On a forum I frequent a writing circle has formed. I missed out on participating in the first event but made sure I got in the second one. The writing exercise this time was to craft a short story that contained the following elements:
- a sweet deal
- a strong sense of nostalgia
- a finger bone of a saint
- an almost completely vacant hotel
- a broken laptop
- a crossbow
- a skull cap
The other requirements being that it had to be at least 1000 words and the first and last sentences, combine, had to contain the letters J, Q, X, and Z at least once.
Here’s my contribution a small vignette from the strange life of Jared Tywlyndale:
Jared clutched the small reliquary to his chest, it contained the finger bone of St. Zoe of Pamphylia, or so the street urchin in Mersin had said so many years ago… Jared had doubts about its veracity but, it had never failed him before. Jared kissed it as he muttered a quick prayer to the Saint and the Blessed Virgin and then he resumed running. He was already hopelessly lost. The back alleys and narroways of Tarsus all looked the same: brown, dusty stone. He had already made half a dozen frantic turns and switchbacks. At this point he didn’t even know if he was still being followed. The dull panic, comfortably settled in his gut told him that he still was. He had to lose them, and fast. He wasn’t young and physical exertion had never been a priority.
A quick look over his shoulder told him that his pursuers were not directly behind him, the alley was only 30 or 40 feet long but it was clear all the way back. He needed to get off the streets. We weaved a few more times through alley and across the old streets that crisscrossed the old quarter of the city in arcane symbology that no one now recognized or understood and burst into a small empty courtyard. Glancing left and right, he realized with sinking dread that he had come to a dead-end, there were no ways out except the one behind him. He looked back again, still clear, he hoped they had given up, turned back. But, he wasn’t going to count on it. He moved into the courtyard, and against the wall. Catching his breath he gave his full attention to his surroundings. The walls were too high and there was no purchase on them but, there were a number of doors, some with signs above them written out in neat Turkish script. He cursed, the loss of his books and his guide. He didn’t recognize a word save one: “kütüphane.” What did that mean? His mind conjured up images of dusty shelves receding into high ceilings, the muffled coughs of old men, and the musty, comforting scent of decay. He raced across to the door below the word, grabbed the door, and pushed forcefully.
“Ack! Umph” Jared tumbled into the room, gracelessly falling to the floor. The sword at his side sliding out of its scabbard and clanking dully against the tiles. “Iyi geceler” a dry, crackling voice said in front of him, “Yardım edebilir miyim?”
“Yummm” Jared fumbled to put the sword back into its scabbard… Making its presence all the more inconspicuous. After a few seconds he succeeded and slowly picked himself off the ground, dusting his shoulders of his great coat as he did so. “Mare-ha-ba” Jared said, slowly letting the word roll off his tongue, hoping he was getting it right. He looked about him, as he said it trying to take in as much of the room and building as he quickly could. It appeared to be a bookstore or library, an old one though, and not very frequented. The dust on the floor where he fell was thick and the air was musty and dry. The room was not well-lit, what little there was coming through high dirty windows near the ceiling. In front of him and before the stacks was a large desk, more a solid block of wood than a piece of furniture. At its center he barely could just barely make out a face, long nose, deep eyes, high checks, bright red skull cap. It seemed to sit atop the desk disembodied, the rest of the man lost in shadow.
“Merhaba, Yardım edebilir miyim?” the face said again.
“Yum, do you happen to speak English?”
“hurrumph, yes, a little. How may I help you?”
Jared found himself getting lost in the way the man’s face contorted when it formed words, it was slighty repellent and oddly compelling.
“I find myself in a slight predicament… Some unsavory fellows have taken undue interest in me. Do you happen to have a backdoor? Or perhaps a way to the rooftops?” Jared’s voice and confidence were returning as he caught his breath. He was still checking the door every few seconds. Wishing that there had been a bolt on it which he could throw.
“There is indeed a backdoor and a ladder to the roof, if that is your need.”
Jared blinked. He had expected some protest or complaint. Usually when he barged into people’s lives it was rather more unpleasant. He still bore the contusion on his forehead from a cast iron pan welded zealously by a matronly senora whose hovel he had barged into years ago in Brasil. “It is! Thank you so much! I’m happy to pay for the inconvenience.” He said pulling out his wallet, thick with liras.
“That is unnecessary, May I ask what you were running from? You seem well equipped to deal with ruffians…” The head looked pointedly at Jared’s hip where the sword now rested out of sight. Jared squared his shoulders hoping the man had not noticed the small crossbow strapped against his back. Then let them fall, he had fallen all over the floor, there was no hiding that from him either.
“Uh, you know… your standard issue goon…” Jared was distracted again by the man’s intent gaze.
“Odd choices for defense, no? In this day and age. A gun requires much less skill and is cheaper.”
“Yeah… So how much do I owe you to use that backdoor?”
“As I said before it is unnecessary. You are safe here regardless.” A clawlike hand extended from behind the desk and grandly swept in front of the face. “Nothing enters here unless I wish it to.”
“But, but I just came barging in?” Jared didn’t like it when strangers began to talk to him as if they knew what he was about. He found himself again clutching the reliquary that dangled from his wrist.
“You did. And I am sure you will be barging out again soon, Jared.”
The sword appeared in Jared’s hand before his name had finished crossing the face’s lips, and seconds later Jared was against the desk and the sword scant centimeters from the old man’s throat. “How do you know me?” All humor had left Jared’s voice.
“The same way those who chase you know. The wind carries your name always before Jared Tywlyndale. Only those who cannot listen to its cry do not know you. Look around, as I said you are safe here. I and those I serve bear you no ill.” Jared looked around again at his surroundings, only now taking the time to notice the odd ornaments hanging from the walls and the tile arrangements on the floor. There were sigils and signs here he had not noticed before. And a strange, stuttering, humming he had noticed when he first entered. It was much like the sound of a dying laptop’s fan. If he hadn’t had been so winded he would have noticed it earlier.
“I find that little comfort, old man.” Jared said. “Those either,” point to the symbols laid across the floor.
“Despite that here is where you’ll find all the comfort that is waiting for you in Mersin. The Twisted Hook has prepared well for your coming and your masters prepared you poorly.”
“I’ve no time for riddles! Who are you and what do you know?” Jared now was fighting to keep control of his voice, and his churning emotions. The old man was right, he was not prepared for the gaunts that were hounding his trail. He hadn’t been prepared since he had checked had left Istanbul. This entire thing had been a disaster!
“My name is not important, now. You must go! Your prayers have bought you some scant time… St. Zoe masks your scent and sends hell’s hounds scattering across the city. But, it will only be a matter of time before they find you again. We do not serve the same masters, but we are brothers in the same conflict! You will need these” The man’s other hand rose up holding scraps of yellowed paper bound in black ribbons and sealed in wax, as his other moved Jared’s sword. “These are prayers evil Djinn were forced to write by the Prophet’s, blessed be his names, companion Abu Bakr. They can get you out of the city. You must go to Cyprus that which you seek is there as is the Twisted Hook who also seek it. Once in Cyprus go to the Ágios Geó̱rgios hotel in Poli Crysochous it is nearly always empty and the owner will be sympathetic to your cause!”
“Wait… How again do, you know?” Jared stammered as he took the papers from the man.
“No time! Go quickly to the back, on the left you will find a ladder it will lead you to the roof. Take the High Road west til you reach the old walls. Then flee! Be quick! St. Zoe nor the blessed companions of the Prophet can protect you long from those that hunt you know! Once you are free of the city, break the seal on those papers!”
Jared, slid the sword into its scabbard. Gave the old man a quizzical look one last time and raced for the back. Moments later he was on the roof. The sun setting before him. In the distance on the wind he could hear the otherworldly howls of things that he definitely did not want to meet tonight. Turning away he began sprinting, shaking from his mind the old man, his shop, it was yet another bizarre, fortunate encounter. Despite never having been to Mersin before he couldn’t resist the strong sense of nostalgia he felt. This was only the latest in a long series that made up his unusual life. He began to trot across the roofs of old Mersin, the man had called it the High Road.
Few look up these days, their shoulders burdened by modern cares. Those that did that night might have seen a darker shadow against the blackening sky. Those, too ,with ears to listen might have heard the unearthly baying that followed behind and found the night colder, the city less friendly, and hurried home to their wives and kids surrounding themselves with love, light, comfort. Still, they would sleep uneasy tonight and for many nights into the future. Their dreams haunted, nay consumed by that sound, that damned howling that left them exhausted after every endless night.
This really isn’t much of a story, it might work as part of a larger story. In the future I need to do a better job of creating a story arc… Not a lot happens in this.