This story is by Sue Moreines and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
John (Jack) Williams II
September 26, 2018
I died earlier than most kids and lived longer than others who deserved to grow up. People usually die of old age, illness or accident, but I died by my own hand at exactly 4:00 pm. It took three tries to get it right, but practice makes perfect. Writing my own obituary wasn’t something I thought I’d ever do, but it was my story to tell.
If you’re wondering why I committed suicide, the demon that lived inside me fueled the ever-present torment that began when I was 13. No amount of therapy, medication or prayer gave me any relief, and death was the only option. There are reasons for everything, and I know you’ll come to understand mine…
“Jack, I’m your sixth therapist. I’ve read your entire obituary and you did a good job of summarizing your agonizing life, and your determination to end it on September 26th. What can I do to prevent that from happening, since today is September 12th?” asked Dr. Phillips.
“I’m almost eighteen and tried to kill myself twice. Last year, I took my mom’s prized 1972 MGB and crashed it into a tree. The teeth that flew down my throat were easily fixed and my broken ribs and fractured legs healed so well you’d never know I was injured. A month ago I thought I saved enough Xanax, but all it did was put me into a two week coma. The demon who haunts me will make sure I succeed the next time. I think the only person who may be able to help me figure out what to do is my father, although I don’t know why I believe that. No one has been able to find him, but if you can, we might get somewhere,” answered Jack.
“Let’s talk about your Dad,” said Dr. Phillips.
Jack reluctantly began, “My father was a monster of a man. He stood well over six feet tall, rarely smiled and maintained perfect posture. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines, and devoted his entire life to military service. He’d been deployed to places I never knew existed and it was clear he didn’t want to be tied down to a family. Since he was rarely home I barely knew him, and I was 12 the last time he visited.”
Without warning, Jack leapt from the couch and started to pace. He clenched his fists, punched the air and kicked over an empty trash basket. Stopping to look out the window Jack stated, “My mother did her best to take care of me and my sister Sarah, until Sarah died.”
Before Dr. Phillips could speak, Jack looked at the clock and declared, “Time is up.” Jack knew the drill all too well.
The following week, Jack stepped back into the doctor’s office just as an explosion erupted outside. He dived under the closest table and curled into a fetal position, barely breathing.
“Jack, that was a truck backfiring,” Dr. Phillips calmly explained. “You’re safe here, and can sit down whenever you’re ready.”
Composing himself, Jack cautiously reported, “It was a beautiful fall day for Sarah’s tenth birthday. In the late afternoon, Mom asked me to play outside with her while she got things ready for the party.”
“Birthdays are fun,” interjected Dr. Phillips.
“They once were,” answered Jack. “Mom always did something special for our birthdays and Sarah hoped her surprise would be a puppy. As we sat at the picnic table talking about getting a dog, gunshots rang out. I turned in the direction of the sound, which was too close for comfort, and reached for Sarah’s hand. She wasn’t there. I stood up and saw her lying in a growing pool of blood. My screams pierced the air, and within seconds Mom stood beside me watching the gash in Sarah’s skull ooze more than blood. Mom laid down to hold her, but I knew she was dead.”
“How awful,” the doctor replied.
Jack continued, “I ran inside to call 9-1-1. Sirens blared and emergency vehicles arrived within minutes. Sarah was gently placed on a stretcher and covered by a white sheet. A crimson stain spread quickly as she was loaded into the ambulance and driven away.”
Dr. Phillips responded quietly, “Jack, I’m so sorry about Sarah.”
Unable to choke back his tears, Jack sobbed uncontrollably. Ten minutes later he sat stone-faced, physically and emotionally drained. It was Dr. Phillips’ turn to say, “Jack, time is up.”
Jack didn’t want to go back to see the doctor, but weekly therapy was one of the terms of his discharge from the psychiatric hospital. He sat restlessly on the couch, and eventually whispered, “The demon has been relentless.”
“Tell me more about that Jack,” requested Dr. Phillips.
“Besides constantly reminding me that Sarah’s death was my fault, he’s been choreographing nightmares to terrorize me and increasing the frequency of vivid flashbacks. He blames my mother too, since she made us go outside that day. I hate her!” shouted Jack.
“For five agonizing years I’ve lived with overwhelming and paralyzing guilt. Every day the demon tells me to kill myself, because I deserve to die. And you know what, he’s absolutely right,” asserted Jack.
“Where does your father fit into all of this?” asked Dr. Phillips.
“I already told you I don’t know!” snapped Jack. “After Sarah’s funeral, Mom told me the surprise was going to be a visit from our Dad. He didn’t even have the decency to show up! My mother filed for divorce and accepted a large lump sum payment so she wouldn’t have to deal with him again.”
“Jack, I’ve done some research and have information about your father,” noted Dr. Phillips.
Jack began to tremble and muttered, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”
“Your father died four years ago,” stated Dr. Phillips, as he picked up an envelope that had been lying on his desk. He handed it to Jack and added, “I contacted the Pentagon. The Marine MOS 0151 administrative clerk I spoke with found this in your dad’s personnel file. It’s addressed to you.”
Jack’s hands shook so wildly, he dropped the envelope at his feet. He had a hard time deciding if he should pick it up, let alone read it. Finally, Jack managed to grip it, and slid a single sheet of white paper from its wrapping and recited aloud:
September 26, 2014
Son, being a career soldier was my calling, and I never should have had a family. I’ve lived with crushing guilt not being involved in your life, and for that, I’m painfully sorry.
I’ve also kept a dark secret from everyone since I was 21, and it’s time I confessed. I’ve fought in many horrifying wars, but each day I battled more internal demons than I can count. It was excruciating.
Jack’s eyes opened wide, and he took a deep breath before proceeding.
On my way to surprise Sarah for her birthday last year, I bought the Steiff Bear she always wanted. Walking toward the house a man jumped out of the bushes pointing a gun at me. I instinctively lunged at him, and he pulled the trigger. The first slug grazed my ear, but the second drilled into me, just above my heart.
Jack, I had no idea the bullet that missed me killed Sarah. I was rushed to the hospital and had two surgeries before I learned what happened. I would have taken a clip full of lead if it could have saved her. I survived, but was severely tortured by my final demon, one that’s been tougher than all the rest. He repeatedly berated me for killing Sarah and called me a poor excuse for a father and an absent husband. He was absolutely right. I didn’t need him to remind me I was a coward and a loser, because I felt it deep in my soul.
I asked one of the nurses to bring the bear to Sarah’s funeral and place it in her casket, because I couldn’t face her. After returning to Germany, I gave everything I had to your mother in the divorce agreement and the demon was going to make sure my time was up.
I hope you’ll be able to get through this tragedy alive Jack, and pray you didn’t inherit my evil spirits. Your mom has been very supportive and I’ve respected her ability to carry on and take care of you.
I love you Jack.
Jack let the paper slip from his hands. When he could speak, Jack said lovingly, “I wondered where that bear came from. Sarah always talked about how much a Steiff Bear would mean to her, and it made me smile to see it lying right beside her.”
After a moment of thoughtful reflection, Jack announced, “Happy birthday Sarah!”
Rising to his feet, Jack shook the doctor’s hand and said, “It’s almost 4 o’clock. Time’s up.”
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro says
This story by Sue Moreines has heart to it, as if she’s dealt with this in her life or work. And, with Jack rising to his feet ,he has (forgive the pun( an uplifting ending.
Sue Moreines says
Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my story. I appreciate your assessment/critique and hope to continue to improve upon my writing skills.
Kathleen Jablow says
Great story, didn’t want it to end! Would live to read more of your enticing stories!
Sue Moreines says
I’m so happy you felt my story was worth reading. I’ll definitely join the next short story writing contest, so your wish will be granted. All you have to do is click your heels together three times 🙂
Great story! Only problem was I wanted more. Keep writing Sue.
Sue Moreines says
Thanks so much for reading and commenting Sharon. I did my best within the 1500 word limit. Looking forward to the next contest.
I loved the story .. I also wanted more of the story
Sue Moreines says
Thanks for reading and glad you liked it Joy. Only had 1500 words to work with, so couldn’t fit any more in.
Ichabod Ebenezer says
Fantastic story. It seems that fate has determined that the father would pass on his demons even in his absence. Too sad.
Best of luck in the contest!
Sue Moreines says
Thanks so much for reading and for your comment Ichabod. I’ve been on vacation and just got home. Wasn’t able to read as many stories as I would have liked. By the way, congratulations on your winning story in the last contest.
Kim Mann says
Really nice story Sue, I feel it has some truth to it as well. We need more happy endings like this
Sue Moreines says
Thanks so much for reading and commenting Kim. I especially appreciated your take on what happened to Jack at the end of the story. It’s very interesting to me that people have had differing opinions.
Sheila Anderson says
Sue, I really enjoyed reading this . I do have to agree with the previous comments that I would have liked more but like you said 1500 words was it.
The idea of being genetically predisposed to psychological conditions as well as physical has always interested me and this has been scientifically studied. The term demons can have a religious connotation and the Bible talks about the sins of the father being visited on the son. I don’t know if it was intentional but I liked the way the scientific and spiritual were woven into the story.
As for the ending my very first impression was that “times up” meant suicide time. This was distressing , a real downer that all the therapy was a waste and the discovery of truth would make no difference ( I always feel like the truth should make a difference) Then I realized that “times up” could also simply mean that the days session was over and Jack would go on to overcome his demons. A much happier ending…isn’t it interesting how I had to go through one to get to the other?
Sue Moreines says
You and your comments are incredible! You touched on topics no one else had, and it’s clear you took the time to read the story very methodically (and more than once!). You’re very skillful at critiquing, and I appreciate every word you wrote. As for the conclusion, yes it is “interesting how you had to go through one to get to the other”.
I couldn’t be more grateful!