How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: A Scenario

If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll want to read through my last post about Setting and Characters, so this makes some sense. Okay, back to the action:

Since Luchinda dressed for her character, the rest of us decided to dress up too. Woody wasn’t too excited when I handed him a cape and the closest thing I had to a beret.

“Look, honey, I’ll wear one too,” said Luchinda. That worked. Now, the group is all dressed up and ready for the first scenario.

all dressed up and ready to play

 

The Situation

Miss Blue puts on devil horns, “I have a feeling I’ll be playing devil’s advocate,” she says. “Now, where to begin?

“I’m thinking all of you have to meet and start your quest, so let’s say that Mr. Caldwell contacted Dr. Jetland at the university because he believes he has discovered proof of knowledge of an active wormhole and wants her expert opinion. Dr. Jetland brings her Post Doc along to assist and Natalia is at the meeting as Mr. Caldwell’s body guard and to protect the evidence.

“So this first situation is the characters meeting and seeing the first evidence of the conspiracy. What will your goals be?”

“My goal will be to convince the doctors to take me seriously and help me find the wormhole,” says Woody.

“Good. Right. And my goal will be to protect him, protect the evidence and make them do it!” says Luchinda.

“My goal is to examine the evidence objectively and determine if there is any scientific basis for Mr. Caldwell’s discovery,” I say.

“Then what’s my goal?” says Teddy.

“To assist me, of course,” I say.

“I think I should do more than that,” says Teddy, “My goal will be to add some passion for astrophysics and perception to your observations. Maybe not be quite as objective.”

“Fine, sounds good,” I say.

Actions

Miss Blue says we should start on her left and go around the table, so Luchinda looks at her cards and plays the Jack of hearts. Her character Natalia Bash, goes against her nature to give Mr. Caldwell, his research, and theories a rousing introduction while attempting to seduce the new arrivals into joining their cause.

Woody, not having any hearts, plays a 6 of diamonds to introduce Mr. Caldwell’s theory that futurism of the 50’s and 60’s was actually realism from another planet found through a stable wormhole.

I play a 9 of clubs to show that Dr. Jetland doesn’t have time or patience for lofty words, but came to see proof of a stable wormhole. I see Teddy pulling out a 6 of spades. “You would want to see the evidence first, wouldn’t you Dr. Bernstein?” I nudge.

Teddy lays a 7 of clubs adding 3 to my 9.

All attention on Miss Blue

Miss Blue smiles, I was beginning to think I was going to have to create some conflict already, but it looks like Natalia and Ottis will have to beat an 11 of clubs before they can win over the doctors to their cause.

“That’s easy,” says Luchinda. She lays a King of clubs and a six of clubs. “Natalia beats them into submission.”

“I don’t think physically beating them is going to get them to help us,” says Woody.

“Right,” says Luchinda. “I use psychological warfare to bring them to our side, making them think it was their idea.

“Good,” says Woody, placing a four of diamonds on the table. Now that they are listening, I will continue explaining my theory.”

I play an Ace of spades and a seven of spades in alignment with my Wisdom focus to get around Natalia’s psychological tricks and demand to see the pages that Ottis had told me about.

Teddy plays a Jack of hearts attempting to soften my demands and ask more nicely to see the proof.

Luchinda plays a 7 of Clubs, “Natalia still does not trust you. She guards Ottis and the evidence watching you closely, ready for a fight.”

Woody looks around the table with a slight curl to his lips. He plays a Joker. “Ottis never doubted he could convince you. He unlocks his top desk drawer, pulls out a few diary pages and clears his throat to read–”

“Just then, the janitor who had come in and emptied the waste basket pulls a gun on Ottis. ‘I’ll take those,’ he says and runs out the door.” Miss Blue looks pretty proud of herself.

“The cabal,” Teddy says.

“What? I didn’t get to fight him,” says Luchinda.

“Not yet,” says Miss Blue.

“Are you sure we’re playing this right?” I ask.

“Are you having fun?” says Miss Blue.

“Yes,” everyone offers.

“Then what does it matter? Let’s keep going and learn as we go.”

“We still have cards left for this round. It’s my turn, so let’s finish off by deciding if we go after him or make a different plan,” I say.

We all agree.

I play a six of diamonds offering that we should let him go and try to discover more clues.

Teddy plays a Queen and a six of spades to align with his wisdom focus to evade any confrontation with the armed man and get Ottis to write down what he remembers from the stolen pages.

Miss Blue pulls a complications card. An Ace of Hearts. An innocent will die. “Can anyone beat that? No? Sorry guys. As you are discussing your next moves, the man with your pages ran into the street and expecting you to follow, took a hostage. When people crowded around, blocking his path, he shot the hostage and slipped through the shocked bystanders.”

Luchinda plays her last card, a six of diamonds. “Great, Natalia should be fighting and she’s thinking. Maybe I think I recognized the man, a fellow mercenary.”

Woody plays an eight of spades to evade the doctors’ questions about why Natalia might know the gunman.

I play a Jack of hearts and Dr. Jetland makes an emotional speech about how it is now vital that we find the wormhole before a killer does.

Teddy plays nine of diamonds while Dr. Bernstein thinks long and hard about leaving his Post Doc and teaching elementary school.

Woody is the only player with a card left. He plays the two of spades. Ottis Caldwell is still hiding something and, though meekly, tries to evade.

End of Round One

Reviewing My Experiment

There it is. One round of play. I was surprised how much there was to think about and experience with only five cards each. Of course that pesky Miss Blue threw some wrenches in the mix. Though the story and the game had only begun, my friends had to go home and my short story has been submitted and reviewed, so I thought I’d do a quick review of the experience.

photography – The set-up was intensive and time-consuming, but fun. Any reason to pull out costumes is good for me. I found the space around my dining room table very limiting for trying to take pictures of all four actors. The windows, even with the drapes and blinds down, backlit the best angle for the full tableau. However, for a first attempt, I thought I got some interesting shots.

writing – Creating friends from my objets d-art, giving them names and backgrounds and then having them create characters was a fun and constructive way to get a story brewing. I had never really worked on meta story writing before and I enjoyed the layers of it. I enjoyed everything about the card suit meanings for set-up and though I only played one round, game-play definitely led to unique ideas, I would not have enjoyed contemplating otherwise.

the game – This is the first time I’ve tried a table top roleplaying game, so I am not the person to compare it to other games. I also doubt we played it exactly as intended and having human friends with their own thoughts, most likely would have made play more lively. However, as a writer using it as a creativity engine, I had great results. I wrote the short story for The Writer’s Games and received positive feedback on the characters and their interactions, so Full Deck Roleplaying is a proven character development tool. I also received positive feedback on my premise and setting, so overall, my intended use was a success.

Thanks for playing along. If you’re feeling stuck or looking to add some fun to your writing process, I recommend giving Full Deck Roleplaying a try.

 

How to make plotting your short story fun with Jason L. Blair’s Full Deck Roleplaying: Setting & Characters

I’ve been talking a lot about poetry lately, but I’m also participating in The Writer’s Games. The challenge to write a short story to a prompt each weekend started two weeks ago. I’ll be getting a new prompt this evening.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I have found many fun plotting games and devices over the years:

story plotting is fun

Yesterday, I happened upon a new one. Writer and game designer Jason L. Blair did a guest post on Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds introducing his new tabletop RPG (role playing game) Full Deck Roleplaying.

I downloaded the Playtest PDF to see what he was talking about and enjoyed that the game is played with a regular deck of playing cards, so I could play along right away.

As I began to read the instructions, I instantly knew this wasn’t only a game, but my kind of writing tool: simple, fun, and full of beautiful illustrations!

The game rules set up categories for scene and character creation based on the four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds or clubs. I’m excited to get started, so I’m going to start drawing cards to see what I’m working with. I found a brand new, unopened deck of bicycle fire cards in the cupboard, so that’s fun. It took me a while to break them in to shuffle well.

As I read through the game play again, I was inspired to try a real test run of the game. To do that, I needed some friends to play with, so to have some much needed fun today (since my internet has been so slow as to be useless for two days now), I decided to create a photography tableau of friends playing the game and run through a scenario.

ready friends

Here are my friends:

Teddy has lived with me since before I was a Swedish exchange student. He has traveled the world with me and is a great travel companion: We never bicker, probably because he doesn’t mind letting me lead, and we like the same things.

Miss Blue and I met in New Orleans. We met at the hat shop I worked at in the French Quarter. She always liked my designs the best. We went for drinks when I got off of work one day and became fast friends. She can be a bit self-centered and is always borrowing my clothes without asking. I get over it quickly though because she looks good in them and she’s a warm fuzzy in my life.

I met Luchinda in San Antonio. She has a very vibrant, spicy personality. Being so passionate, she can also be quick to anger. She and I have a great time, in small doses.

Woody was introduced to me by my artist friend, E. Spencer Matthews III. Woody’s an old fashioned kind of guy who always looks a bit haunted, but he doesn’t like to talk about it. I think he plans on cheating; just look at his deck of cards. He and Luchinda are a fun couple, very lively, great energy, at least, when they’re not fighting.

I thought Levi might join us. He seemed interested when I was setting up the table, but he doesn’t like my friends. He’s playing kitty in a drum right now. Maybe he’ll join us later. If he does, he can play my character while I take pictures.

Miss Blue has printed out game booklets with the rules and player sheets for everyone and will play as the dealer. When she set out a deck of FLORIDA playing cards as the challenge deck, we all laughed.

“I bet there are some unimaginable challenges in there,” I said.

“I hope there won’t be any gator wrestling,” said Teddy with a little shiver.

“I’m up for any kind of wrestling challenge,” said Luchinda.

Woody stared at the Florida deck with a haunted look. I wondered if he had experienced some Florida challenges he would rather not remember.

Miss Blue starts the game by drawing the setting cards.

the setting

Setting

Time: Jack of Spades = Past

Theme: 7 of diamonds = Sci-Fi

Trope: King of Clubs = Conspiracy

“Well that’s just Roswell,” Luchinda blurts out sounding disappointed.

“Or kinda Stargate,” I say.

“What’s wrong with Roswell?” You loved the museum, if I remember correctly,” Woody says with a sly smile.

Luchinda blushes and giggles.

What do you think, Teddy?” I ask. “What setting do you think the cards tell us to have?”

Teddy takes a sip from his candy cane shot glass and says, “The past doesn’t have to be long ago past. It can be last week or a year ago. What if the conspiracy is Bio-weapons and we are trying to find the horrible labs where they are experimenting with the viruses and stop the pandemic before it happens?”

Everyone, other than Teddy, moans.

Miss Blue pats his paw. “Teddy Dear, we’re playing this to escape the pandemic, pretend it’s not happening for a few hours. Lets try something more fantastical.”

“I know, ” she says, “let’s play that all those ideas in the fifties and sixties of space-age colonies and things were true, but they were built on another planet because what really happened is they discovered a wormhole and found abandoned human futuristic buildings and dwellings. They sold these places to the super-rich and kept it secret. They were so happy and secretive, they didn’t have children and the secret died out. We discovered some clues to how to find and activate the wormhole. What you think?”

“Yeah, and there’s a cabal trying to stop us,” says Teddy.

“Sounds good to me,” says Luchinda. “I’ll wrestle the entire cabal of selfish bad guys so we can live happily ever after. Won’t I honey?” she says to Woody, pushing out her full lower lip.

“I’m in,” says Woody. “What do we do next?”

Miss Blue says, “Now, you each get to draw cards from your own decks to create your characters. Shuffle, if you want, then turn over your top card. That will be your character’s focus.”

Woody's asking Luchinda if she shuffled her cards because she has drawn three Jacks in a row

Character

Focus: Teddy and I both got spades which is Wisdom, makes sense, Woody got a heart which is empathy, not sure about that. I guess it’s a character not him– but Luchinda drew a club which means strength, a little on the nose, so now I’m wondering about Woody.

Motivation: This time I matched with Woody: We are both motivated by honor. I mean, our characters are, I mean, we drew clubs. Teddy got a heart which is Love and Luchinda drew a diamond which is money. Woody couldn’t stifle a chuckle at that. Luchinda knocked his hat off. He left it off. I like his bald head.

Light: We each got a different suit which should be good for game play: I got clubs, Woody diamonds, Luchinda hearts, Teddy spades. So my good is that I’m talented, Woody is Affluent (I don’t think that’s true, but he is secretive), Luchinda is Generous (that made everyone laugh, I mean, she is in spirit) and Teddy is Perceptive which everyone knows is true.

Darkness: As for our dark sides, Woody and I are both obsessed, Luchinda is violent (really, it’s like her character is just her), and Teddy is greedy.

So now we get to state three things about our character’s first impression and name them.

Final Details

We chat for a while then Miss Blue gets our attention and says, “Okay, so tell us the name of your character and three things we would notice upon first impression. Woody, why don’t you start.

Woody loosens his tie slightly and says, “His name is Ottis Caldwell, he’s an art historian who is also an activist. His cause is human equality and thinks everyone should have access to space travel, not just the super-rich. Three things that people notice about him right away, are the stains and paints on him because he is always cleaning art or making art. He often smells of turpentine. And he drives a fancy sports car that seems incongruous with his beliefs and activities, but belonged to his father and he tends to it obsessively.”

Everyone  claps, “Maria, tell us about your character,” Miss Blue says.

I look at my notes and feel nervous for some reason. “Dr. Estelle Jetland is a professor of Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology and often consults and works with NASA. She is fascinated with wormholes. She often seems like she’s not listening when you talk to her, but her eyes shine and her whole body appears to vibrate when she gets excited by an idea. People are often surprised that a physics professor has such a beautiful singing voice and can play so many instruments. When she becomes interested in something, she will obsessively research it until she has read everything there is to find on the subject. Teddy is her post doc assistant.

Teddy clears his throat. “Uh, yes. My character is an astrophysicist named Dr. Björn Bernstein. He is doing his post doc with Dr. Jetland at Florida Tech. People don’t really notice him because he always has his head in his work, but what they do notice is he’s quiet, but when he does speak–”

“Boring,” Luchinda interrupts. “I’m a bad ass mercenary named Natalia Bash. First off, I’m gorgeous, tall and lean, but second, every bit of me is muscle. Third, I’m gruff, and confident and nobody messes with me. Right. Where’s my leather jacket? There. Now, let’s play!”

choosing our characters

Whisper by Christopher Bailey: a YA page turner.

I had an Amazon gift-card, so I treated myself to a copy of Whisper by Christopher Bailey and I’m glad I did. Like Chris’s other novels I’ve read, Without Chance and The Crystal Key (Starjumper Legacy, Book 1), it is a page turner. Christopher Bailey definitely knows how to keep me reading to the end.

cover of Christopher Bailey's new book WHISPER

four stars

In Whisper , Jackson, a high school football player, begins to hear a voice whispering in his head. His life is turned upside down when he has a vision while having a seizure. Doctors can’t find a physical cause for his condition, so he ends up in a psychological hospital. Jacks, however, comes to believe he is hearing the voice of a real girl, and she is in trouble.

This book has vivid characters and settings. I found it easy to empathize with Jacks’s sudden roller-coaster of fear and change. Each strange step, though frightening and surreal, leads to a natural chain of events.

The psychologist’s actions were sometimes hard to swallow, but I’ll admit that is personal bias because I have a psychology degree and hope that if I had gone counseling instead of research, I wouldn’t have ended up like that. I also had trouble relating to a Dad that would think doctors know best since I have a Mom who stored penicillin in the freezer and a Dad who almost fell off a roof before he would see a doctor because he had been getting dizzy (heart valve replacement), so again personal bias. However, since I felt that strongly about those personal biases, the characters must have been so well written that they affected me and made me think.

The mystery was intriguing. From beginning to end, the story concept kept me turning pages. There were times I would have liked more clues through the whispers, but the idea of pharmaceuticals stopping the whispers left me thinking the story could veer in many different directions; and it did, leaving me guessing!

Want to know more about this author? He wrote a great guest post for Experience Writing about breaking through writer’s block and did an author interview.

#Writerslife: The Key To Persistence? Celebrate every accomplishment.

An Urgent Note On The Floor

My short story “An Urgent Note On The Floor” was published in Sick Lit Magazine today. This marks an exciting milestone in my writing journey. Though I have had a flutter of publication recently, this is the first of my published stories that is long enough to leave the flash fiction category and fit in the short story realm.

I hope you’ll give it a read and let me know what you think.

Happy Reading and Writing

 

 

New Book! BEWILDERMENT by Michael Onofrey

Cover of Bewilderment A Novel by Michael OnofreyLast September we had a special guest post from Michael Onofrey, an author I met through the Five On The Fifth Magazine‘s authors group. His post, About Writing, let us peek into his writing life. Today, I am happy to announce his novel Bewilderment is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be officially released on April 17th and I was given a digital copy to review.

MICHAEL ONOFREY was born and raised in Los Angeles. Currently he lives in Japan. Over seventy of his short stories have been published in literary journals and magazines, in print and online, in such places as Cottonwood, The Evansville Review, Natural Bridge, Snowy Egret, Terrain.org, Weber–The Contemporary West, and The Williamauthor Michael Onofrey bio pic and Mary Review. Among anthologized work, his stories have appeared in Creativity & Constraint (Wising Up Press, 2014), In New Light (Northern Initiative for Social Action, 2013), Road to Nowhere and Other New Stories from the Southwest (University of New Mexico Press, 2013), and Imagination & Place: An Anthology (Imagination & Place Press, 2009). He is the author of “Bewilderment,” Tailwinds Press.

BEWILDERMENT

By Michael Onofrey

four stars

 

Reading Bewilderment took me on a true adventure. From an uncomfortable homecoming in Los Angeles to a sweat-soaked bicycle tour of India; from an artist’s studio in Los Angeles to a voyeur’s job in Pakistan; I followed Wade’s life from the most mundane to the most unusual with an even, honest, matter-of-fact account in Wade’s refreshingly open world view.

The feel of the book brings you into the life of a longtime traveler with focus on the most basic human needs: the danger of unclean water; gathering sustenance; finding shelter; a life spent relying on strangers and not building sustained relationships. Mr. Onofrey’s use of these detailed daily needs highlights the contrasts of Wade’s life as a traveler and the life he tries to create back home.

I enjoyed how the structure of the novel also lends to the telling. In the beginning, the chapters alternate between Wade’s life after returning home to care for his sick mother and events during his previous bike tour of India. As the story progresses, the format changes and Wade’s travels become stories he tells to his lover in the present. By the end of the novel the past and present appear to intertwine.

Though I found the detail, format, and crisp conversational language engaging, I often felt kicked out of the story by the present-tense telling. I felt like the story slipped from past tense to present tense in a jarring way. I also noticed a couple of moments when the story head-hops to Wade’s girlfriend which took me from the story, but only for a moment. I think it was part of the honesty of the telling and Wade’s world view, but there were a few times I thought, “That was interesting, but he just dropped it.” However, none of this stopped me from hungrily turning the pages.

Bewilderment is a unique read with a skillfully developed protagonist that pulls you into the life of a traveler and leaves you pondering your own life experiences.

* I received a digital copy of Bewilderment in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Did you like this book review? Any tips to make it better? Would you like to see more book reviews on Experience Writing? Please let me know in the comments.

Happy #WorldTheaterDay

abandon-theatreToday, on World Theater Day, I am excited to announce that the short story I sent to The Evening Theatre will be published as part of their debut performance tonight 10pm Eastern/ 7pm Pacific. As I mentioned in my previous post New #LitMag +, the magazine is set up as a theater performance and my story “When To Report A Co-Worker” is the Jester’s comic interlude. My story is introduced by The Evening Theatre as “a tremendously misdirecting comedic piece.” I like that.

I hope you will join me in celebrating World Theater Day with a collection of the dark and macabre- and sci-fi comedy- at opening night of The Evening Theatre!

 

 

Happy Halloween!

happy-halloween

This is the first year Gator McBumpypants and his friends decided to get dressed up for Halloween. You can tell it was all Dee Dee’s idea, but I think Herman’s going to have the most fun.

happy-halloween1

This year’s jack-o-lantern won “Best in Show” and “Most Creative” at the annual pumpkin carving party. I won this adorable Witch’s Brew glass.

Feel free to share these Halloween greetings with friends and family.

I hope you get more treats than tricks.

 

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Five

Banner for Episode Five

She Only Touches What She Wants to Touch

 

When we last caught Moxie, Nettles had just accused her of wrong doing . . .

“What do you mean what did I do? What did you do? You just contaminated a crime scene! I saw someone in dark clothing with green eyes run out the back.” Moxie waved her arm up and down pointing out Nettles dark attire and green eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just got here and I didn’t see anyone leaving the castle. But never mind that. Call 911,” said Nettles.

“With what? I don’t have a phone,” said Moxie.

“Right. Stay here. Don’t go anywhere. I’ll run up to the front office. I’m going to tell everyone I see that you’re in here with the King’s body, so don’t even think about running.”

“But I—”

Nettles ran past the thrones, down the steps and straight up the hill.

Moxie felt adrenaline soaring through her body, her fight or flight response revved up to max. She did want to run and keep running all the way back to her apartment, but instead walked over to King Terrence’s lifeless body, careful not to touch anything. She tried to piece together what she had heard. She had expected a pool of blood and some bloody blunt object, but there weren’t any signs of an attack. The King’s face was slack. He looked peaceful like he was only resting. She really wanted to bend down and shake him, wake him up, but she didn’t dare touch him. At the moment, not having her fingerprints on anything at the scene was all she had going for her.

Nettles burst through the door then rested his hands on his knees breathing hard. “This,” he started but then took a few more breaths, “This is Harry Hawkshaw. He’s a detective.”

Moxie admired the tall, thin man; his black curls peeking out from under his floppy velvet hat framed his strong features. “Wow. That was fast,” she said.

“I was already here enjoying the fair with my family. Okay. Where’s the King?” said Detective Hawkshaw in a deep, buttery voice.

Nettles guided Mr. Hawkshaw to where the King lay crumpled next to his overturned throne.

“Did you rent that?” asked Moxie pointing at the detective’s fancy doublet.

“I am afraid not. My wife is really into this whole medieval life thing. She made it herself. It took her weeks.” Mr. Hawkshaw tugged at one of his thighs. “I really wish those poor blokes hadn’t worn tights.

“This is Moxie Sharpe,” said Nettles. “I caught her in the act. She almost bludgeoned me with that lute.”

“That is absolutely not true, Nettles. Well the lute part is, but I was defending myself from the real killer.”

“Ah, so you saw who did it. That’s great. A witness. It will be a while before the boys from the nearest precinct can get here, so take your time and tell me what happened. Let’s start at the beginning. What were you doing when the killer arrived?” Harry, to Moxie’s great surprise, pulled a small notebook and pen from a brown leather, drawstring bag hanging from his belt. He began to take notes. “Go ahead,” he said.

“I don’t think I was here when he arrived. I mean I think he was already here.”

“Wait. Back up. So you left and then came back?”

“Right. My fellow musicians left very quickly after the show. Nettles said a quick ‘On the morrow’ and was gone. I was excited about some free time, so I was hurrying back to camp through the woods when I noticed I didn’t have my jacket.”

“Didn’t you need to return your costume? I recognize it from the rental. We used to rent before my wife made our costumes. My wife wore that one a few times.”

Moxie looked down at her bodice and long skirt and imagined the hundreds of sweaty people who had worn this costume before her. Suddenly her skin crawled like she was standing in an ant hill. She unconsciously took a couple steps to her left running into a music stand.

Harry Hawkshaw tapped his notepad with his pen. “Miss Moxie?”

“When I came here for the second joust I had my helmet and my leather jacket on. I walked through the woods so no one would see me. I was taking them back to my tent the same way. Then I was going to return the costume. Well, actually, I hadn’t thought about returning the costume. Since I had to wear it tomorrow you know.”

Had to wear it tomorrow? So you think you won’t have to wear it tomorrow, now that the king is dead? Don’t you think the show must go on?” Nettles needled. He turned to Harry, “She never wanted to be here. She probably did it just to get out of her contract. I think she’s here under false pretense. I don’t think she ever even touched a lute before this morning.”

“You never complained while we were playing,” said Moxie, surprised that she hadn’t fooled Nettles after all. “But since you brought it up, what really happened to Sir Gerald, Nettles? I spent some time out on his patio and rock wall at his campsite. He put a lot of time and care into that space like he planned on spending time there. I don’t think he would just run off.” She turned to Harry. “The lute player I replaced has been missing for almost a week and no one seems to be looking for him.”

“Moxie doesn’t know what she is talking about. Gerald was a flake and a womanizer, Nettles said suddenly very professional. The previous whine in his voice had vanished. “When he didn’t show up for rehearsals, I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised.”

“How long had Gerald worked with you?” asked Harry.

“Eight years,” said Nettles.

“Seems a little strange to me,” said Harry, “just not showing up after showing up for eight years. Did you fill out a missing persons report?”

“No. Like I said, I believe he’s holed up in some motel with his latest fling.”

“Right,” Harry said lifting one eyebrow and tilting his head. “Well, I’ll talk to the local police about that as well, when they get here.”

“No,” Nettles exclaimed too quickly and too loudly. “I mean. There’s no reason for that. After I sent him a breach of contract complaint, Sir Gerald sent me a letter of apology. I have it on file in the front office.”

“And what did this letter say?”

“Oh, the usual. He’s sorry he let me down. He met this great girl and wants to make it work, so he’s giving up the minstrel life. He’s too old to live in a tent in the woods. That kind of thing.”

“I’ll need to see that letter,” said Harry. “As soon as we’re done here, I’ll follow you to the front office and get a copy.”

“The front office will be closed and locked by then. I’m afraid I don’t have a key. Do you want me to run and get it now? You can stay here and get Moxie’s story and I’ll run and get it before they close up.”

“No. That’s okay. You can send me a copy tomorrow. I’m more interested in getting both of your stories of what happened here while they’re still fresh. Since Sir Gerald isn’t actually missing, he is not my concern.”

Moxie heard Nettles’s huge sigh of relief. She wondered if Harry had heard it too. If he was any sort of detective, he had to know Nettles was lying. And if Nettles was lying about Sir Gerald. . . . Moxie had a sinking feeling that she was in more trouble than she could imagine.

“Moxie, let’s get back to your story. You came back to get your jacket and . . .”

“I didn’t notice anything until I had already walked to the other side of the room by that trunk. I put on my jacket and was ready to leave when I heard loud voices and a crash. I stayed hidden behind the wall, so I didn’t actually see anything.” Moxie suddenly realized that she didn’t know what had happened at all.

“But you saw the killer,” said Harry.

“Now that I think about it,” said Moxie, “I don’t know if that person killed the King. All I saw was someone in dark clothing with green eyes leaving the building. I think they saw me, but I’m not sure. They could have been looking at a shadow in the dark just like I was.”

“You keep saying ‘they’. Was it a man or a woman?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tall or short?”

“I’m not sure.”

“You said he or she was near the door. What was their height compared to the door?”

Moxie walked over to the door. She put her hand on the door to mark her height then stepped back and looked at it. “Taller than me,” she said. Then she looked at Nettles. “I would say Nettles’s height.”

“Oh shut it, Moxie.” Nettles walked to Moxie in two long strides. “Hold your hand still,” he said and stood up against the door.

The top of his head lined up barely an inch past her hand. “So you’re saying you can tell the person you saw was taller than you, but barely an inch taller, from across the room, but you couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman?” said Nettles like he was the prosecutor at her trial.

“Guess I’m not much a witness,” said Moxie. She walked back to Harry. “Sorry I can’t be of any help.”

“Actually, Moxie, you’ve been a great help,” said Harry. “Nettles, why did you say ‘On the morrow’ after the joust? Don’t the minstrels usually end the day after the evening parade?”

“That’s right. Nettles told me there was an evening parade, but I forgot all about it,” said Moxie.

“She must have misunderstood me,” said Nettles. “She had absolutely no familiarity with the vernacular.”

“Is this true, Moxie? Are you not familiar with Old English?” asked Harry.

“Not really. But I know an ‘On the morrow’ when I hear it.”

“I should fire you right now. Missing afternoon wandering and planning to skip the parade. I think I smelled alcohol on your breath at second joust.”

“I’m curious, Nettles,” said Moxie, “I came back to get my jacket, but what brought you back here after leaving in such a hurry?”

“I—”

Nettles was interrupted by the arrival of the police. Moxie, Nettles and Harry were quickly corralled into the musicians’ section. Once all of the new arrivals had entered and gotten to work marking the scene and removing the body, Harry introduced himself to the officer in charge leaving Moxie and Nettles to watch in silence.

Moxie expected they would be invited down to the station any moment, but the longer they waited, the more they seemed forgotten. Harry and the officer were talking casually, laughing and smiling. Their behavior didn’t seem appropriate for a homicide investigation.

Finally, when the other officers had cleaned up and left, Harry brought his colleague over to speak to them. “Moxie, Nettles, this is Officer Ormerod. He has some very interesting news for you. Go ahead, Jim, tell them.”

“I think the only crime here is a false report,” said Officer Ormerod, “but we’re not worried about that. You were just over-zealous. We’ll have to wait on the medical examiner’s results, but it appears this man died of a heart attack, or maybe an aneurysm or something. I would say natural causes. There aren’t any apparent signs of foul play.”

Harry patted Moxie on the shoulder. “Sorry you got such a fright, my lady,” he said with a wink, “but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

“What?” Moxie exclaimed. “Are you sure? What about the person I saw?”

“Probably someone who saw him die or came across the body and was just as afraid as you were. Hopefully that person will come forward once he or she knows they are not a suspect.”

Moxie wasn’t convinced. She looked at Nettles.

Nettles gaze held Moxie. The pierced lips of his regular, strained expression slowly curved up at the ends into a sinister grin.

What really happened to the King? What is Nettles hiding? Tune in next week for another twisting, turning, action-packed misadventure.

 

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Four

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe banner for episode four

Episode Four: She Only Tastes What She Wants to Taste

When we left Moxie, she was buying shoes and overheard Nettles making mysterious plans . . .

 

Moxie signed her receipt with her well-practiced illegible scribble and hurried around the side of the tent, but Nettles and his conspirator were nowhere to be seen. She didn’t have an appetite for greasy fair food, so she decided to spend the rest of her break relaxing at her tent. She enjoyed the new spring in her step as she followed the footpath. The trees and underbrush thickened around her until it was almost dark in the mid-day sun. The first couple of tents she passed were obviously new and temporary employees—small tents with no sign of life around them. The further she walked, the larger the tents and more elaborate the living space. The camp across from hers had a full wood dining area with a table, shelves, two walls and a roof.

Moxie’s tent had been set up where Sir Gerald, the missing lute player, had lived every summer for the last eight years. The entrance of her three room, eight-person tent opened to a stone patio with a rock wall with little nooks for candles and outcroppings for coffee cups or bowls. Moxie imagined him spending all of his free time wandering the area alone searching for the perfect large, flat stones to plant in his patio and collecting shiny treasures for the wall. Then she remembered Nettles had said Sir Gerald liked the wenches, so maybe rock gathering walks was how he drew in his conquests. She now saw each of the prettiest rocks as a notch in Sir Gerald’s bedpost.

Moxie dove into her complete mess of a living space. Her bags had exploded, throwing her possessions everywhere, the moment she opened them. A slight smell of musk made her think that Pearl must have stuck her with some old, used tent. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet and put it on, buckling her chin strap just to feel normal. She unburied her leather jacket and hugged its thick leather to her chest before slipping her arms into the silky lining. The smell of motor oil and the grime of the road embraced her like a friendly hug.

Moxie believed that to be the best she had to always push her boundaries. That philosophy had led to many gnarly spills, so now she lived in constant pain. Walking up and down the hills of the fair on uneven ground wasn’t helping. She set up a folding chair on the stone porch and sank into it. The sound of frogs chirping in ecstasy bounced off the trees from a distant unseen pond. She popped a couple Tylenol 3 and washed them down with a swig from her flask. The warm burn finally loosened the knot in her shoulder and she took a deep breath of clean forest air which instantly threw her into a coughing fit.

Finally feeling like herself again, Moxie took another swig from her flask and contemplated the events of the day. Sure, she was a stranger to the ways of the renaissance fair, but this place and these people seemed extra strange. She wondered what Nettles was up to. And the King and Queen were certainly worried about something. Maybe the Queen was the one talking to Nettles by the shoe tent. Or maybe it was Megan. Megan and Ryan were involved somehow. What about the angry jouster? What did the King do to make that actor so angry? Does any of it have to do with Sir Gerald’s disappearance?

Moxie caught herself imagining Sir Gerald looking similar to the angry jouster, flowing blonde mane, perfectly groomed facial hair, muscular arms and those abs. . . . Wait a minute. The jouster was wearing armor. She was fantasizing about the lead singer of Sex With Helmets. He was so hot. And she should be spending this weekend with him at Scandrum. Why Pearl, why?

 

Family of skunks

from hww.ca

Moxie’s thoughts were interrupted by a little grunt that sounded like a tiny pig under her chair. She froze when she saw the black and white critter waddle out only inches from her foot. She imagined she was a statue and held her breath. She had heard many horror stories of the consequences of startling a skunk. This place was bad enough without having to bathe in tomato juice for the next few days. The skunk sniffed and grunted along the little rock wall, circled her chair and waddled back under her tent. As it ducked under the pallets she saw a little family of eyes and noses welcome it home. Oh great, thought Moxie, not only do I have to worry about my fellow musicians, the King and Queen and a violent jouster, I get to live in fear of stepping on a skunk every time I’m near my tent. What if I have to pee in the middle of the night?

Moxie took a long swig from her flask and with a big sigh got up and left her camp. She walked down the path to the bottom of the hill near the frog pond and tromped through the woods to the back of the joust field. Her helmet protected her head and face from branches and leaves and her leather jacket protected her arms from brambles and thorns. She was thinking how well her motorcycle gear prepared her for life in the woods when she opened the door at the back of the castle.

“My lady, hast thou lost thine God given mind?” Nettles shrieked. He ran over to Moxie and tried to yank her helmet off of her head.

She pushed him away with one hand while undoing her chinstrap with the other. She calmly put her helmet under her chair and put her jacket on a trunk along the wall. “Calm yourself Nettles. I walked the back way. Nobody saw me, except a skunk and maybe some frogs.”

Nettles scowled and returned to his seat. “You were supposed to join us earlier as a wandering minstrel. Where were you?”

“I needed to buy shoes and then I needed to set up my camp. I’m sure you understand.”

“Indeed. However, you will be expected on the morrow.”

“Whatever you say Nettles.”

During the second joust, the angry knight was nowhere to be seen. He was replaced by his squire who could barely stay on his horse and yet managed to win his joust. Everyone stuck to their script and their lines were stilted and emotionless. She wondered what happened to the King and Queen. They had been such amazing actors this morning, now they might as well be wooden cut-outs. She also wondered where the angry knight had gone. The show was completely lacking without him.

She planned to ask her fellow musicians after the joust, but they were packed up and out the door as soon as the last note finished resonating. She took Nettles’s brisk “On the morrow” to mean they were done for the day, so she grabbed her helmet from under her chair and hurried out the back of the castle. She happily skipped back along the path she had made through the woods thinking that this gig was actually not that bad. Then she felt a stinging, itching sensation and noticed scratches on her arms. She had forgotten her jacket.

Moxie hurried back the way she had come. She didn’t want to give up a minute of her free time. She didn’t notice that she wasn’t alone until after she put on her jacket. She recognized the King’s voice. He sounded nervous.

“Look. I made a mistake. What do you want me to do?” he said.

She didn’t hear another person, but then something heavy scraped across the floor and she heard thuds and a crash like something or someone falling over.

Then the King begged, “Please, don’t.” She heard a grunt like someone was punched or kicked in the gut and then the King yelled, “Oh God. No.”

Then nothing, complete silence, so Moxie peeked around the wall. She saw the King lying in a heap on the ground and a dark figure at the back wall about to open the door. Before she could duck back behind the partition, the figure turned and stared through her with piercing green eyes. The figure paused. Had he seen her? Was he coming to get her? Moxie didn’t dare to look. She grabbed the lute, holding the body of the instrument to use the tuning pegs as deadly weapons. Just as she was sure the figure would be upon her, she saw Nettles.

“Lady Sharpe, what doest thou?” he said.

Moxie screamed and almost impaled him, but caught herself and put down the lute. She peeked around the corner. No one was there, except the motionless king.

Nettles followed her gaze. “What’s going on in here? Is that King Terrence?”

Nettles hurried forward and checked for a pulse. “Oh the realm is lost. The king is dead.”

“Really Nettles? This is real life. Could you stop?”

Nettles turned sharply. His green eyes bore into her like daggers. “Moxie what have you done?” he said.

 

Is the king dead? Who was the shadowy figure? Is Moxie a suspect? Tune in next time for another heart-pounding, thrill-a-minute misadventure.

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

The Misadventures of Moxie Sharpe Episode Three

Episode Three: She Only Smells What She Wants to Smell

When we last joined Moxie, she thought she had witnessed a jewel heist, but when the dust settled nothing appeared to be missing . . .

During the rest of the parade Moxie felt accosted by stench. Every few feet brought a wave of yet another foreign smell. A hint of honey or beeswax lofted over the sawdust and dirt, but was overpowered by baskets of over-ripe tomatoes as they passed the fool in the stocks. Then they passed the food booths wafting of all kinds of edibles crisping in boiling oil. Moxie could feel a coating of thick burnt fat forming in her nostrils. As they rounded the bend near the lower theater she smelled damp moss, or was it mold and fungus? And finally, the stinging she recognized from this morning as the smell of horse dung marked their arrival to the jousting field.

At this point the parade disbanded, the majority of participants preparing for their next show at one of the theaters or the town square. Some went to work a shift at a booth. Moxie followed her fellow minstrels to the castle to play background music for the joust. The King and Queen with their court continued their regal show gliding up the front steps to their thrones.

Moxie slipped through the back of the castle and took her seat. It felt good to sit. The thin, black slippers from the costumer let every sharp pebble leave a mark on her foot. She would need to find some real shoes as soon as she got a break. She removed her music from the joust music envelope and quickly looked over all of the pieces. She felt a pang in her gut when she saw a bunch of sharps and flats, but quickly recognized a simple D-minor B pattern. Once she felt sure of the music, she looked up and saw the crowd.

There were people everywhere. It looked like a tsunami of moving colors had hit the front gate and poured down the hill. Moxie was shocked. She couldn’t believe this many people would want to spend the day re-enacting the Middle Ages. From all the people in t-shirts and jeans, she realized they were actually people watching other people re-enact the Middle Ages. She couldn’t decide which was stranger.

The jousters’ introductions caught her attention. There were four knights in shining armor. Each had a squire who introduced him to the King and Queen and to the crowd. A knight on a horse with a light colored blanket had been challenged by a dark knight on a horse with a dark colored blanket. A straight forward battle of good vs. evil, but one light colored knight seemed to have lost his script and was picking a fight with the King.

When Sir Ivan was introduced to the King, he rode his horse to the very edge of the building holding his sword to the King’s nose. The Queen’s cheeks blushed. She looked prepared to leap from her perch.

“The King abuses his power,” shouted Sir Ivan. “He takes what is not of his kingdom. He does not respect the boundaries of the land and does not repay his debts.”

The King quickly stood and moved closer to the Queen. “I believe you have become overzealous in the spirit of battle. It is not I who have brought you challenge,” he said looking to the Queen for support.

“Yes, dear knight. Save thy blood lust for the joust,” she said.

“I cannot hold my tongue any longer, my lady. The King is a tyrant and his moments for this earth are at an end.” The knight lunged forward but his horse and the building kept his blade far from the King who now stood behind his throne.

The crowd gasped and rose to its feet. Moxie was enthralled. That was some incredible acting. She really believed that knight wanted to kill the King and that the King and Queen were afraid. She would never have expected this caliber of talent at a renaissance fair. This place must pay serious bank to get that kind of talent. That reminded her that Pearl had never told her what she was getting paid. In the future, she would have to ask Pearl more questions before taking a gig.

Moxie felt a kick in her calf. Nettles said, “One, Two, Three, Four.” And the first song of the joust began.

Image of jousting on horsepack

photo from prweb.com

The first joust went as expected. Moxie couldn’t watch very closely because she had to follow her music, but it looked like the good knight was hurt, but then he rallied and won. No surprise there. The second joust, however, the joust between Sir Ivan and The Black Knight, Sir Shadivan, took a strange turn. In the middle of the second run at each other, Sir Ivan took a right turn and went straight for the King. The King lunged out of the way a second before the jousting lance pushed his throne over and put a hole in the back wall.

Megan screamed to Moxie’s left. The floor shifted like an earthquake under Moxie’s chair and she worried that the building was coming down.

An announcer came over a loud speaker saying, “There you have it, folks. Wasn’t that an exciting joust? Please exit the grounds in an orderly fashion. The next joust is at 3:30. Enjoy the fair.”

“Wow,” Moxie said. “You guys really know how to put on a show. That was my kind of joust. I’ve only seen motorcycle jousting which is, of course, way cooler. But that was better than expected.”

Megan and Ryan had disappeared. Nettles laughed nervously.

“So what now?” Moxie asked.

“It be the time of the midday repast. Returnest of an hour and a half. Then we will wander the grounds playing until the second joust. Again, I wonder if thou hast read thy prepared materials.”

Moxie ignored everything but that they had a break. “Perfect. Where can I get some shoes?” Moxie held out one of her feet to display the pathetic slipper.

“The cobbler’s booth is next to my jeweler’s booth. I’m headed that way. Prithy walk with me.”

“Sounds good.”

The cobbler wanted to measure Moxie’s foot and make her custom, leather knee-high boots, but that would take a week and $600 and she needed shoes now. Her smallish feet were just the right fit for a sample pair the cobbler had on hand. They were an unattractive pea-green short boot, but they felt like hugs for her feet. Moxie hated dropping $100 for shoes she would never wear outside of this place, but she was desperate and the cobbler had a monopoly.

While Moxie waited for the cobbler to run her credit card, she smelled the sweet smell of honey and overheard Nettles, on the other side of the tent flap, talking to someone in hushed tones.

A girl’s voice said, “Went off without a hitch. No one will ever know.”

“Are you sure? She didn’t see you?” Nettles replied.

“So what if she did? Nothing’s missing.”

“Right. So when’s the exchange?”

“Don’t you worry your little head. I have everything under control.”

“Yeah like last time?” Nettles hissed. “I think I’ll take the lead this time.”

“Sure, Nettles. Whatever you want. But I think this guy could be trouble.”

“Yeah, I think he made that clear to everyone.”

“Fine. You asked for it. He said directly after second joust.”

“So where’d you stash it?”

“Where I stash everything.”

“Guess that’s convenient enough.”

 

What is Nettles up to? Are the re-enactors just great actors or is the King in real trouble? Tune in next week for another hair-raising, action-packed misadventure full of twists, turns, anachronisms and . . . skunks?