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Imaginary Friends - 5: Breakdown Motel

by BellaRoma

Breakdown Motel


Layla is – erm – out of action at this moment in time. Sorry to disappoint.

I realise you’ve called and now someone else has answered the phone, but really, what do you want me to do about it? Layla doesn’t like to be seen in a state (mental hospital? Tee hee!) Oh-kay, moving on…

It felt like I was writing a letter, unsure as to what I should pen next. I didn’t know where to start, how to explain the events of the day as I leaned against the padded cell’s wall, brushing gritty, saline crescents from under my eyes. I, or Layla (probably both of us) had been crying.

After taking them away from my reddened eyes, I balled my hands into fists so tightly they shook. It was one of those times where I could easily have thrown something. As usual, there was nothing to take it out on so I breathed deeply, trying to swallow my anger.

As usual, attempting this was pointless. Stuffing down my feelings was more like choking on a jagged shrapnel piece for all the good it did. What can I say? – I hold a mean grudge.

Those of us who had the nerve called the (quote, unquote) sanatorium Breakdown Motel, as a kind of in-joke. If you weren’t here because of some kind of breakdown then being here was likely to lead to one.

I reached out to Layla, who had maintained a stony silence to rival the one I sat stewing in. For no reason, I started tapping my fingers together in a sort of bored way, waiting for an answer.

‘M’okay’, she mumbled

‘You’re slipping’, I remarked, ‘I don’t believe that one bit. You sound the exact opposite of okay.’

Layla sighed. ‘Why do I even bother?’

‘What’s the problem?’ I countered. This felt worse than usual; it had lasted longer than many of Layla’s subdued moments. Layla was not one to overreact. I overreact.

For every effect, there must be a cause, so that was what I searched for amongst Layla’s heavy, blue thoughts. I found something: the… time… of year.

July – how could I forget? Layla’s least favourite month, containing a day which had only filled her with disappointment of late.

Her birthday.

It’s just plain out of order not to look forward to your own birthday, but when the day came around every year she never seemed in the mood for celebrating. If anything, the occasion made her more defensive than usual.

‘I think that just goes to show the nature of this place, don’t you think?’ said Layla bitterly.

‘You shouldn’t let that spoil it, Layla’, I replied. ‘Sixteen is a milestone. You’re almost an adult.’ Something about ‘almost’ got Layla’s back up.

‘Do you not recall when I turned nine?’ she asked. ‘That’s the root of the issue, it reminds me of home.’ She faltered before the word ‘home’, something she hadn’t thought about in ages.

I let my back slide down the wall until I reached a sitting position. I did remember, because I was there. I am always there.

Layla was walking with a spring in her step along the corridor, like someone had totally rejuvenated her all of a sudden. To me she seemed positively – what’s the word? – buoyant. I was pleased to see her feeling good about something. She flounced up to Doc, who had also taken note of her cheerful disposition.

Guess what?” she asked excitedly.

What’s got you so elated today?” Layla didn’t seem to notice the scepticism in the doctor’s question. It nagged me while she rushed ahead.

It’s my birthday!”

He wished her happy birthday; even she noticed his rare use of her first name. Slowly, Layla took in a deep breath. I got the distinct impression she had been building up to what she was preparing to say.

You know how you have to be super kind to someone on their birthday?” she asked, not so much innocently as sweetly.

Doc hesitated before he responded, “Ye-es.” It looked like he had decided to humour her.

Well, I was thinking that maybe I could go home for the day and see Mum”, she said, putting her hands together in the gesture for ‘please’. “I miss her."

It was true. She’d been thinking of home, parties there, last year: her first birthday away from home.

So, when he looked her in the face and told her “Why would I let you do that?”, I understood why her happiness deflated like a balloon struck with a pin. Her slight figure and the smile on her face wilted. For a minute, she was led to wonder why she had even asked.

Just for one day”, Layla argued back audaciously, regaining a little height.

It is NOT up for discussion!” he snapped.

I was musing about the way Doc’s tone grew even more formal the angrier he got when Layla’s composure broke.

She beat her small fists against his arm once, twice… three times. Every pair of eyes in the corridor was fixed upon her, an eager audience waiting for her next move.

I hate you!” she screamed before turning sharply on her heels to flee.

All of her other reactions were somewhat delayed. When she got back to her cell, alone, she hurled herself onto her bed, thumping the pillow repeatedly in frustration. She felt so angry it made her tearful at the same time.

Layla was too hurt to care that her reaction would get her nowhere, hurtling between emotions too fast to stop and listen to anyone.

To this day, that encounter had left a black mark on her birthday, it didn’t matter the amount of time that had passed. The message had sunk deep. It was reflected all over her each year. Although she was pretty quiet about it (you may have noticed Layla’s insularity), she was never so sentimental at any other time. Not that I didn’t get why it made her so nostalgic.

And you thought I was the bad guy.

You can call me what you will, but trust me - from my perpetual dark corner, I've seen it all go down.

As you can possibly imagine, that meant I had no trouble knowing anyone. Unquestionably, the best way to get the measure of someone would be to observe them when they don’t think they’re being watched.

There was no doubting that being me had its advantages, alright.

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1727 Reviews

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Tue Jan 26, 2016 1:19 am
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BluesClues wrote a review...

Whoa, has this been edited since I read the bit for the contest, or was the excerpt you gave me a conglomerate from different parts of the story? Just curious, because I know most of this is different than what I read, but I feel like what I read definitely tied in somewhere shortly after, maybe. Layla and Merci’s conversation.

I really loved the fact that Merci is (or seems to be) another personality in Layla’s head. Sometimes I wasn’t quite sure if that was the case while reading your entry, but reading this chapter and Merci talking about always being there and seeing everything from her dark corner, etc, makes me pretty sure I was right about that. It was a really interesting choice to make for narrator. I’m guessing, from the label “Merci” at the top of this page that Layla also takes her turn narrating in other chapters. It’s so cool that you’re using multiple first-person narration to switch between different personalities in the same head, rather than between completely different people. That was probably what impressed me most when I read your entry.

I love this bit:

Stuffing down my feelings was more like choking on a jagged shrapnel piece for all the good it did.


that was what I searched for amongst Layla’s heavy, blue thoughts. I found something: the… time… of year.

In the first, I think the simile is great (and I relate to it, so bonus points for that). In the second, I think I just like the description of the thoughts as heavy and blue. Of course, possibly you just meant “blue” as in “I’m feeling blue,” but I like the idea that you’re actually describing the thoughts as having color.

All the italics confused me, though. Like at first I thought two separate people were talking to each other, which then actually turned out to be Merci figuring out what to say to…someone. Later, italics are used to convey a flashback and let us know that this is something that happened in the past. But I think we could figure that out without italics, especially since Merci says “I remember” and then proceeds to use past tense in an otherwise present-tense story, which clues us in to the fact that this is a flashback.


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177 Reviews

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Sun Jun 28, 2015 10:17 pm
Chaser wrote a review...

Hello again, here's another unnecessary review:

Ah, Mercy. What a complex character. And you've created her in such a short time. It's truly marvelous to behold.

Not to be rude (or sound uneducated), but wasn't Layla fourteen? Did some time pass between when we were originally brought to her perspective here and the present narration? If not, she would be fifteen, wouldn't she?

I'd also like to see how recounting her memories is affecting both Layla and Mercy. They seem to be aware that they are doing so, and that leaves me wondering at the "why" of it.

As for nitpicks:
I don't think you need the hyphen after "What can I say?"
"I started tapping my fingers together in a sort of bored way." It's kind of inherent that finger-tapping would be brought on by boredom.
You might want to find a more interesting description for "heavy, blue thoughts." Although personally, I don't like blue as an emotional adjective, so it may just be an opinion.

Those are really the only ones that I noticed. The commas here seem fine, so almost nothing detracts from this piece's magnificence. You've done a fine job of fleshing this world out. Cheers.


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152 Reviews

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Mon Jun 22, 2015 4:53 pm
ChimeraMania says...

UGH, you made me like her.

BellaRoma says...

She's not the villain really. Kind of an anti-heroine...

ChimeraMania says...

I know, but I didn't want to like her at first. :P

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Tue Apr 21, 2015 4:44 pm
OliveDreams wrote a review...

Me again! Ive read up to this point so I’ll start again here :)

I actually like the name Breakdown Motel for your title. I like the connotations behind it and the humour. Don’t suppose you’ve ever thought about that?

Again, I think you should change the text with whoever isn’t the dominant character at the time so it’s reinforced throughout who we are essentially ‘looking at’. Does that make sense? For example, give the non dominant person an italic font or bold.

I love the sentence about Mercy being able to watch people without anyone noticing. That’s very clever and another aspect of this novel that can be taken in so many different directions!

This chapter doesn’t feel as refined as the first. Maybe you could add a few more of your fabulous descriptions?

And I feel like you could delve in a little deeper on how each of the girl’s emotions affects the other. Do they feed of the anger or sadness? Or are they frustrated by feeling two sets of completely different emotions all of the time?


Olive <3

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Sun Aug 31, 2014 3:47 am
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Deanie wrote a review...

Hi there Bella!

Happy review day!

I guess we are getting to see more occasions where the Doctor was unbelievably cruel to Layla. I was surprised to know she was nine when she was here, which means she must've been nine or younger when the ordeal with blood on her hands at home happened as well. I will explain about that more later. I liked that we got Mercy's point of view, I don't believe that has happened too much yet. And it was interesting to see how Layla feels every time her birthday comes round. Which makes me wonder about Mercy's birthday. Does she even have one? That might be something interesting and worth the readers time to know.

I have to comment on previous chapters to write this review. When things were happening before, as in Layla committing the crime that brought her here - the blood on the hands incident - I would've never guess she was nine. More like fifteen or something. Maybe you need to go back and edit those chapters so that someone mentions her age and we can guess how old she is. Morph her thoughts and Mercy's too so they seem younger. Otherwise I find it very hard to believe that was her actual age back then. In fact, I thought the whole ordeal itself was very recent to her and that she hadn't been in the Doctor's care for too long. So it surprises me to know otherwise.

I didn’t know where to start, how to explain the events of the day as I leaned against the padded cell’s wall, brushing gritty, saline crescents from under my eyes.

I feel like the 'as' doesn't belong here because it's like she's doing two separate things and you are trying to join them together. I feel like there should be a full stop after the word 'day' and then the as should be cut before the next sentence starts.

As usual, there was nothing to take it out on so I breathed deeply, trying to swallow my anger.

As usual, attempting this was pointless.

Here you start two consecutive sentences with the words 'as usual'. They may be in separate paragraphs but it is a bit too repetitive. Change one of them?

I started tapping my fingers together in a sort of bored way, waiting for an answer.

You never told us the question Mercy asks! Sure, Layla does answer and it is easy enough to guess the question that way, but it would be better to hear it ourselves.

Hm, when she mentions home she thinks of it as a far off place. I know it's been a long time since she's seen her mother or father, but she must remember the good times and what freedom was like. Maybe go into more detail of what it must feel like to miss those cozy rooms, and the love her parents gave her in comparison to the coldness and abuse from Doctor. Maybe Mercy even feels it a bit herself, even when she is invisible to everyone else. I would like to see it.

It might also be nice to know what Mercy feels about not being real. She sees Layla constantly talking to other people and doing things she can't do herself. How does that make her feel? This would be the perfect time to put it in seeing as this is her point of view after all.

I don't have much else to say! I am going to continue reading and see how much I can help out in future chapters ^^

Deanie x

BellaRoma says...

Thanks for your review.
I seriously need to rewrite, but I start school again soon so not yet. I do intend to clean this up eventually.
Earlier I did mention their ages (well, Layla's age and Mercy's is the same).
Hope you enjoy the next parts!

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Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:51 am
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Noelle wrote a review...

Hi there!

Oooooh, a chapter from Mercy's POV? I'm excited! This should be good.

Even from the first few paragraphs, it's apparent that Mercy is growing as a character. Yes she was always there, but now she's starting to be more than just Layla's "imaginary friend". She has become real enough to be telling us her story first of all, and she now understands her connection to Layla (whatever it is because I haven't really figured it out myself xD). I think this chapter is very well needed. We've heard and seen so much of Mercy that it's nice to finally get to hear all about it from her perspective.

After taking them away from my reddened eyes

It's nice to know that her eyes are now red, but how exactly does she know this? Was there a mirror there that she was looking in, examining her twisted face? My point is, this is written in first person POV. So Mercy is only able to describe the things she sees. She can't see her eyes being red when she pulls her hands away unless she looks in a mirror or someone tells her. A description that would work equally as well would be to say her eyes were stinging from the tears or that they felt big and puffy. Something that could describe that her eyes were read without really describing it. Make sense?

He wished her happy birthday; even she noticed his rare use of her first name.

This seems to be a big deal, Doc using Layla's first name, but you don't actually spell out the dialogue. I think this would've worked better if you used dialogue to show him saying her first name. Just a suggestion.

I don't think you've mentioned just yet how long Layla has been in this hospital. But we get a good hint here. She was in the hospital when she was nine years old. That's pretty young to admit someone to a mental hospital. Then again, that's just my opinion. Obviously everyone thought she had to be there because there she is.

You used another flashback here and I was happy to see it. There's a reason that that flashback is there, to show us what happened on Layla's ninth birthday. I enjoyed the flashback much better than I would've enjoyed just hearing about the events of that day. This is where the whole "show don't tell" debate comes into play. You showed us why Layla hates her birthday instead of just informing us of the events. I can respect that. A good writer knows when to use that.

I'll check out the rest of the chapters tomorrow. I'm quite enjoying this novel and I'm looking forward to reading more :)

Keep writing!

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Tue Jul 29, 2014 8:15 am
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TriSARAHtops wrote a review...

...and as promised, here's the review! Surprise!

You've managed to pull off something really great here in the difference between Mercy and Layla's voices. It was clear from the start that it wasn't Layla speaking, and not just because you said so. More on that and what else impressed me later, but I'll start with the quibbles.

After taking them away from my reddened eyes, I balled my hands into fists so tightly they shook, it was one of those times where I could easily have thrown something.

I don't feel like the comma in the bolded bit is quite strong enough for the pause that should be there. Either a full stop or a hyphen would just strengthen it. Mercy's way of speaking is quite blunt, so it would be consistent with the style too.

Stuffing down my feelings was more like choking on a jagged shrapnel piece 

This is all correct, but I think it would sound nicer if you made it 'piece of shrapnel'. It would just improve the fluidity a bit.

Those of us who had the nerve called the (quote, unquote) sanatorium Breakdown Motel as a kind of in-joke.

I'm going to be super fussy and suggest a comma after 'Motel', just to keep the clarity. It needs to be there to sound nice, too.

And you thought I was the bad guy.You can call me what you will but, trust me - from my perpetual dark corner I’ve seen it all go down.

All the formatting's gone when I copied it, but I only point it out because it doesn't need to be in italics, and it also makes it a little muddled with it being just after the flashback. Formatting aside, I absolutely adored the dramatic element in these sentences.

I was a little confused about the chronological setting of this. Is it right after the end of the previous chapter? I think you just maybe needto mention past events just to make it completely clear.

I liked that you gave us insight into Mercy's mind, and that you were able to craft such a well suited voice for her. Her point of view fitted in quite nicely, I thought. Dual POVs can be a bithit and miss, but this was both well timed and well executed. If you continue to use Mercy's POV as a kind of interlude every so often, you could create some nice rhythm.

A good use of flashback, I liked the balance between showing and telling.

Can't think of much else to say, but I'm still hooked on this story. Nice suspense, and looking forward to finding out more!

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Sun Jul 13, 2014 3:57 am
donizback wrote a review...

Well hello BellaRoma, a fan of yours here for a review.

Well I love this story and the this chapter, too, was just amazing. I like Layla's personality and the way you put her dialogues is just a great piece of work. I appreciate this; and will reflect similar stuff when I start writing my novel (I am inspired).

The other two reviews already picked up those mini mistakes that doesn't really matter. This sentence:

"You can call me what you will but, trust me - from my perpetual dark corner I’ve seen it all go down."

Well don't you think the very first comma should be before the word "but" and after the word "will". I might be wrong but this is what I felt!

Apart from that, it is great and I enjoyed reading it.

Looking forward to your next piece of work. All the best with it.

Have a great day.

BellaRoma says...

Thank you for reviewing.
What about Mercy? Did this affect your impression of her?

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Sat Jul 12, 2014 1:55 pm
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TimmyJake wrote a review...

Timmy here for a review, as promised. ;)

I love the voice you have put to this character! She is so amazing. I love the way she thinks and how the story progresses underneath her care. Her watchful gaze. She sees and understands a lot in her perspective, and we see a lot of every character when she is in command of the book. In her POV, which seems to be centered on thought, we have been allowed to do an exploration of her mind. A quest into her thoughts. And I loved it so much. A good story doesn't have to be sword blades and gunshots. There can be moments where everything slows down--even to a halt. In those places, you can usually take a breathe and learn the character rather than learning the scene. In those cases, you can slow down and take your mind off the action packed scenes, and devote everything to the character and who they are.

That was one of the reasons why I loved this. It gave me a change to know her.

padded cell’s wall

This is all preference, but it isn't necessary to put the "cell" in possessive or with the "s" at the end. "Cell" works just fine.

After taking them away from my reddened eyes

Comma after "eyes" and I noticed that, to avoid redundancy, you used "them" instead of hands to avoid copying yourself. Well, I would suggest putting "hands" first, and then "them" second, so we know first-off what "them" means.

more like

"more" is an unnecessary word.

Layla was walking with a spring

"was walking" is using the passive voice in your writing. Try "walked". Its the active voice. :)

never was she ever

"ever" seems out of place here.

The memory. That memory is something that seems so childish, so frivolous. But to a child, coming home for a birthday, when far away, is precious. It gives them life, even. To a child, being the center of (happy) attention once a year is everything. I don't think this was too drastic, really. It was perfect. A nine year old would feel that way, especially if she was locked up the rest of the year round.

The flashback was done very well, professionally done, in fact. It began and ended with a nice flow, the flashback just sliding right into the present without a jump. Using the italics was genius, because it did a perfect job of separating the present from the past. Every writer knows that doing flashbacks correctly may be the hardest task of a writer. Perhaps, ever. Its difficult to make it come across as flowing, and not an info-dump in disguise, and I think you managed to not only avoid that, but went past that, and made it more than merely flowing. You made it powerful.

I hope this short review was of service to you. I know that it was shorter than usual, but I can't think of anything more to say other than to just praise you more. This is your best chapter so far. :)
~Darth Timmyjake

BellaRoma says...

Surely passive voice works there as Mercy isn't the one walking? My only query.
Thanks, I've definitely improved since joining.

BellaRoma says...

I told you I'd post it.
Here is Part 6: Alive & Kicking.

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Wed Jul 09, 2014 11:08 pm
EmeraldEyes wrote a review...

At first I had trouble understanding this because as you pointed out in the comment below there was some confusion with tenses.
Also, the constant change up between italics and non italics and thoughts and narrative perspectives was too much for me to keep up with.
Especially when I realised this was all coming from one mind. Right? Mercy's POV?

I reached out to Layla, who had maintained a stony silence to rival the one I sat stewing in. For no reason, I started tapping my fingers together in a sort of bored way, waiting for an answer.

‘M’okay’, she mumbled

Some of it seems a bit stereotypical? Like I'm not sure, whether you just based this on real life conversation. Which is great, but it needs tweaking a bit, because most of real life conversation isn't provided interesting for reading purposes. Yours verges on the mundane. That sounds really harsh, but what I mean is... edit out any parts of dialogue you think are uninteresting. :)

Keep writing.

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Wed Jul 09, 2014 4:19 pm
BellaRoma says...

Okay, so Mercy's POV, following from the events of Part 4.
There may be a tiny bit of confusion with tenses but I'm fairly sure it's just the way Mercy is speaking. Let me know if there's anything glaring.
Enjoy this next part. :-)

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
— Robert Frost