Writing exercise: images – 2014-03-06

Sometimes we do writing exercises based on images we’ve gleaned from the Internet. At this week’s jabber chat, we looked at choosing one or both of these two images: a picture of a girl encountering a large, burly, anthropogenic tree or a guy holding open a briefcase filled with something brilliant.

Here are our unedited entries (each written in about 15 minutes). Feel free to add yours in the comments!


Mueller, the old professor, pulled out his collapsible PATT (Peek-Around-The-Corner, in spy-speak) mirror, extended it, and took a look down the corridor. Seeing that it was empty, he silently snuck to the next doorway. He hopped from doorway to doorway, crisscrossing the corridor, until he reached the end. There was the sound of a violin being played in one of the soundproof music rooms. Mueller liked violins, not so much for their beauty, but because they could hold secret messages.

Listening carefully for a few more moments, Mueller concluded that there either were no other people in the building or that what people might be in the building were busy in their own musical worlds, in their own soundproof practicing rooms. At this point, he tore off the silicone mask to reveal a much younger, and much more dangerous man. Mueller the spy.


He said little, once I agreed. He simply opened his briefcase.

The contents blinded me, and I understood why he wore the odd glasses with opaque lenses. He looked off into the distance, waiting, while I tried to focus on what he had in the case.

“Bright,” I said.

He made a noise. Possibly it was a grunt acknowledging the truth of my observation.

“It’s for sale, you said?”

He nodded.

I couldn’t even see what it was, to tell the truth. I’m used to being a bit behind the eight-ball. I usually try to vamp until I figure out what everyone else is so interested in. Sometimes I figure it out. Often I don’t. I’ve gotten tired of pretending. Finally I said, “People want this?”

He nodded again.

“I don’t get it.”

He shrugged. No skin off his nose, he seemed to imply. Of course, that made me all the more convinced that his merchandise must be very valuable. Otherwise he’d try harder to sell it to me, wouldn’t he?

“I’ll take it,” I said. “You said it was 99 dollars?”

“A bargain,” he said.

He shouldn’t have spoken. I suddenly had second thoughts.

It’s tough, not knowing who to believe, or what really has any worth. That was how I’d ended up in this dive bar, with only 101 dollars to my name.


Sally loved the woods. Especially her woods. The woods behind her mother;s home was what she called her own. Since her parents had divorced it was the only place that she really felt in control. In her woods the trees and the ground would do whatever she wanted. Most of the time everything went according to plan, but sometimes it was different.

Saturday morning Sally got up and did her usual routine. She ate breakfast with her mom, watched a cartoon, then got dressed to spend a day with her friends in her woods. She combed her hair, put on a light yellow dress to keep her cool in the hot summer weather, then gave her mom a peck on the cheek.

“I’m going to play with my trees,” she sang. she stood on her toes and let her mom give her a tight squeeze.

“Stay close to the house,” she said giving her a hard look. “Last time you got so deep in the woods that I had to go out searching for you and it took me an hour. It practically ruined my lunch.”

“Sorry mommy,” she said as she ran out of the door. The weather was perfect. The sun was out. A dry breeze was keeping everything cool, and the woods were beckoning her.

She ran into the shade of the trees and laughed as she threw her hands out, touching the bark of all her friends as she ran by.

“Hello everyone!” she yelled. “I’ve missed you.” The leaves of the trees all rustled in response and she felt their joy as she ran among them.

Deeper into the forest she ran, jumping over a brook, and clamboring up to the top of the hill that rose above the rest of the forest. It was here that her most special friend live. Maximilian was a massive old tree that she loved most dearly. She would sit in his arms for hours and watch the world go by. Last time she was here she stayed long past the time she was supposed to go home. In fact t was getting dark and shew as still sitting in his branches looking at the evening sky. As the first star appeared she wished, more than she had ever wished for anything before, that Maximilian would be able to move, to be able to hug her if she wished. She giggled as she made it, but she knew there was magic somewhere. She just hoped it would help her with her special wish.

Sally ran up the hill, reached the top, and yelled. “Hey Max…” but her voice trailed off. Max was gone.

She ran all around the top of the hill looking for him, but he was no where to be found. She went so far as to look behind a tree. As she looked around a rather old and large pine she heard a loud rustling and dragging sound.

“Sally,” a booming voice said.


They were poor, not quite desperately so. Alice’s gruff woodcutter father shielded her and little Giuseppe as best he could from that. Alice would take Giuseppe a little ways into the woods to gather edible plants and mushrooms and roots. Giuseppe was too young to be of much help, but was barely old enough to not be too much of a distraction. Alice’s father worked hard to cut enough wood for his family and to sell in the village.

Their own rude, little cottage was half a day’s walk from the village, so it was up to Alice to take care of herself and her brother while her father was gone during the day.

Though she missed her father, Alice enjoyed the freedom and didn’t mind the cold too much, despite her thin, ragged clothes. Giuseppe adored his older sister, tried to emulate her accuracy with her leather sling, though more often then not his stones ended up tumbling to the leafy forest floor.

It was on a gently cold autumn day that Alice’s wandering took her past the cold stream (Giuseppe didn’t cry even though his pants were wet through from falling off of one of the stepping stones). The sun’s dim light filtered through the tree branches overhead. It was almost time for a small lunch.

Alice glanced at her basket. It was less than half full. A small handful of smelly berries, some mushrooms that were only somewhat shriveled and a rock lobster that still wiggled now and then, testing its bonds of vine.

“Would you care to join me for some lunch?”

Alice looked up in surprise. Sitting with his back against tree was a little man wearing a tall hat of dark green fur with a wide brim.

“Is that roast duck?” Giuseppe’s little voice was filled with awe.

“It is indeed,” the man said smiling. “Come, sit beside me.”

“We don’t have much to share, I’m afraid,” Alice said, trying to remember her father’s warnings about strangers.

“You need not share anything of what you have,” the man said. “I am here only to grant your wishes.” But something glinted in his eyes as he said it and Alice shivered in spite of herself.


When I was a child
I wrote poetry of dreams

I put the stars to bed with stories of trees
that walked and cried and felt anger
like burning kindling, happiness
like bubbles
and every character
was a child
lost in the woods

I wrote for her
who brought me golden light
she whispered rhymes
and metaphors and gave
me worlds

I dreamt of poetry
as a child
to wake with words

Writing exercise: A face appears…

In our jabber chat meeting (normally Thursdays, 8 pm CST) this week, we tried a horror-themed writing prompt (in honor of an upcoming anthology of short stories that we are hoping to launch the writing of): A face appears… (note: the link goes to an image found in a google search, but we didn’t really use it). Four of us (Kaden Patrick, Katherine Czerwinski, Diana Schmuckal and I) had entries (shown below, ten minutes, no editing). Diana amazingly wrote a great poem. I invite you to comment with additional entries.

Tim Yao

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Joe,” Karen said.
Joe imagined her secretly wishing he would ask her up to his apartment. She did pause there for a moment. “Uh, okay. See you tomorrow.”
Karen flashed him a quick, sweet smile and half waved. Joe could see her breath in the cold air, illuminated by the street light above them. Then Karen spun around and continued down the sidewalk.
Joe mentally berated himself, imagining searing lead being poured over him–it would be only what he deserved. He and Karen had been friends now for over a year and he still felt too shy to let her know how he felt.
He made his way up the three flights to his small apartment, barely registering the burned out light bulbs on both the second and third stories. It was cold here, too. His cheapskate landlord never seemed to miss opportunities to cut corners.
Joe fished out his keys before he noticed that his door was ajar.
“Hello?” he called out.
No answer.
He reached in and flicked on the light switch. Nothing.
Maybe it wasn’t the light bulb but a fuse.
It had been a long day; the landlord was hard to reach even in the best of times. Joe entered his apartment, closing the door behind him.
It was cold here too.
“Just as well I didn’t ask Karen up here,” he thought. But maybe that might have been an interesting adventure. A little darkness, a bit of disquieting cold and an opportunity to share some warmth…
Something creaked in the room.
“Is someone there?”
Had the door been ajar because of a thief? Joe shook his head. There was nothing worth stealing in the apartment, not even a television or radio. Still, the back of his neck prickled as though someone’s gaze was upon him.
Joe forced himself to put down his backpack and try to find his phone. He stubbed his toe on the foot of his bed and cursed. Feeling around, he sat down on his bed–the phone was on the floor near the head of the bed.
“Damn it!” No dial tone.
Something cold blew upon the back of his neck.
Joe jumped, stood up. His eyes had adjusted to the dark. There on the far side of the room he could just make out the faint paleness of a face.
His mouth opened, suddenly dry.
The face moved towards him.

Kaden Patrick

I burst out of the servants’ door, weighed down with the judge’s gold and lifted up by the thrill of taking it away with me into the fog. Predawn light and the distant gas lamps of the main street competed to color the heavy mist, tinting the air rust and bruised green. I bit my teeth over a laugh, then that laugh evaporated in my mouth as a face appeared.
A face pale and surprised, opening its mouth to scream.
Terror almost like sound raced up my back, flooding full force into limbs already sparking of excitement.
I threw myself forward and slammed the witness—a boy, a few years younger than myself, pale skin, wide eyes—back against the stone wall. My feet slid for purchase against the slick mud of the alleyway, nearly giving out beneath me.
The sky gave out above me, around me, as the fog came alive with pelting rain, beating fast as my heartbeat against my skin.
He pushed back, kicked my shin with a heavy boot, my arm was already weighed down from the bag of gold so he got loose. He was already beginning to scream by the time I’d freed my knife, but I cut it short and let the rain wash the nascent sound away. Let the rain wash the creeping, pooling crimson away. Let the rain wash my racing fear and sudden fever all away.
He fell to the mud and I ran home through the strange colors of the fog and the sheets of rain. I locked my door, and leaned against the solid wood, and closed my eyes, breathing deep the familiar taste of my own room.
When, finally, my wits had settled, I turned to the thick shadows within.
My eyes worked quickly to identify the lines of my table and chair, my bed, my trunk, but there was something strange. A light spot that was not supposed to be there. The moon reflected in a mirror I didn’t own.
I choked on my own breath as a face appeared.
A face pale and surprised, covered in crimson and mud.

Katherine Czerwinski

 The bathroom had gone from comfortable to stifling in only a few minutes as the steam from the shower thickened the air. James didn’t mind. He welcomed the heat; the tight feeling that it caused as he turned off the shower head and grabbed his towel. The mirror had fogged over, obscuring his reflection as he stepped out of the shower and rubbed the towel over his hair.
This was the life. Thirty years old. Successful. Popular. Good looks, if he did say so himself. On top of that, a shining personality that got him wherever he wanted. (Mostly anywhere, at least. But he tried not to focus on the negatives.) His time was spent as a motivational speaker. Or a speaker, if you wanted to get technical. Sometimes, his speech wasn’t motivating at all. But that’s what happened when you went to work for whoever paid the most. They gave him the guidelines and he gave them a speech that would sway anyone to their side. A mouth for hire.
That sounded just a little too demeaning to him. He preferred the title ‘entrepreneur of eloquence.’ Until, of course, earlier today. As he walked off the stage and found himself confronted by about the same size as himself. His path had been blocked, and despite the side stepping, the man simply moved to block him again.
“You won’t get away with your lies. You really should learn to watch your mouth.”
The threat had been laughed off and security had ushered the man away. Now? Just the thought of it had James chuckling to himself from his own private joke.
A stiffness settled through his jaw and he winced slightly, bringing his hand up to rub his chin. Water still dripped down the sides of his face from his hair, wetting his fingertips.  Shrugging off the feeling, he moved in front of the mirror. His outline was visible, but blurred. That simply wouldn’t do. He had a physique that was meant to be admired.
Reaching out, he used an edge of the towel to wipe some of the steam away from the glass, allowing his reflection to show through.
For a moment, everything was fine. And then, over his shoulder, a face appeared. His heart leapt into his throat and he turned around instantly, stumbling back into the counter. No one was there. Closing his eyes and pushing his fingers over them for a moment, he tried to calm himself. He needed to stop drinking so much coffee. Sleep more. This was getting to him. When he turned back to the mirror, the fear prickled through his body again. The face was still there. He recognized it: the man from earlier.
“You should learn to watch your mouth.”
He spoke, but his mouth didn’t move. Before James could move out of the way, the man’s hand circled around his face, fingers digging into his cheeks and covering his mouth.  He screamed, thrashing at the hold on him. And, just as quickly as he had felt it, the sensation was gone. His gaze frantically searched the room. The floor. The walls. The ceiling. He was alone. When he finally felt like he could breathe again it was quick and ragged. His heart felt like it was about to break through his chest and his entire body was cold.
He repeated the action from before. Closing his eyes. Forcing the heels of his hands into his eyes and trying to force the feeling and images from his mind. When he turned back to the mirror, his eyes widened and he tried to scream. It lodged somewhere in his throat, stuck. No cry for help sounded, though he tried over and over. His reflection in the mirror had changed, and his pulse quickened. Both hands went to his face, fingers digging at the skin, drawing lines of blood where the nails pierced through.
The tool of his trade; the ‘moneymaker’; the reason for his success, was gone.
He had no voice,
because he had no mouth.

Diana Schmuckal

she is not darkness
liquid like-molten glow
she burns at night
fills day skies in
poison clouds

they fear her loud bright violent
anger trembling quake
I fear her quiet, soft
sensual curves creeping
untouchable yet she

eyes glowing in darkness
mouth open, jaw broken
fluid, gaping over acres

Pele, I cry, as ground swallowed
my yard, my tree, my house
wood burns flowers ash
she will devour me

trap me in stone
suffocate me in earth
she devours
so much more
than me
forest highway house

she is not darkness
she burns it