Now, walking on my way home I might not have been on my best frame of mind. My hand was bleeding and my sense of reality was crumbling. Both of which annoyed me, but strangely not as much as other people on campus staring at my bleeding hand. Many immediately came up to me and asked what had happened, tried to direct me to the on-campus clinic or otherwise attempted to help.
I thanked, ignored and ultimately fled these well-meaning helpers and started hiding my hand behind me as I walked in an attempt to appear more normal. So now I was a man with blood stains on his shirt and pants hiding one hand behind me as I walked. People I passed by were suitably creeped out, which was a small improvement, but hardly ideal. I saw people whispering to each other and trying not to stare as they walked by, one girl even reached for her cell phone and started dialing.
I did NOT look forward to explaining this to the police, nor the bits that preceded this, which is why I started avoiding people altogether. Taking alleys and unused routes, sneaking while watching my surroundings as well as hiding whenever someone passed by, which naturally only made me look extra suspicious.
It was in this state that I arrived home, wounded and wary, with dried blood on my hand and some of it staining my shirt and pants. My hand throbbed with dull pain and my legs were tired from all the walking, sneaking and crouching.
It was with exhausted relief that I entered my apartment, fumbling with the keys to avoid using my left hand. Grateful that somehow I had avoided the attention of the police, or any people I knew. I went in and closed the door behind me. Safe haven.
But then I noticed the lights were on, which meant at least one of my roommates was here. And with them came the sensation of mysterious familiarity; the eerie recognition of the unseen and unremembered. I paused for a moment, unsure of what to do.
Talia’s head appeared from the hall that led to the bedrooms. She was not smiling this time. My hand went behind my back, but she had noticed it, and immediately hurried towards me.
“Oh, shit! What happened?” She asked.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” I looked at my bloody hand again and reconsidered my lie. “I’ll be fine,” I corrected.
She ignored me, looking at my hand with a worried expression, biting her lip. “Go sit on the table, I’ll be right there,” she said, hurrying to the bathroom. I heard sounds of her rummaging on the cabinet as I stood on the threshold to the room, feeling numb. “It’s ok...” I started to say
“Sit,” Talia insisted, cutting me off as she returned carrying with a first aid. She did not take no for an answer, gently pushing me onto a chair at the table. She sat next to me and started cleaning my hand, first with disinfectant, then with face wipes. She did not say a word, quietly concentrating on what she was doing, and I had no idea how to react. The complete silence, her serious, unwavering expression. It only added to the strange feeling within me, that I could neither name nor explain. I felt unsettled and confused.
“I’m worried about you,” she said at last. She didn’t look at me as she said it, concentrating on my hand. There was another awkward silence, which she broke again. “How did this happen?”
I shrugged. “Why are you so worried?” I asked. “This makes no sense, I mean... I’m just your roommate, right? Why do you care so much?”
“It’s my choice whether to care about you or not,” she replied, frowning. “And why does that bother you so much anyway?”
I shook my head, gathering together all the thoughts that had been slowly coalescing throughout the day, trying to make them into something coherent. “There’s something wrong. People are not acting right! It’s… It’s fake.”
“Fake?” Her frown turned into a scowl and she stopped cleaning my hand, looking upset. I paused, trying to think of a different way to explain.
“You know… The teacher that gave me a test today, Mrs Higgins? It’s funny, but… I’ve always had sort of a crush on her.” I paused for a moment, feeling self-conscious before forcing myself to continue. “Not anything serious, I obviously knew it was never going anywhere… More like one of those idle flights of fancy you sometimes get. Harmless daydreaming.”
“And you’re telling me this because…?” She left the question hanging, looking at me with a serious and displeased expression.
“She came on to me today,” I said, looking away. “And I mean REALLY tried to make a pass. Straight out of a porno. It’s why I did this,” I waved my hurt hand, now wrapped in bandages.
“Do you always rip out your hand when someone proposes to you?,” she raised one perfect eyebrow. “Sorry, but I don’t see how any of these relate.”
“It doesn’t feel real,” I muttered as my self-control slacked its grip. “Beautiful women throwing themselves at me? Perfect house, perfect life... This is ridiculous! And I don’t deserve this. This is not real I know it… An illusion, a dream, something… I’ve forgotten something. But the time to wake up is coming closer, I know it. Creeping up on me, unavoidable. And when I wake up… There will be something horrible at the other side. Waiting for me to wake up. Something terrible and painful and…”
I swallowed hard and shivered, growing suddenly silent. Blood rushed through my ears as I fidgeted and rubbed my wounded hand, unconsciously, assembling my thoughts again. Talia kept staring at me from her seat. She quietly held my hand and prevented me from rubbing it. “So… You think this all a dream?” she asked quietly.
“Yes. And if I wake up... I know I’ll wish I was dead. I know it.” I finished, looking away.
Another clumsy silence settled on the apartment, filled with the distant noises of the city and the other apartments, as if coming from a faraway world. Then, very carefully and deliberately, Talia got up and slapped my face, hard enough to almost knock me from my seat.
I lifted my hand to my face in shock, and saw she was trembling, with anger or some strong emotion, and tears blossomed from the corner of her eyes, refusing to fall despite her furious blinking. She would not look away, choking a sob before she whispered, “no.”
“Why did you...” I started before being interrupted by her suddenly shouting.
“NO! You don’t get to do that.” She stopped, taking a deep breath that did little to calm her down. “This morning I woke you up before your test, I tried my best to cheer you up… When you come home with your hand bleeding I take care of you, and now you spit on my face? ” Her hands grabbed at my shoulders, pulling me face to face with her. “You think I’m nothing but a fake bimbo worshipping at your feet? Some sort of illusion fawning over you with no thought of my own?”
“I didn’t mean it like that...” I defended myself, but her grip on my shoulders tightened and she interrupted me again.
“You don’t get to do that!” She insisted, her lip quivering as she paused. “You don’t get to treat me like shit. And your really don’t get to talk like this… This talk of death and of… Of wanting to die. No!”
A pang of guilt rang through me before burying itself in my heart. “Sorry,” I muttered. She shook her head, looking down at her feet as her grip weakened.
“Is it so hard to believe that I like you?” Talia rubbed her eyes and looked back at me, unflinching, with eyes that were red, wet and full of earnest worry and indignation. “I DO care for you, Cody. And I don’t want… I’m not going to let you hurt yourself! No matter what you think, I… I don’t want to see you hurt. Or worse.”
Her words faltered now, and she looked away, her emotion subsiding as her shoulders sagged as she let go of my shoulders, hands balled into fists. I saw a lot in her at that moment of vulnerability: impotent anger, worry and need. It was so different from the Talia I knew, and it was because of me.
I put my hand on her shoulder in a clumsy attempt to comfort her, as I said, “Look, I didn’t want to hurt you like that. I’m sorry I feel this way. I.. I didn’t think things through.”
“I’m worried about you…” she spoke, looking up tentatively at me. Her body language was still hunched down and dejected, only her eyes had a spark of hope.
Her reply was to envelop me in a tight hug, her warm body pressing against mine, although any erotic effect was nullified by her wet cheek pressing against my neck. I gingerly embraced her back. “All I want is to make you happy,” she said.
Those words made me feel even sadder than before. “Why?” I asked, before I could stop myself. “Why is it you want so much for me to be happy?”
She hugged me tighter before speaking . “Why, why, why, that’s all you ask. Sometimes things just are, you know?” She let go of me and took a step back, collecting herself mentally before giving a small, embarrassed shrug. “I think you’re hot, did ever since I first saw you. And I also feel like there’s a big sadness in you, that makes me want to wrap you in a hug and protect you as hard as I could. I like teasing you and making you mad. Or happy. Or flustered. Whenever I get a reaction out of you my heart beats a little faster. It makes me feel happy, even when you get mad at me, and I know it’s dumb but I can’t help myself and… Ugh. Am I coming off too strong?” She glanced at me, before looking away quickly, her face flushed red. “This is lame. I had such a better plan to seduce you, but… Guess, I can kiss my chances goodbye now.”
“No,” I shook my head, slowly, not taking my eyes off her despite my fidgeting. “I mean… I’m flattered. Thanks.”
She smiled a little, growing a sliver more confident. “My cards are on the table now,” she said. Then she bit her lip, hesitating before playfully asking, “your move?”
“Umm… Wow,” I looked around nervously, until I found what I wanted. “I think I’ll go to the balcony to get some fresh air. I need to digest this.”
She looked uncertain for a moment, before accepting it with a nod. Her expression turned first into resignation, then a playful smile. She suddenly drew me close and, kissed my lips. It was brief, warm and just a little moist. When she drew her head back I could still feel that gentle warmth on my lips before my mind caught up with what was happening. “To help you decide,” she said. And her mischievous smile was back, just like always. It was Talia again, playfully winking at me.
I waited in the balcony for a moment or two, considering my options. Below me the city settled for the evening as the sun sank in the horizon. A few lights were popping up here and there as people returned from home and day turned into night.
It hurt, being caught between people who cared so much for me and this needling, constant sensation this was all wrong. My thoughts raced, but could only reach one conclusion. Unsure, I wavered on my plan, but no other alternative crossed my mind. So, with a final sigh of acceptance, I climbed over the balcony rail and threw myself off the building. Fifteen floors until the final stop on the pavement below.
As I fell, my mind went to the moment I would hit the ground. While falling there was nothing but adrenaline, and after I landed there would not be much of me in a state to feel or think anything. But, in between those two, there must be one terrible moment, exactly as my soft flesh and bone met the hard concrete at terminal velocity. One brief moment of violent pain, of terrible realization of how fragile I was before the hard world and the constants of gravity. A final clarity between life and death.
I never experienced that moment. My fall was abruptly slowed in the last few feet, allowing me to hit the ground as softly as an astronaut on the moon. In didn't get so much as a bruise. So much for the constants of gravity.
“Alright, that’s enough. I get it.” Said the woman in front of me, on the ground floor. “No need to throw a tantrum.”
The woman was dressed in yellow. A yellow hoodie zipped up, over a simple beige skirt that went down to her knees and sneakers on her feet, yellow as well. Her face, half-covered from the hoodie, was caked in elaborate stage makeup to look like a doll’s, and had long, dishevelled blond hair that clumped in knots like it hadn’t showered in a long time. She gave a lopsided grin as it approached me.
The thing from the theater. The creature from my nightmares, causing and embodying all I feared. I understood at once that it was responsible for what I had gone through. The monster that had broken my psyche with its very existence.
“I know a place around here that makes a great omelet,” it said, looking around and getting its bearings. Then it looked back at me with a wild grin. “I don’t know about you, but I could kill for a good omelet right now.”