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The sound of falling droplets of water stirs me from my slumber.

I slowly allow my eyes to open, groggy and disoriented.

The first thing I see is that churning, swirling water. It bubbles and spits, almost as if alive. Something's not right with this water.

I make to get up, and it's now that I realize that I'm fixed in place. I'm bound, tightly, it seems, wrists and ankles tied together by thick ropes. I'm lying flat on my front, inches from a tub of water, held in stasis by a long wooden plank keeping me from falling in.

What the hell...?

The tub's full, and it looks like it was recently filled, from the dripping of the faucet. I watch as the tap water falls into the body of water, fizzling slightly as it makes contact.

Wide-eyed, I begin to struggle, shouting out, although I know no one is going to hear me.

"God, please! Please help!"

As expected, my cries go unheard.

My heart begins to pump faster; I can already feel the adrenaline filling me.

I can't start panicking. I need to get out of here. Taking deep breaths, I force myself to try to remain calm. I move my head to the side, trying to survey my surroundings as best as I can.

It's not pretty.

I'm in a bathroom, but it's in a shocking state of disrepair. Tiles are missing from the brown-stained porcelain walls. The toilet seat seems to have been ripped from its hinges, and the cistern cover is missing. A sickly layer of mould covers the ceiling, and there are at least two spiders nesting in the corners of the room. Wherever I am, this place must be condemned.

I feel the rising panic hit me once again as I reach this conclusion.

This means I must be somewhere completely forgotten about.

I try to be productive once more, despite the difficulty I have quelling the worries churning inside of my head right now.

Okay, how did I get here? Maybe casting my mind back to the night before might help.

Let's see, I was sitting on the couch in my apartment, chatting for a while to my girlfriend online, and then...

I shift in my restraints as I try to form the thoughts. I wince a little as I move, taking note of a slight throbbing on the right side of my head.

...and then I got up to get a snack. That's it! A snack, and then... I don't remember any further.

That's all I can conjure up.

I sigh, the sound echoing around the decrepit room.

So, I've exhausted the how, now the why.

I try to find any reason why I could be here, any rational explanation to this madness. I don't have any vengeful exes, and my job as a teaching assistant couldn't be any more risk-free. I mean, come on, I work with middle school kids, who could hate me for that?

I feel a slight tinge of guilt as I think of my job.

The kids will panic if I'm not in on Monday. I really need to get out of here.

There's nothing. I've done nothing wrong; I'm just a normal guy. I'm full of love and I still have a life to live. I begin to ignore the rational side of myself once again, as I start to struggle fruitlessly once more. Between the claustrophobic feeling of helplessness and the growing list of unknowns, I can barely control my emotions any longer.

Tears are welling in my eyes as I make a bid for freedom that leaves me no more free and much more exhausted. A tear rolls down my cheek as I bow my head slightly.

"Why me..." I say through sobs, utterly defeated.

Whoever has put me here has condemned me for their own reasons, none of them justified.

I cast my mind back once again, thinking of the people near and dear to me that I might never see again. My mother, the sweet woman, always reminding me to eat and to get good sleep, even though I'm a grown man in my 30s. And my brother, the stoic soldier overseas, loyal to his family and brutally honest. And then there's Stephanie, my beloved, the most wonderful woman in my life. Our love is pure and unbreakable; the thought of her seeing me like this is utterly awful to imagine-


A tiny little barb snags my stream of consciousness as I focus on Stephanie. The mental image of that brown haired girl, bright green and full of life, her warm smile brightening up her day whenever I see her...

Oh, god.

I struggle harder now, brazenly shifting in place as I fight with my restraints. My screams echo out as I use every vestige of strength to break the ties that bind me.

"Stop screaming, or I'll pull that plank from under you." Comes a deep voice.

I freeze suddenly, blood running cold, at the existence of another person in this place.

In the open doorframe stands a tall man, well built with a groomed, black beard and piercing blue eyes.

It's him.

I don't know if it's the shock of seeing him or the elevated panic I'm already feeling, but next thing I know, I'm bellowing at the top of my voice, voice trembling.

"What have you done with Steph?!" I yell, spittle flying out as I go red in the face.

My captor walks forward, kneeling down at the side of the tub.

It's now that I notice that he has duct tape in his hands. He seems to sense what I might be thinking, and smirks.

"Relax, I'm not gonna tape your mouth, as long as you stop screaming."

He produces a square piece of paper, and tapes it to the wall just adjacent to my head.

I refuse to partake in whatever sick game he's trying to make me play, so I keep my gaze locked on him, eyes filled with anger and desperation.

"Let me go, Chris, please. I don't know what you think I've done-"

He suddenly rushes forward, grabbing my throat.

I gasp, eyes bulging as I struggle to breathe.

"You know what you've done, and you're going to accept it or you're gonna die here."

He lets go of me, and I cough violently, breathing heavily as I watch him leave.

The worn door slams shut, and I'm once again alone. I'm left with my thoughts again, and I think over what Chris said.

I need to really think about this; I need to get to the bottom of what he's accusing me of. I once again rethink my recent life events, looking over each one with painstaking caution. My life is on the line here, and I don't want to fuck this up.

I first think about Chris.

What have I done to him?

I've never spoken to him outside of the progress meetings we've had about his daughter's education. I've never said anything to him other than how she could improve in the classroom. There was that conversation about how she's quieter now and doesn't like to go into school, but I assured him it was likely hormonal, and I referred them to some helpful talk therapy.

So what could it be?

What vendetta does he have against me? And what has he done with Stephanie?

There it is again.

That barb.

I sigh again.

Maybe I'll take a look at whatever he taped to the wall. Just once.

I slowly raise my head, eyes moving towards the wall.

I take in the details of whatever it is, and my mind slows to a standstill.

It's a photograph of Stephanie.

Clear as day, that's Stephanie alright, but it's not normal. She's hanging.

Suspended from a noose, in her room, a still image of her demise.

I turn my head away, feeling utterly nauseated. I open my mouth to vomit, the stream of bile flowing into the swirling water. No... she can't have-

I scream out again, tears once again welling up in my bloodshot eyes. I feel an incomprehensible wave of grief and guilt wash over me. I begin to flail again, but this time in utter anguish and despair, the last vestige of my strength being used to let out the emotional turmoil inside of me.

During my flailing, I dislodge the flimsy paper from the wall, and as I finally settle down, breathing shallow and my head bowed once more, I catch a glimpse of the writing on the back of the photograph as it plunges into the water, just before it corrodes with an audible hiss.

Was nice chatting to you last night, 'SamWicked223'.

I already understand. It's just adding insult to injury.

In one final attempt to dispel the truth, I mutter out a weak defense.

"It was love...we loved each other..."

But I know, deep in my heart, this isn't love.

The veil has finally been lifted. Seeing my sweetheart, seeing her dead...

There's a long silence.

My mind is strangely devoid of thoughts, numb to every sensation. I stare into the deadly fluid beneath me without speaking a word.

I know what I am, what I've always been.

"You alright in there? Been awfully quiet." Comes Chris's deep voice again.

I don't answer.

I hear the door swing open, but I'm not in the headspace to fully acknowledge it.

He looks at the dislodged tape, and then at my face. I'm white as a sheet.

He kneels down, nodding ever so slightly.

"You get it now, don't you? You get what you were doing to her."

I still don't answer.

He sighs. He pities me, I know it, but more like a man pities a dangerous rabid dog than anything else.

"As much as I'd like to kill you here, that's not what this was about. I wanted you to see the pain you've caused her, caused me and my family; besides, I don't need a murder charge. I'll let the police take it from here."

He gestures to a pistol tucked into his belt as he goes to remove the binds; a silent 'don't try anything'.

The ropes that have held me for so long are now gone, but I don't feel any different. While I've been physically released, my mind is still in chains.

I can't hide anymore. The gravity of the situation, of what I've done, is just too much.

I may have loved her, but I was hurting her, my sweet Stephanie. I deluded myself into believing my feelings for her were okay, that her messages were candid...

...She hated me and what our relationship entailed.

I am a monster. A twisted, selfish being who claimed to be in love. If I truly ever loved her, I wouldn't have done this to her. There's no pretending anymore, no reframing it. I did it for my desires, not for any kind of mutual benefit.

Chris steps back, a hand firmly clasped on his pistol, poised to draw.

"Alright, get up, carefully. Wouldn't want to fall into that water, now would you?"

I look at him, my eyes dull and lifeless. In front of me is a caring, affectionate man, driven to imprisoning and threatening a person. Because of me. He's lost everything.

I never wanted to hurt anyone, but no amount of love will justify the pain that the reality is.

Suddenly, I jerk my body forward, moving so as to dislodge the plank. Already loosened from my prior struggles, it falls away, slipping under the water.

My senses go numb and blurred as I fall, Chris's distant yelling echoing as I hit the water.

The pain is intense, and I begin to scream as my sin begins to fizzle away, though I can barely hear the sounds.

My consciousness begins to fade; I'm going to pass out, the pain is absolutely excruciating.

As the blackness fills my mind, the last image I can muster is of her, of the smiles she pulled, the life she led, and of the gap that can never be filled.

Written by ZugZuwang
Content is available under CC BY-SA