A Lethal Prompt
Well, here we are with story number six for my twelve stories in twelve months challenge. The prompt was “lethal” and the word count was 1,800. This is essentially a cop out. I couldn’t think of anything for lethal for the longest time, and when I finally did, it was way too short. So, I turned it into a story about a writer struggling with a prompt. Like I said, a cop out.
OK, lethal. What’ve we got for lethal? How about. . .
“We are going to binge watch ‘Lethal Weapon!’”
“You heard me. We’re going to binge watch ‘Lethal Weapon.’ You wanted a big weekend on the couch.”
“The movies or the TV show?”
“I was thinking the movies.”
“I don’t know. Mel Gibson makes me uncomfortable ever since we learned what a freak he is.”
“Come on, that’s Mel Gibson, not Martin Riggs.”
“Sorry, but he’s not that good an actor.”
That’s not gonna work. There’s no story there. Hmm. How else do we use lethal? Lethal dose? A mystery. . .
They surveyed the scene. No signs of a struggle. No forced entry. Just a body in a perfectly ordinary apartment in a perfectly ordinary neighborhood. It was almost peaceful.
“Why are we here? Was there even a crime?” Brady asked.
“There was a body,” replied the super.
“People die all the time. It doesn’t mean a crime was committed.”
“I found a body, so I called the police. What do you expect me to do?”
“You did the right thing, sir,” Jake said as he glared at Brady. Then he turned to a tech and said, “It doesn’t look like there’s much in the way of evidence but collect whatever you can. We’re going to see the medical examiner.”
“And find out if there was a crime or not,” Brady added.
“It was definitely a murder,” said the medical examiner.
“How did he die?” Jake asked.
“Poison. He was given a lethal dose of . . .
Of what? Cyanide? Arsenic? Those seem too old timey. Old lace? Ha.
. . .old lace.”
“Did you say he was given a lethal dose of old lace?” Brady asked. “What does that even mean?”
“Old lace is a new designer poison,” the medical examiner explained. “All the top hitmen are using it.”
Jake laughed. “Top hitmen? How many contract killers do you know?”
“What do the second rate hitmen use?” Brady asked.
“I try to keep up with the literature. In the last six months. . .”
“Are they all men?” Jake wondered aloud.
“The hitmen? Are there any hitwomen? How about a nonbinary contract killer?”
“Uh oh. It’s a crisis worse than no women in STEM. We need diversity.”
“Guys, we probably shouldn’t be talking about this. There’s nothing but dudes in our own story. . .”
OK, that’s not happening. Probably not a good idea to write a mystery since I never read mystery. What else? What else? Maybe lethal injection. . .
It was ten minutes to midnight. All the appeals were denied and it was unlikely there would be a pardon. She laughed to herself. They make such a big deal about the last meal, but she wasn’t even a little bit hungry. This was going to hurt. She wasn’t worried about dying, it was getting there. Lethal injection. It was going to hurt bad.
Who’m I kidding? It’s too dark and I don’t know the first thing about it. No one’ll want to read that. Maybe the ethics of capital punishment? At least I know my way around ethics. . .
“The method of killing is irrelevant. Even the most humane lethal injection is still unjustified. . .
That’s not a story. It’s a lecture. It’s more likely to bore or annoy than entertain. Come on. There’s gotta be something. Anything. . .
“That pitch was lethal.”
“Yeah. Isn’t that right?”
“Do you mean like filthy or nasty?”
“I mean like it was a good pitch.”
“Right, filthy or nasty. I’ve never heard lethal before in that context.”
“It’s not a baseball word?”
“It’s not even a sports word that I’m aware of.”
“It sounds like one, though.”
“I guess. But why use it if it just means filthy?”
“Maybe it doesn’t just mean filthy or nasty. Maybe it’s better than they are.”
“Yeah. Filthy and nasty are fine, but lethal is actually deadly, so it’s a step up.”
“OK. It’s got to be an out pitch, then.”
“So, if a really nasty pitch is thrown for the third strike, we can say it’s lethal?”
“Works for me.”
Ugh. That’s not a story either. It’d be cool if it catches on, though. Think. How else do we use lethal? I guess there could be lethal force. . .
They needed to send in a strike force, and it had to be lethal. Any survivors would compromise the mission. Alan surveyed the area. If they entered from the loading dock, they could get in without being detected. It would be easier to work from the inside out. . .
This is crazy. Is Alan the bad guy or the hero? If it’s from his point of view, he’ll feel like the hero. But why is he going to kill those people? What’s their mission?
Alan didn’t like their mission. Why all the killing? This wasn’t a military target, and they weren’t at war. Lethal force wasn’t necessary. It felt like a setup or a test. He didn’t want to be anyone’s fall guy. And if it was a test, he didn’t know which decision would get a passing mark. . .
Nope. Can’t do it. It’s not something I’d want to read. But, it is a story. How desperate am I? Think. Think. Maybe a different tack. I’m no good at death and destruction. What else can lethal mean? Nothing that I can think of. . .
“You need to capture me a black phoenix.”
“But they’re as lethal as they are beautiful.”
“I know, but I can’t complete the spell without a tail feather plucked from a living specimen. Without that feather, your son will certainly die.”
She asked, “How do I find one?”
“There used to be a colony on the cliff face where the river spills from the forest. That will likely be your best starting point.”
She had to get ready. Its touch was lethal. She would need tools. . .
Well, it is another story. But it’s terrible. Should I plow through? I’ll hate myself if I do. Come on. Lethal. Lethal. Bethal? Pethal? Zethal? Is it possible than nothing rhymes with lethal? Aethal, bethal, chethal, dethal, ethal, fethal, gethal, hethal, iethal, jethal, kethal, lethal, but that’s not a rhyme. That’s the word. Methal, nethal, oethal, pethal, quethal, rethal, sethal, tethal, uethal, vethal, wethal, xethal, yethal, zethal. Wow. Nothing. Shethal? Thethal? That’s crazy. Is there a story in that?
Orange, Purple, and Lethal walked into a bar. It was early afternoon and the bar was virtually empty. They sat down and ordered a drink each.
“Why the long faces?” the bartender asked.
Lethal replied, “Nothing rhymes with us.”
Purple snorted. Orange muttered, “Typical.” Lethal looked the bartender in the eye and said wearily, “There’s not even a good slant rhyme for us. No one will remember us in poems or songs. We have no legacy.”
“Legacy?” the bartender repeated. “Who gets a legacy?”
“Almost everyone,” Purple snapped back.
“Easy there. I’m just asking a question. Tryin’ to help.”
“Sorry,” Orange said. “Purple had an audition and just got rejected for a new song. That’s why we came out.”
Purple jumped in, “It’s crazy. Glove, Shove, and Dove all get accepted because they rhyme with Love. We’re better than them. It’s not about talent at all.”
“Amen,” said Orange.
“Maybe’s been riding Baby’s coattails for ages,” Lethal added. “So wishy-washy.” The three of them nodded together.
“It can’t be that bad,” the bartender said. “You all get used plenty. I mean you, Orange, have a fruit and a juice named after you. And you get to be in the rainbow.”
“And Purple, you’re a bunch of kids’ favorite color. That’s a legacy you can be proud of.”
“Yeah, but it’s just kids. And Pink is more popular anyway. By the time they grow up, they’ve moved on to Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow.”
“Lethal, you must be in a ton of mystery novels. That’s literature.”
“I’m barely in them. I’m no more than a plot device, a glorified extra.”
The bartender paused, then said, “You’re tough on yourselves.” There was another pause. “Wait a minute. Purple, you are in songs. ‘Purple People Eater.’”
“Uh, a novelty song. Not a great legacy.”
“Well, then, ‘Purple Rain.’”
Purple smiled. “Those were the days. I miss Prince every day.”
“That’s your legacy,” the bartender continued. “Wasn’t Prince’s whole thing purple?”
Purple continued to smile. “That’s a good point,” Orange said. Lethal nodded.
“I can live with that,” Purple said. “It’s a better legacy than most get. What about my friends here, though? They deserve better.”
“Hmm,” the bartender thought. “Orange, you’re in pretty good shape. I still think the rainbow’s a pretty big deal. And you’re in that joke, ‘Orange ya glad I didn’t say banana?’”
Orange laughed, “It makes me chuckle every time.”
The bartender continued, “Come to think of it, you’ve got songs, too. ‘Orange Blossom Special’ and ‘Orange Crush.’” Johnny Cash and R.E.M. aren’t too shabby.”
“You’re right,” said Orange. “My legacy isn’t about my last audition. It’s my whole body of work. Thank you.”
Lethal looked at the ground. “Got anything for me?” he asked feebly.
“I have to admit, you’re a bit tougher.”
“It’s not just because I have no rhyme. I’m pretty negative. No one wants to work with Lethal.”
“I’m sure that’s not true. You seem perfectly nice. And you have these two friends here.”
“Yeah, but it’s not much of a legacy.”
“Maybe you could make something,” the bartender suggested. “Make your own song or poem.”
“It would have to be about death or dying. I’m not really versatile. I don’t have a lot of range.”
“That’s nonsense. You know yourself better than anyone. There must be a positive way to present yourself.”
Lethal thought for a moment. “I’ve always liked the idea of death as a gift.”
“Go with it,” said Orange. Purple and the bartender nodded.
“Maybe I can. I can create my own legacy. Would anyone really take Lethal as a positive?”
“Of course,” answered the bartender. “Go with the Gift thing. You’ve got Shift and Lift for rhymes.”
Orange and Purple chimed in, “We’ll help.”
“It would be cool if the afterlife were Orange and Purple. OK. I’ll try it. I’ll write it so well, they’ll be trying to cast me in everything.” Lethal added to the bartender, “Thank you.”
Purple and Orange added their thanks as well. The three of them paid for their drinks and left the bar, talking excitedly to each other.
Well, it’s a story and it’s about lethal. I can live with that. Now how on Earth am I going to stretch it to eighteen-hundred words?