Your Monday Creativity Wake-Up Call: That Strange Day

Hey writers,

The July/August issue of Writer’s Digest is nearly off newsstands, and I feel a bit weepy, like an old friend is about to pack up the U-Haul, give some of those awkward parting hugs and hit the road. I love this edition, and I say that not to get everyone out to the store to gobble it up in droves, but because—from Jessica Strawser’s interview with literary guru Anne Tyler to the publishing survival guide package and the blast I had profiling travel writer Rick Steves—it’s one of my favorites from the last two years.

July/August 2009 WD: Gone too soon, off to the great mag universe in the sky. (Or, rather, to the Internet, where it will live on at the Writer’s Digest Shop.) Luckily it’s slick sibling, the September 2009 issue focused on literary agents, hits newsstands in mid-August, with cutting-edge coverboy Cory Doctorow dishing about his innovative (and seriously cool) approaches to publishing.

As some Monday coffee for your creativity (without all the acidic burn), here’s the prompt I wrote for the July/August issue. Onward!

Yours in writing,

Zachary

PROMPT: That Strange Day
In 500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring:

It’s been raining for weeks and a single thought has been stuck in your mind: It plays itself over and over, and you can’t stop pondering what happened on that strange day—the day it started raining.

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14 thoughts on “Your Monday Creativity Wake-Up Call: That Strange Day

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  3. jared david

    13.august.09
    One hundred days of rain

    We waited almost two hours, huddled together under the concrete pavilion watching the game ball float around the field. The wind-driven raindrops pinned us inside the west wall, where rain, sweat and mud slowly rolled down our bodies as we shook to keep warm. Peering over and around each other’s rain soaked heads, we wondered if the rain would stop before we lost the daylight. We hoped the clouds would at least lighten enough to allow the field to drain, but the water only rose, eventually carrying our ball out of the park and into the sewer as night fell.

    Living in Western Washington, we all knew it could rain at any time, especially in late summer. But in all our seasons of sports, we never had a soccer match called for weather. We were bummed out, but so completely numb by the time our parents wrapped us in trash bags for the trip home we barely noticed our grass-covered bodies itch beneath the thick plastic. We hoped, during that slow ride through back roads and alleys to avoid the small streams that had sprung up over the main drag, that the rain would break so we could practice on Tuesday.

    It didn’t stop raining, but we had practice just the same. And the following Saturday we played an entire match with light drizzle. A month after the rain started, we made up our first game during our bye week at a neutral site with better drainage. Every game, every practice, every day was some combination of misting, sprinkling, drizzling, raining and pouring, and later in the season sleeting. We hardly noticed while we were playing and loved diving through the puddles afterwards. But it became increasingly annoying walking to and from school, loading and unloading groceries and trying to mow the lawn between cloudbursts. It went on like that for weeks, then months. And everyone wondered if it would ever stop.

    We realized at our post-season party, still soaked and dirty form the final whistle, that it had rained every day for three months—an entire soccer season. To thirteen-year-old boys, that was something special. That night, as we gorged on pizza and chocolate milk, the team moms began planning a party for the following week; a one-hundred days of rain party.

    My parents volunteered to bring a few of us to a teammate’s house in their minivan, arriving just as the sky unleashed a torrent. The mothers and fathers huddled under umbrellas, carrying bags with changes of clothes and towels as we raced ahead. It felt like what a day at the beach should have been in a warmer climate, only the water came to us. We kicked the ball around and slid every which way down the slip and slide (which was really just a few blue tarps staked together) and we didn’t care if the rain ever stopped.

    As the sun sank lower and the droplets felt more like icicles stinging our skin, we came inside, dried off and sat around the television to eat. The afternoon was a huge success: the rain did not disappoint and we were all smiles and stories of the past one hundred days. But even during the happy chatter about winter plans in the snow, some of us would occasionally glance out the window to the droplets falling from the dreary gray sky to the lush grass and concrete streets below, wondering if the rain would ever stop.

  4. S.E.Ingraham

    Rain (the day the rain started – and never stopped)

    Do you remember the summer of the rain?
    Of course you do; who could forget?

    I picture the two of us on the big screened veranda, stretched fully on the roll-out with the pillows piled high enough so that our heads were level with the windows. It was unseasonably chilly, remember? The dog days of August were usually blistering hot in the Kiwarthas but when a storm with the magnitude of the one approaching our island came, it had the potential of dropping the temperature a good twenty degrees immediately.

    So there we were, wrapped in our sleeping bags, propped on our elbows, breathless and barely speaking as we watched the storm gathering behind the hills on the mainland. The sky had become overcast around noon but the really stormy clouds didn’t start to gather until mid-afternoon – it was then we took up our posts, as if somehow, by being witnesses, we were important to the outcome.

    One moment the puffy black clouds were just hovering over the mainland, the next, they had formed into a mass that appeared to be marching toward us; a mass with solid edges and an anvil-like shape to its front. All through this mass, we saw spectacular flashes of what we called “inner-cloud” lightening – particularly menacing as it occurred simultaneously with great roaring booms of thunder. And most impressive of all, as if the vanguards of the cloud army, great walls of water were moving ahead of the clouds – it was an optical illusion – after all, how could the rain be falling in front of the clouds? But, it did appear that these sheets of water were cascading from some greater height, something above the clouds, and they were relentless, coming across the lake, obliterating everything in sight, and eventually, everything in sound as well.

    Remember the noise that rain made? The pounding of that amount of water on the lake made an unholy drumming that drowned out thunder! You had your hands over your ears – I probably did too. We couldn’t imagine what the noise was – then, discovering it at the same time, stared at each other in delighted disbelief, and had maybe thirty seconds to marvel at it before the rain hit the island and then our cabin.

    God, wasn’t that sound terrifying? The clamour of those walls of water hitting the roof of our cabin made it sound like it was tearing the place apart. Mother came out and insisted we come inside, off the veranda, convinced we were all going to die at any moment.

    Were you as frightened as I was? I know we both pretended to be brave but recall also that I thought the rain was of the killing variety.

    I think it was about then I started to suspect that the rain was not going away anytime soon. Why that occurred to me, I couldn’t say. I just knew.

  5. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    Message Delivered

    The rain insisted that they dig in the closet
    looking for something, anything,
    that could provide some entertainment.

    They pulled out a cardboard box
    covered with two blankets,
    loaded with mismatched socks and a mirror.

    Rules of the game gave extra points
    if they got a direct under-the-blanket hit,
    a smack in the face with a rolled up sock bomb.

    Holding the now-broken mirror under their noses
    gave them the upside-down illusion
    of precarious stairways, screaming as they fell.

    Dragging the empty box to the top of the stairs
    trapped inside and sliding down
    with only the radiator to ambush their path.

    Mom finally called that the sun was out
    meaning stomachs can slide on slippery grass
    while cardboard boats float in the gutter.

    She was the only one sighing pent up relief
    with an anguished thought stuck in her mind
    and she couldn’t stop pondering.

    God was no sister Goddess of hers,
    no woman could be that scheming cruel,
    proving himself another vindictive man.

    He must have seen as she kissed the mailman,
    started the rain, trapping her husband at work,
    leaving her alone with eight torturous kids.

    God Damn.

  6. Kathrine Shelton

    “Bog and Magog”

    I don’t mind it so much, the rain. Most people do. Maria is worried about her garden which has all but washed out. “You growing mud?” I joked when we met at our mailboxes. She wasn’t amused.

    I like rain because I’m a homebody, another word for antisocial. Nothing I’d rather do than sit alone on my couch, listening to the rain, reading a good book. Shoot, even a bad book’s better than outside.

    Nothing good to be found outside anyways. Nothing but crazy people shooting each other. Kids having sex. Lord knows what else. Manny and Mindy are good enough company for me. They mind their own business most the time, except when they are feeling cuddly, and all I have to do is feed and water them.

    I don’t reckon I know when it started. The rain. But Lord knows it hasn’t stopped since. I thought it was the Tuesday before last, but it’s rained every Tuesday for the past three months, so could’ve been Thursday. Maria thinks it was the Saturday before that. She keeps track of the days of the week by the pills she takes and the weeks by when she gets the prescriptions refilled. Haven’t decided whether that makes her more or less reliable on that matter.

    At any rate, I suppose something triggered that sky to open up and pour out. Can’t rightly remember which came first but I know at least three things happened that week, the week the rain started.

    One: That virus everyone’s making a big deal about, it finally hit our town. First reported case here: a hotel employee. Now three high school kids got it. I reckon that ain’t no coincidence. Though I’d venture to say it was probably passed the other way around. Maria’s afraid for her life, fears she’ll get it. More fatal to the old.

    Two: At least 100 soldiers were killed in the largest explosion yet in the war in the Middle East. A funeral was held two days ago for a local boy who was in that unit. Bagpipes droned. The rain didn’t keep the whole community from showing their respect. Finest display of human compassion I’ve seen in years. Course it had to be a death to bring it out.

    The third, to me, was the saddest: A family down the street moved a couple months ago. Left a few things behind in their house. Maria knows the realtor. Poor soul didn’t know one of the things left behind was a cat. Could’ve been Manny and Mindy’s sister, looks of her. Potential buyers discovered her, skin and bones, in the laundry room. Starved to death.

    The way I figure, the rain had to have started on one of these days. Any good Catholic knows what these things mean. Counting, of course, the dead soldiers as both War and Death, anyways. And I reckon it ain’t going to stop anytime soon. The rain, that is.

  7. J. Alvey

    I’m pretty sure I’m over the 500 word limit, but I just really enjoyed this once I got into it.

    "Clouds of mystery forming, confusion in the sky"
    (CCR reference)

    It’s been raining now for 31 days exactly. I am not normally your weather-watching kind of guy, and wouldn’t even know this little tidbit if it were up to me to get it from the television or the newpaper or the internet since I don’t subscribe to any of them, agreeing finally with the wife that all they bring is bad news or bad vibes.

    No, I know because it was exactly 31 days ago today that my neighbor John started building the kayak.

    Now, if the neighbor to the right of me, my neighbor Roger, had started building a kayak on that day or on any other day for that matter, I probably would not have noticed, at least so much that the day would be crystallized in my mind, such as John’s kayak-building is.

    Roger, you see, Roger builds things on occasion. He has been known to put up a fence on his own, for instance, one of those six-feet tall wooden privacy fences, all around the back of his property, such as it is. Why that old fellow needs privacy these days, I wouldn’t even dare to venture, unless it is simply to avoid having to look at me and my family and the people on his right and behind him having fun or something of the sort.

    Roger doesn’t have much fun any more, as far as I can tell, but Roger can damned sure build stuff. Like the fence.

    And the shed. He secured himself a zoning exemption or some such without anyone else in the neighborhood knowing about it, and built the Taj Mahal of sheds in his backyard, what some of us would refer to as a house. In fact, this thing was built back when Roger was still having some fun, still drinking a beer or two, and he swore, whenever I came by with a beer of my own to watch and listen to him swear, that he was building it for the day when the old lady finally kicked him out for good.

    He said the best friends he ever had were his tools and his lawn mower, and if she kicked him out, he intended to live among those friends of his, along with that damned dog, Whatshisname.

    That’s the kind of character Roger was once upon a time. He named his dog Whatshisname and built the biggest shed in the entire city with the city’s approval even though we all suspect that they had no idea what they were doing. As usual.

    I think the fun went out of Roger when Louise died ahead of him, to be honest with you. I think he wanted her to kick him out eventually, so that he could live in that shed with Whatshisname just to spite her, that’s how much he loved her, and how much he hated her too, now that I think of it, and, well, her death took all of the wind out of that sail, and I guess out of all of his sails.

    The thing is, if Roger had built the kayak, okay, I would have wondered what he had in mind, but I would not have made it a red-letter day in my memory.

    John is another story altogether.

    I’m no real handyman myself, but when John’s pilot light goes out, John calls me over to relight the damned thing. And doesn’t even say thanks.

    If the guy was married, I would probably have slept with his wife by now, just in payment for all of the times I have gone over there to fix a leak or, well, fix a leak.

    John is a computer geek, and likes to brag that while he knows nothing about plumbing or mechanical shit, he can set you right if your computer has issues.

    I don’t have a computer. I think I’ve mentioned that. So John is of little use to me in that respect.

    In fact, to be blunt, John is of little use to anyone in the neighborhood. People in the neighborhood who do have computers say he wants to charge them exorbitant rates to do anything for them.

    Unless he needs you for something, he keeps to himself. He is one selfish son of a bitch, to be honest. And I am being kind. You should listen to what some of the other neighbors say.

    This is why I remember the exact day he started building the kayak.

    The man would cut himself with a pocketknife if allowed to handle one. You know the type? And here he is, in his backyard, on a day that is raining like it will never stop (and it hasn’t), crafting a damned kayak!

    Now, 30 days later, the kayak is up on sawhorses, which are on his second story deck, completely finished, one of the finest kayaks I’ve ever seen, although I don’t pay much attention to them to be honest, and the water is rising everywhere, nearly, in fact, up to the bottom of the kayak, resting on the sawhorses.

    I can see it through my second story bedroom window, where I now reside with the wife and the generator and the cans of food and the bottles of water and not much else.

    He has packed it with the same kind of shit I have here in my bedroom, a bedroom that won’t last much longer, I don’t think. If this rain keeps up, we’ll be on the roof before you know it.

    If it rains for another 9 days and nights, it has dawned on me, I fully expect the selfish son of a bitch to go it alone, with the only pair inside his kayak the ones nestled inside his underwear.

  8. Kim Kennedy

    It had been raining off and on for two weeks, that day it started raining yet again. I barely noticed the pitter patter on the roof, as I stood in front of the mirror, smoothing the rich blue shimmery tunic over my black satin pants. It was New Year’s Eve, and we were going to a party–my host mother, brother, sister, and I. We started driving in the car, and we drove until we reached a dirt road, the likes of which are seen in my country only way out in the boonies, but strangely enough, this one was on the edge of town.

    Halfway down the road, we came across an abandoned pickup truck, half deserted, yet only recently vacated. It was mired to its axle in the deep clay-like mud, which seemed deja vous to a Georgia girl so far from home. The men drew off their overcoats and the women hiked up their dresses and tucked them into various locations on their persons, and we all chose a location on the truck and started to push. I chose the front passenger mirror.

    At first they were upset that I was helping because I was a guest, and guests don’t help, and they most especially don’t get dirty. Wishing to be more family than guest by virtue of the lifestyle I had chosen in this place, I finally convinced them it was all right for me to help. We pushed and we pushed, and still the truck was stuck fast. I saw a board, and we tried putting it under one of the tires. Didn’t help much, though.

    Finally, after we had pushed awhile longer, the truck suddenly turned loose with a loud squelch, and turned toward me as though it had a spirit of its own. The truck began chasing me down the road, and I tried to outrun it through the ankle deep muck, while retaining my footing at the same time. I was just about ready to fall into the mud when the truck got stuck again, a few feet from where it had been in the first place. Deciding to leave it until after the party, we continued on into the house, where we were served warm spiced wine, while the other guests got together and crowned a mud king and queen. All in all, it was one of the best New Year’s Eve parties I’ve ever attended.

    Kim Kennedy

  9. Beth Cato

    The rain began on a Sunday. I don’t know why, but that strikes me as sort of funny. My grandparents were the sort who believed it was a sin to work on Sundays, that we should all dress in fine suits and sit around sipping sweet tea in the parlor. I thought of them when I put on my suit this morning. Martha dressed the kids up nice, too. And Martha, well, she’s always beautiful.

    We weren’t watching the news that Sunday. I was mowing the lawn when Martha ran out, holding up my cell phone. Her face looked so pale, I was sure my dad had another heart attack.

    “Some volcano blew. Your mom is in a panic. Here,” she said, shoving the phone at me. “I’m turning on the TV.”

    Mom was fine. She lives in Texas, down near Corpus Christi. But us, well.

    There wasn’t really anywhere we could go. The news said that Long Valley Caldera had been holding back for centuries. Martha tried to explain it to the kids by reminding them of when old Rocky tore open a pillow and stuffing went everywhere, only this pillow was big and deep, extending into the earth.

    While the electricity worked, we kept the news on all day. Traffic helicopters stayed up that first day and showed the endless red lights fleeing south, north, west; whichever way they went, the ash fell. Slow at first. It was like snow. Kids were running through the streets, sliding on makeshift garbage can lid sleds. We never get snow, so it seemed special.

    But it didn’t stop. It hasn’t. It won’t.

    The roof creaks every now and then. We all pause, waiting. Martha has candles set up in the living room, and we’re all sleeping in there together. I threw out the carbon monoxide detector a few days ago; it made really obnoxious sounds after the power went out, anyway. Martha quietly told me that maybe the carbon monoxide is a better way to go. Quiet. Peaceful. Just go to sleep and not wake up again.

    We’ve been playing board games. Martha taught Davey and Susie how to play jacks. I took down some old joke books and we laughed until we cried. We’ve gone through the photo albums several times, and I even took some pictures of us on the digital camera. Who knows, maybe someone will find it someday.

    The roof just groaned again. Martha looked at me, and I looked at her. It’s going to give soon. We know it. The ash is just too heavy, and it keeps raining down. But we’re together. The history lover in me sees it like some documentary on Pompeii. There we are, in our living room. Martha will throw herself over Dave and Susie, and I’ll push Mike down with my arm. All in a big huddle on the floor, hugging, together.

    We’re even dressed up in our Sunday best.

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