Rain pelts the cobblestone walkways of a university campus on a cool early April evening. The trees bend and crack in the heavy wind that consumes the outdoor space usually full of students. A few of them, carrying stacks of textbooks, scramble for the entrance and shield themselves from the downpour under jean jackets that gather specks of water like sponges. A few others, beer cans in hand, jolt from the entrance into the rain, ready to party the night away.

But one of them, Cherry Coles, covered in a black cardigan, lingers impatiently under a concrete overhead jutting out from the old gothic building. Smoking a cigarette to the filter, and waiting before a heavy steel door, her eyes scan the campus in a fervor as she nervously taps her foot in a puddle, then the door swings open. A woman in a lab coat, about thirty, with a stiff, calculated demeanor, sticks her head out.

“Miss Coles?” she says strictly.


“Come in.”

With a diligent, firm hand, the woman pushes the door further open. Cherry disposes of the cigarette in the puddle at her feet and snakes into the building.

Following the woman, Cherry eyes the cold, white walls of a long corridor. Barren, as if this part of the university has been shut down for some time. The footsteps echo like a distant woodpecker tapping an old oak. No one’s in the building. The air is thick like dark molasses, and the quiet unnerving. Faintly, the thunder outside rumbles.

“Do you need me to sign anything?” Cherry says. But there’s not a lick of a response from the woman in front of her. In fact, she picks up the pace, as if eager to avoid the question all together.

Sat in a vacant, tiled room, Cherry waits at a steel desk. There’s nothing in this room. No atmosphere except for the all-consuming aura of claustrophobia. Tapping her finger against the bend of her wrist, she’s nervous again. She turns to a double-mirrored window at her left and stares intently at herself. Her eyes trace the curve of her jawline to her neck. She raises a hand and brushes her finger against her hair, pulls it back over her ear, then relents.

Her eyes catch the sharp corner of the table, then a door behind her opens with a loud, extended squeal. She turns to see Celeste, a woman in her fifties, no lab coat, but she’s in a blue turtleneck. Her posture open as she gingerly holds a clipboard to her chest while grasping a small paper cup. She closes the door behind her, then turns back to Cherry.

“Cherry, right?” her voice is inviting. Motherly, even.

“Yeah. Look, that other lady didn’t tell me anything—”

Celeste shuffles over to the other side of the table and pulls out the chair.

“She’s an assistant.”


Celeste places the clipboard down, then, beside it, the paper cup. Cherry leans forward as Celeste slowly whips through a series of papers. A handmade bracelet hangs loosely off her wrist with charms that spell ‘JESS.' Cherry eyes it—

“My daughter.” With a smile, she gazes at the bracelet and twists it around the bone.

“That’s nice.”

Her smile dissipates as she turns back to the papers.

“So. Why did you sign up?”

A hesitant pause holds Cherry still.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah, sorry. I just … It’s hard to talk about, I guess.”

“Well, that’s a good starting point, actually.”


Celeste nods and drops the papers. She holds her hands together and, empathetically, holds her gaze on Cherry’s nervousness.

“You don’t need to be nervous. We’ve been at this for a while now, and, sure, we may just be starting the human trials now, but I believe what we’re doing here will change the way we confront our traumas. Sometimes talk therapy works alone, but there’s many, many more tools out there, and this—this is one of most promising we’ve found to date.”

Unsure, Cherry pulls back. “So what is it exactly?”

Digging into her pocket, Celeste pulls something out. With her folded hand, she lays it down on the table and opens it like a wounded butterfly. In the center of her palm: a single black pill.

Cherry, curious now, leans forward, “One—”

“One pill. One session. One treatment.”


Celeste nods, then quickly balls her hand into a fist and puts the pill back into her pocket. She re-examines the papers—this time, with a pen in hand—and casually marks it up.

“What is it, though?”

“We call it, for trial purposes, XRT001. But that doesn’t sound cool, does it? Not marketable in the least.” She laughs. “It’s derived from a plant—”

“So it’s organic?”

“Not exactly. Think of it something like ergot, for example. Do you know what that is?

Cherry shakes her head.

“In the simplest of terms, LSD comes from that. So our medicine comes from a tribal, South American plant called cair. We extract from its organic material and synthesize it into what we have for you today. It’s a psychedelic unlike any other. It will help you to take on whatever you can’t face on your own. It’s a tool to help you heal.”

“How long is this going to take? Am I gonna be here for hours? Because I’ve taken acid—”

“No, no. We’ve cut the duration to a minuscule time. It might feel like hours but it’ll be over in minutes.” Celeste clocks her uneasiness. “I promise. We’ve been at this for a while.”

Cherry calculates her assuredness and nods, confirms she ready.

“So,” Celeste says as she returns to the page, “why did you sign up?”

A moment passes. “My sister. She … died when we were kids.”


“I’ve carried it for … a long time, and, I don’t know. I think it’s just time to … change.”

“That’s why we’re here.” Celeste takes a minute and returns her focus to the papers. “Any history of mental illness? Psychosis? How about high-blood pressure—?”

“No, nothing.”

“You mentioned LSD. Have you taken any other psychedelic substances before?”


“Any negative reactions?”



Celeste finishes marking up the pages and drops the clipboard. She pulls the pill out again and places it before Cherry then pushes the paper cup of water over to her.

“How long does it take to kick it?”

“Not long. Just remember, you take it, you sink, you come back. It’s straightforward. You just have to remember to breathe. It’s just a drug.”

Cherry picks up the pill and fiddles with it in her fingers. Celeste squeals the chair backwards and stands from the table, grabs the clipboard, and makes her way to the door.

“Where are you going?”

“We have to keep you isolated, but don’t worry, I’ll be right on the other side of that window.” With an understanding, comforting smirk, Celeste nods and heads for the door, but stops.

“One more thing.”

She turns to face Celeste.

“If you have any mementos of what you’re trying to face, it would be helpful.”

She leaves.

Cherry, left alone, waits for the door to close and, as it locks in place, she throws her hand at her mouth, launches the pill into her esophagus, grabs the paper cup, and swallows. Her throat moves like a slug. She leans back into the chair and waits, then digs into her purse and pulls out an old, faded photograph. Folded and creased like she’s carried it for years. In it, Cherry and a young girl, around fifteen. Her sister. They’re so happy together. Joyfully beaming on the side of a lake on a hot summer afternoon.


A voice from nowhere.

“Hello?” Confused, she scans the room.

Over an intercom: “Cherry?” Celeste’s calm voice reverberates into the room as Cherry looks up and around, “You can relax. You’ll start to feel a bit dizzy, but don’t worry, it’s normal.”


“Celeste, did you just say that?

“Say what?”

“I heard something.”

“I’m sure it’s just the auditory aspect of this. It will fade it out. Just breathe, okay?”

Cherry nods and takes a few deep breaths. In the corner of the room, the wall begins to warp and bend as if covered in a continual body of moving water. It swirls and refracts the light. Taking considerable caution, Cherry pushes the chair back. Holds the photograph tight in her hand.

“Is … is that normal?”

No response from Celeste in the other room.

The wave gradually forms into the shape of a being. The lights flicker. Cherry steps back.


Still no response.

The wave gets closer, and from it’s void, a voice speaks, “Ssssssssink.”

Cherry cowers in the corner as it engulfs the steel table. A flash of light refracts off the steel.

“I don’t like this.”

The wave reaches out as Cherry turns into the corner.

“I want this to stop!”

She turns back to the wave, and it’s directly in front of her. Hovering like a pocket of thick air.

Desperately, Cherry pleads, “Please. Please. I don’t—”

“Sink into this.”

The wave engulfs her body.

She drops the photo to the ground and hovers in the air, then—


A dim light faintly glows in the distance.

Cherry, unconscious, is suspended in the void by nothing.

Her body twitches like small pulses of electricity are pushed through her nerves, then she wakes. Disoriented, she struggles to move and wiggles like a worm baking in the sun.

“Cherry?” a soft, childlike voice from the nothingness calls out.

“Hello!? Who’s there?”

No response, then faint, childlike laughter, vacant and hollow, echoes from the void.


“Cherry," the soft voice inches closer, and—

Cherry drops violently down onto a hard surface. She pulls herself up with shaky arms and turns as the blackness bends and wobbles and light brightly beams like a spotlight on her. She shields her eyes, and a silhouette of a young girl appears.

“Cherry. It’s me.”

She recognizes the voice.

“Sammy? Is … is that you?”

The girl moves closer as the light dims. It is Sammy. Birds chirp all around them. She slowly approaches. The sound of metal being twisted profusely and violently invades the darkness.

“Cherry. Please help me.”


Cherry runs toward her as the void pulses and compresses. As she reaches Sammy, she stops. Shocked, she falls back. Sammy has a massive steel pole through her abdomen. Blood soaks her clothing as she reaches out to Cherry. Terror in her eyes. The sound of twisted metal amplifies so loudly Cherry drops to the ground and holds her ears tight.


Suddenly, her and Sammy are thrown into suspension and tumble like they’re in a washing machine throwing a brick within it. Cherry, screaming, reaches out to grab Sammy’s hand as the light consumes them, but she’s too far away. Blood fills Sammy’s eyes and her face turns cold and blue. She coughs blood into the void.

“You did this,” she pleas.

“I’m sorry, Sammy. I’m so—”

Cherry drops to a hard surface, and a faint red light hovers above her. It pulses softly.

She cowers and holds herself tight. Curls tight into a ball with her frail knees to her chest.

“I don’t want ... I don’t want to do this anymore. I can’t do this.”

The red glow   w    i     d      e     n     s    and—

She awakes on the cold tile floor in the interview room, bawling her eyes out.

“Cherry?” Celeste says over the intercom. “Cherry, are you—”

“What was that!?”

“Listen to me. You have to listen to me.”

“Why would I!?”

“Did you confront what you needed to?”

Cherry screams and spots the photo of her and Sammy on the ground.

She scrambles to it and picks it up, holds it close to her chest.

“I need to know if it worked.”

Cherry ignores her.


Something bothers her eye. She wipes at it feverishly.


“There’s … there’s something … I can’t see.”

She continues to wipe as a black crust forms over her eyeball.

She looks up. Barely able to see and—

The wave lingers and pulses across the room.

“No. No. Go away!”

She stands, bolts to the table and pushes it at the wave, but it moves through it seamlessly.

The table slides into the door. It jams under the handle and locks it.

“Stay away from me.”

The wave inches closer.

The lights in the room begin to flicker.

“Cherry. We’re coming in!”

The intercom feeds back a single, sharp, high-end note as Cherry holds her head.

The wave grows in size and towers over her as she avoids turning her eyes to it.

In the hallway, Celeste and her assistant make it to the door.

“We have to get in there.”

“It’s not going to happen again, is it?” the assistant asks pointedly.

A flush of worry falls over Celeste’s face.

“Cherry!? Open the door!”

Nothing but faint screams inside.

“Shit,” she says, trying to pry the door open.

In the viewing room, Celeste and her assistant enter. Through the window, Cherry stands still by the table locked against the door. They approach the window. Motionless, she hyperventilates.

Celeste approaches the intercom. “Cherry?”

No response.

“Cherry, can you hear me?”

Facing the table, away from the window, Cherry’s shoulders shudder up and down, jitter like a minimal seizure. Her arms move back and forth in front of her.

“Cherry, you just have to breathe, okay? It’s not real.”

Her shoulders cease movement. She turns.

Blood pours from her eyes. She’s clawed out her corneas.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” The assistant belts out.

Celeste moves to the window. Veins becoming mountains in her skin, raised.

“I couldn’t save her.” Cherry mournfully speaks, “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have been driving.”

“Cherry. Listen to me—”

“It’s okay. I’m okay now.”

Cherry turns back to the table. She grabs onto the sharp sides of it and slams her head into the steel repeatedly.

Over and over, blood splatters onto the cold steel.

The assistant screams and runs out of the room as Celeste, unable to process this, moves back.

Through the window, Cherry blasts her head into the steel, then one final blow devastates her skull.


Twitches on the floor. Fingers erratically seize into fists. Her jaw releases, opens wide.

Blood pools and desecrates the white tiles. It surrounds the photo of her and her sister.

In the interview room, barely alive and through blood-soaked eyes, Cherry watches as—

The wave appears before her. It warps the blood and photo as she takes her last breath.

A light in the window turns on and reveals Celeste, blank-faced, staring at Cherry’s body.

*Feature image created for Pipeline Artists by Graham Sisk

Joe Favalaro is a published novelist, poet, screenwriter and songwriter/musician from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada trying to fill the gaps between what pains us and what holds us tenderly.
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