This story is by Jamie Mueller and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Is someone screaming? Maybe it’s the silence ringing in my ears so loud that I’m mistaking it for a violent shriek. Noise eludes me now. I can’t tell how far away the sound is, only that it appears to move closer, threatening to overtake me completely. I’m sure my ears are bleeding from the high pitch of the screams. Or the silence. They’re one and the same now. It’s everywhere and nowhere. I fold my body into itself until I am curled so deep into the corner I become one with the cold white wall. I put my hands over my ears. As I drift off to sleep from the sheer exhaustion of trying to turn off my mind, I whisper, “Somebody help me.”
No one else.
This room is getting smaller by the minute, slowly squeezing the life out of me. I stare at the ceiling, trying to clear my mind. The eggshell-colored paint is peeling and there’s an empty spider web in the upper right corner above the bed. The spider must have abandoned its silky home once it realized there would be no solace inside these walls.
A phone rings down the hall. It’s been happening for hours, days, eons. Why won’t it stop? A few people have knocked once or twice on the door upstairs. They spoke my name over and over and then finally walked away. I’m glad they gave up. No one can save me now.
As the sunlight streams in through the small window, I pull the scratchy white and blue blanket further up over my head to drown out the light. I wonder if this is how life will be for the remainder of my time on Earth. Sleeping, waking, sleeping, waking, sleeping, death. The urge to go to the bathroom presses on my bladder and I strain to hold it in. Maybe if I just think of something else, anything else, my body will forget about basic human needs and allow me to go back to sleep. It doesn’t work. I pull the blanket down and stand, my knees aching and wobbling from too much time crouched in the corner the night before. I should have gotten up to walk around but I haven’t the energy to move. I barely have the energy to exist.
After going to the bathroom, I wash my hands and scan my reflection in the cracked mirror. Pieces of my long black hair cascade over my shoulders, escaping from the braid that was hanging down my back. My emerald eyes that once held a sparkle look dull and red. I appear as pale as a corpse, face devoid of any color. Perhaps I am a corpse. I wish. Then the hard part would be over and she wouldn’t have this hold on me.
Am I a ghost? Am I still alive? I’m not sure anymore.
There are voices outside. They sound far away and I strain to hear them to make sure they are real. The voices move closer. A child is laughing and a woman joins in. They sound happy. I used to be happy. But then she appeared and ruined me. She tells me that I am nothing. That I am unlovable and should be locked away. And now she won’t let me leave. There’s no escaping her.
I sit on the bed and watch the room get darker as the sun goes down. The light turns the room a pale shade of gold and for an instant, I feel a slight calm rush over me. I revel in the soothing feeling and let the pain of the last few weeks fade away. My stomach rumbles from hunger pangs and I’m brought back into the present moment. I reach for the bowl on the small table and set it on my lap. Spooning the food into my mouth, I cry out as it scorches my tongue and I spit it back into the dish.
“You’re fucking disgusting,” she yells at me. “You can’t even eat soup correctly!”
I duck my head and blow on the soup, trying to cool it down. Even though the words sting, I know she’s right. She’s always been right. It wasn’t always like this. She used to be upbeat and positive, always telling me that I could do anything, be anything. But somehow along the way, she changed. At first, it was little things. When I did something incorrectly, she would sigh and get impatient. Then she started telling me I was stupid. If I was out in public and a girl walked by, she would tell me that I wasn’t as pretty or skinny and that I never would be. Then her words became a constant attack of how terrible my life is and how everyone would be better off without me. She said it enough times that I started to believe it. And now I know it’s true.
Day Twenty Three
“Nobody is coming for you,” she says.
“Everyone hates you.”
“Seriously, end it already.”
Day Twenty Four
The tears rush down my cheeks as I stand in the scorching hot shower and pray the heat will melt away all of my pain. Thoughts run through my head like photographs, my mind thumbing through a flip-book of the last year of my life. The more I remember, the worse it gets.
“There it is. There’s the anger I’ve been waiting for,” I say to myself through my soundless sobs. I have no idea how long I’ve been standing here, waiting for all the burning agony to funnel down the drain as quickly as the water, eviscerating the dull ache in my chest. Stepping out of the shower, I cover myself in a gigantic fluffy towel. I wipe the condensation off the mirror and stare into my bloodshot eyes, taking a deep breath. I’ve been numb for so long, anticipating this onslaught of emotion to overpower me so I could finally retaliate and break out of this prison. Feeling anything is better than feeling nothing at all.
I walk into the bedroom and let the towel drop down to the floor, immune to the crisp air flowing through the room.
“You’re no one,” she says loudly. “You are nothing. Everything in your life is your fault. Go back to bed. Everyone hates you. Nobody has even noticed you’re gone. And if they have, they’re happy about it. You make everyone completely miserable. End it already, you stupid, piece of —”
I pick up a vase on the dresser and throw it hard against the door. It shatters, glass flying everywhere.
“STOP!!! RIKKI, JUST STOP!!!” I scream, my voice shaking. “This is all a goddamn lie! I’m done with you, I’m done with being a prisoner. You need to get some help. Get some help, Rikki!”
Sinking to the ground, I feel a sharp sting in my hand as I look down to see blood pooling underneath my fingers as they sit atop a piece of glass. Shaking, I stand up and walk into the bathroom to clean up my cut and get supplies to sweep up the fragments of the vase. She’s still telling me I’m worthless but she’s getting quieter. I don’t know if it’s because she is losing her voice or because I’m no longer listening.
Day Twenty Six
I haven’t heard her voice in days.
I sleep again.
Day Twenty Seven
She’s gone. I hope she never comes back.
Day Twenty Eight
I sigh and stand up slowly, making sure I have everything I need, which isn’t much. I brush my hands down my old Levi jeans, smoothing out any invisible wrinkles. I look out the window at the overcast sky and slip on my favorite bulky cable knit cardigan to guard myself against the chill.
“It’s time for me to try and leave,” I say quietly. She can’t hold me here anymore.
Walking over to the door, I take a deep breath and turn the knob. I’m surprised to find that it turns easily and the door opens with a loud creak. I hold my breath and rush out before I lose my nerve.
Walking down the street, I stop in front of my favorite coffee shop. As I approach the counter, the bubbly blonde barista gives me a smile.
“What can I get for you?” she asks.
“A medium, nonfat vanilla latte, please.”
She writes my order on a notepad and looks up, still smiling.
“What’s your name, love?” she asks.
I take a deep breath. “Rikki. My name is Rikki.”