700 words or less, must start with “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.”
I had to think hard on how to make this work. For most people, doing this would make them unlikable. What were you doing, sitting around and hesitating before going forward with an unpleasant task? Why are you dithering? Why are you being so woe-is-me melodramatic about it? Ugh. I didn’t like the line, what legitimate situation could possibly make this character not be a complete wanker? Well, what if reading the book wasn’t avoidance, but a tactic to maximize the outcome of an upcoming task?
by Eneasz Brodski
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. She stood up firmly, a bit too quickly, took a second to steady herself. She looked over at Stephen, who’d just returned from that door himself, her eyes too-wide and the world too bright. He smiled nervously at her.
“Go on Susan” he prompted, in an attempt at encouragement. The tension still in his throat strained his voice, ruining the effort.
She turned her head back to the door with a slight jerkiness to the movement, like a rusty hinge stuttering in its swing, that she was sure everyone saw. She inhaled once, long and deep, then strode forward and pulled the door handle. It opened smoothly and she nearly struck herself with its edge, her nose saved only by the misplacement of her leading foot arresting the door’s momentum with a jarring impact. She grit her teeth against the humiliation, ignored the pain in her toe, and walked through the portal as if nothing had happened.
The door closed behind her with an ominous finality and she found herself in the brief interstitial place between apprehension and judgment, temporarily isolated. Contrasted to the antechamber she’d been waiting in it was both fiercely dark and silent. Perhaps it was merely the absence of all the communal stress – all those bent heads tensed over books of their own, eyes saccading over words that the mind refused to grasp – that suffused these few meters with empty desolation. Her anxiety bubbled over and expanded to fill the space, pushing off the walls to press back down on her chest. She clenched her hands into fists and moved faster. Each step seemed to echo as it struck the hard wood floor, searching out the limits of the annexation, returning with whispers of barely perceptible malice.
Words spun through her head as she advanced. Malfeasance. Surveillance. Litigiousness. She reached out a hand to meet the approaching curtain. Her palms were damp, her fingers cold. Cadaverous.
She pulled aside the heavy fabric and stepped across an unmarked threshold into sharp blinding lights. Her stomach contracted tightly, nervous jitters threatened to take control of her extremities. With her eyes tightened, partially against the light and partially against her rising fear, she took the final steps forward. Not strides anymore – hesitant, wary. A disembodied voice intoned her name. Her breath came tightly, her nostrils flared involuntarily to grasp more air.
Before her sat the three judges, regarding her evenly. A single giant tomb lay open before them. Time slowed, crawled, then hung between them, Susan and her interrogators, frozen and palpable. Her heart caught in her throat as the world ground to a halt. She would be caught in this moment forever, always held taut at the edge of the abyss.
Then one of the judges broke the thrall with a movement. Tall, proud, and darkly black of skin. She leaned forward, spoke a single word.
Susan’s innards dropped in a free fall rush. Teratoma. She closed her eyes and exhaled, and stopped breathing entirely. She was lost, didn’t know.
She stalled for time. It wouldn’t help. But maybe, maybe something would intervene, something would awaken in a dark corner of her brain.
“Teratoma.” Susan repeated back. Then, “Can I have the definition please?”
“Teratoma.” The judge said again, and read from the tomb before her. “A tumor made up of a heterogeneous mixture of tissues. Teratoma.”
“Teratoma.” Susan echoed back.
She opened her eyes and began.
“T. E. R. – ”
I also got to use a lot of words that are typical of a middle-school spelling bee, which was fun. :) I also am tired of the cliche 3-minute fiction story, where something terrible happens and everyone feels sad and angsty, I wanted to branch out into stories that don’t make you miserable upon reading. I wonder how long it takes on average to realize this is a spelling bee setting.