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In Darkness

light of knowledge 003

Photo @Debi Smith. May not be used without permission.

I creep through the dim hall seeking what hides in the shadows before it can catch me unaware; every muscle in my body tense. Making my way, step by wary step, to the next hallway where the light switch is.

I hate being the only one in the building this late with everything locked up and the common area lights off. Anyone can sneak in and hide before the doors lock for the night; lying in wait in a dark office until they hear the lonely soul left making their way to the copier then step out to claim their mark.

“One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” comes to mind unbidden.

Fuck. As if I’m not scared enough already.

I shake off the cold shiver making me want to crawl out of my skin. My eyes flit around, vigilant. My pace, slow and deliberate.  Papers crinkle in my grip.

I stop, take a deep breath, straighten, and smooth out the contract I need to copy for my meeting first thing in the morning.

Come on. Be a professional. No one is here. It’s all in your head.

I take one confident step before I hunch my shoulders and scan the hallway again. I tiptoe close to the wall without any doors. I crane my neck, peeking as I round the corner.

The next hallway. The light switch.

A few more steps and I stand in the doorway of the last hall. The blackest of them all. Ten steps to the switch.

I plant my foot in the hall and follow with the other, making the commitment.

Eight more steps.

One foot in front of the other.

Almost there.

The door to my left flies open with a large, dark silhouette standing in the doorway.

I let out a bloodcurdling scream, my feet rooted in place, and papers swirl around me.

The figure remains still. Silent.

Holy shit! I’m going to die!

Another piercing scream escapes me as my heart beats so hard it threatens to burst out of my chest.

“Sorry,” the soft male voice says.

Christ. It’s Hank, coming down from his office upstairs.

“No, I’m sorry. I had no idea I wasn’t the only one working late. Damn lights being turned off at six is a pain in the ass.” I flip the light switch and the fluorescents flicker on.

“It ain’t easy being green,” he says, grinning.

©Debi Smith, 2014

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Under The Stars

1040546_10151525021186033_2091942301_oI let a contented sigh escape as Brady’s arm tugs me into his side.

“Better?” he asks.

I lay my head on his shoulder. “Much.”

The stars wink at us as if to say, It will be okay.

It was Brady’s idea. I was pacing and cursing, wound tight from the stress. The more I cursed, the more I paced. The more I paced, the more I cursed. He didn’t even suggest. He just took me by the hand and led me outside then sat me down on the ground.

That’s what I love about him. He knows what I need without me saying it, sometimes before I even know what I need.

“It’s not always going to be like this,” he reminds me.

“I know. They just drive me to the brink of insanity.” He keeps me from going over the edge. Every time.

“Countdown?”

“Seventeen days.” Still some time.

He squeezes my shoulder. “I’m going to miss you, Charis.”

I press into him. “You’re the only person I’m going to miss from this godforsaken place, Brady.”

“You don’t mean that. What about your friends?”

“What friends? The ones who play at being my friend but talk about me behind my back the first chance they get?”

Silence weaves its way between us. He knows I’m right. Everyone else in this town pretends. Brady is the only one who is real. The only one I can count on.

“I’m still going to miss you,” he says softly. The longing in those six words is palpable.

“You’ll visit.” It’s not a question. It never was a question when I first laid out my plan to him.

“Every weekend.” He rests his head on mine.

The stars blink their approval and I settle into him. Stillness covers us like a well-worn quilt.

I’m trading this comfort for liberation. For a life not dominated by the expectations of others. For sanity in a world of my own making. The trade-off means being my own anchor from now on.

Brady has a life here he needs to live. I’m sure his girlfriend will be happier without me around for him to worry about. She doesn’t understand our friendship. No one does. She merely tolerates it…me.

The stars dim.

©Debi Smith, 2014

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Fragile Line

handwritingMatt was in a crumpled heap across from me in the small padded room. Just twenty minutes before he was taking swings at us and cussing us out. We had to physically restrain him to prevent him from hurting anyone. It wore us out as much as it did him, but we could never match the emotional turmoil and exhaustion he felt.

He stopped fighting and unloaded everything he was worried about. Then, the realization of his actions and their consequences hit him and the crying started. He broke his streak of good choices because he reverted to old habits under stress.

Everyone else left the room. I sat cross-legged listening to him pour out self-denigrating comments, one after another, because his mother wouldn’t be happy when she found out. She wanted perfection from her son and wore her displeasure on her face like a badly matched foundation when he didn’t live up to her unreasonable expectations. She had no idea the pressure she put on him contributed to his current condition.

A tortured mess.

Can I make him understand I know what the crushing weight of all four walls pressing in with no catch to stop them feels like? We’re taught not to share personal information, to remain strictly professional. Maintain boundaries at all times.

A knot formed in the back of my throat that refused to be swallowed. It was like peering into a mirror pool holding my past and my heart broke for him. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and tell him it would be okay. I wanted to make it okay. But I didn’t believe in lying to the kids and I didn’t have a magic wand for the latter.

“Matt,” I said quietly.

He stirred and snuffled. “What?” he asked as his voice croaked.

“You,” I point to him, “are allowed to make mistakes. It’s how we learn to navigate life. You are in a place where you can make as many as you want safely. The fact that you are making them less than before you came to us means something.”

“But my mo-“

“Listen to me,” I said firmly.

He propped himself up on an elbow and stared intently at me with glistening brown eyes. His cheeks stained with ribbons of dried tears.

Hang the training. Matt needed to hear he’s not alone and I’m as human as he is. So I told him.

I told him how my parents placed too much responsibility on my shoulders. How I lost my childhood and wasn’t allowed to pursue my dreams.

“You’re fourteen, Matt. When you get out of here you need to be hanging out with friends, getting your first girlfriend, and going to school football games and dances. You’re not the adult your mom wants you to be. Enjoy the rest of your youth while you can and leave the adult stuff to her.”

He swiped the tears away with the back of his hand. “Can I have a hug?” he asked softly.

I nodded and crawled next to him. He wrapped an arm around me from the side and rested his blond mop on my shoulder. I settled my arm on his shoulders and squeezed him gently while I bit back my own tears.

I was walking a fragile line. His mother would likely construe my advice as undermining her authority. But I was the “parent” in the moment and I refused to let him continue to torment himself unnecessarily. If it led to him standing up for himself, I would happily accept my consequences if his mom complained.

“Thank you,” he said.

Paying the price is worth it in a case like this.

©Debi Smith, 2014

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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