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Temptation

I found myself a bit more inspired by our common writing challenge and felt I had to write another piece. Thus, the following…

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On the top of a hill lies a castle buried in history. Centuries old, it guards a secret still unknown to man; which is how it must stay. Deep within the deepest dungeons lies a casket locked closed by a golden crest with contents unknown to man. It was placed there several hundred years ago with very specific reasons for keeping it safe. In a time of war it was deemed necessary for secrecy of the casket and only a selected handful of people were trusted by the Queen to guard the casket and the importance it represented. As the war went on, these men became victims of the gunfire and the secret died with them. Only one man survived with the knowledge of the casket. He took it as his personal goal in life to guard the Queen’s casket and so, once a year he went back to check on the casket, with no one knowing about his doings. As age took a hold on him, he passed the task and the knowledge of the casket on to his son. He then passed it on to his son, who did the same and that is how the secret has been in the family.

And now I am passing it on to you. It is not entirely the same thing. I never got to pass the secret to your father before he left this world. Instead I am now forced to leave this important task to a young boy as age has grown weary with me. I trust you to uphold the family secret and guard the casket till you are forced to pass the knowledge on to your son or grandson like I’ve done.

Over by the mantelpiece you will find a small wooden box holding a rusted silver key. That is the key to the dungeon holding the casket. In the box you will also find a map guiding you to were the casket is hidden. It is nearing the time of year where I would go check on the casket, but this year and forth you must do it.

It is a job that requires stealth and trickery to get to the dungeon. Other people are going to the Castle nowadays too, and we must not be noticed. It is very important you remember this. Do not be noticed and do not open the casket.

My time in this world has nearly passed, and the job is now yours my grandson. Do it well and do it with pride.”

The old man closed his eyes to rest while the young boy went to get the wooden box of the mantelpiece.

Now, the majority of people know not to tell a young boy not to open something never meant to be opened because he will consequently want to open it even more.

As the young boy weighed the old map and key in his hands he contemplated how to get into the castle without being seen.

He went under the cover of night, pocketing a flashlight along with the map and key. Finding the entrance to the dungeons was easy, but navigating from there became harder. Eventually he came to a half in front of an old-fashioned padlock. Inserting the key he heard it click and he entered with the lit flashlight. Down some steps, hidden in the corner of the room he found the casket, just like his grandfather had told him. Kneeling down he touched the ancient casket and the temptation to open it only grew with each caress of the surface. The crest keeping it locked was solid gold and cold from the damp dungeon. The boy knelt down and took out the iron bar he had been hiding in his pocket.

With a deep and doubting breath he poised the iron bar and pushed. A crack echoed through the dungeon as he broke the crest and air sealed in for hundreds of years whizzed out the creaking gap in the casket.

Exchanging iron bar for flashlight, the boy steeled himself and then opened the casket all the way.

A loud gasp escaped his lips as the glare of the treasure gleamed up at him. Gold shimmers reflected everywhere in the dungeon, and the young boy was awestruck without knowing what to do next.

Meanwhile, another place in Edinburgh his grandfather left out a final sigh without ever getting to know the big secret his family had been guarding for all those years.

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One Man, One Crown

In the depths of the dungeons of a castle lies a casket, by now covered in dust. It has been there for hundreds of years and that is how it must stay. None other knows of the casket, and the people who once knew what it held have been consumed by time. Today, only one man knows of the casket and he will guard it with his life, just as he was instructed to do those hundreds of years ago. He sits there, at the mouth of the dungeon cave, spear in one hand and his tiny musket ready at the hip should any intruders straggle by. Denied of food and water and other worldly pleasures he has learned to enjoy and take pride in his solitary watch. Every day it is the same and it has been centuries since anyone tried to disturb his guard. When this would happen, time would open its door to him and leave little bits of what he’d been missing out on. Otherwise, time seemed to leave him alone to do his job.

Each day he will feel the same temptation to open the casket and see what his life was guarding. And each day his hand would rest on the lid, before he would withdraw it to return to his post. Because knowing what was in the casket had not been part of his post.

So the days went on while time left him alone while he stood guard over Edinburgh’s most precious and unknown treasure. There were numerous times when he would hear footsteps nearing the dungeon but they would never be heard leaving the dungeon. When time crept in on him like this, he could feel the bones in his body creak of weariness and he would sometimes thing about giving up his post but one look at the golden crest sealing the casket kept him at his post. He may no know what was in the casket, but the golden crest confirmed him in its importance.

For hours on end he would stare at this crest and the name he would decipher would make him salute the thin air.

Never was he disturbed by time, which kindly saw the importance of his post and left him alone to guard his casket. And he is still there today, standing proudly, and ready to do what is necessary to defend the creaking casket.

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A Thousand Words Wouldn’t Be Enough

As a writer I want to be able to transform people, places and happenings into words that will weave an invisible, yet potent magic upon the reader. I want to transport the reader into a different time and place, and perhaps altogether different mindset. I want to describe feelings and sensations so accurately that the reader will feel them as a physical touch upon their skin. I want the reader to hear what I hear, see what I see and feel my every desire, dark and innocent alike. To convey human emotions across time and distance is an art, and a difficult one at that. Given how frustratingly it can be when words elude me, perhaps only the very privileged, crazy or naïve feel like embarking on such a mission.

Some feelings, sensations and experiences are almost impossible to translate into the written form. Because how do I describe standing in the middle of a slum in Africa, looking at small shambling shacks that are crumpled together and serve as people’s homes? How do I describe the rank smell that the crippling amounts of garbage laying in the streets give off? When the stench is so all-consuming it burns in my nose like acid. How do I describe seeing children so young they can barely walk, running around naked among goats and chickens, sitting down on their bare bums in the middle of the filthy dirty street?

How do I describe the overwhelming feeling of something close to shame that I should be fortunate to be born in a quiet suburban street in Norway where the lawns are always perfectly mowed and the hedges primly cut, when others are born into such squalor? How do I describe the insistent chant in my head that I can’t stand having to bear witness to it any longer? It physically hurts my eyes. How do I describe that I can’t stand the flies that rest upon my sweaty skin, the sun beating down my back? In such cases I get the despairing feeling that reading about life is a hell of a lot better than actually be forced to live it. At least I can go home and retreat into the pages of a different, less scary world. The people I leave behind don’t have that privilege.

Then there are times when the feeling of peace and ecstatic joy inside of me is so powerful it feels like my chest is about to burst. When I’m standing on a beach by the sea coast in Africa; how do I describe the feeling of the warm sand cuddling my bare feet? The comforting sound of the vast ocean crashing upon the shore? The magnificent view of a billion splendid stars scattered across the night sky? How do I describe these feelings and sensations? How do I translate into words the sound of African drums and singing beating in time with my heart? A large bonfire giving off just enough light to see the same happiness reflected in the eyes of your friends?

It’s those rare and oh so precious moments when I realize that at that exact moment in life I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, at any other time, in the whole world. Not even if you offered me a million bucks in cash. Those are the times when living life is a million times better then reading about it. No words in existence would be able to give justice to these memories. Not even a thousand words would be enough.

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Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

When I read Nicole’s piece Inadvertent Nostalgia, the part where she reflects on her previous brutal treatment of her characters struck me because those words resembled something I’d been thinking (obsessing) about for the past few days. I’m a bit unsure of my protagonist’s behavior lately. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really like her much of the time. She’s selfish, insecure, occasionally needy and she’s questioning everything. For crying out loud, I’m trying to write a book here and she keeps whining about what I put her through.

I love to read about heroes and heroines who knows how to handle whatever crap the writer decides to fling their way, and I want my heroine to do the same, but oh no. She’s been busy complaining about the loss of her husband to be of much use to me. So I thought to myself, fine if that’s how you want to play it, bring it on. Two can play that game. I figured if she was going to be this much trouble I might as well milk it. I wanted my story to take a turn for the worse. I wanted my wannabe heroine to explore the darkest parts of herself, but the moment that decision had been made, she just wouldn’t do it.

I’d given her permission, a sort of get out of jail free card if you will, to really go to town with her less than perfect personality. I figured I would go by the old proverb “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and allow my protagonist to throw ethics and moral along with caution to the wind. But the moment I did, what did she do? Instead of corrupting my story, she suddenly developed a backbone. Suddenly, she wasn’t a sniveling, selfish bitch or a neurotic wreck on crack. She started to take responsibility and behave more like the woman I wanted her to be. My gosh, maybe there is something to this reversed psychology stuff after all.

My story started to pick up speed and I was pretty darn pleased with myself, but I should’ve remembered that pride stands before a fall. Re-reading what I’d written in the harsh criticizing light of day, a nagging voice inside of me asked me (in a deceptively silky voice) if maybe I was skirting the uncomfortable truth, which is that when I created my main character, integrity was in short supply. This brings me to my point with all of this, namely the question about telling the truth when you write.

Stephen King says that you should always write the truth no matter how terrible, brutal and plain offensive the truth is. And I agree, but like Nicole, I don’t think it’s necessary to kill all of your characters in gruesome ways in order to prove to yourself that you don’t give a damn about what any prudes out there might think. That would be, in social worker terms, what we like to call “an illusion of work”. (If you’re wondering, yes, I got plenty more annoying terms where that one came from.)

In the case of my willful “heroine” I’ve realized that she’s not such an awful person as I’ve been thinking, she’s simply a very ordinary, human woman with very ordinary, human reactions. Like any ordinary human she screws up, repeatedly, but when push comes to shove, her heart is in the right place. Perhaps I’m channeling all of my own faults into this one and that’s why I’m having such a hard time accepting the stupid things she does.But psychoanalysis aside, my protagonist is (whether Stephen King would approve or not) finally stepping up to the plate, and that is the truth. In a way, maybe that is an offensive truth to make such an unlikeable character likeable.

So people, the lesson amidst all of this rambling is: Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but don’t write only for what Nicole calls the shock value, simply to raise a few eyebrows. Sometimes the truth isn’t such a terrible, brutal and offensive thing after all.

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Inadvertent Nostalgia

This morning, while enjoying a breakfast of Blueberry Muffin Frosted Mini-Wheats and a banana, I made an initially horrific discovery.  A discovery that, even with the sheer amount of homework I had, drove me to our lovely blog and demanded that I write about it.  It was quite persistent.

That, of course, and the fact that I’m procrastinating. Senioritis has struck me hard and at the worst possible time, but anyway. Back to Nicole Story Time.

To put this all into context, I’d been reading a few blogs this morning, minding my own business and generally still a bit sleepy, when I stumbled upon an article about internet identity.  The blogger had Googled her own name on a whim and realized that the first search hit was her Xanga account from when she was 14 — obviously, this was quite alarming, considering she’s now graduating from college and applying for jobs, and she doesn’t want her emoticons and early high-school boy crushes to cost her employment.  Reading this article sent a little frisson of terror down my spine.  Like many other young adults, I spent a good portion of my adolescence online, and I’d written a lot of things (both fiction and journaling — why anyone thought LiveJournal was good for society, I’ll never know) that I’d rather never see the light of day.

When I was younger, I was a bit paranoid about internet security.  My parents refused to buy things online for fear of identity theft (which at the time was annoying when I wanted to get in on the eBay craze, but in hindsight was a smart move).  For some reason, I was terrified that someone would take something I had written (copied and pasted from my online journal, I feared), and claim it as his/her own.  In terms of irrational fears, I obviously favored the more mundane.  But, as a result, things I wrote were always hidden behind “friends only” locks or tagged with little copyright bubbles with an internet penname.  Even years later, I’m meticulous about my Facebook settings and other social media outlets I use on a regular basis.   So naturally, because of my past caution, I figured that searching my own name would probably not come up with anything of any great importance.  I’m applying to graduate schools, and it wouldn’t be terribly uncommon if they were to do a cursory search.

So, I typed my name in and hit search.  The first page of Google results was acceptable.  Nothing interesting was revealed except for a few hits on my friends-only Facebook page, along with the realization that nearly 150 women with my same name live in the USA.  However, disaster struck when smack dab on the second page was the full text of a story that I had written junior year of high school.  I hadn’t put it online — I had entered a writing contest in high school, and the link was to an official university webpage.  I must have given them permission some time nearly five years ago to publish it, and there it was, sitting on the internet, free for all to read and judge.

Now, at this point, I’m not concerned that it’s going to be stolen.  Heck, if someone wants to use it and make it the next blockbuster (or horror film, or flip book plot, ballet choreography, etc.), I’ll be as shocked as the next chick on the street.  Instead, I was more surprised by the way my writing has changed, and in my estimation, for the better.  In high school (and earlier) I wrote a lot more angrily, using violence to supplement character development.  I loved words like “weeping,” “tears,” and “blood.”  My sentences were confusing and convoluted, and if this story was anything to judge by, I thought I understood how neuroscience worked.  I wrote a lot for shock value, and scanning the words I couldn’t believe that my teachers and peers had read this piece.

Looking back now, I’m deeply grateful for the improvement that I’ve managed to achieve in the years that followed this particular piece; taking classes at my university has definitely allowed me to better hone my craft, and I’m a much happier person.  University has been kind to me (oh, the irony of saying that now while I’m eyeball-deep in stress) and I love the world of academia.  I can still tap into the dark imagery I used then, but I don’t rely on it.  Which is good, because you can only kill so many characters.  It makes me sad.

So, in conclusion, I don’t know if anyone else will stumble on the piece or what they’ll think.  Seeing that the page is dated and it’s obvious that it was put up in 2006, I don’t have any real cause for alarm.  Well, other than a slight wince of embarrassment when I think about it.

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Christmas

Do they know it’s Christmas? I am willing to bet countless of things that coming December first not one person can say they do not know it’s Christmas. By then, they will have had at least one or two weeks to prepare with countless of premature Christmas decorations all over the city and shops.

For days on end we walk around in a pre-Christmas haze with no real inkling of what to do for Christmas, other than to buy the innumerable number of presents for every member and non-member of the family. I wonder though, have we forgotten what Christmas is all about, or have we simply distorted it to fit our own modernized needs?

We jolly up and down the street browsing at all the windows looking for the perfect present all the while trying to figure out a perfect budget for the month. But we have forgotten the reason behind finding these presents for each other. Suddenly Santa Clause is coming to town here and there. He’s in every department store greeting every little child and giving them hopes of a jolly Christmas where the parents won’t fight over the overcooked turkey or the spilled gravy, all because we can say thank God it’s Christmas.

Because Christmas is also a time for families to gather and come together, it’s the time of the year where I’m able to say I’ll be home for Christmas. Because there’s nothing else for me to do except be with my family and enjoy the day with the company, for one single day of the year. Starting around noon with coffee and cake, followed with a beautiful sight we’re having tonight, walking in a winter wonderland. We take this one day out of the year to just be happy together and not really think about the hectic workday (which we have to return to once the weekend is over).

But every year I bet every person will agree everything has been worth it and are already looking forward to next year. And this in spite of all the jokes about not doing Christmas next year because of all the hard work it takes and all the money that goes into it. But every year we do it again.

Not so much because of the presents, they are just a perk, but because of the feeling of Christmas that’s only there that one time of year.

It’s the one time a year we get to say; Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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Th Experiment

This story came from a dream I had some days ago and I felt I had to put it in writing to savour it.

***

 

>>We’ve been friends for how long now?<< Marie asked as she unlocked her front door.

>>I don’t know, a couple of years I suppose.<< James answered and followed her inside. She took of her jacket but told him to keep his on.

>>There’s no point in you staying if this doesn’t work.<< She told him and wasn’t surprised at his bewildered expression.

>>I’ve been thinking about doing something for a while now. So bear with me now.<< He shrugged in agreement as she tool a calming breath for herself. Then she moved closer, took his hands and she could see it was starting to dawn on him what she was about to do. She kissed his cheeks first, left then the right one very softly. And then she found his lips and kissed him. It was an innocent kiss, there was no tongue and it only lasted some seconds. After that she left go of his hands, which he let fall down his sides and stepped back.

>>How did you like my experiment?<< She said in a soft whisper. He had to clear his throat before he could answer.

>>Where did that come from?<<

>>It’s something I’ve wanted to do for some time. Should I not have done it?<<

>>No, no I mean…<< He faltered and she could tell she really had stumped him. He literally didn’t have the words. After a long moment of silence he came to hug her and she thought it was his way of letting her down easy, but then she felt his hand move down to her lover back and his cheek against hers. Soon they were forehead to forehead and their warm breaths brushed their faces.

>>Can we try something else then?<< He said hoarsely and before she had even nodded he was kissing her, this time there was definitely tongue. His other hand had moved to her hair and was using it to pull her face close to his. She unzipped his jacket and wrapped her arms around his warm body.

>>I guess I just ruined our friendship.<< She said, emphasizing the friend-part, when they broke apart.

>>I think I’m glad you did.<< They both chuckled.

>>You can take your jacket of now.<<

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