PATIENT EVELYN WINTERS: Female. Approximately 16 Years of age.
Patient still displays signs of amnesia. Evaluation shows worsening fevers, syncope, failure to heal from multiple wounds and infection of said wounds. Patient has failed to respond to standard treatment. Recommended course of action has met with refusal by patient’s significant other. No next of kin available. Unsure of patient’s ability to consent for herself due to diminished mental faculties.
—MEDICAL RECORD LOG, DR. DANIEL GILLIAN, MD
My life is just about perfect.
At least I think it is. It’s hard to be sure since I can’t remember anything from the last sixteen years. My hopes. My dreams. Everything. Gone. As if they never existed. And I will probably never get them back.
It hurts just thinking about it, so I try not to, but the thought festers in my mind as I sit on the beach by the water’s edge and push my bare feet into the surf. The waves lap at my ankles as I dig my toes into the sand. It feels good—the chilly water against my heated flesh.
I just know I’m running another fever. I’m never not, lately. I scratch at my healing shoulder before remembering myself and shoving my hands into the cool sand. It’s only been a few days since my release from the confines of the local medical facility—I’d been there just a few weeks, but it’d felt like forever. Dr. Gillian said, despite the failure of the wound on my shoulder to heal completely, I was healthy enough to leave. I’m not convinced he actually thinks that’s true, but he’s done so much for me since I got here, he almost feels like family. Or I think so anyway. I don’t really remember what family feels like. But, anyway, he’s done so much for me, Dr. Gillian, that I could hardly refuse, and even though I wasn’t at all sure I was ready to leave the hospital, Gavin was impatient to get me home.
Home. Another pang of something I can’t really describe hits me, and tears well in my eyes. I trace my fingers over the etched lines of the silver rose pendant lying between my breasts. I really, really want to go home, I know that. I just don’t know exactly where “home” is.
Gavin’s dog, Lucy, bumps my shoulder with her head, whining softly. I dig my fingers into her soft fur, staring into the water until the tears that sting my eyes are from the sun sparkling on the surface. Even at sunset, the solar rays are still intense to my eyes, but a bit of my bad mood slips away. It’s beautiful today, as it always is, the sky flickering now with the oranges, reds, and pinks of the setting sun.
This is my favorite time of day. When the sun is setting and the last of its fiery fingers caress the water line before relinquishing their hold to the darkness of night. And I can watch as the stars pop out, one by one, to pinprick the sky with their silvery light. The breakers crash against the shore in a steady rhythm. It’s lovely. Peaceful. Calming. Like somewhere else I used to know.
Home, I think again, holding the pendant tightly in my fist. Gavin tells me I came from beneath those waves. But I don’t know if home is really there. At the bottom of the sea in a place I can’t remember and I’m not sure if I want to. Or if it’s with Gavin and his wonderful family: His brother, Tristan, and all his chattering and curiosity. His sister, Ann Marie, with her easy happiness, and his mom, whose quiet strength—the same strength Gavin has in spades—resonates from her in waves.
I’ll admit, when they’re around, it’s easy to forget that I haven’t always been here. That I haven’t always been a part of their family. But still, I know I don’t really belong. I’m not sure I belong anywhere.
That thought making my heart squeeze, I push up from the sand, click my tongue so Lucy will follow, and go back into the house I’m supposed to consider my home.
The bucket of tallow oil weighs heavy in my hand as I drag it up the two hundred and thirteen steps to the lantern room. I don’t suppose we really have to light the lamp anymore, but it’s become a custom. My family has kept the lighthouse going since the War. Using the light not to guide ships, but people.
It was one of the few buildings left standing after everything, but our cove was still in better shape than a lot of places. More importantly, it was safe—from raiders and starving animals—due to the coast on three sides and the wall they’d built around the town. My ancestors had hoped to guide those lost in what is now known as the Outlands to the safety of our town. I don’t know if my family always lived here or if we took it over when we came across it, but we’ve been here ever since. No one new has come in ages, not since the mayor was sent from the city to keep an eye on us, but we still make the tallow and light the lantern every night. Just in case.
It’s technically Tristan’s job—ever since I started spending all my time hunting and providing food for the family—but he has a hard time dragging the bucket all the way to the top, and anyway I don’t mind doing it. The mindless repetition of dragging the oil to the top, pouring it into the lamp, winding the clockwork, and lighting it usually gives me some much needed thinking time.
Today, though, I’m just going to enjoy the view. I can see Evie down on the beach, and now that she’s with me after being in the hospital for way too long, I just want to bask a little. Even though I’ve been back on the surface for a little over a month, I can’t get over how grateful I am to be home. My mind still reels thinking of what I—we—went through. Genetic mutations. Brainwashing. A beautiful princess needing rescuing. Okay, that part’s not true. She rescued me. I just decided I couldn’t leave without her.
A smile curves my lips as I glance down over the rail. Far below, the light from behind me shines on her blond head, then continues on its way. She was the only shining light from that hell.
But it’s hard to be happy looking at her now. I can tell from how she’s holding on to Lucy that she’s unhappy, and considering the way she’s staring out into the water, I can’t pretend I don’t know the reason. She’s homesick. Even if “home” is the last word I’d use to describe Elysium.
Hell. Living nightmare. Bottomless pit of everlasting tortures. Those descriptions would fit it a lot better, but it’s not like she remembers what really happened. She didn’t even want to leave until she was forced to. By me. No, scratch that. Because of me. Because she’d risked her life to rescue me. And it had cost her much more than either of us had anticipated.
I watch, leaning over the rail, as she gets up and walks into the house, Lucy prancing by her side. She never once looks up at me, though I’m sure she knows I’m up here. Not sure if I should feel stung or just let her be; after all, I should know better than anyone how difficult it is to feel lost in a world that’s not yours with no one you know or trust. And while I know she cares for me, ever since she left the hospital there’s been this awkwardness between us. Like neither of us quite knows what to do with the other now that it’s safe for us to touch.
Huffing a sigh, I turn to pick up the now empty bucket, then make my way down the stairs. It’s much easier with gravity and an empty bucket on my side.
Taking my time, I put the supplies back into the fuel room, then clean up the already meticulous space. When I finally admit to myself that I can’t get it any cleaner than it already is, I wander into the house.
It’s quiet, as it usually is after supper, except for the sounds of Tristan playing in his room, making sound effects from whatever toys he’s deemed worthy of his time. Mom must have nixed unplugging the water heater for him to play video games for today. Good, because I’m filthy. I glance down at my sooty hands and arms. I need a shower. Besides, I have to pass Evie’s room along the way to the bathroom. It’ll give me the perfect excuse to check on her.
The floorboards creak and groan as I walk. I used to try and learn which floorboards to use or how to step to avoid them making noises, but it’s useless. They’re old and they all creak. In fact, I see a loose one poking up near Evie’s doorway. I’ll have to run to the general store for nails to fix that so she doesn’t trip on it. And while I’m at it, I should probably see if I can trade something for some paint. The walls are peeling and Mom’s been making noises since Evie came about wanting to fix up the house.
I’m careful to avoid the loose board as I stop at her doorway. But when I peek my head into the room, she’s back to staring out her window to the black sea. One hand rests on Lucy’s head, which rests in Evie’s lap. The other rests on the glass, palm pressing to it, fingers curled slightly, as if she’s reaching for something. In the reflection, I can see tears sliding down her cheek. I back away from the door, so she can’t see that I saw her, swallow the lump in my throat, and continue on into the bathroom. With a flick of the wrist, I turn on the water. At first it only drizzles out and I glare at the pipe.
“Work, damn you,” I mutter. I don’t want to have to fumble around in the pump house in the dark. Then it pulses and shoots a stream from the rusty faucet, pouring blackish water into the tub. God, I hate well water. After another half a minute, the water turns clear and steam starts rising from the bottom of the tub. I quickly adjust the temperature and step into the spray.
While I’m scrubbing my skin, I contemplate how to help Evie. I hate seeing her so sad, missing a home she doesn’t remember, but going back isn’t an option. So the question is, what can I do? I stay in the shower a while longer than I normally would, staring at a crack in the tile, but still no answers come.
Even after I’m finished with my shower and dressed in clean clothes and staring at the ceiling in my room, I don’t know. She needs her memories back; that’s obvious. But how do we get them back, when we don’t know what caused her to lose them in the first place?
Lucy’s growl and a movement out of the corner of my eye makes my blood run cold and I jump up, grabbing the bat that is lying next to the bed. My mind flashes back to being in Sector Three, and for a second, silly as I know it is, I’m sure one of those things followed us back. Something is creeping around my house—and all I’ve got to defend myself is a baseball bat.
I grip the bat tightly and tiptoe to the doorway. But what’s standing there makes me stop in my tracks. Not again.
It’s Evie, and she’s staring at me with the blankest expression on her face. Her eyes are completely empty. Dead, almost. I’ve seen those eyes before. In Elysium. On the Enforcers. And, unfortunately, on her.
“Evie? Are you all right?”
She tips her head to the side and I fight back another shudder. “My life is just about perfect.” Then she slowly turns and walks down the hallway, her white nightgown fluttering behind her.
I’m so in shock, it takes me a minute to realize she’s already at the end of the hall and around the corner.
Shit! She must be sleepwalking. I chase after her, but she’s already back down to the beach when I catch up to her. She’s only walking. How is she moving so fast?
“Evie!” I reach for her hand, pulling it toward me and hoping it’ll make her stop. It does. But when she turns, I can only stare at her, while she seems to stare through me. She shakes me off and walks forward again. If she keeps going the way she is, she’ll end up in the ocean.
I rush forward and make another grab for her hand. She tries shaking me off again, but I ignore it and say, “Where are you going?”
She turns to face me. Blinks once, and says, “Home.”
A chill slides over me. “Home?” I ask dumbly.
“Home.” She twists back around and yanks away from me, splashing her way into the water.
I lunge forward and pull her back. She spins around and this time, when she looks at me, my instincts yell at me to let her go. I don’t.
A wave crashes over us, pulling us apart and knocking me to my knees. Freezing salty water collapses over my head, burning my eyes and nose. I shove up, coughing, and push my hair out of my eyes. She’s out of reach already. I don’t even think the wave bothered her.
Her nightgown is soaked and her skin glows through it in the moonlight. In normal circumstances, I’d appreciate the view, but I barely give it a passing thought as I wade deeper, trying to reach her before she gets to the drop-off.
“Evie! Stop. Please,” I try again, knowing it’s useless. Even though the air around me is hot, I’m shaking.
When I’m close enough, I grab for her arm, but we’re both slippery from the water and she pulls easily from my hand. The moonlight pours over her and while her eyes are red, they’re as empty as they ever were.
I’ve heard that if you slap someone in shock, it wakes them up from whatever it is that they’re doing. I dismiss the thought as soon as I’ve had it. I can’t hit Evie. But another wave crashes on top of her, knocking her over, and when she just stands up and keeps going, I realize I don’t have a choice. I don’t want to hurt her, but I want her alive. So I grasp her again with one hand and bring the other one up to slap her just hard enough that I hope it’ll wake her up … but before I can even make contact, she’s got my wrist and she’s squeezing it, pushing my arm back.
She twists around so she’s staring me down. Her eyes are inky bottomless wells. Empty and dangerous. Before I can react, her other arm swings around and I catch a glimpse of her fist as it connects to my jaw. The impact shoves me back and then water is surrounding me and my head spins so much with my ringing ears that I can’t figure out which way is up. I panic at first, flopping around, trying to get to the surface so I can breathe. But instinct forces through my panic and reminds me to relax and let my body float. My feet touch bottom and I shove to a standing position. Above the surface, I gasp for breath, shoving my hair from my eyes and searching for Evie, but she’s gone. I can’t see her.
I turn around in a circle as quickly as I can, but the water slows me down. It doesn’t matter, though. I can’t see her.
“Evie!” I shout, my voice hoarse from seawater and coughing. I push forward toward the drop-off. “Evie!… Evie!” Nothing. No answer, except the waves as they push toward shore.
My eyes are blurry from the salt water and the panic tears burning them. “Evie. Please! Answer me.”
Then, by some miracle, the moonlight reflects off of something white and I know it’s her. “Evie!” I shout again, pushing toward her, forgetting about the drop-off in my hurry to get to her.
I go under mid-yell, swallowing seawater, but push up and spit out what I can. I just keep saying her name as I swim closer, because I can’t seem to say anything else. She’s not moving and her hair is all over. I can’t even tell which way she’s facing.
My heart stops when I get to her and see she’s facedown. I roll her over and drag her out as fast I can, using the waves to my advantage, but when I get her onto the beach and kneel over her, she’s not breathing.
“Oh God. Oh God,” I whisper, shoving her hair from her face. I breathe into her mouth, but her chest doesn’t even rise. There must be water in her lungs. I have to get it out.
“Come on, Evie.” I push on her chest, shoving on it harder and harder, screaming her name. “Evie. Please. Come on. Please.” I kneel closer to her mouth and push more air into her lungs, hoping to displace some of the water. Nothing happens. I shakily feel for a pulse, moaning when I don’t feel one.
“Wake up, damn it,” I say, pumping even harder on her chest. I refuse to give up. I’m not going to let her die. Not now. Not like this.
Copyright © 2013 by Jessica Souders