A door opened onto the white, moonlit pavement and a young woman stepped into sight. She glided down the short flight of steps to the sidewalk, cars speeding by far too quickly even at this late hour. Hands tucked into the pockets of her jacket, hood pulled low over her face, she made her way down the street. It was a bad habit of hers, these walks, she knew that. But she couldn’t help it, not that she really wanted to stop. And even if she did, she didn’t think that she could.
People say that a girl like her shouldn’t be wandering the streets alone, much less so late at night. And she knew that if she told anyone, they’d call her foolish for even thinking of such a thing. In a city like this, where every shadow hid a monster just waiting to pounce, it was like holding a beacon; baiting them towards her. But then, maybe that’s why she kept doing it.
The streetlamps split the darkness with dirty, yellow light but the girl kept her head down and out of sight. There was no use in going out of her way to get attention, not when it would undoubtedly find her first.
On these streets, it didn’t take long for the monsters to come out. Of course, that was exactly why she did this. In a place where danger lurked around every corner, that was where she could truly be free. Where she could let go of the inhibitions she was forced to cage during the day and the only light that existed was tainted and dim.
Footsteps sounded behind her and for a heartbeat she wondered if it was the sound of her own feet echoing off the highrises. But these were different, deliberate and much slower than her own, the unmistakable sound of someone stalking their prey. The footsteps grew louder, their pace quickening until they were right behind her. A hand landed on her shoulder and her lips split into a grin that would have put the Cheshire Cat to shame.
This was why she came out at night.
She spun around, fist drawn back and teeth bared, the glorious rush of adrenaline coursing through her. An addict to the high of danger.
Never did she feel so at peace, so complete and in control, than when she knew she was close to losing it all. Even with fists punching, knees striking, a blade at her throat, or a gun aimed at her head, it was only then that she felt truly alive.
She was a wanderess, stalking the streets and waiting for danger to come to her. Just so she could let her own monster out, even if only for a little while. Maybe she was masochist. Or unhinged. Or quite simply insane. She didn’t care.
After years of being stuck–of living a life out of her control–she needed this. It reminded her that she was alive. That she was in control. That she was the predator, not prey in this game of life. Not anymore, never again.
“Useless!” The shelf shook and a cascade of books tumbled down onto the prone figure on the ground. The girl trembled but stifled her whimpering as she forced herself upright, turning her gaze up at the beast above her. They scowled and although they took a human form, she saw the fangs of a predator bearing down on her.
The girl’s eyes widened, frozen in fear as the beast raised its foot to strike yet again. She cowered, shielding herself as best as she could, arms raised over her head. But it was useless. The beast beat her relentlessly, laughing and snarling insults and obscenities at her.
The girl curled into a ball, unable to even make a sound of protest lest her cries of pain escape. If she could nothing but be a punching bag then the least she could do was hide how much agony she was truly in.
Her mind drifted off somewhere quiet, to a place where she could ignore the aches echoing throughout her body.
Why am I like this, she wondered, only barely aware of the beating she was taking.
It wasn’t unusual for her mind to wander like this, to float away like she was being carried on a current to nowhere. To lose herself in someplace safe and dark and peaceful. In some ways, she was grateful for it.
But she knew she couldn’t hide forever.
So, why? She clutched her arms tighter over her head, eyes squeezed shut. Why do I let them do this to me? Why do I just lay down and take it?
For years she’d been forced to roll over and take what was given to her. And for no other reason than she was an easy target.
Why don’t I fight back?
Her eyes snapped open in time to see the beast’s foot descending towards her face and she scrambled away. Their foot crashed into the floor and hiss of pain fell from their lips. She stood, unsteady and shaken perhaps but still she stood.
She would never forget that moment, when she looked into the beast’s eyes and saw the predator falter in the face of a beast of their own creation. In that instant, she saw nothing but a mouse quailing under her gaze.
And looking into her eyes, they saw that her time as their prey was over.
She’d changed since then. She was stronger. She didn’t cower in the face of a beast, she stood tall and bared her claws.
She had made a promise, an oath that she would never be the prey again, even if it meant she became a monster too.
The girl stood over her would-be attacker, out cold and with a bloody mess of a face, relishing in the power she had. Her breath sent puffs of white into the cold air, sweat chilly against her skin flushed skin, chest still rising and falling with the effort to control her breathing.
Control. She let out a soft laugh. Funny how something so simple could make such a difference. But was it wrong?
She scowled gritting her teeth, back pressed against the cool wall of concrete, body tense.
Of course not, she thought. She deserved the luxury, after so long without it, she deserved some semblance of control. If that means I have to take it by force then I will.
She sighed and pushed a stray lock of hair from her face then winced.
Her hand stung and upon closer inspection she saw her knuckles had split. The dingy light turned her dark blood golden like sulfur as it clotted in patches. She wiped away as much as she could with her sleeve before moving deeper into the shadows, hands tucked neatly into her pockets.
She followed the street down a few more blocks before slipping into an alley just wide enough for a small car to fit. Graffiti littered the walls, faded artwork and tagging layered over one another, the scent of stale alcohol mixed with old cigarettes mingling in the air.
The alley ended abruptly in a dead end, pitch black and completely isolated. The girl felt along the wall, unfazed by the grime an inch thick on the worn concrete, until she brushed a curved piece of metal. Her fingers automatically curled around it and she twisted her wrist, yanking open the rusted door. The sound squealing metal split the otherwise quiet night but the girl didn’t so much as flinch, used to it as she was.
The inside was no less disgusting than the alley leading to it but far better lit with the hole in the high ceiling letting in the light of an almost full moon. The girl made the familiar path through the ruins of fallen railings and walkways, climbing the only set of unbroken stairs. The metal creaked beneath her feet but she pushed forward until she was several stories up and only a little out of breath. She paused at the base of a short ladder, catching her breath before ascending to the last unbroken part of the roof. She threw herself against the rusted trapdoor, ignoring the pain blooming over her shoulder until it finally gave way.
Finally on the roof, the wind tugged at her clothes and pushed her hood down, sending her hair flying in every direction. The girl took a deep breath through her nose, the rancid scent of animal droppings from below not even noticeable from that height. It was cool and sharp but still carrying the all too familiar smell of smog.
She walked to the edge, one foot falling confidently in front of the other, until her toes hung an inch over a quick death.
Her heart raced, all logical thought telling her to step back, instinct shouting for her to stay alive. And yet, she couldn’t deny the peace settling over her. She knew it was madness. How could any sane person feel so at ease in this situation?
Well if being sane means feeling the way I did before, then I want no part of it.
But she knew that others would label her an outsider, ostracize her for being different.
Can I deal with that loneliness again? Or would it be better to stop trying?
She felt like she was drowning.
Every day was the same. Routine in action and appearance. But she was in control. Wasn’t that what she’s always longed for?
But she was still forced to wear a false mask to appease others or face their scorn for acting like the monster inside. Bound by rules and and the threat of stigma to wait for night to come just so she could rip it off.
She raised her bloodied hand, a silhouette in stark contrast against the pale moon, and made a fist.
Why am I like this? She’d been asking herself that question for years. Was she really so stuck in the past that she couldn’t even answer that?
She swore at herself, biting her lip so hard she drew blood. Not that she noticed.
She wore her mask well, she knew that. No one who saw her would ever guess at the storm of emotions raging behind it. But that didn’t mean they weren’t there. And now she felt caught in the middle, being torn apart by a raging hurricane.
Her control wasn’t enough.
She leaned forward slightly as particularly violent gust of wind nudged her closer to oblivion.
It was the strongest possible thing she could do. The one thing that most people don’t have control over. But could she do it?
Was she strong enough?
Then a thought struck her, leaning ever-so-slightly further into the void. Was that strength?
She’d always thought that her conviction, her resolve to take control was what made her strong. It was what made her a force of nature, that was what she’d always believed.
“What to do, what to do,” she mumbled.
She dropped her hand, letting it go limp at her side. Her eyes fell on the darkness before her, so complete that although the ground was only a few stories down it felt bottomless.
Just one step. Let’s see how strong I really am.