She had a towel wrapped around her head and one hugging her wet body. A cocoon, disguising the beauty of firm, youthful flesh. Eyeliner filled the creases under her bright eyes, an echo of the make-up she’d carefully drawn onto herself the day before.
“Sheila, do you have a tampon?”
My heart raced. Pam was talking to me. Me.
“What?” I mumbled, though I’d heard her loud and clear.
She bent a bare leg away from her body and put a hand on her hip.
“A tampon-do you have one?”
I felt droplets of sweat growing on my upper lip. An ocean was raging in my ears.
“I, uh-no. You can have a pad?” I despised the sound of my weak voice, so childish and intimidated.
She groaned and folded her arms across her chest.
“Yeah, I guess that will be fine.”
As I bent to grab a pad from my purse on the floor, my cheeks burned. I pictured the red mushrooming out from my cheeks and into my neck and ears. Gas did tumbles inside of my stomach. I could stop it, if only I could squeeze my bottom together hard enough…too late. I passed gas. I sat very still, my eyes glued to my computer screen and one pad-offering hand extended towards Pam.
“Uhh,” she moaned in disgust. “Did you just fart?”
I closed my eyes and practiced breathing in through my nose, so slowly, and releasing it through my mouth. The hand suspended in the air trembled. I heard her chuckle as the pad was jerked out of my grasp. Her chuckle became distant, and I braved stealing a peek. She had gone.
I scooped up my purse and dug through it until I found my compact mirror buried on the bottom. I opened it and scanned my face. It was as I suspected; my face and neck were as red as a tomato. I patted my hot cheeks and pinched the bridge of my nose. I flinched-something was smudged onto my fair skin. Smeared dark red paint, where my hand had made contact.
I splayed my fingers, dropping the compact onto the desk, and studied them. All over the hand that had passed the pad to Pam was the mysterious red stuff. My nostrils flared as I sniffed the substance. It smelled metallic, like blood.
I scrubbed my hands in the girls’ bathroom for fifteen minutes straight. The hot, soapy water scalded my skin as I rubbed zealously. Period blood, gross. I twisted the faucet off and examined my hands. Sure that I’d sufficiently cleaned them, I stalked off to get a breath of fresh air.
The sky was overcast, the sun shying away from the mortals on Earth. I hooked a thumb under my purse strap and stared at the ground as I walked. I contemplated on the incident with Pam, analyzing possible outcomes of the mortifying fart.
Maybe she won’t say anything. Maybe she got back to her dorm and realized she’d been sashaying around with period blood on her, and, in her embarrassment, she decided not to mention to her friends that Sheila let one rip.
Something hard collided into my shoulder. I turned my head and saw Pam and her gaggle of girlfriends snickering under an oak tree. Pam raised her chin and grinned cruelly. On the ground beside my feet was a half-eaten apple. I imagined myself picking up the piece of fruit and heaving it back at the girls.
Instead, my lips quivered like jello and tears filled my eyes with the discomfort of a hundred bee-stings. I stuffed my hands in my jacket pocket and propelled myself away from them. They made the obnoxious sound of flatulence with their mouths as I departed. That’s it. I gritted my teeth, changed my direction, and marched up to Pam.
“P-pam, can we talk in private?” In spite of my strong start, my voice wavered, betraying my fear.
She sneered. “Nah, you can say whatever you wanna say right here, fart ass.”
The others cackled.
“F-fine. You know, it was really embarrassing-”
“What? You shitting your pants?”
There was another symphony of laughter. I swallowed.
“It was embarrassing. But, you know what? When you took that pad from me, you got blood on my hand-periodblood! And did I run around telling everyone or making you feel like crap? No! Can we please call a truce?”
Pam squinted incredulously at me. Her friends quieted, their eyes bouncing back and forth between their master and me.
“Jesus, you are a fucking weirdo-I did not get period blood on you. I wash my hands everytime I go to the bathroom, you freak.”
“Look, I know you wanna be me, and you probably would’ve, like, I don’t know, licked the blood off your hand or something else disgusting if it had been mine-” Her cronies’ voices fused together for another round of laughter. “But I can assure you, it wasn’t my blood.”
“It was probably hers-she probably cuts herself!” another girl cried as she pointed an accusatory finger at me.
My mouth agape, I tucked tail and ran. Hot, bitter tears rolled out of my half-closed eyes.
You’re so weak and pathetic.
I tossed and turned as my roommate snored.
They’re better than you.
I couldn’t shut my inner voice up.
I sandwiched my head between two pillows.
You’re an ugly chunk of fat, the trimmings of lard from raw meat.
“Shut up!” I ejaculated.
My roommate rolled over and sat up.
“You have blood on your hand-on your…hand…”
Her eyes were closed. She was talking in her sleep.
“Go back to sleep, Tia,” I whispered.
“I dreamed of you. And blood.”
“Tia,” I hissed, the hair on the back of my neck rising, “Go to sleep.”
This time, she followed my order and, resting on her back, commenced her snoring.
I watched her out of the corner of my eye the next morning, but Tia acted normal. She appeared deep in thought as she wrote in a notebook on her bed. A few minutes later, she whistled on her way to the shower. Thoughts of Pam wrestled their way to the forefront of my mind, and Tia’s sleeping habits were swept under the rug.
You’ll laugh about this later. You’ll see-give it a couple weeks, and the hyenas will move on from you and pick on some other girl.
I stretched and decided I’d have to leave my room at some point. A trip to the vending machine loomed in my future, so I slid into my robe and silently prayed I wouldn’t have a run-in with Pam and company. As I took a step forward, I kicked something across the floor. It was Tia’s notebook, opened to the first page. Written in bold, black letters was “Dream Journal.”
I picked it up to put it back on her bed and paused. She was surely dreaming last night; maybe that’s what she was writing about this morning. I flipped through the worn notebook until I found the latest entry.
Dreamed about some girls last night. I think they were people I know. They felt familiar, somehow, but I can’t remember. It was all so fuzzy by the time I woke up. I was in my car, at a red light, and this girl was in front of me, on a motorcycle or one of those crotch rocket thingies. She looked back at me and held up a bloody hand. When the light turned green, she rocketed off.
I tried to hit the gas, but my car stalled. I turned the key and the engine roared. I pressed the gas and took off. I passed by the scene of an accident. At least, there were cops and an ambulance. It didn’t look like a car wreck, though.
In the car, there were the dead bodies of several girls. They were sitting up and buckled in, like they were just going for a drive. There was blood spilling out of the open windows and down the sides of the car, and their faces were gone. I could see muscle and tendon, and even bone, but the skin was gone. What does that mean? Am I a psycho, for dreaming such a creepy dream?
I shuddered as I closed the notebook and tossed it onto Tia’s bed. The girls felt familiar…
The swirl of metal rotated out of the way, allowing gravity to snatch my Snickers to the bottom of the vending machine. It wasn’t nutritious, but it was definitely good stress food. I stuck my hand into the bottom and plucked my bounty out.
As I rounded the corner to head back down the hall to my dorm, I heard a strange sound. I stopped and listened. Someone was crying in the girls’ bathroom, a few feet away from me. I tip-toed inside and searched for the source. Pam had her back to the far wall of the restroom, bawling.
“Pam?” I whispered.
She raised her hands. “Help me!”
I plodded over to her.
“Wh-what’s the matter?” I asked.
Pam blinked dramatically. “What’s the matter? Look at all of this blood!”
She twirled around like she was a model in a morbid fashion show, showcasing the fall line, Bloody Apparel.
“Wh-what? Pam, there-there’s nothing on you.”
I bolted from the bathroom after Pam hysterically insisted that she had blood all over her, then yelled at me to get away from her. I didn’t know what else to do, so I hurried back to my room to think.
“Are you going to the party tonight?” Tia asked from her bed, her nose stuck in a book.
I wrung my hands. My heart was fluttering.
“What? Tonight is Sunday.”
“Uh, yeah, but it’s spring break, silly, remember? Are you OK?”
She lowered her book.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I don’t know, Tia.”
Tia rolled her head, popping her neck. “Oh, c’mon. It’s the spring break kickoff! We can go together.”
I plopped down into the chair at the computer desk.
Tia lowered her feet from her bed to the floor.
“Chris Carey’s place, off campus. His dad’s going out of town.”
I sniffled. “Yeah, fine.”
Tia squealed. “Be ready by nine!”
She pulled her legs back into the bed and curled up with her novel. I considered checking up on Pam, but as I sat there, I pondered on justice.
If Pam is self-destructing, maybe it’s the universe serving her a bit of karma-pie? Would it really be that mean, if I just left her on her own? That’s what she wants, anyway, to be left alone.
I powered my computer on and logged onto Facebook. Chris Carey’s party was the talk of my newsfeed, from the jockiest jock to the nerdiest nerd. I could use some fun.
I wore my denim skirt with my off the shoulder blouse. I slipped my feet into a pair of maroon flats and lifted my crossbody purse over my head, pulling the strap taut across my chest. Tia bounced on her heels when we met outside of the dorms at nine.
“You look great! I didn’t know you have boobs, Sheila!”
“Thanks,” I muttered as we climbed into her best friend’s car.
“Freedom!” Lisa shouted to the night, jacking up the volume on her radio.
A swift, pulsating techno beat blasted into the car. Tia pumped her fist up and down and smiled at me. Not able to help myself, I mirrored her expression. We were young and free, and the night was just beginning. Tia mouthed something to me from the front seat.
“Huh?” I yelled.
She turned the music down.
“Hey, now!” Lisa protested.
“We can turn it back up in a sec-I forgot to tell Sheila what you told me,” Tia said, turning back to face me. “Oh myGod, guess what Lisa told me before you came down?”
I shrugged. “What? That Tommy Harris is in love with you?”
She shrieked with laughter. “No!”
“But he is,” Lisa agreed.
“Whatever. Anyways, no, she was telling me that Pam’s BFF-what’s her name again?”
“Michelle, the blonde giant,” Lisa answered, lighting a cigarette.
“Right, Michelle. Michelle had some kinda breakdown earlier today!”
Lisa passed me her cigarette. I didn’t smoke, but the last thing I wanted was to be on the receiving end of more taunts and jests, so I awkwardly wedged the cigarette in my unpracticed fingers and took a puff, coughing the instant the smoke hit my lungs. Tia lifted the cigarette from me and took a drag.
“Breakdown? Over what? Messing up her manicure?” I asked when my coughing fit subsided.
Lisa laughed her approval.
“She was telling people that she had blood all over her! But there was nothing on her! Crazy, right?”
“Couldn’t have happened to someone more deserving, I say!” Lisa shouted.
I leaned into the gap between the driver and passenger seats.
“So, what happened after she freaked?”
“Nothing. One of her buddies slipped her a Xanax, and she calmed down. I think she’s still going to the party tonight,” Lisa concluded.
Chris Carey’s house stood in dark seclusion off a dirt road on the outskirts of town. Stars speckled the sky, chaperones to the crescent moon hanging there. The nearest house was about a mile back from where the two story party shack was erected. Cars were parked everywhere: in the front yard, along the sides of the house, and even near the backyard, where stretches of tilled earth spread out as far as my eye could see in the dark. Muffled rap music blared from inside the home.
On the porch, a girl was already vomiting over the railing into the bushes below. A sympathetic boy with glasses like the bottom of coke bottles patted her back. After each fountain of gushing puke subsided, the girl sobbed pitifully.
“She can’t handle liquor-I should’ve known, but, it’s a party, you know?” big glasses explained to us as we passed to enter the house.
Inside, the house was crammed full of hot, hormone-raging bodies. Two girls made out in the center of the living room, amid shouts of encouragement; a group of nerdy kids stood in a clump in the dining room right off the living room, eating chips and dip; Pam and her crew of elitists formed a sullen circle of teenage snobbery, rolling their eyes in contempt of the kissing girls. Everyone held a red solo cup or a beer in their hands.
When Pam’s eyes rested on me, she gently shoved the tall blonde nearest to her and cupped a hand over her mouth as she leaned into her ear. I assumed the almost six foot tall blonde was Michelle. I sighed and continued following Lisa to the kitchen. She, Tia, and I grabbed beers and headed back into the noisy living room. Pam and her friends had vacated their spots and were nowhere to be seen.
I sat on the arm of the couch and chatted with Tia until Tommy elbowed his way over, scooped her up in his arms, and walked away with her squirming in his Prince Charming hold. Lisa smirked and shook her head before resuming her conversation with the guy sitting next to her.
I shouldn’t have come. I should’ve known Tia and Lisa would couple off, and I’d wind up just another wallflower in a sea of strangers. Gazing out at all the happy, laughing people, I suddenly felt forlorn and claustrophobic. I wanted to claw my way out of this prison I’d sent myself to, so I hopped off my seat and went out back, grabbing another beer on my way.
It was sparsely populated outside, once I pushed my way off the deck. A tire swing hung from a pecan tree, and I climbed into it, sipping on my beer. The intoxication sneaked up on me-I rarely drink, and the two beers were more than enough to overload my system. I threw the empty bottle down at the base of the tree and swung, giggling giddily as I stared up at the wide open sky. When I got tired of that, I sat down in the grass with my knees against my chest, reclining against the tree trunk.
I wanted another beer, but I didn’t want to venture back inside. I wondered where Pam and her buddies were, wondered about the strange, invisible blood that she and Michelle had sworn was all over them. Maybe they were high on a hallucinogen. I thought about the blood on my hand. I hadn’t imagined that-had I? I definitely hadn’t been high on anything. Is it possible they really saw blood on them?
I’d nodded off. When I opened my eyes, I found that I was alone outside. The flood-light was off, leaving me in total blackness, with the exception of the lit windows of the house. An owl hooted nearby. I lifted my head off of the rough bark of the tree and massaged my sore neck. Oh, God, I hope Tia and Lisa didn’t leave me!
I shot up and started towards the door. From behind me, close to the field, the ground was disturbed by a passing animal; twigs and foliage crunched. I picked up my pace. There was another crunch from the same direction. What if it’s something stalking me, about to attack? I scrambled up the steps to the deck and burst inside the house, slamming the door behind me. The couple of kids congregating next to the alcohol paid me no mind. I lifted the blinds on the window closest to the door and looked out, but I had limited visibility.
“There you are!” Tia exclaimed.
Her cheeks were flushed with drunkenness.
“Here I am,” I said.
“Grab another beer-most everybody has already left, but we survivors are chilling in the living room.” She opened the fridge door and pulled out three beers.
“OK,” I said.
She jabbed a beer at me, and I took it.”C’mon.”
We went to the living room, stepping over a couple kids passed out on the floor with penises drawn on their foreheads.
There were maybe ten people hanging out in the living room, none of which were Pam and her idiots. I sat on the floor next to Tia and Tommy and twisted the cap off my drink, greedily guzzling down beer. I’d lost some of my intoxication and wanted it back. Chris Carey was sitting on the coffee table in the center of the crowd, laughing merrily.
“No, seriously, you guys-The Others was a fucking outstanding scary movie. Horror movies nowadays are all about gore and innards.” Another guy groaned and chucked an accent pillow at Chris, who dodged it with a chuckle. “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with blood; I’m just saying that there’s something to be said for general fucking creepiness and a great plot!”
I chugged the rest of my beer, gagging covertly when I swallowed a mouthful of foam at the bottom of the bottle.
“Oh my God-let’s have a séance!” Lisa suggested.
Some girls cheered at this idea.
“Let’s do it!” a freckle-faced girl cried.
Chris got up with a lopsided grin and teetered over to the dining room table.
“I’m so wasted, you guys,” he confessed as he swiped the taper candles from the table.
Everyone laughed as Lisa cleared the coffee table. Chris slammed the candles down and pulled a lighter out of his pocket, lighting each of the four candles.
“We gotta smoke some more of that joint after this,” he said.
Someone murmured in agreement. Tommy nuzzled Tia’s neck, planting a kiss on it.
“Tommy, cut it out,” she giggled.
“I’m gonna…go get another…beer,” I informed her, but my words fell on deaf ears.
I clumsily got to my feet and lumbered to the kitchen for more alcohol.
As I closed the fridge, I heard something clatter behind a door that stood between it and the doorway back into the living room. With my beer in one hand, I opened the door. Stairs led down into a dimly lit basement. Soft, distant music floated up to the kitchen.
“Hello?” I called.
Something stirred below.
“Is everything OK?”
No one answered. I descended the stairs. Fleetwood Mac was playing on a radio somewhere in the room. There were rows of boxes stacked pell-mell along the walls and on the floor. They formed a maze of tall, imposing cardboard. A washer and dryer stood against the wall to the right of me.
I shrugged and turned to leave. As I did, my bottle of beer slipped out of my grasp and shattered into thick pieces of glass on the floor.
“Shit,” I whispered as I dropped to my knees to clean up my mess.
I was carefully piling shards of glass onto my hand when something big tipped over and crashed to the floor. My head jerked up. A shadow from across the room sank out of my startled view.
I crawled to the end of one row of boxes and peeked around the corner. A box laying on its side spilled old clothes and books out onto the floor. No one was there, so I kept crawling. Left knee…right knee…left knee…right knee…until I was at the end of another haphazard row of musty boxes. I craned my neck and looked around the box closest to me.
In front of metal shelves that were drilled into the wall was the backside of a squatting man. He was dressed in all black. Beside him was Pam, Michelle, and another girl from their close-knit circle of friends. They were sitting up against the wall, their hands folded daintily in their laps. Their hair was still perfectly sculpted, not a curl or strand out of place. I could faintly smell the combination of their perfumes on the stale air. Their dresses and skirts were smoothed out, not one wrinkle disturbing the fabric. Disrupting the sweet, feminine patterns of their clothing were smears and splotches of blood, accentuating ripped fabric.
The girls looked perfect, if only the one accessory most crucial to their looks still adorned their bodies: their beautiful faces. In place of smooth, dewy skin was sinewy facial muscle and exposed bone.
The startled man whipped around. He blinked through the eye-holes of one of the masks of flesh he held stretched against his face and jumped to his feet, dropping the skin-mask in his haste to stand. I pushed off the floor and stood, bracing for the impact of his weight. He charged me, knocking me back down to the floor. The wind was knocked out of me as I toppled onto my back.
His husky body landed on top of me, stealing more of my air. His latched onto my neck and dug his sausage-fingers into my throat. My throat blistered in pain as I struggled to breathe. I coiled an arm around one of his and stared into his determined face, begging him with no words for mercy. His eyes were clouded with blindness to my desperation.
I yanked my other arm out from under him, lifted my sore hand, and plunged the long piece of glass I was still holding from my broken beer bottle into his neck, pushing it in until it was lost in blood, cartilage, and bone. My bloody hand fell to my chest as I watched blood splurt out of his wound. He released his stranglehold on me and gripped his neck in surprise. I coughed for air, my throat throbbing. He tried to form words, but he sounded funny, like he was gargling mouthwash.
He tipped over, rolling onto his back, and contorted his body. I managed to scoot away from him. I slowly breathed in giant lungfuls of oxygen. My dizzy head was swimming, and I fought to remain conscious. He became still, life no longer pumping inside of him. In their lidless sockets, Pam’s eyes stared down at me.
I shrieked until upside-down people flooded my vision. There were gasps, shouts, screams, and questions flying in every direction. Tia clapped a hand over her mouth as her face filled with concern, terror, confusion, and disgust.
I showed her my hand, my bloodied hand.
“Dad?” Chris Carey cried in anguish as he crumpled to the floor next to the dead man. “Dad? What did you do to him?“