The treat Paige Grapheme consumed in the restroom went to work faster than she thought as she roamed the artificial plant filled, charmless, maze-like medical office. “Greya…?” Paige called, no one responded. She smoothed her raven hair back, checking out her blurred reflection in a portrait of a woman sitting beside a blossom on a barren desert floor. She had passed the image countless times, floundering in a dizzy stupor, using the dull beige walls to fortify herself. In the distance, a lovely woman surrounded by a halo of sunny gold and sparkling soft white stared back at her. Paige froze, flustered, as she stared back with squinted eyes. The hazy word RECEPTION hung on the wall above the woman in unusual, cheesy, intense pink cursive writing. Stay calm… Get serious, Paige reminded herself.
“Um. Excuse me, hey… My… mother went ahead of me to her appointment.” Good. Keep going, stick with the story. “Can you direct me to her? If only she’d give in and get a damn cell phone already. I could just call but mothers, ugh, you know how they are, right?” Paige said, looking the receptionist up and down. She wore a navy-blue, form fitting sleeveless dress over her tiny frame. She styled her caramel-honey blonde waves in a loose ponytail that hung over her right shoulder. When her heart-shaped face smiled, a mouth full of silver sparkled beneath her full, pink lips. “How old are you? I’ve never seen you here before.” Paige continued.
“I’m twenty-five,” the receptionist answered. She shuffled papers around her desk into two neat piles and avoided eye contact.
“Twenty-five. Good. Good. I remember twenty and five, I think.” Don’t be stupid, Paige thought, and smiled. “What’s your name?”
“Oh, that’s so pretty. It reminds me of a flower. I’m Paige, like a blank page.” You’re babbling… “A beautiful girl like you can wilt away working in a place like this. How long have you worked here? I’ve been here many times and never seen anyone like… you.”
“Just a few months.” She shivered and grabbed the yellow blanket draped along the back of her chair, wrapping herself in it. An unidentified woman swung from a noose behind Sienna, dressed in an expensive indigo blazer with a white tank beneath, drenched in blood. Her black skinny jeans were ripped at each knee, decorated with fresh, gaping wounds. Paige closed her eyes and opened again. The body vanished.
“I’m sorry, you—you were looking for your mother?” Sienna asked. “I can look her up if you give me her name?”
Paige examined the girl’s almond-shaped eyes: deep violet pools above buried pain. Where did this sweet soul come from? She’s beautiful...
“Do you have her name?” Sienna asked again.
Paige was silent. She leaned against the reception desk, staring the girl down behind her darkened shades, aching to get a better look beyond the dim light. Don’t take them off yet… You’ll scare her. Don’t scare her away!
Sienna looked around, “uh… are you okay?”
Paige snapped out of her trance. “I’m sorry… Sorry, its last name Murray, first name Greya. G-R-E-Y-A.”
“Oh, I remember her, she’s in room 107, just down the hall straight ahead. It will be on your left; she didn’t seem thrilled to be here, I hope she’s okay.”
Paige walked the halls with an air of excitement, eager to find her mother. It wasn’t long before her gaze narrowed on an elderly woman in the distance. Paige recognized her by the glowing amber wig she called real hair, filled with the stench of cigarettes she never could give up. The woman scanned her surroundings with a sour pout. “Where is this doctor?” she asked the empty hallway.
“Right here…” Paige murmured, staring, waiting.
Greya Murray sat with rambling thoughts inside the patient room. She noticed an hourglass on the desk and fiddled with it. Sandy bits squeezed through, plunging into forever until forever passed and revived again when flipped. Then it stopped in mid-air. “What is this, a trick toy?” Greya scoffed, put it back, and continued to wait. This was her life, waiting for the doctor, waiting for results she already suspected, watching a door she didn’t want to open, all because of an illness she didn’t ask for.
There was no knock before the door swung open. The knob banged against the wall with a sharp smack! Greya jumped in her seat and yelled, “My goodness!”
“Your regular doctor is away for the day.” Paige stormed in, clad in a white lab coat bearing the name ‘Doctor Grapheme’ printed in the same cheesy font as the reception area. She ran past all pleasantries and dispensed the damning diagnosis to a speechless Greya. However, as Paige went on talking, her voice withered away, as well as their surroundings.
Paige watched her younger self again in a downtrodden daycare, staring at the peeling, sickening yellow walls another kid had picked at and ate during play time. As a distraction, Paige tried again to pull the remaining duct tape from the leg of her cot, bearing her misspelled name (Page). She almost finished when Greya pulled her up by her collar and threw her into the office. The furious daycare teacher pulled the younger Paige up by her shirt again, thrusting her into the wall. She wrapped a chilly hand around the girl’s neck, choking her. She used the other hand to point a finger in her face, yelling all kinds of things, threats to cut her hair, or worse. Paige watched her younger self tear into Greya’s fleshy knuckles, fighting back until Greya dropped her grip. Paige slid down the wall, landing in a frightened heap on the floor.
Greya helped her up, comforted, and reassured Paige she’d be alright and that she didn’t have to cry, because nothing happened… That was the story. Stick with the story, Greya reminded her.
Naptime wasn’t over. Greya dumped Paige back onto her cot in front of the TV, where a group of smoking daycare workers gathered to watch their soap operas and gripe about single life. Through veils of nicotine, Paige watched them with bitter eyes. Especially at Greya Murray, who matched the young girl’s penetrating gaze. One day…
One day… Paige thought to herself, she broke from her trance.
“I remember you,” Greya hissed through gritted teeth.
“You always do.”
“You were a nasty child who grew into a nasty adult. There’s a special place in the abyss for you. I saw it then and I see it now. Go bring my usual doctor, get out!”
“There’s no need for the doctor anymore. You have me, Miss Murray. You have me forever.” A delighted grin inched across Paige’s face. She signaled to the hourglass. “You held this hourglass when you arrived, I see. Did you catch how the sands stopped moving? That’s what I’ll do to you.”
“I refuse to speak to you any further. You curse, you beast of the night!” Greya rose from her chair.
“You don’t leave this world until I say so!” Paige screamed, shaking the hourglass. Greya tried to get out but coughed a little, then uncontrollably. She gripped at her neck until Paige set the hourglass down. The black sands stopped. Greya held onto her throat.
“I’ll give us… a few seconds more, for one last look.”
“At what?” Greya asked, breathless.
“You, of course. I love to watch you die… It felt good choking me, didn’t it? Clutching a child by their throat… my fingers burrowing into your fists.”
Greya looked at the back of her hands where old scars resurface. Her knuckles split open and bleed out. She covers her fists, rubbing the blood across the armchair, her pants…
“You can’t hide what you did. And what was it all for? Because I was being myself? A kid?”
“No thank you. Well, you have a gorgeous grandson who is worthy of the act, but that’s for another time. The rest of your… extended family I consider fair game. Perhaps I’ll put you away and play with them all.”
“That’s my family, please don’t…”
“Oh boo hoo, boo fuckin’ hoo.” Paige cackled.
Boiling in mutual resentment, Paige fucked with Greya, twirling the hourglass in between her fingers with a smile. She dropped it on purpose with a sarcastic ‘oops’ but caught it seconds away from striking the floor. Greya sat in shocked silence, watching the tiny hourglass of her existence spin and spin and spin.
“Miss Grapheme. This is the eighty-sixth time you’ve done this. Don’t you think it’s time to give Miss Murray’s soul a rest?” The woman in the desert painting asked.
“I don’t want to; she’ll pay again and again for what she did to me, I can do this every day. It’s a delight to see her lose, my soul is lighter each time I let her go.”
“She’s just someone rotten you met on your path. Get her out of your head, she’s been dead for years now.”
In the distance quiet office staff cleared away Greya’s body, covered with a simple white sheet. The tip of her witchy nose poked through the top.
“I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help but ask, how did Greya take the news this time?” The woman in the painting asked. “You never tried the hourglass death before.”
“It was boring. I upset her, of course. I always do. I never seem to understand why, though. I think I get too excited and off her before I can find out why she hated me. It doesn’t matter, she’s gone. I can’t believe it’s been eighty-six times already.”
The woman smirked. The blossom beside her wilts and blooms again. “Will you be taking her soul today? We also offer skin separation if you would like to reuse her for other means.”
“I don’t do the child abuser look. A cardboard box for her soul is fine.”
“We have elegant glass–”
“She doesn’t deserve elegance,” Paige snapped.
“We’ll have her packaged straight away. So… Where are you headed next? Since your demons will be at rest, perhaps you’ll find some time for inner peace?”
Paige walked away from the painting without a reply.
Moments afterward, with cardboard box in hand, Paige arrived at reception and joined the increasing line of individuals waiting to check out. She found Sienna attending to them one by one, working hard at her desk, running to a fax machine, typing this and that at her computer. Fuck. Isn’t it closing time? Paige thought. She cut in line to the ire of everybody else, as heard with their frustrated groans.
“I want to know you more,” Paige began. “When is this slave shift of yours over?” She handed Sienna a thick, blank, black card. Sienna peered side to side as if she were being watched and grabbed it quick.
“I’m done in fifteen. Y-you can wait, in the lobby?” Sienna asked.
“Sure,” Paige nodded.
Later, Greya Murray’s soul sat in the backseat of Paige’s royal blue whip. She was amazed it didn’t bounce out with the top of the convertible down. It didn’t matter. Paige glanced to her right where Sienna sat with her arm extended in the early evening air, pretending she was in flight. Beautiful woman by my side, balmy weather, a night full of possibilities. What could be better than this? Paige mused, speeding along the serene ocean side road.
Paige found they had much in common, including a shared love of sushi. In Summer Thorn, Paige knew the perfect place to take Sienna, somewhere she knew the receptionist had never been before.
“It’s called Exclusive. Emprise magazine featured them many times.” Paige said, checking her appearance in the mirror. Her high, blue black messy bun was still intact. She had one hand on the wheel, while the other ran over her indigo blazer and sheer white tank beneath it, smoothing out the wrinkles.
“Oh, really? Wow! I thought there was some blood membership one had to be a part of in order to eat there. The actress Summer Diamond was talking about it before, I think she went. I swear I read it somewhere… You know that interview, right? The one where the prince was all uncomfortable when the interviewer asked when they’d get married.”
Paige grinned. “I remember that. Poor guy looked like he was being stabbed in the heart again and again. I don’t even think he answered the question, did he?”
“No, he didn’t. He just sat there silent.”
“I’d do the same. Summer is a nut, although by his body language I think the prince already knows. Maybe she’s the reason he’s missing now, because they didn’t get married…”
“I loved her in Redemption of the Accountant, her performance was outstanding, did you see it?”
Paige shook her head, smiling. “Heh, no…” She clutched the steering wheel and watched Sienna in the corner of her eye, dancing in the fine black leather seat to shitty pop music. It was easier to endure when she laid eyes on the delightful woman. An ad came on as the song fades: “You don’t know me like that.” (Slicing sound effects) REDEMPTION OF THE ACCOUNTANT STARRING SUMMER DIAMOND. NOW PLAYING. (Explosions sound) The music resumed, a love song by the same actress in the ad began. Paige gripped the steering wheel tighter. The leather creaked beneath her hands. She skipped to another song.
“Sorry. Not a fan,” Paige said quietly.
“That’s okay, she’s kinda overrated.”
“Aren’t all women of Summer Thorn?” Paige laughed.
“I’m not, are you?” Sienna asked.
“I’m not from Summer Thorn.”
“Where are you from?”
They arrived at the fancy restaurant just in time for Paige to avoid answering. Two attendants approached and opened both of their doors, welcoming them. Paige stayed behind for a moment while Sienna exited.
“Wow…” Sienna whispered, gazing at the luxurious establishment. Paige fell in beside her, staring at Sienna’s mouth as she gushed over the restaurant, certain she’d slice her tongue on her braces once they kissed. But it only added to Sienna’s character. She was beautiful, nerdy. What an incredible mix. God, I want her so bad… Within the dimly lit restaurant, Paige removed her shades for a better look. Sienna shifted in her seat uncomfortably.
“I get it. My eyes aren’t your type of normal because they’re white, right? That’s why I wear them, these shades I mean…”
Sienna looked closer and gasped, “there’s a person in your eye!”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Paige put her shades back on.
“Wait. Is that the soul that was in your backseat? You ate her!? When did you—” Sienna asked, her mouth hung open.
I could’ve sworn I finished Greya. How did she get stuck in my eye? “The soul doesn’t go down as well if left in the car, soul poisoning is real.” Paige responded. Her cheeks darken.
“You DO eat them! I knew I shouldn’t have come here!” Sienna yelled.
Paige looked round the restaurant, embarrassed. “I just eat those with bad karma…” Paige whispered. Sienna jumped out of her seat. “What the—? Where are you going?”
“You’re here for me, aren’t you? That’s why you brought me here, to kill me too, I—I don’t even know you! What am I doing?”
“No, well yes. Wait, I answered that out of order — are you leaving!?” Paige grabbed Sienna’s arm tight, “l can explain.”
Sienna pulled her arm away and fled. Down Paige’s cheek, beneath her shades, a single crimson tear fell. She ran after Sienna, but once she reached the door, a figure appeared at the entrance, stopping her. It stepped towards her as Paige took a few steps backward.
“How long are you going to play these games, Paige? Living here in your creative abyss? Killing the same old woman who hurt you years ago. Is that who you were speaking to? How many times has it been now?”
Everything around them faded. White walls and white floors replaced the restaurant. In front of Paige stood her long-time friend, Winter Velia.
“As long as I like,” Paige responded. “I was talking to Sienna! Now she’s gone!”
“Dad said you need to come back home. He sent me here to get you,” Winter said.
“Mr. Velia is your father, not mine. And I can’t go out there, are you crazy?”
“You’re still considered family. He said he’d give you anything you want if you come with me.”
Paige paused for a moment, “anything? Is—Is he in trouble?”
“No, just assisting me with matters of the crown,” Winter approached her, curious. “We need you there at the next Round Table meeting… Are you okay?”
“Round Table? Aeterna? I can’t go out there, it’s better here, for me. I can’t go. No way.”
“Paige, you’re reliving the same act here again and again. This isn’t reality, it isn’t healthy. You’re stuck in your head, stuck in your creations, your anger, none of this is real.”
“It is!” Paige snarled. “Sienna was here. It must be real. Greya was real. I got her, Winter, not too long ago, I got her.”
“Yes, I know. You killed Greya a long time ago. But everything here is from your imagination, all of it. You wrote it, remember? You wrote it all.”
“No, no, Sienna was real too! I didn’t write her, I didn’t… I can’t go out there, I like it here!”
“Come with me Paige.” Winter pleads.
“I can’t go… I can’t! I need to be here for Sienna. She’ll come back, she will…” Paige rubbed her eyes and backed away. When she looked up, there were three Winters staring back at her. Paige closed her eyes and opened again; a noose replaced Winter, swinging in front of her, tinted with blood. She blinked once more and found Winter there again. “She was real… She was real…” Paige said, still rubbing her eyes. Winter snatched her close, letting Paige weep and scream into her yellow and blue color block blouse. On the floor, a bottle filled with kaleidoscope-colored pills labeled Treats rolled onto the floor. Paige broke her grip from Winter. “Real… she was… I… I need those, I need her…” Paige said. She reached for the pills, but Winter took them.
“C’mon, let’s go home,” Winter said, helping Paige take the first step forward.