Tension – Daily Story Project #20

Another story started via a prompt from Random First Line Generator.

As soon as he walked in, he felt the tension dissipate; his shoulders slumped, his jaw unclenched, his fists for punching became hands for holding. He relaxed. Home free, Oliver thought. Home.

Despite the light outside, with the curtains down the apartment was dark. He walked down the entry hallway, pausing to put his keys in the bowl on the table by the door, and to hang up his coat on the wooden rack mounted on the wall. Simple actions he had been unable to do for months now.

The living room, even in the dark, gave a feeling of comfort. Not spotless, but not a complete mess. A couple of scraps of paper and a pile of magazines on the coffee table – oh, and a mug containing a trace of curdled cream and coffee. A sweater tossed over the back of a chair. Some crumpled receipts in the corner of the couch. A lived-in look.

As he walked through the familiar room, his shoe crunched on something as he felt a breeze from the window: a glint of glass shards on the carpet, the sound of sudden traffic outside penetrating the quiet.

The window had been broken in his absence. His tension returned.

“Welcome home, Ollie,” she said from the hallway.


“Why are you wandering around in the dark?”

Burst of light. He threw his hands up to his eyes, turned sideways to present a smaller profile, crouched.

“So dramatic. I take it you weren’t expecting company?” Klara hadn’t moved, her hand still on the wall switch.

“What do you want?”

“Just a friendly visit.”

He waved at the window. “Then why break in?”

She jangled a little keychain of tools. “I didn’t break the window. Believe it or not.”

Oliver sighed, straightened up, sat down on the couch. “No. I know you too well, I guess.”

“Good.” She stepped up and sat, in front of him, on the coffee table. “You’ve been gone too long. We’ve lost track of you. But we knew you’d come back here eventually.” She looked around. “Too many memories can be a weakness.”

He glanced at a side table, a picture in a frame: him and another man, younger than him, laughing, in dark tailored suits. On the wall behind Klara, another framed picture: he and Klara and the younger man, in a booth, drinks in front of them, the other man’s eyes red from the camera’s flash, probably.

“If you say so,” he said. “Is this where you try to convince me to come back?”

“No.” To his reaction, she continued. “Again, believe it or not.” She reached into a pocket and pulled out a simple white envelope. Printed in neat elegant handwriting, the words

Please, Ollie

Oliver’s forehead beaded with sudden sweat. He did not move.

“He wanted you to have this.” Pause. “Aren’t you going to take it?”

“Do I have to?” But he reached for it.

She said, softly. “I’m so sorry. He was my friend, too.” She stood. “Do you want to be alone?”

“Always. Seems I can’t, though.” Oliver held the envelope in both hands, laid across his lap, the words facing him. He turned it over; a seal of melted wax, an archaic symbol pressed into it. The paper felt heavy, the color a soft cream. He looked up at Klara, who now stood on the far side of the room at the entry hallway. She was still but she was facing him, arms clasped in front of her.

“We all have these. I gave mine to him. I’ve always wondered who had yours? Tell me. Please? I get the feeling this is the last time I’ll ever see you, especially after I open this.”

Where before she had been smooth and serene, now the facade cracked slightly. She shifted on her feet. Her hands became fists. Her shoulders tightened and rose just slightly. “It.” she began. A pause. “It would do you no good to know that. These aren’t meant to be discussed. They don’t want us to.”

“Their wishes didn’t always bind us, though.” He pried a finger under the envelopes’ flap, and began tearing. “I don’t give a fuck if you stay or not. He’s gone. I’m still here. You’re still here. It means nothing, because the world is still here, too.”

Klara slipped onto the couch, on the far end from Oliver, one leg folded underneath her, in one smooth motion. Her eyes focused directly on the envelope now in his hands. The light in the living room that had seemed punishing, now seemed to surround them with a warmth. In a sudden motion he ripped through the top of the envelope and pulled out the sheets within.

Unfolded, the page showed, in the same handwriting as on the envelope, the simple words:

I am still alive. PLAN EPSILON

Oliver coolly glanced up over the top of the page and looked directly at her. He allowed a tiny glint of a tear drop to fill his eye and then spill out and down his cheek. He said, “He always loved you. If I’d been there, I know his last thoughts would have been of you.”

“They were.”

The shot was deafening in the small apartment but even at such close range it missed him. Klara rolled to her right, over the coffee table, and sprang for the bedroom hallway. Oliver had rolled that way, too, however, and then with a leap, he managed to grab her leg and pull her down. They wrestled violently, punching and kicking, until finally she had the upper hand, pinning him easily.

“If you go for the gun again, I’m going to get free,” he said. “It’s a standoff.”

She smirked. “That bastard. How did he know?”

“You mean you didn’t read the letter beforehand?” Oliver showed genuine surprise.

“No. Of course not. They don’t want us to.” Cocked her head. “Wait. What did it say?”

From the bedroom came Chad’s voice. “I’ll never tell.” He stepped out into the room, limping, battered but still standing.

She laughed. “Fuck me for following orders. God dammit. Fine. You two win.” She stood up.

Facing each other, no obvious weapons in sight, but clearly on alert, they stood.

“What happens now?” Chad said.

They all laughed. The tension once again faded from the room.