“And so the hunt begins. Tonight we will feast, we will drink and we will celebrate as we await the beginning of the hunt. He rides out on his great steed, hunting the spirits who wander the earth, on these the darkest days of the year. We put up the tree for the benevolent spirits to hide in, out of the cold and safe from Wodan’s hunters. We burn our yule log to protect us from the evil spirits, those that would try to enter and harm us. When it ends, in 12 days time, we will feast again and celebrate the return of the light.”

Grandfather told this story every year, and every year, I listened and dreamed of meeting Wodan and joining him on his hunt. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a part of that hunt, not huddled inside, feasting and warm, laughing and telling stories. I waited for the feasting to end, for the mead to run dry and the elders to doze off and dream their muddled dreams of warmth and wine. I dressed quickly in the soft supple leathers given to me as a gift this very night. My pack was ready, and uncle’s axe, left carelessly by the door, slid into my belt easily. I wrapped myself in my fur cloak and took one look back at those I loved as I walked out the door, sliding it closed silently behind me. I climbed onto my horse, a shaggy thick thing who shambled across the snow.

Weariness set into my bones as I plodded along, searching until finally I saw a speck in the sky, there and then gone, to the east. I set my horse to a canter as I rode off in search of Wodan’s ravens. The horn blew, loud and insistent. Excitement fueled me as I rode straight into the famed hunt. Wodan pulled up quickly in front of me, his hair and beard a shock of thick white standing out against his dark armor.

“What do you seek? The hunt begins, return to your home or fall victim to the spirits of the land.” Wodan spoke in a booming voice, tall upon his horse with his spectral army arrayed behind him. I looked him straight in his eyes, one blue and one black as night, an eye in which the wonders of the worlds are revealed. Inside I quivered, but my voice was steady and strong.

“I come to join you on your hunt. I would bring in the sun with you and defeat the darkness.” I said.

His laughter came as a surprise, echoing across the land. “Then tonight you shall.” He said, his eye twinkling. I felt the change in me as I became a part of the hunt, my steady horse turned into a wild destrier, snorting and stomping her feet, ready to hunt. “Come young one, hunt with us,” he said, and I fell in beside him, removing my axe from my belt.

We hunted throughout the night, finding spirits and demons across the land and sending them back to the darkness of their world. Long into the night the hunt continued as I rode beside Wodan, never feeling the cold. We talked as we rode, telling each other stories, stories I would one day tell my own children and grandchildren as my grandfather did. We hunted until the darkness began to fade.

“Return to your home now, young one.” He said as he turned away, his army following behind as they rode up into the clouds.

I awoke in my bed, huddled beneath my furs, no sign of my ride with Wodan. Around me the elders still slept. I padded across the floor, wondering if it was all a dream when I noticed a small package beneath the tree. I opened the package quickly. A small stone, the size of an eye and black as onyx fell into my hand. I grasped the stone in my hand, closing my eyes and feeling the power in this small stone, this gift left for me from the great Wodan.

*This story was originally published in the Womanthology Holiday PDF for backers of Womanthology.

Some nights I dream vivid dreams, the kind that wake me up, breath caught in my throat, eyes wide in fear and a cold sweat on my body. These dreams, or nightmares, are obvious stories. My subconscious had something locked away that it needed to release. I take those and I write them down, storing them away for future use in a nightmarish story, or twist them and turn them for use as a scene in a current story. Other nights I have dreams that keep me sleeping, the ones where a story is unfolding in my mind as I sleep and I watch it all from the sidelines, watching the characters in my mind as if in a play. Those dreams are always over too fast, morning comes too soon, and I lay in bed trying for a few more moments of sleep and a continuation of the story started. These are the ones that inspire me the most. These are the ones that must be written, must become a story, and when these two kinds of dreams interact in one night, it is like an inspiration jackpot. I don’t always write when inspired, some days it’s a struggle to wade through the muck of a manuscript, but I push along anyway, hoping that as I go inspiration will hit, or at the very least my ideas don’t suck. But when inspiration does hit, I am raring to go, ready to write and create a new world with characters I already know intimately from my dreams.
Last night was one of those dreams. The dream combined faeries and demons in the realm of humans blissfully living their lives in ignorance. The main story followed a particularly tough, punkish faerie and a lackluster demon desperately trying to regain some influence over humans. There was a tenuous agreement made, a bargain that is doomed to fail and some amusing dialogue between two selfish, clueless beings and their cohorts that resulted in a much bigger story to come. It is a combination of realms that I don’t think I have ever read (and if you have, please don’t tell me), and I feel a connection to these characters, I really like these characters, even when they were being decidedly unlikable. I liked the story I watched unfold and I wanted more. I knew that this one must be told, and so today, I am setting aside other writings for a while and focusing on this story and seeing where it takes me, this tale of faeries and demons and other nefarious beings.

Halloweeen time is here once again. Chills are in the air, the days are short and cloudy with the occasional thunderstorm. The nights are getting longer. My tastes run towards the spooky, the spine-tingling. The house is decorated with skeletons and broomsticks and, except for my village of Halloween horror (my toys, as I like to call them), I like to draw on the feeling of the spooky more than the kitsch of Halloween. So what is it about the heart-pumping, spine-tingling, uneasiness and fear that I love so much? In my household, with two young kids and a husband whose tastes don’t turn toward the thrill of fear, I find myself alone in my love of being scared. My daughter is trying out the whole love of the scary, but sometimes even Goosebumps movies are too much for her. My son was obsessed with the scary when he was in preschool. He wanted to watch endless hours of Goosebumps movies and listen to the scary tales. He would wake up in the middle of the night on our get together movie nights if there was a scary movie on as if he knew what was on and wanted to come watch it, but now he can’t stand the scary. The older I get, the harder it is to recapture that fear while watching scary movies. My mind is too jaded I guess, I notice the imperfections, the plot holes and the bad effects too much, but there are moments that will always stand out in my mind that still give me a thrill. My love of the scary movie goes back to my childhood. Watcher in the Woods started the love of the spooky for me, fairly close to the age my daughter is now. I started reading Stephen King books at 11. I would stay up late watching Nightmare on Elm Street movies until all hours of the night while my little brother pleaded with me to watch something else. When Halloween time comes around again, there are the tried and true movies that still give me a chill, even if it just a remembrance of my youth, so here are my top five scary movie moments of all time in no particular order.

  1. Poltergeist- Carol Ann in front of the static TV. I don’t know why this particular moment of the movie is the one that always got to me. Maybe because as a child, I looked a lot like Carol Ann, especially from the back with my long white-blonde hair. Maybe that scene of all the scenes in the movie is the one that put my childhood self fully into the movie. Maybe it is the simple fact that growing up, I saw a lot of static TV while trying to stick a pencil into the VCR so that the movie would work and sometimes, I too would hear voices in the static.
  2. Nightmare on Elm Street- The bathtub scene. This was always the scariest part of any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies for me. To be honest, I was always more amused by the movies than scared, which may be why they were my go to nightly horror fest moves. But something about this scene always made me wary to bathe. Soaking in the tub, fully relaxed and completely vulnerable only to doze off, which I did often in the tub. The next moment a gloved hand with razor blades comes up through the water. Always got to me and still pops into my head on the rare occasion that I can actually find the time to take a long soaking bath instead of a quick shower.
  3. Psycho- Once again with a bathing scene, it’s the shower scene in Psycho that gets me. I still get a little uneasy about taking a shower when no one else is home. There’s something about the sensory depravation of being in the shower, drawing of the curtain that blocks your view, closed door and steam that freaks me out. Or maybe I’m just afraid of bathing in general.
  4. Children of the Corn- scary kids. They get me every time. Kids are already freaky enough and it really isn’t such a leap to imagine them as psycho killers. Children of the Corn is just one of many scary kid movies. From the old to the new, they send chills down my spine and make me watch my own children out of the corner of my eye.
  5. Watcher in the Woods- I have to throw this one in there as it is the movie that started my love of the genre. As a child I found the whole movie to be quite the perfect ghost story with a touch of the mystical. Watcher in the Woods, while a ghost-type of story is not actually a ghost story, nor is it truly scary. The entire movie is filled with moments that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but at the same time, the girls in this movie try to find out the truth and fix it. And with a tagline of “What can’t be explained must be explored”, it reminds me even now that curiosity is vital to survival.

There you have it, my top 5 scary movies/moments. It’s not the blood and gore that get me. The typical tale of teenagers in the woods never really freaked me out, not even when I was a teenager in the woods. Too much camping I guess. It’s the little things, the small moments or the characters that do it to me every time. What are some of your scariest movie moments and why? Are they the go-to horror movies of your youth, or are there new ones out there that qualify enough to scare you?

I look out the window into the darkness before dawn, the outlines of trees swaying in the slight breeze. A small orange glow beckons warmly from a neighboring window, announcing life when the rest of the world is silent. The rain drifts down lightly, bringing with it the scent of sweet water and soft leaves rotting. Apple bread bakes in the oven. Scents of cinnamon and caramel mix with the scents of fall outside my window, leaving my mind in a paradise of Autumnal pleasure. The black cat rubs against my foot as I wrap my hands around the warmth of a cup of fresh brewed coffee before settling in at my feet to doze off, back into her dreams of witches and brooms and ancient spells remembered from past lives. A flash of lightning illuminates everything into color for a moment in time. Shadows leap from the darkness, dancing in motion with the breeze, haunting my thoughts with images imagined or real, beings that only exist in the hours when people sleep, fading from the minds of humans as the sun begins to shed its light once more. The cat’s ears perk up for a moment, her golden eyes flashing open as she looks around, releasing a low growl from her throat before once again rubbing against my leg and settling back into sleep. The children stir in their beds, low whimpers followed by soft sighs as they once again dream of candied apples and hot cocoa shared with friends during a rousing game of hide and seek. A soft whisper brushes my neck, the promise of the imaginary become real and a shiver runs down my spine as I exult in beliefs of the other world. I settle into my chair, legs curled under me, snuggled in the warmth of a hand knit blanket. Pen and paper in hand, a candle light flickering and dancing, joining with the creatures of my mind, I write to the delight of those beings surrounding me, making them real as their presence flows onto the paper.

A lightness begins outside my window, tendrils of blue shining between the branches of leafless trees. Lamentations fill my ears as the shadows melt back into the earth and sunlight streams through, illuminating colors of copper and purple and orange, bringing the flames back to the trees and the mind to thoughts of daily work. I set my work aside, closing my eyes, remembering the world as it was before it woke, reminding the beings that I will join with them once again when darkness descends. Even in my reality, they will not be forgotten, hovering in the shadows. I imagine a nod of thankfulness for all those who keep them alive through their shivers and dreams, the nightmares and startles, the curious glances out of the corner of the eye, where they reside, waiting for their time to come again.

Baring the Soul

Posted: July 13, 2011 in Prose, writing

It cries for more, it begs and pleads with me, tears that won’t end. Gripping it in my hands, I beg for it to stop. I can’t release it, can’t let them see. What they know is only part, I can’t let them see it all. Meekly it resigns, a smile in place where once the truth was shown. It will escape one day, one day I won’t be able to stop it. Someday it will realize it is stronger than me. What will that day be like? Will they scream? Run away? Will they try to fix it? Make it better with a kiss and soft words? This beast I hold in my hands, flowing out the tip of my pen, smiling knowingly, crying in pain mischief and fear, sadness and hope and love, changing colors, knowing the words will someday release it, biding its time. Cackling loudly now, like a witch bending over her cauldron, taunting me with every stroke on the paper until i give in, releasing it only to hunt it down again and reclaim it. But it is too late, it has been seen and freedom has made it stronger.  I wait in fear, our roles reversed, I beg and plead and cry, trying to take it back an reclaim what is mine.

*First Draft story idea #1 for Womanthology. Read the previous post for how I write when writing for comics. Would love to hear feedback/comments on any of the stories I post.

The rain fell fat and unrelenting, dripping down the sides of the tent. The flashes of lightning illuminating everything for a moment in time, stripping away the brave faces to show the fear and excitement underneath before only the glow of the lamp remained. The group huddled around the table, going over the plan once more. For months they had been out here, unearthing the ruins, pouring over the bits of lore they could find, and researching all they could.

Finally, it was time. The four women gathered their gear as the thunder burst, a bomb exploding in the dark, the lightning flashing in the aftermath. They stepped outside, silently beginning their trek. No flashlights or lanterns were allowed, they saw the forest through heat signatures and outlines. Deeper into the forest they went, silence their shield, the rain blocking their scent. Kat took point, signaling to the others the way to take, keeping an eye out for the sentinels the lore told about, not entirely sure they were real, but wary nonetheless.

The ruins loomed before them, covered in a phosphorescent glow. Lighting struck again, closer this time. They removed their goggles, relying on the light from the ruins. Four stone pillars stood up from the ground covered in moss, vines and runes. Silently, nervously, the four women began setting up their equipment, modern versions of the ancient tools used when the creature was contained centuries ago. Technological upgrades to monitor the surroundings and energy output, but the tools themselves were the same. Each woman took a pillar. Gail took the first pillar, preparing to recite the ritual pieced together from the pillars and the lore. Miranda stood at the second pillar, pouring over her calculations once more, not quite convinced that the time was right.  Marie stood at the third, recording everything they did. Marie was the dreamer, the one who believed without a doubt that it would work and that they could regain the world the creature once inhabited. Kat took the fourth, weapon at the ready, wary and watchful as the other women set up. Belief or not, she knew the dangers of what they were about to do. Marie expected a kind creature, but centuries of captivity could have changed the being. She would protect the others to her death. These four women were the only family she had left. Kat made one last sweep of the perimeter before resuming her spot at the pillar and nodding to Gail to begin.

“From the earth we crawl, relying on her to nourish and sustain us. To the earth we return to nourish and sustain others. In this way we are all one.” Gail nodded at Kat, hoping her translation was correct. Kat jammed her rod into the pillar between the runes. The runes began to glow brighter. Excitement permeated the air. Kat scanned the grounds as Gail continued.

“The air gives us breath, filling us with the sweetness of life.” Gail nodded to Marie. As Marie jammed her rod into the pillar, the air shimmered around the pillars. A beast leaped forth from the pillar, razor sharp claws swiping at Kat.

“You will not free her.” It said in a guttural voice as it lunged at Kat again. Kat leapt back just in time and raised her gun. She shot, emptying her clip in the beast with no effect. The beast lunged again swiping at Kat. Kat dodged too slow and felt the scrape of the claws along her arm as she grabbed her knife from her belt. She attacked the beast, swiping the beast across the throat. The air shimmered again and the beast disappeared as another beast leapt from the pillar Marie had opened. Marie rolled out of the way as Kat threw her knife. The beast leapt again, but not fast enough. The knife took it in the leg, knocking it down. It howled in pain. “You must not free her!” It screamed before it too disappeared.

“Continue!” Kat yelled, knowing there would be at least one more beast through and hoping she had enough time to destroy it before the poison from the claws completed its course. Her arm was numb and it was spreading fast. She grabbed another knife from her pack, ready and waiting for the beast to come from Miranda’s pillar.

“Fire warms but also destroys; it heals and harms. Fire teaches us balance.” Gail shakily finished the recitation and nodded to Miranda. Miranda jammed her rod in the pillar, nervously scanning the area. For a heartbeat, nothing happened and then the air shimmered around Miranda’s pillar.

“Quickly Gail! Finish it!” Kat yelled as she threw her knife. The knife wobbled in the air, slamming into the beast’s belly. The beast turned toward Kat and kept coming. Kat couldn’t move, her left side completely numb from the poison. She could hear Gail reciting the last part, but her eyes were focused on the creature. She slowly pulled her last dagger from her boot as the beast reached out, wrapping his paw around her neck and lifting her from the ground.

“You will die. She is ours. We hunger for her. We need her.  She is our prisoner!” The beast snarled at her, increasing the pressure on her neck as she jammed her knife into its throat with the last of her strength. It screamed in pain, relaxing its grip and dropping Kat to the ground before shimmering out of existence. Kat pulled in deep breaths of air, unable to move as the poison finished its work. She stayed huddled on the ground as Gail plunged her rod into the pillar. Miranda began to move to Kat’s side as a crack filled the air. The ground shook and the pillars radiated beams of light, joining in the center and shooting upward. Miranda froze mid-stride, staring into the light. The women stared, transfixed as the light burst outward, revealing a woman. Made of earth, filled with the breeze, fire her clothing and water her hair, the woman fell to the ground. Marie and Gail took a tentative step toward her as Miranda reached Kat’s side.

“Kat? Kat can you answer me?” Miranda checked her pulse. Kat groaned, trying to speak but she was still numb everywhere. Miranda checked her bag, pulling out the scanner and ran it down Kat’s body. She breathed a sigh of relief.

“Paralysis. Hang on I think I have something…” She rummaged around in her bag and pulled out a syringe. “Ah ha!” She pulled open the syringe and injected Kat. “Give it a minute Kat. You’ll be good as new.” She said, turning back to see what was happening with the woman. Marie and Gail where standing over the woman looking bewildered. The woman, the creature, lay prone on the ground as she pulsed and radiated with the elements. Miranda walked over as she heard Kat rustling behind her, getting to her feet shakily.

“I never suspected the creature would be so…beautiful.” Whispered Gail as the other women neared her.

“She’s hurt. Can you help her Miranda?” Asked Marie.

Miranda scanned the creature, looking at the machine in frustration. “She’s not human. She doesn’t register on my sensors.” She got down on her knees and reached for the woman, her hand drawn to the fire around her, hovering over the fire before reaching down tentatively to touch her. The other women gasped as Miranda touched the flames without crying out.

“I can feel her power. She needs us. They did this to her. They turned her into this for their own desire for power and control. We have to help her. Come closer she needs our energy or she will die.” Said Miranda.

The other women gathered around her, kneeling and reaching out to her.

“They contained her in human form. They took this poor woman and destroyed her and they took the soul of the earth and shoved her into a body.” Marie said shakily, near to tears as the creature filled her with her memories. Her memories, her world before and her life in captivity, the human inside her crying out in pain for thousands of years, all of this filled the women as they poured their energy into her.

The creature pulsed with the power, growing stronger, before finally breaking free. The world around them lit up with color and the women shielded their eyes from the sight. The ground beneath them rumbled as the wind blew in gales and lighting struck the pillars, lighting them on fire. Rain fell, dousing the fires, leaving only piles of ash where once the pillars stood. Just as quickly as it began, it was finished and before them laid a woman, no longer filled with the essence of the earth. Above her, the spirit of the earth hovered, coming nearer to the four women and brushing each of them with a gentle breeze. She leaned in to the woman on the ground and kissed her, healing her and giving her life once again. The four women stared in amazement. Marie reached out to touch her, but the spirit only smiled before bursting outward in a shower of light and color, absorbing into the world around them.

Miranda turned her attention to the woman, scanning her. Relief and amazement on her face as the woman groaned and sat up. She looked around at the women, her eyes ancient and filled with understanding. She had absorbed their memories as they had absorbed hers.

“Thank you. I feared I would never be free. All I hoped for was death, but when they trapped her inside me, She kept my body alive. It was her only way to survive. We kept each other alive in pain for centuries, and now we are free because of you.” She looked at them each, not a trace of hatred for what was done to her.

“What will you do now?” Gail asked. The woman walked over to where one of the pillars once stood and touched the ground, tiny wildflowers sprouting under her hand. She looked at Gail, her eyes filled with determination.

“Change the world.” She said.

When I sit down to write  Nyctalopia, the graphic novel I am writing, my writing process is very different from that of a short story or novel-writing. The only similarity is that it still starts with prose. I begin as if I am writing a story, but with the idea in my head that pictures will take place of the descriptions. I focus a lot on describing the scenes from the beginning. Dialogue rarely factors into the beginnings, knowing that as the process goes along, I will add dialogue based on my artist’s drawings. I keep tidbits in the back of my mind, and as I continue writing the story, the dialogue begins when I need it to. Sometimes it’s a matter of needing to see the drawings first before I know what the characters will say, or sometimes they really don’t have anything to say and I would rather have narrative in that panel. But I am getting ahead of myself here. In the beginning, I don’t think in terms of panels but more in telling the story. I just need to get the story out on the page, trying to make scenes that I want a certain way as vivid as possible, leaving others with less description because I’m unsure how exactly I want it to look, and what I need from the beginning is the bones of the story, with some bits of fat hanging from them. This is my first draft. Occasionally, my artist sees them. In fact, she drew the first 5 pages of Nyctalopia from prose, not script. My first draft is messy, filled with typos and errors, but it’s still a story. These first drafts are usually handwritten, although they are occasionally typed as I sit on the floor, glorified typewriter on my lap, with a cup of coffee next to me. I finish the scene or the short story or the page in prose form, breathe a sigh of relief and walk away from it. I’ll work on something else, or work on a different character’s scene but I always leave it to sit for a while, even if it’s just a few hours (but more likely a few days, or a week, it depends on how much my artist has done and how soon she needs the pages).

I revisit the pages and start the script. I go through the prose, editing the typos, writing notes in the margins for changes I want or crossing out entire sections altogether. I start writing out the script, going through each panel and describing the scene in detail. Occasionally, I’ll only write a bit about what is going on, knowing my artist can draw that particular scene better than I can describe it with words. As much as I love words, sometimes a picture says so much more, showing an idea in all its glory, full color, in a way that my words can’t capture. That’s the point of a graphic novel though isn’t it? If the words worked better, well… there wouldn’t be the need for the pictures. My script is her guideline, but it’s really a way for me to understand the layout of the scene and see the flow of the pages before I see the pages. I fully expect that my artist will take the panels and draw them the way I want them, but change it up. She may take my script for one page and turn it into two pages, or she might combine panels together into one. She will call me if she thinks something should actually be changed, but I expect her to bring the pages to life in her own way. It might be my words, but it’s our story.  I’ll write what I think the character will say, or think, or narrate, or the sound effects. This helps me see the panel in its entirety, and it also gives my artist a story to read.

Once I have the draft of the script finished to my liking, I send it off to my artist and wait, talking to her about anything she needs changed or any clarification. She sketches it out and sends me the sketch or comes over so we can go through the pages together. I tell her if I want anything different, but that’s pretty rare, and then I take copies of the sketch pages and start writing all over them as she works on the finals. I decide loosely where I want the text, now that I have the images to work from. These pages get scribbled on, and maybe one day I will remember to do this part in pencil so that I can erase. I change wording, give new dialogue altogether or leave it as I wanted it. I might give these pages to my artist, but usually I wait for the finals to do my final draft. I fill in the text, send it off to her and let her put it in and finally have a finished page (hopefully).

What is the point in going through all this? Well, if you are like me, I actually like to read about other’s processes, but I also had another motivation. We (my artist and I) are currently working on a project for Womanthology. This will be a short story, 3-4 pages in length and I have been writing out a few of my ideas. I write them as prose, using the same method, but as a whole story, not just a scene or chapter. These stories, just like Nyctalopia, start with a lot of description. These are my first drafts, before I take the pen to them and turn them into scripts for my artist. I decided I wanted to share them on this blog, in all the first draft glory that goes along with them, so that I could invite feedback and comments, share my work with my fellow creators and anyone else who cares to read them, and hopefully make a decision. The first one will be up in the next day or two, followed by another when I have it finished. I wanted to share the process as a sort of apology for the roughness of the stories. First drafts are never the prettiest. Read, comment, and don’t forget to check out the Womanthology page to see what the project is all about.