I did Story-A-Day for the first time last year during the pandemic. It was a great distraction while working from home and trying not to go stir crazy. It also, as it turns out, was an excellent tool for learning to write better. I learned how to make writing a part of my everyday life. I learned the value of friends and writing groups (particularly Jim and Calvin who participated with me from my local writing group). And I learned the value of prompts. I came up with a handful of decent stories, but I walked away with great material for my WIP's side characters, plot twists, and insights how to craft a better yarn.I would encourage you to join us if you are a writer or an aspiring writer. I hope this year to post a story or two on my blog for your perusal. Throw a comment on it if you like where it s going. Remember, the challenge is to crank out a first draft in one day, so sometimes they need a good bit of spit and polish!
Here is one I did last year that the host, Julie, was kind enough to highlight and post on her website. It is your typical retelling of "Ring around the rosies" from the perspective of a vampire bummed that the plague has reduced his meal ticket.
AND HERE IS DAY ONE: The Prompt was a story on a bridge. Took it to be one of metaphor. This is not the story of anyone in particular, but a composite of several I met over my time as a clinic and program director in a recovery clinic. I still to this day admire the strength of those who chose to be well.
Cole took a step onto the swinging bridge. Behind him, his girl said, “You’ll be back. Your pansy ass won’t make it halfway.”
Cole looked out over the ravine. He could see the bridge sway back and forth as the wind blew. He felt the cool morning air made more chilling by the two hundred foot drop below the bridge to the rocks below. A bitter chill punctuated the point as the breeze hit his bare arms.
“Already getting the chills, I see?” came Nance’s snide comment. “hey, when you come back, will you bring me a energy drink?”
Cole took a step onto the first slats not attached to the firm cliff foundation. The bridge’s slats were too close to the anchor points to move, but Cole saw the further he walked out, the more any shift in his body weight would trigger the bridge into motion. He took another step. Then another. The other side of the bridge seemed to be just a twenty yards away, a distance he used to run every play as a wide receiver in high school. Those were the days. Before he hurt his back, before he lost his job, before the needle.
He looked down at his arm and saw the track marks. Then he looked over his shoulder at Nance. She was laughing with Jeremiah and Chase around the camp fire. It looked warm and inviting. Cole shook his head and then turned back to the bridge resolutely. His heart sunk.
The other side was now at least thirty yards away. He turned again to look at Nance, then back to the bridge in front of him. The bridge had expanded another ten yards. He knew the difference between a twenty yard dash and running a half field. Further, he could see the center of the bridge was now swaying wildly back and forth.
Health was on the other side. Cole took another step and then another. He wanted to look back, but knew doing so would somehow make this journey harder and longer. His muscles grew tired at fifteen yards. He felt his feet become anchors. Each step to an energy he had not had in years.
Cole took another step, and then looked up. There was ice forming on the bridge in the middle. He looked at his bare palms in anticipation of having to hold the iced over metal cables serving as a handrail. Then he noticed a fog rising up from the depths in a few moments it would surround him, cutting off his ability to see anything but the steps in front of him.
The fog rose and his vision narrowed. Another chill ran through him, and he wish he had brought a coat onto the bridge. He had one by the fire. Cole thought he should go back, get the coat, and maybe warm himself by the fire a moment. No one would begrudge him that. It was too cold to be out here.
He shuddered and then after a pause gave an even deeper shudder. The first cold came from the wind, but the second swept over him from the cold of being so alone. Cole had never felt so alone. It wasn't just that his friends had remained on the other side with the fire, and with the warmth. It was his greatest friend, the one he could trust and all times. The one that never disappointed him was back there near that fire.
Cole smacked his cheek. He had to stop thinking about it. That drug wasn’t his friend. It was what got him here. It was also the one that had destroyed his life that had caused him to steal from his parents had caused him to leave and not go back to work, that had caused him all the heartache.
The fog around him grew dense. It became harder to breath and the condensation seemed to weigh every step. Looking forward he could see nothing. He chanced a glance backwards. The fire was there, glowing brightly through the fog, welcoming him. Calling him.
He saw a silhouette form. And there, as the mist separated stood his mom. She gently took his chin and redirec his gaze into the fog, toward the other cliff. She stepped beside him and motioned for him to follow.
The next few steps were easy, even though the bridge swayed back and forth. He held the icy cables as feeling left his fingers and thumbs.
The bridge swayed and bounced. He heard one of his friends shout and the bridge gave another lurch upward. He was yelling at Cole, taunting him.
Cole gripped the cable handrail with resolve. There was no feeling in the gesture. In fact, Cole had no reckoning how his hands would hold him if he fell, since he could no longer feel any sensation but the cold.
His mom motioned again. He took steps, boldly forward.
“Mom,” he said, Mom, “ I love you. I'm so so sorry. “
“I know, sweetie. I know. I've come here to help you get across. Come with me.”
She turned and started to walk a little faster than Cole was comfortable with, but he wanted to keep up. She was all he had in this awful place between despair and hope. Cole focused on each slat as he stepped in it. The slats, too, had ice on them, and he felt his feet sliding out from under him.
He looked down and saw darkness. Scared he leaned upward and back, causing the bridge to careen left and then right violently.
His mom reached back to grab him as he stumbled. Cole seized her hand. He must have squeezed too hard for she squealed and then pulled the hand to her chest.
Stumbling, Cole fell toward her and grabbed her sweater hanging loose around her shoulders.
Falling to his knees, he pulled on the sweater. It fell free from her shoulders and joined Cole in his collapse. Cole’s hand went off the slat into the abyss below. His numb fingers let go the sweater.
It fell and tumbled off the bridge. Cole watched the red fabric catch a breeze, threaten to rise back to his hand, and then descend into oblivion. Another item taken from her never to return.
He stood and began to apologize. She took her sleeve and wiped away a tear. “This is exactly what I expected. You haven’t changed. You've just come to steal again. Your dad and I just can’t do that anymore. We can’t live and watch you…” Her words trailed off as she rubbed her eye again with her sleeve. “We love you, son. But we can no longer support your habit.”
And with that she turned. Cole watched her take three or four steps, gliding aimlessly over the icy walkway as if there was no danger there at all. Her figure returned to a silhouette before disappearing completely in the fog. She was gone.
Cole lowered himself onto the bridge. He sat there on his knees for minutes, hours, maybe days. The bridge swayed back and forth as if cradling him. It would let him stay and die there. It did not care about him. Nor did anyone else. And, perhaps he thought, they were right to disregard him, to ignore him, to cast him aside.
Cole realized he was hungry. And he realized he no longer wanted to go to the other side, he turned and looked back. He saw Nance by the fire lighting up a smoke. Indeed, somehow the cliff was a mere fifteen feet away. He thought he had gone further, but perhaps that was just an illusion.
Cole rose and walked back. He placed his foot on the last slat before the walkway sitting on the cliff’s surface. His hands tingled with sensation as they returned to normal in anticipation of the fire, of friends, and of his best friend. He saw a kit with a needle just for him on a nearby stump.
Nance shouted, “Did you get me that energy drink. No? What the hell… It's okay, sweetie. I still love you. We'll go get some and cigarettes later. Right now, looks like you need a hit. Come on over, Chase just found some.”
He looked over his shoulder and realized he could no longer even see the other side of the bridge. What had been a visible objective was now gone. He watched Chase thumped his arm, trying to pull up a vein. As he did, Chase smiled and said, “Yeah man, I got some for you too.”
Cole looked straight into the fire and then around the camp. Things blurred and shadow images appeared. He did so again, this time staring into the flames.
“Cole, you okay?” Nance asked.
He moved his eyes off the fire and again the shadows moved around the camp. His parents were among them, calling worried about him. His sister was crying. His employer was yelling at him to get off the job site. A landlord was placing their broken furniture on the curb. His buddy was knocking on the car Cole and Nance lived in for several weeks. The cop running them off from the underpass. The floor covered in fast food wrappers of the extended stay hotel with no hot water. He saw the ultrasound of Nance's baby, his child Cole would never meet in this life.
He saw his yearbook in the shadows, opened to the page with his picture on it. But where he had once stood a proud fit young man with a scholarship to college to play was a picture of this strained, pockmarked face. Gaunt, scarcely a person anymore. Blisters and sores, thin and unkept.
“I don't want this,” he said, and slapped the cable. The bridge behind him quivered. “I don't want this.”
“Hey sweetie,” Nance yelled. “Chill out. Like, we will go to town tomorrow and, you know, get some work or something. But tonight-”
“No,” Cole said. And for the first time in a long time the word had power. He turned. The bridge was still scary. It slithered into the darkness, growing wobblier and more unstable with every few feet. But on the other side was life.
Cole did not step onto the bridge. He ran. He remembered the scene in Forest Gump where little Forrest ran and ran. Cole imagined that needle was the truck full of bullies chasing him. He ran. He ran from them and he ran because running felt alive.
As he ran, He did not look at anything other than the wood in front of him. He would step over two slats and land on the third. Then he stretched his legs to land on every fourth slat. He was starting to get a stride.
The fog started depart. There was a warmth from the sunshine. He can almost see the other side. He had never felt so good as an adult running. It was like he was that teenager again. He thought he could run like this forever.
Cole’s foot hit down and went too far. The slat snapped as his leg went down through the bridge’s floor. Cole’s upper body slammed into the slats ahead of him and another shot of pain coursed through his leg along with a loud “snap.”
He cried out for help. No one came. He lifted his gaze off the bridge’s floor. He squinted his eyes. At the end of the bridge he saw his mom and dad. His sister were there too. He cried out again reaching a hand toward her.
His sister started to walk out on the bridge. Cole saw his mom place a hand on her shoulder and shake her head. Cole wanted to shout and scream, “Why won’t you let her help me! Don’t you love me? Your own son!”
Then he curled his hands into fists as the pain throbbed across his leg and up his spine again. His mom was right. He needed to do this. People had been telling him what to do his whole life. But if he wanted to be on that cliffside with his family, he needed to do it because it was his decision.
The bridge swayed and behind him he heard Nance’s voice. “Don't worry Cole. The guys are coming to get you. We'll get you all fixed up. We got something for that pain. You gotta be hurting baby. And damn, it's cold as hell out here. What the hell you doing here, anyway. When we got some good stuff over by the fire.”
Cole looked back at Nance. She was holding a beer in her hand and extended it to him to take. In her other hand were a couple of pills. Cole spun and looked again at his parents. Somehow, the bridge extended. They who were a mere fifteen yards away were now thirty. It seemed every time he turned back the journey forward got longer and harder. If he wanted to be where tehre was hope and life he could not keep turning back. Cole resolved he would not turn back again.
The warmth he felt when he ran was gone. It was replaced by a chilling breeze. A few snowflakes landed on Cole’s face. Then a bitter winter chill. He pulled out his leg and saw the blood trickling down. He tried to put weight on it but couldn't so he use the bridge’s cable handrail for support. He took a step and then another and another.
“Cole, where are you going? Don’t you love me? You said I was your forever?”
Cole stopped but did not turn. “Come with me.”
“You know your parents hate me. Besides, we got all the fun stuff back here.”
Cole shivered. The shiver turned into a howl as he accidently placed his weight on the bad leg. The cold at least help dull the pain. His hands were numb and the only way he knew they were on the cable handrails, was from the prints of blood he was leaving with each painful step. “Goodby Nance.”
Cole felt tears form in his eyes as Nance pleaded and then yelled behind him. But he moved forward. It was not fast, but it was a determined, methodical march. At the end his family pulled him into their arms and the warmth again returned, this time to never leave.
Two years later. There are days when Cole still comes out and looks at the bridge He knows he shouldn't. He knows it's better to stay away from that part of his life. He's never touched the bridge’s now rusting cables or put a foot on the rotting slats. He knows if he does, he'll run across it and catch back up with his friends around that fire.
No, Cole never gets close enough to tempt a trip. But he does go. And he looks at the memory that used to be his life. A life may be a poor term. It was shadows mostly. He can't recall the day to day. Only the journey for the next hit. The next high. Chasing the dragon as they call it. “They,” he thinks. It used to be “we.” Cole smiles thankful he is no longer included.
His son asks him to sing another round of Daddy Shark from the backseat. His wife smiles as she holds his free hand. She is patient on these detours, confident that his life is now and always will be with her. He returns her smile, giving her assurance that he will never again cross that bridge.