Fiction Inspirational Friendship

This story contains sensitive content

    NOTE: This story contains content related to mental health, substance abuse, and self-harm.   

Everything is too loud. Everyone is too close. Why is he looking at me? Who’s behind me? I have to get out of here.

           Allen Swan walked through the parking lot of Wal-Mart, trying to get back to his car. He’d been out too long. He’d been around too many people running too many errands for everyone but himself. Now he had to get away from everyone.

           He stretched out his step using all of the 32-inch inseam he had in his six feet frame. He weaved around other pedestrians and cars and ignored the truck trying to pass the front of the store. His ears were ringing a terribly high-pitched whine, and his breaths were too fast.

           He could see the back of his car, the buoy that could save him from this wretched place of eyes, voices, and bodies. He resisted the urge to run the last bit of the way, but only just. He blipped open the back hatch and loaded the milk, bread, eggs, and other things his sister had requested. He organized them through habit only. He paid no attention to where the fragile groceries were going. He was darting glances over his shoulders and the top of the car convinced someone was watching him.

           Finally, the groceries were loaded. He flung the cart into the return haphazardly and slammed himself into his Envoy, locking the doors. Silence surrounded him, filled only by the ever-present ringing in his ears. Allen wrestled with his breathing trying to force it into a rhythm and then slow it down. He was losing. The breaths were coming faster and shallower. Whines were riding out on the pants, then sobs as his body shook and tears squeezed through his clenched eyes.


           The loud sound on his hood startled him, and he looked up into a pair of peridot-colored eyes with tiny slits of black running up the center of them. Allen was shocked to see a black cat on his hood just staring in at him.

           “Well, hello, you,” he said to the cat through the windshield. “Where did you come from?” He groped for the door handle as he stared into the cat’s eyes, taking in the stillness that it exuded. He noticed, too, a single white star on its chest, the only break in its ebony coat.

           He couldn’t find the handle and finally looked away from the cat to find it. Once he’d opened the door, the cat was gone. “Huh, wonder where she belongs,” Allen said to himself. “I hope she’ll be OK.”

           He settled back into his seat and buckled in, then pulled out of the spot. He managed to navigate the treacherous parking lot and get out into the savage traffic of the freeway. After only minutes at speed, he exited and drove to his sister’s apartment. She paid all this money for a tiny apartment downtown when the same amount could get her twice the space half an hour away. He didn’t understand it.

           He got the groceries out of the car and headed into the building. He whacked the up button with his elbow and waited for the elevator car to get to him. The bags were beginning to strangle his fingers. He eyed the stairs but thought better of it. The cheap bags likely wouldn’t handle a six-floor climb. So, he waited.

           When the car finally got there, he got in and smashed the six with his other elbow. The doors closed after the allotted time for people to get on and began to rise. Bags dug into his fingers, and his arms began to burn. Surely, he was almost there. Looking up, he saw the light just hit the second floor.

           “What the hell?” Allen asked the light as it switched off on its way to three.

           The air in the elevator became thick and clammy. Everything felt heavy, even his shirt. It looked like the walls had gotten a little closer to him too. Allen felt his heart rate go up, and his breathing began to run away again.

           “Come on,” He urged and bounced up and down.

           The light hit the number three.

           Blood rushed through his ears and pounded in his temples. Less air got into his lungs despite all the breathing he was doing. Was the elevator stuck? Was he trapped? Was it going to fall? Was he going to die in here? His breathing became wheezes as the lights in the elevators dimmed around him.

           And then there was a chime on floor four. The doors slid open, letting in a whoosh of fresh air. Allen gasped in the precious resource. Then he looked around self-consciously for whoever called the elevator. No one was there. He stuck his head out the door to look down the hall—nothing to the left. To the right, nothing. Except for a cat’s tail turning the corner. A black tail.

           Allen shook his head and stepped off the elevator. His complaining fingers and the cheap bags could handle climbing two floors.

           “Thanks for picking these up for me,” Allen’s sister, Bethany, said when he entered her apartment. She was short, almost a foot shorter than him, and just a wisp of a person. Her brown hair was frizzing all around her head, barely tamed by the reading glasses that sat on top of it.

“How are you doing?” She asked. It wasn’t an idle question.

           “It’s not a great day,” he didn’t look into her eyes. “I thought I was better than I was when I said yes.”

           “I’m sorry,” she reached for him but stopped as he folded into himself. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have asked.”

           “I know,” he assured her. “I didn’t tell you, so how could you have known.” He turned to a wall, shame saturating him.

           “Have you talked to your therapist about this? Are you still taking your meds?” The inevitable questions.

           “I haven’t been able to get into the therapist for a while.” Allen stares at his shoes. “I guess there are crazier people in this city than me.”

           “You’re not crazy,” Bethany admonished.

           “I know,” he responded, monotone. “It’s not a disorder; it’s a brain condition. I’m not broken; I’m different and just have to learn how to take the messages my brain is giving me. And some other shit.”

           “Hey,” she didn’t stop at his flinch this time and wrapped him in a hug. “It’s just a bad day. You said so yourself. You just need to reset and refresh.”

           Allen took a deep breath and accepted the hug and the good intentions behind it. After a thirty count, he wiggled out of it. “Yeah, I just need to chill out.”

           “Are you going to go home?” Bethany asked.

           “Yeah,” it came out more of a grunt than a word.

           “OK, let me know when you get there?”

           Allen sighed, “Fine.”

           “Thank you, and for the groceries,” Bethany said as she accompanied him to the door.

           “No problem,” he said automatically. “See ya later.”

           A half-hour later, Allen pulls up to a townhouse with a postage stamp yard. Hell, he and Bethany could cut their rents in half and be roommates out here. But he couldn’t handle a roommate. He walked up the steps to his door, unlocked it, and grabbed the mail. He slipped through the door and locked it behind him, pretending he didn’t hear his neighbor saying hello.

           In the living room was a two-cushion couch, an end table, and a TV mounted on the wall. There was no mess, but there were also no things. Allen turned the TV on to get the music playing through an app, then went to the kitchen. The kitchen had come with appliances. Only the toaster and microwave were Allen’s. They were also what was used the most. A cup and a green bottle came from the same cabinet as he poured himself a generous portion of whiskey. After adding some ice to make himself feel like he wasn’t an alcoholic, he sat on the couch.

           Music flowed around him, but he didn’t hear any of it. He thought about the day. The looks he got from the other shoppers and how they felt like raw spots in his brain. Then driving through the day, he’d run a stop sign. What if someone had been there, and he’d hit them? He could have killed someone. He’d stopped too fast at nearly every red light. He could have caused a pile-up doing that. All the people he could have hurt today.

           And then the elevator. What kind of worthless idiot can’t go up six floors in an elevator? He can’t even people right. How is he supposed to do things like find a job?

           His cup was empty. He stood to head back to the kitchen and felt the floor tilt. After just one? Pansy. Even drinking was too hard. Had he eaten today?

           He splashed more whiskey into the cup and downed that shot quickly. Then poured another generous slug. Fuck the ice.

           Then he had an idea. He went upstairs to his bathroom. His blue eyes stared back at him through the mirror. The rest of the reflection was alien. Allen wouldn’t be that greasy. He showered. His cheeks weren’t gaunt like that.

           “Man, you look fuckin’ rough,” he told the mirror.

           “You’re one to talk.”

           “No one likes reflections that talk back,” Allen said, pointing his cup to the mirror. “Now move.”

He opened the medicine cabinet to find a razor, shaving cream, and pill bottles. His antidepressant was a month old and still full. So was the mood stabilizer. What the hell does that even mean? How do you stabilize a mood? At the end of the row were two bottles of muscle relaxers. He’d gotten those when he’d been working. He’d tweaked his back. He’d only taken a few but then refilled them before the script expired, just in case. He pulled the two bottles out of the cabinet.

           “Don’t look at me like that,” he told the mirror as he closed the cabinet and walked away.

           Allen took the pills down to the whiskey since he forgot to bring the whiskey to the pills. He opened both bottles on the counter next to the green bottle. His heart tried to pound, but the alcohol held it chained to a calmer rhythm. His stomach turned and churned with anxiety.

           He looked at a butcher block of knives he had on the counter. Then thought of the mess someone would have to see and then clean. He shook his head and went back to the sink.

           “So, I guess I just do it by the handful until they’re gone?” No one was there to answer him. “Sounds good.”

           He dumped half a dozen pills into his hand and swirled the whiskey next to them.


           Allen started, and the handful of pills fell into the sink.


           Next to the sink with peridot-colored eyes and a star of white on her chest sat a cat twitching her tail over the edge of the counter.

           “What the-” Allen sluggishly looked around. “How did you get here? And in my house?”


           The cat stood and batted the pill bottles over into the sink.

           “NO!” Allen went for the pills but recoiled from the hissing, spitting, and clawing that erupted in front of him. “OK, shit, you win.”


           The cat rubbed against the handle of the sink, turning it on and flushing the pills down the disposal.

           “What is your deal?” Allen asked the cat. “Are you some sort of guardian -” he shook his head, looked at the cup in his hand, and emptied it down the sink too. “I’m drunk, and you’re a damn cat. Everything else is…” he trailed off as he stared at the cat’s single white mark.

           He flipped the water off and marched to the couch. “Nope! I’m drunk. You are a random cat that somehow came in and has an attitude problem.”


           The cat sat in front of him, twitching her tail.

           Allen laid down on the couch, “Whatever.”

           The cat leaped onto his chest and settled into a vibrating loaf. Her eyes closed before his, barely.

           When he woke up, the cat’s eyes were there.

           “You hungry?”



           Allen found a can of tuna in a cabinet and scooped it onto a plate. Then, he opened his phone, searched through reviews, and made a call.

           “Thank you for calling Skyline Vet Clinic. How can I help you?” A pleasant voice answered the phone.

           “Hi,” Allen watched the cat eat on the counter. “I just got a new cat, and I need it checked out.”

           “Wonderful, congratulations!” the voice cheered. “Does your new cat have a name?”

           Allen watched as the cat licked the last of the tuna off the plate. She looked at him.



October 26, 2022 20:42

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Isabelle K
19:20 Nov 03, 2022

Great story! Allen's experiences were well-described, and we could feel his anxiety and stresses. I love how the story ends on a lighter note, but doesn't make it too forced or cheesy. Nice work!


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Cindy Strube
18:13 Nov 02, 2022

Nice - turns the black cat/bad luck right upside down! It’s a very tense story. Allen’s sensory overload and mental distress are very clearly expressed. So good there’s an Angel to help…


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