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The Guest

by Pixel8ted


Charlotte knocked on the door. It was the time of the day when the sun dropped from its perch high in the noon sky and fell noiselessly into the west, and everyone drifted home from work. It would have been a normal day, another tick in the clock, another beat in the noteless rhythm, except that today, Charlotte knocked on the door. But there was no one to answer it. It was her door. She lived alone. She could stand before her house until the sun finally plunged behind the jagged city horizon, until the shadows stretched and died with the sun, and the sky rolled over to reveal the stars, but the door would not move until she opened it. 

Charlotte hesitated. She could hear the stale raps echoing through her empty home. She hadn't intended to knock. Old habits were certainly hard to kill off. The rhythm was broken, but she still had to go in.

Before she could push down the knob, the door swung open, wrenching the knob from her hand. A beaming face greeted her in the doorway. Charlotte jumped back, started to scream, but decided against it. She was not expecting company, and yet, that face looked so familiar. A long-lost sister perhaps? 

"Hello there! You've finally come to visit, have you?" the woman said through her enormous grin.

Charlotte quickly scanned the exterior of the building. No, she had not gotten the wrong house. The wilted rose bush hugging the wall and the paper butterfly sculptures behind the stained windows clearly marked it as her own home. 

"Come in, come in, don't be shy!" the stranger beckoned. 

Charlotte squinted menacingly and opened her mouth, but then gently closed it again. She couldn't think of anything to say. It was as if a fog had filled her skull, concealing all her thoughts. What exactly was wrong with the stranger being where the stranger was? The answer was just out of reach. Maybe it was best to go along with it all.

Charlotte entered and mechanically removed her shoes. The strange, familiar woman ushered her into the living room, fussing all the way. 

"Oh, I do love to have visitors! But oh, do sit down, you must be so tired after such a long day of work, do take a seat!" she begged. 

Charlotte slumped into the chair in front of the coffee table, and it felt like the cushions were swallowing her up. She didn't remember the chair being so soft, but perhaps she truly was tired. Nothing else about the room seemed to have changed, though. The room and furniture were still precisely arranged in their mathematically symmetrical pattern, the way she had left them and the way she liked it. The woman slipped into the chair opposite Charlotte, a plastic smile fixed on her face. 

"Such terrible weather we've been having today, don't you agree?" she said. 

"Yes, it certainly has been horrendous", Charlotte replied, but then caught herself. That wasn't quite correct. Hadn't the sun been shining when she came in? Also, was it really a good idea to small talk -- with a stranger -- who had come into her house -- uninvited?

Crash! A clap of thunder blasted Charlotte's thoughts away like dynamite clearing a mine. Outside the window, the sky was coal black, and rain gushed down in torrents. Veins of lighting slithered across the dark sky, shattering it into a thousand pieces. How very strange. 

"Would you like some tea?" asked the woman. 

Charlotte tried to think of an appropriately threatening answer, but again, a cloud shrouded her mind. Some tea might be nice.

"Yes please", she said. 

Her hostess scurried across the room and disappeared into the kitchen. She emerged two seconds later carrying a steaming metal cup, which she shoved towards Charlotte. Charlotte drew back, as from painful experience, she knew it was too hot to touch.

"I can't take that, it'll burn me" she said. 

"Oh, don't worry, you'll be fine", said her hostess. 

Charlotte reached out and took the cup with trembling hands. It was ice cold. 

"How did your day go?", her hostess asked, smiling as she settled back into her seat. Her cool eyes glinted like glass. 

Charlotte licked her lips nervously. They were jagged with dry skin. She tried to urge her brain to think, but it was too hard. She felt like she was trying to swim against a strong current: it would be so easy to just let go and let the flow carry her. But she had to try. 

"Who ...are you?", she asked, forming each word slowly with her heavy tongue. 

"I'm Charlotte" her host replied, quick as a bullet. 

"No you aren't, I'm..." 

White hot pain seared through Charlotte's hands and shot up her arms. She shrieked and dropped her cup onto the floor. It landed with a dull thud and split into two, equal halves that fell away from each other. The black tea seeped into the carpet in a perfect circle. 

Charlotte jumped to her feet and grasped for the chair behind her, trying to get away without falling like the cup. Her legs wavered like reeds in the wind, and hands felt like needles were digging into them. The stark smell of panic infused the air. 

"Oh, don't worry dear, I'll clean that up for you", her hostess said, pulling a rag out from under the table and kneeling down to mop up the mess. 

"No, this is my home", whispered Charlotte. 

"Of course, make yourself at home! But I'll clean it up, it's no bother at all", said her hostess, keeping her eyes on Charlotte. Her face was changing, twisting, contorting. It was almost less than human, and yet more familiar than ever, nearly recognizable. 

"Get out, this is my home", Charlotte said, her throat tight with terror. She stepped backwards around the table. 

"What's mine is yours, dear, but I own this house", said the woman, "you're just the guest".  A crooked grin cracked across her face, and she crept towards her. Charlotte continued to step away round the table. Tremors of raw, cold fear washed over body. Her heart boomed against the walls of her chest, as if trying to break free and run away. She had tried to swim against the current, and now she was drowning. 

They circled the symmetrical room. Charlotte picked up a stool. The other woman grinned like a maniac and did the same. Charlotte raised the stool. The other woman mirrored her. Charlotte threw it at her reflection. Her reflection threw it at her. 

Smash! A thousand glass shards filled the air and rained down to the ground. The reflection was gone. Charlotte stood still for a few moments, then slowly turned around the noiseless room, testing the silence. The sunlight filtered through the windows, and the tea stain on the carpet had disappeared. Her hands didn't hurt anymore. 

She would have to get a new mirror. 


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Tue Jun 18, 2024 7:00 pm
TheRebel2007 wrote a review...



Hey there Pixel8ted! Rebel here for a short review!

First off, this was a really great read, with the similes and metaphors adding a really old-timey feel to the story with a breath of fresh air! I will highlight some of my favourite paragraphs and the things that stood out for me.

Pixel8ted wrote:Charlotte knocked on the door. It was the time of the day when the sun dropped from its perch high in the noon sky and fell noiselessly into the west, and everyone drifted home from work. It would have been a normal day, another tick in the clock, another beat in the noteless rhythm, except that today, Charlotte knocked on the door. But there was no one to answer it. It was her door. She lived alone. She could stand before her house until the sun finally plunged behind the jagged city horizon, until the shadows stretched and died with the sun, and the sky rolled over to reveal the stars, but the door would not move until she opened it.


This is a perfect start to a short story, like *chef's kiss*, 10/10 stars. Also, I found it very funny that a person knocked on the front door of their own house - that seems so stupid and yet so human, that it made me laugh out loud. Also, I like how the sentences are written - it starts with a short sentence, followed by a couple of long sentences, then several more short sentences, followed by a long sentence. This pattern, which perhaps came out of you intuitively, makes it sound really unique when read out loud. Also, a "-" between "except that" and "today" would have been better.

Pixel8ted wrote:Charlotte slumped into the chair in front of the coffee table, and it felt like the cushions were swallowing her up. She didn't remember the chair being so soft, but perhaps she truly was tired. Nothing else about the room seemed to have changed, though. The room and furniture were still precisely arranged in their mathematically symmetrical pattern, the way she had left them and he way she liked it. The woman slipped into the chair opposite Charlotte, a plastic smile fixed on her face.


I loved the simile "the cushions were swallowing her up". Also, I love how you have built up the tension and plot of the story, and how, in the following paragraphs, the weather and the tea and the surroundings change in the blink of an eye - suggesting something supernatural is going on.

Pixel8ted wrote:"Who ...are you?", she asked, forming each word slowly with her heavy tongue.

"I'm Charlotte" her host replied, quick as a bullet.

"No you aren't, I'm..."

White hot pain seared through Charlotte's hands and shot up her arms. She shrieked and dropped her cup onto the floor. It landed with a dull thud and split into two, equal halves that fell away from each other. The black tea seeped into the carpet in a perfect circle.


Ah, the drama! The panache! I felt like this was the perfect start to the climax of the short story. The descriptions, the dialogues - all perfect!

Pixel8ted wrote:"What's mine is yours, dear, but I own this house", said the woman, "you're just the guest". A crooked grin cracked across her face, and she crept towards her. Charlotte continued to step away round the table. Tremors of raw, cold fear washed over body. Her heart boomed against the walls of her chest, as if trying to break free and run away. She had tried to swim against the current, and now she was drowning.

They circled the symmetrical room. Charlotte picked up a stool. The other woman grinned like a maniac and did the same. Charlotte raised the stool. The other woman mirrored her. Charlotte threw it at her reflection. Her reflection threw it at her.


The antiques of the reflection and Charlotte describe their mental conditions perfectly - Charlotte was horrified by the events that transpired before her so much so that she went on to pick up a stool to attack her reflection, and the other Charlotte picked up a stool to mirror her, and smiled like a maniac.

Pixel8ted wrote:Smash! A thousand glass shards filled the air and rained down to the ground. The reflection was gone. Charlotte stood still for a few moments, then slowly turned around the noiseless room, testing the silence. The sunlight filtered through the windows, and the tea stain on the carpet had disappeared. Her hands didn't hurt anymore.


Time for the explanation! So, all along - as I imagine it - Charlotte was dealing with her own reflection, no pun intended, while going through a mental battle with her mind, perhaps just a delirium due to tiredness, or due to a mental condition. All the drama, all the antiques, all the dialogues, and all the events were just a reflection (pun intended), and a figment of her own imagination.

Pixel8ted wrote:She would have to get a new mirror.


And the classic one-liner to end a short story!

All in all, I loved this short story! This feels like a classic written by authors like O. Henry or Anton Chekhov - it's definitely up there in some of the best works I have ever read in YWS, period. This deserves more love. I will feature this in my feed. Keep writing awesome stuff! :p

P.S.: This review was brought to you by Team Tortoise.




Pixel8ted says...


Thank you for the review! I'm glad you liked it.



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Tue Jun 18, 2024 4:21 pm
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EllieMae wrote a review...



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Hi friend! Ellie here to leave you a review on the short story! Here are some pieces of feedback I noticed :D Let's get right into the review!

"Yes, it certainly has been horrendous", Charlotte replied, but then caught herself. That wasn't quite correct. Hadn't the sun been shining when she came in? Also, was it really a good idea to small talk -- with a stranger -- who had come into her house -- uninvited?


I would rewrite these sentences to not us -- between phrases. To me, these represent hesitations or pauses, but I feel it would be more appropriate to use ... state 'after a brief pause, she continued,'

"What's mine is yours, dear, but I own this house", said the woman, "you're just the guest". A crooked grin cracked across her face, and she crept towards her. Charlotte continued to step away round the table. Tremors of raw, cold fear washed over body. Her heart boomed against the walls of her chest, as if trying to break free and run away. She had tried to swim against the current, and now she was drowning.


First comment, I absolutely love how you write this. The descriptions of current and the feeling of drowning really got my attention and made this engaging. Second comment, I think the speaking parts need to be rewritten like this, so that the comma is before "

"What's mine is yours dear, but I own this house, said the woman.

And right here:

"Who ...are you?", she asked, forming each word slowly with her heavy tongue.


You have an extra comma. Since you have the question mark after 'you' you don't need include a comma after the " closes.

BUT as for the actual plot, it was wonderful!!

They circled the symmetrical room. Charlotte picked up a stool. The other woman grinned like a maniac and did the same. Charlotte raised the stool. The other woman mirrored her. Charlotte threw it at her reflection. Her reflection threw it at her.

Smash! A thousand glass shards filled the air and rained down to the ground. The reflection was gone. Charlotte stood still for a few moments, then slowly turned around the noiseless room, testing the silence. The sunlight filtered through the windows, and the tea stain on the carpet had disappeared. Her hands didn't hurt anymore.

She would have to get a new mirror.


At the end, realizing that it was just her looking at her reflection in the mirror the entire time. That totally shifts the entire story and how I was imagining all of the dialogue going. It was a lovely twist and really made me realize a lot about Charlottes character. Amazing work :D

Your friend,
Ellie

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Pixel8ted says...


Thanks for the review!




I’d heard he had started a fistfight in one of the seedier local taverns because someone had insisted on saying the word “utilize” instead of “use".
— Patrick Rothfuss, A Wise Man's Fear