Seattle Writing Prompts are intended to spark ideas for your writing, based on locations and stories of Seattle. Write something inspired by a prompt? Send it to us! We're looking to publish writing sparked by prompts.
Also, how are we doing? Are writing prompts useful to you? Could we be doing better? Reach out if you have ideas or feedback. We'd love to hear.
We're running a short story contest based on Seattle Writing Prompts, judged by Matt Ruff! Come and join the party, we can't wait to read your stories.
You leave Seattle at the crack of dawn. The drive isn't far, but it's far enough, and in the high summer you need to get to the trailhead early. You were up late packing and repacking. Making sure the food is smart and balanced right, the water containers are clean and full, the first-aid kit and compass and elevation map and convertible zip pants and bulletproof bear bag and floppy brim hat and walking pole and tent and sleeping bag and gortex shell and wool socks and perfectly-broken-in-boots and technical fabric shirts and everything is perfectly rolled into your pack and ready to go.
You drive for a few hours. It doesn't take long before you're off the freeway and on a highway that becomes a windy mountain road. You have a high-clearance vehicle, so you can get up where some people can't. You park, making sure your pass is visible so you don't get a ticket, then you double check everything, put your phone in airplane mode (you'll use it as a camera, still, otherwise you'd power down), and take your first step on the gravel of the trailhead.
Seattle is one the best bases in the world for back-country hiking. You could go to Alaska, of course, but here in Washington you're just hours away from scenic accessible low-traffic worlds to explore. There's a reason REI is based here, after all.
It's something to do with the culture of this city, it's in our bones the way that the rain is on our skin. We love to get away. Be it a quick trip up to the Big Four Ice Caves with some out-of-towners, a beach trail on one of the San Juans, a jaunt up to Paradise when the wildflowers are exploding, or a multi-day pack-in where you'll be clearing huge vertical miles on the way to that elusive off-trail spot you love to visit every few years.
But stepping outside leads to so many situations, so many unknowns. We like to think our lives are contained and predictable in the city — of course they're not — but we give up that illusion when we go into the mountains. We know we're on geologic scale, now, and we talk about the things that fall off of mountains by the appliance that matches their size most closely: "Did you see that refrigerator that nearly took out Gina?"
So with that surrender to the natural wonder, we find one thing that we carry with us always, even into the most remote of locations: our stories.
Now then, most stories coming from the woods are of people enjoying themselves. But writers need drama in our imaginary lives. So, just for now, things are going to have to go very, very wrong....
It started with a bad omen before they even left the city: hitting the bumper on the car behind them outside of the coffee shop. This uptight dude confronted them, made them stop and wait while he inspected it ("that's what they're made for, dude," Shelley said. "That's why they call them 'bumpers', right?"). Then traffic and construction over the pass, then that near wipeout backing down the logging road to let the jeep pass. "You think the crows circling above mean anything?" Hugo joked, pulling his pack on. "Those are ravens," said Shelley. "So, yeah, they mean something." Jorge laughed. "You guys are too damn superstitious," he said, hearing the crack of his sunglasses under his boot, which he didn't notice had fallen onto the gravel.
Geocaches were always a fun distraction, and a good reason to get out of the house and hike a nice trail. You'd find the weirdest little things — pins, plastic figures, buttons, patches, toys. But finding the cache on the peak of the trail, it looked like it hadn't been opened in years. The latch was caught, and it took some working to get it open. Inside, some very old packets of crackers, and a note: "I'm being held a half-mile due southeast. Call the police." It was dated three years ago.
"Hey, you guys better be careful," she told the college boys. "Get your food secured, you're gonna get bears coming through here." Their campsite, messy — and all the beer they packed in! — had food everywhere, and they didn't have a bear cannister. They assured her they would, and off she went. But coming back through the next day, she saw they left a mess. They also left their tents, and all their gear. Was that blood over there? Calling out, there was no response, but she knew that if they were nearby and needed help, she was all the help they were gonna get.
"Oh my god, I'm so sorry!" she said, coming across the naked man sitting by the lake. "Oh crap!" he said, reaching for his shorts and pulling them on, obviously embarrassed. "I've been here an hour and hadn't seen anybody, so I figured I was safe." Putting a bit of room between them, she dropped some iodine tablets in her bottle and filled them from the stream that fed the lake. The man was packing up when she walked past. "You hiking through?" he asked. "No," she said. "I am. Doing the whole trail. Started at the Mexican border. Getting close, now. How about you?" She gestured back the way the trail led in. "No, just on a day hike." Then she added. "I just came up to get some water. My boyfriend's waiting for me just over the ridge." She waved, and walked off through the small pass, to the switchbacks down. But about half way down, looking up, she saw a glint of light off of metal, and some movement at the top.
How fast things change. The day was hot, dry, blue sky. They were in shorts, and then inside of thirty minutes they were in a cloud. The trail, once as clear as a contrail in the sky, was now occluded and hard to find. How could they get so cold so fast? The cotton socks and light jackets they packed weren't enough. The compass on their phones wasn't registering at all. And when one of them put their foot through crusty ice into a water hole, they found out fast why people suggested wearing wool. "I think we're lost," one of them finally confessed. And in that, they both knew, it was going to be really hard to get found again.