When I was but a toddler, I remember stumbling down a dark hall. I don’t recall how I had escaped from my caregiver, or what drove me to explore, but I had learned how to walk and I was determined to see what was at the other end. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if it’s my memory or if the caregiver told me this story later in life… In either case, this is how I first met my father and it would be the closest I’d ever see him smile.
We lived in a large house; more rooms than anyone would ever need, but it was ancient, and it was ours. Our family had lived within those walls since forever, and would continue to do so, forever. I remember how I leaned against the wall to keep my legs steady. It was a revelation to me as it enabled me to walk longer than I had previous. But as I marvelled at the speed I was moving, something obstructed my path. A door opened a few feet in front of me and a stranger came out. He had huge frown plastered on his face; his eyes were shadowed and deep; his chin was clean shaven and tidy. He didn’t notice me right away and looked around the hallway before he closed the door behind him. Our eyes met and his mouth quirked. Both of us just stared until someone came rushing down the hall towards us. His mouth turned into a frown again and a young lady picked me up. I don’t recall her name or what she looked like, but she bowed apologetically and hurried down the hall with me on her shoulder, hissing something at me. My father spun around and I saw him disappear around the corner – and thus he was out of my memory, for another couple of years.
I didn’t know what a parent was. They said I had a father, but the word had no meaning to me, for all I ever felt was that he was a stranger, at least until I learned what a father and son was supposed to be like and I wanted that relationship too. Mother had died on my birth and I think father blamed me for her death, though, he never said so outright. Even so, a child loves their parents, no matter what. An innate instinct in all animals, for a child cannot survive without their parents, at least, that is how I saw things. How else can I explain the yearning I felt for a stranger’s love?
My first attempt was to seek his approval by drawing a picture that I remember being very proud of. I didn’t hesitate to run straight to my father’s study to show it to him. The office was empty when I came and it took a fair amount of willpower to enter it. He had never expressly told me I was forbidden to go inside, in fact, he hadn’t expressly told me anything. The office was tidy and there were shelves with books from wall to wall. There were some papers scattered around. I placed my drawing on top of the papers and hurried out of there as fast as I could. I waited several days for a response. It never came.
However, I wasn’t deterred. The drawing wasn’t good enough, I told myself, and I endeavoured to make another. My grandmother, (who was also was my tutor,) encouraged me to show my next drawing and I went back. But this time, the door was locked. I wondered if I should wait for him, but the mere thought of standing face to face with my father made me queasy and I instead slid the drawing under the door and disappeared. I did this a couple of times before I gave up. Maybe he didn’t like drawings? He certainly didn’t like mine…
My grandmother was my only light, in those days. She gave me everything that a parent should. She was attentive to my needs and she gave me her unconditional love. Besides both being my parent and tutor, she would often tell me stories, and there was one particular story that would change me for years to come: I remember it being a cold night. The house was quiet and everyone was huddling wherever there was a fireplace. Me and grandmother sat alone in the parlour, wrapped in blankets as the last sparks from the fire settled into ember. She had been talking for a while, but I hadn’t been listening. The disappointment was still fresh in my mind. Eventually, she noticed my mind’s absence and wondered what was wrong. I asked her. “Why does father not love me?”
Even then I saw that she wanted nothing more then to tell me he did, but she couldn’t, because it wasn’t true. Instead, she glanced up on the wall, where an old sword hung above the fireplace. She lifted me up on her knee. “You know who this belonged to?” She said and pointed at the blade.
Strangely, I hadn’t noticed it before, being a mere six or seven years old I was not tall enough to see it unless pointed out to me. I shook my head. She told me that it once belonged to a great man; an ancestor to our family that lived hundreds of years ago. His name was Hall and he lived in a time when a race called Goblins pestered the land. “Ugly little creatures,” she said. “They enjoy making life difficult for people, but Hall was a brave soul and he would stand up to their tyranny. He and two loyal servants went after the Goblins that lived in the dark forest to the west. For two days they were gone and only Hall came back alive. He would not speak of what had happened in the woods, but he didn’t have to, for the Goblins didn’t bother the people anymore and they haven’t ever since. Hall became a hero and they say that as long as a Wholehart lives on this land, the Goblins would not dare to leave their forest to bother people again.”
I imagined my eyes gleamed then. I felt pride of my ancestor and I said. “Do you think father would be proud of me if I became as brave as Hall?”
Grandmother smiled softly. “I’m sure he would.”
Nothing else was on my mind, then. I wanted to be brave and strong, like Hall, and I headed to the nearby grove to pick out a stick that was about my size. I swung it wildly, like a blade, and without direction. I would see clearly, in my mind, the Goblins fall before me, until they fled back into their forest. I was a master. I knew I wasn’t really, but I become stronger, and could swing it for longer, and hit it harder each time. It was only a matter of time before I would make my father proud, I told myself. But swinging a stick around wasn’t enough, I needed to grab my father’s attention, so I made sure to practise as closely to my father’s office window as I could. If he ever looked out, he would see me for I made sure he was there when I trained. But the window never opened, nor did I see any shadow looming that would indicate that he was there, watching. After almost a month, I grew tired of swinging the stick around and I began to feel stupid doing so. I didn’t see myself as a master anymore, and all I saw was a child playing. I needed the real thing, to prove that I was worthy. That evening, when I was sure everyone was busy preparing for supper, I snuck inside to the parlour where the blade hung. I stared at it. It was so shiny and I stood in awe, knowing who it had belonged to.
To climb the fireplace was easy, it was another matter to lift it off the frame. I made careful not to touch the sword’s edge, but as I fiddled with it, a maid saw me and pulled me down to the floor. She scolded me, telling me I could’ve got hurt. But I didn’t care what she said. She saw my indifference and dragged me off towards grandmother, the only one, beside my father, I really cared about. The maid smiled as she saw the terror in my eyes as she dragged me away. Grandmother was busy talking to another maid and when she learned what had happened, she didn’t shout, she didn’t have to, I already felt ashamed. With just one look she could make me regret anything because I didn’t want to disappoint her. I promised not to do it again and when I went to bed, that night, I laid awake, thinking up another scheme to get my father’s attention.
This is but a first taste of a longer short story which you can continue reading for free over HERE
© Christopher Stamfors
A door opened and a man stepped out, squinting at the sun. The day was clear and he let the sun fully engross him. It had been a long winter, he thought as he went out to inspect the field. Much of the snow had melted, but the ground was still hard. It would be another month before he could sow the seed for this year’s harvest. He glanced up at the mountain that was tall in the distance. It was still covered in white but he knew (as sure as spring would come) that they would come knocking on his door.
And so the people tilled their land and sowed their seeds. The harvest was good and the air was mild. The farmer went to bed early, knowing that tomorrow, they would come. And he was right, for later the next evening, a tall man knocked on their door. He wore a black cloak and a sombre expression. The farmer knew they weren’t much for talking and went to business. They exchanged food for silver. The stranger raised a large sack, filled with various animal produce, over his shoulders and was gone. The farmer stood by the doorstep and watched the stranger lumber away, carrying much more than any normal man ought to. He didn’t think of them during the winter, he didn’t like to, because they were not men, they couldn’t be. A cold breeze caressed his forehead. The summer was at an end and it would be another year before they descended the mountain.
In a small, dimly lit room, she was staring at a fire. The flames engulfed the pot that hung over it and she waited for it to settle before she’d pour water into it. She was not used to sitting alone, and her mind drifted away. She was reminded of her husband, sitting next to her, being silly and making the time fly by. The fire settled into a hearth and she poured the ingredients into the boiling water, tasted it, and waited.
She knew nothing of what was happening outside:
The sun had almost set, casting purple twilight over the horizon. Men in dark hoods wandered between the houses, disappearing and reappearing as they became invisible in the shade. There were several of them, dashing ghostly from wall to wall, some standing like a sentry, watching the horizon. On the southern end of the village, one of those Sentry’s kept his eyes peeled, when a figure emerged from the horizon. Snow, that had collected on his cloak, crumbled as he dashed towards the stranger:
The stranger was a weary soul. Each step felt like a ton as his feet were buried knee deep in the snow and he did not notice when two dark hooded men emerged in front of him. They seemed to tower over him as he himself stooped to keep the wind from his eyes. “Are you lost, friend?” One of the Sentries asked in a dark sort of way.
Was he lost or had he found the right place? He wasn’t sure. The only thing he knew was that something drew him, something burning inside him that forced him to go on. The stranger glanced up at them and saw that half their faces were covered by a hood, their left and right eye respectively. When they saw his face, their one eye widened as if transfixed by his appearances. But nothing else revealed what they were thinking as their expressions remained cold and neutral. The stranger touched his face, wondering if there was something wrong with him when he realised he could not picture what he looked like. After a moment, the dark hooded men collected themselves and gently placed their hands on his shoulders, urging him to follow them to a small cabin where he could rest. But the burning did not allow him to rest. Feeling close to his goal, he quickened his step, but the two black figures lurched on him and grabbed him by the shoulders, insisting that he cooperate.
They pinned him down, and his chest burned more brightly, glowing in bright red and orange through his clothes. His weariness melted away and with new found strength, he broke free from their grip and rushed towards the village. The Sentries didn’t hesitate and drew their weapons. Beams of light zoomed through the air, hitting the walls on the houses, harmlessly melting the ice and snow that caked on the walls. They all missed and it seemed like the stranger would get away when he felt a pain through his ankle and he collapsed around the corner of a house. But when they came to collect him, he was gone.
Do you remember the woman from before? She had heard the commotion and she looked out to see what it was about. It was almost night now, only a slither of light still remained in the sky and it took a moment before she realised a stranger sprawled on her doorstep, half covered in snow. She stared at him for a while, conflicted. She wanted to help him, but what if he was dangerous? He squirmed in the snow. Her heart could not bear see him suffer and she opened the door and dragged him inside. Black liquid streaked on the floor from his ankle which she patched with linen as best she could. His clothes were soaked and she undressed him, wrapping him in blankets near the fire. For a moment, everything was still as she gazed down at the stranger on the floor. She noticed how his face was in perfect symmetry; his chin was strong and his hair curly and yellow. Everything about him was perfect and she thought he must be a god. She felt her cheeks flush and she forced herself to look away. Maybe this was a bad idea? He was a stranger and they were sure to come looking for him. What would they do if they found him here? As she contemplated her choices, there was loud knocking on the door that made her wince.
One of the dark hooded men stood on the other side, asking if she’d seen any strangers pass by? The woman glanced at her neighbours houses and saw that they were knocking on all the doors. She realised they had no idea where the stranger had gone and that they did not suspect her. “I haven’t seen anything,” she said and the hooded man nodded, thanking her for her cooperation and went away. Now, you might find it strange that they didn’t search her home? But you must realise, this sort of thing had never happened before. They did not question the villagers loyalty and they certainly did not expect it to be broken by a kind heart and a beautiful face.
When the door closed, she pressed herself against it. Her heart was at her throat and she breathed heavily. She had never lied before, but now that she had, there was no turning back. The stranger did not wake up that night, nor the following morning. The feast, that she had prepared for, came and went, and during all this time, she could think of nothing else but the stranger. But one night, when she was asleep, she heard bustling downstairs. She rushed down and saw the stranger rummaging through her drawers. He was completely naked and in any other situation, she’d look away, but now, she simply stared. His limbs were in perfect symmetry… and his muscles… He was perfection! Except for the bandaid on his left ankle. It took a moment before she became aware that she was staring and she quickly looked away and covered her face with her hand. “I’m sorry!” She shrieked.
He stood there, silently observing her. “Where are my clothes?” He said.
She pointed to a coffin next to the cupboard. When he was dressed, he turned and said. “Thank you.”
Silently, she turned to meet his eyes. It was the first time she’d looked directly into them and somehow she could not draw her gaze away. He observed her too, for a moment, when he suddenly hissed and clenched his teeth, moving his hand towards his chest. “I must go,” he said and turned towards the door.
“Wait!” she said, placing her hand on his, hindering him from turning the doorknob. He glanced down at her hand, noticing she was missing her ring finger. She removed her hand as if burned by his gaze and hid it behind her back. She didn’t know why she did so; she had never felt ashamed about her missing finger, but seeing the perfection that was this man… She wanted to hide it. “I— They are still after you, you know. They’ll catch you if you leave,” she said.
But the stranger just looked at her vacantly and made another effort to leave. “You can’t!” she shrieked and embraced him around the waist. She didn’t know what had come over her. Why was it so hard to let this man go? She didn’t know, but, for whatever reason, she knew that if she let him leave, she’d never see him again and the thought alone made her tremble. The stranger did not resist her at first, but as she refused to let go, and the burning in his chest became stronger, he tried to force her off. Then, it all stopped. All the energy that had gathered within him drained and he collapsed on the floor. She held onto him, still, and he fell into her lap. For a while, he didn’t open his eyes, but when he did, it was as if he saw the world for the first time. His mind was clear and the urgency was gone. He noticed how pleasantly the room smelled of firewood; how the furniture was half-moon shaped to accommodate the rounded walls; how her front teeth peaked behind her lips; and how her soft breasts pressed against him.
They didn’t move from that spot for a very long time. Only at dawn, when the light shone through the windows, did it revive them. She was the first to rise. She held out her hand and led him upstairs to her bedroom. They spent all day in that bed, and only the next morning, did they finally talk: She felt his chest rise and fall and she thought there was nothing in this world that could make her get out of bed. A pang of guilt clenched her hand, scratching the stranger’s skin over his stomach. What would her husband think if he knew? How would she feel in his situation?
“Is something wrong?” the stranger asked.
She glanced up at him and their eyes met. Somehow seeing them made the guilt wash away. He was a god, she was sure of it, only a deity could make somebody feel this good. She sat up and locked her hands together and took a breath. “I have a husband,” she said.
There was no reaction from him, which surprised her. “He… He was buried in an avalanche a month back.”
“I’m sorry,” he said and placed his hand on hers.
She held it and caressed his hand with her thumbs. “Don’t be, he’ll return, eventually.”
His eyes grew wide. “Excuse me?”
“The Maker will get him back to me, when he’s ready.”
Her whole body quivered and she stared down her hands. How would he react to this? Would he leave her, or… would she make her leave her husband? Her cheeks flushed at the thought, both embarrassed and guilty for thinking it. But the stranger’s mind was somewhere else. He was seeing back to a time when he was still searching the world. He’d seen people die. He’d seen people buried or burnet when their bodies won’t carry them anymore. He’d seen people crying over the dead because they knew they would never see them again. The dead do not return, he was certain.
When no answer came, she tried to lead the conversation elsewhere. “A— Are you going to tell me about yourself?”
Broken from his revery, he blinked.
“Where do you come from?” She asked.
“I’m… I’m not sure,” he said, gravely.
“You don’t remember?”
“I…” He tried to recall, but all he could see was him walking, climbing, swimming; sometimes alone, sometimes with a group, but he was always moving, searching. “I don’t know… I have never considered it before…”
She looked at him, quizzically.
“It’s like I have never existed until now,” he said and placed his hand over his heart. He couldn’t feel it and he smiled. “It’s thanks to you,” he said and turned to her. “It must be… I wanna know more about myself, about you and this world.” Her heart skipped as he beamed at her. To make another person this happy…. She’d almost forgotten what it felt like. In her head, she decided that she’d do anything to help this man. “Do you at least remember your name?” she asked.
He shook his head.
She laid her head back on his chest. “Don’t worry. We will find out, together.”
He drew his finger through her black silky hair and thought of nothing when he asked. “What do you call yourself?”
Continue reading HERE
© Christopher Stamfors
I’m lazy. I don’t want to write more than I have to, and when I write, I’m hoping things will work out eventually… Not so! At least not when you are developing your backstory – everything that happened before the novel starts.
In my novel, I was kinda hoping I could just have the spirit of an evil witch that lived on an island without having go back too far who she was and how she came to be a ghost! But I have to… I have to plot it out until it makes sense, then I must write a story about her, just in case I missed anything or new things occur to me, because what I learnin the beginning is everything. Everything before the story happens has to make sense before I can get the real story rolling. I’m hoping that if I do that, I can make up the novel as I go because I know I have a solid foundation.
What is the story about?
It was about something, now it’s something else…
Why can’t there be an easy story to write? Why do I need to do a trial and error to nail down what the story is about?
I can’t… I just can’t continue writing, because all of a sudden, it’s different from what it was before. All that work feels wasted, like, there must be a better way to do this…
I don’t care that it might be a master piece eventually because it is not worth spending so much time on stuff that you never gonna use.
Am I a perfectionist or is it a learning curve? Will it become easier over time or am I doomed to write and abandon stories because they will eventually stop making sense…
I never plan, it seems counterintuitive to plan out something you know nothing about. A story takes form as I write about it. Perhaps I need to do both? Just write then plan things out; write and plan over and over until it make sense… The characters grows, the plot grows, I grow.
Or maybe I’ll just have to pick a story where I have something to say… I have some of those. Why haven’t I picked them out before…?
Why is it so hard narrowing down your ideas into a cohesive story?
If you are anything like me, your mind is bombarded with ideas all the time, which is no exception when you write. You want to explore everything; everything is interesting, until you have material for three or four separate stories which has nothing to do with each other but you try to make them into one anyway.
This is my struggle.
On top of that, I’m very arrogant. I believe I can make a story from virtually nothing. You have one of those very vague but cool ideas, you know, which you try to make into something. I didn’t really have to be persistent with this idea because I have plenty where the plot is very clear and I have a clear message which I want to convey… Not this one. I don’t know what’s it’s about or what I’m trying to say, it’s just a cool idea I want to make into something.
I still believe I can make something out of this because I am still arrogant, but it will take a lot of work and I have done too much already to give up now…
Learn to discard ideas, kill your darlings, as they say, which I never believed in but is truer to me now more than ever.
Don’t assume that things will work out as you write your script. Plot demands serious thought and you will just end up wasting time if you skip it.
For me, it boils down to having to learn early in the writing process what works and what’s not and not jump at every idea you have, especially if you have a lot of them, which I have all the time… Endlessly…
Basically; don’t start on something when you got nothing.
The biggest problem with writing fantasy stories is that we have to present a whole new world organically without overwhelming readers with names and places. Tolkien has an interesting way of presenting his world which I don’t think many have tried to emulate since. He does something that is generally frowned upon in the writer’s world today and that is he stops the plot by giving context to his places. This might seem like a bad idea but I think this is extremely vital to do in a fantasy setting. It usually goes like this: The heroes reaches a new place and then Tolkien gives some context to the history of that place and what the people living there are like through narration. One example is his introduction to the people of Bree, why there are both Humans and Hobbits living there and that it once was a an important crossroad town.
What’s so genius about this is that Tolkien can show a world and tell about organically because he makes us care about his world as we explore it. Many writers dumps a lot of information about places that the reader, and often the heroes, have never been to.
Why should we care?
Another important thing that most fantasy authors don’t do, I think, is that they fail to give context, or history, to small places, places that does not necessarily involve the main plot. Often the heroes just visits a town, something happens there, and then they move on. It’s just a nameless town with nameless people, a plot device. This makes the world hollow and forgettable, I believe.
Is there other ways one can convey the same information? You could use dialogue but I find it highly unlikely that the history of the places the heroes visits would come up in conversation very often if they are on a quest to save the world.
I don’t know about you guys, but if I would journey across the land, I would like to know a thing or two about the places I visit. Today we have the internet, but decades ago, people would have to pick up a history book, and that’s how LoTRs sometimes feel like, a very entertaining history book.