Short Stories

Short Story: Fixing the Bugs

Change comes in dark times. So they say. So she had seen. Making the darkness even scarier. Not even the good that might come later can mitigate the pain of the now, the fear of the unknown, and the alteration of events one never considered needing any alterations. Ever since her dark time, she had become obsessed with all the paths the cosmos was composed of. The little elements that made it what it was and hid its reality from the general public. It was nothing like what they said it to be. The order they thought there was was not there.

She opened her notebook, racing the lines she had drawn there with her forefinger. The creamy paper felt soft and bumpy on her skin. She shut her eyes, feeling the connections of the little events she had added to her notebook. They added up. She was sure there was a pattern that would explain the whole misconception of existence. That life itself was a bug, and thusly, it was reasonable that chaos won and darkness hungered for human misery.

There was a cough.

She opened her eyes and saw an elderly woman looking at her with contempt. The woman pushed the knickknacks forward she had gathered from the antique shop. The woman coughed again as she didn’t react as fast as she should have.

She took the little monkey statue and put its sum on the register. She repeated the same action with all the items the woman had found as her treasures.

“Three-hundred-and-fifty-seven,” she said.

The woman frowned, ready to haggle.

She tapped her fingers against the notebook, wondering had the time stopped still as the woman’s expressions changed ever so slowly. Like a slow-motion car crash or that moment, you realize you have stepped on a dog poo.

Then the words rushed out of the woman’s mouth.

She watched them come out. Someone had made the time speed up. She nodded her head along the words and gave a friendly smile to the woman when she stopped her complaint.

“I can’t give you a discount without the manager’s approval; he is away checking out an estate. You can leave your purchase here and come back tomorrow. He should be at the shop then. But I’m sorry we can’t keep them longer for you…”

The woman trusted her credit card into the machine, speaking at a speed that made no sense. When the woman was gone, she penned her into her notebook, drawing a line with the pit at the upper corner that seemed to suck out the mind of those who had let the world convince their worth came from to things they collected. She met a lot of those in the shop. You could say she collected things as well. People like the woman or the man who had walked his dog outside her apartment. The man had sad eyes. Eyes that seemed to spell that he had lost his life when he hadn’t been looking. Maybe it was in the attic or inside the woman’s purse. Wherever it was, it had gotten lost, and the man carried half of him around. She drew a line between the man and the woman. She could feel their connection.

She closed the notebook, and when she had checked that the shop was empty, she tiptoed her way back to the backroom to get the tea. She avoided all the floorboards that creaked from the slightest pressure. When she first started working at the shop two years ago, she loved the sound the floorboards made. It was the sound of existing. But then the darkness followed, and she had started to suspect that it was not wise to draw the universe’s attention toward her. She was sure that if she lived small and invisible, it wouldn’t notice that she knew it was toying with the fabric of everything. There was no proof of stability. If there were, then fragility wouldn’t be part of the human experience.

She lifted onto her toes as she took the box where all the teabags were kept down at the third shelf from the bottom. She opened the tin box, which smelled of blackcurrant and tea. She took the yellow bag out and unwrapped it, leaving it there to wait for the moment the water had boiled, reminding her moments mattered. They composed everything, and without moments, there was no her, no teabag, nor the sound of the tea kettle whistling. She existed for such moments. The pressure of being on her toes as the fabric of her bamboo socks reminded her why she had bought them initially. The coldness of the tin box between her fingers and the soft noise as she lowered it back to the wooden shelf.

The kettle whistled. She drew her mug closer with all the painted birds and listened to the sound a little longer than necessary. Then, when the bag was in the water and the tea was ready, she followed the exact path she had taken to the backroom, going backward. She lowered the mug to the counter, where the notebook awaited her. It was her whole world. Without it, she would lose the components, and her life would be as chaotic as it was for the woman, the man, and everyone else she met. Sometimes her silence invited strangers she met to tell her everything. The little stories they told her and themselves were all lies. She could see past them. They were there to comfort them from the pain of existence and the inevitable unknown. But she let them keep their stories. They were theirs to keep and not hers to steal. Her whole philosophy was to leave the world not better or worse off, just there as she had found it like the smooth pebble she had left at the cliff the last time she had gone to meet the ocean. She could still feel the smoothness of the stones in her fingers. The ocean knew how to erase all the lines that shouldn’t be there.

She was no ocean. She had no right to erode the lines that escaped from person to person to the buildings, the cars, the little knickknacks sold on the shop they had touched. Not her task. She was to record it happening, and maybe then, when all the connections were shown, there would be someone to fix the bugs.

“Any customers today?” her boss asked as he entered the front door. He had two bags in his right hand, making his whole body tilt to the right as if he was made crooked.

She shook her head. “No one came.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded again and took a sip from her tea. She had drawn a connection between him and her. She was in the lower left corner of the notebook, barely fitting there anymore.

Thank you for reading, have a pleasant day ❤

P.s. It has been too long since I wrote a short story. I started this one over a month ago, writing the first paragraph but never knowing where this might lead. Finally, I found the story lurking inside me today and finished this one. It felt so good. I achieved that flow state, being almost an observer when the situation unfolded.

© K.A. Ashcomb

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