A New Story [Perhaps]

An excerpt from a new story in the paranormal field. Copyright Rose Brimson & Cage Dunn 2017 (of course).


Scene 1

“It’s a beautiful old house. Probably best described as original, ’cos it needs a fair amount of work, but I’m sure there’ll be someone to do work in the area – it’s a farming region, so lots of trades in those places.”

The words seemed to ring in Anna’s head as she sat in her car and stared at the house. Yes, it was beautiful. Once. A long time ago. Not now. Original. Yes. Raw timber because the paint had flaked off decades ago. That real estate agent was going to cop it when she found him. And the contract of sale would be withdrawn. She had three days left of the cooling-off period.

How long would it take to get the deposit back?

Hot sun streamed onto her denim-covered legs and she opened the door to get out. At least she could look around, and tell the miserable, low-down, rotten-stinking-lying pretty-boy prick that she’d inspected the place and found it to be not as advertised. That would be enough to ensure she could back out.

One of the windows glinted. A movement? From inside? No. Just a breeze. Were there still curtains? Or was it the casement falling out? She shook her head. Stupid, really, but she felt a need to look. To check. To make sure.

All her savings, all her money, was tied up in this. Her future. Hmmmppphhhh! If she were a bloke, she’d spit on it.

There were no trees to park under, no bushes, no shrubs, no green lawns – no grass at all, just dust and gravel and rocks – and so hot the black asphalt stuck to her sandals as she ticky-tacked across the road to inspect the house that should have been her new home.

One hand grabbed the veranda post as her foot landed on the first step and sank. And sank. She stepped back with a gasp.

Rotten.

Her fingers clawed at the soft timber of the post. Rotten.

She glared at the boards on the wrap-around veranda. Holes, warped boards, the hum of wasps from somewhere below the gaps. Rotten.

Nails stuck up at odd angles, lay on the surface, or produced rusty circles on the timber. Anna raised her eyes to the entrance. The door hung partly open, twisted into a shape that meant that’s probably where it’d been for decades. Rotten. Everything was rotten, rotten, rotten.

Her chest expanded with a gust of breath as she stepped backwards and turned back to the front gate. The long grass to left and right was too tall to walk through with sandals on, but she had to get around the back. She had to see just how bad it was, document it all and compare it to the photos on the web, so she could back out of the deal.

So far, her life hadn’t changed at all.

Puffs of dust followed her footsteps down the rutted driveway. The equally-spaced paths were well-tamped. Nothing would ever grow there, and it gave her a safer place to walk. But she stomped anyway. Just in case of Joe Blakes. That would really be the final straw.

The back door was open, resting against the torn-off flyscreen framed in curlicues of pink-painted wood. That would be worth rescuing. Except not by her. She wouldn’t be here, would she?

No.

Anna stepped up onto the concrete slab that passed for a patio or veranda. The timber that held up the roof was solid, but paint peeled in long scrabbles down to lay at the base. One fingernail pushed as hard as possible and didn’t sink in. She turned toward the back entrance, squealed as a spider web drifted down across her forehead. She swiped and slapped until she was sure it was gone.

Crap!

A grimy bannister brush lay against an old timber fruit-crate. She leaned down and picked it up, held it up in the air as she stepped through the back door, literally, when it crumpled to frothy lumps at the first turn of the old handle.

Crap!

More and more like her life, but with more dust.

The light was dim. The layers of dust and grime didn’t help. Ash and greasy yellow marks slid along the walls of the kitchen. Anna knew it was the kitchen because of the table, the chairs, the trough-sink, and the wood-stove tucked into the wall.

A wood-stove. She’d always wanted a wood stove. A dream, because she remembered the tales of her gran and the time it took to get it started, the time it took each morning to prepare, the time it took to ensure enough wood for the season. But it was beautiful. Solid iron, all the doors and lids, the lid-lifter hook, the green enamel doors, the black sliding grate. Two fingers caressed the cold enamel, ran along the full length of the old lady. Bits of ash drifted to the floor.

Anna smiled and looked around. The small door on the left, between the stove and the trough, showed a pantry. Things were set up on shelves, too dust-covered to see what they were, or had been. She closed the door and turned back to the large kitchen. Sun glowed into the window on the far side. No curtains, just dust and webs. And one or two egg-sacs. It was a good home for spiders and such. But not her.

The double door had to be persuaded to move in the grooves. She’d have to change this to a top slider, and get rid of the bottom bit; that’d make it easier to maintain. The room behind the doors must have been the living room, lounge room. The fireplace was huge, but with a small central grate. Blocks of wood lay in neat piles to either side, and the hearth was swept clean. Except for the dust, the fire was ready to be lit. A small triangle of kindling sat in the grate waiting for the spark.

The two chairs, overstuffed and overworn, sat at an angle to the fire. One had an antimacassar over the back and one on each arm. The other was unadorned, dark and stained, but the rose pattern – red and white and green – was dimly visible. She ran a hand over the arm. This one hadn’t been used. It was just one of a pair. She touched the antimacassar chair. Body grease, a deep indentation on the seat, the shape of a body almost outlined. This chair had been well-used. Maybe there were two for symmetry.

She looked around. An ornate bookcase with glass doors hid objects with shapes that were indiscernible, but she wasn’t going to open it to see what it was. Not with that amount of web to fight through.

Two doors led off the main room. She shoved at the door nearest the front window, but didn’t budge it. The other one slid open to reveal an iron bed-stead, wardrobes that spoke of art-nouveau designs. The rug on the timber floor was a hunters design, an original, probably hand-woven if the tie-offs on the upturned corner were any indication.

Anna didn’t lean down to check. She felt a tickle at the base of her scalp and turned around, expecting to see someone.

Nothing.

She walked back to the lounge room. Empty. Still. She looked out the windows. No one out there, so sign of movement. As she walked up to the front door, she noticed the lack of window coverings. No curtains, no blinds, no mosquito or fly screens.

If she believed in ghosts, now would be the time for her to consider that what she’d seen from outside came from the other realm, but she didn’t.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” the loudness of her voice was shocking in the echo of empty space as she retraced her steps through the kitchen and out the back door.

“I didn’t take any pictures,” she said. The stillness of the air and building remained. Nothing moved except her breath.

The open area to the south of the concrete block outside the back door had a double trough and a hand-pump. It was irresistible. She pushed on the pump. Rusty red water gushed into the concrete trough. Maybe this place had been empty longer than she thought.

She stepped off the veranda and walked the length of the ruts to the back fence to get an overall view of the house.

The double chimneys on the south side were stone and brick, grey and red, in a design she’d never seen before. The roof was square, even if the iron was rusted and lifting like wings in several places. The gutters were gone; the hooks remained and she could see the internals. No rot in the roof that she could see. It was fixable.

Her phone peeped. She pulled it out and checked the message. Deleted it. Skimmed to the website for the house and enlarged the pictures as she compared the real with the e-real. If she put a gauze in front of her face, it looked the same. A dusty, sort-of block-out effect that blocked nothing but the worst of the decay. The house looked just like it was advertised.

She wouldn’t get her money back. Wouldn’t be able to back out of the contact.

The only choice she had was to make the place liveable.


Unedited, so subject to change at no notice at all (until publication). Title: something about a Ghost …. and Gold …. and a Country Town ….

the house

 

A Moment of Grace

These moments can be found in stories and movies, and often they are subtle, gentle, quiet. These are the moments that show a change, an emotional rejoinder, sometimes shows the character to be on this particular path. The moment of grace where the reader says/thinks: all is at peace; this is where we belong.

These are the moments we look for in life but have difficulty recognising because we’ve forgotten just how subtle they can be. Not so in a story. In a story it has to be much more obvious – to the senses of the reader, because it is the bump on the radar that awakens the need to seek this in life.

In story, the sense of the moment of grace allows the reader to relax for a moment, to feel that regardless of what’s to come, this is what it’s all about. To be part of it, to be encompassed by the world for the benefit of this small moment of connection.

That’s a lot of words for a normally short, quiet moment in a story. But it’s important. A breath, a reason to be, a sense of peace. We need it. The story may need it, but the reader is sucked in by it, and then, when the writer opens up the next scene to the relaxed reader, what do you think happens?

The big ‘turn it all upside-down’ bit? No! Why not? Because it’s safer to put a bit of distance between the moment of grace and a handstand. Because you don’t want the reader to throw the book at the wall when the character steps from grace to stupidity in two breaths. Because you need to work up to the next big thing, build the tension while the reader accepts the inevitability that things will change, of course they will, they always do – but not yet.

Give the reader that time to ‘feel’ the moment of grace, to accept the breath it gives, and ease into the next painful/abrupt/sudden change of course from the path.

Story is about a pattern of movement, and usually the movement of character through difficulty, but a writer needs to understand the moments between the big gulps. And the moment of grace is one of them. Not the only one, but an early one, and usually in the Second Act (Q2). Later in Act 2 (Q3) is the Lull Before Three (2nd plot point).

Hmmm, there are two of these quiet moments, but different in context. The first, the Moment of Grace, is there to be built from; the second, the Lull Before Three, is there to enable the character to bow to the inevitable, to consider the price to pay for the necessary actions.

And there you have it – two moments of story that are quiet but powerful.


And that’s my writing warm-up for the day, so now I go to work on the WIP (yes, yes, the late one!).

A Privacy Issue

Logging on was easy now. Van’s mind seemed to work better. The pathways to the vaults were clear. The new connections worked as expected. The work on the server farm was complete. The rack wasn’t as large as some she had worked with, but large enough for her purposes. She could store ten Zettabytes, which meant how many bytes? Couldn’t remember: One thousand Mega was a Gig; one thousand Gig was a Tera; one thousand Tera was a Peta; one thousand Peta was an Exa; one thousand Exa was a Zettabyte. Still too hard to visualise. Big.

The new compression algorithm worked well as long as the data was unstructured. She just had to restore it using the same method that sent it to store – exactly. Otherwise, it was junk. The labels for each packet were individualised in a standalone db with a locking variable related to only that download. She could unload using the concurrency procedure, but each packet had to be specified by that variable.

It meant she could store most of what was already out there on the web – both dark and light, on her own cloud farm and no one would ever know, because it would only ever be turned on when she wanted to use it. If there was no power from the grid to the source, the source did not exist in the electronic world. She wasn’t on their grid unless she was hunting – where had that word come from? – working; unless she was working.

If someone wanted to trace her actions, they would need a minimum amount of time while she was active and on-line, and she had calculated to a nanosecond how much time would be required, and a shut-down process would initiate thirty seconds prior to redline. The layers upon layers of security protocols would have been appropriate for a large enterprise.

Why was she so concerned, so paranoid, about anyone finding her? Everyone was out there, on the web. It was all around, all the time, and it never lost a byte of data. Her shadow would be there, too. But it would be elastic, easily missed, and as a last resort, her shadow would become a mirror for the searcher.

What she was doing was illegal: unauthorised access to private data; unauthorised access to private networks; system penetration; theft – oh, yes, she was stealing; misfeasance; unauthorised modification; and possibly the worst – with the intent to commit or facilitate the commission of an offence.

Yes, she was paranoid. She’d broken the law, invalidated her security rating; her professional career in IT security was over.

It didn’t matter. She was working. Her mind buzzed as she went through each step in each procedure. She felt at home. Constructive. This was her world. A faint hum seemed to linger on her skin, energise her body.

She outlined the process for the packet compression task. Each stream compressed as it came to her server in plackets of packets. The compression algorithm meant she could store the whole internet, but she wanted only the dark side, and of that, she wanted only the sites with data that met her requirements. The spy code searched for key words, images, or patterns – the links they had with each other – that indicated any form of ‘hit’ on the chart she’d drawn up.

Van wondered where she had written it down, recorded it, and why she wanted it this way? Why had she done this task at all? Was she doing it for the detective? For herself, to keep busy? Was she going to hand over the information? Why was she doing it on her own?

Did it matter? She was doing something constructive. Something other than grieving. She had to do something, anything, and she could do this, at least. She had the skills and experience and knowledge required to get the job done, to get results.

The links where she could determine location that was not local, she forwarded to another site – when had she done that? It must be hers; it was her style, her pattern – easily searched, that notified authorities in the local phone region of a suspect site. Sometimes, her site was attacked. Not always by her targets. The code in the worm she sent back to the source of the attack always confirmed the physical IP and the country code. The Trojan horse delivered the worm that killed every attacker. It wiped out the start-up location, filtered down through all their hardware, firmware and software, all the linked infrastructure, and sent her their most personal details. Once the collection was complete, their motherboard went into a meltdown process that took milliseconds.

Their computer became a casualty of the war on the monsters from the dark side.

Van knew it would take time, a lot of time, but she could be patient. For each confirmed site, there were hundreds of links to examine. The dark net was more than ninety percent of the internet, but no one knew for certain. Van knew how to search now; she had taken the information from the first name on the list. She had his contacts, his lists, his patterns; she looked for the similarities, and she found them. A lot of them.

She knew how people would try to penetrate, the weaknesses they would look to exploit, and she knew how to combat those strategies and tactics. She had plans to block, she had plans to defend, and she had plans to attack. This was her system, and she was the only one writing the protocols and procedures. She could play as hard and heavy as the black-netters, the spark-wizards and cyber-guerrillas. She designed her system to kill trespassers. Well, metaphorically.

The shed wasn’t quite a black zone, but it didn’t get good coverage, and she didn’t want to set up an easily seen phone tower. It would be too traceable if she did have one, and she had her own way of doing things. The dongle. And using the double-helix wind generators as backup to the high-density PV cells and the new zinc bromide-gel deep cycle battery bank for storage meant she could be up and running the whole system for at least four hours each day.

When the system had been through a full round of maximum capacity and boundary tests, she would consider the addition of a lightning rod with a trickle feed-in to another set of batteries. As back up.

She set up the server farm to connect remotely – through dongle as aerial; no dongle, no connection – and the link on the trig point to the east of her farm. The trig was well above the tree line, and had perfect line of sight down into the flat plains of the city. The link would use an alternate laser-driven chaos pattern – one she devised – to connect to the world through the existing phone towers, but never the same more than once in ten to the power of three cycles, and never using the same pattern more than one in eleven to the power of four times. And every path had an access red-light process that required not just a password, but a password generated for each side of the cube in the right pattern and with the right time lapse between each entry. Four dimensions of protection.

 

The LED lantern shone blue-white against the sandstone blocks of the path. Her feet slapped against them as she strode toward the door. All her hardware was functioning within parameters; all the security activated on the server farm alarms. Time to go to work.

Van had to watch her step. The tractor was backed in closer to the stairs than she liked. The implements and attachments laid about or leaning up against the wheels were death traps. The shed was cluttered, over-crowded. Things piled up and in the way. She had rules about planning and preparation and consistency; about work patterns for productive outcomes. She hated having to look for things because someone didn’t put them in their appropriate place.

The boots lined up against the timber rack next to the door caught her attention. Redback boots. She didn’t have Redback boots. Where had they come from? Her boots were Rossi. A dirty Akubra hat – not hers; she had a stiff canvas hat, well-shaped. A black Drizabone. Hers was brown. Rubber Wellington boots, one pair red with a black trim, the other pair black with a red trim. Several shirts, red and blue checks. Not Van’s. She wore fine-woven cotton, or a cotton-silk. Van cleaned and brushed her work gloves after every use. Two pairs, not hers, curled in the shape of a hand and sprawled on the wheel arch of the tractor. Someone had been in her space.


An excerpt from a novel, copyright Cage Dunn 2016.

The Answer

Why are you doing it? I was asked (topic: the presentation next week). Why, indeed.

The shortest and simplest reason is because I wasted so much time and effort trying to learn something everyone seemed to think every writer knows without thinking about it – structure. After all, there’s the 3 acts, the Aristotle’s incline, the beat sheet, the story board, the chain of events, the snowflake method. What I’ve learned in the last year is that all these methodologies can be exceptionally vague in the way they try to spread the word (or is it that it’s too many things to different people?) about structure but can be vague and don’t make it quite as clear as it needs to be – and because structure is 80% of the work in the first stage of ‘a good story well-told’ I consider it absolutely necessary to share what I’ve learned. And I learned it by doing it, by doing it again and again and again until I understood, quite clearly, what it meant. And how to adapt it to how I work best. If I had known about it before …

It, in this case, is structure. Not that it ever seems to be called story structure. Other things, like Outline, Incline, Snowflake, Journey, Chain of Events, Beat Sheet, Story-board, and the big one – the three Act paradigm.

But it’s both more and less than all of the above – which, by the way, are methodologies, not an end in themselves. They are a beginning, a preparation for story, not a plan.

Worse, when you read up on these methods, the words become more and more vague and less elemental (except recently, and only few). And structure is more, much more, than a few vague words that state the story must move through these stages and blah, blah, blah.

It is more than that. Structure is the defined base-plate that steps a story through what comes first and why; what comes next and why; where the big things are waiting and why; how to use these milestones/points/turns to leverage a story into a gripping and powerful tale that takes a reader through the flow/movement of scenes, into the skin of the main character and how he deals with the problems and conflicts – to the end.

That’s it, in a nutshell. It’s the basic 101 stage that should be taught in all classes for creative writing. And I’m going to spread it thick and fast and far and wide. Why? Because when I get too old to write my own stories, I want to read good stories. I want new writers to understand the simple things easily so they can go on to create mind-bending concepts and premises for their stories. I want it all.


There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft. And structure is as basic as it gets, the ABC of the language of story-telling.

 

I think now I know enough to help others learn it. This is my opportunity to pass on what it’s taken me so long to learn (those 10,000 hours of apprenticeship).

Anyway, short story long (that’s me all over), this is my paying it forward.

And my hope is that every person who attends the presentation next week will take the opportunity to do the practical tasks associated with learning this, and then pass it on to anyone else they meet who needs to know about it.

I want to give them to opportunity to pay it forward.

 

 

A Presentation

Next week I’m going to offer a presentation to a group of young writers. What I want to do is share what I’ve learned on my journey through the apprentice stage of writing – because it shouldn’t have been so hard!

boof-at-work

Looking for something?

I want to share how I learned to understand structure. Maybe I should put that word in capital letters, because it’s important. More important than having a ‘knack’ or a ‘gift’ or a good work ethic.

Why? Because 80% of the work that goes into story is polished and shined and pummeled into shape by using the methodology and options available through structure.

No kidding. I could’ve saved myself from retiring so many novels and stories if I’d understood structure.

Do you understand structure? Know what it is and how to use it to create a good story, well told?

This is the blurb for the presentation:

Structure – From Concept to Storyboard (an introduction)

There may be no rules in Art, but there will be no Art without a solid and practical understanding of Craft.

Structure is one of the elements of Craft for the Art of Writing.

Structure is: what comes first, what comes next, what goes where, and why; it is the movement of scenes – the action-reaction, goal-obstacle, who-where – through the story that takes the reader to ‘the end’.

So, if you want your stories to have everything leveraged to a higher level just when it’s most needed, better and more compelling milestones, more effective scenes that draw the reader into turning the next page, and the next … and the next, then you need to understand what structure is, and how it makes a story memorable/powerful/compelling.


And my resources: Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder (should be read first, to get a cool intro and find the categories for your story); Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks (read second to get a deep and thorough understanding). That will do for now, but Syd Field should also be considered an expert.

Why do I think it’s important?

Because whether the story is a cave painting, a greek play, a 3-Act drama, a classic book, a modern novel, a radio-play, a b&W movie, a CGI-chair-shaking epic, or a 4-D, goggles-reqd futurist movie, the story needs to be ‘felt’ by the audience. Do you think a reader, caught up in the moment of high drama in a story, is going to care whether the grammar is perfect? Or if there are no $5 words? Or that the sentences are long and drifty and dreamy?

I don’t, because when I’m in a good story, well told – it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the story and ‘what happens next’ and what compels me to turn the next page.

And that, in a nutshell, is why structure is 80% of the first work effort of a new story, and why you need to know it.

Are you going to be there?

cropped-header1-words

And what it’s based on: here.

We Get to Say Goodbye

A death, a departure, an overseas offer – some of the goodbyes said recently. Without the opportunity to say goodbye – what do we do? Pray, and hope they get the chance to hear?Leave the words unsaid? Write it all down, send it in a letter (email)?

Standing on the cold concrete and waving as the vehicle leaves the home base, that’s where the last one happened. Arms raised, mouths tight in the rictus of a smile, but the road moves on, people move on, life moves on – and we say goodbye.

Sometimes, it’s forever, and Granddad won’t be back, even though his voice lingers and his sounds linger and his smell lives on. Open the wardrobe and his clothes are still there, feel through the pockets and you’ll find the little notes for who wants what for Christmas or Birthday, you’ll find marbles that ended up on the roof of the patio (how?) that he kept as a prize, or the eye of the favourite doll that’s too old and delicate to play with, and the little piece of ruby that was lost from the ring/earring – but he found it and knows how to put it back together.

Never going to get done now, because he’s gone. Who gets to be the gramps now? Who gets to the the one with the big lap and the open ears and the wide wink? Who?

At least in the modern era, children are allowed to have their say at the farewell ceremony, they get to close the book with the words they can speak to him one last time. They see and they know and they don’t have to worry that’s he’s alone or cold or afraid.

That was the worst. Then came the departure, where it looks good on the surface, but just below is the rocky reef waiting to tear up the carefully laid nets of constraint. The wheels wait like a chariot as the belongings go in, carefully packed to balance and make the best use of limited space. The dark morning and cold air. The distant touch and words that reek of fear and pain. Goodbye, we say, we feel, we burn.

The wheels turn, the vehicle moves away, and part of the heart splits into little shards that pierce the lungs so sharply that it’s hard to breathe, but you can’t show it, can’t let it out. It has to be civilised.

Turns the corner, the last sight of the dark head that has been so familiar for so many years. ‘Goodbye,’ you whisper, hoping you’re wrong. Praying you’re wrong.

The final piece, the third thing – ‘cos it always happens in threes, right? – and the offer of a job in a country so far away they have lunch when it’s midnight here. The communication that has to wait for hours, that doesn’t have the zing of a conversation, that has a hollow sound over the e-talk. Too good to pass up.

So they go, and leave behind the scars. Some permanent, some fresh and deep, some self-inflicted.

We say goodbye.the rose

 

 

Is it Real?

The lives that come to life from the mind, that play games with every action undertaken until they get to live that life on the pages – are they real? Really real, or simply an imaginary expansion of a real-life event or person?

This is an easy one to answer because I’ve seen, and researched, the bubbles of interest in specific themes and motifs in stories written during a specific time-frame. I may have mentioned in past posts how I wrote a story in 1998 that I then read (not word for word, but theme and concept and premise too close to dismiss) the full-novel version by a famous author. It set up an automatic action in me (numbers geek thing) to seek out specific patterns in themes from publicly available writing, and guess what?

It happens all the time! A particular element of a story will be ‘shared’ by a glut of stories undertaken about the same time. Fact.

What does it mean? Are we all thinking and planning things from the same source? You know, news and cable and other forms of media? Or is there a bigger thing, an over-mind, we all hook into to use as our ‘muse’? I have to say, my idea02grey of a muse may not match what other people think, because I call it the ‘word-world-on-my-shoulder’ muse, and not a single entity, but a flow of hundreds or thousands of them, throwing out ideas and ‘what-if’ scenarios, digging at a chain of thought until I see the light of that fleeting flight of fancy.

It’s not the muse, it’s not the common media, it’s not imagination – so what is it? Is there really such a thing as an over-mind? Or a planetary being who watches over us and shares information? Is it how we learn? Is it something ‘other’?

An answer: who cares, as long as we get the stories, the lessons, the vicarious gift of living something [safely] through the stories told. What does it matter if someone labels the writer as ‘peculiar’ or ‘eccentric’ or ‘mad’? Living with multiple person/alities, who all want to put their piece into the story is fun, it’s interesting, it’s compelling.

Other people chase money or fame or family – I love, crave, and burn to find the new minds, the new creatures, the new way of thinking about a particular subject, idea, concept – until it becomes a story, which is always something to be shared.

[when it gets cleaned up a little, that is]


 

What to do with that word?

Choices, made in the heat of the [writing] moment, can be rough, okay, good, great or fantastic. Not really. Generally, the choices made in the flash of inspiration can be either cliche (‘cos that’s the quickest to come to mind) or good/great. But to make it fantastic, to buff it to the greatest shine, takes work.

So, here we are at the crossroads. Shannon Hunter and I are working on Equine Neophyte of the Blood Desert (Title subject to change, like everything else at this stage), and we’re at the stage of choosing what works best for that event, scene, purpose, section, Act, etc.

We don’t actually argue [well, not too much], but there’s a lot to be said for wanting the best. The trouble is understanding the meaning of what ‘best’ is for the story. Is it the best word, the one that says it clearly and in a defined way, doesn’t take any effort to understand the meaning and context? Is it the one that goes just a little deeper and plays more than one tune? Or is it the [who said this?] $5 word.

Now, I don’t mind the odd $5 word. And I don’t even mind the occasional one. And I have been known to use a word no one else is likely to comprehend if it wasn’t quite clear from the context. And that’s where I like the $5 words. In a sentence or paragraph that makes the meaning clear, defined and absolutely no doubt about it – from the context created by the other words that surround it.

That’s me. I’ve learned this the hard way, and as a reader. If I was busy enjoying a read and then found a word that didn’t ‘fit’ the context, I’d stop and look it up, or skip it and huff. If I looked it up and found it didn’t make a lot of sense for being there, and could have been another word entirely, a simple one that wouldn’t have taken me out of the story – that creates a bit of angst. Do you think I’d search out that author again? So that’s what I consider now when writing my own $5 words.

What would be worse is the ‘skip it’ action. If I do that once in a book/novel/story because I don’t understand the meaning behind the use of the word, I am much [much, much, much] more likely to continue that action until I get to the end. You see, I like to finish books, but the more annoyed I get, the more I skip – just to get out of the journey. I’ve had enough of this one and just want to go home.

The lesson in all of this? Having a discussion about whether to put a word in or not is the most important decision you make as a reader, and there is no more important person in the world of story words. And if the reader can’t get the gist of meaning from what surrounds the $5 word, please put that word back in the bank and use one that’s more appropriate for the real reader.

Now, back to work!

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Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The house was dark and silent as Van looked back from the rear laneway. The only glimmer came from the small LED lamp she had left on the kitchen benchtop. The only sign of life in the house. The only sign of grief. The neighbours would give her space, and time. The opportunity to sneak out the back laneway.

She used the shadows of dusk and the street trees to disappear, making her way to the school where the first name on Olympia’s List worked – as a music teacher. How could he get clearance to work in a school at all if he was known to police, recorded on the sex offenders’ database, a PoI in an active case?

What did it mean to have a police clearance if the person was suspected of . . . criminal actions? Criminal thoughts? Did the person have to be charged and convicted of an offence? Or was it that they were free until caught, innocent until proven guilty?

Not in her book.

Now she had a way to get evidence, even though she knew her actions were also not quite within the law. Not lawful at all. Unlawful. Illegal. Criminal. She was working outside the law; in her information gathering exercise at work, and with the tools she had purchased for the physical information gathering exercise she was on now.

Whatever she got tonight would be given anonymously. Electronically. Direct to several sources at the same time: police, employers, newspapers, blog sites. From an anonymous morphing IP address – she had created an untraceable private server, a Virtual Private Network, that randomly changed access codes every half minute – and she’d linked it to the back-door of the server farm at work. The server farm that was her sole responsibility – to keep it secure; to keep access secure; to keep out the bad guys; to protect the data it contained. And now, to protect her.

What she had done should make it extremely difficult to trace anything back to her personally. She had also set up a trace-alert to send an alarm to her phone only. As an extra, she’d wrapped it all up inside another pyramidal VPN with a double-helix vortex pathway with passwords required at each level. Ha!

The heavy winter cloud added to the shadows, deepened the spaces. Only a fortnight away from the shortest day of the year – early evening and already dark. People were still at work, or getting ready to go home from work, or picking kids up from school, doing normal things. The streets were quiet, the light showers and cold wind hunched people up, held them silent and inside if possible, huddled up in warmth and safety after rushing home. She would look just like everyone else: warmly dressed, kitted up for the wet weather, hidden under layers of protective clothing.

Van’s dark clothing, black shoes, her dark hoodie, her dark backpack – they all helped keep her invisible. Not black, except for the shoes, but all the dark shades of shadows: dark blue, dark grey, dark brown, dark green. She would be a shadow within shadows, a shade of movement, not a black shape within shadows. Just another dapple.

She put her hands in the pockets, one hand on her phone, the other on the new gadget.

The audio-scope was a small object, and with the lens fully retracted, it fit comfortably inside her palm. The fold-down antenna made a ridgeline along one edge, just slightly sharp, with bumpy bits where that, too, retracted to be the same length as the miniature audio telescope. She could plug it into her phone to record both video and sound, but for the moment, all she wanted to do was see without being seen, hear without being heard.

Life had taught her how to be calm on the outside, to present a face that people didn’t notice. One of the invisible people. On the inside, her heart rate increased, sped up for the potential survival requirement. Van smiled. Her eyes widened to take in all the external data. This was her mission, her task. For Olympia.

If something happened, she could plug the audio-scope into her phone, record the evidence, give it to the detective, make it public. If nothing happened, if she got nothing, she would move on to the next name on the list.


An excerpt from Moordenaar Copyright 2017 Cage Dunn

 

Onward

Would there be a dream today? Rozi didn’t know, but there has to be one. If she looked under this tree, under the leaves fallen into heaps, under the broken log – would she find one? Just one, surely not too much to ask.

One dream a day – the price for her to stay at the School of Natural Magic.

All the other girls in the school were well-dressed, hair neat and tidy, and they all wore shoes. Rozi didn’t have nice clothes, she had to take what she was given by the people who came to her mother for help. And no one could do anything about her hair – at even the sight of a hairbrush it went more berserk than ever and wouldn’t come down for a week! So she’d learned to leave it alone. Mostly. Sometimes, she’d plait it, but when she slept all the little ties broke loose and catapulted around the room, stuck to the walls and lamps and window. Sometimes it was funny.

Not today.

She needed a dream to be able to stay here. With her mother gone and the local villagers no longer willing to support such a strange creature, she needed a home. The caves in the hills and the creatures of the forest turned her away, told her to seek her knowledge in the training of reality.

And that meant she had to be here, in this school, to learn about the nature of true magic. Rozi hummed and whistled as she turned things over, as she shuffled her bare feet in the deep carpet of autumn things, as she called out with her mind for the dream to come to her. Please.

The giggles from the windows of the upper levels of the school were clearly heard, and she’d have to ignore them if she wanted to listen for what she needed, but it annoyed her. All the things she’d need, all the lists of things they gave her to find and do, and all she wanted was to learn.

To laugh at a novitiate was rude, by any standards of magic.

The first sign of the dream drifted to her nose. Food smells, a feast of fairies with the dense, sweet smell of deception. That would do. A dream would be.

Rozi picked up the tendrils of the dream and put a small handful of it in her pocket. She dawdled back to the school and knocked at the huge iron door, and kept knocking with the heavy gauntlet onto the gong until the School Head opened it. She looked down her beaked nose at what Rozi lifted out of her pocket and held up.

The grimace shifted and softened. The skin pinked and flushed. The eyes glazed, the nose twitched, then the body began to shuffle and shake. The dance had begun. The door opened wider as the tiny lights of the fairy castellians forced the arms of the Head to do their bidding. They laughed in the tinkle of mischief they loved so much, and Rozi followed them inside to show them where they could do their best work.

The dream was here, and it went to work.


copyright Cage Dunn 2017 – a work in progress. Maybe.

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