autumn autumn leaves blur close up

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Aileth raised her face to the grey horizon, dragging her gaze from the freshly turned earth and bright floral displays and closing her ears to the voices wandering in search of hot tea and comfort.

Too young.

If only I’d made more time to see her.

It’s her cousin I feel sorry for.

Do you think she knew? That we loved her anyway?

Squat, sullen clouds loomed in the sky. Full to bursting. Refusing to weep. Every so often a raindrop escaped, speeding its way to the faces below, hiding amongst the tears.

She sighed, her breath turning to soft mist in front of her, despite the chill of the morning having long given way to the afternoon blanket of clouds.

Funerals are the worst.

The celebrant had been dignified but impersonal, clothed in his dark navy suit that hinted at mourning but respectfully distanced him from those whose hearts rattled in shattered shards beneath their ribs. He breathed in sharply between each line of speech. Aileth caught herself listening for the exhale, air running through words to send them floating meaningless and lost above bowed heads.

She turned away from the grave as the first cloud began to cry.

Leaves, golden in death, crunched under the feet of the mourners. Little explosions. Aileth smiled as she walked through a pile of silent foliage, remembering when she was small and would be overcome with disappointment when the leaves didn’t smash like crisps. Drifts of copper covered the park benches lining the path. Ahead lay the small sensible brick building where the mourners gathered. The kind of building you knew would smell of weak tea and reheated pastry.

The wake was nearly as depressing as the funeral. She wandered through the crowd, avoiding shrivelled old ladies who mouthed platitudes she didn’t want to hear. Ubiquitous sausage rolls and asparagus sandwiches sat glumly on the tables. The stiff bread hardly moved as she poked at a folded triangle before turning away. She didn’t feel hungry.

Regret hung like a lead blanket, muffling voices that spoke of ‘potential’, ‘a second chance’ and a million ‘if onlys.’

One person’s eyes spoke more than any of the loud-voiced people smothering their sorrow in meaningless conversation. Marama stood in the corner, her grief radiating outwards like a physical force pushing well-wishers away. Her long black trench-coat hung from scrawny shoulders over a black sweater and slacks, the only colour she wore a defiantly pink scarf that had drawn more than one disapproving glance.

Aileth curled her fingers into her palm, hesitating. After a long moment, she shuffled closer to the other woman.

Marama’s voice escaped in a harsh whisper. “This is awful.”

Aileth glanced around the room, at the emotional discomfort concealed under saggy cardigans and salt-water pearls. “It sure is.”

“She would have hated this.”

Aileth heaved a sigh. The muffling blanket seemed to be deadening her emotions as well. “Yep. So many people who never really cared and now they feel bad.”

Marama’s face relaxed and Aileth looked past her at the imposing features of Aunt Sarah. Her battleship prow of a nose led her sharp face, hiding a heart like marshmallow.

“Oh Marama dear, please let me say how sorry I am. It is the hardest loss for you young ones of course. You cousins were all very close weren’t you?”

“Very close.” Marama said, her clipped voice keeping emotions at bay.

Aileth dug her hands in her pockets, Aunt Sarah’s condolences sparked too many memories.

“Of course. Are you sure you’re alright to do the tidy up? With her poor parents gone I wasn’t sure what to do.” Scrawny fingers bedecked in tawdry rings twisted around each other. Marama smiled tightly and jangled a key. Aileth reached out to touch the cheerful pink daisy keyring but curled her fingers back.

“I don’t mind. She deserves to have someone who loves her take care of her things.”

Sarah smiled, her mouth lemon-juice-tight in her powdered face and tears glistening in her eyes. “Thank you, dear. Such a shame Aaron is still overseas, I’m sure he would have helped out too.” She strode away to supervise the refreshment table, frowning gently at those daring to take more than one sausage roll at a time.

“Silly old thing,” Marama murmured.

Aileth grinned where no-one could see. “She always was.”

The gloom of the afternoon hit her eyes as she followed Marama out of the building. “I wish it had been a sunny day. Sunshine doesn’t suit funerals, but it would have been nicer.”

They walked to the carpark through a light breeze that lifted the leaves and tugged at Marama’s curls. Chilled air followed them into the small hatchback. Marama shivered and turned up the heater. Lorde’s “Perfect Places” echoed from the radio and Aileth smiled. Only a few bars played before Marama let out a small sob and turned off the radio. Silence filled the drive after that.

They sat in the car outside the small bungalow for some time, Marama’s hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel, her eyes fixed on the Nissan logo stamped into the dashboard. Aileth turned to stare at the house. Sparrows frolicked in the small birdbath in the front lawn. Circulars and local papers spilled out of the letterbox.

“No point in putting it off,” Marama said and shoved open the door.

Aileth sighed as she followed her. “True that. Putting things off never works out.”

A sprawl of late-season daisies fought through the weeds in the garden. Brave yellow and pink faces reached to the grey sky. Marama didn’t spare them a glance, but stood, staring at the lock of the front door, the key clenched in white-knuckled fingers.

A small smile twisted Aileth’s mouth as she bent down to stir the daisies with her hand. “The green thumb didn’t really run in the family. Poor daisies.”

Marama took a deep breath and turned the lock.

A loud miaow escaped from the hall and Aileth’s heart constricted. Marcel.

Black fur rose thick around his hackles and brushed tail. He fixed unblinking green eyes on her then wound around her feet, his yowling cutting through the muffling sensation in her ears.

Marama huffed and closed the door. “There you are! Silly cat! We’ve searched all over for you and here you are dancing in circles!”

Marcel mrrped up at Aileth and she bit her lip. “He needs food, his water bowl will need checking too. Poor cat. Who’s going to take him?”

Marama sighed and picked up the cat, pure black except for the white tuft that Aileth had always thought made him look like a parson. “I guess you’ll have to come with me until we find you a home.” She snuggled her face into his fur. Aileth watched the tears glisten on Marama’s cheek and turned away from Marcel’s unblinking gaze.

 

The mirror in the hall needed cleaning. Aileth gazed at the spots of fly dirt, the grime and dust on the frame. She had never been any good at remembering to dust. Life was too short to worry about dusting. When you were determined to squeeze excitement from every second, wringing it to a desiccated pulp, housework lurked far down the list of ‘must dos’.  Funny. She always thought she’d be embarrassed if anyone saw the mess she left behind. But Marama’s eyes didn’t see the dirt, the mess, the fly spots. Tears flooded and blinded her. Each discarded note and plate received its own lamentation. Marama’s finger stroked down the flowered handle of a small cake fork, crumbs clinging to the prongs. Her shoulders caved in and she shattered into sobs, sinking to the ground.

Aileth stood over her, hand hovering above the tight ponytail, so close to touching.

The rich tang of the cake sat on her tongue still. Velvety chocolate, tart raspberry. A rare treat. She’d fallen asleep on the sofa afterwards. Snuggled under a blanket, tissues and medications close by, she hadn’t been able to face the walk back to bed.

Devils Cake, they called it.

Aileth crouched by Marama, wishing she could make it better as her cousin’s wailing intensified.

“I’m sorry Aileth. I’m so sorry I stopped coming around. I’m sorry I stopped texting. I never stopped loving you, it was just hard.” Marama grasped the fork so tightly Aileth worried it would pierce the soft hand that had always offered comfort. Always reached out. Until recently.

“It’s okay, you know. I was scared before but I don’t really feel much now. I wish I could let you know.”

She reached out, a chill settling between her hand and Marama’s. “I never minded. And I always knew you loved me.”

Slowly, Marama let go of the fork, placing it gently with the rest of the things. She drew in a deep breath, her shoulders rising, and raised her chin. “Right. Lots to do. Better keep on.”

Aileth supposed she should feel guilty but there wasn’t a lot of space for emotion in the chill numbness taking over her body.

 

At last the only place left to clear was the shed. It was strange, seeing your life sorted into piles of importance by someone else. What was discarded, what kept, what was wept over. All her precious books, tossed in a box, while the artsy vase she secretly hated was wrapped carefully in tissue paper. The shed, though. Aileth wasn’t sure she wanted Marama to see. No-one had ever seen.

Golden leaves sat in a heap in front of the rough-hewn oak doors, hanging slightly askew from faulty hinges. Marama eyed them and sighed.

“Oh Aileth. Why didn’t you tell us? Aaron would’ve come round in a shot to get it sorted.”

Her fingers passed over the wood like velvet but her mind still remembered the splintery texture. “Because I could pretend things were different, like in a storybook. This was my secret place. Secret places don’t have plain doors made of aluminium and hardboard.”

Fine silvery cobwebs clung to the doorframe and floated onto Marama’s hair as she entered. Aileth ducked her head from habit. The spiders never bothered her and she left them alone in return.

She nearly bumped into Marama when her cousin stopped abruptly but she sidestepped, not sure if she’d pass through her or not but unwilling to take the chance. And she wanted to see Marama’s face.

Tears spilled from her cousin’s wide eyes, a smile splitting her face for the first time in days. “Oh Aileth. You didn’t stop.”

The dim grey light filtering inside was beaten back by the deep oranges and reds of the paintings lining the small shed. Aileth breathed in, the cool mist surrounding her deadening the scent of turpentine, oil paint, and wood that had always settled her spirit. “I couldn’t stop.”

Every regret, every sadness, every obstacle, she had rendered through her fingers into the paint, transformed into joyous fiery swirls. This was the heart of her. Her spirit. Her illness tried but hadn’t tainted it, her difficult awkwardness never mattered in here. Only the paint and the process and the peace.

That same peace settled on Marama’s face. She leaned against the doorframe, cobwebs and all, and gazed.

Aileth stood in the middle of her paintings and smiled at her cousin. Her edges blurred, feathering into a wisp of air.

“You know it now, I think. That I never minded. Take care of Marcel. He’s greedy but sweet. Tell him I love him.”

She leaned closer to kiss her cousin’s forehead and all that was left of her scattered to the breeze, touching the paintings that shone with bright defiance before escaping the shed to play with the leaves.

Crunch, just like a potato crisp.

 

 

 

 

Originally written for and submitted to the Blank Page Challenge

 

rhett-wesley-343206 woman with lights Phoebe

The world shifted. Margo Morgan stumbled as a swell of magic lying just beneath the wet cobbles rose to meet her. Light swirled on the surface of a puddle in the gutter. She paused, stared, drew the enchantment in through her eyes. Water soaked the cuffs of her jeans as she stood in the middle of the path. A man in a sharp suit shoved past her, raising a perfect eyebrow. She flashed a bright smile as her fingers spread, pulling steaming strands of power from the water.

 

His voice floated back over his shoulder. “Freak.”

 

Magic pushed at the base of her palms and she dug her hands into the pockets of her puffer jacket. No, Margo. No hurting the humans. After a few hundred years it should have been easy to resist the urge to let the power out, but each day it became harder to deny who she was. Impossible to deny the magic thrumming a beat beneath her skin.

 

She kicked at the puddle as she left, luminous drops splashing on her trainers. The world beyond called to her but she stomped through the gutter and pushed temptation aside. I’ve got better things to do anyway.

 

The fragrance of fresh lilies wafted from the open window by the back door to her flat. She turned the handle, a small, satisfied smile playing over her lips. Cole. Her keys clanked on the sideboard next to the vase full of flowers. Stroking a finger over pink and white petals, she half closed her eyes and let the gentle green walls of the kitchen mesh with the bright blooms until she almost believed herself to be back in the garden of her youth.

 

Bubbles of happiness mixed with the residual magic in her bloodstream and she skipped a little down the hallway to the living room.

 

She flung open the door and swept into the cozy space, spreading her arms and sashaying forward. “Tis Moi! I am home!”

 

The man in the centre of the room turned to stare and her arms fell. Power pulsed at the base of her neck. This was not Cole. This was a man she hoped never to see again. Black hair swept from his brow, a wide silver streak at odds with his ageless face. Obsidian eyes glinted above a narrow smile. Magic beat a pounding tattoo against her skin, screaming to be let out.

 

Cole’s voice cut through the thoughts shouting in her head and a warm hand took hers. “Hey Margo. You have a guest.”

 

She dragged her eyes away from the warlock in the too-pressed jeans and striped shirt, to Cole. Human. Weak and vulnerable despite lean firefighter muscles beneath his woolen jersey. She plastered a smile to her face, as fake and ostensibly cheerful as the cheap prints hanging crookedly on the wall.

 

“Hey honey, have you been home long?”

 

His eyes shone clear, no murky enchantment in their depths. He didn’t twitch or blink and no vocal tics escaped his throat so he couldn’t be too worried.

 

“You know,” she said through teeth aching to snap at their guest, “I totally forgot to get milk for tea. Would you be a love and pop to the store? Mr. Septimus here and I have business to discuss.”

 

The warlock’s voice oiled through the air. “We won’t be long, Cole. I admit I would kill for some tea.”

 

Ice flooded her veins at the sound of her beloved’s name on those thin sharp lips. Fool. Never give a warlock your name. She took refuge in the ritual of passing Cole her purse and him waving it away as he patted the wallet in his pocket. But his goodbye kiss on her cheek felt too much like a farewell blessing.

 

The quiet snick of the living room door closing released some of the tension churning in her gut, but she didn’t breathe until Cole’s quick steady feet clattered down the outside steps.

 

Her hand stole to her scarf, snaking underneath to the pendant hidden by neon pink folds. “Not offering you tea, sorry Septimus. Just one of my silly rules. No tea for murdering scum in my house.”

 

Darkness swelled in his eyes, light dimming behind him as he drew on the energy lines beneath the world. Fire sparked on his arms.

 

“Are you this rude to all your guests, Morgana?”

 

She shrugged, fingers tightening on the pendant, a genuine smile lifting her cheeks. “Only the ones I want to punch in the face.”

 

“It doesn’t have to go this way. The offer is still open.”

 

“No. It does have to go like this I’m afraid. I don’t want any part of your ridiculous politics. Never have. No-one believes me and then thugs like you show up. I’m not joining your boss.”

 

Raven black hair floated around his head in a rippling aura of shining power, the whites of his eyes disappearing under a flood of red. “Wrong answer, Morgana.”

 

She ripped off the pendant and thrust it out to meet a flaming wave of magic pulsing from his hands. Her lips formed words she last spoke centuries ago. The jewel in her fingers flared and sucked in the power, leaving silence broken by fizzling sparks on the wooden floor.

 

His eyes widened. “We thought the amulet was lost.”

 

Red mist filtered over her vision and she shuddered as burning magic filled her, pushing through her skin. “Never lost. Merlin gave this to me and I’ve always rather liked it.”

 

Septimus stumbled back. She raised a finger and he froze, his feet glued to the ground. Floorboards smouldered as she stalked towards him, darkness spreading from her like a cloak. “You came into my home. You threatened my beloved. I don’t think I like you much.”

 

Power rippled through her and she licked her lip. Control was overrated.

 

“They won’t stop, Morgana. If you kill me more will come.”

 

“True. But you’ll be dead.”A luminous arc shot from the amulet into his chest. She wiped a spatter of blood off her cheek. “And that makes me happy.”

 

His body crashed into the side table, knocking over the photo frames and thudding to the ground. The crimson spray on the wall filtered through the haze in her eyes and she caught her breath. Cole. Crap.

 

She lunged towards the dead assassin, grabbing him under the arms and dragging him from the living room. Magic danced in the air and she growled. More trouble than it was worth.

 

Fumbling with the door handle she pushed her back against the door and tugged the body down the hall and into the kitchen. She heaved him upright and his arm swung loosely, knocking over the vase with the flowers that made her so happy.

 

“Bastard,” she muttered as glass and petals ground under her feet. She maneuvered him into the small laundry. Lavender scented sheets were an odd shroud but she propped him up in the linen cupboard and latched the door.

 

Back in the kitchen she stood by the shards of her favourite vase, ripped petals and water spreading over the linoleum. Magic swirled around her, coating her tongue and prickling her scalp. She closed her eyes on the red mist and leaned back into the power, letting her feet leave the floor and her legs float up to the ceiling. No point in fighting.

 

The kitchen clock ticked and her heartbeat slowed to match the rhythm. Magic seeped back under the earth where the power belonged but her feet stayed on the ceiling.

 

Crisp air hit her skin and she opened her eyes to see Cole standing by the open door, his upside down face a blank page of shock.

 

“Oh. Hi.” Her hair waved in the breeze. “This is awkward.”

 

Cole stumbled backwards. She gestured and a chair lurched across the floor towards him. He jumped away and fell on his arse. Huffing out a sigh, she concentrated and rotated back the right way to float to the ground. Tangled hair fell over her eyes and she brushed it off, glaring at him. A tightening vise gripped her heart and she tried to ignore the sensation. “I was trying to help.”

 

He pushed himself up, his brows lowering and blinking tics taking over his eyes.  “By throwing a chair at me?”

 

She eyed the way his hands trembled as they dusted off his jeans, the flicking of his fingers another tic she hadn’t seen in a while. “I thought you needed to sit down.”

 

“And I think you’ve got explaining to do. What, are you some kind of Fairy or something?”

 

Her face screwed up. “Ew, no. Witch, thank you very much.”

 

His face set like concrete, expressionless except for twitching blinks. “Witch. You know, I’m pretty sure that’s worse than fairy.”

 

She hunched her shoulders over the ache in her chest. “Whatever, I don’t have to deal with ridiculous wings.”

 

“Apparently you don’t need wings to float on the ceiling. Filing that under things I learned today.”

 

“Well what’s a day without learning, right?”

 

He scanned the room, lingering on the smashed vase and the papers on the floor. “Is any of this to do with the guy who turned up earlier?” His fingers flicked as he spoke and she caught the sound he trapped behind his lips.

 

“You can let the tics out, Cole. It’s only me.”

 

He pressed his lips tighter, eyes burning like copper in the dim green light. She tried to smile but it didn’t get very far. He jerked away and paced the room, vocal tics escalating in tone and volume as he let out the adrenaline. The bench dug into her hip as she leaned back and stared at the floor. He hated losing control. She understood that. She hated it as well. At least he didn’t end up on the ceiling.

 

Scuffed shoes entered her vision and she raised her eyes to his fiery ones.

 

“Right,” he said, “Magic is real and you have some. Any other secrets?”

 

She kept her gaze fixed on his, willing herself not to glance at the laundry. He crossed his arms and arched a brow. “Margo? No more lies, no more secrets. You tell me everything or I walk out the door.”

 

She held her breath, then the words spilled from her lips in a torrent. “There’s a body in the laundry. I didn’t mean to do it. He isn’t human so it doesn’t really count does it? It was me or him and I chose me.” Her mouth spread in a grimace and she waited, counting every second he stared at her.

 

“Jesus, Margo.”

 

“No, silly, not him. Septimus. He was an assassin.”

 

He slipped his phone from his pocket and chewed his lip as he stared at the black screen. She reached out and took his wrist.

 

“We can’t call the police. He doesn’t exist here.”

 

“Are you asking me to help you hide a body?”

 

“No. But he’s quite heavy and I keep banging him into things and I’ve already broken the vase with the lilies.”

 

His lip twitched and relief loosened her shoulders. “I knew you’d see the funny side.”

 

“I’m not smiling. I’m ticking.”

 

“No you’re not.”

 

He stared at her for a moment and then let his smile out. “No. I’m not.”

 

She bounced up from the bench. “Okay, I guess I better show you Septimus.”

 

His lips pressed together and his eyes narrowed as he took in the gaping hole in the warlock’s chest. He looked up and she met his eyes across the unwrapped body.

 

“Will you still help me?”

 

A sigh escaped him. “Here’s the thing, Margo. I was raised to look after family and family is what you make it. You’re mine.”

 

Magic still crackled under her skin and he’d never looked more human but as he lifted the body of the one man she’d feared, she felt more at home than she ever had before.

 

 

 

This short story was submitted to the July Blank Page Challenge and used a visual and word prompt posted by the competition. It’s my first attempt at an actual short story, and while it didn’t place, I found the practice really invaluable and I really enjoyed writing it.

 

 

LB Phamon worlds a

Neon lights flickered, sizzling in the damp night air. Cigarette butts littered the gutter. Damon clenched his hand, pulling back the lilac mist threading through his fingers. A cold wind tugged his coat away from his legs and he glanced at Phoebe in her thin sweater.

 

She caught her full bottom lip between her teeth and he found his eyes lingering on her mouth.

 

“So, do you trust him?”

 

He lifted his eyes to hers, indigo shimmering at the edge of his vision. “Hathath is a coward.” He raised his shoulders, the human gesture more familiar now.  Glancing away from blue eyes shining pearlescent in the harsh light, he curled his lip at the empty car waiting expectantly at the pump. “The truth is a cold mistress, but steel is colder.” He turned back to her. “I believe him.”

 

Arms snaked around her torso and her shoulders shivered inwards. He pulled off his scarf with a frown. Stepping closer, he looped the dark wool around the back of her neck, drawing soft strands of hair out from underneath the folds. She smiled through chattering teeth. “Thanks.”

 

So close that her warm breath slid over his jaw, his hands lingered on the ends of the scarf, pulling it towards him. Her eyes widened and his gaze drifted down to her mouth again. Lips trembling with cold he didn’t feel. Releasing his grip he stepped back, running a hand through his hair. Indigo sparks fluttered from his fingers and he swallowed a curse.

 

“It’s only so your teeth don’t wake the neighbourhood. Next time, bring a jacket.”

 

A small smile played on her face as she knotted his scarf around her neck. He swivelled on his heel and strode towards the car. His mother’s voice rang in his head. You feel too much, Daemon. Do not waste yourself trying to better the humans. They are not real and will fade like sunrise into cloud.

 

Scratched panels and faded red vinyl seats. Hathath had chosen well. The car looked like many others in this tired suburb. Phoebe reached out and knocked on the hood, shrugging at the dull clang. He quirked an eyebrow and his lips tugged upwards. A smile spread on her face and he squashed his delight in surprising her. A mission. That’s all she is. Raising his hands he let lilac mist out to play. It writhed over the car and glamour shifted, the world shimmering in and out of sight.

 

Despite himself he cast a sideways glance at Phoebe. Her brows crinkled and her lip rubbed between her teeth again. But her eyes fixed on the disappearing car and he squashed a flicker of something like pride. This one, mother, this one might be different. Mist swirled and he wiped it away with a stroke of his hand. He knelt by the small casket lying where the car had been, nudging it away from puddles of rainbow streaked oil. Violet tendrils curled around his fingers, teasing at the brass lock.

 

A small snick as the tumbler moved and the lid sprang open. Darkness spilled out, heavy with the sharp scent of death. Phoebe yelped and jerked away. He frowned up at her. Red bursts sparked on her fingers and she thrust her arms out from her, jaw tight and eyes widening. He reached up and took her hand, stroking the red mist away. “Do not worry, Phoebe, what lies in the casket won’t hurt you. The darkness sings for me alone.”

 

Her collarbone stood out against her skin and the sparks died, crimson fading from her eyes. The box glowed warm under his hand and his fingers tightened on the lid, charcoal sludge winding around his wrist. He kept his eyes on her face until her eyes gleamed blue again and she focused on him, shudders wracking her shoulders. “That isn’t very reassuring, Damon.”  Dropping her hand he lifted the casket, allowing the seeping heaviness to spread over his chest. “It should be.The darkness and I are one. It simply returns home.”

 

A wobbly sigh floated over his head. “You really suck at making things sound better.”

 

Black smoke spun a cocoon around him. Shadows merged with warm indigo and soaked into his skin. Memories assaulted his mind. Flashes of blood, terror, rage. He gritted his teeth to keep in the screaming. Tendons ran in raised cords down his neck. Fire spread along the muscles of his back as he tamed the beast that once dwelled in him.

 

“Damon”

 

He flung his head back, vision stained with midnight purple. The world spun and shimmered and inside him the beast rampaged. Through shaking darkness a bright glow of pure white smoothed and calmed. Phoebe. He dragged his eyes to find hers, deep within the light burning away the dark.

 

Her hands cupped his cheeks and breath flooded his lungs. His heart thudded into life. Pearlescent streams of light filtered into his mind, tying down the beast.

 

Trembling fingers stroked his jaw. Pain stabbed like needles into his eyes but he lifted them to hers. Her eyes were drenched with tears reflecting no light now but the spitting fluorescent bulbs of the station.

 

“I thought you said I didn’t need to worry.” Fear laced her voice and the beast strained against the delicate white tethers holding it down.

 

“I didn’t think you needed to. It has been many decades since I last held the dark.” He pushed himself to his feet, shaking off her hands at his elbow. “He guarded that which we need, else I would not have taken him back. Pick it up.”

 

He waved his hand at the casket when she frowned at him. “The amulet is safe to touch. Take it.”

 

She stooped over the now lifeless wooden box. His eyes drifted over her hair, threads of silver fire lingering in the dark strands. How is it possible she doesn’t know what she is? She straightened, holding the amulet dangling from outstretched fingers. Copper and emerald and blood.

 

A fierce glow shone in her eyes and she stepped closer to him, her hand going to his chest. “If this works, when we’ve finished, can you get rid of that creepy darkness thing again?”

 

He covered her fingers with his and searched for words, his mind a turmoil of bleeding shadows.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

IMG_5845Revisions are tough. I mean, drafting is hard too, but you get to ignore the bad bits and the lumpy plot and the endlessly repeating ‘looked’, because everyone tells you to “Just get it out! words on a page! You can edit a bad page you can’t edit a blank one!”. You can’t escape this in revisions.

 

I’ve been carrying out a lot of revisions lately and am super happy to have completed the third draft of my Dust Bound fantasy novel. (SUCH a relief). When I first started the revision process I found it very overwhelming and difficult to get a handle on. I could do a couple of tweaks, sure, but I found really improving it a harder thing to figure out. I didn’t know where to start.

 

Sandcastle from Sand Shannon Hale Quote

This advice about sand to sandcastles is often given, and during my drafting stage it was really reassuring. But not for the revisions.  I had no idea how to get from vast quantities of sand, some pristine, some with bits of cat wee, some left best unmentioned, to glorious turrets of a mighty sandcastle.

 

Then I had an epiphany.

 

I didn’t have a vast sprawling sandpit with nothing on it. My manuscript wasn’t a virgin beach. There were lines, small heaps, markings in the sand. Foundations. Placeholders. These are the statements that are usually ‘tell’ statements. “They walked through the lush fields.” It’s a sentence that doesn’t do a lot. It’s a placeholder. It helps tell the writer the story so we can go back and flesh it out.

 

I realised this was my process.

Find the StoryTell the StoryShow the Story

 

This made the whole thing far less overwhelming. I wasn’t starting from scratch. I wasn’t trying to get from finding to showing, or from sandpit to sandcastle. I was moving slowly in stages, each point moving me that bit further on.

The way to get from tell the story to show the story, for me, was to identify the placeholders and focus on developing them.

 

An example is probably best to demonstrate what I mean:

 

This is the first draft:

 

They noticed the quiet hum of the nomad camp the closer they got. It wasn’t silent, but it wasn’t just the dust that muffled the noise. It had the feel of people who knew exactly how loud they could be before they started drawing the attention of the boogieman in the dark.

Around a small fire, which was responsible for the glow, sat 15-20 people. A rigged cloth stretched high over the flames to catch the dust, allowing the fire to smoulder without being damped.  There were no old people and no children around the fire. That didn’t mean there were none. Covered carts ringed the clearing and it was through two of them that they walked, weapons down but out.

 

This is full of placeholders. Key signal words – ‘noticed’, ‘wasn’t’, ‘was’, ‘it had’, “there were”, “they walked”.

 

Focusing in on these words and statements, recognising that they provided a foundation for my sandcastle, enabled me to develop them into something more immersive:

 

Flickering light turned into the steady glow of a small fire. Thin trees opened to a clearing ringed by covered carts standing guard against the outside world. The quiet hum of people, all too aware of the threat of black tipped wings in the dark, grew louder with every step. Sweaty palm slipping on her knife handle, she edged closer to Ryder. Flames threw shadows shifting over the Dust, sending shivers crawling over her skin.

The carts loomed on either side of them as they walked a pathway into the centre, whispers trickling out from frayed canvas covers. A warm glow danced over the people gathered around the fire, eyes fixed on the newcomers. Rigged cloth stretched high over the flames to catch the Dust, allowing the fire to smoulder without suffocating under grey powder. No children playing, no old people talking. An expectant hush spread through the clearing

 

The biggest thing for me with my placeholder epiphany was a liberating acknowledgement that I didn’t have to have it right the first time. That it was a process. It helped me feel less overwhelmed and gave me a strategy for my revisions.

 

What are your best revising/editing tips? Share in the comments below!

Light Breaks Collage 3

 

Time stood still on the clock, golden hands trapped in an echo of ticking seconds. Marius wiped the crystal face, dust of years turning to smears like the memories it tugged at. Strange that Nanny Cara hadn’t dusted. He tapped the clock, willing the hands to move, seeing in his mind the day it broke, the tears smudged on her lined face. Maybe not so strange.

 

He turned to the bay window, cream curtains hanging stiff and yellowed with age. They crackled as he pushed them aside, eddies of dust swept up in the ruffles on the floor. Darkness covered the world outside, snow sprinkled path untouched by footprints reflected by the light left on downstairs. Hopefully they would see it. Damon should remember what it meant.

 

As he turned back with a sigh his eyes caught on a moving light in the gloom outside. His heart slowed. They were coming. Leaning back against the wall he closed his eyes. Nanny Cara had been right. This trouble was too deep for him. Sinking down to the floor he drew his knees up, resting his clasped hands between them, his head resting on the wall. He opened his eyes but the room was still empty, the air thick with time lost and discarded. His finger traced the scar on his wrist, little more than a faded line now.

 

Crunching gravel and snow sounded from the path below the window, cutting the silence.

 

Voices.

 

Arguing.

 

A bright flare of red lighting up the window.

 

His mouth twisted. She was strong. Blinking his eyes against the red, seeing again in his mind a man knocked down by crimson fire, a child running for his life, his own arms stealing round little Ella, he let out a shuddering sigh. He deserved her rage.

 

The furious light died, replaced by waiting silence.

 

Dark purple mist filtered through the open door, floating over faded carpet and discarded toys, seeking. He held out a hand and it wound its way to him, playing over his trembling fingers.

 

Hello Damon.

 

The mist tightened on his wrist, binding him. His lips curled up. So much for brotherly trust.

 

A chill breeze as the front door opened. Only one lot of measured footsteps thumped on the wooden floor. The creak in the steps avoided by someone familiar with the house.

 

Shadow filled the doorway and he looked up into his brother’s face. Shame sat behind his eyes, pushing them away but he fought it, holding Damon’s calm indigo gaze though his heart pounded in his chest.

 

“Marius. Where is the child?”

 

“Gone.”

 

Damon’s brows lowered but no darkness stole the light in his eyes. Leaving the doorway his brother walked slowly over towards him, filling the room with his presence as he always did.

 

He smiled as Damon crouched next to him, black coat dragging in the dust, wondering if this was the feeling that made humans cry.

 

“I’ve been waiting, brother, sitting in this room where the walls leak memories, trying to figure out where the path broke.”

 

Damon sighed and the purple mist around his wrist turned lilac, loosening its grip until it was more of a caress.

 

“It broke a long time ago Marius.”

 

Damon’s eyes went to the clock and he stared at the scar on his wrist.

 

The words dragged out of him, ripping at his heart. “Why do you think she did it?”

 

Damon tore his eyes from the clock, eyes darkening to midnight purple.  The lilac mist fluttered up to tousle Marius’s hair briefly before dropping away, vanishing as Damon stretched his legs out, leaning away from him with a sigh.

 

“Because we were in the way.”

 

“And power was more important.” It wasn’t a question. He’d answered it long ago. His mother’s face as she turned her back on them an image he could never scrub away.

 

“As it is more important to our uncle.”

 

He flinched. “He tortured her, Damon. In front of me. He had Aerin screaming on the ground. His own daughter. I couldn’t stop him.”

 

“We never could.”

 

His fingers traced over the scar, burning now with remembered pain. “I thought he was right. I thought it would work. But it didn’t and now I’m caught.”

 

Clasping his hands tighter he steeled himself, looking up at Damon’s face. “I’m in trouble and I need my big brother to help me.”

 

A small smile tugged at Damon’s lips. “I’ve been waiting a long time to help you, Marius.”

 

He reached out his hand and his brother’s clasp sent strength through him in a rush.

 

“But now, brother, you need to help me get the child back.”

 

He nodded, guilt a heavy weight in his chest.

 

“I am sorry about Ella but she’s not hurt. I sent her away with Nanny Cara before Orlon’s soldiers came.”

 

“The candle in the window told me as much. It was harder to convince Phoebe.” Damon released his hand and stood, shaking dust from his coat. “Come, Marius. Facing her won’t be easy but the right thing never is.”

 

He rose more slowly, pushing against the wall. “Do you think it’s too late to change paths?”

 

His brother shook his head fiercely, eyes glinting in the dim light. “I am forging a new path brother, one free from our mother and free from our uncle. Join me on this one. Help me find Ella. Help me keep Phoebe safe.”