It’s the end of the Ray Bradbury experiment! Rather than focusing on what I didn’t do (post weekly updates, ahem), I’m going to focus on what I did!
I wrote at least 28,000 words, read at least 30 poems and far more essays, and also realized that THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES by Ray Bradbury wasn’t for me, pivoted, and completed all of THE LOTTERY AND OTHER STORIES by Shirley Jackson.
I also learned to acknowledge when a story wants to be longer. For about a week, I worked on “Twilight Zone Inspired,” what I thought was a short story. I actually had this idea last year, a sort of weird horror concept, but hadn’t worked on it much. So it’s just been festering in my brain, occasionally screaming at me to scratch the itch and just freaking write it already. And this Ray Bradbury experiment seemed like the perfect time! Only the short story grew longer and longer and within 5 days I was staring down about 9,000 zero draft words, with at least another 3,000 or so needed to hit The End.
And Masterclass, by way of Google, tells me that this is, in fact, a novelette.
Which is fine and I’m very happy to have scratched the itch and started working on the project but it sort of defeats the purpose of the Ray Bradbury experiment. Being, in part, to write, revise, and edit a short story each week, in the hopes that eventually you’ll hit on something golden. Quantity will produce quality and all that jazz.
So, as you can see, I pivoted on September 16th:
I began working on “Superhero Supper,” which is at least a better working title than “Twilight Zone Inspired” bahaha. I won’t be sharing that one with you since I think I’d like to save it for something else – maybe a contest? – in the future, but after that story, I moved on to “Full Moon.”
And so, may I present to you, this cute funny story about some kids on a full moon:
Even though Vanessa’s neck ached, she continued staring up at the sky. She couldn’t look away. Dark gray clouds blanketed the night, hiding the stars. An eerie outline hinted at the moon’s presence, but it wouldn’t have mattered if the oncoming storm completely obscured it, Vanessa knew the moon was there. She could feel it.
“How much longer?” She called out, not looking away, not even blinking.
“Seven minutes!” Darrel shouted. He was the only one smart enough to bring his phone with him to the hill and it was the only light, besides the lanterns illuminating the village miles away, that the clouds couldn’t block out.
“Does it still, you know, happen? Even if we can’t see the moon?” Evelyn asked. “Like, will we still…,” she trailed off. No one spoke for a bit.
Their parents hadn’t exactly explained that part. Actually, no one had explained that part, or really much of anything. Not their teachers, not their counselors, not their big brothers or sisters or cousins or council leaders.
They’d been left in the dark, left to stare and wonder.
The autumn breeze cooled Vanessa’s skin, but drops of sweat still trickled down her temple, down her back. The anticipation was too much. Or maybe that was part of the change, the process. You get hot and then you…transform?
Vanessa heard Caleb’s loud gulp beside her. Without looking away from the sky, she reached out and grabbed his hand. His palm was clammy, but she squeezed it tightly. Everything was going to be okay. This was normal, natural even.
“Should we sit down or something?” Caleb asked the group, his voice cracking at “or something.”
“I’m crouching,” Evelyn called. “Just in case.”
“Me too,” Darrel said.
For the first time since they’d wandered out of their houses, out of the village, and up the long, well-trodden path to the forest on the hill, Vanessa looked away from the sky. “How much longer?” She asked again, her voice frantic now. With a final squeeze, she pulled her hand out of Caleb’s embrace. She wandered a few steps away, the dewy grass soft beneath her feet, before placing her hands and right knee on the ground, anchoring herself to the earth, ready for anything.
“One more minute!” Darrel called, his voice a little farther away now.
Caleb’s feet stomped on the ground, squeaking against the grass. Still a little too close for comfort. What if they changed during the change? What if Caleb became someone…something…she didn’t know?
Now it was Vanessa’s turn to gulp audibly. Despite the breeze whistling through the pines and the rolling thunder following cracks of lightening, Vanessa could hear her heart thump, her breath hitch.
The war in her mind waged loudly and it was only when Caleb cleared his throat again that she knew she had to run. She kicked off her sandals and pumped her arms, trying to sprint faster and farther, but then a cry erupted from her throat. Hers wasn’t the only one. Darrel, Evelyn, and Caleb cried out too, in pitchy pangs of agony.
Her bones became brittle, grinding and crumbling together with each step she took. The muscles in her arms ached, as if twisted and contorted in ways they never had been before and never should be again. Her eyes burst and her nose broke and her skin felt as if it was being peeled off her body in long strands one by one by one.
Someone should have warned her. Someone should have warned all of them. To the moon and stars and all their ancestors all around them, why did no one think to tell them it was going to be like –
The pain vanished instantly, the wails only an echo in the night. Then the hill was silent once more as Vanessa put another foot in front of the other in front of the other in front of the other and she now had four feet instead of two.
She glanced down at herself, long and lean, with the same black hair she was used to but that now covered her entire body, with a sheen that radiated the light of the moon. The storm had passed, there were no more clouds in sight, everything atop the hill illuminated in a beautiful golden white glow.
Vanessa slowed to a prowl before turning around and bursting again with speed – more speed than she’d ever known before – past her torn clothes and toward where her friends once stood. In the gleaming light of the moon, two large figures appeared, much, much larger than any human.
A werewolf…and a werehorse.
The werewolf crouched low, as if ready to pounce. Its growl was deep and guttural, and Vanessa slowed her approach. The werehorse whinnied, kicking itself up onto its back feet, its hooves displayed. Both had teeth long and shiny like daggers, though no doubt even more dangerous.
“You’re a fucking werepanther!” Evelyn’s voice came from the white wolf’s mouth. “That’s so cool.”
Vanessa’s tail swished and twitched as she got closer to her old friends, sneaking under Darrel’s belly and situating herself between them.
“I’m not mad at the hooves,” Darrel admitted. “I really just feel so…”
“Powerful?” Evelyn asked, as she lunged and jumped and rolled and lunged again, her target unknown to her friends but her display of strength impressive.
Darrel pranced around some more, circling the two of them, before finally settling down again. “Free. I feel free.”
Awestruck, Vanessa had no words other than to purr in agreement. As her friends leaped and ran and chased each other around, she reached out her front legs, claws digging into the dirt as she stretched. Maybe no one from the village told them because this first transformation was too beautiful to describe. No words could do it justice, the feeling of becoming the animal you always suspected was inside. The power, the connection to the rest of the spirit world, the absolute thrill of heightened senses. Vanessa almost wanted to cry. Instead, as if on instinct, she craned her neck up to the moon and let out a purr. A loud howl joined her and soon the neighs followed. Together they created a beautiful symphony of appreciation to the bright, full moon, until a disgruntled quack! interrupted.
Immediately the howls, purrs, and neighs stopped. The large, magnificent animals all whipped their heads in the direction of the foreign noise, only to find a duck. A duck with fangs. A duck with fangs waddling toward them.
Its face was tilted toward the moon still, seemingly eager to join. Vanessa looked back at Evelyn and Darrel, only just realizing that they had, indeed, been missing someone. She turned around again, her new eyes easily parsing through the darkness, but somehow still not truly seeing, not understanding. All she could focus on were the two large front teeth, almost unsettling in the way they hung from the duck’s beak. The duck flapped its wings as it approached, huffing and quacking a little, unable to close its mouth over the large fangs.
It nestled next to Vanessa, fluffing and setting a wing down over her paw. Realization settled in finally, forcing a choked chuckle-turned-chirp out of her. “Caleb?” She asked.
“Look on the bright side,” Vanessa said, glancing up at the moon again to have something else – anything else – to focus on. “You’re probably the only wereduck in existence!”
“Better than Mildred being a werebeetle,” Darrel added.
In a low whisper, though not low enough that the rest couldn’t hear with their new abilities, Evelyn said, “Maybe this is why they didn’t tell us anything.”
Tada! Anyways, I think with a little more time away from the story – say, longer than week – I could’ve wrapped that “surprise” ending up better, but I still love the heart of it. It’s silly and fun and fits in with Warlocks on the Boardwalk and my other yet-to-be-named goofy supernatural tales.
All that to say, I had a blast with this experiment. Even though the reading was the hardest part – because sometimes I just wanted to keep. on. reading. – I think that bit helped me the most. Especially poetry and short stories, which I don’t often read. I’m not sure this reflects in my own writing yet, but I can absolutely see how a whole year of following Ray Bradbury’s advice would help a writer grow by leaps and bounds.
(And I would hiiiiighly recommend Zadie Smith’s FEEL FREE, John Green’s THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED, and Terrance Hayes’ LIGHTHEAD.)
But that’s it for this experiment!!!! WE DID IT. Thank you so much for joining me, whether you participated too or just followed along. Until next time, happy writing! ☀️