Friday, October 04, 2013

Learning to Count (a 700-word) flash fiction suspense story by Oren Shafir

suspense_flash_fiction_nurse_with_needleMiss Chandler hears herself counting and the numbers dance before her eyes.The bed begins to spin. She wants to steady herself, but The IV in her arm stops her from stretching. She is not in control. 

“Good honey. This is just something to help you relax before the anesthesiologist gets here,” the nurse says.

Miss Chandler must regain control. She closes her eyes and sees herself: young again, in charge, in her classroom, helping one of her young students learn to count.

“Now Jemma honey,” Miss Chandler says, “That's the third time, you counted out of sequence. We're counting by tens. It's not that hard. Sweetheart, do you know why you're here?”

“To learn math?”

“I can barely hear you, sweetheart. Speak up.”

“To learn math.”

“That's right. To learn math, very good. Although, math may be a bit of an overstatement.”

Some boys in the back snigger.

“I'm merely trying to teach you how to count. You need special help, dear. Your mother and father asked me to give you special help. So try to focus more on the numbers and less on Michael Klein. Yes I've seen how you look at him.”

There are gasps and laughter and hysterical giggles. Jemma looks down at her feet. No communication skills. But the bell rings, and she breathes out, relieved.

“You will stay where you are, Jemma. Everyone else have a nice weekend,” Miss Chandler dismisses them. “Maybe if you thought a little less about Michael and a little more about numbers, then neither of us would have to be here,”

The last child skips out of the classroom.

“I know you're not stupid. You're one of my best readers, but when it comes to math, you're just lazy, Jemma. Isn't that right?

She must teach her a lesson; it is for her own good.
“Well, either you're lazy or you're stupid. Which is it?”

A simple question.

“I'm waiting for an answer Jemma. Because if you're not lazy and you're not stupid, then the only other alternative I can think of is that you want to make a fool of me. Are you trying to make a fool of me, Jemma?”

“No,” says Jemma, barely audible.

“Then you must be either lazy or stupid. Which one is it?”

The child begins to cry silently. 

“Well?" Miss Chandler says.


“Sweetheart, there's no need to cry." Some children are so sensitive. "I'm only trying to help you learn to count. A girl your age should be able to count. But, you can't be lazy, Jemma. You really have to try.”

Miss Chandler is now using her own personal time to help this girl. She could be out enjoying her own weekend, instead of donating her time. But she believes it is her duty to help, even if the child doesn't appreciate it.

“I am trying to teach you basic counting so you can have a normal life. Do you want to have a normal life?”


"Do you want to have a job and friends and family when you grow up?"


“Then we are going to stay here until you learn to count by tens. It's just simple counting, Jemma. Now take a deep breath, focus and for gosh sakes, relax.”

Relax, relax, relax, relax – it was no longer Miss Chandler saying the word. She was losing control again. She was back in her hospital bed.

“Continue counting,” says the nurse.

“80, 70, 60”
“Very good. But you know what, Miss Chandler? I didn’t give you a relaxant," the nurse says.

The numbers appear again in front of Miss Chandler. It’s as if she could reach out and hold them, but when she tries, they begin to shake. Whatever happens to the numbers, happens to her body. The numbers shake violently and Miss Chandler’s body convulses. The numbers are squeezed together, and Miss Chandler moans in pain. They are  squeezed and squeezed, harder and harder.

She needs to focus on something to make it stop. The nurse’s name tag. If only Miss Chandler can focus enough to read it, perhaps she can regain control.

She squeezes her eyes and uses her last resources to focus. Jemma. The nurse’s nametag says Jemma. Miss Chandler begins to cry.

“But sweetheart,” Jemma says, “I'm only trying to help you learn to count."

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