I followed a writing prompt that said, "Write a short scene in which one character reduces another to uncontrollable sobs without touching him or speaking." This is what I came up with. I hope you like it.
Shogun was a large St Bernard with an expressive face that would be unbelievable if Stan hadn’t known the dog for almost seven years. The animal was Jane’s constant companion for the whole time he’d known her. Indeed, he’d never seen one without the other, ever. Until now.
When Shogun bounded into the clearing, he didn’t need to see the look of concern on his face to feel his own panic start to rise. He circled back when he caught sight of Stan and looked to see that he followed. Stan understood immediately and ran after Shogun’s lead.
Jane was in trouble. Serious trouble. Shogun wouldn’t have left her alone if there was any other explanation. Stan’s heart began to pound and tears sprung from his eyes as he envisioned any and all possible outcomes, none of which were good. She had been discovered and killed, fallen and critically injured, ambushed and captured. The list went on and on.
If she was being interrogated, she would compromise all of them and that was bad. But he loved her, too. She had woven herself into his life so securely, as had Shogun, he just now discovered, that he would lose the largest part of himself if she was taken from him. He had seen her hurt before and in trouble, but Shogun was able to move her away from the danger. If he left her, then it was something he couldn’t manage. She must be dead or lost.
Shogun led him deftly though the forest, avoiding holes and twigs as agilely as a deer and just as noiselessly. It was inconsistent in an animal that appeared as unwieldy as a large St Bernard was apt to be, but he moved stealthily and it was Stan that proved unable to keep quiet. Shogun slowed his pace to allow Stan more time for careful advance but Stan was having a hard time containing his nervous energy.
At the edge of another clearing, Shogun pulled up. He sat back on his haunches and stared at the opposite side. Stan looked across to where the dog’s gaze had settled and saw what he was looking at. It was Jane. She was on her back and unmoving. Stan’s panic got the best of him and he ran, heedless of the racket he caused. If she was dead, then it was better he joined her. Let them kill him, too. He was nothing without her.
In the transit of the clearing, he saw the past seven years with Jane. He saw their first meeting at the beach house, surrounded by smoke, sweat and weapons. She was ragged and covered in weeks of dirt and fatigue, yet she was alert and ready for her next assignment. Stan was new to the unit and was nervous to be paired with someone as obviously ready for action. Her first words to him did little to ease him into the partnership.
“Shogun has decided you can stay,” she said and then turned to leave, expecting him to follow. The big dog watched him with stern, hard eyes and didn’t move until Stan moved into position behind and slightly to the left of her. Shogun stayed beside him at all times until they reached the transport that would take them to their designated post. He got in and Shogun followed behind. Jane got in the front.
She taught him so much in the months and years that followed. One mission after another. Then, like a fool, he fell in love. Worse, she fell in love with him. It was never supposed to happen. They should kill themselves before that happened. For precisely this reason. He was unable to think straight. He ran headlong into the crossfire, heedless of the consequences. The tears had not stopped since Shogun came for him. He should have been there. It should have been him that was hurt, or captured or dead. Jane was strong and would be alright without him but he was weak. He would crumble under the grief.
And what about Shogun. Stan had grown to love that big mutt. He was sloppy and heavy when he played, but he was a lovable oaf who would be lost without Jane. He would care for him, of course. And Shogun, God love him, would accept him as Jane had, but it would never be the same. The quiet tears became uncontrollable sobs that added to the raucous he was creating.
And Shogun looked on. Concerned but quiet. Even the old dog knew better, but not Stan. He only felt the emptiness of loss and didn’t care about anything anymore. Then his sobs became more intense as he realized that if he continued, he too could be killed and that would leave Shogun alone in the wilderness with no companion. Everyone he ever loved in the world gone forever. He would probably give up. Lay beside the lifeless corpses of both he and Jane protecting them until he died, too.
He reached Jane where she lay. Her eyes were closed, thankfully. He didn’t think he could bear looking into dead eyes that once contained so much life. Stan fell to his knees beside her, his sobs silent again but just as intense. He had to get through this for Shogun. He couldn’t save her today, but he had so many times before and they had gone on to do so much good work.
“Jane,” he sobbed quietly and stroked her hair.
And her eyes snapped open and looked up into Stan’s glazed and suddenly confused stare.
“Stan,” she said. “There you are.”
He continued to stare without saying anything.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “Oh my God! Where’s Shogun? I sent him to get you. Where is he?”
She jumped to her feet, the light dress billowing up with her abrupt leap. Her shapely legs flashing in the momentary exposure to the sunlight. She was beautiful.
“Shogun!” she shouted. “Oh, Jesus. Shogun! Where are you?”
“Jane? Are you…”
“C’mon, we gotta find him! On your feet, mister!”
Stan jumped up. He towered over her and had to lift her a little to kiss her.
“What are you doing?” she said. “We need to find Shogun.”
Just then his bark echoed throughout the clearing and he bounded over the tall grasses toward them. Jane let out a relieved breath and smiled. “There you are. Oh, thank God. That’s a good boy. Who’s a good boy? Shogun is a good boy. Yes he is.”
Shoguns old tail swung back and forth slowly but spryly. He was happy, he did his job.
“I thought you were…” Stan said just as Jane said “I though he was…”
“Are you crying?” she asked him.
“What? No. Of course not,” he stammered drying his face with his hands.
“Oh,” she said, strangely disappointed. Why would she want him to be crying? “Well, don’t you like it?” she said spinning on bare feet and causing the hem of the dress to float up and expose her beautiful legs again.
“I’ve never seen you in a dress,” he said.
“I can’t remember the last time I wore one.” She glanced over his shoulder where Shogun and gone to take up his position beside a blanket on the ground with a picnic already laid out.
He looked at her and she looked back with eyes of sympathy.
“It’s over, remember?”
And then it all came flooding back. Just like it always did. The doctor said he would stop experiencing it one day, but for now, Jane was to be his lifeline back to the present. He said it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the time that caused it when Jane almost did die had ruined him. They both left the outfit then. They had no problem cutting him loose, he would be useless to them anymore, but Jane was still an asset. Losing her was a huge blow. They very nearly took steps to force her to stay, but she convinced them, somehow, that she was no longer useful on he own. Without Stan, she would be compromised, especially in his condition. She would always worry about him.
Why don’t they just kill me? he asked once. She didn’t respond and the look on her face told him never to ask that question, again.
He sat on the blanket and took a bite of a chewy piece of salami. Jane was alright. They were out of that life and had been for almost five years, but still there were triggers. It hadn’t happened for a long time, Jane probably thought it had passed so a journey into the woods would be okay. It was a set back, but Shogun had an expression, unexplainable, other that to say Stan, you’re safe with me.