The icy kiss of metal against my cheek makes it feel numb. Or was it the diffuse sensation waking up my skin and pushing me on the edge of conscience that made me feel this way?
After all, the cold against my face was the only thing I could feel.
Was I dead? They say that you grow colder and colder when life is leaving you. And that you are losing all the sensation, all the pain of your charnel envelope. I send my conscience do a check on my body.
According to the furious pain under my skull, I guess that was not the end for me.
“Ughhh……” a moan escaped my lips
The pain was unbearable, giving me the feeling someone was trying to explode my head with a hammer. From within. I shut my eyes tighter, trying unsuccessfully to control the pain and the nauseous feeling.
I could hear my blood bumping at my temps.
Boum Boum Boum rrrr Boum Boum rrrrr Boum.
Wait, that is a strange sound, even for the worst headache ever. I thought.
Slowly, I realized that my blood was not the only one screaming in my ears. A more mechanical sounds was echoing it. With the best courage I could gathered, I opened an eye and got a glimpse of my immediate surroundings…..before shutting it down again.
Face against the floor, the only thing I saw was the floor, composed of a thick and frozen grille that was used and greasy.
“God…” I sighed
That was not the state of the floor that made my call a superior entity. No. But the fact that between the bars, I could see what was under.
Or what was not. I sarcastically completed mentally.
No real floor, nothing. Just an empty and deep endless tunnel. And I was on the top of that.
At the same moment, I realized what my subconscious was trying to let me know, but that was way too busy trying to make it shut up, to listen. I was in movement. Well, not me, but the cage I was in.
A survival –and probably sadistic- instinct, pushed me to open my eyes again to analyse more of my surroundings. With effort, I tried to open my left eye. The pain made me renounce. Better than thinking I was giving up, I told myself I was letting it rest, one eye is more than enough, the cage was not that big after all.
Not brave enough to face what was not under me, I roll on my side with a groan. I found myself facing wood boxes where was painted WICKED on majuscule white letter.
Why was that familiar? Where did I ever saw that? When I started to try to remember I realized something scarier. I had no idea of where I was coming from.
I didn’t have any time to think about the last part that my cage stopped suddenly, strongly enough to make me wince in pain.
In panic, I frankly looked around me. Was I blocked here? Left here to die?
The cage/elevator was scary, but at least, giving me the vague impression that I was going somewhere. Now I was stopped in the middle of nothing, having just the dim red light coming from somewhere on the boxes to light my miserable cage.
My heart started to beat so furiously I had the feeling it will just stop, cutting all the connections with the other organs, my breathe became hasty and I felt the cold sweat in my back, gluing my tee-shirt on my torso.
With the same abruptness than the cage had stopped with, a stabbing white light pierced my eyes, making me remember all of my still painful headache.
I raised an arm to protect my face, trying to hide my eyes in the shadow.
At least sounds like I have arrived som……I started to think.
Interrupting my thoughts, a piercing voice made me realize I was not alone anymore. It took me some seconds to focus on it, missing the beginning of the sentence.
“……. not supposed to arrive before another 10 days. What does it mean?!” Exclaimed a deep voice.
The voice was actually deeper than my aching skull was making me believe. And actually, I was quite agreeing with his owner. What the fuck was the meaning of all that?
I forced myself to let my arm go down. My eyes still hurt but I needed to understand what was happening here. My vision was blurry and wet. I gripped the corner of the cage, raising my body little by little to feel less powerless.
“Well, I would like some explanation t….” I pushed my voice out.
Weaker than expected, sounding like I didn’t talk for an eternity. A cough interrupt me, reminding me with success why I was trying to avoid moving around. I reflexively put my hand on my mouth and realize that all my face was wet.
What the…..? I freaked out when I brought my hand back in front of my eyes.
It was red on my palm. Blood.
A sudden movement make the cage tremble. In panic, I raised my head and grab the cage more tightly with my other hand, forgetting the bloody one, to look at my opponent.
“What did you…?!” I groaned at the indistinct form.
“Ohhhhhh! He needs the med guys!” A powerful voice interrupt me
“He is covered of blood!” finished the first voice.
“Well get him out of here genius.” interrupted a sarcastic voice from outside my view answering to the first one, echoed by some laugh.
“I know that! Come here greenie.”
I understand that I was supposed to be the greenie, according to the hand he was presenting to me.
His movement made me push myself in the corner even more.
The one facing me was starting to get pissed of.
I push myself even harder in the corner, not really sure that it would be safe to follow them.
“Oy, I’m not going to wait for you. Come here, don’t make me come for you!” He said angrier, starting to advance toward me in a threatened way.
And there it was too much. I was cold, hurt, my head was going to kill me, and these people, well at least this one, wanted to bring me somewhere else, threatening me. I was not confident in the idea of moving around so I did the easiest thing. I push myself from the corner and bite his hand as hard as I could.
“AAAAAAH!!!!! You son of a ….” Screamed the guy.
I could feel his blood in my mouth.
Don’t go down without a fight, never. I told myself.
The man, kicked me in the stomach, throwing me back in my corner. I was still smiling when I passed out. According to my physical condition, it was better than nothing. I hurt one. I tasted his blood. Ok, I was passing out, but at least, I didn’t look like the terrified weak and lost girl that I really was.
I was dreaming. Some small imp with a small red hat was smirking at me.
“I’m going to eat this nut!” said the small imp.
His nasal voice made me realize I was a nut. Actually my head was. The imp was, like a clock, beating his hammer on my skull repeatedly.
“Ding Ding Ding” was doing its hammer.
I had the diffuse sensation that my skull was starting to crumble under his shots.
“No, I’m not good …. Don’t eat me!” I shouted
“God, he seriously hurt his head!” Answered me the dwarf, with a big smile showing me his big and sharp tooth.
“No I’m rotten, you can’t eat me!” I persevered in my try to disgust them from eating me.
“Rotten? Seriously? Mouahaha at least, he’s entertaining this midget!” laughed the imp.
“Yep, don’t wake him up! It’s been a while I didn’t see a good show!” Answered his hammer with a low speech and a sunny accent.
“Hey! If you’re going to not move your ass, get the hell out!” Screamed anther voice.
I realized the voice was coming from lianas, themselves coming from the grounds and blocking my own arms.
“Noooooo!!! Don’t eat me!” I shouted while I started kicking around, no intention of getting eaten.
“For God’ sake, DO DOMETHING IDIOTS!” shouted the lianas.
I suddenly receive a glass of water in my face. Gasping for air, I opened widely my eyes to realize that the imp, hammer and lianas were actually 3 boys tempting to immobilize me. Well, one was trying, pushing himself on my upper arms. The other one was vaguely trying to look serious with an empty glass in his hand. The last one was definitely not trying, hugging himself and laughing out loud.
“What…the…?” I started, obviously confuse.
“Stop moving lad, please!” Asked the first one, breathing hardly.
“Why a brat like you has so good punch?” He continued with doubtfully letting go of me.
I was too surprise to react and was following what he asked of me.
Well, he did say “please” I convinced myself.
“Thank you! You would almost make me feel you are defenceless if you hadn’t nearly broke my perfect noise, lad!” He said looking accusatively at me and touching slowly the said noise which looked perfectly fine, with a theatrical air of an actor from a Greec tragedy.
He had an aura of comfort all around him, which allow me to relax and to rise the beginning of a smile at his act. He looked like he was nearly 20, his skin of warm coca and a friendly smile that got bigger seeing my reaction to his act.
“You were trying to eat me.” I rumbled, making the last member explode.
I arched my right eyebrow at him. Asian typed, he was strongly build. The stronger of the room definitely. Who didn’t look that scary with a purple face, trying to catch his breath.
“I like him! I so fucking like this dude!” He said, between 2 laughs.
“ Yeah we can all see that Minho. Now calm down or Doc’ is going to have to put you on the table too.” Said the guy I took for the hammer, with an accent so strong, that he looked like he was singing, in slow motion, which was definitely relaxing.
I got a surprise thought that despise his strong accent, he looked like he was 15, middle size, red hair. The only thing that would remember the sun in his physical was his tainted skin, dotted of a massive amount of freckle.
“Now that you two had you’re fun, get out of here and bring the big boss!” Pushed the guy so called Doc.
“Aye, aye, Doc’! Come here you dumbass”, said the red head, half helping, half pushing the Asian guy out of the room.
With a disillusioned sight, Doc’ looked at me
“Excuse them lad, they don’t have a lot of fun here.”
I was feeling in peace with him.
“Where are we?” I asked, feeling strangely calm, sitting up to face him.
“Alvi, our big boss, will explain all of that to you lad,” he said, in a way that would make me believe everything will be ok, that I will have all the answers I ever looked for.
”But before that, could you confirm one thing to me?” he continued.
It was impossible to say no to him, or to feel scared, so I just nodded.
“You are a girl, aren’t you lad?” He asked softly.
I felt my cheek grew red, while I was, hiding my torso with my hands. I had realized they all mistook me for a boy, and felt unconsciously that it was not such a bad idea.
Seeing my reaction, he laughed. A deep laughed that made me feel like a kid.
“Nobody touched or saw anything, don’t worry lad. I was just trying to check your stomach when I saw the bottom of the bandage. My brain figure out the rest.” he reassured me.
I had realize this bandage, well actually, I have knew I had this bandage since the first time I woke up.
“It is not such a bad idea to keep it shut up. Making me raise my head in half surprise and half hope.” He sighed.
“That is if our leader thinks so too lad!” He said raising his hands in front of him, like he was stopping me to react too strongly.
“If I think so too what?” Interrupted an honey like voice.
I gasped, I didn’t feel him getting near at all. Which made me realize that the fake bubble of comfort I was in was because of the Doc’, he was emitting some strange and appeasing aura. I glared at Doc’, making him smile, understanding where I was thinking.
“They call that natural gift” he said apologetically
“Because it is Doc’,” said the other man respectfully, making me report my attention toward him, looking at him suspiciously.
Tall, he was definitely not someone I would look for a fight against. He didn’t have a body builded type of body, but the way he was moving was a living proof that every part of him knew how to hurt someone. I didn’t know how I knew it, but I was sure of it. He was dark chocolate skin and was moving like if he was saving his strength.
“Let me introduce Alvi, our big boss here, lad.” introduced the Doc’.
“So you are the greenie that is trying to eat my guys?” asked the newcomer.
“They didn’t introduce themselves” I answered him sarcastically.
Being scared was making my open a never-shutting-mouth. My remark made him smile. Which scared me even more; He was clearly showing all his perfect white tooth, and his smile looked dangerously close to mean, let me try the same.
Before I could open my mouth to throw another useless remark to him, the Doc’ interrupted me by saying.
“Alvi, let me introduce our new guest here. By the way, he is a she.” Explained Doc’.
I swear that the face of the boss became white.
“A what?!” was the only answer from the called Alvi.
“A girl; you know a female. Well, in the beginning God created a man, and then a woman. Or in the different order. Anyway, he created different gender so like this, they can have little babies. Do I need to draw so it’ll be easier?” I made fun of him.
Yes, I was right, I definitely have a suicidal instinct. When someone scares you, push him to kill you. Best survival instinct ever. Oh God, I was going to get myself killed.
Alvi looked like my comments made him come back and he stared at me. I smiled to him. My turn to show him all my teeth. Doc’ glared at me, making me shut up.
“What, just trying to be helpful here” I grumbled.
“Anyway, I think it will be easier to let her pass as a guy. Not that the other would tried anything even I she is the only one, but that would create trouble and they will get even more lost and someone may finish hurt.” Explained Doc’.
“Hey! What do you mean “not that the other would tried anything funny”?!” I exclaimed, looking falsely hurt when my stomach was making a knot on itself.
I didn’t thought that anybody would try something funny. I didn’t want to think about this kind of thing.
“More importantly, you mean that there is no other girl here?” I asked.
This time, Avi looked seriously at me.
“You are the only one.” He answered me before going back to Doc’. “I believe…that this is the right thing to do. I feel that you are like us. You arrived covered in blood, so I don’t think you are a spy. And I don’t want to lynch anyone. There is already questions on the fact that you arrived like this, and 10 days before planned. If we add this information, they will scream for your blood.”
On the corner of my eye I observed Doc’ shaking sadly his head in agreement with his leader. For once, the shivers on my spine didn’t make me open my mouth. Wow, they were serious.
I tried to speak but something in my throat was blocking it. I took few deep breath before asking them.
“Can you explain to me where we are?” I asked.
It took them a long time to explain to me. We were in the middle of a maze. A safe place –or so they tried to say without really looking convincing-, protected by high walls, in the middle of the maze. There were one heavy door, the only way in or out for us but also for the things outside. They seriously believed that these things wanted to kill us all. They gave too much example which made me go to the conclusion that I definitely didn’t want to meet any of these things that they called grievers.
Every day, a couple of runners were trying to figure a way out of here. Everyday since a bit more than 5 years.
“And you never found anything, any exit or proof that there were an exit?” I asked dumfounded.
Only their silence answered me.
Doc’ stood up and bring me glass of water, letting the chock trail away. I forced myself to drink all the water, even if my cracked lips had some issues with that.
Doc’ waited patiently before continuing were Ali stopped.
They were a group of a bit less under 30 people. It started with Alvi a couple of years back and since then, one new member every month was brought here the same way I got there. Well, except that usually there were not beaten up, just confused.
“Wait, I’m not a mathematic genius, but shouldn’t you be a bit more then?” I asked.
Their silence made me regret my question. I was almost happy they didn’t answer me. Almost because my imagination was running wild after that.
At that part Doc’ like a mother, checked my head again, explaining he had to stich me up, since I had a wound bigger than a finger on my forehead and numerous bruise all over my face. He then got back to the beginning.
“We stick together. None of us are mean or bad guys. But bringing a new girl would not be really safe.” Doc’ said softly
“I agree. What do you think greenie? It is your future after all.” Asked Alvi.
“Well, it doesn’t sounds like a bad idea. Especially since I have no recall of who I am.” I answered them.
“No worries, nobody know. But are you sure lad?” Insisted Doc’.
Puzzled I looked at him.
“I mean, hiding your gender will be for the long term. Only the 3 of us will know the truth. Even if your hair are short, you won’t be able to grew them. And now that we took off the blood from your face, your features look too much fragile. Long hair will make your womanly side come back.” He analysed.
In front of the silence he got, from Alvi and I, his cheeks turn to a slight pink.
“What?! Aren’t hair supposed to be the life of a woman?” He exclaimed in an outraged voice, making me laugh.
He smiled, happy to have made me feel at ease, especially after all of that.
“It’s ok. If I believe my headache, I am still alive even with boyish hair.” I joked.
And I have no intention of staying trapped here for ever, anyway. I mentally added.
“Then it is decided. Newbie, you are officially welcome among us! And now you need some rest!” summed up Alvi.
I agreed with that. I was still feeling chocked after all of that. Strangely, it was not that I was in the middle of a maze with some creature trying to kill us, or that I had no recall of who I was that shocked me. But the fact that I was not surprised by all of that. The fact that everything sounded normal for me.
That was scaring the death out of me.
When I woke up, the Asian guy –Minho- was waiting for me. Probably on Alvi order. I vaguely recalled agreeing with Doc’ and him that nobody except the 3 of us should know the truth and that I needed to become a part of the group as soon as possible.
I probably fall asleep before the part where he said that this guy was going to be my guide. I thought while I was following out of the hut, the guy who was clearly showing that I was his own personal walking entertainment.
“Wow you’re all blue!” Teased Minho, making obvious that my bruises on my face must look pretty awesome.
“Like you passed under a tree. Or run into a wall. Or bumped your head to a rock.” He kept going.
“Yeah, I got the image the first time, smartass.” I sighted.
The pain was bearable, I was only uncomfortable of my left half closed eye.
Ignoring the other comments from my guide –or so-self- called-, I watched around me with interest. The camp was roughly made, no real comfort here, but useful and basic environment made of small huts everywhere, trying to look organized. A forest was starting few meter away from the last hut. On the other side, it was all plain except for one tower in woods that was still standing. That was a miracle.
Everywhere boys, probably from 14 to 20 years old, were moving around, doing something useful or trying to look like. Many glared at me but none came to talk to me so I ignored them with superb.
It was not that hard, especially since my attention was focused on the immense walls, surrounding all of this *village*.
Well, almost all of it.
“Hey! What is the exit over there?” I asked my guide.
“That is the door” explained my guide, following my gaze. “The runners can exit at rising time and have to be back before sunset.”
““Have to”?” I repeated.
“If they want to live.” Concluded my guide with a point of sadness that make me shut up.
I didn’t answer, trying to assimilate everything. Yeah, Alvi talked about that. The griefers were outside.
“Did you already see one? One of these griefers?” I asked, changing topic.
“Grievers,” he corrected me. “Yeap, did and don’t intend to do it again.”
A sudden rush of activity toward the doors stopped me to ask him more.
“Come they must be back!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm
Without much of a choice, I followed him toward the heavy doors. The closer we approached, the more I was realizing how high and thick they were.
Who build that? Giants? I asked myself.
I was busy trying to see the top of the wall to pay attention to the 2 runners coming our way. But exclamations brought back my interest and filled of curiosity, I observed the two sweaty boys arrival.
Boys, what a surprise…
“Newt! Happy to be home honey?” Teased Minho to one of them.
What kind of nickname is that? I was surprised.
“Bloody yes!” Answered one of the runner, who finally passed the door, trotting toward us and catching his breath easily. He probably had slow down before arriving near the village.
Ah…so it was a real name.
“Dude, can’t believe you stole my turn!” complained Minho.
“Funny, I remember you couldn’t bloody wake up this morning and Alvi waking me up and sending me out there.” Answered back the runner, full of sarcasms.
“Oww man, don’t make me remember. He was damn pissed off at me all day. He made me wash the dishes. The DISHES!” claimed the outraged Minho.
The newcomer started laughing. I observed him with interest. He had an English accent which could have been funny if he wasn’t so damn cute. I watched him. Tall and thin, he didn’t look strong like Minho, even though he had a good body for a guy of 20ish. Is green eyes were smart which proved me wrong. He was probably a strategist, able to move faster to defend his opponent by knowing his weaknesses from one sight.
He finally realized I was not one of the usual guy around, reporting his attention on me.
I gasped when he stared at me. He definitely was a smart one. I could read that in his gaze. His eyes were analysing me and for a second I got afraid he will see right away who I really was.
So I did what I always did since I woke up, and probably before that.
“Gosh, if you continue you’re gonna make me blush!” I teased.
“Ahahahah Newt let me introduce the Greenie! Newt, Midget. Midget, this is Newt.” Introduced Minho.
“Wah, what would have we done without you?” I raised my eyes to the sky.
“I’m telling you Dude, I’m keeping this one! Not a day that he’s here and he already tried to eat Mark, almost punch Doc, declared he was rotten and the day is not even over!” said an excited Minho.
“You forgot that I almost kill you if I remember how difficult it looked for you to breath in the infirmary when red head was taking you out.” I added, helpful.
“Ahahah true!” He said, thumping me hard over the back.
“…Oufff” all the air get away while I was trying to not lose balance, throw away by his slap.
Gosh, he’s going to break me this one! I thought while keeping an eye on Newt. He was smiling at his friend, but it didn’t look real, like he already was overthinking.
“That’s too early for a new member.” Said an heavy voice.
I was almost expecting Newt to say that, but that was actually coming from the other runner who was staring at me, not really in a friendly way. He attracted the attention of the small group that were still next to the door. The silence that answered him show me that they all either felt the same way, either didn’t care of what was going to happen to me.
Well, nope, not really. Look how focus they are, they are interested to see if you are going to get your ass kicked.
Minho perceived the change in the atmosphere and brutally said to the other runner.
“Oy Gal’, that was Alvi job to say if he was cool or not. And he is cool.” He said succinctly.
Yeah, not the best lawyer ever, but at least his vehemence were not faked. He really trusted me. Or didn’t want his new toy taken away. Well both could keep me safe so, both were ok.
“And here again, you can admire the bloody reason why Minho will never be a boss. He is too good with the details.” Joined Newt with a big grin on his face.
His exclamation, and the exclamation of outrage of Minho, made laugh our small audience. It even bring a grin to Gal’.
“Awwww man! I would kill for some smashed potatoes from the cook!” Added Newt while stretching his arms towards the sky.
“Yeah me too! Hey, let’s go!” Minho got enthusiast.
“You always are hungry, nothing new here.” Commented Newt.
“How dare you!” said Minho, fakely outraged.
Laughing, the crowd started to get away. Gal’ was with them, not paying attention to me anymore.
“You’re good.” I said.
“I’m working on it.” Newt commented, arching a brow to look at me, looking interested that I realized that he controlled the group the entire time.
“So what happened to you?” He asked, becoming softer.
“According to someone, I stayed under a tree and admired it while he was falling on me.” I quoted Minho.
“Perfectly Minho’s!” He laughed., making me join him.
I observed Minho screaming at us, realizing we hadn’t actually moved.
“Hey! Weren’t you the one who was hungry?” Minho scream to Newt.
We exchanged another look with Newt and started to laugh even harder.
Yeah, that was Minho’s.