by S.H. Love
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Rory Richards is self-absorbed and suicidal.
Over the last year, he has lost his job, has attempted suicide multiple times, and has gotten his relationship to the point where it is heading for divorce. Fed up with everything, Rory has accepted his fate.
When he wakes up from a failed suicide attempt, he learns that his wife, Maggie, has disappeared without a trace. Her car is found abandoned on the highway, miles away from home. Her purse and her cell phone are discovered in the trunk. There is no sign of Maggie.
All Rory can remember about the previous night is that the two had the fight of a lifetime. The dispute causes him to storm out of the house and steal prescription pills from his neighbors in an attempt to overdose.
After that, everything is a blur.
Maggie’s sudden disappearance becomes a mystery.
Was she kidnapped? Did she disappear on purpose?
To avoid coming across as insensitive, Rory plays the part of loving husband and attempts to find his wife. He gives an emotional plea on television, reaches out to the Missing Persons Network, and even hires a private investigator to gather information.
All of these actions are to show police that he is actively searching. Deep down, though, he just doesn’t care anymore. But, does Rory’s lack of affection mean that he is responsible for Maggie’s disappearance? Or will he serve as the unlikely hero who finds her?
What happened the night she disappeared?
The taste of charcoal briquettes lined the inside of my mouth. It was chalky, almost sweet, but not in a good way. The charcoal’s texture was thick, pebbly tasting, and difficult to swallow. The sensation remained in my mouth and almost made me puke.
I had just woken up after what seemed like days. Months, really, the time just flew by. Just like that, it was gone. My brain was resting after a lifetime of activity, dreams creeping in, only to disappear again.
Body collapsed, exhaustion forcing me to nearly drift into another blackout, I inhaled quickly in order to stay conscious. Inhaling made my throat sore, the roughness scratching like sandpaper.
In and out, my mind went black, only to resolve to faint lights with warped images. Nothing really resonated inside, the time lapse unknown in my current state.
What day is it?
Where am I?
My eyes opened wide. Dried and strained, they focused on the ceiling. The drop ceiling tiles multiplied in front of me, expanding outward, adding four times the amount. Growing larger and then shrinking in a fast instant, the tiles kept going in and out of focus until they became clear. The mineral fibers absorbed all the ambient noise that surrounded me. Not that it mattered in my case. I was as laid up as one could get.
After a rush of constant blinking, my vision came into focus. The ceiling was again normal. Water stains shaped like countries struck out against the plain white tiles. Italy was to my left. Thailand was to the right. The United States’ forty-eight, it was as if the South had actually won the Civil War and had relocated to Africa. Stretched across one of the corners in the room was a thin spider web. Part of it was unattached and blowing from the air conditioner vent. The cold air pushing out of the vent kissed my face, tickling my cheeks and making them numb.
Looking around my environment, my body depressed in a slow, dragged out sigh.
My tongue worked around my lips, licking the spots where my skin and lips met. The heavy, smoky flavor was all I needed to know to describe what happened the night before. My face began to crease from the burnt charcoal taste within. Caving in, it was a crushed aluminum can bending inward. It was as if someone punched me super hard, my face staying locked in its current position.
The medical staff used the charcoal to absorb the toxins from the pills I had swallowed. All one hundred thirteen of them. In a single sitting, swallowing the enteric-coated pills until my vision faded. One by one by one, I had attempted to take my own life. It was a smorgasbord of poison with various colored pills. Some I had recognized. Others I had not.
There was a bottle for sleeping disorders. There were various prescriptions for pain. One container was filled with Ativan. Another, filled with God knows what. I had no idea.
It was the perfect cure for anxiety, pain, and seizures, for one low price.
Who would have thought that that many pills could be found inside your neighbors’ medicine cabinets? Then again, who would have thought that amount of pills could be pumped out of a human body? Gastric lavage and activated charcoal, these were two procedures that I didn’t recommend.
If you ever need an emergency antidote to combat the dangers of prescription drugs, consider the two-step process of gutting and then grilling your face. The stomach pump was to remove the pills. The charcoal was used as a poisoning antidote, to interrupt the circulation of drugs from the liver to the bile, back into the small intestine, and ending back into the liver. The process was called enterohepatic circulation.
Coming to, I was greeted by a small, empty hospital room. A single bed surrounded by varying degrees of medical equipment. There was a heart monitor near my bed. An overbed table pushed off to the side. A cabinet filled with supplies. All the ingredients were present to revive the damaged soul of a person.
The television hanging from above was turned off, an old tube unit sitting on a shelf that was bolted to the wall. The screen was dirty; it was covered in dust particles from not being turned on.
The thick curtains were closed. Peeking in underneath and on the sides of the curtains’ fabric was a parking lot streetlight. The light from the tall post cast dark shadows into the room; the shadows creeped me out. They were monsters ready to attack, ready and willing to conquer under their master’s order. Whoever their master was, I wasn’t sure.
Swallowing was difficult. There was a tightening in my throat each time I’d attempted. Harder and harder to bring the saliva up my esophagus, I could feel it start in the pit of my stomach.
This was not my first attempt at suicide. No matter how hard I had tried, I could never fully succeed. Three fucking times was definitely not the charm.
My first attempt at offing myself happened about a year ago. My wife and I had begun to feel the effects of money shortfalls.
I had lost my job when the economy crashed and had never really gotten back on track. Sure, there were a few part-time positions here and there. And one full-time job that was so out of my field I had to quit. But there was nothing that had brought in near the same salary, near the same satisfaction, of what I had been living with for years before.
My wife, Maggie, had said that she understood. That working in a job that did not complement your skillset was difficult. Deep down, I knew my not being employed (or as Maggie had put it, sitting around) had still bothered her. She would often throw in sentences such as, “But every little bit helps,” and, “Maybe just stick it out for a while,” ending in, “Well, it’s your decision and I will support you nonetheless.”
She was just going through the motions at that point. This marked the beginning of the end for us. We were heading for a divorce.
The truth was jobs were not that available in our hometown of Rock Island, Illinois. A stagnant population of just under forty thousand, with only a handful of big employers that could provide a decent living. The cost of living was low, but you would have to be in a position that paid well enough. Most of the residents in the area worked at John Deere and the Rock Island Arsenal. Neither of which seemed to ever be hiring. It was almost as if you had to know or be related to someone in order to get your foot in the door. Of course, generations upon generations handed these jobs down like relay runners passing the batons behind them. With so much history between the two organizations, getting a job at either of these places was equivalent to being born into the royal family.
Me, I used to be the operations manager of a manufacturing company. Relative to the size of Deere and Arsenal, our company was small, a blip on their financial scope, a mere footnote in the conversation. But it was big for me, and it was what worked. That was, until I was let go.
We specialized in packaging, various types of packaging and shipping methods. One of our contracts was with John Deere, so you could say that I was a bastard stepson of the prestigious royal family. I was more of a second cousin that hardly came around, one that never saw the photo ops or royal invites.
I oversaw the plant workers at different locations around the area, who spent most of the days boxing items and getting them ready for shipment to wherever it was they were headed. Much of my time was dedicated to streamlining the process in order to cut costs. It took me several months to scheme up the process, paying particular attention to its destinations and what trucks needed to be loaded and at what times. Logistics wasn’t difficult; rather, you had to be on your game to know the shortest routes possible. You could say I was so good at my job that I cut my own salary out of the company. Shipped it out in a nicely packed container. Really, there wasn’t a need for me anymore. A win/lose situation.
My job, my life, my marriage, they were all packaged and ready to be shipped out. And to be honest, I didn’t care anymore. To be frank, getting divorced was the only true thing I had looked forward to.
Lying on the bed, my head facing the ceiling, I moved my eyes left to right, and screamed, “NO!” Clenching my teeth until my jaws hurt, bringing my voice down to a hush, I whisper-screamed, “FUCK YOU!” I had convinced myself that I had wanted to die this time. Deep down to the depths of my soul, I wished that I was dead.
All the while, the chair shadow creature was lurking in silence, staring in my direction.
The angled door monster sat mocking me. A malicious grin on its face, it could turn on me at any moment.
My body tightened until I turned bright red. Holding my breath in a weak attempt to suffocate, hopes of passing out to prevent my brain from picking back up again, my mind started racing. Through the half-closed blinds leading into an illuminated part of the hospital, two detectives were talking to a doctor. They were in mid-discussion ever since I had come to. The doctor was, on occasion, looking into my room while he continued to speak.
Struggling on the bed, kicking my legs under the sheets, the jerking of my body like a possessed demon, I was vying for their attention. Whipping my head side to side, the air from the vent reminding me that I was alive and well, I screamed inside, my mouth wide open, stretching until my cheeks became sore.
The officers looked serious, their bodies stiff and alert. Staring with intent into the doctor’s eyes, one of the policemen leaned in closer. A concerned look on his face, the detective nodded in agreement to whatever it was the doctor was discussing.
The window made it difficult to make out what they were saying. The light, reflecting off from the other side, made the men appear translucent. Squinting with a brave optimism that I could read their lips, I saw the policeman with the crew cut on the right side crane his neck toward me and then slowly return to the doctor.
Leaning in closer to the door, my head pulling forward, a sharp pain ran up my spine and into the nape of my neck. My body tightened into a crunch, my abs flexing for the first time in years. The balls of my feet were blistering for some reason, as if I had been on them for days. The soreness caused me to straighten, and before I could readjust my body, the door opened.
Flipping the light switch, the doctor, wearing multi-colored scrubs and a white smock, entered with the officers in tow. The shadow demons, they disappeared into tangible objects. One became the sink faucet. Another transformed into the tissue paper box. In an instant, the monsters assumed their positions in the real world. Their master, so it seemed, signaled them to be calm. It only took a second for my eyes to adjust to the bright light. My brain was still disordered. My recollection, it was groggy to say the least. The three men came into focus as they approached me.
“Mr. Richards,” the doctor said, his eyes scanning the paperwork on his clipboard, never making eye contact. Nodding his head, his lips curled downward. Skimming the chart before speaking again, he mouthed some words to himself. He then looked up, rejoining the conversation, and said, “I’m Doctor Wynn.”
Dr. Wynn was a skinny Asian man, his hospital garb baggy off his legs. He was a middle-aged gentleman, mostly wrinkle-free with not much grey. He had a full head of hair. Crow’s feet branched out from his half-opened eyes when he spoke. I could tell that he laughed a lot. Other than that tiny flaw, he was well put together.
I pegged him for having a trophy wife, brunette and much younger, and driving a convertible Mercedes-Benz. Aside from announcing that he was a doctor, his pickup line could have been, “If you go out with me, it would be a Wynn/Win.” And then a sparkling smile filled with whites. Who wouldn’t fall for this? Hell, I was beginning to fall in love with him. But that could just be the medication.
Reading through my charts more in-depth, his lips moving slightly, he scanned the file and then re-addressed me.
Tilting his head, he smiled, flashing his medical school teeth. “And how’re you feeling today?” His cadence was quick and with crisp enunciation. He displayed a charming politeness to his audience when he spoke.
Before I could answer, the doctor said, “You’re very lucky, Mr. Richards.”
Was I? Tracing the words with his index finger, he said, “You swallowed a lot of pills.” He was lecturing me like a third grade teacher would do to one of her students—“Do you know what happens when you don’t finish your assignment?” I was waiting for him to put me in the corner, but I guess this was close enough.
The officers stood stoic, hearing the diagnosis from the medical expert. Each was attentive for the most part, often looking down at the floor or around the room to inspect the potential sleeping monsters.
Casual demeanor, reading the shorthand notes scribbled on the paper, Dr. Wynn gave an inappropriate smile. He said, “Over one hundred.”
One hundred thirteen to be exact.
He looked me in the eyes and said, “How do you feel?” The doctor was full of questions. For someone who was a supposed expert, he was definitely curious. “Does your throat hurt?” he said.
The large thirty-six gastrostomy tube that was jammed into my esophagus was, to be very thankful, lubricated. Just because I had tried to kill myself did not warrant a dry throat fuck. Leaning in toward me, he said, “You were administered two hundred milliliters of warm tap water on a repeated basis in order to be fully drained.” His crow’s feet, they branched out as he emphasized certain syllables. He said this as if this was an everyday occurrence, as if he saw attempted suicides all the time.
A cop, the one with shaggier hair of the two, glanced at the doctor’s clipboard, squinting at the small lettering. The other, staring through me, stood statue still with his eyebrows lowered. He was thinking, or waiting his turn to speak, one of the two, or both. Dropping the clipboard down toward his waist, cupping it in his hand, Dr. Wynn said, “I recommend getting some rest. Your body blah! blah! blah! gone through some blah! blah! blah! and you’ll need some time to recover. And then we’ll have—”
The toll on my body caused me to almost crash out. My attention drifted with quick ambition with every other word the doctor said. I could hear the voices in the room, consulting each other, but the dialogue was incomprehensible. It was as if I was sitting next to Charlie Brown in school. At this stage, I wasn’t even sure it was happening.
Then, my head fell backward, my mind going blank.
Before I went under, the room spun out of focus. The countries on the ceiling tiles began to swirl, spinning around in a clockwise motion until they transformed into something else. Slowly, the shadow creatures came out of hiding, taking their positions as the hand sanitizer and drawer handle. My eyes wandered, attempting to escape their reach.
The voice of Dr. Wynn dissolving, I fell into a deep sleep.
S. H. Love writes mysteries and thrillers. S. H. Love is the psuedonym of a critically acclaimed author.
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