Chapter Two: Cryptic Incision

Ana-Maria woke up screaming. Caustic, boiling sweat bled from every pore. Her chest heaved and begged for air. She tried to sit but failed; pain and fatigue bound her to her back. Feral eyes surveyed a high, dark ceiling where menacing shadows danced across the blackness of cavernous space.

Somewhere to her left, a concerned voice called out: “It’s alright, you’re safe!”

It was a man’s voice, a big voice. Ana-Maria turned her blurry eyes toward the sound. A massive shadow stood from a chair and began to approach.

“No!” Ana-Maria croaked. “Leave me alone.”

The shadow halted and raised its hands in peace.

“I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Adam. You’re in my home,” the shadow replied. “Do you remember? You were attacked…”

Another coughing fit constricted Ana-Maria into a fetal ball. Adam hurried over to a large white box next to a table. He pulled on its handle and as it opened, Ana-Maria saw a yellow glow bleed out from inside. He removed a clay jug and poured a clear liquid into a glass. Then the white box swallowed the jug and the door snapped shut with a hiss and click. The man carried the glass toward the bed slowly.

“It’s water. For your throat,” he explained as he extended the glass cautiously.

Ana-Maria took the glass suspiciously and sipped. The cold liquid knifed her throat. She choked and dropped the glass. Adam tried to catch it, but it slipped through his fingers and shattered on the floor. When Ana-Maria finally reclaimed her breath, she spit weakly toward Adam.

“What are you trying to do to me?” she croaked.

“It was just water,” Adam contested. He bent next to the bed and began picking up the broken shards but was clumsy. One of the jagged little pieces sliced into the flesh of his finger. Ruby beadlets lifted out of the cryptic incision and dropped delicately onto the concrete floor.

Ana-Maria didn’t even have to see the blood; the scent of iron slapped her in the face. She inhaled sharply then lunged for Adam’s neck. Her inhalation was Adam’s only warning; he barely evaded her attack. He fell onto his back and kicked himself away from the bed.

When Adam looked up, Ana-Maria hung haphazardly off the edge of the mattress and had weakly braced herself against the floor with her good arm. She was trying to lick at the tiny puddle of blood but was too weak to reach it.

“Don’t do that!” Adam warned. “There’s broken glass, you could swallow it.” He stood awkwardly and took a step toward Ana-Maria. She twisted her head up toward him.

“Touch me and I’ll kill you!” she growled.

“Are you going to let me help you?” he asked her.

Ana-Maria hissed in answer.

Adam hesitated for a moment, calculating the risk. After a moment, he sighed and walked back to the bed. He scooped the weak woman up and laid her gently against the pillow. He pulled the quilt back over her and stepped back. She made no move to assault him.

“Not going to restrain me?” she inquired through clenched teeth.

“Do you think I should?” Adam asked.

“I just tried to bite you, aren’t you afraid of me?”

“Probably more than you are of me,” Adam answered.

Ana-Maria turned her head away and growled. It was then that she realized that her right arm was bandaged tightly and secured in a sling. A transparent plastic tube ran from her left arm into a bloated scarlet bag suspended from a metal pole. Adam straightened the tangled tubing.

“You’re safe here,” Adam reassured. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

To prove his goodwill, the man lifted his hands and backed away slowly, keeping a watchful gaze on the injured woman. He sat down in his chair and waited. Ana-Maria glowered up at Adam; rage dancing underneath soft blue oceans. Not a blink passed between the two for many moments.

It was Ana-Maria who broke the stalemate. Her nimble eyes swept the room like a manic cyclone. The man’s chair was dark velvet, possible scarlet or plum, and high-backed with wide armrests. Behind the chair, a fireplace wreathed the man in a shifty, golden halo. Above the brick mantle hung a massive picture of a blurry landscape.

To the right of the fireplace was a wooden desk cluttered with papers and unfamiliar objects. Beside the desk were three shelves filled with a kaleidoscope of different colored boxes lined across them. Above the shelves and the desk, pictures of chubby naked women and ballerinas and forests and city skylines crowded each other and covered nearly every square inch of the wall. The opposite facing wall was much the same. Pictures of odd shapes with eyes and others of colors splashed haphazardly spread from corner to corner and floor to ceiling.

Behind Ana-Maria’s head the white box towered above a lonely table. The table was empty except for a single, unlit candle drooping like a sleeping watchman in the center.

The room was long and narrow and void of windows. The only light flickered from half-melted candles and the popping fireplace below the stone mantle. A heavy steel door to the left of the desk marked the only means of ingress or egress. It was short and near perfectly square. Three forbidding steel bars stretched across it.

The bed Ana-Maria lay in was pushed right up against the fourth wall. Ana-Maria turned her head to her right. Above the bed, in the center of the wall, hung a solitary picture with a beautiful hand-carved wooden frame. The warm brown of the frame contrasted starkly with the dull gray of the concrete wall behind it. This particular picture wasn’t blurry or distorted or formless like the pictures that adorned the other walls. It was a sharp, gray-scale picture of a beautiful, young woman with dark hair and mysterious eyes. She seemed to be looking right down on Ana-Maria, examining her knowingly. The mysterious woman in the picture frightened Ana-Maria. She turned away quickly but the image of those piercing eyes was branded against the back of Ana-Maria’s own vision.

“How are you feeling?” the man asked from his chair.

Ana-Maria’s spun her face toward the man and glared at him in silence. Terror and rage burned simultaneously in her blood-shot eyes. She could smell the man’s pulse from across the room. Hunger burned in her throat.

“Can you understand me? Do you know what I’m saying?” the man queried.

“I’m not stupid,” Ana-Maria replied.

“Of course not, I’m sorry. This must be very frightening for you.”

“You’re a Normal. Why didn’t you kill me?” Ana-Maria asked.

“I don’t like killing,” Adam replied soberly.

“You killed those other Drinkers,” she retorted.

“I was trying to help you and your…”

Ana-Maria’s eyes swelled in debilitating rage. Memory stabbed her in the chest and twisted the blade. Her anger found a resting place on the ceiling. She tried to bore through the roof with her hate, but the ceiling held fast. Her entire body trembled with inexpressible anguish.

“I’m sorry,” Adam mumbled awkwardly. “I tried, but I was too late…”

Silence filled the space like acrid smoke. Salt water welled in Ana-Maria’s eyes but froze and retreated. Marchesca wouldn’t have cried for her. As the malice in her eyes subsided, Ana-Maria turned back to Adam.

“Where are we?” Ana-Maria inquired.

“In my home, it’s an old fallout shelter,” Adam answered.

Ana-Maria examined him malignantly, searching for signs of potential treachery. She had learned on the street that appearances were often intentionally deceptive. Unconvinced but satisfied for the moment, she continued her interrogation.

“Why did you bring me here? Am I to be your slave? Your little sex toy?”

Adam’s face contorted under the pain her accusation.

“I’m a doctor,” he informed her.

“Gonna try and fix me then?”

Adam hung his head and was silent.

“You fucking snake! You come near me and you’re dead!” she screamed from her parched throat.

“No, no! It’s not like that!” Adam pleaded. “I’m not going to hurt you, I swear! I just want to help you.”

“Why?” Ana-Maria demanded. “Why do you even give a shit?”

The gravity of annihilation burned in Adam’s chest as he replied. “Because there’s no one left…”


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