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Floating…disconnected…fading in and out…blessed darkness.
Pain. The rancid smell of vomit.
Pain. The darkness pulled me under again.
Pain. Demanding and relentless, a harsh master awaiting a response.
Flashes of hazy events, but no real memory.
I TRIED TO SWALLOW past a lump of unbearable dryness, but it felt as if razor blades had shredded my throat and vocal cords. The taste of vomit and copper pennies coated my tongue as I swept it along lips that were chapped and probed corners that were raw. The noxious scent of days old milk and wet, dirty asphalt after a brief rain perfumed my labored breathing, until I was all but choking on it. Straining but yet determined, I pulled my cheek out of the filth.
Light filtered from the mouth of the alley, but it was too weak to penetrate the darkness of my distant corner. Gusting eddies of pirouetting trash floated pieces of debris into my hot, gritty eyes making it difficult to pry them open without more pain.
There was an urgency to the staccato pace of my heart that could not be denied and was screaming, “Ava, get up and get away. Now!” I didn’t understand what was happening, but I couldn’t deny the demanding nature of my heartbeat.
Palms flat against the wet ground, I extended my arms until they were trembling with strain. A whimpered cry escaped my raw throat, resonating through my head like a sirens wail. Ignoring the pain, I continued to push until I was sitting up and resting on bent knees, with my ankles tucked under me. With my head bowed and chin resting upon my chest, I prayed that, between my spinning head and labored breathing, I didn’t fall over.
The last thing I wanted to do was move, but the urgency to leave was undeniable. Bracing a hand against the brick wall next to me, I stumbled to a stand. As my legs were buckling, I pressed my hip harder into the wall, causing bits of mortar to dig in, bruising it further. What was one more bruise, when I felt littered with them; my body was used and broken.
My breath caught in the back of my throat as waves of pain and nausea swept through me again. God, what had happened to me? I couldn’t remember anything and wasn’t sure I wanted to.
I moved away from my little hidey-hole towards the entrance of the alley, with my feet dragging and breath hitching. The pain and nausea continued unabated, threatening to bring me back to my knees. Each shuffling step was pure torture, as places within my body ached and burned relentlessly. Damn it! I hadn’t even been introduced to those places yet.
Stopping to catch my breath, I sagged against the brick wall for a short break. I needed strength before breaching the alley entrance, as my head was spinning and I was still dizzy. I wiped my forehead impatiently with the back of my hand, before the sweat could drip into my stinging eyes, and then let them drift shut for a moment. Listening to my surroundings, all was quiet except for the slight freeway noise off in the distance and the low music coming from the left.
I peeked around the corner to the right, nearly losing my balance in the process. Streetlights illuminated the empty storefronts and deserted streets, but after seeing nothing and no one, I turned back to the left. Where was a cop when I so obviously needed one? Most days it seemed I tripped over one at every corner. If I jaywalked, would one show up? I shook my head at my rambling thoughts.
Stepping from the protection of the alley, I ventured left towards the mysterious music. Hugging the storefronts, I used the walls and windows as a crutch to keep me upright and moving forward. My vision was still skewed, but I could see that there was light shining on the sidewalk up ahead. Quickening my pace, I stumbled to reach this beacon of light, a safe harbor in my muddled head.
A sigh escaped when I reached the illuminated door and placed my back against the cool glass, letting it chill my fevered skin. My body couldn’t decide if it was hot or cold, bouncing back and forth between them. I didn’t understand why, but nothing was making sense and it hurt my head to think about it. Resting here a moment seemed like a good idea, as I was so tired and my eyes were determined to close. It was only for a moment and then my world was tilting again.
Eyes snapping open and arms pinwheeling, I fell backwards, as the door was opened behind me. Since neither my body, nor my brain, were functioning well, coordinating their efforts was far beyond my current mental capacity. I was braced for impact and rigid with anticipated pain, though I managed to land safe and gentle—cradled within leather clad arms, but with a startled, “Oomph!”
I knew I should have been frightened and scrambling to get away. I didn’t know this man, but at this point nothing short of death could have hurt much worse. Though being dead wouldn’t hurt, I supposed. Great, now I’ve gone completely mad. I couldn’t keep up with the randomness of my thoughts.
My next random—the incredible clean and masculine scent of the arms cradling me. I took in a deep breath, letting his scent envelope me, until the scent was all but begging me to snuggle in deeper. Why resist, he felt safe and I decided to trust that instinct, though perhaps that misguided trust had led me to here in the first place. I couldn’t deal with that right now; later I’d try to figure it all out. Right now the darkness was pulling at me and the need to give in was too tempting, but not before I saw who was holding me so gently.
Lifting my eyes, I tried to focus on my savior. His face was blurred by the bright lights overhead, which had surrounded him in a halo of sorts. I tried to pull his features together and managed only a vague impression of a fallen angel. Squinting and straining to see something more distinct from his face, I was hit by the clarity of his bright blue eyes. Unable to look away, I was held captive within forever and ushered gently towards the darkness. A final sigh escaped my chapped lips, as I was consumed, and my world of pain was chased away.
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