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Drama Coming of Age Science Fiction

Danny Beresford woke up in a good mood, as he did every morning after Penny’s abrupt departure. It was a relief to start the day without her cold shoulder and frosty words. Even before their divorce was completed, she’d earmarked her possessions; family heirlooms, souvenirs from foreign holidays, and all those silly knick-knacks with limited sentimental value. Danny hadn’t contested her choices; he’d always thought the place was far too cluttered. 

‘I suppose it’s less to dust,’ his mother had said. ‘But it’s a damn nerve, dear.’ 

‘Never mind,’ his father had said. ‘You can’t take it all with you, son.’

In the event, Danny’s father was correct, but only because Penny had seized everything whilst he was at work. Millman, his boss at the bank, was a man of the world. He’d heard about Danny’s troubles and insisted he took time off. 

‘Get yourself a sharp lawyer and come back fighting in two weeks,’ he’d said. ‘I don’t want you moping about and upsetting the clients.’ 

Danny smiled and accepted the offer, not that he could refuse. However, he didn’t get round to contacting his solicitor. He couldn’t be bothered with all the fuss. Penny was welcome to anything. Good riddance to the lot. 

#

It was six a.m. when the alarm’s insistent bleep disturbed Danny’s deep slumber. His two-week reverie had ended and it was time to get back into work mode. Danny snorted air into his lungs, swung his legs from underneath the duvet, and padded across an acre of sanded floorboards between the mahogany bed and matching wardrobe. Without soft furnishings to muffle the sound, his foot slaps echoed around the bare bedroom and pinged off the four sliding glass doors overlooking the back garden. The couple’s detached suburban property was modest in size when they’d purchased it fifteen years ago, however it appeared twice as big in Penny’s absence. While Danny had pursued his daily ritual of sorting out his former wife’s remaining effects, he’d discovered rooms he didn’t know existed. There were parts of his house he didn’t recognise at all. It was as if the entire structure was expanding brick by brick.

#

Danny selected the suit he’d collected from the dry-cleaners at the start of his sick leave. He removed the flimsy protective plastic and, flicking through his collection of ties, chose his favourite; the navy blue one with thin white stripes. It reminded him of his old school tie. Not that he was inclined to reminiscing; his life had changed a lot since those formative years. Danny had resisted joining the old boy network and wasn’t in close contact with his peer group. All his old classmates had moved on too; they’d all travelled far and wide in pursuit of their careers.

#

Downstairs, he checked his Rolex as the percolator gurgled away beside him like a choking cat; spitting and coughing for all it was worth. Danny digested the morning’s headlines on his smart phone while he wolfed down steaming porridge and gulped fresh black coffee. Licking his lips, he added the dirty crockery to yesterday’s breakfast debris and headed for the front door. He grabbed his briefcase and overcoat, pausing in the glazed vestibule to witness the morning sunlight glint on the icy morning dew. The garden’s manicured lawn was a field of twinkling diamonds.

His face tingled as the sun’s first rays bombarded his pale skin and he closed his eyes. Danny imagined being on holiday; somewhere warm and welcoming, a Greek island perhaps. That’d be just the ticket. His eyelids blinked open to see a golden host of dusty particles swirling on invisible air currents. The cloud of specks cavorted in sunlight that had travelled millions of miles to greet him. They fluttered with joyful abandon until the breeze diminished and the moment passed. The spontaneous congregation dispersed without an encore. It was as if their unique performance had never happened. 

The reverse thrust of a descending Airbus A320 bound for Gatwick Airport reminded Danny of the time, and it occurred to him he’d never paused on his doorstop before. He took a deep breath and, after a slow exhalation, lowered his briefcase onto the hardwood threshold. Danny marched past the driveway’s neat borders towards his gleaming Mercedes, clicking an electronic key fob as he approached. There was a sharp honk, and the headlights flashed in response. Danny opened the driver’s door, and leaning inside, turned the key in the ignition. It started the first time. The reliable German engine continued to purr like a pampered feline as the solid door clicked shut and Danny ambled back up his flagstone pathway. When he reached the entrance, he hoofed his briefcase past the mound of unopened letters in the hallway and closed the front door behind him.

#

It was about one o’clock in the afternoon when the phone’s persistent ringing woke him up. Danny tottered downstairs as more mail spilled through the letterbox onto the doormat. In the silent kitchen he tinkered with the landline’s receiver to discover six new messages. He replaced the handset in its cradle without listening to them.

#

Danny answered the phone at three o’clock whilst peering at his car from behind his living room window shutters.

‘Mister Beresford?’ a woman’s voice asked. ‘I called earlier but--- ’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘everything’s fine, Joan.’ 

A fluffy cloud of vapour rose from the car’s exhaust pipe and Joan continued. 

‘You have a full page of appointments for Tuesday, Mister Beresford…’

Surely there couldn’t be much more fuel in the tank? 

‘… and Mister Beresford,’ she said, pausing for breath. ‘Please call Mister Millman.’ 

‘Millman wants me?’

‘He’s blowing a fuse here.’ 

‘Is that so, Joan?’ A jogger halted next to Danny’s spluttering vehicle.

Joan detailed the latest changes in bank personnel and listed new clients that required Danny’s immediate attention. 

‘Sure thing, Joan,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow will be fine…’

Half-listening to his secretary, he avoided eye contact with the lycra-clad neighbour examining the exhaust pipe.

‘… so we’ll see you first thing, sir?’ she asked. 

‘Of course, Joan,’ he said, smiling as the jogger shook her head and continued down the road.

#

The six o’clock television news had just finished its round up of the day’s horror stories when Danny noticed the car’s engine falter and stop. That was when he decided to remain in the house and only answer the door to anyone who had a legitimate reason for visiting the property. He could solve all his difficulties by merely staying here and disappearing into the fabric of the property. Still in his business suit and tie, he resolved to vanish. He padded his pockets and retrieved his wallet, driving licence and work I.D. card. If he destroyed everything that could identify him, he’d be able to slip away undetected. No one would miss him; not really. Danny had got to that age when he knew there were always ten young men chasing after his job. Penny wouldn’t miss him, and he wouldn’t miss her either. 

Danny gathered all the unopened letters and correspondence from the hallway and built a pyramid in the fire grate in the living room. He lit the tapering edges of the pyre and warmed his outstretched palms when the paper caught alight. As the flames crackled, he added one piece of I.D. at a time and cremated all his bank notes too until all he had left was an empty wallet. Danny staggered as he stood up and grabbed the mantelpiece for balance, enveloped by a certain lightheadedness. It was as if he’d removed a colossal weight from his shoulders and now he could breathe freely again.

#

Danny was practical by nature, and his next instinct was to create an inventory of all the food in his pantry, fridge, and garage freezer. He’d visited the supermarket recently and probably had enough produce to last five or six days; maybe ten days if he cut back and fifteen if he was frugal. After that, he’d have to consider shoe leather or broth from boiled cardboard. He’d let providence dictate his future. He couldn’t be any worse off than living with Penny in their marriage from hell. Danny was now free to explore his estate and looked forward to discovering new horizons within his ever-expanding dwelling.

#

The landline woke Danny the next morning at eleven o’clock. It screamed at him from downstairs. He wrapped the duvet around his shoulders and dragged himself down to the kitchen to attend to it. The ringing stopped as he approached, and he lifted the handset to discover ten new messages. The handset vibrated in his hand and shrieked into his face. Grimacing, he rejected the call and rammed the handset onto its cradle. Danny followed the phone unit’s twisted cable to the wall, grabbed hold of the tangled wire and yanked it out of its socket. That would be the last time the landline would disturb him.

#

A week passed by and there were no more calls, which wasn’t a surprise. Danny whiled away the hours, jettisoning his executive trappings. He detached the sixty-inch HDTV from its wall mount and bumped it down the stairs and out into the back garden. This was a giant step to take, but not the first item he’d ejected on his journey to rid himself of his lifestyle. He’d had enough of the limitless channels packed with ocular chewing gum and disposable eye candy. No more streaming services and next day deliveries for him. He would downsize and lose all the baggage and fully explore the elaborate terrain of his ever-distending home.

#

During the second week, Danny piled up the last of Penny’s possessions in the back yard and smashed up the household furniture for firewood. He had no means to pay for the electricity and if he made it to winter, he’d need fuel to keep warm. The only intrusion was a policeman who knocked at the door enquiring about Mister Beresford’s whereabouts. Danny answered the door, still in his suit.

‘Mister Beresford?’ he asked. ‘Are you the householder?’

‘How can I help you?’

‘We had reports of a break in.’

‘No, constable,’ Danny said, frowning. ‘I’ve been here all the time.’

The officer explained he was investigating reports from neighbours who said the upper windows were permanently open and they’d heard bangs and crashes coming from inside. ‘We were told there’d been a break in at this address.’

‘I’ve been engaged in home improvements, constable.’

 The officer shrugged and said he had no reason to pursue the matter, as the legal occupant was present and a law-abiding suburbanite. To that end, Danny closed all the windows facing the road and resolved to maintain a tidy appearance for the sake of his sanity. In many ways, his neighbours had been observant. A forced entry had occurred, of course, a most unusual break in. 

#

A month passed by in the twinkling of an eye. Danny had a few awkward exchanges with an immediate neighbour who’d interrupted his work outside. She’d wanted to know why he wasn’t at work and wondered why the gardener had ceased attending. Danny made polite excuses and disappeared into the undergrowth to continue mapping the topography of his ever-expanding kingdom. Every day, the number and size of his rooms increased. The upper floors had taken on the dimensions of several large aircraft hangers, and the land at the rear was now comparable to Kew Botanic Gardens. With nothing to prevent the ingress of natural daylight, the house’s dimensions became exaggerated further until it took Danny all day to travel from one side of the estate to the other.

#

The outside world still bombarded Danny with irrelevant messages; junk mail, free newspapers, and letters from Mister Millman at the bank. He collected all the detritus from the doormat and incinerated it in the fire grate. Danny smiled during the daily ceremony and imagined the solemn letters pertaining to his contract, accompanied by Millman’s hideous threats and warnings. 

#

Two days ago, Danny heard a knock at the door and saw a slim silhouette behind the frosted vestibule glass. He answered the door to find a smartly dressed woman in a two-piece wool suit and collar length hair. ‘Yes, can I help you?’

‘Mister Beresford?’ she said, her mouth aghast. ‘It’s me, sir, Joan…’

‘Ah, Joan,’ Danny said, leaning on the upright for support. ‘Yes, I’m fine and I’ve been meaning to call.’

‘I’ve been reassigned, sir.’

‘You’re still employed?’

‘Yes, but--- ’

‘That’s good news. I was worried that--- ’

‘But they’ve cleaned out your office and destroyed all your files, sir.’

‘That’s great news, Joan.’

‘Do you need help, sir?’

‘I’ve never been better, Joan, and slowly achieving my dreams.’

#

On the last day of Danny’s exhaustive explorations, he discovered the outer edge of his vast empire in the unmapped region formerly known as garage. At its centre, was an enormous abandoned crater containing ice and glittering gemstones that beckoned him forth. With the last of his rations consumed two weeks before, he had no choice but to enter the icy world to forage for scraps. Danny recalled his history lessons from long ago and Captain Oates’ infamous line as he walked to certain death in a polar blizzard.

What was it he said?

Oh, yes, “I’m just going outside and may be some time.”

His tortured mind repeated those prophetic words as he succumbed to the beguiling ice crystals twinkling on the walls of the cavernous interior. With every movement Danny’s lungs strained for air and his heart struggled to supply blood to aching limbs. A final trembling breath stung his blackened lips and at last Danny’s arms collapsed under the weight of the descending ice-shelf, trapping him inside his abandoned chest freezer forever.



The End


January 27, 2023 17:28

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33 comments

Karen McDermott
11:57 Feb 04, 2023

Here from the critique circle. Excellent work. This is my kind of science fiction; less of the spaceships and funny-named aliens and more of an insight into a disturbed character's imaginings. Haunting but fun.

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Howard Halsall
13:22 Feb 04, 2023

Hey Karen, Thanks for reading my submission and sharing your thoughts; they’re much appreciated. Yes, I agree with you about the nature of Science Fiction stories. There are plenty of intriguing paths to explore in order to discover the hidden and/or darker regions of humanity’s soul. Those alternative journeys and their destinations are always more appealing than encounters with carpet monsters and extra terrestrial life forms, especially when they begin with some semblance of reality and contain relatable characters whose lives we can comp...

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Rama Shaar
20:09 Feb 02, 2023

Oh dear! This was hauntingly attractive as a lifestyle especially at the beginning. I often dream about giving it all up and disappearing, but of course the next day, I come to my senses. Your MC took it all the way, though. Can't blame him. I particularly liked the idea of his house slowly getting bigger and changing names...

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Howard Halsall
20:28 Feb 02, 2023

Hello Rama, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. The mind is a strange labyrinth and life can be a dark maze at times. It’s no surprise people sometimes get lost…. I’m glad you enjoyed my story and hope you laughed at the humour. I recall someone once said about life, “it’s far too important to take it too seriously.” Take care HH

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Kelly Sibley
10:05 Feb 02, 2023

Oh WoW! That was a really clever piece. Well done!

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Howard Halsall
10:38 Feb 02, 2023

Hello Kelly, Thank for reading my story and leaving your positive feedback; it’s much appreciated. Take care HH

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Graham Kinross
04:14 Feb 02, 2023

I was wondering if this really was magic or science fiction but it was really just him having a complete mental breakdown wasn't it? I like the ending, although it reminds me of a story I read on the BBC news website recently about a woman with mental health issues who wrote 'I need help' as her last words on a calendar and was found three years after she died. This seems eerily close to that. The mind is a vast and terrible place to get lost in.

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Howard Halsall
08:43 Feb 02, 2023

Hello Graham, How’s it going? Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my latest submission. I hope it wasn’t too dark and disturbing. I’m never sure whether to announce sensitive material in advance or exactly where to set the bar in terms of a general accepted level of tolerance. Would it help to inform a reader about content or does it spoil the story? Is it a form of self-censorship or should there be guidelines? I appreciate there’s a fine line between satire and offence, however those lines are so blurred that anyone who wa...

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Graham Kinross
12:00 Feb 02, 2023

This is the link to the story. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-64400776

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Howard Halsall
12:43 Feb 02, 2023

Thanks Graham :)

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Graham Kinross
21:55 Feb 02, 2023

You’re welcome, it’s grim stuff.

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Howard Halsall
15:43 Feb 03, 2023

Indeed it is….

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Martin Ross
15:56 Feb 01, 2023

Brilliant writing — great blend of wondrous fantasy and examination of human psychology and pathology. The minimal dialogue and Danny’s journey further and further from his marital/workaday reality puts me in mind of one of my all-time favorite stories, Conrad Aiken’s “Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” I’d be pleased to find this in any commercial anthology — well done!

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Howard Halsall
16:19 Feb 01, 2023

Hello Martin, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and positive feedback, and making a useful comparison to Conrad Aiken’s story. I haven’t read “Silent Snow, Secret Snow,” so I’ll check it when I get an opportunity. Take care HH

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Martin Ross
19:17 Feb 01, 2023

I first watched it on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, an early ‘70s horror/fantasy anthology. Though it is not overt horror, it is a chilling portrayal of a boy’s mental and social alienation unseen by his parents and teachers. Orson Welles narrates, and it truly is a television masterpiece. I read the story in high school, and it was even more powerful.

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Martin Ross
19:27 Feb 01, 2023

The video is unavailable, but here is Welles’ narration from the episode. https://youtu.be/YCQPQOTPrns

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Howard Halsall
20:35 Feb 01, 2023

Hey Martin, Thanks for the info; it’s much appreciated. Incidentally, I found a link to the short story: https://theshortstory.co.uk/classic-short-story-silent-snow-secret-snow-by-conrad-aiken/ Take care HH

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Martin Ross
04:10 Feb 02, 2023

Thanks!

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Howard Halsall
08:44 Feb 02, 2023

No problem :)

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Stevie Burges
15:58 Jan 31, 2023

This is a disturbing story but very well written. Despite not personally living his lifestyle I felt strangely disturbed when everything was jettisoned. You’ve got some really great descriptive phrases - loved the percolator spitting etc. the disintegration of a life was so well told. Well thought out, thanks for writing.

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Howard Halsall
10:55 Feb 01, 2023

Hello Stevie, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate the feedback and hope you weren’t too disturbed by the content. Take care HH

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Michelle Oliver
11:48 Jan 31, 2023

I liked this story, even though it disturbed me… which I suppose was your intention. You begin with Danny’s feelings of relief, being released from his wife’s “cold shoulder and frosty words” to the full circle with his own demise in the “descending ice-shelf, trapping him inside his abandoned chest freezer forever.” The way you chopped the narrative into chunks made for a disjointed story that perfectly reflects the tortured turmoil of his thoughts.

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Howard Halsall
10:54 Feb 01, 2023

Hello Michelle, Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate the feedback and useful comments. Take care HH

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Wendy Kaminski
19:17 Jan 28, 2023

This was charmingly absurdist, Howard! I enjoyed it very much as a dark study in our lifestyles, and how to go about disengaging. :) One line struck me as particularly humorous: "A week passed by and there were no more calls, which wasn’t a surprise." LOL :) Also, I would have commented sooner, but I had a panic attack and had to lay down after I read "No more streaming services and next day deliveries for him." :)

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Howard Halsall
15:29 Jan 29, 2023

Hello Wendy, I’m glad you enjoyed reading my latest submission and I’m amused by your description, “charmingly absurdist.” I took it as a compliment and it made me smile. I think funny moments often deliver the hardest punches, so I appreciate your feedback and I’m relieved you got the dark humour. Take care HH

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Lily Finch
19:04 Jan 28, 2023

A pretty unique take on the prompt. Your story had me guessing there for a while. Not sure for what, but I didn't expect that ending. Nice one. LF6

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Howard Halsall
15:20 Jan 29, 2023

Hello Lily, Thank you for reading my latest submission. I’m glad you enjoyed it and relieved you got to the end to discover the surprise. Take care HH

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Stevie Burges
00:24 Feb 01, 2023

snorted air into his lungs percolator gurgled away beside him like a choking cat; spitting and coughing specks cavorted in sunlight that had travelled millions of miles to greet him. They fluttered with joyful abandon until the breeze diminished and the moment passed. The spontaneous congregation dispersed without an encore. It was as if their unique performance had never happened I'm not going to copy and paste every fabulous phrase - there were so many. I loved the whole morning's behaviour and tasks - I really lived it. I loved the hou...

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Howard Halsall
10:58 Feb 01, 2023

Hello again, Thank you for your additional notes. I must say I t seems strange seeing all those lines you liked next to each other and out of context…. I hope I haven’t gone too far with my descriptions. Take care HH

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Stevie Burges
11:30 Feb 01, 2023

no, they are good descriptions and make the story come alive.

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Howard Halsall
11:39 Feb 01, 2023

That’s a relief :)

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Stevie Burges
13:55 Feb 01, 2023

Apologies not brilliant at critiquing- more practice needed.

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Howard Halsall
14:08 Feb 01, 2023

You’re doing just fine :)

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