12+ Dylan woke with jackhammers pounding in his head and a tongue so furry it felt like it needed waxing. "Last time," he croaked, rolling onto his back and resolving to quit drinking again or, at least, to stop bingeing. He stared up at the low ceiling of his studio apartment and replayed the office drinks.
It was the usual Friday night crowd, along with senior managers celebrating a record month. And it was management's free spirits at the bar that led to his downfall. If only he'd stuck with beer. Dylan strained, but his memories were blank beyond chatting with the pretty sales manager. And closing his eyes to ride a wave of nausea, he hoped he hadn't made an arse of himself.
Dylan groaned, got up and boiled the kettle in his kitchenette. He dropped two coffee bags into the cleanest mug in the sink, hoping the double-caffeine hit would dull his hangover and jump-start the day.
Life wasn't playing out how Dylan had planned when he'd moved across the country. And six months on, despite living in a central apartment block with a good job and a gym membership, he still felt like a fringe dweller.
Dylan had sought a fresh start after his marriage breakup, in a new city, with a new job and new friends. And, hopefully, if he steered his wagon straight, a new partner.
At first, he'd declined invitations to office drinks and parties to avoid temptation. But Dylan couldn't make friends working out at the gym or watching TV in his tiny apartment alone. And on those lonely nights, he craved a drink, just a glass or two to settle his nerves.
Meanwhile, the bottle shop downstairs called to him like a siren song. Dylan had spotted it when he'd inspected the apartment, almost turning about and walking away. But the rental market was tight, and he realised he could navigate a safe passage, taking a circuitous route to the building entrance.
And then, one night, after a long day in the office, Dylan took the shortcut and left his wagon outside the bottle shop. But he limited himself to two glasses of bourbon that night, then two the next, and two again as the weekend approached.
At last, Dylan felt he had his drinking under control. Although the first office drinks hangover felt like an unwelcome friend had come to visit. Still, it was only once a week, and they weren't as bad as before, back when his old life and marriage fell apart.
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Dylan sipped his coffee and gazed out the studio window at the city. It was like a forest, with sunlight gracing the tops of the highrises and shadows falling on the canopy of streets below.
Despite the challenges, Dylan liked this city and his new life. But he wished he could remember the sales manager's name and hoped he hadn't ruined his chances. And once more, Dylan vowed to conquer his past demons chasing him across the country.
© 2023 Robert Fairhead
I wrote Past Demons (originally titled Demons) for the Australian Writer's Centre's May 2023 Furious Fiction writing challenge. The brief for the 500-word short story was:
- It must include a character who is BEING CHASED or doing the CHASING
- The words BOIL, FRINGE and JUMP (or longer words – e.g. BOILING or JUMPED – as long as they retain the original spelling within them)
- And at least THREE CREATIVE SIMILES.
Reading the showcased entries and extra similies that stood out for the Furious Fiction judges in May, I misunderstood the brief and wasn't creative enough in my similies.
But I still enjoyed writing my story about a man seeking a new life and hoping to conquer his past demons.
N.B. You might also enjoy reading my Furious Fiction showcased short story from April 2023, Family Reflections.
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.