Hello, everyone. Today marks the beginning of my new venture, Fortnightly Fiction, in which I will write a short story once every two weeks using a prompt provided from one of my readers. As my explanatory post suggests, I aimed for January and missed, but I’m still making the leap. As most of you know, simply starting is the hardest part!
My first prompt comes from Geoff Le Pard. Geoff apparently wanted to give me a hard time right from the start and so suggested this head-scratcher:
“You wake from a dream in which you are in front of an audience and not wearing any trousers to find you are indeed without trousers. The genre is Greek Tragedy, and the setting is on a cruise ship.”
Right…thanks, Geoff! I do so love a challenge, and so I dived right in. I didn’t quite follow the prompt exactly, but I covered the main points. I had a lot of fun with this one, and although it made me want to tear my hair out at times, it was incredibly enjoyable as an exercise.
Here is my attempt to answer the challenge. I hope you enjoy it.
By Adam Dixon
Gary woke up bathed in sweat as the last vestiges of his dream faded away. He panted as if he really had been running through a garden and he almost checked his ankles for dew droplets. He felt panicked and exhilarated, but all he could remember was the slapping of his bare feet on the grass and a chill on his legs.
“That bloody dream again,” Gary said, closing his eyes against his hangover. He swung his legs from his bunk and ran a hand through his greying hair. The dream was probably a glimpse of his youth, but he couldn’t remember much about those days. He always woke from it wondering why he hadn’t been wearing any trousers. The gentle rocking of the cruise ship upset his senses as he staggered into the bathroom. His mouth tasted sour, like old whiskey. He glanced in the mirror and noted with distaste the wrinkles gathering around his eyes.
“You’re getting too old for this,” he said.
Gary emerged a few minutes later, wrapped in a towel and cradling his head. Moving hurt and he cursed himself for getting carried away. He pulled on a clean white shirt and hunted for a pair of jeans. He frowned when he couldn’t find any in his wardrobe.
“I could’ve sworn…” Gary turned to look in his suitcase. Still no jeans, and none of his evening trousers were there either. Even his shorts and swimming trunks were missing.
“What the hell?” Gary struggled to order his thoughts. He upturned his suitcase and spilled its contents onto the bed. As he rifled through his clothes, his fingers closed around a piece of paper. It was a note, written in delicate, precise script. It read:
‘Mister Reynolds. I have your belongings. Follow the trinkets from your past.’
Gary stared at the note in confusion. It was then that his hangover Voices spoke up in their shrill, musical tones. They sounded like eager dramatic amateurs.
“Look! The drunkard has made another enemy!”
“Alas, will he ever learn?”
“He deserves no pity!”
“Shut up!” Gary held his temples and forced the Voices into silence. He must’ve told somebody at the bar about his dreams. Fantastic.
Gary emerged from his cabin wearing his towel around his waist. He was relieved that the corridor was empty as he knocked on the opposite door. He’d at least be able to borrow some trousers and save some embarrassment. He put on a charming smile as he waited. There was no noise from behind the door. Gary frowned and knocked louder. Still nothing.
“Must be at breakfast,” Gary said. There was no answer at the next door, nor at the five others he tried afterwards.
“Hasn’t anyone on this ship heard of a lie-in?” As he turned the corner, something glinted. There was a silver flute lying on the navy carpet.
“What the hell?” He was alone and hadn’t heard anyone passing by. The flute was light and cool against his fingers. Gary recalled that he’d gone out with a flute player many years before.
“What was his name, now?” Gary wondered. “Dark hair, mole on his neck, nice legs…” He noticed an engraving on its side and the penny dropped.
“Daniel…” Gary whispered in shock. On the flute was a short message – “Daniel, play like the angel you are.” Daniel’s flute had been a gift from his grandmother. He stared at the instrument.
“How the…” he began but trailed off. His spinning head slowed enough for him to recall a stinging memory. He saw Daniel’s anguished face, one hand outstretched as he strode away from their table. Gary remembered Daniel begging him to reconsider and his heart recoiled from the sudden shame. His Voices chose that moment to return with vigour.
“You were cruel to so crush his hopes!”
“Daniel! Poor, sweet Daniel!”
“The first of many hearts you broke!”
“Shut up!” Gary growled, his anger flaring as he quashed the Voices. He gave the flute a lingering glance before tossing it back onto the carpet. He hadn’t thought of Daniel for twenty-five years and he didn’t appreciate the reminder. Finding a specific flute was too elaborate for a simple prank. Gary began to feel unnerved and started hammering on the next cabins.
Suddenly, one of the doors swung open with a slow creak, revealing the luxury room within. It was large, tasteful and it smelled of clean linen, but it was empty. Gary threw his hands up in frustration, then he noticed something on the bedside. He stepped inside with a feeling of trepidation and saw a golden, heart-shaped locket which glinted in the weak light from the port hole. He recognised it, and ran his fingers across the smooth, aged metal as he tried to place it in his memories. Unclasping it revealed two photographs. One showed an attractive, plump woman with a bright smile and curling hair. The other showed a grey-haired man with dark, brooding eyes and a neat goatee. Gary chuckled as he made the connection.
“Bloody hell, it’s Deb and Luke!” he said. “My god, they were fun! Not the first time I’d slept with a woman to get to her husband, either!” The return of his Voices interrupted Gary’s amusement.
“He prayed on their lust and still he laughs!”
“To cuckold them both…for shame!”
“Not the first defiled union, there were others…”
Gary felt a sudden panic flood his system as a half-formed image entered his mind. It was just a silhouette, but his subconscious screamed at him to stay blind to it. Gary banished the Voices with difficulty and was left staring at the locket with wide eyes.
“Shit…” An unfamiliar sense of guilt settled in Gary’s stomach. Deb and Luke hadn’t stayed married for long after his interference, and Gary had melted from their lives with his usual ease. He wondered with sadness what had happened to them.
“This is ridiculous!” Gary was suddenly angry. “Where’re my bloody trousers?” He stomped from the cabin and slammed the door. He was breathing hard and he could smell alcohol in his sweat as it trickled down his forehead. It was eerie how empty the corridor was when the ship usually bustled with life. Steeling himself, Gary continued walking.
The corridor stretched on and Gary found himself thinking about the ghosts from his past. Gary didn’t consider himself to be a bad person, but he was uncomfortable with facing those memories. He’d been wild in his younger days, but he was single and comfortably mundane now. He was a maths teacher, for goodness’ sake! He trudged on with his towel gripped tight.
As he neared the end of the corridor, Gary squinted at the final door and approached it with dread trickling through his limbs. Once close, Gary could see that there were two photographs pinned to the door. One showed a young girl of around six with blond hair and a scattering of freckles across her nose. The other showed a woman who could only be her mother, also blond and showing a playful smile. Gary stood with his jaw set, willing his brain to work.
Suddenly, he understood.
“Oh, Christ!” Gary raised his hands to his mouth. Everything made sense now, the trinkets, the slow mosaic of shame, the dream without trousers…
“Layla,” Gary whispered, brushing trembling fingers against the girl’s smiling face. He couldn’t recall her mother’s name, but he had only caught a glimpse of her as he had fled from the bedroom. The startled girl had watched, agape, as he had lumbered through to the back door. In his haste, Gary had dropped his clothes as he had burst into the garden. He had been naked except for this shirt as he had run through the wet grass to make his escape.
“Dean…” Gary said in strangled voice. “Dean Stevenson…” The silhouette he had glimpsed earlier warped into focus in his mind, revealing a handsome, middle-aged man with long black hair and a sad smile. Gary could remember the panicked realisation on Dean’s face as he woke up to find Gary in his bed and his wife returning home from her night shift. True to form, his Voices returned.
“Ah, now he remembers!”
“Yet more debauchery!”
“For shame! Shame!”
The Voices howled like a vengeful chorus, paralysing him. He leaned a hand on the door to steady himself, but it shifted and opened. Gary blinked, fearful of what might lay beyond. There was a figure seated within, draped in darkness. A rhythmic hissing and whooshing sound filled the room.
“Are you…” Gary’s voice was timid. “…my clothes?” There was a scoff from the darkness, and another figure approached.
“Still thinking of yourself? Typical Gary!” the voice was female. Gary remained outside the threshold as a woman stepped into the light of the corridor. She was around twenty-five, tall, blond, and plain, with eyes which seemed older than her years. Gary shuddered as he saw the identifying freckles on her nose.
“Layla…” he croaked.
“We meet again,” Layla sneered. The hatred in her eyes was staggering.
“I… I’m sorry,” Gary offered, hearing the hollowness of his words despite his sincerity.
“Oh, not yet,” Layla replied, stepping back into the shadows. There was a fumbling sound and a bedside lamp illuminated the room. A man in his sixties sat in a wheelchair, his frail body hooked up to a drip, with tubes snaking from an oxygen canister into his nostrils. His dark eyes were orbs of sorrow floating above a dusting of freckles. Gary’s heart froze; it was Dean.
“Dad tried to kill himself after mum left him,” Layla said, her words dripping with malice. “She won custody and he had nothing left.” Layla stroked Dean’s face affectionately, her fingers rasping across his stubble. “The train didn’t kill him, but he may as well have died. He’s been like this for nearly twenty years, and all because of you.” Layla stood and took a purposeful step. Gary’s mouth worked as he tried to form a response. Layla seized something from the bed and thrust it into his hands. Gary staggered and glanced down to see a pair of black trousers. They were discoloured with age, but he knew in his heart that they were the pair he had left behind that fateful morning. The same pair which were missing from his dreams.
“A souvenir of the day that ruined our lives,” Layla spat. “I hope it was worth it!”
Gary clutched the trousers to his chest, unaware that the towel had fallen around his ankles. His knees trembled, and his throat was dry. He looked into Layla’s terrifying, rapturous eyes and then at Dean’s. Dean was blinking as tears made river downs his cheeks.
“Tell me how I can make this right!” Gary cried in desperation. Layla looked at him with contempt.
“Bit late for that, isn’t it?” she replied. She rested a hand on Dean’s shoulder. Gary stared at the two of them, his eyes wide.
“Please!” he said as he took a step into the cabin. “There must be something I can do…you must want something from me!”
“I only wanted to make you face your past,” Layla said, her voice hard and cruel. “I wanted to make you suffer as you remembered. That’s enough for me.” Layla suddenly shoved Gary with unexpected strength. He staggered back through the threshold and fell sprawling onto the carpet. Gary stared up at the door in disbelief as it was slammed in his face. He lay there, stunned, and unaware that the passengers had finally begun to return. Most gave him no more than a fleeting, confused look, and some ignored him outright. Nobody wanted to know what the half-naked man on the floor was crying about.
Whatever it was, they decided as they entered their cabins, it was probably his own fault. Why else would be caught without his trousers on?
If you would like to get involved in Fortnightly Fiction, please feel free to suggest a prompt in the comments section. I’ll do my best to do your ideas justice!
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com.
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