Photosynthesis (Crannog, Part 2)

Photo by Ryan McGuire at
Photo by Ryan McGuire at

He waited for an hour.

Skulking in the bushes outside my own house, I watched my Uncle Jarlath through a window. We were both waiting; I was waiting for him to leave. I don’t know what he was waiting for. Behind him, several stacks of differently colored journals towered above a squat writing desk. Beside him sat an aquarium. A ball the size of a punch bowl floated in murky, green water. Several tubes chaotically swirled their way up and off to parts of the room I couldn’t see. What I could see of Jarlath’s profile was oddly lit. It reminded me of the frightening scene in the park the other night.

“Magic,” he had said, after I asked him how he’d formed my breath into a chair. “I just woke up one morning and discovered that I could make water turn red simply by imagining Rhodophyta in my mind. Then I found if I pictured an algal bloom in the water, I could make the mixture solid and strong. Strong enough, say, to carry a boy around a park. And if I pictured each individual alga releasing its oxygen—as it’s wont to do— I found I could make water float in mid-air.”

He had paused with a smirk on his face, allowing me to absorb what he’d said. I remember studying him in that moment. Curiously sober and wearing a new suit. His eyes returned to mine as he’d said, “Smile, my boy, you are the esteemed nephew of a Necessary. I register with the Commission in a week’s time.”

I hadn’t believed a word of it. Still don’t. That’s why I’m kneeling in my hedgerow like a common thief. When my uncle finally left his laboratory exactly at 10, he detached the tubes and shoved the aquarium ball under his arm. Now it is 10:04. I had to wait a little longer to make sure he didn’t return. I believe my uncle has hatched a plan to restore himself as Chief Engineer of the Kingdom, so I’m sneaking into his lab tonight to prove my theory. I’ll know what I’m looking for as soon as I see it.

Jarlath’s laboratory was once my mother’s art studio, a room into which I could freely enter. The irony that I now have to trespass into it makes me long for the time when my parents were here. Navlin and Bradan were their names. Years ago, before they were taken, my mother, Navlin, had put the deed of this house in my name as a precaution. The only caveat in the deed was that her brother— Jarlath— would act as caretaker and guardian if something should happen to them before I turned 18. That is why I am stuck with my moody, insecure uncle. I dream every night of the day three years from now when he will no longer be in charge of me.

It wasn’t always this way. I remember when my uncle dressed all in bronzine, the caramelized-orange silk created especially for the Emperor’s chief engineer. As a man with status, Jarlath seemed kind and gracious. A single miscalculation with the aperture size of a pump resulted in his catastrophic loss in status. The fickle Emperor refused to listen to my uncle’s pleas. Unemployed and shocked, Jarlath sought refuge in our house and not long after, the Raiders— the Kingdom’s army— came for my parents. When Bradan dared to ask a stoic soldier the reason for their apprehension, the kelp-eyed man replied, “For threatening the security of the Kingdom.” I haven’t seen or heard from them since.

The quick succession of those two events seem not to be a coincidence. I believe my uncle, in a desperate attempt to regain his prestige, told the Emperor of Mother’s plans to rally the crews of the hydrofactories. The factories filtered the algae out of the bogwater. They are crucial to the welfare of the Kingdom. Since pollution tainted all the other bodies of water, hydrofactories are our only source of freshwater. They are also the Boglands only source of income. It was Jarlath’s aqueduct design that transported the water throughout the Kingdom.

Enough time has passed since my uncle left with the aquarium ball under his arm. If I’m going to do this, it has to be now. Hopefully, I am not seen.


Read all the stories created with the same word and picture prompts by clicking the badge above! Vote for your favorites, even!

This one was tricky with all the flashbacks and explication. How’d I do with my verb tenses? Could you follow me? As always, respectful constructive criticism is welcome.

In case you missed it, the opening chapter of this story can be read here.


20 Replies to “Photosynthesis (Crannog, Part 2)”

    1. Already working on a revision to this to pull out some of the exposition. I think my edits will whip all of these ideas into shape. I’m so glad you like Crannog as much as I do. I just hope I can get this story out the way I imagine it.

  1. Lots of interesting stuff going on here! Love seeing more of this.

    As for your question about tense, I’m a bit tired right now, but here’s one example and how I’d change it:

    “Years ago, before they were taken, my mother, Navlin, put the deed of this house in my name as a precaution.”

    “Years ago, before they were taken, my mother, Navlin, had put the deed of this house in my name as a precaution.”

    Past perfect is used to signify something that happened in the past (putting the deed in his name), before something else that also happened in the past (they were taken).

  2. I don’t remember if you said earlier that this is in some way based on your relatives – I’m thinking names more than the magic part! But either way, I can imagine this as a bit of a reflection of someone’s family history; the “different” almost carnival-like uncle and the nephew who went to live with him. I like what you’ve done with the algae, too. I had been wondering how it was involved during the first part of the story.

    I think there’s a lot going on in this instalment, from Crannog’s snooping to Jarlath’s fall to the parents’ mysterious disappearance, and I’d like to understand some of the backstory a bit better. I think these three elements might merit longer sections with individual attention. As for tenses, I wasn’t sure whether it should flip into the present when he’s kneeling in the hedgerow. It makes sense as you keep reading and find out that the opening scene happened 4 minutes before “now” but it confused me at first. I like Meg and Jenn’s suggestions, too.

    Looking forward to more in this series!

    1. i think the waiting outside was just a situation necessary to hit the prompts this week. I’ll probably axe it. The new chapter 2 will be Jarlath’s explanation of his “Magic.” The new #3 will be in Jarlath’s lab, I think.

      The names are all Gaelic and have something to do with water. For instance, Bradán means salmon. None of them are in my family tree. Although I do have some Irish and Scottish roots.

      You’re right about the family history, although I never mentioned it. Jarlath’s losing his engineering job and becoming an insecure drunk is very much based on my grandfather. Crannog’s independence and insights into people’s behavior are very much based on my dad.

      1. Having studied Celtic Studies, I should have noticed the Gaelic links. Or maybe I did subconsciously, explaining why I like the names so much. Thank you for explaining the family connection – that makes the story so much richer for me. I love the family angle.

        Your plans for splitting this into 2 chapters sound great. I look forward to reading them.

  3. I love how you created the magic in this (these?) story/ies. I missed the first one during my break so actually read it after I had read this one. But in both I could see the magic happening and even got a sense of how it worked – really well done.

    Agree that there might be too much exposition – but it sounds like you already have a handle on how to balance it out. Always enjoy reading your work, Nate. 🙂

    1. I thought having Crannog waiting for Jarlath to leave would be a great opportunity for me to fill in some holes. I don’t like when stories skip over the drudgery of carrying out a plan. Like when cop shows wait 3 seconds for their perp to walk out of their house. But, yeah, there’s too much exposition here.

      Thanks for saying you can see it coming together.

  4. Yay, more Crannog! I’m so glad to get some backstory, and see some of the world that you have built. (Ultimately, maybe you’d want the scene where the uncle explains about his “magic” in real time, after your Part I? I think that would be an interesting scene and maybe a good place to give us the uncle’s backstory, whereas this scene with the house is the natural place for backstory about the parents. Just some options if you wanted to sift out some of the layers. 🙂 )

  5. Great read, Nate. I need to go back and read the first part since I missed it last week, but I love the scifi/fantasy genre. The nephew’s skepticism of the uncle’s powers and his suspicion of the uncle’s motives offer a fine tension and empathy for your protagonist. There may be a wee bit too much exposition but I don’t know what your options are — I’m not sure you could accomplish the same progression forward through dialogue, for example, because the protagonist is spying and maybe he isn’t ready to show all his cards.

    As for the verb tense thing, I am so bad at this that I’m never sure I’m right. I think a couple of places should be past perfect, like this: ” Years ago, before they [had been] taken, my mother, Navlin, [had] put the deed of this house in my name as a precaution.” I could be wrong! Suzanne is the best at finding these.

    Anyway, I love where you’re going with this. I love your historical fiction, but this is equally good. The protagonist’s internal voice is so natural and convincing.

    1. I think my first entry in crannog’s story didn’t give enough backstory and so i overcompensated. But in edits I’ll even things out. The first post was from a few weeks ago. I think it was a week you were in the silver lounge.

  6. It’s funny that you mention the verb tenses, as it’s one of the things that I proof for myself over and over – it’s amazing how easy it is to slip on those. It’s possible you may have gotten one past me, but I didn’t ‘hear’ any, myself. I’m going to go check out Chapter 1, as I’m pretty interested to see where this story goes.

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