Writing Exercise: Time Shift (Part 1 of 2)

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

The passage below is the first half of a short story that came to mind a few days ago. I’ve always been fascinated by people’s stories of their own experiences with the supernatural and the reactions others have upon hearing these tales that seem to defy rational explanation.


I’m not usually one who enjoys talking to strangers. No, twenty-odd years of working in my line of business – accounting – have instilled within me an appreciation for the quiet comfort of numbers and order over the convoluted speech patterns enjoyed by so many others in our society. I’ve never been particularly interested in overhearing the droll gossip of strangers in the supermarket check-out lines or the impassioned stories guests on local radio stations so vehemently recount.

However, despite this somewhat reclusive personality trait, there are times during the winter season that I do recall a story relayed to me (and several others) by a young gentleman years ago. The tale was of the type so unique and without comparison that my mind only drifts to it on nights like these, when the snow and wind are fierce allies, and the air has that peculiar crispness which only winter nights offer.

Forgive me for my long-winded manner, but the sequence of strange events seems even more disordered with the passing of time (if time truly does pass one by), and I will do my best to communicate it all as it happened.

I believe the year I heard the story was 1984, as I was in Aspen for a skiing tournament that winter. That was the last year that I skied, due to my knee injury slipping on the porch stairs the following spring, but until that complication, I was still agile enough to compete. I wasn’t very skilled and certainly didn’t place high in the rankings that year (nor the year prior), but I held my own on the slopes that afternoon. My competing was more for a chance to breathe fresh air after a year of working behind the bank’s austere walls.

After the competition that day, all the participants went to the nearest bar in hopes of having a few beers to diminish the chill of the snow and to numb our overexerted muscles. I noticed that most of the skiers in the group sat with competitors who had placed similarly in ranking. I suppose to them, it seemed the gentlemanly thing to do, but in my typical fashion, I took a lone seat at the end of the bar.

I was soon accompanied by a young, sandy-haired man, his hair being of that in-between color that is often mistaken for red in certain angles of sunlight. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties and had ruddy cheeks, brightened with the burnt look most of us skiers got that day from exposure to the sun and wind high on the mountain. The skin around his eyes was pale and undamaged from where his ski goggles had protected it. I recognized him as having scored close to my own level.

He struck up a conversation, and I learned he was from Los Angeles and came up for the tournament each year to escape California and clear his mind. He had a quiet demeanor, and I imagined his personality wasn’t suited for such a large city, much as my own is not.

We hadn’t been seated long before we were joined by two boisterous and somewhat intoxicated skiers, one with a military haircut and one with a wispy moustache that seemed to have given up on growing itself out. In their drunken state, they generously bought a round of beers for both myself, the Californian, and several other skiers scattered around the bar. The two had done very well in the tournament and seemed eager to share their good humor. It wasn’t long before a circle of skiers had formed around us, everybody comparing that year’s trails to those of previous competitions.

As often happens with inebriated and adventurous groups like that which we had created, the conversation turned to sharing tales of evading danger and acts of bravado. One skier, an older man with thinning hair, talked about scaring off a mother grizzly and her cub while on a solo camping trip in Washington. Another man, only college-aged or so, recounted his experience nearly drowning during a poorly planned rafting trip down the Rio Grande.

The stories grew more outrageous as more drinks were consumed. I remained silent, as my vault of stories from working at the bank were limited to balancing books and skimming financial records, hardly death-defying.

During a lull in the conversation, the man with the military cut suggested the Californian share a story, as surely he had encountered some wild creatures in that state.

With the group’s attention on him, the Californian slowly set down his glass in a way that silenced the room. It had grown late, and we skiers were the only ones left in the bar. He wiped a bit of the beer’s foam from his lip and seemed to collect himself before beginning.

“I have a story, but it’s not from California. It’s not about bears, or rivers, or anything like that. There aren’t many people who believe me and that is fine. I don’t know that I would, in their position. But I guess there might be some people who don’t believe that man here wrestled that cougar.” The skier in the crowd who’d shared a dubious account of an encounter with a cougar didn’t protest, only laughing good-naturedly.

The Californian remained serious, and kept his eyes lowered as he began.


This is the end of the first half. I will post the second half tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by! Happy reading and writing!

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Snowstorm


Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

The woods rose up all around me, towers of dead trees and bare branches that grasped my clothing and hair as I ran. I took no notice of their thorns as they scratched through my sleeves and left strands of hair snagged on their limbs.

It was after me, and the dread that fueled my escape was like nothing I had ever felt. I dared not to look back, driven onward by the fear of being caught.

I followed no path yet instinctively darted around the trees, leaping over fallen logs and exposed roots. A half-moon was overhead, an impartial observer to this chase between predator and prey. It offered only a dim reflection of the snow, aiding not only my vision but also that of my pursuer.

The deathly silence of the forest was only broken by the sound of my boots striking the snow and of my own breath, frantic gasps that left trails of condensation in the cold winter night’s air.

The slope of the earth below me changed, and I was soon running downward into a section of trees that thinned out and were easier to see through. At the other end of this section of trees, I saw the house, a rectangular structure that was lit up from within. I ran the final paces, barely striking the ground like a rabbit leaping to its burrow, and upon reaching the porch, I knew I was finally safe.

I had reached sanctuary. I was now aware some boundary existed between this house and the woods, between me and it. It could no longer follow me; it would go no further than the woods.

I turned and faced the creature for the first time. It remained at the edge of the treeline, barely visible in the pale moonlight and forest shadows. I could see it was part human and part beast, bearing the head of a deer with fearsome antlers crowning its image. The upper torso and arms were that of a human, but the rest of it was the form of a deer with four cloven hooves.

We stared at one another, caught in a stalemate. It had lost the hunt tonight, but it was only one of many. That we both knew. The deer creature reared on its hind legs and thundered back into the woods, kicking up slivers of ice and snow behind it.

I opened the front door and walked inside the house, met with the warmth and welcoming light of the fireplace someone had left burning for me.

This passage was based on a dream I had last winter. It occurred during a major winter storm and has stuck in my mind as one of the more unsettling dreams I’ve had.

Writing Exercise: A Pocket Watch, a Flea Market, and a Bit of Time Travel

Photo on Visual Hunt
Tentes

Can objects haunt us? I considered this question today when responding to a writing prompt. The answer I came up with turned into the beginning of a science fiction story, which you will find a little further below.

The prompt comes from the Shut Up and Write group, an international writing community that is (despite the harsh name) a friendly group that gets together to write for an hour or two. I joined a local chapter and have received e-mail prompts every day in January, including this one:

“You’ve heard rumors that a flea market in a nearby town is selling something that sounds suspiciously like a family heirloom that went missing years ago. As you carry the story forward, ask yourself:

  • What is this object? Why was it important to your family?
  • Do you (your character) find it?
  • Does the vendor explain how they got it?
  • Is it your family’s long lost heirloom? And do you get it back?”

The passage I wrote in response to this prompt is below.

It wasn’t a matter of luck or common coincidence that I saw the lost pocket watch in the newspaper advertisement for your Flea Market this morning, Sir. You might be inclined to think of it as such before knowing the family history, but as you are not a member of the family, I wouldn’t expect you to understand outright.

It’s like this. Of course a person hears tell of lost hounds finding their way home halfway across the country, their owners having lost sight of them while vacationing hundreds of miles from home. Or those birds that, in winter, leave their nests in the north to fly south on a month-long flight to Mexico. They return north the following spring, where they find their way back to those same exact nests that they left months prior.

I suppose our family pocket watch might equate to one of those lost hounds or migrating birds, despite the fact it has no wings to carry it home nor nose to sniff out a trail. Yes, come to think of it, that’s exactly how you might begin to understand the whole issue, it being such a curious matter and all.

You see, I was not in the least surprised to find the pocket watch in your advertisement because it wasn’t I who found it. Rather, it was the other way around: the pocket watch found me.

The pocket watch always finds us – my family, that is. We have tried to lose it countless times over the years. Generation after generation of Templetons has dropped it in rivers, hoping it will float far away downstream. My great-grandfather left it on a railroad track all the way out in Amarillo when he was there on business, praying a passing train would crush the watch into smithereens, and that would be the end of all the trouble.

But, as it happens, just before the 6:05 morning train passed through Amarillo that day, a train-hopper looking to sneak a lift East was walking along those very tracks and picked the watch up. He put it in his pocket and carried it all the way back on the train ride to Charleston. He accidentally left the watch in the pocket of a coat he traded for a cigarette packet, offered by a fellow coming off the train as it stopped in South Carolina.

That cigarette trader happened to be my Uncle Clarence, who returned home that evening and pulled the watch from his new coat’s pocket as he was sitting at the dinner table. My great-grandfather, who had been home just two weeks by this point, was said to have shouted so loudly upon seeing the watch that the neighbors rushed over to see what the fuss was about.

Why go through all this trouble to rid ourselves of a pocket watch, you may ask, Sir? You won’t believe me when I tell you, but still, if I expect your assistance, I must try to explain.

This pocket watch is an instrument surely designed by the Devil himself. How else could it let my family members turn back the events of time and return to prior weeks, prior years even, allowing us to try to correct our past mistakes? You must be laughing now at such nonsense, but do try to understand.

Surely such power would be great; after all, how often does one wish for the chance to revisit the past? you might ask me if you were here before me, attempting to humor my perceived madness. Would this not be a delight for mankind, to amend the wrongs of history? you would ask me.

But you would be naive to think this. Our family has been driven to insanity with this temptation, incessantly using the pocket watch to return to the past and achieve different outcomes. We hope for different outcomes for our individual histories and even the world’s history, but never, never I stress, are we happy with the results. And yet, we are but human and still we continue to try.

And this is why, Sir, I beg you, please take this watch under your own supervision and guard it. Do not sell it to anyone at the Flea Market, as it will invariably return to our family’s hands. It seems to affect no one else, only us Templetons, and I implore you to let it not affect us any longer.

Writing Inspiration from a Dream


Photo by Marc Marchal on Unsplash

The search for story ideas is a constant in most writers’ lives, and every once in a while, the ideas are the ones that search us out. Night before last, I had an odd dream that felt so realistic and detailed I decided to write a short passage about it after waking up.

In the dream, I was a servant in a royal household. I was working in the kitchen when the castle was raided by an opposing force. Hearing the commotion coming from the other rooms, I hid in a cellar. After waiting for a period of time, I could soon only hear the voices of the invaders. Eventually, I realized I was the only member of the royal household who had not been captured.

I decided to experiment with this idea, and the section below is what I came up with.

The darkness seemed to grow thicker as the moments passed. It was cold in the cellar, and my hands grew numb as I kept them pushed against the door, praying for the strength to fight off any of the intruders who ventured down here. Who were these enemies of the King? How many of them were up there now, infiltrating our castle which, until moments ago, had felt so secure, so impenetrable? Surely our own kingdom had enough men to drive them out, so why had we not received the signal that all was safe? I heard none of the ten bugle blasts that were supposed to alert us when we were once again at peace and protected from the swords and arrows of the enemy.

My mind raced over the infinite possibilities for the delay as I listened for familiar voices through the ceiling. All I could hear were the muffled words of the invaders shouting orders at one another. I could not discern any complete sentences through the thick dirt ceiling, only a few words here and there suggesting that they were making rounds of the entire premises.

My heart slowly returned to its normal rate as time passed. Had it been only seconds, minutes, or even hours that I had been waiting alone in the black void of the cellar? With no windows to detect the moon and not daring to re-light my candle, I had no concept of time passing.

I sank to my knees and carefully turned my back against the door to hold it closed, being as quiet as possible. I drew my skirts in around me, keeping them from rustling as I attempted to warm myself against the dampness of the floor.

Where was Cook? I wondered. If she had not sent me down to the cellar for the extra carrots, I would have been up there with the rest of the kitchen women when the intruders stormed in. I would not have been able to hide in this little cellar extension that even our own kitchen members often forgot was here. I would not have been sitting here safely while they faced the invaders alone. Filled with guilt, I prayed that Cook and the others had been able to flee in time.

Reflecting on my own current predicament, I prayed that I, too, would find a way to escape.