A Variation on the Theme of Writer’s Block
Hmmm, what should I write about? I never can decide if I want to write an editorial or practice fiction. I like fiction better, it gives me a little more freedom, but then I have to actually come up with something. An op ed at least gives me a subject. But I like fiction. I think I’ll write a short story.
Ugh, why are short stories so hard? You have to have a beginning, middle, and end all right there! I’m a little bit better with long form. This is probably why I haven’t ever really been any good with poetry. But I’m pretty good with scene setting, and I usually am good with dialogue…let’s just try something and see where it goes. This is a scene that’s been bouncing around my head for a few days.
“What are you trying to say?”
I lifted the coffee mug to my lips, wrapping the question around the rim. The liquid inside rippled, a reflection of the tremble I felt in my whole body. I shouldn’t be drinking coffee at this hour. The evening showed through the windows with increasing persistence.
“I’m saying there are other options. I don’t think you’ve considered every angle.”
I shrugged, looking away and putting the mug down on the counter. When was the last time I wiped the counter?
“Would you like something to eat?”
She didn’t answer, which I took to mean yes. I opened the fridge door, staring dully inside. I had a few things to make sandwiches, some leftover soup from last week, some pieces of fruit. Fruit would be easiest. I grabbed an apple and placed it on the counter, changed my mind, and took out a plate. I placed the apple on the plate, its green skin already slippery with condensation. Why did I put the apples in the fridge? Everyone knows most fruit should be kept at room temperature. And biting into a cold apple was awful, especially for someone with sensitive teeth like mine.
Did she have sensitive teeth?
“Do you have sensitive teeth?”
She didn’t say anything. I found a cutting board and cut the apple into thin slices, arranging them artfully on the plate. It wouldn’t matter. She wouldn’t care. But I wanted to make the effort.
I brought the plate over to her, sitting down in the chair opposite. I lifted the plate, giving it a tiny jiggle of invitation. She just looked at me. I sighed, lowering the plate down to my lap. I took a slice and bit into it. I winced. It was still cold. But it was fresh and crunchy, and the bite of sour fruit was refreshing. I should just eat a green apple instead of drinking coffee.
I set down the half slice and picked up another, bringing it forward to her face. Her eyes never left mine, but she opened her lips. I slipped the fruit inside and she bit down. I saw a flash of her very white teeth. She chewed with her mouth closed, slowly. I felt silly holding the other half of the slice, but when she was finished she opened her mouth again and I gave her the rest. I wiped my fingers on my sweatshirt and finished my own slice.
We finished the apple together, taking turns. When we were done, I stood and took the plate to the sink. I poured the coffee out too. It wouldn’t make sense to finish it now. I left the coffee pooling in the plate and wandered out to the front of the house.
I was bored. I knew what I had been getting into, but this was glorified babysitting. Nothing was happening, and now I was just waiting to hear about the next step. I could read, I supposed, or watch television. Maybe she would want to watch something?
I went back into the split kitchen/dining room and walked up to her. She was always just watching me, like a cat. It made me nervous. Maybe it was the coffee, too, but I was still trembling a little.
“Did you want to watch something? I could turn on the television.”
She just looked at me.
“Or I could read? Aloud?”
She blinked, slowly.
“Fine.” I felt a little angry now. I knelt in front of her and tugged on the knots around her ankles, making sure they were secure. I stood and walked behind her, tested the cords that bound her to the chair.
“Then you can just sit there.”
I stalked out of the room and into the living room, plopping myself down on the soft sofa, wrapping my arms around my knees. I sulked.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand that’s it. I can’t think of anything else. Where to go from here? I like the build up, but the follow through is so much more difficult. I have a tendency to think of vignettes, small, compelling scenes that I can’t fit into a bigger picture, because I don’t have a bigger picture. Oh well. That’s pretty good for now.
Read Chapter 1 here, and Chapter 2 here!
Terrin glanced back at the others. Their silhouettes glimmered in the fading sunlight, another half an hour or so behind her. They were making terrible time.
Terrin sighed and plodded forward. They should have been more prepared. No, Mags should have been more prepared. She was the leader. She should have planned for things like this, brought extra water, left Yumi behind.
Terrin didn’t like the idea of leaving anyone behind. She had never lost anyone on a job before. And she liked Yumi. They didn’t talk much, but they were funny. There was something about them, a lightness, that brought everyone up around them. So she couldn’t really blame Mags and Connor for not wanting to leave them. But if she didn’t find something soon, they were all going to die. And Terrin wasn’t about to let that happen.
And there it was, a tug to the left. She stopped, closing her eyes and pressing the soles of her feet into the ground. Yes, it was there. Only a few hundred meters away. How had they missed it before? Panlassa had sent a few expeditions out before this one, and no one had mentioned anything in this direction. Even if it it was somehow bad, poisoned or spoiled, they would have marked it on the maps so anyone else would know to pass it by. It might be new. New water sources popped up every once in a while. But it was rare. So either someone knew about it and didn’t tell anyone else, or Terrin and her crew just got very, very lucky.
Either way it was their only chance. Terrin veered off in the direction of the water she felt, knowing that Mags and Connor would understand that she would catch up with them if she found anything. And they would only be getting slower, their bones bristling and scraping against each other, their skin cracking and peeling, causing no small amount of pain.
That was another thing that made Terrin grateful to be a diviner. She may not be able to create water out of thin air, but her body knew how to conserve it in a way that the others couldn’t. But they were all human, after all. She would eventually dry up too if she went long enough without.
The soles of her feet burned with pain, but Terrin ignored it and stepped forward confidently. Little clouds of dust hovered behind her, leaving a visible trail just off the ground. She felt the water with every step she took, growing nearer. Something about it didn’t feel quite right but Terrin was not about to panic. The sun’s edge was barely clinging to the horizon, and things were only going to get worse. Terrin couldn’t waste time worrying.
She stopped, the water singing out to her beneath her feet. She wouldn’t know if it was bad until she tasted it, but it still seemed strange that someone would leave a perfectly good water supply untouched out here. Especially if the company had sent Terrin and her crew out to find water much further out.
It didn’t make sense, but Terrin didn’t have the time to consider it further. She knelt down and touched the earth. It didn’t feel too deep. That, at least, was something good. She pulled the canteens off from around her neck, unfolded her shovel, and began digging. The dirt was dry and cracked open easily beneath her effort. Soon the moisture showed in the soil and soon after a small puddle pooled up.
Terrin sat back on her heels and watched the water bubble up, muddy and thick. It was too easy. She should have felt it on the way out. They never would have gone as far as they did if she had just listened.
Shaking her head, she leaned forward and scooped some water into her hand, bringing it to her lips. She would worry about it later. The water was gritty, and tasted of metal, but it was not spoiled. That much she could tell. Terrin quickly filled all three canteens and stood, turning to run back to the rest of her crew, leaving the slowly filling pool for the night creatures.
“Remind me again what happened.”
Terrin glanced at Mags, but she was staring straight ahead. Connor gave her a quick look but then just as quickly turned away again. Yumi was at the doctor’s, their wounds being treated more thoroughly, although Connor had done the best he could. Terrin had gotten to them in time to save their lives, although it had still taken them several hours to get back to town. Now Mags needed to save their jobs.
“It is as I said, Director. We went too far. I should have pulled us back much sooner. We didn’t find anything out there. And then someone…something…shot Yumi. There was no confrontation. It may have been an accident, or someone decided it wasn’t worth their time to pursue.”
Director Miriam Blake was pacing behind her desk, apparently listening to Mags relay the events of their expedition, but her sharp green eyes were fixed on Terrin. Terrin tried to look anywhere but directly at her face.
“But you managed to get back because you did find something? A viable water supply?”
“That is unclear, Director.”
Blake stopped and leaned forward, her hands pressed against her desk. The Director of Engineering and Claims turned toward Mags, her face frighteningly blank.
“I don’t understand, Captain Maggis. You were sent out with a very specific objective: find water. You claim you found water, or clearly you would not be sitting here, given the report you just related to me. Why then, are you not filing a claim on behalf of the company to which you are employed? Why did an entire crew nearly perish under your direction when you missed something of such significance?”
Connor cleared his throat and shifted in his chair, but Blake ignored him. Terrin, however, leaned forward and the director’s eyes snapped back to her.
“It wasn’t that we missed it, exactly…”
“No, you missed it,” the director stood, folding her arms across her chest.
“Very well, it wasn’t that I missed it,” Terrin continued on, ignoring the director’s narrowing eyes, “it was that it wasn’t there. Or, I didn’t feel it going out. Only on the way back.”
“Not quite. The earthis shifting all the time. Seams open up and let water through that was trapped before. It could have been too deep or too far away to feel when we left, and then something brought it to the surface that allowed me to feel it coming back.”
“Convenient,” Blake said, but she unfolded her arms. Terrin didn’t really believe it herself, but it was a plausible explanation. The director looked at each of the crew sitting before her in turn, then settled once more on Terrin.
“Do you recall where you were? Can you find it again?”
Terrin nodded, projecting more confidence than she felt. There was a pause, and the room suddenly felt stifling.
“Very well,” Blake sat down at the desk, spreading out a fan of papers in front of her.
“We will review your report. If the diviner can find the water supply and if we can claim it for the company, we shall consider this expedition a success. You are dismissed.”
Connor and Terrin stood quickly, eager to be out of the room, but Mags sat for a moment more.
Director Blake looked up and raised an eyebrow.
“You of all people should know, Captain, that they are in the best of hands.”
There was a moment of tense silence, then Mags led Terrin and Connor out of the office and out into the street, her hat still clutched tightly in her hands.
“Well, that was terrible,” Connor breathed out a sigh of relief and his shoulders drooped.
“Not at all,” Mags snapped. “We got what they wanted, and we are all alive.”
Connor and Terrin shared a wary look, then nodded in agreement.
Mags sighed, looking suddenly exhausted.
“I’m going home. We’ll meet up tomorrow, discuss going back out to stake the claim.”
Connor and Terrin nodded again, and Mags turned and walked away, her heels thumping on the wooden sidewalk.
“I’m going to go check on Yumi,” Connor said, rubbing his neck. He was clearly fatigued, but Terrin understood the desire. She wanted to as well, but she had business to attend to.
Terrin shook her head.
Connor raised an eyebrow, and Terrin shrugged.
“All right,” he said, giving her a small wave. “See you tomorrow then.”
Connor gave her one last curious look, then headed toward the doctor’s.
Terrin looked out into the dark street, lanterns giving faint illumination to the handful of buildings they called a town. Well, they were alive. That was something. Terrin cracked her neck, rubbed her eyes, then headed down the street to Cass’s.