Author Topic: Phantoms  (Read 158 times)

Offline Cliff Sombito

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Phantoms
« on: July 05, 2020, 12:46:21 AM »
Hi there I'm new here, I have written a short story and its genre is kafkaesque. And all critique is welcome, and thank you in advance. Here it goes:


After I came home from work, fear had set in like a shadow creeping from a leafless tree with its claw-like branches, and it was slowly clutching at my heart which began pounding fast. No one could fathom the despair I felt that day. I was heavy and delirious as though something perched on my shoulder and was pushing me down into the ground.

The reason was, as I laid on the bed with eyes wide open, around ten o'clock, facing the ceiling and looking through the blur of the revolving ceiling fan, I was visited by phantoms again. And even though I can't see them, I know that they are with me because I can hear their whispers. I don't know how they came to be and why are they following me, but one thing I know for sure is that they're here to torment me.

Whenever I hear them I hear something familiar as if they had taken in the voices of my old friends from when I was still in the academy. Their voices varied from a reproaching tone of voice of a young man to a supercilious and spiteful voice of a young lady, and the crying voice of a woman seeking love and attention.

At the beginning, these phantoms made a fool of me, played a prank on me every day and I was out of my mind, spooked and horrified. There was one instance when I was doing the laundry and I accidentally poured the detergent into the ground, oh how they laughed at me and they would comment:

"Look at him, what an idiot! Ha ha ha," said the voice of a young lady.

"What did he do? He's supposed to put the detergent into the basin," said the voice of a young man.

"As though he wasn't conscious of what he was doing ha ha ha."

"A simple task and he can't do it. . . . Is he stupid or what? I never thought that he's such a clumsy feminine person. How hysterical, look he's about to cry."

After hearing it all, I flushed crimson and a tear fell from my eye. All I thought of that time was to run away into my room and coil in the corner, hiding my face away from them who have insulted me.

But even as I locked myself in my room their voices would follow me there, and then I would hear a woman crying just outside my room and she was saying that she loved me very much, loved me more than anything in this world, and that she couldn't live with herself if she was to lose me.

I checked  if I have someone like that, but I couldn't think of a person who I knew that had fallen madly in love with me. Of course I knew it all that I am him that she was speaking of, though I pretended to not hear her pleading and stopped myself from opening the door of my room from fear of confronting her. I will only open the door soon afterwards when she has stopped crying. And when I opened the door I would see for myself that there was nobody there.

If I was not thinking clearly I would surely have fallen into their trap, and I would be irritable as hell, and shout curses, getting angry at nothing and would have punched a wall till my fist ached. But I was grateful that I was calmer than most people and that I have seen through their playful tricks.

Anyway, I lived with these phantoms and there's no telling when will they pop up and start their whispers. But they appeared again that day, or should I say I felt their presence. And they soon started whispering to each other what happened to me during the day.

What happened to me that day was that it all started at the office. I was working there as a call center agent, having a shift which started from one o'clock in the night till nine o'clock in the morning. At some point in my career I was vigilant in my work, but nowadays receiving a call somehow made me sick, and my ears became tired of listening to the endless chatter coming from the phone.

But of course, it's quite different when I hear the phantoms, their words are somehow deeper and profound than the rant of my customers. They even have suggested to me to put a stop to this dull and monotonous work of mine, and leave it all to stupid people (they meant my coworkers) whom can only be pleased by money. They would strongly argue that spending my life working as a call center agent was no better than being a slave, and that I completely agreed with them.

That day I had enough of their whispers, had enough of everything, so I followed their advice. Near at the end of my shift while I was on the phone, listening to the costumer talk seemed to me as if it have fried my brains and smoke was now coming out of my ear, so I slammed the phone real hard that it made a startling noise which made my coworkers jump from where they were.

I stood and shoved the stack of papers on my desk into the floor and made a mess in my cubicle. People around me were terrified and their eyes followed me as I made a hasty exit from the room to the elevator. And I went to the manager's office.

The manager was a short lady about forty-three years old. Her black hair was short and was trimmed around her neck. Her eyes were a squint beneath her glasses. She was in a formal business attire, wearing a dark green skirt and a cotton jacket over a blouse. I found her blowing a cup of hot coffee in her hand when I came into her office, and she lifted her eyes towards the door at once upon my entrance.

"I quit!" I blurted out suddenly.

When she heard it while sipping her hot coffee she was so surprised that she might have burnt her tongue as she had made a painful expression on her face.

"What? You're quitting?" She said.

"Yes, I quit."

"Why? Why are you quitting now all of the sudden? You are Rey, right?"

"Yes, my name is Rey. And I am quitting because I am sick of all this crap. I'm going now, this instance."

"Wait, hold on. Isn't it a very vague excuse? Maybe you are going through something right now. Is it a family problem, emotional, financial, or are you having problems here at work?"

"My only problem is that if I continue to work here I would be losing myself. Because this, this is not me."

"You know you are one of our top employees, and you are bound to be promoted next month. Don't you see what you're losing here. All of your hard work will go to waste if you quit now."

"I don't give a damn," I said turning towards the door.

"I thought you were one of those persons who can withstand a storm, but I was wrong. I guess you're a bona fide weakling," someone whispered in my ear.

"What did you say?" I asked angrily.

"I said if you quit you have to follow a procedure. You can't just quit suddenly from your work without a replacement, can you?"

"Yes, I can," I said as I walked out of her office.

"Wait, wait!" she shouted behind me but I ignored her.

When I got into the elevator I laughed real hard, I suspect that what I heard earlier during my conversation with the manager was one of the phantoms. They want to play with me since I have broken free from the shackles of the corporation, and they are poking at me to see if I'm responsive now that I have a lot of time in my hands. But I won't play with them just yet, I have to go home first.

Without looking back I exited the building, but soon as I was outside then the skies began to grow darker and darker. I didn't expect it to rain so I ran to the shed beside the street. And it started pouring down and the gust of wind that blew was strong and cold.

I was all alone in that shed and as I glanced at the blackened sky, the rain, and at the cars that were passing through the street, I thought of the old days when I had a lot of friends. But I had just realized that people came and went just like these cars that passed me by, all was just temporary and nothing was permanent.

And now these phantoms kept haunting me through the voices of my old friends as if they died and cannot rest unless I atone for my sins against them. I don't even know what my sins were and I'm not aware that I have sinned for if I was I would have kept track of it. When I got home they started whispering again and I couldn't sleep anymore.

"Did you see what he did at his workplace?" Said a soft female voice.

"Yeah I did, he quit and walked out like he totally owned the place. But deep down inside he was just another loser," said the gruff male voice.

"He he he, yeah he thinks his awesome back there when he blurted out those two words: 'I quit.' but you know what he probably quitted because he's gay, and all gay men are fragile little flowers."

A group of voices laughed together.

And I mumbled to myself, "I only did what I did back there because you told me so, I just followed your advice. Isn't it unfair that you kept abusing me with your words?"

"Why, do you need a pat on the head or something, that you were a good boy for obeying us? you deserve nothing of that kind. You're just a little piece of shit smeared on the wall by a stupid pig," said a harsh voice.

And there was laughter again.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up! What should I do to make you stop, you damn voices in my head," I cried.

"How about you kill yourself, besides you're already useless and no one needs you now because you have no family and friends. And when you're dead you'll have peace and no more pain. . . . So don't you see, dying is better than living," said the voice of a young lady.

"Is there no other way?"

"Yes, it's the only way to make my friends stop their mouths from talking ill about you. Oh by the way, a rope will do the trick."

"It's painful but sensible enough."

I followed her advice and decided to end it all. Then I scoured my apartment for a rope and I found it under the bed. I made a noose and tied the other end of the rope from the ceiling fan. All was ready and all that was left for me to do was to end my life. It was a short life and it was full of pain and agony, so it was better to end it now while I have the chance. So I stuck my head in the noose and tightened it around my neck. But as I felt the moment as my last, there was silence that I've never heard before.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to announce that this is the end. The final episode of my miserable lonely life. . . . So goodbye," I said aloud.

Then I kicked the chair that was my only foothold and I choked. Before I died, I heard no more whispers and no one ever laughed at me again.


Offline PIJ1951

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Re: Phantoms
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2020, 02:04:58 PM »
I'll comment as I read through if I may:

Quote
After I came home from work, fear had set in like a shadow creeping from a leafless tree with its claw-like branches, and it was slowly clutching at my heart which began pounding fast. No one could fathom the despair I felt that day. I was heavy and delirious as though something perched on my shoulder and was pushing me down into the ground.

The opening paragraph has a number of issues - not least the awkward switch in tense 10 words into the first sentence. Did you mean that fear had set in by the time you arrived home? If not, the word 'had' makes it read awkward. You also overload the paragraph with a number of rather predictable metaphors - a leafless tree, claw-like branches, something perched on your shoulder pushing you to the ground. One is fine - two a stretch - but three is way too much in the space of 64 words.

Quote
The reason was, as I laid on the bed with eyes wide open, around ten o'clock, facing the ceiling and looking through the blur of the revolving ceiling fan, I was visited by phantoms again. And even though I can't see them, I know that they are with me because I can hear their whispers. I don't know how they came to be and why are they following me, but one thing I know for sure is that they're here to torment me.

Again - in the second paragraph you still haven't decided which tense to write in. I 'laid' is past tense (should be 'lay'), as is 'was visited', but suddenly we're in present tense - 'can't see', 'don't know' etc. It's not a great start - and you continue to switch tenses at random throughout for no apparent reason. The following paragraph is a particular struggle to read because you change tense ten times in a single paragraph.

Quote
I checked 1 if I have 2 someone like that, but I couldn't think 3 of a person who I knew that had fallen 4 madly in love with me. Of course I knew 5 it all that I am 6 him that she was speaking 7 of, though I pretended to not hear her pleading and stopped myself from opening the door of my room from fear of confronting her. I will 8 only open the door soon afterwards when she has stopped 9 crying. And when I opened 10 the door I would see for myself that there was nobody there.

And it gets no better the further we read. I'm getting the impression English is not your mother tongue, which makes it important you read as much as possible before attempting to write a story in a medium you are not completely fluent in. Readers will not accept the fact that your language skills are limited as an excuse for something that's unreadable.

As for the plot, your narrator is a rather self-obsessed individual continually haunted by voices. He's not particularly likeable or interesting, I'm afraid, so I wasn't desperate to discover what happened next. He quits his job and commits suicide, which mirrors the delusion and paranoia seen in some of Kafka's work. But it's not helpful trying to mimic someone else's style no matter how much you admire it since every criticism is certain to point out you're not as skilled as the master. I suggest you look for something less taxing to flex your writing muscles with.

Good luck.

Offline Cliff Sombito

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Re: Phantoms
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2020, 01:11:49 AM »
Thanks for the critique, I couldn't have seen it on my own, and I did so many mistakes.

You're right I'm still struggling with the tenses, its really difficult to spot them.

I'll try harder next time, and work on the tenses and to make it more interesting.