I can see Haley laughing at me. There are more figures, all faceless except for her, just blurry shadows.
I turn to try run away but my foot slips and I fall to my knees. I throw out my hands to stop my fall. The floor, it’s wet – No that isn’t water.
Is someone hurt? There isn’t anyone in the circle of girls but me – no one looks injured.
But there is so much blood.
Is it getting darker or…
Oh shit, it’s me. I’m bleeding. There’s a ragged gash sliced into the inside of my thigh. My flesh torn so deep I see a glint of bone, blood pumps out.
I grab it, press the wound to try staunch the flow but it pulses out from between my fingers.
I scream for help, anyone, I’ll die… but all I hear is laughing. I feel light-headed, the blackness around the edges of my vision is closing inwards.
This is what dying feels like? It doesn’t hurt… Things are just fading.
Beth’s face swam in my vision, she was laughing too… I should never have trusted her.
“Alex, wake up!”
My vision wasn’t fading, it was dark.
And Beth wasn’t laughing at me, she looked worried.
I was panting, with my hand clutched around my leg. There was no blood, just sweat. I felt like I’d just been running, my lungs still trying to get as much air as possible into my blood.
Oh god, the blood…
I coughed and gagged, nearly throwing up. Then I scrambled to my feet, kicking to escape the tangled clutches of the sleeping bag. I can’t throw up in front of Beth. Not in her room… I made it to the bathroom before puking.
On my knees, head over the toilet. Fucking great. What a way to look good in front of Beth, having nightmares and then throwing up everywhere.
Her hand touched my back.
“Are you ok?” She asked.
“I think so.” I said, it didn’t feel like I was going to puke any more.
“What the hell is going on?” Beth’s mom hurried into the bathroom. “I heard screaming, what are you two doing?”
She was in a nightgown, her hair a mess. But my eye was drown to how she was holding herself, her arm, away from us. I followed it to the dull black object in her hand.
Subconsciously, and unasked, my head started trying to think of ways to get out of the bathroom, how I could get it off her or incapacitate her. I had to remind my idiotic thoughts that she probably wasn’t going to try and shoot me.
But she giving me a strange look when it became obvious we weren’t being kidnapped by some men. Don’t mind me, I’m just your daughter’s broken new friend.
“Alex just had a nightmare that’s all Mum.” Beth said before noticing the gun, noticeably later than I had. “Why have you got Dad’s pistol?”
“Well, the screams… I thought you were being attacked or something!” She looked a bit embarrassed, I was happy for the distraction from myself.
“We are fine. Alex is just a little… unwell. Go back to bed Mum.” I mentally thanked Beth. Sure I didn’t want to be like this in front of her, but in front of her mom was even worse.
“Are you sure? Do you need anything?” She said.
“No, we’ll be fine,” Beth replied and turned back to me with a whispered, “Sorry.”
She didn’t have anything to be sorry about. I was sure of that. I realised I had grabbed her wrist. I don’t know when, maybe when firearms were introduced to the situation. I relaxed my grip, hoping I hadn’t hurt her.
We waited in silence for a few minutes before I was really sure I wasn’t going to puke any more.
“Do you want a glass of water or something?” Beth asked. I nodded in response, anything to get the taste out of my mouth…
There was one by the sink. She rinsed it out a few times then handed it to me full. I sipped it, before realising how thirsty I was. My t-shirt was soaked; I dread to think how much water I’d lost sweating alone, then throwing up after that. I could feel a headache growing at the back of my skull.
So I downed the glass. Beth held her hand out and I passed it to her. Then emptied it again when she returned it full.
The third time I held on to it. I’d better slow down or I would just bring it back up.
We returned to Beth’s room. She got a plastic bucket ‘just in case’. I really hoped I wouldn’t need it.
We sat side-by side on the bed. After a moments silence I dared ask her what the hell happened.
“I dunno, you woke me up making these kind of moaning noises.” She blushed for some reason before carrying on. “I wasn’t sure at first but you didn’t sound… happy. But then you just started screaming. I nearly had a heart attack!”
“Uh…. Sorry.” I had no idea. Had this happened before? I dreaded to think what would happen if someone found me sleeping in the garage…
“It was awful and I couldn’t wake you up…” I wasn’t sure how long I’d been bleeding to death in my dream, but I knew time didn’t work the same way when you were in a nightmare. Sometimes it feels like half a lifetime can pass and you wake up and it’s been a moment. Other times you experience seconds and then its morning. Yeah, I’d had similar dreams before.
“It was just a bad dream. A really bad dream…” I said.
“Some nightmare. Are you sure everything’s ok?” She was close to me. I kept my eyes straight forwards, studying the wall. Why was I so uncomfortable? I was hyper-aware of my posture, the way my legs were on the bed. I was paranoid I might have something on my face. A quick glance sideways confirmed that Beth was looking at me. I looked away but she must have caught me.
I really hoped I didn’t have anything on my face- Shit!
Something touched my shoulder. I was on my feet before I had a chance to process it, my hair-trigger reactions to a subconsciously assumed threat. I managed to stop myself before I lashed out, but my fists were clenched and my arm drawn back.
I hadn’t told my body to do that… I was too on edge and just reacting on instinct. If I’d not been paying attention I could have hit her, or worse. I managed to force myself to start breathing again before Beth stopped looking so surprised at my sudden movement.
“Sorry!” She said, “I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have. I just want to help.”
I… I think she was upset, her eyes were shining. “No. It’s me, I’m jumpy that’s all, after the day I’ve had. I’m the one that should be sorry. You were just trying to help, and I appreciate it. You just, it just surprised me that’s all.”
Now that I thought about it I didn’t mind, actually I kind of wanted her to put her arm around me. I sat back down, a little closer to her. How can you ask someone to try again without sounding like an idiot? ‘I promise I won’t freak out this time, honest’?
Heart pounding, I leaned into her a little. Either she would have to move her arm and put it round me or I’d just be leaning on her shoulder… That wouldn’t be so bad. It’s a win-win situation. The kind of odds I can take.
She must have understood my intention, because she did try again. Now I knew what this strange new thing touching my shoulder wasn’t trying to kill me I didn’t jump away and nearly punch the nearest living thing. My heart did do a little flip regardless.
This whole human social contact thing was like a drug… I could almost feel endorphins or dopamine or whatever it was rushing through my blood stream. Adrenaline? It felt surprisingly similar to what I’d felt before. That high I get when I go out, when I fight. Was this normal? I had no comparison.
Once the rush had subsided I felt…
Then why were my eyes watering?
Argh, and now my nose.
I had to sniff. Urgh. But it was that or have snot dribbling down my face…
It wasn’t working… too much god-damn water. Oh for God’s sake why were my eyes screwing up like that.
* * *
I must have fallen asleep. I took stock of my surroundings. Yep, there was a figure asleep on the floor.
Damnit! I stole her bed. Why does everyone always try make me steal their beds? I’m perfectly happy sleeping on the floor or something. Still, I had slept well. I had the feeling it wasn’t wholly due to being more comfortable.
I felt a lot better after… well you know.
Still, it was embarrassing. I hoped Beth didn’t think I did that kind of thing all the time.
It was strange watching someone else sleep, I’d never done it before.
That sounds a bit stupid.
But seriously, it’s surprisingly interesting. You would have thought you’d get bored after a few minutes at least.
When her eyes opened I jumped and looked away quickly. Did not want to seem weird. Is it weird? Probably.
She made some incoherent moaning babble. I don’t really know how to describe it other than an ‘I’ve just woken up and I don’t want to’ kind of noise. It’s pretty unique. Everyone’s heard it. Everyone has definitely made it.
“Hey.” I said, quietly in case she fell back asleep. If she wanted to sleep longer I was fine with that.
“Alex?” At least, that’s what I think she said, as it was muffled by the pillow she had her face in. She turned sideways and looked at me. “Oh. Yeah. God, how do you sleep like this? My back is killing me.”
She started contorting her body, reminded me of a cat stretching so much I accidentally giggled.
Seriously, I don’t giggle… I don’t know what came over me.
“Hey! What’re you laughing at?” I was in a strange mood and that just made me laugh more. “Don’t you laugh at me! I invite you into my house, feed you, give you my bed and this is how you repay me?”
When that did the opposite of calming me down she followed it through with a pillow in my face.
It wasn’t fair. I was partially incapacitated by giggles, she was talking advantage of me.
I suppose that was the point in a fight…
For some reason I go really weak, especially my grip, when I laugh. My ineffectual flailing with my own pillow just made it worse and in the end I it slipped out of my hands and just had to cower while she hit me with hers.
Eventually the onslaught slowed. Beth was really out of breath, already? Maybe I should ask her if she wanted to come running with me.
With the tables turning, I managed to get hold of her wrist. She squeaked as I twisted it into one of the arm locks I’d learned. It wouldn’t hurt if I didn’t want it to.
With her immobilised, if struggling, it left me a free hand to retrieve her pillow and give her a few half-hearted hits.
“Fine fine! I give up! I concede,” she said, still gasping for air. I released her, still grinning as I untangled myself from her arm. “Where did you learn that?”
Crap. “What?” I asked, weighing the positives and negatives and trying to think of a decent explanation. Keep lying to a minimum, then everything is easier to keep track of.
“What you just did, that arm thingy,” she said.
“Oh, I’m taking some classes at the gym. Self-defence stuff. Ever since that time in the Mall…” Sound casual…
“You still worry about that?” she said. “It was a one off, I’m sure nothing like that will happen again…”
“Not in the Mall maybe, but where I live it’s quite common. I just feel happier knowing I might be able to deal with it…” I trailed the end of the sentence into silence.
It hung in the air, neither of us wanting to be the first person break it. Beth was the first to crack.
“I was wondering if you wanted to go again today but if you wouldn’t feel safe…” She said, not looking at me.
“Hey, I said it was common where I live. It will probably never happen in the Mall, like you said.” I’d enjoyed it last time. Minus, you know.
“I’ll see if mom will give us a lift.” She climbed off the bed and started shouting out of the door.