The Framework of a Novel

Outline plans (the framework) come in different shapes and sizes dependent upon your preference. Guidance indicates that spending a great deal of time on an outline plan is worthwhile in preparation for writing.

On one of the writing courses I attended there was an introduction to producing an outline plan. However the approach taken would be scratching the surface. The depth of your own plan would almost certainly be much more extensive than achieved here. But it might give some pointers to people who want to do an outline plan themselves.

This was an outline plan produced for a novel on one of the writing courses I attended. I haven’t done anything with it subsequently but it might give some insight into the start of the process. I would then spend much longer understanding the outline before diving in and commencing to write. Your Mileage May Vary.

Taken from the seven basic plots https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/01/23/seven-basic-plots/. This outline is based on the idea of the quest which has this basic structure:

  1. The call
  2. The journey (archetypal figures)
  3. Arrival and frustration
  4. Final ordeal and last battle
  5. The goal, treasure, prince/ess

The plot can have as many subplots as you like. Subplots are similar in theme but do not have to be the same as the plot.

Every character that you choose to include will be overcoming something as part of their progress in the book.

Subplots can be resolved part of the way through the book.

Each character will have a subplot and this tends to result in a large novel.

The average novel is 75,000 words but there are some that are over 100,000 words.

When planning a novel this should be along monomyth lines.

(Joseph Campbell Bookfinder

the hero)

The Monomyth

The single story through which we understand all stories (Joseph Campbell)

  1. Hero in ordinary world
  2. Call to adventure
  3. Reluctance to accept call
  4. Encouraged my mentor
  5. Crosses the threshold
  6. Enters the special world
  7. Encounter tests, allies and enemies
  8. Cross another threshold: inner most cave
  9. Endure big ordeal
  10. Takes reward
  11. Flees back down the road
  12. Cross 3rd threshold – resurrection/transformation
  13. Return with elixir – a treasure to benefit the ordinary world

 

My outline plan to reflect this was:

  1. A 9 year old boy has to be selected for a future life and to be configured for the best fit for that life.The configuration is also constraining in that once configured realistically that is the only life that he could expect to lead from that point onwards.However he feels himself to be unique. He starts to fight the selection process.He would like to escape configuration and have a life outside the constraints of the normal rules.
  1. The boy is taken for configuration anyway and is unable to escape. Configuration is successful and he enters an apprenticeship willingly.One of the aspects of configuration is that it also ensures compliance with expectations around for example occupation and behaviours.He leaves behind his child life and aspirations. He forgets his desire for a life which is different to other people his age. He departs his home and we next see him in training.
  1. The initial frustrations with existence have subtly altered the mental pathways in his mind. This is unknown to him. Overtly the configuration has taken successfully. But over time he finds himself increasingly unable to adapt to expectations.He becomes increasingly concerned that his behaviour will be detected.He has seen others who have failed configuration disappear. Those who disappear are not seen subsequently.
  1. Eventually the problems of configuration are detected in him. However the delay has given him time to prepare.He runs.There is a running battle.Ultimately he escapes from the training zone into an area of “misconfigured” people.

    Although the mental configuration will not take in these people an alternative strategy is employed.

    These people are physically adapted which means that they still fit the social norm.

    Through subterfuge he is able to exist in this area of the “misconfigured”.

    He determines that members of “the misconfigured” have no value.

    They are not monitored – they are disposable.

    After a great deal of time with them he starts to learn something of the configuration process.

    Eventually he amasses sufficient expertise to reprogram some of “the misconfigured” who have so far managed to survive.

    In doing so he causes their deaths.

    However he is able to use their deaths to completely escape the training programme.

  1. This means that he has to go on the run again.Because “the misconfigured” have no value the deaths are not investigated. This means that he is able to obtain the freedom from constraint that he dreamed of when a child.However he gains this freedom at the cost of guilt for those he has killed.Outside of the training zone resources are in short supply and his survival is impacted due to the absence of food, skills and other resources.

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Hero Story

From one of my courses I was asked for a story about a hero. I chose Stanley who was a hero to me. I hope that you love him as I did.

“Sodding James Bond I mean where would he be if that guy Q hadn’t invented the exploding pen or the rotating watch I ask you that?” Stanley muttered distractedly attacking the edge of a piece of metal with a brutal looking file.

“It’s the engineers that save the day not some jumped up toss-pot in a bad-fitting suit”.

“Oh yes I’m certain he has all the beautiful girls, sex life of a bonobo chimpanzee that one. But without a rocket launcher in that car of his he would have been toast long since.”

Stanley was nursing a particularly fearsome hangover. He had retreated to a favoured part of one of the many sheds in what had once been termed a garden.

The previous evening had been another unsuccessful one.  His normal prejudices returned in force as he mentally revisited the experience.

“It isn’t as if I have any need of company” “I’m never in need of anyone when I have a broken Morris Minor and a new clutch kit”. “I just sometimes feel that it would be nice to have a drink”. “Is it my fault that all the places which sell respectable beer also seemed to be the popular ones?” “It isn’t that I actually want to meet anyone”.

“The problem is that I am invisible” – “All engineers have to be invisible”.

In Stanley’s mind the world had no respect for engineers or engineering things. The evidence for this perspective was scanty. Currently this evidence consisted of the preference for meddling secret agents over dependable engineers who provided their toys. Nonetheless Stanley was firmly of the view that this was the problem.

At times, despite the need to rewire the reversing light on the Series III Land Rover, something would push Stanley to go to the Skink and Partridge, the Rat and Falcon or the Snail and Marten to stand, and drink, and watch.

“When you’re an engineer you should just keep your gob shut,” Stanley said to himself, “Especially if you’re drinking Old Thumper”. In Stanley’s mind he was never more translucent than after a nice half of Old Thumper or Mainwaring’s special.

He had to proffer large sums of money across the bar even for the landlord to notice that he wanted to order something. It was even worse if he tried to talk to someone whilst the beer evolved itself onto the bar in front of him.

“For some reason when I mentioned the internal diameter of the O-Ring seal on an MGA Brake Master Cylinder it’s as if I never existed”. “I’ve seen People look straight through me, talk with people who were stood behind me or try to walk through me as they dash for the door. (I’m never certain what the damn hurry is either)”

“If I could just stay silent”

The idea of staying quiet had come to Stanley following many such visits. It was a reasonably effective idea at least initially. However then the second half of Old Thumper would take effect

“I was quite happy to stay silent” he said to himself despairingly.

Stanley would prop himself against his favourite oil-stained corner of the bar. He would maintain a careful silence – at least at first. However The Rat and Falcon did sell such excellent bitter. Many a nearby person would consume rather a lot of it.

By the time that Stanley had consumed the second half of Old Thumper someone would lean on the bar next to him and would begin to talk to the wall. At least Stanley was pretty certain it was the wall so convinced was he that he was invisible.

Stanley had learned that in these moments of “addressing the wall” the imbibers of the Rat and Falcon would have nothing to say which was of interest either to him or the Verdigris infested horse brasses behind him.

The conversations always went along similar lines. It could be the problems with the mortgage payments, the girl who was so fine that no later woman had been her like. Sometimes it was the late-diagnosed illness from which the imbiber would not recover.

The conversation was always about the people themselves. It was as if Stanley wasn’t there.

At this point Stanley had learned it was wise to nod and not to say anything.

The talking seemed to make his invisibility much worse. However he seemed unable to control his impulse to talk.

Last night for instance a very nice lady had drifted over.

Queenie was a little heavily made up. This was unfortunate given the mascara staining – a result of the liquid pouring from her eyes.

“No one respects me” she had said. Stanley hoped that the horse brasses were making notes in case she asked questions afterwards. “I mean I’m a nice person”. Stanley wasn’t clear what relevance this could be to the green flock wallpaper but like him it was keeping its own counsel on the issue.

Encouraged by the wallpaper’s silence she continued. “Cliff seemed such a nice one; he didn’t hit me very often, only on his days off”. “But then” (and she raised her voice at this point) “he made off with all my money. I came home Sunday – no rent, no food…”

Stanley wasn’t clear under which definition not hitting someone often was a positive feature. But he was prepared to take Queenie’s view on the subject.

Over the next hour, Stanley exchanged petrol and grease smudges with the bar stool. Queenie at intervals wailed and sobbed. Stanley developed an understanding of the problem. Apparently no one respected Queenie. (“Everyone” appeared to be male, and from Queenie’s description males who Stanley would not be keen to meet).

So many men had offended, assaulted or departed Queenie. She was now convinced that her value rated that of a penny stamp.

Stanley’s mind had begun to wander and he was thinking again of that missing 3/16″ multi-point socket. It was at this point that he forgot that he was invisible: “Do you know that today I found a long shank pop rivet set.  They are just the most useful things. I can now solve the problem of the sill covers on the MK1 Capri, that’s been bugging me for ages”.

Queenie had looked at the horse brasses with a strange expression. It was as if a set of curtains had drawn across her eyes. She had departed in the direction of the ladies. Stanley looked at his beer and realised a refill was needed. After a few more halves of Old Thumper and waiting for an hour he had realised that Queenie was not about to return.

Stanley had wobbled home the 5 miles with that familiar emptiness intact. He had no idea what one was supposed to do with that feeling once the Rat and Falcon was closed. He finally passed out on the rear seat of the Morris Ital. (The one propped up on axle stands in the lean-too car-port).

This morning the problem kept returning to him. He considered it whilst attempting to extract an offensive Head Stud from an Austin Mini. It seemed to him that the problem was an engineering one.

If he examined it from an engineering perspective he would be bound to come up with something – time for a cup of tea and the back of an envelope.

“So problem – vague feeling of emptiness as yet unidentified” mumbled Stanley – the stub of a grimy pencil protruding from behind one ear.

“Solutions so far attempted:

1) Old Thumper – advantages: tendency to remove feeling of emptiness. Disadvantages – feel sodding ill for days afterwards, hmm,

2)  Listening to people in the Rat and Falcon – advantages: the empty feeling abates for a short while. Disadvantages it returns multiplied manifold times a short while afterwards,

3) Staying home and changing the piston rings on the Austin 3 litre – advantages: enjoy myself. Disadvantages: empty feeling keeps nagging at me the whole time”

Stanley reasoned that he had not identified the correct solution. He thumped the top of the valve television set and sat down waiting the 15 minutes for the picture to appear.

He read once that the digital revolution would mean the end of the old television. But a bit of soldering a few circuit diagrams and he had a digital enabled valve TV from the 1960s.

“Now if I can solve the problem of the digitally-enabled TV set I should be able to resolve the emptiness problem”.

“OK emptiness what is that now? Something missing usually but it’s unlikely to be food” Stanley looked down at the snug fitting overalls a little ruefully.

“Old Thumper seems to assuage symptoms but not for long – so it isn’t drink then”

“Meeting people – initially looked promising. But in fact makes things worse; right about the time they start talking.” Stanley chewed the pencil end bitterly.

“What do we have left?” Hmm, now we have “drugs, sex, medical treatment, prosthetics…”

Stanley’s eyes lit up, now here was a solution he could metaphorically get his teeth into – “prosthetics, yes. I solved the motorised legs problem for that young lad just last week”.

Stanley had used his engineering skill to manufacture legs for a paraplegic. It had looked as if he had functional legs. These enabled him to move at speed whilst remaining upright. It had been a satisfying challenge.

“I wonder if I should just try the sex thing first, that could be promising…” Stanley’s thoughts returned to the previous evening…“heaven forbid…” he said to himself.

“Now if the problem seems connected with being invisible and I get more invisible when I talk – how can I overcome that problem…?”

That evening Stanley was evicted from the Snail and Marten. The use of a brightly painted flying helmet (with the attached flashing lights) and a chest-mounted sign (which repeated his every word in a strobing yellow colour) had seemed to him an excellent idea.

“Sodding Landlord” he said.

Sadly the evening had not been a success. If anything people seemed to find him ever-more invisible. Looking everywhere but actually where he stood.

“Attempt 4)” he said to the envelope – with his tongue sticking out “high visibility suit – complete failure”.

“OK, so attempts to make myself more obvious, talking, high visibility suit – no success”. “Making myself quiet and hidden – attracts people – some success but temporary effects only”. “Hmm” “OK so in fact I need to find a mechanism to be completely hidden and very very quiet”

That evening Stanley slipped into the Snail and Marten early. Making certain the landlord’s back was turned he unscrewed the back of the juke box and squeezed inside pulling the panel in behind him.

After a long and dusty evening during which he had scorched his nose (the Juke Box selections sending sparks through the end of it). He was forced to admit this was not the solution.

“So attempts at hiding – well the hiding was very successful” “however still invisible to people and the feeling remains” “so that is attempt 5”

At this point Stanley made an extra strong pot of tea. The obvious things had been eliminated. Yet he remained invisible and he retained an unidentified empty feeling which he could not seem to address.

“Hmm, so it looks like the specification of the problem is wrong” said Stanley to himself. “The invisibility goes with being an engineer, I like being an engineer so I have to stay invisible. I don’t actually need people at all in fact – I am quite happy with machines”

For some reason the empty feeling chose that moment to make itself very forcibly known. “Oh God I feel so miserable” Stanley said to himself “Why in heavens name can’t I just give up and die right this minute?”

Stanley unconsciously hugged himself – feeling wretched. “Ok so I am an engineer therefore I am invisible. I don’t need people but I feel horrible”. “Hmm, so it would appear that I need to address the feeling horrible part”.

Stanley took his spectacles from the upper overall pocket and pulled them on.  One lens was now near opaque but he was very proud of the repair job he had done on the frame. He’d reversed the Rover over them whilst road testing that wheel bearing replacement.

He turned to the old bookshelf. (This was now his favourite piece of furniture after he had reinforced it with 3mm Angle iron cut from an old bed). He leafed through some medical reference books.

“Hmm, so for each of these drugs it seems that the side effects are equally as bad if not worse than the things that they are treating”. Stanley shook his head in some confusion “I think I will stick with the engineering solution”.

“Now what was that list, oh yes hmm, drugs, sex, medical treatment, prosthetics…

Now the drugs seem a bad idea, the prosthetics didn’t work, so we have the sex”. Stanley realised he had no idea how to persuade someone to engage in such activity. After all – he was invisible.

“It appears I have to hope that sex is not the answer as it doesn’t appear to be a basic engineering problem

…or is it”?

A very congealed looking cup of tea and one very large envelope later – “yes it appears that isn’t too difficult actually”. Stanley set to with wire cutters and soldering iron.

Several days later: Looking at his creation Stanley couldn’t help but have a twinge of satisfaction “say what you like Stanley you are a very good engineer” Stanley enthused to himself. 6ft tall, long long legs, a chest that in any human would have meant substantial surgery and a heart melting voice. She moved with flawless poise like a cat with attitude.

After a really great cup of tea Stanley reasoned that it was time to put his android to the test. However he was forced to admit that, sexy as the android was, he didn’t really want sex with her.

Florrie (as he had named her) wasn’t actually filling him with any overpowering sexual urges. “Still Stanley old man, never find out if this is the answer unless you give it a go”. Five minutes later a very red-faced Stanley lay asleep in Florrie’s arms snoring enough to shake the remaining doors on the old sideboard.

Some time later:

“Attempt 6, machine for delivering sex on demand machine very effective – empty feeling remains, abject failure”

Stanley sat down and ran his calloused fingers through thin greasy hair. “I thought you were a bright one Stanley old man – can’t see how you’ve let this beat you”.

For 3 days Stanley sat completely motionless looking at the wall:

He knew that the crankshaft oil seal on the Wolseley 16/60 was weeping and he didn’t care.

He saw that mould was growing on the teapot again and he didn’t care.

He sat as silent and as still as the wallpaper which he was certain could be seen right though him.

Eventually the demands of thirst and bladder drove him to pull himself from the overalls-sized depression in the sofa.

His lungs were absolutely full – so shallow had his breathing been. He coughed forcefully for several minutes his lungs crackling like fine paper.

“It looks like the medical treatment then old man” Stanley said with some trepidation “that’s all there is to it. Better get yourself a few library books”

Stanley had once been a member of the library. He had a vague memory that the process had not gone well. It was difficult to apply for a library card when the librarian couldn’t see you.

Initially things had looked promising. Until he’d mentioned that the timing cover stud on a Vauxhall Chevette had a left hand thread. (And what a fascinating job it was to cut one by hand). His invisibility had asserted itself completely. It was all he could do to wrest the card from her pale resisting hand.

“On the plus side” Stanley reasoned “if I’m invisible then it won’t be much of a problem taking books from the library”. He chuckled sadly “after all no one will be able to see me”.

As Stanley entered the library the librarian fixed him with a look of such disdain that he was convinced that she could see him. Stanley shuffled across towards her. But she turned to her computer as if he didn’t exist – he realised that he had been mistaken.

“Reference section Stanley – that’s what we are looking for” he mumbled and turned towards the stairs.

After many weeks of visiting the library Stanley realised that he was going to need a computer. Many of the books now referred to computers attached to an Internet. That was going to be a resource that he could not do without. This would be his biggest project ever.

After hours with circuit boards and soldiering irons, Stanley built himself a computer. In fact Stanley had built a phenomenal computer. It would have embarrassed Intel had they realised that it had been built. Stanley had no appreciation that encryption even existed such was the computing power of this device.

Over time he accessed the records of military and medical establishments invisibly and unremarked. He assembled research and records without awareness that he was doing anything wrong. Finally he had what he was looking for.

“Florrie MKII then Stanley I think”

Stanley started again with soldering iron. Florrie watched the creation of a sister, wire by wire, limb by limb.

Florrie MK 2 could have been a pianist, with her long slender fingers. But her eyes held the intelligence of something quite terrifying. “I say again Stanley; if you could only have been happy with what you are you might have made a difference in this world.”

“Still there was no settling this emptiness; it is time to face the solution then.”

Stanley knew that he could not face another night in the Rat and Falcon. So he contented himself with a mope through the local off license. Eventually finding something foul and plastic coated. It might have been considered drinkable by human beings but God alone knows where. However it was effective in silencing the chasm within for just a short while.

Stanley slept, a slow drool from his lip now mixing with the stains on his cheeks – carbon left over from the decoking of the MG.

As he slept the Florrie MK II programme commenced. She gently administered the anaesthetic and watched as his breathing slowed to a regular whisper.

Monitoring him closely Florrie opened the skull of the anesthetised Stanley. Carefully she cauterised connections within the brain.

Wherever research had propounded that social centres were to be found a small section was cauterised away removing the function, excising the need. Establishing (so Stanley had reasoned) a haven of contentment for a fully-formed, self-contained engineer.

After the final stitch she raised Stanley into a semi prone position. She carefully watched his life signs as Stanley, smiling-blissfully, slept.

In the morning Stanley awoke and smiled to himself. Waving his oil-stained arm in front of him – he wondered what it was.

He cooed slowly to himself.

He looked at the thing watching over him and wondered what it was.

His eyes parted with a hazy wonder as he looked around him.

He stared in an unfocused way at the Jensen Healey mouldering away just outside the window and he wondered what it was.

He raised his leg and looked at it for several seconds and wondered if it was part of him or part of this big thing he seemed to be lying on.

Outside the welding set lay untouched, the lathe was silent, and the trolley jack lay as he had left it – in the hallway beside his next-best overalls.

Stanley looked around at this magic place and wondered how he had come to be here.

He smiled a wide-innocent smile and he drifted off to sleep quietly …

Seven Basic Plots

From another writing course the idea that there are just seven basic writing plots.

(Originally Christopher Booker – 2004 Bookfinder seven plots)

I am not clear how valuable it is knowing that there are seven basic plots. I imagine that you are trying to write something unique and new.

If you see “Award Winning Writer” in your future I cannot imagine you getting there by following a pre-prescribed route.

However it might be useful to see what has gone before – here are the seven basic plots.

Overcoming the Monster (e.g. The Hobbit, Cloverfield, Dracula, Harry Potter)

    1. Anticipation and call
    2. Dream stage – thinks overcoming will be easy
    3. Frustration – face to face with monster
    4. Nightmare stage – final ordeal
    5. The thrilling escape from death and death on monster

Rags to Riches (e.g. Jane Eyre, Great Expectations)

    1. Initial wretchedness at home and call
    2. get out into world – initial success
    3. The central crisis
    4. Independence and the final ordeal
    5. Final union, completion and fulfilment

The Quest (e.g. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit)

    1. The call
    2. The journey (archetypal figures)
    3. Arrival and frustration
    4. Final ordeal and last battle
    5. The goal, treasure, prince/ess

Voyage and return (e.g. Sinbad, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, James and the Giant Peach)

    1. The fall into another world (ie. Alice in Wonderland)
    2. Initial fascination – dream stage
    3. Frustration stage – dark shadow figure
    4. Nightmare stage – its dominating looks like dark force will win
    5. Thrilling escape and return to normal world

Comedy (e.g. Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, Witches Abroad)

    1. Shadow of uncertainty and confusion
    2. Confusion get worse – disguise men/women
    3. Confusion gets resolved and lives happily ever after

Tragedy (e.g. The Martian Chronicles)

    1. Anticipation stage
    2. Dream stage
    3. Frustration
    4. Nightmare
    5. Destruction

Rebirth (e.g. Jonathan Livingston Seagull)

    1. Hero is cursed by dark power
    2. Dream stage – talk of a curse
    3. Curse takes hold and imprisons the hero
    4. Nightmare stage – no way out, no hope until hero turns up and relies someone else to save the day
    5. Miraculous redemption

 

The Scene

Yet more advice from a writing course this time on the scene.

The scene is a self-contained unit of story. You can write the scene by:

  • Setting
  • Character
  • Action

You can consider the book as if it were a film.

Short scenes keep people’s attention. This enables the quick switching of narrative between characters.

There is a single viewpoint for each scene – that character’s point of view. It is filtered through the thoughts and emotions of that character.

Do not switch between viewpoints in a scene – it is always through one character’s eyes.

Classically a scene has only one setting. However it can contain several settings or even a moving setting (in a plane, on-board ship and so on)

The beginning of a scene is a critical moment which you should use to capture the reader’s interest.

One technique is to begin the scene as if in the middle of something (in media res).
This could be the middle of some action (a fight?), some dialogue (an argument?) or anything which can hook the reader.

Chunks of description are a riskier way of starting a scene as it can risk boring the reader unless done well.

Description should be broken up for a more successful beginning. This could for example make use of dialogue between short pieces of description.

The aim is to grab the reader’s attention as soon as you can.

Where the scene is dark add moments of light relief.

The ending of every scene is as important as the beginning. Ideally the scene should end in such a way that the reader wants to read more.

There are different techniques to achieve this. The main character of that scene can fail attempting a goal. There could be a reversal for that character. The character may have to end one course of action and consider another.

However you choose to end the scene the reader needs to be left wondering what happens next and wanting to read on.

One method of achieving this is to hint at what is to come for example plans to achieve an outstanding goal.

The book then becomes like a series of short stories each of them linked together.

The Ice God

Here we have a story from one of my writing courses.

I don’t think this one was good enough to justify further appraisal.

So it is unlikely to be appearing anywhere but here.

This is in case someone out there likes it.

 

The old man gazed into the warmth of the dull orange glow. He placed another snow sprinkled log into the centre of the heat. He huddled with pleasure, listening, as if to a symphony. To the angry hiss of evaporated moisture turning to loud cracking as the log began to catch. The slow warming sounds were like the comfort of an old clock ticking.

 

I loved the fire, the small flames dancing as the new log took; followed by the sodium glare as the embers shined even brighter than the flame. Between the heat, I would emerge; into the ice. To chop the logs as the wind battered me and my old bones moaned their tiredness.

One day the ice would chill those bones as I lay voiceless in the snow and gentle death took me without complaint. In silence, I would go down into the ice and sleep there; but for a few hours more the flames would dance and warm me. The snow-covered logs would drip in a steady rhythm onto the basalt hearth.

I would draw up the chair, wrap tight my cardigan and toast myself. The Ice God howled in anger around the hut; because I continued to live.

The last log nestled in the fiery heat and I turned again to the door. Putting on old cardigans in layers – each matted and moth-eaten, then the great-coat which wrapped them all like a spider’s cocoon of soft brown wool. Each arm sticking out like two skinny twigs poked into the side of a hastily constructed snowman, no longer able to rest wearily by my side.

It was vital I go outside fast; to sweat now would bring frostbitten death. I swung back the battered door and the first icy blast hit me immediately. A torrent of snow decorated the grey flags as I wrestled the sail-like door back into its frame. Already my face was tight beneath the shabby scarf – the Ice God sucked at my warmth – feeding on it, nourishing itself. I could feel my strength falter.

I knelt to the long axe. I pulled hard till I heard it part with a loud crack from the post against which I had laid it scant hours before. I clambered up to the stump, here were snow-buried boughs glistening in invitation.

The axe felt so heavy as I raised it high and swung. With each impact, a breath-cloud of ice gasped through gritted teeth. The Ice God settled around me. It was drinking my heat, prodding at cardigan insulation, flurrying past cold-glazed eyes.

Another heave and a shotgun snap echoed the parting of the ice-hardened bough. The blizzard’s ferocity heightened as The Ice God toyed with me, pestering me; like a cat with a dying mouse.

I stumbled; using the axe as a support; righted myself once more; my knees creaking their protest. My numbed mind begging, “rest, please rest.” I hadn’t realised how quickly The Ice God would beat me.

I wrenched the leaden axe down one last time and ice crystals scattered like sparks. At last, the bag was full. I hung its old rope handle around me like a harness and heaved. The dead weight inched forward across the slippery ground. It gained momentum as The Ice God taunted and abused me. The wind was shrieking with anger. It battered me with airborne ice particles and compressed snow peppering me as I hunched against the load.

There was no feeling in my toes; I knew that the numbness was not good; I needed to be inside now; but I would need all this wood.

I raised my right leg again – so dead weary and pushed it down assisted by my right hand. The sack slipped forwards a few inches and then gradually a few feet as I staggered, desperate.

I must not leave it here – it would freeze immovable in minutes. The doorway seemed so distant as if at the end of a long tunnel of ice and wind. I tottered again, then straining and screaming kept pulling. Fighting tiredness; battling pain I progressed. Till panting, exhausted, I collapsed inside the door.

No time for resting. I pulled myself around on my knees and dragged the wood inward; wedging the door closed behind me. It had swallowed every ounce of warmth. The small fire glinted feebly. I closed my ice-decorated lids in gratitude.

Outside the storm’s fury renewed as the ice dwindled from my eyes and consciousness returned – I must get up.

I dragged a log from the top of the sack – too exhausted still to lift it. I wedged it close beside the flame and blew gently on it, encouraging its strength, willing it to take. Till the hungry cracking noise told me the log would ignite and today I would not die.

Swiftly I pulled off the layers of gloves and then the boots. I unwrapped the cloths around my feet; massaging my angry toes, I sighed relief – nothing dead thank God. I’d avoided frostbite this time.

The shining steel of the kitchen knife sufficed to enable me to look for ice patches on my face. How old I looked already. I was lucky, this time; no real damage; I’d been too slow.

The blade ‘mirror’ revealed my whiteness, the cold lines where my face puckered. I had aged so and in such a short time. If the ice didn’t kill me the aging would – it wasn’t long now. I would welcome it when the time came. A rest from constant battle with the cold death; no one lasted for any length of time.

In the beginning, I’d resolved to record the days. James had carved a record in the chopping board. I burned it as soon as I’d found it.

Now, all that was important was the fire; it entranced me. I needed the fire; to feed it constantly and care for it lovingly like a child.

There was no time for records or writing; just the preparation to meet The Ice God again; always too soon.

Curled up in the snow they had found James, petrified by the chill. All the warmth drained from him. As if a vampire of heat had visited.

The Ice God was remorseless; no heat would be enough to satisfy him. Survival meant good insulation; a big fire and the will to keep alive; but how long and what for?

The end was near and I was glad. The fight nearly ended and it did not scare me as much as I had thought it would. The ice would turn my pale skin blue and the fear would finally disappear from my mind.

I pulled the damp clothes closer to the fire and watched them steam. I looked at the sack with concern; the wood was going fast.

I had known I was destined to die. I had borne it with pride, rebellion, and eventually acceptance. I had less time than most. Then James arrived, fearful, distrusting, young.

When one morning he wasn’t there any longer – there had been no farewells and no tears – no time. James had lasted five days.

They had dragged him out scrunched over – foetal in the snow.

The tiny flame licked slowly over the grey bark then took grip. Hungrily gnawing at the log till blackened, it started to smoke.

Some of that old rebellion was still living inside me – the stubbornness that sustained me in the long wait for punishment. Now it was almost over.

I pulled on the thickest socks. I wrapped around myself the clothing that I could uncover from all corners of the hut.

Now I appeared a great meatball of rag and thread.

I looked back briefly and imagined James here in the last moments; in the moments, I now found myself in. I threw back the door and emerged as rapidly as I was able – now barely more than a walk.

I snatched the axe and headed onwards into the snow. The wind struck with such force that I almost fell back – the draining cold pulling the strength from me. I shuddered, squared my aching shoulders then forged onwards.

The Ice Chamber boundary glowed frozen blue – certain death if I tried to cross.

The energy jumped and snapped; growing louder as I advanced. As the final strength pulled out of me, I fell forwards, buckling at the knees.

As I raised myself enough to lift the axe, The Ice God fell silent. I flailed forwards and a noise like a swarm of angry bees and a snap as the conduit earthed.

 

 

The old man fell forwards silently into the snow. The wind blew the snow politely from around the dead man’s face. Then it moved forwards beyond its cage.

The Ice God was free.