Yep, I'm really scraping the barrel this go around. This is a piece of flash fiction I did for a contest. I read over it, and it's not so bad.
I'm struggling to get words down on the page. My depression is making that difficult, but at last I've pinpointed what's causing it. My GP doubled my blood pressure medicine a few days ago. I had a long conversation with him today, and the bp medicine is cut in half as of tomorrow, thank God.
Below are the parameters for the piece. Don't quote or repost anywhere, thanks!
My main character/protagonist is a male. My main character is a reporter. An archetype present in my story is Performer. A key object or symbol in my story is a pillow. My story will be set in a library. My story is about escape.
Jay Streeter didn’t know why he’d come to the library. He stared at the ivy-covered façade of the stone building. Perhaps it was a rumor or story he’d once heard about people vanishing from the old place. He didn’t know. As a reporter, he picked up a lot of unrelated tidbits of information. Sometimes it all became one big jumble in his head.
He even remembered coming to this library as a kid. Growing up, he’d read a few books until his stepfather ridiculed him for being a sissy, so a lot of time had passed since he’d stepped foot inside. He recalled reading Peter Pan several times that terrible year his father died and his mother remarried.
Jay climbed the stone steps hollowed over the years by the passage of many feet. The smell of must and old books greeted him at the door. Silence rolled over him like a smothering pillow—he jerked away from that line of thought.
A bright-colored sign near the door drew his attention. Children in a well-lit, modern-looking library smiled at him below the words, “Escape—Read A Book.” Jay’s lips twisted. Escape. What an apt choice of words. Escape was why he was here instead of at the TV station listening to the congratulations, the fake adulation, the lies backed with envy, or at home staring at four white walls and trying to understand when his life had turned to dust and ashes in his mouth. Here, in this library, he could be merely Jay Streeter, not the cool, calm, crack reporter in public, or the miserable maudlin mess at home.
The librarian looked surprisingly young. She sat behind a massive oak desk that looked as if it had been made from wood used during the same era as the Mayflower. He guessed her to be no more than mid-fifties, hair beginning to gray around the temples, eyes warm and blue and wise as all librarians were reputed to be. After he asked her where to find the mystery section, he lingered.
“I used to come here as a kid,” he said. “I don’t think the place has changed at all. More mildew, perhaps.” He smiled at her.
She returned his smile, faintly, and said, “Yes, I remember you, Mr. Streeter. You used to take a section of books out of each shelf in a direct line and try to shoot spit wads through the holes.”
Jay’s smile wavered. “Yeah, that sounds like me. That was a long time ago. You couldn’t have been so old yourself, then. Bet you thought, ‘there’s a houligan who will never make something of himself.’” Jay felt himself slipping helplessly into his well-worn role as “poor, tough kid turned ace reporter.”
“I know who you are, Mr. Streeter, and I know what you’ve become. I saw it in your eyes last night when you had to report that story.”
Jay’s composure cracked around the edges. “What did you see in my eyes?” he asked in a hoarse voice.
“Horror. Pain. Despair. The feeling of being trapped on an endless wheel where you report how much people hurt and torture each other every day, and tell the story as if you’re feeling no pain yourself. You wished that had been you that mother had smothered with a pillow instead of that innocent baby.”
The blood roared in Jay’s ears and tears stung his eyes. “How could you know all that?” he whispered.
The librarian’s blue eyes were compassionate. “It’s my business to know. Just as you know which stories make good news stories, I know about the desire to escape, to become someone else for awhile. That’s why you came to me, isn’t it? The desire for escape?”
“I want---I want--” Jay couldn’t say what he wanted. He struggled to regain control, to smile his cool reporter’s smile, to deny he had any needs at all as the instinct for self-preservation kicked in.
“It’s an interesting little prison we make for ourselves, isn’t it?” the librarian said. “The walls are as soft and yielding and smothering as that pillow you held in your hands last night. The prison of doing something you don’t want to do, being someone you don’t want to be, just because you’re successful at it.”
Jay stared at her and saw complete understanding of him in her face and let go of the need to cloak his inner self—let go of the need to present to her the persona he showed the rest of the world. “I need to be someone else—live another life for awhile,” he burst out. “I need to see if being someone else is better.”
The librarian reached into her desk and brought out a library card, handing it to him. Jay noted with a sense of unreality that it was his library card from years ago.
“Go pick out a story you’d like to live and bring the card back to me,” she said softly. “When you use the card, you’ll live the life of a character in that story until the book is due. A word of caution. Those who tell stories sometimes have characters that experience Life as bloody, as awful, and as full of suffering as anything you’ve seen. You never know which character you’ll be. Any and all of that could happen to you. Do you still want to escape?”
Jay clutched the precious library card in his hand. “‘First star to the right and straight on ‘till morning,’” he said softly.