WRETCHLINGS • by Paul Miller

I wake to find the wretchlings waiting for me.

It’s always the same.

Their red-eyed shadowy forms hover all around. They sap my energy until getting out of bed seems a monumental task. Then, once I do, the wretchlings whisper to me of my own worthlessness and how hopeless it is to resist them. Sometimes images appear in the dark mist that trails their incorporeal bodies. Scenes play out before me, a string of memories of the lowest moments in my life.

I believe they want me to just give up.

If I’m honest, it’s a war they’re winning.

I go into the bathroom and force myself to look into the eyes of my reflection. A wave of self-loathing threatens to overwhelm me, and the wretchlings laugh silently.

No! I shove the feeling away. They can be beaten. I’ve done the research. I’ve reached out to professionals for help. Many people have wretchlings in their lives and have found a way to cope. Some are now truly happy, free of the creatures altogether. It can be done. Today I plan to rid myself of them.

I force myself to dress and go out for a run. I’ve been told it’s important to stay active. The wretchlings soon fall behind. It’s nice to be free of them, if only for a while. I run until I’m no longer able.

When they catch up, I do my best to ignore them. I tell myself I’m feeling a little better.

Next, I run errands. It is best to avoid too much downtime. I go to the store to pick up some groceries. I paint a fake smile on my face and try to seem normal, but the wretchlings whisper in my ear. They tell me everyone else knows what a loser I am, that they are laughing at me on the inside. They point out the seemingly perfect lives and natural social skills of the other customers in the store.

I often feel the most alone when I’m surrounded by other people.

I shake my head and force myself to ignore the wretchlings. Not today. I’ve had it with their constant meddling, with the hold it has over my life. I can’t handle it anymore. I want something better.

That night, I have a date. A coworker set it up. I agreed to go in spite of the wretchlings warnings that it would end disastrously. It’s something I need. Part of me is excited.

Mostly I am terrified.

As I get ready, the wretchlings laugh at my clothes, at my plain face and stupid hair. A constant stream of memories play out in their shadowy mist for me to see. They show me all the times I’ve made a fool of myself with women. They show me all the times I lacked the courage to tell someone how I feel or even speak at all.

Today is different, I try to believe.

Then, somehow, I find the will to get in my car and drive to the restaurant.

My date is lovely. She could do far better than me, but she smiles as if she is happy to see me. After a brief greeting, we sit down to eat.

The wretchlings swirl about the crowded space. They tell me everyone is wondering what such a beautiful woman is doing with me. They tell me she is wondering the same thing, that she can’t wait to escape. They say everyone is laughing.

They show me scenes of all the possible ways the date could go wrong. I spill a drink on her. I say something stupid that puts her off. The date seems to go well, but it is only because she pitied me and felt a sense of duty to the coworker that set us up. She later laughs with her friends about the terrible experience.

My date asks if I’m okay.

I decide to be honest and tell her I am awkward around crowds. I tell her I am awkward around other people in general.

I expect her to be disappointed, maybe even disgusted. I expect her to start looking for a way to end the date. The wretchlings tremble with anticipation.

Instead, she smiles and says it is no big deal and that everyone has issues. I feel hope blossom in my chest. No doubt my date has no idea the lifeline she has thrown me. The wretchlings are very still, watching closely.

This is progress, I think. This is good.

I knew today would be different.

I am able to relax, and the rest of the date goes well. The conversation never drags or grows uncomfortable — mostly thanks to her. At the end, she tells me it was a fun time and that she would like to see me again. I can barely believe it.

On the drive home, the wretchlings are strangely quiet. I hear a few whispers of how I will still find a way to mess everything up, how she will inevitably meet someone better at some point anyway.

The whispers bother me less than usual.

I feel like I may have done it. I’ve read testimonies from people that banished the wretchlings from their lives for good. I’ve done all the things I’m supposed to do. I had a good day in spite of their presence. I feel more hopeful than I have in a long time.

Surely the wretchlings will have to leave me in search of easier prey. I won’t let them bring me down anymore.

It is with this spirit of optimism that I fall asleep, hopeful that my long battle may finally be at an end.

***

I wake to find the wretchlings waiting for me. If anything, they attack with renewed vigor this morning until I doubt I’ll even get out of bed. My endless battle continues, I think sadly.

It’s always the same.


Paul Miller lives near Dallas, Texas with three wonderful kids and writes whenever he can find the time. His work has appeared in a handful of places, including Cricket Magazine.


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