A Deal with the Devil (Part 1)

Image result for shrouded man

This one started to get away from me a little. I had intended for the beginning to be much shorter, then get on with the rest of the story, but apparently I was wrong in thinking that. It just kept building. This story will have at least one more part. We shall see. I hope you enjoy the beginning! Let me know.

In high school, I had a rebellious streak. I liked to see what I could get away with. There was a thrill in knowing someone could remember me as the last person in a room where something was stolen, or that someone might walk around the corner before I was finished with my can of spray paint. I tried to keep it minor, and low-key.

In college, that started to change. I messed with people’s computers when they walked away to grab a drink, deleted assignments. I walked into random dorm rooms that were naively left unlocked. I took things, sometimes trying to make it unnoticeable, and other times I destroyed the entire room. Quietly, of course.

The thrill grew, but the accompanying fear grew faster. The fear turned itself into anger, and anger turned to carelessness. Rumors started to spread. I felt eyes linger on me as I walked passed. I kept my head down.

Then, I opened the wrong door.

I can’t remember what happened after that door opened. Just an angry face, but my mind threw out the details. The next thing I remember was pain.

A lot of pain.

I was lying in a gutter. I didn’t know where I was. But everything hurt. I moaned, and tried to move. It didn’t work. I tried to slow my breathing and take stock of where I felt the most pain, and single out the areas that didn’t feel too bad. I started to move my fingers and toes, and was finding a bit of success. I had a feeling one of my fingers was broken, but at that point, it seemed the least of my worries. I couldn’t get a deep breath. Probably some broken ribs. I had taken some poundings over the years, but never like this. I rotated my feet to test my ankles and legs. The had taken it easy there, it seemed. I lifted a hand to my face, but it didn’t move. I tried the other one. That worked. My eyes were both swollen, which made me realize I hadn’t even thought to try opening them. My nose was crusty, and also swollen. Broken. My lips were fat, but mostly on the left side. Probably from some solid right jabs. I ran my tongue around my teeth, and didn’t feel any missing. At that moment in time, that felt like a victory. A small one, but a victory nonetheless. I felt some blood around my temples and in my hair. My face was just about what I expected.

Finally, I tried opening my eyes. One lid didn’t really move. The other lifted just enough to get a blurry line of sight through my lashes. The view cleared slightly when I blinked a few times, but I couldn’t really make anything out. I shut my eye again.

I went back to the arm that wouldn’t move. I opened and closed my hand. Then I bent my wrist back and forth. That felt a little odd, but I could do it. I tried bending at the elbow again, and I thought that my arm moved a little. That was progress. I took a break and tried to just breathe, which was still difficult.

Just as I was about to start working on my arm again, I heard footsteps.

Not good.

I stopped trying to move. I kept my eyes shut.

I waited.

The footsteps got louder, more defined. There was a muted sound just before every other step. A cane, maybe. The steps vibrated in my head as they got louder. Louder meant closer. Really not good.

The steps stopped.

“That looks like it hurts.” His voice was clear, and somehow… dark. If my body would have allowed it, I would have shivered. Instead, I tried to lie as still as possible, hoping he would think I was dead, or at least beyond help.

It didn’t work.

“I can hear the whistle of your punctured lung. I know you’re breathing, though I would imagine it hurts like the Devil.” He laughed a bit at that, like we had an inside joke going that wasn’t really all that funny.

I tried to swallow. I think I drooled instead, but it was hard to tell.

I opened what was, at the moment, a poor example of a ‘good’ eye. I tried to turn my head in the direction of the man. A moan escaped. My breathing was getting more shallow. I needed to try to relax, the thought of which almost made me try to laugh. I coughed on blood and phlegm instead.

He squatted down near my head, his cane resting across his lap. I could sort of see him, but I couldn’t make out any specific features. Just impressions.

“Would you like some help with the pain?” I couldn’t have described it, but I didn’t like the way he smiled as he said it. But the pain overruled any thoughts of distrust.

I nodded. Sort of.

“Is it only a little painful?” I managed to turn my head side to side, just a little. “Excruciating?” I nodded. “Bad enough that you would do anything for just a little relief?” I paused a moment, then nodded. A tear leaked out.

“Perfect. I believe I can help you.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope. From that he pulled a sheet of paper. He unfolded it. He looked at me, mouth open, ready to read what was written on it. “Would you prefer I skip the reading and just have you sign? It will speed things along so I can help with the pain.” He tilted his head, waiting for me to indicate my wishes. All I could think about was the pain. I nodded.

“Wonderful.” He reached into his other coat pocket and pulled out a pen. “I’ll help you. This pen needs to be held just the right way. Which hand are we using?” I moved the fingers of my left hand. I didn’t think my right could hold anything yet. He nodded when he saw the movement, then moved to place the paper under my hand. He adjusted it before carefully placing the pen in my hand. I felt a quick pain in my thumb, but I assumed it was just pain from using a hand that didn’t want to be used, and it wasn’t even close to the scale of the rest the pain I was feeling. I did my best to write with the wrong hand, hoping my name was at least somewhat legible.

I let out a breath as soon as it was done. That small amount of movement had drained the last of my energy. My brain was moving slower and I was having trouble thinking. My eye closed and my fingers dropped, letting go of the pen. I vaguely felt the man shift, then he placed his hand on my forehead.

(to be continued…)

Any guesses on what happens next?

Thanks for reading, everyone!

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Not Today, Susan.

I guess today is a chance to write some non-fiction. I spent a lot of time looking for a prompt that inspired me. I found a few I liked, but didn’t have a story for. Yet. So I saved them. I finally found a picture that inspired.

So I started writing. And it just wasn’t good. I had an idea of where I wanted to go, but the words didn’t flow. It felt forced. So I stopped. I restarted later. And again. And again.

Then I stopped again. And thought of this quote.

Image result for try try again then quit

That is solid advice, my friends.

But, it doesn’t always mean quit for good… Sometimes we need to walk away for a while and come back to it. I would do that when I made jewelry. I would have a piece that I knew I could do something AMAZING with, but right then, I didn’t know what, or sometimes my hands and brain just were not on the same page.

It happens. All the time. In a lot of situations. To pretty much everyone. So, instead of posting a decent (maybe) story today, I’m telling you that today, I failed. Yesterday was a good editing/revising day on my manuscript, which helps me be more okay with how it went today. I failed, and it’s okay. I’m hoping to come back to where I left off with today’s effort, and continue it. Eventually.

And you know what? I’m going to share the sad, short, little bit that I managed to get down. It’s hard to share knowing it’s very very far from my best work. I’m working on being more brave, so I guess this is a good opportunity to walk the walk, right?

*deep breath*

Here it is. Let me know if you think I should, in fact, add to it later. Thank for reading, friends.

Nudges

Have you ever moved towards or away from someone without knowing why, exactly? Or has your hand reached toward someone before you thought it should? Have you felt something pushing you somewhere, but you fought it and later wondered if you were supposed to go a different way?

Those are Nudges. Those are… Me.

Don’t ask where I came from. I don’t know. I just… am.

People at a crossroads attract my notice. I spend time watching, absorbing details so that when the time comes, I can Nudge in the right way. Nudges take a lot of work and drain my energy, so I want to get it right. I can’t interact with people the way they can with each other. I have to have tremendous focus for even the smallest push. So I watch and study, and get it right.

I drift around, keeping an eye on a lot of people at once.

Side Gig

My Prompt for the week:

This week’s prompt. Found on Pinterest.

I was sitting in the Denver airport. My laptop open on my lap, my earbuds in. My foot was tapping along to the music, and I was working my magic. It wasn’t my usual, which upped the excitement. The regular stuff was interesting enough to keep me driven to be the best, but this was bordering on exhilarating. I was keeping it reigned in, but barely.

I knew I was good. My teachers, professors, and fellow computer nerds all commented on my skill. Part was my creativity. I’ve never been good at rules, while so many programmers found themselves working inside a box of rules that seemed to get smaller rather than larger. I kept breaking my box.

That was probably how this mystery client found me. They said they needed the best. That was me. It was a side gig, and it payed well. I was pretty well off already, since I had started pawning my skills back in middle school for a small fee. The fee got larger as the years passed. “Freelancing” had paid for the bulk of college. And with several companies competing for my skill set after I graduated, well, let’s just say life was pretty good. But I wasn’t about to turn down this offer, either.

I had been at my computer, leaning back, tossing my first-home-run baseball up in the air, thinking about the job. I was drawing a blank so far, but that was okay. I knew the solution would come. I was about to take a break and toss a frozen pizza in the oven when the solution came. I set the ball back in the stand. Its job was done for now.

I worked most of that night, took a short snooze, then got back to it. I took another break for some frozen waffles. While they toasted, I called into work and let them know I wouldn’t be in for a few days. It wasn’t uncommon for me to work from home, so it wasn’t a problem. I told them they could send me any jobs that came up, and figured that was more than good enough. Now that I was rolling, this job wouldn’t take long. While I ate my syrup soaked waffles with one hand, I booked a flight and room with the other. The client wanted me to meet with them in person.

I took the rest of the day to work, then I showered, slept, and packed an overnight bag. By 6am, I was stepping out of my car and walking into the airport, and on my way to Chicago. I hadn’t quite finished the job, but the time before the flight, not to mention the layover in Denver, was plenty. I got the call to board right when things were about to come together. I spent part of that first short flight in celebration mode, and the rest with my leg jiggling because I was itching to get to it.

As soon as I was off the first plane, I raced to the next gate. I wanted to be able to focus until the job was done. And I knew if I hit a snag, I didn’t want to be too distracted and miss my flight because I wasn’t where I needed to be.

So there I sat, in one of those awful chairs, working. There was a plug-in in the pillar right next to my seat, so overall, I couldn’t complain. The headphones helped me ignore the people around me. I was closing in on the finish line. I was so focused I had no idea someone was watching me. It was just lines of code, so I figured most people would be curious at most, then move on. I had been typing furiously, foot still tapping, when someone pulled my left ear bud out. I froze. She leaned down and whispered in my ear.

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you.”

I looked to my left, eyes wide. My face shifted into disdain. “What do you know about it?”

“More than you, apparently.” She patted my back, gave me a sympathetic smile, then skirted around the pillar and walked off.

I stared after her, part ticked, and part terrified. My eyes scanned the code on the screen, wondering what she had seen. What was wrong with it? I didn’t make errors, and if I did, I was always the one who caught it. I’d never had anyone else find a mistake in my work. Ever.

But apparently a random airport traveler had. Or had she?


Note: I did this as a timed exercise. I used 20 minutes (though I paused for a couple of interruptions. Shocker.) I then used a 2 minute timer to try to find a ‘finish’ for the story. As always, let me know what you think!

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Odds

Decisions. Life is full of them. I know so many people that have to be in control All. Of. The. Time. Decisions frustrate them, sometimes to the extreme. Me? Not so much. You see, I carry two six-sided dice in my pocket. Plain, white with black pips. I don’t need anything special. And those make all of my decisions for me.

You might thrive on control. I thrive on chance.

I do have a set of rules to go along with my dice. If I have a yes or no question, odd answers yes, and even answers no. Simple as that. Rolling a seven always means roll again. Three means my time is up, and whatever I was doing stops. Eleven tells me to get a drink. In the morning or during work hours, that means a soft one. After work and on weekends, I roll again to determine soft or hard on the drinks. Things like that. It works for me. Keeps me sane.

Or, I think it has. I’ve been making decisions this way for years. It started back at the end of high school. I wasn’t sure if college was where I wanted to head. A job earning a paycheck sounded like a pretty solid plan at the time. So did college with the parties and a higher paying job at the end. I was sitting in my room one night, knowing my folks expected an answer. So did my school counselor. My DnD stuff was out, and my bag of dice. So I thought, “screw it.” and snagged my two standards. I took a deep breath, told myself odd was job, even was college. And I rolled.

Even.

And you know what? I felt pretty damned good. Decision made.

It was a few weeks later when I did it again. I hadn’t meant to, but it came time to decide on which college to go to. I had researched, and narrowed it down to three. They all looked good, and had things I thought would work well for me. And again I was feeling the pressure from the folks and counselor. So there I was, in my room again, at a crossroads again. So I picked up the dice again. This time I wrote down my options. College A, the most expensive, was a roll that equaled two through four. College B, five through eight. College C, nine through twelve.

And I rolled.

Eleven.

College C.

And you know what? I found myself smiling. The decision was made, and I was happy with it. I felt really good, actually. I dove back into the literature I had on that school, and felt my excitement rising.

From then on, I carried those two dice with me everywhere. It was a bit of a novelty at first, but it didn’t take long before I really began to rely on them. I gradually developed the rules as I went, and wrote them down until I knew them well. Sometimes I still have to make up the rule for a one time situation, but it’s amazing how many things fall under the rules I already have. It helped me get through college, and helped me decide which jobs to go after, and which one to accept. Then there’s which car to buy, or what to cook for supper, or whatever. It had really taken the stress out of a lot of things for me.

But recently, something changed.

I’ve noticed that before I can even get the dice out of my pocket, I have two dice tumbling in my head. I know what the result will be before the real ones stop rolling. The dice in my head match the dice on the table.

Part of me knows that’s not possible, and not quite right. But they tumble when I’m cruising around, and undecided on which turn to make. They choose for me. When I’m scrolling through Netflix, they tumble for longer. When they finally fall, I know what I’m watching, even if I wasn’t really trying very hard to narrow the list. They choose for me.

I still carry my dice in my pocket, but I haven’t gotten them out in weeks. It’s a little more convenient. But it’s also a little scary.

One single time, I thought that I should consider ignoring the dice, and making a decision on my own. The dice spun. Six. Even.

Even means “No.”

Welcome!

I’m not a novice writer, but I’m not far from it, either. But I have a goal to become a published author.

Wait. Did I just “say” that out loud? Where other people can see it? *gulp*

I guess I did.

But before I can really do that (though I’m working on it!) I need practice. To do that, I’m using this blog as a place for short stories. Some will be finished, some will be chunks of a story, which will likely end where I was when someone needed something from me.

I am going to go ahead and assume you understand what I mean.

I’ve been scouring the interwebs for writing prompts that inspire me, which is a new thing. I’m trying to remember that I have to build my skills, just like when I made jewelry, or my culinary skills, or anything else worth doing. It takes practice. And discipline, which is something I struggle with. But I’m a work-in-progress, just like my manuscript.

So… do you have a writing prompt you’d like to share?