Contest #172 shortlist ⭐️


Fiction Horror Sad

He had no emotional modulation. He just accepted and believed any thought that came into his mind, and his heart would react as if it were true. The thoughts weren’t intentional, weren’t chosen, weren’t thoughtful, but subconscious little blips that popped up and ran along animal neural circuitry long-established that said – you are under threat. He was afraid all the time, but men like him weren’t given room to be afraid, so he got angry, and tried to control and manipulate every variable to predict outcomes, to keep himself safe. Yet of course when things didn’t go to plan, as they never did, as some unforeseen factor made itself known or an errant detail came into play, he had no defense. He would rage and resist and try to fight his way free of the circumstance, to force it to change, to yell until somebody did something.

You’re going to die, is what his brain told him, was the constant thought running in the back of his mind. He tried to distract himself from it, and violently opposed any disruption of his comfort that would seem, however minutely, likely to align with that thought. It never occurred to him that it was true anyway. He would die, and that it didn’t mean anything had gone wrong, or anyone was to blame. He didn’t see the others carrying that same thought, merely bearing the weight of it, and not actually trying to hasten his demise, as his other thoughts insisted, in any way.

The problem was his gaze was like sunshine in a rainstorm. He broke through the dark clouds that hung over others and lit them up like a technicolor rainbow. He made a person feel real, seen, as if in everything before and everything after they were just standing still in a stage play, waiting for the spotlight to cue them once again into motion. He made all that was life alive in his aggressive living of it, the gripping, heaving, sucking, exulting of every glimmer from every moment to push back that Stranger who lurked over his shoulder. Like adrenaline his company made all time without him feel depleted and exhausted of all spark. They would fall in love with him, everyone he met, if only for a moment, when the simmer of his hot and steely gaze would fall on them. And he would be happy for a moment when he saw the adoration reflected back from their eyes, like plants turning toward the nurturing sky. But something, always something, would happen, unexpected, and the thought would occur that they were somehow aligned with his invisible tormentor, and the pain would unmend him. Once the thought took hold, it was easy to marshal the evidence he told himself he’d previously overlooked. In the violence that ensued, cruel words or cold silences, tearing away his vital radiance, leaving them again in shadow, unseen, forgotten, he would find himself alone once more with the Specter and that singular terrible certainty in his mind: You are going to die.

How did anyone go on this way? With Damocles’ damnation hovering over the cervical spine just waiting for one once-thought friend to miss-step and press. He was screaming inside constantly. Only once had he ventured in and discovered a deep well. He climbed down into it, and at the bottom, encircled by smooth stone dripping with water, crouched on the muddy bottom that would sometimes slowly flood, there he found someone, close in age to himself, unkempt and in ragged clothes. The creature cowered, arms up, protecting its head, but the well was narrow and their legs nearly touched. He spoke to it, tried to ask some question of how it got there, but it started to scream, long and unending, scream with rage and pain and fear.

He got himself out. Barely, he thought. As he climbed, he looked back and saw the horrible broken thing reaching its clawed hands after and staring up at him with his own face. He never went in again. When at times the screaming became too loud, he would pour drinks down his throat to fill the well, until the other self would fall silent. He sometimes had a glimpse then of that piece of himself submerged with only his nose stretched up above the waterline, and tears seeping from the corners of his eyes, adding slowly to its chilling volume. At least, he would tell himself, before slipping into a stupor that was not-sleep and so safe from the fiend he fled, at least the fellow was finally quiet.

He hated it. Hated that the well existed, hated that someone was trapped down there, hated the agony that crippled him when he heard the screams, hated that he could not reach the man, help him out, and neither could he finally, once and for all, drown him. He hated most that it was some part of himself.

No one must know, he decided. The trouble was the creature would step into his body, take him over, sometimes when the shadow would cast a chill over him because something had fallen out of plan, and he suddenly felt he had no control, no defense, no protection against the consuming darkness.

He would fight, battle against whatever had set the creature free, and also against the thing itself. It hated its prison. It hated him. But he could not let it go free, to wreak destruction on everything in his life, every piece in precarious balance. Sometimes the others would put things back in order, sometimes he could force things into place. Sometimes he would see the light fade and they would turn gray and become shadow things, lost to him. He saw some still, now and again, whom he’d once loved, moving in a faded and colorless place, separate from him, those he blamed the creature for taking from him, or whom he blamed for releasing the thing instead of doing what he knew they must to keep it contained. To keep them all safe.

When he closed his eyes all he saw was Death’s dark cowl, and when he opened them, everything was dimmed by the shadow of a scythe.

November 17, 2022 00:26

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Philip Ebuluofor
07:12 Nov 28, 2022

Had you been reading only? I have come across the name Kiyomi many times before. Congrats and welcome to the show.


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Marilyn Filewood
05:37 Nov 24, 2022

Incredible description of mental torment, very vivid. You were nominated by the Critique Circle for me to comment - can I just say I had some difficulty relating it to the prompt - although I can see a lack of logic, feelings overcoming reason. Reason would not permit a person to be so fragile - is that the connection? There is some beautiful writing!


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Eileen Turner
01:15 Nov 23, 2022

You've painted such a picture of emotional torment, of a fractured person, a person unable to resolve his past and move on. That he 'hated that he couldn't help him out...or finally drown him' - - lots of insight.


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