Premise: In this young-adult dystopian novel, people can no longer die. But they still feel pain, and suffer--and it's maddening. Because of the chaos that ensued, the US Government created a program to figure out how to kill people. When Garrett, a teenager, falls into a coma for weeks as a result of an experiment, the Program sets its malicious sights on him.
Rationalizing fear is hard. You probe your fear to find an honest justification for it, but instead come across its cracks and weaknesses. The fear is irrational. There’s no reason to be afraid. But when there is a reason, that’s even harder. You can’t brush your fear aside and call it something it’s not. It’s very present. It’s very real, and it’s the reason you feel like vomiting to the point where you can’t even speak normally.
And there’s nothing you can do.
We’re sitting in the lobby of the mental institution. Lucy and Bern are on either side of me, flipping through old magazines while Edward is speaking to the head nurse at the front desk. Apparently, it was government policy to fill out a visitor pass at least five days in advance and we hadn’t obviously done that. Not to mention, we’re here two hours before visiting hours even open. So naturally, Edward’s trying to charm the middle-aged woman into letting us see my parents early, and without the necessary paperwork.
I swallow thickly, hunching my head between my knees. I try to tell myself that I shouldn’t be afraid of my parents. But past experience has proved me otherwise. I try to tell myself that I shouldn’t be afraid of VitCorp or Project Eden showing up here, either. But again, experience tells me differently.
“Ha, I remember this issue,” Lucy nudges me slightly, “The lawsuit was hilarious.”
I force myself to open my eyes and see her holding a copy of The Gilded Age. My face pales at the sight of it, knowing my interview under duress made matters worse for the prisoners of Project Eden, knowing what’s at stake if we fail to get Arthur Paracot to back off.
It hits me then, squeezing my chest tight with an oppressing resignation:
What are we even doing here?
Why would Paracot trust my parents with something that could ruin all he’s tried to achieve? It just doesn’t make sense. Straightening my back, I look over at Edward who’s leaning on the counter, pointing at something on the nurse’s desk. Suspicion rises with the bile in my throat, but I force it down. Wouldn’t Edward realize this too? Shouldn’t he have realized this too?
“Garrett,” Lucy’s gentle touch is on my shoulder, and before I can fully understand her intention, I pull away.
“It’s going to be fine,” she says, looking me straight in the eye.
“Nothing is going to happen,” Bern adds reassuringly, warily glancing over at me as he flips through another page.
Well. That’s not entirely true, is it? Something is going to happen. And whether we find Paracot’s possible secret or not, things aren’t going to end well.
“This is stupid,” I mutter breathlessly, tensing when he sets the magazine back onto the table.
Bern’s facing me now with a cold composure that I just know is reserved for his most youngest of patients. “And why’s that?” He cocks an eyebrow, and it’s enough to send me out of my seat and pacing.
“Why do we think my parents, of all people, have something worth hiding for him?” My jaw knots and I nearly stumble over the collection of over-used toys half heartedly shoved under the table.
“We don’t,” Bern says calmly, crossing his arms. “And we never said we did, Garrett. But we’re out of options. I thought you knew that.”
I stop to glare at him. My eyes narrow, and I don’t bother moving the locks of unkept hair from my face. I don’t god damn care anymore that he lost his career to a justifiable cause. He has no idea what it means to be desperate.
“Guys,” Lucy interjects coolly, getting to her feet, “Let’s not get into this now, alright? We’re already here. There’s no point.”
Bern’s lips lift lightly at that, but his eyes are dark when he looks at me, “You hear that? There’s no point in being a coward anymore. We’re already here.”
I can’t stop the flinch that runs through me, nor the undeniable feeling of shame sculpting my face soon after.
“Bern!” Lucy exclaims incredulously, looking at him as if he were a puppy who just tortured a child.
But the former doctor ignores her, shaking his head slowly, “Look. I get that you’re nervous about seeing your parents. But I don’t understand why you can’t see this as a necessary and simple sacrifice. The three of us are putting our necks on the line helping you. It would be nice to see a reciprocating attempt on your part.”
I swallow hard, not knowing what to say, but my eyes waver to my feet which seems to earn me a satisfactory grunt from the man.
“Ah, Jesus. Can’t leave you freaking morons alone without you starting a Soap Opera, can I?”
I blink up at Edward, not noticing his return until now. He’s looking at us with those exasperated, bright blue eyes, and he’s holding a packet of papers fastened to a clip-board.
“I tried to stop them, Edward,” Lucy comments teasingly, but I see the wary look she gives both Bern and I before returning her gaze to the editor.
“Yeah, I bet,” Edward replies absently, pulling at his tie.
“Are we good to go?” Bern asks, rising from his seat.
Edward nods slightly before turning to me, “We just need Garrett’s signature.”
A young nurse leads us down the winding corridors. Her eyes twinkle. Her smile never wavers. Her voice tremors with the ring of a bell.
I expect that most of the nurses here are like this. There’s a part of me that gravitates towards her warmth, but the slightest part of me recognizes that I don’t want to be anywhere near her.
And only then do I realize, not a single movement or emotion from her, is genuine.
“Mr. and Mrs. Simmons have been doing very well,” Mia, according to her name tag, informs us, glancing over her shoulder.
After she presses the button next to the elevator with a polished nail, she takes a moment to examine all three of us, “I haven’t seen you around before.”
Edward ignores her, “Very well? Well enough to check-out?” He smiles knowingly at her, and my stomach twists.
Mia flushes slightly, bobbing her head before she enters the opening elevator and beckons us in. She taps on the button leading to the 4th floor before she speaks again. “People rarely leave the hospital, sir. You must know that. It is very difficult to cure or treat ailments that are caused from the entirety of ordinary life.”
I stare at her, waiting for her mask to falter. Edward’s breath warms my jawline as he mutters into Lucy’s ear, “You hear that? You’re a supernatural occurrence, Luce.”
Lucy rolls her eyes, but her arms are crossed tightly over her chest, and she looks paler than usual.
The elevator doors pull open with a soft ding, and Mia follows us out. I pause in the hallway, glancing around warily. Unlike the colorful and comforting ground level, the walls are a blanched white, mirroring the linoleum floors.
There’s a small nurses’ station past the small corridor with the two elevators. One nurse sits at a desk, glowering at her computer. A waiting room is placed not far from it. A plaid-fabric couch and a few plastic chairs scatter atop of the tan rug. The stench of stale coffee and antiseptic is enough to remind me of my churning stomach.
“ A sudden cut in funds?” Edward lifts an eyebrow, motioning around the area with his hand.
Mia smiles, “If you would follow me, please.”
My legs feel like lead. And every time we round a corner, my vision blurs, never knowing which locked door holds my parents. Except for Mia’s encouraging remarks like, “Just a little farther,” and, “We’re almost there,” everyone is silent. Lucy’s hand trails the wall as if it were her lifeline while Bern and Edward walk along either side of the nurse.
Bern glances back at me before turning to Mia, “And what’s been happening with them? How are they holding up?”
“Well, sir, given their violent history, Mr. and Mrs. Simmons have been doing as expected. They don’t seem to be a threat to others or themselves, but we prefer not to give them any opportunity to prove us wrong.”
It’s difficult to remember that Bern is trying to put a stop to this madness and not make matters worse. My jaw clenches. He seems to notice the tension between us and looks over his shoulder with a smile of sympathy.
“Has there been anyone else visiting them since their committal?” Edward asks.
“Umm. Yes. The same man every time. Once a month. Never stays for long though. No more than half an hour.” Mia turns her attention to me, “I’m sure they’ll be very happy to see their son.”
She smiles earnestly at me before stopping in front of a door. “Here they are. They haven’t had this many visitors before, so don’t be alarmed if they are a little anxious.” Her blue eyes meet everyone of us before saying, “Please be courteous to their illness.”
A flare of heat colors my cheeks as I inhale deeply, clenching my fists tightly. Mia knocks on the door three times before she fumbles for her set of keys. Lucy comes up behind me and squeezes my shoulder, “We’re right here,” she whispers.
I blink and the door is pulled open. My legs disobey the command to stand still, and I enter the room. Mia closes the door before walking over to the window and opening the blinds, “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Simmons. You have some visitors today.”
I stand close to the exit with Lucy nearby. Edward and Bern are on the other side of the door, glancing warily around them. My eyes narrow as they wander over the room. The walls and floors are white just like the hallway. Two twin-sized beds are placed evenly apart, against the opposing wall. A bedside table holding a lamp sits between them. A desk is placed under the window and a cactus plant with a few budding flowers rests on top of the window sill. I frown, realizing the plant must reflect the amount of care given to my parents. And then I force myself to look at them, their eyelids fluttering, skinny arms shifting under the white sheets.
I can’t be certain, but I believe my heart skips a beat when their steely eyes open and find me. Unconsciously, I take a step back, heels hitting the wall behind me. Unlike that night, their eyes aren’t wide and are lacking delusional understanding. I can see the tint of cloudy awareness, created by drugs, but I have a feeling there isn’t enough substance in their systems to make them truly forget me.
“Yes,” Mia smiles encouragingly, returning to us, “Your son is here.”
A sigh of relief escapes my trembling lips when their eyes leave me and linger on everyone in the room. I catch Edward’s hard gaze and nod to him, curtly. He walks over to the desk, placing his briefcase on top, before unfastening the clips and retrieving his journal and pen.
“I have a few questions for them, if that’s all right?” Edward asks Mia, lifting his journal to her line of sight.
Mia bites her lip, but eventually nods, “I guess that’s fine. But I’m afraid I must remain in the room.”
“Perfectly peachy,” Edward smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, and he looks upon my parents.
“Hello,” he says quietly, absently flipping to a blank page. “I’m a...friend of Garrett’s. If you wouldn’t mind...could you tell me about your monthly visitor?”
My parents begin to mumble under their breath. Edward glances back at us, paling slightly—I doubt he’s ever had an interview quite like this—and Mia smiles sympathetically.
“How are you feeling?” Bern asks me, moving to lean up against the wall beside me.
“I’m fine,” I grit out, “But this is ridiculous. We’re not going to get anything out of them.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Simmons,” Edward interrupts their muttering calmly, “Do you remember anything your visitor said to you? Something about Project Eden or VitCorp, perhaps?”
Mia tenses, “Mr. Gild. I think that’s enough—”
My parents voices escalate, but the clarity of their words is muffled by their immobile lips. I can hear my heartbeat ringing in my ears.
“You never know,” Bern says to me.
“Do you remember anything? Anything at all?” Edward nearly shouts, trying to break through the growing flutter of my parents’ voices.
Mia is now beside him, pulling at his arm. Her lip is quivering and before I can even realize it, she’s no longer smiling, the never-ending twinkle in her eye replaced by panic, “Mr. Gild!” she cries.
My parents are screaming now, their voices shaky and squeaky like wounded animals. I try to latch on to their convoluted words but they shriek milliseconds after each other, and there’s so many voices, so many...
“Oh my God.” That’s definitely Lucy. “What’s happening?”
“For the love of—your son is in danger! The entire damn world is in danger!”
“Mr. Gild, please stop! You’re scaring them!”
My heart is racing—thudding against my straining chest...
There’s a heavy hand on my shoulder, “Garrett?”
I shut my eyes, grimacing as their sharp wails dig into my skull. I press my hands over my ears and manage to growl out, “Shut up, Gild!”
My parents’ words suddenly become clear, “Shoot him! Shoot him! Shoot him!”
Oh God. Edward won’t stop talking, and now they want to kill him.
“Shoot him! Shoot him! Shoot him!”
No. No. No.
Everyone else has stopped talking. The burning fear that my parents did harm him makes me open my eyes.
They’re staring at me. Both of them, mouths closed. Their eyes are wide and dull. It’s silent. I blink. Edward and Mia are strikingly pale. Lucy’s gripping my arm tightly. I notice the calculating grimace on Bern’s face which causes the blood to flood from my face. Reluctantly, I return my gaze to my parents who have yet to shift their chilling gaze away.
“Shoot him,” they say in unison, quietly.
My knees buckle at the realization.
This was their idea.
“They always say that...” Mia says, frowning slightly, “‘Shoot him’...does that mean anything to you?”
I stagger back to the wall to remain upright, shaking. My jaw is clenched stubbornly, but I can’t stop the swirl of tears blurring my vision. I blink them back quickly, ragged breaths falling from my mouth.
“Garrett!” Lucy cries, tightening her grasp on my sleeve.
“Edward,” I croak, and soon receive the watch of his distracted eyes, “That’s...that’s their idea...” The Secretary explained that Dr. Long eventually realized my parents were talking about me. It was their repetitious chants that initiated the test that caused me to breakdown, and later, fall into a coma. I don’t know how, but my parents knew. My parents knew that a gun shot could possibly kill me. My parents, even locked up after years, still wanted me dead.
There’s a hand on the side of my face, and I flinch away.
“Damn it, Garrett, you’re burning up.”
I open my eyes wide, my breath hitching. Everyone’s looking at me, cornering me to the wall. I look over Edward’s head to see my parents staring into their clasped hands.
“Is he all right?” Mia asks softly, blue eyes glancing over me.
I raise a hand to them, and with the other push myself off the wall. “I’m fine...” my hard gaze finds Edward, and I exhale tersely, “Did you hear what I said?”
Edward stares into my eyes before nodding curtly, stepping away.
“What’s wrong?” Mia questions again. She turns to me, finally, “Are you sick?”
“He’s fine,” Edward sighs, running a hand through his hair, “Just in shock.”
Bern reaches for my shoulder and holds onto me, “I’ll take him out into the lobby.”
“No,” I try to say firmly, but to my dismay, my voice still quivers. I struggle to shrug out of the doctor’s grasp.
“Good idea,” Edward smirks lightly at my weak attempt to break free.
“Edward—” I protest angrily, “I’m fine. I just need to—”
“Need to what?” Edward scoffs, “You are fine. I can take it from here. You look like you’re about to simultaneously pass out and puke your guts out. Get him out of here, Bern.”
“Come on, Garrett,” Bern says, jerking my shoulder towards the door. “You’ve done your part.”
I frown, but let him lead me out of the room. I want to stay. I want to see this through. Yes, I was a little startled at first, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help. What if Edward and Lucy miss something my parents say, that only I could understand the meaning of? I quickly push that thought out of my mind though because I know that this is what Arthur Paracot was talking about and nothing else, and I can hardly believe that my parents were able to hold a normal conversation with someone after what I just witnessed.
“That was it, Bern,” I exclaim through gritted teeth, as we walk down the hall together. I am forced to clasp my hands together to keep them from visibly shaking. “That was their idea. They gave the idea to shoot me to Dr. Long...they must have known, then. They must have known that I would react in that way. But, how would they have known?”
“I don’t know, Garrett,” Bern says, “And we might never know.”
I bite the inside of my lip, hard. Tasting the coppery flavor, I grimace at the draw of blood. I rub a hand down my face, cringing at the sound of multiple telephones ringing from the nurses’ station.
“Maybe the better question is...why were they saying it?” Bern looks at me with serious eyes, and I immediately flinch out of my stupor from the thought of telling my secret to someone.
Bern stops in the middle of the hallway, and reluctantly, I wait beside him, staring into the speckled tile of the linoleum.
“Well?” he asks, almost soothingly. “Do you have any idea?”
“I...” my tongue feels sluggish and dry in my mouth as I try to figure out what to say, anything, anything at all, besides that. “I don’t know,” I shrug helplessly.
Bern looks at me before sighing. Closing his eyes, he pinches the bridge of his nose and says carefully, “Garrett, I know you want to protect your parents, but now isn’t the time. If you have any idea why they knew that, or why they would say that, you need to tell me.”
“I don’t want to protect them,” I admit a little too quickly, but Bern begins to move again, and so I let myself relax, following.
Bern slows his pace so that we are walking side by side again, “And why don’t you want to protect them?”
I can’t help but think his questions have nothing to do with why we’re here. We need to know how they knew a gunshot would be my weakness, why Project Eden would keep such an intent watch on them, and not why I didn’t want to protect my parents or not, or why they were saying those two words to begin with.
“Why would I?” I demand instead, frowning. The couch and table come into view, and I’m grateful for the approaching moment when I don’t have to struggle to stay upright anymore. I can feel the skin on my face sag from exhaustion. I rub my eyes gingerly, wanting nothing more than to go back to the hotel. I can’t tell for sure, but either my pace increased, or Bern’s slowed, because I’m now ahead of the man, barely seeing him out of the corner of my eye. Stomach clenching uneasily, I knot my jaw, “If they’re somehow helping Project Eden, I have no reason to.”
Bern grabs my arm stiffly, and before I can even protest, a sharp sting pierces the skin above my elbow and I jolt out of his grasp, whipping around to see an emptied syringe in his right hand.
“What did you just do,” I whisper, staring at him with wide eyes. I absently rub at my arm, foolishly hoping that I can scrub away whatever he just injected me with.
Bern seems unfazed. He rolls his eyes. “Just a mild sedative, Garrett. You need to calm down. Have a seat.”
I don’t realize I’m standing right behind a chair until he shoves me into it, pressing down on my shoulders. All I can do is blink up at him as he sits opposite of me and returns the syringe to a leather case in his backpack.
“I don’t...need a...sedative,” I remind him angrily, gripping the plastic armrests of the chair. “I. Am. Fine.” I can’t help but feel the achey pain of betrayal scrape across my body. How could he do this to me without my permission? Where did he even get a sedative? Did Edward know? Is that why he was so willing to let me leave the hospital room?
“It was just a precaution,” Bern explains smoothly, eyeing me closely. “I didn’t want to take any chances given your history and how you reacted in that room.”
“You think I will break,” I say. I had no intentions of it being a question. My hands slide against the armrests, so I pull them away. My palms come up sweaty, my fingertips shaking. Subtly, I dry them with the fabric of my jeans.
Bern sighs while scratching the side of his face, “I never said that. But you and I both know...”
I blink slowly, ignoring his words as my vision quivers around the edges. Beginning to feel the effects of the drug running through me, I attempt to send a glare in the doctor’s direction, only to find myself staring dully into the opposing wall.
Tears slip onto my eyelids, stuttering my blinking—no. Wait. What? Tears can’t—I shake my head quickly. It’s sweat. Right?...right. But they feel like tears. They...
I struggle against my tinting and tilting sight until my eyes fall on Bern, watching me. I blink, not fully understanding, not fully believing.
Because I know what sedation feels like. I’ve been under before. Warmth slowly drags you down into unconsciousness, welcoming tendrils curling around you, filling you with ease. Now this. This is not sedation... this is something else.
I swallow thickly, hearing the drumming of my heart. The noise is my heart, isn’t it? Or is there someone coming? Involuntarily, I jerk my head around, examining the blurred room around me.
“What...” my voice is choked out, incredulous, “What did you do to me?” I rise to my feet shakily, supporting my body by gripping tightly to the armrests.
There’s no answer. Only the loud, echoing sound of the ringing in my ears. Then I hear a roar and there’s a sweltering heat surrounding me. I glance to the side, wondering what’s coming. “What did you do to me?” I repeat, yelling.
I stumble forward, trying to get closer to him. He shakes his head almost a hundred—no, maybe a thousand—times before saying, “I’m sorry, Garrett. But it’s necessary.”
“Neh—necessary?” I gasp out, staggering to the side. It’s not like I had a choice, the floor was shifting.
“Spontaneity, I suppose.”
Icy wings flutter down my back at his words, knowing they were suppose to mean something more but lacking the ability and interest to pursue it further.
“They’re coming,” Bern states cooly, crossing his legs.
“Who—” my voice cracks as the familiar stench of gunpowder fills my noise. Eager footsteps sound from the hallway we just exited, followed by those blood curdling chants.
I startle with a yelp, recognizing the voices, knowing the threat, trying to convince myself that this isn’t real. But how can I believe that when my parents are stalking towards me with murder on their minds?
I run for the opposing wing, the thudding of my heart heavy against my ribcage. I keep my hands out in front of me as I struggle not to trip over my feet. I blink hard, feebly attempting to rid the kaleidoscope canvas currently riddling my vision. I pass ten doors, twenty, thirty, one hundred, yet the hallway never seems to end, and I never seem to find my destination...not that I have one anyway.
I want to stop. I want to stop to catch my breath. I want to stop to just damn think, to organize these racing thoughts and situate what’s real and what’s not. But I know if I stop moving, my parents will get to me. They will kill me.
The corridor suddenly lurches, and I fall towards the wall, and hear a large pop as my face collides with the grainy surface. I cringe and grit my teeth, landing on my palms and knees. Pain throbs inside my head, and when I reach a trembling hand to my face, it comes back bloody.
Fear charges through me, and I stumble to my feet, regaining my momentum. I don’t dare look back—I don’t need to. I can still hear the threatening chants and footsteps behind me—and louder than before.
With a stifled gasp, my mind breaks through the muddled mess of floundering thoughts, and I slide to a stop in front of a storage room. What am I doing? What am I doing? I’m—
It doesn’t seem like I’ll ever loose them by running, the echo of their footsteps never fading, and I wrench open the door which is surprisingly unlocked, before quickly slamming it shut behind me.
The storage room is bigger than I thought it would be. Grey cement walls and flooring enclose me. Looming shelves stacked with boxes line the space and fluorescent lights flicker above the metal beams enforcing the ceiling.
I tense when a box falls to the ground with a dampening frump near the end of the room and swallow hard. Someone’s in here. Someone is in here. Someone is in here.
“Hello?” I muster the word with a breathy wheeze, slowly backing up into the wall. Maybe this someone is good. Maybe this someone is kind. Maybe this someone will help me.
That’s when the lights shut off, and all I can see is black.
My back presses tightly against the cold wall as I repress a shiver. I squint against the darkness, searching for the light switch, the exit, the someone, the...anything. But a stifled, helpless sob escapes my lips instead. I can’t see anything. All I can see is the void that is literally nothing.
The flooring shakes, and I fall to my side. Grimacing, I reach my hands out and grab onto a wooden crate to pull myself back up. I’m standing upright again when I feel the tickle of breath against my lips.
My stomach drops at the realization. That the someone is now standing right in front of me. And before I can squirm out of the someone’s way, the unmistakable feeling of smooth fingers close upon my throat.
My heart hammers against my chest as I struggle to jerk out of the someone’s hold. I can feel my pulse reverberate against the thumb pressing against the side of my jaw.
All I know is that this person is not one of my parents. I would have noticed if they entered the room...and I have no idea who this someone is until light suddenly eclipses only the someone’s face and the shadowy silhouette of that someone’s body.
The girl from my dreams.
And she’s trying to kill me.
I gag on the ragged breath hoping to flee my throat and weakly try to pull away from her grip. In response, she pushes me harder into the wall.
It’s weird seeing the misplaced crooked smile forming at her lips when the rest of her looks so deathly sad. Her arms are too thin. Her face is too gaunt. Her hair is too tangled. Her eyes are too wet. Her black tears are too...there.
“Hi, Garrett,” she greets coolly.
“You’re real,” I choke out, my head reeling.
The Corpse laughs mirthlessly, “Of course I am. Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you remember me?” Her brown eyes are wide, expecting, crazed.
“A Corpse,” I wheeze out, trembling as her arm holding my throat bends as her body comes closer so that our hips are nearly touching.
“I am,” she says indifferently, “But don’t you remember me?” her lip curls into a distraught pout.
I blink back quickly in an effort to vanquish the descending haze assaulting my vision from the lack of oxygen. Her skin is a pale almond color except for the dark rings under her gleaming eyes. Her eyebrows are slanted prominently like her jawline. She is pretty. But I do not recognize her.
“No,” I say.
“No,” she imitates dully, shaking her hair off her shoulder. “No. No?” she looks at me head-on, her eyes narrowing. “And why’s that?” she cocks an eyebrow.
“Because...I don’t know who you are,” I reply, inhaling deep through my nose.
She looks at me with a furrowed brow, feigning confusion. “Huh. Maybe I’ll help remind you then.”
The Corpse, with her free hand, reaches towards her belt and pulls out a pistol. My eyes widen as my heart seizes against my chest.
“What are you—”
With a smirk, she shoves the barrel of the gun into my mouth. I can’t help but scream around it, calling for help, anyone to save me from this fate.
“Do I ring any bells now?” she asks, cocking her head before placing her bony finger on the trigger.
Tears well in my eyes as I reluctantly give a slight shake of my head, fearful that my movements will somehow fire the bullet.
“Still no?” she raises her eyebrows before leaning her head closer to me so that her lips gently brush against my cheek. I shiver at the touch. “I just wanted you to remember me, Garrett. I just needed you to remember me.”
The tears are freely trickling down my face now. I cry out again, the cold metal sliding against my tongue, and I know that if she shoots me, I will die. The Corpse gently shushes me in my ear before pulling away. “Now,” she sighs contentedly, releasing her hold on my throat and using her hand to wipe away the lingering tears under my eyes. “Do you remember me now? Do you?”
There’s a harsh jerk against my shoulder, and I yelp, shrinking in on myself. I scrunch my eyes shut in resigned defeat. I am going to die.
“Garrett, please. Don’t you?”
I feel pressure on my shoulders and sink to the ground, the gun following with me. This is it. Lucy was right. This is a trap. Arthur Paracot sent this Corpse to kill me. I am going to die.
A hand falls on my forehead, and I whimper, ducking my head. Why doesn’t she just shoot me already? Why can’t she just—
“Garrett!” I frown at the close proximity of the masculine voice. “You need to snap out of this. Right—freaking—now.”
Warily, I open my eyes to slits. The Corpse is no longer kneeling in front of me—instead it’s Edward with wide, worried eyes and disheveled auburn hair. I blink blearily at him before remembering the gun and instantly reach for my mouth, but nothing’s there. Did I imagine all of it?
“Hey,” Edward smiles weakly and grips both of my shoulders hard, “You want to tell me what you’ve been smoking?”
My eyes linger above Edward’s head, searching the storage room for any remnants of what has just taken place. The lights are on once again, the shelves are intact. I see Lucy standing by the door watching me.
“Garrett,” Edward persists, squeezing my shoulders, “You with me?”
“Haven’t,” I say hoarsely, continuing my examination of the room. Nothing is out of place. Nothing is wrong.
I swallow with difficulty, trying to find the words to say—any words. My mind goes blank when I see a shadow of a girl standing between two of the shelves. I stare at her, sputtering for breath, wondering what she might do next—but then she flickers before my eyes and vanishes.
I startle, jerking my gaze back to the editor crouching in front of me. The Corpse, she vanished. Which means...none of this was real; even though, that’s exactly what it felt like. I make a strangled noise in my throat at the sickening realization, tears welling in my eyes. I bite my lip hard, trying to find grounding. The rotating ceiling certainly isn’t helping.
To no avail, I latch my fingers onto to Edward’s outstretched arms, desperately clinging onto the smooth fabric of his blazer.
Edward glances down at my hands, frowning with concern before he looks back at me. He purses his lips before explaining calmly, “I need you to tell me what happened, alright? Garrett?”
“He drugged me,” I say, and my voice sounds far away. I look away from Edward, noticing movement from the corner of my eye, to see Lucy cautiously walking towards us carrying a white, folded towel.
Edward’s brow creases, mouth parted in surprise, “Drugged you? Who drugged you?”
Lucy inhales sharply before kneeling besides Edward and smiles at me. “Here,” she says, holding out the towel. “For your nose,” she clarifies once she understands I had no idea what she wanted me to do with it.
I hadn’t realized it was bleeding until she said that, finally feeling the sticky liquid crusting above my lip and the faint smell of copper. Reluctantly, one of my hands lets go of Edward’s arm and reaches for the towel before tenderly pressing it to my nose.
Edward and Lucy exchange looks before Edward presses again, “Who drugged you?”
My chest tightens before his name leaves my mouth, “Bern,” I answer quietly, twisting the fabric of Edward’s jacket between my fingers.
I keep my eyes concentrated on the towel in my hand, but just imagining their expressions is enough to squeeze my stomach. My skin prickles against the tense silence.
“Son of a bitch,” Edward’s words are flat and cold with consuming horror.
I finally force myself to glance up at them. Both of them are staring at me with wide eyes, and the flush of their cheeks has left them.
“He...what?” Lucy gasps out, her pink lips quivering. She looks at Edward whose eyes are glinting, and I know, as the problem-solver he is, he’s sorting through all the knowledge he has on the doctor, trying to make sense of this new piece of information.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit,” he breathes, his jaw clenching, “That sanctimonious asshole!” Edward yells the last word, slamming the side of his fist into his knee. He glances up at the ceiling before rubbing his once clenched hand down his face, his other hand still holding my shoulder firmly, “Shit,” he sighs finally, scrunching his eyes shut.
Lucy presses her lips together, turning them white, “Why would he—”
“It...would seem our charming, unethical doctor has never felt remorse for his past transgressions,” Edward replies stiffly, blinking hard, “The bastard’s been working with Eden this whole god damn time. Jesus Christ.”
Lucy pauses, grimacing, “What do we do now?”
“We get the hell out of here,” Edward says bluntly.
“And what about Bern?” she asks, giving me a sideways glance as I squirm in place, suddenly feeling hot and clammy.
“He’s gone,” Edward responds, quickly looking around the room as if to assure himself.
Lucy’s eyes narrow slightly, “And what makes you so—”
“I’m not sure what’s real,” I confess weakly, voice slightly muffled from the coarse cloth. My fingers dig harder into Edward’s jacket as I struggle to breathe through my mouth. I flinch at the sound of harsh whispers in my ear.
“Because he’s done what he came here to do,” Edward informs grimly, his weary eyes falling on me once more. “And now it’s time to go.”
Edward pulls away from me, rising to his feet, and I grunt in protest when I lose my grip on him, my anchor to reality. I stare fearfully up at him.
“Sorry, kid,” Edward half-heartedly smirks, “But my services aren’t free,” he winks.
I blink in answer, attempting to process whether or not he was joking.
“God, shut up,” Lucy groans, rolling her eyes and grips my arms, pulling me up to my feet. Edward mirthlessly chuckles as he heads towards the door.
I stagger on the splitting floor, but she soon steadies me and wipes away the sweaty hair from my eyes. “It’s going to be okay,” she whispers with a sweet smile.
I nod jerkily, clinging dearly to the hopeful truth of her words. Praying to God that her assumption is real.
Thanks for reading everyone! See you next week with more chapters! xoxo, Liv