“Tell Me More, Tell Me More”

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Grace. That was the name of the girl who sat between Ann’s desk and Marcus’s desk in Mr. Allen’s chemistry class. The name of the girl now sliding a folded slip of paper Ann’s way. But the note wasn’t from Grace.

Is it later? ~ Marcus

You’re signing your notes? Who else would be sending me notes? Also? Stop it. You’ll get me in trouble. It’s not later.

But it is later.

Not later enough.

Come on. What are we supposed to do about Josh?

Who’s we?

Me then. What’s me supposed to do about Josh?

I don’t know. Figure it out without me.

Josh isn’t special. Shouldn’t he be special?

Ann quashed a couple fond memories. There are lots of ways to be special. 

Doesn’t he need to be special in a way that’s useful?

That would make the most sense, yes. But it doesn’t have to be obvious.

Yeah? So what then?

As the Chosen One, Josh could have access to some kind of power, but he might not have access yet. Or he’s never realized how to use it. Or it’s not that simple. It could be about who he is. Something to do with will or honor or strength.

Josh?

Or it’s about who his parents were: his blood. Or it’s about who the Evil Overlord is.

Like his father or something? Is the Evil Overlord his father?

I don’t know. Maybe.

THAT’S POSSIBLE?

I said MAYBE: sheesh. How much does he know about his parents?

The usual stuff you know about people you never knew. Stories, pictures. A few things they might have passed along if they’d lived.

Heirlooms? Like a sword? A book full of mysterious symbols? An old gun? Magic bullets?

No, like a coat. And a watch. And a quilt his mom made.

What good is that?

Hey.

Sorry. Look, this isn’t really my business. If you want it to be your business, you should talk to Josh. Ask him about his family’s past – possible secrets. Find out if he’s ever noticed anything strange. If he’s ever been able to do anything unexpected when under stress or something. Find out where he really got that scar.

How am I supposed to bring this up? He’ll think I’m crazy. 

Welcome. To the club.

=] We have a club now?

Ann scribbled an angry face. I didn’t mean it like that. There’s no club. You’re on your own.

Okay. ; ]

Marcus, I’m serious. If you find anything out, I don’t want to hear about it. 

He drew her a thumb’s up.

She ripped up the paper and let it fall to the floor beneath her desk.

The next note’s handwriting was different. Grace’s.

What’s this club? 

Ann shook her head when the girl glanced at her. Grace slid another note, this one to Marcus.

Ann bent over her notebook, ignoring them. A bit of paper pricked her arm.

Can I tell her about the club? 

Ann wrote with dark, slashing print. The Going-to-End-Up-Slain-by-the-Evil-Overlord Club?

I think we’re more like a task force than a club. Ann’s Anti-Evil-Overlord Task Force. 

There’s no we. I told you. 

Is he harassing you? I’ll stop passing his notes. 

Ann sent Grace a grateful smile, then turned her attention back to Mr. Allen’s lecture.

But Mr. Allen wasn’t lecturing. Not anymore. He was glaring at her, at Grace, at Marcus. The other students were all looking at them.

Ann blushed.

All three received detention.

Another angle on The Chosen One’s Farm. Someone lurking, probably. In the fields. Come autumn. 

 

*This has been Part Five of Ann versus The Evil Overlord

*Note: no actual farms have been or will be harmed in the making of this story. (My mother has expressed concern. It’s her farm.)

Math! Fun! Fun Math!

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I have homework to do. Mostly, trying to remember what all these numbers mean, and transcribing them onto my character sheet, and checking to see if they’re up to date, which they probably aren’t. Which means getting the right numbers from the Husband, as long as he actually has them.

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I’m sure that all made sense at the time.

In school, they’re quick to tell you about all the things math is good for, but they don’t mention that math is necessary for fun. At least, Dungeons & Dragons fun.

Dragons. Maybe I can talk them into doing the math for me.

Probably not.

Writing Advice (For Me, Not You)

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Realism is overrated.

I’d had conversations that go like this:

Person making recommendations: “You should watch/listen to/read This Thing I Love.”

Me: “Yeah? I’ve heard it’s good, but I’ve also heard it’s sad and violent and all the people you like best end up dying in horrific, unexpected ways.”

Person: “Well, yes, but that’s real. It’s just like Real Life.” 

Me: “I . . . think I have enough Real Life in my real life already, thanks.”

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It’s not ominous in any way to find seven vultures hanging out on the Family Farm.

I don’t know if this is true elsewhere, but in my experience, “realism” and the phrase “like real life” are generally used to mean, “sad and painful,” “covered in dirt and blood,” “agonizing,” and “SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTY!!!!! Hahahaha – jk. You’re dead now.”

I hate that. I hate the idea that reality has to be awful. That death and violence and grief is more real than life and and love and laughter.

The older I get – and the more I watch things/read things – the more I’ve come to value stories characterized by joy. By fun. By hope.

When I was elevenish, I set out to write a long book about a girl and her best friend and a horse. It was an epic-fantasy-journey-type story and I determined very early on that the best friend was going to die. It would be very emotional and tragic and real.

I “tsk, tsk” at 11-year-old me. If I had ever finished that story, I wouldn’t have wanted to read it: too depressing. I was writing to make myself cry. As if I didn’t (and don’t) already spend enough time feeling sad.

I don’t write like that anymore. Now, I write to make me smile. Laugh. Hope.

“You are going to live,” Writer-Me says. “You’re going to live, and you’re going to save the people you care about, and you’re going to grow old, and change the world for the better. I’m not sure how, but that’s another story. Well, it’s not another story; it’s this story, actually, but – um, later. That’s later in the story. Yeah.”

This kind of writing isn’t for everyone. Stories that don’t leave you smiling and hoping and joyful aren’t bad. But they’re not for me. At least, they’re very rarely for me.

But that’s me. Not you. Happy writing. Or, not-happy writing, if that’s your thing.

The Friend of My Friend is Still Not My Friend

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Ann found a yellow rose taped to her locker door, a plain little card dangling from the thorn-less stem.

You’re weird. So much weirder than I had any reason to suspect. 

That’s okay: you’re still cool. I know you don’t want to be friends, either. Have a flower anyway. I won’t bother you anymore. See you around (in a non-romantic, non-friendly, acquaintance-only kind of way).

~ Josh

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She tucked the note into her back pocket and was threading the flower into her braid when she realized Josh and Marcus had come up beside her in the hall, waiting. She jerked the stem from her hair and crossed her arms, eyes narrowed.

“Hey, Fellow Student,” Josh said, studying the ceiling instead of looking at her.

“I have to go to class.” She pointed at Marcus. “You have to go to class.”

Josh took his attention from the ceiling. “He wants to talk to you. I don’t want to talk to you. That is, I’m not opposed to talking to you, but I get that you don’t want -”

Marcus shoved him. “Go wait over there. We’ll just be a sec.”

Ann watched to make sure Josh moved all the way out of earshot, then glared at Marcus. “You’re still friends with him?”

“Of course I’m still friends with him.”

She grunted.

“You don’t stop being friends with someone every time an ex-girlfriend starts spreading rumors. No offense.”

“None taken: look, he can have friends, just after he defeats The Evil Overlord.”

Marcus glanced at Josh, who was shifting from one foot to the other, hands in his pockets. “Can a person defeat an Evil Overlord alone?”

Ann sighed. “Most Chosen Ones have too. The Evil Overlord makes sure he’s alone, in the end.”

“But it’s not ideal, is it? I mean, that’s not the way to do it if you didn’t have to, right?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess not. Listen, we really shouldn’t be talking.”

“We can’t be friends either?”

Ann blew the air from her cheeks. “It’s not . . . . insanely stupid, I suppose.”

“Well, I’m not looking to make friends.”

“Good man.”

“I do have a question.”

She leaned against the lockers, arms still crossed. “Okay.”

“If Josh is really The Chosen One, shouldn’t he be – you know – manifesting some kind of weird powers? Super-strength? Battle prowess? Laser-eyes?”

“Laser-eyes?”

“I don’t know! I mean, look at him – it’s just Josh.. What’s he going to do against an Evil Overlord?”

That is an excellent question, but Josh should be asking it of himself, and of his mentor – not me. am not getting involved. Involved is the last thing I want to be right now.”

“Josh said you talked to Mr. Fredricks on Sunday.”

“So?”

“So . . . isn’t that getting involved?”

She tipped her head back. “What’d Mr. Fredricks say?”

“What do you care?”

She sighed. “Fair point.”

“I’m serious: Why do you -”

“We really have to get to class.”

“But -”

Later, Marcus.”

 

*This has been Part Four of Ann versus The Evil Overlord

Part One, Part Two, and Part Three

Writing Advice (For Me, Not You)

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Write for someone.

Write for yourself, of course. But for someone else, too. Someone not-you.

(Not your cat. Your cat won’t be any help. Probably. I don’t know your cat.)

Kitty Editor

This is my cat. Not helpful.

Writing for yourself is lovely. You want to write about dragons? Write about dragons. You want a happily ever after? Write a happily ever after. You want the girl to skip out on both guys and go have adventures with her great aunt? Write that. You want to write endless conversations between the characters in kitchens and backyards and front lawns because you don’t want anything too stressful to happen to them? Write that too!

Of course, writing for yourself can be tricky.

Me: Oh, I love this.

Me (the next day): I hate this. It’s so stupid.

Me (the day after that): Wait, I do like this.

Me (several days later): No I don’t.

Writing for someone else is a way to get a bit of perspective on your work. You want to write about dragons? Okay, but does your someone care about dragons? What kind of dragons does your someone like? Is your someone tired of reading about dragons? Would your someone rather read about horses or bears or flying motorcycles? (Too bad. They’ll read about dragons and like it.)

You are writing yet another witty argument between characters as they make dinner, but what does your someone want to read about? Witty banter? Or explosions! Chases! Forbidden love! Maybe it’s time to stop bantering and actually do something.

If you can get an actual someone – someone who cares about you, someone who enjoys your writing, someone you want to write for – to read your writing when you write it – that’s wonderful. Ideal, even. But if you don’t have someone with this kind of time, it can still help to think of this someone as you’re working.

Wanting to make someone besides yourself laugh, or smile, or turn the page frantically, or feel sad. (Stop making them sad, you monster.)

Do you have someone to write for? Try it.

Or don’t.

Caterpillars. My Favorite.

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Phobia. n.  A persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

Caterpillar. n.  (1) The wormlike larva of a butterfly or a moth. (2) Or, to my mind, anything that looks like a caterpillar, whether or not it’s going to turn into a butterfly or moth.

I have an irrational fear of caterpillars. I’m not sure where it came from. I’d like to say there was a specific event from my past that turned me against them (like, there was a chase involving a train and a tub full of caterpillars and I fell in and now it’s harder for me to do my work as an archaeologist – wait, I’m not an archaeologist – never mind), but there isn’t. The caterpillar incidents I’ve been through have all been upsetting because I don’t like caterpillars, not because I used to feel indifferent towards them but now can’t stand them. I’ve never been able to stand them.

Caterpillars do not, apparently, feel the same way about me.

Me (a little girl, taking a nap on the top bunk one sticky summer afternoon): I wake up to find a tiny green inchworm doing a little dance on my shoulder.

Me (a little girl, needing to get from the front yard to the farmhouse kitchen): The front porch is covered, COVERED in hundreds of writhing caterpillars bodies, string-thin, with dark fleshy underbellies and black-brown fuzz on top. There is no way to get into the house except crunching over them and hoping the ones clinging to the porch ceiling don’t drop into my hair.

Me (a little girl, walking through the woods on a family vacation): I find a hairless, sickly-green blimpy affair, clinging with three dozen crawling feet to the pink material of my coat.

Me (a little girl, visiting the fort on Mackinac Island): The walls are covered, COVERED just like the front porch at home, with the same model of caterpillar.

Me (a little girl, standing barefoot in the kitchen): I see a GIANT caterpillar, wreathed in puffs of yellow fuzz and long spikes, lazily scuttling over the hardwood. I run for help, but my mother is busy. When I return, it’s gone. For all I know, it’s still in that house.)

Me (a young teen, out weeding the strawberry patch with my uncle and cousins): My uncle finds a maggoty-looking one – white, bulbous, with a tiny red head on one end. “Look at this thing!” he says, holding it up between a thumb and forefinger. “It’s so fat you could -” It pops.

Me (a young teen, out in the barn doing chores with my best friend):

Best friend is holding a woolly bear – a furry, black-and-brown little thing curled up into a non-threatening ball in the palm of her hand: “You don’t like caterpillars?”

Me: “It’s a phobia. An irrational fear.”

Best friend: “Not even woolly bears? They’re so cute!”

Me: “Woolly bears are okay. I don’t mind woolly bears.”

Best friend tosses ball of caterpillar at my face: “So that like, freaks you out?”

Me: glaring as caterpillar bounces off my nose. “Yes. Yes, it does.”  

Me (a young teen, working the cash register at the family home-decor and kitchen store, having just come back from lunch break where I sat under a tree in the park and ate a Chicago Style hot dog): I run my hand over the back of my head and feel a big puffy leaf in my hair. I think it’s funny that such an oddly-shaped leaf came back to the store with me, but when I see what’s in my hand, it’s not a leaf. It’s a caterpillar.

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Should I stop sitting beneath trees?

I wish caterpillars had an irrational fear of me. I wish they were less common – like bear attacks or tornadoes or rampaging deer. I do like butterflies, though. So. As long as I don’t have to look at them in the early stages . . . we’re good.

*eyes the milkweed growing by the mailbox suspiciously*

The Old Man and Some Tea

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“I’ve come,” Ann said, “to speak with you about Josh.”

The old man looked up from his rosebushes. “Who?”

“Josh. Josh Walker. My ex-boyfriend. Your mentee.”

He sat back on his heels, gray head tipped to one side. “I don’t know what a menty is, but I know Josh. I meant who are you? Have we met?”

She sighed. “No. I’m Ann Sherwyn. I’m visiting – ”

“You’re Tom and Carrie’s little granddaughter?”

“Well. Little is a matter of perspective.”

He grunted, attention back to pulling weeds. “Heard you’d be saying awhile.”

“That’s the plan.”

“You say you’re Josh’s friend?”

“Ex-girlfriend. And ex-friend, if that’s a thing.”

“Ah. Dinner go that badly, then?”

She shook her head. “Dinner was lovely. But Josh is . . .”

“Oh, no need to explain.” He waved a dirt-smudged hand. “Josh’s a decent kid, but he’s not every girl’s slice of pie.”

Ann fixed him with a stern look. “Frankly, Josh is exactly my slice of pie. However, I’ve come to understand there are a number of complications.”

“Is that so.”

“Look, I know who Josh is. I know what’s going on. But he’s clueless. And I figure that’s your fault.” She fidgeted with the keys to her grandfather’s truck. “I don’t mean any disrespect: I just want to know why.”

The old man said nothing.

“I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing, but it seems . . . I don’t know. It seems that Josh should be something more than clueless.”

 

Still nothing.

“I can’t be the only one who thinks he might need to know about this stuff. Some of this stuff. I don’t understand why I’ve been the first one to bring it up.”

Nothing still.

Ann sighed again. “When were you thinking you’d tell him?”

A sigh, now – similar to hers. “Tell him what?”

Everything. Whatever it is he needs to know, or learn, or do, or be.”

The old man gave her a long, gruff look, then stuck out his hand. “Ann Sherwyn, I’m Bruce Fredricks.”

She took his hand and shook it. “Pleasure.”

“Perhaps we’d better go inside.”

“Is that really necessary?”

Mr. Fredricks got to his feet, brushing his hands off on his jeans. “I’d like to make some tea, if you don’t mind. Can’t do that out in the garden.”

“If you’re trying to distract me, it won’t work.”

The old man leaned in a bit. “It would perhaps be wise if we had this discussion inside, away from prying eyes and listening ears.”

Ann looked around. Mr. Fredricks’s house stood at the end of a long, curving drive up to the top of a steep hill. It was surrounded by pretty green lawn and Red and Silver Maples –  an old barn and a tangle of overgrown apple trees in a field beyond. They were very much alone. Or seemed to be.

She shrugged. “Very well.”

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Inside the kitchen, Ann perched on the edge of a high-backed wooden chair as the old man puttered about with the tea kettle. “Mr. Fredricks, I don’t need any tea.”

“It’s for me. You want some?”

She narrowed her eyes. “No.”

He walked from stove to table, a mug in each hand, and plunked one down in front of her before dragging a chair out to sit. “So, about Josh.”

“The Chosen One, Mr. Fredricks. The Chosen One is here, and the The Chosen One doesn’t know who he is or what’s coming. Do you not see that as a potential problem?”

A sip from the mug. “Perhaps you haven’t noticed, Miss Sherwyn, but this kind of thing isn’t easy to explain.”

Ann blinked, anxious to keep her eyes from rolling. “It wouldn’t be so hard to explain if the subject had been broached before now.”

“It’s not yet time.”

“Not yet time? When is it going to be time?”

Mr. Fredricks shrugged. “When the boy has questions only I can answer.”

“When will that be? When the Evil Overlord’s minions show up and try to kill him? When a friend dies? When his aunt and uncle are murdered and the farm’s burned down?”

“Well, I certainly hope things don’t come to that, but if he doesn’t think to ask questions until then, then -”

“Hope? Hope? Surely there’s some kind of plan beyond hope.”

“Of course there’s a plan beyond hope. But until an actual threat is revealed, there’s no need to -”

She couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes, but she did close them, head shaking side–to-side. “What if it’s too late? What if by the time the threat is revealed, it’s too late?”

“Young lady, The Chosen One cannot be late. The timing is always perfect, in its own way. Whatever happens -”

“I don’t mean too late for him, I mean too late for the rest of us! You, me, the other kids at school, his family, the town itself: the flower shop and the diner and the brewery and the library and Todd’s Tractor Repair. Look, I’m new to Waterdale, but my family isn’t. We’ve had a presence here for generations and I won’t see it destroyed just because you thought it’d be a safe place for The Chosen One to grow up.”

The old man looked away, out the window to the backyard. “The Chosen One had to grow up somewhere. Somewhere safe, like you said. Somewhere green and peaceful. I’m sorry it was here, but it had to be somewhere. If not Waterdale, somewhere like it, with shops and restaurants and ordinary folk like your grandparents.”

Ann waited for him to say more, but he didn’t say more. Simply looked out his window over fresh-cut grass and more garden and the old barn by the apple orchard.

“So what I’m hearing is you’re going to be no help at all.”

“Not yet. And not the kind of help you’re looking for. I’m here for The Chosen One.”

“Right.” Ann snagged her mug and marched around the counter to the kitchen sink. “Thank you for the tea,” she said, holding the mug high and pouring the contents down the drain. Mr. Fredricks said nothing, and she took her leave, careful to slam the door behind her.

She stopped short – a familiar face climbing the front-porch steps.

“Ann,” Josh said, more surprised than anything else. He glanced over her shoulder at the house. “What are you doing here?”

She sighed. “Trying to talk sense into him, but of course he’s too thick. I suppose you’ll have to be the one to pester him. Don’t let him evade your questions; don’t believe everything you hear; don’t settle for cryptic nonsense.”

“What?”

“Excuse me.”

He backed down the steps to let her pass. “Isn’t that right there cryptic nonsense?”

Ann arched an eyebrow at him. “I’ve tried being straight with you: you wouldn’t have any of it. Good day.”

“Okay, then.”

Men,” she muttered, stomping down the blacktop. “They’re going to ruin it all.”

 

 

*This has been Part Three of Ann versus The Evil Overlord:

Part One

Part Two

 

Writing Advice (For Me, Not You)

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Make hay while the sun shines.

Or if, as in my case, you have a lawn instead of a hay field, mow grass before a thunderstorm rolls through.

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After you’ve mown lawn, though, it’s good to sit on the cut grass and smell the earth, to listen to all the evening sounds of wind and rustling leaves, of bird and bug and neighborhood.

It’s good to sit and write.