IU Writing Exercise Contest: Insomnia

Photo by K.S. Brooks

You cannot sleep. You are restless and agitated. Something gnaws away beneath your conscious mind. You put on your coat and go for a walk down the city street.

Without plotting a course, you are drawn to this place. There is a reason you were drawn here. It is the reason you can not sleep. You stop and stare in the window and see. . .

In 250 words or less, tell me a story incorporating the elements in the picture.

Use the comment section below to submit your entry. Entries will be accepted until 5:00 PM Mountain Standard Time on Tuesday, January 17th, 2012.

On Wednesday morning, we will open voting to the public with an online poll for the best writing entry accompanying the photo. Voting will be open until 5:00 PM Thursday.

On Friday morning, the winner will be recognized as we post the winning entry along with the picture as a feature. Best of luck to you all in your writing!

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Photograph by K.S. Brooks, used here with the photographer’s permission. Copying or reproduction of any kind without express consent is prohibited. All rights reserved.

For a more detailed explanation of the contest & its workings, please see the post called “Writing Exercises Return with a Twist” from 12/24/11.

By participating in this exercise the contestants agree to the rules of the contest and waive any and all further considerations or permissions otherwise required for any winning entries to be published by Indies Unlimited as an e-book, showcasing all the photos and with the winning expositions credited appropriately and accordingly.

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7 thoughts on “IU Writing Exercise Contest: Insomnia”

  1. The last thing on my mind was food, and my stomach churned at the thought of sushi. No matter how many times my boyfriend told me, excitedly gesturing, about how delicious a spider roll could be, I refused to try it. After all, even if it were cooked, and not the raw fish that came to mind whenever he mentioned the word "sushi", I preferred a nice Italian deli with lasagna, antipasto and other more pedestrian fare. Even a fried shrimp, without question a delicacy, turned my insides into knots when I thought of it buried in sticky rice and wrapped in seaweed. So as I stared at the neon-appointed window, I realized that I never was going to try sushi, and that I never was going to try a marriage to my sushi-loving boyfriend. It was time for me to go back to bed, alone, and spend the morning looking for a new boyfriend, one who would be content with a plate of spaghetti topped with parmesan cheese, and maybe add an adventurous flavor in the form of garlic breadsticks.

  2. I pulled the pillow over my head, hoping to block out the things keeping me awake. It didn’t help because those things were inside my head. They poked and prodded my brain, making sleep impossible. How could I have not seen it? How could I be so stupid?

    We had been together for over a year. He was Mr. Right. I could feel it down to my toes. He was kind, thoughtful and caring, and ever so handsome. He knew all the right things to say. He impressed my parents and got along with my friends. He wanted the same things that I did. His kisses were magnificent, his touch, reassuring and he smelled so good.

    And then, it was over. He said he was going out with the guys. I was going to stay in and read a book, but the girls called so I went out with them for a drink. It was in a small, cozy bar and I saw him sitting next to her in a secluded corner. He was kissing her, holding her hand, just as he had with me so many times.

    Unable to sleep, I walked into the night hoping to clear my head and forget him. A half hour and six blocks later, I ended up in front of Freddie’s Fish Place, the place where we first met.

    I just stood there looking and then, everything seemed right. There she was, with another guy!

    I am going to sleep so good tonight.

  3. Almost Sixty years ago she had been a scared pregnant teenager on the shore of the lake by her parents cabin. There, alone and in the dark, she had birthed the boy and cut the cord. She had walked to right here and placed the child beneath this window. It was the glow of the neon fish that brought her that night, like Joseph and Mary following the north star. She learned later that an older couple camping nearby had adopted the child. She had made peace with the decision long ago. Yet whenever sleep evaded her, she would make the long drive back to the lake and stare at the old abandoned bait shop. She could still see the baby reflected in the window, tinted green by the glowing sign. Her only defense over the years had been the glow of that sign. It had seemed at the time that the light from that heavenly fish proved everything was allright. She wouldn’t have left him in the dark. The glow of a neon trout guided them both to better futures. She grimaced. Electricity had brought her. The thought echoed in her head. The fish still hung there, its power cord was short and hung only a few inches. The window was large and she could see the rest of the bare cabin. There were no power outlets there, and in real life just as in her remembered reflection, there were no power lines above her head, not for miles.

  4. She'd done nothing but stare at blank walls since he had left. His family had come, days later, asking to take his stuff; stripping the apartment bare, his life reduced to a few cardboard boxes. They hadn't even let her keep his sweater – it smelled like him. She'd curled up with it every night, remembering his scent. Old cigarettes and cologne. But they had taken that too. She couldn't sleep without that little comfort. She was insomnia's victim now; barely eating, running on coffee and chain smoking long into the night.

    Tonight she had gone out for the first time in a week. To the café down the road, where they had once whiled away the hours. It was here they had met. She- a waitress, he, a down-and-out businessman. He'd knocked a cup of joe off of the plastic table, onto her skirt, then asked if she wanted to sit down – so he could pay for a coffee as a way of apologising. She obliged, they got talking. And he returned the next day. And the next. He became a part of her schedule.

    The café was the same. Same tables, same stupid fish outside, same smell of oil and burnt onions. She sat down at their – at her – table and ordered a coffee. Black, no sugar. Sat there, sipping it slowly and lighting up another cigarette. Ran through their memories like it was a slideshow.

  5. "So, waddaya think, Uncle Billy?"

    "I've had worse."

    "That's it?"

    "Well, the fish is moist and flakey."


    "The batter is light … nice flavor."

    "How about the fries?"

    "Well, I'd have to say that might be the best thing … hand cut and perfectly fried … oh, and the slaw … that's the way my mother used to make it … nice and vinegary."

    "Anything else?"

    "Good beer."

    "So, I bring you to the place that serves the gold-standard for fish and chips in this town and 'I've had worse' is the best you can say about it."

    "Well, I have."

    I took a long swig of my beer. “Next week you can have your filet’o’fish from McDonalds … I’m not wasting my time to bring you down here again.”

    “That’s fine with me … I don’t need any of this fancy food.”

  6. I don’t recall seeing it, but I must have seen it. Something kept me awake half the night, after all. Then some dark urge made me return to it.

    Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop.

    A fishmonger’s, you’d think. And for the most part, you’d be right. But you would also be wrong.

    Here on this quiet street, post-revelry and pre-dawn, I stood before that window once more. Odd that it should display its neon welcome at this godforsaken hour. And that such cold fluorescence still burned within.

    Suddenly afraid, I turned away, wishing for sunrise, for even the spartan brevity of my home; anything but this suspended place masquerading as a city street.

    Nonetheless, as if compelled, my gaze returned to the window. In time to see a flash of silver and an appalling face. A hideous sweating man was butchering someone with the efficient strokes of a squalid Samurai, amputating the limbs of his screaming victim. My blood froze. The night butcher propped up the dying man, whose rolling eyes and sagging lips resembled nothing less than a helpless trout… dressing his limbless torso and placing him, bleeding and faintly sobbing, on the shaved ice of the display beside the other staring fish.

    The attacker looked up. Implacable, euphoric, he grinned a terrible grin, lifted his awful, dripping blade and pointed at it. Then pointed back at me and winked.

    Then I remembered what I had seen earlier: my own name on an empty section of that same display, waiting.

  7. Abandoning a fitful sleep, I take refuge at my desk. Six pairs of glasses hang along the spine of a wire hanger, staring at me sideways with empty-eyed indifference. The cell phone with its voracious glowing appetite lies sated and dormant. A beaded hairclip springs open releasing an explosion of graying hair that tumbles to my shoulders and down my back.

    I jiggle the mouse to wake up the monitor. Wallpaper randomly displays the single word, BREATHE. I obey. Slow and steady, with each inhalation, I renew my contract with life, while the wind slides its chilly fingers under the door and tugs at my toes.

    TRUST appears on the screen, an omen that urges me out of my seat. Frantic, I turn my collar to the wind and paint pink slipper trails along the dark, empty canvas of the city streets. The moonless night conceals my approach until the neon sign shines its light on my fear.

    When our eyes meet through the tempered glass, I am the one who feels small, ashamed, and unworthy. I turn my back on the glowing green fish as it contemplates the word OPEN, and curse the night I ruined my birthday surprise.

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