Writer In Motion is a group of writers and editors who came up with an idea 3 years ago – give writers a visual prompt (photo above is NOT the prompt) and ask them to write a short story of at least 1000 words. Sounds like an idea many have had in varying forms but Writer In Motion took it further. They ask the participants to publish their story on their own blogs from it’s shitty-first-draft to polished final.

No story, book, screenplay, essay comes out perfectly written the first time. I enjoyed following along last year and seeing stories go from a shriveled mess of weeds to a beautiful garden of flowers. Oh boy, so corny.

This year I’ve decided to participate. I love a prompt, so that’s always fun for me. I’m curious to see how my idea mutates through the various edits. And it give me an excellent excuse to stop procrastinating on this blog and keep my website up to date!

I’m supposed to let everyone in on my process. Here’s the truth, I have no process, or at least not one I’ve stuck with from story to story. Sometimes I pants it – write without an outline. Sometimes I plot it – write with an outline. For short stories I most often pants it and that’s exactly what I did this week. The prompt reminded me of Grand Teton National Park from there I came up with a character, a setting, and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Although this is often my process, my first draft is often a partial story while I think about how to give my main character what she wants.

With no further delay, here is draft 1 of Not The Grand Tetons (terrible title, still working on that too):

Not the Grand Tetons By Laura Hazan

The view reminded Elly of visiting the Grand Tetons. In that national park a small church was set apart from all the lodges and visitor centers, just a lone building with the magnificent Tetons in the background; it’s a picture nearly every visitor has taken. Of course the building she looked at now was no church and the mountains weren’t nearly as majestic as the Tetons, but at least, for a moment, she had a thought of happier times.

            “Back on the bus! Bus leaves in five minutes, with or without you”

            She and her family, her husband and her son, visited many national parks, before the pandemic. Their trip to Yellowstone and Grand Tetons was her top three favorite. Although they never made it to the parks in Alaska, it could’ve been a favorite. She and Eli were working on a three week trip in 2020 to Alaska to visit all eight national parks when everything shut down for the pandemic. No use dwelling on a missed vacation now.

            Elly boarded the bus. She had no idea where they were taking her. Taking them. Many of them. Thousands of people on buses going west. Five years into the pandemic and the public health officials finally decided the only course of action was to empty every city. So many had died, Eli included. Officials assured everyone with the reduced populations they could spread the whole of New York City, Boston and Baltimore through Kansas and every person would still have an acre of space just for themselves.

            She just wanted to be safe, to be through with the anxiety brought by wave after wave of disease. They’d learned many things since the breakout in 2020. It was a manufactured virus but not by the Chinese as so many thought. Elly never believed it was the Chinese, her stand was “it’s here now, who cares how it got here, we have to deal with it.” To everyone’s surprise it was the Koreans. Not North or South, both together. In spring of 2020 a diplomatic building on the 38th parallel, one that been constructed for peace talks in the 1950s. That was the point when they reunified, but only the Koreans knew about it. They’d held secret meetings, exchanged scientists, developed a virus the world would blame on China and protected themselves in the aftermath.

            “Mom,” Elliott shook her. “Mom, the bus stopped for a break. Come on.”

            “Already? We just stopped.”

            “Last stop was three hours ago. You slept the whole time.”

            Elly stood, grabbed her purse, and got off the bus with Elliott. “Did you see the building and the mountains at our last stop?”

            Elliott turned around. “No. I’m headed for the restroom.” He chucked his thumb behind him. “Stay right on that bench behind me. When I’m done I’ll take you to the ladies room.”

            Elliott was thirty. He had little patience for Elly. She felt for him, five years ago he had his whole life ahead of him, starting his career, and thinking of getting engaged. The virus took his girlfriend and her whole family – twelve family members wiped out. Elly helped him through his grief but he was bitter after that. Then his office closed. He made a plan to leave for Europe, they were handling the pandemic much better than the US. He’d get himself set up with work and a home and then send for Elly, it’s what he’d said at the time.

            He applied for asylum, refugee status, visas for specific professions – whatever he could do to get legal entry into an EU country. It took months, nearly eighteen. Elly was overjoyed when he finally got a bite from Norway, they wanted him for his cartography skills. For reasons the scientists couldn’t figure out, the virus took out whole professions in certain countries. Norway lost all of their geographers. She wanted him to get out of Baltimore and the US and start anew, she didn’t even care if he could get her out. This she’d sacrifice for her child, for his future. Eight days before his departure the EU cut off all travel from the US, approved or otherwise, indefinitely.

            Elly wanted safety, security and a chance for Elliott to thrive. Yes, he was an adult, but he was still her child. Three months ago she saw the news about the migration west. Anyone that volunteered to go in the first round would be given the abandoned residence of a virus victim. Guarantees of thorough cleaning and disinfection were made. “Bask in the fresh air of the mountain west, leave your disease ridden city behind!” Wasn’t much of a slogan but with no one and nothing left for them in Baltimore she managed to convince Elliott they should go.

They’d only stayed in Baltimore because they had nowhere else to go. Eli had provided, the house was paid off, but none of that mattered anymore. Real estate was worthless, stocks were worthless, life insurance policies hardly ever paid out. Garbage piled up on the streets because the city had so few sanitation workers. Vehicles were abandoned everywhere; belonged to victims and stayed where they lasted parked. Health services were minimal, even when you had the virus. But somehow, the promise of a fresh start in a new part of the country seemed like the answer to Elly.

Elliott returned. “Ok, Ma, your turn in the bathroom. They actually have toilet paper here. No shortages another guy said.”

They walked to the ladies room and Ely asked Elliott to hold her purse. She had a revolver in there. Eli purchased a gun when everything started. “Never know what’s gonna happen when society breaks down, this helps me feel safe,” he’d said at the time. She could never admit it but it made her feel safe to have it now. They weren’t supposed to bring firearms with them but the inspectors didn’t really search for them either. The politicans and the public health experts were so thrilled to have several busloads of volunteers they didn’t care what was packed in the luggage.