“Just lie back… relax… try not to think…” She waved a wrinkled hand over her face. “Don’t think… imagine… you’re lying in the grass… warm… summer day.”
Riley’s eyelids fluttered. A feeling of drowsiness fell over her. The old woman’s face washed out of sight. Only her sickeningly sweet voice lingered in the air.
“Summer… warm… cool breeze…”
Riley felt herself falling, falling, falling… passing from consciousness… passing from reality. She could feel the cool grass beneath her back… could feel the warm sun shining on her face… it felt so peaceful… finally… this is what she had wanted… peace. To be free from the worries of the day… of getting Jessie to school on time… of making that bill payment… of trying to put away that bottle she always kept nearby…
“Riley, where are you?” The woman’s voice sounded far, far away, almost as if she were calling through layer upon layer of fabric.
“I’m at peace…” Her own voice sounded strangely unlike what she was used to.
Riley turned her head. A man was walking towards her. An extremely handsome man. She smiled. “There’s a man coming to me. He seems so nice.”
“Yes… listen to him… Riley…”
Another smile crossed her lips. He seemed so pleasant. A real gentleman. Unlike Robert. The world around her began to fade. “No! Don’t go! I want to stay!” She cried out, reaching toward the grass as it fell from under her.
“Riley, you’re thinking of the past… don’t think… free yourself of your past.”
She took a deep breath, felt herself calming down, the grass falling back up toward her. It touched her once again. It felt so nice. And now it had the most pleasant smell – a fresh, spring rain smell.
The man stood over her. “Hello, Riley. May I help you up?” He put out a hand to her.
A flash of fear fell on her. Something inside of her told her not to take that hand.
“Take my hand, Riley. My, you’re looking so stunningly beautiful today.”
His words pushed aside her fears. It had been a long time since anyone had told her she was beautiful. “Yes…” She put up her hand, and he took it. His rough, yet warm hands lifted her to her feet.
“What’s your name?” Riley asked.
He put a finger to his lips and smiled. “Shh. No time for questions. Now is the time for change. Change in your life. You want a change, don’t you? To be… free of all those worries…”
Her eyes glazed over. “Yes… free… I want to be free.”
He began walking her away from where she had been lying. The grass stretched onward for a ways until it came to a sudden drop-off. A single bridge swung shakily across a deep canyon.
Riley felt fear welling up inside her chest. Something wasn’t right. Something was wrong…
“Do not fear. Trust me, Riley. I can lead you safely across.”
She nodded, but hesitated a moment.
The old woman spoke into the air, “Go, child. Go.”
The man, already halfway across the bridge beckoned to her. “Come, Riley. Come.”
Riley looked to her feet. Why did they feel like lead? Why couldn’t she move?
“Free yourself, Riley. Free yourself from worry… from work… from bills… from life… from Jessie.”
From Jessie? A cold chill rushed over her shoulders. No. She loved her son. This wasn’t right. A sickening dread grew in her. She backed away. “No!” She ran away, the man bolting after her.
“Let me out! Let me out! Stop the hypnotism! Stop it!” She screamed, running wildly, but the man was closing the gap between them. She knew she couldn’t let him catch her.
She glanced over her shoulder. His face had changed. His eyes flamed with hate. It twisted and contorted into a hideous expression.
“Let me out! Help me! Please!”
The woman’s cackling laughter swirled around her.
“Help me! Please! Please!”
She ran, but her legs slowed. Her feet were getting heavier and heavier with each step.
He came within inches of her, reaching out his hands. “You are mine!”
“No! Help me! Jesus, please help me!”
He stepped back and shrieked. Riley threw her hands over her ears. The grass faded. The blue sky above her faded. The old woman came back into view.
Riley shot up, and screamed. The man stood against the wall, watching her and still shrieking. The old woman was on the floor, knocked out.
“W-Who are you?” Riley asked.
“Silent! You think you can just cry out to Him, and everything will be alright?” He laughed and stepped closer.
“Stop it! Stop it!” Riley slid off of the table she had been lying on. “Stay away from me!” Lord, please help me! Help me!
The man seemed to be frozen in his tracks. He growled at her.
She continued backing away, until she bumped into the door. Pushing on the handle, she burst outside into the open air. She fumbled through her purse, finding her car keys and racing to the car.
The engine sputtered.
The man had walked outside and was now walking toward her. He moved slowly, but very determined to reach her.
“Oh, come on, come on!” She hit the steering wheel, turning the key in the ignition again. Another sputter.
Tears rained down her cheeks. “Please, start! Please!”
The man had reached the driver’s window. He had his hand on the handle. She pushed down the lock button. He raced around the car. Riley saw it: The other doors were unlocked.
She leaned out, slamming her fist against the other lock across from her. But it was too late for her to reach the back door. He had it open.
Riley turned the ignition wildly, and this time the car started. She slammed the gas, sending the car flying across the parking lot. The man hung halfway out of the car, clawing his way in.
“Riley! Riley!” He growled. “You are mine!”
She turned the steering wheel to one side, sending the car fishtailing. The man lost his hold and went flying out of the car.
Riley sped out of the parking lot, nearly missing a truck going by.
It wasn’t until she was a block away that she let go of all her worry and hurt and cried. She knew trying to be hypnotized was a mistake. She knew it with all her heart. As she drove along, she spotted a church out of the corner of her eye. A little white one with a cross on top. She didn’t know why, but she turned into the parking lot.
Riley flipped off the car. It had been years since she’d been inside a church. But…maybe, just maybe… she might find some peace in there. She knew something much bigger than herself had saved her today… and she was ready to meet that something for herself.
She stepped out of the car and went inside.
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