Be bold. Be brave. Be unafraid.
Don't dream your life. Live your dream.
It's not about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself.
Donovan had these sayings and more plastered all around his house, office, and even his Toyota Corolla's bumper. That's where the habit formed. He'd accidentally backed into a light pole, scuffing the plastic and paint. He didn't want to turn the damage into his insurance for fear they would raise his rates. Later that day, he saw his first life quotes sticker at a convenience store and decided it was the perfect size to disguise the damage. That one purchase changed his whole life trajectory. It seemed everywhere he went after that, some life message would pop up, for instance, on a t-shirt or even a polished rock. He became a sucker for life quotes. Then he started internalizing their messages. It became his mission to put his life's path in a positive trajectory, one saying at a time.
He woke up at 4 am every morning and meditated for thirty minutes. It's the best time to capture those Alpha, Beta, Theta, and whatever waves for an optimal experience. Then he'd do thirty minutes of yoga, dry brush his body, shower only in cold water, and consume a green smoothie, all before heading to his nine-to-five desk job as an accountant. He followed all the rules of the self-help gurus and tried to avoid hustle culture. In fact, he tried to avoid as much conflict as possible to easily maintain his positive attitude and 'not lower his vibration.'
"Hey, Dono, did you hear about Christine?" Brian, the I.T. guy, asked.
"No. What happened?"
"She was killed last night! Shot walking to her car from the liquor store on Grand. Cops think it's a random act of violence. Drive by shooting. But that's a great neighborhood. Safe. Or at least it was," Brian groaned. "I don't know what's happening to this world. It's getting more violent every day. That's the third shooting in as many weeks. I think it's a serial killer. Same M.O. every time. I don't care what the cops say."
Donovan pulled at the collar of his button-down dress shirt and blew out a puff of air. This was precisely the type of conversation he tried to avoid. He could feel his vibration lowering just from Brian's proximity.
"Say, don't you drive a Toyota Corolla?" Brian questioned.
"Well, so did Christine. In fact, I think the other two victims drove Corollas too. I'd be careful if I were you."
Sweat broke out on Donovan's forehead, and his breath became shallow. "Is it hot in here today?" he asked Brian.
"I don't think so. But I can't keep up with the weather anymore. Damn global warming. One day it's the hottest day on record, and the next, the coldest. I keep three different jackets in the trunk of my car just to be prepared."
Donovan swallowed hard. "I...I'll be right back," he stammered, getting up too quick from his chair and knocking it back to the point it nearly tipped over.
"You okay, man? You don't look so well," Brian observed.
"Yeah. My stomach. Must have added too much kale to my smoothie this morning," Donovan stammered before rushing to the bathroom.
"T.M.I., man!" Brian shouted after him.
Donovan splashed cold water on his face, expecting to blot it dry with those scratchy brown paper hand towels that always chaffed his skin when he remembered the company had recently replaced them with fancy hand dryers that used less energy and reduced waste to shrink their carbon footprint. That made him think about Brian's global warming comment and then his news about Christine and a possible serial killer targeting Toyota Corolla drivers. A ringing started in his ears, and a heat spread through his body, making him wobble enough that he had to grip the edge of the sink counter to steady himself.
"Get it together, Donovan," he coached himself while fixing his gaze on his reflection. "Box breathing. Ready! In for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four..." he chanted in his mind as he watched his reflection's chest rise and fall.
"Hey, Dono," his co-worker Tim greeted as he entered the men's room. "You okay? You look a little pale," he commented, slapping Donovan on the back.
Donovan looked closer at his reflection. His face did look ashen, and he noticed the tendons on his neck standing out. He was also blinking more rapidly than he usually did.
"I...I just heard about Christine. Did you hear about Christine? Was she driving a Corolla?"
Tim whistled and shook his head from side to side. "Damn shame about Christine. She was an excellent saleswoman. And a fox. A real MILF. I feel so bad for her family. She had two kids. Teenagers. And you know what? I think you're right. I think she was driving a Corolla. She'd gotten into an accident with her BMW, so she had to drive her kid's car until it got out of the shop. Why do you ask?"
Donovan lowered his voice to a whisper. "Se...Serial killer?" he choked out. "I heard that it might be a serial killer doing this? Targeting people driving a certain type of car."
"I hadn't heard that myself," Tim edged, "But a few years back, there was some lunatic in Phoenix shooting cars on the freeway. Killed half a dozen or more. So I wouldn't be surprised. I keep saying that this world is going to hell in a handbasket!" Tim shook his head in disappointment and slapped Donovan on the back again. "Nature calls, dude. But, hey. Maybe you should head home. Seriously, I can smell you from here. And you have sweat marks under your arms. You must have a fever. Jesus. I hope you don't have Covid. You don't have Covid, do you, Dono?" Tim wiped the hand he'd touched Donovan with on his pants. "We don't need that sweeping through our office. Half of our staff are high-riskers with some chronic illness. You don't want to be patient zero."
Donovan's stomach made a loud noise as it roiled with unease. Did he have Covid, he thought to himself? He always washed his hands for the recommended twenty seconds, and he hadn't been around anyone who was sick. But it was hard to tell anymore which was which when it came to symptoms. Was it the common cold, the flu, or worse? "No, I...I don't think it's Covid, Tim. I think it was something in my smoothie. Too much kale. But I should probably go home."
"Yeah, you should, buddy. Go take a shower. Rest up. And hey, be careful out there. You drive a Corolla, don't you?"
Donovan swallowed a lump in his throat as he rushed out the door and back to his desk. Grabbing his belongings, he practically ran to the bank of elevators to reach his car. His shaking hand made him fumble his key fob while unlocking the door. As he slid into his seat, he felt a crawling sensation up his neck leading him to whip his head around in all directions to ensure no one was watching him. Looking down at his cup holder, he saw his coffee thermos.
Don't worry. Be happy!
He took a deep breath and sighed. "Pull yourself together, Donovan! The only thing you have to fear is fear. You are bringing yourself down." And with that, he headed home.
Safe in his spacious townhome, he ran through his morning routine again, minus the smoothie. "Maybe I missed a step, and it threw everything off this morning," he rationalized his earlier behavior. "Maybe I need some tea and a nap. Gran always said everything looks better after a little rest," he rallied, talking to himself as if he were his own life coach.
Bang! Rumble. Bang!
Donovan woke with a start. His heart raced so fast it made his chest hurt. He looked around and noticed the room was in complete darkness, which was strange because he always had some light, whether from the streetlamps outside his windows or from his electronics that gave off a comforting ambient glow, but there was nothing.
Bang! Rumble. Bang!
The noise came again. This time, fully awake, Donovan recognized the sound. A thunderstorm? It was an odd time of the year for a storm of its kind, but with the weather being so crazy lately, it was hard to predict what was normal anymore. He reasoned his street must have lost power.
Looking for his phone to check the weather radar, he heard the distant sounds of sirens and dismissed it as the background noise of living in the city.
His phone was dead. "Great! Why didn't I plug it in earlier?" he sighed, chastising himself. Setting the phone back down, he peered out the sheer curtains of his bedroom window and saw no raindrops on the pane or noticeable dampness on the sidewalk below. Looking up towards the sky, he swore he recognized the Big Dipper.
"The whole city must be without power if I can see stars," he said to himself. "So then, what was that sound?" Grabbing his coat, he wandered onto his covered porch to see if he could tell what might be happening or if any of his neighbors were outside. Perhaps the lack of power was limited to a single section of the city, or he was even mistaken about observing the nighttime sky.
The street was eerily indistinct, without even a flicker of light. Leaning out passed the porch roof, Donovan gazed upwards and confirmed it was a cloudless night, and the sky was teaming with stars. Then, something moved on the sidewalk to his left. More than one thing. It was a small group of people dressed in dark clothing, running either from something or towards something. He couldn't be sure. Uneasy, he snuck back inside, peeking through the crack of his front door to witness what might happen next.
Crash. Scream. Silence.
Donovan inhaled sharply. Was someone hurt? What should he do?
Bang. Bang. Bang.
"Those were gunshots!" he cried, leaving the door and running for his phone before remembering it was dead. "Shit! What do I do?" he lamented, running his hands through his hair and pacing around his room.
Creak. Tap. Creak.
He stopped pacing and held his breath.
Tap. Creak. Tap.
Those were his wood floors. Someone was in his house! Like an idiot, he had left the door open. "Damn it!" he mouthed before stuffing his fist between his teeth to prevent him from making any further noise.
Muscles tense, he quickly ran through options in his head. One, he could find a weapon and confront the intruder or intruders. But if they had guns like he believed they did, that would be a deadly choice. Two, he could hide somewhere and hope they were just here for valuables. Three, he could run. A back entrance led out through the small backyard to his detached garage. He could take refuge there or get in his car and go.
Bang. Rattle. Scrap.
Someone was definitely going through his house. Stuffing his hands into his coat pockets to keep them from shaking, he found his keys. Decision made, he crept from his room and slid out the backdoor. Tripping down the stairs, he paused briefly, hand on the doorknob that led outside, to listen for any potential pursuers. Then he ran. He had never run so fast in all his life. And he didn't make a sound because when he reached his garage, Donovan realized he wasn't wearing any shoes.
Whoop. Nee-Naw. Nee-Naw.
Sirens. Lights. Red and Blue ones flashed off the buildings down the alleyway. A white spotlight swung from side to side.
Donovan jumped out and waved his arms.
"Sir. Move away from the vehicle and keep your arms up," a voice called from the P.A. Speaker. "There is a mandatory curfew. Please return to your home or risk arrest."
"But...but," Donovan waved his arms again and did a little dance. "Help! Someone's inside my house!" he yelled, pointing towards the direction he just ran from.
The car stopped abruptly, and two uniformed officers folded out.
"Sir. I just told you to return to your home. What is your problem?" one of the officers growled, placing a hand on his weapon.
"There's someone in there. Before that, I heard gunshots across the street! What is happening? Why is the power out?"
"You live here?" the other officer asked.
"Yes. I woke up from a nap and realized I had no electricity. Then there were gunshots, and I heard footsteps, so I ran. What is happening?"
"Show me some I.D."
Donovan whined. "I don't have any on me. I just told you that I ran when I heard someone in my house. I don't even have my shoes!"
"Sir, turn around and place your hands on the side of this building."
"But...But. This is my house! And someone is inside. Someone across the street has been shot! I heard screams! What is going on?"
"Do you have any weapons or sharp objects on you?"
"No," Donovan replied as the officer kicked his legs wide apart so that he was in starfish pose against the side of his garage. As he was pat down, he remembered something. "Wait! My keys. In my left pocket. It has a small can of mace on the chain."
The officer removed the keys from his pocket and threw them to the ground to continue his search.
Squawk. Squelch. Hiss.
"Hey, Tony. Did you catch that? We have to go. Bigger fish to fry."
"Yeah, I did," he called to his partner. "Seems like your lucky night, pal. Do us a favor and get inside, somewhere, anywhere. The substation outside of town was targeted by some domestic terrorist group. Shot it up with AKs and grenades. Word is, power will be out for days. The mayor has instituted a mandatory curfew for any non-essential workers as soon as the sun sets. The FBI, ATF, and Homeland are all converging there as we speak. It's a real shitshow. Keep your head down and stay out of trouble, you hear?"
Donovan swallowed audibly. "But what about the people in my townhouse? Wh...What should I do?"
"Probably just looters. This your garage?"
Donovan nodded in affirmation.
"Get into your garage and stay there for as long as possible. Looters typically don't linger. But you can never know for sure. Stuff can be replaced. Lives can't."
"Tony! Let's go!"
"Th...Thank you, officers," Donovan stammered as he grabbed his keys from the ground and moved to unlock the garage side door as quickly as he could before the light from the police cruiser receded and sank everything back into the shadows. Slamming the door behind him, he let out a shaky breath and leaned against it for support.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
A noise came from somewhere inside the garage. Donovan whimpered, unable to see his outstretched hands in front of him. He knew his car was close to where he stood, being built for a single vehicle. All he had to do was lean forward and open one of the doors. The interior lights would flicker to life, giving the confined space the gift of sight. Instead, he closed his eyes, began his box breathing technique again, and thought back to the start of his day.
Every morning before his meditation, an inspirational quote popped up as a suggested intention for the session. That morning's message was, "Remember why you started."
Donovan's stomach twisted as he considered why he had started this self-care journey. It did start with the fender bender and the bumper sticker. But the cause of the accident was the true trigger, and he'd promised himself he wouldn't go there ever again. Except all through the meditation, his thoughts became darker and more out of control. His whole routine was thrown off. He fell during his favorite Crow Pose. The shower water couldn't get cold enough. He put too much kale in his smoothie. And then that damned Elvis poster in his garage. "Do Something Worth Remembering" stirred all those feelings he'd tried locking away for the last six months.
All the way to work, he white-knuckled the steering wheel. If he could just get to his desk, open a spreadsheet and look at some numbers, he'd be okay. Then at the last turn into his building, he caught the red light. A lone man was standing on the same corner, waiting for the walk sign. At first, Donovan didn't pay much attention to him. It was a big city. People were everywhere. They became uninteresting blurs, background noise, to his daily grind. But the man was wearing a neon green hoodie, the kind of green popular in the '80s. An elaborate mandala decal caught Donovan's eye. Then he saw the phrase, "It is during our darkest moments that we must focus on the light," written underneath.
Twenty minutes later, Donovan sat at his desk, irritated that he was now late for work. Wiggling his mouse, his computer came to life with his screen saver taunting him. "Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow."
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Before he laid down for his nap earlier, he'd sworn he'd make things right when he woke up. He had made a terrible mistake. But the power outage was a sign, wasn't it?
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Feeling his way around the car, he popped the trunk. The interior light temporarily blinded them both.
"Good things take time," he whispered before a muffled scream sank into the black night.
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Whoa, Kt, did not see that coming! Very nice! Loved the whole story, extremely interesting plot and forward-moving action. Loved this as an address to the prompt: I think the non-explained scenarios throughout really added to the confusion as would a blackout in reality. Excellent!
Thanks, Wendy! Happy you enjoyed it. A little darker than I set out to write, but the citywide blackout negatively influenced me! 😆
Kt, Very cool story. Donovan is a bit of a mixed bag. He cons even the best of them. His jitteriness is understandable once we get to the end of the story and figure out what the thump, thump, thump is. Interesting that the police stop and frisk him, and he plays the part so well. Such an eerie feeling at the end. Unsettling. Thanks for the good read. LF6
Thanks Lily! I was hoping to make it a nice twist! You never know what your co-worker could be up to! Haha. Especially the quiet, devoted ones. 😜
That's for sure! Great job. LF6