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Pay It Forward

Something New and Exciting for Story Chat

This week Charli Mills challenges her flash fiction writers to compose a response based on May’s Story Chat, “As Far As a Former Prisoner Can Go.” Your stories will be published on her Carrot Ranch website, and a link to that post will be included in this month’s Story Chat Summary. Be sure to comment on her story and a link to your most recent blog post will be posted on the Summary as well.

So here goes!

Pay It Forward

by Marsha Ingrao

James traveled in a time tunnel as the bus took him away.

Two hundred dollars. He’d never held that much money. He smiled his thanks.

“$215,” the kiosk at the bus terminal said.  James’ hands shook. 

Hey, Buddy, just get out? How much you short?”

“Fifteen,” James said. Parents dead, no way to meet girls in solitary.

“Thanks, man, I’ll…”

“Pay it forward.”

James nodded unsure what to say.

The bus pulled into a darkened parking lot of a deserted Iowa gas station. “Would Aunt Sally accept a call from her brother’s bad kid?”

James looked for a payphone.

Now it’s your turn.

Let’s have some fun with this. Go to Carrot Ranch and post your Prisoner story.

44 replies »

  1. I do like pay it forward stories, Marsha. This is a good one. I hope Aunt Sally is willing to give a bad kid another chance. Sometimes aunts are the ones who see the good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked your story Marsha, and how it wasn’t so much a rewrite, but a backstory that complimented the original. The story touched on some interesting concepts like one that’s sadly absent from so much of life now: human kindness and the idea of doing nice things for people because it’s just nice to do nice things. I also liked the first sentence and describing James’ trip home as going back in a time machine. James’ situation doesn’t allow for many pleasant travels to what’s left of what was home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Michael. You are right. I intended to fill in some of the areas that readers wanted to know. James had an unfortunate life. I’m not sure what he did that got him in so much trouble. Charli is going to have coffee with him and find out. I would have to do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That first line instantly made me think James was time travelling, so I loved that as I read on, he wasn’t Marsha. And it was a nice touch that although he didn’t have the full bus fare, they still allowed him on. Human kindness is something we need a lot more of in the world we live in today.

    You did well with the rewrite, Marsha. Do you mind me asking how long it was between writing the first draft and publishing the story?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Just a few minutes. It probably took me about 40-60 minutes. I lose track of time. It wasn’t meant to be a work of art. The hardest part for me is paring it down from about 150 words to 99. But that is where I see how superfluous some of my words and ideas are. It helped having Charli’s work to start with, then I used the comments to guide the pieces of the story I wanted to add.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It seemed like time travel, somehow. Actually it was more like the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s 25 year stint underground. Everything around James had changed while he was in prison and he was in a bit of a time warp fog. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Marsha, I love how you focused on the money and motivations, using 99-word to pare down to the precise moment of purchasing a ticket. You’ve added great details, too — the length of time, parents dead, an aunt that may or may not be open to a call. I can feel the grace building in James’s life from that pay-it-forward moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much. I added the details based on comments that chatters had. Scott commented that I added a few too many, and I see his point. Writing is such a learning process.


    • There you go. I need more of this as I write. I just read a great book Connie gave me called Sold on A Monday by Kristina McMorris. If you haven’t read it, you would LOVE it. The setting is 1920s and it’s about a reporter who takes a picture that is lost so he goes back to get a second one and has to pose it. Doing so causes all sorts of problems.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Good story and a nice, tidy way to take just a couple elements from Charlie’ story and craft a 99er. It read well with good, cohesive pace but I think it stumbled with the line; “Parents dead, no way to meet girls in solitary.” All previous lines read like they were born from the same pen, with the same feel, but then that one line seems to stick out like a wild hair, like it doesn’t belong there. I would clip it off, re-word it for just the dead parents and slip it into the Aunt Sally sentences. I’d clip off the ‘meeting girls’ part completely. That’s just the way I see it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And that is good advice. What I was aiming at was showing why he didn’t have a ride or folks to meet him. No wife or girlfriend, no parents, could have had siblings, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • But you don’t need to show why he doesn’t have a ride. The lone parolee on a bus is already clichè enough, there’s no need to pull info out of left field to clarify anything, you already set the scene with all the previous sentences.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Ally. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be removed from society for 25 years and then resurface when $200 seemed like a lot of money and phone calls cost a dime.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. I feel like I am new to writing when I try to make something open-ended. I like everything wrapped in a nice neat package. 🙂 And yet I don’t! LOL

      Liked by 1 person




Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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