The Storyteller Chair
When I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be a supernatural thriller writer when I grew up. Seriously. I wrote stories about skeletons rising from their graves. Only me and my trusty friend Jim could save the world in time to be home before curfew.
I've always had an unhealthy obsession with graveyards. Back when I was commuting to work, we drove by the oldest graveyard in the city on our way to Sam's Club. This cemetery has three rows of the white stones marking Civil War dead, along two city blocks filled with gravestones, tombs, and sepulchers. When we drive past, I whisper, "Join my army of the dead," at them, just like Blood Raven in Diablo II.
I miss going to the local cemeteries with my grandma, something we did twice a year when I was in school. I had a healthy relationship with mourning and remembrance of the dead. I didn't know others feared the dead until I rode the bus. We passed a graveyard near my house, so far back from the road I didn't even realize it was there half the year. One little boy on our bus held his breath every time we passed it. One day, he forgot, and he cried the rest of the way to his house, thinking a dead soul had possessed him.
That little boy inspired my stories, written on dark, drizzly nights like this one. I sat on the stairs outside my bedroom door, my back to the stairway light so my own shadow fell over the loose-leaf paper as spooky words flew from my #2 pencil. Skeletons rose and wreaked havoc on our small town. They started a fire in the Methodist Church (who knows why, or how - the thing was a fortress of concrete blocks). Jim and I had to battle fully-grown skeletons with an aluminum bat (me) and a machete (probably more like a Bowie knife, but Jim called it a machete because he was a huge Rambo fan). At one point, the skeletons overpowered us, and I was too scared to continue writing. All seemed lost for our heroes.
Even though the story was incomplete, I'd signed up for storytelling that week. I had to deliver. I sat at the front of my fourth grade class and read the beginning of the story. When I got to the corner I'd backed myself into and stopped reading, the class sat, breathless, waiting. I kept talking for one more sentence, leaving them with a cliffhanger: "That's where we'll start next time."
"No!" They shouted. "There has to be more!"
As I walked back to my desk, I overheard whispers. They were they making up endings themselves, and I listened. Thanks to the power of collective consciousness, I wrote my way out. They offered ideas I'd have never chosen on my own. Jim was a Rambo fan, after all. He'd taken an old grenade from his dad's shelf, next to the wall-mounted machete, thinking it would be useful later. In the middle of the fight, he pulled the pin on the grenade and threw it at the largest group of skeletons. They gave chase, trying to throw it back at us, and BOOM! By some miracle, that Vietnam-era grenade went off, and we were free to run to the fire department to alert the volunteers on call so they could put out the fire.
When I was in fourth grade, telling those stories to my classmates was the only fun I had. From the first time I sat in the storyteller's chair at the front of the class, I knew I wanted to be an author. Finding the courage and the voice for those first few words was hard, but watching the kids react to what I'd written, the laughs, the gasps, the "Oh no he didn't"s started a magical fire in my soul.
Sometimes I miss leaving the crowd with a cliffhanger. Sometimes I wish I had a gaggle of fourth graders to generate alternate endings for me now. What's the use of a fancy chair without an audience?
I don't have an awesome storyteller chair like this one, and I don't have any fourth graders for an audience. This weekend, it's me and my imagination trying to untangle a tricky plot problem standing between my characters and a happy ending.
What story would you read from your storyteller's chair?