Exercising the craft—July 29, 2013

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: At a Chinese restaurant, your character opens his fortune cookie and reads the following message: “Your life is in danger. Say nothing to anyone. You must leave the city immediately and never return. Repeat: say nothing.”

http://www.creative-writing-now.com/short-story-ideas.html

(# 12 under “More short story ideas)

My years of training prevented me from having any outward reaction toward the message in the fortune cookie, but my pulse began to flutter.  Who had sent me the covert missive?  More importantly, why?

As my friends opened their fortune cookies and laughed at the glimpses into their futures, my mind tackled the easiest thing to understand: how the right cookie reached me in the first place.

I wonder if they finally worked out a way for plastic materials to recognize fingerprints.  Karen was so close when I left the lab this last time.

One of the girls handed me her fortune.  My mask continued the charade as I laughed about how the innocuous piece of paper predicted a great romance about to begin.  The scientific portion of my mind continued to tap at the problem as if checking a melon for optimal freshness.

The DNA infusion should have worked this time around; I don’t look anything like I did two years ago.  They weren’t supposed to find me.  But if they didn’t then someone else did.  The question is who?

I could almost hear my brain’s logic center scoffing.  Asking the same question twice within the same five-minute time frame didn’t exactly constitute high-level, government-trained problem solving skills.  Except that the training I received in problem solving didn’t end with the government training—and based on the message someone had finally figured that out.

“Well, girls,” I said with what I hoped was a convincing smile, “I think I’m going to call it a night.  I’ve got a big day tomorrow.”

My dear, sweet, absolutely clueless group of friends let me go with the usual protests about heading home early, why was I such a stickler for the rules at the accountancy firm where I worked (an innocuous enough cover, my team and I thought, when we’d finalized it as my new location,) and didn’t I want to have some real fun for once?

If only they knew that I didn’t have room in my life for “real fun” anymore.

I didn’t let go of my smile until I had handed the valet my ticket.  When the college kid jogged away to find my car, I allowed myself to deflate slightly from my core.  Even then I knew someone could be watching me, so I tried to portray the mild image of a woman worn out after a night out with her friends and not show the reality of my situation: that I was a woman now running for her life.

Where had everything gone wrong?  With the DNA infusion even my own mother wouldn’t have recognized me—and she didn’t.  After tinkering with just a few dominant and recessive genes, we’d run an experiment and gotten glowing results.  We thought our results and technology were fool-proof.

But someone had obviously not been fooled.

The valet brought my car—a silver 2005 Camry—and I thanked him with a generous tip and a suggestive smile.  I really didn’t mean anything by it; force of habit, I guess.  He smiled back, but before he could make any flirtatious suggestions I slipped into the driver’s seat and began the 30-minute drive back to my apartment.  Only once during that trip did I let myself glance at the glove compartment that held the sole reminder of my previous life.  But I wasn’t ready to look at it.  Not now.

When I got home, I went straight to my gum stick-sized closet and picked up the bag that I’d packed the first night I moved in.  In addition to the apartment I’d also leased the furniture.  Even the pots and pans belonged to the building.

I opened the suitcase long enough to drop my purse inside it, then snapped it shut.  Reaching into my laptop bag, I extracted the lease termination papers and a check for the balance of my contract.  I’d filled out the property management company’s name and signed it when I moved in.  Now I had a date and an amount, and I made sure to use the same pen to complete the information.  Undoubtedly the fifteen months I’d spent here constituted the longest I’d spent in any one place at one time.

Those fifteen months had come and gone without me reaching my goal, but I turned off the light in my living room for the last time and made my way down the hall to slip the papers and the check into the mail slot of the manager’s office.  If someone felt like he—or she—could scare me off the bigger question at stake with a flimsy threat, they obviously didn’t know the extent of my capabilities.  Nothing would keep me from reaching my goal.

“I don’t remember including anything in my warning about coming home to pack.  I thought you understood what it meant when it said that you have to leave immediately.”

Nothing—except that.

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