Inspiration is available in extreme abundance, as long as you know where to look. Growing up, my mother had this expression for those blatantly obvious things that my sister and I missed on initial glance. Usually she said it when we were desperately searching for the remote in the folds of the living room couch even though it rested peacefully on the sofa’s arm. After we had realized where it had suspiciously been all along, she would say:
If it was a snake, it woulda bit you.
Since moving to California, I’ve become somewhat more aware of the real life snakes, especially now that I’m a decorated hiker. I’ve hiked three different mountains in California alone: Cowles Mountain, Iron Mountain, and Mount Woodson. As much as I enjoy the outdoor adventure, the paranoid person within makes sure to keep my eyes roving along the trail ahead for any signs of rattlesnakes. I am not dealing with snakes. I’m not.
Otherwise, I’m up for the surprisingly rigorous trek and freedom that comes with being out in nature. When I’m hiking, I pass by other hikers that are sometimes by themselves, sometimes with another person, and sometimes in a group. The snippets of dialogue I hear while I pass by them are the snakes I allow to bite me unawares. Inspiration for a story is all around us, and eavesdropping and people watching are two great ways to uncover the blatantly obvious sources. So, on my latest hike I decided to jot down bits of dialogue I overheard. Each quote below is from a separate conversation. Your prompt is to choose one of these starters and spin out a story:
And the thing about Brian . . . he still gives me money. That’s how I know he respects me.
You girls just left the door open all night?
Implants are nice.
He walks around in a daze, and I can’t figure out what’s wrong with him.
Will your heart be crushed if you can’t play in college?
Now he’s getting two meals a day instead of one.
Nelson would die if he were out here. Actually, I’m surprised Nelson is still alive.
She’s talent with great practice, and he has the same work ethic but a mediocre voice.
I’ve taken one of the crumbs of conversation above and scripted a scene from it:
The door creaked open. A jolting shiver vibrated across Aiden’s torso. He cringed. Part from the sound, part from the rank smell of a soiled human. The cell opened to reveal a small boy laying on his cot, turned toward the wall. His body was wound tight and puckered into a ball.
If it were any other kid, he would have quit his job or leaked to the press about the fact they kept Jesse, a thirteen-year-old boy, in solitary confinement. But they all told Aiden there was a reason they had to sedate Jesse every week just to bathe him. He assured himself that any other normal kid wouldn’t deserve the confines of this concrete coffin. He set the tray down in front of Jesse’s cot. Aiden dealt with grown criminals on a daily basis, all of them having broken the law to varying degrees. But something about Jesse sent his body taut and shaking like a plucked guitar string. The tray, filled with stale bread, chunks of some unidentifiable garlicky meat, and some soggy veggie medley did not arouse Jesse from his slumber.
Aiden shuffled back, making sure to face the kid on his way out. Word was that Jesse had a knack for injuring people, and he tried it more often than not. Once outside the confines of the cell, Aiden breathed out a sigh, rubbing chest gently. His partner closed and locked the door. Moments later he heard repeated pounding and screams. They both heard Jesse slam the tray against the wall and shared a look that said they weren’t going back in there.
“Murder isn’t that bad! We all die sometime anyway!” Jesse shouted over repeatedly, his words piercing through Aiden’s mind like rain falling through a ragged umbrella.
He felt something inside him wither. Kids were supposed to be out playing—enjoying their youth. Instead, Jessie was serving two life sentences and more years on top of that in Lynchburg Detention Center. Aiden and his partner walked down the corridor, trying to drown out Jesse’s shrill screams. He wondered what else he could do for the disturbed kid. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel sorry for him, but it was a useless feeling because there was no way the warden would let him leave solitary. Aiden thought he was doing Jesse a favor by giving him an extra serving of food. Now he’s getting two meals a day instead of one. That was something. He needed to believe that he had done something—tried something. Anything to make it a bit easier. There should be sensitivity to the fact that Jesse was not a little adult.
There was no warm feeling waiting for him though despite all the work it took to get Harrin, the warden, to agree to Jesse’s extra rations. He ran a tight prison. So tight that Aiden felt he was a prisoner himself at times. The running joke among the guards was that they were all convicts in Harrin’s Alcatraz. The warden was especially tough on this kid though. That bothered Aiden, but he also couldn’t blame the warden. Jessie had killed. A lot. Even now the death count was rising as the police found new bodies, and the state had deemed him too dangerous to be kept in a mental hospital.
As they walked down the solitary confinement corridor, his partner remained quiet, probably not feeling as conflicted. Here at Lynchburg Detention, the guards had their unwritten codes of conduct Aiden was still trying to adopt: you didn’t talk, you weren’t supposed to question orders, and you definitely should not feel any remorse for the inmates.
[Featured photo credit: AlexVan]