Under the “Read More” section of this post is the third submission I made to the McKinney Contest. It’s a short story fiction which I plan on expanding at a later date (within the next week for another project for class).
I would love to get some creative criticism for this. It was a quick write for me, so I may have made some mistakes that I normally wouldn’t, but I would like for anyone to comment. If you have a lot to comment on, send me a question and I’ll answer as promptly as possible.
VERY brief summary : This is a short story about a man who gets a second chance to do something right in his life.
I hope everyone enjoys!
By Jared Connell
I’m in the shower when the phone rings. Turning my face away from the shower head, I tell the phone I’ll only be a minute; I imagine it understands. I run from the shower with a towel about my waist, I am dripping wet. The phone has gone silent. That’s when I notice two messages on the machine. I press play.
“Good morning son, just calling to see if you’d like to help out your dear old mom and dad. We need a ride to the pharmacy. If you don’t get back to us, we’ll probably be out by ten or eleven. Or you know, whenever your mother…” My eyes flash to the clock on my wall. The hands seem to have a menacing aura about them as they point to the two. My mind goes into a haze…
They should have called me back by now…No, I’m sure they’re fine, they’ve always been careful drivers. I should have been up earlier this morning, maybe I would have been able to drive…
The fog is forcefully blown from me when the next message begins. It’s from the hospital. I’m needed. Immediately. The next few minutes are a blur; somehow I manage to throw on clothes. I forget the shower I just took. My clothes are now soaked. I forget where my keys are placed. The hanger by the door is empty. My hands ball up tight and I begin to shake.
Shit! Come on Shawn, think. COME ON.
I look to the floor, nothing. I look to the oak cabinet squatting by the door, nothing. I look to my kitchen, nothing. I look to the zebra-printed sheets on my bed, nothing. My eyes and mind are buzzing like a bee in summer. Images and thoughts seem to flash past of me. They land at my sides with my hands.
I pat my sides down. A sigh of relief escapes my lips. There is the familiar bumpy feel of the grip and the hated sharp blade of the shaft. How could I have forgotten it was right in my pocket? I must have worn these pants last night. While checking my reflection in the mirror by the door, I notice a bright orange and green, leaf-printed shirt. I shake the feeling of disgust from my mind and I rush through the door. My mind reminds me of the urgency at hand and I jog down the stairs to my car. I press the button on my keys, my car beeps twice. I cringe at the sound. I must have left the doors unlocked; now I’m being scolded. I jump in. I push the speed limit as I go down Main.
The only hospital is immediately south from my town. When I look to my clock, I realize I have only been driving for a few minutes. I must have been going faster than I thought. Come on mind, stop playing tricks on me. I try to shake the haze as I look for a spot in the densely packed parking lot. As I park, I raise my head and eye the building. I’ve always thought it seemed fairly small for the size of city it services. Maybe there’s one on the other side of town. My aversion to hospitals has led me to not really notice them when I come to this city.
As I walk through the seemingly welcoming doors into the lobby, it hits me. Normally, I would shudder at the thought of it. Now as I experience it first person, I begin to gag. That smell. My nose fills with despair; I force a swallow. It’s almost too much. However, I decide to push through. I cringe. As I step farther in, a lady at the front desk stops me to ask what my business is. I tell her I was asked to come in for something.
“Name?” Her voice is shrill, it pulls me out of my haze a little further.
“Uhm, Shawn.” I look around the place. It’s white. It’s unnerving. It’s too clean. “Shawn Lathram.”
The receptionist glares at me, I must be bothering her. Slowly, her pruney hand raises. It points me down the hall behind her, “It’s at the end of the hall, over there. Don’t forget to sign in first.” She then moves a crooked finger to the book sitting above her, on the counter. I look over the counter for a pen, I don’t notice any. My hand begins to reach into my pocket when my mind chimes in. You gave your clothes a shower, stupid. Do you think a pen would work even if you had one? I look down at the shriveled woman below the counter and notice she’s not paying attention. I clear my throat.
“Sorry to bother you again, but would you mind sparing a pen?”
A warty face turns up from the computer screen it’s been intently focused on. Her grey eyebrows pull back as she realizes the predicament I’m in; my brown eyebrows lower at her. She shuffles through her desk and produces a pen which she promptly throws at me. The pen looks like an old tree with pits and marks all over it. I try to stay clear of them but my fingers fail. They seem to fall into every nook and cranny. My gag reflex triggers again as I hastily finish my name. I toss the pen back to her.
My shoes begin to squeak on the linoleum in the cramped hallway I find myself in. It’s not a very small hallway, but somehow I feel cramped. Staff are speedily walking the halls and I try not to make any eye contact. This proves difficult when I try to force my hands into my pockets. The wet fabric pushes back at me; the rate of my breathing begins to increase. Like a wind before a storm, a breath exits my nose forcefully. My jaw tightens.
Why today? Why can’t I be normal for more than one day? I’m sure I was just getting recognized for being normal, now this shit happens. Dammit Shawn, back to square one. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
The haze lifts again. I notice a few dark black streaks on the wall in front of me, my foot begins to sting a little. Swallowing my pride, I feign a happy face at the cute nurse who noticed me. Well, you blew it with another one… I tip my head to her and apologize for the scene I must have caused. She assures me that everything is fine. “Just, don’t do that again, the janitorial staff doesn’t need more to clean.” I apologize again as I resume walking down the hall.
My feet seem to propel me down the rest of the hallway to a door. I find myself below a large sign. There are some strangely large letters on this sign that spell out “M-O-R-G-U-E.” Oh boy. This can’t be good. Am I at the right place? I went where that lady told me to go…Shit. The smell hits me again and I attempt to swallow down some breakfast as I walk through. I hope this isn’t the right place. Please tell me someone got some paperwork messed up.
The doctor inside looks grimly at me and I have my answer. He takes me by the hand and pulls me in close so he can pat my back slowly. This can’t be good. Already trying to console me… I find a chance to peek at his name just before he takes me into the room fully. My nagging mind seems to have closed my fickle ears again and I must have missed his name. The name tag reads: Doctor Durance. I try to breathe calmly as I notice words coming from his lips without sound.
“…the surname on the bodies. After a systems check we found you were their only son so we called you immediately. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this.” He grabs me by the shoulder again and tries to make eye contact. It’s no use, my eyes are fixed on the two bumpy sheets in the middle of the room. “Your parents have passed.” Breathing stops. Try to swallow. No use. Throat completely dry. Eyes close. I’m gone…
What the…where the hell am I… I can’t see a damn thing. Nothing anywhere. I must have gone blind. I must have… Okay Shawn. Calm yourself. Calm.
Maybe this is death. Maybe I’m dead. No, I can’t be dead, I was fine just a few seconds ago… I mean, I’m still breathing right? I feel like I’m breathing. I can feel the air in my lungs. It’s cold though. Why am I just noticing how cold it is here? Brrr. Maybe I can huddle for warm….Wait. Where’s my body? WHERE. IS. MY. BODY.
I need to breathe deeply. Calm myself. I need to just come to terms with this. Yes, I’ve done all I could. Just let it happen Shawn, let it happen. I might as well try to get comfortable. Well, as comfortable as one can get without a body.
* * *
Well, this is getting really boring. Why couldn’t there be some kind of light, maybe a clock? I just want to know how long I’ve been here…
Well, maybe I really am dead. This isn’t so bad, I guess. It’s kind of like Sunday morning TV. I wish I knew what was happening. Wait…what was that? I thought I… heard something…No, no, just my imagination. It sounded like a phone ringing. It sounded like MY phone ringing. Wait… It can’t be… I can’t be dreaming, my eyes are already open. I think. If it wants me, it will come for me.
Well what if it does come for me? What if it’s some kind of monster? What if it’s my dead parents?! No. Come on Shawn. You know better. They’re dead now… sadly. They can’t come back. They can’t be disappointed in you for this. I mean, how could they find you in this place? For all you know, you’re in some magical land of lollipops and unicorns… and you’re blind…
* * *
I just wish I knew this would happen some day to me. I bet I would have gotten a better education, maybe a job, and a wife or something. Hell, if I do wake up from this, what do I have to live for? Dead parents, shitty job, no love life. There’s nothing left for me. If only I wasn’t as lazy. If only I helped my parents more. If only I had gotten out more. If only I got up earlier today I might have been able to drive my parents around and they’d be alive…
If only… If only…
Air explodes into my lungs. I try to catch my breath as quickly as possible. My eyes open and are blinded by light through a window. I am amazed and relieved, I thought I’d be in that place forever. I pat myself down. Hands, check. Arms, check. Torso, check. Legs, check. Everything seems to be accounted for. I stretch. Now I notice that I’m back in my room.
When did I get back here? Did I drive myself back? No, I couldn’t have. The hospital staff would have left me there. Could it have been…all a dream? No, it couldn’t be, it all felt so real.
I look down. I can’t believe what I see. My sheets are soaking wet; I am soaking wet. Lowering my nose to the sheets, I sniff. It doesn’t have a scent of urine, in fact, it doesn’t smell like anything. I look down at myself. Green and orange leaf-print. This is weird.
My nose sips from the air in the room. It feels…different. I feel slightly nostalgic. Slightly more like deja-vu. I shake my head of the thought as I reach for my TV controller. I feel around for the little circle button as I point the controller to the TV.
“…and it’s going to be a beautiful day out today, Rich. We’re looking at no cloud cover and a high of 70. Everyone should go out and enjoy this day! Back…”
That’s creepy. The exact same forecast he reported in my dream… Wait… What day is today?
I push the button to turn the TV back off. While pushing myself from my bed, I make a mental note to dry my sheets. I notice my neighbor open her window as I’m walking to my desk. She waves to me. I raise my hand to wave back but she’s broken into uncontrollable laughter. The fat on her sides jiggles around like pudding. I show my new found disdain for her with a the wave of a finger. She’s probably never seen a man have to clothe himself immediately during the middle of a shower. How dare she laugh at me. I forcefully close the dark blue curtains together. It proves to do nothing more than swish them like a flag in the wind, but I feel I got my point across. At least I don’t have to look at her now.
My computer sits on a dark maple desk in the corner of my bedroom. The old hunk-of-junk is nothing spectacular. It works slowly, when it even decides to work. Pushing the power button proves fruitful and the fans inside begin to whirr. As I sit I remember the three minute wait I have to endure before I get to the boot screen. I decide to do something else to pass the time.
I am finally able to towel off and get some new clothes on. I throw my wet clothes to the bed and they land with a “plop.” I am reminded of a fish hitting a cutting board; I cringe. Wiping the sound from my memory, I open up my wardrobe. After glancing through the rainbow of colors I have to choose from, I pick out a pair of blue jeans and a burgundy shirt with the words, “You look like someone…” on it.
I figure that’s good enough for now so I return to my computer. After entering my information, I remember the extra five minute load time before I can use my desktop. I sigh heavily and roll my eyes. My stomach begins to gurgle up to me.
Breakfast sounds like a good idea right now. I stroll to my kitchen and grab some bread to throw in the toaster. The butter and cinnamon are kept above the toaster. I grab for them as my toast pops. I butter the bread, making sure not to get any on my hands. I cant stand the oiliness of the butter on my hands. I sprinkle some cinnamon on the butter after throwing the knife into the sink. As I’m crunching into the slice, savoring the savory flavor, I remember that I’m waiting for my computer.
Maybe if I bought a wall calendar at some point. No, it’s too much to deal with and leaves too much mess. Maybe at least wait for the news to tell me. No, that wouldn’t work, they only give date on the hourly and it’s far form the hour.
As I walk back to the corner of my room, my hand loses it’s grip. My toast hits the floor. My eyes stick wide open. My jaw drops. I cannot believe what my computer tells me. It’s March 15th again. My phone rings, I nearly have a heart attack. I try to swallow. My throat has all but dried up. Shaking, I grab for my phone…
“Good morning son, just calling to see if you’d like to help out your dear mom and dad today. We need a ride to the pharmacy.”
“Uh…uhm…” I cough, it hurts my chest.
“Are you alright? You know, if you’re not feeling well…”
“No, no dad, I’m fine. I…I’ll be right over.”
I look for my keys by the door, they’re not there. I shake my head and I go back to my bedroom. Patting down the pockets of my jeans gives me what I want. I shake my head. This…this can’t be happening. Am I getting a second chance? Am I going to be able to keep my parents alive? I don’t know, but you know what Shawn? After today, you turn your life around.
As I reach to click the button on my keys, my other hand just grabs the handle instead. The door comes free from it’s home. I shake my head again. I get in. I try to not speed as I drive to my parent’s home. I find it difficult to stay at the speed limit. While I drive, I begin to notice my elevated heartbeat. It’s probably been like this since I looked my my computer screen. I try to calm myself my breathing slowly and I notice the beautiful countryside. My shaking beings to subside and I decide to roll down my window.
The breeze through the window is fresh and smells of picnics and corn. A nostalgia washes over me and I feel happy. I get a chance to change everything. I take a deep breath and my eyes close…
I am engulfed in darkness, it’s cold, I cannot feel my body. Although the feeling has become pleasingly comfortable, my mind still buzzes.
Shit… I thought I got a second chance. I thought I could save someone, do something with my life… Well, what now? Do I sit here for another god-knows-how long? What happened anyway? I thought I was going to be able to save them…
I begin to feel a wet sensation upon my cheeks. I do not believe that I am crying. I’m feeling okay right now. The wet sensation is now rolling across the sides of my face. I breathe deeply as I realize I’m horizontal.
Am I laying down in the rain? It’s certainly a weird feeling, I don’t remember ever doing that. No, maybe this isn’t deja vu, this feels new.
My breathing slows. I notice my eyes are closed. I notice a beeping. I notice sobbing. I try to open my eyes but they seem to be pushing against me. With force, I try to open my eyes again. I am greeted by the warm wrinkling of my parents’ faces. They continue to cry, not noticing that my eyes have opened. I look around as much as I can. I notice that I’m hooked up to various machines. I notice that I look somewhat like swiss cheese.
Well…at least they’re fine. At least I finally did something good in my life.
My eyes begin to flood with tears. I feel I’m happy for the first time in my lonely life. My muffled sobs call my parent’s attention. They look at me with longing and love. My eyelids soften and my eyebrows raise. I try to tell them I’m sorry, try to tell them I love them, try to tell them I did this for them.
Ah well, at least they can live for a little longer. They deserve it. I exhale slowly and I notice how tired I have become. This is exhausting, maybe I should sleep.
I try to muffle a “love you” and a “goodnight,” but I’m unsure that they understand. As my eyes close, the consistent beeping becomes a constant note.
I don’t notice my parents grabbing at me. I don’t notice the singeing of my skin from the doctors trying to resuscitate me. I don’t notice the smell of the hospital anymore. Nothing seems to bother me anymore.
Good, this is good.