Writing exercise from NOW WRITE! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror exercise book. Exercise one, Steven Saus.
- Pick an image (I used a random image generator)
- Pick only one element of the image (I picked the broken tree in the background)
- Repeat for a cross idea (random image generator, I picked birds)
- Force the ideas together
- Make the idea a core part of the story
“I think they’ve gone,” Jack said. He descended the ladder and joined Lucy in the burrow.
“How can you be sure?” Lucy fiddled with the corner of her dress and watched over Jack’s shoulder to the small gap in the trunk. “They could just be hiding.”
“Lucy, dear…” Jack tried to put on a calming smile and clasped her shoulders. “There isn’t anywhere for them to hide. If I couldn’t see them directly, I’d be able to see their shadows. This field is flat for two miles, and they’re not exactly small.”
“Lucy. If we don’t move now, we’ll lose our chance. We need to get back into town to gather more supplies. It’s our turn and they’re depending on us down there.” Jack’s voice developed an edge, but he kept the smile on his face.
“Okay. Okay. You’re right, of course. I just… I just don’t like this.”
“Me neither. But we have to take our turn.”
Lucy nodded, and Jack turned back to the ladder. He grabbed the grey, green, and brown tarps and Lucy slung the duffel bags over her shoulders. As they emerged from the burrow, Jack let the tarp fall over their heads and the dense summer heat closed in around them. One slow step at a time, they began their journey across the field towards the trees.
Fifteen minutes passed in silence. Lucy’s breath came in shallow gulps, and Jack tried to keep his irritation to himself. She would not help the situation by breathing like that. It was too hot under the camouflage for her to not remain calm. But reprimanding her wouldn’t do any good either. She’d cry and attract unwanted attention, and then they’d be caught for sure.
A ruffle of feathers made them stop in their tracks five minutes later.
“Jack?” Lucy whimpered.
“Hush. Don’t move.” Jack reached back with one hand to hold her arm and used the other to pin the tarp to the ground. “Slowly, very slowly, crouch down.” He guided her down to the dirt, and they knelt.
Wings flapped in the air and the tarp ruffled but didn’t shift off of them. Lucy’s eyes filled with tears and her bottom lip trembled.
A bird called from further away and another answered from right by them. Entirely too close for comfort. It had sounded high up, but too near for them to move. Lucy shook and pressed her hands over her mouth while the tears spilled over her cheeks.
The chatter continued outside of their hiding spot for another minute before the sound of a bird taking off and flying away allowed them to relax.
“Okay, crawl,” Jack whispered and turned to lead the way.
They crawled for several feet and the dirt below their hands transitioned into grass patches, and the shade of the trees above them lessened the intense heat in the tarp by a fraction. Lucy let out a sigh of relief and tried to stand up, but Jack tugged her back down to the ground.
“Why? We’re in the trees-”
“Yes, and hidden by the dirt tarp. We can’t just start lumbering around like this. We have to flip the tarp like we practiced.”
Lucy’s face paled.
“What?” Jack snapped.
“I… I don’t remember how-”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake! I need you to get it together, Lucy! Both of our lives are at stake here. Grab that corner.”
Jack led Lucy through the flip maneuver and tried to bring his aggravation back in. Once they’d flipped the tarp and the green side now faced towards the sky, he relaxed a bit more.
“Okay, we can stand now. But we still need to move slowly. They might not hang out under here, but that doesn’t mean they won’t notice a giant bush moving through the trees.”
“Right. Okay. How much further?”
Jack clenched his fists a few times before he answered. “We’ll be in town in fifteen minutes as long as we don’t run into any more obstacles. Okay?”
They crept forward. Jack’s hands were outstretched to catch the tree trunks and move around them. Lucy’s palm pressed against between his shoulder blades and stuck close to him to make their form as small as possible. They didn’t get held up again, and they inched onto the cracked pavement twenty minutes later.
“Oh, thank god,” Lucy said and let out a breath. She swung the tarp over her head and stepped out into the fresh air.
“Lucy, no!” Jack tried to catch her arm before she could walk away, but missed. “Shit.” He took a step back and crouched under the trees to wait.
“What?” Lucy looked around and realized her mistake too late.
Ten feet away from her stood two birds, their heads titled to one side and their enormous eyes locked onto her. They loomed over her by three feet and she shrunk away in terror.
“Jack! Help me!” She turned to sprint back into the trees, but one bird lunged and swung a wing to hook her back to the street.
Jack took slow steps backwards and ducked behind a tree and then peaked out from under the tarp to watch. He had loved Lucy with all of his heart before the birds had mutated and taken over the planet. But ever since that day, she’d become a weak and whimpering burden. He’d known this day would come where she would misstep and get herself caught. She didn’t pay enough attention to the safety drills. She never wanted to practice any of the life-saving techniques. She would have dug deeper into the earth and stayed there forever if it weren’t for their duties to the community.
But now she’d finally made the worst mistake of all. She’d stepped out into open without making sure the area was clear. And now…
Jack looked away before the birds ripped her in two. But her scream would haunt him for the rest of his life.