In today's story, The End of an Era, two friends discuss what counts as an era and how to know when it's over
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 48 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 The End of an Era
Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but I have drastically lowered my expectations this year. Last year, we were all saying good riddance to the dumpster fire that was 2020 and hoping 2021 would be a fresh start… eh… well… hmm.
I’ve learned from that, and my new plan is to have no expectations in 2022 and just enjoy the happy moments when they come.
That being said, it is the beginning of a new year, so it would make sense to have a story prompt that has something to do with new beginnings… but I did that last episode with A New Leaf. So, I’ve decided to change it up and go with a prompt about times that end. Which also makes sense, because the beginning of the new year is also the end of old one.
I sat down to write with absolutely no idea how to approach this one, so let’s see where the story ended up.
The End of an Era
“How do you know when an era ends?”
“How do you know when an era ends?” Wendel repeated. “Like, do you know at that moment? Or only figure it out later?”
Caleb looked up from his phone and shot Wendel a look of annoyance.
“You know. Everyone knows. That’s why people say, ‘this is the end of an era.’”
Wendel thought about that while unpacking the last of his groceries. Caleb went back to scrolling on his phone.
“So, there’s always a thing then?” Wendel asked vaguely, folded his paper grocery bag as he spoke. “Like, a moment or an event that is the end of an era?”
“What?” Caleb looked up again, still annoyed.
“Well, you said that people say, ‘this is the end of an era’ so they’d have to be at some kind of event for that to happen, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” Caleb frowned half-heartedly, then shrugged, adding, “Obviously.”
“Right,” Wendel muttered, clearly unconvinced. “You want ramen?”
He pulled two packs from the cabinet he’d just filled, then set about boiling water. After a long pause, he interrupted Caleb’s scrolling again.
“But not if someone dies.”
“What?” Caleb’s head snapped toward Wendel, showing a trace of concern. “Who died?”
“Oh, no one,” Wendel corrected quickly. “I mean, probably someone. People die all the time. Probably every minute of every day if we’re talking about the billions of people who live all over the world. There’s probably a stat on that if you want to check…?”
“What? No, I meant—” Caleb put his phone on his lap, facedown against his ripped jeans. “So, no one we know died?”
“No,” Wendel confirmed with a touch of confusion. “Not that I know of. Why do you think someone died?”
“Because you—” Caleb stopped and shook his head. “Didn’t you say something about someone dying?”
“Oh, that!” Wendel nodded, finally understanding. He checked the water on the stove, but it wasn’t boiling yet.
“Yeah, that…” Caleb prodded, waiting for an answer.
“No, I was saying that if someone died, you wouldn’t know it was an end of the era at the time the era ended. Unless you were with them when they died, I guess. But you’d probably be thinking about other things than it being the end of an era. Like, ‘hey, this guy just died!’ or maybe you’d be busy doing CPR or something.”
“Well, I… uh…” Caleb got up from his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. “Why would someone dying be the end of an era?”
Wendel looked stricken.
“What if I died? Wouldn’t that be the end of an era? The end of our time as roommates? Or does that not even matter to you?”
The water had begun boiling, but Wendel was too upset to notice.
“What? No, I didn’t say—I mean, yeah, that would suck. But you didn’t say if you died, you said if someone died.”
“Well, I’m someone, aren’t I?”
“Yeah, someone insane!” Caleb laughed, adding, “Water’s boiling.”
Wendel dumped the noodles into the pot along with both flavor packets, then pulled out several spices and a jar of hot sauce. Caleb watched Wendel shake and stir, thinking his ramen was worth these bizarre conversations.
“Okay, so, I guess you might not know it was the end of an era until after it was over,” Caleb conceded. “But a lot of times, you do. Like, when we graduated college. We knew, right at that day that it was the end of an era.”
“Eh,” Wendel shrugged, sniffed the pot, then shook in another dash of spice. “Graduation was big and all, but I think it was moving out of Cedar that really ended the era.”
“What? No,” Caleb countered. “I mean, yeah, I guess our place at Cedar was an era. First off-campus apartment. But we had the dorms before that. Was moving out of the dorms an era, too? No, graduation was the end of the era because it capped all of college.”
Wendel snapped off the burner.
“So, you don’t think the dorms were significant enough to be their own era?” he asked pointedly. “I mean, there was a pretty big difference between the dorms and living at Cedar.”
“Well, yeah, I guess.” Caleb took out two massive soup mugs and handed one to Wendel. “But that’s like… a lot of eras. Isn’t college just one era? Otherwise, it’s like… what? An era for each place we lived in college? That’s a new place every year… Or well, not the last two at Cedar, but… still. It’s all one. The era is based on us being in college together, not on each of the places we lived together.”
Wendel nodded thoughtfully and joined Caleb at the island where they twirled strands of noodles from their steaming bowls of soup.
“So, what era is this?” Wendel asked between bites.
“I don’t know,” Caleb shrugged. He slurped another forkful of noodles and felt the hot sauce hit the back of his nose. “The post-college, first jobs era?”
“Huh,” Wendel nodded. “So based on what we’re doing, not on where we’re living?”
Caleb sipped from his mug, not caring that the liquid was still hot enough to lightly burn his tongue. He shrugged again after setting his mug back on the island.
“I mean, it’s also our first apartment after college, but we’ve lived together a long time, so… yeah. I guess it’s more about being first real jobs and being just, like, adults.”
“So, if we didn’t live together…?” Wendel asked tentatively. He hadn’t eaten much of his soup and kept swishing the noodles through the broth.
“Well, I mean…” Caleb twirled the last of his noodles, then let them slide off his fork as he turned to Wendel with wide eyes. “Wait! Why wouldn’t we be living together?”
Wendel took another bite of noodles, not meeting Caleb’s eyes.
“Well…” he began, carefully setting down his fork. “If say, I wanted to move in with Julia…”
“You’re moving in with Julia?” Caleb dropped his fork, letting soup splatter across the counter.
Wendel shrugged, then slowly lifted his eyes to meet Caleb’s gaze.
“It’s not about where we live though,” he said, trying to sound casual.
“The hell it isn’t!” Caleb swore, running his hands over his open mouth. “You’re moving out?”
“Her place is just around the corner,” Wendel reminded. “We’re still in our post-college first job era no matter where we live.”
“But you’re moving out!” Caleb took a deep breath, then saw the nervousness in his friend’s face. “And you’re moving in with Julia?” he added, trying for a brighter tone.
“Yeah,” Wendel dropped his head and smiled, feeling his face flush. “If it goes well, I think I’ll be, uh, buying a ring.”
“Dude!” Caleb slapped Wendel on the arm and they exchanged amazed grins. “That’s huge!”
“Yeah,” Wendel agreed. “I wish I could stay… but moving in with her kinda has to mean moving out of here…”
“Right…” Caleb nodded, a touch of sadness creeping into his smile. “This is the end of an era.”
“Yep,” Wendel agreed with a bittersweet nod. “The end of an era.”
Thanks for joining me today. If you’re enjoying this podcast, please tell you friends and maybe try to write some stories of your own! You can share your thoughts or stories with me through social media or learn more about my novels on my website, SusanQuilty.com. If you want to connect in another way, you can also support me through Patreon.com/SusanQuilty.
And now, it’s a new year but the same sign off… 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]