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I have been here before. Standing in the midst of ruin, both of my own making and that of time. There is blood on the walls and the dirty floor. It is pooled in the uneven places, mixing with the dirt, feeding the vines which have risen up through the concrete, crumbling floor and wall, cracking, breaking, reclaiming that which man thought would last forever.
I am not afraid. And I am not sorry. Just as before, it was justified. Just as before, those that I have punished bought my vengeance with their sins. Just as before, I was compelled to speak – and kill – for the dead.
If anything is different, it is simply that I have done this in an effort to save myself. Last time I did not care what happened to me; the world without Roxy was cold and dark. This time, there is another, and it is her sense of betrayal that I seek to appease.
She came to me and there was no escaping her. Her rage is overshadowed by her insanity. Her fury has become the demon that hunts me, day and night, driving me forward, looking for the sacrifice that will slake her terrible thirst. I know, even as the blood begins to cool, that I have not yet found the source of her pain. Maybe I never will.
I remember the first run after my death, flying through the woods near my parent’s new house in Southern Illinois. I was lost; Roxy was gone. Grendel was behind us and my future was a black hole of the unknown; nothing had turned out as I had planned. The feeling of not knowing – and not caring – was driving me out of my mind.
I could have outed Daniel’s lies. I could have told them, as I’d told him, and given myself to prison or a mental institution. Had I been able to speak when Edgar Dean brought me back, I would have. I was still strong with fury, still a warrior. But, as the hours ticked by, Roxy’s presence so absent, the space left behind so cold, that my fierceness faded. I sank back into myself, full of sorrow, plagued by nightmares I couldn’t remember when I woke. I fell into a quiet sort of indifference. I did not eat unless prompted, spoke in single words and only in response to direct – often repeated – questions. I spent my days sitting on the porch, staring out at the woods. I spent my nights sitting by the window in my bedroom, staring out into the darkness. Nothing mattered. I was an instrument. I had been born to avenge Roxy. And I had outlived my purpose.
The dreams often tore me from what thin, unrested sleep I managed, screaming and flailing at my bedclothes like a mad thing. My parents would run to me, faces pinched and white, their helplessness written in the lines of their faces and the unshed tears in their eyes. But none of that was what drove me into the forest that first time. It was the thing that came to me after a nightmare, one I’d managed to escape without my usual bout of screaming.
It felt like a memory, but, at the same time, it wasn’t my memory. It was unfamiliar, an alien that highjacked my mind and twisted me to its will.
I sat up, springing out of sleep as if someone had just shouted in my ear, and, for a moment, all I could see was a long, wooden dock hanging like a tongue over the glassy, black water of a lake. My stomach dropped. I was filled with the sense that I knew this place, but, at the same time, I knew I’d never been away from the flat, featureless landscape of Illinois cornfields or seen a lake in which the water was the color of midnight.
I looked up, fingers pressing against my temples, and, for a singular moment, I thought there was a girl standing there on the dock. She was pretty, in a solid sort of way. She was a girl with shape. Hips and breasts, a rounded, curving line that would never have fit on a runway, but there was a beauty to her that had nothing to do with societal expectations. She was the sort of girl to whom the phrase ‘timeless beauty’ referred because there was nothing and no one that could make her less. Her dark eyes were framed by heavy, black lashes, her black hair hung over her shoulder in a thick braid, and, like the lake, I knew her, but I did not know her at the same time.
I wasn’t afraid. I did not even believe what I was seeing was anything more than a strange hallucination. I simply could not accept these visions in the same place as my need for Roxy, grief over losing her, and the empty hole of her absence which, unpleasant though it might be, I did not want to fill. I did not decide on a course of action. I was out of bed before I could even consider what I was doing.
My room was more storage space than home. There were boxes along one wall and, with the exception of my bed, there was no sign that anyone lived there. Each box was labeled in my mother’s neat hand. I was opening the one labeled ‘running’ and pulling on sports bra, tights, and shirt before I remembered it was still dark out, but this did not make me pause. I pulled on my shoes and fled from the room, my old pain, and this new, strange development which felt as though there was some purpose behind it.
A full moon spilled silvery light over the yard and the forest beyond. It was early spring, so the trees were still bare. I paused once at the edge of the forest, not out of fear, but surprise; I’d crossed right to a trail that I must have already, on some level, known was there. Which meant that I’d been prepared for this night.
Then I was running. And it hurt like hell. My lungs burned. My legs quickly grew tired and turned to cement. I was forced to stop and walk before I was completely out of sight of my parent’s house, its white sides practically glowing in the moonlight.
I had a choice in that moment. I could turn around, go back to my room, and drown in my unhappiness – and I knew right then that I would drown in it, that choosing that path meant turning my back on life entirely. Or I could fight on, through the chilly air, through the physical discomfort, onward to something else.
I stood for a moment, aware of the soft creak of trees, aware that my tights were a little too loose – I’d lost both muscle and weight – aware of the weight of my running shoes, unfamiliar, like they were brand new again. There was a heavy sort of quiet around me, as if the world was holding its breath, waiting. And then I moved forward, deeper into the forest. Onward. And the parts of me that had been asleep for nearly nine months began to wake up. And even though I was not yet obsessed, I was thinking about the lake. I was thinking about the girl.
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