Three minutes to one in the afternoon gave me just enough time to stuff my notes back into my bag and dart up the stairs to my assigned examination room, the other students in the corridor catching sight of me and yelling good luck wishes after me. This test was the last of the CSEC subjects I had signed up for in order to graduate from secondary school, by far the easiest, and I should have been there eleven minutes ago, but I'd gotten sidetracked reading the latest updates on all my favorite manga series. Luckily, History was just a lot of textbooks and a lot of notes, despite being a favorite of mine. Nothing practical, just ingest and regurgitate on the paper.
It would be a high grade for me.
One and a half hours later caught my head nodding over my completed paper and wishing the damn clock would hurry up and hit three already, or that the invigilator would call time and put me out of my misery. I wanted to go home and sleep for a year.
I looked around the class, rubbing my eyes and yawning into my hand. Students were either scribbling frantically trying to beat the clock, glaring at their papers trying to find a mistake or sleeping, heads resting on folded arms. I yawned again. When I opened my eyes every color, shade and hue had been washed out of the room and everyone in it. I looked down at myself and choked. I still looked normal. I pressed the heels of my palms into my eyes and watched the sparkles for a few minutes, then lowered my hands and looked around again. Everything was as it should be. I closed my eyes and inhaled, concentrating.
On exhaling I opened my eyes again, and looked with both physical and aural senses. To my enhanced sight, each individual in the room now emitted a field of energy, defined by at least two primary colors and extending almost a foot beyond their body. Emotions swirled, streaked and flowed through the energy and thoughts flickered swiftly and disappeared in staccato bursts or lingered to blossom like flowers in the morning.
Just when I had decided that there was nothing wrong and my eyes were playing tricks on me the physical colors faded out again and the auras I was watching exploded in brilliance like miniature novae, and pain screamed behind my eyes until I doubled over silently, seeing nothing but white and grinding my teeth so I wouldn't scream. After a small eternity the white receded enough that I could sit up and open my eyes again.
The examiner was bent over me worriedly, her hand on my shoulder. I hadn't noticed her there, not to mention every student in the class staring at me. I blinked at her for several seconds, then rasped, "I've finished the exam, may I hand up my paper please? I'm not feeling very well."
She nodded and picked up my booklet. Tearing off the student slip she wrote her signature on it and gave it to me. "Just fill it up quickly and go home okay? Get some rest."
I mumbled something in agreement, took the slip and wrote my name in block letters; "MATTHEWS, DIANA. A." and then scraped together my things and left the room. My head was throbbing in a way that told me get home fast. Halfway down the stairs I felt the need to vomit and stumbled to the washroom and into a stall, falling to my knees and hanging my head over the bowl.
My stomach heaved and emptied into the toilet until nothing else would come up. Shaking, with tears in my eyes, I leaned back against the cubicle wall. My face felt warm and I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead, then neck, and finally blew a long breath on my wrist. Hot hot hot. I was getting a fever, and it seemed to be increasing as I sat there.
I slowly got to my knees and leaned up to flush the toilet and then pulled myself to my feet and locked the stall door. I picked up my bag and set it on the ledge over the toilet's tank and took out the clothes I'd stowed that morning along with my notes. Originally I'd brought them to change into after school to go to the shopping complex in town with a few friends but instead I was changing my plans. I would change and immediately after getting home, I would go to bed.
After struggling out of my school clothes and into the black jeans and sleeveless blue tee shirt, I packed the uniform into my bag and let my hair out of the double tied pony tail it had been in. I shook it out and it tumbled around my face and down my back almost to my waist. Replacing what I had taken out the uniform pockets into the jeans or bag as necessary, I gave myself a quick once over. The fever was still there and seemed to have stabilized, though now my skin felt hot even when I just hovered my hand over it. It was a strange sort of fever, because I didn't feel the least symptom of anything aside from the vomiting.
I left the washroom and went out to the road, flagging down a car after a few minutes and stealing the front seat from a pimply faced boy who came running up when the driver stopped. It took fifteen minutes to get home and I fell asleep on the way, but because I traveled with this particular driver on a nearly daily basis he roused me after pulling up in front of the long winding driveway of my house.
I paid him groggily and climbed out, my stomach now hurting from hunger, shut the door and walked up the driveway. Once inside I locked up, ate an early dinner, took some medicine for the fever and then crawled thankfully into bed, falling asleep almost as soon my head hit the pillow.
A dream came.
I was in a great, dark forest. A place that was quiet and cold and said silently that I shouldn't be here be here get out out now not your place not yours leave. Something small and black flashed by me and scratched my leg—
A flash of bright light, a squeezing sensation across my chest and the feeling of being trapped. I struggled wildly and squirmed my way out from under a burning wreck. I stood there whimpering. My mother was trapped in there and I knew I had to get her out. I stepped toward the wreckage —and a burst of laughter froze me in place. Gibbering and shrieking in between those horrid giggles it continued, coming toward me. Closer and closer, and I realized there was a high-pitched keening in my ears. It seemed to come from both the flames of the wreck and my own throat. I don't know which scared me more, those giggles, or the sound I was hearing. Tears began to stream down my cheeks and I tried to wrench myself out of the paralysis I was under, now too terrified to do anything, think of anything but running away as far as I could.
Please please someone help me help me don't let it get me. Warmth began to creep over me radiating from my right leg, sinking down under my skin rapidly. The fever was invading my dream world. The flames rose higher, the mad laughter came closer and I trembled and keened in terror. The keening rose to wailing because the giggling, gibbering thing was right behind me and I turned around to see, no choice at all. The moment I saw it fully the warmth blazed into flame and I was shrieking right along with it, flaming bits of stuff sloughing off and splattering on the ground about its feet as it leered at me making those terrible noises.
I opened my mouth wide and screamed... and I was burning from the inside out. I was being consumed by fire. Pain not localizing but equally distributed around my body. I screamed... screamed and screamed and screamed and the creature screamed right along with me, the flames around us rising rising rising until we were consumed.
Each and every nerve felt like it was being given special attention, immolated in gleeful flame. The creature staggered forward, still shrieking its head off and lunged for me. Still frozen, I could only screech helplessly as it wrapped itself around me and added outer fire to the flames already searing me from within. The fire began to move through me, it didn't lessen, but it began to flow as though pouring through my veins in place of blood.
My screams began to echo in that place, until they rebounded again and again to make an entire choir that reverberated in my head, clamoring and roaring. The fire kept moving through me. I began begging, someone, anyone, to make it stop. I cried for my father, and the mother I had lost in that long ago accident, the mother I no longer remembered. When I called out for my mother, somehow I think she heard me, because that pain slowly, delicately, began to fade away and soothing warmth mercifully crept over me, enveloping me gently in oblivion, pulling me sweetly into oceanic dark.
Sometimes I surfaced dimly for a few seconds or a minute or so from that blackness. Once to the sound of concerned voices, another time to the feel of something damp and soft rubbing over my skin. Someone must have been cleaning me up while I was unconscious. This time I came to numbly in a bright light shining down into my eyes. There was no place on my body that did not feel like it had been seared so badly that all sensation had been lost. There was a beeping noise coming from one side that I vaguely realized must be medical machinery. I lay there, unfeeling and uncaring, even when people came in and upon realizing I was awake, attempted to get me to talk, move, react in some way.
I didn't and they hurt me. That terrible fire came back when one put their hands on me. I opened my mouth and screamed until they pulled their hands away and then let myself slip back into the sweet, dark ocean.
Ages passed. The pain went away and the numbness came and faded away until I could feel my body again, my skin became hypersensitive and nearly everything hurt, I had so much trouble just breathing, but I didn't move. I didn't want to move. Too scared to move. Because I was convinced that the person with the pain in their hands would see me moving and hurt me to make me keep moving.
But eventually I decided that thought didn't matter after no one came and held their hands over me, because it might not make any difference. The one with pain in his hands might hurt me even if I did move. They came, usually when I was asleep, cleaned me and put something in my arm and stomach. The next time they came, I waited, listened to the dead quiet until I was sure there was no one else in the room but me, and opened my eyes.
A bright white ceiling stretched over me, paneled and with an unlit light fixture positioned not directly over where I lay but slightly to my left. Shadows and beams of light played over the white surface and I turned my head to see where the light came from. There was a set of medical machines not very far from my bedside against the wall behind the bed. A small barred window was set in the wall to my left about two thirds of the way up. The sunlight gleamed harshly through the glass panes and hurt my eyes so I turned away from it.
The wall to my right had one chart with characters that were too small to read but which I nevertheless identified as hiragana and Chinese characters, and a single door with a small glass window in it. The glass hadn't any bars, but there was a small thought that even if I were seven feet tall with the muscles of Hercules I still wouldn't be able to break that glass. The wall directly opposite my feet was bare and starkly white.
It occurred to me that I had been staring around the room and not bothering to see what I was doing lying down. I looked down the length of my body. From feet to waist a sheet was drawn up, my arms resting by my sides, and above it I saw I was wearing a white garment. It looked like one of those backless gowns hospital patients wore.
I tried to sit up, but a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea swept over me so that I lay back quickly and swallowed hard and rapidly for a few minutes, trying to will myself not to vomit. If I did it would go all over myself too since I couldn't get up. My throat hurt slightly every time I swallowed. When my stomach began to settle reluctantly I lifted my head again to look. Raising my arms carefully -I saw I had lost a good deal of weight, I had been fragile before, my arms were now sticks- slowly, tremors of weakness running through them, I saw an IV tube attached to the back of my right hand.
I raised one hand to the side of my head. There wasn't anything attached there. Lowering my hand I cautiously squeezed my legs together. The resulting discomfort confirmed my suspicion that there was a catheter inserted. If there was a catheter inserted then I must have been there for some time, which now raised the question of how I got there and where, exactly, "there" was. No hospital in my English-speaking home country used hiragana and Chinese characters on hospital charts.
Maybe somebody, one of Dad's old enemies he made when working as a field agent for Interpol, had raised up an old grudge and taken me to get to him. They could have easily snuck in and done anything, either at home or school. They could have put something in anything I would use to make food at home and when I used it that morning to make breakfast I would have ingested it.
So by the chart I could be either in Japan or anywhere run by Japanese, or the chart was there for a completely different purpose altogether and I could still be anywhere. I stared at the IV and wondered what was in it. Probably just a saline drip, I thought as I looked up at the trailing tube to the IV stand, peering at the equipment in the corner.
The door opened and a person in a long white gown with a badge clipped to the front pocket stepped in carrying a clipboard.
I watched her warily as she said a few words to someone outside and then turned to me.
"Good Afternoon, miss," she said, smiling gently. "I'm Doctor Kanami. How are you feeling?"
I didn't answer, just kept watching her as she moved towards me. She checked the IV drip and nodded to herself as she scribbled something on the clipboard.
"This is to keep you hydrated, and to keep nutrients in your body," she explained noticing my gaze on her hands. "You were unconscious for several weeks. We inserted a feeding tube, it's why your throat is a little sore." She sat lightly on the edge of the bed. "What's your name?"
Nice try, I thought, but you'll not catch me that easily. "Where am I?" I asked, or tried to ask. My mouth moved but no sound came out. I stared at her in fright. Did she do this to me?
She frowned and moved closer. "Are you all right? Let me see please." She reached for me and in an surge of adrenaline I scooted away from her to the other edge of the bed.
She sat still, with her hand still raised. "It's okay, I'm not trying to hurt you." I eyed her carefully. Sure she wasn't trying to hurt me, but it didn't mean that she wasn't working for somebody who would. On the other hand, I was weak as a kitten and just as helpless. So if whatever she did made me stronger, then I might be able to get out of here, or try to get a message to my dad.
I relaxed and let her check my throat.
She sat back and wrote on her clipboard again, and when I tried to get a glimpse she smiled and tilted the board so I could see.
She was writing in Japanese. I frowned at the paper and lay back again.
"I'll be back in a little bit. If you need anything, call. There's an ANBU outside. He'll get you what you need." She stood up. "Try to get some rest ok?" She smiled again and went out.
I stared after her, becoming frightened again, wondering if she was going to bring the people who had brought me here. But she hadn't... I didn't know. Frowned up at the ceiling and then yawned. That burst of energy I had experienced had been more than I could afford; I wanted to sleep badly now. I closed my eyes. She'd wake me up if she had to, I couldn't keep my eyes open now.