by Rikki Payne


     Perhaps it was the blankness that woke her. In the second before she opened her eyes, she felt the warm confidence of her bed and the anticipation of waking up to the face she loved most. Heavy eyelids rose with a sleepy smile and drank in shock to the rest of her body. A billboard greeted her through glass. Where, when, why, were all she could think, desperately, with less words than waves of feeling. Disjointed facts came to her one by one. She was in her car, alone. She left the concert before it started, and didn’t want to miss it. I’d better get back inside. Looking around, she felt dread creep up. No cars in the parking lot. She grabbed her phone for the time, squeezed the button on the side. 4:24 AM. Her heart morphed into lead and sank through her stomach. How? I missed the whole thing... Shawn, where are you? She opened her phone to call him, and realized he didn’t bring his tonight.
     Head spinning, mind blank from confusion, she opened the car door, stepped out. Fresh air was comforting, but somehow helped her realize how awful she felt. Did she really have that much to drink? She didn’t think so... She stepped around the side of the car to see if Shawn was on the ground. Ashamed that was her only choice, she turned in a circle, hoping to see him from a distance. As it dawned on her that she wouldn’t see him, a recurring theme took her blank thoughts over...
     My heart just sank.
     That sinking feeling…
     Sinking feeling...

     It was all she could think. She looked up at the billboards for the tourist district that lined the buildings on the edge of the parking lot and felt a bitter sadness. They had looked forward to this concert for so long. It wasn’t a serious fight, just a small disagreement. Why did she leave while the opening band was playing?
     Flash of a plastic cup in her hand, pink liquid halfway up. A friend of Shawn’s said it was strong, but it was her first drink. She was hesitant, but it was a special occasion...
     She looked down at the keys in her hand; a small SUV with flashing yellow lights was crossing the parking lot behind her. There’s no way. Who would do that?
     Flash from the balcony, where she went to smoke a cigarette right after the drink. Her mind was clear, but she was losing motor function. Dropped her cigarette over the edge, two people laughed but it sounded like fifty. The walk back to the table was fuzzy at best. She laid her head down on the table, hoping to rest until the headliner played. She couldn’t wait to hear her favorite band fill the room...
     “You can’t do that,” some alien said from close but far away. She picked her head up and looked around with closed eyes. Shawn was there; she leaned on his shoulder. “Hmm?” Get a grip, you can’t miss this, she thought.
     “They stopped a guy for stumbling. If they see you with your head down, they might throw you out. They’re really looking for drunks tonight.”
     Who is this girl? Why does she have grade-school rules about concert activity?
     Shawn agreed with the alien and pulled her off his shoulder. She could see the drink getting to him too, but he seemed to be responding more energetically. She felt separated from him, like the crowd had pulled them to different tables. Leaning in to his ear, she whispered, “I’ll be in the car.”
     Seven hours later, she gripped her phone and stared at the billboards. They promised fun, and magic, and music. Not roofies and getting stranded until four in the morning. Bastards. Her heart had risen again, to her throat, and changed from lead to acid. She had no choice but to drive home without him. Suddenly her phone vibrated in her hand.
     “Shawn? Where are you?” She heard a deep breath before the slow response.
     “I’m at a hospital. What happened?”
     She sighed. “I don’t know, babe. But I’m coming to find you.”
     She got back in her car and set her teeth against the spinning world.



Rikki Payne is a mom from Orlando, Florida. She’s been writing all her life, but kept it under the radar. She works at Starbucks and wants to write, critique films and music, or teach, or all of the above.


This story originally appeared in issue 1.