Imagine a character who is older (interpret that as you like!) who returns to a place they visited once when they were younger.
There should be some emotional importance to the place, but this prompt works best if it’s a place the character only went to one or two times (not anywhere they’re super familiar with).
Start the story with the character returning to the place. When they arrive and see the place in its present state, have them either be:
a) greatly disappointed or
b) greatly delighted.
Then weave in memories of the place (or memories associated with the place) from when they were young.
Try to jump back and forth between them in the present and the past. By the end of the story, try to show a change in how the character views the place, either in the past or present. (for ex: if it started with them being delighted, have the story end with them being disappointed–or vice versa.)
Meghan Louise Wagner
Meghan Louise Wagner lives in Northeast Ohio. Her work has recently appeared in such places as Nashville Review, Cutleaf, Story, AGNI, Okay Donkey, and The Best American Short Stories 2022. More about her can be found at: meghanlouisewagner.com
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24 thoughts on “Day 13- Disappointment & Delight by Meghan Louise Wagner”
100 words of delight transitioning to disappointment when remembering and then revisiting an old sledding hill that “shrunk” over time.
This was my best story day yet! I wrote about a girl who was forbidden to marry the boy she loved, and 30 years later she goes back to the town where she and the boy shared a hotel room on prom night. Nothing was the same for her in the town this time. The hotel was in need of repair, most of the shops had disappeared, but she did find the gift shop where he had bought her a bouquet of daisies that night and she bought herself a bouguet daisies there once again.
Day 13 completed ✔️! Yay!
Story #13 complete!
Great prompt, thank you! This flowed much more easily than I thought it would when I sat down.
May 13 2023
I hadn’t been home in years. Well, to this one at least. I had so many growing up that it gets fuzzy sometimes. This time, we lived on Flower City Park in Rochester, and by this point, we had returned from Maine with my new baby brother, the youngest of us three kids. His dad was working at Mott’s Applesauce out in the sticks, a place that would eventually be the last home we experienced as a unit. I didn’t know that back then, what it would be like to have permanency and community.
Back in Rochester for the second time, though, we didn’t just bring back a new baby and his dad. We brought back a whole new dynamic that burned under my skin and tore into my soul. I was the target child. It didn’t matter if I was directly at fault for the stress being experienced or not, I would pay. So, I would escape sometimes to this magical place at the end of our street.
When I came back, I passed right by that Victorian architecture, the mad castle we used to call home. I made my way to the entrance to the trails and bridges along that area of the Erie Canal. As I walked along the familiar road, I trusted my body to find that one special trail that took me to this beautiful oasis I used to escape to to be alone and pretend I was happy. Next to the waterfalls, the blue sky and chirping birds came into focus and if there was anyone else around, well, they just blurred to the back of my mind.
I passed a spot where there used to be this one really cool graffiti of a skull with a mohawk, but I guess the city wasn’t impressed because I couldn’t find it. I kept walking up a winding bridge that I remembered to be well-traveled with bicyclists and families strolling over the canal and the smell of the close proximity of the Kodak wastewater treatment plant. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was home.
Walking through again, there was no smell, and even though a lot of the industry had closed down since I had been there, the sky was smoggy and the glimmer of hope it used to bring me was drowned out. Instead, it felt like it was telling me to turn back. You don’t belong here anymore. That was echoed by the seemingly sketchy soiree of characters that now were literally inhabiting areas of the wood and under the bridges where at 10, 11, and 12 years old, I was roaming solo. Now at 30, I felt much more afraid, like maybe someone should be with me on this journey. I just smiled as I walked by and left my scarf at their boundary.
I picked up the pace and could see my breath even more mixed with the cold air. I couldn’t wait to find that spot. It was going to make this whole disappointing experience better once I found that stone circle by the falls that I could only equate to stonehenge. The dream-like summer memories were painted with a yellow warmth that I held onto as I searched on.
After what seemed like forever… “I could swear this was the spot,” escaped my lips. There were some sort of stone structures organized in a circle, but nowhere to sit down and it was small. I felt betrayed and confused, like this place I had told people about and remembered my whole life was maybe all in my head? They wouldn’t have just destroyed or altered that place, I thought. This, too, was shooing me away now.
But I was holding onto those days when once in a while, I wouldn’t be alone. He would be there, too, and he would listen to my thoughts. He would tell me about his childhood. He was my friend, even when I was crying or moody. I guess some things are better left as memories. There was nothing left here, it seemed, but an emptiness in my chest and the feeling like I might need to be put in the psych ward again. I came to peace with the lack of closure and realized I didn’t need this place anymore and I could abandon it, too. I am an adult and I have a beautiful life, and this served a purpose once, and now it was time for me to go – for good.
As I turned around to head back up the incline and the bridge, back to civilization as it were, there he was. It had been years. We immediately knew, though, who he was, who I am. Suddenly, all the color came rushing back to my world. We both smiled and didn’t say a word, just ran together in a hug I never expected. I guess some things are better left as memories, but this wasn’t one of those things. We walked away from that place together and I found out what this journey was actually all about.
Day 13 ✔️
I was here thirty years ago for the national Latin Olympiad after winning my local competition. But I’m not here to talk about Latin. That’s just what brought me here back then.
While I was here, of course we also toured the main square in the city, known then as Palace Square. We got to see a wonderful concert at the Athenaeum down the street, and of course, the powers that be wanted to impress upon all visitors the greatness of Communism with various monuments. The regime was already starting to crumble by then, so we weren’t entirely convinced, but they were putting up a brave front. And even if they weren’t, nobody was about to tell them otherwise. You never knew who was a Securitate informant.
Now the place is called Revolution Square, after the 1989 revolution, of course. My original trip was about three months before the revolution. Maybe you’ve seen the footage of our dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, ducking out from a speech to try and escape the revolutionaries. If you followed the news back then, you may remember that they were captured and executed by a firing squad on Christmas Day.
In theory we’ve moved to a more democratic system. They even let us in NATO and the EU. I don’t know how much better the new system is in practice, though. If you pay even a little bit of attention, it’s obvious that corruption in this country didn’t die with the Ceausescus. Hundreds of millions of euros in funding meant for building highways have disappeared to who-knows-where. At least we don’t have to deal with food shortages, so that’s an improvement.
Even if I didn’t agree with the message it was trying to convey, Palace Square at least had one. Revolution Square seems all over the place. A few years ago they unveiled this so-called Monument of Rebirth. It looks like shit on a stick. Or an impaled potato, according to some. And where the Lenin statue used to stand, they just replaced it with a giant red foot. If this is what our best artists come up with, I have to say I’m worried.
Our people have an ancient heritage. We fought against the Roman emperor Trajan, for God’s sake! Is this what we’ve come to?
Perfect timing of this prompt. Thank you. I have a cottage like this in my novel, but never had a clear picture of the history. I wrote a 1361 word scene that goes from sad to happy about a woman re-visiting a cottage where her daughter lived (she’d only been there once before) and now her grandson’s fiancé lives in the cottage.
Day 13, done!
I am writing about a person taking a seniors tour of the Rings of Jupiter (they reside on Ganymede) because it’s something to do. They last took the trip sixty (Earth) years ago. Not sure exactly where it’s going, but we’ll see.
Gabrielle, that is such a great idea for your story! I’m wracking my brain trying to come up with one right now.
What a lovely idea! I want to read it.
I did a lot of freewriting to begin but ended up with a delightful story about a fairytale character dinner at a round table! I am sure my reading this morning helped with the direction but it is a good start to something bigger!
I appreciated the focus on feelings in this prompt, and the use of place to evoke them. Something to put in the toolkit for repeated use. My story was about a woman touring a high-end “assisted living center” as a possible place to stay, which she remembered as a magical place when she had been taken there to visit her great-grandmother.
I’m enchanted by this idea!
Walter, that’s a great idea for a story! I’m still trying to come up with one.
Got today’s story finished fairly quickly. Didn’t completely follow the prompt, but did write 777 words of my selkie characters returning back to where they’d first gotten to know each other before they were separated and facing some emotions. I do love diving into the emotional depths.
I think I am starting to get the hang of the short story. I got a really good opening passage. Then real life called. I managed to get some notes written for the middle and ending.
~~Mom called. It was sometime in the afternoon. She had to leave, she said. She was getting on the bus that the province had supplied. They were only allowing her one suitcase. Everything else had to stay behind. we had barely spoken in the past ten years. Be safe, I said, because that is what you say to people who are fleeing from an inferno, right?. Call me when you get settled. I didn’t ask where they were taking her. I switched on the TV and found CNN. The fires were raging in Fort Mac, Alberta. The entire community was racing for their lives. It looked like Hell. I smiled and thought of Father.
As I hung up, I looked around my apartment. If it was about to burn down, what would I take? There were no high school grad pictures, no Mickey Mouse ears from Florida. No cheesy photo of me and a boyfriend in front of a restaurant late at night, surrendered by blurry friends. well, that simplified my exit strategy. ~~
“Once we get past the VIP Sweets, take the road turning to the right.” Swarth could feel the excitement back in his voice as the cab driver followed his instructions and turned right.
The Bata Store was still there. For a moment Swarth could see his late Barda walking along the road. He was past 70 at that time and not used to walking any more. That Puja evening, the cab driver left them at the turning just near the Bata Store. Barda, on his wobbly feet, nearly fell into the side drain.
Of course, his second floor apartment on “Nilanjana” was just a stone’s throw from the place. There were a few more shops including a bakery – Swarth loved the cakes they sold – along with the Store on the right. Then there was that branch of SBI.
“Yes, yes. Turn left. No, you can stop over there.” Swarth cried out as he saw the pink building of the SBI branch on the ground floor. “We’ve got to our destination.”
“How much do I have to pay you?” He asked as he took the purse out of his pocket.
“It’s two ninety-five, Sir. Please pay me three hundred.” The cab driver demanded.
Any other time, Swarth would have picked up a quarrel with the driver over the extra money. The man asked for it like five rupees had no value. But this time, he took out the three-hundred-rupee-notes from his purse and handed over to the driver through the window without a scene.
He started walking along the sandy path and turned right. On his left was the wall that separated the buildings from the row of trees lined along the VIP Road. On his right, were the three buildings. He walked past the garrage of the first building, past the second till he was standing face to face with the third and last building with the neon sign “Nilanjana” written on a board atop.
The collapsible gate was still open. Swarth forced it sideways and entered the passage with the letter boxes on the wall below the staircase leading upto the first floor. Swarth unknowingly, had broken into a run while climbing up the stairs. The apartment on the right of the top flight of steps belonged to Anushreedi, that dear lady. Barda liked her like his own sister. She lived with her son, an IIT grad, in there. Swarth had to stop resisting himself from the urge to knock on her door.
Right in front of him was the other, bigger apartment. What was the name of that singer who owned this apartment? Oh, yea, Sudip Bagchi, he was a renowned exponent of the Rabindra Sangeet, the songs written and set to music by none other than The Great Bard of Bengal, Tagore.
Another memory flashed through Swarth’s mind. That afternoon there was a knock on the door of Bina Bhaban ( Barda named the apartment after their Ma). As Barda was reclining on the sofa, Swarth went to open the door. Mr. Sudip Bagchi in a dhoti and banyan, was standing outside. A bulky man, he was panting from having climbed up the stairs to Barda’s.
“Look Debesh Babu,” he addressed Barda straight away without bothering much about me. “This’s the letter your sister wrote to me.” Only then did Swarth notice the letter in his hand. “What is the meaning of all this? What was my fault? That I couldn’t return in time the notebook of songs she had written and sent to me for setting to music? You know, I’m a busy man. How could I do it so soon? But listen to this line – ‘I took you for a gentleman. I thought that you would help a struggling song-writer. Never did the thought of you trying to pass yourself as the writer of those songs enter my head until I met one of your friends, Sujit Babu, recently…’? He coughed up.
Barda had a little difficulty in pacifying him that day. But both he and Swarth already knew the truth. The man was a swindler. And the man left in a huff and puff..
By then, Swarth found himself standing near the door behind the collapsible gate. It was not coloured white anymore. He felt a pang shoot through his heart. The nameplate was also gone. There was another nameplate with Dr.Chitra Mukherjee, MBBS, MD written over it. Swarth didn’t even know that he had put his bent finger on the door a couple of times.
A lady in her late thirties opened the door. She was fresh from a bath and looked askance at him,” Yes?”
“Anushreedi, Avik..?” He blurted out.
Her look of curiosity was replaced with what looked like the outline of a smile hovering over face. “Please, come in.”
Swarth hesitated before stepping in. The sofa set right in front of the kitchen on the right was gone and replaced with a round table with two chairs. He instantly turned his head to the wall behind and heaved a great sigh of relief. The full black and white portrait of Charlie Chaplin was still there. Barda had paid rupees forty thousand extra for the portrait alone when he bought that apartment from its previous owner.
Swarth found the lady having caught him looking at the portrait.
“Please, have a seat. Would you like some drinks, a glass of water may be?” She asked me pointing to a plastic chair.
He shook his head. “I’m sorry to be disturbing you like this. But long ago my Barda lived here for a short while before selling this apartment to Anushreedi who lived on the first floor…”
“I know her. I bought it from her when her engineer son…hm..Avik, having decided to settle down in Mumbai, called her to stay with them in their house on the outskirts of Mumbai. She was a nice lady ..”
Swarth had stood up by then. There was an emptiness in his heart as he took leave of the lady and started going down.
A man without a roof over his head even at 52, Swarth recollected how Barda requested him, his youngest brother, to take the apartment as a parting gift.
Rathin, I loved this. So much beautiful detail and feeling.
Thank you, Valerie, for the kind words. Stay safe and blessed.
I am always in AWE that you are able to complete such total and full stories in such a short time. Good For You! Happy Writing.
I will take that as a compliment. Fact is I am passionate about writing and try my best not to let go of opportunities being provided on a platform like this one.
Please point out my weaknesses as well if they are relevant with reference to my stories.
Thanks again. Stay safe and blessed.