In today's story, Confluence, a young woman goes on a mystical journey
The word for today's prompt came up during a walk in the woods with my friend, Gretchen Schutte. Our walk took us to a confluence, where two rivers join, and our brief chat about the word stuck with me when I later sat down to write. Other aspects of our walk may have inspired the story as well, since Gretchen and I tend to have introspective talks.
Gretchen is a yoga and meditation teacher, and I teach a weekly class through her virtual studio. You can learn more about her classes and virtual offerings at PeaceinthePause.com.
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 76 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Confluence.
If this is your first time listening, here’s how this podcast works: I choose a short prompt and write whatever comes to mind, with no planning and very little editing, and then share that story with you.
Today’s prompt was inspired by a recent walk through the woods with my friend Gretchen Schutte. In addition to being a yoga and meditation teacher, Gretchen also leads mindful wooded wanders, so she knows all the best places to enjoy a nature walk. Side note: you can learn more about Gretchen at PeaceinthePause.com.
On this walk, we headed through the woods to a confluence, which is the place where two rivers meet. We had a brief chat about the word, and it stuck in my mind as a pleasant word that doesn’t come up very often… Which, of course, made me want to use it in a story!
Here’s where that led:
There was a glimmering haze in the air, a blush of shimmering pink. If it was air at all. It felt like air as Noelle paused to consider her breath, but she’d never seen air that glittered, and she’d never experienced air that was thick enough to hold her body in a shapeless void.
Maybe she was in a bubble of air, Noelle thought suddenly, noticing that the space closest around her had only the faintest shimmer while the haze just beyond her body quickly thickened into a golden orange and pink river of… fog? Mist?
No, it seemed thicker. Whatever it was. Almost solid. Maybe like being encased in Jell-O before it had set. Shifting slowly, in one direction, but so slowly that the movement was scarcely perceptible. Or maybe she was moving quickly but there were no objects around her to show her passage through space.
It was hard to say, caught up in this glittery void. Noelle reached a hand tentatively, feeling for an edge to her air bubble—if that’s what this was—but there was no barrier she could sense. The space around her felt the same wherever she reached her arms and legs. A soft, shapeless mist.
“How long have I been drifting?” Noelle wondered. Then was immediately caught by a more pressing question, “How did I get here?”
She’d been sitting near a riverbank, reading a book in a patch of sunlight. Just like Alice’s sister before Alice tumbled into Wonderland. Was that it? Noelle didn’t remember following a white rabbit. But then Alice hadn’t been reading on that riverbank, it was her sister. Maybe Noelle was the sister. Maybe Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole had sent her into a shimmering stasis where she’d be trapped until Alice returned.
Except she didn’t have a sister named Alice. Or any sister at all.
Noelle shook her head, refocusing on that moment of reading her book in the sunshine. What had she been reading? She checked both hands and neither held a book. Was it a cursed book? A book of magic? Had she inadvertently read a spell that brought her here?
No. She shook her head again and closed her eyes. It felt warm in this glimmering space. Glowing, like the sun had been shining against her face when it appeared from behind that puffy white cloud… Noelle opened her eyes.
The last thing she remembered from the riverbank was feeling the sun on her face. She’d closed her eyes to appreciate its warmth, and when she’d opened them… Voila. She was here, floating in a void and thinking about white rabbits and magical spell books.
Clearly those thoughts were not going to help her. Noelle began to worry that she wasn’t much of a survivalist, given that she was having such trivial thoughts while floating along in a strange, yet lovely abyss. But then again, she felt relatively calm, despite the absurdity of her situation, and maybe that was a good survival skill.
“Stop that!” she told herself. There would be time for self-analysis later. For now, she needed to figure out where she was and how to escape. If she wanted to escape. It was oddly comforting to drift along like this, seeing the glimmers shift from orange to pink. What was that color…? Coral?
It was warm and soft. Yet, Noelle could see a shadow in the distance. A darkening. Just ahead and off to the right. There was a heaviness to that shadow, a grounding. It felt cool and serene. A silvery blue-green acceptance. It simply was what it was. Unquestioningly.
Like picking up a perfectly simple bowl in a pottery shop and thinking this is a quintessential bowl. No more, no less. Just a bowl. Perfectly content in its purpose.
As that thought washed in, Noelle saw a smooth gray slab ahead. A flat rock. She felt her body lightly land on its solid base and she turned to look around. The golden, orange-pink channel she’d been riding swept in from one direction, while a silvery, blue-green canal flowed at an angle beside it.
From her place on the rock, Noelle could see a pale gray emptiness between the two misty rivers. A pale gray void above and beside them. The true void outside of the golden pink haze she’d been in. Beyond the rock, these two airy rivers flowed together. Gold and silver flecks sparkling in patches of green-blues and orange-pinks.
Noelle stood on the rock, watching the mesmerizing colors shift and blend far into the distance.
“Where am I?” she whispered, feeling a gentle curiosity about her surroundings.
In the confluence, a voice whispered back.
“The confluence?” Noelle echoed, not bothered at all by the formless voice.
The joining of your past and current selves.
This answer didn’t make much sense to Noelle, yet it also felt exactly right.
She began to speak, then stopped. Struggling to form a question that would properly capture the moment.
At last, she asked, “Why am I joining myself now? I mean… Wait… What new self? And what about my past self?”
There was no answer.
Noelle studied the separate streams of color and the wider mix of both. While the blended river was fascinating with its ever-shifting mottled shades of aquas and corals, cool glints and golden glows, there was something appealing about the separate streams.
The cool serenity of her past self. The energetic rush of her new self. If that’s what they really were. “Is that really what they are?” she asked, frowning at the idea.
In a way, the voice responded. Or close enough. What were you reading a moment ago?
Noelle was startled by the question. What had she been reading? It was something interesting, something important…
“Oh!” she exclaimed, as the memory rushed back. “It was the story of this young girl in a war-torn country. She lost her brother in an air raid and then…”
The story washed over her. The girl’s struggles. The people who helped her. The people who didn’t. Her later life as she tried to make a difference, the challenges she faced, the setbacks, the small rewards…
Something had shifted inside Noelle as she read those last few pages, wrapping her heart around the story’s bittersweet ending. Seeing the struggles of her own life in a new light, picking out the people who had been there for her and those who hadn’t, beginning to understand why and what she could learn for her own future…
She had closed her eyes to better take it in, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face, and finding herself floating in that coral glimmer.
Yes, the whispery voice told her. A new perspective can come like that, from a book. From another person’s story. From learning more about the world… how our experiences are alike and different… and seeing our own past in a new way.
As the voice spoke, Noelle gazed at the golden glow of the orange-pink river. It sparkled and fizzed with an electric energy. Her cheeks flushed and her heart raced. A smile tugged at her face.
But as she turned to look past the confluence, she saw that the golden pinks seemed to be settling in beneath the darker calm of the blues and greens. As they flowed further down river. Her smile faded, worried that the rush of her new idea would soon be subsumed.
And yet… she turned back to the single flow of blue-green mist, appreciating its stately calm and steady silver sheen. It was beautiful in its own way, filling her with a peaceful contentment.
There will be new ideas, the voice whispered. New golden glows of excitement to add sparks to the contentment of your settled self. Fiery ideas to challenge and bend the shape of your inner being. Adding layers. Shifting ideas that no longer serve you.
“There will be another confluence?” Noelle asked. “And another after that?”
Many, many more, the voice assured.
Noelle nodded, watching the streams of colored light filtering together on the far side of the rock. The golden glints and silver shimmers, the patches of color shifting warm and cool.
She blinked and opened her eyes to the riverbank. Her book lay limp in her hand and the sun warmed her face. Her gaze followed the flow of the river imagining where it might lead.
Thank you for joining me today. If you enjoy Freely Written, please leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts, and share your favorite stories with friends. As a reminder, the stories all stand alone, so you can go back and listen to the ones you’ve missed in any order.
To learn about my novels and other projects, you can visit my website: SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes. My books are available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers. You can also reach out to me if you’d like to purchase a signed copy directly.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]