Today’s prompt is the image seen below.
This one was also a harder one because I was in a mood today. Basically, I got feedback on the first draft of my big WIP, and I’d asked for harsh criticism because sugar-coating it wasn’t going to do it—or me—any favors. While I appreciate getting what I asked for, an artist also never fully likes to have their work nitpicked and prodded and have everything wrong with it pointed out. It makes you second guess yourself and wonder if you have what it takes. I’ll get over it like usual; I just needed to wallow a little bit because as much as I wish it wasn’t the case, I’m a baby when it comes to criticism.
Besides that, todays small challenge turned out much longer than the first, just because I had a more specific ending in mind for how this short story was going to turn out. I don’t preplan or outline anything out, I just think of a simple premise based off what the prompt given is, and literally just go for it! The ending I thought of while writing in the moment. Hope that all makes sense, enjoy today’s short piece!
***Trigger warnings: depression & suicidal thoughts***
Her eyes drifted over the edge of the bridge, and contemplated how much of a drop it was to the lake below. It looked about a hundred feet or a little more, so would that be enough? A girl standing all alone on a bridge in the middle of the night told herself that maybe she should’ve thought this through a little more.
It was a balmy, spring night that was overrun with a dense fog that gave an enchanting but utterly ominous haze. The girl could barely see the town on the other end; the glow from the streetlights being the only source giving her any sense of direction.
Life has always had its ups and downs, and has definitely had its curveballs that could go either way, but lately it’s all just become a slow moving train towards derailment. For quite some time, nothing was giving her life like it used to. It’d become harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning, to brush her hair, to fix her chipped nails, and remember to grab a bite to eat. It was like there was a brick of lead in her very essence, and she couldn’t handle the weight it dragged any longer.
She’d started to notice her friends slowly distance themselves, like they didn’t want to deal with her anymore; not that she could blame them. They’d told her over and over how they were there for her if she wanted to talk, but do people really mean that? It feels more like when a family member dies, and everyone stares away or goes quiet because they don’t know what to say around you, or worry they’ll say the wrong thing. Never taking them up on their offers, she never said anything as she’d noticed how they too started to dwindle as time moved forward.
That damn insidious voice in her head told her how they didn’t really care about her, how no one really did. She was just a burden, an annoying speck on the mirror they look past to worry about themselves. They only said anything because they felt it was expected, but have they done anything to really show they care? Maybe, but not nearly enough.
Some days she could tell that voice to shove off. She could convince herself that it was wrong, that all her inner fears, the worried thoughts that kept her up every night staring at her ceiling weren’t valid, and it was only her paranoia conjuring up cackling demonic and shadowy doubts into her mind.
Some days she could ignore it all, but lately it’s become a battle she just doesn’t have the energy or willpower to fight any longer.
She didn’t want to make some grand, articulate plan about it, or leave a note for her RA to find days later. Maybe people would notice her then, but then again it didn’t seem like there was much of a point to that since she wouldn’t be around for the acknowledgement. No, if she was just a speck, she’d simply wipe herself away, fast and without a second thought.
The girl’s heart jumped in her chest when three random bar goers passed by while she continued to just stand there overlooking the lake. One of them, an intoxicated twenty-something male with faded jeans and a beanie, lit a cigarette and bumped into her.
“Oh, my bad, dude,” the guy apologized. “Didn’t see you there.”
The other two just laughed and teased the guy until they all disappeared through the fog like they’d arrived.
She huffed air through her nose to get a hold of her rapidly beating heart, and told her hands to stop shaking. Of course they wouldn’t notice her; hardly anyone noticed anything about her anymore. Or if they did, they simply didn’t care.
Thank you universe for yet another reminder of how much I don’t matter…
She brushed a few strands of her medium length dark hair behind her ears and gripped the railing, testing whether the metal bar was slick with condensation. She told herself she just had to do it already before she psyched herself out, and tried to find a way to heave herself onto the other side as quickly as possible.
Another thumping of footsteps got closer, stopping her in her tracks. They were more uneven and stumbling than the last people walking by, so it must be just another drunk-off-his-ass bar goer.
She felt tears threaten to escape and she held in a groan; there weren’t supposed to be so many people out that night.
A single silhouette traipsed through the fog until she saw that it was yet another younger guy, hopefully just heading home for the night. Still, the girl couldn’t help but utter a curse his way for yet another interruption.
“Hey! How you’z doin’?” the guy slurred. He waved excessively and tripped into the railing. She ran a hand across her face as he laughed at himself and decided to plop down right there at her feet on the bridge, and took a small step back.
“Hi. I’m fine, just want to be alone if that’s okay,” she replied, her voice low and clipped.
The guy looked up at her and bobbed his head up and down. “Tha’s cool. Being alone is cool.” Yet he didn’t make any effort to get up and get lost, much to her growing frustration.
He looked distant, then closed his eyes as he leaned his head back against the railing. She was worried he was about to pass out right there next to her, but he spoke again.
“So, whatta ya doin’ out here all alone?”
She thought of the quickest answer. “To look at the lake.”
He tilted his head. “Why come out here then?”
She sighed. “I don’t know…the view’s better out here, I guess.”
“Whatever ya say, lady.”
She turned back towards the lake instead of facing the random stranger that couldn’t seem to take a hint. The guy still sat by her feet, his eyes still resting on her but remaining silent. She couldn’t tell if he was simply a creep, if he actually passed out, or if he was hoping she’d go home with him. Not gonna happen. After what felt like forever but was probably actually only three minutes, she turned back to his figure still sitting against the railing.
She crossed her arms and didn’t look him in the eyes. “Look, I really want to be alone right now.”
The guy’s eyebrows rose, and he muttered an apology as he scrambled to get up. She instantly wanted to apologize and throw out that she normally wasn’t so rude, but instead chickened out and silently watched him struggle to even stand on his own. She thought to herself how sad it looked for a guy that was so drunk, he couldn’t hardly get his body to function normally or balance himself out. He was like an overgrown toddler, and was a perfect example of why she chose not to drink.
When she couldn’t stand to just continue to stay there and wait for him, she reached out and helped him gain back some balance, and ignored the stench of beer that oozed off his breath.
He chuckled to himself as he looked to the ground. “Thank you, I guess I had too much to drink tonight.”
“Yep, I guess so.” She cringed at herself again, and cleared her throat to soften her voice. “It happens.”
He’s silent, and seemed to study her through his glazed over expression. She felt the weight of his attention on her, and it was like a mosquito in her ear that wouldn’t go away. The random stranger copied and cleared his throat to fill the silent gap, but she couldn’t just force him to leave. It was obvious he wanted to say something else, but she turned her shoulder on him to peer out at the lake once again, silently begging him to just leave already.
With a deep sigh, the guy finally began to wander away, stumbling away the direction he was originally heading. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him have to use the railing to keep himself from falling over. His figure began to disappear back into the fog, and the girl found herself worrying whether he’d make it home or not.
The girl rested her arms against the railing and put her face between her hands to clear her head. Should she follow him, or offer to help get him home? What if he’s dangerous? Then again, the guy couldn’t even stand on his own; how dangerous could he really be? Damn her guilty conscience to consider helping a random stranger who may or may not cause her arms simply because she had a guilty conscience.
“Hey, wait!” she called out to his retreating form.
It turned out he was actually quite a talker as they walked back to his apartment complex that was thankfully just on the other side of the bridge. She listened to him talk about his classes, his part-time job at the admissions office that he hated, and the girl who just dumped him; the reason he was out alone and drinking in the first place.
“I jus’ didn’t see it coming, ya know?” he slurred. “I don’t think I ever felt this low, ya know?”
His head hung between his shoulders, and the girl swore she could hear the agony in how deep of a sigh he’d exhaled. She nodded along and felt a need to comfort the poor guy who felt the need to wallow in self pity all alone.
She glanced over at him. “I do…I know the feeling too.”
His eyes met hers, and a silent understanding passed between them, as if they both felt each other’s pain behind their shielded windows to their souls. They returned to walking back towards his place; the light coming from the front door to the lobby only about fifty yards away. It was guiding them through the misty fog that concealed everything else around them.
The stranger turned back towards the girl when he rested his hand against the handle, his key unlocking the door. ““Hey, I wanna say thank you. I don’t know what I woulda’ done if I hadn’ run into ya tonight.”
The girl’s throat closed in, and she couldn’t form words in response to his own. She thought back to what she was doing back on that bridge, to what she was contemplating before he’d shown up. Would he have made it back on his own if she hadn’t been there? Would he have made it if she’d already done what she’d intended to go through with, or would the town have lost two more people if they hadn’t run into each other?
The girl couldn’t say anything back, but could just nod her head and offer a small smile in return as she watched the morose stranger walk inside towards the light, towards warmth, safety, and another chance.
Thanks For Reading!
— Nick Goodsell