I panted, clutching the unbounded book pages to my chest. My fingers bled from the multitude of paper cuts they earned when grabbing hundreds upon hundreds of papers at once. The corner of the white stack had turned a dark crimson, splotches covering the first page. My breath came out ragged and my heart thundered against crushed ribs. Bony knees were squished against me, making the closet I hid in more painful than I believed possible. Yet I didn't dare to move. The pain was some much better than what I feared would happen with the slightest shift. My heart was already too loud, but I couldn't get it to stop banging.
I peaked out the crack between the door and its frame, the light almost blinding. Beyond my closet was just an empty office, a manly wood desk, folding chair, and papers sewn everywhere. Pages were even teetering on the ceiling fan, slowly rotating around as though debating whether to jump.
A drop of blood fell onto my knee, forcing a shriek from my throat. I threw a hand over my mouth, pressing it brutally against my teeth. A tear slipped past my lashes but I blinked past the sting of my fingers and the new throbbing they just created. The open wounds along my arm burned as my five o’clock shadow dug into them. I had to stay quiet.
A page slipped out of the stack, fluttering to the floor beside me. I stared at it like a forgotten lover. I had only just finished the book that was pinned against my stomach when I had to flee into this cracker box closet. A weary smile crept across my lips as I watched the page. The story I had created was about love, yet I was absorbed with terror. It was almost ironic.
I unwillingly began to read the paper, my mind disappearing into the story.
There was a man who was not beautiful but not ugly either. He lived alone and could never seem to find anyone who wanted to date him. He was always “like a brother to them.” Even a Tinder date had claimed this, ruffling his hair while doing so. Eventually he gave up trying to find someone since the friend zone appeared to be his permanent home.
The man strolled into a coffee shop, ready to splurge on himself. The barista smiled sweetly at him, but he knew her kindness wasn’t authentic. Even coffee shops ran on the best incentive in the world, tips. People would do almost anything if it meant getting a good tip at the end. A waiter had even stood on a table belting Adele to no music for a couple, just so he could get a nice juicy tip. The man really hoped the waiter got one because it was painful to listen to.
The man sat down at a table, dissolving into the chair while he waited. His eyes strayed to the ceiling, counting all the strange stains that were displayed like a mural. He had just made it to the big fat one shaped like an ostrich when he felt the eyes staring at him. The man cleared his throat and refocused on the other customers, searching for the watcher. He stopped on a girl with raven hair reading a magazine. Only, she wasn't actually looking at the colorful pictures at all. Instead she was gazing at him with the most beautiful hazel eyes he had ever seen. They were ringed like a tree, each ring lighter than the last until they became so fair the color was almost clear.
The man glanced behind him, expecting to see a bulky man she must be looking at. There was no one there. He frowned, refocusing on her. She folded her magazine, tucked it under an arm, and waltzed over to him. This girl could have been a model, her olive skin flawless. Her hips swayed with every step, enchanting him. She slid into the chair across from his, a stunning smile gracing her blood colored lips.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked, her voice intoxicating.
The man stumbled over his words, nothing coming out. She giggled.
“I’m going to take that as a no then,” she continued, her eyes bearing into his soul.
He cleared his throat, phlegm bouncing into his mouth. He swallowed it, finally finding his voice, “I think you have the wrong table, I don't know any acting agencies.”
Her smile deepened as she tucked a hair behind an ear, “I know, I simply thought you were cute and was wondering if I could have your number.”
The man's jaw fell open and the girl blushed. He forced his mouth closed by throwing a hand hard against his chin. This was a lady and she was asking for his number, he was not about to mess this up by being a blubbering fish.
The man nodded, searching for a pen and paper. He patted himself down, checking every crevice for the pen he knew didn't exist. The girl saved him, “how about we get lunch once your coffee is ready. I’m sure there will be tons of pens and paper there.”
The man blushed and nodded, becoming lost in her beautiful eyes.
The page ended but my heart was no longer beating as fiercely. I removed the fist from my mouth, brushing the paper. My fingers left streaks of blood across it.
I glanced through the crevice once more but nothing had changed. The wood table had the same scratches from a cat lost long ago, the folding chair probably a safety violation, and the papers still debating whether they wanted to end their carousel ride on the fan.
I forced a deep breath through my bruised lungs, the rasp almost unnoticeable.
I gingerly pulled another page out of the stack, the other papers threatening to tumble with it. I set it on top of the first, the blood streaks sinking through.
The man's back hit the mattress but he didn't notice. His hands were lost in the girl's raven hair, his lips pressed against her luscious ones. She slipped a hand between them, sliding it under his shirt. Her fingers were icy as they walked up his chest, the cold almost painful.
The girl broke off the kiss as she slipped her other hand under his waistband. She leaned over to his ear and breathed, “Happy six month anniversary.”
I rolled my eyes, not needing to read any more of that. If anything, reading further would make my heart race. I was diving into my book to calm down, not become exhilarated.
I yanked out a page near the end, earning a new paper for my efforts. The sting slithered up my hand, lightning bolts zapping my brain. I clutched my palm to my chest and bit my tongue, muting the scream that almost escaped. I needed to keep quiet.
The paper I had pulled out let me forget the torment as anger coursed through my body. My skin warmed and I let my hand fall onto the page. The blood adhered the paper to my palm, causing the page to crumple as I formed a fist.
Another deep breath was forced through my lungs as I unfurled my fingers. I shook the paper off, but a crimson hand print coated the ink.
The man sat down at the table, beaming. It was a huge day. His brother who lived in another country had flown out just to meet him and his girlfriend. His girlfriend had demanded that she cook for them, allowing the two brothers to sit at the dining room table and catch up on lost time.
“I’ve missed you so much, how have you been?” the man asked, eyes sparking. He couldn't mask the joy that absorbed his face.
His brother shifted uncomfortably in his seat, staring into the kitchen doorway. “I need to talk to you.”
The man grinned. His five o’clock shadow prickled his face, the smile that deep. “Whatever you need, I’m here for you.”
The chair squeaked as his brother moved once again, his hands clutched so tightly together the knuckles were white. “It’s about you girlfriend.”
The man's eyes glazed over with love and adoration and he stared into the kitchen opening. Just as he did so the girl waltzed out, holding a giant turkey in her gloved hands.
“Nice and hot for you guys,” she set the pan down on the table and kissed her man's forehead. He gazed at her, blinking slowly.
His brother touched the man's hand, bringing his out of the love spell.
“Are you alright?” the brother asked, worry creeping into his voice.
The man brushed it away, “Of course, lets dig in.”
He grabbed the carving knife placed on the side of the pan, beginning to slice the great turkey. It whizzed through the first piece and he had just started the second when his brother placed a hand on the man's forearm, stopping him.
Concern lined the brothers' brows, deep wrinkles set into his forehead.
“What's the matter?” the man asked, fear raising his voice an octave.
The brother traced a thumb over the man's cheek, eyes glistening, “There's nothing there.”
The man frowned, “Nothing where?”
“There is nothing on the table, you are cutting the air.”
The man jerked away, his chair shrieking as it was thrown across the floor. He stood up, eyeing his brother.
“Of course there is something there. My girlfriend just brought out the turkey.”
His brother shook his head, “No one came out of the kitchen. There is nothing here.”
The man glared at his brother, “There is a turkey on the table, stop playing games with me.”
A tear fell from his brother's cheek as he shook his head more violently, “It’s only you and me here. There is nothing else, no one else.”
The man stomped up to his brother, hand forming a fist. “What are you saying?” he spat.
His brother's shoulders trembled as he tried to hold in tears, “She never existed.”
The man grabbed his brother by the collar but there was no resistance. His brother went limp, sadness overtaking his body.
“She has cooked for me every night for months. I would have noticed if she was fake.”
His brother raised his eyes swimming in tears to meet the man’s, “You are nothing but skin and bones.”
The man shrieked in frustration, racing to a mirror. He saw the same person who had wooed his girlfriend. Someone not obese, but not slim by any means. The man scoffed, placing a hand on his hip.
His brother came up behind him and put a hand on the man's shoulder. His brother's fingers disappeared into the man. The man took a step back, completely confused.
“This is where your shoulder currently is,” the brother whispered.
The man tilted his head to the side, his brother's hand at the collarbone. He laughed, “This is another one of your tricks isn't it? Did you switch out my mirror before you sat down?”
The next word was so soft it was as if the wind had whispered it instead of a person, “No.”
The man roared, whirling around and shoving his brother out. His brother tried to get the man to stop pushing him away, saying that their parents had asked him to come and help. That the man had to see a doctor.
Nothing worked and the brother was forced out, a door slam in his face as the goodbye.
I glared at the bloody page, the man's anger my own. They had not believed me when I showed them my girlfriend, trying to trick me that it was all a lie. That I had made it up. She was very real. She was very alive.
She was on her way to kill me.
A floor panel creaked and my heart began hurling itself against my chest once more. She had demanded I never finish the book, saying that it would mean our relationship was finished. I tried to convince her otherwise, that I was only documenting it as to never forget, not to end it. She didn't believe me. I hadn't told her when I wrote the last words but she knew. She knew.
The knob for the office turned, the shift of the metal slicing through my heart. The girl emerged, her raven hair flowing around her shoulders. She stared up at the ceiling fan, a cold smile crossing her lips.
“I know you're in here my darling,” she stated, kicking the folding chair. It collapsed into multiple pieces, the metal contorted from years of usage.
“Don't be scared, I just need to talk to you,” she hissed. She advanced towards the closet and I held my breath. My lungs burned but I couldn't risk it. My heart was already too loud.
She leaned against the wall, staring out at the room.
“Hmmm, I wonder where he could be.”
My heart banged so loudly, I could no longer hear her movements. The sting of my fingers was exemplified by my fear but I didn't move. I didn't dare.
The room was unnaturally quiet, so much so that I couldn't even hear her breathing. I wished beyond wishes that she was gone. That my brother had been right at that she was fake. That everything was in my head. My lungs begged for air, and after a minute of nothing I granted them the smallest morsel.
As I took the breath all I saw was an eye. It was a beautiful hazel with rings that faded into nothingness. Like an ancient tree that had outlived humanity. Had outlived me.
“Goodbye my darling,” the eye snarled, and I knew my brother had been wrong.
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Broadly there are two elements of a good story - the plot and the telling of it. You nailed the first. Creative take on a writer's psychosis as it overflows into real life. The second element is good but can be even better. That can only come through practice. The more you read and write, the better you will get. Personally, for example, the excessive focus on paper cuts did not work for me. Made me feel he was handling a chainsaw from the wrong end. But overall I was able to visualize the emaciated author living in his fearful alternate rea...
This is super helpful, thank you. I will definitely practice and read more. Your example of the paper cuts is very beneficial. Thank you for reading!
What an interesting concept! Very cool take on the brief. I liked the weaving of the book and real life (if you’d used italics for the book extracts, that would’ve been even clearer) and the reveal at the end was very fun. I’m not sure I’m a massive fan of the masculinity shown here or the way he views women but that’s a personal thing. Very imaginative and good writing! Thanks for sharing it.
The italics is a fantastic idea, thank you. I will definitely use that if I ever attempt something like this again. Thank you so much for reading!