The Morning After

Alice

She woke up sore and naked. The strength of the rays that crept around the edge of the curtain suggested it was at the very earliest, late morning. Looking at the light hurt her eyes.

With caution, she levered herself up and looked around, trying to determine where exactly she was. The first sliver of fear that she couldn’t contain pricked at her. She was alone, in pain, and had no idea where she was. This was the sort of cautionary tale that parents warned their daughters about, but it happened to other people, not her.

The last tangible memory she had was of dancing against him in the club. After that, it was vague impressions and a sense of what had occurred rather than the certainty of what had transpired. In vain she fought to remember his name, but like so much of the previous evening, that too eluded her. Her mind kept circling back to way he looked as he intensely stared at her. It was the clearest thing she could remember. At the time, it had been unnerving but somehow thrilling in equal measure.

He’d stayed by her side the whole night, buying her drinks, his hand on the small of her back, her arm, even grazing her ass at one point. An electric thrill flashed along her skin, even if she wasn’t certain she was comfortable with him putting his hands on her. His skin had been cool to the touch but that was actually a relief in the stifling heat of the club. With the deafening thud of the music, he’d come very close whenever he spoke. His lips brushed her ear, maybe lingered there one or two moments longer than they needed to, but she had no way to reasonably call him out for it. Anyway, with the vibration of the bass thrumming through her body, she wasn’t sure it was worth the effort to compete over the volume.

The limber fluidity that too many drinks permitted seemed like an impossibility, now, as she stretched sore muscles, fighting back tears as she wondered what the hell had happened to her. Everything felt wrong. Her mouth felt too dry, her teeth felt too sharp, and a sense of sickness that she wouldn’t term nausea but couldn’t find a better word for pressed at the back of her throat.

“You smell amazing,” he’d told her. She couldn’t see how. She hadn’t bothered to put any perfume on before she’d gone out and sweat from the task of keeping up with the music’s demand had made its way to the surface of her skin. If she went to the bathrooms and looked in the mirror she knew she would be able to see the bright pink spots in her cheeks where the blood had rushed in response to her body’s exertion. He seemed curiously unaffected by the vigorous activity, his skin so pale that it was practically luminous. It had seemed an odd comment at the time, but unusual seemed to be his brand.

The door to the bedroom opened and he walked in. He looked exactly the same as he had the previous night: good looking, had it not been for the intensity with which he carried himself.

“How are you feeling?” He sounded genuinely concerned, but something about him triggered a vague sense, more than a memory, of a terrible violation that he had committed the previous evening. She drew back from him instinctively, some animalistic impulse telling her to minimise herself so that he, the predator, might overlook her.

“You don’t need to be afraid.” He sounded as though he were talking to a frightened animal. He approached her with slow, deliberate steps.

“Get away from me,” she spat, drawing the sheet around her to try and provide some meagre protection. From what, she couldn’t quite say. The rapidity of the movement made her muscles scream. She winced. He must have seen her pain.

“You’ll feel better soon.” His voice held promises that, rather than being reassuring, felt like the promise of loneliness and fear to come.

“What did you do to me?” She tried to sound strong, like she could hurt him if she wanted, but she just sounded like a scared kid.

He shook his head sorrowfully. The movement was practiced, performative. “Nothing you didn’t want me to do.”

“Where am I?”

“You’re safe, don’t worry.”

Never taking her eyes off him, she slid off the bed, still clasping the sheet to her chest. He watched her calmly as she went to the window. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said mildly.

She ignored his caution and flung the curtain open with her free hand. The intensity of the sunlight hurt and she shrank back from the rays that flooded across her body, crying out in pain.

As she cowered on the floor sobbing, he stepped around her and with quick, cautious movements, flicked the curtain shut. He sighed and crouched down next to her, crooning. Gradually, her sobbing subsided and she lifted her head to look at him, not bothering to wipe the tears from her face. “What did you do to me?” she whispered.

He lifted a hand and stroked her hair, his eyes never leaving hers. His hand was so gentle, the motion so soothing, that she desperately wanted to believe nothing bad had in fact happened, that she was just a little hungover and sleep deprived. She wanted that to be the truth more than she had ever wanted anything in her entire life.

“Do you really not remember?” The compassion in his voice didn’t quite reach his eyes.

She shook her head.

“You wanted it so badly though, you practically begged me.” He sounded almost sad as he brought hand to rest against her neck, his thumb tracing something there.

She lifted her own hand and pushed his aside, her fingers probing at the delicate skin. There on the side she felt the scabs in a crescent shape; the shape of teeth. The crusted sores were blights on the otherwise unblemished skin. Her gasp tore itself from her throat, a horrified sound of fear and revulsion. “What kind of sicko are you?” Only after the words had left her mouth did it occur to her that perhaps accusing said sicko might not be clever.

He didn’t react with anger. Somehow that was even more terrifying. “Come on, try and remember,” he urged in that same soft tone.

She wrinkled her forehead with the effort of trying to remember those lost hours of the previous night. She remembered leaving the club with him, the intimacy of him holding her hand as he led her out of the club invigorating, she remembered the pure want in his eyes and how hot that had been, although she wasn’t sure when he’d looked at her like that. But those were fragments, ephemeral and disconnected from the coherent narrative of what had happened.

Immense frustration welled within her at the fact that she didn’t know what had happened to her own body. It seemed so monumentally unfair that here was this man who knew, who remembered everything, yet she had only puzzle pieces of the truth marked on her skin that she needed to assemble herself.

“You kept buying me drinks,” she said, shaking her head slightly to try and make the hazy fragments of memory come into focus.

His laugh was condescending. “You didn’t have to accept them.”

She wanted to refuse; to counter by pointing out his insistence that she have another drink, but her uncertainty over what had actually transpired seemed so flimsy in the face of his resolve. The frustration was like a tide under the surface of her skin. The impulse to do something, for some kind of action was like an itch in an inaccessible place. “Where’s a mirror?” she demanded, wanting to see her marred neck.

“I wouldn’t bother,” he advised her.

“What did you do?” She pulled away from him, the sense that something terrible had been done to her was now undeniable.

“It’s not what I did. You were the one that wanted to bite me back.” He lifted a hand and pointed to his own neck, where scabs in the formation of teethmarks looked disconcertingly like hers. They were nestled against the hollow of his neck, tucked into his shoulder.  “You were insatiable,” he said, and a lust-sated smile crept across his face.

She knew enough about the world to understand what people like him were, and what that meant; what he had turned her into. Even though she knew this was real, she couldn’t believe it. She was waiting for the punchline, for the terrible nightmare to end and her normal life to resume, but nothing would ever be the same again. She had known this truth from the moment she’d woken up, but she didn’t want to accept it. Suddenly, her body was a foreign country, as strange to her as the man in front of her. The desire to unpeel her skin, step out of it, and walk away from sins marked into it without look back, was overwhelming.

“But I don’t want this,” she whispered.

His only reply was to laugh softly.

“Change me back,” she demanded. Surely there must be a way to undo this, to make it go away, for her to return to the person she’d been at the start of the previous evening. Mere hours were suddenly a chasm to a different time that seemed at once so heartbreakingly close and so very far away.

“That’s not how it works,” he told her, a little smile on his face. She couldn’t help but feel that he was enjoying this.

“No, you don’t understand. Change. Me. Back.” Her voice grew louder and louder with each word, crescendoing into a shout.

“I can’t.” He lifted his hands in a parody of helplessness.

“But you did this to me, to my body. You can’t just not be able to do anything. Undo it. Take it back.” Hysteria overtook her and she wrapped her arms around herself, rocking backwards and forward, struggling to breathe. The sheet slipped down but she didn’t care. All she could focus on was her own pain, her own distress.

He simply watched her until she had worn herself out.

“This is the way things are now,” he shrugged. “Most people adjust pretty quickly,” he added, as though that were some consolation that her whole life was now defined by what he had done to her.

“What am I supposed to tell everyone?” Her gaze became distant as this new wave of implications crashed over her. “Oh my god, what am I going to tell my parents? They’ve always told me to be careful when I go out and…” She trailed off and put a hand to her mouth, trying to stop the cold shock of horror from breaking her into a thousand pieces.

“Not everyone tells their parents,” he replied.

Her life flashed before her eyes, and in it was the ever-present need to hide this shameful secret from everyone. How would she have a relationship? How could she ever let anyone touch her ever again? She looked down at her legs, cold to the touch. It was inconceivable that anybody would ever want to touch her again. The taint of what had been done to her clung to her. She certainly wouldn’t want to be with anyone like her. It was disgusting, shameful. How could she have let this happen to her? She should have been more careful.

“I can help you if you want,” he offered after the silence had stretched out for a long time. She couldn’t imagine anything that she wanted less, but there was some dark bond that had been forged by the awful act that had occurred between them. She would never be free of him or what he had turned her into. His act had given her an indelible label.

“Why did you do it?” She raised her head to look at him. Maybe if she understood why he had done this to her, why he had taken her normal life away from her with no apparent remorse, it would make the betrayal less heinous, less world consuming. She clung to that hope like she was drowning

“Oh baby,” he sounded almost sad that she would infer such a thing about him or his motives. He tilted his head slightly. “You were asking for it.”

***

Alice Boer-Endacott has been writing for as long as she can remember. Her childhood was spent with her nose in a book or compulsively writing down a story. A bachelor’s degree in anthropology and French, and a Master’s degree in executive management couldn’t shake her away from stories. In the last three years she has completed the manuscripts for a (as yet unpublished) trilogy and has just started the second in a two-book series. She has placed in several national competitions including the Age MS ReadaThon, Dark Dreams, and Wakakirri, and been published in Judy’s Punch.

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