Pretty When She Dies

Page 1

Chapter One

When she began to stir from her deep slumber, she had no idea she was buried under several feet of moist, dark earth. Curled into a tight ball with one hand over her face, she shivered as her brain slowly switched on. Flashes of random memories full of distorted images burst through her mind.

Time to wake up, a voice whispered.

Her eyelids fluttered.

Before she could fully awaken, her body was seized tight in a spasm of pain. Her body contorted in on itself as her hands trembled around her face. The seizure released her and, slowly, she opened her eyes.

Darkness greeted her.

Trembling, she strained to see into the blackness that enshrouded her. She could barely make out the outline of her fingers curled over her face. Something heavy and moist was pressing down on her.

Suddenly claustrophobic, she thrust her left arm upward in a desperate attempt to throw off whatever was covering her.

Dirt poured into the tiny space around her face and filled her mouth and nose. Terrified, she plunged her arm into the earth, trying to push it away. She tried to roll onto her back and shoved upward with her other hand. Warm, wet earth pressed down all around her body.

For a horrible moment, she had no sense of up or down and feared she was frantically tunneling deeper into the ground. Shoving fear aside, she clawed at the dirt desperate to be free.

To her relief, her hands and arms broke through the soil and into the empty space above her. Managing to get her feet under her, she shoved her body through the earth. She broke the surface of the forest floor and stood, blinking in the moonlight. Standing in what was left of the hole that had been her prison. She raised trembling hands to sweep back her raven hair. Her blue-gray eyes blinking hard, she tried to take a deep breath. She choked and gagged, then fell onto her hands as she threw up streams of muddy liquid. Coughing, she wiped her mouth with her dirty fingers and let out a whimper.

Around her, the night whispered softly. Tiny animals scurried through the underbrush around her. An owl hooted in a tree nearby. The moon shone down brightly, its full face glowing in the sky. Falling onto her hip, she lay in silence for a long moment.

Try as she might, she could not draw her thoughts together. She wasn't even certain of her name. How she had come to be buried alive in the forest was beyond her comprehension.

Pulling her legs slowly out of the grave that had entrapped her, she lay on the ground shivering.

Her long, milky-white fingers clawed at the ground beside her and she looked at her hand in dazed confusion.

Need to go home, she thought.

Slowly, she rolled to her knees and bowed in silence, almost appearing to pray. Pressing down on the ground with her hands, she slowly rose to her feet. Her muddled brain took in her soiled jeans and boots slowly. Her white T-shirt was caked with dirt and what appeared to be dried blood. Her hair fell unfettered to her waist, full of clumps of dirt, twigs and bugs. Shaking her head vigorously, she tried to get the forest crude out of her tresses.

“Home,” she whispered.

Her own voice startled her.

Her first step was hesitant. She wasn't even sure her legs would support her, but amazingly, they did. Slowly, she made her way down through the trees. Her stride became increasingly steady as she walked forward in the direction that felt “right.”

Her hand fluttered over her hair as she walked. She could not remember her name, but a dim memory of extraordinary pleasure filled her mind. Scrunching up her nose a little, she hesitated and stood looking around her in confusion.

A glow over the treetops called to her.

Home lay that way.

Feeling a bit steadier, she trudged on. Her jeans were stiff with all sorts of crap. She craved a hot shower.

My brain isn't working. This isn't how I should be reacting.

She wasn't sure what her own thoughts meant.

As she reached the bottom of the hill, buildings bathed in soft light swam out of the darkness.

The college, she thought.

She stood at the edge of a pool of light and gazed dreamily through the limbs of the trees. Voices whispered in the distance and, somewhere, music was playing. Suddenly, horribly aware of her appearance, she decided not to venture down to the sidewalk below. Home lay nearby, but she could reach it by staying in the shadows.

Not certain how she knew where she lived, but not her own name, she frowned deeply. Once more, she ran a hand over her soiled hair, then moved down into the shadows of the large red brick buildings of the college.

It was relatively easy to avoid people and she hid whenever anyone walked down the crisscrossing sidewalks that connected the buildings.

It's Easter weekend, she thought. No one is here.

A long narrow building beckoned to her with its familiarity. She trudged toward it through the gloom. Most of the windows were dark. The dirty yellow light, from the broken outdoor lamp fastened over the double doors, was a welcome glow.

Stepping out of the cover of the trees, she shivered as she was suddenly exposed to the view of anyone cutting across the courtyard. She hugged herself tightly and peered through the glass panes of the doors into the long narrow hallway beyond. It was intimidating in its length, and only the dark, chipped dorm doors surrounded by stickers, posters, photos and other ornamentation broke up the impression of it being never-ending.

She took a breath and tried to open the door. It was firmly locked. Confused at first, she jiggled the doorknob. Reason pushed through her murky thoughts and she fished in her jean pockets. A simple ring with a few keys was in her right one. Slowly, she tried each key in the battered lock until, at last, one slipped in easily. The knob turned.

A slow, icy chill flowed down her back. She tossed her hair back from her face looking sharply behind her. The sensation of being watched pricked over her skin. She pushed the door open and took refuge in the long, stark hallway. Nothing stirred out in the courtyard except a pink flyer. It must have torn loose from a bulletin board and now danced in the night wind.

Fear trembling at the bottom of her stomach, she turned and moved away from the locked doors. The narrow hallway was strangely familiar. Her footsteps echoed around her as she walked. In the distance, she heard the very soft hum of someone's radio. It seemed to take forever to reach the middle of the long hall. A small room crammed full of vending machines sat at the base of the stairs. The handicap elevator stood open. She glanced inside to see that it was empty before starting up the narrow staircase that led to the second and third floors. The ugly, faded, formerly buttercup-yellow paint on the walls was covered in flyers and posters for events around the campus. She briefly glanced at them as she trudged upwards. The words and pictures were nonsense to her numb brain.

The second floor hall lights were flickering when she reached the landing. Feeling another cold shiver of fear, she looked up and down the stairwell, but there was no sign of another person.

Home was nearby.

She started to turn right, then corrected herself and turned left. Drawn toward the end of the hallway, she shuddered. Fear once again gripped her tightly and, for a moment, a vivid thought flashed through her mind.

I'm dead. There is nothing here for me.

She froze in mid-step and reached out to stabilize herself. The thought repeated itself over and over again until she let out a desperate sound and pushed it down. Insanity lay in that sort of thinking.

Gathering up her strength, she pushed on until she reached a door surrounded by stickers of sexy devil women, vamps and an assortment of band photos. Sid Vicious snarled out of her from one, while Ozzy Osbourne howled at the devil in another. Laying her hand on the doorway, she read the name stenciled onto red paper in black marker and taped with electric tape to the door.

“Amaliya,” she breathed. It was her name. Her grimy fingers traced over the letters. She whispered the name again. Yes, that was her name. She remembered people called her Amal. That nickname bugged her.

Pulling out the ring of keys, she leaned against the door, a sense of relief washing over her. Her mind felt full of thick muddy water with flashes of light beneath the waves. But she couldn't concentrate too long on those flashes or her whole body began to hurt.

She needed to bathe, then it would be okay.

The key with the skull sticker slid into the lock and she pushed open the door. Her room was very narrow and sat at the end of a long, dark hallway. It was simply furnished with a twin bed in one corner, a desk under the long window, and a battered dresser on the wall across from the bed. The walls were covered in posters of long-haired rock stars. None of them seemed familiar. An enormous poster of Angelina Jolie was on one wall. Around it was pictures clipped out of magazines of other beautiful women dressed in sexy outfits.

Amaliya shut the door behind her, drinking in the familiarity of the room. She remembered every detail. Its battered furniture. The tiny fridge tucked at the end of the bed that made gawdawful noises when she tried to sleep. The dirty laundry thrown at the bottom of her closet. This was her personal space and she felt her shoulders sag with relief.

Her one luxury in the dorm was her very tiny bathroom. It was one of the perks of paying more money and being on the second floor.

She walked down the narrow little hallway, past the open sliding doors of her closet, and into the room itself. Shoes, most of them pretty battered, were strewn at her feet. Her bed was a crumpled mess. Silently, she leaned over and pushed the button on her old stereo. Johnny Cash's voice filled the room. On her bathroom door was an enormous poster of the Man in Black. She automatically touched the brim of an imaginary hat to salute him. His somber, craggy face did not change as she shoved open the bathroom door.

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