Category Archives: Writing


An Exercise: The Reluctant I

This is a writing exercise from The 3 A.M. Epiphany, which is probably one of my favorite prompt books of all time. I did this as part of Rowan Cota’s Writing Exercises in the Google+ Writers’ Discussion Group. If you’re looking for good writing community, I highly recommend this one. I enjoy the resources and encouragement that people are sharing there. (Disclaimer: I’m a moderator of that community, so I’m mostly biased. I wouldn’t be a moderator if I didn’t think it was a fantastic group, though!)

This is the very first exercise from the book, and involves writing a scene from the first-person perspective, but only using the words I or me twice in the entire 600 words. Feel free to join in and try your hand at this one if you’d like! Here’s mine:


I was not on shift when they brought Jane Doe into the hospital. The others said it had been a hard night, full of the twists and turns of life and death. They operated on her through the night, while the nurses spoke with police officers and detectives who were on a desperate hunt for clues and next of kin.

They found no one. There was not a trace of identity to Jane, nothing to reveal that she had, in fact, existed at all. No photos. No dental records. No finger prints. Nothing matched. The only evidence of her existence was the fact that she was found half-dead in the road by a good Samaritan and delivered to the hospital.

The Samaritan offered no clues either. He was a gentleman of 60, not a Samaritan at all, but a man from Detroit who had taken a wrong turn on his way to the Stadium. There was a game that night. There’s a game every night of the week, it seems, based on how many people come in talking about the game.

“What’s the score?” they ask.

“Try not to move, sir,” the nurse says. “The doctor needs you to stay absolutely still while he stitches that wound.”

“Somebody in this place has to know the score!”

The score is the most important thing. It’s the thing that keeps them all motivated. It’s their reason for getting up each day, for going to work, for coming to the hospital to have their bleeding stopped and their wounds stitched. It’s always about the score.

Even the Samaritan that wasn’t a Samaritan only stayed for a moment. He disappeared before signing the paperwork, before anyone could question him or identify him or find out where he’d found the half-dead woman or why he didn’t call 911 or how he found the hospital at all if he was lost on his way to the stadium. These were all the questions he left unanswered in his search for the score, and that’s why Jane Doe still lies in my ICU ward with no identifying connections at all.

The nurses tried their best. They worked all night. The hard battle was written all over their faces the next morning. The score. That morning, life was winning, but the game between life and death was close.

Jane Doe still holds her slim lead in the game. She looks as peaceful now as any of the other patients, as though she has quietly forgiven the injustice enacted upon her. The gashes on her face have healed to tight little pink lines. The rest of her wounds are closed now, and no longer need packing. Her body is alive, building and repairing itself. 

It’s only her soul that’s still missing.


In Darkness

image by Leeca at

image by Leeca at

This is a story of a time when a land fell into darkness. Once full of wealth and structure, the empire was conquered, ravaged, then deserted. Sickness came and devoured the people, one by one, one thousand by one thousand.

In those days, there were no kings, no chiefs, no lords. There were small groups of people scattered across the countryside, huddling together for survival. There were no conquerors. There were no leaders of men. Fear led them. Death held them in its tyrannical fist. Despair ruled their villages.

In those days, the secret to survival was whispered to the sleepy children and recited in hushed voices across crackling fires. The secret was wrapped in the words of other times and other people, in stories and myths. There were once people, the stories said, who were strong and golden, people not wasted away by disease and grief. The people in the stories were proud and fearless. The lands in the stories were paradise. The gods in the stories were just and mighty and made all things new.

As the words flowed out into the chilly night air, something magical happened in the minds of the listeners. Across the dark grey of a winter’s expanse, they looked out and saw the promised land: a bright sun shining over glowing green hills. The harsh call of the carcass-eating crows was heard as the soft trill of a lark singing in a dense forest. Warmth spread across the listener’s skin to fill the voids of their hungry stomachs, and for that one moment in time, all was well. Instead of the despair crushing a man’s shoulders, he felt hope lifting his chin. Instead of the weakness of hunger, he felt power coursing through his arms and legs. Then he would look down at himself, through the eyes of the story, and see a hero, golden and strong.

In those days, the story was worth more than bread.


Obligatory New Year Post

Hello to my handful of readers out there! I hope you are all feeling happy and healthy on this fine day. My entire family is sick at the moment – the kids with the flu, the adults with colds – so we have been watching movies and cuddling together on the couch for the last few days. I think it’s the quietest New Year I’ve ever had.

I spent the morning going through my writing journals and seeing how I did in 2012, and despite a whole lot of real life and death getting in the way, I see there were a lot of awesome things about 2012. Here are a few highlights:

*I got my first story published!

*I wrote over 200,000 words while participating in #WIP500

*I completed a rough draft of a script during Script Frenzy and a novel during NaNoWriMo

*I taught 6 piano students, ranging in age from 5 to 30.

*I read 46 books (68 if you count the entire Fruits Basket series)

*I made a lot of new friends on Google+ and became a mod for one of the biggest Writers Communities there.

*I started running with a friend and training for an upcoming Spartan Race. I’m still a weakly loser, but I’m getting stronger and feel much healthier.

When I started the WIP500 challenge last year, I wasn’t sure how it would go. It was kind of insane to see the numbers piling up over the months. Now that I know what it feels like to write 200,000 words over the course of a year, I know that it’s a manageable goal. So here’s what I’d like to do in 2013, if all goes well:

*Get a draft of my novel Illuminated out to beta-readers.

*Write 200,000 words again.

*Write at least one short story a month for publication. Write flash fiction often.

*Continue submitting finished stories until they get picked up, or until I have a decent collection to self-publish.

*Read 50 books.

*Blog more often. This year, in addition to flash fiction and writerly updates, you might see me post some of my collage art, since I’m joining a Mixed Media challenge. I love having a lot of creative things to do, since it seems to help when the writing gets stuck.

So what about you? What did you do in 2012, and what do you hope to do in 2013? If you wrote a new year’s blog post, feel free to link me up in the comments and I’ll come check it out. I hope you all have a very happy 2013!


Post-Operative Impressions

I could swear the last few weeks have been trying to break me. There has been a sudden downpour of conflict from all sides. In my real life, it’s painful and hard. In my writing life, I’m learning some excellent things about how to better develop a character (hint: make the sky fall down on them when they least expect it).

One of the less pleasant things I had to do was get oral surgery to remove my wisdom teeth. The teeth in question had decided to make pain for me in my old age. I kid, I’m only in my thirties, but that seems to be old for these kinds of things. Recovery took me longer than I expected and it was a good 6 days later that I finally felt human again.

And somewhere in the middle of that recovery, I scribbled down the following lines, trying to grasp what I’d been through. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as my bizarre recollections make me laugh now. And no, I never did figure out who zipped my hoodie on me.

image by

image by

Post-Operative Impressions

I remember they took my glasses. Maybe that’s why I never got a good look at the doctor’s face. They took my glasses and tied down my hands.

I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt, and wires, and tubes.

Now I’m in my hoodie, my jacket, my scarf. I notice a hot tear running down my cheek.

“Who put my clothes on?” I ask. He seems to think it a funny question but I don’t recall his answer.

There was a wheelchair I was expected to get into. I can see the blur of it, off to my right.

“I could hear them,” I say. “I could hear the beeping. I could hear them talking.” He tells me it must have been when I was waking up. It must have been.

My hoodie is zipped up. It’s not easy to zip. I was in a short-sleeve shirt. Who put it on me?

“Did you come get me?” I ask. He is amused that I don’t remember.

I remember there was a wheelchair I was expected to get out of. I remember the feel of it under my hands.

I can see my jacket and scarf in a pile across the room. My hoodie is still zipped snuggly on me where I lay on the couch.

“Who put my clothes on?” I ask. He says I was dressed when they brought me out.

I remember the wheelchair, but not the time I spent in it.

“I could hear them,” I say.

“You told me,” he says.

I was in a short-sleeve shirt. My hands were tied down. The doctor asked me a question. I slurred out half an answer and faded.

I am fully dressed now, my mouth full of gauze, missing my teeth

and my memories.


Good News! And some Nightmare Fuel…

Those who follow me know I’m pretty familiar with rejection by this point. I’ve been putting my stories out there and getting all sorts of great letters from editors about my writing, but none of them have been acceptance letters.

Until yesterday. I spotted the email in my inbox and could see that the first few words included the word, “Sorry” and I almost didn’t even open it. I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t a rejection at all! They’d held onto my story for an extra month because they liked it so much and wanted it for another topic they had coming up. And you can bet this rejection-laden writer did some serious happy dancing yesterday!

I’ve also had some really kind encouragement from others, especially in the Google Plus writing community, that has lifted my spirits the last few days. The writing is really hard some days, especially when trying new things. It’s  nice to know others out there going through the same things.

Without further ado, here’s today’s story, for Nightmare Fuel on Google Plus.

Marissa leaned against the doorway with a soft smile on her face. Four-year old Sylvia was finally asleep, her arms and legs sprawled across the Hello Kitty sheets, her dark eyelashes brushing across her pudgy cheeks. It was Marissa’s favorite sight of the day, when her daughter transformed from wild terror to peaceful angel. Even Judas the cat looked content, tightly curled at one end of the bed.

“Sweet dreams,” Marissa whispered. She pulled the door closed, then leaned against it and closed her eyes. Marissa didn’t consider herself a religious person by any means, but she spoke her request to the darkness just as she had every night for months.

“Please let her sleep,” Marissa said. “Please.”

Marissa had taken Sylvia to every doctor her insurance could afford, and then some. Night terrors, the doctors called it. They told Marissa to make sure Sylvia was eating properly and to limit time watching TV. Even the sleep clinic told her that it was a passing phase that would resolve on its own. Marissa wasn’t so sure. The episodes had been happening several times a week for months now. She just wanted her daughter to be able to sleep in peace again. Children shouldn’t have such terrible nightmares, she thought.

Marissa trudged down the hall to her bedroom, nearly tripping over a box on her way in. For a moment she thought about unpacking, but there were too many boxes, still in piles all over the half-empty house. Marissa had no energy to go down that road tonight. Maybe if Sylvia slept tonight, she could try tomorrow. She tumbled into her bed and was instantly asleep.

It wasn’t Sylvia’s screaming that woke her. She could tell because she was still in bed. When Sylvia screamed, her mother instinct would kick in and she’d be halfway out the door before she actually opened her eyes. Marissa sat and listened. What had woken her?

She heard it again, a high-pitched wail like a baby crying. Marissa felt a tingle run up her back. Then there was a sharp spitting sound, followed by a low growl. It was Judas the cat. Somehow, the realization didn’t make Marissa feel any better.

She stepped out of her bed and toward the door just as Sylvia woke. Sylvia’s screams blended with Judas’s yowls, making an otherworldly sound. Marissa felt a prickling all over her body where her hairs stood on end, and as she ran towards Sylvia’s room she was hyper aware of everything around her. The red light of the digital clock shown like blood as it flashed out the time. Marissa thought she smelled fresh dirt and cinnamon along with something like boiled eggs.

Marissa threw open Sylvia’s door. A black figure dashed out the room with a yowl. Judas. Inside, Sylvia sat as she did with every night terror, with her blankets tucked under her chin and her eyes squeezed shut. On other nights, Marissa had gone to Sylvia and shushed her until she stopped crying. She always thought it was just nightmares afflicting her daughter. Tonight she stood in the doorway and searched the room. She saw nothing but a few shadows.

“What is it, Sylvia?” she asked.
“It’s him, Mommy.”
“Where is he? I can’t see him.”
“He said to tell you he can see you,” Sylvia said, her eyes still tightly shut.

Marissa’s scalp tingled. She walked into the room, her eyes running over every nook and cranny.
“Can you see him, Sylvia?”

Sylvia squinted into the darkness, toward the closet, then quickly shut her eyes again. She nodded. Marissa glared toward the closet, trying to get a look at the intruder, but she saw nothing but shadows.

“He’s laughing, Mommy,” Sylvia said. “Make him stop.”
“Get out,” Marissa said. “This is our house.”

A ghastly face appeared suddenly before Marissa, a skull with empty eye sockets. A broken jaw hung loose from one side of its yawning mouth. Marissa screamed as the figure floated closer to her, its cloak floating in tatters around it as though it walked in water. She took a step back. A box on the floor caught her foot and she tumbled backward.

The face hovered over her and she heard a scratchy whisper.

“It’s my house,” the thing said, then disappeared.

Marissa got on her feet and rushed to Sylvia. The two of them cried together for several long minutes before Marissa rose and carried Sylvia out of the cursed room.

They slept in the car that night, and moved out of the house the next day. Sylvia’s night terrors never returned.


Bait and Switch

They started as a small group
A gathering of the faithful
In homes, around tables
Children in laps or crawling the floors

They bought a building
And painted it
with a sign that read
Everyone Welcome

People arrived
The homeless
Single mothers
Those rowdy teenage kids
that smoke in the parking lot

It made them uncomfortable

They put locks on the doors
To keep out the homeless
The addicts
The rowdy teenage kids
that skateboard in the parking lot
but still the sign read
Everyone Welcome

After a while
The gathering dwindled
The elders got more elderly
And no one new came
“What can we do?”
They asked themselves
“How do we bring more people in?”

One of them got the bright idea
To build a big cross
Bigger than the billboards on the freeway
“That way they’ll know who we are.”

But the town already knew
That they would lock their doors
to the homeless
the hurting
the teenage kids
who have no families to go home to

And the Cross Tower which should have meant love
became a symbol
of the fortress
their fear had built


Nightmare Fuel Day 15: At Dusk

I’ve still been keeping up with daily writing, although I feel like I’m starting to lose momentum. I have learned a lot from this process though, and greatly appreciate those of you who have read and commented on my stories the last two weeks!

Today, you get a prosem in the style of Kary Gaul, who is also doing the daily prompts on Google+.

image by daviniodus on Flickr

The children played baseball in the hot evening
Their shouts filled the thick summer air
The mother watched from inside
Smiling to herself
She might have joined in if she could
But instead let the sound
Wash over her

The window was open to let the air in
The mother called out,
“It’s getting dark.”

An ancient phrase
Full of meaning
Full of foreboding
It’s getting dark
The monsters are coming
Come inside

But the children didn’t hear
the warning

The window was open to let the screams in
when the monsters arrived
in a swarm

The mother was out the door
before she knew she was running

but no amount of flailing could frighten
the killer bees


NF Day 11: Burning Coals

Today’s Nightmare Fuel prompt turned into something a little different. It’s not as suspenseful or scary as some of the others, but has more of a serious feel, I think. The first line came to me and wouldn’t leave me alone, so even if it seemed a little strange, I had to go with it.

Think happy thoughts. Imagine rainbows. Intend kindness.

These were the messages scrawled in the wood of our crowded bunkhouses, behind the wood where only a prisoner might see. I had no idea what they meant at first. Who in their right mind could follow such instructions in such a dreadful place?

There was no end to the horrors enacted upon us in that place. There was no end to the pain, the hunger, the brutality. At first, my thoughts were focused on hate. The guards stood over us on a kind of deck that overlooked the yard. Strange devices like small tubas sprouted from their heads. As they watched us, I thought how angry I was. I wanted to be up there instead, watching those men squirm in wretched, muddy nakedness below me.

The men smiled as I imagined their torment.

I was the last one delivered to the camp. When I arrived, I wondered if the other prisoners still had tongues or if they’d been cut out at some point. No one spoke. Every so often, someone would hum a quiet melody, but otherwise, they made no sound. It seemed to be a kind of tacit agreement between everyone imprisoned there. I wondered if it was because of the devices on the guard’s ears.

On my first night, one of the men pointed out the scrawled notes behind the bunk. He placed his finger there and looked at me, commanding me to read.

Think happy thoughts.

It boiled my blood, it really did. That type of wishful thinking was just the opposite of what the men needed. They needed to understand the reality of the situation. They needed to find a way to escape, find a way to win, find a way to fight back.

I imagined escape routes. No one spoke to me, so I planned them out for myself. There was a loose piece of chicken wire in one corner of the fence. I thought about digging under it during the middle of the night and running for my life. I told no one, just planned in my mind how I would get myself out. The next day, the wire was repaired, replaced with a row of fencing dug deep into the hard earth. I know how hard the earth was, because I was the one forced to dig the trenches. The other men, too, had to help build the new fence. No one spoke. They just hummed quietly to themselves and did the work. I daresay they seemed cheerful. The guards watched us and scowled.

In bed that night, one of the men came over and pointed at the scrawled letters in the wood again. There was meaning in his gesture. These are the rules, he seemed to be saying. Follow them. Obey them.

Imagine rainbows.

What a ludicrous phrase to write in that dull, grey place. Nothing had color anymore. We were caked with grey mud, our eyes gone black with hunger and grief for the ones we lost before. Even the wood that built the bunks was faded grey with age and sadness. I tried to remember what color looked like, but it was too easy to listen to the lulling sounds of the rain dripping through the roof and onto the floor. Drip. Drop. There were no rainbows here.

The guards made us dig a grave the next day for one of the men who had died in the night. The rain made the ground slippery, and filled the hole as quickly as we could dig. I looked at the guards, smiling down on us with their grim satisfaction. They enjoyed our misery. I hated them. I imagined burying one of them in our water-logged hole. One of the guards looked right at me and grinned maliciously. That look made me shiver even more than the cold rain.

One of the men started to hum. It was a pleasant tune, one I remembered from before. Before the war, before this camp, before the guards. I was instantly transported to another time, to a place where there was color and warmth. I looked at the humming man in my astonishment, and the man smiled at me. It was more than a smile, more than a baring of teeth. It was more of an embrace of souls across that rainy, muddy hole. I glanced up at the guards again and saw them staring on in disgust. I smiled back at the humming man, and watched as the guards turned away.

The humming man had done me a great service; he had scoured clean a memory. As I stood in muddy water up to my knees and shoveled heavy dirt until my arms ached, I mulled over that memory in my mind. Soon, I was there, in that dance hall, dancing with the girl who would become my wife. I could see the bright blue of her dress, the red reflected in her dark hair under the lights. I heard music that made me want to move. Before I knew it, the job was done. I had escaped, at least for a moment. It was brilliant really.

As I went to bed that night, the humming man came with a determined look, and pointed at the scrawled words.

“I get it,” I said aloud. “I understand.” My voice sounded loud and alien in the sanctuary of the bunkhouse.

The humming man shook his head and stabbed his finger at the third phrase.

Intend kindness.

What was I missing? I had escaped today. The happy thoughts, the rainbows. I got it. I understood. What more could be gained by this final commandment? Besides, I had always heard that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. We should take action.

I woke to the sounds of struggle. No words were spoken, only grunts and cries and the horrible hollow thud of boots against flesh. I rose from my bunk and dashed out into the yard to see what the commotion was. The guards were on a rampage. They had come down from their tower and were in the yard, brandishing long pieces of metal as weapons and using them against a pair of men crouching on the ground.

I ran out to the yard. The guards stopped and looked at me, ready for my attack. They had some sort of energy about them, as though they were excited I had come. Sick, that’s what they were. They were sick monsters. They grinned as they turned their weapons on me.

Think happy thoughts. Imagine rainbows. I went back to the memory of that dance, the memory of that song. I tried to hum a little. Still, the beating continued, and not even the memory could take away the pain.

Intend kindness, I thought. How could I intend it when I was being beaten bloody, when my body screamed out against it? I tried to concentrate. I thought kindly of the humming man, who had given me the song to help me escape. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to think of it, I knew. I had to intend it.

I thought of the monsters above me, in their murderous rage. I could tell they didn’t want to kill me. They only wanted to hurt me. I looked up at them, and wondered where they had come from. What a wretched job this must be for them, to watch us grow thin every day, to eat the same tasteless gruel, to order us to build fences and dig graves, to watch us in our silence day after day. What had happened for them to deserve this job? Did they have wives, children, families somewhere waiting for them? Or were they prisoners like us, prisoners of the system of war? As I considered the guards, they stopped and stood very still, their horn-like machines sticking out from their heads like mouse ears. How uncomfortable they looked, in their stiff uniforms. The more I thought about it, the more I came to pity them.

The other prisoners began to gather around, and I stood. The guards watched us warily, backing away. I felt sad for them, these lonely, angry young men who had nothing but their fists. Did they even have happy memories to look back on? I imagined them at that dance, the music playing, the guards in comfortable civilian clothes, smiling into the faces of some lovely young women. We could have been friends once, in another life.

The guards stared at me, horrified. Were they understanding this? Is that what the devices were for? Could they read my mind?

If I had food, I would give it to you right now, I thought as loudly as I could.

One of the guards put his hands up to the device on his head. I looked at the men gathered around me. I could tell by their faces that they had similar thoughts to my own. We would feed you. We would clothe you. We would take care of you and teach you our songs. You wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. You wouldn’t have to be angry anymore. Some of the prisoners held their hands out to the guards in a gesture of offering.

The guard with his hands near his head suddenly started shrieking. With a great heave, he pried the machine from his head. Blood poured from the place where his ears should be, and he ran screaming from the yard.

The other guard knelt in the mud, tears filling his grey eyes. I dropped to my knees beside him and wrapped an arm around him. The other prisoners followed suit, until we were a single mass of intertwined humans in that dirty yard.

All of us escaped that day. We took the guard with us, and after having his mind-reading device surgically removed, we hid him in our basement until the end of the war.


Thanks for reading. I’d love to know what you think if you feel inclined to comment. 🙂


The Garden Bed

The prompt today for the Flash Fiction Project was this wonderful picture by Kimberley Blazon.  Look at those lovely flowers! I enjoyed getting to work with this one, especially considering how terrifying some of the Nightmare Fuel prompts have been.

As a little Easter egg, the people in the story have the names of my grandparents, both of whom are still living. They recently celebrated 60 years of marriage together, so I suppose a little of this is inspired by them.

In the town where I grew up, there lived an extraordinary couple. It wasn’t just the length of their marriage that made them different, although 77 years was a long time to be together. I’ve known other people who have been married for decades who seem to stick together out of spite. Not these two. They were together because they loved to be that way. I don’t recall ever seeing them apart from each other. If you saw Tom, even in the hardware store, then you’d see Ruth just a few steps away, picking out new decorations for her beautiful garden.

The two of them hosted a dinner every Friday night in their home. Anyone could come. Sometimes, it was just the two of them. Sometimes, the whole town would show up. There was always enough food, no matter how many people came. It was some kind of magic that happened in Ruth’s kitchen, that the food was always good and there was always plenty for seconds.

Because of their generosity and openness, the two became like celebrities in our little town. They often rode in the fourth of July parades and were the first to light the town Christmas tree. When my dad opened his little printing shop, he invited Tom and Ruth to cut the ribbon for him at his opening ceremony. They arrived, and also ordered a set of invitations for a garden party Ruth was hosting. It was Dad’s first print job there. They were just that kind of people.

Tragedy struck one night, while Tom and Ruth were sleeping peacefully in their bed. The house burnt to the ground. No one knew what had happened. By the time the firefighters arrived, there were only a few smoldering pieces of wall still standing. They could not save Tom and Ruth. The grief permeated our little town. Everyone lost a family member that day, because Tom and Ruth were everyone’s parents and grandparents, they were the people you went to when you needed your fill, not just of food but of love.

We held vigils. We brought flowers. But nothing seemed to ease our grief. No one had the heart to clean up after the fire, and so the ruins stood all through the winter as we tried to go on with our lives. Snow covered the ashes like a blanket, helping us bury our grief and begin to live our lives again. Soon, other families were inviting people over for meals and parties and we were able to enjoy ourselves again.

Spring came, melting away the snow, but still the ruins stood. They were not as bleak as they had been at first. Now they were a kind of monument, and no one would touch the place out of reverence for Tom and Ruth. We would just visit, sometimes, usually on a Friday night, in memory of the people who had loved each other and the people in their town so much.

Spring blossomed into summer, and that’s when the most amazing thing happened. From everywhere in the ruins, flowers grew and bloomed. There were all types: dahlias and snapdragons and sunflowers and petunias, all thrown together in a brilliant display. As the garden grew, people began to walk inside the ruins of the house, enjoying the colors and the smells and the quiet hum of bees working. It was then that we discovered the most magnificent part of all.

In the back bedroom, where Tom and Ruth had lost their lives in that dreadful fire, was a breathtaking sight. Covering their bed was a carpet of thousands of tiny forget-me-nots, smiling up at the blue sky overhead.

You can still see it there today, if you go in the summer. The city has set the place apart as an historical landmark. People come from miles around to see the flowers in Tom and Ruth’s garden. Some people think it was a trick, that someone else planted all those flowers, but I don’t think it was a trick at all. I think the flowers came because they knew it was safe there. Flowers only grow where love is.


Nightmare Fuel 7: A Walk in the Park

Thanks to those of you who have read, liked, plussed, and/or commented on my posts so far. I’m enjoying this exercise much more than I thought I might. It is forcing me to improve my writing and to come up with more stories than I thought I had. It’s also providing some sort of therapy as I flush out all of my own nightmares.

Every year, I take a weekend trip to Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rain Forest with my aunt. It’s one of my favorite places on earth, a place both ancient and newborn and fully alive. The trees there are hundreds of years old, and it always puts me in a state of awe when I’m there. And once in a while, it puts me in a state of fear. This is a story inspired by one of my fears.

“Keep at least one hundred feet away from elk at all times,” Alyssa read aloud. She snapped a picture of the sign. “Are they that dangerous?” she asked.

“You know how these places are,” Matt said. “The animals eat junk and get sick. So they tell people to stay away instead. Come on, the trail head is this way.” Matt’s familiarity with the area was part of the reason Alyssa had asked him to bring her here. She had heard Matt rave about how beautiful it was in the rain forest  She had planned her photography project as a nature study specifically so she could hire him as a guide.

She put her camera up to her eye and watched him walk away through the viewfinder, admiring the view. His bright red jacket disappeared behind a giant tree. Alyssa’s heart quickened, and she had to jog a little to catch up with him. She didn’t want to be left behind in this place.

She hoped that concentrating on the photos would help her relax, but the forest made her nervous. She had never been this far from civilization before. It was eerily quiet. The moss hung down from the tree branches like ancient beards or ghastly slime and the roots appeared to be slithering under the bare earth. Everything about the place seemed heavy and full of foreboding.

“Isn’t this great?” Matt said, looking back at Alyssa with a grin. He took a deep breath. “You can actually breathe out here.”

Alyssa managed a smile. It was the first time she had set foot in a forest in her life. All those old fairy tales about children lost in the woods haunted her mind. She remembered the rumors about bear attacks and lost people dying of hypothermia. Alyssa swallowed the thick feeling in her throat.

“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome,” she said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. She took a picture of Matt’s photogenic grin. At least her photography project gave her an excuse to spend the day with that piece of eye candy.

The forest was hypnotic in a way. Soon, Alyssa felt herself in a kind of trance as she walked the path looking for more photo material. She found an orange fungus shaped like a brain growing from the side of a tree. There was another type of fungus that looked like blood droplets. Everything seemed alien, like she had been dropped into an alternate universe where ugly things were supposed to be beautiful.

She saw another elk warning sign through the camera’s viewfinder and tried to read it. There was a line in smaller print at the bottom that she couldn’t make out. She let the camera hang from the strap around her neck and walked up to the sign.

If you are chased, run away and keep running.

“Matt,” Alyssa called. He was at least twenty feet ahead of her, kneeling to examine something on the ground. He didn’t hear her call. She put the camera up to her eye again to take a picture of the strange sign. When she looked back to where Matt was crouching, he was gone.

The hair on Alyssa’s neck stood on end. She didn’t want to be alone in this strange forest. She didn’t even know the way back to the car from here. She told herself to relax. He couldn’t have gone far. She walked quickly up the path, looking for a sight of his red jacket through the thick trees.

She turned a curve in the path and then froze. Matt stood near one side of the path, not too far away, his hand outstretched toward the largest animal she had ever seen. It looked more like a horse than a deer. This one had no antlers, just large fur-lined ears that moved like satellites, listening for danger all around.

One hundred feet, Alyssa thought. They were supposed to stay one hundred feet away from the animals.

“Matt, I don’t think you should be so close,” she said.

“Take a picture, Alyssa! This is amazing. Look at her.” Matt reached further, almost touching the creature’s nose.

Alyssa hesitated. “I think we should go, Matt. Remember the signs?” The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end, and she felt angry at Matt for disobeying the warnings.

“She’s just hungry,” he said. “Aren’t you hungry, you big sweetheart?” Matt crouched down and picked up a small chunk of green lichen from the ground. He held it out to the elk. The beast took a step forward into the path.

Alyssa raised her camera to her eye. She had to admit it was a perfect opportunity. The photo might even become the centerpiece of her project. She was imagining it as she lined up the shot, how she would emphasize the relationships between men and beasts. She pressed the shutter. Instead of a soft click, she heard a wet thunk, followed by a terrible groan.

Lowering the camera again, Alyssa saw a new creature standing boldly in the path. He had antlers like trees growing from the top of his head. Wrapped in its terrible branches was Matt, or a distorted and broken version of what Matt should have looked like. The great bull tossed his head, and Matt’s body was thrown into the air like a leaf in the wind. He fell in a broken heap, but made no sound.

Alyssa screamed. The huge beast turned to look at her. She froze. She tried to remember what the signs had said. One hundred feet, she remembered that. How close was the elk? Judging distance was hard, but she thought he might be thirty feet away. Too close. She took a step backward. The elk lowered his head and pawed the ground.

If you are chased, run away and keep running. The words screamed into Alyssa’s brain. She turned and ran for her life. Fortunately for her, the bull gave no chase.

Alyssa’s perfect picture never made it into her project, for instead of recording the hallmark moment of man feeding a gentle creature, the camera captured the moment when Matt’s chest was pierced by the horn of a wild beast. She never stepped foot in a forest again.

The following year, the forest ranger increased the size of the font on the warning signs and hoped that this year someone might actually read them.