In this week's story, Storage War, siblings argue over a storage unit with an unknown inheritance
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 44 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 Storage War
If you’ve listened before, you know how this works. If not, here’s a reminder: I use a word or phrase as a prompt to write a story—with no planning and very little editing—and then share that story with you.
Today’s prompt came up after a trip to look for something in my own storage unit… Something that turned out to actually be in my closest at home, making it a wasted trip. Luckily, the storage place isn’t far away, and the visit also gave me an idea for this week’s story prompt.
Let’s dive in and see where this story will go:
Frank stood frozen in the front hall. There was a key ring in his hand and an indignant frown on his face. The set of his shoulders said he wasn’t going to back down, but the shifting of his feet betrayed his conflicted conscience.
Sybil stood in front of him, hands on her hips and lips pursed in an angry white line. A folded sheet of paper stuck out from one clenched fist, and her body blocked the front door. Jeanine hovered in the kitchen doorway, wringing her hands and biting her lip.
“You weren’t even going to tell me,” Sybil accused heatedly.
The flash in her eyes could have sparked on the steel of Frank’s defense.
“I’d’ve told you,” he shot back, curling the key ring into his meaty palm.
“Oh, sure,” Sybil scoffed. “After you had your pick?”
“Let’s calm down,” Jeanine interjected with a timid step into the hall.
“I have a right to be angry!” Sybil threw her hands in the air. “My dear brother finds out Uncle Nate had a storage unit and instead of telling me so we could split it fairly—like the will says—he decides to creep off and check it out for himself. Typical.”
“Typical?” Frank sputtered. “Typical? Name one time I’ve ever done a single thing to speak up for myself and my rights in this family.”
“Your rights?” Sybil screeched, and Jeanine was quickly by her side, wrapping her shoulders in a consoling arm and quieting her with soft shushes.
“Take a breath, babe,” she murmured, running a hand up Sybil’s arm and turning to Frank with hopeful eyes. “Can we try to talk this out? Calmly?”
Frank ran his fingers through his hair, the key ring still dangling from one hand. He turned in a small circle and exhaled loudly before turning back to his sister and her wife.
“I took care of Uncle Nate for the last six years,” he began slowly, laying out a case he’d stated before. “I brought him meals and drove him to the store. By the end, I was even helping him dress and clean up whenever the nurse wasn’t here. He wanted me to have this house. He told me. Several times.”
“That’s not what it says in his will,” Sybil returned primly. “Besides, I helped him pay for this house for the last 10 years. Money for repairs, for basic upkeep, and even for that new roof. Plus, I paid for that nurse.”
“Well, if I had the money…”
“Don’t start that!” Sybil cut Frank off with an angry stamp. “I will not feel bad about my financial success.”
“I don’t want you to feel bad,” Frank spoke through gritted teeth. “I’m just saying, there’s more than one way to help a person, and I gave up everything for Uncle Nate. Nights, weekends. If I’d taken that vacation with Diane instead of staying to help here, we might still be together…”
“Okay, this isn’t helping.” Jeanine stepped away from Sybil and moved into the space between the siblings, a place she’d been occupying most of the weekend.
“Let’s not rehash all that,” she continued with a sigh. “What’s going on with this storage unit?”
“I found the bill for it!” Sybil waved the folded paper in the air. “Then caught him sneaking out with the keys.”
She turned her attention to Frank with a sneer, “And I was coming in to see what you wanted for lunch.”
Frank flushed and gritted his teeth. “I wasn’t sneaking out with the keys…”
“You were!” Sybil cut in. “You are! Those are the keys in your hand, and you’re headed for the front door!”
She crossed her arms over her chest and tossed her head scornfully.
“It’s not a crime to be in the front hall!” Frank shouted back. “You don’t know that I was going anywhere.”
“Then why did you say that before about how Uncle Nate wanted you to have the house?”
“He did want me to have the house,” Frank sighed with a shake of his head, but Sybil knew she had him.
“You brought that up because you were on your way to get whatever’s in that storage unit and keep it for yourself. Because you think you’re owed more than me. Because you’re jealous of my success…”
“Sybil.” Jeanine’s voice held a warning. “Let’s not go there.”
“We’re always there!” Sybil countered as tears of frustration gathered in the corner of her eyes. “They all expect me to just write a check for anything this family needs. They act like everything I have was just handed to me when I worked damn hard for it. You know I worked for everything I have!”
“I know, I know,” Jeanine rubbed Sybil’s arm and kissed her temple lightly.
Frank dropped his head to stare at his boots and mumbled, “I work hard, too.”
The hall was silent except for Sybil’s soft sniffling. Frank looked at the key ring and sighed.
“Get your shoes and coats,” he told them gruffly. “Let’s see what we’re even fighting about.”
They were quiet on the short drive to the storage unit. Frank’s hands gripped the wheel and Sybil watched the trees pass by with wide eyes. In the backseat, Jeanine rubbed the back of her neck and hoped they could get through this day without another screaming match.
When they reached Uncle Nate’s storage unit, Frank offered Sybil the keys, but she gestured for him to open the metal door. They were alone in one of the buildings interior hallways with nothing but a series of doors to break up the stark white walls. Jeanine held Sybil’s hand as Frank unlocked the metal door and rolled it open.
They stood in the hallway, looking through the open door at two rows of metal shelves stacked with boxes of various electronics and appliances. From the hall, Sybil could see a computer, a microwave, a bread maker, a blender, an air fryer, a record player, a DVD player, and a printer.
“Did Uncle Nate have a… side business?” she asked uncertainly.
“He was 92,” Frank replied with a roll of his eyes. “But there’s the e-reader I bought him last Christmas.”
“And the crock pot we gave him a few years ago,” Jeanine added. “Are these gifts he didn’t want?”
“We bought him that TV about five years ago,” Sybil said thoughtfully, “and we paid to have someone install it.”
“But he put it here instead?” Frank frowned, thinking of the crappy TV he’d been watching while this one gathered dust.
“Well, I guess we can take back the gifts we each gave him…” Sybil began, but Frank didn’t let her finish.
“Oh, no. This is Uncle Nate’s stuff, no matter who gave it to him, and the will says we’re supposed to split it 50-50.”
“Oh, sure, just take the gifts I gave Uncle Nate. Why not? I’m made of money, right?”
They were so busy arguing, neither Frank nor Sybil saw Jeanine slip into the storage unit and start examining the boxes.
“Uh, guys…” she interrupted after several minutes.
“What?” Sybil snapped, expecting another call for them to calm down.
“They’re empty,” Jeanine said simply.
“What?” Frank asked, pushing past his Sybil to check the boxes himself.
“Empty,” Jeanine confirmed. “I guess he was just saving the boxes?”
“Why would he…?”
Sybil pushed her way into the unit and grabbed the nearest box. Jeanine stepped into the hall and watched as Frank and Sybil tore open each box and shook their heads at molded Styrofoam and plastic wrappings.
“They’re empty,” Sybil confirmed from her seat on the cement floor.
She looked at Frank and saw he was laughing.
“Do you want your half? Or should I take them all to the dumpster myself?”
Sybil looked at Jeanine, who had a hand over her shocked smile, and began to laugh herself.
“I’ll help you,” Sybil told her brother, accepting the hand he offered to help her up. “It’s my inheritance, too.”
Thanks for joining me for today’s story break. If you’d like to learn more about me and my books, you can check out my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also connect with me on social media or support me 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]