Day 213 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about the obstacles a character faces on their journey.
Shannon: The obstacles aren’t physical. They are more like a minefield in my brain. I don’t know what will set them off, and I guess I’m afraid to tread forward knowing there is a chance of pain around every corner. I’m trying to be brave and trust that I can handle the setbacks, but right now it’s a slow crawl when I wish I could run.
Erin: Even in the dark I could find the bathroom with no struggle. Step out of bed and stay close to the frame to avoid the dresser. When I hit the end of the frame I have to lift my leg over my husband’s slippers, but not step too far and hit whatever pile of toys the kids were playing with that day. Outside of the bathroom is where we rested an umbrella and my husband work clothing would be waded by the door of the bathroom. Once I dodged those I would have light and access to my midnight pee.
What does your character have to overcome?
A light breeze drifted through the chipped windows, casting strange, streaked rays of grey light across my table that danced on the elegant maps. Yawning, I shivered when the frosty air touched my teeth and tickled the nape of my neck. There was something so eerie about the way light moved through the air along the breeze in this place; it was as though it was a bird drifting where it may. But, shifting in the uncomfortable, torn armchair, I ignored both the light and the breeze, choosing to focus on the calendar hanging from the paint-splattered wall across the room. On it, circled in blood red ink more times than I could count, was today’s date to remind me of its importance, lest I find myself without any memories or something catastrophic like that.
Stepping over the cans of brightly-hued paint and broken shards of canvases I loathed, I touched the scarred page with tentative, disbelieving fingertips. “Finally,” I murmured to the world, feeling completely devoid of emotion about the concept, though I wanted to feel the fires of rage to cleanse the dull palate I’d been working with for the past three years. Something in arriving at the day I had waited so long for, but feeling none of the strong emotions I had expected, made it a bittersweet moment.
I sifted through the mountain of dark, stained shirts and jeans in search of something to show how important a day this was, but couldn’t begin to feel elated. In all these years, I hadn’t once felt anger, but in the past year or so, my other sensations had begun to fade away until the only time I felt anything reminiscent of joy or hate was when I was painting. Even then, though, it was a shadow of it, dark, ghostly and uncontrollable as a whisper of wind. The caring part of me wouldn’t be roused, so I ended up throwing on a faded leather jacket that used to belong to a victim of mine, tying my hair back in a tight ponytail, and heading down the stairs.
On the second step, I had a sudden thought and turned back, twisting the knob on a panel in the streaked wall and stepping out onto the secret terrace I used to smoke on. In a basket off to the side was a pile of rotting cigarette butts that had melted together in the ever-damp air outside. The horizon was streaked with charcoal skyscrapers and smudged with dark grey clouds that obscured what little sunlight was available in their dull veil. Sighing, I strutted across the mossy wooden panels and rested my elbows on the short metal railing to think about everything that had happened. Thoughts of Jesse and betrayal swam into my mind, but there was no speck of anger attached to them; the real point of this punishment was chip away at your will to live and repaint all your memories in the dull obscurity of an emotionless life. I no longer felt the urge to destroy anyone for their transgressions, but I’d also lost the joy I felt doing things I used to love.
After a while, I realized standing up there admiring the cityscape in its watery boringness wasn’t helping me, so I headed back inside. Having not noticed it was pouring, I had to ring my hair out as I took the steps down two at a time, arriving in the middle of Betty’s bar in time to see the mid-morning crowd starting to trickle in. People with nothing better to do than drink their minds away, waiting for someone like me to put them out of their misery, sat here every day of the year. I had always pitied those without the will to live or the courage to die, but I felt nothing for them today.
As Betty caught my eye, ushering me over with a crooked finger, I checked the watch on my wrist to make sure the Den office hadn’t opened yet. “You’re sentence is up today, eh?” croaked the old woman with too much eyeliner and not enough gum as she wiped a few beer steins out with a cloth as old as me. Cackling like a witch, she put the glass on the counter and pulled a slightly-damp, wrinkled envelope with something scrawled on the front of it out from under the bar. “This is fer you, but ya can’ open it ‘til ya get that chip,” here, she made a motion toward where they inserted the anti-rage microchip, “tak’n out. Otherwise this won’ mean bupkis to ya, and, well, no one gets what they want.” I knew what she was talking about, and though she was attempting to dance around the subject, I just needed to know if I was going to be disappointed.
“Bet, this has the name of whoever sold me out, right?” I asked, stuffing the ratty paper into my pocket and eyeing a few barflies warily.
With a chuckle, Betty nodded and stuck her hand out over the counter. Nodding, she growled, “Put ‘er there, Tara the White Murderess. We all know ya didn’t mean ter kill ‘im, but this iz the guy what turned ya in fer small potatas if ya ask me.” I shook hands with the greasy barkeep and took my leave without so much as a backward glance.
Getting across the city was going to be a trick without the use of my bike, since it was currently impounded, and half the town acting like the guy I killed around a chick walking alone. I couldn’t risk another accidental death at my hands, so I turned into an alley off the beaten track, with shadows creeping along in the near-pitch darkness, and texted Ali for a lift. With one eye on the shifting darkness around me, I tapped a rhythm out on the cold, damp brick wall and waited patiently.
Before I’d even expected a reply, a massive tricked-out hog roared up in front of me with a burly guy in a leather jacket and a skinny, cobalt-haired beauty riding behind him. When she hopped lightly off the machine and tossed her head, I recognized the stunning woman as Ali. “Hey, heard ya needed a ride, hon,” she called over the predatory bellowing of the motorcycle. Embracing me even though she knew I didn’t feel anything, she sniffled into my hair and, if she had been anyone else, her mascara ran. When she leaned back, though, her face was perfectly-lined and she was eyeing the stained jacket I wore with jealously. “You know, I could never pull off that kind of outfit,” she mused as she slid back behind her beau and I jammed my feet into the questionable sidecar without a helmet of windshield; sure, it wasn’t safe, but at least if I died I’d look like an idiot.
When I stepped into the massive building that towered like a mountain of slate, I took one fleeting glance at my chariot before it roared down the street in a cloud of dust and rubble; no criminal worth their salt would hang out in front of the Den. I stood in front of a tall desk with a secretary typing away robotically at a computer, shoulders hunched and eyes drooping from the effort. Around me were doors leading to detention rooms, elevator banks, the prison, courtrooms and a small, round window that allowed a tiny bit of natural light to flourish. If I could have shouted up to the woman from that little spot, I would have, but as it was I felt my throat closing up as I thought about what I needed to do.
“Uhm, excuse me!” I yelled as loudly as I could, and waited for a reply or sign that she’d heard me. A few minutes when by, and she continued to tap away at the keyboard without blinking. Sucking in an enormous breath, I shouted at the top of my lungs, “Hello!?” and earned an earnest irritated glance from the secretary.
Typing a couple more strokes, she stepped backward and was suddenly standing before me with a clipboard in one hand and a sharp pen in the other. “Tara, we’ve been expecting you for twenty-three minutes.” She checked off a couple of things, searching my outfit for something that may or may not have been there, and made a few small notes in what I could only assume was neat printing. “Come,” she commanded, marching off behind the desk and through a metal door without any further directions. Quickly following her, I managed to catch up just as she opened an electronic door with her fingerprints. “In.”
I glanced around at the sterile hallway and into the plain room with a solid metal table and chairs bolted to the floor, considering running; did I really need to feel emotions anyway? When the woman made another note, though, I felt a strong urge to do whatever needed to be done to avoid another negative tally. Sidling into the small, brightly-lit space, I stood awkwardly in the corner as the woman followed with her metal clipboard clutched tightly in her claws.
Rolling her eyes like a teenager, she motioned toward the chair while taking up residence in the other and placing the notes on the table. When she released it, all I could see was a blank page, though I knew she must be jotting notes down on its clean surface. “Look, the faster you sit, the faster we can take that chip out and you can go back to killing people,” she sighed in exasperation, tapping irately with her pen. Sighing myself, I took my seat, nervously gripping the edge of the arms with my fingernails.
“Now what?” I asked as the room disintegrated into darkness. Unable to scream, because I lacked the ability to feel surprise, I simply sat there as holograms appeared in the room; it was a whole slew of people I’d seen around town just milling around. I stood up and reached toward one of them as a car came out of nowhere, clipped me and slid to a screeching halt a few feet away. When the driver got out, some sleazeball I’d seen in a club, he began shouting obscenities at me as I blinked uncertain of what I was meant to do.
After a minute of cursing and fuming, the guy hopped back into his car and zoomed away, turning a corner until I couldn’t see him anymore. I was still confused about what was going on as a woman ran toward me from a side street, screaming bloody murder. As she stepped into the light between the buildings, a gunshot went off behind her, obviously hitting her in the leg and she went to the ground howling in pain. A pair of dark-ringed eyes disappeared into the darkness as the woman lay bleeding in the street. Staring around, I realized I felt nothing for this woman who was clearly in horrible agony, but I couldn’t will myself to help her.
When the scene faded and the room came back into focus, I was sweating profusely and breathing rather harder than I would have liked. The woman in front of me was now making notes with a sly smile on her lips, glancing up at me every so often. Remaining completely silent, I busied myself with counting the number of scratches in the table’s shiny surface. “Well done, Tara, you avoided both the emotional obstacles and are now cleared to have the chip removed. However,” she added, setting the clipboard down with a gently clatter, “you might not survive the surge of emotion because you have taken to the emptiness so well. See, most criminals will only lose the rage in the short amount of time you’ve had the implant, and they will simply go back to their old selves. But, you have been completely cleared of all emotions, so if we removed the implant you will be flooded with rage and hatred and despair to the point where you will not be able to stand up straight.” I could practically feel the excitement in the woman as she spoke, bent over the table as though she couldn’t wait for something. “I would suggest making it permanent.”
August has just wandered the city. The sandwich was gone after the first half hour, and now that a full day has passed, he’s hungry again. He looks around, his stomach grumbling at him. He sees a woman with multiple purses hanging at her belt.
August walks over and bumps into her. “I am so sorry, ma’am,” he apologizes. When he’s farther down the crowd, he looks at his hand. One of the purses is clutched in his fingers. He then stares at the fabric purse, frowning. ‘This feels wrong. I can’t use this money.’
He turns around and scans the crowd for the lady. He darts between people, using skills that work like muscle memory.
“Ma’am!” He calls out, “Ma’am.” He tugs on her sleeve. She turns to look at him. He offers the coin purse, “You dropped this back there-” She starts shouting at the man accompanying her. The man then shouts in the same language down the street. “No ma’am, this is yours. You dropped it,” August tries to explain, using hand gestures. But this makes her more distressed. She swipes the purse from him and shouts.
Two men take his arms behind him. They tug him out of the main crowd and away from the lady. August looks over his shoulder to see they are police officers.
“…English?” August asks feebly.
One scoffs, “American rat.” They march him down streets, then into a building. He’s stripped of all his belongings except his clothes, then tossed to a cell. He hits his back on the crude cot at the far end. He looks around the room, which has a few other cells in it. His stuff was dumped by a desk by the door. There is another prisoner watching him.
He speaks something, but August shakes his head. “I can’t speak your language.”
“What for?” The man asks.
“Trying to return a purse,” August asks.
The man starts laughing. It sounds like someone was playing a whistle, but at closer inspection, the man is missing some teeth. “Picketeer American,” the man says, pointing to August.
‘Is it that obvious that I’m American?’
“Long way from home.”
“You have no idea…” August mumbles. He lays down on the cot, rubbing his back, then his head. “Can’t remember… Agh!” August’s rambling turns into incoherent ranting to himself. The other man decides he’s drunk and ignores him. August doesn’t care what he thinks, but lays down on the one decent bed he’s found since he was at the hospital. ‘Maybe they’ll feed me, too…’ he thinks as he falls asleep.