From the Archive Short Stories Writing Challenges

Hidden Depths

Who can tell what is really going on in this mad world? It is all a matter of perspective.


  • 45 minute time limit
  • When typing up no changes / additions to the language
  • Must stick to the question
  • Random paper – AQA English language 2018
  • Random question – Write a story about a time when things turned out unexpectedly
  • Random Genre (purely for the fun element) – Surrealism

I have always had an issue with what my teachers used to call “flights of fancy.” I have, before now been called (and I hasten to add unironically) Bohemian. Still, I digress. There was a period of time I was convinced, convinced I had landed and awoken into a new place that was an opposite world. My terror was cemented when I realised there would be no way of actually telling if this was the case. How would you know for certain? If you made an offensive comment in this opposite world it would be considered endearing so a “fuck you!” Would be the same as a “hey, you okay?” So far so good the only issue is that people would respond the opposite way so, I guess the fuck you would still stand.

My good friend Paul would often sit there and humour me with his good-natured grin. I would often talk for hours to him. When he has had enough, he could flip over and scurry off into the burrow. To be quite honest I would have done the same thing.

I have always had vivid dreams, ones that seemed real. They, for me, are like memories. I know I have interacted with them, made them tangible. They are real to me, alive and dynamic. That has scared people, I do not stop seeing when I close my eyes. I know they are dreams, but that does not stop me seeing the weft and plex of everything that surrounds me. That lingers in the corners.

As the nights began to draw in, I had approached and sprang past being a teenager and fallen into my early twenties, I began to doubt that things were going the way I had envisaged. It all began after an exceedingly long night out and I was standing at the sink, slightly on tiptoe, urinating.  Yes, yes, I know it is an unpleasant image but, I was a guy and my halls of residence only provided a sink in the rooms, and the toilet was right at the other end of the building. I looked and the carpet was alive and thick with insects and arachnids, flailing and rolling on top of one another. I froze and blinked and they were gone.

This small hint had no wider immediate repercussions other than shock.

There was no difference except the masks, floating in front of others faces, knowing that all of these visages did not belong to the true person beneath. This I accepted as truth and barely skipped a beat of my life.

I stood at the cash point in the light of early morning, it struck the edges of puddles, giving them a golden halo. The only ones about were being walked by their dogs, on their way to work or pushing mewling offspring. I was there, out of place, waiting.  Admittedly, I was waiting having not gone to bed the night before. I would have looked smart, at least had you looked some fourteen hours into the past. Now I looked like a caricature of a drunk on a severe losing streak.

I blinked and this time the insects returned, this time I decided to stamp them out this time. I felt them tingle and squirm under my dirty patent leather shoes. A mother turned and clapped, shrieking in delight, in fact a large group of people cheered me on, throaty laughs. They seemed to want to join, and in their eagerness to crush the iridescent carapaces they accidently shoved me to one side.

Something must have happened, I was immediately transported through a tunnel of sheer black, the true dark not that false kind when you close your eyes and see blood red and purple. This black was the kind that absorbs all colour. The kind that screams pain in deafening silence.

I was taken to my high school outside the changing rooms. Leaning on a familiar metal railing cemented into the tarmac. I heard the cackle of seagulls and the singular penetrating call of some kind of solitary corvid.

In the gloom a prow emerged, silent oars dipping into the air as a longship manoeuvred over the path, three feet above the ground. A ramp descended and an emaciated and dehydrated corpse emerged, scraps of old linen stuck and wrapped to its leathery face. In silence it disgorged itself from the craft.

This vision melted away and I heard my name repeated “Joe.” My name followed by that crackle you get from old vinyl. “Joe.!” More insistent this time. “Joe! Wake up!” there was a feeling at the side of my head.

A man, hairy hands and shaggy beard repeated my name, each time quicker and more manic. “Doctor!” He ran off, I appeared to be constrained in a small room with only a bed and one door I could see, he had vanished without using it. Needless to say, this was quite remarkable.

A man, I must presume the eponymous doctor came in to talk. I had questions of my own. He explained where I was and why I was there. Even to me it sounded farfetched. I explained I could only remember stamping on those damned insects. His face turned immediately. I presume that must have been the expression. My mother’s face burned grotesquely an inch in front of my own.

He produced reports about the death of a homeless man, one attacked by some frenzied killer. He looked the image of one whose face I knew very well. The walls heaved as I realised, I was confined to this place. Tethered to it.

From the corners of my eyes I saw more of the weft of people queued and muted and like shadows mouthing wordlessly at me. You know that feeling you have when you think you see someone from the corner of your eye? I have that, only they do not disappear. I feel like I know things. Like I know that this doctor is not right, he is troubled. One of the of masks grinned horribly, hovering in front of his expression telling me the truth. I could not see the details but the sounds were all there, each one vying for more attention.

The doctor did not like my answers. He withdrew a phial, yes it sounds Victorian but I cannot describe it any other way. “This will help.” Simple whether true or not. As the plunger fell, I knew this was genuine madness, to drug me into oblivion so I was no longer a problem.

Pete tipped me a wink and burrowed away. I would be fine and would wait until I was alone. Then slowly bleed away into the ground to seep into the earth and escape. The air began to feel more intransigent, the clocks looked like rain flying at night. 

Hopefully, this was the dawn.

I cannot tell anymore.

By magpiestories

An English teacher by trade, an author at heart, it only took a global pandemic for me to start writing my first novel. Along the way, I found a love for creating shorter fiction which I share on this site along with some updates and (hopefully) useful writing tips.

I hope you have a... pleasant time reading.

Leave a Reply