**Trigger Warning** This story has graphic and disturbing content and discusses severe depression.
“I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.” Josh rocked back and forth, digging his fists into his sandy blond hair.
I felt my back pocket vibrate and took my phone out. “Ryan? Yeah, I found him.”
“Oh, thank God! Is he alright?” Ryan asked.
I looked back to Josh. He was still shaking and rocking, still saying, “I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.”
“He’s alive,” I said.
“Where are you guys?” Ryan asked.
I took a deep breath. I shivered as I saw my breath turn into a puff of condensation because of the frigid winter air. I turned around and tried to make out what I could with the moon as my only flashlight. “I don’t know. It’s hard to see. We’re outside. I think I can make out a swing set in the distance. There is a playground right next to it…” I twirled around. “We’re in some clearing. I think. There are trees all around us…”
“That could be anywhere. Okay, hold on. I might be able to track your location from your phone.”
I shook my head. “Ryan, how the hell―”
“Don’t ask. I have my ways. Just sit tight and stay with him. Make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. I’ll be there soon.”
“Why don’t I just meet you there with him―”
“No. I’m not crazy. I’m not going anywhere,” Josh whispered. His voice was frail. “They’ll ship me off. No. I’m not going anywhere. No.”
I sighed. “Okay, Ry. Just hurry.” I hung up.
“I’m not crazy,” Josh repeated. His green eyes piercing. “Kels, you gotta believe me, right? You won’t let them take me away? I’m not crazy.” He went back to rocking. His arms wrapped around his knees. He didn’t look like the smiling, happy, go-lucky boyfriend whom I’d been in love with for two years now. He looked like a fragile deer still on edge after hearing the crunch of footsteps from something it can’t see. One move and he’d flee into the deep depths of the woods.
I took one step and he flinched. I took another deep breath. I knew he kept a knife in his tan boots. “For protection,” he once told me, back when we just started dating. Before I knew about his depression. Before he told me about the visions. Before I saw the scars on his arms.
I gathered the last of my confidence and slowly stepped toward him. I sat down next to him and unzipped my pink hoodie and wrapped it around Josh’s shoulders. “You must be freezing,” I said, taking in his gray short-sleeve shirt, blue green plaid pajama pants, and tan boots. I felt the goosebumps on my skin stand up as a cold chill blew in my face.
“I’m not crazy, Kels,” Josh repeated.
“You are not crazy. Not even close.” I reached out and slowly put my hand on his shoulder. He flinched away. Our eyes locked and I put my hand down on the dead grass. I ignored the twinge in my heart. His eyes were dull and glazed over, like he was so withdrawn inside himself that even I couldn’t drag him out.
Josh turned his head and buried his face in his hands. He started pulling his sandy hair. “They are so loud,” he choked out.
“What is loud? Josh, stop.” I put my hands over his clenched ones in his hair. “You are going to go bald.” I smiled slightly. “It would be a shame since you have amazing hair.”
Josh didn’t smile. He grabbed my hands and turned towards me. He moved my body so we were facing each other. Our eyes locked again.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m going to make you understand. I don’t know how this will work. Hopefully, it will this time. You need to know. I’m not crazy.”
“What are you talking about? I told you before I don’t think you’re―”
He closed his eyes and put our foreheads together. He interlocked our hands. I was about to question what was happening but then I felt as if I was being sucked into a vacuum. Josh wasn’t sitting next to me anymore. I was surrounded by black and then felt my stomach crawl up my throat as I began to free fall into nothingness. Just black.
I smacked into a black and white checkered floor. “Ow,” I said as I slowly got myself off the floor. I rubbed my cheek. I looked around to see black walls. The walls curved as if I was under a black dome. Where am I? What the fuck just happened? Where’s Josh?
“Josh?” I yelled as I wandered around this weird place. I saw a white figure in the black distance. There was a spotlight over them making them stand out from the dark background. “Josh?” I called again. As I got closer, I noticed the figure was a person. They were held up by something I couldn’t make out. Maybe string. They had a blindfold over their eyes, but I could make out that sandy blond hair and cheek dimples any day. It was Josh. Shirtless and tied up by an invisible force.
“Josh?” I asked again. He didn’t move to acknowledge me. “Hello? What is this place? Why are you blindfolded?” I reached to take the blindfold off, but my hands went right through him. I gasped. It was as if I was an invisible bystander like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol. I couldn’t be heard nor seen by anyone. I took a step closer to him and saw his hands were tied up by black rope. What’s going on?
I jumped when I heard a crack of a whip and a yelp from Josh. “Shut up,” said a person in the shadows.
“Hey!” I attempted, but then stopped myself because they couldn’t hear me anyway.
The person who assaulted Josh stepped into the spotlight. She had brown curly hair and bright green eyes. Freckles all over her face and those same cheek dimples. It was Stephanie, Josh’s sister. “You’re worthless,” she hissed in Josh’s ear.
Josh stayed quiet.
Whoo-ch went the whip. Whoo-ch
Josh clenched his jaw but remained silent.
The figure that was Stephanie circled around Josh like a vulture flying around its dinner. “Mom is ashamed of you.” Whoo-ch. “You are the dumb one. What? Can’t get a grade higher than a C? Come on! You are a stupid shit head.” Whoo-ch.
With each crack of the whip I flinched. Josh had tears in his eyes, but he remained silent. Blood dripped onto the tile floor.
Stephanie went back into the shadows and made a disturbing noise that was a mixture of a scream and a laugh. She stepped back out of the shadows, but it wasn’t Stephanie anymore. I gasped as I saw the familiar red hair and pale face. The woman was short, around five feet tall and had piercing blue eyes. She had a multi-colored bracelet that had the word “BOSTON” in letter beads around her wrist. I looked down to the identical bracelet on my wrist.
It was like staring into a mirror. A sick, fucked up mirror. That girl was me.
Whoo-ch. “Oh, Josh. I have to tell you something. I love Ryan. He is not insane like you. Voices in your head? That’s fucked up. I need a guy that isn’t broken,” the other me said.
Is this what Josh really thinks? “What? No. Those are lies,” I spoke out.
Josh tilted his face down. He was biting his lip. He couldn’t hear me.
“You are broken. I don’t love you. I just feel bad for you. You ugly piece of shit. No one loves broken toys.” Whoo-ch.
“No! Shut up! That’s not what I meant! I said he was like a misfit toy in Rudolph. That’s a good thing!” Tears streamed down my face, horrified not just at my mirrored self, but that Josh was actually listening to the vile she was spewing.
Whoo-ch. “You are a burden. You suck the smiles right out of me with your depression. You are like a forever rain cloud over my sun.”
I cringed. “Stop twisting my words! We were fighting for a week. That’s not what I meant,” I said to my shadow self as I ran over to Josh and put my hand on his cheek. It was warm and damp with sweat. “I’m so sorry. I love you. You know I love you. So much. Don’t listen to her. She likes to twist my words and take them out of context. Ignore her. Fight back! Don’t give up. I love you. I love you. I love you!” Tears fell down my warm and swollen cheek. He couldn’t hear me. He couldn’t see me. Everything just passed right through me. I stepped away from him and turned to Demon Kelsey. “Stop hurting him!” My curled fists went straight through her.
Josh coughed blood from his mouth and spit in the Other Kelsey’s face.
The other me hissed and whipped Josh’s front with a fury. Whoo-ch. Whoo-ch. Whoo-ch.
I dropped to my knees and my nails were digging into my scalp. “Stop! Please! I’m begging you! Please! I love him! You are a monster!” I curled up in a ball and started shaking. I felt as powerless and useless as a fly on the wall. I screamed and all of a sudden I was back in the clearing. The air was so cold that my arms were turning purple and I felt the shivers travel down my spine.
“Oh, my God. Josh.” My warm tears felt nice against my numb cheek. He had his arms wrapped around me. I grabbed a fistful of his gray t-shirt. He let me sob in his arms. I gulped and swallowed down more tears and sobs. The scent of soap and wilderness was pleasing and the thud, thud, thud of Josh’s heart beat calmed my breathing. I felt his lips lightly kiss my head. “I love you. I’m so sorry,” I whispered into his chest.
“Sshh.” Josh rubbed my back. He sniffled and rested his chin on the top of my head.
I turned my head from his chest. “How did you do that? Was that even real?”
I felt him sigh and nod. “I honestly don’t know how I did that. It started happening just a week ago. I didn’t even know it would work,” Josh said.
We both turned to see two figures. One a tall man with a tan hunting hat on and a red and black plaid jacket on. His blue and gray school spirit pajama pants stood out. “Ry?” I could make out his anchor tattoo on his palm in the moonlight.
Josh let go of me and stood up. The other figure had a red t-shirt on. They had black sweat pants and moccasin slippers on their feet. I could make out blond curly hair. “Hey, Josh,” the woman said.
“Ry, you brought Lucy? Are you kidding me?” My sarcasm didn’t go unnoticed.
“She was the first person I ran into. She asked what was going on. I thought since she knows of Josh’s tendencies, she would know what to do,” Ryan said.
“Of all the people in the world you could find, you happened to run into Josh’s ex?”
“Oh, come on. It’s better than bringing no one,” Ryan said.
“You should have brought no one,” I snapped.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Do you want Josh to suffer?”
My hands curled to fists as flashes of Josh being whipped and blood on the tiled floor came to mind. I got close to Ryan’s face. “You know nothing about his suffering. Just shut up.” I shoved him.
He stumbled backward and he looked at me like I was insane.
“Guys!” Lucy stepped in between the two of us. “This is not helping matters.”
I turned around to calm my breathing down and noticed Josh hadn’t said one word since before Ryan and Lucy showed up. I turned around to see a figure in the distance going towards the woods. “Josh?” I yelled out.
The figure ran shivering into the woods and never looked back.
Always remember you are not alone.
You are loved.
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