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Contemporary Drama Fiction

It begins to snow again. Colin heaves piles of wood into the room and sits before the fire while drinking coffee. He turns off all the lights and sits in darkness for five minutes or more, not knowing if his eyes are open or closed. 

Colin feels his way back into the bedroom, lights a small kerosene lamp on an adjacent nightstand, and takes it with him to climb up the attic ladder. He spits curses and grunts as he slowly rotates the handle of a pulley bearing her weight. 

She descends the length of the ladder until her toes touch the floor. He latches the crank and takes the lamp to meet her at the bottom. 

Setting the lamp at the base of the bedroom door frame, he loosens the rope from beneath her chest. She falls with an audible thud while he stands over her and stares into her cloudy eyes. 

“Cold night,” he says. 

It is. 

Colin drags her into the next room and lays her before the hearth. He stacks more wood into the fire and sifts the splintering logs with a blow poke. 

“Damn, Camilla. You must be freezing.” 

No more than yesterday. 

— 

Colin knows this will be the first and last time he comes without her. 

He drunkenly ponders the wide shale steps of the cathedral with meticulousness. The crest of the bone-colored moon rides in the dark void of space beyond the steeple. A hunchbacked man wobbles about the perimeter, teetering along the wall like a mechanical duck in a carnival. 

Colin enters the vestibule and pauses by a glimmering bowl filled with sacred water. He stands in the open door without a hand to hold and goes down the long gray-tiled isle with acute caution. There’s a stale taste of incense that lingers in the air. 

He recalls the days spent in the cathedral on his knees as a penitent dreamer lost in a vacuous sea of unatoned sin. Colin looks up to a seashell vestibule where a high God lies dormant in a polished and ornate cup from which he can never drink again. 

— 

Colin shifts her from side to side every ten minutes and drinks his coffee. An hour passes, and her body loosens enough to undress her. He drags her by the wrists to the bedroom, hoists her onto the tattered mattress, moves the lamplight back to the nightstand, and removes her floral dress. 

She lays naked beside the dancing flame, her pale breasts flaccid and still like pooled wax. Colin dresses her and goes through her hair with a brush. He paints her lips cherry red and arranges her in the perfect position. Opening a drawer with scattered polaroids and a camera, he snaps several photos and sets them to the side. 

He opens another dresser drawer containing a single sharpie marker. At the bottom of each photo, Colin jots Camilla on January 12, 2022, takes down the pictures on the wall from the previous day, places them in the drawer beneath the camera, and then tacks up the new ones. 

He sits and admires them. 

“Beautiful, darlin’.” 

He lies and holds her and stares into her wide colorless eyes. Colin pets her head and sighs. He glances back at the photos on the wall. 

“Purty  as the day we met.” 

Looking back at her, he traces his fingers over her body. 

“Time we got some rest.” 

Once again, he methodically undresses her and then strips his overalls. He lies with his head cocked to the side and stares at her still frame. 

“I’ll love you forever.” 

I know you will.

Colin closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, sleeps for a couple of hours, and rises to drag her into the living room. 

Camilla’s flesh stretches over brittle marrow and bone when her arms drop. He builds another fire and sits cross-legged before her. 

Colin, it’s time to say goodbye. 

A lump forms in his throat, and his tear ducts flow. 

“Just don’t want to.” 

We can’t stay here. 

“We made it fine so far.” 

We can’t. 

“I know.” 

Colin lies beside her in front of the hearth, regards the musk of decay and embalming fluid, and understands it to be neither life nor death. He studies her with blurred vision and sees the dark cavity of her face as an open mouth. 

“What went wrong?” 

You know. 

— 

Colin eases himself into the first pew and sits. Besides his knee, on the back of the pew are mounted brass brackets with torn books. There are long, worn leather knee benches at his feet where he kneels with ambivalence. He glances about at gaudy altars that rise like gothic plateaus painted with ornaments of carbon marble. 

Arching steeples ascend with cobalt angels beneath the pinnacle of a jaundiced Christ. God agonizes beneath a plastered thorn crown with nailed palms. A speared anemic belly juts beneath sharp ribs. His limbs sag above chipped flesh-colored fastened feet. 

Colin gazes numbly into the spectacle. A confessional booth opens for his turn, and he abruptly rises to leave without consideration of truth or peril. 

— 

It happens like it did the first time, but now he sees. 

Panic washes over him. His arms crawl towards her like a serpent, and he places his hands around her throat. His eyes are slow and wide as he focuses on her expressionless face. 

“Why, Camilla? Why can’t we go back?” 

Certain things can’t be undone. 

Colin’s pink tongue catches between tiny gray jagged and cracked teeth. His jaw tightens, and he begins to bleed as the bitten-off rosebud dribbles down his chin. He loosens his grip, and her head lulls out of his clasped hands. 

Gouts of blood and saliva rush from his lips. 

Just let me go. 

Colin rises, and his body sways dizzily in the shadows of the firelight. He goes out of the room. Doors open and close. He grabs the Polaroids from the bedroom along with the kerosene lamp. He makes his way to the back porch and picks up a gas can. 

Colin regards the home sitting like a lonely beacon. Amongst the dark, the trees are black and depthless, and the moon’s light seems to burn the horizon above so bright it pulses with the beat of his heart. He moves swiftly without faltering. He drops the photographs beneath the doorsill awning, dumps the gasoline over them, and trails into the bedroom and the house. He outlines Camilla’s body and then goes outside to pull the glass casing from the lamp. Colin kicks the light. When the photographs begin to burn with a thin blue flame, he goes back inside and sits in front of Camilla. 

The fire leaps and dances around him like something he had summoned from maleficent invocation. His eyebrows and lashes begin to sear, and he feels his skin and hair melt. Camilla watches him calmly through the smoke, her glass eyes orange with refracting fire. 

God, just…

He weeps. 

Let me go. 

Colin covers his face with his hands and falls to the floor beside her.

July 16, 2022 22:24

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37 comments

Michał Przywara
23:13 Jul 16, 2022

This is quite intense and dark. It's both about letting go, and not being able to. The opening is moody, and as soon as he starts pullying "her" down, we know something unusual is going on. I like the imagery in this story, particularly the church and the "Arching steeples ascend with cobalt angels beneath the pinnacle of a jaundiced Christ." He leaves before his turn at confession. Does he see himself as unworthy? Or is he disillusioned? Perhaps both. I don't know how long he's maintained this ritual at home, but it sounds like a while. ...

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Dustin Gillham
00:00 Jul 17, 2022

Thank you for reading and commenting, Michal! Colin has lost the ability to decipher between his obsession to not face her death and his culpability as the one that took her life. The story, in many ways, is meant to invoke more questions by the reader than the answers hidden in the dilemma of the text. Something snaps in his attempt to return to the cathedral without her. The macabre ritual he has embraced as a replacement for whatever love or affection he may have felt for her parallels the one in church, and, in many ways, he is...

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Mike Panasitti
01:08 Jul 17, 2022

Dustin, I appreciate your reflections on this story. Do you contemplate the existential themes you explore in your stories before writing them, or do they spontaneously emerge while you write? As a beginner, I'd like to address philosophical matters, but when this goal takes center stage, my narration suffers. Any recommendations you can offer to make philosophy and literary practice flow in unison?

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Dustin Gillham
03:28 Jul 17, 2022

Hey Mike, I appreciate your question because I think a lot of it comes from the "things" we can't really explain but often ponder. "Just Let Me Go" originally began in the cathedral, and 500 words in, I was bored. From the bones of this idea came a greater question of not only being unable to accept death but being unwilling to confront the truth of death and, in this case, the murder of someone that had been loved. I'm a very moody writer, so what starts out as simple can most often become diluted with complexity and vice-versa. ...

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Mike Panasitti
12:27 Jul 17, 2022

Thanks for both illuminating your particular approach to the writing process and the words of encouragement.

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Tommy Goround
21:11 Aug 24, 2022

This is very thoughtful.

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Caroline Smith
23:59 Jul 24, 2022

This was such an intriguing, moody, and dark (in a good way) story. The way you describe the dead body is never grotesque or over-the-top. To have such a thorough routine with a corpse is so unsettling and yet we can feel how lonely and bereft Colin is without Camilla, and in a way we can sympathize even if what he's doing seems unhinged. I think you also did a great job with the cathedral section, making it clear that something about this scene brings deep unease to Colin but not outright telling the reader exactly what the answer is. Loved...

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Dustin Gillham
04:26 Jul 25, 2022

Caroline, I am grateful that it did not cross the line of "too much" for the reader. I had to be very careful about this when writing. Making Colin a sympathetic character was a challenge. It may have easily gone the other way. In many ways, it was a very philosophical piece, so I was hoping to match the atmospheric elements with the narrative in a way that was unsettling yet palpable. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I hope to hear more from you in the future. Blessings.

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Donna Kennedy
12:44 Jul 22, 2022

Wow. Just Wow. Sad and creepy and decidedly sick; has Colin always been this twisted? Did he kill Camilla? I am assuming he did. Maybe his love was unrequited, maybe she loved him once and it faded. I don't know who to feel worse for, Camilla or Colin. Love your descriptions. The bone-colored moon struck me. The stale taste of incense stood out.

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Dustin Gillham
18:20 Jul 22, 2022

Thank you, Donna. I had a million ideas as to why Colin killed her. I did not want to make him into a sick villain. I'm glad you sympathized with both characters because that was my intent.

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Dani Camporeale
06:17 Jul 18, 2022

This is really good, dustin. I also have several short stories about murder, which seems to be my forte - f*cked up characters - rather than the story I have on this site, which isn't even fiction, really lol. But I like your style, your choice of words, the way it flows. You don't use excessive words, which I like. Well written, dark, sad, and again, a good read. Have you ever read Nick Cave's fiction? You might want to check it out.

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Dustin Gillham
17:27 Jul 18, 2022

Hey, Dani. Thank you for the compliment. I’ll have to check out more Nick Cave. Weird characters make a great story. I recall reading a parts of a book years ago by him and I remember it to be very entertaining. I’ll have to see some of his newer work because it has been a while. All the best to you, my friend.

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14:22 Jul 17, 2022

I read this story a couple of times. It was clear, but I just wanted to make sure I was not missing anything, as it was intense and meaningful. I did speculate about how she died. I did go back and forth about whether he actually died at the end of the story. I am sure that was your intention -- of course.

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Dustin Gillham
19:15 Jul 17, 2022

Ellison! I’m honored you took such time to read and think about it. I left it that way on purpose because I felt that I wanted it to make the reader think a lot. With that said, I realize wrapping it up so abruptly may have been even more unsettling, especially given how gritty I wrote this. In a longer version I could have gone so many ways with it…. Let me step out on a creative limb here as I’m commenting: Colin was a faithful husband. Camilla was a good wife, but had an affair with someone in the church. Colin finds out who it ...

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Michael Danyluk
04:01 Jul 17, 2022

If I could give a few criticisms, I didn't really like the whole going back and forth to the cathedral (I guess he's confessing?) kinda seemed outta place. I think this story would've done well from the first person point of view because then you could've built it up that she was a living person, and then the grand reveal would've been that she'd been dead all along (I know it's been done before, but I think that's a good approach to a story like this). Overall, it's pretty good. It didn't go too long, and it wasn't overly detailed. One of...

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Dustin Gillham
04:12 Jul 17, 2022

I think that’s a really good criticism and point, Michael. I am grateful you took the time to share. This ended up being a Pandora’s box for me. There were so many directions I could have taken it. I understand the abruption of the change in scene and setting. This is one I could go back to and shape. Thank you again for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Michael Danyluk
16:46 Jul 17, 2022

At least your trying different things. It was a good read, I enjoyed it. You have a great weekend too.

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08:22 Aug 01, 2022

A fine masterpiece indeed with a great command of the language.

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15:10 Jul 28, 2022

Moody and melancholy, my favorite :) I like Colin's grasp on his reality. Very calculated with his rituals and yet resigned to what he knows will be the final gesture of his existence. It didn't feel rushed or fake or forced. Super natural flow and excellent ending. He gave himself into it and it worked. Not sure if it really met the prompt though as his character doesn't seem to arc or change in any way for me. It feels as though his end was always going to be his end and it was only a matter of time not a new decision or change of heart o...

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Dustin Gillham
19:37 Jul 28, 2022

Jeannette, thank you for your lovely and thoughtful comment. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and you were a pot on with everything you said. I wanted to make Colin more of a sympathetic character rather than a monster so in editing a lot of the ambivalence was lost. I was in a good writing routine for the week and had the time to submit so I was extremely grateful just to have a submission. I really appreciate your time. Many blessings.

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Lily Finch
02:11 Jul 28, 2022

Great diction! This story is engaging, and I found the ending bittersweet. Obviously, Colin has issues with letting go of Camilla and then truthfully not wanting to let her go; your fanciful way of telling your tale leads the reader to surmise what is going on in this story. Well done! Thanks. LF6

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Zoë Page
14:01 Jul 24, 2022

This was an interesting and eye-opening story! Took me a while to figure out exactly what was going on, but it's interesting when there's things the reader has to figure out for themselves, or more questions than answers found when reading the story. It has an intriguing, dark meaning. Brilliant descriptions in there as well. Great job.

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Dustin Gillham
04:18 Jul 25, 2022

Thank you, Zoe. It was a lot to chew for a short. I'm hoping it was somewhat insightful. Thank you for taking the time to read. Great job on "Forgotten." :-) Have a wonderful and creative week.

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Zoë Page
11:03 Jul 25, 2022

Thanks so much, you too!

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Kendall Defoe
20:31 Jul 23, 2022

Keen insight into grief and how we never really recover here. I really felt for him...

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Pranav Nalam
21:40 Jul 22, 2022

Wow! This was dark and unsettling. I would have never imagined pathological ambivalence to manifest itself in such a way! This speaks volumes about how creatively you must think. Great and wonderful read!

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Dustin Gillham
17:28 Jul 23, 2022

Thank you so much, Pranav. I'm honored by your compliment and grateful for your time. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Dustin Gillham
17:28 Jul 23, 2022

Thank you so much, Pranav. I'm honored by your compliment and grateful for your time. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Dustin Gillham
17:28 Jul 23, 2022

Thank you so much, Pranav. I'm honored by your compliment and grateful for your time. Have a wonderful weekend.

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Charlotte Morse
15:03 Jul 22, 2022

Hi Dustin, Wow what a dark and twisted story! But so good! It took me a while to work out what was going on - but no doubt that was your intent! I thoroughly enjoyed (not sure that's the right word tho!) reading it, thanks for sharing.

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Dustin Gillham
18:21 Jul 22, 2022

Thank you, Charlotte. It was a bitter and dark piece and a lot to chew on. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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K.T. Jayne
14:20 Jul 20, 2022

This story is totally gripping. Beautifully written and as sorrowful as it is dark. You have managed to engender real sympathy for Colin, despite what he has done. It's an extremely clever take on 'pathologically ambivalent' - but I am not in two minds about whether I liked it - I loved it!

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Dustin Gillham
16:19 Jul 20, 2022

Thank you, KT! It ended up being far more gritty and dark than I had originally intended but I wanted it to invoke emotion while making the reader think. I’m grateful for your time and it is a big encouragement for me when others enjoy my writing and comment. I really liked “Baker’s Dozen”! Keep up the great work and have a wonderful and creative week.

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K.T. Jayne
17:06 Jul 20, 2022

Thanks so much too! I echo your sentiments completely :-) The darkness and grittiness works so well in contrast to the emotional heart it has (in Colin's imagined relationship with Camilla), it has real pathos which I think is so important in dark stories - prevents it from being bleak. I must read more of your stories!

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Graham Kinross
13:06 Jul 19, 2022

Wow this was grim. Unrelentingly twisted stuff. For a while I thought she was a doll he imagined was talking to him. It was so much more awful than that. The way he hears her voice and knows that she’d want him to let go is good. Photographs were an interesting touch. Never mess with a taxidermist. This would be a great horror film. It’s interesting that there’s no justice served really. He doesn’t get a comeuppance because he surrendered completely to madness to have an end to whatever grief he felt. I always wonder about the depictions of ...

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Wendy M
06:33 Jul 17, 2022

I found your story very unnerving. That's a good thing, not to be ambivalent! Not my usual choice but its good to challenge yourself. Well written.

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Kelsey H
08:14 Jul 25, 2022

This is so dark but also so beautifully written, it has such a bleak feel to it yet Colin is written as pitiful rather than monstrous, also I love that it is not really clear how he came to be in this situation or what is happening, we just have this little glimpse into his mind and his sickness and there are no answers. The way you put sentences together is amazing, I wont list all the lines which stood out to me as it would be awkward to quote your whole story back to you, but I really loved this one both for how poetic it is and how it ...

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