Author's Notes (December 15, 2011): This was my entry for the Season of Our Discontent angst contest. It placed third as Judges' Choice! Thanks to smexy4smarties for a very last minute pre-read. :)

Warning: This story probably includes most of the things that could bother you; you know what they are. If you don't like getting up close and personal with the things that get under your skin, turn away.

Everything has come down to one, unavoidable fact: No one can save you. Certainly not your parents, who you realized early on were not Superman and Wonder Woman, who are now aging members of a shrinking middle class. Not your first love, who at some point tired of your "stand-offish attitude." Not God or politics or any of those other –isms or –ologies that you don't believe in anymore. And you, well, you can't save yourself after a point, either. You know, because you've tried and failed. Every time.


On the outside, things may appear normal. You're average, after all, nothing special, so you never rock the boat one way or another. Average height. Average skin, prone to breakouts once every month, like clockwork. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Plain Jane. You're the person that eyes scan over and around in a crowd, as if you're see-through, a ghost among the living. Only one person has ever truly noticed you, and that wasn't attention you'd wanted.

Don't think about that.

It's not just your looks that are average, either. Your brains are, too. Mrs. Barrett, your fourth grade teacher who praised your intellect and proclaimed you'd one day be a rocket scientist when you won your public school's rinky-dink science fair because of a potato battery, was way off the mark. You never became a rocket scientist. You went to college for two years before realizing an art history degree was a waste of money that would get you nowhere. Enough's been written about Cézanne and Monet and Picasso and Rothko, and no one you know's even read any of that, so you dropped out.

You figured, What's the point, anyway?

What's the point of any of it?


Walmart was hiring when no one else was. Save money. Live better. You've always thought the slogan begs the question of whether money is what saves a person. Being a minimum wage worker, you wouldn't know. You just ring up sales at the register like a zombie. Every now and again, you wake in the night to find your hand moving—scanning invisible groceries on an invisible scanner for an invisible customer. It makes you want to laugh—or, sometimes, cry. You just turn over and try to fall back asleep, try to function like a Normal Human Being.

But the dreams come—the nightmares. They start slowly, with a chill, as if your bed covers are being removed inch by tiny inch. Then comes the whisper of air, the vulnerability, the exposure. You curl into a ball, so tight, so compact, cocooning yourself with your own skin and bones, but your brain, along with being average, is unendingly cruel. No amount of hiding can save you. You don't wake before you feel the tiny spiders' legs on the inside of your thighs. They crawl, they creep, they invade.

You are helpless until you jerk awake, drenched in sweat and screaming. It doesn't feel like you've slept at all. There are permanent dark circles under your eyes that you hide with makeup.

Sometimes, during the day, when the spiders are behind you—or at least locked away in a cabinet in your brain—you daydream about a life where you don't need saving. Where you are the rocket scientist Mrs. Barrett believed you could be, the one NASA sends to Mars, because you're the only one who can do it—whatever it is. It doesn't matter what it is. You can do it, only you. You save something, the world, maybe, and no one ever forgets your name. You're happy and healthy and Normal and made immortal by humanity's collective memory, history books. That's the dream. It's a big dream. You're afraid you're not the only one who has it. Probably much smarter, prettier, and definitely less broken people have this dream, too.

Or maybe you're a contemporary dancer, delicate but strong. Or a rodeo cowgirl who doesn't take crap from anybody. A CEO. President of the United States of America, joined by the First Gentleman. A novelist who's read and loved by all her peers, the next Jane Austen.

Sometimes your daydreams are simpler, but closer to home, more primitive. You're the pretty girl—the blond, the redhead, the black-haired girl with striking blue eyes—the girl who turns heads and has lunch mysteriously bought for her by the handsome, wealthy man at table eight. One thing leads to another—and it's better than anything you could have ever imagined. It's perfect. There's no pain, only happiness.

You get married and go to Costa Rica on your honeymoon, but you wait to have children, because the sex is too good. You don't want to give it up yet in favor of the kind of sleepless nights babies bring.

Never mind that you don't really like being touched at all; this is a fantasy, where you're Normal and lovely. You'll have kids later. They'll be beautiful and brilliant and all your high school friends will be jealous.

In reality, you guess you could get married; it just wouldn't work out like any fantasy you've entertained. You've dated. You know how it is. Sort of. You could get engaged. Probably. Settle. Settle down.

Take it. Don't say a word.

You really do consider relationships for a time, thinking that maybe a relationship could heal you. People learn to get over their issues and love each other, you think, but then you remember your parents divorced when you were young. Your marriage isn't likely to last, either, because of that. It's a statistic, a kind of fact. You're a statistic already, of course. You're a whole lot of statistics that come under many labels.

"Survivor" is not one of these labels, no matter what the hotlines say the few times you've been brave enough to call. This isn't surviving. You're still a victim. Why do you let yourself continue to be a victim? But you can't seem to stop.

You want so many things. You crave them in a base, animalistic way that's hard to communicate and so reminiscent of the sharp, aching painfulness of childhood. You're stretching your arms up, reaching, pushing. You're pounding at a chest with your fists and wailing.

Stop. Please stop. I won't tell. Just stop.

Wailing so much, because the right words won't come out. Because there are no right words. And it's like you've forgotten how to produce coherent language with your tongue, so all that comes out are grunts and howls. What you really mean is this: Hear me. Please hear me.


No one does. Your feelings are reminiscent of those felt in childhood, and your actions are chillingly no different, either.

You say nothing, and so no one can hear you.

You squash all notions of stretching your arms out, of wailing. You wake up. You shower and brush your teeth and put on clothes and go at green and speed at yellow and stop at red and scan frozen dinners with a frozen smile and "Hi, how are you today?" and "I'm good."—though you don't think that at all—and "Thank you, have a nice day."

Would anyone really hear you, even if you were screaming?


Mom calls. She loves you. She calls you "Button," as if you're still five years old. She wants you to be happy. You should be going out more. What about that nice boy? Who? Mike. Oh, yeah. Him. He liked to hug you, which was okay, but you stopped taking his calls after the second date, thinking he'd want more than a hug and kiss by the third one. You didn't like the thought of his tongue in your mouth, invading you like the spiders. He wore too much cologne.

It would make your mom happy if you went out with him, though. She wants you to be Normal. You could settle, you think. You could at least try to settle. Settle down. Lie down and take it. You could learn to fake it. Life isn't a fairy tale. God, do you know that.

And still…you want something that doesn't make your skin itch, that doesn't make you feel like spiders are crawling all over you, trying to pry their way between your legs and past your tightly pursed lips.

No. Stop. Call Mike. Try. Instead, you stare at the phone until you're curled in a ball and sobbing. You can't do it. You can't do anything. All you can remember is fat, sweaty hands, gripping you, bruising you; the smell of wine and his excitement. The way it'd felt when he tore into your body. How you'd had to hide the blood-spotting for three days later. You hate yourself the most when you dream about liking what he did.

You talk to Dad. He's quiet, but more levelheaded than Mom. That's why they never worked out. He doesn't say much about Mike—how can he when he's busy watching a Mariners game while on the phone with you?—but he reminds you that you'll always be his baby girl. It makes you smile a little, but the sentiment isn't as automatically comforting as it once was. You wonder what it even means, considering you're getting old and he never saved you in the first place. He's a cop. He's supposed to be a bastion of safety.

He's not. Nothing's safe. Safety is an illusion.


There are sayings about that are meant to help you pull through. They're on posters and postcards, typed in Helvetica and Arial on poorly-Photoshopped images online. Sayings about dreams, about making them come true, about how things start with you (whatever that means), about how the world and the people on it are inherently good or could be better. Pay it forward, pray for peace, send positive thoughts, have a moment of silence. Toe the line, don't toe the line. Join together—no, be the one to walk to the beat of your own drum. Love is around the corner, especially when you stop looking. There are sayings about loneliness, too. You can relate to those the most, especially the one about being lonely in a room full of people.

Hear me, you think again one night, while you sit in a too-tight cocktail dress that a friend insisted you wear; you're stuffed in the far corner of a booth, at a table with people you call friends. They're sweet to include you, because it's not as if you add much to the conversation, but really you just don't even want to be there.

None of them are close enough to you to hear your crying—metaphorically or later in the bar's grimy bathroom, into cheap, sandpaper-rough toilet paper that reddens the skin around your nose until you look like Rudolph.

Maybe you'd fit in on the Island of Misfit Toys. Probably not.


You turn twenty-eight. It's surprising, and so is the cake that looks like it could catch on fire. Where did all that time go? This is what everyone always says. This is what you say. You say other things, too, about how twenty-eight is just a number, an idea—silly, even, given that you've probably got seventy more in your pocket—but you're not sure you really believe that. You're not sure you really want that.

You blow out the candles. Air passes your lips—out in one puff that has to be held out longer with each year because your mother is determined to always put the exact number of candles on the cake. You make a wish. To be Normal. To at least be Less Broken. You make this wish every year, and it never comes true.

Wishing is for idiots, for those who believe in safety.


After you blow out those candles, it's as if you never really catch your breath again, like you're suffocating under a pillow pressed to your face or maybe it's more like drowning. Everything's coming to a head.

This has been going on since you were ten years old, and you're tired of it. Tired of everything. You've missed opportunities because of it. You won't ever be that rocket scientist, even if you did have potential. You haven't even been promoted at Walmart, because your personality sucks.

How can you be something—anything worthwhile—on this planet of seven billion and counting? You're twenty-eight. And Dysfunctional. Your time to make something of yourself is running out. People laugh at this. They say, "You're young!" But you know you're a handicapped rat in the race. You're stuck at one of the maze walls, the same one you've been stuck at since you were a kid. No one's going to save you or give you the cheese you so desperately want. You could try AGAIN. Date, marry, settle, settle down, have kids that you could live through vicariously—that's what everyone else does, right?—but it's not what you want. The thought of any man in you—Mike or anyone else—makes you want to scream. You want something better than screaming.

What is it?

Then, one day, between scanning tube socks and pasta sauce with a high sodium content, you realize there is a way past the maze wall, a way to at least decide the where and how of your drowning. They'll finally hear your wailing, whoever they are. This idea shouldn't make you feel giddy, excited, satisfied, powerful, worried, doubtful, scared, unsure, at peace, at peace, at peace, but it does.

It does.

For the first time in eighteen years, you sleep and don't dream. A little, fragile piece of you is free. No one can touch it. It's yours to do with as you wish. It's you.

It's strange, how this taboo idea gives you purpose. You don't worry so much about the fact that you're not a rocket scientist, the president or anything else. You don't worry about the fact that you've not called Mike and begun to settle. You don't even have to try to be Normal anymore. None of that matters now. You've found the Wizard behind the curtain, and you've made a decision. While the other rats are scurrying and scratching at their own walls, you dare to ask, "Mr. Wizard, what's behind door number three?"

The funny thing is that no one knows. That's a little exciting, the not knowing part. It should scare you. He always said it should scare you, especially if you didn't "know" God, especially if you chose to open door number three the way you're thinking about opening it. But it doesn't scare you. Memories of him do, the ones where his hugs became more, became a kiss to the cheek, then to the lips; the way he rubbed at you through your cotton panties and said, "Shh, we don't share this with anyone else, sweetie." He always called you sweetie.

It lasted for two years, the length of time that your well-meaning, flighty mother thought the Baptist church was a good place to take you in the summer, when she had work and she thought you still needed looking after. You never told anyone, and that makes you feel worse, because you wonder how many others it's happened to, all because you failed to save them.

Thinking about it is always a bad idea. It makes you feel dirty, abnormal and so incapable. Your heart begins to race, and then it aches with every beat. You feel your pulse pounding through your whole body, all while you imagine meaty hands in places where hands should not have gone on a young girl's body. You cry and curl up in a ball and take medication that knocks you out until morning. Sleep doesn't make it go away. It only dulls the sharpest edges.

You renew your grip on your plan, on that little piece of you that belongs to no one else. He can't take this from you. Not even the memory of him can. This gets you through one day, then another, and your dreamless sleep returns to soothe you. This only confirms the logic of your plan. It's not only a plan. It's a solution. The only one.


You want to do it right. You start by slowly paying off all your useless student loans. You don't want to leave behind any debt; your parents can't afford that, and you think it might land on them. You also begin researching about ways you can carry out your plan. If there's one thing you can do right, do above average in spite of your issues, it should be this. Your last performance must be nothing short of magnificent. You won't leave a mess, and you refuse to be a cliché. No belts or ropes and kicked away chairs. No sleeping pills. No guns.

As always, Google knows a lot. Still, it takes time, and you have to ease your way into forums that don't let just anyone in; even anonymously, people have to be careful talking about these things.

When you have all the information you want, you realize there are a surprising number of options; these, you carefully compare and weigh. You turn twenty-nine before you make a decision. No one suspects a thing.

It's a crazy idea, the one you've chosen, and you aren't even sure that it's real, even when you see the grainy pictures people have taken with their cell phones. For once, your curiosity is outweighing your fear.


Your life comes down to nine envelopes. Mom and Dad, of course. You don't tell them what the catalyst of all your problems was, but you do tell them this isn't their fault. This is your choice. Yeah, they divorced, and you didn't spend much time with Dad at all, but they did the best they could, and you know it and appreciate it.

You write to your much younger, half-brother who will never really get to know you. And to your first boyfriend, who you apologize to—again. "Maybe if we'd met under different circumstances," you write. "I did love you, as best I knew how." It just hadn't been enough. Tears blur your ink and make the paper fragile.

Then come the letters to the three friends you've been bad about keeping in touch with—Angela, Ben and Sam. Aside from the few times they manage to drag you out each year, they're really just photos on Facebook now, but you remember them fondly. They tried to save you. They really did. They just couldn't—didn't know how. It's not their fault. "Thank you for trying," you write.

There's your boss, who's overweight and doesn't wear deodorant, but is very kind when he thinks no one's watching (no one is, usually). You tell him he's sweet and that even if no one else knows, you know that he takes leftover food from the Walmart bakery to homeless people. He buys dog food with money from his own pocket and feeds their pets, too, so they won't feel they have to share their food with them.

Finally, you write Mrs. Barrett, not because you need to tell her she was wrong about you, but because you need to tell her you wish she'd been right; you wish you'd been able to leave the average little girl behind, become something more, someone pretty and bold and strong who would never be taken advantage of. You just couldn't, though. She was such a good teacher, but you became broken, used goods. And that's that.

Thank you for everything, you scribble at the end of each letter. I love you, but I need peace of mind.

You hope they'll understand. You're not wailing now, not even on the inside. You're speaking clearly, at least in the written word you're leaving behind. You carefully sign each letter and in a moment of uncharacteristic daringness, you put on lipstick and kiss the envelope that will go to your first love. To your little brother, Danny, you give the Curious George sticker you've kept in your keepsake box for twenty years. It's time to let it go. Jennifer from first grade would understand. Friends forever. Pinky promise.

The plane tickets are printed, tucked in between the pages of a passport that's never been stamped, because no one who works at Walmart gets to go overseas without a lot of planning ahead. You reformat your hard drive, because there are some things your parents don't need to know; just because you haven't been able to be with anyone doesn't mean you haven't had…urges. Sometimes dark ones.

You leave the envelopes on the kitchen counter, shaping them about in a silly heart. Because you do love them all. So much. You cry about that for a while, about leaving them, about how they aren't enough, when they should be, about how you wish you could either want less or be more or at least just be. But you are who and what you are—broken—and you leave the house with strangely dry eyes one crisp, spring morning, locking the door behind you. You kiss the apartment door. It doesn't matter that it's dirty. You're saying goodbye.

When you park at the airport, you wonder what will happen to your car. It's old, and looks it, and has a window that gets stuck, but it gets okay mileage. Maybe Danny will get it. Will he want it, or will it be uncomfortable? Will it be like having a ghost for a passenger? You stand there in the morning sun, thinking about that for far too long. Your mind's wandering a lot today.

You have to hurry to make it through check-in, but it's easy, because you don't have checked luggage; you did get a return ticket, though, so you wouldn't seem so suspicious, just you and your backpack. It helps that you're white. You nearly have a panic attack at security, because you're so afraid you'll be randomly picked for a pat down. But you're not. You just have to take off your shoes and walk through the metal detector. Then you're running to your departure gate.

The flights are long and hard and experienced between a man who snores and a woman who can't keep her toddler quiet, but you guess losing sleep doesn't matter now, all things considered. You listen to music, The Beatles mostly. Let it be, they remind you. We all live in a yellow submarine.


You're nervous and excited and sad when you arrive in Italy. Sad, because you know this is the last day of forever and you didn't do any better with your life. Nervous, because you only have an inkling of an idea of what you're walking into; the internet didn't know much at all; this is probably a hoax. Excited, because even though no one will know it but you, if this isn't a hoax—if they are real—you're going to more than open door number three. You're going to blast through it at high speed, embrace it with outstretched arms, clutch it in your fists. For the first time in your life, you're going to take control and do something amazing, do and be something that no one, not even he can destroy.

One night is spent in a hotel. You splurge for something fancy, and you're overlooking Florence's night life. People move about, live—you don't know how they do it. You envy it, as you always do. From your balcony, you watch the sun rise with tears caught in your lashes.

The tour exists, even if everything else is a joke. It's quaint. "Learn about Volterra's rich historical background!" the brochure promises. An excited-looking woman from a stock photograph is printed on the front beside a talk bubble. "Bellissimo!" she says. You find the business that sells the tour tickets and, with shaking hands, purchase one for the afternoon. It's all very official-seeming. They're probably not…what people on the internet said.

Of course they aren't, you think, already shrinking under your disappointment. The odds are against the rumor being true.

With no appetite to speak of and little money left, you wander aimlessly over cobblestoned roads and look in jewelry shops. You pretend you don't know English (and you don't have to pretend when it comes to Italian), so no one will bother you.

Three o'clock arrives, and you're so nervous that your legs are shaking. For some reason, you really, really want this to be real.

Your tour guide's name is Heidi, and she makes you uncomfortable, like the time you pet the baby alligator the wildlife expert brought into school, and yet you're drawn to her. She doesn't just turn heads. She turns whole bodies. You, too, are drawn to the power of her body, like you're a piece of metal and she's a giant magnet.

At some angles, she's so beautiful that you want to fall to your knees and weep. It's not that she's above average; it's that she's everything you never imagined a person could look like. She's more flawless than a porcelain doll, but she moves and talks, and it's with confident grace and charm. Someone like Heidi is never a victim.

Someone like Heidi isn't human. Everything on the forums was true.

It seems the people around you, the others on the tour, don't realize where the goddess-like woman is leading them, but they're drawn. They're rats traveling down the wrong path—or herded cattle. You think about telling them, but then you decide to let it go. They probably wouldn't believe you, anyway.

You're not sure if not at least trying to tell them makes you a bad person or just someone who understands how the life cycle sometimes works—and how the cycle sometimes isn't so much a cycle with predictable, looping elements, but a tree with offshoots. Today, you're not following the straight path, and neither is the short, balding man beside you or the woman in big, black shades or the cute Japanese girl with her blue-bodied camera. Today, you are the fish food, the lambs led to slaughter.

Life has days like this. You've been a victim before. Never stopped being one until recently, when you decided to take this journey.

Heidi leads you to the inside of what you can only call a palace. It's almost as breathtaking as your tour guide, who is talking pleasantly of refreshments. The others still don't realize they are the refreshments. Everything's going exactly as the person online said it would.

You begin to wonder if maybe that person wasn't a person at all. After all, how could a person know so much? How could one have survived and come back from this? Maybe it was a trick to get people like you to come…

There are paintings on the wall, some of them looking suspiciously like those that have been missing for many years, but you can't be sure if they're prints or paintings or what from this distance. You don't get a chance to look closely. Heidi makes sure you and your group of lambs don't go anywhere she doesn't want you to, and you never stay in a room for very long. It's subtle, so subtle that the others haven't noticed, but you see that they close the doors behind you, that there are guards near them who don't deem any of you worthy of a glance.

Higher and higher you go. There are many floors, many stairs and elevators for the handicapped. It all seems so beautiful, so quaintly foreign and leisurely and friendly.

You almost wish things wouldn't be so leisurely. Your feet are getting cold. Your heart pounds, playing in tandem to the quiet taps and shuffles everybody's shoes are making on the stone floor. Now that you know this is real, you begin to wonder if this is what you want, if this really is the way out. What if something horrible is behind door number three? Doing this had seemed so unique, so daring on the internet, on printed plane tickets. Here, now, knowing that they're real…

Heidi's violet-eyed gaze lands on you. A perfectly-shaped eyebrow lifts. She seems bored, but a little amused. It's like she knows you're nervous. And then, with a sudden shock, you realize she actually might.

Two more floors, then Heidi unveils a room with a long table filled with food. It's overflowing with pastries, fruits and yoghurts. It's the Last Supper, and no one but you knows. Everyone else digs in, chatting merrily, thinking that this is the best tour—so cheap! Look at all you get for the ticket price!

Some of the younger men make crude comments about Heidi. She seems to know. She stands by one of the guards, who is, in his own way, statuesquely flawless, and they laugh to each other on occasion, their eyes fixed on the boys who are teasing and each trying to build up enough courage to ask her out, in hopes of "fucking a real Italian girl" before returning home.

After everyone's had their fill, Heidi says there's one last stop—a room where they'll be shown a video. There's a knot in your throat. This is it, you think.

You're right.

The room doesn't contain a viewing screen or chairs. It's just a giant room where three, ruby-eyed men sit in garish, gargantuan thrones that are lifted slightly on a pedestal. None of them wear crowns, but their status is obvious.

"Welcome, welcome!" the one in the center says, a creepy smile on his lips. His skin looks like paper, as if there's a film over his real skin. You don't like it, but you know now that there's no going back. Again, the door is shut behind your group. The difference is that this time there is no other door to enter or exit from that isn't already closed and set with guards.

More of the beautiful creatures enter the room. They seem to buzz with excitement, their eyes flicking over your group. Some people on the tour become restless and call out questions to them or the three kings, none of which are answered. No one's listening to them now, as if it's beneath them, not worth their time, even though they've got an eternity's worth.

Your legs are trembling horribly as a man proclaims he and his wife have had enough of this and start heading for the door. You see the way he's holding her fingers, crushing them in his fear, but he's decided to take the lead and get them out.

They don't make it.

The creatures are fast. All at once they swarm toward the couple trying to exit, as well as your group. They're like a school of fish, piranhas or sharks, hungry for blood. There's instant mayhem—digital cameras falling to the hard floor, their plastic cracking, shattering; the soft thuds of purses; and the screaming, so much screaming. But worst of all are the moans of pleasure from the creatures, the slurps of blood. They're in ecstasy, delighting in the bodies of their unwilling victims.

You're horrified when you suddenly realize you've embraced a death that is so closely related to that which first destroyed you.

The scent of blood and urine burns in your nose as the one who welcomed you into this room grabs your hands. His skin is smooth and cold, like you've thrust your hands into a bowl of ice water. You're crying as you look into his red eyes—because you can't look away—and you remember being little, remember the blood on the inside of your thighs at Vacation Bible School.

"Amazing," the creature breathes, his eyes darting between your face and where he's holding your hands. His breath is pleasantly sweet. "I can't read her at all," he says to one of his companions, a blond-haired youth. There's blood on that one's mouth. He grunts in mild interest.

The creature holding your hands turns back to you, excitement lighting his eyes. "I'm so glad you could join us," he says, reaching up to cup your cheek.

Then he tears into your throat.


Death is a release. At least, that's what you'd foolishly believed. What you got was three days in Hell, where fiery briar thorns pushed their way through your veins, tearing and stinging at every twist and turn. Where your mind became a black chamber for you to relive your worst nightmares; of thick-knuckled hands, held apart knees, and the rough material of a church pew. When you screamed, no one heard you. Maybe no one cared to hear.

At the end of the third day, the worst of Hell melted away from you. You "woke up" from the sleep that wasn't a sleep, but a sort of death. Clinically, you're dead, and that was what you wanted. You have no heart beat. But…you walk and talk and breathe when you feel like it. It seems like you're still alive.

You'll never sleep again. It's comforting. A little. No more dreams.

But this isn't what you wanted.

They changed you, turned you into one of them. You're pretty. You live in the package that should be bold, but you're not bold, and though you're strong enough to uproot trees, you're still afraid of shadows. You're still broken. This isn't the worst of it, though. Far from it. Being broken, being the mere shell of a human that you were, that would be preferable.

Because you're still in Hell. You must be. You're a demon now, a monster just like him. You have cravings and urges so like his. And when you can't suffer holding back anymore, you find someone weaker and take what you need from them just like he did. You don't ask for permission. You know they won't give it. You just take.

"I want to die," you say one day to the one who made you. A body lies at your feet. Blood is drying at the corner of your mouth. You stare at the droplets of rain pat-pat-patting against a glass window.

From the corner of your eye, you see he smiles as if you aren't speaking of suicide and, like all those from your past and present, pretends not to have heard you at all. Even now, after all your changes, you are faceless, voiceless.

"Come, sweetie," he says, holding out a hand that you imagine is more thickly-knuckled than it is. "I have a new painting I'd like to share with you."

Panic consumes you at his term of endearment. Is it just a painting he wants to show you? Is it candy for good behavior? What more can possibly be taken from you? You have no soul left. And still you allow yourself to be led away. Your screams are silent; you can't cry. Not even your pulse races these days.

Sleeplessness doesn't mean there are no nightmares. This nightmare is never-ending.

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