Downfallen

This is a piece of flash-fiction I wrote some time ago. I had planned on sharing a different story with you today, but decided this one was more appropriate for the mood I am in. As the title suggests, this piece is called Downfallen.

***

Ben sagged against the front door, dropped his briefcase and closed his eyes. Silence surrounded him: no laughter echoed through the house, no murmur from the television, no call to welcome him home. Fatigue fuddled his mind. He licked his lips and tried not to think about the building thirst.

When he opened his eyes, the demon stood before him.

‘Not tonight.’ Ben said. ‘It’s been a long day.’

‘Every day’s a long day,’ the demon said as she followed Ben to the sitting room.

Clothes, dry from the tumbler, lay in a heap on one armchair. Dirty dishes, with days old food welded in place, littered the coffee table. Ben opened the curtains and window, dispelling the musty air. Sunlight streamed in, highlighting the dancing dust motes.

The demon lingered.

‘Just stop.’ Ben said clearing away the dishes.

‘Isn’t up to me.’ The demon toyed with the rocks glasses on the sideboard. Selected one. Shook it.

Ben ignored the tinkle of ice against glass. ‘Damn it. Leave.’ He clenched his fists and stormed to the kitchen.

An eternity passed before the kettle boiled. Ben made himself a coffee, then settled on the sofa. The hot liquid scalded his mouth, but he forced it down anyway, taking sip after burning sip.

The demon paced. She drummed her fingers along the table, massaged her shoulders. The clock ticked over the seconds, became louder, more insistent. ‘Are we doing this, or what?’

‘I don’t know yet?’

‘What, you need more encouragement? Gosh, Ben, you know Doctors’ recommend a glass of red wine a night to lower the risk of heart disease. If one’s good for you, ten must be brilliant.’ Her voice dripped with sarcasm. ‘Or, I know, I know. Just one more time won’t hurt. You can always give up tomorrow.’

Ben stood and barged through to the kitchen. The demon followed. ‘What’s the matter, Ben, running out of excuses?’ She gave a short laugh. ‘Ah, what about this one. My personal favourite. It’s Friday. You can’t give up on a Friday.’

‘Shut up.’ Ben pitched his mug into the sink. His head hung low as he leaned against the counter.

Then the shaking began.

A tremble in his limbs. A palpitation in his throat. He tried to steady himself, breathing in and out, but the breaths felt shallow with his chest a giant chasm impossible to fill.

The demon strutted around the floor, watching Ben. Did she note the blank gaze? The drooping chin? The tears? A sneer formed on the demon’s face. ‘Listen,’ she grasped the back of Ben’s neck, pulling his head closer so that the touch of her lips pressed close to Ben’s ear. ‘Where’s the harm? One last drink. For me.’

Ben started to say something, but no words came out. God, he wished things were the way they used to be.

He turned to the demon. ‘You… You’re nothing but trouble. Damn it.’ Ben shook the demon off. Heat flushed through his body, burning his cheeks. ‘You think you can appear, with your promise of oblivion, and win me over. Well, that won’t work.

‘It usually does.’

‘Not tonight.’

‘That’s your choice not mine.’

Ben moved to the sitting room, plopped on the sofa, flicked through the channels on the television. The temperature in the room rose. Sweat oozed from his pores. He glanced around the room. His eyes alighted on the sideboard— on the whiskey.

Next thing he realised, he was next to the alcohol. The scent of burnt wood pierced his nostrils. He could almost feel the warm, sweet liquid caressing his throat. Before his fingers could grasp the glass, he clenched his fist and punched the wall. Pain lanced through his hand.

‘Give in already,’ the demon said. ‘It’s silly to keep fighting like this.’

‘What the hell is wrong with you?’

They stood facing each other, eyes locked. Cowboys squaring off for a duel. Ben set his jaw, determined to stare the demon down.

The demon smiled. ‘You can’t be resolute without being tested.’

‘So, you’re testing me?’

‘If you say so.’

Minutes passed, before Ben sat down, panting on the edge of the sofa. ‘I can’t keep doing this.’ He cradled his head in his palms, winced at the pain in his knuckles. ‘Jesus, how did it get to this stage?’

The long days at work, the overtime, the added pressure. One drink with a colleague after work, then another, and another. That’s all it took.

Ben weaved his fingers through his dark hair and tugged. ‘I’ve had enough. I don’t want to drink anymore.’ His voice trailed off to a murmur. ‘It’s not helping.’

‘You need me.’

‘Not like this.’

‘Nobody can take the pain away like I can.’

‘Not anymore.’ Ben clasped the whiskey and stormed to the kitchen. Taking a strained breath, he sagged against the counter and screwed his eyes closed.

His heart pounded in his chest. Through the window, stars glittered in the clear night sky. The moon shone down its radiance. Ben poured the poison from the bottle and watched the amber liquid swirl down the sink.

‘Ah well,’ said the demon. ‘I guess that’s it for tonight. You’ve made your choice.’

‘I have.’

‘There’s always tomorrow.’

‘No, we’re done.’ Ben shook his head and looked at Karen. For a second the woman he married stood before him with a frightened look in her eyes, but then she smiled and the demon returned.

‘That’s what they all say,’ she said.



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