Exercising the craft—August 4, 2014

By Ekta R. Garg

Prompt: You’re outside cutting your grass when you come across a large hole in the ground. You’ve never noticed the hole before, but it looks to be some sort of tunnel to another world. You decide to peek through and see where it leads, only it leads you to a pivotal moment in your past—and it’s giving you an opportunity to change it. Write this scene.

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/where-does-the-tunnel-lead

 

Carly used her arm to wipe the sweat from her forehead. She let the push mower idle for a moment as she huffed for a few breaths. The sun had started beating down on her since she got into the yard an hour earlier, and she started wondering whether she’d made a mistake to take care of the grass that day. But she didn’t have a choice.

For once she had a full week of auditions, and Mrs. Kramer would have had her hide if she didn’t take her turn to mow the lawn. Carly couldn’t even complain about her landlady that much. Mrs. Kramer had offered her a place to live in L.A. when no one else would.

Taking one last deep breath, Carly started pushing the mower again. After moving it about five feet, she noticed a dark patch ahead in the shade of a tree.

What is that? That wasn’t there when I started the yard at that end.

She turned off the mower and wiped her forehead again. Shading her eyes with her palm, she looked at the patch. Its edges shimmered, and something about the shimmer piqued Carly’s curiosity. She moved toward it.

When she got closer she saw a hole in the ground, not just a patch. The opening shimmered like a lake sparkling diamond bright in the California sun. Carly had a sudden urge to touch the shimmering, and without hesitation she reached a hand toward it.

The shimmering disappeared, and the hole became a hole again. Instead of the darkness of the soil underneath, she saw another light. It looked similar to the light around her. But weren’t those tales of digging a hole to China just that—tales?

Carly looked around. No one had ventured into the heat that day. That didn’t surprise her. Most of the people in that neighborhood worked in the entertainment industry or wanted to work there and did odd jobs during the day to support their dreams.

She lay down next to the hole and peered inside. In front of her she saw a bedroom. Judging by the posters on the walls and the belongings thrown casually in the corner, it looked like it belonged to a teenage girl. But this teenager had gotten stuck in a serious time warp. The posters looked like the ones she’d had in her—

Carly wanted to jerk back, but instead she fell forward and landed with a thud on the floor of her old room. She scrambled to her feet and looked at the ceiling. The hole had disappeared.

“Let me out!” she screamed. “I don’t want to be here! Let me out!”

Nothing. She looked around, twisting in one direction and then the other. The mirror above the dressing table shimmered the same way the hole had, and Carly ran to it. She put her hand to the glass, but it felt solid. She pushed; nothing. Suddenly the frosted surface started glowing, and letters began forming on the mirror.

“Don’t be afraid, Carly. You have received an immense gift: the opportunity to relive a moment in your life that will determine your future. Think once again about the choices you received in this moment, and think about whether you would make the same choice.”

The mirror stopped shimmering and became clear. Carly saw her reflection and felt her heart miss a beat. She looked down at herself and saw the expensive dress she’d worn at her eighteenth birthday party just months before her high school graduation.

The party. Her mother had come to her room just before the party began and—

A tap sounded at the door. “Carly darling?”

The door opened before she could answer and her mother entered. She wore that same gown. The same pearls. The same costly perfume wafted in Carly’s direction. Could this really be her life in replay?

“Well, darling, have you finally reconsidered your decision to go to L.A.?”

Yes; someone had actually rewound her life. But this time Carly knew exactly what waited for her in L.A. The friends she’d made. The week of auditions ahead of her. Freedom to make her own decisions about what to wear and what to eat. Mrs. Kramer’s kind words when she got another rejection.

“You realize that starring in a couple of school plays doesn’t guarantee you would ever succeed in Hollywood. And you have to understand, sweetheart, that there are thousands of girls going there every week. How do you plan to make an impression out of thousands?”

Carly wanted to say something, but her mother’s words didn’t sound so farfetched today. Just last week she’d gone to an audition for a shampoo commercial. She’d stood in the heat for three hours in the line that had snaked around the television studio, and when three girls stood in line in front of her to get inside a production lackey came outside and announced that the auditions had closed. They’d found their shampoo girl.

When she thought about it, all of the auditions she had that week would keep her standing in lines. She could almost feel the manila folder that held her head shots go soft from the sweat on her fingertips. Her feet ached with the muscle memory of her audition stilettos. Carly had learned after her fifth audition to keep a pair of ballet flats in her bag and slip into the stilettos when she got close about ten people away from the door.

Even ten people away made her feet feel like a lawn mower had run over them.

“I realize it’s normal to have dreams your age, Carly, but this is something you’re going to have to learn now that you’re an adult. Most dreams don’t come true. At least, not in the way you want them to. That’s why it never hurts to have a backup plan.”

She opened her mouth, as she had so many years ago, to argue that just because her mother couldn’t join the New York City Ballet as she wanted didn’t mean Carly’s dreams wouldn’t come to fruition. Maybe, Carly wanted to repeat from that day, I want it more. Maybe I don’t want to settle for being a society wife.

The words stuck in her throat. She still didn’t want to marry into society and spend her life hosting bridge parties, but some aspect of the comfort of that life appealed to her all of a sudden. Her current life had drifted as far as possible from the comfort she’d experienced growing up. If she craved that comfort, did that mean she had lost some of her driving force to succeed in her dreams?

“Maybe you’re right, Mom,” she said, her eighteen-year-old voice sounding innocent to her own ears. “I mean, I don’t want to give up my dreams, but maybe…maybe a backup plan isn’t a bad idea.”

Her mother’s expression changed into something more than surprise. Carly suppressed a smile. She remembered the screaming matches between her and her mother about her acting. In those matches Carly had remained firm: she wouldn’t go to college. She had threatened—more than once—to run away from home, but those comforts had managed to snag her in the end.

“I think going to college won’t be too bad. But I’m not giving up acting. Ever.”

After looking at her for a moment, her mother nodded. “Of course, my dear.”

Carly’s pulse got faster, and she followed her mother to the large hall downstairs where she would announce her acceptance to Johns Hopkins University’s pre-medical program.

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