There was nowhere to go. Perhaps he had. His eyes followed the familiar path of processed steel, twisted into shape around the curves of the wall and covered with the orange rust after years of running water dripping from above.
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Soon, this place would be more treacherous and dangerous than now. Even covered in the gooey filth, the tunnels were considered dry at the moment. Slowly, his thin lips turned down into a puzzled frown and his bushy eyebrows formed that gray bridge across his face.
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He pushed Peter back, moving to the ladder and swinging himself up onto the lowest rung, his gloved hands reaching up to pull at the lever that loosened the brake and let the rest fall down. His fingers merely ghosted across the metal before his balance was lost, the ladder grinding with a scream of long-awaited agony and breaking off to the right.
Winston jumped, stumbling backwards as the rusted metal swayed to a stop, the three remaining rungs breaking off from the cemented foundation, revealing a jagged-toothed smile. Peter blinked, stunned at the movement and opened his mouth to say something stupid and inconsequential. Winston cut him off with a sharp gesture and quickly pushed him out of the way, crouching down to look at the base of the side bars.
Winston regained some of his calm, his eyes rolling and knees grinding as he stood straight again. But by who. Who broke it? Even one as old as this. Look at the inside. Something had moved in the tunnels behind.
He stepped forward, looking around, gazing at the sharp-edged corners from where the tunnel had been bricked over a decade or so past. Then, Peter yelled. Winston spun, water splashing high and soaking his clothes, to stare at the scene behind him. The thing was between him and Peter. They blocked it in. Its grayskinned body was covered in something that he supposed was clothing, hanging in dragging, dripping tatters.
It crouched in the water, one hand raised and what Winston realized were talons extended in an effort to ward them off.
Peter shrieked again as it jerked as if to lunge and his flashlight came down, directed at the creature. Immediately it hissed, scrambling back and shoving itself into the lip of the flood tunnel behind. Winston rushed forward, mimicking his companion and angling his beam to show the shape cowering from them. It flinched with the light, a soft whine coming from its throat, hands pawing at its dull colorless eyes as if in pain. He stared at the creature in absolute shock, expecting with each blink to wake up in a mad house. This must have been what had broken the ladder.
This is what Peter had heard splashing behind them. But what the hell was it?
A bat boy? He snorted, shakily smiling at the thought. I turn the water on and off I scrub at the plate, the pesky stain mocks me. If I get it out, Will he love me again? Birds pass by the window and I scowl. I take out my gun and shoot them down, watching them smack against the pavement. The oven drones, beeping, reminding me of my duties. Running water Scalding Immersed in a light pink pool I try to find renewal The bathroom ceiling blurs from the bottom of a tub Bubble bath stings deep into my eyes but they remain open I will bear witness to myself Feeling the weight called choice squeezing my lungs a burning desire to let the water in to be filled with something stronger than the nothing I feel.
I know it gets better. An easy smile Hope for tomorrow Midnight walks through moon-lit parks A cup of coffee and a well-worn book. A future worth lifting my head up for. We are all self consumed and I am no longer ashamed. The sound and the fog and the room itself spun together in front of her as she stumbled down the hallway to the small door that led to the bathroom. Knocking hard to make sure no one was occupying it, she pushed open the door that had a tendency to stick, nearly fell inside, and shut the door again.
The music and noises of people became a dull roar though the ground still shook. The light in the bathroom was too bright, nearly blinding her as it reflected off the large mirror and into her eyes. The white counter was filled with clutter — soaps, hair products, perfumes, bobby pins. Her feet sunk into the bright pink rug in front of the sink.
She reached into a drawer and pulled out a box. Fumbling, like her hands were too heavy for the rest of her and her fingers no longer had feeling, she ripped open the cardboard and removed the sealed plastic inside. She found a cup in amongst the clutter and filled it with water from the tap, swallowing a sip once before popping the pills in her mouth to swallow with another gulp of water. Most of her third sip of water went down her shirt. The rest she poured down the drain, slamming the plastic cup back on the counter. She had begun to take the pills when she was a senior in high school.
She had told her mother that the school nurse recommended them. Now they were what she looked forward to — an escape from pain and inadequacy; a way to be swallowed by darkness and carried to dreams where her life could be better. But sometimes nightmares were easier to deal with than life.
Her reflection caught her attention. She leaned forward, placing both hands on the white ceramic, nearly touching her nose to the mirror as she lost her balance for a second. Her mouth widened into a smile that in her state looked more like a lunatic grin. Her eye makeup, that had been overdone to begin with, had begun to run making her eyes look like they were stuck in black holes. Her lipstick had smeared in places, her hair hung about her shoulders in little strands, and her whole body seemed to shine with sweat.
She was missing an earring.
She laughed hard as she swiped a hand across the mirror to distance herself from the face staring back at her and tripped back into the hallway. Passing by a number of closed doors with moaning going on behind. Her legs felt like someone was tugging on her ankles, dragging her down and holding her to the floor.
Eventually, she was able to collapse on top of the quilt, turn over on her side, and finally close her eyes, feeling darkness washing over all her senses. The music downstairs stopped. The bell rang and all the students got up from their seats. They had already packed their bags ten minutes earlier, less stealthily than they thought. She plodded along behind them slowly, knowing that no car was waiting for her — no friendly voices to teasingly invite her along. The parking lot quickly cleared and quiet enveloped her. She began to walk. She sat cross-legged on the couch in the middle of the room.
A half-empty microwave meal container was on the floor at her feet, where it had been for the past two hours. She heard the door open behind her and light feet tramp across the room and up the stairs — her mother, home from work at the hospital. The door banged open, flooding light and sound into the room. The couple quickly stopped giggling and began to step back out into the hallway, whispering to each other.
One of them slowly began to creep forward, and eventually tugged the blankets up and over her body. A pillow was gently placed under her head. They shut off the light and closed the door. Darkness washed again. High pitched laughter surrounded her on all sides. She had failed, again, at the young art of traversing the monkey bars. Only two swings in, she had fallen flat on her backside, kicking the wind out of her.
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As she rose to her feet, a foam ball hit her square across her head, nearly knocking her over. When she turned to look for the culprit, all she saw was a mass of her second-grade classmates, all pointing and laughing. Calling her names. Pounding into her heart that she was not good enough for them. Her hands curled into fists and she rushed at them swinging, trying to get the noises to stop.
A large hand grabbed hers hard, stopping her in her tracks — the playground supervisor. The children scattered. Suddenly a large, mean looking face was too close to her, yelling.
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The grip around her wrist got tighter and tighter. She began to cry, but this did nothing to stop the punishment. Someone was crawling into bed with her. They pulled the covers open. She felt weightless, and then she was moving.