Control

Eyes wide, mouth opens. Jolt. Face pressed against tile, lips grazing mildewed white, dark eyes unblinking, unfeeling. Gold glitters in fluorescent light, voice hoarse, only whispers, wheezing.

I wake up shivering, my pillow cold, damp. 4:26 bleeds red from my clock. I wrap the blankets tight around me. I close my eyes, but I will not sleep.

When the alarm rings at seven, I am ready for it. I snap it off and dress in the darkness, my body finally dry.

I almost make it. I am steps away from first period when Apathy strikes, stopping me suddenly. Students file past me into the classroom.

I can't go in. There is no reason. I am standing beside the door when the bell rings. I turn and walk away.

I have nowhere to go. The Hall Nazis won't make their rounds for a few minutes more. I wander randomly, some part of me knowing where I will end up, where I always end up.

She watches me from across the room. She is trying to be staid, emotionless, but her eyes betray her. Disappointment.

"You know, David, you come in here and you don't say a word. You just sit. To me it looks like you're just trying to skip class." She checks my file. "Biology. Understandable. I was never much of a science person myself."

She keeps saying my name. I wonder if they taught her that in counselor school. I stare at her. She knows it is more than that.

"David, if there's something wrong, we can talk about it. Otherwise, you need to go to class." She is suddenly uncomfortable meeting my eyes. She retreats to the file in her lap, my file.

"I had the dream again."

She looks up, surprised. "The same dream?"

"Yes."

She scribbles on the page. I want to know what she is writing, if she thinks I'm going crazy too.

"Tell me about it."

My stomach twists into itself. "I already have. You've written it down."

She finally meets my eyes. I think for a moment that she will listen, truly listen. No. She is examining. I am a specimen.

"Have you been sleeping all right, David?"

It's been so long since I've looked in a mirror. I imagine that I am her, that I can see what she sees. Dark rings around eyes, dirty, matted hair, wrinkled shirt, jeans that haven't been washed in weeks. I look at the floor.

"It's just that," she continues, out of nowhere. "A dream. Its not real."

She does not see what I see, know and feel the things I do. "Yes, it is. I know who she is. I've seen her in the halls."

She checks her notes. "Brittany Towles." The name brings a lump to my throat. "Didn't you ask her out last year?"

My teeth clench. "It was a mistake."

"David, you're having dreams about a girl. That's natural."

I shake my head. The floor needs cleaning, and she needs to shut up, but she's on a roll.

"And what about this guy? Have you ever seen him?"

"No."

She leans forward. "You know why that is? Lemme tell you why, David. This guy is you. He's who you want to be." She turns a page. "'Male, age seventeen to nineteen, tall, dark hair, strong jaw, wears black jacket.' Sounds pretty cool to me, somebody I might want to be."

I've had enough of this. I lift my head and stare into her. "He's a monster, worse than a killer." I stand and grab my backpack. "You don't know anything. You don't know. I don't need you."

I am almost to the door before she speaks.

"Yes, you do."

She sounds convinced. The frosted glass rattles when I slam the door behind me.

There is a note waiting for me on the refrigerator.

Working late.

Two words. She doesn't even bother to sign it or add "Order pizza" any more. It's all about efficiency.

I attempt to watch TV, but my mind is too scattered. I catch myself nodding off twice. No, must stay awake. The phone rings mercifully. I pick up the handset and turn it on, but I don't speak. The people who know me know I do this. The people who don't, hang up. It is a good system.

"Hey."

I swallow hard. My father.

"How's it going, David?"

"Okay," I manage.

"That's good. Is your mother there?"

"No. She's out with some friends."

A beat. "Oh." He doesn't believe me. "I was just calling to let you guys know that Sherry had the baby this morning. You have a new step-brother. His name's Tyler."

My parents have been divorced for eight months. I hate that bitch.

"David, you there?"

A long, awkward pause.

"Your mother did tell you...didn't she?"

"Oh, of course."

"I don't see why she wouldn't..."

"No, she did. Thanks for calling."

"You sure you're okay, son? You sound tired."

"I'm fine."

"Okay. I'll talk to you later. Get some sl-"

I hang up. I hate that bitch.

I don't bother turning on the bedroom lights. I fall backwards onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Sleep is coming for me, tirelessly stalking me, hunting me down. I will evade it as long as I can, but it will corner me, find me alone in the darkness. It is only a matter of time.

Scene largely monochrome, magenta shirt blazing, burning into memory. Hand grips both wrists, bruising, bleached-knuckle, teeth collide, frail hands attempt defense, useless, palm forcing cheek to tiled wall, teeth clench, fingertips finding fabric's end, hand skimming magenta interior, crawling upward, head lolls forward, forced back by his, eyes wet, mouth open, trying to speak.

No.

Forceful rubbing, grinding, bone on bone, magenta shirt searing closed eyes.

No, not closed...

I bury my face in pillow and scream until I have no breath. 5:17 A.M. I have never felt so dirty in my life.

I pull the shower curtain closed and turn on the hot water. It takes a second for the water to rush up the pipes and then it hits me, hotter than normal. I reach out to turn on the cold water. No. I draw back my hand. The shower fills with fog. The heat builds, water beating hard against my chest. I lift my face to the downpour. Searing needles pierce my eyes. Vapor envelops me. I cannot see, cannot hear, only feel. My skin is on fire, scorched and peeling away. My fists clench, tears running hotter than anything down my face. In the blaze, the memories shrivel, reduced to ash, and are swept away.

I towel gingerly, avoiding the bright red blotches entirely. I am about to dress when faint orange seeps through my closed window. I open the blinds and sit back on my bed, watching the sky bloom for the first time in as long as I can remember.

Apathy does not visit me. I go to my classes, avoid physical contact in the halls as much as possible. I catch a glimpse of the back of Brittany's head. An image from the dream plays behind my eyes. I grip my blistered skin.

I worshipped her once. Now, I would do anything to forget her.

I come around a corner too fast and almost collide with him. My instinct is to duck out of the way, but a flash of gold stops me. He is a full head taller than me. I look up.

It is him.

He looks down at me, emotionless, then smiles.

A wave of nausea hits me.

"Watch out, kid," he says, then pushes past me.

My body turns and watches him go. I have lost control. I am shaking again.

Holy shit. My mother is home and making dinner. I avoid her entirely, soaking my skin in cool water until she calls.

My mother is obsessed with efficiency. We eat dinner by the light of a single thirty-watt bulb. Conversation is minimalistic, sparse and to the point. I cannot object.

"Dad called yesterday."

She cuts her roast beef into quarter-inch cubes. "Oh?"

"Sherry had the baby. A boy."

Her knife clatters, chips porcelain. "David...I...I was going to tell you. I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

"No, I should have-"

"It's not a surprise, Mom."

I pick at my peas. She gets up and pours herself a drink, leaning against the counter.

"David, I want you to clean out the basement. I think there's still some of his stuff down there."

"When?"

She tips the glass back. "As soon as you can. You could start tonight."

A task, something to keep me awake. I nod.

It is almost 2 A.M. when I find it, tucked in a corner, buried by Christmas decorations and a model train set I have never seen before. It is shoebox sized, but not as deep. Heavier. I know immediately what it is. I wonder if he ever thought about it, after a fight, or when she ran out, before a night on the couch, a night before Sherry.

I don't open it, just tuck it back into its niche and keep cleaning. There are whole boxes of his forgotten clothes down here. I want to burn them.

I crawl into bed exhausted and thinking about the gun.

My eyes close themselves. I have lost control.

Teeth on teeth, bone on bone, fingers fumbling with copper button, there, slow grating slide, teeth separating, her words going nowhere, buried in him, breathing hard, eyes wide with terror, fingertips grazing trembling lips, tear forms, slides down, forced from within. Faded denim torn away, shoved down, head whips sideways, body follows, dirty tile filling vision. Wrists shatter, bones splintering, iron grip on broken limbs, eyes glaze over, chest hits wall, stomach forced forward, again, again, monster reaching within her. And then...gone. She collapses, twists, back against wall, falls to face him, legs drawn up to chest. Stands over her, looming shadow across her face, zipping, chain tight around his neck, fabric heavy at her knees, head slumps forward, chin to chest. He smiles.

There is no shaking, no sweat, no fear, no sorrow. I have seen this a thousand times. It is nothing new.

I lied. I am afraid, but not of him.

I dress and slip quietly from my room, past my mother's closed door, and descend the concrete stairs.

I retrieve the box and open it. A silver pistol, black matte grip. A .45, I think. It gleams in the harsh light. The safety is on.

Good.

The way those action stars handle their guns, you wouldn't guess they're so heavy. Of course, they're fake.

I find the clip release. The magazine, fully loaded, falls into my palm.

I have control. It weighs heavy on my pants, cold against my body, but the sun is warmer. I am almost fifteen minutes early for first period, standing near the door, waiting for Apathy to grab me. It won't, I know. It can't.

Brittany walks by, wearing any expensive-looking khaki jacket, surrounded by friends. I smile. God, she's beautiful. I keep looking around for him, wanting to apologize for getting in his way. I want him to remember, to say that it's okay, no big deal. The biology teacher steps up beside me and unlocks the classroom.

"David, it's good to see you here so early."

"Thank you, sir."

I glance down the hall. Brittany is alone at her locker, loading books into her backpack. Maybe I should talk to her.

She shrugs out of her jacket. Biology book slips from my hands.

No.

It hits the polished floor. Someone giggles. I am frozen, blinded by the color. She looks back at me, then turns away. Everyone goes back to ignoring me. She disappears into the bathroom.

The bell rings, everyone scatters frantically, leaving the hallway almost empty.

I am so still, so shocked, that I barely notice him.

He stands in the middle of the hall, dark eyes staring at me, then at the bathroom. He is bigger than I remember, black jacket covering strong broad shoulders. He is wearing the same tight gold chain. He is waiting for me to leave.

I pull the gun from my belt and point it at him.

His eyes widen, mouth opens to speak. I pull the trigger.

I have never fired a gun before. It is louder than on TV. It kicks back in my hand, my head turns away involuntarily, but I see a spray of red. I hear him fall. Someone in a classroom screams. I am dizzy, ears ringing, but I hear her, a noise from behind, a whimper. I turn. Brittany, pressing herself against a wall, pale and trembling.

My body doesn't want to move, but I manage the choke out the most beautiful thing I have ever said.

"You're safe."

But there is no gratefulness in her eyes, no understanding. Only terror. She inches away slowly, eyes locked on the gun. Why doesn't she understand?

It doesn't matter.

The gun is warm, heavy in my hand. I am tired of waking up afraid.

I am tired.

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Author's Note: This piece, despite its extreme unoriginality, is a step in a new direction for me, as it is the first piece I have written that was consciously inspired by outside sources. In chronological order, these sources are:

1) "I Am the Killer" by Thursday, from their (ridiculously awesome) album Full Collapse.

2) Speak, the darkly humorous YA novel by Laurie Halse Anderson.

3) Donnie Darko (2001)

4) "Cecily" by Whisper2theWater (userid: 258448 )