Shadows Linger (An Original Story)

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This is a story I wrote for a Writer’s Craft class in 2014. I’ve made a few small edits, but otherwise this story is as it was after workshopping. I say this mostly to explain a reference made in the story, as it was timely when I wrote it.

Trigger Warnings:

Violence, drug mention, abuse mention, and blood

The music blared so loud, its reverberations could be felt throughout the arena. A giant chorus of fans shouted back lyrics, jostling each other to get a better view of the band. Unbecoming Retribution was performing their seminal hit, “Blood Promise,” the lead singer hamming it up and belting out the refrain. Even enthralled by the spectacle, Will Fabray was aware of the floor vibrating beneath him. The very essence of the song seemed to rise up out of the ground and into him. His heart pounded along to the beat.

“This is the greatest fucking night of my life!” shouted Will’s friend Bradley Stevens, just barely audible through the din of music and screams. Will gave a brief nod in agreement, not daring to take his eyes off the band. He refused to miss a single second of this magnificence. As the song ended, Bradley turned to him again.

“Flash Madden just fucking killed it up there!” he shouted. “He’s a fucking god! Best night of my life!” At this, Will finally turned to Bradley.

“You already said that,” he shouted back.

“I know, but it’s just so fucking awesome!” he cried. “I mean, come on, dude. Like this isn’t the best night of your life, too.” Will smiled.

“It is, but we’re missing everything Flash is saying,” Will pointed out. “Do you really wanna talk over your god?”

“Oh shit!” shouted Bradley, turning immediately back toward the stage. In spite of himself, Will laughed.

“All right, everybody!” Flash called into the microphone. “We’re gonna do something special and cover a song by one of our favorite bands. You ready?” The crowd screamed in excitement. “All right, here’s ‘Mr. Brightside’!” Even Will couldn’t hold back a shout this time. As the opening chords began, he high-fived Bradley and leaped with reckless abandon. Flailing about carelessly, the rest of the world seemed to fade to the background. There was just Will, the band, and the song. He pumped his fist enthusiastically, hitting nothing until his wayward hand found a target.

“Oh, sorry!” he said, turning to the victim of his flying fist. A large, burly man glared back at him.

“What the fuck is your problem?!” the man demanded. His eyes were alight with rage and something that made them appear slightly more sinister.

“Nothing,” replied Will, trying to hide the wave of fear that fell over him. “I didn’t mean- I didn’t- I’m sorry!” Will felt Bradley turn and stand firmly behind him, as if the sight of two scrawny teenage boys would make this guy think twice about causing trouble.

“Listen you little bitch, you don’t fucking touch me!” the man growled, apparently only further angered by Will’s attempts at apologizing. “You don’t look in my direction, you don’t be a little smart ass, and you don’t fuck with me!”

“I swear, I’m not trying to fuck with y-“ Will began, before he was struck with a fist-sized semi. Dazed, he was only vaguely aware of Bradley trying to shove the guy off of him and instead being flipped over the back of his seat. Before Will could react, another blow struck his face. His head pounded and he felt dizzy. He felt warm liquid dripping from his nose, tasting the blood as it reached his mouth.

“Please, stop,” he begged weakly, before another jab filled his mouth with blood. Black spots appeared in his vision. He was aware of a few other people trying to pull the man off Will, but that fist kept coming. Shouts came from behind him, and he was thrown violently to the ground. His head slammed the chair on the way down, finally crashing onto the concrete. The last thing Will saw was three men in security jackets grabbing his attacker before his world faded to black.

Light pierced Will’s eyelids, giving the pink skin a faint reddish glow. Groggily, Will urged himself to wake up. He began thinking about breakfast, his nose searching for the smell of his mother’s pancakes. As disappointment sank in from lack of it, the events of the concert came crashing back: the accidental brush, the enraged man, the vicious beating that followed. Will braced himself for the pain he was sure would come, finally awake enough for awareness to sink in. But it didn’t come.

Confused, Will sat up. Had it all been a dream? He looked over for his phone to check the date to be sure, but his phone was gone. He was in an unfamiliar place. In fact, he didn’t appear to have anything except the clothes on his back. Fear began to set in. Had that psycho man kidnapped him? Was he right now preparing more torture for Will to endure?

But then Will recalled security apprehending the guy before he passed out. So where was he? He looked around warily, observing a strange world of white. The ground and sky were the exact same shade, and yet he could somehow tell exactly where one ended and the other began. There were benches spread randomly across the span of the place, also white. And then Will saw a sight that filled him with both hope and apprehension: other people were scattered around this strange white world, some apparently chatting and others remaining to themselves.

What the hell is this place? Will wondered.

“It’s the void,” said a voice to his right. He turned and saw a girl with layered blond hair. Bangs fell into her eyes somewhat, but he could still see enough of them to tell that they were green. She wore a flat, resigned expression as she regarded him.

“What?” Will asked, confused.

“The void,” replied the girl. “Limbo, the great abyss, the realm between life and death. I’ve been here long enough to know what you were gonna ask.”

“I… I don’t understand,” said Will, suddenly feeling dazed again. The girl sighed.

“You’re in a coma,” she said impatiently. “Just like the rest of us.” She gestured lazily to the other people inhabiting this strange place, this void. Will sat stunned, his mouth agape in surprise. “Wow, I didn’t know people actually did that in real life.” Self-consciously, Will clamped his mouth shut.

“Is this real life?” he asked, running his hand through his black hair. The girl just blinked. Feeling awkward, Will decided to introduce himself. “I’m Will. Will Fabray. What’s your name?” She regarded him for a moment before responding.

“Sydney Hale,” she said, apparently deciding he was worth the information. “Do you always ask this many questions?”

“Only when I wake up in the middle of nowhere with no idea how I got there,” Will quipped. The side of Sydney’s mouth turned up.

“How did you end up here?” she asked.

“Now who’s asking all the questions?” Will joked. Sydney gave a sarcastic laugh. Will sobered, preparing to tell his tale. “I was at a concert and there was this guy… I don’t know, I guess I bumped into him or something and he just went crazy. He beat the shit out of me. And then I passed out. And now I’m here.” Will shrugged, unsure what else to say.

The man who did this was on a lot of methamphetamines.

Will jumped. He looked around for the source of the strange male voice, but no one other than Sydney was paying him any mind. Will began to panic.

Great, now I’m in a coma and I’m going crazy, he thought. Sydney looked knowingly at him.

“Did you hear something?” she asked. Wordlessly, he nodded. “That’s coming from the real world, where your body is.”

“Wait, so you really can hear things when you’re in a coma?” Will asked.

“Yeah,” Sydney replied. She looked away, her face turning somber. “Sometimes I can hear my mom crying.”

“I—I’m sorry,” Will offered weakly. Then his thoughts went to his own mother. Was she crying? Was she watching his unconscious body, never letting her sight waver, just in case she miss even the tiniest twitch? A thick wave of guilt crashed over him. He was all his mother had, and he’d gone and put himself in harm’s way. He didn’t even know how bad his injuries were, but obviously they were pretty severe if he was in a coma. But what if they were so bad he never woke up? No, Will wouldn’t let that happen. A fierce determination took over him. He would wake up. He would return to his mother. He would be okay. He looked at Sydney urgently. “Okay, so how do I get out of here? How do I wake up?”

Sydney snorted. “If I knew that, do you think I’d still be here?” she asked incredulously. “Do you really think I’d willing endure six years of hearing my mom oscillate between begging me to wake up and telling me it would be okay if I let go?”

“You’ve been here six years?” Will asked quietly. Sydney let out a deep, resigned sigh.

“When I was fifteen, I had a pretty shitty boyfriend,” she confessed. “He was abusive. I mean, he never hit me or anything, but the things he said— he just wasn’t a good guy. Anyway, one day I finally got up the nerve to break up with him. He was driving me home from some crappy movie and I just thought, ‘Why not? I’ll tell him we’re through, he’ll take me home, and that’ll be the end of it.’ Except it wasn’t. He told me if I left him, he’d kill himself. He was crying and hysterical and I was terrified, but I still wouldn’t back down. The last thing he said to me was, ‘Then I’m taking you with me, bitch’ and he drove the car into a building. The next thing I knew, I was here.”

Will was stunned. He wanted to offer his sympathies, but he didn’t know what to say. Instead, he just blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“Wait, you’re twenty-one?” Will wanted to hit himself for his insensitivity. Unfortunately, he was pretty sure if he tried to hit himself, it wouldn’t have any effect. Not in the void. He was pretty sure he’d blown whatever was going on here between him and Sydney though.

“I tell you my psycho boyfriend crashed his car because I broke up with him and your takeaway is that I’m twenty-one?” she replied. Will expected righteous anger. Instead, she just laughed. “Yeah, I guess technically I am. In the real world anyway. But here I’m still the same fifteen-year-old girl I was when I went into a coma.”

“So you mean I could be stuck a scrawny sixteen-year-old forever?” Will joked. “Man, now I really gotta get out of here.” Sydney shook her head in amusement and Will mentally pat himself on the back for successfully lightening the mood. They might have been in comas, but they didn’t have to be miserable.

Will. Willie, please wake up.

Will went cold. “Mom?” he said weakly. Sydney looked at him with sad eyes— sad, but not pitiful.

“Wait till you hear that for six years,” said Sydney without emotion.

The passage of time was hard to measure in the void, but Will guessed it had been about a week. Sydney had been right about the torment it was to hear your mother cry over you. It was just as difficult to listen to Bradley try to talk to him like everything was okay. As if Will wasn’t in a coma, he was just resting. Even Flash Madden of Unbecoming Retribution had been kind enough to drop by, concerned for the fan that had gotten beaten into a bloody pulp at one of his shows. But Will couldn’t even enjoy that. Not while the people he loved in the waking world were suffering on his behalf.

“How have you endured this for six whole years?” Will asked Sydney. “I’ve barely even made it a week and I can’t take it anymore.”

“We don’t really have a choice,” Sydney replied, drawing invisible pictures on the ground with her finger.

“Have you ever tried?”

“Tried what?”

“To go back. To wake up.” Sydney remained silent for a moment.

“I think every person here has tried to go back through just the sheer force of will,” she told him. “It’s just not enough.”

“But some people do wake up,” Will said.

“Yes,” Sydney replied. “Some people do. But I don’t know how. They just do.”

“Have you ever seen anyone go back?” he asked. Sydney paused.

“Yes,” she said cautiously. “At least I assume that’s what happened. All I know is one day they’re here and one day they’re not. So it’s entirely possible that they wake up.”

“Or,” Will pressed, sensing there was more. Sydney looked at him.

“Or they die,” she said, her voice devoid of emotion. Her eyes, however, betrayed her fear. Will understood that. At least here and in the waking world, you knew what you were getting. As though to dispel the sudden heaviness, Sydney changed the subject. “But I mean, it’s not so bad here. Not when you have someone to share it with. Of course, you are pretty annoying…” Will swatted her shoulder playfully.

“We’re not done talking about this, you know,” he warned.

“I know.”

That psychotic douche is gonna go away for a long time.

Will felt a little envious of Bradley’s apparent optimism. Lately he had been alternating between assuring Will that his attacker would get what was coming to him and letting him know all the cool stuff he has to look forward to when he wakes up. Apparently Emma Frayer, Will’s long-time crush, had been asking after him. Flash Madden had gotten Unbecoming Retribution’s fanbase involved in a support campaign for him. Mrs. Henderson had excused him from all assignments as long as he was in a coma. But Will had trouble caring. What did any of that matter when he couldn’t even make himself wake up?

“I thought a strong spirit and the will to live were supposed to get you through anything,” he complained to Sydney.

“Alas, no,” replied Sydney, a touch of irony in her voice. “Those fantastical notions exist only in Hollywood and books. Certainly not in the void.”

“I hate the void.” Sydney gave him a wry look, as if to say that was obvious. Will turned considering. “The other day you said people who wake up just vanish. But that’s not true, is it?”

“No, but it might as well be,” she replied. “That’s how it seems to the rest of us after they’re gone.”

“So what really happens?”

“I don’t know, they sort of just start… fading,” she replied. Her eyes were glossed over and he could almost see her picturing every person she’s seen disappear from the void. “It’s hard to explain.” Will just nodded.

Oh, my William.

Will did everything in his power to ignore his mom’s sobbing voice.

“So tell me about Unbecoming Retribution,” said Sydney. “I, unfortunately, missed out on their rise to fame. I was a bit preoccupied with my coma.”

“Six years and that’s the best coma joke you can manage?” Will teased. Sydney stuck her tongue out at him. “They’re pretty awesome. Lyrically, they’re one of the best bands of today. Plus, Flash Madden is a legend in the making. The next Mick Jagger.”

“What’s your favorite song by them?”

“Easily ‘The Thousand Dollar Tan Line’. But I gotta give props to ‘Blood Promise,’ the song that really put them on the map.”

“Sing a few bars for me?” Sydney asked mischievously.

“Hell no,” Will replied. They laughed. “What about you? What kind of music do you like— or, what kind of music did you like?”

“The Jonas Brothers were pretty big before I went into my coma,” said Sydney, a slightly embarrassed smile on her face. Will laughed. “You have any idea what they’re up to these days?”

“Broken up,” replied Will.


“They broke up,” he said, amused by her apparent disbelief. “Surely you can’t be that surprised.”

“No, it’s just— I can hardly hear you,” she said, a strange look crossing her face.

“What do you mean?” But just as he finished his question, the world flashed in front of him. Darkness and light fought their way into his vision, giving the void a dreamlike quality. He tried to blink it away, but it wouldn’t stop. “Sydney, what’s happening?!” His own voice echoed in his head.

“You’re… fading.” Her voice came out like a whisper, but Will couldn’t be sure if she was really whispering or if his distorted perception made it seem that way.

“I’m waking up?” he asked. Then a horrifying thought crossed his mind. “Am I dying?”

“I don’t know!” replied Sydney, now clearly distressed. “How do you feel?”

“Like I’m trapped in a camera flash spinning rapidly in a malfunctioning washing machine,” Will replied. “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” replied Sydney. “It means goodbye.”

“But, where am I going?!” Will cried, a great whooshing sound in his ears. Sydney just gave him a helpless look. Distantly, he thought he heard his mother call out his name. Everything seemed so far away. Terrified green eyes watched him as he felt himself ripped from the void. And all Will could do was brace himself for whatever was next.

Thanks for reading my story! I don’t remember what inspired it, but I do remember ripping some receipt tape out of my register so I could write lines down during work. The title is a lyric from “Haunted” by Kelly Clarkson. To this day, this is the best story I’ve written. Please let me know what you think!


4 thoughts on “Shadows Linger (An Original Story)

  1. That was a really fun read! I love the concept and the cliffhanger ending. I almost wish it were longer so Will and Sydney could have more time to interact! But such is the challenge with short stories. Overall, good job!

    Liked by 1 person

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