This story is by Casey Callison and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Ellie was the only living thing left in Becky’s house. She was a chocolate lab that Becky got 5 years ago. She loved Ellie. Ellie helped to relieve the stress that she felt on a daily basis. It was like she completely forgot about everything when Ellie was there with her. Having a dog helped the house feel a little less lonely now that Andrea was off to college.
Becky loved her house. It was cozy. A ranch style with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Nothing huge, but her small family didn’t warrant a larger home. It was a light yellow, her favorite color, with white trim on the porch and around the windows. The inside was immaculate. She spent all of her time at home with Ellie, so Becky had nothing better to do except clean and read. She used reading as her own little escape from reality. There were never any panic attacks while reading.
Her house was out in the middle of the Maine woods, the closest neighbor residing half a mile away. The driveway was a gravel road the led back out of sight of the highway. She always loved the seclusion of her home, but Becky found further comfort in it as her condition worsened. The fewer people near her, the better. She loved nature. The trees were her favorite. Something about the green of the leaves that hung over her house as if protecting her from the sun, calmed her. Becky felt safe on her porch. Which was why she hadn’t ventured beyond her porch in four months.
Becky had always had a small fear of crowded places. She knew that her family had a small history of anxiety disorders, but never looked into it until the panic attacks started. The turning point of her fear was during a black Friday sales event. Andrea had talked her into going so that she could get a discount television for her dorm room. Becky was nervous standing in that long line in front of Best Buy, but would do anything for her daughter. As soon as the doors cracked open, the crowds closed in. Any order of the line was immediately dismantled. Becky could hear the yelling around her, the chaos filling her ears. She reached for Andrea’s hand, but sweat was beginning to accumulate. Andrea’s hand slipped from hers. The dizziness hit with sudden, drastic force. Surrounded, she knew that there was no escape for her. She felt a hand on her arm pulling her away from the crowd. Luckily, an employee saw the panic set in and pulled her away before she could fall and get trampled.
“Thank you,” Becky said wearily, then fainted.
After that, the panic came to her when leaving the house. The thought of being in a crowd or trapped in a car, alone with no escape, was terrifying. It progressed to a point where Becky could physically no longer leave her home. The house that she once loved so much had turned into her own personal prison. Each entryway an invisible boundary that forced her to stay. The doctor called it “agoraphobia.”
Becky’s favorite place to nap was the sofa in her living room. The sliding glass door at the back created a nice breeze that blew directly on to the sofa. Most afternoons Ellie would nap with Becky. The maroon couch just wide enough to fit them both comfortably.
Becky was in a deeper sleep than normal, which was a side effect of the Prozac and Klonopin that she was prescribed. She heard Ellie make a faint sound, but assumed that she was dreaming and immediately fell back into her nap. She woke up about an hour later to a cold breeze cooling her where Ellie normally would be laying. Becky sat up, trying to brush off the exhaustion.
“Ellie? Ready for dinner?”
She sat for a few minutes, waiting on Ellie to come running into the kitchen. She called out again, hoping that Ellie just didn’t hear her the first time.
“Ellie! Dinner,” she said walking onto the porch, looking apprehensively at the invisible boundary at the bottom of the stairs. She had always loved how the white porch looked against the yellow house, but right now, those white steps were the most hideous thing that she had ever seen. Becky ran throughout the house, looking for Ellie. She could feel her breath becoming short, sweat breaking out across her forehead. She knew what happened. Ellie had walked out the open door and ventured into the woods. Ellie had only done that once, but Andrea was there to get her.
I have to call Andrea.
“Hey, mom! I was just getting ready to call you! Guess who finally has a date this weekend,” Andrea answered.
“Andrea. I need you to come home,” Becky managed to wheeze out.
“What’s wrong? I can’t just leave right now. I have class in 20 minutes.”
“It’s Ellie. She’s gone. I woke up from a nap and she isn’t in the house. I walked out to the porch and called her for dinner, but she never came. I can’t leave the house. I can’t. I don’t know what to do.”
“Mom, my class is only an hour. I’ll be home as soon as I can to look for her.” Andrea said, hanging up the phone.
Becky knew that she couldn’t wait. Becky stared at the porch steps, a bag of Ellie’s treats in hand. She decided that she had to go now or she never would. She stepped onto the first step. Only three more to go, she thought. She kept staring at the steps as if she could will herself over them and be over her agoraphobia. A feeling of light-headedness coming over her.
“Two more.” She felt the need to say it out loud as she took another step. She couldn’t even believe that she had made it this far.
“Last one.” The panic began to set it in as she stared at the bare autumn ground. Orange and yellow leaves covered the ground like an earth scented carpet. Becky took in the smell, the scenery. She loved nature. How could it betray her like this? She stood like this for another 20 minutes before finally taking the step.
“Oh God,” she said as her feet hit the soft, wet leaves. Becky couldn’t believe that she was able to take that step. She hadn’t been off of those porch steps for four months now. She gripped the bag of treats tight. She wanted to take another step, but her feet wouldn’t allow it. The world started to turn black around her. She couldn’t remember if she had taken her medication today. She took a step back and gripped the slightly splintered porch rail to stabilize herself. She opened her eyes and was able to see the day clearly. Grey, misty, and crisp. She could see her breath as she exhaled a deep, labored breath.
“I can do this,” Becky reassured herself.
She took her hand off the rail and kept moving forward, counting each step out loud. The next mental barrier was the edge of the forest. As she took her 212th step, she looked up to see the trees towering over her. The sun was breaking slightly through the mist canopy above. As she looked back down it was as if there was a shift. The trees appeared like people in a large crowd. The panic sunk in. The blackness returned, but there was nothing to brace herself against. She felt the ground wrenching her shoulder and heard as the bag of Ellie’s treats crunched underneath her.
“Mom!” Andrea yelled. This startled Becky awake, but her vision was still blurred. Her face was hot, despite the cold. The fear was there, but she was too weak to move. She felt a familiar warmth against her stomach. She looked down and saw Ellie nestled comfortably in her favorite napping spot, against Becky’s stomach.
Becky felt to make sure it was real. She grabbed Ellie’s thick, brown fur and held it tight. She tried to call back to Andrea, but her voice was too weak. She could hear that Andrea was close.
“Oh my God! Mom! What happened?” Andrea asked as she saw her mother on the ground and pushed through the cold, grey afternoon toward her.
“Andrea. I couldn’t wait. I had to make sure Ellie was alright. I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. Let’s get you back to the house.” Andrea said, lifting her up.
She heard Ellie trotting along right beside them, looking up every few steps to make sure that Becky was alright. Once they got inside, Andrea laid her back down on the couch and Ellie immediately jumped up with her. Becky didn’t know if she would ever overcome her agoraphobia, but she was proud of the effort that she had made to save her best friend. Ellie seemed thankful of the effort, too.