Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back to the Sea

In my writing workshop, the group leader passed around bags with scraps of paper. On each scrap was written a place, person or verb. We randomly picked two places, two people, and one verb. Then each of us had to write a brief story using those elements. I ended up with:

• Place 1: diner
• Place 2: desert
• Person 1: anarchist
• Person 2: lover/spouse
• Verb: flee

Here is my story:

“Everything comes from the sea, and everything must return to the sea.”
Dylan’s eyes caught the sunlight glinting off the truck grilles lined up outside the diner, and his face was so pale that for a second he looked hyper real, possessed.
It was in these moments that Claire couldn’t help herself; when those dark eyes changed, when Dylan said these profound things, when he became taken by an idea, a crusade, or... a dead starfish.

The brittle orange starfish had been perched atop the napkin holder, like the sea creature was under water and holding fast against the rising tide. More likely, it had been attached with glue, until Dylan pried it loose with is ever-fidgeting fingers.

“Can’t we eat lunch first?” She said without much conviction. She’d seen that look before. Lunch would wait.

“Why? He was kneeling on the torn vinyl now, twirling the fish in his thin fingers. “Because that’s what ‘they’ expect you to do? Three meals a day -- morning, noon and night. Or the almighty order of the world will break down.” He shook his head. “What’s so bad about chaos?”

“Don’t be dramatic.” Claire sighed heavily, her stomach growling.

Dylan didn’t seem to hear her; he’d lasered his eyes on something out the window. Outside, a concord of diesel engines panted in the heat. “I say, screw them. Screw them and their three meals a day. “

The other diner patrons were turning their heads. With each head-turn, Dylan raised his voice another notch. He jabbed the starfish at a curious man hunched over the counter. “Screw you, too, gramps.” He hopped off the vinyl bench and turned toward Claire. “Forget this place and all its rules. Let’s break the pattern. Let’s... fleee!

He was still carrying the “eee” when he burst through the glass door and into the parking lot.
Claire followed him. What else could she do?

Outside, on the blacktop, the heat closed in and choked her like a plastic bag around her head. 
Dylan was far ahead, already off the blacktop and into the desert. He seemed to move faster than his casual strides could possibly allow. The shimmering heat trapped above the sand obscured his form and cut at his legs, giving the illusion he was floating. In his black skinny jeans, torn black sweatshirt and combat boots, he looked like some malformed arachnid. Like an alien on a featureless planet. An alien with a starfish.

Claire struggled to catch up. She blinked against the heat and suddenly she was upon him. He’d dropped to his knees in the sand, and he was holding the creature above him like some terra cotta offering to the sister sun. He was chanting, or maybe he was just breathing heavy from the heat and the walk.
The sand crackled beneath him as he swiveled toward her, and then he was looking straight up at her, holding the starfish out like an offering to her, and she realized that if he asked her, if he asked her right there in the desert, she would marry him.


  1. I love the story! What happens next?

  2. Amazing! You did this in an hour long class? A month at least for me to come up with something like this.

  3. Beautiful Brian. It puts the story I wrote to Gavin when I was pregnant (that also involved the ocean and sea creatures) to shame. Maybe I could just copy and paste it into my story? Gav would be so impressed by me one day! Oh wait.... that would be plagiarism. Ok, nevermind. :)

  4. Great story, excellent writing, but what a strange dude. Would it be wise to marry him?

  5. This line made me laugh out loud:
    He was still carrying the “eee” when he burst through the glass door and into the parking lot.

    Curious if you had the story already in your head when you started writing, or if you just made things up as you went along?

  6. nimarii - I thought about the story for a few minutes, then just started writing. I had no idea where it was going to go, but I was pleasantly surprised at the end.

  7. I love it. Beautiful descriptions. I am engaged from the very first sentence.