Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween House of Horrors Blogfest

#DailyWings: "There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery." - Joseph Conrad

This past weekend was a very special weekend for the Romantic Friday Writers, as the Halloween House of Horrors challenge took place Oct. 19 - 21. I know, I'm late. But when you've got four writing assignments due in less than a week and the flu to battle, your priorities tend to shift around. But hey -- better late than never, right? I won't be winning any awards with this piece (I wrote it in less than two hours, all the while wagging a disapproving finger at my own head for putting myself in such a time crunch), but it was still fun to write and come up with at the last minute.  

So what exactly was the challenge all about? 

RFW: "We’re looking for chilling stories of ghosts and haunted locations – and maybe even love from beyond the grave. A romantic element is essential, but we’re looking for stories with a thrilling edge of fear to add to the romantic tension building between our hero/heroine."

The maximum number of words is 1,000 but I'm afraid I went over quite a bit (it's hard to stop after you start, you know!).

~ ~ ~ 

The Wife's Return

Anne-Marie didn't like where she was. Everything was dark and claustrophobic. She was inside some sort of case, which was musty and smelled of carcass. Where was she? The last thing Anne-Marie remembered was pounding on the glass window of her bedroom as smoky fumes filled her lungs and flames flickered against her ankles. Before she was  engulfed in fire, Anne-Marie had caught a glimpse of her husband, Kenneth, running across the front yard with his hands waving frantically. She'd been so sure that he had gone for help...

Her arms lifted, and a gasp escaped from Anne-Marie's lips. The gasp came out strange, though. Icy, almost. Anne-Marie stared at her arms -- they were transparent, as if they weren't there except as a ripple in the air. She moved her fingers one after another, and there went five ripples. She glanced down, and realized her long, once beautiful blonde hair was also transparent, like cellophane noodles. And so was her floral dress, the one Kenneth had bought her for their anniversary months ago. The one she had been wearing the day of the fire. 

"W-What am I?" asked Anne-Marie to no one in particular. Her voice had also changed -- it was several octaves higher than it used to be. "What have I become?" 

Anne-Marie moved to the side, feeling claustrophobic, and looked at the bottom of the case.  She screamed. There, right beside Anne-Marie was her own corpse, more than half-decayed. She was in her own coffin. 
* * * 
Three weeks had passed since Anne-Marie climbed out of her grave and discovered that she'd come back as a ghost. Waking up next to her own body wasn't the only surprise. Returning to earth as a disembodied spirit had its advantages -- Anne-Marie could now walk through solid objects, walk through the air and become invisible at will. If she didn't want humans to see her, they didn't. And if she wanted to move an object or walk through it, she could. The afterlife had so much to offer. But all Anne-Marie wanted was to know about Kenneth. Was he all right? How did he escape? Did he miss her, and if so, what did he say at her funeral? 

It didn't take long for Anne-Marie to figure out where to find her husband. The day she awoke, she'd realized that her grave was located in Breyer Meadows, the cemetery just a few miles from her home. When she returned, Anne-Marie found that her house had been burned to the ground. The fire had destroyed everything -- her piano, her favorite family photographs, her china and parlor furniture. All of it was gone. 

"No," Anne-Marie whispered. "No!" That night, she filled the town with her screams, cursing the name of God and terrorizing children in their sleep. She watched from behind windows as mothers rushed to their young's beds, holding tiny heads against their chests and assuring them it was only a bad dream. Her heart hardened at the sight. Nobody was there to hold her, or tell her that everything would be okay. 

Her only consolation was that Kenneth was still alive -- he had to be -- and that he would surely reach out to her if only he knew she was here. In some form, at least. 

Anne-Marie could bear it no longer. The next day, she went into the city and floated up to the seventh floor of the investment company where Kenneth used to work, hoping that he was still there. Sure enough, just as Anne-Marie reached the glass window of Kenneth's office, she saw him. 

There he was, standing against the door in a gray pantsuit with his hands in his pockets, looking flawless as ever. There was that dark brown hair and caramel skin, long nose and curled mouth. The fire hadn't left a single burn on Kenneth, at least none that Anne-Marie could see. Her eyes drooped and she cocked her head to the side, smiling dreamily at the man who had asked for her hand. Kenneth was alive and well. And still so handsome. The sight of him was enough to make her feel almost warm again. 

Then, movement on the other side of the room, behind the curtains that blocked part of the window, caught Anne-Marie's eye. The smoothing out of a skirt. The adjustment of eyeglasses. A woman came into view: a pretty blonde woman with long legs and red lips. Anne-Marie watched as she walked toward Kenneth, her heels making a small clicking noise against the tiles, and gave him a kiss. 

Kenneth put one hand around the woman's waist and the other around her neck, and kissed her back. With overlapping lips and tongue and passion that he had never seemed to put into the kisses he'd once given Anne-Marie. They were locked in a tight embrace now, as if they were determined to put as little space between them as possible. 

Disgusted, Anne-Marie looked away. Being a ghost was living hell now, for try as she might, she just couldn't get tears to come falling down her cheeks. How could Kenneth do this? It had barely been three weeks since the fire, and here he was kissing another woman. Hadn't he missed her, or at least wondered what she would think if she saw him right now, cheating? No, he probably hadn't wondered that, and -- as much as she wanted to think of it this way -- he wasn't cheating. Everyone thought Anne-Marie was dead. 

I am dead, Anne-Marie thought, angrily. Her life as a human being was long over, but Kenneth's wasn't. He had already moved on and left her behind. I can't let that happen. I can't let him do this to me.

She waited until Ms. Long-Legs left the office, her poker face on and her hair clipped into a tight new bun as if nothing had happened behind closed doors. 

Kenneth was alone in his office now, straightening his sleeves and walking toward his desk. Now was Anne-Marie's chance. She slowly floated through the glass window and right into the room until she was hovering above Kenneth. It took him eight seconds to realize he wasn't alone, and he whipped around to find a rippling Anne-Marie by his side. He let out a sound between a yelp and a wail. 

"Darling," Anne-Marie purred, and put one icy hand on his shoulder. Kenneth jolted out of his chair. 

"Who--who are you?" he said, wide-eyed and transfixed by her lucid presence. "What are you?"

"Oh, my dear Kenny." Anne-Marie watched as he flinched at her old nickname for him. She took a leap toward him, and he took several steps back. "Kenny, don't you know who I am? I'm Anne-Marie, your true love." 

"No, that's not possible. Anne-Marie is dead," Kenneth said, shaking his head back and forth as if trying to get rid of what was right in front of him. "She died in that fire." 

He took another step back, and Anne-Marie realized he was barely a few feet away from the glass window she'd spied on him through. Her eyes darted to his temples, where beads of sweat had begun to form. She smiled sweetly. 

"I've come back for you," Anne-Marie said. "Soon, we'll be together forever and you won't leave me again. You won't have a choice, if you're just like me." 

"Just--just like you? But, no," Kenneth stammered. "You're not real. This isn't happening." 

"Oh, but it is. You made this happen, honey, when you decided to leave me behind in that terrible house." Anne-Marie's tone was suddenly icy. "Now it's your turn to know what it feels like to be left behind by your entire world." 

"No!" Just as Kenneth turned his back, Anne-Marie swooped down and pushed him with her icy fingers until his face met the glass window. 

Blood everywhere. Broken shards flying in the air. From the seventh floor down, Anne-Marie was falling, falling, falling with Kenneth. Her hand held onto his shoulder, refusing to let go. And even as the wind blew roughly against his broken and ensanguined skin, he turned his head ever so slightly and saw her face plunging forward next to his. Seconds before Kenneth's body hit the pavement, he looked at her in the eye and seemed to notice her for the first time. He uttered his last word as if it was a question, "Anne."

I will be visiting RFW House of Horrors blogfest entries during the next couple of days. Thanks to those who have already stopped by to visit! Can't wait to read and get spooked!

Wendy Lu


Monday, October 15, 2012

Never Settle For Mediocrity

I had awesome plans for this weekend -- a new recipe to try out, the N.C. State Fair, a Hinder concert, a picnic with my CUSA friends. In the end, none of these things made my agenda. Instead, I holed up in my apartment and pored over career assessments and personality tests. Lame, right? 

Certainly, other factors prevented me from going to these events (relatives and friends visited for a day), but I could've chosen to do other fun things during my spare time, like go on Franklin Street. I didn't, because I felt like I deserved to stay home until I figured out what the heck I'm going to do with my life. 

The Myer's-Briggs Type Indicator (note: my second time around), Strong Interest Inventory and Focus 2 Career Exploration alone took about an hour to fill out. And then, there I was, having filled out three assessments and then some, still without a single clue. My interests are clear: I love writing, psychology and helping others. I actually know what I want to do, it's just fitting it all in one career that stumps me. 

When the assessments failed to serve as my own personal Magic 8 Ball, I resolved to hash out a "life plan" for the next 30 years: what post-college degrees I would get, the potential publications I'd want to write for, the cities that appealed to my lifestyle. Doing this was supposed to make me feel more grounded, but all it did was make me more frantic. The what-ifs automatically began to form, and the big question mark still hung in the air. I felt like a mess. Surely by junior year of college, people should have an inkling of their future! 

But today on tumblr, I came across a passage that woke me from this naive perspective:

For more great quotes, check out my tumblr and #DailyWings

When I read this excerpt, I instantly felt peace within me. How beautiful words are, and how wonderful it is that the right words always seem to pop up when I need them the most. Perhaps this big old question mark isn't some puzzle to solve on a deadline. Perhaps the question mark is the journey itself, for if we choose to live every day not knowing what's ahead, then things will unfold as they were meant to. 

Had I planned everything out for the next 30 years--down to the very street I'd live on--then there would be no wiggle room for pleasant surprises and unexpected forks down the road. Each day would be geared toward fulfilling those goals, those career aspirations, until they were reached. And what then? My writing wouldn't be about the writing anymore, but rather would become a job that I'd planned for myself. Learning would no longer be about the learning, but a degree etched in gold on a diploma--just another line of text on my resume. Life would be mediocre. And I swore to myself that I'd never settle for mediocrity. 

Moving beyond a mediocre, day-to-day routine, I have devised a short list of to-dos (ironically) in an effort to brood less and live more.

1) Observe others. If people-watching was a career, I'd be all set to go. I learn so much simply by noticing the child walking down the street, tiny hand clutching his mother's pinky, and the man of Chinese-Japanese descent with fingers flying across the piano in Hanes Art Center. And by observing others, I realize I'm not the only one to feel the way I do. These feelings of uncertainty, fear and doubt--they're universal. 

2) Try something different. A few weeks ago, I wrote a historical feature for the first time. I thought it was going to be boring, but through my research, interviews and in-person observations, I discovered a whole new character within a place--something that never occurred to me could exist. Writing about these moments of discovery made me feel excited and alive, and that story assignment has turned out to be one of my favorites. 

Also, a couple days ago, I signed up for the Halloween House of Horrors blogfest. I have written scary stories before, but not "romantic horror." The story idea for this blogfest has yet to be formed, so I guess you'll just have to wait and see what I come up with on Friday, Oct. 19! 

3) Plunge into a challenge. It's no secret that I love NaNoWriMo, but I haven't officially won since 2008 when I was a junior in high school. The point of challenges isn't to win, but to see how far you can push yourself. This November, I'm pushing for 50,000 words. I won't settle for less. 

How do you spice up your life on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Do you consider yourself a planner, or more on the spontaneous side?

Wendy Lu


Monday, October 8, 2012

Share Your Experiences with "Everyday Ambassador": a public service and global citizenship movement

#DailyWings: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." -Leo Tolstoy

Happy October, everyone! Autumn is finally here -- bring out the turtlenecks, brew that hot cocoa and jump in a pile of just-raked leaves! With autumn comes so many possibilities for change and surprise. The temperatures here in Chapel Hill are fluctuating daily, and Mother Nature seems to be as undecided as I am when I pick outfits in the morning. This afternoon, I met with a friend over hot chocolate at The Daily Grind, a small espresso cafe by the campus bookstore, watching the rain drizzle outside and chatting about history, movies and books. What could be better? 

Today I want to take this chance to introduce a website that I am a part of. Since this summer, I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve as curriculum developer for Everyday Ambassador, "a movement for responsible global citizenship in a digital world." At EA, we believe in the importance of cultural understanding, human connectivity and public service, no matter where you are. The Everyday Ambassador team is in the process of organizing workshops, developing a related curriculum and launching the "EA TV" video series. 

We feature 500-800 word posts from a variety of contributors -- members of nonprofit organizations, active individuals, global travelers -- who share their experiences with engaging in public service. These posts are published on our blog multiple times a week, so if you're interested, please feel free to contact our community manager, Meg VanDeusen, at

Reading about lessons learned during gap years abroad, support networks used to facilitate communication for aid workers, and transformations in the public service mindsets of so many everyday ambassadors each week reminds me why I keep going, and why I am a part of EA. How can I not feel motivated to take action when there is so much going on in the world around me? Everyday Ambassador constantly reminds me that it's never too late to make a change for the better, no matter how small that change may seem. Whether we are striving to keep an open mind, maintain good intentions or break down the barriers that are blocking our goals, every step counts. 

These days, I am trying to move beyond a fear of failure. That fear only leads me to doing nothing. I am tired of doing nothing. I want to do things that will make me proud to say, "I tried." Perhaps life isn't about success and achievements, but rather all the things we did to get where we are. The blood and sweat and tears and time well-spent, well-shed. Even if we don't get the results we'd hoped for, we inevitably come out of the experience changed, often for the better. And, hopefully, so do the people whose lives we touch. We can say we did our best. 

As always, the hardest part about anything is taking the first step. Making the conscientious choice to move forward, even if we're not sure where that step will take us next. I wonder where we will be once we take that chance? 

If you're interested in what Everyday Ambassador is all about, check out our Twitter and Facebook, where we share meaningful articles and thoughtful discussions. Join us in the conversation! We would love to hear your thoughts.

Wendy Lu

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