There are story ideas everywhere from real life.
Near the Water Story #1: About six weeks ago, my husband and I decided to walk part of the Battle Creek River Walk, starting at a small playground with about six parking spots. We were the only vehicle. (Yay! Not crowded.) We walked about twenty minutes upstream and then returned to a crowded area. Two cars besides ours! A woman played on the playground with a preschool girl. We assumed it was her daughter. A man in his mid-twenty’s paced near the river, avoiding eye contact, twitching, and biting his lips. His body language made me nervous enough that I didn’t want to leave mom and child alone in the area. (Can you say Amber Alert?) My husband later commented that the man’s face “seemed weird.” So we strolled nearby, pausing long near the river, man, and mom-and-daughter. We figured it was a natural thing for a couple to do, for who doesn’t like watching a flowing river? But our senses were on alert. Suddenly the man moved quickly to the parking area and got into the back of a newly arrived vehicle with two people in the front. We went to our van and got in, but lingered still. I nonchalantly glanced at the car at the very moment there was an exchange over the seat. The man immediately got out with his small package. The new car drove off. So did the man. Had we just witnessed a drug buy, or is my fictional writing brain overactive?
Near the Water Story #2: A couple weeks later, we walked part of the North Country Trail along the Kalamazoo River, about twenty miles east of Battle Creek in Marshall. We saw turtles in the river, birds in the trees, bugs enjoying our presence, and a clowder of cats. We’d witnessed the other animals before, but never the cats. At first there were only five, sitting under a picnic table. About thirty paces past them, a black cat laying on a fallen log near the trail eyed us. Then we saw another lurking in the woods. We hurried on to the street bridge crossing and decided to walk part of the dead-end road parallel to the trail. We hadn’t gone far when we spotted a woman bending over into the back of her station wagon parked near the woods with – seriously – about forty cats near the car, most laying on the pavement, nearly all watching us. (Can you say Crazy Cat Lady?) We were rather committed at this point to passing by her. With her back still to us, she took a five-pound bucket in one hand and a three-pound one in the other and started into the woods. There was no trail entrance there; just trees and shrubs. Without any noise from lady, the cats all rose and followed after her. One of the buckets tipped just enough for me to see inside. It looked like birdseed.
Near the Water Story #3: It was my first free day to go along Lake Michigan to do my annual distribution of my summer books. I had five places to visit, and then my husband and I would be free to play at the beach…or walk on it. And we did. When we returned to the van, couldn’t find my key fob. Not wanting to take a purse to the beach, and wearing jeans with only two pockets, I’d put glasses and ID in one pocket and iPhone and fob in the other. Naturally, I took photos! I’d never lost a key or fob before. The only thing I know about fobs is that they open and start vehicles, and cost hundreds of dollars to replace. (I suppose that’s three things.) As my husband had his fob, we searched the van. Normally I only look through things once. This time I searched everywhere (more than my two pockets) three times. No fob. The sky threatened its forecast of thunderstorm, so we snatched our raincoats and slowly backtracked toward the beach. I was picturing every spot I’d stopped to take a photo. A park employee rode a golf cart on the sidewalk from the beach to the parking lot. I flagged him down and asked if he’d seen a key fob on the beach. Jeff later explained that his disinterested attitude was probably from being asked that many times before. However, a passing woman said, “Was it small and black?” She measured with her thumb and finger. “YES!” What happened was that earlier a man walked near her beach blanket and without a word to her, placed the fob on her blanket and walked on. She was with six children and had never seen a fob like this one before. She thought it was a bomb. (!) She was going to toss it high into the sand dune woods, but instead laid it in some weeds. Going from nervous to hopeful to skeptical and back to nervous, we followed her. She pointed from a distance, still seemingly unsure that it might be a bomb. My fob. My short-lost fob was found. Thing is, if I had only searched my pocket, or the van just once, the woman wouldn’t have been passing at that exact moment to have heard me asking the employee about it. (Can you say I believe in miracles?)