Two for Tuesday Challenge # 24 — September 3 – 9

Flash fiction challenges such as Five Sentence Fiction has kept me writing and improved my craft, so I serve up some here every Tuesday. Since every one likes choices I’m providing you with two weekly writing prompts.  You can participate in either one, or double your pleasure by trying your hand at both. Submit your efforts any time between now and next Tuesday.

The Standard Prompt will always consist of a two-word prompt to be used as inspiration. The Non-Standard Prompt will change from week to week. Sometimes it will be a visual prompt, sometimes a first sentence or phrase, sometimes a scenario, etc.  The limit for the Two for Tuesday Standard Prompts is 200 words and the Non Standard Prompt has a minimum of 200 words but no limit allowing for more in depth explorations. Use the little blue link thing below to submit your link or leave an entry in the comments section.

Don’t forget to check out the other entries.

Here is this week’s two-fer:

Standard Prompt:
cellar door

You have lots of creative leeway. The limit is 200 words. The words can be used:

  • simply as a point of inspiration and do not have to be used directly
  • they can be included exactly as provided
  • or each word can be used independently of each other (for example if Death Row was the prompt instead of crafting a story about an inmate on the way to the gallows, you might write something like: Despite feeling like death from an excess of cheap vodka consumed the night before, Evelyn moved on to planting her next row of spinach).

 Non-Standard Prompt:

For this week’s alternative prompt use a simple child’s rhyme as a plot device much like Agatha Christie did in works such as Ten little Indians or A Pocket Full of Rye. As per usual with the Non-Standard Prompt there is no word limit (to allow for more in depth explorations) but there is a minimum of 200 words.

Write on!

I have begun to devote much my time and effort to a new “Work in Progress” so I might not be posting my own flash fiction efforts to my own prompts quite as often.  The opening of my new WIP, however, loosely meets the requirements of the alternative prompt.  It is not truly a stand alone story but rather the first draft of the opening chapter of what I envision as a YA novel.  I would love to get your feedback and reaction to what I have posted here today. Is this something that engages you? Do you think it is something that a YA audience would like?  Were you left wanting more?

I hope that you will continue to take advantage of my prompts and I will continue to check out everyone’s offerings.

ship masts
~ a story ~

(approximately 1,670 words)

Agates. Crouching on the beach, Gabe Miller surveyed the patch of wet sand as each wave tumbled in a new selection of potential treasures.  His dad had set the beach combing hook in him at an early age and Gabe had quickly narrowed his passion down to collecting only agates.  At least, that is what his father always called them; sea polished stones of varying size and color, but the rule was that they always had to be at least translucent.  The clearer the stone the more desirable he found it to be. Gabe would hold each potential stone up to the morning sun with one eye squinted closed to see if it measured up to his standards.

The bigger the stone, however, the more lenient he was about the clarity. The smaller stones were much more abundant so he would only pick up the clearest ones or resist all but the rarer colors.  His prize possession, the crowning jewel of his collection, was an oval agate the size of a good skipping stone—two inches long, an inch wide and about a quarter inch thick—that was half purple and half cloudy white. The purple half was nearly glass-like. It was that particular stone that had really cemented his passion of the hunt for that special find.

Gabe never purchased or accepted store-bought agates, at least not as part of his collection. He loved the search and the idea that so many treasures lay at one’s feet, free for the taking, if they bothered to take the time and effort to look. He also picked up the odd bit of sea glass but gave all of that to his mom. She was the sea glass freak in the family.  Gabe’s younger sister, Fiona, loved shells and to say she wasn’t very discriminating was a huge understatement. She would come home with a bucket a day if their parents would let her.

Their mother always made Fiona narrow her choice down to her five favorite shells and planted the idea that throwing the rest of the shells back into the ocean would give them a chance to grow and develop into larger, more beautiful, fancier shells. Fiona, being only four years old, was willing to believe that and would gladly dump her bucket of shells at the sea line, setting them free, without complaint.

The Miller’s Massachusetts home in Truro, on Cape Cod, was the perfect place for Gabe to amass his agate collection. Their house was not ocean front but they had access via a sanctioned path through the dune grass down to the beach. Spring was a great time of year for agates.  The water was still stingingly cold and quickly caused bare feet to go numb, but a light jacket and rolled up jeans were enough protection against the weather for a boy of 11 years.  The beaches were free of tourists that time of year, and at 7:00 in the morning he often had the stretch of sand to himself.  On occasion he came upon the odd prospector with his metal detector and sifter.  They would nod a greeting to each other and if Gabe knew the treasure hunter, would inquire as to his luck.

Two weeks earlier he had seen Mr. Quinlan on the beach.  The kindly but scruffy, gray haired, old man had shown him a corroded silver spoon and an earring that had a good sized diamond in it. “Amazing what people will bring down to the beach,” Mr. Quinlan had huffed. “My lovely Edith was smart enough to leave the jewelry at home.”

“Looks like a good haul, Mr. Q.  I hope that diamond’s a real one.”

“Aye, son. I hope the same.  It’d put a good bit of change in my pocket if it’s so.”

Gabe didn’t collect agates for investment or profit.  It was merely a pursuit of pleasure.  He enjoyed the morning solitude and the thrill of coming across something crafted and refined by nature.  Morning was his usual time. The low slanting golden rays of sunlight washing over the beach and the warbled falsetto call of sea gulls never ceased to enchant him.  He also had to smile at the occasional, sideways scuttling, sand crabs.  Their sudden disappearance into a small hole always tickled the boy.

The morning had been sunny, but a ragged blanket of clouds had begun to move in. He mindlessly whistled a simple children’s tune as he pawed through the chaff of undesirable pebbles for that special stone.  The song he whistled had lodged itself securely in his mind and he couldn’t shake it loose.  Somewhere he had heard that if you sing it out loud, the tune will be released.  Gabe gave it a try:

Row, row, row your boat,

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream.

Just as he finished singing the verse aloud, a wave rolled in large enough to force him to straighten up from his haunches to avoid soaking the seat of his jeans. As he stood there, shin deep in salt water, elbows hiked to ear level, he felt several large rocks tumble across the tops of his bare feet and he plunged both hands down into the froth to keep the ocean from reclaiming them as the surf receded. The first was a black lump.  It was maybe a waterlogged, creosote soaked, remnant of a pier or a chunk of coal.  Gabe came across them regularly and was never quite sure what the heck they were comprised of.  He heaved it back into the gray choppy water and looked at the other retrieved stone that he held in his left hand.

It nearly took his breath away.  It was as big as his father’s watch face—a deep glassy blue chunk worn smooth by sand, saltwater and the tumbling motion of the waves.  A hole had been worn through the stone near one end like a pendant fashioned by Poseidon himself.  Wedged into the small hole was a barnacle as if a jeweler had intentionally set it there as an aesthetic design choice.

Gabe carefully rinsed it off in a tidal pool and held it up to better inspect it.  As he did so, a single shaft of light broke through a small hole in the lint gray cloud cover lighting up the stone like a gallery display. The clouds quickly closed back in and the radiance of the stone faded as a thick fog suddenly rolled onto the beach out of no where. He could hardly see his hand if he held it in front of his face. He tucked his new treasure into the tight, small change pocket of his Levi’s.

Excited by his incredible find and concerned about the heavy fog, Gabe turned around to head back home. In his path stood a looming shadow big as a building. Gabe was disoriented, there had been nothing on the beach as he made his way earlier. The fog masked what ever it was and made the boy uneasy.  He approached it with a mix of reservation and curiosity.

When he was nearly upon the towering shape he could see bright colors begin to emerge, much of it was red with splashes of yellow, blue, green and orange. A step or two closer revealed a large curving prow of a boat that rose up and disappeared into the pea soup fog. It looked as if there was a kind of spiraled, stylized figurehead that stretched up overhead.

Gabe touched the side of the boat.  It was a hard, dense wood heavily painted and deeply incised with carved decorations.  Most of the carvings were strange symbols and hieroglyphics; an exotic, ancient alphabet perhaps. More of the carvings were decorative in nature: swirls, paisleys and other illustrations. The paint looked thickly applied but was smooth and glossy to the touch. There was no sign of wear or chipping or retouching.  There were no barnacles or seaweed stuck to the side. The hull was free of the white salt lines that generally run the length of most ships defining the draft of a vessel that at different times had been ladened with various amounts of cargo; some higher on the hull some lower.

The bow ridge of the boat had plowed up a furrow of sand as it had grounded itself on the beach, and he was now aware of the sound of waves slapping at the sides of the painted boat as the surf rolled in around the large structure.  The tide was already smoothing out the disturbed sand just like the incoming tide melts sandcastles constructed too near the shoreline.

As the boy rounded the prow of the boat he saw a save-all, a corse net much like those stretched beneath a circus trapeze act. It was draped over the side, the bottom edge of which was, sloshing in the perpetually ebbing surf. Gabe knew better, but he felt overwhelmed by a need to explore the boat. He wadded knee deep into the water as a wave pulled out and he reached for the rope net. The climb was harder than he anticipated, but finally made it up and over the gunwale. He slumped down to the deck suddenly very tired and just as he was about to close his eyes the fog disappeared and sunlight filled his face.  He stood and looked out over the rail to find the boat to be surrounded by nothing but water and horizon in every direction as a dream-like panic squeezed at his chest.  Gabe leaned out over the edge at the prow of the ship and located some deeply carved and ornate, gilded lettering that spelled out the name of the boat: The Merrill Lea. The last two lines of the child’s tune he had been singing earlier drifted back through his mind in a ghostly echo, sending a shiver down his back.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream…


11 comments on “Two for Tuesday Challenge # 24 — September 3 – 9

  1. I think it has a similar feeling to some of the Carlos Ruiz Zafon books I’ve read – YA magical realism that can also appeal to the more open-minded adults (or so I’d like to think). I would like to read more!

    • That’s encouraging. When my son was young I used to tell him “Boat Stories” Which would involve climbing aboard a boat and exploring the different rooms, the each of which would fantastic, enchanted worlds behind each door. This story will be about an enchanted boat and each cabin will be impossibly fantastic but there will be more of a plot line to this other than going from room to room. It is still in the early stages but I am excited about it. Thanks for your feedback.

  2. […] for a nice long crime-thriller novel – and it would – but then I saw this weeks “Two For Tuesday” challenge over at Andy Black’s and he suggested using a children’s song as a […]

  3. All done!!!
    Yeah, I’m getting faster! (but am I getting better? :D)
    Your second prompt inspired me to do something I was putting off and decided to incorporate the first one in there too – hope you like it, unless this type of fiction ain’t your thing.

  4. As regards your story excerpt here – I’m a bit divided in my opinion.
    On the one hand I generally like your writing style and it comes across nicely here, making it a good read. On the other hand the story itself starts a little slowly and made me force through the initial bit till it got more interesting, maybe a little rewriting could make the start feel less dreary/simple – if you know what I mean?
    One the one hand it seems like a nice set up for a young adult style adventure story and there are few enough with nautical themes that I’ve seen to set this as something a little different. On the other hand, the details such as the boat being the Merril Lea and based off the childrens rhyme the child himself sings, plus being so blatantly tied into the boats name and the plot… I don’t know, it feels forced to me… If you like I can think of alternatives/suggestions but didn’t want to just because as I have a tendency to do that and be lost in my wonderings then. 😀

    Overall though, my assessment is that there is definitely potential for a YA book in there, though it gives us too little detail of where this is really going to judge for sure. Your writing skill plus a basic setup thus far seems good and I’d definitely be curious to see the fuller premise.

    Hope that helps in some way.

    • Spider Thanks for the constructive criticism. It is a big help. I agree that if this were a stand alone short story that it takes too long to get started but as the opening chapter of a much longer story I thought it held together pretty well. This is an unedited first draft so I can certainly see it tightening up later on. Thanks for the feedback, I will definitely take a look at the name of the ship. Maybe that is a little obvious but we are talking about a target audience of 12 -16 years old.

      • Oh I completely get it, but as I said, I’ve never really read much YA and don’t naturally process things from that point of view.
        As the first part of something larger, this definitely has potential as already mentioned – look forward to eventually seeing the bigger picture someday! 😉

  5. […] really struggled with Andy’s Two for Tuesday Challenge last week. The non-standard prompt was really difficult. It’s a long time since I sang a nursery […]

  6. Oh that is so clever. gripped me completely. Loved to slow domestic intro (including Fiona and her shells) and bad weather is a sure sign of bad goings-on to come. Can’t wait to read your WIP! 🙂

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