Hm, you know what we haven't had enough of lately? Acapella music. Straight No Chaser is always delightful. This song was another favorite from when I saw them in concert last summer.
Josephina didn’t want to take any chances, but as the four of them walked down the streets, it seemed like her magic was holding. She glanced in the direction of the shadows every now and then, and no one was looking back at them.
She wondered where they would find the first item on her list: food. The idea of these things shopping at grocery stores, eating at cafés, or even making bread at an old-fashioned bakery seemed bizarre to her. But there was much more to work with here, and she was certain she could manifest something. She just wasn’t sure how well her invisibility magic would hold if she attempted other magic on top of it.
“Follow me,” she whispered to the others. Without breaking rhythm, she guided the others away from the main streets, down to darker alleyways where no one else could see them. There, she went to the first door she could find, and focused on what she needed to find.
“I smell something good,” Benny whispered.
“Excellent,” Josephina whispered back. “Keep thinking about it…”
Behind the door was a small bakery, and on the counter were loaves of fresh baked bread. The shadowy woman behind the counter had her back turned. Josephina crept forward and grabbed a loaf of bread. Raven stepped forward to do the same, followed by Bonnie.
Benny, however, didn’t move. He was frozen, staring at the woman behind the counter. Raven gestured for him to hurry and follow them out. There was another door next to the counter, and Josephina had her handle on the knob. But the shadowy woman turned, and met Benny’s eyes. “M-Mom?” he said.
“Benny, it’s time you come home,” said the shadow woman. She walked right through the counter in front of her, and extended her hand to Benny. “Come on. Right now.”
“She’s not your mom!” Bonnie exclaimed, and the shadow woman’s head snapped toward the other three. Raven ran forward, grabbed Benny, and took off running toward the door, the shadow woman right on their heels.
“Quick, quick, quick!” Josephina cried. When all three were through the door, Josephina hurried through herself and slammed it shut just as the shadow woman reached it. Outside was a small, dreary garden, but as sad as it looked, it was growing. “Grab what you can, just keep running!” Josephina commanded the others. She plucked some flowers off of branches, some berries, and some random twigs and leaves. It wasn’t the neat packet of seeds she had pictured, but enough to work with, and that was all that mattered. No other shadows were in sight, but the shadow woman was banging on the door, rattling the knob. “This way!” Josephina cried, and hurried with them all around another corner. “We need a place to hide!”
“There!” said Bonnie, pointing to a door so small, they all had to crouch down to fit inside. “The little ones are usually safe.”
“Usually?” Raven said. But they had no other choice. They hurried through, and Bonnie slammed the door behind them.
The room they had entered could hardly be called a room. Just a cramped, dark, dirty cave. But they all let out a sigh of relief because it was empty, and safe.
Benny was in Josephina’s arms before she knew it. “I’m sorry!” he cried. “I thought… She looked like…”
“It’s okay, sweetie, we made it,” Josephina said. “Shh… It’s okay…”
“But your spell worked, Jo,” Bonnie said. “Do it again.”
“And then we’ll go home?” Raven asked.
“No!” Benny said, pulling away from Josephina. “We don’t have to give up because of me! Now we know they’ll try to mess with us, we just can’t look at them!”
“Well, we did only get two things on our list crossed off,” Josephina said. “Who thinks we should keep trying?”
“I guess so,” Bonnie said, “I mean, we’ll have to walk down the street with all the shops anyway. I think we got the most difficult things first.”
“Raven? What do you say?”
Raven sighed. “Okay, fine. Let’s do it.”
Raven didn’t want to admit her fear. If the shadows could imitate people from their old lives, maybe the others could resist, but she didn’t think she could. But before they left the cave, Bonnie took her hands in hers, and whispered, “Just keep your eyes on me.” All Raven could do was nod, but the gesture gave her more strength than she could express.
The first shop they entered had electronics, and a few toy ones as well. They grabbed a pair of walkie-talkies, and a video game console for Ben, as well as a random game. There was no time to pick and choose. Enough to work with was all that mattered. Raven had no idea why these shadowy people would have stores like these, but she realized that the more she thought of them as human, the more human they began to look. But she didn’t risk more than periphery glances.
The next was a clothing store, where they each picked up a new item to work with. Bonnie started to hurry them along, and Raven took the hint, scooting the others out the door. “Who did you see?”
“An ex,” she said. “This place is really trying to mess with us.”
“Good job getting away, though,” Raven whispered.
In the next store, Josephina found cleaning supplies. Raven heard her gasp when she looked at the end of one aisle, where three, smaller shadowy figures were gathered.
“Jo. Look at me,” Raven whispered. Josephina spun away from the distorted versions of her three children. Raven grabbed a bottle of something off the shelf, stuck it in her bag, and guided Josephina away.
The last store was the most important, and the one Raven was most afraid to enter. It was the same bookstore she’d been chased out of right before she met Bonnie. Her parent’s voices were already here. But they couldn’t split up outside a store. If she were to wait outside, she’d be even more vulnerable to an attack by a shadow impersonating one of her parents.
Inside the book store, they each went to a different section, keeping at least one of the group in sight. They had this routine down pretty well now. Josephina and Benny kept their eyes on each other, and Raven kept her eyes on Bonnie. Bonnie was just down the aisle, and as long as she was there, Raven knew she’d be okay. She took a book off the shelf, and tucked it in her bag.
Someone tugged at her shirt. “Benny, what’s wrong?” she whispered. But when she turned to him, she found someone who definitely wasn’t Benny.
“Why’d you leave me, Raven?” her little sister asked. Her gaze made her feel more than visible, like a spotlight was shining on her. “Why’d you run away, when they were so mean to both of us? You never noticed they hurt me too, did you?”
“Raven!” Bonnie whispered.
Raven snapped alert again. All the shadows in the book store were staring at them. Among them were her parents, Benny’s mother, Josephina’s children, and several others she didn’t recognize, but knew where more ghosts from their past lives.
Bonnie’s hand in hers broke her paralysis. “Just look at me,” she whispered, and together, they ran.
Josephina gripped Benny’s hand tightly as the two of them ran and ran. Raven and Bonnie weren’t too far ahead of them, but they had to catch up, their best chance was together… How did she let those two girls get away from them at all? But just as she wondered this, Bonnie and Raven spun around, and raced back toward them. Josephina’s heart nearly stopped. What could possibly be worse than the shadows of their loved ones chasing them with those terrible eyes?
“Train!” the girls both shouted at once, and the loud horn sounded. A train came charging down the street, straight for them.
“This way!” Josephina shouted, pulling Benny down another street. The girls quickly followed, but the horn sounded again. Several cars broke off the train and came after them. Josephina didn’t know where Raven and Bonnie were, all she knew was she and Benny had to stay together. The cars were breaking off in every direction, taking off down every track. She hadn’t realized before that train tracks crisscrossed in every direction on the ground. Had they always? Doesn’t matter, it’s all dream rules, she reminded herself. All that mattered was the ground was no longer safe. “If Raven can fly, Ben, I think we ought to try it. Hold on to me, and think like a bird!” She sprang into the air. To her surprise, it worked.
Benny was squeezing her tightly. “I can’t do it myself, I can’t!” he cried.
“It’s okay, I’ve got you! We’ve got to head for the water. Remember what Bonnie told us?”
“But what if we can’t breathe underwater like she can?”
“If I can’t, I’m sure you can, Benny! There’s a reason we all have to stick together. And if neither of us has it, we’ll swim for our lives. But I hear helicopters, and we’ve just got to risk it.”
“Where are the others?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure they’ll meet us back home.” She didn’t trust her own words. Scanning the skies, she didn’t see another pair of humans. Just black helicopters coming for them. There really was no other choice but to flee.
Down the streets they flew, turning corner after corner, but the train cars still chased. Raven followed Bonnie’s lead, remembering she used to have a safe house here somewhere. That was their only hope, and Bonnie was the only one who knew the entrance.
“It’s a dream,” she muttered to herself. “It’s a dream, it’s a dream, it’s a dream!” Those cars couldn’t really hurt her, she thought. If she died here, surely she’d just wake up safe at home. Safe, but… Not really at home. Not without Bonnie.
“Here!” Bonnie shouted. “This way!”
She’d found the secret entrance to their safe house, but her back was turned to the train track. “Bonnie, look out!” Raven shouted. Without thinking, she threw herself in the way of the car heading straight for Bonnie. She heard the impact more than she felt it, heard Bonnie cry out in horror, and then everything went black.
To Be Continued...
We’ve all heard not to make things too easy for our characters. Sometimes, in our impatience, we want to cut to the juiciest scenes, so we make things a little too easy up until that point (more on that in a later week… probably). Then, we may be told our story needs more conflict. So we throw in a few things: a fight with a loved one, a loss of an important object the story can’t continue without, a drastic change of plans, etc…
But do we need these extra conflicts? Ever been reading a book and found the story is dragging because the added conflict seems so unnecessary? Maybe it’s easily solvable, maybe the main character is having emotions you don’t connect with, or maybe they think they can’t go on without something/someone when it’s perfectly clear to you, the reader, that they can.
How do you know if you have the right amount of conflict?
First, identify your reading pet peeves. What kinds of conflicts frustrate you? What do you see as unnecessary? Consider how much your audience will share your perspective, and write accordingly. Also consider if there's anything these peeves from different stories have in common. Usually, the common thread is predictability.
I've found this to be a good rule: If the conflict has an easy solution that readers will be able to predict, cut it or change it. For example, in the “hero’s journey” story model, I find the “refusal of the call” phase to be useless and boring. Of course your hero needs a good reason to say yes, but since we already know there’s a whole lot of book ahead, we already know that they do say yes. Having extra pages where a character thinks things over, needs convincing, and argues with others about why they just can’t go is maddening to me. We already know that eventually, they will go.
Another example is a fight with a loved one where two pages later, they both apologize and forgive each other. Now, sometimes this is a reoccurring thing that denotes a deeper issue, and one or both parties walk away still frustrated, because they know it will happen again. This can be something that builds throughout the story until the real, core issue is finally addressed and resolved at the end. But I’m talking about a fight that was thrown in for extra conflict, but ended up being useless. If the characters are going to genuinely forgive each other on the next page, what was the point of the argument?
Don't waste your reader's time. Think about where the reader thinks the story will go next, then go somewhere else. You'll probably find something much more worthwhile and a lot more fun down a stranger road.
Here's some lovely, four-part harmony acapella to kick of this week! I absolutely adore these girls. Happy Monday!
The next few days were spent experimenting. At first it seemed like progress was being made. They hadn’t encountered a single shadow, so all the guards were working well. They had managed to enlarge the shack enough so they all had their own room, a nice clean living space, and a kitchen. But after a while the progress began to slow. It seemed the more they experimented and changed old objects, the less changeable the objects became.
“I hate to say this,” Josephina said on the fifth day. “But I think we need new stuff.”
“We can’t go out, though, right?” Benny said.
“You don’t have to, kiddo,” Raven said. “I can go out with Bonnie or Jo, and you can stay here safe. But we can’t live like this anymore. We need more to work with to expand outside the house.”
“I think we all need to stick together,” Bonnie said. “That’s what that creepy lady said in my first house. Our chances are best together. Don’t worry, though, Ben. We’ll keep you safe.”
Josephina took the sheets from their beds and transformed them into large, sturdy bags. She handed one to each of the group, then opened her book and ripped out a blank page. “What are we picking up? I’d say we need some actual food, even if it’s just a loaf of bread. I’ll bet I could work wonders with that.”
“Maybe we should plant our own garden!” Bonnie suggested. “If we could get seeds, or, I don’t know, a plant that’s already growing, we could turn it into whatever we want.”
“We need books,” Raven said.
“Yeah, and I’m bored,” Benny said. “I’d like something fun to do. I don’t know if they have any toys, or games or anything in shadow world, but it’d be cool if we found something to make into any of those things.”
“Maybe a real communication device for the outside world?” Bonnie said. “I know we all had temporary cell phones pop up in our pockets, and I don’t know if anything else would even work. But if we got some electronics, we could at least try.”
“Yeah,” Benny said. “I miss my mom.”
“I know, honey,” Josephina said, giving him a quick squeeze.
“It’s funny your writing a shopping list for shadow world,” Benny said. “My mom would do the same thing.”
“Sometimes habits are all we have. Anything else? I know it’s a bit silly, but I’m tried of magicing up my own cleaning supplies. If we had some real ones, maybe we could make the rest of this neighborhood a bit nicer too. With magic, of course,” she added, noticing Raven’s eye roll. “I think Bonnie’s seeds should help us with that too.”
“I need new clothes, too,” Bonnie said.
“Guys, isn’t this getting to be a lot?” Raven asked.
“We only need a little of each thing to stretch a long way, and if things go south, we can run, and try again another day.”
Raven was surprised to see the boat she and Bonnie arrived in was still there, and hadn’t transformed back into a log.
“Where’d you get a boat?” Benny asked.
“Bonnie magiced one up for us out of a log,” Raven said.
“Hey, if we can do stuff like that, can’t we just make ourselves invisible?” Benny asked.
“It’s certainly worth trying,” Raven said. Though she wasn’t sure if their “magic” was strong enough to hide them from the piercing gaze of the shadow’s glowing eyes.
“All aboard!” Bonnie said, “We’ll get invisible on the water!”
The four of them boarded the boat, which expanded to accommodate the extra people. Once on the water, the boat moved as though it knew the way. Josephina set about to putting spells on each of them, leaving herself for last. “We need to stay visible to each other, but not to shadows, so we won’t know if it worked until we’re in town. It’s best we try to blend in, and take every possible precaution against those things.”
“Stay quiet, emotionless, and move in rhythm with them,” Raven said.
“Do you think we should stay together, the four of us, or go in pairs?” Bonnie asked.
“We’ll stay together as much as we can. Only break into pairs if we need to, and never for long. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” the other three whispered. The town was coming into view out of the fog.
The boat moved to the shore, and waited for the passengers to depart. After all four were on land, it sank into the water and disappeared. Must be too conspicuous, Raven thought. But as long as they stayed together, Bonnie could magic up another boat to get home…
For now, they couldn't think about how to get back. All they could do was face what was ahead of them: a town full of shadowy beings who wanted to steal their light. Their souls depended on how well they could blend in, and how quickly they could return to safety.
To Be Continued...