35 comments

Fiction Friendship

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

I’m not like most people. I accepted that a long time ago. To be honest, I hate that label, anyway. What does it even mean? Everyone has their burdens to bear, right? We all have those little things that come so easily to other people but drive us insane. For some people, that’s dating and the hot flush that scrambles their brains every time they even think about talking to someone they like. For others, it’s reading or writing and how the words swim across the page, turning what should be a simple task into a nightmare. For me, it’s the outdoors.

Don’t get me wrong; I like being outside. I like the way the wind feels as it whips through my hair, and I love letting the warm glow of the sun extend its tender rays across my flesh. It’s the creature inside me that doesn’t like being outside, and I don’t like upsetting the creature. I don’t like the way it covers me in sweat every time I step across the threshold of my house. I don’t like the steady rhythm it pounds in my chest. The one that mocks me with its simple beat. Go. Home. Go. Home. Go. Home. 

I always ignore it for as long as possible, telling myself everything will be okay if I can just make it for another minute. I’ll prove to myself that I can manage. One minute rolls into another, but the pounding in my chest doesn’t stop. If anything, it gets worse. My chest tightens. My stomach roils. Once dark spots appear in my vision, I turn around and break for home, hoping to make it before my heart explodes or my mind blacks out. That’s just the way it goes. Every single time. 

Things weren’t always this way. That’s the real heart-breaker. The creature was always there, I think, lurking in the back of my mind, just beyond my perception. But I always kept it down, kept it imprisoned. Then the pandemic came. You know all about that, of course. How we got locked inside for months. How we were told over and over again to stay at home. Well, I did. That was fine. The problem came when it was time to stop staying at home. Sometime in that hellish period, the creature escaped. I didn’t have it imprisoned anymore. No. Now it had imprisoned me. 

I needed to get out. But it wouldn’t let me. It had its claws hooked deep within my soul, and it didn’t intend to let me go without a fight. Every time I bid for freedom, it ran me down and dragged me back. That’s where you come in. 

You sent me a text. 

Hey. Do you want to grab some coffee on Saturday?

As soon as my eyes landed on those words, a war erupted inside me. The creature didn’t like that text. It didn’t want me to go. But I did. My conscious desire strained and fought against the creature, taking control long enough to send off a few words in reply. 

Sure, I’d love to. Saturday at 10?

It was done. I’d won. For now, at least. The creature became quiet for several days after that. I wasn’t fooled, though. I knew it wasn’t gone, only dormant. Saving its strength. 

Sure enough, when Saturday morning came, the creature reared its ugly head once more. ‘You aren’t going anywhere,’ it said. ‘You’re going to stay here with me.’ 

I tried to ignore it, going about my daily routine. But the creature wouldn’t leave me alone. It made my hands shake as I showered and made my breath catch in my chest while I dressed. As I ate breakfast, it crept into my stomach, twisting and turning, and turning and twisting. Still, I stayed strong. I ignored the churning in my guts and forced spoon after spoon of porridge down my throat. 

A few minutes later, I stood before my front door, ignoring the flames in my cheeks, and reached for the handle. 

‘STOP,’ the creature cried. ‘Don’t do it.’ It crawled into my skull, dripping its poison straight into my brain. ‘Think of what might happen. The dangers. The embarrassment.’

A series of images flashed before my eyes. I could get struck by a car when crossing the road. Or what if I got lost on my way to the coffee shop? Or mugged, even? The outside is a dangerous place, I thought. Maybe it would be better to stay home…

No. I shook my head. Those weren’t my fears, not really. They were the creature’s deceptions, designed to keep me alone and miserable. I shouldn’t listen. I couldn’t listen. 

Before I changed my mind again, I whipped open the door and stepped through. The cool breeze felt wonderful on my skin. It felt like freedom. I strode forwards, focusing on the movement of my legs and ignoring, as best I could, the war still raging inside my brain. 

The creature hadn’t given up. Of course it hadn’t. ‘It’s not too late,’ it said. ‘You can turn back now. You must turn back now. Think how much more embarrassing it will be if you meet your friend only to turn around and leave again.’

Once I get to the coffee shop, I’ll be fine. I’ll be safe. 

‘Oh, will you? Are you sure?’

Yes. Nothing bad ever happened in a coffee shop.

‘But it could. Especially with you there. What if you have a panic attack? What if you pass out? What would everybody think? Imagine the shame.’ 

The creature had me. It had ensnared my mind so profoundly that I was panicking about the danger of panicking. 

My legs slowed. I turned. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself running for home. People on the street stared and muttered, but I was beyond caring. A little embarrassment now is better than more embarrassment later.

When I reached the house, I shot inside, slamming the door shut behind me and slumping up against it. My heart thumped against my rib cage. My lungs felt ready to explode. My entire body blazed with an icy fire. But none of that was the worst of it. No, the worst was the shame that spread from my brain like a cancer. 

I’d let you down. I’d let myself down. I’d let the creature win. 

My phone buzzed in my pocket. Another text from you. 

Hey, I’m here whenever you’re ready. Better hurry, or it’ll get cold. 

You sent a picture after that. It showed a steaming cappuccino and a slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. My favourite order. You’d remembered. My heart soared. The fire was extinguished. You’d come through for me. Now it was my turn to come through for you. 

I threw open the door once again. 

‘What are you doing?’ the creature said, an odd tension in its voice. Something I’d never heard before.  

Is that fear?

‘We’ve been through this already. You’re better off at home, where it’s safe. You’re better off with me.’

But I didn’t let the creature stop me. Not this time. I sang a song in my head. I hummed a little tune. I did anything and everything I could to silence the creature’s voice. It worked. A couple of minutes later, I stepped into the warm coffee shop, and my eyes found you sitting in the corner, smiling and waving.

I never looked back. 

After that, whenever the creature tried to drag me into a pit of fear and despair, I just thought of that day. The day that showed me everything would be alright. That coffee shop became my Excalibur. My Holy Lance. It became the only weapon that could slay my personal demon. 

I don’t know if you remember that day. I don’t know if it meant anything to you. But it meant the world to me.

March 27, 2023 14:40

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35 comments

Lily Finch
21:53 Mar 28, 2023

Daniel, this story is so true for so many people, especially during and following the pandemic conditions where people were sequestered in their homes. The isolation exacerbating the problem, that for some as you hinted at in your story the creature remains too great; thankfully not the case for your character. The worries depicted all too real, great job. I liked the imagery of "a war erupting inside of me" as a highlight of anxiety at its worst juxtaposed against the image of "cappuccino with a piece of carrot cake with cream cheese ici...

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Daniel Allen
16:06 Apr 07, 2023

Thank you, Lily! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Lily Finch
17:55 Apr 07, 2023

NP, LF6.

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K. Elliot
05:36 Apr 02, 2023

great way to depict anxiety (at least how I interpreted it), I really related to this story... its so hard to even step outside most days, and it made me drift away from friends, which causes a cycle of 'well who would I even go outside with'? And now I'm starting little by little to try to go places on my own, to just get over the fear of existing in a public setting (it. is. terrifying.)... wearing headphones really helps tho!

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Rebecca Leroy
00:39 Apr 03, 2023

I agree that you have set anxiety in story very well. Hi, Kei Elliot, I think it's great that your are able to get out and about slightly and are facing your fears. Really awesome. 😸

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Daniel Allen
16:07 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Kei! I'm glad the story was relatable. I definitely put emotions I've experienced into this one, and my hope was that it might help other people!

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Tommy Goround
23:49 Mar 29, 2023

So...interp: I thought of my wife as a monster that got on my back as a child and no one else could see her. It became more funny for me trying to date with my own wife on my back but no one could see her. Back to you: I like how you do the mental segments in the story, the internal and eternal monologue. Fun to read. Ty.

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Daniel Allen
15:48 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Tommy. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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Tommy Goround
02:00 Apr 27, 2023

I came back to your main page and there is no new story. Eh?

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Ken Cartisano
13:50 Apr 06, 2023

This story caused me to refresh my understanding of the words 'anxiety', 'phobia', and 'paranoia'. I would have enjoyed it much more thoroughly if there was a possibility that 'the creature' was, in fact, real. I wasn't sure, and if that was the writer's intent, to make us wonder if soul-crushing anxiety--isn't a real, and unnatural thing, then the writer succeeded. It's a story that doesn't fall under my area of interest. The writer is clearly talented, however, the writing must reflect the power of the creature. Is the main character s...

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Jennifer Fremon
13:06 Apr 06, 2023

I agree with all of the other comments. You manage to depict anxiety in a very creative way that feels very authentic. It is easy to overdo it when describing this kind of emotion in a story but I thought you totally nailed it! I love the last three lines so much. I wish we knew a bit more about who he is talking to. :-)

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Daniel Allen
16:01 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Jennifer! Glad you enjoyed it!

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Kelsey H
10:18 Apr 04, 2023

Great depiction of someone struggling with their inner fears and trying to overcome them, really enjoyed this.

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Daniel Allen
15:56 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Kelsey. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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Susan Catucci
19:41 Apr 03, 2023

I venture to say this writing of yours beats anything you'll ever come across in medical texts or a psychology thesis on anxiety, Daniel. I'm more impressed than I can say. It's so human and so much of medicine misses that. My friends tend to be my therapy, especially the laughs. This is supremely touching and real, and I prefer beast to demon; I appreciate the difference. I felt a tear when the beast lost. Not today, Beastie. Good stuff, from first word to last.

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Daniel Allen
15:56 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Susan. That's a lovely complement. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed the story. I definitely included some feelings I'm familiar with. If that can help other people, I'm happy!

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07:07 Apr 03, 2023

Great story. and very connected to how a lot of people are learning to be social again after the pandemic gave us introverts a great excuse to say home. And monster-morphizing anxiety worked really well to make the emotion feel really visceral and tangible. All very relatable, if I have to go an event full of strangers and don't know anyone, I feel just like there's a voice whispering in my ear it's not worth it and to turn around and have to trick myself to get past it.

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Daniel Allen
15:47 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Scott. Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

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01:23 Apr 03, 2023

Go. Home. Go. Home. Brilliant lines. You’ve captured us introverts splendidly. Loved this!

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Daniel Allen
15:41 Apr 07, 2023

Thank you, Deidra! So glad to hear you enjoyed it!

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Rebecca Leroy
00:36 Apr 03, 2023

This is so effective! At the beginning I wasn't sure what Excalibur had to do with it, but now I understand! It is such a meaningful story too! Especially after the whole Covid thing. I can't relate to the character, and his fear, but I can understand how he must be feeling. It is so powerful. Congrats. I had also written a story about this prompt. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/s9ogv8/ Please could you read it! P.S. This is great work!

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Daniel Allen
16:16 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Rebecca! Glad you liked it.

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Helen A Smith
17:13 Apr 02, 2023

I like your response to this prompt Daniel. I could relate to the story. I’m sure many people have been affected by Lockdown in the long-term. Fears that were already there intensify - the creature that is lurking becomes overwhelming. A great ending. A positive and uplifting piece. Some great imagery. Thank you.

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Daniel Allen
15:43 Apr 07, 2023

Thank you, Helen. Really glad to hear you liked the story. I think it covers themes that many of us can relate to these days.

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Marty B
04:54 Apr 02, 2023

The inner gremlins are real! great description of the internal dialogue between what is real and what the creature is saying. The strategy you discuss is a good one to use, identify a time where the creature was defeated and build off that., swords, cafes, carrot cake or coffe- whatever works!

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Daniel Allen
15:37 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Marty! Glad you enjoyed it!

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Wally Schmidt
04:04 Apr 02, 2023

Nothing like the lure of "cappuccino with a piece of carrot cake with cream cheese icing" and someone who loves you to overcome your inner demons. Nicely captured and so representative.

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Daniel Allen
15:22 Apr 07, 2023

Thanks, Wally! Glad to hear you found it representative!

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Mary Bendickson
20:07 Apr 01, 2023

'I was panicking about the danger of panicking.' But thought I would let you know I liked this.

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Daniel Allen
15:20 Apr 07, 2023

Thank you, Mary!

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Viga Boland
13:26 Apr 01, 2023

A very interesting take on those internal battles we have with ourselves on so many things…the big ones like being afraid to go out after covid; the little ones like what clothes to wear i.e. this or that, or those major ones like staying with the devil we know or taking a chance on a new one. Yes, that monster drives a person nuts sometimes and you captured those battles graphically here.

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Daniel Allen
15:20 Apr 07, 2023

Thank you, Viga. Glad to hear you found it interesting.

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Michelle Oliver
11:40 Apr 01, 2023

I like the way you have presented this very real mental illness as a monster that tries to undermine the reality and confidence of your MC. -It’s the creature inside me that doesn’t like being outside, and I don’t like upsetting the creature. -It crawled into my skull, dripping its poison straight into my brain. You portrayed this with sensitivity and compassion. Your ending shows the MC has won against the monster, but the monster is still there, but there was a strategy to defeat it with a memory of coffee and cake. See I knew coffee a...

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Daniel Allen
15:17 Apr 07, 2023

Thank you, Michelle. I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I think it's a topic that many of us have some experience with these days, so it's important to discuss. As for the coffee and cake, we could all use a little more of that!

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Jody S
02:04 Apr 21, 2023

You have nailed anxiety! I like how the MC won! Winning against anxiety can be a daily struggle but the power of wins can be daily rewards. Very well done.

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