I open my eyes and feel the sharp sting of chlorine. I take in a breath and taste the salt — shooting into my mouth, down my throat, filling my stomach. Water. So much water.
I think I’m going to choke. I’m going to drown. I’m going to die.
But then I remember I’m already dead. From slit wrists and a bathtub, not a pool or an ocean, even though I’m experiencing a mixture of their sensations. The salty ocean and the chlorinated pool. The freedom of a beach and the restriction of a backyard.
I don’t suffer from the surge of water, so I gulp it down. Until I realize I don’t have to gulp. I can just let it in, breathe it in, like air. Like nothingness.
What the fuck is happening?
I don’t know if it’s a hallucination or heaven. If I’m grasping onto the last strings of life or if I’m already gone. In some sort of womb that’s cocooning me until I’m ready to be spat out in the next life.
A shark swims past, skimming my legs, and I don’t even flinch. I know it won’t hurt me, that I’m completely safe. But the saftey is just an illusion. I realize that when I spot a school of fish, a splatter of bright yellows and blues, and try to follow their path.
But I can’t. I’m shackled. My ankles and wrists are cuffed, attached to impossibly long chains that climb into the blue depths below.
What the fuck is this?
“You traded one hell for another.” The words are high-pitched, girly. It’s hard to tell if they’re coming from another creature or from inside of my own mind.
And then I see her.
A young girl — her blonde hair falling straight down her back, even though it should be floating around her face. She murmurs something about turning the lights on. I assume I misheard her, but then she slow blinks and the entire area glows bright. Increases the visibility by miles.
And I see hundreds… No. Thousands more like me. All chained. But they’re so malformed they no longer look like humans. There are chunks missing from them, fist-sized holes surrounded by bite marks that look more human than animal. And their flesh — whatever’s left of it — sags on the bones from too much time spent in water.
“Aren’t they pretty?” That high-pitched voice again. “Don’t you want to be juuuust like them?”
I shake my head. It’s the only thing I’m capable of in the moment.
“That’s okay.” Her smile encapsulates innocence, all dimples and rounded teeth. “You can torture or be tortured. Be like them or be like me.”
She points to a man thirty feet away, my own personal display. A woman — pretty and young, just like her — is wrenching a tooth out of his mouth. When his screams dip to a sputter, out of either boredom or numbness, she skims a knife across his chest, shearing off a layer of flesh. And when that gets old, she digs the blade beneath his fingernails and pushes down until the nail splits in two.
We’re underwater, but he bleeds the same. Blood running down his abdomen and leaking from his lips. Physics make no sense here.
And I don’t belong here.
But the little girl is looking at me. She wants me to make a decision. Her eyes say she wants me to make it now.
I’m about to answer. About to tell her I’ll be tortured. That I’m strong enough to withstand her hell.
But instead of opening my mouth, I open my eyes and see the brown tinted water of my bathtub, dyed by my blood. Feel the slices on my wrists. Hear the medics trying to lift me up, to save me from my suicide.
I should be bitter that they’re trying to take my choice away from me, but I guess I don’t mind. I’m just trading one hell for another. Choosing psychological pain over physical. Getting tortured here instead of there.
Does it really make a difference?