tagNon-EroticLevel Ground Bk. 01 Ch. 09

Level Ground Bk. 01 Ch. 09


My eyes fluttered open. I was in a room that I didn't recognize. It was dark and I remember feeling cold. There were three doors in front of me, each with a number on it. In front of the doors, it looked like a man, with a long scraggly body, long white hands with sharp nails and a red face with pointy teeth. He looked more like a demon or something straight out of Hell.

I decided to go through one of the doors, the one labeled #1. Beyond the door was a beautiful room, full of flowers. And there, in a bed, lie my mother, more beautiful than ever. There was a white blanket covering her. She looked so peaceful. The window across from her was open and the sun was pouring in like a waterfall of gold and engulfing her.

I heard the man laughing at me and I turned toward him. He was pointing back at my mother. I turned again to see that my mother was now just a rotting corpse lying on a bed of dusty cobwebs.

Inching closer to the bed, I couldn't pull my eyes away from the rotting corpse. That was when my mother's eyes snapped open and she grabbed my wrist, twisting it and twisting it until...

My eyes snapped open and I awoke in my room with a jolt of terror. I looked around the room and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Trying to calm myself down, I felt that surge of panic begin to overtake me once again, sending a chill up my spine.

The chill intensified and the numbness came, the voice in the back of my mind awake yet again and sang its poison to me.

"Go ahead. Take it, take the pain out, you know you want it. Give in, run and let it go, you're worthless, a nothing."

"No," I responded. "Stop it."

"Do it," the voice continued. "Go and let it run, let it run... DO IT!!"

It continued screaming at me, my head spun with it as my body felt numb, I couldn't take it. I closed my eyes and slowly counted backward from ten.

"Ten... nine... eight..."

"Lance?" someone said.

I ignored it and continued. "Seven... six... five..."

"Lance," came the voice again, more firm.

"Four... three... two..."

"Lance!" I felt hands on my shoulder and then a gentle shake.


My eyes snapped open and I saw Billy and Dalton standing in front of me. I tried to speak but nothing came out.

"Lance," came Maranda's voice. "Breathe, Lance."

"Maranda?" I squeaked.

She sat down on the bed beside me and turned my face toward her. "Look at me," she said "Focus on me."

I stared into her eyes, and the memories of my night with her came flooding back, pushing the voice back into its box. After a few minutes, I felt normal again.

But the fear was still there. I didn't understand what was happening to me.

"Maranda," I said my voice normal. "What's wrong with me?"

"Shh," she said, pulling me to her. "It's alright. You're going to be fine. We're going to help you through this."

She put her arms around my neck and I hugged her waist, welcoming her embrace, hugging her tight.

After a moment, I pulled away from her and looked at my bandaged arm. I glanced at Billy and Dalton and then back to Maranda.

"What happened?"

They exchanged glances.

"You don't remember?" Dalton asked me. "You near bled to death."

I stared at him. "What?"

"And you're damn lucky I don't kick your ass right now," came Ronnie's voice just before he appeared in the doorway.

"Come on," Maranda said, taking my hand and standing up. "Let's go outside. You could use some air."

I nodded. "Okay."

At some point the world around me has exploded into a vibrant green of leaves on the trees. I'm not sure exactly when summer landed, but somewhere during my chaotic past few weeks it hit the yard in full force. Stepping out onto the front porch, I took a deep breath and held it for a moment before breathing out again.

My friends were watching me closely, as if they were waiting for another breakdown. I turned and sat down on the porch swing, just as Maranda came outside and handed me a cup of coffee.

Somehow I managed to flash a smile. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she responded and kissed me.

I took a sip of my coffee, closing my eyes and savoring the taste of it as it warmed my insides. All four of my friends were on the porch by the time I opened my eyes. Maranda was there beside me and I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to have people who cared enough about me to put up with my shit.

I was staring at my bandaged arm. "I don't know what happened," I said aloud, not really directed at anyone. "I've never gone this far before. I've always been able to stop before... before going to deep. Once I started, it was like I couldn't stop."

Dalton looked at me. "Lance, um, maybe... maybe you should get some help. Talk to someone."

"Therapy?" I shook my head. "No way," I said, remembering the time my mother took anxiety medication. She became worse, so disoriented that she couldn't function. "What can they do? Besides put me on medication that'll make things worse."

"I know," Dalton said. "But you can't deal with this alone."

"I know," I responded. "But I'm not alone."

"You're right," Ronnie spoke up. "You're not alone. You're never going to be alone again. We're going to be watching you like a hawk."

"No, I don't need a babysitter," I insisted.

"I'm sorry, Lance, but after today, I think you do," Billy told me. "If Dalton hadn't found you, we'd probably be burying you right now."

I knew he was right.

I felt myself gasp, thinking about the possibility. I couldn't help but wonder how everyone would feel if I were dead. The possibility of me dying sent my heart racing. I'm not sure if it was panic or excitement. My eyes darted around, looking for something to focus on.

Knowing that I wasn't alone I had to fight it. I closed my eyes, taking short, quick breaths, pushing back the need to cut.

"Lance?" I heard Dalton say, concern in his voice.

When I didn't respond, I felt a gentle squeeze on my hand and looked at Maranda. Her eyes spoke to me, telling me to focus. I stared back into her eyes, staring at the calm shade of blue that her eyes were.

West Virginia Blue was how Devon described her eyes. He said that the skies in West Virginia were this grayish blue; something he thought had been caused by the coal mines. I had never noticed it before. I guess it was because I had grown up in West Virginia and I never paid much attention to the sky.

Maranda's eyes were the same shade of blue as the sky. Images from my nightmare formed in my mind, but I quickly chased them away, knowing that it would only make things worse. After a few minutes, my breathing was back to normal and I was able to pull my eyes away from Maranda.

"I'm sorry," I said to everyone. "I don't know what happens. They just seem to come out of nowhere."

"And this started when those dreams began?" Devon asked me.

I nodded. "Yeah."

"And every time this happens you feel the need to cut yourself?" Dalton followed, trying to understand.

I nodded, again. "Yeah." I glanced at Maranda and then back at him. "It seemed to be the only way to release the... the pressure. When I felt the pain, I was able to pull my mind away from the nightmare and focus on the pain. It doesn't make any sense, but it was calming."

"It makes perfect sense, Lance," Maranda told me. She looked at me for a moment and then looked at my friends. "I went through something similar last year," she explained. "I was alone through most of mine, until a friend busted me. Raven helped me to get past it. I know how hard it is and how addictive it is, Lance. I know it's going to take some time, but we can help you, if you let us."

"Raven, huh?" Dalton said. "She's cool like that."

Something in his voice made me look at him. His eyes were staring at nothing and I could tell he was thinking about Raven. "When did this happen?" I asked him.

Snapping back to reality, he looked at me. "What?"

"You like her?" I asked him. "Raven, I mean."

He shrugged. "I don't know what you mean."

I just nodded. "Sure you don't."

He just looked at me for a moment and then changed the subject. "Anyway, I'm sorry about your mother," he said. "I know what you're going through."

I had almost forgotten that his mother was dead. "Maybe."

He nodded. "Yeah, I do know," he said. "You're pissed. You're hurt. You feel abandoned."

I looked at him for a moment and nodded. "Yeah. I've been so angry with her."

He nodded. "I know I was young when my mother died. I don't remember a whole lot about the funeral, but I do remember how confused and angry I was. I pissed at her for leaving me with a father who works more than any man should, just to avoid me and Sam."

"You really think that's why he's gone so much?" Billy asked him.

He nodded. "He's never came out and said it, but whenever he looks at me, I just want to disappear. I don't know. It's like he blames me for mom dying."

"How can it be your fault?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "I don't know. It's just the feeling I get whenever he's home. Makes me even more grateful when he leaves again."

"You never told me any of that," Billy said.

Dalton shrugged again. "There wasn't anything to tell. Besides ya'll got your own problems. You don't need mine, too."

"When are ya'll going to get it through you heads?" Ronnie demanded. "We've been friends since preschool. That makes us family. Families share everything, problems included. Stop this feeling like you got to handle everything alone bullshit."

I couldn't help but laugh. Ronnie always had a way with words. I looked at Maranda, who had a smile on her face. "What?" I said.

She shook her head. "Nothing. It's just nice to see you smile."

I nodded. "It has been a while."

We were quiet for a moment. "I don't want to think about my mom and be sad," I said. "I want to think about her and be happy."

"So," Maranda said. "Whenever you think about her, remember how much she loved you. Remember all the good things about her. I don't have many good memories about my father, but when I think of my Grandmother, good memories are all I have left of her. So I focus on that."

I nodded and looked at her. I put my hand on the back of her neck, underneath her air, and pulled her to me, kissing her. "Thank you."

She nodded. "You're welcome."

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