The next prompt on the list is this one:
36. Frame It: Write a poem or some phrases that would make for good wall art in your home.
Boring! At least, it's definitely not something I want to be doing at the moment. It's something I did last year and I have a not very good piece of art on the wall that includes a short, half-formed poem. I'm proud of it though because it's not something I would even have dared to attempt at the beginning of last year. The art I'm most proud of though is art I don't have. One piece is on a friend's wall. Another piece is on the wall of another friend. I smile when I see it.
Prompt 36 was rejected. Straight away and with no chance of a reprieve.
Instead, here's exercise one from The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley.
Write a first-person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I, me, or my) only twice.
There were further instructions and explanations. I didn't read them, at least not until I had freely written the following scene. Is it truly first-person? Perhaps not. Did I stick to the pronoun rule? Perhaps.
This picture has nothing to do with the story apart from both containing a cannon. It was taken in Edinburgh when I was a child. I'm the one sitting at the back. My brother is in front of me and my mother is the woman on the right. The man in the middle is a random stranger.
The Magnificent Miranda had muscles that looked as though they were ripped from the pages of a comic book.
"Today," she announced to the assembled crowd, "You will see attempt a feat of great daring, one never before seen on stage. One of you will join me, participate in this great feat. You have all signed your health and safety waivers haven't you? Don't worry, you're in safe hands."
She showed us her hands. They were massive, almost as large as the hands of The Hulk but without a hint of green. Were they safe? That was debatable. If you got in a bar fight with Miranda you probably wouldn't relax into a complacent daze at the sight of those breathtaking weapons at the end of her arms.
"Tonight friends, comrades, crazy creatures of the night, one of you will fly. Look and see."
She waved her arms around and then pointed to the right hand side of the arena. Two of her henchmen pulled a black tarpaulin from a shape and a cannon was revealed underneath.
"Yes folks, you brave fools. One of you, chosen entirely at random, will tonight be fired from that cannon across the arena. If all goes well you will be caught in these well trained hands. If it doesn't of course, well that's what those waivers were for. Did you notice clause twenty-three? In the event of death you won't sue the management. Thank you for signing. It's much appreciated. Only joking. Nobody has died taking part in this stunt yet. Nobody. And don't worry if you see any first night nerves.
This wasn't what was expected. The flyer for the show had mentioned a cornucopia of magical talent, feats of strength and agility, and promised a night of entertainments to surprise, excite and astound. It hadn't mentioned audience participation, danger, or the very real possibility of death by cannon. We had all signed the forms of course. We had all paid our admission and crowd psychology dictated that nobody wanted to be seen as weak in the face of a form that we all reckoned was probably just a trick to get us more invested in the evening's proceedings. None of us thought there would be any real risk. Magical extravaganzas just don't run like that. Not even the entertainers of the dark circus arts would cause any real harm to their fans.
"A volunteer. Who's going to be the daredevil sharing the bill with The Magnificent Miranda? Who wants to be caught in the embrace of a beautiful woman?" As if to emphasise her great beauty - which might have found a place on the cover of Body-Builder World but never on Vogue - she removed her jacket, revealing a ripped chest and a bra that looked to be balanced precariously on her breasts as if it might fly off at any moment in the manner of Barbara Windsor on a camping trip.
"Who's it going to be? Let's find out shall we? Each of you was stamped on your arm as you entered the arena tonight. Each stamp contains a unique number. Now, behold."
Lights came on at the back of the arena to reveal a machine that looked like something you might see used by a bingo caller on a seaside pier. Just bigger. Much bigger. Inside were balls, moving freely.
"All your numbers are there. The machine will choose one of you and, according to the conditions you've each agreed to in a legally binding contract, whoever is chosen will fly, fly, fly like they've never flown before. Nothing to worry about. Unless you weigh more than ten stone in which case you might suffer some kind of injury." She laughed. "Of course not. You wouldn't see The Magnificent Miranda dropping a paying customer. It would be bad for business. Bad for the customer too but let's not worry ourselves about that small matter."
She looked at us. We looked back, slightly frightened, nervous expressions on each of our faces. She turned back to the machine and shouted, "Let the choice be made."
The machine let out a bit puff of steam. Showmanship. It then crossed the arena, back to front, while The Ride of the Valkyries played. Terrible showmanship. Seriously? That tune? It stopped in front of us and Miranda picked up a bucket hanging from it, held it under a tube and waited. "Best be patient, this machine has a mind of its own. It knows things about each of you and will choose wisely."
The machine made more clattering noises, let out more smoke which turned out to be dry ice. Then it went silent and we heard a noise as a ball fell down the pipe and into the bucket.
"Away, away with you." Miranda waved her arms theatrically at the machine and it crossed the arena again, letting out a fanfare as it reached the far side.
"Let's see. This IS fun isn't it? Who's the lucky person going to be?"
She lifted the ball from the bucket.
"It's number forty-seven. Step forward number forty-seven. Your time is up."
Luck be a lady tonight. This lady. I stepped forward.
"Congratulations mademoiselle." Miranda grabbed her volunteer - who would have pulled out had it not been for those issues of legality and saving face - kissed her hand and said "Enchanté. Welcome to the wonderful world of show business."
The next five minutes were a blur. Fear clouded everything. Every hormone known to woman went on an insane rampage at the thought of what was happening. The walk to the cannon. Being placed in the cannon and given instructions on how not to die when being fired from it. Stay still. Keep your arms and legs close together. Hey, here's a safety helmet. It won't help you if you crash onto the arena floor but our insurers say you have to wear it. Then the wait as Miranda crossed the arena.
There were a series of safety announcements and pronouncements about the massive strength and skill of Miranda, who was raised up to be even more Magnificent than she claimed. Dramatic music played and Miranda counted down from ten. When the countdown reached "Fire!" the noise nearly burst my eardrums and the pressure of the blast was worse than anyone could have imagined.
And I flew.
It was not an enjoyable experience. There wasn't time to move beyond terror into enjoyment or to analyse the situation to find out whether it was fun in any way. It may be difficult to truly enter into the spirit of a party when the main party game is Russian roulette.
Then her strong arms wrapped her volunteer. She was as good as her words. They were very safe hands to fall into. We were both applauded and bowed to the audience.
She turned and said, "That was brilliant. You performed your part very well. How would you like to have a permanent part in the show? Come back every night and be number forty-seven."
"Er. No thank you very much. Once was enough. Risking life and limb isn't going to be a habit and neither is signing waivers before shows."
"Sorry to see you go but thank you too for taking part. You couldn't have done better. There will be a reward for you after the show for being such a good sport."
And that was it. The climax of the evening's entertainment. The local paper covered the show. Most of the article was about the courage of the woman who was pulled out of the audience and was shot from a cannon. Miranda's catch was played down and the other acts were almost forgotten. They preferred to write a tale of heroism.
A local hero is always good for morale. They didn't need to know the truth. Their hero was only shot from a cannon because of her cowardice and inability to say no.