It’s only shades of madness

He’s a small man. In a business suit. Carrying a black briefcase with silver catches that shine a little brighter than his shoes. When the sky turns dark and we’re suddenly back Before, he carries a bomb. But only she sees it, and she will never know if it is truth.

He sits in the opposite seat in the bus. She watches him. He checks his watch. She pulls out her notebook. He shifts in his seat uncomfortably. She scrutinises his briefcase. Her pen slurs across the page and paints a picture of words.

Outside the rain spits pathetically on the window. The bus stops to pick up a group of tourists who give the driver the wrong change. Money bounces across the floor and spins underfoot. The pen records this.

The man curses inwardly – he is late. The briefcase bomb disappears and becomes money. He’s collected a ransom. She writes it down. He peers over at her notebook, and she hides it from him, stilling her scribbles for a moment until he looks away. The scratching of the pen alerts him to her activity again.

She observes him closely. The pen says he has a gold watch. His is silver. His arms are hairy and he is married, with a gold ring. He likes to eat steak.

He surely is a polite person, his thoughts never spoken aloud, the insults only in his expression. And not always – there may be more to gain from pretense. He skulks under the surface of the social pool and scans for opportunities.

He looks across at the girl now, undisguised [imbragnence] on his face. He says nothing: she reads “What on earth are you doing?”

“I am a writer,” says her brain, and she wonders if the man can read anything from her eyes. He can’t: he is obviously blind. They stare at each other for a minute, until he looks away, uncomfortable again. She keeps writing. She feels guilty. He doesn’t.

When he gets off the bus, she transports him into the middle of the forest to see what would happen to his suit. “Quicksand” says her pen, and the notebook readily absorbs the juicy word. The story shivers over her skin.

The bus draws away and she looks back. A window in the building pushed slightly open, a paper fluttering out. The hand with the watch (silver) draws away from the window and up in a frustrated gesture. In her mind she hears yelling. Somewhere in her mind there is a Boss. He may or may not be the same Boss as now occupies the office upstairs, throwing important documents out of the window in an argument with an employee who is late.

The Boss is yelling in the man’s head as he sinks into the quicksand.

I am mad, thinks the Writer. Surely I am mad. She blinks and closes the notebook. The real world is waiting for her now. The bus passes an open man hole. A tree is growing out of a crack in the pavement. She wonders if there is a story in that. She now checks her watch and realises that she, too, is late. She sighs.

In her mind she is at the office. Grey. Dismal. The Boss waits for her there like a bird of prey. In the real world, she is only an office girl, answering phone calls, sorting out the messy papers that appear from under the desk, getting coffee for the Boss, writing down appointments. But here, for a short while, she can just imagine.

“This is my life story. This is the life story of everyone we’ve ever known, everything we’ve been and everything we are. Things I love and things I hate and things I’ve always wanted. I give it all to my characters and they live and die in the worlds I create for them. Sometimes their worlds are destroyed. Quite a few of them die. All of it is only real inside my head. Someday it may live in your head, too. Really, if you think about it, it is truly madness – but isn’t that what life is?”

“Yes. Our world is crazy. Crazier, on occasion, than some of my worlds. What is that thing they say: fact is stranger than fiction? (I need a new way to say that.)”

She answers her own question, and writes it down. She misses her bus stop. She wonders if she should care. In the end she does, leaping off the bus and tearing down the street in the rain, watching herself running in her head, black, wet hair flying across her face, in a horrible uniform and high heels, trying not to slip in the puddles. But she’s smiling, because a particular string of words, pretty and mysterious like a black mist, has found her.

She’ll write it down as soon as she has time, not wanting to risk forgetting it, though she doesn’t think she will. Forget it, that is. She repeats it in her head and tries not to imagine her Boss’s face when he finally sees her arrive.

“Shades of madness. Shades of madness. Shades of madness. It’s only shades of madness. Shades of… shades of… blue is a shade of madness…. no, grey is a shade of madness. Grey. Grey is a shade of madness.”

She’s smiling as the story ends.


Haha, spontaneous story written as a blog post… don’t have too much else to say. Thank you for reading, I’d love comments if you have the time. 🙂

– Tarina

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4 Responses to It’s only shades of madness

  1. Hudson says:

    For a spontaneously written blog post, that was really good. With a little fine tuning I can see that becoming a fantastic short story. Im an editor for a newspaper so if you want any advice/critique let me know.

  2. diannegray says:

    What a great short story! 😉

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