Warnings: rape, dark themes, dystopia
Prompt(s): dystopias; "What would it be like to live in a world where we didn't respect our environment, our homes, our schools, our roads, or each other?"
Summary: In Erica’s world there was no such thing as a good person. Respect and integrity were obsolete – things only mentioned in the fairytales no one wanted to read. Erica read fairytales. It was a foolishly courageous thing to do.
Erica Dane did not know what a tree looked like. She had never seen one. They were documented in passing in her thin history book.
Erica Dane did not know what a clean street looked like. She had never lived on one. The street she did live on was called Washington Square West. The sign was tarnished and dirty, bent, vandalized. The road itself was covered in the buildup of filth from previous generations. Mud and leaves and residue from past precipitation were piled in front of neglected gutters.
Erica Dane did not know what two people in love looked like. Mothers and fathers had long ago stopped filling their children’s heads with the nonsense that love existed, much less that there was a special person for everyone. When asked where babies came from, parents were never gentle, always blunt. At best, they said, you got a mutual arrangement of purposeful ignorance except for regular sex, which sometimes was pleasant. At worst, you got raped.
Erica Dane did not know what her father looked like. Erica’s mother wished she could forget.
Erica’s mother yelled and screamed and threw things, and when she wasn’t doing that she belittled and scorned and sneered. When those tactics failed her Erica’s mother hit, scratched, bit, and pulled hair. And when she had exhausted those, Erica’s mother grabbed whatever object was closest at hand.
Erica Dane did not understand the concept of child abuse. There were no laws to tell her what it was.
Though home was a place Erica wanted to avoid, the idea of school was perhaps even more unappealing. Erica had to make the choice between walking the dangerous streets and riding the dangerous bus to get there. On either any number of cruelties and crimes could be committed against her, and on either it was unlikely that anyone would bother to come to her rescue.
School was a waste of time anyway. You were either street smart, or dead.
Erica Dane carried a knife in her pocket and cyanide on a string around her neck. In Erica’s world there was no such thing as a good person. Respect and integrity were obsolete – things only mentioned in the fairytales no one wanted to read. Erica read fairytales. It was a foolishly courageous thing to do.
In Erica’s world it was excruciatingly painful to believe in love.
When Erica Dane grew up, she married a man and became Erica Jessens. She did not love her husband and he did not love her. They mostly ignored each other, except to have semi-regular sex. It was often pleasant in some ways, and agonizing in others. Late at night, when her husband was fast asleep alone in his own room, Erica hid under her covers and read fairytales.
Erica Jessens worked in an office. Her coworkers did not follow the dress code or get their work done on time. They harassed her and each other and they abused the building and the supplies. Erica Jessens wore a tasteful feminine suit and her hair in a bun. Her glasses were a prop; thick heavy lenses perched on the tip of her nose and continuously pushed up in an effort to make herself less attractive. She stayed in her office for as little time as possible.
Erica’s coat was long and baggy, designed to cover as much of her body as possible. The heels of her shoes were soft and quiet to avoid inadvertently attracting unwanted attention. Erica walked home quickly, but not too quickly. There were several other people on the roads, but they all seemed to be in the same frame of mind as she. Still, Erica was cautious. Her hand wrapped around the knife in her pocket. The string around her neck bounced with her stride – a metronome against her sternum, far more comforting than her heartbeat could ever be.
“I like your glasses,” he said from her right. Erica turned quickly toward him – peripheral vision was extremely useful in some instances, but there came a point when you needed to look a threat head-on. Her fingers tightened on her knife.
He was kind of short (shorter than her at least) and skinny. He was wearing nothing more than a dark blue t-shirt with a stain on the breast pocket and a pair of jeans that were torn at the ends and had large rips in the knees. His feet were hidden in big brown work boots with untied and fraying black shoelaces. They looked too big. He smiled at her and held up his hands in a placating gesture, as if he could see into her pocket.
His eyes were the same color as his shirt, and Erica was drawn to them. His smile was crooked, his teeth imperfect. Slowly, Erica drew her hand from her pocket.
“Thank you,” she murmured, and his grin widened. Not surprising, since he’d probably never heard that phrase before.
“Um.” He scratched the back of his neck and dropped his eyes to the sidewalk bashfully. “Do you, uh, maybe wanna walk with me? Or something.” Erica smiled softly.
“What’s your name?” she asked as she began leading the stranger in the direction of her home. He looked up at her sideways, behind her just a step, and the bangs of his brown hair fell over his eyes. He puffed a breath of air upwards to disperse them, and they flopped handsomely.
“Daniel,” he said.
“Well, Daniel,” Erica offered as she slid her key into the first lock of her front door (it was a short walk; Mr. and Mrs. Jessens had picked a house with the shortest commute possible for both of them). “Won’t you come in?” After he agreed, Erica undid the other three locks.
They sat in the kitchen, across from each other at the round dining table. Erica made them tea. She brought him one of her husband’s sweaters from the wash to help him warm up from outside. They talked for hours.
Daniel knew who Cinderella was, but Jasmine was his favorite.
They discussed in depth, their whole hearts and souls laid bare on the table through the easy medium of fiction. Princesses and dragons and Maleficent protected them from reality until their mouths were dry and their cups were empty and the water in the kettle was no longer hot enough for refills.
Erica boiled a new pot and brought both cups to her side of the table to pour the steaming water in them. The gentle slosh of the stream swirling into them was soothing to Erica. The old teabags were fine to use again, and vague greenish-brown mixed slowly into the water as she watched. She picked one cup up to hand it to Daniel. It was hot and the tips of her fingers tingled with the almost-burn.
Daniel took the cup from her and their fingers brushed. Erica swallowed and felt a soft heat in her cheeks. She wondered what it was; she’d never blushed before. She stared into Daniel’s deep blue eyes, dark and enticing like Ursa’s cave. She was broken from her rapture by a shattering teacup and the spill of hot liquid across her foot.
There was a flurry of commotion as Erica knelt immediately onto the floor to clean up the mess and Daniel apologized, nervously and repeatedly. Erica swept the pieces with her bare hand. They clinked and scraped against the wooden floorboards and the sharp ends tenderized her fingers.
“Let me help you with that.” Daniel’s voice was right in her ear, and Erica jumped and dropped the shards she was holding. He leaned over her to grab one and reached behind himself to put it on the table. His breath against the back of her neck was sweet and fresh. One of his hands wrapped gently around her forearm and slid down to her wrist, his touch feeling at once like both slimy seaweed and silky ribbon.
“Let me,” he repeated, and pressed her down.
Daniel was surprisingly heavy for his stature. He held Erica’s hands by her head, his grip tight and unyielding. He grinned at her with soft eyes, as if he was the kind man she’d thought him. As if she’d asked him to do this. He bit her neck and his breath washed over her again. It seemed somehow more important now, the smell of strawberries from Daniel’s mouth and the smell of familiar cologne from her husband’s sweater.
Daniel’s hands were calloused, his fingertips rough and worn. Erica could almost feel the dirt that must’ve been under his nails as he dug them into her skin.
“You’d make a good princess, wouldn’t you?” he said in her ear. Erica’s mind finally caught up with what was happening and she tried to knee him between the legs, but only succeeded in ripping her own skirt up the side. She thrashed and tried to head-butt him instead, but he ducked his head into her chest and gripped a button with his teeth.
Daniel laid all his weight on Erica in full and allowed her to struggle, licking at her collarbone like a kitten, until she exhausted herself. She kicked and flailed and bucked, but she knew better than to scream. It would only be a waste of her energy; who would come to rescue someone else from reality?
“You done now, Beauty?” Daniel asked when Erica lay still beneath him, panting and terrified and helpless. She avoided looking at him as much as possible, rolling her head and her eyes as far away from him as she could. Her table stood innocently to the right, only one leg visible to Erica from her angle and proximity. A bookshelf lined the short hallway into the living room. Ceramic cut into her lower back. She could feel grittiness in her hair from the mud Daniel had dragged in with him on his boots.
Erica’s wrists were transferred to one of Daniel’s hands so he could use the other to undo her clothing. He was quick an efficient with his fingers, but his mouth followed lazily after at a much slower pace. His breath did not seem so sweet when it gusted over the exposed areas of her breasts, tickled her vulnerable abdomen. Daniel didn’t bother with the zip on Erica’s skirt, only ripped it the rest of the way off. Then he reached down for his fly, and the metallic hiss of it echoed tenfold in Erica’s ears so it was the only thing she could hear.
Daniel’s fingers walked a deliberate teasing path up Erica’s thigh before crawling between her legs to pinch the fabric of her panties between thumb and forefinger and pull them slowly down. Erica kicked again on reflex and bit her tongue to keep from squealing in fearful disgust. She continued to kick until her panties bound her knees together and Daniel bit the lobe of her ear hard enough she was sure he’d drawn blood.
As he leaned fully over her again, Daniel put Erica’s wrists into his two separate hands and flattened them on the floor beside her head on either side. The strands of her hair and the grit on the floor dug into the backs of her hands and shards of teacup embedded themselves inside her loosened clothing.
Erica promised herself she wouldn’t make a sound and though she normally wasn’t one to break a promise, she knew this one she wouldn’t keep.
Daniel pushed forward with his hips and moaned in Erica’s ear as pain shot through her. She tried to arch away from him, but the only way to go was through the floor. Erica screamed, and took a breath when she ran out.
The world narrowed to nothing but pain, strawberries, and her husband’s cologne.
Erica heard the locks click and the door open from a distance, saw her husband’s legs appear on the other side of the table as if through a hazy portal. In that moment, he was something above and beyond her reach and the thought made her cry for some unknown reason. He was silent and still for a long time and Erica thought, oh God. He’s going to watch.
Finally he said, “Get off of my wife,” low and dangerous.
“You didn’t tell me you were married, Princess,” Daniel pouted. Erica’s husband grabbed him roughly by the shoulders and yanked him away. Erica curled into a ball and squeezed her eyes shut as tight as they would go. She heard them fight a little bit, heard something break, the door slam. Her husband kicked it. He was angry, but Erica didn’t know whether to fear him or not.
“Erica?” His voice was much closer than she’d expected and she jumped, her eyes snapping open. He was kneeling beside her, one hand stretched out as if to touch her shoulder but unsure if he should. His eyes were soft, almost like Daniel’s except they were dull brown, plain and normal. “Are you alright? Do you need anything?”
“No, thank you,” Erica said as politely as she could manage with pain still choking up her voice. She sat up, winced, gathered up her torn clothing and stood. She put her back to her husband and suggested they order out. Then she went upstairs and pretended not to know that he watched her go.
They ate their dinner – fake Chinese – in an uncomfortable silence, avoiding eye contact. The floor was clean; the dirt was gone, the sharp pieces of ceramic vanished. Erica shifted and felt the sting of the cuts they’d left on her lower back. She shifted her gaze to her meal.
Mr. and Mrs. Jessens got ready for bed in an uncomfortable silence, avoiding eye contact. They passed each other in the bathroom as they traded spaces to brush their teeth. Erica showered twice and still felt gritty. Her husband went to bed first.
Erica left the light on in the hall when she went into her room. She turned that one on too, as well as the beside lamp. With all the lights on the room was thrown into sharp relief, all its flaws revealed. There was a crack in the far corner; her mirror was slightly tarnished around the frame. Erica ignored these things and quietly changed into her nightgown. The cream-silver silk whispered against her skin. She was cold, but she didn’t want to lay down.
After standing for hours with her arms wrapped around herself, staring at her bed, Erica left her room without turning off any of the lights. She crossed the hallway and opened her husband’s door with a soft creak. She watched him sleep for a few minutes before knocking on the doorframe. He blinked slowly at the disturbance and sat up.
“Erica?” His voice was husky from interrupted sleep. The light from the hall turned him into a silhouette with eyes.
“Can I sleep with you?” she asked. The expression she could see conveyed surprise, but he slowly drew the covers back; a silent invitation which she silently accepted. The bedspread was plain white and starched. His shoulders were broad, his chest was warm. His arms were strong and his hands were gentle.
He held her and told her it’d be okay when she cried.