Friday, October 6, 2017

The Infamous Straw on the Camel's Back

It was a promise and a rose.
His company Christmas party was the reason he could not make it to his son’s Christmas program. I sat on the front row, smiling, taking pictures and trying to ignore the fact that other husbands and fathers were there to watch their little ones up on the stage belt out a warbling rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.
 Our boy panicked his eyes wide with stage fright as he stared out at the crowd from his place on stage. He caught my eye and bolted from the stage, his fake reindeer antlers floppy with the movement as he ran and flung himself in my arms, his heart beating rapidly. I comforted him, tried not to laugh and promised him everything was going to be okay.
His daddy called at two in the morning, obviously inebriated, wanting a ride home. I went and picked him up, my co-dependency personality over-ruling my common sense, and he gave me a rose he had picked up from the gas station. It was red, wrapped in cellophane, the petals bruised.
 I wanted to tell him I was done, but I caved and said thank you. 
While he slept off his holiday party, I sat in the front room tucked into the recliner, going over all the reasons I should leave and battling the part of me that was afraid to be on my own. 
Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, puzzle pieces connected as I stared at the battered rose lying on the table next to me.
I was done. I had trusted him, ignored the whispers I heard, gotten angry at people that tried to tell me the truth and too stupid to realize that every red rose was a distraction to keep me from knowing what he had been doing.

In the end, I put away the dreams of happily ever after, I cried a river of tears and made sacrifices I never dreamed I would have to make. I had to walk away if I was going to keep that promise to my son.
It was going to be okay.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Theory

The park was empty aside from a few joggers and a couple of moms watching their little ones play on the jungle gym.  I dropped my McDonald’s bag on the picnic table and sat down, my belly pushing up hard against the table and half of my butt hanging off the back of the bench.   It wasn’t super comfortable, but it was far better than squeezing into one of those tiny booth seats at any restaurant. 
I started pulling out my cheeseburger and fries when I noticed a woman striding towards me like she was on a mission.   Her blonde hair was pulled back in a loose pony tail, and she wore a form fitting black t-shirt and a pair of jeans.  She also looked like an older, thinner version of myself. 
I watched her from behind mirrored sunglasses as I bit into the burger.  She was coming right towards me!  I glanced around behind me but no one else was there so I braced myself for the inevitable interaction two strangers crossing paths.  She would either stomp by me without a word allowing me a quiet observation, or she would meet my gaze and force me to say “hello”.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” She demanded coming to a halt in front of the table her hands waving up in the air.  My family is full of hand-talkers and people have joked that if you tied our hands we wouldn’t be able to speak, however, that was not what I was thinking as I tried to desperately swallow the chunk of burger.
“WmmmFth?  Which roughly translated to “I’m sorry, what are you speaking of?” 
The woman, or should I say, Joyce the older, thinner model (OTM) scowled at me and gestured to the McDonald’s bag, “That is going to be your downfall!  You can’t eat that stuff, it’s so horribly bad for you!”
Great, even Joyce-OTM thinks I’m fat and feels it necessary to lecture me.   “Fuck off, it’s none of your business what I do.”  Okay, that’s not what I actually said, I’m way too much of a chicken to actually say the words I’m thinking.  Instead I just looked down at the bitten burger, the taste of charred hamburger still lingering in my mouth, “I know, but for one day I just wanted to not think about calories and my weight, I’m sorry.”  I was apologizing to myself?!  God, I really am a loser.
Joyce-OTM rolled her eyes, “Jesus Christ, was I always so damn pathetic?”  She slipped onto the bench so that she was facing me.  It was like looking into a mirror, same eyes, same big German nose, that little scar on my chin from a sledding accident.  It was also like looking at relative that had a striking resemblance but something was just a bit off keeping them from being a twin.  Joyce-OTM looked confident and secure, no trace of all the shit she/I had been dragged through before we hit thirty, and definitely much healthier.
Joyce-OTM leaned forward on her elbows and used her just-listen-and-shut-voice, the same one I always used when people weren’t listening to me and hearing what I had to say.  It was rather weird to hear it, did I really sound like that?   
“Yeah, the food will make you fat, but that’s not the thing.  You were right.  You were so right that it’s going to change the way America eats!”
“Right about what?” I searched my mind trying to grasp what obscure opinion I might have spouted that just happened to be spot on.
“The preservatives, girl, you were right about them!” Joyce-OTM threw her hands in the air, “You wrote about it in our blog, how you were certain the long term effect of decades of food preservatives were responsible for the increase of autism and ADHD issues.”
Cool, I was right.  I frowned, “Wait, and how are you here?  Time travel, really? “
“Technology surges forward super-fast in 2025, a ton of things changed.” She answered impatiently, waving her hands as if to get rid of that train of thought, “Now listen to me…   it was that article that got the attention of some researchers and conspiracy theorists.  They investigated and stumbled upon something much worse than autism.”  Joyce-OTM leaned forward so much I could see the flecks of gold in her eyes of brown.
“But what about...”
“Girl, there’s no time, I have to get you to safety.  It was you that started it all.  Now people want to stop you.”
“Oh…. MY….. God.”  I said it really slowly so Joyce-OTM would know I was being sarcastic, “Is a killer android coming here to terminate me? “
Anger flared up in her eyes and she grabbed my chin in a painful squeeze, “They found a chemical in there, one that makes some people go crazy.  All those mass shootings?  Those are the people that reacted badly to the chemical… it triggers the aggression in them.”
I jerked my head out of her grasp, “Isn’t there some kind of law of time travel that you’re not supposed to touch me?” I rubbed my chin and glowered at her. 
Joyce-OTM opened her mouth to speak but the sound of something solid clunking against wood caused her to jump up and yell, “Get down!”
Dumfounded, I stared at the newly form pits in the picnic table.  There were no bullets.   I said as much.
“You’re an idiot!” Joyce-OTM hissed and pushed me hard in the chest and I fell ungracefully backwards and landed with a grunt, my legs caught up on the bench and the rest of me lying on the grass. My eyes closed instinctively and I let out strangled groan as I mentally assessed any damages.  Aside from a sore ass and raw elbows, everything felt normal.

I opened my eyes and let out a chuckle, realizing I had let my imagination run away with me again.
I turned my head.    
Joyce-OTM was squatting in the grass, watching me, a knowing smile on her face.

“Welcome to the year 2098.”  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Holding On


 
“..If there is anyone in attendance who has cause to believe that this couple should not be joined in marriage, you may speak now or forever hold your peace.”

I held my breath as I looked at Newton, remembering how sure I was someone, namely his freak of an ex-wife, would show up and start causing a scene. I offered him a smile and faltered as a commotion in the back reached my ears. I turned, heart thundering in my chest, certain I would see Charity there, tears streaming down her plump cheeks, her short hair bobbing up and down as she sobbed and declared her undying love for Newton in a voice that was like a fork being dragged across a porcelain plate.
 I gasped in disbelief as a familiar figure stood, his arms crossed over his chest in that annoying way that used to just piss me off. Eyes of muddy brown met mine, and he smirked. “Yep, I have a problem with it.”

“You’re supposed to be dead.” I heard myself say the words and realized how stupid they sounded.

“Melissa, honey, you ought to know by now you can’t get rid of me that easily.”

“Who is that?” Newton asked, his faced scowled in annoyance.

“Its Royce.” I muttered, “its Fucking Royce…”

“I thought he was dead.”

“Me too.” I wanted to hug Royce and punch him at the same time. I felt the tears stinging my eyes and I felt the anger bubbling up, “How dare you come here now? How dare you?”
 I lifted my dress and stomped down the aisle towards my dead husband, rage driving away the knowledge that everyone was staring at me. “Six years you’ve been gone, I waited for you, Royce, and I mourned for you! You have no right to come back now and shout out ‘surprise!’ like it was all some big joke!”

Royce met me at the aisle, his voice low and surprisingly gentle, “I know, baby, its okay. I just wanted to let you know I kept my promise.”

“What promise?!” I was choking on my own tears now. I had imagined Royce coming back all these years and I knew it was illogical because people didn’t just survive airplanes blowing up in the sky.

“I told you I would come back, Melissa.” He said softly, “Don’t you remember?”

I did remember. His promise was sometimes the only thing that had kept me going while I mourned his death and tried to find a reason to keep going. Hearing the words broke something in me. I collapsed in his arms, the fight draining from me as I held tight, breathing in his familiar scent. The ache that I had been carrying around with me for six years was more painful than ever and I just knew that at any moment I would waken and see that it was just another frightfully realistic dream.

“Melissa…” I jerked my attention back to Newton’s concerned face. He was watching me with confusion in his eyes of gray.

I realized I was still standing at the altar, our wedding guests all in the pews. Royce wasn’t there though. The minister was staring at me intently, “Madam?”

“I have cause to believe… this isn’t going to work.” I felt tears spill from my eyes as I looked upon Newton’s shocked expression, “I’m not ready, Newton, I’m so sorry…”



Never Stop



Entering me in the contest was a practical joke my best friend Robyn was playing on me. The odds of an ex-smoker, former obese, middle-aged woman winning a spot on the Olympic Torch carrying team were pretty far-fetched. We laughed about it when the letter came in announcing I was a finalist. She knew I was not a runner, God had gotten generous with me up top and unless I used duct tape to strap the girls down, running was not something I did voluntarily.
So how did I end up here in South America, standing on a dirt road with a camera crew on hand and spectators sipping on water bottles and shouting in a multitude of languages, with me only understanding English and a smattering of Spanish words? It all comes down to pride. Somebody told me that I would fail. Do you  want to know how to motivate me? Tell me I can’t do it, tell me I’m going to fall and people will laugh, challenge me that way and you can bet that I’m going to try all that much harder to prove you wrong.
However, my pride was not enough to keep the reservations away. Despite losing over a hundred pounds and beating a smoking addiction, I still looked in the mirror and saw the woman I used to be. I could feel the eyes of the crowd judging me, criticizing my ample chest, my thick thighs and the telltale rasp of the beginnings of emphysema. What was I doing here? I know they were asking the questions because I was asking the same thing. It wasn’t too late though, I could step away, feign a stomach bug or just admit that I shouldn’t be there.
I was nearly to that point when I heard the cry of the crowd as the other runner came in site, torch flickering in the late afternoon sun. My heart started racing as I took my position and waited, my hand outstretched waiting for the smooth metal of the torch I would carry into the night. Pounding footsteps came up behind me, the sound of heavy breathing and the slap of metal hitting my hand. My fingers curled around it and I started to run, and caught my toe on the hard dirt surface of the road. I did a whole lunging forward kind of motion, with the crushing knowledge that I wasn’t going to catch myself before slamming into the ground in front of hundreds of strangers. The stones that dug into my knees and elbows were sharp, my face burned in humiliation and I looked up to see I had somehow managed to keep the torch upright. A gasp had rippled through the crowd and all I could think was that I needed to disappear fast!
I jumped up and gave my cuts a cursory glance, the gasp turned to a cheer and I put one foot out and then another, determined to do this. As I faded into the darkness, running my shame into the ground as I allowed myself to laugh and a new sense of determination filled me


 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Door


When I fell back against the wall in my rental house, after gracefully tripping over my own shoe lace, I thought it seemed a bit hard. Expensive wallpaper with an intricate floral design gave no hint that anything was being disguised and I laughed to myself as I ran my hands over it looking for a hidden seam that would open up a secret door.  For good measure, I rapped my knuckles against it.

The wall felt solid, a bit too substantial for drywall and studs.  I have to admit, my curiosity was piqued.  My left foot banged up against the base board and the board popped out sending out a puff of black sand across the carpeting.  I’ve never been one to just walk away from an intriguing mystery, I did what only seemed logical.  I reached down and pulled on the baseboard.  It had been secured with heavy 16d sinker nails and the odds of one coming loose were not very good.   I managed to slip a couple fingers around the loosened board and tugged.  It moved only a fraction and I pulled harder. The sound of cracking and splintering filled the room and I suddenly found myself falling hard on my butt with a broken piece of baseboard in my hand, a single sinker nail still dangling out the backside.   Laughing at myself and how ridiculous I must appear, I looked back to the wall and saw the wallpaper had torn and there was something behind it.  

You would think the first thought in my head would be that of how to hide the damage so my new landlord would not freak out.  At one time, I might have had that as a first thought, but the desire to know the mystery pushed that thought away and I crawled back over to the wall and carefully lifted the torn paper.  Whatever was there, it was metal and old.  It looked like wrought iron but not the fancy detailed stuff with whirls and loops.  It appeared to be, rusty and impenetrable and ancient in appearance. 

It was an odd thing to find in a townhouse that couldn’t be more than twenty years old.  Logic at this point was still hanging in the balance and so I started pulling away more wallpaper, enjoying the sound of the tearing and marveling at how much it was hiding.   Eventually I had to stand and kick away the piles of shredded flowery paper, my fingers stretched full trying to reach the last bits up near the ceiling.   I stepped back and surveyed my handiwork.  It was a door.   A solid wrought iron door with a single looped handle on the right side. It was flush with the rest of the wall which meant it could only open by pushing in. I pushed.  It was like pushing on the side of a freight-liner, not that I had ever done that, but it was what I imagined it would feel like. Hard, cold and unyielding.  I lunged at it, hoping my excess 280 lbs would budge it.  A dull pain exploded in my shoulder the moment I made contact and a slid to the floor clutching my arm and whimpering like a scolded puppy. 

I leaned my back up against it and tilted my head so I could peer up at the smoothed rounded loop that served as a handle.  I looked away and down at the nest of torn wallpaper I was sitting in and silently resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to explain myself and somehow come up with the money to fix the damages I had just caused.   With a grunt, I reached up for the handle with the mindset of pulling myself to my feet.  Instead of the desired effect, the handle pulled down and the door gave a screeching sound of metal upon metal as it opened up and a gust of stale dusty air whooshed past me.  I scrambled to my feet, and poked my head inside, not really sure what to expect but my heart was thundering in my chest and tingles were running down my spine. 

I did a quick spider scan around the door to ensure no sudden drop downs that would cause me to go into one of my infamous spider dances that were reminiscent of a spastic windmill, and I took my first step inside.    Sunlight from my front windows splashed through the door and covered a table laden with thick dust and an empty flower vase in the center.   I ventured further in, pulling out my smartphone and clicking on the flashlight application so that bright artificial light blanketed the room.  It was disappointingly empty.   I let out a pent up breath and turned back to the living room.  The debris from the wallpaper was gone and sitting at the kitchen table was a small man dressed like a garden gnome, impatiently drumming his fingers, and glaring at me.   “Why have you opened the Forbidden Passage?!”

I did the only thing I could think of.  I laughed.


 He did not. 





Thursday, May 28, 2015

Broken

It was an ache like she had never felt before, a tightening in her stomach and a heaviness in her chest.
 She stumbled as she stepped up on the raised sidewalk and she reached out for the door handle, determined not to let him see her fall.   Keeping her back to him, she tried to stop the hot tears falling from her eyes, but more flowed as her throat constricted.  She leaned against the door, afraid that if she didn’t she would surely fall and everyone would know that she wasn’t strong enough.  Kellie who had been a single mom for years without the aid of a husband or boyfriend, Kellie who had always managed to find a way to keep a roof over the heads of herself and her son, kept the insurance up, put food on the table and worked until she nearly dropped from exhaustion;  she wasn’t  strong enough to handle a broken heart.

 A sob escaped her and she fumbled in her pocket for her keys, desperate to get inside the building and go back to work, to grab a hold of something familiar and bury herself in the mundane tasks of her job.  She glanced behind her and the parking lot was empty.  He was gone.  He had come long enough to tell her they would never be together, that she had to move on and not allow his walking away to stop her from finding happiness.  Kellie felt a new rush of tears fall down her cheeks.  He didn’t understand at all.  It took twelve years for her to dare to try again.  She had avoided all relationships and thrown herself into raising her son and jumping back into the world of dating again had been a test of her trust and her willingness to allow herself to love again.  He had simply just stopped wanting to be with her and she knew deep down that she just wasn’t good enough, too much time had gone by and she was never going to find someone who could truly love her.  She had her chance with her marriage and it had blown up in her face.  It was foolish for her to believe that anyone would want her now.  Twenty pounds heavier, set in her independent ways and hesitant to trust again.  She was ruined for relationships and this one was wise enough to sense it.

  Kellie forced the door open and staggered into the bathroom, locking the door behind her and wrenching the cold water on full blast. She braced her arms on either side of the sink and stared at her reflection.  She looked horrible with red eyes, swollen and still shiny with tears, makeup long gone.  She took several deep breaths and leaned down to splash cold water on her face, but it wasn’t enough. Kellie sobbed, pressing her wet hands against her hot cheeks and wanting nothing more than to curl up in a corner and weep until there was nothing left inside.   

She grabbed some paper towels and wiped furiously at her face, willing herself to stop crying and bury the pain deep.  She knew her co-workers would take one look and know, despite her efforts to hide it.     She wasn’t loveable, she couldn’t hold on to a man… and they would all know it.  Her heart lurched again and she shut off the water, blinking several times. She went back out to her desk, avoiding the quick glances of her two co-workers, and plopped down in her chair.  She stared unseeing at her computer screen, the Outlook layout blurring and unreadable.  She blinked again and grabbed the mouse, began clicking on the emails and trying to remember what it was she was working on before her world fell apart.  She heard his voice in her head again, the scene playing over and over again.  The way she wanted to just pull him to her and kiss him and make him stop and see what he was walking away from.  The desire to make him choose her.   She felt stupid and betrayed.

 A strangled sob escaped her and she dropped her head down on her arms and keyboard and cried quietly, her heart painfully trying to burst in her chest. She felt a warm hand on her shoulder but she didn’t look up, afraid that whoever it was, they would look at her with sympathy and worry and she didn’t want that, she just wanted to be somewhere else… anywhere but here where her world had just crashed down around her.  All around her it had become silent, the clicking of keys on the keyboards had ceased and Kellie knew everyone was staring.  They knew.  They all knew she was weak and stupid for falling for someone who was never going to love her.  She had been used and thrown away with a standard,  “Its not you, its me” kind of excuse.  She was no better than she was when her marriage fell apart. She was still making stupid decisions and it was obvious to everyone that she was foolish to even try again.    She was collateral damage in a war she hadn’t chosen to fight, an insignificant loss in the grand scheme of things.   Not important enough to fight for.

 Mustering up a strength she didn’t feel, Kellie, straightened up and wiped at her eyes, sniffling and reaching for an offered tissue, “I’m fine, guys, really… I’m fine.”  But she wasn’t fine.   .  He didn’t want her.  She wasn’t good enough. She was just a fling, he was done with it and she was left alone…. Again….  Poor little Kellie, all alone and unable to hold on to anyone because she was just stupid when it came to love and trust.  Although this pain was quick and precise, it hurt worse than that of her failed marriage.   This time she could feel her heart breaking.

Somehow, she got through the rest of the morning.  Quietly answering her emails and trying to work on projects that were pending.  At lunch she went out to her car and just sat there in the parking lot, staring out the windshield and smoking cigarettes, her appetite gone.  The afternoon dragged by, her tears less frequent now as the reality began to sink in.  She had no idea what she said to her friends that had emailed, but she knew it wasn’t the truth. Probably something about being too busy to answer, swamped with projects.  She didn’t want to admit to them that she had made another mistake, that she had not learned her lesson when it came to men.
 Finally five o’clock came around and she drove home, no radio on, just the hum of the tires and the sound of the wind rushing around the car.  At home she went through the motions of feeding the dog and the cats, then she made herself some hot tea and sat down in front of her computer, feeling the silence of the house press down all around her.   His things were still in a pile in her living room, which meant he would have to come get it.
 She wanted to throw it out on the lawn and scream in anguish and heart break.  Instead she put the computer away and turned on the tv but didn’t really watch it.  She allowed the tears to flow unchecked and she stared unseeing at the television screen, replaying the last three months in her head, wondering where exactly she had gone wrong.  She clung to her cell phone, watching it, willing it to ring and display the name “My guy”, anticipating his voice telling her he was wrong, that she was too important for him to just walk away from.   But the phone remained stubbornly silent and the hour grew late.

Kellie unwrapped herself from the couch and stumbled into the bathroom for her shower.  She let the hot water pour over her and a weakness came over her as fresh sobs racked her body. She stayed like that until the water cooled and then she got out, wrapping herself in a towel.  She looked at herself in the mirror and a barrage of negative, self-depreciating thoughts screamed in her head.  “You’re fat! You’re too loud, too demanding! Its no wonder he wanted out!”   Closing her eyes, Kellie dried herself off, hating the body she rubbed the towel over and quickly throwing an over sized t-shirt on to hide the flaws.  

 She laid down on the bed and stared at the ceiling willing herself to think of something else.  The image of her ex-husband came to mind and her thoughts went over every detail of their relationship.

  Over the years she had thought less and less of it, distancing herself from her failure, but tonight she was giving herself a pass and allowing herself to remember.  
She never fought back.  That was the worst part.  The destruction of her marriage and her trust.  She feared that if she confronted him it would confirm her deepest fears, not that she would end up alone, but that she wasn’t worthy enough to deserve his love and loyalty.   She accepted the single red rose he brought each time, pretending that it was a symbol of his love for her rather than a sign of his infidelity.  She cared for their child, cleaned the house and did the shopping.  She accepted his excuses of working late, tolerated the marathon video gaming and football watching that took precedence over family outings and looked the other way as he ingested the whiskey like it was water.  She quietly listened to his ravings about people doing him wrong and stood by helpless and embarrassed when he picked fights with unsuspecting strangers who had done nothing more than glance at him as he walked by.  It was better that way, easier to live if she just took it all and absorbed it with no argument. She realized he would never be the person she had hoped him to be.  When he talked of a future together, she felt dread.  When he was excited about a new idea to move ahead, she would cringe inwardly and calculate how much she would have to take on in order for him to chase that hopeless venture. His touch brought revulsion and she avoided contact as much as possible, as much that wouldn’t make him suspicious.  She found herself relishing the times when he wasn’t around and feeling resentful when he was there.  She kept it all inside, harboring it like a dirty secret.

 She buried her pain so deep that that it began to fester and grow like an invasive weed, curling around her heart and choking every last piece of compassion and love out of it.  She cried alone where no one could see her and she silently mourned the death of the love she once had for him.  Then she put away her dreams of a good life in a successful marriage, and created a new one.  The dream of being free.

 All she wanted was to be free of the pain, free from the ache that consumed her and hold her hostage like bars in a prison.  That pain had been dull and easier to absorb.   The pain of “My Guy” was excruciating.  It wrapped around her scarred heart and squeezed forcefully, it lashed open wounds she thought long healed and no amount of crying or wishing or anything else was going to erase that hurt.    
Kellie finally fell asleep, exhausted from the day, praying that when she woke it would have all been just a bad dream.  She woke with a migraine.  Wincing against the pain, she stumbled to the kitchen and found the ibuprofen.  She heated a cup of day old coffee in the microwave and swallowed four pills down.  Closing her eyes, she dropped into the only chair in the living room and closed her eyes against the throbbing pain.  The previous day’s events began running through her mind and a lump formed in her throat.  She swallowed quickly but it was not use, fresh tears pricked her eyes and the ache in her heart called out.
With an effort, she forced herself up and dressed for work.  She ran a brush through her tangled hair, glancing in the mirror long enough to silently remind herself that she was worthless.  She stared at her phone for a moment, hoping against hope that he had texted or called.  He had not.

She shoved the phone in her pocket and grabbed her keys, taking deep breaths as she stepped out and saw that it was a pretty October morning.  The sun showed bright in the eastern sky, orange leaves rustled in the near naked tree tops and birds called out their morning song.  It was a contradiction to the darkness inside her and Kellie climbed in her car, feeling like the world too had turned a blind eye to her pain.

It wasn’t fair.

 None of it was fair and she was going to have to suck it up and pretend that she had not been laid out flat by one man’s rejection.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Center of Things

The Prompt:  
Ah the freedom of flight, the weightlessness of free-fall. Doesn’t it feel wonderful? Well it would if you weren’t launching at maximum velocity towards a gaping hole that leads to the center of the earth. Why are you going there? What’s going on?


Revenge. That’s what is on my mind as I sit in a shuttle moving at a rapid speed along the tracks that would lead me to Final Stop, a facility designed to take place of death row. Instead of taking a dirt nap, prisoners were taken deep into the center of the earth. Gone were the days of appeals and second chances, once a jury declared a guilty verdict, it was all over. I don’t even get the luxury of looking out the window. The shuttles are encased in some kind of super-metal, stronger than titanium and forty-eight inches thick. Not that it would matter, all I would be able to see is the cold steel structure of the tunnel I’m traveling through. Instead, I stare at the back of the girl in front of me, Prisoner 98745622, the black numbers emphasized against the bright yellow jumpsuit. She’s crying loudly and keeps tugging at her tangled blonde hair, mumbling something about injustice. I feel the same way, but I don’t let the others see me cry and I don’t voice my own opinions about our system of justice. I suspect the weeping sops are the first to go down at Final Stop, I need to prove myself right away if I hope to survive. No one has ever come back. I will be the first. I have to find the doppelganger who took my life from me. I flex my fingers, thinking about that day that changed my life. I was there when the bank was attacked, standing in line to make a credit withdrawal. I was lying on the floor with the rest of the customers when my twin walked in and shot the President in the head. They caught it all on film and when they were interviewing all of us, they assumed I was playing a trick on all of them. The trial was over in under an hour. In a matter of three months, I went from living the dreams of a hopeful college student to wearing a jumpsuit as bright as a lemon and hurtling towards a condemned life working in the diamond mines. I won’t waste time thinking about the unfairness of it all, I have to find a way to escape this alternative to a death sentence. The man next to me grunts and kicks the back of the chair making Prisoner 98745622 jump and hiccup and start sobbing louder. I look over at him, meeting his hard stare with one of my own, daring him to say something. He nods and breaks eye contact. Message received. The wheels of the shuttle start screeching as the brakes are applied and we all lurch forward. A guard at the front stands up and waves his rifle as he turns to face us with a sneer. “Welcome to Final Stop, I will be your tour guide”, he is laughing now at his own pathetic joke. I meet his gaze and a smile tugs at the corner of my mouth. I will make a special effort to find him and make him stop laughing.