I thought I’d share one of my exercises that I wrote on my course with the International Writer’s Collective. The brief was about a character experiencing a place for the first time, in close third person, matter-of-fact tone but perhaps with a darker mood. Anyway. Enjoy 🙂
The inside of the truck was the same dusty-grey as the sand on the dirt-track; Alex felt the jolt as the wheels hitched an upwards-journey over a pot-hole and bumped back down, landing in a cloud that fogged up the windscreen. The van driver flicked on the wipers, staring at the open road whilst Alex picked out grime from beneath his fingernails.
‘It’s my birthday next Tuesday.’
The driver grunted, but otherwise didn’t respond.
‘I’ll be sixteen.’ Alex tried to count the street-lights, but the van was hurtling too fast and they condensed into a blur. He enjoyed a moment imagining they were the lights along the edges of a cat-walk. Life was a cat-walk. He just had to make sure he walked down it in style.
No matter what.
A cigarette stain marred his beige jumpsuit, but perhaps it was the only thing that would set him apart from the crowd. Alex wondered who stubbed it there, but figured he was better off not knowing what or who or where the previous inhabitant had been. The cuffs were stiff around his wrists, a polyester-blend that would wreak havoc with his skin, and the buttons cracked. The colour did nothing for his complexion. His chains, however, he could pretend were bracelets, intricate coiled loops meant for something cosy like friendship. Perhaps inside he could make a friendship bracelet for Rosie. She’d like that.
‘Do they do birthday cakes in prison?’
The driver cleared his throat and pressed a button on the dashboard—the radio stuttered on, Brendan Urie piping up something about ‘High-Hopes’ which Alex thought was a little insensitive given the situation. But he went with it, leaning against the rickety backrest and jiggling his knees in time to the music.
‘I hope so,’ he added. ‘Chocolate cake’s my favourite, but Mum never used to make it for me, she said chocolate makes me hyper. Did you know I’m lactose-intolerant? Will they make me eat cheese in prison?’
His mum used to make him to drink Oat milk. Oat milk is what you’d get if you were to milk the devil. An evil-off-white smear against your glass.
The driver coughed.
‘What about yoghurt? Yoghurt makes me sick.’
As a child, he’d never been allowed to leave the table until every curdled smudge had been sucked up into his reluctant gullet. He and his mother had many a shouting match over ruined chequered table-cloths, splattered with semi-digested Petits Filous (he’d claim they were improvements), until she’d finally admitted that maybe there was a problem.
His mum didn’t like ‘problems’.
The truck gave another hefty thump before slowing down and easing to a halt; the driver yanked the gear-stick and unbuckled his belt. The truck was high, so when the driver jumped down, Alex heard the thud of his boots as they hit the dirt. When the side-door opened, Alex blinked as the wind smacked him in the face, and he looked down at the man front-on for the first time. His features were hidden behind glasses and a thicket of beard.
‘I’ll need candles,’ Alex told him. ‘Sixteen of them, remember?’
The driver’s beard twitched. ‘Bet you’ll be wanting balloons, too.’ His voice crackled, thick from tobacco. He held out a calloused hand and helped Alex out of the truck, his grip tightening on Alex’s elbow as they approached a narrow building, dirt-coloured like the ground and the truck. There was only a door, no windows. Alex swallowed. A sign on the gate read: Brittlebeach North Juvenile Detention Facility.
His mind lingered on his mother. Who’d never wanted to admit there was a problem.