Free Short Stories: A Miserable Vacation

This is an entry into my daily writing adventure. To read from the beginning, you need to go to the bottom and read upwards.

Here are the Rules:

  1. I must write 365 words (or more) a day. Practice makes perfect!
  2. No editing any of these short stories until the year is over- and this includes simple stuff like spelling mistakes. It’s okay to write bad stuff!
  3. I must publish everything I write for this project, and I cannot take it down afterward.

Do not copy, repost or claim ownership of any section of this story.


Day 28 – Friday March 12 2021

Start 3703 – End 4068

NOTE: I’ve decided to spend today reviewing the story I just finished writing. Why? Because I’m writing these stories as practice, and practice is only good practice if you stop and think about what you’re doing. This review is my chance to reflect upon what I’ve written.

What do I think about this last story I just wrote? Well, for starters, I had a ton of trouble writing this because I tried writing this without an outline. As it turns out, writing a mystery story when you have haven’t decided upon clues or criminals is very hard. As a result, the next short story I’ll write will have an outline. You only learn things like this through experience, so I think this discovery was important.

My initial concept was a Rashomon like mystery, where multiple people claim credit for a crime but their claims are mutually exclusive with one another. I emphatically believe I utterly failed to write a compelling story. C’est la vie. Practice (and hopefully outlines) make perfect.

Also, I think I failed to breathe proper characterization into the characters in this short. Not so good.

Anyway, I’m thinking about the story I’m going to be writing next. I don’t even have a concept to be working off of. This will require some thought.


Day 27 – Thursday March 11 2021

Start 2973 – End 3338

(NOTE: I’m making a change to this story. Before, Lady Demonia’s nephew’s name was ‘Constance.’ I’m changing it to Nerikare, and making this the origin story of Quintus and Nerikare’s team.)

There was only one thing I could do: interview the murderer.

In the light of the new day, we brought Lady Demonia’s nephew out of isolation in his room so I could speak with him.

“What’s your name again?” I asked.

“Constance, sir,” he asked, not meeting my eyes.

“Constance, kneel with me in prayer before our god.”

The god-slayer and I knelt next to the withered boughs of the dead Golden Lantern Tree, and the new-growing sacred tree growing from the stump of the dead one. I stared at him as he knelt, his neck next to the tree stump, and hefted the axe.

“Sir?” He asked, realizing the precarious position he was in.

“I have reason to believe that you were the one who committed this heresy. Explain yourself now, and I’ll make this quick.”

“But- but- you’re a Paladin! There has to be a trial-!”

“So you admit it,” I said forbiddingly.

“Yes.” He hung his head.

“Why?” I asked, more emotionally drained than angry. “Was it because you wanted to inherit your aunt’s lands?”

“Never!” He protested. “How can you even suggest such a thing?”

“You stand to inherit her lands if she’s executed for the crime of deicide, and she is seemingly willing to take the blame for you.” I sat down next to him. “If that’s not the case, then tell me the truth. And if you love her, speak the truth. Her life depends on it.”

“It was a prank. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“… a prank? You killed a god as a prank?!” I was in the mood to backhand the boy. “I’ve heard better tall tales.”

“I’m telling the truth! Ask the gods! They’ll tell you I’m being honest!”

“Well?” I asked, turning to the re-growing tree.

Truth…’

I closed my eyes, and released a sigh. This entire, stupid affair because of a teenage prank.

“I made a bet with some of my friends in town. They claimed I wasn’t enough of a man to actually pull it off. So I-“

“Shut up. I don’t want to know,” I said, holding up a hand. “How can you be so stupid?!”

“It’s just a tree. I didn’t think anything bad would happen.” He blushed red, embarrassed by his impulsiveness.

“‘Didn’t think anything bad would happen?’ ‘DIDN’T THINK ANYTHING BAD WOULD HAPPEN?!'” I hefted the murder weapon, disgusted. “It’s called a god-tree for a reason you idiot!”

Quintus… mercyno permanent damage done… You were young and stupid once too…’

“I still am stupid.”

With all the evidence, it now made sense. Nerikare killed the tree in a fit of teenagerly stupidity- much as I had made my rash decisions when I was that age. His aunt had seen him do it, and claimed the blame for it. The friar, in love with his aunt, took the blame from her. And finally the monk had been urged by the gods to take the blame too. All of the adults- from Demonia to the gods- had been trying to protect Nerikare from being executed for making a stupid decision.

And Nerikare’s dejected posture told me he expected me to follow through on my threatened execution.

I slumped my shoulders, and cast away the axe. I gave the boy a quick hug, then let him go.

“The law is clear: you must die. But Paladin’s aren’t mindless servants of the law; we’re servants of a higher justice.” I shook my head. “Here’s the deal. If I execute you, no one’s happy. You’re going to atone for this the hard way- through a long lifetime of service to the public good.”

“What do you mean?” He asked, looking up into my eyes, wide-eyed and hopeful.

“I’m going to pull strings and see to it you become a Paladin. You will live in service to higher ideals for the rest of your life- higher ideals like patience and thinking through your actions,” I said, putting a finger under his nose to emphasize my point.

“Can you do that?”

“I can deputize whoever the hell I want- including you,” I said, frowning at the teenaged idiot. “Congradulations. You work for me now.”


Day 26 – Wednesday March 10 2021

Start 2597 – End 2962

I focused my attention upon the Golden Lantern tree, or what was left of it. Could the god-tree truly be speaking with me? The gods speak only to the chosen few, a handful in every generation.

Quintus. Lady Demonia… She is innocent…’

“Then who did this to you?” I asked the voice.

Her nephew… but you must save him too…’

“But he committed the heresy of cutting down a sacred tree. Such a crime must be punished,” I said. “The law is so written.”

What crime? Do we not still live?’ The god’s statement was followed, with the blooming of the Golden Lantern.

“Attempted murder is a serious crime, even if no one died,” I tried to explain. I got the feeling that trees view the law from a different angle than humans do.

We ordered him to cut this tree down… Do not punish him for a crime mandated by the gods…’

“Gods forfend.” I rubbed my forehead. “Why would you do that?”

Our will is ineffable...’

“Please don’t be deliberately cryptic. If you don’t want to tell me, tell me you don’t want to tell me.”

We don’t want to tell you.’

“I’m investigating attempted deicide. It’s a crime to not participate in my investigation.” I sighed. “I’m a Paladin. I can’t just ignore a crime. Justice is the foundation of our civilization, or what’s left of civilization. Someone has to pay the price for this.”

The gods remained quiet.

“Are you communicating with the gods?” The abbot asked.

“I’m trying to. They just told me that Lady Demonia’s nephew was the one who cut down the tree. Not only that, but the gods told him to do it.”

“Why would a god tell a man to chop itself down?” The abbot asked, baffled.

“I have no idea.”

Let the lady, or the monk, or the friar suffer the consequences for this… the boy must remain free…’

“Why?!” I demanded, but there was no answer to my question. Paladins worship the god-trees, but only because the gods value virtuous behavior. This god-tree was actively hampering my investigation, which was infuriating. But clearly I couldn’t arrest a tree, so instead I had to turn to logic to solve this problem.


Day 25 – Tuesday March 9 2021

Start 2169 – End 2534

The axe was a banal thing, more farmer’s tool than lethal weapon, but it had done the job of deicide well enough. I turned it over in my hands, trying to find any telltale clues as to it’s origin. There were no names carved into it’s side, nor symbol of ownership. It could have come from anywhere.

“Did you see one of the suspects carrying a package with them when they entered the temple recently?” I asked the abbot, and returned to kneeling next to him, weapon in hand. I laid it between us. “A package large enough to contain this.”

“When Lady Demonia entered the temple courtyard to help us with our gardening, she and her nephew brought a box containing gardening clothing and tools for them to use,” the abbot said. “It was probably smuggled in then. Neither the friar nor monk has left the monastery recently, so they were not the ones to smuggle it onto our grounds.”

“So either Lady Demonia or her nephew did it,” I said grimly. I took some sacking and cleaned the sap off the blade of the weapon. “What a mess. Either way, Lady Demonia will take the fall for this.”

“Such a shame. She’s been nothing but a pious noblewoman and generous landlord for our monastery,” the abbot said shaking his head. “If only this tragedy never happened. Why, I-“

He fell silent as daylight started shining from the lighthouse overhead. The eerie night was replaced with a golden daylight.

“Impossible! The Golden Lantern Tree is dead!” The abbot said, astonished, as he looked up at the glimmering lighthouse. “The god-tree is tied to the lighthouse! Without the god-tree, there can be no light!”

“Look,” I said, pointing to the stump of the ‘dead’ god. Already there were a few green shoots rising from the burls amongst the roots of the tree. “A miracle.”

The abbot gasped, and crawled forward to inspect the new growth. It wasn’t much- no more than a twig with a leaf or two- but it was enough.

“We’re saved!” The abbot said, his relief audible in his voice. “I should have had more faith. It is hard to kill a god.”

‘Quintus,’ I heard an ethereal voice whisper. It sounded like the wind amongst leaves. I sat up straighter.

“Did you hear that?” I asked the abbot.

“Hear what?” The abbot answered.

Quintus,’ the voice repeated, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt it was the sacred tree which spoke. ‘I have a secret for you.’


Day 24 – Monday March 8 2021

Start 1416 – End 2146

(NOTE: This is supposed to be a ‘murder’ mystery, but I’m finding it very hard to actually write a mystery without first outlining it first. I’m going to finish this short story mystery, and for the next short story mystery I’m going to write, I’ll outline it first. This just isn’t a compelling story; hopefully an outline will help make the next one compelling.)

The abbot and I fell into silence. The abbot clearly didn’t have the heart for this investigation, but justice had to be done. If the friar were having an affair with Lady Demonia, then it’s possible that when he claimed he cut down the god, he was covering for her. And if he was covering for her, that meant she was almost certainly guilty.

I thought back to a few hours before, trying to reconstruct the tableau of the day prior. Bakari the monk, standing amongst the cabbages. Lady Demonia and her nephew standing side by side next to the tree. And finally the friar ____, standing midway between the lily pond and the Sacred Golden Lantern Tree.

I stood up and walked over to the lily pond. In the light of the stars, I saw muddy footprints leading away from the pond and toward the chopped down god-tree. Someone- the friar presumably- had been in the lily pond weeding out aquatic weeds and harvesting water chestnuts from within. Looking back, I remembered that when the friar claimed to be the godslayer he’d cast off his usual habit for muddy waterproof waders and gloves.

I knelt and next to the muddy footprints, studying them, and could divine no more wisdom from them.

“What is bothering me about this scene?” I asked, returning to my place kneeling next to the abbot next to the withering god. “Something isn’t right.”

“Why would any of them cut down the tree? You’ve not answered the motivation for any of the suspects,” the abbot suggested.

“What motive can there be for the death of a god?” I asked, frowning helplessly. “No one benefits from this senseless crime. Without the Golden Lantern bringing light to this island, all life will fade here eventually. Lady Demonia doesn’t benefit, for this is her island. Bakari and the friar don’t benefit, because they live here. None of our three suspects stand to benefit.”

None of the three self-professed suspects had a motive for it, but there were four witnesses. Lady Demonia’s nephew had also been there.

“Abbot, do you know who stands to inherit this island if Lady Demonia is killed?”

“Her nephew. Lady Demonia has no children, as yet.”

“Does she love her nephew?” I asked. “I’ve heard barely a word out of him.”

“Very much so. Lady Demonia’s family was all slain; her nephew is all she has left.”

So that’s the nature of things, I thought to myself, feeling my thoughts click into place. If her nephew chopped down the god-tree, then she might just claim she cut down the tree to the blame for his actions out of love. He would then inherit her wealth. The friar, who loves Lady Demonia, claimed he cut down the tree to take the blame off of her. Love and greed; as simple a motive as any, and explaining their actions as any.

Except it wouldn’t explain Bakari’s actions. Was he speaking truth when he said that the gods had told him to claim responsibility for the deicide? That was something I couldn’t make sense of. If that were true, then I had no idea what I should do about it.

I prayed to the gods for insight, prayer beads clutched in my hands. They provided.

And then it occurred to me that I had been going about this case all wrong. The real question I should be asking was: ‘where had the axe come from?’

I was trying to solve this case from the back end, trying to reverse engineer the criminal based on testimony and evidence made after the fact. Axes aren’t permitted on temple grounds. No one would be allowed into a Forest monastery courtyard, into the presence of a god-tree with axe in hand. The murder weapon would have to be smuggled in from somewhere- and that meant this ‘murder’ was premeditated.

I walked over to the axe, where it lay still embedded into the trunk of the dead god.

“Such a mundane thing for so evil a deed,” I seized it, frowning. “We must find where you came from.”


Day 23 – Sun March 7 2021

UPDATE:

I’m not writing anything new today. I had a headache all day, which has progressively gotten worse as the day’s gone on. I was able to finished my other writing jobs for the days, but ran out of energy for this. My apologies. I’ll write 730 words instead of 365 tomorrow.


Day 22 – Saturday March 6 2021

Start 935 – Goal 1300

We escorted the suspects to their rooms, and then I returned to the fallen corpse of the dead god tree. It was the Golden Lantern Tree whose magic illuminated the island, so with it’s death the island was plunged into eternal dark, at least until another Golden Lantern could be potted up and transplanted onto the island. The sacred tree’s death wasn’t the end of the island, but this was a problem which would take time to heal.

I knelt before the dead god, and prayed. The abbot knelt next to me.

“I don’t understand what’s going on. Can you offer me any insight?” I asked the abbot.

“If only I could,” he added, smiling sadly. He handed me a prayer bead necklace. “Here you go. Let’s turn to the gods, and hope they can offer insight which I cannot.”

I accepted the beads, and prayed. I felt the presence of the gods all around us; even with one chopped down, the roots of the dead tree still ran strong in the earth beneath our bent knees. A tree might fall, but the forest lives on.

“I just can’t believe that this happened,” the abbot said, shaking his head. “I would never have believe any of them had the potential for such senseless cruelty.”

“I know father,” I said between silent prayers. “The friar is one of your flock. Can you give me any information about him?”

“He joined our monastery years ago, sent by the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of the Church of the Grand Forest. This was his first posting,” the abbot explained, shaking his head. “He has a steady head, by and large. A bit brash and excitable, but anyone that young is unsteady.”

“Unsteady? What do you mean by that?”

“You were a teenager once, I assume?” The abbot asked me rhetorically. “Well, I’ve seen the friar staring after some women from the village on occasion. It’s nothing major- gods know I was worse about it when I was his age- but it is what it is.”

“Teenage hormones. Don’t miss them,” I agreed. A thought occurred to me. “Lady Demonia is not unattractive. Have you noticed anything untoward between them?”

“Yes, I have seen the boy looking after her. However Lady Demonia is the soul of propriety as far as I’ve heard- and she’s far too old for him,” the abbot grimaced. “Lady Demonia is our liege lord. Her family leased us the land on which this monastery rests since before the apocalypse. I shouldn’t speculate about this matter.”


Day 21 – Friday March 5 2021

Start 487/ Goal 852

(NOTE: I’m writing this short story to be vaguely inspired by Roshamon, a mystery about a man who was murdered and there are many different people claiming to have done the deed/seen who did it. I’m having trouble doing it properly. I’m not good at writing short stories. Only way to improve is to practice!)

My two remaining suspects were the lady and the friar.

“I’ve disqualified the monk as a suspect; will either of you do me a favor and disqualify yourself?” I asked, not really expecting an answer. “Maybe the god told one of you to take the blame for this too?”

“No sir,” the friar said, shaking his head.

“No,” the lady agreed. “I cut down the tree.”

“Too bad.” I looked around for any more characteristic evidence like the clay on the monk’s garmet, but I saw nothing of the sort on either Demonia or the friar.

“What happened? I came running as soon as the lights went out. Is the Golden Lantern Tree of the Sacred Lights-!” the abbot said from behind me. I turned to look, and as I watched him his face changed from shock to horror to dread at the sight of the dead golden lantern tree. “Gods forfend. How can this be? Paladin Quintus, what happened?”

“I don’t know. Something strange is going on here, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what,” I said, shaking my head. “Someone cut down the tree when I was out of sight. When I came to check this out, three of the four witnesses claimed to have been the one to cut down the god-tree.”

“Why would they cooperate in cutting down a god?”

“I asked that already, and they’re all claiming that each worked alone. So far I’ve been able to deduce that Bakari the monk was NOT the one to chop it down; he was busy at the time. When I confronted him in his lie, he admitted that the gods asked him to lie.”

“What a puzzling turn of events,” the abbot said, shaking his head. “We must act. Paladin Quintus, please escort all four potential witnesses to their rooms. We will lock them in overnight and interview them tomorrow. Tonight, we pray for insight.”

(Final note: I went back to what I wrote yesterday and added a tiny bit more to close a plot hole.)


Day 20 – Thursday March 4 2021

Start 122/ Goal 487

(Note: Bad news. WordPress self destructed last night and I lost the beginning of this story. I’ll try to dredge through the internet and find my lost progress later, but for now I’ll keep working.)

“Something here isn’t adding up,” I said, disquieted by this irregularity. By law, in this situation I was required to arrest everyone and ask questions later. But the punishment for this crime was potentially execution, and ask questions later. Instead of condemning three people to death, I took a moment to take a moment to think.

I was not the only person who had been gardening. The monk Bakari had dirt on his robe’s knees. The dirt on his clothing was of a clay-like texture entirely different to that of the soil surrounding the sacred tree.

“Where were you working when the tree was cut down?” I asked Bakari.

“I was working right here,” he answered, pointing at the dying tree.

“But you can’t have,” I answered. “The soil on your knees is of a different kind compared to that under the three. Besides, where are the tools you were using? I don’t see any trowels, shovels or the like anywhere near where you pointed.”

“Bakari was laboring over there, in our cabbage patch,” the friar said, pointing to the other side of the courtyard. “If you look over there, you’ll see disturbances in the soil where he was working.”

“Not true!” Bakari answered hotly. “I was the one who cut down the tree!”

I walked over to look, and sure enough found Bakari’s footprints amongst the cabbages where he’d been weeding mere minutes before. There were heavy footprints in the mud between cabbages and where Bakari stood now, and in those footprints were woodchips and fallen leaves. Bakari had walked on top of the woodchips and leaves, meaning he’d only left the cabbage patch after the tree had already fallen.

“Why would you lie about this? You know cutting down a sacred tree is punishable with death,” I asked Bakari. Bakari’s shoulder’s slumped.

“I had a mystical vision telling me to take the blame for it,” he said, looking down to the earth. “It was the dying tree which told me to take the blame. Who am I to argue with the will of a god?”

“Why would the god-tree do that?” I asked, exasperated. The monk didn’t answer.

This left me with two suspects: the lady and the friar.


Day 19 – Tuesday March 3 2021

Start 96 /Stop 461

(NOTE: This story is a prequel to the story I just finished.)

It was supposed to be a vacation. Unfortunately, Fate intervened.

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