Inside a Writer's Mind 23: The Journey – 501 Prompts

This week it was time for another fable prompt. You can read it here if you haven’t already.

As I mentioned last time, I generally see 3 directions these stories can go. An abstraction of the fable’s moral, a rewriting of some kind, or a continuation. With ‘The Frogs and the Well’, I tried to rewrite the story. So, the idea was rather simple.

Character A and Character B have to find a new home. They come across an attractive place but end up deciding against it.

While gathering ideas, my story was already set. Although I settled for the rewrite route, I decided to make some changes and additions. The two frogs turned into a man and a boy. The hot summer that dried up the marsh became a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The well is a place that looks tempting to live at.

The imagery I’ve had was from the movie The Road, which gave me a pretty good idea of how I wanted my world to look.

I was struggling to find the right point though. Why does the place they discover ultimately end up being bad for them?

I turned ideas over and over in my head. At first, I wanted to the idea of them being trapped once conditions change. Some kind of valley or giant sinkhole that, for some reason, seems to be a great place to live. While most faithful to the original point, I didn’t like it much.

Somewhere in the process, my mind went to giant frog mutants that have taken over the world. That’s when I knew I was getting silly and needed to decide on something.

I settled for the all-time favorite of post-apocalyptic stories: other humans. Sure, it’s been done a lot and is a trope by now, but I didn’t come up with something original that made sense, and instead of pushing the envelope, I settled for the known.

At first, it felt like I gave up and went for the uninspired solution but sometimes, in writing and life, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. They find this beautiful shady place with trees and houses, secured by a fence. To me, it felt like a gated community of some sort but I didn’t specify it any further. Ultimately, the place doesn’t matter. It’s about the contrast it gives to the existing world surrounding it.

In the end, I recognized that it really isn’t about the twist but the two characters: the man and the boy.

I decided against giving them names. It felt too specific, or maybe too civilized to bother with names in the context they are in. That presented me the additional challenge to keep them apart mostly by pronouns.

The man, actually in our world a teen, somehow managed to survive in that bleak, hostile world. At one point, the hint is dropped that only people who are willing to do bad things have survived so far.

I didn’t start the story with this statement in mind, it instead came up while writing. And I enjoy this aspect. It opens the door to a lot of possibilities for his background. Whatever it was he had to do to survive, he chose to take care of the boy when he came across him.

Why? Maybe as repentance. Maybe morality isn’t dead just yet.

We don’t get to know much about the boy. He doesn’t talk much and smiles even less. Whatever he’s been through, it sure wasn’t pleasant.

At first, he seems to be a liability to the man. It’s one more person to feed, one more person to take care of. He doesn’t talk, doesn’t add much to help the situation they are in.

It’s when the story turns their relation upside down, and it becomes clearer why they are traveling together. Ultimately, they have formed a connection over their quasi parental situation. Having a human being by his side gives the man hope that the world isn’t as bad as it seems, and things might turn out okay.

It’s his longing for a safe place that makes him decide against his own senses. He wants that place to be their solution, their harbor in the desert. He is tired of walking, tired of struggling. Knowing they are running out of food sets him at ease which is supposed to connect to this sentiment. But the boy recognizes the situation. It’s at that point when the emotional stress finally breaks through.

The story leaves us on a bitter note. Our characters don’t find the safety they long for. Perhaps it doesn’t even exist for them.

But I do think there is hope underneath the surface. If you look past the fucked up situation, you have two strangers taking care of each other, growing despite the situation they are in, and conserving a part of their humanity.

Will they find a happy ending?