Above, only sullen nimbus grey.
My left hand grasps at shadows
right hand trapped by work’s iron fist
behind, a thousand tiny ties bound to the past
below, soul-sucking mud swallows every step
hateful reality burns down my dreams.
But you say, keep going
I’m doing great, so tell me
will I see the sun again
The knight braved many tests and hardships to claim his prize. He vanquished the many-headed giant lizard of Hothe, played dice with Death and won, and escaped the siren singers of Warne. Every night he opened the locket he wore close to his heart and sighed again at the portrait of a raven-haired beauty with lips of pink like the dawn sky.
One last climb, and he stood at last at the top of the highest tower in all the nine kingdoms. He knocked on the balcony window.
“Arla, light of my life, loveliest of all, I have proved myself worthy,” he declared. “Let me in, I beg you.”
She opened the window. “Yes, you are indeed worthy. But soon you will be begging me to let you go.”
The knight jumped inside and shook his head. “Never, for I have travelled far to…”
He trailed off, watching Arla’s smile stretch until it split her face, revealing curved yellow fangs stained with red. Smoke curled from her nostrils and she laughed, her voice turned deep and wrong.
Professor Martin might be one of the cleverest people who ever lived, but even he didn’t know for certain how the process would work. And I guess he expected his body would die. I barely managed to get out and lock the lab door before he attacked me. Well, it’s not really him, I remind myself. The frothing, feral creature rampaging through the lab and wrecking the equipment is what was left after he uploaded his mind to the cloud drive. I can hear screaming, but it’s not that animal. It only grunts.
It’s coming from the computer speakers.
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Inktober is an annual art challenge in which artists make a drawing in response to a daily prompt.
Use prompts when you want to create something but you’re short on ideas. They’re a good way to overcome writer’s block. Once you get started, you’re far more likely to keep going rather than stare at an empty page.
Prompts ignite your creativity by taking the decision of what to write about out of your hands. All you have to do is respond.
I’ve been on a semi-hiatus and this seems like a good way to get back into writing. So I’m going to do this for flash fiction rather than pictures, up to 250 words. I’ll also add audio if possible.
Why don’t you join in for any or all of the prompts? Let’s go!
Ethan looked around furtively, making sure he was alone. There was no sign of Dalia but his girlfriend could sneak up on him like some kind of ninja when she wanted, and he was in no mood for another fight.
“I’ll wash up,” he called out.
Her muffled reply came from the bedroom. “Thanks babe.”
There was really nowhere to hide in their rented flat. They’d agreed it was fine for a start, even though it was more like one and a half bedrooms than two. But three years later their future was still on hold until they could save enough for a deposit on a place of their own. How did people manage without a big salary or generous parents?
He never got used to the disappointment but he couldn’t give up hope either. With a sigh he tore the scratch card into tiny pieces and dropped them into the bin, before scraping the leftovers from his plate on top. Maybe next time.
Monday came much too soon. Even worse, he had another packed lunch instead of something tasty from the sandwich truck like everyone else. Bills were increasing and his next review was months away. There was no chance of Dalia getting a pay rise either. None of this made his sad ham sandwich and own brand crisps look any more appetising. He sighed.
“Lunch al desko again?”
Ethan looked up at the familiar face of his colleague. “Yeah. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good and all that.”
“I get it.” Anna looked around, then stood closer. “I’m popping out. D’you want your usual?”
“Don’t know, things are tight.” Ethan couldn’t look Anna in the eye, couldn’t explain he wanted – no, needed this and there seemed no other way to do it. “Only have five.”
Anna murmured, “No worries, I’m short this month as well. Wanna split?”
Ethan risked a glance and found Anna was smiling. She knew where he was coming from. He extended his hand and they shook solemnly.
“Fifty fifty. It’s a deal.”
At two o’clock Anna rushed up to his desk, pulling on her coat.
“I gotta go, Jason just threw up all over the childminder.” She grimaced and dropped the card on his keyboard. “Not what I need. Hope you have better luck.”
“Thanks, hope he’s okay,” he called after her. He slipped the card into his wallet and got back to work. There was no way he’d risk his manager catching him slacking. He needed that promotion.
That evening Ethan slumped on the sofa after sliding a frozen shepherd’s pie into the oven. He rolled his tense shoulders but it didn’t help. Exercise would help, but his gym membership was long gone and he loathed running, no matter how evangelical his friends were about it. He sat up then, remembering the scratch card. He’d be over the inevitable disappointment before Dalia got home. The timing was perfect.
He was still sitting when he heard her key in the door.
“Hey. You’re a bit late, everything okay?”
Dalia shrugged. “Road works, bus was late, blah blah I’m over it.” She dropped her bag on the table like always and kicked off her shoes. “Is that dinner I smell?”
“Might be a bit overdone, but anyway.”
“As long as it’s edible, I don’t mind.”
Ethan brought the plates over, but could only play with his food while Dalia cleared her plate. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Drinking on a Monday, was it that bad?” She raised one eyebrow, and Ethan tried to smile back.
“No, no, things were pretty routine, mostly. I’ll open a bottle of wine—”
“What’s got into you tonight? Something happen at work?” Dalia sat up straight, brow creased in worry.
Ethan fumbled with the corkscrew as his stomach lurched. He needed to calm down.
“Ethan, stop. I don’t want wine, talk to me.”
He put down the corkscrew and bottle and came out of the kitchen to resume his seat opposite. “Sorry.”
“Ethan?” Dalia’s eyes were wide. “Tell me.”
“I know you don’t approve, but hear me out. I wanted – it’s impossible isn’t it, trying to save up—”
“Please, just listen. We’re doing everything we can, yeah, packed lunches and buses and me cycling to work in the summer so I only play once a week, and then today this happened.” He pulled the scratch card out of his pocket and pushed it across the table with a shaky hand.
“Scratch cards? Bloody scratch cards?” She flushed and raised her voice. “You know how I feel about gambling and what it did to my family. How could you?”
“Dalia please look at it.”
She snatched it up and glanced at it. Then her mouth fell open. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Ethan came to stand behind her. He pointed at the numbers. “It’s real.”
“Four M? What’s that mean?”
He whispered in her ear. “It means we won the jackpot. Me and Anna, we share four million pounds.”
Ethan wanted to scream his good news but he managed to control his voice. “I work with her, she bought the ticket. It’s a ten pound game for the big prize so we went halves.” He smiled down at Dalia but she didn’t respond. Probably in shock – he’d felt the same when he scratched off the last panel, then stared in disbelief for forty minutes.
“Say something sweetheart. We won!”
“I – it’s unbelievable. Are you – I don’t want – are you sure, Ethan. Don’t get my hopes up—”
“I’m sure, as sure as I’ve ever been. This is it, everything we ever wanted, we can have. A house, a car, anything.”
Dalia squealed and when she stood up Ethan scooped her into his arms, laughing and kissing away her tears. “We won!”
He was elated, caught up by possibility and dreams of their future as they punched the air and danced round the living room before collapsing on the sofa.
“So am I forgiven for the scratch card?” Laughter bubbled from his chest. He felt light as air and crazy but in a good way.
“Does she know?”
“No, I wanted to tell you first of course.”
“Okay. And are you in a proper syndicate?” Dalia’s tone shifted to something more serious.
“Nothing formal, we agreed to split it. Why?”
“Well it’s your card isn’t it? So you’re the winner. You don’t have to say how much you won.”
“But I agreed. She paid half, so we split it equally.” He spoke slowly, his joy leaking away under Dalia’s stare.
“No legal agreement. She’ll never know.”
Ethan shook his head. “We agreed.”
Dalia scoffed. “Agreed? This is our future we’re talking about. Who is she to you anyway?”
Ethan stood and started to pace. He had to make Dalia understand and he couldn’t see the problem. “She’s a colleague, that’s all. Since I’m eating packed lunches I don’t get to the shops, so she buys my tickets.”
“How long?” Dalia snapped, her eyes cold.
“How long what?” Things were spinning out of control and he couldn’t keep up.
“How long have you been lying to me, buying tickets you know I don’t approve of with money we don’t have with some woman—”
“Can you hear yourself? Isn’t two million enough?”
“Not when you’re giving the other two to another woman. It’s the principle.”
Ethan backed away from Dalia where she sat rigid on the sofa.
“Principle. Right.” He picked up the winning card and placed it in his pocket. “No legal agreement, you say. Well we’ve got no legal agreement, have we? Three years watching every penny, eating cheap food, drinking cheap beer, all because I believed in a better future with you.”
Fear bloomed on Dalia’s face. “Ethan, I—”
“You know what, I’m glad we had this chat. I’m glad I figured you out.” Anger burned steady in his chest and he watched Dalia’s growing agitation with detachment. This person was a stranger.
“Just give her like half a million, anybody would be happy with that. Ethan, please.” She started towards him but he held up his hand. He looked past her tears and shocked expression, and he didn’t like what lay beneath.
“Anybody but you. I wonder what would be enough for you. I gave her my word and it’s the right thing to do for God’s sake. It’ll change her life too and she deserves that.” He slipped on his jacket and shoes.
“She shared her little win with me you know. That time I said I got a bonus from work, well it was a scratch win and I put it all in our savings account, like we agreed. Because I’m honest all the time, not just when it suits me.”
“Ethan don’t go, please I’m sorry I didn’t mean it.” Tears streamed down her face and she reached towards him but he moved past her. “Okay we’ll split it,” she wailed.
He paused at the door with his keys in hand.
“I used to think you were my better half. Show people some zeroes and you find out what they’re really made of.”
Dark stories are told, but time passes so fast you’ll find that precautions are not built to last.
Watch out little children, you better take care
when those who know better tell you to beware,
when those with long memories shudder and sigh
be sure something fearsome will come by and by.
You might love your fairy tales, sugar and spice
without realising such tales are made twice.
The first is to make trembling humans afraid
of glowering monsters that creep in the shade.
The second, to gloss over, sweeten and soothe
for those without courage, the unvarnished truth.
Just call me Cassandra, who did try to tell
there are many roads to the portals of hell.
Through study and practice I long ago learned
to master the hunger that endlessly burned
in flesh bone and marrow, secreted within
my heart and my essence, the voice of my kin.
Dark, difficult magic. This had to be done
to shackle the devil. There was only one
small gap in my armour, for try as I might
no lore can delay the day’s turn into night,
or heavenly bodies that spin on their track
and one day align. Then the beast will attack.
I swear that I told them they must stay inside.
I hopelessly begged all the children to hide.
No prayer, incantation or druid’s wise rune
will silence the call of a super blood moon.
My wolf broke its bonds, howling vengeance. And here
came answering cries of my clan far and near,
my brothers and sisters all hungry to feast
on flesh of the great, and the bones of the least.
Unfettered by reason and drunk on our might
the slaughter proceeded beneath the red light.
I woke to regret, utter carnage around.
We cannot leave anything here to be found.
There is no escape, chained to life by this curse.
But I would exchange all the gold in my purse
to be once again a mere mortal — to die
and pay for my sins as blood drips from my eye in sad imitation of genuine tears.
I mourn for my victims across countless years.
We buried the last of the bodies this morning.
The foolish and brave, who did not heed my warning.
Tell them to write a story about anything. No guidelines, no limits!
There’s only one thing more scary than a blank page – a blank page and a totally free hand.
That’s because we are easily overwhelmed by too many choices. But isn’t more choice a good thing?
The Tyranny of Choice
The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution. Igor Stravinsky
Suppose you want to buy a jar of honey. On your way home from work you stop to fill your car. The filling station has just two kinds of honey so you pick one, job done.
But if you go to a major grocery store like Tesco they carry thirty-seven kinds of honey. Now you have to weigh many more options. Do you prefer clear or organic or lavender honey? It’s all too much so you end up grabbing the closest jar – or nothing at all.
Researcher Barry Schwartz calls this choice overload. Choice overload leads to picking the default rather than consider options, decision fatigue, and choice avoidance.
Making a choice requires energy, and if you’re already tired or depleted from too many prior choices you’ll either avoid the choice or go for the easiest option. This is death to creativity.
Creativity is about connecting things, but it’s also about solving problems in novel ways.
Constraints help you innovate without having to consider every option.
My writing group has an exercise called Hot Pen. One person opens a novel to a random page, another chooses a random number, and the nearest noun or verb on that page becomes the one word prompt. We then have ten minutes to write a story based on that word.
Scary, yes, but the variety of stories is always amazing. It’s surprising how each writer finds a different angle within a very small space. How can you limit your options to release more creativity?
Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity. Martin Villeneuve
Constraints are good for creativity and can be set up in different ways.
Time – a deadline to force completion or a target to hit
Subject matter – writing to a set theme or prompt
Resource – limited budget, materials, or word count
Try these practical ways to get started.
Setting time limits – the Pomodoro technique is essentially a rolling set of mini-deadlines.
Work with limited forms like one hundred word drabbles or sonnets.
Once you’ve made a choice, stick with it. There will always be other options out there. Your job is to get started and then go on until the end, because only completed work can be edited, and only edited work can be perfected.
These techniques are useful to overcome inertia at the start of a writing session. Once you begin, you’ll find it easier to jump into your main project.
Sometimes, too many choices make us anxious. Then, we need a box as a starting point. It needs to be small enough that it doesn’t paralyse with too much possibility – yet big enough that imagination can stretch its wings and fly.