As much as possible, I try to write with my students, and share out what I am doing — talking through my writing process and asking them for feedback. This week, we brainstormed a long list of possible short story titles that we will draw upon in the weeks ahead for writing prompts. It was quite a creative adventure and the list has already provided some nice inspiration for students.
Here are a few:
- The Day Cows Drove Cars
- My Homework Ate My Dog
- Never Put 200 Pounds of Salt in Your Locker
- A Demon Named MCAS
- The Greatest Robot Ever
- Magic Window
- CRASH: A Journey into the TV
- Alien Friend, Where Are You?
- I Wish I Could …
- Holy Monkey Muffins
- Lord of the Springs
(The MCAS one is funny. The MCAS is our state test.)
Meanwhile, I took one of their titles and wrote this story over four periods of writing classes during one day (I teach four sessions). The title was one of my student’s ideas and it just intrigued me.
The Eye in the Hourglass
Who knew the genie would be so cruel? And would bring such bad luck? Surely, three wishes would change my life for the better. But, it turned out that I found a bad genie, a wicked genie, and he twisted my words around like a tornado until the meaning of what I really wanted disappeared into a storm of unfortunate events. My first two wishes should have given me some clues. First, I asked for a bag of gold. What he gave me was bag of stones, with one flint of gold at the bottom.
“It has gold, does it not?” the genie sneered.
My second wish was for a new house. I was thinking of the shack where my father and sisters lived. A new home would be a perfect for my family — a chance to start anew. So what did the genie provide? What was the answer to my wish? A house that fit in the palm of hand. No bigger than a pencil, really.
“Very nice structure,” the genie laughed as I gasped in astonishment.
I should have quit there, but I didn’t.
Instead, I wished for the one thing I always wished I could control: time. I wanted to be able to stop the hands of time and hold off the disease that was raging through my father’s bones. I wanted to hold back time so that I could find a cure for him.
“Done,” said the genie, and before I knew it, he had blinked his eyes, muttered a few words and — boom — I found myself trapped inside some glass compartment. It was curved, with the top being wide and the lower end being narrow. A hole was right in the middle of the floor and there was sand all around me, pouring past me, down the hole into a chamber below me. I realized with a gasp that I was inside an hourglass. I looked up at the genie, who was done with my wishes now. His huge eyeball was pressed near the hourglass, making me feel tiny and powerless.
“So, boy, stop time,” he thundered.
“What?” I asked, confused. “Get me out of here!”
“Oh no. I can’t do that. This is your wish, come true, boy. Stop time. Put your foot in that hole and hold back the Sands of Time. All of time will come to a halt if the sand stops. Your wish has been granted.”
The genie started to laugh again. I stared down at the hold, watching the sand drop. This was my wish? Stuck in an hourglass? I bent down and glanced through the hole to the chamber below. Something else was down there, I realized. Something buried in the sand. It moved and I jumped back. But I could not resist. I bent over again. The movement continued, as if something were shaking off the dust of time. I gasped. There, beneath me, was an eye. An enormous eyeball. And it was staring up at me. I was not alone.
In a panic, I looked for the genie. Surely, he would get me out of here. But he had left the room, apparently, so I scooted a little closer to the hole to get a better look at the eye below me. The sand kept on pouring past me. It formed a powerful current, like a the undertow the ocean, and I must have stepped too close because I suddenly felt myself being caught up in the motion. I started to slip and before I knew it, my foot had become lodged right in the opening itself. I felt another wave of panic and then noticed that the sand was rising up at my foot. I knew I was in serious trouble.
“Genie! Genie!” I yelled. “Get me out of here!”
Either he couldn’t hear me, or he was ignoring me. In either case, the genie was not going to help. That much was clear. I struggled again, trying to free my foot. I turned and twisted, with no luck. That’s when I felt it. At first, it was just a nudge. Almost gentle. And I sense some movement of the hourglass. A ripple, almost. Then, there was a sudden and powerful thud against the bottom of my foot. Then, another. Something was pushing up into me. Something strong. I realized what it was: the eye.
I was frantic now and feeling every more helpless. The eye kept pushing upward. Amazingly, I felt my foot starting to get free of the hole. There was now a bit space, just enough for me take advantage and wrench my body backwards, falling into a pile of sand. My foot was free. And then sand now continued its journey downward. I could now hear the grains of sand hitting something with a thwacking noise.
It must be the eye, I thought. It was getting pummeled by the falling sand. By helping me get free, the eye had put itself into danger. I ran to the hole and looked down. The eye was looking up, sort of sad and mournful, if that was possible. I realized that it had saved my life. And now I was watching it die.
“Hold on,” I screamed. “I’ll try to save you!”
I began digging fiercely to keep the sand from heading into the hole. It was fruitless. Time was running out.
That’s when I noticed the genie. He bent down his head until his eye was just outside the glass window.
“Having fun?” he asked, in a cruel voice.
I was just about to yell at him and demand he free me and the eye from this prison when he reached out, grabbed the hourglass and turned it upside down. My entire world spun around and I bounced from side to side, banging my head and getting sand all in my mouth. Suddenly, the hourglass was reversed. Sand was now pouring down on top of my head. And I could just make out the eye from above, looking down at me just as I had been looking down at it minutes before.
I opened my mouth to scream but sand came in and choked me. Yes, I realized with the cruelest of ironies: Time was most certainly coming to a stop.
As I was writing this, it occurred to me that this would make a great graphic novel story and maybe it is something I will try (someday). Short, sweet but creepy.
Peace (in short fiction),