3 comments

Drama Suspense

It was a neat and calm shot that brought the deer down. It didn’t look like much, but it had given the deer a quick and painless death, and there was no reason for anything else to have occurred. John may have been a predator, in the very human sense that he had some sort of created tool to predate with, but he was not a cruel one. He was aware that he had entered into a realm ruled by others, a land of untamed nature and unbridled instincts where animals, even those lower on the ladder such as deer, were king. In his own way John was an animal, surely, but when he used his efficiently manufactured gun, likely pieced together by robotic arms without even a mote of knowledge of their own existence, he did not feel so much like one.

John lifted the deer over his shoulder like it was nothing, and placed it down with a sort of reverential gentleness into the carriage his horse was pulling. It was a small wooden carriage that looked half a day away from splintering and becoming so many matchsticks, but despite the massive size of the horse pulling it and the weight of the deer placed into it, it remained steady as John hopped on and spurred his mare on. A flick of her chestnut ears was all John got back from her before she obediently began to plod on. John had nothing pushing him to be urgent, but he had an internal clock that ticked away loudly in situations where many others would find silence.

When John returned to his home he ran through the motions that he always did. He disconnected the cart from his mare. He took the harness off of his mare. He waved his hands in the air and yelled “Go on!” to spur his mare to go enjoy her day out in the fields. He took his deer to a table behind his cabin, deposited it, and began to skin it. Deft, efficient, strong movements were the mark of an experienced hunter, John thought, and furthermore a good one. He wasted no time, and no muscular energy, with his movements; each and every jerk of his hand, and thereby the knife, did exactly as he wanted it to and resulted in exactly the correct motions. The blank, stoic lines on John’s face did not change, but within his heart he enjoyed it. Not for the somewhat bridled manner of brutality which the act of skinning an animal had, but more for the efficient completion of the task at hand. There was a right and a wrong way to skin and the wrong way was slow, inefficient, wasteful. John would only do things the right way, and by no means was he going to let this task, which he dutifully performed each and every day as though some invisible deity was going to cane him if he didn’t, be carried out the wrong way.

The deer was not wasted, for over the next week John prepared every bit of the deer in as many ways as he knew, from simply cooking it to salting it to smoking it to drying it. John never fancied himself much of a chef, but he refused to waste food. The fur he used for clothing, the offal he used to attract predators around his home so that he could hunt them, the hooves he broke up and put into rattles that could, in the trained hand, be made to sound like the clashing of antlers between bucks, which attracted does. By the week’s end the deer, as nature made her, was entirely gone, and instead had been reconstituted into various different ways that John could make the best use of.

One violet evening John was gnawing on a particularly chewy piece of deer jerky—he must have left this one to dry for too long, an idea which gnawed on him in turn—and whittled a little fox out of some leftover wood as he did. A fire crackled, occasionally spewing out an especially loud pop as though it was desperate to spring some life into the otherwise silent cabin. Rain pattered the top of the house, not so strong to overwhelm the senses but instead as though some fey woodland creature was tip-toeing, ever so gently, across the beams of the cabin’s wooden roof. John was never particularly happy, as there was always something running around in his head to cause him some form of distress, but at least, under the cover of rain and with the company of a gentle fire, John was…calm.

Then the knife he was whittling with slid from the tip of the fox’s ear, across its half-shaped back, and straight into John’s right thumb.

It was no big deal, really. John had cut himself whittling before. His grandfather had taught him how to whittle, and the first rule of whittling John had been taught was that you always cut yourself. The sign of a good whittler, his grandfather said, was little scars all across their hands indicating where they had hurt themselves in the line of artistry.

But something about this time unnerved John. He was unnerved as he wrapped a bandage around his thumb, as he washed the back of his fox as it was looking a little redder than he intended it to, as he gazed between the fox and his knife and wondered if he should just give up the ghost for the night. He felt like he had wasted something. Time, maybe. Effort, perhaps? Will? Whatever it was, John felt as though he could see it floating away from him in tantalizing wisps, dissolving into the air like the smoke from his fire, waiting to be eaten up by the endless pound of the rain against the cabin.

It felt like the rain had picked up as John went to bed. Leaving his knife and the wooden red fox behind, he slid into bed and laid there unusually still. Trying to force himself to fall into a wary slumber, he counted sheep, thought of his happy place—which was what, exactly?—felt the feelings in his body all the way from the tip of his toes to the top of his head. None of it worked, and the rain picked up.

About two in the morning John’s brain finally forced itself to shut off, likely out of some self-preservation instinct that realized, should he continue labor in the anxious fields of his conscious mind any longer, he’d no longer have a mind to do so.

His sleep began uneasily, filled with the same sort of lurking anxiety and wary sense of imminent doom that had begun to plague John during his waking hours. What came, then, were things he had forced himself to forget. The sound of gunshots, pounding against the wall right beside his arm, blowing out pieces of usually powerful brick like so many pieces of glass shattering beneath the blow of an indifferent giant. The yelling, both furious, feverish shouting in different languages and also that of humans as they fell, bullets ripping flesh and life from them so that all they could do was cry out, in one last, almost defiant, expression of life. The heat rising from the ground and the guns and the people, so that the world seemed to waver with the heat and everything became one sickly swamp of distress and death that lingered in the senses long after its dissipation. Perhaps the worst of it all was that for the rest of the night this dreamland relentlessly attacked John’s mind, like a brutal warrior who was aware of their victory but unwilling to stop. 

The sun had just barely peeked over the horizon and was gently brushing its rays through John’s room, searching for something to wake, when John broke free from the chains of his dreams. Covered in sweat and wrapped in his sheets and blankets like he had formed himself a tight, dangerous trap, John desperately tried not to panic and threw himself off his bed. After convincing himself that he was still alive, he sat down onto the edge of his bed, despondency drawing the usually blank lines on his face into a masterpiece of despair. Everything had seemed fine. The days went on and on, and they were repetitive, and that was all John needed. Then all it took was that one slip of the knife and suddenly all of the life John had made, two years ago when he got rid of everything and moved out here seemed thin, empty, fake. It had broken, John realized as he looked around. The shadows cast across the walls of his bedroom seemed to be leering at him, reveling in the ways the blanket John had cast across his life was so violently ripped off. The rain was pounding away above, thick and powerful hits like blows against a body. Everything seemed evil, ready to leap out at John and rip away whatever lies he was keeping in his mind to validate why he was sitting out here, running on the same discipline he had his whole life and yet trying to distance himself from that same past.

John spent about half an hour sitting on the edge of his bed, wondering what to do. It occurred to him that, practically, nothing had changed; he could go back to hunting, whittling, living his life as he pleased as easily as he had the day before. But something about this house unnerved him, now. Though it was morning, the shadows clung to the walls like an angry fog, refusing to break no matter how much the rays of the sun attempted to force them away. The rain was still attacking the roof, each drop sounding more and more like a gunshot. Whenever John considered leaving his bedroom, his muscles tensed and his brain blanked, and when he gathered enough control over his mind again he found himself still sitting on the edge of the bed.

Then the phone rang.

This was not an event that was ever supposed to occur. John had gotten rid of every single piece of technology and connectivity that one could ever use to communicate with another. So much as a carrier pigeon would not find asylum in John’s home. And certainly not something as advanced as a phone would have been left after John cleared all technology out like a soldier clearing a home of enemies. So when a phone’s shrill cry echoed through the walls of John’s home, his muscles tensed so tightly it hurt and he eyed the closed door of his bedroom as though it were about to grow teeth and snap at him. The phone was not in his bedroom; it was mercifully not right in his ear, but instead filling the outside rooms with its scream.

The ring paused, during which John wound himself up even together, and then began anew, seemingly even louder than before.

“Enough!” John bellowed, leaping from his bed and storming through his bedroom door shoulder-first. Heart pounding in his ears, John skidded to a halt outside the doorway and glared furiously around the singular room of his cabin. The phone, wherever its demonic body hid, hissed in a sort of muffled way as though it was hidden behind something. Indeed, John, with his wide, sweeping glance in which he took in the whole room he’d lived in for two years in about seven seconds, saw nothing abnormal. No mobile phone lighting up like a beacon. No telephone squatting away, indifferent in its stoic cruelty. Everything appeared just as John had left it, old and analog and isolated.

It all seemed like a lie now.

“Where the hell is it?” John yelled, storming around the room and yanking drawers open, pulling cabinet doors off their hinges as he pulled them open with fear-driven force. Chairs were knocked over, lights overturned, and in general by the time John finished his scouring of the home he thought he knew, it looked nothing like the way it had been but a night ago. It looked as though the only thing taking up residence in the place was a tornado. 

And in the middle of the room stood the tornado himself, gazing around with the wide eyes of a cornered animal. The rings of the phone were endless, and every time they cried again, John felt his sanity slipping away, like drops of water through his fingers. He didn’t understand how the phone was so constantly ringing, or if any of it was actually real, or if anything was actually real. John felt his mind cracking with gaping wounds of doubt, as his entire world was shattering in such a way to make him question everything. This precious world, this home, this life—everything he had created felt like wind now, once holding the potential to be strong and forceful and useful, but now just empty breezes that would ruffle the hair or brush the skin but be nonexistent once one looked after it.

The phone rang again, and John dropped to his knees. He cradled his face in his hands, long-held tears flooding over and too becoming cradled in his hands. The ringing paused, as though it was taking a breath to rearm itself, and then began again. But this time, some part of its shrill scream seemed louder. It was still muffled, but out of John’s right ear there was a little more, a little stronger of a sound. It incited within John a mix of unadulterated loathing and hopeful excitement. Perhaps, John thought, if he could find that damned thing, he could smash it into a million little pieces and burn each and every one of them.

John scrambled to his feet and turned his head towards where the noise seemed to be coming from, eyes narrowed with fury. The ringing broke, then restarted again. John nodded to himself, prowling towards a somehow unscathed table of drawers on the far side of the cabin. The cabin, which hardly looked like a cabin anymore at this point save for the fact that it had four walls and a roof, sounded louder under his feet, and the walls seemed to creak and groan as the rain and winds picked up outside. John ignored it, though, as he continued towards the sound, which somehow seemed clearer—and as such even more loathful—than before. He reached the table of drawers and grasped it with exhausted claws, waiting for the ringing to call out again. Obediently, it did, and John could hear it disturbingly crystal clear. He grabbed the knob of the lowest drawer on the right and pulled it out. It shot out from the table like it had been fired out of a cannon, and John brought his gaze upon a mobile phone. A little black rectangle, currently not alight, sat there indifferently and evilly, like a void. John stared at it, eyes wide, and then he snapped it up in his hands and glared at it, fury and fear and confusion in his head. 

How had he missed this? How had it been silent all this time? And more importantly, how had he missed this? When he cleared every bit of connectivity out of his home when he moved in here, he had been like a drug dog scouring a backpack. He had been here for two whole years, living in isolation, without the slightest hint of technology or ability to connect with the outside world. Food, injuries, electricity; he had to deal with all of it himself, and that was just how he liked it. For the outside world, and all that he had spent his life in so far, had solidly confirmed to John that it was a cruel and vindictive beast, that sought only to cause the sort of quietly violent troubles that took their time before they truly ruined your life, like a predator taking its time prowling in the underbrush. The past, and all that came along with it, was something that John had carefully, efficiently, and precisely tossed away when he had come here, so for something so…small, to be able to so carefully, efficiently, and precisely unravel everything he had created was egregious. Loathfully, painfully, endlessly egregious.

John cradled the phone in his hands with an odd amount of gentleness, as though he did not wish to destroy the thing that had destroyed him for the sake of study. This little insidious—

BRRRRING!

Immediately, John slammed his hand holding the phone into the floor. The phone smashed into the floor, small pieces of glass flying outwards in a violent wreath. The ringing paused, and then began anew, inciting John to begin his smashing anew. But as he brought his hand up a third time to continue his assault on the phone that had assaulted him, he spotted a word on the front of the phone, which was lit up to allow him to answer. At first, answering was such a wildly wrong thing that the idea never even crossed John’s mind. But he saw the word, and, as though he were holding a small, fragile baby animal, brought the half-broken phone to his ear and swiped the button on the front.

“Johnny! I finally…a hold…you! Thank…you’re okay!” hissed the voice through the phone. It was stilted, foggy, and broken, a cause John may have played a rather large role in, but John recognized it as though its owner was standing right in front of him.

“Mother?”

February 11, 2023 02:24

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3 comments

Hope Linter
21:43 Feb 17, 2023

Good job exploring PTSD and some lovely phrasing.

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Wendy Kaminski
00:56 Feb 15, 2023

Intriguing tale with some beautiful phrasing, Macy! He clearly has some PTSD, and it's interesting to see how fragile his sanity is, when something as minor as a cut or the ringing of a phone can nearly send him over the brink. I will be thinking about this story for a while. Favorite line: "The sun had just barely peeked over the horizon and was gently brushing its rays through John’s room, searching for something to wake..." What was yours, if you had any? Thanks for the great story, and welcome to Reedsy!

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Macy Spencer
21:32 Feb 16, 2023

Thanks so much for the kind words! I do like to write phrases like that, giving nature human characteristics. I feel like it adds a lot to the description of an image. I'm not sure if it's a brag to say you like your own line, but I always liked "John had nothing pushing him to be urgent, but he had an internal clock that ticked away loudly in situations where many others would find silence." I always remember that old "Show, don't tell" adage, and form my characterization that way. Seems like it worked! Thanks for the comment!

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