Really flattered to be asked to feature here again! Thanks, Erika. My prompts were:
1.) Heavy Metal/Hard Rock- Subdivisions by Rush
2.) Pop/Hip-Hop- Roar by Katy Perry
3.) Country/Singer-Songwriter- The Dance by Garth Brooks
4.) Instrumental/Soundtrack- Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland (Sometimes we forget just how flipping good she really was) from The Wizard of Oz
5.) Wild Card- Theme Song from Cheers- Where Everybody Knows Your Name
I chose ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. It’s a beautiful song and Judy’s voice is amazing, but funnily enough The Wizard Of Oz was never a favourite of mine – too cutesy. (I prefer the darker tone of Wicked.) It got me thinking: what if going over the rainbow wasn’t so nice? I wanted to portray the rainbow as something sinister. I’ve channelled a bit of Oz, Harry Potter, and Terry Pratchett in this fantasy piece. I actually had the characters already (from a story I wrote on Twitter to cheer up a friend who likes dragons). I gave them a rainbow to deal with, and the story sort of wrote itself. Its tone is quite light, but I’ve hinted that what’s on the other side of the rainbow isn’t…
‘So,’ Arith grumbled as his tail swished out the last embers of the fire, ‘Can we go up the castle, or not?’
Ellie hid a smile behind her sleeve. ‘Yes. I promised, didn’t I? A witch doesn’t break her promises.’
Arith snorted, promptly starting another small blaze. ‘Oops!’ he said, and stamped on that to put it out.
‘I’m not sure a majestic dragon should be saying “Oops”, remarked Ellie. ‘Have you been playing with my little sister again?’
‘No,’ muttered Arith. He flexed his claws, to show what a majestic dragon he really was.
‘Come on, idiot,’ Ellie said affectionately. ‘We’re done with spell casting for today. Let’s go and make some mischief.’
The young witch climbed onto Arith’s back, her bare toes gripping the rough armour plating, fingers clasped round the spines on his neck. With another snort, this time of joy, the dragon took off. Their camp at the water’s edge shrunk to the size of a match head as Arith caught an updraft. Ellie looked down, her eyes squinting against the red-gold sparkle of the dragon’s scales.
The river became a silver snake winding below them, leading the way to the castle. The rainy morning had given way to a bright afternoon, and Ellie unclipped her ponytail, letting her fair hair dry in the breeze.
‘Did you cast your invisibility spell?’ Arith shouted above the whoosh of his wing beats.
‘Of course,’ Ellie replied primly. Dragons were invisible to those who didn’t have magic, but witches lived in the everyday world as well. They could be seen unless they spelled it otherwise. It wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air on the back of – nothing. In fact, it wouldn’t do to be spotted whizzing through the air full stop.
The dragons who guarded the castle – unseen by the general public, of course – were a stuck-up lot, proud of their duty and forever letting everyone know how important they were. Arith (and secretly, Ellie as well) liked to take them down a peg; challenging them to duels, reminding them that they weren’t free to roam where they wished, and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
Today, however, as they approached, all was not as it should be. At first, it appeared to be an ordinary rainbow, arching above the turrets and keep. Then, Ellie noticed that it was dropping in height, enveloping the highest towers – which shimmered, then vanished.
‘What the heck…’ began Arith, as he too saw this strange occurrence, just as Ellie shouted ‘Faster, Arith! The castle’ll be gone in a minute!’
Arith often described his witch as bossy, but this time he heard the genuine urgency in her tone, and beat his wings as fast as he could. ‘What do you mean, gone?’ he yelled.
‘That’s a doorway to another world!’ Ellie was muttering incantations between her explanations. ‘A parasite world, come to steal from ours. We have to stop it!’
‘Oh great.’ muttered Arith. ‘What about the castle warlocks? Can’t they do anything?’
‘If they haven’t already, they’re probably trapped.’ Ellie was now rolling a ball of magical energy between her palms. ‘Besides, you were the one who called them a bunch of doddering old fools.’
Arith grinned, but then frowned. Much as the castle spellcasters and their snobbish dragons annoyed him, he didn’t like the thought of anything bad happening to them.
‘Get as close as you can, but don’t touch it!’ Ellie jumped to a crouch on Arith’s back.
The dragon realised she was about to throw her spell. ‘Don’t you fall off, either,’ he warned, banking smoothly.
The rainbow had now engulfed most of the castle. It had dropped so low, Arith realised, that he could get higher than it. He glided up until he was safely above the last arc of colour, then looked down.
There was no sign of the castle. A black-edged hole in the swirling colours revealed a confused impression of fields of wild flowers and – cabbages? There was a forest, and a strange red and yellow road.
Ellie yelled ‘Watch out!’ and hurled her spell.
The ball exploded with a bewildering roar of noise. Ellie dropped flat on Arith’s back, and he didn’t need to be told twice. He rolled away from the disintegrating colours and shot off as fast as possible. Looking back, he was just in time to see the rainbow twinkle out of existence and the castle take its place, seeming none the worse for wear for its ordeal.
‘Did we do it?’ he asked, as Ellie struggled to a sitting position. He circled so they were facing the right direction.
‘Yes, thank the Goddess.’ Ellie patted his neck. ‘Great flying, gorgeous.’
Arith snorted a small flame, but Ellie knew he was pleased.
‘I suppose we better go and see if everyone’s all right,’ he said, ‘Now that we’ve saved the day.’
They landed on the roof of the Great Hall, out of the way of the tourists milling below. The general public seemed unaware that anything momentous had happened, although a few were muttering about how dark it had got for a while.
‘I wonder what they’d have done if they stepped out of the castle into a different world?’ Arith mused. ‘It looked – weird…’
Ellie shuddered. ‘Don’t even ask. I know the non-magicals are annoying, but no-one deserves to live there.’
Arith resolved to ask Ellie more about parasite worlds. It sounded like she knew the one he had seen. His little witch was a mystery to him much of the time.
An elderly warlock was hurrying towards them, followed by others, streaming like ants from the door to the roof. Robes flapped around the skinnier ones, while the fatter gentlemen puffed and panted at the rear, not accustomed to so many stairs.
‘Ellie!’ The old man exclaimed. ‘Was that you? By the time we realised what was happening, we were stuck in the dungeons!’ No longer needed to house prisoners, the dungeons were the warlocks’ usual abode.
Arith growled. ‘Where were the dragons? They’re supposed to guard the castle. Where are they now?’
‘Look!’ Ellie pointed to the nearest tower. A stone dragon sat atop it, snarling, a front paw raised with claws unsheathed.
‘Over there!’ another warlock exclaimed. ‘And there!’ All four of the castle dragons sat atop a tower, ready to defend their abode, and each one had been turned to stone.
‘We can undo it!’ The warlocks huddled together, discussing the best way to change the dragons back. Ellie looked on, amused.
Arith head-butted her. To her surprise, he looked as though he was about to cry.
‘Is that what would have happened to me if I touched the rainbow?’ he asked.
‘Maybe. Or maybe it was some magic sent ahead to neutralise the castle’s first line of defence.’ Ellie scowled. ‘I hate parasite worlds.’
‘They’ll be able to change them back, right?’
‘Oh yes. They may be a bunch of crazy old men, but they can unpetrify someone like that.’ Ellie snapped her fingers. ‘Why, Arith,’ she teased, ‘Don’t tell me you’d miss those stuck-up, snobbish…’
‘All right, all right!’ Arith glared at her, after sneakily wiping a paw over his eyes. ‘I’d have no-one to – annoy, that’s all.’
‘Come on,’ said Ellie. ‘I think we’d better come back another day.’ Sparks were beginning to fly from the warlocks’ fingertips. A few of them landed dangerously close to Arith’s tail.
‘When they set the castle on fire, we’ll come back and rescue them again,’ Arith agreed. ‘I always thought it would be one of those idiot reptiles who would do that.’ He crouched a little to make it easier for Ellie to climb onto his back once more.
‘Ellie!’ The warlock who had been first on the scene was hurrying towards them. His face, indeed his whole bald head, was rather pink. Arith paused.
‘Um…I just realised we didn’t say thank you. For dealing with the parasite world. So, thank you.’ The old man gave a beaming smile which Arith recognised at once.
Ellie beamed back.
‘You’re welcome, Grandpa.’
OK, my turn 🙂
Here are the prompts I was given as inspiration for a story:
Going into it, I didn’t expect to be inspired by any heavy metal or hip-hop. That was the music of my youth, high school rebellion/teen angst stuff. These days I’m much more mellow and melodical (yes, I know that’s not a real word, but it sounds right). Johnny’s version of Hurt is one of my favorite songs, but familiarity doesn’t breed inspiration. A Time for Us instantly brought up lots of emotions and vague images, and Poor Wayfaring Stranger did the same. But Fear of the Dark actually had a much more powerful effect.
It starts measured and controlled, before the power and rage come flying out. It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite characters, one who I created early on in my writing career and have visited on several occasions in multiple formats. He’s the unnamed man, and he has a lot of darkness in him. I felt the inspiration and ran with it. Enjoy.
The fire crackled and threw sparks high into the dark sky, followed in flight by raucous laughter and harsh voices. Tree branches swayed above like sorrowful dancers performing for an uninterested crowd. The men watched the flames, captivated by the flickering light, assured the world held nothing more dangerous than them. It had been a good day for bad men.
“That carriage twas the richest mark we hit in months.” The speaker tossed a bone into the blaze, wiping his mouth on a tattered sleeve. “Nobles have the best eatin’ and finest drink.” A wineskin passed from rough hand to rough hand.
“Those soldiers gave up right quick when they seen us pull up. Castle living makes ‘em soft.”
“Ya see tha welp piss hisself when I pwicked his cheek?”
“His ma was a right plumper.” An ugly man, with a scar across his cheek and halfway through his nose, threw another log onto the bonfire and snarled at those sprawled on the ground. “If we had the time, I woulda pricked her good.” His words held no humor but garnered several hearty cheers.
“I told yas,” a quick reply cut through the mirth, “that be bringing trouble we don’t need.” Firelight reflected orange off the armor of the man who stepped before the fire. Tall and broad-shouldered, steady in his gaze if not his walk, he casually rested a hand on his hilt. “Have your sport with the local dollops or farmers’ wives, but leave the ladies in coaches be. The lords got gold enough to lose some, but they be coming for our heads if’n we ruin their women.”
The men grumbled, but quietly. High in spirits and well supplied with drink, they had no desire to argue with their leader. He had brought them this bounty, after all, and he was an angry bugger when in his wine.
But a voice from the darkness arose in challenge. “You speak your own doom, brigand.”
“Eh?” The man’s hand gripped his hilt tight, and he craned his neck to see the speaker. “Who said that?”
A few of the less inebriated men sat up straighter, tension moving through the pack faster than the wineskin.
“Cole, you out there?” The leader called to his sentries. “Macon, you fall asleep again? You’s supposed to be keepin’ watch.”
The voice replied, drifting through the trees from a new position. “Your men are beyond earshot. They’ll not be answering any but the gods now.”
More men rose to their feet, backs to the fire and eyes straining to see into the shadows they created. Naked blades gleamed in the night.
“‘Tis a ghost!” Said a toothless drunk, quickly silenced by an elbow to his ribs.
“Don’t be no fool, Dillon,” his neighbor answered. “It be just a man playin’ with us.”
“Playing a dicey game,” the leader said loudly. “He may have got past our watch, but he didn’t get the drop on us. You hear that, stranger? You want to mess with Jarl and his boys then come into the light so we’s can see ya.”
“What if I am a ghost?” The answer echoed from everywhere and nowhere, heads pivoting to find the source. “What if I’m spirit more than man? Your fire would not reveal me.”
The shuffle of feet and creak of leather filled the silence, men turning to each other for reassurance. Jarl, a head taller than the rest, would have none of it. “Don’t be such gullible twits. I tells ya, it’s some dolt thinks he can scare us or rob us while we drunk. Lazy Bill, you and Dillon take a torch and see to Cole and Macon. The rest a yas get a brand each and clear the woods.”
“Yes, come to me.” The voice was fainter, farther away but no less powerful. No one moved.
Jarl pulled his sword. “Yas swiven maidens,” he yelled. “Get out there and cut the fool from arse to eyes!”
He slapped the back of the nearest man with the flat of his blade, and everyone jumped into action. A pair lit proper torches of pine tar from the fire and headed into the woods together. The rest either pulled out a smoldering log or grabbed a fresh stick and stuck it into the flames until it lit. One by one they spread amongst the trees.
The mysterious voice was mute, and the men filled the emptiness with bluster and curses. Jarl stayed by the fire, exhorting the laggards too drunk to get their wood to light. A grizzled old man dug a lantern out of the mess wagon, his hands shaking with the flint.
Moments passed. The darkness swallowed the roaming men, pinpricks of light appearing and disappearing behind trees. Silence returned. Then the clash of metal on metal, and a strangled scream of agony that ended too quickly.
“Bill, you out there?” Jarl asked. “Dillon?” No one answered.
Another scream, from the other side, followed by a laugh that rang like a bell.
“You’re making it too easy. I’ll save you for last, Jarl. You’ll hear them all die before I send you to hell.”
“You’ll not frighten me,” Jarl roared back. “Many have wished me to hell but none got their prayer answered.” He raised his sword defiantly. “All you men get back here. He be pickin’ you off piecemeal, you worthless louts. Come back to the fire and we’ll see how brave he be.”
The men were already streaming in, some at a trot and others walking warily, turning with every stride to cover their retreat. More clatter followed the last stragglers, the sound of heavy impacts and bodies hitting the ground. When they had regrouped, once again backs to the fire and circled in safety, their numbers were noticeably smaller.
“Ha!” Jarl paced in front of his men, his words for his own benefit as much as theirs. “Let’s see ya come into the light. Face me. Jarl ain’t afraid of nothin’, man or spirit.”
But he drew back when a shadow stepped between two trees at the edge of the clearing, the shape of a man but no light reflected off any surface, save the blade held pointed down. Several men gasped and drew tighter.
“Keep lookin’ round,” Jarl ordered. “He might not be alone. But if he is, I’ll end him soon enough.”
Jarl took a step forward but waited for the stranger to come clear of the trees. When the shadow approached it revealed itself to be quite human, a man of ordinary size in simple traveler’s garb, a cowell over his head.
Jarl raised his sword but was stopped by a word.
“No!” The stranger kept his own weapon at his side, but the command in his tone made everyone freeze, all heat from the fire sucked out of the air.
“I said you would be last.” He pulled back his hood, revealing a plain face, nothing distinctive except dark eyes, filled not with firelight but with hatred. Hatred strong enough to quail the hardened thieves gathered round. “You will live in fear until then, knowing I’ll come for you when the rest have fallen. It won’t be long, but your last moments deserve to be haunted.”
Jarl hesitated. The man’s words dripped with confidence, and he had already killed several of Jarl’s best men. Jarl was no fool. Nor was he a coward, and he knew he only lead as long as the rest feared him. “You be learnin’ you don’t always get what ya want in this world.” With a swagger he closed the distance and swung a two-handed stroke at the open neck.
But the stranger’s sword was there to block, moving faster than Jarl could follow. Jarl didn’t wait but pressed the attack with blows that had brought larger men to their knees. The stranger danced and parried, flowing like the wind to avoid the sword or striking like a whip to counter. Jarl barely felt the first slice that opened a gash on his arm, and even when the man’s blade pierced his armor and plunged deep in his belly he kept fighting. But he weakened quickly. His swipes now wild and weak. The man sidestepped and let Jarl stumble past, a backhand blow sending him to the ground.
Jarl lay still, struggling to breathe and waiting for the final blow to fall.
“Wait your turn.” The voice once again came from darkness, this time the black inside Jarl’s head.
Their leader defeated, their courage broken, several men turned and ran into the night. Those who remained were united in purpose. The man with a scar waved his arms and they spread to encircle the stranger, their only hope in numbers.
It was a false hope. The stranger became a shadow once more, dancing in and out of their midst, untouched by light or blade. He cut them down one by one, and those who tried to flee made it only a few steps before a sword took them from behind. Some dropped their weapons and begged for mercy. They found none and were culled in turn. At the end it was silent again, except for Jarl’s ragged breath and the whimper of the old man, holding his lantern as if its glow would protect him.
Jarl turned his head, vision clearing, and saw the two men facing each other. Words were exchanged. The old man nodded and lowered the lantern, opened the screen, and blew out the wick. Light left his face. He set the lantern on the ground and knelt beside it. The blow came quick, severing his head from his body, both tumbling to the earth without a sound. Jarl closed his eyes.
“Wake.” The word was accompanied by slap on the cheek. Jarl hadn’t been asleep, merely hiding from his fate, but a firm hand clenched his jaw and shook his head. “You’re not dead yet.”
Jarl blinked, the stranger only inches from him. The hatred still in his eyes.
“Who are you?” Jarl asked.
“I’m one whose women you ruined. One who seeks revenge.”
“But we didn’t. We left those ladies unharmed.” Blood sputtered over his chin. “I even called off ol’ Scratch.”
The stranger shook his head. “Today. What about yesterday? And all the days before? And what about all those village girls, the ones who have no one to avenge them? How much pain and suffering have you caused over the years?”
He grabbed Jarl by the collar of his mail shirt and yanked him upright. He moved around behind to support Jarl, who had no strength of his own, and forced his head back and forth, scanning over the bodies lying still in the grass.
“These were your men, and now you’ve lost them. But your loss is nothing compared to mine. My wife raped and tortured by bandits, my little girl cut open and left on the roadside. I loved them more than my own soul, but you felt nothing for these men who followed you in life and now lead you in death. I can’t bring you the pain I’ve felt, the pain you deserve, so I’ll give you a clean death and let the gods treat you as they will.”
“We never killed no children.” Jarl roused, tried to spin free but was held in a grip tight as iron. “You gots the wrong guy. I didn’t do it.”
The voice whispered in his ear. “It doesn’t matter who held the blade. It doesn’t matter if you were there. You all did it, and you’re all going to pay.”
The stranger plunged a thin knife between the links of Jarl’s shirt, piercing his heart. He held it in as the dying man spasmed, pulling it loose only when all movement stopped. He let the body slump to the ground and cleaned the knife on the dewy grass. Hood over his head, he walked into the trees, shadow swallowing him once more.
Death hung in the clearing, only disturbed by the crackle of fire. Soon it would fade and the carrion eaters would come. The roads would be safe for a little while, and death would find a new pack to hunt.
Hi All, I haven’t guest blogged here in a while, but what a fun bunch of prompts I was given to welcome me back! I had the following to choose from:
Amy- Mozart, Mice and Men
Cameron- I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted
Erika- Like a Rainbow in the Dark
Jen- Christmas in July
Wendy- When Oompa Loompas play Candyland
The short story that follows is just a bit of backstory to my new adult fantasy trilogy ‘The Blackness’ inspired by Wendy’s prompt: When Oompa Loompas play Candyland. It shows what my main characters life was like before the events in the first book, ‘Dying was the Easy Part’ and before she became known as Jocelyn Hardy. I hope you enjoy!
Never Play Candyland with Ooompa Loompas
The paint was the first thing the old jewelry maker and royal guard noticed, smeared across the edges of the glass display cases in his shop. Tiny fingerprints, smudged from their mistress’s quick movements. A smile tugged at his face under the long white beard and he followed the trail, the orange growing lighter with each print, until he cleared the edge of the case and found a little girl sitting on the floor. Three strange little creatures all with orange skin and green hair fanned out in a circle around her with a board game on the floor in the center.
“No, Oompa One,” said the little girl sternly, the fabric of her white dress crinkling as she leaned forward pointing at the board and the little green gingerbread man serving as a gaming piece. The little gingerbread man waved at her, but she ignored him. “You have to move it to the purple space because that’s the color on your card.”
The orange creature named Oompa One simply blinked at the jeweler’s charge, the young princess Penelope—or as she insisted she be called for the duration of this game: Princess Lolly.
“Oompa One want chocolate. Chocolate now please,” it said pointing to Gloppy, one of the many creatures printed on the faded Candyland board.
The Princess sighed, a sound the jeweler knew well. “Oh, Oompa One, no. Gloppy is made of molasses. There isn’t any chocolate in Candyland.”
At that the three Oompa-Loompas started to mutter, what sounded suspiciously like the beginnings of a song starting to form between the trio—a song about lying princesses and cacao beans.
The jeweler cleared his throat and Penelope’s head shot up, aqua colored eyes wide. The Oompa-Loompas dissolved into swirling particles of orange and green, the tiny gingerbread men board game markers returning to their plastic staticness.
“Smithy! You’re back!” Penelope scrambled to her feet, black patent leather shoes squeaking as she threw herself at him, tiny arms, fingers still dusted with orange paint fisting his pant legs.
“Och, my ghile,” Smithy said, scooping her up. “What would your mother be saying if she could see ye now? You know real Oompa’s are not that ghastly color.”
“Oh, but they are. They’re orange and green. Like in the movie.”
“Hmmph. I think someone’s been seeing too much of that Hollywood tripe. I’ve told ye before that that rot will rot yer brains.” He coughed awkwardly at the unintended pun.
Tiny eyebrows, rose at that. “But why were the Oompa’s I called orange then?” She held out her hand, fingers splayed. “See? They got their color on me!”
Chuckling, Smithy used his handkerchief to clean the fingers waving at him. “You didn’a so much call them as create them, my ghile. I’ve told ye that your magic is a powerful thing.”
“Can I make anything then?”
The question was innocent, the eyes wide and guileless, and Smithy was struck again by the singular power of his little charge. If she wanted she could upend the Earth, create creatures of all shapes and descriptions that would be fully and totally loyal to her.
And she wouldn’t even need the usual magic paraphernalia. The pendants and the chants that ordinary witches relied on. That sort of power was staggering. Dangerous.
“Anything you wish, my ghile,” he said. “As long as it fits inside Cook’s breadbox that is.”
That got a giggle and a sloppy kiss on the cheek before she was demanding to be let down. Since Smithy was well aware of the girl’s ability to simply order his arms to release her, he was gratified to hear the words—even if they weren’t the most polite.
“Should ye be here, my ghile?” he asked, moving around the display case towards the back room that held his tools, the loose product that he would shape and twist into the jewelry lining the inside of his displays.
“No.” The little girl skipped after him, settling down on the end of his workbench where her own tiny pliers and length of coiled gold wire waited. “But Mummy said that Daddy wasn’t to be disturbed. She says that all the time now and I didn’t want to be quiet and play in my room like a good girl.”
The last part of her sentence was said in a near perfect imitation of the girl’s mother and Smithy ducked his head to hide a smile. “Aye,” he said, smile fading as he thought of the girls father. “Yer papa has a difficult job, dear one. Ye must give him time. He’ll be right as duck sauce by the Winter Solstice, just ye wait.”
The little girl didn’t ask the obvious question; one an older child would have asked immediately. Instead the worry lines wrinkling her forehead smoothed away and she began to tell Smithy about her day. About wanting to play Candyland which she’d found when visiting the city of Chicago months ago with her father—before her father had gotten too unstable to leave his lands.
These are dangerous time, the princess’s mother, told Smithy the last time he’d seen her. Soon it will be too dangerous for her to be near him. If it breaks free. If it sees…
She’d broken off then, but both knew the danger. Knew that if the thing inside her husband woke up when Penelope was in the room the consequences to them all would be horrific.
But for now, the man still held up to his sanity, his consciousness. The evil within did not yet realize the potential power source next to it. But it was just a matter of time. A waiting game that Smithy was growing tired of playing.
And unlike made up Oompa-Loompas playing Candyland, once this game ended (or started?) there’d be no going back.
It’d be war.
He gazed at the innocent child and knew in that moment that his days with her, like this were numbered. Soon she’d have to be sent away, hidden. But for now he listened to her babble on about Gramma Nut and the Ice Cream Sea, and thought of silver blades and golden arrows.
If war came, he’d be ready.
Just let it not be now.
He cleared his throat.
“How about another round of Candyland?”
Megan Wahl lives in San Jose, CA where she is currently busy editing her first novel ‘Dying is the Easy Part’ and starting on her second, ‘Caught Between’ both part of the planned trilogy, ‘The Blackness’. When she’s not buried nose deep in her own fantasy world she can be found at the local bookstore, nose first inside someone else’s fantasy. Or as she likes to justify it, ‘doing research’.