I liked his smile. It was warm, handsome, and kind. I could tell he really loved her. But then his face contorted into a leer, sallow cheeked, full of malice and greed. He smelled of things that made my head whirl. I heard myself screaming, vainly resisted the force of strong arms grasping me and shoving me sloppily into the car. I saw the needle in sharp relief against the dim surroundings, blindly felt it plunge cold into my arm. A chilled drowsy mist, an explosion of blissful relief, then everything swelled in bubbly waves before my eyes and I was gone.
Flitting in and out of consciousness were the same things. It nearly always ends in the shiny pointed needle, feeling weightless and blissful before dropping off again.
Everything is foggy, except the fire—lots of fire. Mounting up in endless towers, I feel the searing heat, scalding tongues of flame, choking fumes of smoke pouring from the ground and rising in billows to the skies. Even now, hardly conscious and aching all over, body limp and lifeless, heavy as lead—even now I feel the fire still. It scares me.
This is the closest I have come to myself since…I can’t even remember when. How long have I been living in that half-hearted dream, relieved by the needle? What even is living? How do I know?
My bleary eyes open onto another dreamy world, but this time my head is clearer. I feel my head swimming in pain and my weary limbs draped lifeless on the surface around me. I open my eyes once more and the fog slowly lifts. I can finally see things that I know to be real. I appear to be in a barn, but upon further investigation, I change my mind to an old warehouse. Tools clutter the table nearest me, neglected machinery stands rusting in the corner, and the smell of gasoline lingers in the air. A small library of leather-bound books fits on a low wooden shelf beside me. Sunlight streams in shafts through the cracks in the ceiling, bringing a feeling suggestive of eerie magic. I am alone.
I don’t know how long I remain before I remember. Mom! What did he do to her? I fly to my feet in a sudden rush of energy and stumble across the ground towards the door on the other side. Then I collapse. What was I going to do if I found her anyway? I can’t save her in the mess I’m in now. If anything, if by the blessed grace of God she was still safe, untouched, then my arrival would seal her doom. No, it is best that I remain here.
The sunlight slowly wanes, then returns, then wanes again for a long time. I grow tired of watching it, waiting for something to happen. Yet no one enters this place. What now? I ask myself. I leave that unanswered, and the day’s monotony continues uninterrupted.
After the third day, I take it into my mind to read. Then at least I will be entertained for a little while. I desperately hope that whoever owns this warehouse has a copy of Shakespeare in their library. Wait a minute: Since when did I start caring about ancient poetry? I guess I just forgot about it.
To my utter disappointment, there is no Shakespeare among the leather-bound collection—nor any other renowned work. They appear to be a series of journals. I pick one out from the left side of the shelf and look around me warily before I open it and begin reading. Not that I expect anyone to come in, since everything about this place screams it’s been abandoned long ago. My eyes find the first entry.
4 Jan, 2002
Man, people really need to change how they begin writing in these things. Oh well. I received you as a birthday present from Davy this morning. Mother says I should get in the habit of writing my feelings down before settling into bed, and Davy was kind enough to get you for me—telling everyone about my emotional issues in the process. I’ll get back at him tomorrow. It’s his birthday today too, and the least we can do is give Mother no trouble from us for at least 24 hours. I got him that red spinny top he’s been eying for the past month ever since it came into Fred’s. He was thrilled, but something told me he expected it. Not complaining though: never have, never will. How to I feel? Cold. I can hardly feel my feet. Better scoot off to bed before it gets worse. I’ll write again tomorrow.
My eyes halt at the signature: Ralph Notting. Then my eyes burn with hot angry fire. This was the man that married Mom, took me captive for numberless hours, or weeks—perhaps even months. As much as I want to run and scream, burn with vengeance against my captor, I restrain myself. His journals are the only source of entertainment I have. Maybe if I read on, I will find his reasons for committing such atrocities, find a way to Mom, wherever she is now. I grit my teeth and read the next entry.
5 Jan, 2002
I promise, I’ll come up with a good start that’s not the girlish “Dear Diary,” but for now I have more important things to discuss. I got back at Davy today, much to the detriment of Mother. I never realized how deeply she cared about him, even for something as little as his weird quirks. You see, Davy has an inexplicable obsession with classifying everything he finds—from recording the names of each individual shade of green in the house to spending hours figuring the exact shape of a Rubik’s cube. He insists that, contrary to the name, it’s NOT a cube. Anyway, since he told everyone that I have emotional issues, I made a poster of his face and a Rubik’s cube with the words “It’s not a cube!” then set it up on the front of the grocery store. By midafternoon, everyone knew about it. Davy was furious. I was laughing crazy with Kent and Kitty, but Mother was in tears. She told me that Davy was sensitive, and I couldn’t tease him like most other kids. I didn’t understand, but I did feel a twinge of guilt that hasn’t gone away. I wish I could take it back. I’m going to go out early tomorrow morning and take down that poster.
In the following entries, Davy wouldn’t come out of his room for weeks. When he finally did, he ignored Ralph’s continued apologies. Serves him right, I think, That was disgustingly rude.
I slowly read my way through the years, through the books. Days, weeks pass. I get to know Ralph extraordinarily well. His brother Davy fell into alcoholism, then his high school girlfriend introduced him to drugs. They disappeared for a while and then he emerged alone years later with a daughter named Joanna. Unfortunately, she fell into his way of life early on, cycling between drugs and alcohol and sexual abuse. I pity her immensely. That’s no way for a girl to live, never knowing any better. Then Ralph met Mom.
21 July 2018
Wow. Emotional overload is in full “go” mode. I met a beautiful young woman in the office today and I can’t stop thinking about her. I’ve never felt so free in my life, but I really need to slow my roll. I’ll never forgive myself if I plunge headlong into this love when she’s already in a relationship with someone else. I don’t want to be the cause of any more mischief. For now, I can only wait until I see her again and get to know her better. I think I’ll ask her out for a lunch date with some friends.
The next significant entry about her was about a week later.
29 July 2018
Her name is Aurora. She’s widowed. She has a darling daughter of eight years who reminds me of my niece. Poor girl. Davy had never been so upset in his entire life. I don’t know when she died, but she can’t have been older than fifteen. It’s like God gave her a second chance in Aurora’s daughter—the likeness is so similar! I love them both, and I’m determined to try for marriage if Aurora’s interested. I don’t want to force her if she’s not.
So Ralph was initially a nice guy with no poetic language who had to bear with his brother’s bad choices. I catch myself feeling bad for him. I eventually read up to the marriage in 2023. They go on their honeymoon to Venice while I stay with his parents. I smile as I remember that. They were really nice to me. The next entry has me dumbstruck.
30 May 2023
Lilian is gone! Aurora and I are absolutely devastated, crazed. We’ve looked everywhere, made phone calls, and still there’s nothing! I don’t know what to do! It’s been mere weeks and I’ve already lost our child, the thing most precious to her. What have I done! Why did I allow my love for her to supersede all else to the neglect of Lilian! Oh the poor poor girl! Aurora says it’s not my fault, but I swear I’ll never forgive myself until we find her and make sure she’s alright, safe in her mother’s arms.
Now I don’t know what to think. He either clearly lied to his diary, or…something else happened I’m still not sure about. I have no choice but to read on, for I am now determined to discover the truth, whatever it may be.
So I read. They spent years trying to find me. They had given up all hope of ever doing so. Then, after a year-long gap of entries, Ralph explains everything. He hadn’t written in a year because his every minute was consumed with the emergency—he could take no break to write. He was walking home from work one day when he caught sight of smoke issuing from a small slum downtown apartment building. It was consumed in a blaze of fire. He acted on instinct and ran inside, calling for help.
He was only able to save one person, who was dying quickly—me. Reeking of drugs and smoke, bruised, scarred, flesh burnt away to the bone in several places, I lay unconscious in his trembling arms. The ambulance showed up and said it was hopeless. I was done for. But Ralph absolutely refused to accept this and hurried home in desperation.
After a full year of work, I was still living, though barely so—reliant on twenty different machines, cords jammed in all over my body, monitors regulating everything. The entries caught up and resumed at one per day. Still, Ralph worked feverishly, though he didn’t say how.
He did say that Davy died in that fire. He did say that he believed Davy kidnapped me out of desire for his daughter Joanna. He’d been eyeing me greedily ever since the wedding day. Ralph also said that Mom died of heartbreak in 2036.
First I grieve for Mom. No tears come, but my heart is sick. Then, 2036!! I am shocked. How did I stay in here like this for so long? Am I really over thirty-six years old? What year is it now? If only I had a mirror to look into, to see! I drop the book and stumble around the warehouse, scrounging through drawers and filtering through the piles of junk lining the walls.
Finally I find a rusted rear-view mirror attached to a decrepit junked car. I look the same as I always did—thirteen and glowing. How? I need an explanation.
Then as I return to the diary and flip to the next page, a sheaf of paper falls out, along with a photograph. The latter catches my eye first: it’s our first family picture, dated May of 2023. Ralph stands beside Mom, myself standing in front of the gap between them clutching him tight. I still like his smile. My face in the photo looks the same as my face does now. In fact, in looking at my reflection in the mirror again, I am identical to that girl in the picture.
In the sheaf, I find blueprints—plans. Plans impossible to read, but easy to deduce. I can’t believe it. I won’t believe it.
The final entry in the final book is dated 2068, in which he states I should wake up self-sufficient in about five years.
There is no more denying it, for it stares me right in the face.
Ralph saved my life, and made me into an unchanging machine.
Small wonder I am never hungry.
You Never Asked
but never used
stuffed in your corner
as an afterthought.
I became a convenient illusion
over a viable solution.
You always said,
but not once did you reach for me—
Never asking to shield the rain
under faded skies
or to cover your pale and weakened skin
from the scorching sun.
You preferred getting wet
over asking for help
and eventually, they found you
having suffocated in your tears and sweat
retching up half-chewed pills
and enough cocktails to down a steer.
Your body glistened in the rain
under neon lights—
A cobblestone grave,
and a pond of puke curbside.
Pixie dust still clinging to nostrils
fresh enough to sniff again
if you were still alive.
but never used,
and you never asked for an umbrella
so instead you drowned.