Sunday, September 14, 2008

Portrait of Words #1

It's finally here! I've been looking forward to getting this project into action for a while and now it's time to see what you've all come up with for stories. There was a pretty good amount of interest in this when I posted the pictures a few weeks ago, so I'm curious to see how many will end up participating on this, the inaugural challenge.

I'll list this month's photos and the "rules" of the writing challenge followed by two stories I came up with for this go round.


The Categories:

Main Character(s): Your story can be told through or about this person(s), i.e. first or third person. Either way you go, their involvement in the story should be a focal point. Have as many or as few additional characters as you wish, but at least one of the ones pictured should be central to the overall story.

Backdrop: This will create the setting for your story. It can take place at the location depicted, be a destination to it, or be a journey from it.

Purpose: This is what drives or motivates the main character(s) to action. It can also be viewed as the objective of the story.

Item(s): The object(s) should have a significant value to the main character, backdrop or purpose of the story.

Wild Card: Writers choice here. Choose one of the three options to use in your story anyway you see fit.


General Guidelines:

Your story can be of any length or style. Long or short, comedy or tragedy, fact or fiction, etc,etc... it's up to you.

Use each of the picture representations in your story. (one from the wild card options)

Whether you're a seasoned writer or just beginning, everyone is invited to join in!



This month's stories should be posted between Sept 15-17. (FYI - It will be the first Mon-Wed on or after the 15th of each month) Knowing we all have busy schedules, this three day "posting window" should give everyone a chance to submit their story without feeling like they've missed the only day it's due.

I will post the pictures for the following month's challenge on the Friday after we submit our stories. This will give us approximately four weeks to create our next story.

Read the other participants stories only after you've posted your own, and please remember to leave them comments about their writing.

Sign in on Mr Linky so others can find and read your story. (I will have this at the bottom of my story post each month)


There were a couple of comments about this sounding too complicated, for that I apologize. I've tried to figure out a way to slim this down and still get all the information out there. So far I haven't made much progress in that department. I also received a couple of "I don't think I can do this" comments. Please know that there isn't any pressure here. If this isn't your cup of tea, don't sweat it, just enjoy reading the stories. If you're sitting on the fence about whether or not you might want to give it a try, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and see what happens. You'll likely be surprised at how well you do.

This first month, I decided to do two stories. (no I won't be doing that every month) The first is very short and was done that way intentionally. I did this to again, encourage those that are wondering if they want to tackle something like this. I thought it would be fun to do a micro version to let you/them know that any and all stories are welcome. You don't have to go novel length to feel it's worthy of writing. The second story...well, I did get a bit long at the finger on that one. It's a bit of a different type of story than I generally write, but hey, that's the beauty of this thing. Imagine, explore, create and have fun with it.

OK, enough set up already let get on with the show shall we?


#1 "Olfactory Overload"

She figured the smell must be coming from the dark musty mansion they were staying at. Glancing over she then determined the armpit that was so close to her nose was the culprit. Turning over and placing a pillow on top of her head, she tried to form a photograph in her mind of a soft medley playing. Perhaps this image would displace the stench she was picking up. Little did she know the real spot where the odor was coming from was underneath the bed where an old pair of extremely well worn sneakers was lurking.


#2 "Symphony of Death"

"Can you believe this place?" McKinsey stated more than asked, "It's magnificent!"

Her husband Malcolm Donahue, couldn't agree more. They had already investigated most of the run down mansion oohing and ahhing over every little detail and were now standing in the grand ballroom. The sunlight dappled through the large wood clad windows that lined the eastern side of the room, illuminating many of the features that hadn't been viewed by anyone in over forty-nine years. From the hand carved moldings and ornate solid mahogany doors to the intricate patterns of the crystal chandelier, no detail was overlooked. There was an enormous fireplace situated between the arched windows that was large enough for McKinsey to stand upright in and as they made there way across the room their foot steps revealed a beautiful Italian marble floor that had been disguised by years of settling dust.

There were two items in the room of particular interest. One being the long golden banners that hung on either side of each window. In any other setting they would simply be viewed as elaborate window treatments, but in this room their bright color and near flawless condition was a sharp contrast to the dingy unkempt condition that was the remainder of the room. They also knew that one of these banners was supposed to have been used in the murder that took place in this very room years earlier. "But which one was it?" they thought.

The other item the two had hoped would still be there was the black-lacquer finished grand piano that majestically sat in the far corner of the room. Spying it, they eagerly raced toward their prize with the anticipation of a small child entering a toy store. Malcolm extended his hand and glided his long slender fingers across the dark exterior shell. It truly was an impressive work of art and craftsmanship, but what really amazed Malcolm was the fact that there wasn't a single speck of dust on it anywhere!

"McKinsey, this is it!" he exclaimed, "This is where we'll meet the great Stravanko."

The infamous composer, Adriano Stravanko, that Malcolm spoke of was in fact the real reason he and his bride had come here and spent so much time and energy on. Connecting with him had become their passion of late and now it looked like all of the effort and money they'd spent on this pursuit would finally pay off.

This passion and inquisitiveness that drove the two of them was not as eagerly shared with by the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside estates. To those people, this musty old mansion was no more than a haunted refuge to the spirit of a man who had brutally murdered his beloved wife and then turned his wrath on himself, leaving their only daughter parent less and alone. These locals were so spooked by what had transpired nearly a half century earlier, that they had demanded the place be demolished. The authorities were sympathetic to their plight, but as long as there was still a living relative in the bloodline, there really was nothing they could do. As the months passed, this house of evil served only as a constant reminder to the residents of this quite village to the horrors mankind was capable of. Curious onlookers began arriving by the car loads too and this only intensified the locals desire to see this place removed from the landscape. Stories of a figure seen in the windows and music coming from the piano deep within the walls of the mansion late at night began to surface. With each tale of mystery another wave of spectators would surface. This pattern would continue for months until the novelty of it had worn thin. Still, every anniversary of the murder-suicide, a small contingent of would be ghost hunters would gather at the gates hoping for a glimpse of the spirit that was trapped behind the stone and brick structure.


During all of this time, the daughter of the late Adriano and Catarina Stravanko, Belinda, sat in silence at an institution less than a hundred miles away. She had been the only witness to the grizzly scene that fateful night and from that moment until now she hadn't uttered a single word. The therapists had hoped her emotional digression that caused her to withdraw inward would subside as time progressed, but it was obvious that some fifty years later, that was not going to happen. Now at age sixty-eight her body was giving up, just as her mind had done so long ago. She was likely only days away from passing into the next world and leaving the details of what had happened that gruesome night a mystery forever.

This is where Malcolm and McKinsey came into the picture. The Stravanko mansion had unassumingly brought them together nearly a decade earlier and now they were hoping to unlock its most covenanted secret. Malcolm had always been a follower of the paranormal and had discovered the legend of the home's chilling past. He, like so many others, disparately wanted to get inside of the front door to see first hand if the spirit of Adriano Stravanko still roamed the empty mansion. He'd tried nearly every conceivable way of gaining access to the home, but to no avail. As long as Belinda was still alive she would be the only one who could authorize his entrance. From countless attempts to get her to speak to him about the incident with no luck, he knew his chances of her coming through were likely non existent. That's when he arrived at the office of Robert J. Weston, Esq.

Malcolm determined if he couldn't gain access to the mansion by conventional means, he would petition the court system to remove Belinda from her rightful inheritance and place him in the position of interim guardian of the estate. He had done a fair amount of research on the subject and was confident that there were enough legal loopholes in the system for him to accomplish his goal. After years of negotiations and court appearances, Weston had won Malcolm's case and in turn Malcolm Donahue had won the heart of Weston's daughter McKinsey.

McKinsey knew of the mansion's history and when Malcolm, a devilishly good looking young man, became a part of the equation, she was all the more interested in it. The two instantly hit it off and in a matter of month's had become engaged and subsequently married a year later. Together the newlyweds began a career chasing ghosts and other unexplainable phenomenon around the globe successfully documenting dozens of sightings and strange encounters.

It was now time to see if the Stravanko mansion would become another one of their success stories.


After what must have been the better part of the day, they were ready. With thousands of dollars worth of cameras, meters of all sorts, motion detectors and enhanced video equipment in place, all they could do was to wait and see if the great composer would appear once again. The hours dragged by without so much as a hint that they would be visited by the spirit world this evening. "Would all of this time and effort be for naught?" they wondered.

With the first hint of sunlight poking its head above the eastern horizon, dawn signaled that their first night would be ceremoniously uneventful. Feeling a bit dejected, they began the process of shutting down all the electronics for the day. If there was one thing they'd learned throughout the years, it was spirits rarely if ever showed themselves during the daylight hours. As they continued around the room powering down the various instruments, they both stopped at one of the windows and stood there gazing out at the sunrise. Watching the sun begin its march across the hills and valleys before them, they tried to stay optimistic and encourage one another.

"It was just one night," McKinsey whispered, "Perhaps Adriano needs more time to warm up to us being here."

"Perhaps." Malcolm said with a sigh.

They went back to the task at hand and just as Malcolm was about to shut off the last device, something caught his eye.

"McKinsey!" he shout-whispered, "This was not here before!"

Racing toward him she now spied what he was referring to. There on the bridge of the piano was a lone piece of sheet music and the words that were scribed at the top of it were definitely Russian. As McKinsey picked it up she and Malcolm both felt a cold chill dance up their spines. In the same instant, the gold banners by the windows fluttered wildly, and then as quickly as it had happened, everything became still and quiet again.

They looked at each other an immediately a huge grin came across their faces. In unison they both said, "He's here!"

Suddenly, the fatigue and disappointment they'd been feeling earlier was gone. They frantically began checking all of the equipment and reviewing the data. Something of this magnitude had to have been caught by at least one of their instruments. . . or did it? They quickly realized that during their encounter with the other side, the majority of their equipment was already shut off, and the ones that were still on hadn't picked up a thing. With noon rapidly approaching they had exhausted all the possibilities of finding any visual evidence.

"Damn, I can't believe we came up empty."

Reaching for the sheet music, McKinsey replied, "Well. . . not completely empty!"

She was right, "but how on earth could a spirit actually produce a physical object out of thin air?" they wondered. They'd seen plenty of extraordinary things over the years, but this? Even they couldn't explain it.

For the next two-plus weeks the same pattern would repeat itself night after night, and always with the same result. A solitary sheet of music would appear with a few hand written words at the top penned in a language neither of them understood. The other constant was the missing evidence. Even with all of the most sophisticated equipment money could buy, they hadn't recorded a single thing that would lend credibility to their story. The sheet music they'd collected was impressive, but without some type of audio or visual confirmation to back them up, the skeptics would just dismiss them as a forgery.

There was one thing that was changing each evening however, and that was Malcolm's general demeanor. With each passing night he was becoming more and more agitated at their apparent lack of progress.

One more week passed and again seven more sheets of music appeared. They'd been at the mansion for nearly a month now and although they had compiled quite a collection of music, they were still missing the crucial piece of evidence to substantiate their story. Unfortunately, their chances to gather any more evidence would now have to wait until they returned from their trip.


The ten day Caribbean cruise was supposed to be a relaxing get away and a time to celebrate their latest discovery, but the recent events made taking it easy or being exuberant impossible for either of them, especially Malcolm. It seemed that what had once been a genuine interest in finding a story, had now become an obsession that was tearing him up inside. Every waking moment was spent pouring over any information he'd been able to bring on board and his unilateral fixation with Adriano Stravanko was starting to take its toll on his relationship with McKinsey.

Ignoring the obvious signs, Malcolm continued his pursuit for information. When he wasn't starring at video frame by frame, he was on his laptop trying to decipher the words that were written on the pages of music. He'd visited all the translation sites he could find, but the dialect the words were written in was making interpretation nearly impossible. The one thing he had been able to accomplish though, was to put all of the compilations into a musical rendering software he'd downloaded. He played the music constantly now and it was driving McKinsey absolutely mad.

By the fourth night out at sea, McKinsey could take no more of this ghost hunting business. Between the hours and hours of research Malcolm was doing and that haunting music he kept playing at all hours, she was about to lose her mind. He was becoming too obsessed with the whole thing and his violent mood swings that he'd never exhibited before, were quite frankly beginning to scare the hell out of her.

Wanting to break this destructive cycle, she slipped into her favorite teddy and walked over to where Malcolm was sitting trying to entice him away from his laptop. When he gave her nothing more than a casual glance, she reached over and lowered the cover to his computer playfully calling him towards her with her fingers.

That's when Malcolm snapped. The rage in his eyes told McKinsey that something was terribly wrong. As she reeled backwards Malcolm lunged forward throwing her on the bed. Grabbing the bed sheet and wrapping it tightly around her neck, he began chanting in fluent Russian, the words that had been scribed on each of the sheets of music they'd collected. She kicked violently raising her arms to try and force him to release the grasp he had around her small neck. It was of little use though. Even if she would have had the strength to fight back, he was being powered by a force stronger than any of this earth. A few moments later her body stopped convulsing and she fell limp. It was only then that Malcolm realized what he had done. The words he was so desperate to translate had been spoken from his own lips and he now understood them perfectly. The demon that had taken over the body and mind of Adriano Stravanko nearly fifty years earlier was now residing within Malcolm Donahue , and it would do what it had done for centuries before. Without thinking about his actions, Malcolm wrapped one end of the bed sheet around the light fixture above the bed and the other end tightly around his own neck. With one quick jump his feet dangled below his body as the life slowly ran out of it.

When the Coast Guard chopper was summoned the next day to retrieve the bodies and investigate the murder-suicide, they found no evidence that anyone other than Malcolm and McKinsey had ever stepped inside their cabin. They also found none of the sheet music, nor did they see any traces of it or anything else on Malcolm's laptop.

That same day, Belinda Stravanko got up from the chair she'd sat in for the better part of forty-nine years, walked to the nurse in charge and declared, "I'd like to go home now."


Remember, if you're participating, please sign in on the link box below so others can find your story. You can either type in the link directly to your story or to your blog in general if you prefer.

For those that are unfamiliar with this process here's how it works: Type in your name in the name box and type in your web address in the URL box. For example if I was signing in I would put Jeff B in the first one and in the second one.

Happy reading all and be sure to visit the others. I'll have next month's pictures up this Friday.


CrazyCath said...

That second story had me gripped Jeff. Loved the ending too. Very good.

I had mine scheduled for 0730 GMT+1 but I couldn't wait. When I saw you had Mr. Linky up, I decided to post and sign in! The sign in is to my new blog you will notice. Enjoy your read!

Jeff B said...

Crazycath- just came from reading your story. What an incredible one it was too.

I thought about being on the west coast of the US and that others would be farther ahead of this time zone. That's why I went ahead and posted ahead of the local start time for this. Glad I did and you were able to link up.

Travis said...

That second story was terrific! Well done!

And don't worry too much about the instructions. It's kind of a complicated writing prompt, but it's not too difficult to understand for anyone who wants to participate.

jennifer said...

What a GREAT story... the second one was pretty good too. LOL!!!

Seriously, that was an AWESOME story. It is late at night and I have NO business reading a scary story, but I couldn't stop!!

Mine is up and I will link tomorrow. I am a last one in line at the buffet, back pew of the church kind of gal. Second would make me nervous!! Ha!

Akelamalu said...

I absolutely loved the first one Jeff and the second one had me holding my breath.

Jeff B said...

Travis- Thanks for the feedback. I'm probably more critical of the format tan is necessary. Just want it to be a comfortable fit, and it sound like it is. Hope time will permit you to join in next month.

Jennifer- Oh good. Late night reading probably give this story a better "spooky value". I see you've linked now. Way to go. Now next week at church, move up one pew. hahaha

Akelamalu- Kind of a different style for me. I can already see some ways of improving on the delivery, but all in all I was pleased with the result. Glad you enjoyed it.

Cherie said...

Oooo ... Poltergeist! Spooky! Not usually my cup of tea, but you made it fun. And my hat's off to you on your very short story. That's a lot to pack into a single paragraph. Well done.

david mcmahon said...

Fabulous work, Jeff - and great leadership.

CrazyCath said...

Thanks for your encouragement Jeff - I really appreciate it. I am surprised how nervous I got about this as the deadline approached! It was more a "get on with it" attitude of mine to post early - "Post and be damned!" lol

I've read all those linked in for now. There is great talent there. I love reading the different ways the pictures are interpreted and used.

I agree with travis and david - great leadership, and it is explained very well so don't worry. If I can understand, anyone can! Thanks for hosting.

Dana said...

Wow Jeff! Just Wow!!

You know I had hope to participate in the challenge, but could not manage to find the time this month. I do hope you'll continue with this so that I can give it a shot next month!

Bond said...

WOW Jeff...most excellent...

I am hopeful to find the time...but if not this month, then next.

Jeff B said...

Cherie- It was a different genera than I typically write. Thanks for indulging me by reading it, and also for joining in on the writing. I've enjoyed reading your story and the others.

David- Just trying to provide a fun and creative atmosphere for all.

Crazycath- Your more than welcome. You are so right about the talent pool. As this grows over the months it will be exciting to see who comes on board.

Dana- It'll most definitely be a monthly feature. Maybe time will be more abundant for you next month.

Bond- Either way I'll look forward to it.

Jay said...

Dude ... you have serious talent there. Really great story!

Kimmie said...

Both of your stories were great, but the second one skeered me!

I didn't play this month, I'm sorry. My lack of confidence got the best of me. :(

katherine. said...

note to self: do not read anymore of Jeff's stories late at night.

(well done. I'm creeped out. smile)

next time I will work on this earlier...and give it more time.

thanks for setting it up.

Sandi McBride said...

I hope to have mine up tonight...I enjoyed the first one for the subtle humor...the second for it's brilliance...good job!

CrystalChick said...

Really great! The first is about all I'd manage if I were trying to write. LOL And the second one was absolutely out of my league but surely enjoyed reading along. Terrific.

Ron said...

OK...what did I tell you, Jeff?

You paint the most vivid pictures!

I could see this!

Like several of your readers have shared....I was on the edge of my seat, anticipating the next word and move!!!!!

Enjoyed BOTH of these stories, but the second one had me going every which way! I even found myself thinking ahead and wondering.

Wonderful suspense writing, buddy!


And congratulations on your first Portrait of Words!!

Raven said...

Don't want to read until I have written mine. So far my mind is absolutely refusing to cooperate with inspiration. I did get a first sentence. At least there is something. Hope I can squeeze something out of my brain by tomorrow. I AM trying! Will read the rest after I have succeeded or given up.

Vodka Mom said...

this always looks good, but i'm so god dammed busy. Back to school night tonight, field hockey the next two nights, and a LOT of drinks over the weekend. WHEN will i find the time?
AND, MY COLUMN is due tomorrow and I'm a little STRESSED...

whew, I feel better now.

Jeff B said...

Jay- The nice words are appreciated.

Kimmie- I've read some of the things you've written. You've got what it takes. Maybe you'll give it a go next month.

Katherine- You're not the only person to tell me I creep them out. hehehe

Your story was fantastic BTW

Sandi- Looking forward to reading yours later.

Crystalchick- Like I said, the micro versions like the first one are just as welcome as any of the others. If you feel like starting off with a short entry, by all means jump in.

Ron- Thanks. I'm down right tickled that this is underway. There are some great reads out there from the others. Hope you make it by their places to check them out.

Raven- I totally understand. I actually wrote the last half or so of my story the day before I posted it. I started on about three different paths before one felt right.

Vodka Mom- Just make sure you don't do those things out of order, otherwise the PTA will really have something to talk about!

katherine. said...

just comin' back by to read some more...


(just a little creepy.)

CrazyCath said...

Just been over to Dr. John's. His link is to a post on 5th Sept - after getting there, you need to delete in the header anything after "" and his blog comes up with the Portrait of Words entry, which is fast and furious! I am quite impressed how he managed to fit all the categories into a short story. That is a feat in itself! (And you managed it too of course but then, I expect no less of you! lol)

Lanny said...

This was fun, hard and not enough time right now but fun!! Looking forward to reading everyone's now that I'm done. But I am off to the State Fair with a live turkey display for five days and I'm not sure I will find internet service down there. Gotta Go the stock trailer man is honking.

Jeff B said...



For some reason, none of the Mr Linky boxes are visible at the moment.

Checked a couple of other sites and it's the same thing there. Hmmmmm

Jeff B said...

Katherine- There are some great contributions out there.

Crazycath- He re-linked and it is going to the right spot now. At least it was until the blogger gremlins poofed the Mr Linky boxes. Hope they come back.

Lanny- Have fun at the fair. I'll have next month's pictures up on Friday, so we'll all have plenty of time for the October addition.

Raven said...

Mr. Linky seems to be missing. I finally wrote something. As I was posting it, I realized that I left the Item out. Decided not to go back and try to rewrite. Here's my link: Helena's Song.

Raven said...

Loved both your stories. Well done!

Jeff B said...

Raven- I'll be by later today to read yours. Mr Linky is back, co I added you name to it. Not sure what is/was going on with that. He was there earlier, then gone, then back again??? Hope he stays put now!

CrazyCath said...

Every time I refresh your blog some one else has signed in!

Dianne said...

I did it! LOL

I wasn't so sure I would make it, started and stopped 3 different stories and then wrote a 4th that I had to debate with myself before hitting publish.

The reward is now getting to read all the others. I never read until I'm done, I'm far too suggestible.

I enjoyed your little story. It was funny.

The second story!! Wow Jeff, my mouth was open and I realized I was clicking my pen faster and faster as I read it. So cool, great job and thanks again for starting this up. It made my friend Cherie finally join blogger, one more extra :)

CrazyCath said...

Go read Dianne's. Take time. And quiet. :0)

Jeff B said...

Dianne- I did much the same thing. Started, stopped, started...I ended up writing a good amount of it the day before I posted. Sheesh.

Your story was phenomenal BTW.

Crazycath- Isn't it exciting to see so many talented writers join in on the very first challenge? Can't wait to see what/who next month brings too. And yes, Dianne's story was very moving.

Lu' said...

Jeff, thanks for the challenge. I haven't time to read tonight after dashing off my story, but I will stop back for sure.

Jeff B said...

Lu- Just read yours a bit ago. Nice job. I like that you did a short story. Kind of makes up for some of us that went to the longer route. That's the beauty of this, it's all good.

Roger said...

Very nice Jeff!

Sandi McBride said...

They were all so good, and I'm such a dillweed, had mine ready to go and now I can't find's lost in blogland...crimey!
Hurry up with the next one!

Jeff B said...

Roger- Hey, a face i haven't seen for a while. Thanks for dropping by.

Sandi- Damn! I really do hope it surfaces somehow. If it does post it and let me know, and I'll be sure to mentions it in a current post. I'll have the pictures for next months challenge up tomorrow (Friday)

Lu' said...

Good one Jeff. I kind of knew where you were going, but I didn't see for see the daughter going home. I'm very glad she did.

Jeff B said...

Lu- I know you said you're not big on reading long stories on the computer, so I'm honored that you took the time. And welcome aboard!