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“Aaaah!” Arabell screeched, bolting upright in bed. “Don’t touch me!” She lashed out at the empty early morning air, defending herself against an unseen enemy. Her chestnut eyes flew open, frantically scanning the room. Dark and empty. Except for the shadow of her dresser on one wall and her desk on the other, the small room was bare. With her heart still pounding, Arabell clutched her blankets, wiping the cold sweat from her forehead. “It’s just a dream,” she reminded herself, “just a dream.”
She left the warmth of her bed and trod across the cold, hard floor to the window. She held the sheer, frothy pink curtain between her slender fingers. They were leftover from when this was Mary’s room, her parents hadn’t bothered to change them when Arabell moved in even though they knew she wasn’t fond of pink and Arabell hadn’t changed them herself because she had more important things to do. She threw back the curtain. Moonlight poured in, bathing her slim, angular features in its soft light.
Outside, the world was covered in a heavy blanket of fresh snow. The branches of the tall oak that scraped against her window on stormy nights were bent with its weight. The old wooden fence running the perimeter of the pasture provided a dark contrast to the otherwise pure landscape. Arabell opened the window and leaned out. Still. Cold. Dark. She shut the window and glanced at the red numbers of her alarm clock. 3:28am. No one would be up for hours and the night was perfect. She grabbed her Nikes from the bedpost and headed out the door.
The snow barely crunched as Arabell ran, her legs carrying her into the forest and away from the house. Away from the nightmares that plagued her sleep. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a peaceful night’s sleep. This was her routine; go to bed at midnight, wake up screaming drenched in cold sweat around three, run until the sun came up, and then sleep until late morning. For some reason, the sun made the nightmares go away, or at least made them more tolerable. Or maybe it was the fact that the subject of the nightmares was gone at work, removing the possibility of the nightmare becoming reality. Again. The blood… the whips… the bruises… the chains… the guilt…
Arabell shook her head and turned up the volume on her music, trying to drown her thoughts. The knife… the cuts… the burn… She jacked up the volume on her headphones even more and kicked hard, her already burning calves burned even hotter.
She sprinted along the shadowy forest path, away from the house. Away from the uncertainty. At home, she never knew anything. She didn’t know if she’d get food, didn’t know if he would be there and when he was there, she never knew what to expect from him. Some nights it was innocent hugs, and pats-on-the-back, other days, it was something much more sinister. Just the fleeting thought of it made her sick to her stomach. She forced the air out of her lungs, along with it the thoughts in her head and ran faster, trying to escape her demons. Trying to escape to a better time.
The spindly bare tree branches created a black spiderweb against the dark grey winter sky. The moon brought the old forest to life, bathing it in a soft silver glow. Arabell ran silently, only disturbing the snow directly beneath her feet. She was simply another animal of the forest; she belonged here. Here, Virginia, was not her home. But she could never go home to Wisconsin, so this forest was the closet thing she had. And she cherished it.
It was her time portal. If she ran deep enough into the woods and consumed enough of its brisk, oaky air, she was finally able to forget the now and live in the past. Back to a time when she ran for fun and competition, not necessity. A time when she actually had true friends. Friends like Meg who, at the drop of a hat, would wake up at 2am and drive fifteen miles to rescue you from a party gone bad. Or like Lucy, who knew the answer to every situation from how to use a led pencil as eye shadow to how, when, and where to take a pregnancy test for the best results and how to then tell your parents. She missed going out and coming home late at night with stories that would be referenced and laughed at for weeks. Then it all changed. “Run faster… run faster”
But most of all, she missed being able to feel safe. Back in Glendale, she could go to sleep without the fear of waking up unable to move. “Run faster… run faster.” Here, she was scared to even enter the house, but she was more afraid of what he’d do to her if she didn’t. “Run faster…run faster.” The trees were a blurr now, as was the ground. Kind of like the night he slipped something in her nighttime tea. What happened that night was more tolerable than most… but only because her mind was a fog and her body was numb. The morning after was the worst thing she’d ever felt…
“No!” she screamed at herself, suddenly realizing how much her lungs burned. But they didn’t burn enough. She pumped her legs harder, driving her knees into the ground. “Drive it away, forget, run faster…. Run faster….”
The trees were gone now. Suddenly, her ankle buckled. She crashed to the ground, the snow cushioning her fall slightly. She just lay there, facedown in the cold white snow, listening to her own breaths: hard and heavy. Funny how she could just lay there, not trying to breath and yet her body fought so hard to keep going. Sometimes, she wished her mind was as strong and determined to live as her body. Other times, she wished her body was as weak and determined to die as her mind.
She lifter her head and surveyed the sight before her. The rising sun against a deep magenta sky, a color that clashed violently with the red barn, silhouetted the two story yellow house that was supposed to be her home. Inside that red, 2-stalled barn was the one lifeline Arabell had, other than the forest; a spirited gelding with a bright chestnut coat that exactly matched Arabell’s almond shaped eyes. Long story short, he was her best friend and always would be.
The sun rose above the house, bathing the yard and Arabell with its warm light, and she realized that her time was up. The path she tried to run away on lead right back to where she started, like it always did. Her heart sank as she realized that she had no choice but to go back.
She picked herself up and slowly stumbled back towards the house, her legs trembling with exhaustion. She blinked back tears. “Maybe tomorrow… maybe tomorrow I can make it…”
She stopped cold in her tracks, suddenly realizing what day it was. January 6. A smile played at her cold red lips. She began walking towards her house with new purpose because tomorrow, she would be gone. Because today, she was leaving for college.