Tuesday, January 28, 2020

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge: Audition of a Lifetime

For a number of years, I've participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. They give you three prompts and eight days to write a short story using these three prompts. The word count is capped at 2500. This year more than 4700 people from around the world participated.

My prompts were:

Genre: Ghost Story
A thing: An Audition
A character: A Divorcée

Audition of a Lifetime


Chris Todd Miller

Samantha Morrison stepped over the homeless man sleeping at the bottom of the steps that led from the subway to the sidewalk, but not before depositing the last of her change in the cup still held in his hand. Her last table that night, an eighteen topper, tipped her $100 on a bill of $265, forty percent, not bad at all. The restaurant had been busy lately, which meant she could almost get caught up on rent. Now, she’d only be one month past due.
            The subway stop was just a few blocks from her apartment. Headlights shown on passing cars, and neon signs were just coming on. The sun cast long shadows, a final bow to the day’s audience. The streets still hummed with traffic and enough pedestrians that she didn’t feel the need to keep her pepper spray at the ready. Jack would already be asleep, or he better be. Mrs. Clawson, who lived a few doors down, was kind enough to watch him while she worked her night shifts.
Her little man. Already so independent, tying his own shoes and everything.
She felt her hand bag buzz and pulled out her phone. The caller ID said, Favorite Agent. She touched the green dot. “Hey Neil, what’s up?”
“Hey, Sam. I got a question for you. Who’s your emergency contact?”
“My emergency contact? Why? Am I dying?”
“Not yet, but play your cards right, and you will.”
“It’s been a long day, Neil, what the fuck are you talking about?”
“I got you an audition with . . .”
Sam’s stomach tightened and she inhaled just a bit.
“HBO. Game of Thrones.”
She shrieked. Pedestrians turned to look. “Are you kidding me?”
“I like a good joke, but I wouldn’t kid you about this. You need to be there by nine a.m. I’ll text you the address.”
“Tomorrow morning? Shit, I’ve got to get my shift covered.”
“Quit if you have to,” Neil said. “You’re a shoo-in. And I haven’t even told you the best part yet. It’s not a leading role but it is a recurring role, so there’s a signing bonus. A big one. This almost never happens but it’s Game of Thrones. They do things their own way. And it doesn’t hurt that you have the world’s greatest agent.”
“Oh, Neil, you have no idea how much I need this.”
“I have some idea. You and Jack won’t have to worry about rent for a long while.”
Sam saw her apartment building in at the end of the block. “Why did you ask about emergency contact?”
“I said I like a good joke. This may not be one of them. You’re going to be on Game of Thrones. Eventually, you’ll be killed off, so I figure you’ll want your affairs in order.”
“Hilarious,” Sam said, with a dead-pan tone. “Don’t quit your day job. And, for the record, it’s my sister, Lexy.”
She hung up and started climbing the three flights to her apartment. She nearly flew up the stairs she was so excited.
The first door at the end of the third floor was Mrs. Clawson’s. Sam knocked quietly, hoping that her son was asleep.
Mrs. Clawson opened the door. “Come in, Sugar.”
Sam slipped through and followed Mrs. Clawson down the hallway. “Was he good for you tonight?”
“Honey, he’s always good. That boy’s an angel.”
“We are talking about my son, Jack, right?”
“Go on, you know he’s a good kid.”
“I know,” Sam said. She eyed the framed pictures that covered the walls. Mrs. Clawson’s family, and family’s family. Some of the photos were in black and white.
Mrs. Clawson saw Sam looking over the photos. “There’s three generations on those walls. You’re off to a good start.”
Jack lay on the couch, asleep, wrapped in his favorite blanket. Sam gathered him up. “Thank you so much for watching him.”

            Sam repositioned Jack on her shoulder so she could rip off the eviction notice on her door. She stuffed it in her back pocket and dug out her keys. Thirty days. “At least they didn’t change the locks,” she muttered.
            She dropped the eviction notice on the kitchen table next to a stack of unpaid bills. She put Jack to bed and left him with a kiss on his forehead, then pulled out her phone. First, a text to her coworker Cami:
            Hey Cami
Sorry to drop this on you so late,
but can you cover my morning shift?
I just landed a huge audition.
                                                                        Hang on
I totally would if I could but . . .

It took three more tries until she found Luis, who agreed to cover her shift. People at work were always talking about their big auditions, yet there they were, night after night, still waiting tables. This time would be different, Sam told herself.
            Next she called her sister, Lexy, who agreed to watch Jack in the morning. Sam set the alarm on her phone to six so she’d have plenty of time to make a big breakfast for Lexy and Jack, and still get to her audition on time. “This time will be different,” she said, before turning out the light.

            Sam placed two eggs, sunny side up, on top of a large pancake to form the eyes of the smiley face—a pad of butter made the nose, and a strip of curled bacon the mouth—when the doorbell rang. She opened the door and gave her sister a big hug. “Come in, come in.”
            Lexy put her purse on the couch and went straight for the plate of bacon, her curls bouncing with each step. “Fancy breakfast.”
“I wanted to put some happy vibes into the universe, and this is Jack’s favorite.”
With a strip of bacon hanging out of her mouth, Lexy picked up the crumpled eviction notice. “They’re kicking you out?”
            Sam dished up a plate for her and Lexy. “That’s what happens when you’re perpetually behind on the rent.”
            “Is Jared late with child support, again?”
            “Again? Still. Shit, Lexy, I haven’t seen a dime in over six months.”
            “Have the state garnish his wages.”
“They’ve got to find him to garnish him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
            Sam shrugged. “What good would it do? You already work two jobs and have a roommate, and you’re barely getting by.”
            “Not true. I no longer have a roommate. She moved out. Still owes me for rent this month, though.” She picked up the eviction notice. “Call it karma, or kismet, or just the divine, but this is perfect. You and Jack should move in with me.”
            “I don’t know. I’m no charity case.”
            “This isn’t charity. I need a roommate, and who better than my big sis? Plus, Jack needs more Lexy in his life.”
            “Oh, really?”
            “Most people do. Today, you’ll kick ass at the audition, then this weekend we’ll pack up all your shit and move you into my place—our place. Don’t pay that landlord another fuckin’ dime.”
            Sam teared up a little and smiled at her sister. “Okay. Let’s do it.” Sam hugged her sister. “Go give Jack some more Lexy and get him out here before his breakfast gets cold.”
            Lexy came back with Jack on her hip. He still wore his Avengers pajamas, and rubbed sleep out of his eyes. Sam took him and set him at the table.
            Jack gave a delighted gasp. “Smiley face pancakes? These are my most favorite.”
            “I know.” She kissed him on his head.
            “Is aunt Lexy watching me today?”
            “I sure am. Your mom’s got a big audition today for a famous TV show.” She splayed her hands for emphasis.
            “Cool. Can I play Candy Crush on your phone?”
            Lexy smiled. “I’m sure there will be time for that. Now eat up.”
            Sam finished her bacon, eggs, and avocado. “You two finish up. I need to get dressed.”
Fifteen minutes later Sam emerged from the bedroom ready to go. She bent down in front of Jack. “Give me a hug.” He hugged her tightly around the neck and kissed her cheek.
“Break your legs today,” he said.
“I will, buddy, thanks.” She looked at Lexy, who gave a nod that said, you got this.
Outside, Sam pulled up the text Neil sent her with the address and her lines. She’d stayed up late practicing her part. This morning, she only put on minimal makeup to hid her tired eyes. The studio would take care of that. She thought about hailing a cab, but one of her mother’s axioms about chickens, and eggs, and math came to mind. She decided she could make it to the subway. With only one changeover she would make it with ten minutes to spare.
On the train, she practiced her lines again and again. Nobody interrupted her. In fact, barely a head turned her way. “I guess people talking to themselves on the subway is not unusual.”
At her stop, she gathered her purse, and with phone in hand, stepped off the train, making sure to mind the gap. The sun felt warm and pleasant on her face as she merged into the throng of people on the sidewalk. Every so often she had a moment like this, where she observed the strangers before, behind, and to either side of her and paused, just for a second, to consider how each person was living his or her own life in the world. Hustling and bustling to get to some place, entirely oblivious to everyone else, caught up in their own joys and sorrows, yet somehow the universe managed to weave them altogether to make the world go round. After today she would owe the universe a big thank you.
She was only a couple of blocks from the studio. Sam pulled up her lines again. She knew she knew them, but couldn’t stop reading them. She managed to read and project without running into anyone and before she realized it, she was across the street from the studio. She waited with the crowd for the light to change and moved in unison with everyone else when the signal chirped. The next sound she heard was the squeal of tires on asphalt and people screaming. A yellow taxi cab barreled into the crosswalk. Sam dropped her phone and put both hands out as if to stop the car by using “the Force.”
Sam opened her eyes to see a man leaning over her saying something. His mouth was moving but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. A crowd had assembled around her.
Fear grasped her chest. She started to get up. “What time is?”
The man didn’t respond but kept shouting at the people around them.
She picked up her phone, and to her relief, found the screen wasn’t even cracked. “It’s five to nine. I can still make it.” To her surprise, she felt okay. Although she knew that people in car accidents often didn’t feel the effects until days or weeks later, but she didn’t have time for that.

* * * * *

            “Ms. Morrison, I appreciate you having come in today to read for us,” said Mr. Benioff.
            “Yes, we know it was sort of short notice,” echoed Mr. Weiss.
            “It was no trouble, really. Thank you for the opportunity,” Sam said, barely able to control her nerves.
            “You’ve probably never done an audition quite like this one,” Mr. Benioff continued, “but it was really more of a formality than anything else. I’ve known Neil for years and he suggested you. We looked up your past work and we think you’re perfect for the role. Your performance today only reinforced that decision.”
            “So, I got it? Sam asked.
            Mr. Weiss opened his arms wide. “Welcome to Game of Thrones.”
            Sam squeed and gave them each a hug.
            “To continue the unorthodox nature of this audition, we have a contract ready for your signature. Neil has already read it and signed off on it. All we’re missing is your name right here.” He pointed to the bottom of the last page where a yellow sticky note shaped like an arrow indicated where to sign.
            Her hand only shook a little as she signed her name. With a steady income, and forever royalties, not to mention a hefty signing bonus, she knew she and Jack and Lexy would be okay.  She pulled out her phone and sent Lexy a quick text: Grab a jacket because winter is coming! I got it!


“Hello?” Lexy said, as she answered her phone to a number she didn’t recognize.
“Is this Alexis Simmons?” asked a somber voice.
“Lexy, yes, this is she. Who is this?”
“Ms. Simmons, this is Officer Clarke. I’m afraid there’s been an accident involving your sister.”
Lexy looked at Jack drawing a picture of him with Sam and Lexy on either side of him. They were holding hands. She kept a calm demeanor as she listened to the officer describe the accident. “Ms. Morrison died en route to the hospital. I’m sorry for your loss.”
            Lexy looked at Sam’s last message: Grab a jacket because winter is coming! I got it!
            “Was that mommy?” Jack asked. “When is she coming home. I want to show her my picture.”
            Lexy wiped a tear from her cheek and put her arms around her nephew. “Mommy’s not coming home, sweetie.”


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