Defect(5)

By: Ryann Kerekes


I breathe deeply, willing myself to stay calm. Freaking out, hyperventilating and giving into the gravity of the situation will get me nowhere. If I stay calm and look at things rationally, I’ll have a much better chance of surviving this nightmare. They can only take what you give them. They will not take my sanity, my inner strength.

The first order of business is a bathroom. Surely someone will come by soon to check on me. And then I can figure out where I am. Having taken stock of my injuries and various discomforts, I survey the room around me. Faint light seeps into the edges of the room from the narrow windows near the ceiling, like we’re underground. Row after row of hospital beds with sleeping women line the room. Some are old, their gray hair scattered across their pillows, and some closer to my age, their faces smooth in sleep. I look at the bed across from mine, and dark eyes are looking back at me.

“You’re up,” she whispers after a moment of studying me in silence. I watch her without answering. Her hair is black and frizzy, like she stuck her finger in a socket. Her face is expressionless. “I’m Willow,” she says.

“Eve,” I say. “How long was I out?”

“Two days,” she says without hesitating.

Two days? Lying in this dungeon for two days without food, without water? It seems unimaginable that much time has passed. My throat is dry and cracked. My hollow stomach shrinks into my ribs.

The doors to the dormitory swing open and a thin nurse with silver hair seems to glide across the room, as though her feet barely touch the floor. She pulls a cart in behind her, letting the door swing closed. The clicking sound once it closes tells me there’s some sort of locking mechanism in place. The cart is topped with steaming bowls of broth, and my stomach clenches in anticipation of something warm to fill it.

She parks the cart and comes to my bed. “There she is.” She helps me sit up against the back of my headboard. “Next time you won’t need so much – little thing like you – you were out longer than we expected.” She brings me a cup of broth, but stops before handing it to me. “Think you can keep this down?”

I nod, my mouth watering. She offers it to me, and I wrap my fingers around the warmth of the cup. My hands are shaking as I bring it to my lips. I manage a small sip. It glides easily down my throat, washing away the bitterness. It tastes like tree bark and something salty. I take a bigger gulp and the nurse turns to walk away.

Willow takes her cup of broth and downs it in one gulp, keeping her eyes on me. The others begin to wake and look in my direction. It’s like I’m the shiny, new toy in the room. I choke on a gulp of the broth and cough.

“You’re lucky we have Susanne today. She’s the only one who treats us like we’re still human,” Willow says, nodding to the nurse.

After the broth’s been distributed and the empty cups collected, Susanne begins to unshackle us, one by one. I rub my raw ankles and pull my knees to my chest. “What happens now?” I ask Willow.

“It’s shower day.”

We’re herded down the hall – single file – with two guards leading the way and two behind us. We’re taken into an open room with water spouts along the walls, every few feet or so.

The women and girls around me begin to undress while the male guards watch, smoking and talking casually at the edge of the room. I hesitate.

Willow pulls her shirt off over her head. “Just do it. We only get to shower once a week.” She strips the rest of the way and tiptoes along the tile floor to the shower head in the far corner.

I glance back at the guards. They’re watching me and seem to be waiting for something. I quickly strip off the too big cotton draw string pants and shirt they’ve dressed me in and follow Willow’s path across the floor. I feel the spray of the water lick my ankles and hear laughter behind me.

“Susanne, there’s been some mistake – there’s no way this one’s sixteen.” The men laugh, their eyes on my body. I keep my chin high and walk straight ahead. Once my head’s under the water it drowns out their voices, and I concentrate on the warmth. I wash quickly, and then we’re prodded back into the dormitory.

***

I jerk awake in the night, suddenly aware of someone watching me. I feel his presence before I see him. But once my eyes adjust to the darkened room, I’m pretty sure it’s Will – the guard I saw right after my mindscan. I gasp and try to sit up before remembering I’m chained to the bed.

He brings a finger to his lips. I watch his eyes in the pale moonlight. They are dark and intense and locked on mine. He lowers his finger once he realizes I’ll stay quiet. His eyes have the same serious, troubled look, and he’s just as silent as the first time I met him.

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