Everything Behind You

Everything Behind You

You drive your truck, a rusty, blue F-150 that looks about fifty years old, through a desert night. It is alien, void of human life. You think that the desert abhors life. That is why only creatures too stubborn to care what nature thinks of them can dwell in the arid habitat.

Maybe the desert cares about us. Maybe it knows weak, fleshy humans cannot survive in its moistless environment.

Or perhaps the desert does not care about us, you think, just as its inhabitants care about nothing, and that thought scares you.

But regardless of what the desert you are driving through thinks of you and your old, blue truck, you continue driving. Scrubby bushes and plants with an extraterrestrial appearance pass through the zone of yellow presented by your one working headlight.

Part of you is bothered that only one headlight works. Your field of vision is now uneven, and should something happen to your right, you would be unaware of it. But part of you is too tired to care. You know you cannot replace it yourself at this moment, as you did not think to pack a spare headlight, and dwelling on the single headlight only bothers you more.

To distract yourself from the lopsided illumination, you look up. Past your bug-speckled and grime-streaked windshield, you can see the vast, vacant sky hovering above this desert that is alien, void of human life.

And while the sky is vast and vacant, it appears to be filled with a dusting of stars. But you know that it is only the vast, occupied universe behind it that holds these stars. The sky is quite empty, save, perhaps, for a feeling of… something.

You do not have a name for this feeling. You are too tired to search for one. So you drop your eyes from the vast, vacant sky and its backdrop of a vast, occupied universe to look once again at the single beam from your single headlight.

But you do not have to bear the peculiar, uneven illumination much longer. The pale asphalt before you lightens further as you approach the dim streetlamps of a singular desert town.

A faded sign proclaims the fun travel destination that is Yucca Springs, although the spray paint disfiguring a happily painted family causes you to suspect the message is no longer as truthful as it could have once been. Secretly, you wonder if Yucca Springs had ever been a fun travel destination.

You do not drive the truck past the sign. Instead, you stop and park the car, stepping on the emergency brake because you are close to a ditch. You do not know if the emergency brake could actually prevent falling into a ditch, but you see no reason why it would cause it either.

All around you is darkness. Not the blackness of an unlit desert, and especially not the pale dim of a wasteland lit only by a moon. But true darkness, the sort that hides in shafts of yellow light and creeps in the minuscule shadows of scrubby plants, and the darkness that you hear because it muffles and sharpens all the wrong noises.

There is nothing in front of you. But there is everything behind you. Every once in a while, you turn to see what is there. But suddenly, the behind-you is now the in-front-of-you, and everything has moved to the new behind you. The darkness makes the shuffle of your shoes on gritty sand piercingly loud, but the sounds of everything behind you are still maddeningly muffled.

Then, you hear a new sharp sound. It is not the sound of tires rolling over asphalt, or even through the gritty sand. It is footsteps–just footsteps–crunching through the scrubby plants towards you.

You turn to face to noise, and instead you face a face.

“Welcome,” says the face.

You do not say anything back, because you do not need to welcome them, nor do you feel very thankful for their welcome.

The face has a body between it and the source of the footsteps, and that body has hands. The hands hold out a photograph. Your hands take it.

The photograph is old. Or perhaps, it is new, and has simply been abused. It is faded in a bright sort of way that looks very dim in the darkness. But where the photograph fails to send an image to your mind, your mind imposes an image on the photograph, and to your eyes it looks just as you remember.

It is a photograph of you, in a place you once lived, with a person you once loved, with an expression you once wore often. You try to replicate the expression, but it has been too long, and you only frown.

“It’s the same one,” says the face with a body between it and the source of the footsteps.

You nod, because it wasn’t a question and therefor didn’t need an answer.

“How long have you been looking for it?”

You shrug, because you do not remember.

The face with a body between it and the source of the footsteps turns and walks away, the footsteps now sounding muffled.

Suddenly, the darkness changes the way it sounds. Even your foosteps do not sound sharp. But the sounds that once were muffled are piercing and loud. They are the sounds of things behind you that you will never see, like memories and things that hunt you.

Something feels like it is growing between your nails and the nailbeds. It makes you cringe to consider, but you cannot shake the feeling any more than you can shake the Everything behind you.

So you clutch the photograph and walk back to your truck, footsteps muffled, and step inside. You release the emergency brake and put it into drive. Then you drive through Yucca Springs. Between the street lamps, you can see that only one headlight still works.

You drive out of Yucca Springs. There is no goodbye sign. You wonder if the town could not afford a second sign. But you decide you do not care, even though you do, because you care even more about the Everything that is behind you.

You go into the desert. The desert abhors life. That is why only creatures to stubborn too care what nature thinks of them can dwell in the arid habitat.

Maybe the desert cares about you. Maybe the desert does not care about you. Maybe it wants to protect you, and maybe it does not think of you at all.

You wonder which is more alive. You, or the Everything behind you. Which one will the desert kill first?

 

Figgy Idol

Figgy Idol

I’ve moved on to Round Two of Figgy Idol! And not only that, but I made Top Writer of Round One with my story A Real Fighter.

But Round Two is giving me serious difficulties.

When summed up, the prompt told us to create a plot driven story in which there is a death neither at the beginning or the end that will affect the reader with the strength of the writing. The issue is that we only have 6000 words total, which means at the most 4k words with which to attach the readers firmly to the characters we kill off and leave to deal with the aftermath. And then we have to sew up the plot completely afterwards!

If that wasn’t hard enough, I’ve selected a crime story as my genre. Crime, mystery, detectives… I read very little of this as compared to other genres growing up (I didn’t have the patience) so it’s far from my forte.

Which is exactly what Figgy Idol is supposed to do; it’s there to push you out of your comfort zone and force you to grow. But geeze, I sure can pick ’em.

Anyways, here’s the summary of Haint. Although I’m considering changing it to A Real Witch to match my other stories.

Haint Blue paint is said to keep away evil spirits. But practical Sheriff Lance knows that no amount of Appalachian superstition will keep away the bad guys found in his line of work. When a girl obsessed with the occult goes missing, however, Lance will have to rely on the local “Granny Witch”–a young woman named Nona–to help him with the case.

Where his mind fails him, hers works wonders, and when her herbs can’t save a life, his bullets just may.

As to other writing, I’m extremely close to finishing Queen. That makes me so excited! It’s considerably longer than Beast already, coming in at around 80k. Whereas Beast is a mere little 30k in need of lots of editing. After some discussion with a few writing (and reading!) friends, I’ve decided to not expand as much as I’d planned and leave a little more up to the publishers. I’ll just be adding in the second part for introductions to Snow for Book Two, and a little more setup for some sub-plots of Beast and overarching plots of the trilogy as a whole. Overall, I’m really excited about how this is turning out!

In non-writing news, my family is still awaiting military orders on where to move next. We hope to know by the end of this week! It sure would make planning a lot easier if we knew what side of the world we’d be on.

Those are all the updates for now! Keep your eyes peeled for a Book Blab later on this week!

Blessings,

J.A.

Figgy Idol Round One – A Short Story

Figgy Idol Round One – A Short Story

So on the amazing website of Figment, some users are holding Season 4 of Figgy Idol. Figgy Idol is a writing competition that mirrors American Idol and similar competitions.

I’m lucky enough to join for the fourth season, and things are booming. My audition story–A Real Fighter–served well enough to get me into Round One. Today was the deadline for the first real part of the competition however.

The prompt was simple, but also infuriating. The focus was creativity, and the goal was to create a legendary character, much in the same style as Greek and Roman mythology.

Please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments! Even though I’ve turned in my submission already, I would still love to expand my abilities.

A brief explanation of my strange schedule lately: My family just took a vacation, so I missed two updates. I apologize for that! I also decided to put off my Book Blab until next Monday, where I’ll be reviewing Challenger Deep.

So, with that aside, I’m proud to present A Real Hero!

 

Continue reading “Figgy Idol Round One – A Short Story”

The Best of KISA

The Best of KISA

So I’ve been writing Knights in Shining Armor as responses to weekly writing prompts from Irene on The Inklings. This chapter has gotten the best response by far, and doesn’t require much knowledge of the world to understand, so I’m posting it here. Enjoy!

 

Aalina guided her horse through the woods, leaving the dark castle behind her. It was a terrible night to try and leave secretly; her horse’s white fur and her white cloak reflected the full moon brilliantly, making them far too visible. But it was tonight or no night, Aalina knew.

The horse–Veritas–gave a snort, tossing his head slightly.

“Hush,” Aalina scolded him. She felt like a weathered old grandmother. She looked like one too, even though her face showed her to be no more than five and twenty. But her body had a weary stance beneath it’s armor, and her eyes held a coldness that came with seeing far too much of life. Where her hair lacked greyness, her worldview more than made up for it.

And it was little wonder why. Though her body had a tired stance, there was a grace to her movements. It was the movement of a warrior, trained and seasoned.

The grim woman steered her stallion between trees, making her way to the main trade route between Bannantyne and King Reinhold’s kingdom. She was finally headed home, after this mess of a diplomatic trip.

Home.

Home was where a warm drink and bed awaited her. Home was where she wasn’t guarding the backside of an entire kingdom from the scathing Bannantyne’s. Home was where Reinhold was.

Yet, ironically, she never felt more out of place than when she was near him.

Aalina came upon the trade route. It was empty, the chill of winter not quite receded. She was the only person visible, a pale knight dressed in the ethereal light of the moon. A sword hung by her side, and a long cloak flowed over her horse’s flanks. Her dark hair spilled out of the helmet, her dark eyes staring straight ahead. Each clop of a horse’s hoof brought her closer to home.

Yes, this trip had been a disaster. Reinhold had sent Aalina in a final, desperate attempt to make peace between the two kingdoms. But Reinhold’s stance on magic was too relaxed for Bannantyne. Aalina had been as humble as possible, playing down their army’s strength and their importance in the world, but it had been of no avail. Reinhold was an immanent threat in their mind. A single knight could not change that view.

The journey home stretched out for several days. Aalina felt she was getting too old for it all. Perhaps her body hadn’t aged since the deal, but Aalina thought that perhaps the cold hurt old bones not for the aged structure, but for the aged soul.

And Aalina’s soul was ancient.

The trade route narrowed as she neared Reinhold’s castle, the usual paths taken by merchants splitting off towards large cities and not solitary fortresses. Soon, Veritas was walking through untended woods, muzzle straying from time to time towards a tempting clump of greenery.

But at one point, Aalina pulled Veritas to a stop. She turned her head ever so slightly, ear catching a noise on the wind.

Talking. Not too unusual, perhaps; this part of the forest was close to the castle. But one voice was very familiar. And the other not at all.

Aalina dismounted swiftly and unsheathed her sword, stalking towards the noise.

It was Princess Forestyne, speaking with a hooded man. Between the princess’ fingers danced a purple light, streaming like ribbons from hand to hand.

A thousand thoughts ran through Aalina’s head at one. The Bannantyne Kingdom would attack us for having a magical royal. Why is Forestyne not on the castle grounds? Who is the hooded man? 

They all coalesced into a single thought.

Stop this. 

Aalina stepped into the clearing, sword pointed at the hooded man. He was magical, no doubt of that. Stopping him would be tricky, if he chose to put up a fight.

“Step away from the princess,” Aalina said, voice gruff.

Forestyne reacted behind her, gasping or screaming or somesuch thing. The girl could never react to a thing usefully.

The hooded man stepped back, holding his hands out.

“I mean the princess no harm,” he said.

“Leave.”

“I only wished to-”

Leave, and I will discuss this with the king,” Aalina growled.

The man looked past the knight towards the princess, then vanished.

Aalina turned and wrapped an arm around the princess’ too-tiny waist and slung her up onto Veritas, her sword still in one hand. Aalina mounted in front of the girl, then urged the horse into a canter.

“Why did you do that?” Forestyne demanded when she got her voice back.

“I should be asking that question of you,” Aalina responded. “But I will leave it to your brother to pose.” She ducked a branch.

“Don’t tell Rei-” Forestyne began before the tree branch caught her mid-sentence.

Aalina galloped across the castle grounds before bursting through the main doors. Her horse’s hooves clattered with a ferocious noise on the flagstones before coming to a stop in front of the throne, where Reinhold sat.

Reinhold raised a single eyebrow up past the rim of his crown.

“Knight Aalina? Forestyne?”

Forestyne dismounted and left the room, purple skirts swishing. Aalina looked down at the king.

“I’m afraid I bring a lot of bad news,” she said.