LotSF: Respect

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I sprinted through the forest full-tilt, the anger and adrenaline coursing through my body pushing me past my pain. It was like my body was fading away with every step, the aches and wounds unravelling and leaving just my soul exposed. I hurdled fallen branches, pushed off of jutting rocks, wove between trees lightly and powerfully and nimbly. I felt faster than the river, lighter than the air. I didn’t just feel free, I felt capable.

Unstoppable, even.

The bearskins were faster, more desperate, more afraid, and they scrambled haphazardly through the trees towards some unknown destination. They plunged ahead, skidding and stumbling, but only ever went a few dozen metres before pausing to see if I was still following. Their pale, vile eyes flickered white in the failing light. They snapped and snarled at one another as they fought to get away but still I kept running.

I knew it was there, the fire between my fingers, the little black vortex churning ceaselessly within my chest. It was driving me on, pushing me through every twinge of pain or weak muscle. I wanted to rip into those bearskins, burn them alive for what they’d done, and the thought of finding their little hidey hole, where obviously there was something important to them, filled me with a dangerous hunger.

Steady, the wind seemed to croon as it twisted around my body. Steady.

I was more than this anger burning beneath my ribs. I was more than the blindness and the pain and the fear. I was more than loss and isolation and desperate risks. I was alive and powerful and I was not stopping for anything.

I leapt up on a rotting stump, planted my boot against its wood, pushed off and hit the ground running, kicking up leaf mulch and pebbles. My breath thundered in my ears. I wanted to go faster.

But rising above me was a steep ridge, lying across the forest floor like a bony spine beneath the grass and leaves. The bearskins’ claws raked deep gouges in the dirt as they frantically clambered up the incline and threw themselves over the other side.

I sped up, kicking hard as I fought gravity and my own heavy body. I grabbed shrubs, thick tufts of grass, anything within reach that could help pull me to the top. And there I stood at the crest of the forest’s backbone. My chest heaved. My legs shook. The aches and pains came coursing back.

I turned, looked behind me. Smoke curled up from the ground where liquid handfuls of flame had scorched the dead leaves. You could see the deep orange trail of smouldering forest tracing my steps hundreds of metres back into the darkness. That was me. That was me passing through the forest, as powerful and unstoppable as I was, and leaving my ugly black mark on it.

That damage was my fault.

My ribs shuddered as I fought to normalize my breathing and I slowly turned again, looking back ahead of me on the other side of the ridge.

There it was. Their hidey hole.

Bearskins swarmed like ants in the little hollow in the middle of the forest, their greasy pelts catching the moonlight, their pallid eyes reflecting white daggers in the darkness. They churned around their dingy camp, between piles of rotting meat and hoarded junk. The bearskins I’d been chasing flooded into the hollow, stirring the others to run faster and more erratically, until they were a chaotic, senseless mass.

I scanned the mass of seething bear pelts, searching for any tiny sign of anything that might be a clue. There was nothing. No sign of Faith, no sign of any gypsies, no sign of anything that meant anything to me. What had I expected anyways? That these brainless monsters would really be hiding anything important?

The swarming bearskins had started to slow, not quite as frenzied as they’d been when I first arrived, and I watched them with a curled lip. They were horrible creatures, monsters that preyed on emotional weakness, that inspired the same fear they thrived off of, and here they were in front of me. Afraid of me. So what did that say about me?

Maybe I belonged here.

I half slid, half clambered down the side of the ridge, tiptoeing around animal carcasses and rusted metal until I stood in the centre of their camp. They instinctively moved away from me, surrounding me in a circle that spun and bristled and pulsed constantly. The faint moonlight rode like a serpent on their backs. Their continuous motion was dizzying and infuriating and I wanted them to stop.

“Where are they?” I snarled at the beasts, and a low growl passed through the pack. A few of them swerved out of the circle to snap their jaws at me and a flicker of fear sparked in my chest. These monsters could kill me if they wanted to and it was their fear of a magic that wasn’t really mine–that I couldn’t really control–that kept me safe. If they decided they weren’t afraid of me anymore…?

The spark of fear flared hotter and now the bearskins were dodging in and out at me, snapping and snarling, made hungry by my worry but still cautious in the glow of the fire dripping from my fingers. The fear in my chest kicked harder, spiraling into something big and fierce, and my efforts to contain it only seemed to compress it into something sharper. The bearskins slowed, scraped their claws, turned inwards to glare at me. A few of them stepped towards me, threatening and huge.

The anger flared defensively, using the fear as ignition to make it burn hot and unwavering, and the bearskins leapt back from it. I sent them into a maddening dance, pulled like a magnet by their obsession with my fear, repulsed forcefully by the heat of my anger. They didn’t know how to respond, they didn’t know how to treat me, and we stood in a tense stalemate.

I swallowed tightly. Balancing the fear and anger like a pendulum where my heart should be, I took a step towards the bearskin directly in front of me. It immediately retreated, but I let out some of my fear, drawing it back, then held it there with a flash of anger. It felt scalding and nauseating in my throat, the potent emotional cocktail, but it held the bearskin transfixed as I took another step, and then another. I was standing a breath away, our eyes locked. My heart pounded, fury stretched taut across my shoulders, as the monster and I faced each other with ruthless respect.

It was a respect caked in dread and hostility, but it was respect.

My breath steamed hot and restless.

“Find them,” I snarled softly, baring my teeth in the darkness.

The bearskin growled lowly, pale eyes flickering, and then it took off into the night.

***

*collapses into an exhausted heap*

This was an effort to write. But it is done and hey, look, it’s the 15th. I’m sort of not really on schedule.

I have things I would like to do and a direction I would like to pursue and a whole lot of vague thoughts and aspirations but I have no promises for when any of that will happen. For now, I am tired.

Night.

Some Preparatory Words

Here we are, March 31st (shhh, please just pretend), the day before I finally begin to update LotSF again.

Or so you thought! Haha, April Fools’! I’ve actually given up on the story and am throwing it in the garbage. Goodbye. Adios. Rest in pieces! *jazz hands and glitter*

Okay, no, obviously I’ve not given up on the story, but with the amount of effort it’s taken to figure out what to do with it, I kind of do want to take this big old mess and toss it in the trash. Siiigh.

You’ll notice it’s a really weird day for me to be posting (Friday vs. Wednesday), and that’s because I wanted to say a few things before the next chapter of the story goes live tomorrow. First off, if for some reason you’re new to Language of the Small Folk, here is a great place to start (the links to the story are all on that page). Second, I’ve decided to make some changes to the story that I honestly didn’t think I was going to make.

I noticed as I was rereading the story (yes, I reread things I wrote FOUR YEARS ago, oh the pain) that after the second chapter of Winter, there is a huge change in tone. It’s like, we go from the struggle of not giving up in Getting Up, and then in Guidance suddenly I’m writing about this random forest lady who gives me a gift of warm light and huh? Then the next two chapters are just… off. They’re very off. I think maybe it was the result of me not writing as consistently as I did in the beginning of this project but wow it’s really hard to read.

It’s just not right. Which is also maybe why I had such a hard time continuing the story. It somehow meandered off into some weird part of the forest that it was never really supposed to go.

I hummed and hawed about it, because the point of this story was to just go where it took me, and it was important that each chapter just be allowed to exist as an intuitive expression of my heart and soul and blah blah, so it felt… wrong, in a way, to consider going back and changing those last three chapters. But I really don’t like them. I hate them. And they make this awful, awkward lull in the story that would be really disconcerting to anyone reading the story for the first time.

So I have indeed decided that I am going to remove the 3rd, 4th, and 5th chapters of Winter from the LotSF timeline.

The chapters will stay up on the blog in their original format, and I’ve changed it on the About LotSF page so that it’s clear they’re not a part of the story anymore, but for the intent and purpose of the story you can pretend they don’t exist. Erase them from your memory, banish them from the realm, forbid them from ever stepping foot in this place again. Or y’know. Something less dramatic.

Because of this, I am picking up immediately where I left off in the second chapter of Winter, Getting Up, and will hopefully be able to better match the tone and content that suits the story. I feel that this “fresh start” will allow me to write the story better and bring me closer to the ending I’ve imagined.

As always, thank you guys for being patient with me as I go about mucking the story up and changing my mind every time I turn around. It’s a bit chaotic but that’s what makes it more fun, right?

Lastly, as we gear up for the release of the next chapter, here is a lovely little summary of the story thus far, in case you understandably don’t want to read through a story that’s four whole years old (just think of the sacrifice I made for you).


After winter leaves her deaf and blind to the Small Folk, Alex is determined to find the root of the problem so she can get her magic back. With Nolan’s help, she sets off to meet the gypsy tribe, intending to help them with a simple emergency and potentially trigger her lost magic.

The feathered Small Folk are wounded and desperate; the threat plaguing them is worse than it first seemed. A pack of bearskins are on the hunt–vicious, violent creatures that feed off of fear and emotional distress. Simultaneously confronted with the devastating discovery that the barrier blocking her magic is psychological, Alex is not prepared for the battle ahead of her.

The gypsies fight as bravely as they can but the odds are not in their favour. The gypsies begin to fade, Nolan’s life is put in danger by a bearskin unlike the others, and Alex’s anger surges as the battle gets out of her control. Finally, in a burst of flame and fury, the blackness crowding her heart flares and leaves her cold, injured, and alone. The bearskins have been beaten back, but Nolan is nowhere to be found.

Stumbling through the forest, Alex is now left to figure out on her own how she can save her best friend and find Faith in the bearskin-infested woods…


Again, if you would like to read the first part of the story, the PDF is here, or all chapters are here.

That’s all for now. I will see everyone tomorrow for the oh-so-(probably not)-anticipated release of the next chapter.

All the best.

-Alex

A Foreign Language

There is one thing that is more neglected than my poor blog, and that of course is Language of the Small Folk.

I remember exactly where I left off. I remember it so well because I probably tried finishing that chapter a dozen times without success.

I had been writing every LotSF post on the spot, usually the same day it was published. It worked pretty well for me; I’d get into the heat of the moment, really feel the emotion of the particular chapter, and just let the story take me wherever it flowed. But for that last chapter I was working on, it really didn’t work.

I think I may have perhaps written myself into a corner.

Oops.

I mean, I know where I planned to go with it, I know how I wanted it to lead into the rest of the story, so it’s not like I couldn’t work with it. I just… lost a bit of the passion, I think, when I started into that scene, and it made it really hard to write it.

So what on earth am I going to do.

Since I’ve been blogging more, I’ve been enjoying the rigors of a schedule to give me a deadline and keep me motivated. I’ve been considering doing the same thing with LotSF–perhaps I will be more reliable and more motivated if I actually have set dates in which each chapter is due.

My idea is to post two chapters a month: one on the 1st, one on the 15th. If those days fall on a Wednesday or Sunday (a regular posting day), I’ll publish the regular post either on the day before or the day after, to keep things a little more spread out.

I mean, once upon a time I would post at least one LotSF post a week (and for a while it was every other day, believe it or not), so this leaves a lot more wiggle room than there used to be. But I think every 2 weeks isn’t so bad, and it will give me plenty of time to work on chapters in between deadlines.

I plan to resume the story with the new posting schedule starting on April 1st (April Fools’, I know, sorry). So hopefully that gives you guys plenty of time to reacquaint with the story and gives me time to get everything ready.

Now of course, I have a feeling it’s been so long since the last update that most of the people who were reading it don’t remember so well what happened last. My own memory is pretty foggy, and I’m the one who wrote the darn thing. So when I do post the next chapter up on April 1st, I’ll be sure to include a brief summary of the story so far, just to get everyone up to speed (and remind myself where exactly I was going with this).

But in the meantime, for those of you who might be new, or maybe just want to read the chapters again (which would be insanely flattering), I’ve compiled the whole first part of the story (named Spring) into a PDF that you can read or download here. Plus, the links for all the chapters for both parts (Spring and Winter) can be found on the main About page for LotSF here.

Thank you for your patience and huge thanks to those who have read every chapter. It means the world to me that you guys enjoy the things I put so much passion into (even if that passion seems to come in fits and bursts).

All the best.

-Alex

Infinite Imaginings

Last week, I noticed on my way home that someone in the neighbourhood has acquired their own little food truck.

I suppose it’s more of a food trailer than a food truck, seeing as how it looks like it fits on the back of a regular truck to be towed around, but still. There’s no mistaking the flashy red paint job and “BBQ & Grill” emblazoned on the side with a picture of some sort of savoury food next to it.

Normally it’s quite easy to tune out the background imagery of the neighbourhood, seeing as how I can pretty much put myself on autopilot to take the familiar drive home from work, but it’s rather hard to miss a bright red food trailer.

The few times since then I’ve driven past the trailer, I’ve been nosily trying to see who owns it and what it looks like on the inside. A couple times I’ve seen the back doors open and someone working away inside, but I’ve never really got a good glimpse of the owner or the kitchen space. Still, it’s a little point of interest to break up the monotony of the daily commute.

And it’s really fun to imagine.

Imagining the proud new owner of the food trailer making plans, babbling on about menu and locations, eagerly setting to work getting the trailer set up for business as the summer creeps closer. Imagining what the summer will be like, the very first season of this new culinary adventure, with people lined up and smoke billowing out the top and the smell of barbecued meat wafting through the hot, sunny afternoon. Imagining what sorts of stories this food trailer owner will soon be able to tell.

It almost burns, the curiosity and accompanying desire to know more, to know what’s true, to know what’s going to happen.

But it’s funny that we humans with our big, imaginative brains, seem to do that. Make stories out of the things we see, weave them into our lives.

A few days ago, as my coworker and I were just getting out of work, I was standing by the door waiting for her when I looked over towards the shipping centre next door and saw a man and woman hauling a big box into their car. The picture on the box indicated it was a child’s stroller, and a big one too. Once they got it in the car, they exchanged a high five before climbing inside.

It made me smile a bit, the little high five, and I wondered if this was their first kid. Was it still just a baby or was it a toddler now, big enough to warrant a bigger stroller? Where were they going to go with that stroller? The park, Disneyland, the zoo? Was the kid actually going to want to be in the stroller or would they at some point demand to go up on dad’s shoulders, to get a better lay of the land?

Just today, I noticed on my way to work a young man taking pictures of the back of his flame-orange pickup truck, which was obviously crumpled from some sort of collision. I only got a glimpse of him, not even enough to see the expression on his face, and I wondered how upset he was. He looked pretty young–was it his first car? Was it his first accident? Was it even an accident, or was it a hit and run in a parking lot, the kind of surprise you really don’t want to find when you get out of the store?

And what possessed him to get such a bright orange truck?

I mean, it’s amazing, but wow. Not many people go for bright orange.

I wonder if it’s his prized possession, that tropical orange truck. Maybe he’s absurdly proud of how unique that colour is, how it makes him so strikingly different from everyone else on the road.

Sometimes it really is just so much fun to wonder these things, to imagine what the answers might be, even if you’ll never find out if you’re right or not.

And I think it’s neat to notice these things, to give them the time of day. Like I said, it’s so easy to slip into the monotony of the day, of routine, and just completely block out all the familiar things around you. But once you actually start to notice things, once you actually pay attention to them and treat them as significant, it seems to fill your day with so much more colour and life.

I mean, you’ve heard me say it before: life is the greatest adventure.

And what a many-layered adventure it can be.

Because if you think about it, even though I don’t own the food trailer or the stroller or the orange pickup truck, even though I could never see any of those things again in my life, they have irretrievably become a small part of my life. They’ve been written into the daily story I’m telling, and the story I’ve chosen to share here.

In a way, they have become a part of my adventure, landmarks to celebrate particular moments along the journey.

If you wanted, you could dive into those little threads of story, you could follow the food trailer and the stroller and the orange pickup truck and you could see all the places they go, all the things they witness. You could take the small part they play in my story and expand it, dig into it like a little pocket of space in the timeline of infinity, and the overall story would become larger.

Let’s say the person with the food trailer serves food to a couple of girls with neon-dyed hair. You could then choose to follow their story, watch them fall in love and get a dog and move to Europe. You could dig into their lives, expand a new pocket of space, and make the story even larger.

You could do that an infinite number of times, opening up pockets, unravelling stories, crafting the overall narrative into something as immense and limitless as the universe itself.

You could take something as simple and linear as my life story and transform it into something massive and boundless.

Just by noticing things, just by imagining things, just by following stories.

I suppose I’ll never actually know the stories of the food trailer or the stroller or the orange pickup truck, and I’ll never get to see the universe-sized story that could be woven together from all the small individual strands, but it doesn’t change that I’m still a part of it. I’m woven into it just like everyone else.

Part of something bigger. Part of something magnificent.

Part of an adventure that’s bigger than anything I could even imagine.

It’s kind of amazing.

-Alex

POTS and Plots

A friend pointed out to me recently that it’s been quite a while since I last mentioned anything about POTS (y’know, that huge novel I was in the process of editing…), which is a fair observation, because I really haven’t said much about POTS lately. Nor have I really been working on it either…

Sigh. I mean, on the bright side, I have been working a little bit on other stories, mostly short stories or short series, so it’s not like I’ve not been writing anything. I just haven’t been writing the one thing I should be writing.

Ohhhh POTS. What am I to do with you?

I think last time I talked about it I’d just “finished” the third draft, or something like that? I can’t even remember anymore. But I realized when I finished that draft and considered moving on to the next one that I was feeling really discouraged by the whole thing.

It feels like, with that draft, I didn’t do very much to improve the story. It feels like, if anything, I might have strayed farther from what I want it to be.

Which is unbelievably frustrating, but not very surprising, given my track record.

I mean, when I first started editing POTS, I had no clue what I was doing. I naively thought that I would be able to just edit as I went through–that most of my problems, I suppose, would just be scenes that needed tweaking or holes that needed a little bit of filling. But that very quickly proved to be mind-numbingly asinine, because trying to fix the beginning of the novel without addressing the issues at the end of the novel really really reaaaaaally does not work.

But I still didn’t really know how to do that, how to rework the entire plot and keep the big picture in mind while also going scene-by-scene to put things in order. So I just kinda winged it as I went along, hoping I was getting closer to the story I wanted while also kind of realizing I was not doing that.

I have realized through a few NaNoWriMos that I tend to have the brain of a pantser (making up the story by the seat of my pants) but I write a much better story if I approach it like a planner. When I’m actually writing the story, I tend to just get into a flow and go with whatever’s coming to mind, which often results in me writing myself into a wall or writing in scenes that are terrible and completely sidetrack the plot (straight off the road and right into the ditch, woo). Things that seem like a great idea while I’m writing them out are often not as good of an idea when I’m reading them back later. If I plan the story before I start writing though, I tend to have much less of this sidetracking and come out with a much more reasonable story.

So clearly that’s the best thing for me to do, to look at the story as a whole and plan out what I need it to be, what needs to happen, and what I need to change. But it’s been terribly difficult for me to do that, and I’m trying to figure out what exactly is going wrong.

I mean, I know roughly what’s going to happen. Bad thing happens > protagonist is taken to other world > joins group of weary adventurers > travels point A to point B to point C > gets in a fight at point 1 and point 2 and point 3 > reaches the final destination > last big battle of the novel. It’s quite simple, really, like most adventuring stories are, and that of course isn’t the problem. It’s all the Whys and Hows that are the problem.

Why does she get sent to the other world? Why does the bad guy want to do bad things? Why do they need to go to their destination? How is the bad guy going to achieve his evil goals? How is everyone going to get from point A to point C? How is the final battle going to play out?

Why is the protagonist here? How is she going to react to all of this?

And it’s the technical parts where I’m really struggling. I can’t make my plot work, I can’t even figure out what I want my plot to be, and it pretty much feels like a big old soggy mess that I can’t for the life of me sift through.

Sooooo naturally, I’ve been avoiding it.

Which isn’t a permanent solution, I know, but it’s been admittedly nice to write short stories that aren’t as confusing and technical.

But of course, POTS is still my baby, and recently I’ve really missed writing it, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach it, to actually make it into the story I believe it can be.

And honestly? I’ve been allowing myself to question everything.

I mean everything.

If you think about it, I’ve been working on POTS for about 6 years now. Some of those years took place in high school, some of them took place in university–arguably a very big transitioning point in one’s life. And if you look back to the very original version of POTS, it’s actually a story I wrote when I was in seventh grade, which was about 8 years ago. Clearly, the story has followed me through some pretty big milestones in my life.

It’s only natural, therefore, that my writing style and ability would have changed in the time since POTS was first created. My ability to write, my ability to craft stories and develop meaningful characters, is a hell of a lot better now than it was back then. And who I am as a person, the things I think are important and the things I’ve learned about the world? Astoundingly different from when I started.

On one hand, it’s really cool to look at this story and see elements of my younger vision mixed with elements of my more mature insight. It’s like a scrapbook showcasing my development as both person and writer, and I think it’s what makes POTS such a special story to me.

On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that the story I wrote 6 years ago isn’t quite going to match up with the story I want to write now. I can see now where I’ve made mistakes, where I’ve lacked depth, where I’ve fallen short of the full potential in a scene or character. I can see now where things can be improved, and I can see new ways of bringing life and spirit to the story.

Which is actually quite possibly where I’m tripping myself up.

I’m trying to weave these two very distinct stories together, the young one and the more mature one, and I’m finding that the original plot that I had just doesn’t really work with my current goals. The message I wanted to convey with the story when I first started writing it was much simpler than the one I want to convey now, and I really can’t convey it well if I’m trying to use the same plot I started out with.

Basically: the reason I’m struggling to figure out the plot is because it’s just not working anymore.

I mean, I don’t think I have to throw the whole thing away, but I think I really need to take it in a new direction. And I think the best way to approach the story is to start from the ground up.

Which is what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been re-establishing my characters (who are they, what do they want), re-designing my world (what’s the current state of affairs, what’s the biggest challenge), and I’ve been re-working my plot (what kind of story do I want to tell, what’s going to happen to get my message across).

It feels nice, in a way, to be able to look at everything again, to give myself this metaphorical Play Dough that I have the freedom to shape into whatever I’d like. What if this character wanted something different? What if the bad guy actually did this instead? What if the protagonist made this decision here and changed the outcome?

It’s made it easier for me to work on POTS because I don’t have all this pressure to make it better, to make things work. I can just play around with things, scrap things or add them in, and I don’t have to worry if it’s an improvement of what came before it–all that matters is that I’m creating something that feels true, that feels important, and feels reflective of what I wanted when I first started writing this story 6 years ago.

It feels an awful lot like creative freedom, and I’m loving it.

I’m hoping that this story that’s grown up with me over the years will blossom into something beautiful.

And heck, I’m hoping I’ll do the same.

-Alex

TRIALS: Keeper of the Coins

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[ABOUT YOUR STORY 2015]

It’s been a while, but I’m back to posting Your Story entries again, starting with this one from Olivia Berrier over at Often Clueless, Always Shoeless. This is her take on the battle with depression and what it feels like to go through it.

Enjoy.

***

Keeper of the Coins

 I’ve spent a fair bit of time battling the depression monster.

It’s not an uncommon thing, but the very nature of it feels so isolating. Among all of the physical and emotional aches that come with depression, for me the worst one is the inability to communicate exactly how it feels.

I’ve tried. I’ve spent many hours with extremely patient friends throwing out metaphor after metaphor, as if I might somehow be cured if I could only find the right words.

I can’t say that writing about my depression cured me, but it definitely helped. I also don’t think that I ever found those perfect words, but I did find some words, and I’d like to share them.

I’d never say ‘this is what depression is,’ but this is what depression (or a small part of it) is to me. If this passage speaks to your particular struggle as well, then I hope having a metaphor will be armor for you like it was for me.

If this isn’t what your monster looks like, then I hope someday you’ll try to find some words of your own. Even if they aren’t perfect. An indirect light is infinitely brighter than total darkness.

 

My metaphor for the unpredictable daily fatigue of depression:

 

Every day she began with an energy allowance. The tiny silk purse was returned to her every morning, some days with few coins and some days with even fewer. But never more than that, and never as much as she wished she had to get through the day.

At first, she was guarded and sparing with her coins, trying to ration them out so she might not be completely broke by the day’s end. She only succeeded in this goal once or twice, and after that she decided it wasn’t worth the effort because the extra coin was never added to the next day’s purse. It was just lost forever, unspent.

Some activities cost more than others, and—as is always the way—the more expensive ones were the things she wanted most to do. Yes, she could exercise today, but only if she spent her entire purse on that one activity, and spend the rest of the day on the streets moaning and crying and waiting for the blessed daybreak when she would receive another allowance. And was it really worth it?

But at times, the alternative hardly seemed better. She could spread her coins out, choosing only low-cost activities so that she could buy enough to fill her day. She stayed off the dismal streets, but in the end that was her only accomplishment. The enjoyment from the cheaper activities was tepid, at best. And while tepidity was better than the cold, she longed for true, honest heat that only came from fulfilling usages of her time.

She tried using her money to make more, as biblical parables suggested would be prudent, but all of her investments failed her dismally. She would look at the empty purse at the end of the day, and lament that she had nothing to show for it, not even tepid memories of lackluster activities.

As she received her ration from the hooded, shadowy figure, she asked him what she might do to be worthy of a more substantial allowance. She asked in earnest, but the keeper of coins was either deaf, mute, or completely uninterested. He gave no reply, not even to her binary question of whether it was even possible to earn more coins.

Approaching the problem differently, she started keeping detailed notes on how much she received each day, and what activities she had done the day before. This act of recording cost her coins and gave her no happiness in return, but this was one investment that she felt sure would pay off in time.

One day, her purse was larger than usual, and she eagerly looked back through the book to see what her purchases on the previous day had been.

It had been an expensive item: talking on the phone with a friend. Ultimately, she had run out of coins early that day to balance the larger purchase of the morning, but maybe the coin keeper had liked that? Maybe it was waiting to see that she would spend her money on worthy activities, and when she did she would be rewarded.

Without hesitation, she spent her entire large allowance on the most expensive purchases she could think of; things she hadn’t dared to attempt even on her best days, but it would be worth it. For the rest of the day, as she shivered on the streets with an empty purse, she reminded herself that it would be even fuller tomorrow than it was today. Curling up on the frozen sidewalk, she let that thought be her blanket as she drifted off to sleep.

Then morning came, and she stood in line to offer her purse again, proud and shaky from yesterday’s activities. She held her hand out with a smile, ready to receive the weighty purse back, but when the keeper of coins dropped it into her hand, it was horrifyingly light. Peering inside, she saw the smallest ration she had ever been given. Even with the blandest of activities, she would still be spending half the day or more in the elements.

“I don’t understand,” she said, looking at the faceless hood. “You rewarded me last time. Why would you punish me now for doing the same thing?”

The keeper stood there, unmoving, calmly waiting for the next dawn when he would fulfill his duty yet again.

“Just tell me what I have to do!” she cried at him, tears stinging her eyes. “Tell me how I can earn more coins and I’ll do it. I’ll do anything! Just tell me!”

But he only held out one skeletal hand, palm open, beckoning with his fingers. She was crying. Crying came with a price, and it was an expensive activity. With ice in her stomach, she opened the purse and took out almost all of the coins and handed them over, and then she shuffled off to find one more tepid activity before she would be banished back into the cold.

-Olivia