Claire recognized the faint stinging sensation creep along her skin, her blood pressure forced a flush to her face. Her vision panned in a swirl of circles until it found a dim light exposing the dismal apartment where she would begin the nightmare trek into the darkness of pain and sorrow… again. Her body felt detached, but she was aware, her mind was intact. She knew the cruel and ugly event that was destined to transpire. Maybe, just maybe she could change the outcome this time.
She stood helpless at the side of the room and watched as she always did. It was the only way for it to end, to endure it, to get through it. The nasty smell in the air permeated into her throat, making its way to her tongue, presenting a sickening taste in her mouth as the images surrounding her began to flourish into focus. Imminent death tore through her veins.
Claire observed the pretty young girl who sat on the couch. Her mascara was smeared against the wet skin below her eyes. She was drunk. Picking up the phone, the girl dialed, but her sloppy coordination slowed her down. It seemed an eternity before she spoke into the receiver. “Where are you? Damn it. I need to talk to you. I can’t take it anymore. Pleas…” The phone slipped out of her hand. She crossed her arms around her ribs and began rocking her body. “I’m sorry, please know that I’m sorry.”
The girl stood, she walked slowly toward the door, picking up her bag from the table. Turning to look at the room one last time, her lips trembled. In a slur, she announced to the emptiness that had held her captive, “I must do this. Everything’s going to be better soon.” Then she looked directly at Claire and said, “Do something about this. Be strong and use your life to stop all this.” She took a deep breath and exited her personal chamber of hell.
Claire shuddered, a sudden jolt stung her insides. My God, she knows I’m here. My God, she knows. She closed her eyes and tears spilled down her face. Did she see me? Did she really speak to me? Hope radiated from within, but when she opened her eyes, she was in the back seat of the girl’s car. “Don’t do this, Trista. Hear me, just don’t do this.” Claire knew it was of no use, but had to try. She choked on her words, desperation in her voice, “Please. Hear me!” She reached over the seat to touch the young woman, but the car seemed to stretch to the length of a limousine, leaving her range far from the woman. She put her head down and screamed, “NO. Please!”
The car was moving, darkness had settled in, and smoky clouds had erupted with rain that poured in a steady stream of… of what? Claire couldn’t tell, the slow motion behavior of happenings had become surreal. She watched as the driver turned on the radio, her fingers fumbling with the knob until she found the perfect tune. She cranked up the dial and sang. Then, she laughed, an uncontrollable sound filled with anguish. Claire had heard it many times before. But each night she reacted as if hearing it for the first time and would think, how can a laugh sound so painful, be so full of suffering?
Trista pushed the button to stop the music. She leaned forward to see through the window only to realize that rain was ruining her view. “When did the rain start?” She flipped the handle and the wipers began performing with a rote rhythm. The night’s weather was filled with sickening gloom, clouds hovering over the town, the torrent of rain. And then she said it, “Are you enjoying your dream tonight, Claire?”
Fear struck throughout Claire’s body. She pulled herself closer to the girl and tested this new development, “My God! You can see me, Trista. Can we stop this?”
The girl howled, obviously amused. Then she spoke, “You’ve become such a smart woman.” Her head wobbled and her body began to sway in her seat. “I really did love you. Yes, so much love.” Her voice faded away as she slowed the movement of the car.
Claire saw the house in the distance.
They pulled up to the handsome manor where Claire heard the engine die. The wipers continued their concert, destroying rain pellets that beat against the windshield.
The home was a stunning feat in architecture, announcing to the town that it was the place where important people lived. Trista had parked on the street where she stared at the large front window. The happy family was gathered around the formal dining table. They were laughing at something. Her head jerked as a tormented sound escaped from her mouth, “Claire, let’s see who the boss is now.” She reached for her purse and pushed the door lever that opened the gateway into the abyss of darkness. Nearly falling out of the car, she stumbled to her feet, and began her sloppy march. The door was left ajar, the metronome sound of the wipers purred on.
Claire followed behind the girl, she gasped for each breath. “Trista, damn it. HEAR ME. I’ll take you home with me, I’ll make you feel safe.” She tried to grab her arm, but couldn’t quite reach. She never could quite reach.
Once on the porch, Trista turned to Claire and gave her a twisted smile, her eyes had a wildness in them. “You know it’s too late for that, right? I have to do this so you can become you. This is how it’s supposed to play out.” She turned to face the house, but spoke again, her tone had become malevolent. “Always did like this porch, the pillars alone shout to people like you and me how prestigious its owners are.” An evil sound released from deep within her. The doors opened with a servant standing tall with pride. Trista’s expression seemed dazed, but then she said to him, “Did I ring? I don’t remember ringing, why are you looking at me like that?” A wicked quality in her voice, a lost woman stood eye to eye with the man who was shaking his head.
“You know you can’t be here, Miss. Winslow. Now you just turn around and go home. Things will get better for you soon.”
The man’s voice had a hint of compassion, but Claire could see the mistrust in the girl’s mannerism. She shivered at how the butler looked right through her. This was how it was each night, Claire wasn’t there and yet she was.
“Don’t do this, Trista.” Again, Claire reached for her arm, but when the tips of her fingers closed in on her, distance stretched between them as if they each held opposite ends of a rubber band. But they weren’t the ones in control of the strange elasticity bonding them together. Defeat, agony emitted through Claire’s insides, she had been so close this time. She believed that she could stop the inevitable if she could just touch the girl.
Claire knew what was next, she watched as Trista hurled her fist into the door, giving her the advantage of surprise, permitting her to force herself past the nice man. She looked strong, stronger than she’d been in over a year. This was her medication and it was working. Soon, everything would be good, no more pain for Trista. Standing in the entrance to the splendid dining area, Claire studied the girl as she gazed at the family. Her chest heaved, her body wavered. Tears made her vision blurry. An intermittent jerking of her head forced a horrid gulping sound to escape from her trembling lips.
The husband looked up and stood, his arm flinging in the air toward her while he cried out in anger, “Jesus Christ, Trista. How did you get in here?” He looked beyond her and yelled, “Frank, what the hell is going on? Get in here and take this bitch out of my home.” Looking at his wife, he pointedly gestured toward the phone, “Call the police.” She froze with horror. He shrieked his next order. “NOW!”
Trista silently slipped her hand into her purse, and pulled out the pistol that would take care of everything. She could no longer hear sounds around her, everything had become a blur. “Funny, so this is what it’s like to have complete control.” Closing her eyes, she gripped tightly to the gun’s handle with both hands. Claire watched helplessly, and then heard the wife scream at the same moment the girl’s finger drew back on the trigger.
Claire knew what was next. Believing this time was different, she pushed herself, making strides toward the girl. It did feel different, she was making headway. Reaching, reaching. Stretching her fingers, the tendons in her arm, all of her. “Trista, NO…” The girl raised the gun to her head and fired.
Claire screamed and sat up in her bed. Her breathing was heavy, her body wet. She got up to splash her face with cold water. Outside, the rain streaked against the window. Her body trembled. She raised her head as she leaned against the wall and screamed with agony. She had been closer this time, she’d felt it. Slowly, her form slid down into a crouched position on the floor. This is where she always finished her nightly event, crumpled on the cold tile flooring and sobbing until she passed out. This was the nocturnal life of Claire Winslow.
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