Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

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Contemporary Coming of Age Fiction

It was the last night of the sodium lights, and one by one they were dying out. How fitting it seemed to be, almost as if they knew their end was in sight, and rather than be snuffed out by the harsh unscrewing of a bulb, they flickered themselves, edging the quiet street closer and closer into the blackness of early-morning June.

Exhausted as he was, Silas went out walking, alone in gym shorts and a white tee shirt, his flip-flops slapping the pavement as he stared up at the dancing leaves. They became fractals of shadows at his feet, cast on the ground by the lamp lights seemingly embedded among the trees. 

No birds chirped, for it was too early – there was only the rustling of branches and the calming lull of a red-eye’s engine thousands of feet above his head. 

He should have been dormant then, in his queen bed with the cool linen sheets and white noise machine. It was all still there, perfect and comfortable and his, just for one more night. 

Everything is there, he thought. Everything but me. 

As easy as it would have been to go back and indulge in his own life’s inevitable plunge toward elsewhere, he couldn’t turn around. Not because the street had gone black and frightening, the sodium lights completely out except for the ones ahead of him, leading to the beach – but because his feet somehow wouldn’t let him. 

He felt the sudden sense that he was expiring, the battery inside him running dangerously low, and he was conserving all of his energy to get to this one particular place on the beach, longing for one last experience as this Silas, the person he built on that street. The individual. The person he had grown into, and had curiously grown to like. 

Silas looked at the lamp post on the opposite side of the road, its buzzing glow illuminating a quaint blue house, framed by two looming six-flats. Between them it almost seemed happy to be different, like the house itself smiled with contentment at being one little home instead of a large apartment building full of units.

He enjoyed being the only Silas on earth, figuratively. From time to time, he’d noticed this same thought many times before, relishing in the fact that somewhere along the line from seventeen to twenty-four he’d stopped wishing he was someone else. It was a nice feeling to become himself, like entering a new apartment furnished with all his old things. 

The yellow street light began to flicker, however, and the house’s facade went dark. Silas continued on, hastening his pace. In sight was the vacant beach, glistening under just a sliver of moon. 

Initially, he’d taken the walk because he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t bear to think about the next day, the big orange moving van and the sweat from hauling boxes and seeing his mom and dad and brother and sister again. At the heart of everything, Silas knew he couldn’t resist his departure, simply because he brought it upon himself. Why was he giving his life up? Why was he so desperate to find the intangible future, rather than let it come to him? 

Obviously, when Silas told other people his plans to go to school again and they took it with more grandeur than he ever did – ambitious, brave, proud, intelligent, motivated, talented, worldly, full-of-potential – he never fully believed any of it. In his mind, he had no clue why he was going halfway across the world to study, especially after such an uninspired undergraduate degree. Often he doubted that anyone ever had any clear idea of what they were doing or why. But on the other hand, that was hard to believe when it seemed like everyone had so much confidence and sureness in their decisions, even trivial ones like what to put on a sandwich. 

He reached the last couple of lights at the corner, the only ones refusing to give themselves to nighttime, but he’d yet to notice. A usually bustling city street, consistently hot with pavement and cyclists and hoards of speeding cars, Sheridan Road sat still and lonely, its emptiness flooded with stains of soft light. 

Silas aimlessly began to cross the road without a vehicle in sight. For a second, he stood in the slightly raised point right at the center, closed his eyes, and imagined he was staying in the city. He imagined he would walk back and fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, wake up in the morning and eat a late brunch at The Central with a friend, return home to open all the windows in his apartment, and then lie down on the sofa and forget about everything for the rest of the day, or at least until dinnertime. After that, he'd turn on the TV speakers to play his favorite songs and drink a cold vodka lemonade. He’d think about his childhood and ponder his future with similar sentiments, week after week, and get comfortable with the arbitrary feeling of his mid-twenties. 

On leaving, however, Silas felt like he was making a decision to part ways with the bliss of his individuality in sacrifice for career growth, and somehow, less freedom. And he also wondered, then, if every choice as an adult felt like that – not so much a sacrifice, but like a never-ending game of risk, where the wager was always worth more than the reward, but to progress as a human, he had to do it, or else he’d get left behind. His position in the road, standing exactly halfway across it, reminded him of this feeling. 

He turned and looked at the sidewalk he’d arrived on, then forward at the one that led to the crashing waterfront, two hundred yards away. A single lamp post guarded the very end of the trail, where it turned to sand and became shrouded by tall beachgrass. Again, Silas continued.

Sulking was a guilty pleasure of his, but that wasn’t quite what he was doing. Long walks, whether at night or in the middle of the day, didn’t clear his mind like they did for most people; they just made him think a lot more, which to him wasn’t a bad thing, and besides, he wasn’t particularly depressed or anything near that end of the emotional spectrum. Perhaps it was just the melancholy of his predicament, how it exuded both imminence and continuance. It was always the melancholy that proved to be inescapable. If he moved, it’d move with him. And if he stayed, it would too. 

But the decision had already been made, and though he hadn’t left or even packed up his things – he was saving that for the following morning – he still knew reversing it was out of the question. 

Maybe it’ll be okay and I’ll actually like it there, Silas thought. Maybe homesickness will just be temporary. But then again, maybe that’s just a story I’m telling myself to feel better about all of this. 

Once he was across the road and had passed the last apartment complex, a stray cat appeared in front of him and splayed itself out in hopes of receiving love. It rolled over against the parking meter where the concrete sidewalk gave way to sand. Quietly, Silas knelt down and brushed the cat’s black fur with the back of his hand. He let it sniff his fingers and move between his legs, twirling its tail and tickling the hairs on his legs. Exhaling, he slipped his feet out of his shoes and started for the sand. The cat followed. 

Silas remembered, as the cool sand slid between his toes and the lake air filled his nose, that all the sodium lights in the city were being replaced with LEDs that weekend, and how sad he’d felt when he saw the tiny article announcing it at the bottom of the local news site the previous Fall. It had seemed like something that would never actually happen, that it was just something people made remarks about, like how good it would be for the environment even though they didn’t understand exactly how. That was the thing, Silas thought: the older people got, the more they seemed to appreciate ambiguity. And he shivered, hoping he wasn’t moving toward the same fate. It was interesting. He had never felt a certain way about the sodium lights before, but as the date swiftly approached and he noticed their burning out, he began to feel sentimental about them. 

He sat down in the sand and watched the waves reach out for him. He thought about what it would actually be like to leave for good. All the other times he’d flown out of the city, he looked down at the giant grid of streets, houses, brick buildings, and trees and thought of it as his home, a place that sat patiently, waiting for his inevitable return. He would always marvel at the streetlights and their flawless spacing, watching the cars glide underneath them on Lakeshore Drive. It was impossible to imagine the city continuing on without him, but he knew it would. He tried and tried but nothing could prevent him from the feeling that he was abandoning the way his life was supposed to go, uprooting it like a twisted tree, forcing it to grow in a different direction, and he wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing. 

Behind him, the final street lamp began to flicker, the street nearly in total darkness. And still, Silas didn’t know what to do. He never really knew anything for certain, even when he pretended like he did. His old life wasn’t quite the old one yet, but he felt it was on the verge of becoming just a memory, split off from his new life by a riff of distance, of age, of choice. 

Oh, what have I done, he thought, what will I do?

After, as if coaxed by the wind, Silas stood back up and rubbed the cat’s head. He put his flip-flops back on and stared for a moment at the last sodium light, willing it to keep lit, to power through the rest of the night. But instead of staying to watch, something pushed him to walk back home, to pass under the light and let it flash his shadow on the grass in its struggle to stay alive. 

When he arrived and unlocked the courtyard gate in the darkness, Silas longed for someone to provide him with an answer. Of course, nothing came, and he fell asleep on his sofa not long after that. 

In the morning, the linen-white sky poked him out of dreams, contrasting his late-night walk with its brightness. His parents pulled up at eleven o’clock and crunched a half bottle of beer; it popped the U-Hauls rear tire with a bang. On the walk to the mechanic a block away, Silas crossed paths with the cat again. For a second, it stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared him down with its large green eyes, then scurried across the street and squeezed underneath somebody’s front porch. 

Silas closed his eyes and thought again about his life. He thought about the past and wondered if he had ever learned anything from it. He thought about breathing and performing and studying and listening and laughing and lying and art and music and dancing and theater and friendships. If after today, any of them would happen in the same way again. Or if they’d just end or change and nothing would ever feel exactly right, like the way it did there. 

His eyes opened to see his shadow, ashen and crisp into the concrete below him, and he wondered how that could be on such an overcast morning. But when he looked up and saw a bright yellow light shining from a lamp post, beautiful and impossible in the daytime, he smiled. Lining the street, the sodium lights flickered back on, one by one. 

And as he began to walk the opposite direction, back to his apartment, Silas suddenly realized what he was going to do. But in his gut, he felt he had known it all along.

June 09, 2022 14:04

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13:01 Aug 24, 2023

It was the last night of the sodium lights and one by one, they were dying out. How fitting it seemed to be, almost as if they knew their end was in sight, and rather than be snuffed out by the harsh unscrewing of a bulb, they flickered themselves, edging the quiet street closer and closer into the blackness of early morning June. What an intro. This passage is bittersweet in such a charming way. Depicting a tranquil yet mournful scene. Painting a poetic farewell to a bygone era. Classic nostalgia. Thank you for this, Great Job Kyle


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