Prompt Short Story: Hold On

Hold On


Lee Hulme

Gemma’s mouth dropped open, “What the hell?”

Karen started in surprise and stood, the bleeding body at her feet momentarily forgotten, “Oh. Hey. Just, uh, completing my contract.”

“You’re an assassin?!” Gemma squeaked.

“We’ve been friends for literally two days. Why are you so shocked?”

“I just thought I’d get a normal friend for once.”

Karen raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean ‘for once’? You wind up with many assassin friends?”

“No,” Gemma admitted, “But I wind up with lots of weird friends. I don’t know what I’m saying! And I’m not the one here who just got caught killing someone!” she tweaked the ends of her dark ponytail around her beck, almot as if to protect it.

Karen scratched her head with the tip of the knife, then scowled as she remembered she had yet to clean it, her light brown hair now stained red, “Well you weren’t exactly meant to find out. Not like this anyway.”

“I just watched you kill my professor! The only one, to boot, that ever made bloody logic trees seem even a tiny bit bloody logical! That’s all you have to say?!” Gemma gesticulated wildly as she spoke. “So? Fucking now what?”

“Well,” Karen knelt to clean her knife on the professor’s skirt, “Up to you. Call the cops and turn me in, or walk away quiet and I’ll keep in touch.”

“You’ll just let me do either of those? Bullshit.”

“Why bullshit? It doesn’t bother me. I don’t kill outside of a contract but I’m sure you’ll understand why won’t stay in touch if you try to turn me in. Do that and I’ll leave, you’ll never see or hear of me again, no problemo. Or, let me go, and we can stay friends. Choose fast though or it’ll be out of your hands.”

Gemma gaped for a moment and pulled her phone from her pocket to call the police, but found herself unable to tap the screen. “Ohh. Fuck. OK, OK, go. Just go.”

“You too,” Karen shot back, already going for the fire exit she had sabotaged the alarm on earlier, her dark, fitted outfit barely whispering as she ran.

“Shit!” Gemma spun and headed in the opposite direction, out of the room, around the corner, and to the nearest exit. Fortunately the building was quiet at this time – that was presumably why Karen chose that moment to do…what she did. Gemma reflexively slid her hands inside the sleeves of her sweater, scratching at the sudden crawling itches on her arms.

“She’s a murderer,” Gemma whispered to herself, feeling a thrill run through her body. “You should have called the police.” But the thrill remained.

Over the next few years, as Gemma graduated, got a job as a research assistant, then a teaching fellow, postcards and emails came at irregular intervals, though never from the same place or address.

And the thrill remained. Every time, Gemma would feel that electric finger on her spine and shiver from the idea that, given a few different choices, she might have taken the same path. She held that knowledge close, and kept in touch with her secret friend whilst concealing it from everyone else, holding herself just a little apart from her friends and her occasional lovers. Not saving herself for Karen, but never able to let her go and commit to another.

Some years down the line, as a maturing Gemma lined herself up for the next promotion, a time came when her world crashed down around her. Migraines and vomiting, then seizures, weakness and paralysis, were met with aggressive treatment and surgery. And two years later Gemma found herself sat in the politely decorated office of a neuro-oncologist, trying to cling to consciousness while she explained that the tumour was still pressing on the top of her spinal cord. Chemo had failed, again, to help, and the surgery had been unable to remove the entire thing. There was little more to be done except try to stay comfortable and wait for the end.

Gemma left in a daze, barely remembering the journey home. That was it. Nothing to look forward to but a slow and painful demise. She sat on her old, patched sofa and clutched her head as a spike of pain wound its way into her temple, making her vomit on her shoes. She was cleaning it up as the evening’s carer arrived, quickly taking over and sending Gemma to her bed where she sank into a doze.

Gemma awoke in the dark and fumbled for the light, seeing the foil-wrapped sandwiches and bottled water the carer whose name she should remember but couldn’t had left for her.

She blinked until the blurring of her vision eased, and opened her tablet, tapping the email programme, writing to the last address Karen had used to speak to her.

Karen, I had my appointment today, and I’m done. Nothing else they can do. I’m just going to get worse and worse until my body gives up and I die horribly.

I don’t want to do that. I can’t. Please. Can you help?

Your friend, always,


Exhausted, Gemma forced herself to eat and drink before curling into a small ball, wrapping her blanket around her, and escaping again into sleep.

When she awoke, there was a simple reply to her email:

Gem – Hold on. I’m coming. Hold on. 2 days, at night. Hold on.

Karen x

So Gemma held on. Carers came and went, she barely noticed the things they said, the things she ate and drank. She held on to her despair and she waited. It wasn’t long.

Two days later, almost the second the evening carer left, Karen entered the house in total silence and sat by Gemma’s bed.

Gemma smiled at her presence and her eyes watered with emotion, her throat too full to speak.

“Hey hey, I told you’d I’d be here. I’d tell you to get better locks and an alarm, but I guess I don’t need to now.”

Gemma gave a pained chuckle.

“You got everything ready? Made a will and shit?”

Gemma nodded and forced herself to speak, her voice cracked and slow, “Got no parents, no siblings. Only you and some friends. Take anything you want, the rest is for them then charity.”

“Alright, good,” Karen brought a bottle of water with a straw to Gemma’s lips. “You’ve said everything you need to, sent messages, all that?”

Gemma nodded. Over the past two days she had scheduled messages to go across her social media and email, to those who would need to know. Everything was ready.

“Good. Anything you need me to to finish for you?”

Gemma shook her head “Just me. Just…this.”

Karen smiled softly, “I told you once that I never killed outside of a contract. I’ve kept that true all this time. It’s what made me an elite, an assassin, instead of a common killer.”

“You still aren’t,” Gemma coughed painfully. “This isn’t murder. This is…” she paused to think, “Is friendship.”

Karen placed a cool hand on her forehead, “You’ve been my one true friend all these years, you know. The one anchor I had, the one person who I could love, and who wouldn’t judge. I don’t think I ever told you that. Now you know, and I guess that’s all the words I need to say. Thank you.”

Gemma nodded, “I’ve loved you, all this time I have. And I’m ready. Nobody can trace anything to you?”

Karen reached into a bag and brought out a syringe, “Not a thing, don’t worry. Just like going to sleep, ok?”

Gemma nodded and closed her eyes, “OK.”

Karen readied Gemma’s arm and pushed the overdose through into her veins. Then she held Gemma’s hands in hers as her only friend passed before her eyes into whatever came next. Karen prayed quietly to whatever might be out there that it was something good.

Once Gemma was gone, her body cooling in death, once Karen could bring herself to leave her alone, she collected the needle, the tourniquet, and her bag, and left as quietly as she had come.

Writing prompt used:


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