Weekly Photo Challenge: Family & Hidden

Going out of order with my photo challenge catch-ups, I know. 🙂 But it’s the holidays, and for me holidays means family, and one of my missed photo challenges over at DP was Family. At first I was browsing looking for your average family photo–not a posed one, because as nice as those can be, they aren’t the real everyday truth of a family. Those pictures are the unexpected ones, or the ones taken on any old weekday. But in my search, I found this photo by yi-ching lin tagged for the “Family” photo challenge and I kinda love it.(I’m unable to insert the image directly in this post, so I highly recommend you go there and check it out. Yi-Ching has a lot of great photos on his/her blog, in fact!)

It’s a more morose take on the idea, yes, but it instantly brought Ghostlight to mind. A big part of Bette’s life is that her brother is dead and she doesn’t know why, and her family has been falling apart ever since. I’ve been itching to write the next section, and after seeing this picture it struck me: this girl is seeing ghosts, new murders have striking similarities to Graham’s mysterious death, why hasn’t she gone to visit grave yet in this story exactly? Duh!

For added flavor, I’m throwing in some elements of this picture I mentioned a few weeks ago by three sticks of watusi.

Family & Hidden

Mist still hung heavy in the air; it hadn’t burned off with the morning, instead choosing to hang around for the whole day. But really, how much more fitting could it get? Halloween was a few days away, there were unsolved murders, I was seeing ghosts, and now I was standing in front of a cemetery gate. A chill mist that felt like it was sinking into my skin and weighing down my bones would’ve only been more appropriate if I were also in London.

I stepped closer, curling my fingers around the cold iron bars on the gate. I wanted to go in, to visit Graham’s grave…to answer the question I’d had in the back of my mind since this began. Would his ghost be there? I just wasn’t sure what answer I wanted. If he was there–and, presuming ghosts could also be seen in the daylight, another answer I didn’t yet have–it would mean getting the answers I’d wanted for three years. But if he wasn’t, then there was no telling what that meant. Maybe he was gone on to his afterlife. Or, more likely from how he’d died, his ghost, his soul, was somewhere else altogether.

Only one way to find out, Lauden. No more stalling.

Letting go of the iron gate, my last refuge, I stepped into the fog of the graveyard. The temperature dropped around me and I knew that even if ghosts weren’t visible, they were still here. The mist obscured what might be real, or imagined, or spectral at first, but a few feet further revealed the outlines of colorless people, lurking about their graves, watching my approach with sad confusion. I don’t think they knew I saw them, and that was fine with me. After trying to sort out so many ghosts at the tree the other night, the chill in the air as they clustered around me, I was happy to let these ones think I was just like any other mourner. But I did study them out of the corner of my eyes as I passed.

They were less clearly defined than the ghosts I’d seen at night, and most of them were sulking in a solitary fashion, even if they had neighbors. One set of graves, a trio of them in fact, provided a different tableau altogether. A husband, wife, and child, buried together and now haunting their plot together. The couple held hands while the child ghost talk excitedly to them about the other ghosts and people he’d seen visiting the cemetery.

What kept all of them here? Had they been murdered like the ghosts at the tree, and that was why they lingered? Was there some other family member they were waiting for? Or did they even know? Hell, there were enough things I’d done without really knowing the reasons, especially in the last few days. I hadn’t yet seen much reason why death should be any different; if anything, the ghosts I’d met were even more out of it than the living.

That thought brought me to a halt. What if Graham’s ghost was here–and what if he was as lost as the Lantern Man’s victims? Graham had been sharp in life, very intelligent and even craftier than any of us knew. I’d prepared myself for the thought of his ghost existing here, but not for the idea that if he was, he may be very different from the brother I had known. Three years is a long time, and what kind of company did ghosts make? Shreds and shadows of the living, cut off from what they knew, unable to move on. Unable to move at all past a certain point, depending on what anchored them here. What’s his mind, his memory, his fire–whatever you might call it for a ghost–was as much a shadow as the rest of him?

I didn’t try to peer through the mists at the ghosts around me as I turned and hurried out of the cemetery. Some answers I really wasn’t ready for.


Photo Challenge: Opportunity

I’ve got some catching up to do!

First up, two Fridays ago the Photo Challenge was “Opportunity.” Two pictures jumped out at me. First up, I very much enjoy this picture by whatwecallearth.

In high school, I was something of a journal addict. I loved buying little book-style journals like this, which I’d then start filling with journal entries or stories and so forth. Some I liked so much I wanted to save them for something special, but of course I’d never find something I considered special enough for how pretty the journal was. So between my things and old boxes at my parents house, I have several books like this that are either partially filled, barely filled, or empty entirely. But seriously, for high school and even college me, slap a good quote about dreams on a nice picture and bind it and I was sold!

But it’s this picture by omelchronicles that’s inspiring me to write. Anyone who writes is always thinking much further ahead in their story in some aspects than is practical–admit it, we all wonder about what the sequel(s) to our unpublished works will be! Being no exception and quite guilty of this myself, this image put me in mind not just of a sequel to Ghostlight, but the book that would follow that one! Bette’s heading off to college somewhere–I’ve not yet determined if the things that happen to her in the intervening time would compel her to enroll somewhere close by or as far away as she can get–and faces the daunting day that is freshman move-in day.


Stretching out like the dubious opening shot of a movie, monotonous in its repetition of doors and flourescent ceiling lights, the uniform hallway was only broken up by a water fountain and an exit sign pointing to a stairway. I had a fleeting impulse to use it.

But no, room 212 was my destination. I adjusted my grip on the box under one arm, and dragged my rolling suitcase behind me as I headed down the hallway, checking the numbers on each door until I came to it. Our Resident Advisor had gone with an 80’s movies theme for the nametags on the doors. My name was photoshopped into the starring role on a poster for The Breakfast Club, and my new roommate Callie Thornton was getting top billing for Ghostbusters. I snorted at that, amused at my near miss for the more fitting movie. At least it wasn’t Ghost. …was that from the 80’s? 

Unlocking the door revealed a room that was still empty, as expected. Callie and I had emailed a few times over the summer, and I knew she wasn’t due on campus until that afternoon. Which gave me plenty of time to set up my half of the room however I liked. First things first, getting my dad’s help in de-bunking those beds once he finished parking the car.

So for now, it was time to put my things down and get used to the furniture and walls that would be here everyday until May. My new home. A new start.

And, I could only hope, significantly less death and fewer ghosts. There would always be the one, of course, my constant companion, but that was and would always have to be an exception. There was nothing to be done there–nothing I could bring myself to do, that is.

I had hopes for it being a calmer existence here. No small town with a long history, no haunted tree at the heart of it, no trails of where my brother had tread before me, in life or death. A city campus, days full of classes, probably finding a spot for myself on their school paper, this was what I wanted and what I needed: the opportunity for my life to be normal once again.

Photo Challenge: Possibility

Possibility. I like this challenge topic–it’s open-ended, non-literal (I was about to say non-linear, which it may also be, but I’m not entirely sure of that), and I can’t wait to see what else people come up with.

But I write these shorts based on what the images inspire in me, not necessarily what the theme inspires in me. Two images put Ghostlight back in my mind, no doubt because they both have forests in them. One was the image in the DP post:

This started me off thinking about Bette’s story (and that I’ve been neglecting it, but there are reasons for that)–the thick forest, the green and natural beauty, and the secrets and dangers it’s hiding.

The second is this image by Northern Narratives. Rainbows are always pretty, but with a story of ghosts and murder on my mind, this one jumped in as a juxtaposition to horror instead of a symbol of hope. Or maybe it is a symbol, and Bette just doesn’t know it yet.

This scene would happen at the end of Ghostlight, and I’ve intentionally left what just happened very vague. So if you’re confused, well, you should be! Spoilers!


Rain and fog still hung in the air when dawn began to break. As I finally pulled myself away from the grisly scene, leaving behind the bodies, the sword, and some piece of myself, I didn’t need help finding my way out of the woods. Whose knowledge was that?

This wasn’t right. I was leaving alone, leaving alive, and both of those things surprised me. There was no dread this time that something or someone was after me, chasing me and trying to make sure I never left. There was no one left to chase me; not that I could ever truly be free of what had happened. But when the tree line came clear before me, when I heard the sounds of early morning cars and trucks on the highway, I knew exactly where I was. This is where Graham tried to escape. Pulling himself on the ground by his hands, with some fatal wound, until someone stole everything that remained and left him there, dead. Who had killed my brother, I still didn’t know, even after all this, but I knew without a doubt that he had been killed, and how, and why. Someone took his life because of what he could, and however long it took me, I was going to find out who had done it and make them pay. I had no choice. He was my brother, and now that I was a ghostlighter, too, I might be next.

But today, I wasn’t Graham, and my life wasn’t going to end here. Step by bloody step, on my feet, walking away from the dark of the forest and the circle of ghosts, I stepped out of the trees and squinted into the early morning light. A rainbow was arcing across the sky above them. After what had happened, what I’d seen, what I’d done and what I’d failed to do,  I was the only one to walk away with my life and be greeted by a goddamn rainbow.

I fell to the ground in tears until a passing car finally noticed the rain-soaked, blood-covered girl on the side of the road and stopped to call 911.

New Goal: April 2012

A recent subscriber, suehealy, has a lot of writing contests and competitions on her wordpress blog–so one, thanks for the subscription! And the very useful links!

One of those lead me to the Unpublished Authors Competition, which has a genre a month, and the winning novel is published. Now I’ll do more research on this, the people running it and so forth, but April 2012 is the Horror & the Supernatural month, and if all looks good, I want to enter it with Ghostlight.

So I’ve got a deadline now: by April 30th, this book must be written and refined.

Deadlines are good. And I’m excited. Fingers crossed!

Catching Up on Photo Challenges: “Path” and “Textured”

My recent post about the Art of Climbing Trees was actually inspired by the “Path” photo challenge from two Fridays ago, and this image:

The picture got me thinking about the recent Treetop Adventure course I did with some friends out in Catamount, NY. Disorganized place, but the climbing around and ziplining was fun for the most part! And thus did tree climbing come to mind, and thus a post about the climbing trees. I love climbing trees.

This past Friday, the theme was “Textured,” with this gorgeous image to introduce the theme:

I’m not even sure what it is exactly, and I love that. Rain and a streetlight through a windshield? Or a light reflecting on the wet concrete below it? A brilliant moon? Something else entirely? Alright, I know it’s not the moon, but my first impression when seeing it was that it was. The picture has a lonely feel to it, and that might be why the moon feels right. The moon, too, has a certain loneliness to it, doesn’t it?

So I’m going to explore that, and also Bette’s father in the wake of his son’s death. This takes place a few months later, as opposed to at the funeral reception.


George Lauden pushed his fingers under his glasses to rub at his eyes and the bridge of his nose. Staying awake and alert was especially important right now–not only was it pouring rain outside, the house was also quite late. Or should that be early? 1:30 AM, in either case.

The last one to leave the office for the Wellingham Crier, as usual. That’s how it had been for almost all his years there, but in the last few months, the hours had gotten longer and longer. George himself had only just recently begun to notice. The sky was darker when he left, but at first he’d shrugged it off, the year was turning towards fall so that was only natural. Then he told himself, and his wife, it was election coverage, that it was a busy end of summer politically, both locally and across the state. And with layoffs last spring, they had fewer reporters to cover the increased number of stories, and as the editor-in-chief, he couldn’t ask his employees to work longer hours than he was willing to put in. It wasn’t untrue, any of it, and George enjoyed getting a chance to dig into journalism again instead of spending all of his time managing and editing and supervising the layout and so forth. Hitting the pavement again felt good, felt like being his old self again, like someone he’d forgotten without noticing at all as that person ebbed away and out of his life.

Tonight he was coming back from not one but two interviews. The first, the earlier one, a congressional candidate, a rare Massachusetts Republican from a few towns over. George didn’t personally agree with a number of the man’s policies, but his role was to investigate and inform, not to judge. It had gone well enough, the candidate was cordial and more upfront than he’d expected.

The second interview had not been on the books. In fact, it hadn’t been for the Crier at all, although it had been something in the paper’s record rooms that lead him there. The second interview was not one he intended to tell anyone about. As far as anyone would know, George Lauden had spent the night writing up his congressional interview, lost track of time, and was now driving home with a sincere apology to his wife in the morning.

If she’d even noticed, of course. If she hadn’t had too much wine and fallen asleep on the couch by eleven. George had his patterns that had creeped up on him since their son’s death, and Miriam had her own. Neither of them liked what the other was doing, but George wasn’t sure which he could claim was the more destructive on their marriage just yet.

And if Miriam knew what he was really doing…

He sighed. When he had first expressed a need to know what had truly lead to Graham’s unusual–and, in his mind, unsolved–death to his wife, she had immediately rejected the idea. Dwelling on his death would not help them, they had to move on from their grief. They had lives to live, a daughter who needed them both now more than ever. What could he possibly find that the police hadn’t? And what good would it do even if he did find something? Nothing would bring their son back to them now.

So while Miriam buried her grief in glasses of wine, George had buried his by digging into their son’s private life. It had all been very frustratingly vague, almost as Graham had intentionally obscured the trail of his activities in the year before he died. Lately, George was retracing his son’s steps when he worked one summer as an office boy at the Crier, during which he’d spent much time in the records room organizing the piles that had accumulated there over time. The records were still fairly immaculate a year later thanks to Graham’s efforts, complete with a computerized ledger that everyone now used to sign out old papers if they were needed.

Graham, it turned out, had taken out a few while he worked on that ledger. Old papers, very old, preserved on microfiche from the late 1700s, in the earliest days of the Crier and Wellingham itself. Papers that featured stories on missing townspeople, suspected mass murders by the natives, and finally one that reveals a local woodsman and retired soldier named Thomas Blaclson to have been the true culprit, himself killed by a lynch mob from the sounds of it. Nasty stuff. And then, of all things, a paper from the summer of 1985. That was the one that George hadn’t been able to figure out for weeks, but narrowing down the articles, he found one small mention of the opening of a perculiar little store in Llanfair called Maddock’s Oddities and Antiquities.

And then he’d had a very interesting conversation with the owner in the witching hours, George thought with dark humor. He glanced over at his briefcase, where the chapbook of ghost stories his son had written under a psuedonym sat inside. One of those had been a retelling of the Thomas Blackson tale, the so-called ‘Lantern Man’ Graham had researched in the Crier. A strange thing to learn, indeed, but what connection did this hidden interest in old ghost stories have to do with Graham’s death?


That ended up being much longer than I thought it would be. It doesn’t feel finished, but I think I’d rather do any continuations of this piece elsewhere. This is starting to add to something I’d already been considering, redoing Ghostlight from a 3rd person perspective and a changing POV (although still mostly Bette’s POV). Not the most helpful thing to consider when I’m about halfway (or more) through writing the first draft, but if it makes the story better, it would be worthwhile.

Also, I wrote this while listening to the Inception soundtrack via youtube. Awesome and perfect mood-setter!

Small tight dark spaces in the ground

After writing a piece from the point-of-view of Bette’s mother at her son’s funeral, I got interested in seeing what else had happened there for the remaining members of the Lauden family. So here’s Bette’s point of view on that day; I tried writing it in 3rd person to match Miriam’s piece, but it turns out I’m far too used to writing in first person for Bette. So here’s what happened to her that day.


Someone is saying sad things about Graham, and nice things about death. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I’ve been staring at my feet since we sat down. I’ve only worn these shoes once before, to the 8th grade Spring dance. I went with Jesse, Harvey and Chase, all of us together. No dates. We danced, talked, jumped around to the fast songs and sang at the top of our lungs with everyone else. There’s a scuff mark across the top of the left shoe where Harvey stepped on me at some point. I would’ve tried to get rid of it before the funeral, but I kind of forgot about things like shoes until I remembered I needed to put them on this morning.

Everyone starts singing in a mumbled, disorganized, and toneless way. It’s awful. Graham wasn’t a musician, but he liked music, fun music, pop songs that he’d dance around his room too, singing under his breath. He would hate this. He’d look at me and roll his eyes and we’d both smile.

I smile now, until I see the coffin sitting a few feet in front of me. Why is the family seated closest to the coffin? I want nothing to do with it. I want to be as far away from this as possible. We should be sitting in the back. Then I wouldn’t have to look at this, knowing my brother is inside and that he’s never coming out again. It’s like the shittest game of hide and seek in the world. He isn’t hiding and I’m not seeking, but here we are. Something in my chest is surging up, swelling with wretchedness and spilling out onto my face through my eyes. He will never smile or laugh or play any kind of game.

And I don’t even really know why. He’s just…gone and everything is empty where he used to be, places I can see and places I can only feel.

They are lowering the coffin into the ground, and when I close my eyes, I can feel the walls closing in around me. The small tight dark space that he’s been given, and now everything outside of that closed off as well, deep inside the ground, swallowed whole by it. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. Everything’s spinning and pressing in and he isn’t moving and I can’t breathe….

A few minutes later, I learn that I threw up, and then passed out. Everyone’s looking at me. I look at the hole in the ground. I can’t see the coffin anymore, and my dad helps me into my seat. I shake quietly, inside, and don’t look up again.

There’s a reception afterward. Why do they call it that? That’s a word for weddings, for happy things, for a family that’s growing not one that’s shrinking. This is just…depression, served with food. I didn’t eat. I had  water and then sat down on a padded bench outside the bathrooms by myself until Jesse sits down next to me.

“How’s your stomach?” he asks.


He moves over and puts an arm around my shoulders. This is how we sat on the couch a few days ago, when no one else was home. We were about to kiss. We look at each other now and I feel a pull to move closer, to touch his lips with mine. He feels it, too, I can tell. The look he has now is the one he had then.

“Bette…” he says quietly, a voice, a word, meant only for me. I start to close my eyes and lean…

But I see the coffin again, the pit dug in the dirt, and my stomach rolls and my eyes snap open. Jesse hasn’t noticed. He isn’t looking. And if I kiss him now, I’ll always think of my dead brother when I kiss him. “I can’t.”

I stand up and walk away, crying for Graham, for myself, for Jesse, for small tight dark spaces in the ground from which there is no escape. I don’t look back.

Goals in 2011 & Aspiration: Game Designer

I found a post I’d made on my previous online journal about goals for the year 2011. I’ve done okay with these, but not 100%. Some are a little beyond my direct control, but most of them aren’t. But, there are also 4 big fat months of 2011 left yet, so I can make good on as much as possible!

One of these was to finish writing Ghostlight. This I have not yet done, but if I push myself, it’s possible. Now we’re talking first draft business here, not a remotely finished product, but the first draft feels like the hardest part. And though I’m considering changes that range from cutting or adding minor characters to snipping out notions I no longer want in there to wondering about rewriting the whole damn thing in 3rd person instead of 1st person, when I can at least have a final draft completed, start to finish, that’ll be huge for me. In short, this one is still on the docket, and I’m going to work at making it happen!

One of my other goals was to get some chunk of a proposed game script done, of which just about nothing has gotten done, but the game designer landscape is a constantly changing one for me. That game is no longer first or even second or third in the docket behind other potential projects. And that’s a good enough place to talk about another aspiration of mine, game design.

When I was a kid, I discovered Sierra games. Adventure games where you took on the role of a person–a space-age janitor, a spunky princess, a prince-turned-slave, etc–and walked around a world, looking at things, collecting a ton of inventory items, solving puzzles with logic and not with force of arms. I LOVED these games. It was like a storybook come to life, and I loved me some storybooks. Pretty much from then on, a pipe dream of mine was to create adventure games.

Fast forward to 2002, and I’ve just graduated college with an English major, basically meaning I’ve got no job and very few prospects. It was a shitty time for graduating, moreso with a liberal arts degree. I find a website for a fanmade, unofficial, King’s Quest 9, a sequel to the Sierra series that built itself upon myths, fairy tales, and folklore, that I had adored most of my life. They were looking for a staff writer among other things. So hell yes I signed myself up for that! I submitted an application, a trial piece of writing, and over the next few years I was the co-writer on a script that was insanely large and impossible to turn into a game, not that we knew that, because none of us knew anything about creating computer games back then. But between temp jobs and other obstacles in my life at the time, it was a dream come true.

After two cease-and-desists that fans fought vehemently to get reversed for us, last summer, we at Phoenix Online Studios at long last released The Silver Lining, Episode 1 (of 5)*. The dream was reality. We had made a computer game (well, part of one), and we were making it happen. We were game designers, dammit! We’ve released three full Episodes now, and are working on the final two, while also working on turning this non-commercial company into a commercial one. I’m a designer and the PR Director, and I love it. It’s unquestionably a passion for me.

It’s hard to say how much getting this game released meant to me. I can use words, and I will, but the swell of pride, accomplishment, being part of something bigger than myself…it’s beyond just words. If you’ve felt it, you know it. Something we worked on for eight years, something that was almost taken away from us by “the Man” not once but twice, something that enough other people believed in to make the effort to fight for it, for us…it’s something that will always make me smile. I hope this group goes much further and does much more, but knowing we’ve done this much already is kind of astounding to me. I–we–have gotten this far, and that absolutely counts for something.


*Details and shameless promotion! The Silver Lining is a family-friendly adventure game based on the best-selling King’s Quest games made by Sierra in the 80’s and 90’s. It is also FREE! Yes, free! You can play the whole dang thing at no charge. It is only playable for the PC right now, although we plan to have a Mac version eventually, and we have released so far 3 out of 5 planned episodes.