3rd Place – Mike Corvese

Sarah sat in the corner of the attic, her arms wrapped around too thin legs that were pulled against her chest. Spatters of blood from her nose and mouth mixed with the free flowing tears and soaked into the hem of her dress. Normally she worked to keep everything clean, to keep it hidden, but she no longer cared.

One small window over in the corner let in a few sickly drips of reddish light from the setting sun, casting long shadows around the boxes and crates scattered about. All was still, and the fine layer of cardboard dust covered the floor. She welcomed the coming darkness. As the world faded away, Sarah could retreat into her own dreams which were infinitely preferable to the sad misery of her reality.

Things were supposed to change after they moved. Her mother had promised. The new house in the new neighborhood, in the new city; all to help build a new life. But once again her father came home after a bout of drinking like he always did and found something wrong with her. She couldn’t even remember what it was. How she looked, how she sounded, what she said or didn’t say. So, as per the norm, the beatings began.

Her father was gone now. Having felt that he had administered the necessary discipline to his daughter for her wayward behavior, he headed off to God knows where, leaving Sarah to ruminate on her indiscretions, and give a silent prayer of thanks that it at least stopped with only a beating.

She cried for a while, but the tears eventually ran out. The sadness and pity that Sarah felt faded away as rage began to take its place. She stood wiped the tears from her eyes. This was the last time. Set with a purpose, she walked over to the stack of boxes looking for a weapon. The next time her father came to beat her, she was going to end it.

Sarah grabbed the box off the top of the first stack and tore it open. It was full of papers and folders so she tossed it aside and grabbed the next box. This box made a promising clinking so she tore at the tape until it crumpled up in surrender. She opened crinkled flap and looked inside.

“What the Hell?” Sarah asked. She pulled it all the way open and held it toward the fading light.

Small, empty glass spheres filled the box. They clinked around as she twisted the container around for a better view. She pulled one out and held it close, trying to preen out some details in the dim light. But there were no details to be had, and with a growl of frustration Sarah tossed the box back onto the stack and dropped the globe to the floor.

The glass sphere shattered on the dusty wood and burst apart with a bang and a flash of light. Sarah yelped in surprise and jumped back. Images appeared as the light faded, swirling in the air over the shattered glass.

Sarah stared, transfixed at the swirling images as they floated around her. They twisted and twirled around her, teasing with their content as she struggled to decipher what she was seeing.

Then, after several seconds of fraught concentration, recognition came, and Sarah screamed.

“Jesus! She’s having a psychotic breakdown! Get her out of there!” the observer next to Dr. Laura Prescott yelled as he hit the alarm. Attendants burst into the room and ran over to the girl lying on the table. She screamed incoherently and tore at the array of electrodes attached to her body a she writhed around, lashing out at herself and the equipment. The assistants hurried over and grabbed her limbs. Dr. Prescott followed behind a moment later with a syringe of clear fluid. She jabbed it into the girl’s thigh and forced the plunger down.

The screams faded and the girl started going limp. “No…no…no…no…no…no..” she droned as her consciousness abandoned her. Within seconds she went limp and her body sagged back to the table.

Laura shook her head. “Get a doctor down here to check her out,” she said. She grabbed the girl’s wrist and checked for a pulse. It was there, not that it mattered much if her mind was destroyed.

Moments later, a large man in a business suit burst through the door. His eyes scanned over the patient then fixed on Laura with a glare. “Dr. Prescott. Outside Now!”

“Yes, Mr. Zimmers.” Laura followed the big man out into the hallway, sliding over to the side as several EMT’s sped by into the lab.

Zimmers watched them for a moment, then turned his glare back on Laura. “Of all the incompetence, Dr. Prescott. Months of work and millions of dollars, just flushed away with that girl’s mind.”

“Mr Zimmers. We don’t know that she…” Laura began.

“Enough! I saw enough. All the investors watching that session saw enough. This was supposed to be a breakthrough in treating PTSD. You promised us it would be.”

“But…”

Zimmers waved her off. “Don’t bother, Dr. Prescott. Just pack up your stuff and leave.” He turned and stalked off.

Laura shook her head, fighting back tears. “Fired?” she whispered. Having no better options, she walked up the stairs and around to her office, which at the moment was a converted storeroom (They were working on it.) She flipped on the light and dropped into her chair, still shaking her head. Some analytical part of her buried deep inside recognized her own symptom of shock.

A cardboard box sat on her desk that she didn’t recognize. With a dull curiosity, she lifted the lid and looked inside. A pile of small, empty glass spheres waited.

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