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Fiction Inspirational Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

The red flashing light, Brendan knew it well. The one he should’ve listened to. Dangling in the corner of the sky as he rocketed forward. The moment replayed before him, repeating in slow-motion. The drops of rain, the headlights of cars cutting through the night, the shining blue eyes on her horrified face. And there it was again, that accursed light! Taunting him. Then the world faded into focus and he was no longer there. The light faded into a humming line on a monitor to his side, suddenly spiking to life. In an instant Brendan knew where he was. The glaring hospital lights, the white and blue tiles, the scent of antiseptic. The glass window, gazing into the nighttime city. He was back where it began, St. Romedio’s Hospital. But why? His head throbbed. He couldn’t remember. Perhaps some combination of brain damage and nausea prevented him. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to know. His eyes finally adjusting to the room, he turned his focus towards the man at the end of the room, slouched over his computer, dressed in those disgusting blue scrubs. Perhaps he had some answers. With a deep breath, Brendan uttered his first word. “Hey.”

The ensuing jump nearly sent the man into the ceiling. Upon landing he turned around, his face pale and full of shock. As if he was seeing a ghost. Before the man could scream, Brendan moved forward. “Woah, woah. Don’t panic, everything's fine.” The man’s face paled further. “My name is Brendan Fanchon. And you…?” Stammering, the man mustered a reply. “Racham Fridmann.”

“Ok, Racham. Can you tell me why I’m here?

“Wha– why you’re here? What– I mean…“

“Calm down. Just breathe.”

Racham paused, grounding himself. After a moment, he gathered the composure to respond. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting to… hear you speak.”

“What do you mean?”

“…I guess you wouldn’t know, huh?”

“Know what? What happened!?”

“Mr. Fanchon, you died.”

“…What?”

An eerie silence filled the room for a moment. Brendan gazed forward in utter confusion.

“Are you telling me I’m dead?”

“Well, no, considering we’re talking. We all thought you were though… Do you remember anything?”

“Not really–” a hazy scene flashed in his memory, the blur of lights and blaring horns– “I think I was in a car–” He remembered scattered conversation, metal bars, the grayish orange sweatpants and crewneck he still wore– “They were moving me out of the detention center. But besides that I don’t know.”

Racham scratched his head, contemplating how to interpret the situation before him. His time at nursing school never prepared him for this. “Yes, that’s essentially it. You were being transported to the penitentiary when the van you were in had an… accident. By the time we arrived, your heart had stopped. Tet here we are. God must’ve granted you a second chance.”

Brendan leaned back in his chair, taking in the surrealism of the situation. “Wow.” A few minutes of quiet passed as Racham turned back to his computer, the sound of clattering keys echoing through the room. Part of Brendan wished he had stayed dead. To some extent it was better than the years of misery that awaited him. Quickly glancing to the side, Brendan reached out for a scalpel resting on a table, quietly pocketing it.“So what do we do now?” Racham paused, rubbing his chin. “The doctors are outside discussing what to do with your body. They’ll be back soon. Until then, you’re free to wait here, unless you’d prefer to go to prison now.”

Brendan scoffed.

“I’d rather die again.”

Racham chuckled a bit, turning back to his work, the sound of typing resuming. 

“...What did you do? To get put in jail, I mean.”

Brendan sat up, his face furrowing into a defensive scowl.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Well… I’ve never talked to a convict before. Just curious. Only if you want to, of course.”

“…Vehicular manslaughter. It was last month. I was drunk, and wasn’t paying attention. Made a stupid mistake and… didn’t notice her there until it was too late.”

Brendan stood up, staring blankly past the plaster hospital wall. Memories of the scene flashed through his mind again.

“I tried to run away, but that just ended up making things worse. Police got to me eventually and, well, here I am now. 30 years, the judge gave me. Not like I’ll make it that long.”

“Hey, you’re only… 40 it says here. You’ve got a chance.”

“And do what? Go begging on the streets? Sleep under a bridge? Walk around from shelter to foodbank, until I die of old age? No. This is it for me. My life is over.”

As Brendan talked, Racham had turned to listen. He paused, contemplating the situation. He took a final look at the ragged middle-aged man before him. Downcast, tired, hopeless. 

“Or you could run.”

“...What?”

“Cops won’t be back for a few minutes. I’ll say I went to go to the restroom and when I returned you were gone. Maybe you slipped out the window. It’s not much of a drop from here. Not that I’d know for sure, of course.”

Brendan gazed out the window, the lights of the clustered skyscrapers shimmering like stars through the glass lens.

“Why?”

Racham smiled.

“I know what it’s like, longing for freedom. Years ago I wanted to be a writer but… School, college, work, it all came so fast and by the time I’d noticed, I was already here. Trapped. I’d hate to see another soul suffer such a fate. You have another chance at life, I’d advise you to take it.”

Brendan walked towards the window, as if gliding above the tile floor. Another chance. As he unlatched and opened the window, he turned back for just a moment.

“Thank you.”

And with that, he slipped out of the window dropping into the bushes below. The snapping of twigs marked his freedom. He took one last look at the opening above him, the light of the room seeming to shine onto the surrounding earth. Through his death, he had been given life anew. He ran into the night, taking in the beauty of every street lamp and glowing window he passed. “I’m free…”

After the adrenaline wore off, Brendan’s running slowed to a halt. He was long gone by now, far away from anywhere the police may look for him. He hoped Racham wouldn’t get in trouble. Looking up at the sky, dark clouds had begun to emerge, consuming the night sky. It was going to rain, it seemed. He needed shelter, but where? He certainly couldn’t go to his apartment, that would be the first place they’d look. He didn’t have friends in this part of the city either. As thoughts stormed through his mind on how he would live his new life, another impulse snuck in. His stomach growled. Hunger. He needed money, he needed food. Looking around, he spotted the red neon sign of a corner store, still open. At a glance it looked empty, save for a lone cashier at the front. Brendan placed his hand in his pocket, feeling the cold handle of the scalpel. This would only pull him deeper, he knew that. But he’d come this far, he couldn’t stop now.

The electronic bell marked his entrance, a hollow tune ringing out in the silence. Brendan could feel his heart pounding in his chest. That sound, so loud it completely flooded his senses. He hurried into the aisles, busying himself with the bags of chips on display as he eyed the cashier. She looked roughly his age, maybe slightly younger. Her fading blonde hair, loosely tied into a ponytail. One arm propped against the register, she rested her head, trying to barely keep herself awake. Certainly didn’t seem alert enough to stop a robbery. Yet he remained there, frozen. He couldn’t bring himself to do it, something about it seemed fundamentally wrong. His mind was racing in circles, his breathing labored. But he didn’t have much of a choice, it seemed. Emerging from hiding, he approached her, his hand still gripped around the scalpel. She glanced up at him, giving a phony grin. “Hey there! Name’s Candice. How can I help ya?” Brendan froze. What was he supposed to do? He’d barely come to terms with the fact that he was about to commit a crime, not by accident this time but of his own will and intentions. Overwhelming guilt flowed through him. But something inside prevented him from giving up. He couldn’t give up, not yet at least. With a shaky breath, he pulled the scalpel out from his pocket. Their eyes locked. “Ma'am, I’m going to need you to hand me your money.”

Candice stared up at the shaking, sweaty man before her. She’d been in this scene countless times before. Just another routine to follow. “Alright!” With a single motion, the register swung open.

Brendan didn’t know what to think. Was it that simple? There she was, doing exactly as he ordered. Yet as she gathered the cash into her hands, her face showed no fear. If anything, she looked bored. “What are you doing?”

Candice lazily glanced upwards.

“Huh?”

“Don’t make me repeat myself! Why are you so… calm?”

Candice chuckled for a moment, before gathering the coins.

“Just doing my job, sir. You want your money in a bag, or…?”

Brendan slammed his hands onto the counter. His whole body quaked with some combination of anger and fear.

“Did you call the cops!?”

She sighed.

“Nope. Can only do that after the robbery… You’ve never robbed before, have you?”

He raised his scalpel.

“You don’t ask the questions here. Got it?”

“Alright! Sure thing. I’ll get a bag for you.”

“Then answer my goddamn question already!”

The sound of his shout echoed through the building. Candice simply stared with a frown, holding out his bag of change. He was still shaking.

“What was your question?”

“How. How are you so goddamn calm? I’m the one robbing you! Why am I shaking?”

She shrugged.

“I know you’re not gonna stab me with that dinky knife o’ yours. I’ve been robbed enough times here to know that much.” She stood up, looking Brendan straight in the eyes. “We’re briefed on how to deal with robberies. Just do what you’re told and call the police after. Don’t provoke or engage, just give ‘em the money. I’ve done this whole song and dance enough times that it doesn't faze me.”

She motioned towards the bag again.

“Is that a satisfactory answer?”

“And if I tell you not to call the police?”

“Afraid I can’t promise that, sir. It’s my duty to report all robberies after they’re concluded.”

Brendan moved the scalpel closer.

“And if I insist?”

Candice smirked, brushing the blade aside with one hand. 

“Let me do my job, and I’ll let you do yours.”

For another moment of pure silence, the two stood, eyes locked. One, unwavering, wearing a smug grin. The other, convulsing violently, barely able to stand. When the moment passed, Brendan swiped the bag from her hand and staggered towards the door.

“How’s about I give you a 2 minute head start?”

Brendan looked back at the woman at the counter. To anyone else who entered afterwards, it would be as if nothing had happened at all. With no reply, he ran…

And so he kept running, deeper into the labyrinth of streets and alleys as rain began to fall. The world seemed to be taunting him. Soon he heard the blaring alarms, echoing through the city. Quiet, yet as if closing in from all sides. A looming threat. The claustrophobia of sirens. As he approached yet another alleyway, he slipped into its shadows. 

Darkness. Pure darkness. Not even the starlight of the city reached down here. The earth was damp, the air foul. But at least here he wouldn’t be found. Not soon at least. It seemed bigger now that he had stepped inside, roomier. Tossing the stolen money to the ground, he leaned against the stone wall, gazing up at the faint crack of shining blue sky between the buildings above him…

“Welcome home.”

Brendan turned to the voice, its presence undeniable yet unnatural. He certainly hadn’t seen the woman, sitting across the alley from him when he entered. It was as if she’d emerged from the ground itself. Could someone have followed him? No, certainly he would have heard something. The situation unnerved him. Then her voice, so familiar. So very familiar. 

“Who are you?”

“A stranger, perhaps. Passing through before I continue onward. Taking a break to admire the scenery. And who are you?”

“...Honestly, I don’t know anymore.”

“Well then, what brings you to the alleyway?”

“...Just passing through, like you.”

“Where from?”

“...That’s a very complicated story.”

“We have time, don’t worry. So again, who are you?”

He sat down and closed his eyes, sinking into the blanket of grime that surrounded him. He was tired. So very tired.

“My name is Brendan Fanchon. 40 years old. Born January 29th, 1983 in St. Romedio’s Hospital. Growing up was good enough. My dad moved out when I was 7. Mama took care of me after that. It wasn’t perfect but it was alright. After school, I moved out and went to go… find myself. To be free. Get a job, buy an apartment, get a car, all that. But I didn’t know how. I was scared, and uncertain. So I just drifted around for the next 22 years. Spent most of my days working odd jobs to get by, my nights drinking and doing nothing. Just going through the motions, each meaningless routine. And now I’m here. Sitting alone in a dump... So much for freedom.”

“...Well, not entirely alone.”

Brendan chuckled.

“I suppose not.”

The conversation cut to quiet, the only sounds remaining being his own breathing and the quiet backdrop of police sirens looking ever closer.

“When will you leave?”

Brendan thought for a moment. What was his plan exactly?

“No idea. Never, I suppose. At least not until they find me. Not like I can just go live a normal life anymore.”

“Why’re they looking for you?”

“...Because I’m worthless. I’m worthless, and because of that they need to find me and lock me up where I can’t spread my filth anywhere else.”

Silence.

“It was a month ago. I got laid off from work again. Something about downsizing or whatever. So I did what I always do, I went to the bar and got drunk. Contemplated my life like I did every evening, thinking I’d be able to pin down the moment where it went wrong. Thinking back to the last time I remembered being truly happy… when I was still a kid, playing with my mama… I wanted to see her again. It’d been so long. Against some greater universal judgment, I got in my car and began to drive…”

The moment soared through his mind once again. The red flashing light, dangling in the corner of the sky. The one he should’ve listened to. How desperate had he been to have wanted to see her face that he was unable to see it in front of him?

“Who did you hit?”

“...Her. She was headed home after going out to walk.”

“And what did you do?”

“I ran. Drove away as fast as I could, hoping they’d never find me. When they did… I thought it was over. Everything just blurred past me. The trial, the lawyers and their negotiations, the detention center. It didn’t really hit me until I was in the van, being taken to the penitentiary…”

“What hit you?”

“Everything. Reality. Guilt. Emptiness… Fear. Fear that this would be all I had ever amounted to. That I would spend the rest of my life trapped in a cage, unable to do anything but feel those same emotions cycle through my mind over and over again. Everything started flooding before my eyes! The light! Their faces! The rain! The headlights! My heart couldn’t take it and… then it hit me… And now I’m here, going through it all again. Going through life, all over again.”

Brendan sank deeper into the well of darkness he lay in. The pit he’d been trying to escape his entire life.

“So now what?”

Brendan opened his eyes, and looked at the figure. Her flowing brown hair, her kind reassuring face, her blue eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve spent your whole life running and running, striving for freedom, yet always chained down by yourself. And when God gave you a second chance, you spent your life again running while still chained by your emotions, by your guilt. So I ask you, what do you need to do?”

Brendan slowly stands up, gazing out towards the dim flashes of blue and red outside of the alleyway. 

“I need to stop running. I need to take what circumstances I have and embrace them. To for once have direction.”

He steps forward.

“I need to take responsibility for what I have done, so that I may move forward towards the future. I still have a whole life ahead of me. This time, I’ll heed the light. I’ll take things slow.”

He takes another step forward, past the woman lying besides him. She smiles.

“I forgive you.”

He smiles back.

“Now I just have to forgive myself.”

When he turns back to look at her, she is gone. Disappeared just as she had emerged. A single pale blue tear falls down his cheek.

“Thank you.”

And so he steps out of the alleyway, into the flashing blue and red. His first steps into a new life. He is consumed by their color, shining over him, cleansing him of both past and future so that all that remains is now. For once, he is not afraid. For once, he is calm. “I’m free.”

May 13, 2023 00:42

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
20:22 May 14, 2023

Facing his fears.

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