Writing Prompt #3 : The Ashen Grove

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

I didn’t use any dialogue prompts in this one, because if I had, this story would have been even longer. Story prompts will be at the bottom.

By popular request:

Pronunciation Guide:

  • Kieroan Virhorn – Keer-own Veer-horn
  • Jhaeros – Har- ohs
  • Shivonnan Coarvim – She-vohn-uhn Core-vim
  • Aoersis – Ear-sis
  • Éadaoin – A-deen
  • Saoirse – Sear-sha
  • Crónán – Say – crow-nawn

Feel free to ask for more pronunciations in the comments below.

The Ashen Grove

Kieroan Virhorn sank to his knees in front of a massive white ash. The deciduous giant stood in the center of a dense grove. Trees of all varieties formed perfect circles which radiated out from this centermost point. The ash was one of the largest of its kind, if not the largest, with a trunk that measured well over eight meters in girth and which reached some 40 meters into the air. Its bark was as dark and gray as the substance for which it was named, and its branches creaked and moaned as the wind passed solemnly between them.

Kieroan reached up and lay a steady hand on the scaled, swollen bark of the trunk as his face flowed through a series of unmasked emotions. The Elvone had known what he would find in this grove, but seeing it for himself made it all too real. The tree was truly and unmistakably dead, and with it, so was his Queen.

“I knew I would find you here,” A man’s calm voice broke through the grove behind him.

Without turning, Kieroan answered, “All these years, and never once did I leave her side. I knew to go to Brinstrand was the wrong move, but what was I to do? I could not disobey my Queen…”

“Hush, Kieroan.” Came the voice of Jhaeros, Right Hand of the King and Voice of the King in his absence. He was also Kieroan’s oldest and dearest friend. Jhaeros spoke again, “You can not blame yourself. If you had been there, the only thing that would be different now would be one more dead tree in a grove of death. We are praising our good fortune that you are still here to guide us in this hard time.”

Kieroan’s throat worked visibly as he forced down the emotions swelling inside his chest. Heat pressed at his eyes, and as he blinked, a tear rolled down his porcelain cheek. Jhaeros was right, of course, but that knowledge, that fact that there was nothing Kieroan could have done, felt as foreign and unbelievable as the idea of never seeing Shivonnan again. Kieroan’s imagination had been racing since the moment he’d heard the devastating news. He played the scene in his mind a hundred thousand different ways, each time coming up with a new solution, a different chance to save his bloodsworn. He was the best strategist the Matridom had at its disposal. It was hard for him to accept that he would not have had enough time to prevent what was now already done if he’d simply been where he was always meant to be.

His forehead dropped onto the trunk, causing the sharp corners of textured bark to press sharply into his flesh. His fingernails scrapped over the dry scales, desperate to feel close to her again, to caress her cheek, to tuck a strand of cotton-white hair behind her delicately pointed ear. The hard and dry indifference of the rotting trunk only made this need all the more intense. The fact that he would never have that closeness, never smell the lilac perfume of Shivonnan’s eggplant-colored skin again, stirred the rebel inside of him and every electrolyte in his body surged with violent denial at his new reality.

He did not know how long Jhaeros let him sit there. In fact, he’d forgotten that Jhaeros was even there at all, and the delicate presence of a compassionate hand on his shoulder caused Kieroan to start. “Come. There will be ample time to grieve and to heal. I think you’ve spent enough of it in this place for one night.” Reluctantly, Kieroan stood on stiff and awkward limbs. His legs had long ago fallen asleep, he’d simply chosen not to care. Jhaeros caught him as he stumbled, and the two made their way back to the palace.


The Palace of the Fae Queen was built amongst the bows of many sturdy Heart Trees. The trees belonged solely to members from both houses of The Greater Fae Parliament. The members had served as pillars of the Greater Fae Dominion for more than three thousand years, and the decision to use their heart trees as the building blocks for the physical representation of their work seemed only logical. Special care had been taken to cause the least amount of damage to the trees, and the carpentry expenses had been a very terse subject among the lesser social classes for a few centuries. The palace was only two centuries away from celebrating its first millennia, and already it had been the home of three queens, soon to be a fourth. Never in recorded Fae history had such a thing occurred.

The palace was dark by the time Kieroan had found his way back to the royal living quarters. The lamps were filled with exhausted fireflies that drifted around inside the glass jars of each wall sconce. The lamps were not sealed, and the flies were no prisoners, this was simply their nightly job. When they heard someone coming, they would light the way, and once the visitor had passed, they were free to go about doing whatever it was they wished.

Kieroan entered what looked like a common room. There was a large hearth with dying embers to one side surrounded by goose feather poofs, armchairs and couches. Bookshelves lined several walls, and two desks were set up side by side among them. Tapestries covered the bare patches of wall and rugs littered the floor to insulate the room and save bare feet from the harshness of a cold floor. Kieroan stopped in front of a door on the far end of the common room and held his breath as he listened. He could hear the soft murmur of young female voices on the other side. The whispers warmed his heart only for a moment before the loss came crashing back. He sucked in a breath, smoothed his hair, straightened his clothes, and opened the door.

Inside was a bedroom with two beds separated by an end table. Perched on the edge of each bed were one of two girls, each looking to be in their pre-teens. The girl to the left was the picture-perfect image of her mother, with the same eggplant-colored skin, hair as white as sun-bleached ivory, and eyes a vibrant shade of crimson. The girl on the right took after her father, with pale grey skin sporting plum undertones, hair as black as ravens feathers and eyes of lavender. Both girls wore their hair down for sleep and were in their nightclothes. There were no lanterns in this room, but a glowing orb of light hung in the air above them. It was a simple spell, most likely cast by the girl on the left who loved to flaunt her magical prowess. Both girls jolted to attention as the door opened, and in a matter of seconds, Kieroan was staggering to stay upright as he was enveloped in two, tight hugs.

Kieroan sank to his knees and hugged the girls properly while planting kisses in their hair. The raven-haired girl, Saoirse was crying, while Éadaoin, who was the first to be born and therefore the eldest by a matter of mere minutes, held her chin high and made a show of her emotional restraint. Éadaoin and Saoirse were the daughters of Shivonnan, born of a union between Shivonnan and her late bloodsworn, Crónán, who had died in the battle to protect the late Queen Aoersis. Kieroan loved these two girls with all the strength of a true father, and the girls loved him back as well as any stepchild could. Now, it seemed, they were all each other had left.

Gods, he thought, They’re orphans. Kieroan wept freely now, his body shaking as he held the girls a little tighter. Even Éadaoin wiped her cheeks against Kieroan’s shoulder.


After leaving the two girls, Kieroan made one more stop before retiring to his bedchamber. He entered a common room similar to the one he’d just left, and crossed it into the room of a small boy who looked to be no more than four years of age, though in truth he’d be celebrating his twentieth name day soon. Time passed differently for the Fae than it did for the other races of the land. Kieroan sat on the edge of the sleeping child’s bed and counted his breaths. The boy was fairer than his two half-sisters. His skin was faintly touched with gray, though in the dim light of the room, he looked as porcelain as the father who sat beside him. Kieroan brushed a strand of white hair away from his brow, and the boy stirred but didn’t wake. He did not know how long he sat in this room, watching his son’s peaceful face, as he mourned all of the moments and unmade memories his child had now lost.

In his own room, Kieroan was restless. He had known that sleep would never visit him on this night and had, therefore, wasted no time attempting to coax it upon him. He instead paced through his bedchamber, mind racing. It had been roughly a fortnight past that the fatal news had reached Kieroan and his army on the road back from Brinstrand, and it had taken the rider equally as long to contact them. The ambush had been thorough, the messenger had told him, and his Queen’s entourage had been overtaken in a matter of minutes. The Orckin were ruthless warriors and barbarians. They had spared only one of the Elven in the convoy, a squire to Serr Cravos, though not without holding him prisoner for days to truly trauma soak the poor child. When at last they sent him back to the castle, it was astride an ass since they had butchered the last of the horses for meat. The Orckin had sent him with a warning and told him to recall all he had seen on that day so as to instill fear throughout the Matridom. He told no one, save the Council- thank the gods, but the realm had still needed to be informed of the Queen’s fate, and, brutal details aside, there was still a tense unease settling in among its citizens.

Kieroan’s heart sank as he tallied up the time that had passed since his bloodsworn had been wrenched away from him. His Queen had been gone for nearly two months, no wonder her heart’s tree had already started to look withered. Shivonnan’s reign had been a short one as it had barely surpassed a century. As the Queen’s Right Hand and Voice of the Queen, she had been the only logical pick for the position after the death of Queen Aoersis, who had passed away quite suddenly to a wasting disease. The Greater Fae Council had voted unanimously in Shivonnan’s favor. Now they would have to choose again, and Kieroan, as the elected king, would have to be the figurehead of the proceedings. He would be present at the Council meeting tomorrow which would decide the candidate for the new Queen, but his presence would be a mere courtesy since his title held no real political sway. He would also be responsible for overseeing the public announcements, which meant he would be expected to travel from capital to capital to declare the election results and the date of the coronation. He would host social galas to introduce the new Queen, and be the one overseeing the coronation itself. He had been, thankfully enough, spared the duty of having to declare the death announcements since he had been on the other side of the Matridom when the incident occurred. That mournful task had instead fallen on Jhaeros.

The fact that Kieroan was also the Queen’s bloodsworn would not be taken into account in the weeks to come. This was because a romantic blood oath between the Queen and the king, an elected figurehead, was highly unconventional. If news of their coupling had reached beyond the walls of the palace it would have caused scandal throughout the dominions. This secret had always been an easy one for Kieroan to keep since his love for Shivonnan had always been a deeply personal experience. He took strength from the fact that it remained untainted and unobserved by the world. He had once told Shivonnan that the world would warp what they had, twist it, and shift the ownership of their union into the hands of those who could never understand it. Shivonnan had agreed with him on the surface, but she’d also been very vocal about the guilt she felt and compared their secret to a lie. Her loyalty to her people was everything to her, and lying to them felt impure.

Kieroan was twisting his oath band around his ring finger when the knock came upon his door, “Who is it,” He moved to a window and brushed the heavy curtains aside to reveal a stream of sunlight. When had the sun come up?

“M’Lord King, Jhaeros begs your presence,” His guard called through the door.

“Send him in,” Kieroan chanced a glance at his looking glass and saw that his appearance was about what he had feared. There were bags under his spring-green eyes, and his face was strained with exhaustion. His high cheekbones stood out sharper than he was accustomed to and his chin bore an unkempt sprout of beard which was in desperate need of maintaining. His long golden hair was disheveled and greasy, and his clothes looked as though he’d been wearing them for days because he had been.

When the door opened, Jhaeros came billowing into the room in fresh robes. His short brown hair was newly styled, his golden eyes were sharp from a night of rest, and his shimmering bronze-colored face was freshly powdered. He smelled of spices with a hint of lavender. He froze when he saw Kieroan, and his expression fell. “I assume your night went about as well as I’d feared it would. Did you at least try to sleep?”

“No,” Kieroan said curtly. “Is it time for the council to convenes?”

“Oh, please, I’m hurt. You should at least know me well enough to know that I know you better than that! They convene at midday, which leaves more than enough time for me to make you presentable. Come on, I’ve already ordered you a bath.”

The warm water had been a welcome respite to his travel-sore muscles. When he’d commented on this, the servants added a tincture of fragrant oils to the water that they said would further relax his tension. He hadn’t even minded the help offered by the servants who scrubbed him until his skin turned pink and washed his hair with lavender soaps.

After the bathing was finished, the servants ushered him into a seat where they could prep his appearance. Kieroan had tried to object to all the pampering, but Jhaeros would hear none of it, and Kieroan was far too exhausted to argue. Some of the servants worked on combing out the many tangles in his wind-blown hair and did so with an enchanted comb so that his hair would dry all the faster. Once it was damp and not sodden, they twisted and braided and wove the top part of his long hair into an intricate half circle that secured in place the silver circlet which was the symbol of his office. The intricate pattern his hair made ended in a knot at the back of his head while leaving the underside of his hair down past his shoulders. The other half of the servants busied themselves with his face and hands and feet. They shaved his face clean and rubbed oils into his skin to make it soft. They drew on black paint around his eyes for definition and painted his lips to bring some life back into them before finishing his paint off with the same powder that frequently adorned Jhaeros. His hands and feet were scrubbed with porous stones to remove any dry or callused skin from the traveling. They trimmed and shaped his nails and massaged fragrant oils into his skin to make it soft once again.

“Have you thought at all about who you’ll have me elect?” Jhaeros asked from the lounge chair behind him as he picked fastidiously from a basket of fruit. It was considered a dishonor to the former Queen for her king to nominate a candidate at Council. Instead, suggestions were to be left up to the King’s Right Hand, so that the king could be left to grieve. However, it was common practice for the king to choose, and the King’s Voice to agree, though you’d never catch anyone at court giving voice to such a notion.

“I thought I’d leave that up to you,” Kieroan’s said, dryly.

“I thought that’s what you’d say,” Jhaeros popped a grape into his mouth and made a face, “They are always bitter this time of year. Oh well. Anyway, I was thinking we’d play it safe then and nominate, Magdaleen. As the Queen’s Right Hand and the Voice of the Queen, she’s the most obvious candidate, and it will stir no unwanted scandals, which is the last thing our already full plat needs.”

Jhaeros grunted, unable to nod since a servant had his chin held firmly in place while he worked, “Magdaleen is a good choice. It would be an honor to serve her.”

“Indeed,” Jhaeros said, his tone heavy with contemplation.

Once Kieroan was fully dressed and pronounced a sight to make women weep from joy, he stood before the silver looking glass. He could hardly recognize himself. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth to chew on it anxiously, but caught himself in the mirror and thought better of it. I’ll be pleased if this polish lasts until the whole hall is seated, Kieroan thought, Gods give me strength.


“And now for our most pressing order of business,” The High Speaker, Elder Grunwynn, called out, his voice filling the circular room which was occupied by over a thousand Lords, and elders and leaders of innumerable titles and monikers. Each represented a different group or race of Fae who had once been free and independent nomades, all of which had either been annexed into the Greater Fae Dominion after conquering or had joined willingly for the protections the Dominion had to offer.

“As you all know, our Great Queen Shivonnan was taken from us some three-and-a-half fortnights past. As many of you may not yet know, last night, our Noble King, Kieroan Virhorn, made his return to our fair city.” Kieroan’s attention snapped onto the High Speaker. His thoughts had been distant through most of the proceedings, and he had that disjointed feeling one gets when they can’t remember how they arrived in their current location. Jhaeros, who sat beside him, shot him a glance and squeezed Kieroan’s knee reassuringly. “With his arrival, we may now proceed to select our new queen.” A murmur went up from the many tables filling the room. “The council would now like to open the floor for nominations for the position of Queen Regent of the Greater Fae Dominion.”

The room broke out in a thousand different voices, all talking to their neighbors or advisors. The conversations carried on for several long minutes before Jhaeros gave Kieroan an encouraging look and stood up. One by one, the room fell silent until the High Speaker called out, “And who does our King’s Hand nominate?”

“The King’s Right Hand would like to nominate the Right Hand of the Queen and Voice of the Queen in her Absence, Magdaleen of the House Thorn.”

“Very well, Jhaeros, the House hears you.” The High Speaker said with a respectful nod, “All in favor of Magdaleen of the House Thorn?”

Something close to half of the room stood in silence as the High Archivist counted the votes and made a record. Apprentice archivists ran up and down the rows of seats counting the number of standing people in each row to double check the High Archivist’s tally. When all votes were taken, the apprentices ran to stand at the foot of the High Council’s table. “You may all be seated,” The High Speaker called, “Are there any other nominations?”

Vos, the Queen of the Changelings, stood next, and nominated herself, to the surprise of no one in the room. She’d done this for every Queen’s election she’d attended. Again the crowd was asked to rise, and this time only a handful of people rose, most of which were Lords under her banner. This time, after the apprentices had done their tally and the High Speaker asked them all to sit down, he asked a new question, “Are there any among you who wish to strike your vote for Magdaleen of the House Thorn and vote instead for our Lady Vos?” None stood.

The next to stand and make a nomination was a chieftain of the tree folk, a seven-foot-tall humanoid who’s fleshy skin was dappled and brown and looked exactly like the bark of a tree with hair and beard the color of moss. He nominated a maiden of the Merfolk who had been sitting beside him. Her flesh was blue and ringed through with shades and tints of white and blue giving it the appearance of the sun dancing down through the surface of a deep pool. Her hair stood from her head like forked branches of coral, and gills opened and closed about her neck nervously. The amulet around her neck made it possible for her to be on the land. That sort of magic didn’t come cheaply, and the enchantments don’t last forever. It would be difficult for her to rule and to live in the castle, but it was doable. Kieroan’s musings were for not, however, for those that rose for her were few.

On and on the proceedings went, with different rulers declaring individuals who were important to themselves, and every once in a while individuals would stand and change their vote each being asked who they had voted for before as the High Archivist made his notations. Jhaeros had started filling Kieroan in on all the latest gossip surrounding each person as they were nominated, and Kieroan did his best to nod and appear as though he were listening or was at all interested in each invasive scandal. His mind continued to wander back to Shivonnan with every story. A few times, he thought he might break down, and a few times he thought about excusing himself from the hall, but duty put him in that seat and duty was keeping him in it.

“As you all may know, the House of Roath has prided itself on being the oldest family in the Guild of Mages.” All around the hall voices hushed as the peculiarity of the statement captured everyone’s attention. Lord Vester Roath stood amongst the crowd dressed in fine, richly colored silks. His cloak was the deep shade of blue the sky takes after the sun has settled below the distant mountains and was woven through with individual strands of silver thread so that the cloak glittered and twinkled with each subtle movement. A silver clasp secured his cloak in place, and though Kieroan could not see it from where he sat, he knew it was in the shape of a hand with a spiral of glittering clear stones set into its palm. The cloak and clasp were the standard garb for a member of the Guild of Mages.

“Magic is the defining characteristic of the whole of the Fae, and magic is what brings every race of Faekin together under one banner. For this reason, the Guild of Mages would like to see a queen who embodies this central-most foundation of our great Dominion. Therefore, House Roath would like to nominate Princess Éadaoin, Daughter of the Late Queen Shivonnan and the brightest pupil I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring in my thousand thirty years of service to the Guild.”

The room erupted into a thousand conversations at once. Voices rose and fell as the shock washed through the room. Jhaeros was sitting, dumbstruck, with his mouth hanging open while Kieroan felt the color race from his face. The sounds of the room faded as Kieroan’s mind frantically tried to understand what he was hearing. Éadaoin? His little Éadaoin? The daughter of his Lady Queen and a newly made orphan?

Jhaeros seemed to remember himself then and turned his attention onto Kieroan, “They can’t do that,” He said, “I’m nearly positive that they can’t do that. Parliament was formed specifically to prevent direct lineage rule, there’s no way that Éadaoin can legally take her mother’s office.”

Kieroan felt a touch of color return to his face as he met Jhaeros’ eyes. “Okay, you’re probably right. Besides, she’s just a child. She has no right to rule. She’s not yet a woman grown.”

“Until this fall…” Jhaeros muttered.

“What?” Kieroan blinked.

“She is not yet a woman grown until her name day this fall. The girls are about to celebrate their hundredth name day, or had you forgotten?” Jhaeros said, his body stiff with emotion. “That will be just in time for the coronation. The timing is actually quite perfect, a fact that I’m sure didn’t escape Lord Roath.”

Roath was shouting over the crowd, which eventually quieted enough for his voice to break through, “I assure you, my Lords and Leaders, this nomination is quite legal. The Guild has studied the laws, though I encourage our High Archivist to let me know if my Scholars are mistaken. While the Parliament was formed to break the cycle of direct lineage rule, it does not expressly forbid it if all vote that the decision is fair and just.”

The High Speaker looked to the High Archivist who shrugged. The room fell silent so that the old man could speak, “As far as my memory serves, Lord Roath makes a valid argument.” The room erupted in speech again, and it took several minutes of the High Archivist’s ancient hand in the air for them to fall silent once more, “However, I will consult with my peers, my books and my scrolls to make sure that such a vote is, indeed, within the scope of the law. Until then, I see no reason why we can’t simply settle the matter with a vote. If the Princess loses the vote, then perhaps an answer to this question might not be so pressing.”

“Very well,” the High Speaker called over the roar of voices, “All in favor of the Princes Éadaoin of the House Coarvim?” Nearly half of the auditorium rose. Once the apprentices finished their tallies and the High Archivist had taken his notes, the High Speaker called, “Are there any who wish to change their votes?” Several members stood up. Kieroan’s heart fell into his stomach.

Once the changes were made, and the Council once again were seated, the High Speaker called out, “Are there any final changes our Lords and Leaders would like to make to their votes? If so, stand and tell us now.” Many of the lesser lords who had voted for candidates that were clearly knocked out of the running stood now. Some changed their vote to Magdaleen, and others changed their vote to Éadaoin. Kieroan was chewing on his lip when Jhaeros’s elbow found him, “The paint,” he hissed, “You’ve nearly chewed it all off. I’ll have to fix you myself before we make any more public appearances.” Kieroan ignored him. The damage was already done, anyway. When his lip was too sore to chew anymore, he sat so rigidly that at times he forgot to breathe and was forced to suck in a lungful of air through his nose. Several long moments passed before the Archivist turned to the High Speaker and began to whisper urgently with him. Kieroan watched as anxiety twisted itself around inside his gut like a beast stretching. After several thrown hands and agitated finger jabs in various directions, the two broke apart and turned back to the room.

“My Lords and Leaders of the Council, it would seem we have on our hands a situation not yet faced by this Parliament. It appears that Lady Éadaoin and Lady Magdaleen are tied for votes.” The room exploded with noise. All around them the council members rose, shouting and gesturing and talking urgently with those closest to them.

Kieroan sank back in his seat, stunned. A tie, He thought, How can that be?

Beside him, Jhaeros sighed, “And here I was trying to avoid scandal. Instead, we end up with two of the biggest pieces of gossip our Kingdom has seen since the suicide of the Late Queen Geldriel.”           

The High Speaker held up both of his hands to signal for silence. Slowly, very slowly, the room quieted, and the council members resumed their seats. “I must say that I am at a loss for how to proceed. If any of you have a suggestion, please rise and- one at a time- we will hear your ideas. Please keep in mind that a recount is forbidden by law once the final call for vote revisions is concluded.”

Several men stood and spoke their ideas, but it was Lord Vester Roath who caught the attention of the Council, “Since it is magic that the Guild so values, and since it is magic that binds us all together under one banner, I say let us hold a tournament. Each nominee must complete tasks that the council votes upon and sets up for them, and the Lady to perform the most ambitious, cunning, and creative solutions to each puzzle will win our crown. It will be up to members of the Council to decide who is the winner of each round and consequently, who wins the ultimate prize.”

The room muttered softly among itself as this proposal was taken in. Finally, the High Speaker called, “All those in favor of Lord Roath’s suggestion?”

Every Lord in the room stood except for Kieroan.   


Prompts Used

Character Prompt:

5. Insomnia Disorder: for long periods of time, he is unable to get a good night’s sleep and feel well-rested.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 175). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Plot Prompts By Genre:

Fantasy Prompt:

135. Each person’s spirit is connected to a particular tree in the forest.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 32). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Classic Plot Prompts:

50 Plots From European Fairy Tales and Mythology

42. The Queen of the Fairies dies and the fairies need to elect a new one, but they have trouble deciding between two candidates. They decide whoever does the most amazing feat will win the crown. (“Rosanella,” French fairy tale.)

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 145). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Writing Prompt #2: The Shade of the Garden

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

So for this story I returned to Bryn Donovan’s book of prompts and used a random number generator on my cell phone to give me a random setting prompt, sound prompt, and five random dialogue prompts. As with last time, I will list the dialogue prompts first, and the setting and sound prompts will be after the story.

Dialogue Prompts Used

  • “Who put this in my coat pocket?”
  • “We’ll need to take a blood sample to be sure.”
  • “Who are you talking to?”
  • “You throw this guy a lifeline and he tries to hang himself from it.”
  • “Where am I?”

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More. Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The Shade of the Garden

Imogene watched the clouds rolling overhead through the transparent roof of the livestock barn and felt a warm peace fall over her. Clouds. When Imogene was just a girl and had entertained fantasies about being a veterinarian, she never would have imagined it would be on Mars, and even if she had stopped to assume that much, she would never have believed there would be clouds here.

“…You know what I mean, Imogene?” A voice broke through her daydreaming and brought her crashing back to Earth – er – Mars. Maude, the bubbly blonde standing next to her holding a clipboard, began to giggle, “You know what? That rhymed! ‘You know what I mean, Imogene?'” Maude chuckled at her joke as Imogene stared at her with listless attention. “So as I was saying…” Maude went on as she had been for the past ten minutes.

Imogene’s attention began to slip once again. She found herself dissecting the inflections in Maude’s voice. There was something about the way she pronounced her vowels that suggested an accent. They were always drawn out, nasally even, and hinted at the American South. However, the speed at which she could talk about the content-equivalent of nothing heavily reminded Imogene of the Californian “valley.”

Hurried footsteps broke through Imogene’s attention, and she turned to scan the building for the source of the noise. The agricultural dome was split in half and served two purposes. On the livestock side, the programs several broods of chickens clucked and scrapped happily in their pens. There was also a small start-up goat herd which was jumping from hay bale to hay bale or butting heads, all while their bells clanged around their necks. The other half of the building was full of cubicles which served as offices for the time being. Imogene was standing in her cubicle, nursing a cup of coffee, while Maude stood on the other side of the divider in her own cubby. All around her were a sea of heads busily typing away at computers, sorting through papers, or taking a ten-minute break to sip coffee or nibble on treats as Imogene was.  All wore some version of scrubs instead of the pressurized suits of the miners on the surface. These casual Earth clothes made the source of the footsteps stand out all the more.

Josiah Bellefleur, a 6′ 3″, black-haired brute was speed-walking down the corridor between animal and cubicle in a pressurized suit. Josiah was about the last person Imogene’s already exhausted patience wanted to see at the moment. He was blunt, opinionated and crudely educated. He was the son of a steel tycoon and was here to work in the mining camps. If she had to sum up the way Josiah treated his time here on the red planet in one word, Imogene would have to pick, “cowboy,” for the way Josiah went on about “the new West,” and “Lawlessness,” and the frequency with which his boots found their way onto table tops. Primarily it was the latter- the savage.

Josiah looked up to scan the room, and as his eyes locked with Imogene’s and his trajectory became more direct she felt her heart sink. Not today, I don’t have the energy for you today, She thought with an inward groan.

Maude was still chattering away without any need for verbal encouragement when Josiah reached them. He nodded at the woman he’d come to see, “Imogene.”

Maude, suddenly at a loss for words, began twirling a loose strand of blonde hair, “Hey Joss.”

Josiah shot her a glance that was half confusion and half disgust before barreling on, “Imogene, you’re needed in Lab 4.”

One meticulously sculpted eyebrow shot up, “And they sent you to tell me this?”

He scowled and shot another glance at Maude before locking eyes with Imogene again, “Yes, and they said right now.”

Imogene felt a sudden rush of anxiety. What was he up too? She set down her coffee and shrugged into her lab coat, “Okay. I’m coming.”

Josiah’s eyes shot to her white med bag, “bring that.”

There was the anxiety again, “Okay.” She hefted up the bag of equipment and followed the man as he began to stalk away. Maude called something after them, but Imogene never caught what. The two moved swiftly and in silence until they had passed through the pressure locked doors into the empty corridor beyond. That’s when Imogene’s anxiety got the better of her, and she burst, “So what the hell is with all the secrecy?”

Joss didn’t look back at her, but he answered, “What secrecy?”

“Oh please, even you aren’t dumb enough to know that we only have three labs.”

“I’m not, but is Maude?” He flashed her a wry smile over his shoulder.

Imogene’s frown deepened, “So where are you taking me that you don’t want Maude finding out about?”

“You’ll find out.” He said, “Left up here.” He hurried down another corridor, and Imogene stopped asking questions. He lead her to one of the livestock exam rooms where he stopped just outside the door. Here he turned to face her and studied her up and down, “Damon assured me you’re ‘good people.’ Are you ‘good people,’ Imogene?”

She thrust her chin up at the insult masked below the question, “Depends on your definition, I suppose. I don’t make a habit of keeping up with ‘street lingo.'”

He leaned forward so that his face was closer to hers, “Can we trust you to keep a secret, Doc?”

Her frown deepened, “Depends on the secret. I am sworn to doctor/patient confidentiality, though I highly doubt you have your pet chihuahua behind that door, meaning I don’t think there’s a patient back there.”

“Damon said to tell you this is for Brin. Said that would make things different.” His arms folded over his chest as he waited for her response.

Imogene’s heart leapt, “This is a favor for Brin?”

Her feelings must have shown on her face because Josiah smirked and swung the door open. Before she could see what was inside the room, Damon appeared in the door, “Imogene! Oh, thank God. Get in, hurry. God, Joss, what took you so damned long?” He moved aside and on the exam table behind him was Brindin, seemingly unconscious. All three men were in their pressure suits and looked as though they had all come straight from the mines. They were covered head to toe in the regolith that covers the surface of the planet, and their muddy boots had caked trails through the halls and over the entire room.

“Jesus, how long has he been like this?” Imogene set her bag down on the counter behind the exam table, pulled on some rubber gloves, and began pulling out items. Brin’s helmet was sitting on a stool nearby, so she started by checking his pupils for dilation. “Damon, help me get this suit off,” She said pulling out her stethoscope. Damon rushed forward to lift the unconscious Brindin so that Imogene could unzip the back. She pulled it down to reveal his torso which was naked underneath, and Damon laid him back down.

That was when she saw it. A blackish purple substance was covering the right side of Brin’s body, including his hip, and was working it’s way up to his rib cage. The material was feathery to the eye and looked ready to crumble if touched. Imogene’s heart stopped as she looked at the two conscious men in panic. Holding her breath, she bolted to action and pulled out oxygen masks from a side drawer and threw them at the two men before securing one over her nose and mouth.

Her voice was slow, controlled, and, though muffled, threatening, “What – did you – do?”

Josiah spoke first, “Awe, Christ; we don’t have time for stories, can ya fix him or not!?”

“I have no idea. There’s a reason those caves have been off limits! We don’t know what this stuff does or how to kill it. This fungus is millions of years old and is literally as alien as it gets. I can try an experimental treatment, but it is still in the development stage, and there is no way to guarantee that it will have an effect here or that it won’t be more toxic than the fungus itself. Why was he down there?”

“Okay, okay,” Damon stammered, “I’ll tell you, but can you just – fix him? Please!

“Fine. We’ve been working on genetically engineering a concentrate that could be sprayed into the mine to eliminate the mold. It’s shown results with the mineral deposits we’ve extracted but-” She hesitated, “I haven’t tried this on a human yet, but it should work. Fuck- I don’t even have IV’s suitable for humans. Why did you come to me? Didn’t you have anyone in the med bay you could blackmail into this?”

“Tick, tock,” Josiah tapped his wrist.

“Fine! Just, stay in here and- and don’t touch him! I’ll bring back what I can, but – don’t let him crash. If he seems worse, go get someone else.” With that, she rushed out the door.

Imogene was back some fifteen minutes later with a pushcart full of supplies. She swung the door open, making the two men jump to their feet as she backed the cart into the room. “How’s he been?” She asked.

“Christ! Took you long enough!” Damon stammered, “It’s spread since you left.”

“What?!” She exclaimed as her eyes shot to Brindin. It was true, the spores had traveled up a third of his rib cage on his right side, and was crossing over his belly, covering his naval. Imogene swore under her breath as she began hooking up the IV. “Why didn’t you go and get someone? I told you to find someone else if he got worse. This counts as worse!

“Because there’s no one else we could go to,” Damon said as he paced the floor. “Everyone else would report us, and we’d all be shipped back to Earth on the next shuttle. You’re the best chance we have, Imogene.”

She caught his gaze and heaved a sigh, “I know I am,” she muttered and went back to work. She hooked him up to an IV and a heart rate monitor and checked his vitals once again, this time charting them. “You know we’re going to have to tell the compound something, right? It’ll be days before he’s able to function again, if at all, and they will notice all this equipment going missing. Whatever your story is, it better be as close to the truth as possible without getting you deported.”

“I know.” Damon sighed.

“Why don’t you start by telling me the truth?” She reached back onto her medical tray and pulled out a jar of liquid and a bundle of gauze. She unscrewed the lid, wet the bandage, and began patting the infected areas of his skin. The fabric came away a blackened purple as she worked.

Damon shot a glance at Josiah who sighed and shrugged, “Doctor/patient confidentiality, right?”

“Right,” Imogene agreed, less sure of her vow now.

Damon swallowed, “Well, you know how things have been hard on Brindin for a while, yeah? He’s been really down ever since his last big genetic experiment failed. He had been really excited about this one- thought he’d finally cracked the code for making crops grow better outside or something. Anyway, he’s been having a real hard time getting funding for his next attempt. After the fungus showed up in the mines, he thought that maybe it held some key or genetic clue that he could harness to further his studies, but when he’d requested access to the quarantine zone, they shot him down.

“He was telling me all this about a week ago, and that’s when I got an idea. I knew that Josiah, being high-up with the mining crew, had keys to these sorts of things and I thought maybe I could ask him to do us a solid, and he agreed.”

“And I should have known better than to make an exception for him,” Josiah interjected, glaring at the still form of Brindin on the table “You throw this guy a lifeline, and he tries to hang himself from it.”

“That’s not fair.” Damon snapped, “He’s just had a rough break. He was clearly good enough to get hired on the genetic research team here; he just got stuck with a tricky project.”

“Sure, getting plants to grow in an atmosphere of pure plant food seems really tricky.” Josiah scoffed

“It’s not the air; it’s the soi-“

“Boys! Not right now, please.” Imogene snapped as she discarded another swab and prepared another. The solution seemed to be reducing the amount of fungus on his skin, but she had no idea if it was removing the infection. She was sweating with nerves, and the room felt like it was heating up from too many bodies. “What happened next? Clearly, Josiah got one or both of you idiots into the mine shaft to take samples, but how did he end up like this?”

“Well, the fungus was everywhere.” Damon continued, “I told him just to take a rock and let’s go, but he wanted to look around. He moved deeper into the cavern and quickly noticed that the mold absorbs light. He kept shining his flashlight on the walls, but it never reflected back. As the spores got thicker and started to fill the air, it even absorbed the light ahead of him. He didn’t go very far before turning back, but he was on an incline, and the fungus was so thick… he slipped, and he must have caught his suit on a rock or something because when Josiah and I got to him his pant leg was torn. We taped it up to keep him from losing air, but his skin was already black when we got to him.”

“Fuck,” Imogene swore, “So he’s probably been breathing this shit in, is what you’re telling me?” They hadn’t explored this in their research. The whole focus had been to eliminate the spores on the rocks; they certainly hadn’t had time to research its effects on a flesh and bone body. She was never going to keep this quiet – and what was going to happen to Brindin? Would his body fight it off? Or would he – “What happened next. I’m talking symptoms. Was he conscious when you got to him? Did he say anything to you? When did he lose consciousness, give me everything – and Damon, help me get the rest of this suit off, I have to treat the rest of him.” Damon turned as red as a schoolboy watching a girl pull off her shirt, “Awe, Christ, Imogene. Alright – um, um- he-“

Josiah pushed past Damon, looped his arms under Brin’s, and lifted his torso. Imogene nodded a thank you to him and busied herself with removing the rest of the suit while Damon, relieved, turned his back on the scene. Josiah spoke, “He was shouting when he fell. He must have been shouting that he’d torn his suit but, we were too far off to hear. By the time we’d reached him he was unconscious, but it wasn’t from the air loss because his levels of oxygen were still acceptable. I assume the fungus knocked him out, but who knows. Maybe he just hit his head?”

“Ah, great, so maybe it’s just a concussion or brain swelling then. No big deal or anything.” Imogene’s jaw set and she resumed treating every infected area of skin on Brindin’s now naked body. After she finished she covered Brindin up with a blanket and told Damon it was safe to come out of his corner.

“Is that it? Is he going to be okay?” Damon asked.

“That’s going to depend on whether or not it got into his bloodstream and on whether or not he actually hit his head,” Imogene answered, “We’ll need to take a blood sample to be sure, and I’m going to have to hand him over to the med bay for a full set of tests. I’ll have no choice but to tell them about the fungus, of course, and in the meantime, you two better get your stories straight. I’ll tell them you told me he’d been infected and I was the closest medic to your vicinity which is why you came to me first, but you didn’t tell me anything else, and I didn’t ask since the situation seemed sensitive” She turned back to her bag and extracted several vials, a needle, and alcohol wipes.

Damon turned green before looking away again, “Awe, Christ, don’t tell a fella to come out of his corner before it’s actually safe!”


Four days went by, and every day Imogene stopped in to check on Brin who had yet to wake. The blood samples had proved what they’d all feared, that the fungus had, indeed, worked its way inside of Brin’s body. All brain scans and other tests had shown a perfectly healthy man in his late twenties, no concussions, no blood clots, not cancer, no reason that Brin should be in a coma other than that damned mold. It was on this fourth day, however, that something was different.

As Imogene made her way down the hall towards Brin in the med bay, she heard a strange, raspy voice, distant and indistinct, coming from inside one of the rooms. This wouldn’t have mattered to Imogene if she hadn’t heard the very familiar answering tones of the man she feared she might never hear speak again. Her footsteps quickened, and her ears strained as the other person spoke. When the answer came, it was very clearly Brin.

“I don’t understand … want me to… how am I supposed-?” His voice moved between a whisper and an average speaking volume. The other voice only spoke in low tones, and she couldn’t make out the words.

Brin was set up in the quarantined portion of the med bay. A plastic liner covered his door and formed a seal between his room and the hallway beyond. To be allowed entry to Brin’s room, Imogene had to put on a pressure suit, and her lab coat, boots, and medical supplies had needed to stay outside in the vacuum sealed storage container in the sanitation room. Her ears strained to hear the conversation taking place inside the seals as she suited up, but it was no use. When Imogene unzipped the barrier and entered the room, there was no one inside, save the man himself, sitting up in his bed and looking out the window.

She frowned, then knocked on the wall making Brin jump. “Hey, you!” She said with a smile.

Brin answered her with a weary, but genuine smile in return, “Heey! What are you doing here?”

“Checking on you, Silly.” She scanned the room, sure she had just missed his visitor behind a curtain, or in a closet, “Who are you talking to?”

“Hmm? Oh, I was just having a discussion with myself, trying to work a few things out.” He frowned, “Imogene? Where am I?”

She was puzzled, “You’re in the med bay. H-hasn’t anyone been in to see you?”

He looked like he was giving this some serious thought, “The med bay? No, no, I just woke up here. What happened? Why am I here?”

Imogene reached for the monitor on the wall and pushed the “service requested” button on the console. “You had an accident down in the mines, the boys brought you to me, and I did what I could. The med bay has done the rest. I’m getting your nurse in here; hold on.”

“Boys?” He repeated, “Mines?”

Imogene’s brow creased, and she moved to sit beside his bed. “Yeah, don’t you remember? You and Damon asked Josiah to take you down into the mines.”

“Damon,” Brin said with a wistful smile, “How is he?”

Imogene was concerned now, “He’s good. How are you feeling, Brin?”

“Hmm? Oh, I don’t know. How are you? I feel like I haven’t talked to you in ages. You get your chickens yet?”

Chickens? The colony had received its first chickens well over three years ago. They had moved up to goats and were considering pigs in the next two to three years.

A zipper broke through Imogene’s train of thought, and a team of three nurses entered the room, “Dr. Hodge, we’re going to have to ask you to leave now. We’ll need to run several tests, and we’ll need the space.”

“I understand,” She took Brin’s hand, and he looked at her with that same distant smile, “I’ll be back to see you as soon as I can, okay?”

Brindin nodded, “Alright. It was so good to see you, Imogene.”

With a half smile, she said, “Back at ya,” before standing up and exiting the room.

Back in the hall, she changed out of her pressure suit and dropped it into a biohazard container. She left the hallway, entered the sterilization room, held her breath as the fumes were vacuumed back out, then moved to the locked box where her items were waiting. She shrugged into her lab coat and put her boots back on before heading in the direction of the Ag Dome. It was halfway down the empty corridor where her thoughts knocked the wind out of her.

What in the hell had happened back there? She could feel her emotions surging like a well and pressing at the backs of her eyes. Her hands and legs felt like they were trembling, and the thought of someone finding her in this state made the feelings worse. She sucked in several conscious breaths as she tried to regain control over her current state. She tucked her still trembling hands into her pockets – and froze.

She pulled her right hand back out, and clasped in it was a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it, and written in the bulky scrawl she’d come to associate with men were the words, “Meet me in Lab 4 – 3 pm. You know the one.”

She frowned, Who put this in my coat pocket? She thought, then it struck her that she already knew the answer.

Indoor Setting Prompt:

  • An agricultural dome on a space colony.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 229). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Sound Prompt:

Imagine someone who has a noisy neighbor at home or at work, and write about the situation.

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 288). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Why We Love Rayon

So What’s the Deal With Rayon?

The word “Rayon” was first coined as a generic term for “regenerated cellulose fiber,” which refers to the manufacturing process used to create it. Rayon is known the world over as the first man-made textile and was invented and perfected in the late 1880s-1890s. The first chemist to accidentally stumble upon the beginning stages of manufacturing such a fiber was a British man named, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan (1). I mentioned in my last mattress article that cotton cellulose is sometimes used in the production of explosives, but in 1884 and 1885, cotton cellulose, which was dyed and treated with nitric acid, was just as likely to explode the gun in which it was loaded as it was the bullet it was meant to project (1,5). So, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan decided to experiment. His finished product were fibres made of nitrocellulose that had been chemically treated and changed back to nonflammable cellulose. However, these experiments were soon after abandoned. It wasn’t until an industrial French chemist by the name of Hilaire Bernigaud, comte de Chardonnet, entered the scene that cellulose regeneration was revisited and perfected. After the commercialization of “Chardonnet silk,” in 1891, everyone wanted to get in on this synthetic fabric action (1).

There were several key players from both France and Britain in the textile game during this time period. From their efforts, three successful methods were discovered for cellulose regeneration. The manufacturing process most commonly used today was discovered in 1891 by a group of three British scientists, Charles F. Cross, Edward J. Bevan, and Clayton Beadle (1). By 1901, this new fiber was being mass produced under the name “viscose rayon.” The second form of rayon we will look at is High Wet Modulus Rayon or HWM Rayon, which is more commonly known as Modal or Lyocell ™ (2). Both forms of Rayon are commonly used in mattress fabrics as well as many sheets, pillows, and other sleep essentials, so we will take a look at them both.

Both viscose rayon and HWM Rayon are favored materials due to their being relatively inexpensive to make. They are also remarkably soft to the touch, are about 50 times more absorbent than their rival fabric, cotton, and have a very pleasing fluidity to the way they move. Rayon’s ability for moisture retention makes it an ideal summer fabric since it helps with lowering temperature (no form of rayon that I’ve stumbled upon yet is known for being proficient at heating, just cooling) however, once viscose rayon becomes fully saturated, it’s overall fiber strength drops by about 75% making it more susceptible to damage as well as shrinkage or permanent stretching. Therefore, submersion or full saturation should be avoided and dry cleaning sought as an alternative. Modal is more resilient in the face of saturation and is generally machine washable. Modal is also commonly blended with other materials such as polyester, spandex, or cotton to add strength or to give it a silkier hand (2). Rayon is easily damaged and discolored by microorganisms, such as bacteria and mildew, as well as heavy direct sunlight and heat, such as that from an iron. These stressors can cause the fibers to grow weaker, loose or distort their color, and eventually begin to yellow, therefore a mattress or pillow protector is mandatory for any products made from a high percentage of rayon (3).

While all forms of Rayon are derived from either wood pulp or plant cellulose, such as that from cotton seeds, it is not a natural material and should not be mistaken as such. The manufacturing of this product requires the use of many caustic chemicals and releases many pollutants into the environment. Most customers won’t know this, but those that are well versed on the “evil’s of corporate manufacturing,” as one of my customers put it, will call you on your bluff if you suggest that Rayon or Modal are “natural.” Try suggesting instead that they are made “using natural wood and plant fibers,” or, “from natural materials.” For those more nature-savvy customers, this line generally draws an eye roll but little more, and those less-versed won’t spot the difference.

In sum, Rayon holds the exciting title of being the world’s first man-made fiber. Rayon is praised for its ability to cool the body, for it’s silk-like hand, for being fairly inexpensive to manufacture, and for being twice as absorbent as cotton. Rayon should never be fully saturated and loses a terrifying 75% of its tensile strength when wet, it’s highly susceptible to discoloration and break down when exposed to microorganisms and heavy, direct light or heat, and should therefore always be paired with a mattress protector when used as the surface layer in a mattress or a pillow. Rayon is an ideal and affordable choice for a quality sleep surface as long as it’s not neglected.


  1. https://www.britannica.com/technology/rayon-textile-fibre
  2. https://www.garmentcare.com/blog/history-and-care-of-rayon
  3. http://textilelearner.blogspot.com/2012/04/properties-of-rayon-fiber-physical-and.html
  4. http://www.museumtextiles.com/blog/category/rayon
  5. https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2017/9/21/back-to-basics-gunpowder/

Writing Prompt #1: The King

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

I just purchased a book called 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More by Bryn Donovan, and I thought this might be a fun place to start my fantasy writing. What I did for this prompt was pick two from her list of settings and then took the whole first page of dialogue and put it all together. I think I’ll share the dialogue with you upfront so you can look for it as you read, but I’ll post the settings at the bottom so that I don’t spoil anything for anyone that wants to kind of keep it a mystery. My big goal here was to get at least 1,000 words for today… I did 2,528. I think I missed the finish line. :/

So here we go! I look forward to thoughts and feedback. Feedback is how we grow and improve our craft.

Dialogue Prompts Used

  • “Ma’am, is this your dog?”
  • “No, it’s really not that complicated. He’s a bad person.”
  • “Hey…what’s wrong with your face?”
  • “The king is missing.”
  • “Ah yes, come in. Close the door behind you.”
  • “Dude. It’s three in the morning.”
  • “Um, sorry. That one’s not for sale.”

Donovan, Bryn. 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More (p. 245). Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

The King

Jacob lurched upright in his bed. Someone was pounding frantically on his apartment door. “Alright! Alright! I hear you!” He tossed the wool blankets off of himself and shrugged into a wool jacket instead. He had worn his weatherproof leggings to bed which were meant for layering under his winter clothes. They were perfect for fighting off the nighttime chill but hugged his body in a way that was perhaps a bit too form fitting for greeting company. He zipped his jacket up and then pulled it down in the front before heading for the door.

“Hurry up!” A feminine voice called from the other side.

“Make me.” Exhaustion was making him clumsy, and he fumbled with the multiple locks.

“Come on!” Angela hissed. He knew it was Angela before ever getting the door open. He would be able to recognize that voice if it were whispering underwater. Jacob and Angela had grown up only a wall apart and had spent most of their lives at each other’s family apartments.

“Dude. It’s three in the morning.” Jacob complained as the last lock turned, “This is as much ‘hurry’ as you’re going to get out of me.” He pulled open the door. Angela looked like she’d just returned from a scouting mission. She was fully dressed in snow pants, a fur jacket over layers of wool, and hiking boots. All of which were already covered in snow that was starting to melt. Water was dripping out of the blonde hair tied in a knot atop her head and was running in rivulets down her face and neck. Aside from the rosy flush in her features from either the cold or exertion, she was also sporting a mean bruise on her left cheek.

Jacob frowned, confused not just from the violent way he’d been pulled from a deep sleep, but from her violent demeanor. “Hey…what’s wrong with your face?”

Angela ignored his question and spat out the words that had been pressing at the inside of her teeth, “The King is missing.”

“What?!” Jacob exclaimed, stepping aside so the girl could enter his room. She hurried in and began to strip off her outer layers of wet clothing to hang on the drying racks in front of the dark hearth. Jacob scowled as he saw the scruffy wolf-mutt crossbreed following on her heels. The dog had been glued to Angela’s side ever since she’d saved him from freezing to death on the surface level. The pup was the last alive after his mother had been killed by some unknown means. He had been curled up between Mother’s body and the bodies of his siblings when Angela’s scouting party had stumbled upon them. She had stuffed him in her jacket for warmth and nursed him on goats milk when she’d gotten him back to camp. She’d named him Heldig, the Norwegian word for lucky. Ironically enough, the name was fitting in English as well. The mutt was a menace.

As soon as the shaggy gray dog was inside, he shook out his wet coat, splattering dirty dog water all over Jacob’s room. He’d have winced if he wasn’t so used to it by now. Jacob shut the door and moved to build a fire. “Angela, talk to me, what the hell happened?”

“They got him, Jacob. They have been threatening for months, I just never thought they’d have the balls to go through with it. Sven fell asleep on his watch again. I knew he would, so I decided to show up to my shift early and play a little trick on him. Good thing I did too because I caught them in the act. Didn’t do a whole lot of good, but at least I saw them! I know exactly who took him. It was Nick Lowery and his gang of greedy meatheads.”

“Jesus. And I assume you tried to stop them by yourself?” He spat accusatorily as he threw logs into the hearth.

“Well I wasn’t just going to let them walk off with him, now was I?”

“That’s exactly what you should have done. So, has Peter assembled a party yet? Are we going to get him back?” Jacob asked as the flames began to flicker into life in the hearth.

Angela looked at him dumbfounded as she worked on freeing her hair from its knot. “Well, no. I haven’t told anyone else yet. Just you.”

“What!? Angela, you have to tell Peter! We need to go after them before their tracks get filled in!” Jacob rushed to his dresser now and began digging for clothes.

Angela snorted as she stood with arms akimbo, “We don’t need to track them. They’re just going to take him back to their compound.” The more agitated she became, the more theatrically she began to gesticulate, with her face, shoulders, and hands all jumping into the act. “It’s not like these people are clever. Besides, Peter will make a whole show out of it and try to enter into some long-winded, politically correct, negotiation tactic, and all the while they will have The King in their breeding paddocks stealing what should have cost them a fortune.” She finished with a vulgar gesture that only provoked an eye-roll from Jacob.

The King was the prized stud Mammoth of the compound. Part of the UGWI’s early steps had been to bring back the wooly mammoth from extinction. The UGWI stands for The Urgent Global Warming Initiative, a title that now held the bitter sting of irony to it. When the Earth’s climate had become so unstable that those still living on it had been forced underground, the World’s governments were forced to take action or, unfortunately, perish. Today, only about 90 of the once 192 countries still existed, and all were underground.

After the UGWI’s plans worked and then backfired, mammoth became the new number one commodity sought after by the entire planet. When the New Ice Age set in, and the Earth went from natural disasters and unlivable heat to being covered pole to pole in ice, scientist cloned up a new batch of mammoths using artificial wombs. These mammoths could live on the surface of the planet and even helped grind down the fields and break up the ice where they were kept in enormous paddocks. These paddocks (once the mammoths were rotated into a new pasture) could also be tilled in the springtime, and some of the more cold-resistant crops could be grown there. Genetically engineered mammoth meat was also largely more nutrient-rich than cow meat, which was fortunate because the only cows left were the aurochs, brought back from the dead by The Auroch Project. These cows were big, mean, and far from domesticated and not nearly large enough yet in number to be hunted in large scale. Mammoth skin had also become the best option for clothes worn on the surface levels. The hides were heavy, but they required fewer layers under them, meaning scouts, hunters, and field workers could move around a little easier. Humankind now owed everything it had to the mammoth, and the best stud belonging to Jacob’s commune had just been stolen.

The King had been the communes first mammoth to be born, not cloned, and with no birth defects, he’d been introduced into their start-up breeding program. To date, he has sired twelve perfectly healthy calves and has brought in nearly a quarter million electronic funds in stud services all by himself. Communes come from all over the map, traveling by foot, driving their herd of cow mammoths, for the hope of breaking free of the expensive process of cloning.

“So what’s your plan then?” Jacob asked as he pulled his snow pants on over his leggings. “You just going to walk down there by yourself and demand the King be returned?”

“No, dummy, why do you think I woke you up?” Angela had grabbed Jacobs comb off his sink and was running it through her wet hair. This, too, would have made Jacob cringe if he were not already used to it. Heldig was sitting in front of the fireplace licking himself dry as loudly as was physically possible.

“I was afraid of that,” Jacob groaned. He pulled on several more layers before moving to lace up his boots. “So who’s watching the paddocks now that you’ve abandoned your shift on this vigilante mission?”

She was tying her hair back up into its knot now, Jacob’s comb clenched between her teeth as she spoke. This did make Jacob wince. “I’m not a vigilante, my job is to protect the mammoths, and that’s what I’m doing. And Sven. I made Sven cover my shift as punishment for falling asleep again.”

Jacob scoffed as he grabbed his scouting pack and shoved his gloves into his pocket. Angela pulled her furs back on as well, even though they were still as wet as they had been when she’d entered. Jacob swung his door open and the trio set out into the hall.

Whatever Jacob had been about to say next was then drowned in a voice which bellowed like a cement mixer, “And where do you two think you’re going?” The voice inquired. Jacob muttered a soft prayer while Angela swore audibly. When they turned, they were met with 6’7″ worth of strong man.

“Derrick,” Angela growled. Derrick stood a solid 6 inches over Jacob, and while Jacob clearly took care of his physique, Derrick looked like he’d fought his way out of a mammoth to enter this world. The guy was all muscle and veins with a Viking’s beard and a full head of curly brown hair that made Jacob’s thin golden hair and broken beard feel profoundly self-conscious.

“Angela,” The Viking rumbled back, “I hear you lost yourself a mammoth.”

Angela’s chin shot up, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Derrick’s eyebrow shot up, “Oh I think you do. You see, Sven sat at your post for a grand total of five minutes before the guilt took him over. He went straight to Peter, and by extension to me, given as I’m the one who had to wake Peter up to tell him. Given as I had yet to see you, I figured I knew right where you had gone off to. Thought I’d save you a whole lot of stupid decisions and head you off. Peter is waiting for you.” He extended an arm indicating they should follow him. The pair exchanged glances before Angela stormed forward, stomping her feet as she went. It was a trait she’d picked up at the age of six and had never entirely outgrown. Jacob scowled and followed in her wake.

Two hallways, a recreation room, and a receptionist room later, Derrick ushered the two into a sitting room and barked, “Wait.” He disappeared into a side room as Jacob sat down on an animal skin sofa.

Angela, however, paced the room growling. “I should have known better! Sven is a total flake. Of course, he went straight to Peter! Uugh, I am so stupid to think he’d just sit there! I can’t believe this. Now those asshats have exactly what they wanted! They win now! They’ve won!”

There came, at that moment, the soft sound of a throat clearing in the doorway they’d just walked through, “Ma’am, is this your dog?” A night receptionist, the ones who handle any nighttime emergencies in the compound such as disruptive residents, water leaks or sewage emergencies, was leaning into the room. They were stationed outside of Peter’s living quarters in case the emergency was urgent enough to warrant his immediate attention. Derrick was also generally stationed there in case the emergency needed some muscle. The girl had a round face with soft features that were creased with worry as she pointed over her shoulder.

Angela glowered at her in a silent dare. Then, in a volume that made the girl jump, she shouted, “Heldig!” The mutt came trotting into the room, wagging its tail in the ignorantly happy way only a dog could do.

“Sorry,” The receptionist said in her timid voice, “It’s just that he was staring at me while I ate my lunch and I wasn’t – he seemed -“

Jacob smiled at her, “When you have food he looks at you like you’re next on the menu. He does the same thing to me. Thank you, we’ll make sure he stays in here with us.” The girl smiled at him warmly and thanked him before ducking back to her desk.

Derrick returned, “He’ll see you now.” He walked past them and out into the receptionist room. Angela groaned and stomped towards the door Derrick had just walked through. Jacob got up and followed her with Heldig on his heels. The door opened into a small foyer that ended in another door. Angela knocked.

“Who is it?” Peter called.

“Angela!” She shouted as she turned the knob and swung the door open without waiting for further formalities. Peter looked up from his desk. Sven was sitting on the other side slumped forward in his seat and looking like a chastised child. Peter looked about as tired as Jacob felt. Peter’s fingers were steepled before him as he looked up and took in Angela, “Ah yes, come in. Close the door behind you.” He said. Jacob, being the last to enter, did just that before moving forward to stand behind the seat Angela had huffed down into.

“Peter, why the hell are we wasting time in here when we should be going after them?!” Angela barked as she slid down in the seat like an impatient teenager.

Oh, now she wants to rush, Jacob thought. Peter held up a hand in Angela’s direction while looking at Sven. “And what did you tell Nick that day when he proclaimed he wanted to buy The King?”

Sven shot a terrified glance at Angela, his face covered in sweat, “Um, sorry. That one’s not for sale.”

“Do you think you were clear with him?” Peter asked. He said each word as if it had been chosen with deliberate care, not a syllable rushed.

Sven nodded like a bobblehead.

“Then why, in your opinion, do you think Nick would have taken The King tonight?”

“Maybe they didn’t like being told no?” Sven stammered.

“Do you suppose someone else could have sold him after you had said no?”

Angela, who had never been known for her unyielding self-control, burst out, “No, it’s really not that complicated. He’s a bad person. He stole The King. Can we go get him now?”

But Jacob was watching Peter’s face, and he had noticed the inflection on the word “else.”He dropped a hand on Angela’s shoulder to silence her, “Peter, do you believe someone sold The King under all our noses?”

The heavily lidded eyes turned onto Jacob and took the young man in. Peter’s shoulders raised as he sucked in a breath before answering, “I do. I also believe that means Nick now rightfully owns our prised stud and that taking him back by force would instead make us the thieves. So you see, things are looking rather complicated.”

Setting Prompts

  • A method to reverse global warming worked too well, and now the planet is going through another Ice Age.
  • In this world, people were able to not only train but actually domesticate elephants, and the countries with elephants won all the wars and dominated the world.

Donovan, Bryn (2019-03-10T23:58:59). 5,000 WRITING PROMPTS: A Master List of Plot Ideas, Creative Exercises, and More . Munds Park Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Mattress Fibers

What’s the Big Deal With Cotton in a Bed?

Cotton is a regular ingredient in many all natural or luxury mattress lines. I feel it is the most important fiber to look at first. Largely because all other fibers compare themselves against cotton, and it will help things to flow better throughout the rest of my future articles if we start with the fabric baseline. Cotton is the first fiber we will look at comprised of the macromolecule, cellulose. Now, bare with me for a moment, because we’re about to get technical (don’t worry, I’ll translate). The cellulose in cotton differs greatly from that of rayon (which we’ll get to next) or wood pulp, in that it has higher degrees of polymerization and crystallinity. Polymerization is determined by how many repeating units are in the fiber, and a “unit” is a combination of elements (in cotton that unit is anhydro-beta-cellulose). Crystallinity then refers to how closely those molecules are packed and to their parallelism (5). The translated version- cotton is one of the strongest fibers used in the textile industry.

Due to cotton’s high levels of crystallinity, and because the molecules in cotton are bonded together using hydrogen, water is not allowed to pass into cotton’s molecules. This means that cotton doesn’t lose any of its natural strength when saturated, in fact, cottons strength nearly doubles when wet, according to most sources I’ve investigated. When molecules in other fibers become saturated, the overall strength of the fiber is compromised which allows for warping, stretching, and tearing, meaning that other fibers become weaker when wet. I feel it is also important to mention that many synthetic fibers, such as polyester, are hydrophobic and their strength is generally unaffected by moisture (5).

When cotton exists in it’s raw form, nature protects it under layers of oils and wax making it waterproof and thereby preventing the formation of molds and rot. Cotton, therefore must be processed to strip off these protective layers to give it the absorbent properties it is known for. Once processed, cotton can absorb over 24 times its own weight in water (11)! This makes cotton excellent at pulling moisture and perspiration away from the body allowing for better temperature regulation for the user. This absorbency does vary based on the variety of thread and on the knit or weave pattern it is manufactured into, but this variation is slight.

Human kind and cotton have a long-standing history, the length of which is still not entirely clear to historians today. The earliest records I could find were of cotton balls found in Mexican caves which dated back to about 7,000 years ago. The first historical records of cotton fabrics originate from Pakistan and from Egypt at about 3,000 BC. It was an American machinist named Noah Homes who first patented the cotton gin (short for engine) in 1793 which revolutionized the cotton industry. Today, cotton is the most heavily utilized fiber in the world, and is a leading American cash crop lending to over $5.3 billion worth of supplies and services on the farm level alone. It is therefore notable that humans have a natural affinity towards the fiber and that cultures around the world have recognized its value, but what does all this mean for the mattress buyer/seller?

For starters, cotton is a renewable resource that is 100% biodegradable and hypoallergenic and every single piece of the plant is utilized, leading to a zero waste product (5, 8). The “lint” is the white cotton ball on the top of the plant which is used for cloth. The stock is plowed into the field and used as an enriching fertilizer. The “linters,” or the short hairs on the cotton seeds, are used for extracting cellulose which is used in the manufacturing of rayon, certain plastics, explosives, high quality paper products, and even processed into “batting” which we find in some of our mattresses. The cotton seeds are crushed and separated into cottonseed oil, cotton meal, and cotton hulls. The oil is used for cooking and baking, and the meal and hull is generally used in animal feed or fertilizer.

We covered why cotton is strong, but we didn’t talk about why that matters. After all, the cotton in all the beds I work with is buried way down in there, it’s not like we’re going to be rolling around on the fiber itself so that it can soak up all our sweat. So to put cotton into perspective, let’s take a look at foams. According to our sales manager and to a whole lot of overly technical data I could barely wrap my understanding around, standard Poly foam has about a 50% degradation rate over the course of ten years regardless of how it is used. Foam is filled with gas pockets that slowly leak out as they become contaminated with oxygen (11). Without the gas to hold the foam’s shape, it begins to “deflate” in a sense and becomes yellowed and diminished. Cotton doesn’t suffer from this same affliction, and since the cotton in our mattresses is generally compressed and compacted down into a thick matt and then tufted into place, we don’t have to worry about the cotton “flattening out” on us. Your average polyurethane foam mattress promises a life span of anywhere from 8 to 10 years, whereas an all cotton and natural fiber mattress, such as the ones from the company “Custom Comfort Mattress” boasts their mattresses living 15+ years. In short, you are removing a layer that is guaranteed to last no more than 8 – 15 years (depending on foam quality) and putting in a comfort layer that will last 15 plus years.

In sum, cotton is 100% biodegradable, renewable, a zero-waste product, and is naturally hypoallergenic. It’s one of the strongest working textiles with one of the longest life spans. It is highly absorbent and becomes stronger when saturated. It’s a leading cash crop that is generating billions of dollars of internal revenue and jobs within the United States (which is in the top three largest cotton producing countries). It only seems logical that cotton should be included in any product one hopes to keep around for a prolonged length of time.

Source List

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macromolecule
  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/cellulose
  3. https://www.google.com/search?q=parallelism&rlz=1C1AVFC_enUS814US814&oq=parrallel&aqs=chrome.3.69i57j0l5.5594j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  4. https://www.barnhardtcotton.net/technology/cotton-properties/
  5. http://www.fao.org/natural-fibres-2009/about/15-natural-fibres/en/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macromolecule
  7. https://www.cotton.org/pubs/cottoncounts/story/importance.cfm
  8. https://customcomfortmattress.com/blog-posts/benefits-of-a-cotton-mattress/
  9. https://thefabricofourlives.com/learn-about-cotton/the-benefits-of-cotton
  10. https://www.barnhardtcotton.net/technology/cotton-properties/
  11. https://www.tmasc.ca/memory-foam.html

The Diving Board


My name is Ashley Northbert. I have been a writer from birth, though I have spent more than half that time convincing myself otherwise. The best parts of my 28 years of life have been spent in pursuit of a “real career,” and every trail I’d chase always lead me rushing back to my one true love over and over again. Finally, tired of looking for things to fill my life with some sense of satisfaction, and full of the encouragement of those around me whom I love, I decided to take the plunge and started this blog.

I have absolutely no idea what the future holds for this little child I’ve barely begun to construct, but I am alive with excitement to see what it may yet become. I will be using this primarily as a reason to crank out my recommended “thousand words a day,” that all writers are supposed to strive for in order to get better at doing what they do. These words will be anything from a thought I wanted to explore to a writing task I completed for my day job that I feel particularly proud of, but mostly they will be short pieces of fiction. I had a little burst of inspiration during my drive into the office today. I thought it might be nice to buy books full of writing prompts that I can flesh out into little scenes. I hope that, as I make these short stories and little scenes, that I will collect a small group of people who encourage me to revisit a setting or a scenario or a character until these little fictional lives come to full realization. I’m hoping that, through feedback and collaboration and helpful suggestions, this blog will evolve and take on a beautiful little life of its own based on my narration and your requests.

Well, that should about do it for an introductory post, mainly because this is as far ahead as I’ve planned this thing through. Some writers are mappers and planners and architects knowing exactly where they are steering their ship. I wish to every god ever worshiped that I was this sort of writer, but I am not. My characters live their lives through me, and they are the ones who tell me where they will go and what they will say. This blog is no different. It doesn’t know what it is yet any more than I do, but we will find ourselves together.

I hope you’ll be there with us when we do.