This morning, after a walk and a discussion about the Australian writing-voice, we came home and set up our computers at the dining table. Then we picked an exercise and set about writing some new words. I chose "Last Line" where you pick up a work, write out its last line and then pick up your story from there.
It's best if you haven't actually read the work before, because it means your mind isn't muddied by the author's words. Lee picked the Locus Awards collection off the shelf and I chose story number 4 -"The Persistence of Vision" by John Varley, a story we likely have read, but not in many, many years.
Lee read out the last line: "We sit in the lovely quiet and dark."
And from there we went.
15 mintues and 390 words later, this was the scene I'd written:
We live in the lovely quiet and dark. This morning when we were five, before Trotter’s ravings turned to screams and we had to turn him outside for the sun to eat, we felt our refuge to be temporary, a short-won thing. Now we had an extra set of rations, an extra set of blankets, an extra few days to make things right.
Four is easier to deal with than five. Three would be easier still. That, however, would mean losing one of my own and I'm not read for that. Not yet.
“I’m cold.” Jay, my youngest son, has broken the silence. The air once thick with tension, eases a little. I put my arms around his shoulders and pull him into my side.
“We’re all cold,” I tell him. “But it could be worse. We could be outside.”
“It’s time,” Argo says. As the oldest child, I have given him the job of counting to 3600. At the end of each count I take a chance and light up the thin console. The main power went shut down days ago, but the back-up generator allows me to shed a little light on the display panel every now and then. The radar flares. I count to ten, sweep my gaze across its dull green surface and yelp. Then I shut it down again.
“They’re coming. Help is coming.” Tyler is standing by my side. He’s seen what I've seen, noted what I’ve noted.
Help is nothing more than a faint blip on the top left corner, but it’s now visible. We can count our rescue in days rather than weeks. We’re saved.
Jay snuggles closer. “Does this mean we can eat now?”
I want to say “yes” and “of course”, but I’ve been in the service too long to take such things for granted. Half of basic training was devoted to holding out a glimmer of hope just to see what the nuggets would do. 75% of them ate their rations, drank their water, jumped up and down to make themselves seen. That 75% went home to their lives as shop-keepers, garbage collectors, milk men.
“No,” I say instead. “Remember your training.”
Outside the searing winds picked up, shaking the ship like a naughty child. My sons settled around me and once more we began to wait.
Interestingly, we'd both written about a small family group, waiting for something to happen. In my case I wrote from the POV of a protective parent. In Lee's, he wrote of the child waiting for the mother to act.
As exercises go, it was a good one. It got the creative juices flowing and now I feel ready to continue with my writing day.