What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Emmalee Altepeler, Writer

You hear the knife before you feel it. A whoosh as it displaces the air. A sickening squish as it bites into your skin. That’s when the pain comes. It’s like the powerful waves of the ocean, burying you in the pressure of the sea. And it’s seemingly unending, the waves hitting you over and over and over again. It’s worse than anything you have ever felt before, a current of pain stronger than you’ve ever imagined possible. 

You look up, look up at him. There’s an evil grin spread across his face, twisting his lips into something sinister. His hands are still gripping the knife, fingers circling around the handle. He plunges it in deeper, giving it a twirl like it’s a ballerina and your flesh is the dance floor. 

“Ah!” Your blood flows freely now, thick reds that form their own waves. There’s way too much blood… Your legs are weak and it’s a wonder you’re still standing. He wrenches the knife back out and you crumble from the pain. You lie motionless on the floor, a pool of your own blood spread out around you. Your eyes blur, making his malicious grin the last thing you see before blacking out.


I blink, feeling the bumpy rhythm of the bus. I am still alive, I am still alive. I count my thunderous heartbeats, reminding myself again and again that I live. I live. It was just a dream.

Something weighs heavy on my chest and it’s not just the weight of my backpack pressed against me. There’s a school dance next month and… I am going to ask the boy I have been crushing on forever if he will go with me. I just… I haven’t worked up the courage to ask him yet. What if he rejects me? What if I mess up? What if something worse happens? I don’t think my heart would be able to handle a beating like that. 


Your hands are bound behind you. The rope cuts into your skin with the strength of a knife, shredding more of your wrists though you are more than careful not to jostle it too much. Strong hands at your back roughly push you forward, towards… A rock, indented to perfectly fit the crook of someone’s neck. It’s covered in dried blood. 

Arriving at this rock, you are forced down to your knees. You rest your head on the rock without thinking, realizing only after the consequences of this action. In front of you is a figure cloaked in the deepest, darkest black and holding a heavy metal ax. He removes the hood and brings down the sharpened blade. You close your eyes.


I wake, cold sweat dripping from my skin and my sheets tangled around me in an attempt to strangle me. I try to unravel myself, only succeeding in getting further stuck. It’s hopeless, so I give up. A sigh escapes my lips as I turn to check my clock. 1:00. Sighing again, this time ragged and dramatic, I roll over and try to fall back asleep. 


You’re walking down a deserted street. Are you sneaking out? Taking a shortcut to get somewhere? No, you’re just out to enjoy the fresh air and marvel at the spectacular night sky. You’re just out to enjoy the eerie way the street lights dispel the darkness without really expelling the darkness.

You turn down a dark alleyway, running your fingers against the cold stone wall as you walk. There’s a shadow at the other end of the alleyway, walking away from you. So captivated you are with figuring out who this shadow is, that you don’t notice the nail by your feet before it’s too late. Your shoe hits the nail, a clanging ring filling the silence. A flinch as the shadow turns around and springs towards you!

You try to run away, but before you can so much as scream for help, you’re pinned to the wall. A gun is pressed to the back of your head, cold and wicked. The shadow, him, stares at you with a familiar evil grin on his face. You’re not given a warning, you aren’t offered any last words. He pulls the trigger and sprays your brains across the cold stone wall. 


I shuffle onto the bus, head down and thoughts off on some distant planet. The kid who sits next to me is chatty and wants to talk. But I can’t hold a conversation and I don’t want to. With mechanical movements, I put my earbuds in. It’s a universal sign that I don’t care. I stare blankly at the seat ahead. It’s a textured gray, with swirls of pen mapped out on it. Music I don’t hear is roaring too loudly in my ears, not nearly loud enough to drown out my doubts. I can do this. 


You stumble up rickety stairs. A step missed, you nearly tumble but you catch your balance just in time. There’s a bag over your head, obscuring your vision in a blanket of blackened gray. 

The steps reach an end and you stop, uneven ground offering no comfort beneath your feet. Cold hands skim against your neck as they gently remove the bag. He stands in front of you, with equal possibility of being an angel as he does being a devil. 

The wind is sharp and bitter, stabbing through your very being and making you shiver. He reaches above your head and grabs a knotted rope. A noose, placed around your neck like a necklace. You flinch as he tightens it. You watch with tears of desperation budding in your eyes as he stalks off to a nearby lever. Perhaps your pleading stirs the blood in his heart, for he turns and blows you a kiss… Snap!


“Hello!? Could you wake up enough to participate in class?” I jolt upright, spit dribbling from the corner of my mouth and papers sticking to my face.

“What?” How could I have fallen asleep again!?

“This is the fourth time this month… Do you need to go down to the office?”

“No.” I pull the paper from my skin and wipe the spit from my mouth. “Could you repeat the question?” Only a few hours till school ends. Only a few hours till I plan to find him and ask…

I chickened out, but that’s okay. There’s still plenty of time before the dance…


You stare out a glass window. You stare out at the street, at the trim green lawns and friendly neighbors. Mostly, you stare at him. He’s fidgeting with something in his hands. Finally, he looks up and motions for you to open the window. You do, unlocking the latch with fumbling fingers, for you refuse to take your eyes off him and risk him disappearing.

“Enjoy this little present,” he says, throwing whatever was in his hands through the open window. You catch it, a marvelous feat considering you’re still staring at him. He smiles and runs away. A smile of your own brightens your face as you take a look at what he gave you. It’s a flashy red cylinder with some sort of countdown timer. Ages seem to pass before you comprehend that countdowns are normally a bad thing. By the time you do, the timer has reached zero. You’re blown to bits in a short, painful instant.


Another sleepless night spent analyzing the ceiling and contemplating my life decisions. Do you care to hear my conclusions? I’m mentally traumatized from something. That’s the only logical explanation for this. Problem is, I don’t know what I’m mentally traumatized from. That’s how traumatizing whatever event causing these nightmares is! I’ve repressed the very memory of it. Isn’t that great? I can’t figure out how to fix this, not until I figure out what’s causing it… Maybe it’s just residue from mom walking out on dad? Could it be that simple? Or is it something else? Like I’m afraid of connection, or rejection, or possibility? What am I even thinking about… I need more sleep.

Somehow, I manage to drag myself to the bus without getting run over or collapsing on the ground in despair and exhaustion. I take my usual seat beside a window. This window is chill and iced with fog; I lean against it and let the bumps of the bus keep me from falling back asleep.


The wind whips around you at wicked speeds, violent enough to sweep you off your feet if you’re not careful. You stand at the edge of a cliff, looking down at the jagged rocks far far below. You kick some dirt with your foot and watch as it falls. Waves of vertigo overtake you as you can’t help but imagine yourself as that dirt, tumbling down to certain death. 

“Careful, you don’t want to fall,” he sings. You heed his advice, taking a step back, only to find something blocking the way. You turn and he’s standing right behind you. 

“Sorry, that wasn’t what I meant. You should be careful, or you won’t fall,” he says, playfully pushing you closer to the edge. At least, you interpret it as playful. Considering how close you are to the edge, close enough that one wrong move means falling to a painful death, maybe you should reconsider that?

“I said, fall!” He pushes you again. This time you do fall. You’re like those crumbled bits of dirt, tumbling at the whims of the wind to your death. 


Okay, who would have guessed but it’s really hard to learn stuff if you’re constantly falling asleep in class. That’s what everyone keeps telling me. Basically, if I’m caught sleeping in class again, I get detention. After school detention. Isn’t this horrible!? How can sleeping during class warrant detention? I’ll have to be more careful next time.

Anyways, I still haven’t asked him. Don’t judge me! You try asking him out if you want to get mad at me for dragging this on! (Actually, please don’t.) You try being murdered by him every time you so much as shut your eyes. I know what you’re thinking, “if shutting your eyes is the problem, don’t.” But I need sleep! Precious sleep…


It’s cold; everything’s cold. Like you’re in the arctic, like you’re trapped within an iceberg. But thankfully you’re not trapped. You’re soaring through the air, weightless, as even more cold wind rushes past you.

Bang! You hit the freezing water, knocking the air from your lungs and the blood from your heart. The water turns you into a living ice cube. Brrrrr! 

When you go up to breath, something or someone pushes you back down. You struggle to escape, thinking, “This is not how Batman dies.” You open your eyes, the cold water stinging you to the point of pointless tears. His hands are what are pushing you down. 

Ahh! You try to scream, but can’t do more than lose your precious remaining oxygen and inhale more water. Your vision darkens.


I wake up, gasping for air. I clutch my chest, trying to teach my lungs how to breathe again. Eventually, my ragged breaths even out and my heart slows. It takes longer for me to force my brain to stop screaming, “We’re drowning!”–longer for my bloodshot eyes to stop searching the shadows for some foe.

I am so done with this! I’m done with dreaming of him brutally murdering me every time I close my eyes. I’m done mulling this over and waiting for the perfect moment. The time is now! I’ll ask him after school today. I will. I have too.


Your feet are bare and wet. You’re in some sort of basement, water leaks from the floorboards above and collects on the ground. You really wish you weren’t standing on this ground, in the gross puddle. The water must be at least a few inches deep and it covers the whole basement floor. The water is murky and full of dirt and bugs. Your skin crawls as you watch a spider squirm while it drowns. Other than that, the basement is practically empty. Also really dark. The brightest part of the basement is the stairs leading up to salvation. 

He stands on the stairs, illuminated by the light like some sort of savior. He’s holding a hair dryer, attached by a snake-like black cord to an outlet on the wall. His hair doesn’t look wet, nor does it look windswept. So why does he have a hairdryer?

You get an answer quickly as he drops it. The cord is long enough that it reaches the water with no trouble. No trouble for the hairdryer, life ending trouble for you. 


So… I didn’t ask him out. I lost my nerve when he started speaking. I’d already lost my voice in his perfect eyes, so I wouldn’t have been able to ask him anyway.

Also, I fell asleep in class again! This is what my lack of sleep has led to, the climax of my sleepless adventure. Great, isn’t it? Now I have detention after school for the next two weeks. If my life were some poorly written romantic comedy, he would get detention too. We’d bond over our shared experience, find out we have a lot in common and start getting detention intentionally so we could get to know each other better. And eventually, after a lot of drama, we’d both realize we were madly in love with each other and announce our love at the same time all cutesy… Sigh… This is real life. None of that is remotely likely or even possible. Basically, detention just means I get more time to think. Wonderful…


You grip the hot cup of swirling liquid. It’s so hot that it hurts your hands to hold, but the warmth is welcome in the cold room you stand in. This room is full of empty whites and rejecting grays. The walls consume all the light. It gives the room a foreign, dangerous feel. 

You stand next to him, for the room is empty of chairs and tables. He smiles and offers you some sugar for the boiling drink. He is a lone ray of sunshine in this grim room. You smile as you take a sugar cube and drop it in the cup. He continues to smile and stares expectantly at you, his head tilted slightly. You sip the liquid. It burns your mouth, it sloshes painfully down your throat, yet still you smile. 

Crash! The cup slips from your hand and the liquid pools out on the tile floor.

“I… ‘mm sorry…” Your words are slurred and your knees weaken. You start to fall to the floor. 

“Shhh… It’s okay.” He helps you to take a seat, carefully to pull you away from the burning puddle of scalding liquid and shards of glass. “It’s a fast acting, minimal pain…”

You reach up, using the last of your strength to pull him into a kiss. 

“I have always wanted to do that,” you mutter, something in you feeling less bad about dying now that the truth is out. You meet his eyes. All traces of a smile have been erased from his lips and tears are streaming down his face. Your lungs are being constricted, like a snake is wrapping around them, and you’re struggling to breathe.



Waking up from yet another nightmare, I roll over to check the clock. It cheerfully tells me it’s only 2:30. A sigh as I realize I’m in for another night spent without valuable sleep.

Maybe it’s the insomnia talking or maybe it’s the monster lurking in my subconscious, but I am so done! I’ve had enough of these wretched nightmares! My waking hours are filled with thoughts of him and my sleeping hours are filled with my death caused by him! How am I ever supposed to escape? I see only one course of action, only one way to free myself from this curse. I must ask him to the dance. Today is the day!

He’s standing in the lunch line, waiting to get lunch. (I didn’t know we had lunch together)(Yes, I totally did…)(I’m like a moth to a flame, how could I not notice we had lunch together?)(Hmm, that simile works on a couple levels, considering moths die in flames.) I stand, taking deep calming breaths, and walk up to him. He smiles in a confused and unsure way, yet not unkind and it certainly seems friendly.

“Hi, um… Would you go to the dance with me?”