FALLING • by Leanne A. Styles

I’ve been here before.

It’s my sixteenth birthday. Mom is carrying my cake over, her proud, smiling face aglow in the candlelight. Dad is drinking beer. He’s always drinking beer these days. My sister is pushing the remains of her dinner around her plate. She’s staring at me. I grin at her, but she doesn’t grin back. She drops her fork with a clatter and stands up.

“Julia, where are you going?” Mom asks. “We’re about to have cake.”

“To pee, if you must know,” Julia hisses.

“You can hold it,” Dad says flatly.

Julia’s lips pucker, her matte blue lipstick cracking around the edges, and she slowly sits back down.

My mother lays the cake down carefully on the dining table.

“Make a wish, Sam,” she whispers lovingly in my ear.

I wish to be ten again, on vacation in Hawaii, when I bathed in the warmth of the sea all day and laughed with my family all night. Before Dad left, then came back, and all he and Mom did was shout and cry. Before Julia stopped laughing and sharing her secrets and dreams with me. I wish back to that time, when we were all happy.


I’ve been here before.

It’s cold. I can’t feel my fingers. My lungs burn from the climb. I can’t tell if my tears are from the ferocious wind or the pain I feel. I sense a pull, an unseen force urging me to move closer to the edge of the cliff. I peer over. The crashing of the waves on the rocks – it feels so familiar. A trick of the mind? A memory? I can’t tell. Nothing feels real anymore.

I don’t feel real.

It’s so cold, and the water looks so warm, so inviting, just like when I was ten, on vacation in Hawaii.

Make a wish, I hear the wind whisper.

I fall.


I’ve been here before.

I’m in a bed – like a hospital bed – but this is no normal hospital. Glass walls and white light sting my eyes. They hurt so bad… as though I’ve never used them before. There are no nurses; just doctors dressed in black who talk in hushed tones. I recognize some of them, but they insist we’ve never met before.

I haven’t seen Dad since I woke. My mom and sister are arguing out in the corridor. Through the crack in the door, I strain to listen.

“Dad’s right; you’ve gone too far.”

“What choice do we have?”

“He doesn’t?”

“Keep your voice down,” Mom snaps.

Silence, then, quieter: “Mom, he doesn’t want to be here. He made his choice. It doesn’t matter how many times you bring him back – he’ll always make that choice. Besides, you can’t keep him locked up forever. He’ll find his way back there, to that cliff.”

“It’ll be different this time. They’ve erased the glitch for good.”

“They can play with his consciousness as much as they like – keep reprogramming him like some kind of computer – but it won’t fix the problem. It’s not his mind or personality; it’s deeper than that, like a stain. It’s ingrained. Dad leaving, you guys fighting all the time, the trouble at school… even the way I acted with him: it changed him. Something flipped inside him, and it can’t be undone.”

“You and Dad might have given up on him, but I won’t,” my mother says firmly. “We owe it to him to keep trying. He’s our Sam.”

“Oh, wake up, Mom! That thing in there isn’t Sam!”

I hear Julia’s boots squeaking and slapping on the tiled floor as she stomps away.

That thing.

I look down at my hands. They look like mine. They must be mine… My hands. Sam’s hands. Sam. My name is Sam. My name is…

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, feeling the panic rising.

Make a wish, I think.

I wish to be ten. I wish to be on vacation, in Hawaii. I wish for the warmth of the sea.


I’ve been here before. Many times.

It’s my sixteenth birthday. Dad’s left again, for good this time. My sister has locked herself in her room. She doesn’t speak to me – to anyone. Mom lights the candles on my cake, missing the last few. She carries it over and slides it in front of me without a word.

“Make a wish, Sam,” I mutter to myself as she wanders away.

I wish for my dad to stop feeling guilty and find peace. I wish for Julia to laugh again, to find someone to share her secrets and dreams with. I wish for Mom to find the strength to let me go, so she can stop crying and move on. I wish I knew how to end this and free us all from our sorrow.

I wish… to be…

I wish…

Leanne A. Styles is a crime and science fiction writer living on the south coast of England. When she’s not busy penning short stories and novels, she spends her time supporting people affected by cancer.

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