I had completely hit a wall in my writing workshop class. Our final story was due in two days and I hadn’t been able to write anything. I begged my friend for a prompt, and she told me to write something inverse, something that starts with a negative photograph. This is the product:
It snows for days without stopping up here, coating the conifers at the ragged edge of the tree line, painting the needles so that they stand out white against the darkening sky, like a photograph in negative. It is night for days and days for nights up here. This far north, the sun doesn’t work the same. At first, insomnia creeps through the blinds, through the bottom of the door, through every centimeter of separation between the curtains. Then the darkness, rolling in like fog off the sea at the end of this long day’s journey, kicking off heavy boots, sitting down at the dinner table, demanding to be fed.
Prompt: Create an inkblot. Name 10 things you think it looks like. Write a story incorporating as many of those things as you can. For the title of the story, use three consecutive words from any article in a newspaper.
The tree was lit on holidays and festival nights, when the air was crisp and filling, when families were out past their bedtimes but had never felt more awake.
They carried long colored matches with them and ignited the wicks of candles that swung softly in the sinuous arms of the chandeliers that hung from the branches.
So many were lit that the tree seemed to glow like one giant lantern. The leaves were x-rayed by the light, their flesh illuminated around their bones so that they looked like a shoal of fish changing direction all at once on the breeze. Life was drawn in, the tree so bright that thousands of insects mistook it for the moon.
The children climbed into the branches, hands roughed by bark, daring each other to climb higher and higher until the great tree was holding them only by the tips of its fingers, like people hold onto hopes, to memories.
They broke through the pulsing canopy of light and looked out over the valley of night below them. The stars, those distant pinpoints, threw down darts of fire.
And they lit another candle. And they fired back.