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Every breath felt like it was my last. My neck felt like it was on fire, the slightest movement sent screaming waves of agony through my soul. I held the blood soaked shirt to my neck, panic tight, and felt the hot wetness leaking down my collar and ...

Every breath felt like it was my last. My neck felt like it was on fire, the slightest movement sent screaming waves of agony through my soul. I held the blood soaked shirt to my neck, panic tight, and felt the hot wetness leaking down my collar and running in aching droplets across my chest.

The frost traced arabesques around the brittle stems of the bushes, the night air numbing my fingers, my toes, my ears. I heard a plaintive whimpering, a slight whine, and it took me a moment to realize it was me, cheek pressed tight into the frozen leaves, into the wet dark underneath, burrowing under the dry stems of flowers from a brighter day, from a summer hardly remembered and long gone. My final resting place, cold, dark, and quiet as night.

It seemed like an eternity since I left the party, amid the cold shadows of the moon, the misty air quickly swallowing the sounds of laughter and the click of glasses. The smell of teriyaki and barbeque sauce overpowered by the dank smell of rot and mold, from the frost-kissed leaves crunching bitterly beneath my feet. I didn’t have far to walk, across the quad back towards my apartment, past the Life Sciences building and through the little wooded area in the heart of campus.

That was now a dim memory as if seen through a cardboard tube from a million miles away, from a lifetime ago. I was undeniably trapped in the moment, achingly aware of the experience. I could hear the frost, tinkling as it settled on the branches above my head, kissing the side of my head with a billion icy splinters that melt instantly into the sweat of my agony. My neck felt like fire, like a white hot shard of glass had been shoved in and twisted, and broken off to fester, shards glittering with a savage pale light, reflecting pain in every direction.

As bad as it was, the memory of what happened was worse, hard to draw my mind back to the moment when it struck me, when my body was… it was too terrible, I can’t – I won’t. I need to move, to force my body to listen, to obey my will. I squeeze tight, cold blood squirting between my fingers as the agony forces my thoughts down a turbulent dark river into a deeper cavern of shadow. The pain is unendurable, unbelievable, but I can’t respond, my energy is leaving me, draining into the cold ground under the dark of the ancient night.

My life, is leaving.

The moment catches me unaware. To be trapped like this, a slime and filth-ridden shell of what I was a few moments ago, happy and laughing in a room filled with warmth and yet, even then, I felt the eyes… looking. From across the room the cold shock of recognition followed by despair and loss, the shadowed face I felt like I ought to recognize, a face as if from a dream.

I was powerless from the start. I couldn’t focus. My head spinning, I couldn’t make sense of anything. I blamed it on too many dark beers, too many hoisted shots, too many clinked glasses. My thoughts kept returning to the face, to the silent visage, to the deep eyes. Little furtive glances around the room through the red-faced cheering screaming laughing people I hardly recognized as human, filling a role for the evening as a moment of escape for a quiet desperation to live among my peers as they live, to see what they see, to do what they do instead of spending my time buried in books, in data, in structure and logic.

“You should totally come to the party tonight”, she had said, looking me in the eye in that way that only the perfect ones can do. I could hardly face in her direction, my introversion wrapping me in a cocoon of shadow and shame. Her hair, so gleaming golden, like the finest wires worked by a master metallurgist in some heavenly foundry, teased me with their soft perfection.

I remember smiling, stammering briefly, trying to spin out the moment to make it last, to hold on to the impossible moment of engagement. I felt like I was trapped in a strong current pushing me back towards an ocean of study and a life of quiet, while this impossible caricature, this formed plastic person with the glossy lips and the perfect mascara held out a promise to pull me into a social scene I knew I wanted, yet feared desperately.

“I would love to go,” I finally managed to say, forcing the words past lips numb with panic. I spoke too loudly, spooking a few others with their heads in their screens in this dark corner of the library. She laughed, a high sparkling laugh, perfectly articulated. I scribbled down the address, and smiled, and mustering all my will, struggled to meet her eyes – but she had already turned, moving away to tap another silent shoulder.

I didn’t see her at the party, though I thought I did a few different times. I didn’t know what I would say to her if I did. I tried my best to laugh, to join in the conversation, but it was all shallow, pedantic whining from hyper-entitled and overly opinionated perfect people. Each a perfect accompaniment to the next, the perfect collars on the perfect shirts, color-coded and matched, hair righteously gelled, nails furiously polished to a savage gleam then painted pink, red, or dubious blue.

I was as out of place as my social image allowed, but I general I was well tolerated, if not completely ignored. That’s perfectly fine with me, of course. I want nothing more than to be left to my own devices, to sit quietly by and watch the world unfold in front of me, to agonize over words and tone and the presentation of self – that’s not my cup of tea. I am more comfortable being me, than what that scene wanted to see.

Her eyes though, those deep pools, they draw me back to the moment, to the sudden arc-white flash of pain that burns down my shoulder to the tips of my fingers. There are severed nerves, raw ends screaming against the rough cotton of the blood soaked shirt pressed like a lamprey against my neck.

That reminds me, her mouth, so cold.

When she stepped in front of me, in the dark, the moonlight casting beams down through the pines, it was as if I willed her into existence, like it was exactly what I most wanted. Her eyes though, I immediately went from nonchalant and engaging, to wracked with terror, her eyes were not human. They were unlike anything I had ever seen, all black, no color, no whites. They were filled with night. The witty comment caught in my throat like a half-eaten lump of meat, and I jerked back away from her, tripping over my own feet, and starting to fall. She caught me though, her hands burning icy cold, pressing deeply into my arms as if she wanted to hold the bones, to crush them. My toes skittered uselessly across the ground as she held me easily in the air, as if she was holding a shirt up to see what it looked like in the sunlight.

There was no sunlight here, nothing bright, nothing happy, or sane. Her eyes drank me in, as she pulled me closer. I could smell copper. I tried to scream, my feet kicking spastically across the tops of the leaves along the trail, but no sound came out. I was locked in, and already lost.

She pulled me down, lowered me to the ground, and crushed me into the forest floor, as if she weighed a million tons. I couldn’t move even to blink or breathe. Her icy cold lips pressed lightly against my neck, then in a screaming flash of agony, started to feed.

The pain gave me strength, the moment of terror, finally caught up to me and gave me will to resist, to move. I struggled with every inch of my strength, but nothing I could do affected her, or the situation I was in. It was as if a breath of wind attempted to knock down a mountain made of tempered steel. I was absolutely, utterly powerless, and the sudden realization of my fate tossed me ragged and screaming into the madness and depths of my despair, into the deep soul of terror.

How long I was held there, I don’t know. After a time, my energy drained away, and my screaming panic slowly abated, became numbed, as if I was being wrapped in dark leathery wings, wrapped backwards into a warm silence, dark enough to lose my mind. 

When I came to, the world seemed faint, and far away, but the pain of the wound in my neck burned brightly enough to chase away the shadows of memory. I was dying, but I wasn’t dead yet. I didn’t want to die! I wanted to live, to go back to my books, back to my apartment. I wanted to sit on the couch, turn on my favorite lamp. I wanted to be warm. I wanted this to be over. I wanted to wake up.

I pressed my shirt against my neck, and tried to move my legs, but I was too cold, too tired. My strength was gone, my eyesight flashing from scene to scene as I looked around. I felt as if I was watching a movie, as if the world around me was frozen in a tableau, nothing had depth.

Slowly, as I lay there, as the warmth left my body, as my fingers started relaxing, the hot blood flowing through the shirt not enough to motivate me… slowly I was losing touch. I was sliding away, draining out, settling down.

The world grew dim, quiet. I could hear my heartbeat, pounding slowly in my ear.

A last breath caught in my throat, and I didn’t have the strength to… I wasn’t able… I couldn’t…

I wasn’t…

I…

I awoke.


 

©2016 Dain White. All Rights Reserved.

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