A Bit of Prompting

In Christmas of 2018, I received a book called A Year of Creative Writing Prompts, under the author name of ‘Love in Ink’. There are over 900 prompts in the book, spread out among several genres, and it will give you a prompt a day or let you scour through the lists and choose your own. I believe something along these lines had been a request of mine that year, because I was having difficulty really getting myself to write.

This post will be comprised of a response I have written to one of those prompts, as well as one that I did with a writing group in my town. It’s not some of my best work, since these are things that are written quickly and that I do more just to write, and many of them are left unfinished. Just as a warning for anyone who doesn’t like things to be left so open ended.

(Like my mom. Who goes through that anyway. Heh, sorry.)

I’ll start off with the one from the book. It follows this prompt: A young man is in a minor accident. When he wakes up in the hospital following the incident, he sees a strange being sitting by his bed. Who/what is it? What happened? To be fair, this wasn’t much of a minor accident.

And before you continue reading, think about what that prompt makes you think of. Where would you take a story from that single point? What does the strange being look like in your head, and why are they there? You’ll probably find that your initial impression is quite different from what you’re about to read, or what another person might think of when reading the prompt featured above.

Everything hurt. His chest hurt, his legs hurt, his arms hurt. There was a pounding in his skull that continued with a reliability like clockwork, and his body felt heavy as if it was wrapped in bandages.

It felt like bandages because they were, indeed, bandages. There was pain because he had nearly died.

Stephan groaned, and only just managed to maneuver himself into a seated position. Thoughts were nothing more than a bowl of badly made soup at that point, but he could see that he was in a small white room. It was all white floor, walls , ceiling, and equipment. The bed he was in was probably white, too.

All right, so I must be in a hospital, Stephan’s functioning brain cells determined.

Okay, yes, but why am I in a hospital? asked the rest of the cells.

Because I was knocked over.

Knocked over?

While in the car. Driving down the street. Rammed into, knocked over, sent flipping, and then – black.

Again, Stephan groaned. He looked to his left, where a strange man was staring at him intently. He looked to his right, where a door was situated and a curtain hung near the side of his bed. There was a pause before Stephan whipped his head back to the man.

“I’m glad to see you awake,” he offered. “You’ve been out for two weeks. Took quite a lot of damage there.”

“I’m sorry, but do I know you?” Stephan asked. He was feeling confused, and that didn’t couple with a headache well.

“My name is Titus.” And that was all the information Stephan got.”

Titus stood from his seat, and began to wander about Stephan’s room. He opened cupboards and inspected their contents, looking mystified. At the collection of syringes, he chuckled.

He turned back to Stephan, a couple of minutes later. Titus didn’t look particularly old, yet he was well above Stephan’s age. Stephan wracked his brain. He thought back to parties, old teachers, and those awkward moments when meeting friends of his parents, but he couldn’t place the mystery man.

Then Titus leaned over the foot of his bed and Stephan’s brain kick started enough to recognize that this might have been a stalker. He curled his legs to his chest the best he could, and shrank under Titus’ gaze.

“All right, look,” said Stephan, keeping his voice as calm and steady as possible. “Tell me what you’re doing here right now, or else I’ll scream at the top of my lungs. Someone’s bound to come running.”

Titus smiled. “I’ve evaded being spot by your doctors and nurses thus far. It will make no difference.”

“What do you mean? What-how long have you been here?”

“The same as you. Roughly fourteen days.”

A chill ran down Stephan’s spine just as a doctor walked through the door. She looked surprised. Stephan was thinking that that was rightly so when she beamed at him.

“Mister Lake! You’re conscious, excellent.” She set down a tablet and went to fiddle with the machinery beside him. “I’m Doctor Fern. How are you feeling?”

“Groggy. Sore,” Stephan said. His eyes darted between Doctor Fern and Titus, who hadn’t moved an inch since the newcomer entered the room. Fern went on to say that his reactions were understandable and they would make sure his injuries got better soon, which Stephan interrupted with, “Don’t you see him?”

The doctor straightened. She looked at him with a frown. “Who?”

“Him.” Stephan waved at Titus for emphasis. Fern searched the room, but her eyes seemed to completely overlook the man.

“Stephan,” she said slowly. “Do you think you’re…experiencing any hallucinations?”

Was he? Stephan had no way of telling. Titus looked real, however, Fern couldn’t see him. Stephan thought long and hard, then bit his lip.

“Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Well, we’ll definitely have to check on that.”

Stephan stared at Titus. Titus returned the stare serenely. Fern left the machinery, walked around to where Titus stood, and-

And walked right through him.

Nothing changed about Titus. He didn’t flicker like a hologram. He stood there looking as solid as ever, but Fern still passed through him like he was air. Stephan continued to stare, and Titus smiled.

“You really need some sunlight,” Fern told him as she opened the window blinds. She turned around and paused. “Are you all right? You look like you saw a ghost.”

Stephan swallowed. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Absolutely.”

To her credit, Fern did not look like she believed him. Even so, she said nothing more on the subject. She filled him a cup of water from the tap to put on the table near where Titus had sat.

“Try and get some rest, okay? I’ll be back in with a group to check on you soon,” Fern said. Stephan nodded once, and then she was gone.

He should have been alone. He should have been able to sleep with the knowledge that no one was in there watching him. Instead, he scrambled further away from Titus and tried to find some sort of weapon. His efforts nearly led him to falling out of bed, but Titus was by his side in a second and pushing him back by the shoulders. Stephan slapped his hands away.

“What the heck are you? What do you want?” he shrieked.

“I would suggest you lower your voice.”

“Lower my voice? Lower my voice! Oh sure, I’ll lower my-!”

“If the others hear you,” Titus said, the poster child for patience. “They will, as you said, come running. Then you will have to explain why you’re yelling at an empty room.”

He was right, of course, the jerk. “The doctor. She couldn’t see you, she walked right through you!” Stephan switched his voice to a whisper. “But I can see you just fine. And you were able to touch me.”

“Yes, that isn’t very complicated,” Titus replied.

“It’s complicated to me!”

“Say, do you know what these things are for? I’ve seen them all over the building, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what they do.” Titus held out a bottle of pills to Stephan. He frowned at it, and shook his head.

“You’re scaring me. Like, really scaring me. Is this some sort of supernatural encounter?”

Titus set the pills back on the table. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to alarm you. I simply wanted to stay with you long enough to make sure you would be all right.” He offered Stephan the glass of water and added, “I’m responsible for your accident in the vehicle. I truly am sorry. You were not the target.”

Great place to end, I know. If I had to stop writing it, then it had to be on a dramatic note. Anyway, this one was pretty fun, especially with Stephan’s mounting confusion throughout the entire thing. I for one wouldn’t want a magical stranger to be at my bedside after a car crash either.

The next prompt was done during the writer’s group. You could write anything you wanted, but it had to include a specific list of words. Sage, match, corner, light, and border. This one is considerably less long.

Sage’s wrists were raw and itchy, preventing her from catching any sleep. Even as she sat tucked in a corner, the lights out and nothing else to do, the rope binding her irritated her to the point of insanity.

There were other reasons she wouldn’t doze, of course. Her wooden chair wasn’t exactly comfortable, and the fear gnawed at her stomach persistently. Sage thought that if she had to be there even five more minutes, she would keel over right then and there and someone would come to collect her body in the morning.

The door creaked open. Sage stiffened and squinted, but couldn’t make out the figure drawing near. Footsteps came closer. Closer. Closer. She pressed against the back of the chair, holding her breath.

A single match was struck, and suddenly Sage was peering at a face. He smiled at her. It wasn’t unkind.

“Hello,” he said. Sage didn’t respond. “My name is Michael. You’re Sage, correct? Now, I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to know where your father is.”

Again, Sage didn’t reply, choosing instead to stare at the match. The little flame was crawling down to Michael’s fingertips, but he didn’t seem to care.

“Quiet one, aren’t we?”

“I won’t tell you anything. Leave me alone.” Sage spat in his face, causing him to reel back; at least she got that satisfaction.

“Classy,” Michael muttered, and then he laughed. His fingers were on fire. “All right, child of Callum. Let’s see how you respond to the flames.”

As you can see, I tried to get the required words out of the way as early as possible, although it looks like a missed ‘border’. I’ll be honest when I say that I don’t know what is going on in this scene, and I’m not sure whether I thought on it hard back when I wrote it, so it’s up to the reader’s interpretation. I quite liked the idea of Michael here letting the flame keep going until he caught on fire (you can guess that he’s unlikely human).

Those are just a couple of examples of the writing prompts I’ve used. They can be helpful exercises, and fun to play around with. It’s also interesting to see the variety of things people come up with, so think on what you would have done differently if you were responding to these prompts.