TELL ME A STORY
104 Short Stories In 52 Weeks
Gillian and Kevin Rhodes
Copyright 2017 Gillian
and Kevin Rhodes
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ALSO BY GILLIAN AND KEVIN RHODES
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Gillian and Hilary Rhodes
The Book of Noah
Life Beyond Reason: A
Memoir of Mania
Running For My Life:
When Impossible is the Only Option
Apocalypse: Life on the
Other Side of Over
Law, Enlightenment, and
Other States of Mind
The Legal Times They Are
1: A story entitled “A New Beginning”
2: A story about rising to a challenge
3: A retelling of a fairytale
4: A story about three siblings
5: A story set in London
6: : A story about finding something that has been lost
7: A story about a journey
8: : A story set during a war
9: A creepy story
10: A story featuring a countdown
11: A story set at a full moon
12: A story about a competition
13: A story that take place entirely inside a vehicle
14: A story from a villain’s perspective
15: A story set at a concert or festival
16: A story that begins with a gunshot
17: A story set in a country you’ve never been to
18: A story about a historical figure
19: A story set in a theatre
20: A story written in 2nd person narrative
21: A story set on another planet
22: A story written from the perspective of someone dead/undead
23: A story about a birthday
24: A story that ends on a cliffhanger
25: A Story set during the summer solstice
26: A story about nostalgia
27: A story featuring a song or poem
28: A story that ends at sunrise
29: A story that opens with the words “F*** you!”
30: A story about a magical object
31: A story set at sea
32: A story about a curse
33: A story set 100 years in the future
34: A story about loneliness
35: A story featuring a real recent newspaper article
36: A story written from an animal’s perspective
37: A story about a scientific discovery
38: A story set on another planet
39: A story with only one character
40: A story about a secret
41: A romance that ends in tragedy
42: A tragedy that ends in romance
43: A retelling of a recent Hollywood movie
A story that takes place the year you were born
45: A story about a near-death experience
46: A story about anger
A story about a magic spell
48: A story about a strange small town
49: A story about justice being done
50: A creation myth
51: A story set at Christmas
52: A story entitled “The End”
This project began
very simply. I was browsing the social media site Tumblr, and
happened upon a post on a writing help blog (“Our Writing
Therapy”). It was fifty-two writing prompts, one for each week of
the year. I glanced through it, a usual practice for dash scrolling,
but something about the prompts captured my imagination. I decided to
give it a go – it was only halfway through the first week of
January at that point.
I can’t remember
now why I shared it with Dad; perhaps I just thought he, as a writer,
might be interested, or perhaps I was looking for a partner to hold
me accountable. But for whatever reason I did it, Dad was all in, and
we started right away.
It started as just
a fun little thing we sent each other every week, but quickly we both
found that we were surprised and delighted by the stories that came
up. Dad had decided to limit himself to 100 words exactly for
each story. I didn’t regulate my word count, but I did decide to
not use my first idea for the prompt. Instead, I tried to see it from
another angle, or question the meaning of the words – something to
approach it from a different angle.
Perhaps for that
reason, I found somewhat to my surprise that many of my stories
tended towards the science fiction, the futuristic, the
post-apocalyptic, the dystopian. In week 30, for example, we were
prompted to write about a magical object – so I wrote about a
radio, but set in a time in which electronics had gone extinct. A
radio would seem magical, in that world!
As the weeks kept
ticking and we faithfully wrote our stories, I started looking for
ways to share them. Eventually I decided on the online writing
platform Medium, and created a publication entitled “52 Stories in
52 weeks.” That sowed the seeds of the idea for publishing this
Over the course of
the year, Dad and I did not miss a single story. A few weeks we
forgot and sent it late, but those were few and far between. It began
part of my Monday routine to write the story, and when the year
ended, I missed it.
I found, in the
end, the project an excellent creative experiment, completed by doing
it in tandem with one of my favorite partners in crime.
I’m delighted to
present all our stories side by side in this collection. As I read
it, I’m struck by how different our interpretations of the same
prompts are – but that is half the fun! I hope that you will enjoy
these stories as much as we enjoyed writing them!
In a moment of
weakness, I actually applied for a job. Well, sort of--it was a
setup, a lure I couldn’t resist. I took the bait, got hooked,
reeled in, and netted before I knew what hit.
It started with one
of those email popups that makes you wonder how it got through and
figure you need to change your settings. It announced a new article
on LinkedIn Pulse: “The Most Unconventional Job Posting Ever.”
“Job” wasn’t on my radar, but I’m a sucker for
“unconventional.” I started reading faster than I could hit
delivered on “unconventional” alright. You couldn’t tell what
it was. But then it told you, at the end: “The article... it
wasn't really an article... or a job post. It was a story about me."
About me, finding
my way as a writer.
Being known is a
powerful sensation; it happens so rarely that you remember when it
does. Who was this guy writing this article, who knew what it was
like to be me, in love with writing since I was a kid? I tracked the
article to a real job posting from a startup with a mission to help
employees “adopt behaviors and mindsets that improve individual and
team performance.” They were looking for a writer.
Ah, so that’s it.
behaviors interest me. Teamwork, not so much. I work alone; most
writers do. I almost quit there, but then something else snagged me:
they wanted to know if you could tell a story in 100 words.
Seriously? I had no
idea. I needed to find out. Besides, a steady income wouldn’t
I applied for the
job. It was fun for awhile, then I dropped out for reasons
unimportant now, leaving the question unanswered.
About then, Gillian
proposed the 52 Stories in 52 Weeks challenge. This was my chance:
my stories would be 100 words. Exactly. I would sit down the same
time every week, read the prompt, write the first thing that popped
into my head no questions asked, and finish the story in exactly 100
words. Exactly. All in one sitting.
Gillian and I got
started, and right away I envied her. She could read the prompts
ahead of time, think about her response, then use as many words as
she wanted. Her reactions to my compact entries gave me quick
feedback on how well I was doing. If she struggled to find the story,
I missed it. If she got it right away, it worked.
So it went, for a
whole year, and now I have an answer. Can I tell a story in 100
words? No, not really. But you and I can tell a story together if we
both doing our part. My weekly 100 words set up the possibility of a
story. Then it’s your turn--you, the reader, the imaginative one,
the one who can’t resist the allure of a story, the one who must
track it to its source, like I did with the mystery job posting. When
you read my 100 words, something happens like when you get a joke or
get to the end of a haiku: there’s that burst of surprise when you
get it, and then--bango!-- your imagination floods the spare outline
with all the details you need to create the meaning. It happens just
like that, just that fast.
That’s the plan:
for you and I to create these stories together.
I don’t think
it’s unreasonable to ask that of you. I think stories always work
that way. We start to read, and a deep creative magic goes to work on
us. We like to experience that magic, and so we read--not so much for
what the writer gives us, but for what the writing says to us about
ourselves and our own lives. We welcome the story, invest ourselves
in it, make it matter. We create meaning for ourselves, make the
story come true for us.
We do this whenever
we read. That’s why you and I can read the same thing but it
becomes something different in you than in me. We fill in the details
differently, see and hear and feel what’s written in a way that
matches the sense of self each of us brings to it. We shape its
meaning to fit ourselves, make it something we can take into our own
selves and use in our own lives.
I didn’t know all
of that before I started, but I know it now, thanks to Gillian’s
storytelling challenge and her responses to my entries over the year.
Over time, I felt I sort of got the hang of it --like when you do
crosswords or Sudoku or play Jeopardy or charades or solve riddles or
do something else like that a lot: you get into the swing of it,
learn the codes and secrets and shortcuts, get quicker on the uptake.
I suspect that will happen for you, too--that the stories will come
quicker, and that you will find yourself telling your own stories
about you, after all.
I believe that, but
we’ll see if it plays out that way for you.
And then I’ll
really have my answer.
Thanks for giving
it a try.
Week 1: A story entitled “A New Beginning”
Gillian 1: A New Beginning
On the day after
the world ended, the sun rose in the east. Birds trilled in the trees
and the line for the coffee shop was long. The morning rush hour
traffic was jammed, and cell phone coverage was spotty exactly when
the cars’ occupants tried to call in late.
In short, nothing
at all had changed. But nevertheless, the world had ended.
There was only one person who knew it: five-year-old Mary Beth
She told her
father. “Daddy, what happened to the world?”
Her father tried to
remember yesterday’s news. “What world, honey?”
Mary Beth frowned.
“All of them,” she responded.
happened, sweetie,” he said.
She told her
mother. “Mommy, what happened to the world?”
Her mother worried
she’d been watching too much television. “What do you mean?”
Mary Beth replied.
Her mother wondered
if this was normal for five-year-olds. She decided to play along. “Is
it? What are we living in now then?”
What a silly
question, Mary Beth thought. It was obvious. “A new one,” she
this new world like?” her mother asked.
considered. She looked around her. It sure looked the same, but it
wasn’t, she knew that very well. The newness was rubbing at
everything, the shine of the sun on the windows, the dust in the air.
Blank slates of being. Maybe it wasn’t the same at all, but it
didn’t know what else to be, so it made itself like it was before.
“New,” she said
finally. “It looks like the old one, but it’s not.”
Her mother patted
her on the head. “Okay,” she said.
The sun doesn’t
reflect a circle, Mary Beth thought, staring at the neighbor’s
window. It reflects a star. A star, like the ones Daddy showed me in
Across the way, the
reflection became a star, and Mary Beth smiled. That’s what I
thought, she thought happily.
And so, little Mary
Beth Guarderson, the only one to know that the world had ended, began
to reform it.
Kevin 1: A New Beginning
The balloon blew
into the mower’s path. Jason snatched it.
The rain started as
he stepped inside.
“Beat it,” he
Ginny cocked an
eyebrow at the balloon.
He held out it out
in front of himself. “Congratulations!” it said.
“For us,” he
said. “You okay?”
“Sort of,” she
said. “You need a shower.”
said. “I mean the message.” He sniffed an armpit. “The shower,
too. You think maybe?”
“I always wonder
how high they go. Don’t you?”
“No,” she said.
“Saw the stork
She fixed him a
“You’ll make a
Week 2: A story about rising to a challenge
Gillian 2: The Door Guard
It happened on
a Tuesday. A lady, head to toe in fringes and hoops, passed
through the door he held open as per his (albeit very simple) job
She couldn’t be
talking to him. He was invisible. Even with the shiny brass buttons
on his uniform that he loved so much. It was part of his job
By the time he
realized she was looking at him and waiting, it was too late.
the valet said. “Poor dumb bastard.”
She did it again
when she returned. “Helloo!”
He didn’t move.
It was in his job description to not move.
the concierge said. “Mute bastard.”
He practiced all
night, shining the brass buttons of his jacket, ironing the crisp
trousers, polishing the black boots. It was hard. It wasn’t in his
The next day the
lady was wearing more fringes.
He was too slow,
and she had gone.
your time,” the valet said. “Dumb bastard.”
He had to practice
again that night.
The third day he
He opened his
mouth, working his tongue around the two, sweet syllables.
The lady smiled.
“Well, I’ll be
damned,” said the valet.
Kevin 2: The Art Lesson
Mrs. Hanson made
the project because of the horses in his notebooks. He met it by
raging while the others drew stick horses.
Later, he laid out
his treasures on his bed. Fierce wild horses, thundering, manes to
Later, Mrs. Hanson
“Passion, you see, can be
destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.”
“He'll be delivered from madness.
“The Normal is the good smile in
a child's eyes. It is also the dead stare in a million adults.”
wasn’t to make him draw horses. It was to leave him his worship.
Week 3: A retelling of a fairytale
Gillian 3: Cinderella’s Farce
It was a setup. The
whole damn thing.
She didn’t think
I knew. She didn’t think anyone knew. Even after all this, even
after the blinding, I kept her secrets.
She was my sister.
I wasn’t kind to her – my mother was more important than her. She
didn’t forgive me. But who cares? Our stories are over now, one of
which ended in Happily Ever After, and that’s enough.
They’d met weeks
before. He dragged up at the house with a bleeding leg from a hunt
gone wrong, and she patched him up in the kitchen. She used my
handkerchief to do it, that’s how I figured it out.
He kept sneaking
back to the kitchen. We never saw him, because we never went to the
kitchen. I heard their voices filtering from the laundry chute. They
talked. They planned. I heard only snips of it. Enough to know.
I could have done
something. Why bother? It was her destiny. Anyone could have seen it.
They planned it.
She said the packages were food when I asked, but I knew better.
Finery. Dresses, jewels. The glass slippers were last, wrapped in
She knew we’d
stop her, and leave her alone at the house. I ripped her dress for
her. She pretended to care.
I guess he sent a
coach after he saw us arrive, to be sure we wouldn’t pass on the
street. She left early and left the shoe, as they’d planned, and he
set off on the farce of the shoe. He had three sizes hidden in his
shirt, and used whichever one he knew wouldn’t fit the person in
front of him. Only when he got to our house did he use the real one.
I don’t know how anyone believed their “surprise.”
Either way, he took
her off to the castle and I heard started a royal – if you’ll
pardon the pun – fight about her origins. They must have won,
because I didn’t hear any more of it.
The way they tell
it now, there’s a fairy involved, magic and chance and the coup
de foudre. But there was no magic. It was a farce. A genius,
impossible, bold setup.
And me? I sat back
and watched the show, and paid for it with my eyes. Happily ever
after, and then some.
Kevin 3: The Board Meeting
He scrolled again through the
PowerPoint, noticed his fingers trembling.
The usual list: capital, suppliers,
shipping, design; more this, more that; we’ll pivot, manage the
They always bought it. Their Golden
Boy. Can do no wrong. Done this before, will do it again.
The door clicked. “The Board is
ready for you.”
She knew, he’d bet. She’d watched
all these liars telling each other lies, crying wolf and ignoring the
warnings. But this time there really was a wolf. He’d put a name to
it: his own. Save the sheep? Fire the shepherd.
That wasn’t in the PowerPoint.
Week 4 : A story about three siblings
Gillian 4: The Mountain
when we left the mountain.
They said it was
time, because the world was moving on ahead and we were getting left
behind. We had to go to school, learn real things, grow up, leave
behind all “those wrong stories ol’ Hefter told you.” No more
place in the world for us anymore, and mom and dad had been wrong to
Taren and Jed
believed them. They were older and so they knew better, they said.
It was only me that
held on. I knew better than to say so, watching my brothers disappear
into this modern, uncivilized world. I kept my mouth shut, went to
school, did the learning I was told to. I learned the way they say
the world works, how it began, where we came from. I even work it in
now, studying the how the universe grows and moves.
I have not been
back to the mountain. But these days when my students ask me how the
world was made, I tell them the truth, and I remember.
In the beginning, I
say, there was nothing, and in nothing, there came one.
The oldest was
Soul, and Soul was born by fire, and bathed in sea. But Soul was lost
in that great sea, and so there came a second.
The second was
Being. Being began in stone, and stretched all the way to sky. But
Soul and Being were cold and afraid in the darkness, and so there
came a third.
The third, and the
youngest, was Time. Time began as the first dark night gave way to
After I tell the
story, there is always one student who raises their hand.
metaphor, right?” they ask.
And I smile.
Kevin 4: Jerry
Dad was staunch
Irish Democrat, so they named us John, Edward, and Robert.
People called us
Jerry -- you know, JER. So we were Jerry1, Jerry2, and Jerry3. You
got blamed for stuff you didn’t do. Jerry1 did it, but somebody
slips and says Jerry3 and he gets it instead.
Edward, Bobby, and I kept Jerry -- just kind of liked it. So if we’re
all around and somebody says Jerry, Edward and Bobby still look up,
just like old times.
And we still take
the blame for each other -- got to be a habit, I guess.
Week 5: A story set in London
Gillian 5: The Lost City
I had heard the
name whispered every now and then. It was lore among the
archeologists, what Atlantis had been before ocean mapping had left
the drowned city naked and bare before the world.
It was the holy
grail, the last so-called secret place in a world where nothing was
secret anymore, where history’s secrets had been sprawled across a
million screens and humanity had gotten bored, turning their faces to
the sky instead.
Except me, and
Professor Tarring. He was the only one I ever heard who had spoken
the name aloud, who dared to suggest that it had existed, still
existed, hadn’t been crushed like everything else.
We were laughed
off. Professor Tarring taught Atlantis and saved the money for our
We knew it had to
be in the area, but there were still too many square kilometers to
just dig anyway and hope we stumbled on something. We went down, as
far as we could, donning gas masks and struggling through centuries
of trash to try and get close to the earth’s surface, where it
would have to be.
I’m not sure why
it called to me so much. It was part of the lost world, the world
Before, the one before the great Crush and the mapping. I needed to
know it existed, in some unreasonable, irrational, desperate way.
And then we found
the map. Matching the new coordinates to the old world maps was a
long, painstaking process, but when the computers finally dinged and
the Professor and I looked at it, I felt like my heart had stopped a
beat or two.
“My god,” the
I stared at the
map, trying to make sense of what it was telling us. The blue lines
of the inner section of our city against the red lines of where the
lost city would have been. Matching perfectly.
I savored the
words, loving each one, dreaming of the possibilities.
“We live in
London,” I said, and began to laugh.
Kevin 5: The Hyde Park Soapbox
“You could go say
something,” Rich said. “You could preach.” He pointed at a guy
shouting, bending pedestrians in an arc around himself.
I stared blankly.
“The Hyde Park
Soapbox,” he said. “Derek Prince used to preach there. Want to?”
His eyes burned
with challenge. Derek Prince was our Bible hero. I thought Rich would
do it, go over and fulfill the Great Commission.
I stood there dumb,
trying to shrink. We came to see the Palace. He saw through me, I
know he did.
he finally said.
ashamed. It was always that way with Rich.
Week 6: : A story about finding something that has
Gillian 6: The Walker
The desert is
The nights are not
cold, they are ice. The days are not hot, they blister. The dunes
look like the clouds of heaven, but punish like the depths of hell.
That’s what the
Walker said, each endless cycle of crushing cold and wavering heat.
He had walked for so long he’d forgotten why, footprints that no
longer made any mark in the sand behind him. It was merely what he
would do, what he had done. He walked, unseen by anyone but those
already halfway into their own reckoning with the scales of eternity.
He was a reminder of the dangers, the truth of that whispered
Until they came. He
was drawn to the camp by the fading spirit, as he always was. He
didn’t smell the honey or the herbs as his shadowed form broke into
the dancing, distorted firelight, didn’t leave a trace as he came
to stand in their midst, restlessly, endlessly walking, pacing
through the camp.
For the first time
in centuries, the Walker’s feet drew to a shuddering, staggering
halt, and his head threw into the air and saw –
The stars. So thick
they were like a blanket, an alien landscape where the sky was a
floor of glitter and the earth was the inky black heavens.
He had forgotten.
The Walker turned
and left the light behind him, walking lightly over the shadowed sky,
eyes turned to the heavens. He remembered now.
When he reached the
horizon, the world would flip, and he would reach the world where the
only pathway was splattered across the dunes in stars.
Walker set off, with great strides, the dunes softening into no more
than waves, cresting into the sky.
Kevin 6: Mushrooms
A recipe for magic
mushrooms, on an Eiffel Tower postcard. Another one for banana peels,
on the Statue of Liberty. A baggie with a few shreds of grass. Some
red, white, and blue papers. A water pipe. A Jimi Hendrix “Are You
Experienced?” poster. Abby Hoffman’s Steal This Book. Love
beads, a floppy hat, some decrepit bell bottoms, a tie-dye…
Icons of the 60’s.
His life in the 60’s. The one he hid from the folks - they
would have freaked out.
All here, in a box
neatly tied with string, in Mom’s cedar chest. Today. The day she
Week 7: A story about a journey
Gillian 7: Summit
“Is that it?”
If it was, Alice
thought, it wasn’t a very impressive summit for the extravagant
promises of this trip.
white-haired and dark-eyed, glanced up and surveyed the high point
across the shallow saddle. “Hmm,” she said thoughtfully. “Not
yet, I think.”
She was right. No
sooner had they reached the top point, another high point appeared, a
pile of rocks poking from the trees. “Is that it?” Alice wanted
The guide glanced
only briefly. “Not yet,” she said.
Of course, it
wasn’t impressive enough yet, Alice thought. The travel agency had
said that it was an indescribable journey. They had gushing
testimonies of people to prove it. Despite the fact that many other
agencies offered a much cheaper guide for this hike, Alice had been
intrigued. She needed something life-changing anyway, and her
previous forays had yielded nothing but disappointment.
The next summit was
only a few hundred feet beyond the second, but the guide didn’t
even look up this time to verify.
“Not yet,” she
Neither was the
next, or the next after that, the path winding up and down. Every
time Alice asked, she got the same response. Hot and tired, she
started thinking she’d fallen for false promises yet again.
The next time, she
didn’t ask. She just put her head down and walked, one step after
Sometime after, as
they climbed above treeline, her previously silent guide began to
speak, sweeping her hand across the land, describing how it had been
formed, where the lay of the land looked like a woman sleeping, how
if you looked closely enough, the wind moving through the trees below
looked like giants walking.
This high, the wind
sang across the rocks. Alice watched for the giants. No, she thought,
it looks more like waves.
It was sometime
later when they took a break on a pile of rocks. They had been
sitting for a few minutes when the guide glanced over.
“We are here,”
It was only then
that Alice realized there were no more high points around. She was
surprised by it, but didn’t think any more of it as they descended,
wondering why this hike had been so talked up.
It took her thirty
years to understand that the journey the agency talked about had
nothing to do with climbing a mountain.
Kevin 7: Across The Room