Today’s exercise comes from Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft. In both of its parts, the author has to describe something without the help of characters. Part 1 is dedicated to a room, which should describe its occupant without them being present at the time. In Part 2, the goal is to depict the aftermath of an event without anyone currently participating in it. I really enjoyed both segments. The exercise seems very useful as a tool in writing longer works, and Le Guin herself points out that it doesn’t have to be limited to omniscient authorial view. A character could be describing these things from their own point of view (though I opted for the former option).
The room was more statement than office. Every aspect of it designed for a marriage of utility and the demonstration of rank. From the first step one took inside, a portrait of the House’s first ruler greeted them, hung on the wall behind a massive oak desk. Its height was perfectly positioned so that the stern face of the ancient noble would look above the head of the desk’s occupant, adding weight to their every meeting. The desk itself was designed for full integration with the Network, smart surface seamlessly crafted into hand-worked wood, of the kind one had to import from off-world at obscene cost.
Floor to ceiling bookcases covered the dark blue walls to each side of the desk, their shelves packed with physical books – tomes that were clearly priceless artifacts, yet meticulously selected for their relevance to the House lord’s projects. The faintest smell of ozone marked the high-end security fields protecting the paper from entropy or unauthorized fingers.
The office was equipped with complete overlay capabilities as well – projectors and forcefield generators designed to meld with the walls. Yet none of them were ever active, unless necessary for e presentation. Where lesser nobility might simulate expensive art or other objects of great value, this room belonged to a House that could possess anything it wanted in the real world.
And often used that capability, for the sake of demonstration, because it sent a clear message to rival Houses: Anything could be bought.
The sweet smell of rotten wood permeated the small clearing, the bent limbs of branches reaching out with arthritic fingers from the wall of mist, yellow poison seeping out of split bark like pus.
It was almost enough to mask the stench of blood from the bodies on the stunted grass. The tableau told the story of sudden violence. Limbs splayed in unnatural positions, farm-made clothing torn to shreds by sharp claws that had gouged ragged groves into the flesh beneath. And the look of frozen terror on slashed faces, no longer seeing the monster that had taken their lives.
Each body had a totem attached to its wrist – a bracelet of simple copper and High Technology meant to protect in a world where the very air could manifest teeth, even when one could see beyond three feet into the mist. The ancient devices had helped not at all, for the protection they offered was a chance, and not a promise.
The mist advanced now, swallowing the bloated limbs of the diseased trees, closing in on the corpses as their totems no longer repelled it. Grey wisps slithered over dying grass, like a thing alive questing for food. They closed in on the bodies, caressing shredded clothing, covering wounds.
Before the clearing was fully swallowed, the first corpse began moving.