Cast Stones

The swings creaked, their chains going without oil for god knows how many years. The playground, usually full of fifth graders rushing around, was deathly silent. On any other given day, this pit of gravel and plastic jungle gym equipment would be echoing with laughs and cries of kids trying to enjoy the only forty five minutes they got as a break from class. Yet today was not like the others. Instead of the focus being on the play of their friends and foes, all the attention was drawn to the squabbling pair of children near the school's back doors. Curses were thrown, as well as a punch or two, as the boys in question circled each other. The two teachers, the ones elected to watch the children as they played, tried to break them up. A crowd had gathered, some cheering them on, some crying for them to stop. Mrs. Regina, one of the ladies who had been chosen to watch the students as they played, waded into the crowd. Her thin young partner, whose name no one could remember, began to yell in the high pitched voice that would hurt your ears. Still, this did not stop the fight, and it did not help the older fat woman as she tried to reign in one of the boys. Around them, the crowd roared louder, enjoying the fight.

Settled in the seat on the rusty swing set, she had put herself as far from the crowd and the confusion it created as was possible. She was not one of these people, and she could care less for the fight that captured the attention of her peers. For she, as the others in her class, knew something the two teachers did not. The fight was a farce, something concocted to take the only remains of adult control from the playground. Once they had wrestled with the two males that were struggling to get to each other, both of them were required to take them to the office. There they would wait with the brawlers as the Principle and the Guidance Counselor tried to talk the situation out with them. If they played it right, the playground would be free from parental control for about forty minutes. That was all the time they needed.

Legs moving the swing forward slightly, she sighed. One hand, fingernails broken and bitten, small pink scars running along the pale skin, gripped the chain on her side. The other hand was preoccupied with a book, White Fang. Its cheap paperback cover torn and dirty, one edge ripped and crinkled, fluttered slightly in the wind as she rocked back and forth. She held the book up in front of her face, having tucked her glasses safely away in her pocket, one thumb under the next page, ready to turn it once she had finished with the ones before it. Slumping slightly in the swings seat, she thumbed to the next page, trying to read as much as she could before it happened. A stray lock of long brown hair hung in her face, and she brushed it back behind her ear, revealing a long pinkish red scar running down her cheek. A slew of reddish lines and pock marks ran along the arm that brushed the hair away, revealed for a moment in the sleeve of her over sized sweater. Silent as ever, she flipped the page again, hearing the fight die away in the distance.

A sigh escaped through her nose, as she settled herself in the cold air of that Tuesday afternoon in March. It was 12:30 pm, lunch was over for the day, and as was her habit on such days she had not eaten. Even if she had managed to eat any of the gunk they called food, she was not in the mood to throw it up on the gravel of the playground once it began. Three times it had happened before, and she was not up for another round. Again she flipped the page, knowing it would start soon. Hell, she had gotten it down to a schedule. Every time was the same, sometimes the players changed or the props changed, but it was still the same damn play time after time.

There were many things she had learned in her ten years of life. Most of them came from books, or from her parents. Yet other lessons were learned the hard way. One thing she knew about was punishment, having been on the receiving end of her share of it. Curious, almost morbidly so, she had researched the favorite act of her peers. It was called stoning, and it was biblical in its origins. A person, seen guilty of some crime, was lead to a wall or cliff. There they would be surrounded by their fellow townspeople, as they acted as their judge and jury. Gathering stones, they would then pummel the guilty party until they died. From what she knew, it was a horrible way to die, each wound slowly adding up to kill the victim. After a time, these practices had been wiped from the earth, or at least that is what the civilized world was meant to believe.

There was nothing civilized about this, this was the lesson she had learned well. Gravel crunching as the fifty something pairs of tennis shoes came her way, she glanced up. Almost shadows against the sun, she could make out the crowd heading her way. The teachers had finally taken the two fighters into the school, leaving no one to watch. All was going to plan. Going over the schedule as always, she noted each person was once again playing their part. A majority of the boys were bent to the ground, stuffing their shirts with rocks, as the girls were gathering some to place in the pockets of their coats or jeans. Averting her eyes, she once again stared at the pages before her, only now she did not see the text anymore. Breath hitching in her chest; she swallowed the lump that rose into her throat. No matter how many times this scenario had played out over the years, she still felt scared just before they began.

Having collected their rocks, the crowd now came forward, creating a semicircle to surround her. The chain link fence behind her cutting her off completely, the crowd blocked her chances of escape. As it always did, the noise started as a whisper. Slowly it grew, never reaching louder than a low yell, so as to not attract the attention of any teachers who may have had their windows open at the time. Voices a mix of hissing whispers and giggling, they slowly analyzed everything about her. All of it, from her large hand me down clothes, the ones she wore so her parents could afford to pay bills, to the fact that she was slightly overweight for a girl her age.

"Where does she get her clothes, the trash?" someones high pitched voice muttered, blonde hair peeking out from under a baseball cap.

"Ewww! Can you smell her over here too?" this time it was a girl, and from the sound of her voice, she was somewhere in the back of the crowd. This line was followed by giggles, and laughter rippling through the crowd. How long were they going to drag this out? They only delayed the inevitable, and how she longed to tell them to just get it over with. Eyes glancing up, for but a moment, she took in the crowd before her. The whispers were dying down, signaling the beginning of the actual event. No one said a thing, waiting for one of their peers to cast the first stone.

Finally the sound of a rock whizzing by her head started the party. It had missed, and she knew better than to wish the others would as well. The first one always missed. Again the sound of a rock flying through the air caught her attention. This one struck her leg, then fell useless to gravel. Another came, then another, this one striking her ear. It stung, the sore spot beginning to turn red, yet she did not clutch it. They would not see her flinch.

Two more rocks smashed into her, one smashing her hand against the book, the next knocking the book from her hand. It fell to the ground, lying partly open. She did not lean down to get it, as she knew there would be time later. For now, she took her now free hand and gripped the chain on the other side of her. More rocks came forward, the hissing starting once again. Now an increased flurry of rocks flew towards her, as the ones who had been too nervous to begin had worked up their courage. From the crowd came hissing curses, and laughing insults.

"Go die!" someone, hard to tell if it was a girl or boy yelled from the center of the crowd.

"Take a shower you freak!" a red bandanna tied around his head, the boy tossed another rock.

"Get out of our school!" a chorus of girls, each a copy of the other sang together.

Again she sighed, head tilted downwards to avoid getting hit in the face. Every time they decided to dance this dance, they sung this tune. The few who were bolder than the others went straight to cursing her life. Yet they did not know how she wished, at times, that they actually finish the damn job. That maybe one time they would actually inflict some damage that would finally end it. Maybe then the parents in charge of the school, the adults in charge, would see that there was something wrong with the way their children were behaving. Yet she knew it was not so, it had failed with Dustin and it would fail once again with her.

Just a year before, a boy by the name of Dustin had come into the class. Being geeky and not very athletic, he was the chosen child of many pranks and bullying. She had hoped, being that neither of them had any friends, that maybe they could become friends, even if for that fact alone. Yet the boy had seen an easier route and taken it. As it turned out, the only way to draw the attention of his tormentors from himself was to send them her way. It was a plan that had worked every time. After only a year of this treatment, he had hung himself from the tree outside his bedroom. In his suicide note, he had pinned the blame on his classmates. At first she had hoped this would open their eyes, but they only wrote it off as simple depression and kids being kids. She snorted slightly at the saying, wishing many unholy things on the dumbass to ever think of such a thing.

The thought of Dustin always brought a sneer to her face, something she knew was uncalled for and cruel, but one she could not help. Dustin had only taken a year of what she had taken in three, and everything he had received was nothing compared to what they had done to her. After everything, she was the one left standing, and something about that made her feel good. It was unexplainable, something she would never figure out, but there it was. Maybe it made her a bad person, but at the moment, it did not matter.

Still the rocks flew towards her, the crowd now running low of the pebbles and stones they had collected. Many of them took to kneeling on the ground, tossing a few rocks as they filled their shirt once again. Others began to share their stockpiles, flinging the rocks as one student helped to refuel. A large rock smacked into her gut, causing the air to escape her lungs unexpectedly. Had she eaten lunch, this would have been the moment when it came back up. Despite being empty, it did a small flip, making her feel sick for a moment. The hand that had clutched the book tightly only minutes before now came to cradle her stomach. She looked down at it, her eyes catching the sight of blood on her fingertips. One of the rocks must have hit her harder than she though, splitting the tip of her finger slightly. This was nothing new, the sight of her own blood being something she had gotten used to. She only worried that this cut may stop her from reading at her normal pace once she tried to return to her book.

Eyes darting to the crowd once again, she felt the old war growing inside her. Eachtime this game was played, her mind began to run through so many ways for this to end. The scared part of her brain wanted nothing more than to scream and cry, to ball and try to find any mercy. At this her logical side would rant, telling the scared side as well as the others that there was no mercy in this crowd, there had never been any there. It always repeated itself, muttering "This is insane.", almost as if at a loss of what to do. Many times a small part of her from one of the far dark corners of her mind let out an echoing whisper.

Steel in its voice she could almost hear it now. "This is deserved." Each time she heard it, she swept the thought away, pushing that piece of her mind as far back into her head as she could. A larger part, not quite as loud as the others, always won out. A few sentences from this part of her would still everything the others had to say. It was her guilt, and it always made the most sense to her. This part reasoned with the others, telling them that nothing would help, it would only cause trouble to do anything. That was all she needed to hear. It would cause trouble, trouble for her mother who worked late shifts in a foundry to make ends meet. Trouble for her father who sat at home, nursing a wound to the head by heavy machinery. Most of all, it would cause problems for the two siblings she had at home, the ones she had to protect and care for. No, she would not cause them any more trouble, they had already seen enough lately. Each time the guilt of causing her family anymore troubles began to sink in, the other parts of her mind quieted. It was for this reason she sat there, one arm clutching her stomach lightly, the other holding the chain of the swing, legs still as she was no longer rocking back and forth.

Yet there was, just beyond the voice of her guilt, another part of her that never quieted. Nothing the guilt ever threw on the table, no matter what cards it played; this part would not stop its fight. Her anger did not quiet, it continued to cry out to be released. Each time she ignored it, not wanting to let go, fearing to be out of control of her mind for even a second. Again and again it called, promising her revenge, and swearing to show them something they would never forget. She did not listen.

The flow of rocks began to grow smaller, finally stopping. She glanced up surprised. What in the hell were they doing? It had not been forty minutes yet, had it? Soon though, she got her answer. From the crowd stepped two boys, instantly she recognized them. The larger one, a boy with green braces that sparkled slightly as he smiled, and short deep black hair came forward. His brown eyes crinkled at the edges as he laughed along with the crowd. Sam, one of the most popular boys in the fifth grade was one

of the two who had made it their goal in life to ruin hers. Next to him stood Coty, his best friend and partner in crime. Small and sneaky, long buck teeth hung slightly over his lips, a long sharp face, with a large and pointed nose and small beady eyes, he was a mean and nasty rat of a boy. These two were the ones who had organized the first stoning, and spent all the time they could spare to making her life harder than it already was. Still smiling, they came forward, each one beaming as if proud of themselves.

Her eyes darted to each one in turn, trying to read on their faces what they had planned for her. This was not on the schedule, this was something new. Now she was scared, experience teaching her that something new was never anything good. Somehow, she knew this was going to hurt, and she had never once been wrong before. Sam and Coty got behind her, prying her hand from the chain. She fought back; clinging to the chain as hard as she could until they finally pried her fingers from the chain. Coty grabbed the arm holding her stomach, pulling it behind her back, along with its twin in Sam's hand. She grunted in pain as the joints in her shoulders were moved into positions they had never been meant to go in. Using the weight they had combined, both of them hauled her off the seat of the swing and let her fall to the ground. Her knees hit first, gravel digging into the soft skin. She fell forward slightly, now in a half bowing position before the crowd. Again they had found a new level of humiliation to set on her, and again she did not know how to escape it. How pathetic she looked, head bowed slightly, not looking at the crowd before her. On her knees, hands on her thighs, and shoulders raised, she looked defeated.

Tears formed in her eyes, a lump rising in her throat. She swallowed it, forcing herself not to cry. It would only egg them on, it was what they wanted. The first few times she had given in to them, she had let them see her cry. Each time it stopped nothing, and then they began the torment about her tears. Now she would rather die there, one her knees in the gravel. She would rather fall dead scratched and bruised than let them see a single fucking tear. She would not allow it.

Suddenly she rocked forward, as two rocks slammed into her back. From behind her, Coty and Sam laughed. Gravel crunched under their sneakers as they walked past her, heading back to the crowd. The pair of sneakers with the blue and black laces stopped just near her. From under the veil of her bangs, she saw them just standing there. Wondering what the hell he was doing, she was suddenly knocked forward. The rock bounced off her head, landing beside her. For a moment she felt nothing, then a warm wet trickle ran down her forehead.

The laughing started again, as the crowd had seen the large gray rock bounce off her head and fall next to her in the gravel. Eyes wide, she reached one scratched and sore finger to her forehead. Pulling it back, she saw the drips of red setting there on the tip. Her breath hitched in her chest, her mind reeling from both the pain of the hit and so many thoughts.

What the fuck happened? Had he really just, had he just.....he was trying to kill her. For fucks sake, he had bounced a fucking rock off her head! Over all these years, as it had gone from bad to worse, never had they done something like that to her! How badly could he have hurt her? For gods sake, if they had done something, she knew what would happen. Each one of those cowards before her would have run off, not saying a word to anyone. Leaving her there to die, no one even knowing something was wrong until the kindergärtners came out for their last recess. Her chest seemed on fire, breath burning as she tried to steady herself. Now they were laughing, each one of those bastards were laughing. At her, at her pain.

She shook her head, trying to clear it. It did not work. Thoughts rushing back and forth, no one part of her mind could get control. Instead she stayed there, almost catatonic. Arms now on the gravel before her, the hand with blood still held before her face, she did not move. If one had looked at her, you might not even have been able to tell if she had been breathing. For minutes she did not move, and as the laughter died out, she stayed still.

The crowd got silent, each of them not making any noise. Finally a small voice somewhere within the back of the crowd called out. " she dead?"

At this more voices began to whisper, some of them panicking.

"Aww man! If she got hurt, badly hurt, we are in SO much trouble."

"What will we tell the teachers?"

"Someone check on her!"

Several voices agreed on checking on her, yet not a one of them moved toward her. Feet shuffled back and forth nervously, as they began to panic as children do. Sam's voice cut through the crowd finally.

"Why are you all being so scared? She won't die, and if she does, we will find someone else to play with." At this her head snapped up, the blood that was once a trickle from her forehead, now three or four tracing down her face. The crowd gasped, some relieved that they would not get in trouble for her death.

From somewhere in the back of her mind, her anger called out again. Now, now she was listening. It told her that there was only one way this was going to stop, and it promised her relief. Nodding slightly, she looked to her side. There, larger than all the other rocks, sat the one that had bounced off her head. Some of her blood clung to the one sharp edge.

Reaching over slowly, she wrapped her fingers around it. Now assured that she was still living, the crowd had gone back to laughing. Without them noticing, she began to stand. One hand held her up as she got onto one wobbly foot. The other one came up, and she pulled herself into a standing position. Someone in the crowd noticed that she was now standing, and called out.

"Hey!" the voice was high pitched, most likely a girl. Her cry drew the attention of the crowd. Holding the rock they had flung at her in one hand, she clung to the metal pole of the swing set. Her balance was off, something she was having trouble understanding. The hand with the rock came out wobbling slightly. Rearing it back, she tossed the rock as hard as she could towards the crowd.

Crunch. The sound was followed seconds later by a sickening splat, and a scream. Rock falling to the ground, Coty grabbed his nose in pain. Blood poured from between his fingers, and from the pain on his face, she knew she had broken it. Tears began to form in his eyes, and soon he was sobbing.

"Shut up, you pussy!" she heard a voice yell. Only later would she realize that voice was hers. Sam turned to her, eyes flashing in rage. Around him the crowd began to try and sooth Coty. They showed more concern for the boys nose than they had ever shown for her life.

"Why you stupid bitch!" Sam moved forward, fists ready to avenge his friend. "How dare you hurt..."

Voice wobbly and shrill, she stopped him. "Don't you start, you piece of shit!" Words she had never uttered in public began to fly from her lips. "All these fucking years I have dealt with your people's fucking shit! Enough!" she roared at them. Stepping back slightly, Sam looked frightened for but a moment. Losing her grip on the pole, she slid to the gravel once more. Again, Sam came forward, ready to beat her up.

Panicked, she quickly grabbed a handful of gravel and threw it at him. Most of it caught him in the face, sending him backwards in pain. He let out a howl, and began to move as far from her as he could get. Another set of rocks found itself in her hand, and again they flew through the air, scattering amongst the crowd. She heard several people cry out as they were hit, and before she knew it, she was flinging rocks at the crowd, yelling her head off. The crowd scattered, no longer wanting to play this game. As they took off, running as fast as they could, she continued to throw the rocks at them. Many of them were nursing wounds from where she had hit them, unwilling to stay now that their prey was fighting back. Struggling to her feet once again, she called after them.

"Run you cowardly sonuvabitches! No more! No more! NO MORE!" she fell to the gravel, unable to keep her balance. Something was wrong with her head, but that was of no matter for the moment.

They left her alone. My god, they were actually leaving her alone! Something in her smiled, and soon she was laughing, an almost crazed and relieved laugh. That had felt so good! Something about hurting them like they had her for all those years felt so amazing! Even though she was hurt, bruised skin hurting as she moved, she laughed her ass off. At that moment, she felt fucking wonderful. Maybe for that moment, she lost her mind, yet right then she felt that she was seeing a lifetime of revenge before her. So many things ran through her head, and it was while thinking these thoughts that she doubled over and threw up all over the gravel.

Having eaten nothing since supper the night before, there was little in her stomach other than acid. Yet it came up, burning her throat as it did. Body racked with dry heaves, her body was trying to get rid of something it did not even have. After having emptied as much as it could from her stomach, the heaves continued, clenching her muscles. It was then that she realized that she could never do the things she planned to do to them moments ago. For some odd reason, violence seemed to make her ill. After a few moments more of hacking up nothing, she sat up. Leaning her head against the cool pole of the swing set, she wiped at her face. Her hand came away wet, but not with blood this time. It was tears on her hand, mixed with the blood and sweat, making the blood watery and pink. Sometime during everything she had begun to cry and did not even know it. A sad chuckle escaped her lips, as she leaned against the pole exhausted.

Voices brought her back to life moments later, somehow she had fallen asleep. They were far from where she sat, probably hiding amongst the jungle gym sets. Their voices sounded scared, some of them sounded as if they had been crying. Against her wishes, her heart panged slightly for them. This disgusted her slightly, her heart was betraying her, feeling sorry for them.

Feeling dirty and tired, she pulled herself to her feet. Wobbling slightly, she reached down and picked up White Fang. Limping from the gravel still in her right knee, she headed toward the back doors of the school. Right then she wanted nothing more than to wash up, and go home. Later there would be hell to pay for skipping out of class, but at the moment she knew she could not sit in a class room with any of them. She did not trust herself not to do something else. Using her body to push open the doors, she limped past the closed classroom doors, and towards the bathroom at the far end of the first floor hall. Luckily the fifth graders were still at recess, and all the other teachers on this floor always kept the doors shut, as not to have the younger children distracted by the noise and activities in the hall. She only stopped once to drink from the water fountain.

Once inside, she threw herself into one of the stalls, immediately throwing the water back up. The smell of the room did not help any, the entire bathroom stinking of disinfectant. That smell had always made her nauseated, it being too overpowering for her. Now she began to cry, trying to get it to stop. She did not want to feel the pain from it anymore, from any of it. After her body had rid itself of the water, she was still crying, sobbing in all reality. Weakly, she moved forward, shut the stall door and locked it. Resting her head against the cool toilet bowl, she cried out everything. The light from the lamps on the ceiling hurt her eyes as the tears rolled out. One hand curled into a ball on the badly tiled floor as the other wrapped itself around the bowl of the toilet.

Still crying, though no more tears ran down her cheeks, she heard the door open. One hand clamped itself over her mouth, trying to muffle her cries. The sound of shoes stopped just inside the door, stalled for but a second and then walked away. Pulling herself from the toilet, she slowly unlocked the stall door. Looking from side to side, she made sure no one was there before making her way to the sink. As she moved forward, she felt like a clockwork doll of some kind, gears wound up to make her move. Nothing seemed to want to stop moving, even though she ached all over. Muscles clenching in her left leg and stomach, as well as the painful throbbing coming from her head, did nothing to help as she tried to wash off in the dinky school sink. Marbled counter tops and shiny knobs and nozzles glowed slightly under the heavy lighting coming from the two fixtures above her head. Using her one hand to grip the counter top, the other one pumped the handle of the paper towel dispenser, sending a few sheets of a cheap flimsy paper towel out to her. Wetting one of them, she soon abandoned that to toss water from the sink directly onto her face. Drips of water falling off her chin and onto the marbled surface of the sink, she tore off some of the paper towel she had pumped out earlier and began to wipe at her face.

The blood came off easily, and her face only stung slightly as the cloth rubbed over it. Looking blearily into the mirror, she finished up. Her head hurt still, but the pain was dulling itself down into a low throb at the top of her head. Nothing compared to what it used to be. Making sure she could move without hurling her guts or whatever else was left in her body to the floor, she limped to the door of the bathroom. Hand clenching the door handle, the cool of the metal feeling good against her skin, she pulled the door open. Sticking her head out as if in some fucked up game of whack a mole, she searched the area for teachers or students. When no one showed up, she took her chance and moved across the hall to the doorway that lead to the schools driveway. Scared that she might accidentally trigger some unseen alarm, she pushed the front door open slowly, hearing the hinges creak and the breeze roll in. No alarm sounded, and taking that as a sign from whatever god had decided to watch out for her that day, she slipped out before anyone could have noticed she was gone.

The air was cold, but not enough to freeze her skin. In all actuality, it helped as she moved across the sidewalk to the gravel parking lot of the school, dulling the pain in her body by making her cold. She had left her book bag, the small cheap canvas bag she had bought at the goodwill almost five months ago, and all her books in her locker. Mentally she punched herself for forgetting them, she had homework to do! Yet, this was much more important. She only thanked god that she lived only a few blocks from the school, if she was one of those kids who had to take a bus to the small elementary school, she would have been fucked.

Leg moving faster as a the muscle loosened, she moved forward, ever forward. By now they would have counted the children coming in for recess, and noticed their rosters had a different number than they did. She did not have long until they figured out who was missing and went after her. Yet, she knew no one on the playground would dare tell, as they would get in trouble for it later. The school prided itself its use of the buddy system at recess, something they thought effective, even though all of the children ignored the rules of the system to do as they pleased. That fact alone might be her saving grace. The sidewalk soon turned into gravel as she limped her way across the old train yard toward the view of her house in the distance. She could see it, just beyond the rusted out brown of an old carrier car. It was eye blindingly yellow, with the porch painted an odd shit brown. Yet at the moment, she wanted nothing more than to reach that nearly condemned building she called a home.

Moments later, she was moving past the newly restored train tracks, and onto the steep slope that lead to her porch. For the first time since she had gotten up from the gravel in the playground, she stumbled. Almost losing her balance, she grabbed out onto the lattice set around her large concrete porch. Leaning against it for a moment, she took a few breaths. Her head was beginning to kill her, the throbbing getting worse with each step she took. Having caught her breath, she stood upright, and moved forward to the porch. One step, two. Another two steps and she was at the door. One hand shot out and gripped the door knob, leaning against the door slightly so as not to make it creak as she opened it, she turned the knob to let herself in. Quietly she shut the door, listening for her father's shout any moment. Nothing came. Peeking slightly around the entrance ways doorway, she looked into the living room. The TV was on, some odd commercial playing in the background. On the small patchy comfort chair placed in the middle of the room, sat her father. From the angle of his head and the cigarette sitting loosely between two fingers she knew he was asleep. Taking a moment, she took him in.

He was still a young man, being only in his early thirties, but a lifetime of back breaking work and violence had aged her father beyond his years. Slim and muscular, he had always found time to play games with her and her sister and brother. Even if it meant a few less minutes of sleep before he got up and pushed himself to work another twelve hours in the steel mill that helped him provide for his family. Life for them then had not been rich, or full of material things, but it had been good. A simple life; and a loving one at that. Then it happened.

He had taken a blow from a twenty pound sledge hammer to the right temple, and from there things began to crack. Losing his job because of the injury, her father was out of work. Now that the bread maker of the household was out, and unable to get disability or compensation due to a flawed system, her mother had been forced to make the part time job at the local Dymaco foundry into a full time job.

Being the oldest she had taken the job of caring for her father and siblings, in essence becoming the mother of the house. She cooked and cleaned, did the laundry and made sure everyone's homework was done. All of this had to be done in one day, as well as making sure her father took his medicine and did not move around a lot. After putting her sister and brother to bed, she would sit downstairs by herself and open one of the few books she actually owned. Reading and rereading these stories, she would wait until her mother came in exhausted and hungry. Every night she would reheat the dinner she had made for the others earlier, and give it to her mother. Most times after eating, her mother would fall asleep on the couch near her husband's chair, where he always slept nowadays, leaving her daughter to clean up. She always did, making sure that everything was good for the night. If time let her, she would go upstairs to her room, and slip into the bed she shared with her sister. Soon she would have to get up and make sure everyone got to school on time, as well as make sure everything was situated for when her mother got up to go back to work. Needless to say, she did not get much sleep. This was something none of her fellow classmates could understand. Shaking her head again to clear the thoughts that were beginning to make her head hurt even worse, she turned from the image of her sleeping father.

Praying once again to whoever was looking out for her, she moved up the stairs and into the bed room she shared with both her brother and sister. Shedding the shirt, she tossed it into the laundry basket sitting just under the side of her bed, knowing that she was going to have to wash it later. A frown passed her lips as she hoped that the stain remover she had gotten earlier that week would be able to remove all the tiny stains that now covered the shirt. She moved toward the old wooden dresser sitting across the room, pulling open the top drawer and getting out an old faded gray t-shirt.

Had anyone been there to see, they would have gotten a glance of the tiny scars and nicks that ran across her back and disappeared into her jeans. Some of them would fade with age; others would only turn pink and set there against her skin for as long as she breathed. Sighing once again she looked at her arm, looking for the scar that was the worst. There it sat, a deep pink against her pale skin, running along the side of her arm. For three years, this scar had been a reminder of the stoning. She had received it with the first set of rocks they had ever tossed at her. One larger rock had come in low, slicing her arm open. This scar, more than any of the others bugged her, being one of the largest and the most visible. Sighing to herself slightly, she traced the mark with one finger.

A moment later she pulled herself up slightly, heaving the top most drawer open. One arm slung itself over the edge,rummaging around amongst the knick knacks stored in there. Her hand came on the smooth bottle of pills, and pulled them out quickly. Not bothering to shut the drawer, she opened the bottle of headache medicine as fast as she could. Ignoring the amounts to take written on the label, she poured seven or so into her palm, downing them with out water as she had time and time again. With a small frown she saw that the bottle was getting light, meaning she would soon have to go steal another bottle from her mother. Tossing the pills back into the drawer, closing it, she spun around to the small wooden vanity sitting just next to her closet. Muttering something to herself about her sister not cleaning up after herself, she dug around in the small pink makeup bag for a brush. She spared a glance at the mirror, something she did not do often. Her hair was a mess, having come loose for its ponytail sometime earlier. Stray hairs fell across her face, as well as a few pieces of her hair were stuck up at odd angles. God, she looked a mess.

Finally she found what she had been looking for, a small cheap hair brush. Pulling the blue hair tie from her hair in one long motion, she let her hair fall free about her face. Putting the brush up to her head, she raked it through. Instantly she knew this had been a mistake. Somehow she had forgotten about the wound on her head, as the bleeding had stopped a fair amount of time ago. The bristles on the brush had scraped across her scalp, pulling the blood clot that had stalled the bleeding away from the wound. Dropping the brush as the stinging sensation hit her, she staggered slightly. Blood began to trickle down her head again, running across her forehead.

An annoyed crossed her face as she wiped some of it away. "Fuck."

A sudden sound from below her drew her attention. The door had opened, and the loud voices of her brother and sister floated up through the staircase.

Her sisters voice sound throaty, almost as if she had been crying. "Mommy, where she at? Teachers said she was not at school..."

She did not need to hear anymore, as she knew her sister would not be talking like that to anyone else. Now frightened, she looked down guiltily. This meant they had called her mother, forcing her to take off from work and get her other two children. It meant that there was going to be a smaller paycheck coming at the end of the week, something she knew they could not afford. The sound of footfalls on the staircase brought her attention to the door. She glanced down panicked. Here she stood, hair down, blood running down her face from the gash in her forehead, the gray t-shirt revealing the marks running up and down her arms. This was not how things were supposed to turn out! Quickly she began to toss her things around, looking for something, anything to stop the blood. At the worst, something to cover up the marks. She found nothing.

The footsteps got closer, then stopped. "Sis?" the soft voice of her mother called from the stairs. "I checked the library, and they said you were not there this time. So I know you have to be up here." Silence once again then her mother sighed heavily. "There are not many other places you like to be." Her mother moved a few more stairs closer. "Sis, your teachers called me at work. Why did you leave?"

Panic rising in her throat, she could not find anything to stop the bleeding. Both hands clamping over her mouth, she slid to the floor against her drawer. Both knees came forward as she took one hand and tried to wipe the blood away. It did no good, as it was soon replaced by more. Tears welled up in her eyes once again, knowing that there was no escape, no excuses to explain away all her injuries. This was where it all came crashing around her, and she was losing it.

Again she wiped at her face, making her arm red where the blood smeared into her skin. Her mother was at the door, calling to her. She did not answer, just sat there trying to clean the blood from her face, sitting directly in front of the door. The second her mother stepped into the room, she would see her. See her sitting there, knees to her chest, trying not to cry again. If only she could stop the blood! Why did a head wound have to bleed so damn much! There was nothing she could do except listen to her mothers voice from the other side of the door. A hand settled noisily over the door knob. Why couldn't she stop the damn blood! Slowly the doorknob turned, and her mother stepped in the room.