For the first week of Writer in Motion, we receive the prompt image (above) and then write a completely un-edited first draft of a short story based solely on the prompt. Any genre, age group, format, etc. is allowed. I blogged about my initial reactions previously. You can check those out here.
This prompt took some time to settle in and inspire a short story. I’d hoped I would instantly be hit with at least the beginnings of an idea, but I wasn’t. Eventually though, a character literally walked out onto a scene very much like the one in the picture. She started to talk, and recite her story, which I’ve written out as my first draft below. There was no outline. No plotting, just her talking and me following along.
I’d planned to write it all in that moment, when she was speaking so clearly and easily, but of course my little one decided to wake up screaming from his nap, so I only got half of it down. I came back and did the rest later, but she wasn’t speaking as clearly. Hopefully she’ll start talking to me again as I work on self-edits during this next week.
I have more thoughts on this piece, but I’ll let you read the first draft before we dive into those.
All week I’ve waited for the chance to see you. It was all I could think of. Every waking moment I saw your face, heard your voice, felt the brush of your fingers on mine. My lungs burn as I pull in another breath of thin air. I’m out of shape, but it doesn’t matter. Not when I’m on my way to meet you.
A stick cracks through the hum of insects. Cool night air seeps into the shadows, chasing away the heat of the day as quickly as the sun drops toward the mountain peaks. But my locket is warm as I rub the metal with my thumb. A gift from you. My lips tug up in one corner. Soon. So soon I’ll see you. We’ll laugh and lay in the weeds, watching the stars appear in the night sky. Up here there’s no city lights to mess up the view. No other people to disturb us. It’s our place, mine and yours. You’ll take my hand and smile at me, just the way you did the first day we met.
How could I ever forget?
Caramel and cream coated my tongue as I licked at the edge of the ice cream cone. Not that it helped, my hands were already sticky, the treat melting faster than I could eat it. But the messy streams crawling down my fingers and dripping onto my sandals didn’t matter when I looked up and saw you. A new face in an old, familiar town. You leaned your bike, an off-road model in my favorite electric blue, against a lamp post on the cracked sidewalk. But not even that mattered when you flashed a shy grin, a coy dimple on your cheek. How long since someone looked my way? How long since I’d even cared?
I brush a pine branch out of my way on the rough path. Its scent chases me, clinging to my plaid sweater as I pull it closer. Up ahead, I catch a glimpse of my destination, a concrete shack more a ruin than a building. Rotting boards cover the windows. Useless since the roof caved in. Who built it, when, or what it was used for, I couldn’t say. But that doesn’t matter. I’m not here for it, only for you.
The clearing is still. Empty. I twist around, brushing a sweat-dampened lock of hair from my face. My chest clenches around a sudden ache. I’m early. Yes, just early. That’s it.
Yarrow and wild wheat catch at my jeans as I cross to the building. I’ll have a better view there. Without thinking, I find the locket again. There’s a pressed flower inside, a reminder of our first trip here. The flowers have faded now, but not this one. Each rub along its smooth, round face calms me. A gentle breeze teases my hair. The last rays of sun dance across the clearing as it sinks behind the mountains. Peaceful. It always is here. Anywhere is with you.
My shoulders loosen as I glance back at the trees. Any moment now you’ll step out on the path behind me with that half smile that makes me weak. Any moment—
My boot knocks into something. I halt, peering down into the overgrown weeds stretching up my calves. A black candle with silver sparkles lays on its side. Wide, short, half melted. My brows wrinkle. We didn’t bring candles last time. And this is our place. Mine and yours. I crouch, prepared to scoop up the offending object when something else catches my attention. Red and black plaid, just like mine, dirty and worn by the elements.
Darkness falls in a rush as the sun fades, stripping the heat from my body. I shoot to my feet. I hadn’t seen it, not with the fleeing light and tall weeds. But they weren’t so tall here. Not in front of me where the plaid held them down. There’s more. Something white, long—
A scream catches in my throat. Bones arc up from the plaid. I stumble, the back of my hand over my mouth. Not here. Not in our place. Tears prick the corner of my eyes.
I fight the urge to run, to scream, to call for help. But no one would hear me up here. Except you. Only you. But I’m not in danger and no one can help this person now. Swallowing the bile in my throat, I inch closer. Other used candles poke out among the weeds. What’s left of the body is stretched out in a cross. Boy? Girl? Old? Young? In the growing dark it’s hard to see, but so little is left. Why didn’t we see it last time?
An arm wraps around me. I scream and jump back, hitting a solid body.
“Shh,” you whisper, and at once I relax, savoring the spearmint scent of your favor gum, the kind you’re always chewing like life depends on it.
I twist my head, lips ripe with words for you.
White hot pain rips through my chest. The words never come. Nor does a scream. Shock fades to numbing cold as I grab for the knife in my chest, but it’s not there. No blood bubbles from a wound. My fingers touch only air. Your breath tickles my neck, but I can’t feel you, not your arms around me, your chest at my back.
I can’t move. Can’t speak. Only the corpse greets me.
And then I see it.
A glint of silver. A circle locket on a chain lying amongst the broken bones and tattered cloth. Mine.
As the last of sunset turn to night, I fall toward my corpse and darkness swallows me.
It took quite a turn, didn’t it? I didn’t see that coming either until my main character (what’s her name? I don’t even know!) experienced it, and me along with her. I don’t know the antagonist’s name either. The antagonist appeared to me as both male and female in completely different forms, but the same spirit. So they are the nameless ‘you’ whom the MC is obsessed with and identify as they/them. ‘You’ is also how the MC referred to them when she told me her story, and who am I to change it?
I’m unhappy with the ending of this draft. There’s more, but my MC was holding back and not speaking to me as clearly when I wrote the second half of this draft, so that’s an area I really want to dig into during revisions. I’ll need to tighten up the earlier parts as well to keep it under our 1000 word limit.
This story was outside my wheelhouse in multiple ways. Firstly, I almost always write fantasy and romance, usually a blend of the two. This story has elements of both, but completely turned on their head and twisted. The MC is obsessed with the antagonist and believes, I think, that they’re in love. But, the antagonist isn’t all they seem. There are elements of the paranormal too, with our MC taking this ghostly last walk to her doom and the candles surrounding her corpse. Something more happened there after she died. I’m pretty sure that’s not the first time she’s taken that walk since her death either. I actually think she might be doomed to make it every day.
Another element outside my usual is the narration. I write first person often, but I’ve never written one when the main character is telling the tale as if to another person. It’s oddly personal, but that’s how the MC insisted it be written.
I would love any feedback you have on how this story landed with you. Don’t forget to come back next week to see how it changes after my round of self-edits!