tales of moth and shadow

A moth fluttered against Levi’s bedroom window. He knew it was a Polyphemus moth because he’d seen it there the night before, drinking in the moonlight. It intrigued him enough that he looked it up in one of his great-aunt’s natural history books.

Old people had books like that, Levi noticed. All of his books were digital, but he liked the feel of pages turning, the sensation of hunting for information. His dad would have looked it up on some app if he was around. Great-aunt Eliza didn’t have a smart phone. She … no, they lived without them.

They’d called her on a landline to give her the news of his family’s demise, and she’d trundled out to get him in an ancient pickup truck more rust than metal.

Levi didn’t know his life anymore. He didn’t know his house, his bedroom, his school, or even his great-aunt. He wished he’d died with his family. His grief demanded it.

The moth fluttered again, a faint tapping of wings against the glass. Worried it might hurt itself, Levi opened the window. The moth flew in.

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It settled on his desk, staring at Levi, or so he supposed. Its fuzzy, orange body loomed like a lion’s mane around the moth’s small face, from which erupted two long, feathered antennae. Tan wings stretched to ragged tips, slowly shifting up and down while owlish eyespots winked in the evening light.

“What are you doing here, Mr. Polyphemus?” Levi flicked on the desk lamp to get a better look at the moth. Light spilled off the desk onto the floor. Shadows fled into their corners, whimpering. Levi paid them little heed.

One shadow reached out across the floor from underneath the dresser. It slithered along the floorboards, defying the physics of shadows. The farthest tendril of this shadow almost touched Levi’s foot, but he sat down on the bed and drew his feet up at the last moment.

The Polyphemus moth shifted to face the shadow.

“What is it?” Levi asked.

The moth didn’t answer. Moths don’t talk.

Levi leaned forward, catching a glimpse of the shadow reaching out from beneath the dresser. He froze. Something about that shadow set his spine alive with shivers and thickened his blood to slush.

Levi leaned back, willing his eyes away from the thing. He fixed them on the moth instead, which now stood perched, wings up and ready to fly, antennae waving. It stepped forward to the edge of the desk.

The shadow moved from beneath the dresser and oozed up the wall across from Levi. The light of the desk lamp had no effect upon this shadow. He watched with fascinated horror as it convulsed and shaped itself into his mother. She beckoned to Levi before morphing into his father and finally into his little sister.

He blanched in the light of the desk lamp as their resurrected ghosts writhed before him, cold, altered, and somehow not quite them.

The shadow turned into the car that shattered them to pieces and left Levi an orphan, living with his great-aunt and a landline and weird books about moths. It played out the scene before his eyes as his fists clenched at the quilt his great-aunt said she’d sewn by hand.

Levi caught his breath as the shadow took his own shape. The shape of a boy who wished he had died with his family. The shadow had come for him, he realized, come to grant his wish for death. Come to make him a shadow ghost like them.

For the first time, Levi felt afraid of dying.

He didn’t want his body burnt up in a crematorium while his great-aunt wept over him. He wanted to live, even if he had to live a different life than the one he’d expected, the one he’d planned. He had an aunt with a heart good enough to take him in and offer him what love she had to give. He could try this life. It might not be so bad.

“I want to live,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

The Polyphemus moth nodded once and leapt from the desk. Its wings fluttered fast enough to blur as it flew straight into the shadow of death.

The moth tangled the shadow in its tiny, barbed feet, drawing it further into the light. It began to shred the shadow, slow and methodical, between its feet. The shadow shriveled, writhing about the moth, but did little more than flick a bit of dust from the moth’s wings.

They twisted together in the air, the shadow growing smaller as the moth tore it into trifling fragments. The fragments wafted to the floor like ash and disappeared.

Levi watched with wonder as the moth finished up the last of the shadow and fell to the floor. The eyespots on its wings winked once and grew still.

Levi cupped the moth in his hands, unsure of why it saved him, why it came to help him, or how it knew.

For two days he left the Polyphemus moth atop his desk, hoping it would move or come to life again. He didn’t know how to check a moth’s pulse.

On the third day, Great-aunt Eliza gave him an old jar to preserve it in. She confessed to him she’d kept butterflies this way when she was young.

Levi placed the moth inside with care and screwed on the lid. He kept it by his bed, and never failed to say “Goodnight, Mr. Polyphemus,” before he shut the light and returned the room to shadows.

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Once upon a graveyard dreary

I’ve been storyhunting again, the baby in tow. My hunt took us all over. The best October tales are spiced with spooky flavors: crusty cobwebs, graveyard dust, eye of newt. The dark comes quicker, it stays longer. The death of autumn haunts the air. The stories, naturally, turn to the macabre.

My hunt was a success.

I traveled to many ancient cemeteries in search of my October tales. The dead were most obliging and the baby enjoyed the fresh graveyard air. We soon came across an intriguing grave stone marked with nothing but my own initials. A macabre tale waited just beneath it.

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In a second graveyard I found peaceful ghosts and an old tin man, but the stories had all been told. Or so I thought. When I checked through my photographs upon our return to story hunting headquarters, I discovered an odd door I somehow missed while we were there. If you follow the arrow, you’ll see it, not hiding at all, out there in the open and the ghosts.

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Of course I plan to open said door in search of its story, but I will have to wait until the baby is not with me. Portals are hard on children, or so stories have led me to believe. Few are the risks I’m willing to take with her.

On a third wild hunt I found a moody universe I am only beginning to understand. For now I stare at in awe, the story an ethereal dream that isn’t willing to be translated into words as yet. I can feel it trembling, somewhere behind the image. It won’t be long now.

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The stories will be scribbled down, polished, and sent out into the reading world as part of my ongoing catch and release program. One, for a certainty, will be available to read for free upon it’s publishing date somewhere before Hallowe’en. I’ll share it here as it becomes available.

Happy hunting, happy haunting, and merry October.

 

in the rotten and the ghosts

“My bones are rotten,” it told me. “My rooms all filled with ghosts. Come inside and see for yourself. I’ll protect you as I swallow you up and guide you through the sagging floors where footsteps used to thump. Down the creaking stairs, don’t bump your head, to see where I buried my dead. I guess you could call it a garden of sorts, but the worms are all hungry now. That’s right, my dear, nestle into the dirt, it’ll soak up what’s left of your blood. It’s not a bad place to end things, you’ll see. Plenty more ghosts than just me.”

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the Freewrite review and experiment proposal

Last July, I won a first pages writing contest at Writer Unboxed. The prize was a glorious piece of writing tech: a Freewrite by Astrohaus. My Freewrite arrived late last week and we’ve been busy getting to know each other.

There’s a friendliness to this little beast, perhaps in the face I see when I’m writing, folder and wifi toggles like eyes, the keyboard a toothy grin. It reminds me of the way I imagined helpful robots in the era of Return of the Jedi and  Flight of the Navigator. Or maybe my old Speak ‘n Spell?

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Depictions of familiar writers wait for me before I turn it on.  Isaac Asimov,  Agatha Christie, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allan Poe.  “Good morning, Chuck,” I catch myself saying to Charles Dickens as I set down my coffee and turn it on. His face disappears and my writing awaits.

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While I admire these great writers, I’d love to see writers of color represented, as well as a better balance of genders. Alexandre Dumas, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou – they would do well in this crowd.

Technically speaking, the Freewrite keyboard is smaller than my laptop keyboard, which took me a moment to adjust to. It does bring to mind happy memories of plunking away on my parent’s electric typewriter, dreaming of being a famous novelist like the fictional Jessica Fletcher (obviously the whole mystery writer thing didn’t take). The notable exceptions being that the Freewrite fits on my lap without crushing me and has all the convenience of digital processing.

Learning how to use my Freewrite was as simple as following a few prompts to set up my ‘Postbox’ online and sync my cloud.

I ran into some syncing problems early on and panicked, thinking I’d lost my work. Freewrite covered me by sending a .pdf and a .txt copy of the work in question, which I didn’t expect. Thanks for having my back, little Freewrite!

A quick trip into the troubleshooting forums instructed me on how to re-sync my cloud. I suspect my spotty satellite connection will make this fix a common event. In the forums I also discovered that I can also plug the Freewrite into my laptop with its USB cord (also used for charging) and access my work through my Postbox online. Backups of backups? Yes please!

The Freewrite does not allow for editing. This is strictly a first draft machine. It is a pleasure to draft on as I stare off into the distance, lost in the world of my story, no glaring screen demanding my attention.

My preferred method is writing long-hand, which gives me a feeling of intimacy with the page and the words as they come. I don’t get this with my laptop, but I am finding this personal ‘sweet spot’ on the Freewrite. It feels like a writing buddy, with all the familiarity of an old notebook, stuffed full of stories. Full disclosure: I’ve already named the device and given it a backstory.  #wordnerd

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The screen is a game changer for me. I often get eye strain after a long day in front of my laptop. With the Freewrite, I’m constantly looking up, at the baby, and across the room as I consider something new.  While it’s not over-bright, I turned off the screen light first thing (hit the ‘special’ key + l), which is my personal preference, and discovered I can still read my work by regular lamplight at night.

As a bonus, I can see the screen just as well outside, which means I can move my writing outdoors without any trouble.  The Freewrite feels sturdy enough that I’m not afraid of damaging anything internal by lugging it outside. Hellooooo hammock writing!

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There are other features worth mentioning: the battery that lasts for a week; the word count option in the lower window (my favorite); and there’s even a timer option for word sprints!

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that’s gonna come in handy for NaNoWriMo
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time your word sprints!

The slogan of the Freewrite claims it is a “distraction free writing” device. Astrohaus’ website promises it will double your productivity. Is this true? That’s the real question. These beasts don’t come cheap.

First: is it distraction free? The Freewrite is set up to write, and nothing else. The wifi capability works in one direction: to your cloud. You can’t google something, you can’t search thesaurus.com. You can’t even go back a few paragraphs to edit without deleting everything ahead of it. You are forced to slog ever onward.

I’ve read arguments that this is silly, after all, who doesn’t have a phone handy to look things up and fall down a rabbit hole of something or other? This made sense, so when I first pulled my Freewrite onto my lap, I left my phone across the room. The first time I reached a point where I would normally look something up, I looked at my phone, far away, remembered how comfy I was, how well the writing was going, and left it where it was. I could look it up later. I typed a note into my draft to remind myself, and kept on going. This happens about twice a day as I’m clickety clacking away, and I’m consistently choosing to keep writing. I am consciously making this choice, but the Freewrite removes temptation.

Productivity is trickier to prove. Eight months ago, before Baby Nim arrived, I was averaging 13 645 new words per month (not including any editing and secondary drafts). Since Nim arrived, I’ve been struggling to reach a measly 4000 new words per month. Yeah. Time to get back on track.

What I propose is to track my writing for the rest of September, on into October. I’ll stop when November arrives as I plan to participate in NaNoWriMo and this will skew the results. If there’s interest, I’ll consider posting the results of the months following November as well.

I’ll only track new words drafted on the Freewrite for the purposes of this experiment. Further skewing may come from the Freewrite being a new toy, but the lengths of the experiment should ease this skew and a pattern should emerge by the end of October.

There may be a tendency toward greater productivity because I’m being held accountable. We’ll have to absorb this one, I’m afraid, as I see no way around it. I can tell you that I’ve always found ways to hold myself accountable (waves sheaf of calendar records). I’ll come back here at the end of October and post my results.

At this point I have had my Freewrite for seven days.  In this time I have written as follows:

Day 1  – 705 words

Day 2 – 2145 words

Day 3 – 1571 words

Day 4 – 1749 words

Day 5 – 239 words

Day 6 – 1724 words

Day 7 – 681 words

In the past week I’ve already surpassed my post-Nim monthly writing average, but will it last? Can the Freewrite actually double my pre-baby productivity? Let’s find out!

P S. this post was drafted on my Freewrite.

the winning entry

Late last July, I entered a contest at Writer Unboxed. The task was this: write 200 words of a story’s beginning  in 24 hours. The judges chose finalists, and then readers voted on the final stories: yes, they would keep reading; or no, they wouldn’t turn the page. Well, my entry won! The prize? A Freewrite, touted as a “distraction free writing tool”.

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My Freewrite arrived the other day and I’m busily learning the ins and outs of it so I can tell you all about it … and that’s what made me realize I never shared my contest entry. I admit I feel shy about it, because I’d like to polish it up more than 24 hours’ worth. Usually I’m a 20 or so drafts writer, but no. It won, after all, posted publicly for all to see. The Freewrite folks also asked permission to reprint it (no news on that one yet), so it’s time I accept it, warts and all.

So here it is folks, for your reading pleasure (I hope!):

Little Kira sucked at her thumb, unable to look away from a few grains of sand clinging to the mermaid’s eye. Confusion pooled within her six-year-old mind, flowing back and forth between delight that mermaids were real and horror that this one was dead.

The tide completed its voyage out and was coming ‘round again when the search party found her there, her small form hidden amid the debris of the storm surge. Squawking gulls took to wing as they approached. The smell struck them hard, a stench of rotting fish and decayed seaweed. Their jaws fell agape at the mermaid, hands flying to their mouths.

Someone clasped their hands over Kira’s eyes as a sand crab scuttled from the mermaid’s open mouth. Kira pushed the hands away, thinking that it wasn’t fair the summer sun had bloated the mermaid so.

A woman wrapped her in a blanket, murmuring to her companion. “What becomes of a little girl who sees something like this?”

Kira wondered what they meant.

She suddenly wanted to touch the mermaid, just once, before she had to leave. Without hesitating, she reached for the mermaid’s tail. A smear of silver scales came off onto her hand.

Well, what about you? Would you keep reading?

pack your bags for a daydream

Pack your bags for a daydream, was all the invitation said. I looked around my apartment, uncertain. What would I need for a daydream?

Google didn’t help.

My empty suitcase, second-hand and no stranger to adventure, waited on my bedroom floor. “Think like a story,” it suggested.

My suitcase is overfond of riddles.

In the end I packed a clock, so I wouldn’t run out of time. A dictionary, so I wouldn’t be at a loss for words. A compass, so I could explore with confidence, and a mirror, to reflect upon my adventures. Blushing, I tucked in my imagination. I probably should have thought of that sooner. Next came knitting needles, in case I felt the dream unraveling. The last thing I packed was a box of cookies. To share.

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publication day!

Issue 68 of Andromeda Spaceways is out today, which is especially exciting because it contains my short story Mrs. Coleman’s Backyard Refugee Camp.  Just look at this gorgeous cover

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artwork by Evgeniia Litovchenko

It is quite a thrill to see my name on there!

The digital issue is available for purchase on Andromeda Spaceways’ website for $4.95 (Australian dollars). I’d love to hear your thoughts if you read it!

On another note, my eldest starts kindergarten tomorrow. Which may mean more time to write, but first … inevitable heartache. *deep breath*

 

a clutch of mermaid eggs

I’d heard the legends, though I didn’t believe them. Not until now. The eclipse passed us over somewhere in the afternoon, too far south for more than a bit of pretty light. This wasn’t why we went to the beach. We only sought an afternoon of fun, a cool breeze, and the reassuring smell of brine.

It wasn’t until I saw them I remembered the tales Grandma used to tell of the mermaids. “They only lay their eggs when the moon eclipses the sun. When the sea is strongest and the sun is busy fighting past the moon. They don’t like anyone watching, you see.”

I dismissed the idea. Even as a child I was convinced mermaids, if they were anything, must be mammals. Like us. Like dolphins.

Grandma shook her head. “Aye but a mermaid has the tail of a fish, not a dolphin. The bottom half is not a mammal, and that’s the end which lays the egg, after all.”

There was no winning with her, though I argued anyway. Most of my life this argument of ours carried, both of us convinced we knew more about the reproductive cycle of mythical creatures than the other. Neither of us acknowledging the futility of debating the science of fairy tales.

She died some years ago, before my child was born. So on this beach, after this eclipse, I tell my daughter Grandma’s mermaid egg story. She screws up her little face and giggles. “Mermaids don’t lay eggs!”

A moment later she looks doubtful, peering into nooks between the rocks, searching. “Just in case,” she tells me.

I smile, basking in her innocence, her sense of wonder. I remain in this smug, parental state until she finds them. A clutch of scaled eggs hidden in a swath of seaweed revealed by the ebbing tide.

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We have just missed the mermaids, I realize, looking out over the endless sea. For once the water doesn’t strike me as empty; it is another world. All I know of it is but a false reflection of my own. I am not privy to the mermaid’s world. But Grandma, she was. Somehow.

My daughter leaps into the air with a whoop and rushes into a wave. No little girl will ever forget the day she found mermaid eggs. She’ll be the keeper of that story now, and I … I will be the person who never believed. Until today.

science potions

My eldest daughter came up to me the other day, with her plaintive, I’m-about-to-ask-for-something expression firmly affixed on her face. I braced myself.

“Mum, do you think I could get one of those science potions kits?”

Science potions!

I’m 98% sure she means a chemistry set, but I’m not going to correct her just yet. She starts kindergarten in a few weeks, so we’ve still got time. We can have fun with science potions for a solid three years before she needs to know the proper name, and by then the wonder should have settled in for good.

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the potion master, hunting for science

P.S. I won the Writer Unboxed Flog-A-Wu first pages contest! If you’d like to read my winning entry and check out my prize (which I am so excited about I can’t stop giggling), click here

 

blurbin’

I have a few short story publications coming up (yay!!) and I have found myself in need of a bio blurb. A third person, all about Jennifer paragraph where I am meant to cleverly market myself.

*cue screeching tires*

Here’s the thing: I’m not all that exciting. That’s what the stories are for. I have a baby; I change diapers and color with my preschooler all day. When I’m not doing that, I’m glued to my notebook/keyboard working on my latest story. Is that exciting? Can I make that exciting? What if the notebook is ON FIRE and the keyboard has a preschooler about to dump a sugary drink into its mysterious innards – wait. That’s not my genre. I’m a fantasy writer dag nab it. The sky is the limit! I can do this!

Eep. What is it about an unlimited sky that makes it so hard to start?

Okay, here goes:

In addition to her tireless efforts as Keeper of Imaginary Beasts, Jennifer Shelby has been known to hunt for stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. If you or your imaginary beast need help, feel free to contact her via story hunting headquarters at  jennifershelby.ca   wait, no, this seems like a good way to get crazy people trolling for dragon ointments contacting me at all hours

Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. She has collected the titles of mother, Keeper of Imaginary Beasts, terrible cook, and   what? I can’t out myself publicly as a terrible cook. I’ll never be invited to another potluck again!         Okay. Maybe leave it in.  

Story hunter. Author. Keeper of imaginary beasts. I like it! But it’s too short. *sigh* Wait! I can use for my fancy schmancy new business cards.

Edit: here that is (the contact info is hiding on the reverse side, it’s not actually the worst business card ever).

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I needed 2 of these, so now I have 500.

 

A visit to her house will yield several illegal, imaginary beasts, so she requests that you keep its location a secret Ugh. *cue CSIS (which is kind of the Canadian FBI but not really) showing up and looking through the diaper pail for illegal unicorns*

Jennifer Shelby is known for hunting stories in the beetled undergrowth of fairy infested forests. This story, discovered in a mossy hollow below an old maple, is a part of her ongoing catch-and-release program. If you would like to know more about story hunting, Jennifer, or imaginary beasts, feel free to contact her story hunting headquarters via jennifershelby.ca

OoOoh. I LIKE this. I might even love it. In fact, I think we’re done here. *crosses fingers that I don’t hate it tomorrow*

Have any feedback? Leave it here, I’d love to have your input!

Side note: this blog syncs into the jennifershelby.ca website via magical widgetiness, sorry if you’re reading on wordpress and feeling as confused as a CSIS agent finding a unicorn in a diaper pail right now.