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News & Features » August 2014 » “Living the Dream” by Sarah M. Chen

“Living the Dream” by Sarah M. Chen

Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuanacocainespeed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)

This week, Sarah M. Chen blurs time and reality.

Sarah M. Chen photoLiving the Dream
by Sarah M. Chen

The wind won’t stop banging the bougainvillea against our fence, and the tap tap tap is beating into my skull. My eyes dart around the bedroom, but all I see are hulking shapes. I know they’re our dresser and bookshelf, but at night they look meaningless.

I get up, unable to take the jabbering in my head, and turn on the TV in the living room. Peeking out the window, I wonder if tomorrow is trash day. I glance up and down the block. Some houses have trash cans in front. Some don’t, including ours.

I glance at the clock. Four a.m. My husband’s voice echoes in my head: “Don’t press snooze over and over, baby. You need to get up.”

I long for those nights when I could sleep like the dead. Hit the alarm without even realizing it. Late to work again.

My eyes fly open. The sun blazes through the living room window, trapping me in its spotlight. I must have dozed off on the couch, but for how long? One hour? Five minutes? I check the time and groan. Work is in twenty minutes. Shit.


It’s a horrible long day and I can’t seem to focus on the spreadsheets. Gary sends me home.

“You need rest, Maggie.” My boss’s eyes are sympathetic.

At home, it’s the same as last night and the night before that. Thoughts whir around and around in my head like a squeaky hamster wheel. Did I brush my teeth? I go into the bathroom and rummage through the medicine cabinet for toothpaste. Instead I find Jonathan’s collection of prescription pills. Warfarin. Rizatriptan for migraines.

Ambien for his overseas business trips.

Three little white pills glow through the plastic bottle, beckoning me like candy through the orange sheen. I pop one in my mouth and crawl into bed.


Muffled sounds come from above, and I realize someone’s in the house. I try to sit up but it’s like I’m wrapped in a web of cotton, and the carpet underneath my toes feels rough when I stand up. The house is dark except for a glow coming from upstairs.

I look around, and for a terrifying second I think I’m in the wrong house. No, I’m just in our guest room on the first floor. How did I get down here? I shuffle toward the stairs, but it’s like I’m moving underwater. I giggle with the effort of walking. I . . . crawl . . . like . . . a . . . toddler . . . up . . . up . . . up . . . the . . . stairs. The carpet rubs my knees like sandpaper.

I stand up and shiver at the open window. Why am I naked? I giggle again.

I stagger to our bedroom, seeing rumpled sheets but not Jonathan. The glowing green numbers on our bedroom clock fizz in and out until I decide they say twelve twenty. He must be in the bathroom. The light is on and water is running.

The muffled sounds return, and I drift into the living room. The TV is on. Jonathan never misses the Tonight Show. I sink into the couch and wait for him.


I wake up the next morning tangled in the sheets. Jonathan’s side of the bed is slept in but empty. I have a faint recollection of telling him to wake me at six a.m., but it’s now nine thirty and—crap—I’m going to be late to work again.

It’s a frenzied day of budget analysis. I work late into the night. When I come home I flop into bed.

The incessant mind-mapping, as my mom calls it, refuses to stop. I draw a bath, but it does little to calm my pinwheeling thoughts. I don’t know if tomorrow is trash day.

I think of the oblong pill. I reach for the bottle and shake one into my open palm. Spotting another—only one left—I wonder if two is even better . . .


“I’m sorry, Mrs. Mason.” Dr. Lerner stares at me over the rims of his glasses. “But an addict—someone with your medical history—mustn’t take sleeping pills.” He shakes his head. “I can’t write you a prescription for Ambien.”

“But—but it helps me sleep.” I twist my paper gown in my hands, not sure why I’m wearing one. I just want Ambien. I don’t need an exam.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mrs. Mason.” Dr. Lerner clears his throat. “But Ambien isn’t the answer. It’s not going to bring Jonathan back.”

But it does, I want to scream. It does.


SARAH M. CHEN has worked a variety of odd jobs ranging from script reader to bartender and is now an indie bookseller and private investigator assistant. Sarah’s crime fiction short stories have appeared in the Deadly Ink 2007 Short Story Collection; Shannon Road Press’s Little Sisters, Volume 1; Plan B, Volume 1; and Elm Book’s Death and the Detective. Sarah is contracted with Stark Raving Press to publish her noir novella Cleaning Up Finn. Visit Sarah at www.sarahmchen.com.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com, and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.


About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry StahlLydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).

Posted: Aug 28, 2014

Category: Original Fiction, Thursdaze | Tags: , , , , , , , ,