Elana Walters

“Spiking someone’s drink sounds innocuous, but it is nothing short of evil.”

-Mallory O’Meara


The air worsens with each rasping breath you take. Hot and muggy, there is sweat building along your hairline—a wet crown of triumph as you race across the parking lot—leaving the hospital behind. A smile breaks across your face, and you pump your arms harder. You force your legs to move faster. You nearly double over in a coughing fit.

You escaped. You’re free.

Your teeth rattle with each step. Numb limbs steer you deeper into the lot and you weave through cars, streetlamps, and traffic cones. Your grin mirrors the slight curve of the moon.

As you run, you bury your thoughts, sneak past the warning signs raging through your mind, and let yourself escape. Your stomach leaps when you look up and see the night sky stitched between the buildings. The world is once again coming into focus for you. Dizzying lens finally sharpen the farther you travel.

“I’m running,” you say to the phone gripped in your hand. “I escaped.”

A voice crackles back. You called someone, somehow.

They are speaking—no, yelling—at you. Their words are fist deep in fear and you come to a sudden stop, feet skidding on the pavement. The air ceases to whisper. The moon peers through cloudy fingers and the parking lot halts at a standstill. The world crosses its arms and holds its breath. It waits with you.

Panting, you listen. Hard.

“You need to turn back around.”

They are telling you to swivel on the balls of your feet and return to the scratched, transparent doors, the officers dripping in blue, and the nurses shielded in white. To ease yourself back into the steely grip of the rugged couches and sit amongst the wounded bodies haloed in the overhead lights. To let fear smother you back into confinement.

“I don’t want to,” you strain, the words unraveling out of you.

“You have to.”

“No, please.”

“You have to let them help you.”

“But I’m alone.”

“I know, I know. We’re coming.”

“You’re coming?”

For a moment, your thoughts can layer themselves rather than bump up against the walls of your brain.

Your friends. They’re coming. You won’t be alone anymore.

“Go back to the hospital.” Your friend’s voice startles you out of relief and determination splits up your spine as you straighten.

The hospital. 

You can do that.

You start back in the direction you came when your stomach drops. Twisting, you move in a circle, taking a few hesitant steps in one direction before jerking back to another. Your heart pounds in your ears with each second that passes.

You don’t know where to go.

You were moving too quickly—too drunk on the feeling of freedom to remember which path you traveled down. Too wasted to have any memory of how you even escaped in the first place. Too stupid, and now, too lost.

“I—I—I don’t know!” You cry, still turning in a circle to find something, anything, you can remember. Something familiar, a landmark, maybe. But there is nothing, and the moon watches you with a hazy hand propped under its chin as you struggle.

“I can’t remember anything!”

The darkness closes in. The shadows laugh and the brick buildings tower over you. The cars jostle from a sudden breeze—no, they’re laughing too—the whole parking lot becomes one big laughingstock. Pointing, and just laughing. You cry.

“Please find me.”

A screech, and then bright lights swerve in front of you. Two beams cut through the night and fog. Shakily, you lift a hand, blinking against the glare. The car hasn’t come to a full stop when a few figures spring from it and race toward you.

They found you.


Your thoughts end with a pile of receipts. Heaped haphazardly on black plastic trays—the blunt words, your drink orders for the night, swim on a white backdrop—as your mind quickly loses its grip on reality. As you fade, you watch the receipts flutter each time the side door opens and sweeps in the breeze. The sharp scent of alcohol wafts into your face.

You love margaritas.

The thought is fleeting, and you peer into the glass.

Your eyes run circles around the bottom, taking in the bowl and the remnants of your drink still lingering there. Your straw doesn’t have the strength to pull up anymore, leaving a tiny pool of pink watermelon alcohol to glare back at you. But your staring contest does not last very long, because you are slipping away—a universe of black is taking your eyesight.

Next to you, your friends are rising from their seats. The sounds around you become a cacophony—the harsh screech of wooden chairs being pushed back, laughter raining down as your friends’ stumble around the table, and the distant voice of a singer turning restless as you prepare to leave.

Another place.

You are going to another location. All of you.

No fee to enter.

That means you must go. All of you.

You rise from your seat. Your feet grip the floor, and again, your gaze finds the last bit of alcohol still in the glass. The intensity of it. The force of its effect is taking a much bigger toll on you than you realize. A bigger toll than you’re used to.

Why do you feel this way?

You’ve drank before. You know this feeling well. You know alcohol is supposed to whisk you away, but this is shoving you. What’s changed?

It has more alcohol in it.

That’s what your friend said when he took a sip earlier. He’s right—the drink was darker, stronger, fizzier. You liked the way it melted on your tongue and tumbled down your throat. The drink is special, it wants you to have fun. You shouldn’t fight its wishes.

You know alcohol likes to hold your brain and jostle your thoughts, but this time, you let the exhaustion from this drink trickle into your eyes. It’s different, but you still allow it to complete its work. This is what alcohol was made to do.

You blink and try to follow your friends out the door. You want to be with them. You want to enjoy their company—use this night to numb the pile of assignments waiting for you back in your dorm room. You want to escape, and these drinks have always held out their hands to take you wherever you wanted to go.

 On your feet, the room sways. You turn to



And you break from the surface again.

You see white—white tiles, white walls, white nurses. Embedded, overhead bulbs pour light over you. Titanic windows and muted cushions fill the space. Curved desks, glass sliding doors, and vanilla curtains dot the room. Police officers—one standing two steps from where you sit—hold bleak eyes and bear black masks.

How did you get here?

Your thoughts are swirling. You probe at them, but finding an answer is like fishing a bug out of drinking water. No matter how many times you angle the spoon, the bug, the answer, manages to slip out of reach each time. You can’t catch it.

Fear grapples you instead.

You’re in a waiting room.

A lick of sanity. Something to hold onto. Something you are certain of.

This is a hospital.

Seated sporadically around the room, there are patients. A man, pale and bloodied, clutches a wound at his side. A couple huddles in the corner, whispering, and avoiding any eyes. A woman fiddles with the plastic wristband choking her wrist and shoots the officer beside her a sharp look. Somewhere, a man screams, and you jump at the sound.

You’re brought back when your phone buzzes.

You dip your chin—you were in the middle of texting someone. You didn’t realize you’d lost reality to begin with, but here you are, with the remnant of a previous conversation suddenly sprawled in your hand.

The sentence is half-finished and waiting to be sent. The frantic replies of a friend are coming in fast—green bubbles forming an assembly line with each second. You squint, the messages coming up fuzzy on the phone screen. You can’t read the words.

What’s happening?

Your hand wrestles with your glasses, running your fingers over the rims. You try again, but the lanky vowels, gaunt consonants, and scrawny exclamation points splinter before your eyes like broken bones thrown into the black dirt of an open grave. There is no significance in their presence—just the ghost of something which should mean more—if you could read what they said.

Your body sways and slumps into the hard cushions, your head spinning. You can’t breathe. Can’t think. Can’t read. Can’t move.


You are trapped and—


Your friends, where did they go? You were at the bar with them. It’s possible they are here somewhere, just hiding behind the eggshell curtains and dull couches. They wouldn’t leave you. They didn’t leave you.

Did they?

Your phone buzzes again. You look down. Still can’t read.

Why are you alone?

An answer bleaches through your mind. It consumes you, rising from the stained couch and into your thoughts. Panic swivels into anger. Anger fractures into disbelief. Disbelief settles into clarity.

You took the fall for them, and they left you.

That’s right—you took the fall. All of you were drunk at the bar, but you’re the only one sitting here. That is why you’re alone, abandoned, and scared amongst people bleeding, groaning, and dying in a hospital. You got caught and they left you to deal with the consequences.

But you will not stay here. 

Determination hurls through sadness. A decision is clear.

You raise your chin and catch sight of the sliding doors. You press your feet into the ground and stand. You may have fallen, but your legs still work. They can pick you up and lead you home. Unlike your friends, they will not abandon you. They will help you run.

In an instant, the room jerks. A cascade of silver flocks to your left, and before you can tip with it, you begin to walk. One foot in front of another. Eyes rapt on the outside and heart rooted in



The overhead lights are back, but this time, you are aware of your body, stretched across the grimy couch. There’s a hand stroking your hair gently, soothingly. Your head rests in someone’s lap and they sense your movement. The person looks down—his head momentarily blocking the lights like an eclipse—his hand freezing in your hair. Immediately, you recognize his face and sink further into relief.

Your friend is here. You’re no longer alone.

He was at the bar with you—long before this place, the hospital, and when your desperate cries for help led him and the rest of your friends to the parking lot outside. But even though your wish for the night, company, has finally arrived, guilt still flares in your stomach. It shoots through your own concerns, humiliation dangling behind it.

“You don’t have to stay here with me.” Your lips struggle to form the words from intoxication and shame. “I know it’s late. I promise, I won’t be mad if you leave.”

His eyes harden. “I’m not leaving you,” he says firmly. He’s wearing a face mask and you watch it slip past his nose. Your fingers find the wire of your own mask and you shape it to your skin—masking the pain hiding halfway underneath.

“Please don’t be angry,” you whisper.

A different kind of blue shines through your eyes—something a polyester mask can’t hide. Your friend sees it swimming in your irises and snatches it up just as quickly as it came.

“I want to stay,” he tells you. “You’re one of my best friends and you needed help. Let me be here. No more apologizing.”


You want to say more—want to tell him how much his patience and time and comfort means to you. Want to tell him how grateful you are he answered your text and found you. Want to tell him thank you for everything he’s done so far and will do.

But the fogginess is scooping you back up again. The drunk thoughts are stirring you back to sleep. Another round of forgotten, distorted memories wait for you to shut your eyes, so they can escape into the night and into the parking lot much like you had an hour before. You won’t be able to catch the images in the morning. They’ll be too far.

You blink rapidly.

You want to stay up. You want to keep talking to him, your friend. You’re alone when you sleep—alcohol is the thief of dreams. You want to remember this.

But sleep takes you anyway and, with it, you drift back into the storm that brought you here in the first place.



There is power in that word and your vision returns—detangling itself from the corners of the night sky it had fallen into. Consciousness is a shooting star dashing downward. The word, stop, has snared you and yanked you back into the city; to the moonlit street and the two warm bodies under your arms. The word brings you back to life.

You dig your fingers into the bony shoulders of your friends. You remember hearing their concern earlier when you left the bar and when you were lost somewhere between the sidewalk and the stars. They think something is wrong. They want to get you home. They’re trying to help you walk.

But now, you can feel their muscles tensing. You can sense their pin-straight backs. You bridge the fear between them and make it your own.

Something is wrong.

You hear one of your friends’ whispers.


The realization strikes you. It heralds past the other things occurring in your body—careening past the dizziness, confusion, and numbness forming in your legs. You breathe in your friends’ fear and your feet find solid ground.

Help them.

It does not matter your body is enmeshed with alcohol and quivering with exhaustion. It does not matter those traces of starlight are still dancing in your vision and nausea is biting down on your lip. It does not matter your legs threaten to fold under you—your balance as fragile as the receipts swept away by the wind back at the bar.

Your friends are scared and that is enough to try and help them.

Your feet plant into the ground—determined vines snaking out of you and moving between the cracks in the sidewalk. Your nails dig into your friends’ shoulders, and with all the strength you can manage, you shove them away. Without their body heat, the night air traces its knuckles over your ribcage where a sliver of skin escapes from under your shirt.

Your friends look back at you.

Fuzzy clouds smatter your surroundings, leaving only your friends amid a kaleidoscope. Behind you, the siren peals like thunder. A car door slams with a deafening crack and the warning cries of a walkie talkie draw closer. In your friends’ pupils, you can see the red and blue lightning flash in their eyes. The air around you grows tense, thick. There is a storm coming, and you cannot outrun its rain.


You will not let your friends suffer this fate. You will not let them fall because you are not quick enough. They are not sober enough to outlast the cops and neither are you, but you are drunker and there is no escaping. So, you lift a hand and let the air ride along your skin as you gesture for them to keep walking. Your lips pry themselves open and the words touch the space between you.

“Go,” you say, and muster up a smile. “I’ll be okay.”

In those few words, there are lies spangled between each breath. Uncertainty clings to each syllable. Fear coats each period. So much hanging between such small spaces of time. But before your friends can react, you turn.

You face the cop.

Vermillion and sapphire paint the city. Darkness forms in the corners of your vision—wiggling like bugs caught under your eyelashes—as the cop glides across the sidewalk. Weakly, you wave your friends away again.

Not them.

You sense the cop’s stare. She wants you.

But why?

Your friends were helping you home—no, they were dragging you home. Two boys and one girl settled between them. Hanging her head. Unable to walk. Drunk.

Of course, she stopped you.

As she approaches, your mind jumps between the ground and the sky like a bouncing ball, and with nervous hands, you try and catch hold of your thoughts. You yank them down and hold them close. You focus.

The cop says something to your friends. She tells them to leave you here, with her. Alone. Even though you told them to go, now they’re being forced. They have no choice, and you must strain to hear their hesitant footsteps fading behind you. You wonder where they’re going. You hope it isn’t too far.

The cop’s face is thick with fog, hazy despite her closeness, when she finally looks at you. You inhale and your lungs constrict, twisted by her smoky features. You watch an endless stream of words leave her lips and arrive at your ears. Muddled. Jumbled. Warped beyond your comprehension.

Tell her nothing.

Your drunken thoughts anchor this one realization by its ankles. Despite the alcohol dancing through you, this thought is the only thing you can hold onto. The only thing you know how to do.


“Where have you been?” The officer asks, lowering herself to meet you eye to eye. You look past her—your vision drifting over her shoulder and to the street arching its back.

“I don’t know.”

“Who were you with?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Were you drinking?”


In a flash, her hulking figure dissolves back into the pockets of black. Without her, the city street jostles. Slipping and sliding and bouncing. Struggling. If you move at all, even if your eyes dare to follow the cop to the side, your legs will cave. You will dive into the pavement and the cement will swallow you whole. So, you stare ahead and hope your friends are long gone even if you wish they weren’t. You want their company. You miss it.

Then, a dark shroud glides in front of you. It’s the cop, her face half-hidden with shadows. She is holding something, and her words fall on deaf ears again. But somehow, your mind manages to string the sounds together into a lifeline, and with it, comes an understanding.

That’s a breathalyzer.

Your defenses, your lies, are nothing against the gaping mouth of a breathalyzer. You stare down at it, the nozzle like a gun to the face. Its mouth, the black abyss, beckons you. It wants to lock lips and suck your alcohol breath into its lungs.

There is no working around it. Again, you hope your friends are long gone.

The cop lifts her hand, and you lean forward. Your toes curl in your sneakers; arms folded across your chest. You open your mouth, let the plastic slide between your lips, and squeeze your eyes shut. A final call for help blows over your opaque thoughts.

This is it for you. 

You are underage. You aren’t supposed to be drinking. The university will know what you’ve been doing under their nose, and the state will know your name amidst the masses. You will be expelled.

But with all of this in mind—with no lifeboats left to carry you home—you let out a slow and long, long,



At last, you are leaving the hospital. Hours later, the alcohol has worn off; your mind pries itself from the fog and your thoughts turn into solid matter. The doctor—having realized you’ve finally sobered up—walks you out, but not before telling you gently to return to her in case any of your memories resurface.

Wearily, you swallow, and nod—knowing what she is implying but too scared to think about it when freedom is right at the tip of your tongue. Instead, you turn to your friend. He holds the door open, and the clammy air welcomes you back into its sticky embrace, just like it did when you first escaped the building’s confinement.

Now, you can truly see the parking lot as you and your friend walk across its length in search of your other friends’ car. It seems foolish to think only a few hours ago, you thought it was all laughing at you. Now, everything is silent—save for the sudden slam of a car door.


Three figures emerge from one car and snake toward you. Excitement pushes you forward, and you take off, meeting them halfway. You recognize their faces, their clothes, and their voices. Your friends are here, and they have their arms open to welcome you home again.

You dive into their outstretched hands—laughing, crying, and hollering with joy. You scream into their ears as you hug them. They wrap their arms around you and nestle their noses into the crook of your shoulder. Disbelief and happiness bursts in your chest, and you choke on a sob.

They came back for you.

Even when the world collapsed, and the universe stole the memories from your mind, your friends were there to pull you back into the present. Even after you told them to leave, told them you would weather this storm alone, they returned and pulled you back to shore. They scooped you up, held you close, and now, they are bringing you home. They are your home.

And when morning encompasses the sky and the memories from the night sort themselves in your sleep, you’ll turn to them for answers. When the black holes of the universe take the place of time, they will help you fill in the gaps. And even later, when the flaming realization of what happened to your drink finally hits you full throttle, they will be there to tell you it wasn’t your fault. To tell you that you are safe now. To tell you it was impossible to have known the power a single margarita could wield. Through it all, they will be there.

And, because of them, you will be there too.

Alive and never alone.

About the Author

Elana Walters is a third-year student at the University of Iowa studying English and creative writing. Her work has appeared in a handful of magazines including the Fahmidan Journal, Litro Magazine, and Open Ceilings. She can be found on Instagram @elanawalters5