Don't Lose Your Head

Written in response to: Write a story that hinges on the outcome of a coin flip.... view prompt


Drama Thriller

“Heads, I take yours off. Tails… you walk free.”

I was strapped to the chair, bound and gagged. My head was still fuzzy from the drugs. I wasn’t even sure if it was a dream or not. I knew it hurt a lot, but I didn’t know if it was real. One of those dreams that seems hyper-realistic, but then you wake up covered in sweat, sheets soaking… you know the ones? I was sweating, but it wasn’t enough to remove the sticky.

The coin soared into the air… and landed on his palm.

“Oh dear…”

Adelaide’s life was nothing short of boring. A regular nine-to-five office affair in the day, evenings spent on the couch, or on boring, lacklustre Tinder dates, or watching (let’s be honest: re-watching) half-hour comedy shows that didn’t make her laugh, with bland, boring food she couldn’t be bothered to cook... she wasn’t entirely sure at which point her life had settled into such a rut, but it had happened. Every day just the same as the last, almost like Groundhog Day, except far less interesting.

The years passed by, and with it, Adelaide’s early- and mid-twenties. At the ripe old age of 27, something in her snapped. 2023 arrived. Not that she was ever on the ‘new year, new me’ bandwagon, and she wasn’t about to jump on it now... but something about December 31st transitioning into January 1st with no more than the tick of a clock and a half-arsed ‘Happy New Year’... it changed something inside her.

Looking in the mirror, Adelaide resolved to make some changes in her life.

First – the rut. Get out of it.

There was nothing she could do about her career. She was stuck with that for 8 hours a day, whether she liked it or not. But she got an hour for her lunch break every day, and there was a gym close by, and a library. A little thought decided that the library would be the best bet for lunch, since she could eat a sandwich in the little café there with a book. She’d missed reading. The gym would come after work. It was on the way home, so there was no excuse. A minimum of half an hour a day. Movement, functional. 5 days a week. Weekends? Fair game, but walking wouldn’t hurt her. Audiobooks and podcasts were available. Her diet could use a few more fruits and vegetables, too...

Second – find hobbies.

Reading and the gym were fine, but that was two hours out of her day. What would she fill the weekends with? Going out? No. She didn’t like drinking, she was allergic to alcohol. And going out without friends was difficult. What did she like to do? She liked... what did she like? Writing. She liked to write. Poems, mostly. And drawing buildings. There – not so hard, then. She’d buy herself a small sketchbook and she’d go to cafes, treat herself to a coffee, and draw or write.

Third – love life.

It was true she hadn’t had a decent date in a long time... eh, that one could wait. She would be open to it, but not obsess over it. If Prince Charming came along, great! If not, she would be content in her own company.

A month into Adelaide’s shake-up, things were going great. She slept better, had a routine, and had discovered a lot of authors she’d forgotten about. Just an hour a day of reading had reignited her love for fiction, and she found her mind expanding into familiar old thought patterns that she’d once adored. She felt better for exercising too, and adding vegetables back into her diet had reminded her how good rainbows tasted.

What she hadn’t expected, however, was the friend she made at the library one Saturday afternoon. Sitting in her usual spot in the café, she felt a pair of eyes upon her. She turned, her gaze meeting a young woman, who looked a little sheepish behind a pair of oversized spectacles. Adelaide smiled. The girl flushed a little, and then looked away, hiding behind a book. A few seconds later, the girl looked over her book again. Adelaide smiled again. A friend was a friend. When Adelaide’s coffee cup was empty, she packed up her stuff and left. If it was meant to be, she’d see the girl again.

And she did. The following week, the girl was there, in the queue this time. This week, the girl had a Russian book on her tray, alongside a little slice of cake and a sandwich. Adelaide looked down at the book.

“Interesting looking book,” she smiled. “Is that Russian?”

“Oh!” the girl gasped. “Y-yes – sorry, yes, it is. Dostoyevsky. It’s ‘Poor Folk’.”

“Amazing! I read that one at the start of the year, actually. In English. I don’t speak Russian.” The queue moved along a little. “Would you like to sit with me?”

“Oh…” the girl looked a little sheepish. Adelaide thought for a moment that she’d screwed up. But then, the girl’s face erupted into a huge grin, and she nodded. “Yes! Please!”

The girl’s name was Bethan, and she was a bit of a loner, since she’d been bullied relentlessly for her thick spectacles and her frizzy hair in school. She’d isolated herself, finding solace – as Adelaide had – in books. Adelaide recounted her own stories of being bullied for her unusual name, named after the place where she was conceived, while her parents were on holiday in Australia. Bethan thought the story was sweet, but understood. Could they be friends? Since they seemed to like similar books, music, movies, foods… it was natural.

June came around, and Bethan went on holiday. Of course, Adelaide missed her friend. They’d become best friends, and knew each other very well. Adelaide had even introduced Bethan to the gym, and the pair had become unstoppable. For someone who hadn’t really done sports as a kid, Bethan had phenomenally good cardio, and good eyesight considering she couldn’t wear her glasses. She was also strong, and had muscles hidden under the baggy, shapeless clothes she liked to wear. She also seemed to know her way around the gym quite well, too… Adelaide had dismissed it when Bethan had explained that she was genetically lucky, and she’d spent a lot of time on YouTube researching the gym so she wouldn’t be a burden.

But something didn’t quite feel right about it. Bethan was good at a lot of stuff someone like her shouldn’t have been good at, if she’d been a recluse.

It was one sunny afternoon, Adelaide was in the park, and she found out exactly who and what she’d been fucking around with. Walking alone, listening to an audiobook, her mind lost in a world of fairies, elves, wolves… a new fantasy series that had been free on Audible, actually. Rather good. Suddenly, two men in police uniform approached her. She barely had time to take her headphones off before they arrested her and bundled her into the back of a van.

It wasn’t a police van. A bag was thrown over her head and a gag shoved into her mouth.

After what felt like hours, Adelaide was finally released in the beautiful, ornate bedroom of what could have been a very fancy hotel, but also could have been something in Soho, Chelsea or Kensington. A woman in a tactical combat-esque suit sat opposite her, tactical boots laced up flush with her calves, her hair back in a bun. It took Adelaide a second to adjust to the light.


“Hi…” Bethan smiled smally. “Adelaide… you’re safe. I’m sorry I had to bring you here like that… I’m sorry I scared you.”

“You didn’t… your friends here did.” The two guys beside her held their hands up submissively, smiling sheepishly. “Seriously?!”

“We’re sorry, miss.”

“What the fuck, Bethan?!”

“I don’t have much time. I know this is really cliché, but this is genuinely how it is. Hollywood doesn’t get it wrong.” Bethan took a breath and sat forward. “I’m not who I said I was. I was working a case. You met me under my cover. But you’re in danger, now. I’ve been compromised, and anyone I’ve been speaking to needs to be briefed.”

Adelaide stared at Bethan. Before she could speak again, Bethan raised her hand to stop her.

“I know it’s a lot,” said one of the men beside her. “A lot to take in. But there’s a Russian gang after you and a few others, too. You’re no longer safe on your own.”

“So… so what –“

“Not enough time, Addy. Look – you’re a clever girl. You’re smart, you’re skilled. You’ll do just fine if you keep your head down and let us do what we need to do.” Bethan stood and moved forward, kneeling before her. “You’ll be safe. And, if you’re interested… I’d like to recruit you.” Adelaide’s mind raced. “Think about it, alright? You’d make a great spy.”

“Wait – what –“ Adelaide never got to ask her questions. The bag was placed back over her head, and even though she struggled and protested.

The next few weeks for Adelaide were hell on Earth. She didn’t want to leave her apartment, but then she reasoned that maybe they already knew where she lived, so it would be safer for her to leave… but then if she went outside, they could get her… whoever ‘they’ actually were. Still, Adelaide had said to trust the security detail they had on her… and she couldn’t see them, so that meant the bad guys couldn’t either.

Adelaide returned to her regular routine of working, gym, library, sketching… and felt herself relax. Things were going back to normal, and she almost forgot about the horrors that kept her on edge… especially when a pair of eyes met hers across the stacks in the library. A pair of rich, chocolate-brown eyes that sparkled at her. She smiled. The guy was handsome… definitely not from around here. A thought crossed her mind… that she was in immediate danger. A random guy looking at her?! Could be the Russian gang that was after her… but Bethan hadn’t been in touch… not yet…

“Hey.” A soft voice. Adelaide yelped. The guy stepped back, hand raised submissively. In his other, a book. “I didn’t mean to scare you. Sorry. I’ve seen you in here couple of times… I’m not… please, tell me to leave you alone… but I… I notice – and you’ve had some really good books –“ he trailed off. Adelaide swallowed. “Sorry… I’ll…” He turned.

“What… exactly are you trying to tell me?” Adelaide asked gently. She smiled. “Maybe we could start again?” The guy laughed. “My name’s Adelaide.”

“Adelaide. Is very beautiful name.” He smiled at her, turning back. “I am Henry.”

“Pleased to meet you, Henry!”

“I… notice you had some good b-books… and I’m not very good at speaking to people… but I wanted to speak to you.”

“Well… let’s talk!”

They chatted for the rest of the afternoon, and then into the evening, too. As Henry’s anxiety dropped, so too did his awkwardness, and Adelaide couldn’t quite believe she’d managed to bag a guy like him. He was gorgeous – the eyes, the smile, the body, the hair, the height. He had it all, everything she could possibly want.

Henry and Adelaide dated for a couple of weeks, Henry drawing her in with his charm, his elegance, his awkwardness… And then, she finally slept with him. Waking up in his bed the next morning was heaven, since his bed was a vast stretch of happiness and joy and comfort. And he was there, too, with his stupid shoulders…

How stupid she’d been to think he could be a Russian gang member!

One night, as she ate a dinner he’d cooked, Adelaide started to feel a little queasy. She felt her head spin, her heart both race and slow simultaneously. The room turned around her… when she woke up, she was in a dark room, tied to a fucking chair. A person sat opposite her. Henry.

“Privyet, mishka.” He smiled at her. “Are you okay?”

“Where am I?” Adelaide asked. “Henry?”

“I am sorry to do this to you, mishka. It is nothing personal.”

“D-do what?!” Adelaide whispered. “What’s – what is this?!”

“Your friend Bethan was a very bad little girl. And I had to see if she had recruited you. She has not.”

“How – what?!” Adelaide’s chest constricted with fear. “Henry, please don’t do this! Please let me go!” She was sweating, her skin clammy beneath the tight duct tape that held her down. “Please, Henry!”

“Shhh, mishka, don’t cry… don’t cry. Kracivaya, don’t cry…” Henry’s dark grin did nothing to reassure her as he stood up. He had a huge knife in his hand, and a gun. “See, I have had fun with you. I enjoyed my time with you. You are a very smart, intelligent, beautiful young woman. Truly. And if circumstances were different, I would have kept hold of you… but, you are one of the enemy, even though you haven’t been recruited.”

“So what – you’re going to kill me for sport?!” Adelaide’s voice was barely there.

“No. I like to see if you are beautiful and lucky… call it an experiment, if it makes you feel better.” He smiled at her again, moving behind her. He held a coin up in front of her eyes. “Let’s see how lucky you really are.” Henry ran the back of the blade of the knife along Adelaide’s neck, making her shiver. She started to sob openly, tears pouring down her cheeks.


“That’s what it came down to? A coin-toss?” The police officer leaned over the desk towards Adelaide, as though she didn’t believe her. “A flip of a coin to decide if you live or die? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sound reasonable.”

“Do you think I enjoyed living it?! This psychopath was going to fucking take my head off!” Adelaide ran her hands through her hair, trembling. “You have to help me!”

“Look, love… go home. Get a good night’s sleep, and you’ll feel better in the morning.”

The officers had no intention of letting this little story go on for any longer. The idea of some psycho beheading coin-flipper was a little too much, even for the most drug-addled of brains.

Adelaide had no choice but to stand up and leave, even if she was in a state. They offered her the number of a local psychiatrist, and told her to go to A&E if she had any suicidal thoughts. Of course she wasn’t suicidal… Henry was the homicidal maniac! She left the station and made her way home. Perhaps it was time to make peace with her death.

As she walked towards the tube, a car pulled up beside her. A coin was flipped out of the window, and it landed right in front of her, heads facing up.

“Not so lucky a second time, mishka.” Henry’s voice. Adelaide swallowed. She closed her eyes. “I told you no police…”

“They didn’t believe me anyway.”

“I don’t care. And neither does the coin.” Henry sighed. A gun cocked. “Do svidaniya, mishka."


January 13, 2023 22:04

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