Concept Art Writing Prompt: A giant's skeleton slumbers beneath a frozen lake

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: A giants skeleton slumbers beneath a frozen lake

Welcome to the Concept Art Writing Prompt, a new, much-demanded feature here at io9. Each Saturday, we'll post a piece of artwork, and ask you to write a piece of fiction based on that artwork in the comments.


Our first-ever concept art writing prompt comes from illustrator John Hendrix. The piece, titled "Autopsy Lake," was done as a cover illustration for The Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association.

If this piece inspires you to write a little flash fiction, please share it in the comments. I'll go first — I expect you all to do better than I do:

Jimmy took his time putting his clothes on. Children were sent to the lake in the dead of winter — when the ice was at its thickest — and in their frigid border town, that meant long underwear and wool socks. He'd pulled on his snowpants before deciding he had to pee, and it took him twice as long to put them on the second time. He filled his mind with urgent daydreams to let his fingers do their mindless tasks: lacing boots, zipping his winter jacket, breathing, not dying. As he thudded down the stairs, he could hear his father's finger rapping against the table, the way they did when Jimmy came down late for church or school.

His father checked his watch. "Nine o'clock, sport. You want to go out there when the sun's at high noon?" He turned his attention back to his newspaper. "You're a braver man than I," he said.

Sweat sprang to Jimmy's forehead, and he tongued the gap between his front teeth.

"Don't worry him like that!" his mother squealed, scurrying into view. As soon as Jimmy reached the bottom of the stairs, his mother, smiling broadly, dumped a brown paper bag into his hands. She smelled like cinnamon and oatmeal.

"I'm not hungry," Jimmy said.

"You'll need it for the trek," she said. "You've gotten so skinny, and you'll need energy to skate."

Right. Jimmy thought. Wouldn't want to miss skating. But he couldn't deny that he had lost weight. Rachel had teased him about it, poking at his ribs and whining that he could probably fit into her jeans. He couldn't help it. Ever since chubby Marvin Meeks told everyone he heard the ice crackling beneath his skates, Jimmy hard barely been able to eat.

"You got your skates?" his mother asked. When Jimmy nodded, he mother threw her arms around him, gripped his hair between her fingers, and whispered something in his ear.

Some boys walked through town before the big skate, waving to the shopkeepers and strolling mothers like conquering heroes. As if skating on Autopsy Lake actually did something, besides prove you were a man. Jimmy took the shortest route from his house to the woods. He paused only once, at Rachel's house, to wave at her darkened window. He saw a faint shadow waving back at him, and could have sworn she looked sad.

He distracted himself with thoughts of his favorite book, The Blank Sky. His classmates made fun of him for reading books like that, books where evidence of gods didn't sit atop high mounts or just beneath icy lakes. In The Blank Sky, people wondered if there were gods, but they had no way of knowing for sure. Even Rachel didn't understand. "I couldn't take living like that," she said one day in his room, tracing her finger down the cracked spines of his paper. "All that uncertainty." Right now, Jimmy could do with a little uncertainty.

Despite his nerves, Jimmy did end up digging his fingers into the paper bag. His mother had packed him three giant oatmeal cookies, packed with raisins and slivered almonds. Jimmy wolfed down two before reaching the end of the lake.

Jimmy had gone to Autopsy Lake for the first time when he was nine. He and some of the other boys had made the trek and sat on the banks, letting their feet slide out onto the ice. Jimmy was sitting at the metacarpals of Velepenir, the Sleeping Giant, who would rise at the end of world, carrying with him the hungry monsters who writhed through his skeleton. Jimmy sat for what felt like a minute, but was probably a mere ten seconds before a dark shadow swam up to the base of the ice. Despite the thickness of the ice, and the fact that it never melted all the way, not even in summer, Jimmy could clearly see teeth flashing at his heels. He pulled his feet back onto the snow, shot upright, and ran back toward the trees, screaming the whole way as his classmates' giggles faded into the background.

As Jimmy set up the tripod for his video camera, he vowed that today would be different. No looking down. Just smooth skating.

He sat on the bank, lacing up his skates. He inhaled the cold air, and thought about what his mother had whispered in his ear: "Thousands of boys have skated on that lake, and you're nothing special." Nodding, he stood up, pushed off, and let momentum carry him the rest of the way.


And now it's your turn.

Autopsy Lake [Drawing on Deadline via Super Punch]

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: A giants skeleton slumbers beneath a frozen lake

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it had been a dozen and a half unsuccessful spring thaws passed over this cloistered secret space since i had taught myself to glide over the dark ice in solitude, scant months after taking my first steps. flying through the night air was my only sanctuary from the distant city-glow that crept over the peaks, upstaging the moon and stars. but this was no place for even the companionship of the firmament, no. it was only right that it was for my eyes alone, even be they closed as i hurtled, whispering through the air from one end of the unknowable frozen depths to the other. for here more than anywhere else in the grinding sameness of my days did i feel a connection to the earth upon which my weary feet would plod, and ever moreso when freed from the friction and the impact of the mere bipedal step. there was a subtle undercurrent of some momentous vitality even in the darkest days of winter. every year, as the thaws began to follow the lengthening daylight hours, just as the scarred and misty surface began to clear, you could just catch it from the corner of your eye, if you didn't look too hard, if you didn't let yourself want to see. the extraordinary gravity of this wee glen, drained of all sign of water in the summer and fall, now filled with the blood of the mountain spring and turned hard as the rocks from whence it so inexplicably came, could only be explained by that glimpse that chased you when you weren't looking. my mind was reeling with the implications of the audacity of assuming that i could even comprehend such a manifestation of the heart of the mountains. but you could just see the sweeping unearthly white curving shapes beneath the ice; they weren't moving, but the diffuse light played off them as i sped above, carving my graffiti into the surface, and they seemed.. alive.

but this year i would not stand idly by and allow this precious mountain gift to disappear with the inexorable heat; one day skating with eyes clenched tight to avoid looking pointedly at what i knew i should not see, the next to return to nothing more than a giant barren rocky hole. this year i would not miss a night, and had not, not for four long months did i miss a chance to be here with my heart of the mountain, willing it forth throughout the dark hours, responding in kind with my pitiful energy what scintillation it shared with me. and this was the night now, i knew. the surface had been clearing well in advance of the late-winter warming. those maddening organic hints and swirls couldn't be hidden by my mere mortal eyelids; the pressure welling up had begun to buckle and crack in a most incomprehensible but fundamentally instinctual pattern, chaos from six feet above, but elegant and complete from a height sufficient to see the whole. i must cut him free, the heart of this mountain. i must follow the path described by his emergence, cut him free so this crystal skin draws him out rather than dragging him back as it had been for time out of mind. such a little thing, to carve along these three lines again, and again, and again, but the grand design was clear, and i could feel the rising of the lake, the drawing of the breath, and flying around, and around, eyes closed tight lest my sight break the spell, the earth began to crack and groan as i was flung back, back into the last vestiges of snowbank in safety as the mountain gave forth its prize.

like twelve tons of gravel flying down the slope came the challenge for which i had hardly dared dream, could not bring myself to believe, such that the creature repeated itself twice more before it registered. "with me"; not a question, not really an order. more like in disbelief. I opened my eyes and drew in a sharp breath we locked stares. i could do nothing but nod slowly, the creature mirroring, and it reached out with its monstrous hand, wrenching me from the snow, and in three strides was scree-running boulders in a late winter avalanche down the side of the mountain. after so many years of an insistent yet unknowing wait, the adventure had begun.