The prompt for this week was a line from a poem read at the previous week's session: "The last time I read a book, my family was destroyed. By an asteroid." (It might have been "wiped out," not destroyed.) The Tunguska event of 1908 was caused by a meteoroid or small comet, not an asteroid, and as far as I can tell, no one was killed when it happened, though I doubt there was a definite census of that part of Siberia in those days - except maybe for tax purposes.
The story was also based in part on a story told to me by another of our writers over lunch the week before, about a bizarre encounter he had had many years before in a bus station in upstate New York with a man who claimed to be on a bizarre quest guided by specific clues - clues which my friend was then able to spot for himself. I tried to scrub out as many details of this quest as possible, in the end even taking away the purpose of the quest - this, I figured, would be part of the quest. Unfortunately this led to some dissatisfaction with the story, as too many things were left open. The narrator seemed to have a remarkable lack of curiosity and is focused entirely on reading his book (Dostoevsky's The Idiot, a book I've been working on for a few years), though throughout the old man's monologue the narrator stares intently at him. This attitude is based in part on the attitude of the main characters (Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman) from the South Park episode Towelie, in which they are entirely focused on the task of retrieving their Okama Gamesphere while actively ignoring the epic events breaking out around them.
Some listeners felt that the narrator (or the writer) took the coward's way out. Which he (and I) did. But I made sure I included a precedent in the story - "I did not seek it, nor did I even believe I was the one truly intended to take up the burden." I also did not want to let the story drag on. In part this is due to the constraint of writing for a writers' group - I am trying to create stories that are complete, yet short enough to hear in a single reading of five minutes or less. When I scribbled out the first draft during those dark days last week when my computer was in the shop, I had the narrator open the matchbook to find - nothing. Nothing but a lot number printed at the bottom, a lot number which contained the out-of-sequence digits of his birthday. Intrigued a little, he would shrug, pocket the matchbook, and board the bus without re-encountering the frat boy character from the beginning - who was based on a real person who spoke to me while I was reading a book ("Drawing the Line") while waiting for my car to get yet another exhaust system installed, who actually made the comment about never getting into the "hobby" of reading. The story would then end with a coda, written months later, as the narrator is now caught up in his still-undefined quest. (Part of the quest would, in fact, be determining the actual point of the quest.)
I may take it further, may edit back in the things that I took out. I personally liked the open-endedness of the story, and I liked the idea that the annoying frat-boy character from the beginning had the quest inflicted on him at the end. Maybe I'll be able to find some other solution which will be more satisfying to readers. Let me know what you think.