Manor Matters

This week’s Creative challenge from Crimson involves an interesting set of manor gates. My first impression has led to this 150-word tale.

Manor Matters

“Another one asked about the gates, sir. Some old lady from Canada this time.”

“Well, what can they know about history and culture? Living in igloos, running about on dogsleds half the year. EH?”

“Piddly little, I suppose. Gets tiresome, though.”

“True, but they’re paying £25 each to see the place. Our bread and butter, if you will. Stiff upper lip, Witherham. Fall is coming.”

“I’ll do my best, sir. But if I hear one more, ‘Why don’t you paint the other one?’ I may go off my nut. Say, could I perhaps trade with Franks? I’ve always wanted a crack at being the manor ghost.”

“Then you’ll hear a steady stream of ‘Who’s under that sheet?’ and ‘I don’t believe in ghosts.’ Tourists are impossible to satisfy! Franks has threatened to throttle the next skeptic. He’s doing the turret tour now; we’re getting a robot for the ghost.”

Great Opening Lines

Great Opening Lines

The Word of the Day prompt this morning was DESPERATE, so let’s take a look at a few desperate situations main characters have come face-to-face with in some popular novels.

I read an article not long ago saying how important it is for writers to start off with an enticing hook, preferably in the first paragraph. Best-selling author and writing instructor Jerry Jenkins gives wannabe novelists this advice: “Plunge your character in terrible trouble as soon as possible, definitely in the first chapter and preferably on the first page.”

If you can do this well, your readers will start rooting for your hero or heroine right off the bat.

Lewis Carroll wasted no time in his classic, Alice in Wonderland. The story opens with a sleepy, bored Alice, noticing, then following, a talking rabbit. By the fifth paragraph she’s plunging down the rabbit hole into another world.

Jane Austin succeeds admirably, opening Pride & Prejudice with an unknown young man about to enter a tiger’s den of local mothers desperate to gain a rich son-in-law. You know his goose is cooked when you read the first lines.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

In the first lines of Agnes Sligh Turnbull’s 1948 classic, The Bishop’s Mantle, we get the picture of another desperate soul:
The young man in the taxi leaned forward. “Can you go faster?” he said to the driver. “It’s a matter of life and death.”
The reason for his urgency is soon clear, as we see him arrive at his destination and softly enter the bedroom of his dying grandfather.

Dan Walsh starts out his terrific historical novel, The Deepest Waters — © 2011 — with the main characters in desperate straits indeed, about to be plunged into the Atlantic:
Yesterday, when it had become a certainty their ship would sink, Laura and John Foster held hands, as they had on their wedding day three weeks ago, and made a vow: when that moment finally came, they would leap into the sea together and slip beneath the waves….
But that’s not what happened.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, CS Lewis introduced his character in a delightfully terse, yet revealing way, guaranteed to spark the reader’s curiosity about this belligerent boy and the troubles that await him:
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and masters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.

I don’t think anyone can beat Canada’s best loved humorist, Stephen Leacock, though, when it comes to painting scenes of desperation and dismay in the opening lines of his short stories. Here are a few from A Treasury of Stephen Leacock, ©1999 by Key Porter Books:

My Financial Career
When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.

Lord Oxhead’s Secret
It was finished. Ruin had come. Lord Oxford sat gazing fixedly at the library fire.

A Christmas Letter
Mademoiselle,
Allow me very gratefully but firmly to refuse your kind invitation. You doubtless mean well; but your ideas are unhappily mistaken.

How to Avoid Getting Married
Some year ago, when I was the Editor of a correspondence column, I used to receive heart-broken letters from young men asking for advice and sympathy. They found themselves the object of marked attentions from girls which they scarcely knew how to deal with.

Too bad he wasn’t around to give advice to the single young man Jane Austin was about to plunge into terrible trouble in my first example. Oh, well. He came out okay in the end.

He Had It All Planned

Last week’s Crimson Creative Challenge was the picture of an old bridge with a tunnel underneath. See it Here. I wrote this story in my head, but only now have I got it in a proper file.

It’s a modern romantic tale — a bit silly perhaps. Sadly, it violates Crimson’s 150-word limit by almost 600 words, so I’m going to use a different picture and post it as my response to today’s Word of the Day prompt: CAREFUL. Nevin’s plans were carefully made, but he didn’t factor in one little unknown that made all the difference.

 

Tunnel.Nuremberg

THE TUNNEL OF LOVE

“Here we are.” Nevin and Wendy got out of the car. “Let’s get us one of those paddle boats and sail away.”

Wendy’s eye sparkled. “I love paddle boats.”

Ten more minutes, he thought, smiling. Everything’s set up and the operation will be in full swing before she catches on.

But Wendy had stopped and was staring toward the dark opening. “Umm… Is that the tunnel you want to go through? It’s so…dark.”

“That’s the idea, sweetheart. Couples do a little smooching in the shadows before they come out the other side.” He kissed her cheek. “And I’ll be right beside you.” He took her hand and tugged her toward the paddle boat rentals.

She turned to him, her face pale. “Uh… I don’t think I can do this.”

Nevin raised his brows in surprise. “Why? You’re not scared of the dark, are you?”

“No. It’s just that when we were children my brother and I explored a cave one day. We didn’t know bats were roosting in it and our light scared them.” She shuddered. “We were so terrified. All those bats flying around us…and that awful squeaking. I’ll never forget it.”

“But there’s nothing to be scared of here. You can believe the River Council won’t allow any bats to roost in their tunnel. Come on. You’ll like it inside.”

They walked closer to the tunnel’s mouth and Wendy peered in, just as several high-pitched squeals drifted out of the tunnel. “Ack,” she shrieked and jumped back.

Nevin groaned. What’s he doing in there anyway? Tuning the thing? I’m gonna have some sharp words for him about his rotten timing.

Wendy was clinging to him now. “I’m sorry, Nev. I just can’t go in there.” The desperate note in her voice tugged at his heart.

Nevin pictured his careful plans sailing south. “Okay, I don’t want to force you to do something that terrifies you. You go back to the car, Wendy. I have to make a phone call.”

He pulled out his cellular as Wendy walked back to the parking lot alone, probably still thinking about bats. He kicked at a protruding cobblestone. Bats. Rats! Once he knew she’d be out of hearing, he dialed and waited for Cole to answer.

“Plans blew up,” he said. “Who knew she’d be scared of dark tunnels. And bats.” Nevin gritted his teeth. “It didn’t help that she heard some squeaks from the tunnel at the worst possible moment.”

“Hey, man, so sorry about that. I had no idea. Just doing a bit of…never mind. I’ll still get paid, won’t I? It’s my time. I need the cash.”

Nevin blew out a sigh. “Yes, you’ll still get paid. We’ll work something else out.” He ended the call, shoved his phone back in his pocket and headed for the car.

“Who knew,” Cole grumbled, replacing his violin back in its case. He brushed the strings lovingly before closing the lid.

“Women!” He yanked at the balloon strings he’d wrapped around a loose stone. And what was he supposed to do with these? The neighbour kids would probably like some balloons. They wouldn’t care about the writing… But they couldn’t be left floating around; he’d best just pop them.

He frowned when several strings pulled loose. Before he could grab them again, a capricious breeze swept the two bobbing balloons out of the tunnel. Cole shrugged and took a better hold on the others. Picking up his violin, he headed out the other exit.

“Look, Nev!” Wendy, standing beside the car, pointed. “Those balloons just blew out of the tunnel! Hey, there’s even some writing on them.”

Nevin slapped his forehead. He was so going to have words with Cole. Maybe I’ll only pay him half what he asked for.

If the breeze would at least move the things away, but no. The balloons dipped down and bobbed toward them; now Wendy was racing to catch one. Talk about the best laid plans going awry.

She succeeded in grabbing the end of a dangling string. “It says… Oooooh,” she squealed. “It says, ‘I love you Wendy. Please marry me’.” She turned to him with a huge grin. “Oh, Nevin, you’re so romantic!”

“At least I was trying to be,” he replied. “Things didn’t work out as planned.”

“Oh. You had these in the tunnel…and I spoiled it. But these balloons popped out at just the right time. And my answer is yes!” She flung herself into his arms. “I would be delighted to marry you.”

He grinned and wrapped her in a tight hug. “Then we have a perfect ending.”

The Winnings Disappear

Here’s Sammi’s latest writing challenge. You can check out the rules at her blog HERE. Many thanks for hosting this, Sammi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 89-word tale is a take-off from an account I read on another blog. The writer was the one watching the frustrated lotto winner waiting for the check that never came. Be careful out here. As someone once said, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

The Winnings Disappear…And What Else?

“Unbelievable! Great! See you there.” Gord hung up and turned to Marlyss. “We’ve won big, sweetheart! They’re bringing our check to CrackerJacks. Let’s go.”

“We’ll replace this furniture,” Marlyss said as they dashed out.

“We’ll replace this house,” Gord amended.

Two hours later, frustrated, Gord ended the call. “Three times I’ve given them directions. I can’t believe they can’t find this place!”

Another diner leaned their way. “Better check what’s happening at home. Maybe better take a cop along.”

Exchanging looks of horror, the couple dashed for the door.

Yesterday

Today’s Word of the Day prompt is YESTERDAY. I can hardly miss this one, as I have lots to say about yesterday.

We were off to the city shortly after 9am yesterday; I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning and we had a writers’ group get-together in the afternoon. Once a month some of us Christian writers in this area get together to catch up and keep in touch. It’s always an encouraging sharing session. One of our group, Darlene Polachic, has written several Christian romances. Here’s Amazon link for the first book in her Ever Green series, of which there are five so far.

Yesterday I finally finished a jigsaw puzzle I started Sunday. It was a toughie, a 1000- piece artwork picture, the artist’s depiction of some southern (Tuscan?) village with background vineyards and trees, which means the whole puzzle is mostly shades of green-grey-aqua. I was convinced quite a few pieces were missing until the very end, when it turned out only one was. Smack in the middle of the sky! Do you throw out jigsaw puzzles with one piece missing?

Yesterday while I was waiting for my husband I downloaded and started to read a cozy mystery, one of the Aunt Bessie series by Diana Xarissa. I finished it this afternoon, between excursions outdoors to clean up the flower beds and pots. We’ve had some serious frost that’s left my annuals looking pretty limp. Time to get the pots cleaned up and put away.

Overall the series feels mild and homey. Aunt Bessie lives in her little cottage by the sea, on the Isle of Man, and gets together often with her friends for meals and discussions about whodunit. She seems to have a knack for being on the scene when a crime’s discovered and it helps that her good friends are Inspector John Rockwell, Bessie’s friend Doona, who works at the Police Dept., and Hugh Waterson, a local bobby who loves his food. Lately they’re often joined by Hugh’s new girlfriend, Grace. (They marry later in the series.)

This story starts out well but the middle slows considerably as they go in a lengthy circle of who committed the crime and get nowhere. Plus it’s Christmas and they get lost in a rather long discussion and sampling of seasonal goodies. I feel a mystery should move fairly fast and this one definitely could speed up some. If readers are really interested in the various kinds of cookies made in the US and how they differ from the English biscuits, they may not mind this detour from the investigation, but 3/4 of the way through I was ready to skip ahead and find out who the guilty party was.

Still, for a cozy mystery series this one is quite good. I really don’t like the ones where an aggressive amateur sleuth gets in people’s faces, demanding answers. I read and enjoy the Markham Sisters Bed & Breakfast series, by the same author. It also moves sedately for the most part and the mysteries are minor ones, like what their guests might be up to, or who might be spreading counterfeit bills in the little village of Doveby Dale.

This series reminds me of the Miss Read books I used to read long ago, “Life in a small English village” type of stories. And one thing I can say about both these series is that the writing is improving and the characters are developing more, and more sensibly, as the series progresses. Nice to see the writer learning and improving her craft.

I wonder how many of you recalled that old Beatles tune, “Yesterday,” when you saw today’s word prompt? If you’re under forty you maybe never gave it a thought, but that was a big hit when I was a young teen. Dates me, right? 😉

And I think that’s enough said about yesterday.

The Worrywart and the Cave

Today’s Word of the Day prompt is GALLERY. I was dismayed when I saw this word, wondering what I could ever write about a gallery. My only thought being art gallery, until I checked with Merriam-Webster and learned that an art gallery is only #4 on their seven-point list of definitions.

The preeminent meaning is: a covered promenade or corridor.
The second is an outdoor balcony, porch, or veranda
The third is a long, narrow passage, even a subterranean passageway in a cave or a mine shaft. Ah! A twinkle’s coming through…

One definition is: “the highest balcony in a theater commonly having the cheapest seats
b : the part of a theater audience seated in the top gallery
c : the undiscriminating general public”
This variation brought to mind an expression we teens used half a century ago:
“No comments from the peanut gallery.”

Now that I have a wider range to work with and the twinkling of an idea, I’ll begin my response to the prompt.

The Worrywart and the Cave

“Just discovered it last week and went through again yesterday,” Ozzie told his sweetheart, “It’s absolutely gorgeous down there, and no one else has found it yet. Come on, I’ll show it to you.”

Polly frowned. “Are you sure it’s safe? What if we get lost?”

“The path is easy to follow and I’ve got a great flashlight. Trust me, it’ll be perfectly safe. Listen, sweetie, being a worrywart is a drag. You can’t always think about what might go wrong or you’ll never try anything. You’ll miss out on LIFE. Come on, let’s check it out.”

A few hours later they parked in a secluded spot not far from the cave entrance and set out on their spelunking adventure. Polly grabbed her purse as they left they car.

“Surely you’re not going to take your purse along? It’ll just be a weight you don’t need.”

“I’m not leaving it in the car. Someone might steal it.”

Ozzie rolled his eyes. “There’s no one else anywhere near here. You worry about the silliest things.”

“I’m taking it. A girl never knows when she’ll need a tissue or something.”

Fifteen minutes later the couple was deep inside the cave. Polly followed Ozzie through the gallery with a little stream flowing beside it. “Don’t you think we should have brought another flashlight, just in case,” she asked.

Ozzie groaned. “This has lots of power left. Stop fretting and enjoy the scenery!”

A moment later the passageway opened up in front of them and they saw the most beautiful display of natural architecture. Ozzie’s flashlight played on the stalagmites and stalactites in intriguing formations. “And here we are. Didn’t I tell you it was awesome? Nature’s limestone gallery in grand display!”

Polly gasped. “This is so amazing!” She looked at the clear pool of water beside the ledge they stood on. “That must be the purest water ever. Do you think anything lives in there?”

“Can you imagine anything living in this kind of darkness?” He shut off his flashlight.

“Now, aren’t you glad you came? You wouldn’t want to miss an adventure like this.”

“Oh,” Polly squealed. “Be careful. It’s so black!”

“Absolutely devoid of any light” Ozzie spread his arms enthusiastically. The hand holding the flashlight bashed against the cave wall. There was a metallic clunk and a splash.

Polly screamed. “What was that? Ozzie, turn the light on!”

“Uh… That was the light. I banged my hand on the wall and lost my grip.”

“Oh, no! What’ll we do? How will we find our way out?” Polly’s voice rang with terror.

“Not to worry. We’ll just turn around and follow the ledge back out again. Easy peasy.”

Polly heard Ozzie moving and guessed he’d turned around. She squeezed against the cave wall to let him pass.

He brushed by her. “Just follow the sound of my voice and we’ll be out of here…aaah!” Polly heard a big splash, then a lot of floundering.

“S-s-slippery. I…fell in,” Ozzie gasped in the darkness. More splashing. “It’s deep…and so cold. Where’s the ledge? I can’t find it.”

Polly sighed, then groped in her purse and pulled out the little flashlight she always carried. She clicked it on and the cave was dimly lit. She set the light carefully on the ledge and reached into her purse again.

“Grab hold of this and hang on,” she ordered, tossing Ozzie a length of nylon rope.

A few minutes later he was sitting on the ledge, dripping wet and shivering.

Polly picked up the flashlight. “We’d better get out of here. You’ll want to get changed.”

Ozzie nodded and shivered some more. Then he got up and stumbled along the gallery behind Polly.

As they made their way to the car, Polly suggested, “Maybe we worrywarts are such a drag because we haul along all the things we might need in an emergency?”

“Yeah. I don’t suppose you have a towel in there, too?”