I finished this at a thousand words in a gripping cliffhanger. I decided that that was just too dark. I added an additional 267 words, and I think it made the story better. Prompts from Inspiration Monday, Three Word Wednesday, The Writing Reader, and Chuck Wendig’s weekly flash fiction challenge.
* * *
Steven weaved through the rows of empty metal bunk beds. By now he knew where everything was. Even a blind pilot could fly this plane. He crumpled up a hand-drawn map on yellow tablet paper he made when they first forced him stay at the halfway house. He no longer needed it.
He was still reeling from his encounter earlier that day. He still couldn’t believe his former friends had done that to him. Why is this happening to me?
You could stop it all.
Steven looked around. He thought someone had said something, but he was alone. With a wince, he swung his backpack to the top bunk and lowered himself to his mattress.
You can end the pain you’re in.
Steven sat up suddenly and banged his head on the top bunk. “Hello?” he asked the empty room.
They hate you. But there’s an out.
“What do you mean?” Steven asked and then clamped his mouth shut. He felt like a kook. He waited, but the only sound he heard was the thundering of his heart. Was he going crazy? Was his new reality so skewed that he now heard voices? He lowered himself back to the thin mattress.
End it all.
Steven fell into a deep sleep – the parting words from the mysterious voice echoed in his head.
* * *
Your pain will be gone only if you decide to end it all.
Steven’s eyes snapped open. Was he going crazy? He staggered to the communal showers; the sounds of snoring buffeted him from open doors. He gripped the sink and looked into the eyes of his reflection in the mirror. The hot water washed away the crusted blood on his face but did nothing to make the bruises fade.
Steven shoveled eggs into his mouth with robot precision. Dressing himself had caused a flash of pain every time the cloth touched one of his bruises. He grabbed his backpack and prepared to trudge through another day of school. Why did he even bother? He wasn’t doing the work. He was attacked the day before. Even before the beating, people sneered at him and called him names. The last month of his senior year was just a waste of time.
* * *
Steven lay awake in his bunk most of the night. As the sounds of a day getting going sounded around him, he rubbed his eyes and threw back his blanket. He contemplated skipping his classes again but decided, for some reason, that he had better just finish his senior year. Everyone had preached the value of a diploma, but was it worth the hassle?
* * *
Steven trudged down the hall on autopilot. The threats and other abuse seemed to have stalled. Maybe people grew weary of threatening him. Steven couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Waiting at the classroom door were David and Leonard. To avoid another potential beating, Steven lurked in the hallway until the instructor arrived. David fixed Steven with an icy glare and followed Leonard into the classroom. Steven took his position in the corner of the grid of desks and stared out a window. In the window’s reflection, Steven saw Robert look to his former friend, press his lips into a thin line, and then back to his laptop.
David and Leonard did their fair share of staring and frowning along with whispers to Robert. He was worried that the end of class would result in another altercation, but when the time came, David and Leonard marched past him without even looking at him. Steven sprung up and chased after Robert, trailing the pair of bullies.
“Robert,” Steven huffed with the sudden expenditure of energy, “wait up.”
Robert slowed to a stop and shifted from foot to foot while Steven caught up with him.
“Robert, please.” Steven wanted to reach out and clasp his friend’s shoulder but decided against it. “Why are you going along with them? I didn’t make Lindsay kill herself.”
“I’ve heard your lies before,” Robert declared through clenched teeth. “David and Leonard are right. I’m not friends with murderers.”
Robert brushed past Steven, his elbow hitting a bruise concealed under his shirt. Steven winced and staggered. Robert appeared to hesitate, but his eyes narrowed, and he rejoined David and Leonard watching from a few feet away.
They hate you. It’s easy to make them happy.
Steven looked around. No one looked at him. He thought the voice had been part of a dream. “What do you want?” he hissed.
If you end it, you won’t have to face their accusations.
He knew what the voice was suggesting. He couldn’t do it. Giving up like that wasn’t in his DNA. He couldn’t throw his life away like Lindsay had… Could he?
* * *
Steven felt sudden vertigo. His forehead made contact with a mostly smooth surface. He sat up, rubbed his forehead and cursed himself. He’d hoped that avoiding sleep would cause the voice go away and now he was asleep in the kitchen. What am I even doing here? he thought as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
It’s easy to go, you know.
Steven hadn’t felt this awake in a long time. He shuddered as the voice spoke again.
Ending it all would make everybody happy. Do what you know is right.
Steven rose from the table and wandered behind the serving line. A large kitchen knife was affixed to a wall via a magnet along with several others. He watched his hand grasp the handle and pull it away. Although the handle was gouged and maybe even burnt, the blade was straight and sharp. The scratches from constant maintenance were evident on the long blade. He looked at the sharp edge in his shaky hand and pondered it for a few moments.
It would be easy. He wouldn’t have to hurt anymore. They would all be happy with the murderer gone. Lindsay’s parents would get the closure they so desperately needed. No more insults. No more abuse. Steven’s hand was eerily calm as a realization washed over him.
Killing himself really would be an end to all his pain. There wasn’t anyone who cared about him anyway. He raised his forearm and placed the knife against it. He mentally prepared himself for the initial pain. Pain he had known. Just a little more, and it would all be over. How long would it take? How long for him to quail away? His calm hand started to shake, almost as if he were fighting against it.
End it now!
Lindsay lay on the bathroom floor, the long cuts in her arms feeding a pool of blood-tinged water gathering at the base of the bathtub. The memory was like a slap in the face. Steven sucked in a deep breath and dropped the knife. The noise it made as it clattered to the floor echoed in the empty kitchen. The voice, Steven thought.
Lindsay had heard a voice. Now, he heard a maniacal voice. She had given in to it. She didn’t fight it. He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t let a bully win, even if the bully were somehow himself. He had to live in the hope that somehow, things would get better.
He knelt to retrieve the lethal knife and replaced it on the magnetic holder. Suicide was not the answer. He was as sure of that as he was that Lindsay had gone down the wrong path. He would fight. He had to believe that there would be a better tomorrow. He had to hope.
The voice had nothing to say.