This is the piece of writing I brought to the initial gathering. It arose from a prompt my writing group did together: write about three people in a theatre. It took some doing to reduce the original to 500 words!
A door slammed, jolting Ben awake. Dang it. He’d survived the night, but now he’d have to get past Maurice to collect on his bet with Remus.
He started to rise, but Jimmy’s voice stopped him. You made it this far. Don’t blow it all with a foolhardy rush to the front.
Ben dropped back down behind the concession counter, just as Maurice limped into the lobby. He barely breathed as the old man wrestled cleaning supplies from the cupboard and clomped into the theatre.
If you’d let Maurice in on this you wouldn’t be skulking around like a spy in enemy territory.
Sometimes Jimmy’s constant reminders to do the right thing were a real pain in the butt, but he’d come through for Ben so many times, including last night—especially last night—that Ben let it go. Today, he’d be welcomed into Remus’ gang and he couldn’t have done it without Jimmy.
As expected, Maurice was cleaning the left side of the theatre. Ben tried to melt into the shadows as he crab-walked down the aisle to the first row and scuttled along the front seats to the right wall.
I still think you should’ve let Maurice in on it. After all, he is your friend.
Ben shook his head. If a guy was ever going to make friends in the real world, he couldn’t keep spilling his guts to old men. Sure, Maurice told great stories and Ben was grateful for the coins the old man let him keep when he helped clean the theatre, but that didn’t mean Ben owed him his life.
If Maurice hadn’t told you there was no ghost, you wouldn’t’ve had the guts to take Remus up on his dare.
Yeah? So what?
Besides, Maurice would understand. He knew what it was like to live in a war zone. Ben watched the veteran limp out of the theatre for his coffee break.
There’s still time to make it right.
You’re right, Jimmy. There’s plenty of time.
Maurice would linger over his Dr. Pepper, bum leg resting on an upended bucket, his mind replaying Vimy Ridge. Ben lunged for the exit door, imagining the admiration in Remus’ eyes as he stepped, unscathed, from the haunted theatre. He didn’t look back until his hands touched the cool, metal handle.
The theatre was empty.
For as long as Ben could remember, Jimmy had been an invisible ally in a friendless world. He couldn’t just abandon him. Every instinct screamed retreat, but Ben was frozen in the trench between forward and back, immobilized by the conflicting orders in his head.
Then, from a hidden foxhole in his memory, came Maurice’s gravelly voice. War changes you, son. Parts of you have to die so the rest of you can get back home.
Ben pushed open the door. He squinted into the harsh glare of the morning sun and marched, his fallen comrade pushing him forward to claim this hard won piece of ground.
This is the artist's response to my story.
This is the piece of art the artist I was paired with brought to the initial gathering. I loved this little girl's smile!
Here is what flowed from my pen after spending time gazing at Gwen's painting, wondering what satisfying secret this little girl was savouring.
Jillie bounded up the veranda stairs, too full of her news to do anything carefully.
“The trees talked to me!” she exclaimed, screen door slamming in her wake.
“Jill Marie Dawn!”
Mother’s stern tone did nothing to diminish Jillie’s delight. She skipped to Nana’s side of the table, but her grandmother’s eyes held only caution. Suddenly unsure of herself, Jillie drew a circle in the flour coating the table.
“Get your filthy hands out of the flour!”
Jillie snatched her hand away as her mother slammed down her dough, making even Grandpa Henry’s sturdy table shake.
“What are you waiting for? Go wash them!”
Blinking back tears, Jillie lathered up her hands with the harsh soap. She stared out the window, blind to everything—even the ladybug watching from the sill—until the warmth of her grandmother’s hands on her shoulders brought her back to the room.
“Look at the wee coccinelle, come to say hello,” Nana whispered in her ear, before returning to the kitchen table.
Jillie focused on the ladybug’s brilliant orange coat. She counted the dots decorating its back then looked past the insect to Nana’s corner of the garden where she had dreamed away the morning, surrounded by cheerful daisies and elegant columbine and blousy, show-off peonies. Little by little, she felt herself return.
She concentrated until she could feel the earth pressing against her back, the sun warm on her face. She smelled the mint crushed beneath her abandoned weed bucket, felt the rose-scented breeze lifting her hair. Filled once again with Nana’s garden, she cocked her head and listened. Deep and wide, in an inside-out kind of way.
She listened beneath the birdsong, above the bee buzz, around and through the heat-rippled air until her ears opened to the humming grass . . . the singing flowers . . . and, finally, to the trees whispering her name.
We’re here, Jilliebean.
She tuned in to the shimmering poplars shading Nana’s garden bench.
We have all sorts of secrets to share, Little One. Are you willing to listen?
The same joy that had propelled Jillie into the house welled up inside her again, but this time she didn’t let it carry her away. Her steps were measured and careful as she returned to the table. Nana slid a ball of dough toward her. She reached for it, not daring to look up.
When Mother took her dough to the warming oven, Nana leaned over until she was eye to eye with her granddaughter. She smoothed back the child’s fly-away hair and whispered, “They talk to me, too, Jilliebean.”
Jillie’s heart leapt. Did the sun and moon talk to Nana, too? That sound, like softly chiming bells, was that faeriesong? What were the grasshoppers always going on about? Every inch of her sparked with curiosity but, held by her grandmother’s sheltering love, Jillie willed herself to wait. She kneaded her questions into the dough in front of her, lips curved in the smile of a secret shared.