High and past time for another prompt! In reading Story, Robert McKee talks about “the gap,” or that space that opens up when a character takes an action, expecting one outcome, but receives another, forcing them to respond in a different way.
18) Write a bit where a character takes an action and the result is something other than what they expected, forcing a new action by the character. Go as far as you want with this, gap after gap.
The hours he’d spent in the belly of the ship had felt like days, grinding painfully on each other in a slow progression. Hope had long since abandoned him, and only habit kept him down here, sitting next to her corpse. There was no other place on the ship for him, with her here.
The words of Silmande’s crazy maid rang in his head.
You’ll know when.
When had long since passed him by. When had been at the moment of poisoning, days ago, when she still breathed. When was not here in this airless space.
And yet, the vial sat heavy in his hand. He knew its shape by heart, the peculiarities of its design. The chip on the rim of the mouth, the burr two-thirds of the way down, the way the interior curved in on one side, limiting volume . . . these were all familiar to him.
If his mere presence could have saved her, she’d long since have arisen.
A twitch of the body.
The lantern swayed with the roll of the ship, the cavorting shadows and smoke combining to fool sight. He rubbed his stinging eyes.
There again. A tremor.
Or did he dream?
When the next shudder wracked her body his stomach heaved. The unnatural motion of the corpse brought on nausea, fear, and an almost painful wave of hope. He retched once, spitting bile into the bucket beside him before he stood.
A single step brought him to her side. No pulse beat against the pallor of her throat, no breath parted her lips, but there. A quirk. A tick of a jaw muscle and a shiver through her frame.
In the space of a heartbeat he had the vial unstoppered and her shoulders lifted from the bier. He forced her mouth open with the vial and poured the concoction into her, frenzy gripping him. He could save her. . . .
He slapped his palm on her mouth and let her head loll back, shaking her, trying to force the liquid down a throat that wouldn’t swallow.
“Drink it,” he growled.
His grip on her upper body tightened. One hand slid down her cold arm until he found her fingers and he threaded his own through hers. His gaze locked on her face, watching, waiting in agony.
The creak of the ship almost covered it, but there it was. A gurgling sound. In the next instant her whole body tensed and she sat all the way up, breaking free from of his grasp. She coughed, choked, and finally spat out the fluid he’d poured into her before taking a heaving breath. She doubled over, still sputtering as her chest expanded, desperate to fill lungs that had lain empty for far too long.
He wanted to touch her all over, to believe the miracle of her renewed life and just hold her, but he gave her a moment.
When she could breathe she wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her funeral gown before turning toward him. Betrayal filled her hazel eyes, betrayal and horror.
“You didn’t Sing me free,” she rasped out, then burst into tears.