There is dirt in my mouth. Clumps of powdery grime amass in my teeth. Everything is dark. And there is screaming.
It was such a cliché. For years of my high school life, I pathetically played the role of dork to their elite sorority. A long game of chess between a singular dumpy little pawn and five queens, strutting ahead freely whilst I took one useless step back. I was always going to go down. It was just a matter of time. They started with noncommittally jabbing comments. Just little ones as I shrunk into the books clutched to my chest, like they were testing the water. I had always been told to keep my head down, to ignore them and carry on. But the nervous increase in my pace as I walked past simply called to them.
The day they learned my name? I won’t forget that. How the bones of my forearms shot through with icy warmth in the marrow. The way my heart abruptly froze before pulsing feverishly into overdrive. Or when I met the ringleader’s sickly-innocent gaze, to have her fingers flutter by her face as she tinkled hello. From then on, they owned me. They haunted my movements in hallways, and by now they had advanced their techniques to enforcing servantile, crude tasks upon me. During a traffic-less period at lunchtime, I’d be crawling beneath a locked bathroom stall door on the barely washed tiles of the girls’ toilets. I struggled to squirm through as they watched, my face smushing sideways into the grime. They giggled and snorted. Took pictures, and glared with that horrified fascination one has when watching another perform tasks beneath the observer. When I finally shoved my body through the meagre gap, they applauded and strutted away. I hesitated as the girls flurried out the door, then dashed for the sink. I scrubbed furiously at my hands with my nails and soap until they streaked with pink. Exhausted and disgusting, I looked up to the mirrors that had been dutifully and uniformly installed by the school as a last chance reminder to adhere to the dress code policy. A stumpy nobody stared back, the pair of us grasping the corners of our respective sinks as our eyes met. I resented this wretched reflection for not standing her ground, not fighting her corner against some tottering blonde hyenas with the scent of Britney Spears. What I would give to make them fear me, echoing that same instilled dread that had been tortured into me. This thought lingered until I was brought back into the bathroom by the realisation that my hands rested on an invisibly grimy sink, and I scrubbed again.
One Friday, the situation escalated. Their clicking heels left the school and stalked me into the carpark, onto the path and towards the park. Jeers from behind tailed me. The words they were saying weren’t particularly intimidating- or, more insultingly, clever- but once again my accelerated walk betrayed me. And the chase began.
As the crimson sun set, I hurtled into the woods. My footsteps were blind, my path slowly being burned away by shadows that were streaking from the trees. The cackling pack edged closer as my run deteriorated into stumbles. Sharp breaths painfully shot cold iron into my gums. I couldn’t find an escape. I couldn’t find any exit. I was being hunted like the loser girl in a cheap American horror film- which would have been humiliating if I had been blessed with hindsight. But now, I was running like a wounded fox from hounds. And I had made the mistake of looking back.
I fell and something cracked.
There was silence then a gasp. The girls carefully rustled through the leaves and one dropped to my level. She poked me. Nothing. Another nervously ordered me to get up. To stop playing around. Apparently, it wasn’t “funny anymore”. Then a third shrieked. There was blood oozing from my temple. Panic shot through the trees in the form of shuddering expletives as they blubbered about what to do. It was the denser one that darted for loose clumps of leaves and dumped them on top of me. The others erratically joined in with the burial. Then they scattered, crying and swearing to each other that not one of them would rat the others out. And they vanished.
I spit out the dirt. I shovel myself out of the leaves and I tend to the bleeding wound on my forehead. It’s just a scratch, probably from the branch that snapped on my way down. But now it has presented me with a unique opportunity. Laughing breathlessly, I realise that this may be the first time I have been overjoyed about not existing. I have been left for dead, but I’ve never felt more alive. It’s an exhilarating feeling, y’know. I was now, quite literally, untouchable. They had no more hold over me, no power. Whilst they think I’m gone, I’m not. Far from it. I have played their game, I have ended it, and now we will initiate mine.
You can’t beat the dead, can you?