Aren spun in silence, out of control, unable to focus on anything. Colors flashed around her as she spiraled through the air, dizzy with the whirling blurs around her. She tried to find balance, to reestablish order and the colors slowed, became faces, eyes, souls.
Every person she knew bobbed around her, their bodiless faces floating in the air, their eyes locked on hers. Anger, fear, and hate filled those faces. I’ve violated their trust, looked too deep. She knew it was true. She’d betrayed them and they wanted her dead for uncovering all the secrets they’d kept hidden.
The bodiless faces moved closer, suffocating her with the cold, dead skin of their cheeks and lips. Painful moans escaped those lips, icy spit running from their open mouths. Their faces pressed against her, pushing down heavier and heavier, trapping her as they dragged her deep into the ocean of their pain.
“No! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!” Aren screamed, hoping they’d understand.
“Too deep. Too deep. Too deep.” The faces chanted in their lifeless moans. Wet lips touched her ears, her eyes, her own lips, cold as they spoke of her betrayal over and over.
Aren’s revulsion rose in the back of her throat as she screamed and writhed in desperation to be free of their touch. Someone has to listen. “Tracy!” Aren found her friend’s face swimming through the madness toward her, but Tracy’s eyes were upturned and her mouth open. “Tracy, help me!”
The eyes flicked down, but the color was wrong. They were black, so black and lifeless, like the eyes of an octopus, without feeling or remorse. Aren screamed and tried to swim through the faces away from Tracy, but the mass of heads blocked her path. They bumped into her, spinning her back toward her best friend and those black, lifeless eyes.
Aren shivered as Tracy’s slack jaw moved slowly, “Too deep. Too deep. You went too deep.” Her voice came out wrong, too animal and masculine to be Tracy’s. Oily black spittle dribbled down her chin and onto Aren’s face, the dark mucus so cold it burned where it touched.
Aren screamed. She felt herself sliding along the slippery wet faces toward Tracy’s black eyes and dribbling mouth. She reached out one last time for any help. “Please!”
Kaden’s face swam out of the crushing pile of human filth and slipped between Aren and Tracy. Silver eyes turned toward Aren, mirrors. She felt herself reflected, pushing what had been slipping away back into her soul. Thank you. She awoke to find the school nurse frantically shaking her.
“Are you ok?”
Aren replied by vomiting on the floor until nothing was left, until she felt somewhat clean again.
Kaden looked down at the girl he carried, Aren. Her short brown hair, not quite reaching her shoulders, framed a small round face. Kaden could see blue veins pulsing beneath her pale skin and her freckles stood out more in the natural light that flowed through the skylights in the hall. Her short and thin frame made her easy to carry, like carrying a child. But her eyes hadn’t seemed childlike, too wise and old to fit with her teenage body.
Just thinking about them made his legs weak. The other boy grunted as the weight shifted.
“Sorry, man, just slipped.” Kaden forced the memory of her eyes to the back of his mind.
“Keep her steady.” The nurse put a hand on the board Aren was strapped to. “She doesn’t need another bump on the head.”
They managed to lay her down somewhat gently on the small table-bed in the office, paper crinkling as her weight pushed the board against the plastic. The room smelled of disinfectant and alcohol with a faint hint of cotton. Kaden wrinkled his nose as he thought of his hospital visit not long ago and the craziness that had followed him since.
The nurse dismissed them back to class as soon as they put Aren down. The other boy shot off in the wrong direction, but Kaden wanted to stay as long as possible.
“Is she going to be okay?”
“She’ll be fine. Just fainted. Not enough skin on her bones, no wonder.”
“I was just worried about her is all.” Kaden tried to sound as sincere as possible and found more true sincerity than he expected.
The nurse’s look softened. “She’s your friend then?” She started to undo the Velcro bands that held Aren to the board.
“Yes, Ma’am.” He lied and felt shame run through him for the pretense. Why do I care?
“Okay, you can stay for a while, but—”
Aren screamed and writhed on the table.
The nurse jumped at Aren’s spastic body. “Help me. She’s going to fall off!”
The nurse grappled with kicking legs, leaving Kaden to wrangle with flailing arms. He caught them and put his weight down, placing his chest on hers in order to keep her from falling.
The warmth of her body beneath him made him blush, so he tried to focus on her face instead of the softness beneath his chest. Her eyes shot open, but they fluttered around wild and unseeing.
“Aren. Aren.” He tried to get her attention. Her two-toned eyes locked on his and he watched as humanity flowed back into her. She even smiled, mouthing a thank you before her eyelids slid closed once more. She calmed and the seizure passed, but she continued to shiver uncontrollably.
“Go to the office! Tell them to call 911!” The nurse yelled at him.
Kaden pulled himself from Aren and ran to the front office. When he returned, the nurse caught him at the door. She looked shaken, her shoes splattered with something that smelled terrible, but she smiled.
“She’s okay now, but a bit of a mess. I don’t think she’ll be wanting any company at the moment. Go back to class.”
She stopped his protest with a look. “Don’t worry. An ambulance and her parents will be here soon enough. I’m sure they’ll keep you informed.”
Kaden had no other arguments and he didn’t know her parents anyway. He nodded and headed back to class to wait for word about a friend he didn’t really have. Strange. I’m more worried about this stranger than I’ve been for anyone else in my life, apart from mom.
Tracy jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug when he arrived. The thin veil of order the teacher had managed to establish shattered as everyone questioned him at once about Aren’s well-being.
Wow. She has people who really care about her. Even the teacher seemed more interested in his story than continuing class. Kaden indulged them with all the details he felt safe sharing.
Tracy grabbed his hand when he mentioned Aren’s seizure. Despite himself, Kaden didn’t pull away. Her palm warmed against his, but he couldn’t help but wonder how the cool, slender grip of another’s hand would feel in its place.