I wish the ambulance ride would last forever, or at the very least, all afternoon long. I’ve finally convinced them to loosen the straps enough for me to move my arms, shift my body comfortably. I like this ambulance; it’s a nice one—shiny, clean and sparkling, with lots of padding in places many others don’t bother to pad. Ambulances have a way of swerving and bouncing and you find yourself often knocking into hard surfaces—especially when no one is paying much attention to what’s going on.

Your husband is following safely behind—he’s keeping an eye on things like he always does. He tried to get into the back of the ambulance with you, but you screamed so loud at the sight of him, the attendants quickly shuffled him off, and murmured something about best to follow. Of course it’s best for him to follow, that’s what he always does when he’s being the good, kind man he can be. He followed you home. He followed you to work. He followed you to every lreading you ever gave.

When he’s not being good, he ignores you, forgets that you are there. In those moments, you realize you could just leave, go away, be alone for once. How many times have you tried to quietly pack your bags? To nonchalantly put things together for a departure? Too many times to count. Something always goes wrong. Some interruption, injury, accident. You would probably never get too far anyway—-because, really, how well could you operate in this world without him? He even checks to see if you are still breathing at night—-you know because you’ve woken up more than once lately to find his hands hovering just above your mouth.

As long as the ambulance ride lasts, you don’t have to make a decision. As long as the wheels keep turning, and the music playing, you don’t have to know where you are going. He always picks anyway. He is always so calm and logical that everyone usually defers to him. Once you saw an attendant look at him sideways, almost suspiciously, but you never knew what to make of that. Maybe they possessed the same phobia as you? The same overactive imagination? Seeing a sociopath, a serial killer where there was only a good, good man.

It’s not his fault you get so fearful. And by the time you arrive wherever you are going you will have forgotten why you were. The rides always seem to become longer and longer. Something in the side of your consciousness, like a small tic or bug, pulls out you, formulates the thought that really these rides shouldn’t be so long, but you swat it away, allow yourself to fall into the white buzz of not knowing.

You will arrive at some point, you always do, and even though they haven’t given you water yet or asked you your name, which is a bit odd, you don’t worry. Even though you’d really like to pee, and see no headlights behind the ambulance, and realize you haven’t seen another vehicle for a long, long time, you tell yourself to calm down. Things will sort out. And even though the restraints have somehow tightened themselves—-and when did this thing appear over your mouth? And even though you are finding it hard to talk because you are so thirsty, you wait because waiting is what you do. And even though it’s getting hard to see, because they’ve dimmed the light, or something—is that gauze over your eyes?—you tell yourself it’s going to be ok, because, really, what choice do you have?

12 Comments

  1. Aimee Parkison

    Lucy,

    This is a powerful story about abuse. You have a fine way of showing that the protagonist has been in this situation for a long time and many times before. There have been other ambulances for her, many nights when she woke to find her husband standing over her, watching.

    As in the most powerful psychological fiction, there are two stories, the story on the surface and the understory. This could be the story of a woman who has been abused by men in the past and sees a killer in the face of every “good man” she gets close to. The story mentions “overactive imagination, seeing a sociopath, a serial killer where there was only a good, good man.” Or this could be the story of a woman who is being abused by her husband and only she knows because he is so good at hiding the abuse. When people look at him, they see a “good man” and not the monster he really is. Or, this could be a story about a wife who knows a terrifying secret about her husband—a secret that no one else knows—that he is a serial killer, though everyone thinks he’s a good man.

    Any of these readings are possible, I think. It’s such a powerful story because you’ve gone into a reality terror—where the monster is a real person. The man is both entirely human, a “good man” and husband, and entirely monster in his wife’s eyes because of something he has done, something she has seen, something she anticipates or experiences or imagines or knows.

    If you keep working on this, I would add a bit more context and just a bit more clarity in the situation. Just weave in a bit of the history or backstory through her thoughts, just several sentences here and there. I like it that she’s in the ambulance the entire time, thinking in terror. I think you’re right to keep her there, as the tension is wonderful and this allows her thoughts to roam and linger on her terror of the husband.

    I think you might send this to Hayden’s Ferry Review, Smokelong Quarterly, New Flash Fiction Review, Poem Memoir Story, or So to Speak literary magazine.

    Best, Aimee

    • Jennifer Fliss

      I am fascinated by this entire story taking place in what I assume is a really short period of time. The ambulance is a, for lack of a better word, cool setting. There’s so much mining you can do with that story in the foreground. And I truly appreciate a horror story that includes more than just a scare. This has way more depth and keeps the reader intrigued to know the story, learn the outcome.

    • Lucy Logsdon

      Fantastic and helpful feedback, Aimee. I really appreciate that. I love your specific advice about fleshing it out just a bit more, and am going to try doing just that. Thanks for setting up such a thought-provoking course. Your prompts and notes have been great.

  2. Meg Tuite

    Hi Lucy,
    HOLY SHIT! Once again, brilliance! The monotonous voice of the narrator who tells a horror story like no other, who tries to understand how she got here again with this ‘good man’ and yet love that you add the freak out when he tries to get in the ambulance with her, also waking up to his hands over her mouth. OMG! This is absolutely brilliant in the horror of the context and the numbness of the narrator. The less emotion wrought by narrator the deeper the reader can go into the hell. You really rocked this! WOW! You never cease to amaze me! LOVE!

  3. Jennifer Fliss

    I am fascinated by this entire story taking place in what I assume is a really short period of time. The ambulance is a, for lack of a better word, cool setting. There’s so much mining you can do with that story in the foreground. And I truly appreciate a horror story that includes more than just a scare. This has way more depth and keeps the reader intrigued to know the story, learn the outcome.

  4. Kathryn Kulpa

    Wow. This updates ‘Gaslight’ and sneaks up on the reader in such a quietly chilling way. I didn’t realize we were dealing with an unreliable narrator/protagonist until that line about her husband “checking her breathing” with his hand over her mouth at night–what an unsettling image! I felt drawn into the consciousness of a person who’s been subjected to abuse and gaslighting for so long that she no longer trusts her own perceptions. And the final section is especially creepy because it seems as if the protagonist is already dead and narrating the story as a ghost.

    I wasn’t sure if the switch from first to second person after the first paragraph was intentional or just how the story wanted to be told? I think second person works, because it puts the reader right into that ambulance with your protagonist.

  5. Trent

    Lucy,
    this would be a great example of compressed storytelling –
    It has a lot texture and force, in a compact flow of time.
    Just like reading a few panels of a graphic novel, with a lot of action on just one page.

    It crosses eras, though I find myself thinking of a kind of 50’s style setting, visually.
    How things seem to have that suburban exterior, with something not right around the margins.
    This has excellent structure.

  6. Gloria Garfunkel

    Lucy, I love that you set this horror story inside the mind of someone lying helplessly in an ambulance which is supposed to be a rescue vehicle yet she is strapped down and helpless. She has clearly been so trapped by her abuser that her ambulance rides are her only escape, yet the claustrophobic setting seems over time to be turning from less of a reprieve to more of another type of entrapment, the rides apparently getting longer and longer over time. She never mentions where the ambulances actually take her, only that she is aware of her abuser following close at first, but as the story progresses, so does her entrapment. She seems to be losing consciousness likely from her clear dehydration, becoming less and less aware of her surroundings, getting harder to see because they have dimmed the lights or something. Why aren’t they hydrating her with fluids, one of the first things done for dehydrated patients losing or lost consciousness in ambulances? Are they somehow colluding with the abuse? Transforming a benign, heroic rescue vehicle into a containment vehicle for a horror story was genius. Very well done.

  7. Emily Bertholf

    Wow! I don’t think I’d change a thing! At first, I as reader, started in an ambulance ride, in the mind of the injured, then subtly I was pulled into her story, into the levels, horrors, and fears of abuse and entrapment, until oblivion and white darkened to loss of movement, restraint, and loss of senses and emotion, so by the end and further readings I felt she would get her wish that the ride would never end because this was the final ride. Not the familiar ambulance that has not saved her before, but the hearse driving into eternity, finally, the death in til death do we part. Sadly, too often the outcome when victims can’t escape their chronic abusive spouses. Ugh. Stark. Devastating. Sad. Wonderfully done. You guys are killing me here!

  8. Sara Comito

    Hi Lucy, it’s a pleasure to get to know your work. The sensory details, the familiarity with ambulances, the man always following – it all produces an emotional distance that focuses the reader on the underlying truth in a subtle and effective way. I think many readers will see themselves in this dynamic, if not inside an ambulance, then at least inside a relationship that features an erosion of a critical sense of self-worth and agency that can result in self-doubt and second guessing of reality. I wish I could reach out for this main character’s hand and tell them: I believe you. Strong stuff here.

  9. AJ Miller

    Lucy, this is fabulous. What I really appreciate about the structure is how well you build from a cheery tone to a terrified tone. It’s quite seamless how we go from learning about the situation to fully understanding it. She’s clearly in denial about how dire her situation with her husband is. That line about him checking her breathing is so chilling and so revealing. An ambiguous ending is perfect for this piece and for this narrator. She’s in denial about her situation and doesn’t know what’s happened yet. As the reader we can decide what’s happened and I think she’s done. I love the details of the missing headlights behind the ambulance. It clues us into that her husband isn’t following. Well done!

  10. Gloria Garfunkel

    Lucy:

    I did want to add one thing about your final comment that she couldn’t talk because she was so thirsty. I didn’t know if you were aware of how extremely dangerous it is for dehydrated patients in ambulances not to be immediately hooked up to some fluids. I was hospitalized last year after a severe episode of dehydration led to a several day collapse until I was found by my son who saved my life. I have no memory of the ambulance ride and was of course hooked up immediately to fluids. But since then, I have read that people can survive for a whole month without food, but only for three to five days at the most without water/fluids. The fact that they are not hydrating her and she is feeling more and more physically constrained and is showing signs of losing consciousness suggests these supposed ambulance drivers are really colluding with her husband in moving her closer and closer to death with each longer and longer ride on emptier and emptier roads. So the look you mentioned one of the medics gave her husband may not have been her guess that he suspected his motives, but that, in fact, they knew each other and were colluding to gradually kill her. Just a small factor in your story that I’ve been thinking about since I read your story and wanted to share with you.

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