A light summer breeze drifted into the small store that doubled as Graziella Marchesi’s home. The smell of flour and freshly-grated cheese filled the kitchen as a radio station spit out rapid-fire Italian. To Graziella’s seven-year-old ears, only a few words made sense, but she gathered that it concerned the Vatican, the city her mother had mentioned visiting so many times.
As if called by Graziella’s thoughts, her mother waded into the kitchen, giving Graziella a chastising look as the young tyke failed at kneading the pasta dough. She switched the radio to a different station, and, as the music of Benjamino Gigli filled the small room, Graziella’s mother ordered her to fix the pasta with a quick bark of Italian while starting to fold the tortellini.
The two worked diligently, briefly interrupted by customers coming to the front of the store and purchasing bags of handmade pasta for dinner. They were greeted with bright smiles, a hearty “buona giornata,” and, in the case of Pasquale, the sixteen year old who worked as the gelato vendor, a shriek of excitement from Graziella.
The two worked until the sun set behind the cathedral. After eating pasta and mixed vegetables, just the two of them at the small kitchen table that was continuously covered in flour, Graziella ran to get her favorite book, one of only two she owned: The Adventures of Pinocchio.
The spine was frayed and many of the pages ripped, but she loved it nonetheless. She read along with her mother, sat comfortably on her small bed and feeling the warm Italian night air brush through the windows. The two stared at the stars through the window, watching them twinkle over the Modena Cathedral, reciting the words to nursery rhymes, and listening to the sounds of the city at night.
Graziella fell asleep to the light buzzing of mosquitos, the faint opera flooding in from the scratchy radio in the kitchen, and the feeling of an era about to change.
Prompt: “At some point include the line, 'But if anyone asks, we tell them we're fine.'"
They started the first excursion after the first bombing. The program had been in place for years, but no one ever thought they would have the guts to put it into action. Then the bombing came. America’s safety, and the safety of our allies, was clearly under attack and drastic times called for drastic measures.
I was a part of the first corps. I had been trained since the age of eight in my field. My entire life had been leading up to the day when I would use my skills to save my country and my people.
They called it the Bald Eagle Initiative. Two hundred boys and girls from across the country, drafted at age eight into the initiative and taught strategies in preparation for war. The US needed young brains with plenty of time to learn, but more importantly, young people who had no other loyalties.
On the first day it was put into place, they conscripted 200 of us immediately through random drawing. Families were sent letters with statements of the draft, and asked to transport their child to the nearest airport for a complimentary flight.
The people rioted immediately. The entire country seemed to be up in arms. “You are taking our innocent children!” they yelled. But the government got their way when several countries in the Middle East declared war. The threat of a nuclear war was the highest it had ever been, and America promised it had the answer.
The masses started to turn and accept the idea of the adolescent infantry, and through peer pressure and the “persuasiveness” of the American bureaucracy, two hundred US citizens, all between the ages of eight and nine, were brought to a training facility deep in the backwoods of Nebraska.
They promised we would stay in touch with our family, that we would visit on holidays and call every night. They lied. A week after it began I was able to call my parents in secret. They answered, baffled at who I was, telling me that I must have had the wrong number and that they didn’t have a child.
I was only eight, and the thought of my parents forgetting my existence terrified me more than I could ever have thought. I was too afraid to bring it up with one of the adults on the base, and I spent the next two years crying myself to sleep and slogging unwillingly through everything they threw at me.
I quickly grew tired of crying, and trying to take the hard way out, so I swallowed my pride and my tears, and I put my entire will into training. I ascended quickly through the ranks, pulling a full 180 from what I used to be. At the age of 14 I was the best female in the program, and not too far off from some of the boys as well. I excelled in hand-to-hand combat and cryptography, as well as computer sciences. My accuracy and aim with a gun was superb.
I would have been the face of the initiative, if anybody remembered it. The entire country, save for those involved in the initiative and the President, knew nothing about the program, or the fact that 200 of us had been trained as master military leaders. We were holed away in the middle of Nebraska as a safeguard for the war.
The war with the Middle East slogged on for 10 years until the shit hit the fan. We were put into action immediately, but secretly. They sent us in droves into the Middle East, and we strategised and took out the big bads like the military never could have. We infiltrated and assassinated and spilled blood in gallons. Huge numbers of us were captured at one point, either accidentally or on purpose, and underwent torture to the highest extreme.
Still, no one back home knew of our existence, until we poured back into the country and a rogue became fed up with the secrecy. He told everyone, alerted the new stations, and all of a sudden we were in the public eye. People rioted, again. Families worried that we were their children.
We returned home as a shock to the nation and as military heroes. We came back to our families to find open arms and faces full of tears. We were treated like kings and queens and revered in high honour. The public loved to interview us, to ask us about everything, and pamper us to the highest extent.
Everything was perfect, except that it wasn’t. We were constantly asked how we were doing, and none of us knew how to answer. We had lived ten years of our lives on a military base, cut off from all other humans. We were trained to kill, and knew nothing else. We had been through the closest thing to hell in the war, and none of us would ever be the same again.
But if anyone asks, we tell them we’re fine.
Prompt: “‘Let's go, sugarbeet,' he said and snapped on the light. He was holding two duffle bags, one very light, the other very heavy. It was her car, and she had slept with the keys."
“Listen,” she started, nervousness igniting her blood. “I don’t know about this.”
He stared at her incredulously, “You can’t back out now, my love. This is the time to get serious. Besides, it won’t be hard and as long as you follow my instructions, it will go off without a hitch.”
She took a deep breath, and watched as he balanced the two duffle bags. She juggled the keys in her hand, grabbing a notebook and her laptop. She took one last look at the hotel room, her last look at safety and certainty, and finally spoke, “Okay. Let’s go.”
An hour later they crossed the Georgia border. He glanced at her from the passenger’s seat of the car and began explaining the plan, “It’ll be a routine con. Nothing crazy, other than the amount of money we’ll have at the end. All you have to do is distract them. I have total faith in you. We go in, you distract, I get the codes, we get out of there and then cash out.”
She hesitated before asking, “Why do we need the bags?” He laughed, “We need somewhere to put the thousands of dollars in cash, of course.” She shook her head. “No,” she started. “I meant, why do we need the other bag?”
He sighed. “We have to have a Plan B, in case things get out of hand.” At the sound of her panic, he quickly added, “But it won’t. I know it won’t, I promise it will go off without a hitch, babydoll.”
The rest of the drive was spent in silence, and soon they arrived at one of the biggest buildings in Atlanta: The Gaiman Company. She parked the car and took in a shaky breath. She knew the plan, but for the life of her she couldn’t remember why she had let him talk her into this. Then she remembered her brother, and with a steely determination, she shut off the engine. They shared a look, and before leaving the vehicle, he grabbed her arm. “Listen,” he started, a dark look in his eye. “You can’t chicken out here. You have to do this. You screw up, and we both go down.”
She shook her head quickly in understanding, panic spiking through her heart. She didn’t have a choice; her brother needed the money and she was the only one left to provide it.
They made their way into the building quietly, and he pulled her to the front desk. He gave her a look, a sign that it was her time to shine, and stood back and smiled. She put on her a fake smile and turned to the man at the desk. “Hello, sir. I was wondering if you could help me out. You see my boyfriend and I just broke down across the road and both of our cells are out. Do you think you could call a tow truck for us?”
The man at the desk fell for her charming act and looked down to dial a phone number. At the same time, her boyfriend had snuck into the back of the building where he knew there would be a computer with four top secret bank codes, and her heart pounded harder than she had ever felt.
“They should be on their way-” the man behind the desk started, but was interrupted by loud sirens. Her boyfriend came running out of the back, writing across his forearm, making a beeline for the exit. The man behind the desk called for security as she stood there, rooted to the spot in fear. Before she knew it her partner had pulled out Plan B, and she saw red. He threw her a gun as one of the security men came towards her. She stood there, holding the weapon, confused as to what was happening.
“Shoot!” he yelled in panic as he came behind her and guided her hand. She collapsed to the floor, her heart beating out of her chest, as the security guard hit the ground, rendered lifeless by her own hands.
Three days later she was sitting in the stiff, white hospital room, at her brother’s bedside, after the surgery. He was awake, and asking her how she was able to fund the procedure on such short notice. She just smiled and rubbed her thumb, the ache a constant reminder of how far she had gone.
Prompt: “Write a short story that is set in Argentina in 1932, in which a teacup plays a crucial role."
The Argentinian air was stale and warm as she moved through the narrow streets. Her watch read 2:37 PM. Only 23 minutes left. The apartment came into view and she expertly hurdled a merchant stand before running into a man dressed to the nines. In one fell swoop she had him on the ground, a bullet lodged in his forehead. A glance at her surroundings brought her the realization that she was trapped. She escaped into the apartment, her only refuge.
Once inside, she closed the door and glanced at the paper on the table: La Argentina Gaceta. Today’s Date: 15 Augusto, 1932. How did she get here? It could only have been fate.
Moving into the bedroom, she heard the door forced in and began to hurry. She pulled out the small decorative box as her pursuer appeared in the doorway. Inside, an ancient teacup. “Not this time,” he said, but by the time he had finished, she was gone. Disappeared, right in front of him.
She came to an hour later, and, reaching for the paper on the bedside table, read the title: Le Journal Rouen, 23 Aout, 1907.
Prompt: “A storm destroys your uncle's shed and kills his six-year-old son. Describe the color of the sky right before the storm hit.”
The ordinary blue had disappeared quickly, and in its place was a yellow-green; the kind of colour that existed only in crayola. Slate-coloured clouds rolled towards the farm, obvious portents of the tempest to come. This would be a storm that would have no mercy. Lightning lit up the sky as minuscule raindrops began their onslaught. He was only outside because of the sky, because of the foreign-coloured patch of atmosphere that was surely full of “aliens”. He wasn’t looking to be killed like the Wicked Witch. After all, he was only six and to him, the aliens didn’t stand a chance.
Prompt: “What a character holding a blue object is thinking right now” in under 100 words.
The orb glowed brighter as she neared it. She hesitantly reached out for the majestic light, wonder engulfing her every thought. The energy it gave off coursed through her veins. It riled up her blood; the cyan glow filled her pupils. Opening the device, she removed a wire, and the blue light abruptly went out. Her computer is fully charged.