Welp. It was only a matter of time. After hundreds of writing experiments, eventually I would have to find the one that would break me. That would stump me for weeks on end. That had me questioning if I should scrap everything and start over (…..or maybe not start over and bury my own head deep, deep, deep in the sand).
The premise? Simple! Pull three or four oracle cards to guide a story, then draft, revise, and edit it entirely on stream. My delusional ass thought it would take merely two streams to do all of this, because ??? We may never know.
It really took five streams, countless minutes sprinting, and a loooot of self-doubt. (How fun!)
Anyways, if you haven’t already watched, you can see it all unfold here:
And as promised in that video, I’d like to share the winding road I took on page in writing this short. We journeyed through the land of the Brain Dump Poem, a sea of Outlining Mess, and slowly but surely trekked through the narrowing This Might Be Okay Way.
You can find it all (including the history, I hope) right here!
And now, the final result of pulling The Man, 9 of Cups Reversed, The Escapist, & The Tree, may I present my short story:
Something Good & Strong & Brave
Every child born in Vesineeru dreams of being good and strong and brave. For if you are good and strong and brave enough, you may one day march along the lake’s edge. From there, you can see the glittering waters up close. Breathe in their salty spray. Legend states that a single wayward drop is powerful enough to grant women wings, turn mere men immortal, and the humidity’s always thick and full with this promise.
Before the march, Vesineeru’s history was taught only in spurts, for sometimes years were lost, taken away with the tide, or stolen by conquerors, raiders who wished to drain the lake of its enchantment. But since the march began, since the good and strong and brave people have guarded the water’s edge, daring not to touch it, daring to keep others away, Vesineeru has sprawled and prospered.
Protect our history, secure our longevity.
Those were the first words Pali remembered, perhaps the first to ever touch his ears. Or maybe the first he uttered, surrounded by family, who told him that one day he would be good and strong and brave.
Now as he marched, they were all he heard. Protect our history! The chants came beside a crescendo of crashing waves, the skies heavy with the threat of rain. Secure our longevity!
For nine hundred and ninety-nine nights, he had marched. Up and down the beach, around and around the lake. Sand in his boots, sand in his hair, sand in the folds of his arms where the sweat beaded and turned it to clumps. He’d endured bloodied blisters and sunburned skin, eye strain and heat headaches. But he was one of the good. One of the strong. One of the brave.
They marched in groups of ten, the next ten never disappearing from view, the ten in front of them still barely in sight. Uniforms of blue dotted the lakeshore, far as the eye could see, and even farther still, disappearing into the waters they protected, a trick of the eye Pali oft wished could be reality.
For the first hundred nights, he had felt good and strong and brave. The next hundred after, perhaps only good and strong. With every step, every ounce of effort he took to lift his leg above the sand, the very sand that threatened to suck him down, that beckoned him to bury his body in its embrace, he felt his strength drain, his courage humbled.
For a hundred more days, he at least knew he was good. Now, not even that.
Now he felt lucky to awake on his own without being rattled. To spare a single moment of solace, his eyes still closed, as he listened to those waters he swore to protect, as they rolled and retreated, repeated, repeated. In the mornings, they didn’t roar. They barely whispered. But he desperately wanted to hear their secrets. So he strained and focused, only to be jostled, poked, prodded awake. “Get up, get up! It’s time to protect. Time to march.”
During the day, he dared not even look at how the still depths glistened against the sun. He wished only for the Protect our history! Secure our longevity! to reverberate so loudly in his brain as to drown out the intoxicating, roaring melody of high tide. If he could not hear, if he could not see, he could not be tempted.
The day grew long. The sun seared. On and on, he trudged, their shoreline small, but their march never-ending.
His family visited once on purpose. On his second day, when he’d yet to march far. Then again, on his five hundred and first, a happy accident. Hands were waved, smiles of pride beamed, no words shared. He’d done it; he’d made it. Good. Strong. Brave.
That was the first night he shed tears. They’d been threatening to fall for so many nights before; he wasn’t sure what’d kept them back. And for many more nights after, they poured.
Now, on the eve of his one-thousandth night, as the skies stormed and released their chaos, no one would have noticed if he cried. But now there was nothing left to give.
The storm raged on as dark blue skies turned black. Pali collapsed onto his cot, not bothering to set up his tent. Weariness pressed deep into his chest, pushing him down, down, down, trapping him so he couldn’t breathe. No room to expand, no strength to move.
The best protectors marched for ten thousand nights, some twenty thousand days.
Pali’s body shook, but he couldn’t gasp, couldn’t wheeze, lest his linemates know, lest they witness his shame.
Nine thousand more nights to go.
Relief came only as his linemates’ snores overtook the thunder rumbling in the distance. Familiar, shallow breaths. The storm passed slowly, Pali its only audience. Dark clouds drifted with the breeze, a bright, full moon illuminating the lake. Light rain danced across the top of the mirror glass, its gentle taps lulling him into a trance, a siren’s call only he could hear.
But it was his own voice, this beckoning. For nine hundred and ninety-nine nights, he’d done as he was told. He’d do it again now.
A slight rumble and a cascade of gentle waves masked his cot rustling. No eyes gleamed after him.
He unlaced his shoes and removed his blue uniform, leaving it all behind. His body propelled forward, actions where his mind had yet to place the plan into words. Longing drove him toward the glistening waters.
Sand shifted under his feet, gritty between his toes. He lunged forward, scooping up a handful of the cool beads, not stopping his course. For the first time, as he rubbed the damp clumps between his palms, pressed them flat, swirled his finger, and made designs, he played. Nine hundred and ninety-nine nights, and never once did he think to enjoy the sands, never once did he see anyone else cherish them.
As he neared the chasm where high tide had colored the sands a deep brown, just before beach met lake, where there could be no turning back, Pali tilted his hand and let the grains drift back to the shore. Already his skin buzzed.
The storm had stilled the waves, but even so, a small trickle crawled, rolling across the sand as if reaching out for Pali’s toes. Crisp and cold. Tingles shot from his toe, racing up his leg, through his spine, electrifying and tantalizing.
With a long, full breath that made it past his throat and filled his lungs, he took another step forward. Then another. And another.
He couldn’t remember how he fell into the water. If he dove, if he flopped, if he waded until all that was left to do was swim. But now his shoulders bobbed in the waves, his body floating in its heavy embrace.
The marching orders had become his prison; the waters washed them away. Tension eased from his shoulders, from his jaw, from the spots behind his eyes. And he cried happy, salty tears as the tide carried him to places unknown. He slept on top, light as the reflection of the stars, as twilight slowly gave way to dawn.
He didn’t grow wings; that wasn’t his dream. He wished to belong to the sea. To protect its peace how he was able, and so his legs became one, pulled down by the currents. Scales shaped like the moon grew in place of his skin, reflecting the gleaming magic of the sea. As he took one last, deep breath above the water, his chest filled and weighed him down. He sank and twirled and wiggled his tail. He swam one way, then the other, shooting upwards, laughing as he breached the surface, diving deeper and deeper and deeper. His mind, finally, at ease.
It was magic he breathed in now, magic he breathed out. He became one with the lake, a new creation. Something good and strong and brave.
As discussed in my video, it’s not my favorite short story I’ve ever written. The ending arrives a little too quickly for me, even still, but ultimately I learned a lot from this experiment!! There’s truly no substitute for inspiration and sometimes an idea needs a little more ruminating before we begin writing. 🙂
Let me know if you’ve ever had an experience like this. Have you ever pushed your way through a story that was SCREAMING for more time? (I may have done this before trying to submit another short story on a deadline lolol, sometimes we gotta step up to that plate and swing even when we think we’ll miss!)
Happy writing y’all and thanks for reading! 🙂