Our Writing

The writing we present here are first drafts with minor editing. We do not intend to present these as polished pieces. Our goal is to share the enjoyment we get from writing to prompts and writing together. Our quirks and personalities emerge from our unique responses to the same set of words. This writing is 'grist for the mill' and we often take a piece and expand it to submit as a finished work.

******* All work is the property of The Writers Next Door *******

Pale Gray Fog

Pale gray fog—faahg–the mournful sound of a buoy, bobbing in dark choppiy waters, alone, calling its warning to sailors and anyone wandering the seas in the fog. “Raahks below..faahg in the haahrbor…” Fog, hovering over treacherous water, over forest and city, settling in the trees, waiting.
Like the fog in my mind, Jennifer thinks moodily as she stares out the window into blank, pale gray. Fir trees shrouded in soft gray wait, roots at rest, branches drooping. Jennifer asks the wind to get busy and move something, anything but this total stillness that has become eery, as if this corner of the world has forgotten that weather can change and sunshine can lighten. She longs for what she doesn’t have—sun, spring, a different life?
She pictures animals huddling under shrubs, sleeping. Her cat, curled on a cushion, paying no attention to any of this. She shakes her head to clear her fog and lopes to the kitchen for a drink. A real drink, she decides with a smile. A solid shot of whiskey. She pours from the bottle, spills a few drops and with the tips of her fingers tosses them out the door, a defiant message to the weather gods.
“You,” she yells, “you won’t get the best of me. Your fog stops there and you don’t get mine too.”
She swallows her drink, feels the heat all the way down, and goes to the bedroom to comb her graying hair. “Fog begone!”

Posted on: January 9th, 2014 by Marilyn

Pale Gray Fog

Pale gray fog. Walk outside. Spooky at night. Makes the shadows more shadowy. Makes my face wet. Makes me unsure.
Why? I ask myself. Does it really hide the creatures that only come out in the fog? Are there fog creatures? Are there more evil men lurking in the fog?
I walk down the street, Sadie pulling at the line, and I feel timid; the fog is, well, it’s spooky. I can’t see as far and begin to question those automatic paths I take, and I feel an unease. It makes me think how false my lack of unease could be, because really, do murderers and rapists and assaulters wait for the random three days of the year when the fog is so thick you can’t see 12 feet in front of you? Do they wait, then run out, their garrotes, twine and burlap bags at the ready?
A mystery does itself well to start in the fog, because the fog hides. And a mystery is the solving of what is hidden. So there is the start, a portion of the What If. So…what if there was a fog monster? A man that only went out in deep fog—not the ripper in London, but right here in Portland, Oregon.
We’d  call him something. The Fog Finder. The Fog Grabber. No, the FOG FIEND! Yes, okay. So he’s 54 years old, he has dark hair, and when he was small he was grabbed in the fog. No, he was always frightened and the fog made it worse. Bad parents, of course. Torturing mother. She locked him outside in The Fog! That’s it. He would run to the barn and hide, nestled in hay, listening to the snorts of horses—the same snorts that outside in the fog would blow sparkles of mist, move the fog around.
The clip-clops of horses, far away in the fog.
A dog crying—the fog carries the sound—and the way fog carries sound makes it eerie because it seems close and distances are all messed up because perception is off.  Because the fog is not friendly, it is menacing.
Light filters through the fog.
When the winter days come, he begins to pace, his footsteps land on the wooden floor of his cabin. He forgets about time, he loses track of whether he’s eaten or slept; all he thinks about is the potential for fog.
The Fog Fiend, right there with Bella Lugosi and the Wolfman.

Posted on: January 9th, 2014 by Theresa

Pale Gray Fog

Lyssa Tall Anolik

15-min prompt: Pale gray fog…

Pale gray fog crept in on little cat feet. Who was it that wrote that? [Carl Sandburg] I felt tired and heavy, but forced myself to creep out of the house on little cat feet and walk up the hill. The mystery of shrouded trees and houses, everything half-visible, woke up my senses, turned me out of my funk, as I noticed things I don’t ordinarily see: a mosaic cover on an unknown mechanical object in someone’s front yard. An iron flamingo. A hidden courtyard between a fence and front door, decorated with plants and metal art.

Will I find these treasures again if I walk the same route in clear weather? Or do they belong to the magic realm of in between, disappearing with the mists, because they were never really there at all. Then out of the fog – like a periwinkle beacon – emerged Marilyn, in her long puffy jacket and matching knit hat, lost in her own revery until I called her name.

“Oh!” she said, “You know, I just saw Susie and she saw a great big owl fly past! Can you believe it? Right here in the neighborhood!”

I could believe anything on a day like that. I wouldn’t have even blinked if she had said she’d seen a pixie prance by, instead of an owl.

As I continued up to Fairmount Blvd., there were the honeyed rays spilling through the trees, just as Marilyn said there’d be. I thought, then, about my my first season as a park ranger on Mt. Rainier, the summer of 1989. I was 20. I lived and worked at Paradise, at 5400 feet, and led flower walks for park visitors through the lupine-dotted, paintbrush-splashed alpine meadows. I loved the foggy days, even though the tourists grumbled that the mountain was obscured.

“Yes,” I told them, “but see how the purple and oranges of the flowers, and shades of green, stand out more clearly in the mist, and you don’t know what’s around the next bend…”

Posted on: January 3rd, 2014 by Lyssa

In Life There Are Dividing Lines

Theresa Leonard

In life there are dividing lines–between the teachers and the taught, the lawyers and the accused, the counselors and the clients, the doctors and the patients. And at points in time we all fit into one or more categories and must adjust to the up and down feelings because that is the rub, isn’t it?

We are not always the equal and as a society we adjust. Sometimes I am the up, sometimes I am the down, and it is hard to say which makes my head feel better. There are times when I hear my voice go up a notch and I am the up side, and times when I feel myself curl inside to the child, there always within. The movement between the two is not always easy. To not feel small when in the down side can be a challenge, but one we need to move into gracefully. The teenager fights to remain in the up side, taking a stand, not being told what to do, asserting an opinion, no matter what. And as we age, we let go, let someone else take that role. I’ve learned enough. Not my expertise. Take care of me, I need a rest.

Up and down. North and south. And in between, where I am neither up nor down, is where I find my friends, and we traverse the helper and helpee, the entertainer. I entertained roles with aplomb, knowing that at the end of the day it all evens out and we are who we are.

There is a jellyfish that lives forever, forever. When it gets stressed, it regresses until it is back to its amoeba state, regroups, and grows again and again in a cycle that truly never ends. And now the jellyfish has gone from pools in Japan to the world’s seas. Long after we are gone, it will grow and regress until time stops. A little white blip on time’s calendar, so much greater than this human state, its red eye seeing forward and back to the beginning of time.

10 minute write from prompt “In life there are dividing lines.” — 1/3/13.

Posted on: January 8th, 2013 by Marilyn

In Life There Are Dividing Lines


In life there are dividing lines,  Sherina told herself, as she watched the bread truck slide helplessly toward her on the icy highway. The truck was white, mud-spattered now, with an immense loaf of bread painted on the side. Blue letters on the loaf read Lang’s, The Finest Loaf in The Land. How could they know it was the finest, Sherina mused. Her mother’s bread had to be finer. Hot from the oven, yeasty and fresh, slathered with honey. No comparison. Although that bread in Paris–Poilane, the bakery was called–was mighty good. It had a crusty top, carved with a P. People lined up at that bakery every morning and bought a new loaf for the day. Mom would have called that wasteful. Can’t, or shouldn’t, eat that much dough in a day. Sherina could, though. Peanut butter sandwiches, or maybe ham and Swiss cheese. Straight from the oven was best, a gold-brown loaf held in mom’s hands with quilted pot-holders, in a tin black from years of use. The heel was best, a little doughy if you cut too soon, but fine oozing with butter and honey. And here was a truck, claiming to be full of the finest in the land, crossing the line in the road right now, hurtling over the slick ice.

10-minute write by Marilyn from prompt “In life there are dividing lines,” in The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy.


Posted on: January 4th, 2013 by Marilyn

Dividing Lines

Lyssa Tall Anolik

10-minute prompt

“In life there are dividing lines…” (from Andrew McCarthy’s, The Longest Way Home)

The first dividing lines I remember were those in my coloring books as a child. I loved geometric-patterned and mandala-type coloring books best, rather then scenes, because there was so much more scope for the imagination. I remember sitting on a bar stool at the kitchen counter of my family’s little vacation condo at Mt. Baker. On snowy evenings, the activity absorbed me so completely I didn’t notice time passing. As I deliberated between red, blue, green and yellow. In a side channel of awareness, a fire crackled, Gordon Lightfoot crooned on the 8-track player, and my parents’ voices murmured. My sister sat beside me coloring, too. We probably fought over the felt-tip pens.

It took me a long time to decide which colors to use for which pieces of the pattern. I usually started with green, my favorite, and moved on from there. It never occurred to me, until I was much older, to color outside the lines. I loved the prescribed lines, holding the colors in place, so they did not bleed together. Those boundaries were safe, and they gave me the illusion of safety. When I colored, I did not think about the boundaries in my life that were blurred, or the ones that were violated. Pen and ink on paper. Bright red filling in the white. Put the pen down. The surprise of turquoise just over the line from red – the beauty of that contrast made my heart happy. That was what I needed.

Posted on: January 4th, 2013 by Lyssa

The River Thinks

Lyssa Tall Anolik

15-min. prompt: The river thinks…

The river thinks the three women writing on its bank, with their toes dangling in the water, are crazy. They cackle like mad, then scribble like mad on their white notebooks in red ink. Bleeding their thoughts onto page after page.

The river knows what they write about: halibut as big as doors, green jello, dogs that lie down and live doggy lives. The words leak from the women’s toes, into the fast-flowing water. The river is careful to pull the words away as fast as they fall, so the channels won’t clog, so the women can get past the silly and self-conscious thoughts and into the deep ones, the real ones that form the core of their beings, that help them discover who they are becoming.

The river understands depth. It thinks this to itself, wisely. The river loves these cackling, madly-scribbling, mad women. Loves them for their laughter and their secret sorrows and self-doubts. It holds the other thoughts that leak from their toes, the secret thoughts they don’t put down on paper, about the ways they each wish they could be different. The river takes these thoughts, collects and disperses them, sends them out to sea. It says a gurgling prayer for them to be eaten by fishes and transformed into useful molecules.

The river slides lovingly around the women’s sweet toes, around their ankles and calves, sloshing and splashing. The river whispers, “Go deeper… Listen, listen…” The words shift and tumble. They become alligators in a Louisiana bayou, ancient redwoods in coastal California, a coral reef alive with rainbow fish, a lion stalking its savannah prey. Their minds wander out and across the vast brushland, across the oceans, deep into the roots of the oldest trees, into the watchful eyes of the alligator, at home in the decaying muck of life.

Posted on: December 17th, 2012 by Lyssa

The River Thinks

The river thinks, where am I going? All this meandering seems so pointless. Meander–from the river in western Turkey, twisty and winding, cutting through limestone. Nice to flow where cliffs and valleys take me, path of least resistance, gives me time to ponder etymology, geology. Still, where does it all lead? The silver river enjoys itself along the way, despite its ripples of irritation at not knowing where the way goes. It likes the feel of autumn leaves dropping from an overhanging tree, the gentle tickle as they plop onto the water, a quiver, bits of dry gold and brown, carried along, floating on the river’s journey to…somewhere. Fish slide through, nibbling and disturbing.  Bigger, noisy beings jump right in, no respect for privacy or philosophical reflection, just splash and shout and wave tentacles, climb out and do it again. Of course, it’s different water by then, all swirls and eddies, but still the river, meandering and thinking. At a cliff where the river makes a sharp turn, always a surprise but somehow expected in the depth of its still, liquid heart, there’s a dropoff, and the river deepens, thrills to the chill of filling a chasm. Bones lie here, jutting from branches that fell and stuck in rocks and mud. Bones of animals that leaned over to drink and slipped on the muddy bank. Bones of boaters who were caught in the whirlpool. Bones of  beings who jumped for the thrill, unknowing. Or maybe knowing. The river doesn’t know. It thinks, and slides and flows on the downward current, slow or racing, and finds its salty end.

(14-minute write, 11-20-12. Prompt: “The river thinks,” a phrase from “Mink River,” by Brian Doyle.)


Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Marilyn

I spend the day exploring

Theresa Leonard

15 min. Prompt: I spend the day exploring

I spend the day exploring my mind. Then I forget and spend time exploring someone else’s mind. Then I pull back and start again.

What is my mind trying to tell me? Should I go or should I stay?

So easy to do another’s bidding. Take the one closest to you, not the biggest like you want.

My mother had black hair. I never saw it all black, The gray was peppered through by the time I was old enough to remember her face.

Her face had a permanent look of fear, worry, anxiety. “Am I doing the right ‘thing’?” reflected always in her face, her eyes that darted from side to side, never straight on, or if they did for a moment, it was because they were welling with tears. Perhaps the water allowed them to move straight on to you.

While she was on the phone, her fingers tapping the ash from her cigarette, her eyes went from cupboard to ceiling, and mostly to the inner workings of her wandering mind. With bated breath, she pushed out the next thought, never pausing, never listening to the voice at the other end, talking, her voice rising. Then falling, tearful, then exclaiming, that damn Fred, then starting again, that damn Chuck. Then hanging up, crying and saying Theresa, you’re all I have left.

Childhood played out in her phone conversations. Head out the door for school, and before it latched, the phone was in her hand, the last number dialed. Come home from school, her nails were newly painted red, the ashtray was full, and the phone was against her ear. Perhaps she’d still be in her tattered robe. Perhaps there’d be a pan of rising dough on the counter, but for sure, her greeting was to the other end of the line, “Oh, Theresa’s home.”

That is the exploration of her head. For me to explore my own is a deep cave, one I don’t necessarily enter–maybe a phone to my ear would reveal more. Maybe that is the reason I need to let out, a little, to let the rising tide of too many thoughts kept inside out to someone else’s ear. There they become real.

Explore away. Cave paintings could reveal it all. My hand to brush, letting flow all that is in there.

Posted on: October 2nd, 2012 by Theresa