The Last Man Standing By Don Bernal

In the tiny corner of his world, he sat knees up to his chin, waiting for the ringing in his house to end.  He shivered when the three rings echoed around the rooms again.  His eyes were wide and fearful.

The doorbell sounded again.

Finally, he forced a breathful of air in, and made his way to stand up.  His pants, creased from the cowering and crouching, looked like the trunks of old trees.  He smoothed them out a little, when another pass of ringing startled him.

"Damn it, " he quietly cursed, "I should have replaced that thing with a knocker."

He looked around from side to side, seeing his room empty and quiet, and he approached his door with the cautiousness of a hunter stalking his prey.  Or a hunter cautiously avoiding his prey.

The hallway was dim, narrow and long.  Tiny picture frames hung high on the walls, all uneven and given to the impression that the person who hung them was very nervous doing so.  The hallway was also empty.

He reached the end, and stood there.  When it was apparent that the door wasn't going to open itself with him standing right there, he sighed, and trudged his way to the front door.  Before passing the kitchen opening though, he leaned into the wall, and carefully forced an eye into the room.  It was empty too, save for a plate on the table that was not yet empty, something that looked like stew but not quite convincing enough of it.

He continued to the door, but nearly fell over on his toes when he forgot about the living room.  He cursed silently again, first at himself, then at the living room for sneaking up on him.  He always had a thing against that particular room, although he never really agreed on what that thing was.  One day it was about how gaudy and over-confident it looked, the next, how the fireplace seemed to mock him with its wide mouth and fire logs for teeth.  He actually thought that his fireplace was laughing at him, at least every time he looked at it, and probably every time he wasn't.  Then again, he thought a lot of his furniture didn't respect him at all.

The living room was clear, and the fireplace was still caught in an eternal laugh, one of those soundless ones, that was purely malicious and deliberate, the ones that hurt the most.

He stood before the green front door, almost looking like he was waiting for it to say you're excused, you don't have to answer the door anymore, it was just a test.  But the door said nothing to him, and if it did, it was drowned out with yet another round of bells ringing through the hallways and rooms of his home, through his bones and inner organs, in his mind and brain, still ringing.

"A real quiet knocker, with a pad beneath it.  Way up high on the door, " he whispered, just as his hand reached for the knob, and let the light outside scream its way inside his hiding home.

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“What’s wrong?  Why did you make me wait so long?  I was waiting forever, I thought,”  a loud voice said through the door.  Tracing the voice back to the owner, and you saw a large yellow rain cap.  That’s probably enough to scare you and make you close the door, but if you knew what was beneath the cap, like he did, well….you would still have closed the door.  If you could.  If she let you.

“Sorry, I was just waking up and ….,” he muttered, wishing he was just waking up.

“Fine, fine, well, let me in, it’s cold out here. “ She walked right through him, which she did often, and stood dripping in the bare hallway.  Her umbrella left a long trail of tears, sobbing all over the wooden floor and puddling up the once-dry hallway.

“Can I take that from you, “ he asked, hastily closing the door behind him, keeping the foul weather outside.

“No, no, I’ll take care of it.  I won’t put the strain on you.”  Remarkably, she still stood in the hallway, dripping, apparently deciding that she was going to take care of it in her own way.  Which is how she approached everything.  He shrugged at the thought, and wrapped his cold arms around himself.

“Won’t you sit down in the living room, please?”  He pleaded a bit more than he wanted too, but his floors could take no more abuse.  His pride was pretty well worn as well, so he just needed her to stop what she was doing all together to calm down.

“Fine, fine, I was just admiring your….decor.”  She gave a last look around, looked disappointed, and went through the threshold to the living room.  He went meekly after her, the puddles seeping through his furry slippers.  He cursed silently to himself, and loudly to the puddle.

She turned around and asked him what he said.  He said nothing, then he said he said something about the weather.  She said that she agreed with him, and both of them sort of stood there, just standing and doing nothing, like they were waiting for someone to finish typing before they continued.

Finally, they finished walking into the living room.

“You know why I like your living room, Harold: it’s the prettiest room in the whole house.  The colors are bright and loud, the curtains give it some life, and the furniture adds some badly needed style to the place.  Why, even that fireplace adds to the cheeriness in here.  Makes me kind of smile every time I look at it.”

Harold sort of nodded along with her, while vigorously denying her remark in his mind.  He sat down on a rather plain flesh-colored chair, one of the least antagonizing pieces of furniture in the room.  She removed her drenched raincoat and yellow hat, which she placed on a rug in front of the fireplace.  She smoothed her shirt and skirt, and then sat down on the sofa, almost looking child-like sitting on the oversized cushions and pillows.  Of course, he would never say that to her.  He quickly tried to forget that thought.

“So, what brings you to my humble home?”, he asked somewhat sheepishly and cutely.
She looked at him, straight-faced, and said, “To help you, of course.”
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“Yes.  You.  Harold Linderberg.  The most frightened man in America.”  She levelled her gaze at him, as thought to make sure he didn’t start leaning over to one side.  Harold was apt to do that when he was startled.  She was sure that he was leaning much of the time.

“I…You don’t mean to say…How dare…Okay.  What are you going to do?”  Harold lowered his shoulders even further, his body sank a little more into the plain-looking chair.  He gazed at her purple boots, slick with the rain from outside.

“Good.  Now, now, don’t look so down.  At least not that far down.  I’m up here, dear.”
Harold managed to roll his eyes slightly higher, now resting at his guest’s red pleated skirt.  He figured this was the best he could do, lest he damaged his eyes any further with all this extra work.

“Well, that’s…better.  We’ll have to work on that.  We’ll have to work on a lot of things.” She scanned around the room as she spoke to Harold, and seemed to begin to understand the gravity of the situation.  She shook her head with the negative thoughts.  “There’s a poor man’s soul at stake here,” she thought.  Even though, she couldn’t help but imagine at the struggle that faced her here.

“We might as well start now, “ she continued.  “Now you know how communication is one of the most important foundations we have for lessening fear.  Being able to say what we feel and need uplifts our whole personality.  Maybe it might nudge yours up a tad or too.”

Harold twiddled his thumbs, until he felt her looking at him, which he then separated his hands and placed them to his sides, and he sat patiently, waiting for her to continue.

“Now, let’s try some simple communication.  Right now.  Okay, Harold, tell me a few things.  First of all, what is my name?”  She leaned forward, pushing her deliberate words towards Harold, emphasizing the question with a motherly urge.

“Oh,umm…okay.  Your name is…Sarah.”  Harold stared at her face, waiting for an expression to tell his whether he was right or wrong.

“Okay.  Tell me my full name, Harold.  And speak up.  I want to hear all the words this time.  Continue.”

“Sara……is…Sarah….Fergusen.”  Harold stayed completely rigid, like a student unwilling and unable to not please his teacher.

“Good, Harold.  Now, tell me your name.  Remember, every word, Harold.”

He seemed to like this exercise, grossly insulting for a grown up to do, granted, but it was easy.  That was enough for him.

“My name is Harold…Linderberg.”  He even added a tiny smile at the end.  Actually, it looked more like a sudden twitch at the corner of his mouth, but to Harold, it was like a clown’s grin was painted on his face.
“Good, Harold.  Splendid.  That’s a start.  Now, let’s try something else.  Let’s see….” Sarah glanced about the room, then at Harold, then to a curtain on the window, but before she made it that far, she returned her gaze back at Harold.  “ I know,” she said.  “To feel good and confident, you must look good.  Let’s try that.  Take off your clothes Harold…and.”

Sarah didn’t get to finish her sentence because of a loud thud that came from the person she was talking to.  She also didn’t get to finish because that same person was unconscious, on the floor in the living room that was laughing at him all the time, even now while he was on the floor.

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“Harold.  Harold.  Come on now, you shouldn’t be so sheepish about it.  There’s nothing to be afraid off.”  She hoped there would be nothing to be afraid off.  “Well, at least get up off the floor.  Harold.  Harold, are you listening to me.”

Harold was listening to her, but not in any way that was going to improve the situation.  He was barely hanging on, he thought.  ‘The blood’s left my brain.  I’m going in a coma.  I can’t believe it.  Where did it go?  Oh, where did that blood go?  My feet, I bet.  My feet.  I’m going to be a vegetable because my feet wanted to be all bloody and feely.  Owwww….

He was faint, and in desperate staights.  This is it, I’ve finally gone.  I knew it.  I knew it.  Then, gently, he felt cold tenacles touch the back of his head.  Then, slowly and almost ritualistically, his head rose.  Then a prodding over his eyeball.  He scrunched up his eyebrows.  ‘This is a peculiar sensation.  I thought there would be a light or something…’

Suddenly, Harold saw a light.

He saw a lot of it.  It was pretty painful, enough to make him not want to see the light, but he couldn’t help it.  His eyes wouldn’t close.  ‘Must be brave…..Okay, at least I need to pretend.’  This was it.  The light was focusing.  He was making out …. a face.  The One.  It looked….so much …. like…

“Come on Harold.  Get yourself together.  Don’t be modest in front of me.  At least get up.  I know you can see me.  I won’t let go of your eyelid till you get up, Harold.”

He sat, automatically, and feebly cursed his automatic sense of taking orders.  His head pounded, like someone saw it by some park and took out a shotgun and blasted it to the ground.  And then he ran up to it and stomped on it.  A hundred times.  Then got a cover.  From a sewer manhole.  And threw it on top of his head.  Till it leaked some pasty glue.  Harold gently put a hand to his head, as though to comfort it from the trauma.  The trauma went back to the sofa, and sat down, looking very angrily at Harold.

“Well, that’s going to have to wait then.  Off the floor Harold.  This is certainly going to take some work, and being on the floor isn’t going to help your self esteem any.  Come now, back to your chair.”

“My self esteem is fine, thank you very much.  Ms. Ferguson.”  Harold looked up gingerly at her, hoping her stares weren’t too penetrating.  He was feeling weak just then, and a look from her might have killed him.  Just about anything from her might have killed him.

“Now, Harold, you know the truth.  If your self esteem was fine, we wouldn’t be going through all this, now would we?  I could be in some bar in Florida having a drink with an umbrella or some sort of decoration on it and… In any case, your mother didn’t send me personally here if she didn’t worry about you so much….”

Her thought was incomplete again, as another sound from the person she was speaking to interrupted her.  This time, it was a slow, grating wail.  Which sounded much like a person getting punched in the stomach in slow motion.  That pain-filled sound that you wished just ended because of the sheer whininess it contained.

The sound ended when the person on the sofa shhhhhhhh’d  the person on the floor.  Now no sounds came from anywhere.  The living room was silent.  The rain rumbled lowly outside the windows.  All the echoes died out in the hallways.  Finally another sound entered the room.  It was a word this time, which was good because describing sounds that can’t be spelled is hard enough as it is, without having to think up of things for people to do when they’re not talking too.

Sarah said, “Harold.  You must get yourself together.  If not for your mother’s sake, then for your own.  After all, you must be at least as worried as she is.  Now let me help you, and you can get through this a better, more confident person.  Isn’t that what you want.  Its certainly what your mother wants.  And then we can finally get you married off, and live happily ever after.”

Harold fell down on the floor again, but this time it was his own choosing.  This time, he just wanted close his eyes and forget this all ever happened.  The whole bit.  He wanted this over five pages ago, whatever that meaned.

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------------------------> I haven't as yet finished this story, with all due apologies to anyone reading, but everytime I'm faced with finding out what happens to Harold and his friend, I'm also faced with a longing for a sandwitch, which ultimately means that I make a sandwitch while my screen saver blanks my screen.  But if  I bug myself enough, perhaps this will all turn out for the best.  But at least you can read the last bit I wrote for this story, before I found myself staring into my toaster, waiting for the lever to rise.<-------------------------------

Harold was breathing normally, which was surprising because he found that sort of thing to be difficult.  But somehow, after all that he had been through today, after these past 31 years, he was breathing normally.  Breathing normally while still recovering from yet another life altering experience, one while led him to be breathing so abnormally just a minute ago.


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