I watched him intently. I wasn’t sure why, but what else was I supposed to do. They called it quarantine. I called it trapping all of us in one little room. People were talking, sharing, some even finding loved ones. I didn’t want any of that. And the only other person who wasn’t really trying to talk to anyone was him.
He was pacing back and forth, almost like if he moved enough he’d wear a hole in the floor and escape. I sighed. It was getting old fast though, this pacing thing he was doing. I’d do just about anything for him to do something different. Including talk to him.
I used my feet that were propped in the chair diagonally from me and twisted it out, moving my feet from the chair to the table, leaning back further in mine. He just stared at me and continued his pacing.
“Sit,” I said to him simply, glancing at the chair. He seemed to sigh begrudgingly before sitting down. He watched me for a minute as if trying to figure out what my deal was. The girl who’d done nothing but sit, cool, calm, collected, and waited, had never even asked when they were gonna leave.
“Don’t you wanna get out of here?” he finally asked me with a raised eyebrow.
I couldn’t help but shrug my shoulders disinterestedly. Sure, I wanted to see something other than these four walls and my room. But I wasn’t overly eager to go out there. I didn’t know if I had anything left. “Well is pacing helping you, you know, get out of here?” I asked him back with a raised eyebrow. Okay, it was bitchy, and sure to drive him back to pacing, but I had to say it.
He gave me a look and shifted slightly, and I thought he would leave, but then he said,”I’m Shawn.” He held his hand out to me and I shook it, saying one word. “Hope.” He seemed to find that hilarious and I glared at him.
“So why are you so eager to get out of here?” I asked him after a few moments of silence. I guess I was curious to know what it was like to be on the other side.
Shawn looked at me like I’d grown six heads. “My family. I want to see my family. My friends. Now that we’re back, I just want to live my life.” He nodded in my direction,”Why are you so content to stay here?”
I tried to again shrug noncommittal, disinterestedly. I was tough, I was strong. This wasn’t going to bother me. “I’m not so sure that there’s anything out there for me...other than these governmental freaks putting me in foster care.”
He stared at me in shock, I could see him trying to do the math...when I disappeared had to be recent, why wouldn’t I have somewhere to go?
“Returnee 3275,” I heard over the loudspeaker.
I glanced over at Shawn and said simply,”That’s me...” I laughed softly,”Strange how the number feels more like my name than my name now...” And then I walked away. I guess it was time for another interview.
I moved over to the window, sitting down on one side and watching the man sitting across from me. The Slayer in me taking over. I looked him up and down, sizing him up. He didn’t seem really friendly, but that would just make him easier to fight. And he didn’t seem like he’d be much to take on.
“Hope Daniels,” I answered him after he said he was Tom and asked for my name. “I’ve been gone for nine months. No, I don’t remember anything.” He looked at me in shock. Those seemed to be everyone’s questions. I shrugged,”Thought I’d save us some time.”
“What were you doing when it happened?” he asked me.
“I was getting cards. You know, for me and my mom to play poker. Mom wasn’t real straight living,” I answered him with a shrug.
“Do you miss her?” Something in him seemed to soften. He seemed a bit more curious about my situation.
“Do dogs bark?” I asked him and he chuckled. “I just hope I’m not too late....”
He opened his mouth to speak again, obviously curious about my last statement, but he was silenced by the large group of pompous British men in suits. A group I knew a bit too well. The Watchers Council.
Normally I’d sign up for anything that could get me moving, slaying, fighting, bring the adrenaline rush back, but for obvious reasons, like them trying to kill my mom, I wasn’t really keen on Watchers period. And definitely not a whole crew of them waiting to whisk me off to England and do god knew what with me.
My body stiffened, not visibly, but in the heightened awareness way that it had, where I could feel every inch of muscle in my body, every expanse of skin. Everything was humming, ready to throw itself into action. Action I was oddly hoping I got.
They flashed badges and I had to laugh at their charade. We weren’t a governmental agency, we were a secret. But the laugh died as they said,”We’re here to pick up returnee 3275. Hope Daniels...” And not only did the laugh stop, but the hum grew and my eyes hardened, my jaw setting itself in grim determination.
“What?” Tom asked, obviously thrown by this development. He didn’t understand where they were from, or what they were doing here. “The returnees have to stay in quarantine.” And in all fairness to him, he seemed a little standoffish, like he didn’t like this either, and even if he could let me go, would stand by the fact that he couldn’t. And I had to thank him for that. “Where are you from?”
The one who was the mouth of this group of four, didn’t like the pace with which this was moving. “We’re from the UWC,” he stated simply and Tom’s forehead crinkled. Poor guy, of course he hadn’t heard of them. “Ryland signed the paperwork for her release.”
His brow furrowed, as I slouched in my chair. He also didn’t like where this was going. I tried to look like I didn’t care, like I was uninterested, but I was hyperly aware of everything. United Watcher’s Council, that was kind of lame. They couldn’t have done any better.
I watched him as he read over the paper and looked helpless, apparently Ryland was his superior, and if he signed off on it, I was going with them. He looked apologetic and I couldn’t help but grin slightly. I wasn’t going anywhere that I didn’t want to.
He nodded slowly and led the men to the door, opening it and allowing them to go in, sicne it didn’t seem like the girl was coming out....it could be dangerous, but these men seemed to know that and not care.
Tom watched with increasing interest as they approached me. I refused to move, this was a game, one I was determined to win.
“Hope, you’re coming with us,” the first man said, holding out a hand to help me up. It wasn’t a hand I’d be taking anytime soon and it wasn’t one I’d stop seeing as a threat anytime soon either.
“I don’t think so. Wanna play again?” I asked him with a small smirk, only my eyes cutting up to look at him, not even moving my head. I was surrounded. The two I could see were smirking. They thought that they had the upper hand.
“Just come, so that this doesn’t have to get ugly,” the second man, the other one she could see, on her left said. It was a threat. A threat lost on her. She wasn’t going anywhere with them without a fight. And a fight would get ugly.
“I like ugly,” I drawled out lazily, that gleam entering my eye the one right before I knew a fight was coming, right before I knew a kill was coming. And then I felt it, the threat to be drugged against my neck. I was not going down ungracefully, so soon. “Okay, okay,” I said as I raised my hands, as if I was giving in and I felt the tranquilizer needle recede. Did these guys never get smarter? I had to roll my eyes inwardly. “No ugly,” I agreed, reaching to take the hand, but as I stood, I used his hand to flip him into the other man that I could see, toppling them both to the ground. “Maybe a little ugly.”
I had attracted attention, but right now, I couldn’t care. I had to ignore it. I had to focus. I hadn’t fought in a long time.
The people nearby were backing away, scampering away, causing a commotion, a distracting commotion. And while I was holding my own in this fight, I didn’t have full focus. I was caught off guard by the chair as it collided with my back, knocking me to the ground, face first. The first thing I did was scramble to flip over. I had to watch them, all of them, and I had to watch that needle.
All four of them were on there feet again before I was on mine. I flipped up from the ground in one fluid motion. The move seemed to bring back some memory buried deep in her muscles, it seemed to dust off some of the proverbial cobwebs, and now she slowly but surely tuned all the people out. All the gasps, all the pounding of shoes. Just me and them.
And this time I heard the advance from behind me, I anticipated it, and I flipped him over my back onto the ground. Quickly rolling sideways and ending up on my feet again to miss the next onslaught of the chair, one watcher instead hitting the other with a sickening crack, both from the man and the chair as it broke into pieces. One down, three to go.
Suddenly in the middle of it, I felt a shooting pain in my back. Metal maybe. Maybe one of them had a knife. The pain shot it’s hot white tendrils through my body, it caused me to gasp for air, keeping me inhaling sharply. I reached around to grab the offending material. It was the needle. And I realized then that during the fight I’d turned my back on my most formidable enemy. The one with the ability to make me collapse to the ground, unable to move. I yank the offending piece of material out of my back with a groan.
I was shaky. The world seemed to sway and blur. I felt heavy. My own legs weren’t strong enough to hold me up. I sunk down to my knees. It was in this moment that I realized others had entered the fight, trying to break it up, trying to protect one side or the other, because councilmen were down and so were strangers.
Tom was on the ground, probably just trying to break it all up, I saw he was still breathing though, that was a good thing.
I took a deep breath again and now I felt my whole body sway. And he was advancing, the councilman. Stay awake, I willed myself. Keep your eyes open, but they were heavy, they closed and I snapped them open. Keep blinking, keep thinking. I gritted my teeth.
Come on! Move!
I managed to get one leg up, so now I was kneeling on one knee. I closed my eyes squeezed them shut, but stayed focused, I couldn’t stop thinking, I couldn’t slip under. But I had to move. I had to make my muscles work, I had to stand. I groaned as I focused and opened my eyes, knowing the Watcher was getting closer. Everything was blurring in and out like a bad trip. He was getting closer and I was no closer to standing. My jaw set in determination once again as I only focused on moving, letting even the advancing Watcher slip away. My teeth ground heavily against each other. And I had to say I was exhausted from the effort of trying already. If I was breathing, I was sure I’d be panting. Sounds of exertion and frustration escaped my tightly locked teeth as I reached out, almost as if using an invisible ledge to help pull myself back up, onto shaky feet, and legs that felt like they couldn’t hold me. Now I couldn’t focus on the pain that standing caused. Now was time to focus on the Watcher.
But I found that my movements were slow and lethargic and so when he reached out to again knock me to the ground, I fell like a house of cards, and crumbled roughly into the wall. I growled with frustration. It would be too much to stand again. I was beginning to give up to give in, wondering what the hell they’d shot me with exactly.
He was getting closer and I wasn’t even trying to fight, I wasn’t even trying to hold onto consciousness, or make sure my breathing stayed regular. Everything seemed to pulse out of control for my lack of attentiveness. My vision blurred in colors and then black and white before going back to colors again, seemed to make things morph and change shapes, my breathing was ragged, and my heart seemed to beat erratically in my own ears. And sound was distorted, like I was listening from underneath layers of water. For some reason though, I wouldn’t allow my eyes to close, I was determined to see what happened to me, even if I couldn’t fight back or stop it. Sick and twisted, huh?
As I was waiting for him to grab me at the very least, my head lulled to the side, leaning back against the wall, it being to heavy to hold up on my own anymore. It was then that I saw her, a small girl, no older than 10, blonde, kind of reminded me of pictures of Buffy as a little kid. Her hair was in pigtails. She seemed to snap into focus for me, like I knew I needed to see her and hear her now.
Her eyes seemed to widen at me, like she knew something none of us did. She seemed haunted by something. And then sound ripped from her throat harshly, breaking through to even me, especially in it’s urgency. “Run!”
Somehow in that moment I knew she knew what would happen if I didn’t, and I knew that that was what had haunted her, moments earlier.