WHEN I NEEDED YOU MOST • by Lynette Mejía

The building was a drab gray, accented here and there with streaks of black and green mildew which appeared to have eaten through the paint in a few places. Holly hedges grown high as the roofline ringed the outside, covering the windows. To the careless glance it seemed like a cheap version of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, an aging cinderblock fortress surrounded by choking briars that kept out the world. Peeling paint on the wooden sign affixed to the wall beside the entrance read, “Alpha Home,” and below, in even smaller, more faded script, “For Retired Heroes.”

I signed in on the clipboard at the receptionist’s window, barely acknowledged by the dull-eyed woman watching television behind the glass. She glanced at me, eyebrows slightly raised, before turning back to the screen. Relieved, I flipped through a patient list thumbtacked to the wall until I found his name: Roger Smith, Rm. 334.

I made my way down the vinyl-tiled hallway lit by buzzing fluorescent lights encased in metal cages. The smell was nauseating, like pine-scented disinfectant mixed with old piss. After pressing the call button several times, the elevator doors slowly creaked open, as aged and infirm as any of the other residents. Though the stenciled numbers had long since worn off the buttons, I took a guess, stabbing the one third from the bottom. With a jerk, the car lifted.

***

When it stopped, the doors refused to open.

“Lovely,” I muttered, punching the button flanked with raised metal triangles. Nothing.

“Goddamnit!” I yelled, kicking the door. He would have to live in a shithole. Feeling my chest began to tighten, I slid down the wall, curling into a ball on the floor. My panic grew as the minutes passed, and it wasn’t long before I was up again, pulling at the doors with my fingertips, scratching and kicking and cursing their refusal to cooperate.

Suddenly the doors were wrenched opened and there he was, wrinkled and grey, his back slightly stooped. Though age and hard living had taken their toll, the muscles in his arms and upper back still strained the fabric of his threadbare red robe.

“There’s a call button, you know,” he muttered.

“I have claustrophobia,” I said, stepping out with as much dignity as I could muster.

“No shit,” he said, turning. “Then why’d you take the elevator?”

“It was faster.”

He stopped in front of his door, arthritic hands fumbling with the lever.

“Here,” I said, moving to open it for him.

“Back the fuck off,” he growled. “I can do it.” He put his shoulder to the door, shoving while pressing with the heel of his hand. The door flew open and he stumbled inside, barely managing to keep himself upright. I followed and closed it behind me.

When he’d righted himself he looked up. “You’re welcome, by the way,” he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve before shuffling over to a large, ratty armchair and lowering himself into it.

For a moment I just watched him, trying to recognize myself in his broken features.

“Why did you call me here?” I asked.

“That was the thing I always hated the most,” he said, continuing as if I hadn’t spoken. “There was always some ceremony, some medal, some plaque, but nobody ever took the time to just say thank you. No fucking gratitude.”

“Gratitude?” I walked up to him. “You want gratitude? For what? For walking out on me and Mom? For saving a bunch of orphans but never being there to read me a bedtime story or wish me happy birthday?”

“For opening the elevator doors,” he answered.

I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “Why did you call me here?” I asked again.

“Because you’re fucking up your life.”

“You don’t know the first thing about my life.”

He looked up at me, his eyes burning with the intensity of a younger man. “I know you have a job writing about the news instead of making it. I know you hide in your shithole apartment every night, too scared to even open the windows. I know you take a handful of pills in the morning just to have enough courage to face the outside world.”

“How…?”

“I still have friends,” he said, cutting me off as a coughing fit bent him in half.  When he’d gotten himself back under control he sat up, spitting something into a dirty handkerchief before stuffing it into his pocket.

“I want to give you something,” he said.

“I don’t want anything from you,” I replied. I turned and began to walk toward the door.

Somehow he was behind me before I’d taken two steps, his hand gripping my arm like an iron band, his face crimson with exertion.

“This is the only thing I ever had that was worth two shits anyway,” he wheezed into my ear. “Everything else means nothing.” In the split second before I broke free he leaned forward and brushed a soft kiss against my cheek.

“Get the fuck off me!” I yelled, wrenching away and slamming the door behind me. I stumbled as I ran, my sobs echoing off the institutional metal walls of the stairwell.

The woman behind the glass looked up as I passed, waving a finger disapprovingly toward a sign on the wall that read, “All Visitors Must Sign In and Out.”

In my fury I picked up the clipboard, flinging it with all my strength toward the entrance. Trembling, I watched it begin to glow with some kind of energy, hitting the doors with enough force to shatter them before sending out a shock wave that tore their frames from the cinderblock walls. When the dust cleared, a gaping hole stared back at me.

From somewhere behind I heard the old man’s chuckle.

That’s my girl,” he said.


Lynette Mejía writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror prose and poetry. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Redstone Science Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Daily Science Fiction, and the anthologies Children of the Moon and Penny Dread Tales. She is currently working on a master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. She lives in Carencro, Louisiana with her husband, three children, six cats, and one dog.


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Every Day Fiction

  • I’ve got a real soft spot for superheroes-in-regular-life stories. Loved this one. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’ve got a real soft spot for superheroes-in-regular-life stories. Loved this one. Thanks for sharing.

  • AHA! Now she’ll learn (if I read this right) how it is to walk in her father’s shoes. Or slippers. What did Superman wear on his feet?
    Enjoyed this,well-written.

  • AHA! Now she’ll learn (if I read this right) how it is to walk in her father’s shoes. Or slippers. What did Superman wear on his feet?
    Enjoyed this,well-written.

  • S Conroy

    Must admit I didn’t get this till I read the other comments and reread. The prose is lovely in places. And maybe giving his claustrophobic daughter a few superpowers to help her through life might help make up a little for abandoning her when she needed him.

  • S Conroy

    Must admit I didn’t get this till I read the other comments and reread. The writing is lovely. And maybe giving his claustrophobic daughter a few superpowers to help her through life might help make up a little for abandoning her when she needed him.

  • MPmcgurty

    While “For Retired Heroes” should have tipped me to it, it wasn’t until the elevator that I figured out the superhero angle, and then I wasn’t positive.

    The father handing down to a child the only thing he has, knowing that it will be as much a curse as a blessing.

    I love the level of detail that writers often feel forced to abandon under flash’s constraints: “After pressing the call button several times, the elevator doors slowly creaked open, as aged and infirm as any of the other residents. Though the stenciled numbers had long since worn off the buttons, I took a guess, stabbing the one third from the bottom. With a jerk, the car lifted.”

    Beautiful language in unexpected places; the first three paragraphs are as good as anything I’ve read here at EDF. Wonderful tale. 5 stars.

    Thanks, Lynette.

  • MPmcgurty

    While “For Retired Heroes” should have tipped me to it, it wasn’t until the elevator that I figured out the superhero angle, and then I wasn’t positive.

    The father handing down to a child the only thing he has, knowing that it will be more a curse than a blessing.

    I love the level of detail that writers often feel forced to abandon under flash’s constraints: “After pressing the call button several times, the elevator doors slowly creaked open, as aged and infirm as any of the other residents. Though the stenciled numbers had long since worn off the buttons, I took a guess, stabbing the one third from the bottom. With a jerk, the car lifted.”

    Beautiful language in unexpected places; the first three paragraphs are as good as anything I’ve read here at EDF. Wonderful tale. 5 stars.

    Thanks, Lynette.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I enjoyed the way much was left to the imagination, as well as the slow reveal. I guessed the MC was female through the voice, but perhaps that could have been clarified earlier on.

    • MPmcgurty

      I too pictured a male through the story, but I think the author meant it to be that way.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I enjoyed the way much was left to the imagination, as well as the slow reveal. I guessed the MC was female through the voice, but perhaps that could have been clarified earlier on.

    • MPmcgurty

      I too pictured a male through the story, but I think the author meant it to be that way.

  • Scott Harker

    I had no idea the MC was female until the last (and most excellent) line of the story. Still, I don’t feel like that takes away from the story (which says a lot about the story itself, actually).

    This reminded me a lot of the relationship I’ve had with my own father for years, so I could very easily relate to the MC.

    I totally missed the superhero angle also. I had assumed he was in a home for veterans, not retired superheroes. I’m still not convinced, but only the author can tell us for sure.

    I loved the writing in this. It was creative in detail and not burdened with awkward passages or too many adjectives. Excellent writing style for flash, I think.

    Bunches of stars! Thank you for sharing!

    • Paul A. Freeman

      I must agree with you that not knowing the gender of the MC didn’t take away from this story. Which is quite weird because usually it annoys the heck out of me.

  • Scott Harker

    I had no idea the MC was female until the last (and most excellent) line of the story. Still, I don’t feel like that takes away from the story (which says a lot about the story itself, actually).

    This reminded me a lot of the relationship I’ve had with my own father for years, so I could very easily relate to the MC.

    I totally missed the superhero angle also. I had assumed he was in a home for veterans, not retired superheroes. I’m still not convinced, but only the author can tell us for sure.

    I loved the writing in this. It was creative in detail and not burdened with awkward passages or too many adjectives. Excellent writing style for flash, I think.

    Bunches of stars! Thank you for sharing!

    • Paul A. Freeman

      I must agree with you that not knowing the gender of the MC didn’t take away from this story. Which is quite weird because usually it annoys the heck out of me.

  • I like the extraordinary combination of ideas in this story.

  • I like the extraordinary combination of ideas in this story.

  • Erin Ryan

    Great job. I especially love the “All Visitors Must Sign In and Out” plaque – a realistic little detail that leads to the revelation of the story.

  • Erin Ryan

    Great job. I especially love the “All Visitors Must Sign In and Out” plaque – a realistic little detail that leads to the revelation of the story.

  • Lynette Mejia

    Thank you so much, everyone! I’m so glad you liked the story!

  • Lynette Mejia

    Thank you so much, everyone! I’m so glad you liked the story!

  • Paul Friesen

    I’d also assumed the MC was female. It never occurred to me that it was an assumption most of the story until reading the comments. Nice story. I didn’t mind the profanity, but was a tad surprised, as in the past I thought EDF didn’t publish stories with profanity too much, and said they wanted stories that people could feel comfortable reading on their desk at work….I just made sure no one was in my office 😉

  • Paul Friesen

    I’d also assumed the MC was female. It never occurred to me that it was an assumption most of the story until reading the comments. Nice story. I didn’t mind the profanity, but was a tad surprised, as in the past I thought EDF didn’t publish stories with profanity too much, and said they wanted stories that people could feel comfortable reading on their desk at work….I just made sure no one was in my office 😉

  • Kim

    Wow, not sure why people assumed that the MC was a man? I thought it was clear that she was a woman.
    Great read!

  • Kim

    Wow, not sure why people assumed that the MC was a man? I thought it was clear that she was a woman.
    Great read!

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