Untitled Work in Progress

Untitled Work in Progress

A Story by D. Gabrielle Jensen

Kiana had always heard of people with the will to live, the will to survive getting themselves out of terrible situations. She discovers the opposite can also be true.

Kiana Simms was dead.  She breathed a sigh… She realized she wasn’t breathing and became acutely aware of the effort required to actually breathe a sigh of relief at knowing she’d gotten out.  But something wasn’t right.  

She slowly turned, one hundred eighty degrees, taking in all that was surrounding her.  The terrain was dry, cracked, grey.  A word came to her memory.  Arroyo.  There were short trees, some a sickly shade of grey brown, others with the ends of their branches charred off, none with leaves.  The sky above her offered the only hint of color, flame blue swirled with flame orange, constantly flashing hotter and cooler.  She watched the light show for some time; it felt like minutes but she was dead, it could have been years.

A hand touched her shoulder.  A greyed old woman, who blended with the scenery, stood behind her, draped in a cloak that looked as if it had once been black but had lost some of its color to age or … she looked around again.  Definitely not to the sun.  Despite the burning sky, this place was dark and Kiana knew it was always dark.  Nothing here had been faded by the sun.

The face of the greyed old woman looked like she hadn’t seen water in a hundred years.  Her dark skin hung on her bones, shriveled and sagging.  Kiana thought of the apple people they’d made as children.  Cut away pieces of the apple and leave it out in the sun for a couple of days and it became a cute little old man or woman.  This woman was far from cute but Kiana thought of those apples anyway.  

The woman was tall, regal, despite her hanging skin.  She held a gnarled stick in her gnarled hand, a walking stick Kiana guessed had been pulled from one of the dead trees she saw all around.  She held out the other gnarled hand for Kiana to take, not saying a word, just expecting the young woman to know what to do.

Instead, Kiana stared at the woman for a long time - longer, she thought, than she’d been staring at the sky - before asking, “What is this place?”

The woman’s expression showed no change and she pushed her hand out farther, encouraging Kiana to take it instead of asking questions.

“Is this Hell?  Am I in Hell?”

The woman’s cracked, grey lips didn’t move but a voice echoed all around Kiana.  It felt as if it were coming from everywhere and from inside her head all at the same time.  “You have been delivered to me to suffer your punishment.”

“Punishment?  For what?”

“The guilt of choosing to leave behind those who love you the most.”

“Whoa, whoa, wait.  Are you saying you think I committed suicide?” Kiana’s voice raised in shock.  “That’s not what happened, at all.”

“You chose to end your life.” The voice continued to echo around her and inside her brain.  Kiana desperately wished it would stop.  “You made a choice which took you away from people who need you and for that you must face the guilt.”

“No, no, no, lady, I’ve got nothing to feel guilty for.  Don’t I get to plead my case?  In the books the damned get a chance to plead, don’t I get that chance?”

Two years enduring his torture and this was her consolation prize.  Being filed away as a suicide.  She’d always heard stories of people with the will to survive.  Surviving, for her, meant sticking around to die some other day. She had to show her otherworldly escort it was better that she’d found the will to die today than wait until he killed her on his own.

The silence that followed was nearly as deafening as the voice she’d been hoping for.  The woman once again extended her hand to Kiana.

“I’m not going anywhere with you until you let me show you.  I don’t belong here.”
“Very well,” came the echo again after another long pause.  “I will take you first to the place where you ended your life.”

“Swell,” Kiana said, rolling her eyes.  “That place was a real carnival.”

Wind swirled around them.  Kiana hadn’t noticed how still the air had been until it began to move.  With the wind came dirt, debris and smoldering embers.  Kiana flinched as the particles ricocheted off her bare arms.

The wind stopped and they stood in the corner of a dark room.  The walls were lined with cells, four on each side.  Kiana thought they were really kennels for large dogs.  The room was fairly quiet.  Kiana could hear someone praying; Lisel, she imagined.  Otherwise, she heard heavy, relaxed breathing of the other girls as they stole a few moments of narcotic sleep.  

Even with the drugs they’d all found it hard to sleep, never knowing what was coming next, if one of them would be taken away and never return.  Kiana knew that was about to happen as she heard his key turn in the door above.  The sleep-breathing stopped almost instantly.  Lisel continued to pray quietly to herself.  Kiana knew she would be tucked tightly into the corner of her cell, as far away from its door as she could get without melting through the bars.

His heavy boots stomped down the wooden stairs to their prison.  Kiana’s cell was the first one, facing Lisel’s, so Lisel was the first to see him return without her.  Their cells had been separated by sheets of tightly woven wire mesh so they couldn’t touch each other between but they could still see everything that was going on in the room, every time he came to take another of them away.

He was alone this time.  Lisel was the first to see it but didn’t have long to wait before the other girls saw what she saw.  He unlocked Kiana’s cell and began removing things that had belonged to her specifically, things she’d had when he’d captured her.  A bag full of books she’d never understood why he’d let her keep, her shoes.  He placed them on the floor between the now empty cell and Lisel’s and sprayed them with lighter fluid.  The girls all held their breath as they watched and when he dropped a match on Kiana’s things they all, Kiana included, began to cry.

He left her things burning in the center of the room, just one more way to torture the others, ascended the stairs and locked the door behind him.  A voice cut through the crackling sound of Kiana’s books burning.  Mary’s.  “Girls, stop crying.  Kiana’s not hurting anymore.  She doesn’t have to fear him anymore.”

Kiana turned to her escort and spoke. “They are glad I’m gone.  They all think he killed me.  Katrina,” she waved her hand toward the cell nearest where they stood.  “Katrina wishes he would kill her.  The others do too but they won’t admit it.  Lisel was here when he brought me.  None of us know, anymore, how long we’ve been here but we all knew it had been long enough he wasn’t going to let us go.  They are glad I got away.”

The greyed old woman seemed to actually be considering this.  Several moments later, the wind and dirt and debris started again.  

“Where are we going now?”

This time woman didn’t answer.

When the wind stopped, Kiana saw a uniformed police officer and a man in a suit standing on the front step, ringing the doorbell of her home.  She’d been sixteen the last time she’d seen it.  Mom had bought new curtains, she could see them through the windows.  New curtains in every room but her own.  She could see her old, neon pink curtains in her upstairs bedroom window.

The door opened and Ruth, Kiana’s mother, stood inside it.  No words were exchanged, she simply stepped aside and let the police officer and the detective into her home.  The greyed old woman and Kiana followed them.  

“Can I get you something to drink?”  She offered just inside the door.  Between them, Kiana felt a familiarity, a sense of sharing something no two people should ever have to share.  It intensified as the detective nodded and showed himself into the living room while Ruth branched away into the kitchen, where she used the intercom system to call her husband, Kiana’s father, Jason, from his study.  “Detective Carter is here.”

Kiana stood behind the Queen Anne chair that separated the foyer from the living room.  It had been her grandfather’s favorite chair for the few short years he’d lived with them before he died.  Besides his clothes and a few trinkets, it had been the only thing he’d brought with him.  Ruth couldn’t bear to part with it when he died.  Kiana wondered what of her things Ruth would hold onto so vehemently.

Jason entered the room from the other side, coming from his study at the back of the house.  Ruth walked past Kiana with a tray decorated with four iced tea glasses and a pitcher in the center.  Jason had transplanted his wife out of her home in Mississippi and into his home in Illinois shortly after they were married.  Kiana had never lived anywhere but in this house.  And that cell which she knew would be another girl’s home very soon.

“What can we do for you, Allen?” Kiana’s father asked as if he couldn’t imagine a reason for this detective to be in his home again.

“Mr. and Mrs. Simms,” he said, softly.  The formal tone sounded out of place to Kiana’s ear.  The formal tone made Mrs. Simms eyes glisten with tears.  He adjusted himself on the couch and started again.  “Jason, Ruth, we believe we have found Kiana.”  He held out his hand to Ruth; there was something resting in the palm of it.  The light from the window caught it and Kiana knew it was her high school ring.  She looked down at her hand and it wasn’t there, on her right middle finger, where it should have been.  He had left her with it, Kiana knew, so she would be identified.

It was made of platinum, with a deep blue stone in its center.  On one side was a decorative carving of the number 2012; “She would have graduated high school this year,” Jason whispered as he took the ring from the detective.  On the other side was a bat, a ball and a glove; “She’d hoped to play softball in college,” he continued, turning the jewelry over and over in his hand.  Aloud, he read her name, “Kiana Anise,” carved into the metal on the inside and traced the name of her school surrounding the stone with his finger.

“You can confirm that belonged to your daughter?”

“Belonged?” Ruth repeated.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” He stopped and looked into both of their faces.  Part of him, Kiana could feel, wasn’t sorry.  He was relieved.  

“Say it,” she coached him from her place behind the Queen Anne chair.  “They need to hear it, just say it.”

“He can’t hear you,” came the echoing voice.

“Say it,” she whispered again.

“Jason, Ruth, Kiana’s dead.”

The familiar tension that had filled the room evaporated.  The tears that had glistened in Ruth’s eyes seemed to dry away.  Even the greyed old woman seemed to notice the change.  Sadness mixed with relief.  Kiana was dead but at least now they had an answer.

Allen had more to tell them - your daughter appears to have been tortured - Jason had questions he wanted to ask - how did it happen? - but both remained quiet,  Allen picked up the tea glass and took a long pull from it as Kiana turned back to the old woman.

Before Kiana could speak, the old woman parted her dry, shriveled lips and spoke, to Kiana, not around her. “Your death seems to have brought relief to these people who loved you.” She stared at Kiana, silent, considering.  “We still have one more stop to make.”  

When the wind stopped this time, they were standing in a classroom in Kiana’s high school.  Friends she had been close to for years were quiet in their seats, reading from their texts.  Glancing at the clock above the teacher’s desk, Kiana noticed that there was only a few minutes left in the day.  While she watched the long red second hand tick its way around the clock face, the door to the class room opened and through it walked the school principal, Mrs. Grossman, and a woman Kiana didn’t recognize.

Betsey, whose mother had named her after a fashion designer, and who had played softball with Kiana since they were 8 years old, was the first to see the two women and watched them as they crossed the room.  She reached across the row separating them and tapped another girl on the arm.  Kiana didn’t recognize her.  “What do you figure they want?”

The second girl shook her head and started packing away her things to leave, also noting the time.  Betsey did the same thing.  

Mrs. Grossman addressed the room.  “Attention, students, I have a very important announcement.  The body of one of our students, Kiana Simms, was found this morning.  She had been missing for 18 months.  She was murdered.”  She paused and waited for reactions.  The students did little more than stare at her, wondering if there was going to be more to the story, if they would be let out before the final bell.  Kiana could feel their thoughts circulating through the room as they all shifted their eyes from the thin blonde woman to the clock above the teacher.  

“If anyone would like to talk about their feelings, if you knew Kiana and need someone to help you through this, Dr. Williams,” she waved her hand at the unfamiliar woman standing beside her, “has offered her time.  She will be here at the school for a few days and then anyone who says they are from the school and need to talk will be given some free time through her office.”

Once more, Mrs. Grossman stopped talking, waiting for the students to respond.  Some of them, Kiana noticed, had moved off of their chairs, ready to run for the door when the bell signaled the end of the day.  “Look at them,” she pointed to Betsey and her new friend, facing her greyed companion, “They don’t care.  They are all just thankful for the break in class time before they leave for the day.”  

The principal of what had been Kiana’s high school waited in silence for the students staring back at her to offer some kind of response.  None came.  After several long minutes, the final bell rang and the students all but ran for the door.  Chairs screeched and scurrying feet made a rhythmic noise across the tile floor.  Betsey stopped before leaving, her backpack slung frivolously over one shoulder, and said to the principal and the doctor, “Thanks for the offer but I think we’ve all moved on.”

Without a word from the greyed old woman, the wind started again but this time Kiana noticed it was clean.  No grains of sand or charred wood scraped at her skin.  

When it stopped, Kiana was alone.  She could feel cool, damp grass beneath her bare feet, the way it felt after an early morning summer rain.  A floral scent filled her senses, honeysuckle, her favorite.  She opened her eyes and turned a slow, deliberate circle.  She was surrounded by colors, bright vivid colors, and by life.

© 2012 D. Gabrielle Jensen

Author's Note

D. Gabrielle Jensen
One concern I have received from an earlier draft is that it was not necessarily clear what happened to Kiana - have I fixed that? Also I am not in love with the end/final paragraph. I don't necessarily want to draw the story out any longer but want to keep the idea that she is no longer considered a "suicide," and is therefore no longer in "Hell."

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Added on May 21, 2012
Last Updated on May 21, 2012


D. Gabrielle Jensen
D. Gabrielle Jensen


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