I heard about inktober and thought it sounded fun to try. But then, being me, I complicated things. I thought it would be fun to draw a picture for inktober, and then write a story inspired by/about it, using The Writer’s Toolbox to give myself random prompts I would have to incorporate. This is what I did for my first story/inktober combination. I listed the prompts at the end of the story for anyone who’s interested. (I also decided, for whatever reason, I had to do minimal to no editing of the story)
The only way John could pass the exam was by cheating.
He wanted to become a wizard with the hopes that he would be able to see the world, but it hadn’t been going so well for him. He was in his finals at school, everything resting on this last full day of skill testing, and he hadn’t been doing well. His first attempt at conjuring darkness had somehow resulted in silver glowing smoke trails, and when he tried to fix it he ended up with a pool of blood. No one was sure where it came from, and everyone very specifically Did Not Ask.
He hadn’t known how he was going to pass the test, the one that would give him his Wizarding License At Large. Trying to distract himself, he looked all around and saw her. Laurie, the supermodel student with the large cat. It was another one of those things people specifically Did Not Ask About, which was fine with him. John liked cats, for all that he was allergic to them. Something the wizarding world hadn’t yet fixed.
The thing about Laurie was that she was brilliant; she’d passed all her tests faster than anyone else, and she was nice as well. So nice that she was the only one to walk over and talk to John as he hovered at the back of the class, worrying over what to do next.
“Want help?” she asked him, and he looked at her in surprise.
“Why would you?” he asked.
A yellow bus full of wizards-who-had-already-passed-the-test flew by, making such a racket he almost didn’t hear her answer.
“I was like you, once, except in a different way. People made assumptions. I kept acing all my tests and no one believed it was possible that I’d done it. They thought since I was a girl, I had to have gotten help. When I told them it was just me on my own, I heard: There you go, making up lies again.” She paused. “That’s what they told me.”
“So… you feel bad for me?”
“No, I want you to see your own potential. You’re really good. I’ve seen you in class. You never mess up. What’s holding you back now?”
John paused, frowned into the distance, and shifted his weight. “My mom.”
“What about her?”
“Well…” He shoved his hands in his pockets. “She’s about to get married. My dad died when I was young and she found a new guy lately that she likes. He’s okay, I guess. But they don’t want to leave this town, and I do. If I get my Wizarding License, no way I’m staying here. But I’m worried about her when I leave. She’ll be fine with him, but she’ll worry about me when I’m gone, like she worried about my dad when he left before his accident, and… I don’t know.”
“Well, you can’t let your worries about what might be with her take away your future of what you want for you.”
“Easier said than done.”
Laurie shrugged, and settled against the wall next to him. “You know what I want to be when I’m out of here?”
Laurie smiled wanly. “An actress.”
“An actress? With your skills? Why wouldn’t you become a wizard or a hunter, or– or anything else?”
“Because I don’t want to just make a new world out of magic; I’d rather be someone new every day. You know? Like think about it. Right now we could make something to eat, but where’s the fun in that? Then it’s reality, and we aren’t playing pretend. Wouldn’t it be more fun to sit here, with nothing in my hands, nothing around, and convince people that here in my palms is a bowl of sticky raspberry yogurt that I’m eating? Something cool and refreshing on this hot summer day?”
“Hmm.” John considered her with all the gravity of his eighteen years. “You’re odd.”
Laurie grinned. “I guess.” She stood and dusted off her pants. “Anyway, you want to be a wizard more than I do, and I thought it’d be a shame to see your dream go unrealized. So, want some help?”
“Yeah… I would.”
“Good.” Laurie gestured for him to follow. “They’re doing this alphabetically. You’re not up for another hour so we have time. I’ll give you some tips, but we gotta get out of view or they might think you’re cheating.”
John followed her as she led him around the side of a shed that was generally used to house the school’s spare wands and broomsticks. As they walked, she asked curiously:
“So, where’s the first place you want to go when you get your license?”
“Anywhere but here.”
She tilted her head, dark eyes taking him in. “Is here really so bad?”
“No, it’s fine here. But I want to see the rest of the world. I want to see more than this tiny town. I can’t if I never leave.”
“Fair enough.” She pushed aside a trail of weeping willow leaves and led him through a copse of trees. “Have you ever heard of the Fiery Forest?”
“No. What’s that?”
Laurie stopped in a patch of darkness, and gestured for him to sit. He did, and she soon followed, her long legs pulling into a cross. “It’s in a place that is now a no man’s land where people rarely visit. But it wasn’t always this way.”
She paused, saw that he was listening, and smile at his attention. In that pale shadow of sunlight, she spoke in a rolling gait that pulled him in and kept him interested.
“The story goes that there was a woman, Kasta, who was in love with her friend– another woman, who didn’t know of Kasta’s love. Kasta pined away for her friend for years and years, never telling her the truth, never daring to dream they had a future. Every day, Kasta would go into the nearby forest and sit near a rosebush, crying about her indecision, crying about her hopes. She cried bitter tears, and frustrated tears, and hopeful tears, and hateful tears. She cried tears that fed that rosebush, and sustained it even in the deepest depths of winter.
“But in all those tears, she never gained the strength for words. Her friend never learned that she was so loved, and so she grew up, and they grew apart, and eventually she left Kasta’s life never to return. Kasta was devastated, and so she returned to the rosebush again. Crying, yearning, wishing, losing. Eventually, the tears took all the liquid from Kasta’s body, eventually even her soul, and so she died there beside the rosebush, and so her body returned to the earth, and so that rosebush lived.
“Its petals became the deepest red of blood, of love, of hope; and it did not falter no matter the sun, the rain, the snow. That rosebush lived vibrantly in all the ways Kasta had been unable to live in life, for it housed her soul and her spirit and all the emotions she’d never been able to express.
“Soon, people heard of this beautiful rosebush, this perpetual flower, which glowed in the deepest of nights and shone in the brightest of days. Rumors began that if one took a rose from the bush and presented it to their love, then their happiness was guaranteed for life; but that if one was cut on the thorns in getting the rose then they would lose that love forever. The rumors became legend, and the rosebush was sought out and plundered over and over and over, and yet it remained, and yet it continued to blossom the most beautiful and fragrant of flowers, and yet it did not falter or fail.
“Decades passed in this way, until the day that Kasta’s friend died. In that moment, the rosebush is said to have screamed to the sky, and on that day the forest that housed it grew brittle and dry, as if all the liquid in all the life was pulled into the roses. A great wind blew through the sky. Clouds gathered at the center as angry beasts; swollen and thundering and violent. A tempest raged across the forest, ripping off the leaves and twisting the branches into hands clawing at the sky; the towns in the vicinity were leveled, and all flora was lost. Strikes of lightning louder and hotter and more frightening than the world had ever seen rained down on that forest, casting all into chaos and alighting a fire of endless rage, and endless life. All the rain of that tempest, all the water of the locals, all the tears of the fallen, could not quench that fire’s raging thirst. It ate through the forest, ate through the remnants of the town, and burned to sunder all in its sight.
“All that remained was the rosebush, buried in a lake as red as blood, borne of ash and fury– Still there, faintly viewed beneath the surface, glowing in the depths of the night, and shining in the height of the day. It lives, still, as does the fire that has never calmed in those woods.
“The legend has changed since the storm. Now, they say that if you brave the Fiery Forest, if you have a hope, a dream, that has never been lost no matter the obstacles, if you kneel at the edge of that water and you view your reflection — they say Kasta’s soul awaits. They say that if she sees in you a hope as strong as she had in her life, but with it a determination to see through what she could not when she lived, a single red rose petal will float to the surface. And if you claim that petal, if you hold it to your breast and wish your deepest of dreams and highest of hopes, she will do all she can to see that you have the happiness, the future, she could not have for herself. She will do everything to support your dream the way she could not support her own.”
There was a deep silence after Laurie finished. John knelt in that small world framed by draping branches, and wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He wanted to view that fiery forest, felt that urge deep in his soul of such a power he hadn’t before felt, but he also knew that it was probably foolish to have that hope.
What were legends, but false hopes passed down through the generations? A vicarious wish for progeny to fulfill.
And so he stayed silent, and so Laurie smiled at him knowingly. “You want to go.”
But there was no end to that sentence, for all that truly held him back was himself.
Laurie met his eyes and dropped her hand onto his shoulder. Her palm was warm, and her fingers strong but gentle when she squeezed. “Don’t give up hope, John. That’s what kills us more than anything else in this world.”
Later, John wouldn’t be able to recall clearly what happened in his tests. Laurie helped him, and he passed, and he got his license. He stayed long enough to stand beside the altar and watch his mother marry the new love of her life, and to feel the heavy pat on his back from his well-wishing new father. He stayed to gather his things, and gather his courage, and focus his excitement and hope, and in the dawning of a new day he left on his grand adventure. He set out to find the legends others had spoken of, and to spread new ones of his own, and throughout it all he remembered Laurie’s story. It was the only clear memory he had of that day; the day everything had changed with the presence of a kind classmate who had reached out her hand and alighted a fire within him he hadn’t previously known existed.
Four years later, when he passed through a town in search of a wild faerie said to haunt abandoned wells, he saw a familiar face flash across the screen in an inn; that vision reflected in its warm windows. He stopped and watched as Laurie’s bright smile fluctuated between subtle shifts of expressions; her lips moving wordlessly while the world behind her churned with a heavy storm.
“I love this movie.”
At the voice, John looked over and saw an old man watching the screen through the window as well. There was something yearning in the cast of his eyes, and the draw of his white eyebrows.
John nodded, although he had never seen nor heard of this movie before, nor of anything else from Laurie. He had spent the past eight months in the deepest depths of the darkest woods, and before then he had been in a remote town that clutched the edge of a cliff. The air had been thin, there. Crisp and cool and effervescent to his mood.
“She’s my favorite actress,” the man continued. “I forget it’s her playing the different parts. I only see the characters.”
John couldn’t stop a smile; happiness welling within him. She had reached her dream. After pushing him toward his, she had gone on to be all that she’d hoped to be.
“She’s wonderful,” he agreed.
“Name’s Morgan,” the man said, reaching out a calloused hand. John shook it, their fingers curling over one another; warmth and strength and welcoming in a simple human gesture.
“You a traveling wizard, John?” Morgan tipped his gaze knowingly to the faded gold patch on John’s coat. The wizard’s crest.
“Yeah,” John said with a smile. “You need a wizard’s service?”
Morgan sighed heavily. His entire body seemed to slump; weighted by the disappointment of a thousand unanswered wishes. “No. Nothing a wizard can fix plagues me.”
“What does plague you, then?”
Morgan shrugged, his gaze returning seemingly of its own accord to the screen. He was silent, watching that film, with Laurie now a spot of white against a black storm nearly swallowing her whole. She screamed something at the sky, her hands held above her, and John saw her true magic flying up to quell that tempest. No special effects needed for a wizard like her.
“There must be something,” John pressed when that hushed quiet had reigned for too long.
“Tell me anyway.”
Morgan eyed John askance, taking in the heart and merit of him, and assessing his trust. At length, he sighed again and crossed his arms.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” he admitted very slowly; the quaking of a buried dream trembling in his voice. “For movies. Like that.”
He gestured to the screen but John didn’t take his eyes from Morgan. Another quick glance John’s way, another bout of quiet, and upon seeing no judgment, no mockery, Morgan continued.
“I wanted to go when I was young, when I was your age, but I was a poor farmer’s son. Had to stay home, help the family. The farm. Had to live the life laid out for me.”
“Were you happy?”
Morgan tipped his head, his eyes roaming the town streets as if searching for an answer in the battered wooden signs, and the faded cloth awnings. “At times. I never had a family of my own. Never wanted one. Kept the farm going, all through my parents’ lives. They passed three years ago, and last year the flood hit. Took everything.”
“Ruined. The house too.” Morgan let out a low breath and smiled mirthlessly. “I was a poor farmer’s son, then a poor farmer, and now I’m just poor.”
“If you have no reason to stay here anymore, then why don’t you try to be a writer now? Head to the big city and start anew?”
“Don’t have the money for it, and even if I did I might not have the talent.” Morgan shook his head. “An old man like me, I should give up on it all.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I have to. I don’t have another choice.”
“Hmm.” John pulled open one side of his coat, and started digging around for the leather pouch he had hidden in an inner pocket.
Morgan frowned. “What’re you doing?”
The small black pouch was smooth beneath his fingertips, and he finagled it from its tight fit with practiced ease. He held it out, and with a smile watched the shifting of emotions cross Morgan’s expressive face: uncertainty, distrust, wariness, confusion…
John didn’t answer; just let that small smile live on his lips, in his eyes. He lifted his eyebrows and jostled the pouch as if to say silently: Here. Take it.
As bewildered as he was, Morgan still slowly reached out and picked up the pouch. He slid it open, and peered down in blank shock at the glowing red crystal within, sat atop a telltale blue coin ringed in gold.
“That’s–” John started, but Morgan’s hushed voice cut him off:
“An Everall. Limitless transportation.” His wide eyes met John’s. “I didn’t think they existed.”
“There’s a lot more that exists in this world than most people imagine.”
John shrugged. “A lot of things become possible to a licensed wizard.” When Morgan reverently held the pouch out, John grimaced and pushed it away. “No, that’s yours. Take it.”
“What?” There was barely voice to that breath, or color to Morgan’s face.
“The jewel’s worth four hundred, maybe more. Don’t take less than that when you trade it in at the city, but if you get more, then jump on the chance. I’d take it to Cavera’s if I were you, but you could bring it to any exchange shop, really. Cavera’s owned by a friend, is all.”
“What?” The quietest hush.
“That should be enough to get you a small place to start, and the Everall will let you go anywhere on public transportation for life. In the city, that will get you anywhere you need to be. If you need help, seek out the company of the actress you like. Try to get a letter to her, and tell her John sent you. If she can, she’ll give you aid.”
“This doesn’t make any sense…” Morgan’s worn old hands clutched the pouch close to his chest, even as he shook his head slowly, as if drugged. “How could… I can’t… I can’t pay you for this…”
“I don’t want payment, Morgan. Consider this a gift.”
“But…” Morgan bowed his head over the pouch. “But I can’t accept such a gift from a stranger.”
“Then consider it a loan, if you must. Go to the city, write all the stories you’ve bottled up your whole life. Publish what you can. When you’re safe from losing everything again, when you’ve made enough that four hundred is nothing to you, then you can track me down and repay me.”
Morgan was very quiet, and though there was a stillness to him in spirit, there was a shuddering of his body. His shoulders shook quietly, helplessly, and when he peered up it was with red-rimmed eyes, shining wet from the tears he tried not to shed.
John smiled and placed his hands over Morgan’s, curling the old man’s fingers even more securely on that pouch. On his future.
“Never give up hope, Morgan,” John told him. “Nothing kills us faster in this world than that.”
This time tears did slip past Morgan’s lashes, and rolled down his cheeks in a silent waterfall. “I won’t,” he promised hoarsely. “I never will again.”
John smiled, squeezed Morgan’s shoulder, and left. He didn’t turn back to see the old man, but he did hear the guttering of breath from his lungs; a great exhale of all the stress and pain and withheld dreams of a long and worn life. And he heard the muffled sob that sounded freer than all the winds in all those lawless skies.
He had told Morgan it was a loan, but honestly John never planned to take it back. He’d learned from Laurie the power of giving a jumpstart for others’ futures. He’d learned how it could skyrocket him to his own dreams, and even beyond.
When he left that town, he continued his slow adventure toward the Fiery Forest. What had started as an adventure had become a journey; one which had created more meaning in the journey itself than the goal at the end.
In the future, when he would hopefully step through those burning branches, and duck beneath the raining ash; when he would stand heedless of the heat, and kneel in supplication at the edge of that dark water– he wanted it to be at a time, a place, in his body, mind, and soul when he was at peace with his life but when he had discovered a new dream for something bigger. He wanted it to be when he had hope anew.
And if that rose petal should float to the surface, and if he should fish it from the cool depths of that lake, he would hold it to his breast as Laurie had once told him, and he would whisper the words he’d stifled since first hearing the story. The words he’d felt well up in the shelter of shadows on a warm summer day; the day another’s story, another’s actions, had let him finally trust himself.
The dream of another that had never been realized:
“Kasta, I wish for you to be free.”
This story is completely random and unrelated to anything else. It’s what I came up with when I sat down trying to incorporate the picture, along with the prompts I got from the game.
For anyone who’s interested, these are the rules I assigned myself in conjunction with the rules of The Writer’s Toolbox. The actual rules of inktober are completely different and can be found when you scroll down here.
My own inktober story rules:
- First, draw an inktober picture with no plans in mind, nor any sort of story. Just free-draw whatever comes to mind.
- Then, draw a first sentence stick.
- For this one, I got: The only way John could pass the exam was by cheating.
- Next, spin all the protagonist game spinners.
- For this one, I got:
- goals: to see the world
- protagonist: Laurie, the famous actress
- obstacles: mother
- action: gets married
- Next, draw all three sixth sense cards but only flip one over.
- For this one, I got: a supermodel with a large cat.
- Then, flip the timer and write for one minute using all this information.
- When the sand runs out, stop everything and draw a non-sequitur stick and flip a second sixth sense card. Then, flip the timer and write for another minute incorporating that.
- In this case, I had written through “Why would you?” before the timer ran out. I pulled a non-sequitur stick and got: “There you go, making up lies again.” That’s what they told me. and flipped a sixth sense card and got: a yellow bus
- After the timer runs out, pull a last straw stick, and flip the last sixth sense card. Set the timer again and try to finish the story in that last minute, but if you can’t then write for as long as you are inspired/until you finish.
- In this case, I had written through “before his accident, and… I don’t know.” The last straw stick I drew said: the day I loaned Morgan 400 bucks, and the last sixth sense card I flipped was: sticky raspberry yogurt
- I had planned to finish writing it in a minute but in the end it took much longer, because I had to incorporate the picture properly.
Inktober drawing information:
I used four Bienfang brush pens (in Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Orange Hue, Primary Red, and Vermillion), a black ink pen, and hopefully didn’t cheat too much with the addition of a silver oil-based paint Sharpie and a white oil-based paint Sharpie (you can’t see the white Sharpie bits; I’d just made a few dots around the silver).
You can’t tell after it all dried, but in the dark red block on the right I had drawn with a deeper red a faint design reminiscent of a flower, that covered most of the red section.