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For the 3.00 AM challenge

By Caroline CravenPublished about a month ago 9 min read
Top Story - June 2024
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Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

She’s got no idea. She can huff and puff into her hot chocolate all she likes, but it’s not going to fix anything. It’s not going to fix me.

I crack my elbows onto the table, cradling my head in my hands and peek at the clock just behind her on the wall. Five more minutes and that’s it. I’m out of here. I don’t know how she can bear it.

The constant whirr of the coffee machine, the clattering of dishes, the shrieks of laughter that jackhammer through my skull and set my teeth on edge…

“… We could’ve met somewhere else,” she says scowling at me over the rim of her cup. “I only suggested this place because it’s closer for you. I thought I was doing the right thing.”

I slump in my seat, my fingernail picking at the splintered edge of the table. I’m not apologizing. I’m not.

Oh, bloody hell.

“… I’m sorry,” I say, reaching across the table and clutching her hand. “Honestly Jess. I’m sorry. Ignore me.”

My sister wriggles free from my grip and dabs at her lips with her napkin: “It’s okay. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress.”

Stress.

That’s a good one. Makes it sound like I’m a bit fed up with the weather or ticked off about next door’s rusty old van blocking our driveway. Stress. I wish she’d just come out and say it.

“I know everyone thinks I’m crazy,” I say crashing my hands onto the table, the crockery wobbling and rattling on the tray.

“Nobody thinks that, Georgie.”

“I didn’t do it. I didn’t.

“I thought you couldn’t remember anything. About your accident, I mean. I thought…” she tails off, tucking a lock of blonde hair behind her ear.

I shake my head and blink back tears, staring at a man on the far side of the café. His glasses slide down his nose as he huddles over his laptop, his fingers flying over the keys. Every now and then he’ll nibble on his croissant, brushing crumbs from his lips. He looks so together. So normal. It’s hard to believe I was ever like that. Was I?

I wince as I catch sight of my reflection in the glass. Waxy eyes. Hollow, pasty cheeks. A frazzled, washed-out version of my former self. It’s not like I should be surprised. All I do these days is skulk around the house, shuffling from room to room, dragging the vacuum behind me. Mind numbing tasks to stop me from thinking, from closing my eyes. Because when I do, I’m back there and…

“You okay Georgie?”

The spoon bounces off the table as I pitch forward, jerking the table leg: “I’m fine,” I mumble. “Just fine.”

“Sure? I’m worried about you. Everyone is.”

“I told you everything’s fine,” I snap.

Fine,” she says. “I won’t ask again.”

I squeeze my eyes shut. I haven’t got the energy for this. For her. It’s hard enough getting through each day.

“Okay, drink up,” she says. “You can come and help me pick out a new frock. I’ve got dinner plans and want to look my best.”

She giggles and flutters her eyelashes. Oh god no. I couldn’t think of anything worse. There’s no way I’m spending hours traipsing round after her as she plucks dress after dress from the rails and flings them in my direction. Absolutely not.

“You ready to go?”

“I think I’ll give it a miss,” I say, stepping to one side and holding the café door open.

“Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport. It’ll do you good. What else are you going to do apart from mope about the house?”

Thanks, I…”

“I didn’t mean it like that, I just…”

“It’s alright,” I say, kissing my sister on her cheek. “Go and find something lovely to wear. Who’s the lucky guy anyway?”

Jess taps the side of her nose and winks before spinning on her heels and striding away. I watch from the pavement until she disappears round the corner, the tension in my shoulders melting away. What is wrong with me. I can’t bear being around anyone these days, not even my own sister. What does that say about me.

I sling my bag across my shoulder and slide my phone out of my pocket. Three messages from Ben, just checking I’m okay and saying how much he loves me. I don’t know how he can stand it. He must be getting fed up with the way things are. The way I am.

Perhaps if I could just get some sleep. Just one decent night’s sleep. But every time I close my eyes, I’m back there. Back where it happened. Racing along the high street, tears streaming down my cheeks, oblivious to the cars darting back and forth. As I stumble into the road, there’s a squeal of brakes, a whoosh of air. And then darkness.

“Why did you do it Georgie?” Ben had asked, his face whiter than the hospital bedsheets. “I know you’d been a little down, but I didn’t think you were that bad. Not bad enough to…”

I’d stared at my husband as he’d rocked to and fro, clawing at his face, a cotton wool numbness seeping through my veins. I’d lain there quite still, the hissing and beeping of the hospital machines muffling the roaring in my head.

Georgie.”

I startle, my eyes narrowing as I stare at the red front door, a familiar silver Fiesta parked in the driveway. Ben is standing on the top step and reaching down for a parcel.

“I thought you were going to walk past the house,” he says smiling. “You were miles away.”

I nod and squeeze past him into the hallway, kicking my boots into the corner by the radiator.

“You’re back early. I wasn’t expecting you for hours. I know how hard it is to get a word in edgeways with Jess.”

His shoulders slump when I tell him I wasn’t in the mood for shopping. He sighs and leans across the counter to flick on the kettle.

“I know it’s been a tough time Georgie, but I really think you’d feel so much better if you started doing a few more things, maybe get some counselling…”

“… I don’t need counselling,” I flash. “I just need to know what happened. What I was running from…”

“And how’s that going to help. You were depressed for months, long before the accident. I begged you to get help, but you point blank refused.”

I slide my foot along the floor, tracing the lines of the tiles with my sock. Had I been depressed. I don’t remember. I can’t seem to remember anything anymore.

“In my dream, I’m crying and rushing down the high street and…”

“… It’s just that, Georgie. A dream. The same bloody dream over and over. It doesn’t help though, does it? You just need to forget about it, focus on getting well.”

He holds out his arms and pulls me into a hug, the stubble from his beard tickling my cheek: “Why don’t you go and relax in the other room whilst I get dinner started.”

As I shuffle into the lounge, there’s a tap on the front door followed by the jangle of a key in the lock. My sister’s breathy giggles echo along the hallway.

“Ta da,” she says, peering round the door frame. “Well, what do you think? Thought I’d come and show off my new dress as you bailed on me earlier.”

She bursts into the room, skipping across the carpet, the scarlet fabric billowing and swirling round her legs.

“Very nice,” says Ben following in behind and pecking my sister on the cheek. “You staying for dinner Jess?”

“I hoped you say that,” she says, holding up a bottle. “I brought a bottle of red.”

Jess and I perch on the kitchen stools watching Ben drizzle oil in the pan and grab the tuna steaks from the fridge.

“To the future,” says Jess reaching across and clinking her glass against mine and Ben’s. “And happier times.”

A sense of unease slithers along my spine. Please don’t bring up the accident. I just want to have one night where we chat about other things. Normal stuff. I want to feel normal.

“You feeling any brighter this evening Georgie?” she says. “You seemed pretty down again earlier.”

“I’m fine,” I mutter, digging my nails into my palm. “Can we just leave it. Please.

My sister snatches the bottle from the counter, slopping more wine into her glass: “It’s a miracle you’re still with us. I couldn’t believe it when Ben rang and said you’d thrown yourself under a bus. I ran as fast as I could to be with you.”

“I tripped and fell,” I snarl. “I didn’t… Wait, you never said you ran there? Your offices are on the other side of town.”

“Luckily I was visiting a client,” she says, the glass clinking against her teeth. “Or maybe it wasn’t luck. Perhaps I sensed something was going to happen. I’d been worried about you for months. I still am.”

“We both are,” says Ben moving round the counter, their shoulders touching. “And she keeps dreaming she was running from something and stumbled into the road.”

My cheeks burn as I catch Ben rolling his eyes at my sister. I’m not crazy. I’m not.

We all jump as the doorbell rings.

“I’ll get that,” I say leaping off the stool, its legs screeching on the wooden floorboards.

It takes me a moment to recognize the woman on the doorstep. She looks quite different in her dark uniform, the silver epaulettes on her shoulder glinting in the porch light.

“Sam?”

“Sorry to turn up unannounced Georgie, but it’s about your accident. There’s something I need to show you.”

There’s no warmth in her eyes as she removes her hat and steps into the hallway. My heart hammers in my chest as I lead her through to the kitchen. Am I in trouble?

Ben mutters something under his breath and Jess gulps down the last of her wine when I introduce them to Sergeant Samantha Webb and explain she’s here about the accident.

“What’s all this about officer,” says Ben. “My wife’s already struggling to deal with everything. I don’t want her being upset all over again.”

Sam raises her eyebrows and opens her bag, placing a laptop onto the counter and turns the screen to face us.

“There’s something I want you to see Georgie. I know from our chats in hospital that you didn’t think you’d been depressed, that you thought you’d been running when you tripped and fell…”

“…And I thought I’d just told you officer, my wife doesn’t need to be upset all over again.”

Sam glances at my husband and shakes her head: “So, I followed up with some of the shops in the area and asked to see their CCTV footage.”

She hits play and a stretch of the high street fills the screen. What are we supposed to be looking at. What does this have to do with my accident.

The breath catches in my throat as a couple pauses outside the shop window. The man is laughing as he hooks the ends of the woman’s scarf and pulls her towards him, tenderly stroking my sister’s face.

“Ben,” I whisper. “Ben.”

“I think we’ve seen enough,” says my husband, shouldering me out of the way, stabbing at the screen to stop it playing.

I snatch the laptop from his hands: “No. No, we haven’t. I want to watch the rest.”

Jess edges towards the door as my husband slides down the wall, pawing at his face. My hand trembles as I hit play.

They fly apart when they hear me scream Ben’s name, their arms dropping to their sides. For a second nobody moves, then I take off. Tears stream down my face as I race along the high street, oblivious to the cars darting back and forth. As Ben reaches for my shoulder, my heel catches and I stumble into the road. There’s a squeal of brakes, a whoosh of air. The film fades to black.

Short Story

About the Creator

Caroline Craven

Scribbler. Dreamer. World class procrastinator.

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Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

Add your insights

Comments (32)

  • Blake Booth8 days ago

    Caroline, you do such a good job getting us to care about your characters in so small a space. Great job. I just got back and can’t wait to read through all your new material.

  • Cathy holmes14 days ago

    Fantastic story. I got a hint of what was happening near the end. Happy she found out the truth. Well done!

  • Mariann Carroll21 days ago

    Wow, excellent work here!!! I hope this win 🏆 Congratulations on Top Story 🎉🎉🎉

  • Caroline, I see your growth as a writer with each story. This is fantastic and I hope you will consider writing a crime novel with a female cop protagonist. Again, your ability to bring characters to life is amazing. Congrats on TS, so well deserved!!! The way you built the suspense and bring to life the people who are supposed to love Georgie is absolutely brilliant and makes the ending we all wanted to know even more chilling. It feels drawn from real life. I swear you are the new Agatha Christie!!!!

  • Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • Fly Alone27 days ago

    This short story brilliantly unveils the protagonist's turmoil and fractured reality, culminating in a shocking revelation about her husband's betrayal. The gradual tension and emotional depth make for a compelling and impactful read.

  • Mark Gagnon28 days ago

    Great story, glad I found it. You kept the ending a secret right up to the end. Well done and congrats on TS Caroline!

  • Wow just wow! I had a feeling that ending was coming but it was still a slap in the face. You are definitely the winner in my book

  • Dana Crandell28 days ago

    Oof! "Well written" doesn't begin to do this justice! I was completely drawn in - and what an ending! Congratulations on Top Story and a real contender in the challenge!

  • ROCK 28 days ago

    In my daily life my worst nightmare is betrayal; this is a script pitch ready for Netflix! I hate Ben and Jess but am floored how you portrayed their spineless character. Really, really great narrative. Love this description, "a cotton wool numbness seeping through my veins."

  • Alexis Wellmaker28 days ago

    💕🎥💕 Suspenseful ... This would be a great movie!💖

  • Andrea Corwin 28 days ago

    this:The constant whirr of the coffee machine, the clattering of dishes, the shrieks of laughter that jackhammer through my skull and set my teeth on edge - sounds how I feel when we go to restaurants, SO LOUD. I cackled aloud at the "I'm not apologizing, I'm not...then bloody hell" AND then! I continued reading and boy did you surprise me!!!!!!!!! This is sooooooooo good! TOP STORY, yay!!

  • Shirley Belk29 days ago

    "cotton wool numbness" "Waxy eyes. Hollow, pasty cheeks." "whiter than the hospital bedsheets." The way you do this......I'm so impressed!!!! Bravo

  • Excellent Top Story! Great read🩵✅

  • Back to say congratulations on your Top Story! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Donna Fox (HKB)30 days ago

    Oh my... well that was very unexpected ending! So scandalous and such an unexpected twist!! I loved this Caroline, great work and congrats on Top Story!!

  • Caroline Jane30 days ago

    Oh Caroline this is great! The succinct turn of phrase in your descriptions are excellent and the dialogue is completely engrossing. Great stuff.

  • you created a excellent visceral horror story here. I can see this being a great film

  • shanmuga priya30 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉

  • Golam Kibria30 days ago

    Congrats for top

  • Gosh damn wow. This was so engaging. Like you really hooked us in and didn’t let go

  • This is too good...I'm with Hannah, don't know why I thought it was a man too. I'm sure it has nothing to do with my past experiences and lack of trust, lol Congrats on this top story

  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    I knew Ben was dodgy!

  • Manikandan Blog Writerabout a month ago

    nice

  • Manikandan Blog Writerabout a month ago

    good

Caroline CravenWritten by Caroline Craven

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