Category: writing prompt

(WP) A Colorful Gift

               It
happened, for the first time, the night after his twenty-fourth birthday.

               At
first, Daniel thought that he was still drunk; there were blurred auras of
color hanging around everyone he walked past on the street, in every color he
could possibly imagine, and always in flux.

               It
persisted all day, and it had Daniel wondering if he’d somehow lost his mind.

               It got
so bad that when he went to dinner that night with his friends, he asked them
if he was seeing the colors that floated in clouds around the other patrons.

               “Do you
see them? The colors?” He asked his friend sitting next to him, and she raised
an eyebrow.

“What do you mean, colors? Maybe
you’re just hungover from all the birthday excitement,” She looked at him
intently, as if she was searching for something in his expression.

“I swear, I’ve been seeing them all
day!” Daniel said, taking a sip of the beer she’d bought him.

“If this continues, you need to go
to the doctor. Make sure everything’s copacetic.”

Daniel frowned at her, unsure of
whether to be offended or not.

Was she calling him crazy?

**

Daniel made a doctor’s appointment,
and the doctor declared him healthy and sane, but he didn’t dare mention seeing
the colors. Even now, a sickly, brownish-green aura surrounded the doctor, but
nothing else betrayed his mood.

He was sent away from the doctor’s
office, declared as healthy as a twenty-four-year-old man who didn’t smoke or
drink excessively. He toyed with seeing a psychiatrist, but the last thing he
wanted was to be committed for delusions.

**

A Month Later

Daniel’s nerves were so frayed that
he ditched work for the third time that week, and headed to the bar. His eyes
were bloodshot, his face pale, as if he hadn’t slept in weeks. Normally, he
liked to shave once a week, but he had several weeks’ worth of five o’clock
shadow. His hands shook like he was an old man with rheumatism; the bottle
tipped, and the yeasty scent of the alcohol filled the air. He swore to
himself, and the bartender quickly went to work cleaning up the mess.

Even with all of his notes, all of his
research, he still couldn’t figure out why it had been him who’d been ‘gifted’
with the ability to see people’s emotions.

This wasn’t a gift. This was
nothing less than a curse, a massive cosmic joke that the universe was playing
on him.

He found himself wondering if there
was a way to make it stop; he’d tried alcohol and pills, but that had been
temporary. Not for the first time, he found himself wondering if he should just
bite the bullet, take matters in his own hands, and commit suicide.

He never imagined seeing so many
colors would drive him so mad he was contemplating suicide.

**

(WP) The Lone Monarch

               The
hero set out for the castle at the king’s behest; he was dying and was desperate
to find his only heir a bride.

               And
being a knight meant you didn’t get to say no, so he’d had no choice but to
take his provisions and set out for the journey.

               It had
taken him weeks to reach the castle, even with the kind townspeople who had
offered to give him a ride the rest of the way.

               The
castle’s windows were bright with golden light, as if aglow from the inside,
and not for the first time, the hero felt a flicker of apprehension. There was
no resistance when he walked up to the castle, and found its doors wide open.
He could hear faint music, and bright laughter.

               Whatever
this was, he found himself wondering if he’d just wasted all of his time.

               But his
curiosity got the better of him anyway. After all, he’d come all this way.

               What
was the harm in a little investigating?

               Of all
the things Sir Roland had expected to find, it definitely wasn’t this.

               **

               The
princess he’d been charged to bring to the king was already ruling the castle;
the throne beside her stood empty. She was clothed in a gown in such a dark
shade of purple that it looked black, even in the ample firelight. Beautiful
and proud, she stood up, staring at him.

               “Who
are you? I am ruler of this castle, and I demand to know why you’ve come!”

               “Well,
Princess, my name is Sir Roland, and I’m afraid I’ve been charged with bringing
you to my king. To marry his son, you see.”

               The girl
surprised him by laughing uproariously.

               “Why on
earth would I want to marry someone I don’t even know? Does it look as though I
need a husband to you, Sir Roland?”

               “Well,
no, princess… But I’m afraid I have my orders.”

               “You
can try taking me against my will,” The princess retorted, smirking, “but I don’t
think you’ll have much luck. My creatures and soldiers will be on you at a mere
word from me.”

               This
princess was a fierce, feisty little thing, in a way that threw Roland for a
loop.

               But how
could he take a girl against her will to be married?

               **

(WP) A Mother’s Secrets

               To say
that Rhys’s mother was eccentric was a major understatement.

               She’d
never fit in, a newcomer to the small town she’d chosen, and the people never
let her forget it. But she’d been happy, at least as far as Rhys knew.

               He’d
flown back from college when she’d called him, saying that she’d been
hospitalized, and she didn’t know how much time she had left. The entire flight
home, he’d cried, terrified that he was going to lose the only parent he’d ever
had.

               He’d
had a month and a half left with her, and Rhys’s heart still ached. His mother’s
lawyer had called, saying that it was time to read the will. Now he stood in a
suit that was too tight on him, hands stuffed in his pockets, in a richly
furnished room that smelled of books, tobacco, and leather.

               The
lawyer, Trevor McCall, sat at the desk opposite, and his eyes were sharp. Rhys
had known Trevor from childhood; his salt and pepper hair and thick glasses
were a familiar comfort.

               “You
can sit, if you want to,” He offered.

               Reluctantly,
Rhys sat down, and the room blurred and bowed in front of him; when he touched
his face, his fingers came away wet.

               “Can we
just get this over with?” He asked finally, unable to stem the flow of his
tears.

               Trevor
nodded, looking down at a sheaf of papers that covered his desk.

               “The last
will and testament of Tessa Chambers reads as follows: I bequeath all of my
worldly possessions and all other assets to my only son, Rhys.” It was short,
simple, sweet, just like his mother.

               Trevor put
a small stack boxes in front of Rhys, one of which was wide open.

               On the
top of all of the stuff, something bright red and shaped like a rectangle
caught Rhys’s eye.

               “Oh,
your mother said something else as well: ‘I left Rhys a book, thick and red and
leather-bound. Under no circumstances should he open it.”

               Rhys
stared at Trevor, momentarily distracted from his grief by that strange
request.

               “I don’t
understand.” He said, and for his part, Trevor shrugged. “You and me both,
young man.”

               **

               Rhys
left Trevor’s office, loading the boxes into the backseat of his car, his mind
churning with questions.

               Why had
his mother left him that mysterious volume? What secrets did it hold?

               He
drove home and began the Herculean task of unpacking his mother’s belongings,
but try as he might, he could not get the book out of his mind.

               Sick
with dread and doubt, he sat down in an armchair with the book in hand, Trevor’s
warning still ringing in his ears.

               The book
was thick, and despite its age, the leather still felt smooth in his hands.

               Did he
dare try to uncover his mother’s secrets? She’d been his best friend, and he’d
been certain that he’d known everything about her.

               But
clearly, he’d been wrong.

               **

(WP) Tithes to the Dead

               King
Doran was named The Ghost King for the way he’d turned the tides of the war.

               The
spirits, enraged at their death, had tried to storm the castle and possess all of
the humans inside. But Doran negotiated for peace, with but one law.

               “When a
spirit walks the land of the living, bring not pain nor plague, only gifts.”

               It turned
out, though, that the dead were often rather imaginative with their gifts.

               They
started out simply at first: a loaf of bread, the last fruit of the harvest, a
few spare coins, a bolt of cloth. But then the offerings they gave only grew in
magnitude, given to them by emissaries both alive, dead, and somewhere in
between: precious stones that shone like bright eyes, heaping chests of
treasures, collections of bones adorned with finery, even in death.

               King
Doran’s bride, Queen Jazira, accepted all of the offerings at his side, but she
wondered privately if this was too much, even for peace with the restless and
the dead. After all, they were royal; they had no need of such pageantry. But
she knew how much it had cost her husband, to barter for this tentative peace.

               She
knew that nightmares from the war still haunted him; more than once, she’d
awoken to his screams, full of agony, his face cold and clammy with sweat. The
bodies of his battalion had been taken by the ghosts, vessels for his enemies,
and he could do nothing but watch while his men slaughtered each other.

               Wraiths,
revenants, the undead, all were summoned from the other side of the void, and
blood had flowed freely on both sides of the war. It had felt like the longest
two decades of Jazira’s life; she’d been sent to Doran’s court as a child,
brought up in the ways of her fiancée’s land. They’d married on the eve of her
seventeenth birthday, and the day after their wedding, her king announced that
he would be making an effort to live in peace with the spirits, on the condition
that both armies agreed to a surrender.

               And
that mattered now more than ever; unconsciously, she put a hand on her stomach,
trying not to show her nerves.

               Her
husband smiled at her, squeezing her hand, and she relaxed somewhat. He’d been fighting
for peace even before his father had died and he’d inherited the crown, and at
long last, it was finally happening.

               “It
pleases the crown that we have reached an agreement,” Doran said, his voice
booming in the cavernous throne room. “Is there anything you would ask of us,
other than our most sincere apologies for the bloodshed?”

               His
inquiry was answered by a series of quiet whispers, in a language that Jazira
couldn’t understand.

               “We
wish to continue making our offerings to you, if you’re amenable to it,”
Someone said in the crowd.

               “What
will we give you in return? Let it not be said that King Doran is a greedy
monarch.”

               “You’ve
already given us peace, Your Majesty. How could we possibly ask for more?”

               Relief
doused the rest of Jazira’s worries, and she was glad that her heir would live
in a world where spirits, the undead, and the living coexisted in peace.

               **

(WP) Dark Offerings

               He was
the seventh son of a seventh son, and as such, he’d inherited the dark and
inevitable sentence that came with one of the village’s farmers.

               He and
his family grew food, but it wasn’t just them responsible for it. They’d made a
pact with a dark, unknowable creature who rejoiced in bloodshed, pain, and
death. It had begun with their first ancestor, and as far as Silas knew, no one
had ever tried to break the deal.

               He’d
dug into his ancestors’ records, searching for a way out, and he’d never been
successful at finding one.

               So, as
awful and ugly as his duty was, Silas had no choice but to carry it out.

               He’d
tried with animals, with things that people wouldn’t miss, but the beast’s true
craving was for flesh, the fresher the better.

               His
latest victim was Katerina Van Horne, a young maiden who had planned to marry
the mayor’s son and eventually rule the town by his side. She was truly lovely,
and not for the first time, Silas felt shame heat his face. Her hair was in a
long plait down her back, and the setting sun made it shine like rose gold. She
was blindfolded; Silas thought it too cruel, for the sacrifices to face their
fate head on.

               No,
better that no one knew. He’d been charged with keeping the village’s secrets,
and he would take them to the grave.

               “I’m
sorry,” Silas whispered, more to himself than to Katerina. “I’m so sorry.”

               He left
the field, unable to watch. During those first few years, Silas had hidden
somewhere and watched; his curiosity had gotten the better of him, and he’d
regretted it immediately afterward.

               He hadn’t
been able to get the image out of his mind: a rail-thin man, with red eyes and
pale skin, and the man’s hair was even darker scarlet than Katerina’s. But that
hadn’t been the monster’s true form, and Silas knew it; even now, the façade flickered
like fire.

               The
young woman’s screams began and didn’t seem to end; after what felt like an
eternity, silence fell, as deafening as the death screams were a few minutes
before.

               Another
death, another month gone; Silas felt sickened by his own feeling of relief. It
was over.

               He
found himself wondering if this would be the rest of his existence: collecting
innocent townsfolk to sacrifice to the local monster; he felt dirty.

               But how
could he turn on his family’s legacy, regardless of how dark it was?

               The
monster slunk back into the corn, disappearing among the plants, and Silas let
out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He’d long ago given up on
unbinding his line from the creature, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he
was close to a breakthrough. There were generations of records, books, and more
unsavory things that Silas didn’t want to have to look into.

               Perhaps
this was his lot in life, taking life in order to give it.

               Maybe it
was too late to fight it.

               **

(WP) In My Time of Dying

               There
has to be balance in everything.

               When
Mara was human, she’d had but an inkling of how the world truly worked.

               But
then she’d died too soon, murdered for protecting innocent bystanders.

               She’d
been taken to The Pale, the place in-between, and a mysterious woman had asked
her if she wanted to spend her afterlife doing something worthwhile. No one
would know her name, after the fact, but it didn’t matter.

               “I’ve
been watching you, Mara.” The woman had said, her dark eyes unreadable. There
was something stern in her tone, something that made Mara squirm. “And let me
just say that you’re not the first to waste your time on the mortal plane.”

               There
were flashes of things that Mara barely remembered; small sins were always
forgotten.

               But
there was the time that she had stolen from her parents, all to buy alcohol for
a party she was too old to be attending.

               The
time she’d ditched her brother after his basketball practice to go on a date
with her boyfriend, leaving him to walk home.

               But the
first thing she remembered, really remembered, was fighting with her parents
right before she’d left for the gas station. If she’d known she would’ve ended
up cold and dead on the floor, she wouldn’t have gone to the gas station.

               “You
gave your life in order to protect others, the day you died.” The woman’s voice
softened, and Mara blinked at her; everything was all blurry, and when she
touched her face, her fingers came away wet. She couldn’t remember the last
time she’d cried, on the mortal plane and this one.

               “Who
are you? And what do you want with me?” Mara finally asked, wincing when she
heard her voice crack.

               “I have
had many names throughout the years, so many that I can barely remember my true
one.” The woman chuckled, and the sound was sad. “But you can call me Mama.”

               Mara
thought she heard the slightest hint of a syrupy Southern accent in Mama’s
voice, but she merely nodded.

               “The
real reason you’re here, Mara, is because I have been looking for a successor
for a long time. And I think that you would be perfect for the job.”

               Mara
blinked, staring at the other woman.

               “Here
in The Pale, I am charged with maintaining balance, not just in this realm, but
many others as well.” Mama murmured, and though she looked but a few years
older than Mara, her eyes held multitudes, and were so sad that Mara felt like
weeping again.

               “But I’m
afraid I’ve grown old. And tired.” A chair appeared out of thin air, and the
older woman sat down in it.

               “Are you
saying you brought me here to take over for you?” Mara asked, her heart
fluttering; she could feel her pulse everywhere, and sweat began to form in her
palms.

               “In a
matter of speaking. So, what’s it going to be, Mara? Are you going to float
around in an endless haze of boredom and regret? Or do you really want to do
something worthwhile with the time you have left?”

               **

(WP) A Faustian Bargain

               It’s
finally Friday, and after a twelve-hour shift, I’m happy to head home. Maybe I’ll
buy dinner on the way, and my stomach grumbles angrily, as if in agreement with
my thoughts.

               But
when I get into my car, I can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching me,
and that feeling persists, all the way to the highway. I make it to a diner, and
instead of going home, I get out of the car, tempted by the aroma of food in
the air.

               “Now,
where do you think you’re going, son?” A voice sounds behind me, and I turn:
There’s a well-dressed man sitting in my passenger’s seat, his eyes glowing
like bright rubies.

               I growl
under my breath, and the man laughs, amused by my rage. He has dark hair and a
goatee, as well as a smile so bright it’s blinding.

               “Did
you really think that you could renege on our deal? It’s been almost twenty
years.” He continues, eyes narrowed at me. “I’ve given you everything you have,
in exchange for your immortal soul. And I’m not leaving without it.”

               For a
few minutes, I feel like I’m crazy; the deal he’s referring to, I thought it
was just a vivid dream. But Satan is sitting in my car, demanding his due.

               “To be
honest,” I say, looking into those bright red eyes, “I thought that it was a
dream.”

               The
Devil surprises me once more by laughing, so uproariously that tears stream
down his face.

               “You
thought it was a dream? You’re kidding, right? When right after that your life
suddenly became a movie?”

               I stare
at him, not understanding at first, but then the pieces all start to fall, one
by one.

               My
beautiful model girlfriend, Verity, agreeing to marry me on a beach in Hawaii.
The promotion that came shortly afterward, and the birth of our children. The
Devil made this all happen? For real?

               “I came
to you in your dreams because mortals are vulnerable in them,” Satan says,
waving a hand dismissively. “I knew I’d never get your attention until I did
something drastic. Normally I send one of my flunkies to do all the paperwork
for me, but you, kid… You’re special. You’re practically a poster boy for Hell.”

               I stare
at him, nonplussed.

               “I
mean, I’ll have your soul at the end of it, but don’t tell me that your time on
Earth wasn’t fun.”

               He isn’t
wrong; I’ve been gifted so many different things, even if they did come from
the literal incarnation of evil. My family will be taken care of, and I won’t
have to worry about anything else.

               But is
it really worth an endless eternity in The Pit?

               Regardless
of how I feel about it, though, it’s happened. And obviously, I can’t get away
from this deal. The freaking Devil found me on the side of the road.

               “Does
it really count, if you don’t remember?” I ask meekly, and something flickers
under his face, a glimpse of something dark, fanged and ugly.

               “We can
do this the easy way or the hard way, son. Your choice.”

               **

(WP) Dreams and Nightmares

               My
father used to be a fisherman and the ocean took him. Capricious,
unpredictable, the day he died the sea turned from a docile pet to an angry,
vicious creature. The waves pitched his boat like a toy, and he slid off the
deck, never to be seen again.

               I’m
terrified of the ocean; even before it took my father, it scared me to death.
There was just so much saltwater, and that had been before I’d realized that
creatures of the unknown lived under the waves.

               So, it
was only desperation that sent me to the docks, looking for work.

               “What’s
a little girl doing here?” A voice, deep and male, shocked me out of my
thoughts.

               “Please.
I need work,” I replied, feeling my cheeks heat up, betraying me.

               The man
was an old, weather-beaten sailor; he had a sly smile that was full of holes.

               “If you’re
desperate, I can take you to get trained as a Dreamcatcher.”

               I
stared at him; eyebrows raised. As far as I knew, dreamcatchers were clever
little devices that caught your nightmares, leaving you with only good dreams.

               “I don’t
understand,” I said, and he smirked.

               “They
never do, at first. So what’s it gonna be, kid? Are you coming or not?”

               I
stared out at the ocean, roiling angrily, stirred by the wind. But my need was
greater than my fear, so I followed the man into the unknown.

               **

               I
trained for more than a month before I was paired with an older employee and
given a mission.

               “Now,
this is dangerous work, not for the fainthearted. Of course, even cowards need
to eat,” Ben, my partner, joked, his smile sliding off of his face at my expression.

               “I
know, Ben.”

               “Nah,
kid, you won’t know. Not until you’ve experienced it yourself.”

               Between
Ben, and the sailor, Captain Reynolds, I’d heard so many variations of that
same lecture.

               Be
careful. Nightmares and dreams are both tricky, just in different ways.

               But
I didn’t know exactly what that meant, not until afterward.

               **

               The sea
that night was oddly calm, as smooth as a gigantic pane of glass. The hairs on
the back of my neck prickled, but I clenched my fists, not wanting to reveal my
discomfort.

               “Here’s
a tip, kid. No one is allowed to go out alone. It’s way too dangerous. We’ve
lost some of our most experienced Dreamcatchers that way.”

               I
nodded, my eyes on the waves. Even with the light of the full moon, it was
nearly impossible to see.

               Then I
saw the lights dancing under the water, clashing and then coming together, then
smashing into one another again. The captain stood at the ready; he insisted on
coming, the better to watch me learn in action.

               “We’ll
see which one wins. Then we’ll sedate, label, and separate them.”

               I
looked at Ben, frowning, not sure what he meant by that.

               Then
the lights came up from the water, and I realized that they were shaped like
humanoids. One was a bright, searing gold, and the other was a dark violet that
was closer to black than purple.

               “Ready,
kid? Let’s get your first mission off the books!”

               **

(WP) Liquid Courage

               “Are
you a spineless scaredy-cat? Sick of being afraid of everything? Well, stick
around, folks, because we’ve got an effective, low-cost solution!”

               I’m
dealing with another bout of insomnia when the commercial comes on, sometime in
the early morning hours. Despite myself, my interest is piqued when I watch a
scared young man take a shot of something amber-colored. He grins, smacking his
lips.

               “I’m
here with this young man to show you how Liquid Courage works, and let me tell
you, everyone, it’s extraordinary!”

               I watch
the man who took the alcohol, and his smile widens. His stance adjusts and his
posture changes, until he stands to his full height, and he smiles. “I feel great!
All warm and bubbly.”

               “See,
son? They don’t call it Liquid Courage for nothing! Thank you for assisting me
with today’s promotion. I’ve got a surprise for you, kiddo!” The host flashes a
thousand-watt smile, his teeth bright white.

               A young
woman is brought out, and the man smiles down at her. “Alice! I’ve got an
important question to ask you! I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and
I think we should get married! Well, what do you say? Will you make me the
happiest man in the world by agreeing to be my wife?”

               She
stares at him, her jaw dropping. “Are you serious, Teddy? You want to get
married?”

               “Yes,
Alice! And it’s all thanks to Liquid Courage!”

               Despite
myself, I find myself wondering if that magical drink could help me face my fears,
or even do away with them entirely.

               **

               I go to
the grocery store the next day, and before I can change my mind, I find a
display, putting the squat little bottle in my cart. I see tiny print on the
side, but I don’t pay it any mind. I just want to get my groceries and go home,
wondering if this is my generation’s version of snake oil.

               Silencing
my misgivings, I get the ingredients for dinner, and when I return home, I pour
myself a shot of this mysterious, magical alcohol. There are tiny red words on
the bottle, so small I have to squint to make them out. Warning: Do not take
more than one shot of Liquid Courage at once. If you do, you risk overdosing.

               How
does one overdose on courage?

I find myself wishing that I’d paid
more attention to the risks and side effects. But I take the shot, and almost
immediately, everything is different. The colors are brighter, the scent of the
food sharper, and my fingers twitch. This is a rush I’ve never felt before, and
the closest thing I can think of is the rush you feel on a rollercoaster, when
you’re blasting down a hill and your heart is in your throat, and on the cusp at
the end, you’re wondering if you’ll make it out of the experience alive.

               I fear
nothing now, and I can’t help wondering if I’ve made a dangerous mistake.

               **

(WP) The Elder God’s Bride

               When
the King heard that his daughter, the princess, wanted to have her engagement
broken, he was aghast.

               “You’ve
been betrothed to this man since before you were born, and now you’re telling
me that you’ve fallen in love with another? You’ll do your duty to this crown
and your family, or else.”

               The princess
looked up at her father, eyes narrowed, lips twisted in a stubborn pout.

               “Don’t
I matter? Don’t I get a choice? You don’t even know who he is!”

               “All
the better, child.” The King grumbled. “I’ll not have my only child being
married off to a commoner—”

               “He’s
not common, Father! In fact, he is a god! He rules a land far away from here,
and I will be his bride! Please, I love him, he told me he’d give you and
Mother anything if you just gave him my hand in marriage—”

               “Enough!”
The King boomed. “I’ll meet this man, and then I will decide if I will break
your engagement to the Prince of the Night Queendom. Putting years of diplomacy
and chivalry at risk, all because of your selfishness.”

               Privately,
the princess thought this was a tad harsh. After all, times were becoming more
modern, and she didn’t belong to her father or her betrothed. She was her own
person, and she would choose the course of her life, her station be damned.
Without waiting to be dismissed, the princess fled, burning with anger.

               **

               Her
beloved was waiting for her in her chambers; he’d told her that his power was
extraordinary and near incontrollable, and on this plane, he’d had no choice
but to take a vessel.

               “Don’t
worry, my darling. You’ll see my true form after we are wed, after we return to
my dimension.”

               Of all
people, he’d chosen her childhood best friend, Jax Tarn, as his vessel. Even
now he sat on her bed, reading a book.

               “My
father says that he’ll only consider breaking the engagement to the prince if
he meets you and you impress him. But I don’t want to be married to a complete
stranger!”

               The
princess had to resist the childish urge to throw a tantrum, to scream and
shout that it wasn’t fair, over and over again.

               “Does
your father know this man?” He asked, gesturing to his own body, and the
princess smiled faintly.

               “Yes. His
name is Jax Tarn, a knight who has served my father for years.”

               “All we
have to do is explain the situation, and I’m sure he’ll agree. If he doesn’t, I’ll
just use my power to imprison him when we go home.” There was a faint note of
longing in his voice. “And if he still doesn’t agree, I’ll force him to watch
as we marry, and then I will give him to my children as an offering. It will be
all right, my love. You’ll see.”

               **