Day 75 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Your character does something that terrifies them.
Erin: “You better appreciate how much I love you.” My sister rolled her eyes as she sat down next to me at the head table.
“I think you’ll live,” she suggested adjusting her skirt to smooth it under the table.
“I just danced in front of a large group of people. Most of whom I don’t know. Now I am going to give a speech in front of nearly 500 people. Why did you have to invite so many people?”
“Because this is my wedding and this is who I wanted to have here,” she reminded.
“Fair enough,” I obliged. “You don’t even know half of them,” I grumbled under my breath. She chose to ignore me.
The rest of the time between the grand march and my speech was a blur. My entire body froze to stone. “Almost your turn,” my sister’s smile snapped me out of my trance. Then my heart started pulsating. Pressure seemed to be building and I was certain it was going to bust. Explode out of my chest and soak the families in the front row.
Once I had the mic in my hand. I felt like an outsider hoisting me up by placing my own arms under my own armpits and yanking. “I love this girl,” were the only words I could remember. But after I said those words my eyes filled with water and I couldn’t remember that public speaking made me feel like a thousand knives were stabbing me. All I could think about was how happy I was that she was happy, and that I wanted her to know that.
Shannon: I suffer from a phobia of thing that most people have probably feared at least once in their life, but when I hear them say they’re scared I know they’ll eventually get over it. I, on the other hand, don’t know if I’ll ever truly be past this one. I have a fear of rejection: the fear of people telling me no, and more importantly the fear that those people may actually be right.
I try to make myself believe that I won’t get my hopes up, but that’s not who I am. When I want something my mind freaks out on me, and starts dancing around the idea, nearly making it a fact, or at least something that’s bound to happen within time. Then it comes down to the moment of truth, and I can’t bear to feel that weight of the wrong outcome crashing down on me, so I keep it to myself. I act like I never wanted it in the first place. If I never put it out into the universe, never told a single soul, than no one would have to know I failed.
I put up this wall to protect my secret aspirations so that I’m the only one who can crush me, and boy have I done a good job of pressing down hard on myself. I’m so sick of trapping myself in a corner, and pretending that I don’t want things when I do. That’s why I’m about to do something that scares the crap out of me.
I’m going to give away what I’ve been hiding for so long. The things I’ve never said out loud, but have always wanted to. I know it will take baby steps to get them all out, but I can’t keep them wrapped up anymore. I’m going to start with telling my parents that I want to be a writer, even if it never works out. They deserve to know my real dream, and to know that I actually have one, so they can understand I haven’t been completely disinterested in my future this whole time.
As the right moment arises I know blood will pump through my veins even faster, and my upper body will heat up. I just don’t know what they’ll say. And for the first time ever, it doesn’t matter.
Scare your character, maybe you’ll scare yourself with your own ideas.
I watched the woman, leaning against the alley wall with her bare leg bent and red-framed head leaning back, take a long drag on a fragment of a cigarette before stamping it out on the damp street. For a few moments she remained glued to the wall, until the steel door opened and a towering, burly man stepped out of the seedy bar. When he noticed the woman, she peeled herself from the wall seductively, getting lost behind the man’s enormous figure. Her leather-gloved hand inched its way over his shoulder slowly as she whispered something in his ear.
There was something nearly intimate about their exchange, so I turned away, whistling as I pretended to mind my own business. They weren’t good targets, anyway; she was too professional in her movements and he was too drunk to matter much. But when I turned on my heel, searching the other end of the alley for any possible marks, the rest of the scene was deserted. Shivering in the sudden chill, I glanced back at the odd couple and watched the woman gripping the man’s arm hungrily like a jaguar going in for the kill.
When they were nearly at the end of the lane there was a horrible static broadcast directly into my brain followed by a louder-than-expected voice, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Don’t just stand there, you idiot!” he shouted through the tiny implant below my ear, vibrating my eardrum and engraving the harsh tone of my co-conspirator into my mind. I could almost see his words flashing in the back of my head when I shut my eyes. But the angry voice returned, anger gone completely, without pity, “Go after them or no deal.”
Breathing out a cloud of warm air, I trudged forward on frozen legs, stepping from the shadows into a patch of fluorescent light. With the unforgiving glow of the bar’s sign shining down on me, I felt like a criminal in an interrogation room. I could already feel my pulse racing, eyes watering, sweat beading and breath catching. Nothing I did with my hands seemed to help my anxiety until I was out of the light, slithering back in the familiar, comforting shadows.
Just around the corner I spotted my target, half-carrying her own mark on she shoulder as he slurred and laughed drunkenly. There was a moment where I felt sorry for this man; she was going to take everything he’d ever owned and he would be left with absolutely nothing but his dignity in a puddle on the floor. When I stole behind them, being diligent in making certain I was still hidden, my heart began to race again. This was to be my first-ever solo mission, the last step to my training. But I didn’t think I could do it, as I watched her lie him down in a shallow alcove.
Carefully glancing around, the woman stooped and pried something from his pocket, holding it before her like a rancid fish. She tapped at it, splashing her silhouette on the wall behind her momentarily, before she began studiously punching in codes. After a few tries the phone must have unlocked and she typed away at something and held it to her face. In the brilliant light I saw the angular definition to her chin and the steadfast set to her jaw. When she began to speak hurriedly into the receiver, I couldn’t make out the words, but she sounded worried.
She listened intently to whoever was on the other end before hanging up and shoving the mobile into her purse and sighing loudly. Dropping to her knees before him, she lifted up his stained blazer and checked both pockets, finding something shiny that appeared to be a flask and a carton of cigarettes. When she put them both in her bag, I cocked my head to the side; I had no idea when she was doing.
After she’d taken everything she could, she straightened up, fixed the wrinkles in her tight leather dress and stepped away from the body with disgust. Rifling through the bag again, she pulled out a compact mirror, bright scarlet lipstick and a set of eye shadow; she began to apply a whole new set of makeup. From the tiny bag she also pulled out a set of lacy gloves and a spider web shawl. She became an entirely different person with just a few brushstrokes and a bit of fabric and was off fluttering down the street.
Just as the turned the corner, I raced out of a shadowy doorway and scrambled to the man’s aid. He just lay there as I wasted precious moments deciding whether to check his pulse or not; eventually leaning down to gently place my fingers at his neck. When the blood rushed against my digits heartily, I breathed out a sigh of relief. But I found, staring at this man who could have been dead; my heart was still racing to beat the band. There was something absolutely, heart-wrenchingly terrifying about going on your first mission with no one to back you up, that made my blood run cold.
I staggered back onto my boots and jogged down the street, around the corner and hid in the nearest shadow. Ahead of me, squatting beside a backdoor with drip-painted symbols instead of a name, was the fiery-haired woman. Her head was down and she picked nervously at her gloves. When I stepped from the shadow, she peered up at me, exposing her pale face to the warm light coming from a streetlamp. Ringing deeply around her eyes was a layer of black eye-liner and her bloody lipstick dribbled partway down her chin.
There was a shimmer of recognition behind her eyes as she slowly got to her feet, letting the long shawl fall down her back. I took a few tentative steps forward, wishing her to close remainder of the distance between us. But she froze half-way across the street, bathed in two-toned man-made illumination, and blinked rapidly. The crackling in my ear drowned out any movement I would have made, “Okay, you’ve got her attention. Now, do it.” His tone had changed to that of a desperate man as I stood glued to the spot.
When I snapped myself out of it and strode into the light, the woman stayed stiff and gave away no emotion. With my heart pounding in my throat, I lunged toward her, slicing through to her heart with a silver blade. But I quickly swung around, using her dead weight to spin us into a wall, and held her limp body in my arms. She slumped down to the cement ground, blood smearing along the stained bricks. Tears stinging my eyes, a horrible, maniacal laughter echoed in my head over and over for what seemed like hours.
I finally looked down at the bloody knife in my hand, splattered drops soaking into my skin and sleeve. After a moment, my mind returned and the terror was replaced with horror; this wasn’t my first kill, and certainly wouldn’t be my last, but you never get used to the cold, staring eyes of the murdered. Wiping the blade on my shirt, I slipped it back into my bag and crouched down to see what the woman had stolen. In her jacket pocket, though, I found a business card of hers.
Written in plain text were the words, “Robber for Hire.” Chuckling darkly, I flipped it over and nearly lost my lunch. In the same text was an explanation of her work, “Does your loved on have an addiction they need to stop, but no regular treatments are working? Well, you’ve come to the right gal. I’ll work with you to stage a robbery that, I guarantee, will help them kick the habit for good.” That was followed by her contact info and a going rate.
Swallowing at the lump growing in my throat, I breathed, “This woman wasn’t stealing, she was helping that man. He was addicted to alcohol and smoking.” My statement was met immediately with silence.
But he clicked the button and came back on in a hard voice, “Yeah, I know. But we can’t just kill the bad guys, can we? Time to come home, now.” When the static ceased, I stood up and leaned heavily against the wall, hot tears streaming down my cheeks; I’d been played. I committed a murder and the person who was dead had just been trying to help people.
Somewhere in the deep, dark city sirens wailed so I pulled my hood over my face and disappeared like a ghoul into the night.
Created to Write:
“Okay, Heather said she will try to go out with us,” Jacey tells the group.
“…Where are we going?”
“The movies?” Rick asks.
“No… something not confining,” Josh thinks.
“…What about the zoo?”
August freezes at Finn’s suggestion. He’s been quiet during the discussion because he didn’t really care where they went. He knows that Heather needs to get out, but the zoo is the last place he wants to go to.
“No, not the zoo,” he replies.
“Why not?” Jacey asks, “Heather loves animals, right? She lives on a farm, she said she has horses, and chickens, and cows. Why wouldn’t she like the zoo?”
August flicks his eyes to Josh briefly, seeing his brother’s understanding. “Heather probably won’t be able to handle the crowds. It will be loud and bright. She stays up in the tower for a reason, it’s quiet, private.”
“So, do you have a better idea?” Nikki asks.
August looks to Josh to help him. But Josh has a gentle concern etched in his features that sends the message, ‘no time like the present to face a fear.’
August hangs his head, shaking it.
“Okay. Then we’ll go to the zoo.”
“I’m not going with.”
“What? August, Heather needs us all for support. You can’t ditch because you didn’t like the vote.”
“I just… I don’t want to go to the zoo,” August fails.
“Why not?” Rick asks. Everyone looks at him. Finn looks at Josh for an explanation.
“Fine,” August says quickly before Josh can spill, “I’ll go with to the zoo.”
The group pays for their tickets and Josh wheels Heather through the gate. She has a couple blankets over her legs and a thick coat and hat on. There is a forecast for snow later, but for now, it’s just really chilly.
“Was today really the best time to go?” August asks from the back of the group, crossing his arms around his chest a little tighter.
“Support or complain, you can’t do both,” Nikki says, before walking to stand by Jacey and Rick. August takes a deep breath, then catches up with a few long strides.
“So, where to first?” Jacey asks, unfolding the map with practiced precision.
“Bears?” “Tigers? “Fish? “Penguins?” People pitch in, August’s flinch going unnoticed by most.
“The tropical bird exhibit?” Heather asks, her voice small.
The group stops talking and looks at Heather.
Josh beams, “Tropical birds it is.” He starts to push her down one branch in the paths, the rest following. August follows behind, looking at one of the signs, then suppressing a shudder and follows after the others.
Everyone slowly walks through the exhibit, reading about the different birds and watching them hop and fly from different branches. Jacey sits closest to Heather when they sit on benches to talk about different facts on each of the birds. Heather listens intently, amazed at Jacey’s knowledge.
“Jacey’s been here all the time,” Rick jokes as he overhears.
“That’s because I work here, Rick,” Jacey defends.
“I am meaning when you aren’t working,” he jokes.
“I also look up each of the animals. I have a different animal to study each week,” Jacey tells Heather proudly. “I have journals back home of my findings, and the sources to back them up.”
“Impressive,” Heather notes. August looks away from the colorful bird closest to him. Heather sounds interested, but still detached. And not once in the trek has she smiled.
“So, ready to finish this tropical expedition?” Josh asks.
“You’re all the ones walking, I’m ready whenever,” Heather says, disheartened at the first fact.
Nonetheless, Josh starts to push her wheelchair along the path slowly. Heather has ceased looking at the trees and birds around them.
When the group leaves the tropical birds area, they look at the map again. “Where to next, Heather?”
She shrugs slowly. So they agree on the aquatic area, which is nearby. She’s silent for a majority of the tanks, but starts to look around more when they reach the main tunnel. Sometimes, she speaks, pointing to a certain fish. Jacey would proceed to tell her some facts, but she tones down her excitement so not to overwhelm her friend.
They watch a seal show, then find some snacks at a stone tiled plaza. Heather is more active with the next decision and they head to the mammal section. They pass open fields with different animals in each. They stop at giraffes and elephants. Finn makes them pause while he quickly sketches a sleeping gorilla. They come to another intersection of paths, and look at the signs.
“Ooh! Let’s go to the tigers next,” Jacey says, almost reaching for the handles of Heather’s wheelchair.
Josh, caught up in the moment, starts for the trail that passes the tiger enclosure. On the way, they hear a wild cat in the distance roar.
“That’s a lion, and by the sound, she’s hungry,” Jacey informs the group.
The group is at the overlook, trying to find the tigers, when Rick realizes something, “Where’s August?”
Everyone else looks around for him, except Josh’s heart stops a moment.
“I’ll retrace our steps and see if I can’t find him. We’ll catch up.” He then goes off. He waits until he’s is out of their sight, then he sprints back to the spot that they decided to take the wild cat route. “August?” he asks.
He checks the signs. One points to the restrooms, so he goes that way. He looks around, finding where the toilets are. He walks into the men’s room.
“August? You in here?”
“No Augusts, sorry,” a random guy says from a stall.
Josh suppresses a sigh, “Thanks.” He leaves and looks for a family restroom. There is two, and one is locked. He knocks so August knows it is him, with two knocks then three rapid ones. There’s a moment, then August replies with the reverse of the knock, three knocks, then two slower ones.
The ‘occupied’ turns to ‘available’ after a few moments more. Josh opens the door and steps in. August has his eyes closed and his knees pulled up to his chest. One arm is crossed his chest and clutching his shoulder.
“August,” Josh says crouching next to his brother, “look at me.”
August shakes his head.
“It’s alright, okay? You’re safe.”
“I’m having a panic attack, I know I’m not back there,” August says, trying to breathe.
“What set it off?”
“I heard the lion. Jacey pointed it out.” August looks at his brother, “She said it was hungry.”
Josh sighs, “Do you want to go home? I’ll text the group and drive you back.”
August sits there for a moment, thinking. Then he shakes his head. “I’ll just wait at the other end of the enclosures, at the food court.”
“I’ll go with you,” Josh says. He offers August a hand. August takes it firmly. Josh pulls him to stand.
“About time I got over this,” August mutters to himself. They leave for the food court, Josh texting the group about where they will be.