Flash Fiction: If Only It Were That Simple (2000 words)

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We’re sitting in a dark cave, with only a dim source of light. We’re stuck here, stuck here together like two animals in a cage. Except there are no apparent jailers, no enemy to blame, no one to yell at and the stench of decay is overwhelming.

It’s the kind of stench that makes you put the sleeve of your sweater up against your nose and cover your mouth. Unbelievably, though, we’ve both become somewhat used to it.

There is a small creek running through the middle of the cave, separating the cave in two parts. The light emanates from the cave ceiling, the crystal shards covering the ceiling lets in a little light from above and we’re both thankful for that, I’m sure, though we have no idea what is above us. The light is muffled and dim, but it’s better than living in total darkness.

I sometimes hear sounds in the night, because it becomes night here, it becomes dark and you can do nothing but sit with your back up against the cold, cave wall and sleep. He stays on his side of the creek and I never know what he’s doing, but I’m pretty sure he isn’t the one making the noise.

I sometimes dream his face and his hands.

We used to be friends, then lovers and now he is my enemy. It’s a long story, but to cut it short I guess it’s easy to say that we hurt each other badly.

It’s the old story, you have heard that one already. We were friends since we were kids, then we learned that we liked each other and we became lovers for quite some time and then he stabbed me in the back and I retaliated.

Or that’s how I see it, he of course tells a different story, but you’ll have to talk to him about that. I won’t try to recap the words of a madman. Our relationship deteriorated from bad to worse and to say that we’ve both done things we regret may be an understatement. I’ve certainly done things, in the name of retaliation, that I am not proud of. I won’t go into it, but it’s important to remember that he was the one to start it all. I’m sure that’s how it was.

It’s important to me, and I know I’m right.

How we came to be here, is a different story and it’s one I’m not quite clear about. I woke up in this place one morning. At first I was pretty sure he had brought me here, somehow carrying me into this dim, dark cave as a means of getting back at me for something I had done.

It quickly became apparent, however, that he is as much a prisoner here as I am. So we exchanged a few words at first, set the ground rules and I tried not to claw his eyes out. The mere sight of him infuriates me now, the beard and the hair I used to run my fingers through.

So now we stay on each side of the creek and we don’t communicate more than we have to. It’s hard not to though, because almost daily a small boat carrying food comes sliding down the creek and we have to make sure that we catch it because if we don’t it vanishes into the small hole on the other side and we don’t eat that day.

Our hands sometimes touch when we stop the boat. It’s a familiar touch, and a twinge of electricity always seems to run through me. That too infuriates me. 

Each of us tried, on their own, to crawl into the hole the boat vanishes into, and the hole it comes from, but they are both too small. Neither of us is tiny enough to get in there and it’s impossible to see anything on the other side. It appears to be entirely dark there.

So we are left with only one thing. We can wait. The cave is solid. I’ve spent hours, upon hours, banging the walls and stomping the floor. I’ve waddled through the creek and I’ve poked at every stone that is movable. There is no way out of here.

In the night, though, I hear sounds. At first I was sure it was the sound of him snoring. But I know his snores, and I soon realised that the sound was coming from another direction, from beyond the wall.

It’s a disconcerting sound, a growl and sometimes I seem to hear screams and when I hear those things I feel the dread building in me. It becomes a poison in my veins and runs through my entire body, much like my rage before, and I can’t but to shiver and shake in my bones. I long for comfort, but I can’t very well ask him and I’m strong enough on my own.

He seems affected as well. He gets up and he starts to pace around. I can hear him walking in the dark, though I can’t see him. I can hear his breathing and it’s comforting to know that he too suffers here.  

When morning comes the sounds vanish.

“How long have we been sitting here?” he asks me suddenly one day. We’ve been quiet for so long that I hardly remember what his voice sounds like anymore. I almost jump out of my skin.

“I don’t know,”  I answer sourly.

“I have a theory,” he says, “you’re not going to like it”.

I know him and his theories. He has theories about everything, from what’s inside a black hole, to why the guy in the grocery store doesn’t have hair. I also know that his theories are just that, theories and rarely have any base in reality.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Do you remember getting here?” he asks. I walk over to the creek and sit down, dangling my feet in the warm water.

“No,” I say, “can’t say that I do.”

“Neither do I,” he says, “but one of the last memories I have is of you and me fighting” he adds.

I just nod my head.

“I remember grabbing your throat,” he says and for a moment I believe there’s a hint of regret in his voice. But then he laughs.

I just nod my head again.

“I think maybe we died,” he says.

His words hang in the air like bad odour.

I don’t say anything for a long time and I hate to admit it, but he might be right. What other explanation might there be? Because a far as I can see there is no way out of this cave. There is no opening at all. No doorway that’s been bolted shut, no door at all. We’re trapped in a cave that has no visible opening. It is a world of its own.

“That’s ridiculous,” I say at last. “I’m not dead, look at me”. I stand up and wave my arms. But my arms sink slowly when a recollection comes to me. An image of his body limping down before me. A gun in my hand.

And then, what happened then?

Something felt strange and I fell to my knees, an unfamiliar burning scent in the air, clutching my stomach and there was something in there, something that shouldn’t be.

A knife?
I look at him and I can’t believe it. “We…” but I can’t say the words. It’s impossible.

“We killed each other,” he says, “and now we’re in here together, maybe forever.”

“Forever?” I mimic.

“Do you remember?”

I just nod my head. “Now that you say it” I say.

“I can’t seem to remember why we were so angry at each other,” he says. “I remember…” his voice fades and he wades over the creek.

“You killed me,” I accuse him.

His face looks so familiar, his hands reaching out to me. I want to slap them away, it’s a habit that’s hard to shake, but I restrain myself.

“I remember pushing it in you,” he says. “The knife,” he sighs. “I remember being so angry, now I can’t recall why. Why?”

And he looks at me as if I have all the answers when I have none. “I don’t know,” I say. “You betrayed me,” I hesitate, “and I be…” but the words aren’t easy to say. But he understands, he knows me and so he nods.

“I’m sorry,” I say and I look at him. “I shot you.”

It seems strange to say it. Surreal.

“I’m sorry too,” he says and suddenly I find his familiar hands surrounding me, embracing me and instead of pushing him away like before, when he tried to make up, I hug him back. I hug him hard and I find that I have missed this.

And for a moment we stand there, hugging each other, my eyes closed I find endless comfort in his embrace. It’s like coming home and I remember the friend I had before and the lover later.

And when I open my eyes again I see that we are no longer in the cave. Instead we’re standing in our own living room and the cat is meowing by the kitchen door. He doesn’t pull back, but leans his head towards the cat and smiles. “Wait,” he says.

I pull back slowly. Stumbling backwards in the sheer surprise to see our old apartment again, just like it used to be while everything was fine and I walk towards the window and I see that it’s summer. There are leaves on the trees, the grass is green and there are rose bushes in bloom on the other side of the street.

I look back at him and shake my head.

“What now?” I ask.

He walks into the kitchen to feed the cat and I follow him. He brings out a tin can, opens it and empties the can into the cat bowl. It seems like such a simple manoeuvre, such a genuinely common act that it just looks absurd.

“Do you remember what it was we did that started it?” he asks.

But my memory is failing me. “Started what?” I ask.

“The fighting?” he asks.

“No, I don’t,” I tell him.

“So how do we continue?” he asks. “Do we go our separate ways?”

I look at him, wondering. “It might be best,” I say. “Safest.”

He nods his head.

“It’s just…” he says reluctantly.

“Yes?”

“It’s just that I don’t want to,” he says.

“I don’t either,” I tell him.

Suddenly he’s familiar again. The past seems clenched by the eternity we spent in the cave.

“Do we risk it?” he says and he approaches me, hands stretched out.

I grab his hands and pull him to me. It seems stupid, I know. I guess you could say that we deserve each other and that we might as well make the best of it. I can’t imagine living any kind of life without him.

“And if we end up the same way again?” he asks.

I just shake my head. It’s inconceivable. Impossible to think about. Yet it might just be. But we have to risk it, because we’re two sides of the same dime. We’re each other’s second half, the same but cut in two by Zeus long ago. We are one in two and we are stuck in this ocean of time together, whether we like it or not.

We might as well make the best of it.

“I promise I will try not to kill you again,” I say and I smile.
“I do too,” he says and in the kiss we share I feel decades of anger and resentment fade away. “At least we’ll be in it together?” he says and he smiles.

And I remember how much I love that smile.

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