starshipcat (starshipcat) wrote,

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Writing Challenges

This week's Odd Prompts writing challenge from More Odds Than Ends was from Fiona Grey: "Choose your favorite scene from the Carta Marina and tell the story behind the image."

I followed the link, and I have to say the Carta Marina is a fascinating antiquarian map. And as I considered it, I got to thinking about the possibilities of a magical map, and of a map as a portal, a gate into a magical world. Perhaps it could belong in the Big Messy Project that started with "My Old School," maybe having something to do with the magical world on the boundary of the Lands That Are Not Of Men, where the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve go only at great peril, and the little cottage on the margins of it that may be the Cottage of Lost Play from Tolkien's early poems, or at least something that he glimpsed and which inspired them.

As I got to writing, it didn't end up working quite the way I'd intended. I'd initially thought of it being how she leaves it, but I couldn't figure out how she'd find the map and activate the magic or how she'd get from that faerie world to the next segment, which is more mytho-historical. And then I re-read the "Poor Easter Bunny" segment from back in April, and realized that the Map that Is the Territory could be part of her transition from that nightmare to the faerie world.


When the Map Becomes the Territory

One of the buttons must've done the trick, since the horrible keening came to an end. I floated onward in blissful quiet, through the enveloping mist that smelled faintly of salt. The time machine made only the faintest humming sound, perceptible only because the fog muffled all other sound.

Only then did the full weight of my narrow escape penetrate the adrenaline-driven tunnel vision on getting away. I'd just witnessed the despoiling of a holiday special that had to be a favorite of untold numbers of children out there. I still remembered my first time of watching it, at my grandparents' house, and how upset I was when the caterpillar pilot had been left behind by the protagonist in his haste to pursue the villain – and how relieved I'd been when he reappeared as a beautiful butterfly. How devastated children must be, to instead see him crushed into a smear of ichor.

It made me think of the dancing caterpillar in one of those "extraordinary things" tv shows that were popular in the late 70's and early 80's. This lady had found a caterpillar that would raise its first several segments and sway back and forth as she was playing her piano. By the time the producers of the tv show had learned about it and paid her a visit, the caterpillar must've been nearing pupation, because it was slipping into lassitude. The lady had encouraged the host to hold the caterpillar in his hand to warm it, which was enough to get it to do its little dance – and then the host was so happy that he unthinkingly started clapping, forgetting he was holding the dancing caterpillar, and squashed it.

What program had that been? That's Incredible? Ripley's Believe It or Not? Real People? It was too many years ago, and all I could remember was fighting back the tears because I knew I'd be ridiculed for crying over "nothing."

My eyes began to sting and I blinked, not sure if the saltiness was tears or ocean spray. From below came the faint sound of waves splashing, of a distant bell ringing.

By the time I cleared my vision, the mist had thinned enough that I could see below the basket of the balloon that was a time machine. Instead of land and sea, a giant map stretched beneath me as far as the eye could see, intricately drawn with fanciful creatures romping on land and sea, chasing the people into the buildings, attacking sailing ships at sea.

I blinked again, not quite able to believe what I was seeing. Yes, the little figures on the map were actually moving, like something from the world of the boy wizard.

Furthermore, I was most definitely sinking closer and closer to it. There was no doubt in my mind that I was looking at some kind of magical map. However, I had no great confidence that it would be wise – or even safe – for me to land on it. Not just out of fear that I might rip the parchment or smudge the fine inking, but also because I had a very real concern that whatever magic powered it might not handle an actual human being very well. I'd just escaped a nightmare scene, and I had no great desire to become part of one.

I had already cast off all the sandbags, and throwing out the actual time machine would be the ultimate foolishness, so there could be no question of further lightening the basket to give me some more altitude. And the balloon itself did not appear to be the hot-air type, so there wasn't any question of turning on the burner. Like as not, one of Cthulhu's claws had scratched the envelope just enough to create a leak, slowly letting out more and more of the lifting gas.

On the other hand, I wasn't sure I wanted to go pushing more buttons on the time machine. Now that I was no longer in immediate danger, it seemed foolhardy to try to work a device when I had no idea how to operate it.

And then I reached the end of the map. It even curled up a little at the edge, the way old paper and parchment sometimes does, especially if it's been stored rolled up in a tube.

Beyond it lay an abyss of light and form that my eyes could not resolve into sensible shapes. All the time the balloon kept sinking lower and lower.

Once again I'd taken the action that had appeared prudent at the time, only to have it put me into an even worse situation. There was nothing to do but try to get the time machine to deliver me to some place more hospitable to human life.

I hit the one button I'd never touched in my desperate escape from Cthulhu's attack on Mardi Gras. It had a pine tree on it, and when I pressed it, the air filled with a rich rosiny odor.

Where there had been only chaos, a vast expanse of green now spread. It put me in mind of a road trip I'd taken many years ago, when I discovered at the last minute that I was to speak at a conference in Seattle and no, the college was not going to spring for airfare at the sort of prices they charge on so little notice. I simply didn't have the money to cover it myself, but I did have just enough time to drive. It had been long days at the wheel and short nights in cheap motels, but I was younger then, and I'd actually enjoyed driving through the huge evergreen forests that skirted the Bitterroots out in Idaho.

However, the balloon was now sinking so low that the basket was almost brushing the treetops. More than once I saw birds' nests in the upper branches, even deer browsing on the understory below. No, I did not want to end up caught in one of those trees and having to climb down. Twenty years ago I might've enjoyed it, but at my age a fall could be very bad.

And then the trees thinned into a grassy clearing, rather like the one around the rest area where I'd paused just east of Spokane. Except that was no Interstate rest area building in the middle of it.

No, it looked more like a little fairy tale cottage you might find in a children's playground, or at Disneyland or some other theme park. There was something about it that reassured, that invited one to stop and come in for a visit.

The balloon sank to the ground and I wasted no time scrambling over the side of the basket. Springy grass bent under my feet, cushioning them from a landing that was admittedly a bit rough.

As soon as I was out, the balloon went soaring back into the air, catching an upper-level wind that blew it out of sight. That cottage had better be a safe haven, because I'd just watched my vehicle out of here blow away.

I tapped on the door, but there was no response. Hoping that I was not making a big mistake, I pulled the door open.

Inside was a homey little room with chairs and sofas, albeit on the smallish side. Suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion, I stumbled past them to a stairway leading upward.

There I found several bedrooms, each equipped with a little bed and dresser. When I entered the last and found it no larger, I ran out of energy to go further. I collapsed across the bed, too weary to care that my legs were dangling over the end or that my much-abused Alice cosplay from the masquerade ball was so filthy it would soil the beautiful quilted bedspread. I surrendered to my exhaustion and sleep overcame me.


My own prompt was a photo of a Hello Kitty Darth Vader cosplay from Youmacon 2013, and it went to Becky Jones. She worked it into her ongoing story, Cursebreaker.

I also did this week's Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. My own response goes back to the Chongu worlds, and a settler on another new planet.

As always, if you'd like to participate in Odd Prompts, just send a prompt to in order to be assigned a prompt of your own. It can be a bit of prose or poetry, a song or video clip, a photograph or drawing, just make it evocative. If you haven't sent in a prompt, there are always spare prompts you can try.

Tomorrow the polls will open for the Readers' Choice Award in the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge. There will be a new word and picture prompt posted on Saturday.

In the meantime, keep writing and have fun!
Tags: fantasy, vignette, writing challenge

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