Random Acts of Writing: Mary Whitsell, the Breadbox, and Magic Spells

foundpaper4In honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m  spending the month of November offering you all some writing prompts! Here’s the game: A few times each week I’m posting a picture and a setup. Your task is to write 500 words or less. That’s about a page (single spaced). If you want, you can email me what you come up with (linda dot p dot epstein at gmail dot com) with “writing prompt” in the subject line and I’ll pick a few to post on the blog. Please don’t submit your writing in the comments section, I’m not posting them there. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, for the next few days I’m posting some of my clients’ writing on a picture/setup I challenged them with. If you haven’t yet, try running with this one!

images 5.15.23 PMHere’s one from Mary Whitsell. The task was: Two people are walking in the woods and come across this object. Write a scene where they use the object. You can use dialogue, but it should be <50% of the writing. 500 words or less.

Bailey wouldn’t have seen the box if she hadn’t tripped over it. She could trip over stuff that was barely even there—shadows, pieces of twine, shallow piles of leaves—and she probably wouldn’t have turned around if Jenna hadn’t laughed. 

“Klutz,” Jenna said, shaking her head. Jenna never tripped over anything.

One corner of the box was sticking up, a hard, square shape you could just make out. Bailey poked it with the toe of her sneaker, then leaned down for a better look. “There’s something buried here,” she said. “Some kind of box.” She glared at Jenna. “That’s why I tripped.”

Jenna started to roll her eyes, then saw the exposed corner and frowned. “Huh.”

Bailey heaved and pulled at the box until her arms ached. “You could help,” she muttered, glaring up at Jenna, who stood watching, her arms crossed over her chest. Then there was a great sucking sound and the mud released its buried treasure. 

It was bulky, about the size of Dad’s drillbox and every bit as rusty and unused-looking, caked with mud, flaked with old paint or peeling enamel—you couldn’t tell which. 

“What is it?” Bailey whispered.

“I think it’s a bread box,” Jenna said. “Carly’s mom is into retro stuff—she’s got one. Anyway, come on—I’m going to be late for ballet.”

But Bailey had already pried open the cover. 

Bailey squinted at the sudden brightness—a flash of something, like gold or emeralds under sunlight. Green and dazzling—so different from the dull brown world around them, or the ugly dull cover of the box, for that matter. Jenna’s mouth dropped open. She put her backpack down and bent over for a better look. 

“What’s that?” she said, pointing at a slender white tube. She snatched it up and began to unroll it.

“Don’t!” Bailey cried, despite herself. Jenna ignored her. 

“Listen to this,” Jenna said, reading out loud:

By my hand ye’ll not be fed
Here is not your daily bread

Treasure or reject with scorn;
Through this vessel be reborn

When the lessons have been learned
This container must be burned

All the changes it has wrought
Will remain if they were sought 

“Huh,” Jenna said, crumpling the piece of paper and tossing it back into the box. “That’s weird.” She picked her backpack up and shrugged it over her shoulders. 

“Now let’s go,” she said.

Mom had a thing about them coming home separately if they were going through the woods, so Bailey had no choice but to hurry after Jenna, dodging roots and holes and stones all the way home. And weirdly enough, she never once tripped, for a change. But Jenna did. Twice.

Mary WhitsellMary Whitsell has spent over half her life as an expatriate, living and teaching in other countries including Japan, the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Cyprus. She currently resides in China, where she teaches English as a second language. Whitsell writes fiction for adults and children, creative non-fiction, and poetry, and her work has appeared in places such as Creative Non-fiction, Flashquake, Eclectica, Prole, Vagabondage, Glassfire, Burst, and GreenPrints.

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