There is a boy. He is twelve years old, maybe thirteen. He is shaking and pale, gasping open-mouthed for air. He has been running but is stopped now. Surely his side aches. His under-arms are sweaty and his shirt sticks to him. Behind him, something is coming. He is afraid but there is nowhere left to run. In front of him, there is darkness. And, in the darkness, a great red portal opens.
This is not my story. Pieces of it belong to me, sticky patches of my own imagination cobbled together with the scattered detritus of childhood's memory. All that remains clear from the original work is the vortex and the boy. And those only in their roughest sketch. A boy. I have made him twelve years old, have put fear into his lungs, a stitch in his side. In front of him, there is a whirling red vortex. I have made it a portal. I have painted the air around it dark. I did this.
Because the author of the story never did.
My brother wrote that story, that piece of a story, when he was a child. I don't remember anything about it other than the fact that there was a boy and a whirling red vortex. But I was riveted. I wanted to know what the vortex was! I wanted to know what was on the other side! For, in my head, I knew it had to be a portal! I knew the boy must jump! I knew that, on the other side of that portal, the real adventure would begin.
My brother never finished that story. I mentioned it to him once in later years. He didn't remember it.
I have often wondered about the people who fall away from writing. My brother wrote stories as a kid, mostly for classroom assignments, occasionally a comic strip for his own amusement. And then he didn't. He put it away like a toy he'd outgrown, like my Barbie Dolls or his GI Joe.
And the only one who noticed was me.
There are others, friends and acquaintances through the years whose dedication to the task seemed to eclipse my own. I would watch in envy as their pages piled high, as novels shaped themselves with seeming ease under their hands. I have read through entire manuscripts, baby novels just beginning to find shape. And I have seen their parents walk away, unperturbed by the unfinished thought, the shaky plotline, the fact of its existence as a complete and unrealized unpublished piece of art.
And I don't understand it. I have stacks of unfinished art-pieces. And stories are art. I have stack upon stack, and a thousand more in my head. I cannot imagine walking away from any of them, washing my hands, saying I'm done.
I cannot imagine.
I don't mean to cast judgment. In a weird way, I think walking away might be a sign of a healthier mind, less obsessive, less wont to flights of fancy. My brother left his stories in childhood. Perhaps those others, having put their stories to paper, were simply better able to put those stories aside, move on to something less uncertain, to a family or a career or a simple satisfaction in being done.
But me? I want to see what's waiting on the other side of the portal.
What about you? What keeps you going?