Poem — Tea for Who?

I once thought that I knew who
I was put on this world to be,
But then I was thrust into a new view
And ’twas not my cup of tea.

To learn that you have never stood
Where you say you had grown up
Would mess with your head for good—
It sure overfilled my cup.

All those friends I thought I knew,
Had all just been a dream.
A clever reconstruction, brewed,
Though that place had no cream.

To push ahead, I know I should,
But still I want what never was.
Things are better now than childhood
But I want to scream—as the kettle does.

(Proud to say I slammed this out in 15 minutes, though the sloppy flow probably makes that glaringly obvious. It was an hour past my bedtime before I even started. Whoops.)

Prompt: https://www.deviantart.com/sandara/art/Tea-Party-800368122

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Story — Counting the Days

Day 25.

They make eye contact. She smiles. He pulls out an earbud and leans over. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

She shuffles through her bag and hands him one with the same smile. He returns it and thanks her.

Day 26.

“Hey, sorry to ask again. Could I borrow another pen?” he asks, pulling out an earbud.

“Sure,” she says. “No problem.”

Day 30.

They wave to each other when he walks in. She hands him a pen with a knowing smile, and he takes it.

Day 38.

She hands him his pen. He takes it with a smile. She gestures towards her ears, and he takes his earbuds out. “What are you listening to?” she asks.

Singin’ in the Rain showtunes.”

“Really? Can I hear?”

He scoots his seat closer and gives her an earbud. They sit together in silence for a moment as they listen.

Day 50.

She hands him his pen, he hands her half of his earbuds. They listen for a while.

“Have you seen Endgame?” he asks.

“I’m not really much of a moviegoer,” she winces.

“Oh, got it. No problem.”

More silence.

Day 62.

She is sitting in his seat when he gets there. “Somebody was in mine when I got here,” she explains, handing him his pen. He takes it and shrugs.

He hands her an earbud, and she puts it in her ear, but frowns. She takes it back out. “You gave me the wrong ear, let’s swap.”

“We can’t.”

“Why?”

He shrugs, avoiding her gaze. “The right earbud is busted, it doesn’t play anymore.”

Day 68.

“You know,” she starts, holding out the pen. “You can keep it. You obviously need it more than I do.”

“Well, I actually have a confession,” he replies. He takes out a pen of his own. He scribbles a quick note and hands it to her.

She blushes. “Tonight?”

“If you’re free.”

She was.

Day 77.

He walks in, and she hands him a box. He takes his earbuds out.

“Happy birthday!” she says.

“It’s not my birthday,” he replies, taking it.

“But it was. And it will be again.”

He opens it. It’s a new pair of earbuds.

Day 82.

They sit together for a while. She takes the last sip of her cup and frowns.

He looks up. “I have coffee at my place, you know. And it’s free.”

She considers it.

“I also have movies. Those are free too.”

“I do like free,” she says.

“I thought you might.”

They leave.

The same Day 82. Before or after the first.

They make eye contact as he walks in. A curt smile and a subtle nod. He sits down next to her. The only free seat. They sit next to each other for a while but have not met. He thinks about saying something. About asking for a pen. But just as he plans to execute, she packs her things and leaves.

He sits there, pretending to be working, but gets nothing done. Next time, he thinks. Next time will be different.

Story — The Hope Unfounded Treatise

There is a fire that burns at the very core of some of our spirits. A spark of passion that can lead to the fulfillment of any dream—any desire. Some fires rage white hot: determined to achieve those goals at any cost. Some shine like a candle in the dark: barely enough to curb the darkness, but visible nonetheless. When that fire dies, we lose a fundamental piece of who we are. There was a time when we all had such a flame in us.

That’s why they did their best to take it.

They quelled the passionate ones first. The voices that helped fuel the rest of our fires. It was inspiring at first: their martyrdom proved our cause to be righteous; but when every outcry was met with swift and harsh “justice”, soon those that would challenge that justice became scarce.

Still, our fires burned. We knew that some way, somehow, there had to be a way out of the jaws of tyranny. In time, we thought, a new voice with a raging inferno would inspire us all to rise up and burn down their infrastructure.

That voice came. We rose. We fought.

And lost.

In the wake of defeat, they offered us an olive branch. We would be allowed to live. To continue our lives, not unwatched, but unmolested—provided we behaved.

They called it ‘The Hope Unfounded Treatise’. It stated that any indication of our inner fire, as observed by our oppressors, would be met with immediate and merciless action—not to us, but to those around us. The found that by removing the biggest flames, they were simply fueling the other fires, but if they doused the flames around it, they would have no room to grow. Isolation, they found, is as sure to kill fire as suffocation.

Any glimmer of hope was to be snuffed out and destroyed. They planted spies among us, so even quiet whispers could lead to horrifying demonstrations.

It took generations, but they won. Nobody seems to have any sort of fire burning inside them anymore, and even if they did, it was their job to conceal it, lest tragedy befall them, too.

I… I still have my fire. It is a dangerous thing to reveal. There are ears everywhere, and I’ve prayed to every god I could think of to remove it from me. There was a time in which it was the only thing that kept me going, but now, I don’t want it anymore. There is a satisfaction in acceptance—one I have never tasted.

No, I don’t think there is any way out of this mess. We are stuck here, lying in the ruins of our predecessors’ defeat. My hope is not for me or anyone I know. But I know that my fire is not the only one left. It is impossible to guess who else has theirs, but I know they exist. I can’t shake this feeling that one day, we will rise up again.

And that time, we will be victorious.

Me — Writing Update

For those that may be interested in the current writing projects that I’m working on, here’s a quick update.

At the moment, I have three projects I would consider myself to be actively working on, and while they’re all big, my level of investment on them can vary quite a bit.

Most relevant to you is probably my second short story anthology (the first of which is self-published and available on Amazon). To give some insight, this new book is the same premise—about two dozen short stories written across all of my universes from Nacre Then to Spear Gate to Lisa Stenton—but these new stories are from 2017-2018. My first book was pretty much published to be a collection of the first stories I ever wrote, and as such, I barely edited them at all before compiling them into the anthology.

This new book, I would say, is different in the sense that I’m setting it up to be a solid set of good shorts. (This is all the best stuff from those two years, after all.) This means that the stories need edits, and in a few cases a solid rewrite, before they’re ready to be shown to the world. Obviously it’s a lot more work, but where the first book was intended to be a proof of concept, I hope to publish this one with a true sense of pride (and excitement!) for sharing some of my best stuff to my friends and family. Suffice to say that the list of works has already been put together, and several stories have gotten edits, but I’m only about a fourth of the way through the full process.

My second project is the Lisa Stenton play I’m still working on. I have the first act done, and a rough outline blocked out. I don’t expect that the manuscript to this thing will ever end up anywhere, but I feel her story needs to be told, and I haven’t written a singular full length piece in far, far too long. I’ll provide updates as it progresses, but in the meantime, we’re slow going on that one. I do, however, fully expect the full first draft to be done by the end of the year.

The last project is also a collection of short stories, but for a completely different purpose. The passion project I’ve been a part of for nearly a year now has been making really good headway, and we have plans to implement a way to monetize our world soon! I’ve been pretty tight lipped about it because the things I would like to be sharing would end up being the things we’re trying to monetize, so it would be counterproductive in that sense. Suffice to say that I hope the short stories I’m setting in that world to be a regular incentive for the audience we’re drawing in! I’ll also say that I’m already really proud of some of the work I’ve come up with from this project. It’s some of my best work in a while.

All of these things feel like slow going when I’m counting it by days, but at the very beginning of 2019 the only aforementioned thing hat had any relevance was the second anthology, which, while it was always on my radar, hadn’t even been put together yet! In another six months, I hope all three of these things will be done and finished (though the third will hopefully be an ongoing process).

Stay tuned, for there is always more to come.

Story — To Better Days

The Feral Jackal Inn creaked with the somber sigh of old age as it snoozed amidst the light morning drizzle. The grey of the fog enshrouded any obvious signs of disrepair on the building, but even so the building drooped with an imperceptible weight.

Dreary as it was, Kopek found the sight to be a welcome one. He wasn’t sure if he missed cooked meals or friendly, human faces more, and the rain certainly didn’t improve his mood.

As he opened the door, the soft hum of rain in the trees transitioned into the loud barks of dismay as an older man yelled in an otherwise quiet room.

“I told you I’ll be fine if you just give me another drink!”

“Sir, I can’t just give you another one, you’ve—oh, hello!”

Kopek shook the wet off himself a bit as he closed the door behind him. The barmaid—or presumably the owner of the establishment—was a middle-aged woman whose face matched the walls and space around her. Her friendly smile showed signs of thinning patience. The man she had been speaking to wore thick, muddied furs, and his brown hair was losing the battle of years. He turned to see the newcomer, and as soon as Kopek saw his face he immediately recognized the man as a fellow Ormen outlander, Bardam.

“Kopek?” he murmured, tilting his head like a dog a bit.

“Indeed. It’s good to see you, Bardam!” he called with a grin, sitting down next to the man. “How’s Altani?”

Bardam’s face darkened, his gaze turning to the empty stein in his hand. “Things haven’t been good, Kopek.”

Kopek nodded. “I see.”

“Like a drink?” the barmaid asked, pulling a rag from her apron.

“Oh, no thank you,” he replied. “It’s well before noon.”

“Didn’t stop your friend here,” she shrugged. “Keep up as he has and he’ll be dead by noon. My husband found him passed out in the trees last night. Would have died in the cold, probably. Gave him a free bed and he has the gall to ask for the whole cask.”

Kopek turned to Bardam, whose eyes were glazing over a bit with some echo of torment. He pulled out two coins and placed them on the table. “Will this do to cover his expenses?”

She rolled her eyes, but pocketed the money in silence before setting to wiping down the counter top.

Kopek glanced about the room, searching for a more private avenue for conversation, but with the already quiet room and the lack of any other people, there was none to be had. “What happened?”

Bardam looked at Kopek, and the dead intensity of those eyes spoke of a new decade of age the man had yet to live. Kopek watched as the words formed on his lips, then died as he broke the gaze by returning back to the stein.

“Father of Stars, man, you look like you’ve seen a ghost. Maybe I can help.”

“Undoing take you,” Bardam muttered.

Kopek sighed. This wasn’t exactly the conversation he had hoped to be having today. Still, it was better not to push, and a familiar face was company enough. Kopek dropped the subject and turned his attention to a nearby window. The soft din of the outside rain fell into pace with the sound of the barmaid’s work. It wasn’t ideal, but he was at least happy to be indoors.

Bardam cleared his throat after a few minutes, but didn’t look up. “Hemloch is gone.”

Kopek caught the barmaid stealing glances at the two of them, and she turned her attention to the table once more.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Burned to the ground. The whole village. Must have happened the night before I got there. The whole place smelled like ash and… death. There were crows everywhere.”

“Any survivors?”

Bardam bit his lip. “I don’t know. Probably a few, but not many. I… wasn’t in the mood to investigate.”

Kopek frowned, starting to get a grasp of the situation. “And Altani…”

“I did find her,” he said. It wasn’t good news.

“Stars,” Kopek breathed. Another tense moment passed, and Kopek pulled out another coin, pushing it across the counter to the barmaid. “Another round for both of us.”

Me — Dumping Boring Projects

You may or may not have realized that I’ve been really bad at posting regularly the past few weeks. The Sunday fiction posts are almost always posted a day late, and the last two posts were missing entirely, including the most recent Thursday post.

Some of it is genuinely my lack of time. The last day I had any amount of free time to really work on anything was Wednesday, and I spent it relaxing (which, I’ll add, I do not regret). But coinciding with that is the fact that the free time I do have I don’t want to spend writing. I’ve said it a thousand times, but its relevance bears repeating: I don’t actually like writing, I like having written.

Having said that, I think it’s time to, once again, shorten the amount of output the Daily Dose has, at least for a little while. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened on my blog. It certainly won’t be the last. When this happens, I don’t like forcing myself to write subpar content, because not only does it feel bad, but it reflects poorly on me when anyone reads something I post and is disappointed in the quality. I’d rather just post less and make each post worth reading.

To put in a bit of perspective here, I have eight writing projects I’d like to be working on right now. Two of them are large scale, two are short stories, two are little personal projects that will never be posted online, and two are other, miscellaneous stuff. Ignoring the large projects, I’d tally the other stuff to be about 7,000 words. And I’ll be honest—I’d rather do the large projects than any one of the other ones (except maybe the D&D Dialogue I haven’t finished).

So, I’m just going to, discreetly, push those standalone short stories off my plate and into the trash. Prioritizing them is a waste of my time, especially when I’m thinking of it as an obstacle to climb before I can get to stuff I’d rather do.

I usually write posts like this with an air of defeat and shame. That I’m not good enough to do what I used to be able to. Not this time. It would be unfair to say that I’m taking a break from writing, or that I’m just being lazy—next week I’ll be going to school and work full time, and though The Wave™ isn’t as huge as my initial predictions, I certainly expect to be more busy than I am now.

What I’m going to do, effective today, is post twice a week: a ‘Me’ post (like this one) on Mondays, and an anything post on Thursdays. It could be a Review, a short story, another ‘Me’ post, whatever. That last one will probably end up being the most common, but who knows.

I don’t know exactly what the next few weeks will bring, but whatever happens it will be productive and efficient—just the way I like it.

See you soon!

Review — Welcome to Night Vale (Podcast)

The last few weeks I’ve been listening to the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, knowing very little about it other than what I could conceivably guess based on the title. As it turns out, even there I was mostly wrong. I assumed it was a story about a dark fantasy place, which I was correct about, but I also expected a continuous story along the lines of a typical web comic such as Homestuck. (I have not read Homestuck, but am more or less familiar with the premis.) Instead, Welcome to Night Vale is written in episodes with the intent that one can simply jump in and listen with no context required. So, what is it? Well, it’s a Lovecraftian comedy—a radio news broadcast from the fictional town of Night Vale.

Before I jump in, though, I have one thing I need to say: It should be Nightvale, damnit. One word! I have no logical argument to back that up, it just looks more aesthetically pleasing like that! (Also, it’s annoying to have to write Night Vale, because it’s more work, and I am as a matter of course opinionated against the reason it is more work to write.)

Because my job allows me to listen to podcasts all day, I get through audio content very quickly, so even upon learning I could start wherever, I of course began with Episode 1, and have just finished (with episode 130) today). To summarize, the podcast most frequently takes the form of a (bi)weekly news broadcast in the town of Night Vale. The news is often related to creepy things, such as SCP objects or Lovecraftian horrors. I would liken Night Vale to a “modern day Innsmouth”. The radio host, Cecil Palmer, never really acknowledges the dangerous horrors this town seems to have a very long and deep history with, and thus the combination of the eldritch combined with a lack of logical concern creates a humorous show.

Overall, it’s pretty solid. I’ll admit the punchlines are rarely amazing. I probably laughed out loud about once every 10 hours of content. Not bad, I suppose, given that I’m alone and at work during that time. Nonetheless, the humor is consistently amusing. I’ll say that one thing the podcast does very well is remain consistent with the information it gives you, even if it’s all over the place. A small factoid about a minor character will suddenly become important three years (real time) later, and you’ll find out that it was actually because of X all along! It seems clever, but really I would bet that it’s importance was decided later. It’s done flawlessly, though, and it surprises me how much of a “knowable” ecosystem Night Vale eventually becomes after a time. It transitions from random factoids about a place you’ve never heard of to characters and people with rich histories interacting based on events that did or did not happen long ago in the podcast. And even if you didn’t see that episode, it doesn’t matter because it’ll explain that history when it becomes relevant.

Of course, the podcast isn’t without fault. In my opinion, it has three. The first is that there are characters and events I actively dislike, so whenever they’re given stage time I get frustrated. (I’m also not a fan of it whe  it leans more towards radio play, where other actors are involved. I prefer the episodes of just radio broadcast and host. No guests, no phone calls, no live investigations. In fact, the character I liked the least becomes mayor of the city at some point! That was pretty disheartening.

The second major downfall is that by nature of what this podcast is, the punchlines can get pretty predictable. Even if you don’t know what the exact joke will be, you start to be able to sniff the setup a mile away, which does sort of kill the fun of the experience.

Lastly, for every 25 minute episode, there is probably 6 minutes I skip. The first 2 or so are self-promotion/sponsors, the middle chunk is a 3 minute song that is, almost always, terrible. and the last minute is more self-promotion. It’s annoying because the easiest way for me to skip on Castbox is by 30 second chunks, and I listen on 1.4x speed, so when I was listening to the podcast, I would literally have to pull out my phone every 10ish minutes to press “Skip ahead 30s” a bunch of times. I can’t imagine other people would have major issue with this in particular, but in my specific circumstance, it was quite annoying. Nothing like the hour long podcasts I’m used to that have a single 30 second ad in the middle or at the end.

What I will say, though, is that as time goes on the episodes become two or three-parters, so you eventually get stories that take an hour of content to see the completion of. I do like that, because it gives me something to attach to and it gives the sense that bigger things are afoot.

Me — New Prompt Challenges

I’ve had a fun idea for writing stories that are based on one-on-one interactions with people. I’ll just tell you about it now and then talk about it.

Ask somebody to give you a writing prompt. Anything it all. Could be one they Google, or just random words. Doesn’t matter. You also ask them to give you a number up to 200. (You can tell them that that’s your word count, but if you want to keep it hidden you can.)

Then you spin that into a micro-fiction story. That’s it. That’s the whole challenge.

I think this is neat because it does a lot of things all at once. First, it can tell you something about the other person. How they get this writing prompt and what they tell you will inform you a lot about their personality. If you ask them for a specific word number and they say “2” rather than “152”, then that tells you something else.

I’ve done this twice, and already I’ve come up with two interesting stories. Forcing yourself to change gears so drastically is a cool switch, because the number is really important for how you approach telling this story. The first friend I tried this on gave me a prompt longer than the word count he gave me. It was as follows:

Prompt: The fictional city of Leshburg is controlled by three crime syndicates/mobs. Upon waking up on December 14th, each mob boss has developed schizophrenia overnight. This is the story of mafioso Don “The Collapser” Delucci. 25 Words.

Story:
His rivals slain via tommy gun,
The city had fallen, “The Collapser” had won.
He asked his voices, “Am I done?”
They responded: “Yeah sure.”

It’s almost more poem than story, but that’s just it. I obviously don’t need to worry about backstory or context because the person I’m writing it for is the one that gave it to me.

When I’m writing these stories, I try to throw in the additional rule that I need a punchline. I think that’s what really makes this challenge work. With such a short story, I needed the rhyming aspect because the punchline is the sudden subversion of the rhyme. Obviously, with more words you can set up something better and, arguably stronger.

But I’m honestly having a lot of fun with this. I’m enjoying asking people for a prompt and word count because I learn a little bit about them, and then I get to spend the next few hours thinking about a brand new story. I might start doing this as a birthday present of some sort, I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that it’s been a blast so far, and I’d highly recommend it for flash fiction writers that want to challenge themselves.

I’m going to try to do one of these a day, but I highly doubt I’ll post them on the blog. I think by nature the prompt and the subsequent story is a private interaction. It means more to the individual than I would to the world, so publishing them would dilute the value, and obviously reading a random prompt and story wouldn’t feel nearly as good as giving a prompt and reading a story written for you.

It saddens me a bit, though. If I were more confident in the viewership of this blog, I would ask for people to comment with prompts and word counts. If that happens enough, maybe I could even make a weekly post based on four or five micro-fiction prompts people commented the week before.

I don’t ask for comments a whole lot, but if this is something that interests you, feel free to leave a comment with a prompt and word count (up to 200 words), and I’ll write you a story. If I get more comments than I expect, then we’ll turn this into a real thing.