The door handle rattled furiously in the dark and annoyed grunts coupled the pounding on the door. I bit back my cries but could feel the tears rolling down my cheek and pooling against my hand, the taste of blood filled my mouth from biting too hard on my lip. My eyes stayed open and trained to forward but they might as well have been closed, only the faintest slivers of light snuck under the door and even with those, the stall door was in the way. With my thumb tucked into my palm, I counted the pulses that indicated my heartbeat.
I’m still alive.
For how much longer?
A voice came to my rescue. “We’ll come back to it, I found some hiding in the cellar.” The footsteps echoed down the hall and moments later screams, gun shots (six in all), then silence. I imagined six faceless bodies slumped over on the cold cellar floor, blood pouring from their wounds and mixing into a red ocean. That would be me in only a matter of seconds. How long had I been in this darkness? How long had I been crying, been tasting the blood in my mouth? Where was Jason?
Was I really going to die at nineteen?
The footsteps never came back, in fact silence was all I heard for a long time. Then another explosion, this time I couldn’t stop the scream. It echoed and resonated throughout the empty room and then hit my ringing ears. More plaster was falling from the ceiling now, bigger chunks and some wood too. The ceiling was crumbling, and if I stayed here I would be buried alive.
Could I risk it? Saying here was certain death. If I felt my chances for death were possibly just as high, but perhaps I would be able to find another hiding spot. The smell of rust filled the air when my sweat-covered hands met the cold metal. A click and then more darkness. The sliver of light peaked out from under the door. More pieces falling, the building was complaining now. Something fell and hit me on the head but I kept going.
When the door opened the light assaulted my eyes. I was blinded for several moments and walked drunkenly throughout the hallway. No one around me, only debris, so I kept moving. The front of the diner was unrecognizable. The Sicilian mural was charred black from explosions and the walls were peppered with gun shots. Pieces of cushion and splintered wood littered the floor along with the glass that covered the front like sand. Grey clouds hung in the air, carrying heat and stench. It reminded me of the fire, when my world had been burning.
The chef, a small gun in his lifeless hand, was slung over the bar. One woman was halfway across the room, missing a leg, and a young boy hung from his booth, his hands extended over his head to graze the floor.
People. Many of them ran into the room, masks covering their strange faces. Things fell from the ceiling and parts of the wall crumpled, something hit me on the head, but I never felt the ground.
“Hello? Can you hear me? My name is Aaron, I’m a first responder. Open your eyes if you can hear me.” A hazy voice floated in and out of my consciousness. It was distant and I ran for it, like a figure on the horizon, but the horizon only got further away the faster I ran. Unimaginable pain erupted from my head, almost suddenly, and I tasted blood. Why did I taste blood? I felt sweaty and panting, as if I had just finished my training with Kohl.
Was that it? Had I been with Kohl? Maybe I’d gotten heat stroke and fainted? It had happened before, Kohl liked to train, especially when it was hot.
I’d have to talk to Mom about that, after all I would be graduating soon, so there really was no need to continue.
“How is she?” Another voice, another figure.
“Alive, and her brain activity suggests she’s awake right now. Perhaps she can’t coordinate herself to show sings.” Heat, it came closer to me, like when a person moved close to you. I could almost see the shadow behind my eyelids. “Miss, I’m going to put my hand in yours. Squeeze my hand if you’re awake.”
A rough hand, calloused and dry. I squeezed and there were murmurings. “Are you thirsty?” I squeezed again and soon enough something cool was brought to my lips. It was soft and water dripped down my chin and cheek. Lying down, if water was dripping down my cheek, I had to be lying down.
I put all my strength into opening my eyes, fully expecting to see either Mom or Kohl there. They needed to do something about my pounding head. Instead I saw two strangers, they looked relieved. “What’s your name?” Silver hairs interwoven with black, the man’s nose reminded me of a skiing slope.
My name? Why did he want to know my name? “Pew…” My tongue was heavy, my lip felt bruised, but I tried again. “Persef-foney…” That wasn’t it, why couldn’t I speak?
“I think she may have a concussion.” The man brought a thin, black object close to me. “I’m going to shine this into your eye to check for contraction, alright.” For a moment I was blind, like when I had stared at the sun too long when I was younger. Red dots filled my vision. “Unequal contraction,” the man noted to the other man beside him. They sat me up, propping me against something, and the other man took over. This was familiar… Why did I know this scene?
“I need you to squeeze my fingers with either hand.” The man held out his hands and the action took a moment to sink in, I extended my hands and wrapped them around his warm ones. “The left side is much weaker than the right,” the man said to his partner.
There was suddenly screaming from behind, and many noises. I looked between the two men, who kept their eyes on me. Three large, uniform clad figures emerged from a broken structure: each carried one or two lips forms in their arms. “Whata… Wh-ats happening?” I asked, focusing my eyes back on the two men.
They didn’t respond, one asked me again if I was thirsty and I said yes, one man held a wet towel to my lips. The cool sensation the towel left burnt the chapped skin.
“Jason!” a woman shrieked, she ran to the side of one of the large figures.
“Jason,” I said. The darkness, the heat. The pounding and the tears. Above it all Jason, running around the corner while I was rooted to my spot. “I have to see… How he is…” One of the men put a firm hand against my chest and tried to ease me back down to whatever I had been lying on, but I resisted. “No! You don’t know. I need to see Jason. Where is he? They have guns, I heard them!” I said a little louder now. “Let go, I need to see where he is. He’s going to move to England in the fall, his boyfriend is waiting for him!”
One of the men held tightly onto my shoulders and the other grabbed something from beside me. A sharp sting and then ice flooded my veins, suddenly I couldn’t move. The man lay me back down gently.
I never saw Jason.
For what felt like an endless amount of time I lay dead. When I say dead, I obviously don’t mean literally—though I might as well have been. After the man injected me with the ice, and I drove off in the back of an ambulance from the woman who had screamed out my friend’s name, I was brought to a hospital. They secured into a bed and had been buzzing around me ever since. The machines beside me beeped conformations that I was alive, but I felt nothing. Nothing. No pain, no pleasure. I couldn’t move anything but my eyes.
It was just me trapped in my own head, and I couldn’t think of a worse place to be trapped.
The nurses’ and doctors’ voices were clear enough, but I couldn’t respond to them in anyway. My biggest question of course was to ask someone what had happened. I wanted to sleep as well, as my eyes were very heavy and I wanted to escape reality for a while, but every time I got even close to drifting off, the IV started pumping something into me that corrected that issue.
Jason. Was he here too?
Vaguely I remember them wheeling me off from my prison bed, blinding lights blurred on the ceiling like hundreds of tiny, white suns. There were people in my peripheral vision and commotion from all around, but no one bothered to tell me anything. I suppose unlike the first responders, here they weren’t so concerned with making sure I knew what they were doing to me.
My final destination was under a bright, hot lamp. People in pale blue masks and caps swam in and out of view and I knew where I was. A surgery room. If it weren’t for the inhibitor, I would have been screaming and kicking. I didn’t like needles as a rule, and liked being cut open even more. The surgeon commanded the procedure in a calm, even voice, and the one time she came into view she smiled at me encouragingly.
Finally someone spoke to me. “Can you tell us your name?” the nurse beside me asked, it took a moment before I realized I was being spoken to.
Try as I might, I couldn’t get my clumsy tongue to even form the first syllable. “The inhibitor hasn’t worn off,” another nurse noted. “It wouldn’t have any adverse effects with her medications, would it?”
“I have already verified, with the dosage she obtained, she will be fine; I suppose we will just need to flush them out of her system,” the surgeon said, she had a thick accent and I had a hard time understanding her through my groggy mind. “Even so, observe the spike in her activity when she began constructing what we were saying, and then when she tried to speak. The impact caused a depressed fracture but I have corrected it, I believe now she needs only time.”
After that they wheeled me back into the hospital room, and I tried to count the ceiling tiles. The nurse hooked an IV into the back of my hand, I watched as the thin needle slipped into my skin but I felt nothing. “The inhibitor should be flushed out in about half an hour, but you should be able to move your fingers and toes before then. I’ll leave the TV on for you.”
The nurse left and I was alone to count down the seconds until I could move my fingers again. I imagined what the pain would be like and wondered if it would be better to be paralyzed for a while longer. My skin was still so ashen that I was able to trace my veins up my forearm to the crook of my elbow, bruises were blooming like lilacs up my arm.
I wondered if Mom were watching a news report right now, about how Ottawa had been struck again. Perhaps they would show me, unconscious, while the first responders tried to help me. The situation was hard enough on Mom as it was, I didn’t want her to go through anything harden than she already had to.
Another terrible thought occurred to me, if this place were to be attacked, there was no chance I would survive. This time I was completely immobile, lying death-like in my hospital bed as I waited to gain the ability to speak again. Not that it mattered, I hadn’t survived the last two times by myself. The only reason I was still alive was because Jason had saved me, twice, and for that I owed him more than I would ever be able to repay. When I saw him next time, which hopefully won’t be soon (I wouldn't wish for him to be in the hospital again), I would have to make it up to him.
My eyes were extremely heavy, and I thought that if I closed them for just a moment, I would be able to wake up with the inhibitor out of my system. I saw only redness when I closed my eyes and the faint mumbling of some sitcom registered in my ear. There was a bright white light behind my eyelids and I traced it with my eyes, feeling as they ran under the thin skin.
I woke up in the middle of the night, when the whole world was asleep and it was dark. Sitting up against the darkness, I noticed the suspicious lack of pain, perhaps they had given me a different kind of pain killer? They must have attached me to it while I was sleeping, because I didn’t remember taking it. But on the positive side, the inhibitor had worn off and I could move again.
The darkness around me was all encompassing and I couldn’t see anything. Not the fingers I felt stretching over the sweat-stained hospital blanket, and not the light I knew should have been flooding in under the door. How could it be this dark? A hospital would never turn off all its light. Not to mention the fact that, as a patient recovering from surgery, they should have been keeping watch on me.
My mind wandered to the near-absolute darkness of the washroom in the Italian diner. I imagined pacing outside the room, heavy boots and guns being trailed long the door. The screaming, the horrible screams that had echoed right before the gunshots had silenced them: I realized they had died so I could live. It felt as if someone stabbed me and I lost air, my breath becoming hitched in my throat. Cold chills ran down my spine, and I could feel the pinprick of goosebumps on my arm and neck.
A horrible hissing and spitting sound filled the room, like fat landed on a hot stove. I covered my ears but the hissing evolved to painfully high-pitched shrieking. Then I felt something warm clamp down on my shoulder, something to the texture of a nail traced back and forth over the base of my neck before a hand wrapped around it. Something sharp pierced my cheek and I felt myself scream, only the noise was swallowed by the darkness. Blood dripped from my cheek and heat filled my face, I screamed louder and louder but no sound came out. Something wet trailed over my mound, stinging like Hydrogen Peroxide as it left my skin. When I reached my hands out around me I could feel nothing, yet the hand was squeezing tighter and tighter on my throat.
With lungs burning and my mouth filling with the taste of pennies, I became desperate. My stomach tied up in knots and the pain of oxygen deprivation quickly spread throughout my body, every cell in my body echoed the same plea: get oxygen. I opened my mouth as I widely as I could, but I’d lost the ability to breath. The hand clamped tighter and tighter, and I heard bones cracking. The air tasted like liquor in my mouth, my tongue burnt against it and my throat was quickly drying out. “You killed Jason, all those people, their blood is on your hands,” a faint voice whispered, there was warm breath on my ear, another stab and more searing pain. Tears rolled down my cheeks and collected with the blood. The hissing and spitting continued, and it felt as if something were licking me.
Closing my eyes, I tried to force myself to wake from the nightmare. But it felt so real, that I couldn’t be sure I was dreaming. When my eyes opened again I wasn’t met by complete darkness; jags of silver filled the top and bottom of my view, a rolling red hill dripping burning water onto my hands. I realized I was looking into a mouth and began screaming and thrashing again. It was the thing, it had found me again.
This isn’t real.
Hot breath spread over my face with the intensity of releasing hot air trapped in an oven. The thing dug its ragged teeth into me and began to rip. Pain worse than death. Every nerve ending was hyperaware.