Contest #194 shortlist ⭐️

Action heroes are easy

Submitted into Contest #194 in response to: Write a story inspired by the phrase “Back to square one.”... view prompt

22 comments

Suspense Funny Contemporary

There are fourteen minutes before the bomb explodes.

Greg Powers, bomb disposal expert and all-round man, is kneeling before it, talking urgently to his superiors via the device in his ear. Beside him stands a woman, who shows her anxiety by shaking her long auburn hair back and forth. Her clothes are too tight but her body is so bodacious that it doesn’t matter. At thirteen minutes, she begins to sweat, but only in the sexy places.

Powers reaches forward. His proposal is unlikely, improbable, but he’s the expert in his field. He’s been to war. He’s been near death before.

There are twelve minutes to go.

He has tried three different methods of disarming the bomb –  

The writer lifts his fingers from the keyboard and sighs. There’s something missing. Powers is everything a man should be. Maybe he just needs more depth. Some kind of additional character to show that he is more than just a shallow meathead with specialist skills.

Ordinarily, he would just walk away, and let the bomb explode, but it has been placed underneath a crowded shopping centre, and there’s also a kid chained to it. Little Jonny is related to Powers in some way, but he’s not his son, because Powers would never let a condom break. Jonny is sobbing and Powers is telling him to MAN UP, be brave, be like him, because only losers cry, and he wouldn’t want to be a loser, would he?

The woman is nodding her ascent because, naturally, she agrees with everything Powers says. She doesn’t have any ideas of her own.

Ten minutes to go. Powers reaches for the bolt cutters –  

This time, the writer pulls off his obligatory glasses, squinting at the screen, at the words which don’t flow properly. He reaches for his cup of cold coffee and sips. Compelling protagonist? Check. Emotional connection? Check. He stares at the ring left by the coffee cup on his crowded desk. Then, suddenly, he puts his glasses back on, the writer’s equivalent of shouting, ‘Eureka!’

In his ear, his superiors yell that he needs to stop, to wait for the rest of the bomb disposal squad. His boss, a squat little man called Smith, is screaming obscenities down the line, but Powers knows that he is just talking the way that real men do. He waits for a pause in the shouts, then tells him that he is doing this, and Smith needs to trust him. Without waiting for a reply, he yanks the device out of his ear.

Authority figures have always irked Greg Powers. He’s a rebel to the core and he isn’t about to stop now. Hands steady, he cuts the red wire. Little Jonny and the woman hold their collective breath. And for a moment, nothing happens. Then it’s back to square one, worse than square one, because the timer doesn’t stop. It speeds up.

Five minutes.

Now, the writer is satisfied. Conflict: the creator’s lifeblood. Powers would never be the type to submit to those who tell him what to do. The writer downs more coffee, thinking that after this paragraph he will go and drink a fresh cup. He has successfully raised the stakes. But can he make them even higher? What’s driving Powers? He needs to be the hero for Little Jonny and all those potential victims standing above them. Who else is he playing the hero for? The writer sees his wife through his office window, stretching before her morning run, and he has an idea.

Pacing the room, hips swinging, the woman lets out a sob of frustration, but it’s a sexy sob. A single tear runs down her cheek and she looks at Powers with big, vulnerable eyes. She is Bambi in human form, and Powers isn’t going to let anyone shoot her mother.

He reaches for her, spending precious seconds on a quick embrace, reassuring her that he has got this… And afterwards, they will celebrate together. He winks when he says the word ‘celebrate’ then turns back to the bomb.

Think, Powers, think. The red wire didn’t work. The blue wire? He reaches for the bolt cutters. But if he gets it wrong, that’s it. Kaput. All of the people walking around that shopping centre are dead. Could he move the bomb? Could he jump onto it and absorb the impact of the blast? Sure, dying was not on his agenda for today, but he’s a hero, and he will do what must be done.

Three minutes.

Little Jonny rattles the chains and Powers knows that he can’t let his nephew die. There are two wires left. Blue. Green. Blue. Green. Time speeds up. The woman becomes slightly hysterical and Powers shouts at her to SHUT UP so that he can think.

Blue. Green. Blue. Green.

Die. Live. Die. Live.

One minute.

His hand shakes a little now as he picks up the bolt cutters. Even the great Greg Powers clenches his other fist.

30 seconds.

The writer stands, stretches, and reaches for his cup. He types one last sentence before his daughter calls him from another room and he goes to help her with her Geography homework, marking lines on a string to measure the distances between places on a map. There is still something missing, but he is blocked now. Should Powers die in the end? But save them all first? His daughter calls with more urgency and he leaves the room quickly.

Die. Live. Die. Live. Feeling queasy, he raises the cutters before his eyes and he –

Much, much later, the writer holds down the backspace key until all that remains is the first sentence. He knows what he needs to do.

There are fourteen minutes before the bomb explodes.

Greg Powers, bomb disposal expert, is kneeling before it, talking urgently to his superiors via the device in his ear. Beside him stands a woman who inspects the homemade explosive device with care. This will be the sixth bomb she and Powers have dismantled. If they are successful, promotion is coming her way, and she will finally live up to the expectations of her father, a retired police chief who always told her she was powerful. They are a calm pair, the woman and Powers, both expert, both doing their jobs. Her name is Sarah.  

April 20, 2023 09:13

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22 comments

Tricia Shulist
00:07 Apr 24, 2023

Great story! And a lot of fun! I was smiling the whole time. I love a tongue-in-cheek story, especially the writer while he’s writing. Good job. Thanks for this. PS: I’m trying to write one short story a week as well, regardless of the prompts, and if I miss a week, I have to do two the next week. I think it makes me a better writer. I’m finding that I really like the short story format. Good luck,

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Amy Arora
07:21 Apr 24, 2023

Thanks so much for reading, Tricia! Just something silly really - but it was great fun to write. That's brilliant that you're also writing one every week. I'll look out for your stories!

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:02 Apr 30, 2023

I was expecting her name to be Amy but Sarah can always do. Congrats.

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Amy Arora
07:10 May 09, 2023

Thank you so much for reading, Philip!

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Philip Ebuluofor
13:41 May 11, 2023

Welcome.

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22:53 Apr 28, 2023

Excellent stuff, well executed, princess bride kind of vibe . Love it

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Amy Arora
12:51 Apr 29, 2023

Thanks for reading, Derrick. I’ve never seen The Princess Bride and I need to - a big gap in my movie knowledge!

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13:58 Apr 29, 2023

It's a classic. Definitely check it out if you get a chance!

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Rita Kimak
21:01 Apr 28, 2023

What a great idea and so well executed- not an easy thing to write because of the back and forth-enjoyed it very much!! Congrats!!

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Amy Arora
12:52 Apr 29, 2023

Thank you so much for reading, Rita. I’m so happy you enjoyed it!

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17:38 Apr 28, 2023

Welcome and congratulations on being shortlisted! Great job for a first spin. I loved the postmodern meta narrative, but I loved the feminist twist even more! It’s a powerful point to make in such a playful way. Nice work!

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Amy Arora
12:53 Apr 29, 2023

Thank you so much, Anne. I was thinking about how many stories are still written without a female perspective, even in 2023! Plus it was fun to write something so utterly silly.

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Laurel Hanson
17:13 Apr 28, 2023

Great concept and execution. Good story. Well-deserved shortlist.

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Amy Arora
12:53 Apr 29, 2023

Thank you so much for reading, Laurel.

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Mary Bendickson
15:21 Apr 28, 2023

Well, welcome to Reedsy and here is a win! First time out. I read so many this week but still missed this one. Congrats. Only three shortlisted this week when I thought there were so many great ones. So double Congrats!

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Amy Arora
17:05 Apr 28, 2023

Thank you so much for reading, Mary. I am absolutely thrilled, it has made my year to be shortlisted! I love reading other people's stories too. Going to go and read yours now :)

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09:00 Sep 05, 2023

https://exampledomain.com/?u=XXXXX&o=YYYYY

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Amanda Lieser
19:24 May 10, 2023

Hi Amy, Congratulations on the shortlist! I have to point out first my favorite line for this piece, which was when he talked about how the protagonist starts to get sweaty, but only in sexy places. That was such a wonderful bit of humor. I really enjoyed the way that you balanced the writers perspective with the story. It definitely felt like a store within a story and it was done very well. Nice work!!

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Amy Arora
14:17 May 25, 2023

Thanks so much, Amanda!

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Geir Westrul
17:49 May 06, 2023

This one was by a writer for writers. I recognize myself as the writer keeps trying to force the story to the preconceived notions of blockbuster action-bestseller mold. And then ... ... back to square one. The story should be told from a totally different perspective. Not the stereotypically predicable-hero-male point of view, instead ... Sarah. Congratulations on a well-deserved shortlist. Great stuff, Amy!

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Amy Arora
07:11 May 09, 2023

Thank you so much for reading, Geir. I think we've all found ourselves in that situation of trying to make something work when actually it needs to be completely taken apart and started again!

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Geir Westrul
13:26 May 09, 2023

Yes, and it always seems to happen because we are trying to fit ourselves, our story, and our characters into the way the story is "supposed to be". Back to square one — but let the story be what it wants to be.

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