Writing Challenge: Day Three

Before I get to the story, just a quick note about my favorite free writer’s market database, Duotrope: starting in the new year, they will no longer be free. They can’t afford to keep running on donations, so they’re going to begin charging for their services on January 1, 2013. It’s a bummer, I know, but the good news is that they haven’t started charging yet. If you haven’t checked out Duotrope before, you’ve still got more than a week to explore their site and see if it might be something worth paying for:


And now, on to Day 3: Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. (Yes, I know I skipped Day 2. I had my reasons – trust me.)

by Gretchen Bassier

The sky was rippling.

At first, Kate thought it was a trick of her eyes. She dumped the armload of firewood she was carrying and trotted back down the porch steps to get a better look.

It was no trick – the clear, midnight sky overhead was flickering. Pulsing and shivering with a strange whitish glow. Kate jogged up the steps and knocked on the front door until Annie’s curious face appeared in the crack.

“Slip your boots on,” Kate said hurriedly. “There’s something going on with the sky.”

Annie shoved her feet in a pair of battered Nikes, grabbed one of Kate’s old coats from the hook by the door, and stepped out onto the porch. Together, the two women crunched across frozen grass, stopping in the middle of the lawn to look straight up.

“What do you think it is?” Kate murmured, unable to tear her eyes from the shimmering lightshow.

“It’s the Northern Lights,” Annie answered calmly. “Aurora Borealis.”

Kate frowned. “We shouldn’t be able to see those from here…”

Annie shrugged, her face serene as she soaked in the sky. “It’s rare, but it happens.”

“But…shouldn’t they be in the North? Northern Lights and all?”

Annie laughed. “You’re too literal. This is definitely them – I’ve seen them before. Sometimes they fill the whole sky…”

“When have you seen the Northern Lights before?”

“On that Alaskan cruise I talked my Mom into, after Dad died. There were two nights when we could see the lights really clearly, all across the sky, and reflected in the water, too. It was stunning. Mom said it was God’s fireworks.”

Nature’s fireworks,” Kate corrected. “It’s just an astronomical phenomenon – clouds of gas hitting the Earth’s magnetic field.”

Annie smiled. “Some Native Americans believed the lights were spirits.”

“Yeah, and they also would’ve believed my iPad was an angry god, if they’d seen the technology back then. It’s only supernatural until you figure out the science behind it. Why settle for magic and superstition when you can understand how something actually works?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Annie said softly. “Sometimes a little magic can be nice.”

The two women lapsed into silence for a moment, watching milky light flow like a waterfall, up the sides of the sky.

Suddenly, Annie let out a laugh.

The sound carried like a song through the cold midnight air, and Kate smiled. “What is it?”

“Remember that time in Colorado, when Peter had us driving all through the hills, chasing that huge orange light in the sky?”

“The light that he was convinced had to be a UFO?” Kate asked dryly.

Annie nodded, giggling.

“The light that actually turned out to be the moon?”

Annie giggled even harder, holding her belly.

“Yes, I remember.” Kate smirked. “No offense to your brother, but he is exactly why people should never smoke pot while they’re watching The X-Files.”

Annie wiped her eyes and sighed happily. “It was fun, though, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Kate admitted, looking back at the sky. “It was.”

A peaceful quiet settled over them again, like falling snow. All of the light seemed to flow to a single pinpoint of space, a million miles above their heads.

Finally, reluctantly, Kate ripped her gaze from the celestial dance. “Well, I’d better go get the rest of that wood…”

“I’ll get the wood,” Annie said quickly. “You should stay and watch.”

Kate raised an eyebrow. “I thought you’d want to stay and watch.”

A smile touched Annie’s upturned face, like the sky was telling her secrets. “Oh, but I’ve already seen it. And besides, I can always look up, on my way out to the shed.”

“Just as long as you don’t trip,” Kate joked.

Annie looked over at her, eyes sparkling. “I won’t.” She took the handle of the empty wagon and starting pulling it across the crystallized lawn. “Enjoy your ‘astronomical phenomenon,’ Agent Scully.”

Kate grinned. “I will!”

As Annie’s crunching footsteps and the crackle of wagon tires grew distant, Kate watched in fascination as a hint of ghostly green seeped into the white glow all around. Kate smiled, thinking of Slimer in the movie Ghostbusters.

Who you gonna call?

The nostalgic expression froze on her face as the sky began to change again, streaks of bright, electric blue snaking above the horizon to the North, like something was tearing slashes in universe, letting whatever lay beyond shine through.

Kate’s eyes stretched round. “Annie, come back! Annie! You’ve got to see this! It’s…” Her voice trailed off, realizing her companion was already too far away. “It’s incredible…”

The blaze in the North intensified, not just blue now, but ruby and emerald and topaz and indigo. The sky was a rainbow of fire, burning up with its own beauty, tracing mystical patterns across a diamond-star canvas.

Kate stared out through eyelashes beaded with ice-drops. She clenched her hand, wishing Annie’s hand was squeezed tight inside of it. An eternity away and right in front of her, the sky-fire peaked. Kate gasped aloud. Blinding radiance of every color poured through the seams in the heavens, and she stretched her arm toward the sight, reaching for the impossible.

It faded just before she could touch it, but not before the words escaped her, in a whisper of winter smoke:

“Oh, my God…”


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