If the weather permits, I take one walk (and sometimes two) on the days that I’m working in my office in downtown Birmingham. Most of these walks are non-events and nothing exciting happens. I get my exercise, and the rings on my smart watch close the gap toward completion.

But every now and then, something happens or I will see something, and a spark of writing inspiration ignites in my brain. A couple of weeks ago, I was walking along my normal route when I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. I stepped across a storm grate and saw a red light at the bottom. After my brain registered it, I paused and went back to see what it was. But I couldn’t really tell.

As quick as that, a story idea was born. I cut my walk short and hustled back to the office as the words burst into my head. I pounded out the beginnings of … something? Nothing? A short story? A novel? A tale that will reside within the Zauberi Chronicles universe? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Here is the makings of the (totally rough and unedited) story that I scratched out that day when a red light at the bottom of a grate became a source of inspiration.

Finding Inspiration in a Red Light

Red lights stared up at me from below the sidewalk grate. Normally, I walked around the grates, having read an article once — or was it a scene in a movie? It doesn’t matter — about the number of people who fall through grates each year. Admittedly, it was a small number when you consider the number of people who walk on sidewalks, but still, there was some chance it happening. An avoidable chance.

So most days, I sidestepped and went around or course corrected as I approached one. But not that day. I must have been feeling adventuresome — ha! The notion that walking across a slotted metal portion of the sidewalk constitutes adventure should tell you most everything you need to know about that state of my risk aversion.

Regardless, on this day, I walked across the sidewalk grate. I stared at the ground waiting for signs that it would buckled under me and I would fall to my death. I saw something I had not seen before. Could not have seen before because I didn’t have the right angle of view. Two red lights in the tunnel that ran under the sidewalk.

They were peculiar enough that when my feet hit the pavement again, I circled back and took another lap. This time, as I walked, the lights blinked. Not blinked in the way that a light flicks of and comes back on. The blinked the way something does when an eyelid closes over it and reopens.

I’m a rational person. More than that, I’m hyper-rational. So I talked myself into the most obvious solution. I had walked past something that had momentarily interrupted my view of lights, and my imagination had taken off at a sprint. I cut my walk short, returning to my office. Digging back into spreadsheets would allow me to revert back to normalcy.