1st Place: "Pooling" by Alexis B.




“I don’t blame myself. I know you were probably going to ask. Everyone always says that they blame themselves.” He shifted in the chair. “I know that it wasn’t my fault.” There was a pause. He looked at her, then his hands.

“Actually I was going to ask if you would like some water.” The therapist gestured to a pitcher, condensation forming and dripping down onto a tray, creating a little puddle around the glass.

The man cleared his throat and nodded. “Yes. Thank you.”

“So, why are you here?”

“So I can go back to work, frankly.”

“Yes, I understand you are here for trauma counseling.”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what happened, just to get started.”

In a dark corner of the room, a faucet was dripping.

“Okay, uhm. . . He was always messing around when he shouldn’t’ve, you know? Joking and stuff. He wanted to make work lighthearted, I guess, which was nice, but sometimes you gotta be serious, right?” He cleared his throat.

“Go on.” She gave a slight smile that didn’t reach her eyes.

“Uhm.” His hands shook slightly, so he bundled them into fists. He closed his eyes and went on. “So, we were working on a site and it was pouring rain. We were almost flooded. Ground was soaked, and turned into a muddy river. It was the most rain I’ve ever been in. Not sure why we were working then. It was bad; I had to keep wiping my face so I could see; water kept getting in my eyes. Well, anyway, if you don’t watch where you’re going in constructions, if you misstep, nothing good happens. . . I- I remember the moment so clearly when he sank. It was like the ground swallowed him.” He looked off, through the windows. It seemed later than it should have been. ”His face was frozen, not in shock, just regular, expressionless. He didn’t have time to register what was happening. Just a split second and he was gone. Disappeared. Keeps replaying in my head, obviously. Everyone says that. It’s just– it’s like he was never there.” There was a heavy, uncomfortable silence. He felt like he should keep talking. “So, yeah, they said I should see someone before I go back to work. For trauma.” Shadows spilled across the room.

Drip.

Drip like a rap at the door when you’re home alone.

He was about to continue. “So, I feel. . .”

“Sorry to interrupt, but I’m a little lost.” She looked down at her notes. They were blank. “Who are we discussing?”

“…What?”

“Just now. Who were you talking about?”

“I… My coworker.”

“Who?”

“… “ He froze, furrowed his brow for a second, then looked to the therapist. “I’m sorry. My mind’s been drifting lately.” He smiled slightly, a tired smile. The cup of water sat full and forgotten on the table beside him.

“That’s okay.” Her tone was reassuring but rehearsed. She scribbled something in her folder of papers. “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your childhood?”

“Uhm. . . My parents and I didn’t talk very much. But sometimes we’d watch a show or movie, and Dad and I would try to say the funniest thing we could think of to make Mom laugh. I would usually win.”

Drip.

Drip. A storm while you’re driving. You’re blind. Who knows what’s around you? What’s coming to get you?

“We lived in a regular sorta house, with a cat who lived outside. He would always disappear for a long time before sauntering back like he owned the place, yowling for food.” He laughed briefly. “I went to school like everyone else for a while. Got a job.” There was a long silence as his eyes drifted like he was lost in a daydream. His features seemed to droop.

The therapist might have said something. Neither heard. The only sound was the faucet. She made a mumble, almost a hum, trying to form an intelligible noise. She kept going like there was a response, nodding, keeping notes. Her hands made motions of writing in the air, but she had no pen or paper, just muscle memory. Then, finally there were words.

“Why don’t we discuss your childhood?” Everything was still. Words were slow.

“It was quiet.”

There was nothing else to say.

The drip,

drip,

drip should have added an urgency to each word, but muscles were relaxed. And words were slow.

“I’m so lost.” He was slumped on the floor. There was no chair for him to sit. It had disappeared with the thoughts and the notes and nearly all that was left of him. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

He could barely speak now.

Drip, drip. It keeps going, never ceasing, never relieving. You don’t know what you wait for. You wait for nothing.

Drip, drip. It pacifies you, your ignorance, and the nothing makes you slack-jawed. It is out of your hands and into oblivion’s. And it craves erasure.

Drip.

“I can’t remember how long I’ve been in this room or how I got here.”

Drip.

“I don’t know who you are.” His eyes were glazed over, like he was nearly asleep. The therapist simply kept scribbling, occasionally looking up at him but not seeing, muttering “mmhmm, go on” in sync to the drip of the faucet.

He went on, monotone but strangely melodic. “I’m . . . slipping away.”

“Go on.”

There were tears on his emotionless face; his throat had forgotten to tighten, his lip to quiver. Then the words spilled out of his mouth. “I’ve been feeling . . . empty.” He gargled and spit. “Is that normal, doctor?” The therapist stared through him as he slowly melted into the chair. She sat there, the words slowly reaching her ears.

“Yes… That’s completely normal,” she whispered.

He pooled onto the floor. “So…empty. . .”


No one was there.


The therapist looked at the wall. A little part of her wondered what she had been doing moments before. But she quickly lost that feeling and went on with her day.

She couldn’t find her name plate. It always used to live on her desk.

Her secretary didn’t respond when she spoke. Everything she tried to say trailed off. Every word morphed into strange sounds.

She’d felt strange all day, and the air was too thick. It was hard to move. She wandered through hallways that all looked the same. She couldn’t tell if she was breathing.

She found herself back in the office where she sat at the desk and wondered how long she had been there and what she was supposed to be doing. What did she used to do here? Where did it go? She thought faintly. She didn’t know what was lost.

She noticed the faucet had stopped dripping. She’d grown used to the persistent noise like an etching in her brain. Pick, picking apart her pieces. Wrong, wrong.

In its absence she felt the pressure of silence surrounding her, drowning her. It was silence that shouldn’t have existed. It was evil. It was silence that had been stalking and getting closer, and now it was all around. But the silence wasn’t the killer.

In her mind’s eye something was receding before a tsunami, before a great wave come to take everything, before what’s been built is leveled, before there’s nothing and no one remembers what was once there.


The next day the cleaner found an empty room and a wet spot on the carpet. Then the cleaner wondered why he’d gone in there at all since no one used that office.