Monday, December 29, 2014

A Short Story Challenge for the New Year

Last year on New Years Eve, I was hanging out with some friends online, and we decided to write one last story of 2013. And so we did. It was rather fun.

This year, we've decided to do it again, and this time we invite you to join us! The goal will essentially be to write a story (preferably on New Years Eve/New Years Day), edit minimally, and publish it online in 24 hours. (If you have a blog, you can publish it there. If you don't have a blog, my friend Liam, the mastermind behind this challenge, has worked out a way for you to publish it online a different way. See his post for details).

And before you start to protest that 24 hours is not enough time to write anything good, the clock only starts ticking when you write the first word. You can spend as much time as you want planning before you put fingers to keyboard.

Now that you've read my spiel, go read Liam's post, because it has all the details and rules and such you need to know. 

Last year we had a lot of fun doing this. I think of the three of us, I was the last one to finish writing my story, stopping sometime around 1:30AM on January first. It was awesome.

What happened to my short story, you ask? Over the next couple of days I marked it up with a whole bunch of editing notes, and I haven't touched it since. So, right now it's at the "edited minimally" stage mentioned above. And since it is and is therefore an example, I'm going to share it with you! The prompt I chose was: "I have coated my left hand in magical ink" (prompt from the Writing Excuses archives.)


    I have coated my left hand with magical ink. There is nothing normal about this ink. It glitters like tears, feels colder than harsh words, yet burns like rage. It smells of fear, and tastes like the most wonderful thing in the world.
Yes, I tasted it. Not on purpose, mind you. Some of it splashed on my lip, and my automatic response was to lick it. Not one of my brighter moments, I admit.
But, there’s always the chance that it won’t matter in the end.
I draw sloppy designs on my right arm. Now the ink burns more like passion than rage, but it feels slippery, like lies. It’s amazing. And as I revel in it, it begins to smell like wonder. I did not know that wonder had a smell. Apparently, it does.
The written word has always called to me. Black lines on white paper will forever be one of my favorite sights. I suppose that’s why I became a scribe. Now, as I drip more ink on myself, stirring a giant pot of the stuff with my fingers, that call becomes louder, until I can almost feel a buzz between my ears. What used to be fascination has turned into siren’s song.
The door bangs open, and I turn around quick, the ink on my arms mimicking the slicing feeling of surprised fear in my stomach.
Linwood stands in the doorway, just staring at me.
I let out a string of curses. I imagine that if I were to taste the ink now, it would taste like toilet water, or something equally disgusting.
“You betray me like this?” Linwood asks, taking off his top hat and holding the already crumpled rim in a death grip. “After all I have done for you. All I have taught you.”
Ha. Always so sure of himself and his “accomplishments.” “Yes. What can I say? You should have hired someone loyal as your second in command, not someone smart.” The ink smells like fear again, and the burn cools to something more like defiance.
Linwood’s face remains emotionless. “And I suppose you know how to use the ink and wield its powers. Tell me, when did you study it? Hmm? You fool. It has taken me three years to learn the secrets of the ink, and no one has seen my notes. You cannot possibly hope to control it.”
“What makes you so sure of that? I’m a scribe. I translated your notes. I may not have seen all of them, but I’m no ignorant lass when it comes to the subject of magic. And I’m very good at puzzles. Perhaps I will be a better master of the ink that you would have been.” I bring my left hand out of the pot of ink and let it drip to the floor, imagining it is blood.
I always did have a morbid imagination.
Horror etches itself on Linwood’s face. Horror is not a very good look for him. It’s as though a sculptor took a chisel to a block of paper instead of stone. “You’re wasting the ink.”
I look down at the drops. “I suppose I am. Good thing there’s plenty more where that came from.”
“What’s your plan? Kill me and take my notes and dreams for your own?”
I simply smile.
“And you think you can get away with this?”
My smile widens. The ink on my hands and arms grows slimier, and the scent changes to something more along the lines of… Knowledge? Deceit? Satisfaction? “My dear professor, I know I can.”
The ink warms to euphoria. It tingles.
So many emotions and memories held captive by what looked like nothing more than a simple writing medium.
But ink is used to make words. Words charged with hate and fear and longing and hope and sarcasm and slyness and love and humor and boredom and dozens of other emotions I can feel coursing through my veins.
Words, especially written words, have power.
Linwood had been clever, I have to give him that. It had been a brilliant plan: Set up as a reading and writing tutor, let the students use the magic ink to write whatever they wanted, encourage them to use his ink and pens, and collect the left over ink in a giant pot. I think it must have taken him at least three years to collect this much.
“How do you plan on making the converter without me?” Linwood said, drawing a bit closer. “You aren’t an inventor or engineer. You don’t know how to convert the ink. Without me and my inventions, you’ll never be able to take the power for yourself.”
I smile again. “Ink isn’t meant to control things.”
His eyebrows sink to meet in between his eyes. “Come again?”
“What you planned. It isn’t what ink is for.”
That doesn’t seem to have remedied his confusion. His eyes grow wide and fly to the picture on the wall of a sheep paddock. So that’s where his safe is. “You haven’t taken my plans, have you? Do you have someone else to create the machine for you?”
“I told you. This isn’t what ink is meant to do.” I smear the drips on the floor with my foot, sweeping them into a long, flat arch. “Ink is meant to be a comfort. An escape. A means of discussion. Whatever one needs it to be.”
Poor Professor Linwood still looks confused. “Ink controls emotions. That is where it gets its powers.”
“You do have a point, I will admit it. Ink does affect emotion. But it is not meant to control it. Not in the way you intend to. Ink is used for all manner of evil deeds. Blackmail, bribery, terms and conditions. But it was never meant to control minds and make slaves.”
Shock replaces confusion on his poor visage. I’ve enticed quite a few emotions it isn’t used to out of it tonight. “You knew more than I thought.”
“As I said, you should have hired someone loyal, not someone smart. And above all, you should not have hired someone with a love of the written word.”
With that, I kick the giant pot of ink over, letting the magical substance roll across the floor in a black flood.
Linwood jumps back and climbs atop a bench. No doubt he doesn’t want to get his shoes dirty.
“You would squander all that power? I thought you were—”
“No. I had no intention of completing your plans. I came to foil them.”
The ink on my arms is drying. The sensations I’d felt before are fading. It doesn’t burn, it isn’t so slimy. I wade through the sea of ink to the bench where he perches, trying not to slip in my bare feet.
“Look at what I’ve done. I’ve stopped you. Me, a simple scribe. You were clever, but not clever enough. Your plans always fail.”
What I am doing is mean, and I know it. I don’t like it, either, but I have to do it.
I see the anguish in his eyes. It’s working.
“How many years of plans have I ruined in just a few minutes of sabotage? It must be killing you.”
“You fiend. You’ll pay for this.” His eyes grow shiny.
I take a deep breath. This is it. “Oh, but you’ll never catch me, I’m too clever.” A blatant lie. Cleverness has nothing to do with it. “I’ve stolen your dreams from you.”
One tear forms on his cheek.
Don’t wipe it away, don’t wipe it away….
His arm goes up. Before I can think about what I’m doing, I reach out and leave a dark handprint on one pant leg. With my other hand, I steal the tear, and plunge it into the sea of ink.
The ink seems to freeze and become a gel for a moment, and then flows again. This time thinner, cold. No magic left. Just a simple writing medium, slowly soaking into the now-ruined rug.
Before Linwood can gather his thoughts, I bolt from the room.

There you have it. There are still big problems with this story (the magic system is inconsistent and vague, the end feels wrong, Linwood is a wuss...), but I love the character voice that emerged. Someday I will fix it and polish it up.

I haven't figured out what I'm going to do this year, yet, but I've got a list of plot bunnies going. Right now the top choices are "noir with dragons" and "girl with living gargoyle as a pet." We'll see what happens.

Hope to see you in the challenge!


  1. Oh my! Honestly, I love this short story. And the ending plot twist! The descriptions at the beginning! Oh my holy plot bunnies!

    I haven't for certain decided my short story for this year either. I have one idea... but I'm not sure what to do with it yet. :)


  2. Loved the story. Loved the MC. Dying to know what happened next.