My mouth went dry; my entire body went numb. If my heart could have pounded any harder, it would have burst from my chest. Its frantic beating made my ears go deaf. My throat tightened and dried up, as did my eyes.
I forced myself to blink. Once. Twice. It was still there. I closed my eyes for a second, then reopened them, praying my tired eyes had merely conjured the image. It was still there. I closed them again and shook my head so hard my hood fell off. I opened my eyes. It was still there.
Standing out against the Latin phrases was a single word written in what looked like fresh blood. The glistening streaks created 4 large letters that covered several of the Latin words.
I turned back to her. Her skin, naturally pale, was whiter than her bleached hair. Her eyes were two full moons, gazing at me through the dim light. I could see the fear etched across her face in the way her mouth formed a thin, taut line and her eyes watered ever so slightly. Her nearly nonexistent lips quivered in the dim light.
It was an expression I had never seen before. It was an expression that send a chill down my spine.
Here, seated next to me, was the girl everyone at school revered. Here was the girl every girl wanted to be and every boy wanted to be with. Here was the girl who had a reputation of fearlessness. Here was the girl who, according to rumors, could face fear itself without batting an eye. Here was the girl who, ever since our friendship formed in preschool, had never so much as flinched.
The girl who sat beside me was not any of those things. She was broken, scared, and desperately searching for reassurance.
How could I deny her such a simple request, after everything she’s done for me?
“It’s probably just some Latin word.” I lied through my teeth, plastering that fake smile I’d mastered onto my face. “I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything.” I continued, trying to conjure up whatever she would want to hear. The fear remained on her face, not budging an inch. I paused, then tentatively added, “Besides, even if it is a name, there are hundreds of thousands of Loris out there. It’s definitely not referring to you.”
The fear wasn’t replaced with a flood of relief, like I had hoped. Instead, it melted off her face one feature at a time. First, her lips relaxed, returning to their regular shape and color. Next, her jaw unclenched. The large vein in her temple slowly retreated to the safety beneath her skin. Her eyes closed, gently, deliberately. When they reopened, there were calm, like they usually are. The rosy blush slowly returned to her cheeks.
“Thanks Kleo.” she said, her voice calm and emotionless.
She almost had me fooled. If I didn’t know her secret ability to conceal any emotion, even from herself, I would have honestly believed her. Throughout the twelve years I’ve known her, I’d seen anger, sadness, disappointment, disgust; everything disappear behind a thick, impenetrable mask.
I guess I can now say I’ve seen fear disappear too.
She kept examining the wall, checking the rest of it as far forward and backward as she could. Her name only appeared once; right where we had stopped.
She turned the beam to the ceiling, which was either completely black or too far above us to see. She didn’t keep the light there long.
When she illuminated the wall on her right, I flinched, half expecting to see my name splattered on the other side. It wasn’t; there was only the crimson ramblings in Latin that covered the other wall. I felt my tense body instantly relax and realized I had been holding my breath. I let it out a long, relieved sigh.
I almost believed my lie now.
She waited a moment longer before standing up, pointing the flashlight downwards again as she steadied her feet. She turned to me. “You ready to go?”
This struck me as odd. I sat there, dumbfounded for several long seconds, staring up at her. Go? Go where?
A familiar shrieking filled my body. It was the same one I had felt earlier, when I’d been standing before the first step. It’s loud voice commanded my legs to run; to stand and haul my ass up the thousand-and-one steps leading to the cemetery.
Yet I couldn’t. As I stood, I stomped the voice out of my mind and the stiffness out of my legs.
I never could refuse her, ever since we were kids, although she didn’t know that. She didn’t know that her voice commanded me as though I were her puppet. She had absolutely no idea.