Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 8 – Fractured Earth – Made Man IV

Today’s piece follows straight on from day 7.

“Do the doctor’s think I’m going to make it?” the soldier boy asked with a stiff lip and a tremor in his voice.

“They are confident that if you wake up, you will survive.”

“Oh, thank God.”

“Your squad mate, Derek. Tell me about him.”

“Derek? He’s the quiet one. Never says boo. I don’t think I’ve ever so much as said hello to him. What do you want to know about him for?”

She smiled and walked around the bed, towards the door “Oh, just trying to get some character references for a job he’ll soon realise he’s applying for.”

The soldier looked at her, his head tilted slightly and eyebrows raised. He started to ask a question, but fell into a coughing fit. He grasped at his throat, his eyes bulging. The woman paused in the door way and shook her head, a sad smile on her face, “I’m sorry love, your story ends here. The doctor’s were mistaken. Never mind though, I’ve eased your soul’s passage. You’ll be in the next world soon enough and that’s more than most can say these days.”

She turned and left as the boy’s body spasmed once and then stilled one final time.

Tomorrow, I try something without dialogue. Also, maybe the characters will have names :P

Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 7 – Fractured Earth – Made Man III

Holy hell, I made it a week without missing a day! Go me! Today’s piece follows directly on from day 6.

“A hospital. Such as it is.”

“Erm, shouldn’t you be reassuring me that you and doctors are top notch and doing more than enough to make me better and that it doesn’t matter that I seem to be in a tent that doesn’t even have a floor?”

“I could do that, but I prefer the truth. Plus, I’m not with the hospital. I’ll leave pointless reassurance to the professionals.”

“You’re not a nurse? Why are you here?”

“I’m here for you.” The words had a finality to them that made the soldier’s mouth go dry. He barely managed to contain a fearful squeak.

“For me? Am I a celebrity now? I’m no war hero, all I did was sit in the back of a lorry whilst some two bit nonce drove it off a cliff.”

“My understanding is that it was less a cliff and more a small embankment.”

“Seemed tall enough to be a cliff when I was falling off it. Do you know how bad my injuries are? How are Lockie and Canary and the rest of the squad?”

“I’ve no idea about your mates. Your arm is broken in half a dozen places and you have major damage to your internal organs. The doctors didn’t expect you to wake up at all.”

So, yeah, I saw a talk by Neil Gaiman the other day where he said everyone has a million bad words in them and the way to be a good writer is to get that million out of you as fast as possible. Well, that there’s a pretty solidly bad 200 words. So, only several hundred thousand to go!

More seriously, I was writing this whilst pretty tired at the end of a weekend of being on call, so I’mma cut myself some slack. And, more importantly, it was useful in that I learnt that I need to focus on improving my dialogue. A lot. Which I find mildly amusing, because I’ve run an awful lot of RPGs in my days and when I do them I find dialogue easier and descriptions of scenes / actions harder. It’s interesting that in this medium I find the reverse to be true.

Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 6 – Fractured Earth – Made Man II

This piece follows directly on from day 5.

She closed the book and turned to look at the soldier. “I see you’re finally awake.” The young man’s eyes blinked several times before opening fully. He tried to speak, but only a weak croak emerged.

“Careful lad, you’re a little too battered to be doing anything challenging like talking or sitting.” She closed the book she had been reading from and moved her chair close enough to the stretcher to reach out and touch him. He gasped in pain when she did so and tried to pull away from her hand.

“Hush now,” she chided, “you might insult me. And then I’d have to smother you.” She let out a little laugh, seemingly meant to show she was joking, but a chill ran down his spine nonetheless. “Perhaps some water will help.”

She stood and walked out of the tent. The soldier tried to sit up, but never even made it to his elbows. She returned a few minutes later with a glass. She set it down on a small table and helped him into a sitting position, propped up by pillows. It took what seemed an eternity of dribbling, coughing, and spluttering for him to finish the glass she held to his lips. Finally, he spoke, “Where am I?”

Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 5 – Fractured Earth – Made Man

Allied field hospital, France, 1917:

The British soldier, barely more than a boy, laid on a stretcher with his feet dangling off the end. His right arm was in a cast and bloodied bandages covered his bared torso. One side of his head had been shaved and a thick line of stitches ran from behind his ear to the top of his forehead. His right eye was swollen shut and what skin wasn’t hidden under bandages was black and purple. He had lain there for three days without waking. Every few hours, he would become restless and groan in pain. After a few minutes, he would settle again.

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon when he first awoke to the sound of a woman talking. His eyes closed, the voice was distant and indistinct. As he slowly woke, her voice seemed to grow closer. An Irish accent, she was reading. For a long time he listened without hearing the words. Slowly, ever so slowly, he became aware of the pains in his body. And as he did, he heard her voice more clearly. Until finally, he could make out words:

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Bonus points if you can name the poem she’s reading without looking it up and before she does or I do…

Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 4 – Fractured Earth – The Black and Green Dress IV

Okay. This is last night’s entry. It’s, well, to be frank, it’s terrible. Every instinct I have is screaming at me to burn it before anyone sees it. But that’s not how this challenge works. It’s what I wrote on day 4, so it gets published for day 4. I finished it a little after one last night. I’d climbed into bed after a few hours of procrastinatory browsing, tossed and turned for half an hour, and then suddenly remembered what I’d been procrastinating from – the day’s writing task. Fuck. I really didn’t want to get out of bed, so I used Google’s speech-to-text (STT) to save it on my phone. STT really wasn’t up to the task and whilst it got most of the words wrong, it did’t really do punctuation and there were some amusing word errors. But, I had to fight with it to get what I got. And in the process of doing that, I lost the flow of the writing and didn’t do any of the little edits I’d normally do. I was thinking about the technology and not about the story or the writing. And boy does it show.

This piece picks up where we left off on day 3. It’s also longer than it should be (~375 words) as I didn’t have a good way of keeping count when I was writing it and, well, yeah. Live and learn.

Derek picked up Deidre and carefully carried her across the broken wall. He laid her body down and knelt next to the crying Heinrich. He spoke, “It’s ok, she can’t hurt you anymore. What’s your name?”
“Heinrich,” he stopped, “my name is Heinrich.”
“Heinrich, I’m afraid I can’t undo what she’s done to you. Her sentence will come to pass and everything you love will die. No natural event will take your life and no supernatural being or other mortal be allowed to hurt you.” Derek paused, “Do you have family?”
“Yes, yes I do,” he sobbed, “please don’t take them from me. Please, I’ll do anything.”
“There’s nothing I can do to stop it, but there is something you can do. Tell me about your family.”
“I have a wife, her name is Ana and daughter she’s only 4. My little Emma. I can’t lose her.”
“You would do anything for her? Then think very carefully. The only way you can save her life and that of your wife and everyone else you love is if you don’t love them anymore. And if you love them then I suspect there is only one way that you can stop loving them. It was probably there in your wedding vow.”
“I don’t,” he stopped and breathed in deeply, “oh, till death do us part.”
“That’s the choice you have to make the only way to stop the sentence is to stop your love.”
“Right. Well then. I suppose you had best get on with killing me.”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple. The sentence stops any supernatural being from interfering with you. If you want to stop the sentence you have to kill yourself.”
Derek handed Heinrich the pistol. “I’m sorry that you got dragged into this, that we didn’t stop her sooner. I’ll watch over your Ana and Emma.”
Heinrich shot himself and Eric picked up the gun, holstered it, picked Deirdre’s body up and stepped in to the shadows.

Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 3 – Fractured Earth – The Black and Green Dress III

Continued from yesterday.

Deirdre shoved the man. Hard. He flew backwards, crashing through the wall and skidded to a halt inside the ruins. She stalked after him, long claws growing out of her fingers. The man fumbled beneath his coat and pulled a gun as she climbed through the hole in the wall.

“A gun?”, Deirdre laughed, “I thought you had better sense than that.”

He pulled the trigger twice when she was close enough to touch. Two bullets struck her chest. Her step faltered and her face twisted with confusion. She fell to her knees, black ichor pumping out of the bullet wounds.

“Ngozi blessed my pistol. The bullets were dipped in mother’s blood and father’s tears,” his voice broke into a sob, “I’m sorry.”

Deirdre dropped to her side and curled into a ball. “It hurts, Derek. It hurts so much,” she whispered, “but it’s gone. The mantle. The madness. Thank you.”

Her body contorted in a coughing fit and Derek knelt beside her, cradling him in his arms.

The coughing subsided. “It’s time, Derek.” She spoke calmly, “fill the promise you made to me the night you died. Free my soul.”

She looked into his eyes and he never looked away as he put the barrel of the gun behind her ear and pulled the trigger.



And yes, it’s the Derek we first met several decades later in Sylvie’s story.

Stage 1 – Take 1 – Day 2 – Fractured Earth – The Black and Green Dress II

Today’s piece picks up where yesterday’s left off. It’s also this week’s longer entry.

Heinrich screamed until his voice failed him. The woman smiled, roughly lifted his chin to look in his eyes and laid her right hand on top of his head.

“Little man,” she spoke, her voice resonated with preternatural clarity, “For your crimes, I sentence you to Na-agba ama, the bearing of witness. No thing shall claim your life until you have lived a hundred years and on this day every year, the thing you love most in this world will be forever taken from you.”

A searing pain shot through Heinrich’s head as she named the punishment. With an unquestionable certainty, he knew that she spoke the truth. He howled in anguish for a long moment and started sobbing.

A man in a simple suit stepped out from the shadows. The suit was the kind a particularly poor farm hand may have been given from a church’s collection box a decade ago.

“Deirdre,” the newcomer spoke, “A bearing of witness? We haven’t used those since before I was made…”

“And? What of it? The mortal deserved it.” She paused and giggled, “Plus it will be fun. I’ve always wanted to see one in action.” She turned her attention back to Heinrich, “Run along new boy, you aren’t welcome here.”

The man clenched his jaw and stood up straighter. Black feathered wings spread from his back and stretched out more than an arm’s length each side, adding half a foot to his already imposing height. His voice boomed and Deirdre flinched, “We are not here to torment the mortals, dear sister.” He growled, like a dog preparing to attack. And then, with obvious effort, he closed his eyes and shook his head. His wings disappeared and the darkness of the night suddenly seemed less. He took a deep breath and then sighed.

“What was the mortal’s crime? I trust it merited the punishment”

“Of course it did. He committed the most egregious of crimes. He was selfish and thinking only of himself. My poor driver nearly wet himself bringing the automobile to a halt. I was jostled something fierce. The foolish driver should have simply run this damn fool over.”

“You have condemned this mortal to a lifetime of torment because he inconvenienced you?”, the man’s wings grew again as he spoke louder and louder, “You have changed the threads of dozens of other lives, cutting them short and spinning them in unplanned directions.” He thundered, “Because he inconvenienced you.”

Deirdre laughed, covering her hand with her mouth. “Dear little brother, you really must learn to control yourself. It will be the death of you.”

He growled again and turned, punching the wall behind him which shook, filling the air with dust. He took several deep breaths and turned back to face her, speaking calmly once again, “I’ve been sent by Grim Ngozi on the orders of the conclave. Your excesses have been noticed. You are to return with me and face your final judgement.”

Deirdre spun to face him, her wings flaring, “What?”, she spat, “They dare to send a whelpling like you to order me to meet them? Cowards. I shall send Ngozi your head for his impertinence and whilst he is crying over his favourite son, I will take his head too.”