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True Love is Not Always Enough – Once Upon a Time (5×21) – Review- Spoilers

blog-81b15014-676f-4122-94c7-1726fb3e8c6f_5760x3840In this episode, we got to see the end of Hades and we also learned just what kind of man he was, while this battle yet again destroyed Regina’s happiness. Zelena also had to make a difficult choice between her sister and Hades.

The episode started with everyone arriving back in Storybrooke. It becomes their mission to find and defeat Hades. They all know now that Hades cannot be trusted and he has not changed. They do not have time to let Zelena try to change him. He does not trust them and they do not trust him.

Regina tries to explain to Zelena what happened with Hades but Zelena does not want to hear it. All Zelena can hear is that Regina wants to destroy the man she loves. She sees Regina not trusting her. Zelena is upset that yet again no one is on her side. They are all fighting against her and she cannot deal with that.

Zelena tells Hades about how everyone is after them and she suggests just running away. Zelena just wants to be happy with her love and her daughter. That is all that matters to Zelena anymore. This sets up the key difference between Zelena and Hades’s characters.

Zelena would be satisfied with a calm life living in the woods somewhere with just Hades and her daughter. Revenge and taking out their enemies does not matter to her anymore. All that matters is having the two people she cares most about in her life at her side. She no longer wants to hurt Regina or anyone else. Fighting is not on her radar.

Hades is the opposite. Hades will not be happy just living off the grid somewhere. He will not be happy without having everyone under his control. He wanted out of The Underworld in order to rule a greater kingdom. What is important to him is power and control.

Hades and Zelena parallel Rumple and Belle. I do not doubt that both Rumple and Hades love Belle and Zelena. That love is true but that love is not enough. Both Hades and Rumple cannot deal with others being in control of their lives. They cannot let anyone else have power over them. Rumple has to be The Dark One and Hades needs to have the Olympian crystal. With these powers, they are tough to fight and defeat. They believe they are safe because they are the strongest ones around.

While Belle and Zelena want to just live their lives. They do not want to fight. They do not care about power or control. They want to live calmly with their loves and families. In the end, neither can change the men they love. Rumple will always need the power as does Hades.

Zelena was faced with a choice in this episode. She had to choose between her sister and Hades. Hades wanted Zelena to kill Regina in order to eliminate her as a threat. Zelena could not kill her sister. Her sister loves her and does not want to change her anymore. Hades could not live the life that Zelena wanted. He would always want to hurt others and take out Regina. Zelena realized that she could not change this side of him. I think once Belle wakes up she will make the same realization.

There is an issue I had though with this episode and Hades’s character. In all the other storylines the adversary gets an extensive backstory. We see why they became who they were and what caused them to be full of anger and resentment. We got hints at Hades’s story in this second half of the season but nothing extensive which disappointed me. I wanted a flashback to why Zeus cursed Hades.

I wanted to see who Hades was before the curse. I think it would have given me a better way to relate to him. For the Once Upon a Time X Challenge, I am going to write a more extensive post about the use of fairy tales and mythology in this show so I will go into more detail there about the potential that was not realized with Hades character.

images-3In the end, Regina lost Robin in this episode. In the previews for next week, she asks Emma if she is worried that the Evil Queen will come back. I am not sure how I want this to play out.

On one hand the last thing I want is for Regina to backslide. Her character has been written so well. She has the best arc in this series. We understand her so well and all her choices make sense. So having her revert to her old ways out of grief and anger would seem to cheapen her journey. She has dealt with grief before and she should be able to find a way to deal without trying to destroy everyone.

On the other hand, I would not blame her for lashing out. She cannot catch a break and it is getting a bit annoying. There is only so much one person can take. Regina has been through so much and overcome so much. Every time things get close to things being good for her the rug is ripped out from under her feet. I can see her resenting Emma because Emma got Hook back and again not sure I can blame her. I think Regina is strong enough to fight her grief and not fall into that dark place but I would not be surprised if she is angry and resentful for a while.

Quotes:

“Sometimes the truth really hurts,” – Regina- Zelena learned that her love was not enough for Hades. Regina learned that the universe does not want her to be happy.

“Our future is not determined by our past,” – Robin – Robin gave Regina a chance and saw her change. Regina is a new person but her past still haunts her and it may be something she can’t ever fully escape.

“Only way to be safe it be strong,” – Hades- For Hades strength was one of the main things that mattered. Love was not enough. In the end strength was not enough to save him.

Questions:
What will Rumple do with the piece of crystal?
Will Belle’s father really leave her asleep?
Is there another way to wake Belle?
How will Regina handle Robin’s death?
Will Regina come to resent Emma because she got Hook back?
What will the new threat be?
Will Zelena be a deciding factor in Regina not reverting to her old ways?

 

Your Move

She sat on the windowsill, head pressed against the cool glass surface. It had been two hours since he had walked out of the door, shutting her away from him forever. If she stared at the driveway long enough she could see the outline of his blue Honda Civic idling while he packed the trunk.

She watched his ghostly memory lift up boxes and place them in the back. He slammed the trunk shut. He kicked the bumper and punched the hood, she flinched. From here she could just make out the red spreading across his knuckles. He flexed them, face contorted in pain and anger.

He got into the driver’s seat, let the window’s down and gunned the engine. Barely checking for anyone coming down the street, he floored it out of the driveway and down the street. There was only a stale taste of gas in the air to indicate he had ever been in her presence.

Over and over again that scene played. Over and over again she would flinch and let a tear slide down her cheek at his outward signs of frustration and anger. At the first little red dot, she would find her feet itching to get up and run to him. But she never moved, never ran out and caressed his injured hand, calmly cooing and trying to soothe him like he had done for her so many times before.

She wasn’t that woman. He knew it and she had always known it. She had thought he could change her. She had hoped he could open up the locked door hiding her heart. She had prayed he could break down that high wall she had enclosed herself in. She had placed her burden on his shoulders and had watched him struggle without raising a finger to help.

He wasn’t a magician. He couldn’t wave a magic wand and make her feel like she should again. He couldn’t say a handful of words and make her empathetic. She knew that now.

She let the sun rise just above the horizon before she pushed herself to her feet. She quietly made her way up to their (no her) room and opened the closet door. In the back of the closet was the box.

She pulled it out. It was a medium sized box made out of deep cherry wood. A silver padlock was all that was between her and the contents inside. Underneath the box was the small silver key.

She fumbled with the lock. Letting the cold metal spread out under her fingers. She slid her thumb over the raised letters. She felt the bumps as they tickled her skin. She felt this, she could feel the physical world. And now she was beginning to feel beyond that, a weird tickle edged into her chest. She rubbed it, hoping it would go away.

She pulled the key off the bottom and slid it into place. The lock clicked and opened. She palmed the key, squeezed it until the coldness was gone. She let the warm key fall to the carpet beside her.
She pulled off the lock and shut it with a click, placing it beside the silver key. Sliding her fingers around the edges she lifted the lid slowly.

Inside lay three hearts.Each looked exactly the same, like something straight out of an anatomy book. They were pale but that was because they were in suspended animation, or at least that was what the merchant had told her.

It had been over a month ago that she and been out at the mall when a certain stall had caught her eye. Standing off in the corner was an elderly man beside a stall with black and red trim. On the counter before him were all identical wooden boxes.

With her curiosity spiked she had wandered over and stood staring at the nondescript boxes. They were plain but she couldn’t take her eyes off of them.

“Hello, dear,” the man was at her elbow. He only came up to her shoulder. He wore a calm and sweet smile.

“Hi. What is inside?” she asked. Her eyes had scanned the area but there was no signs explaining what he was selling. No price ranges, no pictures, not one hint as to what was inside the beautiful boxes.

“Hearts,” he said simply. As if it was something everyone sold.

“Like gold hearts? Jewelry? Candy? Decorations?” she asked, trying to puzzle out exactly what he meant.

“No, actual hearts,” he explained.

She knew she should have turned on her heels and run off in the opposite direction. She should have shouted and hunted down a police officer. Tingles of fear and terror should have run up and down her spine. But she had only stood transfixed and even more curious.

“Now, before you scream they have never been inside a human. I’m no butcher. These are all my creations,” he reached over and lifted the lid. “See? They are artificial tissue but they work just like the one currently inside of your chest.”

She gazed fascinated at the objects before her. They were exactly like the ones she had seen in movies and paintings. Inside of her beat something similar, though these probably worked like they were supposed to. These probably could actually feel, beat with passion, sorrow and anger. Unlike her heart, that just beat to pump blood, nothing more. She reached out to touch one but he grabbed her hand faster then she would ever assume this elderly gentleman could move.

“No human contact. Not until they are to be used,” he said, releasing her shaking hand. “One touch activates them and then they only for work that particular person.”

“Why?” she didn’t know where that question had come from. She should have been wondering how he had made them or where he had gotten the idea.

“We all need a back up heart. Sometimes grief, hurt or anger can harm or destroy the heart. The work to repair these holes and dents takes some people their whole lives. That is time that could be spent in some much better ways. Without hurt or grief taking up all our time, we could rule this world. We could cure cancer, settle Mars and end poverty and war,” he explained, an excited smile on his face.

She nodded. He had a point, she knew that idea well. She had gotten so much done without those pesky emotions getting in the way. But these hearts could also feel, could possibly increase the dormant emotions that laid inside of her. She knew they were there, just not how to access them. With these hearts maybe she could actually feel, behave as all humans should. The idea terrified her, yet excited her at the same time.

She didn’t ask any other questions. She just held out her credit card for him to run through. He had said something about being careful about how and when each heart was used. She took in two words from each sentence, eyes remaining on the box in her hands.

“Thank you,” she had said. Once he went silent for more than a minute.

“Your welcome miss. Just remember to use them wisely,” he said.

She turned and left without a response to that statement. She didn’t have time to puzzle out his meanings or have second thoughts. She wanted to get home and hide these miracles before she could decide she was crazy.

When she had got home she had placed the box in the very back of her closet. She didn’t believe she would ever truly need them, but a small part of her felt more comfortable with them in the back there, just in case. Just in case she decided she was done with feeling only surface emotions. Done with hiding in her little shell not letting anyone close, not letting anyone see her feel.

Now she stared at the three hearts trying to decide which one to activate. She knew from the moment he had begun packing that she was going to end up in this position. Her old heart had flaked and cracked, each shard piercing holes throughout her chest. She had thought feeling the pain would be good, would wake her up. But she had been wrong. She didn’t understand this pain, didn’t know what to do with it and she didn’t want to learn. She was wrong at the mall, feeling wasn’t something she wanted to experience. She was human enough without of all of that. She just wanted it to end before it got out of hand and she ended up like one of those pathetic weepy girls on the daytime dramas she watched. She had counted the seconds it had taken him to pack, eager to go to her closet and end this whole ordeal.

She reached out and placed her index finger on the heart in the very middle. It slowly turned a dark brick red, the color getting deeper and deeper by the second. Then it beat one fast beat and she cried out.

She clutched her chest, tried to draw in a breath, tears soaking her cheeks. She was on her hands and knees trying to not pass out as the pain increased little by little. She clawed at her chest, desperate to get the hideous object out of her body.

As abruptly as it all started it ended. Her head was fuzzy and she breathed heavily as the pain faded to nothing but a memory. She sank back into the carpet, laying on her back and staring at the ceiling as her body calmed down. Once her head was no longer pounding and she didn’t feel sick she opened her eyes and sat up.

The heart sat in the velvet nest of the box, steadily beating. She didn’t touch it, she just closed the lid and pushed the box away.

She got to her feet, straightened her jeans and T-shirt and went into the kitchen. On the counter was a piece of junk mail with his name prominently displayed. She picked it up, ripped it in half and threw it in the trash can without a second glance.

Humming she began cleaning the kitchen. She arranged the cupboards to her preferred standards. Cleaned out the fridge from all the food he had loved and she hated.

For the remainder of the day she erased every bit of him from the house. She sang and danced as she cleaned up scraps of paper and made piles of things he had forgotten. Once the sun was set she felt content and as if the whole house was a wide open expanse.

Co-workers gave her small smiles and gentle words the next day when she revealed what had transpired the day before. Each apologized for her losing him. In response she shrugged and said, “It happens.” Every time the conversation ended abruptly. She went on her way, pretending those moments didn’t hurt. She was fine, perfectly happy and content.

Each day she would pull out the box and stare at the middle heart. It was so bright, not a scratch, wrinkle or tear could be seen. It was so perfect, not a thing marring its beautiful surface. Exactly how she liked it, safe and untouched.

The phone rang and rang and rang. She sighed and turned over in bed. She answered it with a grunt filled with sleep and annoyance.

“Yeah?” she didn’t even know who it was.

“Mandy, he’s gone,” they were simple words but she had no idea what they meant.

“Who is gone?” she asked.

“Jackson. He’s dead,” the mysterious callers said. Silence followed the statement. The caller didn’t utter a word or a single sound, not even a breath. Mandy didn’t quite know what to do.

“Oh,” was all she said, once the silence became too much. “Thanks for telling me,” she hung up the phone and put it back beside her night light. She yawned and turned back into the covers and pillows.

Not an hour later a hard knock sounded at the door. She was still in bed and the last thing she wanted was to get up. But the person was persistent. After the three series of knocks, and because she was afraid for her door’s safety, she got up. She didn’t do a double check in the mirror, she looked a mess and she didn’t care. Maybe she would scare the visitor away and she could go back to bed.

“What?” she snapped, as she opened the door. On the other side was her best friend, Tiffany.

“Oh, honey,” she pulled Many in for a tight, crushing hug.

Mandy wiggled out of her grasp. “For what?” she asked. She was still half asleep and irritable.

“For Jackson,” Tiffany said, eyes red from tears she had obviously been crying on the way over to Mandy’s place. She reached out to grab Mandy again but Mandy backed out of her reach, Tiffany’s hand just scraping dead air.

“I’m fine,” she said. She turned to head back into her kitchen. “Want some coffee?”

“You’re fine!? The man who left you, the man you loved with all your heart is dead. The man you planned a wedding to, a whole albums worth, is gone. You had children’s names and a dream house picked out! How can you be fine!?” she spun Mandy around. “He is gone, never to come back. You can’t reconcile, get married and tell your tough yet enduring love story to your grandchildren. You are not fine. So stop saying that! You say those words all the time. This time they wont work. Not with me, I’ve known you way too long!”

The mug fell from Mandy’s hand. Shards of ceramic flew across the floor and into her bare feet. Hot coffee seeped into her pajama pants, burning a hole in the knee. Mandy noticed none of this. Without a word to her best friend she ran to her bedroom.

She threw open her closet and dived for the box. Tiffany was chattering in an abnormal high pitched voice at her back. Mandy didn’t hear a word.

She open the lid, terrified of what she would find inside. Laying in the velvet was her heart clearly broken in half. The edges were jagged and crumbling into little slivers. She desperately tried to shove the halves back together but they would not go. She let out a frustrated and strangled sob.

Without thinking she placed her palm on the heart to the right. A piercing pain shot up her hand and into her chest. She screamed, red hot tears sliding down her cheeks. A pair of strong arms held her close, rocking her slowly back and forth.

It stopped and the world came back into focus. Tiffany was sobbing, stumbling over her comforting words. Mandy untangled herself, pushed the box away and stood up.

“What was in the box?” Tiffany asked, cheeks red and tear stained.

“Nothing,” Mandy pushed the closet door closed and put her hand out for Tiffany. “Let’s go have that coffee.”

Tiffany asked a number of questions, begging for answers. She hadn’t seen the contents clearly but she was suspicious. Mandy sidestepped everything, talking in a calm, low voice. Whenever Tiffany teared up she tried to look as sad and as hurt as her friend did. She played the mirror game with her for over an hour before she asked to be left alone. More out of exhaustion then anything else.

“Of course. If you need me you know where to find me,” Tiffany gave her one last hug before leaving.

As soon as her car was out of the drive and down the street Mandy released a great sigh of relief and small chuckle. A smile covered her face and she began to whistle a pleasant tune. With a little pat on her back and some self congratulations at her new found acting talent she began to clean up the mess she had made earlier.

Just as she was finishing her to do list for the day a text came in on her phone. It said, “Funeral is Wednesday at 9. I’ll pick you up.”

“Okay,” she sent back. She put her phone back on the counter and went to find her paints and canvas. The rest of the day she painted, completing a little over three pictures before dinner.

She turned off her phone for the duration of the next day and a half. She was tired of the constant bing of text messages and the endless ringing that followed those unanswered inquiries. Tiffany was playing her assistant. Insisting to everyone that all Mandy needed right now was solitude. That their constant barrage of questions was nothing but a hinderance.

Mandy spent the next day painting and researching. There was handful of studios in the area willing to display unknown artists. She made calls and three appointments. She cleaned her whole house and catalogued all of her pieces.

Wednesday dawned early and bright. Tiffany was at her house at a quarter to nine. Mandy wore a dark green sundress and had put her hair back in a simple ponytail.

“Huh,” Tiffany said as Mandy slid into the passenger seat. “I thought you’d wear that black and red top with your darkest jeans. Jackson loved that outfit.”

“Yeah, but I like this dress,” Mandy replied.

“Okay.”

The drive was silent from that moment on. They arrived minutes before the service began. They found seats near the back of the church in the middle of a crowded pew. The church was packed, so many had come out to say goodbye to a promising life cut short. The mass was nice, calming and full of sweet words and memories of Jackson.

Mandy was getting antsy as the last speaker rose to speak. It had been over an hour and she was hungry and just wanted to go home.

“My brother was a hard headed man. He never took no for an answer. If he wanted it, he got it, almost every time.” He stopped for a moment and found Mandy’s gaze. “He told me to tell you this Mandy. He wanted you to know that he was sorry he didn’t fight harder for you and he hopes you’ll live out your life happily with the perfect man. But know that when you get to those gates he will be the first one to greet you with open arms and a kiss to take your breath away,” his voice choked up and he had to take a sip of water before he could finish his speech.

Mandy squirmed, feeling a sharp sting in her chest. She couldn’t breathe, everyone was suddenly right on top of the other, looking her way. All eyes staring and getting closer and closer. There was nowhere for her to go. So many unfamiliar faces staring at a wooden box with no one inside. Why were they doing this? Jackson wasn’t in there! That was just a set of skin and bones. There was nothing in there worth mourning! He was gone, not coming back no matter how hard they cried. All these words were useless, he couldn’t hear them and he didn’t care!


“I gotta get out,” she whispered urgently to Tiffany. “Get me out. Get me out,” She pleaded.

Tiffany stood and grabbed her hand. She pushed past the knees of the others in the row, some gave them harsh glares, others nodded in understanding. As soon as Mandy was free of the pew she broke out into the run and flew out the back of the church and onto the soft grass right outside of the door.

Mandy laid there trying to get breath into her constricted chest but it wasn’t doing any good. She sat up and put her head between her knees, the pain was only increasing.

“Honey, take a deep breath. I know this is hard but you’ll make it though,” Tiffany patted her back gently, rubbing slow circles around and around.

“Home,” Mandy chocked out through desperate sobs.

“Okay, okay,” Tiffany whispered.

Mandy allowed her friend to pull her to her feet. She draped her arm around her shoulders trying to not fall to her face.

“Deep breaths,” Tiffany kept cooing, but Mandy barely heard her. All she wanted to do get home to her closet, she just needed to make it a few more minutes.

Every red light was like shot to her heart, breaking another piece away. The pain was becoming blinding. Her head was getting fuzzy. Soon she wouldn’t be able to tell where she was let alone make it to the box.

Her brown door with its green trim brought tears of relief to her eyes. As soon as the tires stopped spinning Mandy was out of the car and running at her door. Shaky hands made finding the right key a difficult task.

Finally she found the key, opened the door and was inside. Not bothering to close the door or check for Tiffany she dashed to her closet, yanked open the door and pulled out the small wooden box. Still breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth she opened it and slammed her palm down on the last remaining heart.

Her limbs became numb, her chest stopped heaving and her vision began to clear. She laid back on the floor and let herself calm down. Her heart was just beginning to return to normal rhythm and wasn’t causing a cacophony of noise in her head when Tiffany showed up.

“Mandy what is going on!? She stood above Mandy’s limp body, confusion and anger criss-crossing her face. “What are those exactly?” she pointed at the broken and faded hearts as well as the bright one that was now beating strongly.

“Hearts,” Mandy replied, still slightly breathless.

“Human hearts?” Tiffany backed up a few steps.

“Artificial ones,” Mandy sat up. “They work as ours do though.”

“Work? I don’t understand. What have you done?” Tiffany bent down and picked up the box. Her eyes took in the two halves of the middle heart. The one on the right was in tiny shredded pieces. She reached out to touch the left one, the one still beating.

“Don’t!” Mandy jumped to her feet and grabbed Tiffany’s hand. “You’ll mess it up. Leave it,” she took her box back and closed the lid with a snap.

“This isn’t right,” Tiffany couldn’t tear her eyes from the box. “You can’t just get a new heart every time one gets hurt or breaks. I know you don’t like to show a vulnerable side to the world but this isn’t the answer. You can’t replace the feelings each time.”

“Why not?” Mandy asked. “Why should I have to be a mess? Barely able to function. Do you know how much time and energy that wastes? I don’t do that. That isn’t me. This person is me. This person who accepts the world and moves on. All that sadness does is slow me down and make life difficult.” Mandy slid the box back into its hiding place.

“It is human,” Tiffany sat on the edge of the bed. “We all have to go through it. We just do. You know that. Why did you buy those? Why now?” her voice was soft, strained from the constant comforting, screaming and confusion.

“Because I don’t have to. For a second I thought they would be a magic cure. Make me normal, then Jackson left and I realized that is the lat thing I could ever want. Pain and sorrow suck, and I don’t have to live that way.” Mandy shut the closet door.

“Really? You have none left. What are you going to do now?” Tiffany stated.

Mandy stopped with her hand on the door. She never thought about that. She had assumed these three would last forever. Assume she could live as she always had without an issue. Now she needed more.

“I’ll get more,” she said the words but a slow fear began to spread through her veins. Was that possible? The old man had rattled on about so much she couldn’t remember if the had mentioned how many times one could buy his hearts. Why would there be a limit though? He was a salesman, repeat customers kept him in business.

“Come on, let’s go,” She left her room, Tiffany close at her heels.

The mall was packed. Everyone was out to find that one item that would make the world seem less horrible. She hated crowds, but this was an emergency so she pushed her fears aside. She didn’t stop to gaze at the stalls or check out the best sales. As soon as her feet crossed the threshold she made a bee-line for the stall in the dark corner.

Once the black and red awning came into view she let out a sigh of relief. Half of her was sure he would be gone, a mirage to only appear once.

“I need a new box,” she said as way of greeting.

“Excuse me?” the man looked up, when he caught her face his friendly greeting died on his lips. “Oh, dear.”

Tiffany had reached the stall now and was worriedly looking between Mandy and the man. The fear on her face matched the panic rising inside of Mandy.

“What? Why,oh dear? I need a new heart. I destroyed the other ones,” Mandy pleaded. “Please.”

“Nope, sorry. One per person,” the man began straightening the boxes.

“No,” Mandy screamed. “I need more. My ex-love died. I can’t live with just this one. It’ll break soon.It will only last until I hear his name again. I can’t do that,” Mandy didn’t want to cry She didn’t want to break down here.

“Dear, I can’t help you. These are prototypes. This is just an experiment. You signed a contract, remember?” He straightened one box to line up perfectly with another box.

“Contract? I don’t remember but that doesn’t matter. This feeling thing sucks and I can’t do it anymore. I need more hearts. I need a way to stop this before I can’t move,” she knew she was rambling. Words were pouring out one after another and she had no idea if this man was even registering half of them.

“I’m sorry but I can’t give you anymore. I explained it all to you. This is just to see who is interested. I can’t be your dealer,” he chuckled at his own joke. “Can’t have addicts on my shoulders now can I?”

Mandy reached out and lifted the lid of one of the boxes. Her hand hovered over the heart on the right. “I can buy these or I can destroy your whole supply.” She reached out and opened a second box.

“You don’t want to do that,” the man didn’t reach out to stop her, didn’t shout out for help. He just wore a grim tight lipped grimace.

“I don’t? Why? Because I’ll die! I’m going to die either way. Why not go out with a bang,” she lowered her hands hovered inches away from the organs. “Give. Me. A. Box” she said each word syllable by syllable.

“No,” he said it quick and hard. “I won’t be responsible for your addiction or avoidance or whatever this is. You want to die, go ahead. You won’t be the first,” He took a step closer to her and said quietly so only she could hear. “I told you this was a risk, a bad purchase. People can run all they want but eventually the world catches up. I sell these for those who are stable enough to understand their potential. You won’t be the first to lose control and break in front of me. You chose to buy them, you chose to abuse them and now it is your choice to live or die.” He stepped back and held her gaze. “Your move.”

“Mandy?” Tiffany’s shaky voice sounded in her ear but it was far away, nothing but a whisper.

“You won’t sell me another box,” a statement not a question.

“Absolutely not,” the man shrugged. “Like I said it is your move. Learn to live this way or cease living. I don’t care.”

Mandy held herself completely still and closed her eyes. Jackson’s face looked back, eyes shinning with love and life. Mouth twisted in a sad little smile, the one he wore every time she failed him. He nodded slowly.

She felt her hands begin to shake. Her chest was tightening, and her limbs were going numb. Her eyes were moistening and she knew what was coming. A flood of tears and pain beyond anything she could imagine would crippled her and throw her onto the ground. That was her future.

“No,” she slammed her palms onto the two hearts. She couldn’t breathe, was choking on air. There was screaming but she couldn’t figure out from where or from who. The world began to fade as air became nothing but a memory. The last thing she saw before darkness took over was the man’s sad smile and slow wave.

Left Behind

My eyes snapped open and my heart went into overdrive. The surface below me wasn’t smooth. I scraped at the harsh rigid fabric, there were no sheets to bunch up into my fists. On top of me wasn’t my comforter but my warm and heavy fleece blanket. I didn’t move, didn’t blink and barely drew in breath. This couldn’t be happening.

I had fallen asleep in my bed last night. I was positive of that. I remembered pulling the comforter over my shoulders and curling up on my side into my usual ball. The last thing I had seen was the shadows of the trees dancing across my closed bedroom door. The branches curled into skeletal fists, rapping to get out of my room and into the rest of the apartment. It had all been there before my exhausted brain had finally turned off and shut down.

Now I opened my eyes to a stark white ceiling, only a sliver of the morning sun cutting across the surface. I could see the edge of the television from the lower edge of my vision. A black speck marring the surface of what should be a tranquil new morning. How did I end up in the living room?

I slowly sat up and placed my blanket to the side. With shaking legs, I stood and carefully made my way to the bathroom. One foot slid in front of the other, coming to rest, heel touching toes. I wanted to get to the mirror but it was also the last thing  on this Earth that I wanted to do.

I turned the corner of the hall and saw the open bathroom door, a door I knew I had closed last night. My feet stopped moving and I just stood there, completely still and staring dead ahead of me. This was the moment when I should walk in that room, turn on the light and know if I had destroyed everything or not.

Ten minutes later and I was still standing and staring. My feet were glued to the carpet. My brain was screaming at me to run and my heart was barely beating. I felt sick, my stomach wanted to throw up and release all of the anxiety and fear building up inside of me. My brain wanted me to just sit down and cry and deal with the world falling apart. None of that would matter though unless I knew, knew if I had done it or not.

Finally I couldn’t let my racing emotions hold me any longer. I had to know. No matter what better judgement said, I had to see. Even if I didn’t look that wouldn’t change anything. If I had touched it, I had touched it. There was no turning back time, no undoing whatever I had done.

When I restarted moving, I was in fast forward. I nearly jogged to the doorway. I stepped in front of the mirror, flicked on the light and let out all the breath I had been holding. They were still there. Those small round marks, with the waving lines stared back at me, they were still there. I hadn’t taken them away, I hadn’t erased him.

My legs felt like jelly, I had to sit down. Gripping the edge of the sink I lowered myself onto the toilet seat and let my body release all the tension from the last half hour.

I cried until I had no tears left and my stomach was queasy. It felt so good to let all of that go. It had been months since his eyes had closed for the last time. Months since I had heard his laugh ringing from the living room. Months since his hands had wrapped around my stomach and held me close. Months since cruel fate had stolen the only person in this world who knew and understood me.

I never had to voice my fears or worries to him, he could always just read them on my face. Without asking he knew what I needed and was there to give it to me. Whether it was a hug, kiss, flowers or a joke he always had exactly what I needed. It was wrong, we knew that. We knew that what we were doing was wrong, but we didn’t care.

We tried to hide it. We tried to be like every other couple, satisfied but not happy. We really did try to pretend. I am just not much of an actress. He was alway better then me, always able to hold a stoic stance and tight lipped grimace when we were out together. I alway resented his skill a little bit. I knew it wasn’t personal but a small side of me had issues believing that some days. He loved me, he adored me, and he couldn’t live without me. He just couldn’t show the world that he loved me.

Love isn’t alive anymore. I don’t remember when or how but someone destroyed it for the rest of us. Someone pissed off the higher-ups and they outlawed love. They said it created inequality. If people were only able to fight for a handful of others, that left too many people without any help. They said it left the world crumbling and would eventually lead to the end of civilization as we knew it. If the human race was to survive we all had to fight for everyone else, you couldn’t be attached to only one person. They said this was the best way, groups working together could accomplish so much more.

Children were raised by a “family group.” Elders were moved to different quads and cohorts, where a group also took care of them. Each stage of life moved you into different areas, different cohorts. In each one you lived with others your age and at your stage of life. You worked with them and survived with them. You didn’t attach yourself to them, no one was friends, and no one cared about one person more than any another. At least not in public.

Marriage was to create children and to keep a shelter up and running. You were assigned your partner at age 22 and you dealt with them until old age. You were not friends, lovers or even companions. It was a business contract, nothing more.

Love can’t be eliminated though. It isn’t a disease or a passing fad. Fate will step in and partners will fall for each other. It was inevitable that eventually a pair would actually fall for each other. You can hide some things but a heart full of true love can’t be shut off.

I was ten at the first “divorce.” Groups were gathered together of all ages. Everyone got to see what breaking the rules would mean. It took place in the dead center of the city. A pair was brought up on a stage and ripped from each other’s arms. She wouldn’t let him go at first and he begged for another chance. The guards, dressed completely in blinding white, dragged them to the opposite end of the stage.

Still sobbing and breaking they stood the two before us and made us choose which one would be left behind, the woman or the man? Which one would get to suffer on Earth and which one would suffer in Hell? (Because that was what we were led to believe, lovers ended up in Hell). We choose the woman. The guards not saying a word, had shot the man, pushed the body aside and dismissed us.

As a child I hadn’t understood. They had broke the rules and were punished, to me that was logical. I remember asking a member of one of the other cohorts, “Why didn’t they just follow the rules?” To me rules were simple and plainly laid out, why break them?

“Because sometimes rules can’t be followed. You don’t always get a choice,” she had answered me with a hard and bitter edge to her voice.

Two years ago she was the one the crowd had chosen. I had watched, understanding finally what she had meant. You can say no all you want but that word doesn’t mean much to the heart. Laws aren’t meant to govern the soul.

At home we were supposedly safe. No one cared what happened behind our four walls. This was considered our shelter, our one spot where we were given an illusion of privacy. They didn’t have cameras or anything spying on us, but we did have windows on all walls. The world was never completely gone.

In public was where they cared. It was where others could watch your every move and gain ideas that worried them. At home it was only yourselves you hurt, out in the world you could destroy the whole group. If you slipped up outside, you could and would lose everything.

There had been no trial. We had woken up to our door being busted open and shouts sounding from the hallway. We didn’t ask what was wrong. We didn’t attempt to play dumb. We knew. The day before I had smiled at him and him at me. It had been an accident, one I had prayed no one had noticed. That prayer went unanswered.

I didn’t cry on stage. He didn’t beg them to choose him or to let us go. We shut down everything. There was no whispered declarations of love or promises to be together forever. We let them separate us without a word or ounce of emotion. The crowd choose him and I had watched the life leave his eyes with a steady heart and my own eyes dry.

At the end we finally did it. We finally shut everything off, at that last moment we refused to let them win. They could kill us, and damn our souls but they couldn’t destroy what we shared. We didn’t need to cry it from the mountains or whisper it to each other. We knew it and that was all that mattered.

I was empty for about a month. For month I pretended to not care like the rest of the world. I didn’t cry or get angry. I lived one day to the next. There is only a finite amount of time you can do that for though. You can only pretend for so long before reality rears its ugly head.

I woke up one morning and saw everywhere he had ever been. I knew where each of his feet had fallen and each surface his hands had touched. I lived in an obstacle course. If I touched those spots, if I erased him, he would be completely gone.

For weeks I tried to avoid every memory of his. I didn’t wipe down counters, sweep the floor or move any pillows. If I left it all the same he wouldn’t truly be gone.

You can’t live like that forever. Life has to move on. You can fight and build a new life or you can give up and let it all destroy you. He would kill me if I let them win. I had to fight but that meant I had to let him go, slowly but surely. Gradually I began pushing each piece of him away. I walked in his shoe impressions on the carpet, sat in his sagged place on the sofa. Slowly I consumed each piece of him.

All that was left were a few fingerprints on the mirror. The fingerprints I had stared at so intently a moment ago. They were all that was left of him. Life had destroyed every other piece. Those marks were my only memory of him now. I didn’t know what would happen if I swept those prints away.

Would I completely forget him? I had heard stories, once all traces were gone of that person it was like they never existed. You got a new partner and life moved on. Was it possible? Did they actually do that? Would it matter? What did I want? What did I deserve?

If I let the world back in it could happen again. What if I fell for my next partner? Would I be betraying him? Could I stand to live life in hiding again? Was there something wrong with me? Was I doomed to live life in constant fear and always looking over my shoulder? Did I care?

I stood up, got back in front of the mirror, splayed my hands on the sink and concentrated on each and every line. I stared so hard, trying to fully and completely commit each wavy line to memory. Last night I had left my bed, roamed around and did who knows what. Was my subconscious trying to tell me something? Should I just let it go?

I slowly raised my my hand and pressed it to the glass right beside his print. I held it there for a moment before pulling away, leaving my own impression behind. I looked at the two hands, so different. Yet the same.

I turned off the light, locked the door, shut it completely and went to begin my day.

Nothing is going to fix this, is it?

I fell out of bed nearly hitting my head on the nightstand after the first bang. After the second one I was on my feet and running for the living room, scooping up my cat as I went. I watched the light show of the third one from my living room window. Giant streaks of blinding white light, almost af_2364551blike lightening but with less distinct shapes.

There was no fourth bang or burst of indistinct light lines, everything just went completely silent and still. No debris rained down from the sky, no building crumbled to the ground. All the houses stayed standing and quiet. Where were my neighbors? Why was no one rushing out to find out what the hell had happened?

The whole thing looked like it had taken place only a few blocks from my usually calm suburban neighborhood. Someone else had to have heard the sound and felt the shaking. I could not be the only one.

My cat dug his claws into my arm, a clear sign he wasn’t in the mood to be held any longer. I reluctantly released him, still unsure if there was any real danger. I watched him climb to the back of the love seat, curl up and go to sleep. Apparently he couldn’t care less about random explosions with no visible results.

I went back to my room, put on a pair of shoes and grabbed my phone. Keys in hand, I left the house. Once I was outside I become even more concerned and confused. The air was not filled with a smoky haze and nothing smelled burnt or off at all. It was just another gentle spring morning. Flowers were just beginning to open, dew was drying up off the tips of the slender grass blades. The sun felt warm and calming on my face. I almost went back inside chalking the whole thing up to a hallucination or a very vivd dream. Almost.

No matter what it looked like and felt like out here, something major had happened. Something had crashed or blown up not far from me. My curiosity and sense of duty to my city cried out for me to go to the source and figure out what had happened.

I walked down the drive dialing my girlfriend’s phone as I went. She picked up on the second ring.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Hey babe. Question for you. Did you feel a huge bang, did the ground shake or did you see a weird burst of light like ten minutes ago?” I asked her.

She sat silent for a moment. A distinct clicking could be heard. She was doing something on the computer. I wondered if she had actually heard me or not.

“Like an explosion?” she finally asked.

“Yes,”I said. I wished she would give me her full attention for this conversation.

“No, we haven’t heard or felt anything. Where was it?” still distant, still only half listening to me.

“It looked like it was two blocks from my house,” I tried to keep my tone even but worry and panic weren’t easy to hide.

“Well, that would be a bit far from here. Maybe too far,” she answered. I heard her getting up and becoming a bit more muffled. She was moving away from her desk, still working. Not concerned in the least bit.

“You would have seen this. It lit up the whole sky, shot higher up than I could see. Rocked the whole house’s foundation,” I desperately tried to explain.

“Hmm,” was all she said. This time I knew she had only heard half of the words I had said.

“You aren’t listening,” I said, exasperated.

“Sorry, I’m working. We can talk when I get off. I guess just watch the news until then” she suggested. I could picture her giving me a half smile and a shrug.

“Fine,” I ended the call. I wasn’t in the mood to hear how I might be imagining things. She obviously didn’t care about what I was saying and couldn’t care less about things blowing up near me. I would just have to find the spot, snap a picture and send it with an annoyed look and a “I told you so.”

I was just about to round the top corner of the street when I saw him coming up behind me. He was walking quickly, arms crossed like he was cold and continuously looking over the houses to where the explosion had occurred.

“You going to look at it to?” I asked. The man stopped, clearly having not noticed me in the slightest.

He was early thirties, a mop of messy brown hair covering the top of his eyes. Eyes that had deep bruises under them. He was in a pair of sweat pants and old faded band shirt, one I had never heard of before. He clearly had been awoken by the disturbance as I had. I wondered for a moment what I looked like, probably just as bad.

“Uh, yeah,” he said. He refused to meet my eyes. I waited for him to come closer to me, to go with me to the site. He didn’t move.

I didn’t know what else to say so I just walked onward. I looked back every few steps to confirm he was still behind me. He was following, still stealing glances over the rooftops to the area. His eyes kept twitching, I couldn’t tell if it was from tiredness or fear.

We continued up the side street not speaking. I wanted to ask his name, chat about being rudely woken up, ask him what he saw or what he thought was going on. But the man never came within conversation distance, remaining exactly one house behind me the whole time.

At the top of the block where I was sure the explosion had come from, I stopped thinking about the stranger behind me. The street was perfectly normal, nothing out of place. No cars strewn across the road, no people running and screaming, no black smoke cloud or completely missing house. The wind barely stirred the leaves of the trees. It would have all been picturesque except the wandering strangers. They were coming from the every part of the street, the opposite end, across from me and from random backyards.

Some of the looked like the zombie man behind me. Shuffling along, hunched over, nervously looking around, waiting for something to jump out at them. Others looked like me, wide eyed and shocked. Some just stood, staring at the normal looking street. Some wandered to the middle of the block, trying to see if nothing had really happened or if it was something much smaller, only seen from right on top of the spot. No one was talking to anyone else.

I headed down the street, heading for the exact middle of the street. I wanted to get closer to the people, find someone who might actually talk to me. I didn’t bother to look behind me, I was sure the man was still there.

“Excuse me!” I called to a sixty something woman, moving a short distance ahead of me. Her grey hair was thinning but she stood straight and strong. She didn’t turn around to face or speak to me.

“Excuse me?” I said, a bit louder. Still she ignored me.

“Hey!” I barked. What the hell was going on?

I ran forward intending to tap her shoulder, forcing her to notice me in some way, even if it was with annoyance. My hand went right through her. I nearly passed out. I pedaled back up the sidewalk, running right into the tired stranger behind me.

“She saw, understood and is gone,” he said. So simple, so sure.

“Huh?” I barely heard him. My mind was still reeling from what I had just experienced. My hand had gone through her! What the hell was going on!?

“This happens every day. Each day starts with some leaving,” he said. He had stopped walking, arms no longer hugging himself.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I snapped. My head felt like it was going to shoot off and float in space.

“The dead,” he said.

I felt my legs give out and I fell to the ground with a hard thud. It didn’t hurt.

He sat down beside me, legs crossed, eyes watching me. He just sat there watching me, as my brain ran over every possible meaning of what he had just said. My mouth was hanging open, my heart was racing and my hands were severely shaking. He could not be saying what I thought he was saying.

“No,” I snapped. My brain was on again. “I held Jax, I talked to Maggie. I can’t be dead,” I said. The dead didn’t talk to the living or hold pets.

“You weren’t completely gone yet. Just fading. You are close now,” he said. “Though the cat will always be able to see you. Animals are odd like that.”

I looked up and felt another shock to my system. He wasn’t a bedraggled homeless man anymore. He was in a pair of white cargo shorts and a white crisp T-shirt. His hair was a brilliant blond and all traces of bruises and exhaustion was completely gone. His face was flawless not a wrinkle, pimple or scar. If I wasn’t in panic mode, I would have thought him handsome.

“How?” I asked. I had been sleeping, how could I have died?

“Stroke,” he shrugged.

“Seriously? I’m 25,” I said.

“It happens,” he answered.

“Ugh,” I groaned, dropping my head into my hands. “But I don’t want to be dead.” I moaned.

“Yeah I hear that a lot. It’s actually why we started using the explosion thing. Gets you up and out and close to the gates. Makes pushing you on a bit easier,” the man explained. He looked so relaxed, no cares whatsoever. Guess angels got that perk.

“What if I refuse to move?” I asked, looking up at him, hard. “What if I refuse to move on? Stay here forever? What are you going to do then?” There had to be a loophole.

“Forever is a very long time,” my guide said simply.

“I didn’t even get to say goodbye,” I felt the tears now. A heavy cloud of sadness settled over me.

“Not many do,” he said.

“You suck at making me feel better,” I snapped. The tears fell down my cheeks. I wanted to brush them away, stay strong and fight but it was proving too difficult. How do you fight death?
 “Not my job,” he confessed shrugging again. I seriously wanted to dislocate his shoulders. “I just need to get you to the gate.”

“Nothing is going to fix this is it? No amount of crying, screaming or being stubborn is going to make me any less dead,” he didn’t need to nod. I knew it was all useless. My life was over. Never would I hold Maggie again. Never joke with my parents, or hug my mother. Jax would find a new home and live happily on without me. The world would turn, trees would grow, and new life would begin. I would see none of it.

A gentle hand gripped my upper arm. A familiar sweet face looked down at me. I couldn’t place it exactly but I knew those eyes and that touch. It was comforting, soothing. My complete desolate sorrow quickly evaporated.

“We can go through together,” the stranger intertwined their fingers with mine. A surge of heat and joy washed through me. I felt a smile turn up my lips and my heart became as light as air.

I got to my feet, and walked side by side with this kind person. We came to the middle of the street where a giant white starburst hovered over the street. The stranger gave me a reassuring smile and we walked forward.

I was dead, there was no changing that. There was something more though, a new journey for me to start out on and I was ready.

I was dead and that was okay.

It was an Accident (Madeline’s side)

Withering_Despair_by_lucaszoltowskiMadeline stood staring down at Becca’s arm and felt the breath leave her lungs. She almost let her legs buckle and collapse into the ground under her. She just barely held herself up, knowing now was not the time to give up, not just yet. It was there staring straight at her, there was no denying it.

When Becca had first come home, arm hidden away, Madeline had prayed it was just a misunderstanding. A much less deadly infliction, something easily cured and forgotten about. Even after Becca had uttered those words, Madeline still refused to believe what was transpiring.

Sitting in the living room, kneeling beside the one person who would forever hold her heart she watched as inch by inch the horrific scene was revealed. There staring at her in deadly black was the first of what would be three images. Two women, hands just about to release from one another. Looks of sorrow and resignation on their faces, looks of the end. Madeline looked away, praying she could somehow erase that image from her mind.

“Honey,’ Madeline wrapped her arms around Becca and buried her head into her lap. “I’m so sorry,” she said softly. She wanted to all out sob, to fall apart; but she knew she didn’t have much time left and being a blubbering mess was not the last memory they needed to share with one another.

“Make it stop.” She sounded so sad, so pathetic. It wasn’t an angry or scared request, it was one of pure desperation. “Make it go away,” Becca begged. Tears falling onto Madeline’s face.

Madeline buried her head into her love’s shoulder and just kept whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again. She had nothing else to say, there was nothing she could do.

“Stop saying that. Fix this before I see that moment.” Still pleading, still desperate Madeline couldn’t look into that face and know what she had to let happen.

Madeline sat back on her heels and said gently, “I can’t,” it was true. She couldn’t stop this, she had nothing at her disposal to help. “I’m not allowed.” Again not a cop out.

“Not allowed?” Becca gave her a pissed look. Her sniffling stopped and her voice increased an octave, she wasn’t scared now, just angry. “Who cares what you are allowed to do! Fix this, save me!” her voice broke on the last words.

Every fiber of her being made Madeline want to reach out, gather Becca up and save the day. But she couldn’t, she had nothing. “Honey, you know I can’t. My hands are tied,” she felt like a prisoner, locked behind bars and forced to watch the world burn around her; unable to do a single thing other than give out useless phrases of pretend comfort.

“This is your fault,” Becca bit out at her. Pushing Madeline from her and onto her backside. Madeline caught herself quickly, watching Becca move to the center of the room. “You started this. You are the reason everyone is terrified of every other breathing person. You are the reason people panic at the slightest blight on their arms. You started this, now end it.” That look was so accusing, so spiteful. Madeline wanted to argue, but she knew it was useless. Becca was right, it was all her fault.

“It was an accident, you know that,” it wasn’t a good excuse, but it was all she had. She let herself fall completely onto the ground, defeated. She didn’t know what to do or what to say. For so long she had been running from this moment only to back right into it.

“I don’t care,” Becca spat. Madeline just nodded, she understood. She didn’t blame Becca for her anger and confusion. She was fully entitled to it.

Two years ago she had been so excited and honored when she had gotten a call offering her the job of a life time. Develop a serum to allow operatives to glimpse the future, just enough to gain the upper hand. A challenge customized for her, a project tailor-made for her alone.

For months she had done experiment after experiment until she had finally perfected the serum. Six months later the government was jumping around rejoicing, ordering huge batches of the serum and rewarding her handsomely.

Then two months later the world had flipped on its head. That morning would forever be burned into her mind. The pictures of that man hanging with that giant tattoo still made her feel queasy. A tattoo detailing the absolute worst moments of his life. Moments that any sane person would want to get away from by any means necessary. She had known right then this wasn’t some isolated side effect. No one would listen to her though, not until body after body showed up, in every state, effecting every race, gender and age.

Body after body all with tattoos showing the worst moments anyone would have to endure. Moments shown to them before they happened, moments that couldn’t be escaped. They had sprung to action too late, a pandemic had broken out. She had been forced to research a cure, a task she still struggled with until this day. A year later and they had no answers. They still had no idea how it was passed on or why. People avoided contact with the inflicted. The victims became leapers hidden away from the rest of the country. Hiding away until that last image appeared showing them exactly how to end the whole ordeal.

Madeline had developed possible aids but nothing that could stop the process. Also the side effects were horrific, from losing limbs to becoming nothing but a shell. A shell with a brain still alive but not allowing the victim to interact or live in their world anymore. They weren’t cures but more curses, ones that were much more painful and terrifying. Becca would not suffer like that. Madeline could not watch Becca suffer like that.

“Becca what do you want from me?” Madeline begged, still on her knees, hands clasped together in front of her. Although she knew the answer and it was the one thing she just could not do.

“To not let me die,” Becca sobbed, barely able to catch a breath. “Don’t you have anything? You’ve been working on this for years. There has to be a way to delay this or stall it or something!” Madeline just hung her head.

“We have something but the side effects are horrible,” she would not go into details. Becca knew her, knew she would do anything to keep her happy and alive. If she had even a slight chance at stalling this, she would; but she would not destroy the love of her life. She would not destroy her body, watch her fall apart slowly before her. Though this fate was terrible, any other option was ten times worse. At least this would be quick and definite.

“As horrible as watching the nightmare of the last bit of my life unfold in front of me?” Becca jabbed out her arm. Coming into vivid focus was another image, below the first of the two of them parting ways. Madeline could only look at it for a second, it was Becca huddled in a ball, eyes wide with fear. All alone.

“I-I-I,” Madeline felt her head become woozy and her heart spring up into her throat. She loved Becca with every bit of heart and she would not be witness to this moment. She sprang to her feet and grasped Becca’s hands. “I can’t do this,” she pulled Becca into a deep impassioned kiss. She gave Becca every bit of love and sorrow she possessed.She whispered one last, “I love you,” before releasing her hands and running from the room and out the door.

She ran out onto the porch, barely able to breathe or think clearly. Her head swam, making her feel like she was going to faint. She fell to the cold stone floor and tried to gather herself, to get the world back into focus.

Trembling she laid her head back against the wooden door, tears streaking down her cheeks. She had tried so hard and had failed as miserably as she knew she always would one day. Still shaking, she gathered the handful of pills she kept in her pocket. She threw half of them into her mouth and swallowed with great difficulty. She repeated the process with the second half.

As she felt her body begin to break down, and the world begin to break up and fade, she pulled back her long sleeves, (ones she had worn for two years) and stared at the three images. Three images that had haunted her since that fateful morning when they had found the first victim. Becca showing Madeline her arm, Madeline leaving and Madeline on her back on this very porch.

Fo two years she had worked to erase these images, and only these images. She had worked so hard to evade her own fate, and only her own fate. Now as her vision faded and the world receded, she finally understood. Fate was fate.

It was an accident

Withering_Despair_by_lucaszoltowskiShe rubbed her arm unconsciously over and over again as she sat in the subway car on her way home. She had her canvas bag laying over the top of the mark but she knew people were getting suspicious. Anyone rubbing or hiding their arms was a call to move seats or back quickly away. Not a single person would come near her, not that she blamed them. Until today she had acted the same way, crossing to the opposite side of the street or finding a new restaurant to eat at. If they didn’t touch you, you couldn’t get it. Or so she had thought.

It had appeared during a budget meeting. Her boss had been showing charts and explaining complex numbers, she couldn’t have understood even is she had wanted to try. She had been tapping her pen in a basic rhythm on her notebook when a small black dot had caught her eye.

At first it was nothing but the dot. Just a black spot glaring up at her, a black mark silently letting her know that things were over for her now. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it for the rest of the meeting. She had waited with held breath and a nervous anticipation for it to grow and expand but for those two hours it had never changed.

By the end of the meeting she had been convinced that it was nothing more than a stray bit of ink from her flying pen. Everyone said the mark appeared and grew within minutes. One minute you were normal and the next you were a sniveling mess as the mark grew and destroyed your whole world.

Whoever had started that rumor was cruel and sadistic. After the meeting she had gone back to her desk and was surfing her research sites when she had seen the first few lines begin to grow. Her heart had sunk into the soles of her feet and she had nearly cried. She hadn’t shut off her computer or clocked out, she had just grabbed her things and run headlong from the office. She ignored every shouted question that followed her out. She never looked at the picture forming. She had just covered it up and prayed she could get home without anyone noticing her infliction.

The train finally pulled up to her stop and she nearly twisted her ankle running for the doors. She pushed aside every other person attempting to get home after a hard day of work. As she ran the two blocks home her eyes caught every passerby’s’ face. Each held a certain amount of sadness in them. Like they could see in her own eyes the fear she had racing through her veins, it was a sympathetic look. A look that said, “We are sorry you are going to be gone soon, but better you than me.”

“Madeline!” she screamed for her fiancé as she entered their home. “Madeline help!” she sobbed collapsing inside the doorway. Her legs couldn’t hold her up anymore, her heart was shattering in her chest and her lungs felt like they were on fire. She was out of things she could do for herself.

“Becca, what is going on?” Madeline feet came running down the stairs. Becca looked up as she came into view.
The sun shone from behind her, giving her a pale yellow halo. A halo that highlighted her auburn hair just right and brightened her green eyes so that they almost glowed. An angel, her saving grace, hopefully.

“I got…one,” Becca breathed out. She knew she looked a mess, her hair was probably flying all around her face and her chest was rising and falling heavily, as if she had just run miles instead of blocks. Her face was probably all taut, her eyes wide with pure panic. Normally this was her fiancé’s time to pull her down back to a calm place. A place that did not exist at the present moment.

“No, no,” Madeline sobbed. She ran to her loves side and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. “Come on, into the living room. You can show it to me there.”

Becca barely got to her feet. She shuffled leaning heavily on Madeline into their quaint barely furnished living room. She fell on to the dark brown love seat. She refused to pull her hand away from the mark, if Madeline saw it, it would be real. She would be out of hope.

“Move your hand, let me see,” Madeline begged. Becca slowly pulled one finger after another from her arm. As the last finger came free she held her palm over the image for a moment longer. Finally she removed her palm and felt the tears fall and hit the hideous image before her.

At the top of her forearm were two women, hands joined but just barely. Their palms touched but their fingers weren’t intertwined. It looked as if they were about to turn away from each other. About to run off and leave each other. Becca just stared at it, sobbing harder and harder.

“Honey,” Madeline wrapped her girlfriend in a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry.”

“Make it stop,” Becca begged with a small barely audible voice. A child asking her mother to make the monsters disappear “Make it go away.” She knew what was she was asking but she was out of options.

“I”m sorry,” Madeline kept whispering over and over into Becca’s shoulder.

“Stop saying that. Fix this before I see that moment.” The lines were already extending. A new picture was slowly coming to life.

“I can’t,” Madeline replied. She sat back on her heels. “I’m not allowed.”

“Not allowed?” Becca felt her eyes instantly dry. She looked down at her other half, the one person who was supposed to fix everything for her, to be there to pull her out of danger’s embrace. “Who cares what you are allowed to do! Fix this, save me!” she begged.

“Honey, you know the rules. I have no options. My hands are tied. I’m so sorry,” she looked so sad, so upset and scared. Becca couldn’t believe it. How could she be thinking about rules and regulations now? She had options, Becca knew it, she just had to give her one.

“This is your fault,” Becca pushed Madeline back from her and got to her feet. She shuffled sideways to get away from Madeline’s reaching hands. “You started this. You are the reason everyone is terrified of every other breathing human being. You are the reason people go into full on fits of hysteria from the smallest blight on their arms! You started this. Now end it.”

“It was an accident, you know that,” Madeline replied, still kneeling, still looking so broken.

“I don’t care,” Becca shrugged. She was telling the truth. Two year ago Madeline had been working on an elixir to give to a select group of people. It was supposed to give them brief flashes of the future. Just enough to give a hint to what was coming.

The military wanted it to give them the upper hand. Madeline was a pioneer in future sciences working to solidify that knowledge. It was a dream job that was handed to her, no one else could even have had a shot at completing the task.

The elixir had worked exactly as was intended. The test group saw flashes with just enough information to give a path to the officials. The experiment had been considered a huge success, the elixir had been made in bulk and Madeline had moved on to a new experiment.

Two months later the first body had been found. One of the experiment test subjects had been found hanging in his apartment, a tattoo covering his whole inner arm. It detailed some of the worst moments of his life; the death of his son, the demise of his dream job and his own death. His body had been quickly cremated and the whole incident put into a classified file. A one time side effect nothing more.

They couldn’t hide the carnage long. Over the next three months the news was constantly clogged with reports of suicides. Suicides with mysterious tattoos detailing every horrible incident in the person’s life. Always ending with their deaths, depicted exactly how they were ultimately found.

The government went into a panic. Madeline was held for weeks, questioned and forced to work around the clock to figure out what exactly had gone wrong. Madeline who loved control was in her worst nightmare. People were dying and there wasn’t a thing she could do to help. She used her free time to get in contact with Becca, always hysterical because she couldn’t understand what exactly was happening. She wasn’t supposed to give details, but she told Becca enough for her to draw her own conclusions. It was a side effect of the elixir, that was a known fact but the elixir wasn’t being used anymore. How it was moving from person to person was the unsolvable problem.

It was a problem that was never solved. The government still researched possible cures but like cancer it was an evil that could hit anyone at anytime and was nothing but an ultimate death sentence.

Becca had watched Madeline struggle with the problem forever now. She had watched her collapse in fits of angry tears and hysterical exhaustion. Madeline still worked on the infection day in and day out. Becca knew she had to have some type of options. It didn’t matter how experimental it was, anything was better than watching herself die.

“Becca what do you want from me!?” Madeline begged, still on her knees.

“To not let me die,” Becca sobbed. “Don’t you have anything? You’ve been working on this for years! There has to be a way to delay this or stall it or something,” Two years and there was no possible cures? She could not and would not believe that.

Madeline could barely talk through her own tears. “We have something but the side effects are horrible.”

“As horrible as watching the nightmare of my last bit of life unfold in front of me?” She pushed her arm out further. A new image appeared below the one of Becca and Madeline ending their relationship. It showed Becca huddled in a ball, rocking back and forth, nothing and no one around her. Her eyes were wide, like she had just seen the end of the world.

“I.. I,” Madeline sprang to her feet and grasped Becca’s hands, not intertwining their fingers. “I can’t do this,” she kissed Becca hard, putting every bit of love, passion and despair into that one last act of love. With one more whispered, “I love you,” she released Becca’s hands and ran from the room. She left Becca with her death slowly coming to life on her arm.

Becca stood completely stunned. What had just happened? Did her fiancé, the one she trusted above everyone else, just leave her to die? She didn’t even want try to save her? The front door shut with bang and Becca collapsed like someone had punched her. She sat on the ground staring at her arm. Her brain turned off, shutting down her emotions and her rational thinking. She didn’t want to feel anymore, it was almost worse than the death mark. The last image came into better focus.

It was her alone, nothing but a skeleton outline. She laid in this exact living room wasting away to nothing but a shell.

She felt a swift calm steal over her. Her hands, feet, arms, and legs went numb. A bitter cold flowed through her chest, her breathing a constant unchanging rhythm. She curled up into a tight ball, eyes wide, complete shock taking over. There she laid, as the tattoo completely solidified.

Mind Fixed

brain-cables-data-circuitry-flickr-adafruitMary stared at the portrait in front of her. It was a portrait she had seen many times before. It hung in the doctor’s office and always had depicted the same image. The portrait was of a man. He was seated in a high back brown chair. He had short dark brown hair. His hands were clasped in front of him. One leg was crossed over the other. His gray suit and friendly smile made Mary think he was some kind of doctor.

Though for some reason, that she couldn’t quite place, he seemed vaguely familiar. Why all of sudden today he looked familiar, she had no idea. But she was sure she’d seen those twinkling eyes before. She was sure she’d heard his voice before. She just couldn’t place exactly where.
“Mary are you listening?” Doctor Jones asked.

“What?” Mary tore her eyes from the portrait and refocused on the doctor. She was in the middle of one of her visits and the doctor was clearly annoyed by her drifting off.

“I was saying, the boy from your dream, what happened to him?” he crossed his legs and placed the notepad on his knee. He raised his pen, ready to write now that he had Mary’s attention again.

“Uh…,” Mary paused, reluctant to continue with the story. She stole a quick glance at the portrait, his eyes bore into hers. He seemed to be begging her to speak. Mary took a deep breath and said, “We were walking together. I held his hand, he was eating a Popsicle. As we walked I noticed his grip loosen. I looked down and was holding just a bone. The other bones were in a pile behind me, “she could feel the tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. She blinked and continued on. “I rushed and gathered them together. I ran on, trying to find someone. I stopped under a tree and saw his bones had turned to dust in my arms. The wind picked up and blew them from me. Then I woke up.” Mary finished her voice breaking just slightly.

“And this boy was your son? The one you lost?” Doctor Jones asked.

“Yes,” Mary whispered barely audible. She looked down at her feet, avoiding the doctor’s and portrait’s eyes. She didn’t want sympathy or anything else for that matter. She wasn’t in the mood for this conversation.

“Okay, what do you think of this new dream?” the doctor asked. Mary took a deep breath and looked up into the doctor’s face. She didn’t want to discuss any of this with this stranger. She wanted to discuss it with someone she knew; some who cared for her. “Nothing, I think nothing,” the doctor opened his mouth but Mary quickly cut him off. “It is in the past. I’ve dealt with it,” she said.

“I’m sure you think that but really you’ve only…,” Doctor Jones started.

Mary wasn’t going to listen; she jumped to her feet and shook her head from side to side. “No oaky!? I’m not damaged. I’m not upset. I’m not anything. He’s gone and I can’t do anything about that,” her entire body shook as tears streamed from her eyes.

“Okay,” Doctor Jones closed his notebook and set it to the side. He slowly got to his feet and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Why don’t we leave it here for today and delve deeper tomorrow? Why don’t you lie down for a little while,” he led her to his office door.

Mary walked beside him silently. An orderly had been waiting and quickly came to her side. He led to her to the door that led to the hallway.

Before Mary walked out the door she took one more glance at the doctor. He was standing in the doorway, watching her go. But what really caught her attention was that portrait.

The slight smile on the man’s face had grown, only slightly, but it had grown. He looked just slightly happier, more content at least. Mary found herself calming and slowly left the office, feeling the comfort she had craved earlier.
****

The video screen snowed out and went black. Eric reached up and hit the switch. He turned in his chair toward Jack, his supervisor. Jack stood with his arms crossed, his eyes holding on particular spot. Eric knew he was staring at Mary’s bed.

Eric couldn’t quite figure it out but Jack seemed to have some fascination with this Mary. He seemed more interested in her than anyone else. Eric knew she was the second patient entered  into their experiment, and that she had been admitted after her hallucinations had gotten out of control. Her mother had admitted her after a failed flying attempt. That was all Eric knew, nothing to indicate why Jack would have this fascination with her.

Eric cleared his throat and said, “Looks like we are making progress. She’s finally showing some emotions.”

Jack turned from the window and nodded, “Yeah, seems like it.”

“So boss do you want to watch the next one? Or do you want to do lunch?” Eric asked. Each day they watched each patient’s virtual visit and then went over all that happened.

The program they worked with was an experiment started by Jack. It was designed to help people with mental issues; the purpose was to have a more efficient way of allowing them to resolve those issues.

Once a patient was admitted they were placed in a deep sleep. A sleep that no one could wake them from except for the trained technicians. Each patient was then hook up to a computer. This allowed them to place the patients in a virtual world. One they could almost completely control.

The main idea was for the patients to have full access to every part of their minds. Especially the portions they refused or didn’t know about while they were conscious. They hoped that by having these treatments play out in their heads they would heal faster; because of the total access that they had to their own minds.

So far it seemed to be working. The progress was slow but most patients were showing some changes. For Eric this meant they could continue on for another year. He wasn’t entirely sure what it meant for Jack.

Jack nodded at him and said. “Let’s do lunch then finish up.”

Eric turned towards the console and switched off the viewing parts. He stood and followed Jack out. He was still wondering if he was missing something.

****
Mary lay on the cot in her room. She was staring at the stark white ceiling but what she really saw was that portrait. The image had been haunting her mind’s eye ever since her visit the day before.

That face that seemed so familiar, yet so distant at the same time; those eyes that beckoned to her. She knew this man was someone important but she couldn’t quiet place why or who he was.

She had even dreamt of him the night before. He was in front of her. It was as if he was looking down at her, a grin across his face at time. These times she felt warm and loved. These were the moments when she knew him, it was as if she had not only seen him before but had been close to him. But a moment later his grin would slip into a deep frown, one that held disappointment and sorrow. That frown scared her, made her sad, almost ashamed of herself. These were the times when she didn’t know the man; he lost all familiarity when he became this disappointed man.

The whole dream was like that. He was happy and comforting one moment; the next he was sad and depressed. Mary could barely keep up with his changing moods. The chaos slowly caused her to collapse in on herself. She woke up sweating and feeling very confused.

Mary turned her head to the side, trying to find something to stare at but she couldn’t find anything. Her room was bare except for a desk, chair and bed. She had nothing to rid herself of the images that plagued her.

Mary heard a slight knock at the door. She quickly sat up and said, “Yes?”

An orderly entered and said, “Mary you can come to the community room if you like,” he waited patiently for her answer.

Mary quickly stood and said, “Okay,” she followed the orderly from the room. She hoped this would help her distract herself.

Mary followed the orderly down the hall and into the community room. It was a very dull looking room. White covered the walls like everywhere else. A few tables were set up in the middle, surrounded by patient’s playing card or checkers. Along the walls were couches and more chairs where these who wouldn’t or couldn’t socialize sat.

Mary parted from the orderly’s side and headed over to the table farthest from the door in the right corner. Mary pulled out a chair from the table and sat opposite Melinda. She was another patient and an acquaintance of Mary’s.
“Hey Mel,” Mary said cheerfully. She reached across the table and cut the stack of cards that sat there. She handed half to Melinda and took the other half for herself.

“Hi Mary,” Melinda replied taking her half. As she placed her cards in front of her, her eyes strayed to a spot over Mary’s shoulder. Melinda couldn’t hold onto one topic or idea for long. It seemed almost impossible for her to truly concentrate on any one thing for more than a few minutes. Mary knew there was more to her case but she didn’t know the details. War was that game of choice with Melinda; mostly because it was easy to play and easy to restart over and over again.

“How have you been?” Mary asked casually. She laid a card in the middle of the table and waited for Melinda to move. As she watched Melinda’s wandering eyes she noted to herself how this was defiantly helping her be distracted. She hadn’t thought of the portrait once. She quickly cleared her throat to get Melinda’s attention back, to keep the distraction.

Melinda looked down and placed her card down. “I’m fine, been having blue dreams,” She said.

“Blue dreams?” Mary asked as she gathered her cards.

Melinda said, “Yes, blue. Everything was blue,” her voice went misty and she sounded far away. “The lights, the air, everything and anything were blue,” she stood and spread her arms wide. She started spinning and chanting. “Blue, blue, blue.” The orderlies rushed over and placed her arms at her sides. They nodded at Mary as they led Melinda away.

Mary watched them go, wondering at the words Melinda had just said. “Blue, everything was blue.” Suddenly her mind clouded and she saw her dream again, this time though everything else was blue, everything but the portrait. Blue that was like the depths of the ocean, deep and impenetrable.

Mary quickly threw the cards in the middle of the table and stood up. She quickly headed for the door; an orderly stood and followed her to her room. As she walked she contemplated what this blue could mean.

****
Eric sat staring at the screen in front of him. He wasn’t viewing the patients, but was watching their mental maps. Mary had been speaking to Melinda when something strange had happened. Something he didn’t quite understand.
“Jack?” Eric called. “Jack get over here!” Eric’s eyes never left the screen.

Jack walked into the room, Eric heard his foot falls. They sounded slightly impatient and angry. He knew Jack was tired of Eric’s little discoveries but he would want to see this one.

“What?” Jack asked, the annoyance Eric predicted seeping from every word.

Eric pointed at the screen. “Look at this,” he was pointing at red blinking dot that was surrounded by other red non blinking dots.

Jack looked down and shrugged. “This idea isn’t something we made,” Eric said.

Jack shrugged yet again. “So? The patient minds are all their own. We don’t have full control. It has happened that they’ve moved away from the ideas we’ve made.” Jack said.

“Yeah, I know that; but this dot is a mixture,” Eric looked up quickly. Jack’s eyebrows were scrunched in confusion prompting him to continue explaining. “A mixture of unconscious and conscious thought.”

“Excuse me?” Jack snapped. Eric knew he had him finally. This mixture was something brand new, and not something positive. The patients weren’t supposed to be conscious in any way.

“Exactly why I called you. I don’t get it,” Eric said.

Jack’s eyes never left the screen. His voice shook as he slowly asked, “Who is this?”

Eric was hesitant to answer but didn’t know how he couldn’t. “Mary’s,” he whispered. The look on Jack face scared Eric to death.

****
Mary woke to a thump and a grunt. Her eyes opened and she stared at the ceiling. She laid still for a minute trying to discern where the noise had come from. A minute later she heard a muffled voice say, “Which one?”

Mary sat upright in bed and clenched the sheets beside here. Someone was in her room. Someone she couldn’t see. The voice continued to whisper, too low for her to discern any real words from. Mary didn’t move, afraid the rustle of the sheets would give her away.

After another minute and the voice went silent. Her room was quiet, she didn’t even hear the patter of the orderlies shoes from outside her door. She slowly stood and went to her window. She lifted the shade a few inches, letting in a ray of moonlight. She could see every corner of her room, it was empty. Not a soul was present except her.

If there was no one in her room then where had the voice come from? She slowly walked to the door and pressed her ear against it. She heard nothing not the slightest movement. It wasn’t coming from inside and it wasn’t coming from outside, so where was it?

Just as she was sizing up the stability of her desk chair for its use to listen to the ceiling; the voice was back. This time it wasn’t a whisper but normal volume. She could hear every word perfectly.

“We can’t do that,” one voice said angrily.

“It’s my project, I can do whatever I want,” another more familiar voice snapped.

“Jack, leave it alone,” the first voice moaned.

Jack, that name sparked something in Mary. That name plus that voice brought up the portrait. They all were one, she knew. How she knew she wasn’t sure, but she was positive they were all the same man. A man she somehow knew.

The voices were bickering at each other. She had no idea what they were arguing over but she did seem to hear them from above her. Slowly she walked over to her desk; as if afraid the voices would hear here and become silent. Just as quietly she climbed up onto the desk and planted her feet firmly. The ceiling was low and her head nearly touched the top of the room.

On tip toes she strained to listen. The voices weren’t louder up here then they were on the floor. She settled back on her feet and crossed her arms against her chest. If the voices weren’t coming from inside the room or outside the room or from above, then where the hell were they coming from?

Many stepped down from her desk and sat on top of it. The voices were no longer bickering. It sounded more like they were discussing something now.

“It’s fool-proof. You said that yourself,” the first younger voice said.

“Nothing is fool proof, not when you’re messing with the mind,” the second, all too familiar voice, demanded.

“But we control all the major elements,” the first moaned.

“We control nothing! The brain adapts, works against what limits it. We were working with it but now it’s working against us,” the second snapped, anger dripping from his tone.

The first began to argue with the second again, but Mary wasn’t listening. The mind, the brain that was it! The voices weren’t in the room, they were in her. She grinned to herself but slowly lost her joy at her realization.

Voices in her head? Wasn’t that why she had been admitted here in the first place? Listening to these things was probably a terrible idea. But then again, what could it hurt? Maybe if she concentrated hard enough she’d learn something she needed or maybe they would just go away. Either way she wasn’t mentioning this to her doctor.

****
“Jack we can’t do this,” Eric protested for the thousandth time. “If we wake her up without the right procedure things could go horribly wrong.”

“I don’t give a damn. Wake her up!” Jack shouted. His eyes were centered on Mary’s face.

Eric turned toward the console at Mary’s feet. He tapped a sequence of keys. He was terrified now. Jack had never been angry before; annoyed yes but never angry. He was always so calm, mysterious yes, but always nice and calm.

This Jack wasn’t someone he knew. Whoever this man was, he scared him.

“She waking up,” Jack whispered.

Eric’s head snapped to the side. He wasn’t finished, she couldn’t be awake yet. He slowly said this to Jack, “That is all her, I’m not doing anything.”

****
Mary’s eyes were clamped shut and her hands were clasped tightly on her knees. Concentrate, she chanted to herself. Concentrate on the voices, on the noises.

She let her mind wander away, chasing any sound at all. Slowly she felt her breathing deepen, almost as if she was falling asleep.

Suddenly she was at a house, standing in the backyard; beside her stood the man from the portrait, Jack. In front of them her little boy chased the dog around the yard. He was laughing and smiling .Mary’s heart sored and she felt her face light up. She looked up at Jack and smiled down at her, sharing the same joy she felt.

Slowly his face fell, the smile replaced by the saddest, most heartbreaking look she’d ever seen. The blue sky and green grass become gray and white tiles. The patio furniture became hard plastic chairs.

Jack sat beside her, holding her. Her joyful heart was gone, replaced with shattered pieces. She sobbed into Jack’s shoulder, tears staining his coat. She felt his body shake as he sobbed into her shoulder. Their happy little boy was gone.

She was sitting on the side of their bed, head in her hands. She was crying again, something she’d been doing frequently since they lost their son. Jack was nowhere to be found. He stayed late at the office now, never coming home when she was up to talk. He didn’t want to deal with her sorrow and his own.

She was in the kitchen now, her hand falling to her side. Tears still staining her cheeks. Her mouth opened in a scream of “Why!?”

Jack stood across from her, the broken plate she had thrown at his feet. His gaze cast downward, refusing to meet her eye.

“Why can’t we talk? Why can’t we deal together?” she sobbed.

“I can’t,” he said quietly. He turned and left; left her broken.

She was asleep, curled into a tight ball. He sat on the bed beside her. He thought she was asleep but she wasn’t completely. He whispered to her as he prepared a needle.

“This will fix everything. I can’t help you and myself at the same time. This way you can deal on your own while I heal. I’ll wake up when you’ve healed and we’ll go back to our lives,” he said. He lifted her arm. She thought about resisting but decided this all had to be a dream. He would never hurt her in real life.

“I do this because I love you,” he whispered in her ear, as he plunged the syringe in to her.

The images whirled; her mind calculated and put everything in order. They lost their son, she had wanted to grieve together, and he couldn’t deal that way. So he set her up to look crazy so that he could use his new experiment to cure her.

Just as her memories flooded together and her emotions boiled to a point of no return; her eyes snapped open and she was looking straight into the traitors face.

****
Eric stood beside Jack and watched as Mary’s eyes slowly opened. At first she looked startled and confused but once they caught Jack’s face they became extremely angry and slightly hurt.

Jack bent forward and whispered, “Mary?”
****
Mary’s body was fine. She could feel as his hands flexed and beat on the glass. She had no idea what they did to her but her limbs seemed to work fine. They weren’t stiff or unresponsive, they actually felt strong. With this strength Mary kicked and clawed at the lid, she wanted out. She wanted to claw this man apart.

****
As soon as the words had left his lips Mary began thrashing and slamming at the plastic around her. Eric hit a switch and the top hissed opened. As soon as Mary was free she flew to her feet and slapped Jack across the face.

“You bastard!” she screamed. Her voice was a whirl of emotion. There was overpowering anger but also sadness, evident by the tears streaming down her face.

Eric stood to the side watching this woman shake and seethe. He had no idea what was going on but he knew it wasn’t good.

Jack hadn’t moved, clearly stunned. Mary continued screaming and sobbing. “How could you do that to me!? How could you lock me up like that? We could have dealt together,” tears were covering her cheeks. Jack never moved, didn’t even flinch. Mary seemed fed up; she spun on her heel and ran down the aisle.

Eric wasn’t stunned completely. He was confused but he was starting to put the pieces together. Jack had, had a son, one that he had lost. Eric didn’t know how but he did know it was something Jack rarely spoke of. Eric had heard about it from another co-worker; who had heard him speak of it once.

Now it seemed like Jack was more cold-hearted then he thought. Mary had to be his wife; why else would he be so obsessed with her? What had he done?

Jack still wasn’t moving. Eric pushed past him, and ran to find Mary. She was going to get lost or hurt. He dashed to the end of the aisle and stopped. He listened and heard soft sobbing from around the corner. He quickly turned the corner and found Mary there curled in a ball, sobbing.

“Shh.. it’s okay,” Eric kneeled in front of her. He reached out for her hand but she flinched away from his touch.

“Who are you?” she asked. “Did you help?”

“I’m Eric, a technician here. Did I help with what?” he asked her.

“Help him imprison me,” she sobbed. Eric didn’t ask who “him,” was, he knew it had to be Jack.

“No, I had no part in that. All I was told were you lost a son, resorted to drugs to cope and they caused you to lose your mind,” Eric said. “I know nothing else.”

“Okay,” she whispered. A minute of silence followed. Eric strained to hear footsteps. “How could he do that to me? Make me seem crazy? Why couldn’t he deal with his grief? Why?” she sobbed, her head falling to her hands.

“I don’t know,” Eric said softly. He understood now. Jack hadn’t known how to help his wife and himself at the same time. So instead of trying to get help he took the easy way out. He had made his wife seem crazy then dumped her here. He was too much of a coward to deal on his own. Eric seethed with anger.

“Mary?” Jack’s voice same from around the corner as he turned it.

Eric looked up and saw red. That bastard would pay. He leapt to his feet and punched Jack straight in the face. Jack stumbled and fell to the floor, out cold.

Mary screamed and tired to scoot away from Eric. Eric turned quickly to her. “It’s okay. It’s okay. We can set get you out of here now.”

He reached out a hand to her. She hesitantly took it and he led her over Jack’s unconscious body and around the corner. “I know where we can contact your parents. You’ll be safe now.” Eric told her. Mary just nodded.

****
Mary sat in her parent’s living room watching the television with her mother. It had been three months since she had woken up. She was still living with her parents but she was doing well.

She was seeing a real live psychiatrist now. He was helping her deal with the betrayal and grief she had. She was feeling much better and less angry now. Her parents had welcomed her home and held her while she cried. Every moment she needed them they were there, just like she had hoped Jack would have been.

As for Jack he had been admitted to his own experiment. She had heard from Eric, that the board had been easily convinced that Jack was crazy. Jack had apparently tried to explain but had just cemented their view more. He was now resting in Mary’s vacated bed. Mary was content with this idea, content to put the entire incident behind her. She would heal and move on, away from him.

****
Eric sat in front of the monitor. He was almost done with his viewing for the day. He moved on and brought up Jack’s video and mind map.

Eric was in charge now. He had known everything about the project and was able to convince the board to keep the experiment running. He had done an evaluation of each case and each person who had admitted them. Turned out that no one was as sadistic and crazy as Jack had been and they were able to keep the experiment running.

Eric smiled wickedly at Jack’s screen. He had said that he would make him pay and now he could. He brought up his mental map and started clicking and rearranging. His smile grew as he watched Jack suffer slowly on the screen in front of him.

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