A bottle was rolling across the floor of the busy station. She couldn’t tell which one of the thirty or so backpackers crowding the platform had lost it. All of them were loaded with micro-tents, thermos-blankets, portable heaters, and –of course– self-refilling water bottles. She doubted that even the person who had lost the precious survival aid would notice until they’d left with the next inter-planet fare. Each and every one of them was here, she knew, to seek out adventure, because life on Mars was highly regulated and profoundly dull.
The whole scene reminded her of her first time leaving Mars for the wilderness that Earth was said to be. Her family had come to Mars three generations ago. Then, they had been one of the last people allowed to migrate from Earth to find peace and prosperity on humanity’s first colony on another planet. You could still tell by the heavy set of her curvy frame –for Mars standards, that is– that she belonged to one of those families that was newest to the slightly lower gravity of Mars. So no wonder that she had gone looking on Earth for what she couldn’t seem to find on Mars. But for these travelers today the trip to earth would only be a short-lived thrill before going back to their standardized lives.
Someone screamed. She had been so immersed in her own, wistful thoughts of youthful wilderness that she hadn’t noticed the frail, bleach-blond boy going after his water bottle. His backpack was almost as long has he was and he must have lost his balance while bending down to pick it up, right next to the end of the platform. He was now dangling on the edge, holding on to dear life with only one hand, the other one was still grasping that damn water bottle. The fall off the platform would most definitely kill him.
A decision had to be made. And quickly. She could see the boy’s knuckles whiten, his fingers slipping closer towards the brink. She let her shopping bags drop where she stood. The plums that were supposed to be their desert tonight scattered across the platform, as she raced towards the edge. She knew he could probably only hold on a few more moments. So she leaped, catapulting herself towards the boy’s hand, flattening her body against the platform and sliding those last few centimeters towards him. She stretched out her arm, ready to grab the boy’s slipping hand to pull him back onto the platform as soon as she got in range, overshot her target and skidded over the edge.
Context for this piece: Three weeks ago, I started teaching a creative writing tutorial at my university. The tutorial is connected to the introductory lecture to English literature, so most of my students are freshmen. Their writing experiences vary, but for many writing is still a highly personal and private experience, hinging on the ever so elusive inspiration to strike them and get the job done.
In order to help them rid themselves of the restriction of writing only when the mood strikes, I’ve been practicing writing exercises with them in class that they can easily repeat at home. This week, we tried 5-minute writing with prompts. It goes like this: You get a prompt, you write for five minutes, you get a second prompt, you incorporate that second prompt without altering it too much within the next two sentences, you continue writing for five minutes. This is repeated until you’ve used up all of your prompts. I chose to go with four prompts in total, this gave them a solid 20 minutes of writing.
When we shared our pieces with everyone it was amazing to see how many unique story lines, narrative styles and genres had been generated in such a brief time, including gothic-noir, fantasy, crime-thriller and science-fiction. The following text is what I wrote during the exercise. The italicized words are the prompts we used.