RUNNING FROM HOME • by Miles C. Hellyer

I felt uncomfortable. I felt as if I had no control over the muscles in my face. My eyes twitched, my forehead was sweating and my lips were held in an awkwardly tight seal. Surely the two men confronting me would seize on this discomfort and use it against me. Trying to regain composure while you are clearly in a state of shock is no easy task. I sat up straight on my bar stool and forced my face into a calm stare, barely masking my confused fear.

“What did you say?! What did you say to us?!”

What had I said? I’m not sure I’d even said anything but if I did it surely wouldn’t have been directed at these two. I’d been on my favourite bar stool for hours forcing conversation on the barkeeper, but nothing that could cause offence. Maybe I hadn’t said anything but they noticed I’d had too much to drink and saw me as an easy target. They wouldn’t be wrong. I was an easy target. Not only had I never fought in my life but I couldn’t even run that fast. I fiddled around in my pocket for a key or something I could use if this turned ugly.

“Answer his goddamn question or I’m going gonna get my hands on your jaw and rip that stupid smirk off your scrawny face!”

Oh God, a smirk! How had my face settled on a smirk?! That has got to be the worst facial expression in conflict resolution. Surely this was it, my first real beating. The two men were walking over now and I knew I had to do something. I decided that using my key was not an option as the small scratch on them would not be worth the broken finger on me. I knew the time had come for me to act like a man and do what any man would do. So I did.

I leapt back from my barstool and reached down to use it as a weapon. An awkwardly long and unsuccessful tug revealed that this particular stool was bolted to the floor, and a primal instinct to adapt overcame me as I grabbed a bowl of nuts from the counter and flung it at my attackers. The shot was misplaced but created enough confusion to allow my escape past the two enraged thugs and out the door. On the street I was hoping to find a police officer, security guard or anyone but it was dead quiet. Dead quiet except for the two grunting Neanderthals who had run out of the bar after me.

“You’re dead! When I’m done, you’ll be choking on your own liver!” screamed the shorter one as they chased me.

I almost opened my mouth to retaliate with a taunt of my own but couldn’t summon the breath as I shot down the street in front of them.

I looked back to see whether their cardio was as poor as mine and wasn’t pleased. The taller one had pulled a knife from his windbreaker and was holding it out waiting to catch me. I ran faster than I had ever run before. My heart was pounding and I felt that night’s gin swirling around my stomach like an angry alcoholic ocean.

I turned the corner and a pang of regret entered my mind. I was running from my only sanctuary, my home away from home. It was tainted now. Surely I could never return there with the fear that these men could be back for their unresolved business at any moment. Never again could I sit on that stool, drink that perfect gin and tonic or enjoy a slurred conversation with that barkeeper. Where else would I find a place so clean, well-kept and yet so quiet. How could I leave a home like that behind?

I wouldn’t! It was time for me to take action. It was time for me to resolve this issue whether it meant a beating or not. I wouldn’t live in fear and avoid the one place I loved because of a miscommunication with two lumbering buffoons. I had a plan. Not one I’m proud of, but a plan nonetheless.

I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around clutching my heart. I stared down my pursuers and screwed up my face to portray a man experiencing unbearable pain. I dropped to my knees and held out my hand. I was giving the performance of a lifetime.

“MY HEART!” I yelled as I fell to the ground. “Oh God, call an ambulance!” I croaked at them as I rolled over and pulled my shirt open.

The two men stopped in their tracks in a state of shock and confusion. Luckily the mix of alcohol and fear-induced exercise had given me the right moisture in my mouth to sell the performance with some froth forming at my lips. They both leaned in inquisitively and I opened one eye slightly to catch their expressions.

“Oh shit!” said the short one. “He’s messed up! He’s gonna die!”

“Call an ambulance, Frank!” said the taller one, who dropped the knife and was backing away.

“Screw that, let’s get out of here,” replied the short one, bolting back in the direction we came from.

“Jesus, Frank! Wait up!”

I waited until I saw them turn the corner before I raised myself from the ground. I wiped the foam from my face and pulled the shirt back over my chest. I cautiously walked back to the bar, determined to keep this incident locked away in my mind for no one to hear.

After twenty minutes slowly plodding back to the bar I opened the door to the confused looks of the barkeep and other patrons. I wandered to my favourite stool, sat down and turned to the barkeep. The barkeeper leaned forward as if expecting an explanation and I responded the only way I knew how.

“Gin and tonic, please.”

Miles C. Hellyer is an advertising student at the University of Technology Sydney and writes for his own satisfaction whenever he can.

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