Over at my blog, I posted awhile back about how writing prompts can help a struggling writer. In that post I highlighted Eat. Create. Repeat. – Kira’s blog where she posts regular prompts that run the gamut from poetry prompts to photo prompts to flash fiction prompts. She is now starting a project that focuses on helping blocked writers find tools that can help them get unblocked.
At the beginning of 2019, I found another blog that is offering daily flash fiction prompts. Ravyn Whyt starts each post with the prompt and is including her response to that prompt. I’ve written something in response to several of her prompts, including the prompt for January 10. I posted it in the comments section and added that I didn’t feel like it was really done.
This morning, I took a stab at carrying it a little further. Here it is.
I was sitting in a room. A single light bulb in the center of the ceiling lit the space. I was at a table, sitting in a chair. Whenever I put my hands on the table or leaned on it, it rocked forward, one leg shorter than the rest making it impossible for the table to settle into an even plane.
It had been a long night. I’d fled the scene as quickly as I could and got home, locking all the doors, turning off all the lights. Joe texted me, “Dude!” Marvin texted an unhappy emoji. I texted Cici, my girlfriend. Five times. She didn’t reply. It was the first time she’d ever done that.
I tossed and turned for a bit and finally fell asleep. They came at 2:00 in the morning, pounding on my front door. I went without resistance. I’d seen what happens when a black man resists.
A door into the room was shut. Along one wall was a mirror that I knew was two-way. There were people back there watching, waiting to see if I’d sweat or somehow reveal guilt through my actions.
I didn’t. I drummed my fingers on the table, whistled a happy tune, pretended to nap.
And a couple of hours after I was deposited in the room, the door opened. In stepped a police officer in uniform. He sat down across from me. Behind him came a detective in plain clothes. He closed the door and stood next to it, his back against the wall.
I waited to see which one would be the good cop, which one would be the bad. Turns out it didn’t matter. They just gave it to me straight.
The detective spoke first. “You know why you’re here?”
“Yeah, sure.” I shrugged, picking up the drumming on the table again. “It’s about what happened last night. At the game.”
The detective spoke again, while the uniformed officer just stared at me. “Yes, the game. Somebody set off a fire alarm. 16,000 people panicked and tried to storm out of the arena all at once. Seventeen died. Over five hundred were hurt. Both numbers may go up.”
I didn’t say anything. I waited. The officer filled the silence. “You know anything about it.”
“Nope, not me.” Listen. I knew. They knew I knew. I knew they knew I knew. And on and on. But I couldn’t make it easy for them, could I? I had to put up a bit of a fight, even if it was pretty feeble.
The officer got up, walked around the table slowly, sat back down. “Well, that’s interesting. We’ve got video from a security camera that shows you pulling the alarm. Same flannel shirt, faded jeans, mustache and bald patch at the back of your head.” He put his hand on my drumming fingers, making me stop. “You want to see it?” He didn’t take his hand off of mine.
“Well, it didn’t end the way I expected, but at least nobody important died. Okay. I pulled the alarm. It was supposed to be a joke?”
“I’m thinking the families of those seventeen dead individuals might disagree. It’s barely been twelve hours and they’re already planning a memorial outside the arena for tonight. It’s at 6:00. Maybe you should go?”
I shrugged again and looked at the officer, pulling my hand out from under his. It was kind of creepy to tell you the truth. His hand on mind, the sweat from his palm mingling with mine.
“Yeah, maybe.” I decided to stall for time. Time for what, who knows? I’d just admitted to my role. “Can I get a cigarette?”
The detective pulled a pack out of nowhere and gave me a cigarette. He had a lighter in his hand before I knew it and lit the end. I took a long drag and blew the smoke out.
“You said something interesting, Cole, about nobody important dying,” The officer looked back at the detective who left his place by the door and took the last vacant seat at the table. He pulled out his phone and put it on the table. The uniform, Officer Smeltz by his nametag, continued, “Whose your favorite player on the Kings?”
“Hmmm. Hurley, probably.”
“Yes, of course. Ellison Hurley IV. Everybody’s favorite, right?”
Hurley was the sweet shooting guard drafted three years earlier. The smoothest release and biggest grin this side of Steph Curry. He’d put the Kings on his shoulders at the beginning of the season and ridden them to their first winning record in more than ten years. It was March, the playoffs were possible. Everybody loved him.
“Like I said. It was supposed to be a joke. My friends and I do stupid things. This was …”
The detective interrupted me. “We knew Hurley is your favorite.”
“Yes,” I snapped. “He’s everybody’s.”
“No, that’s not why.” He leaned over his phone and tapped the screen a couple of times, swiped up then left and then held it out to me. “Push play.”
I did. The video was from a security camera in the Kings Corner, the store in the arena where they sold Kings branded gear. Everything from pencils to coffee cups to Christmas ornaments to shirts and jerseys of every type. The camera showed people running by outside the empty store for a few seconds and then I walked past the camera. Inside the store, which was empty since everybody was fleeing, I walked up to a rack and slipped a Hurley jersey off a hanger and put it on as I walked out of the store and joined the fleeing hordes.
“Okay,” I tried for more nonchalance. “So what?”
“Hold on a sec,” Officer Smeltz said. “There’s more.” He motioned to the detective, who picked up his phone and tapped and swiped a few more times.
This time the view was from a camera high up in the rafters, focused down on the corner of the arena where the Kings bench was. The detective told me, “We’ve got security cameras on everything. If you’re at the game and pick your nose, we’ll know about it. Push Play.”
“Listen. I didn’t realize this was going to happen. How could I know that a fire alarm down in the loading area would set the whole damned mess off. I didn’t realize there would be sprinklers. I didn’t realize it would be that loud. I didn’t realize …” And that was the problem, I didn’t realize that those sprinklers were more like water cannons and that the entire fire detection system was one completely integrated complex of alarms and signals and sprinklers and that all hell would break loose. I just didn’t realize it.
So, I did. For the first few seconds, it showed the Kings bench, the crowd behind. Everybody watching the action on the court. Hurley was taking his early fourth quarter rest with a towel draped over his head. Suddenly, the shrill bleating sound of the arena’s fire alarms pierced through and then the water cannons let loose and everybody was running. The view on the video shifted to another camera and it showed Hurley starting to run towards the exit that took the players back to their locker rooms, there were fans and players in front of him and behind and they were all panicked.
I watched and saw what I didn’t want to see. Just before he left the floor area, Hurley disappeared.
He went down. I didn’t see him get up. The video shifted again. The fleeing crowd was gone, but on the floor, right where the parquet of the playing surface becomes the concrete leading into the bowels of the arena, there was a body in a Kings uniform.
“Okay. Somebody important died.” I looked up at Officer Smeltz as the video stopped. “I guess that’s gonna be one hell of a memorial tonight.”