I woke up that morning determined to undergo a journey but with no idea of my destination. While my wife of thirty years lay still asleep, with the first light of day barely breaking, I hastily put on my trousers, shirt, waistcoat, great-coat, gloves and hat, tore a crust from the stale loaf of bread in the pantry, pocketed a few coins from our secret store, eased the front door open and slipped out quietly, without a backward glance.
At first I proceeded tentatively, stumbling uncertainly. As the early morning fog began to disperse, however, I made my way through the frost-stippled streets with increasing urgency, as though I were late for an appointment, my eyes cast downwards. On and on I walked, heedless of direction. Gradually, I had the sensation of crossing a threshold into a new world, where everything was familiar and yet somehow dislocated. Still I ploughed on, wearily now, placing one foot in front of the other, until darkness descended. Finally, as I felt on the brink of collapse, I looked up to find myself – was it possible? – at the gate of my own home. Feeling dread and relief in equal measure, I prepared to enter when I glimpsed a figure in my drawing room, seated by the window. Peering in through the half-misted pane, I froze, for the man appeared to be none other than my long-dead father. I stood for some time – minutes, hours, days seemed to pass – staring stupidly at this revenant, before I noticed that the man was wearing my clothes, the very clothes in which I had set out on my journey. At the same instant, a momentous truth revealed itself to me. I turned my back on the man, on my house, and on my life.
‘Following an online discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, 'Wakefield', members of David Brauner’s family were set the challenge of writing a story inspired by Hawthorne's in 30 minutes’: