WEP entry – Spectacular Setting

Denise Covey and Yolanda Renee of WEP came up with this blog hope, and as a fiction writer, I couldn’t resist. Setting is such an important part of fiction writing. Great idea, ladies.

1. Here is an image that ‘stops my heart with a spectacular setting’ – a painting by an Austrian artist Joseph Anton Koch. From Wikipedia: “Joseph Anton Koch (1768 – 1839) was … perhaps the most significant neoclassical landscape painter.” He painted many fantastic landscapes, but this one is probably my favorite.

2. Why does it touch me so deeply? I imagine a story set in this painting. In fact, I imagine a multitude of stories, all different, and I want to write them all. You see a tiny man in the foreground. He is on some sort of an adventure. Maybe his beloved undine lives in this waterfall, and he wants to join her and become a merman?
Or maybe he’s been on the road for a long time, on a quest for his king/country/family, and now he has a new hazard to brave. It’s not going to be easy for him to cross this wild stream, especially because there is a horrible monster living in its depth, waiting for unsuspecting humans to cross its domain.
Or maybe he has to climb to the top of the waterfall in search of a dragon’s egg? Or a fair maiden waits for him at a fortress of cruel ogres. All sort of stories spring up in my head when I look at this image, and the endless possibilities take my breath away. This one painting could feed a generation of fantasy writers. It certainly feeds my creativity.

3. Below is a snippet from my short fantasy story, yet unpublished. The young protagonist, Aglaya, is escaping an enclosed compound, a stronghold of a band of bandits, to take her sick child to a Healer.
Overhead, clouds swept across the black sky like tattered feathers. The stars between the feathers twinkled distantly. The thick silvery crescents of both moons peeked between the clouds, as if eavesdropping on each other. On the ground beneath, a solid black lump of the marker rose to half Aglaya’s height, blocking the path. On both sides of it, dense evergreens sprouted needles like armed sentinels, more formidable than human guards.

She took a deep breath and started climbing, balancing with her arms like a tightrope walker. Levi fussed against her breasts, throwing off her equilibrium, and she teetered in the dark, small pebbles rolling under her soles.

“No, baby, no,” she crooned as she righted herself, straining her leg muscles to keep upright. “We’ll be okay. I’ll get you out.” Her heart pounded. Fortunately, her voice settled him.

The rugged pile of stones dropped lower under her probing feet. She could see almost nothing but she knew she had crossed the small barricade. The curve in the path wasn’t far, and then she would light her lamp. Nobody would spot her then. Nobody except the howlers.

She stretched out her left hand, groping, until her fingers encountered the moss-and-roots-covered wall of the canyon. Holding to it, skimming along the knobby roots and scratching her fingers, she shuffled slowly. Both moons hid, withholding their light, waiting for her to fail.

She wouldn’t fail. Levi needed her strong.

One tiny step after another brought her to the bend in the path. She leaned toward the cliff as she turned, grasping for the gnarled knots of vegetation. A misstep could be fatal here. After a few more yards, she stopped. Inside the ravine, even the stars were gone. Above and below and to both sides, blackness ruled. She needed light. Even if anyone from the village glimpsed her lamp, nobody would chase her into the ravine. Not at night. Nobody was that crazy. The howlers would keep her safe from human pursuit.

She tried not to think about the howlers, but they crawled in the back of her mind like ants, making her queasy with dread. Her hands shook, as she fumbled with the fire starter. At least in the weak light of her lamp, she could see the path. The wall of the canyon loomed to her left. A steep slope strewn with mysterious heaps dropped to her right, disappearing into the inky vapor below. The howlers stayed silent. Maybe they only frightened travelers in daytime.

She flinched, when the first faint whisper curled around her neck, pulling at her with its seductive promise of peace. “Come, Aglaya.” Another one joined in. “Happiness awaits.”

She almost stepped off the path, when Levi stirred. “Mommy,” he whispered.

“Yes, baby, I’m here.” She shook her fist at the wily spirits. “I’m not coming to you. You can’t Heal Levi. That’s all the happiness I need.”

Resolutely, she increased her pace, stomping as fast as she dared on the perilous path. The vilias, offended by her refusal, raised the volume of their calls. They wailed at her, and the power of their yowls almost blew her down, into the boiling, shimmering black fog.

“No!” she shouted and grabbed the roots hanging along the wall. “I can’t go to you. Levi needs me.” She marched on. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and the fear-induced nausea swirled in her guts. She was such a darn coward.
Word count: 570; FCA (Full Critique Acceptable)

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18 Responses to WEP entry – Spectacular Setting

  1. Love the painting, and the myriad of stories which lie within it.
    And I also love, and am awed by, the excerpt from your story. Choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils, castigating herself for a lack of courage which is evident to us… More please.

  2. Denise Covey says:

    Firstly Olga, wouldn’t I like to see a challenge where we all had to respond to that painting! It is so evocative! So many possibilities! I can see why you love it so.

    Your story caught my imagination too. The journey of Aglaya and Luis was heart-in-the-mouth! Such vivid descriptions. I was on that tightrope with her. The more I read it, the more terrifying it became. That cut off point: ‘They wailed at her, and the power of their yowls almost blew her down, into the boiling, shimmering black fog.’ Please tell us more!

    Thank you Olga for participating in WEP. What a wonderful entry. Truly fulfills the brief. I hope you are entranced by other entries you have a chance to read.

    Denise 🙂

  3. I was into your story as well about the mother attempting her escape with her baby. Who is she running from and where is she going? Will she and the baby survive all these forces pulling at them. Will Aglaya conquer here fear?

  4. What a beautiful painting! And so many possibilities.
    I was with Aglaya all throughout the passage. A wonderful portrayal of tension.

  5. Love that picture. I’ve never heard of the artist before, thank you for introducing him to me. Your flash depicts the atmosphere so very well. Tempted by others, trying to stay strong and protect her child, the journey to find a healer for him is the motivation to keep her determination strong. The only thing I would say is I don’t really understand why she thinks she is a coward – surely she is fighting through all the temptations in dangerous conditions? Maybe that gets explained more later on in the story.

  6. Olga
    The painting by Joseph Anton Koch is magical, and you’re right, the scene congers many a story. Many you’ve listed, and I’m curious if you’ve penned any of them? I participate in two flash fiction challenges weekly where the prompt is a picture. It’s amazing to see the direction folks go, and what in the picture takes their imagination. An inspired choice for a Spectacular Setting.

    Your fantasy story is thrilling. Aglaya is heroic, courageous, and fearless. A mother will do anything for the love of her child and we feel all that as she journeys through such precarious circumstances to the Healer.

    Beautiful “. . .dense evergreens sprouted needles like armed sentinels, more formidable than human guards.”
    Frightening: “They wailed at her, and the power of their yowls almost blew her down, into the boiling, shimmering black fog.”

    You’ve penned such a lovely heroic tale of a young mother intent on saving her son, no matter the obstacle. We sense her fear, not of the howlers, but of failing her child! Excellent!

    Thank you for your fantastic contribution to the WEP Spectacular Settings Challenge. I hope you’ll join us for the Halloween challenge in October, Childhood Frights vs. Adult Fears.

  7. What a lovely picture! I can see how so many different stories can come from it!
    She is NOT a coward! It takes a lot of bravery to sneak out at night and have to scale the side of a cliff and try to ignore those voices. Goodness! I felt the stakes in this piece and was so hoping Aglaya made it safely.

  8. Olga Godim says:

    Thanks, ladies, for visiting and commenting. Yes, Aglaya does make it to safety in the end of the story, but I’m still shopping around for a magazine that would accept this story.

  9. DG Hudson says:

    I’m having trouble commenting on your blog, have tried twice and comment is erased. Not sure why when details are entered in form. I felt the tension as I read of her urgency to escape. Well done. The child is another factor that ups the ante on the tension. Glad you joined in the WEP challenge!

  10. Gorgeous painting! I’m not that familiar with Koch’s work, but I’ve seen a few of his things, and I really like the way he handles dimension and perspective. It’s a mix of realism and dreamland, a good one I think. What a way to set the tone for Spectacular Settings, Olga 🙂

    I enjoyed your story as well. You made the night come alive, and all its dangers too. Aglaya comes across as a powerful heroine, and I’m glad she does make it to safety — though, I’m sure, not without plenty of peril to keep us on the edge of our seat 🙂 Good job!

  11. Loved, loved, loved the painting. I could sit there for hours. Thank you. And, the story is beautiful. I loved it right from the first line.

  12. patgarcia says:

    This woman’s strength is very well characterised in this excerpt. The passage shows her determination and her unwillingness to give up.
    Great job.

  13. I really, really want to know what the guy in the painting is looking at. 🙂 I think it’s a fairy. Or some sort of tiny,magical, talking beastie.
    I’m captivated by the details of her climb – especially since she’s carrying a baby. I can just imagine how doubly awkward – and terrifying – that would be. Coward? No. Most mothers have the hearts of lions. 🙂

  14. Beautiful painting. And your flash is both terrifying and captivating. Aglaya doesn’t sound like a coward at all. Loved the details – two moons, the thorny sentinels, the climb a tightrope.

  15. Rasma R says:

    The painting is awesome. Love pics of waterfalls. You had me struggling along in your story. Well done.

  16. That painting is truly stunning, especially the billowing waterfall. I couldn’t peel my eyes away… 🙂

    I enjoyed your excerpt.
    As Aglaya creeps along, trying to escape her captor, the tension is well-paced. You also did a great job in balancing her physical and emotional struggle.
    Nice to meet you via the WEPFF Challenge.

  17. dolorah says:

    A perilous journey; such courage to make the attempt. Loved the feeling of slipping on the stones, and the lure of the deep cavern. I got a little dizzy reading it. Nicely done Olga.

  18. adastra09 says:

    That painting is gorgeous, so thank you for introducing me to a new artist 🙂 Love the twin moons and the depiction of them gossiping, then hiding their light. Added more tension to an already fraught piece. Bravo!

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