Here’s a short story (~3300 words) that I put together. This is modern, non-fantasy/scifi. Let me know what you think.
Natalie had a serious craving for some Corn Flakes. More accurately, she had a craving for Corn Flakes completely drowned in a few spoonfuls of sugar, and thus ruining any potential for healthiness that the cereal might have carried. Maybe she’d throw some skim milk in there to tell herself she was being healthy.
Something had woken her up in the middle of the night, which sucked. She hated waking up so early on a Monday morning, since even without the craving she’d probably never get back to sleep. Work lasted until way too late to be up so soon. So she slid out of bed and made her way to the kitchen. It was still dark as she descended the staircase in her little two bedroom townhouse, feet scooting down each step in the darkness along the ugly blue carpet that she had never managed to get removed.
The kitchen, like the rest of her home, was small. Everything was very compact. The previous owners had managed to squeeze an island into the room with a nice granite finish, but in all fairness it served mostly to separate the kitchen from her living room and collect mail when she came inside. Carpet transitioned instantly to linoleum when she reached the bottom of the stairs, oddly out of place against the more modern counter-tops.
Natalie didn’t bother turning on a light as she padded across the kitchen and reached up to get a bowl from the cabinet above the sink. The bowl was way too big to be a cereal bowl, probably too big to a soup bowl, but it would do. She twisted around to take it the three or four steps back to the island when she noticed something wrong.
There was already a bowl on the counter.
Her hands almost forgot they were supporting a bowl of their own as she stared mutely at the invader on her counter. She’d never have left a bowl out. Sometimes she left dishes in the sink, but never out on the counter. Her home suddenly felt violated and she began to search around with a new perspective. The pantry door was open, something she was meticulous about closing. The dish towel was wadded up on the counter next to the sink, also something she never did.
She had left her mobile upstairs and didn’t have a landline, so she’d have to make it back up to her bedroom before she could call the police. She backed up against the refrigerator, trying to decide what to do. As she did so, she stared at the bowl sitting on the counter. It was a small white ceramic bowl, something she had gotten in college. She had used it for cereal occasionally, but she preferred the comfort of her soup bowl. The bowl actually was half-filled with milk, the spoon still sticking out of the side. Apparently somebody else liked cereal as well.
Memories crept past her fear and let loose a new emotion: Annoyance. Without making another noise, Natalie walked around the island to look into the living room, leaving her bowl on it as she walked by. It only took a second to find what she knew would be there.
There was a black leather vest draped over the side of her gray couch, chains hanging from the pocket. Fully awake now, her stomach churned as she could smell the sour odor of dried stale vomit. The vest’s owner lay asleep on his back on her couch. His face was still framed by his ratty black hair and pointy goatee, and of course the overstretched ear lobes still bearing holes from gauges that Natalie hadn’t seen him with since high school. He was wearing blue jeans and a bright red and orange T-shirt with the words Flying Lobster across it; some band that hadn’t really managed to launch. Damon always liked to say he “discovered” bands before they were famous. His only claim to fame on the subject was some grunge band that he swore up and down was widely popular, although Natalie still had never heard of them.
She watched him sleep for a moment, emotions riding a roller coaster of memories she had shared with him, and memories that might have been. They had been close once, pages from a book of her life better lost in the library of her past. So many memories that couldn’t simply be forgotten, though. She remembered staying out all night with him, laughing at who went into the diner down the street at 4 o’clock in the morning. She remembered pajama parties, and making homemade ice cream out of snow they had gathered.
She also remembered all the sneaking around and cheating. The lies and excuses. Her roller coaster came off the tracks.
“Get up, Damon.” The man gave a shrill cry and almost fell off the couch. She hadn’t intended to yell, although wasn’t really bothered by the fact that she had.
“Nat. Christ. You scared the shit out of me.”
He started to sit up and flashed her a smile that five years ago would have made everything better. All it did for her now was make her more irritated.
“Good. Now get up. Get off my couch, and get out of here.”
Damon didn’t move. His eyes lingered on her a moment, drinking her in, and for the shortest of moments she felt self-conscious about her state of dress. She wore what she normally did to bed… Short shorts and a night shirt. She considered getting a robe, but decided it was more important to get rid of him. He had seen more before.
“I guess jail causes loss of hearing. I said get off my couch, and get the hell out of here.”
This time he stood up. “Sorry, babe. I didn’t mean to bother you. I know you’ve got your fancy life going on now. I just needed a place to stay.”
She placed her hands on her hips. “You always need a place to stay, Damon. If you aren’t getting into trouble, you are waiting it out somewhere. You’re lucky I don’t call the cops. How would ‘Breaking and Entering’ look on your parole?”
He pulled out her spare key. “Ain’t breaking and entering when you’ve got a key, baby. You really ought to change things up at some point. That orange flower pot is really obvious.”
Natalie felt herself flush. “Well, it hasn’t been a problem yet until you got here… And you certainly are trespassing by any stretch.”
Damon walked around the couch, pulling his vest up as he went. His cool, Cheshire Cat smile set her on edge. Bells in her head began ringing warnings. That smile had been used on her in the past. He was quick with it, but confident. Too confident. Too sure of himself.
Her parents had liked him when they were in middle school… just a sweet boy who could chat about music with her dad and seemed genuinely interested in him, his hobbies… and most important to Natalie at the time… His daughter. Damon probably spent more time in her house than his own during those years. As time marched on, he grew into something else. As they both started feeling the need for rebellion, he jumped in with both feet and pulled them both into a world her father certainly would not have approved of. It was just cigarettes and booze initially. She felt free and empowered. She almost wanted her parents to find out. And the party didn’t stop there. Life moved on to more exciting things like weed and sex.
If Damon had managed to stop there, she’d probably still be living in that cesspool apartment with him, an apartment he hadn’t even been renting, but had assured her the owners weren’t going to check in on it. Damon was a vortex of chaos that could never be satisfied reaching a limit and stopping. When he started to push things to harder drugs… meth, she panicked. She started avoiding him all together, and when she couldn’t he was paranoid and belligerent. She never knew which Damon she’d was seeing, and the liquor could only help her miss so much.
All that fear for stupid decisions made by a stupid kid who just wanted to feel like she had control over her own life. She had to get out of it. A phone call to her dad and she was home for a few months to get clean.
Maybe it was waking up at a house and not remembering how she got there. Maybe it was the second time Damon got busted. It didn’t really matter. She walked away from that life and looked back on it as a billboard pointing out how badly things could have gone… Her parents gave her a place to stay, and she got accepted to a local college. In less than a year, her past amounted to a great application essay. A couple of years after that and she had a piece of paper saying she could be a nutritionist.
That should have been the end of the story. Her happily ever after.
It didn’t end up going that way. Damon was like snow in the spring. Every time you thought you had finally cleared winter, he had to show up and make everything cold and nasty again. Every few years he’d show up on her doorstep, and each time she’d send him on his way as quickly as she could. She didn’t need that temptation. Last time she told him to never come back.
And yet here he was. He moved in closer. She could smell the cigarettes on his clothes and the cereal on his breath. “Hey baby. Look, I didn’t come here to make trouble. I’m not trying to cause problems. You want me out of here, I’m gone.”
He dangled the key out in front of her. She raised her palm up and accepted it. She’d have to come up with something different for stashing it. Sometimes a locked door is all it takes to send him off looking for the next couch to crash on.
He flashed her his big, beautiful blue eyes. “I really don’t want to make things any more complicated for you than they have to be. I know you’ve got your fancy new life worked out. Steady job, steady paycheck.”
“That’s right, and steadily approaching as we round 4am. I can’t stay up any longer. I need to sleep. I’m sure you need to as well, but it’s not going to be here. Go find someone else to take you in. Most trouble has already gone to sleep at this point, so you go see Donnie or Y-Man, and tell them you need a place to sleep whatever this is off.”
As she tried to pull away completely, he grasped her hand.
“Natalie,” he said, using her name for the first time in longer than she could remember. “I’m not getting back into trouble. I’m staying clean this time.”
Hope surged up wildly in her chest. She shoved it down quickly. “Whatever. That worked on me the first few times.” She tried to pull away from him, but he held her hand tightly, and then grabbed her left hand to turn her around to face him directly.
His expression was unreadable. He stared at her with a mixture of pain, severity, and a touch of wild joy that she recognized immediately.
“No, Damon,” she whispered. “This is just another game to you. You may try to get away from that life, and you may even succeed… But after the game is over you’ll be back up to the same shit you always do. I don’t have patience for it any more. I have a life. I have a future. And it doesn’t include you.”
He leaned in and kissed her.
She should have slapped him immediately. She certainly hadn’t intended to kiss him back. It was like a reflex, a habit as unhealthy as bad for you as the cigarettes that she had managed to drop, and all of a sudden found herself right back in the middle of, despite what she might have wanted. When she felt his arm on her shoulder, she was jarred from the moment and pulled herself away.
He tried to pull back in and steal another, and this time she jerked back and twisted her head away. A kind of revulsion coursed through her like finding a roach in half-eaten soup. She stared at him, lips parted slightly in a grimace.
“Sorry kitten. Old habits die hard.” He looked hard at her, a smile lifting up one side of his mouth. “But I think you kinda liked it, even though I know you ain’t gonna admit it.”
She let go of Damon and pulled away.
And noticed Jack on the stairs. Her fiance.
Jack wasn’t usually in the best of moods when he woke up short of 8 hours; grumpy, irritable, border-line belligerent. Getting up in the middle of the night to find the love of your life in the arms of another man pushed him to a level that Natalie had never seen before.
He was red. Not just his face, but his whole body from the top of his shaved head radiating down his whole chest. She had seen him mad before but not often. A career in boxing had helped him learn to separate physical responses from his anger. Although he was a decade past his old cruiser-weight days and some of the muscle had melted away, he still had an iron core underneath.
“Jack… This isn’t what you think.”
As the juggernaut stomped down the stairs, most people would have felt a primal survival instinct take over. Damon was a third the size of her fiance and spent most of his time stoned. His body had been wasted away from too much using. Any physical confrontation between the two of them would be a foregone conclusion. A reasonable person would have retreated. Lots of apologies, a slow backing away. Even a flat-out run wouldn’t have been embarrassing.
Damon did neither. Natalie could see the train wreck before it happened. Like a moth to flame, her old boyfriend had a need to make a bad situation worse. He placed a hand back onto Natalie and smiled his crooked smile at the monster crashing towards him. “What’s going on, meat ball? You might want to head back to bed and pretend like this was all just a bad dream.”
Jack crossed the room in a blur of motion. She felt herself being pulled over before she noticed the hammy fist smash into Damon’s face. Jack caught her arm and held her up as her old boyfriend crashed into the arm of the couch and rolled to the floor.
Her fiance’s breath sounded thick and ragged, more animal than man. He kicked Damon’s side, rolling the felon over and dropped to a knee on Damon’s chest. She didn’t see Jack pound into Damon; she just noticed the splash of blood against her couch and carpet.
Natalie was too stunned to scream or say anything. The whole thing probably only lasted a few seconds before Jack got himself back under control and picked himself up off the other man, leaving him on the floor with blood oozing from his mouth and nose.
Jack growled down at him. “Pick yourself up and walk out of here,” he began. “And I don’t call the cops. God-damned junkie.”
Damon coughed weakly and rolled back to his stomach and pushed himself up to his knees. Blood and tooth dribbled over his lips to the floor and a sick sort of satisfaction bloomed on his face. He grabbed the arm of her couch, leaving a red reminder of the night’s events. He pulled himself up to his feet and wobbled slightly. He turned back to face them and tried to smile again.
Natalie pulled herself out of Jack’s grasp, and stepped away from both him and Damon, retreating back towards the stairs. She was still upset at Damon for showing up at all, but she had seen a side of Jack that she didn’t know even existed. Jack was still trembling with anger.
Damon grabbed his vest from the back of the sofa, and started to walk towards them. He took a step closer to Natalie first, just enough to show Jack that Damon wasn’t afraid of him… just enough to make Jack start to advance on Damon again. But Damon turned as quickly as he could manage back towards the door and started out. He grabbed the door with sticky hands and opened it.
“You can thank me later.”
Then he walked out.
Leaving her alone with Jack. The man that she knew so well she was going to spend the rest of her life with him. The man who was an expert in separating his emotions from physical reaction.
The man who had just pummeled a man smaller than Natalie herself.
Jack’s storm had passed, but the wake that followed was tumultuous enough. “What are you doing sneaking down in the middle of the night?”
“I didn’t sneak down-”
“And I told you I didn’t want to see that piece of shit ever again. He’s a loser in every sense of the word, and all he does is cause problems. I don’t have the first fucking clue what you ever saw in that guy.”
“I didn’t ask him to-”
“And I saw you kissing that ass hole. Don’t even try to deny it. I stood on the steps and watched you. You told me you loved me. You told me that I was the only man you ever wanted to be with, and then you go and fucking kiss another man in our living room. I can’t believe it. How many other times have you had him over that I just didn’t wake up for? How many more times have you done this to me? I’m fucking stunned. I don’t even know what to say. I don’t even have anything to say. I’m speechless.”
A dozen catty remarks might have jumped from her lips had she not been held in check by fear. Instead, she let her gaze wander around the room, clenching her fists to fight the trembling she felt in her hands. The bloody stains on the carpet and couch wouldn’t clean easily. The visions of what she saw would take a lot longer to cleanse… She wasn’t sure how she was going to get back in bed with him.
“You don’t have a thing to say for yourself? Well, I can’t think straight with you here right now. I’m going back to my apartment. Good luck with your junkie lover.”
With only a hostile glare trailing, he stormed out of her home, leaving her alone in the kitchen. She felt drained and used. It was still dark outside.
She walked on uncertain feet back over to the counter and grabbed Damon’s bowl. She dumped it unceremoniously into the sink. She tottered back to the island where she had left her bowl. Body mostly operating on auto-pilot, she pulled a spoon from the drawer and dropped it into the bowl. She pulled the milk out of the fridge, and then headed over to pantry to get her cereal.
She picked up the box and as she did, the tears began to flow. This day really already sucked and it wasn’t even 5am.
Her druggie-X had resurfaced.
Her fiance was a violent sociopath.
And now she wouldn’t even get Corn Flakes… the box was empty.
She plopped down on the bar-stool at the counter. It was only Monday.