Today I sent in my first assignment to ICL (Institute for Children's Literature), and boy am I relieved! It was a little (1 whole week) late, but it's in, and I'm glad.
I wrote a letter of introduction to my professor, answered some personal background questions and wrote my first short story for this course.
It's called "Unpredictalbe July" and it's sad. Why, Why, Why must I write sad stories. I just start going with my thoughts and by the end of the story I'm tearing up. Just a little.
But, if you think about it, most of our favorite stories have driven us to tears, am I right? I mean, really...If something is too unrealistically happy, it makes me want to gag.
My inspiration for this story came from a 10 year old boy we met at one of the camps we spoke at this summer. He was having a terrible time one night at the campfire. Sniffling and crying and outright refusing to talk to anyone about it, he slouched over with his Hoodie hiding his face. Somehow, later that night, Jim was able to talk to him about what was bothering him. It turned out his little brother had died in a fire a few years earlier and he was struggling with with the thought that it might be his fault. Jim spent a lot of time talking and praying with this young boy as he waded through all of his emotions.
So, as sad as it may be, it's applicable and real, and that's why I wrote about it. It may seem there is not much closure the story as well. That's mostly because I was limited to 825 words...so, let's just say - it's a good first chapter.
“But, Mommm! Can I, pleeeeaase?”
Annie closed her eyes. If she had to hear her brother whine about one more thing she would scream. Jess wouldn’t give up, though. She knew that.
“Jess,” Mom replied with a touch of frustration in her voice, “I can’t let you do that. It’s too dangerous. Your father wouldn’t…” and then she trailed off and started fiddling with the dishes like she always does when she thinks about him.
Annoyed, Annie marched out of the dimly lit kitchen and onto the porch. She stepped outside and looked towards the barn, now empty and useless. When will she stop saying things like that? It’s been almost a year now since the fire and she still talks about him. Annie wished she wouldn’t.
Jess groaned as he plopped down on his bed. The model airplane that hung handicapped on one translucent string above the bed wobbled in the air as the fan turned and squeaked and blew. He hated this time of year. School would be starting in a few weeks. Maybe he could hold out a little longer.
Ever since the fire, Jess was bound to this house. It wasn’t his fault that Dad and Nick…But, Jess couldn’t think about it anymore. He just flopped over onto his stomach and drifted into a restless sleep. The setting sun still poured light into his room, but he didn’t notice.
July was the most unpredictable month of the summer. The sky was dark with clouds one moment, then a still gray matte the next. And when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, the heat seemed to burn your skin in an instant. The air was thick and the corn was so tall that it sounded like the ocean carrying the tide in and out, in and out as the warm Iowa winds cut through the fields. Jess and Annie had spent hours that day working on the tree house until the rain started pouring down in sheets.
“I told you.” chimed Annie as she ran, pulling her jacket over her head.
“Told me what?” Jess asked. His face contorted with confusion. He tried catching up to his big sister. The rain matted his brown hair to his head and covered his eyes.
“I told you we should have put the roof on. Now we’re soaked!” Annie picked up the pace as the rain began to fall harder and with bigger, wetter drops.
“Let’s go in the barn and wait it out.” suggested Jess.
“No way,” Annie stuck out her tongue as if she had just taken a big bite out of a peanut butter and spinach sandwich with mustard. “You know I hate that barn. Mice and spiders and all that…stuff. I’m going in the house with Mom.”
Jess stopped and glanced toward the barn, while the rain pelted down drenching his already wet clothes. The wind was picking up and blowing from every direction. Jess watched as Dad, with little Nick on his shoulders, huddled under his hooded rain jacket, directed the cows and horses into the safety of the barn. The chickens and ducks squeezed into the opening of a broken slat. Jess remembered that he was grounded for a week when he rode the lawn mower and crashed it into the barn. A small grin appeared on Jess’s face. He remembered Dad trying to squelch his laughter about the whole situation.
“Get out of the rain, Jess!” Mom called from the porch door. The thunder rumbled accompanied by flashes of lightning. She gestured at him to come in. “You’re getting soaked!”
“But…” Jess wanted to help Dad and Nick, but when he turned to the barn again, Dad was just closing the door.
Jess sighed. “Ok.” He replied reluctantly. And he sulked each step of the way until he got to the door.
“Cookies!” Jess immediately perked up as he ran to the kitchen counter.
Annie rolled her eyes, “Can’t you just be patient for once? They’re still cooling.”
Crash! Crack! Boom!
“That was close.” Mom said as she peeled the freshly baked cookies off of the baking sheet.
Annie ran into the porch and stared out the window toward the barn, then Mom followed. “Yeah,” Annie said. “I could feel it!”
Jess smuggled a cookie while Annie and Mom were distracted and joined them at the porch window.
As they watched in silence, the animals began pouring out of the barn doors. Just as they had gone in, they were filing out, but more quickly this time. Jess’s heart began to beat faster, like the pounding of the hooves on the wet ground.
“Is that smoke?” Mom asked with an edge to her voice.
“It looks like it’s coming from the barn.” observed Annie, the tension growing in hers.
“Mom…” whispered Jess. His face was still, his eyes were big. “Dad and Nick are in there.”