“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
— Lao Tzu
Melrose Avenue rises away from the setting sun, and your shadow stretches long and thin ahead of you.
Your feet shuffle along the pavement; you are tired from a long day’s work and you sweat in the California heat that hasn’t yet given way to cool evening. Your car won’t be back from the shop for another few days, and you daren’t risk Los Angeles public transportation. Somehow, it feels safer to walk, and your house isn’t that far, anyway.
Most of the stores and restaurants have already closed or are in the process of closing. You see equally exhausted shopowners wearily making their rounds, checking merchandise and locking doors. You exchange glances through the glass in mutual understanding. Only the bars and clubs are riotous and full.
You pass a few homeless people who gaze up at you with painful hope. You pat your empty pockets with a pitying shrug. They look away.
One more block to go.
Melrose itself is packed with cars; the narrow two-lane street can barely contain them during rush hour, and there’s plenty of honking, cursing, and banging on doors as a way to vent frustration. Most people, however, just sit and wait, idly checking messages on their phone or staring blankly out their windshield at motorcycles and bikes trying to weave their way through the herd. Those unlucky to be trying to leave their parking spaces keep their blinkers on hopefully: perhaps some kind Samaritan will let them in.
You do miss your car, but not the traffic.
When you finally arrive at the end of the block, you turn right onto your street, which is shrouded in darkness; the lamps have not yet turned on. You continue walking, your pace quickening as renewed energy vigorates your limbs. It’s been a long walk, but you are nearly home.
A few cars, eager to avoid the masses on Melrose, escape into this narrow shortcut, their headlights flashing brightly and chasing the shadows away. You can see the windows of your house glimmer as you approach, and then fade again when the cars have passed.
You begin to rummage in your bag for the keys–but something catches your eye. Something that shouldn’t be there. Most of the streetlamps have come on now, and though the side of your house is still dark, you can make out bright colors on the wall. A poster, you think at first, and you feel angry that someone has put it on your house without permission.
But as you get closer, you see it is fresh graffiti.
There are different kinds of graffiti that you’ve noticed in your journeys across LA. There are generic tags, those that seem to be just random letters sprayed on walls or the backs of semi-trucks. Meaningless and without skill. Then there are block words or stenciled pictures, some more elaborate and detailed than others.
This . . . is something else.
This is wild.
You move closer, despite the flutter of warning in your head.
The last streetlamp flickers on, a bit delayed from the rest. The graffiti becomes clearer.
Huge, spiky, intertwined, three-dimensional lettering curves like an archway, reaching all the way to the roof. It is mesmerizing and difficult to read at first.
Strangely, your anger at someone tagging your house fades. It is art; you may not have asked for it, but it is art nonetheless.
You stand there, alone and tired, and stare at the wall. You try to make out what the letters say, though they twist and move in the weak light.
It is one word, you can see. And then you give a violent start when you realize it is a name.
Shocked, your gaze moves down beneath the letters. There is more graffiti here, a picture, artwork done with great skill. It is an image of a door, with vines covering the surrounding wall. Each vine has many leaves, incredibly detailed and with tiny white flowers. They crawl over nearly the entirety of the side of your house, framing your name. Only the door itself is bare and plain. Its top barely reaches above your head.
You move closer until you can nearly stretch out and touch the paint, but something stays your hand. A feeling of foreboding. Even in close proximity, your name and the vines and the flowers and the door do not look flat, but tangible, almost real.
You take another step, and your foot lands on something hard. Startled, you jump away. A quick glance and you see it is an old doormat made of ancient, cracked wood. Etched on its thin boards are the words:
And then the painted door above it opens.
With a cry, you stagger backwards until you nearly lose your balance. You place your hands on the reassuring wall of the house behind you and stare at your home.
The letters of your name glow and the doormat sparkles. The door is only slightly ajar at first, but as you watch, it opens more, warm light spilling out and illuminating the vines. It has opened for you.
How you know this, you cannot say. But your rapidly beating heart slows, and you approach the door again.
You cannot see anything beyond its frame, just light. Beckoning you.
You look down to read the doormat’s shining words again: “Enter, friend.”
Do you go?
I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like this before–at least, not outside of a classroom setting. Writing in second person is harder than it looks, but for some reason, this prompt seemed to warrant its use. It asked for the graffiti to concern someone the character knows, but hey, who do you know better than yourself? As for the setting, I don’t live in Los Angeles, though I go there quite often; Melrose Avenue is a long, busy street in West Hollywood. It is just as narrow as I described, made more so by the fact that people are allowed to park all along it, making it very stressful to drive through during the nightly rush hour. 100% do not recommend. Graffiti, as with any city, is quite prevalent, and while I do think it can be beautiful, especially the ones done in “wildstyle,” most of the ones I see are just gibberish tags and not at all impressive. I mean, if you’re gonna go to the trouble of defacing property, at least have some creativity! This story didn’t too long to write (a shocker for me), because I already had the ending in mind, and the rest was borne of that.
(And, well: do you go?)
Want to do the challenge yourself? Here is today’s prompt: “You’re downtown and see graffiti in an unlikely place–graffiti like you’ve never seen before, concerning someone you know.”