005 – Wet Feet to Flood

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“Ma! Mommy!” I called out. “You can thee everything from here!” I tried to echo out.

Mommy stepped out to where I was, on the balcony. I heard the glass door slide shut behind her.

“Yes, you can,” she responded.

The view was awesome, with the McDonald’s right over there. Mommy should walk with me over there one day. And there were so many buildings. Big buildings that could reach the moon. There were big malls too, I wanted to go down there and see what cool stuff they had. But then that would mean me missing the big buildings. And the wind here that felt nice and it was sunny and it felt good and awesome and we were so so high up so I never wanted to go back down.

I gripped the railing even tighter, and shouted again. Mommy lightly tapped my head to get me to stop.

“Stop that.” She didn’t say it meanly, so I guess I was okay.

I jumped up and down, trying to get a better look above the railing, but I was too short. I hate being short.

Mommy stroked my hair hard but that felt good, getting my bangs into my eyes. I shook my head to get it out of the way, and let go of the railing to tightly hug mommy’s leg.

“Since you like it so much,” she said, “How about we choose here?”

I knew what she meant, but I still looked back up to her anyways.

“Threally?” My excitement whistled through my missing front tooth. I remember this girl I played with at the park last week, she said my teeth looked like a checkerboard. What’s a checkerboard?

“Thank you, mommy! Thanks!” I had said, my voice muffled into her thigh.

I heard her laugh. Quiet, but I heard it. “Much better than the old place?”

“Mm! Mm!” I agreed, not letting go. I nodded, but it amounted to rubbing my forehead against her shorts, and my nose to her skin. “Muth better!”

“Ah!” she then laughed, and made some space between us so she could pick me up. After she had a good hold on me, we looked out, together. I hugged her neck, being careful not to be too rough.

Mommy hummed a tune. I nestled in closer to feel it too.

“This balcony’s part of master bedroom. You can have it.”

I rocked back and forth so hard I was nearly thrashing. Mommy held me closer and made a peep in shock.

“Really! Theally!” My excitement splattered spit onto mommy’s cheek. She chuckled as she wiped it away.

She set me down, but she couldn’t stop me from not being glued to her side. I squeezed her, harder, with the hugest smile. The big room? The big room, that was a big deal, the biggest deal in the whole wide world. I couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t wait to live here now. A hundred massages, a hundred backrubs, whatever, I would thank mommy every day for the rest of my life.

After settling down some more, together, we looked out far away. I was super excited. Every day I could play with new friends and stuff, when I go to my new school. We would live in a new place, and I wanted to stay up here and see all the new cool places I could explore. And best of all, I get to sleep every day in a big bed. It was the best news ever. I was so super duper excited.

I couldn’t wait!

I stood in front of my apartment building, sweaty and tired. The lack of light at the window clued me in to what the situation was inside. Frankly, that my mom had gotten tired of waiting for me, and went to bed. Also known as the final nail in the coffin on how truly screwed I was today.

A brief thought went into my head, a memory. I banished it immediately. No distractions.

Deciding on a different approach, I headed around the side of the building. Going up the stairs, and right through the front door might have woken her, and I was trying to avoid that. Some worry over their dog when they sneak back in their own house. Me? I had my mom. I’d rather deal with her in the morning, when I had to.

My room had a sliding glass door that led into a balcony, and while that was my only promising alternative, it was also two stories high. A week ago, the only way I considered that a possible escape route was when I would take out some rope I kept hidden in my closet, tie it to the railing, and climb down, with Katy waiting for me at the bottom. It wasn’t a method I used all too often, only being viable when it was late enough that I knew my mom wouldn’t be awakened by any noise, being the heavy sleeper that she was. And even that was a gamble, since I would have to keep the rope tied so I could climb back up later. To keep it out of plain sight, I had to tie it to the railing that ran alongside the wall of the building, and just hope that no one came around there. Generally, no one did, but it was still dicey. Too many variables.

Overall, a very risky strategy that required a specific set of circumstances to even have a slim chance of working. But regardless, that was for sneaking out. How the hell was I supposed to use the balcony as a means of getting in? I had no rope this time.

I took a chance. I positioned myself right under the edge of the balcony, and took two steps back. I bent my legs. With a hard push, I jumped.

The longer I stayed in the air, the harder it got to maintain my composure. Luckily, I still had enough wits about myself to grab a hold of the railing when it came within reach. With another thrust of my arms, I got over that particular barrier.

“Oof!” I sounded as I landed square on the balcony. I slapped myself in the mouth for making a noise. For a minute, I stayed still. Nothing. I sighed, shoulders dropping all tension. As I removed my shoes, I decided to leave them outside.

Sliding the door open, I stepped into my room, patting myself on the back for always leaving it unlocked. The light switch was off, so the room should have been completely dark, yet I could see as though it was bright. Testing myself, I checked the time on the digital clock on my desk. The faint light displayed a red eleven-thirty. It hadn’t been like this before, did something trigger some sort of night vision?

Night vision, just add that to the list of things I was now capable of. Like being able to jump two stories. And making it out a crash unscathed. Well, physically unscathed.

But I digress.

I set down my backpack, and ventured out of my room.

Making sure I was safe, I peeked into the living room. I figured if my mom was trying to set up an ambush on me in case I did go through the front door, she would be asleep on the couch on the far wall, facing the television set. She wasn’t there, which meant she was in her room. I sighed again.

Thirsty for water, I went to the kitchen, making sure to be dead silent the whole way. But every heart-pounding step was like walking on a mine field. One wrong move, and I’d activate a bomb onto my night. Like it needed any more. I managed to procure a glass, and ran tap water into it.

My trip was a success, and I made to the kitchen and my room in a flash. Didn’t make it any less nerve-racking, though. I set the glass on the nightstand by my bed. While I was at it, I pulled out a drawer from my dresser, and took out my pocket knife. The one my mom gave me a while back for ‘safety.’ I’ve never had a use for it.

Curious, I smelled my hair and my clothes. They reeked of dirt and sweat and blood. I couldn’t go to bed like this.

Deciding that the risk was worth it, I took off my clothes, from hoodie, shorts, down to my underwear, and wrapped them in a trash bag I kept in my closet in case I ever needed to hide clothes I couldn’t wash with my mom around. I doubted they could even be washed in this state, or how would I even get away with it, but I’d deal with that later. Going back to my nightstand, I chugged my water, savoring every gulp. After putting the glass down, and the hiding trash bag back into the corner of the closet, by a pile of thick rope, I entered the bathroom that connected to my room, the door leading to it was across from the bed. I took the pocket knife with me.

I took a towel off of a nearby rack, and hung it over the shower door as I slid it closed. I set the knife down in a corner of the shower floor.

I played with the water settings until the showerhead drizzled a stream that was strong enough to clean, but not too strong so that it would be too loud. When I was sure I had it to a good setting, I started my shower.

Strangely, I was able to relax. Kind of. As I washed my body, I finally had the mental freedom to go over the events of what transpired in the past three hours or so.

The accident. My laundry list of injuries and broken bones. My escape from the scene by leaping over trees and ending up in the middle of the woods. How I healed from everything.

Thankfully, I didn’t jump too far into the trees, I just jumped high. By following the sounds of cars passing, I made it back to the road with no hassle. Making sure I was far enough away from the scene of the accident as possible, I left the woods and took a detour through the neighborhood, in an attempt to avoid any police or anyone else who may have recognized me. And just to clear my head, if anything. If there was any consolation, I had my hood up from truck to home.

I had walked around for about an hour, until I got far enough so that it would take me another hour to get back to the apartment. Quite the trip, to be honest. A blank, quiet trip. Only one thought came and bothered me like a fly.

What the hell is going on?

I rinsed my hands, and the dried blood washed away, coloring the shower floor. Massaging my palms, I saw nor felt the injuries that littered them just before. It was the same for the rest of my body as I applied soap.

I was looking forward to washing my hair the most, so I saved that for last. I finally let the cold water run down my hair, a soothing calm washed through me even more as I watched the dirt and guck slide down the drain. Adding shampoo made it that much better.

And just like that, I was clean. Ready to go to bed. Tomorrow, I’d have to wait for the other shoe to drop, but for now, I could sleep.

But there was one last order of business I needed to take care of.

I bent down for my pocket knife, and flipped the blade out. My breaths were deep as I psyched myself up.

Maybe, just maybe, this was all in my imagination. I didn’t know why I was trying to delude myself this much, but despite knowing better, a part me wished this was all a dream.

A deeper breath, then I brought the knife to my arm. The left wrist.

Not that I ever done this before, or anything, but it took some effort to actually get the knife to cut through my skin.

Blood rushed out of my wrist, and the floor was filled with red once again. I winced as the cold metal glided off my skin, exposing it more into the air, cold water getting into the cuts. This wasn’t for a rush, or for any desire for self-harm, I just wanted to see it again. What I’d do.

What would happen.

As I feared, I didn’t bleed out for very long. As I worked thin red lines across my wrist, the skin would close up right behind the knife’s edge, following any cut before it got too bad. I lifted the knife away, and washed off my arm. The blood fled down the drain, and I was left with nothing on my wrist.

I stood there, silent, just letting the water hit my scalp. If I cried, I didn’t feel it run down my cheeks.

After some time, I got out of the shower, and dried myself off. I didn’t think the water was too hot, but I must have been in there long enough to fog up the large mirror attached above the sink. I wiped it off to better look at myself.

Brown eyes that weren’t as slanted as my mother’s, but enough so that other kids liked to poke fun at them during elementary school. My lips were fuller than hers, too, enough so that the boys liked to make rude remarks regarding them during middle school. My figure, if allowed to brag, was slender yet fairly lean, thanks to years of volleyball, but I had curves where it mattered. Well, except for my chest, but I abandoned all hope about that long ago. My dark hair, normally a little past shoulder length, was stuck to my scalp and neck, from not properly drying off yet.

Whatever I got from my father, I didn’t know. Didn’t care to know.

I stared at my reflection, painstakingly inspecting every inch of my face and body, until the image started to distort from not blinking. On just a surface level view, there was nothing wrong here. Nothing. Just a girl who admittedly got into more trouble than need be. But still, a normal girl nonetheless.

Again, surface level.

But, now, there was a new absolute betraying what I saw. Something that could not be disputed. I was no longer Alexis Barnett, normal high school girl. I was no longer me. Humans aren’t capable of this. Should we follow the logical nexus after that, we had to conclude that I was no longer human. I had become something else entirely. What that was exactly, I didn’t want to say. Couldn’t bring myself to say. Wouldn’t dare to say. Like a twisted version of that motivational tactic. Say it, you become it.

Baring my teeth, I looked at my canines. Were they always that sharp? I balled up my fists, and went to punch the mirror. To break it. To bleed out from the sharp edges. But I held myself back at the last second. How could I break it, without alerting her? So instead, there was a weak tap. A cockroach grossly skittered across a corner of the mirror. This made me feel smaller than even that. I sniffled, watching as my reflection lost its shape and distinction, like watching it through a waterfall.

“I hate this.”

I decided to skip school today. Add that to the list of good decisions made by yours truly.

It was mostly a string of excuses, but I had to be fair to myself. How could I expect myself to be able to attend school after what happened the night before. Now, I had to be careful. I had no idea exactly what I was capable of. The thought of something happening at school because of me was unbearable. It was a miracle that nothing happened on my first day back.

When I woke up that morning, it was the best sleep I had in years. At the very least, I had that going for me. The alarm rang its annoying tone for an hour past its set time. From just that much, I knew my mom had left for work before it went off, and that I was home alone. Katy was supposed to pick me up again today, I wondered how long she waited until she had to go to school herself. Did she call?

I remembered that the phone was still in the pocket of my shorts, so I had to dig them out of the hidden trash bag. It smelled worse than ever. I made a mental note to find a way to get rid of these soon. Very soon.

Of course, phones don’t magically recharge overnight, and mine was already dead when I left school last night. If Katy had called, I wouldn’t have known. I plugged it into the charger by my desk, and left it as I went to get myself breakfast.

As per my morning routine, I fixed up bowl of cereal with colorful marshmallows. Couldn’t start my day without them. Especially today, since I wanted to start the day with some sense of normalcy. Normal was good. Routine was good. And somewhere deep within me still clung to the chance that this was all just a really bad dream.

I nearly spat it out. The cereal itself was the consistency of wet paper, and the marshmallows tasted like rotten fish. The milk was the worst, like it was two weeks past its expiration date, but the date on the carton told me otherwise. I had to force myself to finish it, which I never do.

Tastes like ass. That pretty much summed up my breakfast experience.

I spent the rest of my morning on my desktop computer, waiting for my phone to fully charge. It bothered me more than I wanted it too, but sitting here, alone in my room and my thoughts, gave me a weight of worry in the pit of my stomach. By practically slapping the keys of the keyboard, I googled ‘barham barn.’ The website fixed my misspelling.

A few online articles came up about the incident that Friday night. Friday night? That felt so long ago, already. It hadn’t even registered to me yet that I was no longer fifteen. I cracked a knuckle as I scanned through the first result.

It was a short, but not concise, summary of events. Too light on detail. A girl was discovered in the abandoned barn, covered in various bodily fluids, but no scratches or injuries on her. They didn’t release my name, which I was pleased with. The privilege of still being a minor, I guessed. But there was nothing here that I could use. Nothing that was helpful.

The next three articles were just as bad, in terms of information. Statements from the police saying that while the incident seems strange, it was most likely a prank by some dumb kids. I recalled Katy’s joke from yesterday. Even that felt forever ago.

The final article had some choice words for me in the comments. Some ‘xhangman47x’ said I was just a ‘dumb slut’ who probably deserved it. I exhaled. Fine, if you say so. But being a dumb slut did not put me in that barn.

No, one measly comment didn’t upset me. What did upset me was how much this was not adding up.

I knew someone attacked me, brought me there. Some thing. But that was the extent of my knowledge on the matter. These articles reported that I was found unharmed, unscathed. Definitely dirty, definitely smelly, but not hurt. Forcing myself to think back to that night, I knew that wasn’t the case. The exact, clear details weren’t there, but I was pretty confident that I didn’t make it out of there in one piece. If there was something off about me when I was found, it would have to have been reported on, surely.

The only option I could come up with now was to go back to the barn myself.

I said it out loud. “Great.”

A beginnings of a cold sweat prickled the back of my neck. “I guess I could go, today. But…” I leaned back into my chair.

What did I expect to find?

Whatever it may be, probably nothing at all, the thought of going was worse than the second before descending a rollercoaster. The thought tied the pit in my stomach into knots.

I closed the tabs, and reopened a new window. I didn’t do much else past watching some random videos of top eleven hidden details in movies that would blow my mind. They didn’t blow my mind.

Finally, my phone was done charging, and saw the icons indicating two missed calls and quite a few texts from Katy. I opened up the messages first, reading them aloud in a monotone.

“Outside. Where are you? ‘Kay bye.” Checking the timestamp on the messages, they weren’t even a minute apart. Thanks.

I stumbled through my text for her. ‘Still feel under weather. C u tmrw’

I got a response right away. ‘K’

Setting the phone aside, it had gotten to be around lunchtime, had I went to school. Normalcy. Routine. Trying to stick to that as much as possible. Let’s eat.

I went to the fridge in the kitchen, to see what we had.

Still, leftovers. One piece of fried chicken, barely a serving of rice, and barely a bowl left of miso soup. How nostalgic. Back in the day, my mom cooked fried chicken and miso soup with rice all the time.

But none of it looked appetizing. Was it really worth it? I closed the refrigerator.

I rushed back into my room, changing into an old blue windbreaker and some jeans, with rips lining down the side of my thighs. Emptying out my backpack, which was tracked with mud, I found that most of my journals were intact. The large binder I used for my schoolwork was cracked along the front, but that could easily be replaced. I took everything out, save for a notebook, and put in my phone and wallet with some extra cash from my closet. I placed the plastic bag of dirty clothes in there, too.

And with my bag slung over one shoulder, I headed out.

There was a bus stop at the end of the street, past my apartment. I waited there, the bus coming a minute or so later. I got on.

It was lame process of having to ask the bus driver what route took me where, them taking me as far as their route would allow, move on to the next bus stop, ask the new bus driver as I got on what route took me where, ad infinitum. One of the bus stops dropped me off somewhere on the nebulous border of Stephenville that divided the ‘somewhat nice’ parts and where the drug cartels roamed openly. Police sirens blared in the background, and the bus I waited for there was delayed. Not shocking at all, if the two were related.

There was never a moment where I didn’t long for my old phone.

A long, lame, arduous process, a late or slow bus here and there, but I eventually crossed the city to get to my destination. In about an hour.

Braham Barn.

The final bus stop wasn’t right at the entrance of the abandoned plantation, and it was a long walk from the edge of the city to the front gate. The scenery changed from dilapidated street corners to fields of grass and tumbleweed in almost an instant. Passing the gate, I made sure to be wary of any coyotes this time.

I soon stood at the crossroads of a long, winding path of dirt and rocks. Tall plants swayed in the soft breeze. A blue sky above, and the sun beating down too brightly on me. It reminded me of how much I liked sunny days.

Keep walking forward, I’d get to the manor. Go right, I’d hit the decrepit grain silo. Standing here, in the middle of the day, with everything in my sights. Super surreal.

I took a left.

The doors were already open, or perhaps no one had bothered to close it. There were no lights inside the barn, but broken windows and slits in the roof above were large enough to fill the interior with some light. Either way, something like that didn’t really matter anymore.

Calling this a barn suggested it maintained a semblance of its old life. Better off calling it a ruins. A corpse of its former self.

The inside of the barn was gutted, the stables and the loft wholly removed, leaving the space even more sparse and empty. A tractor sat in a corner by the entrance, the back half missing, and only one tire attached. A stack of bricks were arranged beside it. Some barnyard equipment rested on the hay-covered floor, and I had to kick away a rake to avoid stepping on it. What had used to be a barn now used to be a place for hoedowns.

Nine or ten picnic-tables were randomly strewn about across the area. There was a gap between the cluster of tables that split them up down the middle. Not the result of someone moving them around, no, some tables were too close together to scoot in to a seat. It was like someone got violently thrown into the tables, their limp body parting them away.

Does not feel good to be back, I thought.

“Can’t believe I’m here,” I breathed. This was too strange, too much to try and make heads or tails of. I had come here with no real goal in mind, but after remembering what happened here, I couldn’t help not entertaining the curiosity that nibbled at the back of my conscience.

And since I was skipping school anyways, I didn’t see any harm in checking things out.

A quick look around confirmed that there was no one else in here. It did little to ease my anxiousness.

I’d be the first to admit that I was no detective, but there should be some clue here that could provide of some help. Just anything, anything to go off on. Anything that could steer me in the right direction.

Dropping my backpack, I walked towards one of the tables, dusty and knocked over. I noticed that one end was blackened and charred, like it had been briefly been set on fire. Grabbing it by the end of one of the long seats, I nudged it to judge its weight. Pretty heavy. I secured my grip on the seat, being careful not to touch any gum that might be under there.

I bent my knees, keeping my back straight. My muscles tensed as I lifted it above my head and tossed it behind me.

“Yagh!” I yelled.

A loud crash behind me, wooding slamming and cracking against wood. I made a face at how loud it got, echoing in the barn.

I turned to observe the aftermath. The table I threw was cracked down the middle, one of the seats splintered off. Dust kicked up into the air, tiny particles dancing in the little light that came in here.

That’s… actually pretty rad.       

Itching to try something else, I combed the barn for something to lift, throw, crush, or tear apart.

“Holy shit! You hear that?”

I spun around. A voice?

“Yeah! I think it was from over there!”

Voices. Crap.

On instinct, I ran to the back of the barn, clearing the distance in a flash. I vaulted over the tables with little difficulty, nearly soaring over. I went to go hide behind a wooden pillar.

From across the barn, I saw three people enter in.

“Where did that come from?” one of them asked. A boy. Didn’t look that much older than me. He pushed his ragged hair out of his eyes as he shined a flashlight down the building. It barely illuminated the back wall.

“Over that way,” another responded. A girl. She definitely looked to be my age. She wore an oversized pink sweater, which hung over a bare shoulder. Black boots complemented her black skirt that sat just above her knees. Her hair was dyed a deep purple, cut into a bob that bounced as she moved. She jogged over to where the picnic table landed, broken and splintered. “Damn, this thing got messed up.”

“Look, there’s a bag here,” the first one said, casting a backpack in his light. My backpack. I bit my tongue.

“Uh…” he wanted to say more, but he didn’t. He sounded a touch apprehensive.

“Maybe someone’s here,” a third said, clearly joking. Another boy. Wearing a backpack of his own. He tossed a lighter up and down in one hand, and took a selfie with his phone in the other. He stuck his tongue out for the photo.

“Think this is a good spot?” the girl asked, already forgetting about the table and the abandoned backpack. She pointed somewhere towards the entrance.

“Nah, let’s go more back,” the boy with the flashlight said, flashing the light closer to my direction. I hugged the beam, taking cover from his sights. “Safer that way,” he said.

“No one’s actually here, brah,” the other boy said, his tone exaggerated. “Doesn’t make a difference.”

“It does make a difference, Michael, might as well,” the girl said. “Good call, Robby.”

A deep, goofy laugh, probably coming from that ‘Robby.’ Peeking to steal another look might mean getting caught, and I did not need that.

“You’ve got it, right?” I heard Robby ask.

“It’s only the tenth time you’ve asked,” Michael replied.

“Just making sure.”

“You’re neurotic.”

“Fuck off.”

“Alright, fine,” Michael conceded, “If it makes you feel better, let’s go farther back.”

There was a pause before he spoke up again. Maybe in thought. “Here, if it makes you feel even better, I’ll close the doors.”

Fuck.

I hit the side of my leg in frustration, the loud creaking of the barn doors mocked me and any chance for a clean getaway. The light spilling from outside significantly dimmed until near nothingness, the only significant source now coming from the flashlight. It still didn’t get to be pitch black, but that helped them more than it helped me.

Fuck fuck fuck.

The girl said something, but it was mumbled, like she had a lollipop in her mouth. The boys laughed at whatever she said.

With only bits of their conversation to follow, I had no way of knowing what they were here for exactly. Or why they had to come now, of all times. But, now that I thought about it, I’ve only ever come to Braham at night, it never occurred to me that others would come during the day. I guess Braham had a use for people during the day, too.

Their approaching footsteps startled me out of my thoughts.

“Ah, I shoulda brought, like, some speakers or something,” the girl said, sounding much closer than before. “Coulda listened to some music, while we were at it.”

“No,” Robby said, “That’ll just attract more attention.”

“Nobody is fucking here, dude!” Michael said, raising his voice, booming inside the barn. After a second or two he spoke again. “See? Calm down.”

I heard a faint thump, Robby punching Michael in the arm? Or the other way around?

“Shut up, I’ll calm down after I take a hit.”

“Good, you need it,” the girl said.

They were getting closer, and I was getting more worried. They weren’t headed directly towards me, but I would for sure be noticed when they get all the way back here. There weren’t a lot of other options, too, the space back here was scarce with things for that I could use for cover. The only benefit was the darkness, but Robby had a light on him.

I backed away from the pillar to size it up. It led up to support beams that traced the ceiling, maintaining the shape of the barn. The skeleton of this decaying structure.

The pillar had to be about forty feet high or so. I gulped.

Fingers firm on the pillar, and with a foot also propped on it, I pressed up to scale the entire height.

Robby yelled, startling the others.

“Did you hear that?”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“There, it went up that way!”

Robby’s light hit the ceiling, but I had already moved to a good position.

I kept low on all fours, going across a beam that ran from the back of the barn towards the entrance. Every bit of movement was a gamble, since putting too much weight on the wood might creak and give me away, and not to mention the risk of me falling forty feet. But not moving might make it easier to be bathed in light.

I couldn’t focus on the three below, anymore, all my concentration went to not falling.

“Robby! What are you looking at?” shouted a girl’s voice, far away.

“Mike, Steph, don’t tell me you didn’t hear that!”

“We haven’t even taken anything yet and you’re already seeing shit,” Michael said.

Robby groaned, loud. I heard it from up here.

I eventually found a decent enough spot to sit, my legs dangling while I had an arm hooked around a bit of wood that connected the beam I sat on to the ceiling proper, attached at an angle. I sat on the other side of the barn, well out of their sights.

There was little to do now except keep an eye on them.

“Stop freaking out already,” Michael told Robby, “Jesus.”

“Something definitely moved, I heard it,” Robby said in protest.

The girl, Steph – Stephany? – put a hand on his back. “Probably a stray cat, nothing to worry about.”

Robby put down the flashlight, shining his feet, and looked right at me, his eyebrows furrowed. My heart dropped for a split moment, until I realized it was just a coincidence. He didn’t react like he saw me.

With some time to think, I had a few options. The easiest one was to simply sit and wait. Just perch up here for long enough, they’d have to leave sooner or later. I took the time to keep eavesdropping. There was nothing else to do.

“…Maybe? I swear I saw it, too. Too big to be a cat. You know what- Fuck, I don’t know, I don’t know about this anymore.” Robby dropped the flashlight, and ruffled his hair with both hands. “Why did you have pick this place, anyways? Didn’t someone die here, recently?”

Intrigued, I leaned forward an inch, still being mindful of where I sat.

“The gangs don’t come around here anymore, dude,” Michael said, “Too obvious. And people been saying this place has been haunted for a minute, now. If you want to see the living dead, I suggest hurrying up and taking something.”

Robby grumbled, seemingly agitated. “Maybe we should just get outta here.”

“Huh? No way,” Michael said, picking up the flashlight, and handing it to Steph. “We’re already here, let’s smoke.”

Robby stood there, frozen, clearly weighing the different options in his head. Steph massaged his shoulder, while Michael started sifting through his backpack, ignoring the two. Finally, Robby drooped, and brought a hand out to Michael.

“Hit me.”

Their exchange gave me a chance to catch a breath. Dry, parched already. It hadn’t hit me yet, how high up I was until now. Did I really climb like this, so precariously? Ignoring the cobwebs settling into my hair, I adjusted my hold on the wood. Innuendo aside.

Michael took out a plastic baggie from his backpack, whose contents I couldn’t make out from here, but choice words from their conversation gave me a good enough guess. He dropped it into Robby’s hand, who began to open it. Turning to Steph, he gave her the lighter from before. She brought to her lips, lighting what I had to assume was a joint.

Robby popped a pill, and briefly hesitated, looking to Steph, who had her hand out, expectant. He flashed her a weak grin, and took another before handing the plastic bag to her. All three each took out small white circle, dropping it onto their tongue.

A class act of kids.

They stood around, quiet, waiting for the hit. Did they have little to talk about except getting high?

Robby fixed his hair, scratched his arm. He took the flashlight from Steph.

“I’m going to look around.”

Steph coughed before she spoke. “Wait, how come?”

“Just cause.”

Robby moved the light, lighting the beam I used to climb up here. He walked, the light lazily trailing the ceiling, and I had the terrible realization that I was about to be discovered.

I shifted into a stand, a hand still on a beam. Long rafters connected from here to the opposite wall, and I prepared myself to run across should Robby’s light come closer.

White. A sharp white in my vision. I covered myself with my free arm.

“Hey! Something’s up there!” I heard Robby scream.

Of course.

I sprung forward, onto the rafters.

“Robby! What are you looking at?” Steph shouted voice, far away.

“Are you seeing that!? Mike, Steph, are you seeing that?”

“Stop shaking it, I can’t see! Robby!”

I couldn’t make it even five steps across the rafter. My foot went down, but missed, and I completely lost my footing. My shoulder slammed down, an audible thump, and I slipped off.

In the meantime, the others were thoroughly freaked out, yelling various obscenities.

As it turned out, falling from that height actually had an upside. I could adjust my position, and not land on my nose. Wind rushed past my ears, and I shifted again, favoring a shoulder. I rolled as soon as I touched ground. Not as bad as I expected, and didn’t hurt as much.

Didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

I bounced back onto my feet, not wasting time to wallow in the pain. I took cover by the half-tractor.

“I told you!” I heard Robby scream amongst the chaos. He and Michael ran to investigate the source of the sound. “Steph! Get the door!”

Fast. Think fast.

A blanket was bundled in the seat of the tractor. I reached for it, then dashed into the dark, covering myself as I went.

“There! Look!”

The light kept following me, no matter where I moved. Behind tables, boxes, other beams, Robby had a good hold on me. Fucking Robby.

“It’s not budging!” Steph yelled.

“Mike, go help her!” Robby barked at Michael.

A weight hit my side, softened by the blanket. I staggered, slowing to not trip. Was he throwing bricks? Really?

“Stop, stop that!” I attempted to yell, but my voice strained. Dang, I was already found out. Had to end this now.

I fixed how the blanket wrapped around me, only my face showing. I twisted on a heel, and leaped up to evade another brick. Landing on a picnic table came with a muted thud.

All three of them were in view, gawking at me with wild eyes. Pupils close to dilating.

Mike and Steph had succeeded in opening the door, and I stood in the sunlight, the blanket catching the sun. Robby held a brick like a pitcher, ready to throw. Despite me completely out of the shadow, the flashlight continued to get in my eyes. I lowered my head.

“What, who, who are you?” Robby asked, frail. The question hung in the air.

My voice cracked. “I, uh, I forgot my backpack…”

Steph was the first to scream. I blinked for a second longer at how loud she shrieked. Mangled and warped, not resembling any words I could distinguish or understand.

They cried out as they scurried away, tripping often, but never turning back. I looked on as their backs got smaller, bursting through the dirt path to get off the premises. I giggled at the image.

A bad trip, figuratively and literally.

I dropped the blanket, the fabric falling around me. I patted dust off of my clothes.

Steph’s face, shouting and crying, still in my head. God that was funny.

Perhaps, I thought, Some fun could be had here.

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004 – Die Verwandlung

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The crunch of bone. The crushing of metal. A sharp, enveloping pain.

A good ten, fifteen, feet. I was sent flying that far, at least.

I skidded on the road, my back hit and slid against the pavement. I only stopped when my shoulder slammed against the curb.

“Uff!” I cried out.

My head swam. Eyelids as heavy as pool tarps. When I eventually could open my eyes, a considerable challenge, all images that came back to me were meaningless. Pink and purple flashes floated in my vision as I blankly gazed upward.

Eventually, things did come back into focus. There was something calming about the starry night that twinkled back at me.

I couldn’t say the same about the pain.

It hurt. A lot. A burning sensation wrapped up my entire body, thrumming in waves. Every individual muscle, joint, tendon, stung like I was on fire. The desire to just stay here, lie down and star gaze was insurmountable. I just didn’t want to move. I continued to get pounded by a quick, rhythmic ache.

I had regretted not taking a shower back at the locker room, having been so sticky and tired. Now, it no longer mattered. I was even more sticky, even more tired.

My right arm kept shifting. Something kept burrowing into my chest, getting it damp. There were muffled groans. Oh yeah.

I was still holding onto the kid.

It took an extensive effort to move my arm, with my fingernails digging into my side. When I did release him, he fell over beside me, his crying piercing my ears.

“Aaaah! Maaaaa! Maaaah!”

It didn’t look like he was severely injured. If he was, he wouldn’t be so damn loud. As I pushed him away from me, I thought that would give me a good opportunity to take a deeper breath, but nope. I only managed a light gasp. Dry.

Instead, I patted my body down. First, my chest. That dampness from earlier, not blood. Good. Just that kid’s tears. Couldn’t blame him. Then, my left arm. A whole new, razor sharp pain shot through me. I flinched in response. That wasn’t good.

In terms of my bearings, I knew I was still on the road, close to the sidewalk opposite from where I was originally. I was probably okay here, maybe, but I didn’t want to risk another car not noticing me or the kid as we were collapsed here. I needed to get up.

My mind began to fight against my desire to stay down. I knew I had to concede to those thoughts. As I cursed at myself from under my breath, I turned over onto my stomach, pushing myself up with my right arm and right leg.

I got myself to a decent balance, my weight largely resting on my right leg, I tried stepping with my left.

“Fuck!” I screamed.

I hobbled forward and fell back down, my cheek hitting the asphalt. No coherent thoughts this time, I just mindlessly tried getting back up again.

Now knowing better, I kept myself leaning, favoring my right side. I looked down at my leg.

“Fuck,” I whispered.

It was shattered. Utterly broken and completely useless. It bent in ways a human leg shouldn’t ever bend. Blood trickled down my calf, staining my shoe, and small droplets dripped onto the road. It was closer to a bendy straw than a person’s leg.

I began to panic. “-God, oh my god, ohmygod-”

I brought my hand to my face, using it to cover my eyes as I bit my lower lip, until it throbbed and threatened to bleed. I had to bring out what little strength I had left to shut up and keep conscious. Trying not to think too much about my leg. But I couldn’t help it. The sight was too ghastly.

I saw the femur and fibula sticking out.

Recalling how much my left arm hurt just before this revelation, I had a feeling the case was the same there, too. The sleeve of my hoodie prevented me from seeing for myself. And I didn’t have the heart to roll it up.

My breath quickened as I continued to inspect the damage I took. Everything from minor scratches to broken bones. How the hell was I standing?

I had to stop myself. For the moment, I couldn’t afford to look at my leg for too long, with the fear of passing out at the sight of it. I had to keep going, find something else to concentrate on. I put my arms to my sides.

I wanted to drop my backpack, but from what I felt a few seconds ago, moving more than I needed, than I wanted to, was not very viable. So it stayed, stuck to my back, like a vestigial organ.

Repeating over and over every curse word I knew, I decided to limp towards the kid. As I did, I got a better view of my situation.

The whole street looked undisturbed, save for us two, and the truck just past us. It had swerved off the road, and slammed into a tree at the edge of the woods. Chipped remnants of a skateboard littered the road. I expected my notebooks and school supplies to be right along with it, but from the weight on my back, I knew that wasn’t the case.

With the kid’s collar in my right hand, I dragged him to the sidewalk. He was still a blubbering mess. I plopped him down, and my attention went back to the truck. A sweet smell. No, I was being distracted. I kept focused on the truck itself in order to concentrate on making complete thoughts again. It suddenly came to me that there was a person behind that wheel. Perhaps others.

Were they alive? Did they have a phone? Mine was dead, so it was a no-go there. I wasn’t even sure if it worked anymore. Where was it, even? If, for whatever reason, the driver didn’t have a phone, then maybe someone in one of the nearby houses heard, or seen, the collision. Maybe they already gave out the proper call. I had betted on that.

I was beginning to worry for the driver, and anyone else who might’ve been in there. If they were okay, they would’ve gotten out of the truck by now. I shrugged my shoulders, shifting my backpack strap. Immediate regret. A new surge, not unlike putting a fork into a socket, enflamed my whole existence.

If you fall now, you’re not getting back up.

I operated on that. Might as well check on the driver while I was still miraculously standing. That, and the fragrant smell that seemed to come from the wrecked vehicle. Did they spill syrup or something?

Hop, hop, hop. What should normally be an easy task stretched into an arduous ordeal. I had trouble maintaining my balance with each hop, but I was lucky to just be seeing straight. The scent got stronger as I got closer.

It was so… sweet.

With every step, my foot got more drenched in the red liquid, right down to the sock, seeping into my shoe. I shuffled passed the sidewalk onto the dirt. Tall grass brushed against my broken leg and the exposed bone, feeling like someone was beating the ends of nerves raw. I stopped briefly to wipe away the water accumulating in the corners of my eyes, and my cheeks. An attempt to breath deep was met with a hiccup. One more good hop, and I would at the door to the driver’s side. Come on.

Hop. I was there.

I placed my only usable hand on the door’s handle, lessening my unsteadiness.

My voice was weak, raspy, but I tried anyways. “He- Hello, anyone in there? I mean, you okay?”

No answer. I swallowed.

Gripping the handle until my knuckles were white, I opened the door.

“Oooh f-!”

The interior lights turned on as the door swung wide, and I was given a front row view to the intense scene.

A female. Definitely. I thought. Too bloody to tell. Too mangled to tell.

The inside of the truck was smashed into itself; a human body couldn’t fit into a space so small by simply getting in. The windshield fractured into tiny, but sharp pieces, sticking into skin. Splinters of wood stuck to her face, like the bruises and blood twisting her expression into something grim wasn’t enough. Glancing down at the red-soaked cell phone in her hand, I pieced together everything in an instant. In response to everything, I could only mouth ‘fuck’, for the millionth time. Gut-wrenching. No way were they alive. No way.

I tried looking for a silver lining; at least no one else was inside.

However.

Despite that.

Nevertheless.

That wasn’t the worst of it. Not by a longshot.

Because the smell.

The smell.

The smell was the worst of it. In that it was so wrong.

It blasted my face as the door opened, overwhelming my nose with an odor sweeter than any perfume Katy had ever worn. I almost forgot about the immeasurable pain I was still supposed to be experiencing. Reminiscent of a freshly baked pie, the smell was. It completely contrasted the gruesome sight right before my eyes.

But, I caught myself watching as pieces of metal and wood, the one that stabbed the driver’s body, continuously trickled with blood.

Try it.

What?

Lick it.

What am I-

Taste it.

Stop-

You know you want to.

I scanned over everything again. The red color painted the entirety of the truck’s interior. It did look… kind of appetizing. Like a strawberry jam. I could put it over bread. The way it glistened in the moonlight, it called out to me. Enticing. I licked my lips. My tongue wasn’t dry anymore. Salivating?

I reached my hand out towards the body, coated in jam.

Maybe, one taste wouldn’t be so bad.

Try it. Lick it. Taste it.

Wait, what the hell was I thinking?

A whole new fear crept deep within me. The fact that I even actually considered that was frightening. Why? What was going on, here?

My hand was suspended there, half-extended, fidgeting as I fought the craving to keep reaching forward.

You know you want to.

I shut my eyes tight, until dark brown shapes clouded my vision. I thrust my hand forward until I met a warm, wet feeling. I leaned deeper into the truck, tilting my head back as I inhaled in hard, using my nose.

You know you want to.

Somewhere deep inside, a voice of reason rushed out of my throat.

“Shut up!” I yelled to no one.

“Ma’am, please back away from the truck!”

Or not.

I turned back. I hadn’t seen that the truck’s body was catching a flicker of red and blue light.

A stronger light suddenly flushed into my eyes, and I flung an arm to shield myself, offsetting my balance.

“Please let go of whatever you’re holding, and back away from the truck.”

A voice. Male. A cop? Did he think I was stealing something?

He continued to talk. “Ma’am, I see that you’re injured. Please take a seat by the curb so we can take a look at you and put you in the ambulance.”

An ambulance? Here? Already? When?

The blinding light stunned, getting more intense as he got closer.

He grabbed for the arm I used to shield my eyes, tightly holding my wrist.

The thought crossed my mind in a second. Huh? It’s not like I was gonna steal anything.

Unless.

I panicked.

“What! Wait! I didn’t mean- I wasn’t going to-!” I cried, hastily descending into incoherence.

“Ma’am, calm down, I’m trying to help you stand!” His voice squeaked rather than anything commanding, which didn’t help as an attempt to settle me down.

With more force than necessary, he pulled me away from the truck. My left hand reached into the truck to grab a hold of something, to not let him take me.

“Ah! Aaah!” I shouted, forgetting that I shouldn’t have moved that arm. Coupled with the fact that my hand slipped every time I tried to grab the seatbelt, the handle, and then the edge of the door, I never managed more than a light touch.

I writhed. I didn’t want this guy to take me anywhere. He fought against my struggling, getting more agitated with every second.

“What’s wrong!? Stop – ugh – resisting!”

Delirious. Not thinking straight. Or at all. But I didn’t have much faith in this guy believing whatever story I had to yet come up with as to why I was so bloody. Or why I was even there to begin with.

He screamed out something, and not even a second later did I feel another pair of hands on me. My struggling increased.

In me fighting him – them – off, more strength than needed was used against me. Arms around my waist, he lifted me up in the air, and tried to carry me. Either I was heavier than he expected, or that I hadn’t stopped wriggling around, he dropped me.

All the pain from earlier came back and amplified when I hit the ground, landing on my bad shoulder.

“Shit!” I heard him curse, having not yet realized the full extent of my injuries.

Every inch of me felt so wrong, so off, that I was on the edge of throwing up in delirium. A swarm of voices, faded and far away, came to my attention. The neighbors, I guessed, being a little more curious than I would’ve liked. The kid’s cries for his mother could still be heard in the background. Red and blue lights bathed the blurry scene, coating my vision to only primary colors.

Lying here, fighting to stay conscious, senses dulling by the second. The night sky above me. Certainly, I had been in a situation like this before. It all seemed uncanny in how familiar it was.

I don’t like it.

Once again, I flipped onto my stomach, and had to give myself time to try and stand back up.

“Uh-!”

Somone pulled me up from my backpack, setting me square on my feet. An intense sting shot back up my left leg.

“Please stop moving so we can get you inside!”

I surmised that ‘inside’ meant the ambulance mentioned before, but I was in no mood to be taken anywhere outside of my own volition. As limited as it currently was.

I felt arms about to go around my waist again, and I took that as my opportunity.

It was a plan that had little forethought. I was going to anyways, so I let myself drop somewhat, throwing off the person’s hold on me, and as I gritted my teeth, I pushed back up again to headbutt their chin.

“Affhh!” they cried. It sounded like I clipped their tongue.

“Aoow!” I cried. I had to stop putting weight on that leg. Everything considered, it was nearly unbelievable that I could manage this much right now.

There were also some surprised gasps around us. We’ve must have started to attract a crowd.

Meaning I needed to leave. Now.

Blinking away tears from the pain, I looked for a way of escape. The woods. The woods were right over there, I could make it. How? I couldn’t even walk.

Don’t care. Go.

As the person staggered back, I took that to my advantage. I fell forward, toward the truck bed. It was about an arm’s length away, I hoped.

My hand, my only good one, got a hold of the tailgate, and with a swift motion, I pulled myself up to get over and inside the truck bed.

“Hah-!”

Didn’t know how, but I went over the length of the truck bed, landing clumsily on the roof of the vehicle.

“Hey! You get down from there right now! You-”

Someone yelled something, but I didn’t care to hear. I didn’t even care to be here. The woods were right over there, I could make it. How? I can’t even walk. Didn’t care. Go.

I crouched on the roof, hanging what remained of my left leg off the edge. I readied my right leg. Not wanting to slip off, I took a second to get some equilibrium.

The woods. Right over. I could make it. Possibly.

Another shout from someone, voice cracking. “Hey! Get down from there!”

I jumped.

A fusion of terror and amazement swelled in me, taking my breath away. Nothing would truly prepare you for suddenly being thirty feet in the air.

The emergency responders, the wrecked truck, the crowd of onlookers, the crying kid, all long gone as I seemingly floated. Instead, there were nothing but trees. Trees immediately below me. Trees behind me. Trees in my view of the horizon. The only thing that weren’t trees was the dazzlingly stunning night sky above me. I thought I could actually reach the brilliant stars above me. They felt so in reach.

That thought quickly fell flat, almost as fast as I did.

I crashed through branches and leaves. You’d think they would slow you down, but when you were already in that much pain, it hardly made a difference. They tore through my skin and clothes.

In an effort to break my fall, I grasped at anything I could feel. A cutting sting sliced up my hand. Not a smart move. I let go.

All wind was wholly knocked out of me as I crash landed.

I didn’t even make a sound. Just a low thud.

Pain, everywhere. Everything hurt. Even thinking of breathing was impossible. The backpack prevented me from fully lying on the dirt, bending me into a more difficult position.

Okay, Alexis, get your bearings, I ordered myself, Where are you?

In a clearing in the woods. Tree branches obstructed my view of the sky. Again, familiar.

Enough about the sky. How are you right now? Gimme a number.

On a scale of one to ten, a solid ‘stop playing with numbers and someone start helping me the fuck out already’.

Alright, alright. Try to focus on anything, anything to stay alive.

I focused on the pain. It was the only thing that could keep my mind alert and awake. Going to sleep would not be ideal. No guarantee of waking up.

All the pain came back and intensified exponentially, like it was trying to get revenge on my body for having pushed it so far. I had cuts all over, now. The few places left that hadn’t sustained an injury were now without mercy, and every previous injury was laid waste to a good slicing and dicing.  Every cut I sustained from my fall got more concentrated and sharp over time, as though someone was soaking lemon juice into each individual wound. The occasional branch had tugged at the jutting bones of my leg, pulling it out further and scraping deep grooves into the bone itself. My left arm lay lifeless by my side as well, impossible to move. Would it even be accurate to describe the left side of myself as a ‘body,’ I wondered. Half of me was ruined, broken.

Half-dead.

My thoughts went back to just a couple minutes ago. Why was I here again? Oh yeah. Stupid. Of course that guy wouldn’t think that. I wasn’t going to take anything. I wasn’t going to drink anything. Stupid.

Trying to get rid of all the sweat on my forehead, I wiped my brow, and that sweet smell returned. I brought my hand in front of my face, and even though I was collapsed in the middle of a pitch black woods with no notable source of light, I saw perfectly fine.

A deep gash tore out a sizable chunk of my right palm. If I wanted to, I could probably force a finger through it, poking out the other end. Disgusting thought aside, I was at a loss on what to do. Here, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees? Cold, hungry, thirsty, alone. Was this where I would die?

Stretching out my hand, caked with blood, I stared at it for the longest time. An appetizing aroma whiffed from my fingertips. My heart sank.

My gut told me that the blood wasn’t my own, and that my hand must have slipped on it earlier. Also, my gut began to rumble. The inside of my throat rubbed together like sandpaper.

In your lowest moments, you start to think the craziest things. What if I actually licked my fingers?

I answered myself. “Please, stop.” It was hardly audible.

I winced as I spoke, my body’s way of telling me I only had a few breaths left. My throat was dry. So dry. Focusing on the pain was no longer doing me any good, I was already feeling sleepy. This was it. The end. This sucked, I had just gotten out of the hospital, too. Why was I in the hospital, again? I couldn’t remember.

My arm was getting fatigued, I probably shouldn’t hold it out for so long. The blood from my wound had already went down to my tattered sleeve, seeping in a red coloring. There wasn’t a single bit of my hand that was the color of flesh.

You’re going to die here, Alexis, might as well…

I dropped my arm to my chest, and I felt the wet of the hoodie there. The kid tears. It’d have been nice if we switched places, I briefly mused. I traced a hole the branches had cut on the front of my hoodie. I pressed down.

My hand froze.

It wasn’t this soaked before. The kid didn’t cry that much onto my chest. But a delicious scent emanated from my clothes. And then it all clicked. Must have gotten it wet when I leaned too far into the truck. My head went limp on the ground and the dirt, leaves getting tangled in my hair. Eyelids growing heavy again, I let them close this time.

No more thoughts.

I tightly gripped my chest, catching as much fabric into my hand as I could. So sodden, that I could wring out blood. I brought the clump of cloth to my mouth. Digging my teeth into it, I squeezed and brought out as much liquid as I could. I sucked.

Whooooaaaaaa.

My entire tongue was electrified. A burst of flavor overtook me. I arced my back.

Eyes strained as they rolled into the back of my head. If I didn’t die from the pain, I’d end up dying from how good this tasted.

Sweet. A word that was too simple, betraying how good it really was. But at the same time, it captured the essence of what I meant in a short and succinct manner. A universal understanding. No need for million dollar words. A shiver down my spine. The curling of my toes. The smile on my face. One couldn’t be blamed for acting this way when the taste was this sweet. Sweet, like a strawberry jam.

And as if to turn on the heels of my high, I was met with another new experience.

That numb feeling of a foot falling asleep, but expanded out to my whole body. My broken arm, my broken leg, and my gashed hand felt the brunt of it.

Confused, I dropped the wad of cloth out of my mouth, and again took a look at my hand. My bloodied hand, torn open from trying to rely on a tree branch to break my fall. Except the gash was getting smaller.

It was getting smaller.

It shrank at a gradual rate, the flesh meeting together and closing up. I rotated my hand around, observing the other cuts. They were also following suit, soon disappearing without a trace.

I may have been close to failing biology last year, but I knew that the human body didn’t heal that easily.

“Uhn,” I grunted as I sat up straight. To think I could still do this much. I slipped my backpack off my shoulders. So much for doing any homework tonight.

Making a joke at a time like this, I wanted to slap myself.

Wait, I realized I could move my left arm. Rolling the sleeve up the elbow, I checked on the state of that particular limb.

Not a scratch on it. Odd, considering that it hurt to just touch it, let alone move it. And now, I was able to make a fist. It was definitely broken beyond use just before, how had it healed all by itself?

And my left leg answered that for me, as I saw it for myself.

The bones weren’t protruding out as much as they did initially. Instead, they were retreating back into the leg, like it was the most natural thing it the world. The muscle and skin closed up behind the bones as they fully withdrew. I actually felt the bones mending together inside my leg. Like putting pieces of a puzzle together. Except that things were not making any sense.

And just like that, the numbing subsided, and I was left fully healed. I patted myself down again. Nothing scratched, nothing broken, no waves of pain, nothing. Ignoring the dirt, blood, grime, torn clothes, messy hair, and overall weakened constitution, it was like I never got in an accident. Never got hit by a truck.

A cold sweat ran down my body. I had no clue how the hell I survived something like this in the first place, but from what I just witnessed, whatever the answer could be horrified me.

Despite having confirmed that I had zero injuries, I was still apprehensive about standing. So I took it slow, crawling backwards and dragging my lower half until I bumped against a tree. Turning so I could press against it, carefully, I propped myself up with my legs, keeping myself steady with my hold on the tree. I got up without incident.

“Is that it?” I said, fully standing but propped against the tree, face in my sleeve. It sounded more like a cry for air. A cry for help.

“Ha… ha ha… So that’s that…” I croaked.

That’s right.

Screaming soon filled the air. Loud. Some birds flew out of the trees above. I was probably close to hyperventilating, yet I kept screaming. Because I remembered. I remembered what happened to me that night.

My birthday. My walk that night. That encounter. That girl. That thing. It all came back to me. Everything came back and hit me harder than any truck ever could.

So I kept screaming. And screaming. Screaming until it hurt. Until I gripped my sides and fell on my knees, heaving for air, eyes watering and throat dry. But I kept screaming. Screaming until it sounded like I was laughing. Until I was mostly coughing. Until I threw up.

“Ha… haha… haaaah…”

I didn’t know long that lasted, but I eventually did calm down. At least enough to get a better sense of where I was. Literally not out of the woods just yet. And, even if I did make it out of here, I’d still have to deal with the possibility that I may not be even human anymore.

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003 – Performing Magic

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October fourth. Three days since my birthday. Also my first day back to school.

Needless to say, I was a little tired.

I stood right outside my place, a light fall air nipping at my face. My backpack was slung over one shoulder and my sports bag sat leaning against my leg. It was a routine I had grown used to in the past year. Every day, by eight-thirty, I would be picked up to go to school. Or that was supposed to be the plan. By now, I had known better, stepping outside at that time.

After ten minutes, I was tapping my foot. Was she testing me?

Typical.

A black BMW rolled up in front of me. Huh, I guess she kept herself well-behaved over the weekend. Funny, the last time I saw her she was a shot away from blacking out. Really, her dad was too easy on her. Opening up my phone, I looked at the time. Eight-forty-five.

“Right on time,” I said, as Katy rolled down her tinted window. “You look cute.”

She was prepped up in a clean white button-up, tucked into a black skirt. Her strawberry blonde hair was tied back into a neat ponytail. She lowered her designer sunglasses, revealing her olive green eyes. She shot me a look.

“Of course I do. But I can’t say the same for you.”

I tugged at my black hoodie, then adjusted my denim shorts. “Shut up, we’re going to have a last minute practice today.”

“Whatever, get in.”

I got in.

Katy looked left, right, and left again as she got back onto the road. She snorted when she noticed the phone in my hand.

“Ha, your mom really did get it.”

I thrust the phone into my pocket. I didn’t want to use it, or even look at it, as much as possible. “It’s lame.”

“Like, the fuck is that? You could build houses with that thing!”

“Very clever.”

“For really though, what can that even do?” she asked.

“I dunno, for such a thick and blunt object, it’s a pretty big thorn on my side.”

“I can see why you didn’t want to text back!”

Katy let herself laugh for another second before settling down. She inhaled deeply, indicating a shift in tone.

“Jesus though, what happened that night?”

I wish I knew. I stayed quiet.

“Hey, at least you’re okay. I was so worried when you didn’t show for your cake, and I looked everywhere for you. I thought something happened. Then an ambulance and a bunch of cops came by, and everyone freaked out and tried to dip. I went down to the wine cellar.”

My nose flared, amused at the imagery. A drunk Katy, taking refuge in a fortress of wine and fine spirits.

“I didn’t find out you were in the hospital until Sunday. I’d thought you’d got alcohol poisoning, or something.”

“Me too,” I replied.

“Hunh?”

“Nothing.”

“Anyways, I’m just glad you’re okay. How are you right now?”

I kept silent for some time. I really didn’t know exactly how I felt. Confused, angered, bewildered, frustrated, and any other synonyms of those two feelings. A little scared, too, I supposed. But how was I supposed to put that swirl of emotions into words?

Rubbing the back of my neck, I broke the silence. “I’m fine.”

“What about big mama? When I called, she sounded so pissed I thought I needed to check myself in for serious burns.”

I grinned slightly at the nickname. “You already know.”

“Got the silent treatment?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Damn, that bad?”

“Got that right.”

As we talked, I kept my head down, not looking out the window on my side. A bright pink nail poked my cheek.

“We can talk about something else.”

“Sure.”

“Like how everyone’s talking about it.”

“Thanks,” I said under a breath.

“I mean, it’s true,” she paused so she could turn a corner. “Okay, I exaggerate, but you know what I mean.”

It was vague, what she meant by ‘everyone.’ I wasn’t exactly sure what she meant.

“How bad then?” I asked.

She hummed as she thought, trying to summarize the past few days.

“Nothing too big. Of course people talked about it online and stuff. My dad showed me a quick snippet of it on the evening news, in between yelling my ear off.”

“My mom talked to your dad?”

She nodded.

“How are you allowed to drive your dad’s car, then?”

My car is still broken down, and I still need a way to get to school. And please, my dad has much cooler cars I’d rather be driving.”

“Your dad’s way too easy on you.”

She grinned, like it was all part of a grand scheme. “I know.” But she dropped it immediately. “But seriously, I feel bad about what happened. We shouldn’t have planned to go out there.”

“No,” I said, “Throwing blame around isn’t gonna help.”

“Good point.”

“So, I’m on the news?” I asked in order to move the topic elsewhere. “Everyone’s talking about it?”

“You could say that, but,” the corners of Katy’s lips couldn’t mask her slight smirk.

“But you’re not white, and your mom isn’t exactly someone who would do well in front of a camera. They didn’t make it that big of a deal.”

The thought of my mom either giving cold, one word answers to a reporter, or exploding into a tirade on how I needed to grow responsibility over my unconscious body – not in English, to boot – sprang to mind. It didn’t sit well with me.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You betcha, you’re ‘see page four-B,’ not front page material.”

“That’s not fair. I’m half-white.”

“Fine. You’re definitely scrolling at the bottom of a news ticker, then.”

“Is that your four-inch, or six-inch heel that you’re using to kick me while I’m down?”

We both cracked into a giggle, some tension being alleviated.

But that wasn’t my main reason for asking, although it should have been.

“Brandon?” I asked.

“Hmm?” she sounded, checking her side-view mirror.

“Did he say anything?”

“Ah,” she responded. Tapping a finger on the steering wheel, she gave herself some time to think. “I don’t know. I don’t know him that well.”

Means he doesn’t care. I raised my eyes to peek at the road ahead.

“Don’t jump to conclusions just yet, Lexi, just because I didn’t hear anything doesn’t mean-“

“Red.”

“Huh?”

“Red!”

Katy slammed the brakes. We both jolted forward, the seatbelts properly doing their jobs. The light at the intersection showed red. Two other cars were waiting ahead of us. The school was right around the corner, too.

“Geez,” I teased. “At least tell me when you’re gonna kill me.”

She rolled her eyes.

Driving into the parking lot, I took in a good view of the main school building. ‘Stephenville High School’ was spelled out in blocky metallic letters above the entrance of the building. The typical public high school that anyone’s seen before. Maybe a little older, a little dingier.

Getting out of the car, I grabbed my backpack, and wrapped my sports bag around one shoulder. Katy only had a purse with her. Walking alongside her towards the school, I shielded my eyes yet again.

“You good?” Katy asked.

“Yeah, you should let me borrow those sunglasses.”

“Nice try.”

We entered through the front doors. Seeing as classes were about to start in five minutes, we went our separate ways. Not before confirming plans to meet up for lunch, of course.

The bell sounded off as soon as I stepped into the classroom. I didn’t have the time to put away my bags.

The first class went about how I expected it to go. Tuesday, B-Day, thanks to block scheduling, meant my first class was US History. First order of business was to hand the teacher a doctor’s note for Monday’s absence.

“Thank you, Alexis,” Mr. Richards said as he accepted the small paper. He eyed me for a quick second while he went back to his desk.

Okay.

Leaving it at that, I went to my seat. All the desks faced one way, towards the chalkboard, and I was as middle as middle could get.

Dead center.

“Hey,” I said, alerting a small congregation of people around my desk to my presence. Classmates. Acquaintances.

“Hey,” one of them said back, a boy with dark, neatly combed hair. Mattie. “Happy belated birthday.”

“Thank you,” I said sweetly, meaning it.

As part of a normal routine, I usually had some time to converse with some friends I had in class before the teacher would take back control of the room. Today instead, I passed through the small group, exchanging hellos, sat down, and Mr. Richards began talking about the Reconstruction Era.

In reality, I only missed one day of class, but it felt like I had been gone forever. Whatever happened up until the party on Friday was but a distant memory. A blurry picture.

The classroom experience, though, was all too familiar.

Not two minutes since Mr. Richards began his lecture, and I was bored. I dug into my pocket for my phone.

I felt an unusual shape, an odd texture, and then remembered.

I wanted to cry.

I had to resign myself to actually taking notes today.

The class period went longer than I had hoped, or felt like it, with Mr. Richards’ words falling upon deaf ears. My pen lightly etched across my notebook, at a glance, it still looked blank.

I failed to stifle a yawn.

Thirty minutes later, a tap behind me, on my shoulder. Instinctively, I slowly brought my free hand behind my chair, keeping it low. A piece of folded my paper fell into my palm.

I brought it back to my desk, not turning to acknowledge the sender. Got to keep it low key, a teacher’s all-seeing eye was a force to be reckoned with. I had to unfold it four times to reveal the message.

‘Yo. How are you? the party, gimme deets! J.’

Three seats back, and one over, to my right. Jenny. She was at the party. That, I could remember.

I jotted my response quickly, and brought my hand back down to return it to where it came.

‘I’m fine. And I don’t have deets to share!’ was all I wrote.

A normal hour-long class was bad enough, but since the school moved to block scheduling for this year, every class was now an hour-fifteen. Hell, truly.

Finally, finally, the bell rang to excuse us. A five minute walking period was wedged between classes, and that was barely enough time to get to the next class.

I greeted anyone I knew as we students crisscrossed each other to get to our destinations. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was mostly trying to scan for a particular face. Couldn’t find him. Had I did, I would’ve been more willing to put up with second period.

But, nope. There was still another hour-fifteen minutes until lunch. And it was pre-cal.

The only thing standing between me and satiating my growing hunger, and thirst.

“Here you go, Ms. Powers,” I said, handing the note to the short, stout, fifty-year-old woman.

“Hmph,” was all that came out of her when she took it. She didn’t stand up out of her desk, or even look my way.

Kind of.

It was very small, very understated, but she did scan me from the corner of her eye. A look of disgust, like I had come in without showering for a week, and she could smell me a mile away. Her lip even curled up by a hair. Subtle, but she shouldn’t underestimate my eye for that type of stuff.

With my lips set into a straight line, I nodded once and turned to go to my desk, in the way back.

What a bitch.

“Alexis! Oh my god, how are you?”

Brittany, a good friend and a teammate, intercepted my way with a hug. She was tough, the force of her kindness nearly knocking some wind out of me.

Like the force of a car, if I could be overdramatic.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, now get off me!” I said, almost laughing as I tried to push her away. She was close enough to smell what I guessed was her perfume, a strangely citrusy scent.

“Are you sure, I heard all about it,” Brittany said, before leaning into my ear. “What happened? I heard people saying it was some prank.”

That’d be one theory, I thought. All I did was raise my shoulders. “No clue, it’s all fuzzy.”

She pouted, and bumped me in the arm. “Aw, sorry to hear that. Happy birthday, again. See you at practice?”

“No worries. And thanks, again. And yeah, you will.”

She let me go to my seat, and I got ready to zone out again.

My mind began to wander right about the time Ms. Powers was going over polynomial and rational functions for the n-th time. I wasn’t trying to think about that Friday, but no one else got the memo, apparently.

I was starting to get a good grasp of what Katy meant by ‘everyone.’

As a grateful contrast to how the previous class went, this class and the next passed with a blur. With my backpack and sports bag always close in hand, I was ready to go.

And by ‘go,’ I meant ‘leave.’

When the bell finally sang its merciful tune, letting us off for lunch, I went down from second floor, practically floating on the stairs, and returned to the front hall where I split up with Katy earlier.

She was already there, along with someone else.

“Hey,” Maria said, waving a heavily nail-polished hand. Her bracelets clang together as she did so.

I nodded my head when I saw her. “Hola.”

She stuck out her tongue, but I saw her smile.

“How are you? Katy told me what’s up.”

“You know, you’re the first person to ask me that.” I made sure to be extra obnoxious.

Maria clapped her hands together. “Bitch, you’re fine!” She then slapped me on the back.

“So, where do y’all want to go first?” Katy asked, interjecting in the conversation.

“I wanna go to Flash,” Maria said, referring to the new boutique that just opened. The one that was so uppity, expensive, and pretentious that its logo could spell both ‘Flash,’ and ‘Fresh.’ And it ended with a period. It was that type of establishment.

“I’ve been dying to go down there,” Maria added.

“That’s all the way in downtown,” Katy responded. “That’s too far.”

Maria frowned, tilting her head and clicking her tongue. She looked to me, like I had some power of convincing Katy.

I wouldn’t have minded going, personally, even if it would take up the second half of the school day. I didn’t mind. And we all agreed to go one day. But sitting in an hour of traffic, both ways, was no fun.

Not worth it.

“I agree,” I said, taking Katy’s side. “We should just go and get something to eat for now, school food sucks dick.”

Maria puckered her lips and used them to point in my direction. “That ain’t the only thing.”

I glared at Katy. Damn you.

She shrugged, her smug expression showing that she wasn’t sorry in the slightest. Such a good girl, she was.

“Okay, pal,” I said to Maria, raising my hands. “Let’s just get out of here.”

They both laughed.

To get off campus, we had to take Maria’s car, a 2004 teal Honda. Not the most comfortable ride, but it was a lot more inconspicuous than a black BMW. Only seniors were allowed off campus during lunch hours, after all. We juniors had to be a bit more creative about leaving.

Maria drove, and comparing driving skills between her and Katy, especially today, Maria was a much safer driver.

We opted for Lone Star Chicken, a local chain. We would have picked a closer location, but we didn’t want to risk running into any teachers who thought they were being clever by staking out the more popular hangout spots. There was no one else there when we came in, which was a good sign. That meant that we were safe.

Katy ordered a chicken salad, Maria got a fried chicken basket, and I chose the chicken sandwich combo. My personal favorite. With my throat parched, my stomach rumbling, I was looking forward to this all day.

We sat by the back exit, our eye on the front door. I stared down my sandwich, it looked as good as it tasted. I really was looking forward to this all day.

I bit into it. Katy noticed my reaction.

“Doesn’t taste good?”

“It’s okay,” I said. I held up the sandwich to eye level, inspecting it carefully. Two fried pieces of chicken, squished between their ‘world famous’ bread rolls. The secret sauce glistened. If we were in a cartoon, the sandwich would have sparkling lines coming off the top.

“Tell ‘em if it ain’t,” Maria said. “Shit, like I’d let ‘em fuck up my shit.” Her mouth was full of chicken, muffling her words. She stuffed in another piece.

I have a million comebacks for you right now, Maria…   

“Nah, it’s fine,” I answered. Hoping it would somehow taste better with a second try, I bit into it again. No Bueno. All the ingredients tasted like it was a week old, so stale and dry. It sat in my mouth like rubber. It took considerable effort to swallow.

Trying to wash down that taste with a large cup of sweet tea didn’t help any. Wasn’t sweet at all. To be precise, it was like drinking clam juice. I fought the urge to gag or make a funny face.

I didn’t want to lose said face in front of my friends, however, and if I wanted to find something good to say about it, it was, at least, the bare minimum of being considered edible. I managed to keep eating.

“Hey hey,” Katy said, dropping her plastic fork into her bowl, finishing her meal. “Lexi, show Maria your phone.”

“Oh yeah!” Maria brought a greasy hand to me, a chicken crumb sticking to a nail. “Lemme see.” Her voice was still stuffed by food.

“Uhh, no way.” I wiped my chin and skidded away from them an inch. “I don’t even wanna see it. Plus it’s in my backpack. In your car.”

A low groan that came from Maria, and she finally swallowed a whole mouthful. “Beach.”

“Oh, okay,” I said back.

“You can tap out if you want to, Lexi. You’ve gotten enough of a beat down for one day,” Katy said.

“Sure,” I said. “Only if I get to slug one to Maria.” I directed myself to her, and plucked a fry out of her hand before she could eat it.

“You said we would finally be able to meet your boyfriend at the party,” I said. “He never showed. What’s the deal?”

Maria cleaned her hands with a napkin. “That’s your slug? You can do better than that.”

“You’re deflecting,” Katy said. “She right. You said he’d show. I was kind of looking forward to meeting him, honestly.”

Maria clicked her tongue, and looked away from our gaze. “Don’t worry about it. I said he might come, but he couldn’t. No big.”

Katy kept pressing on. “Come on, together for two years, and I’ve never seen him once. I don’t even know his name. It’s getting pretty-”

“Drop it, okay?” Maria said, disrupting Katy, “Don’t worry about it.”

A singular huff from Katy. She dropped it. I wasn’t too bothered by that little bout. It was nothing new by this point.

We continued eating. I tried to eat more, but none of it was good.

There wasn’t much else to do after we finished our food, besides discussing other gossip Katy and Maria brought to the table. Nothing substantial, but it was fun to talk about. Katy brought up wanting to go somewhere else, but we were already pressed for time. Within the immediate vicinity of the school, the only places worth visiting were food chains like this. With that disappointment hanging over our heads, we concluded that going back to school was the best course of action. We left the restaurant. With only an hour for our lunch period, we made it back with three minutes to spare. We exchanged hasty see-you-laters before splitting off to our separate classes.

If you asked me, an hour wasn’t long enough for lunch.

The remainder of the day fared just the same as the first half. I gave my teachers the doctor’s note, and they let me be on my way. Mrs. Goldstein, my chemistry teacher, did allow me to extend the due date of my project, which was merciful of her. Some classmates I was acquainted with fussed over me, and the teacher having to calm them down. My pen glided over my notebook as I absentmindedly took notes, not really paying attention to anything my teachers were saying.

I had other things to worry about.

To release me from my boredom, the final bell sang, like music to my ears. At the beginning of the day, it was screaming at all of us to congregate into the building. Now, it was telling us to get lost.

I wasted no time getting to the gym.

“Barnett! Welcome back!” Coach Tilly boomed. A fit brunette in a track suit. Despite being so short – hell, even I was taller than her – that made her no less intimidating. “You good for today?”

“I’m fine!” I barked back.

“Good! Hurry it up!”

“Yes Coach!”

On the other side of the gym were doors that lead into the locker room. I ran along the edge of the court, passing my teammates. They were already doing their stretches and warm ups. None of them paid me any mind.

Having been on a volleyball team since middle school, I’d say it was my favorite activity to do after school. It’d be even more accurate to say that I came to school for the sole purpose of being able to play volleyball. To me, it was fun. Plain. Simple. Some people played video games, hunted, smoked weed. I played volleyball. I wouldn’t say I was particularly good at it, well, good enough to be on the team. Barely good enough to make varsity. But, I enjoyed playing. It helped clear my mind.

I went in and out from the locker room in a flash. A quick switch into my uniform, a combo of a red top and black shorts, I returned to the gym.

After everyone had gathered, about thirty of us or so, we officially started practice. Starting with stretches, a quick one and a half kilometer run across the gym, and then right into intensive setting and hitting exercises. Hard work, but I didn’t hate it.

Today particularly, it felt kind of easy.

Coach Tilly was especially grilling into us today, criticizing every tiny detail about our form. Not surprising, while she always got riled up right before a game, she especially would be around this time of the year.

Thursday, we’d be going up against Saint Augustine High, a formidable team from our district. Maybe the sixth or fifth best in the whole state. Every year, Stephenville and Augustine would be matched up around early October, and every year, Coach Tilly would not get off our asses about it. I didn’t know why she was so hell bent on beating her alma mater, but that was her own personal matter. If it meant that we had to play harder, then so be it. I was ready.

Three sharp whistles pierced the air in an odd rhythm, and we all knew what that meant. Time to ‘spar.’

Coach picked out our positions for the first match, and those who weren’t picked had to stand by and study our performances and figure out how to improve their own. I was picked for the first set, my position being the outside hitter. I was on the front-left, close to the net.

Our side was to set first, so I was on guard as the ball soared between the two halves of the court. I concentrated on every little movement of the other team, every twitch of a muscle of those around me. As expected, Brittany had a fantastic defense. Ah, I had to make sure I didn’t forget about the ball, too.

A lot to process.

But…

The flicker of Brittany’s eye, the angle of Taylor’s hitting wrist, the way Coach Tilly put her hand on her hip as she shouted instructions at us. I was able to focus on every tiny thing for far longer than I could, normally.

And the ball, flying way longer than it should. Had it always moved that slow?

Suddenly my muscles tensed. The ball was hit towards my general direction, and judging from the minute, miniscule movements from the girls around me, they were going to let me take it. This ball was my responsibility.

Don’t fuck it up.

A quick scan of the ball’s position gave me enough information. I could definitely spike that. I was far enough from the net to give myself an ample distance to run. The defense was looking a little thin on the other side. I could take advantage of that.

Alright then. Let’s go.

First, build momentum, keeping my arms forward. Next, I’d accelerate, swinging my arms back, my palms facing upward. As I closed in on the net, I’d convert my forward energy to vertical, arcing my hitting arm to a good ready-position, raising my opposite arm for midair balancing. By now, the ball should be in the perfect strike zone. I’d slam my hand down to the ball, using my core muscle and proper shoulder rotation to maximize power to the spike. Lastly, the satisfying smack of the ball to the floor, bouncing away as the defense scrambled behind, having failed to stop it.

I had done this thousands of times. This was nothing.

I took my first step forward. I built momentum, keeping my-

“Whoa!”

The sound of wind cutting past my ears, and I was immediately constricted. I crashed onto the floor. More noise of clanging metal, and cries of shock.

“Ah, what the heck?” I muttered. I couldn’t move, my arms and legs constrained in netting. I felt like a trapped animal.

“Calm down! Barnett, calm down!” Coach Tilly yelled. Eventually, I did, and some girls who were on standby ran to help me get untangled.

On my hands and knees, I crawled away to the wall. Turning back around, I was met with the tomato-colored rage that was Coach Tilly’s face.

“What the hell is that!” she shouted, pointing behind her.

“What the what is what?” I answered stupidly. With her taking up most of my view, I had no clue as to what she was referring to.

Her eyes widened, but she stepped to the side. I looked on with surprise.

The net was completely destroyed, limp on the floor with no chance of being reattached to the poles. Speaking of which, the upright poles which held up the net itself were ruined, bent at the floor sockets.

“Did… I do that?” I pointed at myself, feeling like an idiot.

“Yes you did, you jumped right into the net and ruined our set up! Do you call that a spike?!” She straightened herself up, looking back at the scene of the destruction. “That was the only net we had, repairs for the poles won’t be done until… Crap.

She stood there, silent, in a vain attempt to cool off. She scanned the gym as she did so. After some time, Coach blew her whistle. “Alright! That’s it! Go home and get your rest! Thursday, we kill that game!”

“Yes Coach!” the rest of the team cheered. All eyes were on me as the rest went back to the locker room. I felt my stomach churning. Must be that sandwich from earlier.

“Ah, I have to make some calls,” Coach whispered. “Should of let you rest, coming back from the hospital so soon…” She headed out the door, leaving the gym. Before the door closed behind her, she called out to me again.

“Hey, Alexis, sorry about that. Don’t beat yourself up over it. I’ll see you Thursday.”

The door closed behind her. The sound reverberated throughout the empty gym. I forgave her temper, we all knew she could get too worked up.

That swirl of emotions came back, but one in particular was more potent.

Confusion.

I stayed sitting on the gym floor, my back against the wall.

What… in the world?

My chest rose, and lowered as I let out a rough groan.

Before long, some of the girls started coming back into the gym, having left the locker room. A voice from across the space called out to me.

“Urkel, you alright?”

That sounded like Eve. I liked her. She was nice. Well-meaning.

“I’m fine,” I said, my two most-repeated words all day. But I kept my eyes down. I didn’t hear anything back, Eve seemingly taking my words at face value. Without looking at my face. I didn’t care, I wanted to be left alone, anyways.

I waited until the last of them left the gym, until I was sure I would be the only one in the locker room. I got up slowly, staggering into the room to change.

There wasn’t anything worth mulling over anymore. Changing slowly, I left behind my gym clothes and stuffed the sports bag into the metal locker. I’d wash it another day.

After I was done, I exited the near-empty school building, and checked the sky above me. I cursed under my breath.

Nighttime.

And I forgot to text Katy. Shoot.

I checked my phone, fumbling with the buttons to turn it on. It wouldn’t light up. Crap. Just how terrible was this thing’s battery life?

Or did I forget to charge it?

Awesome.

“And I have curfew too…” I said aloud. Remembering that I had a watch on me, I checked the time. Doing the math in my head, it would take me about forty minutes if I picked up the pace. I’d barely make it home on time. Public transportation was not an option either, there was no direct bus route from the school to my place, and I didn’t have enough money for the detour.

“Uhh, I’m so tired…” I complained out loud. Not that anyone would hear.

Figuring that to be my best – and only – plan, I began my walk home.

After I got a fourth of the way, I was walking down the sidewalk, heading towards a suburb. Houses to my right, a thick collection of trees lined up to my left, across the street. As I settled into my pace and the course set in my head, only now did I take notice on how cool the night sky looked.

Black and blue streaks painted the sky, making up the night colors. The stars vibrantly glittered on the dark canvas, so bright and intense, they were more like light bulbs than tiny white dots. Also, there was a lot of them. I’d have to go out to the wild, or to Braham’s, in order to see that many stars. The night seemed to bristle with life, in no way like the black, dead, nothingness I usually associate with this hour. It was the spitting image of that famous painting that my world history teacher last year wouldn’t stop obsessing over. What was it called again?

Something about a van going somewhere… I dunno.

Cars and trucks periodically darted down the road as I kept on my path, my hair getting into my face as they passed me. After about the tenth time of spitting out loose hair out of my mouth, I put my hood over my head. That was better.

Coming up from behind me, there was a rhythm clacking of wheels and wood. It was getting louder. I didn’t have to turn around to know it was a skateboard. As the sound closed in, I moved off to the side. That should’ve given them enough room. Didn’t stop the rider from being an asshole.

“Outta my way!”

He had no real reason to, but he knocked into my side as he passed. Some blonde kid riding goofy. Chubby. I noted the words ‘I Got Swag’ printed across his black shirt.

You probably do, kid, but that doesn’t excuse poor manners.

I didn’t say it, though. No need.

Fixing my backpack strap, I observed his skating. Coming from someone who had never skated, even I could tell that he was awful. His flabby physique threw off his balance, making him off-kilter, wobbling around as he stood on the thin wooden board. It was like he just got it the day before, and he never heard of what a skateboard even was. A fish out of water; a chubby blonde on a skateboard.

Pathetically, he attempted to ollie off the sidewalk and onto the road. How he thought he could pull it off, with that lack of balance, I’d never know. He didn’t kick it up, he kicked it away. The outcome was what you’d expect.

The board flew out from under him, but his legs kept moving as though it was where it was supposed to be. As such, he tripped over himself as he descended, faltering a few steps before falling face first on the other side of the road, hard. I held back some laughter. The whole sequence was viral video worthy. Didn’t color me surprised if his shirt now said ‘I Swag.’

“Hey, kid, you alright?” I decided to speak up. I knew if I were him, it’d be better than being ignored entirely.

Moaning, he rolled over onto his back. Not used to taking falls, I supposed. His body began to be cast in a white light. For a split moment, I thought of something stupid. Like aliens, or something. But of course that wasn’t right.

It was a lot worse than that.

A pickup truck was coming in from the distance, towards the kid. But it was closing in rather quickly, with no sign of slowing down. It must have not seen him. Meaning this would get really, really, bad.

“Hey, hey! Get up!” I yelled. No use, he wasn’t budging. Was he as smart as he was athletic?

Dammit.

“Get the hell up!” I yelled again. He didn’t move.

The truck zoomed closer. There were seconds until a disaster.

It’s no good, Alexis, you have to do something.

Do what?

Dammit!

Without thinking, I stepped onto the road. Without blinking, I was already in between the kid and the truck. My right arm grabbed a hold of the kid, holding him close to my body. I extended my left arm. The Heisman trophy had nothing on me.

My arm folded under the weight of the collision. So did the grill of the truck.

Previous                                                                                               Next

002 – Womb

Previous                                                                                               Next

An unfamiliar ceiling.

My head rested on a soft pillow, but the casing was scratchy. Warm blankets wrapped up my body.  A window closed to my left, and a door closed to my right. It was dark in this room, but I could tell the ceiling, walls, and floor were all white. Also, only a special kind of room could possibly feel this claustrophobically sterile.

A hospital room.

The only thing killing the stagnant silence was a steady, high-pitched beep. Well, that, and a set of some really ugly snoring that I could instantly identify.

She was napping on the left side of my bed, resting her head on her arms. I touched her short, black hair, which was rough and unruly. She’d been here for a long time.

I let her hair fall in between my fingers, and a sense of relief overwhelmed me. It was just my left hand, why did my eyes water in seeing it? I didn’t know, I didn’t even know why I was here.

Weariness overwhelmed me, and I fell back asleep.

“…”

“No signs of any serious injury, internal or external. No alcohol in her blood, if you were concerned about that. Considering how the police found her, it’s more than a miracle that there was hardly a scratch on her.”

“Ah, thank you, mister, thank you.”

“No problem. When she wakes up, you two are free to go. I will need her back here in a week for a follow-up, though.”

“Yes, of course, thank you, mister.”

“Alright then, I’ll have to be off, now. Take care.”

Footsteps, followed by the door being shut. It prompted me to open my eyes.

I did it slowly, though, to try and get used to the light. Why was it so bright in here?

As I came to, I saw a dark figure looming over me, cutting through the brightness. For a split second, I felt a moment’s anxiety. But as my vision adjusted a bit more, I realized who this was. Then I felt really anxious.

Wholly and unequivocally screwed.

“Ma…” I said, trying to keep my voice light and breezy. “Could you turn down the lights? It’s kinda blinding me.”

Her brow was furrowed. She was not amused.

“Get up. We go. Now.

As ordered, I got up, and took clothes my mom handed to me, changing out of my hospital gown as fast as I could. I was at the mercy of whatever she picked out, so I stepped out of the room in a pink hoodie and a dark purple pair of gym shorts. They were too tight on me, when was the last time I wore these? Middle school? And they didn’t even match. And these flip-flops she gave me? But I knew if I said something, my mom would end me right then and there, in the middle of the hallway.

I kept my mouth shut.

In an attempt to be easygoing, I scratched the back of my neck, and swallowed. It was really itchy.

“Hey, Ma? Can we get something to eat first? I’m really hungry, and thirsty.”

She stayed quiet. Her way of saying, ‘Fine, but you’re not off the hook.’

Before we could head to the cafeteria, we had to go deal with the front desk. The receptionist handed us a thick stack of papers to sign. Release forms, insurance forms, whatever form it was, I just signed where I needed to without closely reading it over. I wanted to be done with it. After successfully climbing over the mountain of paperwork, we were allowed to go get some food. Not that it was a particularly coveted prize.

Like the hospital room, the cafeteria was just as bland and dreary and sterile. The walls blended in with the chairs and tables, giving everything a pale-brownish hue. It was the spacious equivalent of a manila folder. Everything was just so inoffensive to the point it felt kind of offensive.

To add insult to injury, they placed a single fern in the farthest corner. It screamed, ‘This is as much effort as we’ll put into decorating, so eat and go die.’ To me, at least. The pot matched the color of everything else so well that I thought the plant was floating at first.

There was hardly anyone in here, only another couple conversing at a table by that damn fern. Neither of them looked like they were hospitalized, probably just visiting. No one else in line, either, so I grabbed a tray where the line began and walked down the aisle of food, picking out whatever I wanted.

I noticed that my mom didn’t grab a tray after me. Instead, she waited by the register at the end of the aisle, rummaging through her purse. Having had woken up in a hospital bed, watching her pay for me made me feel that much worse about the current situation.

Physically, however, I felt like I could run a marathon.

My mom paid the cashier, a bored heavyset black lady in a hairnet, and I followed my mom to a table of her choosing. Close to the entrance of the cafeteria, which was opposite the corner with the fern. I felt like I was getting ready to fight it.

I looked down at my plate, and then looked down at my plate. An apple, a bowl of cheerios, and a half of a bagel, hastily smeared with cream cheese. I still didn’t know what the exact time was, so I might as well start with breakfast.

I poked my cereal with my plastic spoon, preparing myself to take a bite. I scooped as much as I could, but with the utensil being so small, every spoonful was way too unsatisfying. Whatever. I was about to put it into my mouth.

“I’m not happy,” my mom said, interrupting me.

Crap.

I wanted to keep my eyes down, staring only at the cereal, but that wouldn’t have been good enough for her. I looked up.

If I told you she was at most, twenty-two, you would’ve believed me. Hell, if I told you we were sisters, you’d believe that too. That was the beauty of being a middle-aged Japanese woman, I supposed.

Of course, that made it all the more distressing to see such a young and pretty face distort itself to such discontent. Even more so when you were the reason for it.

“S-sorry,” I stuttered, scratching the back of my neck.

I didn’t know what to say. Maybe it was shock, some kind of trauma, but I literally had no recollection of how I ended up here. Okay, not entirely true, I did remember some bits. It was all too fuzzy though.

It was Friday. I went to the party. My birthday party. I had a few drinks, went a little loose, and met up with Brandon for some… idle chat. Katy made me drink some more, and I think I went outside for a walk.

And lastly, I woke up here.

My first conclusion was that I passed out from all my drinking, but I thought I heard the doctor said something about no alcohol being in my blood. Which was odd, there definitely was. I’d know. But hey, if medical professionals said so, then that was that. I shouldn’t dwell on it.

Nor did I want to.

My mother’s unreadable stare was all she had for a response to my weak apology. The longer she looked at me with those eyes, the more I wanted to melt and disappear forever. Finally, she relented, and leaned back into her chair. At long last, I could get back to my breakfast. I visibly frowned. It had already gotten too soggy, losing all of its artificial flavor.

I moved onto the bagel. My face must had shown it all. It had the consistency of cardboard. The cream cheese was just as terrible, with the stench of glue reaching down to my stomach. Was this what they fed patients?

Nevertheless, I somehow found it in me to finish a good portion of it. Mostly because I had no desire to look back to my mother again.

“You done. We go. Now.” Normally, her regular speaking voice carried very little of an accent. It only ever noticeable when she got agitated. For me, it was the same as being called by a middle name. So when her sudden command was filtered through that specific delivery, it struck me off guard. I jumped up in the middle of swallowing.

“Ack, uck!”

Coughing heavily, I got up on my feet, giving myself some time to cool down before cleaning the table. As I put away my tray, I caught the brief glances of the couple and the heavyset cashier. Despite her unassuming appearance, my mom could get loud when she wanted to. Alleviating any tension in the cafeteria was pointless, I had to take this loss and get out of here.

When I turned around, she was already gone. Probably on her way to the van. Making sure I didn’t forget anything, I went back to the table. I returned to find a cold bottle of water. Wasn’t there before. Smiling, I opened up the plastic container, letting the refreshing, clear, liquid slide down my throat.

Now that felt good.

I finished the bottle in a second, and tossed it in a trash can as I passed the hospital’s automatic doors. I saw my mom was already starting up the van. A light blue Toyota. As I crossed the parking lot, I squinted, and brought a hand to my face. It was too bright out here.

Getting into the passenger side, I clicked the seatbelt together. The van had definitely been here for a long time, it’d gotten hot.

She started the vehicle, and began getting us on the road. I checked the time on the dashboard. Twelve.

She didn’t turn on the radio, and I was sure I couldn’t turn it on myself. The tension was palpable.

“Tomorrow, you go to school,” she said. The hospital was still in the rearview mirror.

I detested asking, since it would show my ignorance of the current situation, but I had to know.

“What’s today?”

“Monday.”

“Oh.”

I already figured by now, but that confirmed that I slept through the entirety of my birthday. Most likely the entire weekend. She probably stayed by my side the whole time. As nice as that may sound, feeling the ire radiating out of this woman now did not make me feel cozy. I wished she just dropped me off at school right now. Well, maybe after a change of clothes, first.

This sucked.

“Here,” she said, searching through her purse as she took a left.

She handed me two items. The first was my watch. It was a simple but sleek design, the face was all black with no numbers or markings, and the hands of the watch were gold. It was an early birthday gift from my mom. Seeing it again gave me an unpleasant pang, an emotion I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

The next thing was a black plastic box. Toying with it, I flipped it open. The lower half had a set of tiny buttons with numbers, and some type of display screen on the upper half. It felt rather weighty, and I couldn’t figure out a comfortable way to hold it. Also, attached to the bottom was a long, thin cable that attached to another thick black box. I investigated the metal prongs sticking out of it. A charger? A charger for what?

What the hell is this thing?

“Your new phone,” my mom said, answering my silent question.

“A phone?” I inspected it again. I only ever saw these in pictures. They still made these? People still used them?

This is a phone?

“Wait, Ma, where’s my old one? What’s with this?” I waved it around.

“Not on you when they found you,” she replied. “Same number.”

Ugh,” I groaned, and slouched back into my seat. But I immediately regretted it. I shouldn’t be wearing my frustration on my sleeves like that.

But… Still though.

Pictures, contacts, music, apps, games. Wi-Fi. All gone. But I knew I couldn’t complain. If I did, my mom would arrive to the apartment by herself.

“You are sixteen now. Please grow some responsibility.”

She didn’t say anything else. That was all my mother said.

I had thought it too soon, this sucked.

The rest of the ride back home was quiet. There wasn’t much else to say. Not much I wanted to say.

When we got to the apartment, I went straight to my room. I kept the lights low as I retreated right to my bed, tossing the phone, or what I was led to believe was a phone, into a corner opposite of my door. The ‘charger’ followed soon after. Without caring to change, I plopped myself on my bed and landed facedown into the pillow. A low, muffled exhale emanated from me.

My mind went over what little I could remember of the past few days. My mom’s face when I came to. That wasn’t the most fun thing to wake up to. But, how should I put it? I wasn’t mad at her, that wasn’t it. I was just mad at the situation, and the ensuing results.

Mad at myself.

Oh, and my chemistry project was due today. Great. I breathed harder into my pillow until it warmed my cheeks.

“… Eeew…”

I really was asleep for the whole weekend. My breath was horrid.

I tossed and turned in my bed. My ‘breakfast’ from the hospital sat at the pit of my stomach like a rock. Like a weight I was carrying around. There must have been something in the milk, because I was starting to feel queasy.

Every now and then, there would a rumbling coming from the corner where I threw the phone. Texts, I guessed, from either Katy or Maria. But I could look at them later.

There wasn’t any use in just lying here, but I wasn’t in the mood to do much else. I tried to take a nap, but I couldn’t drift to sleep, I was just still for hours. The phone rumbled a few more times. I only got up when my mom knocked on my door for dinner.

Leftovers. Fried chicken, rice, and about two bowls of miso soup for the both of us. They must have been leftovers, since I couldn’t remember when we first ate them.

I had to force myself to eat. It wasn’t worth sharing out loud, all things considered, and especially because my mom was actually a pretty good cook, but the food here wasn’t good either. The chicken had the texture of rubber, the rice was dry, and the soup stale. Unlike back at the hospital, I managed not to make my displeasure obvious.

Atmospherically, dinner wasn’t any different from before. Quiet and awkward. She didn’t have to say any more, I saw it in the way she sat, the way she picked at her food as she chewed. Disappointment.

Don’t remind me.

I picked up my plate, and excused myself from the table. I did stick around to help my mom put away plates and leftover food, but the process went by without a sound.

We finished, and I went back to bed. I made sure to bring a glass of water back into my room. I fell back onto the bed. I didn’t want to do anything, anymore.

The rumbling from the corner of my room continued. More texts, probably. But I didn’t want to bother with them right now. I’d rather wallow in self-pity.

I flipped over onto my back, staring at the dark ceiling. That weight in my stomach now was like a pile of rocks. Occasionally, I sat up in an upright position to sip some water, to try and wash that feeling away. I rubbed up against the pillow, right where my neck itched.

I couldn’t sleep at all.

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