Swoosh. The sound of the door opening barely registered in my ears. The wind slapped my open wounds. Energy from outside trailed into awareness. Help! My raw mind was barely able to project its cry. A gasp from the figure next to me interrupted my pretend death. My eyes opened to look to the right. There Tanaka stood tears streaming down his face. Another, unseen, undid my restraints. My eyes stung, hooded by their swollen weight—the product of being hit. The other person, from the sound of the voice, Ryan, issued commands. My legs were moved, my mouth opened to scream as broken limbs were disturbed but only a guttural sound escaped lips. Blackness met me. My consciousness hovered in the void. A disembodied face emerged from the darkness—its fangs sucked energy from my body. My first instinct was to run, move somehow, but there was no strength left for movement. Screams stopped in a powerless throat. Faced with the futility of movement and expression I transformed into a spectator as the pale face consumed me. My body limp, the unprocessed pain memories searing across each wound. Helplessness has become a person, the face of one I want to kill because of the place he has taken me to. Remorse, regret lives in flesh and the idea of his ending the only way helplessness can die. When my eyes open my body is sweating. More tired than before I slept I struggle to stay awake, lest more terrors greet me in sleep. The room is eggshell blue. The image of a bird enters my mind’s eye. A robin is perched on the window sill, chirping. It is October yet the air outside is temperate, a surprise in the wake of Jersey’s recent brisk cold in the living tier. The dome of the ground tier allowing earth it’s natural cycle. The bird bounces on the sill looking through the window before leaping off into flight. My sense was that of a goodbye. Yet I cling to the hope the bird brings. Of freedom. Arrested in what is clearly a hospital bed, my body high from the medicine I cannot leave. A door opens to my left and Izzy is standing quietly. My eyes find a spot on the wall.
“Zara,” she whispers. Does she have to see me? Did she see what I had become? A tear threatens and I kill it at its root. A pink skirt comes within my sight. A soft hand places itself on my arm. An IV connected to a nanotube circulating the bots that are fixing my body internally is just beneath her touch.
“Izzy,” my voice breaks. I lick lips tasting the dryness.
“You’re going to be okay,” she says and I want to punch her. Really? Anger flashes through me.
“Thanks,” my anger sings along my veins, the beeping of the heart monitor increases. Izzy sighs, “do you blame me?”
My eyes capture hers reluctantly, “it isn’t your fault.” It’s mine. Had I gotten in the car faster or been more aware of my surroundings.
“It’s not your fault,” she says patting my arm gently. My eyes are trained at the movement of her fingers waiting for them to lash out—for my nightmare to begin again.
Swallow. The thirst makes my lips stick. “I appreciate the thought.” Izzy squeezes my arm and leans towards me, “It is more than a thought, it’s truth.”
“How long will I be here?”
Izzy looks back at the door and Tanaka walks in, he answers for her, “you will be here for psychological rehabilitation so your duration of stay is unsure.” I nod my head. Standard procedure for victims.
Neither of them says normal greetings or smile. They stand on either side of me. It is like someone has died. My mother’s face flashes before my eyes and I shut them. If only she were here. Tanaka touches my arm while my eyes are shut and I jolt. My eyes flash open, “don’t touch me.” He curls his hand back as if he has been burned.
“I would never hurt you.”
“I know but I need time to trust.” In my mind, he is a man like my attacker. There is no reason to the fear but even his mere presence makes me want to run. I crush down the fear into its home. Rational thought: Tanaka has been my boyfriend for years. Irrational thought: he can be just like that man who caught you. Like anyone else on the street. Seems friendly but actually a foe. I shake and Tanaka seeing my distress backs away from the bed.
“We’ll work through this. Do you need me to leave?” He looks at Izzy who is standing next to me, touching me. She withdraws her hand. Her face downcast. When I nod for him to leave she walks out after him, “I’ll be back.” Izzy stated before the door shut. There must be something else going on.
“You knew didn’t you?” Tanaka’s hands were fists at his sides but he stood at a distance.
“Yes,” no point in lying. He knew.
“Why didn’t you save her?” The anger found its way to his temples, the veins on the sides of his head popping.
“There was no path where she didn’t get captured. This was the least brutal. Had she had an opportunity to resist he would have done worse once he got her.”
Tanaka turned away putting his hand out in a stop motion. Izzy gave him space. He trained his eyes back on her. In his gaze, she felt her worth was trash. He didn’t need to say a word.
“For her sake, don’t tell her you knew. I’ll do the same, for her, not for you. Not because you asked but for her.” Izzy nodded and watched Tanaka walk away slowly his fists still clenched. Zara had been knocked out for days. Tanaka and Izzy had an arrangement going where they reopened the Paranormal Investigation Taskforce center for business. Izzy screened contract hunters and helped Tanaka with administrative duties on top of her own work at the University. Although she took time off she still had papers to grade and students who emailed her with their problems and excuses.The amount she was doing to compensate for Zara’s inactivity was more than Tanaka even thought of, or if he did he did not care. It seemed Izzy was taking the fall for the actions of the killer. With so little time left until the next occurrence, that she had to keep in confidence, she wondered if there would be any time to just be. Be, with Zara. Izzy took a deep breath and faced Zara’s hospital room. Soon she would be transferred to the psychological unit.
When Izzy entered Zara was looking out the window once more. The glazed look in her eyes made Izzy want to scream. Zara looked like a doll: motionless, stuck in time, lifeless. The white sheets that covered Zara concealed some bruises from view. The swelling in her face was gone. Izzy knew that Zara could hear her enter and approach. But Zara wanted to be anywhere but here in this moment. Because this moment was after. After the worst. An event that could not be undone. Izzy understood more than Zara knew, more than she would ever tell anyone.
“Welcome back.” Zara was still staring out the window.
“Tanaka said he is going to go punch Ryan.”
Izzy sighed and stood in her line of sight, “Zara, you are allowed to be out of it but can you promise me something?”
Zara’s face moved so slowly as she gazed up at Izzy it was as if it took a world of effort to move.
“Be? What do you mean, be?” Zara’s eyebrow rose and her lips set in a line. They were dry and cracked, Izzy stepped away to order a cup of water from the room’s nurse AI. The AI authorized a cup, which shortly materialized in the replicator beneath. Izzy brought it over to Zara to drink. The computer should have done this automatically. Zara took the cup, her hand shaking she drank and looked at Izzy expectantly for a response.
“When you want to give up remember to hold on to life because as cruel as it has been it can be beautiful too. You don’t have to rush back to work or live up to anyone else’s standards. But, if you agree with yourself to just be hurt, tired, whatever, do so—just remember to be, not to give up. To keep living.”
For a moment the light came back to Zara’s eyes as she nodded in agreement, “I promise.” It was cruel of Izzy to ask her for anything at this point but it was enough. Since the discovery of the location where the victims were kept the serial killer had been missing. There were questions Ryan wanted to ask Zara but according to the Survivor’s Protection Law, it would have to wait until the potential psychological duress from such a conversation was minimized. Izzy was glad Zara didn’t have to talk about it. Zara seemed hardly able to bear being awake or sleeping for that matter. Izzy watched as Zara’s eyes would close her head falling forward only for her to shake herself awake. Izzy sat patiently by the bed and let Zara lay in silence. She used her flimsy to work from the hospital while Tanaka buried himself in work outside. Zara hadn’t asked her to leave and Izzy knew that she felt safer with her around. This seriously confused Izzy given she was the last person Zara saw before the attack but then Izzy was glad she wasn’t in Tanaka’s shoes.