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Fiction Suspense

This story contains sensitive content

(Content Warning: Substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide.)


It takes a moment for the crack to register in my brain. A tiny shell, shattering, shards piercing soft flesh. A life snuffing out. Why did you have to cross my path, little friend? 


I grab a credit card from my wallet to scrape the remains of the mollusk off the porch, transferring it to the soft grass. It would most likely provide a good meal for some hungry bird, or perhaps a raccoon. Do raccoons eat snails? My heart mirrors its last moments, darkness penetrating, walls closing in. When I was younger, dad called me soft, and my brother would laugh when I cried at the slightest of things. Neither of them understood. Mama said I was an Empath. She would hold on tight, her protective arms curling around my shoulders, pulling me in. The others hid their judgment when she was around. She is gone now. Six feet under, and I am as hard as the dirt packed around her. 


That’s a lie.


I sink down onto the grass next to my tiny friend, wondering what eulogy to give such a fleeting life. “Fare thee well…” I whisper. How would I get through the day if a snail drops me to my knees? Instinctively, I shove a hand into my pocket, going for my phone. I will make this all go away. Instead, my fingers close around the heavy gold coin. 


Thirty days. That is something, right? This month I actually laughed. I gave hugs and met people that understood me. I hadn’t been myself for so long, and then I was found. Did I really want to throw that work away?


My finger hovers between Ali and JD on my favorite list. Eenie-Meanie-Miney-Moe.

“Hey bro, it’s Shayne. I’m not doing so hot. Can you call me?”


Waiting is the worst. He will call back. I know it, it’s his job. I sigh. It’s his job. Does he really care? But the screen remains black and empty. Just like my soul. Whatever. I shoot a quick message to work before calling Ali.


Amar, gonna be about 30 min late- sorry man. 


You just got back. M is gonna fire you if you start this shit again.


Relax, I overslept is all.


If I were smarter, I would have deleted Ali. I should have deleted her. 


“Hey, can I come over?”


Her voice is smooth like silk, and I can picture her perched on the arm of the couch, like a cat, eyebrow arched. “For you? Anytime. Haven’t seen you around in a while though, everything okay?”


“Yeah, I’m fine,” I mumble and end the call, already up on my feet. 


My phone buzzes and JD flashes on the screen. “You had your chance…” I say to the wind. Where is the stupid decline button? Instead, I just shove the thing in my pocket, willing JD’s face away. He will just talk me down. He is supposed to do that, but he has already let me down.


I hurry down the familiar path, past the red split level, and between two fences. Ali prefers if you go in from the backyard. She seems to think her gramma would get angry that she is dealing H out of the basement. I giggle. Ali’s is probably right. My phone buzzes again. Damn it JD, leave it.


When I look up, I am face to face with a man, perhaps a few years younger than me. His eyes are blue with a flop of fiery hair. It’s as though I am back in Fiji with mama, a bright orange sunset sinking into the crystal blue waters. For a moment, I am home, the waves sweeping gently over my toes. 


“H.. Hi..” I manage not to stutter too badly. “Didn’t see you there.”


He is beautiful, with a chiseled jaw, and the hair above his lip so fair you can hardly see it. There is a smattering of freckles across his nose, adding to his youthful look, but as breathe him in, I see he is probably closer to my age. At least mid-twenties. I run a hand over day-old stubble, grateful my dark skin hides the blush. I do not want to be seen as some schoolboy with his first crush.


When the guy smiles, everything else floats away. He reaches a finger out, trailing it down my lips, over my chin, brushing lightly on my neck. Tiny electric currents travel through me and I melt.


“I’m Jamie.” He grins. “You headed to Ali’s? Because I’ve got somewhere better.”

God, I am melting inside. I will go anywhere with you, I want to tell him. So I follow him further down the trail, dry grass crunching underneath my feet and the buzz of electricity from the power lines above vibrating in my head. I want to scream. It hurts so badly, but my voice remains silent.


Jamie belts out a song I don’t recognize, some old show tune, beating back the noise that is trying to take over my brain.


“What are you singing?” I shout, then realize it is not really that loud. I lower my voice to a whisper. “What song is that?”


He stops his tune, and the corners of his mouth turn upward. “I’m not singing- just screaming in tune.” His eyes sparkle, but somewhere caution lights are flashing. It’s only JD’s stupid warnings about new relationships. 


He takes my hand. Skin so soft against mine, and leads me toward a house that could be a twin to Ali’s. Same dirty aluminum siding, same rectangular cookie cutter split-level right out of the eighties. My phone buzzes again, and this time it’s Ali. Where did the damn decline button go? I go to shove the phone back into my pocket, but Jamie stops me. “Pete’s one rule, no phones.” There is a crack in Jamie’s armor, and something in him shifts. Danger. “I should have mentioned that before.”


“Who is Pete?” There were a million questions I could have asked, and this is what I choose? I tuck the phone under a shrub in the backyard as it lights up again. JD this time. Sorry, man. “This okay?”


Jamie nods and brushes a finger down my cheek. I swear there is a tear in the corner of his eye. We turn, and instead of heading to the house, he leads me to an old shed. I look at him, raising an eyebrow, but follow anyway. I’m already in it. The door creaks when it opens, and he pulls back a rusty old lawnmower to reveal a trapdoor on the floor. “What the?” I mouth, but he only places a finger over his lips. 


He unlocks it and pulls up the heavy entrance to reveal a staircase leading downward. I follow him through the darkness until it opens up to a spacious room. 


“This room is sick!” I say to Jamie, my eyes widening. Three or four wide-screen TVs are situated with every console gaming system you could dream of. Even better, the guys wandering around were each as beautiful as Jamie, and not one emanated any bit of anxiety or anger for my psyche to latch onto. 


He grins at me in surprise but pulls me along toward a hallway. “Come on, you’ll have time, but Pete wants to meet you first.”


The man in the room was older than the rest of us, slightly balding, with a large beer gut. He frowns slightly when we enter, and I swear there is a brief wave of irritation, but it disappears so quickly, it must have been my own.


“Who do we have here, Jamie?” When the man smiles, it does not reach his eyes. His teeth are crooked, and only half of his mouth turns up.


Jamie glances at me, and I realize I have not even given him my name. 


“Shayne.” My voice wavers a bit, and the older man lets out a hearty chuckle.


“You don’t have to be afraid. I take care of you boys here, so you can be free. Didn’t Jamie tell you anything?”


My laugh comes out in a quick burst, and I look at Jamie. His face is unreadable and I don’t know how to answer. Something is really wrong here. No one just takes care of people. 


“I think I made a mistake,” I stammer. “I’m just going to go. My friend Ali is waiting for me.”


Pete grabs my wrist, turning it over and running a finger along the track marks. 


“I… I’m clean now,” I say, biting my lip, and hoping he doesn’t know why I would go to Ali’s. Jamie seemed to know when we had met. I reach for my phone with my other hand, remembering too late that it’s gone.


Pete pulls me into an awkward embrace and whispers in my ear, “We don’t judge you here. You do what you need to do, yeah?”


Before I realize what’s happening, he runs a hand down my arm, and I feel a pinch, then the familiar release. Someone taught him well. The buzzing in my head is gone, and I sink into Pete’s arms. 


“There he is…” I’m not sure if Pete is talking to Jamie or me, but it doesn’t matter. “Why don’t you go meet my other lost boys?”


I wander out of the room, Jamie and Pete’s voices floating in the background.


What were you thinking? He is too old.  


But Pete, he is perfect; I wanted him…


I had finally found it. This is my place, and I will never have to worry about the worries in my head again. Somewhere buried deep, a voice pokes and prods. He is too old? What does that mean? I giggle out loud before sinking into a plush chair and closing my eyes, letting the euphoria wash over me.


***


When I blink my eyes open, two beautiful oceans of the deepest blue are floating in front of me. I can smell Jamie’s sweet breath close to mine, and I reach up, drawing him close, “I love you, man..”


“I’m sorry,” he whispers


“Are you crying? Man, it’s all good. You saved me.” I want to kiss him, feel his soft lips on mine, my lids droop, and I breathe deep.


“Shayne.” My name sounds like honey on his lips. “You gotta go. There is not much time.”


“No, man. I wanna stay here and be a lost boy with you.”


“It’s not what you think.” His whisper sounds urgent. I lean back and let the serenity wash over me.


Jamie is oh so nice. Serenity, that’s important, right? God grant me… Oh god. JD, man. But guilt has no place with me here. 


“I need to show you something while Pete is away.”


“You can show me anything.”


I follow him down the hallway past the office where I had met Pete. Jamie pulls out a key, unlocking the door to reveal a long room filled with tall glass cases. 


I approach the first of the cases, running my hand over the cool glass. Empty brown eyes with a flop of brown hair stared back at me. 


“Shiiitt… Is this some kind of wax museum?” 


Jamie just sighs. “These are his lost boys, Shayne.” 


Something tells me I should be afraid, but fear is buried deep. Who would miss me? I was once my mother’s boy, but she is long gone. 


“He won’t let you out, you know.” Jamie’s voice raises an octave. “This is your last chance!”


“You leave this place all the time, or I wouldn’t have met you,” I say matter of fact. 


“I’m different. I’ve been here the longest. There is no one out there for me, and Pete knows I’ll be his forever.”


“Come with me.” I squeeze his hand. He looks back at the case in front of us and a small breath escapes his lips. “His name was Danny.”


I don’t ask, as I watch a tear fall from the corner of his eye. Tendrils of fear and hurt are winding their way into my brain, and the noise is starting again. We leave the room together, only to come face to face with Pete.


Pete places his hands on Jamie’s cheeks, and they press their foreheads together. “Oh Jamie, I do this for the boys. You know this. I save them from ever having to grow up.” He turns to gaze over his glass mausoleum. “There they are, beautiful and perfect forever. I would be right there with them if you boys didn’t need someone to take care of you.”


He turns to me. “I am like you, Shayne. So much pain out there. Here, we will never judge you. Here you will be free from the voices and the rules. And I will save you from yourself. When the voices become too loud, I will silence them. It doesn’t hurt a bit, you know. You just go to sleep.”


Swallowing hard, I look at Jamie. He looks away. “Do I have a choice?”


Pete doesn’t answer, just taps my nose and gives a wink, shooing us out of the odd memorial of lost boys’ past. He plucks the key from Jamie’s hand, securing the door with a click.


Then Pete pulls a phone from his pocket and his eyes narrow. “Damn-it,” He mutters under his breath. His eyes meet Jamie’s and he places a finger over his lips. “Keep everyone calm, okay?” Then he disappears down the hallway and up the stairs toward the trapdoor.


Jamie looks nervous, and I follow him as he makes his way to the rec room. Everyone seems distracted, consumed by whatever drowns their voices. I creep up the staircase, and Jamie’s eyes widen. The trap door doesn’t budge when I try to open it. It remains locked tight.


“No,” he mouths.


I can hear voices from above. “No officer, I haven't seen anyone back here. I was just getting ready to do some yard work.”


“Found the phone!” comes a faint shout.


“What’s in here?”


“Just where I keep the mower and my tools.”


The door to the shed creaks open. And I open my mouth to let out a scream.

Jamie shakes his head, tears freely flowing now. “I can’t be without Pete. I don’t know how.”


There is something poetic about living freely. No more fear, no more anxiety. And then it’s over. Why would anyone want to exist in the real world? Maybe Jamie is right, we should stay here, safe in our shells. Protected from the cruelness crushing us. Then I feel the weight of the coin in my pocket. 


“I’ll teach you,” I whisper. But Jamie doesn’t hear me. He is trapped in his own hell. 


Help! We are down here!” I shout.


“Did you hear that?” The voice from above answers.


Jamie’s screams echo inside me as the walls come crashing in, piercing his heart and crushing the only safe place he has ever known. The door opens, and I am face to face with an officer. Pete is nowhere to be seen. I ascend the stairs, turning back toward the entrance. Jamie’s fingers close around mine, and I pull him out into the light of day.

May 13, 2022 17:34

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19 comments

Deidra Lovegren
13:46 May 22, 2022

Beth Connor with a fractured horrific Peter Pan tale! What a fun house of horrors — you had us buy a ticket with the sweet snail 🐌 eulogy and buying into the repentant Shayne. And then — gah! Darker and darker…almost like an escape from Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island (Cellar?!) This would be quite a Black Mirror episode or a 21st c. After school Special 😱 Great read. Couldn’t put it down!!

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K. Antonio
12:54 May 15, 2022

I enjoyed how elusive this story was, how it's actually more of a speculative fiction piece, alluding to certain details and offering up descriptions, but never just straight-up telling the reader what is happening. It was an interesting play on the prompt, and the title makes a lot of sense given what happens in the story. It was dark, but I liked it!

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Michał Przywara
22:08 May 24, 2022

A fun read. It has a good beginning which just pulls us deeper into a stranger and more sinister world. The writing was smooth and the whole thing had a sense of falling (a nice counterpoint to Peter Pan's flying). The narrator first untethers himself from JD, doesn't even make it to Ali, gets blown off course by Jamie, and literally falls into the cellar and the high. The underlying struggle of finding acceptance is a powerful one. Life is good when we have it, and unbearable without. We take risks to get it, and we learn to accept even...

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Beth Connor
18:09 May 25, 2022

Thank you so much for taking the time to read. Your comments are as thought-provoking as I intended for my prose, I love this.

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Seán Mc Nicholl
20:37 May 24, 2022

Really enjoyed this! Loved the impulsiveness of the narrator and the rejection of the lifelines that were offered along the way gave a good insight into his personality and built the narrative up perfectly! Thanks so much for posting, really enjoyed it!

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Beth Connor
18:11 May 25, 2022

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Seán!

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John Del Rio
22:04 May 23, 2022

As good as your other work that I have enjoyed. Will keep reading your work.

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Paul Wilhite
00:18 May 22, 2022

Really nice work! I liked your opening scene with the little snail. The fact that you think about something like that makes me like the world a little more. I thought this was going to end badly but you rescued them and pulled him out into the light of day' and its broader significance.

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Beth Connor
03:50 May 22, 2022

Thank you Paul. I really liked playing with this prompt and portraying empathy and perseverance as a strength.

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Shea West
03:44 May 18, 2022

Beth Connor. I adore you. This had your voice all over it, but it was a bit riskier than I usually see from you and I loved every minute of it. I especially loved the play on the lost boys and how Pete kept them lost forever! WELCOME BACK! Please write us more.

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Beth Connor
15:00 May 19, 2022

It's nice being back- and it's my goal to write more again (and be a better risk taker) Time will tell!

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Daniel R. Hayes
06:21 May 16, 2022

OMG Beth, this was a great story. I found myself really engaged and I honestly think that this was a triumphant return. Reedsy has missed your stories, and I know that you are one heck of a good writer!! This one did not disappoint and I give it 10 stars!!! ⭐ Loved it!!!

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A.G. Scott
03:27 May 16, 2022

Love the concept! Hope all is well. :) Quick fixes: "it’s as though the world has disappeared, and it is only he and I." -- a little cliche '“Shayne.” My voice sounds like honey on his lips' -- my name And I open my mouth to let out a scream.” -- accidental "

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Beth Connor
05:12 May 16, 2022

Great to see you. Thanks for your amazing attention to detail. It's nice to take a breath and just write. Things are well here and hope the same for you.

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Riel Rosehill
21:07 May 13, 2022

OMG Beth, I LOVE this story! Everything about it. Such a dark, twisted, grown up Peter Pan. Bonus brownie points for saving Jamie at the end 🤩 Awesome writing. Also, just how fast you are, this prompt just came out today..! I'm beyond impressed.

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Beth Connor
21:59 May 13, 2022

SO glad you liked it. ❤ Friday is my make it or break it day because I'm currently working long shifts M-Th. I have been so focused on longer projects, I feel like it was a breath of fresh air (albeit a dark one lol- I usually write middle-grade fantasy!)

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John Del Rio
22:03 May 23, 2022

As good as your other work that I have enjoyed. Will keep reading your work.

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John Del Rio
22:03 May 23, 2022

As good as your other work that I have enjoyed. Will keep reading your work.

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John Del Rio
22:03 May 23, 2022

As good as your other work that I have enjoyed. Will keep reading your work.

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