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There were no thoughts running through Dakota’s mind. Her usual inner bickering had switched off and left numbing silence in its wake. Her limbs felt heavy, almost like all of the blood inside her rushed to her fingertips and toes, she was carrying thousand pound weights in her hands and feet,
Her eyelids fluttered, and as the moisture returned to her eyes, she abruptly became aware. The infrequent bumps underneath the wheels of the train gave her a slight jolt, returning her focus to the present, dragging it away from nothing.
She was aboard a train, lying limp across two would-be empty seats. Her eyes burned with every blink, a reminder of how long it’d been since she really closed them – of how long it’d been since she really opened them wide.
When Dakota glanced up, her neck muscles talked back, but beyond the window, the view of the descending night was more than enough to distract her from the pain. The train was passing by a gloomy scene: wheat colored ground with patches of dying grass here and there, slouching trees rising up to meet the star-less sky without success.
She wanted the world to freeze around her, so she could jump out of the caboose and stand in the middle of everything, touch that aging grass and feel the ridged lines in the barks of the trees. She wanted to make sure it was real.
But the train moved faster between each new chug, and the scenery she felt so connected to passed by like the last sixteen years of her life.
There were no other people within seeing distance sitting around her, just vacant chairs and the faint aura of quietness hanging all around her. She straightened up swiftly, ignoring the way her body seemed to crack uniformly. She caught a glimpse of herself in the metal tray pinned against the seat in front of her, and with no reaction, cautiously watched herself.
No matter how many different makeup brands and diets she tried, her appearance remained the same; a round, rosy face with an obvious set of big brown doe-eyes stealing the show. Her hair hung lifeless just past her shoulders, an average shade of brown and wet from mindlessly walking through pelting rain just a few hours back.
But her face was of no concern to her at this particular moment. It was her shirt and jeans that held her fleeting attention, and she moved a trembling hand to the middle of her chest – right over her heart – where a large smear of something maroon was rubbed into her gray sweater. It felt crusted and dry.
She tore her hand away, mouth gaping open as her mind directed her through a hundred different images, all filled with vicious words, pale bodies and the threatening sound of bullets being fired from a pointed gun. The images flew rapidly behind her eyes, coming and going with unbridled force. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her head between her clawed hands, leaning her forehead against the coolness of the metal tray. It calmed her to a point, allowed her to breathe a little more evenly as she sorted out the flying images conjuring inside her brain.
A small room, shrouded in daylight and gaudy décor, the microwave singing to be opened, the silent prance of her father’s clueless cat, was all she could envision once her heart stopped palpitating – or it was all she wanted to envision.
A sound passed through her dry lips, somewhere along the lines of a sigh and a whimper. She just sat there in the cushioned seat, her face against the metal, arms wrapped around the top of her head like she was ducking for protection.
She could have stayed like that for the rest of eternity, thinking of nothing, feeling nothing, saying nothing. But the train lurched to a halt, the intercom announcing arrival in Manhattan.
“This is your stop, Miss.” The conductor said as he stood over Dakota, shoving the broken half of her ticket in her face.
He was right, she had bought a train ticket after sitting in the train station in Trenton for hours. She’d been just as disoriented as she was now. She recalled plopping down between a hip-hop lover with a hearing problem and crappy headphones, and the mother two screaming five-year-olds. But Dakota didn’t notice, or care about, her rude neighbors. She was too engrossed in her own bottomless zombification to look up from the tastefully tiled floors of the train station.
She would have responded to the conductor, if he took pauses in-between sentences. “I hope that’s ketchup.” He pointed at her shirt and she followed his finger‘s aim, reminded once again of her own instability.
Dakota’s mouth filled with the taste of pennies, and her stomach scrambled at the sight of the red substance. She pushed herself out of her seat too fast, and suffered the consequence of temporary light headedness.
Fastening her grip on the shoulders of the seats lining both sides of the isle, she stumbled forward on rag doll legs, desperate to exit the train before her insides dispelled all over the carefully upholstered seats. Once she made it down the rickety steps and onto the platform, her nausea let up, and she sucked in a gust of cold air.
Dakota sauntered up to the ground floor, ignoring the looks of uncertainty she received from travelers and staff alike. She only had one thing on her mind, and that was to get to the place she knew she’d find comfort in.
Ash was her savior, the person who taught her how to unleash herself and just have a good time. He was the only person she’d waste money to take a train for, and gladly so. She’d been to this place countless Friday nights, just like this Friday night. The only difference was that this time, free drinks and sweet kisses was the last thing Dakota could have wanted. What she really wanted was for Ash to hold her and pet her head, tell her that everything was fine in a thin whisper that would last forever in her mind.
Her feet ruined the fresh sprinkle of snow on the sidewalk as she charged forward to her destination. She didn’t stop to assess the abandoned warehouse, or the pulsating music and neon lights bleeding through the boarded up walls. She just ran straight through the cracked glass doors and into the dancing crowd, searching for her one and only.
But when she spotted him on a rickety stool in the corner of the place, he was not alone and waiting for her like she’d thought he would be. Instead, his fingers were wiggling through a head full of blonde hair, eyes connected on a Hooter’s body, as the girl sitting in his lap chomped on his neck.
Ash saw Dakota, but no emotion crossed over his face. He simply looked away, too concerned about the girl crawling up and down his body.
Later, the feeling of betrayal would creep up and seize Dakota’s chest, with a few other emotions following. But tonight, Dakota stood and stared blankly at her boyfriend. She couldn’t feel anything.
She found herself in the dinginess of the bathroom a few minutes later, looking into the grimy mirror without purpose. Just as her body was about to turn and leave the party, she saw a spot of red in the middle of her forehead.
She leaned over the sink, rubbing at the spot while a shock of terror bubbled beneath her belly button. More spots appeared, one after the other, and she used both hands to try and scrape the redness away. Her clothes became stained, hands and tips of her hair drenched with the substance, she seemed to be spreading it.
So, she stopped scratching her skin and whimpered in the mirror at the sight of herself, covered with blood. When she looked down at her hands once more, she gasped. A perfect little handgun was glued to her grip, like it’d been there since birth.
Dakota screamed and then blacked out, for the second time that day.