For the first time in what feels like forever, I have written a short story which I will be taking along to my first meeting with a writing group I am hoping to join. We were given a theme of “shadows” and a word count limit of 500 which, for me, felt pretty much impossible. But having pared down an old short of mine from 3,500 to 2,000 last night, to fit in with an online showcase site, I felt like giving this a shot today.
What I would like to know, either in comments here or on my Facebook page once I post this link, is if it works. It’s to be read aloud, and I was going for tension and atmosphere over storyline really.
Any thoughts appreciated, it’s been a long time!
I want to apologise, but although the words form, there is no use in uttering them. Steven’s eyes are fixed on mine, devoid of expression – the opportunity for contrition, however false, has passed. Beyond him, stretching across the wooden floor, I can see the spiky silhouettes of bare tree-branches; the fast-moving clouds outside make it feel as if I’m in a time-lapse movie, where the shadows tell lies and the passage of time is not what it seems. This minute has lasted hours.
I look straight into Steven’s eyes; he doesn’t blink.
Blackmail’s an ugly word, but embezzlement’s even uglier, and I wouldn’t have asked the earth anyway; a modest couple of thousand would have got me out of the hole I’m in, and would have been a small price for him to pay. I’d just needed the notebook with the numbers – easy pickings for someone with a spare key.
But timing is everything. Hearing his own key in the lock, I’d frozen with one hand in the desk drawer, my mind crawling over a hundred reasons why I was there, none of them believable. Then, with relief, I’d noticed his mobile phone on the coffee table. He’d be two minutes at most, then he’d be gone again – I was under the sofa before the thought was complete.
But he’d been playing bigger fish on his line than me, after all, and he wasn’t alone. I’d heard raised voices, and pleading words falling from Steven’s lips until they were cut short by a dull thump. He’d crashed to the floor, face-down, his eyes wide and empty and just inches from my own. No excuses needed. I’d shoved my fist in my mouth and choked back a scream, and waited with a fast-hammering heart for the gunman to crouch down, to check he’d done his job, and to see me, terrified and doubtless white-faced, staring back at him. But he was confident, and merely nudged the limp form with a grubby boot.
I lie here now, my own breath coming damply back at me from the floor, and the only sound is the muted beep of Steven’s phone sending a message. Confirmation of the job done, or lure for unsuspecting victim? There is no way of knowing.
The gunman sits down to wait.
The tree-shadows creep across the floor for real now, reaching the gunman’s feet and painting his boots with jagged black lines. Strangely detached, maybe simply numb with shock, I watch them with cold fascination; every inch they move brings us all closer to death, and I have never been so aware of my life leaching away. My limbs ache, my throat is tightened against the dust .. and then I hear footsteps outside the door.
The first fierce surge of relief gives way to gut-clenching panic. Whoever comes through that door will see the gunman, then Steven, and then they will see me. Friend or foe, one of us dies within the minute.
The shadows move.