Contest #84 shortlist ⭐️


Contemporary Fiction Sad

Waking up used to be a treat, having a big bed used to be my favorite thing about my bedroom. The vaulted ceilings, and spacious rooms used to be pleasing to look at it, and made my home feel safe. Now, staring up at those vaulted ceilings only made me feel alone, and that loneliness made me feel suffocated. I felt dead, and maybe I was. Maybe this was some purgatory I was stuck in, maybe the disease had gotten me and I had died without even realizing it. It was more likely that the purgatory was in my head, where I was trapped while my body ran on autopilot and shut out the world to cope with the loss of my friends, family, and wife. 

I turned my head to stare at my clock, it blinked 3:45 back at me. I must’ve fallen asleep for about an hour, just from pure exhaustion. Anxiety and fear had roused me from that shallow slumber, and it would be anxiety and fear that held me awake until 8:30. My daughter Diana had gotten sick with the disease not long after my wife Amanda had died. She was sick for months, fighting it back with prescription drugs and the willpower of a 7 year old girl too afraid to leave her mother behind. A couple days ago, I received a call, explaining that my daughter was okay. The disease had been flushed from her system, and it seemed the girl had built some immunity against it. They wanted to keep her until today for monitoring and a few tests.

I turned over, staring out the window and onto my balcony. Her toys still sat out there, wet from the rain of yesterday afternoon. I couldn’t bring myself to move them, I wanted everything to feel somewhat normal. Diana was all I had left, if she died, well...I don’t know what I would do. I sat up in bed, and tossed the blanket from my legs.The room was cold, cold and silent, save for my whimpered breath as I cried.

My mother had been first to go, and my father a month after. My sister died from it a few weeks before my wife did, and then my brother a couple days after her. My only friend, someone I had met at work, died a few days ago. Her funeral was in a week. Mom’s funeral was the first I ever went to, and then I attended four more. My friend was to be my fifth, and I was desperately clinging to the promise of Diana’s immunity so that I did not have to suffer the emotional turmoil of a sixth. I guess, in some sense, at least I lived longer than my parents did. I can’t imagine how they would cope with losing their only daughter, I can’t imagine how they coped with the fear of it. The spine crawling anxiety as I watched them carry her away, or when she stepped outside my front door. It was stronger than any fear I ever felt, knocking out that fear of heights and the dark, and sitting itself atop my shoulders and lurking behind my ear. 

She’ll die...she’ll die like they all died. You’ll be alone, you’ll lose her. You’ll show up at the hospital, and she will have died. They’ll call you to tell you she faced a problem in the night and died. You’ll get home, and she’ll get sick, and die. Then there won’t be anything left for you….The shadow of fear whispered in my ear, parroting the same speech over and over again. I choked on the air around me, a loud whimper escaping my throat right before I struggled to keep myself from suffocating. Tears streamed down my cheeks, dripping onto my pants to leave a wet patch. My heart was racing, and vision was blurred and fading. 

I gasped again and a rush of air filled my lungs, and oygenated my blood. My head felt light, but my vision was returning. She’ll be fine...I told myself over and over again, taking in deep breaths to calm myself down. After a moment or two, the shadow of fear retreated back into a murmur, though tears still fell down my face. I climbed out of bed, and went to my bathroom for a bath. 

I stayed in the bath until the water was cold, until my skin was pruny, and until I could see a faint glimmer of light from my bedroom. It was 6:15 when I got out, and pulled on a mahogany sweater and some beige sweatpants. Being awake so early, hearing the quiet hum of my AC, and watching my clock blink 6:19 reminded me of when I was in high school. Waking up before the birds did, before my parents did, to attend a school and learn about something I’d never remember, and never need. I remembered being a freshman, and defending the drag of the day. The exhaustion of being a sophomore, and the defeated feeling of being a junior and a senior. Life was so dull then, so repeated and methodical. As I pulled my hair into a bun, it felt like that again; repetitive. 

It wasn’t like that though, life was so different now that the world was struck with a disease. It killed 4 billion people, the survival rate at a low 27%. Life was so different, so off course from what I had planned that the idea of dullness felt like a dream. Still, here I was, sighing as I scooped coffee grounds into my coffee maker, and opened my fridge for milk. It’s strange how even in the most grim of times, something so insignificant as pouring a bowl of cereal still happens. People still eat breakfast when their families are dying. 

I finished my breakfast at 6:40, and finished washing the dishes I dirtied at 6:44. Time was moving so slow to me, dragging its feet like it knew it had my full attention. I climbed onto my couch, laying across it to make up for its spacious feel. I clicked the TV on with my remote and pulled up Netflix. I spent about ten minutes flipping through shows and movies before settling on a comedy and sinking into my couch. My eyes drifted closed, and I fell asleep. 

The ringing of my phone woke me up, and I hurried to sit up and grab it. The time at the corner of my screen read as 8:40. The contact told me it was from the hospital, so I swiped on the little green phone symbol and put the device to my ear. 

“Mrs. Roberts?” My doctor, Dr. Bose asked. 

“Yes, it’s Mrs. Roberts. I’m so sorry, I fell asleep-” 

“Perfectly fine. I just wanted to be sure you hadn’t forgotten she was going home today.” 

“Of course not! I’ve been...well- is she alright?” 

“Just fine, still a little pale, but recovering. We’ll discuss when you arrive, you understand.” 

“Right. Okay, tell her I’m on my way.” 

“Alright, see you soon then, Mrs. Roberts.” And the phone clicked. I sighed, and climbed off of my couch. I threw on my jacket, and pulled the door open. 

She’s alright.

March 11, 2021 20:11

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Michael Boquet
16:46 Mar 19, 2021

I think one of the marks of a good short story is that it elicits emotion from the reader. Yours certainly did just that. I was sad and anxious throughout yet was enraptured and wanted to keep reading. Was very glad for the happy ending! Congratulations on being short-listed!


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17:23 Apr 06, 2021

Nice work. I was a little confused without knowing the gender of the narrator, since it said the child fought not to leave her mother, but it was quickly straightened out. I prefer more of a story arc, this seemed like a scene without much of a climax...? But the writing was solid and the emotions were great. I love all the mention of time. Congrats on the shortlist!


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