until then, he could still get caught by Dazant.

“I think we’ve pushed it too long,” Dazant said. “We need to relocate.” He did glance over then, and Ceveth had to force himself to not tense up. “You know Izioth has patrols every few months to make sure things are as it thinks they should be.”

Kivessa pursed her lips, thoughtful. She crossed her arms behind her back, where only Ceveth could see her hand making circular movements, indicating he needed to hurry up. “Where would we go, then? Somewhere further west?”

Dazant grabbed one of the chairs a little bit too close to Ceveth, but then pulled it back to the window and sat. Ceveth relaxed again.

75%, his tablet informed him.

“Actually, I was thinking we leave the city entirely.”

Ceveth and Kivessa froze simultaneously, staring at him. Then they traded glances.

“Why?” Ceveth asked, at the same time as Kivessa cried, “Daz, don’t be ridiculous! What are we going to do outside of New LA? You can’t find work out in the country!”

“And I clearly can’t find work here, either,” Dazant snapped, instantly on the defensive. Ceveth could tell he’d been thinking about the idea for a while, even if he’d only suggested it now.

83%

“But—” Kivessa started.

“No, hear me out before you start arguing!”

89%

Dazant took a deep breath, closing his eyes, gathering his words together.  Ceveth tried to pretend he wasn’t looking at his tablet anymore, and instead focusing on his older brother.  Just let it finish.  It’s eleven percent.  It’ll finish.  It’ll be fine.

Dazant still didn’t speak.  He ran his fingers through his light hair, looking back towards the window.  “Let’s face it, Ki,” he said, a little softly.  “I’m not going to find anything here in the city.  Anything legitimate will not be willing to pass over our identities or be willing to ignore using thumbprints—and even if they were, Izioth would find us anyway.”

“And you think it’ll be any different outside of the city?  Izioth can find us anywhere, Daz.”

“There’s less resources in the country.  Izioth won’t be able to find us as easily.”

“There’s less resources for us to survive!  You aren’t thinking this through very well!”

That hit a nerve, and Ceveth winced.  Dazant’s face clouded with anger, and then he was on his feet.  Kivessa glared at him, unwilling to backdown.

96%

“Don’t you dare accuse me of not thinking things through.  Everything I do—everything I do, Ki—is for you and Cev!  Of course I think things through!”

Kivessa huffed and crossed her arms.  “How much you do for us has nothing to do with how well you think it through!  Gosh, Daz, don’t go making arbitrary decisions when you haven’t thought it through!”

Ceveth watched his brother’s fingers start to curl in, and then Dazant forced himself to relax before he’d made an actual fist.  He started to turn away, then instead looked at Ceveth.

“What are you doing?”

“N—well, nothing.”

Dazant looked as if he didn’t necessarily believe him.   But instead of requesting to see Ceveth’s tablet, he sighed, raised his eyes to the ceiling, and turned back to the window. He didn’t sit.

Ceveth glanced at the tablet. 99%, it read. Almost a second later, it said, COMPLETED. Smiling a little, Ceveth returned his focus to the purchase, which now said, PURCHASE VALIDATED. ESTIMATED ARRIVAL: ~JUNE 7, 2137.

Ceveth glanced up and caught Kivessa’s gaze. She raised an eyebrow. He gave her a thumbs up, and mouthed, Happy early birthday, sis.

Kivessa smiled.

“Hey, Daz,” she said gently. “What do you say we go and get some lunch?”

NaNoWriMo, Day Five, and Other Things

Day five!  I’m at…somewhere above 6k at the moment.  Since my goal is roughly a thousand words a day, my word count should be the same number as the date.  Since today’s the fifth, that puts me at just slightly ahead.

Clearly I’m not following behind.  How’s the writing actually going, though?

Well, to be honest, not so great.  On Halloween, I figured out more or less a basic idea of where my first chapters would go.  This sequel starts about two months after the last one ended, so I had to figure out what (if anything) had changed for each of the characters in that time, and what state they would be in.  And of course, which ones I wanted to narrate first.

So November first (or maybe it was the second), I started writing chapter one, right at the beginning, and promptly got suck.  I got a little further the next day, but am still pretty much stuck there.  So instead, I’ve just been writing other random scenes that happen later on in the story.  Mostly irrelevant scenes that probably will be immediately disposed of when November is over, but… eh.

So yeah, there’s that.

Meanwhile.  I’ve decided that I will not let myself start draft three of the first book until after I’ve had a beta reader make it all the way through it and give me critique.  One and Only BetaReader Volunteer = Mom.  (And my cousin, but she’s busy with school and stuff, so I’m unsure if she’ll make it through it, heh.)

We decided it would be nicer to edit it printed out, instead of trying to edit it digitally.  So much easier to write in the margins with a scary red pen, right?  (I’m going to ask her nicely to use one of her other pens.  Leave the red pens for grading my siblings’ math, thanks.  Hehe…)

The only problem is that ink is expensive and I have over (or roughly) three hundred pages!  Turns out there are a few office-supplies stores locally who will happily print things out for you.  For a price, obviously, but it seems…to not be too bad?  I’m not totally sure, because they’re mostly there to print out the same business card or the same flyer 300 times, not 300 separate pages only once each.  We figure we’ll just put the story on a USB drive and just go in and ask.

Okay, I have to be honest.  The idea of having my story printed out and being able to hold it in my hands, all typed up and neat, is really making me feel giddy.  Even if it’ll just be a big stack and there won’t even be any binding or anything (unless we make one, which I’m considering, just for the fun of it… I mean, that sounds fun, you have to admit), but still!

And that’s about all, currently.

Passively White Walls and Bad Acting

So…while I’m planning for my NaNo novel, I’ve been writing some short stories.  Well, only two so far.  One I posted here, in my last post, and the other one actually turned out a little bit too long to really be considered a short story.  However, in that novelette, or whatever you want to call it, I learned a lot.

First and foremost, how your writing style can affect the feel of the story.  This should make sense.  The way you word things, the words you use, all of that, really affects everything.

For example, it’s. Really. Annoying. To. Read. Things. Like. This. Right?  It’s stunted and you pause automatically, even if you know you don’t have to, and it gets almost hard to read that.  Can you imagine reading an entire scene like that?   I think it’d give me nightmares.  Or at least a headache.  On the same hand, if your sentences are more like this: This is a short sentence.  And so is this one.  Each has only five words.  Doesn’t this sound really boring?  They’re actual sentences, unlike the way I begun this paragraph, but it’s pretty equally annoying and monotonous, isn’t it?

That’s why you want to vary the lengths of your sentences, and even vary the way you word it.  And, of course, you generally want to word things in the active voice, rather than the passive voice.  (And if you don’t know what that means, “She sat in the chair” is active, while, “she was sitting in the chair” is passive.  At least, as far as I understand it.)

In writing this short story/novelette, I discovered two things.  Both of them, I technically knew already, but never really did anything with them.  The first was that my writing style never sounded right.  I could never pinpoint the problem, until someone told me I was using the passive voice too often (and, indeed, I use the word “was” way more often than I should).  There are a few other things in my writing style that need tweaking, as well, I know, but that was probably the biggest issue.

The second thing was that I never describe things enough.  Not just what something looks like, but what everyone is doing.  I’d use as few words as possible to say something, and while that can sometimes be a good thing, it wasn’t in this case.  While rereading some of my older work, I’ve realized that everything seems to happen in a white room, with nothing.  And worse, when people are talking, they never do anything except maybe change their expression.  It was like a bad movie with really, really horrible acting, where they just stand around doing nothing when their mouths are open.

So.  I haven’t fixed it perfectly in this story.  I’m still missing a lot of description, and I wasn’t very actively trying to avoid writing in the passive voice, but I kept both in mind, and I think I did a lot better.  I feel that this story is one of my best pieces of writing, and it was a lot of fun to write.  Plus, besides all of this, it helped me get the voice for two of my characters that will be in my upcoming novel.

Now I just have to figure out how to edit this thing…

The Price of Magic

This is what happens when I am bored and want to write, but have writer’s block. After about an hour and a half of headache, this is what I got written.

~~~

The flames licked up higher.  Shadows flickered uncertainly around the alleyway, growing steadier as the light did.  For a moment, all she could do was stare at the fire.  Then the realization began to hit home.

My house is on fire.  My house caught fire!

This time, the emotion that filled her wasn’t shock, but anger.  She whirled around, towards the dark form trying to slink into the growing shadows.  “This is your fault!” she cried.  “All your bloody fault!”

“Mine?”  The returning voice rose in pitch, just as angry.  “I wasn’t the one who let the gas out of the stove like that before lighting it.  I also wasn’t the one who stared at the flames as they burned your curtains.”

A flush burned at her cheeks, which only made her all the more furious.  “No,” she agreed with a snarl.  “You’re the one who distracted me.”

That was the last straw, which was exactly what she had intended.  The slim figure stormed back out into the open, throwing back the hood that had covered her face.  “Distracted?  Why must you blame everything on me, Sasha!  This isn’t any more my fault than it is yours!  Now stop yelling at me.  I’m trying to find a way out of this blasted alleyway before it fills with smoke entirely.”

Sasha’s eyes narrowed.  She knew exactly how to get out of the alleyway, and so did the other woman.

“Don’t even think about it.  I will not.”

“Do you even have any choice?  Do it, Eva!  However else are we going to get out of here?”

“Climb the walls.”  Eva jerked her thumb to the building behind her, which wasn’t yet burning, though with the wind the way it was, that would likely change.  “It’s only two stories, and the smoke isn’t that thick yet.  Get up and onto the roof.”

“And from there?”

Eva shrugged.

“What if it doesn’t work?”

“Improvise.”  With that, she turned around towards the wall.  The bricks were rough, but not enough for real hand or footholds.  Sasha coughed to hide her bitter amusment towards Eva’s idea.  It would never get them out of there.

“Eva, just do it.  We’re going to die in here otherwise, trapped between flames and two buildings.”

Eva, hiding her frustration at not being able to climb the bricks, turned towards her.  Sasha was no more than a silhouette, lit up from behind by the flames.  “What happened to being angry at me?”

“Just get us out of here.  Eva, please.”

Eva eyed her for a moment.  “I—I can’t,” she whispered.  “The last time I tried…  I only made it worse.”

“Just try!  Try or we’re going to die!”  Sasha was desperate now, no longer hiding the insecurities she’d always felt.  She had used to hide her feelings behind contempt and her temper. But now, her need to survive pulled it all away.  Eva now saw clearly Sasha’s jealousy of being normal and of not being like her.

Eva smiled bitterly.  She was the one who should have been jealous of Sasha, not the other way around.  “It hurts,” she whispered, then relented.  She laid her hand on Sasha’s shoulder and squeezed her eyes shut.

Without even really trying, she could feel it fading out of her, draining her.  Even if she couldn’t see it in front of her, she knew there was a wall of light surrounding the two of them.  Outside of it, the flames grew stronger from the energy they found in the wall.

“See?” Eva said softly, not even realizing she was talking out loud.  “It’s a paradox.  The wall keeps the flames away, but it’s made of energy, which only fuels the fire.  It grows stronger, which means I have to make the wall even stronger to keep it back.”

Sasha looked up from where she knelt on the ground and met Eva’s now-open eyes.  Now, she understood.  “But if you break the cycle, the flames will take us.”

“That’s the price of magic, sister.  And there’s only one way out.”

“What’s that?”

“Somebody has to find us.”

And that, both knew, wouldn’t happen in time.  They were trapped in the alley, one solid building to the left, a wall behind them, and flames to the right and in front of them.  The only way someone else would be able to find them is if the flames were put out, and by that time, Eva’s energy would be gone, allowing the wall to collapse and the fire to engulf them.

“I’m sorry,” Sasha said.  “For blaming you for everything.”

“I know.  It’s not easy having a sister with magic, is it?”

“It scared me, and yet fascinated me.  I knew it’s only a problem to you, but it’s also made me feel jealous, that you were the special one who had something like that, while I’m boring and ordinary.”

“You’re anything but boring.”

“Don’t flatter me.”

Eva smiled, but it was a weak one.  She had fallen to her knees beside Sasha, using her sister’s support to stay upright.  It was hard enough to focus on the conversation.  Eva knew she shouldn’t be talking at all, but she didn’t want to spend her last moments silent.

“I’m sorry, too, Sasha,” she said, hesitating a little despite herself.  “I haven’t been the best sister, either, not since Mom and Dad died.”

“At least we have each other now, though.”  It was as she spoke this sentence that Sasha made the realization.  “Eva, let me help you.  Maybe if we both take the strain…”

Eva shook her head slightly.  “No.  If you even touch the magic, it will take you entirely.  You’ll be a slave to it, just like I have been.”

“What else can I do, Eva?  Let me help.”

She was silent.  She knew that if she let Sasha help her, not only would Sasha take the magic, but Eva would be released from it.  But as much as Eva wanted to be freed from magic’s curse, she didn’t want to subject her sister to it.

Before she could come to a decision, however, Sasha took her hands in hers.  Just the little touch, and Eva felt a weight lifted off her shoulders, one she wasn’t sure that she’d been aware of holding.  She’d had it her entire life, after all.

The wall around them strengthened.  For a moment, it looked almost like it was real.  Then Sasha gave up too much.  The light radiating from the wall pulsed, and, knowing what would happen, Eva instinctively covered her eyes.  That light could have blinded her permanently.  As it was, when she looked again the place was still amazingly bright.

But several things had changed.  Sasha had collapsed to the ground, laying still at Eva’s knees.  The fire was gone.  All that was left was ash and smoke.  The wall, no longer having a source or a purpose, had faded away as well.

Eva stared a moment, then turned to her sister.  She shook her roughtly.  “Sasha!  Wake up!”

The girl didn’t move.

Eva felt her eyes start to tear up.  “Sasha, I warned you,” she whispered.  “The price of magic is too high.  You shouldn’t have done that.”

But it was too late now.  Her sister, she knew, would never move again.  She had sacrificed herself to protect Eva from the flames.  For that was the price of magic—it took your life.

Tears falling unabashed now, Eva stood up.  She vowed, right then and there, that she’d avenge her sister.  She’d find a way to stop magic from taking innocent people’s lives, just because they’d inherited it.  Or, in Sasha’s case, taken it for her sister.

“I love you, Sasha.”