At Romancing the Capital, I met Kayleigh Malcolm, who is hysterical, talented, and you should be following her and reading her stuff if you’re at all interested in some smoking hot romance. Keeping in touch after conferences is one of the best things about conferences, and Kayleigh has hooked me up with that awesome Camp Nanowrimo thingamabob tracker that I used all through July for my editing of Triad Blood, as well as this new notion: a photo prompt.
Now, “Write this picture!” doesn’t have a lot of rules around it (another reason to love Kayleigh Malcolm), but the bare-bones idea is to once a month use a photo as a writing prompt. Beyond that, what each author does with it is up to them, but as the other authors post their prompts, I’ll link to them here so you can see how a single picture is worth so much more than a thousand words.
The photo reminded me of one of my favourite places – Sooke, B.C. I began writing stories set in a fictional – but similar – town called Fuca a while back, and have been there twice in fiction. This prompt makes the third.
A momentary lapse in concentration and now here he was.
Wherever here was.
Sam took a deep breath. As far as accidents went, it was a good one. It was a beautiful spot. A narrow lake, clear enough that the trees reflected in an impressionist’s dream. The air smelled clear and fresh – nothing like the air had been just minutes ago in Calgary – with maybe a hint of rain to come.
Right now the sky was clear, of course, and he glanced at the rising sun, feeling the warmth on his face and – beneath the comfort – that unease tugging at him on some deeper level.
Sam resisted the pull.
He deserved a break somewhere nice. It wasn’t like anyone was at home waiting for him. And, really, given how long it had been since he’d slipped up like this, it wasn’t like he hadn’t been trying.
Sam turned, taking in the full length of the lake, and jolted when he saw the large cabin. It was fairly new, and well tended, and had a long upper deck running along the view of the lake. He looked around, worried that someone might have seen him, but…
He looked at the sun again. It was rising. He frowned. Sunrise had been an hour ago in Calgary, which meant he was quite a way west. Given the mountains to the east and the trees all around him, he was going to guess he’d ended up on the west coast, or near to it. He looked out at the lake again and wondered – it was narrow, and there was an island opposite, yes, but could the water lead to the ocean?
He had no idea.
On the plus side, local time being so early, it looked like no one had seen him.
Sam pushed his hands into the pockets of his jeans and started walking up to the cabin, curious. As he came around the side, he saw a small parking lot with about a half-dozen cars, a large placard with what looked to be local trails marked, and a sign above the entrance to the cabin itself.
Fuca Cabins – Green Cabin Rentals – Relax. Breathe. Enjoy.
Sam froze. His body tightened, and he took a physical step back from the sign.
Fuca? He was in Fuca? He looked back over the water and – sure – now he could see that it could very well be a part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but this place was new. Panic rose inside him. He looked at the sign again. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy.
Right. Maybe if you weren’t the dark cautionary tale of the entire town, that could be possible.
He had to get out of here.
“Hello,” someone said.
Sam jumped, letting out a startled yelp.
The man who’d come round the side of the cabin raised both hands. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Sam did his best to recover, putting on his game face. Years of practice nearly failed, he was so shaken, but he managed to smile and shake his head. “No, no. I was just lost in thought.” He took a moment to look at the man who’d come around the corner of the cabin. He was slim, and handsome, in a scruffy way that said he’d only had passing acquaintance with a razor in the last couple of days. His hair, a sandy blond, was a bit messy and a bit too long, and yet the overall unkemptness suited him. Even his t-shirt, a faded yellow that had seen better days, seemed to fit the man in some way that Sam couldn’t put his finger on.
His eyes were a rich brown, and the smile lines around them put Sam even more at ease.
“It’s easy to do that here. You checking in?”
Ah. Sam maintained his smile, thinking quickly. He didn’t know how long he’d be here, exactly, so checking in was definitely not on the list.
“No,” he said. “I’m just scouting around. I grew up around here.”
The moment the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. Why in the world had he admitted that?
“Really?” The man tipped his head, smiling. “Welcome back.”
“Thanks.” It came out a little stiffer than Sam had intended.
The man’s expression softened. “Not a welcome visit?”
Sam exhaled. “Unexpected.” Which was one way of putting it.
“I’m Ashley.” The man offered his hand.
“Sam,” Sam said, shaking.
“I thought so.” Ashley coloured, a blush coming easily to his cheeks when he saw Sam’s alarm. “It’s your eyes.”
Right. Amber eyes weren’t particularly common, and Sam’s were more striking than most. People commented on them all the time, and remembered them.
Even, apparently, after almost twenty years.
“I’m sorry,” Sam’s voice was a bit brittle. “I don’t think I know you.”
“You were friends with my brother,” Ashley said. “Doug?”
“Doug Bradley,” Sam said, barely breathing the name. He blinked, and looked at Ashley again. “You’re Sprout.”
Ashley groaned. “That would be me.”
Sam’s hands were shaking. “Sorry.” If anyone should know the desire to throw off something from the past – even a nickname – it was Sam. He felt sick, and a little dizzy. This was Sprout? He remembered him as the kid brother Doug never wanted around, buck-toothed and always covered in mud. Not lanky and handsome, with dark eyes that seemed to know very well just how much Sam didn’t want to be here.
Fuca. Why the hell was he in Fuca?
He could feel the sun at his back, the warmth spreading through him, and the strange pull that had been growing since he’d arrived.
He needed to get out of here.
“I have to go,” he said, blurting it out.
“Sam, wait,” Ashley said, and reached out. He caught Sam’s wrist, and the touch sent a jolt up Sam’s arm. Ashley let go almost immediately, taking a step back from Sam and looking at his hand like he expected it to be burned.
The two stared at each other. The pressure was building inside Sam at an alarming rate. He’d never felt it like this before, not even when he’d been a kid and…
Oh God. It was going to happen right now.
“Ashley,” Sam said, and that was all he managed to say. The sunlight caught him, and he couldn’t resist as it snapped him back. He rode the light – those few beautiful seconds of warmth and motion and weightlessness – and then he was standing on the deck of his small apartment in Calgary, his cup of coffee still hot on the little glass table where he’d left it.
The last thing he’d seen before everything had turned that blinding, golden white was the look on Ashley’s face. It hadn’t been fear, or surprise, or even shock.
It had been a kind of recognition.
Sam took several deep breaths, staring out unseeing into the Calgary skyline, and beyond, to the mountains. On the other side of the Rockies, in a little town called Fuca, he knew Ashley Bradley was standing outside a cabin rental building and looking east.
Sam picked up his cup of coffee and sipped.
Maybe it was time to go back to Fuca for real.
If you’d like to read more about Fuca, you can meet Keith Bradley (yep, same family as Sprout up there) in Tales from the Den, where the cabins mentioned above are first being built in a story called “Wind and Tree.” You can also meet the local artist-done-well Dylan Hurley and his own return trip to Fuca in “Time and Tide,” found in The Touch of the Sea.
Want to see what other authors did with the same photo?