This story is by Wanda Kiernan and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I had a deadline to meet and had to do something drastic to meet it. So I locked myself in this spare room. It’s a small room. Just 10 X 10, but it has a view of the beach, and the shimmering sea.
Today was the second day of a long weekend. Outside, everyone enjoyed the warm weather, the clear blue skies, and the bright sun.
I wanted to be out there, too, but the deadline was six days away. Let others revel in the sun, I thought. Me, I’ll revel in my words and boundless imagination.
I got started by mentally sifting through the conventions of trapped and room. Story ideas like illness, abduction, unexpected bad weather and a cabin, a dark family secret and an attic, all came to mind. I wrote a few sentences introducing characters and setting. In the end, I did more thinking than writing. I got all the obvious ideas out of the way. It was just the first day. Tomorrow will be more productive.
Most of the day was spent on Pinterest searching for rooms and a flash of inspiration. First I saw bedrooms with matching sheets and curtains, and pastel-painted walls. A more specific search for ‘scary rooms’ brought back Halloween decorated rooms draped in white cotton cobwebs and skeletons hanging from the ceiling.
I obsessed over the search criteria hoping to see a room that would trigger a story from start to finish in one sitting. But after several hours there was no inspiration, and I didn’t get any writing done. (Although I think I’ll host a Halloween party this year.)
I grabbed a can of tuna fish and chips from the rations bin for dinner.
I was disappointed. I wish I hadn’t gone down that Pinterest rabbit hole. I should have just typed out a story. A dark chocolate Milky Way for dessert helped lift my mood a little.
Tomorrow I’m not going to stop until the first draft is done. I’m going to barrel through whatever comes to mind without analyzing or editing. That’s the plan, and I’m going to stick to it.
I began the day feeling hopeful! I had a Kind protein bar and a bottle of warm Poland Spring for breakfast. Then I started a story about Peter and Jack, two friends who’d been hiking when a sudden deluge forced them into a cave the size of a narrow passage where they became trapped. 48 hours in and they were discussing mundane rules for survival like keeping their arms and legs as still as possible. No touching.
The dumb survival rules annoyed me, and the story was too boring anyway. Select all, delete! So much for barrelling through, not stopping, analyzing, or editing.
Unlike day 1, today the beach was calling me. It was a sunny, warm day and I was tempted to open the window and stick my head outside but thought better of it. After all, my plan was to stay in the room until the story was finished. Sticking my head out of the window felt like I’d be breaking that rule. I stayed strong and was proud of myself.
Hunger was a good excuse to stop writing and start eating. The rations bin filled with breakfast bars, cans of tuna fish, crackers, chocolate, and chips should last me through to the day-six deadline.
I pretended I was camping; even had a sleeping bag. It would have been more fun if I liked camping.
After lunch the walls felt like they were closing in on me, suffocating me. My chest felt tight, and I had trouble breathing. Was this a panic attack? I took three deep breaths. I let them out slowly, releasing the tension so that more words could pour out of my fingertips and onto the page. The more words, the closer the story was to done, the closer I’d be to freedom. But the words didn’t come.
Peter and Jack were gone, and the page was blank.
Today, I started a story about Rita, a schizophrenic 20-year-old art major. She’s obsessed with drawing a perfectly straight line that has to be exactly 36 inches long. She’s drawing the line freehand on the white walls of her hospital room. The walls are covered with erased lines, some of them very close to perfect, but not perfect enough for Rita. Somewhere deep inside she thinks the doctors will discharge her if she can prove to them that she can draw a straight line. Drawing the line is the key.
I spent time on Wikipedia researching schizophrenia, its symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, how it’s treated, and how hospital rooms look. After two hours researching for my story, I wasted another 134 minutes watching “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on Netflix. I thought about uninstalling Netflix but rationalized that I needed the break to let Rita’s story form in my subconscious.
After the movie, I looked back at my three sentences and wondered where to go from there? I wanted to introduce more characters like her mother and the doctors, but got confused with the point of view. Should I change it? Rita is the one trapped in the room, it’s her story. How do I tell a story from the point of view of a mentally unstable main character? I wasn’t really sure, but I was sure that the three sentences I had so far were not the way to go. So, like Rita and her impossible straight line, I deleted the sentences and started over, hoping to finish the story, and be discharged.
As of this diary entry, Rita’s story was five sketchy paragraphs long and nowhere near finished. The deadline was two nights away.
Outside storm clouds gathered over the ocean.
I knew when I first walked into this room and locked the door behind me that it was going to be a heart-wrenching journey. A daily exercise in humiliation, paralyzing self-doubt, and soul-crushing self-criticism. And I was right. What a tragedy this was. I tried to write a story when I knew I had no imagination or talent. Why did I insist on not giving up? Was it the human fight for survival? Was that the reason I was going through this self-imposed hell? Was that why I had willingly trapped myself in this room with no plan and no way out?
I’m sick and tired of oat bars, tuna fish, chips, and warm bottled water. I felt a touch of nausea just looking at what was left in the rations bin. I was hankering for a big juicy cheeseburger, seasoned fries, and a cold Modelo. My mouth watered, soaking the oat bar, making it less dry, but still hard to swallow.
The weather wasn’t helping. I was feeling unnerved by a second day of rumbling thunderstorms and the incessant whistle of strong southerly winds.
Today I didn’t add a single word to Rita’s story. I hope she’s not waiting for me.
Last night I had a dream that a tsunami crashed through my window just as I was ready to submit my story. A story that I was proud of, that meant something, that was going to make people feel heartbreak, joy, and hope. But the wave washed away my computer while I remained unscathed watching the tsunami destroy my hard work.
The deadline is tonight.
Today I worked non stop editing a version of Rita’s story that I settled on. Yes, settled. What’s it to you? Don’t tell me you’ve never settled? I wanted to get this over with. It was past 11:00 PM and I was very, very tired. I was almost delirious. I could hardly think straight. I knew I would not finish the story tonight.
Tomorrow will be day 7, and I only planned for six. I was alone, lonely, scared, and frustrated. I was itchy and smelly, and needed to take a shower. I shouted for help to find the words to tell the story, but no one was around, or they couldn’t hear me over the storm, or if they were around and did hear me, they didn’t care.
The story, a good story would set me free, but a good story was not in me. So tomorrow I’ll still be trapped in this room without food, looking out of my window at dark gray clouds and stormy seas.
My last diary entry. What had I started? Like Rita trying to draw that perfect line, I could not write that perfect story. Desperation, hunger, and panic had taken over. Like Rita, I’m trapped in this room forever, and the whistling wind won’t stop.