Sarah Ann Hall

Reporting on writing in progress or, more probably, not; practising flash fiction.

Two for Tuesday #22 – A Friend in Need

with 4 comments

I’m a little late with last week’s Two for Tuesday challenge. I took ages to come up with anything for the standard prompt, and incorporating the non-standard one (or two) was really hard. The story below is a bit rushed and I’m not sure it works. I think it needs beefing up, with vocabulary, plot and words, but then I wouldn’t have time to work on this week’s prompts….


Standard Prompt:
buried details

You have lots of creative leeway. The limit is 200 words. The words can be used:

  • simply as a point of inspiration and do not have to be used directly
  • they can be included exactly as provided
  • or each word can be used independently of each other (for example if Death Row was the prompt instead of crafting a story about an inmate on the way to the gallows, you might write something like: Despite feeling like death from an excess of cheap vodka consumed the night before, Evelyn moved on to planting her next row of spinach).


Non-Standard Prompt:

For this week’s alternative prompt choose at least two of the four quotes (taken from different popular movies) and write a story that uses the chosen unrelated quotes:

“Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.” (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)

“Any man who falls behind is left behind.” (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl)

“I said, ‘I had a bad experience.’” (The Italian Job)

“We thought you was a toad.” (Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?) 

As per usual with the Non-Standard Prompt there is no word limit (to allow for more in depth explorations) but there is a minimum of 200 words.



A Friend in Need (1375 words)

Stefan looked wide-eyed as Jo slithered through the gap in the sash window.

‘Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you?’

‘I’m not planning on falling.’

‘He’s not worth this.’

‘He’s our friend and he’s in trouble. Why else would he take our phones and lock us in? He’s trying to protect us.’

‘So why don’t you let him? Why shimmy down the drainpipe and expose yourself to god knows what?’

‘He needs our help.’

‘We don’t know that.’

‘I’m sure he said – ‘

‘You’re sure he said what?’

‘Look, can we do this later? There isn’t much room on this windowsill.’

‘Come back inside then.’

Stefan’s words fell on to the top of Jo’s head as she side-stepped, gripped with her hands, swung her left foot around slowly. He saw her bare foot flinch momentarily as it made contact with the cold iron, then both were clamped on and she was descending.

‘This is madness,’ he said through clenched teeth, and shut the window against the cold night air. There was nothing he could do. He didn’t have Jo’s agility or daring. He just had to wait.


Ten minutes later Stefan heard a key in the door.

‘Jo? Are you all right?’

Stefan rushed along the corridor. Jo stood in the doorway, Gilbert at her side.

‘I’m fine,’ she said.

‘Sorry,’ Gilbert shrugged. ‘I’m sorry I scared you. I over-reacted. You both deserve an explanation.’

Stefan motioned to the sitting-room then grabbed three beers from the fridge. They all sat on the floor, which Stefan thought that was odd. Not using the chairs was intimate and friendly, but there was an edge too, as if they needed to hunker down, to stay low, in case snipers were taking aim outside the window. Stefan shook his head, trying to dismiss the crazy thought.

Once they’d all taken a swig from their bottles, Gilbert took the floor.

‘When the company was taken over five years ago, I stole from work,’ he said, matter-of-fact, no prevarication. ‘That’s to say I buried details of the original company structures on my computer. Operational policies, management structure, pay scales, turnover, disciplinary procedures, contact lists. Anything I could lay my hands on, I copied, stored and, later, I smuggled out.’

‘But why?’ Stefan interrupted. This wasn’t the sort of behaviour that should have resulted in the fear and panic he and Jo had been subject to earlier.

‘I saw due process wasn’t being followed. Members of staff who had protected-contract status were made redundant, pension calculations were adjusted downwards. All sorts of shenanigans went on. Others noticed, but anyone who made a fuss was sacked, side-tracked. I don’t know why or how, but none of the dodgy dismissals ever reached the tribunal stage. Many should have.’ Gilbert paused, took a swig of beer. ‘Any man who falls behind is left behind,’ he said wistfully.

‘What?’ Stefan said.

‘It was something the new CEO said, as if by explanation. The new company, his company, was going to be leaner, tighter. We had to grow our market share, increase profits for shareholders, and any way was the right way. He didn’t care about long-service and loyalty. All the pre-take-over union negotiations and contracts were effectively ignored. New lawyers replaced the old and re-interpreted or argued out protective clauses. I saw this happening and did nothing. I kept my head down, kept my mouth shut and kept my job. I’m not proud. I was a coward and looked after number one. Some of my friends got the boot, some of them have never recovered.’ Again he paused, as if remembering.

‘I’d started storing data and paperwork prior to the take-over. I didn’t know what I’d do with it. I was one person against a phalanx of lawyers and a new management structure. I couldn’t do anything. And no one knew I had the stuff. In the end I figured, if no one knew I had the information, and I was too scared to do anything with it, there was no real point in me keeping it. And then I noticed some of my emails had disappeared. At first I thought I was imagining it. I was consulted on salary packages for appraisal promotions. I don’t know why: it was the first time I’d been included in the loop for a while. Some of the packages were quite complex and I filed the email as I wanted to be able to refer to it if I were ever to discuss the options. It’s gone. I’ve searched through all my email folders, checked my desktop at work. The email and any copies of it no longer exist.’

‘Are you sure it was an email? That you didn’t receive the information as a hardcopy memo?’ Jo asked.

‘I’ve taken to forwarding important emails to my personal account,’ Gilbert answered, his voice flat. ‘That copy still exists.’

‘Maybe you deleted the original from the work account when you sent it home?’ Stefan suggested.

Gilbert didn’t answer. There was no need. They all knew that people backed-up to home rather than using it a sole source of storage. Three copies of everything was the rule if you didn’t want to lose anything.

‘I still don’t see why everything you’ve told us would result in you locking us into our flat,’ Stefan said.

‘I’m sorry. I over-reacted. I thought I saw,’ he paused. ‘Hell, I don’t know what I thought I saw. There have been a lot of new security personnel wandering around the office of late. And I thought I saw one of them outside earlier. If they’re coming for me, then fine, but I didn’t want you to come to my rescue. Didn’t want you to see anything that could put you in danger.’

‘This isn’t the Wild West,’ Stefan said. ‘People don’t just disappear. Institutions don’t bump off their employees willy-nilly.’

‘Don’t they?’

‘Oh come on, Gilbert.’

‘The company didn’t ignore a whole swathe of employment rights and suffer no punitive action without resorting to some form of threat,’ Gilbert retorted.

‘Issuing threats is one thing. Silencing people quite another. And I thought they didn’t know you had the stuff.’

‘Now, with the emails disappearing, I’m not so sure. It means they’ve had access to my computer. They could have looked around, followed the trail.’

‘Where’s the stuff now. At work?’

‘No. It’s on hard disk here, and in cloud storage in a couple of places’

‘So they’d have to torture you to get access to all your passwords to retrieve every copy,’ Stefan said, his eyes smiling


‘And you think they would?’


‘You only have one choice then,’ Jo said quietly.

‘I don’t understand.’

‘If you ever want to be safe again, if you think they’re after you for the information you have, then you can give it back, or publish.’

‘You don’t understand –‘

‘Yes I do. You’re scared and frightened. And no one can live like that long term. You will become ill. They will get what they want and all your secrecy will have been for nothing. Or you can bring them down. True, all the legal suits that follow your revelations will probably destroy the company. True, the execs will talk or buy their way out. But you have to live with yourself.’

‘It’s not that simple.’

‘It never is,’ Stefan said dryly, ‘but Jo’s right.’


They argued long into the night, discussing the whys and wherefores of every scenario to both logical and fanciful conclusions. Talked out, they each fell asleep where they were, curled on the floor, and that’s what saved them. At four o’clock the following morning when a stray fag end thrown from the street made contact with the gas leaking from the mains supply to Gilbert’s kitchen, the subsequent explosion caused the bedrooms, in the bay-end of the converted house, to collapse. The central stairway and rooms immediately radiating from it remained intact. Jo, Stefan and Gilbert, deafened and dazed, were able to make their way out before the fire took hold. And neighbours, first on the scene, took the three into their houses for a strong cup of tea before the ambulances arrived, or the men in grey suits could make their less-felicitous approaches.



4 Responses

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  1. Once again you seamlessly incorporated all the prompts into one story. I enjoyed your thread. Jo was right. Go public with the info so the efforts aren’t all in vain. Very convincing dialogue. You have a good ear for the rhythm and expressions that bring dialogue to life. Great stuff.


    August 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    • Thank you, Andy. I worried as I wrote that Gilbert was saying too much. The way I set the scene he had to tell his own story, but still I wondered if the reader (if not Stefan and Jo) might nod of. This is one of those stories I could see playing out like a film scene, which definitely helped with the writing of it.

      Sarah Ann

      September 1, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      • I love when the movie scene thing in the head happens. Then all you have to do is write it down.


        September 3, 2013 at 12:04 am

      • Yep, it makes life a lot easier. 🙂

        Sarah Ann

        September 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm

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