Thursday, 30 June 2016

#whimword - Train

The smell of engine oil reminded her of her grandfather.

He'd been an engineer on the railways, and the smell of grease clung to his clothes and skin like cologne. She would probably always recognise that smell, and it would always bring to mind memories of her grandfather.

She'd worshipped him when she was young; loved him fiercely and looked up to him in that way only children can. To her, as a child, her grandfather was everything. He protected her, built her toys with his hands and always snuck her extra sweets when her mum and dad weren't looking.

As far as she was concerned he was the best thing in the whole wide world.

But we all have to grow up eventually. We lose our rose tinted glasses and see the world for what it really is, our heroes included. And we realise that they're not heroes at all, and that we should never have put them on a pedestal in the first place. They're just people; broken and sad, like the rest of us.

Of course she still loves her grandfather, but her heart has lost it's childlike naivete. She no longer worships the ground he walks on because she understands better.

Where once she saw a hero now she sees an ugly and bitter old man, chewed up and spat out by the life he has lived. She hears the ugly words he has to say—not to her, never to her—but they are ugly nonetheless. She sees the small oddities he displays, things she didn't notice, couldn't understand as a child. She sees, and she hurts.

She hurts for that little girl who loved her grandfather with all her might; hurts for the young woman she's become who's relationship with her beloved grandfather is now strained.

Some small part of her wishes she could go back, recapture the childlike wonder she felt and see her grandfather as she used to. But there is no turning back the hands of time, no matter how hard we wish. And even if she could, it wouldn't be the same. She wouldn't be the same.

Years pass and the distance between them grows. Guilt gnaws deep in her belly over that. She could do better, should do better. It would be so easy to reach out, to bridge that gulf instead of allowing it to widen. But the little girl and the young woman hurt in harmony and she remains silent.

Part of her wants to remember her grandfather the way he was to her childlike eyes, not as the wizened old man she sees now. She wants to remember the man she worshipped, not the man who should never have been on a pedestal.

She's older now, wiser. The rose tinted glasses have come off and the world is stark and bright as a result. Looking at it hurts her eyes, and her heart.

But she still has the scent of engine oil that reminds her of her grandfather.

Friday, 24 June 2016

#whimword - Bite

Dani hadn't realised it could be this cold without actually, you know, snowing.

Stuck on a mountainside in April with nothing but a sleeping bag and a few millimetres of the highest tech tent material between her and the elements wasn't exactly her idea of fun, but here she was. She always was easy to talk into things.

"I hate you, you know," she grumbled at her companion.

"I know," replied Carrie, smirking despite the chill. "I didn't think the weather would be this bad though."

The sound of rain on the canvas and the howl of the wind stood in testament to just how bad the weather was.

"If you're not going to apologise for dragging me on this sodding camping trip despite the fact I don't do outdoors things or or exercise, then the least you can do is let me steal some of your body heat."

"By all means," said Carrie. "I'm fucking freezing my tits off as well."

Not literally, Dani hoped. That would be a damn shame; they were lovely tits.

Harrumphing loudly just so Carrie knew how annoyed she was, Dani slithered and squirmed and squeezed herself into the other woman's sleeping bag. They could have opened the sleeping bag up and made it easier, but then what little warmth Carrie had managed to generate would have been lost.

"This was supposed to be romantic," Carrie mused once Dani had stopped wriggling.

Dani rolled her eyes. "Only you would consider climbing up the side of a mountain for our anniversary fucking romantic." Her words were annoyed but her voice was soft; no matter the discomfort, no matter how cold the wind biting at their skin was, she still loved this woman. And there could be worse fates than being stuck in a sleeping bag with your wife. "It's just a shame its too cold to do anything interesting."

"Yeah," said Carrie, pulling a face. "I had such plans." She affected a dramatic voice and if she'd been capable of moving her limbs, Dani suspected she would have put her hand to her forehead.

"Your plans will just have to wait. The only thing we're doing for the next eight hours is trying desperately to sleep. Now stop moving."

"Yes ma'am."

Dani snuggled into the pocket of warmth created by Carrie's body, shimmying up and down slightly to try and get comfortable. The situation wasn't sexy, wasn't romantic, but it could have been worse. She said as much out loud and got a playful smack for her trouble.

"You know you just jinxed everything, right?" Carrie asked with a laugh. "Now the tent is gonna start leaking or something."

Dani grumbled. "It's still all your fault. I'm never listening to you again. In fact, I want a divorce when we get off this godforsaken mountain."

"No you don't," Carrie said softly.

"No, no I don't," Dani agreed.

She drifted off, content in the arms of the woman she loved, and miraculously, the tent didn't leak.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

#whimword - Risk

The game.

That is all there is. Nothing exists outside the game.

No rules. No winners. No losers.

Inside the game there is only victory, or death.

The greatest heroes in the galaxy all played the game. You don't get to a position of power and influence without taking a few risks, and playing the game is the biggest risk there is. Those that win go on to become great warriors, warlords, kings.

The greatest of the great.

Our betters.

Because they know how to play the game. They know how to balance risk against possible reward, when to advance and when to retreat and when to bet everything.

I wanted to play the game when I was younger. Every kid in the galaxy does. We grow up re-enacting our favourite bouts, trading figurines of our favourite players and hoping that one day we might be allowed to watch it live.

Only the very privileged are allowed to see the games live. The audience has a role to play in deciding the outcome so the common folk generally aren't allowed in. Past winners often go back to watch new players compete.

That wasn't enough for me though. I wanted to play.

I trained hard from the day I was old enough to be allowed to. Honed my body and mind into the ultimate killing machine. The ultimate player of the game. I was going to become a champion and make my fortune. One day they were going to say my name with awe.

And then my brother died. Was killed. And I learned a sad truth about the games.

Mother was short on wages that month, so my brother went out to try to earn some extra coin. The guards said they caught him stealing, but I'll never know the truth. He was sentenced to compete in the games.

At first I was excited. My brother was going to compete in the games, a chance for greatness, the very thing I had wanted to do since I was a kid. I couldn't understand why he was frightened at the prospect.

He understood better than I did. There is no risk in the games, not for those who are meant to win.

You see, the winners are chosen beforehand, from those who already part of the elite. They train their whole lives for their moment in the arena. Their competitors were like my brother; poor commoners convicted of petty crimes. He stood no chance.

I watched on the vidscreen as my brother died, slaughtered by a young girl who was the daughter of a count. I had never been so angry in my life.

I still wanted to compete though.

I knew that one day I would play the game and I would win. The elite would welcome me with open arms and I would destroy them from the inside.

I have trained for this my whole life.

One way or another, I will avenge my brother. No matter the risk.

Friday, 10 June 2016

#Whimword - Seed

I've carried it with me for years.

The seed lives in a locket around my neck. I never take it off. It's a small thing, so tiny, but it means so much.

It represents hope. There has been precious little of that the last few years.

First there was the drought. No one knew quite why it was so bad, but everyone agreed it was the worst they'd ever seen. One moment we were happily living our lives and then suddenly there was no water. We had rations that were strictly controlled but even that didn't help. Crops died, and then the livestock. Food got as scarce as water. People were scared, and they lashed out.

The war was inevitable but it didn't need to get so bad. They didn't need to use the weapons they did.

Everything was desert already and the fighting just made it worse.

More people died. Unnecessarily.

A reduced population means each person gets more water than before but it's still barely adequate. And what water there is needs to be filtered and treated a dozen times before it can be used.

The land is poison. Nothing grows in it, nothing edible anyway. The few communities that are left have gotten pretty good at growing sickly, meagre plants with no soil and not enough water.

Life is hard and we all dream of rain.

I remember when I was a child, I would stand outside in a summer storm letting the rain soak through my clothes. The smell of ozone in the air and hot damp concrete. The sound of thunder rumbling in the distance. I remember feeling alive.

And after the storm passed the land would look greener than ever, lush and so very alive.

We took it for granted, all that water just falling from the sky. If we'd only known...

I don't remember the last time I saw a rainstorm.

That's why the seed I carry is so important: it's a reminder of all the things we have lost, a relic of a time when most people didn't kill each other to stay hydrated. It's a piece of history, possibly the last of its kind. The plants we grow now are hardy and drought-resistant; they have to be. I don't remember what kind of plant this seed came from, but I know it doesn't grow naturally any more.

But this seed is also hope for the future. I carry around my neck, next to my heart because I know that one day I will plant it. One day the soil will be healthy enough and water plentiful enough for it to grow, more than that, to thrive.

One day...

I have to believe that, otherwise there is no hope, no future. I have to believe things will get better or what's the point in fighting to stay alive?

And if not me then my children, or my children's children. One day the world will be right again, and my hope will flourish.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Finding Success in Failure

Life is full of little ups and downs. You win some, you lose some. And other cliches as well.

Writing is the same.

Some days the words come easy and some days it's like pulling your own teeth out. The trick is getting to the point where the former is more common than the latter. You need to be able to produce content on the regular, reliably, if you want to produce any kind of body of work.

And if your ability to keep a roof over your head and food on the table relies on your writing, well, it's even more important. Mine doesn't, yet. That's the ultimate aim though, so a lot of the time I try to act like it does.

I've found that doing extreme writing challenges like NaNoWriMo really help my output. There's something about the extra accountability, the public nature of it and the mass cheering on that happens that really helps be get stuff done. I've done three successful Camp NaNos and one successful main NaNo so far with more planned in the future.

Spurred on by my success at NaNo, this year I decided to attempt a couple of other writing challenges. In March I joined in with a challenge to write a videogame and in May I tried Story-a-Day. Did I succeed at either of them? No.

I'm not sure whether it's because those challenges lack the comprehensive progress tools of NaNoWriMo or if it was because no one else around me was really doing them, but I failed. I did not write a game in March and I did not write a story a day in May.

But did I really fail?

No, I don't think so.

I planned to write a choose your own adventure game in Twine for March's challenge and got very little done. However, I did start getting to grips with Twine, which is something I'd not really tried before. And while March was a bust the project lives on. In fact, I've written more words on it this month than I managed in March. And it's fun. Seriously fun.

So was that a failure? No.

I didn't manage to write a story every day in May either, but I did manage to write stories some of the days. I have more stories finished than I did at the beginning of the month, which in my book is always a win.

When you set yourself challenges like that it can be tempting to view missing the target as an abject failure, but I don't see it like that.

Did I learn something new? Yes.

Did I get something written? Yes.

Did I end up with more words at the end of the month than I had at the beginning? Yes.

Then as far as I'm concerned it was a rousing success. And as a bonus, I have a better idea of my strengths and weaknesses. I know what sort of challenges are best for me, which ones I can get the shiny certificate for, and that feeds back into my process.

It's Camp NaNoWriMo again in July and I plan to not only participate but win. Same in November. But as long as I'm writing, I'm winning anyway.