Photo Prompt

Each month, we post a photograph as a writing prompt. Post your 100-word story in the comments section, and we’ll choose one to feature in our next issue. To see examples, read photo stories we’ve published in the past.

In the spirit of fun and fairness, please follow these guidelines:
• Post only one story per photo prompt.
• Be mindful of others’ feelings when commenting (keep it positive rather than giving feedback).
• Remember this is a shared safe space for all lovers of 100-word stories.

Dumpsters in a grafitti-covered alley.

Photo Credit: Silvia Siri

63 Responses to “Photo Prompt”

  1. Grace Endorf says:

    The Alley Ally
    Going to the bar was a terrible idea and because of this I left. Now I know women aren’t supposed to walk alone a night, but I thought I would be O.K. I was wrong. As I passed an alley filled with graffiti, a man popped out of it and started following me. Soon he started to get faster and closer.
    “Hey Lily! Thanks for meeting me. Let’s go to your house.”
    I have no idea who this girl is, and my name isn’t Lily, but I think this girl might have just saved my life tonight.

  2. Anastasia says:

    Following Mikah

    Swirls of blue, like my habitual melancholy, lead me to the next door. It’s Mikah’s work. I’m a step behind again, as I have been these last two years. I remember his hair, too long, and the way his eyes cut through the world. How it frightened him. Blood and want.

    Someone had spattered bubble letters, crude and common, over his art. Needless. What lay beneath might’ve been the galaxy, once.

    I lay my hand on the wall, but its cold, lacking the familiar tingle of his magic. I could push through, but he is long gone from this place.

  3. Krystyna Fedosejevs says:

    Merits of their Expression

    They persisted. I resisted. Their art form combined gibberish with color. Exterior walls and street recycling receptacles became spectacles.

    “Let’s see you draw,” they demanded.

    “It’s wrong to deface public property,” I replied.

    When a recycling truck rolled in, freedom of expression got a kick. The self-appointed artists were suspended and ordered to remove their work.

    Frustration of the truck driver as to not being able to do his pickup job landed at the principal’s office.

    My part in all this? I only watched. Not my fault I was asked by each of them for my expert artistic advice.

  4. Denise Benoist says:

    Runaway

    Cold morning air kept them from rolling down their car windows. The smell of Kathy’s homemade chocolate chip cookies distracted from the sight of dumpsters.
    “Are you sure he was here?” Bob asked.
    “Yes, I’m sure,” Kathy clapped back.
    “How much longer?”
    “As long as it takes.”
    “Shit.”
    “Well, if you had just accepted him for him.”
    “You weren’t perfect.”
    “I need to show him I love him.”
    “And I don’t love him?”
    “Not like a mother.”
    Their son appeared; opened a dumpster.
    Crack of gunfire.
    Kathy exited, splattered with blood, gun and cookies in hand. “I made you cookies.”

  5. SMC Mattos says:

    A Meeting

    The vibrant spray-paint colors on the wall and bins made it look like an art installation. “Do you know what I’m thinking?” he asked.

    “That ‘graffiti’ is Italian for graffiato, and was used in Ancient Rome; that spray-can graffiti started in New York City, and now we’ve come full circle here, in Salerno?

    “Uhhh…close. That we first met in that Bronx. The street-art exhibition.”

    “Ok, but then we got divorced so…I’d rather not.”

    “Well, then why did you agree to see me?”

    Sunlight left shifting mottled patterns on the bins as the wind gently blew through the rustling leaves.

  6. Matthew C says:

    In between the cracked lines, and the closed arms, the painted words, the crumbling concrete and the faded tattoos. In between, the clouds of smoke, the meaningless whispers, the meaningless kisses, and the meaningless tears in their jeans, they found meaning in the sky. They found meaning from sky. And the sky never left. The blue would turn deep red, then black, but the sky always left blue on our breaths. Others could not replace the void in their hearts. The kind of void that tugs at your heartstrings. The kind of void we fill, if only for a second.

  7. Dawn says:

    January 2020, 100 Word Story.

    It Was Dark Inside the Dumpster

    It Was Dark Inside the Dumpster.

    Outside, the sky hung white as a corpse.

    Human snakes slithered beneath the wall.

    His folks, they´d used him in a game.

    Animal, Vegetable or Mineral.

    Then one day, she´d said: “He creeps me out.”

    The little fella abandoned on a makeshift bed among coffee grounds and food scraps.

    At 6 am, Elvis Gonzalez backed up the bin wagon.

    Ready to face the day, Corporation overalls, bullet-proof vest and hygiene mask.

    He lifted the green lid. He saw the little man´s rosy cheeks, blue tunic, white beard and boots.

    Happiness pulsed through his veins.

  8. I can’t remember when I started collecting cans and bottles. Twenty years ago, maybe? Yeah, that’s a while. You get good at it. Find your rhythm; develop eyes in the back of your head. By now, I can tell by sound: five cents, twenty cents. I spend my mornings at the library, working my way through the encyclopedia (I’m up to F…it’s an ambitious project, I admit) or reading the paper. The librarians never hassle me, though I know I don’t smell like roses. Probably smell more like a possum, truth be told. Night’s when I do my best work.

  9. Marina says:

    “The End of Humanity’s Hopes”

    The weather was bright the day I brought the invention that could cure all human woes, including war, cancer, and famine, to an obscure alleyway and left it in a dumpster. The dumpsters were a trio, like the cups in a magician’s trick, with a spray-painted glyph of a spell above them safeguarding the location; in tandem, they ensured its disappearance. I placed the panacea amid rotting Chinese takeout and ripped contractor bags and closed the dumpster lid. I was glad the sun shone on the end of humanity’s hopes. I might have changed my mind had it been raining.

  10. Lisa Hewitt says:

    Her eyes scoured the wall. Anando had started here, painting his interpretation of the neighborhood, honing his craft. He’d gotten so good, the outside had noticed. White folks driving down from the heights, admiring the raw newness of it all. The inside noticed, too, and threats followed. He’d disappeared a week ago on the way to his first exhibition. If Anando were alive, he’d find a way to show her. So she’d gone to every wall he’d ever worked. This alley, the last. Her eyes darted from line to familiar line, tears blurring old art into a completely new work.

  11. My husband left me 12 days ago. We weren’t getting along. Irreconcilable differences.

    Since then, I’ve been doing the same one-mile loop over and over: Up my street, past the compact post-war ranchers, right turn toward the sports field, the main road, the warehouse. I stop only to chain smoke by the dumpsters behind the warehouse. It feels a little dangerous, the big graffiti letters a warning, like some suburban punk might jump out of nowhere and mug me at gunpoint. I don’t care. It feels good to smoke here, the fruity, overripe smell of rotting trash intermingling with smoke.

  12. Lisa Miller says:

    Dumpster Diving for Cash

    PMS spray-painted in red catches my eye on a wall of street art behind graffitied dumpsters. Rats are running around. A black crow with blue paint spattered on it pulls at a pink knitted scarf hiding in a pile of trash. One garbage bin has two fancy brown chairs inside, good condition, sitting cozily together with gorgeous antique wool blankets. As if only hours before, two people who once loved each other sat in them.
    A one-in-a-million shot, I’ll find my precious diamond engagement ring here. Dumpster dive, noon, the scribbled words taunt me from inside the opened trash bin.

  13. Roseanne Boyle says:

    Different Drum

    “Jake, what’d that say?”
    “What say?”
    “On that building.”
    “I’m not sure. Looked like ‘SELFISH’. Seems appropriate, since the defamers sully the environment at others’ expense.”
    “Really! I saw ‘SELFLESS’.” commented Bonnie, “Those pitiful souls haven’t a sense of self. Marking public places gives them an identity. Want to backtrack, see who’s right?” Jake answered with a quick u-turn.
    “Look,” he said as they passed the enormous letters displaying
    ’S!FLS’. “We’re both wrong, It’s just gibberish.”
    Jake, sometimes you don’t see the forest for the trees.”
    “True, but darlin’, occasionally you don’t even see the trees.”

  14. Patrick G says:

    Everyone Tags the Wall

    “Pollo” they sang out, first as a taunt, then as a nickname and where he’s from nicknames stick. El pobre pollito – doesn’t have the courage.

    A swampy brush and red crusted tin materialized – se valiente! But dumpster lids are quick-sand, and in the rush he shorted the curl of the “D”. Diego Morales Santos – immortalized as “PMS”. Aaron, who lives at the base, explained it to the other animals.

    El Ciclo in earshot of adults. Tia Flo within the group. The raucousness in English, when Miss Annie erased his chalk question mark, demanding from him a period.

  15. Madti Morello says:

    Everyone talks of the attractive girl who was left alone to get killed. But no one talks of the boy. The boy with glasses, who played games with his friends. He was living his own life. No one heard the crashing of trash outside the grounds of the school or the yelps of fear. No one mentions the laughter, the mockery emanating from the girls.No one talks about the small knife in the girl’s hand. No one talks about the freshly painted wall. All they notice is new red graffiti. It’s only the attractive girl alone waiting to die.

  16. Eileen Tomarchio says:

    First our knuckles splintered, then our tongues froze. Dysgraphia. Ankyloglossia. Aphasia.

    Words left us so soon, uncontained, made living. Dragonflies, half-winged and helpless. Dragonflies from our cupped hands, spattering on pavement and wall into component rainbows. Bits of wing left whole in places, their stained glass clarity turned into hard, blaring rune. Indecipherable.

    Colonies have adapted, swarming where their prey liked to gorge themselves—the receptacles into which we toss the fingers we chop off and tongues we cut out because they only remind us of what we’ve lost.

    We are their sustenance now. In their hobbled flight, they contain us.

  17. Josh Cruz says:

    Bodies make headlines, but like a child left in the cold, the stories aren’t covered. We know the story. Dumpster graffiti is its modern telling— a story told by everyone, even the reader. It’s a fairly predictable story— We all know the ending. The British. The Mongols. The Aztecs. Babylon. Rome.
    The climax will arrive. Slowly. It’ll come closer as the paint layers on and on and on and on— until the wall is pregnant with paint. Its child a story to poverty and violence. Of names. Of ideas. Of people and history. Just another telling of the same story.

  18. Eileen Brennan McIntyre says:

    E Vietato

    None of us ask Paul if he wants change, yet his world is ours. He counts on one thing, a concrete pillow where he lays his head at night after all the rowdy drunks stumble out the bar room door. Feeling their kicks, he watches them weave on. We’re privy.

    Paul’s address remains unlisted–an unmarked alley dotted with puke green dumpsters. His safe space between dumpster 1 and 2, a little too tight if you ask me. The garbage reeks.

    In desperation, I paint. A palette of vibrant colors; fisted protest laid down.

    Unpredictable Paul stirs. Soon I’ll disappear.

  19. Al Faraone says:

    *Missing*

    She was reported missing. The next-door neighbor heard a commotion. About ten. A spray of blood on the doorframe. A bright green discarded slipper. A search of the dumpsters yielded her sketchbook. Nothing but delicate Prismacolor drawings of the dumpsters themselves. Dozens of them. Each one distinctive. On the last page was a one-hundred-word story if you could call it a story. It began: “Art shouldn’t reside in museums or on wealthy people’s walls. Art should reside in graffitied dumpsters for anyone to find.” It ended: “If you read this I am going for a walk. I won’t be long.”

  20. Jim Byrnes says:

    Dumpster Dichotomy

    “Omne trium perfectum.” I’m not certain that this rule of three applies to dumpsters but I suppose it all depends on what one sees when looking at the three of them side by side. I ask myself if all that paint constitutes a form of vandalism or artistic expression? Standing here pondering the scene,I see both. I must say that I kind of like the way they all look when I consider the time it took to create them. Oh well, be that as it may, it’s time to gather my paint and move on to the next one.

  21. Lisa Strong says:

    Sound and Meaning
    Slouching into the alley behind the school, I nearly smacked into the semicircle of classmates discussing the wall in hushed tones of reverence. Between uniform grey hoodies, the riot of my spray-paint peeped out, like mad spring foliage.
    “Even the garbage cans are tagged,” Freddy snorted.
    “It’s awesome,” Anglia said. “Like the bricks shouting to be heard.”
    I wondered later why I didn’t own up, just slipped away. In truth, I wanted nothing to ruin it. Not Freddy’s cruel impressions, not laughter. That memory; glorious vibration for days when words failed to claw out the closed aperture of my throat.

  22. Dave’s happy here. Doesn’t like to brag but he knows this town like he built the thing. It fits him like Mr Rogers’ cardigan. Folks he once knew have mostly moved away. Got jobs and stuff, he doesn’t know. Sometimes he sees their pictures in the Metro speaking into a microphone or advertising soap or doing a perp walk. ‘Whatever,’ he thinks. He’d rather just stroll down a quiet alley to read the walls and lose himself in the colours. To Dave it’s all of humanity, positive and negative space. Often, he thinks, it’s what you don’t see that matters.

  23. Megan Goss says:

    They Thought I Didn’t Understand Love

    Legs, intertwined, read the last line of the poem.
    “This doesn’t sound realistic,” I said. “Even drunk, it doesn’t seem possible to fall asleep next to a dumpster.”
    The other students shuffled papers, opened journals, busied themselves by unwrapping echinacea drops and opening thermoses of immune therapy tea because it was cold season. Also they were embarrassed for me.
    I said, “Okay, okay, but in lightly falling rain?”
    The author of the poem and the poetry teacher exchanged wry looks, and I imagined the two of them fucking on a urine soaked couch.
    I said, “But wouldn’t it be cold?”

  24. Tamara Stanley says:

    The Scene

    We found Reina in a sunlit, graffitied dumpster that she would have liked. She would have admired the vibrant colors and commented on the history of street art dating all the way back to cave drawings. She would have traced the smooth curves of the letters in the air with her finger. She would have recounted, with a grin, our childhood belief that spray paint cans rattle because each one contains a gold nugget. She would have appreciated the scene, but I could not see past the coffee grounds in her hair, the Chinese food takeout box at her feet.

  25. Natalie Wu says:

    The Minimalist Revolution

    My friend lent me a book recently, Japanese author- reckons a good clear out is the path to true happiness. My Stanley would have approved, he never could bear clutter. I’ve lost count of the treasured trinkets that mysteriously disappeared from my shelves over the years!

    I close my eyes and hold him in my hands. Do you spark joy? I ask myself. No, not one iota. Ah well, c’est la vie! I toss his urn into the graffiti splattered dumpster. With any luck there’ll be some of those hated trinkets still lurking in there- his very own special hell.

  26. Rekha Athreya says:

    I take what you dump.
    Sometimes daily or every other day or sometimes once a week.
    There’s a rhythm to your faces and your expressions.
    From disgust to mindful, callous to careful – I see it all.
    Remember I hold the key!
    A million years from now when you no longer exist,
    They will come rummaging through me to learn more about YOU!
    Oh, the tales I will tell of how you lived!
    What you scrapped and how you devoured.
    On my day to testify – oh, the tales I will tell!

  27. Amani Hope says:

    Worm the Wonder Kid he preferred, but we just called him Worm. He glowed in the dark. He was Jazz and pink and chuckles. Worm had five hearts, one for each of us, but all of them broke in secret. When his last heart died he forgot about us, and our love – so he threw himself away.

    We found him discarded with a note: “No surgeon could fix a brokenhearted worm.”

    Next winter we lost more, but the sun still sparkled on them.
    “They still glow,” I say to who’s left. “All of those junked who had too many hearts.”

  28. Matt Weatherbee says:

    The Monty Hall Problem

    You’re in an alley with three dumpsters to choose from. In one dumpster you’ll find dinner. In the others, useless rubbish. You pick dumpster No. 1 and your big sister, who knows what’s in the dumpsters, digs through dumpster No. 3, which has nothing fresh enough to eat. She then asks you if you want to pick dumpster No. 2. You don’t have enough time to dig through both dumpsters before the restaurant opens, before people leave their apartments and enter the alley, before you’re seen. You look at the graffiti and wonder if you should pick the other dumpster.

  29. Cindy says:

    I maneuver my loaded truck through the bike lanes and pedestrians. Precarious downtown driving, in the downtown of another city. If picking up people’s garbage isn’t grand, finding pet shit and diapers in the organics is baffling. No plastic used to keep the hazards from spilling onto common ground. I read a note saying, “I know it’s gross but it’s your job”. I look up at the apartment windows wondering what mind creates this. Next stop, someone has taken the time to decorate the overloaded waste bins. I’m doing it wrong. Talent is leaving the trash and making it artful.

  30. When the Wild Returns to Us

    Melanie! Melanie!

    The dark falls clumsily among the dumpsters. Forgotten scraps of humanity already closing in on their scent. They will share their haul with the cocksure wild animals, nocturnal concrete scavengers.

    What’s gone is gone. Gobbled up, swallowed. Existing no more, not in daylight. But still wafting in shadows, in crevices in the concrete.

    A name on a flyer, pushed in hurried hands.

    Melanie! The sound stalls. Dissolves among the detritus of a demolition site on a corner. The outline of her bleeds into the dusk, soon to exist only ponderously. The yellow eyes of a fox blink wild.

  31. Ken Gosse says:

    What’s Hidden Beneath ~
    Graffiti, Graffiti, on the wall,
    do you bring beauty or only gall,
    a gnarl which wounds the oak so tall—
    or is there an acorn which will fall
    and spread your life across our land,
    a rare result from someone’s hand
    whose fortitude’s fortuitous
    should it bear results fruituitious:
    a beauty hidden in the seed
    that’s fed where hope and freedom bleed
    on canvases of brick and refuse
    where each image seeks to unloose
    its restraints in the social hell
    each artist seem to know so well.

    We often don’t look deep enough
    to see what’s hidden in your stuff.

  32. Dan Alexander says:

    The Drummer

    Okay here we go again hello ladies and gents I have a very important announcement to make I am standing on top of a dumpster in the middle of New York City because I have nothing better to do with my life I have nothing nothing nothing better I have bills and I have worries but we all have worries and bills and why can’t I just stay silent and grin at the bright cerulean sky above me for once in my life without worrying and paying bills or is that just too much to ask for from a person.

  33. Heidi Ball says:

    They watched as others flew by. Thirsty skeletons with their wings pulled and taught.
    Tricked by spiders’ trappings and the exhaustion of thousands of miles. They had flown straight, they had flown true and they had flown too low.
    Balanced between the sky and the ground, and never to touch the other. They wasted breath and time searching for a warm updraft to soar again.
    Slowly chilled in open wingspan, no let-up, no neatly folded sigh. Their white feathers exposed to the unrelenting weather. They looked up but couldn’t fly.
    In one respect they were happy, in capture, uncomfortably together.

    • Lance says:

      The names Sam, Florence, Luke, and Sue were graffitied behind the school building. These were the Grayson foster kids. Their locker belongings were also thrown away in the dumpsters. The culprits laughed in the back of the crowd. Principal Oneill dropped his cup of coffee when he saw what had been done. He brought the Grayson kids over to his office. Luke started crying. Sam the eldest held his hand and said it will be okay. Mr. Oneill had a look of anger on his face but was calm.
      “Who did this?” Principal asked.
      They all stared at the floor.

    • Violetta Efimova says:

      It was a kind of summer morning that doesn’t stand out from other ones. I took the same route to work as always keeping looking at my watch – I was going to be late.
      Suddenly an unusual scene caught my eye – somebody graffitied the wall of a little bakery (owned by a nice old lady that always leaves the best cookies for me) and garbage cans nearby. I stopped there in thought.
      The world we live in has never suffered as much as nowadays – the idea that suddenly came to my mind. And there’s only one reason for it – people.

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