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Free Read Challenge Response: Letters from Beyond
This week's Wendig Challenge consisted of selecting 5 of 10 words from a pre-generated list. These words had to be incorporated in a 1,000-word story.
My 5 randomly rolled words were: 'library', 'storm', 'envelope', 'undertaker', 'chisel', and I almost missed the first two.
The result? Letters from Beyond, a short story of 999 words. Enjoy.
Letters from Beyond
first letters caught them by surprise, sliding out in an avalanche, as though hurrying
to be revealed. Wilfred dropped the hammer and chisel, with a startled shout.
He tumbled off the step ladder, falling into Alice and Marriot as finished
putting the third stone block down on the floor. All three collapsed in a heap,
partially buried under musty paper and torn wax seals.
had taken them all morning to locate the space, and then make enough of a gap
that Wilfred could rest his lantern on a ledge, and reach into the cavity. His
jubilation was justified. Of all the letters his aunt had written and received,
he’d found only one, hidden in the book stacks of the ancient library he’d
inherited. It had hinted at dark times and unsavory dealings. It had not
revealed exactly what, or exactly who, and its envelope had been unmarred by
off me,” Marriot said, when the world settled. He was on the bottom of the
pile, pinned by Alice’s weight on his legs, and Wilfred’s backside on one arm.
Wilfred’s step ladder had come to rest on his forehead, and what felt like half
a ton of letters had washed over his stomach.
moved first. Her words were too muffled to make out, which was probably a good
thing, since it sounded like a very unladylike curse. She sat up, spitting an
envelope out of her mouth, and brushing letters from her chest. When she’d
lifted herself off Marriot’s legs, she dusted herself down, and sneezed.
she said, looking at Wilfred. “You were right.”
a change,” Wilfred said, pushing himself to his feet.
old chap,” he added, lifting the stool off Marriott’s face. “Damn things caught
me by surprise. Who’d have thought the old duck hid them all the way down
said it was the old duck?” asked a new voice. “Who’s to say it wasn’t me?”
Trumley?” Wilfred asked. “But why would you hide the letters?”
the undertaker, remember? Lord of Death? Executor of Wills? Any of those ring a
bell with you?”
Wilfred said, “You’re the guy I got the idea from in the first place.”
narrow face twisted into a grimace of regret.
know,” he said, his plummy tones showing irony. “You can’t imagine how much I’ve
been kicking myself since I told you about the letters. Who’d have thought a
single envelope would have led you here?”
weren’t to know you missed one.” Alice, always the peacemaker, always the one
to try to make someone feel better about themselves. Bound to be the first one
Trumley took out. After all, she stood closest to him.
Trumley agreed, coming further down the stairs, lifting the lantern above his
Marriott shouted, and, having found his feet at last, launched himself across
the intervening space. He caught Trumley in the act of swinging the lantern
back, stopped the man from pitching the open flame forward and onto the tinder
dry pile of history. He smothered the flame with the edge of his coat, when it
escaped the shattered glass and found spilled oil on which to feed. An inferno
almost died as well, but Trumley couldn’t twist far enough to draw the dagger
hidden at his belt, and Marriott was quick to disarm him, once he saw what the
man was doing.
to improve your business?” He asked, panting as he pinned the undertaker down.
so eloquent at the graveside, gave an unintelligible snarl.
stooped and picked up a letter.
Will and Testament?” she asked. “Why would you hide those?”
remember?” Wilfred said, turning the step ladder upright, and setting it beside
the gap they had made in the cellar walls. Clambering up, he peered inside.
this?” he asked, reaching inside.
envelopes trickled out of the gap, falling like autumn leaves. There was
silence as the watched the letters fall to the floor, and then Wilfred glanced
into the gap. There was the rustle of more paper, then the clink of glass, and,
then Wilfred asked in shocked tones, “Just how many did you kill?”
undertaker was scrabbling at the floor, rolling his shoulders, and flailing out
with his left hand as though trying to reach the wall. He have failed if
Marriott hadn’t been so distracted.
do you mean, Wil?
mean, there’s a bunch of bottles up here with people’s names on them. Mother
Harrison’s bottle says heart. Father Beatle’s says liver. Shona’s says”—his
voice gave a hitch—“cancer.”
turned back to the undertaker, but his grip had loosened enough that the man
had found a niche in the stone wall, curved his fingers around the edge, and
given a firm squeeze.
groaned beyond the stonework, something creaked like a wooden beam under
pressure, and the floor shook.
hold of something!” Alice yelled, and bounded up the stairs, leaping over
Marriott and the undertaker, to reach the door.
let go of the undertaker, propelling himself after his girlfriend and latching
onto the lintel with seconds to spare. Wilfred found a grip on the broad niche he’d
been investigating. The step ladder danced from beneath his feet, plummeting as
the floor gave way. Wilfred’s lantern followed, the flame dying as it descended
in the cavern below.
walls trembled. The stairs collapsed. The undertaker leapt into the abyss, his
coat billowing as his body fell. His laughter spiraling back up to them as he
descended. He didn’t sound dismayed.
the stonework stopped shaking, and the walls held firm, Wilfred wriggled into
the niche, curling up in the dark, and panting heavily. He looked for light,
and found it in the crowded rectangle leading to the cellar. Marriott and
Alice, arms wound around each other’s waists, backlit by the lightning of an
I’ve been sitting on this announcement
for a while, now, but have been told it’s okay to share: I’m writing a series
for the Age of Magic! Set in a world well on the way to recovering
from a global disaster of apocalyptic proportions, these stories follow one woman’s
journey to harness her own unexpected magical abilities, and save her homeland
from the ever-growing threat of raiders. Along the way, she joins forces with a
shadow mage and a large, wild cat, and accidentally adopts two children. With
magic rising in the catacombs and caverns, and the raiders coming in greater
numbers, Marsh’s world is changing—and maybe not for the better. Her challenge
is to meet the change and raise the stakes to beat it. Three books into the writing, and I’m
almost excited. Working with Marsh is a challenge, given she’s as strong-willed
as I am, and has some pretty definite ideas on where she wants to go. Every
day, when I finish the writing part of the day it’s “Wait! You can’t…” and then
add in what…