Written by Reinbeauchaser
Inspired by a friend
DISCLAIMER: The TMNT's are owned by someone else, certainly not by me otherwise my bank account would look nicer than it does. I only possess the creativity to write this story and nothing else. Thanks to a special friend who egged me on to write this. Just so you know, Leo is her most favorite turtle:0)
Chapter 1 – Discovery
Like a long Alaskan winter, her life had frozen over with the cold monotony of isolation and repetitive scenery. She lived alone, rarely leaving her apartment, as she much preferred the quiet of her own heart and the droning discourse of television. Yet, on those occassions when she did slip outside, it was always at night and well after everyone in her brownstone had retired for the evening.
And, true to her style of living, she was never one to get involved with them. Life had taught her not to. It was far too easy to get hurt if she did, for she found that people were too unpredictable and, at times, dangerous.
Consequently, she kept her window shades drawn, her door locked, and she ventured to the store only for supplies.
As for her neighbors in the adjoining tenements on her floor, they rarely saw her. It was the same for the three lower levels as well. Yet, as far as anyone was concerned, she was merely the eccentric person in apartment 4B, the woman who hid under a cape – even during the heat of summer.
In fact, many weren't even aware that she was a woman and on those rare occasions they did happen to see her, they treated her as nothing more than an odd color of paint on the wall.
She was fine with this, of course. As far as she was concerned, the less attention she drew to herself, the happier she felt. Not that she ever felt happy, but people made her nervous and she was happiest when they left her alone. With her finances secure from her father's inheritance, she had little need to find a job. Had it been otherwise, though, she would have probably ended up on welfare - or worse. As it turned out, the way her life had become since her father died would have landed her in a mental ward anyway.
Nevertheless, it was her father's will that had provided her with enough funds to live the way she did, allowing her as much comfort as she desired, even though her simple lifestyle might have challenged such notions. Anyone else might have used the money to buy a house in the Hampton's or possibly invest in a business. But for Beth, those things were almost impossible for her to do, at least not without sacrificing her anonymity. Nonetheless, at twenty-five, she had retired from the world and cared little what anyone else thought about her.
Let them think I'm strange, she had said to herself once, at least in that way they will leave me alone!
Average in height and build, the way she walked and with the way she would hunch her shoulders, Beth seemed smaller in stature. She wasn't a striking beauty, per se', yet she was attractive enough to have warranted attention and it was that very reason why she hid from the world. She tried very hard, in fact, to undermine whatever beauty was naturally hers...and, she had succeeded, too.
Furthering that end, though they were not of her doing, the girl bore scars along her body. And though the cicatrix across her stomach was the worst one, even the track of that particular wound could not compete with the emotional scars lying undetected in her mind. Her mental turmoil, painfully debilitating, had burdened her like the proverbial millstone. Running deep and foreboding, many times it overwhelmed the girl, relentlessly controlling every move she made, every thought, and every action. The neurosis had kept her under its influence for years without mercy, yet, she had learned to accept it, even embracing it. It had become like a friend to her, someone who could take her 'away' for a time, to forget – or maybe even force her to face her inner demons!
And in the sanctuary of her apartment, locked away behind her door and from prying eyes, she could visit these events undisturbed, too. She could suffer in solitude with just herself, hiding away from those who might interfere. Over time, she had become comfortable with being just part of 'one' rather than 'one of many', and she didn't have any reason at all to change things, either.
Yet, as so often happens, 'safe' would soon become a relative term to Beth. If not for the next event in her life, if she had stuck to her normal route, she would have continued living in hiding, secure and lost to the world, the way she had for the past five years.
Nevertheless, the path she would take one particular evening would change everything in her life and in more ways than she would have ever imagined.
For Beth, the day had ended as many of them did. As she woke up, she found herself staring at her television. While she forced her mind back to the present, pushing away the images of past fears and events, her hands moved tentatively off her lap and down to her side. Feeling the worn material of her couch told her that she had managed to make it to the sofa in time, before 'it' started again. Beth sighed and swallowed, noticing almost immediately how dry her throat was. It was the telltale sign that 'it' had lasted for a good long while. Blinking her eyes to focus better, she tried to move, now, and then grimaced, when she realized how stiff her back was.
"How long was I out this time?" she asked herself. She looked up at the clock on the wall and groaned, "Five hours?"
Beth looked around her apartment and noticed how brightly lit her lamp glowed and then how dark her living room and kitchen was. Not even the pulled and taped window blind over her sink offered the usual diffused light of day. She looked back at the clock again and realized it was nearly eight in the evening.
Sometimes during her catatonic episodes, she would find herself in her rigid state for an hour or more, just staring, wondering, and wishing. Beth would lose all sense of time, then.
However, on some occasions, it would happen where hours would pass before she reemerged back into the real world again.
She groaned, remembering how she had thought of Him earlier. She only had to think about Him, now, with how He had changed her life, to start the process once more. Like a broken record, she would repeatedly go over the details of what had happened that day. Sometimes she would successfully break the cycle, only to then wonder what her life would have been like had things turned out differently.
That was when her catatonic episodes would stretch into hours, then, and she would wake up sullen and depressed, such as now.
She would then function normally for a short time before she would again lapse into her subconscious world, reliving the terror that had started the process in the first place. Unfortunately, it seemed to occur frequently enough that living what others considered a 'normal' life was impossible for her. In the end, she had to be content with the way her life had become. For Beth, it was far more comfortable than to even think about changing, even a little bit. She had likened it to wearing shoes too small for her feet, yet it was all that she had, so she put up with it. True, her feet might hurt, but it had a familiar pain and one that was easier to bear than risking change with a different pair of 'shoes'.
In the end, Beth preferred her 'shoes', to the uncertainty of what life might be like otherwise.
Once she was fully free from her episode, she stood up from the couch, now, and slowly stretched her arms and her back. They protested earnestly from their prior rigid catatonic state, but she stubbornly resisted their complaint. She felt the same grumbling from her legs, too, but she ignored them for the moment, as well. She had another sensation that seemed to be a bit more persistent.
Pangs of hunger now overwhelmed her, as if she hadn't eaten in a while. And she hadn't, that was another aspect to her 'condition'. She would forget to eat. Still, the severity of her complaining stomach was a telling sign that she needed to eat – and soon!
So, she pushed back her gradually rising mood of depression, took a deep breath, and headed for her kitchen.
Now, as she stood in front of her refrigerator and held open its door, Beth stared into the near empty appliance and scowled.
"Just as empty as I'm feeling it seems," she grumped, "Why didn't I notice this sooner?"
As air from the appliance flowed out to caress her feet, Beth closed her eyes and expressed a long breathy sigh. The chilled sensation seemed to help accelerate her recovery, so she embraced it for the moment. Still, she wanted to kick herself for not noticing her refrigerator's deprived condition sooner, before her episode had begun.
That was what always made it so frustrating for her. The attacks were unpredictable and irregular. Memory triggers were funny like that. It often took only a stray errant thought to get them going, too. Sometimes, though, it was a smell, or a color, or even touching something simple, such as cardboard.
That was what triggered her episode this time, a cardboard box.
Earlier, she had planned to go through some personal affects from her closet, a chore she did from time to time. It gave her something to do during her dismally boring life. Yet, not every memory trigger worked the same way with each occurring episode. That, in and of itself, was one reason why she would never function in the real world. It was hard to predict what would set her off.
However, this time, when her hand brushed against a small cardboard box on the closet shelf, the sensation had brought 'Him' back to her again. Maybe it was the time of year or the weather outside coinciding in that moment. It was hard to say, since Beth associated many things to what happened then, and cardboard had been one of the ingredients to her memories, too.
Just the same, the moment she touched it, she knew it was beginning again. In fact, if she recalled correctly, she barely made it to her couch before the episode began.
Now, as she stood in front of her opened and empty refrigerator, she berated herself for not going to the store sooner. If it were not for her attack, she would have checked its condition and made the challenging trip to the grocers. Grumbling to herself, now, she stood there and continued to stare into the empty interior. She tried to quiet the complaint in her equally empty stomach, damning her life and wishing things could be different. But they weren't. And, as the hard truth of the matter weighed against her, Beth knew that, despite the hour, she had to go to the grocers - that is, if she wanted to eat.
Suddenly, an all too familiar, vile tremor came over her. Taking a deep breath, she tried to calm the ascending terror, trying to focus on the cool offerings from her refrigerator. She closed her eyes tightly against the foreboding threat and, after a moment, realized that it was not going to be enough. Yet, no way in hell would she allow herself another attack to happen.
Quickly, she closed the refrigerator's door and took two steps to a cupboard. Jerking it open, Beth next retrieved a glass, almost dropping it in her haste. Then, without hesitation, she swiftly filled it to the brim with tap water. Beth stared at the contents for a moment, hating and yet embracing its shimmering promise of normalcy.
Then, sighing deeply, she brought it quickly to her quivering lips and drank deep, like a starving man.
Immediately, she felt the cool liquid course its way down her throat. She smiled, gratefully embracing the sensation. Although it was a rare occurrence, it wasn't unusual for her to have repeated catatonic episodes. Consequently, avoiding a second attack became paramount to her. Having another one would force her to wait until morning and then she would have to go out when everyone else was.
Beth was determined not to let that happen.
Looking at the clock above her stove, she realized suddenly that the grocery store would be closing in less than two hours. For most people, that would have been plenty of time to walk the three blocks to the store. But for Beth and her psychosis, it would be just enough time to make it there, buy what she needed, and return to her apartment again. Aside from just drumming up the courage to go outside, she still had to traverse the dangerous streets of New York.
Once she felt the numbing feeling ebb away, she sighed in blessed relief. Resigned to what she had to do, Beth hurried out of her kitchen and over to her coat closet to get her cape and shoes. She was mindful what she touched too, not even glancing up at the shelf above the rack, where the dreaded cardboard box sat.
Her coat closet was a small two-foot wide by two-foot depression in the wall next to her front door. It held only a few items, such as a couple of umbrellas and the infamous cardboard boxes on the upper shelf.
Yet, the most important item in the cubbyhole was her over-sized, hooded coat. It gave her the anonymity she needed to hide away from society while traversing New York's streets. Safe within her personal shroud, Beth could slip in among the populace, unseen for who she was, and insulated from her imagined fears.
After she had slipped her shoes on and shrugged into her coat, she suddenly noticed its rather pungent odor.
"Need to wash this pretty soon, I guess," she thought to herself, "at least so I can put up with me."
Still, Beth knew the coat's unique bouquet kept most people a safe distance from her. The fact that she hadn't taken care of herself much, either, added to the odor. She smiled, thinking how people would often glare at her whenever she would walk by them. Knowing how most wrinkled their nose and scowled at her, she found it rather humorous.
They assume so much, she thought to herself, thinking I'm homeless all because of how I dress – and smell." She thought about her inheritance, and knew it was enough to buy the building she lived in, and it saddened her, too. "Why should money determine eccentricity, while poverty only makes one strange?" she wondered aloud, shaking her head.
Just the same, it mattered not to her. In fact, it gave her a sense of power, as if she was a well-kept secret. Maybe one day her secret would come out of hiding, but not now, not for a long time, not if she had anything to say about it. Beth was happy with where she was and with how she lived, even with her episodes.
Pushing her stringy brown hair back into the nether reaches of her hood, she brought the front of her head covering down low in front of her. Then, Beth pulled at the sides to further shield her face, so that anyone glancing her way would not easily see her. She next grabbed up her wallet from the end table by the couch and shoved her billfold into one of the coat pockets.
Beth then opened her front door and slowly stepped outside.
Closing it quietly behind her, she now stood facing the hallway, just beyond the door's threshold. She leaned protectively against the wooden barrier and took in a deep breath. As she stared ahead and towards the stair casing beyond, Beth assessed her next task.
Three areas in the hallway floor had boards that had weakened from age and noticeably squeaked when stepped on. Anyone trying to get to the stairs without making any noise would have to know their location in order to do so. Considering how hard Beth tried to go about the world unnoticed, the girl knew exactly where the weakened boards were, too.
Now, as she stood there by her apartment door, she studied their proximity, as one would a minefield. Knowing there was at least one person on the fourth floor listening for such sounds, Beth was determined not to satisfy the old woman's curiosity. She hated nosey people and even though her fellow renter had never said a word to her, Mrs. Andrew's peeping habit annoyed Beth greatly.
However, once the girl determined where the weakened boards were, she took in a deep breath and pushed away from her door. Beth took a couple of steps forward before quickly moving alongside the banister. Following the railing for a few paces, she then executed a wide sidestep to the left. Three more paces forward and she took another wide step, this time to the right and putting her back alongside the banister again. All the while, her footfall was soft and nearly undetectable.
Finally, reaching the stairwell, she made a right hand, one-eighty turn at the end post and quietly slipped down the steps.
Beth always breathed easier at this point. Still, as her hearing informed her, it was obvious that someone had watched her progress. She had heard the not too subtle opening of a door, the creak sounding out at the end of her walk through the hallway, as she began to step down the stairs. How the widow, Mrs. Andrews, always knew when Beth was out of her apartment, when she had tried so hard to be quiet, irritated the girl.
"Fine, get a good long look at me. Hope it makes your day!" the girl seethed inwardly, shaking her head in frustration.
Just the same, Beth ignored the woman's prying eyes and continued to work her way down to the next two flights of stairs, each level providing fewer and fewer challenges. As she finally made it to the first floor, Beth managed to go completely unnoticed by the remaining tenants in the complex. After all, it was evening time, with most of the renters too busy with their dinner to hear anyone walking about in the hallway.
Still, Beth had to shake off the feeling of dread and insecurity. She really hated going outside. So many things could go so horribly wrong. Still, she didn't want her fears to overwhelm her before she could even make it beyond the foyer doors. The last thing she needed was to go catatonic again and out in public, no less. Beth was certain the authorities would then have her locked up long before she could even emerge from its affects.
That was something she would never let happen to her. She would rather die than end up in the state mental hospital. Even though she was a virtual prisoner in her own apartment, it was a choice she made of her own free will. There wasn't any way she would let anyone else decide for her how to live, or even where she would live.
Once outside her residence, though, she stood tentatively along the stoop, the main doors to the brownstone directly behind her. She looked up the street and then down the other side, assessing the population of her neighborhood. Beth quickly noticed that Greenwich Avenue seemed less hectic than normal this evening. The hush was almost overwhelming, in fact, and Beth wondered why that was. She saw a few people milling about, oblivious to her presence, and more than likely returning home from work or possibly going to the store. Yet, her general neighborhood seemed more peaceful than usual.
Still, not wanting to lose her momentum, she readily accepted it for the moment. At the very least, it bolstered her resolve to do what she had to do.
As Beth's courage grew stronger, now, she took another deep breath and eased slowly down the front steps to the sidewalk below.
From Beth's brownstone and heading south, Greenwich boasted a long line of similar structures, all conjoined together to form one almost seamless row of pre-war buildings. Over all, from where she lived, it was a rather long block to closest cross street, which was Seventh. In-between her building, an alley broke up the monotonous line of architecture as it bordered alongside her brownstone, running between her building and those facing Seventh. It then ran west from where she lived ending at Waverly, two blocks away, and behind where the grocers was. Yet, she never paid the alley any mind, since she rarely, if ever, used it.
Just thinking about the byway, though, gave her some trepidation. It was another memory trigger and one Beth rallied against as it tempted her with another episode. As she walked along, she took several more deep breaths and focused harder on her task.
Nevertheless, she knew that there was the occasional transient that would set up camp at the mouth of alleyway. There, they would face the street and ask for handouts. Except on rare occasions, the police normally kept the neighborhood clear of such vagrants, so she usually never gave it more than a passing thought. Tonight, though, she had good reason not to think about it and as she successfully passed the alley unchallenged, she let loose a long-held breath.
She had made it!
Now, she could focus on the remaining part of her trek. She smiled within the confines of her hood, too, thinking about the grocers.
McHenry's was a business handed down from grandfather, to son, to grandson. Sean, the current proprietor and getting on in years, was a kindly man and Beth liked him very much. He ran the corner store with a friendly smile and an almost insatiable need to talk. Although she was probably one of his oddest customers, he never treated her any differently than he did anyone else. She rather liked the old Irishman. He never asked her too many personal questions, either, more content to do most of the talking. And he would do so almost none stop while he rung up her groceries, too, his thick Irish brogue pleasantly tickling her ears. He seemed to enjoy his own voice and it didn't matter to Beth what he said so long as he was the one doing the conversing. Although she rarely, if ever, responded, she much enjoyed the safety of his conversations, mostly because Sean seemed quite harmless and non-threatening to her, almost like her father.
Slowly making her way towards Seventh Street, Beth looked up and noticed one single bright star. With the evening already upon her, the light of day had already receded beyond the horizon. The sun was well below the cityscape, as the night greedily pushed its brilliance further west. Beth huddled a little deeper into her cloak, now, continuing her trek to the store as she shivered slightly under her coat. Spring, with its bounty of new growth and warmer days, still offered an occasional kiss of winter's chill at evening time. It justified appropriate clothing at night, such as hooded coats. Just the same, Beth wished she had at least planned better by slipping on a sweater before leaving her apartment.
However, she wasn't about to risk going back to her dwelling and losing her one chance to get food, so she pressed onwards.
As she continued to walk along the sidewalk heading towards Seventh, Beth chanced a look at the sky once more. She was thankful she lived where she did and beyond the influence of skyscrapers, where the monstrous edifices would have normally obscured such visions. She was convinced had she lived deeper towards the busier end of town the one lone star would have remained invisible to her entirely. A procession of clouds now passed overhead, promising rain, and Beth hoped it would be well after she returned to her apartment. She chided herself for not bringing along one of her umbrellas.
"Oh well, at least I have my hood!" she reasoned silently.
Playing hide and seek among the clouds glowed the quarter moon, bright from the receding sun's reflection. Most of the stars - save for the solitary one she had just seen - were far too faint to fight their way through the city's artificial illumination. Still, Beth sighed and wished that she could see more of them, they way she did when she was a little girl and living upstate in the country before her father had died. A feeling of melancholy soon draped over her, its cloak of depression almost rivaling her inner fears. Once more, she took a deep breath, a thick swallow, and regained for the moment a ragged bit of self-control.
She knew she had to hurry and get her groceries, because she knew her phobia was a stubborn one and would persist harassing her until it claimed her once again. She could not go catatonic in public, she just couldn't.
With the streetlamps bathing the sidewalks with their artificial radiance, darkness descended more rapidly. Hunching her shoulders against the dropping temperatures and shoving her hands deeper into her pockets, now, Beth continued her torturous walk. More than before she began to realize that the neighborhood was indeed quieter than normal and it almost made her wonder if maybe something was wrong.
Just as she thought she would go unnoticed, though, and as the intersection of Seventh and Greenwich came into view, she looked up and spied a crowd hovering around the corner - and on her side of the street, no less.
To make matters worse, the police were there as well.
Beth slowed her walk instinctively and watched the knot of observers. It didn't take long before she realized they were merely curious bystanders witnessing whatever it was that the police were doing. It seemed that the authorities had somebody in custody, too, at least by what Beth could see. Just beyond them, she spied an ambulance and knew that someone had obviously been hurt.
However, the police seemed to be escorting someone into one of their squad cars. As she studied the person under arrest, she immediately realized that they were dressed in what appeared to be black pajamas. Two officers then shoved the pajama-clad man into the back of the car, his hands cuffed behind him. The ambulance took off right afterwards with its sirens blaring and then soon after, the police cruiser. A few of the people watching the spectacle seemed pleased where they cheered the event, as if they had just been relieved of an annoying problem.
Beth was aware of the occasional break-in and robbery in her neighborhood, so she wondered, then, if the man in custody was responsible for them.
"Strange that he would wear pajamas to do it in, though," she thought. And yet, considering how she, herself, dressed, she couldn't really point fingers. "Well," she mused, "This is New York, after all."
Now, as she looked around, she was thankful the weather was cool enough to warrant such outerwear as her hooded cape. At least she did not draw any more attention to herself. She avoided police as much as possible, since her appearance and even her smell would make them believe she was homeless. She wasn't, though, and she could probably prove that fact, but she knew all too well how unpredictable her catatonia could be. It was best she avoid the authorities all together.
Just the same, as she analyzed things and as she noticed some of the police still milling around, she realized going her normal path to the store would not work this time. It would put her right smack in the middle of whatever was happening at the corner.
So, she stopped and assessed her choices, now. She looked back towards her building, wondering if it would be the lesser of the two evils to wait until early morning. She knew that McHenry's opened at seven, but, the persistent nagging growl from her stomach told her she needed to eat - and as soon as possible.
She then considered the alley just behind her. Beth sighed and knew she would have to take that route to the store. It seemed to be her best alternative considering her other choice.
Quickly retracing her steps and ducking into the side-alley, she walked as fast as she could. Tarrying too long in such a place was not a wise thing for her to do, especially in New York City and especially considering her experiences.
She wasn't that stupid.
Beth still had to fight back the sense of foreboding building up inside of her, though. She stubbornly persevered, however, hurrying along at a frantic pace and keeping her ears and eyes alert for any trouble. Anything at all that looked menacing to her, Beth decided she would run back to her apartment and just go hungry until morning. She had gone without food before; she could do it again and for one more night if she had to.
Just the same, the more she walked, the more she began to realize that waiting until the next day might have been better to do, all things considered. Even though she hated being out during the day, it was certainly safer than being in the alley right now and at night.
"What was I thinking?" she moaned to herself.
Regardless of her second thoughts, Beth knew that it was too late to go back, now; she was almost halfway to her goal. She was fully aware that once she had the courage to go outdoors, she usually had to force herself to follow through with the task. There was no telling how long it would be before she found the gumption to go outside again.
Suddenly and just before she reached the halfway point in the alley, where it T-ed across the end of another byway running directly behind her brownstone apartment, she heard someone groan. At first, it only made her walk faster. She thought to herself that whoever it was, probably had too much too drink and the last thing she wanted was to cross paths with a drunk.
"I hate drunks!" she mumbled vehemently and having good reason to feel that way, too. Yet she pushed those reasons aside, fearing another episode, Beth gave a cautionary glance to a pile of debris resting along the back wall of the buildings facing Seventh Street. She was certain the moaning came from there. Now, she hurried even more, recognizing there were cardboard boxes in among the trash.
Still, the groaning intensified, sounding more desperate. In that moment, Beth felt compelled to slow down just a little. She recognized how pain-filled the complaint seemed to be.
A small quiet voice inside of her then suddenly warned, "Don't get involved, Beth. You know what happened the last time you did. Don't – be - stupid."
She tried to hurry on, shuddering in worry and almost near to panicking. As she passed the very point in the alley from where she had heard the voice, the groan suddenly strangled. It was as if the owner was having difficulty breathing, now.
Instead of another inner warning, in a rush, her father's words came back to her, pushing aside her previous anxiety, "Never pass up an opportunity for a good deed, Beth."
"It was a good deed that ruined my life!" she countered angrily. The girl shook her head, trying to ignore her father's voice, ignore its prodding; trying to remember what happened the last time that she tried to help someone.
Yet, unmercifully, it persisted, "Do something good and good will do something for you!"
"Yeah, right…try telling that to the drunk who attacked me," she moaned to herself. She carefully recalled that event, gingerly skirting around the emotions it created, lest she lapse into another episode. As she remembered it, the drunk had played injured and begged for her help. There had been the smell of alcohol wafting up from the cardboard box where he lay, seemingly injured. She had hesitated ever so slightly, even then.
Yet, the caring nature that was Beth's and the way her father had raised her to be - to show compassion, overwhelmed her better judgment. When she finally tried to help the man, he lunged at her, cupping his hand over her mouth, before dragging her into his home - the cardboard box. There, he proceeded to rape and then assault her.
After it was all over, he had fled, but not until he had stabbed her several times. He had left her bleeding and almost near death, in fact. She was mostly unconscious, but if the police had not come by shortly afterwards and hadn't heard her moaning, she probably would have certainly died.
As it was, she ended up spending six months in the hospital, enduring several operations and countless sessions with physical therapist and counselors.
Then, tragically and before she was even at a point of recovery, her father had died suddenly from a heart attack and so went her reasons for getting better.
In her mind, how could she have her life back again the way that it was before, when her father was alive? Now that he was gone, there wasn't anyone to protect her. She was alone - helpless.
Just the same, she did have enough presence of mind to get through the legalities of her inheritance. The fact that she was her father's sole beneficiary, where her mother had died years earlier, made the transition of his fortunes smoother than if there were brothers and sisters clambering for his wealth.
Then, the police lucked out when they found the man responsible for raping and almost killing Beth. It was soon after the trial, after he was convicted and sentenced, when she began her catatonic episodes. Hard as she tried to keep them from happening, though, they were relentless, gradually forcing her into seclusion and hiding away from the rest of the world.
Her life, as she once knew it, soon evaporated into nothingness.
Now, as she continued to listen to the groaning and strangled breathing from the alley, it seemed to get louder with urgency. Her prior fear melted away to concern. The more Beth listened, the more she realized she couldn't just ignore it, even if she wanted to. She just had to know what was wrong. At the very least, she could go back to the police, a block away, and tell them. Then, they could handle the problem and she could live with herself, knowing that she had helped someone in need. Her conscience would then rest easier.
She stopped, realizing she had to do this. She didn't know what compelled her, though. Beth knew she should try to ignore it, but she had already made up her mind.
Turning back around and facing the line of brickwork buildings, now, she took small slow steps as she followed the source of the sound. Almost right away, she noticed a thin ribbon of red, a glistening trial running along one side of the alley.
"Blood?" she wondered tenuously.
It almost made her re-think her decision. She hesitated for just a second, too. Visions of her assault came back to her in a blinding, awful rush, the slightest tremor of fear beginning to grow up her spine. In that moment, she had all she could do to hold on to her conscious state.
Nevertheless, the groaning continued, becoming a bit louder even, and pulling Beth further back to the waking world.
As she studied the trail of red and visually followed its path, she noted in the scant light the blood was still fresh. Haltingly, she followed it over to where it ran under the small mountain of the discarded boxes. She ducked into the shadows along the rear wall of the warehouse and looked around, holding her breath.
Every fiber of her being was on edge, now, for she was certain this was a trap, yet just as certain someone was injured and needed her help. She wrestled with both thoughts pulling at her. So far, the alley seemed empty – except for her and the person whom she knew was obviously hurt. She reassessed the blood-trial seeping out from under the cardboard boxes. It was already far too similar to what happened to her five years before.
As the boxes taunted Beth, threatening her with visions of her assault, at the same time, something distracted her from what would surely have become another episode. Beth noticed a long metal object lying next to that side of the alley and up against the back of the building. Strangely, the object seemed way out of place in the city.
As she took a step closer, she quickly ascertained that the object was a sword.
"What?" she asked, her brows pinching together in curiosity, "What is a sword doing here?" She looked around cautiously and then turned back to study the weapon a little better.
The length of the narrow steel blade appeared just a little longer than two feet, with its hilt made from some blackened material, maybe wood or possibly an alloy of sorts. It seemed aged or at least well used, too. Gasping just a little, Beth cocked her head a bit and looked at it more intently. Something about the weapon alarmed her and it was then that she was able to identify the reason.
Smeared along the halfway point and down to its very tip, a thick coating of blood covered the sword's shiny blade. For a second time, she caught her breath and seriously considered continuing on to the store and just ignoring her conscience. Then, she wondered if the blood belonged to the person in pain, or…someone else entirely.
Finally, feeling braver than she had in recent memory, Beth quickly moved some of the boxes away. She tried to ignore the feel of the corrugated cardboard and the memories they conjured up for her. Mustering her courage further, she pushed them back and, little by little, she removed the pile of junk one piece at a time. She began to work faster, now, as the groaning intensified. Whoever it was lying underneath, seemed desperate for help, as if its very life depended on her and her alone!
As she removed more of the debris away, there in front of her, lying along the concrete ground, a form began to take shape. The body appeared crumpled and in a fetal position, its limbs twitching involuntarily, maybe because of pain. Moving more of the discarded trash and boxes from the injured person, she could hear him groan more audibly, now. She hurried, certain the person was truly hurt and in need of her help. Maybe he would die if she didn't move fast enough. Now, empty and torn boxes flew, as she wildly cleared them away from the person underneath.
Yet, with each box she removed, as she began to see who it was, the truth slowly began to dawn on her. Whoever was injured and buried beneath the debris was not human; that is if their skin coloring was any indication.
At first, she was simply curious; believing the meager light in the alley was playing tricks on her. She even laughed to herself, thinking about what she thought she saw.
However, it didn't take long before she realized what she was looking at was something not influenced by the lack of lighting.
Immediately, Beth wanted to scream, to race back to her apartment, and to safety.
Nevertheless, a stronger motivation begged her to find out what it was she was really looking at.
As she assessed the creature lying along the ground before her, bleeding and in obvious agony, Beth thought of aliens and wondered if maybe this creature was from outer space. She laughed again, knowing how preposterous that sounded. Yet, she could not deny what she was looking at, no – not at all!
As she pushed the last remaining box away, fully revealing the person beneath it, she could only stand there in awe, gawking like an idiot. She apparently did so for a much longer time than common sense said she should have. Before she could react and before she could sound out, the thing on the ground ceased its moaning and opened its eyes.
Now, it stared right back at her, his darkened orbs filled with pain and – with fear.
Beth had all she could do to stand riveted to her spot in the alley as she looked back down at the strange being. She was mute and slack jawed with shock, her arms limp at her side in surprise. She tried to make sense of things and, although she wanted to run for her life, she could only stand there instead, mute and immobile.
Whether it was the boxes or the creature, it was hard to tell. In either event, Beth was unable to move or even to think, because – once again - she had gone catatonic.