· Choose an opening sentence from a book (unknown when choosing).
· Choose an ending sentence from a book (unknown when choosing).
· Write a short story in thirty minutes using these two sentences as the beginning and ending.
“Someone must have slandered Josef K, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” - From The Trial by Franz Kafka
“The knife came down missing him by inches, and he took off.” - From Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Revised draft - Additions or changes are in bold (Note: Everything after That prospect held no attraction whatsoever is added to the original draft.)
Someone must have slandered Josef K, for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. It was not the first time it had happened though. In fact, he was getting so used to being stopped in the street having large men in grey trenchcoats, hats and sunglasses ask him "Are you Josef K?" that he barely raised an eyebrow any more. Or when, in the middle of the night, he would be roused from sleep by the sound of leatherclad knuckles knocking on the wood of his door and he would spend the following day in a windowless interrogation room. Once they must have been frustrated by his deep sleep because he was woken up by someone shining a flashlight in his eyes. In his pajamas he was then shoved through the hole where his door used to be and the only thing he was wondering was how much it would cost to replace it. The protests and the "Whys?" and the "what's happening, where are you taking me, who are you, what have I done, I'm innocent!" had all been found useless so he had just stopped saying anything. He would only answer "Yes, I am Josef K" and hold out his hands so that they could put the handcuffs on properly. It hurt less that way.
By now, the burly men in trenchcoats knew him rather well. A lot of rides in cars with blackened windows can be quite the catalyst for intimacy as many diplomats and call girls would have you know. He could tell the difference between them too. A birthmark on the cheek or a slight limp would distinguish one from another but as far as he knew they had no names. So he had secretly baptised them, naming them after famous prisons. George Folsom. Albert Spandau. Michael Tower. John Kumla. Saint Quentin. On sundays, when he would take his habitual stroll in the park to read the Sunday Supplement of the paper by the duckpond, he would see some of them. They were quite easy to spot. Recently, the city had suffered a heat wave of cataclysmic proportions and while everyone who could not afford to go to the seaside would be wearing as little as possible without being obscene, the large grey men would faithfully stick to their trenchcoats and their hats. Of course, it was anyone's guess what they were wearing underneath. There could even be tubing of an elaborate and portable cooling machinery for all he knew. A heavy rainfall would make them a little less conspicuous but then the sunglasses would make them easy enough to pick out. In short, they were a secretive as an elephant in a warehouse full if bohemian crystal. Josef K used to nod or wave in their direction and they would return his salute.
He wondered why they they would ask him for his name since by now they must know it. He put it down to habit. His recurring arrests had turned into a sort of ritual and if they would stop asking for his name he would probably feel a bit... cheated. Once, he had not been arrested for three months at the very least and he had grown impatient and nervous; and, when they finally came to pick him up, he had felt relieved and even let a small sigh of pleasure escape him as the reassuringly cold steel of the handcuffs was pressed upon his skin.
But this time it was annoying. He had caught the tramcar, line 22, and was quietly sitting on the tram on his way back to work after an unsatisfying lunch over at Le Grand Cru when he heard "Are you Josef K?" It would have been all right if he had not already been irritated by the stubborn sliver of chicken stuck between his teeth. It is possible that everything would have been just another routine session of FAQs in the bunker if he had not been wound up by a small mouthful of badly cooked poultry. He had been picking at it with his penknife for the last fifteen minutes and was just about to pry it loose when he looked up into the black bulbs of a pair of sunglasses. They would take the penknife away and he would be condemned to sitting with that piece of rotting chicken teasing him, for who knows how many hours with a lamp shining in his face answering the same meaningless questions. That prospect held no attraction whatsoever.
Perhaps that is the reason for why he thrust the penknife through the temple of George Folsom in one surprisingly smooth movement; instead of nicely playing along and say "Yes, I am Josef K" whilst nodding in recognition to his captors. The struck man fell over with his mouth open, literally crushing the old lady who had been sitting on the seat in front of Josef K. She had seemed nice but shortsighted and not very bright. It was still a shame. John Kumla and Albert Spandau must have been highly trained agents but this was the first time anyone had ever resisted violently, shedding blood. That can be the only explanation for why they stood still, watching their fallen collegue, when the clerk shaped man in front of them roared "YES!" And after an ever so brief pause, the clerk shaped man added through gritted teeth, "I AM JOSEF K." And then, Josef K charged. John Kumla looked up just in time to have an umbrella splinter the glass covering his left eye. The steelcapped tip of the umbrella came to a stop halfway through his brain and that was the end of him. Albert Spandau finally reacted but by grabbing his comrade in his arms instead of repelling the following attack and was therefore unable to protect his knee from Josef K's briefcase. It was an old model made of leather coated hardwood weighing the three kilogram briefcase and containing almost four kilograms worth of paperwork. Propelled through the air at 45 kilometres per hour on the wings of pure fury it connected with the officer's kneecap and the crunch was indeed gruesome. The pain made Albert Spandau pass out and both the trenchcoats collapsed, falling to the floor. Two thuds that sounded like one.
The tramcar had stopped, standing still on the Brass Bridge, and the absence of rattling metal was suddenly deafinening. The sound of the traffic was carried away by the wind. No screams escaped the other twenty-two passengers caught in the fray. Below, the green waters of the river seemed to be the only thing still in motion in the whole city. The driver had opened the doors but no one was thinking clearly enough to get out and not a single one of the persons aboard the tramcar moved a muscle.
Apart from Josef K. He was panting lightly as he stuck his hand in his breifcase and grabbed a heavy book. This particular book had been slightly altered as it threatened to fall apart. Josef K had never managed to finish it, for some reason he kept losing track and had to start over, again and again. It was as repetitive as his arrests. But he was determined to finish that cursed book and while it would probably had cost less to buy a new copy, he had grown fond of the one he had carried around all these years. Therefore he had gone to a specialist shoemaker who had made a leather cover with reinforced edges made of folded brass sheets, adding both weight and sturdiness to an already thick volume. He pulled it out. He held it up menacingly, ready to throw it. And then he threw it.
Michael Tower had been standing by the exit, guarding it according to procedure; but since no one ever tried to run away he too had been caught off guard by the one man uprising. Stranded in the middle of a mental nomansland, too stunned to produce an initiative, he just closed his eyes in panic when the hardback copy of The Trial came hurtling towards him. An ordinary Josef K could hardly have thrown the book at anywhere near dangerous speeds but Josef K in this particular moment of his life was filled up with a force which burned like fire. Had it hit Micheal Tower in the head as was intended, it would have knocked him senseless. Only Josef K's innately faulty aim and a miscalculated muscle strength versus book weight equation saved Michael Tower. A literary gem sailed harmlessly through the opened door and far into the river. There must have been a splash but this was a high bridge and if it made a sound no one heard it. Realising what he had just thrown away, Josef K shuddered into action again and everything blurred for an instant when Josef K took two leaps towards Michael Tower and after the book at the same time as the only remaining agent finally sprang to life. While pulling a long, thin knife from under his trenchcoat, he braced himself for the impact. But the third leap took Josef K past the tower of a man and through the door, barely eschewing the curved blade that was slicing the air in an arc upwards and then, with a jump, he landed on the granite railing of the Brass Bridge. He was by now oblivious of everything else than the vision of the ink smearing between the pages and the paper dissolving on the bottom of the river. Desperation took hold and he felt like his wrists were slit open and his life draining out of him. He had to save it. Not his life. The Book. He scanned the surface for a sign of where it had sunk, giving Michael Tower the time to turn around and steady himself enough to stab again. Josef K bent his knees as if to jump. The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.