1-3-23 Writing Prompt

Your character is on a road trip when they discover an unusual museum, such as the Museum of Junk Food or the Museum of Unfulfilled Longings. Describe the museum.

The radio has been static for hours. Nothing but miles and miles of dead, cold farmland.


A road attraction sign, ten miles ahead.

It’s simply a graphic in white stencil on a brown background, but it’s the most fascinating thing I’ve seen in over 100 miles.

A smiley face.

I pull off at the exit and drive east for about 20 minutes. It’s getting dark now. The road turns from pavement to dirt, and my old Tempo’s tires vibrate on the uneven surface.

I’m about to turn back, annoyed at myself for pulling off.

Then I see it.

A stop sign makes me instinctively slam on the brakes. But instead of STOP, it’s some symbols I have trouble discerning. A dash. A lower case l. A crescent. It takes my weary brain a second to decipher what I’m looking at.

A winky face.

A shiver runs down my back, but I’m intrigued. And frankly, bored.

Under the stop sign there are flowers, toys, children’s shoes.

Where am I?

I ease past the stop sign, committed to at least satisfying my curiosity.

The only sound I hear is the pebbles kicking off the bottom of my car and my own breathing. This awareness makes me giggle; but on the inside, I can feel my stomach churning.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

“If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Who said that? Did I say it?

I don’t remember saying it. I glance in the rearview mirror, a smile plastered on my face.

“The lunatic is on the grass.”

“You rearrange me till I’m sane.”

I’m jolted forward, out of whatever the hell that mental detour was. It’s been 3 years since my last mental breakdown. Is that what this is?

The car has come to a stop. No, scratch that. The car has been stopped. Not a crash. The car is simply dead. It won’t start up again. My confusion continues as I step out of the car with my phone light on.

I’m largely a cautious driver, and even with the excitement and isolation, I was only going 25-30 mph out in the dark on these back roads. The car didn’t stall. I didn’t break a belt or drop the transmission. I was driving. And then I was stopped.

I look for damage on the vehicle, some obstruction to provide an explanation.

“No dice, senor!”

Must be an electrical issue. The car is old, and while I haven’t had issues with it recently, I only paid $750 for it.

I expected no service on my phone, but instead I have full bars.

I call my friend Sara-Beth. She lives about an hour and a half away, but I’m out of options and want to hear her voice.

“Hey bud, did you make it?”

I explain the last hour, leaving out my possible breakdown. No need to have my friend worry for nothing.

She listens attentively, with some nice gasps at the mention of the stop sign and my car breaking down.

“I’m leaving the house now, hold tight!”

I go sit in the dead Tempo. Bored in the car and I’m in the car bored.

I try to read a book on my phone but decide to save the battery, tossing it onto the passenger seat. I lean the car back and rub my eyes.


I start, again not sure if I’m the one speaking or not. It’s amazing how short a period of isolation we need to endure to feel uncomfortable.

There are some stars, more than I’m used to seeing but not the most I’ve ever seen.

There was a mission trip to Peru, away from Lima in a small coastal town. The sky was full of the brightness, a giant canvas with dots of silver. I remember a feeling of peace and the thought that the universe is a friendly place.

That feeling was not present now.

This celestial plane made me feel…. unstable? Untethered?

Remember when you’d spin in circles as a kid, or roll down the grassy hill of a park? The stumbling, delirious joy you felt while giggling and trying to stand again in front of your friends?

It wasn’t a fast spin, but it was noticeable enough that I couldn’t stare up at it too long or I got dizzy.

I was broken out of my reverie by my phone buzzing in my hand.

I stared at the hand. This was wrong, but I wasn’t sure why.

Notification after notification from Sarah-Beth. An hour ago, two, three.

My phone had been charged to at least 50%, but it was under 20% now.

There were voicemails, first friendly and polity, but by the end frantic bordering on hysterical.

“I saw the exit, but there’s no stop sign like you described. I’m out here in the dark and I’m getting scared, PLEASE call me back. Where the hell are you?”

There was one more voicemail, an hour after the previous one. Sarah-Beth was whispering. And it sounded like she had been crying.

“I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it’s not funny. I hope you find someone else to pick you up. Call me when you’re back to normal.”

That’s it. I’m dumbfounded.

There were no outgoing messages or calls I could see from my phone.

What the fuck was happening to me?

“Keep it together man.”

I tried calling Sara-Beth, but the call kept failing.

In a slip of frustration, I dropped the phone and punched the horn, which produced nothing but pain in my hand.

I let out a banshee yell, feeling the panic start to build in my mind.

Strains of music floated through the air.

It was an Andrews Sisters song. An “oldie”.

“Each morning, a missionary advertises neon sign.

He tells the native population that civilization is fine.”

For a moment, I’m convinced I’m hallucinating.

There’s a tap on my window, the most alarming sound I’ve ever heard.

“Hey buddy, you ok in there?”

Pulse racing, I jerk my head toward the voice.

It’s a middle aged man, my guess a farmer based on the overalls and chewing tobacco stains on his dirty work shirt. I wouldn’t describe him as tall. More like a giant. He must be at least six foot five.

Maybe it was seeing someone after the phone ordeal, but I wasn’t afraid of him. He had a gentle lilt of a voice. And my reaction had actually seemed to scare him; I saw from his dark silhouette he was about 10 feet back now from my car, standing near the dim warm yellow headlights of an ancient pick up truck.

I cranked down the window, still baffled by the last…..however many hours I had lost.

The silhouette stooped, and that lullaby voice purred “You seem awfully rattled, mister. What’re you doing out here?”

I tried to remember: what was I doing?

“I…um…saw a sign and pulled off but then-“

But then what? I decided for the easiest explanation. Stick with what you know happened.

“My car had a bit of an electrical issue, but I called my friend and should have a ride soon.”

I couldn’t see his face, so I had no idea how he was processing this. Im hoping that this happened often out here and I wouldn’t sound like a city idiot. Although not my biggest concern.

“Yes sir, plenty of people come out here and have vehicle problems. You need a lift? I know where you’re going, ain’t far from my farm.”

Mama said not to talk to strangers. But I doubt mama was ever in a situation like this.

“You know that would be great actually.”

I grab my phone, and also the windbreaker from the back seat.

I head around to the passenger side of the farmers truck and open the door to get in. A few empty beer cans are on the floor, and I see a few miscellaneous tools in the back.

“Sorry about the mess”, he offers with a sheepish grin. “Usually just me out here.”

He slowly turns his truck around on road, turning on the radio which is currently playing a Bob Seger song.

“I’m Bart by the way.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Bart.”

We drive in silence (sans the radio) for a few minutes. I appreciate him not pressing the issue. I’m not sure if it’s politeness or lack of interest, but I’ve long lost my curiosity and just want to find a way back to the highway. How am I going to do that with no car though? And no Sara-Beth?

My temples start aching, I need to figure out what’s next.

“That’s my place”, Bart says matter of factly. I see the outline of what I’m assuming is a barn and a small corral, but I don’t hear or see any livestock.

“Looks nice. How long have you lived out here.”

“Whole life. Family business. A few family members have tried to get out, but you know…..didn’t take.”

I turn from staring at the window, hoping he’ll clarify his ominous statement.

He doesn’t. Just keeps driving.

We drive about ten more minutes. In the distance, I see what I think must be another small house, but it’s tough to tell.

Bart pulls right up to the structure and pulls out a flashlight, and fishes another one out of the backseat and hands it to me without comment.

“Um…..what are we doing here?” I try to ask this without the panic seeping into my voice, but my nerves are shot and suddenly I can see the newspaper article in my minds eye.


Bart answers without looking at me, turning his flashlight beam towards the structure which I now see looks like an abandoned church.

“Isn’t this why you pulled off the road, to see our museum?”

I swallow and nod, more to myself as a reminder that I haven’t been abducted; I’m out here of my own free will.

I don’t know what type of “museum” could possibly be inside, and I’m not that interested this point.

“Did you say “our” museum?”

“That’s right. I’m the 5th tour guide, before that it was my daddy, then my granddaddy and so on. You get the gist.”

“I-i-i don’t mean to be rude, but I think my friend will be here soon, and I don’t want her getting lost. Can we head back to your place?”

This doesn’t seem to register with the tallest tour guide I’ve ever seen.

“Look, you came all this way and we don’t get many visitors anymore. It’ll take 15 minutes. Tell your friend to keep driving past your car, past my house, and she can meet us here if you’re so worried.”

Again, his voice has a hypnotic quality to it. I feel my unease dripping away. And I know I’m not getting Sara-Beth here anytime soon, if ever. Might have to call my parents. Reaching out to them makes my throbbing head pulsate. Nothing that can’t wait until morning. God, I’m tired.

I shrug. “Ok, lead the way I guess. What is this museum anyway?”

“Come find out. Bring the flashlight.”

I turn mine on, reluctantly following him to the front entrance of the church. The white paneling, steeple, and giant cross hanging on the side of the building would be nostalgic in another setting.

He holds the door open for me, flashlight held up by his face like a child telling a scary story.

“After you.”

I enter the foyer, swinging the beam around to get a better glimpse of the inside.

There’s dirty red carpet, stacked folding chairs and tables, and some cork boards with old bulletin boards.

I pass the light over a stray piece of paper and jump back. Insects are crawling all over it.


Not insects. The letters are rearranging themselves. I get the same dizzy feeling I had when the car broke down.

“You’re skittish, huh?”

I whirl, my flashlight striking Bart right in the face. Undaunted, he motions me to keep it moving.

The words on the paper have stopped writhing, now showing now a potluck flyer.

I walk towards the sanctuary, the heavy oak doors inlaid with gold handles. There is no sign of wear here.

I touch the handles and the doors open inward.

There are candles everywhere. White pews with plush velvet cushions. Communion set on two small ornamental tables. A single step up to a stage with a pulpit.

Tears well up in my eyes and I blink them away. This is a duplicate setting to the church I grew up in.

I’m at the front of the church, facing the congregation. The pews are full. Everyone is smiling at me. Silent anticipation.

But I have nothing to say.

It’s dark. I’m sitting in dust. Something small and wet runs across my hand. I’m too shaken to react

A light hits my face.

“What did you see?”

Bart is standing in the crumbled remains of the doorway.

“What is this place?”

“What. Did. You. See?”

“I had a flashback about my old church.”

Bart waits, and I hear him wanting more details.

I’m still processing what I saw. It was a mixture between a deep dream and catching something out of the corner of your eye.

“I had stage fright as a kid. Every month, our Sunday School class would sing at the praise service. But I could never get a word out.”

I bite my lip as more tears come on.

“Those people were so kind to me. And I couldn’t even….”

Footsteps falling softly, stepping over rotting wood.

An arm around me. I sob into the farmers chest.

“They didn’t care that you couldn’t sing for them, son. When we’re kids, it doesn’t take much for us to be frightened or think adults hate us. You’re so much harder on yourself than that congregation.”

Where am I?

I’m back in the field, sitting in my car.

I’m on the phone, screaming at Sarah-Beth.

Bart sits in his truck, the glow of a single cigarette marking his location.

I’m retching at the side of the church, staggering and sweating profusely.

I see Bart nonchalantly staring at me.

I grab my head to steady myself.

“Am I losing my mind?”


“What is this place?”

“It’s the Museum of Healing.”

My turn to stare.

Bart sighs and comes over to me.

“Look, I could try to explain and you can ask questions but all I know is my own role. And that doesn’t usually satisfy people.”

“Why did I see my old church?”

For the first time, I sense some of that politeness drain from Bart.

“I have no idea.”

“And who are you? How did you know what happened to me? You were so kind to me back there.”

“I don’t know what happened to you. I say the same thing to everybody, people just want their validation that they’re ok.”

“How did I move back to the field and then back here?”

Bart ponders this.

“You aren’t the only one that needs restoration. This is a sacred space, and the reality here is impacted by more than person. Time and space melt together and go every direction. Some find their way here and then forget, and then forget that they forget so they come back.

“Have I been here before?”

He shrugs, pulling out a cigarette.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I said yes. It doesn’t matter.”

“How could it not matter?”

“Because nothing matters here except that you are restored. And we’re still dealing with your brokenness from early childhood.”

He shakes his head and starts to walk away.

“Where are you going?”

“Back to wait for you. It’s almost time.”

I lose myself again.

I’m back in the car. I scream in frustration, phone in hand.

What will I do when I don’t remember?

The farmer called Bart drives up the road again, waiting. He’ll come again soon. He wishes it didn’t have to be this way. He wishes he could just once see something besides people crying, laughing, screaming in his broken old barn.

But you don’t choose your family. And you don’t choose the family business.

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