Driven

Soaked through, Nat tried to pretend that the pitch black of her surroundings didn’t unnerve her as much as they did. The schoolbooks she clutched were wilted and ruined.  Where Main Street had bombarded her with headlights as blinding as the dark clouds that covered the moon and stars, the residential streets were only occasionally lit by lightning.

That’s why she didn’t see.  She couldn’t be blamed for what she couldn’t see.

The sound of splashing and frantic movement froze Natalie’s feet to the pavement, her shoes submerged in a puddle.  She was cloaked by her own dark clothes, skin, and hair.  She watched a young woman her age with a halo of blonde hair and a torn white blouse crash down under the heavy weight of a bulky figure.  Pale hands scrambled against pavement as the girl tried to raise her body.  Her attacker forced her down again.  A fierce bolt of lightning glinted against a knife, and exposed the sharp features and the matted dark hair of the man above her.

When the sky lit up again, the girl’s green eyes met Natalie’s brown in a silent demand.

Do something!’

***

            It was the squelching of Natalie’s shoes against tile that told her she kept moving.  She shielded her eyes against the bright glare of florescent lights as she made her way inside the busy police station.

Uniformed men and women moved too quickly back and forth for her to watch when all she could do was stare numbly ahead.

“Miss?”

Natalie turned to see a balding man with a badge and a scowl.

“Do you need help?” he asked in what she was sure he thought was a gentle voice.  But even while trying to be soothing, he seemed demanding.

Pushing, forcing, hurting…

Could he hurt her if the police caught then freed him?  Could they protect her if they put her into the spotlight?

“No,” she answered as she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to hide the way her sodden clothes clung to her.  “No…sorry.”

The officer’s reply was drowned out by the squelching of Natalie’s shoes and the pounding of her heart in her ears as she turned and walked away.

***

“Nat?”

Her mother’s expression was weighed with worry and dim horror.  Even though she knew Natalie had entered the living room, she could not tear her gaze away from the glow of the television.

“Come and take a look at this.  Police just found a body!  I think she went to your school!”

Natalie drowned out her mother’s voice by slamming her bedroom door.

***

            Morning announced its arrival with stabbing pain streaming through worn lace curtains.  Natalie shifted further into her pillow, but the sound of clashing dishes and her mother shouting “you’re gonna be late!” from the kitchen was enough to drag her from bed.

Her clothes clung to her sticky skin, but she had no time to change.  She groped for the closet door, pulled it open and saw green eyes surrounded by clammy white skin.

Water pooled from the figure in front of her, dripping from lank blonde hair.  The girl’s gaze was vacant and her jaw slack.

“Nat!  You’re going to be late for class!”

Her mother’s voice sent shocks of terror up Natalie’s spine.  She stared into the green eyes as she reached around the drenched girl and grabbed her coat, before closing the door on the figure.

***

            It stormed again.  Dinner guests arrived drenched, the table became crowded, and complaints of traffic drifted idly through Natalie’s consciousness.  While they passed food around, well-meaning relatives nudged her with bright smiles and asked about school and life.

Despite the activity, it was the figure outside the window that held her attention.

Moon-white skin was wrinkled on a body bloated by water.  A hand pressed against the glass.  Her eyes were cloudy and unfocussed.  Her clothes clung to her as the rain poured down.

All conversation stopped as Natalie slammed her hands against the table and stood, facing defiantly towards the window.

“What do you want from me?” Her shout was shrill against the sudden quiet.

Her mother jerked her away from the table and into the hallway.  She shook Natalie back and forth, her eyes wide and her lips thin as she demanded “what is wrong with you?”

***

Nat stifled a yawn as she watched her instructor deliver more of a tirade than a lecture.

The professor raised her marker in the air, using it to emphasize her speech.  The writing on the whiteboard was as green as shower scum.

The older woman droned one minute, then scolded the next.  She was as unpredictable as the ocean, and the waves of her temper crashed against her students.

But she had never looked so pale before.

Natalie sat forward, before her body froze in familiar horror.  Water collected and spread on her instructor’s desk where her hand rested.  It pooled around her feet.  Wetness darkened her clothes, and her hair waved around suddenly clammy skin and clouded eyes.

The transformation took less time than the booming voice to reach her as she stumbled over other students to run toward the door.

Do something!”

***

The sound of squealing tires and blaring horns came from every direction as Natalie sped her Toyota Camry heedlessly through traffic.  Her foot never touched the brakes.  She swerved repeatedly across the lanes to avoid other cars.

“What do you want, what do you want, what do you…?”

Her chant was aimed at the soaked blonde sitting in the back seat that Natalie used the rearview mirror to glare at, but the woman looked past her.

When Natalie glanced in the same direction, she finally saw him, standing at a street corner, dressed in blue jeans and a torn t-shirt.  His hair was cut shorter than she remembered, but the profile was the same.  The cold, steely look in his eyes was the same.  The hands that had ruined two lives were crammed in his pockets.

She looked into the review mirror again at white eyes that bore into hers with a demand that rang between her own ears, drowning at her own thoughts. ‘Do something…’

Natalie pressed the gas pedal to the floor.  She plowed through traffic and ignored screams and horns.  The cold eyes that kept her up at night became wide and boyish in their panic.

*************************

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Respect: You’re Doing it Wrong

I want to say something about the “you have to earn my respect” and “lack of boundaries invites a lack of respect” memes and sayings I’ve been seeing. Yeah…here’s the thing:

Human decency and respect is not something others have to earn from you, it is the price you pay to live among others. And victims of mistreatment are NEVER to blame for the actions of others.

Victimizing and blaming victims for their victimization perpetuates a culture of entitlement, which in turn influences the next generation into knowing very little about their own human rights because it’s people who don’t respect others and who perpetuate the ideas that they have the right to determine who should or should not be respected who call the shots. It perpetuates a culture that doesn’t know anything about teaching the next generation boundaries or autonomy because they’re taught first that they have to earn self-worth from the validation of others, and then that self-worth can be negated if another person decides their actions, way of speaking, dressing, or way of living doesn’t qualify them for human decency and respect. .

Short of someone actually physically attacking you, If you cannot show every person you meet basic human decency and respect, the problem is not them, it is you. The problem is not lack of firm boundaries, the problem is the people who push people’s boundaries because they’re uneducated or ignorant of the concept of consent, the most basic of human rights. Yet those are the people allowed to dominate the conversation with catchy, contemptuous sayings with no real meaning beyond “correct my behavior for me, or don’t be surprised when I and my cohorts treat you poorly.”

Tiny Submissions are Still Submissions

I’ve entered a ten word story into Gotham Writers’ A Very Short Story Contest.

Each participant may submit a ten word story.

Consider opportunities like this between novels.  They keep your skills sharp and diverse.  Only a few words submitted to a publisher is still work submitted to a publisher.