This story is by Jose Liriano and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The pale sunlight permeates through the blinds onto Kristopher’s eyes as he wakes. He looks across the bed to see that his partner Amarissa is already awake on her phone. His mind remains thoughtless without aid from his achromatic surroundings.
“Can you hand me my boxers?”
“How about you come and get them.”
He reaches over her to retrieve his boxers but she wraps her arms and kisses his neck. Her tender fingers caress his back in the hope of bringing her affection into existence. Kristopher hesitantly embraces her, unable to keep eye contact.
Kristopher forces a smile. “Okay, okay Issa. I’m almost late for work.”
He collects his clothes scattered around the room. She smiles at him lovingly as he prepares to take a shower; perfect for masking noises. Before he enters the bathroom, he subconsciously picks up his belongings, including his book-filled bag along with anything that he would prefer not to get dirty. At this point, every one of his possessions is out of reach. Hopefully, I can keep control, he thought. As he continues towards the shower, Amarissa speaks her mind.
“Hey, are we still good for tonight?”
Suddenly, Kristopher is compelled to stop in his place. His mind bursts into conflicting thoughts. He is not sure why his mind gets in such disarray but he is aware of the eventual result. When faced with his thoughts, he gives in.
“Were you texting with anybody before I woke up?”
“What? Yeah, just my friend, what about it?”
“Does she know where you’re at right now?
“No-, not really.” Hesitation creeps into Amarissa’s voice.
Kristopher heads into the bathroom and gets the water running. Confused, Amarissa peaks around the door frame wondering what Kristopher is up to. Kristopher startles her as he heads back into the bedroom, shuts the door behind him, and stares daggers into her.
The monotony of warehouse work brings a sense of completeness to Kristopher. As he walks along the street towards the site, the negligence from those walking by contradicts the sun’s warmful radiance. Such coldness mirrors the anonymity of warehouse work. His circumstances are of no importance to his manager or his coworkers. Most would not even grace the health, mentally or otherwise, of others including himself with any thought. This world lacks life, he thought. Despite his several attempts, Kristopher is unable to extract any essence from the people, specifically women, that he meets. They remain pale and bland to their last breath.
Whenever a woman touches him, Kristopher dreams of a beautiful family and soothing home. A dream that deviates from the world surrounding him. Unfortunately, they never pan out to either of their favors. Originally he felt remorse in his fallen relationships, but the more it occurs, the more the remorse lessens. As he contemplates his past relationships, someone shouts at him from across the aisle of the warehouse.
“Kristopher, pick up the pace. The company doesn’t have time for your diddling.”
The site manager Khan has always been a constant source of anger whenever Kristopher thinks about his co-workers. The liveliness that he exudes causes a putrid knot in Kristopher’s throat. The manager’s wife and two children are constant topics of discussion whenever he enters the room.
“Hey! Pay attention. Are you going to respond you dunce or am I going to have to pull you to the side again?”
“Sorry sir, I’ll work harder.”
Kristopher’s apology is met with a silent snarl as Khan departs. Only blissful ignorance can give someone that kind of peace of mind, he thought. Kristopher imagines Khan would walk over an injured man in the street as the thoughts of his children infest his mind.
The trivial chatter of the town’s street life shuts out thoughts in Kristopher’s mind as he walks home. On his way to his apartment, he hears sirens in the distance as police cruisers speed past the sidelined cars jolting his mind into action. Maybe I should have cleaned up better. Either way, Kristopher’s time in this town is soon coming to an end. His two local trists are beginning to catch up with him. His hands begin to shake but the numbness of his thoughts takes over. Nevertheless, before he enters his apartment, he frequently enters the book store along his block. A small-time family shop of which the owner Nikita knows all of her loyal customers almost as much as Kristopher does. On this occasion, when he enters the shop, his muscles tighten when he sees an unfamiliar female face. The ring of the bell above the door does not seem to cause a reaction from this woman who is deeply entrenched in her book. Not unlike the store owner towards the back of the shop. Kristopher is compelled to make himself known. As he walks through the shallow walkways flanked by bookcases, practically on the brink of collapse, the woman notices him approaching.
“Hey, sorry to bother you. I was just wondering what you’re reading. This is my favorite section.”
The woman responds through her radiant smile.“Oh, um, this is one of Dostoyevsky’s stories: ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich.’ I’m fond of him but I prefer physical books rather than an e-book. And you?”
“Wow, not many people around here are interested in Dostoyevsky. I’ve always been a loyal reader but I prefer other writers. Interesting though. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
“It’s Jericho. You?”
Kristopher’s heart rate doubles when Jericho fills his mind. That night they met, he followed her home. The next day, he skipped his shift and watched her travel to her workplace. The sight of others in the streets acknowledging her existence when she walks past shook him to his core. She is well acquainted with those around her. Kristopher is amazed by her power. His amazement compelled him enough to pursue interaction with her despite his delicate circumstances.
It began with bi-weekly chats at the bookstore. Then escalated with sharing meals and expanding past books onto other things in each other’s life; mainly Jericho’s life. Eventually, two weeks later, Kristopher was invited into her house. During the day, He constantly looks over his shoulder while attempting to hide his fear from Jericho. He does not have much time remaining as the police cars patrol the streets in search of him. Their search has forced him to find a new home under bridges and alleyways. The trees and electrical posts are now littered with suspect posters that contain his face; including Jericho’s block.
On an evening when Kristopher and Jericho walk towards her home for dinner, all of the hair on her body rises as she notices the poster. Immediately, without looking back, she rushes across the street and into her apartment. Jericho stretches her stride in hopes of reaching her room in time. In her peripheral hearing, she hears the thud of a car hood and a body tumbling on the concrete followed by honking and shouting. Her body compels her to not look back. Loud steps on the pavement behind heightens her fear. She rushes up the stairs until she reaches her door on the second floor. As she begins to take out her keys, her hands tremble. She notices tears dripping from her face to her hands. What have I brought into my life? She thought. She enters her apartment just as she hears stomps on the stairs that seemingly shudders the building. She is able to close the door in time but is immediately met with Kristopher ramming himself into the door which begins to loosen at its hinges.
“Stop! Just stop. What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this to me?”
The ramming suddenly stops. Before Jericho can catch her breath, Kristopher’s last collision breaks down the door. Jericho shouts in hope of help from others. Kristopher lunges for her and grasps her throat in his hands. The tighter he squeezes the more he is reminded of Amarrissa. Jericho claws and hits him with anything that can help her fight off this monster. At this moment, Kristopher bewilderingly takes the time to inspect Jericho’s features. He observes her auburn hair is spread graciously across the floor. Her widened eyes contain a beautiful brown hue. The grip on her throat loosens as Kristopher’s thoughts begin to clear. Tears flow down his face. He surveys the room and observes his surroundings while displaying a pleading expression. He maintains his expression momentarily until Jericho’s neighbors spring into the apartment holding kitchen equipment and wearing robes and sleepwear. The last sight that Kristopher will ever experience.