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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: “Into the Dungeons”

photo of a dungeon

The prompt for this week’s Flash Fiction Friday piece calls for my favorite type of story – a horror story! In particular, the prompt calls for the fear of the unknown.  Since I have a story I’m working on that includes a big, horrible monster that is never quite revealed until the end, I chose to continue the adventures of Lizbeth and Katta as they seek it out.

With work keeping me busy lately, time got away from me and I wasn’t able to complete the scene.  I’m posting what little of it I was able to finish in the hopes that it will entertain those of you who have expressed interest in what happens next in the story.

Prompt: This week write a story about perceived fear, either triggered or based on a phobia, and to make it fun use the following word list: Dark, Crunching, Eerie, Monster and Fear.
Genre: Open
Word limit: 1313
Deadline: Thursday, May 31 @ 9:00 a.m. EST

Into the Dungeons

Darkness dripped from the ceiling, a black sludge that smothered the walls. Katta's candles seemed to burn more quickly in the dungeons and it wasn't long before Lizbeth was handing her a fresh one to replace the stub. The girls' shadows looked pale against their surroundings.

“I told you it wasn't a stain.” Lizbeth's voice sounded shrill as it echoed down the passage that still lay in front of them. The cloaked forest creature had told them of the existence of a monster far more terrifying than the Cauchemars, and where to find it.

“I knew there was something odd about that black area in the tapestries. I just never thought it would be... I hope we're doing the right thing coming down here.”

Katta muttered “Whatever” and dropped the candle stub into her left pocket, startling the sleeping Shadowkin within. With an annoyed chirp, Chicky poked his head out of the pocket, then immediately ducked back inside.

“What's wrong with Chicky?” asked Lizbeth.

“I think he's hiding.” After making sure Chicky was safely tucked away, Katta started chuckling.

“What's so funny?” asked Lizbeth.

“I guess the cloaked freak in the forest was telling the truth after all.”

“Why is that so funny?”

Katta stopped chuckling and stared at Lizbeth through the struggling candle-light. “You're serious, aren't you?” Letting out a whistle, she said, “Oh boy, we really messed up when we chose you.”

Her rising irritation distracting her from her fear, Lizbeth rounded on Katta, hands on her hips. “Instead of laughing at me, you could try explaining it to me instead, you know.”

Katta stopped chuckling to stare back at the peevish girl standing before her. The smile lingering on the corner of her mouth grew wider and she coughed to hide it, pretending to fuss over the candle as it sputtered in her breath.


“The Shadow People don't just help you for nothing. Altruism isn't in their nature. They're sadistic and evil. Their first instinct is to deceive and destroy. If they sent us down here, then they either think they can benefit from it or that it will end us. Knowing them, probably both.”

Katta stopped talking a moment to let her words sink in. She continued to walk down the passage, trusting Lizbeth to follow. “Nothing good can ever come of dealing with the Shadow People. But it's the only choice we have left.”

“You really hate them, don't you?” Lizbeth panted, trotting beside Katta to keep up with her longer strides.

“You think? I've watched them as they corrupted and killed children. I saw them literally tear a girl apart and consume her. They treat their own kind hardly better.”

“What about Chicky?”

“What about him?” Katta snapped. “He's different. He's nothing like the other Shadow People.” She cupped the pocket where he hid protectively and stalked off angrily.

“I didn't mean to imply... I'm sorry,” Lizbeth called after apologetically. Then, more loudly, “Where are you going?”

“Where do you think I'm going?” Katta snapped again.

“It's just...we've been that way.”

“What are you talking about?”

“When we first came down here, we turned left at the first intersection. After that, we took another left and then the passage curved to the left again. If you go that way, you'll be going back towards the first left we took.”

“You mean I'll be going in a circle?” Katta asked, her irritation with Lizbeth abating while her frustration with the endless passageways increased.

When Lizbeth nodded, Katta cursed and hurled the candle she held into the darkness. Lizbeth gasped and started after it, “We need that!”

The flame was smothered by the darkness as soon as it left Katta's hand, the candle making a soft thud as it landed and rolled away somewhere in the blackness that now enveloped the girls.

In the silence, the girls heard a low rumble.

“What was that?” Lizbeth squeaked.

“I don't know, but Chicky's not happy about it.”

Frightened chirps were coming from the pocket the Shadowkin hid within and Katta placed one hand inside to comfort him.

“I don't feel good about this either,” Lizbeth said as the rumble grew into the unmistakable sound of a growl. “Light another candle, Katta, quickly, before something hap-”

Dirt and dust fell onto the girls and into their eyes as the growl grew, shaking the walls around them. Lizbeth clapped her hands over her ears and started to scream.

Photo credit: Naeema Campbell

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Template and Comment System

Photo of blue acrylic paint glob

After putting it off for months, I have finally gotten around to over-hauling the website’s template and comment system.  There were little issues here and there that needed addressing in the template and Blogger’s built-in comment system wasn’t as versatile as readers wanted (not to mention it wouldn’t let me reply to individual comments).

I loved the old green template, but I think I’ve found one that, after I made a few modifications to the code, is equally clean and simple. Blue is my favorite color anyway, so the new look has quickly grown on me. I’m still tweaking fonts and sizes, so if there is anything on the page that is difficult for you to read or that you think could look better, let me know via e-mail or by leaving a comment in the new comment system.

The chief complaint I heard about the Blogger comment system was the need for a Google account to post a comment. I decided to use Disqus because it gives readers the choice of leaving a comment anonymously as a “guest” or through their  Disqus, Google, Open ID, Twitter, or Yahoo accounts.   It even lets me import all my Blogger comments so I don’t lose any valuable feedback!

Let me know what you think!


Photo credit: Photo Bunny

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why Grammar Check Leaves Much to Be Desired

Dear John

The “Dear John” letter pictured above has been used for decades to illustrate the importance of punctuation.  Running each version of it through Microsoft Word reveals no errors and no mention of the existence of the other version. While spelling is fairly straight forward to check, grammar is much more ambiguous.  Depending on the context, the removal or addition of a comma can alter the entire meaning of a sentence with it still remaining grammatically correct.  This letter is a clear example of that!

Errors Grammar Check Cannot Find

Dr. Daniel Kies from the College of DuPage has researched the topic extensively for ten years.  By running text that contains 20 common usage errors through grammar checkers, he has documented how well they work. His findings aren’t pretty.  Not only did grammar checkers catch less than half of the 20 errors, they often offered the wrong advice for correcting the error.  He describes the results of his research and their importance much more eloquently than I could paraphrase it; please, please, please read it here on his web page.

One of the many grammar errors that grammar checkers cannot detect is the inappropriate use of an essential or non-essential clause. A single comma is all that differentiates the two.  This and other syntactical choices that are based on semantics will always give grammar checkers problems.

Computers cannot think and therefore cannot intuit meaning from words.  This limitation is why it is essential that you or someone you trust proofreads your work.  Do NOT rely on your word processor to catch grammar errors for you.

More Evidence on the Issue

With how easy it is for spell checking programs to make errors, it baffles me that anyone would put their trust in a program that attempts to check the correctness of grammar, a much more complex process.