Chapter 1: Dark Mantra
Mary never imagined how dark the night could be. Its depth surprised her, but she still felt nothing. It was almost as if she could drown inside of its blackness. She felt no air around her. Her body was suffocating in the vacuum of night. The darkness clung to her, wrapped itself around her, and overwhelmed her senses. Beyond the droplets of water sliding down the windshield, she saw nothing and she felt nothing.
How accurate, she thought. She drew connections in her mind between the weather and the events of the evening. Each water drop on the windshield symbolized a new thought that was just slipping away from her. Her mind was both blank and full. She had so many thoughts, but all of them were fleeting. Each one competed with the others for a place at the forefront of her memory. She wanted so desperately to relive the night but couldn’t wrap her mind around the concept.
She kept coming back to that word, rolling it around in her thoughts. It couldn’t be possible. That was what happened to other people, but not to her. It especially couldn’t have happened with him.
Her eyes darted sideways to steal a glance at Alex. He had been her childhood best friend, her confidante, and her secret-keeper, but in the last few hours, reality had shattered the image she had of him. Alex lifted his hand to place it on her arm, offering an outward gesture of intimacy and comfort. Slowly, she raised her eyes to meet his. She imagined what he might see deep in her soul. Would he see the emptiness, the loneliness, the struggle to process what had happened? Would he see her desperation to find the person she once thought she knew so well?
Panic grabbed her in its clutches and forced her to look at the ugly truth of where she was. She was in a car with a man who could only be described as a stranger now. Her apartment was so close, but she was scared to leave the car and bridge the gap. She didn’t want to leave until she had answers. Mary needed to understand what happened before she could move on and leave this man behind her.
The heaviness of her questions weighed down on her. She hadn’t known that everything would change so quickly, without any warning. Mary tried to reach into the depths of her mind, but only came up with more questions. She didn’t understand, and couldn’t process, exactly what had happened to her, to Alex. Unable to stand the pressure weighing on her chest any longer, she reached for the door and let herself out.
She didn’t have the words to say goodbye to Alex. She didn’t know if she ever would.
As she opened the door she welcomed the rush of fresh air against her face. It helped her to breathe easier and opened up her mind. The rain pelted against her skin, helping her to ground herself in reality. The wetness of it against her skin helped her to realize that this was real. Mary walked up the pathway to her apartment without thinking, allowing the sheer habit of the walk to guide her. After letting herself in, she looked around, dropping her belongings immediately. Unsure of what to do next, she headed straight towards her shower, certain that it would help her to clear her mind. Determination replaced fear, and numbness was overwhelmed by urgency. She was filled with the feeling of being dirty and impure. Her stomach turned and made her feel nauseous. She worried her skin would never get clean enough. More than that, it went beyond just her skin. The grime was inside her, deep within her body where Alex had touched her. It flowed from the place in her mind where that she couldn’t access, and it infected the rest of her body.
In the shower, she turned the hot water just enough to scald her. She poured more soap than usual and scrubbed herself harder than ever before. No matter how much effort she put into her shower, she still couldn’t erase the filth of what happened with Alex. As she scrubbed, the memories and images floated to the surface, robbing her of the numbness she had all night. It was impossible to think of anything except for what she had seen and felt.
It was a horror movie playing the same few frames over and over again. Alex’s calloused hands were rubbing her body, invading her. The smell of his sweat filled her nostrils like smoke, choking her, depriving her of fresh air. His whispered words, intimate and unwelcome, echoed in her ears like a ringing bell. The weight of his body on hers pressed down on her chest and made it hard to breathe. The fear overwhelmed her and her heart began to race again. As the scene came to a close, so did her need to cleanse herself.
She left the shower with swollen skin, tender to the touch because of her vigorous scrubbing. Her mind continued to race and she climbed into her bed. Mary closed her eyes as tightly as she could, pulling the sheets from her bed around her. She wanted them to lie tightly against her, to act as a barrier that would keep the dark mantra of Alex’s words away from her. The bed linens cooled her hot skin but did little for her agitated mind. Where she should have found peace and comfort, she only found uneasiness. The silence and emptiness of the bedroom welcomed her unpleasant thoughts. It became a breeding ground for her thoughts to run rampant.
Alex had once been her childhood best friend. She had told him everything, and he had robbed her of her power and her peace. Her life at home was wonderful as an adult, with two beautiful children and a loving husband. Would her marriage be in jeopardy because another man had violated her? Would she feel as hopeless as she had throughout her childhood? Though she had overcome the odds to have an enjoyable and successful life, she felt pain creep back into her life. Alex had shattered something innocent and pure, and made it impossible for her to think of anything other than him.
How could this have happened to her? She had already endured so many hardships and trials that it seemed unfair for life to hand her this. She was locked inside her own prison of sadness and couldn’t find a way out. Though she longed for sleep, it eluded her. Though she was desperate for answers, she longed to forget the events. Her desire for clarity equaled her desire to forget.
She tried to hold her breath and force herself to sleep, eager for the release from reality. Instead, she tossed and turned. She was exhausted, but she could only cry. Occasionally she would laugh at how absurd this situation seemed. Of course it hadn’t really happened. It was nothing but a dream. It was a terrible nightmare, but soon she would return home to her family and this night would be forgotten with only a small laugh. The next time she saw Alex she might blush and think about what a horrible dream it had been, but she would be safe. She struggled to maintain this train of thought because deep down, she knew that her nightmare was true and she couldn’t continue to avoid it.
She rolled over and stared at the clock, willing the morning to come faster. As the first lights of dawn begin to drift through the window, she became impatient with the sun’s slow ascent to the sky. Finally, she grew weary of lying in bed and decided her time would be better spent elsewhere. She rose up out of the bed and dressed herself slowly, still numb. She found it too difficult to move quickly because of the stupor she felt. It was like being wrapped in a cloud of fog, unable to see too far in front of her.
She walked outside and wandered along the streets. As the early morning light surrounded her, she felt comfortable reflecting on the events of last night. She took a step back in her mind and simply thought about what happened, without attaching any emotions to it. Each step through the sleeping city was another step towards peace, towards a resolution for her. What had happened was real, but Mary would be able to move past it in time.
Her silent self-reflection was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. A quick look at the screen told her Alex was calling. She froze on the sidewalk, unsure of what to do. Mary listened to its jingle over and over again, watching his name flash across the screen. In her mind, she was gaining power over the situation by choosing not to respond to his calls. She grew more powerful with each missed call that registered on her screen.
On the other hand, she found herself conflicted as she still craved the clarity that she believed would come only from Alex’s corroboration that it had indeed happened. Her desire for closure and clarity greatly outweighed the need for control over the situation. When the ringing began again, she picked up the phone, hoping Alex would explain to her what had changed within their relationship. She felt certain that she had remained the same, but something evil had taken over her friend. She no longer could imagine the friendly boy from her childhood. He was replaced by the cold man who had proclaimed false intimacy.
“We need to talk.” His voice sounded nervous, a little jumpier than usual.
“I’m listening,” Mary answered him, unsure of what else to say.
“No, I need to see you. We need to talk.”
She refused again and again, but finally submitted to his entreaties to meet with her at a public park. Surely it couldn’t happen again in a public place.
She ambled her way over to the entrance of the park, waiting for him to arrive. Her emotions warred with each other until she didn’t know what to feel or think anymore. Part of her dreaded his arrival. She didn’t want to be faced with the man who raped her. She wanted to ignore the nightmare, and the easiest way to do that was to ignore the man himself. The other part of her was seeking reassurance that he hadn’t changed. She wanted confirmation that he was the man she always thought he was. This feeling won out as she watched his car pull up, and she couldn’t see even a hint of the man who had raped her only a few hours ago.
“Mary, my mother had an emergency. I need to rush home. Get in the car with me. We need to talk,” Alex yelled from the curb. Mary felt overcome with emotions and unable to think clearly. She climbed inside, searching for clarity.
Though he drove quickly, he was amicable towards her, not at all like the man she had encountered earlier. He was friendly, talking about what his life was like and what he had been doing in her absence. She clearly noticed that he deliberately not mentioning that he had invaded her body and defiled her. She couldn’t imagine that this Alex was capable of the darkness she kept seeing in her mind. He couldn’t be the man that she was picturing. There was no way that he could have raped her.
She didn’t notice that he wasn’t very concerned for his mother and her emergency. Their conversation was conspicuously missing the element of urgency that an emergency typically requires. Mary still hadn’t noticed this absence when they pulled up along the street next to Alex’s apartment.
Together, they quickly climbed out of the car to rush back into his apartment. As he unlocked the front door to let them inside, Mary noticed that it was extraordinarily dark and eerily quiet inside. Fear began to overwhelm her when she realized that his mother was not inside.
She had been tricked.
Her mind betrayed her when it was overwhelmed with emotions. She landed herself in the same situation again, but this time knowing what would happen to her shortly. Her fears were confirmed as the click of a lock echoed in the quiet. The lights came up, and she found herself in a room with only a bed and a barred window. Trapped, she began to tremble, pleading desperately for him to release her, but knowing that it would make no difference. The only question was, what would he do to her this time?