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Contemporary Suspense Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Walk along the walls where the floors don’t creak. Get your bag and take just what you need. Don’t turn the lights on. Don’t use the toilet. Pad the stairs, silent as shadow. Look in the mirror; get a good look. Memorize your face: the cut above your brow, your swollen eyes, the gash on your lip.

Now slip into Julia’s room. Fill a bag with diapers, pajamas, her favorite bunny—whatever fits. Scoop her from the crib. Take the blanket too. Rock and sway as you leave. Don’t trip over the blocks on the living room floor—the ones you didn’t get the chance to put away before he came home late and smelling like someone else’s perfume.

Grab the keys—one at a time. Don’t let them scrape the counter or clatter against each other. Open the door, only as wide as you need. Those rusted hinges will rat you out.

Keep rocking as you walk. Don’t let her wake up and cry. Sing to her, something low and familiar. Strap her into the car seat. Watch her head, it’s bobbing. Where’s the pacifier? Quick! Find the pacifier. She’s stirring, beginning to thrash. If he hears her...

There it is—in the flower bed, next to the hostas. Run; pick it up and wipe it on your shirt. A little dirt won’t hurt. There, she’s happy now, already drifting back to sleep. Now get in the car and start it up.

Don’t turn the lights on. Back out quickly but watch out for the trash cans—the ones you dragged to the curb while he watched the game, nursing his beer, acting like everything was fine.

Now ease onto the road. Turn your lights on and go. Slow down, that’s the Peterkins’ cat in the road. Let’s not kill anyone’s pet. Don’t speed through the neighborhood; just blend in. Turn onto the highway and set your cruise. Go the speed limit. You don’t want to gain attention; you just want to get out of town.

Don’t stop for gas yet, there’ll be time for that later. People know you here; people talk, and word will get around: I saw Ty Judson’s girl. Middle of the night at the Shell station. In some kind of hurry—and she had their baby in the car.

Keep your eyes open. Just focus on the road.

It’s okay to be afraid. Last night was rough—maybe you shouldn’t have said anything, shouldn’t have pushed it. But then you wouldn’t have known the truth—of what he’d done and how sorry he wasn’t.

Then the night dragged on, one hour stumbling into the next, your mind alive and racing through all of them. And when you slipped from the bed, out of the house, and onto the open highway, adrenaline cheered you on and did most of the driving. But he’s gone now, and you have to do this alone.

The sun will come up soon. Just keep going.

You’ve crossed the state line. Stop for gas, but don’t go inside. It’s too late—or rather, too early. Unsavory characters are loitering around the station, no one looking like they’re actually here for gasoline. Pull your hood over your hair. Now get back in the car. Go.

Breathe now. You’ve got a full tank, Julia’s still asleep, and you’ve only got a couple hours left to go.

Adjust into your rear-view mirror. Look at your daughter—just an angel, her face all squished and creased from sleep. She’ll be safe now. You’ll both be safe now. She’ll never hear you screaming from the other room, never watch from the playpen as he yanks you by the hair.

Some man he turned out to be.

You thought you got a good deal with him: a friend and lover all in one. He made you laugh, made you happy—made you a mother then stuck around to see it through.

But those happy days were so fleeting. Was it your roller coaster moods? Julia’s midnight wails? What flipped in him? What made him turn on you? Turn to someone new? Maybe someday you’ll understand it all but not today.

Today, you drive.

Don’t swerve. Relax, focus on the road. Acknowledge her cries, but don’t let them rattle you. Talk to her calmly. There’s an exit just ahead, and the sun is awake now. Pull off and find somewhere to park. Somewhere clean and well-lit—somewhere with coffee. Take a deep breath and shift into park. Stretch your legs.

Undo Julia’s straps and hold her tightly against you. You both did good. Now grab her bag and your wallet and go inside. Use the restroom; change her diaper. Splash some water on your face. Try not to think about how rough you look right now.

Weave through the isles and nod your head to the old truckers filling 20-ounce travel mugs with hot coffee. Stand in line behind them and get yourself a cup too. Ignore their stares; your face is none of their business.

Head back to the car and take a moment to breathe the morning air. Listen to the birds and let Julia climb on the seat for a moment. She’ll want to eat, want to stretch. Take your time.

The sunlight is comforting, warming you as you merge back onto the highway and head South. Not too much longer.

In the passenger seat, your phone explodes with a cheerful jingle, and the sound is an icy knife to your insides. A glance at the screen confirms it’s him—that face you once adored now looks hard and hollow in the caller photo. The coffee in your belly threatens to come back up.

Silence it. Ignore his calls. He’ll be full of shame and regret and sweet words laced with sleepy tears, but will you be fooled again?

No, you’re no fool. But there will be a reckoning. He’s not going to let you just slip away—not with Julia—but right now, you just need some space to breathe, to collect yourself.


The vibrating continues undaunted. Focus on the road. Follow the GPS. You’re almost there. A few more miles, a few more turns.

There—that’s her house, just around the curve. It looks the same as it did when you used to visit as a kid: red brick, big hydrangea bushes out front, barn in the back full of tools and gadgets—likely all untouched since Uncle Harvey’s passing. A cat basks in the sunlight on the front porch, blissfully unaware of anyone’s woes.

You’re here now. You can breathe. Get Julia out of her seat and head up the steps. Knock softly. Smile—don’t cry. Everything’s going to be fine.

Don’t bother moving your hair around; everybody can see your face. It’s no secret anymore. She comes to the door and surprise lifts her features, then joy tugs them back into place. She throws her arms around you and squeezes.

Hug her back. Let yourself feel comforted. Imagine it’s your mother, soft-hearted and ready to take in a stray. If you squint, she almost looks like her; the family resemblance is strong. Cry if you must.

She reaches for Julia, sucking in air with an excited gasp. How pretty she is. Has your momma’s eyes, she does.   

She leads you to the sofa and you sit for a while, apologizing once again for just showing up. You fill her in on what your life has looked like the past couple of years, leading up to where it all went so wrong.

Her face pinches when you tell her about last night’s fight—the one you weren’t sure you’d wake up from. She shakes her head, angry, and you feel stupid for not having left sooner.

You tell her you just need someplace to stay—a few weeks tops—just to figure out where you’ll go from here. She waves your words away, tells you to stay as long as you need, then fixes you a plate of scrambled eggs and biscuits. She holds Julia while you eat.

The guest room is a bit messy she tells you, saying she’ll have it tidied up in just a few minutes so you can rest. She putters around, pulling sheets from a closet and moving boxes into the hall.

You sink into the couch and exhale. Everything is going to be alright. Julia crawls around the floor, exploring the new space. She pulls herself up with your legs and smiles.

Then an engine roars up the driveway, loud and self-assured. A diesel.

Your heart flips, blood curdling in your veins. How did he find you? How did he get here so fast?

Aunt Bev calls from the guest room and says it’s just Dwayne, her new boyfriend. Just got off night shift.

You sink back into the sofa and pull Julia into your arms. She rests her head on your chest, breathing softly. Rub her back, hum a song. Let her know she’s safe here. You both are; this is family.

The front door opens and Dwayne walks in, boots scraping the floor. He shuts the door a little too loudly, then disappears into the room with Aunt Bev. You hear the smack of a kiss, then whispering—low and discreet.

Be out in a minute, you hear her say.

Then Dwayne steps into the living room and stands over the couch, staring down at Julia asleep on your chest. His arms dangle on either side of your shoulders.

So, you’re the niece, he says.

Then he leans closer, hot breath in your ear, and fingers a strand of your hair still crusted with blood. Gooseflesh ripples across your arms.

Be nice to have a house full of pretty young girls.

Somewhere in the kitchen, your phone vibrates again. And again.

March 10, 2023 15:54

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40 comments

Michał Przywara
20:35 Mar 13, 2023

So others have mentioned this is tense. They're right, it is. Crazily so. It lessens somewhat the further she gets and it's nice that it's paired with night turning to day. But then damn, that ending! She's escaped nothing. She's back where she started. She can't get away. This is where the story changes from a daring and hopeful escape, to a realization that she's trapped, a prisoner. This is horror, and I could feel her panic spike. Not literally of course, but it sure seems like it when there's nowhere to turn. "Then an engine roar...

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Aeris Walker
18:05 Mar 17, 2023

Michal, SO appreciate your comment. I'm pleased to hear you had faith it would do well, but the powers that be apparently disagreed (immediately) lol. Driving at night always adds a layer of stress/tension for me, so I'm glad those feelings came through in the writing. Thanks as always ;)

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Zack Powell
19:55 Mar 10, 2023

I feel like I need to take a shower after that ending. Those last two paragraphs got me good (I mean, the whole story did, but to end it the way that you did? Insert 'chef's kiss' gif here). I like it, I like it. I'm a sucker for 2nd person POV, and I think this specific type of narrative works especially well for that formatting. There's something about a reader being this "You," this victim of domestic abuse, that ups the tension and uncomfortableness of the piece. Plus, the abundance of imperative sentences (Do this, don't do that, walk ...

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Aeris Walker
21:52 Mar 10, 2023

I usually prefer people walk away from my stories feeling a warm fuzzy or two, not like they have a spider crawling down their shirts…but hey. A happy ending didn’t quite fit the prompt or my vision for this story. Also felt like I needed to put a disclaimer: “I have nothing against men, men who drive diesels, male truckers, men named Dwayne…lol.” POV—The last 2nd person pov I tried had way too many “you do this, you do that, you say this” and I wanted to try something more direct. Glad the style felt like it fit the story. I love what you...

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Zack Powell
23:56 Mar 10, 2023

As long as the reader feels *something* other than boredom, I'd say it's a victory. And I definitely felt that spider crawling down my shirt, but at least it's wasn't apathy. 😂 That disclaimer has me howling. I, too, have fallen victim to that "You do this, you do that" 2nd person trap, multiple times. It's so very tempting. Kudos for avoiding that here. And it's easier to make people feel smart when they're already smart writers. 😉 Likewise, I always look forward to seeing how you tackle these prompts. You're in my top 5 list of 'Reedsy wri...

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Riel Rosehill
19:28 Mar 25, 2023

Oh my god that ending was CHILLING. The suspense was HIGH, and here I was still expecting a nice little everyone's safe kind of ending - I'm SO glad you've put in that final kick in the gut (this poor MC!), brilliantly cruel and terrifying twist. I definitely felt the fear... Great job with this! Also this is the first suspense I've read in second person so far - it's got a fresh feel to it!

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Aeris Walker
17:25 Mar 26, 2023

Riel!! Thanks for stopping by! Yeah this one got a bit darker than I intended. I love your take: "brilliantly cruel and terrifying twist." Thanks for reading, I always appreciate it :)

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Wally Schmidt
07:37 Mar 25, 2023

The structure of the story added so much tension to this domestic violence scenario and the MC's inner dialogue is exactly what a lot of people do to urge themselves on in tense situations like taking an exam or a driver's test. Do this, now that. I was so routing for your main character and we got a few minutes reprieve when she is greeted and coddled by her aunt, but my oh my what a freakish ending. Still feelin' the goose bumps. Love your writing and how you are able to illicit such strong emotions; it's truly magic.

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Aeris Walker
17:21 Mar 26, 2023

Wally, Thank you so much for your kind words. I really appreciate it :)

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Laurel Hanson
16:38 Mar 15, 2023

This is so strong. I can see in the comments below that others are hitting the same points: the use of imperatives here, which creates not so much a 2nd pov (to my sense - as in directly to the reader), but a character telling herself, willing herself, to do what needs to be done. Commands. This is really unique and nuanced and definitely brings the urgency to the table. But the ending. Jeez. Very creepy and suspenseful as advertised in the tags. This is gripping and all too real feeling. Very well done.

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Aeris Walker
01:59 Mar 18, 2023

Hi Laurel—I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts. Your analysis is right on!

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Suma Jayachandar
05:01 Mar 11, 2023

Aeris, This is a masterclass. In the choice of narrative voice, in use of imperatives, and in fine tuning the exact burst of emotions you want your readers to feel at every point. I’m simply in awe. There are too many lines that I liked. But the best one has to be- In the passenger seat, your phone explodes with a cheerful jingle, and the sound is an icy knife to your insides. The contrast just made a chill run down my spine. Thanks for sharing . It’s a privilege to be able to enjoy it!

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Aeris Walker
02:15 Mar 12, 2023

Hey Suma! Thank you for you kind comment! Writing in 2nd person does not feel natural, but I wanted to give it some practice. I’m so glad you felt like the voice/style worked here. As always, I greatly appreciate your feedback ☺️

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Rebecca Miles
21:16 Mar 10, 2023

Imperatives, short syntax, rhetorical questions all served up with the second person; I think I breathed about three times during the whole thing, it was that suspenseful. And that is before we get to the end! A masterclass of cranking up the tension, keeping it there, seeming to dim it a fraction, before cranking it up to full dazzling glare. Superb Aeris, although not so good for my poor heart ,-)

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Aeris Walker
03:15 Mar 11, 2023

What a beautiful appraisal, thank you so much! I know this one got a little dark, but thanks for sticking through to the end. Your feedback is always greatly appreciated ☺️

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Lily Finch
19:16 Mar 10, 2023

Ooh, just creepy! One woman's hell to get away from her situation to find comfort with her aunt, who also shares a similar plight! Both women are involved with disgusting men who piss all over the relationship boundaries. One is more violent than the other, but a man who would rape another woman and a baby? Eewe. This story gave me the heebiee jeebiees. Good job on the writing. LF6.

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Aeris Walker
19:39 Mar 10, 2023

Yeah who knows what Dwayne might do—I wanted to leave it open ended, but the implications were definitely that he made the MC uncomfortable and shouldn’t be trusted. Thanks for reading, Lily! :)

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Wendy Kaminski
17:40 Mar 10, 2023

Out of the frying pan... :( You portrayed her harrowing flight so well, all of the numerous considerations (like not stopping locally for fuel) that simply add to the stress of the situation but must nonetheless be addressed. The last part was so hopeful and then so chilling!

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Aeris Walker
19:46 Mar 10, 2023

Yes, out of the frying pan exactly! Chilling was what I was aiming for, though I do typically prefer happy endings. Thanks for reading, Wendy!

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Zatoichi Mifune
11:27 Jul 18, 2023

Wow. That was crazy. In a good way, of course. Omniscient (omniscient and personal *at the same time*) second-person is definitely not what I'm used to, so it hooked me as soon as I saw it. Unique. Very good choice, you did it really well. The first line alone pulled me in. Although I have to admit I didn't completely understand the ending, it still gave me a chill. Extremely tense. There's nothing more I can say.

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Glenda Toews
22:51 Mar 16, 2023

You caught her mind well.

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Aeris Walker
17:22 Mar 26, 2023

Thank you! :)

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Amanda Lieser
20:11 Mar 16, 2023

Hey Aeris, Oh my goodness, this piece was breathtaking! I found myself wanting so desperately to just hug all of these characters involved. I thought that you did an excellent job of portraying a really challenging topic in a way that not a lot of people fully understand we frequently get a bear witness to the stories of escaping an abusive situation to a happily ever after, but sometimes that’s not always so. We often underestimate why a person could end up in an abusive situation in the first place. If they have nowhere to go, how can they...

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Aeris Walker
16:43 Mar 18, 2023

Thank you so much, Amanda! I'm glad you picked up on the themes of dark/light, as I felt like it mirrored her literally driving out of a dark situation and into a (hopefully) brighter one. Thanks for reading :)

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Daniel Legare
12:14 Mar 16, 2023

What a way to crack the whip again at the end. I felt like I needed to keep reading despite the slight revulsion of imagining what kind of horrors she was escaping. Your skill is on full display, and I can only hope to get to that level one day!

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Aeris Walker
02:30 Mar 18, 2023

Thanks so much for reading, Daniel!! Really appreciate it ☺️

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16:21 Mar 15, 2023

The cringy ending was fitting, yet so unexpected. I admire your will to explore the darkness and brining it to light like the sun waking up. Strange how just making it to morning seems to make things feel less suspensefull or scary, just to realize it is just the begining. Eye opening perspective, for sure. Thank you.

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Aeris Walker
01:14 Mar 17, 2023

Thank you, Sheri! I completely agree—the morning really does make everything feel like suspenseful.

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Richard E. Gower
16:58 Mar 13, 2023

An incredibly powerful story with a double-punch. She got short-changed in life's lottery not only once, but twice. Ouch. Met the prompt in a walk. And zing!,,..even had an O.Henry ending, Perfectly done! RG

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Aeris Walker
01:13 Mar 17, 2023

I really appreciate that! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, Richard :)

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Helen A Smith
08:56 Mar 13, 2023

A horrible family history here. Well told story of woman fleeing suffering from a damaged relationship. Frightening because it’s all too familiar. Generally, I’m not crazy about the second person tense, although you more than do it justice. It works well here because of that sense of being disconnected. Just terribly sad. I hope the MC finds her way out of this tangled web. Harsh, but realistic ending.

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Aeris Walker
18:17 Mar 15, 2023

Thank you for reading, Helen. Not my usual style, but I’m glad you thought the point of view worked :)

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Viga Boland
17:42 Mar 12, 2023

I have to say I haven’t read too many second-person narratives as I generally avoid stories or books with lots of narrative. Narrative slows the pace and I’m an impatient reader. But boy, did you show me just how effectively this can be done. I couldn’t stop reading, not just because domestic abuse is a hot topic for me, but because you used this technique so well. No wonder you have both won and been shortlisted so often on Reedsy. You give the rest of us something to aspire to. Impressive!

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Aeris Walker
18:00 Mar 15, 2023

Viga, 2nd person isn’t my go-to either, but I’m always trying to explore new styles! I’m glad to hear this one pulled you in. You are so kind, thank you—I’ve learned a lot just being here and reading work from other great writers like yourself ;)

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Viga Boland
22:19 Mar 15, 2023

You flatter me, but thank you kindly 😀

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Rama Shaar
16:42 Mar 11, 2023

This left my skin crawling. So well written, easy and difficult to read at the same time! I feel so bad for Aunt Bev to have replaced her dead husband with this trash. Very well done, Aeris!

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Aeris Walker
19:27 Mar 14, 2023

Thanks for reading, Rama!! I really appreciate it. Looks like both our minds stayed in the shadows for these prompts. 😬

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Rama Shaar
20:17 Mar 14, 2023

Yeah, we delved into the dark side, but such is life sometimes!

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Trevor Caswell
02:09 Mar 11, 2023

Wow. Such a powerful story. You do such a great job of building up the suspense. The voice in this story sounds like an anxious guardian Angel whispering in her ear; careful but caring. I caught myself holding my breath until she got to her aunt’s house — only to hold it again when the aunt’s boyfriend whispered in the poor girl’s ear. Heartbreaking cliffhanger!

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Aeris Walker
19:10 Mar 12, 2023

“An anxious guardian angel” —that’s perfect haha. Thank you for reading, Trevor! I promise my writing isn’t typically this dark, but I’m glad it kept your attention! Always appreciate people taking the time to read and share their thoughts :)

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