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By Brian L. MacLearn All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Drama

Chapter 1

One-fifteen AM, Now

The aroma of brewing coffee is intoxicating. My need is no less than that of a junkie shooting up with heroin, impatiently awaiting the warm feeling of the narcotic as it deadens the nerves and calms the cravings. The bouquet of vanilla, hazelnut crème, and caramel make my nostrils flair, tolerance waning with every inhale. To hell with waiting, there is enough to fill my cup. The moist steam caresses my hand and I smile at its warm kiss. Instead of reaching for the creamer shaker on the counter, I open the cupboard door beneath the sink. Without hesitation, I grab the bottle of drain cleaner. I know that I am doing this, and I know that I don’t want to do it, but I do it anyway. The expectant smile stays firmly in place, eagerly awaiting the magical first sip of coffee.

This is my life now—a constant struggle to survive, not only survive, but being strong enough to withstand and not succumb to what they want and what they will make me do. My rational mind has been hijacked and locked away from my own grasp. I’m a puppet dangling from the master’s strings. Without a hesitant thought or any reluctance, I add a generous shot of drain cleaner to the coffee. Frowning, I add more until the puppeteer is satisfied. Disregarding the bubbling reaction and the smell of the chemicals, I raise the cup to my mouth, blowing across the top to cool it. Ever so slightly, my right hand begins to tremble, the tang of lye and sulfuric acid burning the inside of my nose and stinging my eyes. The rim of the mug rests against my lower lip. One last gentle cooling puff of breath and…

“Fuck you!” I shout at the top of my lungs as I struggle to lower the mug away from my face. My voice sounds more pleading than commanding. It was close; I’m losing my ability to maintain control of my own mind. The effort it takes turning the mug upside down over the sink is equal to the task of stopping a charging bull with a peashooter. This time, I somehow managed to succeed. With each assault they launch, I grow both stronger and weaker in resistance. I hope it’s my strength that prevails. The incessant voices attacking the protective wall in my head are gaining ground, tearing bricks away faster than I can stack them. Hot tears trickle down my cheeks. God, I’m so tired. Sliding backwards down the counter, sitting with my back to the cupboards, I let it out, the sobs of frustration, the tears of remorse, and the sighs of regret.

The sleeve of my sweatshirt now a makeshift rag used to wipe blurry eyes and a snotty nose. I stink! It doesn’t matter. I must complete what I have set out to do, and then decide whether to be clean or not when it comes time to end it. Eyes are irritated and swollen. I have to fight to keep them open. To lie down here on the floor and sleep is a blissful wish. Fighting away the urge to do so is an unending breathless curse. His reflection watches me from the window as I stand. Without panic or fear, I turn and look at him. This one has a beautiful face and inviting smile. The human mask he wears perfectly covers the merciless and malicious intent hidden underneath. He blows me a kiss and bows royally, complete with the exaggerated dance of his hand. I give him the finger and he rewards me with a tisk, tisk motion of his own in return. He is the perfect portrait of every woman’s fantasy hero, charming his way through their erotic sex dreams and fulfilling their desires, but this one hides behind lies built upon lies. He is one of the many innocent looking villains in my never-ending, never-waking personal nightmare.

I shun him; give him nothing, only the view of my backside as I turn the water on in the sink. Keeping an eye on his reflection in the window, I grope the counter for the bottle of drain cleaner. He moves a purposeful step towards me as I defiantly dump it down the sink. Anger plays across the reflection’s face—good, I’ve done something right and annoyed him. I spin around, slapping at the face that dissipates when my hand passes through it without resistance. A burning sensation tingles through my fingers, not unlike the feeling of pinched nerves awakening from bitter numbness with electrified currents of warmth. Another batch of tears stream down reddened cheeks—the toll of exhaustion eroding away my ability to stay strong much longer.

Another will soon come to take his place. I should prepare for the next assault, but I’m unable to stop the insatiable need to empty the cupboard of all chemicals and wash them down the drain with hot water. My already sore nose and eyes miserably burn from the brewing concoction of cleansers in my sink and my throat feels raw as it constricts against each toxic breath. Burying my nose in the elbow of my sweatshirt to breathe, I empty all the bottles from under the sink into the toxic mix, running the garbage disposal to be sure to help send it on its merry way. A new wave of panic grips me. Bolting from the kitchen to the bathroom in search of other destructive items, my arms are quickly filled full of everything that might be potentially dangerous if ingested or poured in one’s eyes.

I save nothing; shampoo, bars of scented soaps, hairspray, my expensive perfumes, all join the frothy, gurgling chemical death in my sink. Firmly caught in grip of a massive panic attack, powerless to control the need to rid myself of anything they might use against me, I race against time and what little of it I have left. It’s all fruitless and I know it, but it’s still doing something, no matter how trivial.

The sight of myself in the mirror in the hallway on one of my wild dashes to collect sharp objects from my desk in the extra bedroom, after corralling the box cutters out of the toolbox in the hall closet that my father gave me, makes me stop and stare. I hate the fact that I actually take a moment to look at myself. Bright blue eyes, housed in their red-rimmed sockets, still blaze with a determined fire, but reveal the improbable burdens of the last few weeks. My parents would be mortified at this version of their daughter. I’m becoming a Riley Less rather than Riley Moore. My normally fine lips are rough, a sorrowful pale pink color; several spots are raw where I’ve kept gnawing at them. Skin dried rough by the chill of winter is in desperate need of the moisturizing cream now swirling around in my sink. My dark-blonde hair, messily pulled back into a ponytail, has all the allure of straw soaked in grease. Judging my own reflection, I see the remnants of someone suffering a two-week bout of the flu. My sickness, however, harbors the worst kind of bacteria; one that antibiotics can’t starve off.

No one is coming to see me, no one will help me; they have made sure of that. All that remains left for options is a fleeting hope I’ll be able to cross the finish line on my terms—and doing it will be enough, a reward, an end…

Suddenly, I’m hungry. When did I last eat? It’s the jumping between a heightened state of anxiety and fighting off exhaustion when I come back down that is burning off more calories than I have stored. I check the mirror again, not to scrutinize the poor state of appearance, but to see if another has come to take his place. The shadows are solid against the walls, none stretching at perplexing angles. Given more time, I would render the apartment bare of everything, but even that wouldn’t be enough to protect me. If I falter, they could make me kill myself in ways I don’t want to imagine—much worse than chugging drain cleaner shots. I’m all too aware that this is crazy me, acting in a blind panic, attempting feeble acts of self-preservation, but I’ve officially punched the last circle on my sanity card. The next time the card is presented it will be to utilize the free sample of batshit crazy rewarded for ten paid purchases. Time is running out and I’m not ready.

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