Violent Delights

National Novel Writing Month 2016 (blurb to be added)

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1. Chapter 1

 

I couldn’t remember how many times I’d stood there before. It was always different. The bite of the night’s air on my neck wasn’t as sharp as the first time, and there was a new piece of graffiti on the wall beside the skips. These were minor details, sure, but when you have as much time as me, you start to notice the little things. Somehow, they make it all worth it.
            “Again?”
            I sighed. I hadn’t been disturbed last time either.
            “What’s it to you?” My voice was harsher than I expected, rough almost. I didn’t have to turn around to know that she’d flinched.
            “I don’t understand what you get from this,” she said. “Why bother?”
            I hesitated. “It’s just a rush.”
            “If you say so,” she replied, unconvinced. There were a few seconds of uneasy silence before she added, “can I watch?”
            This was very different. Too different, almost. I stared down over the edge through the space between my boots, my eyes finally settling on the new graffiti. It was nothing special. I wondered if it would be the last thing I saw this time.
            “Whatever.” I found my voice.
            To my surprise, she joined me on the edge. My eyes drifted across to her petite frame, rocking back and forth with the breeze. This was dangerous, for her.
            “Step back,” I said with as much force as I could manage. “You’re a bit fragile.”
            Her eyes met mine, piercing blue and narrowed. She opened her mouth to retort, her breath forming a cloud in front of her face, and then thought better of it. She shuffled back ever so slowly, now a matter of inches from the edge. I tried to smile, but my lips curled in a way that failed to express any gratitude I was feeling at the time. It didn’t matter. I knew she’d understand.
            “Get on with it then,” she teased.
            I glared back at her. “Oh yeah, why don’t you go first? See how that goes.”
            “As you said,” she grinned, “I’m a bit fragile.”
            Sometimes she made me want to tear my hair out. Instead, I peered back over the edge and let the darkness of the alleyway below swim into clarity. Suddenly it was so, so tempting. I took a deep breath and flooded my lungs with traffic fumes and the icy night air. It was time.
            “See you on the other side,” I said, smiling to myself.
            And then I fell.
            If I’m honest, the terror never changes. It never gets easier. The mad blast of cold penetrates your skin and gets into your bones. Everything becomes a blur, and if I had a bit more time on my hands, I’d probably throw up. I never remember getting close to the ground. It all goes black, again and again, and then there is nothing.
            At least, until I wake up. That’s the worst part. I liked to think of it as a full system reboot, a slow and painful one on the cold concrete floor.
            When they told me that I’d be able to heal, I thought it would be warm and soft. I thought it would spread over me like a blanket and take away the pain all at once, like medicine. Or alcohol. Instead, it was like being put back together by an invisible force. There was nothing soothing about the way new skin crawled over my wounds to seal them, and there is no stronger nausea than that which comes with feeling your collapsed lung inflate inside your chest. The crack of my ankle realigning itself left bile at the back of my throat.
            “That’s disgusting.”
            I didn’t move. I wasn’t even sure if I could yet. My eyes were open, but only just. There was nothing comfortable about my current predicament and I was even less comfortable that there was someone here to see it.
            “I still don’t understand,” she said. “You look like a right mess. You do most of the time anyway, but this is bad – even for you.”
            If I’d found the ability to speak, I would’ve told her to shut up. Her petty insults were much more tolerable before plummeting eighteen floors. I tried to shake my head, and the resultant snap of my neck flooded my eyes with tears. With one hand, I propped myself up and with the other, I made a rude gesture. She was stood over me with her hands on her hips, a smirk plastered between her scarlet cheeks.
            “Do you need a hand getting up?”
            I shook my head, placed my other hand flat against the ground and pushed hard. Various sickening sounds came from all over my body and I winced. Everything hurt. I was bruised, dizzy, but very much alive. If it wasn’t for the crimson pool dispersing through the cracks in the pavement, there would be no evidence of my fall. I took a few tentative steps towards the skips and struggled to muster the strength to reach inside.
            “Y’know, this level of prepared is a little weird,” she laughed.
            “It’s my hobby.” My voice wasn’t my own anymore. It was hoarse and barely audible, an echo of the girl who should’ve died.
            “Psycho,” she replied.
            She pushed me aside and leant into the skip, on her tiptoes as she felt around inside. I let my body rest against the rigid plastic. No sooner had the aching in my spine subsided than she yanked the bottle free. It wasn’t anything spectacular, just a normal plastic bottle used to refill the water coolers in the nearby offices. However, it was ideal for washing away the mess I’d made in the alleyway.
            “I can’t yet,” I murmured as she cut a hole in the top.
            She rolled her eyes. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
            I was powerless to help as she carried it over to the morbid splatter and emptied the contents onto the ground. Diluted red ran off in all directions. It was almost like I’d never even been there. With one last groan, I stood up to full height and began to walk normally. It was far from pleasant but it was the closest I was getting to normal tonight. She chased after me, bottle still in hand, and wrapped a slender arm around my waist.
            “I’ve got you.” The concern in her voice was genuine.
            “I’m fine now,” I said, meeting her cynical gaze. “I promise.”
            “What are you trying to achieve?”
            “Nothing.”
            “Then why put yourself through this? It doesn’t make sense, Raven.” Concern had changed to confusion. Her piercing eyes searched for answers in mine but I didn’t have any. Not any that made sense to me anyway.
            “I guess I’m testing it,” I thought aloud. “Maybe it won’t last forever. I might not wake up sometime, who knows?”
            “Bullshit.”
            I snorted. She had a point.
            “Okay, so I like it,” I said. This wasn’t something I’d wanted to admit. “The jump, fall, whatever. Knowing I can… it’s almost fun.”
            She glared at me. “You’re sick in the head.”
            “Yeah,” I said with a sigh. “I guess I am.”
            The rest of the walk back was in silence. She’d seen more than she wanted to this evening, whether she wanted to admit it or not. I’d scared her. Hell, I scared myself sometimes. I don’t know why she thought she could handle it all at once like that. I was supposed to be the reckless one, throwing myself headfirst into stupid situations. There was a lot of strength in me, even if I didn’t want it.
            The Institute was bland. It was all greys and browns, a nondescript building down a dead end. It deliberately drew minimal attention from passers-by, with no signs and the dimmest of lights marking the doorway. We headed straight for it with heads bowed and hoods up, half in the shadow of the much larger structures all around. The only sound was the crunch of boots over broken glass, a trademark sound of this part of town. It was dark and it was dangerous, just like us. This is where we felt at home.
            Security, from the outside, looked minimal. There was a keypad mounted on the wall next to the door and the numbers had long since disappeared from the buttons. The code itself wasn’t obscure. My fingers moved from one to the next without any conscious thought: one-four-seven-one. A buzz sounded from the inside of the keypad for less than a second before the door clicked and swung inwards. To my left, the light flickered in response. From the outside, this place was a wreck.
            “Home sweet home,” I said, stepping over the filthy doorframe. 

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