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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
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    Manchester, England

    Short Story Contest 101: Eavesdropping - Submission & Details Thread

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Aug 30, 2011.

    Short Story Contest 101
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Eavesdropping"​

    This contest is open to all members, newbies and the established alike. Please post your entries as replies to this post. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a separate thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. Sadly, there is no prize on offer except pride. The winner may PM/VM me to request the theme of a subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Theme: "Eavesdropping" (courtesy of member Pythonforger). Any interpretation valid. Entries do not have to follow the theme explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.
    Wordlimit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Monday 12th September 2011 10.00 am (UK local)

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. As below, any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    There is a maximum of 20 entries to any contest. If there are more than 20 entries to any one contest I will decide which are entered into voting based on adherence to the suggested word limit and relevance to the theme, not on a first-come-first served basis.

    The next contest will be themed "Unknown Pre-written Scenario - You write a story using it". This scenario will be decided before the contest is launched. The contest after that will be themed "Amnesia" (courtesy of member Ubrechor). Be free to prepare an entry in advance for either of these contests, but do not submit an entry to these contests until instructed to do so.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece manner to decide its legitamacy for the contest.

    Submissions may not have been previously posted on this site, nor may they be posted for review until voting has closed. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permissable.

    Please try to refrain from itallicising, bolding, colouring or indenting any text to help avoid disappointment. These stylistics do not reproduce when I copy-paste them into the voting thread. You may use visible noparse BB code to preserve style if you wish by placing [ noparse ] and [ /noparse ] (without the spaces) around the entire text.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please leave me a visitor message or PM me. Please do not clog up this, or any other thread, with your questions.

    Please note that only current members are eligible to win.

    Thanks and good luck.
  2. MarmaladeQueen

    MarmaladeQueen New Member

    Aug 1, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Grays (2145 words)

    “Can you hear anything?” I whispered. We were crouched, my brother and I, in the freezing cold and dark, he with his ear to the closed living-room door. I was right behind him with my chin nearly resting on his shoulder.

    “Sssssh! Nothing yet. They’ve got the radio on too loud.”

    We’d never dared to anything like this before. We’d pretended to be asleep at our normal bedtime, but we’d made a pact to keep each other awake until our parents were settled down in the living-room. That was when they were most likely to talk. We knew what we were doing was incredibly naughty – and rude. We knew that if we were caught we’d be in great trouble. But there was something up. There was an atmosphere in the house. The odd words between our parents. The exchanging of meaningful glances. Something way beyond the ordinary. And we very badly wanted to know what it was. So I’d put a hairbrush down the back of my pyjamas so that it prickled me whenever I rolled onto my back and started to doze off, and John had kept himself awake reading under the bedclothes with his torch. At last it seemed quiet, and we crept slowly down the stairs, missing the fifth step up which always creaked.

    John had draped a blanket around his shoulders. I’d put on my quilted dressing-gown and slippers, but still we shivered. There was no central heating houses like ours in those days, and it was December and frosty outside. There would be a fire lit in the living-room, and the Rayburn was always alight in the kitchen, summer and winter, because it was needed for cooking. That was it as far as heating went. We always wore vests and thick woolly jumpers that Granny knitted for us, but still we felt cold for much of the winter. I used to hug my clothes to me under the blankets in the mornings to warm them up before I got dressed.

    “We should have brought a cup to hold against the door, like they do in stories,” I said, keeping my voice low.

    But John wasn’t taking any notice of me. I could see from the expression on his face that he was straining to hear. He was older than me by two years and that made him the natural leader.

    “Grays,” John whispered back at me. “Daddy mentioned Grays.”

    Then all of a sudden we could both hear really clearly, because my mother had raised her voice. I’d say she was almost shouting, but that didn’t seem possible. In all of my nine years I could never remember my mother shouting. But we could hear her cut-glass tones through the door as clearly as if we were in the room with her.

    “I will not go to Grays, Arthur,” she was saying. “I don’t care what transgressions you want to atone for or whose souls you want to save. Grays is a bridge too far.”

    I didn’t really understand what she was saying. Trangressions. Atonement. Words I’d vaguely heard in church when I was bored and wishing I could be out playing with my friends. Other people didn’t have to spend hours in church the way we did, and I often envied Alison and Jane and Pamela and the others who’d be out playing hopscotch when we were sat in the dank cold hearing about sin and salvation.

    “He’s talking,” John whispered.

    “Can you hear what he’s saying?” I whispered back.

    “Not when you’re whispering in my lug-hole like that.”

    My mother’s voice again, still loud. “But you’re needed here. You’re doing such good work here. Such important work here.”

    Yet more mumbling from my father.

    Then my mother again, her voice sounding all angry in a way that was completely unlike her. “You go if you must. But the children and I will stay in Malvern.”

    Another silence, briefer this time, when he must have said something. Then her voice again.

    “Take it then, Arthur. I don’t care. We’ll go to Mother’s. At least the children can stay at decent schools.”

    Our parents never argued, not like they were doing now. But you could tell, from the odd comments they made, that there was a lot that they disagreed about. Schools were one of them. Granny, our mother's mother, was another. We'd got good at picking up the odd comment they made when they thought we weren't listening. If you got enough odd comments you could string them together to get some kind of meaning out of them. We knew, therefore, that Granny had a lot to say about schools. And about how we were being brought up. And about our father. We also knew, from the silences as much as from the chance remarks that we listened in on, that Granny didn’t think much of our father.

    “I said nothing about divorce.” My mother’s voice again, rising in pitch and volume. “You know perfectly well my views on divorce, Arthur. When you decide to live somewhere… somewhere more suitable for the children then we will of course be reunited as a family.”

    It was always a bad sign when she used his name a lot. Arthur this. Arthur that. We both knew it meant she was annoyed with him about something. She seemed to have been annoyed a lot recently. In contrast, my father never seemed to sound cross. Nor happy nor sad nor anything very much in particular. He just went about his routines. Got up, had breakfast, read the paper, read the post, went out on parish visits, came home. Sometimes he would look at John or me and seem surprised, but other than that he mostly just looked like he was busy thinking of other things. And he did a lot of praying. Keeping quiet because Daddy was in his study praying happened a lot in our house.

    There was a long quiet bit after my mother’s last utterance. We could hear the music playing on the radio, and a very quiet murmur that was my father talking. Then she spoke again, in a slightly quieter voice.

    “I’m sorry, Arthur, there is no point in discussing it any further. My mind is made up, and so, it seems, is yours.”

    We knew that note of finality in my mother’s voice. Like when she said no more biscuits, or time for a bath. When she used that voice, her word was law.

    “Scarper!” whispered John, but really he didn’t need to. I was already halfway up the stairs, not forgetting to skip the creaky fifth step, and John was right behind me. We just reached the landing and disappeared from view when we heard the living-room door open and for a moment we could hear the radio clearly before it was turned off with its usual loud click. It was a huge old valve radio in a polished wooden case that had to warm up when you switched it on. Granny had given it to us when she bought a new transistor one. We didn’t have a television partly because they were expensive and partly because our parents thought children should be out playing or, if inside, reading books or playing board games like chess and draughts.

    “Are you sure the children are asleep? I thought I just heard a noise from upstairs.” I could hear my father’s voice, now, at the bottom of the stairs.

    “They were sound asleep when I checked on them earlier. Sometimes Lucy wakes up and goes to the toilet. I’ll check on them again when I go up.”

    Back in our beds now, with the covers almost over ours heads, we could hear the faint sounds of them moving around the kitchen below and of my father locking up the house.

    I lay under my bedclothes shivering and not able to get to sleep. I heard my mother came upstairs and she pushed open our bedroom door and stood there for a few moments in the dim glow of the landing nightlight. I made my breathing go all slow and steady as if I were asleep. Then I heard my father’s footsteps coming upstairs and there was moving around and the sounds of teeth-brushing and toilet-flushing and doors opening and shutting as they got ready for bed.

    Eventually the house was utterly still and all I could hear was the rhythmic sound of a goods train in the distance, rattling through on the railway line.

    “John,” I whispered, “are you still awake?”


    “Can I come into your bed to get warm?”

    “OK. Just for a moment,” he whispered back.

    That was another of the things Granny disapproved of. She said we were too old to be still sharing a room, a boy and a girl together, but there were only three bedrooms and one was my father’s study, so it couldn’t be helped. Even John said it was babyish to climb into his bed with him, but I only did it now if I’d had a nightmare or if there was a thunderstorm or something scary like that.

    “I don’t want Daddy to go to Browns without us,” I said, once I was safely snuggled up in John’s bed.

    “Grays,” he said. “It’s Grays, not Browns.”

    “What is Grays?”

    “It’s a place. Near London, I think. I don’t want him to go either, not unless we all go.”

    “There a girl called Deidre at school,” I went on, still in a whisper. “Her parents split up and now she never sees her father. I wouldn’t want never to see Daddy again.”

    But John had fallen asleep and I must have done too, because the next thing I remember it was morning. My mother had opened the curtains and the winter sun streamed in lighting up the frost patterns on the windows. In our house the metal-framed windows would frost up on the inside and I loved drawing pictures and patterns in it with my fingernail. I always got told off for doing that because it left marks on the windows until they were cleaned again, but I still did it.

    “Come on sleepyheads or you’ll be late for school. Daddy’s already at the breakfast table,” said my mother in her ordinary everyday cheerful voice. She didn’t say anything about me being in John’s bed.

    We always ate breakfast sitting around the table together. And all our meals for that matter. We didn’t graze like families do today. In our house, no-one would start eating until everyone was sat down.

    “Darlings,” my mother said brightly, once we were all downstairs and grace had been said, "Daddy and I have exciting news for you.” She smiled that particular smile that we knew so well. It always accompanied some unpleasant announcement that we were all meant to pretend was good news. Like when she decided that we should give up meat for a month and send the housekeeping money she saved to help the starving in Africa.

    I saw John pause, his spoon of breakfast cereal halfway to his mouth, the milk dripping onto the tablecloth.

    “Careful, John, you’re making a bit of a mess there,” my father rebuked, from behind his newspaper. I never did understand how he could observe so much from behind the newspaper.

    “Sorry, Daddy,” said John. I could tell he was as agog as I was to hear my mother’s announcement. It was hard to see how it could be anything other than bad news, whatever it was.

    She waited until she was sure we were both listening to her.

    “We are going to move. Daddy has been offered a new parish. It’s a wonderful opportunity for him and for all of us - it’s always exciting to have a new place to explore, isn’t it? Better even than a holiday.” she said, beaming at us both. But I could see that while her mouth smiled, her eyes didn’t.

    “What about…” I started to say, but John kicked me under the table hard.

    “What about what, Lucy?” asked my mother.

    I thought rapidly. “What about our schools? Will we have to change schools?”

    “Yes darling. Grays is quite a long way from Malvern. But won’t it be an adventure? There will be loads of new friends to make”.

    I was about to say that I liked the friends I had in Malvern but John kicked me again under the table.

    My father standing up from the table was our signal that we could get down, and we ran helter-skelter up the stairs to the bathroom to brush our teeth.

    “What happened?” I whispered to John as soon as we were out of earshot. “Mummy said last night that we were doing to stay in Malvern with Granny.”

    John had his mouth full of toothpaste and didn’t reply straight away. I waited impatiently while he finished his brushing and spitting and rinsing. It seemed like he was being deliberately slow.

    “Grown-ups” he said, at last, with a slight toss of his head as if in their direction. We could hear the faint clink of crockery from downstairs as my mother cleared the breakfast table. “They are always like that. Saying one thing and doing another. They’re a bit of a mystery, really.”
  3. nibris

    nibris New Member

    Feb 25, 2011
    Likes Received:
    They Have No Right

    Denmark leaned against the wall just next to the door. He lit another cigarette and listened as the argument in the room behind his back grew more and more heated. It was about him. Denmark smiled to himself. Surprise, surprise. Whenever people had a problem when he was around, it was always him. When he stepped into a room, others would often excuse themselves and step into another room for a 'discussion'. Psh, discussion. Like hell. They weren't even subtle. They'd always be in the other room practically screaming, listing the reasons he shouldn't be allowed to step foot in their home. Then the sympathetic voice would arise, protecting him, defending him like an unwanted, filthy animal that had managed to squeeze in under the door. He knew they looked down on him.

    Asses, all of them. Denmark inhaled and the red glow of his cigarette hovered in the darkness of the hallway. Had he been into some pretty sketchy stuff a few years back? Sure. He'd s snorted the occasional line, shot up, even got a few felonies tacked onto his record. That was behind him though, and he wasn't going to apologize for something he had already cut out of his life. Not that he was perfect now. So he smoked, big deal. He didn't finish college, so what? He didn't grow up in the avenues like these rich creeps, does that really give them the right to treat him like he's subhuman? He was disgusted by these people and felt tempted to walk straight out of the house and never look back.

    He sighed.

    Except that he knew he couldn't. If it was anyone else in the world, Denmark wouldn't have had any qualms about saying, 'up yours' and completely cutting them out of his life. He couldn't do it though, not to Jake. He and Jake were too close. It would've been a cardinal sin not see his best friend off in the morning.

    Provided Jake's parents let him.

    Denmark sucked the end of his cigarette, listening more intently on the conversation in the dining room.

    "No. He's not coming. I don't care what you say, I won't allow it."

    "I know how you feel about Denmark, and I feel the same way. But please, at least think about it, honey. He's our son's closest friend."

    "Do you not remember what happened last time? Jack was about to be shipped out, already packed up and everything, then that...that son of a bitch kidnapped our son! We didn't see him for weeks! Don't you remember how terrified we were? That's not friendship, it's obsession! It's wrong, Deborah. I put up with it for a while, but it ends now."

    "It was a hard time for everyone. Denmark loves our son, he just couldn't bear the thought of being separated from him. We all thought Jack would have more time before he had to leave, it was a shock to all of us."

    A sigh. "I understand and appreciate the value of a good friend, sweetheart, really I do, but this Denmark kid is simply not stable! I don't want to risk anything like that again."

    "You think it would be better not to let Denmark see off his best friend?"

    "In this case, I honestly do. The guy's not right. If Denmark is seen around our house tomorrow, God help me I'll call the police and I'll press charges. It wouldn't be the first time we've had to, to protect our family..."

    Denmark had heard enough. 'Protect' their family. Protect their pride and good name from an urban boy is all.They had no right to do this. He and Jake were like brothers. But at the same time, he wasn't going to get screwed over like that again just to say bye to his friend. He pulled out his wallet and snubbed out his cigarette on the back, where he'd glued a strip of sandpaper. He waved the smoke out of the air and found a legal pad sitting on the end table in the hallway. He pulled out a pen and scribbled a message, which read:

    Mr. and Mrs. Keslar, you two know that out of anyone in the world, no one means more to me than your son. He's my best friend, he has been since we were six years old. But I've been doing some thinking lately, and I made an important realization. He was my best friend, but I was never his best friend. He felt closest to me, but I was never the best for him. Hell, I was never even good for him. He has plenty of other pals who support him and make him a better person. It kills me to say this, but I was never that kind of friend for him. He lifted me up, but I pulled him down. That's why I made the decision not to come to say bye to him with all his other friends tomorrow. I love the guy with all my heart, but frankly, I think we all know I'm not what he needs, and it might just be better for everyone if he gets sent off tomorrow without me there



    Denmark waited in his car. Hours passed, and still he waited, ruminating. They weren't going to do this to him. He knew if he tried to go tomorrow, there'd be serious repercussions. But what he'd written in the note was true: he wouldn't be there in the morning. He'd be there tonight. He'd spend one last night with his friend, and there wasn't a damn soul who would stop him.

    And so he waited. He waited until the lights in Jake's house blinked out one by one and the stars were obscured by storm clouds. Rain started falling, and even though the house had been dark for over an hour, still Denmark waited. When he was finally sure that everyone was asleep, he stepped out of the car. He left the door open. Jake's family was full of light sleepers, and he didn't want to risk waking anyone up with the slam of a car door.

    Slowly and methodically, he walked up the porch steps, avoiding the creaky areas. He slid a wood panel out from the door frame and removed the spare key the family kept there. Silently, he unlocked the front door and entered the house. He made his way through the darkened house until he found the room Jake was in.

    Denmark opened his phone, casting a faint blue glow on Jake's resting body. Jake's eyes were closed, but still, Denmark walked up to him, whispering softly.

    "Hey, buddy." He stopped and stood still. "I...I know they're gonna take you away tomorrow, man. I wish there was something I could do about it. I mean, it pisses me off, it's not fair that they can do this. What gives them the right? Seriously, you and I are brothers, we're closer than brothers. Inseparable."

    Denmark felt like an idiot getting so emotional when he wasn't even sure whether his friend could hear him or not. Despite his efforts to restrain it, burning tears slid down his cheeks and his voice cracked as he spoke.

    "Heh, hey man, remember that time I totally got shot down by Tiffany, so in the middle of anthropology you got up in her face and were all, 'what you got against Denmark?' and she says, 'the guy's a major creep, he looks weird and he's retarded,' so you convinced her brother to pretend to be my boyfriend for a week? I've never seen anyone so mindscrewed before, she thought her entire life was getting shot straight to hell."

    Denmark smiled and wiped his eyes.

    "Or the time you were totally plastered and picked a fight with that guy at the bar who turned out to be a UFC fighter so I had to step in for you? Damn man, that guy would've torn you apart! You have any idea how terrified I was? But I knew I couldn't just stand back and watch you get destroyed, I had to get between you two. And then the next thing I remember being in the backseat of your cousin's Mazda on the way to the hospital with a shattered jaw and broken arm, bleeding all over the place."

    Jake's eyes remained closed and Denmark felt stupid. This was a waste, just sitting here reminiscing to himself.

    "Look, Jake. I don't care what anyone says. No one's taking you anywhere tomorrow. You're comin' with me."

    He lifted Jake in his arms and carried him out to the front porch. The rain had wettened the wood beams. When Denmark tried to walk down the steps, he stumbled and dropped Jake, who fell and hit his head on the sidewalk with a grotesque crack. Denmark scrambled forward and knelt before his friend, holding his head off the pavement. Jake's eyes were wide open, staring up blankly at Denmark. His mouth hung open slackly; the string that had been holding his mouth shut severed. Embalming fluid leaked from a gash in his forehead.

    Denmark sighed in relief.

    "I was worried for a second. You don't look so bad though." Denmark stood, brushed himself off, then grabbing Jake by the ankles, dragged his friend to the car and loaded him inside.
  4. AxleMAshcraft

    AxleMAshcraft New Member

    Jan 22, 2011
    Likes Received:
    In my Head (USA)
    Paper-Thin Walls [540 words]

    The dark hit her eyes, leaving no light for her to turn to, just the dark. Her hands slowly wrapped around her sheets as her head pounded more and more. The throbbing of her head sounded too loud, and even as she tried to take deep breaths, it rattled down through her.
    Her lips quivered as her eyes started to burn and tears slowly moved down her face, hitting the pillow with little pats. She wiped a hand across her face unceremoniously and she moved her hands back to wrap around the sheets, trying to stop them from shaking out of her control.
    The dream she had woken up from was horrible, just horrible and nothing she could do could block out the images that flashed behind her eyes. She couldn’t place them, but they were horrid. Bits and pieces of everything good in her life falling down and smashing like a mirror on sidewalk.
    But what she woke up to was almost worse.
    The minute she opened her eyes, she knew it was worse. Because instead of being able to wake up in the end, she just had to grin and bear it. And in the morning she would get up and act as if nothing had happened. Her friends would see her smiling and laughing because that’s all she knew how to do, and she didn’t know how to ask for help.
    She let out another rattled breath.
    The outline of mangled furniture and half packed boxes made shadows of darker black against the already dark. The reality of what was going on in her life hit her like a rock.
    “We need to sell more things.”
    “We’re trying.”
    “Well it’s not working.”
    “She’s working.”
    “But she isn’t helping.”
    There was silence for a second as she rolled over in bed, putting her knees against the wall and staring at the roughness of the wall in front of her. Willing it to be over. Willing never to wake up.
    “You need to start doing more.”
    “I’m doing what I can.”
    “You need to step it up.”
    He yelled something that she couldn’t make out, slamming the door behind him as he took off down the stairs, his feet making an echo that shook the pictures on the walls.
    She had heard the beginning of the end. She had heard what started this whole thing in motion. And she heard it every night until she finally was willing to put the pieces together.
    “We need to get more money.” “You need to get a job.” “You need to stop being needy.” “You need to tell her that…” “I can’t afford this anymore.” “I can’t stand you anymore.” “Listen, these are your responsibilities.” “These are your choices that you need to make.” “The kids are depending on you.” “You need to leave me alone.” “You need to leave.”
    She had heard the beginning of what sent her downhill so quickly. She had heard the beginning of what lead her to stand in the shower, silent and naked, drawing a knife across her stomach. Watching the blood slowly trickled down her flesh, watching the skin rise to little red lines. She had heard the beginning of what made her crazy.
  5. Baba Yaga

    Baba Yaga Member

    Aug 30, 2011
    Likes Received:
    The Girl Who'd Heard it All

    The Girl Who’d Heard it All

    2021 words

    It’s funny, that the source of our most massive guilt should almost always have such innocent origins. My guilt started when I was five. I was looking at the limited sweet selection of a local store with a school friend and wearing my shoes the wrong way round. We had bolted from her mother’s car as soon as she’d decided to make the detour to buy bread or milk or some other sundry that I didn’t care about then and can’t remember now. I had pulled my shoes on in a hurry and had been so ensconced in deciding between the practical share-ability of jelly beans versus the aesthetic appeal marshmallow mice that I hadn’t noticed the error until the store owner, a large, affable Portuguese man, laughingly pointed it out. I didn’t realise what he was guffawing about until my friend nudged me and pointed at my feet. Still, I didn’t understand the laughter. What was so funny? My face burnt red with shame and confusion. His laughter was joined by another customer, and then another. They pointed. They laughed. I cried. My friend looked at me, disappointed and embarrassed. She never gave me a lift home again.

    It’s easy to think that twelve years at an all-girls school would have created some kind of immunity to such superficial, peer-induced shame. It’s also easy to underestimate the cruelty of young girls.

    Of the thousands of hushed words shared behind cupped hands, and the hundreds of sniggers, smirks and exaggerated chortles aimed at my back, there were only a handful of words that I’d ever actually heard, and yet I knew exactly what they were saying about me. It was as though I could see through the fleshy walls of their fingers, as though their voices were amplified high above the classroom din to allow me to hear, with perfect accuracy, their many, merciless judgements.

    ‘What is she wearing?’
    ‘…. so ugly.’
    ‘…so stupid.
    ‘Not like us.’

    My parents often insisted that there was nothing wrong me, that I just had ‘low self-esteem’ and a tendency to yield too quickly to the sharp tongues of school bullies. They believed that a hobby, a sport or a more focused attempt at making friends was the answer. However, looking at myself in the mirror everyday and watching myself metamorphose into something altogether hideous, I knew the truth. Those bullies could see the real me. After all, I had heard them, many times, identify with pinpoint accuracy the same flaws that I had watch eclipse everything good about me.

    I dreamt of an adult life in a crowded city, where my carefully practised ordinariness would afford me the anonymity that thousands of other nameless faces enjoyed. But as soon as I relocated and tried to participate in the world of others, the clamour began to rise again. Perfect strangers -more perfect than strange- no longer even had to open their mouths for me to hear their hurtful comments, their cutting criticism, their shocked revulsion. My carefully chosen camouflage failed to protect me. Walking down the street, I may as well have had a flashing neon sign stapled to my forehead for all the unsolicited disdain I attracted from my new neighbours.

    ‘What’s wrong with you?’
    ‘Why do you look like that?’
    ‘Why do you act like that?’
    ‘You’ll never be normal.’
    ‘You’ll never be like us.’

    Finally, I caved in. On an Autumn day four years ago, after a middle-aged woman slowly looked me up and down on the train, and told me without speaking, that she found everything about me utterly repugnant. I clamped my hands over my ears and ran, bawling and howling, to my small apartment. I slammed the door shut, closing it the woman on the train, on the hateful strangers on the street, on the cruel schoolgirls. And then I locked it.

    I worked from home during those resplendent years of solitude, responding tersely to emails only when it was absolutely necessary to do so. I had food delivered to my apartment and waited silently until the knocking subsided and the packages were abandoned in the hallway before opening the door. I watched television, read books and trawled the Internet, looking for the missing component that separated others from me, noting the characteristics that separated the normal from the strange, the judges from the judged. In that way, I successfully avoided any legitimate form of human contact for 12 410 days. Until she arrived.

    My mid-afternoon nap was rudely interrupted by the loud thumping of heavy furniture being push-pulled up the narrow staircase that lead to my floor. I tiptoed to the door and peered through the peephole. I saw two young men, sweating under the load of a bright red sofa. They lumbered the heavy item into the doorway directly across from mine. I didn’t like the look of that sofa. It attracted too much attention. I suspected its owner might do the same. I was right.

    I heard her before I saw her, a loud squeal, followed by frantic hand-clapping. She pounced on one of the men carrying the sofa and threw her thin arms around him, her squealing surely adversely affecting his hearing in some way. She was all bounce and light, all blonde curls and tightly hugged curves, all skipping, jumping, uninhibited happiness- and now, she was my neighbour.

    I learned from watching her many social interactions in the hallway that her name was Christine. She must have been close my age, but appeared much younger, vitalised by a surplus of confidence and cheer. How unfair, I thought, that she should have so much and I should have so little. As though it wasn’t enough for her to be born beautiful, she had to have an acute awareness of the power that beauty bought her.

    As I studied her from behind the door, I began to hate her. She flaunted her happiness in front of me the way one might flaunt their obscene wealth in front of the poverty stricken. Worse yet, she insisted on frequently shattering my treasured silence with her constant attempts at ‘meeting’. I waited each time for knocking and the high-pitched ‘Hellos?’ to stop, before returning to my post at the peephole to watch her retreat back across the hall.

    Initially she came alone, but then she started to bring visitors along on her excursions to my side of the corridor. I heard her speaking to them. Telling them that she’d never seen me, telling them that she was sure someone lived there, because the landlady had told her so. Telling them that she was ‘worried’ because there might be something ‘wrong’ with me. She said all those things and more, much more, things that only I could hear. Hurtful things, cruel things, things intended to cut and stab and wound and, ultimately I knew, to kill.

    I stopped ordering food for fear that she may see me skulk out into the hall for the 20 seconds it took me to collect my groceries. If I watched her from my peephole, it was perfectly reasonable to assume that she was watching me from hers. I rationed my remaining food, studiously cutting mould and other forms of decay from the cheese, the meat, the vegetables, until all that was left was decay. My phone line was cut, which meant that I had no way of working anymore, which meant I had no way of paying for electricity or running water. Those too, were subsequently turned off. Towards the end, I was able to stretch a can of beans and a packet of instant noodles across three days. I recycled my own micturations by filtering them through the soil of a long-dead potted plant and then through a stained coffee filter. I lived like that for five months.

    Without the distraction of television or the Internet, I found myself spending most of my waking hours at the peephole, watching Christine. Even when she wasn’t there, I thought about what she might be doing behind the door of her apartment. I wondered if she had just been to the store for fresh supplies, or perhaps she had returned, sated, from a leisurely lunch at a local restaurant. She would have sat there, amongst friends, eating, drinking and laughing that jingle-bell laugh of hers, completely at ease in front of other people. They would have smiled as they looked at her, as they spoke kind things about her and to her, as she continued with her enchanted life, unaware of the slow torture she was inflicting on me.

    For two weeks, I had been standing on the final eviction notice as I peered through the peephole. I had seen it there, but it didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. I watched her fluff her clean hair out from under the collar of her jacket as she started making her way downstairs. She had laid one hand on the banister of the staircase when she suddenly changed her mind, turned around and approached my door, just as she hadn’t done for almost four weeks, 27 days exactly. I was hungry and exhausted, my mind sharp with pain. I realised as she raised her hand to knock that this would have to end one way or another. With my death, or with hers.

    So, I opened the door.

    She stood there, her crystalline blue eyes unnaturally wide with shock, her upper lip curled in disgust at the sight and the smell in front of her. Thinking back, I almost feel bad for her. It must have hit her all at once, like a wall of unspeakable horror. She started to speak, to find the words that she had wanted to utter so many times before, but I had already heard everything she had to say.

    “I…” was as far as she got as I wrapped my hands around her throat. I pulled her into the apartment with me, kicking the door closed as she forcefully struggled to free herself. We fell to the ground together and I thought, for a moment, that she might overpower me. She was strong, fit and fighting for her life. But then, so was I. It took great effort to roll on top of her and when I finally did, I held her down with one hand and flailed wildly for the first thing I could lay my free hand on. It was hard, cold and metal. My last full can of beans.

    Afterwards, my arms ached and my fingers felt stiffened and cramped from my hold on the can. My face stung with the scratches from her fingernails and everything, everything, everything was slippery or sticky with hot blood. The can itself was bent in several places and the wet label had long since slid from the metal. She was so full of life, it felt like it had taken me hours to beat it out of her. But, finally, she was still and blessedly quiet.

    I hear a lot of people here say that they ‘don’t remember what happened next’, but the truth is, they don’t care. They don’t care because it’s just not that important. In my case, it wasn’t important that I lost my home, or that I moved from one tiny room to the next, being probed and analysed by one insincere face after the next. What was important was that Christine had won and I had lost. I lost my precious solitude, my serenity and, as I keep being told, my sanity.

    I hear a lot of people here say all kinds of things. We’re all encouraged to speak- a lot, mostly about ourselves. Hearing what people have to say about themselves is almost as terrible as hearing what they have to say about me, but not quite. I can hear them talking about me even as they pour over the minutiae of their own boring lives.

    ‘What are you doing here?’
    ‘You’re not really sick.’
    ‘You’re just a bad person’
    ‘You’ll only kill again.’

    Maybe they’re right.
  6. marksteen

    marksteen New Member

    Aug 31, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Phone call

    908 Words

    Lisa was waiting for her bath to fill. It had been a long day she was up at 3am for work. She worked at the airport in duty free and her shift started at 5am the commute in was a trek, the drive there wasn’t that long in itself but then after she arrived in the staff car park she had to wait up to twenty minutes for the staff bus to the terminal then a long walk from the bus stop to arrivals through numerous security gates then on her feet all day.
    It was 8pm now and she couldn’t wait to get in that nice hot bath and get herself radoxed ready to curl up in bed.
    She was in the bedroom getting her things together so she knew where everything was in the morning so she didn’t have to wake James too early as she woke him at 4am when she was due to leave the house as she didn’t like leaving the house on her own at that time in the morning with it being a rough area they lived in. She was grateful he didn’t mind seeing her to her car.
    The phone rang and she reached for it and answered it. She was just about to say hello when she heard her husband’s voice on the other extension.
    “Hello” James said.
    “Hello baby” a female’s voice replied.
    “What are you doing? I told you not to call me at home” His voice had reduced to a whisper.
    “Lisa is in the bath are you crazy” James said.
    “yes baby I’m crazy for you” The woman said like a giggling school girl.
    “Don’t you want me baby?” The woman said.
    “You know I want you, I want you so bad, usual time and place tomorrow?” James asked.
    “Yes baby, I love you”
    “I love you too” James said before hanging up.
    Lisa’s could not believe what she had just heard. Was she dreaming? Her heart was racing, pounding. It’s all she could hear. She was shaking. She got up and went into the bathroom steadying herself on the doorframe as she went. She turned the bath taps off. She didn’t know why she did it she was on autopilot. Wasn’t he happy at home? Obviously he wasn’t she thought. She looked at herself in the mirror started to break down, tears rolling down her face. Pull yourself together Lisa she said to herself. She thought of him with another woman and she suddenly felt sick, she heaved into the basin.
    She took a deep breath and went down stairs and into the kitchen where she ran the cold water tap testing it with finger making sure it was cold enough and filled a glass and took several long gulps.
    “Who was on the phone” Lisa shouted to James.
    “Just work” He replied “They want me in the bradford’s presentation tomorrow so I might be a little late, sorry baby I tried to get out of it”
    Fucking liar she thought. James entered the kitchen. Lisa could feel her anger building up. Her whole body tense, why was this happening to her, she thought they were happy god knows she was. They had only been married just over a year and they were trying for a baby.
    James opened a cupboard and got out a whisky tumbler.
    “You want a drink baby?” He asked.
    “Yes I need one after the day I have had” She replied biting her lip holding tears back.
    “Bad day baby?” He he asked.
    “You would not believe it” She replied.
    He poured himself a single malt and a glass of wine for Lisa.
    She could feel the adrenaline pumping around her body and it didn’t feel like her body at that moment in time she was in a daze, light headed and feeling nauseous. He handed her the glass of wine and kissed her sweet lips and whispered I love you.
    She saw red as if a crimson curtain had fallen across her eyes.
    He was startled when he heard the glass shatter as it hit the floor then moments later he felt the knife pierce his stomach. She didn’t plan to kill him the knife was just there on the worktop taunting her.
    “You dirty cheating bastard” she said emotionless. His eyes were awash with disbelief and realization of why she had stabbed him. Blood was leaving his body fast. It was pooling around them as they both stood there. She could feel his body weaken. She felt like there was nothing else in the whole world but that moment and the both of them. James started to stagger and fell backwards Lisa let go of the knife. James hit the floor and he grabbed the handle his own hands shaking now. He pulled the knife out, his hands covered with blood. He was getting dizzy and felt cold.
    He looked up at her and their eyes locked as the life left his body and his eyes closed for the last time. She slumped onto the floor, curled up hugging her knees in the corner. She sat staring at her cheating husband’s body for an hour before the gravity of what had happened hit her. She dialed 999 and asked for the police and that she wanted to report her husband had been stabbed. When the operator asked who had stabbed her husband she replied I have.
  7. huskies

    huskies Member

    Sep 6, 2011
    Likes Received:
    I heard you last night
    1,542 words

    “I heard you last night”
    “You know what Lisa, don’t go all coy” she nudged me with her shoulder
    “erhh Kim you shouldn’t be eves dropping not when the socks on the door you know the rules”

    Kim and I had been flat mates for three years now and I couldn’t keep a secret from her even if I tried she heard everything in the flat the walls were that thin.
    Me and Luke had been seeing each other for just over a year now and things were starting to get serious I couldn’t stand the thought of Kim listening in while we was having sex or on our plans to move in together I didn’t want her to find out that way.

    “I know but you two are soooo loud I can’t help but hear you” she jumped up “I’m having a shower” she ran off laughing.

    I threw a tea towel at her as she walked off she could be so crude sometimes it made me cringe.

    We had come up with the sock on the door rule as they do in college so we knew not to knock on each other’s doors at delicate and private times.
    The theory worked but still didn’t stop the eavesdropping.

    Luke came walking out the bedroom just as Kim passed him, he was wearing only his jogging bottoms and looked amazing he had a perfectly chiselled chest his tan looked natural even though it wasn’t, and his blonde high lights made his green eyes sparkle.

    “What’s she looking so smug about” he picked up the coffee that I had made him
    “She was listening again”
    “That girl has issues we need to find her a man”
    “I know I will make it my new mission, but right now we are late for work so chop chop” I smacked his hard bum and legged it before he could get me back.

    We both worked for a pharmaceutical company, he was in the labs testing the latest drugs and making the old ones do things that they had never done before.
    I worked on the marketing side I had to make the dull drugs seem like the new all singing all dancing miracle drug whether it be diet pills or the new Viagra or the amazing pills that guaranteed to get rid of your teens spots which of course none of them other than the Viagra actually worked but no one but us needed to know that.
    We arrived at the front desks and prepared to go our separate ways.

    He pulled me close even though half the lobby was watching and kissed me.
    It was the same every time it felt like I was weight less floating away in to a never ending paradise. His lips were soft and smooth like silk and he tasted fresh from his morning cleaning routine, his smell always lingered on my clothes which is what I looked forward to most for my long boring days just to have a part of him next to me when it all got a little too much.

    “Dinner tonight” he released me but stayed close
    “I can’t I have that stupid conference to defend the ethics of the company to the media” I hated my job if it wasn’t for the amazing salary I would of quit years ago.
    “Shall I wait at yours for you?”
    “No i won’t be back tonight I’m stopping over” I pulled a silly sad face in the hope he would forgive me.
    “Ok lunch tomorrow then”
    “Love you sexy”
    “Love you to handsome”

    My day dragged, I had a new marketing campaign coming out in next month’s magazines and an advert that was airing in two weeks for the new diet pill guaranteed to make you feel fuller faster so you never over eat.

    This is what the stupid conference was all about, human rights groups saying it was under tested and we needed to put it through another years’ worth of human testing.
    We were also being accused of falsifying the tests and not releasing all the data that we had.

    To be honest I didn’t know if these claims were true but it was my job to make sure after tonight no one thought they were.
    I lifted my jacket to get a pack of mints and caught the lingering sent of Luke’s aftershave an instant smile filled my face.

    I decided there and then tomorrow I was telling Kim that I was looking for somewhere else to live and she would need to look for another room mate.
    I felt bad as she didn’t really earn much money in her job so i had always picked up most of the bills I didn’t mind though she was a good friend and was always there for me when I needed her the least I could do was help out where I could.

    My phone started ringing and broke my train of thought.
    “Lisa it’s Jim conference has been put back a week to put it closer to the launch”
    “your joking” my head instantly started to hurt the amount of things I was now going to have to change was ridiculous the catering the TV crew the staff the equipment I needed to make sure the venue was still free.
    “Sorry Lisa I’m sending Evon up to help so you should be out of here at a decent time”
    “What just before tomorrow” I put as much sarcasm in my voice that I could.

    I hung up and dropped my head to my desk, there was no point in moaning or sulking I just needed to get on with it.
    I ran my fingers through my hair as my door opened Evon had brought coffee she was an angle.

    We had it all wrapped up by ten so not too bad at all, I could get home have a hot shower and still get a decent night’s sleep before it all started again tomorrow.
    At least I had lunch with Luke to look forward to, hhhmmmm just thinking of him made me smile and if I was really lucky my bed would still smell of him.
    I opened the door as quietly as I could I didn’t want to wake Kim she was on an early in the morning so had to be up at six.

    I switched the lamp on so I could see where I was going, I heard muffled voices coming from Kim’s room there was no sock on the door so I could embarrass her just as much as she did me all the time and barge in but I couldn’t bring myself to do that to her plus I didn’t really want to see.
    I opened my bedroom door but stopped to eavesdrop she did it to me enough time’s, I guessed it was the bar tender she was seeing on and off.

    “Oh my god Luke arhhh don’t stop”
    “You like it like that do you”
    The room filled with laughter.

    I felt sick to the stomach it took all my strength to just make it to my bed; I thought I was going to pass out.
    How could they do this to me, my best friend and my boyfriend how long had this been going on for?
    I could still hear them I put my head in my pillow to block out the sound, and sobbed I cried for what seemed like the whole night.
    My chest felt so tight I didn’t think I was going to catch my breath, my eyes were swollen.
    The room next to me had gone quiet I sat up and tried to think I just wanted to go I wanted out of here.
    I packed an overnight bag with as much as I could, I didn’t know where i could go at this time of night so I sat and I waited I watched my clock go from two AM to five AM the sun had started to rise and there was a soft orange glow coming through my window.
    It looked fresh new and promising it was going to get brighter at least for a whole day it would be bright not dark not like the darkness I had just sat in.
    I had been in my own personal hell knowing what was next door sleeping close together holding each other naked, my stomach lurched again.
    There was noise next door someone was moving.

    “Don’t go yet”
    “I need to get up I’m on an early and you need to go in case she comes back early”
    “She won’t come back here she will go straight to work like she always does”
    “Yeah your right I will go put the coffee on”

    I stood knowing that I had to let them know I had been here.
    We walked out of our rooms together, her in a dressing gowned and me still in my work cloths and my bag she screamed at the shock of seeing me and Luke came running out holding a sheet around his waist.
    “Lisa it’s not…”
    I lifted my hand to silence them
    “I heard you last night”.
  8. Cain

    Cain Member

    Jun 19, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Cambridge, UK

    (1423 words)

    Andrei pushed his finger further up his nose. Perhaps if he didn’t bite his nails so much it would be easier. He pulled his finger out and sighed. He leaned his chair back and stared at the roof above him and felt the sway of the boat. The rain was drumming away as usual. Same as yesterday. Same as the day before. He sighed again and wondered if he spat whether it would reach the ceiling.

    He glanced sideways at the wall clock. Twenty five minutes past six. That meant something. He was missing something, something important. Remembering almost audibly popped into his head. He leapt up, scattering his chair behind him and dashed to the radio equipment.

    ‘Vasily!’ He shouted, ‘Vasily, we’re late! Quick, quick, quick! We’re missing it!’

    He flicked various switches on the equipment. Components began to glow, then a sound of static started to hiss from the speakers. Vasily emerged from the engine room, both hands down the front of his trousers.

    ‘Missing what? The fucking pump is frozen again and I can’t feel my fingers any more’

    Andrei didn’t look up from the radio, ‘It’s Tuesday - the MP and Bessy!’

    Vasily let out a roar of laughter, and dashed out of the room, ‘I’ll get the vodka’ he shouted back.

    Andrei slowly turned the frequency dial and could just make out some voices through the hiss. It was almost too faint to be heard. He gently tapped the dial, pushing closer to the signal. Suddenly there was a increase in volume and a high pitched squeal came clearly through the speaker. Andrei stepped back and smiled. He recognised that squeal. It was Bessy!

    Vasily charged back into the cabin, bottle in one hand, glasses in the other. He threw a glass at Andrei who caught it and held it out to be filled. Vasily splashed vodka liberally into the waiting glass.

    He raised a glass and said, ‘Comrade, to your health and eternal vigilance!’. In answer the squeal emerged from the speakers again and then burst into girlish laughter.

    ‘Down girl!’ Now a male voice from the radio, ‘Or you won’t get your treat’. More squealing and laughing.

    Vasily moved to the oil stove at the back of the cabin. The voices on the radio suddenly vanished into hissing static.

    Andrei righted his chair and sat down, ‘Don’t stand there. I could barely get the signal. I think it must be raining in London.’

    Vasily quickly moved and the voices returned, ‘I can never understand that. It’s always pissing down here, and yet it’s the rain there that messes up our reception.’

    ‘Didn’t they explain that in your training?’

    ‘Probably. I didn’t really listen.’

    Andrei frowned, ‘What we’re doing is important. You should have listened.’

    Vasily snorted and splashed more vodka into their glasses, ‘You know I don’t want to be here. Stupid bastards think they’ve got one over on me.’ He threw back the vodka, ‘I suppose they have too at that. Miserable horse eating bastards.’

    Andrei stayed silent. So Vasily had started early on the vodka again. Nothing new in that he thought.

    From the radio there came a loud whinnying sound. Vasily leapt up and roared, ‘Bessy rides again!’ Andrei couldn’t help but laugh, relieved that Vasily wasn’t getting bitter too quickly. Slapping sounds came clearly over the speakers.

    ‘Tally ho!’ the male voice shouted. More whinnying, more slapping.

    Vasily poured more vodka. ‘Do you think he actually rides her like a horse? She must be a big woman.’ He grinned, ‘Ahh, big women. Although not too big. Just round, you know?’

    Andrei smiled, ‘My Tasha’s large. She jokes that one day she’ll snap me in half.’

    Vasily laughed, ‘You should listen to her - you’re nothing but a stick. You better have kids soon or she will snap you.’

    Andrei smiled, but it faded quickly. Vasily caught the look, and grabbed the man’s shoulder. ‘Ah, sorry my friend. I forget how much you miss her. You don’t make any sense to me, volunteering for this mission. Abandoned on this miserable leaking tub, stinking of fish we never caught, and then crying for home.’ He shook Andrei vigorously, ‘Have some more vodka because you’re an idiot.’

    ‘I can make a difference here. What we learn from these fools will make Russia strong.’ Andrei twisted his glass, ‘This might be a punishment for you, but I believe in my duty.’

    ‘Well, I won’t deny they’re fools. He’s trying to give her a sugar lump now. Like it’s really a sugar lump!’ Vasily roared again. He shook his colleague’s shoulder again, ‘Alright then, I don’t care if I don’t understand why you’re here. If I’m going to suffer on this floating coffin at least there’s some other idiot here to share my pain. At least there’s vodka too. Or there was, how did that go so quickly? I’ll get another bottle.’ He lurched up and headed into the store room.

    As he left the room the sounds on the radio changed into more muted moans, creaks and groans. Andrei reddened, feeling slightly ashamed at listening to it. From previous experience he knew it wouldn’t last long and they were almost at the important part.

    Vasily re-emerged, ‘All the horse crap is over then? Shame, that’s the only part worth listening too. Crazy English politicians, either homosexuals or sexual deviants like this one.’

    ‘Maybe she’s the one that wants to be a horse?’

    ‘No, it’s always the crazy politician. You don’t think our politicians haven’t got their horse women?’

    Andrei found himself not wanting to think about it, ‘Anyway, it’s the next part that we’re listening for.’

    Vasily crashed into his seat, ‘Fine. No problem comrade. I’ll do my duty.’ He saluted with the vodka bottle, with an extra flourish of pulling the cork out with his teeth.

    They sat in silence as the moans rose and fell. Eventually the sounds stopped, and they waited some more. Then the politician and the woman started talking, hundreds of miles away across the North Sea. Vasily and Andrei reached for their notebooks and started writing.


    As usual, Harry Carlton gave a deep bow and waved Gertie through the doorway. He then stepped through and quietly closed it behind him.

    A young man with thick glasses and huge earphones was rapidly flicking an array of switches on humming machinery. He looked up and said, ‘Right, we’re all clear now’. He sat at the desk in the centre of the room and started scribbling in a notebook.

    Harry swung round and beamed at Gertie, ‘Darling, you were wonderful! Yet again, I’m completely overwhelmed by your performance!’

    Gertie gave him a huge smile in return, ‘No, not at all. You have Lord Haversham’s voice perfectly. It’s so convincing. I think I may have overdone some of my whinnies.’ She leaned over the desk the technician, hovering her exceedingly ample bosom just in front of his face, ‘What do you think Billy dear? You like my whinnies?’

    Billy blushed deeply and said, ‘Yes, no, I don’t know. You’re just fine Miss Jennings.’

    Harry moved round behind him and clamped both hands on Billy’s shoulders, ‘Don’t tease the boy Gertie.’ Billy managed to look even more uncomfortable, then a second door flung open and a trim well dressed man walked in. Harry let go of Billy and took a step back, ‘Ah, hello Mr Fortescue! How did you find the show?’

    ‘Excellent work Mr Carlton!’ Mr Fortescue said, ‘We’re extremely pleased. Some of the horseplay is perhaps a bit, let’s say, imaginative, but as long as you stick to the script we’re happy no matter how you deliver it.’

    Harry and Gertie gave a theatrical bow, and Fortescue tried hard to suppress a roll of his eyes.

    Harry took a coat from a wall hanger and said, ‘I still think this must be far too racy to be broadcasting. Can you really not tell us what it’s for?’

    Fortescue shook his head, ‘No, sorry Mr Carlton. It’s strictly need to know. What I can tell you is that the ministry is extremely grateful. So much so that we see no reason to stop any time soon. We’d like to schedule the next broadcast on Tuesday again, so would a rehearsal on Monday morning be convenient to you both?’
  9. rabbit35

    rabbit35 New Member

    Sep 6, 2011
    Likes Received:
    Eavesdropping - Ryan Mulholland

    Addiction 101. Removing addictive behaviors does not work. Replacing them with other behaviors does.
    I’m sitting in a school gymnasium (“How the hell do they let this kind of thing happen at a school?” I think too myself as I shift my ass on the cold metal folding chair) with about 20 other ‘like-minded’ individuals, waiting for my turn to stand-up.
    Here’s what I’ll say:
    “Hi everyone, my name’s Mike and I’m an alcoholic. It’s been 21 days since my last drink.”
    Here’s what I’d like to say:
    “Hi everyone, my names Mike and if anyone’s had a drink in the last 24 hours I’m going to rip open their throats and go to town like a Bram Stoker movie.”
    I guess these days Catherine Hardwicke would be more relatable.
    It’s my turn. I stand up. I say what I say. Everyone says an enthusiastic (enthusiastic in a room of recovering alcoholics is probably better replaced with grammatically correct) “Hi Mike.” I smile (again, a smile for a recovering alcoholic is more like the expression you make after a gentle kick to the groin). I sit down. I think I’m the last to go.
    “All right, thank you everyone. I’m proud to say this group has made it to the 3 week milestone with only 20% backsliding. That’s a remarkable achievement.” That’s John Greenly, the chairperson of the meeting. I’ve got no issue with the guy except that there’s at least three people in this room that have gotten shitfaced in the last week. You can tell, their blood shot eyes are a little less red, their lip corners are a bit higher, their hands are only near their faces a third of the time.
    I guess it doesn’t matter much.
    “I’d like to propose a new challenge for this week. I know this kind of task is usually reserved for later in the process, but I’d really like this groups members to push their comfort zones…”
    Comfort zone may not have been the best phrase to use.
    “and get back into more controlled versions of the places that got you in trouble in the first place. The mission for this week is to go to a bar you’ve never been to before, order a pop, and stay for a half hour enjoying the drink.”
    We all look like those characters on Survivor being shown a feast for the first time in weeks.
    He doesn't wait for our jaws to get back to their normal position.
    “I know this is a bit surprising, but trust me you can do it, so long as you follow the rules. Rule number 1, you may not go with or have any chance of meeting any drinking friend or associates at this bar. Rule number 2, the bar needs to have other people in it, preferably lots of people. Rule number 3, you’re done after one half hour regardless. The objective of the outing is to eavesdrop on three separate conversations while you’re at the bar. I don’t care who you listen in on or what it is, but you need to be able to speak to it next week. ”
    “This step is of critical importance, to be able to overcome this temptation will help you immensely through the next six week. The ability to replace your drinking addiction with innocent, non damaging behaviors’ will be key for the rest of your lives.”
    I’m pretty sure he says a lot more stuff at the meeting, but for the life of me I can’t focus on any of it. I’m too busy imagining next weeks session where I tell everyones it’s been two days since my last drink before I go Scorcese on Mr. Greenly.
    I gotta think Scorcese is still relatable these days.
    “All right everyone, I’m looking forward to hearing about your successes next week. Good-night.” We all fold up the chairs and stack them on these rolling carts so they can slide under the stage (I’m now picturing myself on stage, ripped out of my mind, trying to pick up a sixteen year old Juliette in front of the obligatory parental studio audience).
    We smile our alcoholic smiles and give frail handshakes and we’re done for another week.
    And I’m left pondering where the hell I’m going to go on Friday.

    When you’re an alcoholic, time moves at a special pace. Every waking hour seems about twice as long as the normal pre-alcoholic clock and four times as long as alcoholic time. By Friday, I’m pulling out all the stops to tune out my body screaming at me for another drink. Eventually, I try to sit down and sit with the feeling, not even attempting to stop it, just sitting and focusing on the detail of it. The throbbing in the head, the tingling in the tastebuds, the shaking of the hands.
    This is going to be the longest half hour of my life.
    I pack up my cubicle (3 blissfull 5 foot walls that keep me apart from the rest of the world) and head to the elevator. I get to the main floor and make a left out of the building, the opposite of my normal route home. I’m looking around for places I’ve never been to, and I have to walk a while until I see some hoity toity martini type place filled with 20 something metrosexuals and diva wanna-bees in heels.
    Here goes.
    I walk through the door and make my way over to the bar. The bartender is wearing some preppy too tight looking white shirt with suspenders and black pants. In my old days, I’d save my first few bits of vomit for guys like this, but I guess I’m a different man now. I ask for a cranberry juice. He gives me a weird look, walks away and is back in ten seconds with a highball glass fully outfitted with lime and lime green straw.
    “That’ll be four dollars.”
    Beside me are a couple of guys trying to talk over the music. “They’ll do.” I think to myself. I turn around and stare hard at the TV above the bar.
    “…you’ve gotta learn how to close the deal. Two more of these and you’re probably gone.”
    “Well what the hell am I supposed to do, put a gun to the guys head. We couldn’t match the numbers, there’s no amount of salesmanship that can make up for that. Not Chef Tony, not Ron Popiel, no one.”
    “You’ve got to know your competition, their strengths and weaknesses. You’ve got to be able to put some fear, some seed of doubt in their minds. That’s all you need.”
    I’m sick of this already. True, it’s the first time in the last five hours I haven’t been fixated on drinking, but I can’t stand salesman. ‘Something about their disingenuous nature rubs me the wrong way.’ Thinks the eavesdropping alcoholic.
    I’m off to the next spot, a nice flat wall to park my ass in between two booths. I leave the fancy straw and the fruit at the bar and squeeze my way over. I turn around and try to focus on the Indian girl on my right.
    She’s talking about getting married. Great.
    “…I can’t believe he’s even thinking about inviting his ex. It’s totally not appropriate.”
    “I hear you, but it’s been like 4 years, does it even matter anymore?”
    “Of course it does! I’m not inviting some co-workers and cousins to make our number work, why the hell should he be able to invite whoever he wants?”
    I’m having flashbacks to a previous life.
    I decide to get the third one done with and get the hell out of here. My cranberry juice is about half done and I can’t stomach the thought of another five dollars leaving my wallet. I look around the bar to see if there’s anything more promising than my first two victims. I settle for an open space that won’t seem too retarded for me to squeeze into beside 2 late twenty-somethings nursing what looks like to be scotch. Pomising.
    I make my move (not before hearing the girls mutter some comment about me which I’m assuming wasn’t flattery or best wishes) and pull up to the stool. I put my full glass in front of me to keep the bartender at bay and drift off.
    “I still can’t believe they let him do it.”
    “I know what you mean. It’s one thing to recruit people with ads or postings, but to get an actual control group with their knowledge or consent, it’s crazy.”
    “What’s he doing with them anyways?”
    “As far as I can tell, he’s looking into the scope of influence of these recovery groups. He establishes a rapport over the course of a few weeks and them starts making progressively stranger demands on them, which they have to report on.”
    I almost choke on my juice. I cough and sputter. The guys don’t even notice.
    “Apparently this week he’s sending them to bars to eavesdrop. I mean, these people have been off the bottle for three weeks and they KNOW one of the keys is to avoid any place that serves alcohol. Even restaurants, much less bars.”
    “So what’s next weeks plan?”
    “I’m not sure. I just know it’s supposed to be a more severe testing of how suggestible they are as a group.”
    I’m finished my cranberry juice and stare at the empty glass. My mind is in overdrive, thinking about what the hell I had just heard. But instead of anger, the only thing that comes up is apathy. Some kind of indifference to the whole situation. I come to the realization that maybe my addiction is not to alcohol, it’s to being a guinea pig for anyone strong willed enough to use me. It’s to never having to live life on purpose and always having someone or something else to blame for everything that wrong on my life. It’s the realization that the only behavior replacement that is ever going to work is me asserting my will on the world and those around me.
    And in my hopelessness, I ask the bartender for a scotch on the rocks.
    See you Tuesday John.
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