Words on Wednesday

Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 by Travis Cody in

So, Stewart over at House of Sternberg set a writing assignment. The theme is Renewal and the challenge is to make an emotional statement.

The piece I set out to write is not the piece I have posted today. As with so much of my new work these days, I started typing with a basic idea and my thoughts told my fingers where to go.

So I present...uhm...this piece actually has no title.

“Hang on Toby!!”

Toby couldn’t spare any breath to answer. It took all he had to keep squeezing his fingers around the exposed root. He knew he was going to fall. He just didn’t think he should give in so easily.

Such a stupid thing and he’d known better. Just last summer he’d nearly slid over the edge chasing jack rabbits. That’s why Papaw had the fence built. Papaw always shook his finger and grumbled on and on about mule-headed boys.

“Three hunnerd acres,” the old man groused. “Still y’all rush on out to that soft pack yonder, like some stubborn ole jackass grazin’ after the sweet grass.”

It hadn’t always been so loose up on the bluff behind the sprawling ranch. Toby’s Daddy and uncles had played out there as boys, when the blue spruce had grown thick. Back then you could sit beneath one of the dense trees and gaze out over the bay, listening to the waves wash against the cliff face 200 feet below.

The rains had come earlier and more intense over the years. The bluff turned muddy. Disease had taken most of the trees. The rest had gone into the bay as the edge of the cliff eroded and the bluff became a dangerous place to walk.

But as often as you can tell a boy to mind the edge, that point doesn’t seem to settle until he catches up against it. And even then, the lesson doesn’t always hold.

A small avalanche of loose dirt and pebbles washed over Toby’s head and down his back. He heard a muffled oath and the sound of scrambling above him. All that rain that Papaw had praised over the winter…this spring it was about to cost the old man his youngest grandson. Toby reckoned there was no way they could get to him with the ground so soft at the ledge. That’s why he was in this mess.

That, and not wanting to lose the new baseball. Chris always threw it too hard. Toby was learning to catch better, but sometimes he just ducked out of the way and then ran to fetch the ball. Toby got a good giggle as he ran too, because he knew his big brother would be annoyed. But then Chris would throw it a little softer so Toby could catch a few before he started winding up for high hard ones again.

Then the baseball rolled under the fence. And Toby skittered beneath the rails, running to get the new ball without a thought. And the ground evaporated beneath his feet.

By chance he caught the root, and now Toby dangled by one hand about 20 feet below the new ledge, with Chris yelling at him to hang on. Toby had watched his new glove tumble through the air and hit the water. The splash looked so tiny. He didn’t see what happened to the new baseball. He’d saved his allowance all winter for that glove. It’d take him another six months to save up to replace it…if he didn’t fall.

It wouldn’t be so bad to fall, would it really? Like the glove…just floating down and down and down. Flying. And then a little splash in the water.

The ground shifted. The root bent and creaked. Toby tightened his grip. His hand was starting to cramp. He didn’t really want to fall. He tried again to dig his feet into the cliff face, but they just scrabbled at the loose rock. His shoulder strained and he felt his fingers slip.

“Help Chris!! I’m gonna fall!” Toby's thin voice cracked as the panic started.

Toby tried to reach his other arm up so he could grab the root with both hands. The stabbing pain reminded him why he was dangling by just one hand. Tears of fear and frustration burned in his eyes.

Something dropped past him. He gasped and cringed. His fingers let loose of the root and he screamed.

But he didn’t fall. He felt a strong grip around his waist and heard his Daddy’s deep voice.

“It’s ok now. I gotcha.”

Toby opened his eyes and looked at the waves crashing against the rocks below.

Nope – it wouldn’t have been so good to fall.


  1. Mags says:

    "grazin’ after the sweet grass.”

    Isn't that what it's all about? Trying to get to that sweet grass, even if it's a little dangerous?

    Luckily Toby had someone to catch him when he fell...not everyone can say that.

    Great story.

  1. MY word, how scary......and so kewl at the end.
    Enjoyed it:)

  1. JohnH985 says:

    Very nicely done. I know what you mean when you sit down at the keyboard thinking you're going to type one thing and before you realize it the fingers have went someplace else. Your descriptions of the places are very vivid. Toby comes across as a believable character too. Once again, very well done.

  1. JohnH985 says:

    Question that has nothing to do with the story: did you and a bunch of other go see Taylor this last weekend? I'm just curious to how it was...tonight is Taylor.

  1. I adore this scene and how you painted it. The dialogue brings back memories and the waves crashing are just "icing on the cake". One of my favorite things about Stu's assignments is the opportunity to see what other writers do with the subject.

    And, of course, I loved the ending. We all gotta be saved every now and again.

  1. Such a powerful story, beautifully told.

    The suspense became unbearable, and the last sentence was really sweet, not just because he was saved (and I could breathe,) but because he instantly became a little boy again after his close brush with death.

    Little boys (and puppies) never dwell on their mishaps; they just move on.

  1. Turnbaby says:

    I really like this Trav--you capture both a character and a scene very vividly in such a short time. I like the directions your fingers are taking these days.

    Thanks for the help last night sugar.


  1. gugon says:

    I agree - this was a powerful story. Good descriptions and you kept it in the moment. I could see the glove splashing into the water below. Very tense.

    And I had a wave of intense relief when Dad came to the rescue.

    Also - the story really FELT like springtime for some reason - which was the assignment after all.

  1. Meribah says:

    Whew! That was good! I found myself really getting into that story...which, of course, is the hallmark of great writing. Thanks for sharing.

  1. Travis says:

    Mags: Grazin in the grass is a gas.

    Etain: Thanks for the compliment.

    John: It's nice to have the brain working that way again. Enjoy Taylor!

    Susan: I'm pleased to be able to evoke a memory for you.

    HISF: Thanks for the kind words.

    Turn: You're welcome as always darlin.

    Gugon: I wasn't sure I had strictly followed the assignment, although I was pleased with the finished product.

    Meri: Scooby snacks for the puppy!!

  1. Loved the ending! Loved the entire thing, actually. You have a way with words that makes me want to keep reading. Very good work!

    Keep it up! I love your style.

  1. lisa says:

    Yay! two good reads from Travis in one week!

    there is nothing like standing on the edge of a 200 foot cliff overlooking the ocean.
    (safely that is)
    I've stood on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland and it was amazing.

  1. miller580 says:

    Nice work on the tension. I like the technique of building the tension and letting it sit there awhile as you build up the characters. It kinda gives the reader a breath before you kick it away again. Also an excellent job on painting the scene.

  1. I like the way, when we write, we can turn even the most vivid tale of reality into an unreality - I mean, would Toby, at his age and in his predicament, have been able to think so eloquently about the falling glove and the saving for a new one? This is what you have done so wonderfully - taking a child's voice and giving it relevance for an adult audience.

    And the hero of this story has to be the tree, which has managed to hang on through the decades of environmental degradation while its companions perished, and here it is, with its roots saving the lives of a human who is responsible for said degredation! Ironic stuff and good writing. Well done.

  1. wolfbaby says:

    That was a gift. thank you.

  1. Great story Trav! I was completely sucked in. The dialog and the characters were very believable, and I had no trouble at all picturing the scene you painted. Loved it!

  1. Brother Trav...
    You know how I feel about this story... It worked wonderfully...

    I am going to have to watch out for the next assignment from Stewart...

  1. This is a camera click. It's a slice of life.

    Trav, you are a damned fine writer. i would like to read something longer...something following a story arc.

    What I like here is the economy of your writing. I am always telling people to pull back...to use one sentence instead of three. To find the right word. You do that..you understand that sometimes a sweep of a dry brush is better than one dripping with paint.

  1. I didn't want to read the ending - I was afraid for Toby. That's what you wanted from your readers and you got it from me! I liked what the gentleman before me said about using your words sparingly. I need to learn how to do that...

  1. You got my emotions engaged -- I was relieved when Toby's dad got him before he lost his grip.

    Nicely done in a short short story!