It was an interesting challenge because you start the writing process effectively already knowing your plot. I kept wanting to end the story in all sorts of different ways, and had to remind myself that it wasn't my plot to change! Considering the original story is a few lines long, I found it surprisingly hard to stick to 1000 words as well. Nevertheless, I enjoy challenges like this. (One of my favourite published pieces was a flippant re-telling of Sleeping Beauty over at Everyday Fiction.) It was a great way for me to get back into writing.
As only the winning story is going to be published, I offer you my story below. I hope you enjoy it!
“I can’t believe you’re doing this.” I dig my fingers into Mark’s shoulders. “Pretty sure breaking and entering is illegal you know?”
“Quit your whining, Speedy Gonzalez.” Mark shifts me further up his back. “I said I’d get us in, didn’t I?”
“I thought you meant you’d get us tickets. Not that you’d leave my wheelchair in a dark alley and drag me in through a toilet window.”
“There aren’t any tickets.” Mark is panting as he heaves me along the dim corridor. “And you saw that queue. There’s no way we’re getting in tonight.”
I don’t bother pointing out that if this guy – a street magician or whatever he claims to be – is as amazing as everyone says, then he’d hardly be doing a gig in a place like this. Somebody who could cure cancer for real would be doing a stadium tour at 50 quid a head, not one night in a grotty pub with free entry. I don’t bother saying it because I’ve said it before. Many times.
Mark has spent all week trying to persuade me to come tonight. I wanted nothing to do with it. After my post-graduation lads’ holiday to Ibiza went so disastrously wrong a decade ago, I grew sick of people trying to cure me. The doctors all agreed then that I’d never walk again, so it irritates me when people tell me to take folic acid or drink kale smoothies – as if I’m pregnant or prone to colds, not paralysed. The only reason I’d given in to Mark in the end was because I owed him. When all my other mates drifted away – when I pushed them away in the bitterness of After The Accident – he hung on. While I made everyone else’s life hell, he took the blows and kept calling. And until now, he’d never tried to cure me.
“This is mad.” I glance around for security cameras. “Can’t we just go for a pint?”
“We’re here now.” Mark stops outside a grey door. “Might as well see this guy.”
My irritation at Mark is replaced by a sudden fear. It isn’t the fear of getting caught sneaking in the back though. It’s the fear that Mark might be right. This guy we’ve come to see, I’m sure he’s a conman. He must be. And yet I can still hear that tiny whisper of what if at the back of my mind. What if he can heal me? And what if he refuses? What if he looks at me and realises that I’m not the victim of a tragic accident but entirely to blame for my trouble? What if he knows I put my parents through hell and he decides I’m not worthy of health? It’s better to be a hopeless case than an unworthy one.
Before I can stop him, Mark pushes on the door. The space it reveals on opening is tiny. 40 or 50 people stand pressed together, all eyes fixed on the far end of the room where a man stands on a chair. 40 or 50 pairs of eyes watching him; one pair of eyes – his eyes – watching something else. Watching me.
One by one the crowd begins to turn, trying to see what the Man is looking at.
“Let’s go,” I hiss in Mark’s ear. “Before they lynch us for queue-jumping.”
Mark stands his ground.
“John.” The Man speaks my name softly, yet the silence amplifies it in the expectant room. “I’m glad you could come.”
He jumps from his chair and edges his way through the crowd towards me, only stopping when he’s within touching distance. For an entertainer, if that’s what he is, he has made little effort with his appearance. There is nothing remarkable about him – nothing you’d remember the next day. Nothing and yet somehow, everything.
“You came to talk about Ibiza,” he says.
“No.” I shake my head. This has to be some sort of set-up by Mark. Some sick joke.
“It’s OK.” The Man smiles. “You’re forgiven.”
“No,” I say again. Set-up or not, I have a sudden mad urge to make him understand what I feel he already somehow understands. “I can’t be. It was my fault. I was drunk. I was an idiot and I...”
“I know.” Another smile. “You’re right. It was your fault.” A shrug. “You’re forgiven anyway.”
“Brilliant.” A woman in the crowd rolls her eyes. “Matey here obviously can’t walk or something and you’re telling him he’s been forgiven? Big deal. Why don’t you actually heal him if you’re so clever?”
The Man’s eyes slide from my face to the crowd. He laughs. “My friend here tells me it’s easier to heal the past than to heal a broken back. Is she right?” His eyes fix back on mine. “Is she right?”
I don’t know what to say.
The Man turns from me. “Go home, John.”
Out in the corridor, Mark eases me to the floor and sits down beside me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know he was going to be that weird. I wouldn’t have brought you if...” His voice trails off. “I didn’t know you knew him.”
“Yeah.” Mark glances at me than back at the floor. “That stuff about Ibiza.” He shakes his head. “You were right. He’s just a weirdo.”
“No.” I wait for Mark to look at me. “He’s not that. Or at least, he’s not only that.”
I can feel he is more than that. I can feel it in my head and hands and heartbeat. I can feel it in my legs.
“Let me drive you home.” Mark stands as people begin to spill from the room we’ve just left, filling the corridor around us. “It’s the least I can do.”
“I’m OK.” I put a hand on Mark’s arm. “It’s a nice evening.” I take a deep breath and slowly, hesitantly begin to pull myself upwards. “I think I’ll walk from here.”
ENDS - (taken from Mark 2:1-11)