Authors: Devan Sagliani
a short novel by
Laughing Crow Media copyright © 2015
All Rights Reserved.
Cover art by Dean Samed
“Death makes angels of us all
And gives us wings
Where we had shoulders
Smooth as raven's claws”
– Jim Morrison
Alexis could no longer feel her feet. The hot sun beat down on her as she listlessly shuffled forward, doing her best to simply stay conscious. The air felt like it was burning in her sore lungs as she sucked in a gulp at a time. A screech from somewhere above her caught her attention, reflexively causing her to jerk her eyes skyward. Overhead, two large, ugly vultures effortlessly circled her like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. The image reminded her of sitting in front of the old, antique television set at her grandmother's house watching Bugs Bunny.
They're not really there,
a voice in the back of her mind said, surprising her.
Just like the pixels on the television screen.
Nothing is real anymore.
She could no longer process what anything meant, not after what she'd seen. Flashbacks of the violence leaked through into her consciousness – a girl being stabbed again and again while she screamed, a young man writhing in agony as he was shot, a heavy fist hitting her over and over again – but she forced them out as quickly as they popped in. She'd shut down, gone into an animal state of flight for survival. There was still the wild panic climbing inside of her but no storm of thoughts to cloud her mind anymore, no distracting obsessive self-awareness to make her second guess her escape plan, just the strange, unfamiliar voice echoing in her empty mind.
You're only going to get this one chance,
the voice emphatically told her. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt it was right, but she was tired now, and every step was a battle.
Don't stop now or you will die a horrible death and no one will ever know what happened to you.
The muscles in her legs screamed with every step forward, having been pushed to the limit and beyond in the last twenty-four hours. She did her best to ignore the blinding pains in her body, pretending that she was a character in one of those “movie of the week” specials as she heroically trudged along. She told herself it was her will that moved her onward but the truth was she didn't know how she was doing it – and she didn't care. There would be time later to think about such things,
if she made it
. In the meanwhile everything had been reduced down to the essentials. All that mattered was that she somehow get back to the main highway and flag down a passing motorist. If she could do that she might stand a chance of surviving the hellish nightmare she'd fallen into. Then she could afford the luxury of contemplation. She was certain she would relive these harrowing moments again and again in her mind if she ever made it back home to Colorado.
No matter what happens now you will never be the same again
, the voice cautioned.
Not after knowing what they did to Christie, what they'll do to you if they catch you again.
They'd come down from Boulder on Spring Break, looking to get wild and blow off some steam, maybe even hook up with a cute guy from another school or better yet, an exotic local boy. Christie was more than just her roommate. In a lot of ways she'd become the big sister Alexis had always fantasized about. She was what her mom used to call 'a bad influence' which made her all the more alluring in Alexis's mind, having grown up a sheltered only child. While other girls were out drinking and losing their virginity at parties or back behind the Teen Center or in a car up at the Bluffs, she was cloistered like a nun in her fuchsia wrapped room, listening to streaming radio while surfing the web, dreaming of the day she'd be able to join the world she saw happening all around her on Instagram and Facebook.
It's the first thing you noticed about her
, the voice cooed. She was bone tired. The only way to keep moving forward was to listen to the voice in her head, to let it distract her from the present by leading her through the events that had led her to this moment. She was only partially aware of the small clouds of dirt she was kicking up as she limped on over scorching earth leaving a trail behind her like a thin, crimson ribbon of fresh blood.
You hated her and you wanted to be her at the same time.
They'd both been fighting over a small apartment just off campus when it struck them they'd be better off splitting the rent and sharing the place. Alexis had always been more than just a little rough around the edges. A feisty redhead with short, spiky hair and pale white skin, her Irish temper got the better of her more often than not. She seemed to have a knack for saying just the wrong thing at just the right time. She was confrontational when teased, overly sensitive to criticism, and distrustful of other women in general. Christie, on the other hand, was a free-spirited party girl from San Diego with long dishwater-blonde hair flecked with flashes of gold, electric blue eyes that seemed to be drinking the color right out of the rest of the world and the kind of perfect smile you only saw on toothpaste commercials. She was the exact opposite of Alexis in so many ways! She had not just a killer body – somehow magically free of tan lines Alexis noticed the first week they lived together since Christie wasn't afraid to walk around the apartment naked – but the uninhibited personality to truly enjoy the benefits that came with it. Christie was the adventurous, curious party girl Alexis always wished she could be, if only she weren't so awkward and angry all the time, a trait she'd carried with her when she'd left high school but wished she'd been able to leave behind. After all, wasn't college the perfect time to reinvent yourself?
Two weeks into living together they were at a tense stand-off with no real clue how they'd gotten there or what to do about it. That's when Alexis had broken down and confessed how she'd been jealous of Christie's relaxed attitude towards not just men, or her studies, or her future, but life in general. She explained that nothing had ever come easy for her, that she'd spent her childhood being ridiculed by girls as pretty as Christie for the unruly orange spikes sticking off the top of her head, her skin so pale it practically glowed in the dark, and above all else her lithe appearance bordering on uncomfortably bony.
“It's okay,” Christie had said, shifting gears and softening. “You can talk to me. I'm not going to judge you. Go ahead and tell me how it all started.”
The words came tumbling out of her so fast she almost felt like she was throwing them up. She'd always been skinny she explained. She just couldn't help it. She'd never been what anyone would call popular by any means but as puberty began to set in for all the other kids she went to school with she'd become more and more withdrawn.
“In high school the boys used to call me 'titless wonder' as a taunt about my less than impressive bust,” she cried. “Long after the rest of the girls in my class were out buying fancy bras I was still looking in the mirror every morning at my puffy nipples for any sign of swelling. It was humiliating!”
She'd explained to Christie that Corina Rizzo, a snotty rich girl from Cherry Creek whose father worked in aeronautics, lead the other girls in making Alexis's life a living hell every chance she got. Corina seemed to effortlessly draw boys and men alike to her, with her exotic mocha skin and thick, lustrous black hair that always looked wet and shiny, like raven’s claws. She was already naturally curvy but had gone up nearly two cup sizes over the long summer between freshman and sophomore years. She wasted no time rubbing it in when she saw Alexis, letting her know all about the extra attention she'd been getting from some of the cutest boys in school including Alexis's
crush, Chad Richards.
“Men prefer a woman with curves,” Corina gloated, cornering Alexis in the girl’s locker room before gym with a circle of snickering girls like something out of a Stephen King novel. “Not a skinny little stick figure. From behind you look like a ten-year-old boy.”
Alexis felt her hatred rising up in her like burning bile. It'd been a curse her whole life. She ate whatever she wanted but never gained any weight. Other women hated her for it, even though she had no control over her body. They called her a “skinny bitch” to her face, even some of the adults she encountered, unable or unwilling to disguise their disgust with her for naturally having good genes and a fast metabolism. At first she would lock herself in the bathroom and cry but as time went by a deep-seated bitterness settled in, causing her to fight back. After all, what did it matter? They despised her no matter what she did, whether she was kind or vicious, so why not give them back some of the hatred and vitriol they so freely doled out against her?
“The only reasons you've got big breasts is because you eat too much junk food, you fat slut,” Alexis fired back. “And boys are only interested in you because they know you put out by the way you're always throwing yourself at them like a bitch in heat.”
She'd been expecting anger, but Corina's eyes seemed to light up with delight at her harsh words, as if she was happy to see that Alexis was finally fighting back, happy to have a reason to really dig into her with her skillfully sharpened claws and teeth and tear away a nice chunk of bloody flesh.
“There's a difference between flaunting what you got and sucking off boys under the bleachers,” Corina said. “But I guess you wouldn't know that would you?”
“That never happened!” Alexis roared, her face glowing a fresh shade of crimson, the blood burning in her cheeks at the thinly veiled accusation that had dogged her since freshman year. Scott Kasbeck, a gorgeous senior, had lured her under the bleachers with the promise of being her boyfriend only to flash his penis at her the minute they were alone.
“Stop being such a prude,” he'd barked in a hoarse whisper, wagging the semi-flaccid mushroom head at her.
She'd been unable to look away, mesmerized as much by the pudgy worm in his hand as the shock of densely coiled exotic fur climbing up from his crotch. She'd only just begun to develop soft red hairs down there. The sight of such raw masculinity left her dizzy and confused, which Scott mistook for some form of passive consent, putting his hand on the back of her head and trying to force her face towards his thrusting crotch. When she resisted he grew frustrated, pressing himself against her clamped lips and insisting she “just put the tip” in her mouth.
Humiliated she'd run out in tears, only to learn later that Scott had told everyone she'd gone way past oral sex and that the whole thing had been her idea from the start. There had been several other creeps that had tried to get in her panties as word of her being 'easy' spread across campus like wildfire in dry summer brush, which only fueled the rumors of her alleged promiscuity. The truth was she was still a virgin back then, but she wouldn't give them the satisfaction of admitting it. Knowing Corina she'd find a way to turn that into an insult as well.
“Just keep telling yourself that and maybe one day it will actually be true. You know what you are? You're a carpenter's dream,” Corina taunted, a malicious glint in her eyes. “Flat as a board and easy to nail. It's the only way you can get boys to notice you, isn't that right? By handing it out like it was free government cheese, which, judging by your clothes, is something I'm sure you've eaten plenty of in your lifetime.”
The encounter had ended like all the others, she explained, with Corina and her circle of mean girls laughing and pointing at Alexis as she fled to the solace of the girl’s showers for a long uninterrupted cry. She’d tried to talk to her parents about the persistent bullying she'd faced at school but her father seemed squeamish to acknowledge the problem and her mother was far too much of a prude to understand. In the end she’d learned to suffer in silence, waiting for the chance to break free of her life and start over. There had been so many of these episodes she’d lost count. Each new humiliation had marked her, if only on a subconscious level. Each time she was attacked she grew colder, more distant, plotting her great revenge upon all those pretty girls for whom things seemingly came easy. Alexis had built a wall around her heart to keep the world out. She’d succeeded. She’d survived. The only problem was now that she had finally achieved the freedom she’d yearned for all those years she didn’t have a clue how to begin breaking down her defenses.
“It's like I've become trapped being someone I despised,” Alexis told Christie. “I don't want to end up cut off and bitter like my mother! I'd rather die first!”
By the time she'd finished relaying the painful stories of her childhood to Christie she was weeping in her arms. It was then that Christie had taken Alexis under her wing so to speak, making it her mission to teach her how to loosen up and enjoy her life more. Within a month Alexis was a totally different person, and not just because she had an expensive new wardrobe. They'd gone on so many double dates she'd lost count, swapped lovers, and even made out with each other once to win free drinks at a local bar. That was the same night Alexis got asked out by Chad Richards, who'd transferred to University of Boulder after flunking out of Penn State and losing his football scholarship. Alexis was surprised how quickly she got bored of him once she was able to wrap him around her pinkie finger. He was too clingy and too unstable to be real boyfriend material, but it felt good to know she could make him pine for her the way she used to pine for him. She owed it all to Christie and her 'leap and the net will appear' philosophy.
So when her roommate suggested that they head down to Cabo San Lucas to soak up some sun and mess with the locals Alexis didn't hesitate. It was cold in Boulder and she was looking forward to feeling the warm air and gentle ocean breeze kiss her scantily clad skin. They'd spent all of three hours exploring what the resort had to offer before Christie had gotten stir crazy and dragged Alexis off to the locals bars in search of what she laughingly referred to as 'fresh meat'. They'd partied their way through several packed bars including Cabo Wabo, Jungle Bar, Pink Kitty, Mandala, and ended up at the infamous El Squid Roe doing free tequila shots that were poured straight into their mouths. The roaming bartenders blew loud whistles as they funneled the burning liquid down patron’s throats, then shook their heads for them. Alexis did two in a row the minute they got inside at the request of a cute guy in a USC shirt. Christie and she joined him and his friend at a booth but ended up ditching them early on after the frat brothers started arguing over which of them was a better athlete.