Story Cubes Challenge Week 1

I’m finally joining Mark’s Story Cubes Challenge. 🙂 If you missed the explanation, it’s a 54-week challenge to write a piece of short fiction each week, using prompts from rolling Rory’s Story Cubes. I’m using it as a chance to develop the characters for my Exeter series, and possibly writes some bits that will make it into one of the books. This one gave me a critical piece of backstory for one character, and helped me find the voice of another character. 🙂 Comments and concrit welcome!

Prompts: Abacus, parachutist, skyscraper, lightbulb, padlock, devil/ghost/halloween, question mark, eye, arrow

Enough Rope

Becca stepped back from the canvases on the wall to get the full effect. She frowned, raking a hand through her graying hair. This was always the part of the semester show she hated the most.

“Becca, it looks fine.” Chris paused next to her. “The whole point of this is to showcase the diversity the students have.” The music instructor set down the folding chairs he carried. “Don’t let Bremmer rattle you.”

“He didn’t.” Even as she said it, she knew it was too quick, knew Chris would see right through her.

Sure enough, he quirked that one eyebrow and just looked at her.

“He did.” She made a face. “The man’s a music professor and an expert in history and theory. He’s not a performance expert, and he doesn’t have any right to interfere in this show.”

“He’s the dean.”

“He’s a jerk.” She crossed her arms. “If he wasn’t, he would have given you a job as a professor before now. Your composition students are among the best in the region, and you have more performance students who go on to make what passes for a living in this business than anybody else.”

Chris shrugged and picked the chair up again. “He knows I won’t leave, because I don’t want to make Dan move. I could call his bluff, but I really don’t want to leave. You might not mind jumping without a parachute, but I do.”

“Good thing I’m old enough not to care about how he pisses in my Wheaties.” Becca shook her head and looked away. “I’ll help you set up.”

She walked away from Chris and found the small storage room. Carved out of the old church’s sanctuary, they made do with a padlock on the door and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. They might be the reason Exeter State was known as the best public arts college in the state, but you’d never know to look at their performance facilities. She pulled out three folding chairs and headed back to the main space, joining Chris in the front. Becca surveyed the layout and started setting up her chairs to finish off the arc. The folds of her skirt got caught in the hinge of one, and she muttered as she worked it out. “Any other department would have somebody from facilities down here doing this.”

Chris snorted. “You’d hate having them here — you’d rather do it yourself so you know it’s done right.”

Becca flushed. “Bremmer just doesn’t like spending the money, even though this is the prime showcase for our students. Man has an abacus in his heart — he should be one of the admin bean counters.”

“You put him in his place pretty well.” Chris stretched his long arms over the chairs to get the duct tape from the music stand, bending to tape small pieces under each leg to mark the chair’s location. “I thought for sure he was going to get the date changed.”

Becca slammed the final chair into place. “Over my dead body. I don’t care how much money his favorite political candidate was going to donate, he was not going to sponsor this show.” She stalked over to a set of oils hung under one of the stained glass windows. She took a deep breath and let the bolder colors of the city scenes center her. She imagined getting lost in the rush of people, dwarfed by the skyscrapers, letting that sense of scale put things into perspective. When Becca was sure she wouldn’t call her boss any of the names she wanted to use, she turned back to face Chris.

“The whole reason I set this show in November back the first year was so it would always be after elections. I always said it was so it wouldn’t run into Halloween or Thanksgiving, but it was to avoid all those smarmy candidates trying to come here and pass out information.” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s not the point of this. It’s to showcase the students and their work. I can’t get around it in May, because town elections are finals week.”

“Yeah, but you can intimidate them.” Chris grinned. “Even Dan’s father is scared of you when you get on a tear.”

“Kevin’s a big teddy bear, and you know it. I would never scare him.” Becca took one last walk around the room, checking the signs that had arrows directing people to the restrooms, hidden in the bowels of the building. “And Bremmer should be careful which enemies he makes. Just because I haven’t been able to get Laura to admit he’s abusive doesn’t mean I can’t have a few words with Chief Doherty.”

“Doesn’t he already know?” Chris stopped. “That’s the worst-kept secret on campus. All you have to do is see them together.”

“He’s never been called to the house.” Becca scrubbed her hands over her face. “Riordan asked some questions. The chief assumed he was working for her in a possible divorce, and Riordan didn’t correct him. We’ve both talked to her, hoping to get her to leave him, but she’s terrified of him. Won’t even consider it.”

“He’s a bully, and they always go for the weak.” Chris rubbed the scar on his forearm, his thumb tracing the long line. “But you’re right. I’ve never seen him do anything in public I could report.”

Becca sighed. “Nobody has.” She frowned. “I know when Riordan tells those stories about the days when the mob used the town as a safe spot to gather away from the city, he glosses over the ugly parts. But there are days I wish it was possible to put out a contract on the man.”

“Don’t say that where others can hear you.” Chris cocked an eyebrow. “One of these days somebody will kill the bastard, and you’re going to be the prime suspect.”

Becca laughed, dismissing Chris’ concerns. And if his words came back to her a few times during the next few years, she brushed them aside. Right up until the day Bremmer turned up murdered in his university office, and Chief Doherty arrested her.