Decided to go ahead and toss this up. Still unsure if I’ll end up posting the whole second draft manuscript (since I want to self-publish this as a book eventually), but I can definitely say I’ll be posting five chapters or more.
She awoke with a jump, sitting upright and taking in shaky breaths. She blinked and squinted, trying to chase away the blurry lights and colours. After a minute, her vision cleared and she looked around the dimly lit room. The room was nothing but rusty gray walls with an equally rusty gray and a pale yellow light fixture in the center of it. She squinted again, sensitive to the light.
She slid off the creaking bed and stood up, looking down and seeing a pile of discarded bandages. She stepped over them, breathing in more of the muggy air. She blinked, realizing only one eye watered.
She reached her hand to her face, feeling coarse fabric over her right eye. She let her hand fall down to her side, and she clenched her jaw. That explained her less than stellar vision. She’d have to adjust and fast.
Her gaze fell upon a mirror and she walked over to it, wiping the dust off with a scarred, pale hand. She froze, staring at her hand and then her arm. Scars all across her skin, almost mirroring the cracks lining the walls. She didn’t remember it ever looking like that, but then she realized she didn’t remember much of anything.
A raspy hiss escaped her lips, piercing her throat like needles. She unclenched her jaw and looked at the mirror in the corner of her good eye. A cold sensation crawled down her spine, and she had to force herself to look into the mirror.
The image she had of herself in her still fractured mind and the image in the mirror didn’t line up.
A cold dark eye stared back at her, the other eye covered with a black eyepatch. Scars lined every inch of her pale face and neck, and her stomach churned the longer she gazed into the mirror. Black armour covered in light scratches and deep cuts covered her chest, forearms, and lower body, stopping at her knees, all uncovered skin sporting the same ugly scars. Her exposed stomach didn’t fare much better, the scars on it making her think an animal had sunk its teeth into her, however ridiculous the idea sounded when it crossed her mind. She pulled herself away, fear and disgust taking a firm hold.
What happened to me?
The world spun around, and she fought it every step of the way. The uncomfortable heat in the room fueled her nausea and she staggered over to the closet door. She gripped the handle and opened it, kicking up a thick wave of dust. She coughed, and if she didn’t know better, she might’ve thought someone had stabbed her in the throat.
Not me. Not me. Not me.
She sifted through the small amount of clothing the closet held, finding nothing but gray and black. Another small memory told her that was all she ever wanted to wear, and she grabbed a gray outfit she could use to cover up all of the scarring. A long-sleeved shirt and a matching pair of pants that would look like a bodysuit underneath the pieces of armour she was already wearing.
Just as well…
Gray slipped underneath black in a shuffling of cloth and armour, until all but her face and hands were covered. She walked back to the mirror, feeling only slightly satisfied. She narrowed her good eye, which at least didn’t look as dead inside anymore.
She blew a strand of her black hair out of her face, closing her eye and taking in the silence of the room. Her memories weren’t flooding in all at once, instead seeping through the cracks of her mind little by little. She had to accept the fact that she couldn’t force it.
It’s never easy, is it? But there’s nothing I can do except move forward until it returns, if it ever does.
She turned around and walked to the sliding door leading outside the room, reaching her hand down for the black, fingerless gloves and spiked bracelets on the small metal table next to it. She slipped them on and placed her hand on the door’s screen. It lit up and the door slid open, allowing her to see the rusted world outside, if it could even be called a world.
Looking at the metal corridor, she breathed in deep and stepped forward. She stumbled over a mass of golden fur, holding her hands out and stopping herself with the wall in front of her. The wall felt very warm, but luckily her gloves saved the palms of her hands from the worst of it. Her breath escaped her and she stayed there for a moment, closing her eyes and listening to the whine of escaping steam.
Taking in another deep breath to calm her nerves, she stepped over the golden retriever and steadied herself, turning to face said animal. The dog sat up, wagging her tail and looked at her with her mouth open in what humans had a tendency to call a smile. She supposed it was as good a description as any, because it sure did look like one. She shook her head, keeping her eye on the dog, still unsure if the animal was truly friendly or not.
Wait, I remember now… She reached her right hand to the dog, placing it on her head. Her fur felt dirty, but comfortably warm, triggering recognition within the woman’s mind. Her dog, this dog was hers. Cirrus…
Cirrus stuck her tongue out, her smile growing wider and her tail wagging even faster. She held no fear in her eyes, only unbridled adoration and happiness. She barked and licked her human friend’s hands, standing up on her back legs and knocking her over.
She wondered how long Cirrus had been waiting outside the room. Minutes? Hours? Days, even? She had a feeling Cirrus would wait for years if she had to. She hoped that hadn’t been the case. She didn’t remember going to sleep, either, especially not with bandages.
Well, I’m here now. That’s what matters, right?
She became aware of how much heavier the air outside her room turned out to be, her lungs hurting and her breaths turning laboured. She heard Cirrus whine, and before she could offer some assurance to the golden canine that she would be alright, Cirrus moved forward and thrust her muzzle into her hands, whining.
She wanted to just outright tell Cirrus she was fine, but between her struggle to take in enough air and the fact that her throat hurt too much to even think about talking, she couldn’t do anything except pat Cirrus’ head.
A few scattered memories pieced themselves together, reminding her that she had walked down this corridor many times before. With nothing better to do, she walked down the path, coughing from the steam that filled it. Cirrus followed her, loyal as ever. She smiled a bit in spite of the fire in her lungs. At least I have someone who cares.
Her eye watered from the steam and she stopped walking so she could rub it. Her vision as clear as it could get, she noticed a few people sitting down with their backs against the walls, coughing from the steam. A chill went down her spine despite the hot, humid air, as she soon realized their eyes were all on her, and they were filled with hate and disgust. What…
She walked by them, their gazes making her skin crawl. Whatever they were doing prior to seeing her had been swiftly abandoned in favour of glaring holes into every fiber of her being. She couldn’t even begin to comprehend the sheer hate and distrust radiating from them. Was it her looks, or did she do something terrible that she had no memory of? She couldn’t even be sure she knew these people to begin with. None of them seemed familiar.
Faint murmurings tickled her ears, and the words she could make out forced her to stop in her tracks. She clenched her fists, light tremors traveling down her bones as she gritted her teeth and turned to face the group.
“You got a problem?” a scrawny man in a black jacket sneered, looking up at her with cold, brown eyes. He didn’t stand up, and didn’t seem to care much that the people with him shifted back, cracking underneath her harsh gaze. He huffed, crossing his arms. “Well? You got something to say, or did you lose your tongue in that accident, too?”
She didn’t think she would succeed, but she tried to speak anyway. She drew in a deep gasp of air, ignoring the stinging pain it inflicted on her throat and instead of words, she let out a raspy growl that sounded far more like a beast than a human. She expected the group to laugh and mock her, but instead they all backed away, looking down at the metal floor. The man who spoke up let out a pathetic squeak when he looked into her eye.
She heard a low growl and looked down to see Cirrus barring her teeth at the group and glaring. Satisfied that any attempt at a fight had been quelled, she turned around and continued walking, Cirrus joining her and ending the growling. A bit of guilt gnawed at her when she heard them murmur amongst themselves in shaky voices, but she brushed it aside as their murmurings were consumed by the shrill whine of steam. She didn’t start it, all she did was react.
Each step she took afterwards felt automatic, memories taking over her body, divorced from their context. Her surroundings had little variation, just metal and steam.
A few more people glared at her as they walked by, and Cirrus growled at them. She paid them no mind, focusing on the size of the building they were in, trying to remember where exactly she was going and why she hadn’t seen any windows or doors leading outside. She knew her mind held the knowledge somewhere, buried deep in the catacombs of fatigue and confusion.
The longer she walked, the more things seemed normal to her. The glares from the people, the omnipresent and suffocating steam, the nauseating humidity, and the rusted metal, the recess of her mind told her to accept it all. She knew it had always been this way, and yet, she couldn’t reconcile herself with her environment, another thing she decided to blame the memory loss for. Every step she took further fueled the idea that this was a rundown place of misery. What kind of person was I?
Certainly not the kind of person she became upon waking up. Whatever type of person she had been before, she wasn’t sure she could be her again.
After an hour of walking, the environment shifted from long halls filled with doors to a wide open space teeming with businesses and people. Cirrus started growling more when they both stopped walking, standing off to the side so others could come and go as they pleased.
You don’t like this place much, do you? she thought, looking down at Cirrus as she glared and snarled at anyone who spared a glance at them. Or perhaps it’s just the people? Am I the only one you like?
The air felt heavier, and she recoiled as the scent of smoke entered her nostrils. She looked forward, seeing smoke and steam coming from restaurants and vents. Her lungs ached even more and she clenched her fists, fighting the urge to just go back. There’s something here. Something I need… There’s a reason I came here… Right?
She didn’t have a clue how long it would take to find this mysterious, all-important thing, but she also didn’t have anything better to do. Going back to that sorry excuse for a room wouldn’t give her any answers. Time was a resource she seemed to have too much of, at least for now.
She took a deep breath, doing her best to ignore the fire in her lungs. She walked towards the seedy corridors, avoiding the distrustful gazes of other people hanging around at the tables in front of restaurants and those walking around her. When one person moved to shove her out of their way, she sidestepped them and shot them a glare. They just kept walking without a word. She decided it was in her best interest to move on, and so she continued walking forward.
She didn’t know how she dealt with this before. Did she stride through these corridors like a queen? Or did she act just as bitterly and look at others with distrust and thinly veined hate? At the here and now, she felt like a child far away from home, lost in a land she might not return from.
She placed her hand on Cirrus’ head to remind herself that she wasn’t as alone as she felt. She considered it a comfort that Cirrus remained by her side, since she had quickly realized the sights and smells were far worse for the dog than they were for her.
“There you are,” the voice tickled her left ear, and she stopped in her tracks, turning to face the owner of it, an elderly woman wearing gray armour. Sitting at the table with her were three men and another woman who looked to be much younger. Cirrus growled at all of them, making the young woman and a man around her age flinch. The older men and the elderly woman opted to glare instead.
She realized she should know them as her brain screamed at her, telling her she recognized them without even attempting to say why. But she didn’t remember them aside from faded images in her mind. She didn’t remember their names, didn’t even remember her own. Blood crawled up to her face and turned the skin red, making her cover all but her eyes to hide the shame it brought.
“So that’s it, then?” the older woman grumbled, rolling her gold eyes. “That’s all you can do now? Just stand around and stare like a statue?”
She hardened her gaze into a glare, but only succeeded in making the older woman huff. The young man and woman, who seemed to be siblings now that she looked at them more closely, inched away. The elder didn’t seem to care, and continued glaring back at her. Whatever relationship they all had with each other, she knew it definitely wasn’t positive. She didn’t think she could change it, either.
She looked at Cirrus for a moment, and then walked closer to the table. The elder’s expression didn’t soften, but she said nothing. The two siblings squirmed in their chairs, while the other two men joined in the glaring. She ignored them and sat down in the empty chair, sitting across from the elder and meeting her gaze. She let her hands fall from her face, the redness retreating back.
“It took you long enough,” the elder crossed her arms and leaned forward, looking her over the way one might examine a machine. “It’s been so long, we started to think you wouldn’t ever wake up. After all, not everyone can survive what you did… Such nasty business.”
She looked at the elder, keeping her expression as neutral as possible to hide her confusion. Even if she could speak, she didn’t think she’d ask for an explanation.
I would only humiliate myself in front of them… I can already tell they think very little of me already.
“You ought to feel grateful, you know,” the elder said, looking at the others and then back to her. “You have no idea how much it took to wrench you from that thing’s death grip… Truly, it’s a miracle you survived. Fate, for reasons I can’t be sure of, is fond of you. But all that aside… Welcome back, Axel.”
Axel. The sound of that name awakened something inside her. It picked up a few shards of her memory and pieced them together, painting a picture of the people before her. She did know them, and although they weren’t friends, she couldn’t help but feel elated. A piece of her being had returned to her. This was why she walked down the corridors and into this suffocating district.
She had been given what seemed like a small thing, but to her, this one thing gave her the power to start putting the pieces of her world back together.
Cirrus is the name of a dog I used to have when I was really young, and so she’s based on said dog. What’s odd is Cirrus appeared in the dream that inspired this novel.