Short Stories

Writing Prompt #1: Universal Insight

I always had an interest in writing, but not the discipline to actually really do it. Lately, I fell in love with the idea of writing small stories based on prompts given by other people. Here is the first one I wrote.

The prompt is to write about someone who accidentally put in a cheat code in real life and has no idea how to turn it off again.

Today is the day. For years I have been focused on nothing but the preparations for this moment. And those last 5 months were intense. All those long nights learning the lines and those hundreds of hours spent in rehearsals. I will have to reach out to my family and friends, all of whom I pretty much ghosted during this time. But this doesn’t matter now. I need to focus. Just 45 minutes until the curtain will rise and I finally get to prove that I have not been chasing a pointless dream.

I get up from my chair and nervously look in the mirror to make sure that I did not crinkle my costume. Nope, it’s fine. Just like it has been the last 5 times. I take a deep breath and stare at myself in the mirror. “You can do this. You are prepared.“, I tell myself.

A tentative knock on the door interrupts me. Did they hear what I just told my mirror image? Doesn’t matter. “Yes?“, I call. The door opens a crack and David peeks in. “30 minutes to go. Are you ready?” He looks a bit disheveled, but smiles at me. “Not quite, but I will be.“, I answer. My voice is shaking a bit. He gives me the thumbs up and vanishes, closing the door behind him.

Alright. I have half an hour for my preparation ritual and I sure hope that going through the motions will calm my frayed nerves. I step over to the coffee table and pick up the teapot and pour myself a cup. I start counting my breaths in my head. Ten. I take a sip. Twenty. I take another sip. I can feel the warmth down my throat and in my belly. Thirty. A third sip. I feel a first sense of calm come over me. I start humming. Just a steady low note, then slowly higher and louder. One more sip of tea and back to the humming. I get into a rhythm and repeat it nine times more.

Finally, I open my eyes and stare at myself in the mirror across the room. There is still an empty feeling in my stomach, but it’s hardly noticeable now. I put down the cup and step closer. I start counting aloud in a whisper. “One. Two. Three.” With every word I increase the volume a tiny fraction. Always carefully in control. “Four. Five. Six.” Still a whisper. “Seven. Eight. Nine.” I can start hearing a bit of an echo from my room. I continue on, getting ever louder.

Now, on to my favorite part. I stare at myself in the mirror. “Nablab! Huggins! Linfog!” After every word I take a break and focus on keeping my face impassive. “Gnargl! Frorgh! Reimoral!” That last one was tricky, I saw my eye twitch for a moment. “Mallios! Zarokin! Warinka!” A sudden flash blinds me. “Empowerment granted: Universal insight“, announces a flat, toneless voice. I whirl around. There is nobody there. “What?“, I ask, looking around. “Hello?” No answer. As my eyes recover from the bright light, I notice something in my peripheral vision. I look down. Underneath my shirt, there is a glow. I take an involuntary step back and pull my shirt open. There is something on my chest. I try to brush it away, but my hand passes right over it. I feel my fingers on my skin, but nothing else. The symbol just keeps glowing in a soft white light.

I whirl around and step towards the mirror. There it is. A tiny symbol, right over my heart, glowing in a soft, white light. Like a fluorescent tattoo. What the hell is going on? I try to touch it again, but I only feel my own skin. A sense of panic and shock creeps up my spine. My mind is reeling. This doesn’t make any sense. I look up and see my pale face and wide eyes in the mirror.

In an attempt to calm myself down, I take a few deep breaths. What just happened? I have no idea. “There is a symbol on your chest and it’s glowing.“, I tell my reflection. It sounds ridiculous. But I glance down and have to admit that it’s the truth. “It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t do anything. Well, except glowing.“, I tell myself. This makes me feel a bit better. I sit back down in my chair and stare at the symbol in the mirror.

A mechanical gong rings through the room and I utter an involuntary shout. Disorientated, I look around. For a moment I had forgotten where I was. My brain finally catches up and I realize that this was the reminder that there are only 10 minutes left. I jump up and start panicking again. My preparation ritual in complete disarray I struggle to make sense of the situation. What had just happened? I was just going through my composure exercise. Inventing silly words to try to make myself laugh was weird when I originally learned about it. Now I consider it one of the most important parts of my routine. But then there was this flash of light. And this weird voice. I don’t remember it exactly. It said something about “Universal Insight”. What does this even mean? I try to focus on my breaths, but they are fast and not at all steady.

As I close my eyes in an attempt to calm down, I notice for the first time that my room is not as calm and quiet as it should be. There are voices. I quickly open my eyes and look around. I’m alone. But I can hear voices. The cacophony of many people talking at the same time. I put my hands over my ears. I can still hear them. They are not in my room. The voices are in my head.

I close my eyes again, trying to calm down. The buzzing voices become louder. I can make out some individual words: “time”, “soon”, “wonder”. Almost automatically, my mind tries to focus on these and make out more. And suddenly the buzzing quiets down a bit and I can make out individual voices:
…glad that I decided to come along.
The last two were awful. I doubt this one will be any better.
…hope that he will enjoy himself…
I do not recognize the voices. Some are male, others are female. None sound familiar. And they all have a somewhat muted quality to them. I open my eyes again. I’m still alone. Am I going insane? Is the stress finally getting to me?

Another gong echoes through my room. 5 minutes left. I curse loudly. This was supposed to be my big day. And now what? I stare at my reflection, trying to figure out what to do. I look down at my chest and the glowing symbol. I button up my shirt. The glow is barely noticeable through the thick fabric. Good enough. I take a breath. The voices are still there. I pick up my cup and take another sip of tea. It calms me down a little bit.

The door opens and I turn. David waves a bit frantically. “Let’s go! You need to get to your position!” He looks me up and down. “Are you okay? You are pale like a ghost!” I step towards him and nod. “I guess stage fright is a real thing.” He touches my arm as we step into the hallway and says smiling: “You’ll be great!” And I hear his voice again, more muted: “Look at that. He’s not a machine after all.” I stop in my tracks. “What’s up?”, he asks, turning around. I stare at him for a moment. Did I imagine it? “Nothing.”, I answer and get moving again. He frowns, then looks at his watch and exclaims: “Quickly! Only 2 minutes left!

I am standing in the dark. The heavy curtains are in front of me and I can hear noises behind it. Small coughs. Whispers. I feel really nervous now. And then there are the voices in my head. I try to ignore them, but my mind keeps picking out individual ones, making them more distinct:
I cannot wait to see this new guy mess it up.
The newspaper wrote that picking a newcomer for this was a horrible idea.
What was his name? I already forgot. Well, let’s get this over with.
A horrible feeling is creeping up my spine. I’m shaking and there is a bottomless pit in my stomach. I try to shut out the voices, but each new voice is like a weight settling on my chest.

With a massive beat of a drum the music suddenly starts and the curtains start lifting. I feel a deep panic and struggle to fight the urge to run. As the first rows of the audience appear in my line of sight, my mind picks out one more voice from the buzzing in my head. One that I know. Soft, beautiful and so familiar. And it is louder than any other before, drowning out the others and washing away my panic. “I love him so much. He will be brilliant.