Day 170 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about the moment everything is on the line,
Shannon: I always liked how in the last few innings of a softball game everything could change. I imagine most players like to gain a strong lead and coast through the rest of the game, but I like the uncertainty. I live for the fear that raises the hairs on the back of my neck and reminds me in an instant the game could spiral in either direction.
The ones with the lead lose a little confidence in their abilities, and the ones behind gain some hope. Somehow both teams are even in that moment, and I like the pressure that comes with leveling the playing field. You can be a hero with one amazing play, and one mistake can make it feel like the loss is solely on your shoulders. It’s terrifying, but it’s worth it.
Erin: “Pull it up son,” I instructed as my boy’s face became increasingly red.
“I can’t,” he winced giving a pathetic effort of cranking up his line.
“Yes, you can, I’m not helping.” I started to walk away and sat at the end of the dock with my arms crossed.
A tear formed in his eye, but then went away as he started grunting and pulling up. The line became increasingly strained. I watched on my heart starting to race. “Ugh,” he let out an even louder grunt as the water started to show movement where the line entered the surface.
“There you go buddy,” I encouraged as I saw some gray scales breach the surface. A fish the size of his body peaked out and he was just nearly yanked in with when the fish retaliated back down into the water.
“I told you I couldn’t,” he reiterated as I stepped in and gave the line the last yank it needed.
“But you didn’t give up kiddo and that is the kind of integrity I like to see in a man,” I ruffled his little curls.
What’s on the line for your character?
It didn’t affect me as much as everyone else, the spell or whatever the White Rose Society did, I mean. While the other students were catatonic, I felt perfectly fine and faked the same ailment they were stricken with, right down to ignoring anyone who might speak directly to me as though their words didn’t scare the hell out of me. From what I could gather, based on Mira’s visits and letting slip facts that no one else would remember, I figured the drinks they were handing out were laced with a potion that forced the drinker to do whatever Mira told them to. This extended through texts and phone calls, and was powerful enough to lead to deaths if she were to give the order; in one instance, so far, a member had nearly been suffocated because he couldn’t call off a strangling vine.
Though I could feel my blood pressure rising whenever any members came near me, in particular Brennan who seemed to have been set to guarding me, no one had yet noticed I wasn’t completely affected by their spell. Brennan showed up at my door every morning to escort me to classes, at the end of each class to bring me to the next, and was determined to follow me to lunch. Once or twice I snuck past him, but was immediately brought to my knees by massive thunderstorms that no amount of magick jewelry and soothing exercises could calm. After the second time he must’ve talked to Mira, because she ordered me to stick with him and ruined my chances at getting away from him.
Now, I knew what you’re thinking; that everyone who was affected had those horrible, yellow irises to show for it. Well, I guess part of the spell had worked, because I had the same sickly-coloured eyes as they did, which certainly worked in my favour. So, I just had to pretend that I was sick and was compelled to do whatever Mira told me, and I’d be fine. To clarify why I didn’t go to the dean or another staff member, because that’s likely crossed your mind as the most obvious solution to this problem; the dean was apparently one of the highest members of the order and we were just in the student division, so weren’t privy to any proof of that fact.
That’s why I was currently meditating on my bed, the covers pulled tight and my schoolbooks standing open on the desk, even though I had three classes that had papers to be completed this week. I was absolutely terrified about the whole situation, and the weather wasn’t helping. Because I wasn’t allowed to leave my room without my personal escort, I was stuck doing homework with my heart pounding in my throat until his return. There was supposedly some important series of tests between a few of our more powerful members that Brennan was supervising, but I couldn’t risk his being entirely consumed with his duties to leave.
After an hour of beginning research on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics without understanding a word on the pages, I’d given up in order to contemplate the dire situation within the magickal community at this university. What I really wanted to know was why I was the only unaffected member, and whether that was going to cause more problems than it was worth; to figure that out, though, I was going to need to leave this room and get in touch with a group of students with abilities who were the White Rose’s enemies. Mira had let slip that a couple of the rival group’s members were attempting to track them down, and I figured if I could get to them, they’d give me some answers. Chances were good that this other group wasn’t drugging their members, but you never know.
Shivering at the thought, I thought I heard Jessica stomping down the hall in her expensive heels, and abandoned any effort of relaxation. I scrambled back to my desk and was attempting to look fascinated in the pictographs, sketching a few rows haphazardly, seeing as she wouldn’t know what they meant anyway. But, to my surprise, the owner of the footfalls knocked lightly on the door, instead of letting themselves in. After a minute of calm breathing and scratching out of more symbols on the page, a voice called through the door.
“Hey, Audra? I know you’re in there; I just need to borrow something of Jess’s,” Diane, Jessica’s twin sister, sounded distracted as she continued to wrap on the door. While I didn’t want to do anything helpful for the twins, I couldn’t stand her nasal voice whining or the incessant knocking, so I stood stiffly and swung the door open. “Great,” she greeted me and shoved past, scanning her sister’s side of the room hungrily. After a minute of picking up random junk, she turned and glared at me, asking in a hushed voice, “Do you know where she left her indigo lipstick? There’s this tall, handsome guy with eyes like, like, uh,” snapping her fingers and rolling her eyes with concentration, she almost shouted, “like clouds!” as she plucked the word from an unseen list in the air.
Scoffing lightly, I went back to my desk anxiously, “No idea, Diane, but I don’t condone you rifling through her shit, so I hope you asked first.” When she snorted, I pretended to be busy with my schoolwork to avoid her continued interest in me; out of the two, she was more nosy and less, just slightly, self-interested than Jessica was.
When she found it, she twirled a few times in front of the mirror, applying the rouge in a thick coat before throwing it into the drawer with the rest. Satisfied with her work, she left without another word and I was alone again in the eerily-silent room with my thoughts. Mayhem followed the two of them wherever they went but, with any luck, it was Brennan she was attempting to impress; I knew him well enough by now that he wouldn’t like Diane. I just hoped he’d create a cute little cloud over her head when it was damp enough to rain.
Brennan texted me a couple hours later, he didn’t usually before he’d pick me up around class schedules, to allow me time to get dressed for a meeting. Leaving me half an hour to make myself presentable, he didn’t mention Diane, so I assumed the worst to make myself feel better with the image of her standing beneath a dark raincloud, shivering and soaking wet. Clearly life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, with a silly idea like that sparking a joy that spread like a wildfire within me. When a heavy-handed knock came on the door a couple minutes later, I was still grinning about the twin’s possible misfortune.
Frowning slightly at the door, and wishing Brennan wasn’t compulsively early, I threw on the first shirt I saw and flew across the room to open the door. I mumbled under my breath, “Sorry, I wasn’t ex-” but I stuttered and cut myself off at the woman standing radiantly in the hall. “Uh, uhm, hi there. I wasn’t expecting, uh,” I muttered, smiling awkwardly at the stranger as she giggled lightly.
“Oh, I’m really sorry I haven’t introduced myself yet; I’m Elsa. I’m one of the returnees to the university who signed up to help freshmen, like yourself, adjust to the strangeness of university life. May I come in? I promise it’ll just take a minute of your time,” she explained, the smile genuinely set in her bright eyes. I nodded stiffly, stepping aside to allow her entry before shutting the door and locking it. When I stood uncomfortably by the door, she sighed deeply and looked down at the clipboard clutched in her hand. “Audra, I understand that you have an ability that your classmates don’t share,” she breathed, staring rigidly at me to avoid my glancing away.
Chuckling clumsily, I shifted my weight from foot to foot, staring at the stained carpet, and spoke tensely, “Uh, I don’t know what you’re referring to, but I have a very important meeting that I can’t be late to. So, if that’s all you wanted to do, accuse me of being some kind of freak or something, I’d really appreciate you just-” I’d made the mistake, at long last, of looking up at her again and stopped mid-sentence.
“I understand that you are a part of the White Rose Society.” Her plain statement hung in the still air between us like a horrible truth that refused to be ignored. Taking a breath, she continued in monotone, “Look, I see that there is a meeting soon; there was a communication error with one of your members where one of mine got into their head and read the messages. Anyway, I’ll keep this brief. You haven’t shown the full-blown conditions of the spell that the others are under so we have come to you for help.” With a dramatic pause, she pulled a letter out from under her papers and rose from Diane’s bed. “When the year began we planned to get a hold of one of their members, but with this potion you all took we haven’t dared go ahead. At this point, we need someone who has been pretending to be under their spell, but who can be a spy for us. This letter,” she thrust it into my sweaty hands as she spoke, “will tell you when and where we meet. If anyone asks, I was asking if you wanted to join an of our many school clubs; you didn’t. We hope you will at least consider this position.” Without another word, she left the room, shutting the door behind herself and bolting it from the outside.
It took me a few long, still minutes to come back to reality. Staring down at the letter clutched so hard in my fingers it was creasing in places, I almost broke down; this was exactly what I’d been hoping for, what I’d been working towards lying to Mira about the spell not working. This was my moment to make a big move, and I needed to think of something that would be worth risking my cover.
We were already standing before the entrance to the White Rose Society’s headquarters when I finally decided on my play. Beside me, Brennan was struggling to keep the clouds away from us, without paying any attention to my quivering hands. While I was attempting to mimic his stiff movements, I kept mis-stepping and stumbling forward, but none of the others appeared to notice. My mind was completely concerned with forming the dangerous plan, so I didn’t notice when we made it to the bottom of the stairs and I almost walked into the girl in front of me. When she turned, yellow fire in her eyes, I put my hands up in a defensive position and was determined to not lift my gaze from my shoes for the remainder of the night.
Mira was twenty minutes late, but no one made a sound or shifted from their at-attention positions for the entire time, while I studiously ignored a terrible itch on the end of my nose. Thinking through the plan over and over in my head, by the time she finally showed up, Daniel, who was her second-in-command or something, in tow, I was prepared to make my speech. When she stood leaning against the top-floor railing like a supervillain, I resisted the strong urge to shout at her for every single person whose mind she controlled; it was a horrible thing to do to innocent students.
“Welcome to the party everyone. We figured it had been long enough for anyone who was paying us attention to have forgotten about your strange behaviour. See, we have to begin our major plans at some point, and today is the day. First order of business is testing a theory we’ve been creating lately, eh, Danny-boy?” she spat at the man to her right who appeared to resent the use of that nickname. He just nodded in a surly manner with his gaze falling across the yellow-eyed faces before him with benign interest. “Step forward onto the stage, Brennan, Audra and Lynn. Now,” she added, even though we’d all started to carve our way to the front, everyone between us shifting out of our path without looking up, as though they were of one hive mind. Clapping, she skipped down the steps in her black lace dress and announced in a thundering voice, “We’re going to see if Lynn can make Brennan’s cloud snow. Audra is going to be our tester, as she can feel her emotions changing with the weather.” There was far too much joy coming off Mira at the thought of me breaking down in front of everyone.
But a deep, bored voice came from behind me, the owner having followed Mira down the steps, “Look, none of them can understand or remember what you’re saying. There is no point to this demonstration other than you wanting an audience. This poor girl’s mind is going to be going insane if you follow through with this,” he stated in an insolent tone, lifting my hair and staring into my eyes as I struggled to not move a muscle.
“Actually, if we did anything right now, she’d be just fine; just like anyone here.” Mira replied, a malicious sneer spreading across her blood red lips as I realised she was referring to my mood bracelet. Terrified, I couldn’t help my heart beating out of my chest with her next words. “Danny, do me a favour and remove her bracelet. Oh, and then come stand beside me; maybe put it into your pocket so she can’t see it,” she called as she fiddled with the stereo system idly. Doing as she said, though with a roll of his eyes, Dan took my bracelet and moved to join her at the bar. He turned the metal over in his fingers, eyeing the unevenness and running his thumb over the stone embedded in it.
“Alright, Mira, now what? I do actually have other stuff to do.” Pocketing my bracelet, he leaned against the stylish bar top, glancing at the fully-stocked shelves behind her.
As the speakers sparked to life, Mira hopped lightly onto the bar and, putting her hand on Dan’s shoulder, dropped back onto the floor in a swift, show-off-y kind of move. “Great, so, Audra dear, you can wake up now, but don’t move your feet,” she whispered to me, allowing me to breath and look around worriedly, attempting to look as confused as I could. The wicked grin was back as she shouted over the deep bass blasting at my comrades, “Brennan, a little cloud. And, Lynn, make it snow.”
Because I was already shivering with anticipation and dread, Lynn turning the room to a tundra didn’t affect me that way, but when the snow began to drift gently to the wooden floors, I felt a pang of deep depression and sadness take hold. I was no longer aware if I was standing or quivering or even alive; every cell in my body was numb to the real world and I felt froze from the soul out. It took Mira a few minutes to realize it was affecting me at all, because I wasn’t moving at all.
“That’s it. Stop it,” she murmured, crossing the floor to hold my shoulders. As the clouds dissipated and I came back into myself, she held my gaze with her own concerned, black eyes. “Sorry, didn’t know that was going to happen. Alright, everyone is dismissed,” she stated with a wave at everyone, but I didn’t move.
Fighting the automatic thought to leave with the others, I called out to her, “Mira, I had an idea.” With the din created by the marching army, I wasn’t sure if Mira or Dan had heard me until she replied in a suspicious tone as though no one had ever had an idea in the time she’d been leading this group.
She tilted her head and squinted her eyes as she stepped before me again and purred, “Oh really, you had an idea, did you?” Intrigue was clear in her expressive features, but behind her Dan was leaning over for a bottle, clearly uninterested in the meeting. “Come and have a seat, then, she who had an idea,” she muttered as she headed behind the bar, stealing the bottle from Dan’s hand, “Now. And, Daniel, you don’t need to drink to have fun,” she purred at the dean’s son.
As I carefully walked forward, itching to request I have my bracelet back but knowing full well that that would blow my cover, I pulled up a stool and rested my arms on the cold stone surface. For a minute the only sounds were the dance music blaring from the corners of the room and Mira pouring a few drinks as she hummed along. Dan was glaring at her, clearly wishing for an adult beverage, but realizing he wasn’t in charge of the angelic-looking woman before us. Some sort of carbonated beverage was being poured over ice with tiny umbrellas as Mira clattered about.
She passed one glass to each of us before she leaned against the bar herself and sipped at her own cup with a superior look in her dark eyes. “Alright, let’s hear this idea. We’ll see if I like it.” That was a threat, proud and serious as they came, and it set my heart into overdrive again.
“Well, uh, I, I uh, heard about this, uhm, this other, like, other group,” I stuttered under her stern gaze, “this, group, I can’t remember the name, though, but I thought we should, well, one of us should, uh-” Cutting myself off, I took a deep breath as I stared into my soda, before trying again, “I thought someone should, uh, go there and, well, you know, be there to learn about them?” As I finished, slurping some liquid through my straw to absently, I half-expected to be killed on the spot.
A snort reached my pique ears, though, and I looked up to see Mira smiling widely at me with her eyes ablaze. “Oh, yes! You are a genius! We should infiltrate them! Oh, why hadn’t I thought of that before? Oh, Dan give the poor girl her bracelet back. Plans to be made, my man!” she bellowed animatedly over the music.
(Very late, and very long. …How does this happen?)
August scans the docks, looking for a ship headed to America. It’s hard to tell, honestly, but he keeps his ears open as he strolls slowly down the planks. He sees a small merchant ship coming up, with an American flag hanging by the gangplank; the Lily-Grander.
He walks closer, listening to a couple crew members. When he’s sure of their destination, he walks over, “Excuse me,” he says, “Is this boat headed for the United States?”
The two look at him. “Maybe. Why do you ask?”
“I’m… I’m looking for a safe passage to America,” August says, “I can’t pay you much, but-”
“Captain,” one says into a radio.
“There’s a boy here… with a dog, and he’s asking for a ride to America.”
“I’m American,” August states, “I’m just trying to get home. It’s.. It’s actually a long story.”
The sailor presses the radio button, “What’d you make of it, Captain?”
“I’ll come down.”
August is told to sit on some crates. He clenches his fists over his knees. He hasn’t found any other boats going to America that would seem friendly. He can’t trust anyone, but this is his best bet, unless he wants to travel to another city, which would take more time, energy, and money.
Things he doesn’t have.
The captain arrives. “What’s your name, boy?”
“August Evert,” he shakes hands with the captain, who has short black hair, a tan, and solid brown eyes.
“And you’re American,” the captain comments.
“New York,” August says.
“Is that dog troubling?”
“No, Mocha’s well behaved. Ex-military K9 unit.” Mocha hesitantly steps up to one of the sailors. He pats her head, then she goes back to August and sits.
“Well… How much you got?“ The captain asks. August fishes into his backpack, and brings out the currency he has, both euros and the coins he got from the more eastern country. He shows the captain, but the man shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Evert. That’s not enough. We’d need more food for another passenger, and this isn’t enough to cover it.”
“I don’t have to eat much,” August tries to bargain, “I’ll even help wherever you need me.”
The captain still shakes his head, “Son, I can’t take you. Find someone else.” The three turn away from August.
He stands up, “You’re the only ship leaving for America. I don’t care which state you land at, please let me board! I need to get to America! I need to go home!” August watches his pleas fall on deaf ears. He falls to his knees. “I need to see her again… I’ve been gone too long…”
The captain crouches down and puts a hand on August’s shoulder. The young man looks up. “Boy, listen to me. I would love to help you, but I don’t have the expenses. We’re talking about crossing the ocean, a week long trip. Without food, or water, you would not survive.” The captain stands, “You best save more money, and find another boat.”
August actually starts crying as the man walks away. He waits there as the group starts to check over everything. Mocha nudges August’s face. He stands up, “Let’s go, Mocha.” The pair leave the harbor. August finds a cheap diner and sits down outside after ordering something for himself. He rips a few pieces of meat off his drumsticks and feeds it to Mocha. She chews on it under the table.
“Perfect cargo, barely guarded…”
August hears a conversation from a few tables over. He chews a little slower to hear better.
“Did you delay them?” the second guy asks.
“Yeah. They won’t be able to leave until the evening. And by then we’ll have the boat and be out of the harbor, the whole crew left below deck.”
“Remember the name? I know what happened last time. What was the boat’s name?”
The two had been speaking in hushed tones, but the man still leaned over and whispered the boat name. August still heard him, ninja training making his senses acute. The boat is the Lily-Grander.
August and Mocha are waiting at the dock, just in the growing shadows. The Lily-Grander is across from them. He sees the two men talking before, ‘working’ on loading a different boat. There are a few they lock eyes with. Then one nods and they all start for the Lily-Grander’s gangplank. August then starts through the empty dock, using his wrist plate to go undetected.
He hears the demands of the pirates, and a gun goes off. He isn’t deterred. He becomes visible, flips over the last man, and sweeps his legs out. He then takes out the next two quickly. There are a few running, but Mocha chases after them. A few of the crew are on the scene, watching this shadow take out their would-be captors.
When the last man is the only one conscious, August hauls him up, holding his arms behind his back. The captain arrives, looking at August.
“Sir, these men were planning to take your ship. I heard and saw them earlier.”
The captain looks over the scene, then hears police sirens. An officer boards the ship, “We got a call a few hours ago about a potential piracy attempt by an… August Evert?”
“That’s me,“ August says. He shoves the man to the officer, “They’re all yours, sir.” Other officers arrive and cuff the men. When they are all led away, the captain comes up to August.
“Well, son, you did good. Thank you.”
“You need to thank me,” August says.
The crew cheers for him. One of the two who saw him before chimes, “Oh let him come with, Captain! He’s earned it, I think.”
“We don’t have the provisions.”
“…I could eat less,” a sailor states.
“Same here! …But only by a little.” Everyone laughs, but more sailors offer parts of their provisions so August can come with.
“What about the dog?” The Captain asks.
“I’ll clean up after her,” August assures, “and she’s not a pig. A total puppy with people that aren’t up to no good.”
The captain sighs. “This is mutiny,” he says with a smile on his face, “First Mate Jeff.”
“Yes sir,” Jeff states, stepping forward.
“Show Mr. Evert to his quarters.”
Everyone cheers again. “Yes Captain Wilson.” August holds out the wallet with his money, and the captain takes it. He orders one of the men to buy more provisions before the shops all close. August is taken below deck and is given a spare bunk. Mocha crawls into the other side. It’s cramped, but August couldn’t be happier.
He’s going home.