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She could hear the scrapes of shoes as they walked up to her bed. She could smell the dirty, electric air wash over her cool fragile body.
She didn’t move from her tense state, staying completely frozen in the confounds of her small, uncomfortable bed. She wouldn’t call it a bed exactly, more like a mattress on top of metal slabs. It creaked and groaned with each push of pressure.
“Despicable, worthless excuse of a woman,” he said. Kara tensed even more, fighting the tears and the rage that rattled her bones. She didn’t dare move, knowing that if she did, he’d likely hit her. She was already sore as he bruised her ribs a few days before - her breathing was still shallow from the punches. She remained still and accepted the fear that had settled in.
“Spineless and weak,” Ren spat at her. She grounded her teeth together, opened and closed her fists until her breathing slowed. Kara could hear him pacing now, staring daggers into her useless frame. She was shaking, shivering in the cool, dry air.
“What do you want, Ren?” she whispered. The terror in her voice was evident and she knew that he was taking much joy in her discomfort.
“I want to know why you are still here. I told you to leave, for good. Just like your family, your sister, you’re nothing. You don’t listen, you don’t do any good, you do nothing because you are nothing.” He moved closer to her with each horrible thing he said to her. She tried, she really tried so damn hard to ignore his comments. She tried to not let them affect her; tried to block out the negativity, the lies.
“You’re wrong. I’m a good person who does things to make a difference.” She had rolled over then and was sitting up to stare back at him. There was only dry, blank humor in his eyes, she almost recoiled at his expression.
He began to pace again, his fingers to his lips as if he were thinking really hard. She knew it was just a show, something to trick her into thinking that she would change his mind about her. Her face turned red, nearly falling for his act once again. She attempted to square her shoulders and lift her chin, but he spun to her and laughed dryly.
“Don’t try to act like you’re strong, that you can fight this.” He moved until he was leaning over her, towering like some forgotten Greek god. She swallowed her fear. “I’m not leaving you. I like playing with you, you make a good pet, an excellent host for my games.” Her heart was pounding so hard she thought he could hear every pulse of blood being forced throughout her body. He gave her a deadly smile, as if he were reading her mind.
“Go away,” she said meekly. She tried to muster up the courage, but he was right. She was spineless and weak. She was just a person who failed at protecting her little sister. She couldn’t save her and now she couldn’t even save herself. Kara began to cry, her shoulders shaking slightly as she tried to hold it in. Ren scoffed at her, waving her off like she was a piece of trash floating through the street.
“No, and I don’t think you want me to.” He gripped her shoulders and lifted her to her feet, throwing her against the wall and watching as she slid to the ground, wrapping her arms around her exposed legs. The thin nightgown had provided little warmth and coverage to Kara. She could feel every cold inch of the wall, the floor, and his hands. Her vision blurred from the blow to her head and she could taste the bile in the back of her throat. He was still standing over her, making her feel small, like a coward. The words he had just said were slowly coming to the forefront of her brain. Her heart was hammering once again, looking at that handsome face, the one she’d come to love and need. She didn’t want to believe that was right, but as she looked at him, her cheeks flushed, and she felt the urge to crawl into his arms - the way a small child would her mother.
Kara stood up to face him and saw a flash of anger cross his face. She took a step back, and then paced to the other side of the room and glanced outside the small window. It was dark and cool, the wind pushing through the narrow slits of the wretched window. It was rusted over, and the metal was peeling down in oxidized shavings. When she turned around, Ren was gone, and a small cry escaped her lips. The loss was immediate, and she looked around the room a few more times before she felt her shoulders drop. The breath she didn’t know she was holding loosened slowly and she relaxed for the first time of the day. He had been at her side all day, whispering in her ear all the nasty and true things about herself.
Kara felt sick, like she needed Ren to come back and erase all the things he had said. She knew he wouldn’t, knew that he only spoke of the truth and nothing else. She had to just remember that, and everything would be fine. She sat back down on her bed and stared at the tiled floor. It was black and slippery, and she couldn’t wear slippers often enough to keep her feet warm. Kara rubbed her temples thinking through everything that was spat at her. The thoughts arose to her sister, who would have been nineteen in a few days. That is, if she hadn’t died three years ago. Bella was the light of Kara’s life - the person that Kara could always count on and vice versa. They did everything together - walked to school, shopped like girlfriends, and did make-up sessions every Friday night. Their relationship was surprising to many people. It was good and easy and fun, not at all like most families where the sisters would fight over clothes and accessories. Kara and Bella were best friends. When Bella died, Kara was blamed by Ren, who didn’t even know Bella. An opening pit emerged, and Kara leaned over to empty the contents of her stomach in the metal bin next to her bed. She groaned and curled up on her bed with the memory of Bella fresh in her head.
Bella, a little girl wearing a pink tutu with a wand in her hand. She shoved Kara into the frame of the camera that was set up in their living room. Kara was also wearing a pink tutu and had a silver wand in hand. They performed a messy ballet dance for their parents, who looked at them with such love and joy.
Bella, much older than the little girl in a tutu, rained powder and blush and sparkles over Kara’s petrified face. Bella’s caramel eyes lighting up in joy and amusement. Her laugh was like a chorus of chimes.
Kara holding Bella as they watched their childhood dog pass away. Bella’s small frame shaking with grief and Kara rubbing her arms to ease the pain. Bella’s nose was stuffy and pink. Kara flicked it gently, telling her sister about the Rainbow Bridge where poor old Tuddles would now live.
Kara saw the bright lights, felt the jolt, heard the high-pitched scream, and watched her family fall apart in flames. Kara smelling the gasoline, the smoke, and the blood. Bella begging Kara to not let her die. Kara achingly reaching her arm over broken glass to her sister.
Kara jolted awake to someone lightly kicking her bed. The thumps vibrated her entire body and she turned to see Ren standing there glaring at her and then the bin she had thrown up in. His ice blue eyes were sharp and narrowed. He leaned over her once again and whispered all the things she heard earlier in the day.
“Spineless?” he laughed, “Gutless is more like it. What? Were you thinking about Bella and how you killed her? Or where you thinking about the parents that cared and raised you, and you repay them with broken necks and internal bleeding? No, you were thinking about your pathetic life, wondering why you even try to live your life.” His voice was as soft as a whisper, too delicate and sweet- like honey dripping into warm tea on a cool fall day. She shivered and looked at him solemnly, stopping her throat from bobbing.
“You’re worthless. You’re just a used girl slowly breaking apart into nothing.” He leaned even closer and she could feel his warm breath tickling her ear. “Just admit it, Kara. You have nothing to give to this world. You have no use for living, no need to be.” His fingers moved her hair from her neck ever so softly and breathed in her scent. There was a bubble of rage rising ever so slightly to the surface of Kara’s brain. Her face flamed, with anger rather than desire, and her shivers turned to fury. Her breath was coming in and out in fast, quick motions, nearly covering the sound of his deadly charming voice. A quiet growl escaped her lips.
“Get out of my head!” she screamed with every ounce of pain and anger she could muster.
“Pathetic.” He stood suddenly, leaving her to feel the cold wind drift into her small room. He was gone again and this time she did not miss him. Her head was pounding, and she could feel every pulse through her temples. What was louder and more painful were the words that lingered in the air; whispers, chanting, mockery. Kara did all she could to drown out the noise, to find the peace within her head.
I’m dead because of you. You’re the one that got me killed. What happened to us? We were perfect sisters. You had it all, I had it all. I thought you loved me, thought you would protect me forever. I can’t live the rest of my life because you were driving the car that ended my happiness. You’re nothing to me. I may be dead, but you’re the one that is gone.
Kara began shaking, rocking back and forth while hugging her knees to her chest so tightly she nearly fainted from the blood restriction. She felt cold and hollow, agonizing at the truth. Her stomach twisted, and her head grew dizzy. There was nothing left for her and she wanted a release. She desperately wanted to feel warm and loved. Kara thought of Ren, and those striking blue eyes. She wanted to feel the warmth of his skin on hers, no matter harsh or soft. Whichever he gave her, it was warm and new, and something other than cold and hallow.
“Miss me already?” Ren smiled. He walked to the window and looked out it. He put his arms on the sill and breathed deeply. He was putting on a show once again. She didn’t care and walked towards him, putting her hand on his arm, leaning into his warmth. It wasn’t rare for him to let her do this. In between all the bad moments, she found his presence comforting, even if he was reminding her of her failures and telling her she’s nothing. Because right in that moment she felt alive and happy, completely content in standing at the cold window.
“Where do you want to go in life, Kara?” he asked softly. Kara didn’t have an answer. So, she stood there, with her head on his arm, and thought.
Kara remembered the night that changed her life like it was yesterday. Three years ago, one bad decision, just one quick moment, destroyed her. She shuddered, and her eyes slammed shut as if she could see the blaring headlights lighting the scene before her.
“Kara, you’re doing great sweetie. Don’t let your mother put you on edge. She’s just worried for your safety, is all.” Her dad said. Kara smiled at him while keeping her eyes on the road with her hands at ten and two, just like her instructor had taught her. She was getting her license in a few days and her family insisted on her driving them to and from dinner. She had her permit for about a year now, but she wasn’t ready to put it to the test until recently. She had gone through all the training with her personal instructor and took the city required classes. She was ready. Just two more days and she’d have her full license.
“Oh, please. Kara could pass this test in her sleep.” Bella said from the backseat. Kara looked at her in the rearview mirror and smiled. Bella was texting with one headphone in one ear and the other out, just like every other teenager would. Bella returned her smile when she looked up. Kara was grateful for her sister; she always had her back, no matter what. She was a year younger but had the confidence of a billionaire.
“Can we have music on?” Kara asked.
Her mother said, “No,” just as her father said, “Of course.” They used contradicting tones that told Kara that neither of her parents would give in easily. Her father turned around in his seat to give her mother a look. Her look was intimidating.
“Jocelyn, she’s fine. Have a little faith.” Her father said.
“It’s not her I’m worried about. It’s the other drivers.” Her mother replied. Kara rolled her eyes and kept her mouth in a tight line. Kara loved her mother, but it was an effort to not hand her a bottle of chill pills every three seconds. Kara didn’t understand why her mother was so worrisome. It wasn’t like Kara was completely new to driving. For the past month Kara has been driving her family everywhere they went together. They even started doing family trips to the grocery store once a week.
“Mom, seriously. Kara’s got this.” Bella was saying. Kara gripped the steering wheel tighter as the sound of her mother’s incredulous voice had started to put her on edge. Her father looked over at her and sighed.
“Alright, Quinten. Just one song.” Jocelyn said quietly. Her father leaned over with a smile on his face and turned the stereo on. They bobbed their heads to a pop song while Kara continued to drive them home. Bella decided to take her headphones completely out and began singing to the tune quietly. Kara had never heard the song before. She wasn’t into pop music, but she knew that her sister was, and her mother didn’t mind it.
Kara sat up straighter, her eyes in a hundred places at once as the sun had completely set. Her fingers tapped on the steering wheel to the beat when she heard screeching over the song. Headlights shinned brightly in their faces as they suddenly illuminated the inside of their car. Kara couldn’t see anything other than the swerving car heading straight for them at an incredible pace. Kara could feel the blood drip from her face, leaving her with iciness as fear set in.
He didn’t move, not to push her away or hold her. Kara blinked into the night, thinking of all the things she could’ve done in the past three years alone. Her mind went to Bella, to her bloodied and broken body, lying crooked on the cement and crying out for Kara. But Kara was also lying on the cement, her body also bloodied, broken, and crooked, angling in ways that should not have been possible. Kara could still hear the cries and screams of her little sister echoing in her ears like a ticking time bomb. She could remember when Bella’s eyes slanted to a close, never to open again. She would never smile at Kara or do her make-up for her. She would never walk the same hallways in school with her or give her painting tips again.
Kara could then hear her own piercing screams, yelling at Bella to open her eyes. She could feel the scrape of cement and glass as she desperately tried to haul herself over the debris to Bella. She could smell the gas and overall the metallic scent of blood. A lone tear ran down Kara’s face, and then realized that Ren was gone once again.
You broken, broken girl. Why would you do this to our family, Kara? We gave you everything you could ever want, and you take our lives away? We trusted that you’d be there for Bella, and now we are all dead, and you are gone. Broken and useless and pathetic.
Kara groaned at the words whispering in her ears, she shoved her fingers in the holes, attempting to block them out. It was fruitless, even when she drew blood. She told herself the words weren’t true, that everything she heard was a lie. Even if the voice sounded like her father’s, it couldn’t be true, he was dead. Lies, lies, lies!
“You could be free of this, you know.” Ren was standing in front of her again, she was so wrapped up in her thoughts that he kept disappearing and reappearing without her noticing.
“I can’t,” Kara let out in a sob. Her heart was still breaking, even three years later. She would never forget what happened, should never forget. She deserved this hell.
“Give in, Kara. Life will be so much easier. You’ll be happy again, at peace. Isn’t that what you want? To feel warm and comfort and peace?” His voice was honey sweet and every instinct in her screamed to get away, to remember who she was. His voice was alluring, and she was a moth to his flame. She swallowed and stood up to face that beautiful, dangerous face. His face turned grim.
“Let me help you, Kara.” Sweet and delicate and agonizing. She breathed, another step towards him.
“How?” she whispered. Another step. She was close enough to smell his breath, to taste the honey on his lips.
“The window is your only escape. Let it be,” he murmured back. He took a step back to allow her view to the window. Her sight was only focused on her escape, opening up for her like a flower in full bloom. It was shimmering in the early sunlight with the promise of fall. Full of hope and new life.
“The window?” She asked in confirmation. She didn’t dare take her eyes off the prize, off the sweet release of hollowness. She envisioned a transitioning: her dull brown hair would be vibrant with life again, and there would be light in her eyes again, and she breathe fresh air. She could feel the heat in her cheeks as she stood in the sun, soaking up as much as possible.
“Yes, my love, the window. Accept it, be warm again.” Honey, sun, peace.
She could see it now, the freedom. She could feel the wind in her hair and the sun on her face. She could hear the birds chirping and she could see the stars again. No more pain, no more suffering, just warmth and freedom. She took another slow step.
“Yes, the freedom. It’s right here, right for your taking. Only you can go and get it.” His lazy words stopped her in her tracks and she gazed up at him in curiosity.
“Won’t you come with me? I don’t want to be alone.”
His eyes turned hard and he bared his teeth in the most predatorial way. “You’ll always be alone. But at least this way you’ll be free.” His voice was almost a growl and she swallowed with a step back. His face was transforming into a monster, carving into sharp edges, no longer the smooth beautiful features she’d come to love over the long months of solitude. His eyes black as night, canines coming over his once soft lips. She let out a whimper and fell onto her bed and he towered over her once again, reminding her who was truly in control. His face was red with dark, sharp eyebrows. Kara felt the need to faint, to run, to do something. Just as quickly as she thought those words, she froze into place, the same way she had when Bella was screaming for her. She was numb, staring at something horrific and bloody. Kara did nothing as the demon-Ren clamped her shoulders and picked her up. She did not struggle or fight, she simply allowed him to throw her to the ground and step on her, crushing ribs in the process. She did not feel the pain that should have been there. She didn’t feel the burn of being thrown or the cold of the tiled floor. She felt nothing, became nothing, just as Ren had said. Just as Bella and her family had said. She closed her eyes.
Kara could hear the chanting again. She could hear her parents, Bella, and Ren’s voice chanting the truth into her ears. It was a pounding beat, almost as if it were a familiar song, a dissonant chorus of people. She rocked with each beat. Worthless. Forward. Killer. Backward. Pathetic. Forward. Spineless. Backward. Weak.
“You think I’m real, Kara? You think a real person would still be here, lending you a warm shoulder? Comfort? Peace?” He laughed without humor as she continued rocking. “I’m simply here as a part of your subconscious, allowing blame to be placed on something, to ease your guilt.” He spit the last word like it was dirty. “You coward.”
Kara screamed and screamed and screamed, louder with each second that went by. Her face was on fire as she choked on dry tears. Her body ached from the shaking and the rage behind the words she’ll never forget. She still felt the cracking of bones that were not her own, could smell the blood of her family. The door busted open, and there stood a familiar man, beautiful as ever - his eyes shining bright blue. He pulled a needle from behind his back, a pained look upon his face. Ren, standing beside her had begun to scream at the beautiful man with the same face, threatened him, even did as much to push him to the ground. The beautiful man did not move, and demon -Ren went through him, and smashed himself to the ground. Kara looked in horror, confusion, and hope. The beautiful man came for once again, brushing the hair back from her sweaty, but chilled face. Kara only cried and cried while the man with striking blue eyes held tightly onto her and pushed the syringe into her arm. She relaxed and as her eyes closed, she noticed Demon-Ren was gone, and the only thing she last felt was peace.
Darling, she heard. Darling, it’s time to wake up. It’s okay now, you’ll be better, happier. The voice was her mother’s. Wake up, darling. Be strong. We miss you, Bella misses you. It’s not your fault we died. The truck driver was drunk. It’s okay, it wasn’t your fault. You’re okay. Get up. Get up. Get up, my sweet darling.
And so, she did.
One year later
Kara opened her eyes and saw clearly for the one hundred and fifty-eighth day. She breathed clean, fresh air again. She heard the shuffling of shoes as they neared her bed and she tensed automatically before taking her mother’s advice and trusting that everything was okay. Kara turned over to see a man kneeling by her metal bedframe. He had bright, electric blue eyes. He looked at Kara with kindness as he smiled at her. He held his hand open for her to take. She did.
As Kara stood up, she looked at the room that had been her home for more than two years. She recognized the four grey walls, the window with rounded bars, and the metal door with the thin slit that gave her meals. She looked wide eyed at the man with sapphire eyes and he nodded to her. The door was open. She walked through it, through the hallway with other similar doors. She ignored the banging and the wailing of other patients. She kept her face forward, knowing exactly where they were taking her. She had a new sense of clarity within and she was determined to go home at last. She was told that if her therapist gave her the all-clear, she would be able to go home this week.
“Kara, after completing a series of tests, we have declared you fit to go home. You will still need to attend your regular check-ups with your therapist, but other than that, you are a free woman.” Kara looked up at the doctor that had the face of the man that tormented her for months. She looked at his eyes and found no trace of vengeance or coldness in them.
She smiled easily, no longer affected by the memories. “Thank you, Dr. Reynolds.”
He held his arms out for a hug. “Please, call me Sean.” She blushed, gave him the hug, and thanked him again.
“There’s someone here for you.”
“What?” Kara asked. She wasn’t aware that someone was coming to pick her up. All of her grandparents had passed when she was a child. She was now almost twenty-one and had nowhere to go or anyone to see. She was only instructed to meet with her therapist once a week to work out materialistic things like housing, school, food, and working. These things terrified Kara, gave her anxiety even just thinking about them. Sean nodded and put his hands behind his back, walking towards the bright exit door. Kara’s heart was pounding with each step, but she embraced it, ready for whatever the world had to throw at her this time.
“Yes, someone who claims to be your family. We didn’t have him on your file, but he said that he came from another family, one that adopted him at birth. He’s a bit older than you are, about seven years, I believe.” Sean stopped before the exit doors and held his hand up to stop her from leaving. “Kara, you have a brother.”
Kara looked through the window and saw a man sitting in a chair in the lobby. She blinked at him and tilted her head to get a better look. He must have seen the movement, because he stood up and gave her a crooked, goofy smile. She looked to Sean.
“I have a brother?” She asked in confirmation. Sean nodded and smiled, putting a light hand on her back to gently push her into the shimmering bright room. It was like breathing new air: clean and crisp. She stopped in front of her brother and did nothing but stare.
He had her eyes, he had their mother’s eyes, the one’s Bella had, and Kara’s heart stammered at seeing them again. They were light brown, like warm honey with specks of brilliant yellow. He had their father’s dark brown hair color that was also highlighted like a warm glow of sunlight. He was still smiling at her, spreading his freckles high across his face.
He stepped closer and eased his smile. “Oliver,” he pulled her in for a tight hug. She slowly wrapped her arms around him.
“Kara.” The corner of her lips curved into an easy smile.
© Cassidy Sommer May 2019
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