Hello, Weary Wanderers and Will-o’-the-Wisps!
Looks like you’re a bit lost, my dear. Let me help you. Let’s see, you could go that way…but it would be dangerous. Or you could go that way…but it would be boring. Decisions decisions. Best make them wisely because…
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
The Man at the Crossroads
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
Stories—especially of the fairy tales and fable variety—are full of strange roads, and mysterious men. Oftentimes, our intrepid hero will arrive at a crossroad to find someone pointing them in a certain direction. This person could be perfectly benign, or they could be a villain pointing them down the dark, dangerous path—perhaps down the road leading to their own castle.
A good example of this prompt is Alice in Wonderland. She is faced with many crossroads along her journey, and many creatures who direct her on her way. Some help her, others direct her poorly, and others simply want to talk there in the middle. But whichever direction she chooses, she faces only more strangeness and madness.
Crossroads don’t have to be roads exactly. A crossroad can be any sort of diverging path. In science fiction stories, a crossroad could be a crew deciding if they should go back for more fuel, or hope what they have lasts the rest of the way. A crossroad can be a difficult decision; our friends don’t always have the best advice.
Likewise, “man” doesn’t have to be a man exactly. The human race as a whole is often referred to as “man.” A silhouette could at first look like a man, but upon closer inspection prove itself a creature of mimicry. Maybe we don’t even see the man, but assume the lantern glowing in the dark, seemingly guiding us, hangs from a human hand…only to learn much too late that it was a hinkypunk leading us astray.
Demons and devils often prey on lost creatures. Perhaps a demon appears human, whispering the wonders of the darker path. Or perhaps it offers another path, with a higher cost, and a greater reward. In real life, people often end up joining cults, or getting caught up with addiction because of a single encounter when they were at a crossroad in life.
Or it could be something more benevolent. Maybe a scarecrow stands at the crossroad, its purpose and delight directing passerby. Or maybe it’s just the nice lady at the craft store directing you to aisle three.
Now, you best be on your way. And keep your wits about you. Not everyone on this road will be as helpful as me.
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
Tune into the stream this Saturday at 3:00pm CST to see if you made the cut!
The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit! Get ready not just to share what you’ve got, but to give back to the other writers here as well.
Rules and Guidelines
We read at least five stories during each stream, two of which come from the public post, and three of which come from the much smaller private post. Submissions are randomly selected by a bot, but likes on your post will improve your chances of selection, so be sure to share your submission on social media!
Text and Formatting
- English only.
- Prose only, no poetry or lyrics.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and syntax.
- Your piece must be between 250-350 words (you can use this website to see your wordcount).
- Use two paragraph breaks between each paragraph so that they have a proper space between them (press “enter” or “return” twice).
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What to Submit
- Keep submissions “safe-for-work”; be sparing with sexuality, violence, and profanity.
- Try to focus on making your submission a single meaningful moment rather than an entire story.
- Write something brand new; no re-submitting past entries or pieces written for other purposes
- No fan fiction whatsoever. Take inspiration from whatever you’d like, but be transformative and creative with it. By submitting, you also agree that your piece does not infringe on any existing copyrights or trademarks, and you have full license to use it.
- Submissions must be self-contained (everything essential to understanding the piece is contained within the context of the piece itself—no mandatory reading outside the piece required. e.g., if you want to write two different pieces in the same setting or larger narrative, you cannot rely on information from one piece to fill in for the other—they must both give that context independently).
- One submission per participant.
- Submit your entry in a comment on this post.
- Submissions close at 12:00pm CST each Friday.
- You must like and leave a review on two other submissions to be eligible. Your reviews must be at least 50 words long, and must be left directly on the submission you are reviewing, not on another comment. If you’re submitting to the private post, feel free to leave these reviews on either the private or the public post. The two submissions you like need not be the same as the submissions you review.
- Be constructive and uplifting. These submissions are not for a professional market, and shouldn’t be treated as such. We do this, first and foremost, for the joy of the craft. Help other writers to feel like their work is valuable, and be considerate and gentle with critique when you offer it. Authors who leave particularly abrasive or disheartening remarks on this post will be disqualified from selection for readings.
- Use the same e-mail for your posts, reviews, and likes, or you may be rendered ineligible (you may change your username or author name between posts without problem, however).
- You may submit to either or both the public/private groups if you have access, but if you decide to submit to both, only the private group submission will be eligible.
- Understand that by submitting here, you are giving us permission to read your submission aloud live on stream and upload public, archived recordings of said stream to our social media platforms. You will always be credited, but only by the author name you supply as per these rules. No other links or attributions are guaranteed.
Comments on this post that aren’t submissions will be deleted, except for replies/reviews left on existing submissions.
The World Can Wait (Illusions of Heroes)
by Gerrit (Rattus)
“Why are you slowing down?” Serennia asked.
Emrys stared at the signpost before them. Two arrows were nailed to the post, each pointing in opposite directions. One faced to the left, Calibrae carved into it in ornate lettering. On the other, River’s End had been written in a sloppy hand.
A smile warmed Emrys’s face as he looked at the sign. He remembered coming out here as a kid, helping his dad nail the signs back up after a rough storm.
Serennia rode up beside him. “That’s your home, right? Where you were born?”
“Yeah. I haven’t been there in, Gods, at least 15 years.” Fond memories filled his mind, of family dinners and fireside laughs.
“Do you want to stop in and say hello? That’s an awful long time to go without seeing your parents.”
Emrys weighed out his options. Nothing was stopping him from going to River’s End, not really. But he needed to get to Calibrae and speak with Lord Harkess.
“We don’t have time.” Emrys wished it wasn’t true, but some things were more important than leisurely visits. “We don’t know how much time we have to prepare for The Scourge.”
“If a single day is going to make a difference, then we’ve already lost anyway.”
Emrys could almost feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had sworn to make things right, promised to protect the world. As he dwelled on the task he had been given, he felt Serennia’s hand rest gently on his own.
“We’ve already sent word ahead, we’ll just tell him we got delayed on the road.” Serennia smiled. “I think he’d be more surprised if we didn’t run into trouble on the way.”
Emrys looked down at her hand on his, at the ring newly placed upon her finger. He had the entire rest of his life to be the hero. For now, he could afford to let himself be just Emrys, even if only for a day.
“Come on. My Mom’s going to love you.”
Alina piloted her shuttle through the queue for the interstellar gate. She didn’t go this way often because her employer rarely traveled out of the system. Even so, throughout the decades she had worked as the Lioness’s personal chauffeur, she could tell that nothing changed at this gate. The little Bi-O-Mator dome still stood on the asteroid’s surface, enclosing a space smaller than the shuttle’s hangar at her employer’s estate. Within the dome, a little farm reminded her of ancient images of pioneer homesteads from the times before AI and space travel. From her spot in line, Alina could see a vegetable garden, solar panels, and pond next to a converted shuttle, not unlike the one she operated.
One of the dome’s two airlocks was attached to a tunnel leading to the toll booth, which was located on an irregular protrusion at the far end of the asteroid. From the booth, the Operator radioed each passing ship for their points of origin and destination. He collected the Consortium’s travel fees and toggle a series of switches to direct travelers through the gate for the next legs of their journeys. No one knew his name. No one remembered a time before he ran the gate.
In the servants’ quarters during a lengthy house party, the pilots had debated the man’s history. Why would someone choose to live in isolation doing a job that could be reliably automated? A tall, skinny, Chantellan said that she thought his position was a punishment for deserting the military. The Urstae twins swore that his shuttle had crashed on the asteroid during the gate’s construction, and he stayed. The eldest chauffeur, Granny Tym, remembered stories from her youth about his being jilted by a lover and swearing off social contact for the rest of his life.
Ultimately, though, as the man processed Alina’s itinerary, she suspected he truly just enjoyed the opportunity to interact with every different species that passed through his station. She waved and smiled through her camera, sharing a story of her own to add to his collection.
A Special kind of Source|A GenreBreak Story
Written by Exce, edited by LunaBear
The winter sky looked upon her like a blind eye.
As Marianna arrived at the crossroads, she took a moment to move the hilt of her blade into easier reach. Then she pulled the glove off her hand and splayed out her fingers.
Eyes closed, she visualized the required symbols then let out streams of white hot flame that carved into the soil.
As faint steam was rising, curling into a column, a voice spoke sotto voce from within.
“Dear Sir, an honor to meet you. Someone so proficient at killing for the greater good, what can I do for you?”
From the steam, a man stepped out, wearing a fine black suit and a tophat pulled deep onto his face.
“Your folks don’t tend to die young, at least not outside of the family business, so I’ll offer you the centennial tarif. Every decade we scoop off some of the most juicy sins, and upon eventual death we get the rest.”
Marianna raised an eyebrow. “You seem awfully sure of what I’ll require.”
The man grinned, white teeth glowing from underneath the tophat whilst smoke curled pipe-like from the corners of his mouth.
“Someone like you does not require power or wealth. The missing slice of pie for your kind has always been the same thing.”
Smoke curled around his fingers as he raised his hands. “So, what can I offer you, ma’am-sir?”
Internal fire danced in her eyes, and a smile filled her face. “I need to know where I can find the first sword of Arthur. It’s been lost to the myths for too long.”
The man’s whistle sounded like a boiling kettle. “On a hunt for ol’ Caliburn eh? I’ll do you a tracking spell and a pat on the back. That thing is spread farther than the British empire.”
Marianna extended her hand.
The ‘man’ grinned. “By my Infernal Name, Sarzmadeus, a Deal it is.”
As their hands met, there was a blast of heat, leaving no trace of the man or the summoning but the new memory of a spell within Marianna’s mind.
A cross in the roads
by Jesse Fisher
Back in the day when a man would come to a crossroads someone would be standing there. Some called it the devil, others said it was an angel, and yet others say it is just a trick of the mind. Some wonder if the whole story is just a way to blame their choices for not panning out.
Yet the darkness of the night and the waning moon seemed to show the old story was true, a sharp dressed being stood there. They had a suit on but it moved like shadows not staying one solid color. The face was the same, a yellow eye seemed to peek out from the hat but there was no smile.
“Not many believe in the old stories anymore.” It spoke as if the wind passed an ear. “Then again with how many crossroads there are now everyone is standing on them.”
I had to wonder what it meant. It seemed to pick up on this.
“Who wants to choose the laid out path before them when they forge it only to make their own crossroads.” It seemed defeated. “Then again I wonder if the others aren’t the ones that could have been.”
That confused me, it did seem to notice this but just looked to the paths beyond it. A road going straight for me, where I came from, and two that meandered to truly unknown places. Four ways to go, four paths that can be me. I started to see what the being was saying. That did not stop me from my choice.
“Alright my original plan was just to get here and see where it would take me, but I think this might be the place I’m meant to be.”
“What makes you think that?” It’s yellow eye now fully on me.
“Well someone has to be here to help people know where they are going so why not me.”
It chuckled. “As I said, making your own path.”
Fall Harvest the Crossroad
John Perceval Cain (oneeye John)
“It’s time.” Phallina stepped through the tent flap. Morning mist hung in the air and a soft breeze blew.
A crow’s cage swayed, the chain connecting it to the gibbet frame creaking and its occupant shifting slightly, but was still asleep.
Phallina looked to the east. The false dawn gave a misty nimbus to everything. She removed her robe and proceeded sky clad; slinging a supply satchel over her shoulder, she turned and walked to the center of the crossroads. On the flat top rock marking the center, she placed her ritual blade, wand, and chalice.
The cage’s occupant, an unkempt criminal in tattered clothes, stirred and sat up. Blinking, he stared at her, but remained silent.
Phallina walked to the outer edge of the junction and circled in widdershins to dispel any residual energy.
“You know, for an old witch, you’re breedable.” As she passed by, he sniggered.
A shiver ran up Phallina’s spine, and she hoped it was only the crisp morning air of the steppes on her nakedness, but she completed a second circumambulation just to be safe. Returning to the center of the crossroads, she pulled an apple from her satchel and placed it on the rock. She stood and sang an invocation to the Goddess in a deep tenor voice.
The caged criminal continued to leer.
Phallina took her ritual blade and cut the apple in half in one expert cut. Spreading the halves and inspecting the core revealed a perfect pentagram of the seeds. “An omen for a good harvest.”
Phallina approached the man in the crow’s cage, wand in her left hand and knife in the right. “Mabon is about balance.”
“So, you’ll let me out?” The man asked dubiously.
“Yes.” Phallina said. She touched her wand to the cage’s lock, and it sprung open and fell off.
The man tried to push the cage door open.
Phallina grabbed the man by the hair. “This is about reaping what we have sown.” She pulled his head back sharply and slit his throat.
Melissa pulled off the cracked pavement of the country road into the gravel lot of the small gas station. As soon as she parked the car next to one of the pumps, Erykah got out of the passenger seat and stretched. Melissa got out with a groan.
“Erykah, fill it up. I’ll see if they have sandwiches or something.” She hoped so. There wasn’t much else around but Nevada desert.
“Where are we, anyway?” Erykah asked, grabbing the fuel nozzle.
Melissa shook her head. She looked at the faded painted sign on the front of the gas station storefront. Tucker Gas. “We passed Goodsprings about fifteen minutes ago. Pioche will be a few more hours.”
Melissa walked into the store, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer lights inside. Behind the counter was a young boy with blonde hair, probably no more than twelve.
“Afternoon,” the boy laconically said.
“Good afternoon. Have you got anything to eat here?”
“There’s sandwiches in the left-most cooler, just above the beer. Chips in the second aisle, chocolate bars in the third. I’ve also got hot dogs.” The boy slapped the roller grill beside the register.
Melissa warily eyed the hotdogs on the rollers, certain they had been there far too long. She wandered over to the sandwich cooler, looking over the meager selection.
“If there’s anything you want that you don’t see, let me know. I can probably get it for you,” the boy added.
Melissa laughed. “Aren’t you a little young to be working here? Shouldn’t you be in school or something?”
“I’m older than you’d think. And getting things for people is my side hustle.”
“Can you get my boyfriend out of prison?” Melissa asked sarcastically.
Goosebumps raised on Melissa’s skin.
Erykah entered the store. “Hey, Mel, we’re gassed up, and…what are you doing here?”
Melissa turned to see her friend looking at the boy. “You know each other?”
Erykah frowned. “We’ll take that gas, and nothing else.” She turned to Melissa. “This kid doesn’t look like it, but I’d like you to meet Satan.”
The Scholar and the Witch
by Carrie (Glaceon373)
May I tell you a story?
A scholar hovers near a door.
He paces in front of a large, intricately-decorated threshold. Under his arm, he holds a collection of scrolls in a vice-like grip. Sometimes he bites his nails while he thinks.
Down the road, someone sees his plight and approaches. “What is on your mind, sir?” she asks.
He stops abruptly. “I could ask the same of you, since you feel content barging in on the thoughts of strangers.”
“I only wish to help soothe your troubled mind,” she says. “I swear by the Third Moon setting in the western sky.”
She gestures towards the talisman kept on her neck by a chain. The mark of a witch. And witches never broke their promises.
“Very well,” he says, adjusting his grip on his scrolls. “If you must know, I am a scholar. And this building is where, every month, us scholars share our work.”
“As scholars tend to do.”
“Yes. And us scholars strive for perfection. If the work is not perfect, then why does it exist? Imperfection is a waste of time.”
“And what I have here,” he gestures to the scrolls, “is imperfect.”
“What else is it, besides imperfect?” askes the witch.
The scholar sighs. “It is emotional. Somber. Excitable. All at once.”
“Is it honest?”
“Yes. It came from the depths of my soul. But the other scholars will deem it a waste of time.”
“But was it a waste of time for you? It is your work. Can it not simply exist, for you?”
The scholar ponders her words, then nods. “You speak of true perfection, kind witch. My fellow scholars would learn well from you.”
The witch laughs. “Your polite words are acknowledged, scholar, but ignored. Now, will you open that door and share your imperfect work?”
“I will not.” The scholar steps away from the door. “I will return in a month with a work they will appreciate, and save this one for myself. Thank you, kind witch.”
The witch smiles warmly as the scholar walks away.
Thank you for listening.
Rules of the Road
If you are driving in the rain and you come to an intersection illuminated by a single streetlight and you can’t remember the last time you saw a bus stop or a gas station, do not pull over for the man hitchhiking.
If you do pull over, do not ask him where he is going. Simply ask if he needs a lift. Resist all urges to tell the man your destination. If he asks if you can take him somewhere specific, tell him you can only take him as far as Springfield.
Do not let the man sit in the backseat. Insist that he sit up front, even if one of your other passengers must relocate to the back. You will have to insist. Do not take the car out of park until he agrees.
Do not let the man adjust the radio station. Suggest a tape or, better yet, that you need to focus because of the weather. Lead an unaccompanied sing along if you must, so long as he does not change the radio dial.
Do not take anything from the man. He may offer sweets or alcohol as payment or thanks for the ride, but do not accept them. Keep the windows rolled up while he is in the car, and refuse if he asks to smoke.
When the road starts to feel unfamiliar, when a curve you should have reached by now fails to appear or a familiar landmark is nowhere to be found, and the icy chill that was working down your spine settles in your stomach, you might remember this advice.
If you didn’t elaborate on your destination, your family and friends should be safe. If you made him sit in the front, your passengers may be spared. If you didn’t tune in to his radio station, all memories of you won’t vanish along with you and your car. If you didn’t accept food or drink, they may eventually find your body. But there was no saving you from this fate.
I warned you not to stop for the hitchhiking man.
[Dm me on discord for details!]
Take A Moment To Ask Yourself If This Is How We Fall Apart
Even as Victoria sat on the floor, her demonic height still towered over Murphy. She leaned forward with a seductively predatory grin on her lips. “So… let me get this straight. I gave you the choice of being my pet, or continuing to be with your… beast. You chose the latter. And now you ask for me… to save her?”
Murphy sighed and dropped his gaze. “I know. I know I have no right to ask this of you, and that doing so is borderline insulting but-”
“There is no borderline about it, boy.”
“Look… I… know you’re the logical option here. I have so many scars and stupid little injuries from Nisha losing control. It’s very likely she’s going to accidentally kill me one day, but… she tries so hard to protect me. She tries not to be a horror from my worst nightmares, and… yeah, she fails miserably but it doesn’t stop her from trying and-… Please. Save her.”
Victoria chuckled softly. “And what do I get out of doing such a thing, boy?”
Murphy shrugged. “If you don’t help, I’ll go save her myself. My blood will probably drive the demons into a frenzy and they’ll rip me to pieces before I even get to her.”
This gave Victoria momentary pause before her grin returned. “In that case, what’s to stop me from keeping you here until they kill her, leaving me as your only option?”
Murphy shrugged again. “I think your ego is too big to allow for victory by default.”
Victoria paused again before throwing back her head in a laughter so loud that it shook the room. “You are going to make such a fun pet. Fine. I will help you. But only under one condition.”
Murphy gulped as Victoria leaned in, getting so close to him that he could feel her breath on his face.
“Should you request my help a second time due to her incompetence, I will help you once more. But I will NOT give you back. Do we have a deal?”
Murphy sighed with a begrudging nod. “Yeah… Deal.”
By RVMPLSTLTSKN (The Saga of The Deep One’s Wake)
The Wanderer stood in a place where two roads intersected. It was a haunting place, in the less literal sense. The muddy skeletons of houses surrounded the crossroads, the roofs fallen and rotted away.
She breathed deep the musty air, no longer hopeful of marrying anyone else. She had been alone for so long and she longed for company. Even the lost or broken souls that she most often met would have been welcome.
A whistling melody rang out over the ghost town. Someone walking the other road. The Wanderer, in all her experience-born wisdom, stood quite still.
The tune was meandering, shapeless, mere noise in a vague approximation of music, but it was still a thing of beauty. A pleasure for its existence. The whistler was small and dark, wearing a hat like the Wanderer’s own.
“Hello,” the Wanderer called.
The whistler stopped and stared.
“Are you friendly?” The Wanderer asked, clutching her stave.
“You don’t remember me?”
She surveyed the whistler again. Big hat, well worn traveling clothes, a pack, a stone ax, piercing gaze.
“Should I?” She asked.
“Klajonas, it’s me.”
And now she looked harder, stepping closer.
“No, you left before I chose my name.”
“I usually leave the morning after,” the Wanderer said.
The whistler laughed. “You brought me home, Klajonas. I’m called Kankintis now, but you called me niekas.”
“Don’t say that name.”
“It’s not a name though, is it? Just like sister isn’t.”
“What do you want?”
“Father sent me.”
Klajonas the Wanderer felt her chest tighten.
“He asked me to accompany you home, to be your companion. Again.”
She thought for perhaps too long, as they stood opposite each other at the crossroads. Three roads she had not traveled. One led to her father.
“Klajonas, please. I don’t have a right to ask you, but for him. He needs you.”
“He has my sister.”
“Yes, but she isn’t you. You are the favorite. He wants to hear the stories of Klajonas, you, the ways you’ve rewritten them since he told them to you.”
Stains of Time (The Will)
By Skeleton (Edited by MelodyLuna7)
“Oh, would you quit being so cowardly!” Greda admonished, rolling her eyes at her husband. “Look, it’s just a boy.” The wulack seamstress marched towards the crossroads—towards home. Her husband, Vendrick, had no choice but to follow.
When they reached the black-hooded, white-masked figure standing in the intersection, Greda leant down in her usual caring manner. “Why, don’t you look terrifying!” she teased the young, human boy. “Did you make your costume yourse…”
She saw the glint of the knife, but it had already passed through her and Vendrick’s throat.
Startled, both wulack travelers found themselves on the ground, grasping their necks to try in vain to staunch the profuse bleeding. In her final struggles, Greda felt the purse on her hip free itself from her belt and watched as the masked boy walked into the dark night.
He could still smell the blood in the soil. The black-cloaked man stared down to the dirt of the forgotten crossroads with undying recognition. Even in this long-since forgotten part of the country, he could not forget the pain he had caused. He could still feel them writhing inside his chest—in his non-essential heart.
“Hey, Eymir.” The man looked up from the path to see Zaila standing up the road a little, looking back to her mentor with a confused glance. “We need to keep moving if we’re ever going to meet up with Ericka and the other forces on time.”
The man did not respond, looking back to the dirt with rare pain revealed in his eyes. “Eymir?” Zaila’s voice rang out in concern. “Are you—?”
“The world doesn’t care about you, Zaila,” Eymir began slowly, now trotting up to the young dragoness. “The world will trip you, cut you, break you, violate you, and tear you apart until you’re nothing more than meat. You are nothing to the world.”
Zaila looked around nervously as his hands landed and grasped her shoulders. “O… kay?” But the confusion died when she saw his eyes.
“We care about you.” he breathed. “I… care about you. And… I always will. I promise.”