Author’s Content Warning: This story closely relates to my struggles with self-harm and being a parent. Therefore, if any reader that is sensitive to discussions of self-harming, please feel free to pass on reading this story.

Officer Tate entered the interview room, two small coffees balancing in one hand, and closed the door behind him. Detective Erika Bowers sat at the faded wood table, sifting through a spread-out file, photos, reports, lurid close ups of numerous lacerations. The lighting was intense, conforming to every stereotype that existed for police interrogation rooms, and the T.V. sat perched in the upper corner next to the CCTV camera, both silent partners that were now the backbone to any case these days. Detective Bowers didn’t look up as Tate set down her cup of instant coffee.  

“Angela said you’ve been here all night,” Tate said, breaking the tense air that permeated from the woman. “You get anything out of him?”  

Bowers stopped shuffling through the photos, grabbed the TV remote, and pressed it. An off-color security recording ran on the screen: a man and a child, holding hands, entered the bathroom together. Poor tracking made the two bodies shift and twist until their walk no longer looked human, a jittering imitation. Bowers pressed another button. The tape whined and shot forward. In a flash the man exploded out of the bathroom—alone—covered in blood. Bowers pressed another button and the man’s violent speed ceased to a slow, slumped shuffle, leaning against the wall as if he could barely stand without its aid. The frame froze as she set down the remote.  

Twenty-two seconds. That’s how long it took to review the footage. Footage that Tate had watched a hundred times already. Officially, the man and the boy were in the bathroom for seventeen minutes. Two walked in, one walked out. Tate pursed his lips and shook his head. It’s  just not enough time, he thought. All that blood in the bathroom, and the boy’s records showed  he weighed thirty-four pounds at his last doctor’s visit. Thirty-four pounds of body matter.  Seventeen minutes. It’s just not enough time.  

Detective Bowers sighed. “He—well, this is all I got outta him last night.” She grabbed a  yellow legal pad and slid it across the table toward Tate. The detective then grabbed her coffee,  stared off into the distance, and blew intermittently on the dark liquid.  

“A confession?” Tate asked.  

“If that’s what you want to call it.”  

The handwriting was stilted, smearing, not much more refined than an eighth grader. And the words ran the entire page without break, then on to the next page, and on. “Holy shit, you got him talkin’ alright.” The officer thumbed through the notepad, then returned to the beginning.  Without taking his eyes off the pages, he sat across from Bowers.  

“Lotta good it did me,” Bowers said, still entranced by the stained FRP walls of the interrogation room. “His own three-year-old son…”  

That caused Tate to look up at the detective. He hesitated for what seemed like an appropriate amount of time, and said, “You mind if I…”  

Bowers only half-nodded as an answer, still softly blowing the steam off her drink.  

The officer’s attention returned to the legal pad. He began at the top, eyes having to adjust to the immature letters where the g’s looked like fallen S’s, and every word slanted toward the end of the page. He read slowly, a refined habit aimed at picking up the details: 

“I was thirteen when it started. No, that’s a lie. I was younger. No more lying, no more  hiding. It started when I was eleven, but I didn’t know what it was. I guess, like a lot of things in life, I started doing it without knowing why, just that it felt necessary. Looking  back now, it was a part of me that I was destined to find.  

My first cut came on accident while crawling under a barbed-wire fence. Me and my brothers were headed fishing, and since I was the youngest, I went last through the wire being held apart by the oldest. But as I crouched through, the wire slipped his hands. It  wasn’t a big gash on my arm, but it was deep. I remember staring at it with no reaction for what felt like forever. Inside, the pain was singing, and it felt good in a way. But what captured my attention was not the blood or the pain but what was under my skin.  

There was, I can’t explain it any other way, but there was… space. There was room. As  the blood left, I couldn’t help but stare at the hollowness and the vacantness of that space. My brothers surrounded me in shock, stammering and shouting at each other, but I just stared, not comprehending what I was seeing. The pain was different, almost like a release, like standing up after sitting for so long, an ache that never felt better.  

When I snapped out of it, I calmed my brothers. It was okay. I was fine. They couldn’t believe it though, arguing with me, each taking a look and panicking all over again. That’s when I knew I was different. They were witnessing something that was unimaginable to their bodies, as if I had taken flight and they could only flap their arms. They knew skin as a boundary, and now that mine was broken, they couldn’t look straight at it for long. We continued to walk to the river, their conversation wrapped around how to tell our stepfather, what he would do if there was a hospital bill, who would be the one to tell him, their terrified tears wiped from their cheeks. But I hardly listened, stealing glances at the wound, making sure I didn’t imagine what I’d first seen. It was still there, or rather, it wasn’t there.

It would be another year until I explored that space further. From time to time I would cut myself to make sure the space remained, blowing inside the cut to hear the hollow moan of an empty beer bottle. Screaming and shouting only to hear the faintest echo return from the wound.  

I think it needs saying that my stepfather really gave birth to the next evolutions of my talent. It was like the pressure that transforms a piece of coal into a diamond, and the more pressure, the quicker the transformation. He took things from me, more than anyone else in the house, at least that I saw.  

It wasn’t the beatings or the screaming that mattered, it was what he would take when he felt like the beatings or the screaming weren’t enough. My G.I. Joe action figures. My Pogs that were given at school. Comic books. Once I survived the violence, I would find  my room emptier than when I left it. And when I would hesitantly ask him about the missing items, he would shake his head, not paying much attention, but his smug smile told the whole story. Each torture in my life he relished in different ways, and this one  was softer, but no less enjoyable.  

Then there was the day my teacher bought me a book from the bookfair, Ella Enchanted. I read most of it that very day at school, during recess, skipping lunch. There was something wonderous in those pages. It wasn’t until I was home, looking around my  basement room, that I knew it would only be a matter of time till he took it. Maybe that night. Like a lot of talents, you only know what you can do by stretching your own boundaries, a faithful leap into the unknown. I tucked the book into my pants, went to the  kitchen and hid a small paring knife next to it, and headed for the bathroom. I had to wait  until the initial blood was done. But then, much to my surprise, the book easily fit. In fact, my slick fingers initially dropped the book into the space on accident before I picked it up and set it in the far corner. Out of reach from the scant light that illuminated the space inside. I wrapped my arm in toilet paper and pulled down my sleeve. The smile I wore walking out of that bathroom, I can’t tell you. For the first time in my life there was  something that was mine, a space that was only for me. No one could touch it. No one could see it. And I was able to keep things that were mine and mine alone.  

It didn’t take long before every joy I had was tucked away in the corners of the space beneath my skin. The Apollo Lego set that was given to me during a Christmas white elephant exchange. A tube of lipstick that I stole from my teacher’s desk. The award I was given in eighth grade for an art project. Each time I found a moment of privacy to stash my prized possessions away. I fondly remember this short period when that space was all mine… before others discovered it.  

Matthew Howard was my best friend in high school. He was a little rough around the edges, but we fit together okay. Matthew was an outcast bruiser, and I didn’t talk much. If anyone were to remember him today, the lone thing that probably stands out about him was that he sold cigarettes. During lunch I would linger next to him by the parking lot, listening to him complain about his alcoholic mom, and he would hustle cigarettes for a  buck. Things were simple and normal and fine this way.  

Until he caught me in the bathroom pulling out a book from my space. It had been mine for so long that to have someone else lay eyes on the space made me weak. I was scared. I feel weak now just remembering the moment. But Matthew was in awe. He gripped my arm, hard, twisting it sideways and around, examining the deep space, still largely empty  despite my meager deposits over the years. His mind quickly settled on a plan, and from then on, I was the person who held his cigarettes, safely stashed away from teachers and school security.  

There wasn’t a day that went by that Matthew didn’t use the space, asking for three singles, returning wadded-up bills to be hidden for safe keeping. I didn’t mind much, I  suppose. It seemed natural that this became the case. As the secret never seemed to settle under my sole ownership, the fear was always there that it would return to the world, no matter how hard I gripped it, and so it did. It wasn’t long before Matthew was helping  himself. Gone were my joys and passions from years past, replaced with half-empty bottles of Potters’ vodka, condoms, Hustler magazines. He didn’t ask any more either. Instead, he had gotten his own knife, accessing the space whenever he needed it. Like when he saw a cop car rounding the corner. Rushing to hoard any paraphernalia he might have had on him, he swiftly cut into me. They were bloodless cuts by then, evolved to  accommodate the new life I was leading.  

I never minded that much, so this carried on past high school, well into my twenties.  Matthew moving on to more profitable drugs and earning extra money from friends for rental space inside me. Jason, Bobby, a boy everyone called Q, each had unlimited access to my space, and the more they used the space, the more it seemed to grow. It got to the  point that I didn’t know how much space there was or where everyone was placing their precious cargo inside me. I had to rely on their memories as they sifted underneath my skin. And I began to drink more then. Trying new drugs in front of audiences that laughed at my intense reactions. There was a numbness that came with the high, often a welcome relief. It stayed that way for a long time, it seemed. The edges of my wounds now forever open, calloused at the edges from too much use.  

Then she came along. Krista. I can’t say why, thinking back, but the moment she walked through the door, I pulled my sleeves down. We met at a party, both reeking of booze from the day before. That whole night we spent together and never left each other’s side  from then on. Though we never spoke of it, I am sure she knew, everyone did. Whispers spread faster than judgement. But she never brought it up, and I kept my sleeves down, it was simple and nice. After her, people quit using the space. I think they just got the hint, somehow. Or maybe she had set the boundary without me knowing, I don’t know. But whatever happened, it quit being brought up and I sorta forgot about it. As if opening my eyes for the first time since junior high, I realized that I didn’t need the space.  

It didn’t take long until we moved into a one-bedroom apartment together, and suddenly there was just space all around me. Closets and dressers and drawers. And the things I  liked stayed where I put them. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but it was space that was  outside, for me. Though I made sure I wasn’t greedy, compartmentalizing the things in my life so they took up as little space as possible. I knew there was a market for it after all, and I never wanted to take up more than absolutely necessary. Her space never approaching mine, we tip-toed around each other’s, almost as if she had learned the same lessons in the past that I had. Both understanding the economy of space, the delicate balance of existing in as little as possible. Lines drawn. Polite smiles issued. It worked well. 

That was until the positive pregnancy test. I witnessed the space inside her fill up with the soul of another, and she gasped within the little space left for her. It was astonishing watching her skin struggle to hold the sheer size growing inside. Bruised. Stretched thin. Even the bits of sadness that had always clung to the corners of her eyes was gone, replaced by a quiet, frightened desperation. Looking back, she was the first to know what was coming, but I don’t think she could ever say it out loud.  

My son was born October 21, 2018, and that was the last time any space outside was mine. His screams filled every corner of our lives, his hunger, his diapers. And slowly, I was drawn back to the space within. I don’t think Krista ever found anywhere else to exist, that’s the only reason I can make for her having done it. It’s only now that I regret not having shown her my empty space. I think, I don’t know, that it may have helped her, somehow. The only way I survived was inside the space. I became addicted to the quiet that existed there, while my world outside was overtaken by our son. Life felt like my  childhood all over again, having everything taken, every toy, book, and pleasure co-opted by another. I retreated inside and attempted to outlast this new other.  

Now, please understand, in light of what has happened, I don’t feel that way about my son now. He grew older and came to somehow understand my limits, and his own. We grew together. I love him so deeply that I would give him everything, every square millimeter of space I have left. Alright. If you’ve read this far maybe you might  understand what happened next.  

Yesterday, my son and I went to the mall. He needed to use the bathroom. When we got in the restroom, everything was normal. I helped him undress, as we’re still potty training, and he sat down. Then he slipped into the toilet. My shirtsleeves got wet as I pulled him out, and I rolled them up. He must have seen my open wound because he  grabbed my arm and asked what it was. And before I could stop him, he fell into the  space. I panicked. I searched and looked everywhere, but I couldn’t see him. I broke the bathroom mirror and made new doors, new windows, hoping to find him. There was nothing. The space had grown too deep. Honest to God, I don’t know where my son is, but I’m going to find him one way or another, and this isn’t helping me right now, Detective Bowers.” 

Officer Tate set the legal pad down. “Jesus Christ, what the hell is this?” He shook his head and tossed the confession on the table. “This guy is a goddamn lunatic!”  

A moment of silence passed that seemed to add to the weight of the officer’s words. Bowers stared off into space. Besides the empty cup sitting in front of her, the detective had hardly moved in the time it took Tate to read the confession.  

Finally the detective spoke, “Explain the missing body.”  

“He stashed it somewhere, I guess.”  

The detective reached and grabbed a stapled collection of papers, tossing them toward Tate. “Explain that the only blood found at the scene is his own.”  

The officer glanced at the papers and back at Bowers. “Hell, I don’t know. He cleaned up the scene and laid his own down in a panic.”  

“Doesn’t add up,” she said, absently.  

“I know, but this—” Tate pointed to the legal pad sitting on the table as if it were a type of poison that might spread if one were to touch it. “This is not what happened.” 

Detective Bowers sat still for a moment, seeming to contemplate Tate’s words, before she scrubbed her face with both palms. The woman padded her shirt pocket for a moment. Then, in a burst of motion, she stood up and headed for the door.  

“Where’re you going?” Tate asked, rising with her, following.  

“He took my pen—”  

Both officers rushed through the hall, dodging coworkers, then blasting through the doors  to the holding cells. They came to stop in front of the third cell on the line. Silence. Neither person acknowledging that the other was standing next to them.  

On the floor of the cell was a blood coated pen, a few drops of blood surrounding it, and nothing else.

David Riedel

Born and educated in Bosler, Wyoming, David Riedel earned his BA in English from the University of Wyoming and is currently completing his Master’s degree in literature. His fiction often examines the realities of addiction and mental illness inside this strange world we all inhabit. In 2021 he won the Torry Award for his short submission Terrestrial Issues.