In this week's story, Pumpkin Spice, a fall shopping trip takes an unexpected turn
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came from more of a random thought about how people can find different meanings in the same statement.
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.
Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 39 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 Pumpkin Spice
Thanks for joining me on this lovely day for a story. Before we begin, here’s how this podcast works: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then I share that story with you.
Today’s prompt is clearly a reflection of the fall season. I’ve been resisting it as an obvious fall prompt, but after taking a beautiful walk with leaves crunching under my feet, I decided to lean into the cliché. At least in choosing the prompt…
Now, let’s see what kind of story it inspired:
The leaf was brittle, barely holding together in the gentle fall breeze. Dina held it by the stem, watching as small pieces cracked apart and fluttered toward the leaf-strewn ground. She was deep in the forest, alone with thoughts which were also cracked and brittle. As the breeze blew and the sun warmed her face, Dina felt pieces of her thoughts fluttering away. Soon her mind would be completely clear.
She loosened her fingers, letting the dry leaf drop to the ground. And it all came back.
They were buying lattes. Not pumpkin spice because they weren’t that basic. Or maybe they were, Dina thought, because they were shunning a drink they’d once loved. Was that the new basic? Following the trend of not being basic?
Dina wasn’t very good at keeping up with that sort of thing. Carol was better at it which was why Dina let her order their drinks. Chai something with a pump of cold brew or… whatever it was. Dina would have been happy with black coffee.
The drinks were only their first stop that day. Lattes to gather fuel for a day of shopping. Dina had a new apartment—her first without a roommate—and Carol was going to help her decorate it in style.
Like the coffee shop, the home store was also decked out in pumpkin spice. Seasonal gourds and buffalo plaid, dried flowers and faux fall leaves. Wooden signs with rustic fonts urged them to gather together, be grateful, be cozy. Glass candle holders shouted sweater weather, happy harvest, and, yes, pumpkin spice.
Weaving through the russet and gold labyrinth, Carol led them to a non-seasonal section where jewel tones reigned. There were deep purples, fuchsias, emeralds, and cobalt blues. She picked up a beaded magenta throw pillow and thrust it toward Dina like an award.
“This!” she proclaimed. “This is our inspiration to build your color palette. We’ll stick with similar shades, and it will be beautiful.”
“I don’t like pink,” Dina told her, taking a step back from the vibrant pillow.
“It’s not pink,” Carol corrected. “It’s magenta. Though pink would be perfect with it.”
“I don’t know.” Dina shook her head, wrinkling her nose at the sea of bright colors. “I was thinking more neutral shades, earth tones. Maybe a little deep red or warm orange?”
“Seriously?” Dina scoffed. “You want the whole pumpkin spice theme? Should we grab some fake pumpkins and a cornucopia while we’re here?”
“I don’t mean a fall theme, just earthy colors.” Dina glanced around shyly, noticing that their only earth-tone displays did all seem to be bathed in fall décor.
“It’s your apartment,” Carol sighed, throwing her hands in the air. “Show me what you like. And please don’t take us to modern farmhouse.”
Dina frowned. She did like a touch of modern farmhouse style but didn’t want to admit it.
They wandered through the aisles, and Carol stayed quiet, arms crossed over her chest. As they walked deeper into the store, they stopped seeing salespeople or other shoppers. The aisles became more crowded, packed with sale items from previous seasons.
Just beyond an aisle of marked-down beach towels and plastic palm trees, Dina came upon two shelves stacked with throw pillows and blankets in sandy beiges and creamy off-whites. Some with touches of maroon or wine red. They were exactly what she wanted, without all the autumn trimmings.
Carol lifted a small pillow assessingly, and Dina knew she didn’t approve. But before either could comment, Dina caught sight of something in the space where the pillow had been.
“What is that?” she asked, shifting pillows and blankets aside.
“Is it a door?” Carol asked, though it was clear to see that it was a door.
It was a very strange door. Narrow and wooden with an iron handle. And covered by the two wheeled shelves. Making sure no one else was around, she and Carol cautiously eased the shelves apart.
“Is it locked?” Carol asked.
“I don’t know,” Dina answered
“You should check,” Carol urged.
“You should check,” Dina countered.
“It’s your door!” Carol insisted, stepping back a bit.
“How is it my door?” Dina asked, though she did feel a connection to the door.
“It’s behind these bizarre shelves that magically have exactly what you were looking for,” Carol pointed out, sounded a little affronted by the discovery.
“It’s not magic,” Dina said, without much conviction. “It’s just a door. Probably to an old storeroom or something.”
“Uh-huh,” Carol shrugged, unconvinced. “So, open it and see.”
There was a challenge in Carol’s words and Dina felt a surge of energy. Maybe it was her door—her magical door—and maybe she should open it.
With a burst of courage, Dina reached out and pulled on the iron handle. The wooden door was heavy. She pulled harder, leaning back for leverage, and Carol laughed.
“Oh, forget it,” she dismissed the strange door with a wave of her manicured hand. “This is too weird. Let’s go back to the good part of the store. We can forget the magenta and go with purples. Violets and lilacs and a deep aubergine.”
But Dina wasn’t ready to give up. She liked the décor she’d found at the back of the store, and she didn’t think the mysterious door was weird. It was her door. She knew it for sure the moment she’d touched the handle and she wasn’t about to let go.
With a great heave, Dina yanked the door into motion. It swung open with a low creak, revealing a glow of gentle sunlight.
“What in the world…?” Carol leaned closer, peering into the golden forest beyond the door. “How is that possible…?”
Dina had no answers, but she stepped confidently through the door and spread her arms wide, basking in the sunlight that filtered through the fall foliage. She heard the crunch of dried leaves as Carol followed her into the mystical forest.
“This is crazy…” she said breathlessly. But there was no denying that they were standing in a beautiful autumn forest hidden inside a home store.
“So, I was right!” Carol laughed.
Dina looked at her in confusion.
“It’s your door, your forest, hidden in shelves of your favorite style,” Carol explained with a smirk. “Look at this place! You really do love all that pumpkin spice stuff!”
Dina’s face flushed and her eyes flashed.
“What’s wrong with pumpkin spice?” she snapped, snatching a handful of dried leaves from the ground. “What's wrong with any of the things I like?”
“What?” Carol’s smile faded.
“Maybe I do like pumpkin spice lattes, and fall colors, and knee-high boots, and sweaters… And maybe the things I like are just as good as the things you like!”
Dina had never spoken to Carol like that before.
“Well… I…” Carol stuttered, then pulled herself together. “You can like whatever you want. I was just trying to improve your style.”
With a frustrated shout, Dina threw her handfuls of leaves at Carol. They fluttered over her, clinging to her hair and clothes before they disappeared, taking Carol with them.
“Carol?” Dina rushed forward and turned in a slow circle, scanning for her friend, but Carol was nowhere to be seen. Looking back toward the door, Dina saw that it had disappeared as well.
Dina was alone in the forest. She picked up a single dry leaf and studied it carefully.
The leaf was brittle, barely holding together in the gentle fall breeze. Dina held it by the stem, watching as small pieces cracked apart and fluttered toward the leaf-strewn ground. As the breeze blew and the sun warmed her face, Dina felt pieces of her thoughts fluttering away. Soon her mind would be completely clear.
Thanks for listening. If you’d like to learn more about me and my books, you can visit my website, SusanQuilty.com, connect with me on social media, or offer your support through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
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]