Synopsis: What should be a simple marriage proposal turns into a terrorist incident.
Charlie’s hands fidgeted as he wiped the slight amount of sweat from his brow. This was a big moment for him. The risk was great but the potential reward would be greater. He double-checked the inside of his pocket to make sure it was still there, safely tucked away. Its presence relieved him somewhat. How he hoped with all his heart that it would go well. Doubts once again began to creep in; he shook his head frantically as if it would shake them out.
The sound of footsteps alerted him. He’d already wasted enough time and it wouldn’t be long until people started asking where he was. With her face at the forefront of his mind, he steeled himself. It will all turn out OK, he told himself, as he pulled on his balaclava, pulled out his pistol, tucked his homemade bomb under his arm and kicked the door open.
“Isabella, my love for you burns greater than a thousand suns! Please, will you marry me?”
“Oh Steve, you handsome rogue, you! Of course I will!”
Sarah rolled her eyes at the corny soap opera while Janice sobbed into a tissue.
“Oh my God, that was so beautiful!” she wailed, as the show’s credits began to roll.
“More like nonsensical” Sarah said. Her sister looked offended.
“What? It makes perfect sense.”
“It really doesn’t. The two of them barely have any chemistry. And wasn’t she still grieving over the last husband’s death, like, two episodes ago?”
Janice rolled her eyes. “You’re clearly missing all of the subtleties at work.”
“Or maybe, just maybe, this show isn’t that good” said Sarah, throwing some popcorn into her mouth. Janice just huffed and crossed her arms.
“You have no sense of romance, do you? No wonder you’re still not engaged.”
At least I haven’t had five failed marriages, Sarah thought, knowing better than anyone that was a subject not worth bringing up. She picked up the remote with the intention of turning the TV off when, suddenly, an emergency news bulletin flashed up on the screen, catching both sisters off-guard. The screen then shifted to a newsroom where a newscaster sat, her calm demeanour hiding the horrific news she was about to share.
“What the hell is-” Janice began before Sarah shushed her.
“… we have just received news that a terrorist incident is occurring right now at the Ministry of Defence Headquarters” said the newscaster. There was a sudden crash as Sarah’s bowl slipped from her grasp and fell to the floor, scattering popcorn in all directions.
“According to police, an armed individual has taken the entire building hostage and is supposedly armed with a bomb,” the newscaster continued. “The police already have the building surrounded but details remain scarce. We now go to our reporter Ahmed who is live on the scene.”
The screen shifted once more. A reporter stood, quite a ways away from the front of the building. A large police barricade, with multiple armed officers, prevented anybody from going near. The sound of a rambunctious and frantic crowd could be heard, as well as several officers’ failed attempts to get them to disperse.
“Sheena, it is chaos down here. From what I understand, the terrorist’s identity remains unknown and it’s unclear if they really have a bomb but police are not taking any risks and are currently trying to begin negotiations” said the reporter.
His words were failing to reach Sarah, though. They were blocked out by all manner of horrific thoughts and images that swirled around her brain. She almost wanted to throw up. She grabbed her mobile and immediately dialled a number. There was no answer, which only made the vice around her heart tighten. Janice reached across and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“OK, I know this looks really bad, but I’m sure he’s fine” she said.
Sarah responded with a nervous nod. She had to remain calm. They hadn’t mentioned anyone dying yet so he was probably still alive, right? He HAD to be alive. The sound of a commotion brought her attention back to the TV.
The reporter spoke frantically, “We have movement! The terrorist is approaching the window! They might be about to open a dialogue with the negotiators.”
The camera zoomed in on the masked individual’s face. The crowd gradually quietened, as if they were doing it deliberately for dramatic effect. The terrorist removed their balaclava and Jessica’s heart leapt up into her throat, though not for the reason she expected.
“My name is Charlie Anderson and I have a very important question to ask a special someone!” He pulled a velvet-coated box from the inside of his jacket and flipped it open, revealing a diamond-studded ring. “Sarah Fielding, will you marry me?”
The entire world seemed to pause for a moment. There wasn’t even any sound or movement from the TV footage. All Sarah could hear was a high-pitched whine as if her brain was trying to snap itself in two. She was brought back to reality when she heard Janice speak.
“Oh my God… That’s SO romantic!”
“… WHAT?!” screamed Sarah, a torrent of emotions rushing into her. At first, it was relief that her boyfriend was alive and well, but that was quickly shoved down by all her confusion and anger.
“He went to all this trouble to propose!” said Janice, almost choking up. “That’s so sweet of him. I wish any of my exes had done something this elaborate.” Sarah could barely utter a word. She was too stunned by the inanity her sister had uttered. Eventually, the words made it through.
“Janice, he’s HIJACKED the Ministry of Defence!”
“Exactly,” replied Janice. “You’re always complaining about how busy he is working there. You never get to see each other nowadays. And here he is, showing how much he values you over his job.”
“I… I don’t think you’re quite understanding what’s going on here, sis. He is officially a terrorist! He’ll be lucky if losing his job is the only thing that happens to him!”
“But that won’t matter, will it?” Janice had a genuinely starry-eyed look on her face, as if she was witnessing a modern day Shakespearean romance of some kind. “Because he’ll have you, and your love is worth the sacrifice.”
Sarah blinked. “Do… do you think I’m going to say yes?”
“Well, why wouldn’t you?”
“Did you miss the part where he was a TERRORIST?!” Sarah was now shaking as she leapt to her feet. Too much was happening at once and it felt like she was about to explode from stress. “I’m not marrying a terrorist, Janice!”
“But you’ve been together eight years” her sister argued, “You’d really throw all that away? Especially when he goes to all this trouble to make such an extravagant and romantic proposal?”
“This isn’t romantic! Romantic is having fireworks go off that spell my name in the sky or getting Elton John to serenade us under a moonlit night! Not threatening to blow up a building! Especially one intrinsically tied to our country’s defence!”
Sarah was almost looming over her sister, who seemed less intimidated and more disappointed with her response.
“God, you are so picky” she muttered. Sarah didn’t bother answering back. She just sat back down and stared at the TV as the situation continued to unfold.
“We are now on hour four of the hostage situation at the Ministry of Defence. The terrorist, now identified as Charlie Anderson, a project manager for the Ministry, continues to refuse negotiations with the police and reiterates that he only wants to speak with his girlfriend, Sarah Fielding. Brian, how is the general public reacting to these events?”
“Well, Sheena, we are seeing quite a mixed response. We’ve already spoken to several people who are currently crowded outside the building and they seem split. Roughly half of them believe Mr. Anderson to be insane, while others are openly supporting him and wish him best of luck with his efforts.
“What about on social media, Brian? I understand that there are several groups that are campaigning for Mr. Anderson.”
“Yes, in fact, there are already six crowdfunding projects to raise money to help Mr. Anderson pay for the wedding and defence lawyers for when he’s inevitably arrested. So far, they’ve managed to accrue £6.50.”
Sarah was unable to take her eyes of the TV. She feverishly chewed on her strawberry gum, which by that point was flavourless. She was severely tempted to run out and grab a pack of cigarettes but she found herself unable to pull away from the circus of insanity that was still unfolding before her. Next to her, Janice was checking something on her phone with great interest.
“This would end sooner if you just went down there and said yes” she eventually said. Sarah’s only response was an exasperated sigh. “A lot of people on here agree with me.” She began to read out a Twitter feed.
“#CharlieAnderson is the Mr. Darcy of the modern day.”
“I’ll marry him if she says no.”
“Where that bitch at? She don’t know how good she got it. This is what’s wrong with women. Never satisfied.”
Janice frowned slightly. “OK, that last one was kind of rude but you get the point, right?”
Sarah whipped her head round; her eyes flashing with anger. “Janice, I am not taking any advice, romantic or otherwise, from…” She leaned over and snatched Janice’s phone to get a look. “… KitsuneFan99. I mean, for crying out loud, their profile picture is a cartoon fox holding a gun!”
“I’m only saying that you should at least consider it. Everyone else is being supportive of him and you’re just not appreciating the effort he’s put in.”
Sarah didn’t answer. Instead, she tapped on the phone a few times and showed what was on the screen to Janice. It was another bevy of comments.
“I feel so sorry for the GF. Any way we can support her?”
“Toxic masculinity at its peak, everybody.”
“My mum’s still stuck in the building. Pray for her, please.”
“SHOOT THE BASTARD!!!”
Janice only rolled her eyes. “Ugh, what a bunch of selfish bullies.”
Sarah felt like she was a hair’s breadth away from strangling her sister when a loud, fierce knocking on the door caught their attention. Sarah muted the TV before jumping up and looking through the peephole to see a rather tall, stone-faced policewoman on the other side.
She couldn’t help but gulp slightly. There was only one reason the police would be there. Sarah almost didn’t want to open the door but she knew that wouldn’t solve anything. After taking a deep breath, she opened it.
“Hello, officer. How can I help you?” she asked, feigning ignorance for some reason.
“Sarah Fielding?” the office spoke sternly. Sarah only nodded. “Inspector Watanabe and this is Constable Ramirez.” She gestured to the policeman behind her. He was slightly shorter and more youthful. His somewhat nervous disposition made it clear that he had probably only started recently. “May we come in?”
Sarah stood aside and gestured them to enter. Janice was already on her feet and wringing her hands. “This is about Charlie, isn’t it?”
“And you are?” asked Watanabe. Sarah rushed over to her sister’s side, shooting a look at her that said plainly, Please don’t talk.
“This is my sister Janice” she told Watanabe. “Sorry, we’re, uh, a little skittish at the moment.”
“Perfectly understandable” said Watanabe, taking off her hat and holding it under her arm. Despite her neutral expression, her eyes were slightly more comforting. It helped Sarah relax a bit. “I assume you’ve been keeping up-to-date with what’s happening.”
Sarah nodded. Her earlier anger had subsided and now only anxiety and fear permeated her body. “What’s… what’s going to happen?”
Watanabe frowned. “I’m going to be honest with you. All attempts to converse with and convince Mr. Anderson to surrender himself haven’t worked. We know he definitely has a bomb of some sort and several lives are at risk.”
Sarah couldn’t help but clasp her hands over her mouth in shock. “So what are you going to do?”
“We have to give him what he wants” said Watanabe bluntly. “We need you to go down there and accept his proposal.”
Janice squealed with delight. “See, Sarah? Even the police know now that this is the right call.” She glanced over at Watanabe. “Come on, woman to woman, you think this is romantic too, right?”
Watanabe’s expression didn’t change. “Technically I shouldn’t be saying this but, in my opinion, Mr. Anderson is a dangerous, psychotic lunatic and Miss Fielding is under no obligation to accept this terrorist threat disguised as a marriage proposal.”
“I think it’s pretty sweet” muttered the other officer, meekly.
“Well, no one asked for your opinion, Ramirez!” replied Watanabe, without even turning to look at him. He ducked his head, cheeks burning under the brim of his hat, as Watanabe resumed talking to Sarah. “Obviously, you won’t have to go through with the marriage. We just need to keep him calm and coax him out. If we try and force our way in, we risk him setting the bomb off. I know it’s not ideal but we’ve run out of options.”
It was clear that Sarah had very little choice in the matter. But as uncomfortable as this plan made her, there were a lot of lives at stake. It had already been four hours. Silence on her end might only make things worse.
“I’ll grab my coat.”
By the time they reached the Ministry of Defence, the surrounding crowd had only grown larger. On one side stood a bunch of people holding home-made signs that said things like “JUSTICE 4 CHARLIE” and “DON’T PUNISH TRUE LOVE.” The other side just yelled obscenities at them.
The animosity and chaos in the air made the tension in Sarah’s body grip her heart tighter. And it only got worse as police escorted her to the edge of the barricade and handed her a megaphone. They had repeatedly assured her that she’d be fine but she couldn’t help but still be fearful at the prospect of actually marrying this psycho.
She tried to be rational. It wasn’t like she was signing a contract or anything. Marriage proposals weren’t legally binding. And once he was arrested, he’d be probably be jailed for life. Right? The irrational part of her brain said otherwise. It took every fibre in her body to eventually raise the megaphone to her lips.
“Charlie? It’s Sarah.”
There was a momentary pause before Charlie suddenly appeared at the window. Somehow, despite the situation, he was as clean-cut as ever. His eyes lit up with genuine happiness. Looking at him, you wouldn’t think he was a deranged terrorist.
“Sarah! Oh my God, I’m so glad to see you!” he yelled down, the crowd having gone silent, like they were watching a play. “I was beginning to worry that you hadn’t seen my proposal. Either that or you were just ignoring me and weren’t going to say yes and, I won’t lie, if you had done that, I’d have been so embarrassed and distraught, I, uh, would most definitely have blown myself and this building up.”
He chuckled slightly, as if he had shared a silly anecdote. Sarah prayed he didn’t notice her anxious shaking and sweating.
“Well… I’m here” she eventually managed to say.
“And?” Charlie stared at her expectantly, with an almost puppy-dog look in his eyes. Sarah couldn’t help but glance away at Watanabe, who only gave her a curt nod. Sarah looked back at Charlie and, despite every cell in her body fighting against her, finally managed to utter a single word.
There was a brief silence before it was broken by the sound of cheering. Charlie wept tears of joy, almost dancing, as members of the crowd yelled their congratulations and well-wishes to the ‘happy’ couple. Others stood agape and confused as Sarah buried her face into her hands; her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. She took solace in that at least it would be over once Charlie was out of the building.
“I guess I don’t need this anymore” said Charlie, now holding his home-made bomb. Before anyone had time to properly acknowledge this, he casually dropped it out of window; the cheering crowd suddenly going quiet as if all their excitement had been sucked out of them. Sarah’s eyes remained locked to the falling explosive until it hit the pavement right in front of her. It bounced slightly, clinking against the ground, before it came to a standstill.
The air itself went completely still; no one dared to breath in fear that the slightest movement would set the bomb off. After what felt like an eternity, Ramirez collapsed, unconscious, which was followed by Watanabe muttering into her intercom, with an exasperated tone “Just take the shot.”
- This story came about from my personal dislike of public proposals, since I find they put too much pressure on the other party (usually the woman) and force them into a situation where they can’t say ‘no’ for risk of being demonised by the general public.
- It was also influenced by how some people attempt to defend certain criminals and justify their actions. News outlets and social media have presented killers as being ‘misunderstood’ and the like and I wanted to demonstrate how insane it is to defend a would-be terrorist just because of his otherwise sympathetic motives.
- I originally had two different ideas for how the story would turn out. The first was to have Sarah actually love the proposal and find it romantic whilst everybody else thought it was insane. The second was the reverse where Sarah would be the only one to be horrified whilst the rest of the country openly supported the idea. I decided to go with a slightly more balanced story since I felt both versions were too over-the-top and the latter one had some uncomfortable connotations.
- The soap-opera section was originally a scene lifted from Ratchet & Clank 3 but I later changed it since I felt it didn’t match the story and I didn’t want to just directly copy someone else’s joke.
- Inspector Watanabe is named after Yuri Watanabe from the PS4 Spider-Man game, which I had been playing at the time of writing.
- Sarah was originally called ‘Jessica’ instead, but my proof-reader admitted that he occasionally got her and her sister Janice mixed up so I changed the name.
- The ending went through a couple of revisions, as initially, after Sarah accepts the proposal, it would’ve ended with the “Take the shot” line but my proof-reader felt it was too dark and didn’t match the tone of the story. We considered ending it with Charlie simply being dog-piled by the police or something similar but I really liked the shockingly dark twist I had originally since I felt it was funnier. In the end, we decided to keep it but try and make it somewhat more comedic so we came up with the idea of having him drop the bomb out the window, prompting the decision to shoot him.
- Thanks again to my proof-reader, Josh, for providing feedback.