Short Story Exercise: The Absence of Choice

(had Jason draw 3 random Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table, arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)

Alex and Marta waited together in the lobby, each too nervous to peruse the pamphlets and magazines carefully arranged on tables around them. Marta twisted her hands in her lap while Alex, foot anxiously tapping on the floor, chewed his fingernails. They both jumped when the nurse called out, “Adamson!”

They stood and slowly walked past the other anxious couples waiting in the lobby. The nurse eyed them coolly over her clipboard, making note of the way Alex trailed behind his wife. The nurse gestured to the fingerprint reader and, having confirmed their identities, pushed open the heavy door and led them into the hallway. Walking briskly she said over her shoulder, “Stay to the right, please.”

Instrumental music looped in the speakers above them. The Adamson’s did not speak as they followed the nurse deeper into the building. The hallway was windowless and every door they passed was closed. Propaganda posters decorated the stained walls. The first one filled Alex with such dread he decided not to read any of the others. Finally, the nurse stopped outside an open door and motioned the couple inside. The doctor was seated behind a metal desk, scribbling on a yellow legal pad. Folders were piled on either side of the desk and metal boxes stacked four feet high crowded the floor. Marta took a seat in one of the rickety chairs, but Alex chose to stand.

“Doctor,” the nurse said quietly. The man waved his hand at her without looking up. She nodded, deposited her paperwork in front of him, and exited the room, closing the door behind her.

Alex wondered vaguely if the nurse had locked them inside. Marta was focused on the small red safe sitting on the desk in front of her. She had been dreading this moment ever since…well, ever since they had arrived.

The doctor dropped his pen and glanced over his glasses at the couple in front of him. “Exciting day for you two,” he mumbled, dragging the red safe across the desk so that it was facing him. Without looking up, the doctor quickly examined their file. “Hmmph.”

The Adamson’s said nothing. The doctor hummed a tuneless melody as he spun the dial on the safe. He pulled the numbers from their file and twisted the knob this way then that way. “Moment of truth, folks.” He turned the safe so that it was again facing the Adamson’s. “Let’s see if you can open it.”

Marta folded her arms tightly across her chest and shook her head. Alex leaned forward, grasped the handle, and turned it. With an ominous click, the door swung open. Marta whimpered and Alex leaned back against the wall. While the couple stared at the squirming pink bundle of blankets inside, the doctor began making notes on their paperwork.

“Let’s see,” the doctor said. “Marta, if you would?” He pressed his lips together and waited.

“I can’t,” she whispered, tears brimming her eyes. 

“You can,” he said, not unkindly. “As it said in the instructional pamphlet delivered to your home, once you hold the…child…and maintain eye contact for the count of five, the oxytocin will flow and you will feel love for your new…let’s see…daughter.” He pushed his glasses up his nose and looked at the couple. “You understand there is only one alternative?”

Alex met the man’s eyes, then turned to his wife. “Marta. We’ve been chosen. Everything will be okay.” He put his hand on her back and nudged her forward.

“Not like this,” she whispered.

“Marta. Please. We either die…or we,” Alex gestured to the safe. “They said we can raise her however we like. She’ll love us. She’ll be ours.”

“IT’S NOT EVEN HUMAN! IT’S A MONSTER! IT DOESN’T BELONG HERE!” Marta screamed and jumped up, overturning the ancient chair. The door was locked. There were no windows. Alex held out his hands and made soothing sounds, but Marta dropped to the floor and scrambled to a corner. She curled into a ball, covered her face and cried, shrinking away from the hand gently patting her back.

Alex wrestled a hand from her face. The doctor stood behind him, holding the open red safe. Alex pushed Marta’s hand inside, underneath the cotton blanket. Her body racked with sobs, but Alex persisted. Keeping the child atop Marta’s hand, he pulled the bundle out of the safe and moved it to Marta’s chest.

“No,” she moaned.

“Open your eyes, sweetie.”rory-absence-of-choice