Bustling, murmuring, chattering, shuffling, shouting, silence, footsteps, shaking, I wake. Nothing is clear; I only know what I hear and what I feel. Someone’s hand is on my shoulder, someone’s voice is in my ear. What are they saying? I’m not sure, my right hand burns, blocking all my senses with unbearable pain. I grab at it, anything that might help must be done, I start trying to rip off my glove but a hand stops me. Turning to see the owner of the icy fingers, silhouettes start to form. The shadow in front of my bleary eyes is a girl with long hair, the shadow to my right is a man, presumably Mr Waite.
He is still shaking me, despite my obvious return to consciousness, digging my shoulder into the floor. The pressure he applies to me makes it impossible for me to sit up, I keep trying, but he is too strong. As my ears remember how to listen, I can hear with a little more clarity as the girl who stopped me removing my glove talks to him. She seems to be telling him what I’ve been trying to tell my tongue to say.
He releases me, letting me sit up slowly as a hint of colour returns to my vision. The silhouettes sharpen, revealing the mix of concern, fear and confusion on the crowd’s faces. If nothing else, at least people are noticing me, though I’m not sure I want to be any more. I feel my hands covering my face, obstructing my view for a moment, not entirely under my control. As they drop away, my full vision has returned and I realise that the icy hand that prevented me from revealing mine belongs to a girl with a bruised face and straight black hair. Ellie.
“What are you doing?” I ask as I find a more comfortable position. My voice is slightly slurred, not quite the voice I recognise as my own. She looks me dead in the eye.
“Helping, is that a problem?” she answers with her own sarcastic question.
“N–ʺ I try to speak, but instead shake my head. She lifts the left corner of her mouth slightly in a secretive smile, I’m not sure if it’s aimed at me or not, but it seems to be. I feel a piece of paper being placed in my hand. I close my fingers around it, to keep it hidden, as it appears she wants this to remain unknown. Her eyes are darting quickly around the room, she is obviously very aware of the attention both of us are getting. With a short cough, she gets up off the floor and straightens her jumper, slipping swiftly back into her pretentious act.
I shift onto my knees before standing, Mr Waite’s hand never far from my arm for support, which I am grateful of as the world doesn’t quite move in the same way as my body. I take few tentative steps forward, but the world seems to close in again.
Darkness fills the room, the floors and walls turn to cold stone, I can feel loose rags on my skin and excruciating pain throughout my body. The ghost of a hand reaches for my shoulder; I whip round at its vague touch. My bare foot catches on the uneven floor, causing me to stumble. I reach out for something to steady myself and find one of the desks with my palm. It is ill-fitting in this strange reality, which seems to have formed around me. After a moment however, the walls flatten to smooth white plaster and the floor covers itself in tiles.
Everyone is still staring, intrigued by my erratic sense of balance. That world has faded now, replaced with the one I have learnt to hate. A breath on my neck sends my senses into overdrive. I hear every shifting foot, every whisper, all amplified in my straining to find the source of my tension. I see every faint shadow twitch, every flickering of a faulty light, all demanding my focus. I feel every step vibrate through the floor, every slight air current, all imitating the breath that made me fear. I taste the blood in my mouth, my tongue searching my teeth for hints of his presence. The smell of old rags puts me further on edge, I can’t breathe, someone’s hand touches my arm, solid this time.
“Volani, you need to go to first-aid,” says Mr Waite. I ignore him, more concerned with the uneasy feeling that the ground is not quite in the right place. I take a step across the smooth tiles, but still feel the cracked stone under my heels. He points at someone, telling them to help me to first-aid. I think it’s Elliot, though it could be anyone, who supports my frail frame down the corridor. My vision begins to blur again, details fading into the growing shadows that close in. I hear the sound of a door opening.
I walk through into the first-aid room, I think. I notice everything changing, the ceiling now in front of me and the floor behind me. Did I lie down? I’m not sure, I didn’t mean to. My arms seem to be moving without instruction; I feel my palms on my ears as a terrible screaming fills my brain. No, not screaming, shouting. Desperate shouts, telling me to do…what? I can’t hear clearly enough, I try to lean away from the ghastly sound, bursting my eardrums. Nothing works. The shouts continue, I become increasingly frustrated, why won’t it leave me? My hands, once again beyond control, start to lash out, I connect with someone’s ribs, causing them to bend double. Still the shouting continues as I push past the nurse and towards the door.
The door flings open; a heavy hand reaches for mine and drags me through.