Posts in Short Stories

Last Man Left – Twilight Zone Writing Prompt

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A short story by Stan Collins posted to Reddit’s r/WritingPrompts

[WP] You’re going about your daily business and decide to check reddit, when suddenly you hear the voice of Rod Serling: “Here we see an average person, taking a short break from the turmoil of modern life. But that break is about to get a lot longer with a detour… to the twilight zone.”

“I must be going crazy,” he thought. He had been in that room for some time now, months actually. What started as an annoying two week quarantine had turned into a rather pleasant 10 week stint in solitary confinement. He worked from home and had food delivered to his door daily. He made no phone calls and sent no texts; in fact, he hadn’t bothered to even open any of the countless messages that had been sent to him since locking himself away from the world. He found peace in this life of seclusion; and after a while, he’d gotten so lost in his world that he nearly forgot that other people existed. So, it wasn’t out of the question that he had actually gone mad and was now hallucinating.

“Here we see an average person, taking a short break from the turmoil of modern life. But that break is about to get a lot longer with a detour… to the twilight zone.”

The television was off, as was the sound on his laptop as he explored Reddit alone, which meant that the eerily familiar voice that he’d just heard must have just been in his head. There was no other explanation; and so he went about wasting time online as usual. Unaware of how much time had passed, he eventually took to his phone to order food but was promptly frozen in shock. With a gasp, he immediately dropped the phone and wildly scanned his room in terror. 

His heart pounded and he struggled to contain his breathing as he slowly reached down for the phone in hopes of finding that he had severely overreacted. To his dismay, on the now broken screen was what appeared to be a live stream of himself but from the vantage point of someone else. He watched an image of himself stand up as he did, and he turned to face the apparent direction of the hidden camera only to watch the angle change before his eyes. 

He poured through his mind for possible explanations and began to panic when he could come up with nothing. He tried restarting his phone but to no avail. For the first time in forever, he thought to contact someone, but could think of no way to explain the situation without sounding crazy; not that he would be able to call anyone anyway with his phone stuck on his own terrified actions. He watched himself pace back and forth, hand on chin and deep in thought. Why was this happening? Who was watching; and for what purpose? Was he about to get murdered red room-style for the viewing pleasure of sick dark web goers?

This was too much for him to handle. He no longer desired food or random Reddit posts; he wanted only to end this nightmare. Perhaps it was finally time to leave the room; surely the cameras would be unable to follow him out into the world. The idea of rejoining society after all this time made him a bit uneasy but what other choice did he have? Bracing himself, he opened the door and took his first step outside.

He was pleased to see the world as he’d remembered it. Birds chirped and squirrels darted across lawns under low hanging branches; and for a moment, all was right in the world. That is, until he looked down at his partially shattered screen to witness his own reaction in real time. His knees went weak and he stumbled forward into a frantic jog. Aimlessly, he ran down the street in hopes of coming across another human but there didn’t seem to be anyone anywhere. He ran and ran until he came to the gas station around the corner. He yanked the door open and burst into the store in one fluid motion but quickly found that he was the only person there. 

Thoroughly confused, he began to yell out to nobody at all. “Help! I don’t know what’s happening! Someone is watching me! I’m all alone.” He began to weep to himself as he stepped back outside. There was no sign of human life anywhere. There were no cars on the road, no planes in the sky, and no artificial sounds of any sort. He walked for hours in no particular direction and with no destination. From time to time, he would look down at his phone to see one confused and lonely figure gradually losing hope and energy. Eventually, he began to long for the very thing he’d been avoiding for months, communication with others. He became beside himself and fell to the ground in defeat. 

For a while, he wept as he watched himself wither away through the broken images of a dying man starved of human interaction. His thoughts went dark as he stared at the screen and his mind began to search for ways to end this misery. He felt defeated and in a moment of hopelessness, he began to look around for a sharp object. He found no such object, but he did come across a discarded newspaper with a headline that managed to catch his eye. 

“Evacuate Immediately!” He blinked his tired, damp eyes and focused on the words before him. “The virus that has plagued our quaint town has proven itself to be too dangerous and the decision to halt this devastating plague has been made. All residents are to evacuate the area and head to the nearest delousing station immediately before the destruction of the city. Be sure to contact your friends and family to ensure their safe departure. This is not a test.”

Suddenly, he wished that he had read the plethora of messages that had come into his phone over the weeks leading up to this point. He had ignored everyone and would now surely face an untimely demise as he was seemingly the last person present in a doomed town. Fueled by an unexpected, newfound confidence and longing to live, he picked himself up and continued his run. This time, however, he did have a destination in mind. He headed for the outskirts of town. He was unaware of the current date and had failed to remember the printed time of destruction in the left-behind newspaper but he ran as if the end was near. 

At every upswing of his right arm, he caught a glimpse of himself running desperately for safety on the screen of the phone that he clutched in his shaky, sweaty palm until he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. The screen had turned a blinding bright white before a brief moment of darkness and then the zoomed out image of a mushroom cloud became visible. He had only a second or two to comprehend the image before experiencing the extraordinary force that consumed his body and turned his existence to darkness.

….

When he regained consciousness, he found himself sitting in his chair, in front of his computer screen, and in the room that he had come to know as the entirety of his world. After a moment of shock, he found his phone and brought it to his face. There were 37 missed calls and well over 50 unread texts. Still reeling from what he now assumed to be a terrible dream, he sat and stared at the notifications on his phone. For several minutes, he sat frozen in place contemplating the events of the apparent dream that he’d just experienced. He remembered the state of terror and the intense feeling of loneliness that had just tortured him. 

As he sat and stared at his unscathed screen, he received a message. “Hey man, where are you? Call me back, it’s urgent,” read the text. He knew that he should probably respond. The potential downside of shutting off the world had become abundantly clear to him after the dream he’d just experienced. The intended lesson to be learned was not lost on him, and he decided to change his ways. From now on, he would be a better person. He decided that every incoming message from now on would be read and responded to. You never know.

He was now aware of how important human interaction is; afterall, he’d nearly driven himself to self-destruction from the lack of it. With this in mind, he moved to call the most recent person to reach out; but just as he was about to touch the space on the screen that would initiate the call, he decided to wait. “What’s a few more minutes?” he thought as he replaced the phone on the desk and refreshed Reddit. 

Unaware of how much time had passed, he eventually took to his phone to order food but was promptly frozen in shock…

The Unlikely Racists – A Short Story With Lasting Implications

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Unlikely Racists

A Short Story With Lasting Implications

Nothing was familiar, the world had gone mad, and Don was starting his life over in a brand new location. He was alone, new to the area, and eager to find a social group to associate with. The night had been flowing well thus far as he met and conversed with friendly strangers over craft brews one warm Wednesday evening in Old Town. Up to this point, conversation remained casual and he had high hopes of forging friendships with the enthusiastic strangers around him. The group wasn’t completely comfortable with him yet, but he had a feeling his approval rating was still trending upwards; that is, until that one cancerous topic came up. It was clear to Don how the group expected him to respond in this situation; and yet, he found it extremely difficult to justify giving the desired answer to their leading question. 

In regards to the horrific catastrophe that had recently taken over the news cycle, an injustice so grand as to ignite the passions of millions of people across the country, there was no doubt that they were living in the aftermath of what would surely become a historic moment in time. Very few details from the case had been revealed at this point; nonetheless, there was a collective sense of grief surrounding this terrible tragedy. On the surface, the case seemed open and shut; finally an injustice that we could all get behind. The perpetrator of this most disgusting assault on humanity was in custody; but the act itself was so egregious that vast groups of citizens were compelled to take to the streets (and to Facebook) in protest.

In the beginning, everyone was indeed in agreement; this was undoubtedly a tragic and unfair event. No one wants to see extreme acts of unjust violence against anyone; especially if that act is between a figure of authority and a helpless minority. And so, together the country grieved and commented on the blatant cruelty and fundamentally wrong actions of a trusted officer of the law against an innocent-until-proven-guilty citizen. In that moment, there was no left or right; the country was in sync.

However, it wasn’t long before feelings began to change for many following the aftermath of this historic moment. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of people that had formed opinions on this ordeal seemed to fall into one of three categories. Everyone was upset; but some people were generally unaffected, “It’s a tragedy, but bad things happen. Such is life..” 

Others saw this horrific event as evidence that the world in which we live is plagued with racism and a blatant disregard for the lives and livelihoods of black people. This second group, made up of people of all races, had become convinced that the system is (and always has been) rigged for the benefit of white people and to the detriment of blacks. From their point of view, the oppression of black people in modern times is a travesty so significant that the only solution is to overthrow the entire system, and by any means necessary. 

The third group of people came to be as a result of the actions of the second group. This mostly silent, but steadily growing majority of people were of the opinion that the whole situation had been blown out of proportion. They noticed that violence and chaos now filled the streets of major cities across the country in the name of ending racist police brutality. Some even pointed out the fact that the numbers didn’t exactly support the cause; however, acknowledgment of such facts were met with extreme hostility from those in the second group. Anyone that doubted the intentions of the Black Lives Matter movement was deemed a racist, even if they were themselves, black. 

“So, what do you think about the BLM movement? Exciting times right? Our generation will go down in history as one that fought for change and succeeded.” 

Don knew what he was supposed to say; he’d already heard the points of view from all three perspectives. In fact, when this all started, he was a member of the first group. It’s always a tragedy when an innocent person is killed, but that is the way of the world. In the days following the event, he began seeing and hearing more and more increasingly emotional responses from those who had once feared for their lives in similar situations; he couldn’t help but feel sympathy for them. Eventually, as his interest in the topic heightened, he began to do his own research and subsequently became torn as a result of his findings. The things he began to see frustrated him immensely. 

The very same passionate supporters of Black Lives Matter that preached equality and accused the president of dividing the country seemed to be the ones that were actually leading the division. Don’s Facebook timeline was filled with matter-of-fact style posts suggesting that any ideas that differed from those of the BLM movement were inherently racist. These posts served as bait, daring anyone to disagree; and the unfortunate few that did so were attacked viciously. Screenshots of comments taken out of context, as well as, the identities of those commenters,  were shared widely and served as a warning to others who dared question the actions or motives of the movement. 

Don had seen what happens to people that refuse to tow the line and he wanted no part in that. Conversely, he also found it hard to express support for the well-intentioned group of misguided activists. It’s one thing to get behind a movement that on the surface, sounds like a great and virtuous cause if you are unaware of its faults. However, it’s another thing entirely to perpetuate ideas that you know to be invalid. 

Searching his mind for an adequate response, Don decided on, “I definitely support the idea that something should be done about the injustices of the world; but I can’t say that I completely agree with everything that BLM stands for.” He was met with stark silence and blank stares from those around him. 

“Are you saying that you don’t believe that black lives matter?”

Don was blown away by the question; of course he wasn’t suggesting that the lives of black people didn’t matter! It was at that moment that he realized that the genius behind this campaign was a matter of semantics. The name Black Lives Matter is a double entendre, serving as both the name of the movement, and also a general statement that no decent person would ever disagree with. In reality, the phrase “black lives matter” is equivalent to saying something like, “the sky is blue.” No reasonable person would actually disagree with such an idea, which makes the act of saying it pointless. Telling someone that “black lives matter” suggests that you think the person doesn’t already believe that statement. It is down this path of faulty reasoning that some people come to the conclusion that those who don’t support Black Lives Matter must be racist. 

“I’m not saying that at all. Obviously everyone’s life matters, I’m just saying…” 

Don had unwittingly stepped on a landmine and was cut off abruptly. “All lives can’t matter until black lives matter!” A chorus of agreement rang out amongst the group as the once-pleasant conversation began to turn hostile. Don then paused for a moment to think of a way out of the hole he was digging himself. Should he risk further agitating the group by explaining his point of view? Or, would it be better to simply agree and move on? The latter option would certainly be easier, but would it be right?

Don wanted desperately to explain his reasoning, to show footage of the riots, and to highlight the full extent of the resulting carnage. He wanted to share with the group the actual number of people who had been shot and killed at protests, the numerous buildings in cities across the country that had been raised to the ground, the statues of abolitionists, and freed slaves, and even of Jesus that had been torn down and defaced. He wanted to explain the point of view of those who stood in opposition of BLM; to show that the vast majority of people in this country were sympathetic to the cause, but simply disagreed with the group’s actions. He wanted to illustrate the actual source of the country’s division, and even suggest ways to remedy the situation; but instead he stayed quiet.

“Maybe, you guys are right,” he acquiesced. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone.” The group reluctantly accepted his weak apology but he feared the damage had already been done.

“That’s good to hear. As we all know, black people are being oppressed by a systematically racist country; and if we don’t stand together and fight, then we may very well end up as slaves once again.”

Don immediately regretted his decision to comply. Taking up for a radical group that many still saw as virtuous was one thing; but he wasn’t sure if he could justify expanding that idea to the point of saying that black people in general were being oppressed in modern day America. Afterall, the previous president was black. Every kid of every race in this country has to go to school; and even black people with mediocre grades are capable of getting scholarships and grants to colleges solely based on the color of their skin. Even as a black guy that benefited from this particular leg up on his white friends, Don found this practice unfair in a society that prided itself on racial equality. 

There was a time when black people were indeed held back. Roughly 80 years ago, people did indeed rise up to fight and protest these injustices; the result of which was equal rights for all races. How then, could Don sit here and pretend that we still lived in a world where an entire race of people was being prevented from succeeding in life because their skin happened to be dark? On some level, Don was actually offended by the idea. Did these people honestly think that this country, the United States of America, was just filled with racist white people that wished only to enslave blacks? Surely, they weren’t suggesting that we were still living in a time where black people were being prevented from succeeding in life because of racism. Don could hold his tongue no longer. 

Whoa, wait a second. Are you saying you all believe that black people are being oppressed right now in America?”

The group took his genuine question for a joke and burst into laughter that lasted until they noticed that Don wasn’t laughing with them. The tone of the conversation grew serious and the leader of the group led the ensuing fit of outrage with a semi-rhetorical question. “You’re kidding right?”

Don sat silently, unsure of his next move until he was presented a new question from the group. Tensions were rising and multiple pairs of piercing enraged eyes proceeded to plague him.

“You don’t think that racism still exists?”

Don took a moment to digest the question before forming a response. This was no longer a friendly exchange between friends and strangers; the stakes had risen significantly. “Sure, racism still exists; but honestly, is it really that big of a deal?” 

The audible gasps of the group were loud enough to halt the conversations of every other table in the vicinity. Every astonished face was wide-eyed and speechless as the shocked silence prompted him to continue. “I mean, obviously there are still racist people in the country; but does the fact that some people think of their race as being better than others really affect the individual lives of any given black person? It’s obviously illegal to kill anyone of any race. Colleges and businesses alike are all strictly forbidden from discriminating against applicants because of race. To my knowledge, the libraries of every city in America are open to people of all colors; and even if that wasn’t the case, most people have a computer in their pocket capable of bringing forth the knowledge necessary to learn nearly any profession.”

An intense, collective air of outrage filled the room and Don was the source of the anger. So much for making friends, he’d be lucky to make it out of the bar alive. However, he wanted to conclude with a question that might spark the interest of those who opposed his ideology. 

“Is it possible that the issue isn’t actually one of race, but rather one of social class? The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of crime committed in this country happens in inner-cities, and by minorities. The “virtuous ones” hear this and suggest that the stats must be rigged, or that this is so because of racist cops; but, is it possible that the information from the most official of sources is correct? If it is indeed the case that black people tend to commit a disproportionate amount of crime in this country, this would certainly be a disappointing fact, but perhaps there is still a solution.

What if the focus wasn’t on black and white, but rather, rich and poor? And what if we didn’t look at this situation as one of good versus evil, but rather, the fortunate and the unlucky? What if the solution was as simple as encouraging those born in seemingly hopeless situations to work harder? Perhaps the solution is as simple as that. What if the intense passion and drive to fight for a worthy cause was focused on enabling the less-fortunate to succeed rather than blaming the innocent? 

There is a group of people that are adamant that racism doesn’t exist. There is a group of people that are certain that black people are being oppressed, and there is a group of people that don’t even consider this to be a topic worth exploring in the chaos of today’s times. What couldn’t we achieve if we all just came together?”

The room fell silent and the group stared at Don in disbelief. The entirety of the bar was quiet as every patron awaited the reaction of the initial group. Several moments passed before the leader of the group stepped in. He peered deeply into Don’s wavering eyes for a while as he took in the words that had brought the bar to a halt. Eventually, a smirk formed on the face of the leader as he looked around at the anxious members of the popular group at the bar. “In all my years, I never thought I’d see the day that I would be proven wrong.” A dozen pairs of eyebrows rose at this statement. 

“Kanye West isn’t the worst coon in the country, this fucking guy is!” The group exploded in laughter, as did many of the surrounding tables. Don hung his head in shame and exited the bar alone and without any new popular friends, another victim of the mob.

Running Away With Strangers – Short Story

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sunlight poured through the blinds into the room and under the lids of my dry, tired eyes. My body was hurting and my mind was lost. The remnants of a once vivid and engaging dream were fading away as I slowly became conscious of my surroundings. 

Confused, worried thoughts and questions began to swirl through my mind. “Fuck, I’m so tired. Where am I? What time is it? Do I need to be somewhere? ….Who is this person sleeping next to me?” 

My contacts were dry, as was my mouth, and I struggled to sit up and begin the search for my phone. Surely I’d find some clues there, I thought. A few moments passed and I started to take in the environment around me. The room was still dark, but the streams of light that managed to find their way in, illuminated the nightstand to my right and the gorgeous human to my left. On the stand was my phone which I swept up with relief, but before I could even bother with checking the screen, my attention was absorbed fully by the stranger that lay peacefully beside me on the bed with long golden hair sprawled all about, and with a budding smile on the tips of her lips. 

After a few brief moments of admiration, I returned my attention to my phone and was more annoyed than surprised to find no less than 30 missed texts and calls from a number of different people. This was now going to be a whole ordeal and I was still significantly under the influence of whatever substances I’d partaken in throughout the night prior. The right move was to check my phone and respond to all of the messages that came in; responsibilities and whatnot. But I did not choose the right and responsible move. 

Instead, I turned to the girl and woke her up gently. She opened her eyes wide and they fell on me with excitement and full of desire. All thoughts of missed calls and texts, and of potentially missed engagements and responsibilities fell from my mind and were replaced with thoughts of her, and us. She gazed into my eyes seductively and I responded by kissing her and pulling her closer by the waist. 

Her hands pulled at my shorts as my phone began to vibrate furiously on the nightstand. I started to explore her body, as she did mine, and I soon found myself wrapped in the naked embrace of someone I did not know, in a place I’d never been, and with no recollection of how I’d even gotten there. Feelings of concern began to creep into my mind but such feelings were short-lived. The kissing became more intense as passion radiated from our bodies and throughout the room; and as more morning light poured through the blinds, we both began to glisten and glow. 

As I became lost in the lust in her eyes during this most passionate of moments, I failed to notice that my phone continued to vibrate and desperately call out to me. Over and over without pause, the phone mirrored our insatiable mood and it was some time before we were so drained of desire that I was cognizant enough to tend to the annoyance. I was overwhelmed by the number and urgency of the messages that were piling up.

“What have you done?!! You need to deal with this NOW!” I had a feeling that this most recent text would be the first of many from anxious and concerned friends and enemies. I had not yet pieced together the events of the night and now I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. Feelings of dread consumed me as I thought about the disaster that I was destined to face. Soon, it would be back to reality, what other choice did I have?

“Come back to bed,” beckoned the beauty adorned with a lascivious smile. My once tired eyes were now wide awake and they drifted from the phone over to the golden angel wrapped in linen sheets that was waiting impatiently for my return to the bed. It took but one glance from her longing eyes and I was sold. I turned off my hand-held connection to the rest of the world and returned to my dream in paradise.

The Darkness Under Scottsdale Lights – Short Story

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Underneath the grand facade of Scottsdale city lights lives a melancholy existence, a sort of shared sadness amongst many of the locals that frequent the scene. Masked by massive amounts of blow and promiscuity, is a collective feeling of lacking. Everyone is talking and drinking, and dancing; and everyone is smiling, but nobody is happy. 

The signs are everywhere if you know where to look and how to listen. A drunk girl at the bar gossips to her girlfriend about someone that is standing only a few feet away. Apparently, that whore has been making eyes at some boy that the drunk girl wants but can’t have. She’s reminded by her friend that she can have the boy, she just needs to stop fucking the others. The drunk girl glares at her friend and then at the whore.

There’s a line at the men’s restroom but inside hangs a vacant urinal. There are also three guys in a stall with keys stuffed into baggies. One guy rants wildly about some girl that he supposedly loves, but he’s sure she is still seeing her ex. He’s lost and he’s devastated. He doesn’t know what to do and so he confides in his pals over a few bumps in the bathroom; but his buddies stay quiet because they, too, are fucking his girlfriend.

The debauchery knows no bounds. With straight faces, lost souls lie to each other regularly and without hesitation. Every secret is told at least twice. A group is reunited at the bar, two drunk girls and three high guys. One of the girls is dating one of the guys and fucking the other two. The other girl is falling over her fifth vodka that hour and reaching for the boy. He doesn’t notice this, however, as he is fixated on the gorgeous girl standing a few feet away with two dudes. The dudes are talking to the girl but the girl is looking over seductively at the boy. The drunk girl at the bar is on the verge of tears as the boy excuses himself from the group and disappears with the whore from across the way. 

The bar closes and drunks linger as golf carts come and go. Cigarette smoke fills the air outside of the bar as the lonely ones that are left scroll through their phones for options. Nearly every girl will find one, most guys won’t. And a guy will go home with his girlfriend not knowing that she was with his friend earlier that day in the very bed where he is now drunkenly making a move. As things heat up, he thinks about his girl’s best friend and he wonders if he’ll be able to fuck her again. 

One week later, as was the case one week before, those same lost souls ventured out to the same bar and had conversations that varied ever so slightly from the ones had on that particular night. Throughout the week, they all suffered silently and in solitude; but they all suffered. They independently gossiped to one another about each other and they all promised to keep everything that was said secret. And when they found themselves in a circle at the bar on a Saturday, one of them drunkenly slipped-up and stated a secret that was to be held close. The rest of the group, having already known the contents of the slip-up were unable to react because they weren’t supposed to know. And so they all continued to drink their distractions and discreetly slip away to the powder room, and everything was as it always had been. And the lights that illuminated the streets of Scottsdale failed to catch the darkness that consumed the town.