Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Who is the “King of Sunset Town?”
Creative writing prompts can be used in so many ways. A prompt might be the inspiration behind a story, a poem, a song. I recently used a Sunday Writers’ Club prompt to explore my middle-grade novel in progress. By the end of the creative writing session I’d discovered more about a couple of the characters and their storyworld. “Sunset” is posted below, and I’ve provided a few of my writing insights at the end of the story.
By Paul Malone
We touch down on the grasslands outside the heavy iron gates of Sunset. The village, Erlan says, is so enchanting that some people even dare to stay longer than allowed.
“As if!” I scoff. Overstaying would mean certain death.
“You’ll see for yourself, Elfi!” Erlan says as we fold our balloon’s enormous red and white-striped balloon bag on the grass. “The sunset here is special.”
I want to argue the point (What sunset could possibly be worth dying for?), but the village children have gathered around.
“Can we help? Can we help?” they sing out.
“Sure!” I tell them. We allow a few of the older children to help us wheel the balloon’s wicker basket through the village gates.
“I can show you the sunset at the beach!” one of the girls offers, resting her hand on my arm. She can’t be more than a year or two younger than me. Her hair is frizzy and orange like a dragon’s fireball. Her pupils are like two portals to a leafy forest in a sun shower. She introduces herself as Karlin; and since she’s so friendly and Erlan doesn’t object, I agree to go with her once our official aeronaut business is taken care of.
“Well, King Hargald has been busy, hasn’t he?” The Keeper of Mail jests when Erlan and I arrive at the Hall of Letters carrying two sacks of Royal Aeronautical Mail.
“He didn’t write all of these!” I argue irritably. I have no patience for dumb jokes.
“Oh?” She feigns surprise. “Well perhaps he wrote a letter to me.”
Erlan chuckles. “You might be so lucky.”
I feel my face redding. As if King Hargald would be interested in a clerk! He’s like the gods—above us ordinary folk. He isn’t fated to a life of endless journey. No dragon will ever come for him if he decides to stay too long in any one place. Thinking of the king annoys me all the more. So I’m glad when Erlan and I finally leave the Hall of Letters and the silly clerk.
“That temper of yours!” Erlan pats my shoulder affectionately. “You could at least try and appear friendly.”
“I’m an aeronaut, Erlan, not an actor on a stage. If someone bugs me, I let them know.”
He sighs in defeat. He knows that I can be as stubborn as I can, angry. “Come on then!” he says and leads me to Sunset’s only inn.
Over lunch, he tells me we’ll be here for a few days more. He yawns as he says this, complains that his old bones are weary. And after lunch he announces he’s going up to his room to rest a while.
“See you at sunset!” he calls to me from the top of the staircase. “Down at the beach.”
I don’t know where the beach is, but Karlin soon turns up to lead me there.
“What’s it like flying a balloon?” she asks.
“Fun!” I tell her.
“We keep an eye out.”
“Have you ever been attacked?”
“Sure!” I say as if it would be perfectly normal, as if I wasn’t struck with terror every time. We stroll along a narrow lane between buildings that look like they’ve been hewn from the grey rocks in the hills behind the village. “But we’re armed—arrows of elfin steel dipped in skorling poison.” I draw an invisible bow and shoot an invisible arrow at an imaginary dragon in the sky.
“You’ve killed a dragon?” Karlin stops to look at me in awe.
I laugh. “As if it would be that easy! No, it just gives them a nasty bite, enough to keep them away from our balloon.”
“Well, I want to use weapons too—swords, bows, knives. Everything! If the gods allow it, I’ll become a warrior.”
“A warrior?” Karlin is so slender that I doubt she can even lift a sword. But she’ll grow soon enough; and I for one believe in following one’s dreams, so I tell her, “May the gods favour you!”
We follow the lane that leads down to the sea. The beach is a strange red colour, all broken rock with jagged boulders jutting out of the glistening turquoise sea.
“It came from Arlo,” Karlin points to the sky where the red moon is a pale ghost in the late afternoon sunlight. “That’s why it’s so special.”
Karlin nods. “I even read about it in the Hall of Knowledge. A long time ago a piece of Arlo broke off and crashed down here on the beach.”
“Amazing!” I say even though I doubt such a thing could happen. But all our history is shrouded in such myths, in stories as pale as the moon if you try looking for the truth in them. Like the story about our gods living on another world. They sent our ancestors here as prisoners to play The Dragon Game merely for the god’s amusement. That story seems as unlikely as Arlo crumbling in the sky above us.
Down on the beach it seems the entire townsfolk have gathered to watch the sunset. The sea is calm here, protected by a half-moon bay of shattered red rock.
“The impact crater,” Karlin tells me tracing the curve of the bay with her finger. She talks as if she’s lived here forever. But she hasn’t. She too must move on according the the rules of The Dragon Game. Tonight, she tells me sadly, will be her last in Sunset. But her mood brightens as the sun dips into the sea.
“Get ready!” she says. The air around us glimmers and sparkles in a rosy light. I blink and rub my eyes. My feet feel strangely light. The feeling creeps up my legs and through my body.
“Whats this?” I utter in surprise as people all around whoop and cry out in excitement as if caught up in a wave.
“Here we go!” Karlin cries exuberantly. The lightness completely engulfs me. I don’t just feel light. I feel weightless!
“Hey!” I cry out and look down. “I’m floating!”
“Watch this!” Karlin says. She swims into the air and does a somersault. “Try it!”
I’m too stunned to speak. How can this be possible? I swim up into the air to float beside her. She’s looking about. Everyone is floating now, swimming happily though the air in the glowing sunset. Like Karlin, some somersault playfully, others drift as peacefully as clouds over the beach.
“This feels amazing!” I cry out. Laughter bubbles out of me. My eyes brim with tears. I feel all the anger inside of me seeping away with every teardrop. I breathe deeper than I ever have done before. The weight of anger in my chest slips away. Where did it even come from? I wonder as I take Karlin’s hand to float thought he sky with her like two untethered balloons.
“Elfi!” Erlan calls out from where he is now swimming through the sky like a slender grey bird with wildly ruffled head feathers. He’s grinning and waving.
“Erlan!” I call back. “I believe you now! I believe you!” Who would be crazy enough to ever wish to leave?
This is the best sunset I will ever know.
A few story insights
- The balloons on this world are used to carry the mail from one village to the next.
- Aeronauts can defend themselves against dragons by using poison-tipped arrows of elfin steel.
- Elfi doesn’t like King Hargald. She’s probably not the only one.
- Elfi is proud to be an apprentice aeronaut. She is brave, confident, and opinionated. She also has a temper and feels weighed down by it. I don’t yet know why.
- Erlan is a good-humoured master aeronaut. He’s a survivor and Elfi’s protector during her apprenticeship.
- What physics-defying laws cause people to float over the rocks from Arlo at sunset? No idea! Perhaps this magical bay won’t even appear in the novel.
- I already knew of the story world rule: people must journey onward, never remaining in once place for too long. But the implications are profound, and each time I write about this, I see how it shapes this society.
There are probably a few more insights to glean from the story, but the main thing is that I have come away from the creative writing process with fresh material for my novel in progress.
I hope you enjoyed reading Sunset. If you have a work in progress, I recommend you try using prompts too.
SWC Team member
Paul is an Australian author living in Austria for well over a decade now. His short stories have appeared in leading children’s literary magazines, including The School Magazine (Australia) and Scoop Magazine (UK). For Paul, creative writing is “sunshine for the imagination”, and he enjoys sharing this experience with other writers. From coming up with inspiring prompts for a Sunday creative writing session to planning and delivering on the club’s objectives, Paul puts his heart and mind to every task.