Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Ends Meat – A Short Story

 

There it was again – the smell. Barrick glanced at his father, who had his eyes closed but he probably wasn’t asleep, just too exhausted by hunger to keep them open. His cheeks were shallow, as though sucking air, his lips two thin lines of scabs.

Father’s hemp shirt had become a shawl these last few weeks. The same was true for Barrick, his brothers and his sister.

Finally, father’s eyes opened, his nostrils twitched, and with energy summoned from a dark place, he rose. “Again…” he said, barely moving his lips; tension in the jaw and scabs that would split.

“I don’t know how they can do it,” said mother, head limp and resting on her raised knees.

Father swung his legs from the bed and stared into space. The look was a disease, and they all had it. Barrick had seen it first in the faces of the eldest; at night, sharing a bowl of thin soup and disappearing as the first songs began, taking a bottle of moonshine with them. One by one, others caught the look and stopped turning up at all. He’d see them by day, afflicted by the vacant gaze as they sat beside the transparent wall of the dome. They’d stare at the sands but Barrick had no idea what they were looking at; perhaps they saw mirages of visiting caravans that no longer came.

And then, it seemed, a cure appeared. At night the tinkling of music and singing voices began again and, in the daytime, neighbours whispered into the ears of neighbours. On the second night of singing, he and his brothers asked if they could go, but their father told them “No,” and had such anger in his eyes they said little else.

The smell first arrived the following night. Barrick was playing cards with Sam when he lifted his head to the air and sniffed.

“What is it?” asked Sam as he took a deep breath. “Smells good.”

“Smells like barbecue.” Barrick shook his head. “But it can’t be… we ain’t got no animals left.”

“That’s right, son. We haven’t,” his father said.

His mother called out to his father, but he was already out the door.

“What’s happening?” Barrick asked.

His mother looked at him, glassy-eyed, mouth constantly agape. She looked at her other sons – so young – and slowly, slowly closed her eyes. “No good’s happening.”

The next day, Barrick was in the courtyard and learned all about it from Euron, a boy about his age. “My father saw it coming, he said… saw what was happening here, what with all the orphans we kept taking in. Said it was unsustainable or something, and now look. Not enough food to go round. People are dying, Barrick.”

The Decomposting Unit had had a lot of business lately.

“So, father found Gilles the other day—dead—and instead of throwing him in the DC, he boiled him.”

Barrick had almost wretched right there, all over Euron. He looked away. How could anyone look someone in the eye, knowing they had eaten… human?

“And you… ate him?”

Euron said yes. As if to confirm reality, Barrick turned back. Euron was smiling.

“And so that… last night…” He recalled Sam’s comment about how good it smelled. If there had been anything in his belly it would have ended up splashed on the hardtop.

Shortly after, he sat in a tired stupor, slumped against the outside wall of the family hut, when the shouting began. It took two minutes to shuffle fifty feet, only to discover his animated father leading a gang of protesters.

“… and what about your son? What if he’s next to go? You gonna eat him, too?”

Euron’s father stood with arms crossed. “He ain’t gonna. I’m providing. We’re providing.” He spread his arms to incriminate the others. There was almost no fatigue there. The others, sat on stools or slouched in chairs, stared to the ground.

“I’m at death’s door myself,” said Barrick’s father. “You gonna eat me?”

“Join us and you don’t have to starve.”

“I still have my humanity. What’s your plan exactly? What if we all joined you? What if we all had a bit of meat, got a little better? What next – gonna knock off the fattest of us?” His face was two-inches from Euron.

Barrick just listened, horrified. Noticed Euron smiling at him with a bowl of something cupped in his hands, steam rising from it.

“You’re sick!” spat Barrick’s father, and turned, falling to one knee, breathing heavily. A friend helped him up and the protesters filed away.

Euron stirred a spoon in the bowl and lifted soup to his mouth.

Barrick’s belly groaned. He was inside-out with hunger. The moment Euron began to chew, Barrick spun on his heels and found the energy to run.

He returned home the same time as his mother who’d brought water from the lake-source for boiling in the solar-oven. They ate hot water in which a single, small, potato had dissolved almost to nothing.

Night fell, and with it, another body. Euron’s father spoke the truth—the settlement had been too generous. Because it had a readily available water source, the wanderers imagined the place was prosperous, and for a while it had been. But something tipped over; they took in too many refugees and the existing residents, short on activity but not on lust, had themselves soon multiplied. The leaders had to impose rationing. Closed doors weren’t far behind that, and when word went from mouth to ear the merchants stopped coming, too.

The Agridome had never been the most successful of ventures—season to season cultivating produced an inconsistent crop. Exacerbated by the low number of merchant caravans, things soon began to deteriorate.

All the while, the red sand swirled outside the dome. They became an increasingly isolated blister on the planet.

A blister that boiled in human flesh.

The barbecue smell permeated the dome; three nights, four nights; a week, two weeks. Each night, Barrick watched his father grit his teeth, clench his fists, pace the floor, come to life after a day of sleeping. A day of Barrick wondering if now was his father’s turn to not wake up at all. But no, wake he did, and then one night he left and didn’t return at all.

As the light fell into the hut, Barrick’s mother ordered him to go look for his father. On legs so weak, they shook as he headed out. The courtyard was desolate. Gone were the sounds of laughter, buried under mountains of bodies in the DC Unit. There, by the chalk, was where he’d played with the new orphans. And over there, by the stairwell to the lower levels, was where he and his brothers used to wrestle. He shook his head, amazed by the memory of activity.

And here, Euron had admitted eating someone.

The entrance to the Agridome opened across the courtyard and there it was again – the scent of death; boiling blood and burning flesh.

But… was there something… an undertone of… sweetness.

Slack-jawed, drool slipped from the corner of his lips. He didn’t know what hunger felt like anymore – this was how his stomach had always been, like a shrivelled raisin.

He took a step towards the entrance.

His father would be so disappointed in him.

But his father wasn’t here.

He wouldn’t know.

He’d be dead soon anyway.

Barrick considered this. “I’ll be dead soon myself if I don’t.”

Another step.

It’s just pork – spit-roasted, skin crackled to a crisp, fat rendered and spitting a sizzle on the fire. It was harvest time and time for this little piggy to go to market, as mother said.

Another step.

Time to go to market, get some lunch.

Another step.

The smell was overwhelming and his stomach rolled in a way it hadn’t for weeks at the thought of taking a bite into the juicy, smoky meat.

Another step – and then others appeared; pale, gaunt and walking dead. Started coming at him from the entrance. They were spent – Barrick could tell just by looking at their faces. One face came up to him – it was half-recognisable as his father’s friend, but he couldn’t be sure. It was little more than a skeleton looking back at him. “Turn around,” it said.

Barrick, dreaming of pork, stared vacantly beyond him, trying to push past.

“Turn back, there’s nothing in there, lad. Nothing you should have to see.”

He felt hands on his shoulders, twisting them, until he was pointing towards home. “Where’s… father?” he finally asked.

“He’s gone, son. Got the beat on Shannon and killed him, but it was all the energy he had left in this world.”

Barrick stared at the entrance, and then beyond; through the translucent wall of the dome where a smeary pile of darkness lay, orange flames wriggling like snakes through the shadows.

Someone closed it, and after a while, the ventilation system took the smell of his burning father and pumped it away into the heavens.

 

Thanks for reading. Discover what happened to Barrick, and a host of other characters, in Neon Sands, currently accepting nominations on Kindle Scout until the end of February.

 

Click here on Kindle Scout to cast your vote: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/M0AVK7KHQVAB 

Connect on with the author on Twitter  or his website.

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The Fix

by Robert Downs

on Tour March 1 – April 30, 2018

Synopsis:

The Fix by Robert Downs

Professional gambler, Johnny Chapman, plays the hand he’s dealt, but when he’s dealt a series of losers, he decides to up the ante with more money than he can afford to lose. Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, it does. The loan shark he owes the money to demands that he pay up and sends his goons after him. The man offers Johnny one way out—fix a race by fatally injecting the dog most likely to win. A piece of cake, Johnny thinks, until he looks into the big brown eyes of the beautiful dog, and the price suddenly seems too great to pay. Now Johnny’s on the run and the goons are closing in…

Book Details:

Genre: Noir
Published by: Black Opal Books
Publication Date: December 2nd 2017
Number of Pages: 166
ISBN: 9781626948174
Grab your copy of The Fix on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Goodreads!

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.

The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.

“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.

“Don’t rush me.”

“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.

Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.

The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.

She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.

Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.

It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.

The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.

Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.

The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.

Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.

The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.

This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.

The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.

The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.

His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.

The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”

Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”

“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.

“Sure, why not?”

The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”

Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”

The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.

“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.

Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”

The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”

“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”

Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”

“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”

Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”

“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”

The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”

The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.

A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.

His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.

The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.

The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”

“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.

The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”

“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”

“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.

“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.

Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”

Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”

“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”

The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.

Johnny kept his expression even.

“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.

Both the Indian and Thomas folded.

“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”

“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.

Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”

“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”

The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.

“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.

Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”

“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”

“Passion—”

“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.

“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.

Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.

For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.

His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.

He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.

< <

“Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.

Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”

Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”

“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.

“The one that was losing.”

“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”

Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”

“But you do it so well.”

Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”

The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.

Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.

“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”

Thomas stood up and sat back down again.

“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”

She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”

Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”

“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”

Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.

Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”

Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”

Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”

“Not losing another hand.”

Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”

“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”

“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.

“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”

< <

More hands were played, and more hands were lost. Johnny’s stack of chips diminished faster until he was left with two red ones and half a drink. His even expression had vanished long ago, and his feet had started tap-ping during the last three hands. The Indian had six chips to Johnny’s two, and the rest were distributed between Thomas and Caroline, with the girl staring above a tower nearly level with her chin. Her expression hadn’t changed, and neither had her methodical approach to playing cards.

The barrel of a gun dug into Johnny’s lower back-side after he expunged the last two chips he had to his name. He didn’t have time to move or breathe, and he hadn’t even noticed Thomas shift his weight and remove the pistol from somewhere on his person. But the digging did further enhance Johnny’s focus and destroy his moral support. “Cuff him.”

“What the fuck?” Johnny replied.

“It’s time you realized the full extent of your losing.”

Johnny couldn’t see Caroline’s expression, but her voice was filled with menace and hate and exhibited more force than a battering ram.

“Stand up, you piece of trash.”

The gun shifted, and Johnny rose. The room spun, and he considered passing out all over again, but he pulled himself back and inched his way toward the metal door that was a lifetime away.

The barrel against his back never moved or wavered.

< <

She hated cards. Had hated the act and aggression of gambling most of her life. The thrill of winning and the heartbreak of defeat neither moved nor motivated her. Tossing chips into a pot, calculating the odds in her head, reading players around the table, and playing the hands of the other players instead of playing her own made her head throb from the weight of the proposition. But she did it, over and over again. If she thought about it long enough and hard enough, Caroline might have called herself a professional gambler, but that was a term she hated even more than the act of taking money from unsuspecting souls who had a penchant for losing. But if her two choices were paying the rent, or living on the street, she would choose rent every time and worry about the consequences later.

She couldn’t change her fate, or her odds. All she could do was play the hand she was dealt, match it up against what the other guys and gals had around the table, and study the ticks and idiosyncrasies that made each player unique. Over-confidence and euphoria were concepts she knew well, and she could smell it coming like a New Mexican thunderstorm. Even though she understood what she needed to do, she hated her hands even more than she hated long division. With each passing second, her trepidation grew, and the calm she exuded on the surface was a thunderstorm underneath the shallow exterior. It had gotten to the point that it was totally out of control, and probably would be for the rest of her life. It wasn’t satisfying, or even mesmerizing, and yet here she was week after week, going through the motions. The same types of players sat around the table with the same types of expressions painted on their uneven faces. The voice in her mind echoed in time, and she did her best to keep the whispers at bay. But the plan backfired, just as all good plans did that were built on a foundation of lies.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Caroline asked.

“Trying to win,” Johnny said. “What does it look like I’m doing?”

“Losing,” she said. “And not even admirably. You really are one stupid bastard.”

She had been called to test him, to see if he would break and crumble beneath the weight of a bad hand or two or ten, and he had folded faster than a crumpled handbag smashed against a mugger’s face. She had chipped away steadily at his chips, until two red ones were all he had left, and a tower of multicolored circles stood in front of her.

< <

Johnny had a hand that was planted in his lap by the gods, or maybe it was Julius Caesar himself. He couldn’t remember the number of times he’d lost in a row. Six or maybe it was seven. The torment and punishment continued unabated, and he licked his lips more with each passing second. The hands played out one after another against him, and the gates of Hell had opened before him. The girl to his right was methodical, and the jabs kept on coming, one right after another.

Her hands were probably her best feature. The way her fingers slid across the table, shoving chips and poking at her cards, and prodding the weaknesses of those around her, only made him long for her even more.

But this was it. His moment. And he wasn’t about to let it pass him by. Two minutes later, though, the moment passed, his chips were gone, a gun was shoved against his backside, and he was escorted out of the building.

***

Excerpt from The Fix by Robert Downs. Copyright © 2017 by Robert Downs. Reproduced with permission from Robert Downs. All rights reserved.

Robert Downs

Author Bio:

Robert Downs aspired to be a writer before he realized how difficult the writing process was. Fortunately, he’d already fallen in love with the craft, otherwise his tales might never have seen print. Originally from West Virginia, he has lived in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and now resides in California. When he’s not writing, Downs can be found reading, reviewing, blogging, or smiling.

To find out more about his latest projects, or to reach out to him on the Internet, visit: robertdowns.net, Goodreads Page, & Facebook Page!

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Robert Downs. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com gift Card. The giveaway begins on March 1 and runs through May 2, 2018.

CLICK HERE for the Rafflecopter giveaway

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About the Book

Title: Seven Threads

Author: Jason Atkinson

Genre: Short Story Collection

Seven Threads is a book of 7 short stories full of twists and turns. A girl on the run, a man accused of murder, a homeless man who finds his way, and much more. While each story is unique, they all offer the same human compassion that is sometimes lacking in today’s world. The reader is sure to find each story a page turner full of emotions, and left wanting more!

 

Author Bio

Jason Atkinson is a 32 year old, married man with one adorable toddler. With Seven Threads being his third book, he certainly enjoys writing and also spending time getting to know new people.

Links

www.alifeofheart.com

Book Excerpts

The Gentle Man

Part 1 – Forgiveness

With a somewhat stern and yet gentle approach in his voice, he suddenly speaks. “Forgiveness won’t change the past—but it will change the future. Your future.”

He looks around the room. “Okay,” he says with a broad grin. “Who wants to go first?”

He scans the room with expectant eyes.

A chair creaks as the man shifts in his seat uncomfortably, both from the metal chair being too harsh and because of the looming topic before him. Toward the back of the room, he hears a cough.

“No one wants to go first?”

The room, even though crowded with people, feels chilling and eerie, as if you are in fact alone with your thoughts. No one makes eye contact with him, since that might have been a sign of indulgence in this new topic.

It is getting late into the evening, and usually at this time the wrap-up begins, ending the night the same way it always ends.

Wandering eyes look toward the coffee pot. A few look toward the windows at the top of the walls. It is snowing outside, gentle but consistent. The lamppost illuminates the flakes as they glide slowly down past the window’s limited view. Even though the view may have looked quaint, it only resonates with the harsh reality of what winter often brings, and also what this group discussion can often bring.

As the second hand on the clock ticks away, the leader of the group rises to his feet. Everyone watches.

“I think that will be all for tonight,” he says with a meager smile.

Reluctantly, and of course thankfully, sighs of relief fill the room. Chairs scrape the floor without a care while people mingle amongst themselves and eventually disperse into the cool night air.

Left alone to clean up, the man who had brought them all together mutters to himself,

“Will my words ever get through?”

Walking away, he heads toward the door, turning around one last time to check that the room is clear.

There is no smile this time—only the face of a tired man who just wants to make one ounce of difference.

The lights go out, and he goes out the door, up the steps, and onto the street above. The door slowly closes, the last noise being the latch of the lock clicking into place. The room once again becomes dark, all except for that glimmer of light from the windows at the top of the wall.