Lonely Prison

The four walls held her captive, like a prison, but worse. It was dark, cold, and deathly quiet. She knew this would be her tomb. When she died, and she knew how soon that would be, her corpse would rot here. Not a soul would know or care.

The worst part was knowing she would die alone. As a child, she’d imagined dying in the comfort of her own bed, surrounded by loved ones. Tears would fall from every eye, but they would also be smiling. Smiling because she’d lived a long, full life. And she would smile because she wasn’t alone.

But here, in this room, she couldn’t smile. A heavy weight pressed on her chest, crushing all the joy she’d ever felt. She wanted to cry, but tears wouldn’t form. All she felt was the crushing pain of loneliness.

She was curled up on the floor, her frail arms clutched around her abdomen. Ribs poked against her skin, she was so thin. How long had it been since she’d eaten? Days, weeks? She had lost track of time in this darkness, lost all sense of the present.

Not a word had passed her lips since the day she’d woken up, here in this hole. No one was around to listen, so there was no point talking. Her own voice would sound foreign to her now if she spoke. She compressed her lips into a thin line, the skin cracking as it stretched.

Death would take her in several hours. She could feel him, creeping closer and closer, his bony hands wrapping tighter and tighter around her. She closed her eyes, but it was no different than if they were open. Her ragged breathing sounded loud in the utter silence, yet somehow, it was comforting. She could almost pretend it was someone else’s breath, briefly alleving the loneliness.

Listening intently, she imagined she could hear this other person speaking. Words came to her, muffled, barely audible. But they were there. Her eyes flashed open.

For a moment, she thought she was truly losing her sanity. The voice was louder, closer. She sat up and crawled around blindly, seeking the source of the voice. No, she wasn’t losing her mind; someone was there.

It took all her strength to bang her hands against the wall, hoping, praying, this mysterious person would hear her. She tried to cry for help, but her throat was dry, her voice coming out as a croak.

The will to live suddenly burned within her like a raging fire. She pounded on the wall fiercely, each knock echoing in the room. Someone outside shouted, “Over here!”

Another knocking sounded against the wall, echoing her own. “Step back!” the same voice shouted, and she did as she was told. She scurried backward, away from the wall, bumping hard against the one opposite.

After several seconds, something slammed against the wall once, twice, three times. On the fourth slam, the wall came crashing down, revealing a dazzling rectangle of light. The sudden light was so painful, she had to look away, shielding her eyes.

When she looked again, she could see the silhouette of someone standing inside the rectangle of light. “It’s going to be okay,” the person, a man, was saying. “I’m here to save you.”

Her breath caught in her throat. The weight, the crushing weight, finally lifted from her chest. Happy tears rolled down her cheeks, her body wracked with sobs. She wasn’t going to die. She was finally free.


“Josie’s been in a terrible accident…can’t breathe on her own…”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
“…in a coma…damage to her…internal bleeding…”
Beep, beep, beep.
“…all you could to…chances?”
Beep beep beep.
“…might not wake up…sorry…”
“…crashing! Someone get Dr…”

Josie Summers bolted upright, clutching her heart, her breathing ragged.
Just a dream, she thought. Yet, she thought she could still hear that faint beeping. It had been a strange dream, and she didn’t remember falling asleep.
The last she remembered, she had been leaving school with Max Clover, her best friend and love of her life. Where had they been going? Strange she couldn’t seem to remember.
Josie glanced at the clock on her nightstand. “Six A.M.?” she breathed, running a hand through her short, blonde hair. There was no way it could be that early. Someone must be playing a joke on her, and it wasn’t funny.

She slid off her bed and crossed the room to her desk. Picking up her cell phone, she checked the time on the screen. It showed the same time as her clock. Slowly, she set it down. Somehow, I’ve skipped the last fourteen hours, she thought. Things like that didn’t just happen, not to Josie. Was I drugged or something?
However strange the situation was, she didn’t have time to think about it; she needed to get ready for school.
Living in Colorado during the winter made looking cute a painful effort, even for someone like Josie. Josie was naturally cute; at least, that’s what all the boys said. She was petite, just over five feet tall, with slight curves and largish breasts. Her mom always wondered where she got her figure, and could never figure it out.

Josie’s face was almost a replica of her mother’s, aside from her green eyes and slightly upturned nose. Those she’d inherited from her father, whom she hadn’t seen since she was five. It had been 12 years since he’d gone, and yet, every time she looked in the mirror, there he was, hidden in her eyes.

Josie avoided her reflection as much as she possibly could.

Anticipating snowfall, Josie selected a pastel-yellow knit sweater and dark jeans. Both hugged her body, the cloth soft against her skin. Her snow jacket would cover most of her outfit, but she knew it would be warm inside the school, and her jacket wouldn’t be needed until she went outside.

When she was ready, she left her room and descended the stairs to the living room.

Her mother, Ms. Walters, was waiting in the kitchen with breakfast ready. “Morning, sweetie,” she greeted, setting a plate piled with eggs and bacon on the table. She smiled, expectation playing at the edges of her lips. “So, how was your night with Max?”

Josie sat down slowly. How was she going to explain something to her mom that she couldn’t even remember? She decided it would be best to lie. “It was fun,” she said, forcing a smile. She hoped it didn’t look forced.
Her mom sat down across from her, a piece of toast in hand. “Was it everything you had ever dreamed of?” she asked, biting the crust.
How should I know? “That and more!” she answered brightly, avoiding her mother’s excited stare. She focused her attention on her bacon, eating like a savage animal. Anything to avoid more lies.

“You got back pretty late,” Ms. Walters said. “Not that I was spying, or anything.”
Josie rolled her eyes. “You always wait up for me when I go out,” she responded, not unkindly. Her mother was a worry-wart, but she loved her for it. It was nice to feel cared about.
“Did he kiss you?” Ms. Walters pried. Clearly, she wasn’t interested to drop the subject.

“No,” Josie answered. It was something she’d dreamed of a million times, each time different. She hoped he hadn’t kissed her. If he had, and she couldn’t remember, she would rather be dead. She made a note to ask him about it at school.
“What a shame,” her mom said, her toast abandoned on the table. “You only have to look at him to know how much he loves you. He should just go for it!”
Josie pushed her plate away, her appetite evaporating. “Mom, stop, you’re embarrassing me,” she muttered.

“If he does try to kiss you,” Ms. Walters said, standing and taking her plate, “don’t try to stop him. You love him just as much as he loves you.”
Josie groaned. “I wouldn’t stop him from trying.” She stood up and headed for the living room. “I’ve gotta go, Mom. Have a good day at work,” she called over her shoulder.
“Say hi to Max for me,” her mom called back.

Josie had no intention of doing that. She took her jacket off the wall rack and draped it over her arm, grabbed her backpack off the floor, and opened the front door. A chill swept over her as the cold, morning air rushed in, causing her to shiver. Clouds were gathering quickly in the sky, gray and depressing.
It would be snowing by lunchtime.

Aurora Central High’s parking lot was packed with cars by the time Josie arrived. It was difficult to find a spot, but she managed to find one at the very back. She put her jacket on before getting out of the car. There was still time before school started. She hoped to find Max at their usual spot before the bell rang.

Sure enough, he was sitting under the sign, a book open on his lap, earmuffs covering his ears. His glasses were slightly askew, but that was normal; his ears weren’t perfectly symmetrical, his left ear a few centimeters higher than his right. On numerous occasions, he had informed her of this imperfection, explaining in great detail how much it bothered him.

Behind the glasses, framed by long eyelashes, he had eyes a beautiful shade of brown. Flecks of green and gold glimmered in them if the light caught them just right. Josie had studied his eyes long enough to see the flecks every time. Thick, light brown hair adorned his head. It was a little long, his bangs hanging just above his eyes. Josie always loved brushing his bangs out of his eyes because it gave her an excuse to run her fingers through his hair.

Her mother hadn’t lied; she was hopelessly in love with Max.
As she approached, Max looked up and smiled, dimples poking his cheeks. “Hey, Josie,” he greeted cheerfully. She loved the way he said her name.
Josie sat down across from him, her back against the green pillar. “What’re you reading today?” she asked.
Max glanced down at the book on his lap. “I think it’s Shakespeare’s Hamlet , but I haven’t really been paying attention, so it could be any of his other plays.” He closed the book and set it aside. “Was Ma mad that I brought you home late?” Max had called Ms. Walters “Ma” since they were young, because she was like a second mother to him.

Josie shook her head. “The total opposite, actually,” she answered. “Hey, I actually have to ask you something,” she added.
Max inclined his head toward her, giving her his full attention.
Josie glanced around, ensuring no one was around to listen. Still, she dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “Is there any possible way I was drugged yesterday?”
Max looked perplexed. “I don’t think so,” he said slowly. “Why, what’s going on?”
Josie scooted closer to him, suddenly uncomfortable. This was not an easy conversation to have, or to even understand. She couldn’t comprehend it herself. “I think something’s wrong with me. I can’t remember anything that happened after school yesterday.”

Max’s confusion turned to sadness. “Not a single thing?” he asked quietly.
Josie shook her head. “It’s not normal to forget the last 14 hours of your life, is it?”
“There’ve been some cases,” he answered, his sadness gone. He sat back against the pillar. “That’s usually in people that have a dissociating disorder, though. You don’t have one, so no, I don’t think it’s normal.”
Josie sighed and pulled her knees to her chest. “I don’t feel like myself,” she whispered, looking down. “I feel like a piece of me is missing.”

Max perked up again. “Maybe I can help,” he said. “What is the absolute last thing you remember?”
Josie closed her eyes, trying to remember. “We were walking toward the parking lot,” she said. “I think you told me where you were taking me, but I can’t remember what you said.”
“Oh, I know,” Max said. “I said we were going to that new restaurant that just opened. The one you’d been dying to go to.”
Josie thought that sounded vaguely familiar, but it didn’t help jog her memory. “Did we go there afterward?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Max said, nodding. “We had burgers and waffle fries.”
Somewhere, far away, Josie thought she heard something. “Do you hear that?” she asked.
Max looked up and listened. “What does it sound like?”
“It sounds like something’s beeping,” she murmured. Just like in my dream, she thought. “Anyway, what did we do next?”
“One of the girls on the cheer squad had invited you to a party, and you really wanted to go, so you convinced me to go with you.”

Josie let go of her legs and sat up straight. “A party,” she said. “I could’ve been drugged there, right? If someone slipped something in my drink?”
Max was nodding. “Yeah, it’s plausible, but you never set your drink down. And whenever you ran out, I made you a new one. I wouldn’t drug you, you know that.”
Josie sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Keep going.”
“We stayed there pretty late. We were both pretty buzzed. You were worse off than me, though, so I drove.”

Josie tried to remember, but everything was getting foggy. It felt like she was starting to doze off, but how could she? She wasn’t even tired. She stared at Max, her vision growing fuzzy. “Max?” she said, her voice sounding hollow and far away.
“She’s slipping!”
“We’re losing her!”
“Code red! Code red!”

Where were those voices coming from? They sounded so close. The beeping was growing louder, more insistent.
“Josie!” Max shouted.
Josie couldn’t see; it was like the light had been sucked out of the world.
“You have to save her!”
“Someone get her out of here!”
“Ms. Walters, please, you need to go.”
“Max,” Josie said, reaching into the darkness. “Max, what happened when we got in the car?”

“Josie, stay with me,” Max said.
“Josie, stay with us!”
“Max, tell me!”
“There was an accident!” Max sounded like he was crying. “My fault, all my fault. I shouldn’t have drove, I was messed up. Josie, it’s my fault!”
“Get me the damn defibrillator!”
“What happened to us?” Josie asked. It was hard to talk.
“We were hit head on. I couldn’t avoid it, Josie. I messed up. I screwed up!”

Josie was now well aware that what was happening in her head, the conversation with Max, it wasn’t real. Max wasn’t real, not this Max. “Where are you, Max?”
Max was sobbing, she could feel his body shaking as he held her. “I’m here with you, Josie. I’m here, in your head.”
“Clear! Come on, Josie!”
“Max, where are you?” she asked again.
Max pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’ll always be with you, Josie. But you have to fight. Don’t you dare give up. You have to fight!”

A light, somewhere in the dark, was steadily approaching. “I love you, Max,” she said. “I’ve always loved you.”
“I’ve always loved you, Josie. Since the day I met you, I loved you. And I’ll always love you, forever and ever.”
“There’s a light coming,” Josie said. “It’s so pretty.”
“Don’t go into it!” Max yelled. “Stay away from the light. Come back to me, stay with me!”
“I want to, but I don’t think I can,” Josie said. The light was almost around her now, warm and comforting.

“Josie, stay here! Stay with me!”
“Oh God, stay with me!”
“But you’re not the real Max,” Josie said softly. “You’re in my head. I want the real Max. I need the real Max.”
“I’m sorry,” Josie whispered.
The light fully enveloped her, pulling her away from Max. She let it take her, whisking her away to the clouds above.


The heart monitor played its final, flat tone. “Time of death, 8:05 A.M.,” a nurse said.
Dr. Shultz pressed his hands to his eyes. “I couldn’t save her,” he murmured, tears slipping down his cheeks. “I failed.”
Ms. Walters entered the room then, her eyes puffy from crying. She stared at her daughter, her only child, yet no tears fell. “Max was everything to her,” she said quietly.
Dr. Shultz dropped his hands. “You shouldn’t be in here, you shouldn’t see her like this,” he said quickly.

“She had to have known,” Ms. Walters said. “Their souls were connected. She must have known that Max was dead. I was her mother, but I wasn’t a part of her. Max…Max was the piece of her she couldn’t live without. You didn’t fail, Dr. Shultz. Josie chose to go.”
Dr. Shultz dried his tears with his sleeve. “I’m sorry, Ms. Walters. I’m so sorry.”
Surprisingly, Ms. Walters smiled. “Everything is going to be okay. My daughter will return to me some day, in another life. For now, she must be with her Max.”

Dr. Shultz stared at this woman, who would’ve seemed crazy to anyone else, but what she said somehow made sense to him. He took one last, long look at Josie. The girl had been so full of life, he knew it. But without the boy, Max, he knew her life wouldn’t have been the same. “I wish you all the happiness in the world of souls, Josie,” he whispered as he pulled the blanket over her face.

Pain, Disdain, Shame

It wasn’t as if anyone got hurt.

Not physically, at least.

Derek Ward stood just inside the bar, a glass of whiskey in hand, a blank expression on his face. He was 32, graying prematurely. It made his dark hair look like it was dusted with ashes.

It was all that damn woman’s fault. Sasha. The woman he had thought was his forever, his diamond, the mother to his children.

How had he not seen the signs? He found himself asking that same question, every day, every hour. He should have seen it. The way she looked at him–no, more like didn’t look at him.

He hadn’t noticed because he hadn’t wanted to see the signs. He hadn’t wanted to see the loveless stare in her eyes, the disappointment on her face. Hadn’t wanted to see the sympathy and pity in her frown.

He should’ve known she was cheating. Maybe if he’d caught on sooner, things wouldn’t have ended the way they had. He could’ve won her back, some how, some way.

Who am I kidding? he thought.Even if he had gotten a job, and hadn’t drank so much, the damage had already been done. He’d slacked off for several years, and he hadn’t been nice to Sasha during that time, either. He knew his attitude was what had driven her away.

He sipped his whiskey with disdain, grimacing at the taste. Or was it the memories? He wasn’t sure. A year sober, he thought, all down the drain in a single night. All because of Sasha.

The divorce had been brutal, but it had been two years since it had been finalized. Since then, he hardly saw her. She had sole custody of the kids, and Derek had only seen them once in the past two years.

My own fault, though, he thought bitterly. If I hadn’t gotten in a drunken fight with the neighbor, I’d probably still have visitation rights. He closed his eyes briefly and brushed his hair back.

None of these thoughts would be on Derek’s mind if he hadn’t seen her that very night. He had been leaving a diner when he’d spotted her.

Sasha and an older gentleman were outside the club across the street. Derek had caught a glimpse of her face before the old geezer shoved his tongue down her throat.

“Damn gold-digger!” he had shouted, though no one was close enough to hear him. Thinking back on it, he was glad about that.

After that, he couldn’t quite remember how he’d arrived at the bar with a shot of tequila in hand.

Standing under the bar lights, his vision slightly fuzzy, he found himself smiling. Maybe it was the alcohol making him smile, or maybe it was that the only men his ex-wife could get were over fifty years old.

Derek, however, was not in such a position. He scoped out the bar and spotted a girl in her early twenties staring at him. He winked at her, which she must have seen, because she started toward him. Her movement was slightly unstable, an indication she was probably drunk.

When she reached him, he asked her name. He was pretty sure she said “Alexis”, but he could’ve been mistaken, because it was at that moment that the alcohol really kicked in.

The next thing he knew, he was in his apartment, and Allison…Alexia…whatever her name was, was on top of him, topless. He was vaguely aware of movement, but was so drunk, he hardly felt anything. He closed his eyes, just for a second.

When he opened his eyes, it was morning, and he was alone.

Derek sat up, his head immediately throbbing. The room spun for several seconds, then suddenly righted itself. He glanced around his apartment, the feeling that something was wrong settling in.

He stood up, which was the wrong thing to do; the floor lurched up at him, causing him to stumble. “God damnit,” he muttered. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself to stand up straight.

He started searching his apartment, checking to make sure nothing was missing. When he got to his jeans, though, anger swelled deep within him. “God damnit!” he yelled, throwing his jeans aside.

His wallet was gone. Alexandria had stolen his wallet.

So, it wasn’t as if anyone got hurt.

Not physically, at least.