J. W. Judge
I always thought the idea of writing prompts was dumb. I thought writing prompts were for not-serious writers. They also kind of seemed like cheating the system. If you couldn’t think of something to write about on your own, was writing a scene based on some prompt really going to make you legit?
But then — and this is how it always goes when I form some uneducated, half-cocked opinion.
But then this tweet from Writer’s Digest came across my Twitter feed.
I didn’t even read the article. I just saw the tweet as I scrolled. Then I set about unloading the dishwasher and putting away the kids’ toys. And a scene began to unfold in my head. A scene that was catalyzed by a writing prompt about a truth or dare moment.
I immediately concluded that writing prompts have their place. They can be fun. I might have been [read: definitely was] wrong about their usefulness.
So after we had put the kids to bed and my wife had fallen asleep while we watched our show, I wrote this scene. I’m not saying it’s groundbreaking. But I had fun. And it’s a scene that didn’t exist before and would never have existed had I not seen Writer’s Digest’s idea for a writing prompt.
When the door closed, Curt looked up from his phone to see three men standing across from him. One was far more slight of build than the other two.
“Tommy! It’s good to see you!”
“Thomas,” the smaller man corrected.
Curt replied, “I like Tommy. Imma go with that.”
“You could have called instead sending your guys to pick me up.”
Curt shrugged, “Yup. But they make a certain … impression. You needed to understand that I’m not dicking around.”
“I’ve still got time. The payment’s not due until next week,” Thomas said.
“It’s due now. You know how I know that? Because that’s what I decided.”
“That’s not what we agreed to.”
Curt mocked in an adolescent tone, “’That’s not what we agreed to.”
Thomas said, “We had a contract.”
“Whatchu talking about, a contract?”
“We agreed to terms. You loaned me money. I have three months to pay it back.”
“Yeah, well, I want it now.”
“No. We had a contract. Contracts are the fabric of civilization. They’re sacred. Without contracts, nothing works. You can’t just —“
“I can and I will. Skip the civics lesson,” Curt said flatly.
“I don’t have the money.”
Confused, Thomas asked, “Then what are we doing here?”
“I wanna play a game, Tommy.”
“I don’t have time for games. Play with one of your automatons.”
“Don’t bring your ten dollar words in here. I will have your tongue cut out just because it suits me,” Curt replied a little more heatedly than he’d been before. Thomas knew that Curt was intellectually insecure in this situation. He couldn’t help but provoke him, even knowing that it may lead to rash behavior.
It was Thomas’s turn to shrug now, “Look you got me out of bed. I don’t have your money. I’ll have it by the time it’s due.”
“No, you won’t,” Curt said.
“You’re right. I probably won’t. But I’ve still got some time.”
“For a smart guy, you don’t seem to get it. There’s no more time. Well, that’s not true. There is time, just not for that. You know what time it is?”
Thomas responded, “Game time. Woo!”
“What? What was that? What did you just do?!”
“You don’t remember the Bulls? Mid 90s? Before tip-off, they’d say, ‘What time is it? Game time! Woo!’”
Curt shook his head quickly, like a dog trying to get rid of an itch in its ear. “Of course, I remember the Bulls, man. I just wasn’t expecting it from 40-something white dude. Or like, right then.”
Thomas conceded, “Yeah, I was uncomfortable. It just kind of happened.”
Curt realized things were getting away from him a bit. He leaned forward in his chair and looked directly at Thomas, who was still standing in the same spot, “Whatever. Back to the business at hand. You owe me money, and I want to play a game.”
“Truth or dare.”
Thomas was puzzled, “What, like the game you played as a kid?”
“Yup. That’s the one.”
“Are you kidding? That’s how you want to do this?”
Curt smiled and sat back a bit, knowing he’d reasserted control of the situation, “Yup. You owe a debt. I’m calling it in. So … truth? Or dare?”
“I can’t ev — I just — really? This is nuts,” Thomas said.
“Dare, I guess.”
Curt laughed and addressed the men on either side of Thomas, “Oh, man! Tommy’s got secrets!”
“Of course I’ve got secrets. I’m a lawyer,” Thomas replied.
“Well, now you have to pick truth. I love to hear secrets,” Curt said with lust in his voice.
“What do you mean ‘no’? This isn’t a negotiation.”
With an edge of anger, Curt asked, “Do you know what I can do to you?”
“Yes. The answer is still no. They’re not my secrets to tell. They go to the grave with me.”
“That might be sooner than you’d like.”
Thomas didn’t skip a beat before asking, “You have any money on you?”
“This isn’t a time for you to be asking questions.”
“Just work with me a minute. You got any cash?”
“Course I do,” Curt answered.
“Pull it out.”
“Watch yourself, Tommy,” Curt said. But he reached into his pocket and pulled out a messy stash of money.
“It’s Thomas. Hand me a bill. Just that one on top there.”
Curt looked up from his money and raised his eyebrows at Thomas, “That’s a hundred bucks. You’re already in it for ten G’s, and you wanna add another hundred to it? Be my guest.”
“This isn’t going on my tab. Hand it to me,” Thomas asserted.
Curt started to hand the bill over, but didn’t let go when Thomas clasped the other end. The money was taut between their hands. Curt finally let go with a laugh.
Thomas said, “Good. Now, I’m your lawyer. And I can keep your secrets too. I can never tell anyone the things you tell me.”
Curt’s eyes brightened. “Anything? I can tell you anything and you can’t tell anyone?”
“No one. Ever,” Thomas affirmed.
“Not even the cops.”
“Especially not the cops.”
“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this?” Curt asked.
“You ever talk to a lawyer before?”
“No,” Curt answered with contempt. “Only lawyer I ever had was the one they appoint you. And she was getting paid by the same folks as was paying the D.A.”
Thomas held up a finger and said, “Listen. There’s only one exception.”
“There’s always a catch,” Curt said, readopting his defensive posture. “Give me my money back.”
“No. This is important. You can never tell me that you’re going to kill somebody.”
“You can tell me anything, and it’s privileged – that means I can’t tell anyone. But you can’t tell me if you’re planning to kill someone, because I’d have to report that.”
“So if Imma put a dude down for snitching, I can’t tell you that.”
“But if I do it, I can tell you about it afterward. And you can’t tell anyone.”
“Right. You got it now.”
“That’s amazing!” Curt laughed. “That’s messed up.”
“Maybe. But that’s how it works.”
With a smile, Curt said, “This has the makings of a beautiful friendship, Tommy.”
“Thomas. I’m not your friend. I’m your lawyer.”