This Hell I'm Living in

Sometimes death seems like the only option but can we ever really know what awaits us on the other side. Is there even a guarantee that things will change at all?

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1. This Hell I'm Living In

As the clock struck twelve I checked that he was asleep once more.

He had been for the past two hours, but now I was finally ready.

As I lay down in my bed, I almost went back on my decision.

My parents would be devastated, well at least I’d like to hope so.

The pills lay in my hand, just enough for it to work.

I was scared. I didn’t see how you could not be. The other side held none of the certainty existed here. It could be freezing cold or boiling hot or absolutely nothing at all. The only thing I knew was that no matter what it was like, it couldn’t possibly be any worse than the hell I was already living in.

The water slid the pills down my throat and I lay down to wait, I hoped that I was right.

 

The sun awoke me, the light shining in through the curtains I had forgotten to close.

I felt around me, my hands searching for something new, something different but all they found was what they always did.

I must have dreamed it. But it felt so real, so unbelievably true, a half empty glass even sat on the bedside table next to me.

What is this?

Am I even awake?

Is this death?

No, of course not.

It must have just been a dream; I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it.

The clock rang loud next to me; it was time for work.

The breathing next to me changed.

I prayed I hadn’t woken him and when the breaths drew out again a moment later, the relief flooded through me.

He was still asleep. For now I could get some peace.

Within ten minutes I was ready to go but it took almost another ten to cover up the bruises on my face. They had faded but not enough to avoid questions.

No sounds from upstairs. I had to go before there was.

 

Somehow I couldn’t rid myself of a weird feeling all the way to work. Something was off, strange, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was a little bit like Déjà vu but then again nothing like it. Everything seemed familiar but different things were familiar in completely different ways.

I shook my head. I was just imagining things; that dream last night must have really got to me.

At work things got even weirder, every call was one I’d had before. It sounds like I'm paranoid and I know that you often get the same questions when you work in customer service, but every single call was one that I’m sure I’d had before. The women from last week with the shaky voice was back again with the same queries and problems, and I had to start over again with the man who I’d spent nearly an hour with a couple of months back.

 “Carol?” I called to the girl at the desk next to mine “have you noticed anything weird about the calls today?”

She smiled at me “I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Her voice was reassuring but it didn’t answer my question.

“I know, it’s just that I seem to keep getting reoccurring callers.” I probed a little bit further in the hope of getting more information.

“Well sometimes that just happens, it’ll sort itself out eventually.” She replied.

I frowned; she wasn’t being any help at all.

 

The day passed by without a single original call and the way Carol had acted was bugging me, it wasn’t like her.

I needed a pick me up and the shop next the office was always good for some window shopping. I could stall a little longer before going home.

The clothes were beautiful, all bright and summery and revealing but I’d seen them all before and I couldn’t wear any of them without a tonne of concealer anyway.

 

When I arrived home all of the lights were out and the door was locked. It looked as though Mike was out for the night and after the day I had had I couldn’t be more pleased.

With hardly a minute of hesitation I ran upstairs to take a bath, it had been forever and my bruises were sore. I hadn’t had a bath in months, Mike said it was a waste of time and as such I couldn’t have one. He was usually home when I got in or, like now, he was out at the pub. Sometimes I wondered if he ever went to work. He always seemed to be hanging around watching me and waiting for me to take a false step. The last few weeks had been worse than ever, with his temper rising at the slightest thing. It was my fault he was so angry though, because I tried to leave. I had loved him so much but now most of that was gone. All that was left was the fear of what he’d do if I tried again. Last night, or the dream of it anyway seemed to be the only way out but I was too scared to do that as well.

 

Relaxation would not come to me and the book I was reading was boring and so predictable I might as well have read it already. So after half an hour I was already redressed and headed downstairs.

No sounds came from downstairs but when I arrived in the kitchen, Mike was there waiting for me. 

His eyes were slightly out of focus and he leaned on the counter next to him.

“Hello, darling.” He smiled at me and I could smell the alcohol on his breath.

My heart dropped, I wanted to wretch but I held it back and tried to smile convincingly.

“Come here and give me a kiss.” He held out his hand to me, it shook a little but he didn’t seem to notice.

My brain was telling me to run. I wanted to, but that was not an option as he would just catch me. Trying to seem happy to see him I did as he asked.

His lips were cold and bitter, the taste of vodka strong on his tongue as he forced into my mouth. His hands were on me. They clutched me close to him, gripping me tight.

I wanted desperately to pull them off of me, to shove him away but as always I fought the instinct and just allowed him to continue.

His fingers pulled at my shirt and I moved away from him finally.

“Not tonight honey.” I smiled at him weakly, trying not to let my fear show.

He frowned and I could see anger brewing in his eyes.

“Why not?” He asked, his hands still on my hips tugging me a little closer.

Any hope disappeared. I had thought that for once I might be able to get away easy but as he always did when I resisted, he couldn’t seem to comprehend. It was almost as though I was only there to make him happy and sometimes I felt like maybe that was the truth.

Slowly and gently I started to turn away. My words were soft and light “I just don’t feel like it tonight.” I never felt like it but I hardly ever told him so.

He grasped my wrist and pulled me back towards him.

“Nonsense.” His voice was harsh and he blazed with anger.

Something snapped, I don’t know why but I just couldn’t take it anymore. I forced him away, yanking my arm free. Without looking back I was out the door and running. I couldn’t quite believe I'd done it, maybe I was braver than I thought but then my mind wandered back to that night not so long ago when I had ran, just like today. Then he had caught me and dragged me back. The fear was rising again and I turned back. He was only just out of the door, but still, it wouldn’t take much to catch up.

I scanned my surroundings as I ran, looking for somewhere to hide.

The forest. It lined the back of the row and a path just ahead led right to it. It was my only choice but even in bright daylight the mystery and risk kept me at bay.

With no other choice, I turned and headed towards the trees.

Having never been in the forest before, I had little idea what to expect, but as I veered off the path into the overgrowth it was exactly as it had been in pictures I’d seen.

I continued on, slowing down to avoid tripping. I stopped just before a dense area of plants and searched behind me.

                Silence filled the forest around me and I caught no sight of Mike behind me although I was sure he wasn’t too far off.

The plants in front of me were tall and blocked my sight as to what was ahead; I pushed them aside stepping cautiously forward.

The dense plants and trees gave way to a clearing in front of me. The trampled mud of the forest floor transformed into concrete and where more trees should have stood, a street lined with cafés stretched forward leading to a large stone coliseum, the coliseum. The gloom of the forest was broken by a bright summer’s day.

My mind went completely blank as I turned between the scene behind me and the city that had sprung up in front. I stepped forward out of the forest and into Rome. It was definitely Rome, exactly as it had been two years ago on a school field trip. It was that very same Rome, right down to the people. It was almost as if I had stepped out of the nightmare of my life and into the past.

I must be dreaming.

That was happening a lot these days.

There was no reasonable explanation for what had just happened. What I was seeing, what I was feeling – the sun on my skin and the concrete beneath my feet - was just not physically possible. I looked back, and sure enough the forest was still there, its trees rising up in the middle of an Italian street.

I pinched myself but the pain was real, I probably wasn’t dreaming then.

Desperate for an explanation, I ran towards the nearest person.

As I approached I realised that I knew them. They sat in a group of five and all of them were instantly recognisable, after all I had spent a week with them when I’d been here last. They were sat at the restaurant where we’d had lunch.  They sat there, exactly as we had, even the conversation was the same. Every little detail was as I remember it all except for me, my seat was empty but my friends talked to it as if it weren’t.

It was so strange, like watching a videotape of what had happened. It seemed so real yet of course I knew that it couldn’t be. I reached out without really thinking and shook one of them, not hard, but enough to tell me that he was real. He felt solid and although he hadn’t reacted to my touch I knew that scene before me was no delusion. It was actually happening, here in Rome, five minutes after I’d stepped out of the forest where I’d hidden from Mike.

Mike.

I turned back to the forest but there was no sign of him. I was probably safe, for now.

But then a chilling thought passed through my mind. Two years ago, when I’d seen these exact things with the friends that sat before me now, Mike had been there – here - he’d been on the trip as well and if everything was as it had been then he would be too.

Before I turned, I knew he’d be there, opposite the restaurant as he had been. Then he had waved and smiled at us as he went into the shop behind him but this time he came towards me. Not the me as I had been but the me that had just travelled through time, the me that had been running from him when I’d done it.

I couldn't seem to process this. I wanted to run but he looked so much like the old him, the one that held me till the early morning, the one that had kept me living with him. I was struggling with the destination so this situation just sent me into further confusion. 

By the time I turned to run away it was already too late and he had me in his grasp, his hand clamped around my wrist.

"Where are you going?" The old him asked, a slight concern in his voice.

I stopped, he seemed as though he was actually concerned and there was no slur to his voice. This was the old him. Maybe I could trust him, if it was true that I was actually in Rome then perhaps it was true that he was who he had once been. I was about to reach for him when the Mike I had run from entered my mind. Was it really worth the risk? Could I trust that this would last even for a second? 

Even as I thought this his grip tightened as though he could anticipate me.

"I have to go." I tried to pull away but it wasn't long before he turned me back around.

"Why?" Hurt tainted his voice as well as anger. It was slight but as I expected, he had begun to revert. 

I wanted to believe that I could trust him but I wasn't even really sure where I was. I had trusted him for too long and running away was the best decision I had ever made. Now I was going to have to do it again. 

Without an explanation I wrenched away from his grip and ran towards the coliseum. I was half way there when I realised that I had no idea where I was going. I had been to this city once and then we’d only seen the sights.

After a quick look back to see him following me I made the decision, there was only really one choice.

I took a second for the memories to come back but as I ran past the entrance to the coliseum and along a slim alley it all started to come back to me. The route we had taken then had led from one site to another so it was filled with tourists at every turn but in this strange city, it was a quick route to somewhere on the other side.

It took longer than it should have to get to the main road. No one noticed me when I tried to weave through and I was constantly seeing my friends play out my life without me.

Everywhere I ran they were there. Although I ran faster than we had walked that day they were somehow catching up. It was like watching a rerun of my own life and at this point, it was an episode I had seen one too many times before.

By the time I reached the Ponte Saint Angelo I was exhausted. I stopped by my friends who stood staring out towards the Vatican City. Mike wasn’t following me and seeing as he had gone ahead to the Vatican at this point in trip I was hoping I wouldn’t see him again.

Taking a moment to think I noticed, as I had before, the locks that clung to the bridge. They came in a million colours, shapes and sizes, all symbolising everlasting love.

A deep sadness passed over me.

Love. It was something I thought I had but every time I saw his face I had to question it. Everlasting love isn’t something I could ever hope for, not with Mike anyway. 

My friends started to leave as they finished the conversation we had had but they froze as soon as they begun to leave my line of site. 

There seemed to be no rules to this place I had found myself in. Every minute it got more complex and confusing. If I couldn't find a way out soon then the memories would start to engulf me, the harsh regrets smothering my every move. 

But how could I escape? If I went back to the forest then Mike would find me and I couldn't just stay here. I wished we had spent more time here that first time. Back then my life had been a little less complicated. Maybe if we had I would have more options, but as it stood it seemed as though I would have to be content with having my past follow me around. 

Looking out at the water I saw my only real choice, my only real hope.

I climbed over the rail slowly and carefully so I didn’t slip back down to the bridge. Sitting on the rail looking over at the Vatican I felt somehow slightly peaceful, maybe things would be different, better. Well, no matter what it couldn't be that much worse than this hell I was already living.

As I slipped off of the rail and fell towards the river Tiber, no one noticed, no one even blinked out of place.

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