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Author Topic: [Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread  (Read 1529 times)

Offline xiagan

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[Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread
« on: March 01, 2019, 08:25:16 PM »
Dan Harmon's Story Circle


This was posted on wired.com in 2011 but it's not there anymore.

Dan Harmon, who, among other things, created the TV show Community and Rick and Morty, codified the storytelling process, revealing the hidden structure powering movies, TV shows and - of course - fantasy novels. Not every short story works that way but some do and this month we want you to try this structure. We'd love to hear afterwards how it worked for you and if not, why not.
Who knows, you may even learn something new about (your) writing. ;)


Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. Your story's main character has to go through all eight steps of the story circle.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close March 31st/April 1st, 2019 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline Cell18

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Re: [Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2019, 10:03:59 PM »
Title: The Journal of Sid Owen
Word Count: 1309

Spoiler for Hiden:
The following extract from the journal of Sid Owen is reproduced with kind permission
“I didn’t need to do what I did.  I want to make it clear that I was never forced to do anything against my will or that was against my morals as a human being.


"I am a visioneer that means I can enter the minds of others and see what they see, but not control them.  People like me are not allowed to live in society as normal and have to spend a long time in special centres called “mental affliction” centres.   It takes nearly a lifetime to control the vision and the best care for this is at these centres.  The vision itself takes form anytime you touch an object with bare hands and it does not belong to you.  The most effective way of controlling the vision is to starve it, which is achieved by wearing gloves with an electric circuit inside which slowly kills the ability.

Many of these centres are dull, foreboding looking edifices that do not give the impression of warmth, comfort or normality.  The truth is rather the opposite.  I am fond of living in the centre and this has allowed me to become who I am.  That is so much more important than what I am.

I have a job at the centre and as jobs go, it is very easy.  I am schedule manager for the day’s tasks, and only the doctors nurses are above me in the centre. Each week I work on a rota for the other residents, making sure that their skills both mental and physical are used in the most efficient way possible and in the fairest way possible.  Amongst the centre staff, I am treated almost as an equal and that is so important to me.  To have people treat you as normal and not some alien or mentally ill person.  This life is a life that I have become comfortable with and one that I would be happy to live forever.

In the summer of 2045, a major crime incident was ongoing. Each of us were gripped by the news of the murderer on the loose who had killed upwards of 11 people, mainly women but some younger girls as well.  In our centre, we were all protected from the suspicion of the police and the target of the killer.  We spoke for hours about the latest developments and theorising on what the person would look like. 

I spoke to the doctors about my intention to help the police with my skill.  They were horrified of course that I would put myself in such a vulnerable and public position.  The tried to bring me around to their thinking by pointing out everything that I had in my favour. A clear conscience, a life free of worry and most importantly of all, my status in the centre as one of the most highly thought of resident.  They even tried to bribe me with weekend passes and free time instead of work.  I would never shirk my responsibilities and have my morals.  Put simply I feel that if I am in a position to help then I should do all that I can.  Eventually, the doctors
arranged a meeting with the police.

The meeting was more like an interview.  They had me touch objects belonging to officers not in the room and I told them what I saw and they checked with the officers.  It always amused me to see the awe on their faces after they realised how powerful I could be.  The nest day, they brought me a piece of clothing left behind by the killer, ripped by the victim in a desperate attempt to free herself.

The first vision I had will stick with me.  I saw a normal house, one that a young family was living in.  There were toys left behind the chairs, the bright coloured toys that are meant for the youngest of children.  Everything in the house screamed that the person was normal.  I checked many times with the police in the room to make certain this was definitely belonging to the killer.  I relayed information to them but nothing helped them identify the man.  For what I was to see later in my visions, the contrast of the perfect family home is the most stark I think I ever will see.

For the next 5 days, I carried out the visions with police and doctors in the room three times a day.  Nothing of importance was found out from my visions. The killer was obsessed with himself, reading the news stories, watching the every news bulletin so see his fame.  It was decided that the killer was being careful and quiet as to not draw any more attention.  This continued for another month until the police told me to take longer visions unsupervised especially late at night.

During this time, I had some of the strangest experiences.  It was as if I was living a different life.  Surrounded by a loving family and having what I considered a very fulfilling life.  I do not think that any woman including my mother has ever loved me and suddenly I was being involved to the most intimate of moments between lovers.  I lost track of who I was and stated to spend more time as the killer than I did.  It was during these longer stints of vision; I got a name, just a first name.  The killer was called Evan. I would get the surname too late.
Words cannot describe what he did to those three innocent women that night late in autumn.  The only word that I can describe it as is red.  Red that runs almost black.  Faces contorted in fear, pain and finally relief of death.  Agonising screams followed by everlasting silence.  Life burning like the brightest light reduced to blackness forever.  Evan had opened his true self to me and not even the devil is capable of this blackness of soul.

I hated myself.  I despised myself and I feel that I alone was responsible.  I dream no longer sweet dreams of the family man.  Each time I saw his wife and his child through his eyes I could not connect the love of them to the hate of the man.  The way they kissed him.  The way they adored him.  The way they were ignorant right
until he was arrested.

I spend more time in his head.  More time than anyone would consider sane.  That is where I lost myself.  I was no longer think of him as a different person.  I was thinking of him as an extension of me and me as an extension of him.  The first time I hit a nurse I was horrified.  I was horrified there was no blood, no real pain only shock.  The second time I made sure to draw blood. Luckily for her, the third time I was caught with the knife in my hand.

I have become everything I despise.  I wanted to help the police and I did that. It has cost me my life.  I am now a murderer in mind and a helpless, lost individual in the cold light of day.”

The police would like to thank Mr.Owen for his assistance in tracking the killer Evan Harlem and a forever grateful for the sacrifices he has made.  It was with great sadness and regret that Mr.Owen felt the need to free himself of his thoughts and in his memory, a fund will be set up to find new ways of curing people from the vision. 

The police would like to make it known to all that no individual with the vison will ever be involved in police work again.  This is being brought to law very soon,


Offline Jake Baelish

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Re: [Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: March 30, 2019, 06:26:54 AM »
The Study

1500 Words

Spoiler for Hiden:
The door lurched inward before the boy’s knuckles had time to graze the door. The face that peered out, red with rage and agitation, forced the youngster back a step.

“Niklas!” the man snapped, “If you knock one more time, I’ll…”

“Sorry, Father,” said the boy. “It’s just… I haven’t seen you in weeks; and now you lock yourself away. I thought it’d be different when you got back.”

The man in the room, fingers gripping the door like a shield, softened in his posture. “Son. Son, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be too long now. Please, just wait in your room and I’ll call you shortly. I should’ve answered you sooner. Just wait. Can you do that for me?”

The boy nodded with no expectations.

Back on his bed, Niklas contemplated his slightly scuffed knuckles. He had knocked a little too much; no wonder Father had been angry. Still; what was he hiding in that study of his? Nothing for weeks and then home he comes with that grand mirror and has it locked up with everything else he’d stowed away in there. Niklas needed to know.

Sometime later came a creaking on the upstairs hallway signalling his father’s departure. He waited to be called, lest he trigger another hiding. When he never was he crept toward his own slightly ajar bedroom door and peeked outside. His father shut the door to his study and strode across the hall before vanishing down the stairs.

Only, he hadn’t locked the door.

Niklas’s breath caught. Father always locked that door. This had to be a mistake! Had he forgotten in his anger at before? Was he so hurried to be off on some other errand? Would he be weeks before showing himself again?

It didn’t matter. The door was unlocked. The front door slamming shut snapped Niklas back to the reality of the situation. This was the only chance he’d get.

He left his room and slipped quietly across the landing to his father’s – now vacant – study.

While reaching for the worn, brass knob that had been forbidden all his life, the world seemed to still. All he heard in his mind was his thundering heartbeat, which drowned out the protestations of the man who wasn’t there. A gasp escaped the boy as his cold and clammy palms slid over the smoothness of the knob – and twisted.

Unbelievably, the door swung in and a gust of dusty, antique air flew out. It smothered Niklas’s senses; it invited further trespass.

Candles remained lit in bulbous glass containers mounted along the walls. They lit a room of impossible scale. The place could hardly be called a hall, but it was at least twice the length and width a room ought to be in a house like that Niklas lived in. It simply couldn’t be.

The gloomy light cast shadows from ancient fittings. Among the antiquities stood a chest of drawers, an ornate desk, a towering wardrobe, and – what Niklas could only think of as – a treasure chest. He reached out first for one of those drawers. Surprisingly the handle was warm to touch, and oddly oily. On opening came a wisp of ‘mist’ and the sounds of something like a sea creature lurking deep within. Mesmerised, Niklas gawped into the darkness of the drawer as the source of the sound drew nearer. A burst of moist, muggy air forced a blink; startled, the boy rammed the drawer back home. A groan rumbled from inside.

Niklas, trembling, waiting to awaken, frowned at what he thought he’d heard.

What was going on in here?

His attention next fell upon the chest. A chest was filled with treasure; so all his knowledge of pirate stories informed him. By sheer chance, the key hung beside the chest. Niklas slotted it in and quickly raised the lid a tad. A tad was enough for whatever it held to scratch and rattle its way up the side of the box. The boy thumped the lid back down. The key twisted in the lock while the creature banged so hard the chest itself rattled a few inches across the floor, before going still.

Niklas, now sweaty and somewhat frightened, decided it best not to touch anything more. His father had clearly had good reason to keep him from this place. He skipped past the wardrobe to the desk.

Open on the desk, itself caked in dust, was a book of ancient and immense form. A quill lay beside it. Niklas scanned the fresh ink, the mark of his father’s recent scrawling. It read, “the Formless… brought in this afternoon… particularly dangerous… can’t be seen!... dangerous when looked upon… safe in the darkness…”

What in the gods’ names was a ‘formless’?

The mirror caught Niklas’s eye, set off just to the right – previously hidden by the wardrobe. The body length furnishing hung on a vertical pivot and now faced the wall, though he recognised its shape. He flipped the oaken panel and gazed upon his reflection – cast dim in the low light of the corner.

Clouds of smoke sifted and swirled, smudging him from the glass, replaced by a form of shadow near impossible to describe. And it spoke. “You would disturb me already?”

Niklas, baffled at the speaking mirror, could only respond with, “What are you?”

A flicker of light, then, “You – are you? – You’re Geraint’s boy, aren’t you?”

“You know my father?”

“As if you don’t know. He is why I’m here. Come closer, boy.”

Niklas almost did, though paused and said, “If my father put you here, it must be for good reason. I’ll stay where I am.”

Something shimmered. “Smart boy.” And faded. Niklas squinted before tendrils flowed from the mirror. He yelped only when they wrapped themselves snake-like around him.

The wispy appendages somehow held fast despite the struggles and tugging of their prisoner.

“Let me go!” the boy ordered.

No response came. The tendrils slithered within and about his form: clinging to his fingers and fingernails, slipping in his ears and through his nostrils, tethering themselves to his navel and sliding into his eye sockets. The boy would’ve screamed but scream he could not as the things ran down his very throat. They moulded themselves to him. Tightening. Suffocating.

And the scratching feeling – an impossible thing for something barely tangible! They gripped hardest now around the left eye; suckering, scraping. Niklas squeezed his eyelids shut – a futile gesture that did nothing to stop the blast of numbness that followed.

A moment. A moment came in which all pressure faded. He opened his eyes, but saw only from the right. The numbness killed all vision in the left and panic rapidly set it. “What happened?” the boy’s voice faltered. “What did you do to me?”

“At peace, boy,” said the Formless. “This is just the start.”

Niklas tried to shift yet the pressure soon resumed. As the demon engulfed him again, seeking purchase for more parts, he prayed silently for help.

A bang. Something from behind. Some one.

“Release him!” The command boomed from the door. Geraint had returned.

“You’re too late, trickster!” hissed the Formless.

Words came from his father that the boy had never heard. In a language he didn’t recognise. A blast of light struck the mirror and the hold on Niklas failed. The tendrils slithered back into the glass, letting the boy slump before it.

Geraint rushed forward and took his boy in his arms. He made no attempt to hide the wand he discarded beside them. “Are you all right? Oh gods! Your eye! What else did it take?”

“Nothing,” Niklas said, fighting back the tears. “I think. Father, will I ever see from my left eye again?”

Geraint shook his head. “I’m sorry, son. What’s gone is gone. This is my fault. I should’ve told you sooner. I wanted to protect you! You’d have had to know eventually anyway.” He paused, noticing his son glaring at the demonic form in the glass.

Niklas shuddered at the skulking shadow, and swallowed the bile that came with the sight of his own left eye peering back at him – dangling sadly from that frightful, smoky form.

“Why did you come back?” the boy moaned; the father rattled his keys in response. Then, “You’re… a what? A wizard?”

Geraint nodded, guilt painted his expression.

“What would’ve happened if you hadn’t come?”

“It’d have regained a physical state. I’d have lost you. And I’d have to leave your mother again.”

Niklas scowled at the mirror. “I think we should put this back. Let’s never touch it again.”

“Of course. As you say. Well, now you know about this place, I’ll have to make sure you know all about the secrets we keep here; since one day they’ll be yours to keep.”

The boy leered at his old man.

“What? Well, maybe not just yet, then. Ah, and son… You didn’t open the wardrobe, by any chance, did you?”

The boy shook his head.

“Gods be thanked…”
Check out my book 'Prince of Fiends' here: http://amzn.eu/4l5M7OO
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Offline Rukaio_Alter

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Re: [Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: March 30, 2019, 04:31:15 PM »
I may have somewhat... played with the rules of the 'theme' this time around.

Coming in at 1495 words, here's Meta-Problems

Spoiler for Hiden:
Meta-Problems

1. A Character is in a zone of comfort.

Ted was feeling fairly comfortable about his life right about now.

Now, for sure, a large part of this sense of comfort revolved around his current physical surroundings. After all, lounging peacefully on a very comfortable leather sofa while listening to relaxing music on a lazy Saturday afternoon all seemed pretty damn comfortable.

However, that wasn’t the main reason Ted was feeling comfortable right now.

See, Ted had received what some in the writing business might call ‘meta knowledge’. Specifically, he was fully aware that he was currently living out his existence in a short story and that said short story, via the rules of the writing contest in which it was entered, had to follow the Harmon Story Circle method of writing. Therefore, while the exact details of the story itself may currently be a mystery to him, he knew the general path that the tale would take and knew that irregardless of what happened to him, he would end up back here on his comfortable sofa.

Which was fine with Ted. After all, it was a very comfortable sofa. And he was sure that regardless of what happened or how he changed, it wouldn’t be too bad.

Still, he couldn’t help but feel a touch bored. He’d been here for a while now and was really in the mood to get the story started and over and done with. But he knew he had to wait first for the second stage of the Story Circle to start. Specifically-


2. But they want something

All of a sudden, Ted felt a tremendous urge to go and get some ice cream. He didn’t know where this urge came from, but it reverberated through every last atom of his existence, as if some nebulous hand of fate had suddenly decided to kick the plot into motion.

‘Finally.’ Ted thought to himself as he got to his feet. ‘It’s about time something started happening.’

Still, Ted couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed that the inciting motivation of this whole story was going to be something absurdly simple as ice cream. After all, he was fairly certain he had a tub of the stuff in the freezer.

Then again, if he remembered his story circle correctly, the 3rd step in the story was for him to enter an unfamiliar situation. So maybe he’d accidentally fall into a magical portal on his way to the kitchen or something? Or aliens would attack? Or-


5. Get what they wanted.

Ted blinked. He looked down at his hand to see a freshly scooped cone of ice cream, still cold and dripping slightly from the heat.

…That didn’t seem right. No, that didn’t seem right at all. Wasn’t step 3 supposed to be the whole ‘unfamiliar situation’ thing? He wasn’t supposed to get what he wanted until step 5 at the earliest. What kind of a satisfying story would it be if the protagonist got what he wanted right off the bat?

Frowning, Ted slumped back onto his sofa and tried to recall what he’d read about the story circle. He thought he’d memorised the entire thing, hadn’t he? Yeah, first it was the zone of comfort, then wanting something, then entering an unfamiliar situation before-


4. Adapt to it.

All of a sudden, quite unexpectedly, Ted turned into a grasshopper.

It was really quite a shock to him. One second, he was sitting on a couch eating his suspiciously gained ice cream, the next moment, his limbs were stretching and shooting off in different directions, his torso had grown stretched and green and his head had taken on a distinctly insectoid look.

Ted screamed, although with his new body it sounded more like a warbling chirrup, and tried to jump away, only for his vastly more powerful limbs to propel him directly into the ceiling. He hit the roof with a painful thunk before landing back on the ground with an even more painful wallop.

Groaning/Squeaking on the ground, Ted tried to understand where this unexpected twist in the story had come from. After all, he’d already gotten what he’d wanted, so why was he suddenly suffering in such a bizarre way? If this was the fourth stage of the story, as the subtitle indicated, then what the hell kind of problem was this form even supposed to be adapting to? He did not need to be a giant grasshopper to appreciate ice cream. He wasn’t even entirely sure grasshoppers could eat ice cream.

As it was, he had two theories as to how this all came about. Either the subtitles were wrong, he hadn't gotten what he wanted and this was in fact the ‘unfamiliar situation’ he needed to find himself in for the story circle to work, or alternately that said story circle had somehow skipped stages 3 and 4 and gone straight to stage 6, where he paid a heavy price for what he had gained.

Ted was personally inclined to believe the latter theory. After all, he couldn’t imagine any price being heavier or worse than the one he was currently paying right no-


6. Pay a heavy price for it.

Suddenly, Ted’s head exploded.

There was no visible cause for this, nor an obvious narrative trigger to set it off. All Ted knew was that one minute he had a head, the next, giant chunks of insectoid brain matter were spraying across his living room.

This was concerning to Ted. Especially since he was fairly certain he should not currently be alive to experience this. After all, most creatures were generally not hardy enough to survive their heads exploding and he was quite confident that grasshoppers were not some magical exception to this rule.

Also, this particular incident rather confirmed his suspicions that something was clearly wrong with this whole ‘story circle’ concept. After all, they were supposedly in the 5th stage of the story by now and, while Ted had had many strange urges and ideas in the past, he couldn’t imagine any world in which his head exploding was ‘getting what he wanted’.

No, something was definitely off with this story and if he wasn’t mistaken, it was probably that-


3. They enter an unfamiliar situation.

In a snap, Ted suddenly found himself transported to a strange magical forest. All around him, he could see giant insects interacting with great sticky blobs of delicious ice cream, pushing and pulling the cold dessert around like bees harvesting honey. Spiders, flies, caterpillars, actual bees, all sorts of different insects feasting on the sweet vanilla-flavoured nectar.

However, the strangest thing was that none of the insects had a head.

Ted found his rather non-existent eyes drawn to a giant sign hovering above his head. Squinting, he could just about make out the words scribbled on top.

WELCOME TO THE FOREST OF ICE CREAM AND GIANT HEADLESS INSECTS.

‘Okay.’ Ted thought to himself. ‘That answers some questions.'

It also raised about a dozen others.

Irregardless though, it did confirm his theory on what was currently happening here. Apparently, his author was being a smartass. After all, while the rules of the story contest stated that all 8 steps of the story circle had to be completed, it never said that they had to be completed in the correct order. So the author had clearly decided to be a jackass and put Ted through a gauntlet of all the worst stages depending on what was the most amusing at any given time.

Still, Ted knew that the author had written themselves into a hole here. After all, all the terrible steps had already been fulfilled at this point. All that was left was the nice ones. The ones where nothing really terrible could happen to him. And the rules meant that the author would have to go through them and relative soonish too.


7. Then return to their familiar situation

As if on cue, Ted suddenly found himself returned to both his normal human body and his comfortable couch in his apartment, tasty ice cream still in his hand.

‘Hah.’ Ted thought to himself, enjoying his ice cream with satisfaction. ‘I told you so.’


6. Pay a heavy price for it.

Unfortunately, what Ted had not realised was that not only did the rules of the contest not forbid approaching the steps in a different order from normal, they also didn’t forbid the author from repeating certain steps.

He learned this last part when his head exploded again.


7. Then return to their familiar situation

Ted’s head regrew. He scowled at the heavens.

“You are the literal worst. You know that?”

Unfortunately, Ted was not able to hear the author’s response to that because-


8. Having changed.

-his entire body had suddenly transformed into a pineapple.

Because it turns out that attempting to cheat your way through a narrative while also taunting the author isn’t in fact a very wise move, is it reader?

Ain’t I a stinker?
5 Times Winner of the Forum Writing Contest who Totally Hasn't Let it All go to his Head.

Spoiler for Hiden:
Also, <Insert GOD EMPEROR OF THE WRITING CONTEST joke here>

Offline Carter

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Re: [Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2019, 03:01:26 PM »
Here's mine this month at exactly 1500 words, including title. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Going Back

Her hand shook as she twisted the key.  Sylvia had thought she was prepared.  She had allowed herself to believe that the past week had banished any lingering doubts.  She had given herself plenty of time to become accustomed to the quotidian.  Now, with her bag tugging at the scar on her shoulder, her arm aching with hauling around her suitcase, her heart hammering at the prospect of opening the door to her old life, she realised that nothing could possibly have readied her. 

Run.  Run back.  There's still time.

*

“You can stay, you know.  There is so much more you could do here.”

Sylvia's heart fluttered.  It was so tempting.  Around her the fresh scents of the pine forest filled her nostrils.  Crisp rain dripped from needles above her, perfect and inviting.  And of course there was Hypolius himself. 

Where one he had been gruff and untamed, now he stood patient and entreating, his hard nature tempered and smoothed against the contours of her heart.  A slight judder in his foreleg gave the sole hint to the depth of his feelings. 

“If I stay much longer, I might never leave.”

“Would that be so bad?”

His rueful smile almost broke her resolve.  A part of her longed to just give in, to stay in the forest and make it her home.  Now it was perfect and peaceful, pregnant with possibilities.  Where she was going would be anything but. 

“I'm sorry.  My family needs me.”

*

The air was still and stale.  Faded wallpaper peeled away from the walls.  Desiccated mouse droppings lay strewn across the carpet.  Silence hung heavy in the air, enfolding her within itself.  She almost dared not breathe. 

She latched the door gently behind her, easing bag and suitcase to the floor.  Panic flared.  She craved the open skies, the expansive woodland, the freedom to roam.

Deep breaths.  Deep breaths.  You can do this.

*

Hypolius' chest heaved in fury.  Vast gulps of air thundered through his chest.  His eyes were wide, nostrils flared.  Every muscle was tensed and primed for explosive violent action.

The only thing holding him back was her quivering hand on the coarse hair of his waist.  Her shoulder throbbed with pain, her vision swimming.  Sylvia could feel the blood running down her back, horribly warm, horribly constant. 

“Easy.  Easy.”

She kept her voice soft and soothing.  A pretence.  She wanted to scream, to loose Hypolius on the figure at his feet.  For him to bleed and suffer. 

“If you act, you prove you're just like him.  I've taught you better than that.”

He stared at her.  Nothing human looked back at her. 

“Justice.  Remember?  Justice and law.  A chance at redemption.  Remember?”

Whether it was her words, her tone, or perhaps something had finally sunk in, but slowly, so slowly, his rage subsided.  She slumped against him, partly from relief, mostly from the pain.  His muscular arms were gently as they held her in place.  A flicker of warmth spread from where they touched her bare flesh. 

And in that moment she knew she had succeeded.  As his magic flowed into her, knitting flesh and staunching her wound, she knew that the centaurs had their leader. 

*

Every muffled step echoed around her, the coarse carpet between her toes no comparison to the embracing warmth of the forest floor.  It scratched and itched, the house settling around her like an uncomfortable shroud.  It was a wonder that she had ever called this place home. 

Perhaps if she detected some small sign of life, heard the whisper of movement, she might have been able to pretend.  Instead the emptiness leached hope from her, swallowing it ravenously as if it were starved of humanity. 

The kitchen.  He will have left a note on the fridge, like always.

*

They all gathered by the stones.  Their oldest, holiest site, it was the only place large enough to hold them.  Large enough to ensure the perpetually warring herds each had sufficient space to avoid each other.   

Each of them stared at her.  The sole human in their midst.  The sense of duty settled uncomfortably across her back.

It was a heady, intoxicating, stomach-churning responsibility.  At her side, the young buck Hypolius stood.  He glared at the crowd, daring them to challenge him, to challenge her, to rile him into violence. 

And it was working. 

“No human can tell us how to live.  She cannot understand us.”

The centaur was the broadest there.  His coat glistened with health.  His musk overpowering.  He eclipsed even Hypolius.  Sylvia knew better than to show weakness in front of him.  Instead she took a deep breath and stood tall. 

“I say we show her.”

From across his back, he loosened his javelin.  Her heart pounded.  Fragments of her life stuttered through her mind.  For the first time she wondered at her decision, at all it might cost. 

*

A stray breeze must have dislodged it because she found the note amidst the dirt and grime and damp underneath the fridge.  Better to imagine that than contemplate the alternative. 

Kara and Christian are with the Wilsons.  I could not stand to look at them any more.  They reminded me too much of you.  Of us. Of how it all ended. 

I tried to stay.  I tried to wait.  I really did.  Perhaps that might finally convince you, might finally end the argument.  But I could not stay.  It is not in my nature to forgive, to remain fixed. 

Yours, once,

Cillian

She read it twice.  Three times.  Tears filled her eyes.  Even though she had expected it, she had allowed herself foolish hope.  She slumped to the floor. 

*


Against her back, the chill, damp forest floor seeped through her clothing and raised goosebumps across her skin.  The shock of impact left her rigid, the displacement startling.  Gone was the familiar bustle of the city.  Gone the cries of human zoo.  Instead serenity and birdsong reigned.

Or would have, if not for the angry, glaring centaur. 

“You have no right to be here.”

His chest heaved.  His fore-hooves thumped into the ground, a steady counter-point to each breath.  A brief wash of terror swept over her.  One wrong move, one wrong word and she could easily imagine a hoof cracking her skull. 

And all would be for naught. 

“I have every right.  This place is mine.  My creation.  My world.”

He roared to the skies.  She slithered back, barely out his reach. 

“You want your magic back.  You want to learn.  Otherwise you are nothing but the beasts the world believes you to be.”

She stared at him, her mind whirling with possibilities, moulding his destiny. 

*

She stared at the phone.  Panic gripped her.  After all this time, could she do it?  Could it really be that easy?

Even when facing down the herds, she had never felt sure unadulterated terror.  How could a simple phone call drive all sense of who she was, what she had achieved, from her mind?   

Deep, gulping, lungfuls of air rushed through her in moments.  Her hand trembled as she clutched the handset, gripping it like it was a wild animal ready to tear at her throat. 

Time to stop running.

*

“You can't go.  You can't leave us here.”

Cillian hand was a vice, tethering her to the house, to the city, to the coast outside.  His sea-green eyes blazed with anger and despair.  She stared back, rooted and implacable. 

“We've discussed this.  It's the only way that works for me.”

He shook his head, hair crashing like waves against the cliffs of his cheeks. 

“There was no discussion.  You decided and you ignored me.  Ignored Kara and Christian.  You always do this.  You always run back to your work when it becomes too much.  Too real.”

His words lashed against her, tossing her like a ship in a storm. 

But like any experienced captain, she knew how to steer the safest course.

“But you understand.  It is what drew you here.  To me.  My Cillian.  My selkie.”

She reached out a hand to caress his cheek.  For the first time ever, he turned away.

“Not any more.”

*

“Hi Elizabeth, it's Sylvia.”

She was proud of herself.  Her voice barely quavered.

“You're back then?”

“I am.  Can I speak to them?  Please?”

Silence stretched interminably until at last.

“Hello?”

Timid, almost a whisper, her daughter's voice sent shivers through her.  Relief drew her into a tender embrace.

“Hi darling.  It's Mommy.  I'm home.”

The silence turned brittle and cold.

“Until the next time.”

She took a deep breath and said the words that clawed at her heart.

“No.  No more.  Not until your ready.  No more books.  No more writing.  No more losing myself in another world.  I'm here for you.  For all of us.”

Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: [Mar 2019] - Story Circle - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2019, 08:40:57 PM »
A Cautionary Tale

834 words


Spoiler for Hiden:
Tol Makra considered himself a lucky man. He had a roof over his head, walls around him. A full belly when he retired to his lovely, warm bed each night. His neighbours were agreeable, except for the odd dispute over their shared hedge, and he was respected across his small township for his charity work. Not a day went by without some local thanking him for a long-distant gift of a few shillings which they had grown into a booming business. If he was the sort to call in favours, he could rally half the town to his aide. But Tol Makra was a firm believer in unrewarded kindnesses. Small acts to lessen the suffering of others. If that brought peace to his own soul, then that was just a happy byproduct.

The only thing in life which Tol Makra found himself lacking, was romance. He had never had a wife, nor even a casual lover. Such a fleeting relationship was not fitting for a man such as he. For all his many virtues, his wealth, his charity, his amiability, he never been able to seize onto that most elusive of treasures: true love. Quite simply, he had never yet met a woman who held herself to the same high moral standards as he did himself. What Tol Makra desired above all else in a woman was a sharing of his passions. As time went by and his search for love remained unfulfilled, he settled upon a somewhat risky course of action.

The realm of Feyrie, though separated from the mortal realm, was accessible via a shimmering gateway in the nearby forest. Beyond that mystical portal, so everyone agreed, was the domain of the Feyrie Queen Ellidean, the most beautiful and gracious of her kind. Though her realm was a perilous one, anyone who could win her favour was to be granted one wish. Tol Makra, now approaching middle age, announced to the township that he would pursue this monarch in the hopes of taking her as a wife.

Stepping through the gateway, he found Feyrie to be a most disagreeable place. Ants the size of wolves chased him hither and zither, the trees whispered in language unknown, and every immortal soul he encountered was either apathetic or a trickster. Over time, Tol Makra came to appreciate his surroundings. Once you knew the ways of the realm, it was an easy matter to avoid the traps laid out for the weary and unwary traveller. Eventually, after what seemed like months, he made his way to Ellidean’s castle, where he was granted an audience.

Day after day he offered his love to her, and day after day he was rejected. But he was undeterred, and phrased the question a little differently each time.Finally, after what felt to Tol Makra like centuries of bending his knee before her throne, her answer changed. Informing Tol Makra that his persistence even in the face of her ever-changing realm had impressed her, Ellidean agreed to become his wife. She proposed a simple exchange of vows. If he agreed to love her with all of his heart, then she would love him with all of hers. Naturally, Tol Makra agreed at once.

But her blessing was to be his curse. From the moment their pact was struck, Tol Makra found that he was unable to bring himself to care for the people of his township as once he had. Where he had formerly counted many hundreds as his close, personal friends, now he saw them only as peasants to be ignored. He could not spare a thought for them, let alone his hard-earned coin. The only being he had any time at all for was his beloved wife Ellidean. After much persuasion, he convinced her to accompany him to his home, so that he might flaunt her for all the township to see.

Leaving Feyrie through the shimmering portal, Tol Makra looked upon hos old home with new eyes. The roof was solid, but he could not allow his beloved to sleep under so meagre a shield against the rain and the cold. So he called in the debts, favours owed by all those in whom he had invested. By the end of the month, he had gold enough to erect a great palace in the honour of his Feyrie queen. And that is exactly what he did.

Tol Makra considered himself a lucky man. He lived in a great and beautiful citadel, high above the muck and troubles of the common folk. He had a warm bed and a warm wife to share it with. They had many children, all boasting his most distinguishing features. His neighbours never bothered him, though he heard there grumbles rising from the filthy streets on occasion. Yet he could not shake the feeling that he had lost something. That he had forgotten part of who he was. But if he could not remember it, how important could it have been?

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