Fiction Sad Speculative

Trigger Warning: Suicide/Mental Health.

I step with a stutter, one foot slowly after the other, neck bent towards potholed pavement as I break through the angular shapes of shade signaling my departure from safety. The sun overhead sears my scalp as my shadow pools into a circle of darkness at my feet, moving with me like a small protective forcefield as I take each step into this bleak new world I will ever so briefly call home.

Seven years with no sun, no pollen, and no people have left me fragile and unsteady as I cross the threshold to the outside for what feels like the first time. Seven years in this sanctuary of mine before being evicted, before the men with guns forced their way in, leaving my front door splintered and discarded as I watched the swirling sawdust dance in the sunlight flowing into what I once considered my inner sanctum. Eighty three years on this earth, and it’s come down to this.

“Out you go,” said the man with the red inked papers, waving them overhead frantically while his burly minions carried my belongings to the curb. Then came a new front door with a padlock and a shower of threats. “If you step foot back on the property, we’ll consider it trespassing and you will be arrested,” said the bloated man with the clipboard. “Don’t look at me like that, we gave you plenty of warnings,” someone else shouted at me as I leaned against the open-topped shipping container, now parked outside, which read “Cash-4-Junk” in bright yellow boxy lettering. I couldn’t help but stare at the scowling man leading this parade of pillaging, directing his young soldiers with righteous fervor. He seemed to be hiding a smile as he barked orders with white stringy foam in the corners of his mouth, and I thought if I watched closely for long enough, his thick rotten saliva might create a bubble, which would float through the air and pop on the rose bushes, releasing a tiny explosion of pungent air and gas.

I watched as my belongings were heaved into the container, a cloudy spectacle of dust and clanking metal. They can have it all, I thought, it’s just my backpack and I now. From my back pocket, I take out the disposable camera I’d saved just for today. I wind the plastic dial back and with a faint click, take a photo of the building I know I’ll never step foot in again.

I lumber awkwardly down the sidewalk one step at a time, my body failing me in this unforgiving environment. I fall every few steps on the uneven ground, the damage building on itself each instance, until I exist in a haze of pain and numbness. I am a stranger in a strange land, limping slowly towards the coast.


This new world betrays my memory, there’s a sheen to things that wasn’t here before. A filth I can feel seeping into my skin with each pace I take past weed strewn gutters, storefronts with shattered glass display windows, and rusted overturned shopping carts. Each artifact feels as if it was placed intentionally, like I’m strolling through a museum of ruin and decay. My thumb winds back the film, the sharp grooves in the dial piercing my wrinkled skin as I click to capture each scene like some sort of demented tourist.

Around the corner, a man is leaning on a street sign, slumped and frozen in place with a viscous stalactite of drool hanging from his toothless mouth. It becomes more and more challenging to walk as I feel my body quickly degrading out here, my gait devolving in the short time since I left my (no longer) home into more of a shuffle where my left foot is being dragged and my right foot wearily leads in short deliberate bursts forward. The scraping of my shoes against the ground wakes up the frozen man, who I now notice is standing under a street named “Hope”. As he stares at me with empty eyes, I wind the dial back again, spots of blood now seeping from the raw skin on my thumbpad as I press the shutter and the soft echo of the click bounces around and dies before hitting the ears of the man. We have a brief moment, looking into each other’s eyes where I start to wonder if we’re both real or if we’re existing within each other’s nightmare. His blue eyes seem to cut through the atmosphere despite the dirt-caked skin that surrounds them, and I’m reminded of the beauty that used to exist here and hopefully will exist again someday.

Walking becomes more and more difficult as I cross several more blocks, heading in the direction of the salty breeze where my story will end. My feet fill with pins, getting numb and prickly as I drop down to hands and knees with the gleaming ocean in sight. This new world consumes me by the minute, its toxic forces penetrate my skin and latch onto my senses. I smell acrid rubber burning nearby, I feel the graveled sidewalk digging into my knees, I hear the chaotic screams of two young women fighting in an alley, but the sight of the emerald ocean keeps me moving forward through this sludge of atrocities.

As I crawl further, I watch as a line of ants carry a partially sucked jolly rancher into a grassy mound nearby. I think about what it must look like inside their nest once the candy arrives like a shining green gemstone. I wonder if they will share equally or if, like humans, only some ants will be allowed to partake in the feast. I take out my disposable camera, rolling back the dial is now quite a struggle as my fingers are becoming stiff and immobile, and I press the button down as the ants work together to fit the sticky candy through the small opening.

I am aware of my deteriorating state. I am a crawling obscenity, a horror show of sagging wrinkles, a wet bag of bones with a dangerously low battery powering it forward like a cheap broken toy. In the past, I’d have been helped by Samaritans or picked up by police. Those times are over though, now I’m just one of many invisible people littering the city. A have-not, circling the drain in a world meant only for the haves. A disappearing person, melting into the fabric where the unfortunate go to be forgotten.


The beach has certainly changed since I was last here. I touch the sand for the first time in seven years. Styrofoam cups and paper litter the shore. The wet clumps remind me of my eviction notices. My savings hitting zero, the months of threats, the medical bills, hiding from the pounding knocks of my landlord, the notes under the door, and the distinct awareness of my inability to ever catch up on payments or make money at my age and condition. The fear of this place I’m now in, and the realization that it was in fact just as bad as I thought it might be.

With the last bit of strength mustered from my atrophying body, I open my backpack and take out the empty bottle I’d saved just for this occasion. I shimmy myself towards a tide pool with a rocky ledge and as my body hits the salty water, the sting is nearly paralyzing as it invades the cuts and scrapes gathered from my journey here. I take out the camera, and lean over a small pool of water which has become still as glass, free from the lapses of nearby waves, and point the camera into the mirror-like reflection below, and for the last time I gather the strength to press my index finger into the shutter as a bittersweet smile comes over my face and I point the viewfinder towards the reflected seawater as the final click captures a vague idea of who I once was.

A deep breath. A silent moment as the waves crash just beyond the other side of the rocks. My shaking hands carefully remove the film cartridge from the camera and push it into the glass bottle, which I then firmly seal and toss into the sea. I have a hope that someone will find it in some uncertain future on another shore far away from here, and maybe the pictures of my final day will tell a story to a kindred soul somewhere out there. Maybe these frames can expose what we’ve become.

The sea beckons just over the edge, its rhythmic pulsing lulls me towards the waves crashing against the rock I sit atop as I stare deeply into the chaotic churn. The aquatic scent misting through the air reminds me of a simpler time and for a brief moment, I’m not in pain anymore. In one motion, I relax all my muscles and let out a deep exhale, then in an instant…weightlessness, stillness, peace.

March 30, 2024 22:32

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B. D. Bradshaw
15:41 Apr 06, 2024

This is beautifully mournful and very well-executed. One of the best short stories I've read in a while!


Shawn Palmquist
20:28 Apr 06, 2024

Thank you so much! Made my day, really appreciate the feedback!


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Marilyn Flynn
00:49 Apr 20, 2024

Wonderful imagery. Great buildup to the ending, with that bottle floating off! More, please!


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Paul Hellyer
23:33 Apr 10, 2024

Very visceral.


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