Excerpt from Kalorama Road(2018)
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I’m not afraid to die. I’ve always believed I would die young. But not this soon, not here, not tonight, and not by those hands. Surrounded by tattered, aromatic petals, a dark silhouette watches my naked, bleeding flesh. I tilt my head, an eternally engraved image, a tormenting ghost—an inescapable, haunting memory. Sweet, soft, rose petals, a lifelong obsession. How Ironic. Maybe what we cherish is near at death, some sign of mortality, some hint of what we become . . . A cold breeze scented with roses, an invisible trail across dark soil, awaiting discovery. Finally, he’s here ...
It's coming. I know it is. Restless and awaiting the hour, I watch seconds tick . . . Fifty-seven . . . Fifty-eight . . . Fifty-nine . . . Midnight, my cell phone chimes. It's here, an anonymous email that comes every month for two years posing an unanswerable question. The torture of not knowing, an insistent reminder from an anonymous sender who won’t let me forget one memory-less night is unbearable. A night I wish never happened haunts dreamlike, vaporous, appearing and receding with crushing anxiety, preventing me from seeing clearly. I should have listened to my instincts and never gone to that off-campus party. But as Grandma Blu always said, what’s done is done.
Moments before a lousy decision always remain vivid, leaving me pondering “what ifs” and wishing time could rewind. I revisit indecisive minutes pacing my dormitory’s vestibule, debating staying or going to the off-campus party. The latter choice taken, I bolted from the dorm into the chilly autumn night toward a waiting car. Approaching the Jaguar’s tinted windows, Grandma Blu’s warning, “Never get into stranger’s cars,” roared loud. But the person behind the wheel isn’t a total stranger, although we’d never spoken before she invited me to the party. For an entire semester, we sat two rows apart and barely acknowledged each other’s existence until she appeared one day after class.
Lively and wielding a smile, she approached with inquisitive eyes, staring me up and down like a tailor. Quickly sizing me up, she invited me to a party, but her odd approach left me more than hesitant. Why after three months the sudden interest? She introduced herself as Belle, a sweet and innocent name unbefitting someone so brazen. But she was beguiling, upbeat, and fun and I couldn’t resist and accepted her invitation. In retrospect, I should have said no. But you didn’t, Allie.
Nearing the car, Grandma Blu’s warning grew stronger. “Never get into a stranger’s car unless you’re one-hundred percent sure.” I lacked one percent assurance of the blond from Literature 301. Cautiously, I approached the Jaguar, searching tinted windows for the obscured driver. The car door flung open, Belle leaned toward the passenger side, lips curved a smile. “Girl, it’s freezing, get in.” I did with awe of her stunning transformation. She was no longer the fresh-faced nineteen-year-old student in jeans and T-shirt. Dressed in a tight black dress, heavy charcoal eyeshadow framed thick, false eyelashes, and hair blew silken blond transformed Belle into a sexy siren.
As we drove past Emsworth University, she grew silent. The farther we traveled from campus, the more anxious I became. Most off-campus parties are within walking distance, but this I hadn’t expected. Past Kalorama Square, I’d wanted her to turn the car around. My instincts in overdrive reared me conscious of landmarks in case I found myself without a ride back to the dorm. As a girl, I often imagined what I’d do if kidnapped by dangerous strangers grandma alluded to. I devised a plan to memorize surroundings, street signs, and landmarks, but a foolproof escape was never conceived. Thinking about it now, the imagined getaway was incredibly comical. But the farther we traveled from campus, the higher my alarm. I revisited childish musings and studied the route past Kalorama Square.
The car slowed at an impressive home, swiveled into the driveway and through retracting garage doors. At the time, I believed it was Belle’s family’s home given access inside. When the car halted, and the garage door closed, I began to worry. We entered a space more grandiose than its exterior and much too extravagant for a student party. I’d expected a home swarming with college students, not silent halls. I thought we were the first to arrive until voices emanated from remote spaces.
Belle led me into a billiard room, through sparse guest, delivering me to a wide-eyed teenage girl seated at an open bar. “Allison,” Belle said in a sweet, apologetic voice, “I have to take care of an urgent matter.” She motioned to the puckered-browed girl, “She’ll take care of you until I get back.” She leaned into her ear and whispered quickly. The girl shook her head; I assumed a yes to whatever was said. Belle smiled. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.” She vanished, leaving me in a room of mismated young women and older men, which looked like a secret society. And from their stares, I sensed I was the evening’s main course.
Belle never returned, and the young woman abandoned me at the bar. A fiftyish looking man slid into the empty stool beside me and introduced himself as Pennington. His eyes consumed every inch of me, and I grew anxious. Pennington placed a drink in my hand. A delicate flute with a cobalt rim contained a mixture much too sweet—sugared I assumed to conceal alcoholic potency. When I finished, he refreshed my glass with more intoxicating liquid.
Soon, strangely disoriented, figures blurred, my body, a distant island, appeared detached from my head. An urgent need to flee swept over me. Then Pennington refreshed my drink again. His fingers stroked my arm as if sampling a delicate fabric. I smiled and glanced away, sensing his eyes on my body. He whispered, “Don’t be afraid, everyone’s here to have fun. Just relax.” Then I felt his hand on my thigh. Incensed, I pushed him away and staggered from the room in search of Belle.
Stumbling through the home, I wandered upstairs on invisible legs, floating with a giddy high arriving at the landing. Approaching a small alcove, moonlight revealed a concerned man who mouthed “Sweetheart, are you okay?” His words sounded miles away. My lips parted but words wouldn’t come. On wobbly legs, I continued down the hall in search of Belle, following echoing voices to the first door. With fading hands, I twisted the knob, and the door squeaked open. Several images blurred into view, shadows I couldn’t distinguish. Like a camera lens, my mind snapped shut and opened the next morning. The previous night was a blank canvas. Several months later, rapidly advancing and receding images reemerged fuzzy snapshots.
I’ve never determined the number of people in that room. However, I’ve pondered inebriated double vision. Though never certain, I suspect something evil happened in that house, and the resultant amnesia acts as a shield, protecting me from wicked horrors. With a deep sigh, I drag my mobile from the nightstand, and as I’ve expected, my anonymous sender’s address appears with a single, bold, small-capped question.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED AT 1414 KALORAMA ROAD?