In which we write a story together

Something I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while on the blog is to create a serial story. Not only would it force me to create something each week (as opposed to revise something), but it seems like it would be a lot of fun.

Here’s how I envision it…

I’ll post a few paragraphs of a story, and you will choose where the story goes next, either by

  • placing a suggestion in the comments
  • voting for your favorite option in a poll
  • or writing some (or all) of the next installment yourself

Obviously, the more people who participate, the more fun this will be. 

Here’s the opening to an urban fantasy I began last year and didn’t finish called Flash Flood:

Flash Flood logo

Tomorrow would be their last day at the dude ranch and Laurel still had not seen a single dragon. Mounted on the back of her favorite horse, a creamy stallion named Custer, the wind blew into Laurel’s face and brought with it the promise of rain. Up ahead, dark clouds dropped lower and raced them to the corral. Laurel smashed her new cowboy hat down on her brow to keep the wind from whisking it away.

“Hope we make it back before the rain starts,” said Rango from behind her. The ranch hand with the bushy mustache brought up the rear of the party on his beautiful paint horse. “The horses don’t like ridin’ into the wind. They’ll turn around and you won’t be able to budge ‘em if the storm hits. There’ll be nothing left for us to do but to walk back and leave ‘em here.”

“I think we’ll make it,” said Laurel’s dad from the back of Socks, a brown horse named after his white legs. “You can see the buildings from here.”

The horses, as if sensing the end of the ride, picked up their pace. Laurel didn’t even have to dig her heels into Custer to get him to catch up with the line.

Back in the corral, the group dismounted as large drops of rain plopped into the dust and washed away Laurel’s chance to go exploring before dinner. She gritted her teeth and followed her family to the main lodge. They played forty-two, her parents’ favorite domino game, while the rain fell in gray sheets and the aroma of wet dirt saturated the air each time the lodge door swung opened. By the time they moved onto Clue at her older sister’s request, patches of sunlight peeked through patchwork clouds as the downpour turned to a drizzle and tap-danced on the lodge’s long wooden porch.

“It’s your turn,” Alexa poked Laurel’s shoulder. “The game would finish faster if you’d pay attention.”

Laurel turned her gaze back to Clue. Who cared if it was Ms. Scarlet in the kitchen with the rope? “It looks like the rain has stopped. Can I go outside and walk around until it’s time to eat?”

The dinner bell answered the question for her.

Laurel paused with a forkful of mashed potatoes on its way to her mouth as Mr. Clay, the owner of the dude ranch, cleared his throat. “We have a special treat for tonight’s entertainment,” he said.

Mr. Clay was a nice man—funny, with a spark of mischievousness behind his gray eyes. He’d never removed his buff-colored cowboy hat in her presence so Laurel had no clue if he was bald or had a head-full of silver hair to match his mustache.

“A good friend of mine, a storyteller, is coming tonight to share some legends of the Old West. Meet out at the back patio at seven o’clock and then join us afterward for a bonfire and s’mores.”

A chorus of cat calls and yee-haw’s broke out from the younger patrons in the dining room. International travelers from France and Norway mouthed the word s’mores at one another and shrugged their shoulders.

“Can we go and listen to the story-teller?” Laurel asked her parents practically vibrating in her chair with excitement.

“And have s’mores afterward?” added Alexa.

“Of course, girls.” Mom smiled. “And if we’re lucky, maybe the storyteller will even talk about dragons.”

Mom, Dad, and Big Sis all broke into crooked grins. Laurel did her best to smile back even though she was the butt of their family joke. So what if no one else believed that dragons existed? She believed, and maybe this story-teller would too. And maybe he’d have new information, something that could help her locate them.

Laurel and her family settled at a worn, wooden picnic table near the center of the patio as the man set up for his show. His golden chaps flapped over faded jeans as he stepped side-to-side laying out assorted objects on an adjacent table. For all that he dressed like a cowboy, right down to the biggest belt buckle in the state of Texas, he reminded Laurel of a character from one of her favorite books come to life. Silver hair, gray beard, lanky frame, and wire-rimmed spectacles. With a wardrobe change, he would be a shoe-in for Gandalf or Dumbledore.

“My name is Jacy Black. I’m a retired history teacher who amuses himself sharing stories of the Old West. Tonight, I thought we could talk about some fearsome critters. Not the normal ones you can find in zoos, like snakes and bobcats, but the mythical ones. The rumors you’ve heard. The stories people tell around campfires. Who’s heard of one?” Jacy’s gray eyes flitted around searching for a response.

A boy’s hand shot up in the air. Jacy nodded at him. “The rabbit with antlers?”

“Ah, my young sir, young mean the infamous jackalope.” The story-teller turned back to his table and picked up a small skull with antlers. “Legend has it that this critter came from a pygmy deer crossed with a killer rabbit. The jackalope is said to be able to mimic human voices just like a parrot can. When he’s chased, he’ll call out, ‘There he goes’ or ‘Look, he’s over there!’ to divert people from his trail.”

He handed the skull off to a little blond boy to pass around the group. “What else?”

“Cactus cat,” a man called from the back of the group.

The story-teller smiled. “So, you’ve heard of the cactus cat, have you? Not many people have. He’s a cross between a bobcat and a porcupine. Instead of fur, he has spine-like bristles. Some people say he uses those spines to slash open barrel cacti at night to drink.” He held up a soft object from his table of props. “Here’s the pelt from a cactus cat. Watch how you rub it or it might poke you.”

“You mean zey are real?” A dark-haired French girl shuddered. She’d refused to touch the jackalope skull or the pelt as they were passed around.

Laurel smiled at the older girl’s squeamishness. It’s not like the skull and pelt had cooties or anything.

“The cactus cat’s as real as the jackalope, ma’am.” The story-teller winked at her. “Anyone else?”

A college-age guy in a white lacrosse t-shirt spoke like he was doing a voice-over for a Halloween TV special.“The chup-a-cabbbbb-bra.”

To his credit, Jacy Black only nodded. No eye rolling whatsoever. “A new critter that come on the scene in the last thirty years or so. Chupacabra means goat sucker. May be a cross between a coyote and a Mexican wolf. Some people say it’s just a coyote or raccoon with mange. But some of us think it’s a blood sucking creature of the night. A vampire with a goat fetish.”

The adults in the group chuckled, but Lauren cringed. Vampires? She’d need to sleep with her blankets covering her neck tonight, just in case the chupacabra couldn’t find any goats.

Jacy Black grabbed another pelt and passed it around. Long and roughly rectangular in shape, it was thick and gray with sparse hair like an elephant skin might be. The French woman caught one whiff of the smelly hide and crossed herself. Maybe she had a point about this pelt.

“This group really knows their Southwest critters. What else’ve you got?” Jacy Black looped his thumbs in his waist band and waited. Cicadas chirped from the oak and tallow branches surrounding the patio, but the group stayed silent.

After a few moments, Laurel raised her hand. “What about the dragons?”

Jacy Black’s eyes flashed in the dimming light, his expression solemn. He took a seat on a stump in the middle of the patio and shifted from side to side like he was trying to get comfortable. “Ahhh – the most majestic of all the fearsome creatures. People have seen dragons in the Old West since Indian times. The Indians called them ‘thunderbirds.’ In the 1800’s, newspapers from all over the West reported sightings of flying dragons. Some said they looked like pterodactyls. Others said they were eighteen foot crocodiles, with six wings and twelve legs. The last dragon sighting was in Utah in 1903. That time one carried off a horse.”

Laurel held her breath waiting for the story-teller to pick up a scale, or dragon claw. Something. Anything. When he didn’t, she asked, “Do you have anything on your table from a dragon?”

“Nah, missy. The dragons don’t leave anything behind like these other critters. Even the photograph of the legendary Tombstone Thunderbird disappeared after it was developed.” Jacy shook his head and clicked his tongue. “It’s a shame.”

“That’s because none of those creatures are real.” The lacrosse guy smiled and elbowed his neighbor. “The photograph was a hoax. Those dragon stories were made up by horse thieves trying to cover for themselves. And some taxidermist created the jackalope from a rabbit skull and antlers to make a quick buck.”

“Yeah,” added on one of his cronies. “The cactus cat and chupacabra are nothing but diseased animals that scared some poor country idiots. Funny stories and all, but none of it’s true.”

The last light from the setting sun flickered across the story-teller’s face and then disappeared, leaving the group in the gray haze of twilight. “How do you know for sure these creatures don’t exist?”

“If they really existed, there’d be proof. More than a pieced-together skull, porcupine pelt, and elephant skin. There’d be something you could see, or something you could touch.” Lacrosse shirt shrugged.

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Jacy Black’s voice echoed in her mind, but his lips did not move. Had she imagined it? It had been a full day with two trail rides, swimming, and a long afternoon of board games. Maybe she was imagining things.

The story-teller entertained the group with tales of hoop snakes, joint snakes, and wereoytes but Laurel’s mind wouldn’t focus. When Jacy finished, he invited the group to look over his collection of artifacts. Laurel and her family examined the items on the table. Aside from a few Indian artifacts and some Old West gadgets, they had already seen most everything during the show. One piece caught Laurel’s eye—a hexagon shaped object about the same size as her palm. It reminded her of a turtle’s carapace, hard and slightly ridged, but smooth. In the dark it glowed a deep indigo. She flipped it over; the other side felt rough like a dried orange peel against her fingertips.

“What is this?” She asked, but no one as much as gazed in her direction. She tried again louder, but still couldn’t get her parents’ or the story-teller’s attention. Frustrated, she gave up and headed off to the bonfire and the promise of s’mores.

They passed back through the patio area following dessert and a Marty Robbins sing-a-long. The patio was clear and all evidence of the story-teller was gone. The night had been fun, but an aching sadness filled Laurel as if something were wrong or missing.

Back at their cabin, Laurel readied herself for bed, and climbed to the top bunk in the room she was sharing with her sister. A metallic blue object glimmered in the light from the next room. The story-teller’s indigo scale sat propped against her pillow.

2014-06-25 18.54.16

SO READERS – WHERE DO WE GO NEXT? Give me an idea of whether this sounds like something fun to you, and tell me what you’d like to see happen in the next scene.

8 thoughts on “In which we write a story together

  1. My suggested contribution…

    He knew patience, as only a creature whose life had spanned the rise and fall of empires could know patience.

    He lay in darkness, in no hurry to stay, in no hurry to move. He was not waiting for anything, but he was still waiting for something.

    Then, he felt it. It was something like an itch on his front left leg, which had been injured some time ago.

    How long ago had it been, he found himself musing. A few months ago? Years? Maybe a century or two? It was difficult to keep track of time in total darkness.

    He reached across his body to rub at the itching spot, and gave a long and heavy sigh before speaking. “Dag nab it. Am I gonna have to go out and deal with some other of them dang-blasted Dragon Shooters again? Confound it, but they can be more of a bother than a hat full of head lice. Bad enough way back when, when all they had was magic lances and swords. I could just fly up in the sky right over them, and laugh while they had conniptions down on the ground. Then they went and learned up to make project…produc…confound it, what is that word? Ah, projectiles, that’s right. Projectile weapons. That was just fighting dirty, it was.”

    “Can’t be helped, I guess. Them’s the rules. Gotta go see what’s up with that scale of mine, what went missing all that time ago. Now, where is that confounded exit? Ain’t been out in so long, I plumb forgot how I got here.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We like the idea of the cantankerous old dragon. Very good idea to write from his point of view.

    My daughter and I loved the start of your story. It hooked us. Here’s her idea:

    Just as I saw the scale propped up on my pillow I saw something green and scaly flash by the window.

    My thoughts:

    She goes out and tries to find the dragon she is sure she saw fly by her window. Leaving behind her family. She enters into an alternate world which is where the dragon lives and only comes to visit this world occasionally.

    Like

    1. Oh! Another great idea! She definitely needs to go out looking and that’s a great way to get her outside. Love the idea of an alternate dimension. Now we just have to figure out what it looks like!

      Like

  3. I really enjoyed the story. I’m thinking it might work easier if you give us 3 or 4 options and everyone votes on the direction the story should go. I love the glowing scale. (There’s another blog I follow where the author, years ago, used to do “choose your own adventure” stories set in his story world. I was fun and also a great introduction to his series.)

    Like

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