Writing Challenge #5: 4 Random Words

It’s been two months since I last updated my writing challenge. It’s not because I abandoned the challenge, but because I was stuck with the story. I started off with a different prompt, but the idea that I was conceptualizing in my head became a full-on play (complete with character profiles and set directions). That idea would definitely not have a short output so I had to switch.

I forced myself to finish writing this over the weekend because I was so done from postponing it week after week. I stayed away from distractions (aka chatting and scrolling through social media) and only opened two programs on my laptop: notepad and Spotify.

And here I am, finally done with the 5th prompt.

Note: I’ve always wanted to try a random word writing prompt. I always see it in writing classes because it challenges the brain to think of a story with seemingly unrelated words.

Write a story with the words: tree, box, grandfather, and toothpaste.

It was an gloomy Saturday afternoon and the last day that Noah would see his grandfather before locking it in memory forever. He took the last few moments memorizing every wrinkle on his grandfather’s face — each crease symbolizing a story and a moment in history — until the lid was closed and the casket was lowered into the ground.

It was a week of lasts and Noah was witness to all of them. His grandfather’s last meal, his last set of medicine before they were deemed useless, his last breath on earth, and his last night on his bed before he was wheeled off to the funeral home. It was also the week of the last story he told Noah.

Every night for as long as Noah could remember, his grandfather would tuck him in bed and tell him a bedtime story. He did not need a book for his nightly bedtime story. He was the book. He lived to a ripe old age of 100, which meant he had a century’s worth of experiences to tell. Their relatives always teased that some of the stories were probably made up, but Noah did not care. His grandfather told them with enthusiasm and animation, that the words came alive in Noah’s imagination. Together, they rode horses during the war, sailed off to discover unexplored lands, and flew planes to gain a different perspective in life.

As Noah’s grandfather was finally laid to rest, so were the stories that came with him.

That night, Noah laid in bed awake. He could not sleep. He stared out the window in search of the moon. It was usually visible from his bedroom window and would perfectly align itself above the huge old tree in the backyard. He and his grandfather called it the “Night Angel” who protected Noah from the nightmares. That night, the moon disappeared from view. The Night Angel was gone. “Please don’t leave me, just like grandpa did,” Noah whispered into the darkness.

Then, he heard his door creak open. For a second he thought that the monsters caught wind that his room was unguarded and was out to get him. He breathed a sigh of relief when he recognized the silhouette of his mother peering in his room, illuminated by the light in the hallway.

“Thought you might still be awake,” his mother said as she entered the room. She held a box that Noah had never seen before.

Noah looked at the clock on the bedside table. It was 12:30 AM. “Can’t sleep.”

“Aren’t you feeling tired from the long day we’ve had?” His mother sat on the bed and brushed his hair back.

He shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know, really.”

“I think I know why you can’t sleep.” His mother said.

Noah furrowed his eyebrows, curious. “What’s that?”

“You’re used to having a bedtime story from grandpa. Your dad and I thought you’d outgrow them after a while, but I guess you didn’t. You’ve always had one since you were born.”

His mother was right. His grandfather never missed a day without telling a story before he slept. When he would stay at a friend’s house, he would secretly call his grandfather and ask for a bedtime story. He never grew tired of them.

And tonight would be the first night that he would not get any.

His mother placed the box that she was holding on Noah’s nap. “I was supposed to hand this to you tomorrow, but I felt that he wanted you to have this tonight.” It was the size of a shoebox and was engraved with his grandfather’s initials.

Noah felt the sadness and the feeling of loneliness enveloping him again. He held up the box at eyelevel to pretend to inspect it. But really, he was just fighting back tears. “I just wish he didn’t have to die.”

“I know, sweetheart,” his mother agreed. “We miss him terribly too. He’s always been a ray of sunshine to our family. But that’s how things are. As much as he wanted to stay for all of us, it was his time to go.”

“Will we have sunshine again?” Noah asked his mother.

His mother smiled. “When the sun sets, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. It’ll be back tomorrow.”

“But for us?” Noah was skeptical that he would ever recover from his grandfather’s death. His grandfather was one of the best things in his life, and now it was snatched away, just like the moonless night sky and the cloudy day.

“Grandpa isn’t really gone, you know.” She patted the box. “The answer is in here. I’ll leave you to it, but don’t stay up too late, okay?”

And with one click of the door, Noah was left alone in the room with the box still in his hands.

Not knowing what to expect, he opened it.

The box was filled with photos. Hundreds of them, pilled up to the brim. There were photos of Noah when he was a baby, photos of trips with the family, photos of objects that his grandfather owned, photos of Noah’s toys, and photos of everyday activities. His grandfather owned an antique camera and he always brought it with him wherever he went. Noah had once asked if he could see the photos, but his grandfather always had an excuse that he did not have the time to bring it to the shop to have it developed.

And there were the pictures, all developed and kept in a box. “Sneaky grandpa,” Noah said as he quickly scanned the contents.

The first photo at the top of the pile was a photo of him with his mouth wide open, with his first pair of teeth peeking out from his bottom gums. In his hand was an orange baby toothbrush. He held it up proudly, like he was holding a torch.

He flipped it and saw that a note was written at the back.

It said:
Your first tooth sprouted when you were 4 months old. They were like little bunny ears, slowly coming out from a hole in the ground. You didn’t like them because it made your gums hurt as those teeth started to push their way out. Has your sister started teething? Was she fussy as you? Tell me more about it.

Noah’s little sister Maria was the same age as Noah’s baby self in the picture. She, too, received her first baby toothbrush and started getting acquinted with it. Unlike his grandfather’s memory of him, Maria had not complained over her teething. She would just grab whatever was within reach and nibble on it. Noah smiled while remembering the tickling feeling when Maria used his finger as a teething toy.

Noah’s eyes widened. There was the smile. The sunshine that he was looking for. And it happened when he was recalling a memory. His memory.

Answering his grandfather’s question triggered memories. Memories that made him remember the good times that happened. Memories that turned into a story.

He picked another photo. It was a picture of his bike, which he and his grandfather decorated to make it into a space bike. Speed boosters made from plastic soda bottles were attached to each side of the wheel to double the speed. An old cereal box was taped to the handlebars. It served as the screen of the space bike which was programmed to transport Noah to wherever he wanted to go in a split second.

At the back, the note said:
It was one of your greatest inventions. The Noah Star Voyager surely was surely the source of envy among the kids in school. What features would you like to add or improve? Where do you want to go with the Star Voyager?

Noah scanned picture after picture. All of them had questions at the end of every mini story. He had stories to remember for months. When his grandfather was still alive, he told stories of his own experiences. And now, Noah was getting a new set of stories. Stories of his childhood through the eyes of his grandfather.

He laid down on the bed and held up the first photo. He flipped it to reread the note. Usually, it was Noah who asked the questions, so he could clarify some thoughts or request for more details to the story. This time, it was his grandfather asking the questions. And Noah was the one answering the questions.

“I’m the one telling the story.” Noah finally realized what his grandfather intended with the box of photos. His grandfather was passing on the baton as a storyteller.

His mother was right. His grandfather could be physically gone, but Noah could still keep his legacy alive by taking on the role of the storyteller. He, too, had memories to recall and stories to weave.

Noah held on to the photo as he planned on how he could pass on the memories. He could share them with his sister, even if she wasn’t old enough to understand words. He could keep a journal to write all the answers to the questions. He could take videos of himself telling the stories then upload it for others to see. He welcomed every idea that came to him, until his eyes gave in and he drifted off to sleep.

He slept soundly that night and the nights to come, knowing that when he woke up, the sun would shine on him and his family, as long as he kept the stories alive.

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