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Bedtime Fiction Mystery

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

“Thank you for your help today, Mick”, said Rachael, handing the shopkeeper a £50 note, “and keep the change.” She beamed back at the winking man, who was already stuffing the money into the pocket of his overalls. Mick’s Furniture and Fixtures only ever took cash. How much of that was about appearing as reliably old-fashioned as the goods that the family business sold, and how much was it about a lack of paper trail, Rachael had wondered but never asked. She had found the perfect bedside table for the guest bedroom she had been renovating (even if she’d had to plead to split it from a nest of them). That was all that mattered.

Back at home, she carried the table through to the bedroom, which still had that fresh paint tang in the air. The idea was that Rachael was going to be an accommodation host. She had tentatively told her friends and therapist, and they all seemed to be in agreement it would be a wonderful idea. Would get her meeting new people. Possibly make some lifelong friends. And it would help towards the running costs of her home. Her husband, Stephen, used to cover the bulk of that. Until he was knocked off his bike by a scaffolder’s van and one of the poles had flown off like a javelin, piercing him right through his stomach. The doctors had reassured Rachael it would have been an instant death. Still, it kept her awake at night. Was it really that sudden? And he’d been on his bike on his way to meet her at their favourite picnic spot, the one where he had proposed. The one she had wanted to revisit to celebrate their anniversary. The same friends and therapist had reassured her that it hadn’t been her fault. But what if it was?

At night, the doubts always found a way of creeping back in.

The alarm on her phone in her jeans pocket made Rachael almost hit the ceiling. She looked at the reminder.

“Pill o’clock,” she said grimly. Her GP had prescribed her some drug that was new to the market. It was supposed to calm her. The lows would still come, he had warned, but the medication would help her to still function. She had thought bitterly how the system seemed rigged to make patients become good little workers again. Prone to panic attacks? Sure. But contributing to the economy? Wonderful! Looks like we’ve found a cure, folks.

Still, Rachael was willing to give anything a shot. Something that may not stop the nightmares, but make them less vivid. Blur her edges. Quieten her nerves.

She went to the bathroom cabinet and looked at the toothpaste flecks left on the mirror by Stephen. It made her face look diseased. She used to give him no end of grief for his messy habits, but she couldn’t bring herself to scrub the house of every last trace of him just yet. She was counting on her first guest booking once the spare room was ship-shape to spur her on to do a big clean. It’s not like she had many people round, even though they tried. She couldn’t bear the thought of someone else unwittingly occupying his chair, or drinking from one of his mugs.

She reached for the little plastic jar of her latest lifeguards. Bright pink pills. They looked ludicrous to her. The cult of Barbie-fication gone too far. She popped a couple, as the label instructed, and bade goodnight to her speckled reflection.

It’s the little things you miss. A guaranteed “good morning, honey,” a “goodnight, my love.” Someone else interested in how well her day went, how well she slept.

That night Rachael most certainly did not sleep well.

A strange cry snapped her eyelids open. She blinked blearily at the clock. 03:30. She knew she hadn’t woken herself up (the pills were supposed to stop the nightmares that were spun from neverending overthinking sessions – in that respect, they had done their job). So what had?

She heard it again.

“Where are you? I’m lost. Where am I?”

Maybe she had left the TV or radio on. She always put at least one on when she got home. She loved the background noise, the quiet distraction. A little company.

Rachael swung her legs out of bed, feet fumbling for her slippers. She tip-toed down the hallway.

Rasping sobs were emanating from behind the door of the guest bedroom. Rachael just stood there for a moment, as if pinned to the ground. She forced herself, ever so slowly, as though it might bite, to put her hand on the black handle. The sobs grew louder. She couldn’t stand it any longer. She flung the handle down and threw open the door.

Just an empty room, with a hint of throat-tickling drying paint.

“Going mad,” Rachael muttered. “I’m actually going mad.”

***

Later that morning, the nerve-rattling noises felt like they had happened long ago, to someone else. Rachael went about her day, popped another couple of pills, filled another couple of bags with Stephen’s clothes, ready to take to a charity shop.

In the evening she made herself a simple dinner of ramen noodles. The memory of Stephen getting back from a week away with work and finding ramen packaging filling the bins and calling her “my little student-y Potty Noodle” made her reach for a couple more pills. The doc had said she could take them “as needed”, but she doubted he fully understood her needs. How do you explain the heartbreak conjured by a memory echo of “Potty Noodle” to a professional without sounding, well, potty? But she had done some independent research that had confirmed she was in the recommended limits quantity-wise of the medication. Pushing it. But still safe.

01:58 this time. When the screeching started.

“Where am I? Take me back!”

Rachael woke with her heart trying to pound its way out of her chest. She grabbed the nearest weapon – a hairdryer. At least it’s kind of gun-shaped, she thought, suppressing a maniacal titter.

This time she didn’t creep, she ran. Flung open the door, again. Whatever it was that was crying out for its family abruptly stopped.

The shadowy lumps of the furniture to Rachael looked like children who had been playing a game of Grandmother’s Footsteps. Like if she had opened the door a second earlier, she might have caught one of them creeping.

She went back to her room and picked up a framed photo of her and Stephen on a trip to Niagara Falls. She walked back to the guestroom and placed it on the bedside table.

“We’re your family now,” she told the little table. Its surface seemed to ripple as she put the picture on it, but she told herself over her slice of toast later on that morning that it had probably been a trick of the moonlight, pouring in through the blinds she hadn't shut properly. She made a mental note to add blackout curtains to her do to list. Guests liked to get a good sleep.

And for that matter, so did she, Rachael thought when woken up by a splintering yell at 01:05.

“How did I get here?” the voice cracked and wavered. “Where are my family? Take me back to them – please!”

Rachael switched her bedside lamp on. Lay there for a moment, holding her breath. Waiting for more. She wondered what would happen if she just stayed in bed.

The voice creaked and cried itself to sleep, so it seemed.

The next day, during a quiet moment at work, Rachael looked online for further information on the pills she had been taking.

She found a forum offering plenty of user reviews. As Rachael expected, ‘auditory hallucinations’ featured pretty heavily.

“It’s the pills. Gotta be the pills.”

Diana from accounts cleared her throat and peered at her from her desk opposite Rachael’s.

Inside thoughts, Rachael reminded herself. Of course it wasn't the silly little table. It's the pills. She put the pills to the back of her mind for a while and finished tweaking the blog post she had been tasked to add to the company’s website.

04:35. Rachael had hoped that now she knew the cause of the warped wails her brain would allow her to make it through the night. As she listened to the snaps and scrapes on her newly varnished guest bedroom floor alongside the yowls, she silently thanked Stephen for never lumbering her with kids. To think: young mothers had to put up with years of this kind of behaviour.

“Take me back,” the knotted voice pleaded.

“FINE!” Rachael hollered. “WE’LL GO TOMORROW. JUST SHUT UP ALREADY.”

The house fell back into silence. And Rachael did the breathing exercises she had been taught to release inner tension, and fell back to sleep.

***

Rachael shoved the talkative table into the boot of the car. She looked at it, lying there like an innocent babe, and half-primed herself for the legs to start kicking when she lowered the lid. Maybe it was the pills. Maybe it was this collection of sticks she had grown to loathe. She’d soon find out for sure.

She drove to the town, parking a little way down from Mick’s Furniture and Fixtures. She took the table out of the boot, wincing in case there came any protests at her handling. and marched it to the shop.

'Closed Wednesdays', read the hand-written note on the door. Of fucking course. That was the problem with small town businesses; they ran to their own schedules. Mick was probably off down the bookies spending her fifty quid.

Rachael walked round to the back door of the shop. She tore off a page from the notebook in her handbag, and fixed it to the table using a couple of rocks. She rushed back to her car and began the drive to work, feeling like she’d abandoned a child on a doorstep. At least it was the back door, where Mick would stand to puff his liquorice roll-ups, rather than the front, where any passer-by might make off with it.

***

After a week of sleeping soundly through the night, Rachael returned to Mick’s. Mick wasn’t about – there was just some fresh-faced apprentice pottering in the background instead of doing the hard sell. That suited Rachael fine, she just wanted to check on something. She picked her way across rolled up rugs, through a maze of mirrors, past a row of glazed creepy cat ornaments, until she found what she was looking for.

The talkative little table had been reunited with its nest. It was tucked safely under the wings of ma and pa now. Rachael crouched down. The polished wood looked blank and unknowing. Content. Quiet.

“Goodbye,” Rachael whispered to it, running a thumb along its edge.

Rachael stood up straight again, thinking she heard a creak. Probably just my knees, she figured.

March 01, 2024 17:04

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18 comments

Darvico Ulmeli
20:17 Apr 12, 2024

Very emotional. The guilt of those who are left when love ones are gone. I felt deeply. Nicely written.

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Karen McDermott
07:06 Apr 13, 2024

Thank you 🙏

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Tommy Goround
22:17 Mar 18, 2024

The husband death was intense. The small details of toothpaste on the mirror, the reason for him bicycling... The small table torn away from its set was really very good. Very strong and layered story. Clapping

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Karen McDermott
16:13 Mar 19, 2024

Thank you. I think it goes to show that neglecting household chores like scrubbing mirrors can feed into short stories. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

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Jenny Cook
23:30 Mar 08, 2024

This enthralling story underlined the effects of grief and how it manifests itself. Well done!

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Karen McDermott
22:13 Mar 11, 2024

Thank you Jenny!

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Jillee Sexton
17:00 Mar 07, 2024

Wonderful story with some really great details. Also a very nice voice! Rachael feels well-realized.

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Karen McDermott
22:14 Mar 11, 2024

Cheers for reading, Jillee!

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Stella Aurelius
15:25 Mar 07, 2024

Karen, this was a treat to read. Just when Rachel thought her life was upended, here comes the table. Brilliant flow and imagery. Great job !

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Karen McDermott
15:41 Mar 07, 2024

Thank you Stella!

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Hazel Ide
17:18 Mar 06, 2024

Wow great story! I kind of felt like you were telling two stories at once but you allowed the reader to immerse and really feel the MC's anxiety and stress throughout, jointed really well. I like this line, "feeling like she abandoned a child on a doorstep," really made me sympathize with her. Very enjoyable read!

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Karen McDermott
15:42 Mar 07, 2024

Thanks for reading! :)

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Wally Schmidt
18:49 Mar 04, 2024

I like how you developed this story and how immersed the main character is with the situation, first trying to medicate the noise away and towards the end screaming at the table to stfu. All the little details of the hair dryer and using the rocks to anchor the note really add to your creative style. Nice job Karen

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Karen McDermott
15:42 Mar 07, 2024

Thank you, glad you liked it!

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Karen Hope
10:43 Mar 03, 2024

We sympathize with Rachael for what she’s going through. She’s trying so hard to find normalcy again until that darn table comes into her life. I love how she finally takes the table back to its “family”. Her strength in dealing with it makes me confident she’ll eventually heal and move on from the tragedy of her husband’s death. Such a creative look at grief. Well written and compelling!

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Karen McDermott
09:34 Mar 04, 2024

Thank you Karen, that's lovely to hear. Let's hope the table stays with its family from now on 😅

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Tom Skye
15:32 Mar 02, 2024

Beautiful story about grief, family, and friendship. Rachael's poor mental health was drawn very vividly, and her difficulties with the day-to-day were upsetting. Nice touch with the toothpaste spots. Her situation had parallels with the table and its loss of family. It allowed the two to relate. I enjoyed the couple of digs at the shop. It injected a bit of humour, but also channeled some cynicism and rage through the MC. It gave her another small dimension. Very touching piece. Tackling grief in writing is difficult, but this story m...

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Karen McDermott
09:33 Mar 04, 2024

Thank you Tom for you kind comments. I'm glad you liked my story. I liked the toothpaste spots too although feared they might gross some people out, haha.

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