I COULD HEAR everything.
I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. The sounds of sticks crackling beneath my bloody, bare feet were nearly as loud as the thunder cracking above my head. Each drop of rain bouncing off the leaves of the trees all around me was like a gunshot. But it was all overshadowed by the sound of air rushing in and out of my lungs in short bursts, burning against my dry throat.
My arms pumped vigorously as I ran through the woods, as fast as physically possible.
The forest around me was pitch black, the moon hidden behind a storm cloud. I couldn’t see two feet in front of my face, but I kept running. For a moment, a sheet of lightening illuminated the sky and I realized I was about to run headlong into a large tree trunk. I feigned to the right, but my shoeless feet slid in the mud, pitching me forward. I tumbling head first and landed in a cold puddle.
I hadn’t registered that the ground was slick with the falling rain. I was too busy running for my life.
Quickly, I pushed myself up, feeling the ache in my shoulder and ignoring the screaming pain in my legs. I picked up speed, running in the same general direction I had been before.
After what seemed like hours, I saw a dim glow of light breaking through the trees in front of me.
I ran faster, if that was even possible. Finally, I broke through the trees and my feet hit the cold concrete.
I whipped my head around, seeing a man climbing into a parked car under a street light. Otherwise, the street was empty.
Vaguely, I heard him calling out, asking me if I was alright.
I tried to answer him, but my mouth couldn’t form the words. I couldn’t scream. And I couldn’t breathe.
My chest tightened and my limbs screamed in pain. Suddenly, I realized just how exhausted I was.
I hadn’t eaten in a week and I hadn’t had a drink in two days. I hadn’t slept in four. My knees gave out and I collapsed.
But I was unconscious before my head smashed into the sidewalk.
I opened my eyes, momentarily blinded by bright lights.
I blinked, sitting up so fast my already pounding head started spinning. I whipped my head around, ignoring the throbbing pain.
I was good at that.
My chest tightened, not sure where I was. After a few moments I realized I was in a hospital room. There were tubes going into my arms, a cannula in my nose and a cuff wrapped around my left arm. I also noticed that my arms were covered in strips of clean, white gauze from wrist to shoulder.
The white shift I’d worn for the last three years, the one covered in blood, dirt and moth holes was long gone. Instead I wore an itchy blue hospital gown, with my long blonde hair falling loosely around my shoulders.
After taking inventory, I took a moment to understand what all of this meant.
Outside the door I heard voices.
“We responded to a 911 call from a bystander on the street,” a man stated. “He claims she came stumbling out of the woods and just passed out on the sidewalk.”
He was taking about me.
“From the initial EMT reports, it appears she’s sustained multiple defensive injuries,” said a woman, her voice light and airy. “I will have to get further x-rays and a CT to confirm, but these injuries appear to have been sustained over a prolonged period of time.” A pause, and what sounded like a deep breathe. “Any news of who she is?”
Another woman answered her, her voice authoritative. “As of now, she’s still a Jane Doe.”
Just then, the door to my room opened. Surprised, I shrunk back, wrapping my arms around my legs until I was curled into a small ball of flesh and bone.
A woman in pink scrubs walked in, her name tag identifying her as a nurse by the name of Carrie. When she noticed she had startled me, she slowed before continuing towards me, careful not to make any sudden movements.
“Hello there, sweetheart. Is there anything I can get for you?” Her voice was melodic and soothing.
I kept my mouth shut, the salty sting of tears welling in my eyes.
Nurse Carrie waited for me to answer, not coming any closer. Seeing she was causing me more harm than good, she frowned slightly and began backing out slowly. “Alright then,” she said, “I’ll leave you be. The doctor will be with you in just a minute.”
The door clicked shut and I heard the same light voice as before. “Has she said anything yet?”
“Not a word,” the nurse replied. “Poor thing, God only knows what she’s been through.”
You have no idea.
The other woman sighed. “She has a broken wrist, a badly set break in her leg that appears to have not healed properly, three broken ribs and her left arm appears to be broken as well. Not to mention what looks to be a decade’s worth of healed or partially-healed injuries. Or the severe malnourishment and anemia.”
A few moments passed and papers were shuffled.
“I’m going to go speak with her now,” announced the mystery woman.
The door opened again, slowly as to not startle me. Another woman walked in. She was petite with light brown hair twisted into a braided halo around her head. She wore purple scrubs and a stethoscope, a concerned smile on her face.
She stopped just far enough into the room to close the door, and turned back towards me, taking in my terrified form. She introduced herself. “Hi dear,” she said, not letting the smile leave her face. “My name is Dr. Michaels. I’m here to help you.”
She made no move to come closer to me.
I remained in the same position, legs drawn up under my chin, arms wrapped tightly around them. It hurt, but I bared it as I always had. My body shook with silent sobs.
“Can you tell me what happened to you, dear?” she asked, patiently waiting for me to get a grip.
A few moments passed before she decided to continue. “Sweetheart, I can tell that you’ve endured terrible things. I can see that looking at your scans and tests. And I’m certain that whatever you went through, you did not deserve. Because nobody deserves that. And I only want to help you. But I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me, sweetheart.”
I rocked back and forth. We must’ve stayed like that, her by the door and me sobbing in my bed, for ten minutes.
Finally, something in my mind shifted, and words came stuttering out between my chapped lips.
“What... What do you want to know?” I asked. My throat burned at the words, and I almost choked on the pain.
Silently, Dr. Michaels turned to the sink and filled a paper cup with water. She pulled the table by my bed closer to her, put the cup on the table and pushed it back towards me.
I stared at it for a moment before something inside of me told me I could trust this woman. I grabbed the paper cup and gulped down the water, sighing as the coolness extinguished the fire that was raging in my throat.
“Well, let’s start with something very basic,” she began, obviously glad I had accepted her help. “Can you tell me your name?”
It felt stupid that I could not remember my own name. But the truth was, I hadn’t had a name for a very long time.
What I had was a sliver of a memory, a memory I made myself remember every day, so as to not let it disappear. I closed my eyes, as I had always done, and let myself fall into a time when I was a real person. A time I was just a child.
A woman’s hand reached out to clasp mine. Happy music and laughing people surrounded us. I clutched a pink bear to my chest.
“Come on, Scarlett, let’s you and Mummy ride the Ferris wheel, shall we?”
I opened my eyes and looked towards the doctor, who was still waiting patiently on the other side of the room.
“I remember... I think my name is Scarlett.”
Her smile never faltered. “Okay. Well it’s nice to meet you Scarlett. Now, what can you remember? Can you tell me about what happened to you?”
“I...” I trailed off, wracking my brain for anything that I could tell her.
I only had the one memory.
“I remember being little. I think I was at the carnival, with... my parents,” I paused. “My mother, I guess, had taken me on the weekend.”
Just breathe, Scarlett.
“We rode on the teacups, and the Ferris wheel and we ate cotton candy.”
Dr. Michaels had opened a file folder and was writing as I spoke. “Okay, this is good. This is really good, Scarlett. What else do you remember about the carnival?”
I pressed on. “I remember my Mother was talking to someone. He told her...” I trailed off. I hated this part. “He told her how pretty my hair was, how cute my dress was,” I took a deep breath, wiping tears from my face. “Later, when my mother went to the washroom, he came back. He told me I was a pretty girl and...” I stopped, noticing that tears were now streaming down my face. “And he picked me up and took me.”
She simply nodded. But I could see the pity in her eyes. “Okay, Scarlett, this is good. This will help. Anything you tell us will help.”
She waited a moment, letting me recover as best I could. “Now, what else can you remember?”
I couldn’t remember anything else about my childhood, but I remembered plenty from the last few years.
“I remember his face.”
You’ll never forget it.
“It was always so dark,” I tell her, bending the truth. “But I think I remember a face.”
You will always remember His face.
“He kept me in the basement most of the time,” I continued. “But sometimes He would bring me upstairs, to watch TV or a movie, you know? I’d think I’d remember better but... I’m sorry.”
Her smile became pained. “You’ve undergone a serious trauma, sweetheart. In all likelihood, your conscious has blocked the most severe or traumatizing of your memories.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “Do you think that if we got a police sketch artist in here, you could come up with a sketch of him?”
I took a deep breath. “I think I could, yeah.”
Her smile warmed again. “Good, Scarlett, this is going to be really helpful.”
She paused again so that I could recover. I stayed curled up, arms wrapped around myself as though I could physically hold myself together.
“Now, is there anything else can you remember?”
“I remember the cabin. He kept me in a cabin, or a little house in the woods. I don’t know. It was dark, when I ran. But I think it was a wood cabin.” It had been too dark to see when I ran.
“There was this little window in the basement, really little. I, uh, took this extra sheet and wrapped it around my elbow. I heard Him leave and I waited, for like fifteen minutes. Then I started bashing the window. It broke after a while, but I think I hurt my arm. I... I managed to climb out. I didn’t think I’d fit, but I didn’t eat anything for the last week. I wanted to make sure I’d fit.”
Dr. Michaels bit her lip. I could see her struggling to keep the smile on her face.
“And you ran.”
I was out of tears by this point. “And then I ran. As fast as I could.”
I felt empty.
“Alright, Scarlett, I think that’s more than enough for now,” said Dr. Michaels. “I know you must be exhausted. You are an incredibly brave young woman, Scarlett. Now, tomorrow we’re going to go in and repair your fractures and try to reset the break in your leg. I’ll admit you today to a private room on the Surgical Floor. But I’m going to ensure your nurse Carrie is with you at all times. And Officer Duncan will be outside your door.”
She paused, and I realized she was waiting for me to acknowledge what she had said.
“Will that be okay? I will also be checking on your every half hour.”
I nodded slowly.
She continued, surprising me. “I am not leaving this hospital until we know who you are Scarlett. Okay?”
Finally, I met her gaze. I let myself relax, taking deep breathes before I stopped rocking. “Thank you, Dr. Michaels. Thank you.”
Nurse Carrie pushed my wheelchair through the doorway and closed the door behind her with a soft click. “Alright, Scarlett, this is your room.”
“Thank you,” I replied flatly.
Carrie pushed the chair towards the bed, positioning me as close as she could.
Carefully, I slid myself out of the chair and onto the bed.
When I’d been put in the chair, Carrie had tried to help. But, when she put her arms around me to help me stand, I’d lost it. I screamed, kicking and flailing. I’d managed to connect my fist with her eye before collapsing to the floor.
She’s too close.
Dr. Michaels informed me I’d managed to re-dislocate my shoulder, as well as fracture my badly healed wrist. She made it a rule right then and there that nobody was to touch me without express permission from either herself or me, unless I was unconscious or dying.
I glanced at Carrie, a purple welt forming over her cheekbone.
“Now, I know it’s not late but I’m sure you’re tired,” she said, offering me a warm smile.
I bit my lip. “Thank you. And sorry about earlier. You didn’t know.”
She only smiled. “Don’t worry about it, hun. Now, I’ll let you rest. I’ll be right over there if you need me.” She walked across the room and sat herself in a chair by the door, giving me space.
She’s right,I thought to myself.I can’t believe I finally get to sleep in a real bed.
I couldn’t help the small smile that played at my lips as I settled in for the night.
I slept for a solid twenty hours straight, the longest I’ve ever slept in my life. Dr. Michaels checked on me every half hour, as promised, but was careful not to wake me.
My sleep was peaceful, for once. Dreamless. Memories from the last decade of my life didn’t plague my subconscious.
I could have kept sleeping and never woken up and that would have been okay with me.
Unfortunately, I was awoken by the sound of Nurse Carrie’s melodic voice.
“Good morning, Scarlett. I’m afraid it’s time to wake up. We have your surgery booked for today.”
I stiffened, still not used to the idea of being unconscious in a room with a bunch of strangers. “Dr. Michaels is going to be there too right? While I’m out?”
“She is, hon, don’t you worry about it. And I will be there too, if that’s okay.”
I forced a smile for her. “I’d be okay with that. Thank you.”
She returned my smile. “Now, we’re ready for you if you’d like to come with me Scarlett. Ready?”
Two men came into the room then, a stretcher in tow. They positioned it beside my bed and I slid over, wincing as I moved my leg.
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
I spent the next ten hours in surgery. The surgeons repaired the multiple fractures I’d sustained, and managed to fix my broken leg.
They were shocked at the extent of my injuries, healed or otherwise. When they got in they discovered some minor internal bleeds that had gone undetected.
I woke up back in my room, in my bed. The door clicked home, and Dr. Michaels came up to the side of my bed. “Scarlett, hey, welcome back,” she smiled.
I went to move my arm behind my head, only to discover that was wrapped in gauze and resting against my stomach in a sling. Similarly, my leg was covered in a thick, heavy cast.
“Mmm I’m awake,” I muttered.
“Your surgery went flawlessly,” she flashed me her soft smile. “Now, because we had to re-break your leg in order to set it properly, you will have to stay in bed for a while. But we used an internal fixation approach, so the healing time will be much shorter. And we did have to put a pin in that shoulder of yours. Otherwise, we’re just going to continue pumping you full of vitamins and fluids to help reverse the malnutrition.”
She put her hand carefully over mine. I resisted the urge to flinch.
She won’t hurt you.
“We are going to keep you here so I can keep an eye on you. Now, I know you’re still tired from the anesthesia, so I’m going to let you rest,” she squeezed my hand gently before letting go and walking towards the door. She opened it, walking through, before she turned around.
“Have a good night, Scarlett,” she smiled, flicking off the lights and closing the door softly behind her.
I felt the heavy weight of pain killers on my eyelids. I didn’t fight the fatigue, quickly drifting off to sleep.