Opening Line Prompt #9

If I’d become a dentist, then Vaughan would still be alive. Instead, I became a rodeo clown, and like everything else I ever did in my life, Vaughan had to do the same. Now, every time I climb into a barrel, Vaughan’s ghost creeps in, along with the tastes of sweat and battered plastic.

“Steve,” he whispers, like he used to late at night, when we still shared a bunk bed.

“Yeah.” I don’t want to answer, but I never could ignore him, no matter how tired I was.

“I’m lonely,” he whispers. “Why don’t you die, too, so that we can be together again?”

I hear the gate open and I pop up out of the barrel, as much to escape my dead brother, as to see what’s going on. The bull comes out fast, not pussyfooting around the gate. Johnny up top is holding on strong. The bull chases Clint over to the gate. Clint hops up nimbly but the bull slashes at his legs with his horns. I pick up the barrel and run, hollering at the bull.

The bull spots me just as the horn sounds and Johnny flies off of the bull’s back. Johnny lands on his feet, more or less, and runs back to the gate, while the bull heads for me. I drop the barrel and put my feet up on the plate and duck down.

“Steve,” Vaughan whispers.

This is a feisty one. He hits the barrel with enough force to send me flying. I land with a thud and wait out the roll.

“Yeah, Buddy,” I whisper back, as horn enters the top of the barrel, missing my face by less than an inch.

The horn disappears and I continue rolling as the thundering of the bull’s hooves move away from me.

“Can’t you do it, huh? Just die, for me,” Vaughan whispers.

“I don’t know, Buddy,” I whisper back. “I have Sandra and the girls to think of, and besides, did you see Ma’s and Pa’s faces at your funeral? I can’t do that to them.”

I can feel the barrel being tilted right side up. Cheering indicates that this round is over. This is my cue to stand up, revealing my intact head and torso, and waving my hat in the air.

But I stay where I am for just another second, waiting on Vaughan’s response. I can’t live with Vaughan haunting me like this, I know that.

Silence. Then, as Clint peers down in the barrel, Vaughan lets out a long sigh. “Okay,” he says. “But just don’t forget about me, okay?”

“You okay, “Buddy?” Clint holds his hand out to me. I don’t need it, but I take it anyway and stand. I take my hat off and wave it in the air. The audience that had grown quiet due to my delay in showing, erupted into applause.

Clint is the only one close enough to see tears smudge the painted smile on my face.

Opening Line Prompt taken from here: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/opening-line/

Opening Line Prompt #3

He hadn’t been known as Neal for years. He hadn’t been known as anything. He’d been wandering around the Afterlife – for how long? An eternity? Two? And he hadn’t seen anyone else. He’d felt the time pass. He’d felt his loved ones die, but he hadn’t been reunited with any of them. He’d felt wars and famines and genocides. He’d felt babies being born, and innocent laughter and the depths of human generosity.

But he hadn’t seen anybody. Or heard anybody. Until now. At first, he thought he was dreaming, but the last time he’d slept was when he was alive. Still, there they were, six people – humans, all of them – he could feel their humanity – sitting around a table, playing poker.

“What’s your name?” asked a pretty lady with red hair and red lipstick who didn’t know and didn’t care that those colors were supposed to clash. And she was right. He liked the clash. It looked like the sounds his favorite band made when he’d been alive. Her husky voice was jarring in its normalcy, with Neal having existed in silence for so long.

Neal had to think about it. “Neal,” he said. “I think.”

“Good to meet ya, Neal.” This came from a boisterous Texan with a cowboy hat and everything.

“Have a seat.” The invitation came from a petite blonde with sharp eyes and short, clean fingernails.

And it felt like an invitation. It was like climbing into a buddy’s warm truck on a cold night, that mix of familiarity and anticipation in the air.

Neal sat in the empty chair and realized that his hand had already been dealt. “I don’t have anything to gamble with,” he said.

“We deal in souls,” a black man with a sweet smile and sad eyes said, breaking it to Neal gently. “You only have one, but that’s enough to get you in the game.”

In the middle of the table was a pile of chips. The chips were formed of a luminescent violet fog. The players had similar chips in front of them. The sharp-eyed lady had the most. The Texan had none left in front of him. He’d gone all in before Neal had sat down.

Neal hesitated. He’d walked into a trap but what was the trap, exactly? The empty chair must have belonged to someone else at some point. Somebody who had run out of chips. Somebody who had started out with only one? Perhaps. Many times, in fact, he could feel the truth of that vibrating through his body.

And everybody at the table had chips in front of them, which meant that they were comfortable taking other peoples’ souls. It also meant that they’d all taken the chance that they were now asking Neal to take. They’d all come to the same realizations he just had.

Neal wanted to rise, to walk away from the table. But the aeons came crashing down on him, paralyzing him. Who knew how much longer he’d be alone, if he got up and walked away now? What if another several eternities from now, he just came across another table – or the same one, with different players? How many tables could a man walk away from before he gave in and stayed, just out of sheer loneliness?

He looked around the table, and forgave them all.

Opening Line Prompt taken from here: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/opening-line/