Prompt: An anonymous friend has been leaving you gifts at work to celebrate each of the 12 days of Christmas. All was fine and good for the first 11 gifts, which were thoughtful. But the 12th gift isn’t actually a gift at all—it’s a photograph of someone you love doing something they shouldn’t be doing and an extortion note demanding $10,000 in cash or that photo goes live on the Internet. What do you do? Write this scene.
I stared at the envelope, horror-struck. It was the twelfth and final day of the Christmas exchange at work, and I was eager to discover who was behind these presents. The first eleven days went decent enough. I had accumulated a new watch, a notepad, some fancy stationary, and other office supplies that I didn't even know I needed. Someone had apparently kept a better inventory of my desk than I had, and I was grateful all the same. This present, however, was something I was not expecting.
When I got to work, I was relieved to be inside my warm cubicle. I took off my snow-flecked coat and scarf and sat down to find a small envelope in the same spot where the other gifts had been. I immediately fantasized of a Macy's gift card or tickets to that upcoming Fleetwood Mac concert, but when I opened it, I saw a photograph with a post-it note attached.
It took a few seconds of staring at the black and white grainy photograph before I recognized the small-frame, flat-chested girl with long auburn hair as my neighbor and best friend's teenage daughter who was shackled in cuffs. And she wasn't alone. My husband of twenty-two years was next to her. Towering over her, to be more exact, with a whip in one hand and a broad grin splitting his face. The photograph was time-stamped yesterday at seven in the evening.
Bile rose from my stomach, and I felt my throat burn as I bolted to the bathroom, purging not only the contents of breakfast but my sanity and security. My head spun as I tried to recall my husband's final words to me before he left town last night for a weekend work trip, and I searched my memory in vain to recall any clues to suggest he'd engage in this behavior. As a CEO of a major corporation, he was always careful to cover his tracks, and I wondered what scandals he engaged in but didn't share with me.
As I walked, my confidence growing, I remembered the post-it note that fell out of the envelope. It had newspaper-clipped letters glued to it demanding a sum of $10,000 delivered by one o'clock that afternoon otherwise the degrading photograph would go viral. I scanned the office and everybody looked nonchalant, opening gifts or clicking their mouse or returning clients' phone calls. I swallowed the urge to scream and checked the clock instead: ten o'clock. I had three hours to make this happen.
I watched myself as I printed off a stack of paperwork, filled it out, slipped them in a large envelope. I stared at the clock and the minutes crawled like hours, but when one o'clock came and went I methodically removed my wedding ring from my finger, stuck it inside the envelope and mailed the divorce papers I had been meaning to file for the past five years. I breathed deeper and a foreign sensation I called happiness washed over me as I felt my independence growing.