Monday, September 19, 2016

Story: Life & Death, Horror & Theft.

T is for theft.
It violates the norms,
Yet it comes in several forms.
Robbery and theft,

Reveal a life so bereft.

M is for murder.
The state of living:
Once taken, never regained.


The monk traipsed through the dark, foreign woods. The sound of the autumn leaves crunching beneath his boots was the only thing distracting him from the sinking pain in his chest.  He wiped a cool bead of sweat from his forehead and perched on a mossy rock.  He had been walking for what felt like an eternity, desperately trying to escape his village and the harrowing events that he witnessed merely hours ago.  He closed his eyes, but his eyelids only showed him the image of what he was trying so hard to ignore.  He saw Coral’s face - her smooth porcelain skin and her long brown eyelashes framing her twinkling blue eyes.  He savored her image for a moment, inhaling deeply in hopes to catch a whiff of her delicate perfume.  As he exhaled, a sharp gust of wind rushed past him, mimicking Coral’s soft giggle, and he winced as it stung his face.  He shut his eyes tighter and tucked his face in his arm, but the peaceful image of his wife was suddenly replaced by a replay of her last moments - drenched in sweat, quivering under pounds of blanket and wool.  Despite the freezing air, he felt the warmth of fire on his cheeks as he pictured her burning corpse. The monk slumped to the ground in sorrow. He forcefully opened his eyes to rid himself of the nightmarish scene, releasing a frigid stream down his cheeks.  He carefully stood up and continued to walk north, hoping to find a warm place to sleep.  Eventually he caught a glimpse of a dim light in the distance, and began to trek toward its source.  He approached a cabin on the outskirts of a small village and quietly peered in a window.  A small family bustled around the kitchen, preparing for dinner, so the monk decided to knock.

The forest, courtesy of Moyan Brenn on Flickr

The door cracked open and a lanky, bearded man craned his neck through the opening and peered at the monk. The monk explained that he was traveling to the monastery to become a bhikkhu after the death of his wife, and that he needed a place to sleep.  Before the man had a chance to reply, the door swung open and the man’s wife greeted the monk and ushered him into the warm house, insisting that he join them for dinner.  The monk glanced at the lamb cooking over an open flame, breathed in the aroma of freshly baked naan, and gladly accepted. 

A fire roars from within the house. Courtesy of Pixabay

The wife began serving everyone as they sat around a small kitchen table.  She filled her husband’s plate, the monk's, and lastly the plate of her son, whose young eyes were fixated on the monk.  Halfway through the meal, the boy became unsettled and began to whimper.  The boy’s whimpers soon turned into wails and his legs began to flail.  The parents tried to comfort the boy, whispering in his ear and patting his head and shoulder, but their efforts were futile; the boy continued to sob.  The mother looked over at the monk and mouthed an apology.  Before the monk could reassure her, the woman forcefully yanked the boy up by his arm and slung him into the roaring fire.  The monk watched in horror as the boy drowned in the flames.  The smell of burnt flesh filled the house, and after what felt like an eternity, the only remaining noise was the crackling of the calm flames.  The mother noticed the monk’s terror and laughed, the father slowly stood up and walked into the next room.  The monk began to tremble; he felt that his fate was sealed.  The man walked back into the kitchen holding an old ivory book.  Frozen in fear, the monk grimaced as he saw the parents of the boy walk over to his ashes. He began surveying the home for the quickest way out.  Before the monk could dart, the man and woman began chanting strange words and dancing around the boy’s remains.  Slowly, the ashes began to rise and swirl about the room.  A dark cloud filled the room, causing the monk to cough uncontrollably.. 

When the air cleared, the monk looked at awe as the little boy stood up, appearing unharmed but slightly confused.  The man and woman revealed the secrets of the ivory book, explaining that it could bring back the dead.  The monk masked his bewilderment as he listened to the couple, frequently looking back at the boy, who was now playing with a toy.  Soon it was time for bed, and the monk knew he had to flee, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the powers of the book.  When he was sure they had drifted to sleep, he quietly got up, gathered his things, and then began searching for the book.  He eventually spotted the book, grabbed it, and then quickly snuck out of the front door, eager to get back to his wife’s remains. 

The Ivory Book of the Dead. Found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Wikimedia Commons

As he exited the house, the monk heard a loud shriek, so he began to run.  The noise followed him, but gradually became quieter and eventually stopped as the monk got further from the house.  When he felt he was a safe enough distance away, the monk held the book to his chest and sat down.  The monk soon dozed off, but was suddenly awaked by a familiar voice.  He looked up; it was Coral.  The book started to feel warm on his chest - it continued to grow hotter.  The monk stood up, but as soon as he opened his mouth to call out for her, he burst into flames.  The monk yelled in agony.  The image of Coral disappeared as the flames consumed him.  After the monk took his last breath, the blaze dissipated; the only trace of his presence was the ivory book lying on the ground unscathed.  

Author's Note:
I pulled this story from Twenty-Two Goblins: The Three Lovers translated by Arthur Ryder.  Twenty-Two Goblins tells the story of a king who sets out to help a monk recover a body from the woods.  Here's the catch: the body is possessed by a goblin, who makes the king answer riddles in order to transport him.  If the king answers the riddle correctly, the body/goblin are transported back to where they were originally found, and the king must go back to retrieve them.  If the king does not know the answer to the riddle, he can continue to carry the body to the monk, who is also waiting somewhere in the woods.  If he king does know the answer, but lies and says he doesn't, his head will explode.  What a fun game!  My story is based off of one of the goblin's riddles, where he describes the death of a beautiful woman with three lovers.  Each man reacts to her death differently.  One man becomes a monk and travels around and encounters a family who offers him dinner and a place to stay.  The mother ends up murdering her son during dinner, but then uses a mysterious book to bring him back to life.  The monk steals the book in the middle of the night, and goes back home, where he eventually uses it to bring his dead wife back to life.  A bhikkhu is an ordained male monk in Buddhism.  

The two immoralities in my story are theft and murder.  The monk steals the magical book from the family in order to attempt to bring his wife back from the dead.  He's only made aware of this book's magical powers due to the demonstration of the woman using it to bring back her dead son that she brutally killed in front of him.  Although the boy brought back to life, this is obviously not possible in real life, hence my haiku.  The theme of an immoral alphabet comes from A Moral Alphabet by Hilaire Belloc, 1899. The letters T and M are courtesy of Maelle K on


  1. Hey Sara!

    First of all I just wanted to say that I think you're a really great writer and I really enjoyed your story. I actually read the 22 goblins story last week and thought it was a pretty intersting one. I liked the adaption you took from the monks point of view. I thought it was very erie and fun to read. I hope I get the opportunity to read more of your work throughout the semester.

  2. This is a great story Sara.

    Keeping with your portfolio's theme of immorality, you can maybe incorporate the strong emotions of sadness and loss that the monk is feeling due to his wife's death causing him to act immorality and to steal the book from the family. What if the family does not notice it is gone and they throw their son into the fire again only to find out that they cannot resurrect him? How terrible would that be?

    Also, monks generally are not allowed to marry as their faith is to the church and to no other. Maybe you could go into detail on to how the monk immorally broke his vows to marry a woman and then give some backstory on her death, though it sounds like she was stricken with a disease.

    I really liked this story and I look forward to reading your others.

  3. Hi!
    I also did my reading over Twenty-Two Goblins. It is a great little story. The amount you were able to change is amazing and I'm pretty jealous that I wasn't more creative. I think we have very similar taste when it comes to stories, so I look forward to seeing your portfolio and seeing what you do with your theme!

  4. The detail and creativity in your story is truly amazing. I wish I were half as creative with my own writings. You managed to so much description and tell a full story in under a thousand words and it was really well thought out and portrayed.
    I have very little feedback for this story because I feel it is already close to perfection. I am curious about one thing, is there any consequence to using magic to bring back the dead? It seems in tales there is always some type of payment for magic. I would like to know if there is one here.
    Also, I believe there is a typo in the first paragraph. "Despite to freezing air", I think it is meant to say despite the freezing air.
    Both very small contributions to a very good story. I really look forward to the rest of your portfolio as your writing is captivating.

  5. This was a pretty crazy story. Good gosh I think it's a bit harsh to punish a kid with death just because he's having a temper tantrum. Even if they can bring him back he still went through the pain of dying in the first place. I'm also hoping they don't try that again before realizing their precious book is gone because... uh oh! I also think it was kind of nice how you left it on a bit of a cliff hanger. It's pretty easy to infer from here what the monk wanted to do with the book even though you didn't tell us specifically. I would, however, have liked to read more since it seems like there's a lot of potential to go wrong there too. Myths just tend to end poorly like that I think.
    One bit of criticism, you might want to make more paragraphs. I found reading really large blocks of text a bit difficult and you might want to break them up and add spaces for accessibility. It would also help to separate ideas a little more clearly. Other than the paragraphs and kind of wanting to read more of what happened after it cut off (although I know it was in your author's note so that satisfied it a bit), I think you did a wonderful job with your story here.

  6. This was a great story. One of the things that wowed me the most about it was your amazing detail. You did a great job at bringing everything together. The flow was great and the characters were very interesting. That is a cruel thing that happened to the kid. Was it only because of a temper tantrum. I feel like you should add some backstory to maybe add another level to why he was punished to death. This is some John Snow stuff, being brought back from the dead. One thing I would suggest be answered is, is there any difficulties or problems with bringing people back from the dead? Most every story I have seen has some repercussions with magic being used to that degree. Overall though it was a great story and I don't have much feedback because it was well written.

  7. Woah. I love how you started that! The short poems add drama right off the bat. Your descriptions are great. I’m really able to get into the story when it is so easily painted in my head with your words! Okay this might be a little graphic but maybe when he smells the roasting food he instead smells his wife burning at first? I was in the room when my mom had a wart burned off (sorry this is all so gross) and it was a smell like nothing else…very nasty. I was not expecting that ending… or the middle for that matter! What an intense story. You really kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the story! Your story flows so well and I am jealous of your ability to write so strongly about tragedy and intense scenes. I had a hard time creating the same kind of feel in only part of my story and you did such an amazing job throughout the entirety of yours! Not only did you depict fear but sadness, shock, desperation and curiosity. Really great job on this!

  8. The poem you added to the beginning of each story was a nice touch, and it definitely added some more depth to your portfolio. The rhymes were well-thought out and flowed well. You definitely drew the reader in, and made us wonder what events he actually saw. I also liked how you described the setting in detail. Your portfolio theme is super unique as well!

    I think you did a great job, and I don’t think you have any major problems you need to change. My only thing was that maybe you could add dialog between the characters? This is probably more of a personal preference though.

    Good luck with the rest of your portfolio!

  9. I love your portfolio. Totally at awe! I think it is very unique how you create a haiku for each letter of the immoral alphabet. They explained each letter very well. I especially like the haiku for letter M because it gave a lingering feeling after reading it. As for your story, it is very descriptive. The imageries that you used in the story is very detailed, which gives me chill especially on in the first paragraph and the part where the mother burned her son. The images that you included story play well in supporting the storyline. There are two things I want to point out: first, the first two paragraphs have slightly larger font than the rest of the story; second, the font’s size that you chose is a bit small, which make it difficult for reader to read. It would be night if you enlarge the font a bit. Overall, you did an excellent job!

  10. Sara, the detail in this story is great. I could imagine the entire story in my mind like a movie. I don't know what you did to make it so visual, but you did a great job. When the mom threw her son into the fire, I was shocked! I think I had to re-read that part because I couldn't believe it. I still wonder what made him act out like that. I am stuck on the ending because I am confused about why the monk was burst into flames. Yes, I want him to bring his wife back to life, but then again he should be punished. Did the parents do it because he stole their book? Were they witches? The open ending makes me wonder, which I'm sure you intended. It does seem appropriate that he is punished for stealing from them. However, burning to death seems a little much. Fairy tales spare no expense for the dramatic, right? This story took me on a journey of emotions while communicating the themes of theft and murder. The consequences for these things are grave and the monk now knows that.

  11. First off, I love the alphabet concept you’re using to tie all your stories together into one portfolio—it’s a nice touch, and it caught my interest right away. You did an excellent job threading in the monk’s motivation from the start, so it made total sense that he would want to steal the book and use it for his wife. I think it’s the little details here that really elevate the story—things like the mother looking over and mouthing an apology to the monk before she chucks her kid in the fire (which, you know, wow). Those details are great for helping immerse the reader in the story, and they also made for a pleasant read.

    Speaking of the infanticide, though, it does feel pretty random. I get that it was in the original story, and you made it work pretty well here—but it doesn’t seem to mesh very well with the more grounded interpretation of the story you’ve got going here. If you wanted to keep the demonstration of the book’s power but also keep the more realistic tone you’ve got going throughout the rest of the story, maybe the kid could choke on his dinner or something. That said, it was a nice twist and definitely caught my attention, so I also understand if you prefer to keep it. It just seemed to distract from the monk and his issues, when this totally dysfunctional family seemed a bit more interesting than him.

    You might also consider putting the story in a larger font and breaking it up into shorter paragraphs, just to make it easier to read. But this was a great story, and I love what you’ve done with it. Very nice job!