My next novel (or at least, novel draft) is taking shape thanks to #fictober18 over on Tumblr. The event is a dialogue prompt every day, which we incorporate into a fic. (Aimed at fanfic writers, but there are plenty of people doing original fiction too.)
I’ve been using each prompt in a scene for my new project, currently going by #spookyromancenovel. It’s paranormal romance; I’ve got a rough idea of how it’s going to progress and eventually end; I’m aiming for 100K for the first draft, and whatever I don’t have done through Fictober will become my NaNoWriMo goal next month.
I haven’t decided yet if I’ll seek out an alternate source of prompts for November; but I may still be working on the ones I have, since (as of writing this post) I’m behind. There have been a few days where I simply couldn’t find time to write, which is a shame–but at least I’m motivated to write again, after months of waffling about which project to work on and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere.
In order to wrangle thirty days’ worth of prompt responses, I made a WIP page for the project, which I want to stress is not complete (no worldbuilding or FAQ sections yet) but has all the scenes I’ve done as well as a blurb and some short character bios.
Below is the first scene, based on the prompt: “Can you feel this?” If you enjoy it, please visit the WIP page for links to the rest!
A ghoul was listlessly banging on the door to the shop. I’d lost track of time doing inventory, and darkness had fallen early because of the storm. I turned the lights out in front. If the thing lost interest and wandered away, I could still make it home tonight. If I was careful.
But if I were stuck in the shop overnight, I could finish the inventory and get a head start on next week’s orders. Ghouls and ghosts and other foul beasties weren’t the only reason I kept a cot, some canned food, and a clean set of clothing in my office.
An hour later, the darkness outside was near total, but the random door rattling was gone. I peered through the blinds, trying to check the street by the blinding brilliance of lightning flashes. Every inch of my shop was so intricately warded that it was a magical Switzerland, so staying put was by far the safest option. But I was craving the leftover Chinese in my fridge at home, and I was only halfway through binging the latest season of Real Housewitches of Miami. I’d never been to Florida, so I was watching as much for the beaches and bikinis as I was the catfights and petty hexes.
Something darker than shadow broke free from the brick wall of the bank across the street. I backed away from the window. Chinese food and reality TV were bad reasons to risk getting killed, no matter how much I longed for the comfort of my own bed.
I was halfway to my office when the door shook in its frame under a much heavier, more deliberate pounding. Definitely not a ghoul.
I turned back, like I could see through the door and make out who, or what, it was. I waited for a lightning flash, but all that got me was the vague outline of something tall and humanoid.
Nothing evil could walk into my shop unless I let it in. Sure, some of my customers probably used the components they bought here for less-than-trustworthy purposes, but they came by daylight, and they paid cash.
At night, the only way something could get in was if I opened that door.
Behind me, my phone rang. I’d left it on my desk, and I had to hurry to get to it before it went to voicemail. Noah Hargrove calling, the screen declared.
Noah. I hadn’t seen him for six months? Seven? As I answered, my eyes went straight to the shelf of random jars on the back wall, all different materials and sizes, some with metal lids and others with cork stoppers.
“Hey.” Usually I sounded more cheerful when I spoke to old friends, but usually there wasn’t something unidentified standing outside my door.”
“Can I come in?”
He asked with no lead-in and no hesitation. “You know the rules. Prove it’s you.”
“Shannon…” His exasperation was obvious, but he was the one who’d helped me develop my system of safeguards, when I’d opened the shop.
“I’m not budging.” I didn’t really think he’d been body-snatched by some unnameable power, or even by a garden-variety vampire. But with Noah, more than the others, I had to be careful.
“It’s October, so that’s, what, biggest regrets?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” But he was right. Time to cough something up, something I could read.
“Letting Larry Wilkinson take you to senior prom. He totally ruined the night for everyone.”
His choice surprised me, but I sensed the truth in his voice. The emotion didn’t have to be deep or secret, but it did have to be real. “Can’t get puke stains out of satin.” I stalked back to the door and starting the complicated process of undoing the night locks, both physical and magical. “This will just take a minute.”
“What would you do if something were after me? Or whoever?”
He didn’t know who else I helped out, after-hours, but he knew he wasn’t the only one. I could never tell if there was jealousy there, either personal or professional. Noah was always the hardest to read.
“I’d stand here working on the locks while you got shredded like overcooked chicken. Or whoever. This can’t be rushed, not if I don’t want the wards to snap.”
“That’s harsh, Shannon.”
Hearing his voice through the phone and not through the door, even though only a few inches separated us, was odd. It shouldn’t have been, not with how heavily protected I was, but it made him feel unreal, or at least farther away. “Your fault for being tailed, if that ever happens.”
When the final lock released, a flare of blue sizzled across the door frame. I turned the knob and stepped back.
Noah came in, hanging up our call and pocketing his phone. “Thanks.”
I always forgot how big he was, when I hadn’t seen him. I backed up a step. “Thanks for taking me home early so I didn’t have to spend the rest of prom smelling like rum and stomach acid.”
He shook his head. “That kid was such a jerk. What did you see in him, anyway?”
“Honestly, I don’t even remember. Maybe his smile. He had the best smile.” I started toward the back. “But you’re not here to catch up. What do you need?”
A flash from the window showed his shadow towering over me, and I hoped he couldn’t see me shudder. But his night vision was better than mine, so probably he did. I tried so hard not to let him know how much he frightened me. I never wanted him to feel unwelcome here.
“More blackwort and bonemeal.” That was standard, they helped with his cravings, though seeing him casually nibbling on mushrooms poisonous enough to kill me five times over never got easy. What he said next, though, wasn’t. “And a place to hole up for a few days, if you know of one. My last hideout here gotten taken over by wolves.”
I sighed. “That turf war between the clans got messy before it was over.” And I’d spent half a night digging silver-laced shrapnel out of Sophia Summers, my old piano teacher from long-ago lessons in elementary school. Her husband had gotten turned in an attack, and she’d petitioned Clan Northriver for voluntary infection for her, and entrance for them both. She’d survived the war, but her clan had lost a third of their territory.
“I can find something new over the next few nights, I have some ideas. But that storm has got the ghouls riled up something fierce, and I can take a few, but I don’t want to spend all night killing instead of apartment hunting.”
He followed me to my office, his large frame filling the doorway. The lights were on here, but I tried not to look at him too closely. I pointed at the cot. “Sit.”
“You’re such a baby about this.”
“I hate needles, you know that.”
Because that was what I’d drawn from a kit I kept in my desk drawer. Made from gold, which soaked up enchantments like a sponge, and blessed in turn by every priest, witch, and healer I knew. “Give me your arm.”
He shrugged off his leather jacket, the same battered thing he’d had since high school, and rolled up the sleeve of his sweater. The veins stood out on his muscled forearm as I checked his pulse—strong, healthy, if you could ignore the fact it was a single beat when it should have been doubled. And the gray undertones of his skin, which was definitely more mottled than the last time he’d been to see me.
I dragged the point of the needle from the inside of his elbow to his wrist. He flinched, but I still asked, “Can you feel this?”
“Yes,” he hissed. “Goddamn it, Shannon. You can’t know how much that hurts.”
No, I couldn’t, because I was still human. The needle didn’t do a thing to me. The first time I’d poked him with it, pricked the tip of one finger, he’d passed out the instant it touched his blood and didn’t wake up for five hours.
“More or less than last time?”
He didn’t answer for a moment, trying to remember, maybe. “More,” he finally whispered. “A little more.”
“Okay.” That wasn’t good, but it had been six months. Or seven. I should expect his condition to have progressed. “You’re not hungry, are you?”
“No, I…I ate on the way. Why?” He looked up at me, and I couldn’t ignore the fear in his eyes, or the pleading.
Or the way his brown irises were speckled with black. Eventually there would be no color left. No humanity.
“Because you’re staying with me for now. I wasn’t going to try to make it home tonight, but saddle up, because now you’ve got to get me there safely.”
He smiled, and I hated myself for the nervousness that shivered through my body and made my hands tingle with numbness. I had lied about Larry, of course. Noah had always had the best smile.