a creepy forest tale

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The forest looked down the hill at the cabin. A curl of smoke wafted from the chimney.

“Legend has it,” said a sapling in a hushed voice, “that the human who lives there keeps a stack of CORPSES on his porch.”

The fir seedling listened, shivering with a delicious fear. “So that’s why there’s always ghosts coming out of the chimney!”

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the village children’s project

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Most people told them it would never work. The rest shook their heads and said nothing. “At least they are staying out of trouble,” was muttered thrice a day.

The kids ignored them and kept on working, testing ideas and calculating for every possibility. They carved grooves in the rocky surface to channel the wind and harness its power. They brought in soil to grow food on the top and in every crevice. The waves and the tides powered the engine.

When they were finished, the children invited everyone in the village to the launch. A handful of non-related adults showed: the type who liked to laugh at another person’s failure. They were disappointed.

The mammoth barge slipped into the sea, looking like any other cliff on the Bay. It puttered away under its own power, with a hundred cheering children on board, ready for adventure.

forest games

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The raccoon nestled into the tree and began to feel sleepy. “Stay awake this time,” he told himself. He dug his claws into the bark and sniffed at the refreshing moss, but it did little good. His eyelids began to droop.

When he reopened his eyes the day had flown and night had fallen. An owl perched across the tree hooted at him. “Fell asleep again, didn’t you?”

The raccoon blushed beneath his mask. “Yeah.”

“Tsk tsk. You’re either the best or the worst hide-and-seek player in the forest,” said the owl, and flew off after a mouse.

raising the moon

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She climbed into the boughs of the tree, her heart hammering with each gust of  wind. “Don’t look down,” she said to herself, but she didn’t have to look to know how far away the ground must be. “I can do this.”

In time she reached the highest branch. She mustered the dregs of her courage and pointed her wand to the sky, whispering the words she’d been practicing for months.

At first nothing happened. The girl clenched her eyes closed and concentrated, whispering the words again.

One by one the stars came out and peered down at her. She opened her eyes and smiled when she saw them. With another flick of her wands, she drew the moon up from the horizon.

The night creatures breathed a sigh of relief, for a moonrise fairy had come at last.

the wind that stole the pretty leaves

The goblin child sat on a tree root and pouted. “That wasn’t very nice!” he shouted at the wind.

The wind whooshed a little.

“It was greedy you know! You stole all of the pretty leaves and now there isn’t any left for anyone else!”

The wind gave a mournful whistle.

“Of course I forgive you.” The goblin child sighed. “But you have to learn to control your temper.”

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the myth of the scathing review

Discouragement. It comes to us all. Few things kill creativity like discouragement can, and it shows up like a pterodactyl to snap at your latest project and fly off with its entrails hanging from its beak. There you are, wondering what happened and why you were so convinced pterodactyls were extinct all this time.

I know if I want to succeed as a writer, bad reviews are going to happen. I’m supposed to stand tough and learn from them. If I start taking it to heart and crawling under rocks now I’ll never have the guts to keep going. The tricky part is I see this best when I’m not discouraged.

The first scathing review I received came from an editor I submitted a piece of flash fiction to. This was maybe the second or third time I’d ever submitted anything. By scathing I don’t mean the editor declined to publish my work and scrawled ‘this sucks’ over my manuscript. No, they launched into a three-page tirade of everything they hated about my half page piece. When I read it, I was stunned. Not just because, hey, I liked that piece, but because the hate steamed off of their words like Pigpen’s stink waves in a Charlie Brown comic.

How did my tiny story evoke that much hate? I still don’t know. Sometimes I pull out the review and the original piece and re-read them, my sleuthing cap on and my magnifying glass in hand, trying to figure it out. You know what? I still like that piece.

I moped for about a day before I realized something in there must have touched a chord to make that editor so passionate about it. This tiny thought got me through the worst of it. You probably don’t want to hear this, but it taught me something too.

I wish I could say it taught me about plot structure or character development, that those three pages of hate were hiding useful feedback, but this is not the case. What it did teach me was that I’d prefer to get scathing reviews from my peers than an editor. It was the catalyst that made me sign up for several online critique groups. I didn’t want to give up submitting, but I didn’t want to feel humiliated like that again if I could help it.

Critique groups have changed everything. They give me extra confidence in my best stories, and they let me know the ones which need to be laid to rest. They’ve taught me that while I may enjoy writing adult fiction once in a while, it’s not where I’m at my best. I don’t get the same feeling of absolute delight writing for adults as I do for children, and it comes out in my work.

I still get the occasional poor review, but they come from a constructive place. They may still discourage me, but it doesn’t feel as devastating. I know I’m growing, and I can mark my progress now. Critique groups are safe places that have made my skin tougher, which writers need, especially when submitting and publishing. The odds are someone is going to reject our story-children, and we need to be ready for that. Even the greats get bad reviews.

Last week I received another scathing review, this time from a new-to-me critique partner. With a familiar sinking feeling I felt their hatred of my short story emanate from the screen. I felt gutted, again. This story, too, I believed in, labored over, rewrote and revised, because it was worth the effort. This reviewer eviscerated every last detail of my story, scattering its entrails to the wind. It marked the first review of this story, and I felt shattered.

A few days later, another reviewer from a different critique group sent me her review of the same story. I put off reading it. This woman is a damn good writer and she minces no words telling a fellow writer what is wrong with their story. She doesn’t care about how that makes the writer feel, she’s out to improve stories, not hold hands. In other words, she’s the best possible critique partner you can find IF you can handle it. I’ve been working with her long enough to respect her opinions and be terrified of them all at once.

At last I opened it. “Great story, well-written, made a few notes to clean up a few phrases,” she wrote. My jaw hit the floor. Positive remarks from this woman do not happen often. This is a major personal milestone and this is the exact story which received the soul-crushing review a few days previous.

Negative reviews happen, and they’re bound to discourage, but a bad review is just one person’s opinion. If the one can make a writer question their career choices, why can’t the other re-affirm them?

I went back to that scathing reviewer and tried to look at it with a greater personal distance. Truth is, I didn’t and don’t agree with most of their comments, but surely they must be an expert if they reviewed my work, right? Nope. They specialize in writing kink. Why they were reviewing children’s fiction is beyond me. So why did I put so much stock in their opinion?

Why do we, as writers, believe the worst even when we feel, deep down inside, our story is good? Argh. The stereotype of the neurotic writer. I wouldn’t let myself get away with that on paper, so you can bet I’m not going to get carried away with it in real life. Writing is fun. I’m here for the fun, the hard work, and those blissful moments of creative birth. These things come with the occasional, inevitable discouragement. The discouragement doesn’t get to take over, it gets one day. One. Day. Then we’re moving on, me and my imagination full of stories. Come with me, there’s fun to be had.

While we’re at it, why haven’t I brushed off my flash fiction piece the editor ranted about for three pages and made it into something awesome? The pterodactyls must be done with it by now…

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memories of winter

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The temperatures fell and the wind grew harsh. Trees shivered off their leaves, ready for their wintry slumber. Half-waking memories of thick, white blankets settling onto their boughs with a comforting weight returned. With them came dreams of doing things a rooted tree cannot: of traveling, hugging friends, and having dinner parties where the tables overflowed with bowls of liquid sunshine and pools of warmish water lapped at their feet.

directions

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The leaf fairy looked around. “Grey castle? Sort of gloomy and made of rocks?”

The traveler nodded.

“You’re heading in the right direction. Keep traveling east through the ogre-infested thicket, then take a left at the river. You might want to write this down.”

The traveler dug out a notebook and pencil.

“The river’s full of sirens, so plug your ears and don’t try to swim across. A few hours walk to your left and you’ll come to a bridge. The bridge troll is reasonable, he’ll let you cross for a handful of moldy berries or a few spoiled apples. Chances are you’ll come across some along the river,” said the leaf fairy.

The traveler scribbled all of this down.

“Once you’re across you’ll come to a fork in the road. Keep right, the left will lead you into a legion of imps and you don’t want that. The right will take you over the Shifting Mountain. Mind the shifting, it feels like an earthquake, but it’s not. The mountain’s a sleeping giant, and he’s a bit ticklish, so when you walk over him he chuckles in his sleep.”

“Does he ever wake up?” asked the traveler.

The leaf fairy shrugged. “Hasn’t for years, you should be fine. Anyway, once you’re over the mountain, you’ve got to turn around and look for a cave. It opens up into an immense cavern and there’s your castle. The giant fell asleep snuggled up to it so it’s a bit tricky to find. Do you have a flashlight or a lantern or anything?”

The traveler shook his head.

“Hmmm. Might be wise to get one at the gift shop in the ogre-infested thicket, though their prices are terrible. Let’s see, I think I’ve got a candle and some matches around here somewhere. Better than nothing, right?” The fairy scurried around a moment before handing them over.

The traveler put them in his pocket.

“Well, then, I best be going. Lots to do before winter!” said the fairy, and flitted off.

The traveler stared at the directions he’d just written down and adjusted his backpack. His gap year was proving more exciting than he’d anticipated. He knew he’d made the right choice coming here instead of backpacking around Europe.

fairlyns and gobrys: a primer of mythical hybrids

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Sometimes, even less often than once upon a time, a goblin and a fairy will find themselves an excellent match and fall in love. Humans tend to struggle with this idea because of an odd determination that one is pretty and the other ugly, but most of that is related to the way human vision hides true beauty from their sight.

The offspring of such a mythical romance is called a ‘fairlyn’ if the father is fairy and the mother goblin. If the mother is the fairy, and the father goblin, the term ‘gobry’ is employed.

The fairlyn, in particular, has proved to be in possession of powerful magic due to hybrid vigor. The gobry’s hybrid vigor often results in an unusually long lifespan, with just the  regular amount of magic one would expect from a fairy or goblin. The oldest known gobry was recorded to be thirteen hundred and thirty six years old on their deathbed. In contrast, the average fairlyn lives to be seven hundred and fifty years old.

Neither the fairlyn nor the gobry have ever been considered ‘common’ even among their mythical brethren. Mythical scientists estimate perhaps one or two are born every century, placing them on the ‘impossibly rare’ list of fae sightings, and making anyone who encounters one lucky indeed.

 

Shadow, the poacher’s dog

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The family got Shadow from the SPCA. She seemed like a fine dog for a young and growing family, barking at squirrels, night noises, and investigating scurrying sounds in the woods. Accompanying the children as they played in the forest proved to be her favorite job as family dog.

Little did any of the family members know their shelter dog’s first owner had been a poacher of the worst kind. The kind who hunted mythical beasts by using his dog to sniff them out in their houses. Once caught, he sold the poor creatures to the highest bidder. His career ended when he tried catch a fairy-goblin hybrid (also known as a fairlyn) and she used her hybrid magic to turn him into a mosquito. Rumor has it he was swatted years ago.

The fairlyn considered Shadow to be innocent of any crimes, and dropped her off at the SPCA for safekeeping. Just the same, Shadow’s early training stayed with her all her life.

The children regaled their parents with tales of the goblin feasts and weddings they crashed thanks to Shadow, the fairies she rooted out to show them, and the boggarts that rode clinging to her collar as she charged through the woods. Their parents gave indulgent smiles at their children’s imaginative tales and wondered if they weren’t spending too much time in the woods.

It is a testament to their own lack of imagination that it never once occurred to them the stories might be true.