I was startled into waking in a panicked frenzy. I sat upright from the soiled ground and felt the dirt around me, scrabbling to my feet to hear my heavy breathing.

I fumbled blindly in the darkness for a moment while I felt my chest getting heavy as sweat broke out over my body. I gripped onto the hard, stone supports holding the bridge up, my fingers aching from the strain of fear clinging to my wrists. I felt my body grow weak as the menacing darkness hissed at me, closing in on me. My chest felt tight. There was no way out.

The pot. Why did I smoke the pot? I felt sick and dirty. I wasn't in control. Suddenly my lungs could not take enough air in and I began to choke, the air around me getting dense. I couldn't see, I couldn't breathe. I was going to be here forever, in the crippling darkness, in eternal bleakness, driving myself crazy with the constant passing of cruel time. Living was torture but dying was endless, and I realised then that it would never cease.

He's coming for you.

I began to shake, my eyes darting furiously around for any sign that he was coming. He's going to kill me, I thought, he's finally coming for me, he's finally going to terminate me for my sins and the horrible, dirty sickness that I always carry around with me.

I scratched furiously at my arms, sharp stings seething down my limbs as I scratched and scratched to get the dirt out. I had to be clean; I had to get this horrible sickness out of me that made me tainted. But I knew I would forever be stained.

A vague silhouette of a figure loomed out of the darkness and I screamed, ice spreading over my insides as I lost control of my limbs and went crashing down to the ground. The figure caught me; holding me in his arms until I'd stopped screaming, refusing to let me fall.

'It's okay, Erim, it's me,' whispered Stephen, lifting me up so I could see his face shadowed with soft, pale moonlight.

I tried desperately to catch my breath but the oxygen stung my throat.

'I'm dirty,' I choked, 'can't you see it? The sickness. I'm trapped, I can't breathe. I'm dying.'

'You're not dying, Erim, you're not trapped, you're not in the cupboard; it's okay,' Stephen gently stroked my hair as I felt my sharp breaths wheeze in and out.

'The cupboard,' I murmured, digging my nails into my soft flesh, 'oh god, Stephen, the cupboard.'

'The cupboard's gone, Erim, it's okay. Take this.'

Stephen pressed a dry tablet to my lips and I opened my mouth, allowing him to pop it in. I knew he was giving me Valium, and I tried hard to push it down my throat with no water.

'He's coming to kill me,' I whispered, 'Stephen; he's finally coming for me, like he said. He's always watching.'

I began to shiver and Stephen held me closer, running his hands along my arm.

'No, he's not. You're safe here.'

My breathing slowed, and I was gradually eased onto the ground. I felt around me in the darkness, sensing Stephen's lean body next to me. He withdrew hesitantly when I recoiled from his touch. I calmed myself and leant my head against the wall.

'I learnt to trust other people's instincts,' said Stephen, his lopsided smile evident even in the darkness, 'when I found out my greatest fear wasn't real. It's hard to trust others when you're so sure of something, but you just have to realise. If someone enters the room and no one greets them, I know they're not real. If someone's out to get me and no one else is in trouble, I know they're not real. If someone's watching me,' he laughed, 'that's their problem.'

His point was so simple, yet it could answer so many things. I realised then that Stephen wasn't just a nutcase who talked nonsensically, but a lost soul who was searching for a reason to live. Maybe insanity was his way of escaping from harsh reality.

'Do you remember how we met, Erim?'

'I was nearing fifteen,' I said vaguely, as if recounting the story automatically, 'I was trying to sell you some downers but you wanted my meth, and you kept bugging me for it but I told you; I needed it, and you questioned my knowledge on whether I knew this need was real or not.'

Stephen laughed, 'And then I tried to convince you that you didn't exist, and you started freaking out, and I hung around you for the next two years or so until you finally shared your ice with me.'

I smiled. 'No one knew where you went that day; we all thought you'd been abducted.'

'When in actual face I was kidnapped by a nuthouse.' Stephen waved a hand casually in the dreary darkness, 'Erim, would you say you trust me?'

I paused, uneasiness crippling in my chest. My immediate reaction was to say no, I did not trust him; I couldn't trust any man after all that had happened. But there was something so innocent about Stephen. I knew he wasn't innocent, but his own uneasiness put out a sweet, almost gentle vibe.

I felt my throat shut tight and I didn't reply. Stephen didn't seem to notice, looking vaguely around the area with an inquisitive glance.

'Do you want to tell me why you've been so down lately?'

I felt a lump in my throat. So that's what I looked like to other people. Down. I choked up and before I knew what was happening I was crying, my face wet from salty, glistening tears that spilled freely from my eyes. I didn't know why I was still here. I didn't know why I bothered to continue dragging my heart through this soulless existence. The mental strain was making me physically exhausted. I was locked in my own mental torture chamber.

Stephen put his arm around me and brought my head to his shoulder. I felt helpless in his arms and pulled back, lifting my head to look up at the bridge right above us.

'He broke me,' I sobbed, 'he stole eight years off me. There's just this huge gap in my life. There's this dirt on me that'll never go away.'

'What do you need to realise that you're beautiful?'

I stopped crying for a moment, listening to the restful silence as Stephen whispered gently to me, his face so close to mine now I could feel his warm, sweet breath on my neck.

'Erim,' he murmured, 'do you trust me?'

I winced. 'Yes,' I breathed, 'I do.'

Stephen leaned further and nipped me playfully on the lip, moving up to press his mouth close to mine. He pushed foreword and lowered me gently to the ground, rising up to look at me bathed in the moonlight.

'Stephen,' I said bluntly, 'I can't…'

'Do you trust me?' he repeated, his tone serious.


I felt him fumble with my jeans, his hands soft and gentle, my chest throbbing painfully. I knew what we were doing, and I wanted him to do it. But I was still afraid.

'Relax,' Stephen moved up towards me and pleasured me with his tongue, smiling down at me, 'there's nothing to be afraid of.'

I tried to control my breathing as he leaned into me. A harsh jolt burst inside of me. I felt myself getting dizzy…

I lay in the darkness of the house, counting my sharp breaths as fear gripped my chest. Everything was dark except for the rough hands that were groping at my body, his silhouette dominant and livid even in the absence of light. I tried to struggle but he had my wrists held firmly down to the floor, trapping me in his games. I was powerless to his control, and silently I willed for his fingers to stop breaking my soul. His ruthless hands went into me, reaching over for a splintered piece of wood with rusty nails sticking out of it. I cried out as he thrust it inside of me, feeling it tearing at my flesh, my mind screaming for release. This couldn't be happening. His eyes were filled with fury and I recoiled from his powerful grasp, shaking from unbelievable fear that shrieked in my bleeding ears. He would never stop…

…My chest felt heavy as sweat broke out over my body. Fear ripped my heart and I felt excruciating pain shiver through me. I began to breathe quick, fierce breaths and begged for it to be over.

'Stephen,' I cried, 'stop, I can't do this, I can't.'

Stephen leaned over to me and gently stroked my hair. I felt my body relax slightly as I felt his soft, tender hands on my face.

'Erim, I am not going to hurt you. What you're seeing isn't real. This is real. There's nothing to be afraid of.'

There's nothing to be afraid of. Those were the words I had been waiting to hear for years. I stared hard into his face, scanning for any sign of trust or affection. His eyes were locked intensely onto mine, and suddenly I realised that this was not fake.

The overwhelming pain was slowly replaced by a moving, eased sensation of pleasure, and I shivered comfortably in his beckoning grasp.

So this is what it feels like to be beautiful.

Since we were up Stephen took me to the nightclub where he said I could make some deals at. I was nervous about leaving Rhiannon and Pipa but somehow he convinced me they would be fine on their own.

The club was just down the street from where our bridge was. It was a loud, ruthless atmosphere with a whirlpool of bodies mingling into each other, exchanging perspiring bodily fluids to the beat of loud music and consuming dopey liquid that caused them to stumble over their own feet and forget who they were. After living so long in my own silent refuge the blaring sounds made me uneasy and Stephen and I managed to wade through the sea of sweaty clams to the discreet back entrance where the rest of the dealers waited. It reminded me of the old days when I used to hang outside clubs like that a lot, with or without Lee, with or without my dignity. Sometimes men would push me up against the wall and use me to their pleasure but I almost always let them do it, and they'd usually pay me for it afterwards anyway.

We waited quietly in the cold night for kids who'd had a bit too much to drink to come out and pay us for a hit. It didn't take long, and soon I'd sold almost all of my weed while Stephen had given away his trippers and was moving onto meth. I didn't know where he got all that shit from but frankly I didn't care, and soon the night's cruel fingers reached the earth and passed in a dreary monotony. It seemed like all the same but at least we made money. It appeared the younger generation were getting older and I swear Stephen sold a few stamps of acid to a kid who looked barely ten years old. If that kid got hooked it would be our fault. Users end up becoming pushers and it just becomes an everlasting cycle of destruction.

Stephen convinced me to help him finish off his ice. I didn't need to be reminded of the days when I used to be hooked; hiding in the bushes every day with a knife in my hand to stop the predators coming for me, sick and weak from lack of food, clawing at my face until I bled rocking back and forth begging for someone up there to help me grasp the concept of controlling my limbs and not give in to the pressing voice deep inside of me that pushed me further and further towards my impending doom. The voices wouldn't stop and I cried for five hours a day, wishing the earth would swallow up my dirty soul so I could go to hell and get it over with because it was either the ice that killed my essence or my inevitable death. Pot was the only thing that got me to sleep and I only stopped that when I went to hospital.

I took the meth anyway despite the vague ambition I had about being clean. The earth passed in a rapid spin and I could barely keep up with my own thoughts which were hurtling, speeding, whizzing through my head and beating furiously on my brain cells to let the demons go and keep up with the livid wind that dashed through my soul. I flew up to the stars and sped through the night pushing, pushing, pushing for Something More but I never got it because there was Nothing More.

Then Stephen and I did it again, probably in record time, rolling on the muddy ground like animals trying and trying to get enough of each other by the exceedingly fast pace of our desperate breathing in the bushes that danced manically around us with their shadows that encircled our spirit. We were Uncatchable and Indestructible, pounding the wind to touch the sun with iron fingers and knowing we never had to go back.

I thought it would never end but then I started to feel sick and disgusting for giving in to my weakness and began banging my wrist on the brick wall of the public bathroom. I had no idea what time it was but a faint tinge of light was seeping across the sky like a bleeding, dribbling wound and I decided then and there that I was going to walk through the wall. When it didn't happen I paced furiously through the bushes back to the clearing, wanting nothing more than to leap out of my own skin to the whirling hustling wind that embraced me with its speedy grasp. When I bumped into Stephen I tried to leap to my freedom but he desperately held me back, holding a dry tablet to my mouth which I took with quivering lips.

The Valium seemed to take away some of my agitation so I ended up taking another one, and another one, and soon I'd lost count of how many I'd taken and started wandering through the bushes again, furiously beating on the twigs and branches that jumped out at me for loss of any other way to release the unbearable aggravation. Soon enough I felt the effects of the Valium and my legs grew weak and unmotivated. I collapsed quite abruptly, and must have hit my head on a rock because the next thing I knew darkness was consuming my head.

'What exactly are your feelings towards your mother?'

Dr Adrian leaned back against his chair and looked at me pointedly. I didn't know what to say. My mother used to say I ruined her life. I often wondered why. It seemed unfair. Sometimes I wished she would love me. Sometimes I silently begged for an answer while looking into her drunken face, but all I got in return was a hiding for meeting her eyes. I remained silent in the quiet office, the sound of the rigid clock ticking screaming in my ears.

When he got no reply, Dr Adrian asked, 'What do you want at the moment, Erim?'

I let out a breath and urged myself to talk.

'I want to know what it feels like to love somebody.'

Dr Adrian furrowed a brow and leaned forewords, his eyes steady.

'You know you can't love someone until you learn to love yourself.'

'How can anyone love me?' I cried, suddenly overcome by a vast feeling of self-disgust and anger. 'Even my parents know it. They both bailed on me, one physically and the other emotionally.'

Dr Adrian looked at me knowingly and I immediately fell silent, averting my gaze to my knees.

'What makes you feel so unlovable?'

I choked up. It was because I was a sick and worthless being. I was dirty. No one deserved to coexist with my filthy essence. I wasn't supposed to be breathing.

'What are you feeling at the moment, Erim?'

The small, dark office cleared away, sifting off into the unknown. I was back in the kitchen, bleak emptiness ringing in my ears. The house looked empty and desolate, but it was contaminated with Fear and Control. A seven year old child sat frightened in the corner as a man stood over the lit stove, pouring oil into the small pan sitting on it.

'Come here, Erim.'

The child was visibly shaking as the man grabbed her hands and wrenched them onto the pan of hot grease. She screamed; a bloodcurdling, piercing noise that shattered the empty silence of the forgotten house. The man struck her across the face and let her limp body fall to the floor.

'Don't scream, you pathetic child.'

He hauled her to her feet and held her hands to the stove again. The girl felt sharp, white-hot pain sear through her head and she screamed again.

The man beat her, again. He looked into her eyes; menacing stare. Ice cold. Fear.

'I know what you're fucking thinking,' he spat, 'you're thinking about turning away.'

The girl tried to speak but her throat was tight from fear. The man struck her face and she went falling back to the floor.

'I always know what you're thinking,' he snarled, and spat on her. 'You will always be afraid. Now say it.'

The girl's eyes were glistening, her face looking wounded as she surrendered to the endless fear that swarmed her with its cruel fingers and locked her in its ruthless grasp.

'Say it!' shrieked the man, flinging the pan at the child on the floor.

The girl's heart jolted as hot grease spread over her limbs and scalded her skin with its ruthless teeth. The universe split in two and the sky fell shattered to the ground at the scorching pain eating away her mind.

'I will always be afraid,' she whispered, and passed out.