Ideas are strange things, fluttering in with a whisper and sometimes vanishing into a fog of dreams before they can be properly seized. Others develop over time, a swirl of water obscuring as the image moves from transparent to crisp and clear, a burst of life on paper.
And then there are the idea clouds. Like walking into a swarm of gnats, too many to grasp, escaping with a taunting buzz until you swallow one with a cough, swirling into an ever-moving story. The most frustrating, and yet rewarding, as an unexpected delight comes from the merger of parts into a coherent whole.
That, ladies and gentlemen, dragons and sentient swords, artists and artistes, is why we prompt.
|Cedar Sanderson||Just below Doan’s Crossing…||AC Young|
|Padre||The monkey pounded away at the keyboard.||nother Mike|
|Becky Jones||The shadows curved lazily around the tree.||Padre|
|nother Mike||The temple bell rang, loud and long.||Leigh Kimmel|
|Leigh Kimmel||Photo prompt||Fiona Grey|
|Fiona Grey||The roses were made of antique paper, letters spidering across the petals with faded ink.||Becky Jones|
|AC Young||A red-brick building appeared through the trees.||Cedar Sanderson|
Juggling too much and a prompt escaped you? Squirmy things, those prompts. We’ve captured a few here for you to try. Open the cage and let them out into the wild.
|Spare||The guinea hens shrieked in warning|
|Spare||What’s that sound? Everybody look…|
|Spare||When the chrysalis opened, the enormous space butterfly spread its wings and ignited the rockets…|
|Spare||The spaceship’s engine worked by consuming itself, which was fine until someone realized the trajectory math had been completed by gerbils.|
|Spare||The resume service was run by aliens. Actual, not-from-this-planet aliens.|
|Spare||“Why do banks need a holiday, Mommy?”|
That’s all for this week – post your creations, or a link to them, in the comments, for commenting purposes. We’re a friendly bunch, I promise!
Header image by Fiona Grey, Old Fort Niagara
A prompt exchange this week, with Cedar Sanderson supplying me with: Just below Doan’s Crossing…
A quick check of the name. Doan’s Crossing was a location on one of the cattle-drive routes in the American West. I don’t have the knowledge to attempt a story in that era without a lot of research, so I decided to come up with a different Doan’s Crossing.
The group of schoolchildren had just exited their coach. They were milling aimlessly around, with their teachers trying to coral them towards the small building sited just off the road through the mountain pass.
Eventually things were organised to a sufficient degree. The group was greeted by a volunteer guide: “Welcome to the Doan-Rouen Campaign Museum!”
The guide gestured towards the mountains to the east. “Before we go in, the geography of this area is relevant. The road you have just come in on proceeds up over Doan’s Crossing. Before the War this was known as Bernard’s Pass – and you can still see it referred to as such on older maps, as well as on maps produced by certain other countries.” The guide was clearly not fond of those ‘other countries’.
“The crucial point is that even today Doan’s Crossing is only open to traffic for part of the year. During winter the snowfall makes it impassable, restricting traffic through the Perpennines to just one route, through the Caen Gap.
“Now let us go inside.”
The guide led the way into the museum. Above the entrance was carved a short sentence: ‘Here, the impossible was proved possible!’ The reference was partly to the events commemorated within, but also to General Doan’s longer saying: ‘In war many things are thought to be impossible. But if what the enemy thinks is impossible can be done, then the enemy may have made a fatal mistake.’ And this longer statement was painted in large letters on the wall of the first room of the museum.
In addition to the quote, the first room contained a large topographical map of the Normanic peninsula (also called Normania), coloured according to the pre-War boundaries. The territory west of the Perpennines, all the way to the main body of the continent, had been claimed by the Kingdom of Norsax. The peninsula widened in the middle, where the Perpennines ran north-south all the way from sea to sea. East of the Perpennines, Norsax was shown as holding some territory, with the remaining portion of the peninsula assigned to the Kingdom of Sudfra.
Also marked on the map were the passes through the Perpennines, the main one being the Caen Gap, with Doan’s Crossing the next pass immediately to the north. There was one further pass to the south of the Caen Gap, and one between Doan’s Crossing and the ocean.
“You will note that this map doesn’t show the current state of affairs. Before the War, Sudfra held the eastern portion of Normania. Theirs was not a particularly strong position. In the event of war any of our armies already east of the Perpennines could move east into their territory with very little difficulty if the Sudfran armed forced forces did not oppose their movement. On the other side of the coin our defences were much better. An invasion from the east might be able to conquer some of our territory with little difficulty, but if we could hold the passes they would be unable to proceed further.
“Indeed, this was what happened. The War opened with a string of surprise attacks against both our territories and those of our allies by Sudfra and their allies. Our generals decided not to defend our territories east of the Perpennines, but instead hold the enemy assault at the passes. This was successful.
“Now, the initial Sudfran incursions were in autumn. It wasn’t long before all the passes bar the Caen Gap were closed for the winter. Until the spring snow melt, as long as the Caen Gap was blocked, neither side could claim any territory the far side of the mountains.
“Or so the Sudfrans thought. For during the autumn battles to hold the Perpennine passes Generals Rouen and Doan had come up with their masterstroke.
“If you will follow me to the next room.”
The next room was much larger. On one of the long sides there were a number of vehicles. They were aligned diagonally, about 30-degrees from the alignment of the wall itself. They were all shown going either uphill or (the last two machines) downhill.
“These vehicles all played a part in Doan’s famous crossing of the Perpeninnes. They have been loaned to the Museum by the Hobart Regiment of Engineers.
“To return to our history. Generals Rouen and Doan came up with a simple, but extremely hard to execute, plan. In preparation General Doan came here, and started to assemble the 1st (Perpennine) Army. The building containing this museum was expanded at that time in order that it could be used as the Army’s headquarters. This didn’t go unnoticed by the Sudfrans, but they assumed that Doan was preparing for a springtime invasion attempt, and so concluded that they had time before they needed to have the necessary forces on their side of the pass.
“Doan had other ideas, and set about preparing for a winter crossing of the pass that now bears his name. Most of the regiments under his command had standard vehicles, and didn’t make any alterations to them – they would be needed for the battles he expected to have to fight on the other side of the mountains. But the Hobart Regiment was tasked with producing specialist vehicles that would be able to clear the pass for their fellows. The results you see before you.
“Meanwhile General Rouen had taken command at the Caen Gap. He was also preparing for an assault through that pass. When he received the signal from Doan that everything was ready here, Rouen attacked.
“Let us be clear, Rouen’s primary purpose was to pin the Sudfran regiments at the Caen Gap so that Doan could manoeuvre freely. For this it was necessary to maintain the assault until such a time as all the enemy reserves had been sucked in to the defence of the Gap. And then keep the assault going to prevent the enemy having the freedom to respond as it would wish to Doan’s crossing.
“The documentation kept of the Campaign’s planning show that if Rouen had succeeded in breaking through the Gap, he was going to take full advantage of this. But this was always considered extremely unlikely. The purpose of Rouen’s assault at the Gap was always to deny the enemy the option of responding to Doan’s assault until it was too late.
“Rouen succeeded, brilliantly. The regiments under his command advanced forwards in the centre of the gap before being held once more. This is not normally considered a good idea in wartime, as it lengthens the front – but this was exactly what Rouen intended. By lengthening the front he lengthened the line that the enemy had to hold, thus increasing the number of regiments the enemy needed to use to hold the line.
“Rouen continued his assault. Both sides swapped out regiments on the front line for regiments they had held in reserve. And then, about a fortnight after Rouen started the Battle of Caen Gap, the Sudfran High Command ordered the last of their reserves into the battle.
“Now was the time for Doan to strike. But he would have to be quick. Rouen’s 2nd (Normanic) Army was nearly exhausted. Rouen would be unable to keep the assault up for much longer.
“Doan called upon the Hobart Regiment. And they set to work. Uphill, the first vehicle was the Snow-Leopard” (the guide gestured to the vehicle on the extreme left of the line). “This was an adapted medium tank, with its main gun removed, and equipped with a snow plough the width of the road. When the snow in front of it got too high, it would back up and try again.
“Behind it came the two Salamanders” (the next two vehicles). “These were adapted infantry assault vehicles. Again they had all armaments removed, but were equipped with heaters on one side. Their job was to melt the snow left behind on the sides of the road, which would then flow down the melt-water channels on either side of the road and off the pass. This ensured that the snow couldn’t slip back across the road and block the way for the less winter-equipped vehicles to follow.”
“On occasion the Snow-Leopard was unable to continue, even after reversing, the snow bank in front of it had got so high. At this point infantry equipped with flame-throwers melted the initial drift.
“By this means the Hobart Regiment reached the top of the pass. But melting snow on the way down was not a risk they wished to take – there was too great a risk of ice forming that would make the road impassable.
“So the Salamanders and Snow-Leopard reversed back down the pass.
“First on the downhill was the Bison” (the guide gestured at the penultimate vehicle, a real behemoth of a machine). “This was an adapted heavy tank, again minus its main armament, given a snow plough as wide as the road, and as high as the engineers thought they could get away with. The Bison was sent down the pass and the driver was told to keep going as far as he could, no matter what.
“At this point either the plans worked, or they didn’t. The Bison was followed by the Snow-Leopard at a suitable distance, to try to keep the snow drifts from flowing back across the road.
“Both the Bison and the Snow-Leopard made it to the bottom of the pass. The assault was on.
“Just in case, each regiment was preceded up and down the pass by a Snow-Guide” (the final vehicle). “These had temporary snow-ploughs only as wide as they needed to be for the vehicles following on behind. There are accounts of regiments encountering snow drifts on their way down the pass, and only getting through because of their Snow-Guide.
“The Snow-Guides had their snow-ploughs removed once they had made it to the bottom of the pass, and they then went into battle unadapted. We are extremely lucky to be able to present one of these original machines.
“In honour of their success in opening the pass for this assault, the Hobart Regiment of Engineers was granted a new unit patch and motto. The unit patch shows two white mountains, with a grey road between them. The motto is ‘We Shall Pass!’. Both refer to the clearing of the way through Doan’s Crossing.
“Once all the army had traversed the pass, the Hobart Regiment and the 2nd Assault Infantry Brigade were assigned the job of defending it should the worst happen. The rest of the 1st Army proceeded south.
“If you will follow me to the next room.”
The next room was of a similar size to the first room on the tour. On the walls were various maps showing the movements of the armies during the campaign. In one corner was a cabinet containing replicas of the medals awarded.
“General Doan led the 1st Army south as fast as he could. Even at top speed it would take more than a day to traverse the distance to the Caen Gap, and he didn’t know how long General Rouen could continue his assault for.
“By the time Doan came into sight of the Gap, the 2nd Army was down to its last men. The reserves had been completely exhausted. Such units as still existed in the back lines were no longer combat ready, and could not be called upon outside of an emergency or unless victory was certain.
“The 1st Army swiftly engaged the Sudfran forces in their rear. Initially at the northern end of the Gap, but sweeping round as fast as possible to engage the Sudfran forces across the entire width of the pass.
“When the last gap at the southern end of the Gap had been closed, the 1st and 2nd Armies enclosed a pocket containing a Sudfran army of slightly smaller size. But the Sudfrans were now fighting on two fronts, and they had been cut off from any hope of resupply.
“The Sudfrans’ only hope was to break out of the pocket. But the only realistic direction for this was east, through the relatively fresh 1st Army. And this they were unable to do.
“Rouen was able to keep his 2nd Army fighting for as long as was needed. The Sudfrans surrendered.
“In the Caen Pocket, the Sudfrans had lost about a third of their army, and essentially their entire force in Normania. They would be unable to resupply until after the spring storms had subsided, by which point the entire peninsula was under Norsax control.
“In the peace treaty that ended the War, Sudfra agreed to give up significant portions of its territory, including all that it had once claimed in Normania.
“Medals were also awarded. General Rouen’s 2nd Army were awarded the Caen Gap Battle Medal. General Doan’s 1st Army were awarded the Perpennine Crossing Medal and the Caen Pocket Medal. The Hobart Regiment and the 2nd Assault Infantry Brigade could not be awarded the latter, but were granted the Bernard Defence Medal instead. All concerned were awarded the Doan-Rouen Campaign Medal. Unusually, the campaign was named after the generals who had come up with the plan.
“After the War there was a campaign to rename Bernard’s Pass Doan’s Crossing in memory of this crucial event in the War. It wasn’t long before Doan’s Crossing became the official name on all Norsax maps.
“This is the end of the official tour. You may continue to explore the Museum. You may wish to examine some of the exhibits in the rooms we have been through in more detail. Alternatively there are other rooms containing exhibits that explore other aspects of the campaign.”
The guide stepped back, letting the teachers attempt to control the group. They were attempting to give instructions and timings before the pupils splintered into ones and twos. The guide ignored all this, and headed to the staff room for a welcome mug of tea.
There would be another school trip to guide around the Museum after lunch.
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Very nice bit of historical reminiscence, with the school kids and the museum guide nice setting.
A good way to disguise an infodump in a very digestible way.
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Padre poked me with…
The monkey pounded away at the keyboard.
[which brought to mind that old thing about a large number of monkeys…]
The monkey pounded away at the keyboard. Nearby, the wise old owl looked at the last bit he had produced, and sighed.
2 B OR Zero 2 B?
“No, no, no. That’s a twice told tale, at best. We need something original, otherwise they’re not going to pay attention to it. Come on, you can do better than just repeat the classics,” the owl hooted.
The monkey lifted his fingers, and looked at the bananas waiting nearby. Then he shook his head, and started pounding again. He was sure he could do it!
[hum, that’s kind of silly. But y’a know, if the monkey churned out the old soliloquy, I’m not sure what people would do…]
Herman watched the monkey sitting in his veterinary examining room. The monkey ignored everything around him, just pounding away at a keyboard.
Herman tried peeling a banana and waving it near the monkey. It blinked, then the monkey pounded away at the keyboard again.
Herman tried a few other tests. The monkey continued to pound away at the keyboard, ignoring everything else.
Herman at last looked at Jason, the monkey’s owner, and slowly shook his head.
“I’m afraid the diagnosis is not good. I believe your monkey has contracted the writing bug.”
Jason gasped. Herman nodded.
“Yes, it’s becoming a spreading malady. About all you can do is try to make sure he drinks and eats occasionally, and let him write. Oh, and be careful about writing groups, some of them are downright cruel in their critiques. Just let him work his way through it.”
Jason drew a deep breath, and looked at the monkey. Who continued to pound away at the keyboard.
[oh, that’s quirky]
The researchers watched as the monkey was brought in and saw the keyboard. The trainers had spent some time rewarding the behavior, so it quickly dashed over and sat down, then started hitting the keys.
The autocorrect and predictive typing built into the system quickly turned the random key presses into semi-intelligible words and phrases. Then the learning system started filtering, mixing and matching, constructing sentences as it pulled pieces from the stream of data.
Meanwhile, the monkey pounded away at the keyboard. It knew that there would be bananas and other rewards if it kept working.
The system worked, and began to put together longer stretches of text.
The researchers high-fixed each other, and grinned as the text started to pour out.
The monkey pounded away at the keyboard. The researcher shook his head, and looked away.
The monkey looked up at the researcher and sneered. Then he carefully tapped on the keyboard. And quickly went back to pounding.
Wqoioh what is wrong with you? Beirnaoknd
The researcher scanned fhe gibberish the monkey had typed. Wait, what was that? He shook his head. No, it couldn’t be. He pressed the clear button, and the screen full of the monkey’s typing disappeared.
Then the researcher stretched. Well, clearly, this experiment wasn’t going to show that pure random input would eventually produce meaningful output. Maybe he would just send this monkey back to the zoo and close down the lab?
[aha! The monkey did it!]
[me thinks the monkey has tapped on the keyboard enough for this go around. Come back next week, and see what the flying fickle fingers of fun have come up with!]
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[…] You can read all of the prompt responses, and join in on the fun yourself, over at More Odds Than Ends. […]
And my prompt is up, another snippet of the story I’ve been dabbling in. https://www.cedarwrites.com/2022/09/06/odd-prompts-gravel-drive/
[…] MOTE […]
And now mine’s up on my LiveJournal at https://starshipcat.livejournal.com/1206786.html. I ended up going back to “Ghost Jaguar.” I think this piece is near the end, but I still don’t know whether it’s before or after her descent into the dungeons where she has the vision of the interrogator asking the prisoner about being ambidexterous or ambisinistrous.
[…] Grey was responsible for my More Odds Than Ends challenge this week: The roses were made of antique paper, letters spidering across the petals with […]
Woot! In under the wire!
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Aaah! What next?
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I was prompted this week with “The shadow curved lazily around the tree” from Becky Jones. I decided to continue the story from last week, since the shadow fit with what I had started.
“Ho, Drak! Another round?”
“Not tonight, Vareth. I need to keep Vinal alive on the way home.”
The other sellsword looked up and smiled. “Trouble?”
“There’s always trouble. Too many people want him, whether for this wealth or his wares. I’ve half a mind to let some other sorry fool take over as captain of his guard and find a nice easy job.”
The other sellsword laughed. “You’d miss the excitement. You’d be back three days later, begging to take the job up again and at half the pay.”
Drak shook his head, with a rueful smile. “Probably.” He looked up and saw his master weaving his way towards him through the crowded tavern. “Are you ready, Master Vinal?”
“I am. Business never sleeps, but I need to. And I have meetings all day tomorrow.”
“Then let’s get you home.”
The city streets were dimly lit as the two men stepped out into them. Drak motioned to the four men from Vinal’s household guard who were waiting for them in the shadows outside the door and they stepped out to surround the two men, providing a screen for them from both opportunists and those who truly meant the merchant ill.
The half-moon lit the streets well-enough, though Drak would have preferred more light. There were very few threats walking the streets of Mardonium that he and his men couldn’t handle, for the pickpockets and petty assassins of the city had learned to give them a wide berth long ago, but the lack of illumination didn’t make him happy. He could see well enough in the dark, but something didn’t feel right to him tonight.
About four streets away from home, one of the guardsmen gave a strangled cry and seemed to be dragged into an alleyway. The other three froze, even as Drak swore and took a step towards the alleyway, his short sword leaping into his hand. Then he stopped and shouted to his men.
“Move! Get Vinal to safety!” The others jumped at his voice, surrounded their employer, and hustled him down the streets towards his home. Drak followed after them, his sharp eyes watching every patch of deeper darkness, dreading to see it begin to sweep toward another of his men, or worse towards Vinal.
Five dreadful minutes later, they hurried the merchant through the door of his palace. “Bring torches! Hurry!” Drak’s shout woke the guards from their boredom. They rushed to bring light, both lanterns as well as fire. He directed them to guide the owner of the house into the inner room. “Don’t put the light out. That creature can sweep out of the shadows, kill in moments, then we will all be unemployed.” The light humor belayed the seriousness of the threat, though none of the men doubted Drak’s concern.
“What was that thing?” Vinal asked. “I didn’t see anything, just your man falling away towards that alley.”
Drak closed his eyes for a second, remembering the stories of his people, passed down from generation to generation over the centuries.
“It’s an old creature. A demon of deepest shadow. It hunted the plains and forests of this land before your ancestors raised these cities, before my ancestors were chased north beyond the reaches of what you call civilization. We found them here when we came into these lands, though why it is here, hunting now… that’s an interesting question.”
“Why it’s here is one thing. I have my guesses. But how do we defeat it?”
“Be careful of the shadows, Drak. Don’t enjoy them too much.”
A much younger Drak looked up from where he was watching the shadow curve lazily around the tree, as the sun dropped lower and lower.
“The daylight shadows are fine, lad. But at night? The shadows begin to hunt.”
“They hunt. Someone called the shadows down on us one campaign when I was taking the emperor’s coin. We lost fifty good men to them, including my brother. We were good, too good, and there was little we could do about it. One by one they vanished into the night, never to be seen again.” The old man shuddered, lost in memories, before he visibly pulled himself back to the present.
“So, what did you do?”
“There are only two things you can do. One, hunt down the sorcerer that bargained with them. Killing the foul one who dealt with them broke the pact they made and released the shadows back to whence they came. Second…”
“Fire.” Drak said. “The only thing the creature fears is fire and the light that comes with it. Light is anathema to it, so we surround you with it tonight, then tomorrow we hunt the one who summoned it.”
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