This story is by Joelle Anderson and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I need to get home. Please god. I need to get home.”
Sam whimpered as her vision blurred. The tears in her eyes erasing the parking lines in her underground garage. How can she even park the car? Blindly, she steered to a corner space. She forced the car in park and ripped the key from the ignition, silencing the hum of the engine.
She flipped the sunshade down to look at herself in the petite mirror. Only her misty grey eyes stared back at her, but they looked like someone else’s. Her eyes were bloodshot and puffy from crying. Mascara leaking beneath her waterline. The black pigment smeared as she wiped it away. Her platinum ringlets had come undone from their clips. The short locks of hair knotted up in itself. A stranger glared back at her.
Sam slammed her body back into the seat. Clenching her fists, she pointed her chin upward. Maybe tilting her head back would force the tears to slip back into her eyes? Draining the panic back from where it came, but her stiff body would not allow anything to return. She let out a tight scream.
It was impossible to focus her mind and direct her body to do any one thing as she fought internally about what her next move should be. Stay in the car? Go to the apartment? Call someone? No one would understand. She was going through this alone.
Her breath was short and hot. What was happening to her?
All she could remember of the last 30 minutes was studying the produce aisle for perfect apples when she suddenly found herself clenched and crying uncontrollably in her car.
She had to get out. She had to get to her apartment. The space was decreasing in size by the second. The steering wheel was pushing into her thighs as the roof closed in on the crown of her head.
Sam stumbled out of the car and slammed the door behind her. Whoa. That felt good. She thought as the crack of the slammed door echoed off the car and bounced through the garage level.
The buzz of the fluorescent lights hit her ears and nested in the back of her neck. She twitched and unconsciously slapped herself, thinking a bug had landed back here, needing to get rid of it.
Her wet curls clung to her forehead as he moved her head around. Was this from sweat or from the rain she ran through from the store to the car? Sam became aware that her clothes clung to her body refusing to be loosened.
It must be from the rain. I have never sweat this much in my life.
Her black dungarees flapped heavy from side to side, slapping her legs as if to scold her for
the wrong deed she had committed. The pale pink cotton shirt stuck to her shoulders making it feel as though another presence was following her. She whipped her head back just to make sure she was alone.
No one in sight.
Sam sprinted to the garage elevator. Her shoes slapping against the pavement accompanied by the squish of her sock with each step. Water leaked from her shoes, leaving muddled prints from her car to the elevator doors. Her steps reflected as sloppy and nervous.
The elevator doors were wide open, waiting for her. It was as if the elevator anticipated her needs and welcomed her inside. Vowing to take her to the apartment, to her bed.
Wait, why are they already open? I did not see anyone get off. It is just me here… I think.
She had memorized where the fourth-floor button was on the elevator panel. She kept her stare out into the garage as she reached for the floor buttons, pressing it in rapid succession as if the multiple requests would accelerate the process.
The garage floor was empty. It was just Sam and her soaked shaking body as the elevator doors closed.
“Jesus!” Sam sharply yelped. The sound startling her. She sniffed and wiped her wet nose with her chilled damp forearm. She felt the rough goosebumps brush against her nostrils.
The cab ascended. Sam could feel the slight pull of gravity on her shoulders as she moved upward but stayed petrified in place.
Almost there. Almost home.
What happened to me?
She squeezed her eyes tightly trying to remember.
“God dammit!” Sam swore as the bell caused her body to shiver.
As the elevator doors parted, Sam squeezed through onto the hallway. Her door was the last in the corridor. She sprinted to it like a spooked animal ran to hide. No one in sight.
She brushed her smart watch against the lock and heard the bolts slide open. Tearing open the door she jumped inside and threw it shut behind her with a heavy thud. Again, satisfying.
All that her body wanted was to collapse in the entryway, but she pulled her sopping shoes
and socks off. The tile floor felt like ice against her clammy feet. She moved down the hallway to her bedroom. Peeling clothes off along the way and leaving them stranded on their own in the hall.
Sam dove into bed. Wrapping the sheets tightly around her, she felt the tension in her body loosen as she sobbed into her pillow. All she could think about was ridding her body of the pain.
Just breathe. Try to remember!
As she sucked in air and allowed herself to cry, Sam’s pounding heartbeat decreased to a light pulse and her brain eased the release of adrenaline. Allowing her fogged mind to clear. Suddenly, the scene that ignited this hell flashed in front of her, crisp and acute.
Sam was making a quick grocery run to pick up a few needed items. Not ideal on a rainy day. After parking the car, she did a quick makeup check in the mirror. Nothing fancy, some peach gloss and a simple eye with liner and heavy mascara to make her hazel eyes pop.
Lifting her black leather bag over her head to protect her from the rain, she opened the car door and dashed inside making long quick strides. The blast of the warm air rushed to greet her as she grabbed a basket and headed towards the produce aisle.
Apples. Those are first.
Peering in front of the fruit, Sam selected one and began twisting it from side to side in her hand. Inspecting the shiny red-yellow flesh looking for imperfections. Then she heard a harsh low voice beside her.
“I do not care what you want. I need you to sit in your seat and be quiet. Mommy is trying to shop,” a middle-aged woman spat at her toddler.
She was tall, thin, and too dressed-up for the grocery store. The toddler’s white hair pulled into tight neat pigtails. The bands that held her hair were bright pink, matching her cotton dress and shoes. The daughter slowly sat down into the cart’s front seat, defeated.
Sam’s shoulders tightened and her stomach lurched.
The small pale child began to whimper, low and soft at first. She inhaled as if each breath in was her last. Exhaling a loud stream of air tangled with whimpers of hurt. Yet, each cycle of breath in and out only seemed to make her more anxious, not soothe her. Then the emotional toll was no longer able to be controlled. She threw her pasty arms in the air and began screaming. Her pale face blushed redder than the apples next to her.
Sam’s breath shortened and she took a few steps away from the scene. Her heart rate spiking. She touched her temple, dabbing sweat away.
The mother leaned forward so that her face was staring straight into her daughter’s, barely nose to nose.
“STOP. CRYING. RIGHT. NOW.”
Her tone was sturdy. Firm. Unfeeling. The child continued to wail. People began to turn their heads and stare.
Sighing deeply the mother reached around her child’s head and gave the back of her neck a tight pinch. Sam could see the skin build between her slender fingers as she tightened her grip on the fleshy part of the neck. Then the small white dots of where the pressure points where when she released her grip. The mother delicately placed her guilty hand on the cart and turned her head towards Sam. Their eyes locked.
Sam’s muscles clenched. Her mind paralyzed by fear. She wanted to yell in fury at the woman, but she could emit no sound. Her voice choked by her swelling throat.
The child continued to wail.
Blood drained from Sam’s head causing her world to swirl. She could not stand here any longer or she would faint. Dropping her basket, she turned and ran to her car. She had to get out of there. She had to get to a safe place.