This is a first and a real challenge for me. I have never written the ending to someone else’s short story, though I did collaborate when I was much, much younger (one day we’ll write that best-seller together, Maryam).
This week, I am continuing in the challenge with Chuck Wendig over at his terribleminds blog to take someone else’s cliffhanger and continue it. I chose to write the ending to a story called Whisper, an intriguing piece by writer Margit Sage. Please take a look at her story before you read mine.
Raina picked her way timidly down the dank and dirty alley, looking sideways at the dingy bricks, hoping to find a door between the scrawling tags and tattered notices. Stepping over a murky puddle, she stumbled on the uneven ground and crashed into garbage, pieces of paper and refuse flying everywhere.
Picking herself up, and pulling a piece of towelette from her–what was that; don’t think about it–she turned with disgust and spotted the door. It was innocuous, badly faded boards with the scraps of what might have once been red paint, now a rusty streak here and there. As she got closer, she could see the gouges from where someone had tried to open it, probably with a crowbar. Beside the door, there was a plain black button beneath a grilled opening. Was it a buzzer?
Silence followed. A loud crackle made her step back. Somewhere overhead she heard a grinding, machinery on the move.
“Who’s there?” Almost as friendly as the reception she’d had in the cemetery.
“Ms. Edwinson. I am the executor of James Edwinson’s estate.”
The door creaked open. Raina wished, the first time she ever had, that there was–somebody–anybody waiting for her at home. She supposed she should have told her landlady, just in case. She peered into the dark opening, hearing clanking and the sliding of a big metallic door. A hush followed the gush of a hydraulic device, leaving Raina awkwardly contemplating escape.
“Ms. Edwinson?” A professional woman’s voice echoed from the chamber within.
Pressing her courage to the sticking-place insistently, Raina cleared her throat and stepped into the darkness. As her eyes adjusted, she could see a plump woman, hair drawn back, the highlighted edge or a pair of librarian-style glasses.
“Follow me.” With a sharp turn on her heel, and a quickness of step that had Raina almost running after her, the woman delved deeper into the building, to the light at the end of a wide corridor.
Catching up to the woman, Raina could see she was in her sixties, but sharply dressed. Definitely the gatekeeper.
“Excuse me, but I don’t think that I caught your name.”
With the tiniest smile, the woman replied. “You can call me Doctor McTaggart.”
Stepping into a light so bright it seared her retinas, Raina and the Doctor came to the end of the corridor.
“What is this place?” Raina could see people in private consultation rooms, their identities protected by frosted glass. An assistant came out, holding a vial of rich red blood.
“What we sell here, Ms. Edwinson, is a chance at immortality.”
Doctor McTaggart guided her into an elevator. Raina made sure she watched for the floors, so she knew her way out. At their floor, she drew aside one of the frosted doors and ushered Raina in. The room was comfortable, well appointed, sedate in dark browns and greens.
“Are those Mr. Edwinson’s ashes?” With an authoritative gesture, she indicated that Raina was to hand them over.
“There’s a video for you to watch.”
Slowly, the room darkened and the temperature cooled. A screen dropped slowly from the ceiling. There was a blip, and there was her uncle, full of life. Raina guessed it had been made about 5 years ago. Probably around the time he was initially diagnosed with the cancer.
“Hello Raina. If you’re watching this, I’m probably dead. You probably have no idea what you’re doing here or what this facility is. I’m sorry about the secrecy but it’s part of my contract with them. Life Industries offer to make sure your memory is retained.” His laughter was tinny in the speakers. “I wish I could see your face right now. You’d have that serious little expression, with the knitted brows and wrinkle in your nose.”
Raina self-consciously changed expression, feeling as if someone were watching.
“Take it easy, Raina. Let an old man have his memories. This is part of my last will and testament, and accordingly, I bequeath my entire estate to the last surviving member of my kin, my niece, Ms. Raina Edwinson.”
A little knot in that had been building in her stomach since that discovery in the safe loosened. She hadn’t wanted the family estate or responsibilities, but the thought of it going to someone who didn’t understand the significance of their history would have upset her.
“I assume someone will be along with the all the corresponding paperwork soon, my dear. Now let me tell you what I’ve done.” The image of her uncle began playing with a dirty, great gem. “With my ashes, that by now, no doubt, the resourceful McTaggart has taken from you, I am to be formed into two gems. One will be for you to remember me by. The other my dear is going to be inscribed with some details about my honourable self; about what made me, well, me!”
“Take a look out the window,” he chortled, having a great time. “Look I say!” The image paused, and sighed. “Raina, you haven’t got all day.”
Hesitantly Raina made her way to a curtain on the far side of the room. Drawing it back, she saw a burning trail in the sky, a smoke tail lingering behind as it punched through the heavy grey cloud layer.
Her uncle’s video crowed, “Shot into space in a miniature rocket. My inscribed gem, some of my blood preserved for posterity, and a data chip all about me.”
Raina shook her head. Her uncle had some crackpot ideas, but this one really took the cake. A diamond on a rocket into space. Apparently he’d had too much time, and definitely too much money.
“Raina,” the voice was gentle, caring. “Take care of yourself. Look after our family’s legacy.”
The video blipped out, and Doctor McTaggart was back. One hand held a bulky envelope which undoubtedly held the will, an edited copy of the recording, and the gem they’d made from his ashes. In the other was a clipboard with a non-disclosure agreement.
Weary of forms, Raina scratched her name on the page and turned to leave.
With a strange and alarmed look on her face, Doctor McTaggart pressed her hand to her ear. “If you’ll please excuse me, there’s been an incident I have to attend to. One of my staff will collect you and escort you out momentarily.”
The door shut behind her with a decided click. Raina leaned against the wall. The door opened within a minute. “Time to go, Ms. Edwinson.”
In the silence of the elevator, the assistant hummed. Raina was exhausted and it was only as she was being left again in the dirty alleyway that she recognised it as Ride of Valkyries; her uncle’s favourite tune.
She looked up and into a face that appeared right out of her childhood memories.
There was a crinkly smile, a wink, and the gentleman ducked past her and ran down the alley.