A short story I wrote as a part of the Halloween Blog Hop, 'Share A Scare'. Hope you enjoy my first attempt at a scary story, 'The Rail Road Walker'.
Most people ignored the broadcast. That means there are only a small number of us left. I can't blame those who stayed in their homes, turned off the radio; it was a strange command after all.
“Walk the rail roads. Don't turn back no matter what. Avoid the injured and dead. Sleep during the day and walk at night for they will not appear in the open while light. Keep a torch, batteries and matches. We will send aid. Don't stop walking.”
Perhaps the only reason I obeyed was due to my own paranoia. I could see the signs before anyone else. The mysterious illness struck fear into all humans. Most thought it safer to shut the door, never leave their homes. They thought that surely they would stay safer if they never left. They were wrong.
So I walk. I never turn around. I have seen corpses along the rail road but I never pause. Each time I pass these bodies I feel sick to the stomach, I can't look at them, and yet I know I still can't stop walking. Sometimes the things leave them there to trick you. I've seen people lying by the tree line beside the tracks, struggling to breathe, their flesh swelling, the skin splitting with infectious sores. I give these a wide birth although a large part of me wants to help them, even if just to ease their pain. But even so, I must venture from the tracks to avoid them, my torch gripped in one hand as I watch the trees for movement. The light is supposed to hurt them; why else would they avoid the open ground during the day? At each station there is a stockpile of food and water, just as the broadcast had promised. But there are more of the things around the stations. I have been lucky so far, or maybe just careful.
I still haven't seen one of the things. I have heard them, their gargling and harsh screams in the darkness. Those who see them don't survive. They stop walking and they die. Then they disappear.
I look ahead through a curtain of heavy rain, squinting to see. In one hand I carry my torch, turned off to conserve power, in the other was the hand of my eleven year old niece. Hailey shuffles forward beside me, her eyes on the dark trees. I can see a strange structure ahead. As we continue forward, never stopping, I see a bridge. It was old and the wooden supports seemed worn. Below was a long drop to a raging river seen as a shadow in the darkness. I almost stop but out of habit I walk on. If I stop, we die. I could almost sense the soulless eyes watching me from the trees, almost feel their breath on my neck. Waiting. The sound of the rain, along with the occasional crack of thunder, drowns out any other sounds. We step on to the bridge. It groans below us. Will it take our weight? I keep walking. The bridge had been designed to hold a train but the rail road I had chosen to walk was old and abandoned. I believed that less people would follow this path... and that there would be less things. It has been a long time since I saw the last body. Not that that meant anything. Perhaps the creatures here were more efficient, not leaving many bodies behind. A cracking sound to my right startles me and, with a practiced motion, my torch flares to life. Nothing. My heart beats in my chest frantically. I keep walking.
If only I could bring them back…
Madeline sat at the end of the long dining table, a silver plate and cutlery before her. A servant delicately placed pieces of meat and vegetables on it. She wasn’t hungry. She didn’t feel much of anything besides loneliness.
“You must eat My Lady,” Madeline’s nurse, Teresa, said beside her. She was concerned.
Madeline looked down at the food in disgust. The smells coming from the plate made her stomach turn. She didn’t want to eat.
Teresa sighed. “Madeline, you have eaten barely a morsel for a week. You are withering away.”
“That’s fine,” Madeline murmured.
“My Lady! Many people care about your wellbeing. You are the Lady of this town now since your late mother and father…” Teresa trailed off.
“No one knows me. No one really cares who I am. Only my position and my wealth. Wealth I no longer want.”
Teresa’s voice changed from gentle concern to sternness. “You have responsibilities to the people of this town. Your parents both understood this and made their best efforts. They never intended to leave you with this duty so early but now you must do your best to continue their work.”
Madeline pushed her chair away from the table angrily. It made a loud screech across the stone floor. The nearby servants cringed visibly.
“Madeline! Your food!” Teresa yelled after her.
“Give it to the town’s people; they’ll appreciate it more. There, duties fulfilled.”
To read more of Wither click here.
Soon my second novel will be released!
Guardian Core, the second book in my Sky Stone series, will be available tomorrow for purchase. I have learnt so much from writing these first two books and I would like to take this opportunity to speak about one lesson in particular.
In the past I was one of those aspiring authors who would barely give an editor a moment of thought. It was too expensive, too much hassle. I believed this until I had completed everything I could with Guardian Core. I had polished it as best as I could alone and with a little help from friends and family. Little did I know how far from good enough that was.
I’d like to now introduce into this post the lovely Vanessa Wells. Vanessa is a copy editor who has been a guest blogger on this site previously, with her post Yes, you CAN afford an editor. She recently contacted me, hoping to interview me for her own blog, and in the process she became my editor.
Never having had a professional editor look over my work, I had no idea what to expect. What it became was a wonderful and clear representation of how Guardian Core could be taken further. She was very thorough, and I cringed a little internally at the number of red notations made on my manuscript, but I agreed with almost all of her suggestions. She asked the right questions so that she could personalise her skills to me. She worked fast and With Vanessa assistance, the finished product is better than I dreamed it would be.
I am far prouder of what I have created now that I know that it is comma and word perfect. Now, I am aware of some of my favourite phrases and lines and can look out for overuse in the future. And yes, Vanessa… I fixed a bunch of those “raised eyebrows”!
I am converted! From now on, all of my books will be looked over by a professional editor.
Check out Vanessa's website here: http://wellsreadediting.ca/
Check out my interview here: http://wellsreadediting.ca/2015/07/interview-with-ya-fantasy-author-scarlett-van-dijk/
Here it is folks! About three years in the making and Guardian Core is nearly ready for publication. Just to show that I'm serious, here is the front cover for Guardian Core, the second book in the Sky Stone series.
Here's another scene that I wrote as part of a Google+ competition for fun. The idea was to start with the line in the picture below, 'There are few things in the world that frighten me more than...' It was fun to write this and once again in a different genre than I'm used to. Almost apocalyptic, futurist stuff with guns. I like this quite a bit and am considering writing a little more. We'll see...
These prompts are a great way to hone my writing skills and try new things. I suggest all writers have a go at this. Try writing something short for this one, I'd love to read what people come up with!
There are few things in the world that frighten me more than love. It is the beginning and fall of all things. Love causes hate. Love causes sadness. Love… causes fear. If it wasn’t for love I wouldn’t have been sitting, waiting for a message I didn’t believe would come. The message did come. Love made me believe it wouldn’t. It made me hope and then stripped it away…
I watch the rain run in rivulets down my window. They join together as they travel, creating bigger drops. The curtains are suddenly pulled shut.
“What are you doing Mira?!” Tash whispers urgently from her position by the window, “What would you do if they saw you?”
I cross my arms, glaring up at her. I shrug.
Tash sighs with exasperation. “Honestly Mira. It’s sad that they got Kain but you have to move on. You can’t afford to sit around like this. You need to pull your weight around here.”
“I only joined you because of him,” I whispered with menace, standing up from the worn armchair, “I could leave.”
Tash’s eyes widen, her mouth open as she searches for the right words.
“Leave her be Tash,” comes Derek’s commanding voice from the door, “She’ll come around. This was Kain’s idea after all.”
Tash gives me one last meaningful look before trailing out of the room after Derek. I wait for a moment before I pull the pendent out from under my shirt. I flip open the locket and look longingly at the picture inside; a picture of Kain and I, smiling. A tear rolls from my eye and down my check. Like a raindrop on a windowpane. The tear falls from my chin on to the leather box at my feet. I look down at it and feel a pang. Kneeling down I carefully run my fingers over the leather, feel at the strong clasp, and flip it open. Inside was a gun. Not just any gun, a sniper rifle. Kain had given it to me the day I had joined the Freedom Hunters with him. It had been his, but he said I was the best shot he had ever seen. If I had gone with him that night, I could have watched his back. He would have come back to me. I snap the lid closed again, my fingers trembling. I glance back at the doorway where I could hear a number of muffled voices. They wouldn’t notice if I left now. I grab my trench coat from the arm of the chair and pull it on. Grabbing the large leather case I sweep from the room, out the door and into a dark alley. I raise my face to the sky, the rain falling against my skin easing off to a spattering, and then was gone a second later. The moon glowed directly above. I smile slightly despite it all. It felt like a good night for revenge.
With the case strapped to my back I speed down the empty street on the motorcycle. My coat flaps behind me like the cape of a comic superhero. Am I being rash? Probably, but who cares? I saw lights up ahead and turn a corner, taking another route to my destination. The garrison isn’t a hard building to find with the beams of search lights streaming away from it in to the sky. It basically screamed, “If you’re going to attack something, attack this!” Of course it was practically suicide to try. Well tonight I was trying, and if it was suicide… so be it.
Have you ever been reading a piece of fiction and felt such a deep connection that you feel exactly how the character does? You don't even need to be able to relate with that character. They could be the complete opposite to you, be in a situation you would never find yourself in, and yet you still understand them deeply. Ever had to stop yourself from laughing at a character while reading on the bus because people may look at you strangely? Ever found yourself with tears running down your face because you feel sympathy for a character? Well, as a writer, I try to learn from the authors who can make me feel for their characters.
The reason I bring this up is because I am currently reading a novel which has made me feel such a connection. I am reading the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson and I can say he is an amazing author. The protagonist of his story, a young girl named Vin, started out as a street urchin eventually discovering her powers as an Mistborn allomancer. In book one, she joins a thieving crew filled with other allomancers, pretends to be a noble girl attending balls, and ends up killing an (almost) god. I can't exactly relate to any of those experiences. However, something in the way Brandon depicts Vin was able to touch me. I have grinned giddily during the happy moments and cried during the sad. I even cried when Vin's crush, Elend, was ignoring her! I have wanted her to be able to trust others and wanted her to succeed. Brandon was able to create a character and give her such depth that I could understand her thoughts and emotions. I feel her internal conflicts as my own. This level of connection is what I wish to be able to accomplish with my own characters.
Reading books such as this was the cause for why I now plan my characters carefully before I begin a story. I write out a plan for my character's personality traits, their history, their strong and weak points, and their appearance. From doing this, I feel that my characters have more depth and that writing about feels more natural. This is because I already know my own characters quite thoroughly instead of learning about them as I write.
A short vignette I wrote using this image (From game, 'Child of Light') as a prompt. Using prompts to write short pieces of fiction is a great way to stretch the imagination and practice writing. Enjoy!
"Nearly there," I whispered breathlessly as I reached the crest of the hill. I let the tip of my father's sword drop to the soft soil as I took in the sight. Home. I had not seen my home in hundreds of years. My floating wispmate flipped beside me in excitement, a blue glowing orb which I named Blitz. I smiled in agreement. My parents would be pleased… they would be. Right now the royal guards would be searching for me in order to bring me back to Haven, what was supposed to be a 'temporary' living arrangement. It had been temporary for the last 500 years. This here was our true home; the tower city by the name of Celestine, with her royal palace among the clouds. How I longed to once more watch the sun rise from my room that appeared to float atop their downy whiteness. My hand clenched around the hilt of Storm Bringer. My father, the fairy king, would not be happy that I took his sword for this mission. But it would be over soon.
The landscape around Celestine was not how I remembered and it placed a dampener on my excitement. The city used to be surrounded on one side by a crystal clear lake filled with colourful dragonire fish and merhorses. The lake was now a dark ink blotch covered with a layer of grime. You could smell the dankness from where I stood. The waterfall that used to fall in to the lake all year round was not running. The forest of ancient giants used to be a marvel to behold, where shrikedoves with their long whip-like tails would soar above the cloud-brushing tree tops. They would call down to the animal friends who lived in their hidden burrows among the giant root maze. Now, the forest had retreated back from the city edge, an expanse of huge tree stumps and fallen logs now where it had once been. A tear rolled down my cheek despite my determination. I couldn't have expected it to be the same, not with those murderers living within the towers of Celestine. The city itself appeared to weep where grime seemed to slide down its once glistening towers.
I could not stand by and let this happen to my home as my parents had done. They had told me to give up, rebuild in Haven. They deserted Celestine. I was going to be more a queen than my mother and I would prove it here by taking back the city. The problem was, now that I was here, I didn't know how. Blitz hovered beside my face, his light seeming to pulse gently with his mirrored anxiety. My gravity-defying pink frizz of hair drifted across my face and I swiped at it in irritation. I curled my toes, feeling the soft soil move aside. If only pushing aside the Blighters would be as easy. Well, without action nothing ever got done. A lesson I could teach my parents with all their lectures and council meetings. Suddenly my energy returned and a grim chuckle emerged from my throat. I'll show them all the might of the fairy princess. Transparent wings buzzing from my back I rose and sped towards Celestine, gold crown flashing in the dawning sun. At least that still looked the same.
Image from game, 'Child of Light'
The wonderful Elizabeth Hein hosted me on her blog.
Head over and read my Five Tips for Beginner Writers.
I was tagged by the amazing Justine Manzano and you can find her post here: http://justinemanzano.com/2014/09/08/introducing-jacklyn-madison-character-bloghop-2014/
Justine Manzano is a multi-genre writer living in Bronx, NY with her husband, son, and a cacophony of cats. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthology Things You Can Create, Sliver of Stone Magazine, and The Greenwich Village Literary Review. She maintains a semi-monthly blog at JustineManzano.com and a twitter account where she discusses her adventures in juggling aspects of her life such as motherhood, writing, and the very serious businesses of fangirling and multiple forms of geekery. She works as a fiction reader for Sucker Literary Magazine and is currently searching for a publishing home for her YA Urban Fantasy series, Keys and Guardians.
In her post Justine talks about her character, Jacklyn, from her YA Contemporary Fantasy novel, The Order of the Key. Read the blurb below.
Jacklyn Madison has a thing for heroes. She reads about them, watches them on TV, and would very much like to become one. When a monster makes an attempt on her life she discovers she is one - the long lost member of The Order of the Key, a group that protects humanity from creatures that come through interdimensional rifts. It's all fun and games until training for her duties reveals the Order's out of touch views - Keys, like Jacklyn, are protected while Guardians, like the rest of her family, are expendable. As she rails against their value system, she finds herself in the centre of a power struggle between the group's leader, Lavinia, and her idealistic son, Kyp - the boy Jacklyn likes. Worse, Kyp's attempts to protect her only entangle her in a mire of deceit. Viewed as a target on one side and a weapon on the other, Jacklyn must find a way to protect the people she loves and decide what kind of hero she's willing to become. Filled with action, romance, and paranoia, The Order of the Key is an edgy Young Adult Contemporary Fantasy novel that is currently searching for a home with an agent.
Thanks for tagging me Justine!
Please meet my character, Skyla, the protagonist from my Sky Stone series:
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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