My face winces as his hand rises above his head. “Now will you shut up?” he bellows as he smashes his fist into the table in front of me. I nod my head rapidly with my mouth glued shut. Maurice, my foster Father walks over to the kitchen to break open another beer, making me flinch at the crack against the marble counter.
I watch his gorilla like knuckles wrap around the bottle and his bristly beard catch the fallen droplets of liquor, and a spark emerges from within me. It’s not born of fear or despair. Those feeling have long since become factory settings for my life at home. What flickers inside me is a spark of creativity.
The sight for sour eyes lain before me, is instead replaced by a vision of Barrack. Every melding colour and fantastical beast that dances around me is only in existence here - they only become real when my eyes are shut, and everything in the real world turns into fiction.
I travel through the mythical world that I created for my story, passing the battles of the Yer and the Dragons’ work union in the throes of another tireless debate. But I don’t stop until the flashes of Sir Montgomery’s office come into sight. I see the brown curls hair-gelled to his scalp and his perfect all-powerful posture that dominates every room he enters.
His voice doesn’t flitter from its gravelly monotone while he mercilessly berates another one of his lackeys. Unaccompanied by a single blink, he then struts over to his desk and pops out the stopper in his decanter to pour the whiskey down his throat. He swallows it in one silent gulp and moves to his chair and onto the next heartless chore; without a care in the world for the grown man balled up in a snivelling mess three feet away from him.
A serene euphoria whirls in my head and my muscles let go of every emotion they were attached to; the fantasy re-routing them out of reality. Maurice disappearing into a fictionalised world in my head.
I tumble out of my imagination at the ring of the doorbell. I leap from my seat and hurry to the door to avoid Maurice’s bark of command.
I’m almost more terrified of his wrath than that of the Hooded Man... Almost. At least Maurice’s threats are empty.
I swing the door open; the word “hi” doesn’t manage to leave my lips before I’m interrupted.
“Let’s make this quick, I have other things that I actually wanna do,” Evan grunts as he pushes past me and strides up the stairs. I catch the alluring scent on his olive field jacket when he brushes past and my heart quickens as if his aftershave was laced with ecstasy. I draw that forgotten feeling deep into my lungs with a breath before I follow him into my room.
“This isn’t exactly a treat for me either, Evan,” I say as I move towards my desk and flick my slick violet hair over my shoulder. He sits on my bed with his arms rested on his knees and twitches his puckered nose.
“I thought people like you go crazy for projects like this,” he says rigidly, sliding one hand onto his knee and the other into his already ruffled hair.
My fingernails dig into my thigh as I try and keep my face neutral. I grab the first book on my desk, plop it on top of my flared indigo skirt, and start to flick through it with a focused stare. I can cope with a hundred other people treating me far worse, but for Evan to talk to me like this; like I’m no one, like it was just a guess that I love history… It’s not so easy to sit through.
After the long silence my muscles ease and I steal a glance at him. I scrunch my nose slightly at his relaxed posture. He sits with his legs crossed, being absorbed by the thickness of my lilac duvet and he’s facing the wall; his eyes studying my drawings that are sporadically tapped to it with a strange fixation.
I stare at him for a moment, slightly in awe at his softened demeanour. As his enthralled gaze moves from one drawing to another, a warmth bubbles over in my stomach with the touch of something I hadn’t felt in his presence for years.
His eyes flicker over to mine from the side and he quickly returns them to his lap. He shakes his head in a way to dismiss that he’d been caught and stretches to lie back on the bed, pulling his arms up to rest his head on.
“Are those holding books or reading books? Cause I don’t hear a whole lot of pages being turned.”
A sigh escapes me as the warm sensation in my stomach curdles over. I give one last glance at his eyes, now travelling over the ceiling, to check for the glaze that always covered them like contacts. I don’t need a second to see it. The coldness is back.
My eyes switch back to the book with disappointment tugging at my eyebrows, and my head wanders to the day we first met.
“You gonna eat that?” a 7 year old Evan queried after he had ventured away from the crowd of children and tripped over the wood chips at the sight of my 8 inch smarty cookie.
“We can half it,” I chirped in reply as my hand shot out at him. He took it from me with a goofy grin and twisted his foot over the gravel. “I didn’t really want the cookie…” He mumbled, head glued to his still shuffling foot. “Billy told me that’s how you talk to girls.”
“Billy sounds like an idiot to me,” I giggled at him playfully. I wasn’t used to talking to people my own age. They never really bothered to try.
He plopped onto the swing next to me and his fingers scratched at the rust on the chains. For a second we just stared into each other. And then, almost like something linked up in his head, he burst into a wind breaking snigger.
Through the breath breaks in his laughter he said “your nose goes red like Rudolph’s when you laugh.”
“Hey Rudolph, why are you laughing?” Evan’s curiosity rips me from my memories and I freeze with my bottom lip hanging. “Hello?” he questions again, his body held upright by his elbows.
“Why don’t you just go home? I’ll put your name on it,” I suggest to him and slam the book shut, returning it to the side. His light eyebrows furrow, a moment of concern grapples at the fractured innocence on his boyish face. A brief veil of the person he used to be masks his sourness; before he abruptly rips it away, only to be left with a stoic stare.
He jumps from my bed and without a reply he exits my room. A second later I hear the front door slam shut.
Before my heart can sink from his absence, I pull my hip-length hair into a loose bun, hop into bed and lift my computer to its usual spot on my lap - with a twinkle lightening my chocolaty eyes.
Maybe I can’t have a nice night but Yannie sure can. All I have to do is write her next adventure. My fingers dart over the keyboard as a whirlwind of ideas erupts in my head. The sea of Barrack washes over me and the waves of creativity hurtles me out of my tired reality. In this moment, I am no longer Elena the doormat; I am Elena the writer. And no one can take that away from me.
I wake up in a flurry of confusion and grey air. There’s tower in front of me. One that reaches so far beyond the sky; it’s as indistinguishable as the edge of the atmosphere. Its sides are a blockade that stretch so far in the distance that there’s no suggestion of anything else in existence. No matter how far I move back, the image stays the same.
I turn tail with more energy in my legs than a deer fleeing from the blood lust of a coyote. But just like the deer my legs can’t bring me to freedom; even if I run until my muscles snap. Just like the deer… I’m trapped.
A tsunami rages inside my stomach and my limbs tremble in the ceasing of my attempted escape. I have to stop, there’s no use in running when it won’t move me an inch. With hesitance, I allow my senses to take in the setting around me.
I spin around to inspect the walls and notice their likeness to be less of stone and more of blocks of dense ash. The deep menacing cracks that are slit down over every other slab seem to ooze a murky green gas. I lift my nose to inhale and a stench of a grave yard’s worth of rotten flesh seeps into my lungs. I grab at my nose to relive me of the devastating smell but it’s already stuck to my chest. It forms an indescribable taste of decay in the back of my throat that starts to play with my gag reflex; until my disgust is ripped away by something that I find far more horrifying.
A whirling tornado of greys and blacks hangs over head, with an ominous threat to inhale anything below it. But that fear is too stripped away when the maniacal laugh begins to echo tauntingly from within the cyclone. Before I get a chance to react, the swirling greys and blacks start to descend. I try another fruitless attempt at escape while the clouds separate to close in on me. I tear into my ever faster sprint until everything that surrounds me is immersed in a thick fog; the sinister laugh now so loud it knocks the movement from my feet. I shudder and snap my head in all directions but I can’t decipher where the sound is coming from.
A deep whisper intertwines with the mist and the threats that hiss from every direction break me down to the floor. With my hair in my fists, my knees sink into the mud and I stare down at the empty ground with tears blurring my vision. The black hole that consumes the ground below me becomes clearer as the fog starts to rescind towards something in front of me.
The beast of pure fear corrupts my body with uncertainty pacing every breath. My hands lock my head in a vice-like grip, as close as they can hold it towards the bottomless black chasm beneath me. I could fall for eternity and never reach the end of the void, but any sight is better than to reveal what is in front of me… What screams at me to release my grip and allow my head to look upward.
Without command, almost as if I’m no longer in control of my body, my hands fall to my side. In the absence of my anchor my head is drawn up towards the sentient gathering of the smoky mist. What stands before me turns my skin to stone; with a power over my body that only Medusa could posses.
The mouldy green hood emerges from the mist and the shadowed face beneath it erupts a trembling shudder from within me. If I could muster a single sound I would beg for Medusa and her head full of snakes to appear instead. Though without any feeling in my lungs, I use my last drop of hope on a silent prayer.
But the picture doesn’t change. It’s still him.
It’s still the hooded man.
He stands tall, with fists clenched at his sides and eyes I can’t see that bore into me with a dominating rage. Every muscle in his body is stiff. He’s an immovable hulk with shoulders stretching as wide as my arm span and the only part of him that even flinches is his chest. It pumps up and down as each dragged out breath imitates the bellow of a bull.
His deep growl and immense torso start to fade beneath the cloud, as the mist creeps past him to get to me. It slowly circles… Taunting while it begins to gradually encloses around me. Its gaseous fists wrap around me with omnipotent force and clench tighter around me every second. My lungs become more and more constricted and every fibre of freedom I had left is obstructed. I wail, without a sound escaping my lips while its grip on me increases further and further, until I am condensed to nothing but my mind, and sealed inside a coffin of my worst nightmares.
“Elena, what is wrong with you?! You’ve been shouting about all sorts!” I awake, being ripped from my dreams, to my foster mother’s scowl hovering above me. “Maurice and I have work tomorrow you know, we don’t have time to deal with your little pleas for attention at 3 in the morning.” I pinch my eyes shut to deter any tears that wish to appear, but the angry wrinkles on her forehead scrunch tighter.
“Fine. Don’t apologise. Just keep looking at me like I’m the one that disturbed your sleep,” she scoffs before she marches towards the doorway like a drill sergeant that had just finished a good scalding. “If I have to get up again, you won’t leave this room for a week,” she emphasises with a final say chop of the air.
The door slams shut and my head falls onto my shoulder as the tears silently flow from my eyes. They know about my nightmares… They even know about the hooded man. But nobody cares about that anymore. The media sensation died down and now it’s all old news.
No one cares that I’m a wreck and they don’t care that he’s still out there, that he got away. He gets to live his life like nothing happened while I’m ruined forever.
I dig my nails deeply into my knuckles until they turn purple and let every tear held inside fall onto my pillow. The cotton beneath my head dampens as I cling onto my duvet like it’s the edge of a cliff and pant with a silent force.
After a while my flow of tears runs dry and my bloodshot eyes sting with every blink. My eyelids come together slower and slower until they can’t open anymore and I start to drift back into my nightmares with a sniffle.
“Elena babe, you’re gonna be late for school.” Esther gently nudges my shoulder with her delicate hand and I fling my head around to face her.
“How’d you get in my room?” I mutter through blocked sinuses.
“The foster parasites left for work and I broke in through the window,” she shrugs nonchalantly and flicks her thick caramel hair out of her pale face to get a clearer look at me. “You’re kidding me? You still get those nightmares?” she falters, dropping to the floor with sympathy filling her eyes and concern that twitches her slender nose. I nod, my mouth filled with my cotton sleeve and she sighs condolingly. “Come on, get in the shower and get dressed. At least school’s a distraction,” she commands me as I roll my eyes and drag myself from my bed to get ready.
I roll down the window of Esther’s Ford and stick my head out to let the strong breeze knock away my senses, but Esther grabs a hold of my arm and pulls me back in. “I know what you’re doing,” she declares with her eyebrows raised.
She focuses on the road whilst lecturing me with an omniscient tone, “you can’t ignore the world you know. It’s here for you to live in.”
“I thought it was here to die in,” I roll my eyes over to her with a sarcastic smirk.
She mirrors my expression and switches her eyes from the road. “Since when were you such a downer?”
“Well… My foster parents are demons in disguise, one of the people I cared about most seems to hate me and my only real friend is a 25 year old know it all that works with drunks for a living.”
“Hey I don’t work with drunks. They’re like my pigs and I’m the farmer that feeds them their slop,” she defends as she swerves around the bend. “HEY BUTTWIPE MOVE YOUR ASS WILL YOU?” she shrieks out the window, making me jolt in my seat.
“ I swear to Lucifer, if I miss my shift at the bar because of that tramp, I’m going to track her down and slash her tyres in the shape of a swastika! Damn selfish Nazi.”
“She was like 70 years old Ess,” I giggle. “Maybe instead of work, you should check out an anger management group.”
“Oh shut up baby Lannie.”
“You shut up oldie Essie,” I retort whilst I slide over the grey leather seat to step out of the car. I turn to face her, pulling my violet skirt to cover my well-fleshed thighs and return the wide smile thrown at me.
I can’t help but feel a little lost at the sight of the car inching away from me. Esther’s comfort drives away alongside it, and my stomach tightens at the thought of being left to my own survival.
As the sound of her tyres running over the gravel fades, Brian Myer slides over to me and flirtatiously hip bumps me from the side. “What’s cookin’, plum puddin’?” he winks with a grin wide enough to catch a nest of hornets.
“Please stop calling me that,” I roll my eyes dismissively and walk away from him. He stops in his place for a second, but jogs to catch up to me before I get too far ahead.
“Wake up on the wrong bed this morning Plumy?” he mocks, fingers running through his styled gelled hair.
“Wrong bed?” I keep my tone distant and my eyes focused forward. I know Brian and if I show any kind of interest in him, he will latch on to me with the thirst of a vampire-leech.
“Well yeah, I mean it wasn’t mine…” He laughs like a baboon in response to his own joke which makes me groan in annoyance.
I try to turn the other way to get to my class but before I can, Brian grabs a hold of my arm and spins me back around to face him. He steps closer towards me, his cologne now close enough for me to choke on. Even though my head wishes I would push him away, or knee him in the groin… Or even just turn my back to him, I don’t move an inch.
“You can’t ignore me forever plumb,” he whispers, stepping closer still. He stares down at me with seduction in his eyes and his mouth rises into an exaggerated lopsided smile, “After all, our parents seem to want what I want.” He leans his head in so that his nose hovers above mine. And with a cocky flutter of his eyebrows he adds, “wear something pretty tonight doll.”
I snatch my arm from his grip and snarl at him, “they are not my parents!” I glare at him for a second, then storm away with fury and confusion playing tug of war in my head.
I plop down on the first available seat I see, cross my arms over my chest and grind my teeth in frustration. “Why does everyone treat me like a damn house pet?!”
“Because you let them.”
I jerk my head towards the person next to me and instantly jerk it back towards my lap, pursing my lips with embarrassment.
“I could call you a freakin’ necrophiliac, Satanist that has the social appeal of a spider and you would just sit there, with your puppy dog eyes and take it,” Evan mocks as he relaxes back into his chair. I take a silent breath, tense my shoulders and lift my head back towards him.
“I’d take my way over your way any day,” I declare with a turned up nose.
He responds with laughter. But it seems to represent something more. He’s not just laughing at me, he’s laughing at my naivety.
Is it so stupid to think that I can live life in my own non-confrontational way? Am I naïve?
I start to analyse his features and I notice a hint of something I’m not sure I recognise. His dirty blonde hair has the same careless flip and the dimples on his cheeks display the same detachment that I’m used to, but the glint in his eyes shows no intent to hurt. Without a sign of malice, I’m left to wonder why it is that he said what he said.
Evan turns his head to the paper in front of him and I do the same. I pull my chair into the desk so that the curved edge digs into my ribs and slouch over it; letting my hair fall from behind my ear to create a curtain over my periphery. I can feel every time Evan’s eyes wander over to me and I don’t need the distraction. I’m in my element right now. I’m in creative writing.
For the rest of the day I have to sit through tedious gossip and irrelevant nonsense. In Biology it was a twenty minute conversation about some girl called Lucy and her out-of-style nail polish. Meanwhile I was left to do the experiment alone. And the teacher in Math had an urgent meeting so the class was free to start a full scale debate on the best way to eat mashed potato. Needless to say I didn’t get a whole lot of work done.
The final bell echoes through the school. I’m free. I am finally free from this whirlpool of hormones and horn-dogs, and I couldn’t be more relieved that Esther is the one meeting me in the parking lot.
“So, gossip me. What happened?” Esther chants with enthusiasm as she pulls out of the school car park. Her bright eyes slightly sunken by the stress of a day’s work, but her face still lit up at the prospect of a juicy story.
“Why do you assume something happened?”
“Your face tells all.”
“ So come on, is it the hell-bred hunk we’re dealing with here?” snorts Esther.
“Worse. Brian Myers told me our parents want what he wants. Like what the hell does that even mean?” I flail my arms in a huff.
“Damn babe, that’s real shit.”
“I know right! It’s gonna bug me all night trying to figure it out.”
“No, I meant being referred to as the spawn of the Satan twins,” she cringes, encouraging an amused smile to form on my face.
I pause, the smile still smeared across my face as I stare over at her. “God I love you.”