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Chilly rivers rolled down my bare legs leaving puddles in my prints. The feeling of sand between my toes was a welcome sensation as I tread upon the soggy shoreline. A gentle breeze blew that day catching my locks in their streams. As the incoming tide rolled in I danced to avoid the stretching wake. “This is great.” I shouted gleefully. Across the beach Vanity rested atop a clean towel. Beside her Cody sat along with another new friend named Azamoth. The other people on the beach were unfamiliar and paid little to no mind to our little group.
Swimming was a pleasant respite from the dreary days inside the hospital grounds. After getting my fill of the shore, I made my way back to the group who were chatting among themselves. “So, Primina how was it?” Vanity asked chipper as usual.
Unable to contain my excitement I released a boastful “Wonderful!”
I admired Cody’s perfect teeth whenever he smiled; a proud glint rested in his eyes that day. As if he saw a job well done in me. “You are moving a lot better than last week. It is great to see the therapy has been working for you.” I nodded happy too with the results. For the first few days I was convinced I would never walk again without pain. Gladly though, the pain faded. Now I almost could ignore it, for the most part.
Small fragments of beaches lay buried in mind, like whispers of a history lost to childhood. There were faces there, but missing all the same, hollowed artifices of what once was.
My time at the hospital had been pleasant for the most part up to this point. I spent most of my time exploring the network of tunnels and dreamlike gardens. The whole enclosure was rather expansive. Days like today were my favorite; days where I got to leave the facilities and travel outside. To think I was in Luxmeer on the other side of the world, an ocean apart from Krasimer, my home country.
Even still I could not shake the feeling there was something being hidden from me. No one ever discussed the exact nature of my “disease”. The only thing I knew is that I had it and whatever “it” was is deadly and slowly destroying me. Outside of those vague terms no one answered any of my questions. Though I came to realize people surely discussed it among themselves. As much as I attempted to lace the subject into conversations, it resulted in failure none the less.
Azamoth’s usual wolfish grin bares from his thin lips. “The beach is nice but nothing seems to be enough to keep this dreaded boredom from consuming everything.”
Following Azamoth’s little quip Vanity lets out a chuckle that wreaked of a nervine scent. “Azamoth,” she chided. “How can you be so negative? We just had the most interesting thing happen in years.” Vanity had proven to be a loyal friend, one that I was very much fond of. As much as I did not know about the origins of these people, I found a deep trust seated itself in me for Vanity.
As for Cody he too often tagged along and I had come to suspect he was observing me for purposes unknown. Though I still found him kind.
As for Azamoth; he always dressed in a suit, acted more nonchalant than the others. In some ways I found him to be the only genuine person around; while by some unspoken law was bound from speaking his mind. At least that was the impression that I had come to. Most people around the hospital were friendly and playful. It had not taken me long to realize I was the only person my age. Lucky, the others made it easy enough to forget.
“What was that interesting thing?” I dared to ask.
Vanity and Cody looked at each other but Azamoth he looked me right in the eyes. “You.”
Cody raised an eyebrow immediately giving Azamoth a coverd up crossed glare. “Funny Azamoth. Way to make someone feel uncomfortable.” With a wink Azamoth shot out a loud cackle. “Saying things like that with a straight face and she may think you are being serious.”
It really didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, then again, I didn’t think he was joking either. Something about it, felt as though he was being honest.
“You two stop it. We are here to relax, not have some petty squabble.” Vanity chimes. I do my best to pretend that I have not noticed that all eyes are shifting onto me. In these moments I feel as though I am a sheep among wolves. The uncomfortable suggestions from their expressions always brought a deep-seated dread. One which I could not ease from constantly rearing it’s unwelcome face.
Something else that bothered me about my stay in “stasis”; no one would tell me how long I had actually been in stasis. My strategy so far on gathering information has been to lay small innocent, sometimes carefully phrased to even sound naïve, questions. During this little moment of levity would be the perfect time to attempt one of my little questions. “Azamoth, how old are you?” The question is subtle enough and through it I could figure out when he was born. His reaction however, is laughter. I had not expected that. Cody sits upright diverting his gaze to the side. A smile me crosses Vanity’s face, artificial as can be but none the less painted on as her impenetrable garment. A mask that has become familiar. “Well, I don’t think it is a funny question?” I pout.
“Well then, my dear? How old are you?” Azamoth asked.
My face fell as I silently mouthed the question back. “How old am I?” And yet my mind gave no reply. How could I have forgotten something so personal, something so simple as my age? Stasis had scrambled most of my memories but this, not remembering my age. Narrations in someone else’s words were all that remained; fragments of a forgotten history. The slowly spreading realization troubled me, especially when tangible details are simply gone from thin air, ones so key to my person. “I don‘t know? How old am I?” I begrudgingly replied.
I will never forget the glare Azamoth gave to Cody. It was as though they were stabbing knives. “Well, why not tell her how old she is?”
“I don’t know.” Cody bluntly groaned. “It, it is not important.”
“Well, how old does she look?”
Cody furrowed his brow swiftly reflecting Azamoth’s glare. I figured whatever Azamoth was poking at, Cody did not want me to hear. “What does it matter?”
“Come on, look at her. What is she, a teenager? Pre-teen? Huh? How old?” Cody’s face straightened out, his composure returning. “Judging by her body, I will guess maybe, twelve but you could be as old as fifteen.”
“But how old am I really?” Silence between the group returned. “You guys know but you won’t tell me. I get it, you don’t want me to know how long I have been in stasis.” I pouted hoping that fawning sadness would bring out some sort of pity. “I don’t know why you don’t want me to know.”
“We don’t know how long you have been in stasis.” Vanity assures. “To be honest, no one in the hospital knows exactly how long you were in stasis.”
There it was, the big secret let out. “So what else won’t you tell me?” But how was that possible? My records must have shown it.
Cody shook his head. “A lot. It is for your own good not to question it. Just know that we are protecting you Primina. A kid doesn’t need to know the weight of the world’s problems. You should just be happy you are out of stasis and safe. Just accept things for what they are.” The words came sharp; my eyes turned glassy as I gazed into Cody’s firm face. After a few moments his lips softened into a pout. “It is not my choice. Just as they do not allow you to know, I may not tell you. Trust me, it is hard.”
I opened my eyes to a bright blinding light. I remember looking to my side to see cables and cords hanging across my skin as I rested in a chair. A shriek of horror escaped my mouth as the people in the room look at me with wide eyes. Their expressions are masked with glossy plastic face masks. A rubber gloved hand quickly covers my mouth silencing me. I struggled against their grip as a foul taste enters me mouth; I go limp as darkness covers me again.
I woke up sometime later in my bed. Vanity was sitting at the foot of my bed with a concerned look on her face. “You’re awake.” My lids were still heavy and my body felt weak. I moved to sit up but Vanity puts her hand on my chest. “Don’t get up, you had a seizure.”
I didn’t have a seizure. “I was at the beach and I woke up in a room. I didn’t have a seizure Vanity.”
“You did, you woke up when they were treating you.” Vanity lied. “It is ok, it happens.” I didn’t know why she would lie to me but she must have her reasons I considered. As for what happened, I am not sure. All I know is I was at the beach one moment and in a room surrounded by doctors in the next. Then again perhaps she was not lying…
The dull chatter of mechanical servos creaked inside the sterile doctor’s office, metal arms adjusting themselves and every so often sparked as they assemble a glass tube. Helibor’s steps moved behind me just out of sight. I dangled my feet off the foot rest watching the chair adjusts itself as if to perfect its comfort. A needle was inserted into my forearm, slowly pumping a stable line of red. The beep of a heart monitor canvased the background to a steady beat.
“I already have had blood taken twice this month.” I complained laying my head onto the rest. Helibor’s steps stopped their course. “The rules are twice a month, it is for my own good. Right, well, why again so soon?”
A titter escaped Helibor before he recomposed himself. “My, you do know the rules rather well don’t you.” Stepping into view he bore a warm smile on his face. With that look he made me uncomfortable. He is never one to smile, especially when questioned. The thing is like an article of the wrong style and color, it just appeared utterly out of place on him. My fingers grip the armrests tightly. “Well, you always are such a smart girl. There has been a complication in your treatment. Our, window of opportunity has closed some after that episode you had. What I mean to say is we have less time. I want to make sure you are healthy, but we need to take a little extra blood from you. Just to make sure everything works out.”
I stayed quiet as I contemplate my response. The rules, iron clad laws that constantly twist into new ornaments to suit the needs of some unknown agenda. It appeared as though the rules only applied to me and rather the rules themselves were nothing more than a means of control. I didn’t appreciate the constant shifting. “I never agreed to this.”
Patting my leg Helibor let out a hearty laugh standing to his full height. “I don‘t believe you did in the first place. In fact, if I remember correctly you used to fight tooth and nail against it. I remember you hiding in those vents.” he chided turning away. “Always hiding and trying to miss your appointment, but I always knew you had to eat so I would wait until you got hungry. Primina, I cherish you. You are a treasure among treasures, a real fountain of miracles.”
I smalled back into Helibor’s chair suddenly reminded of that fact. “I noticed a guy I used to see by the river has not been there in a while. Also that lady who runs the commissary, she’s also missing. Where is everyone going?”
Placing his hand on the thick glass bottle Helibor inspect the crimson fluid. I had not even been aware he had removed the sample. “More.” He cleared his throat, his graying blue eyes locking onto mine. “Well, I don’t know where they went. I tell you what? How about after you rest we go look for them?”
The grass against my legs felt nice. The familiar springy sensation is just enough not to irritate the skin. The smell of roasted onions and steak smothered in a creamy red pepper cheese sauce wafted from the plate resting on my lap. Raw dark leafy greens were to the side with a small pile of cherries for dessert. I dipped my fork into the steak releasing a hidden spring of juice. Then I feel an unusual sensation on my back. “Vanity? How come you never have dinner with me?” Tender hands forced themselves onto me. The contact is not, entirely unwelcome. If I must be honest, I longed for her touch. Being at arm’s distance every day becomes rather tiring and lonely. All the same, I knew it was wrong.
“Silly, you already know that.” Vanity chuckled. “I don’t eat until later after my shift.”
“Yeah, but, I am eating now. So why don‘t you just eat with me sometime. Or maybe I could eat later.” I lifted a fork full of greens looking back to Vanity. Her nurse’s uniform is proper as always. A suit similar to mine only mostly white except for the hem lines of blue.
She wore a soft smile today. Different than her usual one. “You have a special eating schedule to insure you have the energy you need. After all you are having a lot of blood draws, and it seems like Hellibor wants to increase that schedule. It is important you get the right nutrition or else you may get sick.”
“If it can make me sick, then why are you doing it?” A tingling yet comforting sensation crawled through my hair. I could feel the tips of Vanity’s fingers walking their way across my scalp as they untangle the loose ends of my hair. This, is too much. Too dangerous. If she pulled out my hair, who knows what could happen. “You’re touching me.“ I bursted out. “Vanity, that is not allowed.” Vanity hummed as she continued running her fingers through. “Vanity?” I called again.
“O’ Prina, stop. Don’t worry about things so much.” I tried to accept the unusual behavior, my eyes gazing over the open park. The mossy ground, the stone floors and wooden path. The sky a glassy reflection of the ground almost as though looking out of water.
Alas, my fears got the better of me and I could not withstand it any longer. “But we could hurt each other.” I groaned with discomfort.
“Prina, does it hurt?” Admittedly it did not, I shook my head in subtle response. “So, it can’t be bad can it?” I could’nt help but have visions of Vanity latching onto my locks from behind and ripping them all out with one full swoop. Removing the uppermost layer of skin from my skull as well. Exposing my brain to the open air leaving me screaming in agony. Such vile thoughts…
I took another fork full of greens, chewing deliberately longer than usual giving myself some time to think. It was true; it did not hurt. I never understood what was so bad about touching. These new fears of morbid crippling sort of developed like cautionary tales. I swallowed. “But, we could get into trouble.”
A curtain of black hairs fell onto my face tickling my nose. I pushed against the strands trying to brush the nighty screen away. “Stop it Vanity.” I chirpped as the sensation draws me to laughter. Vanity’s fingers tittled and wriggled, jumping my ribs. The tickling sensation ran down my spine as I tobbled onto the ground releasing a loud giggle. “Stop Vanity! I am going to pee!” Vanity laid next to me on her back letting out a little huff of her own.
“That was fun.”
A pair of legs fast approached turning my head to see Hellibor’s face crinkled into a demonic mask of rage. “Vanity!” he boomed. “What in the world are you doing!” With wide eyes Vanity raised to her feet. I had never seen anyone move that swiftly before. He pointed his sharp finger towards the entrance gates to the small garden enclosure. “Out!” Vanity lowered her head and does not say a word as she quickly left. His venomous gaze latched onto me as I still remained on my knees.
“What did I tell you Primina! You could have damaged her! You are never to touch others ever.” Hellibor wagged his shaking finger. “In the old days!” he roared as I cowered beneath his wrathful thunder. “I would have strangled you dead for this! Watched the life crawl from your bloody tears.” Warm tears streamed down my cheeks; for all the joy I had fled the room, replaced with a tense sense of foreboding. “From now on the both of you will be separated!”
“No.” my heart screamed. That, I could not have survived. She was my only real friend. I needed Vanity! “Hellibor it was my fault.” I cried. “I should not have touched her. I am so sorry!” The words flew with little thought. “Please, I won’t do it again.” I cracked.
His head only shook with that emotionless cold expression. “Fine, but for right now you eat your food. I will decide what to do later. After you are to report back to your quarters until I tell you to leave. Do I make myself clear?” It petrified me, all I could do was nod as the rest of me fell under his curse. Turning from me Helibore marched out of the room leaving me alone in the garden with my plate of manditory food.
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