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Thread: First Lines

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    Default First Lines

    Attention writers!

    I'm starting a new writing thread, called "First Lines." It's a bit like the writing prompts thread, but with a twist.

    In this thread, you'll write something from a first line--and that first line will be a quote from someone else's writing; the quote can be poetry, prose or anything else. We all have these lines that run through our heads from time to time, invoked by something else we read, or something we see, or some other incident. To illustrate, our first one will be one that I always think of, every autumn. The line is from my favorite book, "Little, Big," by John Crowley:
    "He looked down an avenue of chestnuts, heartbreakingly golden; the wind tore fortunes from them and scattered them spendthrift."
    I love this line, and I think of it every autumn, every time I see a chestnut tree. What you will do is take this line and use it as a first line for your own writing. Give credit if you remember it, and don't worry too much about exact quoting--we're only using a bit of memory here to step off from.

    So that's your assignment if you choose to accept it! Use the line above and create something--prose, poetry, short or long.

    Then, when you're done, post one of your own! We don't have to do these one-a-day, and there's no time limit--we can have several pieces running at the same time--every time you finish your writing, post another First Line. Others will pick and choose those they want to reply to.

    Got it? Let's go!
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    He looked down an avenue of chestnuts, heartbreakingly golden; the wind tore fortunes from them and scattered them spendthrift. As his short, skinny legs ran through the piles beneath their smooth, gray branches, now denuding rapidly in the Autumn chill, he thought how rich he would be if these beautiful yellow leaves were indeed a form of currency; and how such wealth might solve all his problems. He knew that could not be, but it was a relief to think that in such magic there might be a solution to what he saw as unsolvable.

    He was only eleven. There was no job he could get at his age, he knew. Nothing more than errands for quarters, for old ladies, or merchants along the business streets, and few of those. They gave him candy money, not grocery money. He needed grocery money. His mother needed it. His sister and the new baby needed it. They were hungry. They would soon be homeless--again--as soon as the blank-faced agents of government found out they were squatting in the abandoned building. They had been chased from place to place, always hungry, always running from something amorphous, mean, menacing. Always on the move. His ribs moved in and out with the breaths he gulped, running through the golden leaves--and he felt the hollow places beneath them as a solid mass, weighing him down instead of lightening gravity's pull on his body. He wasn't yet old enough to know that the weight he felt was not mass, not physical presence, but sorrow and responsibility no eleven-year-old should have to feel.

    To escape, he ran. His ragged, too-small sneakers kicked gouts of gold up into the air, and he drank in the earthy smell as the leaves clung to his ragged sweater and stuck in his hair. It was a freedom he held to as if a lifeline, soon to evanesce in the approaching white fogs of winter; and it was exhilarating. So much so, he almost missed it when the toe of his foot connected with something more solid than a gout of chestnut leaves. It caused him to stumble, and stop. And look down.

    On the ground was a purse. A black leather purse. It did not look old, it looked expensive. He stared at it, for a moment mesmerized by the anticipation that he was suddenly aware of; aware as if he were naked in front of a great crowd of onlookers—a tingling, shameful, pained feeling that he could not escape the consequences he was about to suffer. Shaking, breathing hard, he bent over to pick it up.

    And opened it.

    And inside, he found the bills. Green, crisp, bills, fresh from some ATM that had spit them at the card’s owner, laying in a stack so neat, so almost supernaturally straight and dry and sharp that he gasped from the beauty of it. He saw no identification, no cards, no licenses, no other papers—not even a receipt from the machine—and the purse was nondescript, though smooth and black and smelling of new leather. He swallowed, his suddenly dry throat felt larger than normal, and his shaking hands counted the pieces of heaven in the purse slowly—twenty dollar bills, ten of them, twenty—no—more…he lost count and then began again. When he was finally able to say with assurance how many there were he could barely breathe. One hundred of them. Two thousand dollars. In cash. In his hands. Enough to buy them all tickets to grandma’s house in Indianapolis, enough to get them new clothes, hot meals, rent for a month or two, a car—a fortune a fortune a fortune in cash in his dirty, eleven-year-old hands. Bits of crumbled golden chestnut leaves were swirling in the air before his eyes, along with little black specks—and he had to sit down, hard, upon the roots of the tree he stood beneath. His mind refused to ask the questions—how, why, when? What now? No—that one he knew the answer to already.

    He knew. Momma would know what to do. He closed the purse, clutched it to his chest and ran—back to the building where she slept, baby in her arms—poor dead thing—dead for days, and starting to swell and turn black—but his baby brother, deserving of a coffin, a burial somewhere—and his sister, with green mucus running out of her nose and mouth laying next to them, and himself too, his own ragged pile of vomit-scented blankets next to hers, where he saw his comatose body lying, dying from pneumonia as well, as his sister and mother had yesterday. They were saved. They were saved by the golden chestnut trees, the fortune the winds had blown from them and deposited into his own two dirty, stiff, cooling hands; saved by his own dreams as he ran past the poor, lost family into the light he saw ahead of him—the golden, fortune-filled, earth-smelling light where crisp green bills in black purses lay every few feet ahead—under heartbreaking golden leaves.



    NEXT: We must endure our thoughts all night, until the bright obvious stand motionless in the cold. --Wallace Stevens
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    one question -- do the "first lines" have to be the first lines in the source? one of my favorite lines ever is not the first line in the book it comes from.

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    They can be from absolutely anywhere in the source! Whatever line you want to use, go right ahead!! Just use it as the first line of YOUR writing.

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    He looked down an avenue of chestnuts, heartbreakingly golden; the wind tore fortunes from them and scattered them spendthrift. His thoughts drifted, as if they also were leaves driven by the wind, to remember other avenues, other places other times.

    He remembered that avenue of dark trees, stripped of their foliage as they braved the chilly blasts of winter, their bare branches silhouetted against the pale, cheerless sky. That avenue lead to the cemetery and he shuddered as that memory intruded on his thoughts.

    His mind drifted onwards to more pleasant times - the spring-time avenue of trees arrayed in their delicate pink blossoms as if they were dressed in their finery to attend their first ball. Gentle breezes scattered petals like confetti on those strolling beneath.

    In the heat of summer another avenue formed by trees bestowed their freely offered gift of cool shade. The branches bore layer after layer of broad green leaves. And now those leaves too would have exchanged their vibrant green for other colours - red, orange, yellow or gold like the chestnuts. Their gifts of nourishment and of shade had been given and now they would find a gentle release to form as soft carpet on the ground before they disappeared.

    Time to move on. He turned away, leaving the avenue of chestnuts behind him.




    Another first line: "Is anybody there?" said the Traveler.
    (The Listeners, by Walter De La Mare)
    Last edited by knocka; 11-10-2007 at 03:18 AM. Reason: change colour of font

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    Knocka, that was lovely!!!
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    Is anybody there? said the Traveler. He heard voices but couldnít see anyone. He looked around trying to figure out where he had landed. Wherever it was, he knew it was safe. Well, relatively safe. Adventure Travels To The Past guaranteed that he wouldnít be put in a dangerous situation and he had never had a problem with any of his other random trips to the past.

    This landing was disconcerting, though. He could hear sounds Ė children shrieking, adults mumbling, footsteps pounding on dirt Ė but all he could see was corn. Stalks of corn at least eight feet high, maybe even ten feet. And the plants grew so thick he couldnít even see through them. All there was the dirt path winding its way ahead of him and looking exactly the same as the path in back of him.

    He regretted calling out, having nothing but disdain for these pitiful occupants of the 21st century. Whatever they could create or live with was nothing compared to the advanced 24th century. In fact, that was the main reason he kept traveling back here. He was so tired of hearing how great this century was and how the people were pioneers. Rubbish, he thought to himself, a bunch of primitives. And thatís how he found himself here. Alone. On a dirt path surrounded by corn stalks.

    He wandered the paths for almost thirty minutes, occasionally passing by groups of people going the other way or being passed by running children. Finally he entered a large clearing with what appeared to be a refreshment stand and some picnic tables in the middle of it. Kittens were fighting in some of the yellowed leaves and a couple of people were talking to each other. Swallowing his pride, he went to the girl behind the stand and asked where he was.

    In the corn maze, she said with exasperation. At his confused look, she continued on. Cherry Crest? Lancaster? Pennsylvania? His bewilderment must have been noticeable to the young girl in front of him and she blinked her eyes waiting for a reaction from him. Oh. Where are you in the maze? she asked, her eyes brightening up.

    Um, yes. Thatís what I mean, the Traveler replied. He was really quite good at adapting to new surroundings, but the odd situation he found himself in had really thrown him off. The girl pulled out a map, blank except for the boundaries of the corn maze and a picture of a coke machine in the center. You are here, the girl said, pointing at the coke machine. But how do I get out of the maze? the Traveler asked. I canít tell you that, but if you wander around youíll find pieces of the map that you can glue on. Eventually youíll make it out. Everyone does, you know.

    Everyone. Everyone in the 21st century can make it out. That thought steeled his resolve to get out of this on his own. And so he stalked off ( ), determined to do it on his own. He wandered down paths, sometimes taking left turns, other times taking right turns and he occasionally found map pieces that could be glued onto the map. After an hour of wandering, he found himself entering a clearing. It was the same clearing with the same kittens and with the same stand being manned by the same bored blank-looking girl!

    Aaaah! he shouted in exasperation. The Traveler turned around and started running down the path, trying to find his way out. Fifteen minutes of panic found him sitting in the dirt with his back against the corn stalks, his arms wrapped around his knees and his chest heaving and gasping from running. He was so lost and he had tried what seemed to be every path in this damned maze and he was still trapped! Finally the tears started Ė burning hot tears tracking down his warm cheeks, making them even hotter. How could he not figure this out! Me, of all people!. And so he sat there, crying, all alone and lost in the corn.

    Hey mister?. The Traveler looked up to see a little girl, standing in front of him. Hey mister? Are you ok? she asked again. Iím ok. But Iím lost and I canít find my way out of here, he told her. Itís ok, mister. Come with me and Iíll show you the way. My name is Sammy. Smiling with the instant trust of the child, the Traveler said That would be wonderful, Sammy. Thank you.

    So Sammy and the Traveler took off, winding their way down the path, taking left turns where he had taken right turns, going straight where he had turned left. Within ten minutes, he could hear a large group of people laughing ahead of them. Soon they entered another clearing (thankfully without the kittens and the empty-eyed girl behind the counter) with a large sign saying YOU MADE IT!

    Here you go, mister, Sammy said, releasing his hand, Iím going to go back inside again and try to get lost this time. With that, she bounded away, skipping and singing to herself. One turn into the corn and she was gone, just like that. Thank you, Sammy, he said, knowing that she couldnít hear him. I hope you find everything you are looking for. Now and in the future.

    Looking at the people around him, the Traveler discovered that he didnít think of them anymore as savages, as mere primitives. They were just people Ė living and coping, hurting and helping. Especially helping, he thought, thinking of young Sammy. He heard some especially loud laughter from somewhere beyond the tall stalks. Whatever was going on out there sounded fun.

    With a spring in his step he walked out of the corn maze into the world beyond.

    ---

    Note to self - dig up a quote later today

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    Lovely story, Nodon!!! Where is your first line from?

    (I'm glad no one forgot about this thread!)
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    shecrab, nodon used the first line which I had posted. I know it is quite a while ago now.

    Another first line: "Is anybody there?" said the Traveler.
    (The Listeners, by Walter De La Mare)

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    Thanks, shecrab.

    Another quote to give everyone lots of choices:

    Not all strange things are bad. Richard Adams, Watership Down
    I can now take off the yellow stickie that's been stuck to my forehead since this afternoon.

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