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He twists the key. The calming vibrations of the engine suddenly stop, and the headlights that had just been illuminating the eerie darkness die. Everything is silent; not a breath or pulse exists outside the comfort of the warm, familiar car. I think nothing of the emptiness as I sit contently in the passenger’s seat, inhaling the deliciousness of the ham and cheese sandwich that lies in my lap. I glance through the window, vaguely realizing that the few visible houses and trees are strangers to me. After flashing a meaningless smile at my companion, I resume my determined chewing.
He turns, maneuvering his round stomach and chubby arms to face my much smaller frame. A slow, sinister smile tugs at the corner of his greasy lips, reminding me of the kind of smirk one sees plastered all over the face of a sadistic villain in a movie. It sends chills skating up and down the length of my spine but I feign ignorance and concentrate on my rhythmic chewing, soundlessly telling myself to stop imagining things. Brian moves closer to me, reaching out to stroke my long brown hair but allows his arm to drop to his side at the last moment as if I could shatter with one touch. I try to edge closer to the car door, putting distance between myself and the wild animal I can see flickering behind his eyes. He notices and snakes his fingers around my knee, digging his nails through my jeans and into my flesh. The food I had just eaten stops making its way to my stomach and takes a sharp turn for my throat.
I suddenly remember earlier tonight when my only concern was filling my empty stomach. I can see everything as if it was a movie screen right before my eyes. I am bouncing excitedly in the passenger’s seat of the car. Brian sits beside me, laughing at my childish behavior. I look at him and laugh even harder as he attempts to sing to the music blasting from the radio. I roll down every window in the car, letting the wind run wild through my hair. He turns the volume up, and we scream the lyrics to our favorite songs.
“Hush, everything’s fine. I won’t hurt you.” Brian’s voice sounds light and airy though barely audible through the hood he slid over my face. I want to pull it down again, make it stop suffocating me, but I can’t move my arms. My other senses heighten because my sight has been taken away and I can feel him staring at me. I can think of nothing except why the hood is surrounding my face. I think he wants to muffle any noises I might make, or maybe there’s something dehumanizing about detaching someone’s face from their body. He must want me to keep quiet, I think to myself, Brian isn’t smart enough to think about dehumanization. I want to tell him not to worry; I can’t even remember how to open my mouth to emit a sound.
His fingers feel like a trail of fire running across my body. I am sure that I have never felt a more agonizing or searing pain before in my life. I try to concentrate on anything but the way my skin feels like it’s blistering after every touch. The only thing more distracting is the unavoidable nausea still bubbling at the back of my throat. I choose to concentrate on sounds instead, but the only thing I can hear is Brian’s anxious mumbling.
The car starts again. The vibrations no longer hold the peacefulness that existed about an hour ago. I stare out the window waiting patiently to recognize my surroundings as the car speeds down winding streets. The moment I realize where I am, he speaks.
“You’re awfully quiet.” I can’t even look at him, let alone reply to his masked question. It takes all of my strength to repel the nausea. “Rachel, are you going to say something?”
My mouth goes dry as I stare incredulously out the window. How can I even justify answering that question? He has to be seriously demented to even have the audacity to ask me this. My only other thought is that Brian has finally lost it.
I think about Brian, the old Brian, for a moment. I wonder what happened to my entertaining friend. He was always so alive and exciting to be around. I glance at his face for a second, and then I can’t bear to look at him any longer. His eyes are emotionless and his face is frozen in an almost painful expression. Maybe I did this to him. Tears fill my eyes. I always knew how Brian felt about me, but maybe I handled it wrong.
“The least you can do is answer me, you know.” I can feel him staring at me again.
The least you can do is jump out of the car and onto the pavement right now. All the sympathy I just felt for him leaves my body at once.
The car stops moving and without looking around, I get out of the car. At this point, I don’t care where Brian drops me off. As long as I’m far away from him, I accept it. The car speeds away almost the moment I slam the door, but not until he yells out the window, “See you tomorrow!”
In your dreams. I look up and see my house. At least he had the decency to drive me home. I stop for a moment and laugh at my thought of decency.
The house is empty when I open the door, so I saunter up the stairs and into my bedroom. The first thing I notice is a picture from sitting on my bedside table. It holds a picture of Brian and I with a few of our friends. Everyone is smiling and hugging each other. The picture frame slips from my grip and breaks on the table. The light from a nearby street lamp sneaks into my window and catches a broken piece of glass that fell to the floor. I pick it up and wrap my hands around it, feeling the chilly smoothness of it as it begins to turn red. It reminds me of a thin piece of ice, dripping red water down my arm as it melts and forming small puddles on the floor near my feet.
I move the glass lower with one hand while staring at my reflection in its surface. My reflection blinks and the fire I felt earlier in the night reappears, scorching my veins slowly but steadily. My reflection blinks again. This time I feel not only the fire, but icy numbness like the piece of glass I’m still gripping in my hand. I continue to stare at my reflection, but it seems to be evaporating. My reflection blinks a third time, and all I can see is the blackness of my pupil in the glass. I can no longer feel the fire on my skin.