ⅠTo my dearest Sophie,I’m sorry. Not just for the lies, but for everything. I’m sorry I can’t afford to give you the things you deserve, but instead have made you a prisoner in my own world. I dragged you from your perfect life with promises of money and fortune, but so far all I’ve been able to accomplish is in giving you grief. I know you would have done well in school. You’re smart, but love makes you stupid and you blindly left it all to take hold of my hand as I helped you down the crumbling steps, leading into this poverty stricken hell. I’m done with the drugs. I know I’ve told you that a hundred times, hell, a thousand, but now I mean it. Truly and honestly. I love you Sophie, certainly more than anything from a needle, or anything else on this outrageous planet for that matter.There are no excuses for what I’ve done, but you just can’t understand. When the drugs are inside of me they open up an entirely different world; the ideas that come leave me speechless, and so I let my pencil do the talking and that is how I write. I know I can still create stories when I’m sober but they’re bland, missing that special ingredient that will make me the famous author I know I’m destined to be.One day, very much sooner than later, I’m going to finish this novel. I know you can’t tell because I haven’t let you read it, but it’s good. I’ve written a lot of things in my life and I can admit they were shit, but this … it’s something else, baby. I don’t know where it came from, but suddenly I was writing and writing for hours on end like some kind of dam had broken down inside of me and the words were pouring out onto the paper. It’s exactly what the publishers want.This is where our lives take the drastic turn we need to be real people in this world. I just need you to hold on a little longer Sophie, and I promise everything I ever fooled you into believing will be true.I will make this right,- JackJack sat staring at the letter. It still lay on his desk with the pencil and eraser waiting patiently on either side, exactly how he’d left it only sixteen short hours ago. Oh, how a lot can change in such a small window of time, going from what you already thought was bad to an entirely new level of fucked that you never even realized could exist.Keeping his eyes locked onto the page with a haunting intensity, Jack felt around his foot until his fingers closed around the balmy glass neck. He raised the bottle and indulged himself with another bloating swig, met with a few more capsules that seemed to slither down his throat like a segmented caterpillar.A hot wave melted over the lining of his stomach, and for the first time in what must have been over an hour he lifted his swimming gaze from the paper to lean back in his chair. Wiping a hand down his face, the result was slick with tears.The dismal blue walls surrounding him were tight enough to induce claustrophobia in the right person. That’s how he liked his office though; simple – no distractions while he worked, except for the single photo of himself and Sophie which sat in the far corner of his desk. Right now it was face down.It really didn’t matter though; where ever he went, whatever he did, the same mental wheels would turn, forcing him to relive the events over and over in his head. There was no dodging; a captive in his own memories with only one means of escape.The police had long since gone, leaving him to wrestle the demons on his own. Part of him wished he’d taken the help that had been offered to him, a place to go while he hurt so bad, but the other half of him know it was frivolous.Life without Sophie, well … there wasn’t one.He could feel another onslaught of tears coming, but instead of trying to hold them back he wept into his palms. He was just a wet cloth at this point, waiting for all the water to be rung out. It felt good to cry though, releasing all the pent up emotions that had been swirling inside of him for the past nine hundred and sixty minutes. He’d always been one to bottle everything up, and speaking of bottles, he took another drink.Jack didn’t typically drink straight from the bottle, but he couldn’t have used a glass even if he wanted; in his fit of miserable rage he’d smashed all the dishware onto the kitchen floor where they still laid in a scrambled mess, looking like a long forgotten puzzle. Not even the tiny china tea plates had escaped his wrath, the only memorabilia he had left of his grandparents. He’d just been so mad; how could she leave him like that? But he knew there was no one to blame but himself. He’d pushed her over the edge without even seeing the cliff.“What the fuck is this!?” she’d yelled, throwing his trusty drug pouch onto the desk where he’d been working. The needles and heroin poking their noses out like spring’s groundhog, but even they had sense enough to know that the very cold winter was only beginning. “You told me you were done Jack. You promised me”And what had he done? Just sat there, staring emotionlessly at the wasted drugs before him, the ants beginning to crawl over his arms as the craving’s itch took over. It disgusted him to think even at that time all he’d wanted was the high; he was never very good at seeing past the prick.“Don’t you have anything to say for yourself?” But Jack didn’t, and now she was crying. ‘She’s going to leave you’ was all the voice in his head was saying. ‘She’s going to leave you and this shit apartment and it’s all you fucking deserve’ He hadn’t believed that voice, not at the time anyway; not even when he turned to look shamefully into her eyes and he saw that expression written across her face, the expression that would seep into his nightmares like an infectious virus, and have him weeping through countless days and nights. It was the expression that wouldn’t let him eat, stiffening his insides like a wrench tightening a bolt every time the image solidified within the cavity of his mind. It was that sole expression that would leave his heart a shredded, mangled pile of rags that just refused to heal. “Jack,” It said, “I just can’t keep doing this. On more occasions than I can count you’ve told me you were through with this shit, and I’ve been a fool enough to believe you every time. The only thing that’s kept me here this long is that I love you, but this love is killing me. You are no longer the man that swept me off my feet, but the anchor tied to my ankles, drowning me in this lake of fire. I’m too young to feel this old; I’m like a mother who’s realized she was never meant to have kids, long after a chance to turn back. You’re worse than dead to me Jack, you’re deadweight” But instead of saying all this, she simply left the room. Jack could hear her sobs pass all the way through their miserable apartment to the front door; pulling on her shoes and coat, she left. If there was one thing he regretted more out of all the events that had come and gone, it was sixty seconds that followed. That’s when he should have run, straight out the door in his bare feet and caught up to tell her everything he’d ever really wanted to say. But Jack wasn’t a talker, he was a writer, so he wrote and that’s what lay in front of him now. He popped another few capsules with a healthy swig to help them find their way to his stomach. Jack had tried to convince himself that there was really no way he could of known what she’d been planning, anything to sway his conscience that he really had been that naïve. It wouldn’t have been the first time they fought and she went for a walk, either to give herself a little time to blow off steam or for Jack to conjure his apology, he never really knew which; you might have even been able to call it routine, but it was that face, the face that he knew would change everything. The last face she would every give him. After she’d left and his note had been written he sat and waited for her return. He waited all night and when the sun’s rosy glare began to rise and peek through his window, he waited some more. Sleep had been hanging from his eyes with a transcendent weight but not once did he begin to drowse away. And then, at long last there was a knock at the door. His body pivoted in the chair and bounded forward like the coiled spring he’d been all night, but as he raced the same voice of reason spoke again saying, ‘This isn’t right. It’s not going to be her. Something is very wrong. What have you done?’ Jack threw the door open and not-so-much to his surprise were two police officers; their hats were held sympathetically low in both hands. “Jack Meadows?” one of the asked Jack managed to nod his head “I’m Officer Reinhart, and this is Officer Bailey. Do you mind if we step in?” It was all downhill after that.First was the explanation, how a biker had found her hanging from an Oak tree just along the edge of town; no suicide note, but it wasn’t like Jack needed one to know what had happened. He kept a stone face while the policemen explained how they would go about the next few steps; he’d need to make a statement at the station, speak to a lawyer, but nothing needed to be done immediately. With a few more remarks about being ‘sorry for his loss’ the officers left. He stayed a moment with his back leaning against the door, staring blankly into nothing. The apartment suddenly felt much larger, like the wall that never really existed had been blown out, and he was left feeling more alone than ever. It wasn’t too long after that that the smashing started, emptying all his fury into each hurled plate, glass and bowl that shattered against the kitchen wall like a flurry of wild sparks; and when it was all over, he went back to his desk and read everything the late Sophie Beaumont had deserved to know. Somewhere in the middle of it all he found the pills and liquor and almost magically they began to find their way into his digestive system; and that’s where he was now, only he’d left the desk, very slowly stumbling his way to the bedroom where he collapsed to his knees next to the bed and put his hands together in prayer. “God,” he mumbled from underneath the mask of tears, “please forgive Sophie, for she has sinned. She took your beautiful gift of life and strung it to a branch, but it wasn’t her fault. I am the reason she’s dead, so please, I beg of you to let her live the perfect life she deserved in your kingdom of heaven. I know I’ve never been the most religious person and am in no place to ask for favors, but you know that Sophie is – was, the last person to ever hurt a soul. I will be dead very soon, and when I’m gone and standing at your gates you can burden me with both our crimes and cast me to burn in hell for two eternities if that’s what it means, but have mercy on that girl. Please” When he’d said everything he thought he needed, he heaved his numbing body up onto the bed and went still.Ⅲ “Jack”Carried with a soft voice, the language was English but with a winking French accent, ornamenting from each syllable like an untamed vine. Jack’s eyes opened to the compassionate face of Sophie, bearing a smile so white it was almost a tint of blue. They were in a hospital room; the dark lavender walls surrounding them felt like a warm hug. He noticed her hand had been holding his where a tube plugged into his wrist. Though his arms and legs were weak he managed to lean his body forward and pull Sophie in close, resting his chin on her head. “I’m so sorry, Jack” she said into his chest, now beginning to cry “What are you talking about?” he asked, astonished, “If anyone should be sorry it’s me. Oh god I was so sure I lost you” “No,” she said, shaking her head against him, “I played a very cruel joke on you. I told those policemen to tell you I was dead; I wanted to make you realize what it would be to lose me, but I never ever wanted to see you get hurt.” Now she was crying harder than ever but he only held onto her all the more strongly. “Can you ever forgive me Jack?” Jack almost felt the urge to laugh out in relief; he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I don’t care about any of that,” he replied honestly, “I’m just so happy you’re okay” He felt his arms tighten around her even more as he spoke, tears of joy caught in his eyelashes twinkling like diamonds. “Aren’t you mad at me?” “No” “But why? What I did was awful. You should hate me” “No Sophie,” he declined, “I got what I deserved. But none of that matters; from now on things are going to be different. Truly and honestly” “Oh Jack …” she breathed, pulling her head back to place a gentle hand on his cheek. “Je serais tellement perdu sans toi. Just promise me you won’t go back to the drugs, I’m begging you. I never know what you are and aren’t doing and it keeps me awake at night, worrying about things I know nothing about” ‘Of course I promise’ was what Jack prepared to say; all he wanted was to tell her it was his last time, the words were perched on the tip of his tongue; but when he opened his mouth to speak only dry air escaped his lips, the words had somehow managed to bunch up in his throat like branches caught in the spokes of a bike. ‘Who are you kidding?’ spoke a fiendish voice from nowhere. ‘We both know that would be a lie. You’re just as done with that shit as you were every other time you told her. Face it Jack, you’re a fucking junkie; that’s all you’ve ever been and all you ever will’ The hopeful smile on Sophie’s face began to crumble away and now she was looking at him the same way she’d done back in the apartment, giving him that face, the face that told him he was dead. “Jack?” But he didn’t reply, didn’t even so much as breathe, just kept on staring at her through hollow eyes. “Please” she whimpered, the tears beginning to trickle again, “Let me take you home and start making things better. You can finish your book and we’ll live happily ever after until the end of our days, but I need to hear you say it, Jack. Just tell me you’re through and I promise to be yours forever” ‘Don’t you lie to that girl again, Jack Meadows’ that unseen voice snarled. ‘You break her heart again and you aren’t going to get out of it all so easily’ ‘But I am done with the shit” he pleaded, “I don’t want the needle anymore, I just want Sophie” But the voice only howled with laughter, ‘Who are you trying to kid here Jack?’ it said, ‘You can’t lie to me, I’m you!’ Now Sophie’s face was changing to a seasick green. Her eyes rolled into a vacuous daze with chattering teeth until she finally vomited forward into his lap. “You did this to me Jack. You could have saved me but you did nothing” she cried, splashing him again with another bitter mouthful. The vile fumes curled upward into Jack’s nose; he could taste the puke, his teeth and tongue laminated in its gritty bile. The walls surrounding him were shifting, vibrating, and melting. The bright lights began to dim like a nightmarish sunset until there was hardly any light left at all and that was when he realized it was because there never were any lights to begin with, or a hospital, or an animated Sophie. Reality had shattered his few moments of happiness and returned him to his bed – alone. A doubled world spun before Jack’s eyes as he pushed aside the ruined sheets, continuing to retch a substance as black as he felt. The pills and whiskey clearly hadn’t worked, or at least not well enough to have taken him away in his sleep like he’d wanted. Jack felt his insides seize up in a considerable cramp, doubling him over in an intense tide of nausea before reattempting to leave the apartment. It’s true that Jack had abandoned all hope; what could possibly remain worth living for with Sophie out of the picture? The sun would have perished from its glamour, the analgesic breeze its domesticity and even the great and noble kings shall have calloused with tyranny. But now that he’d stood on Death’s step, rung the doorbell and could hear the internal footsteps drawing near, he felt a coward – this wasn’t death, it was suffering, something he hadn’t bargained on. Each labored stride forward seemed to leave him feeling dizzier than the last; it was as though gravity was climbing up the wall, sheering each of Jack’s footsteps into a strange and foreign axel. He might as well have been crossing a tightrope, using his arms to help keep his fleeting balance. He passed the telephone on his way out and momentarily considered calling 911, but he didn’t trust himself; everything was so blurred it was as though someone had maimed the world and all its colors were bleeding out into one another. He’d never punch in the numbers right. Jack swung open the front door and continued into the hallway where a solitary light flickered away the dark. He attempted to call out for help but his voice was lost in another unflattering stroke of dry heaving. It was so painful he almost wished he had a little salad left to toss. ‘Surely’ he thought, ‘someone will hear the commotion’ but as he slowly edged his way towards the stairwell there was no one in sight. It wasn’t until Jack felt the final convulsion take over that his balance vanished, leaving him to the stair’s mercy. Strangely, it was while he was rolling backwards down each of the stone rectangles (designed for a foot and not a limp body) that it occurred to him ‘falling’ down the stairs was hardly an appropriate choice of word to describe what was taking place. Bouncing, on the other hand, felt much more suitable as his body was constantly being thrown up and over like a tumbling wave. There was one last crack as he felt his head slam into the concrete floor – loud and penetrating enough to have the hair on your neck salute. In a final, dominating image of his head lying vertical to the floor with blood pooling in around his ear, the darkness began to crawl in from all angles, and it was lights out for Jack.Macbeth hath murdered sleep,Carrie hath murdered time,and Jack Meadows hath murdered Sophie.