Room to Write’s prompt for exercise “Inside Out” - Describe a place impossible to enter; the center of an erupting volcano, the fifth dimension. Turn the experience inside out. Let your imagination float and anchor it to what is feasible.
See if you can guess what it is I’m describing.
It is dark like night, and understandably cold. I stand atop a crisp, flat expanse of land, dusky green but for the lines of silver shot through at precise, deliberate angles.
In the air I smell faint traces of ozone or other remnants of explosive reaction. There is a sense of active travel here, though not by human feet. It is the travel of tiny particles, through the ground and through the air, and a dry wind blows across my face from somewhere far away, bringing with it a volley of dust to fill my lungs and drop me to my knees, coughing.
I hear clicks and whirrs, piercing beeps and low, insectile buzzing. All the while, softly, as if halfway imagined, I hear a tap-tap-tapping, somewhere in the direction of the sky. Though it is a familiar sound, I cannot exactly place it, and the rhythm finds its way like a persistent worm into my ear and wraps itself around my brain.
So familiar, yet so alien. Almost as if a dream given life.
I hear voices, too, without a doubt human, though they are layered on top of one another like leaves in a wet pile. They stick together, become one lump, and then break apart at odd intervals. Some sing jingles, some scream, some are intertwined with instruments that shift and blend and distort. I am at a loss.
There is nothing here for me to lift, nothing to taste. It is all smooth, dark expanse interspersed with silver lines and ridged square bumps here and there. Occasionally small, round nodes stick up from the ground in geometric patterns like the avant garde artwork of an alien civilization. Still, something strikes me as familiar. Something I have seen before lurks here just below the surface, something so commonplace that it would make sense to forget it as thoroughly as I have. Something I may have seen or experienced a thousand times, ingrained into myself so that it only lurks now in the farthest recesses of my mind.
I turn my face heavenward, towards the rhythmic tapping, and realize. But it is impossible...
I picked up a neat new writing prompts book called The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer. It’s a neat book, exceptionally creative, complete with full-color graphics and odd backgrounds for each page. It’s a bit like a more complex Mad Libs coupled with prompts taken from fiction workshops. The book is designed so that you can write directly on the page, but being the anal-retentive book archivist that I am I’ve been typing mine up. I’m still undecided on whether or not I’m going to go from the beginning to the end in order or if I’m going to bounce around in my typical fashion, but I have done the very first exercise. It’s called “Circle Game”
I had to pick one word each out of three sets of four-word options, and then use them in an exercise. My choices were exorcist, garage and keepsake. I had to start the exercise off with the line Sometimes I feel just like a gerbil, running around and around on his wheel!
Sometimes I feel just like a gerbil, running around and around on his wheel!
It took a few weeks for me to convince anyone to hire the exorcist. I'd found his advertisement in the back of one of those funny comics magazines, the ones that make fun of movies and tv shows. Like Mad or Cracked, only a little cheaper. The ad was a tiny black and white square, not much bigger than a postage stamp, and it had a headline in large block letters.
EDWIN MORVACK, EXORCIST, SPIRT DOCTOR AND SPECTRAL MEDIUM.
Whatever that meant. I wasn't sure. But ever since things started rearranging themselves in the garage when we left for the day, I knew an exorcist was something we could benefit from. I wasn't much concerned with the rest of the things he claimed he could do, so long as he could put an end to the poltergeisting.
I called off sick from work, which wasn't really so much of a lie as it was a slight exaggeration. The goings-on had really done a number to my stomach, and even though relief was right around the corner I couldn't help but feel the white-hot jolts to my stomach. Please let this be over soon, I thought to myself as I picked up the phone and dialed the number at the bottom of the tiny ad.
There was a hiss and crackle as my phone connected to another somewhere out there in the universe. It ended abruptly as someone picked up, blissful silence followed by a soft, dry voice that sounded like it was crawling out from below me somewhere deep in the earth.
“Yes?” My ears had to strain to hear it completely.
“Um, yes, is-is-is this Edwin Morvack?”
“Yes, it is.” I could swear the voice was smiling, faintly.
“Um, well, yes, I found your ad in a magazine and I thought that you could help me.” There was no immediate reply, so I soldiered on, in rapid and horribly nervous fashion. “Okay, well, I have a poltergeist in my garage. Well, I'm fairly sure it's a poltergeist. It destroyed an heirloom mirror my great-grandmother bought when she'd first been married, and then tore the legs off a vanity dresser that belonged to my grandmother. It's shuffled some other stuff around, here and there, but I haven't found anything else broken yet. I hear it start moving as soon as I leave the house but by the time I get back it's long gone.”
I waited. There was no other reply. “Well, um, yes, I was wondering if that was something your 'exorcist' expertise might cover. I'm really not well-versed in all of this spirit and ghost stuff, so I'm not sure I called the right person, but there aren't a whole lot of alternatives, you know?” I chucked self-consciously. “Is this something you think you might be - “
“I will be there in an hour,” the soft voice said. It felt like the smile had broken into a grin, but there was no evidence. The actual sound of it hadn't changed at all. And then, suddenly, my ear was full of the symphonic hissing that had preempted the call.
He'd be here, in an hour?
I hadn't told him where I lived.
I really need to make more time for writing exercises. I feel very accomplished when I finish one, and that sense of having done something worthwhile with my time can carry me throughout an entire day.
Exercises aside, I’d like to be spending more time as well on novel writing. Teahouse’s rough draft is completed and the first chapter (and request for beta readers for the entire work) will be released to Critters on April 29th. I’m hoping to receive some helpful feedback that way, though I’ve already identified several points in the novel where I need to add chapters to flesh out the characters. I’d like to expand the word count by thirty to fifty percent, if possible.
Rain has been a bit slower to progress, but it’s still somewhat of a back burner project and really always has been. I’m up to twenty-two shorter chapters with that one and will be resuming work on it in the next couple of weeks, after I’ve drawn up some ideas for additional Teahouse material. Two of my biggest personality flaws are my inability to remain organized and the flip-flop way I handle almost everything in my life. I flit back and forth from thing to thing like some sort of crazed bumblebee, and it takes me forever to get anything done. I’d really like to work on that a bit, maybe force myself to become more structured. I’d like to be able to actually see progress instead of having it come agonizingly slowly because I can’t pay attention to one solitary thing for more than two days straight.