November Short Story: Beneath

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during November 2019 (using a half finished story in July due to illness) via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Beneath

You have one last chance to abort this mission: close that door behind you, pass point of no return. Beyond their capsule, one grimy piece of glass still remains left uncovered, view out to utter desolation: what is left of your world, close to oblivion. You are never going back. This plan has to work. You have to die. It is only means by which everything is saved. Nobody will remember you. This one-way ticket to assured destruction will not ensure a school gets named after you, and right now, anonymity is by far the best result for everybody concerned.

There’s only enough power left for one more try: whatever happens, this will be the last day alone. A possible future lies waiting, a million miles away from here. Now it’s apparent where everything went wrong, you owe it to everyone else who lost their lives to try once more…

Exit sequence is primed.

Press the button.


It’s a little after dawn: Molly’s almost done with errands. Edwin’s churn of milk isn’t alone, next to it sit a dozen goose eggs, two baskets of windfall apples. It won’t be long before dense clusters of blackberries have ripened… Mercy has stopped: grey mare stands silent, unusually still. The valley’s damp warmth, in moments after first light is normally reassurance, but not now. Something is terribly wrong. Molly’s skin is crawling, undeniable comprehension she knows exactly what is about to transpire.

From Beneath springs purple destruction: dividing the road, swallowing you whole… before life returns to this point, reset within same moment, all renewed. Except, if whip she made you bring today is soundly cracked, Mercy will outrun death, both surviving oncoming onslaught… Whip’s dropped, her own hands clasping reins: Mercy bolts, as if Molly is watching herself from distance, understanding why ground beneath them begins to rumble with an unnatural fervour. If she looks back, rolling eruption of evil has already begun, speeding towards them both…

She can’t look back: Molly must never dwell on the past, it has crumbled to dust and no longer exists. All that matters is reaching the Church bridge; cross that, they survive. The whole valley shakes, noise a banshee wail, song of destruction so loud and insistent it overwhelms. Quiet calm inside is a surprise: this is the first Friday in June. Yesterday was months ago, sense of repetition oddly unexpected reassurance. Over countless days Molly has lost her life on this road, perished as the purple lava erupted from rich, red clay beneath…but not today.

The gig almost floats across dark stone bridge, church a blur as there’s no time to stop until finally they’re at town’s barricades. Once just random piles of wood and broken barrels, much has changed in the last few months. Fellow villagers have adapted; now alert and prepared. Everything has altered in a year: Edwin and his family are one of only a few families prepared to live outside this cordon, risking their existence to keep food growing. A population of thousands, decimated; less than a hundred souls remain, determined never to succumb to evil.

Once this sight would have frightened Molly beyond belief. Not any more. Wartime existence has become surprisingly comforting, mostly due to the woman who stands waiting for her to return unharmed whilst houses shake. Looking down, not one of the dozen white eggs has been broken.

“Do this right, I swear not one egg will break: if you can, I promise purple horror will be destroyed for good.”

Molly knows that Amelia speaks an absolute, irrevocable truth. Once that was as frightening as purple lava: except, with time, presence became unexpected reassurance.

Amelia Knox arrived in their village a month ago dressed far too formally for country life. Since then no-one has died: her knowledge has slowly altered perception of the most cynical of elders. Ways and means exist to avoid destruction, plus medical skills have saved many lives. Knox’s arrival confirmed to the Elders an entire valley was indeed under a planned, organised bombardment: the village knew this wasn’t the work of some angry god, but something far more insidious. Disaster on this scale came only from the hands of men. Or in this case, a woman.

The Sorceress, cruel beyond measure, attacked without warning. For months there had seemingly been no reason or order to this cruelty, until the arrival of the village’s new saviour. She was the one to point out that in chaos, there was placed a very particular order of business. The systematic targeting and elimination of a particular mining family had not mattered amongst dozens of casualties, until it was pointed out how resilient the Evergreens had become at avoiding an often ceaseless torrent of destruction: repercussions transformed understanding.

All the bitter, callous destruction was focused on one, inescapable end. Every single member of this family must die. Except, with Amelia’s unexpected arrival, two of their number had seemly returned from the afterlife considerably more unharmed than they had departed the valley. Time itself had become… malleable, fluid in ways Molly knows should not be possible. Some days, the sun had risen multiple times and only set once. Her brother’s unexpected arrival from landslide that had previously been his tomb, south of here a moment she’s unlikely to forget.

This morning, however, Amelia looks different… more tired than she can ever remember. Molly leaves the gig with Alfred Cooper, happily surveying its contents, and goes over to hug this stranger who has now become close friend. Undoubtedly, something has altered in her overnight. In each other’s arms there is a strange, compelling calm Molly finds difficult to grasp or remember with anyone else; except parents, who passed away long before this chaos began. It is not just grateful respect, built from so many instances of selflessness, but something deeper.

“Today… will be the last that we see each other.”

“This is always a possibility, my friend. I am grateful for each victory you’ve provided -”

“… but as that’s true, you need to know. I’m so sorry for all of this.”

“What would you have to be sorry for?”

Amelia unexpectedly begins to shake.

“All I ever wanted… was to understand how time worked. This was never meant to happen, any of this. Now I grasp the truth, it’s the easiest thing in the world to fix.”

Molly steps back, aware she knows what is about to transpire, because that too has repeated many times in memory.

The Sorceress is coming, walking up the road: moments later she will unleash purple death upon the village itself… yet Amelia is running away from safety behind the barricades, heading straight for her. In her hand is an object stolen from the local Infantry’s meagre stockpile. Molly stares at a makeshift grenade and grasps this moment is new. In all the previous times she has stood here, on this day, Amelia had not once sacrificed herself in order to save the village from its destruction. Attacking the Sorceress had never been considered, until now…

Looking at this woman approaching there is amazement: all those times before, never time or thought to properly grasp evil responsible for the town’s destruction. Molly understands Amelia’s apology: she’s sorry, because this is her fault.

She’s destroyer and saviour, combined.


You run towards yourself stuck in a time paradox of your own creation: relief on both of your faces is palpable. All that effort, trying to hide this identity from those people, caused far more issues than you ever thought would be possible; arrogance almost destroying existence. The simple tin can filled with gunpowder and nails will be enough to kill you both, when it ignites causality field surrounding joint presences. The purple death that destroyed this village, over and again in the same paradox, deadly by-product of a failed time travel experiment.

Einstein never experienced the true matter-destroying consequences of going back to meet your relatives, didn’t see first-hand fatal consequence of overlapping timelines. Travelling opened portals to parallel universes where Planet Earth had been created very differently indeed. You take one last look back at your great, great, great grandmother and hope her life after your death will be quiet, long and stress free. All you ever wanted to do was understand the past, not destroy the future. To save both, it is time to sacrifice yourself.

Press the button.

So, You Win Again

At time of writing this, not only have I won but there’s no real signs of stopping.

251119nano

The longer this has gone on, the more I realise this is was never about doing the job in 30 days. Writing this story has become the means by which everything else that’s currently fucked up in my life is exposed and sorted. Of course, it was never the intention for that to take place, but it has. As I expose holes in my plot, more significant pits are uncovered. More importantly as I’ve hit 50k, there’s time now to go back and do some much-needed editing.

That will mean the word count will be minimally updated for the next few days, until I’m ready to push forward again. Getting the ‘win’ early means that part of the pressure’s off: so much needs to be addressed that was summarily left at the wayside to get the main thrust of the narrative sorted and strong. As I’m about to switch to a location in which an awful lot of significant action transpires, I want to leave everything that’s passed in as decent a state as possible.

nano_badges

The redesign of the NaNo site, to be honest, was long overdue but needs a fair bit of work. The only part of the process that really matters is having the habit forming repetition of updating that count until 50k registers. Now that’s done I don’t need to be reminded, it just happens automatically. With five Winners wristbands on my right wrist but nothing as yet to show for those attempts, it is time for a change.

For the first time in five years, coming away with nothing is not an option. I need to not only make this work, but in a manner that makes me happy and comfortable that the maximum amount of effort was spent for the most reward. In that regard alone this is undoubtedly the happiest I have ever been about a NaNo attempt.

This one will be finished, oh yes.

Change

I don’t believe anybody who tells you there’s nothing they could do to improve what they are. I also find it increasingly difficult to aspire to anybody’s else’s level of what constitutes competent. Each of us is so different, it seems utterly ridiculous to want to be like anybody else, and yet that’s what happens. Dress like your idol, use their skincare routine, borrow their working practices for a better lifestyle… nope.

When writing, especially, I’m beginning to realise the folly in trying to sound like anybody else except yourself. Sure, it is easy to imitate a style, or a fashion, but these things are so fleeting and often fickle. How do I get better as a writer, regardless of the genre being practiced, without compromising the essence of what I am? Being ‘better’ is clearly the intention, but how does it happen?

extensivereading

The internet is overflowing with guides, authors happy to offer their ‘advice’ whenever possible. Reading these, it becomes apparent that there are perilously few real answers to be found once one moves past ‘spell check, write to the word count, don’t waffle.’ It is as much a game of persistence as anything else: if you can’t hack being rejected, your career won’t last long. The rarity of hitting your target first try is just that.

For me, therefore, the process of self-improvement was at first daunting, until the sheer repetition of writing every single day began to expose flaws I’d not previously grasped. My sentence structure needed work, there were too many personal pronouns. Explaining how things went from A to B was consistently skipped or skimped on. Telling the story required a narrative pathway that often only existed in my head, not on the page.

Only by practice do we finally grasp what it is that is lacking within our work.

reading.gif

Most importantly, however, it’s being hard on ourselves for not moving at a speed we consider ‘progress’ that can ruin so much achievement in the first place. If you know your rate of change is glacial, expecting to be an expert overnight really is an unrealistic ask. I’m in that camp,  only now understanding this journey’s being hamstrung by the past. Once that’s sorted properly, so much more should flow freely.

Therefore in December it’s time to see if freedom of expression can be wrought from some new materials. Processes are already being planned, and if I can look past what has previously managed to derail both confidence and ability… is anything possible? Could EVERYTHING be possible?

There’s only one way to find out.

Monster

Yup, I’m definitely gonna need more than a month.

nano19th

It’s not like this story is writing itself, anything but. At times it has been a tough job, slogging through the numbers: with the first crescendo of action about to happen, I reckon I’m probably about a third of the way in. However, there is an awful lot of exposition in here, most of it warranted. After we hit the end of this section, things can pick up a bit.

I reckon 100k is probably nearer the mark for completion.

There’s nothing stopping me going back and editing stuff out at a later date, of course: for now, the priority is to tell the story as it stands, and that’s proving surprisingly simple. I’m really, REALLY glad that time was taken to plan this in advance, because there are several points where if it hadn’t been, giving up and walking away would have been a really easy thing to do.

This time however, I have something to prove.

I am not getting any younger, as the hand will attest. The reason I started doing this challenge, so many years ago, was to write a novel. In all the times when the month was over and I looked at what had been produced, there was never really satisfaction with the end product. This time around, this is a piece of work to be already immensely proud of. Whatever may transpire, this will be pushed beyond a first draft.

Creating a monster will come with a new set of responsibilities, but until the story is done, size really will not matter. I’m already organising December’s content around this, so that there is no interruption to my writing processes. It is perhaps most satisfying all that this is a narrative not only to get lost in, but which also is throwing up some genuinely interesting new directions from the original pitch.

Speaking of which, I need to write a new summary to post on the NaNo website…

Oops, I Did It Again

Having hit 25k on NaNo this morning, there MIGHT be a bit of a problem going forward…

ohnonotagain3.gif

This isn’t like last year when I decided to stop because other things were more important. Nope, this time around has come the revelation that I do not want to stop. There is too much fun being had living and breathing this new narrative. In fact, considering where I am along my timeline, this 50k could at least double by the time I’m done. It is entirely possible we have a full blown epic tale on our hands.

Planning has presented this as possibility, and because there is understanding of what else needs to happen around the words, it’s probably the right moment for a rethink. This time however, instead of panicking and tossing the whole idea because it won’t fit into my current lifestyle choices… let’s do this differently. Let’s rearrange everything else around what has become most important and work from there.

For a change, personal happiness can take centre stage.

sclubparty.gif

This decision has produced an unexpected, knock-on effect. A couple of issues that I’ve been struggling to resolve are now sorted, complete without issue. My exercise regime’s taking an impressive upward turn. Willpower, instead of crumbling when it became apparent I’d not finish to time, has strengthened, which makes the desire to eat bad stuff that I’m having to ignore considerably easier.

I’m quite a binary being, when all is said and done. To realise that this enjoyment factor has been missing in my life is important: knowing why has been something of a revelation. Relaxing into this process has provided a key to a door that’s been locked since before counselling was started earlier this year. Here, it seems, is an important space not only to be explored, but inhabited.

I’m really looking forward to where this new journey takes me.

Words

11 days in. Let’s see the numbers first, shall we?

day11

I’ll hit 25k on Tuesday, which is technically three days ahead of schedule. I’m still writing, then editing too, because as the narrative progresses, two things are happening:

  1. I’ll alter earlier narrative based on having written later narrative. This happens a lot, especially if character motivations change. In at least two cases in 72 hours, characters have changed sex and/or ethnicity. This requires earlier timelines or actions to shift.
  2. There needs to be dialogue. There always needs to be more dialogue, who am I fooling here. I am ahead purely because these characters, once on the page, start talking to each other in ways I have not anticipated.

In that regard, this manuscript is something of a revelation.

nanobadgers

I miss not having a graph of my word progress on the NaNo site, I’m not gonna lie. Maybe it exists somewhere and I’ve yet to relocate it. Regardless of this, it is all going amazingly well, and not having had an attack of writer’s block just yet, it can only be a matter of time before it happens. Plans are in place, all I can do is realistically work through it and push forward.

As to where I am in terms of story? Could not be happier. Things have happened that were unexpected. There’s better versions of ideas that first started their lives in my synopsis. Even if nobody else likes this, it will be my finest hour. To complete something like this has been the dream for years. My first novel my have been finished but it still requires extensive rewrites, because my abilities have improved.

That’s the biggest change of all, and it couldn’t make me happier.

Winter Trees

Welcome to the first of my #NaNoWriMo19 Updates.

NaNoDay4

Things are off to an extremely positive start: in fact, I don’t remember having such a good first few days. It helps, undoubtedly, to have come into this with more planning than ever previously took place. Timings for this month have also been largely sympathetic; allowing several opportunities for clear, uninterrupted blocks of writing time. That will continue going forward.

burning_bridges2

There are no worries or panics, either. This is the story I need to be writing, and completing it will happen. There is at least a part of my brain which thinks that 50k will not be enough, but that should be more apparent as we get into next week. Unlike last time, when the word total hit goal and then stopped, this is about completing the narrative. That’s what has to happen

No burning bridges or unexpected panics, and although there will inevitably be an attack of writer’s block somewhere, provision has been set aside. The eventuality is covered. All that is left therefore is the writing, sadly without my customary accompaniment of cake and biscuits. They’re both off the menu until  blood-work and cholesterol issues are resolved. Hooray for nuts and tea.

Mugs

I’ll be planning to post updates every Monday going forward, and next week will promise faithfully that this will be on time. It’s the arrangement of time post Half Term that got me this time, plus the front room reorganisation that still requires a measure of work to be complete. That’s the antidote to writer’s block, as it happens, but as we’re not yet in the realm of frustration, it’s time to crack on…