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Gentle Stranger

One

There was no warning. She wasn't even aware that they were moving up behind her. Just a sensation. A creeping chill at the base of her spine. And she turned around to see. Boys. There they were. She was terrified. Four boys, moving soundlessly, the streetlight palely reflected on the blades of their knives. And the oldest one. Almost a sweet face, but the eyes were wrong. Too shiny, too round. He stepped closer. Close. She could smell his breath. Chewing gum.

Her eyes looked up the street, down. No one. So many lit windows, but no one on the street. They'd been waiting for her. But how could they have been waiting for her? She hadn't known she was going to be there.

"Gimme a kiss," the oldest boy said, smiling, reaching out to touch her breast.

Repelled by his round eyes, his sweetish breath, she pushed at his hand, her brain scrabbling, trying to think what to do. Try to be calm. But she couldn't. Suddenly she was very cold, yet drops of perspiration gathered, trickled down between her breasts: She was drowning in fear. Just like that. She knew. And was terrified. The three other boys had formed a solid line, smiling, whispering incentives to the older one.

She glanced at their faces trying to understand her own fear, what they were doing. The oldest one swiveled like a dancer, pressing up behind her, throwing his arm around her neck so that his knife flashed beside her cheek. Her heart was convulsed, trying to explode out of her. Scream! Scream! Her mouth was open. But no sound would come out.

He was thin. She could feel his jutting bones as he pulled her toward the cellar entranceway of a derelict building. Oh God, she was so afraid. Terrible things were going to happen, be done to her. She couldn't escape. The three others, keeping their eyes moving, scanning the street, effectively formed a wall to block her way, hiding her and this other one from the sight of anyone who might be passing. The only way open to her was the stairway and she was being pushed inch by inch toward the steep, scarred cement steps.

"C'mon, c'mon," the boy whispered, nuzzling his smooth beardless face against her neck, the knife-edge flirting closer to her throat. "C'mon. We're going down these steps here."

She was rigid, refusing to move, her brain paralyzed. Her eyes huge, staring. She could hear her pounding heartbeat in her ears, the sound of blood rushing, the taste of fear like acid in her mouth.

"Here," she tried to push her handbag at him. "Here! Take it! Money. There's money, credit cards. Take it!"

"Down here." His tone was easy, his voice soft, light.

Not the money. They don't want the money. It heightened her terror that he was so intent, so convinced of his success he didn't even feel the need to raise his voice. He shoved her forward, his hard thin body molding itself against the length of her back, his free hand reaching to close over her breast again. Hurting.

She fought silently on the first step, trying to grab the handrail, get away.

"Cool it!" he whispered. "I'll cut your fuckin' throat."

Why couldn't she scream? Scream! She wanted to scream. And her body wouldn't move the way he wanted her to move. Her legs, her feet were steel, unbudging.

Time was so mixed up. Only seconds. But this was lasting forever. Oh God! Please! Please don't let this happen to me!

He had her on the second step down now. Her eyes widened as she tried to see ahead and below in the rank-smelling darkness. He kept whispering as his hand hurt her breast. She wanted to rip his hand away but if she did, she'd fall, lose her balance. She was going to vomit. Gagging, gulping down the flood of bitter fluid filling the floor of her mouth. Trying to swallow. That filthy hand hurting, a foretaste of damage to come. Then suddenly she was released, shoved, falling on her knees into something wet. Newspapers. Scuttling sounds. Footsteps pattering down the steps. And this one with his knife, leaping onto her, knocking the air out of her lungs. She struggled to get him off, grappled with him but he was made of thin wires that cut into her hands. A fist struck her face, then struck her again, robbing her for several seconds of her fight.

She could taste blood. Something wet on her face. Hands under her dress. She fought to push them away.The hands were pulling at her pants, at the elastic, ripping. Her fists flew around, trying to hit, to stop; connecting with hair, bone. Then something huge, hard collided with the side of her head shattering everything, blinding her with pain. The sound of cloth ripping far away, her legs being forced open. She couldn't see. The darkness was filled with moving figures. Something cold ran across her thighs and she collapsed inside, liquid terror rushing out of her, forming a pool beneath her. Shamed, cringing. She struggled to draw her legs closed, but she couldn't. She was exposed, felt the soft-hard butting of the boy's body against her pubic bone. Butting against her, his hands trying to open her more. God, God! Help me, please! She closed her eyes against the shifting darkness, against that soft-hardness that hit against her groin, then moved away, then lunged forward, in.

He had his forearm over her mouth, forcing her head backward, down. Stifling her sounds, strangling her. She bit down through the flesh—hair, salty skin against her tongue—biting as hard as she could, to make her teeth meet in his flesh. Something—a sharp, short cry—then something chopping down across the bridge of her nose. Her mouth flew open. His arm was released. He hit her again. Then his body heaved and he was all the way in, writhing frantically in the dry burning center of her body. She was sobbing, tears and mucus and something else wet on her face. Her chest rose and fell in spasms. Then he quivered, made a triumphant sound and came, collapsing onto her for a moment before withdrawing abruptly, pulling himself away so that the pain of his departure equaled and surpassed the pain of his entry.

"Hurry up! Hurry up!" a voice urged.

Over. It was over. She tried to sit up, move away. Hide herself in the darkness but another body, one of the smaller boys was falling on her, unable to find what he was seeking in his frenzied eagerness. Her eyes were becoming able to see again. But she could barely distinguish the forms around her. She sensed the boy's shape and pushed at him with all her strength as a tearing, terrorized scream emerged from her throat. The scream came and came, wouldn't stop. She screamed, kept screaming and the boys were knocking into each other, falling, colliding, bumping into each other in their desperate haste. They were scrambling up the stairs, running. Footsteps. All kinds of feet running, different sounds. Her mouth remained open although the scream had died. She was sitting, naked from the waist down. In her own puddle of wet. Debris. A whining animal sound she was making, breaking the blackness.

The boys were running, knocking over garbage cans, splitting off in different directions. A knife clattered to the pavement. A figure wheeled, scooped up the knife and sped off on silent, sneakered feet.

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