Other writers and I know that inspiration can come from the smallest of things. A bird picking at a flat object in a hot, summer department store parking lot. A tree branch falling from a tall oak on a woodsy walk. A raven rapping at a window sill. Or a random pop-up Facebook message from someone you’ve never met. All of these things could be the flint to the fire that is a story idea. I’ll admit that those first few infant moments of a story are almost like the high we were looking for as addicts. It’s a rush, it’s exciting, and our minds almost can’t keep up with the powers that be who whisper their magic into our ears.
This is my most recent.
“Shit!” Benjamin harshly whispered to himself after a sip from the large, white coffee cup. A tongue scalding was just another thing that had went wrong that morning. His big toe still throbbed inside his sneaker from a moving box housing heavy kitchen supplies. And his heart was still heavy after reading the, “I’m coming to get the rest of my things,” text from Melody; the now ex-girlfriend.
He’d left the apartment in an effort to give her the space she’d requested. Some part of him still hoped that she would get her fresh air and return as the happy, comedic, and beautiful Melody he loved. He still loves. He also didn’t think he could face her without breaking down and making a foolish plea for her to stay. He knew he was the problem. He was clingy, he was insecure, he was jealous. She… She was Melody. The love of his life. Perfect in every way.
Staring at the rippling steam from the tar black coffee, he scanned his memory (as he has done many times) for any hint for the beginning of the end. Still, nothing stood out. Glancing around the shop, he watched as people spoke softly to each other, or stared at their phones. Mostly their phones. Even tables filled with three or four ignored each other’s company, seeking connections through a computer application. He, himself had his own piece of black rectangle made of metal and glass clutched in his knotty knuckles. How dependent we’ve become, he thought while catching a glimpse of his reflection.
He clicked the protruding button and stared longingly at Melody’s once loving gaze to the eye of his camera. Swiping to the right, he re-read their last messages to each other. So stiff, so formal, as if they were only acquainted professionals performing contractual business with one another. A virtual handshake once the deal had been struck, and she would leave the key next to the cerami rooster bought from the farmer’s market.
“Active 45 minutes ago.” The white lettering almost burned through his retinas. She was there. Perhaps with help, perhaps already sliding the key across the counter to the talons of the rooster.
As he tapped to enable his keyboard, a bubble popped up of an incoming message. The small, circular icon previewed a young girl, maybe a few years younger than him, caught in a moment looking over her folded knees to a sunset. The large hat she adorned hid most of her face, except a very intimate part of her profile. Her skin the color of brown sugar and stretched tightly around her small frame. She was no one Benjamin recognized and on any normal day, he would have just ignored it, but he was lonely and wallowing in self-pity. Like all the others huddled up to their coffee, he longed for a connection. Even a virtual one.
He pressed his thumb against her picture and read the first message, “Hey there cutie!”
“Hello. I’m sorry, but do I know you?” The letters clicked softly followed by the familiar swishing noise as he pressed send.
“I’m sorry no you don’t but I would like to know you. I really like your profile picture and you’re close by! How are you today?”
Benjamin hesitated. His profile picture was an obscure landscape that included half of his body. Maybe that was what she liked about it. She has to be spam, or a bot, or something, he thought while furrowing his brow and scanning her words again and again.
“I’m a little miserable today, to be honest.”
“I’m sorry dear. What’s wrong? Also, my name is Lisa.”
Her punctuation wasn’t great, but she also didn’t shorten her words. Benjamin was intrigued. The world wide web was saturated with all kinds of predators looking to thieve any part of your life. Maybe she’s actually real?
He found her profile restricted, but some of her information was visible. She was right, she was close by. At least according to where her location was listed. Just a couple of towns a way. A short drive for anyone.
What the hell. It’ll take my mind off Melody, even for a brief moment. That thought made his stomach tighten with guilt.
“Are you there?” Lisa typed with a smiley face.
“How did you find me?” Benjamin was still skeptical, but quietly laughed. Random messages like this used to be a normal occurrence when social media first had it’s startup in the early 2000’s. You looked around the world, you found people and connected with them even if you didn’t know who the hell they were. That was the exciting thing about it. In the blink of an eye, we were all connected and wanted to be connected. Somewhere along the lines, the bad intentions and news scares came out and any sane person became reclusive about accepting random friendship requests.
“I am new in town and was trying to make new friends. You were sHowing as onlinE and I Liked your Pic.” The pen icon came back up as she continued to write. “I’ve Been here A while and still haven’t maDe friends. I aM gEtting loNely haha! What is Wrong by the way? You never saId and i wouLd LiKe to help If you wiLL let ME.”
Benjamin’s face curled in slight disgust. It seems her grammar and punctuation have become progressively worse.
“You aren’t real, are you? Are you a bot? Someone who’s scamming for money?” He became agitated and secretly dared her for a response. Some part of him sought a confession purely for the satisfaction of being right. He couldn’t recall the last time he was right.
The pen shows up after quite some time. “PLEASE don’t tHink of mE that way. Like I said your Profile said you were close by. I don’t USually do this kind of stuff! If you just send me some gas money, we can meet in person.”
Angrily, Benjamin wrote, “I KNEW IT!” He then selected to block any further messages from “Lisa.” He was upset with himself for even replying to her in the first place.
He sat his phone on the table and slid a folded elbow under his head. This day keeps getting better.
Lisa fervently tapped the dirty keys of the old laptop, but Benjamin was no longer replying. She put her fingertips in her mouth, soothing her bloodied and ripped nails. Hot tears poured down her dirty face as she closed the lids to her blue eyes.
“You didn’t get him to send money?!” Yelled the voice behind the gun barrel currently shoved at the base of her scalp.
“P-Please! Just let me try again!”
“No more tries for you, pretty little bitch! That was your last time!” The voice gripped her matted blond hair and pulled her to her bare feet, bound at the ankles by thick zip-ties.
Lisa begged but her words were indiscernible. Her body shivered in fear and for warmth from the cold, damp place she and the other kidnapped girls were trapped. A large, warm hand clamped her trembling lips and her tears continued to pour.
All the other girls at the other stations turned to face her as the voice called out, “You don’t make me money, you won’t get to go home! You don’t make me money, you are a waste of my time!”
The gun barrel pushed into Lisa’s temple and with a flash of light, Lisa’s blood splattered onto the closest victim, and her body toppled to the dirty concrete. No one screamed.