For Bea, the sound of gravel crunching under tires was the sound of Hell.
She had known it was coming by the fading light, had begun to imagine the sound for hours beforehand, straining her ears, and hoping that it would not come. But it always did.
A car door slammed, and after a moment the locks on the front door began to open. If the neighbors wondered why there were so many locks, they were sure to get some flippant answer. This wasn’t the part of town where the neighbors wondered much of anything, though.
The door opened, and footsteps approached. Her heart hammered in her throat as she set eyes on him, and she felt herself slipping, down through the cracks and drains in her psyche, down to the place he sent her. Her quiet place, her haven.
Distantly, she felt his touch, his arms around her body, holding her in a twisted semblance of gentleness. He whispered to her in ways he thought of as tender, pressed his mouth over hers like a kiss. She felt herself sway against him, and he drew her close.
Time passed around her, over her, through her, but did not touch her. Sound and color and light ran together, sensations as distant as the stars, the sky, the world beyond the house. She caught snatches of things dripping down on her like cold rain: rough hands; the smell of sweat; her own voice, hoarse and high with fear. In her place, she did not feel the fear, but she knew it was there still, would always be there.
When she awoke, it was to the sound of the tires, receding this time, a promise to return again.
Bea lay where she was, on a bed she could not feel, under sheets like chains, tucked carefully around her shoulders by hands poorly aping love. The ceiling’s shadows faded as the sun rose, and she strove to memorize their shapes as they dissolved. At last she broke the spell, climbed back into control of her body and out of bed.
She was not sure what it was that woke her from her stupor. Sharp light against her face, perhaps, or the hush of the empty house. Perhaps it was the wrinkles that she knew were appearing across her body, harshly worn by the emotions she no longer acknowledged, but ravaged her nonetheless; a reminder that time was passing, and her life was too.
Today, it said. Tonight or never.
She rose and began to search, all in places she had looked before, but now with the vigor of determination and the creative eye of true desperation. She pried and dug and worried away, all at avenues she had considered hopeless to this point.
At last, she settled on the direction of her plan. He had become accustomed to her complacency, and in doing so, had brought her something she might use. She took her toothbrush from the holder, the pink half of a his-and-hers set, and set to work.
Deprived of any tools that might make the job simpler, she labored at sawing the end against any rough surface she could find. When this proved all but hopeless, she began to chew, gnawing away at the clear plastic, not caring whether or not she broke a tooth if it meant her freedom.
At last, after hours of labor, she held her weapon. The key to her cage, crude and twisted though it was.
She had never seen anything more beautiful.
She did not know how long she stared at the object in her hands, taking in its planes and edges, her hope imbuing it with an inner light that did not fade, even as the sun began to sink.
And suddenly, there it was; the sound of tires.
The tires stopped, and the engine’s rough growl cut short. The slam of the car door came next, and footsteps she heard so clearly through the double-glazed windows. She wondered if it was just a hallucination – she knew from experience that the windows were well sound-proofed. And yet she heard every step, every pebble underfoot, every dead leaf on the drive; each one a sound so deep it became a taste in her mouth. She swallowed a mouthful of bile, and positioned herself to meet him when he entered, her body hiding her makeshift knife from view.
Her pulse quickened at the keys in the door. The jingle of the keyring, punctuated by the dull thud of bolts sliding back. One… Two… Three… Her grip tightened.
The door opened on hinges smooth and well-oiled, but the swish of the carpet as it swung inwards sent chills down her spine. Was time slowing? Did it always take so long? She tried to remember, but the days and weeks and years ran together, and although she held her weapon fiercely, she began to slip away.
Desperately, she tried to hang on, digging her nails into her palm, biting her tongue until it bled, but she could not stop her descent. The pathways she had walked so many times, the sanctuary of the mind that she had so lovingly constructed, called to her, pulling her into its dark heart.
He walked into the room.
Her grip faltered.
She dropped the weapon.
His arms were around her, but she did not feel them. She had been afraid, but she was not afraid then. There were no more emotions. She was falling, sinking, drowning in the place that she had built for herself.
Her haven was her Hell.
BIO: Lindsay Pethick has been telling stories for as long as she can remember. She started writing flash fiction in 2013, when she became involved in a small but active online writing community. In her spare time, she teaches math to teenagers.