Today’s writing exercise is to write a short (<1k) story off this picture. It doesn’t have to be a full story, it can just set a scene or explain where she’s going or where she’s been. If you want to join in just email me or post a comment and I’ll add your bit (make sure to add a link to your blog or website), otherwise it will be just me (as usual, sigh).
Woo hoo! Just added a short by Silas Payton. Look right after mine!
The unexpected downpour matches her general mood and the feeling of the rain soaking into her leather boots. It’s a melancholy kind of malaise, frozen toes and a general grumpy mood. A few minutes ago the storefronts were open, mah jong games were played, and she could ask, “Where is Chan?”
Sometimes someone would grunt and point with his chin further down the alley. Some people would look her up and down appreciatively and ask if she was busy, did she want to party, did she want to visit the jìyuàn? Maybe stay? A pretty redhead could make decent money at the best jìyuàn in the city. As if there was ranking system for whorehouses. In this part of Crotoa there is no such thing as a good jìyuàn; there is only the rickety bed, the drunken bastard, and the slap in the face for daring to talk.
She’s done her time at a jìyuàn and has no desire to do it again. All she wants is to find Chan. But now everyone’s gone, disappeared like roaches in the daylight just before the food carts start looking for breakfast meats.
Alexis isn’t used to the Ch’uan part of town. She would describe herself as an uptown girl, more used to the glittery strip malls and sumptuous dim sum diners than the rabble down here. The red light of paper lanterns casts eerie glows down the dim alleyway. This is the last place she expected to meet the legendary Chan, but his message – delivered by tiny dragon, of course – pointed to this block, this alley, this place.
She sighs, wondering if it’s all worth it. They say he doesn’t meet with many people and doesn’t train anyone anymore; not after the unpleasantness with that mechanical … thing … in the Clock Tower. But she sent a request and for some reason or another he replied. Alexis jumped at the chance to learn from Chan. Phrases like “best ever”, “unbeatable”, and “future legend” are always attached to his name.
Of course it’s worth it, she thinks and pulls his note from her purse. Huddled under her umbrella, she tries again to read the Chinese script. It tells her the general block and area but then trails off to “Follow the dragon.”
What dragon? There is no dragon. Dragons aren’t even real.
Alexis tilts her head back and stares at the dark skies. Rain falls on her face and she closes her eyes. She imagines the rain washing away her many sins, pardoning her for her trespasses, forgiving her for what she’s done. In truth, it wasn’t her fault. Not entirely, at least. He was a man, she was a woman, sparks happened. But when his eyes turned hard and his hand flew she remembered her time in the jìyuàn.
She never knew a man could have so much blood in him.
She also didn’t realize Hu Yuan was head of the Black Tigers until saw the tattoo on his neck after she slashed his throat. Then it all came crashing down and her past rushed back to meet her. His blood covered her body, splattered on her face and soaked into her underwear. She panicked. Ran and kept on running back to her little apartment.
Alexis paced and panicked and drank and fumed. Finally a bit of desperation hit. They’d find her. They’d rape her. They’d kill her. She crept down to the corner store and found the old woman that always smiled at her and sold her dim sum.
“I need to find Chan,” she told the woman.
Chan. The mysterious man in the dǒulì who was a legend. If she could learn from him she could take care of herself forever. Even the Black Tigers would never go after Chan. She needed that kind of power to take back her life, to create the new Alexis that was free from her past.
The old woman just nodded and handed Alexis a dumpling. “Chan talks to no one.”
“Please,” Alexis plead. “I need to talk to him.”
“Chan is gone,” the old woman said.
“He …,” Alexis started. “Please. I just killed a very bad man and I need to see Chan. I … need to …”
The old woman cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say anything.
“I just want to survive,” Alexis said.
“Take dumpling,” the old woman said. “Be patient.”
The little lizard landed on the window sill of the run down hotel Alexis was squatting in two days later. It squawked and screeched until she let it in and unraveled the note attached to its leg. Directions to this place at this time.
Now Alexis stares the note and watches as the characters run off the slip of paper in tendrils of inky water. The note is useless now. Arguably it was always useless. It was always nothing more than hope, plain and simple. The note was the fevered dream of redemption. She watches the dream fade into indistinct blurred characters. Like so much of her life the happy dream was fleeting and temporal.
She wipes her eyes, wet from more than the rain and blinks against the pain in her heart. A kind of steel forms in her, spun from the stunning revelation that she really doesn’t care anymore. Fuck them all, she thinks.
Alexis looks back into the sky. She lets the umbrella drop from her hands and embraces the cold rain running down her body. Her damp clothes don’t matter, her matted hair doesn’t matter. All that matters is there’s still rain that falls from the sky and old ladies that will share dumplings and deliver messages. She glances around the abandoned alley and realizes she’s happier this way: alone and forsaken.
“Are you still looking for Chan?” a voice asks in a deep Southern growl.
Much to her surprise, Alexis doesn’t jump. Not caring is a kind of slick armor. “No,” she says. “I think I found him already.”
Crushing Sadness by Silas Payton
Where to turn? Where to go next? I’m have no idea. Rain pours down, the noise like the the water, drowning out my thoughts. I wish it would wash me away with it…make my decisions for me. Shrink me down to the size of a water droplet and carry me off. Along the gutter, into the sewer, anywhere but here. How could he do it?
I followed him here to a new world. A wonderful world of a different language, a different culture. Half hour ago, I felt like a person of beauty in a place I belonged. Now, I stand dripping in juxtaposition to my surroundings. Lost in a foreign land. Alone.
“It’d be a great experience,” he said, and it was. I left my job to join him, a promotion rarely given to someone of his experience. A new beginning, an adventure. His raise would be enough we could see the country and still save. A few years we’d have a down payment on a house and he’d likely get another promotion at the end. “How can we turn this down?” He asked.
I was scared but trusted him. Gave up everything I had…all security, all family. For the man I loved. And the fun we did have, treated like royalty. Six months of bliss and excitement touring this city, this country, filled with art, with history, with kindness. My life could not have been better…until tonight. Until I opened the apartment door. To my home. To the place where I felt safe. My sanctuary.
He lay there on top of her, his pants down. Thrusting and pulsating, pounding a spike through my heart with every push. His gyrations twisting it in like an insult. The door clicked shut behind and he looked back at me over his shoulder. His eyes said it all. Part embarrassed, yet part not caring. The young Asian woman under him had a look as surprised as mine. I wondered if she even knew he was married.
My coat and boots on, still holding my umbrella, I left. I ran from my love, my soul mate, my best friend who I’d known since high school. Out into the cold rain. The dark. Seconds ago I was a gem in a chain of beautiful stones…a welcome guest here, now I am a misfit alone in a country of strangers. No money to escape, no one to call a friend, no place to turn. Only emptiness. The weight of the rain on the umbrella becoming heavier, like the crushing sadness as my heart shrinks to nothing, as I wonder if my life will ever be normal again.
A Day of Reckoning
Monday, 15th February 2010
Lei Mei arrived into Glasgow Airport at 7am and made her way to the city using the shuttle bus service. It was impersonal transport, so she wouldn’t be noticed. She wore no makeup, and maintained an impassive expression.
The 30-year-old walked to Buchanan Street, where she found a busy early morning cafe. She ordered a traditional meal, with tea, and avoided making small talk. At her table, Lei used the map on her phone to locate her destination. It would take ten minutes to reach on public transport, or thirty minutes on foot. She walked.
Lei strolled along Sauchiehall Street, and chose a department store where there would be a washroom. Unlike most international travellers, the bag she carried over her shoulder contained all her needs. It held makeup, underwear, three changes of outfit, and travel documents.
On her departure through the store, both men and women gave her approving looks. Her long hair was centre-parted and brushed so it cascaded over her shoulders like a sheet of black silk. False lashes and makeup enhanced her natural oriental beauty. She wore a bright yellow blouse and black mini-skirt, complemented with black high heels.
It took her a further twenty minutes to reach her destination. She arrived in Cowcaddens and assessed the modern six-storey block as she approached. At a bus shelter less than 50 metres from the building, an old Chinaman in vibrant traditional dress waited alone. He had a straggly grey beard, and his long hair hung in a pigtail down his back.
Lei stepped into the bus shelter, glanced at the advertising posters, and then stared at the bus route timetable without reading. She half-turned to the old man to speak.
“Do you use this route often, wise one?”
He stood in regal pose, arms folded across his body, and hands inside the wide cuffs of the opposite arm.
“I walk,” the man said. “I prefer the light, and do not act in the darkness.”
“On occasion, we are compelled to act in the darkness,” Lei said. “I have no choice.”
The old man closed his eyes, and nodded imperceptibly. He handed Lei a wrapped item, and in exchange accepted her shoulder bag.
Lei’s ruby lips twitched. She gave a slight bow, turned and walked away.
Half an hour later, Lei revisited the old man at the bus shelter. His wrinkled face broke into a brief smile on her return.
“Use the subway,” he suggested, returning her shoulder bag. “Stay strong and true, child of Mei Bhei.”
Read the rest on Tom’s Blog