In today's story, Weird Blanket, a boy's trip to his local comic book shop takes a magical turn
Today's prompt was requested by my husband, Peter, after hearing the phrase on an episode of Community. I started the story with no idea how I'd include a weird blanket, but I got there eventually!
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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 81 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 Weird Blanket.
Today’s prompt is a little, well, weird. I do love when other people suggest writing prompts and this one came from my husband, Peter, after watching an episode of Community. I don’t remember exactly why… I think weird blanket was a fictional song listed on a fictional album in the episode.
Honestly, it kind of went past me in a flurry of other funny comments but it stuck out to Peter. So much that when I later said I was going to write a story, he very excitedly requested weird blanket for the prompt. It is a promising prompt and Community is an excellent show, so let’s see where this story goes:
Charlie was dreaming. He had to be. Why else would he be standing on a cliff of gemstones overlooking a sea of grape soda? That sort of place didn’t exist anywhere except in dreams.
Except he didn’t remember falling asleep. Or even being in bed. Or on a car ride. Or in his backyard hammock. Or in any of the places he was likely to take a nap.
Instead, the last thing Charlie remembered was walking down a city street on his way to the comic book shop. He’d been to the shop on his own many times now. It was only a few short blocks from his apartment, and he’d never once gotten lost.
Until now. Though he didn’t think this counted as getting lost so much as…? Hmm. He didn’t know what this counted as, given that he didn’t know how he’d gotten here or what was happening.
Charlie turned from the grape soda sea to see what was behind him, presuming that was where he had been walking to get to this glittering cliff. He did not see the familiar city street. The bodega on the corner, the dry cleaner where a cat often sat in the front window, or the guy who sold books from a folding table.
He saw a long, winding path into a dark, tangled forest. A forest he would have remembered walking through if he were awake, which added to his certainty that this was a dream.
But how did he get here? He’d been walking and what? Had he fallen asleep mid-step? Was that possible?
Charlie thought about the phrase falling asleep. Maybe he had accidentally stepped into an open manhole and fallen into this dream world. He looked up but there was no opening in the twilight sky. Only streaks of pink and lilac and faint stars shining on a darkening blue.
That was strange as well since it had been daytime a moment before. When Charlie was walking on the street.
Clearly this was a dream, but it didn’t feel like a dream. Charlie felt wide awake as he studied the shiny gems embedded in the chocolate-colored dirt below his feet.
He’d heard that you could pinch yourself to wake up from a dream, so he chose a spot on his bare arm and pinched as hard as he could. Nothing happened. Maybe it was because he saw the pinch coming, he thought. The pinch was supposed to startle him and there was nothing startling about a deliberately planned pinch.
Maybe he could trick himself into being started by the pinch. Look away and cause a distraction before it happened. He readied his pinching hand over his arm, looked up at the darkening sky and chanted La La La while spinning in three quick circles. Then pinched. Fast and hard.
Nothing. He was still standing on a gemstone cliff overlooking a sea of grape soda. But now he felt dizzy and foolish. Especially when a voice called out behind him.
“What a strange dance!”
Charlie turned to see a large white owl waddling up the path from the forest. Large in the sense of being at least as tall as Charlie’s dad. The owl was also dressed in a similar style, wearing a striped tie and matching vest. Though the owl wasn’t wearing pants and Charlie’s dad always wore pants!
“I was trying to wake myself up,” Charlie explained, feeling shy but sounding defensive.
“Are you a sleepwalker?” the owl asked with great curiosity. He leaned close, studying Charlie with bright, golden eyes. “You don’t appear to be asleep.”
“I don’t feel like I’m asleep,” Charlie admitted. “But I must be, since I’m in a dream world.”
“A dream world?” The owl sounded offended. “This is a perfectly solid world, young man! Not one of those airy places spun of ideas and make believe.”
“Well, it does feel real,” Charlie hedged, trying to soothe the owl’s hurt feelings. “But it’s a very different place than where I live, and I don’t know how I got here, so I thought it must be a dream.”
“Oh, ho!” the owl scoffed. “Any place you’ve never been is only a dream? By that logic, your home is only a dream to me. That makes you a dream sprite and I have no time for those shenanigans. The blanket of night is nearly here and that’s when I go to work.”
There were so many interesting things in the owl’s short speech that Charlie didn’t know which to follow. After a moment of thought, he skipped over the larger idea that his world was only a dream and focused in on something more concrete.
“What is the blanket of night?”
“You must be joking,” the owl scowled, then shook his head in wonder. “The blanket of night is here. Right in front of your eyes. It covers the world every night. Obviously.”
With those words, Charlie realized twilight had passed. He looked up to see a large, midnight blue quilt floating above them. It was stitched all over with lopsided five-point stars and uneven crescent moons. Some of the moons had grinning cows jumping over them. Others were pale green with holes like Swiss cheese.
A large, embroidered boat with three small men drifted through the crowded jumble of stars. They wore old-fashioned night shirts and sleep caps, and their faces were meant to be smiling but loose threads had left them with odd grimaces.
“What a weird blanket,” Charlie muttered, then felt the owl’s feathers ruffle in disappointment.
“It is a beautiful blanket!”
Charlie kept quiet as he looked at the blanket more closely. There were silver sequins and clear plastic beads sewn haphazardly across its surface. Some dangled from broken threads. White stitches swirled around some of the beads, and even Charlie’s untrained eye could see they’d been added by hand.
Someone spent a lot of time making this blanket, Charlie thought. He could see why the owl called it beautiful, even if it was a weird blanket.
“What work do you do?” Charlie asked politely, wondering if an owl could be a night watchman like his dad. But he didn’t get an answer.
Another voice echoed sharply in Charlie’s ear.
“Hey, kid! Are you lost or something?”
Charlie blinked in the sunlight and turned to the man who’d stuck his head out of the pawn shop door.
“No,” Charlie shrugged. “Just looking. You’ve got some weird stuff here.”
He gestured toward the window where a multicolored necklace hung on a brown velvet stand, a purple silk scarf draped over a metal bar, and a stuffed, white owl sat beside a large blue quilt hand-embroidered with a night motif.
“Weird stuff that’s for buying,” the man said gruffly. “You got any money?”
Charlie thought of the twenty dollars he’d brought for comic books. He should go, he told himself. But his eyes drifted back to the store window.
“How much for the weird blanket?”
The man smiled and held the door wide. Charlie saw he was wearing a striped tie and a lightly patterned vest.
“Come on in,” the man said with a smile. “Let’s see if we can make a deal.”
Charlie glanced down the street toward the comic book shop, hesitating, then followed the man inside, wondering what other curiosities might fill this strange little store.
Thanks for taking time for a story break. I wasn’t sure how Charlie’s dream world would lead to a weird blanket, but we got there in the end!
If you enjoy the stories on Freely Written, please tell your friends and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also connect with me through social media and learn about my novels on my website: SusanQuilty.com. Links are in the show notes.
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]