Worth 1000 words: Summer Herald will each day publish an entry in our short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 30. Picture: Simone DePeak
SO incredibly quiet, his own footsteps clunking on the granite to break the silence. No echo as he walks, no doubt years of industrial grime coating the once sparkling surface. Why is it so quiet he wonders? Where is the background noise? Birds? Traffic? Voices? Just the sound of his own footsteps.
His footsteps and his heart pounding in his chest – his head – both? He isn’t sure. He stops still and waits in trepidation. He listens to his breath as he inhales. The short sharp whoosh of the exhale. His mouth feels dry, his tongue grabbing at gum in passing. It tastes stale. The first wave of nausea passes through him leaving his face flushed before the colour washes away to grey. The second wave washes through with such force that his stomach muscles clench tight up towards his spine, forcing his head to bow. He tries to hold back the vile liquid climbing upwards, searching for its escape route. As the acidic fluid hits the point of no return, he openly retches, spitting the excess moisture to the ground. Bile and stale spit tempt his body to void again, his head barely strong enough to evade a second onslaught.
Sitting down on the cold yet strangely comforting ground, he pulls his fabric backpack closer to his leg. Close so he can feel the light pressure against his thigh. Shrill ringing inside his head alerting him of what? What warning does he need now? High pitch and continuous. Deafening. Reaching for his water bottle, his hand shakes as he urgently negotiates the lid. He turns his hands in unison, the technique implanted inside his brain no doubt from childhood, yet incredibly awkward in his desperation. The feel of cool water splashed haphazardly across his arm brings immediate yet temporary relief. His palms feel sweaty. His hand still shaking he focuses on his breathing. Inhale, hold, exhale. Still no sound around him as he lets his body slouch, his head finding purchase against a hard grainy surface.
Now, through the silence he looks around– slowly – carefully. He sees nothing but his ears scan for something – anything. Confusion, disbelief, fear, and what? Nothing, yet everything all scrambling through his head as he sits motionless on the ground. So many questions, yet no answers. Not yet anyway. Just silence. Not comforting or peaceful. Eerie silence and bewilderment.
Loud chirping from somewhere nearby breaks through the calm. One lone bird brave enough to raise its voice. It chirps again, this time repeatedly through the still air. Maybe its calling its mate he ponders, still terrified to move. He can see his leg flinching beneath the loose fabric covering. An insane feeling of relief flooding in as he watches the spasm. No watch to tick over and mark the time. Time that is lingering, obscenely flaunting its ability to warp, yet still holding its intense accuracy. Through the silence, more deafening than the shrill ringing inside his head, his ears reach hard to grasp the sound. Faint, yet comforting. A familiar sound, still distant but increasing its intensity. Sirens. More than one? He isn’t sure, but it’s definitely sirens. Not daring to move, he sits and waits. No other sound but wailing beacons approaching urgently.
The immediate siren stops while more continue their cacophony in the background. Voices yelling nearby, though the words sound jumbled as his head attempts to decipher their origin. He remains motionless, his muscles beckoning him to release them, his fear ordering their containment. Just a little bit longer he tells himself. He finds himself idiotically counting inside his head, somehow drowning the din. One. Two. Three. Still nothing. Memories invite themselves in as he counts. Sitting in the back seat of the car with his brother. Counting because they were bored. Counting because it might get them there quicker. Just counting. Four. Five. Sitting in the corner of the kitchen, his mother counting because he hit his little brother. Not daring to move while she was still counting. Six. Seven.
Loud. Aggressive. The voice rolls over his body, lifting him up high before dumping him down deep into darkness. Black. Dark. Cold. Nothing.
His head hurts though the pain seems irrelevant as he lays flat, sweat beading across his lip and brow. A man’s voice, calm and somehow soothing, beckoning him to move. Willing his eyes to focus, his head to process, he can no longer control the urge to project the lingering bile from his mouth. He lets his body retch, convulsing forward with each expulsion. He can hear the uniformed man’s voice somewhere in the background, but he can’t bring it closer. So much noise. Sirens. Voices. Trafficnearby. The hand reaching to him misses as he gags wearily at the ground. The second attempt successful, the weary and terrified man is gently supported as he is escorted to a stretcher. Laying on the soft clean surface he feels immediate comfort and warmth. He wants to return to the memories of times past. He wants to sleep – to forget. To forget what his head screams! Sally!
“Sally! Where’s Sally?”the lone man yells.
The memories, the emotions – love, hurt, anger and despair cascade like a waterfall. He remembers – remembers he was supposed to meet Sally. Processing profusely like a virus his brain lurches to grasp beyond the darkness to remember. He remembers the deafening sound of the shot as it ricocheted past him. Waiting, expecting pain to tear through his body. Then nothing. Just silence.
Caresses along his hand bring him back. The touch is familiar and tender. The salty tears taste like nectar as they find his parched lips. Sally gently kisses his mouth, her eyes searching for damage. Her fingers interlock with his,as he apologises. Not once, but many times over.