“More Than a Blank Page” Short Story

I’ve been sitting in the same corner of the same coffee shop staring at the same page for hours now. I’ve reached the dregs of my coffee (and swallowed them too for good measure). I’ve started to massage my neck, praying my back won’t kill me later (though I know it will). The page is still blank.

It takes me a minute to notice he’s standing there. He’s striking, but he has a goofy grin – and he’s awkwardly staring at me. I look around, but no one else seems to notice he’s there.

“Can I help you?”

“Just stopped by to talk with you.” He sits down across from me.

I raise my eyebrows and point to my nose.

He nods, and lifts my coffee cup. “You had to drink it all,” he says on a heavy sigh. Then he extends his hand to me.

Reluctantly, I take it and shake. Then he starts to talk. And he talks.

He tells me where he was born, how many siblings he has, how he grew up, why he enlisted, his deepest fears, his first love, his longest love, his path of self-discovery, and his newest love. Then, after a deep breath, what he will be, where he will be, who he will be with, and why.

I nod, my eyebrows creased, still reeling from the fact that this radiant, golden stranger is talking to me at all.

But someone clears their throat next to me, and I don’t have time to process before I am thrown into confusion again. She smiles brightly, runs a hand through a messy mane of hair, pushes into the booth beside me, and speaks as if we’re old friends.

She keeps asking me about moments as if I remember them… As if I was there with her. And oddly enough, I find I do remember them. And vividly. All of her moments: the joyous, the fun, the hilarious, the heart-breaking, and the tragic. Right up until her death.

“It was fairly gory,” she says matter-of-factly. And I blink, startled, because at first I think she can’t be serious. But then I remember it. Vividly. And I’m glad I’d already finished my coffee, because my stomach is so knotted at the thought that I think I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore.

But I don’t even have time to dwell on it before two more people show up. A boy and a girl. He is a simmering fire, and she is as relaxed as the breeze. Still, his arm is slung protectively around her. She’s confident, but I can tell in an instant that she is genuine and kind. She is someone I would aspire to be.

They’ve been through more than I ever have. Their stories soar and then plummet through successes and then new trials. And they all treat me like I’m worth something more than a blank page. And the constant confusion I’ve had since the golden man first approached me starts to clear enough for me to find my words.

At the next pause in their steady recollections, I break in, “And what did you say your names were?”

The first stranger nods at my computer, drawing my eyes back down to the forgotten screen. There are words on the page. Their names, their histories, their loves, their deaths – their stories. My story.

A few weeks ago, someone posted in our writers group on Facebook asking about how characters work, everyone’s process for creating them. Or meeting them, as it were. I tried to write it out in a paragraph, I really did. But this happened instead.

And I should also probably say it wasn’t always like this. I used to do 50 page long character sheets, asking questions – trying to figure out how they fit into the world, into the story. I wanted them to be different and unique, and creating them didn’t come naturally. And in all honesty, I have no clue why it changed.

But one day, I woke up from a dream, and my head was a lot more crowded. They’ve been the most talkative cast of characters I’ve ever met. And they just keep coming. (I just met a whole other group of people in this universe, and they’re being just as nosy and invasive as everyone else in this world.) But everyone’s process is different, and frankly the assertiveness of these characters still confuses me, because I don’t quite get how it works.

But I’m grateful for them, however confusing their creation and existence might be. Hopefully I can pay them back by making sure their story is told. 

“And Pass By” Short Story-Ish

I cannot deny that the sight of that battered body tugs on my heartstrings.

His flesh is maimed, so it is unidentifiable as flesh. The color has been pounded black and blue and blood flows like tears from still open wounds. What scraps remain of his clothes are so stained by the mud and blood on his body that I can’t tell where the fabric ends and the flesh begins. His arm is bent at an angle that sends pains of sympathy shooting down my own. The sight is so gruesome, I simultaneously want to stare and avert my eyes.

Self-consciously, I brush my shirt, as if I may have dirtied or bloodied it. It is pristine – as always – but the sight feels so unclean, I feel it must be affecting me. I force my eyes back to the road.

I cannot help him. There is nothing I can do. What good am I to a stranger on the side of the road? All of the reasons flood my mind at once.

  • I haven’t the constitution. My stomach roils, and my body aches with pains that aren’t my own, just from the sight. And even though I now stare at the pavement instead, I can’t unsee it. An impression lingers behind my eyelids. It’s all I can do to keep my stomach from upending everything I’ve eaten today. I know I couldn’t go near him and keep it together.
  • I haven’t the initiative. I don’t know where to start. Do I call someone? Do I walk for help? Do I try to save him alone? Staunch the bleeding, cradle his head? If I don’t know where to start, perhaps it would be better not to start at all.
  • I haven’t the strength. I couldn’t lift him alone. There is no sign of anyone for miles. Even if I managed to haul him onto my shoulders, I’d collapse myself before I reached help. I’d cause him more pain trying to move him than he is in lying there. And what use would I be if my efforts killed him? I’d carry that weight on my shoulders far longer.
  • I haven’t the time. My day never stops moving. My mind won’t stop moving. My feet wouldn’t stop moving either when there is so much to be done. It isn’t that he’s unimportant. Just that there are so many things. So many important things. He’s only one of many.
  • I haven’t the money. I can barely be responsible for my own health, how could I take on someone else’s? He’ll need more mending than I can afford. I’d exhaust all of my resources trying to get him help. It would leave me nothing to fall back on. And what if nothing comes of it? What if he dies anyway?
  • I haven’t the ability. Someone else might. To actually do some good. I have nothing to give. I am nothing. I am no one. I am unnecessary. Inessential. Of no use. No purpose. What good could I be to him when I’ve never been any good to anyone before? I might as well be him –beaten, bloodied, and dying – for all the good I could do.

And besides…

  • He probably isn’t even still alive.

So I glue my eyes to the road below my feet. I grit my teeth. I curse the world for being so cruel. And I pass by on the other side.

Does it sound terrible? I hope so. 

This summer, I heard a phenomenal sermon in Thailand about the good Samaritan. And it got me thinking about the story, about the characters we see so little of, so I jotted a few lines down. And then, in the first week of school, President Perrin discussed the parable in chapel. And the need to finish this struck me. At midnight. In the middle of the work week.

All we know of the priest and the Levite in Luke is that they “saw him and passed by on the other side.” On the surface, with such little explanation, they seem callous and uncaring, but in my life I rarely encounter people so cruel. So, then, why did they do it? Why pass by? Why not do something?

And once I find myself writing down all the excuses that could have gone through their heads as they willfully ignored a dying man, it makes me question: how many things do I see and pass by in my life? And how can I be more aware of those hurting or in need? How can I be a light, have mercy, do as the good Samaritan?

Because I want to be sure that I never glue my eyes to my own feet, grit my teeth, and pass by on the other side.