Darkness & Light, Book 1
I was cold when I woke up, and confused. I should be in my narrow bed in my dorm room at the Academy, where the window was a square of faint orange from the parking lot lights and another bright bar of light from the hall seeped in under the door. But it was too dark. Was the power out? It was so dark that I wasn't sure I had my eyes open at first, but then I blinked and my lashes brushed against something that was over my face. I moved my right hand to push it away and my fingers felt numb and cold. They brushed my thigh and I could barely feel either my thigh under my fingertips, or my fingers passing over my skin.
There was something over me and my first thought was that I was wrapped in silk like a spider's prey, silk spun by a giant spider with Simms' head, and each of its eight legs ended in a needle.
I was drifting off into a quicksand of unconsciousness and I deliberately pulled myself out of it.
I opened my mouth to speak, and pain lanced me in the side as I inhaled. It made me think of the crucifix hanging in the school chapel with a plaster Jesus bleeding from below his ribs. "Where...?" I whispered. My voice sounded like the rustle of tissue paper.
Papers, rustling, as Missus checks through them. She is seated behind the desk and Mister stands beside her beaming benevolently at me. Or is it leering?
I came to again with a sickening lurch. I had drifted off.
My hand, ordered to clear away whatever was over my face, had gotten as far as my navel. It seemed heavy and clumsy. Panic rose in my throat and I swallowed it down. A lady is always calm and collected, Ms. Whittaker had told us. There is no situation which cannot be improved by keeping a cool and rational head. Ms. Whittaker, the ancient deportment teacher, still living in her 1950s fantasy world. She taught us the names of all the styles of hats and what kind of gloves were appropriate for what occasions. Just in case we lunched with the Queen.
I wondered what she would make of my situation. I seemed to be naked.
No, I shouldn't be in my dorm room at the school. I should be in my new Swedish-designed bed in my apartment, hearing city noises that I was not used to. But I heard nothing.
I didn't even hear my own breathing. I spoke again to be sure I could hear my voice. "Where am I?" I whispered to the darkness, and my voice sounded intimate and close.
I supposed it should sound that way.
And then there was a rumble I could hear and feel, metal wheels on a hard surface, like the sound of the carts from which meals were served in the school dining room. I was moving. There was light, and I could see the weave of the sheet over my face. I batted at it clumsily and the glare of fluorescents made me wince.
"So! You're awake!" said a cheery voice.
"C'mon, get up, quick; we don't have a lot of time."
The voice belonged to a pudgy woman with blond hair skinned back into a ponytail. She was wearing green scrubs. She sat me up and when I slipped down from my bed to the floor, the tiles were cold on my bare feet. She wrapped the sheet around me, and an arm—my knees were buckling. As we moved away she turned and slammed the drawer closed.
I had been in a drawer.
There was a whole wall of big metal drawers, like some enormous science fiction card catalog.
I had seen drawers like that before. Not in real life, on TV. There was an episode of the Twilight Zone, the old black and white version with Rod Serling, and in this episode a man got knocked out. His neck was broken and he was paralyzed and they thought that he was dead and took him to the morgue and put him in a drawer in the freezer. Only he wasn't dead and you could hear his increasingly panicked thoughts.
"I'm—" I said, but without enough air behind it to make a sound. I stopped and sucked some in. "I'm in—"
"Yes, yes," said my nurse. "No time for that. We have to hurry. My boss is very punctual about break times."
"I'm in the morgue." I said, out loud, so that I could hear someone say it and confirm it.
"Come on, keep going, you're doing better."
I was too. Each step seemed easier. The lance in my side had decreased, first to a stitch and then to nothing.
My nurse hustled me across a hallway and into a supply closet. I had begun to suspect she was not a nurse and I was not a patient. I know you aren't really a "patient" when you are in the morgue, but my thinking was still a bit hazy at that point.
"Drink," she ordered, as she held a soda bottle to my lips. I didn't have time to see what it was or take hold of it myself, or ask for a straw or a Waterford crystal glass, she just tipped it up and I had to swallow or dribble all over myself. I didn't recognize it what it was. Some kind of health drink, I thought, really salty, with lots of iron. At first it made my teeth hurt, which was odd, but as soon as I swallowed it gave me a rush of energy that seemed to branch out through my body, right down to the tips of my toes and fingers and every hair on my scalp. I snatched the bottle from her and finished it off. In my unladylike haste I bit the inside of my lip.
"Better?" she asked.
"Better," I replied. My voice had returned and my toes and fingers no longer felt like sausages.
"Here, this is all I could find for you, but it will get you out of here."
"What is going on?" I asked. I stood there, naked, too stunned to be embarrassed, the scrubs she had given me in my hand.
She put her hands on her hips and frowned. "Do you know what you are?"
"What I am?" I thought the more pertinent question was, did I know where I was. And I did. So maybe the really pertinent question was: Why?
She took the shirt from my hand and pulled it over my head like I was a child needing to be dressed.
"I don't have time to explain." She looked at me closely and sighed and frowned. Pursed her lips. Snorted through her nose. "All right." Her facial contortions had led to some kind of decision. "If I give you an address and cab fare, can you get yourself to my apartment and sit quiet there? I get off at 3:00."
"I can do that."
I should want to go home, I thought, but curiosity had gotten the better of me. Not curiosity. That seems trite. More like the need to know what in hell was going on. I had an inkling, an itch coming up my spine, that I really did know what had happened, if I just thought about it, but I didn't really want it to reach my brain. I didn't want to explore it. I wanted someone to give me a rational explanation.
She was holding out the pants and I obediently stepped into them. They were a bit too long, but the drawstring at the waist held them snug. The only thing she had for my feet were paper shoe covers. She checked her watch and hustled me into a stairwell.
"Go up two flights; that will take you to the main floor. Find the front lobby and go out. There's usually a cab or two out there and if there isn't one just wait and one will come along. Go to this address." She wrote it on the inside of my forearm in pen. "Here's the key, let yourself in. Sit quietly," she ordered, "don't touch anything, wait for me. Watch TV," she advised, "and whatever you do, don't bite anyone!"
I wandered off the way she had directed me. No, I wasn't about to bite anyone. If this was a dream, why did the floor feel so cold and hard under my paper-clad feet?
Outside the night was clear and...bright. Oddly bright. Maybe it was the streetlights. I was used to nights in the country; the Academy was pretty secluded, surrounded by acres of manicured lawn where ornamental gas lamp replicas feebly lighted your way on bricked paths. Here in the city lights were meant for lighting things up, not quaint decoration.
The cabbie let me off at a modern, slightly shabby building. Light glowed orange from the lobby. I took the elevator to the fifth floor and let myself into the small messy apartment.
I didn't even know her name.
I didn't turn on the TV.
I had that niggling sense that there was a monster behind me and I didn't want to turn around and look at it. I paced.
And then I realized something.
I stopped and held my breath...and held it...and held it. I never reached that uncomfortable stage, where your lungs feel like overfilled balloons stuffed inside your chest wall. I let it out and did not breathe back in. I just stood there, not breathing. I could see the headlights on cars sweeping by on the interstate, and I counted fifty of them rolling by.
Still not breathing.
The monster was still at my back.
I had to turn and face it.