Pick Your Poison | A Short Story

Pick Your Poison


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“Pick your poison.” He held out two mugs to me, both brimming with rich, black coffee. It was some expensive kind I was unfamiliar with. The scent alone beckoned me.

I looked between them. Identical plain white mugs. Identical coffee. Identical everything. “What’s the difference?”

A smile spread across his face and he spoke in a low purr, “One is actually poisoned.”

My stomach twisted into a knot. How could he say that like he was trying to seduce me? His voice was smooth and soft, like I imagine silk would sound if it could sing. He had showered already, styled his hair, and gotten dressed so he looked like his devilishly handsome self. That was how he got me, though, wasn’t it?

He was so trustworthy and handsome. So unbelievably charming. He had a smile that sent butterflies scattering through my gut. So, I fell for him.

I went over to his house and…and I don’t remember much after walking in the front door. I woke up in this chair with my wrists tied behind me and my ankles bound together.  Upon seeing the sun rising out the window to my left, I snarled that I wanted a cup of coffee.

I was in a bedroom. Guest bedroom by the looks of it. The bed was made, nothing looked used. At least he didn’t keep me tied up next to his own bed as he slept.

He raised the mugs in my face and cocked his head to the side. “Well?”

I frowned up at him. “I don’t really want either. How do I know you didn’t mess with both?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” This was a game to him. He was toying with my life and giving me that smile I used to love, but now it made my skin crawl.

“Will you at least untie me so I can drink it?”

His eyebrow jerked up and he let out a chuckle. “No. I don’t want you to claw my eyes out or try to strangle me.”

I spat at his feet and scowled back at him. “I pick the one without poison.”

“Clever.” He set the mugs on a dresser against the far wall. “But no. You have to pick your drink.” He began dragging a bedside table around, rearranging the room so the table was in front of me. He picked up the mugs and set them down on the table.

He waved his hand over them like he was some game show host presenting me with prizes.

I nodded to the one on the right, keeping my glare pinned on him. Drinking either would be better than sitting tied to this chair with a throbbing headache. “Will you at least tell me which one I picked?”

He dragged his finger along my jaw to my chin and leaned down into my face. “No.” He picked up the rejected coffee and carried it to a small room connecting to the guest room. A bathroom it seemed.

I could hear him dump it down the sink. If I wanted coffee, I had to drink the one looming on the table in front of me.

I bent forward and tried to smell it, my wrists digging into the back of the chair as I tried to pull forward.

“Do you really think I would give you something you could smell?”

My mouth twisted to the side, as if my tongue didn’t dare try it.

“You won’t be able to taste it either.”

I let out a sigh. The only options I had were to scowl at him and do nothing, or scowl at him and try it. I took a tentative slurp, letting it coat my mouth; either he was right about the taste or I was very lucky. “Will you tell me now?”

“Take another sip and I’ll consider it.”

My stomach tried to retch, but the only thing worse than being headachey and tied to a chair would be being headachey, tied to a chair, and covered in vomit. If I was going to die, I was going to die with some level of dignity. Or at least not covered in my own bile.

I complied and took another sip.

He flung his hands up and began to back out of the room. “Death isn’t ready for you yet.”

My shoulders relaxed and I leaned back in my chair. Perhaps I was a little scared of dying, even if I thought it better than my current situation.

But I wasn’t going to die. Not that morning.

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The morning passed with little care that I was kidnapped and missing. I managed to scoot my chair so I could see out the window better and leaned my forehead against the glass. I knew I wasn’t far out of town. He lived in the sort of area that had plenty of houses, but each one had plenty of land too. It looked like he lived on a ranch of sorts. I couldn’t tell much when I had gotten there the evening before–it was too dark already. With the sun now up, I could admire the rolling hills. The clouds meandering by. The grass glimmering like liquid gold.

It was beautiful, though it was little comfort. But it was better than nothing, so I let myself get lost in the view.

I grumbled as my bladder started to complain.

“Hey!” I screamed for him. If he was going to keep me tied up in a room, I was not going to be some sweetheart that was easy to live with. “Helloooo!” I began to bang my chair around as I shrieked.

“Would you shut up?” The door flew open and he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“I have to pee.”

He let out a sigh that seemed to me like he wasn’t mad anymore, though definitely still annoyed that I was screaming and scratching up his wood floors. “All right….” He made his way over to me and crouched down to undo my ankles. “If you kick me….”

“I really have to pee.”

He let out a soft laugh as the ropes slackened and dropped to the floor. He rose to his feet and motioned toward the bathroom door. “Go.”

I sort of half stood, half fell from the chair, but he caught my arm. I let out a huff and glared at him, twisting my wrists in the rope. “How do you propose I take my pants off?”

“I’ll–”

“No! Don’t you dare even suggest it or I will kick you.”

He frowned, but I began to hop back and forth on my toes.

“Fine! Fine, fine.” He flipped me around and began working on the rope binding my wrists.

Based on how sore I was, I must have been tied up for hours. Though how long exactly, I didn’t know. It could have been all night or just a few hours. Either way, it felt glorious to have my wrists free.

I bolted the moment the ropes were off and slammed the bathroom door shut behind me. I could hear him laughing through the door.

I took my time. Savoring my sort of pseudo-freedom. I looked down at the tile floors. White marble, maybe. He seemed to be the kind of guy who would have marble floors.

The bath mats were plush and thick, the lights were those fancy can lights that dim, the shower was clear glass with a brushed nickel shower head and matching knobs and a large bathtub sitting at the bottom. I thought, perhaps if I was really sweet, he’d just let me die in that bathtub.

When I finished killing time by sitting on the toilet, I stood up to stare at myself in the mirror. I looked just as good as I had the night before. I’d put so much effort into my look for him. I wanted to impress him and let him savor me. No longer, though.

I washed my hands, splashed some water on my face, and used his fluffy towels to dry off.

When I stepped out, he was sitting on the edge of the bed nearest the bathroom, running the rope through his hands and watching me.

I knew it was a bad idea, but I darted for my escape. I was scrambling down the hall when he flew after me and tackled me. My cheek slammed against the floor and he began dragging me toward himself.

I don’t know why I was screaming. No one could hear me, but I screamed as loud as I could and clawed at the rug beneath us. I dug my nails in so hard I felt one bend and I let out a howl of pain.

But it wasn’t enough to get away from him, and he flipped me over, straddling my hips and pinning my wrists to the floor.

“You think you’re the first person to try that?”

Stay strong. “So you’ve done this before.”

He grinned and leaned in until I had to turn my face away or his lips would brush mine. “A few times.”

I tried to buck him off and squirm away as he dragged my wrists together and held them in one hand.

He snatched my jaw and turned my face toward his. “You be good, and I’ll give you free rein of that room.”

I kept my mouth shut. He was mad enough as is, and I didn’t think he would just kill me if I annoyed him too much. He’d torture me even more. He’d leave me tied to that chair and let me soil myself next time I screamed for him.

He looked over my face like he thought I was gorgeous. The way someone should look at the love of their life, not their captive.

Then his hand left my jaw, dragging down my throat and along my body. “It’d be a shame for you to die.” He said it so plainly, like he wasn’t the one trying to kill me.

I squeezed my eyes shut and clenched my teeth as I felt his fingers caressing my inner thighs.

He laughed at me, that soft dulcet laugh I wished had never piqued my interest in him. “You liked it last night.”

I shook my head and a whimper escaped me. Suddenly, I felt so dirty. I didn’t know what he had done to me last night. I didn’t remember any of it.

He leaned in and kissed the side of my neck, then whispered against my skin, “And I hadn’t even drugged you yet.”

I tried wriggling more as if I could save myself and let out a cry as his fingertips teased the top of my jeans.

He pushed himself up and stared down at me. “Are you ready to be good?”

I looked up at him again, meeting his stare, and nodded. My eyes were beginning to sting, and he let go of my wrists to wipe away a tear that had spilled over my lashes.

“Don’t cry.” It didn’t actually seem to bother him I was crying. “We’ll make your stay here fun if you’re good.”

I didn’t want to know what “fun” meant in that context, not after he ran his hands over me like he owned me.

He rose to his feet and held his hand out to help me up, which I obligingly took, realizing that he would likely get mad at me all over if I spurned him.

He led me back to my prison like we were lovers, and I sulked back to the chair and sank down in it, waiting for him to tie me up again.

“Oh, baby.” He cupped my chin in his fingers. He was standing too close, but I didn’t flinch or lean back. I just let him tilt my face up. “You’ve learned your lesson, haven’t you?”

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He left me alone and untied in the guest room. He locked the door, though I’m sure I could have broken it down had I tried hard enough, but there was no way to quietly break down a door.

Even if I could have, though…even if I could pick the lock or sneak out or do anything quietly, I trembled at the thought of disobeying him again. My hands shook for hours; the mountains could no longer calm me, and every few moments another tear would escape me.

My chest was so tight I thought it might cave in, I struggled to breathe. This was my tomb.

I heard the lock click and let my eyes rove over to him as he walked in.

“You moved to the bed.” He was carrying two plates as he walked in. He kicked the door shut behind himself.

Of course I had moved to the bed. Was I supposed to stay in that Godforsaken chair? Or did he think he had broken me enough I wouldn’t bother moving?

He set the two plates on the bedside table and reached out to my face. His thumb grazed the bruise forming on my cheek. “Does it hurt?”

I shook my head. It didn’t hurt as much anymore. I had placed a cool washcloth on it to soothe the pain at first, and by the time he returned with dinner, the throbbing had mostly subsided, though it did hurt when he touched it.

He picked up my hand and looked at my broken nail. It had lifted up and left a bruise beneath it, though it hadn’t ripped completely off. He raised it to his lips and kissed it. That time, I did flinch.

“I’m sorry.” He kissed it again, a smile growing across his lips every time I squirmed in pain.

I looked at the two plates sitting on the table. He had made some hand-rolled sushi. Awfully decadent for trying to kill me. If I chose the poisoned one, I almost hoped he ate the other so it wouldn’t go to waste. I also hoped he would choke on it.

I slid over the plate closest to me and picked it up. I turned it around a few times, then glanced at the other, not sure if I was looking for a hint of mercy or survival.

“You survive this, you’ll be the new record holder.”

I glanced up at him and decided I wished I would die. I didn’t want to be the record holder, though that meant I was currently tied with whichever poor soul he had previously tortured. “Did you actually poison them, or did they kill themselves?”

He smiled at me and picked up the other plate, cocking his head and holding it out to me to see if I really wanted to go with the one I had picked. “They made the wrong choice.”

I glanced between them, questions racing through me. Does he want me to survive? Is he taunting me? Which one is he holding? I didn’t know what he meant. For all I knew, he could have been holding either.

I pulled my original choice in closer to myself. “I think I’ll stick with this one.”

A smile stretched across his face as he pulled the other roll back. “Interesting. Don’t trust me? Or do you want to die?”

I narrowed my eyes on him. “You’re just messing with me.” I picked up a piece and shoved it in my mouth before he could say anything else to tempt me.

He let out a chuckle. “Congrats.” He turned to walk away. “We have a new record.”

After stuffing my face, I sank under the blankets and stared out the window again. He only returned to get my empty plate.

I watched him walk away, and he turned in the doorway to look back at me. “What?”

I frowned at him; curiosity must have been written across my face. “Did you poison either of them?”

“I did.” He leaned against the doorframe. “Do you need me to prove it to you next time?”

I wrinkled my nose at him. I wished he had just lied to me, or given me some vague answer like, “Maybe, who knows?” with a passive shrug.

“Fine.” I sat up and let the blankets drop from my body. “Tomorrow at dinner. I want to see you make it.” I had to face the truth.

I had to know.

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We went through the next day as normal. Two coffees, two lunches (he had made sandwiches), two snacks when I complained I was hungry.

Before dinner, I had a long soak in the bathtub. I wouldn’t die before getting to use it. I couldn’t quite relax in it, but it still felt nice. I could savor the feeling of momentary safety.

I thought to dunk my head under and stay down, but I recalled the feeling of water rushing into my mouth and nose as a child learning to swim and shook that idea off. I’d rather it be poison. Or perhaps if I did choose wrong, I could ask him to gut me and make it fast.

He probably liked watching his victims die, though.

I sat in the tub for almost an hour, wavering between wanting to survive and wanting to be done. The water had gone from scalding to lukewarm, and I knew it was time to get out.

I pulled on a robe, not thrilled with the idea of putting on my dirty clothes again. He had offered to wash them anyway. As he put it, “You seem keen on sticking around, so I might as well.”

I sat in my room reading until I heard him knock and open the door. How polite. I scoffed silently to myself.

“You ready?” He asked like we were going grocery shopping or out to dinner. Too casual for an execution.

I slid out of bed and followed him to the kitchen, taking in his house as we walked. It was nice–very modern and clean. The walls were a cool white. The rugs were grey. Everything was monochrome with the occasional splash of color from a painting hanging on the wall or a vase of flowers.

I watched over his shoulder as he worked, cutting vegetables, sautéing onions. He was making a butternut squash soup.

And he did, in fact, lace only one with…something. I wasn’t well versed enough in poisons to know.

I took a seat at the dining table, keeping my eyes on him as he garnished the top with a habanero oil.

He walked over, set one on each side of me and leaned his hands around me.

“I-I…I know which one is which.” I stared at them. He hadn’t bothered to make me close my eyes or swap them around behind my back. He just let me watch as he set them down in front of me.

“You do, don’t you.” His lips grazed the back of my neck and I let out a shiver. “Well?” His breath against my skin sent goosebumps racing across my body. “Pick your poison.”
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For Pick Your Poison II click here – Only recommended for those who really want a part 2

    A few thank-you’s to the people who helped me write this, because you never truly write alone. I’ve included their Twitter handles as applicable so you can check them out.

Thank you to my husband for reading this and putting up with my mad scheming. I promise I won’t poison you one day.

    Thank you to Drew (@dcafwriting) for your awesome edits and guidance. Ami (@babyvampami), Caitlin (@EditEverAfter and @Caitlin_Pea), Bill, and Claire for reading over this and offering feedback. Max (@datmaxdude) for the feedback and art (and changing fonts a million times).

    Thank you to Nellie (@NellieKatie) and Momus (@MomusNajmi) for food suggestions, which I used in this story. I am grateful to everyone else who gave suggestions as well.

    Thank you to my morning tea for inspiring this.

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