I grew up in Kentucky about fifteen minutes from the Red River Gorge, a network of canyons and geographical curiosities of enticing perplexity. While many of my friends spent their summers playing Atari and Nintendo, I preferred exploring the Gorge with my closest friend Ernie. My mother didn’t mind too much, as long as we went together and were back before dinner.
It wasn’t uncommon for us to stumble upon caves amidst the rocks. And as children with few concerns of danger or mortality, we readily climbed inside armed with nothing more than flashlights and sticks; sticks which sometimes acted as magical wands and other times machine guns depending on that day’s adventure.
It was a summer day in mid August when we found one such cave, it was nestled deep in a crevice that would have certainly gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for Ernie’s unnerving interest in searching for snakes. The entrance was smooth but narrow, too narrow for anyone but a child. We squeezed through, our chests and shoulders tight to the walls of rock, our heads turned so our ears pressed against the earth below and rock above. It was a four-foot squeeze before the cavern opened up, first to crawling and ultimately walking height.
We joked and shouted, enjoying the loud echoes bouncing off the walls. Our flashlights cast lanky shadows across the floor. Cool air rushed through the cavity, a release from the stiff humid air of the August day. Ernie and I clambered forward, too young to have any concerns. The cave floor and walls were mostly smooth. A more experience spelunker may have recognized this as a water passage, we simply marveled at the darkness of our secret discovery.
Onward we walked though the passage. It widened further until it was easily fifteen feet across. It was then that we came across a door.
For the first time in our adventure, Ernie and I exchanged nervous looks. Now it seemed that we weren’t exploring uncharted lands, it felt as if we were trespassing on someone else’s secret. Like walking in on another’s intimate conversation, Ernie and I paused not knowing if we should barge in or retreat.
After minutes that felt like hours, Ernie reached for the door handle. He turned and pulled. With a quiet creaking the door opened to darkness. Ernie let go of the handle and walked through the door – his flashlight reaching unanswered into the darkness. Where his hand had touched the cold metal door handle, ghostly fingerprints remained. Ernie faded from view.
“Ernie?” I said again. My flashlight searched the open door, revealing nothing but depth. I realized the cave was cold. Very cold. My arms shivered.
“Ernie!” my exclamation bounced around the cavern behind me.
As quick as his image had faded from view, Ernie reappeared, his face white. “let’s go.”
We raced to back towards the entrance
“What was in there? What was it?” I asked, the cave echo repeating back my pleading questions
“nothing okay! it was nothing.”
This time the cave swallowed his words. This time, there was no echo.
It was the strange lights that drew him from bed and into a jacket over his t-shirt and jeans half-zipped.
It felt too cliché to be real, running into the woods under the moonlight like some science fiction film
from his childhood. The grass was cold; he’d neglected cutting it to a reasonable length and could feel it
gathering between his toes through the front of his sandals.
It was this cold that stayed with him as he walked into the cave, a hole carved into the ground at
a shallow downward angle, just past the tree-line, that hadn’t been there a few days before. It came
over the entirety of his skin as he neared the lights, and intensified as he walked toward them. As he
stumbled nearer – why hadn’t he brought a flashlight? – the cold transformed, changed to a warmth.
The goosebumps remained on his arms but he felt comforted, safe. A subconscious familiarity was in it,
like recognizing a pleasant smell, forgotten since childhood.
The lights absorbed his chills as he walked into them, and he felt embraced by it as if he’d
jumped into a warm bath, and his eyes closed in a gentle relief that washed over him.
As his eyelids gently reopened, the view gradually came into focus – the movie moment wasn’t
lost on him even here, so predictable – the picture was warmly lit and speckled with soft colors. He
recognized it immediately, immediately losing all conscious thought of what had brought him here,
everything leading to this moment. He no longer registered his clothing or the hour, just the smile of his
mother, and her open arms across the field that was once his back yard in the country. He walked faster
now, the grass grinding between his toes to a paste. The woman, his mother, stepped once to her left, and
her arms parted – she continued to smile, and led his eyes with hers as he passed, following her gaze
next onto her outstretched right arm, his focus shifting past her fingers (even as they glowed in the
afternoon sun), onto the innocent face of a 7 year old Christopher. The small figure of his friend stood
there relaxed in a way that only kids can, hardly a care about him.
Chris stared back and smirked as young boys do, and wasted no time in jumping on his bike.
Running alongside him suddenly, his bike from the same age beckoned alongside his friend’s, and as if in
a dream he was riding it alongside – the transition seemed to happen faster than thought and
seamlessly, without question.
The feeling of jumping off a dirt mound was as exhilarating as anything a person could know, the
infancy of his hormones delighting every still innocent nerve, as they carved though the paths and found
new ways to excite each other and grin so hard it hurt, upon hearing the unbridled laughter that told
one of the other’s delight.
It was somewhere in this moment, as it dragged on for a time that he couldn’t ever estimate,
but hadn’t bothered to try, that he felt the warmth depart, the warm blanket of the moment slowly
sliding off of him as he lay paralyzed. The only thing he could recognize again was the grass – it was on
his hands now, and he could see lights again – the stars, staring back at him without emotion, stoic, and
fading… He was in his back yard, but just in his t-shirt and underwear, as if ripped from bed. As the
oxygen that had led him here, ambulatory, faded until he could no longer move his fingers between the
blades, he felt a smile, and could see his mother again – if only in the memory of his last thoughts on this
earth, a dream.
I’d like to send out a big thank you to the participants of last week’s writing prompt. I hope everyone had fun. The general feedback I’ve received from the authors was positive. I think it’d be a lot of fun to do more of this type thing in the future.
Starting tomorrow, I will post one prompt each day at 8am EST.
I have received three awesome prompts from MikeDiDonato.com readers, I hope you’ll consider joining in! I’ll start posting them on Monday, we’ll do one a day next week. And if we get any more? Great!
I’ll be posting the prompts without authorship at first. Then, if the author wants to put their name to it in the future, more power to them. If they want to remain anonymous, that’s okay too!
If you’d like to participate, send your submission to MikeDiDonato AT gmail D0T com before Sunday at midnight!
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – or maybe just me. But still, I’m excited! It’s the first ever Mike DiDonato writing prompt.
Here are the rules:
1. When you’ve got 45 minutes to spare, please click on ‘more’ below to see the writing prompt. For RSS readers, you won’t see the ‘more’ button, so if you’re not ready to spend 45 minutes stop here and come back later.
2. Once you’re ready to go, read the prompt and…
3. Start the timer!
4. When you’ve completed your writing prompt email it over to me at MikeDiDonato AT gmail D0T com. The deadline will be Sunday, March 24th at midnight EST.
Try not to read the prompt in advance and try not to spend more than 45 minutes. We are all honors system here. Jen will be taking over from here so that I will have to obey the same rules as everyone else.
Click more when you’re ready!
AHH! Google is dropping reader!
This is tragic and will likely kill about 50% of my readership, but perhaps the life of the blog is falling out of favor with our twittering youth.
Still, I’m not here today to talk tweet. Instead, I’m here to talk Writing Prompt. Tomorrow Jen is going to come onto my blog and post a writing prompt post. I’m having Jen do this so I can participate in the challenge as well. We’ll set it up so that if you visit the website you won’t absentmindedly see the prompt before you’re ready.
Whenever you are ready, you can take a look at the writing prompt. Then start the timer! You have 45minutes to complete the task.
You’ll have 10 days to submit your entry to me via e-mail. Then during the week of March 25th, I’ll start posting the entries one by one.
Try not to look at the writing prompt in advance. If this event is a huge success we’ll do more in the future with more flexibility in the rules.
All the guidelines will be listed in the post tomorrow. But if you have any questions in advance, feel free to post them here!
Dee-lite’s ‘Groove is in the Heart’ came on the radio at a Cleveland airport eatery. A woman at the neighboring table got really excited:
“oh oh! This is my funeral song!”
My girlfriend Jen aids with 3rd and 4th grade classes at a Connecticut School. At about this time of year she must participate in the miserable administration of standardized testing.
One part of Connecticut’s standardized testing methods are writing prompts. The students are given a brief scenario and are then encouraged to write per this prompt for 45 minutes. The younger students are given exciting fictional prompts like “Your friend gives you a pair of socks that will turn you into whomever you want when you put them on. Tell us what happens next!”
Older students are given really boring prompts like “Make an argument for or against extending the school year.”
No thanks on that last one.
All this led me to an idea: I thought it might be a fun exercise to give a MikeDiDonato.com writing prompt. I’ll have Jen pull out an exciting 3rd grade writing prompt from some past year and then I will post it. I encourage each of you to write for 45 minutes about this topic and submit it to me. I will post all submissions. The only rule is that you can only spend 45 minutes on your creative writing attempt.
I will do it for sure, and hopefully you will too! Let me know if you’d like to participate. I’ll probably have this happen next week some time.