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An update from our sixty-fourth Writing Workshop

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday, May 7th, plus some of the output published below

Long-time writing workshop student and Stone Soup contributor Peri Gordon presented the concept of imaginary characters. The history of imaginary creatures is a long one, beginning some 70,000 years ago with a gene mutation that allowed Homo sapiens to imagine things that were not there. That gene mutation is what enables us to write creatively! Students saw examples from the archaeological record, such as the Löwenmensch and the earliest known depiction of a ghost, and as a mini-writing challenge, described them in a way that made them come to life. Then, Peri presented examples from literature, such as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, and showed how description of imaginary creatures is not merely limited to their often strange appearances, but can involve the way they move, eat, behave, speak, or even smell.

The Challenge: Write a story, passage, or poem in which you introduce your own imaginary creature. You can use all kinds of description, such as how they look, how they move, how they speak, how they smell, and what feelings they evoke.

The Participants: Aimee, Anya, Eva, Sally, Agatha, Eric, Pearl, Aditi, Amelia, Aryaman, Delight, Elbert, Iago, Liam, Madisen, Yueling

To watch the readings from this workshop, click here

Pearl Coogan, 9 (Purcellville, VA)

Saving Soar

Pearl Coogan, 9

“When do we actually get to start flying the pegasi instead of just riding them like normal horses,” Chloe said boldly, putting her hand on her hips as I galloped around the arena on Clifftop, a short and stubborn mountain pegasus.

Ms. Lilac, the teacher of the flying bootcamp, shot a dirty look at her, “You need to know how to gallop before actually flying.

Actually, I didn’t want to ride normal pegasi. I wanted to ride Soar.

Soar was a flying tiger with brilliant hazel eyes. Her ears seemed to pick up every sound and her nose seemed to smell every smell. Her teeth and claws were extremely sharp and could make a seasoned warrior with a shield and sword run for his life. Soar’s legs were long and she could run faster than a swift cheetah hunting a herd of speedy gazelles. Her striped fur was sleek and glossy, like a smooth river of lava with paths of obsidian crossing over it. Her tail trailed out behind her when she zoomed through the sky, even faster than how fast she ran on the ground.

But Soar’s wings... Soar’s wings seemed like the most beautiful thing in the kingdom of Braylon. They seemed to spread out as wide as a river. The feathers on them were full and lush and it seemed as if none of them had ever fallen out. They blew backwards in the wind as Soar sped through the air, making the flying tiger fly even faster. They were even more beautiful than the wings of the—

“Leia! Focus!” Ms. Lilac’s yelling voice cut into my thoughts like a sharp rock. I sighed. I would never get to ride Soar. She was kept in the Grand Stables in the Great Palace. She was fed the best food and never taken out to battle or even allowed to go off of the castle properties, even though Soar was built for battle. I had only seen her once when my family and I had visited the castle so that my father, who was a messenger, could drop off a message and we had been fortunate enough to see Soar.

At least someday I’ll get to ride an actual field pegasus or river pegasus. Or a cloud pegasus, but they’re so rare that I’ll probably never get to ride one. Maybe I’ll even get to ride a unicorn someday, I thought as I jumped over a high hurdle. Mountain pegasi were known for not being able to fly nearly as fast as the three other kinds of pegasi, or unicorns, which were even faster than pegasi. Mountain pegasi were also known for being stubborn, and Clifftop was definitely stubborn.

“Leia! Do a cloverleaf!” Ms. Lilac yelled. But when I tried to turn Clifftop to the left to do a cloverleaf, he yanked his head the other way. I tried to turn him a little more gently, but instead of galloping to the left he slowed down to a trot. When I clicked my tongue and moved the saddle back and forth to tell him to go faster, instead of galloping, Clifftop halted.

“You can take a break,” Ms. Lilac said in a growly voice. Sighing with relief, I dismounted and led Clifftop to the side of the arena.

I was in the Laurel Canopy School of Pegasus and Unicorn Riding, which was owned by a prince from the royal family. I was taking a four week overnight bootcamp, but even though I was on my third week, I was still just riding on the ground. But that night, I was planning to sneak out of my tiny dorm, find a pegasus, somehow teach myself how to get that pegasus to fly, and fly around the castle grounds. And maybe see Soar if I was lucky.

It was a crazy idea, but I had been planning it for a week. I had told my two best friends, Kailee and Lydia, about my idea, and they had decided to join me. But little did I know about the thing that would happen that night.

Carrying a heavy saddle and a bridle in my arms, I walked through the stable. I paused as a river pegasus stuck her brown, glossy, head out of a stall. She whined and pawed the ground. “This one looks good,” I walked towards the pegasus’s stall and read the name tag on the door, which read Wave. I fed Wave a carrot and opened her door.

“Are you sure? She looks pretty big. And she’s a water pegasus,” Kailee said suspiciously, “You know how much you hate swimming.” Kailee was leading a field pegasus, Stalk, and Lydia had decided to ride a tame-looking unicorn named Goldcrown.

I shrugged, “It's not like she’ll dive into a river.” I started tacking Wave, tying her to the wall with a rope. One she was tacked, I leapt onto her back and untied her from the wall. Wave was tall and graceful with long legs. Riding her wouldn’t be as exciting as riding Soar, and Wave wasn’t as beautiful as Soar, but it would still be much more exciting than riding Clifftop on the ground.

“Come on!” I yelled as I made Wave gallop towards the doors, Kailee on Stalk and Lydia on Goldcrown following me. Once I was out of the stables, I made Wave fly.

I started like I was just going to do a normal jump, but I kept lifting the reins up instead of lowering them. Just like I had planned, Wave didn’t land. She kept going higher and higher. I was flying.

The wind whipped in my hair as Wave’s wings spread out gracefully, which were much bigger than I had expected. They spread out as wide as a tree with lush leaves. The feathers on them weren’t as lush as Soar’s feathers, but they were still beautiful. I felt like Wave was flying 100 mph as she zoomed through the air. Everything was good until Prince Evan saw Kailee, Lydia, and me.

Prince Evan was the youngest prince of all seven princes, so he had decided, since he was never going to be king, to start Laurel Canopy. He was riding directly towards us. But not on a pegasus. Or a unicorn.

Prince Evan was riding Soar.

Soar was rarely ridden, and she was definitely not supposed to be ridden by princes. Especially the youngest prince. And she was definitely not supposed to be ridden off of castle properties. Soar was definitely not supposed to be ridden of off castle properties by the youngest prince.

What was even more astonishing was that Soar’s fur was matted and her gaze was dull. She looked sick, another reason why Prince Evan shouldn’t have been riding Soar.

The prince immediately veered to the right when he saw my friends and me. I made Wave fly even faster as I chased after him. Then I took a huge risk. I dropped the reins, stood up in the saddle, and grabbed Soar’s long tail. The flying tiger was so sick that she stopped even when I just tugged on her tail a little.

“What are you doing?” Prince Evan growled as Kailee and Lydia lined up beside me.

“May I ask, what are you doing?” I responded, “You’re the youngest prince. You shouldn’t be riding Soar. And we’re off castle property, and Soar is not allowed to be off of castle property. And Soar is sick. You really shouldn’t be riding her.”

Without responding, Prince Evan knocked my hand away, “That’s none of your business.” He prepared to fly away.

Then I took the biggest risk in the history of risks. I leapt off of Wave’s back, knocked the unsuspecting Prince Evan from Soar, and jumped onto Soar’s back. Prince Evan screamed as he fell through the air, arms and legs flailing wildly. Goldcrown swooped down and grabbed him with a hoof.

“Take the prince back to the stables,” I instructed Lydia and Kailee. “I’ll take Soar to the Grand Stables.” Without waiting for the response, I started zooming through the air on Soar.

A spark of realization hit me. I was riding Soar.

Eric Muller, 11 (San Diego, CA)


Eric Muller, 11

As O’Connor watched, something emerged from the ship–walking as though it hadn’t before, in short steps before standing straight, then taking the next step. It was an alien, he was certain; you tended to see a lot of different species on backwater worlds like Friroth. Yet this alien was different, and though O’Connor couldn't quite see it yet, there was a certain presence around, an air of danger and madness, like someone was watching you.

No, not watching, stalking.

The creature turned–

–And O’Connor knew why he had felt what he had.

There, walking slowly towards the renting space for the spaceport, was perhaps the most disturbing thing O’Connor had ever seen. It was vaguely humanoid, with the same number of limbs as a human, but it looked out of proportion. Its head was too low on its neck and it seemed to have none, at least until it looked around and O’Connor saw it.

Its neck itself was not nonexistent, nor even short as he had assumed. Instead it was long, at least the creature's own wingspan, and it inflated from below the head, pushing its head outward as it combed the area.

O’Connor ducked under the boxes he was using as cover, holding his breath, until he finally could not and breathed, then snatched another peek.

And flinched, as the hands and feet of the creature, which had before been tucked in like the head, had since expanded in the maybe fifteen seconds he had ducked behind the boxes. Each limb was also now shown in full light, revealing an almost metallically shining, pale gray skin.

It continued to walk towards the renting box, though now instead of walking as though it hadn’t before, it glided across the damp spaceport floor with an almost-grace O'Connor had not thought it could portray. It was over to the renting office in two shakes of a Frirothian cow’s tail, and O'Connor quickly pulled out my high distance hearing aid.

“Err..” came the voice of what O'Connor assumed to be the renting clerk. “That’ll be ten blue C’s, please.”

Then the creature made the most terrible sound ever to enter O’Connor’s ears. It screamed so loudly that O’Connor was pretty sure people on Friroth’s moon could hear. The noise sent uncontrollable shivers down his spine, and he ducked behind the boxes once more.

A moment after the sound had passed, another one came, that of a ship door opening. O’Connor peeked over the edge, and saw another thing emerge from the aliens ship. At first he feared it was another one of those creatures, but as the figure walked up to the rental station O’Connor saw, with relief, it was another human.

Turning back on his hearing aid, O’Connor caught a new voice, presumably the human’s, saying, “Here, ten Blue C’s.”

“Thank you, sir.” The rental employee said, his voice shaking noticeably.

Then the human and alien walked down the hall out of view. After a moment, O'Connor walked up to the rental station, quietly so that the employee wouldn’t notice.

When he arrived, O’Connor found his back turned to the window, furiously searching through a data card.

“Hello.” O’Connor said. “Where did they go?”

The employee jumped visibly, pointed down the hall, then gestured to the left.

O’connor nodded, then walked in that direction, summoning what courage he had left.

He had a bounty to catch.

Aditi Nair, 14 (Midlothian, VA)

Just a Dream

Aditi Nair, 14

Its eyes glowed alternating colors as it gnawed at the picture-perfect drapes. Red. Blue. Red. Blue. Although the creature looked like me, I could tell that it was not human. As I carefully crept forward, surveying my surroundings with every step, I watched it scratch the wood floors. Mom would be mad, I thought. Looking up to watch for sudden movements, I stepped onto a  squeaky board. If there had been other people in the house, they wouldn’t have heard it, but as soon as I carelessly made a slight noise, its head quickly spun around with its mouth hanging open with shards of glass. As if my day couldn’t worsen, the being before me had glass instead of normal teeth. The glistening moon shone through my windows, allowing the creature’s teeth to shimmer like millions of stars. If its crossed eyebrows and alarming red eyes weren’t as scary, it would be reminiscent of the sky, but no, it was not. It stood up, slowly flicking its tongue against the roof of its mouth, which was a very human thing to do. Brushing some stray hair strands from my face, I looked into its red eyes. I slowly rubbed my eyes to see my face staring back at me. Then, I woke up.

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