The House Crumbles [Short Story]

There is a long wooden table at the center of the room. On the wall behind the head of the table is the portrait of a man who looks much like me. To either side of that portrait, there are hidden doors, where servants can enter and exist the room silently. Unheard. Unseen.

As I walk along the table, I try to see if I am alone in this room, but I cannot turn my head away from that portrait. The closer I get to it, the more warped it becomes, until I can see nothing of myself in it. Still, the plaque below it bears my name, which was my father’s name and his father’s name.

I reach out to touch the painting, my hand brushing along the navy jacket of the man in the portrait.

The navy and red lights are flashing outside of my building when I turn the corner down my block. They do not register to me until I am almost to the door and even then, the sight of them barely affects me. 

As I put my hand on the door, I suddenly see that two policemen have dragged a young boy off of his bike and are yelling at him, waving their batons at him like they might use them. I see one of them raise his baton, his sleeve cutting the sky with a flash of navy blue. As he swings the baton towards the boy, his head turns and I almost think that I recognize the lines of his face.

The portrait began to crumble under my fingertips. I pull my hand back quickly, surprised to see the damage I have done. Around and around I turn, looking for someone to clean up the mess, to make the portrait whole once again. Someone who could rebrush the lines of that fine navy jacket, who could return this man who bears my name to his former glory.

There is no one around me to heed my cry for help, which is made silently, to no one but myself. I am alone, and on some level, I already know this. 

I try the doors next to the portrait, the ones that lead to the servant’s quarters, but find that they did not open from the outside. Wherever their latches are, they have been concealed from me too well. The men who built this house had not wanted me here and now they refused to let me see behind the curtain. 

I sit back down at the table. At least I can eat, since there is nothing else to be done. Pulling my plate over to me, I lift the cover from the plate. Steam rises from the food, but I find that it is all rotten. It is so funny. I never noticed the smell before. This looks exactly like the food I ate yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. Carefully, I push the plate away from me, placing the cover back over it. 

Standing, I turn to look down the table towards the dark corners of the other end of the room. 

There are long shadows in the hallway that leads to the elevators. One light has gone out and the other flickers in a mellow, rhythmic pattern. I stop at the front desk on the way to the elevator to complain about the flickering light one more time.

The woman at the desk nods, but she is glancing out the window at the red and blue lights. I notice that she is recording the interaction on her phone and with her other hand, she is holding the desk phone to her ear, speaking in hushed tones.

She notes my complaints quickly and shoos me away. It irritates me to be dismissed like that, but I am tired, so I walk along that flickering hallway to the elevator.

When I got to the apartment, the door was ajar. As I pushed through the door, tossing my keys on the countertop, I cursed myself for being so absentminded. This was the third or fourth time this week that I had left the apartment completely unlocked, the door swinging open loosely on its hinges.

Yesterday, someone had left me some snacks on the counter along with a note that said “I shut your door for you. Don’t forget to lock up!” with a little heart underneath. I didn’t know who had left the message, but I thought it was the little old lady across the hall. I kicked the door absently closed behind me and took off my shoes in the entryway, setting them off to the side.

I walked over to the windows and looked down at the street below. It was still flashing red and blue. The cops were still standing over the kid, who was now covered in blood and crying.

A crowd had formed around them in a mass of camera lights and yelling. At first, they just watched, enjoying the sudden drama that had been injected into their lives. Things like this happened from time to time and, every time, this same pattern would repeat itself. A crowd would form. The crowd would antagonize the police and record the interaction. Eventually, the crowd would disperse and the police would be left to do what they came to do. It happens all the time.

This time was different, though. This time, the crowd inhaled and exhaled as one, seeming to contract and expand organically around the two officers, who were now brandishing their weapons at the approaching crowd.

No one in the crowd did a thing, they just pushed into the officers until they could not move their bodies. The crowd kept constricting and I saw the two men begin to turn red, clutching at their throats. In seconds, they were both turning purple, their bodies contorting under the pressure of the crowd pressing into them. In one final contraction, the crowd enveloped the two officers entirely. 

Not a single punch was thrown. No gunshot was fired. When the crowd dispersed, the two officers were nowhere to be seen. It was as if they had vanished from the face of the earth. The crowd itself spilled up the street, yelling in one voice and enveloping everything in its path. 

Pedestrians disappeared into the crowd one by one as the crowd grew in size. They were not the only ones taken into the growing mass of energy. Street signs, mailboxes, strollers, cars all were swallowed up by the crowd as it rolled down the center of the street.

I realized to my dismay that the crowd had taken two of my car’s windows, removing them from the car without doing any damage to the rest of the vehicle. The replacements would cost more than I had to spend this month. 

Somewhere in the back of my head, I saw that officer’s face. I thought of how small he had looked from my angle, how insignificant he had looked brandishing his weapon against the crowd.

Suddenly, I shivered. For a moment, his face in my mind became mine. Now he was gone and I was still here, for some reason. Now I had to figure out what I had just seen. Now I had to fix my car windows.

There was something wrong with the walls too. I stood from that long table to make my way over to one of the walls, where there was a small crack forming along the baseboard. Squatting down, I watched the crack spread slowly, spider-webbing its way up the wall with a measured speed. It was in no rush.

I looked around for someone to fix this problem. There was no one. I was totally alone here. 

Looking at the wall, I saw a handprint forming along the end of the crack. It was a large handprint, covered in calluses and the scars of hard labor. One finger was missing – the pinkie finger – and I saw the lines of a lash crisscrossing the palm, where someone must have whipped the hand over and over again. 

I watched the hand close into a fist, pulling at the crack, causing it to widen and lengthen. Now I remembered the hand. Its owner, a man named Jenkins, had been the one who built this home when I was a young boy. He had broken his back putting a house over our shoulders and we had paid him pennies, because he was a former slave and we wanted the work done cheap. 

I don’t think I ever saw him after he finished that job, but I remember the last day when he walked out the front door and turned to mutter something in the threshold. Papa told me it was a curse he left us, but I never believed in all of that because curses and magic are just the invention of the uneducated.

Watching that crack lengthen, I turned to my education for a solution. Somewhere between Socrates and Algebra, there must be a way to rebuild this house. 

I looked down at my hands and found them soft. I lifted them to my eyes to study them, looking for an answer of how to rebuild my home, debating ideas back and forth along the gentle lines of my palms. Unsure what the right path was, and too afraid to take the wrong path to move at all, I found myself frozen. 

I did not look up as the house began to crumble. Because I did not look up, I had no idea I was still standing inside.

Photo by Oleg Stepanov on Unsplash

Crash [Short Story]

I was late. It was my own damn fault. Three alarms had gone off right in my ear – three loud, buzzing alarms – but I had turned them all off and kept sleeping. Now I was stumbling out the front door to the sound of screeching steel, and the buzzing and grinding of workmen that had kept me up all through the night. Damn construction. I’d have to talk to the homes association about the noise when I got home. I was so tired, I barely felt alive.

By the time I dragged myself to my car, a steady progression of cars was already making its way down the way, bound for god knows where. I took only a half second to look in despair at the slightly dented front bumper. My wife, or someone else, must have bumped a barricade pulling out of the work parking lot the day before.

I climbed into the car carefully, strapping myself in. I checked the seatbelt twice, adjusted the mirrors, and pressed a few buttons for good measure. Confident I was secure, I melded into the progression of cars, bound for god knows where.

The sky was a thousand fluorescent suns, surrounded by dark clouds. It was strangely beautiful, in an artificial sort of way. I didn’t bother looking up at it, though. I couldn’t have, anyway, since my head was locked forward, my eyes on the progression of cars ahead of me as they melted away from me one at a time, bound for god knows where.

Soon, there was no one in front of me, just the open road. I could almost have smiled, in that moment, if I were not so set on getting to where I needed to be. There was no one in front of me, so it was rather odd that I suddenly heard a screech of metal and a loud thud right next to me.

For some reason, my eyesight ballooned white and something punched me in the mouth. My legs, which had already been dangling limply from my torso, folded all the way up under the steering wheel. Then, I was flying.

I was sure I had checked my seatbelt, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself hurling forward, into the reinforced glass. It didn’t break, but I did. I didn’t feel a thing, though, which I thought was strange. I must have died right when I hit the window. That was good, I would have hated to have suffered.

“Dammit!”

I heard a voice from outside my window, in the sky made of a thousand flourescent suns. A man appeared in the shattered driver side window. He peered scholarly into the car, not making any move to help me.

Turning over his shoulder, he called out to someone I could not see, “I think we need to fix the seatbelts. These aren’t holding any weight at all.”

He fussed around with the seat belt for a bit, then turned to look me in the eyes. Though he did not seem unkind, there was no empathy in his voice. When he spoke to me, it was as if we had some great inside joke between us that I did not understand: “Sorry buddy, better luck next time.”

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

The King’s Last Stand [Short Story]

The king lay in bed with a fever. He had been this way ever since three days before, when the peasants had waged an uprising in the town outside the castle’s walls.

He could hear them dancing and singing through his window. It made him sick. How dare they take his kindness for granted?

A servant entered the room: “My lord, the people are asking you to forsake the throne. What will you do?”

The king curled up under his blankets: “I will do no such thing! Woe is me! I am bombarded yet I stand here still! I will not give up my kingdom. It is my right to rule!”

The servant slid a long dagger from the sleeve of his robe: “I have enjoyed serving you, my lord. I am sorry to hear you feel that way.”

At DVerse today, the prompt is to write a piece of flash fiction or other prose of up to or exactly 144 words, including the given line: I am bombarded yet I stand.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

To Live Forever [Short Story]

If she had a name once, she had long since forgotten it. Two years ago, she signed away her identity to join human trials to solve the troublesome issue of death. They had not told her that to solve death they had to induce it many times because the scientific method demanded that their results be replicable.

The first time they killed her was not so bad. The second and third times were harder. By the fourth time, she was tired of coming back. Still, the experiments continued.

Every night her mirror reflected a faceless shadow. After two years, the experiments were declared a success. She was, beyond a reasonable doubt, the first immortal.

She traveled the world with company representatives to tout their success and sat in the front row as the scientist who had killed her 731 times accepted a Nobel Peace Prize for his work. As he took the stage, she began to cry and a reporter later wrote that she was crying with joy.

The faceless shadow from her mirror walked up and stood beside her as she cried. It leaned down and whispered to her in her own voice a language of death that only she knew. It told her it would never leave her side, as long as she lived.

For the rest of her life, and she is still alive somewhere, her death remained incarnate, cursed to live, wandering a pace or two behind her wherever she went and whispering in her ear the truths she did not want to hear.

Photo by Blake Carpenter on Unsplash

The Sphinx [Short Story]

She was sitting quietly at roadside with the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle when I chanced upon her.

So silent was her repose that I had no warning of her presence until it was too late to turn back.

Without even a hello she gazed through my eyes and said: “Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart which safely exists in the center of all things?”

I wondered what gods she believed in. I knew that no matter the answer I gave, I would be wrong.

My answer was silence. The space between us echoed with my answer’s absence.

“What a disappointing answer,” she muttered, almost to herself, grabbing and devouring me in one bite.

I never got the chance to gloat when a second later I realized that my answer had been correct.

Photo by Karen Khafagy on Unsplash

At DVerse, the prompt today is to write a piece of flash fiction or other prose up of up to or exactly 144 words, including the given line of poetry:

“Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart
which safely exists in the center of all things?

– Rainer Maria Rilke

What One Remembers [Prose Poem]

As on any other day, the sunset is yawning between the buildings, its edges stretching past my feet as they carry me home. The light does not bother my road-worn heels, shielded as they are by the reflective surfaces of shined leather shoes. It does bother my eyes, as reflections off those sole shields shine too bright through my irises, which are unprotected from the evening sunlight. I squint my eyes, placing my left hand between them and the ground as a makeshift shield. The light shining through my hand turns my fingers an eerie red hue.

Though by my best designs shielded, my eyes still ache. There is some pressure building behind them, as if my brain is swelling through my eyes, hoping to photosynthesize every last ounce of sunlight. I ignore the aching sensation, which seems to have a mind of its own, as it travels along the bridge of my nose up to my forehead. I squint a bit, hoping it will help. It does not, though I could not have been blamed for trying.

As if sensing I will not find my way home absent some “medical intervention”, my feet untold lead me to the door of our small corner drug store. The store owner, as he looks at everyone, looks up at me with a mixture of suspicion and distrust as I open the door. His eyes follow me along the aisles, his hand almost subconsciously reaching over to the phone, dialing three numbers, and putting the receiver to his ear. I feel the weight of his eyes on my shoulders as I snag a bottle of ibuprofen from the pharmacy aisle and a blue Gatorade with a red label from the fridges. I have never particularly liked this store owner – he was always looking at my wife a moment too long when we would slip into the store for snacks. Now he is looking at me with a similar too-long glance. I shiver as I hand him my items to checkout. He scans them without touching them, his eyes never leaving my face. The phone is still to his ear as I walk away and his gaze following me to the door quickens my pace, as if my feet can sense the uneasiness of my mind.

I no sooner leave the store than I forget the whole scene that has just transpired. So focused am I on home that all else washes away. I tap two pills from the small red bottle and pop them into my mouth. They taste like iron in the back of my throat and I wash them down quickly with Gatorade. So disorienting is the taste of iron that for a second I must pause, finding steadiness in the form of a col metal fence post, one of many bracketing the small gardens along our street. The cold – conducted from the fence post – traces the fingertips of my left hand, shivering their dimly-lit edges. I scratch my head with that fence post chilled left hand as I take in the mundane familiarity of our street, taking in the uneven pulsing that echoes my temples, distorting my mental picture of that oft seen scene. I tap two pills from the small red bottle and pop them into my mouth. They taste like iron in the back of my throat and I wash them down quickly with Gatorade.

Maybe in dim light my eyes deceive me, for I have some difficulty in making out the number next to our door. Is this my home? Suddenly all the houses on the street look the same, their distinct features melting into a grey monotony as the sun by degrees hides its weary head behind our cookie cutter homes. Twice I blink, trying to clear the fog rolling from under my eyelids. It takes a few seconds, but finally I recognize our tall wooden door, hidden amid the lengthening shadows. Through the front gate I walk, my frozen fingertips fumbled among spare change and crumpled notes, seeking my keys amid the chaos of my front coat pocket. Our doormat interrupts my search to say: “I hope you like dogs”. Did we have a dog? In that moment I was so tired I could not even remember our dog, go figure.

From within the house I hear the rustling sounds of comfort, the scrambled footsteps of a lively home. I give up on my search for my keys, so eager am I to see my family, my wife, my daughters. The door handle is strangely slippery as I turn it with my left hand and push it open.

A man I do not know is the first thing that greets my tired eyes. My wife is the second. I look at her with red eyes full of disappointment and pain. She looks at me with the eyes of a stranger, one of my long ago nicknames hanging from the corner of her trembling lips. I spill into the hallway, my bare hands forming fists, fueled by an unthinking fury. The man steps forward, looking at me with eyes full of concern and fear. He holds up his hands, soft and gentle hands, my name also on his lips.

A glint from his ring finger catches my foggy mind in its gravity, my own hands paused in halfway formed fists. I glance down at my own left hand and find that the sunset red tinge is dripping down my wrist and over my bare ring finger. I pitch forward in the hallway, my limp body almost colliding with my wife’s husband as he approaches me with tender hands raised. The last thing I remember is my daughter’s face peeking out from behind the man’s legs where she had hidden from me. The last thing I see through reddening eyes is fast drying red-brown blood caked to my naked ring finger.

What do you think has happened to the narrator in this prose poem? Let’s discuss in the comments below!