“The mind is such a fickle thing. So many circuits, millions of synapses happening at the very same time. Anyone of them could burn out at any given moment. You wont believe the stuff you hear when you have been doing this kind of work for 20 years. Under the right circumstances, the right people could go bonkers over literally anything.”
She had caught that testimony wandering around the heavy atmosphere of the lecture hall where a short, bald man who was neither too important nor too disposable had been rambling about Mental Health for forty minutes. Drowned by words upon words describing heavily researched facts and statistics, that baiting yet unimportant bit had resonated with her, recorded carefully by her ears and engraved into her mind without her explicit consent.
Now, as her feet itched with dirt and the cold breeze of the river sleeping on the side caressed her into submission, the synapses found themselves dangerously absent from her own head. The brain had been deprived of blood, which had rushed urgently to the heart to keep her running through the dark, murky pathways, past the rows of rotting wooden houses and into the pier where old boats agonized in peace like elders in their death beds. No thought could breed inside her mind but the sight of her immediate surroundings caught by a pair of pulsing, bloodshot corneas. No one could go ever go mad in such a state.
Maybe Walter would feel the same way once he reached her. Surely, she had left him behind a while ago, at least for five full minutes. If he was to catch her, he would have to run too. Maybe, just maybe, running so much so hastily would dry his brain too, killing his delusional thoughts in the process.
Could that be too much to hope? That he would just forget his madness? It was either that or keep running, and now her blistered feet burned with each step and her breath evaporated into the humid air. A tree trunk by the river showed itself a few feet away from her. Possibly sit in it? Could it be too much to ask from this haunted night, a couple seconds of rest, please?
The touch of the wood felt frozen against her thin sweatpants. Her heart dropped gears as the landscape became less grainy and inside her skull the numbness ceased slowly but surely. Right in front of her the rows of sailboats stretched toward nowhere, their masts dancing to the breeze. Parallel to them ran a road of dirt, interrupted at some point with a fence and a guard’s post. “Hello?!” she half-shouted in between breaths. No use even bothering to crawl there, the thing looked completely abandoned.
She could try to lock herself in, but at this point the only sensible thing to do was overstate Walter’s cleverness. Surely it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think her predator could run there and notice the post, slowly walk towards it while she contorted her tiny frame in that pitch-black closet, unable to move, just waiting for the light of the dawn to creep in and light Walter’s six-foot-five shadow, each second an eternity, waiting for death.
That last image triggered a cruel shiver down her spine.
Walter had seemed so regular, the beginning of their relationship almost poetic. His restraint and brooding shyness captivating at the beginning, it hadn’t taken long for her to agree to meet up for some coffee. Soon the sunset gave way to the stars, the two bodies locked up, ripped fabric flying off. But many nights like these start awkwardly and end precipitously. They are the same as those other nights, the steps home a bit more shameful, the words after, if any, less enthusiastic. No night should end up like this, she repeated silently to herself.
The anxiousness, she had noticed it; his body trembling spastically and lungs overdriven as he held her on top of him on the small dorm bed. The way he touched her was strange, definitely not sure, a tiny bit funny, but tremendously flattering. A precious porcelain doll being felt by a couple of sweaty, plebeian hands for whom breaking it would mean the worst of punishments. Undressed with the utmost of care, she had returned the favor to Walter.
And now she sat by the river, exhausted, armored against the cold in only her bra, her sweat pants and a windbreaker she had managed to snatch from a chair. She massaged her feet and felt the cold. Now, at least ten minutes had passed since she had taken that winding road to the unknown. The buildings had been reduced to flickering lights in the horizon, then covered up by the trees. The bells of the boats dancing to the wind and the creaking wood made up the haunting yet strangely soothing sound of the river. She absorbed the sound and a warm gush of blood tickled her body. Twenty minutes now. How easy it seemed now to just walk out of that pier once her feet healed, the events before just a fading nightmare!
One foot in front of the other, she followed the dirt road, clumsily balancing on the patches of her feet that hadn’t been battered by the ground. Where to go from here? Get help? That would only make it more real, give strength to the now catatonic demon that lived now in the back of her skull. Go back to the dorms? She still did not feel safe there. Her body urging for nothing, all that was left was to follow the moon and hope she led someplace better.
If only that lamp post had resisted the urge to betray her. If only that lurking shadow hadn’t emerged from the woods to morph into that tall figure that now stood in front of her, carrying a baseball bat.
She turned around urgently but took a wrong step on her aching foot and was hurled into the dirt. Her heart accelerated again and she felt her limbs numb one more time. No use in standing up, no way to run nowhere. The stars stared at her, surrounded by the tips of the masts and the crowns of peeling trees, curious and relishing. She would not face them. Instead, she turned her sight to the figure, expecting to see it launching itself ferociously at her frail self.
But the figure only stood there, around thirty feet away, panting.
“W…w…Walter?” she called out.
The figure remained bolted to the dirt, hands resting on his knees, the baseball bat now on the floor. It reminded her of that frightful and unsure man that stared at her as she reached his pants and unbuckled his belt. His body had been hardened, his hands frolicking around her, pushing her away but not too much, as if trying to delay the inevitable moment. Perhaps now his delusions had disappeared after all. Perhaps it was all a misunderstanding.
If only she had tamed that look, erased that tiny laugh.
“Walter… do you want to hurt me?” her lungs struggled to pump out.
The figure raised its head. There he was, swollen with angst, his eyes lit up with sorrow. The face of a man who could only be hurt, never do it himself.
“Why did you do that?!” he cried out.
She sunk into an inexplicable, magnetic sense of safety. It went beyond compassion for that dismal expression that stared at her. Something else was being summoned. Could it be guilt? She managed to stand up and take a couple steps towards that mysterious, wounded creature that called for her.
“What are you talking about?”
“You hurt me! You didn’t have to do that!” the shadow sobbed
Of course she knew. But how could she apologize for it? There was nothing to say, nothing that could make this man feel better. No soothing defense could be concocted. There was only regret, the perverse kind of regret, the wish to go back to that moment and not be caught.
“I’m sorry!” she screamed out anyways. “I didn’t mean to, I swear to god I…”
Suddenly, the shadow’s body hardened like rock and picked up the baseball bat, stomping towards her. The wind stopped and the bells remained silent. The masts overlooked, anxious from the anticipation. She shrieked and sobbed, startled and helpless.
“I swear, Walter, I couldn’t care less about it! I… I… I had a great time! Oh, god, I did.” she begged, knees now nailed to the ground, humid eyes shut, refusing to witness their own demise.
That phrase came to her mind. The right people will go bonkers over literally anything. Excessive insecurity, obsessive fixation. In his eyes stood a goddess, an evil one, the vivid incarnation of all women. An object of worship and raging hatred at the same time, someone who had just reminded him of his worthlessness.
A gust of wind rocked the boats and propelled her backwards. The bells drummed urgently. He rubbed the baseball bat. His target stood within striking distance.
“Look! I know you must hate me right now! I know you have been told so many things…” she stared at him, trying to reign her words, even contorting her lips into a semblance of a smile. “They are all bullshit Walter! You are amazing, I loved every second we spent together!”
“You lie.” and the baseball bat ascended to the stars, ready to land.
“I don’t, Walter.” and as her survival instinct took over, she stood quicker than her body should have allowed and pressed herself against his body. His arms, cold and frigid, became a warm blanket. His breathing, a comforting stove. The wind hid again inside the fall atmosphere. “You are an amazing man, everything a woman could ever want.”
Every muscle in her body focused on not twitching into disgust as she pronounced these words, holding to the body of the beast. It was working; she could feel every muscle in his chest and shoulders relaxing, the baseball bat floating back to earth slowly.
Walter gasped. A lonely tear fell out of his eye. Words, such comforting words, could they be true, for once? Had the hatred he harbored for years been based on the irreverent lies of anonymous voices? Could the real voice be the one whispering in his ear, soft and calming like a mother’s stroke?
“Could you… could you love me?” he sobbed. “Love me for who I am?”
Her hands reached his face and wiped the tears off his chilly skin. Both sets of eyes stared at each other, under the watch of the moon, as their surroundings were rendered a mushy, blurry mass.
“Of course I could, baby. You just need to relax, put down that bat.” her voice cracked at the thought of the weapon being still firmly gripped in his right hand. “Put it down.”
And Walter did. He pressed his mouth against hers. Her lips remained hermetically closed, but she continued embracing his body. Every finger was placed with precision, every movement calculated mathematically. Just keep stroking, keep delivering tenderness until the glutton beast has been stuffed.
The kiss decomposed into a couple of hands holding, both bodies walking slowly in the same direction, away from the pier, escorted by the sounds of the hyperkinetic bells.
It was over.
She felt herself a survivor, the sense of safety more real than ever. She didn’t even mind holding that disgusting hand, knowing it meant the end of that nightmare. The blisters on her feet would heal, the trauma of facing death processed. Tomorrow would be a new day. For now, all that was left was to be guided by the moon.
“Hey, do you want to come back home, you know, finish our night?”
A shiver, of the most terrifying kind. The hand that grabbed her suddenly morphed into a handcuff. She pointed her head upwards, only to find his eyes targeting her like a laser beam.
“Um, you know… um… I am actually tired, I think I should go back to my place to… to… sleep.”
The hand squeezed harder.
“But you said you could love me.”
“I mean, look, I’m not saying anything, maybe some other time… I… I” Oh god, the pain. “Walter, you are hurting me.”
Those pupils, those monstrous pupils that spread to the whole eyeball, leaving only crimson veins squatting on the margins. Walter stopped and faced her.
“Did you lie to me?”
“Look!” her voice lost composure as the flow of tears resumed. “We can talk about this tomorrow… or… or”
Then, the howl of the wind stopped one last time, leaving only dead silence. As she was thrown violently to the ground, she could feel Walter’s body climbing on top of her, pressing against her chest, screaming his lungs out. “You are just like all others! You are just like all others!” he repeated psychotically like a broken record. Her blurry, half-conscious vision caught one last glimpse of the baseball bat flying over her, then approaching for an eternity, ever quicker.
Standing still, pointing towards the sky like crucifixes, the masts overlooked solemnly.