Gaslighted

My first mistake was trusting him enough to give him everything. My second was getting caught taking it back.

Sanity’s a funny thing. You take it for granted your whole life, until one day you hear the neighbors calling you crazy as they watch you being shoved into a police car. Whatever happens in between is a mystery.

We started out fine. He was sweet, charming, everything I looked for in a man. I fell head over heels for him. It was after we got married that things went south. That was when he started calling me names and putting me down. At first I dismissed it as playful teasing, but then he started exploiting my deepest insecurities. The words became more painful, bitter, and downright cruel, until I wasn’t laughing about anything anymore. The worst part was that I believed every word he said, and he knew it. He knew exactly how to hit me where it hurt.

The real trouble came when he started casting doubt over everything I said and did. He was so confident in contradicting me that it got to a point where I couldn’t disagree anymore. I lost all sense of what I knew and who I was. I stopped trusting my own judgment. I became dependent on him to tell me what was real and what wasn’t. Everything that happened to me became a question of my own sanity.

So you can imagine my confusion that night when I walked in on him in bed with another woman.

My first instinct was to scream, then to cry, then to curse at him for cheating on me. But he shrugged my words off like they were nothing. He didn’t even acknowledge the woman lying next to him; no matter how much I yelled or how many times I pointed her out, he just shook his head and stared at me like I was crazy. So finally I gave up and stormed downstairs in tears, once again questioning my perception of reality.

And I might have walked away believing he was right, that nothing I just saw had really happened… if I hadn’t found her bra hanging over the banister.

When I took that foreign garment in my hands, I realized that I didn’t need anyone to tell me it wasn’t mine or that it really existed. It suddenly became clear that I never needed him to tell me what was real because I knew all along. I never imagined anything. Everything he ever did to me, he did to hurt me, to manipulate me, to break me. He took everything from me. And he had to pay.

Now when I say I can’t remember what happened next, I mean it. One minute I was in the kitchen staring at the stove, the next I was out on the sidewalk watching the house go up in flames. Sometimes flashes of candles and a lit match cross my memory, but that’s it.

I still wonder if I might have gotten away with it if the neighbors hadn’t heard the commotion upstairs or seen me leave the house minutes before the explosion. To be honest, I don’t really care. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. I’m just glad he got what he deserved.

I don’t know how I let him push me to that point. But I do know why I killed him.

Whether all this warrants conviction for double homicide is up to the jury. I’m sure as my lawyer, you’ll want to spin this story in any way that makes me look like the victim, and that’s fine. I just needed someone else to know the truth, so I could prove to myself once and for all that I know what really happened.

The bastard gaslighted me. I simply returned the favor.

The Ancient Behemoth

(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)

The knight had never seen a battle that surprised him.

Until that fateful day when the terrible creature appeared.

No one would survive to tell the tale.

He wondered what had made everyone freeze.

Then he smelled its fiery breath.

The entire army stared, speechless.

Nervously, he turned around.

Piercing yellow eyes.

Enormous teeth.

Dragon!


This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

Back to the story

Fun in the Sun

(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)

Our favorite time of year is around the corner again!

A time when we can relax and have fun.

You know we’ll be hitting the beach soon.

Ice cream every day is a must.

School’s out for the season too!

Vacation time is finally here!

Sunny skies every day?

Best season ever!

Let’s enjoy!

Summer!


This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

Back to the story

True Beauty

(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)

She had never believed she was good enough to shine.

Until the day she learned to see beneath skin.

Her face was “plain”, but her heart pure.

Friends praised her kindness, intelligence, and love.

And she knew she was valuable.

She smiled at the mirror.

The mirror smiled back.

You believe now?

She did.

Beautiful.


This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

Back to the story

Around the Corner

I’ll never forget the night I returned.

It was my first good night of sleep in weeks, the night I finally stopped crying ’til three in the morning and wishing I were anywhere or anyone else in the world. That was the night I won myself back.

The third track of my once-favorite punk rock CD was echoing its second verse through my headphones as I sat curled up on my bedroom floor surrounded by a mix of tear-stained sheets of paper, torn photos, and used tissues. I would have stayed there all night, like I had every other night, if I hadn’t opened my eyes just then and seen something that made me scream.

A person was standing there, staring down at me with a look of sheer disappointment. I was terrified, not because I had never seen her before, but because I knew exactly who she was regardless. Her face was a little more mature and she might have been slightly taller than me, but there was no mistaking her: this was myself from the future.

“Hello,” she said the moment I pulled my headphones off. “Nice to see you again.”

I stared at her in silence.

“Twelve years,” she continued. “In case you’re wondering.”

It must have taken me at least five minutes to find my voice, but she didn’t seem to mind waiting.

“I see we’re not over him yet,” she said, looking around the room. “He really did a number on us, didn’t he? I remember this mess. Took us weeks to clean up. Depression is the worst stage of grief.”

“Wha–” I finally stammered. “What are you doing here?”

She shrugged. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m here to help you.”

Those words made my heart skip a beat. “Are you here to make me feel better? To tell me that everything’ll be okay? That he and I can still be friends?”

“Not exactly,” she said, leaning closer to me. “You see, I told myself that if I ever got the chance to travel back in time, the first thing I’d do was visit my sixteen-year-old self and…”

She reached out and smacked me square across the face. It stung like a dozen white hot needles in my skin.

“…slap her for being so stupid.”

I faced her again, one hand on my cheek. “Ow! What the hell’d you do that for?”

“To knock some sense into you,” she replied, standing up again. “You don’t understand this now, but you’re way better than this. At least, you’re going to be.”

“What are you talking about?”

“This!” She gestured around the room. “Love letters? Photo albums? Emo music? Come on, girl, get it together! It’s over! He doesn’t want you anymore. He’ll never want you again. It’s time to move on.”

“But…” I sniffed, the ever familiar tears welling again. “But I can’t imagine my life without him!”

“Oh, please! You’re sixteen! You can’t imagine your life without Evanescence! And trust me, they’ll get old faster than you think.”

I looked down, blushing. “Did you come here just to humiliate me?”

“No, I just have to be blunt with you first. Things are going to get worse before they get better. As soon as you think you’re getting over him, you’re going to see him with someone new, and it’s going to crush you. You’ll start wondering what you did wrong, what’s the matter with you, why can’t he love you like you love him. You’ll think you drove him away and this breakup really is your fault. It’s not. You don’t realize this yet, but the guy you’re so heartbroken over right now is a total jerk. You may still care about him, but he never really cared about you.”

“That’s not true!”

“No? When was the last time he complimented you or went out of his way to do something nice for you? Heck, when was the first time? Face it, he used you to boost his ego, that’s all. And now he’s tired of you and using some lame excuse about focusing on school to keep your hopeful little heart on a string while he moves on. You have to get over him, and soon. I don’t want you, us, to be hung up on him a minute longer than we have to.”

“So what do you want?”

“To show you this.” She handed me a photograph pulled out of her coat pocket. In the picture was a tall, sandy-haired man, about thirty years old, with soft brown eyes and a smile just imperfect enough to give him a quirky sort of charm. I looked up at the future me and shrugged.

“Who is he?” I said. She smiled.

“That, my dear, is your future best friend… and the man you’re going to marry.”

I wasn’t ready to believe it, until I saw her wave the diamond ring on her finger at me. I can’t remember exactly how I reacted. Maybe I just stared, maybe I smiled, maybe I froze for several minutes before I shouted with joy. All I remember after that moment is my future self crouching in front of me and looking me in the eye as she spoke in the kindest voice she had used yet.

“He’s going to fall in love with you because you’re smart and adorable and incredibly loving. You’re going to fall in love with him because he’s sweet and funny and genuinely cares about you. He’s going to ask you to marry him because he can’t imagine his life without you. And you’re going to say yes because the way you think you feel about your ex-boyfriend right now is the way you’re actually going to feel about him.”

I looked down at the photo again, this time with the biggest smile I’d given in months. He was pretty cute, now that I thought about it. So this was my future husband? And I’d only have to wait less than a decade to meet him? It was the first hopeful news I’d heard since being dumped. The future me took the photo back and placed a hand under my chin.

“See? It’s not the end of the world. So dry those tears, keep your chin up, and remember that every broken heart is the start of a new journey. True love is just around the corner.”

And with that, she rose to her feet, stepped back into the shadows, and vanished, like she was never there. I might have believed she wasn’t, that it was all a dream, had it not been for the wide grin brightening my face and last night’s hastily scribbled note sitting on my nightstand when I awoke the next morning.

I’m glad I decided to return to that day and talk some sense into myself. I did eventually get over my ex, start dating again, move on with my life. I found love a few years later, waiting for me around the corner just as I’d promised myself, and since then, I’ve never been happier.


Dedicated to my wonderful boyfriend, the love and light of my life. Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetheart! I love you!

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