Put two characters you already know from your own fiction in a wilderness of some sort. It could be a desert or a big foreign city where the characters don't speak the language. Do not explain to us why these characters have landed in this wilderness. Stick to one POV. Slowly describe the other character, which does not want to be seen but which leave a handful of traces. The idea of this exercise is a little like Absent, to help you to make a human recognizable even from the things she left behind on purpose and by accident.
(from prompt #35 in The 3AM Epiphany)
Read my response:
"Untitled" by Zenat El3ain
The kindergartners sitting in a semi semi-circle looked to him like Dante’s unfinished inferno. They didn’t even have all their teeth. He grinded his and looked around for Lucy. He could hear her, making uncouth remarks into the speaker of a Blackberry—a sound he found soothing after being presented with something like a song by a creature that was nearly human, but smaller and without shame. He tried to insist that he would not, in fact, enjoy an encore of noises about stars that twinkle, but he and Lucy’s ardent wishes were drowned out by an outburst so loud and off key he could only wonder what they were. He felt lost, and he wanted her to finish yelling into her phone. He went to find her. She waved him off with a manicured hand and a panicked look in her eye, pleading with someone on another line. He stood with his hand in his pocket, appraising her, her posture and her starched collar, and he liked the lines, enough to almost forget about his almost circle of hell waiting for him.
Meanwhile he took her clutch, a status symbol with intersecting semi-circles, and pawed through for something dulling. Pain meds, anti-anxiety, maybe something really good. Maybe she’d even have some candy he could throw to the pack of five year olds, Ted understood that they liked candy and that it could be used to shut them up. Her purse, while compact, held a great deal, usually anything he needed, but the best it held today were black ear buds strung by wire to connect to a slim rectangle. With relief he plugged his ears and walked back into the den of din, now with a different tone. It was almost like a music video, if Ted had ever chosen to use his time to watch one, but since he hadn’t he thought it quite an original experience, to see wild things moving about as if to the music he was hearing. A little one sat on the floor and for a moment she had an expression like Lucy, but maybe it was just her eyes. She sat still, even as the others had abandoned the attempt to be herded into shape and were now all doing some activity that may have been a war over territory or a game of tag. She seemed detached from the group, and soon enough she went and collected two dolls and sat back down in the same spot. With Lucy’s soundtrack filling his ears, he watched the little girl march her dolls down a straight line in the pattern of the fabric. At best it was a weird experience.
He stood in the room without anything to lean against, and the kindergartners ran circles around him, weaving in and out without regard for how uncomfortable it made him. One of them ran snot-nosed first into his leg, leaving a shiny knot of phlegm, and ran off again before he could figure out which one it was. He wondered if Lucy could see him, if she was sympathetic or disgusted or amused. The little girl with Lucy’s eyes had a face that managed to convey all three, even though she wasn’t looking at him. Ted found this fitting, considering the crime.
Ted and Lucy first appeared in The Ironist.