Out of my comfort zone

There’s nothing like taking an advanced fiction workshop to force you out of your comfort zone. That’s what I did this winter. Weekly assignments, which I like to think of as required prompts, had me writing magical realism, flash fiction, fables, and memory based short stories. For instance:

A Tale of Two Rabbits

Once upon a time, a family of rabbits lived in a cozy cottage in a deep thicket in Monroe County, West Virginia. C. J. Rabbit, commonly called Charlie, was a farmer. Every day he tended their garden, growing lettuce, radishes, green beans, corn, and potatoes like his father and grandfather before him. His wife, Josephine, minded their house as had her mother and grandmother before her. Several years ago, Josephine had quadruplets named Stewart, Susie, Sophie, and Sam. Stewart, the oldest wanted to be a farmer just like his father and as he grew old enough, he helped plant the crops and hoe the weeds. Susie, being the oldest girl, wanted nothing more than to become a wife and a mother when she grew up, so she stayed by her mother’s side learning how to be a housewife.

Sophie and Sam, however, had other aspirations. They had a love for adventure. As youngsters, they had explored the woods beyond their own thicket, gone to an advanced school in neighboring Greenbrier County, and even persuaded their parents to get them iPhones. Soon they learned that there was a whole big world outside of Monroe County. And they wanted to explore it.

After graduation, they both worked at the lavish resort nearby to earn enough money to travel. Sophie, in her starched white apron, worked diligently in the candy shop where she could have all the lickings from the gooey pans of chocolate used to make truffles. Sam became a blackjack dealer at the casino and was reputed to be the most amenable of all the staff. He loved wearing the striped vest and red bow-tie that made up his uniform. And he loved the exciting life he imagined those high rollers lived.

Soon the pair had enough money to fly to Europe where they’d always dreamed of living. When Sophie told her mother that she wanted to go to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, her mother gave her a stern warning; “Don’t go there. The big people eat rabbits, you know.” Sophie thought that was silly, but she assured her mother she’d be careful. Charlie didn’t wanted Sam to leave either. Stewart was a bit lazy, his father confided. “You are a much harder worker, boy, and I need you.”

But Sam insisted on leaving. “I’m not a farmer, Dad. I want to be a city rabbit. I’m sorry.”

Sam and Sophie remained undeterred. And so, they flew off to Pittsburgh, carrying only one suitcase each. As they boarded the silver jet, their parents and their siblings cried, “Come back home soon.” But Sam and Sophie made no promises. From Pittsburgh, Sam boarded a plane for Amsterdam, while Sophie hopped on the Paris flight.

Over the next two years, the two met often, traveling by train to each other’s home town. Sophie was on her way to becoming a chef but Sam had found the prostitutes and coffee shops of Amsterdam too appealing. Without a steady job, he spent most of his time there, smoking pot and visiting the girls who displayed themselves in the street-side windows. Now and again, out of necessity, he took odd jobs to which he rode his bicycle. Some days, he painted houses; some days he delivered groceries, but most of his time and all of his money was spent pleasuring himself.

Finally, Sophie grew tired of helping to support her brother, and she cut him off. Now, forced to find a real job, Sam moved to the smaller town of Kinderdijk where he learned all about windmills. Fascinated by them, he began thinking about how wind power could help reduce his home state’s dependence on coal, which he knew was polluting the earth.

Eager to share the news with Sophie, he Facetimed her. “Sophie, let’s go back home. I have a plan. I want to support using wind power in West Virginia. Come back with me. You can be a chef in Lewisburg.”

By now, Sophie had to admit she’d grown a bit tired of navigating her bike in Paris traffic, and was beginning to long for the green hills of Monroe County. She wanted to see Peter’s Mountain once again, so she agreed. They arranged to meet in Pittsburgh and fly home together without telling their parents. Charlie and Josephine were delighted to see them hopping down the lane toward their cottage. “Now you can help us on the farm,” they said.

But it was not to be. Although, like most Appalachian rabbits, they resettled in their home towns, they didn’t return to their old way of life. Living abroad had taught them to look at home differently. So, Sam set up a wind and solar energy company in White Sulphur Springs and Sophie became the head chef at Food & Friends in Lewisburg. And Charlie and Josephine were very proud of them.

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