One Year, One Room

Day One:

Well, here we go. One year, one room, one hundred thousand dollars if I make it. Spoiler alert, day 365 me, I’ll make it. 

It’s been twenty minutes since they sealed me in here. The room is bigger than I was expecting so that’s nice. The lack of walls, especially around the bathroom was jarring at first. It almost seems like a prison cell except there’s no bars or windows. Just the four blank walls and no areas to hide, everything is open. 

In one corner is a bed, a dresser with some clothes, and an armchair. A small kitchenette sits nearby with a sink, a few cabinets with snacks, a microwave, a table with one chair, a small fridge, and a coffee pot. Along one wall is a bookcase and a desk. The opposite wall has the door they just sealed shut and an airlock-like hatch which I’ll receive food and supply deliveries in. In the far corner is the bathroom, and calling it a bathroom is generous, there’s another sink, a toilet open to the room, and a showerhead sticking out of the wall with a drain in the floor below. No walls or even a shower curtain for privacy. 

Speaking of no privacy, I’ve counted about a dozen different cameras covering every inch of the room. They told me I would be monitored 24/7 and they meant it. The constant monitoring is helpful though. They gave me a key phrase to say out loud to any of the cameras at any time. As soon as I say it, one of the researchers will unlock the door and the experiment is ended early. I lose out on the money though so I have no plans on doing it. 

Psychological study on isolation is what they call it. I call it free money and time to finish my novel. I know, everyone thinks they’ve got the idea for the next great american novel but I really do. I just didn’t have the time to work on it.

So when I saw the ad it seemed like a no brainer. $100k and uninterrupted time to write? Yes please!

In addition to all the video monitoring, they want me to keep a journal so here you go. Journal for Day One is done! Now it’s time to take a shit for the first time with people watching. Wish me luck!

Day Seven:

Its been a week and I’ve got the perfect routine going. Since there’s no windows for sunlight they use the lights to regulate my sleep cycle. They go on gradually starting at 6am. I wake up and head to the kitchen to make myself a coffee, then sit and read a book from the bookshelf. It’s filled with classics and contemporary novels from all different genres. I’m making my way through Moby Dick right now. 

About an hour after I wake up, a light beep sounds, alerting me to my first meal of the day. My kitchenette has coffee, water, and snacks but all my meals are provided three times a day. In my contract, I filled out a sheet with likes, dislikes, allergies, etc so that must be what they’re working from because I’ve yet to have something I didn’t love. Today was waffles with fresh fruit and a side of bacon to dip in my syrup.

I leave the finished tray in the hatch after I’m done. It’s also where I leave my dirty laundry once a week. I feel bad for whoever has to wash my boxers, but I’m glad it’s not something I have to do.

After breakfast, I do a workout of pushups, jumping jacks or burpees, and a jog around the room. 

Then I plant myself at the desk and write until my wrist aches. I was given a stack of blank notebooks for my journaling and my writing. So far I’ve filled half a notebook for my novel. After only a week! I may have time to write several novels while I’m in here. 

I write through lunch and dinner, eating at the desk. Then I take my evening walk around the room and then I read until the lights start dimming around 8pm. 

Since its been a week, today was my first supply day. A double beep sounds, different than the meal beep. I open the hatch, there’s a pile of fresh clothes, more coffee, a new box of pens so I don’t run out and a blank sheet to leave with my next opening with requests for additional supplies.

I’m still hyper aware of the cameras. Every time I scratch my balls or take a shit I can’t help but laugh at the poor scientist watching who needs to write that down. Sorry, dude! Just wait until I’m comfortable enough to jerk-off.

One week down, 51 to go!

Day 30:

Writing has slowed down, I’m second guessing everything from my characters to my outline. I spend most of my time staring at the wall going through things in my head. Good thing I’ve got eleven more months to figure this out. 

The special clock on the wall says 335 days left. I try not to look at it. That seems daunting. Eleven months seems more manageable. 

I do miss chatting with someone else. Even boring small talk. ‘How’s my fantasy football team doing? Crazy weather we’re having, huh? Did you email me that spreadsheet?’

Reading helps with that though. The characters having conversations make me feel like I’m eavesdropping on people on the street or something.

I know this entry seems kind of negative but I’m not going to quit. I’m just having a bad day. We all have them, even in isolation.

That $100k will change my life. That and finishing my novel are what keep driving me forward. 

Day 90:

A quarter of the way done! Three months in the books. I’m feeling hopeful today, like I can easily make it to the end. I have good days and bad. Some days I spend entirely in bed except for when the meal bell dings. 

Today is better. Today I’m writing again. I took a quick break to write out this journal entry but I’ll get back into it as soon as I’m done.

I never ever thought I would say (write?) this but I miss people. It’s been three months since I talked to anyone, three months without even seeing another person’s face. I try to race to the hatch to possibly get a glimpse of whoever is dropping off my food but all I ever see is the closed door.

I miss the sun, I miss different smells. I miss hockey games and cheap beer and the raw power of twenty thousand fans screaming their faces off.

I miss sex. I miss flirting with a girl in a bar and I miss that moment- that look in her eyes when you know she’s yours for the night. I take care of my needs in here (I don’t even care about the cameras anymore) but it’s not the same. Especially because they refuse to supply me with porn like I request each week. 

Ok, so instead of focusing on what I miss, I need to keep focused on what I have. I have plenty of reading material- I found that if I leave finished books in the hatch with my empty meal trays they swap them out for new books with the next meal. I have plenty of blank notebooks for my writing. I have incredible meals delivered three times a day. Even after three months, there’s been no repeated lunches or dinner meals and everything has been restaurant quality amazing. 

Three months down, nine to go. I can do this. 

Day 130:

I started talking to the cameras today. It felt incredible. I imagine some Poindexter in a white coat and a clipboard watching the screens and answering me back.

It started with breakfast. An omelette. I asked the closest camera how they get their eggs so light and fluffy and yet still tasting so rich. I talked about the texture and taste and how fresh the fruit was. I felt better with each word I said aloud. 

I then took a walk around the room. Ten laps, talking directly to the cameras the entire time. I told them about my favorite Seinfeld episodes and about a hike I took at a national park once where I saw a family of brown bears. 

Next up, I took a shower, telling them how much I love the smell of the soaps and shampoo they chose for me. After, I examined my face in the mirror. I decided I was going to stop shaving and grow my beard out. I told the camera next to the mirror that I think it’ll be funny after a year of isolation to have a big scraggly beard. I showed the camera two shirts and chose the one I think Poindexter would have picked for me.

Next up was time to write. I sat down at the desk and explained the whole plot of my book to the camera. In the process of explaining it to Poindexter, I figured out my ending!

Ok, off to write some more. This novel is going to make me famous! I’ll make sure I thank you in the acknowledgements, Poindexter. 

Day 183:

I CROSSED THE HALFWAY MARK!

I imagine Dex is watching me dance around the room laughing at how silly I look. He’d get that pinched look on his face and tell me I shouldn’t quit my day job. Then we would crack up because that’s exactly what I did for this fucking study. 

Poindexter and I have full conversations now. I supply both sides of the dialogue but he’s so real, it doesn’t feel like his answers are coming from me. His voice is higher than mine too. It feels like he’s in the room with me. He keeps the unbearable loneliness at bay. 

I snuck a note on the tray with my lunch trash. I asked, begged really, for Dex to write back. Even if its just the word ‘hi’ I need that confirmation that someone still exists outside of this place. Logically I know they’re all still out there- meals are still showing up, my laundry is getting washed weekly, new books are left for me. But it’s such an odd feeling not seeing a single soul for six months. I had no idea how badly this was going to affect me. 

I know the point of this journal is to describe exactly how I feel but I can’t. It’s so surreal I can’t even begin to describe it. I thought this year would be a breeze but its not. Its the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I would cut off my own foot for a hug, a handshake, or even for someone to just look at me and acknowledge I’m alive. 

Day 240:

I started to see things today. Always just at the edge of my vision, a large shape. If I was anywhere else I would say it’s a person. 

What if it is, though. What if this is part of the study? They snuck someone in through a hidden door while I slept at night and their whole job is to remain behind me, just out of my line of sight. 

Ok, I just walked around the whole room. Theres no one here. The whole point of this room is that there’s nowhere to hide. Everything is visible at all times.

I hate this room. I hate the color of the walls, I hate the uncomfortable mattress, I hate the scent of the soaps I have to use, but most of all I hate the cameras. All they do is remind me that someone is watching me lose my mind in here and isn’t doing a damn thing to help me.

There it is again. I just yelled at Dex to stop fucking with me. He says it’s not him but I don’t believe him. He’s a liar.

I should try to write my novel more today. Or read a book. I haven’t done anything in a few weeks. Dex won’t shut up so it can be really hard to concentrate.

The days feel longer. I watch the clock on the wall and the seconds tick by slower than they should be. I think Dex and his pals are messing with me. Seeing how far they can push me before I quit. 

But I won’t. I didn’t go eight months in this hell-hole to quit now.

So fuck you, Dex. You won’t win. 

Day 303:

I thought about breaking out today. I took the butter knife from breakfast, went into the delivery hatch and was about to begin prying open their side when I stopped. Cooler heads prevailed. I was worried that even attempting to break out would invalidate my chance at the $100K. 

$100K. I should’ve asked for more. It’s almost not worth it. But I only have two months left. 

Dex keeps telling me to stop watching the clock. I allow myself one look a day.

The rest of the day I spend actively trying to not look at it. Sometimes it’s so tough not looking that I sweat from the exertion. 

I see shapes in the edges of my eye line all day long now Sometimes they’re small like an animal waiting for me to notice it, other times it’s almost as tall as the ceiling. Dex swears it’s not them but I know it is. 

At night as I fall asleep, I hear them. Dex and his friends come into my room and move my things around. My notebooks are never where I leave them, the books on my shelves are in a different order and I KNOW they’re messing with the clock. They’re trying to make me stay in here for more than a year. 

I screamed at the cameras for hours today. They can’t do this to me. We have a contract for one year and one year ONLY. 

Dex kept trying to get me to calm down but he doesn’t get it. He’s free to leave anytime with no consequences. If I leave I lose $100k. 

If I believe the clock (which I don’t), I have just under two months left. 

Sixty-two days.

One thousand four hundred and eighty eight hours. 

DAY 335, 9PM- Log for Subject G

Subject G has shown signs of severe depression and schizophrenia. According to Subject G’s file, there is no family history of either.

Subject G spent two hours standing in the shower immediately after waking, ignoring the signal for breakfast. 

Subject G then spent time at the desk writing. Upon reviewing the desk camera footage (camera feed 14) it was found that he was copying a single line over and over into his notebook. The text consisted of the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” After speaking with colleagues in the lab, the line is noted to be a line from a popular movie. 

After spending hours filling a notebook with the single line, Subject G then individually tore the pages, crumpled them up, and threw them into the trash. Pages will be collected and logged when the trash is deposited into the supply hatch. 

Subject G spends at least two hours every day staring into different cameras and screaming at whoever he believes is watching. 

At no time, however, has Subject G ever used the code phrase given to him to end the study. 

Monitoring will continue to be logged daily. 

Day 358:

It’s been a while since I’ve written. It almost feels pointless but whatever. 

SEVEN FUCKING DAYS LEFT. 

I’ve got a grizzly man beard now. Dex wants me to shave it but I’ve long since stopped caring about his opinion.

I hear people whispering. All the time. Even now as I write. Whoever they are, they are never loud enough to understand what they’re saying but its constant. A dull roar in this quiet room.

I’m terrified. 

I’m terrified of the whispering, of Dex, of the knowledge that in one week I’m going to be reintroduced into society. This study ruined me. I am a shell of who I was.

Will they continue to monitor me after I leave? They’ll say they won’t but they will. I know they’ll be following me until the day I die. 

If they even let me out of here. 

Please God let me out of here. 

Day 365:

I woke up this morning, didn’t even get out of bed, just laid there and cried. I haven’t cried since I’ve been in here. 

I did it. It’s the last day. 

Dex spent the last few days trying to get me to say the quitting phrase but I refused. Dex is trying to trick me out of my money. 

Once I was out of tears, I got up and showered. I folded all my clothes and left them all on the bed. I straightened up my notebooks and bookshelves. I tidied the room. 

Today is a big day. I was told the study would end at noon. It’s 10:30 and the room is spotless.

It’s now 11:30. Ive done nothing for the last hour but watch the seconds tick away on the clock. I have no idea what it’ll feel like when that door opens but I can’t wait to find out. 

DAY 365, 4PM – Log for Subject G

The preceding entries were selected from hundreds of pages written by Subject G. These passages were chosen because they aptly depicted Subject G’s mental state during the study.

A full transcript of Subject G’s exit interview is available upon request and is summarized below. 

Subject G broke into sobs when the door was first opened. Subject G hugged the two lab assistants and wouldn’t let go for several minutes. 

Once somewhat calmed, Subject G was escorted to an interview room. Subject G collapsed into the chair and began answering the questions asked by the interviewer. Subject G cried during most of the interview, asking to hold the interviewer’s hand several times. 

Towards the end of questioning, Subject G went into a catatonic state and would no longer answer questions or respond to stimuli. 

Subject G’s emergency contact was notified of our decision. Subject G, like Subject A-F before him, has been transferred to the State Psychiatric Hospital for an indeterminate amount of time. 

Further Subject studies have been cancelled. 

Untitled Flash Fiction (143 words)

She saw him and her heart skipped a beat. He was everything she never knew she needed. They married a year later and lived happily together, arguing only over the thermostat and who gets to read the Sunday comics first. Five years after first meeting, his car is run off the road. He is in the hospital for ten days before he finally succumbs to his injuries.

The next few weeks, she doesn’t leave her home, shutting out all visitors. She convinced herself that he hadn’t left her. Little things like the thermostat changing on it’s own or his favorite slippers moving around the house with no explanation. One night she woke up with a start. At the foot of her bed was a shadow, a badly degraded form of the man she loved. She saw him and her heart skipped a beat.

 

 

Prompt is from Instagram account @writing.prompt.s

Ani-Mind (Short Story – 100 Prompts)

“She’s a lion, definitely. Or no, wait, maybe a jaguar,” whispers Trae under his breath to Mhark next to him. 

“Don’t be stupid, only celebrities and the insanely rich can afford exotic Ani-minds.” 

“I bet she’s a python,” Ash sits on the other side of Mhark and chimes in on their hushed conversation. The three stifle chuckles and try to keep quiet in the back of the conference room.

Despite their whispering, Matilda hears it all. Her reddish brown eyes fix on the three of them. She doesn’t know them by name, they are low level employees from the accounting department, but with one glance she knows everything about them. 

She rambles on with her presentation on their quarterly numbers, able to recite all her stats by heart without looking at the projections behind her, and continues to eye up the three gossipers. Both males wear dark, well tailored suits and white dress shirts, only their ties are a shock of color against their neutral suits. The one on the left has a tie printed with feathers in beautiful orange and red tones. A metallic bird in flight pin adorns one of his lapels. The right hand man has a tie of black feathers with shiny blue-green accents to each of the feathers. His silver tie clip is a large bird silhouette. Birds, they always think they’re better than everyone. 

She turns her attention to the woman who joined in. Her blouse is a gradient of blues, darkening as they flow down towards her waist. A dainty silver necklace hangs at her throat with a blue crystal water drop dangling from it. Just underneath her left eye, a small patch of blue fish scales has been tattooed onto her cheekbone. The scales seem to glow brighter as her face turns scarlet with embarrassment. 

Matilda switches the slide and begins to talk about the upcoming quarter. Her gaze slides over everybody in the room. Each figure in some way proudly displays their Ani-mind; a pocket square with dog bones here, cat whiskers tattooed on plump cheeks there, a wrapped scarf with cartoon bunnies frolicking on another. She thinks about her own outfit today, a modestly cut dress in deep plum with a long gold chain looped several times around her neck. The only other adornment to her outfit is her First Global Bank identification badge hanging on her chest from a longer gold chain. There are no symbols and no patterns which is just as she intended. 

Of course she has an Ani-mind. Everyone does. She just chooses to keep it private. When the technology debuted five years ago, even the founders didn’t know how ingrained it would become in daily life. It was marketed as a way to inhabit the mind of an animal for a short period of time. “A simple escape to a simpler mind,” they touted. Ani-mind was a way to experience the sheer bliss of a dog, the contentment of a cat, the ability to fly as a bird, or swim through beautiful coral reefs as a fish. Practically overnight, they became multi-billionaires. Not only was Ani-mind an escape, it became a lifestyle.

She finishes her presentation and everyone scatters quickly back to their desks. Only after the last person has left does she pick up her plain white mug and make her way to her corner office. Along the way, she overhears several of her employees discussing their dream Ani-mind, if money was no object. The huddled group hush as she gets close, replacing their conversation with a respectful “Ms. King” as she passes with a smile. 

Back at her desk, she opens her mailbox and begins to swipe through the pile of advertising emails she’s received. 

Frolicking Felines – connecting single cats, either in human or feline form. Delete.

Calling all Raccoons! A new study is recruiting now! If your Ani-mind is a raccoon and you’re between 18-28 years old, click here! Delete.

Discount Exotics – Be a lion for an hour at a fraction of the cost! Can’t miss offer!! Delete. 

Matilda wonders about the people who would choose a discount Ani-mind experience. She had seen a report on the news once about those places, the animals are extremely sickly and practically dead which is how they’re able to rent them out so cheap. I guess people do it just to boast that they were a lion once, even if all they did was lay there. 

The rest of her afternoon goes by quickly in a haze of spreadsheets and international phone calls with other branches to discuss the budget cuts she was imposing on them. A headache begins to form at the base of her skull. She leans back from her desk and rubs at it when a small knock sounds on her door. 

“Come in.”

The blonde head of her assistant Christoph pokes through the widening gap. “Hiya Ms. King. It’s 5 o’clock and I’ve finished up for the day. Is it ok if I head home or did you need me to do anything else?”

“That’s all for today, thanks Christoph. Have a good night,” she says with a small smile, glancing at a dog tag glittering from a black cord around his neck.

“You too!” And he leaves with a small wave. 

She decides it’s time for her to head out as well. She shuts down her computer, turns off the lights, and heads down in the crowded elevator, listening to the others talk about meeting up for a flight in an hour. The woman who held the door for her to get on has a single feather tattooed on the inside length of her lower arm in exquisite detail. Matilda can’t help but stare at the skill of the artist who did it. The woman notices her staring and grins.

“Had it done right after my first Ani-mind. I knew I was a bird before I even experienced it.”

“It’s beautiful,” Matilda replies. 

The woman’s eyes scan over Matilda, looking for some clue, and her eyebrows knit together when she finds nothing. Confusion was the typical response Matilda got when people looked her over. People can’t understand why she wouldn’t want to express the love for her Ani-mind. Matilda gives a polite but insincere smile and rushes out of the elevator as soon as the doors open in the lobby. 

Crowds push along the crowded city sidewalk, mostly people in suits rushing home from their office job to meld into the sweet world of their Ani-mind. She crosses the street and takes a path through the park. People line the benches; some are reading, some talking to friends, others have on the thin blue illuminated band wrapped around their head, eyes closed and a smile on their face as a squirrel or a duck or cat runs around nearby. 

Just outside of her building, she runs into one of her neighbors on the street, a ferret on a leash leaping alongside of him. 

“Hey Matty,” he says when he spots her. 

She glares at him. “Ugh, Kevan, you know I hate it when you call me that.” She squats down and pets the light gray ferret and her voices rises in pitch. “Well hello there, Mister Noodles! I’m so sorry you have to deal with him but you’re just so cute!” The ferret wiggles happily under her fingers. She stands back up and they walk into the building, grab their packages from the front desk, and into the elevator side by side. They chat about the weather, work, and finally he brings up the latest episode of “The Tarzan’s,” the latest TV craze about a celebrity family whose Ani-minds are a family of apes. The show alternates between the struggles of human lives and their Ani-mind lives. 

It always hung between them, never allowing them to be more than acquaintances. She could see him almost ask the question about her Ani-mind every time they spoke. She knew it was strange, hiding that side of her, but she couldn’t help it. 

They said their goodbyes as she unlocked her apartment door and stepped inside. Just like her outfit, her apartment shows no sign of her Ani-mind. The decor is minimal and animal free. 

From the moment she left work, she could feel it. That itch, that need to meld into the animal mind. That freedom is such a great release after a hard day. She kicks off her shoes and grabs a glass of water, taking it and her small package with her back into her bedroom. 

Slipping out of her business clothes, she pulls on a pair of comfy stretchy pants and a loose draping t-band shirt faded with age. Her ani-mind halo rests on the seat of a plush gray armchair in the corner of her bedroom. She spins the chair so it’s facing her closet doors. With a gentle tug, she opens both doors of her closet wide, the vast array of neutral and dark colored business clothes swaying lightly. From the middle of the clothes, she pushes them all to the sides and there it sits. 

The glass enclosure takes up the entire back wall of her closet and is two inches deep. The dark sand fills two-thirds of it and a light bar runs along the top of the glass. Tunnels have been carved criss-crossing all throughout the thin enclosure, allowing the white closet wall to show through. Various caverns mark endpoints of some of the tunnels. Moving along everywhere in the massive enclosure, brownish-red ants swarm along. Her eyes scan along the tunnels and caverns, looking for the queen. She spots her in one of the caverns, her size is three times that of the workers that move all around her. 

She runs her fingers along the glass and smiles as the ants move along behind it. She grabs the package and opens it up to reveal the ant food she had purchased online. Off to the left, she opens a hatch and dumps in a handful of the mixture. Then she sets the package on the floor, wraps the Ani-mind halo around her forehead and settles herself into the chair. The wire connected to the halo runs to a small button in her hand. 

She presses the button and the halo lights up blue as she focuses on the ant farm, trying to single out one ant making it’s way through the tunnels. The science behind Ani-mind was explained after it came out, but it never made much sense to Matilda. She knew it had something to do with blocking her sensory receptors and receiving and sending inputs to the animal. All she knew is once she focused on the ant, it takes about five to ten seconds for the room around her to melt away and the dark tunnel to appear around her. She knew from some chemical input that she was following this tunnel to the food her human self had just dropped in and bringing it back to the queen’s larvae. 

Her ant form was given a task, she executed it, and was given another task. That was her role and she loved it. After a day of giving orders and figuring out sophisticated financial issues, this simple task following was the perfect way to unwind. After an hour or so of moving the food from the drop site to the larvae to feed, she pressed the button in her human hand and slowly the bedroom appeared in front of her. 

Matilda’s headache was gone, her shoulders no longer tense, and she felt at peace. Leaving her closet door open, she got up from the chair and stretched, enjoying the calming sensation that flowed through her. She understands why people are so inclined to show off their Ani-minds; dogs, cats, and birds are the most popular, other small household pets right behind them in popularity. But she has never seen anyone broadcasting that their Ani-mind is an insect. It isn’t typical. But ants are strong and they band together with their colony and do incredible things. Why shouldn’t she be proud of her choice?

She pulls a black dress from her closet and drapes it over the back of the chair, preparing her outfit for work the next day. Turning on the TV, she climbs into bed and flips through the channels, trying to find something to watch. “Ani-mind Fails” is always an enjoyable watch, so she leaves on the clip show of people’s first time using Ani-mind. Puppies stumbling down stairs, cats with their tongues stuck out, and birds flapping their wings trying to get even an inch off the ground flit across the screen to a laugh track. After a moment, she hops up and crosses the room to her dresser. She digs through the top drawer until her fingers wrap around the small box she bought so many years ago. 

She lifts the jewelry box lid and pulls out the silver chain. Dangling from the bottom is a polished silver silhouette of an ant. It spins around, catching the light of the lamp next to her bed. She drops it back into the box and sets the box on the chair with her dress for tomorrow. She’s had enough speculation and hiding. Matilda climbs back into bed and turns off the bedside lamp. Her eyes drift from the TV to the massive ant farm in her closet. In the light, she can’t see the individual ants, but can make out their undulating movement in the tunnels. She drifts off to sleep with a slight smile on her face, excited about what tomorrow will bring. 


All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog.  They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more. 

This story was written using Prompt # 70: A woman who uses her pet as a means to escape reality. 

They Say… (Short Story – 100 Prompts)

“They say this is the boy’s bike…”

It certainly looked old enough to fit the legend. Every inch of the frame was rusted metal and bulky, nothing like the streamlined road bikes which they all straddled. The relic rested haphazardly against a long forgotten wooden fence post that at one time marked the edge of a farm that used to be here. Every ten feet or so, another gnarled wooden post stood, creating an eerie border, cutting through the woods. The six boys dropped their bikes to the forest floor and crowded around the rusted figure.

“Wait, what boy? I thought you said the ghost was an old man?” Sean tugged his backpack off his shoulders and tossed it down next to his bike. 

“It is, newbie,” Lincoln sighed. He stepped in front of the bike, centering himself in front of the group of them. It was obvious from the moment Sean first walked into Timberland Middle School that Lincoln was the leader of the seventh grade. Sean knew if he wanted to fit in, he needed to be friends with Lincoln. “His name was Willard Grady. They say he kidnapped kids and brought them to the river and drowned them.”

“Why?” Ezra had spoken up. Sean was sure this wasn’t the first time the other boys had heard the story, but Lincoln was in showmanship mode and all of them stood enthralled.

“He was crazy.” Lincoln squatted and touched the rusted bike frame reverently. “They say this bike belongs to his last victim. He disappeared the same day as Old Man Grady, nobody knows what happened to either of them; they say their bodies were never found.”

Lincoln stood back up and swung his bag around so it rested on his stomach. He dug in and pulled out a handful of things. “They say Old Man Grady still haunts these woods, ringing an old bicycle bell as he prowls for more kids to drown in the river. Sean, your dare, should you be so brave as to accept, is to walk to the edge of the river, light this candle, and shout out to Old Man Grady that you’re here and not afraid of him.”

Lincoln shoved the items into Sean’s hands: a white pillar candle, a pack of matches, and a flashlight. Sean didn’t relish the thought of walking into unfamiliar woods alone less than a week after moving to a new town, but he wanted to be part of the group, he wanted to show them he wasn’t scared. “Each of you has done this before?”

The five other boys emphatically nodded and added words like “loads of times” but somehow Sean didn’t believe them. “Ok, well how far until the river?”

“Walk for about 10 minutes in that direction and you’ll see it, you can’t miss it.” 

Sean loaded the candle and matches into his bag which he slung back on his shoulders. He stood at the rusted bicycle, hesitant to cross the invisible barrier where the fence used to be. With one last glance over his shoulder at the guys, he took his first step deeper into the forest. 

He told himself not to look back, that looking back was a sign of fear and weakness, but he couldn’t help himself and, after enough time had passed, glanced back to see if they were still there. Although he was far enough away that he couldn’t really tell them apart, he figured the one leaning against a tree was Lincoln with Thomas, Ezra, Nicholas, and Jace all sitting on the forest floor in front of him, the beams of their flashlights waving around madly as they fought with them. Even though it was only dusk, the dense canopy of the forest made it necessary for them to need flashlights. 

He turned away from them, thankful that they hadn’t left him as a cruel prank, and continued deeper into the dark woods. Sean told himself that he was almost thirteen, almost a man, and wasn’t going to be scared of a story. Everything was still and quiet this far in, the only sound is the constant babbling of water from somewhere ahead of him. The flashlight Lincoln had given him wasn’t anywhere near as strong as the one he had at home, it’s beam weakly lighting up a small patch in front of him as he walked. 

A small sigh of relief escaped from his dry lips as his flashlight finally reflected off the moving water ahead of him. He was almost done. At the water’s edge, there were several boulders. He walked up to the largest of the three, it stood about chest high and he placed the candle from his bag on top. Sean twirled the matchbook between his fingers, contemplating his options. He had made it to the river, he could walk back and say he did it. He was far enough away from them that even if he yelled out to the ghost like he was supposed to, they wouldn’t hear him. 

But did he really want to solidify his new friendships with a lie? Before he could think on it too much more, he struck the match and lit the candle. It wasn’t much, but the small flame helped make the forest seem not as dark. This was it. All he had to do was say some words and he could head back to his new friends. He cleared his throat and decided to scream as loud as he could, hoping that Lincoln and the others could hear him. 

“Old Man Grady! Here I am! And I’m not afraid of you!!” It would have felt empowering, if his voice hadn’t cracked in the middle of the word afraid. Was it from fear or puberty? If he thought the forest was quiet before, it was as if all sound had been blocked now. Even the river seemed to quiet down. 

A twig snaps somewhere to his left. He sweeps the beam of the flashlight in the direction, anxiously shining it’s light around searching for the source of the noise. It was a deer, or a rabbit or something, he told himself. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter. He had done what he needed to. He blew out the candle and left it where it sat. 

As he turned to head back, his flashlight flickers, briefly engulfing him in the darkness of the forest, before coming back on. Sean never thought he would be so happy to have that weak stream of light. Not wanting to be there any longer than he needed to be, he heads off back out of the forest, faster than he had walked in. 

Brrring! The wind carried the distant noise to his ears, the sound which in any other situation would have been completely normal. But here, in the middle of the woods, the ring of the bicycle bell causes every inch of his skin to form goose bumps. Icy water had replaced his blood and he was colder than he ever thought possible. His chin quivers and he rationalizes that it’s probably just Jace, they said he was a prankster, so he probably added the bit about the bell so he could scare him. Yeah, that was it. 

And yet his feet stomp just a little faster. Something fast breaks through the cylinder of light cast by his flashlight. It took a fraction of a second. Did he imagine that? Maybe. But instinct takes over; his fingers and toes tingle as his body is flooded with the “flight” hormone. Sean takes off running at full speed, barely avoiding trees. 

He can hear his heart pounding, louder than he’s ever heard before. And yet over that deafening noise, there is something else. The sound is unmistakeable. Something is behind him and catching up. 

It’s too risky to turn and look but he has to know. Has to. Would he turn and see Jace red faced and laughing? Or would he see the ghost of a madman? 

He glances over his shoulder and his blood turns to ice again. It’s not Jace. 

But it’s not Old Man Grady either.

The figure chasing after him has the appearance of a boy, younger than him, but not by much. He wears overalls and his skin is sallow and gray. Even though he is keeping pace, his feet never touch the ground. He merely hovers along behind him. His arms are outstretched, reaching for Sean.

A part of him always thought if he did see a ghost, it would be see-through, like a fog. This apparition behind him was scarier. It seemed to have weight to it, as if it could really hurt him. Even though his legs ached with exhaustion, he pushed harder, trying to put distance between himself and the boy. 

Up ahead, the trees thinned and he could see the beams from five flashlights lazily floating around. An unintelligible scream escapes his throat. Part warning, part cry for help. Instantly all five flashlights find him. He can hear them screaming “hurry up!”

He can’t explain it, but Sean knows that if he can get past the old fence post, he’ll be safe. 

A raspy voice right behind him shouts “Run!”

He’s close enough to make out who is who in the dark, he can even see the shape of the fence post. He’s so close, he’s going to make it, he’ll be safe in just a few more seconds.

Before he can reach the invisible boundary, he is pushed to the ground from behind. The wind is knocked out of him and he lays there, gasping, listening to the frantic screams of Lincoln and the others just feet away. 

Cold fingers wrap around his ankles and with a sharp tug, begin to drag him back into the woods. His fingers claw for purchase in the forest floor, but find nothing but loose dirt and twigs. Sean lifts his head to see the five boys gathered next to the post, screaming to him. A sixth boy in overalls stands nearby, watching Sean with sad eyes. Without thinking, he kicks at whatever is holding him, glancing backwards just long enough to see the surprised look on the old man’s face. 

Scrambling on hands and knees, he heads for the fence post. The ghost of the little boy no longer scares him. Instead it waves it’s arms as if to say “yes, this way, come on!” 

Kicking off with his back feet, he reaches an arm out towards Lincoln to pull him to safety but it’s at that moment when Willard Grady’s ghost grasps his ankle again. Sean’s arms wildly reach out for anything to grab ahold of and they grasp the rough metal of the old bike frame. Before he can get dragged in again, Lincoln, Jace, Nicholas, Thomas, and Ezra each grab the other end of the bike. 

With two hard yanks, they manage to free Sean from the ghost’s grip and pull him to their side of the fence. They lay in a pile, breathing raggedly, and watch as Old Man Grady stalks back and forth along the inside of the invisible fence before giving up and heading back into the woods. 

The young boy still stands off to the side, smiling at them. He glances to the rusted bicycle tangled up in their arms. With a wink at them, a bicycle identical to the one they cling to, except without the rust, appears. The young boy hops on and turns to ride off into the woods, with a last brrrrring of his bicycle bell as a goodbye.


All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog.  They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more. (Image is from: Here)

This story was written using Prompt # 15: Write a story that begins and ends with a bicycle.