Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt

A Light in the Dark

May 04, 2021 Susan Quilty Season 1 Episode 9
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
A Light in the Dark
Chapters
Freely Written: Short Stories From a Simple Prompt
A Light in the Dark
May 04, 2021 Season 1 Episode 9
Susan Quilty

This week's writing prompt, A Light in the Dark, came about from nothing more than the simple thought of there being a light in a dark place. 

Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways.

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.

Website:  SusanQuilty.com
Patreon: Patreon.com/SusanQuilty

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/SusanQuilty)

Show Notes Transcript

This week's writing prompt, A Light in the Dark, came about from nothing more than the simple thought of there being a light in a dark place. 

Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Otherwise, prompts are chosen in random ways.

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.

Website:  SusanQuilty.com
Patreon: Patreon.com/SusanQuilty

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/SusanQuilty)

Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 8 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 A Light in the Dark 

If you’ve listened before, you know how this goes. As a reminder, I choose a writing prompt and use it to write a short story, with no planning and very little editing, and then I share that story with you.

The prompt for today’s story came from the very simple idea of there being a light in the dark. Here’s the story inspired by that idea. 

 

A Light in the Dark 

There should not have been a light on. 

The house was supposed to be dark. Very dark.

There were black-out shades on all the windows and lined drapes to catch any cracks of light that might otherwise slip through. Those careful measures, meticulously maintained, made the house very, very dark.

Marty needed the house to be this dark, or he couldn’t sleep at night. He needed the dark to quiet his headaches, or he couldn’t think for the pain. The rest of the time, the waking in-betweens where his head felt fine, he still got by with the barest of light. Simple lamps with heavy shades and dim bulbs. Oil lamps or candles. Nightlights plugged into wall outlets. The moonlight on a quiet night and, sometimes, the watery sun that filtered through the clouds on a dark and stormy day. 

Marty did not need, nor want, much light in his life. The darkness had become his caring companion. It held him close, whispering against the nuisance of the light. Warning of the pain it would bring if he indulged in it too much.  

He’d had one of those headaches that morning. The kind that would sink its teeth in with a throbbing pressure, a weakening chill, and a needling ache in the center of his left eye. The kind that left him pleading for release. Those headaches could not handle more than the gentlest of light. A single candle flame. The soft pink of a salt lamp. More often than not, they could handle no light at all. 

He’d made it through the pain that morning, after groping blindly for plugs and switches, banging his shins and pinching his fingers in the effort to extinguish it all. He’d rested on the thick rug in the living room, stretched into the narrow space between the couch and the coffee table. He’d clasped his palms over his eyes, savoring their warmth as they covered his closed eyes, much as the thick drapes covered the closed shades. 

He didn’t know how long he stayed on the floor in that way. 

Eventually, the headache released its grip and melted away. 

He may have slept, for a while. 

He may have lingered in a waking daze.

With no light, there was little awareness of the passage of time.

With no thought, there was little awareness at all.

When the pain had faded completely, Marty eased his hands from his closed eyes. He turned his head from side to side, testing the effect. He let his jaw relax and felt his lips gently part. His body was stiff from his time on the floor, but he was used to that. 

With his eyes still closed, Marty began to think through his plans for a meal. His stomach was hungry. His throat was thirsty. Cooking would involve some light. There would be the blue flames of the gas stove. There would be the yellow glow of the oil lamp on the kitchen counter. That would be enough to open the boxes and cans he would need, to fish out the appropriate pans and dishes. His kitchen was meticulously organized for the days when he needed to function without any light at all, but Marty preferred a little light. When he could manage it. 

He wouldn’t need any other lights to make it down the short hall to the kitchen. He’d memorized his home long ago. He’d rather spend his light during his meal and, perhaps, with his book light after dinner. There was a novel he’d like to finish reading. Someday.

With these decisions made, Marty stretched his arms and opened his eyes. 

There was an unexpected glow. 

Marty closed his eyes, quickly, his breath shallow, as his mind raced for its source. The light was close but not in the room, he thought. Though he’d shut his eyes so quickly, he couldn’t be sure. It wasn’t a light he recognized and the idea of that—of an unknown light in his carefully contained home—was preposterous. Where would it have come from? How would it have turned on?

How long had it been on? Marty’s skin felt clammy as he imagined a world where there had been a light shining, right there, without his notice. A lamp glowing, without permission, in his living room. A light he may not have perceived under his closed eyes and protective hands. 

With a breath of courage, Marty cracked one eye open. 

The light was still there. 

The source of the light was not in the living room, but its glow poured freely in. The whole room was softly lit. It seemed to be getting brighter as Marty’s eyes adjusted to the details appearing around him. There was a floral pattern on the couch. One that seemed familiar, yet different than the design he’d remembered. There were knickknacks on the shelves, settled between the rows of books. Small statues and ceramic dishes that had been overlooked in his candle-lit searches for favorite titles. 

A shaft of light streamed in from the hallway. 

Marty sat up, studying the light for several minutes before getting to his feet. 

Clearly, the light was coming from the hall. Yet, when Marty passed through the doorway, he saw that the wide hallway had the same effect as the living room. The space was softly lit, letting him take in the carved coatrack near the front door, the striped wallpaper, the wide floor planks, and the storage bench still filled with shoes of various sizes. But the source of the light was not there. 

A shaft of light streamed in from the kitchen, leading Marty to follow its trail.

Room by room, Marty followed the glow, seeing long-forgotten details of his home emerge, but never finding the source of the light. Over time, his fear of the strange glow was replaced with an insistent curiosity. The light did not make sense. It always appeared to be located just outside of whichever room he was in. Marty listened for footsteps, wondering if someone was carrying some kind of portable lamp around his home, leading him to some unknown place. But he didn’t hear a thing. The only footsteps in the house were his own. 

The light flowed down the staircase, leading Marty to the second floor. 

His palms felt damp as he traveled each room. 

His throat felt dry when there was only one door left to open. 

The light seeped out the crack at the bottom of that door. 

It spread over the floorboards and stretched up the door’s paneled surface. 

It illuminated the dusty, peeling letters that spelled out Marty’s own name. 

Marty did not want to open that door. 

The light was coming from that room. He was sure of it. 

But he no longer wanted to find the source. Not yet.

Tenderly, Marty lifted his fingertips to touch his cheekbones, his forehead, his temples, his jawline. He ran his hands over the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders one by one. He blinked, slowly, then closed his eyes. He placed his palms over his closed eyes. Like the closed drapes over the closed shades on his windows. 

He took a slow breath and let his hands fall by his sides. 

He opened his eyes. 

Nothing had changed. 

The light spilled out from the crack beneath the door. The house was filled with a soft, gentle glow. Marty moved his eyes around the upstairs hall, waiting for the headache to come. When it didn’t, he went downstairs and made his way to the kitchen. 

Marty turned on the oil lamp, consciously layering more light into the room. He opened the pantry and looked for the boxes and cans he would like to open. He was still hungry and still needed to make himself something to eat. 

Nothing—and everything—had changed. 

 

The End

 

Thank you for joining me today. If you have suggestions for future writing prompts, please let me know. 

Remember, you can learn more about me and my books on my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also find me on social media or support me through my Patreon page. 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]