The showcase this month comes from Dika Guis who has contributed some great work to Untold Stories over the past few months. In this showcase she gives us an insight into the range of feedback she is looking for, a call-out for a writing partner and another piece of her work to read and review. Please provide feedback and comments on the reply form at the foot of this page or via the Facebook page.
For feedback purposes… I apparently have no idea how to write something that has a beginning and end in 1000 words. ☺. I’ll attempt to at one of the next challenges. Since my end goal is to write a 300-page (give or take) fantasy or sci-fi novel I don’t really mind that my writings have no ending.
What I am trying to experiment with is to set the stage for a longer story and to trigger people into wanting to read on. A good book (for me) is one that draws me in with the first page. So question 1 would be if it hooks/triggers you. If you get drawn in to this world and this character and want to know more.
I’m also experimenting with a natural way to let characters speak. I’m struggling with the she said, he said structure of sentences. And I’m experimenting with writing from the first or third person perspective.
And lastly I’m not native English and I’m trying to get a sense of whether or not I can write well enough in English to pass for native.
Any and all feedback is welcome, but if you can say anything to these points, that would be lovely.
If any of you are also interested in writing sci-fi or fantasy I’d be interested in creating a writing partnership!
A force of nature
She grew up in a cabin in the woods. From early on it was clear she had a connection with the natural world. She would greet individual trees as if they were people; she moved through the forest like she was a part of it. You couldn’t hear her footfalls, and her motion was so fluid, that from a distance it was hard to know she was even there. She lived in the cabin with her grandmother and mother. Her father she had never met, but she did not miss what she did not know. They had goats and chickens; grew their own vegetables and herbs, and foraged whatever else they needed from the forest. They didn’t go to the village much, only every once in a while on market day, to buy such things as they could not make themselves. Needles or a knife, some nice piece of cloth or string. She never questioned the isolated nature of their existence.
Today it was the annual market, the biggest happening of the year for miles around. So they made ready to go. They had their wares to trade for money, with which they could buy the things they wanted. Eloise, the grandmother, had made herbal sachets, to put in drawers or cupboards. Mariam, the mother had made soap from goat´s milk. Fira, the girl, had made wooden spoons in different sizes. Some were plain and unadorned; others had flowers, leaves or animal figures on the handles. She had a knack for wood work, gifted beyond anything anyone could expect from a thirteen-year-old.
Fira had been to the yearly market once before and was looking forward to going. Grandmother shut the door and turned around: “Well, off we go then”, she said with a smile. Grandmother had a kind smile; and smiled a lot. Unlike mother, who had a perpetual unsatisfied expression on her face, as if something smelled off. Fira sniffed her frock, it smelled lovely, of chamomile and a spring meadow. Gran had washed it yesterday with the good soap. A treat, for sure! Her frock was the color of washed-out lavender and it was her good one. Her mum had braided her hair for her this morning and had stuck little bits of lavender in. She had even seen the corner of mum´s mouth lift a bit when she was finished and had told her how pretty she looked. It could have almost been called a smile.
The walk to the main road took about forty-five minutes and was a breeze for Fira, but gran was getting on in years and she had been using a walking cane since last winter. Her knees had gotten bad, she said.
When their little forest track connected to the main road there were other people on the road. Fira saw a cart laden with barrels and a little later two men on horseback, wearing some sort of grey and black uniform. Mother´s stride kept speeding up, after which she got too far ahead and had to stop to wait for gran. Her face interchanging between her perpetual frown and something more eager. It was weird to watch, Fira thought. She loved her mother, but didn’t understand her. Fira was always happy, there was simply nothing to be unhappy about in her world.
They turned a bend in the road and the village came into view. A sprawling of houses, maybe thirty or so, along the main road that came from behind and went to somewhere else, and a lake on the right side of the village. The lake was fed by the river that ran perpendicular to the road. Gran had told her the river came from the mountains just visible in the distance and that there was a waterfall and a lake at the beginning. Fira would surely love to see that waterfall someday.
The houses were painted different colors, not like their house, which was bare wood. There were yellow and pink and blue houses and the inn in the center was painted red, Fira’s favorite color. The cart with the barrels that they had seen earlier was parked in front of the inn. The market stalls were organized around the village square and along the main road. There was a smith with iron wares, two stalls with fabrics, one with ceramics and one with medicines and several with food, both fresh and preserved.
“Okay then”, gran said. “We’ll first try to sell our wares and then have a look around. Mariam why don’t you go to the soap stand and Fira and I’ll go to the linen stand”. Mariam nodded and took off. “Give me your arm, dear”, gran said. Fira did so. Together they made their way to the linen stand, owned by a big boned woman, Flora. She had beautiful linens, for beds and tables and also beautiful sleeping gowns, white, with lace. Some even had colorful flowers embroidered on them. “Hello Eloise, how are you doing?” Flora asked. “Good, good”, said gran. “And you?” “Can’t complain, can’t complain”, Flora replied. Gran opened her bag and took out the herbal sachets that she had made all these long dark winter evenings in front of the fire. There were at least fifty. They were made with linen and some were filled with lavender, and others with chamomile and others again with sage, which smelled like candy to Fira. “They look beautiful, as always”, Flora said. She and grandmother continued talking about prices and sales, but Fira turned to look to her right.
She could see her mum at the soap stand, but that wasn’t what got her attention. There was a new stand; a stand that hadn’t been there the year before. It was sort of hidden from view by an apple cart. It had three triangular objects on a table, each about seven inches high, in different colors. One was pine green with grey swirls, one was ochre and gold and the third one, the one in the middle, was a subdued blue with pink streaks. But she couldn’t make out the material. It wasn’t wood, or stone, or metal. She looked around, but nobody was looking at or standing near that stand. She knew she shouldn’t, but she took a step and another one and before she knew it she was in front of the pyramidal objects, reaching out to touch one to find out what material it was made of.
As her fingers edged nearer to the blue one she felt a weird tingle, going from her fingertips to her center, just beneath her heart. The moment stretched and she became aware of the blood flowing through her veins, the breeze rustling through the tree tops, the water that was present in the humans present in the village, the mouse that was hiding underneath the apple cart a few feet away and the calico cat hunting it. Her awareness expanded to encompass every living thing. Her hand moved nearer to the object in slow motion; 5 inches, 4…3, her heartbeat thundered in her ears… 2…1……”I need your help right now you silly girl; stop dawdling”, her mother snapped, as she dragged her away from the table by her ear.
The connection to the natural world that had filled her every molecule just a moment before snapped and it left her mute and barely conscious. She stumbled on, pulled by her ear in a daze.
Her mother rushed her to behind the inn and pushed her against the wall. She was breathing heavy and her face had lost the grumpy expression. It was replaced by an expression Fira had never seen and didn´t quite understand. It most closely resembled the emotion she had once seen on a dog cringing away from its master. If she had to put a word to it, it would be….terror, stark terror.
“Oh my gods, oh my gods, oh… what to do, what to do. Dear gods, please save us… please.” Her mother was PRAYING. She had never in her whole life heard her mother pray and that thought brought her out of her stupor. Her mother had a hand on her chest, keeping her in place against the wall while she carefully peered around the corner. She jerked her head back and grabbed Fira’s hand and moved away from the corner, away from the inn, towards the river. “You listen girl! You listen good! Are you listening?” Fira nodded. Her mother dragged her along.
“There are forces in this world. Forces of good and forces of evil. Forces of nature and forces of science. That table, those shapes? Those are a product of science. Made for one purpose. One purpose only. To attract forces of nature. And you my dear, my dear, darling beautiful girl, are a force of nature. Tears had started leaking down her mother’s face. She kept looking over her shoulder as she kept hastening her pace. They were almost running by now. “They will want to harness your power and use you, and if they can’t, they will destroy you. There is only one thing to do. You have to run! Run and hide. Trust no one; stay away from people. And if you can’t avoid people, look for a red ribbon tied in an infinity loop. Those are people you can trust, maybe. Do not go back to the cabin! Ever!” Her mother made no sense. Had she lost her mind? They were nearly at the river. Fira could hear the fast running water, about thirty feet down a steep embankment. Looking back Fira could see men in grey and black uniforms moving in their direction. They were close and getting closer.
“Halt! In the name of the King, Halt!” Her mother kept them moving. A loud crack and the tree to their right splintered. “Halt, I say, or I will shoot you!” Her mother froze and slowly they turned around. One of the men lowered his rifle, but the others kept theirs pointed at them. Mariam grabbed Fira’s hand tight. She squeezed so hard Fira had to stifle a groan.
The man put up his hands in a calming gesture. “We just want to talk. We can offer the girl a good placement if she turns out to be sufficiently apt. There is nothing to worry about.” He slowly moved towards them. And as he came closer several things happened as one. Fira felt a tug and started falling backwards; the man reached out to grab Fira but missed and another crack sounded. Fira fell and fell and mid-fall she looked left and saw her mother falling with her, a growing circle darkening the bodice of her dress. Then they hit the cold water of the river and went under, dragged down by their dresses and pulled along by the current. Everything went dark.
When the light came back the first thing she noticed was the cold. She was cold and wet and her hand hurt. The light wasn’t the same as before. It was dimmer, almost dusk and she understood that it was no longer morning or even afternoon. She was lying on a loamy, mossy surface. She could feel a rock poking her stomach. She could smell trees and mold. She tried to get up, but her hand was stuck. She turned her head to find out why and she didn’t understand what she was seeing. Her hand was being held by another hand, but it couldn’t be, because she couldn’t feel that hand. It felt like her hand was stuck in a cold metal vice. Not a hand… there was no warmth, no presence….but…but, she knew that hand. She knew the rounded nails and the scar across the back, made by the teeth of Tully, the feisty but dimwitted goat. That hand, that was not a hand, belonged to her mother.
Slowly she let her gaze move up from the hand. To the wrist, the arm, the elbow… to the shoulder and up, up to the face. Her mother’s face, now without any expression. No frown, no eagerness, no almost-smile, not even terror. The glassy eyes looked nowhere, at nothing. Her mother was no longer there.
Fira didn’t know how long she lay there, staring at her mother’s face, at the rust-colored stain on her mother’s dress, at their hands, intertwined. At some point she thought she heard her mother’s voice: ‘Run… you have to run….’
So, from somewhere inside, or outside maybe, she gathered some energy and she finally moved. She untwined her hand and let her mother’s hand rest on the mud, near the waters’ edge. She sat up, her body achy and stiff and slowly got to her feet. She leaned against the nearest tree, a thick silver birch, breathing in its strength and feeling its support. She gazed at her mother one last time and then turned to make her way up the embankment. She slid down several times, but made it. At the top she looked out into a thick, ancient forest. She squared her jaw and moved into the forest, and if you didn’t know she was there, you wouldn’t have been able to see her. The only living being to mark her presence was a forest owl, just waking up to start his hunt.