I've decided to start a new little project for myself and publish the results here on the blog. Whenever I get stuck in a rut with my writing I look for small prompts to steer a stream of consciousness writing session for 10-15 minutes. I then take whatever small story I have produced and edit it into something vaguely interesting/workable. Sometimes it ends up being trash and other times I feel pretty pleased with myself.
I thought I'd work on trying to do one stream of consciousness writing prompt a month and see where it takes me.
I collect all my prompts from this website: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/
Here is prompt number one:
Start your story with the line, “By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire.” (Whether this is a literal fire is up to you.)
Here is the story I came up with:
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Like little embers they covered the concrete of the courtyard, each a different shade of orange, red and yellow. I blink up at the sun blazing down on me and raise a hand to shield my eyes. I used to love the sun. The screen door creaks shut behind me as I set off down the back steps out into the courtyard. The XXX tree is still where it was the last time I saw it. The fence is still leaning slightly as if fighting off a heavy weight and the vegetable patch is still where I left it but the vegetables within it are overshadowed by weeds and decay.
I peer around at the courtyard in wonder. How come so little had changed yet everything was so different?
"I can't find her!"
"Sam, have you seen Julie?"
Voices echo from back within the house but I stay where I am, I don't think I have the strength to yell out that I'm outside, they'll find me soon enough. Footsteps seem to echo all around me, I hear doors open and close, muffled voices yell and panicked scrambling from the house.
The back door flies open and Maria comes tumbling through. She hurries down the steps towards me her arms raised out in front of her in shock.
"Oh, Julie. What are you doing out here? You had us scared sick."
"Sorry." I offer weakly, turning to look back at the tree.
"What month is it?"
Maria pulls me into a tight hug, clamping her arms around my neck as she rests her chin on the top of my head like she used to do when I was little.
"It's April, sweetheart."
"April?" The word comes out muffled while my face is squished up against her chest. She releases me from her embrace, holding me at arms length while she studies me. Her long brown hair is graying at the roots and the clip she is using to hold it back from her face seems to have lost its strength too as her hair is frazzled around her face.
"Come inside darling, its chilly out here."
"Where did the swing go?"
Concern flecks up in the corners of her eyes
"The swing? We got rid of that thing years ago, don't you remember."
I stare down at my bare feet in response. Where did my shoes go I wonder?
"Where did my shoes go?" I ask quietly, moving my toes slightly against the cool concrete.
Maria places an arm gently around my shoulders and steers me back to the door. Sam is standing holding the door ajar as she leads me through. He opens his mouth to say something but Maria shakes her head quickly and he retreats. She helps me back up the stairs to my room and lays me gently back on the bed. I tuck my feet up under me and stare at her, confused.
She turns back to face me, perching herself awkwardly on the edge of the bed.
"How long has it been," I ask. There is a gnawing sensation inside me that something is wrong. But it can't have been that long. I took a few weeks off work to recover after I lost James, but that was in Spring, sometime in September I remembered the blossoms on the main street.
Maria looked over at me sadly. Her gaze fell to her lap where she fidgeted.
"About six months. You've been up here about that long, its the best we can do to make sure you're eating and showering but otherwise you just stay up here, in bed."
Six months? That can't be. It was only the other week. I look around the room frantically for something to prove to Maria that she's wrong but I see only filth, clothes thrown across the floor, glasses of half-drunk water spread throughout sitting on the dresser, the floor, the cabinet. An array of prescription medication is stacked on top of the bedside table.
My eyes travel back across the room to his toys, spread out in the corner of the room as he left them, having a tea party.
"I miss him so much."
The tears break free from within again as it comes rushing back instantly, I feel Maria's arms wrap around me but they cannot stop the swell of emotion rushing through me and the memory takes me under.
Six months ago
"James, be careful!"
I look out across our driveway where my son is riding in looping circles on his new tricycle. He's giggling happily but with every lap he edges closer to the road. Perched on the bench seat on the veranda I have a good view of him but the worry still flutters angrily in my stomach.
"James, honey, come cycle at the top of the driveway here, away from the road."
"OK, mummy!" he chortles peddling back towards me.
From inside the house, John calls out something indistinguishable.
"What babe?" I yell back, my eyes never leaving James' oversized helmet.
John repeats what he said, again I fail to hear him. I think about ignoring his calls for me and waiting for him to come out the front. He yells again.
I pull myself from the chair and move towards the door.
At the last moment I look back at James and call out "stay up top OK?" His little arm waves at me and I turn away to the house.
"What's up babe?" I call as I walk down the hallway of our home. Our family photos stare back at me from the walls as I make my way to the end of the hallway and our beautiful, recently renovated kitchen. John has his head in the fridge, food piled up on the stone counter.
"Honey, where did you put the unsalted butter? I know we bought some for the cupcakes this weekend but I can't for the life of me see it in here!"
His frustration bristles at the edges of my mood but I push the thought aside. It's James' third birthday party tomorrow, he has every right to be stressed.
Gently pushing him aside so I can look in the fridge I see it nestled at the back between the banana's and the leek. I smile as I pull it out, triumphant.
A screech echoes' through the house of brakes being slammed.
I drop the butter and sprint towards the door. Please, I silently plead with the universe. Please god no. Please.
The screen door flies open in front of me, John is hot on my heels, I can feel his breath somewhere near my neck as we fall down the front steps to the curb.
A jacked up Subaru is parked in the middle of the street. A boy no older than seventeen is standing by his door with his hands over his head. He looks terrified. I can't see what he's looking at. As we reach the curb I see him. His little tricycle is bent, the red no longer the colour of a firetruck, instead it reminds me of blood. The scream escapes my throat involuntarily.
John pushes past me to his little body but I can't make my legs move.
Not James, not James, please let it be any other boy. I know that it's him, I know it but I refuse to believe it.
The boy in the car looks at me. His face is so white I instinctively worry he might faint.
He starts to speak, says something to me, I can see his lips moving but I hear nothing. Only a faint buzzing.
John is screaming now too, he's bent over James yelling at him. Begging him to wake up. Yelling at the street, the boy in the car, anyone who'll listen.
An ambulance. The thought wakes me from my trance, my fingers fumble the keys as I dial. I was watching him, it's my fault. They'll send me to prison. I was watching him.
I wake in the same room as before. I have no idea what time it is.
Somewhere in the house a phone is ringing.
How long have I been asleep? How could I sleep. I was supposed to be watching him. A solitary tear falls down my cheek.
I hear Julie answer it, say something and start walking down the hall. She knocks lightly on my door.
"Honey, are you awake? I have someone on the phone for you?"
She enters the room quietly and I stare up at her through the doona.
"Who?" I croak. My voice feels unused and foreign.
She holds out the phone to me, a soft smile on her lips.
"Maria?" The voice on the phone asks, the recognition hits me instantly. I take the phone and press it greedily to my ear.
He exhales into the receiver and for a moment I can almost feel it on my neck again.
"Hey, I'm sorry about everything. It wasn't your fault. I want to talk, I need to talk. We need to talk about it and then we need to figure it out."
"OK." I manage the word with difficulty. It feels like an eternity since I last heard his voice.
"I'm coming over tomorrow. To your mum's. We're going to fix this. I missed you Maria."
"I missed you too. I'm sorry I didn't call when you left..." I trail off, biting my lip to stop the sob reaching the surface.
"I know. Let's just meet and try and... I don't know. Pick up the pieces maybe." He pauses for a moment. "I want to try."