Off Kilter

Marianna looked into the mirror. She didn’t smile. The black eye shadow made her big brown eyes appear black. The eyeliner was heavy and black. She lifted her thin hand and put a finger on her pouty, red-painted lips. She kept it there for a moment, as though shushing someone from telling a secret. She pressed down and swiped her finger, smearing the bright red lipstick. The tears started rolling down her brown face, smearing her mascara. Click. She took a photo of the pain in the mirror.

She sighed and wiped her face clean from the day. Only here was she allowed to break down. Out there, she smiled. She dragged her feet to bed and couldn’t wait for tomorrow. She was getting together with a friend from high school to go shopping. Her tears were forgotten as she snuggled under the covers, thinking about all the things she wanted to buy. Marianna hadn’t seen Eliza in a couple of years, so it would be great to see her.

As she lay there for longer, the memories came creeping up on her. It was the same every night. She would toss and turn, trying not to think of them. The way she had screamed that night, and no one heard her. The way they had laughed and told her she was asking for it. The feel of them on and in her, their hot breath on her face as she screamed. The feel of the gravel underneath her, digging into her skin. She still bore the scars. The feel of their hands holding down her wrists so she couldn’t move. The way she had laid there, long after they had left here there by the train track, bleeding.

Marianna reached to her nightstand with a shaky hand and grabbed the two bottles sitting there. She opened them and took a pill from each, swallowing them. Her racing heart wouldn’t calm for about 20 minutes, and neither would the sick feeling in her stomach. She wished she could turn her thoughts off, erase those memories. Erase those feelings. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but Marianna scoffed at that. She failed to see how being gang raped would help her be stronger. She was completely broken on the inside. Finally, the sleeping pill worked its magic, and she was comatose.

When she got out of the shower the next day, she chose to wear her makeup light, shorts, and a tank. It was going to be hot, and she didn’t want to be walking around the outdoor mall in jeans. She saw her camera sitting on the vanity in the bathroom, and remembered the photos she had taken last night. She turned it on and looked at them dispassionately. She made a mental note to add them to her photo gallery on an online forum later.

Her cell rang, and she saw it was Eliza. “Hey girl!” She forced the cheeriness into her voice. She had gotten pretty good at it.

“Hey! I’m downstairs!” Marianna turned the lights off in her tiny apartment as she left, locking the door. When she saw Eliza, she opened her arms into a hug.

“You’ve cut your hair!” Eliza exclaimed.

“Yeah, a few months ago,” Marianna replied, not explaining why. They had pulled on her waist length hair. Now her black hair was chin length in the front and short and spiky in the back.

“You haven’t changed your Facebook picture,” she chided, leading the way to her car.

Marianna laughed, forcing a smile on her face, making her eyes match the façade. That way, no one could tell. “Yeah, I’ve been really busy with work and everything. A lot of overtime, I haven’t had time to do anything else but eat, sleep, and breathe.” The lies came easily now. At first, she had a hard time fooling anyone.

They chatted about what had been going on in their lives for the last couple of years, and she found herself actually enjoying the time she was spending with her old high school friend. They got to the mall and started window shopping until they saw a store they found interesting. It was brand new, Off Kilter. They walked in and metal music was playing. “Hey,” Eliza said, “you still go see to Splice when they’re playing?”

“Naw, not for a while now,” Marianna replied, in answer about a local metal band. She still listened to them, but didn’t go to the shows anymore.

“I heard they’re playing at Viva tonight, if you wanna go,” Eliza said as they browsed. It was a store reminiscent of Hot Topic, but with more style and variety. They even had full Victorian dresses. Marianna checked out the price tag of a beautiful gown that was black with dark red lace at the neckline and chiffon in the full skirt. She winced when she saw $300. It had a built in corset, which would come in handy for her curvy and busty body.

“Yeah, that would be awesome,” she agreed, thinking that she did need to get out more.

“That dress would look great on you,” Eliza admired.

“It’s $300,” Marianna sighed wistfully.

“Ouch! Well, let’s find something a bit more affordable to wear tonight!”

After much admiring, browsing, and trying clothes on, they finally decided on a black, pleated mini skirt and a hot pink corset for Marianna and a dark purple skirt and black tank top for Eliza. Clothing in hand, Eliza noticed a makeup section. “Oo!” she exclaimed.

Marianna didn’t need any more makeup, but a tube of blue glitter eye liner caught her attention. Her eyes got big when she saw it and decided she must have it. She added it to the pile of clothes she had purchased. Both deciding they had spent enough money, they agreed to only browse from now on.

When Eliza dropped her off at her apartment, she said she would pick Marianna up at about 10. She started getting ready for the evening around 8, carefully spiking her hair in the back and straightening the front pieces. She applied black eye shadow again, but winging her eyeliner out from her eyes this time. Red lipstick went on last, and she studied herself in the mirror. She thought something was missing, but she didn’t know what it was. She clipped a bright blue hair extension in her hair. It looked better, but she still didn’t feel right.

She put on fishnets and donned her skirt and corset. She usually didn’t dress like this anymore, and she hadn’t been to a metal show in what felt like forever. It was her, and yet it wasn’t. She spent the next half hour putting on her knee high boots. She had to zip up the side a little, then tighten the laces. Zip, tighten the laces. And repeat.

She finished just as she got a text from Eliza saying that she was there. She glanced at herself one last time and shook her head. Something was missing, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She transferred a few things into a small clutch she could secure to her wrist, including the blue eyeliner she had bought. Maybe that was it. She would have to wait and put it on at the club.

She clunked down the stairs in her tall boots, and twirled for Eliza when she got downstairs. Eliza whistled. “Sex-ay momma!!”

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” she stuck her tongue out at her. Eliza had done her eyes in purples and black, with a dark plum lipstick. And, she glittered. “I want some glitter!!”

“Go for it,” Eliza grinned as she handed it over, backing out of the parking spot and zipping out.

They listened to metal the whole way to the club and Marianna forgot about the blue eyeliner. The line was long, so they played “remember when” about things from high school. Once again, Marianna found herself enjoying her time. She decided to get out of the apartment more often. When they finally got into the club, the first band was playing, she didn’t know who the band was, they must have been new. They made their way to the janky bathroom with blue floors and creaky stall doors. At the mirror, Marianna opened her purse and re-apply lipstick and saw the blue eyeliner. She opened the tube and leaned into the mirror, jostling for elbow space.

She carefully applied the liner over the black lines, making sure the liner matched the black perfectly. She leaned back and checked herself out. She felt complete. It was the blue liner that had been missing. She smiled. But the good feeling didn’t last for long.

As she looked into the mirror, she saw herself change. She saw nothing in her own eyes. They were empty and void. They were all black. She had a weird birth mark in the middle of her forehead. Her skin was glowing. She gasped and looked away from the mirror. And gasped again.

The woman standing next to her had green skin. And six arms, with a third eye on her forehead. Marianna looked at another woman. She had luminescent skin with bright pink eyes. Marianna couldn’t breathe. She kept seeing these monsters everywhere she turned. Purple skin, four arms, three eyes. She felt like she was going insane. She ran out of the bathroom, unable to catch her breath. Everywhere she looked, no one looked human. She kept turning in circles, and she got dizzy.

Suddenly a hand grabbed her arm, she looked and saw a monster that was 7 feet tall with blue skin that was glowing. “Come with me,” it demanded, and not waiting for an answer, he dragged her towards the door. She screamed, but no one could hear her because of the band playing. Oh god, it was just like that night. She was screaming and no one could hear her. She nearly passed out, and sensing her weakness, the creature picked her up in his arms and walked out the door of the club. Through hazy eyes she saw that the bouncer was a 7 foot tall monster with skin black as night and four arms, one set of which was folded across his bold chest. She passed out.

When Marianna awoke, she was lying on a couch and classical music was playing. She panicked and quickly sat up. She looked around and saw a man sitting in a chair, carefully watching her. For a moment she was so terrified she lost her voice, but then she found it again.

“Who are you?” She shouted. “Why did you bring me here?! Did you drug me? I saw things!” She was hysterical now, shouting at the top of her lungs. “Have you raped me?” She sobbed.

He only pointed to the oak coffee table, where one item sat. Her blue eyeliner. “Where did you get that?” He asked softly.

“What?!” Confusion settled in her mind. He had brought her here to question her about her eyeliner?

“Where did you get it.” It was not a question. His tone demanded an answer.

“I..I got it at a store called Off Kilter.”

“Put it on,” he said, again not a suggestion.

“I need a mirror,” Marianna whispered.

He pointed behind her, where she turned and saw a mirror hanging on the wall. On shaky legs, she got up and grabbed the eyeliner, walked to the mirror. She sighed with relief when she saw she looked normal. No birthmarks, no glowing skin, and no black shadow. She noticed that her face had been wiped clean of makeup. She traced the blue liner onto her eyes, and turned to him. “Happy?” And then she screamed.

She saw a very large, blue creature sitting on the chair where the man had been. She whipped around to the mirror and saw all the same things she did before. She screamed again.

“Will you calm down!” the creature exclaimed. “Sit down!”

On even shakier legs, she walked to the couch and sat on the edge, not able to breathe.

“There is a reason you’re seeing people as you are,” he began. “We are not humans, as you think we are.”

“Wh-what?”

“The thing is, this planet Earth is filled with all kinds of aliens. This is a refuge for those of us who are displaced, for whatever reason. Many creatures do not get along. So when they get here, they are given a chip in their brain. It makes them think they are this ‘race’ called ‘human,’ so there is no war between creatures. ‘Humans’ do not exist. The wars that we see between peoples and countries are not actually between different races of aliens. The earlier versions of the chips were faulty, causing some to become violent. The chip finds a way to rationalize this violence. They just came out with a brand new chip, however, and this design flaw has finally been fixed. Nice, huh?”

Marianna only looked at this thing with her mouth hanging open. This was crazy. She could say nothing.

“This eyeliner you’ve found disrupts the chip in your brain, causing you to see us as we are. However, it doesn’t seem to affect you in any other way. Your mind is not computing these facts I have just told you. I wonder, would lipstick cause you to speak in your native tongue?” The creature mused.

Marianna felt dizzy. She didn’t understand any of it. She felt her consciousness slipping away, and once again welcomed the darkness.

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