Contest #208 winner 🏆

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Fiction Funny Thriller

“Okay, let’s go over the first scene.”

“Right, but let’s do it on the go, ‘cause we’ve gotta move, and I mean now.”

Logan Steele sets off at fast trot, hurrying down the hallway of the ubiquitous Government Agency Headquarters. His long legs carry his broad-shouldered, powerfully built body along at brisk pace. I hurry to keep up with him, panting for breath in only a few strides.

“Think we could slow this down a bit?” I gasp, heading past doors with block print nameplates, framed posters of suited figures shaking hands, and signs reminding everyone that they’re in a top-secret facility and everything is being recorded. Maybe it’s over the top, but this is a rough draft. “I’m not the tough-as-nails ex-soldier here; I’m just the writer.”

“No can-do, Mr. Writer,” Logan says over his shoulder. “We’re in a crunch here. Besides, this is an action thriller, right? Pacing is everything. So, we’re keeping it fast.”

I shoot a frown at Logan’s back. I should be able to determine stuff like the pacing. I’m the writer, after all. But this is my process, a writing exercise I’ve used ever since I started writing, and it often takes on a life of its own, so to speak. And Logan is a great character for the role I’ve written him: tall and athletic, sporting a whitewall haircut, deep blue eyes positively glinting with determination, and a jawline so sharp you could cut yourself on it. So I’ll just let him off the leash and see where this goes.

“Hey,” Logan says, a little frown marring his smooth, lightly tanned brow. “What Government Agency am I with? Secret Service?” His non-descript civilian attire changes into a crisp suit, white shirt and black tie, dark sunglasses appearing on his face and an earpiece curving around his ear. “Or some kind of tactical response unit?” His clothing shifts again, turning into combat fatigues, body armor, and a harness clattering with specialized weapons and equipment. “I kinda like this one.”

I shake my head; time to exercise some creative control. “No, you’re with a special undercover unit.” Once more, his attire alters, going back to civilian clothing, though it’s very stylish and complimentary, the kind of thing you see the young stars wear in popular TV crime dramas. “You work behind the scenes to protect the country.”

“Got it,” Logan says. “Sort of the go anywhere, do anything, edge-of-the law thing, right?”

“Right.”

We reach the front doors and burst out onto a sunlit street. Sitting at the curb before us, engine idling, is a late-model sports car, low-slung and streamlined, fire-engine red with a racing stripe. Logan skids to a halt, a grimace of distaste on his face.

“Wait a sec,” he says. “This isn’t right. This is like the opposite of low-profile, and this kind of car is useless for pursuit and interdiction. I mean, it’s got no mass. And what’s with the racing stripe?” He fixes me with an annoyed glare.

I shrug. “Hey, you wanted fast, didn’t you?”

“Fast pacing, Mr. Writer,” he says, gesturing at the car. “This is ridiculous. How about a truck?”

The sports car becomes a massive pickup, with an extended cab and an eight-foot bed, dark grey in color.

“Now that’s more like it,” Logan says, grinning.

“No way,” I say. “This thing couldn’t keep up with a baby stroller, can’t corner worth anything, and says all the wrong things about what kind of man you are.”

“Come on,” he replies, dangerously close to whining. “It’s large and imposing, says I’m a no-nonsense kind of guy who like to get things done.”

“It’s loud and bombastic,” I shoot back. “And totally impractical, since you’ll never use it to haul anything but yourself.” Before he can complain any more, I hold up a hand. “We’ll compromise.”

The truck morphs into a midsize SUV, standard government black, with a heavy push bumper on the front end.

Logan looks like he wants to argue again, but finally heaves a sigh. “Fine,” he says. “But you’ve got no sense of style.” He leaps into the open driver’s door, settling behind the wheel.

I climb in, taking shotgun. “Seatbelts.”

He gives me an incredulous look. “Seriously?”

“Safety first,” I say, clicking my belt into place. “These days, kids can get a hold of any book, and I don’t want my characters giving any bad examples.”

Shaking his head, Logan straps in with exaggerated care. “Happy?”

“Let’s just get on with the scene.”

With a smirk, Logan floors the gas, and the vehicle leaps away from the curb, careening through traffic, forcing other cars to swerve and slam on their brakes. Blaring horns doppler shift behind us as we speed away.

“That was a little petty,” I say, prying my fingers off the dash.

“We’re in a hurry here, Mr. Writer. Or am I wrong?”

“No, you’re right,” I say with a sigh. “We’ve got just minutes to reach the president’s motorcade, where it’s been ambushed by the villain’s forces. They’re trying to assassinate him, beheading the country’s leadership at a critical moment.”

Logan chuckles. “Oh, that old plot device.”

“What do you mean?” I look at him, feeling offended.

He doesn’t take his eyes off the road, but he has this little grin on his face. “Well, it’s just not very accurate or realistic. If the president gets abducted or killed, well, there’s all sorts of contingencies, and an entire chain of command in place to ensure continuity of government. When you get right down to it, the president is more of a figurehead. An important symbol, but not critical to running the government.”

“Well, in my story, he’s very important,” I say through gritted teeth. “So you’ve got to try to save him, at all costs.”

“Fine,” Logan says. “Whatever. It’s your story.”

We speed around a corner, and ahead of us we see a column of vehicles, black sedans and SUVs, scattered along the street. They’re parked at random, up on the sidewalks or across the roadway, like they were forced to come to a stop wherever they could. Most of them are peppered with bullet holes, windshields and windows cracked or shattered. Some of the vehicles are on fire, burning fiercely and sending up plumes of dark smoke.

Figures move among the embattled motorcade, police officers and Secret Service agents, seeking cover behind cars and in building doorways. They have their weapons out, pistols and compact submachine guns, aimed up at the rooftops of the buildings around them. More figures move along those roofs, wielding assault rifles and grenade launchers, raining fire and death on the ambushed column below them.

In the middle of the chaos sits a limousine, surrounded by defenders, bearing the presidential seal on its doors. Small flags mounted to its hood flutter in the waves of heat from the nearby fires. Many of the police and agents have fallen, their crumpled forms dotting the pavement, testament to their heroic efforts to protect their charge.

Logan slams on the brakes, bringing the SUV to a screeching halt. “All right,” he says with a grin. “Showtime!” He pulls a pistol out of the holster at his belt, frowns. “Come on, give me a real gun.”

“Fine.” I shrug, and the pistol becomes an assault rifle with an underbarrel grenade launcher.

“Now we’re talking.” Logan kicks upon the door and leaps out onto the street.

I’m still clambering out of the car, hurrying to keep up with the action, while Logan is off. He moves down the street, from cover to cover, from cars to building corners, pausing at each barrier to take aim and fire few shots from his weapon. The ambushers start to drop, falling backwards out of sight or toppling from the roof edges to land on the pavement below. There aren’t any survivors from the president’s security detail, just still bodies lying on the concrete, and it takes a minute for the attackers to realize that something’s wrong. By then, fully half of them are down.

When they finally spot Logan, and start trying to fight back, coordinate a response to this surprise, it’s too late. Their return fire is sporadic and ineffective. Logan is too fast, too battle-savvy. He fires off short bursts, picking off his targets one by one, only moving when he’s forced his opponents to take cover of their own, hiding from his frighteningly effective aim.

He pauses to reload, ducking behind the engine block of an overturned car. Bullets crack and hiss around him, raising sparks from the wrecked vehicle and puffs of dust from the concrete roadway. “You know,” Logan shouts at me over the incessant chatter of automatic fire. “This is some seriously PG-13 action here! Where’s all the gore and swearing?”

I frown at him. “Like I said, kids can get anything these days. I think this shows a good level of mature restraint.”

Logan tells me what he thinks of that, and I edit it out.

“EDITED,” he yells at me with a grin, slapping a fresh clip into his rifle.

In moments, it’s over. The last of the gunmen falls, plummeting to the ground with a drawn-out, dramatic scream. Logan still doesn’t get cocky, moving forward in a running crouch, staying low but keeping his eyes and his weapon scanning the rooftops.

He hurries to the limo with the presidential seals, does a quick three-sixty sweep of the area, checking for any hostiles he might have missed. Then he opens the rear door.

“Mr. President,” Logan says, holding the rifle stock still hard against his shoulder with one hand even as he reaches into the vehicle with the other. “I’m here to get you—”

He breaks off as a body tumbles out of the limousine, flopping limply to the pavement. It’s the president, the front of his shirt covered in blood, more of it trickling from a corner of his mouth. His eyes are fixed open and staring sightlessly.

“What…” Logan starts to say, then a single shot rings out. He jerks in place, his eyes going wide. Two more shots sound in quick succession, jolting him again, and he looks down at the spreading red stain on his chest. He sinks to his knees, coughs once, bringing up blood, and then falls forward onto his face.

A second later he’s back up again. “Hold on, hold on,” Logan says, waving a hand, the other still holding onto his assault rifle. “Wait a sec, let me get this straight. The president is already dead, and I get shot?”

“Yeah,” I say, feeling a little smug at how well I’ve pulled off the surprise twist, the sudden reversal. “Great way to end the scene, right?”

“Um, okay,” Logan says, with the air of someone who doesn’t quite know what to say. “So, I’m, like, badly wounded here? And then I recover and have to go after the bad guys, with this crippling failure to overcome and use as motivation to succeed…” He trails off at the look on my face. “You’re killing me off, right?”

“Yep. It’s the best trick in the book. Total subversion of expectations. It’s so cool.”

“Yeah. Cool. Totally subverted my expectations,” Logan grumbles.

“You don’t like it?”

“Hey, whatever. It’s your story.” I might be wrong, but I think my tough-as-nails ex-soldier is sulking.

“Come on, don’t be like that. This is an awesome hook, a great prologue.”

“A prologue?” Logan sounds incredulous. “I thought this was the climactic scene!”

“Nope,” I shake my head. “It’s the first scene. I told you that at the beginning.”

“I thought you meant it was the first scene you were writing. Like, doing the best part first or something.”

“Nope. This is the prologue. And a good one, too. Draws the reader in with some fast-paced action and a twist out of left field. Great stuff.”

Logan’s expression makes it clear that he doesn’t agree with my self-critique of my writing. “The prologue. I get killed in the prologue. You go through all the trouble of creating me, this awesome character, and then you write me out in the first scene.” He shakes his head. “I don’t believe this.”

Great, now I’m having an argument with my own character about how I’ve written him. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not that great a character. I mean, you’re actually kind of a… cliché.”

“What?” His head comes up like a bull spotting a matador’s cape.

“No, really. Everybody writes these tough, grizzled, super-capable combat veterans nowadays. They’re everywhere. That’s not what I want for this book.”

“But… but they’re awesome! Like that one guy from that one series,” Logan snaps his fingers, trying to come up with the name. “You know, the one that Amazon made that show on.”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” I say. “Clichéd.”

“I love that series,” Logan mumbles, sounding hurt. “So, you made me up, and just like that, you’re writing me out.” Now he sounds angry, and fixes me with that stone-hard gaze that I gave him.

Even knowing that I’m just in a story, facing a character I’ve created in a scene I’ve made up, I feel a chill. I swallow past a sudden lump in my throat. “Hey, you know, maybe I could write a spin-off, a prequel… even a whole series, just about you? How’s that sound?”

“With everybody who reads it knowing that I get offed like a chump in the first scene of your ‘real book’.” He does that air quotes thing with his fingers. “No thanks.” He stalks toward me, and I take an involuntary step back. Then he shoves the assault rifle into my hands, pushing it against my chest.

“If you’re going to write me out of this lousy story, Mr. Writer,” he says, continuing to walk on past me, “just write me out completely.” He pauses and glances over his shoulder. “By the way, you still use too many ly words.”

I glare at his retreating back, uncommonly at a loss for words. Oh, I did it again.

So, hmmm, this little writing exercise hasn’t gone at all like I planned. Now my character has walked out, I feel like a jerk, and it’s only the first scene of my book.

Oh, well, at least it’s just a rough draft.

July 24, 2023 15:35

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64 comments

Shirley Medhurst
10:54 Aug 10, 2023

Loved this fabulous take on the prompt. Well deserved congratulations are definitely in order! 👍

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Peggy Lee
05:52 Aug 10, 2023

Haha Logan calls us all out when he says “by the way you still use too many ly words” are adverbs cliche’? Are they as cliche’ as Jack Ryan? Lol but they can be so lovely but also unnecessary and cumbersome especially if adverbs ain’t your style. I liked the dialogue between the writer and the character especially when Logan was sounding hurt…like i felt that was a stylistic choice to avoid some cliche’ adverb lol and it stung when Logan called the writer out like that haha i can’t get over it. I mean, dang, if I were a character in some nov...

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Bonnie Simpson
17:17 Aug 09, 2023

I felt Logan's energy! I was totally drawn into the exchange between both of you. Another 'ly' word, huh? Anyway, Ian, this was genius! Congratulations!

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Danielle Mills
01:13 Aug 09, 2023

This was well-written and highly amusing. I completely understand why you won, congratulations!

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Anna W
20:48 Aug 08, 2023

Fantastic story! Great take on the prompt. Congratulations on your win!

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Turey Rosa
03:51 Aug 08, 2023

I really enjoyed this, thankyou for sharing it 😊

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Zama Bhala
08:54 Aug 07, 2023

Very well done. This was such an enjoyable read, and a very clever interpretation on the prompt. How did you even come up with that? Lol.

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07:12 Aug 07, 2023

A complete subversion of expectations right here. I mean I was shaken right off the hooks with this masterpiece. This is definitely award winning and congratulations on your much deserved win.

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Celtic Bard
20:25 Aug 06, 2023

Another great story Ian! The only two things I know to expect when I begin one of your stories is that it be good and that it will be unlike anything else I've read.

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Carol Quinn
20:23 Aug 06, 2023

Great story. I loved the banter between the character and the writer. It was very cleverly written. Congratulations!

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Kay Smith
19:08 Aug 06, 2023

I simply couldn't set down my phone while reading this. Fast-paced, witty! I love the back and forth between the main character and the main character! This was truly a fun read! So clever! Bravo!

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Zakirah Green
17:56 Aug 06, 2023

This is how the character comes to life. Love it.

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Shahzad Ahmad
15:52 Aug 06, 2023

Ian you have managed to embrace the prompt literally turning it into fictional reality with your ripe imagination. You are a worthy WINNER. Remarkable!

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Raven West
13:00 Aug 06, 2023

Really cute twist... exactly how I feel when my "characters" argue with me while I'm writing! Very fun read!

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Peter Naughton
08:22 Aug 06, 2023

I loved this. It gets better with every line. Really well done, thank you. I am happy that you won.

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Philip Ebuluofor
08:11 Aug 06, 2023

Congrats. Fine story. Putting downtime, dissing, teasing time. All in one.

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Mary Bendickson
03:19 Aug 06, 2023

Congrats on the win. Well, deserved. Echo what everyone else has already said. Could use some of your killer instincts. Blowing own horn here. I am a finalist for Killer Nashville The Claymore Award for best western category given for first 50 pages in unpublished manuscript. (See some of those pages in Trampled Dreams and TD part two in my profile.) Killer Nashville gets its name honoring writers who are good at killing, thrillers, suspense, mystery, crimes, etc. I don't think my novel has a lot of that as is. May have to develop more devi...

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J. S. Bailey
01:52 Aug 06, 2023

I love the premise, took the prompt and mastered it. I realised he was talking to a character and not an actor earlier than I would have liked. But the choice of action-thriller macho man was perfect for this. Humorous, charming and insightful. Great job and congrats on the win.

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Olive Silirus
19:42 Aug 05, 2023

Great story! Very funny, and explains the slight guilt that can come with killing off a character when you're a writer. Congrats on the win!

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19:12 Aug 05, 2023

Really enjoyed it. A well deserved win, congratulations.

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