Prompt: A writer whose words create life in the real wold takes on a mentee.
Zachariah stared at the little window in the door, not removing his hands from the wood. He kept hissing at it, telling it to stop growing, but it wouldn’t. The strange plant crept up the glass inside the classroom, its leaved unfurling and bouncing. Once the room was full it would sneak under the door, spread its tendrils across the hall.
He couldn’t have that, not in his first week of wordening. If anybody found out about this his mentor would surely drop him. Zach didn’t know if the seed could be extracted from his imagination, or if it would be painful, but he didn’t want to find out. He needed something to kill it. His mind raced through the catalog of things he’d learned and seen in recent months.
Wordening wasn’t a lost art, just an exclusive one. The wordeners the teenager had met all gave him the same impression; they were like a group of university literature professors. They all talked about each other’s work, but nobody but them ever seemed to read it. They had their own history, their own terms, and their own standards. They didn’t like the young Zach butting in without a word-wood to his name.
It was luck he got one of them to mentor him at all. The seeds were supposed to be deliberately handed down, not found thanks to a stiff autumn breeze. The wordeners carried their seeds around in safe containers: flasks, thermoses, tumblers… It was no wonder people thought writers drank so much. One of them, on his way to work that morning, while Zach was on his way to class, died of a sudden aneurysm. He collapsed on the sidewalk and dropped his thermos. The top popped off and the seed flew out, like a bit of dandelion fluff.
The next thing it found was Zach’s hair, and when the boy absentmindedly scratched his head he transferred it to his ear, where it promptly burrowed in and disappeared. He didn’t even notice it then. It only made itself known when he was in homeroom that morning, doodling in a lined notebook. He completed a rather excellent caricature of his biology teacher, replacing her head with a bubbling beaker. He drew a tiny nameplate on her desk and wrote her name inside it.
The name turned green. The ends of every letter sprouted. They grew up and out of the page. Zach blinked. It was still there. He blinked again. Bigger this time. Blink. It had flowers now. His words had turned to weeds. The firs thing he could think to do was slam the notebook shut and flatten the young plant. People looked his way, but didn’t notice anything else. He stared at the corners of his book, just waiting for something green to creep out.
Rather than open the book again, he threw it away after class. He was walking home that evening, thinking about the unusual shape of the weed’s flowers, when someone pulled him aside and sat him down in a chair outside a local coffee shop. The man who would become his mentor slapped the notebook back down on the table. It had a yogurt stain on it, and a few other souvenirs from its time in the trash.
The man sat down himself and opened the book. The weed sprang back to life, climbing higher and higher. He pulled a wooden pencil, mahogany in color, out of his jacket pocket and drew a circle around the weed’s base. He added triangles, like a small fence. The weed slowed and stopped. He plucked it, used its stem to stir his steaming black coffee, and took a swig before discarding the weed on the ground.
“Welcome to the wordeners,” was the first thing he said. There was a benefit to all the wordeners acting like professors; he explained everything quickly in the form of an easy-to-digest lecture. There were ancient seeds of inspiration: a mental creation of early artistic man. The seeds were rooted in one mind at a time, allowing that mind to write things into existence. These things were very specific. The seeds were a method of propagation, of inspiration rather than wish fulfillment.
Any time Zach wrote something, from that point on, it would turn into an inspiring sight: a seaside cliff, a giant tree, or, as it became most of the time, a forest. The kind of place artists and writer walked to get ideas. A word-wood. His mentor explained that it was his responsibility to hone his writing, to learn the secrets of wordening, and to eventually create a word-wood somewhere in the world that would inspire the actual writers of the future.
That was the first time Zach thought of them like snooty professors. They claimed to know everything, but in the end they only produced inspiration. His mentor took him under his wing not to protect him from his new dangerous power, but to show up the other wordeners. He wanted to prove he could teach a nobody without a background in literature how to do it properly.
Zach tried to remember his lessons as his latest creation crept under the classroom door. He was staying late, for a club meeting, but everyone had meandered away for a snack break, and he’d been left alone with paper and pens. His mentor had told him to never write anything not in his presence. They had connections with the school, and could get his grades automated, if he just stilled his hands.
Foolishly, he assumed if he could control anything it would be his own name. He’d written it, and it had exploded all over the room. It was a monstrous plant, complete with jaws like a fly trap and flowers that once again smelled like black coffee. It seemed to be a smell wordeners could never escape.
He tried to think. What did he know about wordening? Certain designs could kill certain creations; certain words could undo others. Word-woods were made from books that nobody read, but that you slaved over anyway. He knew how to neuter nouns, abolish adjectives, and eviscerate verbs, all with the right strokes of the right tool, but the proper specific nature of his name had proven uncontrollable.
The vines were halfway to the lockers now. Zach thought harder. He begged the seed to let him have some of the inspiration, let him crack some open and shower in its flow, just enough for one idea… He snapped his fingers and bolted down the hall. He just needed to find Rachel. She was a writer, not a wordener.
She had a vending machine habit, so much so that people teased her for it, called the machine her boyfriend. He looked there first, and found her snacking on a package of triple-stuffed chocolate cream cookies. He didn’t have time to ask permission. He grabbed her backpack and tore the yellow zipper off. He grabbed the loose leaf paper from the bottom of it and bolted back towards the overgrown classroom.
She called after him, but he could apologize later, just as soon as he… Zach skidded to a halt. A fly trap bent around the corner and snapped at him. It opened its mouth again, and he delicately tossed the stack of papers in its mouth. The fly trap snapped shut. It made a very strange sound, like a garbage disposal filled with wood chips. The trap promptly turned yellow-gray, wilted, and shrank. Zach followed the retreating foliage back into the room.
It shrank enough that he could toss the entire plant out the window. Thank god for Rachel and the fan fiction she always tried to show everybody. The products of wordening ate every word they came across, even if they were poorly-constructed and conceived poison. Zach knew Rachel’s elaborate alternate universe fiction for the video game Battle of Fruitscape would be perfect herbicide.
“Hey!” the girl said, huffing and puffing in the doorway just after he tossed the dead hunk of foliage. “What’d you do with my story? That was an important chapter you know. Princess Kiwi-O was about to admit her feelings for the rogue Rhubarbarus. It was a really touching moment with a soda fountain spraying…”
“I just wanted to read it,” Zach lied. “Do you… do you have anymore?” He smiled.
“Oh, well of course!” Rachel dug a binder out of her bag, licked her finger, and flipped to a fresh page. Zach sat quietly and listened. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but she was the sort of person he was supposed to eventually inspire. If she was going to one day walk through his word-wood and write something great, he would first need to see what passion looked like, without its inspiration.
Zach was a wordener: somewhere between writer and gardener. He would never know fame, if he did everything right, but somebody like Rachel might.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by NotJacquesMcKeown during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!