The world was one blur. The hospital released me after my seemingly miraculous recovery a mere week after the crash. Lieutenant Seen offered to drive me, an offer which I gladly accepted. The drive back to the apartment was long, silent; Lieutenant Seen seemed to recognize the silence; I got the feeling that he'd done this before, taken orphaned children back to their lonely homes to drowned in their sorrow.
Lieutenant Seen cleared his throat when we came to a red light and a smooth stop. I had unconsciously gripped the edge of the car seat, waiting for him to floor the breaks and run right through the light. His hands fell from the steering wheel and down to his side as he took a glance over to me. "Christina," he shakily began as the cars on the opposite intersection took off, "I know this must be hard," I looked out the window as rain began to trickle from the sky, like a faucet had been slowly turned on; this was not the speech I wanted to hear right now, "but if you ever need anyone to talk to, I-"
"The light's green," I observed before he could continue; Lieutenant Seen glance up and saw that the light had indeed changed from red to green. His hands came back up to the wheel, which involved his sleeve being slightly tugged back to reveal silver bands on his right wrist, ones similar to my mothers. I choked up a little, but Lieutenant Seen pushed down on the gas petal and took off.
The entire way back to the apartment the car was covered in silence. An awkward, horrid, dead silence.
The police officer dropped me off at my apartment and left me to be lost in my own misery. The pain I had felt at the hospital had disappeared, no that pain was long gone, faded into a memory, but a new type of pain was emerging from the dark depths of my mind.
I was hollow inside - there was nothing I could do.
I sat in the living room, curled up in a ball in front of the crackling fireplace, with a large, warm blanket wrapped tightly around me, as if to protect me from an unknown, unseen force.
The funeral was the week after next, at least that's what it said on the calendar. The outside world swirled around me, nothing really registered, but everything hurt. Legally I was eighteen, free to do or go whatever I wanted, but instead I watched the dancing fire that Ms. O'Connell, old lady from across the hall, had started before she had left to feed her cats. The fire was the only source of light I would allow in the apartment; I refused to touch anything else, as I was frightened it might shatter and never be recovered.
"Christina," Ms. O'Connell called gently, opening the door once again and peeking into the apartment. For a moment I wondered how she got in, as the doors locked when someone went in or out, then I remembered that Ms. O'Connell knew about the spare key under the fern outside of the door. I didn't answer or even acknowledge her; all I did was stare mindlessly at the fire. She strolled over to me, let out a tired sigh, and placed a bowl of fried chicken at my feet. "Eat."
My stomach churned at the thought and I pushed the plate away instead.
"When was the last time you slept?" she probed in a motherly tone as she placed the back of her wrinkled hand on my cheek, seeming to completely ignore the fact that I had rejected the chicken.
I raised my shoulders and then let them fall. How long was she going to ask questions? How long would she continue to take care of me? "Hospital."
"That was a three days ago Christina," she scolded, walking over to the drawn shades. I began to eye the chicken before I realized that Ms. O'Connell's intention was to open the shades and let the outside world in.
"Leave them," I forced out as she began to open them and a small crack of light penetrated the dark room. I picked at the chicken in the bowl and, in one, small sweeping motion, snatched up one piece of chicken and began to nibble on the edge, despite my stomachs cries not to.
"Christina," she said, opening the shades anyway, allowing the Manhattan sunset to flood the room and reveal the white and grey husky that had been camping out on the fire escape just outside the window ever since I had come back; the strange husky kept staring in and had yet to move from its spot. I'd considered calling the pound, but that would've required getting up and dialing the number on the phone, the dog wasn't bothering anyone anyway. Ms. O'Connell was taken aback by the dog and seemed almost angry. "You should sleep."
I winced at the sudden change of light and I pulled the blanket over my head, sinking even deeper into my dad's leather recliner.
"Sleep is where our worst nightmares come to life, where our brain turns against us and our imagination runs wild," I chanted, nipping again at the chicken and then dropping it back in the bowl with the remaining strips. I wished that Ms. O'Connell had brought anything but chicken into the apartment.
"Sleep is also painless," she argued, shaking an elderly finger at me and pulling the blanket off of my form, letting a rush of cold air consume my body. Ms. O'Connell had two children and four grandchildren, she knew how to take control and boss a child around. I was not a child.
"Depends on what your definition of pain is," I muttered distantly as she put extra log on the fire. My voice, I realized, was not my own; it was cold, detached and it scared me deep into my bones and ran a chill down my body. She straightened up, seeming not to have heard me, and stared straight at me, obviously realizing the same thing I had.
Somnia sunt nostra exitus ab historia, my mom's memory whispered softly in my head. I translated immediately: dreams are our escape from reality. Her memory truly was everywhere. Running through the veins of my very existence; it made me feel warm and protected on the inside, like she would always have my back - even if she was dead.
The fire engulfed the log, taking what it needed then leaving nothing in return. Nothing but ash.
"You have to sleep at some point," she compromised, folding the blanket and throwing it on the back of the recliner. I don't know what her logic was; I was just going to wrap it back around me as soon as she left.
When I stayed silent, Ms. O'Connell sighed in defeat and left the apartment without another word; I suppose she grew tired of being contradicted by a teenager who had lost all sense of the world, that or she could hear the cries of her hungry cats. She'd been right about one thing; I had to fall asleep sometime.
After she left I shakily stood and made my way over to the shades, intending to close the shades over the blinding lights. I drew the shades close and the light that bathed the room was conquered in darkness once more and shadows danced against the wall.
I turned my attention back to the inferno, my back to the door. Fire was, in a way, beautiful. An evil force that destroyed everything it touched or everything that touched it. The fire was always alone, with no one to dance with.
"Christina!" I heard someone scream behind me, I faintly recognized the shrill. I honestly shouldn't have been shocked, as the girl knew about the key under the ferns as well.
"Kay," I welcomed drily as I twisted around, my voice strangely hollow. Kay had a thin, elongated scratch that traced her jaw line and a black eye; these were from the crash. Jealously flared in me, along with a disgusted feeling in the pit of my stomach. Did she even grasp how lucky she got off? How much she could've lost?
"Christina," she breathed in relief. Kay slowly made her way over to me, it seemed she was still recovering from the surgery, and wrapped her arms around me, squeezing me tightly around the waist. I didn't hug her back.
"Oh-my-gosh," she rambled, pulling away from me, her eyes wide with adrenaline; I could tell she was about to go on one of her rants. "The doctors wouldn't tell me anything, and my parents weren't allowed to see me, and I couldn't talk to you, and then there was the police officer that came, and then they-"
"Kay!" I crossly shouted, getting her attention. Kay looked at me and raised an eyebrow, stunned at my sudden change of tone.
"Are you alright?" she probed gingerly, reaching a hand out to put on my shoulder. Venom shot through my entire body and I could sense the jealously that flared in my eyes as Kay took a stunned step back.
They didn't tell her, I thought bitterly as I pursed my lips; I began to feel sick at my stomach and a chill ran throughout my entire body. Was I getting sick?
"No," I admitted, harshly shoving her hand aside, as a sudden burst of anger coursed through my veins. "I'm not."
"You look fine."
"Pain can be more than physical," I sneered harshly, turning back towards the window at the drawn shades. I slipped the materials in between my fingers and began to pick at the discrepancies on the material.
"So what?" she asked rolling her eyes and injecting a sarcastic tone in her voice, I had a sneaking suspicion her hands were on her hips and a smile was on her face. "You're having nightmares? The doctors told me that you were lucky to survive, you should be happy."
"Happy?" I laughed bitterly at the irony; the thought of being happy seemed like a memory in the distance, one I would never reach. "My parents crashed on the Lincoln Memorial Bridge. Flew right into the river," I explained, stuffing my hands in my pockets and turning back to her. I felt the need to simplify my explanation further when I saw the look of confusion on her face. "They're dead."
"Christina, I'm so sorry."
"No," I snapped, extremely calm-like and quiet. Then, out of nowhere, I began to manically laugh in her direction; then everything grew quiet as I stared her down. "No you're not, because your life is flawless Kay. You're not like me or anyone else. You're a stuck up, rich kid who does whatever she wants with the help of her dad's money."
"You're excused," I retorted hotly, waving a hand towards the door in a discreet effort to make her leave. Kay's mouth dropped open and her eyes filled with hurt and I knew I'd gone too far, but I didn't care. The hurt in Kay's eyes disappeared and was flooded by white hot anger; her hands balled up into fists, she'd gone past shocked and into furious.
"You should probably go," I requested coolly, walking to the door and opening it for her, no longer trying to be nice to her, "before we both do something we shouldn't."
"Yeah," she agreed sourly, pursing her lips the way she did when she was mad at me. Her eyes grew wide, she was attempting to create sympathy for herself, to show that she was nothing more than a wounded animal - I'd known her long enough to be immune. When I didn't budge, Kay's face grew cold and distant. "Wouldn't that be a shame?"
Kay huffed past me in a whirlwind and was storming down the hall before I could catch my breath.
"Kay?" I managed to find my voice before she could completely disappear.
"What?" she answered hotly, stopping with her back turned to me, her jaw flexed in irritation.
"The day of the crash, why didn't you stop?"
"Reasons," she answered shortly before turning her back to me and continued to storm down the hallway, her hair leaving a wispy trial of electric blue in her wake. As Kay turned the corner at the end of the hallway I saw the flash of a black bracelet on her wrist, something in the back of my mind tugged as the bracelet faintly reminded me of my dad's tattoo.
I pushed the memory away and returned to my dark cave, sealing the door behind me. Now alone in the apartment I felt unnaturally drained of all the energy I had stored over the last three days; for the first time since I was released from the hospital, I covered my mouth with the back of my hand, opened my jaw wide, and yawned. I threw a glance at the now dying fire. The log was nothing but faintly glowing ash and coal; the shining coals darkened until the light had completely faded; the sun had died on the horizon, signaling everyone that it was time to go to sleep.
I walked through the gloomy apartment and into my room, feeling a sense of release now that Kay had gone, seeming to take all the tension with her. Slipping quietly onto my bed, I laid down, and closed my eyes, quickly sinking into a hopefully deep sleep.
I stood in the middle of an empty, deserted street, not a single car in sight. In astonishment, I took a step back. My first reaction was nothing, but confusion and a sick, nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The East River underneath the bridge churned a venomous, sickening green/black color.
I looked down both sides of the street and saw a small, black dot racing towards me, towards the bridge. The small dot stopped every block at the lights, even though the roads were bare.
No, my brain chanted in denial. I shook my head violently, squeezed my eyes shut, and pressed my palms against my temples, willing the dream to stop. I choked back a sob, not really knowing what was going on here, but knowing that it couldn't end well for anyone. No, no, no, no, NO!
As the small dot, slowly taking the form of a car, arrived on the bridge it took a sharp turn, smashed into the barrier, and plummeted towards the river. I opened my mouth to cry but no sound came.
I was too stunned to move, but I was able to bury my face into my hands. When I looked up, people surrounded me. Most were watching worriedly over the edge, where the car had made a U-shape hole in the barrier, but one woman was on her cellphone, terrified.
Your parents didn't suffer, a cool new feminine voice assured me. The voice was soothing and serene, but it made me feel as though I were about to vomit.
Leave me alone, I commanded the voice, closing my eyes as tears escaped from my eyelids and ran down my cheeks.
This is a lesson Christina; death is a part of life. It always will be.
The asphalt below my feet dissolved and I fell sixty feet into the East River. I felt a slight sting when I hit the water, a fall that should've killed me. I thrashed against the crushing darkness, but it was no use. Quickly my lungs started to hunger for air.
I'm not dying here, I screamed at myself as my lungs gave out; I took in the polluted water and my lungs seared as water flooded into my lungs. The weight of the water crushed me and my limbs had become chunks of lead, dragging me down into the depths of the river. I gazed up at the river, at the sun that was barely visible among the churning green water.
You will join me, somebody whispered in my ear softly, yet the voice sounded quiet sure. I jerked around to see who had whispered in my ear, but saw no one. My back touched the sewage that littered the bottom of the East River. The edges of my vision were turning a splotchy black and my lungs burned in pure agony, but I wasn't dying.
Let me die, I begged the voice as I took in more water. My lungs were on fire, burning, but I wasn't dying.
I have no intention of letting you die Christina, the woman replied assumingly, a small chuckle in her voice. Not yet.
I woke in a cold sweat, my breathing heavy and uneven, my plus racing, and tears running freely and warmly down my cheeks and falling onto my pillow. I pushed my hair back, breathing slowly and deeply to hopefully calm my heart rate.
"Christina," Ms. O'Connell called through the apartment.
I propped myself up with my elbows in a sluggish manner as Ms. O'Connell burst into my room with a smug look on her face. I was sure that I'd never hear the end of it, so I made a quick jab to change the subject that was hanging in the air. "What time is it?"
"Nearly midnight," she replied after she had looked at her watch. I was shocked she didn't bring up the fact that I had fallen asleep just hours after I told her of the curses of sleep, but she didn't seem interested.
"How long have I been asleep?" I pressed as I smacked my dry lips together in attempt to moisten my dehydrated mouth. I placed a hand against my pounding forehead and feeling as if I had been running through molasses.
"A couple of hours. I was beginning to worry that you were dead," the old women joked. There was an awkward silence as I checked the time to see if she was right, she was. Ms. O'Connell managed to shatter the silence, "Well, I was just checking in. I'll be next door if you need me."
Ms. O'Connell hurried out before I could object. As I heard the front door shut, I felt emptiness in my heart.
Silence crept back into my body, but was interrupted by the growl of my stomach; I hadn't eaten anything since the chicken she had brought over, and even then I hadn't eaten much. I glimpsed at my phone, which laid face up, untouched on the nightstand beside my bed on charge. The phone blinked 11:57pm.
I rubbed my eyes, harder than I probably should've, and stood up, immediately faltering. I caught myself on the doorway until the apartment stopped tilting and the stars ceased to whirl around me. My muscles were tight from absence of movement. Maybe it had been more than a couple of hours.
Once the world had stopped spinning, I shakily continued to the kitchen, my stomach rumbling along the way. I fumbled with the cabinet knob, urgently trying to pry it open and get something in my stomach. I was disappointed to find the cabinets were bare, nothing but a small breadcrumb and a can of old tuna, which had to be way past expiration date. The refrigerator, I noted, was also clean of anything edible. My stomach growled in protest, this time tugging at my gut like a child tugging on his mom's shirt.
I'll be right next door, Ms. O'Connell's sweet, elderly voice echoed in my head. I didn't want to go outside; I hadn't left the apartment since I'd gotten back from the hospital. I breathed in defeat as I heaved open the door to my apartment and uncomfortably stepped over to Ms. O'Connell's door, seeing no other choice besides starving in the apartment.
"Ms. O'Connell?" I squeaked quietly as I knocked on the door, neither loud enough for any normal human being to have heard. "Ms. O'Connell?"
Go on in Chris, a commanding voice ordered me firmly. Dread flooded into me, and I took a step back, shaking my head in denial.
No, I told the voice, even in my mind my voice shook in fear.
Go, she instructed more forcefully. An icy sensation crept up my arm and it slowly began to go numb, yet it stretched out and turned the knob. Don't tell me that you're not curious.
The door swung inward, first slowly and then faster as it picked up velocity and swung all the way to the wall, where it bounced and began to swing back before stopping, the hinges squeaking in protest.
The doorway was nothing but a black hole and, I admit, I was a bit curious. "Ms. O'Connell?"
I took a cautious step in and my heart was pounding so loud, I feared that it could be heard as easily as listening to a radio. The ragged curtains allowed the moonlight to leak in on the tattered couch. Long, jagged scratches decorated the walls and the carpet and cobwebs dangled in the corners and off the grimy chandelier. The soiled wallpaper was peeling off, and needed to be redone, and there were flakes of dark red paint on the walls and carpet.
A small, broken bark arose from the shadows along one of the walls. I shot back in astonishment, but the dog stared at me calmly as it crept out into one of the patches of moonlight, eyeing me curiously. The dog's coat was pure white and grey, or at least it had been; dirt covered every inch of the poor thing, but I still recognized her from the fire escape.
"Come here," I spoke to the dog as I bent down and held my hand out for her to sniff. When the husky she saw me, she retreated with her ears flat on her head. "It's alright."
The husky inched closer and, in one fast movement, shoved her head into my hand. I scratched behind her ear and led her out of the dark apartment and into the hallway, where she ran through my open door and disappeared into my apartment. For a moment I considered going after the dog, but I looked back at the doorway into Ms. O'Connell's apartment.
I faltered to go back inside Ms. O'Connell's apartment the second time, but the thought that she might've been injured pressed me onward.
"Ms. O'Connell?" I bellowed through the apartment, with no answer.
I found the first body in the kitchen. The cat had been dead for more than a month, given the fact that the body was now partially gone. Bugs crawled in and out of the rotted flesh, through the eyes, the rib cage, and the wide holes in the pelt. One more had been stuffed in the sink, fresher, but still dead. The smell was overwhelming. I dry heaved and nothing came up. I counted thirteen cats in total, all dead, all half-decayed.
The rest of the apartment was clear of any cat bodies, but there was one room I hadn't checked. The bedroom door was shut, unlike the rest of the apartment where all the doors had been open, it seemed to be calling out to me, laughing at me. My hand hovered over the door handle hesitantly, frightened of what I might find inside. I took a deep breath and shoved the door open with my shoulder.
Ms. O'Connell was on the bed, her mouth wide open and her arms folded at her waist. A silver ring wrapped around her wrist twice, a bracelet glowing in the moonlight. Her skin was a sickly green, her lips completely gone, and her cheeks had caved in. Ms. O'Connell had been for at least a week. The stench of the corroded body was overpowering, I dry heaved again.
"What do you think you're doing here?" a sharp voice barked behind me. I spun around, too quickly I feared, because the world spun beneath me and was almost pulled out from beneath me like a rug. Another Ms. O'Connell stood in the middle of the living room, her hands behind her back and her blue eyes glaring at me in fury.
I stepped back, not sure what to do. "Who are you?"
The woman raised an eyebrow, but her eyes were still a blue fire. "You look exhausted."
She walked to me, hand reaching out, but I took a step back towards the dead body that lay on the bed. My heart was racing so fast that I found it possible that it might jump up my throat and escape through my mouth.
"What did you do to her?" I questioned with an even voice, my hunger long forgotten.
"Nothing dear," she assured me with a sweet smile, reaching for me again, which resulted in yet another step back. "She didn't suffer long."
I shook my head, trying to clear out the haze that had descended on my mind. The world tilted again and I nearly fell to the filthy, unkempt ground.
"Come," she commanded softly, wrapping her hands around my shoulders comfortingly. "I'll take you back to your room so you may rest."
"No," I said, trying to pull away from her surprisingly strong grip.
"I hate to inform you," her sweet voice was now gone, replaced by a cold, informative copy, "but you don't have a choice."
I kicked my leg back and managed to meet something hard. Ms. O'Connell screamed, and I might've felt bad for her if she didn't have fourteen dead bodies in her apartment. I made a break for the door; my mind caught the time on the grandfather clock: 11:58pm.
The imposter tailed me, running faster than an old lady could ever possibly run. I smashed the door to Ms. O'Connell's apartment in her face and hurried into my apartment, bolting the door behind me. The silvery husky, who'd made herself comfortable on the recliner, looked up in shock. The fraud pounded on the door.
"Let me in Christina!" she snarled.
I sprinted to the kitchen and picked up the landline, I punched in 9-1-1.
"Nine-one-one, what's your emerge-"
The lady at the end of the line cut off as the hands on my watch struck midnight.
You can't resist, the same feminine voice from my nightmare hissed softly. The fake Ms. O'Connell burst through the door, shadowed by several others who were dressed in black. I pressed my back against the freezing counter and seized one of the kitchen knives from behind me as the dog began to growl.
The imposter considered the husky, but the dog simply sprinted past the group of intruders and into my bedroom.
Pure adrenaline coursed through my veins as I avoided the first man, who lunged at me. Without hesitation or consideration I jammed the knife in the small of his back. The man screeched, but it rapidly faded as he bled out. I clutched the blade expertly as the second attacked, more tentative than the first.
They attacked all at once and failed until only the imposter stood. Terror took control of my body and I released the blood-soaked knife as several others appeared out of thin air, each holding a shining dagger the size of my forearm.
No! the voice yelled. I want her alive.
The fighters put their daggers away, but attacked with frightening speed. Adrenaline pumped through my veins once more and I found myself fighting on complete instinct, but it wasn't good enough to win. Before long my hands were pinned behind my back and a rag stuffed over my mouth.
"Breathe deeply," one grunted as they shoved me against a wall. The cloth clamped down harder once I began to hold my breath.
"Breathe deeply," another repeated. The first one growled in aggravation and elbowed me in the gut. The wind left my lungs and I gasped for air. I could taste the chlorophyll on the cloth as I lost conciseness.
The fighters release me and I fell into the wall, where I was hauled into the darkness that awaited me like a childhood friend.
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