“Tennessee Nathan and the Ghost of Dragon Roost Road” Short Story

A/N: To be honest, this piece was written entirely as a joke. In fact, I had a hard time taking myself seriously with every word I put on the page. My good friend told me a “creepy” story the other night, which instantly provided inspiration for the title. From there, well, the rest is history. This piece is inspired by and dedicated to my old and dear friend, Tennessee Nathan Amerman. Dragon Roost Road is a fictional place, and somewhat an inside joke, but was the perfect setting for a ghostly misadventure.

“Tennessee Nathan” turned out to be quite the farce. I just needed an exercise of my own to do between editing jobs that didn’t involve getting too immersed in one of my major projects. It was silly and absurd, but I had fun. So why not share it? And who knows? Maybe the character, along with his trusty whip and hat, will make another goofy appearance somewhere down the line.

Tennessee Nathan was not afraid of things that go bump in the night. In fact, when he first heard the sound from the woods, he was immediately on the alert for adventure. He only paused before investigating to retrieve his trusty hat – given to him by an old friend – and his trusty whip – that had itself become an old friend.

The woods along Dragon Roost Road clustered together like a gossiping clique. They whispered otherworldly words amongst themselves and harbored shadowy secrets. Trying to peer through the shadows only made evident more shadows. Even straining his eyes, Tennessee Nathan could see no source for the strange sound.

A twig snapped loudly underfoot, and he winced at the betrayal of his position. The rustling grew louder, more agitated. Cautiously, his grip tightened on the coiled whip at his side and he stepped further into the trees. The rustling sounded uncomfortably like the shuffling of feet. Of course, there was always the chance that this could just be an average animal: rabbit, raccoon, fox. The daredevil in Tennessee Nathan hoped it would be more.

Suddenly, the shuffling stopped. Tennessee Nathan stopped with it. When there was no sound for the next few moments, he inched forward again. The animal loomed up out of the darkened brush before him. This was no ordinary woodland animal; this was a beast.

The hulking beast let out a spine-shaking roar and glared down at where Tennessee Nathan stood. It’s eyes burned the red of dying coals. It’s humped back was lined with jagged spines. It was a monster straight from the most horrid of nightmares.

Without further hesitation, the beast swung a wicked clawed hand toward Tennessee Nathan. He threw his whole body into a dodge, rolling away through the detritus. As he sprung to his feet, he reached for his whip, only to find that it was gone. Panicked, he looked around. There it lay in the rotting leaves where he had stood moments before. And there beside his trusty whip was his trusty hat.

“Confound it,” Tennessee Nathan muttered.

The beast’s growl rumbled in it’s caged chest, furious that Tennessee Nathan had avoiding it’s attack. Tennessee Nathan was no stranger to tense situations. Using his honed adventuring mind, he fumbled to find something in the woods around him to use as a weapon. He wandering hands clasped on a think branch and, with a handsome feat of strength, he ripped the branch free.

With a grunt, he hurled the branch at the beast. The wood passed right through the monster’s head, just between the eyes. Of course, it was a ghost beast. What else was to be expected in the woods this late at night?

Thankfully, his whip was also endowed with ancient magic. If only he could reach it.

The beast swung another large fist at Tennessee Nathan. If the adventurer had any window of opportunity, it was now. He spun from the massive hand, then launched himself above the beast’s arm. Tennessee Nathan recovered in a roll mere feet from the twisted claws.

Before the monster could move – it’s reflexes were absurdly slow –Tennessee Nathan yanked the whip from where it lay on the ground, cracking it once to show he meant business. Then, casually, he stooped to pick up the hat, placing it fluidly on his head. Now he was ready.

With the trained, elegant grace of an expert whip-wielder, he cracked the weapon around his head, sending sounds like gunshots echoing through the trees. The trees ceased their whispering. Even the shadows turned to watch the events unfold.

With a mighty snap of his wrist, he sent the whip flying forward. It curled around the creatures arm and pulled tight. As Tennessee Nathan pulled, the whip began to glow. As the whip began to glow, it also began to sever the beasts ghostly flesh. The arm tore off and vanished into a cloud of ethereal smoke.

The beast bent to Tennessee Nathan’s height and roared, pained and agitated. He looked like he meant to charge Tennessee Nathan in a final show of strength. The gust of air from the roar alone almost knocked Tennessee Nathan off his feet. It certainly knocked the hat off his head. With a cluck of his tongue, Tennessee Nathan commanded the whip to return to him, only to send it flying back towards the monsters neck. It only wrapped once, but once was enough.

As Nathan yanked back on the whip, the ghostly beast exploded into purple smoke that dissipated into the shadows. A gasp echoed from the trees. Tennessee Nathan bent down to pick up his hat. Patiently, he dusted off the dead leaves from the brim. Then he rolled he hat back where it belonged and walked casually back to the house, undeterred by any other malicious creatures of the night.

No, Tennessee Nathan did not fear things that go bump in the night. Things that go bump in the night fear him.

Fan Fiction FTW? (Or WTF?)

Let’s be completely honest: most fanfiction is complete and utter crap.

I’ll be completely honest: I’m not big on the genre.

I mean, to each their own. You like fan fiction? Great! All power to you. I just never much got into it and I certainly never wrote it. The biggest reason for that, though, is that you have to wade through stories upon stories of crap until you finally find a gem. And I never wrote it because the prospect terrified me.

How do you write a story that isn’t your own?

How do you stay true to another author’s characters?

How do you attract the interest of fans?

There are two camps: Fan Fiction FTW and Fan Fiction WTF. FTW updates every week, has a plethora of followers, and religiously reads other stories. WTF – the camp I have always shamelessly been a part of – isn’t nearly as willing to comb through the stories to find the good ones. And sometimes they accuse fanfic fans of extreme nerdiness (which I never did, I am a huge nerd and have no right to call others more nerdy than I). Still, when I thought of fan fiction, it was with a small level of disdain. As if I thought I was better than that. (I know, it’s terrible. Hear me out?)

So, when our last assignment in my creative writing workshop was to write a fan fiction short story, I was beyond stumped. Heaven knows, I have enough games, tv shows, and books I am a fan of and could write about. But to actually participate in fan fiction writing…

I struggled. It was so hard. Suddenly, I understood why so few fanfics are any good. It takes a talented writer to compose a story based on someone else’s ideas. And I believe even experienced writers struggle to step into another author’s shoes completely. As authors, characters live floating around in our heads. Sometimes their words and actions even surprise us. So how do you embody characters that don’t live in your own mind?

That being said, fan fiction has become a new writing exercise for me. Since it presents such a challenge, it stretches me as a writer. I don’t do it often, but I did participate in Zutara Week this year for the first time, writing a different themed short story every day. I have a chance to glimpse how things might have been with characters in a different world. I have to stay true to their pre-existing personalities, adapting them with time, and making sure they remain distinctly their own.

Practice in these areas translates greatly into writing original stories. Sometimes we are unaware when character personalities begin to blend. We have to be consistent with their traits, even as they develop and mature. We have to let them be their own people and do things as they would do them, not necessarily as we would. Practicing this from a fanfic standpoint makes it easier as an exercise. The world and characters have already been created, now it’s up to the writer to manipulate them. It hasn’t been easy for me, but I feel I’ve already seen good results.

When it comes to reading it, I’ll probably stay in Camp WTF, but when it comes to writing fan fiction? Definitely FTW.