Happy Birthday. Short Story.

Frank coughed, then cleared his throat. It had been at him all day, this persistent ticklish ache. Of course that was just what he needed right now, to be coming down with some kind of monster throat infection, it was only the first day and already it felt like it was building up to be a doozy. Despite the constant ache there wasn’t much phlegm which was a blessing. He took a sip of water then grimaced as it went down. He should have called off work today, but of course being his birthday he had convinced himself they’d think he was lying. After all he didn’t look particularly sick, his voice was raspy and quiet, but the fear was still there. He shook his head, it was a stupid thing to have been worried about, he could be home right now wrapped in a blanket and sipping something hot and soothing while watching some shitty TV. But no, instead he was stuck in his cubicle in his dead end job while he was sick on his birthday. He shook his head, it seemed to be a perfect way to sum up his entire life to this point. Maybe he should have gone through with it last night. What was the point of fighting if this was all there was? He had been ready to go but he had chickened out at the last minute, like some kind of loser. He thought of his parents again, they wouldn’t take it well, they’d blame themselves and he couldn’t put them through that. Never mind the few friends that stayed in contact with him. He knew he was dragging everyone else down so he tried not to bother them too much when he was down. They’d blame themselves too. Well, maybe one or two would. The rest would just be happy they didn’t have to deal with him anymore. They didn’t say anything, and they never would, but he could still tell.

At his break he grabbed a cup of hot chocolate, hoping it would do something to sooth his throat. His stomach was feeling off too and he wasn’t sure he would be able to handle any proper food. Instead he just sipped his drink and snacked on some crackers. Shortly after he finished lunch he went back to his cubicle and just sat. There was work to be done, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He browsed the internet for a while, mostly out of boredom. As he expected no one noticed he was slacking. No one ever noticed him after all.

Just before quitting time the heavens opened and rain started to fall, lashing against the window in the harsh winds. Great. He hadn’t brought his umbrella with him. He groaned, sunny for the day my ass. After grabbing his things he stood inside the office door, looking out at the heavy rain, trying to decide what to do. He could walk home in about thirty minutes, or he could wait for the bus in the cold and rain. Sure there was a bus shelter, but the bus service itself was spotty at best and with the heavy winds he’d get soaked either way. He made his decision then stepped into the rain as the cold hit him he immediately he turned and walked towards the bus stop. If he walked home in this he’d be soaked through well before he got home and of course with the way things were going it’d probably turn what ever he had into full blown pneumonia.

He turned the corner and saw the bus at his stop, “shit!” Frank started running towards the bus, when he was about thirty feet away the door closed and it pulled out from the curb. “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.” There wouldn’t be another bus for at least another forty minutes, and that was if he was lucky. He sighed, he was already soaked now, he might as well just walk home.

The walk was worse than he imagined, he started shivering after a few minutes and hadn’t been able to stop. Even now in the lobby of his building his teeth were chattering heavily, shoes squelching with every step as water dripped from him. He got to the lifts and saw the ever welcome “Out of order” sign. Of course. He should have known. He turned and went towards the stairwell.

Finally at his door he put his key in the lock and turned it, the door swung open, “Surprise!” Frank jumped, dropping his keys. And there everyone was, he smiled, internally groaning. He just wanted to have a hot shower and go to bed. He debated kicking everyone out for a moment, then a party hat was being put on his head and a drink was thrust into his hands. Frank downed the drink, it burned as it went down, filling his belly with fire. He moved passed Julie, who had handed him the drink, and started thanking everyone.

Finally he had escaped, it had only taken five minutes but in his cold clothes it felt like forever. Outside the bathroom door he could hear the music and people chatting. He’d have to go back out there when he was done. He turned on the shower and stripped out of his clothes. The water felt as thought it was burning his cold skin, after a minute he could feel the warmth seeping into his bones.

After his shower he felt better, more human. He dried and dressed quickly, even his throat was feeling a little bit better. Outside he mingled with everyone, almost surprised to find he was having a good time. Everyone was joking and laughing, really enjoying themselves. At some point someone had ordered pizza, Frank grabbed a few slices and silenced his grumbling stomach. He was surprised at how much better he was feeling.

“Present time!” Frank plastered a smile onto his face, he always hated opening presents in front of people. Someone grabbed his shoulders and manoeuvred him to the couch. Julie came forward carrying a big box, Frank felt his throat ache suddenly. “This is from all of us.”
“Thank you, I don’t know what to say.”
“Well open it first!”
Frank looked at the big green box, wrapped beautifully and topped with a large red bow. His heart sped up a little, he had no idea what could be inside but already his mind was throwing out options. He reached forward and started to tear at the paper. He opened the lid of the box and reached inside. It was deeper than he expected and there seemed to be nothing, all the way until his hand reached the bottom. He felt something soft, he grasped it and pulled it out. It was a noose. “We made it ourselves!”
“What?”
“Don’t you just love it!?”
“We knew it would be the perfect gift.”
“We know you already have one but we thought this one would be so much nicer. Isn’t that right guys?”
The crowd gave a cheer, in the corner he could see his parents holding each other, they were crying. When did they arrive?
“Well go on, try it out!”
“What?”
Hands grabbed his arms and started dragging him towards his bedroom, he started struggling, but they were too strong. “Stop! What are you doing?”
They ignored him, their laughing and jeering growing louder. His bedroom door loomed before him. “No, I don’t want to go in there! No!”
The door banged open and the hands pushed him forward, Frank stumbled then fell to his knees. He looked up and gasped. There he was, hanging by his neck, eyes open and staring. His throat cramped painfully, it felt like it had closed entirely, he couldn’t breathe. The laughter behind him turned to wails and sobs. He turned to look at his friend, his family. The crowd had swelled, too many people to fit in his small apartment, let alone for him to be able to see them all, but he could. Each and every face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
“It’s done.”
Someone snatched the noose from his hands, suddenly it was thrown around his neck. He grabbed at it, trying to pull it loose, bit it just became tighter. Someone was lifting him, he gasped and choked as his legs left the ground. His throat felt as though it was on fire.

Frank woke suddenly as his alarm blared, he coughed then turned it off. He rubbed at his throat, of course he was getting sick, and on his birthday to boot. He looked at the phone, should he call in? No. They’d think he was lying to get the day off, he’d just have to deal with it. He got out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, already he could tell it was going to be an awful day.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 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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