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Earl, I’m coming for you. I’ll find you.

Earl woke with a start in his grey and mauve bedroom at the hospital, the moonlight streaming through the window and casting linear shadows on the floor.

Earl, can you hear me?

He could. He sat upright and rubbed his eyes hard, squinting into the dark. The room was silent, save for the buzzing of the air conditioner working overtime in the 85 degree July heat. Yet Earl shivered, his hands and arms exposed from under his warm fleece blankets. He glanced at the clock; it was 3:19 a.m.

Earl. I need you, Earl.

The voice was back again. Earl cocked his head to the left, examining the shadows for some clue who was talking, but the room was empty. He swung his feet down out of his bed gingerly, the aches in his knees coursing up and down his legs as he tried to stand on his own two, arthritic feet. With a struggle, he slowly walked over to his closet door and pulled his bathrobe over his hunched back, contorted downward by gravity as it was by his eight decades of life; each year seemed to pull him closer to the earth, closer to the grave.

I need your help.

The voice sounded familiar, like a person he once knew who was now buried in the depths of his memory; his dementia told him he recognized the voice, but it refused to identify it for him. He knew it was a woman, and probably an older woman judging by the shakiness of its sound. But he didn’t know any older woman — did he?

After carefully tying his tennis shoes and pulling his socks halfway up his legs, Earl opened his creaky bedroom door carefully and peered down the empty hall. The small hospital employed several night staff in case of emergencies, but they were usually down in the opposite end of the Memory Care Wing, oblivious to Earl’s meanderings.

“Where are you?” Earl said out loud, his voice soft and croaky in the early morning hours.

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Prompt #3: A piece about an unwelcome surprise

Prompt #3: A piece about an unwelcome surprise

I’m a notoriously light sleeper. I toss and turn merely trying to fall asleep, and when I finally crash, it takes only the slightest noise from all the way across the house to instantly wake me up again. It’s always been that way. I envy the people who can pass out in thirty seconds and sleep a solid seven or eight hours with nothing but sweet dreams running through their heads.

My brother Charlie knows this, and yet he called me this morning, lightly whispering, “Hey. Hey, are you at home?” What the fuck, where else would I be at 3:32 a.m.? “Can you come downstairs? I’m in your lobby. I have a, umm, situation.”

 Well, I’m awake now, I thought grudgingly, and hung up with a grunt. The moon was barely a sliver outside my window, providing the only light creeping into my room as I pulled on yesterday’s jeans and the closest shirt I could find. This had better be good.

Charlie had a knack for overreactions. When he was 11 and I was 15, he was convinced our neighbor was a serial killer. He’d get off the bus with me and tiptoe absurdly all the way down the road in case Mr. Sanders was outside and knew he was there.

“For god’s sake, Charlie, let’s go home! Mom’s waiting.”

“Shh! Did you hear that? It sounds like screaming.”

“All I hear is a lawnmower.”

Meanwhile, he would drop belly-first into the ditch in front of Mr. Sanders’ house, using his cheap plastic binoculars to peer in the windows. “Come on, Charlie, we’re going to get in trouble!”

Every week without fail this happened, until finally Mr. Sanders moved away. Charlie insisted on going to the open house — to his embarrassment, and probably disappointment, no mass-murder weapons were discovered anywhere on his property.

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Prompt #2: A piece in which something is broken

Prompt #2: A piece in which something is broken

The first thing he saw upon entering the front door was his wife prostrated on the kitchen floor, a puddle of broken glass digging harshly upward into her knees and the makings of today’s dinner, scalloped potatoes, overturned onto the linoleum floor in front of her. She jumped when she heard the door close, and a sob escaped her lips when she saw her husband enter the room cautiously.

“Oh, you scared me,” she sniffed through her tears, wiping her eyes hastily with the back of her trembling left hand. Her wedding ring left a faint scratch on her cheek as it brushed across her skin.

She looked down at her knees and couldn’t help but emit a small chuckle, which was then enveloped by another tearful heave. “God.” Her hands shook as she held them out palms down; when she turned them over, they were spotted with scratches and blood from landing hands-first onto the glass shards.

He quickly dropped his briefcase into the nearest kitchen chair and hastened to his wife’s side. “What happened?” he said gently. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes.” She nodded, then immediately shook her head. Another wave of fear lurched over her uncontrollably. “No. Hold me.”

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