Cathy sat in the nightclub , fiercely wishing she was anywhere else. She rolled her eyes heavenward in annoyance at the little herds of sheep gyrating on the brown splattered dance floor, watching in private amusement as one unfortunate brunette's stiletto made contact with one of the many glasses littering the floor and she fell, getting trampled on by the crowd. She felt a brief pang of pity at enjoying the resulting chaos but quickly let it slide as she saw one of the girls admirers reach down and pull her to her feet, Cathy saw her giggle shakily and decided she was unarmed. I need to get my entertainment somehow in this awful place. How is jumping around, throwing wacky shapes, merely killing yourself and making your head hurt classed as fun? Maybe I'm doing something wrong but this is certainly not my idea of enjoying myself. I'd rather play scrabble! She turned away from the garbage strewn dance floor, letting her disdainful gaze inspect the rest of the place. Creaky, wobbly black tables with annoying little stools for chairs were scattered around randomly , presumably for those who wished to take the pain off their tired feet by straining their backs instead, yet more splatters of froth and brown covered the tables, the thick pong of sweat, and beer producing an odour so strong, she thought she would gag. The seedy darkness of the place lightened only by random flashes of fluorescent strobe lighting that served to combine with the furious trance music to give her the mother of all headaches. She glanced at Rachel from across the table. She wasn't having the same problem. Rachel threw her head back, laughing, talking to one of the four guys that surrounded their table. Gabriel, he was called, or maybe that was Pete .Cathy couldn't remember and frankly didn't care anyway. She supposed he was good-looking in a blond, mid height ,average kind of way...but he wasn't David.

David Glen was nineteen, the same age as Cathy and Rachel. He also happened to be her boyfriend. He was tall and tanned with light brown hair and dark brown eyes. He was also incredibly handsome. An ache began in her chest. She wished she was with him now instead of at this stupid nightclub- which he hadn't wanted her to go to for a number of reasons.

Cathy focused on the four guys around their table. None of them even paid her the slightest bit of attention .Not that wasn't to be expected . After all, she was with Rachel.

Cathy thought she was ok looking, pretty even, but nothing special- certainly not beautiful. Not like Rachel.

Cathy was pale, pasty, although she preferred milky. She had long light blond hair and big blue/grey eyes. She was just under average height and quite slim. She also had a snub piggy nose and a mole on her left cheek, both of which she hated.

Tonight Cathy was wearing a long, basic black silk dress and black high heels. Cathy wondered how anyone could even walk in high heels, let alone dance in them. She supposed she was lucky she had an excuse not to dance, and exceedingly grateful that she hadn't broken her ankle yet. . Cathy wasn't really girly. Not that she didn't have girly clothes - she did, but she couldn't be bothered with preening herself. Preening took time and patience . Cathy wasn't best known for her patience. Which explained why she didn't wear a lot of make-up .Now, she was wearing a few coats of mascara and a shiny pink lipstick.

Rachel was her exact opposite. Cathy knew she wore gallons of make-up, but Rachel being Rachel, managed to look like she was hardly wearing any at all.

"It's an art," she'd told Cathy earlier that night, as they were getting ready to go out. "The trick is to let make-up bring out your natural beauty."

Cathy didn't think there was anything natural about piles of foundation, but she had to admit Rachel knew what she was doing ,and in seconds Rachel looked glamorous, radiant ,and a lot prettier. Not that it mattered. Even at four am in no make-up Rachel was beautiful. The make-up just emphasized that beauty.

At present Rachel was wearing a light blue denim mini skirt. Key word -mini. Cathy had seen belts that were bigger. Black knee-high boots and a tight red top that's only purpose was to drawn attention to cleavage, and by the looks of things- it was working. The guy who was talking to Rachel seemed to think her face was in her chest.

Rachel didn't care. She ran a hand through her naturally straight red hair and Cathy could see her gem green eyes had lost none of their mischievous sparkle. Unlike Cathy, Rachel was tall, tanned and rarely without a smile. They weren't the only differences.

Rachel was outgoing, flirty and confident. Nobody disliked Rachel. Even the girls couldn't. She was friendly, kind, warm and witty. She put you at ease and a light seemed to follow her, an inner glow . It was part of the reason Cathy loved her .But naturally people were drawn to it, drawn to Rachel ,and Cathy was left alone in the dark. Rachel also hardly ever got angry. She was open-minded, easy-going and could to anyone.

Cathy could barely talk to anyone. Especially guys. Cathy basically had two modes with guys-ignore mode, mostly used or bitch mode, sometimes used. She had not trusted men at all until she'd met David. He had known Rachel when they were both children,then, when she was twelve, Rachel had moved here- to LA and they had lost touch. However, David also moved here to attend college, and they had become friends again. Cathy met Rachel last year in college too. Rachel then introduced David.

Cathy's initial guy fear soon melted. Around everyone else David was quiet, a loner. But when he was with Cathy and Rachel he was kind, loving, strong. The three had soon become best friends and when Rachel was busy with her other friends, just Cathy and David would hang.

Cathy opened up and had lowered some of her barriers, but David hadn't. She understood about barriers and walls so didn't push, but soon Cathy realised she felt more than friendship. David finally admitted it too but said they couldn't date. Cathy remembered being confused because she didn't understand, not then. Rachel soon played match maker though and David had given in.

They'd now been dating six months. David had taught Cathy how to trust and love. Not to mention at nineteen - how to kiss. Now she had her first real boyfriend, had lost her virginity and learned a hell of a lot about the world she thought she knew. But she still found it hard to talk to guys , unless she got angry.

Cathy realised Rachel was talking to her. The guys had gone, probably to get drinks. Rachel could get away with drinking because she looked twenty-one . Cathy didn't but that was ok. Cathy didn't drink or smoke , she sometimes worried that made her straight-laced.

She smiled to herself, if Rachel hadn't known the bouncer she wouldn't have been allowed in at all.

Rachel was frowning at her. Cathy snapped to attention.

"You could say something to them," she was saying." They're beginning to think you don't like them."

"You mean they actually noticed me? I'm surprised they could manage to tear themselves away from the view." Cathy gave her best boy and breast expression. Still ,she felt bad.

Rachel was her only friend apart from David, and he didn't count. She should try to be better. It wasn't fair on Rachel. Cathy felt a brief flicker of annoyance at that . If she was so boring Rachel didn't have to invite her out. That annoyance died ,however, as Cathy realised Rachel was only trying to bring her out of her shell more. God ,she could be quick-tempered at times. Rachel was the one with the red hair. Shouldn't she be little Miss Flare-Up?

"Besides," Cathy said out loud. "I don't need to talk to them. I'm with David."

"So, you can still talk to them." Rachel smiled." Besides, David's not here. What's wrong with having a little fun?"

Cathy stared at her, appalled. Cathy knew apart from her ,David was Rachel's best friend, but she had a feeling if that wasn't the case, Rachel would have actively encouraged cheating by now.

"I don't mean like that!" Rachel said ,seeing Cathy's expression." But there is nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting now and again."

"Maybe not for you." Cathy remained indignant. "So," she inquired changing the subject, " do you prefer Gabriel, Pete, one of the others or all of them?"

Rachel shrugged." I haven't decided yet. It's not like I'm taking any of them seriously anyway. I'm just having a bit of fun."

There was that word again. Life was all about fun to Rachel. She'd probably have a party if your cat died as long as it meant she could have fun.

"Well," Cathy said." I hope you're having fun when you're date raped. They could be putting anything in those drinks!"

Rachel rolled her eyes." I very much doubt it. Besides, I won't be drinking the drinks."

"You planning to throw them over yourself and lap dance?"

"No, I only sent them off so we could talk. I wanted to make sure you were ok."

Cathy was about to respond but at that moment the guys came back laden with bottles and glasses. Cathy felt uncomfortable again. So, she said she was going to get a drink and headed for the bar…. or tried to. She felt like she was in an obstacle course. She pushed her elbows out, ensuring that anybody who happened to get in her way would regret it . Her cunning plan immediately hit an obstacle. She yelped as her stupid shoes stuck to the sticky floor, desperately trying to prise her feet up while avoiding the thrashing bodies and glass bottles coming her way. What the hell! Quicksand would be easier to get out of. Will everybody move! I hate this place, I hate these shoes, I hate Rachel! She closed her eyes as the smoke machine spitefully chose that exact moment to hit her with its blast, she coughed, feeling it sting her eyes as it swirled up and coated the entire place in an eerie thick smog. Great, and now I'm in a Hitchcock movie! In a moment of temper that would embarrass a two-year old, she stamped her feet up and down, jumping like a Jack In A Box and was rewarded when she finally became unstuck. Carefully navigating her way through tables, chairs and a throng of people, Cathy finally reached the bar.

"So, what's someone as beautiful as you doing in a place like this?" A voice behind her asked.

Cathy spun to see who had come out with the pathetic line and frowned. See ,this was what she meant .Rachel got four or five cute guys... she got a street bum. The man who had tried the lame come on looked in his forties or fifties .He had straggly grey hair and seemed to supply regularly to BO cologne. He was short and thin with blackened teeth . He also had a gap when he smiled. Hello Romeo ,Cathy thought. He was still waiting for an answer . Oh well, might as well give him one.

"Avoiding you!" She shot back, not bothering to hide her disgust. To her relief he walked off before she gagged and Cathy ordered a water. She was just heading back to her table when she heard a new voice.

"Would you like to dance?"

Cathy inwardly groaned . How original. She cast an annoyed glance behind her perfectly prepared to see another hygienically challenged lowlife... and froze

He was just a bit taller than David, with straight dark brown hair that looked black in this light. He had impossibly dark blue eyes and was even paler than Cathy, but it was a healthy pale that reminded her of moonlight. It didn't help that he was wearing all black, a silk shirt and trousers. He could have been twenty or thirty but whatever his age he made David seem plain in comparison.

Cathy had an embarrassing mental image of what she looked like then -mouth slightly open, eyes huge , not saying anything, like a pathetic school girl. She immediately felt stupid….. and confused.

Apart from David nobody good-looking ever noticed her ,let alone asked her to dance, and David had got to know her before they started going out. The fact that someone more good-looking than anybody she had ever seen on TV had come up to her based sorely on her looks was ridiculous.

Maybe he's talking to someone else . That's it ,she told herself. He was still looking at her. Or maybe not. And now he thinks I've got the hots for him like all the other women he meets. Cathy silently laughed. He was about to get a surprise.

Cathy let her mouth fall completely open and eyed him with forced distaste." Dream on!" The words came out more insulting than she intended them too, nevertheless , Cathy mentally shrugged. The worse it sounded the better the chance of him getting the message. Cathy saw him look rather shocked and then carried on walking to her seat.

Rachel was still there with the guys . She looked up as Cathy sat down. Suddenly her eyes grew large.

"What, have I spilled something on my dress?" Cathy gave herself a quick once over that reassured her she was ok. " What is it?" She tried again.

"That guy," Rachel breathed and did a low whistle. She seemed to be forgetting about the four now miffed guys all around her. Cathy followed her gaze. The man who had asked her to dance was a few feet away surrounded by girls. Most of whom were of the perfectly groomed model variety .She turned back to Rachel.

"So?"

"So! So!" Rachel gave her a look that said she was insane." Do you have eyes?" She asked. Then she threw Cathy a panicked look . Cathy didn't think she had ever seen Rachel looked panicked before. "Oh, god. I think he's coming over here."

"What!" Cathy exclaimed, nearly leaping out of her chair. The guys also looked horrified. It was true .He was rapidly approaching. Cathy had a wild impulse to throw herself under the table . Instead, she pretended to be really interested in her drink.

"Hi," Cathy heard Rachel purr. "I'm Rachel."

Cathy looked up. Rachel was looking him straight in the eye, any trace of nerves gone. She was now in full flirt mode -confident, casual and, most importantly ,deadly.

He took a seat next to her but didn't speak. When it became clear Rachel's full attention was only on him the other guys left- automatically sensing that neither of them stood a chance of ever claiming their prize. On the dance floor three girls were giving Rachel furious looks. Cathy went back to staring at her drink. From across the table she could feel his eyes on her.

"And what's your name?" He asked.

"Cathy," Rachel said ,before she could answer.

"I'm Steve." He still hadn't taken his eyes off her.

How very interesting ,Cathy wanted to say but didn't. She grunted. Great, now I sound like a cavewoman, Cathy sarcastically congratulated herself.

Rachel who was looking more and more bewildered, leaned forward so that her tits nearly fell out . Steve didn't seem to notice. "So, Steve, what are you doing here?" Rachel inquired.

Steve gave her a brief glance. "Trying to find someone."

"Aren't we all," Rachel laughed. "Except for Cathy that is ,but we can't all be so lucky." Cathy guessed that Rachel expected him to ask if Cathy had a boyfriend, when he didn't, she flicked her hair. "So , did you find who you were looking for?"

Steve did look at Rachel then. He laughed." I think so."

Rachel smiled . Steve returned it. He then looked at Cathy again.

Cathy almost burst out laughing herself .In a minute Rachel would probably start stripping to get Steve's attention.

"You're quiet."

Cathy realised he was addressing her. Does he ever give up?

"Sorry, I only talk to people I like." She smiled sweetly.

Rachel looked horrified ,but to her surprise, Steve started laughing.

"I'm going to go home." Cathy finished her drink.

Rachel now looked worried." Are you sure? I mean I could come with you- at least partway."

"I'm cool," Cathy assured her.

Cathy lived a few blocks away in a house she shared with David. Most students who moved away from home to go to college and had no family nearby stayed in a dorm, but David didn't want to live in at college and his family had given him money so he'd bought a house not far from campus. At first Cathy shared a room with Rachel in college but then it had seemed easier to live with David.

Rachel started talking again." Why don't you get ring David, get him to come meet you?"

"No signal," Cathy told her. "Believe me, I've been trying to text him all night."

Rachel rolled her eyes, "Charming. "

"I don't mean I've been planning to leave all night, I just wanted him to keep company whilst you were being "entertained."

Rachel's face fell, "I'm an awful friend! Come on, we can go dance I_"

"Oh, don't ask her to dance, whatever you do." Steve smirked, meaningfully at her whilst Rachel once again looked perplexed.

Weirdo! "I just want to go home," she snapped, harshly.

"Then go outside and text, then wait here with us until he comes and gets you. It's David, he's probably sitting by the phone, counting down the hours till you're reunited again." She turned to Steve, "seriously, they make Romeo and Juliet seem like novices in love."

"They were, and a Shakespeare reference from you?" Cathy mocked.

Rachel grinned, entirely secure in her own flaws. "I was made to read it."

Steve touched Rachel's arm, Cathy could practically see her heart leap. Whose Romeo and Juliet now? Good, at least he's stopped paying attention to me.

"It never did make much sense to me either," he reassured her.

What a surprise! "However did you manage without the Spark notes?"

Rachel shut her eyes in horror. "You said you were texting David?"

I'm sorry, am I ruining your plans to get laid? She's right though. It would be much safer to go outside and text David and get him to meet me, but that could take ages and I'm not some silly female that needs her boyfriend to pick me up wherever I go. It would be wise, however, especially since...

"Oh please, stay, keep us entertained." Steve winked at her.

She immediately lost all train of thought.

Just go! Leave now. Do you really want to wait for half an hour until David gets here, see these two make out with each other, or god, even worse, have to converse with him and watch her make swooning eyes?

"It's fine," Cathy asserted ."I don't need to bother David just to walk a few blocks. He might even be asleep." As if! Liar! " I'll ring you when I get in, ok?"

"Ok." Rachel sighed." But if you get killed don't blame me."

"I'll remember that!" Cathy called back, and then without bothering to say goodbye to Steve, left the club.


As soon as she did ,Cathy regretted it. To get to David's ,Cathy had to cut through an alley not far from the club . As she approached that alley, Cathy began to feel slightly uneasy. It was pitch black - not unusual for twelve o clock at night, but it was also so quiet, deserted, dead. The thought popped into Cathy's head uninvited, making her inwardly shiver. Don't be stupid, Cathy told herself .Once you walk through this alley you'll be fine, then just stick to streetlights and houses. But I still have to walk through the alley first, she protested. The magazines always say avoid the alleys. Well it's too late to go back to the club now, the other part of her mind argued. Although technically it wasn't. She could go back, get Rachel… Just move! Her mind ordered. Cathy's legs reluctantly obeyed.

The wind was picking up. Cathy wished she'd brought a coat .How long was this alley anyway? It seemed to be going on forever. "That's because you're moving so slow." Cathy muttered. Wonderful! Now she was talking to herself.

A bag rustled. Cathy nearly jumped out of her skin. Oh yes, I'll be fine Rachel. You'll just see me on the six 0 clock news. Cathy sped up. I'll never be reckless again. I'll always walk home with Rachel or text David. Just please let me get home safe ,she silently prayed.

She cautiously peered around the backs of houses and brick walls, shadows seemed to lurk in every hidden passage way, just waiting for her to pass by so they could claim her forever. I'm paranoid. It's David's fault. I'm such an idiot. What was I thinking? Was I even thinking at all? Just to prove I am not shit scared, when I clearly am , that I'm independent and to escape a stupid man, I risk mortal danger. Who does that? What is wrong with me? I'm in denial and denial is no good when you're dead.

Ok, how many horror stories have you seen come true ? Even after you started seeing David? You can't live your life in fear, too scared to go anywhere without an escort or a big strong man. You're psyching yourself out. Everything is going to be fine, just calm down.

A bit later Cathy began to relax ,she was nearing the end of the alley. See ,she told herself, that wasn't so bad. Suddenly a shadow appeared in front of her. Cathy violently jumped ,nearly falling to the floor .The thing moved closer. So close she could make out features in the darkness. It was the first man from the club. The one who had tried the so beautiful line.

"Oh god!" Cathy clasped a hand to her heart, probably to make sure it hadn't popped out of her chest. "You nearly gave me a heart attack. What are you doing out here?"

"You shouldn't be rude to men."

Cathy hoped she'd heard him wrong because all at once she felt very afraid. Cathy was very aware how stupid she'd been. Walking down a deserted alley at twelve o clock at night was just asking for trouble, wasn't it? Now she was all alone except for a man who seemed more than just a little unstable. Cathy stared at him. His eyes were red -rimmed and feverish. He still smelled of Bo but now there was alcohol mixed in with it. He swayed slightly on in feet. In other words- he was pissed.

Cathy was about to run, when she saw the knife. Before he had been holding his hand to the side. Now he raised it so that she got a good view of the long, silver knife in his right hand.

Cathy froze then began to run. She didn't get very far.

He was behind her in an instant. Before she could react he grabbed her from behind and pushed her to the ground. Cathy rolled onto her back as he threw himself on top of her. She tried to struggle, then felt the cold tip of the knife against her throat.

"Scream or fight I'll cut your throat."

She knew he meant it. Cathy didn't dare move.

"Now," he leered at her, "Let's have some fun."

Cathy knew then what was going to happen he would first rape, then kill her. His weight was pinning her down and although he was thin, he was surprisingly strong. This close the smell was overpowering. Even if she wasn't terrified Cathy probably would have passed out on that alone . Which explained why everything was fading ,or maybe that was just her life. Cathy wished she had the guts to fight. Instead ,she stayed still. Cathy whimpered and shut her eyes.

"Excuse me."

At first Cathy thought she was hearing things. She certainly felt hysterical, why not throw a little madness in there too? Startled , her would- be rapist looked behind him, careful to keep the knife pressed firmly against her throat. Cathy moved her head to the side as much as she dared with the knife in the way, what she saw took her breath away .Steve was standing in the alley staring at the scene in front of him ,but it was the way he was looking. Not surprised or angry or any of the usual things you'd expect. Just calmly, as if he saw this sort of thing every day.

"Would you mind getting off her." It wasn't a question. Although he sounded pleasant enough. Cheery even . As if he was discussing who'd buy the next round.

This time his words had some effect. The guy looked at Steve then at Cathy. He smiled. He seemed to think Cathy would too. When she didn't ,he turned to Steve again. Cathy held her breath. So far Steve hadn't made a move- which was good. If he did, Cathy was worried she'd get killed ,but if he didn't they would be staring at each other all night. Cathy started doing mental calculations. Steve was taller and better built. She would bet he was more athletic too. Her attacker was drunk but he was angry and insane, that could give him strength. He also didn't care if Cathy got hurt. Steve did. Normally Steve would have the upper hand but with her in the middle- he needed to keep cool. Cathy had an idea. The guy on top of her was completely focused on Steve . He seemed to think Cathy wasn't much of a threat so had basically forgotten her. His whole body was turned toward Steve and although he still held the knife, it wasn't on her throat anymore, just hovering near it. Still dangerous, but his grip had loosened... Cathy saw her chance.

She jammed her elbow into his stomach. It was a good blow. Clutching his stomach he turned wrathful eyes on her. Cathy tried to move back. It didn't matter. The elbow had winded him and caused a distraction, Steve took advantage of that. He threw him off her then put himself between them. Her attacker tried to get up. Steve let him get halfway before he started punching.

Cathy scooted further back. Steve and the man were nowhere near her but she could still see the fight. The man clumsily tried to punch. He missed. Steve was clearly winning ,any illusion of calmness gone -he was punching and kicking with savage fury. After a while ,Cathy stopped watching.

She felt numb. When she could think again, Cathy turned in Steve's direction. The fight, if you could call it that ,was still going on. The man was more like a rag doll now , nearly unconscious. Cathy herself was still shaken but she was also grateful. Cathy remembered how she'd treated Steve in the club- guilt immediately flooded her. She opened her mouth to thank Steve, at the same moment he ripped the man's throat out. Cathy stared for a few seconds in horror before she wrenched her gaze away. Those few seconds told her what she needed to know. Steve was a vampire. Then she heard the noise. It was someone moaning and Cathy knew then she'd been wrong. Steve hadn't ripped the man's throat out after all, at least not fully, because he was still alive.

The guy was struggling . If anything he was more aware what was happening to him than ever and he was crying, oh, god ,he was actually crying. Cathy had never heard a grown man cry before -it was faint yet full of terror and pain. Cathy didn't want to hear anymore. She knew the guy was bad. She knew he would have killed her yet somehow she didn't care. Nobody deserved to die like that. Nobody. Cathy was revolted, her stomach started lurching , bile rose in her throat.

Be revolted later. Move now! Her brain screamed at her. Cathy shakily got to her feet . Her legs felt like water. She tried to walk a few steps ,it was far from easy -despite her abject terror she'd never been good with heels. Of all the times I had to wear high heels ,the part of her brain that could think fumed ,while the rest of her brain just screamed, oh, god, oh, god.

She heard a faint sound behind her and spun. Steve was not far away. The guy was now dead, his throat none existent, his clothes drenched in blood. Steve was also covered in blood, but it blended in with the black of his clothes and the night. Though there was little light the stars gave enough that Cathy could see the guy's face was a mass of bruises. She shuddered. Steve wiped his blood- rimmed mouth with his shirt sleeve then picked up the knife.

Cathy began slowly backing away . She was making unconscious pacifying motions with her hands. She kept her gaze on the knife. Steve started moving closer, walking at a leisurely pace. Cathy hastily retreated.

"He's right, you know."

Cathy stared at him, not comprehending, pretty sure she didn't want too. Cathy did not stop backing away. Steve did not stop pursuing her. She still couldn't speak. No, no, no! She inwardly raged. This isn't a time for silence. This is where you scream. Cathy opened her mouth. Nothing happened. She tried again. Still, she couldn't make a sound. The image of Steve ripping the man's throat out kept replaying itself in her mind and Cathy knew she was going into shock. She also knew she'd really like her throat to stay intact. With nothing else to do, she continued moving back.


Steve surveyed Cathy. She looked as if she was about to implode. Her blue eyes were wide and afraid. She was shaking slightly and she kept opening and closing her mouth, it reminded him of a fish. He briefly wondered if she was going to pass out on him. It wouldn't be the first time. When it became clear she wasn't, he smiled at her before tossing the knife to the ground. It had the desired effect.

Cathy's eyes went to the knife then to Steve . The motions she was making with her hands sped up tenth fold. They both knew he didn't need a knife. The look she cast him was wild, desperate and almost pleading. Before he'd been walking towards her slowly and purposefully, now he sped up, not a lot ,but enough that Cathy leaped back. She carried on backing up ,her pace increasing. Unfortunately she didn't seem to realise she was backing into a wall. It amused him she was even trying. He could outrun her in a second. If he wanted, he could have easily killed her by now. He could grab her and stop her ever reaching the end of the alley. He didn't. There was no danger of her doing that anyway. He watched as her back hit the wall. Recognition dawned in her eyes. She knew he had her. They both knew it. Steve caught up with her. He saw she was passed all thought now, just pure fear.

"Now," he warned. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way." He grabbed her shoulders . Cathy's eyes widened. At which point in a barely perceptible movement that Cathy couldn't follow, he whipped the needle out of his trouser pocket and jabbed her neck with it. Cathy lost consciousness.