SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: The Monster by Debbie Kocziban

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Kevin R McNally as Lear
 in the Globe production     Picture: Marc Brenner

Shakespeare’s famed tragedy will be broadcast live in Portsmouth

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub

The door closes quietly behind me – I’m here again. My fate is inevitable, too late to run.

I have been noticed, acknowledged and now there are others behind me blocking my exit. I vowed I would never return but find myself drawn here again. It’s like an umbilical cord which allows me to stray so far but inevitably drags me back to this place of deep sadness and great joys.

A background chatter of self-congratulation oxygenates the air. Exchanging tips on ways in which they have pleased the leader and glorified in his approbation.

I recognise others who were members of the community when I made my last escape. They nod knowingly, unsurprised at my return, and carry on their conversation.

I think I see them exchange looks of complicit collusion, these people who serve the behemoth well – his favoured ones. I know they want me to be one of them.

The one-eyed monster stands majestically, commanding the whole room with its steely gaze. Gideon, his servant, holds court – welcoming us into his presence.

He attempts to reassure as I approach, his thin-lipped smile is stretched in a practiced manner, the light not quite meeting his chilly, pale eyes.

‘Welcome back,’ the grin slashes his bony visage, ice white teeth sharp as razors.

As he looks through my records, the dismal tales of my journeys, I feel bile rising in my throat – teasing the bitterness of my previous defeats.

I hate him for the power he wields. The way his pronouncements lift me to glory or dash me to pieces.

It’s not personal. In my rational moments I know that many have been before me and he is not responsible for everyone’s fate. We ignore his advice at our peril and our rebellious misery is the result.

It’s my fault but I feel better for blaming this sanctimonious servant. Gideon gestures to me with a sweep of his imperious hand towards the ogre.

My nerves are stretched, fizzing with a desire to turn and bolt. I look down, expecting to see my body trembling, but surprisingly it’s still.

‘Don’t be shy, step up,’ he encourages, the northern accent almost sounding friendly, but not enough to kill my terrors.

A damp sea mist of sweat breaks across my brow. I hesitate, shivers ripple down my spine, a tidal flow of weakness ebbs up and down my legs rendering them useless.

Goosebumps ravage my skin. I want to cry out but I cannot. A stream of tears remain captive, too terrified to fall, petrified frozen shafts, inwardly stabbing. The pain, the fear, the dread is unbearable but any expression of it would be useless.

The monster is impervious to emotion, he pronounces his dire verdict without mercy or forgiveness.

I find myself unable to move. My feet anchored to the floor, tethered by a tackle of fear heavier than any diver’s metal-shoed feet.

Gideon’s gaze flicks towards me, guiding me into the company of my nemesis, my foe of many years.

I see Gideon observing my struggle. He gives me an encouraging nod – it’s all right for him. He is in the brute’s employ, he obeys the rules and has private, unobserved audiences. Only he knows what goes on between them.

Giving in to the inevitable I bow my head in supplication. I have come prepared, divested of my jewellery, dressed in the lightest, flimsiest of clothing as a sop to minimise what the leviathan will inflict.

From past experience I know that gets the best results and he is kinder. Taking my courage in both hands I throw myself on the fiend’s mercy and my wrongdoing is pronounced for all to see.

Gideon pronounces my fate.

‘Well Jo,’ he announces. ‘It’s only half a stone you’ve put on – it won’t take you long to get that off.’

I step off the scales, my temporary madness dissipating like mist in sunshine.

Saying a quick prayer requesting absolution for my bad tempered truculence I join my fellow weight watchers – back in the fold...

Debbie Kocziban was born in Paulsgrove, Portsmouth. She moved to Devon in 1976 before returning to a much-changed city in 2011. She is an avid reader, supporter of local libraries, occasional PFC Fratton End chorister and admirer of the arts.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook.