Short Story - Sober
Stevie Bentley was one of the few people of the lower class to have a job. Hillford, filled most with the middle class, had little opportunities for the uneducated, thus Steve was more than happy to take up a job as a janitor down at the high school. Hillford High, a high school much like the one he dropped out of all those years ago. He worked most at night, some in the afternoon. Night runs got harder now that he didn’t drink. Two weeks sober, going on the first day of the third. He brought his long sleeve grey shirt down from his elbows, looking both ways down the road, before running across. He felt it as he passed, then watched it leave once reaching the other side. It was a few miles down from the sign: Leaving Hillford, where it had happened. Tuesday, October 2, In his light grey BMW, Steve turned a sharp corner drunk. The BMW was the only expensive thing he owned, and yet it was his father’s, passed down to him since his twenty-third birthday. It was the last of his successful past before alcohol came, and fucked it all up. He left Hillford, and went to Porky’s pub, an inconvenient drive but a hell of a drink, and cheap too. He knew the main server Floyd, a grey hair fragile mid-sixties man, always wearing the same overhanging red striped shirt, with overalls coming up from his jeans and over his shoulders. Stevie loved the old town atmosphere, where simple times could come back from the dark, and live amongst the depressed. He was a regular, one of the only mid-day drinkers, and three times a week he’d go at night, when off from work. But that late night from two week before, he had overshot his drinking, and by 2:30 in the morning he was unquestionably wasted. He got into his BMW, starting the engine, hearing the majestic purr as he pressed on the gas. He went from twenty to thirty, then forty and fifty. Going sixty, he neared the welcoming entrance to Hillford, and that was when it happened. In the midnight sky, the moon shone light on a quick image. It ran in front of his car, and was soon dragged under. He saw the top of the head of what seemed to be a little boy. Then, he felt his buttocks raise from his seat, as his wheels came across something, and ran it over. Face white as a sheet, Steve wrapped his tired fingers around his wheels, driving past the sign: Welcome to Hillford. He shunned the thought, and kept it locked away. What had he run over? His skin tightened around his bones, draining the life from inside, bringing the unforgiving doubts out to prey. Was it what he feared? He laid his head back in his seat, neck stiff, and legs tensed. Was it a boy?
He walked up the cement paved path, and brought the keys from his back pocket. The nights were the worst, and the cravings grew, embedding into the desires he tried so hard to push. A drink, the succulent liquid splashed inside the green tinted bottle, screaming out his name. Come on Stevie, we miss you. He missed them as well, but he made a pledge. How long would it be until it would happen again, and history repeated itself? He heard the click, then opened the two doubled glass doors. The school was big, but his job that night was the auditorium, located in the left wing. He entered the leading hallway, his black boots echoing as he took the steps down to the end, and opened the tall wooden door. The auditorium was medium sized, the rows of blue seats playing like an illusion in his head. They moved, all of them. When he was drunk, it was like looking at a piece of art, one that never stopped surprising. He smiled, walking past the rows, and down to the stage. The dark scarlet curtains folded up to either side, opening up an exposing entrance to the back. He brought both hands on the stage, and pulled himself up on top. A breeze came passed him, and he froze, the hairs on his neck raising. Steve felt the eyes come to him, and burn into his back. He shivered heavily, his skin hardening, lips quivering back into a nervous smirk. Come on out you fucker, he thought The silence met his insanity, its lips curling in a snicker. Better get on with it before you go crazy, he thought once more, walking to the back, and turning left.
The janitors closet neared the wall, coming just past the box which seemed to belong to the theater kids. The top was open, and a few medieval props hung loose from inside. A long foam wooden spear ran out from the bottom, a large silver scimitar beside it. Steve went past the box, and opened the slightly stuck door. It took a few strong tugs for it to open, and when it did, he was thrown back. He pulled the long dangling chain, lighting the bulb. The mop came slanted against the small manual vacuum, one he hated. It was the cheap one that had no wires, just extensive focusing frustration. He grabbed the mop by its wooden handle, and brought it to his waist. Next, he grabbed the plastic bucket, and the blue bottle of mild dish soap from the middle shelf. The water, he thought. Bathrooms were a distance away, and that was where he went.
Back in the auditorium, he dropped the now filled bucket by his feet, bending over for the soap. His back was sore from last night’s wrestle for sleep. Sheets were thrown across the twin bed, peeling back over the wooden frame, and leaving him to freeze. It was coming after him every time his head hit the pillow, and trailing behind as the sun rose and fell. Sobriety came with a price, one secluding him from the rest in his AA meetings, which Steve liked to call a pity party. Hi, my name is Debbie Stone, and I’m an alcoholic, no shit Sherlock. The blonde white woman pulled her oddly tight green dress farther down her thighs, biting at the dead skin seeping down her chapped lips, as she stepped to the mic. Her eyes, they were in a haze, fading grey.
“I’ve been sober for a week now, and i’m hoping for a second. (She crossed her fingers and brought them to her face) I’m a single mother, and because of my addiction my Husband Alex (Her eyes teared) has full custody of my daughter. (She gave a heart felt sniffle, and the crowd sighed) My husband says i’ll be able to visit my little girl once I prove my worth, so here I am, on the journey we’re all embarking.”
Steve shuffled in his seat, his eyes meeting Debbie’s. Her cheeks were blotchy, red from tears.
“I hope to see my kid later this month. I want to stay in her life, and if that means not drinking then so be it. So here’s to being sober”, she held her right hand out, fingers curled around an imaginative glass.
Everyone joined her in the crowed, quiet muffles coming from sentimental members chatting on about Debbie’s struggles. Steve watched the drinks everyone falsely held, and somehow saw it. The red wine was dark in the glasses, swaying from side to side, waiting to be sipped. His mouth grew dry, his tongue begging for the unforgiving fluid. Please, oh please, just a little drop, it begged.
“Thank you”, she said, leaving the steps, and going to her seat in the third row.
Steve found himself out from his thoughts, and back in the auditorium. The bottle of dish soap was brought over the bucket by his left hand, and his right came around and popped it open. The thick blue liquid came slow, and fell heavy into the water, splashing back against his jeans. A stream went to the water, before he screwed the tap back on, and sat it beside him. The over head lights from above flickered, the metallic clicks going off before quieting down. His stomach dropped, hands coming down to the mop, and bringing it up in a position to strike. It was there, watching him, and he could feel it. The image came vivid, and he could feel it. Just as it was that late afternoon, when he’d seen it.
It was the English hall, second floor, left wing. A week ago, Steve had gone to the hall with that god awful vacuum, and rolled the damn thing back and forth, having to stop every few seconds to let it settle. He saw the hall, so clear in his head. Doors on both sides, five on the left, and four on the right. The only person in the school was another janitor, Wendy Grace who cleaned the cafeteria back on the first floor. He went to the hall, coming up to the first door, when he smelled it. It came in waves, the grotesque repulsive sense, and every time it came it knocked him back. He felt his body run numb, the vibrating awareness dimming to a dark pit. His head loosened up, and it wasn’t long before he felt as if he was floating. He turned to the hall, then his hands, and the vacuum. His vision blurred from the edges, enclosing on his view, tearing reality from fantasy. He saw it arise from the floor, manifesting in the middle of the hall. It stood in the back, hands by its sides, head tilted to the left. Steve was lost, taken aback, and lost for words. Whatever was standing in the back of the hall was something surreal, reality wouldn’t allow such a thing, yet he stared at the so called impossible. The dark ominous shadow came forwards, stalling just behind the lights, them coming in. The dark became color, and the shadow smiled. A few feet in front of him, standing just behind room 2314, was a young boy. His tattered short sleeve shirt came cut at the edges, and his black sweats were torn at the knees, his grey clammy flesh faintly showing. Steve froze, mouth slightly open, air coming in and out soundlessly. The vacuum left his hands, moving backwards, and falling in a soft thud. The boy’s hair was black, dirt and muck drying in a clump, strands coming out and drifting down to the green carpet floor. His face was light grey, like his BMW, and his eyes were black. At his left cheek, a chunk of flesh hung loose from a thread, his muscles showing pink. The bridge of his wide nose in-caved on itself, and it became a deep dip, dark scarlet blood finding its way out his nostrils. The boy was short, maybe four three. Steve swallowed, feeling the lump in his throat as he backed.
“Are you okay”, he asked, and his voice was shaky.
The boy stayed silent, right foot coming up, and stepping towards him.
“Can you hear me”, he asked.
He felt the intuition sprout from his back, coming over his shoulders and around his chest. Steve turned to the left, spotting the flight of stairs in the near distance. He looked one last time at the boy, who was now closer, then ran.
It wasn’t the only time he saw him, many times followed. Down the street from his apartment, looking out his window he could see him, standing. Then another when driving home from his AA meeting, walking the sidewalk, his BMW parked at a red light. Withdrawal, he thought. A side affect of going sober, yet another thing trying to bring him back.
He brought the wet mop up and down the stage, starting on the left, then going right. The silence was masked with the rhythm sounds of water bringing the stage clean, and his boots echoing loud. He tried to focus thoughts away from the sight, but it kept drifting back. The boy, was it really just a side affect? It clawed in from under him, bringing the light out under the shadows, and dwelling in the dark. He went up and down, putting the head of the mop in the water, then back to the stage. He wished to not see it, but it popped in his mind before he had time to resist. The shot glass sat there on the long oak bar hight table, the dark brown fluid inside waiting impatiently to be sipped. He brought the mop up, then down hard on the stage. He strained his neck, watching the image fade, the shot crashing down and spilling. He worried, for how long would it be until it got him, and he was no longer sober? The lights flickered like it did before, but this time he didn’t panic. He knew the boy was nothing but a hallucination, and the fear that was first embedded in the sight, now broke .
He had the left reflectively clean, and all that was left was the right, then he could go home. He dropped the mop in the bucket, bringing it up, and going to the floor. He did that twice more, before finishing up the last spots, and getting ready to leave. He sat the mop against a chair in the first row, then went to the half full bucket, bringing it up to his chest. He got ready to go to the bathroom to empty the water, looking back to the stage, and double checking. He was relatively happy with the job he did, and he turned. He strengthened his grip around the bucket’s handle, and started off towards the-
Right foot coming down the stage, he froze. Up in the top row, where he had come in from, something stood. The shadow grew in the dark, coming together, and receding back behind the rows. Steve dropped the bucket, letting it slip from his grasp, and fall down beside him. The water came up from the side, splashing against his left leg, and soaking into his blue jeans. It was there, and it was looking at him.
“Hey”, Steve proclaimed, knowing it wouldn’t respond.
And he was right, for it stayed silent, and watched. He felt as he felt that day, on the second floor. He knew the boy up in the auditorium was the same he saw behind room 2314. It was the one he saw outside his window, and strolling the sidewalk. Steve shut his eyes, closing his hands, and caching his breath. It’s in your head, he thought, so get rid of it.
It was gone. His eyes opened, he stared up at an empty auditorium, with a smile spreading from cheek to cheek. He turned to his side, and went for the bucket, bringing it up to his waist. He had stepped down the stage, when he heard it.
Cold prickles came up his back, and he jolted, turning behind. Past the open curtains, that was where it came from, and where the boy now stood. He felt the rise and fall of his chest become a race. He wrapped tighter around the bucket, knuckles turning white. He glanced once more, before turning-
This time the bucket didn’t land straight, and it tumbled to its side, the water coming around his shaking boots. His mouth opened to scream, but it was stuck in his throat, and he remained silent. The boy settled in front of the first row, stepping up, and stopping a foot away from Steve. It looked as it looked on the second floor, hair in clumps, and cheek torn. His clothes were the same tattered white shirt, and black sweats. He was coming to dark, and like last week, his vision blurred. The boy came forwards, and he could smell it. The repugnant heinous smell lingered, sticking to him, and growing. The boy brought his left skinny arm up, then to Steve’s shoulder. His cold hand stung his flesh, as the fingers curled around, and tightened. Then the right came around and did the same, and Steve lost his prominence, coming out the light and into the dark. The kid’s eyes were the blackest, and his skin was damp. The boy came over Steve, and caught him, dragging him to where he had came from. Paralyzed, Steve watched the boy. He froze, watching the kid take him, stealing him. The words came red in his thoughts: The curse. It wasn’t long before he blacked out, falling to the floor. Steve lost himself, coming to the dark, and breaking.
A dream, he thought, getting up from the floor he laid upon. Steve’s neck was sore, back throbbing from when he hit the floor. He came to his feet, and that was when the waves came, each coming stronger than the one before it. The nauseating sense of dread shot from no where, and dwelled in his mind and body. He turned restlessly to the bucket which laid on its side, the water pouring out and receding at his feet. Then, he moved to the stage, and that was where it was. The bottle stood straight up, glistening under the lights above it, calling his name. Stevie, it said, luring him in its grasp. He raised a foot then stopped. How’d it get there, he thought. The green tinted bottle, an alcoholic beverage inside, didn’t show up in a snap of a finger. Wendy, he thought, but knew she’d been off work since five. He came and went, both wanting and not wanting the drink. Only God knew how much he really needed it. Two good weeks, he thought, no, two weeks of fucking hell. He deserved it, after all, what’s the worst one drink can do. He stepped up to the stage, and trekked to the bottle, bending over to grab it. He shivered, lips coiling back into a smirk as he brought it to his face. The cap was already off, and he could see the bubbles rise to the top. He hesitated, before bringing the bottle to his lips, and taking a sip. He dropped the drink to his waist, keeping the sip in his mouth, then downing it. The taste came settling to his desires, bringing a light in the haze, and showing a way. He went for another, bringing it back to his lips, and-
His arms fell limp, the bottle held on by three tired fingers. Steve’s eyes rolled back, rocking back and forth in their sockets, as he opened his mouth. His head spun, the nauseating waves rising, bringing him down to the haze. His stomach quivered, and his throat grew. He felt the acidic taste rise, then spill out, leaving a metallic trace. It came through his gritted teeth, drooling down his cold lips, and dropping to the floor. His eyes went down, then froze. It was red, all of it. The dark blood formed a puddle at his feet, and on it he saw himself, face long in distress.
Steve turned to the bottle in his hands, and sat it next to him, stepping back. Vomit, he thought, I threw up blood. He was lost, and what was thought to be a dream seemed to be true. Oh God, help me, he thought. He saw it, not the boy, but the truth. The curse.
After cleaning the mess he made, and putting the bucket, mop, and soap up, he left. He drove his light grey BMW down the road, and passed the sign: Leaving Hillford. He left where it had happen, the place where he unintentionally took a life, and closing his eyes he prayed. Forgive me.
It took ten minutes, yet it felt like thirty. Porky’s Pub, he read, and with it brought the fear. Inside, he ordered straight up whiskey, and within two minutes it came. The glass sat on the long oak bar hight table, not speaking, but sobbing. He grabbed it, and brought it to his lips, eyes looking down to watch the alcohol. It slipped down the glass, coming into his mouth, then down his throat. The waiter, not Floyd, but someone new came to him.
“How’s the drink”, the young man asked, eyes glowing.
Steve looked to him, and nodded, reaching into his pocket. He sat three one dollar bills on the table, and went to his feet, leaving the rest of the whiskey behind. He came out of the pub. He stood on the path which lead to the parking lot, and turned left, throwing up blood.
He thought: the curse. He drove back to Hillford, and to his apartment. The boy. Three weeks ago, on the road to home, he had hit something. And that same thing came to haunt him, and now it took something, the one thing he loved. His long hours in the bar and his drinks were gone, and the boy took it. He closed his eyes, and let a soft chuckle come through his lips. Little fucker, he thought. He tried again when home — a drink. Again, he hurled blood. After that day, he went sober, and it wasn’t long before weeks, months, and years past, and Steve didn’t touch a single drink. He was forever casted away from the dark love he once leaned on, and now drifted free in reality, seeking the light he always desired.