Prose: Obsolete Words

I’ve been working on a few projects lately, and that always gets me thinking about the process of writing. I love words and how they fit together, the imagery they conjure, the emotions they evoke. Words are magic…sometimes literally, like in this case.

This is another little bit from Lost in the Shadows, a little vignette meant to make your mind wander rather than a complete story. The use of incantations and information as gateways to other paths has always intrigued me. Of course knowledge is power, but what if that was completely literal, what if even reading or thinking the wrong thing led you down a path of real, physical danger or destruction?

This one also came about because of a prompt I was given: obsolete words. I love reading about what definitions of some words start out as vs. what they are now, why things used to be spelled a certain way or gifted with a certain meaning during medieval times, all of that. This was a really quick little thing originally written for the Mocha Memoirs Press blog, because I try to meet my obligations and it’s hard to come up with interviews for every month of the year. Plus, I like rising to the challenge of prompts, whether they’re visual, musical, or a phrase thrown my way.


Karyn started to open the giant, antique volume laid out on her bed, but Gavin stopped her. “Don’t,” he warned.

“Why? It’s just an old book,” she pointed out, shrugging slim shoulders as her fingers stroked the scroll work on the leather cover.

“That’s just the point,” he hissed, dark eyes fiery and intense. He was only five years older, but his status as mage in their secret community made him seem ancient in times like these. It also gave him a chance to throw his ego around. “You have no idea what these things contain. If you crack that cover, read what’s inside…if those words hit the air, hell, even if they don’t,” he babbled, running a hand in his dark hair.

“It shouldn’t matter,” she sniffed and pulled the volume closer to her. “It was in Gram’s closet and no one claimed it. I’m the only one she has left. Ownership goes to me.”

“That doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing!” he practically shouted. “One glance at the wrong kind of phrase…you could unleash all the powers of the unknown without even trying, “Karynia.”

She grimaced at the use of her full name; at least he hadn’t mentioned her title and made it worse. “Aren’t you curious? Or maybe you just want it all for yourself.” He’d been getting cocky lately. For all his knowledge and wisdom, his arrogance very nearly got their little suburb found out by the rest of the Woodhaven population.

His face tightened. She’d either ticked him off or hurt him, it was hard to tell. “You come from an old line.

“I’m just trying—”

“To look out for me. Whatever,” Karyn sniffed.

“Words have power, Karynia,” he whispered, leaning towards her across the mattress. That close, she could smell a delicate mixture of cologne and sweat; he’d gone running that morning, of course. “Especially old words,” he whispered, glancing down at the cover. “Especially obsolete ones.”

“It’s not like I’d know what I was reading,” she pointed out.

“It doesn’t matter,” he insisted. “Words like that…they slip through your eyes and ears, slip into your mind, yank your soul and have their way with you. You’re merely the vessel to give them what they want. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t crack the cover.”

Up close it was impossible to ignore the sharp planes of his face, the furrow between his brows when he was stern and focused. It was so different from the few times that he laughed and his face lit up like fireworks, dancing over his face and otherwise serious demeanor. She bit her lip and sat upright, twisting her fingers. When Gavin glanced down at her hands she quickly moved one  to her hair and twirled an auburn strand around her right forefinger, the finger that wore her grandmother’s ring that designated her as ruler of the little band of outcasts in a modern world.  The silver with its carved knots and runes glittered under the lamplight in the small room. Gavin reached for her hand and she quickly pulled it away.

“You’re so skittish. You can’t be that skittish if you’re going to be a leader. Not about anything,” he rebuked, but there was a sly, teasing glitter in his eyes. Suddenly, she’d had enough. Enough of his know-it-all attitude, enough of his always being around but never really establishing if he was there to help or harass her, enough of the way her stomach tightened and danced every time he came into view. Her stubbornness reared and she lifted her chin in defiance.

“Oh yeah? I’ll show you skittish,” she snapped and slapped the book cover open.

“Wait—“ Gavin gasped and lunged forward, grabbing her wrist. In that moment his eyes inadvertently flicked down, down to the mattress covered by the polka-dot bedspread, down to their joined hands…down to the ancient, slithering script on the page.

And then it happened. His body tensed and he shook fiercely. His mouth snapped shut in a thin line, spittle leaking out the edges as white foam.  His beautiful chocolate-brown eyes rolled back in his head, his hair falling across his face. A low whine came from him and his head tossed from side to side.

“Gavin?” Karyn whispered and tried to take her hand back.

The mage’s hand tightened on her thin wrist as his body snapped and relaxed. Slowly, his head raised up. Eyes darker than chocolate, dark as ink, burned up at her through the long tendrils of his hair. The smile that curled his lips was not arrogant so much as triumphant and cruel.

“You should have listened, little priestess,” he laughed. The voice was not his, but the ancient sound of words that hadn’t been whispered, viewed, or even thought about for thousands of years. His face morphed into something unfamiliar and dangerous as he slowly tugged the gasping woman across the bed, right over the book’s pages, which were mysteriously blank.

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