As most of you know, I love writing prompt’s and some of my novels have started as, or incorporated prompts in one way or another. As host of the writing group’s monthly sharing meeting, I assign ‘homework’ for attendees. This month’s prompt was to incorporate a potion of some sort, after all it is Halloween month. This was my response, I hope you like it.
Thin clouds drifted across the twilight sky, obscuring, then revealing the full moon’s light on the small hut and earthen track leading up to it. A lone wolf’s howl echoed in the forest, startling large black crows into flight from their roost, their noisy cawing disturbing the earlier still night air. A rickety cart crunched the dry earth as its inhabitant and the old horse pulling it, neared the hut. Wrapped in threadbare cloth and barefooted, the rider pulled at the reins and let out a sigh. To any observer the rider was an old crone, bent almost double, a large hump on her back, only her face, feet and hands uncovered, which were veined and wrinkled. She picked up a wicker basket covered by a velvet cloth and descended from the cart. Patting the horse as she passed, it changed shape, diminished in size and became a fox before scurrying away.
With shuffling steps, the crone opened the wooden door and entered the ramshackled hut. Candles flickered into life at the passing of her hand, and a fire blazed into being. After placing the basket on a wooden table worn to a shine and scarred with use, she discarded the old cloth to reveal an ebony velvet cloak. Slippers of the same colour appeared on her feet and her hair tumbled down her back in dark locks. Anyone seeing her now, as a young woman, would never think she was the old crone peddling in the walled city streets. She guarded her secret well.
One again, she had accumulated the ingredients for her secret potion. The first step was to soak the gathered fungi, and night lily root in lamb’s blood overnight. This was the basis of the elixir; one she had perfected over the last century or more. Her age was a mystery even to her now. So many renewals, so many moves to walled cities across the land, once again she would move to avoid any inquisitive questioning. She pulled a brass covered wooden box from a shelf and unlocked it. The vial inside shone with iridescence, there was just enough for the next potion. Her renewal would give her time to travel to the cavern deep within a cliff beside the ocean on the western most edge of the kingdom of Udizan. There she would refill the vial from the source, her most guarded secret. A pool of shining liquid, it’s origin unknown, but it’s effects powerful, when combined with the other ingredients. She placed the vial back in the box, turned the key and returned the treasured possession back on its shelf. As she turned, she cast a spell to protect the hut from any intruder and went to bed. In the morning, she would begin the ritual, adding all the items of the recipe, then drinking the elixir before leaving this hovel to find another place, another city, another ‘life’ among mortal beings.
She lay down as images of her multiple past existences came to mind – cities blended into one, faces merged and became indistinct, memories too many to define. She let out a sigh of despair – did she really want to live yet another life? The secret would die with her unless she could find someone worthy. Was that so impossible? How would she begin? Her troubled thoughts plagued her once again. Was it really such a great thing to live forever?
Do you have a favorite Halloween story? Care to share?
We were set a prompt at our writer’s meeting, and I thought you may enjoy the story I created from it.
This was the prompt: What’s in a Name? Build a character’s traits based on the meaning of their first or last name. Look up name meanings. Write a scene or story starring your new character.
First name, female: Keara – dark one
The first time the baby opened her eyes, her mother, Krystal, knew she was different. Not just special as all babies are, but unusual and rare. Her daughter’s eyes appeared black, but when she looked up in fear, worrying there was something wrong, the doctor assured her they were actually very, very dark brown, caused by an abundance of melanin. The baby’s eyes were mesmerizing, and many visitors were both troubled and fascinated in equal measure. For days Krystal pondered what she should call her daughter. The names she thought of before the birth now seemed common and usual, not fitting for this remarkable babe.
It wasn’t until four days after the birth that Krystal’s grandmother came to visit. A woman of Irish descent and somewhat of a believer in ancient wisdom. She picked up the baby and stared into her eyes for a long time. The baby held still and silent, even though Krystal knew she was due a feed. It seemed grandmother and granddaughter accessed each other, became known to the other and an understanding reached. When her grandmother lowered the baby into Krystal’s arms, she spoke in a whisper.
“You will call her, Keare, the dark one. She is of another time in her soul.”
Krystal instinctively embraced her baby a little tighter. “Gran, what do you mean, what are you saying?”
“Her previous incarnation was a powerful warrior, leader of men and fearless in battle. She will remember nothing in a few months’ time, but for now she is struggling with her new body, time and place. Be respectful and do not talk down to her. You are so fortunate to have brought her into this world.”
“How is that possible, Gran?”
“Such powerful and forceful soul’s do return, some because of unfinished business, others to continue a task. I cannot determine which one is Keare’s path. Time will tell. As I said she will lose her past life memories soon, however her mission will come forth and be revealed as she grows.”
“What am I to do, Gran? How do I ensure Kaere finds this path?”
“Her nature will come through, her likes and dislikes, her passions. Guide her and make note of what appeals and interests her. You are her guardian in more ways than one my dear.”
“I don’t know if I am up to the task, Gran. Can you help me?”
“Of course, I will help you and the child. Her future may be unknown as yet, but it will become evident as she ages. Do not stress, for now, she is a baby and only requires your love and care.”
Two decades later, Kaere, has grown into a dark haired, dark eyed beauty with a forceful personality, who never suffers fools gladly. Free from the conventions and expectations of her childhood, she finds her true core value. She showed little interest in the usual girly pursuits of childhood, such as dolls and pretty dresses, favoring walks in the forest, comfortable and practical attire and the company of boys. Now, she has a company of young men, who blindly follow her lead, unsure of what propels them to do so, but unable to resist. Not a lovesick infatuation but a certainty she is a leader, someone who takes charge. Her male university colleagues, professors and lecturers are all under her spell, making the female population both jealous and wary of her.
Kaere finds her purpose in her twenty first year. A chance encounter and forceful discussion with a political science lecturer propels her into a meteoric advancement into politics. She is seen as not only strong but fearless in her ambitions with the backing of numerous powerful and rich men following her without question. She is focused, determined and above all completely believes in her path – a path foreseen by her grandmother. She will make a difference in this world as she did in the last.
:et me know what you thought of this story. I always love hearing back from my followers.
As many of you know I love utilizing prompts to spark an idea for writing a story. This one is no exception, although it ran a little longer than I envisioned.
The hike started like any other, but certainly didn’t end that way. My discovery changed everything in my life. I am, however, getting ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
As an avid hiker and explorer of new trails, most weekends see me driving to a new location. Fully equipped for every eventuality I can walk for a day – easily. My favorite time to walk is on vacation. These are better as they give me more time to explore and map out my routes to encompass as many trials as possible over a week or two. It is one vacation hike; I want to talk about –the one that started the mayhem.
With a ten-day vacation ahead, I’d researched, planned and mapped out my routes for each day. Invested in a new one-person tent, renewed supplies, and checked and double checked everything before packing it all in the most economical way possible in my rucksack. I walked with the fully loaded rucksack each evening to source any areas that might chafe or bruise. With several adjustments made and additional padding added, I was happy and comfortable with my survival pack.
On the first morning of my vacation, I woke up early, too excited to sleep in. I pulled on my trusty hiking boots, grabbed two large bottles of cold water, and carried my rucksack to the car. It was a glorious early summer morning, full of birdsong and too early for the commuters to drown out their song with the ever-present vehicle engine drone of rush hour. After a quick inventory, I locked the front door and settled into the driver’s seat. The GPS burst into life and announced the time my journey would take. After a short detour to pick up breakfast at the drive thru, I was on my way. New places, new adventures and sights were ahead of me.
Prior to starting my hike, there was a quick stop for the restroom, another high protein meal and water bottle refill. With my orientation map hanging in its clear plastic folder on my belt, I set off up a slight incline into the lush greenery of a forest in the foothills. There were few cars in the car park when I left, but I put my route, time of departure and estimated time of return and personal details on a piece of paper on my dashboard. It was a safety feature, I adopted many years earlier, after getting lost on my first solo hike. Three hours later, I arrived at my destination.
I breathed in the mountain air and took in the sights, sounds and smells of my environment. With any easy stride, I enjoyed the air being just warm enough to be pleasant rather than stifling hot. A breeze whispered through the branches carrying the pine aroma toward me. This was my happy place.
As the sun reached its zenith, I broke free of the tree line to be welcomed by a spectacular view of mountain peaks across a valley. The pine needle trail petered out underfoot and changed to a rocky plateau. Taking my map out, I orientated myself, and began the descent into the valley. This was my destination for the night. My plan to camp beside the river and make my way back to my vehicle the following day by an alternative route. An hour later, sitting on an outcrop drinking water, I displaced a collection of stones. They tumbled downward and I expected them to keep falling but they stopped. Curious I leaned over to see what obstacle had halted their descent. There was a ledge jutting out beneath the one I was sitting on. With measured steps I made way down the incline to discovery a small cave. Taking my flashlight out, I shone it into the interior to have a million reflected lights shine back. Blinking at the sudden illumination, I giggled in surprise. The rock face inside was filled with crystals. This was a first for me, a real discovery. I took several photos using my cell phone flash and the flashlight to capture the glint and shine of the cave interior. I called out and was answered by an echo.
I advanced into the cave depths, sweeping my light from side to side, enjoying the reflected light of the crystals. They became more brightly coloured the deeper I walked until I reached a hollow shape on the floor. I expected a pool of water but instead nestled inside was an egg. It was dark shelled with a cracked line zig-zagging along its length. It was unlike any bird’s or snake’s egg I’d ever seen. What was it? Slipping on a glove I picked it up. It was cold, so not viable to my way of thinking. It would be such a treasure to have so I slipped it into a pouch of my rucksack to examine later, once I made camp.
The trail meandered between rocky plateau and the tree line as it descended into the valley floor. The sun was hot, and the shelter of the pine trees was an intermittent relief as I weaved my way downward. As the light changed, I found a good spot to make camp, sheltered by an outcrop, a stream bubbling nearby and a supply of large rocks to make a campfire. I busied myself with the preparation of my camp, pitching the tent, making a circle of stones for the fire, collecting firewood and placing my sleeping bag and cushioned underlay within the tent’s interior. Satisfied with my camp site, I opened a couple of cans and popped the contents into a pot nestled in the fire. As the aroma of beans and sausages rose, my stomach growled. With only meager rations while walking, I was hungry.
I ate in silence, relishing the spicy sausage and bar-be-que flavoured beans. I followed my meal with two bananas and a multi-grain power bar. It was then I remembered the egg. I pulled it out of the rucksack and examined it closely. The dark charcoal shell was pitted, and the crack looked larger – which I put down to the jiggling in the rucksack it experienced as I walked. At that moment a loud howl echoed nearby and startled me. The egg slipped from my hand and landed in the flames. In a panic I grabbed a long stick and tried to roll it out of the heat. That’s when I saw it gradually change colour. No longer dark and dull but a golden hue emerged as the shell’s top layer peeled away as it got hotter. Transfixed I watched it change. What was this?
The hotter the egg got the more it shone, reflecting the flames orange and red. I heard a sizzle then the egg cracked wide open. What I saw was incomprehensible, my mind was bombarded with scenarios, my eyes blurred. I stumbled backwards, unsure what I should do. There curled up in the egg was some sort of creature. It’s scaled form motionless for an instant. Then it unfurled and opened its golden eyes to fix me with a look of such depth I could not move. My mind would not accept what I was seeing, tried to rationalize it as a dream, a hallucination – anything but what was clearly in front of me. A baby dragon!
My breath escaped me in a rush, I’d been holding my breath for a long time. The dragon rose upward, stretching and yawning. It’s eyes never leaving my face. Unsure how it would react I keep still and watched as it climbed from the shell, walked over the hot coals without a flinch and approached me.
I instinctively shuffled backwards on my hands and bottom. The dragon let out a snort and sniffed my boot. A guttural sound came from the creature and a puff of smoke issued from its mouth. It stumbled backwards, shocked by its own emission, then huffed again. Another small tendril of smoke left its nostrils. All my focus was on the little dragon now. Would it breath fire now? What should I do? I was miles away from civilization and in the presence of a mythical beast. Or one thought to be, anyway.
With tottering steps, the creature grew closer to me, sniffing at my clothes. My hand rested on the earth beside my thigh, and without thought I reached over to touch the little being. It tilted its head at my touch and uttered a burbling sound, almost a deep purring. I cupped my hands and it hopped into them. We were eye to eye, looking into each souls. We reached a non-verbal understanding through a melding of minds. I was the keeper; the protector and my loyalty would be repaid. The dragon shivered and snuggled under my sweater, drawing warmth from my body. I then realized the fire was reduced to embers and restocked it with sticks and logs until it blazed warmth once again. We sat together, a connection made and a future unknown.
Huddled together we slept and in the early morning light I began packing up my camp, taking care to keep my little friend warm with a well-stocked fire. Using a themo-blanket, I wrapped up the creature and nestled under it in my hoodie. With the fire doused with water and inspected to ensure any hot embers were extinguished, I began the trek back to my car. The dragon’s head popped out of the V-neck sniffing and looking side to side. Exploring its surroundings. How would it take to an urban setting after this? At least I had ten more days of vacation to plan what I needed to do.
As we approached the car park, I gently pushed the dragon’s head down, out of sight. With my rucksack thrown into the rear seat, I sat in the driver’s seat wondering what my next step should be. I could feel the creature’s body shifting and wriggling. Looking around to make sure there were no people close to my car, I let its head pop up. The sudden change in scenery was a puzzle to its senses and it blinked several times and inhaled deeply. I looked down and smiled. Then jumped as a hand slapped on my window.
A child of, maybe ten or eleven, was peering into the side window, thumping the glass and chattering excitedly. I turned away to hide the dragon, but the child’s parents were now wide-eyed standing behind their son. With no choice, I pushed down the door lock, turn the engine on and drove out of the car park. Giving a wave and shaking my head as I went. I hoped these witnesses dismissed the sighting.
I drove to my destination, parking with my license plate hidden in an overgrown bush and replaced my trek details on the dash with my new hike. Then I paused – should I really let them know my route. What if the authorities were notified of a strange creature and were in pursuit? I was gripped with a searing sense of protection for my new friend, so intense I discarded my usual safety feature, locked the vehicle door and set off into the wild.
Three hours later, I found a place to sit, drink and eat. Unsure what the dragon needed I cupped my hand and filled it with water. The creature sniffed, licked and then lapped at the liquid. It recoiled at the granary power bar but chewed happily at a pepperoni stick. As we sat looking out toward a broad swathe of forest, nagging thoughts came to mind. How would I get this creature home and keep it safe? Should I take it home or leave it in the forest? What should it eat? How big would it grow? Would it fly? Breath fire!
For four days and nights we traveled the hiking trails, avoiding people, walking and sleeping close together, skin to scale. The more time I spent with the dragon baby the more I became attached. We developed a telepathy between us, dragon would sense humans and make a low grumble sound to alert me. I’d hide and let them pass. I knew its moods; it’s wants and knew it was sensing mine too. Our connection grew stronger with each day.
I experimented with food to feed my little creature and found berries and pepperoni were relished. We stopped to admire a lake one evening and I was startled to witness the dragon leap into the water and catch a fish. So, then I knew the dragon was an omnivore and found sources of nourishment for it, such as berries, and edible plants and allowed it to hunt small mammals at night. I altered my hiking route to encompass a circular route around any large lake or river, so an evening meal of fish was enjoyed. By day ten, we were in total synchronicity.
I came up with a plan by day five and leaving the dragon hidden in my car went to a local toy store, found a dragon-like toy and charred it in a fire-pit. It looked similar to the real thing and was my explanation when needed. I would call it my lucky hiking charm if questioned. With our increased telepathy ability, I only had to think ‘hide’ and the creature withdrew into my hoodie. I had the toy snuggled to one side of my hoodie and the real thing to the other, so it was easy to switch them when we encountered anyone in a car park or public place.
Apart from buying food and water, I kept my visits to any public places to a minimum. I did, however, stick to my agenda with the hikes I set out for my vacation. Anything to avoid suspicion. As day ten approached I became anxious. My worry and tenseness, in turn, affected the dragon baby and it would bury its head into the crook of my neck. It comforted us both. Our last night in the forest, I tried hard to relay what would happen the next day to my companion. I only hoped the creature would understand.
I woke early and lay still for several minutes breathing in the forest aroma, listening to the birdsong and taking in my last moments of nature. I turned expecting to find the dragon curled up at my side, but it was not there. Sitting up and scanned the tent’s interior. No dragon! Rushing outside I surveyed the campsite, the riverbank, the rocky outcrop. No dragon. I called out “Come on then. Where are you?” Looking all around me, my panic increasing, I was frightened something had taken the baby during the night. Scenarios of the dragon going for a drink and a wild animal grabbing it flooded my mind. Running this way and that, my heart pounding, I began to cry. I searched the tent, the campsite, and surrounding area, again and again. There was no sign of the dragon. Defeated I sat down, with my head in my hands.
A sharp crack of a branch breaking, had my head swing around. I jumped up in surprise to be faced with the dragon. But not a small, compact dragon baby but a large, six-foot-tall dragon with blazing golden eyes. It looked straight at me. For the first time since finding the egg, I was afraid. I backed away, hands held out in front of me, which on second thought was ridiculous. A fire breathing dragon could reduce me to a pile of ash.
The dragon stepped closer, I stepped back, trembling in fear. It made a huffing sound and lowered and tilted its head, just like it used to. A feeling of calm washed over me. A voice inside my head told me I was not in danger. My companion would protect me. With a shaking hand, I reached out. The creature advanced to place its head beside me on the ground. It may have grown larger, but its dependency on me was evident. As we stood there together, I realized all my planning to get the baby dragon to my home was now irrelevant. There was no way I could hide this beast, even under the cover of darkness, there would be possible sightings. What was I going to do now!
A telepathic message popped into my head. ‘I am safe within the forest, do not fret. You have guarded me at my most venerable. I am grateful. You have shown me trails to avoid, places to hide and food to eat. You are free of your responsibility to me from this moment onward.’ I shook my head. I was attached to this being, loved it. I was more aware of the dangers of humans. A sighting would prompt a massive search with people, dogs and helicopters. I ‘voiced’ these thoughts in my mind, knowing the dragon could ‘hear’ them. The answer came after a pause. ‘I cannot ask you to give up your life to protect me.’ I shook my head refusing to acknowledge the message. “I can’t just leave you. I have to find a safe place for you to live.”
The dragon eyes focused on mine. ‘You will be missed. You must return home. These forests are large enough for me to hide, to live without detection. Maybe, if you wish, you could visit?’ I sat down feeling frustrated, angry and confused. “How would I ever find you? There are thousands of acres of forest, mountains, foothills, and lakes. It would be impossible. There must be something I can do?” Crouching down on its hide legs the dragon, shook its head. ‘I know your scent and can trace you over a thousand miles, I would find you, no matter where you were. It is as it should be. You have afforded me your friendship and I will forever be in your debt. Go home. Only return when it is possible. I will be safe here.’
I left a while later, despondent but resolved. I would return as many times I could. I would do as I was advised by this mythical creature – its very existence seemingly impossible to the entire human population. I was the only one, a special being myself. A secret I would keep forever.
I would live to know what you think of this story. Please leave a comment below.
Sabrina coxed Juniper, her pet duck, into her special backpack on Saturday morning. The white duck ruffled her feathers in anticipation of an adventure, being accustomed to these trips from a duckling. The plan was to meet Sabrina’s friend, Alison and meet another duck fancier. The back pack allowed Juniper a view of the world with a clear plastic panel with strategic air holes so the little duck’s nostrils could pick up the various aromas as they walked. The path from Alison’s house was a steep downhill trek, boarded by a low stone wall and many shrubs and trees. Juniper quacked as the backpack moved side to side in time with Sabrina’s steps. Soon the sounds of traffic and the bustle of the small town overtook the birdsong. The two friends looked across the road before stepping out and making their way to the special waterfowl event.
Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane
I really enjoyed the building tension, the red herrings and the characters within this narrative. Skillfully plotted and written with great twists to get the reader guessing.
The Doll’s House by A.J. Arlidge
Once again M.J. delivers a tension packed, fast paced, twisting tale that elicits page turning. His skill with short chapters packed with characters and their journey is exceptional. I highly recommend these stories of DI Helen Grace.