“Her Own Private Hell”
A young woman may have gotten more than she anticipated when given a community service sentence.
The relentless buzz of the alarm exacerbated Jessica’s frayed nerves. Her insomnia evoked by various reasons she had to wake up early every morning. One reason was her court-ordered community service at the soup kitchen downtown.
Jessica felt around for her smartphone. Finding it in the folds of the worn comforter, she rolled over, then peaked a sleepy eye at the time: 4:45 am.
“Better get my day started,” she mumbled. The inflection in her voice sounded strange to her ears for some reason.
The bus ride to the soup kitchen seemed to have passed in a blur. For the next thing she knew, she was standing in the dark alley riddled with a heavy, low-lying fog. Facing the backdoor to the kitchen, she reached into the pocket of her jeans, then pulled out a rusted key. Jessica’s heart thumped in her ears, as she fumbled to open the padlock. The damp coldness in the air caused her to make haste to step inside.
The eerie silence of the gloomy kitchen made her shiver. Her footsteps echoed as she searched for the light switch. She sighed then flipped it on. Darkness shrouded her. She furrowed her brows, then huffed, “not again.” Jessica made a final attempt at the switch. In that instant, popping noises made her jump out of her skin; several of the bulbs had exploded.
She glanced around at the inadequate amount of light. She swallowed hard, then spat her words, “How can anyone work under these conditions?”
Jessica donned an apron then turned on an old radio which sat upon one of the steel counters. As she busied herself, she looked over her shoulder countless times. She then stopped from chopping and slicing to take some cleansing breaths. Ever since she started her community service, there have been some strange occurrences. It had to be her insomnia.
Static emitted from the old radio, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.
“That’s new,” she mumbled.
She swallowed hard, then continued with her task.
“It’s only my imagination,” she said with a nervous chuckle.
Thoughts of why she had to do community service invaded her mind. The stale granola bar she had on the bus ride over churned in her stomach. She then thought about how many days were left in her sentence. A week? No wait? A month? Jessica’s insomnia made it almost impossible for her to remember certain things. Surprise overwhelmed her when she recalled that she ate a granola bar. Well, my probation officer will tell me how long I have. Wait? Who’s my probation officer? Sergeant—? Again, she couldn’t recall. It’s possible that the accident messed with her short-term memory.
Placing the knife down, she huffed then rubbed her wrists. She glanced at the twenty-five pounds of diced carrots, onions and celery.
“Well, at least I’m making progress.”
She takes off the apron, then goes to wash her hands—her mind drifting off to the evening of the accident. Why did I drink so much? I should’ve given my keys to Stephanie. It happened so fast, it might as well have been a dream or a nightmare. The hot scalding water snapped Jessica out of her reverie. She screamed in pain as she withdrew her hands from the faucet’s blistering stream. In a rush, she attempted to adjust the water to ‘cold’, but the water was still blazing hot.
“What the hell?” She furrowed her brows at the faucet, then shuts it off.
Holding her hands up, studying them, she realized something strange. They were fine. No pain or redness. She shook her head, then turned toward the mountains of veggies she had prepped.
“What the actual fuck!?” Jessica screamed out, her voice echoed through the kitchen.
There, on the prep counter, three neat stacks each of the carrots, celery, and onions—all uncut and unpeeled.
Jessica rubbed her eyes in hopes it was another hallucination. If only. She gazed upon the neat stacks of uncut veggies again. The kitchen seemed as if it shifted. She braced herself against the counter. Her heart pounding, her palms became clammy.
“This can’t be! I already prepped all those,” she yelled gesturing at the veggie tableau.
Jessica reached for her smartphone in her back pocket.
“OK, I still should have time to—”
She clutched the phone when she saw ‘4:45am.’ Her mouth dropped open, letting out a gasp. “This is not possible,” she whispered. She looked at the phone again; the same time stared back.
Her face broke into a smile, then she began to laugh, pulling at her hair. Soon, her bout of cackling subsided. Her expression empty, she then realized something. She shook a finger, narrowed her eyes, then said, “I know what this is; lucid dreaming. It has to be a reoccurring one too.”
Her phone rang. A pinch formed between her brows as she looked at the number. But it read ‘unknown caller.’ Curiosity getting the best of her, she answered it.
No response, only static. She huffed, then ended the call.
She sighed then glanced up.
Once she saw the mother and daughter, she recognized them from the accident right away.
Bile rose within her throat.
The memory of her t-boning into their car flashed before her eyes.
The blood drained from Jessica’s face.
They died on impact, leaving Jessica the only survivor.
Jessica’s throat tightened, words eluded her.
The gory figures flickered, then Jessica’s stomach dropped to her feet. Her heart was beating so fast, she thought it was going to explode. Blackness swirled around her field of vision, then she passed out in a heap on the floor.
“So, should we tell her,” asked the young daughter.
“Tell her what?” The mom responded.
“That she didn’t survive accident either.”
The mother gazed upon Jessica’s motionless body on the floor. She glanced back at her daughter, gave her a devious grin, then said, “I want to have a little more fun with her first.”