Category Archives: Writing Craft

The Pros and Cons of Dictation

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for new and innovative ways to improve your writing. At times it’s not directly related to the craft itself. Sometimes it just has to do with your own efficiency and time management. One thing I like to do in order to save time is utilize dictation software to increase my writing pace.

This could mean turning out a rough draft a little quicker. Other times I use it to draft a blog within a matter of minutes. Thirdly, I use it to transcribe handwritten notes or drafts onto the computer because it’s more efficient to dictate then to write it again.

Dictation is a fantastic tool and it’s mentioned in two previous blog posts written by guest blogger Descript. However, it’s not without its downfalls. If you’re considering getting into dictation to quicken your writing pace, here are a few pros and cons that you may want to be aware of in order to better determine if dictation is truly for you.

Cons

1. It can make editing a bear, especially when it comes to writing fiction. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction chances are your characters have names very unlike Bob and Sally. When you say an unusual name the dictation software will try and form it into a common word or phrase that it sounds similar to. When going back to edit, this can prolong the editing process because you constantly have to replace “coal” with “Cole.” And that’s not even a weird name!

Now I know what you’re thinking- just use the find and replace feature, right? Wrong. It won’t hear you the same every time and may slightly alter the phrase. Also, if it sounds like something that’s in the middle of a longer word it will replace that too and just make things even more of a headache.

While I find that it’s easier to use dictation for things like essays or blog posts, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it for fiction. I do use it for rough drafts. Sometimes I have to read over a sentence that makes absolutely no sense- read it out loud- to try and figure out what I was really trying to say.

2. There is a slight learning curve. When you have to say punctuation out loud such as, “comma, end quote, he said, period” it takes some getting used to. Some people choose to skip over punctuation during the initial phase and put it in later. You also have to think out loud. This is a challenge for me because a lot of my brainstorming and writing happens internally. Also, it may not be easy for everyone to lock themselves in a room away from family to get time to think out loud.

Pros

1. Whether you’re a fast or slow typist, either way, you can speak faster than you can type. I know that I can dictate up to 6000 words per hour. That is, if I don’t stop and take breaths. Obviously, you need to have a clear idea of what you’re going to write. Even if you get 4000 words in an hour with dictation, it’s better than typing at 1000 words for hour.

It can double your word count or it can cut your writing time in half so that you have more time to do other things such as reading or editing or whatever else you want to do. Maybe something that doesn’t involve writing?

2. If you have carpal tunnel, arthritis, or any kind of hand or wrist injury, this can save you a ton of pain and grief. Typing all day for hours on end takes its toll on your joints. Not to mention you’re either sitting down with butt in chair or standing still to do it. I personally don’t have the desire nor muscle coordination to work on my novel while walking on a treadmill but some people can manage it. The headset I use has a cord long enough to allow me to pace my office while dictating. It also allows me to shut my eyes, lay down on the floor and put myself in the scene, talking openly about what my imagination sees.

3. It improves your voice and public speaking skills. With practice, you become more clear in what you want to say and how you’re going to say it with less thinking. If you’re looking to become a better public speaker, dictation may just be the ticket.

4. Using an app on your phone it becomes much easier to take notes anywhere at any time. Granted, if you’re in a crowded train station it may be hard for your phone to pick up your voice among all the noise. But 9/10 if you’re taking notes into your phone, a quick memo will be recorded and you can come back to it later.

I’m not normally one to write just anywhere. It’s usually either a quiet coffee shop, a local writers center, an airport, or my home office. However, in attempts to be more prolific, it helps when I can dictate a quick note or idea into my phone. We all have those ideas at strange times or in strange places and then we think, “Oh, I’ll remember this later. I don’t need to write it down.” Raise your hand if you’ve had this thought…then later lost the idea.

If you can think of any other pros or cons, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you are already an avid dictator, please let me know which software you prefer and where you do most of your dictating.

Happy dictating.

RB

Patreon for Writers and Why I Don’t Have One

If you haven’t heard of Patreon, it’s similar to a crowdfunding site but for artists. A lot of people like painters and musicians use it to collaborate with their fans and interact with them on a regular basis. I love the idea of interacting with fans. However, as a writer I find it more difficult to maintain a Patreon page and produce content for those fans while at the same time working on manuscripts.

When it comes to producing content, I have this blog where I can share excerpts and inspiration for my works in progress. I do think that some authors post poems and flash fiction or micro fiction in order to keep readers enticed but it’s not for me. The experience felt like a huge juggling act and a distraction from working on my actual projects.

It was hard to draw a line between what should be a blog post and what should be a Patreon post. Suddenly, I was spending too much time between my Instagram page, my Patreon page, and my blog, while not spending enough time on my actual manuscripts. This is part of the difficulty with navigating social media and promoting yourself as an author. There’s so many different platforms that if you’re posting regularly on every single one, it’s taking away from the time spent on the actual work.

Dedicating more time to actual blog posts, helps me hone my craft.

If you’re a writer and you’re considering setting up a Patreon account, by all means, go for it. It’s free to set up. You’ve nothing to lose. However, if you feel torn or distracted from your actual work, don’t feel guilty about getting rid of it. Ultimately, I would rather people enjoy my stories and interact with me on this blog than throw a few bucks at me every month to read something that they could read here for free.

Are you a writer with a Patreon account? What sort of content do you post for your followers and do you feel that it helps your sales any? Please comment below and let me know what you think about writers having a Patreon page.

Happy writing.

RB

Don’t Give Away Your Work for Free

Recently, I started posting an older publication of mine, chapter by chapter, in the hopes that it would let people sample my writing and grow their interest. I wrestled with myself a long time about it because I have strong opinions about not giving away your work for free. After all art is work. Yes, it can be fun but it’s still a job. And there’s nothing that peeves me more than people who expect to get your hard work for free.

After having some long conversations with myself, I decided that I was going to go ahead and post all of my first novella, Laszlo, on this blog, free of charge. However, partway through posting, I had a friend from work tell me that his neighbor had published a book about his time spent in prison.

My co-worker did a fantastic job selling the book (and he hadn’t even read it yet.) Needless to say, my interest was immediately piqued. After all, I like to learn and prison is a place that I’ve never been nor do I ever want to go. So what better way to learn than from a book written by someone who’s actually been there? I was very excited to read it. I went home that day and purchased it for five dollars on Amazon.

According to my Kindle, I got 20% through the book before I stopped. The summary of the piece on Amazon should’ve been a huge red flag that the quality of the writing inside the book wasn’t going to be much better. I hate bashing other artists’ work and I really wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. If I don’t care for someone else’s work, I won’t say anything but this piece was so horrible, I felt compelled to warn others.

The following is what I wrote about the piece:

“The Amazon summary of this book was a huge warning sign that the piece itself would be filled with errors but I wanted to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I had to return it for a refund. This piece is filled with typographical errors, incorrect punctuation, run-on sentences, sentence fragments, incorrect verb tenses and mix-ups between plural and singular verbs and nouns. The author claims that this book has been edited (as per the very beginning) but not by anyone with a proper education, comprehension of the English language or the craft of writing. Frankly, it’s insulting to those who both respect and understand the craft of storytelling.

Overall, there is no story structure. It reads like a NaNoWriMo rough draft. There is also no variance between the author’s voice as a narrator and the dialogue of other people/characters. The idea for a story is there but it isn’t organized; one could say it’s a 200+ page rant. Some of the paragraphs are over two pages long. The book was originally published by Infinity Publications which (after going to their website) appears to be a cross between self-publishing and a vanity publisher. While I see nothing wrong with self-publishing, this is one of the many pitfalls. Books like this are why self-published authors receive a bad reputation.”

Not only were there quality issues, but I had some personal issues with the piece that caused me to stop reading. For instance, the author described every woman in the book by her bra size and breast shape. Occasionally there was an ass or thigh mentioned. In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that he doesn’t have a good relationship with his daughter. After seeing how he describes women as walking sex, I can see why. I hope for his daughter’s sake that she stays far away from him until he understands how to properly reintegrate into society.

It’s rare that I leave reviews on books but I’m trying to get better because the Golden Rule states to do unto others what you would want done to you.

Reviews can help sell books, so I’ve been trying to leave reviews on Goodreads or Amazon for every book I read. As stated before, I hate leaving a bad review. If I had written something and published it with that many errors, I would hope that someone would bring it to my attention, so that I could improve.

That was a long-winded explanation but this is ultimately why I stopped posting my work for free. I composed a story that may not be the best story ever written, but I took the time to think about voice and characterization. In taking the time to proofread and edit and get others to look at it, I actually cared about the craft and I think in large part that’s what separates the successful from the unsuccessful. Their passion.

When it comes to writing (and other forms of art), you have to have passion for the craft. A lot of people see writing as a get rich quick scheme. They think it would be easy to be sitting on a beach in Maui by this time next year.

The truth is- if it were easy, everyone would do it.

The other day I saw a meme that said, “Stop trying to skip the struggle.”

It’s easy to get discouraged when you release a book or a couple of books and you feel like you should be an overnight success. The thing about overnight successes is that while it appears to happen overnight from the outside looking in, the person it’s happening to has probably put a lot of work and years of struggle into making their vision a reality.

Going forward, I will continue to post excerpts and chapters from published works with links to the actual product. However, I will not be posting entire works for free. Art is work and if you don’t take yourself seriously, how can you expect anyone else to?

On Cover Art

They say never to judge a book by its cover. However, we all do it. In fact, it’s almost impossible not to. It’s human nature. When we see something we automatically start sizing it up as to whether we think we’re going to like it or not. This goes for more than just books. We do this with many things in our life such as what furniture to put in our homes and with which people we choose to spend our time.

Appearance means something.

When it comes to getting cover art for your work of fiction, it’s important to go the extra mile and get it done by a professional. When I first started publishing, I was guilty of going the cheaper route. I tried designing things myself, but I’m no graphic artist. I tried websites like Fiverr and purchased cheap cover art, but rarely ever was a satisfied that the product. As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

There are many self published books out there with cover art that looks so cheap and poorly done that it makes you wonder about the quality of the book. I once brought this point up to a friend and that friend said to me, “maybe they want their book to look cheap and crappy.” What? I’m pretty sure I was being trolled as he was playing the devil’s advocate because seriously when you’re putting your work out there you’re baring your soul. Do you really want to look cheap and crappy?

I am a big fan of simplicity when it comes to cover art.

I’m not saying the cover art needs to be super fancy with lots of different layers and colors. Sometimes a simple cover is the best cover and holds the best stories. I see a lot of self-published authors making their own cover art. They layer so many things that don’t go together and don’t mix well. You don’t have to put every image or element of your story onto the cover! Leave some mystery. It would behoove them to pay for a professional artist who has experience in creating book cover designs.

It doesn’t take much. With a little research, you’ll be able to find plenty of people who are capable of doing the job. There are a lot of artists out there who are willing to work with you and provide you with a great product. After all, if you put so much of yourself – your blood, sweat, and tears – into your work, doesn’t it deserve to be presented in the best way possible?

Below are a few examples from artists I’ve worked with.

One of many works in progress. Design by FrinaArt.
Second in a series. Design by LaLimaDesign.
A new project that isn’t even fully outlined yet! Design by Sharnel.

Laszlo: Chapter 3

III. A Light in the Canopy

“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

Noelle turned. Ben had stopped in his tracks. There was their beacon of light, shining brightly from two large windows. Other than the moon, it was the only illumination in the darkness.

The hair on the back of Noelle’s neck bristled as she looked towards the grand estate. She walked towards the property but a sturdy gate stood in her path. She fingered the chain that wound between its wrought iron bars. “Hmm. No lock,” she announced towards the others and unraveled the rusty chain. Its coarse texture picked at her gloves.

“I’m not going in there,” said Ben.

“Your objections aren’t going to stop me.”

Despite their urgent need for help, Noelle took steps towards the house in trepidation. Ben followed close behind her with Kim in tow. The path to the entryway was long and wide but covered in snow and shadow.

“I don’t know what’s worse… Not being able to see the full extent of what’s around us or the thought of having you shine that light around so that we could see what’s around us.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well do you think it’s better to close your eyes when you’re afraid? Thinking it’s your imagination and that it will all go away? Or do you prefer to shine that flashlight around so we can see what we’re walking into? Don’t tell me you’re keeping the light in front of us because you would hate to see me trip and fall.”

“I’m keeping it in front of us so I can see where we’re going. Stop panicking.”

“This place doesn’t give you the creeps?”  Ben’s dark eyes roved. The details of the property grew with every step they took.

“It’s just a house, Ben.” Noelle swallowed hard, disliking the uncertainty in her voice.

“Yea. In the middle of nowhere.”

“We don’t know that. There could be a small town just a mile farther down the road. Maybe we’re not as far from her dad’s as we think”

“Why don’t we take our chances?” Ben turned back towards the gate.

“Ben!” She ran towards him and laid a hand on his shoulder. He turned but kept his eyes on the property as though it were alive. Noelle took a deep breath and rubbed her temple. “I am exhausted. I have a splitting headache. My toes have gone numb and I am so cold that I can actually feel it in my bones. My best friend is hurt, which I feel personally responsible for, and I’m stuck in the wilderness with a flamboyant homosexual who cries like a girl at the sight of his own shadow.”

“I’m not flamboyant.” He readjusted Kim in his arms while listening to Noelle’s steady huff.

“I’m sorry.”   

Ben nodded his head but refused to meet her gaze.

She took a step towards him. “Look, I know we have our differences and maybe if the whole thing with Peter hadn’t happened we would have started out on a different foot but we didn’t. I’m not saying that we should forget the past, shake hands and be friends. You know me well enough to know that’s not how I work. But I’ve been running myself ragged this entire week to make sure that everything would be perfect for Kim’s birthday. Despite what has happened this evening, I’m still trying my best to keep us safe. Not because I care about you. Not because Peter cares about you. But because Kim does and it’s what she would want. I’ve got a million things running through my head right now and I’m trying my best to remain cool so that we both don’t lose it.”  

“What’s running through your head?”

“I keep replaying the accident in my mind. Could I have reacted faster? Could I have driven smarter? Did I do the right thing? That car is a rental and I don’t have liability insurance. How will I be able to afford the damages? What’s going to happen to Kim? How will I tell her dad? Will he hate me? Can he ever forgive me? Can I forgive myself? Can I get us out of this? Where are we? The first draft of my thesis paper is due in a week and I haven’t started. And it may just be my nerves but I think I have to pee.”

Ben chuckled. “It’s nice to be reminded that you are human even though you don’t often choose to show it. Thank you.”

“For what?”

“I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best in emergency situations.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t use your help,” she said.

“If it’s any consolation, Peter always speaks highly of you. He said that your unwavering attitude is what drew him to you in the first place.”

“Unwavering attitude?”

“Yea.”

“So why’d he pick you?”

“Hey now,” Ben said in light offense. “I can be decisive, just not fearless.” He shivered as his eyes went back to the estate.

“So, would you prefer it if I shined the flashlight around the property? Or would you rather close your eyes and pretend we’re not here? I’d offer to give you the flashlight but your hands are full…”

“Is this some sort of peace offering?”

“A cease fire. For now,” she said.

Ben agreed and watched as Noelle waved the light up and down the path. Small bits of a vastly overgrown and unkempt landscape came into view. Covered in snow, the hedges were uneven and half strangled with ivy. The trees appeared lifeless; their trunks were twisted and hollowed. A nearby birdbath had fallen into disrepair. The tall grass poked through the snow in several areas and was overrun with weeds.

“Satisfied?”

“Still creepy,” said Ben.

“I’m sure there’s a reason. This place has probably long been abandoned and some looters left a candle burning or something.”

“That’s one bright ass candle.”

“Maybe the owners died and the electric company somehow forgot about this place?”

Ben snorted. “Your maybes are half as bad as my what ifs.”

“Ok. Maybe it’s a little far-fetched but we’ll find out soon enough. Come on.” Noelle pulled Ben along by his arm.

After walking through the overgrown gardens and down the long, graveled path they finally came to the entrance. When they reached the porch, Noelle looked up to see that the overhead light’s electrical base dangled from the ceiling.  “That makes me feel so much better about this place,” Ben said under his breath.

Noelle called out as she knocked on the door. “Hello. Hello?” She pressed her ear against the wood but could not hear any response, not even the creaking of steps or the shuffle of feet.

“Is that light still on?” asked Ben.

“Let me check.” Noelle stepped back onto the gravel path.

“Anything?”  

“Yea,” she said running back towards the door. “Two windows fully lit on the second floor. Someone must be inside. “Hello?” She knocked again but still there was no reply. “What time is it?”  

Ben shrugged, unable to see his watch with Kim in his arms. “Nearly one in the morning, I’d guess. I don’t see any cars. What is it?” Ben asked, regarding her facial expression.

“I hear something. It’s faint but it sounds like… scratching.”

“Please tell me you’re joking. I won’t be mad if you tell me now.”

“I don’t want to appear like a peeping tom…” Noelle rested her hand on the door’s handle.

“But you want to appear like someone who is breaking and entering?”

She pushed the latch down with her thumb and looked at Ben with excitement as it clicked. “Just entering.”  

“Wait.”

“Ben, we’re going to freeze out here. We need shelter…at least until sunrise. Please, Ben. I know what you’re thinking. No more what ifs.”

The door opened with a loud creak. Noelle entered first. The heels of her boots produced two solid thuds that echoed into the void, causing the hair on Ben’s neck to stand on end. He remained in the doorway, shivering like the last leaf on an autumn tree. He took a deep breath to try and calm his nerves but the stale, thick air sent him into a fit of coughs, causing him to drop Kim. Noelle rushed to her side.

“Are you all right?”

“Yea,” Ben croaked. He recovered and leaned against the door frame. “Swallowed some dust.”

“I wasn’t talking to you.” Noelle held two fingers against Kim’s neck again. “She feels cold but she is still breathing. Do you think we should try and wake her?”

Ben shrugged. “I’m no doctor.”

“Me neither. We could try giving her water but I’m afraid she’ll choke or something.” Noelle cradled her friend in her arms. “Maybe we shouldn’t have let her fall asleep? I’m afraid she’ll never wake.”

“I’m at a loss.” He placed a hand on Kim’s shoulder and gently shook her. “Kim? Kim. Kim!” A deep growl came from the far side of the room. Ben stood and backed towards the door. “Did you hear that?”

“Yea.” Noelle’s eyes darted across the room’s shadows. “I heard it.” Images of the creature from the road took over her imagination. “There might be a wild animal in here. I didn’t think about that.” She held Kim tighter and turned on the flashlight. “Do you see anything?” The light passed over every corner of the room but only revealed bits of peeling paint and dust covered surfaces. Noelle called out but there was no answer, nor any sound of movement. “It’s so quiet. Maybe we’re just really tired and a little spooked.”

“I don’t think we would’ve imagined the same thing. There must be a light somewhere.”

“Here.” Noelle tossed him the light. He flicked the flashlight around the door and found an ivory switch covered in a thick layer of dust.

“Here we are. Guard your eyes,” said Ben, half expecting it not to work.  

Noelle squinted as the room flooded with light. It poured from an enormous chandelier, dangling from the two story ceiling. A carpet of dust covered what once would have been a beautiful hardwood floor. Bits and scraps of chipped paint and wallpaper had been pushed into various corners. The foyer was empty besides a few lingering books on a nearby shelf and a small table upon which there was a vase filled with the long decayed remnants of flowers. To the left, a large staircase curved up towards a loft and the adjoining hallways on the second floor.

“I wonder how long those lights have been burning upstairs,” said Noelle.

“Do you still want to stay here?” Ben tucked the flashlight into his pocket.

“What choice do we really have? It looks like no one has been here for a while. I don’t see how that can harm us. Besides, we need a place to stay. Think there is a bed or sofa that we could rest her on?”

“Let’s check one of these side rooms?” Ben ventured. “I don’t trust leaving her out in the open especially if an animal might be in here.” There was a second growl. Noelle bit back laughter as Ben looked sheepishly down towards his stomach.

“Wild animal all right. There are some crackers and sandwiches in the bag.” Noelle took her hands away from Kim long enough to take the backpack from her shoulders and toss it towards Ben. “Do you feel comfortable looking by yourself or do you want to switch places?”

“We’ll go together,” he said, bending over to retrieve the sack. “I’ll rest Kim on that table so she is at least up off of the floor. We’ve got the lights on so I feel a little better.” With a hesitant look out front into the shadowy courtyard, he finally shut the front door and turned the deadbolt, securing them inside. “Did you want to look for that room upstairs? The one with the lights on?”

“Maybe we should find a phone first. There’s a chance the line is still active if the electricity is working.”

“There,” Ben said, pointing towards the loft. Against the railing was a small wooden table with a coiled phone cord hanging from its side.

Noelle smiled at him. “Good eyes.”

Ben snatched some crackers from the bag and set it on the ground. Whilst tearing the package open and cramming the peanut butter filled sustenance into his mouth, he took hold of Kim and positioned her limp form on top of the table in the center of the room, pushing the vase of dead flowers aside. He tried his best to make her look comfortable, draping the blanket back over her form and balling his scarf up into a makeshift pillow. Double checking that the front door was secure and locked, he turned his attention back towards Noelle.

She treaded every step with caution and cringed at every creak, waiting for the stairs to crumble beneath her. The deep red carpeting that had been placed upon them had worn thin and in some places, exposed the mahogany wood underneath. The banisters that remained intact were joined together by cobwebs and the railing danced when she pressed against it. When she reached the top, she could see it more clearly.

Covered by more dirt and grime was a black rotary phone. Setting on a lonely end table against the wonky railing, its cord ran across the loft and into the darkness of another hall.

Moonlight poured in from a large circular window that overlooked the back of the grounds. The view was massive, revealing the vastness of the mountainside. “We must be right at the summit,” she said to Ben. “The view from up here is amazing.”

“I’m coming up,” he announced.

Noelle turned from the window. There was a delicate armchair near the phone that leaned to one side, having broken two legs. A dark green, leather couch nearby had lost its luster. Another bookshelf, equally neglected, displayed thick tomes on medicine and science. Noelle plucked one from the shelf and wiped its fabric cover, the dust forming clumps as it tried to cling to the wordless surface.

“Wonder why no one thought to loot the phone,” Ben said as he arrived on the second floor.

Noelle placed the book back and walked over towards the railing.

Ben held his face to the large window and blocked out the light from the room with his hands. The reflection of moonlight against the snow highlighted the jagged headstones of a small family graveyard.

Ben snorted. “Typical. No. Stereotypical.” Ben turned away from the window. “I’ll go back down.”

Noelle wiped the some of the grime from the phone and held it to her ear. “It’s dead,” she called down to Ben. She looked down over the railing and watched Ben’s face fall as she placed the phone back on its base.

“Why would they have electricity and no phone?”

Ben shrugged. “What are we going to do now?” His lanky frame slumped against a nearby bookshelf.  

“We wait until morning.”

“Here?” Ben did not even try to hide the disappointment in his voice. He had been holding onto hope that she would somehow change her mind.

“It’ll have to do. I would like to try one more thing though. I want to try and reach the attic to see if we can get a signal on my phone. That’s our only other option for the night.”

Ben sighed and stood from his post. As he released his weight from the bookshelf, there was a loud thud followed by the clanking of chains and gears. Noelle came down the steps with the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning. The bookshelf on the ground floor gave a loud shutter and separated itself from the wall. Ben looked at her in disbelief. Noelle reached forward and tried to push the bookshelf further but it would not budge.

Without a spoken agreement, Noelle grabbed the flashlight from Ben and squeezed her thin frame behind the bookshelf. “Come on,” she called from the darkness. Giving Kim one last glance, Ben followed.

Behind the bookshelf was a spiral staircase made of wrought iron. Noelle’s shoes made a soft clank as she followed it down. The air was much cooler down there but more crisp and moist than that of the air in the rest of the house. When they reached the bottom, she scaled her fingers against the wall and found a large electrical switch.

“What do they have down here?” asked Ben. “Old Sparky?”

Noelle placed her shoulder underneath the switch. Using both hands, she pushed and the dusty device creaked in protest then locked into place with a click. There was a thump, then the springy sound of electricity. Gradually, a small lantern warmed the room with its comely glow.

Despite the house’s grand exterior, the lower room was about the size of a hospital room. Its walls were made of stone and what little of the floor that could be seen was made of dark slate. The small room was filled to the brim with old medical textbooks stacked several feet high. Old cupboards aligned the walls, overstuffed with aged papers and dusty scrolls. Small jars filled with liquids of ranging shades set atop the cabinets. In the middle of the chaos was a small desk. Though it was also piled with books, there were not quite so many and to Noelle’s great surprise, not quite so dusty.

“That looks like it’s been handled recently.” Ben pointed out the fingerprints on the cover.

“It looks like it’s been handled a lot through the years,” she said as she opened the book. A few sheets were unbound and gently tucked back within the folds.

The pages towards the front were faded beyond comprehension but Noelle continued to flip through them, taking great care not to tear them. It was not long before she found a page she could read. The handwriting was elegant and thin. Within the fine script she deciphered several names and dates reaching as far back as 1307.

The first legible entry had a faint line through the name of Radu Dinescu. Beside his name it read: Ziua de naştere. 6 Aprilie 1313. Ziua de moarte. 2 Iunie 1349. Ciuma. 36.

“Ciuma?”

“Whatcha got there?”

“Some sort of record,” she said. “Birth dates. Death dates.”

Ben shrugged. Disinterested, he grabbed the flashlight from the table, taking time to explore every nook and cranny that the old lantern could not reveal.

“Ben, this is amazing. Come look at this. It’s enormous. Do you know what language this is? I don’t recognize it. Though it does seem familiar.”

Noelle flipped the book over and began going through the pages backwards. There were a few pages in the back left blank without a trace of ink. However, as she continued, what she saw on the next inked sheets were not names, but drawings. There were drawings of men and animals as part of one body, drawings of otherworldly creatures being sacrificed or worshipped and drawings of unfamiliar symbols and what looked to be ritual instructions.

“What kind of doctor was this guy?” She was immersed in the torturous scribbles until she finally flipped far back enough to reveal the last name on the family tree and the only one without a line through it.

Vladyslav Beglitzi. Ziua de naştere. 14 Ianuarie 1970. Ziua de moarte.

Below the empty death date were two words. Written in a more masculine hand, they read: Sunt mort?

“Do you know what ‘sunt’ means?” she asked Ben.

A loud commotion came from the other side of the room as Ben shrieked and knocked over a mountain of books.

“See a mouse?”

“Noelle, please come tell me what I’m looking at.”

Noelle rose from her chair and navigated her way towards him. She rested her hands on his shoulders and moved him to the side so that she could get a better glimpse of his latest discovery. Setting at about three feet tall was a small refrigerator packed to the brim with bags upon bags of what looked to be blood.

She reached forward and grabbed one of the bags at the top of the pile. Labeled on the front, the bag read, “Laszlo. O-.” Noelle pulled another bag out and another but they all were labeled the same way.

“Smart, I guess,” Ben said, still perched on the floor at Noelle’s feet.

“What do you mean?”

“These are all labeled O-. It’s a rare blood type that can be donated to anyone who needs it,” he explained. “Not sure why they needed so much.” He stuffed the packets of blood back into the refrigerator. “But there is enough blood in here to create a new person.”

She looked over her shoulder at Ben and saw that all of the blood had drained from his face. “Sorry,” he said, reaching for the wall for support. “I really don’t like blood.”

“Yet you seem to know a lot about it.”

“Comes with the territory,” he said. “My parents are doctors.”

“Maybe we should go back upstairs,” Noelle suggested, shutting the refrigerator door.   

Ben nodded, rose to his feet and dusted off his pants. He led the way back up the steps. With one last look at the book, Noelle walked over to the large electrical switch and flipped it downwards. When she reached the top, Ben’s fists were shoved into his jean pockets, his frame rigid and skin pale.

“Do you still want to try the attic?” he asked, handing her the flashlight.

“We have to.” Noelle took a deep breath and began trekking up the main staircase. “But first I have to pee. I’ll look for a bathroom. Can you check on Kim?”

Ben nodded. “Take your time. I’ll wait here with her.”

Noelle’s stomach eased as her bladder emptied into the pot. Pleasantly surprised that the plumbing was still in order, she tore the first layer of toilet paper from the roll and discarded it hoping that the layer underneath would be more suitable. The white walls of the bathroom were stark and void of any decoration. The combination shower and bathtub was stained and lacked a curtain to hide its ugly nakedness. Pulling her pants up, she pushed the toilet handle down and walked over to the sink.

The soap on the ledge was caked in dust but it served its purpose. She splashed water on her face and tried to clean the wound near her temple, massaging it with soapy fingers. “That’s not so bad.”

She shrieked as Ben came rushing into the bathroom. He closed the door behind him and leaned against it, wide-eyed and trembling. “There’s someone else in the house,” he said.

Copyright © 2015 Regina Bethory. All Rights Reserved.

Interested in reading the whole thing? Laszlo (The Chronicles of Noelle, Book 1) is available here.