Paying Dues

I have been applying like crazy to get a writing job and get my name out there. My goal is to write a new short story once a week so that the people I am referring to my blog can get a better feel for my writing styles. The writing prompt for this short story was about dying only to find out you are a prisoner who is being released. The title of the story is called Paying Dues.

Paying Dues

         She gasped softly as the pain began to fade. The area around her wound seemed to go cold and numb. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears as she slid down the wall into a crumpled heap. Every thought seemed like she was struggling to grasp it through a fog, just to have it slip away. The plain gray wall across from her slowly went out of focus. She could tell she was fading away, the pain barely registered as her eyes closed for the last time.

She was shocked when her eyes opened. She was walking down a brightly lit tunnel. The light was so blinding that she tried to shield her eyes from it. She was not sure how she was even standing after collapsing, let alone walking. She did not even know where she was, the tunnel was totally new. 

“Is this what dying is? Walking into the light,” her thoughts echoed clearly in her head. 

She looked down and finally noticed that the gaping wound on her side was gone. Her heart gave an awkward flutter at her new clothes. She could remember everything clearly, the alleyway, the mugging, the stabbing.

“I don’t want to die yet,” she thought miserably still marching forward into the light.

She stumbled suddenly as the blinding light winked out of existence. Her hands flew out wildly to brace herself against the walls she could no longer see. She froze as a deep voice echoed through the tunnel.

“Good afternoon, Prisoner 2743. You have served your sentence, you are free to go.”

The earth seemed to rock violently under her feet as the voice faded away. Nothing made sense anymore. The only memory she had was the mugging. She could not even remember her name, much less why she had been imprisoned. She looked up as a small door opened up at the end of the tunnel. She walked toward the door as quickly as her shaking legs could handle.

The door led into a dingy alleyway that was almost identical to the one she had been mugged in. Her head was spinning and her breath came in panicked gasps. On the ground near a puddle was a black bag. She glanced around, before hesitantly bending to unzip it. Somehow, she knew that whatever was in the bag was meant for her. The door silently closed and faded away as she opened the bag. The clicking of the zipper seemed to be magnified in her ears. She winced softly as the noise grew louder. Finally, the bag fell open.

The contents of the bag included a lain blue dress, black shoes, and a plastic card. She flipped over the card and quickly read it. According to the card her name was Ella. It had her address on it, but she had no idea how to get there. She changed out of her dirty orange scrubs and put on the plain dress. She tried to smooth her hair as much as she could, but her fingers were no match for her matted curls.

Ella crouched behind the closest dumpster as the sound of footsteps grew closer. The last time she was in an alley had not ended well.

“What’s happening to me,” she wondered as the footsteps came closer. “I remember the alley and the mugging. When did I become a prisoner and why can’t I remember anything?”

She peeked around the green dumpster when she no longer heard anything. A shrill scream escaped as the source of the footsteps became apparent. Standing at the end of the alley, was a seven foot tall blue thing. It looked vaguely like a human, but it’s one eye and purple hair made it clear instantly that whatever that thing was, it was not human. Ella turned to run in the opposite direction, but it was a dead end. Her panic was so intense that she did not realize the thing was talking at first.

“-job is to help prisoners make the transition,” it’s voice was an odd warble that she had to strain to understand.

Ella stared incredulously at the blue creature. The longer she stared, the more she noticed the little oddities. It’s long arms ended with four fingers each tipped with long nails. Where a humans knees would have been, the legs bent in the opposite direction. She approached on trembling legs, unsure how to handle the situation.

“Wh-what are you,” Ella finally managed to mutter out.

“As I said, my name is Phlagset. I am a guardian here and my job is to help prisoners make the transition.”

The creature’s gigantic eye blinked slowly.

“If you will follow me, I will take you to your house. If you have any questions, now is the time to ask. Once I leave you, no one else will know the answer and I will likely never see you again,” Phlagset started walking away without waiting for an answer.

Ella raced to keep up with him, her human legs having to work overtime to match his long strides. Her mind was racing, she didn’t think she would be able to organize her thoughts enough to form coherent questions.

“Where are we?” 

“This dimension is called Requast. I believe that your home planet, in an effort to to stop overpopulation, has begun sending their prisoners here.”

“But, I was stabbed, I was dying. Nothing has ever been more real than the pain of dying.”

“If you were to travel across dimensions and maintain your memories, you would loose your mind. We planted the memories in your mind. You were never stabbed.”

“I don’t remember anything,” Ella felt her eyes fill with tears.

“That is normal. Everything will return to you as you adjust to life in Requast. Be prepared though, sometimes remembering is worse then not knowing. We are not told why you were imprisoned, we just provide you with the means to live after you are done serving your time. Many humans cannot adjust to life here. I suggest that you find others.”

His matter of fact tone shook her. There was something unnerving about hearing that she was not going to be able to survive in such an emotionless voice. The tears in her eyes threatened to spill over at her desolate prospects. 

“Surely someone on earth misses me. I know I was not alone there, I know I had someone,” she thought bitterly.

“We know nothing of about your life before you came here,” Phlagset answered.

“You could hear me,” Ella choked.

“The guardians hear everything that goes on here. As I said, remembering is not always the easiest path. It is better to forget and move on.”

Phlagset stopped abruptly and pointed at a door in front of them. She froze in confusion. 

“This is where you will live. Inside you will find a welcome packet that will help you with the transition. I believe there are a few humans living in this complex. You will probably start getting some memories soon. Be prepared.”

Ella watched as Phlagset walked away. When he turned a corner, she finally forced herself to move. The door was locked, but she quickly noticed what appeared to be a card reader. She pushed the plastic identification card in and was rewarded with a soft click as the door opened. Walking through the door took her into a dimly lit hallway. Both sides of the hall were lined with doors. The third door on left had a small nameplate that simply said ‘Ella’. Her room contained a bed and a wash bin. Folded neatly at the foot of her bed was a second simple dress with the welcome packet laid out next to it. 

She sat down and started flipping through the packet absently. She vaguely registered the map and the section suggesting places where she could work. She could not even wrap her mind around the concept of different dimensions. She jumped up as her door creaked open softly. Her fear was quickly replaced with relief as a human male stepped inside. 

“I’m the unofficial welcome party in this complex,” he said shyly. “There is two other humans living here currently, but I don’t think Sherry will be here much longer. My name is Jaxon. I have been here for six months. If you start to have a hard time remembering, you are welcome to come talk.”

“Thank you. What did you get sent here for,” She blurted out before realizing that it might be considered intrusive.

“I made some choices and my family got hurt,” Jaxon answered sharply and left before she could ask him anything else.

Ella flinched as the door closed, instantly regretting her question. She could not erase the pain she had seen flash across Jaxon’s face. She rose to follow him and apologize, but fell to the ground as her head started pounding. Fresh tears rolled down her face as foggy memories started to flash in her mind. She clutched her splitting head and thrashed on the floor. The pain of remembering threatened to consume her. It dulled the physical pain from her head. As the memories rushed back, she understood the pain on Jaxon’s face.

Hot thick tears rushed down her cheeks as images of her husband and child flashed in front of her. She would never see them again, she was sure they were totally fine with that. She remembered everything and Phlagset was right, it was horrible. The pain subsided, only to be replaced by body wracking sobs. She had to get back to her family and make it up to them. 

She may have served her time, but she knew she had yet to pay her dues. Ella silently swore that she would find a way back and she would fix what she had broken. If she could be sent to this dimension, she could be sent back. She pulled herself onto her lumpy bed and started to formulate a plan.

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