Another picture writing challenge from over at Cognitive Reflection. I seem to be sandwiching sillier bits in between (half) serious/ dark short fiction. Lots of fun. Let me know what you think – constructive criticism is appreciated!
Maria whispers to herself as she walks down the corridor, carrying her father’s briefcase. Beads of water fall from the ceiling to shallow, rank pools on the floor, creating echoes far larger than their size, and the familiar sounds of the city’s crowds are muffled and distorted, distant as they are beyond the walls of the abandoned building. Among all of this Maria is walking slowly, taking no steps to avoid the puddles, the litter and the fallen masonry that is scattered throughout the hallway. Her mind is preoccupied, drifting far from her feet, and she is using every part of it to maintain her murmured mantra. She repeats:
‘There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to fear. Nothing to fear but fear itself.’
It’s an old one, and a good one, though considering her derelict surroundings and the shadows on either side that seem to follow as she walks, it does not seem entirely convincing. But Maria has her reasons to believe it, and now that she has come this far there is no sense in second guessing them. She was promised her safety if she met the conditions. She has brought the briefcase and grips it rigid at her side, as though afraid that it will leap for freedom if she loosens her hold, and disappear into the ankle-depth water below her with some cheap magician’s trick.
‘There is nothing to fear but fear.’
She is nearing the end of the corridor now, where the windows are largest and the light is in reach. She is unsure which room she is meant to be looking for, so she tries every one of the doors on the right, until she sees something beyond one of them that settles her mind. She walks inside, but within seconds she has returned to the corridor, this time without the briefcase, and it clear from her face that she feels that its weight has been lifted.
‘There is nothing to fear.’
She says it one last time, and she believes it. She believes it as she quickens her pace, hurrying for her exit. She believes it as she approaches the stairwell, and she believes it as she skips a step in her urgency. But as her foot catches on a metal pipe, left carelessly strewn on the stairs, the mantra leaves her mind. As she tumbles, headfirst, down the thick grey steps and sees the cracked concrete rushing to meet her, it seems there is something to fear after all.
I step from behind the door on the left, where I watched her. I feel pity, though I will not pretend to feel remorse, as I go to retrieve the briefcase. Beware of old sayings, I think. Beware of mantras and clichés.
There is always something to fear.