The New Harrowing: Bo & The Equestrians

Halloween Night

Lenny proudly tied his brown rider’s cloak around his neck, smoothed out his jodhpurs breeches, and straightened out his equestrian helmet. He flashed a devilish smile at himself in his master dormitory suite’s full-length mirror, the same room and mirror belonging to his brother. He imagined his brother’s spirit standing over him, beaming down upon him a proud and equally impish grin, wearing the senior garb of the Epsilon Omicron Alpha house.

It had taken three humiliating years for Lenny to get there. Three diminutive years of hazing, obedience, and misdemeanor to stand in that room, to wear the Equestrian garb, to take the reins of Nymphis University’s Halloween, the inception of Nymphis’ Harrowing festivities.

“You wear it well, sire,” Rusty, his foal, complimented. “Colton would be proud.”

Lenny withheld the temptation to rebuke his foal for bringing up such a stinging and sentimental subject, and yet it warmed him to hear how his brother’s legacy lived on. His brother, Colton, died under the influence in an automobile accident just a year after his graduation, and Lenny had anticipated four years of shame and prejudice merely by association. What he experienced instead was favor and special treatment from the fraternity, an easier first three years than most, a brotherhood that placed high expectations on him to one day lead and leave his mark upon the ‘Greek Life’.

“Too bad he’s not here to see what he created,” Lenny sighed.

Lenny’s brother Colton was among the founders of the Epsilon Omicron Alpha house, or rather the usurpers. Eight years ago, a poor but rambunctious group of collegians had crashed their rival fraternity house’s Halloween party wearing horse masks, the namesake of their school’s football mascot. The damage incurred by them in their celebration forced the former fraternity to move and thereby disband, granting free residence to Colton and his cronies. The remnant of their rambunctious vandalism marked the fraternity building to that day, and stains of their revelry marking the old wallpaper and aged carpets remained untouched.

“It’s sundown, sire,” his foal reported. “The festivities are about to begin.”

Lenny turned around to face his foal, seeing him donning his ceremonial horse mask.

“Remind me, foal, why do we make you wear those masks in this house?”

“So that we never forget we are someone else’s foal, sire.”

Lenny shook his head and paced his room pensively.

“It serve that function, but it’s more than that. Every collegian has pent up energy, a burning to step out of the former constraints of one’s home and high school. The horse mask gives you that opportunity, to do as you would without reproach, to create bedlam not only for the university and city, but even for your peers. Still, you’re correct, it serves as a reminder of the wild horse within each of us, and that we all require a master.”

“Very good, sire.”

“Tonight you wear my cloak, foal. You’ll lose some anonymity in so doing, but you’ll gain the regard to do as you please under that hood. And tonight I shed it off along with my past.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing both, sire.”

“Come with me. I want to show you something first.”

From the fraternity master suite to the private library was a short walk. The old lighting flickered on lazily, revealing bookshelves of dated literature with torn and weathered spines. Save for its couches and armchairs, the entire room’s furniture was lined with dust and cobwebs. The room hadn’t been used for the purpose of an actual study since before Colton took the dormitory, and such a woebegone façade suited the fraternity’s goals.

“Now is as good a time as any,” Lenny said, walking his foal to the end of the library, and gently tugging on the faded spine of a book titled, “Horse Anatomy.”

The book shelf pivoted out gently, and Lenny looked back, seeing his foal shudder at the sudden movement of the trick bookcase. Lenny stepped between the wall and the bookshelf, shined his phone’s flashlight on a hidden cubby carved out of the wall of a hundred or so photo albums, each labeled with initials.

“Rusty Abrams,” Lenny said, pulling an “RA” from the hidden bookshelf.

Lenny sidled next to Rusty and opened the book to the first page, with a simple header titled, “Freshman Year: Pre-Halloween.”

“Remember this?” Lenny asked, pointing to a photo of Rusty captured three years ago.

His foal recoiled at the sight of the old photo of siphoning a keg of beer while wearing a cardboard costume fashioned out of beer cans and cases. Lenny relished the subtle squirms as the photos on the next page revealed only further impaired decision making, wearing far less than his armor of alcohol, the drunk French maid far more clothed than he. Lenny paged quickly through the subsequent pages of damning photos, cringing himself as he beheld parts of his foal he’d rather not have laid eyes on, until they came to the second heading, “Freshman Year: Initiation.”

“Please, sire,” Rusty begged.

“This is the last time we’ll have to walk through any of this,” Lenny reassured.

A chill went up Lenny’s spine seeing a hellish gathering in the fraternity’s main lounge, just before a lit fireplace. Lenny remembered his own initiation as he paged through Rusty’s, seeing the diaper clad men of the fraternity paired with the bikini-clad women of the sorority lined up like soldiers. Standing obediently stiff around them were the horse-clad Sophmores, of which Lenny could spot his own former self. Stretching out and forming a circle around the lower classmen were the Juniors, their faces shadowed by their long rider hoods and cloaks, holding their former horse masks in hand. Standing gathered before the fireplace were the Seniors, Equestrians, dressed in the same splendor that Lenny enjoyed that day, save for the diminutive cloak.

“What was that day?” Lenny asked.

“It was the saddling, sire,” Rusty said weakly.

“The day you were broken in. But you weren’t my foal yet.”

“I was…someone else’s, sire.”

Lenny made a face, paging to the next heading that read, “Sophmore Year.” He found a page where Rusty bowed down on all fours in the dining hall, obediently at the side of a feminine figure donned in the rider’s cloak, the creases of her frown barely visible behind her hood. It wasn’t customary for a member of the sorority to take a member of the fraternity as a foal, or vice-versa. And yet, both the fraternity and sorority seemed to understand advantages of maintaining their rigid hierarchies by allowing romantic relationships to exist between the houses and ranks.

“You haven’t heard from her since?” Lenny asked, paging boredly through photos of the two of them egging a rival house and milk jousting inside a supermarket.

“No, sire.”

Lenny stopped at first page without her, the first page that showed him hooded where the girl once stood, the two of them standing proudly above a pair of away team linebackers following their lost championship game.

“Wish that photo I could save,” Lenny sighed, slamming the book closed and tucking it back onto the shelf. “But rules are rules.”

“Any that you would save from your own, sire?”

Lenny squirmed at the thought of his own photo album, and took solace seeing it missing from the bookshelf. He remembered having to go through the shameful photos of his impulsive and humiliated past with his former rider and Equestrian, a subtle reminder of the importance of the hierarchy, a reminder of the danger that came with leaving…

“None,” Lenny answered. “Come now. Wouldn’t want to miss the big celebration for the two of us.”

The two solemnly walked out the library and down the dimly lit hallway.

“What ever happened to that cheerleader of yours?” Lenny asked.

“To Abigail?” Rusty asked.

“Yes. Abigail. Abigail Brewer. Your old rider. What happened to her?”

“She left town.”

“Left town, what?”

“Left town, sire,” Rusty corrected himself.

“We all know she left town, foal. But what really happened to her, Rusty?”

“I suppose she wanted out, sire.”

“She’d gone through the worst of the hazing. Her last two years would have been nothing. Why risk tarnishing her entire future and leave?”

“Perhaps she wasn’t as concerned with her photo album?”

Lenny scoffed.

“Remind me to show it to you when we are finished, Rusty. The things inside that thing make your ledger seem so tame.”

“You haven’t released it yet then? Her photo album?”

“With the hope that she’ll return and recant. But for now it keeps me company at my nightstand.”

The two descended the hall’s creaky staircase, ushering the entire longue to turn and address them both. The lineup was a familiar one: half-naked freshman kneeling at the center, horse-headed sophomores standing obediently at their side, an outer band of juniors still donning their horse masks in anticipation for their cloaks, and equestrian clad seniors standing ready at the fireplace each with a wineglass in hand. An empty podium and stack of photo albums sitting upon it separated the equestrians, dividing the sisters from the brothers. Lenny smiled and took his place at the center while his foal filed in with the rest of the horses.

Lenny cleared his throat and unfurled the scroll as all eyes lay upon him.

“In Vino Veritas,” he began, raising his glass. “En Oinos Alitheia, or, in wine lies the truth. Each of us came into this house through the libation, through becoming acquainted with our uninhibited self. Our predecessors showed us our wild horses, and we are reminded of those mavericks until we leave this house.”

Lenny turned to his fellow Seniors.

“Equestrians, fellow Seniors, tonight we shed our capes of shame and immolate the annals of our truth. Our time of being lorded over by our past shall wither in the hearth!”

Lenny then turned to the still horse-faced juniors.

“Juniors, tonight you shed your horse faces and don the cloak, learning authority, saddling your foal.”

Lenny arched forward, addressing the stiffly lined columns of horse-headed Sophomores.

“Sophmores, you will continue to wear your long faces, for you are still all wild horses. Your initiation is not over yet. But take courage, for in no time at all you will meet our ranks, and in the meantime you will carry the torch of revelry that has ignited this house so brightly. You will be set free upon our city as horsemen of the Harrowing, proudly rendering bedlam and carousal.”

Lenny stepped forward, coming to one of the freshmen, who seemed to shiver as Lenny’s shadow hovered over his naked body.

“As for you, Freshmen,” he said, pouring his drink over the head of the novice. “You will be shod, you will be branded, and you will be broken in until you are deemed worthy of this house. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sire!” The freshmen obediently chimed in chorus.

Lenny waltzed back to his position behind the podium and threw his glass into the fire where it shattered in the heat.

“Every Equestrian begins by being broken in, made a fool and foal of him and herself. We cannot leave our pasts until we leave. We must pass through the fire of the Harrowing. We must don the mask, become our beast, have our drink, and subject ourselves to being mastered, before we become masters ourselves. Only then we are freed. But until we become lords of our houses, we are subjects to our shame.”

Lenny outstretched his arms out in a flamboyant and ritualistic manner, as though to embrace the whole student body.

“All, but the Freshmen, tonight, will be set free! Starting with the Juniors! Juniors, shed off your faces, and take up the mantle that we bestow on you!”

Lenny made a sweeping gesture with his hands, closed his eyes, and craned back his head in a dramatic fashion.

“Juniors! Take off your masks!”

What Lenny anticipated as a solemn moment of silence came to a sudden burst of gasps and indignant murmurs. He opened his eyes, seeing half the Juniors without their masks as intended, and the other half wearing sheep masks, with austere expressions crafted into their plastic mold.

The rest of the student body looked to Lenny in anticipation, and Lenny fumbled to produce some fitting response.

“What is the meaning of this? Some silly new prank!? Save it for the Harrowing! This is a solemn observance of our great tradition!”

But the sheep did not. They did not move. Instead their unnerving, quiet stares pierced Lenny.

Lenny looked over to where he knew Rusty had took his place, seeing him among the sheep. Lenny strode up to him, and came within inches of his face.

“Take that mask off immediately, foal,” Lenny hissed, “or I’ll send off your dirty little memory book this very night!”

“You have no power over him!” A feminine voice shouted from across the room.

Lenny looked up back towards the staircase, seeing another sheep staring at him from the banister, though dressed starkly different from the rest. She wore ragged shepherd’s clothing, harkening to customary garb worn in a mountainous village in the Balkans. In her hand, she carried what looked like a Bo staff, its steel sheen shimmering in the firelight of the hearth.

“And who are you supposed to be?” Lenny scoffed. “Little Bo Peep?”

“Something like that,” she replied.

“And you think you’ve made a mindless flock of my bold foals?”

“No,” she answered. “I’ve come to set them free of your blackmail, to release them from your perverted little cult.”

Lenny marveled at the grace of her movement, how she effortlessly vaulted over the banister, how she twirled her staff hypnotically in front of her, around her, over her, with helicopter like speed. The sheep parted away from her reflexively, the sorority fled, and a fraction of the fraternity of every class stood their ground.

“All pomp and no substance,” Lenny spat. “Take her down!”

Those loyal and brave enough to stand their ground enveloped the shepherd and raised their fists. The first that leapt forward took a hard thwack to the chin, and another a stiff prod to the sternum. Another handful charged, while the rest waited.

Bang. Smack. Crack.

Even the meatier linebackers of the fraternity fell like dead weight before the spins and strikes of the Bo staff.

Those initially bold to confront her had since sheepishly backed off, and stood nervously before the masked shepherd, giving her wide berth of the lounge.

“Any one of you cowards who does not take her down will have their photo albums released!” Lenny threatened.

“Are you sure about that?” The masked shepherd asked.

Lenny shot her a perplexed glare before he made out the smell of smoke and within seconds heard the blaring of the fire alarm.

“What the hell!?” Lenny swore.

“The library is on fire,” The masked shepherd proudly announced to the room as she slowly strode towards Lenny. “You are all now part of a new Harrowing. Your pasts are all being burned up. You are all free to leave not just this building, but this organization…for your own safety.”

She spun her Bo staff dramatically as she came within striking distance of Lenny.

“We’ll make this quick.”

Lenny glanced over, seeing the whole house vacate, save for his old foal, save for Rusty.

Lenny chuckled to himself.

“I don’t know that I’d be laughing,” she said, poising her staff towards him, “if I were on the receiving end of this very heavy stick.”

“I should’ve known it was you…that you’d return…Abigail.”

Lenny expected a dramatic flinch, a paralyzing moment for the sudden reveal. Instead, he marveled, seeing her gracefully remove the sheep mask from her face, and throw it into the fire.

“What gave me away?” Abigail asked with a subtle smirk.

“Never seen anyone work a pole like that,” Lenny said devilishly. “Which brings me to my next point. Are you sure you’ve set fire to all the photo albums?”

“You mean this one?” She asked, pulling from her a fold of her garment a photo album, initialed “A.B.”

Lenny remained unflinching as she took her album and tossed it carelessly into the hearth.

Lenny fell back, as the staff punched into his gut without warning. As he attempted to catch his breath, he watched as Abigail turned towards her former foal and hand to him the stack of photo albums from the podium.

“Go ahead, Rusty,” she told him. “Send these to the press. Make copies. Let the city, the whole internet, know about this place and its customs.”

“Are you sure about that?” Lenny choked, pulling out his phone and opening a saved draft of an e-mail.

He let his thumb hover over the send button, while he outstretched the screen to show the two of them a collection of photos awaiting to be sent to a handful of publishers of websites of ill-repute.

“Want to let the city, the whole internet, know, Abigail, about your own checkered past here?”

“Y-you saved her photos?” Rusty stammered. “That’s against the house’s conduct!”

Lenny rolled his eyes and chuckled.

“Do we really look like a house of rules, Rusty? We let you imbeciles parade around in horse masks so you could prank each other without consequence. We endorsed your bedlam and vandalism! You really think ceremony would keep me from saving your girlfriend’s delectable secrets? Don’t you—”

“Do it.”

Lenny blinked hearing her so sharply interrupt him, so immediately and with stone-face call his bluff.

“Go ahead. Scapegoat me for your scorched earth. You can try to destroy my future with my past. If that’s the price to pay for their freedom and to bring this system down, so be it.”

Lenny grit his teeth and pushed his thumb on his phone, sending her digital photo album off into the ether.

Abigail flashed a wide and pearly smile and slammed her staff into Lenny’s mouth. He coughed, feeling the debris of shattered enamel burst into his mouth and throat from the impact.

“Look on the bright side, Lenny,” she said, taking him by his ankle and dragging him from the house filling with smoke, “you’ll never smile again for another photo album. Happy Harrowing.”

The Spider & The Mantis

“The Spider & The Mantis”
A Masks Short Story

He watched her swim from their motel room’s porch balcony. The soft moonlight illumined the shimmering water, making her slim figure dance under water. She wore his favorite green two-piece which complimented nicely with her dyed, black hair. Her eyes remained closed and she wore a careless expression as she backstroked back and forth from one side of the pool to the other, while he drank up the sight of her, his insides ever boiling with envy for something he knew he never would enjoy.

“Quit staring and get in,” Sally cooed.

“Appointment will be here any minute now,” Frank grunted, nervously brushing his gelled, bleach-blonde hair.

“He’s keeping us waiting. Besides, you never get in,” she teased.

You know our arrangement, he wanted to say, though he knew better than to entertain the dialog any further, knowing that her persistent taunting would in fact lure him into the pool with her.

“I want us to leave town after this client,” Frank switched subjects.

Sally finished her lap to the side of the pool near him, and looked up with a consternated gaze.

“We have a good thing going, Frankie.”

“We’re running out of motels, Sally.”

“Then we leave Nymphis.”

“We’ve gotten lucky doing this routine in this crazy city. We pick up and move, people won’t think we’re vigilantes, or Masks, or whatever we are.”

“Is that what you think we are, Frankie?” She asked, batting her eyes at him. “Are we the good guys?”

Frankie bit his tongue. He at least pretended that they were. It helped him sleep at night when their work became difficult.

“Because I know that’s not what I am,” she said in a sultry voice, slowly pulling herself out from the pool. “And you were there to see it from the beginning.”

As she shot him a serious look, he remembered back to his freshman year in college, their first time ever exchanging words with one another, the one day he regretted the most of his entire life…

It was after one of his football games, after most teams and spectators had vacated the field. Frank had returned to the gridiron to look for his helmet, a symbolic totem he left on the bench in frustration for the lost game, for his failure as a linebacker.

“Should’ve left you out here,” he grumbled to his helmet, finding it on the bench.

“Should’ve just quit the game…”


That’s when he saw her, behind the bleachers, pinned to the turf by one of the away team’s running backs.

Seeing her struggle helplessly to buck the player twice her size, Frank did what he did best. He charged.

Frank tackled the running back full force, knocking the stranger off of her and crashing him to the turf. Frank winced hearing a crack and pop from his rival’s body snap against the ground, and the running back writhed on the grass, holding his shoulder and crying in pain.

“What the hell, man?!”

“Nobody ever teach you how to be a gentleman?” Frank growled.

“This isn’t your business! I paid her, man!”

Frank looked back, seeing Sally stand up and straighten out her cheerleader’s skirt

“Didn’t pay me for getting to home base!”

Frank blinked and his jaw dropped agape.

“You mean…he paid you to…”

“I owe you one, meathead,” Sally said, rummaging through the running back’s pockets and leaving the field with a wad of cash.

Frank hastily took his leave, not looking back in the hopes the other player might not see or remember his face. The whole rest of the night he wrestled with his conscience, proud and beaming for protecting the helpless dame, while also unable to totally reconcile with the circumstances from which he saved her, especially knowing that she walked off the field with a payment.

Frank had seen her the very next day in the campus cafeteria. While he hung his head low in a tinge of shame, Sally had no problem walking straight up to him.

“Want an easy hundred?” She asked him pointedly.

“Wh-what?” He stammered.

“One hundred dollars. I’m give you one hundred, literally just to stand somewhere and look tough.”

“Look, if this is about last night…”

“Fine,” she stormed off. “I’ll take my chances, and keep my share.”


But she didn’t, and he followed.

He couldn’t explain why he took her bait, why he silently followed her to her next “transaction.” A part of him liked to think that he saw her as defenseless and pursuing a legitimate and consensual transaction, but he could not help but shake the critic in the back of his head detecting something nefarious and dishonest about her aim.

It was a short walk to the men’s dorms, and Frank couldn’t help but feel implicated and embarrassed to walk in his own halls behind her. They stopped just outside a room two stories above his suite, and once again Frank looked over his shoulder, as though standing next to her implicated him in some way.

“Listen,” Sally said to him matter-of-factly in a low voice. “The guy in here is a half your size, and a total tool. Nymphis University ain’t cheap. When I scream help, I need you to barge in and do your thing.”

Frank blinked.

“Was last night staged?” Frank asked pointedly.

“No,” Sally whispered. “But that jock you took out had a lot on him, triple the amount he was supposed to give me. Now, I get you might have mixed feelings with me walking off with a profit from that incident, but you don’t know what it’s like being pinned by a frisky guy twice your size!”

“But you’re staging this?” Frank said, nodding to the door.

“I know what I am, but that also means I know the kind of guys that pay for a girl like me. Trust me, meathead, I’ve been around the block a few times, this isn’t my first rodeo. Stupid shit like last night doesn’t happen often, but I’m fed up with dirt bags like that, and I think it’s time someone tried turning the tables.”

“And I walk away from this, you don’t turn the tables?”

“What’s your name, meathead?” She asked, squinting at him while folding her arms.


“Ok, Frankie. What do you study?”

“I’m going for law.”

“That’s an expensive degree. Think you’ll have enough brain cells for it too after a career of playing football?”

“Good luck,” Frank said, spinning on his heel.

“Hey,” she said, putting her small hand upon his meaty shoulder. “Look, I saw last night’s game, and I saw you hang your head lowest for letting the other team break the line and sack your quarterback. I know you take pride in protecting others. Other guys would’ve walked away from me and that guy instead of do something about it.”

Frank turned and looked over his shoulder, seeing her eyes bore up at him with a puppy-dog plea.

“I need a hero, Frank. I’m not proud of the things I’ve had to do to just get here at this school, but I think I might catch a break if I have at least one guy looking out for me.”

Frank grimaced as he felt a fire of duty rekindle in his chest, burning him with zeal to do play his part.

“This guy is a creep?”

“He’s copped a feel in the cafeteria before. Mommy and daddy are covering his whole tuition, if that sweetens the deal.”

“Let’s get this over with.”

In five minutes Sally cried her cue, and Frank barged in without much resistance. The frail freshman was on the floor in two punches, and Sally had picked the room clean of its valuables in two minutes. The two made off with just under a grand, more than what Frank had expected for his take.

“We’re quite the team,” Sally told him afterwards.

“I hope you’re not implying we’ll be doing that again,” Frank replied suspiciously.

“Not here. There’s bigger fish to fry in Nymphis.”

From there, the two branched out of the university, going into areas of ill-repute in the city. Sally posed as an escort, Frank as her procurer, and the two went from street corner to street corner, motel to motel, luring desperate males, trapping them, mugging them, leaving them bruised where they lie.

The escalation eventually warranted a change of tactics and appearance as word got out of the con-artist couple. A new motel meant a new hair color, a new set of clothes, new temporary markings and tattoos, and new names.

“Nice tattoo,” Sally complimented him after they moved to a motel in Roseray, Nymphis’ Red Light District.

“Got a mask to compliment it,” Frank said, holding a balaclava with spider designs up next to his neck tattoo of a spider web.

“No football helmet?” Sally teased.

“Left that part of me behind. Besides, it’s not that easy to slip on in a pinch.”

“Why wear any mask in the first place?”

“The city has been catching onto us. We need to jump on this Mask bandwagon. After all, we’ve been hurting a lot of Johns. That makes us heroes, doesn’t it?”

“This city thinks we are heroes?” She scoffed. “Please.”

“Didn’t you call me your hero?” Frank asked.

“I did,” she said, kissing him platonically on the cheek. “But I have no intention to share you. Besides, Spider, my role in this doesn’t work well with a mask, not unless I get into the weird stuff.”

“That’s a shame. I had a name picked out for you and everything.”

Sally flashed him a curious grin.

“What’s my name?”

“Mantis,” he said, handing her a pair of green contacts and green lingerie. “The Man-Eater.”

“I’m not tied down to this city, Frank,” Sally said, toweling off. “Nymphis hasn’t give me anything but a lot of grief. We could easily do another year of this and be set for the next thirty years. Do the math.”

“We’re already set for a while, Sally,” Frank countered.

“Not with that last guy you shanked.”

Frank blinked away the dead face that looked back up at him, the one face that haunted him from their cons.

Their last client was different than the rest. He was a fighter, a Mask, and, worse of all, he was armed. When Frank barged in, the client pulled a knife on Sally’s throat. It was a messy altercation resulting in superficial stitches for both Frank and Sally, and ending in multiple stab wounds to the client once Frank muscled the blade from his grasp.

“I didn’t tell you, but taking care of the body cut into a lot of our savings,” Sally said.

“Just another reason to get out of this business,” Frank grunted.

“It was a fluke.”

“It was murder.”

“It was self-defense, Frankie.”

  “It’s a face I can’t forget.”

  “I thought you said that guy was with the Den.”

 “Doesn’t make the face any harder to forget.”

 Suddenly, the pool and walls of the motel lit up as a sedan pulled into a parking spot and beamed its brights at the two of them.

 “Better late than never,” Sally sighed, joining Frank at his side.

 “We could have walked away from this,” Frank grumbled.

“Hey, big guy,” Sally said, pecking him on the cheek, “every single dirtbag you’ve pummeled and stabbed had it coming. There’s a lot less John’s out there because of you, and a lot fewer girls being preyed upon after the shape you leave them in, after leaving them penniless. I know what I am, Frank, but you’re still my hero.”

“We’re leaving town after this one,” Frank said flatly. “And I don’t think it’s wise we keep playing our game with all our near-misses.”

“We’ll talk shop later, Frankie. For now let’s focus on what’s ahead of us. Clock me at three minutes and then come in and do your thing.”

“I thought we agreed sixty seconds,” Frank growled. “You almost didn’t make it out with a jugular last time you took that long.”

“Sixty seconds is way too short of time to ploy my wiles. Trust me, Frankie, I’ll be alright, I just need time.”

The sedan went dark, and out from it stepped a lanky young man, dressed in shorts and a button-down strolled up to the two of them.

“Damn, looking fine, girl,” the client said with a whistle, eyeing up Sally’s body.

“Care to shower to get things started?” Sally asked suggestively.

“That’s extra,” Frank said, holding out his hand.

“Whatever you say,” the client said, stuffing a wad of cash into Frank’s hand before taking Sally’s and leading her into the motel room.

Frank’s eyes immediately went to his watch once the door closed shut. He stuffed his hand in his pocket and nervously felt for his collapsible truncheon and spider balaclava, hoping that Sally would let out a premature scream. After all, waiting was the real torture of the operation.

 Though every ticking second filled Frank with dread that Sally’s well-being would come once again in jeopardy, the real anguish he felt in the delay of time was the pestering thought he had of the client setting himself onto Frank’s damsel. His heart would pound in a mixture of indignation and envy, his mind run frantic with monstrous and covetous thoughts. Perhaps, he thought, that is why Sally always had him wait instead of outright mug the client: to use his suppressed lust for her and his quickly stoked hatred for the client to stir him in getting the job done.

“Alright, you’ve had your time,” Frank said to himself as his watch reached three minutes.

With one hand he slipped the mask over his face, and the other he relinquished and flipped upon his truncheon. But as he opened the door to their room, he marveled seeing the lights off and the room quiet, save for the closed bathroom door that shone a sliver of light and hissed faintly with the sound of a running shower. Though it was unlike her to leave all lights off, Frank knew of instances when operating in total darkness had provided him the necessary edge, though always with the help of some sound.

 Frank cautiously stepped to the bathroom door, holding his truncheon tight in hand, over his head, while slowly opening the door with his other.

And to his surprise, the bathroom was empty.

Then, a blinding light pierced through the room’s windows accompanied by a flashing red and blue strobe, and Frank could make out nothing but the figure of the client stepping out from a closet space.

“That’s him!” Frank heard Sally shriek from somewhere in the room. “That’s the killer! That’s my captor!”

Frank did only what he knew to do. He charged.

He made it within striking distance before two pistol rounds pierced into his chest. He staggered for a second, the blood loss forcing him to his knees, and then collapsed back as the client’s heel struck him in the chest.

“This is Officer Bucik,” the figure began after barking into his radio. “Suspect is down and will need medical attention…if he makes it.”

“She,” Frank attempted to sputter as he felt blood fill his lungs. He slowly pointed his truncheon Sally, seeing her rise out from underneath the bed, the faintest crack of a smirk barely visible through the darkness.

“She’s the…the…the Ma…the Man…”

“Save it for a judge, meathead, if you live to see a courtroom,” the undercover cop spat. “Only good Mask, is a dead one.”

NaNoWriMo – Topics Spring Board & Best Practices

I’m writing this post four days late, and perhaps you yourself are late in the race or are stuck in a ditch with your writing. Never fear, we are in good company, and November is far from being over.

NaNoWriMo is an incredible call to action for all writers out there, especially for those of us who are distracted from writing, stuck in a writer’s block, or simply lapsed from the practice. If you haven’t touched your pen & pad or keyboard in some time, join the fight and dedicate at least an hour every day to just writing!

Easier said than done, right?

Hopefully what this post offers is some means for you to get your muse and writing vigor off the ground as well as provides a spring board of ideas. I’ll do my best to keep this brief because I don’t want to take up too much of your writing time with reading!

Good strength and happy writing!

Best Practices-making the most of this month

  1. Take a shower or a walk: Staring in front of a computer screen or blank piece of paper is often paralyzing. Even worse if you have a half-finished sentence, paragraph, or chapter without knowing where to go with it. Brute force will only take you so far. There’s something liberating about the white noise of a shower or lawn mower I have found that can kick up a whole slew of ideas. When I’m stuck on a plot point or paragraph, I’ll often just hop in the shower for a bit and just kick around ideas. I also find that monotonous tasks like lawn mowing also helps giving me time and headspace to think up new ideas or chew out old ones.
  2. Get rid of your distractions: If you haven’t tried a social media fast, I highly recommend it. When we hit an obstacle in our writing often we turn to the scrolling through of our news feed, open up another tab, and go down an unnecessary rabbit hole. While sometimes youtube can provide some necessary research and ideas, be sure that all your time that is meant for writing isn’t spent on only watching/listening.
  3. Low-Stimulus Mood Music: That being said, youtube can be a helpful tool in providing some necessary background to your noisy environment. Also, if you have a live channel playing ambient music there’s less temptation to go down a rabbit hole of other videos with music playing. Personally, I enjoy lo-fi music without lyrics. This is my typical go to for ambient music.
  4. Set Goals: Daily quotas and schedules I find to be personally motivating in my writing trade. Devoting to X amount of words/pages per day is sometimes more profitable than just setting aside time for writing. Start off with a number you know is reasonable, based on something you’ve written in the past. If you can’t find a number yourself, dedicate today to writing 500 words. That’s it. But then increase that number each day, or up it by a couple hundred at the end of each week.
  5. Set Aside Time (Mornings): I used to enjoy writing at night because I’d find I had a lot less stimuli, fewer interruptions, and I could force myself in my youth to stay up late. But what I have found is that the real magic of writing happens in the morning. Think about it, your mind is totally refreshed, especially after having sorted your entire day out in dream format, and you probably have some great ideas from last night’s dream or nightmare! Painful as it may be if you aren’t a morning person, try waking up one hour early, and just try it once with a cup of coffee.

Topics Springboard-What should I write about

Maybe you feel you need to take a break from your novel and rejuvenate. Maybe you just want to start writing but aren’t sure where to begin.

Short stories may not be your thing for your ambitious novel-writing mind, but I promise you, they are fantastic spring boards for new ideas/books and are valuable exercises in honing your writing skill.

I promise you, you have a plethora of grand ideas that haven’t been penned out yet, locked somewhere in your head. My goal is that this unexhaustive list will pry some of those ideas out from your mind.

Because some do better with elaborate prompts and others do better with short springboards, I’ll offer first a list of larger prompts, and after that short bulleted ideas to spring off of…

7 Longer Prompts:

  • Your greatest fear: personify it, put a character that is you or someone totally different in that circumstance, slowly leading up to the exposure of that phobia of yours. Nightmares are great pieces of inspiration too, often revealing some insecurity or important theme in our own life. Mine that nightmare, and draw out its significance to create an insecure character in need of growth.
  • Personify a feeling: Are you suffering from grief or heartache? Do you often feel a sense of longing for someone or someplace? What is an indescribable emotion that you feel but have a hard time communicating. Personify it. Make it into an antagonist, a person, or even a beast or spectre for some mundane character. Emotions are hard to describe, so give it some flesh!
  • The Familiar Stranger’s Backstory: Take a look at that person on the bus you never talk to, that barista you don’t know a whole lot about, that neighbor that might say hello once in a while but that’s about it, or even a crush you have a hard time writing about. The truth is that stranger you know nothing about has a real story, a good one at that! Make one up for them. Why do they always seem downcast or always smiling? What are the tattoos on their skin about? Do they have a dark secret behind their mundane appearance? Are they secretly a monster or a superhero? Come up with something. Who knows maybe that’ll prompt you to actually interact with them!
  • Borrow from other fiction: I realize we are on the cusp of speaking about plagiarism, but many great pieces have come from a borrowing of old plot arches and themes. Take the recent Joker movie for example and how it drew inspiration from films like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, and how the success of the film did not cheaply borrow but springboarded off such productions. Take a mythology, a book, a film, a game, and tweak some details. Change the time setting of the piece or the universe itself. Perhaps look into the villain and hero, swapping their roles.
  • Narrate a dystopia: Pick an ordinary character with an ordinary job. Who are the people he/she interacts with? What are the places he/she passes by on their way to and from work? Do a bit of universe building, but make sure to get into the details, of what shops exist, what people wear, what people are doing, and what’s on the media.
  • Build a Fantasy World: Do some vignettes of different characters in your own fantasy world. Don’t get too caught up on the fine details of the races or magic in this world of yours, but make a unique fantasy environment. Introduce the elements of this new world of yours through the limited lens of your different characters: peasant, royalty, squire, magician. Again, don’t get too caught up on making a fully spelled out magic system or an overly elaborate history of your kingdoms or races, but flesh out the details as your character comes to interact with those elements of the universe.
  • Give someone one power: Typical superhero stories have often deviated from the mundane world to tell of epic battles between superheroes and supervillains. Media like Hancock or The Boys have attempted to keep things a bit more real, underscoring ethical considerations of being gifted with power. Or consider the original idea behind Lord of the Rings, the Greek story of the ring of invisibility, and the moral questions that arise from this unique corruptive power. What if someone just came upon the ability of invisibility, or water manipulation, or flight (your choice)? Pick a simple power, and pick one character–even better, someone you know that isn’t you–and tell of the corruptive nature of this power and allow the tragedy of human hubris to unfold.

23 Short Prompts:

  1. A cherished memory of yours spoiled by unsuspected luck
  2. What the first day/week would really look like for a space explorer meeting alien life
  3. A historic figure suddenly time-traveled to a new place and point in history
  4. If your pet or an animal could suddenly talk for a day
  5. The journal entries of your/someone else’s personal guardian angel
  6. A full day baby-sitting your younger self
  7. The worst possible way December 31st 2020 could go
  8. The final moments shared of the crew/passengers on a sinking ship
  9. The first person on your news feed, the last person who texted you, and the first person you find on a random page on wikipedia are stuck on a desert island together
  10. Literally use the Wikipedia random article function three times and incorporate all elements into a short story between 1000-2000 words
  11. The ghost of a historical figure possesses your old childhood toy/doll
  12. You bump into an ancient deity disguised as someone ordinary, living the life of a mortal
  13. The first day/week of you and your coworkers/classmates surviving the end of the world
  14. The perspective of an inmate in a fantasy/sci-fi prison (even a prison break?)
  15. An overheard conversation/argument of two historical figures at a bar, cafe, or grocery store
  16. How your unborn child might grow up as a teenager and rebel against you
  17. A favorite character/historical figure of yours breaks the 4th wall or comes to knowledge of their own tragic fate
  18. Your favorite hero actually turns evil
  19. An iconic villain forced to work and adapt to a mundane job you worked
  20. Make up a dark past of your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents
  21. The untold story of a minor character or NPC
  22. Thanksgiving dinner with six different characters one actor/actress had to play
  23. Go out in public and write down three lines of dialog you hear out of context and build out form it or lead up to it or literally take one sentence/quote from a random novel on your bookshelf and start your short story using it out of context

Best wishes and write down in the comment section your favorite writing prompt!