Contest #219 shortlist ⭐️

Subconcious Convictions

Submitted into Contest #219 in response to: Set your story in a type of prison cell.... view prompt


Crime Horror

This story contains sensitive content

TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains mentions of the following:

  • Child abuse
  • Death
  • Blood
  • Gun violence
  • PTSD
  • Mental Health

Reader discretion is advised.


They say in the moment of tragedy, time slows down. During those precious seconds, the mind accelerates. Your surroundings blur and disappear as your attention turns inward. You consider the events that led you to this point and what you could – or should – have done different. You consider who this will affect. You’re suddenly acutely aware of every regret you have. Things you wish you had done, or words you wish you had said to people you may never see again.

What they don’t tell you is that during this time of reflection, those thoughts don’t matter. The steps that led you to this point have already been taken. You cannot change the past and now must deal with whatever comes as a consequence of your own actions.

But what if those thoughts did matter?


I’m going to lose my job.

That was the first thought that raced through my mind as I watched the man pull a gun from beneath his baggy jacket; the same man I had passed through security only minutes before. This was my first day on the job, and I was already going to lose it.

The years I spent in college, scrounging for food and borrowing my friends couches and car seats just to have a place to sleep. The loans I took from friends, family, and disreputable sources. None of that mattered anymore, as the fruit of my hard-earned labor was going to sour and rot on the very first day.

The moment the glint of his pistol caught my attention, my hand was already reflexively reaching for my own holster. In the mere moment it took to draw my gun and form the words on my tongue for the man to drop is weapon, I was presented with a choice. Do I fire at the man, whose own gun is pointed at the young woman behind the desk? Or do I wait and try to talk him down? If I hesitate, he could kill the woman before I fire. Or I could fire first, not giving him the chance to stand down. What if the gun was fake and this was just an attempt at intimidation? Does this scenario meet the requirements for the rules of engagement?

With my decision made, I shout for the man to put down the gun. Before the last word had fled from my mouth, an explosive sound that will, from that moment on, forever haunt my waking moments rings out. I made the wrong judgement. The man pulled the trigger. Time continues to crawl by as the young woman’s body drops to the ground, red misting the air and painting the wall behind her as she crumples out of sight behind the desk.

Seemingly to compensate for its slowed pace, time then speeds up. People scream and drop to the ground. A mother flings herself over her child. An elderly man clutches his chest and feints. I have little recollection of what follows. I’m sure police arrive and subdue the man, as I suddenly find myself sitting outside on the curb. Uniformed officers question me. I’m not sure what answers I give them. All I can do is stare at their holstered guns.

Three seconds. That was all the time it took for the man to pull his weapon and end a life. Those three seconds play on repeat over and over.

I lose my job due to my own negligence. If I had followed proper procedure, I would have found the man’s gun as he came through security. Out a job and with a permanent black mark on my record, my degree and certifications become nothing more than useless pieces of paper. My brand-new car I financed is repossessed. I return to couch-surfing and lending in order to get through each day.

Loud sounds now terrify me. The bang of a car door closing has me reflexively reaching for a sidearm that isn’t there, only for nausea to rise at the mere thought of a weapon. Red mist and a body crumbling to the ground. It only took three seconds for that man to pull his pistol and kill.

I can no longer make decisions for myself. I fear that whatever choice I make will be the wrong one, somehow causing another life to end. Second guessing every move I make completely overwhelms my day-to-day actions. I cannot help but spiral within my own tortured thoughts to the point where I am too terrified to even move.

It only took three seconds.


The instant the man pulled the gun from his jacket, instinct led me to grab my son, push him to the tile floor and cover his small body with my own. The only thought racing through my mind was his protection. Having only recently lost his father, I couldn’t fathom losing Evan as well.

A spray of red. The body of a young woman falling to the floor; the thud of her body colliding with tile echoing in my head. What if that had been Evan? What if he were older and the one working behind the desk when someone decided that they would end his life? Who would have protected him if I wasn’t here?

The security guard by the door frozen with his gun raised solidifies my resolve that no one can protect Evan like I can.

It takes three police officers to pry me from my son’s protection. Only after several reassurances that the gunman has been subdued and that we are safe am I willing to detach myself from Evan. Sweeping my sobbing four-year-old into my arms, I hold him close as I provide the police with my statement, receive the okay from medical personnel to leave, and speed the safety of our small home.

That could have been Evan standing behind the counter. No one can protect him like I can.

With school shootings a very real possibility, I pull Evan out of school just in case. I find a new job that will allow me to work from home while homeschooling at the same time. Groceries are delivered to the house, contact-free of course.

The only times I find myself not being able to avoid leaving the safety of our home are for regular visits to the doctor’s office. I put these off for as long as I can without risking Evan’s health. Every individual we pass is a threat, as who knows what weapons they carry, hidden beneath their clothing. Who knows what intentions they may have, or when they might decide to take their frustrations out on my innocent child.

A local news broadcast covers the story of an injured criminal waking during surgery and attacking the caretakers and two bystanders. What if Evan and I had been there for an appointment? Even the hospitals weren’t safe anymore. I called and canceled Evan’s upcoming check-up.

The doctor’s office called at least once a day for a week straight to reschedule Evan’s appointment. I let every call ring to voicemail. I know what is best for Evan. No one can protect him like I can. The phone calls eventually stop.

The following week, two police officers arrive at our house, claiming the hospital staff called asking for them to ensure we were okay. I reiterate through the closed door that all is well, but I refuse to open my home to them. I can see from the window the weapons they carry. What if they are not really police officers? What if they are here to hurt Evan?

The next day, the police return with a woman dressed in a pantsuit and claiming to be from Child Protective Services. I refuse them entry and tell Evan to hide in his room. The woman claims that she is worried for my son’s well-being and begs me to open the door.

She doesn’t have to worry about Evan. That is my job. Only I can protect him.

They took Evan from me! They came in force, showing me documents that mean nothing to me as I sit handcuffed on my own couch. They claim I am not mentally fit to take care of my own son, as if they know anything about me or the dangers the outside world presents to my innocent child. I try to get them to understand that he needs me, that only I can protect him! Why can’t they understand? They tell me I can argue my case in court.

Why does no one understand? How can no one see how dangerous the world is? It only takes one man with a gun deciding to end a life.

No one can protect Evan like I can.


The customer service smile I have plastered on my face falls away as the man across the desk from me reaches beneath his jacket and pulls free a pistol. Despite the situation, I find myself surprised by the condition of the gun. My father was an avid weapon collector and, as his only child, I was subjected to hours of instruction on all topics involving firearms. The man’s gun isn’t anything special and is a brand that most households have stashed away somewhere for home defense.

What caught my attention was the poor condition of the weapon. Scuffs and scratches cover most of the surface and bare metal glints through gouged paint and texture. Wherever this man had obtained the gun from, there was a good chance it was either stolen or sold illegally.

By the time the last remnants of my smile disappear, and my quick analysis of the man’s pistol ends, I realize too late that I am the target of his aggression.

Raised by a gun enthusiast, I thought I had seen them from every angle. I realize then that never have I stared down the barrel of one. It was a sight immediately burned into my mind, and one I never wanted to see again. I watch in slow-motion as the muscles just under the skin of the man’s hands tense and his finger begin to pull the trigger. I can’t help but think with irony that I won’t have to worry about living with that fear.

Silence follows the explosion of a firing pistol.


The scene before me is familiar, though I can’t determine why or how. I stand before a young woman, a waist-high desk the only barrier between us. My right hand grips the cold, unfamiliar metal of the pistol I purchased from a stranger earlier this morning. I stare down the top of the gun at the young woman. She seems more interested in the details of the gun rather than the fact that it is aimed directly at her.

There is something… familiar about this woman, though I am sure I have never met her before.

An irritating itch nags in the back of my mind that something here isn’t right. I have been here before. But where am I? I want to turn and take in my surroundings but am unable to move anything other than my eyes. Time seems to have slowed to a near pause.

Glancing at the surface of the desk, I notice a stack of credit card flyers. Oh, that’s right, I’m at a bank. One of the few left that actually handle cash instead of digital currency.

Why am I at the bank?

The memories come slowly, as though I am recollecting them through a vat of honey. The images are hazy at first, but slowly become clearer.

I am desperate. The company I worked at collapsed due to fraud. As an accounting associate, I was one of the prime suspects in the case. It has been two years since I was accused as an accomplice, and the investigation is still ongoing.

In those two years, my entire life fell apart. My fiancé left me, taking the word of the media over the man she planned to marry. She took our unborn child with her, refusing to allow me any part in the child’s life. Due the investigation, I couldn’t find a job.

I lost my fiancé, child, and career. I lost all reason to continue to try. All I have left is a roof over my head, and even that will be gone soon unless I do something.

Robbing the bank wasn’t a thought-out plan, but rather a decision made in desperation. Why had I thought this would be a good idea? I’ve never done anything like this before. This isn’t me. Who have I become?

The eyes of the woman before me begin to widen as she realizes she is staring down the barrel of my gun. Realization, surprise, fear, and then acceptance cross her features within a heartbeat.

My hand tenses, my index finger beginning to pull the trigger.


I’ve been here before. I’ve done this before. I’ve killed this woman already. Why am I doing this? For money? Is this really how far I have fallen? Would I really consider killing a woman for whatever change she might have in the drawer?

Wait, no. I have already considered this. In fact, I have already done it. I am staring down the sights of my gun into the eyes of a dead woman. That is why she is familiar to me.

I know I’ve killed her, but I don’t remember what happened afterwards. Was I arrested? Was I shot?

Glancing to my right, I notice a woman in the process of throwing herself over a young boy. Her son, Evan.

Evan? Why do I know the boy’s name? That isn’t all I know. I know that the mother will be so scarred from my actions that she will hide her child away from the world, paranoid and plagued by the idea of some stranger hurting the only family she had left. Evan will spend the rest of his childhood in the foster care system.

I’ve never met them before, so why do I know this?

I shift my attention to my left, where a young security guard points his own firearm in my direction, his mouth open in a silent shout. I can see the fear and indecision wrought into his features. He will lose his job and any chance of a healthy life due to my actions today.

Finally, I look back to the woman before me. She loses her life because of me. These are my victims. I can see the consequences these innocent bystanders will spend the remainder of their lives trying to cope with. All because I was desperate to pay my rent.

I don’t want this. I don’t want to kill this young woman who has done nothing to wrong me. I don’t want to cause the security guard to spend the rest of his life terrified of strangers and loud noises. I don’t want Evan to grow up without his mother.

My hand relaxes, and the gun soundlessly clatters to the ground before everything fades to black.


Looking up from the report scrolling across his tablet, Jarred smiled at his supervisor, Doctor Daniells, who had just entered the lab.

“Good afternoon, Doctor. The subject passed on the first run. His remorse caused a shift in his subconscious, and he dropped the gun before killing the woman this time.”

Doctor Daniells nodded, a bit of the ever-present tension in his shoulders relaxing. “That is good. Pull him out of the simulator and send the report to the recovery team. With luck, he’ll be eligible for reintegration within the next year or so.”

After receiving the affirmative from his associate, Doctor Daniells headed for the door, sparing one last glance at the man lying on the bed connected to the simulator unit.

The device was revolutionary to solving overcrowding within the municipal system. Based on their progress with therapists and reports provided by behavioral specialists, qualified convicts are removed from their cells and transferred to one of a few facilities housing advanced neurological simulators. Rather than spend years within a cell comprised of bars and mortar, they are instead imprisoned within the walls of their own subconscious. They are then subjected to relive the events of the crime they committed, as well as experience first-hand the impact their misconduct left on their victims.

The results were astounding, proving that remorse and guilt, if stressed on a deeply subconscious level, could change the morality of an individual. Rather than spend the remainder of their lives behind bars, these ex-convicts would receive a second chance. Depending on their results after undergoing intense therapy, they would be allowed to reintegrate into a controlled section of society; a sector that was developed specifically for these individuals. They would not be allowed to return to the public, as retribution is still demanded for their actions. They would, however, be provided the opportunity to work in their chosen profession, earn a wage, and make something better of themselves while serving out the remainder of their sentence.

Tearing his gaze from the man lying in the hospital bed, Doctor Daniells stepped out of the room and headed for the next lab.

October 10, 2023 00:32

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Amanda Lieser
19:35 Nov 23, 2023

Hey Wyrd! Congratulations on this amazing shortlist! You dealt with challenging themes perfectly while giving us a shocking, but possibly realistic. I loved the way you bought our investment in this story through Evan. My heart was torn to pieces while reading this. Nice work!!


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Carolyn O'B
22:17 Nov 03, 2023

This was well written: great imagery and spellbinding. Consider submitting to podcasts. This story would fit with an A.I. theme in particular.


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Philip Ebuluofor
08:20 Oct 24, 2023

Captivating. Congrats. It hold interest to the end. Fine work for sure.


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Kathryn Kahn
23:31 Oct 20, 2023

What an interesting world you have created!


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Hannah Lynn
21:05 Oct 19, 2023

I did not expect that ending at all. Your description of each character's point of view was so engaging. Well done!


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