[FGC#7] Tanka

This week’s Form and Genre Challenge is to write a tanka (Traditional Japanese poem of five lines with a pivotal middle line connecting two separate images, embedded traditionally in love and nature).

Neck deep in pre-release publicity for Post Marked: Piper’s Point, this poem comes inspired by Ella-Louise and Jude. Just who is writing it… well, I shall leave that to your musings.

above blackened rocks
in eddies of brine
sea-born lovers appear
salty lips welcome
a future almost lost

Advertisements

The Secret Project Unveiled

Throughout my teenage years I was a prolific letter writer. Partly to do with being uprooted half-way through Year Nine and shifted two states away from my friends. Partly to do with love of, what I consider, the most elemental and personal of narratives… and there’s nothing like the captive audience of one who puts everything on hold to sink into the world on your page. Letter writing has always been my first and dearest love. But over the years I’ve got increasingly busier, there’s email (and now Facebook) and opportunities to connection via the handwritten page are few and far between. This year I wanted to change that.

For three years I’ve carried around the concept of a fictional letter writing project. I wanted it to be a collaborative project, written with a male writer (if possible). Despite an awesome posse of male writing friends, I hadn’t found the right person to share the idea with.

Then on New Years Eve last year, I met Adam Byatt for the first time off a computer screen. And it was like we’d been living next door to each other forever. I knew he was the one I wanted to explore this concept with. I had a bit of a fish to see if he had the same affinity with letter writing and found he did, and almost a week later, standing waist deep in the ocean at Brunswick Heads (with three children splashing and screaming) I pitched #thesecretproject concept to him. No characters, no setting, no narrative arc. Just this idea of a collection of fictonal letters.

Rapid fire text messages across several days solidified it as a ‘yes’ project and for the past two and a half months we’ve been writing the opening section of the project. There have been hints, the odd photograph and a wee bit of speculation as to what it might actually be… so yes, Laura Meyer, you were correct. We have been penning letters all this time.

To be launching my own writing project is an absolute thrill after so long in the writing wilderness. And this is a project I’m particularly enamoured with (and no–it has nothing to do with Jude Smith!) because it has at its foundation, the most personal of narratives–the letter. It’s been a pleasure writing with Adam who is not only a dynamo and would make an awesome personal assistant (it’s like watching a mirror image of myself on Google Docs!), but because Adam is an incredibly talented dude with an incredibly promising future stretching out in the not too distance. It is an honour to write along side him.

So without further ado… [drum roll and the smash of a champagne bottle]

“POST MARKED: PIPER’S REACH”

In December 1992 Ella-Louise Wilson boarded the Greyhound Coach for Sydney leaving behind the small coastal town of Piper’s Reach and her best friend and soulmate, Jude Smith. After twenty years of silence, a letter arrives at Piper’s Reach reopening wounds that never really healed. When the past reaches into the future, is it worth risking a second chance?

Post Marked: Piper’s Reach will launch Tuesday 10th April and will roll out one letter a week for the foreseeable future. Each week one letter will be available on the website (still secret–sorry!) as plain text or a downloadable PDF handwritten letter.

But we need your help. We’re looking for some lovely friends to invite us over (between Monday 2nd – Monday 9th April) for a cuppa (we’ll bring the cake) and a chat about Post Marked: Piper’s Reach. Given it’s been secret up until now, we’ve assembled a few points of focus so we don’t have to sit there and comment on the weather (Piper’s Reach is known for its epic storms) or politely smile and twirl the bone china cups on saucers in lieu of conversation:

  • The original Concept/Pitch
  • Creating a location by text message
  • Organic writing process
  • Characters & authors’ emotional involvement in the writing
  • Back story
  • Instantaneous vs delayed gratification in the digital age
  • The music

If you are interested in having us over… please leave a comment. I’m told our minions will get back to you.

[FGC#6] Too Generous to Trifle

This week’s challenge: to write a 1500 word comedy.

Twenty-Nine…

…the number of books on Mr Evan’s desk.

I lean across and whisper to Ee-Jay. “Jesus Moffat, they’re made of paper.”

“Of course Phillistine,” butts in Phillip Morris. “What did you think you’d be reading in Historical English?”

“You’re such a dick, Phill-lip Morris.”

Mr Evans clears his throat and says, “We will start the semester with Jane Austen’s Pride-Pride-Pride and Prejudice.”

The class sniggers.

“Guess they didn’t fix his tic during the holidays,” I say to no one in particular and there’s another round of sniggers.

The Max Head-Room stylin’ was kinda funny in first semester, but Jesus Moffat, can’t Dep-Ed do something about maintaining their Edu-Bots. He might explode and kill the first two rows of students. That’s why I’m always one row from the back. Human shield and all that.

Mr Evans ignores me and I realise he’s been reprogrammed.

Shit!

He distributes stacks of books to each person in the front row. The books move down, row by row and I pass the last book to Phillip Morris. I hold my copy between two fingers and drop it back on my desk.

“Sir?” I do it proper-like, put my hand up, rather than just yell out. “You can’t expect me to hold it in my hands for… hours. I don’t know where the last reader’s hands were before they touched it.”

More sniggers.

“Miss Hellier. What did you expect when you signed up for Historical English?”

“Sir?” It’s someone near the door. “This isn’t written in English.”

“Jesus Moffat,” it’s Phillip Morris cursing. “Pride and Prejudice was published 250 years before Universal English became the standard language. Everyone knows there used to be twenty-six letters in the alphabet until American-English was adopted as the universal language and Z replaced S, S removed altogether from usage in 2034.”

“American English is very much an oxymoron, would you not agree, Mr Morris.”

I snort out my nose.

“He doesn’t mean moron, you oxygen thief,” Phillip Morris spits behind me. “It’s a figure of speech combining two contradictory terms. Like Intelligent Ally Hellier.”

“Are you calling me dumb, Phillip Morris?” I turn and glare at him.  “I swear I’ll tell everyone what happened at your birthday.”

“That’s enough,” Mr Evans brings the metre long ruler down on my desk and I jump. That’s new! “Detention Miss Hellier?”

“No-no-no, thank you, sir,” I say, doing the head jerks to accompany the stammer knowing I’ll get away with it.

The class laughs and Mr Evans returns to his desk like I said nothing. I fume.

“Pride and Prejudice is just your sort of book. Has the world’s surliest dude in it,” Phillip Morris whispers in my ear.  “Your soul mate. Ally and Darcy sittin’ in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G.”

“Piss off Phillip. Just cause I won’t go out with you.”

“You know one day you’re going to be begging for me.”

“Inya dreams.”

“You just wait.” He starts to tap his foot against my chair, gently rocking it.

“Fuck off, Phillip.”

Twenty-One

…the number of minutes left of this class and Phillip Morris.

– – –

Thirty-One

…the number of days it take me to ask Mum to write a note to get me out of reading the book. She refuses because it’s the day before my essay’s due. There’s only one thing to do… hit the Webz, find a movie and/or an essay to rip off.

The Edu-Bot-pinheads set the same book year-in, year-out but never ask the same essay question twice. I’m screwed. There’s essays on social and marriage mores (they wanted more?), the original title, the status of women… but nothing even close to Mr Evan’s question: explore the relationship between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet beyond the paradigms of class and love.

They were at school together? Hold on… it was a love story? Shit! I should have paid more attention in class.

What do I know about the story? I remember he didn’t want to dance with her. Okay… I can write about dancing and their relationship. Mr Darcy doesn’t have the moves on the dance floor so he can’t get the chick he’s hot for. Now I need the movie to fill in the gaps?

Shit-shit-shit!

The search turns up 1234 hits of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies: The Movie.

Zombies? A love story about zombies? Mr Evans never said that. Bastard.

I can turn in an essay on Mr Darcy who just wanted the best brains of all and was willing to dance to get them. That’s not talking about love or class.

But hold on… at the bottom, four listings for Pride and Prejudice, and the zombie ideas eats itself. Three have some dude called Colin Firth in them, but it’s going to take me all night to watch them and then I still have to write something. There’s a short one. Just one listing for it. I utter a prayer of thanks to Jesus Moffat and press play on the VidScreen.

One Hundred and Eighteen…

…the number of the minutes it takes for me to fall for Mr Darcy and promise I’ll do whatever it takes to have him.

– – –

Forty-Seven…

…the number of hours I’ve (almost) been awake for.

I told Mum I had vomitingdiarrhea from touching the book Friday morning, because she wouldn’t write me the note and she backed out the door dry retching. She put me in isolation for forty-eight hours. Just like I knew she would.

I get Phillip Morris on the UpLink at lunchtime and tell him I need him to reanimate a movie character for me.

His Dad’s head tech at Opera Io where they stage productions of holographic singers, whose mostly dead heads are kept in these bubbling dome things. And his Mum’s an Aisa Priestess. So I figure if anyone knows how to DIY reanimation it’s him. And I know I have something he wants. I don’t have to beg.

He arrives after school with bags of tech junk and a sick grin. His Mum suggests I channel the Buddha, create Mr Darcy from my thoughts and a drop of my blood. I say I thought Buddha was the guy who owned that garden fountain franchise and I can’t see how that’s going to help?

Phillip rolls his eyes.

I remind him Mr Darcy can’t be a hologram like the opera. I can’t make out with a billion light particles. He says we need to use the theory of integrated awareness—something about raising sentience. I don’t care if Mr Darcy can talk. I don’t want him for his conversation.

At dawn on the final day Phillip wakes me. He’s hot-wired his device into the Amb-100 outlet by the door, now he needs my blood. I let him prick my finger and squeeze a drip into the circuit and the walls shimmer, like they’re alive, linking the Amb-100, the VidScreen and me. Gratefully I’m only connected by blood.

I’m thinking about Mr Darcy stepping out of the rain and into my arms when Phillip reminds me of his payment.

I let him touch my tits. It would’ve bothered me two days ago, Phillip Morris with his paws on me, but now I just close my eyes and imagine they’re Mr Darcy’s slightly clumsy hands. When Phillip’s done I tell him to bugger off and threaten I’ll put it out on the Webz he vomited vodka orange out his nose at his birthday if he tells anyone he touched my tits.

My hand shakes when I cue the movie to Mr Darcy and Elizabeth ‘fessing up to being hot for each other. Once I’m happy with the freeze frame, I tear open the tiny black courier bag. The contents decompress and a dress of cream material grows in my hands.

I get dressed and giggle; I’ve never worn a dress before. I flick the switch, activate the circuit and stay kneeling, my hand hovering over Phillip’s device for several minutes, thinking all the right kinds of thoughts about Mr Darcy, just like Mrs Morris said.

“Dance with me Mr Darcy,” I say standing up, hoping he does more than dance when he appears. The VidScreen activates on my voice and the Amb-100 flickers to life, rain falling on the walls. The image on the screen lurches and freezes. I’m about to swear at Phillip Morris for shitting me to go the grope when  a voice behind says, “You have bewitched me.”

“Jesus Moffat… yes!” I say, turning. “You’re here.”

“Body and soul,” he says. “I love, I love—” and I grab him and jam my mouth against his. Conversation be damned… I don’t know how long the circuit will hold up.

Five.

The number of minutes I go the snog with Mr Darcy before Mum opens the bedroom door to tell me I can come out.

Word count: 1484

VOTE NOW for Too Generous to Trifle in the Readers’ Choice Poll.

– – –

Author’s Note:

I owe a debt of gratitude to Alan Baxter and Rob Diaz who beta read a particularly awful second draft, likened to a succession of stand up jokes (Rob) which weren’t particularly funny or compelling (me!) Al and Rob’s comments helped me to craft my dog’s breakfast into an actual story… with some vaguely funny components.

I also must tip my hat to Kate Sherrod who gave me the idea of a holographic Mr Darcy after she read last week’s twit-fic Bewitched – hope I did your idea justice Kate!

The Perils of Comparison and the Posse of Imposters Answered

To justify this feeling of not belonging I compare myself to others: what they do, where they are published, what they write, how often they write. In doing so I confirm, by my own set of warped principles, that I’m not worthy of keeping their company, much less have my work appear alongside theirs (even if some other impartial third-party thinks this—whether these third parties be editors or panels dispensing awards).

~ Shall I Compare Thee, 14.03.2011

This wasn’t what I set out to write in response to Paul Anderson’s all for the staff writers to conduct a skills’ audit in February and publish the results on Write Anything in March. The conversation among the other writers grew after one admitted to really struggling with writing their column and how they’d found the skills audit really difficult. I felt I was approaching the process in a rather shallow way if I wasn’t hurting, plagued by a thousand doubts. After all, really, how deep was I going to get just talking about dialogue and imagery (what I excel at and what I struggle with). You don’t grow and evolve by taking the easy path… even though the temptation is often overwhelming.

In the end I wrote about my bad habit of comparison and the underlying feeling of being unworthy of my position—which denies me any enjoyment of my accomplishments. Writing it felt like stripping myself naked in public! Did people really need to see this side of me—hell, did I need to see this side of me. The temptation to hit delete taunted me. You know, that easy path.

On the poise of meltdown and giving in to the delete key, I sent my article to Devin Watson. I just needed someone to tell me it was okay to say all these things, to think and feel this way. His response to me was—“Welcome to the club”—like I’d reached some special milestone. He also told me there was an actual condition called Imposter Syndrome.

Wiki defines it as:

The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.

Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

It turned out to be the validation I needed to post the article, rather than scuttle it and return to safer waters of a dissection of my dialogue and imagery skills.

What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response of others to the column. It is a long time since something I wrote aroused such discussion. The writers who commented (who are some my nearest and dearest colleagues, as well as others who I look up to) admitted they too feel unworthy or fraudulent of their place and accomplishments; they feel insecure about themselves, they have had fallen into the habit to comparison and have had creativity and confidence undermined by the practise.

Not only do I feel less alone inside my psychoses and self-flagellation now, the real power of the commentary was the pearls of wisdom shared. I see a way out of this crappy habit now to enjoy where I am, what I do and have done.

A Credo

I was feeling this way for a while. But I decided that maybe I am not a great writer. I am still learning everyday. But I am me. My writing is my voice. No one else writes like me. As long as I am doing the best I can than I am being true to myself. Honesty, hard work and less comparison is my motto. ~ Rebecca L Dobbie

So I thought about a personal writing credo. Something simple and actionable, even on the worst days. I’m tempted to spew forth an entire list of dot points, but when I think back across the last few months I’ve developed a credo organically (and why the hell reinvent the wheel):

  • “write dangerously” and often
  • give the best part of the day to writing
  • write with others
  • rinse and repeat

The Only Comparison Worthy

When I start to compare my progress to others around me, I try my best to shut it down. I usually distract myself by writing. Refocuses me on what matters.

There will always be someone achieving something you wish you could. Perhaps better to compare yourself to yourself a year ago. I’ve found looking at my writing from a year ago and my writing now gives me a sense of how I am doing, rather than how I am doing in relation to anyone else. ~ Dan Powell

A year ago I was hurting toward the first of my massive meltdowns. Writing was the last thing on my mind, my confidence mostly shot to pieces. The only real memory I have of my writing last year was how much I hated most of it… not just what I wrote but the actual process. The swoon long dead, it felt like something I ‘had to do’, like dragging myself in a daze through water.

I saw my stories printed in Dead Red Heart, Hope, Nothing But Flowers and Eighty Nine, and had another story accepted for publication in Sunday Snaps, The Shorts, but they were either reworkings of existing work, submissions from the previous year, something I wrote for Literary Mix Tapes. Then there were all the stories which were never finished, including a mid-November bail on NaNo.

There were plenty of other opportunities which passed me by, including  Ride the Moon (the debut publication of Tyche Books), Vine Leaves’ first issue and Tony Noland’s April Fools Day Blog Swap.

I’m in a much, much better place this year, and just looking back fills me with confidence of what is achievable this year. Already, in the first two months of my creative year, I have already completed a month of haiku, the first five Form and Genre challenges (and won the readers’ choice twice), received my first acceptance (Vine Leaves Literary Journal – yes I finally got there) and I’m currently five weeks ahead of deadline on my first competition submission (ever!)

It doesn’t matter at the end of the day what anyone else is going. It only matters what I’m doing… and well, that I am doing, not just full of hollow good intentions.

It Doesn’t Mean the End of the World

The day you stop feeling insecure in your work is the day you don’t care any more. May that day never come. I’ve never met a writer yet who didn’t feel that way and work on despite it. ~ Alan Baxter

I’ve said the day I feel an internal air punch when I email edits back to an author is the day I give up editing. It will mean I have lost my humility, my ego running the show and I don’t ever want to edit from that space. The sense of nerves I feel returning edits is akin to the nerves I feel just before public speaking. The difference being, I use the nervous energy to infuse my speech with enthusiasm. It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s not. If I’m not nervous… I don’t really care.

This is what I need to do with the energy produced by my insecurities, let it fuel my writing, rather than set it up as a wrecking ball. Allow it to be a litmus test for how much I care about my work and myself as a writer. Let it inspire me to keep honest (not just in my writing, but with myself). Hallelujah!

We All Bleed Red

At the end of my original article I wrote:

As writers we all bleed in one way, shape or form for the stories we birth. In that way, all writers are equal.

I’d like to add, how very grateful I am for the company I keep, where my blood converts to ink.

[FGC#5] Bewitched

Of all the challenges, this one sparked the most discussion, fittingly, via Twitter. I have followed several twitter accounts specifically to read Twitter Fiction, notably @arjunbasu and @GayleBeveridge (who is this week’s guest judge with me) so I had an inkling of what I was getting myself—and everyone else—into this week.

It is harder than it looks to execute well, especially when you trawl Twitter for stories (use #vss as a starting point) and see how some sing and others bomb… then have a go yourself a telling a story in 140 characters. It must have a beginning and an ending, it must be a story, not merely a statement of something.

If a vignette is a snap shot of a scene, a twitter story is like a breath within that scene. An inhalation which draws you into the story and an exhalation which brings with it an emotional payoff, some kind of deeper reaction. And that’s what most challenged me this week… drawing an emotional response from such a short narrative. Adam Byatt’s collection of 140 character stories, Polaroid Moments is stirring and poignant (vintage Byatt!)

Of the six or so I penned (from trees of petrified thoughts like fairy floss to scarlet scarves and prickly first dates under the full moon) this is the story which appealed most to those who read my efforts.

So without further ado, my submission for the Twit-fic challenge…

She twirled in the hired dress remote in hand. Dance with me Mr Darcy. She pressed play and reached out. You have bewitched me, he said.

Like it… vote for it on the Readers’ Choice Poll.

[FGC#4] Birthed

This week’s installment of the Form and Genre Challenge
FGC#4: write in the action-adventure genre
Word limit: 3000 words.

A low guttural cry tore through the cavernous interior of the abandoned Tavern on the Green and the hairs on Sylvie’s bare arms rose. The fire surged in the broken fireplace and a gust of wind rose from nowhere, extinguishing all the candles. She shuddered and tried to ignore the insidious feeling something was trying to get in. Something a drawn bolt and a chair beneath the knob wouldn’t keep out.

“Back off,” Sylvie hissed, picking up the scalpel lying beside her and pointing it in the direction of the ebony-haired Priestess inching closer, trying to see how far the baby had emerged. “I mean it.”

The Priestess retreated to the shadows, leaving her two Sisters supporting the laboring girl between them under Sylvie’s baleful glare.

They think I’m young and inexperienced. They think they can intimidate me. They don’t know how much I want what’s on the other side this. What I’m willing to do to get it.

Sylvie looked back to the pale legs and bottom hanging in the space between the tattered rug and the birthing girl. Two more contractions and the girl would birth the first child and then the Priestesses would be upon them. She wouldn’t be able to protect herself, much less the baby and the girl.

Where are you, Marcus? I should have kept you close. Not sent you away for the rest of my gear. But how was I to know? If only I’d ignored the summons. Taken the car and driven away.

It didn’t matter now.

Hurry, Marcus, please.

“You are doing beautifully,” Sylvie said when the contraction ended, grateful the dark hid the track marks up the girl’s skinny arms and the lips blistered from the raw garlic the Priestesses forced her to eat before Sylvie arrived.

Too young to be fucked up on Oblivion and caught in some cult.

The girl shook her head and panted. “I’m scared. It’s coming. It feels wrong. I’m burning—”

“Shhhh. You’re fine,” Sylvie crooned, gently wiping her burning face with a cool cloth. “Birthing is hard work.” She leant in so only the girl could hear and said, “Just two more contractions.”

She felt the girl tense up and squeezed her arm in solidarity, caressing her face and arms, urging her to relax.

I promised I’d keep you and your babes safe. And I will. Somehow.

On the next contraction, the girl grunted and fought against it. Sylvie leaned in, whispering words of encouragement, coaching her to breathe. When the girl finally surrendered, the baby’s stomach, rib cage and shoulders slid down. Sylvie checked the cord for a prolapse and the girl’s racing pulse, then sat back to wait for the final contractions, pushing aside the deathly sixth sense crawling over her skin like a plague of bugs.

Marcus. For Godsake. What’s keeping you? I can’t do this alone.

The contraction started and the girl screamed, losing herself to the terror she had barely contained throughout the labour. She lashed out and tried to stand. The ebony Priestess grabbed her arms and pinned them behind her, forcing her back onto the lap of the other Priestess. Sylvie reached beneath the girl and a moment later, the warm, wet skin of the baby hit her outstretched hands.

The baby opened its eyes and seconds later cried loudly, accompanied by its mother’s soft sobs. Sylvie worked quickly to tie off the cord and sever it, keeping herself between the baby and where she had last seen the ebony Priestess.

“Lie her back,” Sylvie said and the blonde and auburn priestesses threw the girl backward into the pile of cushions and blankets and stood, muttering curses and stretching stiff limbs.

Sylvie held the baby up. “He’s normal. Oh my God, he’s normal,” the girl cried, reaching her hand out. “My baby. My baby.”

Sylvie placed the baby on the girl’s stomach and the Priestesses closed in. Sylvie reached backward, her fingers searching for the scalpel.

Hell, where did I put it?

The Priestesses watched, transfixed by the baby’s slow crawl along the girl’s stomach, her fingers gently stroked his back. Loving words cooing from her lips. The baby reached her chest and she drew it into her arms, his tiny mouth finding her nipple and closing around it, sucking furiously.

The blonde Priestess, standing closest, moved to grab the baby, but as her hands closed in, the girl screamed, her body stiffening. The Priestess pulled back and fell over the feet of one of her Sisters.

“You can birth the second one here,” Sylvie said. Raising one of the girl’s emaciated legs to give the second baby room, she saw for the first time the tide of blood soaking into the old blankets and towels, inching its way across the bare boards towards her.

“Get my kit,” she yelled at the auburn priestess, closest to her battered kit. “She’s going to die. And the other baby.”

The Priestess didn’t move. “We have one live baby. The prophecy said—”

“Fuck the prophecy. I’ve never lost a mother and I’m not about to now.”

“Our work is done. We finished what Teleia started.”

The blonde priestess lunged and dragged the baby from its mother, passing it up to the hands of her ebony Sister, her arcane robe dripping with the girl’s blood when she stood.

The girl convulsed again and the Priestesses smiled, watching Sylvie caught between saving the mother and unborn twin, and reclaiming the baby held in the ebony Priestess’s arms.

“Marcus,” she yelled. “Marcus!”

Just break down the bloody door. Do what you did out there when those creatures were about to kill me!

“He won’t be back. Teleia took care of him,” the auburn one said, taking one last look at the blood and the convulsing girl. “And now, the Prophecy has been fulfilled. Vengeance is ours.”

Sylvie ignored them and let them leave. She couldn’t abandon the girl now. She knelt beside her head. “You stay with me… you stay with me,” Sylvie urged the girl, lightly slapping her cheeks. “I promised I’d keep you safe.”

The girl’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and her body shook before Sylvie got hold of her kit bag and the drugs she needed. When the girl’s eyes rolled back, the pupils were gone and the irises bleached of colour.

“Shit!”

She dropped the head and lurched back, watching in horror as the girl twisted and writhed in impossible ways. With a primeval roar, the girl threw her legs apart and arched her back, her womb disgorging the second baby in one massive contraction.

The second baby opened its mouth and howled an angry salutation as an explosion loosened a thick layer of plaster-dust.

Ignoring the instinct to run and put as much distance between the girl-thing and the building disintegrating around them both, Sylvie instead inched toward the prone girl and howling baby, crawling through the pool of warm blood. Her hands moved frantically across the wet floor, searching for the scalpel and string. When she thought it hopeless, the room lit up, the filthy panes in the French doors filling with iridescent green light. She located her kit and found a new length of string before the light faded and a series of explosions rocked the old restaurant, sending fresh showers of choking plaster over her.

I’ve got to get us out before this whole place comes down.

In the dark, she tied the string and waited for the next flare of light to find her scalpel, assessing the baby as best she could from touch. Even though the girl lay still, Sylvie heard the pop and grind of bones moving, accompanied by shallow gasping breaths. Sylvie knew the girl was changing into one of the creatures that had hunted her when she’d first driven into the Dead Zone. Before Mutt appeared. Before Marcus.

That old crone couldn’t have killed Marcus. Not if those creatures out there couldn’t. Or wouldn’t? Where are you, Marcus? I can’t do this. I can’t. Can’t.

And her thinking stilled.

I’m just thinking like a woman in transition, screaming I can’t, begging for help. Thinking I’m going to die. It’s just transition. They don’t die. And I won’t either.

In the next wave of light, she forced herself to find the scalpel in the congealing slick and wiped it dry on her singlet. She cut the baby free with a shaking hand, and slipped her hands under its bottom and head, bringing it to her chest and running for the open door before the next round of explosions.

The ceiling collapsed with the next detonation and a beam clipped Sylvie’s shoulder, tearing the joint from the socket and knocking her onto her back, punching the air from her lungs. She clutched at the baby with her uninjured arm.

Before the dust settled, flares lit the room, revealing the girl-thing crouched several feet away, a single milky orb staring at Sylvie. A section of ceiling had smashed the other side of her face. The baby wailed and the girl cocked her head to the side, rising slowly. The girl had not only survived the massive haemorrhage, but stood several feet taller, her limbs elongated and the deathly pallor of her skin had been replaced with a mottled red and purple hue.

“My baby,” the girl-thing said, the words distorted but recognisable. She took a faltering step in Sylvie’s direction, unsure in her new body.

“I’m only… protecting your baby,” Sylvie panted, the pain spreading from her shoulder into her chest. “I promised… I would… keep you… and your babies… safe.”

“My ba-by?” The girl-thing took several more steps forward.

Sylvie slid across the floor on her back, away from the girl-thing, and pushed against the wall when she reached it, trying to use it as a brace to stand. She screamed and slid down, the pain unbearable.

The girl walked to where she lay and looked down. “M-y. B-a-b-y.”

Sylvie tried again to stand, this time leaving a smear of blood behind on the wall. The beam had torn more than the joint. The girl-thing sniffed and Sylvie flinched, remembering how she’d been invisible to the orb-eyed creatures until she’d cut her arm trying to climb out the smashed rear window of her car after the electric locks seized. Then, with fresh blood on the air, the creatures had converged.

“Please don’t hurt me,” Sylvie said, her voice barely audible. She clenched her teeth and reached up with her damaged arm. “Help me up. I can get us both out of here. I know you’re still in there. You’re not one of them.”

The girl-thing’s face contorted and her human-like fingers flexed and released. Flexed and released.

“Please. Marcus will take us both out of here. Somewhere safe.”

The girl-thing reached down, icy digits closing around Sylvie’s.

The door shattered inward and a torch beam swept the room. The girl turned and recoiled from the light. A single shot thundered and the girl stood headless for a moment, then collapsed, Sylvie’s hand still in hers.

“Stand up,” the man said, motioning with his rifle, the beam dancing madly.

Sylvie pulled her hand free and glared into the binding light. “You bastard. She wasn’t dangerous.”

“Sylvie Jorgenssen?”

“Who the hell wants to know?”

He dropped the torch from her eyes and turned his back, pulling a walkie-talkie from his pocket.

“Alpha-Capa to base.”

“Base to Alpha-Capa.”

Sylvie shuffled forward on her knees, using the light from the rifle to guide her. There. The scalpel. And a blanket.

“I’ve got the midwife and the baby. Can’t see the mother.”

She wrapped the baby as best she could, cradling it in her busted arm.

“There was one of those things in here. Lots of fucking blood—”

She clasped the scalpel between her teeth and got to her feet. It was only then she saw the black and grey pattern of the man’s combat pants and knew it was over.

Mulholland’s raised an army to get me.

“—think it must have killed the mother. Was going for the midwife.”

Sylvie moved backward toward the French doors—

“Bring her in. Alive,” the voice squawked.

—and reaching them, kicked as hard as she could. The solider spun around, bringing his rifle up. The decayed wood gave way, panes dropping to the floor, but the opening wasn’t big enough for Sylvie and the child to escape.

“Turn around! Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”

Sylvie turned, taking the scalpel from between her teeth. “Your commander told you not to shoot.”

She held the scalpel in front of her and kicked backward with her boot. More of the door gave way, but each jolt sent a new wave of pain through her shoulder and chest, and her grip on the baby weakened.

In one smooth move, the soldier shouldered his rifle and pulled a tazer from his pocket. Chunks of plaster crunched beneath his heavy boots with each footfall. Blue electric tongues licked at the air, tasting the ever decreasing distance to her.

“Please. No.” She dropped the scalpel, knowing the current was calibrated for an adult and would kill the baby. “Please. I have a baby. I’ll come peacefully.”

The fire leapt in the fireplace, as though the smouldering ruins momentarily fed on petrol, casting chaotic shadows on faded wallpaper. The soldier turned too late and Marcus’s forearm crushed his throat, and in a single fluid movement, he caught the soldier’s falling head and twisted it. The sound of vertebra snapping preceded the thump of the soldier’s body hitting the floorboards.

Marcus didn’t stop to check the soldier, or give the dead girl-thing more than a fleeting look. His focus remained on Sylvie and getting her out before the building collapsed. He picked up a discarded coat from the floor and kicked out the remainder of the French doors, hustling Sylvie out, leading her through the courtyard and into an area away from the building. She slumped against a rusted garbage hopper as the iconic building imploded behind.

Marcus pulled the cover off a manhole. “You’re going down. It’s the only safe place for you.” He took off his t-shirt and tore it into one long piece of material. “Tie the baby to you and then put on the coat.”

“Tie the baby on,” she laughed, a terrible cutting sound. “If you haven’t noticed my shoulder is shattered.”

“I can heal your shoulder.”

“It’s stuffed.”

“Put the baby down and I’ll sort it out.”

“You’re not listening—”

“No, Sylvie. You are not listening. Put the damn baby down and let me see to your shoulder. Unless you want to be target practise for Mulholland’s troops.”

Marcus put the coat on the ground and his torn t-shirt. Sylvie laid the baby on top.

“Look away,” he said, and Sylvie turned to stare at the fence, waiting for the pain of his probing fingers to assess the damage and the pronouncement nothing could be done. The area warmed at his touch and she felt dizzy. A vortex opened in her shoulder, pulling bone and flesh inward, knitting it together, while she sipped a cup of her mother’s grappa. Before Sylvie grasped the implausibility and constructed a logical explanation, the sensation ceased. She reached for the injured shoulder and ran her fingers over the smooth skin. Rotated the joint.

“It’ll get you down the ladders. Maybe further.” He stepped away, and caught the look of amazement. “You’ll still go through the natural healing process.”

“How did you—”

A volley of flares streaked overhead and he turned. Sylvie saw two vicious scars, raised and jagged, running the length of his shoulder blades.

“Where my wings were.” She traced the ridge of one with her finger, the topography of the shattered bones. “When I fell, the Government dropped the virus on the Occupiers. Central Park became the Dead Zone.”

“Wings? Marcus, I—”

“Listen to me, Sylvie.” He turned to her and seized her upper arms. “My presence draws mayhem and malevolence, magnifies it. This fighting, this is what fallen angels bring. There’s no Devil, just my kind walking among yours, drawing out evil. Feeding off it.”

“You’re… feeding off this?”

“Not any more.” He released her and stepped back. “Get dressed.”

“Come with me.”

“Not until the fighting is over.”

Sylvie took off her stained singlet, unwrapped the baby and placed it on her bare chest. Skin to skin. Marcus passed the length of material and waited for her to position it over the infant.

“Okay. Tie it.”

Sylvie felt the air crackling with static electricity and Marcus’s breath hot and shallow in her ear. “You’ve no idea how hard it is for me to be this close to a baby.”

“I trust you.”

The material stretched, tightened and automatic gunfire erupted close by. He completed the knot, and picked up the damp coat. “The manhole ladder leads directly into a series of service tunnels beneath the main ones. Keep turning right until you can go no further and wait.”

“Keep turning right. I’ll go around in circles.”

“No you won’t.”

Bullets tore through the fence surrounding the courtyard and Marcus dragged Sylvie down behind the hopper, stray bullets ricocheting off the metal.

“Hurry. Get dressed. They’re closer than I thought.”

Sylvie pulled the singlet over the wrapping and then the coat, testing the sleeves as makeshift gloves. Marcus helped her into the manhole.

“Before I go,” Sylvie said, reaching up to touch his hand. “Was there actually a prophecy?”

“No.” Marcus shook his head and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Go. I’ll see you soon.”

He lay on the frozen ground, watching the darkness swallow her, knowing he’d lied. He didn’t know if Teleia had succeeded in engineering the babies to carry a new form of rage virus. All he could do was hope the infant didn’t kill Sylvie before he got back to her. His salvation counted on it.

Final Word Count: 2999

– – –
Many thanks to my writing partner Laura Meyer for ensuring I wrote something this week (of quality), to Chris Chartrand who ensured it didn’t suck and Toni Rakestraw who ensured  a clean final copy.