They Could Not See the Sky

Joining a writing group is a great way to improve your writing. I know I’m learning a lot from mine.

Each month, we all read something we’ve written. People write in different genres. Some are skilled, some just beginning. But the feedback I receive is valuable, and helps me know if I’m on the right track, or need to do some serious re-writing. Or both.

At the close of each meeting, someone suggests a writing prompt. The idea is to write a 300 word piece using the prompt to get started. I’ve found this to be a great way to force myself to create a scene that has a distinct beginning, middle and end, and builds tension-all in less than 300 words.

Just for fun I thought I’d share last month’s piece, written to the prompt of “they could not see the sky.”

As the old woman and her granddaughter stood at the bus stop, they watched the bus creep away, disappearing into the rusty-colored air before it had traveled past four houses. Usually they could see the silver domes of the church in Petushki from the road, a small onion dome soaring above the larger one. If the wind was right, they could smell the chicken farm, the odor still sharp two kilometers away.

Not today. All they could see were the trees lining the road, leaves covered in brown dust. All they could smell was burning peat mixed with smoldering pine and birch. This year the fires were worse than ever. No one could sleep for the strong smell, like someone was chain smoking nearby.

So much destruction, the old woman thought. No warnings to the villages in the path of the fires. No fire rangers, no fire trucks. She and the girl had been visiting relatives in Karelia, far to the north, so they weren’t at home when the fires started. The fires were permitted to go where they willed, led by the wind’s whim to spare one village and consume another.

Clutching her tattered bag, the old woman led the way along the narrow trail that wound through an empty field to their village, ten minutes’ walk away.

The smell was growing stronger, as if thousands of people were lighting fires to cook over. Odd no one else was walking the path.

“Babushka, we’re almost there! You’re walking too slow.” The girl ran ahead toward the village, disappearing into the misty smoke.

The old woman paused, then trudged on. She knew what lay ahead before she heard her granddaughter’s scream. A burnt-out village under a sky they could not see.

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