Shackle your greed and curb your desire, lest all be consumed by brimstone and fire.
Sulphurous air filled my cave, stealing through every gap around the stone door. I lived in almost complete darkness while the sun rose and fell unseen. The earth trembled under the heavy tread of an enraged dragon whose shrieks pierced my ears, even underground. I could not eat the food stored with such care when my stomach was sick with fear.
Eventually my craving for light and the need to know drove me out again. I heaved the stone aside with a great effort, weak from lack of sleep and hunger. And stepped out into a silent hell.
Grey ash blanketed the world. Blackened tree stumps and shattered dwellings were all that remained of the once thriving town. All that remained of its inhabitants were piles of bones huddled together, small and large, remnants of people and their pets, people and their hopes for a better future.
“Enough is better than riches,” I whispered, pulling my scarf tighter over my face. Choking on tainted air, I stumbled back to my cave. There I threw myself down and wept. Grief scoured out my heart and left it hollow.
After three days of mourning I bathed in the stream nearby and combed out my hair, then ate my first meal of porridge and fruit. That night, I slept without nightmares. The next day, I dressed in my work clothes and returned to Kasparenya with a shovel.
Day after day, I buried bones. Amongst the remains of Kasparenya I found gold; jewellery, coins, toys, teeth. I took them to the collapsed church where the golden spire was missing yet the altar remained intact. A miracle, of sorts.
Many exhausting days have passed. The stench of brimstone is faint now but I sense the dragon’s eyes watching me still. Its heartbeat pulses through the ground. The pile of gold on the altar grows daily. I hope my store of food is enough, for I have no time to grow more. I hope my strength is enough, for there is no-one to help me.
When I’m done burying bones and collecting gold, I can rest. The visions have promised me that much.
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The small fishing village of Kasparenya was established generations before I was born. By my time it had grown fat and sprawling, rich in thieves and merchants alike. Like my mother and her mother before her, I led a quiet life in our cave house. The townspeople extracted easy gold from the generous hillsides while mocking our unfashionably modest lifestyle.
For years I lived alone, growing food and herbs by day and feeding my brain with Great Mother’s ancient books by night. Occasionally, people passing my field would taunt me.
“Why don’t you work in the city, earn some coin? Perhaps then you could dress less like an old crone and more like a decent woman.”
I wiped my brow. Digging was hot work on a summer day. “I must tend my garden, and I do not need more coins. Enough is better than riches.”
“Whatever you say, Cassie.” Sarah turned away, but not before tapping her forehead and giggling with her friends.
They always ignored my calls to beware of greed. Old books had nothing to teach the modern world and they stood in the way of progress. Why not have more, if there was more to be had?
Kasparenya’s gilded church spire was a fitting symbol of hard work and enterprise. It showed what a man could do if he worked hard and dug deep. It showed what to aim for when more was never enough.
We should learn from history. But how to learn when history is forgotten and those who remind us are mocked as wrong-headed fools?
News of the gilded spire travelled far and brought even more people to wonder and dream of riches, then buy shovels and buckets. Meanwhile I harvested and stored enough food for a season, oiled my tools, stockpiled candles, and waited.
And one day a shiver started in my bones that grew inexorably. I rolled the stone over the cave entrance and hid.
Above, though I could not see or hear, I knew it was happening just as the visions foretold.
The endless beat of huge, leathery wings.
The stench of sulphur as the ground trembled.
A shriek that split the air when the dragon, drawn by our golden beacon, discovered its plundered hoard.
Fiery vengeance raining down from the sky.
I rocked and chanted as mother and grandmother and all the mothers before had done in their cool, dark sanctuary.
Shackle your greed and curb your desire, lest all be consumed by brimstone and fire.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Some can’t wait to play in the snow, leaving their tracks all over it, building snowmen and making snow angels. The others prefer to watch from a safe distance, rejoicing in its pristine blankness. All is potential, before you make a mark.
Once upon a time, I watched tiny flakes drift from the sky with joy, maybe while sipping a hot chocolate. Sometimes I stood at the door and tried to catch a snowflake then watched it melt on my palm. Snow covers everything, makes it clean and pure.
These days I wrap up warm against the cold and stay indoors. At the first signs of spring I’ll head north again, seeking higher elevations and staying within the snow line. I can’t be here after the thawing snow uncovers all the bodies.
I grew so tired of those comments by everyone from my mother to well meaning strangers at the supermarket, that I decided to go further. I practically lived in that tattoo shop, getting unique designs from the enigmatic artist. We’d agree on a design and he’d get to work. He never spoke, so I put on headphones and drifted away.
When it came to the last bare patch on my arm, he finally said something.
“I will do this one free. Since you are my best customer.”
“Sweet! I think I’d like—”
“No. I choose. I know what is best for you.”
I shrugged and let him decide, after all ink isn’t cheap and I had a lot of it.
He wrapped it without letting me see. “A surprise for you.”
At home I gasped when I saw it. A woman’s face, so perfect and beautiful in miniature, it was incredible. Everyone commented on it, and I didn’t mind.
Life got hard. I made a wrong turn here and there. Had to change, just to get by. One day I thought the face looked different, but it was just a trick of the light. That night I tossed and turned, a voice stuck in my head reminding me of stuff I’d done. So what, we all have to survive, right?
Gradually the face changed, until it scowled in permanent, terrifying disapproval.
I went back to Spilled Ink but it was gone. Every night the face taunted me with my sins, daring me to do better. When I didn’t listen, she woke the other tattoos up. Flowers turned decayed and nasty smelling. The tiger clawed my back and attacked my lucky rabbit, the stars burned my skin, and the skeleton rattled its bones until sleep was a distant memory. I’d had enough.
I stole enough money to visit another shop. The new artist wouldn’t shut up about the quality and artistry of my ink, especially the face that was somehow beautiful again. I had to pay double for what I wanted, but finally it was done.
I thought covering up would be the answer.
She shouted even louder from behind the crosshatched pattern that obliterated her face. “I can’t see! I can’t see!”
Now I hold a knife to my arm, crying. I want it off me.
She says I’m weak, that I’ll never do it, she’ll never let me forget I blinded her.
“Tattoos are permanent,” she reminds me.
So… how deep must I cut to be sure?
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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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I posted every day, using a mixture of some old posts remastered, new posts, and serialised fiction. The remastered posts were interesting to revisit. They showed that my blogging has improved: tighter writing, using pull quotes and bold text so readers can skim quickly. I can edit faster than two years ago.
I saw that some content is evergreen. Even two years later it is still relevant, as long as it is updated where needed.
The Ninja Writers daily post group on Facebook had a new lease of life, with new members and more prepared to post links. This had dwindled to nothing. Occasionally I would be the only person to post in the thread, which was not encouraging. I read more, being sure to check out writers new to me in the thread, clapping and commenting. We all love acknowledgment; I made it a point to give more. And my own FB group were wonderful cheerleaders.
This is how my stats looked for April 2018. I posted four times (one each Friday) and had 263 followers. Views varied between 2 and 122 per day.
And this is how they looked for May 2018. I posted 31 times and had 310 followers, a net gain of 47 (gained 51 and lost 4.) Views varied between 23 and 110 per day.
Number of posts +775%
I increased visibility, partly from having more content published by publications such as The Creative Cafe, PS I love you, and The Writing Cooperative. All have large readerships.
I increased interaction by replying to or clapping on all my comments. This has led to conversations with like minded writers, and we check out each other’s work. It builds a fanbase.
I increased followers by 51, 165% of my target. And lost four along the way. But I didn’t win big with anything.
I met my goals, but
It was arduous, even with a plan and reusing old content.
The almost eight-fold work increase was not matched by the other metrics.
Short fiction was hardly read even when serialised, which was discouraging as I think this is my best work.
Having posted 10 new and 1 old poem, I can also call myself a poet, maybe.
I can’t keep up my quality and post daily.
I managed to let a piece go that I didn’t think was great, which was new and terrifying. On the other hand I’ve posted good pieces with less engagement.
I’m much better at seeing ideas for blog posts in everyday life.
The sweet spot probably lies around 2-4 posts weekly for me. I’ll try that from June onwards and hope to build on the momentum I’ve picked up. I’m still gaining followers, a few at a time.
When people post about this experiment, the numbers are always fabulously large. I guess for most of us the reality is more modest. We keep slogging away, and maybe the next post is the one that goes viral.