The creativity and skill involved in writing a short story is not something everyone is just born with. The opportunities to practice, the feedback provided, and the inspiration to explore are all important attributes to helping people get their thoughts on paper. Ms. McKenna's Creative Writing Class is a perfect environment for fledgling writers to practice their craft.
Below (and in the next few posts) please find a few pieces of writing from students in her class.
Another Kind of Strength
by Katie C.
The trading port of Niragno, ruled by a kingdom of the same name, is a prosperous place. Its fields produce the richest flours and sweetest fruits of the nation; its lakes hold the clearest waters and most succulent fish; its people toil without rest and rest without toil. Many a noble come to Niragno, seeking a sojourn from their own kingdoms riddled with strife and disease. Yet it is not a utopia; like any civilization, Niragno has its times of drought and flood, of fire and hail, and its most constant flaw: its slums and its wretched—the liars, thieves, and killers. These people know the village like the back of their hands—they must, or how would they escape the soldiers and the king, day after day?
And yet, few know it as well as I do.
I was a broken child. My intellectual abilities were never up to par with the other children’s and soon, I had become an outcast. Cognitive learning is the most valued skill in this place, and without it, I was useless.
But I was lucky. Just as I was entering my youthful years, I managed to convince the royal court that I was fit to be the king’s champion. They scoffed, and they jeered, but they still allowed me to perform before the king—ever since my display that day, they have not dared to ever laugh at me.
From then on, I carried the burden of the king’s orders and reputation on my shoulders instead of the hateful gazes and cutting words of those smarter than I. Even as I struggled, however, I believed that I had found a life worth the pain—a life to give me worth.
~ ~ ~
It was night, the sky lit with only the fewest of stars, but the flaring torches that lined the roads of the village gave the place a merry glow. The light did not reach the farthest recesses of the village, however; the rooftops were still shrouded in darkness. It was because of this dimness, not despite it, that I darted through the village unnoticed, merely a shadow, my movements sure and unwavering as I leapt from eave to eave. My long maroon hair I had tied and tucked into my hood and my cloaks were drawn tightly around me so as to make my movements all the more stealthy, and to also conceal what I carried. As I ran and leapt, feet never unsure, I took a mental inventory of the myriad of blades, awls, and other sharp things strapped to me. I smiled slowly, relishing in the unfamiliar weight of the weapons—the king had let me wield freely tonight.
My destination was not far now, but still I did not slow. My footfalls were soft patterings that might be easily mistaken for rain, had the city not been dry as a bone. The rainy season had come late and had taken a toll on the locals. Many had begun to ration their food and pleasures, remembering the devastation the last crop failure had wrought on their lives. Those with money to burn, however, were still out and about, visiting the slum’s local taverns, gambling dens, and trading posts, always itching to spend. It was on the roof of a pub, frequented by those with excess, that I alighted, perching delicately, completely hidden in the darkness of the night sky as I peered down into the streets.
Two people stumbled out of the pub on each others’ shoulders, laughing uproariously, still clutching their crude mugs of drink. One looked to be an older man, all yellow beard and thick limbs, while the other could be described as nothing but a boy. He had thin, light hazel hair that ran to his collarbone, dark, gleaming eyes, and a pale complexion despite the alcohol he had obviously consumed.
The man turned back to face the pub’s entrance, shoving a fat hand deep into his trouser pocket and pitching a great shower of golden and silver coins through the entrance. A roar resounded from the pub, nearly causing the building’s very foundation to shake as the merrymakers inside scrambled for the coins. The man let out a bellowing laugh and turned to the boy, who had been gaping at the display he had just witnessed.
“Ya see there, sonny? This is what I can do fer the city, and what I can do fer ya too!”
The boy nodded slowly, still eyeballing the scene inside the pub. The man took a swig from his mug as he grinned and leaned in conspiratorially, draping a heavy arm around the boy’s shoulders.
“So what do ya say, boy? Shall we make it a deal?” he asked.
The boy nodded again, more forcefully this time. “Yes, I think we can do that.” “Lead the way then.”
The pair stumbled a little ways down the street, the man waving jovially at the cheering drinkers crowded in the pub’s entrance. I crept carefully after them, delicately slinking along the beams of the roofs.
The pair of drinkers drew into an alleyway a few storefronts down the street, darkness swallowing them whole. I stole up to the edge of the roof, careful to not let myself be seen as I watched the scene unfold.
“Lemme see that thing again, would ya, boy?” the man asked, reaching out a hand for the papers the boy clutched to his chest.
“Well, sir, with all due respect, uh…” he stuttered as he spoke. “I would rather hang onto them until we make the trade.”
The man laughed good-naturedly. “Oh, I’m not gonna steal it, ya loony. Just lemme see it again! I’ve got a lot to lose from this, ya know.”
“Yes, sir, as do I.”
The man scoffed, putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Ya saw the coins I tossed inna that bar, didn’t ya? Ya think those fools are gonna be happy if they find out I was hauling trash?”
“Well, of course not, sir! I was just worried. But I’m sure you are an upright man, I just….” The boy drooped. “I just really need to make this work for… for my wife and my kids.”
“I understand ya, son, I really do,” the man said. “It’s the same fer me. I got a family at home too, which is why I’ll be needing that pass from ya.”
“Of course, of course.” The boy still hesitated, but eventually offered the papers to the man. “Well, here.”
The boy handed the papers to the man, who promptly snatched them up and scrutinized them under the dim light of the stars, one hand still resting on the boy’s shoulder.
“They are fine, aren’t they, sir? I took good care of them, and I, well, I’m sorry, but might you please give me the amount we agreed on now?”
A smile slowly spread on the man’s broad face. It was an expression unlike any of the others he had shown earlier, utterly lacking in the warmth and pleasure from before. Now, it was a grin of hunger, of desperation, of success. The boy noticed the smile too and tried to move away from the man; the lock on his shoulder was too tight.
“Now see here, my friend. I would love to trade you fair and square for this, but I jus’ really can’t, ya know? Like, I really want to, but things are tough this season and I can’t really make any commitments, ya see.”
I narrowed my eyes. Anyone could see that the man had no intention of letting the boy go, but what did he think he could do? Those papers were an official trading pass and no one but the registered merchant could use them. Even if the man were to steal the papers, he wouldn’t have anything to do with them; they wouldn’t even be sellable. Apparently, the boy was thinking the same and was none too comforted by the notion.
“Sir, we had a deal! Please, you must pay me what you promised, or I… I shall make this known to the king!” he said, worry and panic clouding his eyes.
The man ignored him, busily stuffing the papers into his pocket. The boy made an effort to escape his captor’s grasp, but he got him in a neck hold. The man laughed darkly and, from his coat, drew a long carving knife.
“Oh, I don’t think ya’ll be mentioning this to no king any time soon. And these here papers? I’ll be taking them with me, and ya too, if ya don’t mind.” He dug the tip of his weapon into the boy’s neck, a trickle of red coursing down the dull metal as he broke skin.
Oh, heavens, I thought. So that’s what he wants to do? Such audacity. He must really be desperate to attempt such a foolish trick.
“Well, boy? Will ya come with me quietly or not?” the man yelled. The boy had gone still, despite the wound at his neck. “Well?” the man asked again, giving the boy a rough shake.
“Sir, let us stop this farce. You do not need to do this.” “What did ya say, ya runt?”
“You heard me.”
Suddenly, the boy slipped out from the man’s grip, gracefully putting distance between them as he turned to face the man again, a glint in his eye. The man’s face registered shock as he took in the change. The snivelling child from before was gone; the person who stood before him now was of courage and dignity.
Ooh, here we go.
“In accordance with Niragno law, trading passes may only be used by the merchants to which they are issued. For decades, we have kept a peaceful and fruitful trading system, but in the past year, it has been reported that a handful of traders have had their passes stolen and they themselves, after transferring the passes to a ‘relative,’ found days later, dying or dead. Within the same time period, it has been rumoured that a certain portion of the market has been dominated by cheap and falsified goods. Quite a coincidence, do you not think?” the boy asked, giving a gentle smile.
“What’s it got to do with me, huh? And what do ya think yer doing, boy, running around and spouting nonsense during our talks?” the man roared, clearly upset.
“Oh, please do not tell me you do not understand. It is quite clear what—or shall I say who—I am referring to.”
“Like I said, what’s it got to do with me?”
The boy sighed and shook his head slowly. “I am saying that Niragno may forgive you this, if you will just lower your weapon and plead guilty to the king.”
“I don’t know what ya’re talking about.”
The man had seemed to deflate after the boy’s last sentence. He had lowered his knife hand and was standing with his head low, looking sheepish.
“You see now? Good. Now let us put the weapon down and settle this like gentlemen.”
The man dropped to his knees, hands shaking as he set his knife on the ground and started blubbering incoherently.
“I really thought I could do it, ya know. I really had to, and I thought I could. It’s the rain, and no rain. The crops are dead. I just…”
“I understand, I understand. There are many that really believe they must do these things. But it is alright now, you see. It is alright,” the boy said soothingly as he approached the man.
“It’s alright…” the man repeated. He looked up as the boy walked towards him, remorse in his eyes.
And he lunged.
I dropped over the edge of the roof, landing squarely on top of the man’s shoulders just as he thrust his knife at the boy. I struck his arms down with my leg, bringing his head to the ground as I slipped a dagger from my cloaks. In moments, I had it against his throat, my other hand forcing his chin up and my legs wrapped tightly around his chest. The boy stepped forward, sighing.
“Oh, my dear sir, we could have resolved this peaceably had you only agreed to cooperate.”
The man let out an angry grunt, struggling against my grip, but I held him easily. I had faced much worse before. The boy leaned in to the man’s red face.
“One last chance. You either give up your knife or you give up your life. Make your decision now.”
The man gave his answer: a final, rabid growl as he strained toward the boy, spittle and fury flying from his mouth. “Go take your sister, you inbred!”
The boy smiled coldly. “I think we have had enough of this conversation. Thank you, my dear sir, for a thoroughly stimulating experience.” He glanced up at me, still restraining the man from his back. “Go on and do your thing.”
Unhesitatingly, I slipped my blade from the man’s neck, slamming his head to the ground and driving my dagger through the back of his neck, right above his spinal cord. He let out a faint squeak and went limp. I got up, careful to avoid the blood that spurted from his neck as I wrenched my blade out.
“Clean as always, Siella. I wish you did not need to do that, though,” the boy said as he came up next to me as I cleaned and sheathed my weapon.
“I told you that he wouldn’t listen to reason, my king. None of them do, once they become this desperate.”
He sighed. “I know, but I still need to try, do I not?”
“But sire, how many times has it been now? Ten? Twenty? Each time, blood is shed. Each time, you haven’t succeeded, though each was a different scenario.”
“You know my words are strong enough, Siella. I must find the right ones, is all. It will work, one day. You must hope that, too.”
“Yes, you’re right. You always are. But I can’t help you in your endeavours, sire. I am not made for that.”
“Nonsense, you have a brilliant mind. Your moves are always so masterful, so well-executed.
You cannot expect me to believe you incapable of something so simple as pretty words.”
I shook my head. “It’s fine, sire. No need to flatter me. I have long seen my limits in the scholarly arts. This is my strength; here, my ability is clear. This is how a killer does things.”