It was summer; the sky was blue, the birds were chirping and Johann wanted to die.
It was a curse. It would lure him in every year, making him feel emotions that weren't his. The excitement, the anticipation, the rush of release; all that which had seemed so wonderful and natural in the moment made him feel sick to his stomach in retrospect.
The illusion of thrill; one not felt in and of itself, but only in its anticipation.
It was a salesman who sweet talked you into buying that oh-so-neat product you always wanted, only for it to blow up in your gullible face.
A monster which feeds on hope.
Summer was a lie which he always fell for.
Johann clenched his fists. He had betrayed himself again. Ceded control of his reality to the illusion, which had lured him to where he now stood.
A holiday cottage.
Oh, how he hated himself.
He thought back to the 'trip planning conference' (so christened by the overzealous sheep of his class). He had let himself be sucked in by the vortex of mind-numbing exhilaration and enthusiasm. Ignoring them would have been best, but who was he kidding: he had lost the moment he stepped foot inside that hope-infested classroom.
Hope is a virus; that room was a pandemic zone.
Thus infected, that night he had done something truly appalling. Something that he had vowed never to do. Something that was utter blasphemy against his beliefs.
That night, he had dreamt. He had hoped. And (oh god have mercy on me) he had desired.
He was a goddamned heretic.
You see, Johann had always considered hope to be a dangerous, treacherous thing. It ensnares you, seduces you into thinking you can have the unattainable. The gold standard. The dream of every single starry eyed teenager.
The rose-tinted façade that is youth.
And summer was the climax of this festival of lies.
Couples cavorting around, not so much in love with each other as with the idea of love itself. Swarming the beach and pool not because anyone particularly wanted to be there, but because it was 'just the summer thing to do'. Getting wasted at parties not because they liked it, but because it would be so #YOLO if they did.
Sheep. Mindless drones living the charade, not knowing what is real and what isn't.
Now, keep in mind that Johann wasn't a bullshitter. He was rather averse to bullshit himself. No, Johann believed himself to be a man of pure rationality, wisdom and experience.
A man who had rejected the sickly sweet dreams of 'youth'. A man who had turned his back to the laughing and screaming mass psychosis that is teen-age. A man who had given up on dreams.
Because he was a man who had once hoped. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Every damn second.
But to what end?
Years upon years of nothing but rot and despair.
The brighter the fleeting moments of hope, the darker were the hours of ceiling-staring solitude.
The intense heat forced him out of his reverie. Sweat beaded on his forehead and trailed down his back. The sun seemed to have had enough of his dilly-dallying and was prodding him onwards. Damn heatwave. He glared menacingly at the general direction of the sun and then at the offensive building. Sigh. Abandoning any hope that either of them would back off, he walked towards the entrance.
And even though Johann would never admit it, as he entered the doorway, somewhere buried deep inside him was a treacherous tumor: an obscure hope for something he hated so much, something he had never experienced.
It was 1:54 pm and Johann was mildly amused.
Swanky lights. Polished floor. Proclamation of an 'exotic' buffet. A whole freaking bar.
Cottage my ass.
Johann would be the last person to declare himself as a seasoned traveler, but even he knew a tourist bait when he saw one.
He let out a dry chuckle. This was gold. An illusion of an illusion. A parody of a parody. A facetious mockery of a charade.
And even more ludicrous was the fact that the bait seemed to have failed miserably. There was absolutely no one in sight.
Johann checked his watch and smiled wryly.
Even the sheep were late.
People amused Johann as much as they frustrated him. Like animals. Sure, cats annoy you when they scramble up your precious petunias, but who can help but chuckle as they paw at the mirror, trying to maul their own reflection...
He closed his eyes and smirked.
It's the same with people. So unaware. So foolish. So lost.
"How lost are you, Johann?"
Eyes shot open.
He looked around.
He slowly stood up, all senses on high alert.
Only the rhythmic ticking of his watch punctuated the increasingly unnerving stillness.
Johann was many things but he wasn't a fool. Nor was he a B-grade horror flick extra. Therefore he didn't plan on going about shouting salutations to someone who was deliberately hiding out of sight.
He would do what any sane person in his situation ought to.
Get the hell out of there.
But as he turned around, he jerked to a stop.
Something felt off. Really off.
Then he realised.
A knot formed in the pit of his stomach.
A sense of dread engulfed him.
He tried to fight it off.
Focus, man, focus, goddammit!
But regardless of how much he focused, he couldn't find the one thing that he sought with all his will.
There was no exit.
It makes no fucking sense!
His mind raced as his heart hammered relentlessly in his chest. There has to be an exit. A door. He entered from a door. The entrance. Where did it go?
His palms felt sweaty. Throat went dry. He wanted to run but his legs had turned to lead.
He put his hands on a table. His head was spinning…
The heat...must have got to me...
An overwhelming urge to just lie down...and forget all this confusion...
No, no, no!
This wasn't the time to rest. That was a classic B-grade extra move. Instant game over.
He glanced around frantically, his vision hazy.
A door. Almost hidden. At the far end.
He gathered every ounce of his remaining strength and staggered over. Unsteady. Grasping anything he could find to support himself.
Come on, a little more…
His head was throbbing. Heartbeat deafening.
Legs swaying. Close to buckling.
He raised his arm. Heavy. Fingertips brushed the old wooden surface. Rough. Another step. Palm on the door. Fingers splayed.
A blinding light filled his vision before it all went black.
A familiar smell.
The sweet aroma of freshly cut grass.
Where am I?
He slowly opened his eyes and blinked as they adjusted to the bright sunlight.
Rays reflecting off metal.
Swings. Slides. Monkey bars.
Cries and laughter of children running around. Playing tag. Hollering and wailing as one of them fell down. Accusations of unfair play.
Crafty little devils…
A little boy was sitting near the sandbox. Alone. Johann smiled. Just like—
His smile vanished as he noticed the toy in his hands.
The SuperTrain Express 510. His first real possession. His pride and joy.
As the unbelievable realisation struck him, fragments of his memories came rushing. Memories he had buried deep within.
Oh no. Not this.
A big boy who had just obliterated his tag opponents noticed the solitary figure. Ran over to him and shouted something. Johann couldn't hear them. But he already knew everything that was being said.
And everything that was going to happen.
The little boy shook his head and clutched the toy to his chest. The boy called his minions. They were now coaxing and pleading. Pressuring.
As the little boy finally loosened the grip on his train, Johann wanted to shout at him to stop. But for the life of him he couldn't make a sound.
He could just watch helplessly as the boy ripped the train out of his hands.
And stomped it to pieces.
Johann closed his eyes. He didn't have to see to know that the little boy was crying inconsolably. He didn't have to see to know that the boys were all laughing at him. He didn't have to see to know that the little boy would collect all those pieces and carefully keep them in a little box, stashing it away in the back of his closet, where it would rest forever.
He didn't have to see to know that the little boy had just got his first scar.
He felt a sense of vertigo as the world started spinning again.
Another familiar smell.
A lingering aroma from memories long gone.
He gingerly opened his eyes.
Brown wallpaper. Bedroom. Petunias.
Shouting and wailing. A male and a female voice. The little boy sitting alone in his room. Hearing everything, understanding nothing. He was not so little now. He had grown, and so had his pain. He looked lost. He needed someone to comfort him. Someone to tell him that everything will be alright. But Johann knew no one would come. They never did.
And they never will.
The scenes seemed to be flashing by faster now.
Getting laughed at for having his Daddy abandon him and his Mommy going crazy.
"Nobody wants you Jo!"
Being isolated as the weird kid who cried if you talked to him.
"You are such a crybaby Jo!"
Vomiting all over his desk because they added paint to his bottle.
"You are so disgusting, Barfy Jo!"
Getting his first confession shot down brutally.
"Yuck! Uhm, no thank you...Ro?"
Getting beaten to a pulp by the lackeys of the boy who liked that girl.
"Who the hell do you think you are, you weirdo? Stick to your corner and know your place, creepy Jo."
Stealing Uncle Richard's gun and taking the safety off. Finger hovering on the trigger, just millimetres away from blowing off his own head.
Gathering an impressive collection of knives and blades.
Filling a whole drawer with notes.
Getting hurt and hurting himself every single day.
Till one day when he decided that enough was enough.
He stopped crying.
He stopped feeling.
He stopped dreaming.
You cannot get disappointed if you never hope. You cannot get heartbroken if you never love. You cannot get betrayed if you never trust.
His dreams won’t shatter because he had none.
He was no longer the wimp who had hoped in a world of despair. No longer the crybaby who had desired in this wasteland of expectations.
I have become strong. I have become wise. I am no longer los—
"You are lost, Johann."
The voice echoed inside his head.
Who was it?
He looked around. Complete darkness engulfing him.
Where did it come from?
Suddenly his senses were overwhelmed.
A blinding flash of light.
Deafening echo of footsteps.
The putrid smell of rotting flesh.
He recoiled involuntarily.
What in the…
Then he saw them.
A countless number of them. Criss-crossing and intertwining on a mangled body. Like a living, breathing arcane temple of pain.
And it was approaching him.
Who—what is this?!
Then it stopped. In front of him.
The face unobscured.
Johann was paralyzed with utter shock. Disbelief. Revulsion.
It was bruised and battered. Mauled. Tortured. Hideous.
But above all…
No, no, w-what is this...this can't be…
"But it is, Johann. It is."
A voice he knew too well.
"Did you forget me? Tell me, Johann..."
The man of flesh and scars stepped closer. Face to face.
“...did you forget yourself?”
Johann was staring at himself.
A mangled, mutilated, bloodied shell of himself.
A sad, tortured smile crossed the lacerated face.
"Don't be so surprised. We were together for the longest time. Best friends. Soulmates."
A single tear rolled down his cheek.
A tear of blood.
"I am what you hide. I am what you suffered. I am your pain, Johann."
No...it can't be...I don't have...
“You have neglected me, my dear friend. Instead of trying to face me you rejected me. Cast me aside. Abandoned me. But I never went away. Do you know why, Johann? Do you know why?”
He spread his arms.
“Because I am you. Your true self.”
No...no...no! That's not... that's not…
"That's not what? Hiding behind our facade again, are we, Johann? You say you aren't scared anymore. Then why are you trembling? Do you realise now? This is you. I am your true—"
NO YOU ARE NOT!
The dead eyes stared at him. Those eyes with their unfathomable depths of despair.
This...facade...it protects me. Shields me. It lets me live...
"By shutting off the whole world? Rejecting anyone who tries to connect with you, tries to help you? By pushing away those who love you? Is that what you call living, Johann?"
Memories flash by. More recent ones.
The shy girl in class who always offers him her books when he forgets.
"I don't need your help."
The concerned teacher who had tried to encourage him to make friends.
"Mind your own damn business."
The brash uncle who had offered to take care of his bullies.
"Quit forcing your disgusting pity on me."
The weepy old lady in his house asking him how his day went.
"Just leave me alone."
"You are no saint, Johann. Every time you reject someone, every time you withdraw, you hurt people who care for you. Just because we are hurting doesn't mean we have to hurt others."
It's the only way. The facade keeps me safe. It has kept me safe for a while now.
"Do I look safe to you, Johann? Tell me. Tell me, Johann. I need to know, we need to know."
It doesn't matter.
The dead eyes stared.
It really doesn't matter whether you are safe. I rejected you because you can't survive. It's a cruel world, Johann. The moment you show your scars, show your weaknesses, people will hunt you down like a pack of bloodthirsty wolves. Accepting you is suicide. It's death, Johann. It's death.
The scars were bursting. Blood seeped through every wound, dripping down to the floor.
Crimson tears flowing from the bloodied eyes down the lacerated cheeks.
Silently he stepped forward and placed something in Johann's hand.
He stared at it.
Uncle Richard's gun.
The safety was off.
"I know the truth is hard to bear, Johann. But we cannot live this lie forever. It's time. Make your choice."
Johann held the bloodied gun. Gripped it.
It suddenly seemed too heavy to lift.
"What will you choose? The true self or the facade? The real thing or the empty shell?"
He raised it, his arm trembling.
And pointed it at the bloodied wreck of himself.
It's not my fault…I had no choice...
"It takes a strong man to deny what's right in front of him, Johann. Maybe you were right. Maybe you really got stronger."
I...didn't want it to turn out this way…
"I don't care anymore. All I want is peace. You know why? Because it hurts, Johann. It hurts so fucking much."
Finger hovered on the trigger. Shaking.
"Don't be too hard on yourself. Because, after all, you can still go home. Lucky you."
The fingertip caressed the curve.
I promise...this won't be in vain...I promise…
Lips twisted into one last smile.
"Farewell, old friend."
Johann pulled the trigger.
He opened his eyes.
Only the rhythmic ticking of his watch punctuated the comfortable stillness.
He heard the arrival of a car. The sheep were here. Inane giddy chatter filled the entrance.
"It was so crazy, I tell you! Anyway that was how it was— hey isn't that Jo?"
"It is, isn't it! Hey, why are you here so early dude? Wow, were you sitting here all alone waiting for us? Isn't that funny?"
"That's hilarious, man!"
Johann smiled at them. He spotted the book girl. She smiled shyly and quickly averted her eyes.
"Anyways, dude, the damn heat! I swear, if I have to spend another day in this heatwave…"
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
Yeah, that's all it was. Just another day in the heatwave.
A wry smile crossed his face.
A face untainted by crimson tears.
It was summer; the sky was blue, the birds were chirping and Johann didn't want to die.
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Your stories are just something else. You certainly know how to tell a story, I don't know if it's lots of writing experience, formal training or just talent/intuition, but you've got it down. I mean, your opening sentence alone sucks the reader in, and then you finish with a similar, though opposite, sentence to bring things full circle. And in between you've taken the reader on a harrowing emotional journey of self reflection and painful memories. I think we all struggle with our own dark side, and for me, that's way scarier than any ficti...
Thank you so much for your lovely comment! Made my day :) I haven't had any formal training, or even much of a writing experience really. I do think of ideas and concepts, but being the lazy bum I am, I don't have the habit of following through with a story (which I am trying to change). And when I write, most of it is just notes and outlines (which are soon forgotten, damned to eternity on the back of some old notebook, never to see the light of day...). And I read. But that's what's interesting: my favorite works are all mostly abs...
I can relate so hard to the notes/outline thing. I have created more than hundreds of stories in my head but most of them never found their way to the pages. Sheer willpower and doggedness is the only way, I guess. Keep on writing!
I know the feeling! And yes, I will try my best :)
I agree with Jonathan, Aditya! This was an amazing story!
Not vicious no, exhilarating yes.
Wow, wow, wow. You are worth the follow for sure! 😮 Jaw-dropping, is all I can say. The confrontation with his repressed self chilled me to the bone, just so visceral. But I think I am most impressed with the psychological acurracy of this. It felt real and organic, how his childhood led him to grow numb as a defense mechanism. In a way this really feels like a psychoanalysis in story form, and you pulled that off brilliantly. Please make more stuff like this, or I will be very sad. 😝 Phenomenal read, this gets a 👍🏽👍🏽👍🏽 from me!
Thank you so much for the wonderful comment! Really glad you liked it! It really means a lot. And I just read your new story, and it is beyond amazing.
Oh god, the journey you took us on. Bravo, this is brilliant. The clever metaphors and phrases about expectations of youth and mindless conformation to set ideals were interesting and thought provoking. The imagery in the confrontation scene- brutal. Got chills. The ending is great, though much darker than it lets on (I think). He had to kill his pain and embrace the shell he had become to live. Poignant and bittersweet. You have raw talent, that is certain. Keep going! Will look forward to more.
Thank you so much for the generous comment! Yes, it has dark undertones just like you mentioned, but he is better off now after facing his pain, though he had to bury his scars forever to live. He's just been hurt too much. But as Johann said, it won't be in vain. Maybe he will cautiously open up to people more? Who knows... :)
"Opening up to people"... Johann x Bookgirl confirmed??!! ;) But seriously, I love her, even though she only got two lines :')
Wow...this is something else. Totally blown away. I don't know where to start, so let me just say this- This is a work of art. I love, absolutely love this! The beginning and ending connects so well- just a tweak of a word has so much power. The pacing and structure is perfect. And even how the story is divided: first giving us a peek into his anti-social psyche, then revealing the painful experiences of his past that made him that way, and then the confrontation with his own inner self- just genius. The imagery of his broken self is so t...
Thank you so much Shruti for your generous and encouraging words! I really really appreciate it. So glad you like it :)
You outlined the main character's world effortlessly, especially his internal landscapes, his veneer, his traumas with bloodied manifestations in his mind, demons only he can kill; thus, this is a story that strikes a particularly tender chord. You dealt with those emotions—overbearing, mind-numbing and quite otherworldly—brilliantly. Also, I admire your subtle way of weaving the conscious-subconsious opposites into your narrative, like in these sentences—"Only the rhythmic ticking of his watch punctuated the increasingly unnerving" and "On...
Thank you so much for such a wonderful comment! I am glad you liked it. It means a lot. Looking forward to more of your work too :)
Wow. This was amazingly well-written. And the plot, dialogue, prose- perfect. You told the story so the reader was living in it, and captured the psychological trauma of the protagonist. Seriously, this is beautiful! I was hooked until the end. Looking forward to reading more of your work.
Thank you so much for your lovely words! They mean a lot! Looking forward to more of yours too :)
The opening was really funny 🤣! It was like, "It was a very nice, peaceful summer day, and a series of murders took place across town." I like how you divided the whole story into minuscule paragraphs. I did expect the story to end once you wrote that Johann pulled the trigger, but yours was better! Overall, good job! Keep writing! 4.4 out of 5!
BTW, your profile pic is really cool!
Thanks a lot for reading and commenting Akshat! I really appreciate it :)
Wonderful story! Especially for your second submission. I love the concept and the way the end ties the whole thing up so neatly. I won't at all be surprised if this wins this week. Keep writing!
Thank you so much for the kind and generous comment! Will be looking forward to more of yours too!
You have a poetic style. Do you realize that you have written a sort of chiasmus? If it was intentional, good job. If it was accidental, you may want to study the form and write some more. Excellent!
Thank you! I will definitely look into it.
Really great story. Brought the reader right along with it. Opening and closing wrapped up the story in a great way!
Thank you so much! Glad you liked it :)
I was struck by your ability to write short but powerful paragraphs, Aditya. This story is amazing! I can really relate to this story because I struggle to understand and accept my dark side sometimes. Everyone has one, and some use it more often. I really like how it ended hopefully, despite in the beginning where Johann gave up all hope. I think it's interesting what people can conjure up in their mind when there's too hot of a heatwave. Stay safe and keep writing your fantastic stories! (You must have a lot of experience!) -Scout
Thank you so much for your lovely words! They mean a lot. And I am looking forward to more of yours too! Stay safe :)
This is a really well written deep-dive into the psyche of a troubled young man. I definitely expected him to end up murdering all of his classmates but I’m glad that you ended on such a hopeful note. The flashbacks were well done too - it’s very easy to make flashbacks cheesy but you avoided that trap neatly. Great writing!
Thank you so much! I really admire your work so it means a lot! Really appreciate it.
That’s so sweet of you to say! I really enjoyed this so I’m glad you pointed me towards it!
"And even more funnier was" it should be one of "more funny" "more ridiculous" "more laughable" "more ludicrous" or simply "funnier" but not "more funnier." As a descent into madness and recovery, it works. No idea if it's possible from a psychology point, but it is an interesting tale of personal horror. On top of it, you totally owned the prompt by letting it define the problem, involve itself and come full circle to be part of "Just another day in the heatwave." If you are not sending original work to e-zines, you might think about ...
Thank you so much for your feedback! I have corrected the error, really appreciate you pointing it out.
A beautiful piece of art. Great job with the emotions, you conveyed them so strongly but with such professional use that it's just natural. It reminds me of the psychoanalytical novels I read during my University years. Even though the style at some places seems odd or a bit much for me (like the stuttering with the inner self), most of the time it enhances the whole mood of the story. It shows greatly his conflicted inner self. The characterization is amazing. The whole story is your playground in that sense. One by one you peel off the...
Thank you so much for your lovely words and such a detailed feedback! I am so glad you felt all that I tried to convey through this work. Sadly, unbeknownst to many around them, lots of teenagers fall into deep depression, and it is heart-wrenching to see them in such a broken state so early in there lives. This was my humble attempt at trying to do justice to some of those emotions of despair, hurt, rejection and anguish. That's also why I couldn't bear to make him die at the end. Thanks once again, you're really awesome!! It means a lo...
This is such a real story that really hits you hard. The short sentences were extremely effective and the language used was just wonderful. Glad you told me to check it out :)
Thank you so much for your kind words! It means a lot!
It's really good story! The starting was funny. You divided the story in minuscule paragraphs.
Thank you for reading and commenting!
I am left speechless if I’m honest. This tugged at every emotion I inhabit. You created such a suspense and dramatic effect with the imagery and the quality of your writing , leading to the climax at the end. This is a masterpiece - a dark, slightly twisted masterpiece yet still with a positive ending. This deserves so much recognition . (I must admit, I had to skip over a little bit because it was triggering for me but a incredible dive into a psyche of someone who has experienced trauma and pain throughout their life. Hard hitting but b...
Thank you so much for your kind words! It really means a lot. Looking forward to more of your great stories! Stay safe :)
Wonderfully riveting story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A very powerful story, with dark overtones. For me the heatwave seemed almost an unnecessary element in the confrontation between the internal aspects of his psyche. I liked the linking of the start and the end when the sheep arrived. You dealt with the psychological pain brilliantly. Well done.
Thank you so much! I kinda get what you mean, I started brainstorming with the heatwave in mind but it turned out to be much more than that! You could say that it was a trigger for the events to occur. Thanks again, glad you liked the story!
I love how you start and end your story, and the description you use.