This week’s challenge was to use one of the following ten sentences in a 1,000 word story — but I went for the promised “bonus points” (and extra challenge) of using all ten!
Here are the list of challenge sentences, for reference:
- “The mysterious diary records the voice.”
- “The stranger officiates the meal.”
- “The shooter says goodbye to his love.”
- “A glittering gem is not enough.”
- “The memory we used to share is no longer coherent.”
- “The old apple revels in its authority.”
- “Rock music approaches at high velocity.”
- “Sixty-Four comes asking for bread.”
- “Abstraction is often one floor above you.”
- “The river stole the gods.”
I had to stretch just a bit to get them all in, but on the whole I think the story works surprisingly well!
The memory we used to share is no longer coherent. The thought echoes in my mind.
Nothing makes sense anymore — it hasn’t since our last big mission, the one in which we failed to prevent the River from stealing the Gods and I woke up battered and bruised and still reeling in the aftermath of machine gun fire that had sounded like nothing so much as rock music approaching at high velocity.
I’ve never entirely made peace with the way machine guns sound so much like drums — and the beat goes on, and on, and on like a nightmare I’ve forgotten to wake up from.
I woke up aching, and for blissful moments I remained unaware — entirely free of the memories of that mission and the way it had tipped my world over onto its head, spilling the pieces of my life across the floor like so many marbles.
Back in training the General used to say, abstraction is often one floor above you. Over and over he would repeat this — at every briefing, on every training mission. Abstraction is often one floor above you.
We never knew what he meant and he never explained himself, just peered dangerously over the rims of his glasses and spoke the words as though they were the most important message in the world.
Perhaps they were. Perhaps they were some kind of secret code passed down from him to us, from trainer, from teacher (we called him “the old apple” when no one could hear) to us, the pupils. If so, we didn’t get it. Every time he’d trot out his adage, we’d snicker nervously amongst ourselves.
Later we’d shrug off our incomprehension and murmur to one another behind closed doors, the old apple revels in his authority. But our glibness would taste hollow in our mouths, like false comfort.
Now, suddenly and terrifyingly, I think I know what the General was talking about. I used to think he meant for us to keep in mind the bigger picture, to always be playing the larger game. I used to think it meant, You’re a spy and you must think like one. Never forget.
Now I think he meant this: waking up feeling battered and awfully alone — unsure if the game you’ve been playing looks anything like the game you thought you’d been playing.
Suddenly nothing seems certain. Not this. Not you and me. Not our mission. I don’t know what I’m supposed to believe in any more.
None of it feels real. Not even the warmth of your body stretched out beside me in our bed.
You propose after that. Not immediately after, it’s weeks after and we’re out to eat — waiting for the signal, you said (Sixty-Four comes asking for bread). And so I’m shifting in my chair and picking at the roll on my plate, peeling off little pieces of the crust, snipping them up with my fingernails.
I’m anxious. It’s our first real mission since that one — the one that felt like the ground was falling out from underneath my feet and plunging me into some new and mysterious upside-down reality in which nothing makes sense and the memory we used to share is no longer coherent.
And then you pull out a ring and I realize the mission is a ruse and I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say because just a handful of weeks ago I would have said yes, but now the only thing I can think is that a glittering gem is not enough.
Except I can’t say that because you’re not just my partner, you’re my partner, and we have to keep working together and so I nod awkwardly and you slip the diamond onto my finger.
I cannot think that anything has ever felt heavier than the weight of that gemstone, dragging at my heart.
Which is how we’ve come to where we are now. You’ve gone out to dinner for “business”. I’m perched aloft, watching the meal unfold from an empty office building across the street.
A stranger officiates the meal. I don’t recognize him. He’s not one of our regular contacts. I would have remembered that face — grizzled and unpleasant. I would have remembered the way you lean back from his presence, as if in distaste.
I’m not sure if your discomfort means something good or bad. I’m not sure what anything means anymore.
Who are we really working for?
Abstraction is often one floor above you, the General used to say. Now I believe he meant that one day this day would come — the day when I finally saw the sum of our actions from such a great height that everything we’d done and everything we’d become all began to seem, not like a collection of random duties, but a purposeful progression animated by unseen hands. A masterpiece of puppetry on a scale that I find can hardly be comprehended.
I had no idea they might have this much power.
But now that I’ve seen and suspected, the only thing left to do is act.
I have to end the game. I have to put a stop to the madness.
I wonder if you know. I wonder if you saw it too. You were unusually sentimental when you left for this meeting — you’d whispered our old code phrase, the one we’d used back in training.
The mysterious diary records the voice. The syllables had brushed up against my ear, warm and familiar, and my heart had thrilled once more to the nearness of you, to the way you whispered I love you.
And love you, I do. But the time has come to do what must be done.
My finger tightens on the trigger and even as I blink back tears I’m already whispering goodbye.
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