Dissolution

This is another scenario I wrote for my fantasy lit course, but I don’t want to give away too much about the context or prompt. Read and discover for yourself.

 

Emilia was still upset by the time Daniel got home from wherever it was he had stormed off to after their fight. She wasn’t sure how he’d decided to deal with his anger—getting plastered at the bar, perhaps? Or maybe just some good ole reckless driving to blow off steam and clear his mind? Whatever it was, she was sure it had been foolish and dangerous. That was just how Daniel behaved under emotional distress.

As for Emilia, nothing she’d done had been able to abate her own ire and distress. Her favorite indie album, which could usually calm her and put her in a more pleasant mood no matter the situation, had failed her. Her yogic meditation, a go-to stress reliever and relaxation technique, had also failed her. She had finally surrendered and gone down to the wine cellar.

It had been months since Emilia had drunk even a drop of alcohol, so resorting to the stuff was no trifle. It wasn’t that she’d ever had a drinking problem—no, quite the opposite—she had previously indulged only rarely but had nevertheless made the decision to abstain completely in order to live more health-consciously. But she knew that tonight a glass of wine was just what she needed.

She poured herself a generous amount and took a seat in the living room, careful not to spill any of the deep red liquid on their pristine white sofa. When she had swallowed the last drops, she thought, why not have another? It wasn’t as if Daniel would be stopping after just one whiskey.

She could feel the tingling effect of the alcohol spreading throughout her body already and had an idea—an idea which led to her swapping her yoga clothes for a swimsuit (one that reminded her of the trip she and Daniel had taken last spring to Hawaii and thus only succeeded in flaring up her anger again), grabbing her wine glass with one hand and the bottle with the other, and settling into the delicious hot bubbles of their outdoor jacuzzi.

As she waited for Daniel to come home, Emilia felt simultaneously more irritated and more detached from the situation. She supposed there were some things even booze couldn’t touch, though it was helping a bit. If anything, she’d gained an understanding and appreciation of Daniel’s methods. The longer he was gone, the longer she waited in the hot tub, and soon the wine bottle was emptied of its contents.

Growing bored, she returned to the house. In her altered state of mind, she had come up with the brilliant idea of giving Daniel the silent treatment. He would certainly be surprised to find her intoxicated, and when he tried to question her about it, she would refuse to give him answers—a taste of his own medicine. If he could leave a fight unfinished and go drink away his troubles (when he knew she couldn’t stand this sort of coping), she would do the same to him in return.

She still had half a glass of the pinot noir left, and she arranged herself and it in the living room, where Daniel would see her upon entering. The sight of Emilia sprawled across the white sofa in that scarlet bikini, the towel beneath her not doing much in the way of keeping the cushions dry and her fingers wrapped around the stem of her wine glass, was sure to send him into a shock. She laughed at the thought of it. He would think she’d gone mad.

Her laughter continued to bubble up and spill out of her until she heard a car door slam outside, when she forced herself into stoic silence. This alert of Daniel’s arrival brought back the sick feeling of anger in her stomach—anger he had caused. Well, no matter; she would show him, and he’d be sorry about their fight, about leaving.

Presently, the door opened, and Daniel stepped through it. He didn’t seem drunk. She wanted to inspect his appearance for anything that betrayed where he’d just been, but she refrained—she wasn’t going to look at him in any way that was obvious.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him remove his shoes and coat and toss his keys on the entry table. When he stepped closer, he sighed faintly but gave no indication that he noticed or cared about the state of her. He continued on into the hall. Emilia was furious.

She stood and walked after him, making sure to bring her glass of wine along.

“What, you don’t have anything to say?”

Her sneering question was met with silence. Daniel reached the end of the hall and started up the stairs without pause.

“Really, Danny?” she asked derisively, following him upstairs. “You’re ignoring me? How mature.”

She didn’t mention, of course, that she had planned to ignore him, and she was keenly aware of how immature she appeared at the moment.

Daniel entered their bedroom and began to undress. Emilia stood in the doorway.

“So you’re just going to go to bed and refuse to acknowledge me.”

He continued to swap his day clothes for pajamas without so much as looking at her. She couldn’t believe his nerve. She stepped into the room and closer to him.

“God, you’re a coward, Danny. You know that?”

At this, he threw his dirty clothes towards the hamper in frustration. Finally she’d gotten a reaction out of him.

But instead of blowing up on her like she expected he’d do, Daniel stood abruptly and left the room. She scurried after him back downstairs and through the house to the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of water. He stopped short when he saw the corkscrew on the counter. She waited for his response. He picked it up and twisted it in his fingers, brows furrowed—in anger or contemplation, Emilia couldn’t be sure—then put it away in a drawer.

He leaned against the island counter on his elbows, head in his hands, and she stood across from him. A long silence elapsed.

“Say something, Danny.”

He raised his head, the look on his face morphing into one of resolve. Once again, he left the room with her trailing behind him.

She was so furious that it didn’t register where he was headed.

“I can’t believe you. You don’t even care, do you?”

Daniel stopped in front of the door to her personal yoga studio, his back to her and his posture tense. He paused.

“Em,” he said finally. His voice sounded strange, and she couldn’t make out his tone. She waited for him to continue. Instead, he pushed open the door.

He stepped in and audibly let out a breath he’d apparently been holding.

“Shit.”

Emilia glanced at the state of disarray she’d left her normally immaculate yoga studio in. In her earlier frustration, she hadn’t bothered to tidy up after herself and had even kicked aside her blanket and blocks—which were now strewn across the room.

“Yeah, shit. Even yoga couldn’t repair the state you left me in.”

He ran a hand through his hair and took off again, moving at a brisk pace.

“Would you stop walking away from me?” Emilia rushed down the hall after Daniel, who was headed towards the back of the house. He didn’t stop or turn. “Okay, I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t all your fault. We both—”

“Em?” Daniel asked, a bit too loudly, still striding away from her.

“Danny?” Emilia’s voice was quiet.

Daniel yanked open the sliding glass door.

“Em?” He was shouting now. He stepped out onto the back patio.

“Danny, what—I’m right here. Why are you–?”

She stopped midsentence, unable to comprehend was she was seeing.

Daniel was rushing over to the jacuzzi, frantic. She was sure he was still yelling, but she could no longer make out what he was saying. And there was a girl in the hot tub. Why was there a girl in their hot tub?

Emilia felt suddenly very hot and dizzy.

The girl—whoever she was—lay face down in the water, Emilia noticed as she drew near. That wasn’t right, was it? And Daniel was screaming and crying and getting into the jacuzzi and pulling the girl up by the armpits and still wearing his pajamas and Emilia thought this was absurd and wished he would be quieter he would wake the neighbors they hadn’t liked it very much last month being woken up at two a.m. but that had all been in good fun just laughter and squeals of delight when they’d decided to go skinny dipping and there was a dog barking now Danny’s screams were so loud he was saying her name but she was right there and the water was red the jets were off the timer must’ve run down there was blood and the girl was wearing a red bikini that reminded her of Hawaii and Danny kicked an empty bottle of wine on accident as he drug this girl’s body from the hot tub in his wet pajamas but who was she and why wouldn’t Danny look at her I’m right here why won’t you look at me?

Daniel collapsed in a heap at the edge of the tub, holding the girl in his lap, his back to Emilia. He was sobbing and repeating Emilia’s name.

“Dammit, I’m right here, Danny!”

She circled around to face Daniel, who was pushing the unconscious girl’s hair out of her face—but no, she wasn’t unconscious; she was dead.

And with a shock of recognition that was less shock and more of a confirmation of what she had already known but pushed away, deep down within her, until it was like she’d erased it completely, Emilia saw herself and remembered.

“I’m dead.” Her voice was almost a whisper.

Daniel touched a gash on the dead girl’s forehead, and Emilia brought her fingers up to her own, remembering the heat and the dizziness and her drunkenness and slipping—slipping and falling and that sudden pain in her forehead and then watery blackness.

“Danny, I’m dead,” she half-choked. “I slipped and fell. I was drinking. It’s been so long, and I had so much. I don’t know how—”

And the dizziness was back. The world was spinning, and she couldn’t talk, couldn’t breathe. Her vision went dark. The last thing she heard—and she heard it as if she were underwater—was Daniel’s voice—Daniel, who was in so much pain, who was sobbing against that cold, lifeless body he’d pulled from the hot tub—telling her, “Emilia, I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.” And she had wanted him to be sorry, hadn’t she?

But she was the one who was sorry.

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Portal Fantasy Scenario

Again for my Fantasy Lit course, we were given a creative writing assignment. This one was to write our own portal fantasy scenario after having read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and other short portal fantasy narratives. This was my take, inspired by my sister Becca and her love of bubble baths (my nickname for her is Beverly, since my iPhone always wants to autocorrect her name to this for some reason). Like my previous post, this short scene doesn’t have a title yet, but perhaps I’ll continue it when I get a chance.

 

It happened on an ordinary day.

Beverly got home from school, cursing the cold as she walked up the long snowy driveway. She kicked off her boots at the door and let her backpack slip from her arm and plop down in the middle of the floor, just like always. Her coat she threw over the back of the couch. And she went straight into the bathroom, like any other day.

Beverly had the habit of taking extraordinarily long bubble baths every day after school. When she was home alone, no one could complain about her using up all the hot water or staying in there for too long. She could do as she pleased.

This time, like all the times before, she adjusted the tub faucet until steaming hot water poured out, then reached for her bottle of bubble bath on the shelf above the toilet—only to come up empty handed and recall that she’d finished it off the day before. That was okay, though; she had some more in her room.

The new bottle, still in a sparkly green gift bag, had been a Christmas gift from her older sister Wren. Beverly smiled at the gift tag, where Wren had drawn a little cartoon beaver in the To field and a small songbird after From. The bubble bath itself was in a glass container the shape of a chemistry flask, sealed and stoppered with a cork. The label revealed that it was from Andromeda’s Apothecary—probably some weird hippie shop in Wren’s college town—and that the scent was Perpetual Pear, which it went on to describe as “a crisp yet smooth blend of nashi pear and honey with a just hint of lotus.”

Beverly saw for the first time a note in Wren’s writing at the bottom of the gift bag—she hadn’t noticed it on Christmas morning. It read:

 

Dear Bev,

To the Ancient Chinese, pears were a symbol of immortality. Honey, throughout the ages, has been valued for its sweetness. The lotus flower, in various cultures (i.e. Buddhism, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, etc.), symbolizes purity and rebirth.

So, if you use this scent in your baths, maybe Mom will stop complaining that you’re growing up too fast and wondering what happened to her sweet and innocent little Bevvie Bear. Also, it smells pretty.

Merry Christmas,

Wren

 

Beverly laughed out loud at this—it was really a thoughtful gift. And then she remembered the tub was still running and rushed to the bathroom, bottle of bubble bath in hand. Luckily, it wasn’t too full, and she still had time to uncork the soap and add it.

Minutes later, Beverly had music playing through the portable speaker—it was her bath-time playlist—tea-lights lit and spaced evenly along the edge of the tub, and fluffy pink towels hung on the rack on the wall. She stripped off her last bit of clothing and toed her way into the warm water.

She sank down into the bubbles, letting the water line reach her shoulders, then leaned her head back against the edge of the tub opposite the faucet. These bubble baths were the best part of Beverly’s day, a time when she could finally be completely relaxed and calm. And Wren was right—the Perpetual Pear did smell nice.

After a couple songs, beads of sweat coated Beverly’s forehead and upper lip—she could taste the saltiness. She shimmied down and let herself slip completely underwater, submerging her entire being in the soapy warm cleanliness.

But when she came back up into the cool air, something seemed off.

She sat up and wiped the water from her eyes, and then Beverly realized that everything was all wrong.

It wasn’t just cool; it was cold, like the window had been left wide open and the heat shut off. And it was dark. At first she thought her candles must’ve been blown out or splashed on or knocked over, but then she realized they were no longer there at all. The afternoon light that should’ve filtered through the blinds of the bathroom window had been replaced with inky blackness. And it was silent—no sign of the speaker or her phone that had been bluetoothing music to it.

Once her eyes had a chance to adjust to the sudden darkness, Beverly came to the conclusion that she was no longer in her bathroom at all. Nothing was the same except herself and the smell of the bubble bath.

She quickly got out of the tub and dried off with a thin, white towel she found hanging on a wrought iron hook in the dark wood-paneled wall—this was nothing like the slim silver bar fastened to the painted white wall of her bathroom.

But as she examined everything more closely, she realized it still resembled her bathroom in layout—it was just the furnishings and décor that differed… and the vibe. This bathroom wasn’t cozy and welcoming like hers; it was eerie. Still, the toilet was where it should be, though not as it should be, and the sink was to the toilet’s left, but instead of a basin resting in a marble countertop, it was a stone pedestal sink.

Where her dirty clothes had lain in a pile on the floor before, there was now a neat stack of dark folded fabric: simple but sturdy clothing, which Beverly quickly put on. She twisted her wet hair into a bun using the hairband on her wrist, which for some reason hadn’t disappeared or changed—perhaps because it was directly on her.

At this point, she’d come up with an explanation for everything: she was dreaming. She’d fallen asleep in the tub, and being in the water was making her have a really strange dream. But even as she thought it, she knew it couldn’t be true. She’d never before been aware of dreaming, and she’d never had a dream that felt like this.

It was all too real.

She decided she might as well go check things out.

She stepped over to the bathroom door, which, like the walls, was now of dark wood instead of painted white. The plain silver knob had been replaced by an antique-looking bronze handle that curved and had elegant embellishments, but nevertheless, Beverly turned it and opened the door.

Flash Fiction: The Fox

This semester, one of the classes I’m taking is Fantasy Literature. One of our short writing assignments was to – rather than comment on a passage from our reading (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, by the way) – come up with our own piece of animal fantasy. We were to either summarize what would happen in our story or write out the beginning of it, and I chose to do the latter. Since I haven’t posted in a while, I figured why not share it here? It doesn’t really have a title, and it’s just a short scene – but I enjoyed writing it.

 

As the forest grew darker, Meredith’s sense of unease grew greater. It had been two hours since she’d run away, climbing noiselessly through her bedroom window and escaping into the woods behind her house. After another torturous dinner with her mother and Richard—neither of them listening to a word she’d said or even acknowledging her existence—she’d gone to her room under the guise of fatigue and locked the door behind her. She knew they wouldn’t disturb her for the rest of the night, and then who knew how long it would be before they noticed her disappearance?

As she walked on, the long, black shadows of the trees seemed to be reaching out for her, trying to grab her and pull her back home. Meredith quickened her pace, and her backpack bounced lightly against her shoulder blades. She hadn’t brought much with her—just some warmer clothing, a water bottle, protein bars, and her journal. She never went anywhere without her black Moleskine, for she was constantly jotting down the extraordinary ideas and images that seemed to spring forth from out of nowhere in her mind.

In fact, just up ahead to the left she saw a flash of color that she couldn’t be certain wasn’t part of her imagination. It had looked like a trail of fire, appearing as if by the stroke of a paintbrush between two dark trees and vanishing just as quickly. Surely it was just in her head. This happened all the time—her imagination conjuring fantastical details and apparitions that could not actually exist—and habit made her pause to unzip her bag and withdraw her journal…

But there it was again: a red-orange blur. And it looked so real—it didn’t have that weird hazy quality and texture by which she’d learned to identify her mind’s projections and distinguish them from reality. She slowly approached the spot ahead where she thought she’d seen the thing, whatever it was.

The forest seemed to go still, and an unnatural hush fell. Meredith was hyperaware of the sound of her breathing and the crunch of leaves beneath her feet. She paused. The silence was broken by a whispery sound, though there was no wind, and she could’ve sworn she heard her name: Meredith.

She spun around abruptly.

Not ten yards away, in the misty darkness of the woods, stood a fox.

Meredith expected the creature to flee, but it watched her, unmoving. She waited, and a sort of stare-off began to take place.

Finally, after a full minute had passed, Meredith took a step forward. The fox tilted its head to the side, pawed the ground, and took off at a sprint.

Meredith let out the breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. She watched the animal go, its bright orange fur blazing through the gloomy forest. Just when it would’ve disappeared from sight, it stopped and turned back to her. Waiting.

She hesitated, then took a step in its direction. When it still hadn’t moved after several seconds, she continued toward it. The fox dipped its head, almost as if to say, Yes, that’s it. Come with me.

When she had nearly closed the distance between them, the fox took off running yet again. And this time, Meredith ran after it.

The Forgotten Words: a translated short story

This semester I took a comparative literature course that was a translation workshop. For the final project, I had to translate a certain number of pages of text from a foreign language into English. I chose a short story I came across online by French author Xuan Vincent called Les mots oubliés, or The Forgotten Words.

This was my first time ever translating formally, but I really fell in love with the process. My professor praised my work and suggested I submit it to a university blog dedicated to literature translated by students – and, of course, I wanted to post it here as well. This led to me contacting the author via email to ask her permission.

Xuan Vincent has read over my translation of her story and kindly agreed to allow me to post it. If you know French, I highly recommend you read the original as well as check out her other writings. You can find them at http://www.oniris.be/auteur/xuanvincent-706.html. Her blog is here: http://xuanadoo35.unblog.fr/.

In addition to the translation itself, I’ve written a translator’s preface that explains more about the story and the author as well about the choices I made as a translator. I hope you find yourself caught up Vincent’s story and enjoy it as much as I did. Perhaps soon I will translate more stories of hers and other French writers as well.

Here is my brief synopsis of the story (which is also the first paragraph of my preface) to give you an idea what the tale is about, and below are both the preface and translation:

Fabien Vannereau bumps into a gypsy musician from his childhood who offers the writer the strange and mystical gift of seven words. A bewildered Fabien continues with his life and forgets all about this encounter until many years later. Now struggling with his career, he is in desperate need of some source of inspiration, and the words start coming back to him and offer him just that. He ends up at a mysterious masquerade meeting in the château of a countess, where he regains hope for his writing career. But there is more to this enchanting place than he thinks. He will soon discover both the truth about the Countess and the purpose of the musician’s strange words.

Translator’s preface.
The Forgotten Words, translation by Rachel Daniels.

 

Short Story: The Haze

Writing “The Haze”

“The Haze” is one of those stories that turned out completely different than I expected or had initially planned. When I first started writing this story, I was dealing with a potential plot far too large to rein in for the acceptable length of a short story. I had plenty of ideas; I just didn’t have enough time or space to utilize them. With that in mind, I’d like to think of the final product as almost a ‘Part One’ to the story. I left the ending almost open-ended intentionally; while the story does have a conclusion that can be left as is, I could very well see myself coming back to this world and these characters to continue telling about their journey.

This story changed a lot throughout the writing and editing process. I had multiple scenes in my mind that I planned on using, but as I wrote, the story went in another direction. I even came up with a subplot involving the narrator’s father, but short stories just aren’t long enough to have that much going on. As for the scenes that only ever played out in my head and never made it to the page: when I wrote, I didn’t always know what was going to happen next in my story; I sort of just let my characters do what they wanted and behave how I thought they would. Everything ended up coming together pretty well in the end, and I’m happy with how it turned out.

It’s crazy how much of a writer’s own life unintentionally seeps into her writing. As “The Haze” developed further, I realized a lot of it was quite similar to my life, especially the familial relationships. I certainly didn’t set out to do this intentionally other than using a female college student for a narrator. I specifically gave the narrator a younger brother instead of a sister to differentiate the story from my own life a little, but still, resemblances abound.

Of course, in my actual life, there isn’t a harmful new virus running rampant. Being a huge fan of science fiction, the supernatural, the magical, the “weird,” and anything post-apocalyptic, I wanted my short story to exist in a world different from the norm. Indeed, my characters could exist in a normal world – their own world starts out just like ours before the spread of the virus – and none of them have any supernatural abilities, but my story still includes an element similar to those of the previously mentioned genres. Around the time I started “The Haze,” I had just started watching AMC’s The Walking Dead, if that provides any insight to my creative state of mind. Though I was inspired by this show and other popular stories, I didn’t want to write something completely typical of the genre.

I really enjoyed developing my characters, Jenessa and Isaac especially, and had fun coming up with the plot overall. Writing puts me in the same state of mind as reading a really good book does – it’s not necessarily a “high,” but when I take a break, I experience the feeling of another life lingering in my mind, a little bit like waking up from a very vivid dream. Perhaps I will write a ‘Part Two’ to “The Haze” this summer.

And here is the finished product:
THE HAZE

Repurposed Art: The Gardener and the Pianist


For my repurposed art project, I chose to translate a piece of artwork I did in high school into a piece of flash fiction. This piece, which can also be seen on my artwork page, is made entirely of white charcoal pencil on black paper. So the process of creating this was completely opposite to that of a normal charcoal; instead of shading and adding pigment, I had to work by taking away darkness. In writing this short piece of fiction, I simply used the room from my drawing as inspiration for part of the setting and let my creativity run wild. It is meant to be a portion of the room Mirabelle – and eventually Elijah – occupies.
The actual content of the drawing doesn’t so much have to do with the story I’ve come up with, but it was my source of inspiration. Also, if this is of any interest to anyone, I listened to Evanescence while I wrote (i.e. the dark melodies of the piano).
My flash fiction piece, The Gardener and the Pianist, can be viewed on my repurposed art page. I hope you enjoy it! :)

Rachel.

A Response to Byers’ ‘Shipmates Down Under’

Okay, so I’m not sure if we were supposed to respond to this short story or not, but I thought I would take a second to talk about how much I liked Michael Byers’ Shipmates Down Under. I was hooked after less than the first page – I think the characters’ odd language (“bluh,” “mumph,” etc.) was part of the intrigue.

Byers gives the reader a look into an average family’s life, but in an interesting way. Part of the tension going on definitely has to do with their daughter, Nadia, being sick, but a lot of it already exists between the narrator and his wife. At first I got a sense that Alvin liked his son, Ted, more than his daughter and kind of resented both Nadia and his wife, Harriet. This alone was enough to make me keep reading; I wanted to know more about these characters’ relationships. Toward the end, however, the narrator seemed to care about both his children – it was just Harriet causing problems.

Obviously, a lot is left open in this story. We don’t know if Alvin and Harriet work things out. We never figure out what exactly caused Nadia to get so sick. We never discover – and I was particularly interested in this – why they say those made-up words. But none of this really matters. Byers has used his story to look at certain problems families may encounter, particularly between husband and wife. His characters are certainly believable, and I, as the reader, saw Alvin’s perspective and took his side – but Byers allows the readers to do this in such a way that they don’t necessarily see Harriet as the bad guy.

The characters themselves were all very interesting and not the norm or the expected. The entire family was a bit strange, but in a good way. Byers gains reader interest not by having a spectacular, earth-shattering plot, but by creating characters the reader is interested to know more about. I would definitely read another story about Alvin, Harriet, Ted, and Nadia… or perhaps just another story by Byers in general.