Tag Archives: short story

Victory, or Day 30 NaNoWriMo

I did it! I did it! WOOHOO!

As of 9.30pm, I wrote 5,118 words today for the grand total of:

50489 / 50000 words. 101% done!

I had to summarise entire scenes so I could type the words THE END (which was deeply satisfying, I have to admit). This month-long exercise has been interesting – Young Adult is a genre I don’t usually write, but it has turned out to be quite fun.

I cannot wait to write THE END for my Malaysian novel next month.

For anyone who’s interested, here’s a rough blurb and an excerpt of my fantasy YA novel which I had to submit to the NaNoWriMo website for validation. Mind you, it IS a first draft and needs much more work. I would love for any feedback. (And yes, I know there are heavy shades of The Neverending Story here : )

THE BOOKSHOP APPRENTICE (working title)

Benjie has lived and worked in Bluebell’s Bookshop ever since he was abandoned on their doorstep. Now 14, he is determined to achieve his ultimate goal – to earn the Heart of Books. This gift will not just elevate him from lowly bookchild to a Supervisor’s position, but grant him something usually restricted to the nobility: the ability to read. Fate, however, has other plans. When famous bookhunter Jacobus St Cier recruits him as an apprentice, it is the beginning of an adventure that will throw him against bullies, dragons, bloodthirsty soldiers and tyrant gods, all in the utter confusion of growing up and enduring the determined attentions of an alluring, infuriating nobleman’s brat.

Excerpt

A guttural voice echoed throughout the passageways:

WHO DARES INVADE OUR SANCTUARY?

The corridor widened into another cavern where the row of pillars ended in giant statues of wolfentae guardians. Crouching as if to pounce, the two monsters stood at the entrance of a mighty doorway, their bristling fur captured in marble. As guardians go, these looked suitably decent for the job. Furry tails ended in teeth, claws dank deep into the ground, and currently their three eyes were narrowed in baleful red lines. One could see the reason why.

From behind a pillar, Benjamin St Cier watched with detached interest as a company of Southern Knights charged the gates of the Inner Caverns. Beyond those gates, he could see the unmistakable glow of the Scholar’s treasure – the culmination of a thousand years of civilisation, the storehouse of their wealth and knowledge.

The knights’ mounts thundered down the hallway to crash past the wolfentae guardians. Their bright banners danced in their wake.

“For the White Kingdoms!” the lead knight bellowed. “For Queen Edora! For brave Prince Byron!”

Hot white beams shot out of the guardians’ eyes and turned the entire company into an explosion of chopped body parts and ash. Limbs flew. Armour clattered to the ground. Elk mounts shrieked; one of them shot past Benjamin screaming, its great hooves thundering in the other direction.

The beams flashed again, and the air went sharp with ozone and other things wet and metallic.

Benjamin gave it a few minutes, to let utter silence descend and for the red mist to settle. Then he stepped out from behind his pillar to approach the guardians.

HALT, they said.

The young man kept walking, unarmed arms at his side, eyes on their stony faces. Years ago, the stare of those eyes might have paralysed him. Now he could not falter. He stepped over some knight’s helm.

WHO DARES INVADE OUR SANCTUARY?

He lifted a hand to slip it into his coat.

PREPARE TO DIE, THIEF–

“Oh, shut up,” Benjamin said, loud enough to carry to the ears of the guardians.

That silenced them a moment.

“I am not a thief,” he added, wondering if it was possible to hurt the feelings of a stone guardian. “I’m not here to steal your treasure.”

NOT…STEAL?

They seemed to have some trouble comprehending this concept.

Benjamin found his notebook in the left inner pocket, plucked it free, flipped open the pages. “According to our records, the Scholars of Pandora borrowed this volume – I Lost my Horn: A Unicorn’s Story, hardback, non-fiction – eight hundred and sixty seven years ago from the Library of Mt Crescent.” He tapped a finger on a particular page. “To our knowledge, that book has not been returned. I, Benjamin St Cier, official representative of Bluebell’s Bookshop and Acquisitions, am here on behalf of the library to collect this overdue volume which I understand to be somewhere in your treasure horde.”

COLLECT…A BOOK?

The guardians sounded almost cowed.

“And to collect on the fine, of course.” Benjamin nodded, one hand snapping shut his notebook before reaching into his other pocket. “We have taken the liberty of calculating the amount, which Bluebell’s – taking into consideration the Red Wars and two Ends of the World – have agreed to reduce to the amount of coin only required to fill one sack. We are not unreasonable. Here is my badge.”

He held out his forged badge of office while the guardians appeared to stare at it. He flipped it closed three beats later.

“Now. May I pass?” Benjamin said in a calm tone.

…YOU MAY.

Nodding gratefully, the young man began sauntering forwards. His heart pounded as he stepped over the remnants of bones recently scoured of their flesh. He kept his eyes on the golden glow of the room ahead.

To his left and right, the guardians watched him, almost as if they were trying to decide something about him.

Ten more steps to the door.

Four more steps.

Two.

WAIT, the guardians boomed.

End of Excerpt

Now I shall go crash a hundred years 😉 Night, night, all.

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

The Game, or Day 13 NaNoWriMo

I seem to be in a short story mood this week! Actually this was for a contest of 140 words, with a deadline I didn’t realise was for midnight of a particular day. By the time I noticed, it was exactly 12.02am. Ooops. So close, and yet so far.

Anyway it was 200 words too long, and in the end I decided to edit it and have a bit of fun with the story. A tale is never wasted in my mind!

Comments welcome, including suggestions for a better title 😀

***

The Game by Chris Kouju

The signs had been there from the beginning.

Yuzor was prone to impatience – swearing, aborted quests, constant fidgeting with the controls. It had the horde on edge. They could smell death in the air.

“Get in there,” I said, when I noticed Yuzor stepping onto the final battlefield. At my command, hellhounds surrounded his avatar on all sides, jaws lunging to kill. Yuzor dispensed with them easily, but no, he’d sapped too much of his avatar’s strength. He should have held back.

Hoping the victory would bolster his spirits, I sent in the Demagorge on a cloud of black smoke. The beast bellowed until the battlefield shook.

The avatar lifted his glowing sword and charged. As he did, we prayed it would be a good fight – one worthy of holding his attention.

He died the first time, of course. This was to be expected. The horde took pride in their challenge ratings, but I had other concerns. I watched for the signs of frustration.

He died again. Respawned. Tried again, only to die with spectacular speed. Each attempt, I could sense the horde holding its collective breath.

On the tenth try, I sensed a change. He was learning – honing his power, saving it for the critical moments. He jumped back when he should, knew when to lunge and where to slash at the Demagorge. He was winning!

I began to smile.

And then the Demagorge struck a lucky blow, killing him instantly.

We all heard Yuzor scream as his avatar lay sprawled beneath yet another game screen asking if he wanted to reload his last save. In his rage, we trembled.

Minutes later, the battlefield tore apart before our very eyes. Our world devolved to white, and I was forced to watch as my horde of hellhounds and arkbeasts were sent howling to the ether.

He’d given up. I cried out, but didn’t think he heard me.

Now in this blackness I must wait, alone, for the day he installs us in his heart – and hard drive – again.

END

NaNoWriMo Report Card

22564 / 50000 words. 45% done!

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Filed under Books, Computer Games, Fantasy, Novel, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

A Kitchen Tale, or Day 12 NaNoWriMo

For some reason, I decided to write this as a story! Hope you enjoy 🙂

***

Saturday night. Tonight something feels different.

Tonight when I slip on that apron stiff with grime, I feel a sense of calm. The kitchen is still the same, the staff jabbering in a language I don’t understand as they fetch orders and prawns and onions and sauces in a bustle that doesn’t  include me.

There is only myself, and that sink and mountain of dishes.

As usual the gloves are far too big, but I’ve taken to wrapping rubber bands around my wrists to lessen the amount of water seeping down to my fingers. I make sure the bands are not too tight, yet not too loose. It’s not nearly as effective keeping my hand dry as the small sized gloves I bought last week, but those had ripped by the end of the night.

I would manage. I had learned and brought with me a long glass of water, and Monica has made me a warm malt drink. The sugar there would be a lovely boost of energy in these four hours of washing.

After a week of despair, I was eager to test my new system. I fill both sinks with hot water, and make sure not to pour in too much soap.

First, clear the dishes brought in by the waiting staff, especially if these have already reached the height of your head.

Pour unfinished soups into a bucket, wipe rubbish into the bin. Then organise dirty dishes according to their own species, to make it easier for mass washing.

Chopsticks in one tub, Chinese spoons and utensils in another.

Ten types of plates, five types of bowls. An insane amount of bowls. I can never get rid of the bowls no matter how furiously I wash, so I’ve learnt not to panic when they pile up like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The trick is to first wash the ones they want.

“Christi-naaah! I need spoons!”

“Christi-naaah! I need this plate!”

The heat kills the grease, and I leave dirty dishes in the sink of water and detergent for the heat to work on it, while I wash other dishes in the rinsing sink. Then, in they go on one of two drying racks.

Time to clear the dishes off the other rack. That’s when I rip off my gloves, to give my fingers – swollen and white and soft from exposure to leaked water – time to recover. This way, my fingers won’t ache so much at the end of the night.

There’s a certain kind of pleasure in picking up dry dishes and feeling not a trace of grease on them. Every once in a while I come across a plate with grease spots I’ve missed in that ever furious pressure to get dishes done, and I use a dry cloth to do them in.

A drink of water, and then it’s off to the rest of the kitchen, delivering plates to their homes, somehow finding space for the millions of bowls that need housing. As I move around, the kitchen staff and I end up doing a tango in that narrow space we occupy. Every once in a while, I catch tantalising glimpses of a cook using a ladle to scoop up sauces and seasonings from a dozen bowls, tossing them like a wizard into a wok that sometimes spurt dramatic pillars of fire.

Heat and steam, soups and rice topped with vegetable gravy and spicy aubergines, other scents so much like home.

Then it’s back to the sink, and to my system. Clear, organise, wash, rinse, dry. Clear, organise, wash, rinse, dry.

Every once in a while, the restaurant or kitchen staff talk to me in a language I can communicate with, and for an instant I allow myself to hope that perhaps I can be a part of their world after all.

And then they hurry off, and I am left to myself. That’s all right. Sometimes it’s nice not to have too much expected of me. Nice to leave some things unsaid.

I sense there are things about me they don’t understand, and I’m not sure if it’s because I am not Chinese enough for them, or simply because I don’t let them in.

I can sense the growing acceptance, too, as they realise I am not going to finish my shift with the mess I left behind last week, when I was a flailing and panicky wreck. There’s touches of kindness, like when a cook offered me chocolate from a box last week. It’s kindness, however, with a sense of sadness; the gesture felt like an unspoken apology.

Tonight though, one of the kitchen girls gave me a mandarin orange, and I was touched.

Before I know it, I’ve survived the busiest night of the week, and they are reminding me to finish up. My system worked.

Every night, the cooks whip up a round of dishes for the restaurant staff to sit together and eat for supper. It’s tradition, but I’m used to eating hurriedly or declining as I have to hurry and catch the last bus.

This time it’s as if they expected me to join them, like family.

I sit down at the round table, even though I’m anxious about missing the bus. Someone passes me a bowl of rice, and for once, as they chatter with each other in their language, I don’t feel as awkward as I once did. It doesn’t bring back bad memories of school and misplaced crushes and hurt.

It’s a tiny change, sitting at this table as if I am one of them. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t ease this loneliness, but at least tonight was different.

I take up my chopsticks, and pluck up something hot and juicy. The first bite is heaven.

END

NaNoWriMo Report Card

20811 / 50000 words. 42% done!

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Filed under Books, Depression, Fantasy, Malaysia, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

Pinch me, I live!

Blogging is like riding a bicycle. Once you fall off and skin your knees, it’s damn hard to get on that bike again.

So has it been with me about blogging, or writing diaries or journals in one form of another! Diaries and I have had a tempestuous relationship over the years. From the age of nine, I’d jot a few ‘Dear Diary, I broke my brother’s toy today and my mother doesn’t understand me’ lines. And then I’d wander away a couple of months, reread those passages, and wonder what emo weed was I smoking.

One time my best friend gave me a lovely notebook (I find it difficult to resist the allure of a fresh unspoiled journal, my house is full of them and yes, I don’t mind more). On the very first page of that new gift, I wrote enthusiastically about my day.

When I finally got around to adding to that journal again, on Page Two, it was nine years later. Nine. I was somewhat impressed I returned at all. I’m pretty sure that journal is around here somewhere.

I started blogging in 2003 and again the Fairweather Syndrome set in. I wrote a few weeks, trundled back in 2006, and since then, I’m quite proud to say I’ve actually been at it for months at a time.  And now here I am!

Right, so where am I at?

I Live, Really

What a month it has been! I am fairly breathless and sore and achey all over. First of all, I got a temporary two-month job in a bookstore. I can’t believe I got it! I was beginning to lose faith of ever being employed again. Despite some hitches and a few boos-boos on my part, I am absolutely loving this job.

I’m actually sad my contract finishes end of this month, as I adore the amazing people and the environment here, but at least it is valuable CV experience. I would love to stay on for a part-time job here, but ah well, I can only drop hints and not hope too much. I’m thankful enough as it is.

What is it I do? Well, it’s the busy Back to University period and I’m assigned to Customer Orders. I basically get orders and reservations from people, and then, like a detective, chase after that book! Whether it is somewhere amidst three floors of bookshelves, or when acquiring the book from…somewhere else. It’s that latter part that can be a doozy. It certainly keeps me on my feet! And it’s certainly never dull.

Consider, for instance, the first week when I was helping this sweet old lady who was trying to decide whether to buy this book she had reserved. I was talking to her when I decided to close this folding chair which was obstructing the work space, I thought. The next thing I knew, I’d snapped the chair shut on my finger. I felt a warm tingle from a fingertip.

And then blood squirted over both my hands. I stared in morbid fascination as red gushed from a single cut over my nail. The elderly lady was on the phone asking someone for advice about the book. I removed a tissue I happened to have in my pocket and jammed it over the cut. I was about to excuse myself when she suddenly asked me to speak to her friend on her mobile phone.

So what did I do? I hid my injured hand behind my back – because by then it looked rather alarming – and spoke briefly to a bemused sounded young bloke on the phone. Then I gave the phone back, cheerfully told her to take the book to a sales counter if she wanted it, then fled for help.

I didn’t think so much blood could come for a tiny wound! Luckily my manager was able to administer first aid, and wrapped the finger until it looked like Quasimodo’s hump with an allergy episode.

My Other Life

Everyone who works in the bookstore seems to lead a double life. One colleague is a playwright, for instance. Another is a musician, and so on. It’s all really quite fascinating! Whereas myself, I’m supposed to be a dedicated writer.

Progress on the novel is slower than I’d like. But on the positive side, I’ve submitted a short story to Cleis Press in time for the anthology deadline, and saw the release of my Edinburgh tour article for an iPhone travel app! I was rather proud of that one, because the latter bit involved a huge amount of research and fact checking that took up two months of my time. I’ll probably not make much money off it, but it’s good for experience.

Also, I’ve had to put my waitress job temporarily on hold until my bookseller contract is done, but at least the Auntie has been understanding about it. I might possibly have the job back if they need people. At the very least, if they take me back, if I have no other prospects, I can earn most of the rent money from the waitressing.

Meanwhile, I am trying to find a contest, anthology or magazine that will accept this short story I wrote based in 15th century Malacca. I am somewhat proud of The Caretaker, but it’s been uncommonly difficult to find acceptance for it. I already submitted it to fantasy and SF publication Interzone, and it came back with a polite rejection note.

But ah well, persistence is the name of the game. Somewhere out there, I’m sure I’ll find a home for it.

Must keep writing, must keep the fire going.

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Filed under Contests, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Procrastination, Triumph, Writing