Day 76 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about a character getting an offer that involves a difficult choice.
Shannon: By next year your dog is going to be a star. He is exactly what we need for the TV show. That cute face is one of a kind, and to top it off he’s trained. He’s got the part.“ the casting director was ecstatic as she gave me the good news.
I couldn’t hold back my own excitement. “That’s great,” I started rubbing Oliver’s chest as he continued to pant heavily.
“Yes, your little star is going to make you a lot of money. I’ll have you talk with Rebecca to discuss the process for handing over your ownership rights, and some other legal agreements, so we can pay you,” she explained as she guided I woman carrying a few stack of booklets forward.
“Handing over ownership rights,” I questioned, certain it couldn’t possibly be what it sounded like. Oliver sat down as I took my hand away. It was like he sensed my concern too.
“You do want to sell your dog, don’t you? Didn’t you read the job expectations? This is a full-time gig.”
“Yeah, full-time on set, but can’t I have him during filming breaks and maybe after he’s done for the day?”
“It’s reality TV. It’s all or nothing. He would become their real dog. If you give him up you can never be seen with him again. That could ruin our creditability. Do really need time to think about this? We’re offering you a lot of money,” she was looking at me as if I was crazy.
I secretly wanted to give her the same face, because she was already starting out this “real” show by casting a fake pet, but instead I looked back at Oliver’s sweet face. “Can I sleep on it,” I rubbed the back of his neck.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Make your decision,” she turned stern.
I started thinking about how the money could change my life, but then some memories stated replaying in my head, and I realized Oliver already had. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give him up. You’ll have to find someone else.”
Erin: My whole life was leading up to the opportunity I was getting DataHouse. The only problem was I had to move to the other side of the world for my dream. I would do what I had to do for my dream if I knew I still had the same one. The only problem was Greg was in the picture now. Greg was home, Greg was in the US, and Greg was clouding my career goals. Greg may have been more important than all of the other things I had worked for. Except he couldn’t be, so I needed to cut my ties. I was never going to compromise for a guy, I didn’t know if that meant I couldn’t have a guy, just that it meant I could not have Greg.
Time for you to make your character’s difficult choice.
There it was, sitting peacefully on my doorstep and fluttering gently in the autumn breeze. After a few moments of deliberation, I’d made up my mind to ignore the linen letter and let my comrade pick it up. But there was something so innocent about the delicate parchment, as it waved to me invitingly, that I couldn’t resist. When I opened the door, the hinges shrieked like they were on fire and the hedges across the way rustled suspiciously. Sighing loudly, I crossed my arms, partly to shield my torso from the stiff gust of chilly wind, but mostly to protect my anxious soul from prying eyes.
Finally bucking up the courage to snatch the trembling envelope from under the welcome mat, I straightened quickly and shuddered in the cold that spread from my lungs. Instead of just marching back into the living room like I should have, I leaned against the metal doorframe and peered around at my normal neighbours’ ordinary houses and pristine yards. All along our street were buildings that looked exactly alike; a door in the center with two large windows on either side, a chimney puffing smoke on the left, two green hedges on either end of the house to obscure garbage cans and pumps, a carport to the right and a stark white mailbox at the end of the paved walkway. No one was allowed to change a single thing without everyone having a say.
But none of that ever mattered as long as the boring street provided the perfect cover for my husband, son and I. Even having monthly inspections was fine by me; it reminded everyone every month that we were just a normal family with normal jobs and normal lives. It didn’t matter to any of them that we had invisible locks on several cabinets in the laundry room since, as they said, “Everyone needs a few secrets to keep things interesting.” Little did they know just how many secrets we had.
They were the reason I found myself, clutching this letter as though it held the secret to life itself, unable to leave my doorstep; I couldn’t keep the secrets and horrors I’d witnessed to myself anymore. I wanted to take in the normalcy before I locked the door and had to deal with the demented world I actually live in. Secretly, I ached for the life of any of our neighbours.
Turning around, I closed the screen door, slammed the steel-framed door and drove the bolt home with more force than I’d meant. When the noises stopped echoing around in my brain, I marched into the living room and set the letter on the coffee table beside my now-cold coffee. As I slouched on the leather couch, the rigid fabric flexing irritably, I breathed in the stagnant air. Across the room, I could see the window reflected in a staged family photograph of John, Jake and I having a picnic in a park that didn’t exist. Hanging around it were pictures of family members we didn’t have at various events as well as a couple of John and I before Jake was born.
On the shelf to the right were trophies from soccer tournaments even though Jake never played soccer, drunken bowling matches that John wouldn’t have been caught dead at, and bake sales that wouldn’t have awarded my baking any prizes. An entirely fictitious life was plastered on every surface of our tiny house; reminding me every day that we could never have it for real.
By the time I turned my attention back to the letter, I needed to turn on some lights. While I was up, I made myself a cup of steaming tea and hunted up some stale scones; anything to avoid the note burning a hole in the modern coffee table. With all the lights turned on to brighten the house, I sat down again and gently picked up the heavy envelope.
Carefully slitting the seam, I pulled out the stained parchment and unfolded it, letting the envelope fall to the hardwood floor. Typed across the top was my real name, not the one I went by in my faux life, in blazing jet printing. The words struck me like an unexpected blow and I barely registered the meaning until the sentences, “We have your son. We’re willing to trade. Give up your location and we’ll return him to his real family safe. Fail to do so and we’ll kill the kid you were meant to be protecting.” Even though the signature wasn’t a known alias of anyone I’d crossed, I knew they meant business.
I knew this day would come; the day we would have to choose between dying for our previous lives and living for our double ones, but I hadn’t expected Jake to factor into our decision like this. Even if he wasn’t actually our son, we cared about him as though he was and I couldn’t stand to see him getting hurt. This stranger was offering us a choice between our son’s life and ours; we had to choose.
When I reached John at work, I was already in tears but he reassured me with his calm, steady voice. Throughout our criminal careers, I’d always been the emotional, intuitive one who blew into situations with weapons drawn and scenes made. But John was always the sturdy, well-reasoned rock I needed to keep me tethered to reality. Without him, I wouldn’t be here; I’d be in an unmarked grave in a foreign country with no one but myself to blame. So, when we talked it over in hushed tones, we both knew exactly what was going to happen, and were fine with it.
When the helicopter arrived, circling like a ferocious dragon, I already had my handgun out. As the first few sirens flashed through the closed, sheer curtains John had his shotgun lying on the coffee table and his crossbow at his shoulder. The house was riddled with bullets and smeared with blood by the time the sun rose on our peaceful, normal street.
Created to Write:
August lays on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Of all the times, this is one he needs to think. He makes a mental picture of what would change if he decided to do this.
“Okay, school,” August thinks aloud, “I need to find online classes, or a school near the farm. I can look that up.” He turns over and jots down a note on his notebook. “What else… Mom said I don’t have to worry about my job. Josh is still there and it’s not like she needs help. …Housing would be at the farm, as would food. I can practice outside. No doubt there is plenty of room. …I can ask Josh if I can borrow the truck…”
August writes down each thought before he forgets. Then he lays back down, staring at the ceiling.
“I can pack enough clothes, and do my own laundry. And… I guess I could figure the rest out once I get there.” He sighs, “But what about the team?”
“The team can wait.”
August looks up. Josh is standing at his door.
“You’re seriously considering this?” Josh asks, walking closer.
“…I mean, she needs someone, we both know that,” August defends, “but… I just don’t know if it’s me.”
“But you are thinking about it,” Josh points out.
“Yeah! Only because no one else is seeming to step up!” August lets his head fall back to the bed. “And I guess I could leave, but then I’d be AWOL if something happens.”
Josh looks down at the floor for a moment, then walks over to the bed. He sits down next to his brother. “Look. I can take a temporary position as team leader so you can go.”
August looks at Josh, his mouth hung open.
“She needs this and I’d go, but…” Josh sighs, “It needs to be you. Of the two of us, of all the team, it needs to be you.”
August is silent, “Are you sure you can do it? You’ve never liked making the difficult decisions.”
Josh grins at August, masking his nerves, “I can do it for you, Gus. Just go help Heather, I can take it from here.”
August is at a loss for words, “Umm… I still have some things to look up and get figured out. And I still need to call Heather’s grandparents about it.”
“I’ll help.” Josh takes the computer and starts looking up schooling options. August sighs, reaching for the phone.
August then stops, “We barely know Heather. Why are we helping her?”
Josh doesn’t look up at him, “Because she needs us.”
August carries his bag out of the house. He deposits it in the passenger seat and scoots over to the driver side. He looks at the house, then starts the truck and drives off. ‘What am I doing?’