Writing Prompt: On The Road

arizona asphalt automobiles automotives

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Write a story, no more than 500 words, that takes place during a car trip. The entire story must take place in the car, though character(s) can think or talk about events that took place outside of the car.

Behind the Scenes: Choosing A Writing Program

macbook air

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I got a new laptop yesterday. I’m so enthralled with the idea that I can now work on my novel and other projects anywhere. After years of primarily using an iMac–which served me well for more than half a decade–it’s nice not to be chained to a desk.

New computers always put me on the hunt for new software, so I’m currently reevaluating my writing software. I use Scrivener at present, but they want another $45 to download the latest version. I really hate that they want me to rebuy the software I already own just so I can keep getting updates. Despite everything great about the program, I’m not sure I want to spend it just on principle.

Plan & Write A Novel

Then there’s Storyist. I’ve heard wonderful things about this software but it’s $60. I’m not sure I want to spend that simply because I think it’s a little more than novel-writing software is worth to me (especially as I can use a word processor for free). But it is nice.

Plan A Novel

Story Planner is only $10, but you don’t write the novel in the program. After losing my data once in Scrivener (before I was backing up to DropBox), this is a somewhat attractive idea. It provides a place to organize all of your story’s data and allows you to, well, plan your story. It also allows you to set deadlines so you can track your productivity. This one is definitely a contender on my list.

Subplot, which comes in at $15, does pretty much the same thing. I’m not really sure what the difference between the two is, actually, except that this program has an ideas board. They don’t share a screenshot of it, but I imagine it’s something like Scrivener’s cork board. I could be wrong, though.

Edit & Revise A Novel

Continuity, which costs $14 is another piece of software on my radar, though I suspect this program will be more useful when editing a novel. It seems like a great way to check for plot holes and inconsistencies with characters without killing several trees worth of post-its.

Other Apps & Software

There are several other apps in the App Store, and then there are plenty out there on the internet–but these three are programs I definitely have my eye on. Of course, there is always the good ole word processor.

By the way, if you’re on a PC, there’s an open source program called yWriter that I used to love. The design is not that flashy, but it has some great features. They don’t make it for Mac though.

Graduation Day

Lucy’s accepted the folio embossed with her university’s name and logo, and shook the dean’s hand. She remembered advice her father always gave, to offer a firm handshake. She squeezed tighter and the dean hissed in a breath and narrowed his eyes. She muttered an apology and, head down, hurried from the stage to catch up with the students—no, graduates—ahead of her.

Marching in file reminded her of fire drills in primary school. Her teacher would take them out into the hall, hold up two fingers to indicate they were to be silent, and say, “Don’t let go of your buddy’s hand until I say so.” Miss Pear, that was her name. Well, Miss Pear would turn her back and lead them out of the building, not once looking back until they were outside. Years later, Lucy hated her for that. Any one of them—or pair of them—could have been consumed by rampaging flames and Miss Pear wouldn’t know until she took attendance outside. Then it might be too late.

Lucy took her seat. She ran her fingertips over the gold letters on the folder. Even though she knew it would be empty, she opened it anyway. Under the plastic sleeve was a typed note that read: Pending a review of all financial obligations, you will receive your diploma in the mail within two to three weeks. In the end, Lucy thought, it comes down to money. 

Over one hundred thousand in student loans awaited her. The thought of it turned her stomach. Sweat dampened her forehead under the Pennsylvania late-spring sun. A degree from Wharton opened doors for her. That’s what everyone told her. Years later, she had no prospects. No guarantee that she’d be able to pay her student loans when the six months were up. 

Frank got a job as a business manager for some firm in New York City. He already had an apartment lined up. Lucy was supposed to help him move next week. Sarah had four offers to choose from. Lucy had joked with her that the three Sarah decided against should, by default, become hers. Sarah had tossed her hair and said, “If only it worked that way.” Joe, Lucy’s boyfriend, had called things off last night.

Lucy didn’t care about where he went next after graduation day. All she knew was he was going to California. “I just can’t do the long-distance thing,” he’d said. Lucy had offered to move. Joe said she could drop him a line if she made it out to the west coast.

When Pomp and Circumstance started to play, Lucy felt glued to her folding chair. Frank and Sarah had to hoist her to her feet so their row could file out. Joe should be sitting with her. He should be her buddy. Like Miss Pear, he didn’t give a damn what happened to her now—but if she managed to make it out to California alive, maybe he’d notice her.

This is in response to Sunday’s writing prompt. I came in at exactly 500 words on this one.

Writing Prompt: Graduation

Lots of students are graduating from college this time of year. For this week’s prompt, write a story no longer than 500 words–you must include the word “graduation” in the story. Have fun!

Rings of Saturn: Part 4 – Aug. 11-12, 79

Rings of SaturnTraveling with Marcus made Evie feel like her feet might fall off at the end of the day. He roused everyone before dawn and got them into a marching file, and they walked until the sun reached its zenith. They’d stop for a bit of wine, bread, and cheese, and then march some more. Marcus might not be an actual soldier, but Evie sure felt like she was in the army. Whenever they passed villages or other cities, Marcus would send a man or two ahead to scout the area and buy more provisions when necessary.

“I have to admit,” Evie said as they approached Naples, “he’s efficient.”

Tatius had not enjoyed the last four days. Despite his lanky build, he was slow on the road. He liked to say it was the mule slowing him down, that the beast was stubborn, but that excuse was dashed to bits when one of Marcus’s men took the rope and the mule matched the man’s pace. Since then, Marcus had taken to prodding Tatius verbally and physically. He walked by now, jabbing the farmhand in the back with the butt of his spear. “I’m going as fast as I can,” Tatius said.

“Not fast enough. Something tells me those symbols won’t last forever.”

“What does that mean?” Evie asked. Marcus didn’t answer, but set his jaw and stared forward. She stopped. “What do you mean by that? That I won’t be able to get back home?”

Marcus stopped and looked back at them. “Keep moving.”

“Not until you answer me. I didn’t know these things,” Evie held up my arm, “have an expiration date.”

“I don’t know how long they’ll last. But quests aren’t meant to be delayed. I don’t know why you even let this boy stay with us; he’s slowing us down. Slowing you down. Campania is still another day away–two if he doesn’t pick up his feet.”

“I’ve been traveling ten days already,” Tatius said.

Evie shifted her weight. “I keep him around because it’s his master’s mule. Besides, neither of us are used to walking so much in a day. Where I come from, we have–” She stopped, because she didn’t know how to describe subways and taxicabs to a Roman bandit dressed as a soldier. “This isn’t your quest, Marcus. It’s mine. I’ve hired you and the coin I gave you should be enough to pay for an extra day. Quit giving Tatius a hard time.”

Marcus shook his head. “The priestesses. Far as I’m taking you.”

“Right. Just like we agreed.”

The rest of the day, and half of the next, passed with more marching, though Marcus was gentler to Tatius. He only told him to walk faster instead of happing at him with the blunt end of his weapon. As they approached the city, Evie quieted.

“Are you frightened?” Tatius asked.

“I don’t know. I’m sure if there is some quest to fulfill, it’ll require more than walking from north of Rome to Campania. What if–what if I can’t do it, and I never get to go home again?”

“That may happen, but the gods will perhaps take into account that you tried. Well, Saturn probably wouldn’t.”

“Tatius.”

“I’m only mean that he’s rather stern, isn’t he?”

“Tatius! That’s not helping.”

“Sorry. Will you–” He adjusted his grip on the mule’s rope. “Will you send word to Publius Sepunius Columella either way?”

Evie stopped and turned toward him, mouth hanging open. “Tatius, are you worried about me?”

Tatius stopped too and looked up at the sky. Not a single cloud drifted by to distract him. “I–only because my master was concerned. And setting off as we did without the time to make a sacrifice or consult the augurs…”

Evie placed her hand on Tatius’s forearm. “I will send word if I can but I probably won’t be able to. I don’t know what’s coming and if given the opportunity to go home, I have to take it. Tatius, I don’t belong here. You didn’t see–didn’t see what I looked like when I arrived.”

“I know my master had to bring you clothes. You only know about some of our gods. Your accent is all wrong and you don’t know where some of the small villages are between the larger cities. I know you’re an outsider, but I don’t know from where.”

Or when, Evie thought. “Right. So I have to go back the moment the priestesses give me the chance–or I might lose it.”

Tatius hung his head. “I understand. Publius Sepunius Calumella will be disappointed.”

“And you?”

Tatius lifted one corner of his mouth to smile. “I haven’t got much of a choice. Just bring the mule here, bring the mule back. Probably won’t even make it back alive.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard you tell a joke. You shouldn’t. It’s weird, Tatius.” Evie smiled to him though.

“Are you two finished? The priestesses won’t wait forever,” Marcus said.

After Tatius left with the mule, Evie followed Marcus into Campania proper. It was more beautiful than anything she’d ever imagined, but somehow she knew it fulfilled every part of a Mediterranean dream, even though it was on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Turquoise water, sailboats, and villas carved into cliffs were accompanied by the calls of gulls overhead, and a chorus of voices. Some advertised the catch of the day, others wares from all over the region. Wheat from Egypt. Pottery from Greece. Spanish leather.

“This way,” Marcus closed his hand around Evie’s elbow and led her through a maze of streets. Each time she was certain they’d hit a dead end, he turned into an alleyway that was so narrow it seemed to appear out of nowhere. It would widen and then lead to other alleyways that worked like capillaries, arteries, and veins carrying people, animals, and goods to and from the port. Evie imagined a great heart there, beneath the docks, pulsing. Marcus turned with her so many times that she lost track of which direction they’d come from, until they finally stopped before an archway over a door twice her height. “The priestesses are inside. I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain.”

“So you’re just going to abandon me here?”

He shook his head, lips pressed into a thin line. “It is no abandonment. You paid me to take you to the priestesses.”

“You said you knew them. You have to at least make an introduction.”

Marcus sighed and approached the door, raising his fist and pounding on the wood with his whole forearm. For a moment, nothing happened, and Evie wasn’t sure if she would be happy about that or not. Would it be easier to just go back to Publius Sepunius Columella and try to find a job she could do for him? The door swung open and her wrist burned. Evie hissed and covered the marks with her other hand. Marcus turned toward her. “What is it?”

She uncovered her wrist, which looked red and angry, like the symbols had just been branded mere moments ago. “It hurts.”

“It would, wouldn’t it?”

Evie narrowed her eyes at him. “Why? Why should it hurt?”

“Means you’re on the right path, I bet. Come on.”

Evie didn’t consider herself a wimp but she wouldn’t have minded getting some sympathy from Marcus. Tatius would have shown empathy, she thought–but then, Marcus was a cruel mercenary, probably. Or brigand. She shouldn’t expect such kindness from him. She followed him through the archway, her cheeks heating up as she looked up at the barrel-vaulted expanse before her. The walls were frescoed with scenes of the gods. Evie couldn’t help but think how much Pete would love to get a team in here. If she ever made it home, she’d have to make sure that the museum got someone to come check this place out. Maybe she’d get to come back in two thousand years or so and see it with an archeologist’s eye.

“Marcus,” a woman in a dark blue dress walked up to them and regarded him. “You weren’t going to ever return here. On pain of death.”

Evie turned her head toward him so fast that her neck spasmed. “You–you said they owed you.”

The woman laughed. “We do! We owe him death. But,” she turned toward Evie, trailing cool fingertips down Evie’s arm to clasp her wrist. She pried Evie’s fingers away from the symbols and held them up close to her face. Evie examined the paint around the woman’s eyes. Tiny Roman numerals–just numerals here, I suppose–lined her brow. “But maybe we can find a way for him to settle this debt between us. Marcus, you will both stay the night.” She smiled to Evie, releasing her wrist. “I am Aelia, and you and I have much to discuss. You come with the gods’ blessing, on a quest that…” Aelia closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath that shuddered her torso, “that will either save or doom you.”

Evie couldn’t look away from Aelia. Her low, soft voice, her painted amber eyes, her soft black curls that framed her face and rested weightless on her shoulders, entranced Evie. “Can you help me? Tell me what I’m supposed to do? And how to get back home?”

Aelia smiled. “There is only one way to go home. You must do as the gods ask, and you must have faith in them. I must consult with them–you will both dine and sleep in this temple tonight.”

“But–” Marcus said, but silenced himself when Aelia held up her hand, palm facing him. He nodded and Aelia waved that hand, beckoning three more young women. They kept their gazes down, but two of them led Marcus one way, and one of them led Evie down another corridor.

“You must bathe, then sup, then sleep,” the woman told Evie.

Despite how much she wanted to get home, Evie agreed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real bath. Food sounded great, and sleep in what she hoped would be a bed would be divine. Then in the morning, she could find out from Aelia exactly what she had to do to get back home where she belonged.

Pathogen: Jana – 3

PathogenThe next morning, at least she figured it was morning, the heavy door to the room opened once more. Two women stood on the other side, and behind them, the man with the gun. “You’re to come with us then, to get cleaned up.”

“What if I would rather just leave?” Jana stood from her corner.

“Then I’ll kill you,” the man answered.

Jana didn’t think he’d shoot her for not going with the other women. She crossed her legs at the ankle, leaned back, and said, “You know, threatening to kill people isn’t exactly the best way to get them to do what you want.”

He shrugged. “I don’t care. It’s effective, isn’t it? Now, on your feet. Go and get cleaned up.”

Jana reluctantly followed the two women. Not that she had much of a choice with the man with the gun walking behind her, so close that she could hear him breathing. “Do you all have names,” she asked idly.

“Yes.” He didn’t tell her his name, nor the names of the women who led her into the bathrooms.

“Is this a cult?” Jana was alone with the two women now. They didn’t speak, but just shook their heads as they gently stripped her of her clothing. Beneath her coat she wore a pair of spandex shorts and a tank top–far more appropriate for a Manhattan summer than Ryan’s coat. “Take it easy with that,” she instructed the woman who dumped the coat into a wash bin. The coat was a faded parka, and the women looked at her like she was crazy for wanting them to take such care.

The water they dumped over her head was room temperature, so that she stood shivering and dripping. They scrubbed at her hair and body with a sharp-scented soap. One of them stopped and pointed to the small black cat on her upper arm. “Oh, that?” Jana asked. “Ryan and I got tattoos together about four years ago. We were separated.” Again, the women said nothing, but resumed washing her. “You know,” Jana offered, “I’m capable of doing this myself.” They merely shook their heads and continued working. They dumped another bucket of water over her head to rinse away the suds and then came at her with towels and clothing.

Outside the room, the man with the gun waited. “At least you don’t stink anymore,” he offered, placing one hand on her shoulder to direct her further down the corridor.

Jana watched the door to the room where they’d imprisoned her. They passed it, but she figured it was pointless to ask where they were going as she’d find out soon enough. “There are better places to live, you know. Brighter places. Even my apartment is nicer.”

“We can keep this secure.”

“Figures you’d say something like that.”

“I don’t want to be your friend thief. I wanted to kill you. Don’t forget that.”

Jana said nothing else to him as he steered her around the corner and into another room. A wooden conference table sat in the middle, surrounded by a semi-circle of chairs. White paint was chipping off of the walls and she wondered how this place could look like it was abandoned decades ago when the riots only started earlier in the year.

“Sit there,” the man pointed to a chair at one end of the table. He and the women left the room.

Jana sat where indicated and waited. An older man she’d not seen before strolled in and sat across from her, laying his palms on the faded table. He was balding, but it seemed like all the hair that had fled the top of his head took up residence on his eyebrows. For a moment, he sat, back rigid, staring at her. She stared right back, reclining in the over-sized chair, arms folded over her chest.

“You are obviously skilled at stealth.”

Jana shrugged. “Not skilled enough it seems.”

The man waved his hand dismissively. He wore a gold wedding band a gold watch. Jana could see from here that the watch face was frosted white and cracked. “Do not undervalue your abilities. No one gets past them–they were CIA, you know.”

“I didn’t know. What’s your point?”

“Everyone must pull their weight. We have a lot of people here. The group who determined your judgment…they were just the first thirty or so in line.”

“Great legal system you have here.”

The man’s mouth quirked up at one corner, but it didn’t put Jana at ease. “You have three choices. You can either work for us willingly, work for us unwillingly, or suffer the ultimate consequences.”

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

The man rose to his feet deliberately, as though testing the reliability of his legs beneath him. “Well, if you work for us willingly, you’d be finding information. Finding food. Supplies. That sort of thing. If you work for us unwillingly, you stay here and…and we take something from you. The final choice is to forfeit your life.”

“What’s to stop me from just leaving if I work with you?”

“Every mission you’ll be with the two men who tracked you.”

“You really know how to sweeten a deal, hm? What do you take from me if I choose to be uncooperative? Obviously I’m not going to just let you kill me.”

“Well, that would be your choice. Your hand, your ear, your eye, your nose, or your tongue. The women who bathed you…they chose that route. Plus, if you don’t cooperate, then you will never leave this place.”

“Ah, that’s why they were so silent. Well, as fun as that sounds, I think I will keep all of my body parts. I guess I have no choice but to work with you. Though I’m not too keen on spending my days with those two idiots.”

“They are not idiots. Quite intelligent actually. And what you are keen on…does not really matter. You must be hungry; I will have someone show you to your permanent quarters, and tomorrow, you will begin.”

Behind the Scenes: Deleted Scene

This is part of a scene from an old version of a chapter of my novel. I like the conflict between James and Zaddock, but after this semester’s experiments with my tone, style, voice, and structure, the writing feels so stiff to me. I might grab a few descriptions to reuse, but for the most part, this scene will likely remain deleted.

Two days later, the bell rang from the lookout again. I was in the stables when I heard the chimes fill the air. The horses here were majestic creatures. Abner’s own reminded me of Katherine for they were both Thoroughbreds, but Abner’s horse—called Barnaby—was different from the mild-mannered mare of my childhood. He was younger, and far more spirited. But he had the same white star pattern between his eyes that Katherine had. My father had said it reminded him of a jewel, so that’s why he named her after the queen of one hundred years ago.

Barnaby nuzzled my palm and I pat that star before leaving the stables. The lookout was on the armory, which made sense as the two long guns were perched on the lookout deck. I wasn’t technically supposed to be in the armory without permission, but my curiosity got the better of me; I wanted to see what the bell was for. I slipped inside, spotting a trio of soldiers in the midst of the room. At the moment, all of their backs were turned so I took the stairs two at a time, and almost ran into Gibbons at the top. 

“Oh, pardon me.”

“Mr. Stanworth,” he greeted with a tilt of his head. “Weren’t you supposed to stay out of the armory?” He was smiling. I was certain he recalled giving me a brief overview of the fort and it’d been he who issued that decree.

“Was I? My apologies if that’s so. You can search me if you must.”

Gibbons cocked his head to the side, and it looked like he was chewing on his cheek. “No,” he decided finally. “I trust you. I imagine you’re looking for the Lieutenant?”

I nodded. Gibbons pointed toward the door across the landing. “He’s out on the lookout with the Captain.”

I thanked him and walked past him but then stopped. “Mr. Gibbons?” When he turned from the top step, I asked, “What do you think of the Captain?”

His smile fell from his face. “Doesn’t really matter, does it? What I think? He outranks me, so I do as told, Mr. Stanworth, sir.”

“I see. Thank you.” 

Gibbons nodded and went on his way. I pulled open the door to the lookout and stepped outside. Up here, the wind curled up from the river and smacked my face. The cold made my nose tingle for a moment until it started to feel stiff and numb, even when I tried to wiggle it. I watched the tip, but what I saw didn’t connect to what I felt.

“What’re you doing up here?” Zadock demanded. 

Not my captain. “I heard the bells.”

“You are not a military man. You shouldn’t be up here.” 

Abner shook his head. “It’s alright, James. See that?” He pointed toward the river. 

“Damn Dutch,” Zadock grumbled.

“Is there no one you don’t hate?” I asked the Captain, who turned and thrust his stubby fingers into my chest. 

“I don’t hate the English. Our own kind.”

“All evidence to the contrary,” I answered, pushing his hand away.