I’ve been reading Machine of Death and I really love the idea: write a story given one constant element –sort of a prompt with maybe a few more rules. In this case, there is a machine that takes a blood sample and prints out the cause of a person’s death. The stories are quite varied. It’s amazing how creative writers can be given just one idea.
When I thought about this daily prompt, about procrastination… well, if there’s one thing we’d all love to put off until tomorrow, surely it’s our death.
Maybe it was just the overwhelming possibility of something going wrong. Sara just couldn’t do it. She watched the other children run, bounce, and jump. Some flipped, some held their nose and let gravity do its work, some dived. They all emerged from the pool glistening and smiling.
But Sara just couldn’t do it. She’d convinced herself to get to the top of the ladder. She’d even managed onto the sky blue board. She envisioned herself running and… well maybe not running but jumping and… well maybe not jumping but stepping off the edge and falling into the pool. She’d worked up the nerve but her body froze.
Sara just couldn’t do it. Her feet were fastened in place while her legs trembled, uncontrollable like a shiver from the first Winter wind. Her hands gripped the rails, knuckles turning white. Her eyes burned as tears began to well up. The lifeguard blew the whistle to get her attention.
“Jump or climb down!”
Sara’s Mom and Dad lay in lounge chairs at the shallow end near the hot tub.
“So, tell me.”
“Aah, the machine was broken.”
“What do you mean, broken?”
“Well, I put the fifty in, she stuck her finger in, it pricked her and then it spit out her card. She didn’t want to look so I did.”
“Well, like I said, it had already pricked her finger but I guess the screen was locked up because it kept saying ‘PLEASE INSERT $50.00.’ And then the card had an error message like it was expecting us to do something else.”
“So, I took the card to the attendant and he said he hadn’t seen that before but he’d call it in. We said we’d wait. The service man on the phone said he hadn’t seen that before so he’d be out in the morning. They gave us a rain check.”
“So you’re going back tomorrow?”
“I don’t know. I think we should wait until she’s ready. I don’t think she really wanted to do it today but all her other friends got theirs before their 12th birthday party. Maybe she just didn’t want to seem weird. She acted like she was disappointed but she had that look –almost like she was glad.”
“That’s OK with me. You know I’m going to lose it no matter what it says.”
“Should I go get the cake ready?”
“John, look! She’s doing it!”
John and Carrie watched Sara step to the top of the diving board. “I can’t believe it! She must really be in a good mood!” But she didn’t move. The lifeguard blew the whistle and John realized what was happening. He sat up.
“Jump or climb down!”
Sara was still frozen. The whistle shrieked again.
“Everyone off the ladder!”
Sara’s friends were stacked up one after another on the ladder below her.
“Go, Sara!” “It’s OK, you can do it!” “Come on, Sara! Give us a turn!”
The platform began to shake and groan. The bolts anchoring the platform to the concrete began to crack loose.
John saw the platform shake. He jumped up and ran toward the diving board.
Carrie sat in horror, her eyes moving from the shaking platform to John. As he took his first step forward, a white card fell from his hand. Carrie saw the word stamped in bold black letters as the card see-sawed through the air.