This story is by Nicole Stewart and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
June struggled to open both eyes, but seeing the flashing lights she slammed them shut again. The room revealed itself in blurry frames as her eyelids scraped against her eyeballs in intermittent blinks. Her head weighted her body to the bed like a paperweight. She smashed a pillow over her head to further block out the strobe light show. The relief of the darkness allowed her to think making way for the realization that she was in a room with what seemed to be a disco ball. Her body stiffened as she discerned that she was not in her own bed. She was in a bed, which meant not a floor or a public bathroom, but that was about the most soothing thought she could muster.
Where am I? she thought.
What the hell did I do last night?
Exploring her brain for clues about the previous evening, she scanned her thoughts, checking under and around memories hoping to have answers before she attempted to open her eyes again. Besides being certain she had been hit by a train or, more likely, a bottle of liquor, June remembered nothing from the night before. She wasn’t a big drinker, but clearly recognized the feeling of a hangover being the number one reason she didn’t indulge regularly.
As she became fully awake, panic flooded her body causing a wave of nausea that she couldn’t hold back. June wedged her eyes open, and the intensity of the flashing lights sent the sick to her throat. Desperately, she scanned the room, set her sights on the bathroom, and took all her strength to hurdle herself towards it before the vomit came rushing out of her body. The good news was she made it to the bathroom. The bad news was that she only made it to the sink.
Feeling better for the moment, she turned to the mirror and flinched seeing she was naked except for her underwear. Breathing slowly, she stared at her reflection begging the image to tell her what happened. Feeling the next wave nausea, June looked down at the bathroom counter to see a bar of soap wrapped in paper with the Motel 6 logo on it tipping her off to her location, but not putting her at ease. As her anxiety rose, so did the nausea. This time she made it into the toilet, leaving her weak. She needed to sit, but she couldn’t focus until the disco lights stopped flashing. Determined to shut it down, she turned away from the toilet and towards the dismal room that was rocking with color and lights.
June strode into the room with feigned authority and saw the smallest, portable strobe light sitting on the nightstand on the opposite side of the bed. Sensing the nausea rolling back up to her throat, she threw herself across the bed, shut her eyes, reached out, and patted the base of the light searching for the power switch. Finding nothing, her hand ventured down the cord, and June sighed in relief as she felt a box with a button to be pushed. Taking a deep breath, she opened one eye, praying for solid light. Thankfully, the flashing had ceased revealing a dimly lit room. Sprawled across the bed, she let her head fall to the mattress, and collected her thoughts.
In the quiet, June heard a throat clear behind her making her jump out of her skin. She spun around towards the noise and with a glimmer of recognition, saw a man sitting in a chair in the corner. Had she found him in bed, she would have an idea about the night before and could have called an Uber before he woke up, but his silently sitting in the chair sent shivers down her spine. As a court reporter, she had always been in the room with bad people, but she didn’t need to use her well-honed “creep-dar” to know that this guy was not simply an innocent one-night stand. The sight of him sent the nausea bubbling back up to her throat. Racing to the bathroom, she threw up what she hoped to be the last of what was in her body, but the thought of the man in the other room set off a chain reaction of dry-heaves. When it stopped, weakened and scared, June sat on the bathroom floor shaking.
From the other room she heard, “What happens now?”
June pushed her hair out of her face.
Did he just ask me that?
She answered, “How about you tell me where we are and why.”
“Lady, you picked this place. What’s your plan?”
“What the hell are you talking about? I don’t even know where we are,” she said, trying to hide the fear and appear tougher than she was feeling.
“You really are bat-shit crazy. What do you want??”
June had no idea what to think or what to do. She glanced around for some kind of weapon. Surveying the bathroom with growing desperation, her gaze landed on the top of the toilet tank. It felt like her best option. Grabbing it and embracing her inner bad-ass, she walked into the bedroom holding the tank cover awkwardly like a bat, but the guy was still seated looking more afraid than maniacal.
Seeing the tank cover, the mystery man yelled, “What the fuck do you want from me? I told you last night what happened with that slut!”
The admission threw her as if he had slapped her in the face. She sat on the bed, hugging the tank cover to her chest like a security blanket, and saw that he was struggling in the chair. Slowly, she realized that he was bound to it.
He was a prisoner too. Her thoughts raced.
Who did this?
Who put us here?
What was going on?
Suddenly a voice deep inside of her, barely audible, started to laugh. The laugh was familiar and terrifying. She hadn’t heard it for at least a decade. Her brain was racing again hoping to prove that what she was thinking couldn’t be possible. She couldn’t be back. That part of her was controlled, shoved down, and shut up after the incident ten years ago. She had spent six months sharing this body and another six fighting to regain permanent residence. Panic consumed her. The laughing got closer to the surface.
June screamed, “This isn’t happening!!! What have you done?” She sat on the bed, still holding the tank cover, and sobbed uncontrollably. In between sobs, June looked up at the guy in the chair and yelled, “Why did she bring you here? What did you do?”
He silently stared in disbelief at what he saw happening in front of him.
June stood up trying to keep control in her voice. “Tell me why you think you’re here. She doesn’t punish the innocent.”
“What the fuck are you talking about? I told you last night. That bitch from the trial came on to me. She wanted it as much as I did!”
Something inside June’s brain clicked together like a puzzle piece. She knew this man. He was arrested for raping a girl at a party. A friend of his had testified the day before in her courtroom that the girl had been wasted, dressed provocatively, and hanging all over this guy. As she had recorded the witness’ account of the evening in question, her stomach had turned knowing that no matter how despicable his defense, these facts had provided reasonable doubt. The monster would get off and do it to another unsuspecting girl.
Yesterday’s courtroom scene had jolted June back ten years to when her sister had been destroyed in her own rape case by a witness with a similar account. The jury found the guy not guilty. Two days later, her sister, who had been more traumatized than anyone had realized, slit her wrists in the bathtub at June’s house. June found her and when paramedics arrived, she was pronounced dead before they got her in the ambulance. The devastation had been too much for June leaving the mental door open for Janice to take the wheel of their body.
Janice had always guided June from the inside since she was little, but she had never taken over. After her sister’s suicide, June disappeared completely while Janice found and seduced the assailant, brought him back to a motel, and brutally beat him with a bat. The police found June a few days later. The court sentenced her to a facility to help her silence Janice. Therapy and the right medication cocktail pushed Janice down to a quiet, muffled voice in June’s head. She was normal again. Until today.
June looked more closely at the bound guy. He was scratched, bruised, and seemed to be in mild pain, but she was sure this wasn’t Janice’s end game. Janice punished bad people. He was getting off easy. But, why?
June heard the laughing again not quite as deep as before. Janice was just under the surface baiting June in her head.
I want to finish him, said Janice.
Then he’ll do it again.
“He’s going to jail.”
Janice laughed again. Really? You don’t see a mistrial now? Now that you’ve done this?
“I didn’t do anything! You did.”
And a jury will believe you? AGAIN?
June deflated. “No.”
We can do a lot of good with your job and access to bad people. Let’s start here and see how it goes. Deal?
Janice had set this up so June couldn’t say no. No one would let her off with the insanity plea again. June would go to real prison. This is why Janice stopped beating him early. She wanted June’s guarantee that she wouldn’t send her away again. She wanted to be partners.
June ran to the bathroom again, and hung her head over the toilet hoping to vomit the problem away, but nothing happened. Staring into the toilet bowl, she prayed for an alternate solution, but there was no other choice. She didn’t want to go to jail, and she knew the guy wasn’t going to be quiet about being held hostage. Standing up, her eyes met her own in the mirror. She knew she had to step back and let Janice take over to save them both. She took a breath and nodded to herself in the glass.
Janice would take care of things. June could let her out and pray that eventually she could get her back where she belonged. She stood still, closed her eyes and invited Janice to come out with one, long, deep breath. As she exhaled, she opened her eyes, but June was gone and Janice stared back. Her mouth slowly arched into a smile. She said, “It’s good to be back.”
She turned, walked out of the bathroom and towards the guy in the chair. Confusion shaded his face as she straddled him, leaned over, and whispered in his ear, “Last night was fun. Ready to pick up where we left off?” She slowly sucked his earlobe between her lips and sensuously started to bite it. His eyes closed as he sighed with pleasure. He flinched as Janice bit down harder. “Ow! Maybe we need a safe word,” he said.
Smiling, she got up, walked to the bed, and when she turned back to him, she had the toilet tank lid in her hands. As she held it over her head, she said, “How about goodbye?”