Monday, February 7, 2011


This is a story I wrote a while back for a contest.  It didn't win, but I have always loved the story that I based on a Greek myth and want to share it.

by Lisa McCourt Hollar

Fog covered the lake like a blanket, swirling around the long deck that led out over the water, pressing against Isabelle and closing her in from the rest of the world. She fixed her eyes towards the rocky shore that could barely be seen from her position on the deck, straining her eyes for him. That was the last place she had seen him, before he’d disappeared off the cliff, falling into the choppy water far below. The water wasn’t choppy today though, the storms of the past few days having past.

Isabelle shivered as a slight breeze brushed against her. She’d left her coat behind. The doctors at the hospital would never have let her come here on her own. When she’d first told them of the man she’d seen jump from the cliff they had called the police. Search boats had been sent out and a few divers had nearly lost their lives looking for him. He wasn’t found. They told her he never had existed in the first place, having been a figment of her imagination. That’s what they believed anyway. She knew better. She had known him. But Dr. Greenwald told her he was someone she had made up to escape the reality of her life.

The police chief had been angry when he realized they were searching the waters for a man based on the word of a mental patient. Dr. Greenwald had been out of town that night and it was Dr. John, the new resident who had called the police, When Dr. Greenwald had finally arrived at the hospital he had been profusely apologetic, explaining to the chief that Isabelle was very suggestible and had been reading a book of Greek myths which included the story of Hero and Leander. The tale was about a young man, Leander, who had drowned trying to cross the sea to be with Hero, his lover. Hero would light a lantern to guide him across the sea, but one night her lantern burnt out and Leander lost his way and drowned. Later, Hero threw herself into the sea to join him.

So the search had been called off. But Isabelle knew she had not been imagining things.

“He was trying to reach me!” Isabelle insisted in her session with Dr. Greenwald just the day before.

“Isabelle,” Dr. Greenwald said patiently, “Why would he be trying to swim across the lake to reach you?”

Isabelle bit her lip at the scorn she could hear in his voice and averted her eyes. She didn’t like the way Dr. Greenwald said that, insinuating that she wasn’t worthy enough for anyone to be looking for her.

“To take me away from here.”

“I know you are anxious to leave here. No one wants to see you succeed more than I do. But you need to learn to live within the real world, not this imaginary world you have created around you.”

“Not imaginary.” Isabelle folded her arms across her chest when she said that, sinking down in her chair, indicating the conversation was over. She did this every time the doctor began poking at her world, trying to show her it didn’t exist.

“Isabelle,” Dr. Greenwald said, but Isabelle interrupted him before he could regale her with a speech about facing up to reality.

“You told them I was crazy, didn’t you? The police? That’s why they called off the search. Cause you told them I was crazy. Well I’m not! I know what I saw! I KNOW WHAT I SAW!”

With that Isabelle folded her arms back over her chest and stared Dr. Greenwald in the eyes, daring him to contradict her. Dr. Greenwald considered pushing a little further but decided against it when he saw the quiver in her lower lip. He didn’t feel a melt down at this point would be beneficial to anyone. Sighing, he pushed her file away from him and rose to his feet. “I think maybe we should take a break. Why don’t you go join the others in the common room and we can pick this up again tomorrow.”

Isabelle rose to her feet, mumbled her goodbye and left his office. She didn’t go to the common room however, instead retreating back to her room and the view of the lake from her window.

“Isabelle.” The voice came to her from the lake, haunting her dreams. She had heard him every night since he’d jumped into the water, but tonight it was stronger than ever. Isabelle sat up in bed and looked out her window at the morning star. The sun was just beginning to color the sky, spreading a faint light across the lake. When it rose the heat would burn the mist away and Dr. Greenwald would call her to his office. Isabelle didn’t want to hear how this man didn’t exist. She knew he did. Just as all the other people that Dr. Greenwald said didn’t exist did.

“Go to him!” Emma said, whispering in her ear. “He is waiting for you.”

“They won’t let me leave here.” Isabelle insisted helplessly.

“I’ll help you. They don’t think I’m real so I get to go all over the place without anyone stopping me. I’ll show you a way down to the lake without getting caught.”

Isabelle followed her friend, trusting her completely. Emma had helped her hide from her stepdad when he’d wanted to hurt her. After he’d killed her mother, Emma had shown her how to set the fire that destroyed their home and killed him while he’d slept. Then Emma had shown her how to get out of the house.

She'd gone to an orphanage after that where Emma showed her how to survive, fighting the other orphans for what she needed. The house mother didn’t believe her though when she told her it was Emma that had locked Jenny Roberts in the freezer, nearly killing the young girl. She didn’t believe her when she said that Jenny had been mean to her and called her names, telling her she’d deserved everything her step-dad had done to her. She didn’t believe that Jenny deserved to be punished, and since this was the third child that Emma had punished, Isabelle was sent away.

That was when she’d come to the hospital and she’d been here ever since. And Emma. New friends showed up over the years. There was Alice, who would whisper in her ears when she cried; telling her everything would be ok. Emma wasn’t much help during those times. She would tell Isabelle to quit being a baby. But Alice was older than Emma, almost grown up, and looked like her mom had, before her step-dad had broken most of the bones in her face. She would hold Emma and smooth her hair, telling her everything would work out. Emma didn’t like Alice too much. She told Isabelle that she needed to be tougher and that Alice was just trying to make her soft. It was the first time Emma and Isabelle got into an argument. Emma finally backed down and Alice stayed.

Dr. Greenwald had liked Alice too, even though he couldn’t see her. He thought that Alice was a sign that Emma was losing her influence over Isabelle. He began trying to talk Isabelle into telling Emma to leave. That’s when Emma lost it. She took control of Isabelle and wrecked Dr. Greenwald’s office. Isabelle had privileges taken away for two weeks over that. But Emma had made her point, and she stayed too.

When she’d gotten old enough to wonder about sex, Selena had come along to instruct her in all she needed to know. Dr. Greenwald had turned bright red in the face when he’d walked into Bobby Connor’s room and seen what they were doing to each other. Of course Dr. Greenwald had hauled Isabelle off of Bobby, sputtering the whole time, screaming at her. She tried to tell him Bobby had wanted her to do it but he didn’t believe her.

“Bobby is catatonic!” Dr. Greenwald screamed. “He can’t consent to sex!”

For his part Bobby remained silent, rocking back and forth as he did every day, refusing to accept any of the blame.

Isabelle learned from that experience though and stayed away from the patients. Selena helped her find willing partners from among the staff. Every night after Dr. Greenwald left there was always one orderly or intern who would be interested in keeping Isabelle company. There were even a few young nurses who would find their way into her room in the wee hours of the night. But none of them made her feel wanted the way she knew her true love would.

It was one such night that she had seen him. John, the new resident doctor had just left her room, promising to come back the following night. Pulling her gown on over her head she’d gone to her window to watch the storm over the lake. Lightning flashed and that’s when she’d seen him, silhouetted against the night sky. He was standing on the ledge of a cliff on the other side of the lake and she’d known immediately he was the love she’d been waiting for. Then to her horror she’d seen him dive off the cliff and into the water. Straining her eyes she watched for him, waiting for him to surface, but he had disappeared below the water and never came back up. That’s when she’d left the room screaming for help.

John, terrified that his involvement with her had somehow pushed her over the edge tried to calm her down, but she was inconsolable. Finally, afraid he would get in trouble if she revealed what had happened that night between the two of them he’d called the police, hoping that would calm her down. But of course the police found nothing and after Dr. Greenwald arrived they called off the search.

Now Isabelle followed Emma down corridors to the hospital she had never seen before. To her amazement they didn’t encounter anyone, eventually ending up at a door that was propped open. Isabelle knew the door should have been shut and wondered briefly why it was open. Following Emma she soon discovered why. Dr. John had Nurse Sally pinned against the brick wall, his pants down around his ankles. Neither one of them noticed Isabelle as she slipped past them.

And now here she was, on the edge of the deck, staring out across the lake. The breeze touched her cheek again and she heard his voice whisper to her. “Isabelle.”

“I’m here,” she called.’’


“I can’t see you.” She called back to him.

“Isabelle.” He sounded so forlorn, so lost without her. Isabelle longed to join him. But she couldn’t see him.

“He wants you to come to him” Emma whispered in her ear.

“He is your true love.” Selena whispered. “Go to him.”

“But I can’t see him!” Isabelle said, feeling frightened.

“It will be ok.” Alice said, hugging her as she had when she was a child. “He will find you.”

“Isabelle.” He called again.

“You can hear him.” Emma and Selena both said. “Go to him.”

Then from out of the mist she saw his face. He was calling to her, holding his hands out for her to come to him. Sitting on the edge of the dock she put her feet in the water.


“I’m coming Leander.” Isabelle answered. “Help me.”

His hands reached for her and Isabelle slipped into the water and into his embrace.

The dock was now empty, no evidence she had ever been there. The water calm, the foggy mist swirling all around, compressing the area into nothing, the lake just a vacuum, a void away from the rest of the world. . No one that may have been looking from the windows of the hospital would notice anything amiss.

Word count, 1,987

I based this story on the Greek myth of Leander and Hero.

copyright 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar

1 comment:

  1. Very romantic and haunting. A pity it didn't win. There's a lot of passion expressed throughout the piece. Which I really liked.