Do you have to be intelligent to be evil?


A question like “do you have to be intelligent to be evil” can seem philosophical and vague, but it becomes less theoretical when you apply it to a death penalty court case like the one that has played out in Georgia. Must there be a conniving, Machiavellian mind behind evil, or is it something inherent in anyone — or everyone?

…..At the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s department of cognitive science, a research team explored the logic of evil by programming a computer character named “E” that “acted on” or was motivated by a definition of evil. The Rensselaer crew defined an evil person as one who decided to commit an immoral act without prompting and carry out the plan with the expectation of considerable harm. When reflecting on those deeds, the person would either find incoherent reasons for his or her actions or think the damage caused was good.

….Trying to get an objective answer about evil or intelligence is never going to work. We all have too many inherent prejudices and biases to ever get a response that satisfies us. But looking at something like Dr. Welner’s Depravity Scale does lead me to believe that critical thinking about intelligence and evil does have a purpose in our society: if we’re ever asked to use our own definitions of what is evil and intelligent to judge someone’s actions, we better have a compelling reason to believe our own opinions.

Hakone Open Air Museum

Intelligence and Evil

 

That was an excerpt from an article I read the other day, and though it goes on to talk about insanity pleas and so on, it reminded me of what weighs on all our minds.

Like a lot of us, I’ve been watching Gaza, and also the Malaysian plane shot down in Ukraine.

Since I can’t do anything else to help this world gone mad, where children are murdered (while they play on a beach or fly 33,000 ft above the earth towards a vacation or their homes), I try to gather positive energies. If the world goes negative, the only thing in my small, insignificant hands is to be positive. I can only add myself to the sum total of positive energies in this world, and thus stand against the negatives.

But somehow, I wonder whether the intelligence that has given us humans such an advantage in evolution would one day be our undoing. (Even in the animal world, it is the dolphins who rape, the chimpanzees who murder– is evil a function of intelligence quotient, after all?)

What do you think? Is what’s happening in the war-torn areas of the world a result of intelligence gone mad? Other than ranting and fighting virtual wars on Facebook, how can we as human beings help undo this horrific situation?

Have questions for an established #author and #Creative #Writing Lecturer at Birkbeck?


As part of my ongoing series with experts from the publishing industry,  last week I hosted Jayapriya Vasudevan, Founder of the Jacaranda Literary Agency. Today, I bring you Julia Bell, Senior Lecturer, teaching the MA in Creative Writing at the prestigious Birkbeck College, UK. I’ve had the good fortune of having her as my mentor under the Writing the City Programme, and I have to declare that she’s the best thing that can happen to you if you’re a noob like me attempting a novel.

Today I ask her a few questions, and encourage you to add yours in the comments– I hope to get you your answers. So without further ado, here goes:

1. Hanif Kureshi recently said that Creative Writing Courses are a waste of time. As a Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing at one of the most prestigious creative writing programs in the UK, what is your comment on that? What do you look for in a potential candidate for your program?

Julia Bell: Creative Writing Coursebook

Julia Bell: Creative Writing Coursebook

Hanif Kureshi sounds like part of an older generation of writers who preserve their position through adopting an attitude of superiority. Creative Writing programmes have created a new democracy in literature where anyone with a story can learn how to tell it and I think it’s evident now that Creative Writing can be taught. This is an interesting article from Publishers Weekly explaining exactly how and why MFA programmes are a necessary part of the Literary Culture in the US.

I would say that CW MA/MFA Courses are a vital part of finding and developing new voices in literature. I can’t teach boring people to be interesting, but I can help interesting people to write better, to develop their work into a voice. I’m looking for openness to feedback, a sense of the experiential nature of storytelling and a felicity for language. Raw talent can always be shaped through editorial feedback and there is nothing more exciting than watching someone finding their real voice, their point of view on the world.

2. How does your experience as an author feed into your teaching? What do you like best about teaching creative writing and what puts you off? (The lecture she links to is fab– give it a listen if you’re an aspiring author)

I would teach by example – I write every day and I try to encourage students to do the same. Being a ‘daily artist’ is what it takes to sustain a career as a writer. There is quite a bit of my teaching available for free on the Birkbeck website Writers Hub – here is a link to a lecture I gave on a writer’s territory.

3. If you had to give just three pointers on ‘writing technique’ to aspiring authors, something general creative writing books don’t tell them, what would they be? (Here are a few she’s already spoken about)

It’s hard work. It demands your full and complete attention. And sometimes you write crap but there is always something good even if it’s only a sentence in a bad day’s work.

4. If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?

I don’t know if these are ‘best’ works but these books have hugely influenced my thinking about writing and my life itself:

George Orwell The Clergyman’s Daughter His prose is so clear and clean I would aspire to the same clarity of vision, but the story of a vicar’s daughter who is oppressed by the faith of her father was both a warning and a portrait of what I didn’t want for myself.

Jeanette Winterson – Oranges are Not the Only Fruit – I was jealous when I read this it seemed to articulate something about my own life, and I wondered what I could add to the story. It’s interesting how she returned to the subject in a memoir 25 years later – Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal – the two are companion pieces to my mind and make up her best and most interesting work.

Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway – Oh I how I love her – what a writer – she understood that good prose also contains good poetry. Her essays are also a delight in the fluency of articulation and the way she approaches her subjects. Clarity and rhythm are for me what I want out of good writing. Something that sings in my head.

5. For those new to your work, which of your novels would you recommend they start with? 

Massive, by  Julia Bell

Massive, by Julia Bell

I write novels which are the equivalent of British Indie films. I want them to have a realism like Orwell and a voice that has the a poetic flourish – but these effects must be earned – too much poetry and the prose becomes dense, not enough and it’s too plain, too staccato. I’m very proud of my first novel, Massive which is to be republished next year in a revised edition with the cultural references updated from 2002 to 2015. It’s a real privilege to get to do this – there will then be two slightly different editions of this book out in the world which I think is a delight for a writer. You can find out a bit more on my website.

6. Tell us about your forthcoming novel.

My new novel is called The Dark Light and is the story of a girl who has grown up in a strange religious cult. It’s a bit like a reworking of the Wicker Man with a bit of Lord of the Flies thrown in. It comes out in May 2015 from Macmillan. Follow me on Twitter @juliabell for updates as the process moves towards publication – first I’ve got to do some editing . . .

7. What was the spark of the story, and what was the writing process like? Who is your target audience?

I think it’s a story about my childhood, but also it’s been inspired by an increasing sense of religious fundamentalism in the world. I’m interested in how rigid religious thought can become like a trap even as it purports to set people free. Ironically my upbringing fostered a sense of fairness which rails against religious fundamentalism where women are seen as subordinate to men and sexuality is seen as something to be feared rather than enjoyed.  I’ve also been writing a memoir in verse which I see very much as a companion piece to the novel. You can see me reading some of it here.

Julai Bell, author

Julia Bell

Julia Bell is a writer and Senior Lecturer at Birkbeck College, London where she teaches on the Creative Writing MA and is Project Director of the Writers Hub website. She is the author of three novels, most recently The Dark Light to be published in May 2014, the co editor of the Creative Writing Coursebook as well as three volumes of short stories most recently The Sea In Birmingham. She also takes photographs, writes poetry, short stories, occasional essays and journalism, and is the co-curator of spoken word night In Yer Ear.

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Do you have questions for Julia Bell? Have you come across the Creative Writing Coursebook? Read Massive? Have you done an MFA/ MA in creative writing, or taken any other creative writing course? Would you recommend it?

Does Encouragement equal Support for #IndiePub Authors?


I recently read post by fellow blogger Andrew Leon, Encouragement Does not Equal Support. He is talking about providing encouragement/ support to Indie authors:

“Encouragement is nothing more than patting someone on the back and saying “good luck.” It really doesn’t take anything to do. There’s no real effort involved. Now, don’t get me wrong; encouragement can be nice: It feels good, but, really, it’s completely insubstantial. It doesn’t do anything real.

Support requires an effort. To put it in another context, support is more than just wishing fellow authors “best of luck” with their releases. Support is more than just cover reveals and blog hops. Support is more than just adding someone’s book to your “to read” list on Goodreads….Actual support is buying the books of your author friends…..Actual support is reading the books that you’ve picked up from your friends…Actual support is, after having read someone’s indie release, leaving a review. A real review.”

Authors review authors on Amazon

Authors Reviewing Authors?

I agree with the post, and I think if you’re a reader or a writer (a majority of this blog’s audience) you ought to go read it.

I try, whenever I can, to feature authors on my blog, interview them, and of course, do cover reveals and such. But as Andrew rightly points out, this is hardly enough.

I do buy books by fellow authors, read them too.

I share their books on social media and feature both the authors and their books on my blogs. But I’ve stopped short of doing a review. I’m terrified of reviewing author friends– I could write a balanced review and probably not offend any of my excellent blog friends. But then, I could. So I do everything I possibly can, other than write a review. I know some of them left me a review on the ebook I published in 2011, and I sometimes feel guilty for not leaving a review in return. I do whatever else I can, by sharing them on social media and buying/ gifting their books.

I don’t know whether I fall short of support, but to me, blogging and my online life is a pleasure, and I wouldn’t want to do anything that jeopardizes my online friendships. I’ve read other authors who agree with my POV. For the foreseeable future, this will be my (guilt-ridden, but firm) stance. Let me know yours in the comments– as always your comments teach me new perspectives, and I look forward to learning from you.

———

As part of my pledge in my A to Z Reflections post, I’ll feature three bloggers on each post, Bloggers I Recommend Visiting:

Anna Tan: A dear Malaysian blog friend, and editor of the bestselling Love in Penang. Check out her post promoting another fellow author, the excellent Mimi Barbour.

Jemima Pett: A cherished blog-friend, and author of Bravo Victor, and many other excellent books. Check out her post with her giveaway, and supporting other authors.

Lisa Buie-Collard: A consistent blogger, amazing blog-friend, and charming author. Check out her post on Why Indie Authors Need Editors.

(If you visit these bloggers and leave a comment, I’ll automatically include you in a list of bloggers slated for this feature, or for your posts to be linked, tweeted, promoted on my social media profiles.)

——–

Do you read books by Indie Authors? An Indie author yourself? What is your view of Indie authors reviewing other Indie authors? Do you agree with the article above on ways to Encourage and Support authors? As a reader, how much attention do you pay to a reader review?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: Z for Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath


The A to Z Challenge is now coming to an end. Through the month of April I posted a story a day based on photographs by Joseph W. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Today I bring you the last of the 26 stories, and I thank each and every one of you who’s commented on the 25 stories so far. I came to know some of you during the challenge, and some of my much loved readers are from before. I hope to visit your blogs often in the coming months. I’m not a demonstrative person, be it online life or offline, but I do hope to return the support you’ve given me in what has been a difficult month!
Writing prompt: Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath

Provided by: Guilie Castillo Oriard friend, fellow writer,  and one of the magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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#atozchallenge : Z is for Zebra crossings must've been designed by a psycopath

#atozchallenge : Z is for Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath

          I dream in black and white, and that’s how I see life. What’s the point of color, anyway?

           Color’s like laughter, completely useless. Both make you look silly, is all. When you’re stabbing someone, all that red is a bit overly done, if you know what I mean. Black, now, black is soothing. It’s a color too, the only one I like, and wear, really.

           Black is the color of shadows, and I like shadows, love living in them, even on this hundred-year-old boat lit up like a Christmas tree on all days of the year. She’s a relic, she is, the Belle of Louisville. Long ways she’s come, from carrying braying mules and bleating lambs to ferrying touristy types from all over the world, who get sneetered with all this history and fork out a good sum to breathe the dank evening air from its decks.

            I arsle about on its decks in the evenings, wiping the glass windows here and there, looking for a likely one. Most evenings I draw empty. They mostly come in groups, the ones I like, the sweet-smiling curly blondes. Uncles, aunties, parents, friends— polecats all of them, setting off such a stink if their darling is missing for more than a few minutes.

            So I’ve got to wait for weeks, months, before I get the right one. Lonely, smiles right back when I smile at her. Traveling alone, finding herself. A divorcee, usually, or someone in her family just died, and she’s on a break, to get away from it all. I tell her I know how she feels, and her eyes widen. I don’t know, not really, not how any of this ‘feeling’ shit works, but I can fake it with the best of them. I’m not as much of a fool as the captain makes me out to be.

              In the end she gets to go away from it all, very far away indeed on the Missisipi, and I get to scratch my itch, know what I’m sayin’?

              I read up on folks like me, folks who don’t feel much, who don’t get stuff like ‘irony’, us folks who dream in black and white. I don’t see what’s wrong with me or black and white. I like zebra crossings, they call them crosswalks around these parts. Zebra crossings must’ve been designed by a psychopath, too. They say folks like me can’t be cured, but it’s good for us to talk it out, once they have us in the hospitals. I’m not going to no hospital, so here I am getting a crick in my neck, writing in this here, my notebook.

             Time for me to wrap up though, because I spot a blonde one boarding, right across. I just might get lucky tonight.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? Been aboard the Belle of Louisville?

(An added Disclaimer: This is absolutely a figment of my imagination, and any resemblances of my character with anyone you know is purely coincidental!)

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: Y is for Yes is such an easy word to say when


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph W. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Writing prompt: Yes is such an easy word to say when

Provided by:  Csenge Virág Zalka, friend, fellow writer, storyteller, and one of the magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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#atozchallenge: Yes is such an easy word to say when

#atozchallenge: Yes is such an easy word to say when

        Yes is such an easy word to say when you’re tired.

         Tired of walking the whole day around the island, yes, but tired also of being told what to do, and what to stay away from.    

          Do not heed the siren calls they said, keep your eye on the road, do not eat or rest till we tell you to. You’re a babe in the woods, your sixteen years no match for the forest and its spells.   

           They never tired and strode on, hacking through the undergrowth, scaring away rabbits and snakes and other crawling things.  But he’d had enough of the empty stomach, of never sleeping longer than a few minutes on hard ground, of being terrified of shadows. It exhausted him.

         So, when she asked him to come rest next to her, he said yes.

          She looked shimmery in the twilight, her eyes swimming with unshed tears, as if it was him she’d been waiting for, for years, millennia. The air around them smelled of orchards, of over-ripe fruit, and the call of a lone nightjar cut through the distant murmur of the sea.

         He sat down and moved closer, into her arms. The arms closed around him, the stone of her body warmed in the sunlight, and turned to flesh. He smiled. No one would find him here. He could sleep.

In the morning they found him, a stone lover in a stone woman’s arms. Her cold unmoving eyes looked upon his closed eyelids, a veiled smile upon her white marble lips.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: W for With the heart of a lion


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph W. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Writing prompt: With the heart of a lion…

Provided by: Cheryl KP, friend, fellow writer, artist.

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#atozchallenge : W for with the heart of a lion

#atozchallenge : W for with the heart of a lion

      Kill with the heart of a lion, her Pa used to say, slicing the air with his hands, tend with the heart of a lamb.

          She liked the shape of those sun-browned hands, his thumbs bent out of shape, joined back all wrong after he broke them during a butchering accident. A long time ago, he said when she asked him, he was more careful now.

          His hands worked just fine. They birthed calves, made her her dressing table with its dainty drawers, whipped up breakfast for her and her brothers each morning after her Ma took to bed.

            He baked them cakes at Christmas and folded them inside the spicy-sweet tang of pumpkins when he sat carving the rounded shells on all hallows eve, teaching her curly-haired brothers how to handle knives. They lit candles together in the evening, and he brushed her hair into a ponytail when they hung too near the flames.

            She often put her hand on his, and laughed at how different they were. Those same crooked hands cut down the rope she found Ma hanging from in the barn one evening. She couldn’t stop screaming, and held on to those hooked thumbs as she sobbed to sleep that night.

 

When they came at sunset and started digging she screamed once again. She yelled and shrieked, as did her brothers, now hefty young men, but they came in big black cars, waving papers and guns, in white cars with flashing sirens. They stood around in groups against the fading light. They took him to his room upstairs and wouldn’t let her brothers in. She made them tea while they dug up the vegetable patch and orchards, set up lights in the yard. They took shovels to the stables and the barn. She watched from the kitchen window.

       They found sacks, and inside each sack, hair, bones, clothes, grinning teeth. They slapped each others’ backs, exchanged solemn handshakes. The Old Jackal, they called him, in hushed whispers. They’d found his den, his hiding place.

      They took him out in the dark, the flashing lights on those misshapen hands, handcuffed behind his back. She watched as they walked him out the gate, her brothers by his side. He did tend to us, her soft whisper broke in to the night air, but no one heard her.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: V for Vagrancy had always been his calling…


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph T. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.

Writing prompt: Vagrancy had always been his calling…

Provided by: Mary Wallace, friend, fellow blogger, and one of the Magnificient Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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Vagrancy had always been his calling

#atozchallenge: Vagrancy had always been his calling

         He turned to look at me so I shoved him and said, well, go on, or you’ll never catch the bus.

  He used to go to library and brought books home, about big words like space and time and how to write well by hand and fancy painting stuff, bright melty things drawn by a madman, Picasso he said the painter was, a yellow-billed toucan postcard stuck in one of them, from Peru, look Grandpa! All useless watchammacallits I wanted put in the burning barrel, but didn’t cos I wanted no library fine. 

         He wanted to learn hoity toity words like Shakespeare, Wildlife, Investment. Vagrancy had always been his calling, he said at dinner one day, he felt like a loser. I later sneaked a look in the word-book his dead grandma given him to reckon what he said.

I could tell him what he needs to learn.

       Tell him he’s not a loser. He’s lucky, not like his Ma who died giving birth to him, or his Da whose car crashed into a truck ten years ago and all that sod’s done is drool ever since. That I might be an old hillibilly but I fed him since he was small, cute as a bug’s ear, and saved enough he could take a bus to city. He’s young and healthy, not like this old coot.

          That we’re all stories, city, town, country, no matter, and stories begin and end, all pretty much the same. The middle is different, but all said and done, the middle don’t mean diddley squat.

           No schoolhouse would teach him that. I could tell him, but young un’s they’re stout as mules. He’ll learn with years, way I did.

           I shoved him once more, and turned back as he walked to the bus stop.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? Are you a parent? If you are, what did this story make you think about?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: U for Uncharted worlds


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph W. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.

Writing prompt: Uncharted worlds

Provided by: Samantha  Redstreake Geary friend, fellow writer, and one of the Magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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#AtoZchallenge : U for Uncharted worlds
#AtoZchallenge : U for Uncharted worlds

       First thing she noticed about him, he wore pale pink lipstick.

        They had to stand close, way too close, for the audition. She could feel his biceps under her hands, smell the coffee he’d just drunk on his breath, and the cologne on his shirt collar. The director urged them to stand closer, come on show some chemistry, did they want the role or not, he didn’t have the whole sainted day, all right?

       She had leaned in then, but today, in the flickering light of the fire, she tried not to look at where she’d left him on the grass. This was meant to be a reunion trip, camping together all by themselves in the middle of nowhere, only now she had a camp, a fire, and no family.

        She wanted to remember him from that first night, when he’d whisked her away from the dressing room, into his studio with its creaky bed, and the landlord had knocked on the floor, asking them to keep it down, and they’d kissed and giggled and kissed some more.

        She wanted to remember him reading bad poetry to Tara, who calmed down in her cradle, and listened to her father with big, droopy eyes. He talked of uncharted worlds, of adventures at sea, of frightened pirates, of stars, and haunted ships. When the book ended, he made up his own stories, and Tara chuckled. She wanted to remember Tara grinning, blowing raspberries, lisping words from her father’s poems, the words of which she barely understood.

        She’d been on movie shoots in different countries, not knowing that behind her back, he babysat by playing dress-up with Tara, put lipstick on her, everywhere. Her brain tried to imagine his hands on Tara, on her budding breasts, her throat, and her bulging eyes as he strangled her, till all she wanted to do was fling herself into the fire.

 

But enough about what she wanted.

          She hauled him, thank God he dieted and wasn’t too heavy to pull. It would smell, but bonfires often smelled like barbecues.

          She looked up, at the stars flickering from between the trees. Up there, somewhere, was her daughter, on a faraway, uncharted world. As his hair and clothes, then skin and flesh began to crackle and burn, she hoped Tara was watching. 

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? What do you look for in flash fiction? What sort of fiction satisfies you?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: T for The bridge connecting the old part of town


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph T. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.

Writing prompt: The bridge connecting the old part of town

Provided by: Jai Tong, blog-friend and fellow writer.

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#atozchallenge : T for The bridge connecting the old part of town

#atozchallenge : T for The bridge connecting the old part of town

          A broken neck one night, nothing much, just a small boy fallen down the stairs. A man shot in the basement dressing room, by his girlfriend’s irate father. The girlfriend in question, she hung herself using sheets next morning, from the balcony. They opened just the same, that evening, having wiped the mess from the front door. And the men and women, they kept on coming.

           We heard stories each snow-covered morning, of the goings-on at night. Of the drunkenness and laughter, of soft arms about necks, of legs wrapped around thighs, of shrieks, the music and often, past midnight, the banshees of delight.

             We clucked our disapproval. We whispered curses at the fading Open Today sign at the pub. That damned opening day had come and gone, decades ago, in the old part of town. Somebody should set that place on fire, we told each other. Again.

              The bridge connecting the old part of town creaked under the weight of cars each evening. The music began, slow at first, then built up to a wail, as all the windows lit up one by one, like smokey amber eyes of the devil. The scent of meat cooking set all mouths, human and feral, to watering. The plunking of wires reached the stars, as did voices grown hoarse with drink and smoke.

 

Tonight as the air fills with their song, we’ll head down, all of us, together. We’ll gather our habits around us, the cowls to cover our bare heads against the chill. We’ll fight the good fight, we’ll carry the cross, and the sword. We’ll cut down, slash and burn. We’ll cleanse the inn as once we did, decades ago. No ballads, no more, only hymns. No killing, no love, no dancing, no women, no loving nor drunken laughter. Only prayer. Most importantly, nothing to drink but water.

But first we must turn it all to ashes, ashes to ashes and dust to dust. We’ll take a few lives, but what matter? We’ll make the old part of town clean again.

~~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt?

#AtoZchallenge #flashfiction: S for She stood at the crossroads


As part of the A to Z Challenge,  through the month of April I’ll be posting a story a day based on photographs by Joseph T. Richardson and prompts given to me by blog-friends.
Writing prompt: She stood at the crossroads

Provided by: Vidya Sury, friend, fellow writer, and one of the magnificent Seven of #TeamDamyanti

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#atozchallenge : S for She stood at the crossroads

#atozchallenge : S for She stood at the crossroads

They had walked together for five weeks and four days, but it felt like months, decades.

        As if all they had ever done was walk, him leading the way, her following, a little resentful she couldn’t take the lead, and sending up a prayer of thanks she didn’t have to.

         And now, he’d left her standing in the blinding morning light, on the bridge that would take them to the next town. He’d walked away from the bridge, round the bend, and up the hills beside her.

 

The first time they met, she felt a spark somewhere inside her clothes, her stomach, and he felt it too. She saw it in his eyes. But they did not refer to that spark, except in the most roundabout of ways like when he asked if she liked the way rain-soaked earth smelled, and what it reminded her of. She told him it depended, and when he asked the obvious question, what, she pretended to have fallen asleep.

          They talked about Socrates in the beginning, and the death of Camus, and how the large hadron collider would fail. Slowly it became about what rations to buy. She paid for bars of chocolates which she could not eat, because of her stomach ruined by weeks of drinking roadside water, but she had to carry them. After a while each bar seemed like a brick inside her backpack.

           He made plans, drew lines on maps by torchlight, lying inside the tent. She’d put up that tent, while he’d sat on a nearby rock slapping mosquito repellant on his neck and arms. She worked so she didn’t have to watch him. She wanted to watch him all the time, each flex of his shin as he walked, the way his perfect, round butt fitted his shorts, so she kept her eyes to the ground instead, and kept her hands busy. She felt overworked, her body hurt, but she kept at it.

 

Now, she stood at the crossroads, watching the way he’d gone, the shallow slopes that would lead to steeper ones.. He had no time for this he’d said when she complained of backache, wanted a day of rest.

               She could follow him, catch up, say sorry yet again for a tantrum she hadn’t thrown, spend more nights waiting for him to touch her, on his terms, the way he stopped by in the red light areas they’d crossed in the shanty towns on their way. Relieves my tensions, he said, to nothing and no one in particular, when he came back from one of those evening jaunts.

               But she wouldn’t. Nor would she wait for him to come back and find her. When backpacking, you meet people and pay your debts. When the debts get paid off, you part, and that’s that. She flinched at the weight of her pack as she strapped it on. She would walk. Each day, you wake up and walk, putting one foot after the other, he used to say, you make your own way, alone.

               Maybe that’s the lesson she needed to learn. Her back cramped, but she took one step, then another, away from him, towards the lighted bridge.

~~~~~

Are you taking part in the A to Z challenge? Do you read or write fiction? Ever write based on a prompt? Ever been backpacking? Had a fallout with a friend or a significant other?