Iron Blood

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February was my favorite month. That is, until last year.

That night is so vivid to me that I can still taste blood in my mouth. The thought alone makes me shudder. Staring out the small window covered in a film of icy rain, I can play it back all too well.
* * *
The jog from the campus library to my dorm is more like a 5K marathon. My only running mates are the emotions I hold. Fear takes its course through my veins rhythmically. Panic rises to my throat, threatening to escape, hidden in a thousand screams. What is wrong with me? Am I utterly repulsive so much that I'm being accused of murder? I just can't understand. I won't.
I throw open the door of my dorm, taking the stairs two at a time. My decorated door stands at the end of the hall and I scramble with the key, locking myself inside like a prisoner.
The vibration of my phone ripples through my pants pocket. Shaking with anger, I remove it and place it on the desk in front of me. I have to get away. This can't follow me everywhere, can it? Why would someone be torturing me like this? Sweat drips down in a small stream on my cheek. I swat at my face, irritated by my own psychotics.
    
Embracing the cooler air in the bathroom feels much better on my heated skin. I splash cold water on my face, haphazardly pulling the towel off its hook. My reflection startles me.
I look like a wet cat left out to dry. The purple rings underneath my pale green eyes look as if I’m attempting to be a greased-up linebacker on a football team.
    
Drawing in a horrid breath, a pain writhes down my throat. I pace to my bed quickly, as if I have something waiting. Something that can give me hope. I have to fix this. Solve this somehow. I don't know where to start. What have I been doing these past few days? Was I in a zombie mode?
I can't even recall the last person I’ve spoken to. Must've been my boyfriend... Justin, yes, that's right. I was over at his dorm in the common room with everyone else. That's when the first warning had arrived. The first text. The prime threat.
I was scared witless. I had no idea what I had coming for me. I didn't want to call attention, so I politely excused myself to think in agony. Was it around midnight? Ugh, the hatred I have for myself. I can’t remember a simple time! Okay, it's okay. Calm down. No one is out to get you. To single you out. To kill you.
    
Why would they? I mean, I didn't kill someone. I was just there in the midst of the moment. Having a blast. Laughing with my girls. The usual.
Except that's when I noticed Cherie missing. Yes, I remember that. She asked if I wanted to join her on a walk, but I declined, saying I wanted to stay a little longer. She just shrugged, smiling as I thanked her for the offer.
I never really got to know her before then. Maybe I should've seized the moment. I guess it's too late now. Just imagine what I would've gone through if I had been with her.
The thought makes me cringe; my chest heaves. The pain comes back, hitting me like a steam engine. I gasp for air unsuccessfully. Falling to the floor, tears stream out of my dry unblinking eyes. Calm down, Nicole, get a hold of yourself! It's not your fault. It really isn't.
  
I jerk at the sound of my phone vibrating across the room, spinning in a semi-circle on my wooden desk where I placed it earlier. The red flashing light taunts me, warning me of a new message. But I know. I can already guess what it will say. It will be exactly like the previous texts; various words, but an overall common message. Common threat. My death lurking between the lines.
The need to be held enters my mind. That's all I want: reassurance and love. I doubt those are a possibility, seeing as how I trap myself in my room at night and seclude myself from people during the day. I know better than to run giddily over to my phone. It doesn’t bear good news. I just have to wait it out.
My mind struggles against itself, beckoning me to check it. I am a leech to technology. It’s calling me. Nicole, stay away from the phone. I have to force the thought out of my mind, leaving it free to think.
  
I hold my breath, counting to soothe my panic. A sharp thud in the hallway makes my ears alert. I freeze on the spot, unwilling to move an inch.
Footsteps grow closer, slowing with anticipation. I hesitantly watch under the door.
A shadow throws itself across the marble floor, creating an ugly coffee stain. The feet stop moving. A deep voice lets out a mumble, too low for me to decipher.
The petrified mask on my face will be the first thing displayed if that door were to swing open. Like a deer caught in headlights. My hands tingle with numbness. My heart aches as it beats rapidly inside my cable-knit sweater, which I had thought was so perfect for the weather this morning. Now it is just itching at my skin, deciding if it should leave a rash or not.
  
The shadow looms. It must be in search of my extra key; good thing I removed it. My body shift backwards instinctively. Cautiously, I maneuver my feet along the rug so I don’t trip and ruin the perfect silence. If I get to my phone, I can call 9-1-1 and be safe. Be okay. I only have to keep the noise to a minimum. It won’t be that hard.
Just as I lean for my phone, the door knob rattles. I freeze again. The hairs prick up on the back of my naked neck. A slight exasperated gasp begins making its way out of my mouth, but I clamp it shut before I’m heard. Given away.
Of course, the person may already know I’m in here. Suffocating. Suffering. Alone. This is beyond the legal amount of paranoia a person should be given. This is a whole new level. Stalkers really have stepped up their game. That just makes me even more scared for my life.
I back away from the door, forgetting to retrieve my phone in the process. The shadow crouches. My eyes well up with tears that won’t fall. Nervously, I bite my lip, creating a lava-like rush of blood in my mouth.
The sensation of rusty metal overpowers my senses. I’m surprised that I haven’t already passed out; sprawling out on the floor with an echoing slap. I focus on the coffee stain. Its sharp reflexes beat mine by a millisecond. Quickly, it disappears. An odd wave of relief sweeps over me, but I know I shouldn’t be so gullible.
My courage has slowly built up like a fortress. I can do this. I will. I move with a cat’s swagger, carefully laying down my steps. The distance between my beloved desk and my body heat dwindles until we finally come into contact. My hand begins shaking again. Snap out of it, Nicole. You’re okay; get your phone before the shadow returns.
Listening to myself, my hand closes down on the black metal Razr. The loathe I feel for this object fills my body with a sick warmth. My hand vibrates; another message. Please help me. Please God.
I flick it open, greeted by a blue screen with white text reading: 2 New Messages! My face pulls up into a grimace. I can’t do this. I really and truly can’t.
A loud bang strikes my door. The coffee stain is back and it’s not alone. What am I going to do? Read the texts and be scared worse? Or have the guts to open my door, fully armed with a baseball bat and pepper spray? Too bad my latter option can’t be fulfilled; my brother visited two weekends ago and stole his bat back for mailbox smashing. Such bad timing.
The banging continues, along with small cries from the muffled voices. My normally calm voice transforms into a shrill screech as I rant.
“What do you want?! Leave me alone!”
Not bothering to understand the reply, I push in the side button to allow me to read my unwanted messages with my eyes closed the whole time.

“Nicole, open the door… now!”
After another mumble, a familiarity strikes. The banging becomes more frantic. I can’t take this. Nicole, just read them. Get this over with! Breathe, just breathe. Open your eyes on the count of three. Just do it. Okay?

One… Two… Three.
Unknown Sender: Sorry wrong number.





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