Outside My Window

I sat up straight, unsure of what had awakened me. Everything in the room was the same. The desk was still in the corner, the nightstand was still next to my bed, my bed was standing by the door, right across from the enormous window and next to my roommate’s. However, something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something had changed. I was sure of it.

Being the curious person that I am, I crawled out of bed and stumbled around the room, trying not to wake up my roommate who was curled under her pile of blankets. I stopped walking and rapidly shook my head, trying to wake up. I felt a strange awe and wonder that I had never felt before. I just knew someone was watching me, but, for some reason, I was not scared. In fact, I felt something I had not felt in a long time: completely and utter tranquility. I swirled around and looked out my window, staring straight into the large, round, white moon. I surveyed the street; nothing moved. In the peaceful silence, I merely stared; there was nothing more I could do. I could not quite explain it, but as soon as I saw the street outside my window, I knew nothing would ever be the same again. I snuggled peacefully in my warm bed, unsure of what tomorrow might bring.

* * * * *

I was awakened by the sound of our opening door. My roommate was coming in from her morning run. That could mean only one thing: I was late for class. I jumped out of bed, startling my roommate.

“Shouldn’t you be gone?”

“Yeah, yeah. I… had an unusual night. Did you notice anything strange outside? Anything… different?”

“Yeah! You didn’t run past me, mumbling that you were late for class! You’d better hurry, girl! Your class starts in five minutes!”

As I threw on my clothes and grabbed my books, I kept glancing out the window. It looked normal: the trees waved in the breeze, the ducks dipped their heads in the rippling pond down the hill, and…

“Do you feel that?” I felt that strange wonder again. While it was comforting, I had no idea what it was. I felt safe and without worry, like all my cares could be taken away if only I were to be able to grasp whatever was giving me this feeling.

My roommate turned around and studied me. “I don’t feel anything. Are you okay?”

I looked at her and back at the window. What had I felt? Was I really okay?

“Yeah, I was just messing with ya. I don’t think I am completely awake yet. See ya later.” I hesitantly walked out the door. Was I losing my mind?

I rushed into class just as Professor Write was handing out one of her infamous quizzes. She looked at me with her chastising eyes, and I met them with the most apologetic expression I could conjure. I couldn’t get my mind off of what I had felt last night and this morning. But what had I felt?

I whipped through the quiz, as always. I don’t know what my fellow classmates feared in these assessments, but I loved the chance for easy points.

Still, I could not get my mind off that… whatever it was… outside my window.

I leaned over to Melissa, my faithful study companion, and asked, “Did you feel anything different this morning… or last night?”

She looked at me, questioningly, but I could tell she knew what I was talking about. A flood of relief swept over me; I was not insane. But that relief was immediately replaced with curiosity.

Melissa leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ll tell you after class.”

After a rather interesting lecture, I ran to catch up to Melissa in the lobby. “So…?”

“What do you think you felt?”

“Whatever it was, it made me feel a sense of, something good and right, like I had never felt before. But, it still made me feel rather uneasy. I really can’t explain it.”

“Well, I believe in an omnipresent God.”

“Oh, please, not that again.”

“Please, just hear me out. I believe He is always watching over us, His presence is not something to fear. He loves you more than you can ever know, so much He died on the cross for you.”

As she spoke, I saw how passionate she was about this. I thought about what had happened, glancing around the room to avoid her gaze. I didn’t want to… but…

“Could you maybe tell me more about this?” I finally conceded.

She smiled, and I knew my life would never be the same.

Written by Michelle

Image credit


The Man on the Train

At a train stop somewhere between Berlin and Frankfurt, I dragged ten days’ worth of luggage from one car of the InterCity Express to another. My seat was at the end of the aisle, and my seatmate—an elderly stranger—was already settled into the window spot.

Two steps before my row, I was intercepted by one of my group leaders. “Do you want to switch seats with me?” he asked.  His intentions were sweet, but his inquiry was based on a false assumption that I, a female American student, would have a problem riding next to the German gentleman.

“No, that’s okay,” I assured my classmate, mulling over the possibility before me, “I’m fine.” To prove my point, I hoisted my bag into the nearest luggage rack and slid into my rightful seat. He looked skeptical, but he quickly forgot his concern and re-submerged himself into the conversation consuming the majority of our fellow DBU classmates.

This was the final day of our study-abroad class in Germany; first thing tomorrow morning we would be on a non-stop flight back to Dallas. Everybody—professors included—seemed to be done. Done with learning and done with new cultural experiences. I couldn’t blame them. It had been a long, exhausting trip. The introverted part of me, the rarely-disputed queen of my personality, longed to put in earbuds and mentally disappear from the whole world. Too bad, though, because I had a hunch that I might be sitting next to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Either he was being polite or the rowdy chatter of the other Americans had somehow evaded his notice, because as the train pulled out the gray-haired man addressed me with the most obvious of questions: “Where are you from?” I couldn’t fathom how he could mistake us for anything but Americans, but I didn’t care. He spoke English. And even better, he was speaking to me.

“We’re college students from Texas,” I explained, “We’re here to study the Reformation.”

His eyes lit up the way mine do when people talk about the American Revolution. “Ahh. Martin Luther.” He smiled and motioned out the train window. We were already racing past open fields. “This is Luther Country.”

I nodded earnestly, but said nothing. I didn’t want our conversation to die, but my natural shyness was creeping to the surface. “It’s…beautiful,” I managed.

Almost as afterthought to his own comment rather than a response to mine, the man added, “If you want to know about anything, please ask me.”

I let his words sink in slowly.

To my left, the guy who offered to swap seats was engrossed in a book about Reformation leadership. I’d always dreamed of traveling to a foreign country and befriending a local, an eyewitness to history who could teach me what no tour guide or professor ever could.

Behind me, the other Americans shared a collective laugh, probably about one of the memes in the group message. I aspire to experience culture apart from tourist traps and to resist the natural urge to retreat into my own worldview.

To my right, the fulfillment of my dreams sat between me and the German countryside which was alive with yellow blooms. The seconds felt like minutes. Take him up on his offer, I begged myself. Ask him something. Ask him anything.

I stared out the window, denying myself the words I so desperately wanted to form. Yellow and green fields flashed by.

“The flowers,” I blurted, bubbling with excitement. “I’ve seen those yellow flowers everywhere. What are they called?”

It was all I could come up with, but somehow it was enough.

For the next hour, the man on the train, whom I learned was a retired professor, gave me a crash course in all things German. He talked extensively about growing up in post-World War II Germany in the days before reunification. My new friend shared stories about taking the very train we were on to visit his relatives in East Germany. When we barreled past what he said was the former Soviet checkpoint, the other Americans didn’t lift their eyes, but mine were wide with wonder. I soaked up the professor’s wisdom on distinguishing the economic, geographical, and architectural scars of a divided Germany. I marveled at his insight on the evolution of Germany’s political landscape. I even enjoyed pictures from his vacation in the United States.

Before I knew it, his stop arrived. After talking so easily over the past hour, my mind once again struggled to form proper words of gratification for all he had shared.

As it turned out, it was he, not I, who would deliver a thank you goodbye.

“Your country is going to be okay,” the professor assured me as he collected his things. I realized he was referring to the discussion we had about the current situation of American politics. “You’re a strong country.” He paused. “I am grateful for what America did to help Germany form a democracy after the fall of National Socialism. Without that, we would not have prospered the way we have.”

I was stunned. Had he just thanked me, as an American, for the gift of democracy? “Thank you,” I insisted.

He smiled one last time. “Enjoy the rest of your time in Germany.” And with that, he was gone.

I never did catch his name.

The last leg of the ride was the most void of people, but it was also the noisiest. My homebound friends enjoyed themselves openly with jokes and stories. I finally appeased my introvert queen by inserting my earbuds and hiding behind my travel journal, content to remain an outsider of my group. I had a wealth of memories to record before the exhaustion of the journey faded the memory of my brief time with the professor. There was much to say, but I knew where it was important to begin.

“I am grateful for what America did to help Germany…”

Written by Savanna

Image credit: Savanna Mertz

The House That Made Me

When the sun rises on the tired old street of Nottingham, the quiet Sunday morning descends on the neighborhood with a hushed whisper. The small street is entirely abandoned, save for a single elderly gentleman hobbling to his car with the aid of a cane. Both sides of the street are lined with plain, single-story houses, many of which have run-down cars in the driveway. All in all, the neighborhood is nothing much to speak of; there are several dozen others like it in the city.

However, there is one house on the street, right in the middle of the block, which has a large rose trellis out front. Now, these roses in and of themselves are nothing special either, but they set the house apart from the others. This house is cared for. While most others have too-long grass and sparse flower beds, this one is clean and well-kept. The front is lined with colorful flowers and the grass looks recently mowed. But the special part about this house is not the outside, but the people inside.

The family that lives there is young, unlike most of the residents of the neighborhood. The husband is a quiet character, but he loves to laugh and joke around. His wife is his perfect complement, with a loud and out-spoken personality. They don’t have much money to speak of, but they make do; they are happy. With them lives their infant daughter, a tiny, round bundle, all bald and smiley.

Despite the dreary nature of their street, it is the perfect place for the little girl to grow up. The empty streets will soon become her playground, the cracked sidewalk her race track. Here, she will have her first interaction with nature and adventure. While the old brick house won’t see her first prom, and the driveway won’t house her first car, they’ll still be some of her first memories. Alongside her sister, who isn’t even a thought yet, she will grow into a writer and explorer, all thanks to that house, on that street, in that neighborhood.

Written by Taylor

Image credit

Chip Bowls Crashing Down

The air is chilly. Dark red and yellow leaves lie restlessly on the damp evergreen. Jack o’ Lanterns with whimsical faces nestle in bunches outside of people’s doors. The aroma of cinnamon scented pinecones and pumpkin spice fills the nostrils of many as they cuddle around their roaring fires. In October, autumn is casting about mini tornados of leaves, brushing the feet of those in its path as the trees dance in the wind. This month is witness to the increased purchase of candy, fake spider webs, and Batman costumes. Only few know why this month is so significant, but don’t worry, I’ll clue you in. Besides all of the fantastical autumn themed scents, ten-pound bags of Snickers, and funny-looking pumpkins, this month brings sports fans together. October marks the halfway point of football season and provides a map for predicting which teams will make it into the Super Bowl.

Football season usually begins in early September when the pungent scent of Kingsford Match Light charcoal lingers in the air and hot dogs and burgers sizzle on the grill. Families and friends come together sporting the jerseys of their favorite teams and players, finding community in those who support their choices and even those with whom they can argue. While the kids are slip-slippery-sliding and cannonballing into the pool, their parents engross themselves in the nearest television, chanting and hollering in support of (and on many occasions, at) their favorite teams until another chip bowl comes crashing to the ground. This time is the start of the season, the first four games in which all teams have something to prove, and if your family is nearly as competitive as mine, then you do, too. If you were disappointed in last year’s performance, it is during this time that you are most optimistic, hoping your players have had rest and practiced and are prepared to dominate the season. September proves to be just that for football fans: a phase of optimism.

By the following month of the season, players are competing in games five through eight, which, to me, is truly when the season begins. October marks the point at which all the teams have exposed their secret super stars, those who run sixty-five yards upfield to the touchdown or kick an eighty-five yard field goal. These super stars help us football fanatics gage which teams will most likely advance to the playoffs and ultimately compete for the title of Super Bowl Champions. Now, instead of the smell of burgers and franks on the grill, the aroma of a Glade Warm Flannel Embrace plug-in fills the room. With one obnoxiously large marshmallow topping their cups of hot chocolate and s’mores filling their bellies, groups of football connoisseurs and amateurs, alike, continue rooting for their teams. With a scorching flame from the fireplace keeping them warm and a hot season approaching, fans are on fire for football during the chilly month of October.

Written by Ashley

Image credit

Letter to the Fiction Writer


“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

Image credit

The Nature of Beauty: Short Story Day 2016

Two men stood upon an edge of a cliff, overlooking the land. The first was blinded in a childhood accident; the second was his dear friend, who took care of him every day.

“Can beauty be taken from a man?” The first cheerfully asked to the second.

The second scoffed. “It was taken from you, for you cannot behold the sight before us. Indeed, I know you cannot remember this sight from our childhood. I pray to the Almighty every day that your sight might be returned, that you might know beauty again.”

“Is beauty something one must see, then?” the first asked.

“Obviously. How can you appreciate a work of art without seeing it? Paintings and drawings must all be seen.”

“I can hear a piece of music,” the first hummed. “The chatter of men, the singing in a theatre.”

“Fine, fine. You can find beauty in music, in sound. But you still cannot behold most kinds of beauty.”

“And what of the sculptures found in the king’s gallery? I can feel the edges, the smooth curves, the grooves formed by the chisel. Can I not feel and behold that work of art?”

“I suppose you can behold the beauty of those works of art,” the second admitted.

“And I can eat,” the first grinned. “I love the taste of a pastry in my mouth. That, my friend, is beauty from a chef’s hands. Can I not behold the art of such a masterful chef?”

“I suppose you can find beauty in a chef’s work,” the second frowned.

“I can smell that same pastry as its being made. I can enjoy flowers. The fresh smell of rain, during and after, is nature’s own way of singing in joy that I can partake in.”

“I see you’ve thought this through quite thoroughly.”

“There’s more, my friend. What of the beauty of love?” the first said. “Can I not hear the kindness in her voice, feel the softness of her touch, and laugh at the sharpness of her wit? Can I not feel the thrill, the pulsing of my heart whenever she is near?”

“Fine,” said the second. “But what if all these things were not enough, if all these things were only pain in the end? If you were isolated, starved, your skin burnt ‘til you could not feel, and your ears deafened, you could not know beauty. All that would remain would be pain; therefore, beauty can be taken from a man.”

“What if the pain changes day by day?” The first asked. “If it does, then beauty, to that person, would be the times that pain lessens.”

The second grumpily huffed. “What is your point, my friend?”

The first smiled. “It seems to me that it is in man’s nature to seek beauty in all things.”

“Even in pain?” the second questioned.

“Especially in pain,” the first said, “for we seem to understand that there is a way things should be, and we search for glimpses of those moments.”

The two stood in silence. The second slowly realized that the first was, despite blindness, more able to perceive beauty than he.

“We would not have had this conversation without your blindness,” prompted the second.

The first smiled once again. “Indeed,” he said. “I believe your prayers have been answered, for I can see beauty far more clearly than before I lost my sight. Is that not something beautiful as well, that my blindness should be used to redeem my perception?”

The wind whispered gently over the two.

“This is how the Almighty works,” the second concluded, “in ways that create beauty from pain.”

“You are close to my point,” the first said, a thrill in his voice.

“Which is?”

“The Almighty, who created all things, who created mankind, who allowed us to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, to feel, is the source of all this beauty. And though His creation was corrupted, He still creates from the pain more beauty, which we otherwise would not know. He is truly everywhere, for He is beauty, and it is a miracle that we exist and experience Him.”

Written by Isaac: Many thanks to Brandon Sanderson for the inspiration of this short story—the first half is basically just retelling a conversation in the book Words of Radiance from his series The Stormlight Archive.

Image credit