Sightseeing

Aurora gazed out at the landscape, presently drifting over the wilds of Africa. The windows of the causeways always amazed her. Presenting a viewpoint hundreds to thousands of feet in the air over the planet, they were a good way to become rapidly acquainted with a world’s features, climate, and habitation. Yet with all the worlds she had seen, she still came back to spy on primitive, little Earth. She would never forget the day she saw the Pyramids from so far above.

Wait. What was that? She started, then realized it was only the whispers gathering. Clenching her teeth, she prepared for the ensuing wave. There was no noise quite like the Watchers out in the ways. They were loud, but there was also more texture to them. Like if she listened a little bit closer, she might make out individual voices.

Of course, Tass said that it was all nonsense. That the “Watchers” were just a natural phenomenon. There were no more voices than there were in the waves of the ocean or the rays of the sun. Raeth, as well as many others, believed differently. Aurora didn’t always know which she preferred, but when she was out alone on the ways she strongly gravitated toward Tass’s state of mind. The idea of them being some sort of creature or sentience made her feel naked out here.

Augh, what the hell? The whispers were spiking up. Her ears went from ringing to hurting. She could barely hear herself think. They had never been this loud out here. That only happened when someone was seriously abusing the source. Doing that on the ways was suicide! Why the hell was she drawing so much attention?

Aurora closed her eyes and tried to focus through the sanity-rending shrieks in her head. She had to make herself small, unseen. Let them pass on their way, whatever they were. Just let them pass and…

A sudden shove from behind sent her toppling off-balance. A moment later, she was lifted up and flying through the air. Straight into the window.

Straight into the raw source.

Why Always Purple?

“Purple,” Aurora said. “I can’t help but notice that everything you’re giving me to wear is purple.” She looked over the pile of tights, robes, jewelry, along with a few unidentifiable bits. They weren’t all quite the same shade, but all undeniably purple.

“It’s rather important,” Raeth said. Their face was flat and unexpressive, except for the very edges of their mouth. That always meant they were hiding something they found amusing. Did any other members of the Council see Raeth as such a prankster? “It’s the only way to be seen with any level of respect on Oic.”

Aurora sighed and yanked off her well-traveled boots. For some reason, Raeth always waited until right before to tell her about a new world’s customs. It’s possible they wanted to teach them to always be prepared for the unexpected. Aurora found it more likely they just liked to see the look on her face.

She started shedding her clothes, even as Raeth did theirs. Ever since Galavaria, it seemed a rather moot point to hide or turn their backs on each other. As usual, Aurora tried not to stare. Raeth’s world was – had been – close enough to Earth that their body was mostly human. But damn if they weren’t pretty in some very unique ways.

Stripped down, Aurora reached for the petticoat-like object that most resembled an underthing. She was fiddling with it for a while, trying to find which way was right-side-out, when Raeth held up a hand.

“Not quite time for that, yet,” they said. “First, we need to apply the dye.”

“What?” Aurora said. “For my hair?” That’s what she got for thinking it couldn’t get any more ridiculous.

Raeth could no longer keep a straight face. Their smile broke open until a laugh. “For starters.”

Caregiving

“Home again, love?” Audrey asked. She had just walked through the door from the garage to see Mark lying on the couch. “Are you alright?”

Mark started to speak, coughed for ten seconds, then managed to force something out. “Had worse,” he said. The table next to him was laden with used tissues, pills bottles, and water glasses.

Audrey smiled sympathetically and sat down nearby. Not close enough to make Mark nervous. He hated the idea of being contagious. “It’s been happening a lot lately. Are you sure you don’t want to see a doctor?”

Mark exhaled a deep, rattly breath. “Nothing they could do. It’s all been viral stuff. I know perfectly well why it keeps happening, too. Nothing they can do about that, either.”

“You mean the work stress?” Audrey asked. Without asking, she grabbed one of the water glasses and went to the fridge to fill it up. “There are better ways to handle that, too.”

Another tissue was used and discarded. “I know. I should see my therapist again. Or at least go back to yoga or something. I just can’t seem to catch a break… every time I start to recover enough to do something, I get sick again.”

“That must be really frustrating,” Audrey said, handing Mark the glass. “Is there anything I can do to help more?”

Mark just shook his head wearily. “Keeping juice stocked and supporting me is about all you can do. I appreciate your not hounding me about all the chores I’ve been leaving.”

“We all take our turns,” Audrey said. “I just want to help you through this as best I can. Now, when was the last time you ate something?”

All Parents…

“I’m so happy to finally meet you!” Mrs. Pedersen said. “Isabella’s been talking about you so much these past few weeks.” She was blonde, tall – just an inch shorter than Isabella – and somehow managed to make a flannel shirt and an apron look like modeling high fashion. Aurora had been given warning but, damn. Isabella’s mom was hot.

Aurora awkwardly extended her hand. “It’s great to meet you, too, Mrs. Pedersen.”

“Sabrina, please,” Mrs. Pedersen said. “There’s no reason to be formal here.” Her handshake was gentle and brief. “And aren’t you so adorable!” She gave Isabella a sidelong glance and a knowing smile. “My daughter always has had wonderful taste.”

Isabella flushed and looked down at her feet. It was probably the most flustered Aurora had ever seen her. Huh. Good to know Isabella could get embarrassed sometimes! Of course, everyone’s parents seemed to have that preternatural ability.

Sabrina’s face turned suddenly serious. “Now I do have to ask you what your intentions are with my daughter,” she said grimly. It was Aurora’s turn to be taken aback, even though Sabrina’s mouth was clearly holding back a laugh.

“Um, well,” Aurora started. “We just started seeing each other. I don’t really…” She looked desperately to Isabella who had recovered from flushing enough to shoot her mom a dirty look.

“Just as long as you take her to bed when you’re both good and ready,” Sabrina said. A good-natured laugh punctuated the outrageous statement, even as she turned back to the stove. “Heaven knows Isabella could stand to get some tension off her shoulders!”

“Mom!” Isabella cried, turning a deeper red than Aurora had ever seen on anyone. Sabrina was unphased.

“You are staying for dinner?” Sabrina asked. “Thomas simply must meet you as well.”

Aurora hoped Isabella’s father would be a bit… lower key. She looked to Isabella with one eyebrow raised. Isabella gave a half-shrug.

More to look forward to, then.

Running on Empty

Now that I’ve made it to a year, there’s an additional layer of desire to take a break from this project. I feel kind of like I’ve earned it. What’s the harm, right?

On the other hand, I’m worried what would happen if I stopped. I’m not that good at picking things back up again. (I have a miniature on my painting desk that I stopped months ago, half-way done, that I just get depressed looking at.) I also feel like this is the only good outlet I have in my life right now. I spend most of my time at a less-than-satisfactory job or watching way more television that I traditionally have.

This five minutes is the one last piece of real discipline I have left that feels like it does anything for me.

But then there are the days like this one, which I’ve documented on many occasions before, that even this little bit of time and will is just another burden. So I consider again the idea of putting it down for a while. Nobody would blame me. There’s nobody really keeping track but me.

Maybe I need to do something more. Bigger than this project. Something that feels less… Sisyphian? I am learning things. Every day is a tiny accomplishment. In the end, though, I don’t feel that far from where I started.

It’s days like this that the creativity is down but the desire to achieve something is up. These often appear to be inversely correlated. Big stories need structure, whether through planning, intuition, or just after-the-fact cleanup. Structure and imagination don’t get along well in my head.

Is that why I run out of ideas on days like this?

Children and Regret

“I just don’t see why anyone would ever want me, Nancy,” Helen said. She threw another crumpled tissue onto the pile, even as more tears and mucous ran down her face. “Victor wasn’t… wasn’t that…”

Nancy pulled Helen close against her side. “Now don’t you start thinking that way, Helen,” Nancy said. “You are a queen among women. You got yourself to school, paid your way through, got a doctorate in all that computer stuff that we here don’t know nothin’ about. You’re smart as a whip and you’re a catch for anyone.”

“I want children, though, Nancy!” Helen said. “And I want to be with someone who does, too. Victor wanted them more than anything. I still want them… want him to…” Sobbing overtook her words.

“There are other ways to have children,” Nancy said. “There’re thousands of kids out there who need a good home. It’s not your fault Victor was so stuck on usin’ his own seed that he walked out on you. You got a lot to give. You’re just gonna find it a different way.”

Helen drew back, her accent slipping back in sudden anger. “Now don’t you speak badly of Victor, Miss Nancy. I love that man. He still loves me. He got every right to look for what he needs in life. Same as me. Same as you.”

Nancy flushed and stood from the couch. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Here, let me go get some more ice tea.” She took the empty pitcher into the kitchen with quick, short steps.

Helen stared out the window at the setting sun, listening to the cicadas, roaring out for their mates to make the next generation. Her sister was right. She had a lot more to offer the world than just children. But why couldn’t Victor see that? Why had he…

The problem was her thinking too much right now. Helen called to the other room. “Do you have anything you could slip into that tea while you’re in there, Nancy?”

Middle School Dating

CW: Boy pressuring girl during date


 

“It’s been a fun night, Dave,” Isabella said. “But I really need to get home.” It had been fun. Movie and dinner was classic. David was a good guy. Great sense of humor. Isabella was pondering whether a second date was in the running.

“Hey, baby,” David said. “It’s still early. Don’t you wanna hang with me some more?” He leaned in close, smiling that beautiful, dopey smile.

“It’s a school night,” Isabella said. “I promised mom I’d be back before ten.” Despite her easy tone, her heart rate accelerated. Please let this guy be different. Please.

“Aw, c’mon,” David said. “I just bought you dinner. Don’t you think you owe me at least a little… more time?”

Damn. Was there any single boy at this school who wasn’t a creep? Isabella wriggled a hand into her purse, grasping the can of mace and hoping she didn’t need it. Home was just a few blocks walk from the restaurant. Her mom was on speed dial if it came to that. One more chance.

“David,” Isabella said. “I’m serious. I need to get home. Okay?”

With a deep, dramatized sigh, David flopped back into his chair. “Yeah, okay. Damn, Icy. See why they call you that. Frigid as they come.” He shoved away from the table, sending glasses rattling. “See you around.”

Isabella released pent up breath as the boy hurled his way out the restaurant. Why did all the hot boys wind up saying the same things? And why were all the hot girls straight?

Maybe dad was right. Isabella just shouldn’t bother dating until high school. Maybe by then some of them would have grown some brains.

Measure Twice

“Oh, no. This can’t be happening! It can’t!” Denwood scrambled around the construct, ruler in hand, toolkit slung over his shoulder. He remeasured every part of it three times over. This represented almost a year of work. His master project! How could something this simple go wrong?

Every part was designed, hand-crafted, and etched by Denwood himself. It was the absolute state of the art in golem engineering. Nobody had ever coordinated a hexapod before! This would make his name. But somehow – somehow! – one of the legs was off in its alignment. His carefully crafted control enchantments would be useless if the physical parameters weren’t perfect.

What had he done wrong? How could he fix it? How long would it take?

A tap on Denwood’s shoulder interrupted his frenzied work. His master, Kolrig, stood behind him, a smirk on his face. Gods, what must he think of Denwood now? What a disaster!

“Denwood,” Kolrig asked, drawing out the name for several extra beats. “What seems to be the problem?

Denwood froze. How to explain? Was there any way out of this that didn’t seem him booted back to apprentice? “I… um…”

“What you do is work yourself too hard, lad,” Kolrig said. “I think you’ll find that this”- Kolrig pointed with his cane to one of the minor leg components – “is upside-down.”

Whipping around, Denwood nearly collapsed in relief as he spotted the tiny error. He wasn’t sure what his expression looked like in that moment, but whatever it was it set Kolrig off into roars of laughter.

A Trip Around the Sun

365 days times 5 minutes. 1825 minutes. Over 30 hours. That’s just the lower bound. There have been plenty of days I’ve written for 10 minutes or more.

Today marks the one year anniversary of Five Minutes a Day. It has been both a joy and a struggle at times, but I have managed to not skip a single day. Certainly, some days have been half-hearted or downright resentful, but I still wrote.

I have learned many things over the past year. How to seek inspiration when none was apparent. How to push through the intimidation of a blank page. How to give in and just try my best on days when things just weren’t gelling. Most importantly: how to enjoy writing again.

When I started this project, I had forgotten why I liked to write. I was so wrapped up in all the things I was stuck on – plot and characterization, to name a few – that I had given up on putting the words down on the page. I had it in my head that I needed to wait until everything was in place before I started the first chapter.

I’ve taught myself to start with nothing and create something, no preparation needed. Sometimes I’ve planned, sometimes I just wing it with a random first sentence, sometimes I just rant about my day. In any of those cases, at the end of those five minutes, there was a work of writing that was new to the world. In many cases, it was something I could feel proud of having made.

I’m not planning on giving up now. There’s still a lot more than can be created. I would still love to piece together a novel someday, but if I do it will be on the back of the discipline and hope I am developing here.

Here’s to 1825 minutes and counting.

 

The Council Librarian

Raeth’s eyelids drooped for the third time that night. It was likely time to turn in. There would be no new revelations here. They had read this book three times already in the past. Somehow, it felt there was something lurking there.

“Another late night, Councilor?” a quiet voice asked from behind.

“Mekil,” Raeth said. “I’m sorry. I had meant to return the book sooner.” They closed the tome and raised it up for the librarian’s talons to take. Mekil handled the book as gently as a child, or in her case one of her eggs.

“I have no concerns, Councilor,” Mekil replied, adding a well-humored click. “You are always careful. That is why I let you take the books from the study areas at all.” She used her lower hands to wrap the book carefully in a silken sheet, no doubt brought for that specific purpose.

“I just… think better here,” Raeth said. They stood up and stretched, triggering a series of popping noises. Mekil jumped, startled, as she always did, then clicked at herself.

“As you always say,” Mekil said. “I do not fault you. I prefer my own study, as well. Did you find anything new? This is your third trip through this treatise, I believe.”

“Not a thing,” Raeth replied, busying themselves by dimming the office candles for the night. “The text is extremely arcane, almost as if in an obscure sort of code. Yet it has…” They paused, as if deciding whether to continue.

“The only known references to a world disappearing from the Web,” Mekil finished. “I have tracked your reading well, Master Raeth. I know your purpose.”

“My pointless obsession, you mean,” Raeth said. “Gatrama is gone and nobody knows how, or where, or if it is truly destroyed. I mean no offense, but your books offer very little.”

“I know well their limits,” Mekil said. “Much as I love them, they elude me in most things.”

“One day, we’ll know,” Raeth said. “We’ll have studies enough, seen enough, to have surpassed the creators of those ancient words. Then we can know for sure.”

“So may it be,” Mekil said. “Good night, Councilor.”

“Good night, Master Librarian.”