2023 Short Story Competition


Trigger warning: mentions of panic attacks and self-harm.

*DING* Job Posted: Sales Associate
*DING* Job Posted: Content Writer
*DING* Job Posted: Sales Associate
Akash turned his laptop’s volume down. LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed all spammed his inbox
with new jobs by the second. It was a relief Gmail separated promotions and things, but it filled his
inbox up too quick. He should’ve made a separate email for this.
He looked through his inbox to see if there was anything important the dozens of job alerts
were covering with their loud, incessant, stupid presence. Looking so carefully at the thin bars listing
emails on his screen strained his eyes. He’s lucky he doesn’t have glasses, but he’s positive he’ll get
them at some point. Definitely by the end of his degree, if he can finish it.
Akash had enough of squinting his eyes. His head and heart shared a similar feeling he was
worried of. If he could, he would turn his laptop off indefinitely and take a nap to settle himself, but
there was no time. He still had to update his resume and apply to the internships the job boards were
reminding him about, half of which already had at least 50 applicants. He knew he wouldn’t be seen
unless he did something that stood out, like saving an endangered species or revitalizing a civilization.
But all he had was working at Save on Foods for three months and high school experience from before
COVID-19. He could join campus activities but there were too many and not enough notice about them.
Akash heaved a long, heavy sigh. There was too much catching up to do and not enough time to rest. So
much for reading week.
There were still two essays to write and two midterms in two weeks. Akash already promised
himself that reading week would be solely for job related work, and for extra shifts at Save On, but he
can’t help but feel like he’s falling behind. If this is what first year is like, he is definitely not prepared for
the next four. His head and heart began to pulse brazenly. He can’t deal with this right now.
Akash knew he didn’t have to do internships so early, but he wanted the experience of applying.
He yearned for any type of experience, so he doesn’t get stuck in the derogatory loop of not having the
5+ years of experience every job seems to ask for. He had found some volunteer opportunities, but they
clash with his wayward schedule. He learned a huge lesson in planning his courses so stupidly, with his
Mondays and Fridays spent all day at campus and having one to two classes every other day. He knows
how he’s going to approach next year once he finalizes what courses he’s taking. Akash puts his face in
his hands and closes his eyes before heaving another sigh. He still has to do that too.
Thoughts swirled into a tsunami of unintelligible rubbish. Everything he ever did and ever
wanted to do phased in and out of his mind. It felt like the memories were pushing his eyes out of their
sockets and all he could do is dig his palms into his eyes to keep them in. He doesn’t know what he’s
doing, why does everyone else seem to? What is he missing?
Akash opened his groggy eyes and got up. He decided it was time for a break. Maybe take a walk
or do some jumping jacks, anything to distract himself.
He longed to go outside, it had been too long since he sat outside and did his homework. The
weather had been too bizarre for any outdoor venture. Although recently, the sun has been making

reappearances pretty consistently. The thought of feeling the sun against his skin and watch its dancing
light over the trees softened Akash’s tense mind. There’s no harm in checking.
He opened the weather app on his phone. -2 degrees, unusual for a late February afternoon. Or
is it? Akash can’t remember the last time he remembers a warmer February. Global warming had
screwed up his sense of normalcy. He let out a defeated chuckle, name something that hasn’t.
He had to settle for jumping jacks. He needed to get some blood flow in his body and quickly
open up his head. It felt like the neurons in his head were being gradually squeezed, bringing about a
light tingling feeling that escalated his worry. He didn’t have time to deal with it, he had to start working
again. Akash walked around his house in weak efforts to subdue the tingling before settling back at his
It was hard to get back into it, but he managed. He began completing his resumes and writing
cover letters, researching career websites about resume building to make his as good as possible. This
wasn’t so bad, he thought, half convincingly, maybe I kind of like doing this.
The next hour was spent perfecting his resume before tiring out again. His head felt like it was
shaking on the inside and his heart had assumed the tingle of his brain. Akash didn’t pay much attention
to it, even when his arms began to twitch occasionally. He hesitated to take a break. He was on a roll; he
could keep going. His body needed to understand this is something he has to do.
He started watching videos about the job market, with the return of the occasional ding from his
email from his volume no longer muted. It would have been easier to ignore if he didn’t look at his email
icon on his taskbar every time he heard it. It was like his mind was forcing him to remember, every
second, that he had applications to do. Although he had weeks before their deadlines, reason wasn’t
enough to prevent the tingling in his mind from growing at every ding.
Eventually, he muted the volume again, but the silence of his room wasn’t enough for his mind
to calm down. He felt his heart start beating faster and faster as he couldn’t remove the to do list the
dinging had etched into his mind. His arms were twitching more erratically than before as the tingling
spread through his body. He had to calm down before it got too big.
He thought of California, the sunny weather, palm trees and anything else Hollywood movies
had instilled in him about LA. He wanted to go there, in the carefree, unrealistic future it posed and
leave everything behind. He felt his throat close up as a wave of tears began collecting in his eyes. The
dinging in his head wasn’t going away, instead getting louder and louder the more he thought of the
future that wasn’t his.
Akash grabbed his head as if to rip it open with his bare hands. He couldn’t stop the incessant
noise of job alerts in his head. He squeezed and clawed and held his head with his forearms before
smashing his head into his desk.
“STOP,” he yelled, “STOP IT, GO AWAY, STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP.” Twitching violently, Akash
grabbed his arms and pulled himself into a hug, rocking back and forth on his wooden chair. Deep
breathes, he reminded himself, in and out, in and out, in and out and, in and, out, and in and, out. His
breathing hiccupped the more he tried to control it. The word STOP rang over and over in his head,
trying to command his body to do something other than torture him.
He stood up and started to walk in circles. His body was shaking, his chest tight as if his heart
was being slowly crushed in machine press. He held onto his arms in an effort to stop shaking and regain
control of his breathing. The tingling had reached his hands, along with the sudden urge to squeeze it
out. Akash grabbed some stuffed animals he had on his shelf and squeezed aggressively. He couldn’t

squeeze hard enough to satisfy the tingle. Dropping the stuffed animal, he dug his nails into his palms in
efforts to claw it out himself. The tingling sensation refused to depart.
Akash rhythmically stabbed his nails into his palms over and over as tears drowned his face. He
imagined his nails were a fork, its prongs breaking the flesh of his hands, his chest, his face, silencing the
tingling at its root. Akash became entranced in this thought, slowly soothing the retreating tingle one
sensation at a time until his hand became flaked and tender. He had to stop; the stabbing began to hurt.
His mind was in turmoil, crying for help that will never come. He needed to calm down, but his
body was far from conventional methods. He could only dig deeper into the madness his mind had
assumed until it had tired him out. This was not the life he envisioned for himself. This was not what he
wanted to do.
Akash longed for forever sunny days and the never ending feeling he got from watching
Moonlight on that summer evening all those years ago. The feeling of biking at Mud Bay during the
summer afternoons or hiking the Grouse Grind on the morning of family trips. The feeling of when he
thinks of his idealistic California, which he is aware only exists in his mind. But the idea of being there
kept him sane, even when feeding his pain. It kept him from the work that tired and killed him inside. It
kept him moving forward. The idea of finally doing what he wanted to do, and not do what he was here
to do. To travel and not worry about money or to just relax for the rest of his life. He sobbed at the
reality he had no choice but to accept.
Akash turned to a corner in his room, and slowly sat. He curled up into a tight ball with his eyes
closed and began rocking back and forth in a slow rhythmic trance only he could hear, trying to calm the
tightness of his heart and the offensive his brain launched against his body. He dreamed of his
unobtainable life and what he would do, immersing himself in the reality he repeatedly asked and
prayed for and away from the dinging reminders of his life, dictated by deadlines and anxiety he never
could control. The dinging reminders that continuously reminded him his dreamed reality would never
come to life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *