Writing Prompt: Write a story inspired by the title of a popular book, but ensure it has nothing to do with that book.
Disclaimer: This story shares nothing with the book “Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson other than the title. This month, our contest theme was to take the title of a popular book, use it to inspire a short story, and make the story have *nothing* to do with the book. No association with the actual book or its author is intended.
Nurse Mandy led Sammy to the park two weeks after the fatal accident. Sammy could finally walk to it without feeling faint. The bandages under her sweater and around her chest constricted movement.
The sad little park was mostly empty, a large square of TrueGrass with a fluffy purple-frond tree in its center. The plastic-y walls of the hospital surrounded it, closing it forever away from actual nature. Like Sammy, this park was a prisoner locked inside sterile walls, stuck beneath a damp gray sky.
There were only two other people in the park, and no children. A lady with a gleaming metal arm. A man walking on whirring metal legs. Broken people, now fixed, on the outside anyway.
“How do you feel?” Nurse Mandy asked, as they settled on a bench. “Can you breathe all right?”
“Tightness in your chest? Pain in your arm?”
“So far as we can tell, your prosthetic heart is keeping up with blood flow, even under exertion.”
“That’s a good sign, Samantha. It means your body isn’t rejecting the device.”
Sammy wished it would. If her body rejected the metal box the doctors planted inside her shattered chest, she could see her parents again. Sammy still thought it was Mom every time she heard soft slippers, and Dad? Dad would bring her ice cream.
Not anymore, though. Not since the accident, twisted metal on a highway surrounded by flashing lights. The drunk driver had survived, of course. Sammy’s parents, her real heart? Not so lucky.
Sammy’s prosthetic brain, the tiny cerebral implant that governed her thoughts and emotions, still functioned fine. Doctor Samuel had inserted an algorithm to firewall Sammy’s grief – grief hindered healing – yet Sammy still thought about her parents so much. If it hurt like this through the firewall, how badly would it hurt without it?
“We can sit here as long as you like,” Nurse Mandy said. “I wish we had some sun for you, but it’ll be a few more days before the clouds clear off.”
“That’s fine.” Sammy didn’t care about the sun, or the clouds, or even rain.
“Would you like to walk around a bit more?”
Nurse Mandy wasn’t the worst of them. She didn’t poke Sammy with needles, or scan her with cold metal pads, or ask how she was feeling today. Mandy just believed things might get better if Sammy worked hard and thought positive. Which made Mandy an idiot.
Thinking positive and working hard wouldn’t give Sammy a family again. Adjusting to a lonely life with a cold metal heart wouldn’t make her stop dreaming about Mom and Dad, wouldn’t rid her of the ache that came when she waked, not crying – because of the firewall – but empty.
“So,” Nurse Mandy said. “What’s the first thing you’d like to do when you get out?”
“Yes, when you leave the hospital. What would you like to do first?”
Sammy didn’t say “Go jump off a bridge” because they’d send her to see the creepy child psychologist. She didn’t say “find the man who drove into our autocar and stab him” because that might earn her a trip to the rewriting center. She considered, and said “Maybe I’ll get a dog.”
“That’s an excellent idea. Any particular breed?”
A pitbull would latch onto that drunk driver’s arm, rip it right off. A doberman might chew off his face. “I don’t know. Maybe a labrador.” One of Sammy’s school buddies had one of those, slobbery and happy and always wagging its tail. Stupid as a brick, just like Nurse Mandy. Filled with pointless optimism.
“My nephew has a black lab,” Mandy said. “They love water. You two could go swimming together and there won’t even be any scarring, thanks to RealFlesh. I remember when we didn’t have prosthetic brain firewalling, or autoDoc surgery, or RealFlesh. Difficult times. When you think about it, we’re very lucky.”
Sammy didn’t scream at her. I’m fourteen and I’ll never have parents again, and once this firewall goes down I’ll cry myself to sleep every night, but sure. Tell me about my dog and swim lessons and how great it is to have RealFlesh. That makes up for everything, doesn’t it? Makes it all better.
Aloud, Sammy said, “I guess we are.”
Two men entered the park who weren’t nurses or doctors, wearing suits. A girl who might be Sammy’s age walked with them, vaguely Asian. She had dark eyes and a bandage around her head.
“Who’s that?” Sammy asked.
“Don’t worry about those men. They won’t bother us.”
“I meant the girl with them.” Mandy really was an idiot.
Mandy lowered her voice. “That’s Katherine Lambda.”
Sammy was recovering at Lambda Center. “Oh.” So this girl’s father ran the place. Must be nice. “What happened to her head?”
“I can’t talk about another patient,” Mandy said. “I can assure you she’s fine, however.”
Sammy stood up. “I’m going to talk to her.”
“Samantha,” Nurse Mandy said, “I really don’t think-”
Sammy beelined for the men in suits, who moved between her and Katherine Lambda. One raised his hand. “Stop right there, ma’am.”
They were certainly polite. Sammy wondered if they hid guns in their jackets, and if they’d shoot her if she ran at them, screaming. If they shot her, she might see her parents again.
Katherine cut between the men and patted their arms. “Please stop that. I really don’t think the heart patient is going to murder me.”
“Ma’am,” one said, “you can’t-”
“Hello!” Katherine strode close and thrust out her fist. “I’m Kate, but you can call me Katie.”
Sammy bumped Kate’s fist with her own. “Sammy.”
“I know! I heard about your surgery. You’re actually pumping one of our prototypes, not officially released to market. Did they tell you that?”
Sammy glanced at Nurse Mandy, standing by the bench with narrowed eyes. “No.”
“Well, that’s stupid.” Kate stared at her suited men. “We’re going to walk around the park, where you can see us. So don’t follow.” She tugged Sammy after her.
Sammy ripped her hand away. “What are you doing?”
“Not what they’re doing,” Kate said, “which is lying to you. It gets annoying, doesn’t it? Everyone telling you how it’s going to be all right?”
Sammy frowned, but she did follow. Kate led her beneath the tree with the shiny purple-frond things. “Know what this tree is?”
Sammy considered. “Nope.”
“It’s a Blue Chinese Wisteria Tree, or a clone of one. Blue Chinese Wisteria Trees don’t actually exist out in the world anymore, just here. Just one tree in the whole park. How do you think it feels about that?”
“The tree?” Was the bandage on Kate’s head due to brain damage?
“How do you think it feels about being alone, with no family? Should we tell it things will get better? Maybe if it rains a lot? Oh, what if we get it a little tree? Like, a shrub to keep it company?”
Sammy stared at her.
“Will that make the tree feel better when it’s the last of its kind? Without any family?”
Sammy clenched her fists. Was this girl making fun of her?
“I think it’s going to be lonely no matter what people do to it,” Kate said. “I think it’s going to keep hurting and never stop, because that’s what happens when you lose your family. It doesn’t get better.”
Before Sammy could do anything else, Kate spun on her. “I lost my mother and little sister, you know. Two years ago. There was a simNews story and everything.”
Sammy’s fists relaxed.
“Everyone was so sad, but they kept saying ‘It’ll get better, Katie’. News flash! It doesn’t.”
Sammy spotted Nurse Mandy hurrying over. She trembled. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I’m still here,” Kate said. “I lost my mom and my sister and it sucks, every day. But I’m still here because I don’t want to disappoint them. I’m really sad, but then I think, if something happened to me, how sad would Mom be? How disappointed?”
Sammy swallowed hard.
“That’s why I keep being awesome,” Kate said. “For Mom and Suki. I’m going to grow up and do great things because they deserve to see that happen.”
Mandy arrived. “Samantha, your heart-”
“She’s fine,” Kate said. “But you can take her back to her room now.” Kate smiled and hugged Sammy tight. “Let’s hang out tomorrow, okay? Same place. I’ll bring cookies.” She stepped back.
“Okay,” Sammy said. Her eyes were leaking.
“Awesome.” Kate sauntered back to her bodyguards. “Later!”
“Samantha,” Nurse Mandy said, “you should-”
“Ssh.” Sammy raised a hand and watched the tree. All alone, but still here and absolutely beautiful. Hanging on no matter how much it sucked to be alone. Maybe out of spite.
“Okay,” Sammy said. “Let’s go back to my room now.”
As she led Nurse Mandy down the long hall, Sammy realized she was actually looking forward to the cookies.
About the Story
Steelheart came from a literal interpretation of a book title – a heart made of steel. Our prompt was to take the title of a popular book and write a story based on that title that had nothing to do with that book. Hence, a young girl who is dealing with a horrific tragedy.
The accident that killed Sammy’s parents tore her heart out, literally and figuratively, and I wanted to explore how a person might deal with a horrific accident and the loss that results. As an aside, this story also allowed me to write a “prequel scene” for two characters (Samantha and Kate) that appear in another of my current WIPs.
Cover Photo Credit:
<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/37221440@N06/7006981173″>ROSE BOUQUET – Pink Heart Focal Bead</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>