“God damn it, just get the fuck off me,” Jane said, her voice deeper, more growly than normal.

She pushed with both hands and a chill of panic raced through her when Bret didn’t move. But then he relaxed and rolled off her, off the cot and onto the floor.

“Okay?” Jane, at a loss for words, said.

Bret made a show of shrugging and replied, “Whatever. Fine.”

He pulled his legs in under him, sitting cross-legged on the stained concrete floor. He started straightening his socks.

Jane sat up, sliding a little away from him—not too far or too fast. She didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.

“I mean . . .” she said, also making a show of shrugging, letting her right hand fall to her knee with a slap.

“I get it,” Bret said, not looking at her.

“Look,” she said, “I’m not trying to be a bitch or anything. I mean, I like you, okay?” She put a hand on his shoulder and instantly regretted it. It felt stiff. She put her hand back on her own knee. Bret didn’t seem to notice. “Just . . . I mean . . .” she added.

“Whatever,” he said, as if talking to his own feet. “I should just go, I guess.”

Relief flooded Jane’s chest so she sighed but said, “I don’t know. I mean, we can still hang out.”

When Bret turned his head—not enough to actually look at her—and said, “But . . . ?” Jane’s jaw went tight, forcing her lower jaw out.

“But,” she said, mocking him and letting her jaw relax when his shoulders sagged. “I guess so, yeah. You should just go.”

“Okay,” he said to his socks. “Whatever. Later, I guess.”

He disappeared without giving Jane a chance to say goodbye, which she wasn’t going to do anyway. She puffed out a breath and threw herself back down on the cot, staring up at the flat grey concrete ceiling.

“You didn’t like him?” the voice Jane had come to think of as Bob the Therapist asked. His voice came from the air around her. She’d never been able to find anything like a speaker.

“No,” she said, “he was, like, super cute and amazing. Real movie star type.”

“You’re being sarcastic,” Bob the Therapist replied.

“Oh,” Jane said sarcastically, “was I?”

“Would you prefer we stopped?”

Jane held her breath for a moment. Her jaw tightened again and her hands formed fists all on their own.


“What do you mean, stopped?” she asked. She was having trouble breathing all of a sudden.

“Would you prefer we stopped providing you with boyfriends?”

Jane closed her eyes and felt something—she wasn’t sure what—drain out of her.

“Be honest,” Bob the Therapist said for what Jane was sure was the millionth time.

“I don’t think you really want me to be honest with you,” she said, eyes still closed, her voice smaller.

She clenched her jaw again, waiting for the response: “Of course I do.”

Jane sighed, looked up at the ceiling, and said, “I honestly want you to let me go.”

There was a moment of silence.

This was when Bob the Therapist usually just stopped talking, at least for a while.

“Where do you want me to let you go?” he asked.

Jane pulled herself up, set both feet on the concrete floor. The word was in her head, repeating itself over and over. She swallowed.


She rubbed her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, “Home.”

“You want me to let you go home?”

Jane’s fist pounded her own knee—it hurt a little, both her knee and her fist.

“Use your words, Jane,” Bob the Therapist said.

A tear rolled down Jane’s cheek. She wanted to wipe it away but couldn’t unclench her fists. She glared up at the ceiling and nodded.

“And where is that, exactly?” Bob the Therapist asked.

A sob burst out of Jane because it sounded to her like Bob the Therapist was really asking. He really didn’t know.

Jane shook her head.

“Would you like to try a different boyfriend?” Bob the Therapist asked.

Jane shook her head again. She was crying.

“Are you hungry?” Bob the Therapist asked.

Jane sniffed, wiped her eyes with her fists, then shook her head.

“Do you want me to leave you alone while you cry?” Bob the Therapist asked.

Jane nodded then, voice broken by sobs, said, “No. Don’t go. Don’t leave me here.”

Reluctantly, Jane laughed.

Her hand relaxed a little and she flexed her fingers and wiped her eyes again.

“Can we talk about . . . ?” Jane started. She shook her head.

Bob the Therapist waited.

Jane took a deep breath, a hand on her chest as though she could somehow push on her heart to make it stop beating so fast.

Bob the Therapist said, “I’d be happy to—”

“Just let me go,” Jane said to the ceiling. Then she had to clench her teeth again. She wanted to scream, but didn’t. She used to scream, but it echoed in the little concrete cell and hurt her ears. She hadn’t screamed in a long time.

“Were do you want me to let you go?” Bob the Therapist asked again. His voice sounded exactly the same.

Shaking her head, Jane replied, “Anywhere. Just let me out of here. Let me find someplace . . . Figure out where I am.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Please?” Jane asked, hoping she sounded sincere enough.

Then she just sat there, waiting, for a long time—or what felt like a long time.

“That wouldn’t be safe,” Bob the Therapist said finally.

“For who?” Jane shot back, staring up at the ceiling. She clenched her fists again.

“Do you know what a cougar is, Jane?” Bob the Therapist asked.

Jane sighed and shook her head. “An old lady who—”

“No,” Bob the Therapist interrupted. “How about a mountain lion. Do you know what a mountain lion is?”

Jane shook her head. “You’re just trying to confuse me.”

“No, Jane,” Bob the Therapist replied. “I’m not trying to confuse you, I’m trying to help you see that you’re confused.”

Jane’s neck went weak and she let her face fall into her hands, her elbows propped on her knees.

“Do you know what a grizzly bear is, Jane?” Bob the Therapist asked.

Her face still in her hands, Jane mumbled, “Just stop. Just stop this.”

“How about another try at a boyfriend?”

Her face still in her hands, Jane shook her head. “Just let me out of here,” she said.

“Do you know what a puppy is, Jane?” Bob the Therapist asked.

Jane leaned back, letting her hands fall to her sides. Eyes still closed she said, “You know I don’t.”

“Ah,” Bob the Therapist said, and Jane thought he sounded happy, Happier, anyway. “I think you’re going to like this.”

Jane didn’t open her eyes. She just shook her head and started to cry again.



—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, characters, freelance writing, how to write fantasy, how to write fiction, how to write horror, how to write science fiction, indie publishing, Publishing Business, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, Science Fiction Story, SF and Fantasy Authors, Story Structure, transmedia, Writing, writing advice, writing fantasy, writing horror, writing science fiction, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


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