An hour before midnight, and I was wrapped in a strange sense of déjà vu.
My back was stuck to the wall, alongside a painting, swaying back and forth to the music. There weren’t as many people, so I had some room to move. The music was louder as well, the rumbling bass filling up my ears, scooping out anything else until that was the only thing existing in my capacity of hearing. Not even my own thoughts were audible. Other than the tight space, it was the standard fare. The dim lighting, the bright neon flashes, questionable dancing. Consummation of various liquids and substances.
In other words, I haven’t felt more at ease in a long time.
A slurred voice, and a smack on the shoulder caught my attention.
Katy. With Maria.
Katy stumbled onto me, her hand running against the wall for balance. For a party, she was dressed pretty comfortably, wearing a very baggy grey sweater, with a checkered green button-up layered under it, as seen from the collar peeking out. Her jeans were slim but not tight, the only thing tight about her was her pinroll game.
Maria went for a different approach, but she still looked good. A plain white shirt, tucked into her black jeans. Simple, but classic. I really needed to take tips from these two. My shorts and ugly long sleeves weren’t going to cut it. I did have my watch, though.
“Hey guys,” I said, “How’s this place looking?” As a bit of compromise, I agreed to go out with the two, only if we went elsewhere. Katy didn’t mind making that concession, since, according to her, she had the connections to find other parties around the neighborhood. We tried a house before this one, but we didn’t last ten minutes before Maria shooed us out the door with no explanation.
Maria answered, “We’re staying here. Not like we have a choice.” She showed me what she had in one hand. I counted three bottles.
“Katy,” I said, letting my tone show. “Little early for that, isn’t it? We just got here.”
“Whatever,” she slurred back. Giving up all hope on standing on her own, she fell towards me. Her hands grabbed for my chest.
Her state of being was funny to see. “H-hey!” I laughed, trying to fix her arms and set them by her side. To keep her still, I put an arm around her.
“And I could say the same to you, too,” I said to Maria.
“Not really,” she said back, curt. She was never one for words.
I wasn’t about to argue with her. This past week had been the most abnormal week I’ve had… ever. A week ago, I couldn’t do an inch of things I was capable of now. And it had left me more than a little winded, mentally and emotionally. Maybe not physically.
I almost couldn’t believe that I made it through this week at all. On top of worrying about ‘normal’ things, like homework, volleyball, boys, I had all of this to deal with. Still do. There was still so much I had to consider and think about. Fun.
So, yeah, I decided to let myself take it easy, this time. I deserved this.
Katy began stirring in my grip. I had to adjust to keep her from falling over me.
Katy’s next words, I managed to make out. Barely. “You’re not… going hard enough,” she said, breathing out every word. You could cut her breath with a cleaver. It was thick with the smell of alcohol.
“I think you’re going hard enough for the both of us,” I said. “For all three of us.”
“No… more…” She put a red cup to my face, seemingly out of nowhere. That smell, like an unwanted friend. My stomach churned. I never wanted rum less in my entire life.
“I’m here, but I’m definitely not drinking anything tonight.”
“C’mon, just one…”
“What did I just say?”
“We haven’t done your birthday yet.”
“What does that even mean? Actually, where’s the cake, even?”
“It’s… somewhere here.”
“Good work, Katy.”
She exhaled again. “Just… one… drink… and… done…” Somehow, she lost her footing, and almost brought me down with her. Almost. I leaned us against the wall to stop us from slipping any more.
“Damn, girl,” I said, astonished at the level of inebriation she’d managed to achieve so early.
“Come… on… just…” She closed her eyes, her hands floating in front of her, searching for what I assumed was another drink. There was no way she’d listen to me like this.
“I’m trying to my keep myself in line here” I said, still trying to reason with her. “I mean, you still haven’t told me whose house this is.”
And more importantly, I don’t even think I can handle alcohol anymore.
“I did tell you! It’s… it’s… Par…”
I looked to Maria, who smiled with a hint of sympathy.
I tried one last time, to appease Katy and to get her to slow down. “One drink, okay? And then you are the one who’s done.”
She nodded, sluggishly. I couldn’t tell if that was her agreeing to my terms and conditions, or that she trying to keep herself up.
I had to repeat myself to make sure she got it. “Just one drink. Just one. Then you’re done, ‘kay?”
She nodded, but she was nodding the whole time I was talking. Did she really hear me?
Damn, I told myself, I’m so gonna regret this. I checked the clock on the wall of the living room. Eleven o-nine.
Shit, I thought so.
All sense of time was robbed from me, and my head felt like someone was spinning it on a stick. Even when sitting as still as possible, I was spinning. You’d think I’d learn.
If I could be fair to myself, I did manage not to go as overboard as last time, I didn’t even drink half as much as before, like that made a tangible difference. I still felt awful. Surprised I could even drink any alcohol at all, given the taste of anything else besides water and… other things. Actually, it had tasted so bad anyways, I might not have been able to tell the difference.
I had to fight my own body in order to stand myself up, my movements slogged and heavy. Every inch of me creaked, aching with a pounding soreness. I hated myself every time I ended up like this, but at the same time, it was fun its own way, trying to function in this state. Like a game.
But, I ultimately succeeded, getting up on both feet. Katy was nearby, sleeping on a couch like a log. Down for the count. She wouldn’t get up until the morning. She should be fine, but she’d better not blame me if anyone were to draw on her face. I fixed her into a better position, just in case.
I hobbled through the house, passing people I didn’t know, and found myself in the kitchen. It was just me, but the place had already seen some destruction of others. Scraps of food, plates and cups, empty bottles were all over the floor and countertops. I was just glad this wasn’t my own home. Someone else could deal with this.
On a table, I found what was left of my cake. A single slice of double chocolate, up for grabs. Dang, missed my birthday cake again. I couldn’t eat it, but I felt my heart long for that decadent flavor.
Oh yeah. I remembered that Katy wasn’t the only one I came to this house party with. Mary… um… Maria. She should be around here somewhere. It had been a while, I should check up on her.
I turned back to the living room, and found the first person I bumped into. I stumbled through my question.
“Oh, her? I think she went outside with…” I didn’t catch what that last word was supposed to be, but it gave me the idea of stepping outside. At least it saved me the trouble of having to check the large house.
My face tensed up with effort as I pushed through the dancing crowd, holding on to every shoulder I passed. I made it to the door, and escaped outside.
Greeted yet again by the night chill that I hated. I’ve always been a summer person, and not just because of the lack of school responsibilities around that season. The sunlight on my face, the light sweat that gets worked up from just a few steps outside, I actually liked that sensation.
This was the complete opposite.
A rough wind ruffled trees and leaves on the lawn. I faced the rest of the neighborhood, and much like the party from a week ago, there was no one here. However, maybe from the street lights that dotted the cul-de-sac, all the cars that parked in a semi-circle along the perimeter, and the music that could be heard even out here, it didn’t seem that lonely.
I walked off the porch, and onto the front lawn. Grass brushed along my ankles. As I gazed above me, I had to try and remember why I stepped out here.
Finding Maria, right.
There was another sound out here, that wasn’t stuttering hi-hats. Different. More concerning.
It came from around. A tad curious, and plenty worried, I lugged myself over to the source.
As I got more into earshot, what I heard wasn’t pretty.
“-said he’d be here, but he ain’t, so what we gonna do about that?”
“Guh, let go! Fuck, stop!”
What’s going on?
Even in the dark, I was able to make them out. It wasn’t hard. Two people. From the tightly tied back ponytail, heavy makeup, long eyelashes, I recognized it as Maria. Her expression, however, was one I didn’t recognize on her. Partial anger, some frustration, wholly fear. She was fighting back someone standing between me and her. A guy. But because I had no intrinsic talent for knowing people from their backs, I had no idea who this was, at all.
I shouted out at them. “Hey! What are you doing?” My voice left me faster than my rationality.
What was I doing?
He turned to me. A Latino-looking guy. His face contorted to a mean look. A large white shirt went down past his waist, almost to his knees. His pants were clownishly baggy as well. I didn’t know there were people who still dressed like this.
Maria had mentioned a boyfriend before, but I’ve never met him. She was always a little deflective whenever we brought up the subject of us meeting him. Two years of being together, and we’d never even seen a picture of the guy. Not even a name. It’d struck me as odd, but I didn’t want to upset Maria by continuously prodding her about it. She looked happy enough when she did talk about him, it seemed like.
But was this guy him? No, something was off, aside from the obvious abuse. Maria was the type when, if hit, she’d hit back three times harder. Of course, that meant little to a guy who could just hit back six times harder.
So then, who is this guy?
“Fuck you doing here!” he shouted back, his accent thick. Cartoonishly thick, like he embellished it for show.
“If you’re really going to harass a girl, you really shouldn’t do it next to a large house with a lot of people. Someone might find you.”
I really should think over my words first.
“Bitch, you stay outta this!” He pushed Maria down, slamming her to the ground. He then came towards me. Uh-oh.
If he was capable of doing all that to her, then doing any worse to me wouldn’t be below him. He threw a fist.
Weird, I saw him move so slowly. It didn’t even look like a punch, more like he was just leisurely stretching his arm out. Just a step to the side would have been enough. But my balance and coordination were more than compromised. I simply watched as the fist connected with my torso.
“Aah!” My eyes wanted to jump out of their sockets. I immediately curled up, grabbing my stomach, and bowled over.
I went down on my knees, coughing all the way. My insides were swirling around me, wanting to jump back up my throat. I covered my mouth to try and suppress that urge.
“Yeah, thought so,” he taunted. For good measure, he swung his foot upward, kicking me in the cheek. What was up with this guy? I knew I was supposed to recognize all of this as pain, but rather, everything felt muted and far away. I got sent one way, and fell back down.
He backed away, and was walking back to Maria, who still hadn’t gotten back up. Shoot. The situation had already escalated, and there was no way I could let this guy go back to her now. I reached out, and managed to get a hold of his ankle.
He stumbled, but didn’t fall over. It didn’t take much for him to shake off my grip.
“What do you want now, fucker!” he yelled, pulling me back up by my hair. If nothing else, I didn’t appreciate my hair being treated like that, I had spent some time on it.
When my feet got a good hold on the ground, I pushed him away. Had I pushed any harder, I might have fallen back down again.
He grunted, and lunged after me, throwing another punch. Naturally, being punched in the stomach and kicked in the face doesn’t suddenly make me awake and alert, and I was left standing in its path, watching as another punch came for me.
But dodging did not have to be my only option.
Carefully, I brought a hand out in front of me, the palm open to catch his fist. Seeing it all come together was odd, like we had rehearsed it beforehand, and I was just waiting for him to come to position. Good thing too, since it gave me some time to figure out which of his three fists was the real one.
Eventually, he did hit my palm, and I wrapped my hand around his. In my head, clouded by rum and whiskey, an idea came to me.
What if I just closed my hand completely?
With no conscious agreement, I adhered to that whim. I closed my hand. It was as easy as squeezing a rice ball.
A bloodcurdling yell, and he fell to his knees. Incomprehensible, he blubbered and screamed while tugging at his wrist, trying to get away from me. A second, and then another when it finally clicked that I had just crushed this man’s hand.
Stunned, I let go, and he collapsed completely. He was reduced to a whimpering pile of clothes, with how baggy his shirt and pants were. He huddled over his hand, and I couldn’t see the extent of the damage.
Crap, I fucked up.
I backed away, trying to remove myself from the scene. Hopefully, with it being dark enough, and Maria knocked down and disoriented, she wouldn’t have realized that I was here. I turned around, and made my leave.
But my stomach had other plans.
A hot, distinctive liquid rushed up my gullet, and out my mouth. I vomited right there, only getting enough sense of myself at the last second to not mess up my clothes. In reality, it wasn’t that bad, considering what happened moments ago, it was inevitable.
No, what really worried me, was what I vomited.
The instant I felt my stomach churn, I expected a clear stream of liquid, and the smell of alcohol to fill my nose. I hadn’t eaten ‘real’ food in a few days, and as such, there shouldn’t have been any solids. Instead, a thick, dark mass of a runny substance came pouring out, and I was left in shock and horror.
I was throwing up blood, and a lot of it.
I stood there, letting this all take place, my ears filling with the mushy sound of liquid hitting soil and my own gagging voice. I knew I had to get out of here ten seconds ago, but all movement was seized from me, like my body thought it should prioritize doing this, above all else. Running away be damned.
When I did stop, I was standing in a puddle of black filth. So much for keeping my clothes clean. I hopped twice to get out of it while wiping my mouth and chin of any loose strands of drool. I mouthed the word ‘shit,’ and it certainly tasted like it. That, I had to say, woke me right up.
I gripped my stomach again, rumbling like the inside of a washing machine. I nearly doubled over in pain.
In exchange for a full stomach, it was replaced with an overwhelming thirst and hunger. All of the symptoms came back like a cancer. I was sweating bullets, and a chill electrified my skin. It was enough to forget about the soft throbbing of my face and my scalp.
I needed to curb this, pronto.
I looked back at the scene behind me. Maria clung to the wall, using it to get up. She wasn’t looking my way. Her not-boyfriend, whoever it was, was still curled on the ground, screaming and wailing in pain. Someone inside was bound to hear him and come this way. I needed to be gone by then.
Stomach twisting, and I stared at the helpless man. I let my mind wander.
No! Hell no!
I booked it, leaving the scene. Nothing mattered besides getting out of here.
I immediately stopped right where I was, despite every bit of me wanted the exact opposite.
I couldn’t abandon my friend, not like when she was like that. But I couldn’t have her see me like this.
For a moment, I stood, struggling between running to find a rabbit to feed on, or run inside the house to alert others, yet risk people seeing me as I am.
Before I could make a decision, I was seized by the wrist, and yanked back.
Another man. He was in similar attire to the other guy, expect he had on a dark shirt. Equally baggy. A bandana covered his forehead.
A friend of that guy? Certainly no buddy of mine.
“You!” he yelled. He turned around, then looked back at me. “The hell you do?!”
My answer for him was a grunt, followed by a slap across the face. He let go as he fell, landing onto the dirt, a distance farther than any normal-strength slap would allow. Confused, but I was already used to that.
The aches spiked again, and with that, I fled the scene.
I got about halfway down the cul-de-sac before I tripped, my vision swimming and starting to fade. I groaned.
More sounds came from behind me. Yelling, the slamming of a door, a car starting. I was suddenly cast in a light.
Get up, get up, get up!
Thinking that was easy enough, performing that task was a whole other challenge. I staggered to my feet, and I had to concentrate on my next few steps. But the still-constant commotion from behind spurred me to move faster.
I glanced back. A car was facing me, revving up.
It sped ahead. And so did I.
I ran down the street, the car followed.
Shit, shit! They’re gonna kill me for this!
I turned to go another way, but the car sharply veered to keep up, accelerating faster.
It didn’t take long for the car to catch up.
I wheeled around. Nearly blinded by the incoming vehicle, I jumped, with no real plan of anything after that.
The car just missed the tips of my toes.
My landing was in no way graceful. I fell, hard, my shoulder taking the brunt of the fall. Couple that with the screaming agony in my stomach, I wouldn’t be far from passing out, now.
But the car, my pursuant, was delayed. Albeit briefly.
Once again, I was slow to my feet. I had to get going, the car was already starting to turn around.
Think outside the box. Where can’t a car go?
I looked around. It wasn’t hard, after giving it a few seconds. I ran towards a house, jumping onto the roof.
More shouting from behind. Whoever was chasing me must have saw. Oh well. Go.
I crossed the top of the house, and hopped down into a backyard. I went over a fence into another home’s backyard, and from there, made my way back onto a proper street. For now, those guys – whoever those guys were – shouldn’t be a problem.
I kept running like a madman, trying to find just one. A single rabbit. Down one road, turned onto another. Nothing. I saw them all the time, there had to be one around here somewhere. My stomach was yelling out, any more of this and I might go insane.
Briefly, I entertained the idea of crawling into a storm drain, searching for rats. Didn’t have to be rabbits, right? Stray cats, stray dogs. I’d deal with the potential case of rabies later, something had to satiate me in this very instant.
A car drove in my way when I got to an intersection. Alarmed, I leaped out of the way, the car swerving at the sudden movement. I continued running.
In every which direction, I ran pell-mell, trying to find anything that could help me. I abandoned any sense of direction a while ago, I was already long lost.
Finally, something dashed in the corner of my vision, and I hurt my neck in turning too fast. It was sitting idle in the middle of an intersection.
Found one. Pure black. I went straight for it.
Not even once breaking my stride, I reached down and snatching it by the neck, not even giving it a chance.
I’m so sorry, bunny, but you have to understand.
Somewhere isolated. Gotta find a place around here like that. I wasn’t familiar with this neighborhood at all.
Have to find a place, come on, come on. I kept running as I racked my brain to find a place.
Running like this, so sporadically, wasn’t doing me any favors. I stuck to one street, and sprinted down the length of it, animal in hand.
The road led to the edge of the neighborhood, turning into a small bridge over a stream. I could dip under there. Perfect. With the animal struggling under my clutch, I headed for it.
I dropped down five or six feet down into the running stream. My shoes immediately got drenched, but I paid no mind. In fact, I was probably better off for it, letting the water run between my toes. I rubbed them together to get some of the other gunk out.
I was completely shrouded in the dark as I walked under the bridge, but my vision was not compromised. Nothing here beside some rocks and trash. Colorful graffiti marked the concrete underside of the bridge. No sound beside the lightly running water.
My thirst roared out again, and I flinched. Stop wasting time. I gotta get this over with. The rabbit flailed around, but my grip was stronger. I wasted no time with pleasantries. I brushed back as much fur as I could, and bit into its neck. I drank like I hadn’t had water in days.
I didn’t know what was worse. The taste, or the horror of the realization.
Black streams sprayed like geysers through the cracks between my hand and mouth. My stomach once again shook and shuddered ferociously, as though it was trying to escape from my insides. Intestines felt like they were slithering and banging against the inside of me, and every inch of movement brought forth a pain that was previously unimaginable. All things considered. I took my hand away from my face, and against my own wishes, I vomited again.
Like an entire arm went down the esophagus, grabbing any bit of slimy meat it could, and pulling out with all of its might. It was very much like that.
I collapsed into the stream. My clothes steadily getting more wet as I stayed down. The water wasn’t particularly cold, but I was shivering. In contrast, the rabbit beside me would never move again.
Why, why? Why did that taste so horrid? The one time before wasn’t all that amazing, but it didn’t have to be. It just had to be good enough. Enough to tide me over until the next time. There had to be a reason for this.
Maybe this one was old?
Yeah. That had to be it. It was probably just old, and wouldn’t taste as decent as usual. That would explain why I was able to catch it with little trouble. Too old to move fast.
Yup, that had to be it.
I brought myself onto my knees. It took another concentrated effort to stand. Not standing straight, mind you, I was hunched over in an agonizing discomfort. But a proper posture was the least of my current worries.
Leaving the rabbit there, I walked out from under the bridge, trying to find my way back up. There were roots of a tree that extended from the base of the stream back to the side of the road. I wiped my hands on my clothes so they wouldn’t slip. I climbed up, getting back onto road.
No thoughts, just move. I ran down every street, turned every corner, hunting for anything. I only turned heels and went the other way whenever I saw someone on a midnight stroll or a car come my way.
Turned a corner, ran down a street. Turned a corner, ran down a street. Turned a corner, ran a street. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.
Sweat and dirt water rolled down my neck. My breath got cut shorter and shorter as I rushed to find anything to drink, my thirst enflaming my throat, controlling my actions.
There. Another rabbit. I homed in on it.
It ran away. I watched it go.
I was too tired. Too exhausted to take another step. It hurt too much to move.
I stood on the sidewalk. A car pulled up beside me. The opening and slamming of doors.
I turned. The guy before. The one I bitch-slapped from earlier. His bandana was wrapped around his mouth. He charged at me.
He yelled again, but I couldn’t understand it this time. He got right up to me, and his hands went around my neck.
He pressed harder, and everything started to go black. Cold, wet, uncomfortable. I faltered back, but his hold remained. He shook me, and the darkness seeped into my vision even faster. Whatever the threshold was for handling such abuse, I had long surpassed that by a mile.
The only thing that seemed to cut through everything was a faint, sweet aroma. Perfume? Cologne?
I opened my eyes, fully. I thrust my hand out, and my palm smacked against the man’s nose.
He flinched, faltered, and fell backwards. His fingers around my neck loosened, but I still collapsed with him.
We hit the pavement, my hand going for his throat as we descended. We shifted roles.
He opened his eyes, fully. Fear. “Stop! What you are-!” He choked, squelched a bit. He was muffled by his bandana.
I could imagine why he was so afraid.
All sorts of fluids leaked from my face. Snot from my nose, a mixture of blood and spit from my mouth, and tears streaming out my eyes and down my cheeks. I didn’t even shake from crying, I just let the tears run. Because I was so consumed with anxiety, anger, frustration, depression. For only a few days, I thought I had beat the system. The system that was thrust upon me, forcefully. Gamed it, in a way, to prevent myself from falling down a particular path I feared. I hated this week. A living nightmare. A personal Hell. I just wanted it to end. Because I didn’t want to live a life that wouldn’t let me eat. Forced me to consume something I didn’t want to. I felt like a prisoner to my circumstances, jailed by my thirst.
“I just want something to drink.”