A New Man

I entered NPR’s 5th three-minute fiction contest, where you have to write a “flash fiction” story in 600 words or less. The constraints were that the stories had to begin with the line, “Some people swore that the house was haunted,” and end with the line, “Nothing was ever the same again after that.”

I didn’t win, or even get into the final round, which is fine because the winning story was quite good. The winning stories in these contests tend to be more “literature” and less “popular”, which is more my style.

Regardless, here’s mine.

“A New Man”

Some people swore that the house was haunted. That didn’t bother me – it meant I was left alone.

Someone knocked at the door for at least the third time today. I haven’t been answering the door lately, not since the accident. I peeked through the window and saw a vampire escorting a witch. Was it Halloween already? It seems the Fourth of July was just a few weeks ago.

I’ve been sleeping a lot lately. Time has been moving so quickly. Or I’ve been moving slowly. Sometimes I’ll doze off in the middle of the day and when I wake again it’s already nighttime.

I’m just so weak these days. I tried turning on the faucet in the bathtub but it was stuck – I just couldn’t get a good grip on it. I thought about finding a wrench or something, but I couldn’t be bothered. Maybe I have the flu, although I don’t feel feverish.

I’m embarrassed to even look in a mirror. I must look a fright. The last time I noticed myself in one, the glass was so dusty I could just barely see my own outline.

I don’t really remember the accident but I remember being on the stairs looking down at the policemen and others gather up things in bags – some little and some big. I recall having spoken to one of them, but he just shivered and walked off, obviously too busy to deal with me.

The door knocked again. I heard giggling outside. It sounded like a group of teenagers. I ought to give them a scare, I thought. Just throw open the door and shout “Boo!” at them. The thought warmed me.

I was contemplating the act of opening the door when the knob turned. Had I not locked it? There was more giggling as the door opened and a face peered inside. Now this was too much! Trick-or-treating is fine, but to enter someone’s home without permission! Despite my exhaustion I felt a surge of energy; I was furious!

The door opened wider and one of the boys walked in, his head turned toward the others, encouraging them to follow. As they crossed the threshold they shone their flashlights around, ignoring me altogether. Then, one of them shone her light right in my eyes. The harsh glare blinded me and I screamed.

“Did you hear that?” One of them asked. The others murmured assent, although not the girl who had blinded me. I could barely see her, but she was frozen stiff, her flashlight still pointed in my direction. I had my arms up to shield my eyes but I couldn’t seem to block out the light. “Ann?” One of her friends asked her. “Annie?” Then they all shone their flashlights at me. I felt the rage surge again.

“GET OUT!” I shouted. They were the first words I had said to another person in weeks – the first since the accident. My voice was so very hoarse and it came out more as a whisper than as a scream. But they heard me well enough.

They all stopped with eyes and mouths frozen in fear. After a moment a couple of them in the back managed to drag the others out. I raised my arm to wave at them, as if to say, “Wait! Stop!” and I noticed that I could see right through it. It had the same fuzzy outline that I had seen in the mirror.

Some people swore that the house was haunted, and apparently they were right. Nothing was ever the same again after that.