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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.” Something sharp poked her thigh. She retrieved the gleaming, spotty blade from the red-stained sheets and held it too her lips. The cool metal made her fresh marks tingle and burn. It felt nice.
At that moment, a black wave of hopelessness washed over her like a summer downpour. Her life was a train wreck waiting to happen. Awake, she lived a nightmare. Asleep, she relived it. There was no escaping, only temporary releases that made it possible to get through the day. It was an exhausting cycle. Last week, it was Pain 52. I failed my calculus test. I didn’t run well in practice. I couldn’t get a car to drive my friend to the doctor. I hurt my knee in practice, but I can’t tell Coach. My dad was drunk and hit my mom and I couldn’t stop it. Again.
The week before that, it had been better, only Hurt 17. I ran well in my meet, but I still came in fourth. I can’t afford the concert tickets my sister wants for her birthday.
Arabell leaned back and lifted her shirt, exposing her torso. Even in the soft moonlight, the crimson lines from yesterday, Pain 182 stood out against the older white scars. She took a deep breath, making the fresh marks stretch and sting. Seeing the blood trickle down her pale skin calmed Arabell, reminding her she was still alive enough to bleed. The pungent burn gave her something to focus on, transferring the memories’ pain from her mind to her skin. She lifted her head to look at them. The red marks trailed from her ribcage to her hips, the cuts increasing as did her pain.
Skinny crisscrossed lines covered her ribs. Ann is mad at me because I won’t room with her next semester. I’m jealous of Marie. Matt doesn’t have full conversations with me. I can’t afford Drake next semester. My parents hate each other.
Long, solid lines ran from left to right down her stomach. I’m trying so hard to be nice to Ann, but she’s ignoring me. When she doesn’t ignore me, she insults me. I love Marie. I wish I was as pretty and put together as her. I don’t know why Matt doesn’t want to have full conversations with me. Where am I going to go next semester? I don’t have good grades, I’m not a good runner… what college will take me? My dad is never sober.
On her hips, the lines were heavy, deep, and dark, still oozing blood whenever she moved. Why can’t I suck it up and live with Ann? She deserves such a better friend than me. I shouldn’t be jealous of Marie. Why can’t I be okay with who I am? I want to be okay with me, but I’m not good enough. He doesn’t talk to me
because I don’t love him for who he thinks he is. I love him for who I know he is. Why is that not good enough? I’m going to lose all my friends when I leave Drake. Drake is my home. My parents are divorcing and moving, leaving me behind. I have nowhere to go, no one to go to. I am alone.
Arabell felt the familiar burn in her eyes, but this time, no tears came. She was tired; tired of never knowing what tomorrow would bring. Would it be Pain 12 or Hurt 100? Tired of her parents fighting and putting her in the middle, making her feel like a pawn in their game. She was tired of being yelled at for her mediocre grades. Tired of her sleep being plagued with the same awful nightmare over and over again. Tired of not being able to make people happy. Tired of always coming in second in her races. She was tired of never being good enough, no matter how hard she tried. Arabell was exhausted.
She left her warm bed and strolled across the cold wood floor to her window. Beyond her snow-white yard, stood a dark forest, vast and foreboding. She opened the window, letting the icy winter air fill her lungs. The night was eerily silent, but it made Arabell feel something she hadn’t felt for a long time: calm. Beyond her room, beyond her house, nothing moved. The world was as still as stone and it was calling her. She walked to her bedside table and looked at the clock. 1;28am. She picked up the bottle of pills. It was almost empty; too many Hurt days. She opened the small box next to the pill bottle. Her gleaming strips of metal were beginning to dull.; too many Pain days.
“I need a better life…”she whispered inaudibly to herself. She pulled on a sweatshirt, laced up her well-worn running shoes and headed out the door.
The new fallen snow barely crunched as Arabell sprinted into the forest, away from her house. Away from the nightmare that plagued her sleep. The snow beneath her feet was pure, heavenly white, white like the chamber in her nightmare. The room with white, padded walls. My dad, sister, and pregnant mom all strapped to bloodstained metal gurneys with gags in their mouths, terror in their eyes. Matt, Ann, and Marie are chained by their wrists and ankles to wooden stakes. I am tied to something, unable to move.
“Stop it!” Arabell yelled, violently shaking her head. She refused to let herself think about the dream. She picked up her pace, focusing on the intensifying burn in her calves, letting her legs carry her wherever they chose to go. This forest was her home. Out here, she could forget who she was for awhile. Out here, she was just another animal of the woods and tonight; she was the only animal stirring. The moonlight brought the forest to life, bathing the trees in a soft, silvery light, casting long dark shadows along the path.
The skinny, hooded figure appears, wielding a horrible blade. He stands in the middle of the room. He stops and turns to look at me, revealing he has no face. He turns and moves toward my mother.
Arabell stabbed her arm with the razor she always carried with her, forcing the nightmare out of her head and releasing the burning calmness she craved. Stop thinking! Suddenly, the forest was gone. Arabell slowed down a little bit, not sure of
where she was. In place of the forest was a clearing completely void of snow. In the middle were train tracks running from east to west as far as the eye could see. Here, the air was cool, no longer winter air. It was like a cool fall evening.
Before she realized it, she was running on a trail parallel to the tracks. Guess my legs have a destination. She let her legs lead her into the unknown as she kicked up her pace.
The knife plunges into the swollen abdomen that is my baby brother, blood flying. My mother’s muffled screams echo throughout the chamber like a train whistle.
Far ahead, Arabell heard the low roar of a train engine; its headlight small and bobbing in the distance.
The figure moves on, to my father. He plunges the knife into his chest and face in two swift moves. I scream and try to move, but I’m tied fast to a metal pole. The figure moves toward my sister. I pull on my restraints harder to no avail. The knife steals her away from me. Their screams are gone. The pitter-patter of blood dripping echoes in the room.
“Stop it, stop it, stop it!” Arabell screamed at herself, plunging her blade into her arm further, desperately trying to stop the thoughts. If she couldn’t even control her conscious thoughts, then what could she control? She’d do anything to escape the nightmare. The trains’ whistle echoed in the clearing. It was getting closer.
Now the black figure moves to my friends. He goes to Ann first. He pulls her hair, exposing her throat. I yell and scream at him to stop. He watches me with his faceless face as he slides the knife across her throat, letting her life spill out of her. He moves to Marie and repeats the process. Marie makes eye contact with me, pleading
and begging for me to make it stop. I struggle against my restraints, kicking, yelling, but it’s no use. She is gone, her lifeblood drenching her hair and clothes. He moves to Matt. I screech and cry, my restrains ripping my skin as I struggle, but I hardly notice. The figure laughs. He’s never laughed before. He laughs a deep, hearty laugh as he sets down the knife and pulls out matches.
The train whistle pulled her out of her mind. When Arabell realized where her legs were taking her, an immense feeling of peace and calm washed over her, calming her heart and mind. Her legs were giving her what she asked for; a better life. A place where she didn’t have to be tired anymore, they were giving her an escape.
As the train barreled toward her, her legs ran faster, desperate to meet it. There was only one thing on her mind; rest. Soon, she could rest far away from her troubles. Her feet edged closer and closer to the rails, her skin tingled with calm excitement. Suddenly, her ankle bucked, almost throwing her to the ground. It was then she realized that she was not alone.
A boy, tall and lanky was running beside the track a hundred yards behind her, quickly catching up. It didn’t seem as if he saw her. His dark eyes were focused on what was ahead of him. The train.
Arabell was entranced by him. He was very handsome, his features strong and kind. He was wearing a well-loved Packers sweatshirt and running shoes that looked like they had seen their fair share of miles over the years. His dark, ear
length hair bounced with each long stride that he took. He was almost to Arabell and he wasn’t going to stop.
Arabell kicked up her pace, matching his. Man was he fast. Together they ran towards the train. Run faster….run faster, Arabell told herself. Her lungs and legs scorched with the effort it took to maintain his speed but she wouldn’t let up. He inched closer and closer to the cold metal rail. The train was only a few yards away. Suddenly, the boy’s grimace was replaced with a crooked smile, revealing perfect teeth. He stepped over the rail and directly into the path of the train.
Without thinking, Arabell summoned the last bit of strength she had and threw herself into the boy. The train whistle roared as their bodies collided. The world went black and silent. Arabell felt a blast of cold, pain, and then nothing.
The sky was dark and grey, the night silent again. She pinched herself. Dammit. I’m still here. Suddenly, she remembered. The boy. She shot up, frantically looking around. There he lay right beside her on his stomach, not moving. She crawled over to him, turning him over. The gravel surrounding the tracks had shredded his sweatshirt. Arabell noticed something. She pushed the material shreds out of the way, revealing a spidery network of cuts just like hers; some light and well-healed, some deep and very fresh. She touched his neck, searching for a
pulse. Her fingers discovered more red marks. But luckily, underneath the pain, she found a steady pulse.
Suddenly his eyes fluttered open, meeting hers. They were beautiful and brown, calm but confused. He propped himself up on his elbows, glancing around the clearing. They sit in silence, both of them deep in thought.
“Why?” he whispers, pinching his arm, “Why did you save me?”
“You don’t deserve to die.” Arabell said the words before she realized he was even speaking to her.
“How do you know? You don’t even know my name.”
“No, I don’t. But I do know someone who needs you to stay.”
“Oh? And who is that?” he demanded, irritated.
“Me.” He looked at her in disbelief.
“Why do you need me? You. Don’t. Know. Me.” His anger grew with each word.
“Because.” He looked at her with hurt and confusion, like she had stolen something precious from him. “You saved my life tonight.” Suddenly, he realized what she meant. The anger and disdain drained from his face, replaced by understanding, gratitude, and maybe even joy. He pulled her into him, his sharp amber scent calming her racing heart. They stayed there together, not saying a word. Just thinking.
A long while later, they stood up and walked away from the tracks. That night, they had both come to the tracks with the same purpose in mind; to die for themselves. Two strangers, bound by the same horrible fate. Now, they left the tracks with the same purpose; to live for each other.