(PROMPT: Write a high-stakes scene in a way that is dramatic without being melodramatic: the king is dying, and leaves the kingdom to his son. Time: 15-minutes)
Robert regretted his heavy lunch. His father’s bruised face, misshapen nose, still fingers made acid rise to the young man’s mouth. Monitors, needles, tubes were stuck into or coming out of the old man’s body in practically every spot not covered in casts and bandages.
When the king spoke, it was so jarring Robert thought he might lose his lunch right then. His father’s voice was harsh and dry.
“Robert…it’s you, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes. How do you feel?” Robert grimaced. What a question.
“Honestly,” the king answered, “I feel like I’m dying. Surprise, surprise.” He croaked out an ugly laugh.
Robert nodded, holding back the thousand things he felt ought to be said in this situation; his father would hate them.
The king coughed once. “Of course you know you’ll be in charge now,” he said. “I should ask how you feel.”
“Do you think I’m ready?”
“Then you’re more ready than I was. You’re likely to bungle everything up completely, of course. That’s to be expected.”
Robert tried to laugh—couldn’t quite. He suspected that his father might, for once, be speaking to him seriously.
The monitors started going like crazy. A queer look came over the king’s face as half a dozen nurses in joltingly cheerful medical scrubs came running in, sneakers squeaking with every step.
Robert reached for his father’s hand, but he must have squeezed too hard and pulled on the IV because the king muttered, “That hurts, Robert,” in an annoyed whisper.
“I’m sorry. I…I mean, you know…Father…” The wild thought to say I love you crossed Robert’s mind, but he abruptly abandoned it for fear of being ridiculed. “Oh, forget it.”
“I want you to have my pigskin vest, Robbie,” the king said. For a second, his eyes were as tender as Robert had ever seen them.
The nurses’ voices got as squeaky and frantic as their motions. The monitors stopped; the nurses stopped, too.
Lord Brock, in his corner of the room, jotted something down on a piece of paper and turned his business-like attention to Robert. “The press will expect a statement, but I’ll hold them off as long as possible, Your Majesty. Would you like to call your mother, or shall I attend to that for you?”
“You go ahead,” said Robert. He didn’t want to make a bigger fool of himself. He just wanted to sleep now.