Reflecting on Old Writing

Just like anything else, good writing takes lots of practice.  And just like anything else, looking back at your first efforts typically makes you cringe: Oh gosh, did I really write thatWhere on Earth did I get that name?  Why did I feel the need to waste two paragraphs on the taste of chocolate chip cookies and only take one line to establish the setting?  Writing gods, please strike me down now.  But sometimes looking back at those initial forays into the written word reveal the type of writer you used to be before you became concerned with matching popular trends and planning ahead for sequels or trilogies and using relevant pop culture references; sometimes you find the writer who let the words flow and listened to the characters and produced lovely short stories with none of the fuss and stress that you’re dealing with now.  I had the latter experience today when I stumbled across a short story I’d written for an Inkpop contest a few years ago.  Participants were required to reimagine a fairy tale or myth; I assumed everyone would go with the more common stories, so I opted for a lesser known Grimm tale entitled “The Star Money.”  I took a few liberties, as all reimaginings do, but I won the contest, so I figure my changes were well received.  Anywwho, I just felt like I should share “A Sky Full of Diamonds,” both for you to enjoy and to remind me of the writer I can be when I get out of my head and just write. 

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A Sky Full of Diamonds

   The chilly winter day was swiftly becoming a frosty winter
evening, the sun almost completely beyond the horizon as Anna traipsed
down Market Street.  A brisk wind zipped through the air; Anna pulled
her jacket tighter around her and wished for the thousandth time that
she’d bought a couple of hand warmers from the vendor outside the
stadium that afternoon.  At least she’d been able to steal a hat and a
baked pretzel.  It was the little things that counted, especially when
you didn’t have anything else to be happy about.  No parents, no job, no
place to live: they didn’t make for a pleasant life, but Anna had grown
used to it. Living on the streets wasn’t something she really wanted
to do, but there were worse things.

   The lights from a
TGIFriday’s glowed cheerily on the street ahead, and Anna could hear the
laughter spilling out as a couple walked out the door.  They were
clearly drunk, hanging all over one another, the girl barely able to
walk in her astoundingly high heels.  Anna pulled her baseball hat down
further and kept her head bowed as she passed the two, accidentally
bumping into the man as he stumbled down the sidewalk.  "Sorry,“ she
mumbled, but the man didn’t seem to notice; his lips were locked onto
the girl’s so tightly that Anna wondered how their teeth weren’t
knocking together.  She continued until the next intersection before
pausing.  A glance behind her showed that the couple had staggered off
in the opposite direction without realizing anything was wrong.  With a
grin, Anna pulled the man’s wallet from her jacket pocket and flipped it
open.  ”$30, not bad,“ she thought to herself.  That wouldn’t get her a
night in any hotel in the city, but it would get her food for a few
days.

   With one less worry on her mind, Anna headed off to her
usual sleeping spot.  A momentary lapse in concentration almost cost
her; she didn’t notice the old man stepping out of the shadows of the
Hyatt until he was right next to her.  Anna jumped back, preparing to
run, but the man held his hands up in a peaceful gesture.  "I’m sorry. I
didn’t mean to scare you.”  Anna ignored his words and gave him a
once-over, looking for weapons of any sort.  His eyes said he wasn’t
lying, and his gut was slightly on the plump side.  Anna guessed he
hadn’t been homeless for long and he probably hadn’t adjusted to not
getting three square meals a day.  Done looking for danger, she met the
man’s stare full-on, waiting to hear what he wanted.  "I, um, I was
wondering if you had anything to eat.  I’ve been looking all evening
and—“ "Here.”  Anna pulled the half-eaten pretzel from her pocket.  
“It’s all I’ve got, but you look like you need it more than I do.”  Anna
remembered that gnawing hunger from her first few days alone; it was
even worse than any PMS cramps she’d ever had. The man stared at her for
a second, wariness clear in his eyes. “If you don’t want it…” “No!”
The man practically yelled the word as he snatched the offering from
Anna’s hand and abruptly took off.  Anna watched him go, wondering if
she’d done the right thing.  But when a small, timid “Thank you” drifted
back to her, Anna couldn’t help but smile.

   The sun had fully
set by the time Anna scurried across the highway and made it into the
park adjoining the Gateway Arch.  Flood lights lit up the monument ahead
of her like spotlights but the trees and bushes threw shadows in her
path, making her surroundings seem more ominous than they really were.  A
squirrel jumped from a low branch just in front of her, hurrying away
from something rustling in the bushes below it.  Anna ignored it and
kept walking.  It wasn’t likely that it was anything harmful, probably
just another squirrel or a stray cat, but she’s rather be ahead of the
danger than wait around for it to jump out at her.  As she passed, Anna
expected to see a tail waving, a flash of fur, but instead she saw two
sets of eyes staring back at her.  That caught her attention.  The eyes
followed Anna warily as she crouched down, suspicion and fear obvious in
their gazes.  “It’s okay.”  Anna kept her voice calm, as if talking to a
frightened animal that could turn vicious without a moment’s notice.  
“I just want to help.”  Anna couldn’t make out much  more than the faces
of the bush dwellers, but she did catch the look shared between them,
clearly deciding whether or not to believe her.  After a moment, two
young boys crawled out from between the branches and bramble; they
didn’t utter a word as they stood, just stared at Anna as if she was
either their fairy godmother or a wicked witch come to steal them away.
Slowly, Anna stood back up and brushed a bit of imaginary dirt off her
jeans in order to steal a better look at the two in front of her.

   They
were obviously twins, mirror images of one another from the cautious
scowls on their faces and the smattering of freckles over noses beet red
from the cold to the handmade gloves and multiple layers of socks.  
One, however, was sporting a dark knit sock-cap while the other wore a
ragged pea coat; Anna surmised that the only real difference between the
two was that the first twin’s head was warm at the cost of his torso
while twin number two’s noggin froze in spite of the rest of him being
warm.  “Like I said, I just want to help.  I don’t want to hurt you—”
“Why would you want to help us?” The twins asked in unison.  “You don’t
even know us.”  “Doesn’t matter.  You need someone’s help, and
I can be that someone. Take it or leave it.”  Anna paused for a second
to see what they would say and when neither of the boys answered, she
started walking away.  “Wait!” Two hands grabbed her arms, one on each
side, and dragged her to a stop.  “We could use your help— ” “It’s just
that we’re not used to anyone being nice to us.”  Anna looked at the
twins on either side of her, a twinge of sadness pinching her heart.  “I
can’t do that much, since I don’t really have much to do anything with,
but I can certainly give you these.”  Yanking off her cap, Anna passed
it to the bareheaded twin.  He stared at the hat in his hands much like
Anna imagined a starving man would look at a buffet before placing it
proudly on his head.  Anna shrugged off her coat next and gave it to the
other brother, who immediately put it on.  Her coat was too long for
him and made it look as if he was a little boy trying on his father’s
clothes, but it didn’t seem to bother him.  The boys shared another
twinly look before tugging off their particular hats and trading with
one another, each liking the other’s better than their own.

   Pleased
with themselves and their new apparel, they turned back to Anna with
wide, contagious grins, which faltered when they saw her now without her
protective clothing.  “You gave us all your warm stuff—” “So now you’ll
be cold.”  “I’ll be fine,”  Anna waved off their concern.  “I’ll buy
some new ones in the morning. And besides, you guys looked like you
needed it more than I did.”  Another glance and Anna was suddenly
embraced by two sets of arms.  She patted each of the boys on the back,
feeling more than a tad bit uncomfortable, before gently untangling
herself.  “Glad I could help.” “Thank you,” the twins chimed together.
“You’re like a guardian angel.” Anna blushed at the praise, kicking her
foot awkwardly at a pebble on the ground.  “Uh, thanks, but I’m not an
angel, trust me.  And I really should be going.”  Anna spun and
practically ran from the twins, spurred by embarrassment but secretly
pleased that someone thought she was more than just another homeless
beggar.

   Now that she was missing both her jacket and her cap,
Anna realized just how cold the night really was, but there was no way
she was going to regret her actions.  Those kids needed the warmth more
than she did.  And when she really thought about it, the old man earlier
certainly would’ve gotten himself into trouble trying to steal
something to eat if she hadn’t given him her pretzel.  While others
she’d met on the street would argue that it was every man for themselves
out here, Anna still retained a shred of compassion and her gut told
her she’d done the right thing in both cases.

   The Arch loomed
above her now, a behemoth of steel and concrete serving as the enduring
gateway to the west and a watchful eye over the mighty Mississippi.  
Instead of settling down in the alcove outside the entrance to the
museum tucked underneath the monument, Anna kept walking, pulled towards
the riverbank by some unknown force.  The breeze blowing off the water
was freezing, but she shivered and forced herself onward.  Something was
telling her she had to go to the river, and Anna was never one to
ignore her instincts.

   A tugboat passed, its motor churning the
water and raising a fine mist that speckled Anna’s cheeks as she took
the stairs two at a time.  Another shiver; she wrapped her arms tight
around herself trying to trap her body heat.  It didn’t really help, but
she hadn’t really expected it to. She stopped at the base of the stairs
and took a moment to look up.  The few stars that she could see
sparkled down on the Mississippi like twinkling eyes.  As she watched, a
single star fell, cutting a blazing trail of fire across the sky.  
Remembering the old superstition, Anna closed her eyes and made her
wish: “I wish for… ” She paused.  It would be easy to wish for her
to find a job, or to suddenly have her family back again, but that was
more than anyone could expect a wish on a falling star to grant.  
Another breeze made up her mind.  "I wish I had another jacket.“  A
movement off to the left caught Anna’s attention as she opened her
eyes.  Turning, she expected to see another drifter, but no one was
there.  Instead, she saw a bench that she was sure had been empty
seconds before.  Now, however, there was a dark something lying on the
wood. Cautiously, Anna crept over, wondering how on Earth whatever it
was had gotten there.  A closer inspection revealed that the mysterious
object was a wool jacket, dark green in color with a fleece lined hood.
A pair of gloves was shoved in the pocket, fingertips poking out above
the lining. Anna looked around, still expecting someone to be lurking
around, someone who had left their jacket.  There was no way Anna was
going to believe that wishing on a star had gotten her a new coat, but
she wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

   She had to
wonder a bit, though, when the jacket fit like it was made for her; even
better, so did the gloves.  Anna sent a curious glance skyward,
wondering if there really was something to the old fable.  A second star
began to fall as she watched, and then a third and a fourth.  Unlike
the first star, these were headed in Anna’s direction; with the speed of
the heavens, they sailed through the air and landed behind Anna at the
base of the Arch.  Shocked, she raced back up the stairs.  At first
there was nothing to see, but then a glow brighter than the surrounding
lights caught her attention.  Treading carefully, Anna reached the lip
of the small crater made by the falling stars.  Instead of the lumps of
space rock she expected to see, three sparkling diamonds lay at the
bottom of the hole.  Anna’s mouth dropped; the cold must have gotten to
her because she had to be crazy to believe that three diamonds had just
fallen from the sky.  But when rubbing her eyes didn’t make the jewels
disappear, Anna reached a tentative hand down and grabbed the first
one.  It felt real enough, and that same instinct that had led Anna to
the river told her that these gems were truly the real deal.

   Snatching
them up, she placed the three precious stones in a hidden pocket inside
her new coat and sent a final glimpse at the starry sky above her.  
“Thank you,” she said quietly, her breath blowing out in a puff of
steam.  Turning to walk back downtown, Anna missed a single star above
her blink out for an instant before blazing brightly once again, a wink
in acknowledgment for the kindness Anna had shown that night.  With a
new spring in her step, the girl walked on, smiling to herself with a
single thought in her mind: “Things are finally looking up.” And indeed,
so they were.

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