You're Unforgivable, Daddy

Submitted into Contest #182 in response to: Write a story where someone’s paranoia is justified.... view prompt


Horror American Crime

There’s a stain on my soul. It’s sticky, viscous, the colour of melting tar. And I can feel it spreading.

On the surface, all is as it should be. The truck hums discordantly in my ears; my boots compress the pedals. The world flies past me in a dispassionate blur. Ahead, the skies and freeway are empty grey. The cargo remains silent.

There’s no sensation like a stained soul. The closest I can think of is uncleanliness. Once, a woman left me and broke my heart, but even that is not comparable. That pain is dull now, smothered by the years spent raising our daughter. In loving Ayah, I felt the grief melt away over time, as if there was karmic justice in watching her grow into the person her mother never was. The heart can heal.

But, by nature, uncleanliness cannot improve with time. It gets worse. The stains deepen. And unlike heartache, I can’t pinpoint it to a place on my body. It is everywhere, but nowhere I can touch. Sometimes it makes my eyes twitch, sometimes it prickles my skin, sometimes it quickens my pulse and, scariest of all, now and then it talks inside my brain and tells me I’m unforgivable. 

A stray gust of wind slips through the window, fluttering the corner of Ayah’s photo on the dashboard and pulling me back into the moment. I check my watch and gasp. I’m behind schedule. My gaze flicks to the fuel gauge, and the reading makes me spit curses onto the road. I need to refuel, but I’m already late.

I cannot be late.

As I peel off the freeway at the next exit, all I can think of is Ayah’s face when her dream college rejected her scholarship application. We both knew the only way she would make it to college was on a full ride. My baby girl, the strongest, smartest lady I know, sobbed into my shoulder, convinced her only chance of being a vet was gone. Once the tears dried, she looked up at me and told me she would get a job, save up, and pay her way into vet school one day. Maybe even get a loan if she had to. And she’d do it for me. 

But I said no. I couldn’t let her do that. Instead, that day I promised her I would make it happen, no matter the cost. When she asked me how, I tapped my nose and quipped that her old man still had some tricks up his sleeve. And the way her face lit up in hope, the naked trust she had in me, her chubby old trucker dad - that is the image that keeps me going.

But that is also when the stains first seeped under my skin. 

I tend to avoid gas stations like the one in front of me, not least because it’s chock full of other travelers. Truckers, families with squalling babies in silver SUVs, a handful of gleaming motorbikes. But none of them fluster me as much as the solitary state trooper cruiser. The way the trooper eyes my truck draws cold beads of sweat down my neck. He lounges against his car, expression inscrutable behind aviators and a handlebar mustache, but I feel him looking. I swallow hard and tell myself he’s watching everyone. Not just me.

Easing myself down onto the forecourt, I pop the fuel cover and insert the nozzle, my back to him. Acrid diesel wafts into my nose and throat. The seconds edge past. Droplets of moisture collect in my armpits and smear across my back, chilling me to the core. One of my eyelids flickers with worry. Once I’ve fuelled up, I tell myself, I’ll go into the gas station, grab a burger from the counter, and get out of here. 

A car door opens somewhere behind me, and I hear the trooper sigh as he settles into the driver's seat. He slurps from a soda, belches, then slams the door shut. I let my shoulders slump, releasing a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.


Not a yard from my head, there is a heavy noise from inside my truck. Suppressing a cry, I jump back in surprise, almost toppling over backwards. The nozzle falls from my hand, and a spray of diesel spreads out across the asphalt to lick my truck’s tires. Pungent fumes make my head swim.


The second one startles me again, my heartbeat a frenzied staccato. I scoop up the nozzle and put it away, noting with dread that the tank isn’t full yet. But I have to get out of here before someone hears. For Ayah’s sake.

My eyes frantically scan the forecourt. Someone must have heard it. But the other travelers talk, eat, and drive on, engrossed in their stainless lives. A couple argue as they fill up their RV. Some children whack a dumpster with a stick, drawing angry stares, but their parents are nowhere to be seen. No one looks my way.

Except the trooper.

Sunglasses now off, he makes eye contact with me from inside his car. My panicked brain tells me to run, and I very nearly do, until his lips part to reveal bright white teeth partially obscured by his mustache. He shoots me a thumbs up. Swallowing, I force myself to grin back, before walking stiffly around the puddle of diesel and into the gas station. I thrust my hands deep into my pockets so he can’t see them shaking.

The station’s interior fills me with unease. It must be large, since there’s a kitchen in the back where someone is grilling patties with loud sizzles, but all four walls feel so close I could reach out and touch them. Every light is blinding, every sound amplified. I keep my eyes trained on the ground, occasionally flicking upwards to make sure no one is watching me, and sometimes to my right where the trooper still sits within his car. If he heard the noises from my truck, he showed no sign of it, but I’m powerless to do anything if they happen again.

The line at the gas station counter is three people deep. The frizzy-haired lady at the front is in the middle of ordering fries and a burger with no pickles or onions and extra tomato sauce and mustard. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. She asks the clerk if she can swap the fries for wedges. The cashier shakes his head apathetically in response. 

I glance out the window at the state trooper’s cruiser. He isn’t getting out, but he hasn’t moved yet either. His car is still blocking one of the pumps. Has he seen something suspicious? My throat constricts. What if he’s waiting for me to come back out?

The frizzy-haired lady finally moves over to wait for her food, and a young mother holding her toddler’s hand steps up. She pulls out her card to pay, then pauses, looking over the cashier’s shoulder. She asks the cashier if they sell lottery tickets. He sighs and points to a sign on the counter: $25 million jackpot! Play now!

She buys one, and now I think I’ll buy one too. I stop myself from looking out the window again, in case the trooper thinks I’m watching him, and try to think of Ayah. She loves playing the lottery. Heck, if I buy the winning ticket, she can go to any vet school she wants. We’ll never have to worry about money.

And I’ll never have to do this again.

The mother departs, child in tow, and the tall, thin man in front of me approaches the counter. I notice the frizzy-haired lady is still waiting for her burger, one foot tapping the ground. Now I’m thinking it’s not worth getting one. The waiting time is too long. I can’t afford to stay here any longer in case the trooper gets suspicious. I chance another furtive look at his car. 

Through the window I see my worst nightmare unfolding. The cruiser door hangs open; the trooper is marching across the forecourt towards my truck. My entire body freezes in place, waves of terror swarming across my skin. He must have heard the sounds. He avoids the diesel and circles around to the driver’s side of my truck and out of sight.

To my left, someone says I’m hyperventilating, asks if I’m okay. I snap my attention back to the counter and find both the tall man and the lady gone. The cashier looks at me, concerned. 

Mumbling a response, I step forward and hastily pull out my wallet. He asks me which pump I’m paying for. I look up at him, blinking, then point at my truck. Outside, the trooper reappears, carrying a bundle of towels and absorbent mats. He starts dropping them over the puddle of diesel and patting them down with his foot. The cashier follows my finger, then makes a comment about me being the one who spilled the diesel, and having to ring me up for the extra amount. I tell him it’s fine. My body feels as if it’s vibrating with anxiety. I clench my teeth together to stop them from chattering. 

On the way out I realise I forgot to buy the lottery ticket.

Every step back to my truck meets resistance, as if I’m in slow motion, as if my instincts are pulling me away from danger. As acute as my senses were moments earlier, they’re now muffled, like I’m suspended a thousand feet under the ocean.

The trooper doesn’t see me at first, his attention focused on soaking up the diesel. By the time I reach him he’s finished gathering the sodden towels into a clump beside my truck. 

“Howdy,” he says, flashing those perfect teeth again. “Bit jumpy today, are we?”

I shake my head vigorously. “Not at all, sir. Not me.”

“You pay for the fuel you spilled?”

“Sure did.”

“A’right then. On your way.”

He nods and saunters off. I release the strangled breath I’d been holding, close my eyes in relief.


My eyes open wide. Across the forecourt, the trooper pauses halfway back to his car. He looks back over his shoulder.

“You hear that?”

I stand rooted to the spot. Silent and motionless.

He strides back over, stopping close enough for me to see the stray specks of soda on his mustache. 

“Asked you a question. What was that sound?”

“I don’t know,” I stammer. 

The lines between his eyebrows deepen. “Sounded like it came from your truck there.”

“No, sir,” I reply, shaking my head again, “might’ve been those kids hitting the dumpster.” 

“Might’ve,” he says, eyes narrowed. “What’s in the truck?”

Stressful as the situation is, my brain defaults to the story I was given, one I’ve rehearsed a thousand times for this very moment. It’s the one I tell Ayah, too. For her sake.

“Building materials, sir. Asphalt shingles for roofing, vinyl weatherboards, some door and window frames as well.”

He stares at me wordlessly, as if he could reach into my mind and pluck out the truth if he concentrated hard enough. The back of my shirt is sodden with cold sweat, and a burning sensation settles in the pit of my stomach, weighing me down. It reminds me I’m stained. Unclean.

“If you say so,” he grunts, putting his aviators back on. In their reflection I see what he sees: something unnatural masquerading as human. “On your way, then.”

The second his car disappears into the distance, I make a decision. My leaden feet carry me back into the gas station. Shivering, I promise myself I’ll make up the time on the road. 

The cashier doesn’t look surprised to see me again. I realise with a pang of fear he might have somehow heard my conversation with the trooper. I don’t like the way he looks at me as he hands me the lottery ticket. Yet, as I wait for my burger and fries, I look down at the numbers and allow myself a smile. Maybe I must be stained so her life is clean. That is a trade I would gladly make.

As I pull out of the forecourt, I touch the photo of her and smile again, sliding the ticket behind it. She grins back at me, innocent and beautiful. Clean and perfect.

“No matter the cost,” I whisper, and I drive on.

A shadow passes over her face. Then a red filter slides across, darkening her eyes with rage, her smile now a snarl. It quickly fades, replaced by a veil of blue sorrow that grips my heart. In a flash her rage is back, then replaced with a smile tinged with grief, then again supplanted by fury. Red, then blue. Sadness, anger. Sorrow. Rage.

Her mouth doesn’t move, but I hear her say it. “You’re unforgivable, Daddy.”

In the distance, sirens.

January 25, 2023 06:14

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J.C. Lovero
12:33 Jan 25, 2023

Heya Shuv! So good to see a piece from you. And oh my goodness, what a journey you took us on. The suspense of the thumping and the trooper were perfect to keep us reading. It was interesting to see how the narrator handled the trooper at the end, since it was a choice that gives us an idea of his character. I thought the paragraph at the end was particularly well-done. Loved the prose combined with the colors of red and blue, like the police siren. Best of luck this week!


23:13 Jan 25, 2023

Thanks friend! Grateful for your time as always. Glad you liked the ending since I wasn't sure if I pulled it off. :)


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Zack Powell
06:02 Feb 03, 2023

How I missed this piece is beyond me. What's even worse is that I was thinking about you this week, too, with your University studies coming up (or have they already begun?). Happy to see you're still flexing those creative muscles. As for the story: It's a shame we can only have three genres, because this one totally deserved a "Suspense" tag. The slow revealing of information about this character and his circumstances, the stress of the policeman being right there on the forecourt. Made for a very uncomfortable read (though I'm sure that'...


05:11 Feb 04, 2023

What's better than Zack Powell commenting on your story? Zack Powell commenting on your story and leaving a critique! Thanks so much. I'm not surprised it was this one you were able to critique. I liked the concept but I wasn't too happy with how it turned out, and the ending was the part I agonised over most. It felt rushed and unearned so I'm glad it wasn't just me who felt that way. Right back atcha about Prompted. :)


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Amanda Lieser
04:50 Feb 03, 2023

Oh my goodness! This one was jampacked with incredible language. I was immediately transported to this tiny little gas station. I think that we all see people in the world and we wonder their intentions. And I always feel like those stories that play with got feelings are incredibly interesting. You did such an amazing job with that feeling. I felt shivers down my spine and a little bit of fear right in the action packed middle. I am a sucker for when a story integrates the title into the piece. This one was so great and I shall happily sit ...


05:03 Feb 03, 2023

Thanks Amanda - I love your comment on wondering other people's intentions. That's the heart of this story I think, that anxiety about what other people are thinking and the reasons behind their actions. I've got your most recent story on my reading list so I will see you soon in the comments! :)


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Rebecca Miles
18:27 Jan 27, 2023

Not easy to take on such a loathed individual as the main character; the first person perspective and most importantly the backstory with his daughter Ayah and his motives for doing the despicable really helped create a story that was far from the stereotype we would believe is always behind the wheel. The rhetorical questions as he worries about his impending discovery crank up the tension beautifully and every plot detail is plausible and builds the suspence: the spilt fuel; the going back for the lottery ticket. And those thumps. My word,...


04:55 Feb 03, 2023

Thanks Rebecca you're so kind. :) I've been really slack with my reading but I've got your latest story on my list!!


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Lily Finch
13:51 Jan 26, 2023

Shuv, I enjoyed being inside the head of the MC. Hearing and experiencing his paranoia turns everyday events and chance meetings into such extreme interactions since his mind lets a little slip for the reader to learn just enough to get his paranoia so well. His conversation with his daughter - an experience that leads to desperate measures on the protagonist's part His diesel pump and paying for it - one experience. The police officer and the back and forth with the officer - another experience In the end, the blue and red - imitate the li...


04:53 Feb 03, 2023

Thanks Lily, really appreciate your comment and time. I'm a big fan of leaving things to the reader's imagination so it's great to see your list of theories for what's in the truck. :)


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Suma Jayachandar
10:28 Jan 26, 2023

Shuvayon, This is a very intense story. You have chosen this stream of consciousness narrative that's apt for depicting the paranoia. There is a mishmash of events and emotions that keeps hitting the protagonist in waves, fuelling his agitated state even more. We never get to know his complete backstory but there are hints that point towards his past actions and regrets thereof. This piece has a viscerally disturbing quality about it that fits the prompt perfectly!


04:52 Feb 03, 2023

Thank you Suma, glad the disturbing elements came through, that's what I was going for!


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Michał Przywara
04:04 Jan 26, 2023

Quite intense! It definitely hit the paranoia of the prompt. His jumpiness, his overthinking everything happening around him, his certainty that everyone was somehow onto him - it made an otherwise completely mundane scene, like getting gas, into a very stressful affair. And of course, it's this paranoia that led to carelessness, which ultimately was his undoing. Shaky hands and a shaky excuse. The playing with lights at the end was a neat device. Again, because of his state of mind, he's seeing things that aren't there. It's not just par...


04:51 Feb 03, 2023

Thanks my friend, very grateful for your analysis as always. :)


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Alex Sultan
23:02 Jan 25, 2023

I really liked all the suspense with the trooper and the cashier. I read through it fast - especially when he was mopping up the spilt gasoline. I really like the sirens at the end, too. All the smaller details, like the children hitting the dumpster or the trooper drinking his soda made the story vivid. It was all a good read, I enjoyed it.


23:12 Jan 25, 2023

Thanks my dude, appreciate your eyes on this. I miss reading your work - hope your novel is going well!


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Philip Ebuluofor
14:29 Feb 05, 2023



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