This story is by DeAnna Shae and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This is not where I intended to start this story, locked in a room with Dr. I-Do-Ten-Push-Ups-Between-Every-Patient. His steel gray eyes peer into my soul as my Good Vibes t-shirt lies about my well-being. There are so many other places to start this tale, but here we are facing off in a silent conversation, wondering who will break first. It won’t be me. Not this time. I let Dr. Lose-Yourself-In-My-Glacial-Eyes stare all he wants as my eyelids separate me from reality. The one thing I want is not in this room with the Good Doctor.
I float to my redwoods and become one of the fireflies flirting with the rich, evergreen needles of the mighty giants. Venture on to the craggy face of my alpine mountains, winds brushing my ruddy cheeks, adrenaline pushing me higher. Worlds upon worlds of adventure await me. I only need to choose one.
The somber halls of my medieval castle feel more like home than my physical dwelling. Centuries-old stone floors cool my feet as I slowly walk, taking in the dank melancholy air. Time spent here is a blessing and a curse. So many cherished memories haunt me here, muddling their foundations between fact and fiction. As if I can distinguish the difference. No matter how often I visit, the adventures beg for existence yet pop like bubbles when I try to hold them in my hands. Yes. I will hide here, cloaking myself among magical things until the Good Doctor dismisses me or grows tired of my silent games.
The warm soil of the castle courtyard invites me to wander through the spacious landscape fit for royalty. Twisted greens of the hedge maze emerge before me. At its center is my reward—the one thing the Good Doctor won’t let me have.
Against the well-intended orders of Dr. My-Eyes-Are-Up-Here, I can’t stop myself from following the enticing voice of destiny through the living labyrinth. Hushed and pleading, the whisper guides me. Maybe this time he’ll be there, his emerald eyes searching for me, his arms stretched out, waiting. Expecting. Believing.
“Just take my hand, love, and I’ll do the rest.” he’ll plead from within my beautifully painted landscape.
A rustle of leaves shakes me to attention. I’m not alone in my trek. Curious, as I did not invite any visitors to my excursion. My wandering becomes hurried as footsteps echo in my ears. Not my own. Distinctly separate. Closer, they pound in my ears, their fate settling heavily on my shoulders. A chase or a hunt? Are they after me? Each step crushes me to the ground until my legs can’t hold the weight, but I can’t give in now.
I’ll be fine if I can just reach the center of the maze. I’ll be fine, safe in my magical paradise where cerulean skies save me from the darkness of my mind. Where he waits for me with lips pressed against mine to rid me of my terrors.
Footsteps. They’ve found me.
“You should run.”
The warning slips from warm lips lingering too close to the base of my ear. Fear the color of moonless forests and blood-curdling screams race across my flesh. My attention splits between his malevolence and my desire to reach my reward. Blue skies weep a deep midnight dark consuming all light. The hedged maze towers against me, stretching its viney fingers to grasp at my clothes and scratch my flesh.
I struggle to find my center, to find him, my safety. My eyes can’t adjust to the opaque air as I grapple for sight and breath. I collapse, scraping my palms on rough stone, hoping I’ve made it.
Flashes of light and too many voices tear through my thoughts. My eyes are blurry with tears, which I’m not sure are real or imagined. Heartache, thick like tar, coats my insides.
“Ashe, please, you need to listen to me.”
“Doctor? What are you doing here?” I rub my eyes to rid them of things like future hopes and wishes. His panic tears me from my long-awaited rendezvous.
“There is no time, Ashe. We must leave now.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve only just arrived. Where do we have to go?”
“Just follow me. We’ll leave through the back door.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Why are you acting so strange?”
My head rattles from the chaotic mess of illusions still rumbling inside. Serene walls surround me as I sit on the cushioned chair of the Good Doctors’ office. My confusion never rattles his level-headed persona. Yet, his panicked gaze oozes into my skin, making my palms sweat and my heart skip beats as he impales the arched door behind me with axes thrown from his eyes.
“Doctor, please! You’re scaring me. What’s this all about?” I pull my hand from his more forcefully than intended causing me to stumble a few steps closer to the door he has marked with an invisible giant red X.
His eyes flare. “Please, Ashe. Trust me,” he says with more paranoia than I have ever heard in his voice.
“Give me a reason.”
“This is not the time to be stubborn,” his voice quieted. “There is something at that door, and we must leave before it gets in.”
It’s my eyes that flare this time. “That’s impossible. You know it is only you and me here.”
“And yet, someone is at that door.”
“I don’t believe you for one second. You’re testing me, aren’t you, Doctor? Trying to see if you can rid me of my nightmares by taking my dreams along with them. I won’t fall for it. I’m not giving in to your tricks. Let’s see what big, bad monster lurks behind this door.”
Before he has time to stop my curious feet and stubborn will, my fingers grip the handle and push the door open to unveil the credibility of his suspicious rantings. I peer through the crack of the door, and there stands the Good Doctor with terror cast over his mortally pale face.
“Ashe,” he whispers. “Hurry, come with me. There is something in that room.”
Fear detonates inside me, incinerating bone and blood and any piece of courage to help me escape.
I tell myself it’s not real. It’s not real. My fanciful worlds clash and tremble and deteriorate until darkness cradles every part of me as I try to run.
This is really not where I wanted to end the story, locked in a room with Dr. I’m-Hot-As-Hell-In-Every-Season, but here we sit in silent conversation. I consider all the negatives of letting the Good Doctor dissect my mesmerizing wonderlands and decide today’s secrets are only safe with me. My mysterious worlds haunting me day and night. Neither of us dares to speak, challenging the other for the first word. It won’t be me. Not this time.
I stitch my lips together with invisible thread and tap a finger against the armchair. Finally, a wicked smile paints the Good Doctor’s face.
“Ashe,” he says. “You really should run.”