I had 48 hours to write this and the prompts were…
Suspense – A roadblock – A perfumer
The gas station parking lot smelled of lilac and vanilla. It was a smell that put Isaac on edge. He would have been far more comfortable if it carried the usual scent of desperation and debauchery. But something felt off about it smelling as nice as it did so late at night. The aroma reminded him of his former wife, Claire, who always smelled like that back before… His surroundings fudged at the edges, and Isaac’s vision smeared like Vaseline on a lens. Claire appeared to him then, stepping out of an impossible free-standing door in the middle of the parking lot. She had a towel wrapped around her and walked barefoot toward him as hot steam billowed out of the door behind.
“I’ve been thinking, and we need to talk,” she said with a face so serious. Isaac closed his eyes and shook the madness out of his head. Just a memory, he told himself. Claire died years ago, and what stood before him was just a memory of their last conversation. He blocked it out, and when he opened his eyes, Claire was gone. The scent of lilac and vanilla gone with her as well. Just the desperation and debauchery remained.
“Don’t fight it,” the disembodied voice of a woman spoke from the heavens. Isaac became very aware of the unreality of his situation. In fact, this too had already happened before. He remembered standing in the same parking lot, hearing that same voice, and feeling the sense that someone was watching him. How many times had he experienced this? Isaac turned to see a black Lincoln and got a powerful sense of deja vu. It parked with the lights off and the driver stayed inside. They didn’t fill up on gas, and they didn’t go to the store. Isaac could only see the whites of their eyes through the windshield. Those eyes were focused intently on him – never blinking.
What happened next? Isaac tried desperately to remember, but it felt like a guiding hand was trying to move his memories to another place and time. He really didn’t like the look of that Lincoln at all. If he could just get away from it, then maybe he could think straight and figure all this out. He got in his car, and the Lincoln followed after him. It always stayed ten feet behind, with the eyes of the driver glinting like silver dollars in Isaac’s rearview mirror. Isaac increased his speed, and the Lincoln matched the pace. There were no turns that Isaac could take to lose it – just a straight road through a desert that went on for miles.
Taking a chance, he pulled over and waited for the Lincoln to pass him by. It slowed to a crawl, and the silhouette of the driver’s head swivelled to look right at Isaac before they accelerated past him into the night. Isaac waited until the Lincoln disappeared from both sight and sound and then another five minutes after that just to be sure. With his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel, he put the car back into motion.
About a mile down the lonesome road, he came across a roadblock made of hastily erected barricades with no one standing behind them. He could plough right through if he picked up enough speed, which was precisely what he intended to do. Isaac floored it and rushed toward the roadblock. His tires hissed, and the car skidded as he drove right over a spiked strip on the road. He struggled to get the car back under control until he eventually managed to stop right before hitting the barricades. Isaac’s gun came out of the glove compartment, and he held it in front of him as he stepped out of the car.
When he investigated the roadblock, he found that he could move the barricades aside quite easily. As he did this, the Lincoln quietly rolled up on him from behind with its lights turned off, blending it into the dark. Isaac heard the door open as the driver got out. He spun and pointed his weapon right at them. What he saw standing in front of him was not what he expected. A woman in tall heels, wearing a dress with a loud and outrageous colour scheme. The fabric on her shoulders puffed up to be taller than her head, and Isaac was sure he could see some kind of cape flowing in the breeze behind her. He was almost too stunned to speak but managed to find some composure as he tried to get control of the situation.
“Catwalk’s back in the opposite direction. I suggest you get back in your car and go find it if you know what’s good for you.”
“Can you help me?” the woman asked with mock distress as she took a lunging step forward with a clack of her heel. “I’m looking for a bad man.”
“You’ve found one. Now, don’t come any closer, or I’ll plug you good!” Isaac warned. The woman stopped, posed like a Vogue cover, and smiled through dramatically applied red lipstick.
“As you can see, I have nothing in my hand,” she said as she held up her right palm toward Isaac. “I’m not a threat to you. Don’t you see how I’m dressed? But your eyes are drawn to my hand, aren’t they? Your eyelids are starting to feel heavy. Almost as if you could SLEEP!”
The woman snapped her fingers, and Isaac’s head dropped into his chest as everything went black. Yes, that was what happened. He remembered now. How long ago was that? Ten minutes ago? Twenty? He opened his eyes in a panic and saw the woman sitting beside him in the back seat of the Lincoln. They were still parked in front of the roadblock, and Isaac could see his own car through the windshield. He tried to attack the woman so he could escape but found that he couldn’t move a muscle no matter how hard he strained.
“You’re a resilient one,” said the woman. “But not to worry, I always get men to break in the end.”
“Who are you? What’s happening? Why can’t I move?”
“Oh my, that’s a lot of questions, dear. But you’ll probably know my name. It’s Erica Saunders. Saunders – as in your dead wife’s name before she got afflicted with whatever caused her to marry a schmuck like you. As for why you can’t move, well, you’re hypnotised, silly, that’s why. You’re not going anywhere until I say you can.”
Erica gave Isaac a playful punch to the chin to illustrate her point.
“Erica? Claire said you were institutionalised. Said you were batsh*t crazy.”
“Sisters say the darndest things. It’s true that I have spent some time away from the world, but you just can’t keep a good thing down. I’m actually thriving these days. Got my own perfume therapy business and everything. But I’ve kept an eye on the family from a distance. Even though they think that I’m batsh*t crazy, as you say. I still love them very much. So, when my sister went missing, naturally, I became very interested. Where did you put Claire’s body, Isaac?”
“Claire? That’s what this is about it. The cops already looked into it and found nothing. I’m innocent. You’re looking in the wrong place.”
“The absence of evidence is not the same as innocence,” Erica said with a sigh as she opened an old doctor’s bag. “The answer is inside you though, and I will get it out of you. I’ll break apart that roadblock in your mind.”
“What’s in the bag?” Isaac asked, his eyes wide with fear.
“Are you worried I’m going to rough you up? Don’t worry, Isaac. I learned very early that physical violence is not the solution to the male problem. I once had a boyfriend who beat the living crap out of me. Once I got free of him, I decided to take self-defence classes and told myself I’d be ready if it ever happened again. And do you know what happened, Isaac? The next guy beat the crap out of me too. It wasn’t until my mind broke and I went away that I got introduced to hypnotherapy. Fascinating stuff. Why beat up the body when you can control the mind? This is much more humane than beating you up, don’t you think?”
Erica took out many bottles and vials from the doctor’s bag: some full, some empty.
“The mind is highly suggestible when in a state of hypnosis. And do you know what I’ve found is the key to unlocking all those deep, dark secrets? Scent, Isaac. Scent is the key to all hidden memories. Now, SLEEP!”
Isaac’s head fell forward, and he went deep under. Erica opened the vial that contained the perfumed scent of lilac and vanilla and wafted it under Isaac’s nose.
“Remember Claire. Remember the last night you saw her. Remember her walking out of the shower. She said…”
“I’ve been thinking, and we need to talk,” Isaac finished.
“Yes, good, Isaac. Stay with the memory. She was going to leave you, wasn’t she?”
“No one leaves me,” he said with venom in his tone.
“What do you do to people who leave you?”
Isaac pulled away from the memory of Claire and returned to the memory of the gas station.
“Don’t fight it,” Erica repeated. But Isaac drove all the way back to the roadblock again and fought his way back to consciousness.
“Let me go!”
Erica mixed a fresh scent in a vial and watched it turn red. She placed it under Isaac’s nose, and he couldn’t turn away from it in his paralysed state.
“Blood has a metallic scent. Did the apartment smell like this when you killed my sister?”
“I already told you, I’m…”
“SLEEP! Go back. Smell the lilac and vanilla; smell the blood. What else do you smell?”
“Fish. We were going to have fish.”
Erica quickly combined the liquids she felt would best mimic the smell of fish and held another vial under Isaac’s nose.
“You killed her, didn’t you?”
A single tear rolled down Isaac’s cheek.
“There was someone else. I couldn’t let her humiliate me like that.”
“How did you do it?”
“Stabbed her with a carving knife. There was so much blood. I rolled her up in the rug with the knife and put her in the car.”
“Did you bury her?”
Erica made the scent of fresh dirt and added it to the others.
“Where did you take her? Where’s her body now?”
“In a desert, six miles west of a gas station beside a rock that looks like a sleeping bear.”
“Ah, so you were trying to show me the whole time but your subconscious made the roadblock to stop you from showing too much. Interesting. Now, there’s one more thing I need you to do.”
When Isaac woke, he was back in his own car, facing the roadblock with his engine running. He still couldn’t move, and Erica sat in the passenger seat beside him.
“Are you going to let me go?”
“In a sense, yes.”
Erica held up Isaac’s phone.
“I just had you record a full, in-detail confession, and then I had you say you couldn’t bear to live with the guilt anymore and that you’ve decided to end it all.”
“You said violence wasn’t the answer.”
“It isn’t. That’s why you’re going to do it yourself. By the way – there never was a roadblock.” Erica released the handbrake and stepped out of the car, leaving Isaac all alone. As the car rolled forward, he looked out the front windshield to see a cliff high above the ocean and the rocks below. He tried to wake himself up, thinking this was yet another trick, but there was no waking up – only permanent SLEEP! as the waves dragged him under.