This story is by Julie Stroem and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I knew life with Elise would be different the moment I first saw her. Yet, I was so enraptured by her that once I looked into those wicked chestnut eyes I never wanted to look away.
Her voice sang to me, body beckoning. My siren.
I was hers from that moment on. One soul bound to another.
Whatever I had done with my life before seemed meaningless now, wasn’t even worth dwelling on now that I was with Elise.
She opened her home and her life to me and in turn I offered her nights with dance and laughter, often ending with her guiding me upstairs by my shirt collar while her mouth ravaged mine.
Life was bliss.
Were it not for the flames.
The otherworldly terror that often threatened to snatch Elise from me. Not by body, but by mind; flames to scorch, monsters to strike fear. A consuming darkness to wreck her mind.
Though every disturbance to our peace eluded me, it was as real to her as I was.
She would wake up in the middle of the night, hurtling for the bathroom to vomit her guts up, screaming at the blood that dripped down her chin, coated her tongue and painted the floor scarlet.
I only saw bile on her chin and a pristine floor.
But I held her through it, held her while fear shook her apart in my arms, of herself, of her hallucinations, I wasn’t sure. But I held her, until her breathing steadied and her heartbeat once again matched mine and she no longer feared the blood.
With a mixture of kisses and murmurs of ‘I’m here, I’m yours, I’m real,’ I helped her back to bed and to the bottle of antipsychotics.
Most day she refused to take them, convinced the pills were poison, her nemesis, but I would not yield, not after seeing her so wrecked. It broke me. I coaxed and pleaded and bargained – even cried until she finally relented.
‘I love you Oliver,’ she said softly before downing the pill.
Her eyes fell shut. So did mine.
I always slept like the dead after one of Elise’s hallucinations, after coaxing a pill into her. That feral beast in me sworn to protect finally slumbering. Oddly, her mischievous, chestnut eyes were always waiting when mine cracked open groggily as if I’d slept for days. She kissed me with a passion that made my core sing and made love to me like her body had yearned for mine for days. Weeks.
A handful of pills were missing from the bottle, but I didn’t question it. I felt alive again. Blissfull again.
The pills were left untouched again.
I never questioned her reluctance to venture out into society. Our land kept us fed and what we couldn’t grow for ourselves, Elise ordered online.
Beyond what snippets she’d told me after several glasses of wine had loosened her tongue, I never enquired about her past.
She’d been a professional athlete. Tried to keep her career going even as dread started filling her head. That career ended abruptly when her body recoiled from a pool of snakes at her feet during a competition and sent her sprawling. Her spirits broke along with her body that day and she never looked back.
She’d bought the isolated cabin, settled, but her hallucinations persisted. Escalated. That’s when I’d come into her life.
‘My saviour,’ she’d called me after that first siren’s call had summoned me.
‘My Oliver,’ she’d ended the wedding vow we’d moaned into each other’s skin on a moonless night, while I was sheathed so deep in her my vision blurred, the stars our only witnesses to our ceremony.
It didn’t matter to me.
All that mattered was her.
I was content to spend my days watching her strolling around our garden, picking apples or collecting eggs from our chickens.
I volunteered to labour as well, something that never seized to put a bemused smile on her face before she inclined her head towards the small shed. She still smiled when I complained that no matter how much wood I chopped, the pile didn’t seem to lessen until she started chopping with me. She kissed the frown from my face and all further complaints died on my tongue as her hands started roaming. I had her in that shed. Thrice. All questions burned to embers along with the newly chopped logs.
The pill bottle remained untouched. I had never felt more alive.
Until one day.
She screamed about bright, yellow eyes, fangs, monsters.
I saw sunbeams and a lone cobweb.
Her screaming grew louder, wilder.
Desperate, I ran to her desk where our only phone, a vintage old model stood. I panted, fingers shaking as I dialled for an ambulance. Not a sound beyond the dial tone. With a frustrated roar, I tore the phone from the plug in the wall, hurled it across the room and ran back. I didn’t stop to wonder why the phone made no sound as it hit the wall.
Elise was curled up on the floor by the bed where I had been minutes ago, banging the heel of her hand against her temple, nails digging into soft skin, chanting,’they’re on me, they’re on me’.
I rushed to her, but before I could get my arms around her she let out a piercing scream and lunged for the bedside table.
For a hidden knife.
My heart stopped dead in my chest.
Blood. So much blood. Now as visible to me as it was to her. She was bleeding out in my arms, still thrashing, still chanting as the gashes in her arms from cutting off the monsters dribbled steadily, pooling on the floor beneath us.
I didn’t hear the front door being kicked open, or the footsteps rushing up the stairs, but suddenly a delivery guy wearing a logo I faintly recognised, was calling for an ambulance. He must have heard the screams.
Elise twisted in my arms to cup my cheeks, pain and worry etched on her face.
‘Don’t let them take you away from me, Oliver,’ She whispered over and over. ‘Evil men are coming, they will take you.’
‘I won’t leave you,’ I promised.
Elise still fought, tooth and nail, when the paramedics arrived. I tried to reason with them, explained what had happened but they didn’t spare me a glance. When they strapped her fighting body to the gurney her eyes found mine. ‘Stay, Oliver,’ they begged, even as she kept screaming, kept trying to free herself. ‘Stay with me.’
I followed them out to the waiting ambulance.
‘This is just to calm you down, miss,’ a paramedic said, procuring a syringe.
My knees buckled as the needle pierced her skin and I collapsed in the doorway. They were too busy lifting Elise into the ambulance to notice. When Elise’s eyes fell shut, her body slack from the drug, my world dissolved into black.
There were Elise’s eyes, waiting for me. The wicked gleam in them had dulled and the hand that stroked down my cheek felt wary. Even her kiss lacked the usual passion. More like a farewell than a good-morning-kiss.
‘There’s a doctor here to see me. A psychiatrist,’ Elise said before I could voice the questions on my tongue. She looked happy, healthy, but something was still off. I noticed a new prescription pill bottle on the bedside table, open, half-empty as if she’d willingly taken them for weeks. Perhaps longer.
I managed to drag my sickly body after her, needing to stay close to her. My knees gave out and I fell into the armchair Elise had pulled out for me next to her own, opposite a man wearing a pleasant smile.
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.
‘Horrible,’ I moaned.
‘Better,’ Elise said at the same time and threw me a sad smile.
‘And your hallucinations?’ the man asked.
‘Gone. Except one, but it’s fading,’ Elise answered as I whimpered through a dizzy-spell.
I reached for Elise, my hands translucent, needing her touch, our love. But the clarity in her gaze was like an gunshot to my chest and I keeled over as Elise said:
‘His name is Oliver.’