"Small" writing challenges for my small writing talent. Hotel note pads are the only space allowed. Let's see if I can strip it down and tighten it up to learn something. Improving my skill of weird fiction.
This was a flash-fiction contest submission on http://www.Writingforums.org , where I didn’t win but had a three-way tie for third amongst 11 submissions and 14 voters. Here it is.
An old man’s sweaty palm knocked over the alarm clock. A half-empty glass of water and half-full pill vials trembled on the nightstand. Antacids slipped between old chapped lips to settle an ongoing burn. He knew the time without looking. Every visit was the same.
Laying on his pillow brought thoughts. He appreciated his staff growing accustomed to his worry. Time—how much there was to finish the job—is all he ever thought about. They knew its importance, so they made efforts to constantly remind him of deadlines, as instructed, or he would have given them a dismissal.
“Deadlines are important,” he repeated in a grave tone, “and we have to achieve our goal!”
His stomach always burned with looming timetables. There wasn’t room for failure and even now, trying to relax, he agonized over all the choices. Staffers never understood why he pressured himself and others, but he compensated them well for stepping up to the challenges. His hair had turned white early on.
The old man’s breathing grew panicky. His thoughts raced over how he could keep going in the face of a failure. He gave too much long ago and he paid for it. Ulcers, arthritic posture and headaches were necessary to achieve results. The contract demanded perfection. Achieving them delivered fortune and fame, but the price was enormous for everyone.
Thinking of his youth in an old utopian town brought calm. He had lived with large parks and houses with porches. He played High-School games on Fridays and had a pretty girlfriend. His world was perfect until the night before graduation when a well-kept secret changed his life.
Thoughts saddened. His little brother had always been afraid of the dark—waking up scared of monsters under his bed. There was no such thing. He talked his little brother back to sleep through many, many nights. He knew real monsters came from the closet. They had been visiting since he could remember. The night before graduation, they changed. They weren’t like before.
Restlessness came from remembering the promises. The draft wouldn’t touch him. He would have a long career in elected office with impossible success. He liked the thoughts and agreed in blood with these monsters. Waking, it wasn’t a dream.
His friends fought and died. He married his school sweetheart and had fifty years in office, all by doing as instructed: Make deals, steer the House—the Senate, get votes and shape decisions. He had had enough. His vote guaranteed the doomsday clock would never see midnight. War would not happen. That wasn’t as instructed. They would come. In one long sigh, the Senator found peace with his final decisions. The closet opened and he smiled.
(Authors notes) I wanted to convey a personal reckoning for someone who selfishly went through life, but most importantly, in a way that gave suffering to thousands or million of others. He let himself be paid off to look the other way and vote for what powers and not the people demanded. I thought it was a good ending sort of story.