Fiction Sad Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

There was an old mine in the nearby forested mountains that Nicholas’s father had shown him when he was young. The sight of the mine entrance had been intimidating for a small child, seeming like a portal into the abyss emanating the peculiar cold scents of the depths. He had felt something almost like vertigo, as though if he weren’t careful, he would fall into its hungry maw that wanted nothing better than to swallow up small children like him. But his father had been there, all smiles, friendly bearded face, and heavy work jacket. Feeling the worn but still sturdy wood framing of the entrance, his father had smiled and pointed to a mark in the wood that his great-grandfather, a miner, had left. See, that’s our family’s mark, he had said. His father had also told him that the mine was connected to miles of deep caves underneath the mountain. He had called it Lover’s Cave because the rumor was that in it, a scorned lover had once gone to die. Most mysteriously, he had added that when people’s souls get broken, they sometimes want to be forgotten, and the darkness becomes their friend. As a child, that thought had seemed very foreign to him. The thought that someone might welcome the darkness.


When she came to him, he was sitting at his comfortable and well-worn oaken desk, preparing a lesson plan. He could feel a feverish agitation in her motions even without looking up from his work.

Her voice started almost as a strained whisper. “I know what you did, Nicholas,” his wife Shannon said, and he could sense a deeper than usual icy undercurrent in her tone.

“What do you mean?”

“Don't you have any shame? What you did... it makes me nauseous.”

“You're going to have to be more specific, Shannon.”

“Okay, since you want me to spell it out for you: I heard what you did with Elise.”

Nicholas looked up and faced Shannon’s contempt head-on. “I never did anything with Elise.”

Her eyes widened like a bird of prey's. “Don't lie to me, Nicholas. I was always suspicious when she came to visit our home. I always wondered if it was only to visit our daughter.”

“That's insinuating too much, Shannon. You know I would never have touched one of my students,” Nicholas said, an edge of anger creeping into his voice.

“I don't know what to believe anymore, Nicholas. All I know is that I haven't been happy for years, and now I know another reason why.”

He stood up from his desk. “Shannon, you know I feel terrible about our marriage. I’m trying my best to mend it—” he said earnestly.

“Nicholas. She's failing her courses in college, and she mentioned something about the two of you. Her parents are thinking of pressing charges.”


“Needless to say, I'm filing for divorce.”

“Just like that? Without hearing my side?”

“Nicholas, I actually need you to leave the house. I don’t feel safe with you around.”

“Shannon, that's going too far. You know I would never do anything to you.”

“You can tell it to the cops if you don’t leave.”

Nicholas paused for a moment, absorbing the gravity of the situation. “Alright, Shannon, I will leave,” he said at length, and a small smile crept across her lips but not her eyes.

“My lawyer will be contacting you soon. I suggest you follow along with what they say.”


It was an effort to do anything as he used his room key to open the door to his hotel room. He felt completely unmoored from any point of stability, and his thoughts raced furiously like elephants breaking the furniture. Turning on the light, the cheap hotel room he saw felt colder and more impersonal than it usually would have. He lay down on the bed on his back, not bothering first to pull back the comforter. And for some reason, the image of the old mine his father had once shown him appeared strongly before him. He felt himself drawn to it.

He put the thought out of his mind and focused on the one thing he knew for sure: he was still connected to Elise on social media. Should he contact her about it? After all, he hadn’t done anything wrong, had he? If she felt hurt because of something he had done, he should at least try to set things right. But he thought it might not be the right time while he was so upset. He decided to go to sleep and to think about it the next day.

He slept fitfully. Then by the light of early dawn, he headed to the high school where he worked. A kind of doom was hovering in the fresh morning air and in the warm sunlight as he walked through the school courtyard. He could feel it in his whole body. Once inside, almost mechanistically, he grabbed a coffee from the coffee machine. Then he wasn’t surprised to see Ian, the school principal, waiting for him in his office.

Ian’s bespectacled eyes were filled with a mixture of disappointment and awkwardness. “Nicholas, I don't know how to tell you this, but you've lost your job. We received a call about accusations of… things you did with a student in the past.”

“Ian, I didn’t do it,” Nicholas said, looking Ian in the eyes.

“I'm sorry, Nicholas. You're a good teacher, but we're running low on money, and we have to cut down our teaching staff anyway. The school can't afford to deal with something like this.”

“I understand, Ian. I'll clear out my office.


This time at the hotel, the image of the old mine appeared to him even more vividly. It was gaping open right there in his hotel room, licking its monstrous lips, and he could feel its fetid breath washing over him. If he looked up, he could see the abyss staring back at him, and he knew he could fall right in. He lay there on the bed for hours, unable to move.

Yes, old friend, it might be nice to forget everything with you, he thought.

It was only with great effort that he finally managed to push the thought away. The most important thing right now, while he still could, was to reach out to Elise and never mind the consequences. He opened the social media app on his phone and clicked on her profile. It was green. She was online. His heart was beating hard as he pressed the button to start a chat with her.

"Elise. I understand if you don't want to talk," he messaged her.

A long pause.

"No, let's talk, Nicholas," she messaged back.

His heart was beating even harder as he video-called her, and Elise’s face appeared on his phone. She had grown so much in a few years and had become an even more beautiful young lady, but with the same wistful and charming mannerisms as before.

"Elise, thanks so much for agreeing to talk with me. I know I'm probably breaking some law by doing this, so please just hang up anytime you don't feel comfortable talking to me," Nicholas said.

"Nicholas..." she said simply, looking down at the ground, a great weight hanging in her melodious voice.

"I'm so sorry, Elise. Please tell me something. Anything. I just want to help you feel better," Nicholas said.

"I'm sorry too, Nicholas. My parents kept prying into why I was always sad and couldn't focus on my college studies. They even brought me to see a therapist..." Elise said, and her voice trailed off.

"It's okay, Elise," Nicholas said, then he stayed quiet, just listening, and she seemed to gain encouragement from the look on his face.

"I mentioned your name, and they assumed that you did things to me... I was so upset at the time that I couldn't convince them otherwise. They think I have repressed memories or something. Then since our families are friends, they talked to Shannon about it," Elise said.

"I'm so sad you're not doing well in college, Elise, and about all of this happening to you. I never wanted any of this for you," Nicholas said, breaking his silence.

"I know that you didn't, Nicholas, and I'm so sorry I got you in trouble," Elise said.

"It's okay, Elise. I was the adult. I never knew your feelings were so strong and would last for so long. That was my mistake," Nicholas said.

"You’re right, Nicholas. Two years ago, I was deeply hurt when you turned me away and told me to focus on my studies. I thought we had been thinking magic at each other the whole school year, and now you were telling me to forget you," Elise said.

"I know, Elise, but that was probably the best thing I did," Nicholas said.

"No it wasn't, Nicholas. It was the worst thing you could have done!" Elise almost shouted, her face contorting as her heart spoke directly through it.

Nicholas looked down and stayed quiet as she continued, and he was too painfully aware of the tears streaming down her cheeks. "I could have waited years for you if you even gave me a bit of hope for a future together. I never cared about the age difference, and I knew you were unhappy with Shannon. Your own daughter Clara kept telling me about it..."

"I'm so sorry, Elise," Nicholas said, looking at her sadly.

"Maybe it's not too late, and we can still turn this around," Elise said, and the hope that he saw blossoming on her face was pure magic that warmed his heart, like an unexpected spring in the middle of winter.

"Elise… I'm an even older man now with nothing left to offer you," Nicholas said, sending a chill through her tender green shoots.

As she continued, she still had fight left in her, but tears weakened her voice. "That's not true, Nicholas. You have a lot to offer! I still remember your comforting presence when I met you for the first time as my high school teacher. You were full of optimism and culture, and you were larger than life to me. You were funny too, and you always made me and the other kids laugh. You really have a lot going for you, Nicholas," she said, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

She paused for a moment to take a deep breath and collect her emotions, then she continued. "Back then, I was going down a wrong path, and you changed everything for me. I'm so thankful to you for that."

"I'm so touched by what you’ve said, Elise," Nicholas said, tearing up as he looked straight into her eyes for a moment. Then he gathered up his energy to deal the finishing blow. "Listen, Elise, that was then, but now you need to do everything you can to forget about me. It's not healthy to dwell on the past, and I should stay in your past."

"But Nicholas—" she said, her heartbroken tone almost stopping him.

"Please let go of this memory you have of me. It's not realistic, and if you were to live with me, you'd soon find out I'm not anything like it. I'm just a man now in his early forties who’s starting to get a beer belly and who watches TV in his spare time. You need to find someone younger to match your hope and vitality. Someone young and exciting that you can start a family with someday. I know you can do it, Elise."

"Oh, Nicholas..."

There was a long silence.

"I'll try to get my parents not to press charges."

"I didn't call you for that. I wanted you to feel better, Elise. That’s all."

"I'm still going to do it because it's right."

"And I just want you to know that whatever happens to me, it isn't your fault."

"What do you mean, Nicholas?"

"Kiddo, none of this is your fault. This is all my fault. Are we clear?"

"Okay, Nicholas..."

"I just wanted to talk to you one more time to make sure you're okay, as best I could."

"Yeah, I'll be okay. Even though it’s so hard, I'll take your advice. You always gave the best advice."

"I'm glad, Elise. Listen, you can still do well in college or at anything else you set your mind to. You still have so much time, but don’t waste it! You're one of the top students I've ever taught, and I’ve always believed in you. I mean it."

"Thanks, Nicholas. It was good to hear your voice again," Elise said, giving him the first big smile of the call as they waved goodbye to each other. It was a smile he would keep with him for the rest of his life.

He lay back down on the hotel bed, his strength drained. The overpowering presence of the old mine shaft was even stronger now. It was everywhere. It was everything. Only by evening was he was able to try to call his daughter Clara.

“Clara, please answer. I have to talk to you before I go. Please pick up.”

“It's urgent.”

She never did pick up, and he spent another night staring into the almost mystical darkness of the mine shaft.


It was all his fault.

It was the kind of mistake he had never wanted to make during his career as a high school teacher.

He was responsible for the pain Elise felt.

Now his marriage and his job were gone for good.

The hopeful seedlings and the lush blooms of dreams still lived in the lives of youngsters like Elise. For himself, at best, he could hope for a withered half-existence filled with divorce proceedings, courtroom battles, odd jobs, and perhaps even jail time or homelessness. Why put everyone through the trouble of all that? He felt like something, perhaps some higher power, was telling him it was okay to let go.

It would be such a relief to let go of all of it now.

The needle pierced at his heart about what would happen to Elise, his daughter Clara, and yes, even his estranged wife, Shannon. He wished he could take back his memory from their minds so that he didn’t cause them pain anymore. But it wasn’t that easy; he couldn’t just be erased like a mistake on a piece of paper. Instead, he wanted to make sure that the way he did it left them with some hope that he might still be around somewhere. A lack of closure isn’t good, but sometimes a shroud of mystery can be a kindness. Yes, sometimes even darkness can be a friend.

The logistics of it all felt so surreal. It felt as though he was planning it for someone else. He packed a backpack with a flashlight, a sharp knife, a mineral water bottle, some dried food, and a few sweets he had taken from the snack bar in his hotel room. He thought it might be nice to taste something sweet one more time. All the while, even from where he was, he could feel the almost magnetic pull of the pitch-black mine shaft that he remembered so well.

He felt like a thief as he went to his old neighborhood and approached his house in the middle of the day while Shannon was at work. The front door felt like someone else’s, as he suddenly did not recognize the flowery patterns in the door’s glass window. He stuck a note through the mail slot that said not to look for him and that he had left for Mexico. Then since she hadn’t changed the garage door combination, he went in and took his familiar bicycle from the garage. It was a bicycle that had served him well over the years and would continue to serve him faithfully now. Cars could be tracked by license plate and weren’t so easy to dispose of, so a bike would be much better. Lastly, he turned off his cell phone and left it inside the garage. Cell phones could be tracked too.

It would take him more than a day to bike to the mine, and there would be breathtaking mountain scenery during the trip. He might change his mind along the way, but he doubted it. Now the pull of the old mine was so strong that he felt eager to meet his old friend again at last. Ever since he had first stared into its depths, he had always known that it was where he belonged. It was simply calling him home. There, in the darkness, his pain could be washed away and his life forgotten.

September 25, 2022 16:28

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