Counting. Short Story.

Tom walked along the street at an average pace. To any outside observer he looked like a regular twenty something. A pair of converse runners, jeans, a graphic t-shirt and a calf length black coat covered his body, a set of headphones were securely resting in his ears. Occasionally his head would nod or his lips would twitch, acknowledgement of the song he was listening to. Had an observer approached Tom and pulled at the headphones wire, it would have slipped free of the pocket with little resistance, as it was not currently plugged into anything. As he walked, his eyes roamed the streets, taking in everything as he passed. He was not one of those people who stared straight ahead, no, he would never be one of those. He wanted to see the world properly, examine all that it had to offer. Of course, the constant stream of information was also a happy distraction for him.

The day itself was bright and sunny. White, fluffy clouds floated gently through the sky while the sunlight glinted off the windows of the buildings and cars around him. As people walked by he catalogued them quickly, breaking them down by gender, rough age and the type of clothes they wore. They fell into a multitude of categories, each one designed to be difficult to keep track of. As he was keeping track of the people he was also keeping track of the buildings. Today was windows on the first floor. He kept a count of both the number of windows and the amount of windows he could or could not see through and the reason as to why they were obscured.

Tom stopped at a red light, waiting for the light to turn green. As he waited he started a timer in his head to see how long it would take, while taking stock of the cars that passed by. He counted the colours and the make of the cars. Those which he could not identify by sight alone were sorted into a separate section. When the light turned green he started crossing, counting the beeps of the lights signalling to the pedestrians they could cross and the amount of steps it took to actually traverse the road and make it back to the pavement. Once there, he started with his original count of windows and people.

At some point in the day, Tom would stop into a shop to buy some food, but for now, he just wandered. He had no where to be and was in no hurry to get there any time soon. Most of his days were spent walking through the city, or locked away in his apartment, either studying the passerby from the window, or online while multiple TVs played movies and television shows in the background. He had money, so there was no need for him to work and he was thankful for that. Tom’s life was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting as it was, he couldn’t imagine throwing a job and constant social interaction into the already heavy mix.

Tom’s life had been pretty much this since he had hit sixteen. He didn’t know why that was the age it decided to strike, he only knew that one morning he was fine and the next, it all started. Tom needed constant mental stimulation, he couldn’t be distracted, he couldn’t let himself slip, if he did, bad things would happen. Which in and of itself wouldn’t be so terrible if the bad things only happened to Tom and not to other people. Obviously Tom didn’t tell anyone of this, no one would believe him, they would think he was crazy and that he needed to be locked up and if he was locked up there would be nothing to distract him. He had tried various medications to see if that helped, if it would numb or distract his mind enough so that bad things wouldn’t happen, but none of them worked and each experiment ended in disaster. Minor disasters sure, like broken pipes and flooded rooms, but disaster none the less. He lived with the knowledge and fear of what would happen should he slip. He had seen the effects both first hand and from afar. No one else could say they accidentally killed their parents when they were seventeen after all.

His mother and father insisted that he come to some fancy dinner with them, he had politely refused but there was no way to get out of it. So Tom agreed to go, deciding that he would be very, very careful. The dinner had gone well, if a little oddly. Tom’s dinner partner found him to be strange and slightly stilted in conversation. Tom didn’t want to explain that he was distracted due to keeping track of how many bites she and several other diners had taken along with keeping track of how much he was chewing his own food. He had pulled the whole thing off rather well, until dessert that was.

Dessert came and with it a selection of drinks. Tom had refused but his dining partner had insisted and with a devilish smile, had procured two glasses of whiskey. Eyes sparkling, she took a sip and urged him to do the same. Of course, Tom was raised to be polite, so he raised the glass to his lips and pretended. It was then that she ever so subtly nudged him, his mouth opened in surprise and flooded with whiskey, with his only options being spit it out and make a scene or swallow, he swallowed. She had giggled slightly and took a large gulp from her glass. No one else at the table had noticed, they were all too engaged in their own conversations, desserts and drinks. The alcohol acted quickly. He felt as it burned through his stomach, relaxing his arms and muscles, making him feel slightly light and floaty. His mind began to relax and his dining partner was a bit more alluring than earlier on. He had liked her, but now he allowed himself to fully appreciate her. Her smooth skin, her rosy cheeks, her soft, red lips, the way her dress hugged the curves of her body and her breasts. And so Tom found himself distracted by her, caught in conversation that was flowing well and quite pleasant for all involved. One by one things slipped from his mind. Had the man beside him taken five bites of the mousse or four? Had the woman taken six bites or three? Had he chewed that last mouthful eight times or six? And as each one slipped away, he found himself more and more focused on his dining partner.

The dinner ended pleasantly for Tom and as people were slowly leaving, the girl was called by her parents, she nodded, smiled, turned and in one swift motion kissed Tom on the lips. His eyes widened, then closed, relaxing into it, allowing his lips to press against hers and feel the gentle teasing of her tongue. And then she was gone, pulling away with that devilish grin and passing him a small slip of paper with a phone number and a name. His own parents called him soon after.

In the car Tom allowed his thoughts to drift, thinking of nothing and then of that kiss, the way she felt against him, almost melted into him. The way she tasted, of strawberry mousse and a faint twinge of whiskey. It was then that it happened. A sudden cry of surprise, the swift jerk of a steering wheel. Tom didn’t remember what happened next, and that was a mercy. He had come to several hours later in the hospital, sitting on a chair and talking to a nurse. Tom didn’t remember what he was saying, he didn’t know why he was in the hospital, the last thing he could remember was that kiss. Bits and pieces began to come back to him. His parents were dead. He was alive with only a split lip. He knew that it was a reminder, a sign of what had cost him the lives of his parents. He should have been counting, he should have been keeping track, but he allowed his thoughts to drift and wander and that was the result.

Keeping himself distracted was the only way to keep the power at bay. He could feel it sometimes, a vast ocean inside himself, crashing against the barriers he had erected. Testing and pushing at his defences. If he allowed it out bad things happened and god forbid he ever let it have free reign. He had tried before, letting out bits here and there, trying to alleviate the pressure, hoping he could control it, mould it to his own wants and desires. Tom had learned quickly that it would not work. The power was his, but not his to control. It lashed out at others, people he knew and loved, people in far away lands and people who were not so far away at all. The only way was to contain it, to block it off forever and keep himself distracted. So that was what he did.



About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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