Cruel Minds
paralysing terror would come in pulsating waves, dragging her to the floor, where she would curl her body into a foetal position and sob until the terror had subsided and calm had been restored once more. It would last for minutes. Perhaps an hour. She could let it happen, let it consume her, strip her of control. Or she could try and stop it in its tracks. Unzipping the toiletry bag, Emily removed a foil blister pack and pushed out a pill. She moved to swallow it, then hesitated, staring at the tiny compound of chemicals pinched between finger and thumb. How many more pills would she need to take before she felt safe again? Before she woke up without the sound of her own screams in her ears?
    Her head floating above her body, Emily sat down on the edge of the bed. She was hyperventilating now. Squeezing her eyes shut, she cupped the pill and attempted the breathing exercise that had saved her over and over again. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. She chanted the mantra in her head, the words spilling over each other, then untangling like wool. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. She pictured the wide, sandy beach, a flat, crystalline ocean. The sand beneath her soft and warm. The sun beating down from a cobalt sky. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. On the ocean, a white yacht, its sails fluttering lazily on the whisper of a breeze. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. She didn’t know how long she had been sat there for—without clocks and watches, every second, minute and hour had revealed its true arbitrary nature—but gradually, she began to return to her body. Lungs opened up. Breathing slowed. Limbs softened. She looked down at her clenched fist and saw it open up, fingers unfurling like the petals of a blooming flower. Angry, crescent-shaped grooves were carved into the flesh of her palm. But the pill remained.
    Slumped against the wall, Emily waited for the dizziness to subside. After everything she had been through, after everything that she had lost, wasn’t she allowed happiness? Hadn’t she earned that right? Six months ago, she would have answered with a resounding no . But she had begun to see the world differently now. She had begun to understand how quickly she had blamed herself for actions that were out of her control.
    She stared at the pill in her hands, a sense of achievement melting away the frustration. Somewhere amidst the fog in her brain, the deep tone of a bell echoed. She was debating whether the sound had been real or imaginary when a voice snapped her back into the room.
    “Dinner time, sleepyhead. You’ve been out of it for hours.” Jerome stood in the doorway, bouncing up and down on his heels. “You’ve missed out on a ton of drama! Remember that couple Pamela mentioned earlier—Ben and Sylvia—the ones who’d complained about breakfast? Well, they’re completely monstrous. They’ve just blown up about the lack of structure to the weekend. You know, why are they paying to do nothing in the middle of nowhere when they could be doing nothing at home for free? I mean, they have a point, but hello, do your research. Plus, they’ve broken half of the rules, sounding off about work, bragging about how much money they make. Also, I think they’re kind of racist. Pamela had them in her office for twenty minutes. So much for her zen-like qualities. Oh, and then Oscar arrived. Not the friendliest person I’ve ever met. In fact, on a scale of rudeness, he’s up there with London rude. Your friend Melody tried to be all welcoming and he completely blanked her. This place is great!”
    Emily pulled herself to the edge of the bed. “How long have I been asleep?”
    She felt Jerome watching her as she struggled to get off the bed. As he reached out a steadying hand, his eyes moved to the medication lying on top of the dresser.
    “Panic attack?”
    Emily nodded.
    “How bad this time?”
    “I’m fine.”
    “Do you need a few minutes?”
    “I said

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