Short story: A World Tainted in Gray 

“Where are you?” 

With each tick of the pocket watch a new color burst forth and his dark world was suddenly flourishing with the most magnificent colors. With each tick, a new building rose from the ground, decorated with the most gorgeous flowers. With each tick, a riverbank sprang forth, and with it, the quacks and croaks of animal life. With each tick, the world became a more beautiful place, a more peaceful place. With each tick it became so…so… 

“Boring.”  

Ryan opened his eyes and was greeted by the strong light emitting from the bulb dangling in the sealing. They might be eco-friendly, but they sure as Hell weren’t friendly on the eyes. He lifted himself from the lounge chair, the smell of his therapist’s chai tea luring itself into his nostrils. Once, he was excited by such an exquisite smell, but now…it was just so boring.   

“Mr. Andrew, you aren’t focusing on the exercise,” Dr. Lamb said, casting a scolding glance 

He needed to find an excuse. If he was to ever get her approval, he needed to at least appear cooperative. 

“I’m sorry, Sofia, I just can’t focus so early in the morning,” he lied.  

He was very well aware of why he had blurted out “boring”. Because he had meant every syllable of it. 

“That’s not the only thing plaguing you, I can tell. Mr. Andrew, please, tell me,” she urged him. 

“I’m just a bit stressed, that’s all. Feels like I’m running behind schedule, like time is running out,” he groggily answered, making up an excuse to throw her off the trail.  

“Was the tram perhaps late? You did arrive later than usual,” she pointed out, taking another sip of her boring tea.  

Like the tram could ever be late. It was always on time, irritatingly so. Perfectly on time, like everything else in this world, perfect. And boring. 

“Yeah, it was, I just didn’t want to seem like I was making an excuse for being late,” he lied, not even bothered anymore with feeding her lies.  

She stirred and gazed at him, probably hoping to find something that would give away his lie. But he had played enough poker to know how to keep a straight face. And so, Dr. Lamb didn’t find the weakness she was hoping for and had to swallow his lies. She let out a sigh: 

“Well, it seems we won’t get further today then, I’ll reschedule for tomorrow. But Ryan, I will warn you, if you want to return to your profession, you will have to complete our sessions. You do understand this, yes?” 

Ryan fought the urge to roll his eyes, and instead forced himself to nod in acknowledgment.  

“Good, talk to my secretary and he’ll set up an appointment,” she said as she closed her pocket watch, returning it to her chest pocket.  

Dr. Lambs clock had always fascinated him. It was such an exquisite artifact, from the gold coating, to every number and line painted onto its face. The clock was part of her ritual to enter the unconsciousness of her patients, it was her key to an otherwise locked gate. What saddened Ryan was that she wasted such a gorgeous antique on helpless patients like him. If only that clock could be useful, to actually help someone. But now, with each tick of time, it was wasted. 

He left Dr. Lamb’s office, feeling like he’d won the battle. Another session he got postponed, he figured she would eventually just give up and let him return to his job. God, how much he missed it.  

He walked outside into the dazzling sunlight. He had to shield his eyes to keep the burning rays from disorienting his vision. When they finally adjusted, he was met with the green, blue and orange color of the city. Hundreds of buildings, all painted in different flamboyant colors like orange and pink, was stuffed to the brim with vegetation, flowers bursting forth from every angle. They had finally been able to remove all asphalt from the streets, and in its place were blue bricks, where grass was springing forth between every single gap. And along those bricks were rails where the tram was quietly sneaking by, not making as much as a squeak. The only thing noisy was all the citizens that were bustling around the city. Some were out shopping, others tended to the many gardens and hedges, and some took their kids out for a stroll. Everything was in harmony. Everything was perfect. And everything…was boring.  

He jumped onto the autonomous tram, smooshing himself in between a couple of loud women. Not an ideal situation, but it was the only available space. The city needed more trams, but the politicians were more engaged in establishing more parks and gardensRyan thought it was stupid, plants didn’t transport more people, trams did. But if you wanted to remain in office, you’d have to promise the upkeep of peace and prosperity.  

“Have you HEARD? My husband told me that they are going to bring AVOCADOS into our plantations?” one of the loud women bragged. 

“Oh my gosh, Bethany, shut up! Avocados are so…so…exotic! And I heard they can help the figure too! But aren’t they from one of the polluted nations?” the other loud woman gushed. 

“No, apparently, they cracked the code to make it here! Don’t ask me all the science mumbo-jumbo, but we’re getting avocados!” 

“Oh my gosh, YES!” 

The women squealed together, and Ryan was annoyed that he hadn’t brought his headphones with him. He decided to zone them out as it was mostly just your everyday humbug that was spewed. Every conversation was the same, none discussing that of any interest, of conflicts, of dilemmas, because in this boring world, there were none of those. 

He arrived at his house, his dreadfully boring house. Not that it was boring in the sense of size and decorations, it was actually quite a beautiful house. The interior decorated with a theme of royal red, from the furniture to the wallpaper. Red was Ryan’s favorite color, it reminded him of the adrenaline he yearned for. The only thing he would change with his house was the color painted on the outside. Like every other house, it was in a flashy color, his that of yellow. However, the color he’d wanted was that of gray. Because in a world where everything had the desire to be dazzling and unique, the unique suddenly turned to the mundane, and what everyone failed to notice, was that the mundane was now unique.  

He couldn’t even consider this house his, as he hadn’t earned it. It was just…given to him, like almost everything else in life. There was no struggle, no uphill battle. How humans were supposed to grow as individuals in a world where everything was handed to them, was beyond Ryan. It was all so perfect, all so boring.  

He made a temporary visit to his house, to feast on some food, before fleeing it as quickly as possible. Just staying in it brought his dismay to a boil, and if he wished for it to not overflow, he’d better evacuate. Wouldn’t want another…accident to happen. Wouldn’t want to spend another five months with Doctor Lamb. Wouldn’t want this boring world to continue swallowing him in its void of nothingness. He needed his purpose back, or else he was sure he would either succumb to madness or better yet, perish altogether. However, before he made a run for it, he had to grab it. The one memento that held fond memories for him, the one memento that Dr. Lamb couldn’t know he was carrying with him, the one memento that gave him the promise of hope, of something interesting. The scalpel. 

He decided to take a stroll to the beach, and for that he needed the tram again, and he shuddered at the prospect of being stuck between more loud women. After walking for several minutes, he realized that he must have had a grim look on his face, as every stranger he passed looked at him as if he was a dead man walking. There were very few moments when Ryan smiled anymore, as if he was a grumpy, old man. But being thirty could hardly categorize him as old. But he had the resentment of an old person, that he could agree with. Just because everything is perfect doesn’t mean his life was.  

He glanced at his watch, calculating that the tram would arrive by the stop in exactly 759 seconds. It was never late, not even by a second. As he looked away from his clock, he was met by the friendly smile of someone he knew. Someone who wasn’t entirely boring. Someone who’d saved his ass from being thrown in prison. 

“Ryan, long time no see,” Emma said. 

flashily colored, lacey summer dress clung to her hourglass figure, and she was even carrying a little, white parasol. Her finger played with a brown lock of hair that had escaped the scrunchy keeping her ponytail in place. She was an extraordinarily beautiful woman. But that’s not what attracted Ryan to her. Unlike the other pigs who only saw Emma for her curves and plumb breasts, Ryan cared whether a woman was as sharp with her mind as with her eyes. And Emma more than enough filled that requirement.  

“Yes, it has been a while,” Ryan responded, not entirely meeting her eyes.  

She awkwardly shuffled closer to him, not to flirt, as Ryan knew Emma despised that game as well. No, this was to ensure a conversation in the open could stay somewhat private. 

“How’s the counseling going?” she whispered.  

His natural instinct was to serve up another lie, but for Emma, truth was a better dish. Unlike Doctor Lamb, Emma wouldn’t swallow a single lie, she would rather puke it right back up at his face. And Ryan owed Emma the truth. 

“It isn’t really going anywhere. Just like everything else. It feels more like wasted time, I know I did something bad, and they know I know, yet, they want to ensure I don’t do it again, even though they should know I never would,” Ryan spilled.  

Ryan looked upon Emma. She was considering her next words, her next line of attack, but what she didn’t know, was that his defenses were already down. At least, for her.  

“Ryan, why did you do it?” 

It had been five months, yet she had never mustered the courage to ask that question. Until now. Everyone else in this boring world would never seek a reason, only accept the inevitable result. Only accept that in the end everything would be fine and dandy. But not…Emma, for some reason. And so, she deserved an honest answer. 

I’m tired, Emma. Of this ‘perfect’ life, of this ‘perfect’ world. I want to feel something, to overcome some hurdle. I want to struggle, I want to face challenges, I want to feel alive,” Ryan whispered back, his voice shaking.  

He’d expected Emma to be surprised, repulsed even. But instead, she looked at him with empathy:  

“And here I thought everyone else had forgotten what it feels like. Do you know why I lied to the authorities, Ryan? Because you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s this…boring world’s fault.” 

Boring. She’d called this world…boring. Before Ryan could react, she hopped onto the tram he’d failed to notice. Before he could stop her or ask her anything, the tram took off. The tram was never late. And all he could see of Emma, was her beautiful summer dress blazing in the wind in its magnificent gray color.  

His own tram arrived shortly after, bringing him to a kingdom of sand, sun and sea. On such a beautiful day as this, the beach was stuffed with people, all enjoying their boring, peaceful lives. They were playing volleyball, eating ice cream and drinking cold beer. Every time Ryan laid eyes on a beer; a chill was sent down his spine. The one time he’d gotten drunk, was the one time he’d lost control, and the one time, he’d felt completely alive.  

He went to the shore, watching the waves’ eternal struggle of back and forth. He felt a comfort, watching them, knowing that no matter how far they went they always came back. And the pulling of the sea had a hypnotizing effect on him. Almost like he wanted to be pulled with the wavesHe watched his reflection ripple, and he carefully pulled out the scalpel to watch its sparkly glamour in the sun. But as he glanced back to the water’s surface, he didn’t see his reflection and scalpel anymore, now, he saw the woman who’d been underneath his scalpel five months ago. The pain and despair inscribed in her every feature. And not even she could stop Ryan from lifting the scalpel, drunkenly, to…to… 

No, no, it didn’t happen, it hadn’t happened! Emma had… had stopped him…hadn’t she? Emma in her white uniform…no…wait, was it perhaps gray? 

“SOMEO-SOMEONE! PLEASE, PLEASE, OH MY GOD, HELP US! HELP!” 

Ryan never cared for anyone besides himself, but as he recognized the panic in the voice screaming, something moved inside him. Something he hadn’t felt in far too long.  

Adrenaline. 

He ran over to where the panicked screaming had erupted from. A small crowd of sheep had gathered around in a circle, desperately awaiting a shepherd to herd them. Nothing was supposed to go wrong in this perfect world, it was supposed to be boring. But accidents happen, whether these people liked it or not. Ryan broke through, staring upon the scene that had caused such havoc. A cyclist must have fell down the steep cliff down to rock slab separating the beach and the cliff. Before Ryan, sprawled upon the gray rock which was getting stained by the crimson color of blood, laid the body of a woman, her mangled leg the source of chaos. A bone sticking out of her flesh, like a single, lonely, white tree in a forest of meat.  

As he looked upon the beauty of the wound, he couldn’t help but touch it. He lowered himself next to the woman, no objections being raised as panic had engulfed them all. His hands quickly stained with the essence of life, which the lack of was slowly draining the woman of hers. But finally, Ryan saw a different color than gray in this boring world. He saw a hope, in all its red glory.  

“What are you doing!?” someone yelled at Ryan. 

Without even bothering to turn to the person posing the protest he answered: 

“I’m a doctor, let me help her.” 

Because in a world where everything is predictable, it is only the unpredictable that was not truly boring.  

Written by Tobias Klausen

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