I was at my wit’s end, torn between throwing out 4/5ths of a 100,000 word novel and starting over, or just shelving the whole project. My characters were not doing what I wanted them to do (if you’re an author this makes sense, trust me), my plot was meandering all over the place, and the ending I’d foreseen simply refused to be written.
“Just write for fun. If it’s not fun, don’t do it,” said my wise wife. She’s not an author, and although she’s terrifically supportive, she just doesn’t understand when I disappear into a story. I get so totally absorbed in a project it’s hard for me to focus on the real life going on all around me.
“Writing can’t be fun!” The words left my mouth and hung there in the air between us. My wife did what she does best, she let me hear myself. “That’s not right,” I said aloud, yet again in a heated debate with myself. “I used to love writing, I still love writing. I need to find the fun again. I need to recharge my author batteries.”
So I found three women who are also authors, and pulled us into a group. We get together once in a while to share good food, personal news, and then we focus for a couple of hours and do ‘prompt’ writing. Each of us will take turns providing a short phrase or sentence.Then we spend twenty minutes (or less) writing something that incorporates that phrase. When the time is up, we take turns reading aloud our prompt writing. It’s fascinating to see how very differently we each approach the same set of words. And it’s extremely rewarding to have three or four short writing samples at the end of the night. We’ve since gathered in three more authors, another woman and two men, but it’s the original core group that gets together most often. Like last night, for instance.
I felt so good about the writing I produced last night, and on other occasions, that I’ve decided to share some of the pieces once in a while. All this week I’m going to put up different stories, each titled with the prompt and the time taken to write. Here is my first offering, written last night. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit that I’ve re-written it this morning (can’t help myself), but the essence was written last night.
DON’T BE DOING THAT
(20 minute prompt)
Simon paced around the lab, looking at the rats and monkeys, twelve in their prep cages and isolated from the rest. His steps grew slower as he thought. A hand rubbed his bald spot, a nervous habit he’d picked up as his hair started falling out a year ago. Sometimes his fingers pushed the fringe of what he had left up and over, but now the bald spot had grown to the size of a baseball cap he knew it just looked silly.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he muttered to no animal in particular, and all of them in general. “It’s not my fault. I didn’t design the experiment, I’m just the unlucky son-of-a-bitch that’s got to carry it out.” His hand left off rubbing his naked pate, and began pulling at his left earlobe. In the last two months, as the project came to an end, it had grown a half inch longer than the right.
His nervous wandering was finally brought to a halt in front of the beaker holding the bubbling purple liquid. Simon watched as the blue flame beneath it forced the evil fluid up through the distiller and on through the transducer, until the concentrate fell drop by drop into the zero centigrade container. The final step of a year long project, it was almost finished. He wouldn’t be able to put it off much longer.
Was it his imagination or were the rats running on their wheels simultaneously again? It always freaked him out when they did that. Were the monkeys giving each other hand signs, or was that just a figment of his tortured imagination. “Knock it off,” he told himself. “It’s a job, it’s your job, and that’s all it is.” But still he tugged on his ear.
When the last drop had oozed into the container, an alarm rang, letting him know that his respite was over. Ignoring the shake in his hand, he put on his heavy gloves as protection against sharp teeth, picked up one of the twelve syringes and slowly started filling one after another with the noxious liquid. The odor was a mix between death and despair, and he felt both weighing on his shoulders as he turned and looked toward the wall of animals.
“Stop looking at me like that,” he repeated. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, but it’s my job and if I don’t do it I’ll get fired and there’ll still be someone coming in to do it. I’ll try to be gentle,” he said, ignoring the tears that trickled down his chin and dropped to the floor.
Taking the tray of loaded syringes, he put them on the wheeled table and moved up to the first cage on the right. Rodney. Oh boy, he’d been feeding this gentle black and white rat for over two years. Simon knew he shouldn’t have named him, should never have become fond of any of the animals in his care. He’d known that this day would come, but now that it had he was totally rattled. Sweat beaded his upper lip as he lifted the latch on the cage.
“Come here, Rodney,” he said with a hitch in his voice. The rat, sensing something different, did not come running up to his hand for a treat as it always had before. Instead it backed up against the far wall, staring at him with unblinking eyes. The man stared at the animal who stared back at him, both frozen in place and neither willing to change the status quo.
Finally, realizing it wasn’t going to get any easier, Simon reached into the cage and caught the scrambling animal by the nape of the neck. He pulled it gently out of the cage and readied the syringe. He pretended he wasn’t doing what he was doing, tried to blank out his mind, but remembered his promise to make things as easy as possible. Focusing so as not to make a thoughtless mistake, he brought the syringe to the back of the rats head, finding the spot at the base of his neck where the injection would go.
“Don’t be doing that,” said a voice, loud and clear.
Wheeling around, relief in every inch of his body, the man searched for the speaker. The lab room was empty. “Hearing things,” he explained to himself. “I’m projecting a reason not to do what I have to do.” His rationalizing calmed him down and he went back to Rodney.
“I said, don’t be doing that,” came the voice with a bit more authority.
This time the man dropped the rat back into his cage, and stood back. “Who’s speaking?” he asked. “Show yourself.”
“I’m right here,” came the answer with an accompanying rattle of cages. Flustered, Simon looked around.
“I’m right here,” came another voice from a different direction.
“Don’t be doing that.” Simon twirled right, seeing no one. “Don’t be doing that.” He swung to the left, but nobody was there. “Don’t be doing that,” thundered a thousand voices from the wall of cages.
Whirling around in circles, the man realized that every eye in the room was focused on him. His heart thudding in his chest, he saw tiny mouths open, and swallowed in disbelief. “Don’t be doing that,” they all shouted at once. Sweat trickled down his neck, chilled by the close breaths of every animal in the lab.
When Doc Stevens entered the lab an hour later, all the cages were empty. The scientist stared at the wreckage. Not a piece of glass was un-shattered, not a filing cabinet un-rifled. Everything lay ruined on the floor, including the tray of shattered syringes, the precious fluid now rendered useless due to exposure to the air. Furious, the neuroscientist, knelt to pick up the broken pieces. “A year of work, gone,” he fumed. “Simon better be far away by now, because I’ll have him up on charges faster than he can s… Wait. There were twelve syringes, but only eleven are here.” He crawled around the floor, searching for the one that might have rolled away unbroken. “I just need one success to get more funding. If I can find it and inject a new lab rat, I can publish my results.” He scrambled through the wreckage on his hands and knees.
A small black and white rat ran between his hands, trying to bite him. He reared up, too late. The sting of the lost syringe pierced his neck, vicious purple agony flowing into him.
“You won’t be doing that!” Simon’s voice hysterically giggled as Doc Stevens convulsed in anguish.
copyright @ Genta Sebastian 2014