In the Victoria Holt Room (F2K): Lesson 6

As usual, procrastination reared its ugly head and I rushed to complete Lesson 6 and posted it an hour before the deadline. I kinda like it. 

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Colin and I are in sebayan, the land of the dead.  

My sister Cass had trailed our grandfather here and has inexplicably found a way of preventing him from crossing over to the realm of the living. For manangs, the inability to cross back and forth between both realms is akin to being handed the death sentence. The act of crossing recharges our abilities and failing to do so over a long period weaken us. Grandfather had been held hostage for nearly a week. Cass had cackled – cackled! – when she shared this little titbit in my dream she walked into last night.    

The first time I entered sebayan, I couldn’t breathe.

“It’s the air,” Colin’d explained, “it’s thick with spirits. You’ll get used to it. Eventually.” He’d smirked as he left me crumpled on the ground desperately trying to make my lungs work. It was the longest five minutes of my life before he’d deigned to pick me up to cross back into reality.

After numerous crossings, I did eventually get used to the innate strangeness of being in the land of the dead. Not only was the air thick and the landscape perpetually grey but there was also a peculiar astringent scent that assailed me. I’d asked Colin about it and he’d paused, narrowed his eyes and said he didn’t smell anything. I returned his narrowed eyes with one of my own, added a crinkling of my forehead and tossed a Whatever his way.  

As we stride towards the location Cass had given us, I steal a glance at Colin from the corner of my right eye. I feel as if I’m walking through molasses and wonder if he feels the same but I see that he isn’t struggling like I am. I let out a huff and think must be those darn muscles of his.

“You shouldn’t be here, Col. Cass is behaving unpredictably. I don’t want anything to happen to grandfather.”

My sister had two stipulations before she’d allow grandfather to cross – come alone to meet her and to bring grandfather’s lupong to exchange for him. I’d failed at both.

“You said it; she’s unpredictable which is why I’m here.”

“She said to come alone and-“

“-and to bring his medicine box which you don’t have and when she finds out, you’ll need someone at your back.”

I hate it when Colin is logical.

“I hate it when you’re logical.”

He graces me with one of his rare grins and I forget that I hate him sometimes.   

I can see the copse of screw pine trees ahead of us where we were to rendezvous with Cass to make the trade. I can almost make out two shadowy figures; one was standing and the other on the ground. Grandfather. My heart shudders and I hope that it’s not too late.

As we move closer, I put my hand in my jeans pocket and stroke the rose quartz that grandfather had given me when I first called to be manang. The rose quartz was one of the batu ilau, healing stone, from his medicine box.

“Here, take this to start your own lupong, Jessana.”

I’d held it in my hand, admiring its smoothness and how it seemed to glow from within as if it had its own internal light source.

“It’s beautiful! Are you sure?”

“Yes. It’s time.”

“What does it do?”

“Anything you will it to do.” Grandfather had then taken both my hands in his wizened ones and chanted softly. The quartz grew warm.

In my pocket now, the rose quartz was no longer warm instead, it is cold as ice.

We reach my sister and grandfather and I immediately rush to his side to check his condition.

“Stop where you are, Jess!” I halt my movement at Cass’ order. “Not even a hello for your one and only younger sister?”

I look at her and wonder how it is that we are related. She’s a fairy princess – light and petite while I am true to our indigenous heritage – tan and dark flowing hair with more than my share of curves. The only feature we share are our dark brown eyes that hold a hint of caramel when we’re in the light.

She looks at me with hatred in her eyes and I am confounded as to what I did to deserve that fierce emotion.

“Did you hurt him, Cass? Our grandfather. Did you harm him?”

“He’s fine. Just weak. Tired.” She stands behind his body, legs akimbo. I detest violence but right then, I itch to pull her hair, each and every one of her expensive hair extensions, from her scalp. I clench my hands beside me. Colin, sensing that I am at the edge grabs my arm with his hand as if to hold me back.

Cass sees this and says “Awwww…look at that. Colin is trying to protect you. From lil’ ol’ me.”  She claps her hands with glee.

“Stop it, Cass. Tell us what you want.” I am desperate to get grandfather through to our realm before he worsens.

Cass extends her left hand towards me.  “Alright, hand over dear ol’ granddad’s lupong and he’s free to leave here.”

“His lupong is missing from the Vault, Cass which I’m sure you’re aware of. This is all just a farce which–“

“Actually, sis, you’ve had the lupong all along. Well, not you per se…”

“Wha-“ I am confused.

Colin brushes past me, reaching into his jacket to remove a small oblong wooden box which Jess recognises at her grandfather’s medicine box. He walks over to Cass and hands it to her and stays there, leaving me alone.

“Colin? What’s going on?”

His face betrays nothing. He doesn’t even look at me in the eye. Cass slips her hand into his and I feel my heart shudder.

“Well, Jess, thank you for not listening to my instruction of coming alone. And thank you for this!” She waves the oblong box at me and I feel the both of them crossing over to the land of the living. And for a split second, before they slip through the divide, I see Colin turn to finally look at me and he mouths forgive me.

I use all the energy I have left to hold my slowly fracturing self together and take grandfather in my arms.

“Babai,” I whisper his name in the old dialect hoping he’ll wake up. “Please get up. Please!” I feel wetness on my cheeks and a tear drops onto grandfather. He lifts his eyelids and when he sees it’s me, a small smile tugs on his lips and he says to me in a voice so faint I have to lean into him to discern it.

“You came.”

(WC 1126)

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In the Victoria Holt Room (F2K): Lessons 4 Conflict & 5 Characterisation

Confession: My Lesson 4 Conflict this session was my Lesson 4 Conflict from last F2K 😦

But my Lesson 5 Characterisation is BRAND NEW!

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“I’ve been waiting for almost an hour, Jess. Where’ve you been?”

“Colin, I’m gonna have to skip our session today, I –“

“Wait, again??? You’ve skipped two sessions already! Keep this up and you’re not gonna get through the Trials!”

“The Trials are the least of my worries right now. Please, just let me go. I need to get grandfather’s lupong from the vault and I’ll be out of here.”

“You’re taking his medicine box? You can’t do that!  Your grandfather’s one of our most revered celestial manang and his lupong is one of our most sacred treasures; the Elders will never allow it.”

“And that’s why I’m not asking them, Col. It belongs to MY grandfather and by extension, to me. Let me through. NOW!”

“You’re not making any sense, Jess. Hey! Hey, look at me – have you been… crying?”

“N-no.”

“I’m not letting you out of my sight until you spill about where you’re taking your grandfather’s lupong and why you’ve been crying. You never cry.”

“You don’t know me. And I HAVE cried. Just not when you’re around.”

“Jess…”

“I think may hate you a little bit more right now.”

“I’ll live.”

“It’s Cass –“

“Your sister, Cass? If you’ve seen her, you have to tell the Elders, they’ve been trying to track her whereabouts for –“

“Colin! Do you want to hear what happened or not?”

“Whatever it is, it’s beginning to sound like we may need reinforcements.”

“It’s Cass. She walked into my dream last night. I don’t know how. She shouldn’t have been able to.”

“That’s gonna be a problem.”

“But Colin, that’s not what I’m worried about. She’s got grandfather trapped! In the spirit world!”

 (WC 283)

In the Victoria Holt Room (F2K): Lesson 3 POV

Strange, this lesson has never really stumped me but this time, it did. Nevertheless, I worked through that barrier and came up with this. I feel it’s still missing something though but I’m okay with that.

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3nd Person POV

Colin had pushed Jess far beyond what she was used to that day. He’d directed her to hold the Veil open, a spiritual curtain that separated this world and the one in which spirits roamed, for varying durations until he was satisfied that she could keep the opening steady for anyone to move through safely. They’d repeated the exercise multiple times until rivulets of sweat flowed from her exertions and drenched her clothes. Her body had trembled from keeping still with both arms held in front of her. In the end, Jessana’s brain was pretty much fried and her fatigue, so intense, she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Even though today was an accomplishment for her, Colin had reminded her that she was far behind in her training and that stabilizing the Veil was something that younger manangs-to-be could perform in their sleep.

2nd Person POV

You watched her body trembled as she expended her abilities to keep the opening in the Veil steady. You held yourself back from halting the exercise because you knew that she was strong enough. You’ve confidence in her power even though she didn’t. But, of course, you’ll never tell her this. She’s one of the most gifted manang you’ve ever encountered. She’s also one of the most annoying. You ran her through the exercise repeatedly until you were satisfied that she would be able to pull it off in an emergency. That’s when it’d mattered. Opening the Veil in a split second and hiding inside it before the Searchers located you. She impressed you but you didn’t let it show. She was the granddaughter of the most powerful manang in history and a complication that you didn’t need.   

In the Victoria Holt Room (F2K): Lesson 2 Activating the Senses

I’m usually the first to post this lesson in the classroom as it’s my favourite but somehow this time around, the procrastinator in me was too strong to overcome. Regardless, I did manage to punch out my 8 required sentences for each sense and a paragraph of less than 500 words that also has the 8 F2K-required senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, time, space, unknown.

The paragraph was inspired by my recent trip to one of the temples in Angkor Thom. I was utterly mesmerised by the temple known as the Aerial Palace. Stories rushed through me as I stood within the 1000-year old ruin. Awesome.

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Part 1

  1. The papery rustling of leaves and the faint rumbling of vehicles bring you back to the present.
  2. Your only guide in the dark is the dim flickering lights of the fireflies.
  3. A bead of sweat slithers down the side of your face, tickling you.
  4. There are leaves in your mouth, dried and earthy.
  5. You catch a whiff of rotted flesh and then it disappears.
  6. You think you’re in a pit somewhere in the forest but you’re not sure.
  7. You feel the earthen walls around you begin to close in.
  8. You open your eyes and the light from the hole above you is dimmer than it was earlier.

Part 2
I stood on the exposed terrace of the Aerial Temple, contemplating the crumbled limestone steps in front of me. Though I was on the second level, away from the crowd walking the grounds, faint tourist chatter still managed to reach me. The guide had explained that kings of long ago used to climb these steps which led to a gold tower room. Whether or not the gold tower room existed out of legend would remain a mystery because from my vantage point, there were only sandy limestone columns at the top. The steps were steep and there was no handrail to hold on to. The only way to reach the top was to crawl up on all fours. The early afternoon heat warmed my skin as I pondered the climb. I squared my shoulders, secured my rucksack across my body, popped a refreshing mint into my mouth and gripped the first step with my hand. Bits of limestone broke away. The cool January wind whipped my hair around my head, lightly flicking my face. I took a quick peek behind me and immediately regretted my action. I swayed a little and held on to the steps harder. I finally pulled myself up the last step and the scent of sandalwood assailed me. Was there someone else here? I peered around a fallen column adorned with carvings of demons and deities and an old woman, kneeling; clutching incense sticks turned her gap-filled smile my way. I returned it with what I hope was a sincere one. So this was where the legendary Snake Princess lived.

In the Victoria Holt Room (F2K): Lesson 1 Character Introduction

This lesson seems straightforward enough: Let one of your character’s (newly made or established) introduce you, its creator. Even then, I find it one of the most challenging because it has to be written from the POV of the character and your characteristics has to be woven into the piece as seamlessly as possible. This F2K session, I picked Colin to introduce moi because I can’t think of another character in my head that’s been there long enough to do the honours.

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Amelia doesn’t make New Year’s resolutions. She thinks resolutions are unforgiving and only encourages people who make them, to break them almost immediately. Instead, she prefers to make Guidelines for the New Year – a roadmap to achieving her goals. For this new year, Amelia’s told all of us – the characters she’s written about and many others that she’s just gotten to know – that she’ll prioritise writing above other endeavours. Writing is her first love and first loves deserve time and attention. Her words, not mine.

And when she also announced that she signed up for another session of F2K, our excitement level went up many notches. This is because, some of us were born here, including me, and we are excited to be back.

Oh, I’m Colin, by the way.

Perhaps some of you may remember me from the last F2K session. I appeared in some of Amelia’s pieces about Jessana and her journey towards finding her identity as a Manang. Ameli decided that Jessana needed a love interest and I was born. The inspiration for me is a real-life Colin, a guy who owns the coffee shop she used to frequent near her office. She used to have a crush on him but not anymore. I know this because it used to be that my scenes with Jessana were ones where I was portrayed as the good guy and I had a scene teaching Jessana to dance. All wonderful scenes. But all of a sudden, I was portrayed as a betraying jerk and there was even a scene where Jessana defeated me in a fight and gloated about it! Me? Lose in a fight! Bah!

Anyway, Amelia was supposed to finish Jessana’s story last year during NaNoWriMo but this didn’t work out. Though she now does freelance work instead of working full time, unexpectedly, freelance work has been eating into her writing time. The thing about Amelia is that she often has a difficult time saying no and this has made her forget her writing.

Every day, she tells herself that tonight she’ll finish a chapter. And every night, she starts writing as much as she can before the pull of her bed becomes too strong to resist. That’s another thing about Amelia, she loves her bed. It’s plush and since some of her stories come to her in her dreams, it’s one of her most favourite places in the world.

Another reason Amelia can’t resist her bed is because she’s decreased her coffee intake. A self-confessed javaholic, she used to consume 4 to 6 cups a day, now it’s down to 1 to 2 cups. Her caffeine-deprived body is not happy but she tunes it out with yoga and meditation. And occasionally running around the park by her house.

Anyway, I’m not sure if you’ll see me this F2K session; Amelia hasn’t quite decided it seems. I really hope so though, I’ve a reputation to repair.

(WC 490)

 

Visiting the Madeleine L’ Engle Room (F2K): Optional Prompt #1

My 3rd try at this prompt. Interesting outcome.

Picture yourself sitting in a car in a department store parking lot. You’re waiting for your friend, windows rolled down and music playing from the car radio. Suddenly, a man runs past your car, tosses a package on the seat beside you and keeps on running. In 500 words or less, what is in the package and what do you do with it?

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You jump at the thud when the package lands on the seat beside you. Your right hand flies to your chest and true enough, your heart is racing.

“Fishsticks!” You exclaim. One of your resolutions is No More Swearing. Or otherwise known as Replace Swear Words with Non-swear Words When There is Occasion to Swear. This is one of those occasions.

Satisfied that your vitals are back to normal, you turn your attention to the nearly heart-attack inducing package.

Brown paper. Twine. No card. The size of a paperback. Curious.

You contemplate ignoring it. Nothing good ever comes from opening a mysterious package. In your experience, anyway. But then again, you’re the one who rips open a gift the moment it’s handed to you, even though it isn’t time to open gifts.

You open the glove apartment, remove a bottle of sanitiser and spray the liquid all over your hands. You drop the bottle onto your lap and rub your hands together, making sure you remember the spaces between your fingers too. You start to return the bottle back to the glove apartment then decide for safe measure to spray the package. You do this until the colour of the brown paper darkens.

You untie the string and fold it neatly beside the package on the seat. Then you turn the package over to find the edges of the paper held together with cellophane. You remove each tape carefully, not ripping them. You line up the six pieces of tape beside the twine. Then you gingerly remove the brown paper to reveal its content.

You see the back of a picture frame.

A picture frame?

“What the pickles!” All that carefulness for a fishsticks picture frame? How anti-climactic, you think.

Shoulders slumping forward, you turn it around and instead of a picture; you see the words LOOK BEHIND YOU.

Goosebumps erupt all over your body and you feel the hair at the back of your neck lift. With the frame still in your hand, you slowly rotate your body until you are looking out of the back window of your car.

Your eyes meet a mostly empty parking lot. You search for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing.

A deep breath you didn’t realise you are holding whooshes out of you. Your body starts to relax.

You start to turn back around when out of nowhere your friends and family jump up and surround your car and shout “SURPRISE! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

Your eyes widen, your heart beat quadruples and a numbness creeps up your left arm. You are getting a heart attack after all.

(WC 434)

F2K again, YAY!

It’s been a long 6 months since the last F2K session and now I’m in my 3rd round of this amazing writing course. I actually debated whether or not to join because I thought that I should be writing not perpetually joining writing classes. I read through all my posts here about F2K and realised that quite a number of stories that I’m proud of stemmed from writing prompts/ lessons during F2K! And so, I am here again. Eager.

This time I’m in the Victoria Holt room, a new room. Also this time, there are many other Malaysians in the course and I credit this to Cynthia’s and my excellent effort at badgering the others via FB! 😀

The first optional writing prompt is already up and I am already rubbing my hands together with glee.

220px-Eleanor_Hibbert
Victoria Holt AKA Eleanor Hibbert