Fiction Drama

Three. Four. Five steps to the bedroom window. I rose every day at exactly sixty minutes to sunrise, not a minute earlier or later; otherwise I had stomach pains well into the evening.

During that time I tended to several tasks, opening the windows in the right order. First the second floor, starting from the bedroom, seventeen steps to the bathroom, and twenty more step to the immaculately neat guest room (despite the fact it had not accommodated any guest for years). Afterwards down the twelve staircase steps. First left foot then joined by right, and on the landing a touch of foot to the sides of the railings (for safety). Then I’d continue to the other rooms one by one, counting, and enunciating.

By about five minutes to sunrise I would be sitting in the garden having my coffee and two piece of toast ready, waiting for the first light, to start eating. Watching the small blood smeared custard to take over the darkness. It was my favorite time of day. I had started having my breakfast at the dawn watching the sunrise one day to shake things up, then I repeated the next day, and the day after that, until I realized the compulsion that I had to watch the sunrise or otherwise the tiny voices in my head would grow louder, threatening and warning me, of impending catastrophes, various possibilities that things could go horribly awry.

Every day it was the same routine, no deviation. Order was the key to keep things calm and safe. I didn’t always live like this. Not when I didn’t hear the voices. By nine a.m., everything in order, (every room and every object within them were checked and made sure of the correct direction and placement), the voices would subside into the background, and I could hear the hustle of people running outside on the streets to their daily businesses. Sometimes I envied their carefree lives. I would watch them passing together grinning, and free. I imagined that beyond their serene and untroubled eyes were thunderstorms wailing and threatening their world.

I lived alone in a small house on the Green Valley, two stories with narrow and small rooms. I knew my little house like the back of my hand, no exaggeration, I knew exactly how many steps were in-between any two points.

I used to work at an office years ago, when life was different, when Jonathan was still living with me. After he was gone, I started working from home as a freelance. In the beginning I felt withdrawn from people, and found serenity in my own solitude.

I had no family. Not that it was large family to begin with, my parents died when I was quite young. And after Katie my younger sister and her husband, died in a freak accident, I had no one else left. I started retreating into my little home. Eventually I limited, and then stopped socializing with friends and acquaintances. Day by day, I grew used to it, my routine.


My little beautiful world started to shatter one day that the phone rang.

A stranger, a man called Mr. Dawson, an attorney delivered me the news that my great aunt Mrs. Silvia Hart, who I had not heard of before, had passed away, and left half her state to me.

“One more thing ma’am,” said the attorney, “Mrs. Hart lived with her grandchildren, two young girls, Dory and Dorsa, six and seven. It was her wish that you, as the sole remaining relative, would become their guardian.”

A sense of foreboding loomed over me, feeling that my whole orderly life was about to collapse around me. I was devastated.

Mr. Dawson added “there are matters to be discussed and decisions to be made. Please come over to the house.” I was shocked when I learned that this unknown relative had been living in the same town as me the whole time. Moreover I knew the address; I had seen the house, the big house on the top of the Pine hill. Katie and I used to go to that very hill when we were kids watching the sunset.

“No,” I said abruptly, feeling my heart threatening to come out of my chest, “I... I can’t.”

“But Mrs. Hart the kids need you, and the matter regarding your aunt’s funeral and the house,” he said. “It’s imperative that you be present; there are matters that cannot be delayed.”

How could I explain to the man that I had not left the house in six weeks and last time was a short trip to the shop down the street? Just imagining making the trip, the voices started getting louder, cautioning me of repercussions. How could I help the kids, if I would be the one to endanger them? “Isn’t there a way we could sort out the matters over the phone?” I asked futilely.


I had tried to resist, but the attorney played a dirty trick and put the two kids on the video call. Their image, and small, frightened and confused was what jarred me out of ambivalence. It was a ten-minute drive, or thirty three minutes’ walk, from my front door to the hill house. Ignoring the car parked in the garage I started walking.

Twenty steps I walked away from my little safe haven, my heart pounding in my ears, the voices raging in my head. I see the neighbor kid and his mother gawking at me. Indeed baffled by the oddity of my situation. I heard the kid awed voice, “mom that’s Mrs. Hart,” and her mother hushing him. I steal my eyes, ignoring and continue walking on the odd cobblestones, murmuring the count. Fifty seven. Fifty eight.

Eighty six. The voices not a whisper anymore, making range of threats. A foreboding expanded in me, foreshadowing of an impending catastrophe. My stomach was twisting in a battle. I had to force my legs to obey me. The sunlight burned through the shirt and my skin, through the shade into my retinas. I felt exposed.

Ninety seven odd stones past, I stood on the invisible line that separated my familiar street from the rest of the world. I took a deep breath, and started counting again, stepping on the first stone, and on and on. I threaded lightly, it felt like walking on thin ice about to swallow me whole. The voices were screaming: everyone you love would die. Whatever you care about would be lost. I pretended to be deaf, and kept on walking. I saw images of the kids pale dead bodies, of an earthquake swallowing numerous people, wailing, crying. Still I walked on.

It felt like I have been walking for a century, exhausted. The air felt heavy; oddly it seemed there was less oxygen outside than inside my little house.


Three thousand nine hundred eighty one steps. I stood on the last odd cobblestone, in front of me laid a dirt road climbing up the hill to the house.

I stood bewildered, my heart racing, my legs feeling like jelly threatening to give in. The voices were screaming loud. I felt dizzy. Then I heard screams from afar. It was the two small girls. In a flash the two reached me, not a moment hesitation and were hugging me, hanging off me, the shorter one, maybe Dory, started pulling my hand, the other, Dorsa, joined pulling as well. I couldn’t make out if they were crying or laughing. There was no force left in me to resist, my body moved along with the motion, submitted to the circumstance.

I stepped on the dirt road, and another and another after that. Hardly, I could focus on the kids. Their tiny little bodies moving quickly, shaking, or was it my head that trembled. I heard their voices as if from down a well, not able to make out their words.

The house still stood tall and imposing, just as I recalled. I could see us, Katie and I, years before, when we were so young maybe a little older than the two girls, playing on the hill, watching the sunset.

Then again I am pulled by my hands into the house Mr. Dawson waiting for me in the foyer, bowed and greeted me.

Inside the house, oddly familiar, I notice the voices for the time being retreated from screaming to a constant whispering. I followed Mr. Dawson lead, counting, sixty steps to the wooden table in the grand tall roofed sitting room, on the wall across from me hung a painting portrait of a beautiful young lady. I could spot some resemblances to my mother. The attorney sat across from me round the wooden table. The girls resumed playing on the grounds as Mr. Dawson asked for a private conversation. I was shaken by how familiar everything looked.

“Ma’am as I told you on the phone,” said the attorney, taking out a paper form a folder, “you are the sole remainder of the family beside the children. It was your aunt’s wishes for you to inherit half the state and other half would go to the children when they reach the legal age. Until that time comes, you, as their guardian would be in control.” He put the papers in front of me, “and regarding the funeral, I had arranged it according to your late aunt’s wishes, and it would be held tomorrow morning in the family plot at the West Field cemetery.”

The letter was my aunt’s will. “What would happen to the kids if i....” I paused awkwardly, ignoring the incessant whispers in my ears, making range of threats, “I mean, if I could not take them in?”

Mr. Dawson remained silent for few moments, then with a sullen voice replied, ‘they would be entered into Foster Care system, maybe placed into group home, or maybe separated,’ he took off his glasses cleaning with a handkerchief, “it would be much better.. I mean if you could, of course, to be their guardian.”

I hardly could breathe so I excused myself and took a rest in a small room I found on the second floor. It was neat and tidy beside the years of gathered dust. I knew things were about to change drastically. I had that feeling since the morning. The voices had risen once more to a deafening level; barely, I could hear myself think. I paced the room, vigorously counting the steps from wall to wall, counting the objects in the room, and thinking.

I stood in front of a square wooden framed mirror. I loathed the face staring back at me, her weakness, how defeated she was by the circumstances. I felt trapped, felt spent and exhausted. I needed space to breath. I could not tolerate it anymore.

Surrendered I lay on the old bed, springs complaining. The voices louder, I felt I was on the brink of madness. My body tingled all over, as if it was beginning to fade. A daze took over.

I was pulled out of the daze by a timid knock on the door. Dory and Dorsa were standing small by the door watching me; their heads barely surpassed the handle.

“Auntie,” said Dory, watching me with Katie’s big hazelnut eyes, “please don’t leave us.”

I remained silent watching them back, then I gestured to them, and they climbed onto the bed along with me, hugging me. My hands hung like two sticks by my sides.


The next few weeks were tough, I had to attend the funeral, and afterwards the kids moved in with me in my little house on Garden Valley. They loved how small it was, so grateful they were. I woke up with them kicking me in their sleep. (They refused to sleep alone, even though I had made the guest room for them.) It was quite a transition for me. I still kept the order in the house, my routine had morphed and adjusted like me. But with the girls moving about, playing with their joy and lively youth, it was not like before. Sometimes I found myself moving about the house so busy that I had forgotten to count my steps.

December 18, 2020 15:27

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Michael Boquet
21:30 Dec 23, 2020

I love your prose, it really sucked me in. Very sweet ending, the kids presence helping her slowly get over her issues. I would have liked to know what caused the narrator's agoraphobia and compulsions though that info wasn't necessary to the story I guess. My only critique is, I feel there is some disconnect between the story and the prompt. If the uncomfortable thing she has to overcome is just leaving the house, the kids become unnecessary, almost an after thought. Whereas if the break in her routine because she adopts the kids is the ...


17:17 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you Michael, I really appreciate you taking the time to read the story and giving feedback. Regarding the cause for her compulsions, I didn’t want to delve into it, but tried to imply it was triggered initially due to losing her parents, and then exacerbated by her sister’s death, and further her husband leaving. And about the disconnection, I see what you mean. I thought perhaps without the kids, there would not be a strong incentive for her to leave the house. And also I wanted something to challenge her comfort zone (compulsions an...


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