That One Word
That word escapes my mouth before I can stop myself.
“Dammit, he’s not supposed to be awake yet.” one of the white-coats curses.
“Miranda.” I’m saying it again. This time I can feel my mouth contorting, but I can't understand why I'm saying it. It’s the only thing I can find in my foggy mind, a word fixated in the center of my memory, and for now it’s the only thing that matters. I blink slowly, try to move, and test my lethargic limbs. But of course there’s no real room for me to squirm.
The white-coat hurries over to the metal gurney they’ve strapped me to, and for a moment I can see his face, looming large over me. He’s not handsome. I don’t like him. He looks at me like I’m an animal. That’s the way all of them look at me, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I blink again, turn my head fractionally to one side with the little room I’m allowed, and look away.
The rest of the room isn’t nice. It’s sterile and cold. And underneath the freezing temperature of the air, there’s another smell, the scent of something metallic. Goosebumps prickle along my bare arms. I clench my hands into fists. The white-coat hisses through his teeth, like an irritated snake. The thought of that makes me giggle. But I don’t find any of this funny so I don’t know why I’m doing that either. I feel so confused. I can’t think straight and I can’t stop. I can’t stop thinking-
“Would you shut him up already?” someone else snaps from across the room.
“And how do you want me to do that, exactly?” the white-coat nearest my head replies just as vehemently. He goes about meddling with the tubes sprouting from my arms and neck like transparent worms. They prickle uncomfortably and I slam my arms as much as I can against the gurney in response. I growl, low in my throat. The white-coat narrows his eyes as though in anger, but he seems unnerved.
I giggle again. This time, I’m amused.
“One moment if you please, gentlemen.”
I stop giggling. This voice is new. I don’t recognize it. It’s a rich baritone, lightly accented but not enough to be easily distinguished from the sea of other voices that too often crowd my hearing. I blink and suddenly there’s another man, looking down at me with his head cocked slightly to one side. He seems curious about me. I wonder why. Hasn’t he heard? No one likes me around here. I’m not cooperative, I suppose.
He turns to look at one of the other men in the room. “Has there been much progress with this one?” he asks. He's trying to sound clinical and unemotional. But I can tell otherwise. I can hear his vile curiosity, the sort that belongs to psychologists and psychopaths alike. “I hear the other subject, the female, has been surpassing him for some time now.”
“Well, this one’s not exactly the quietest.” says one of the white-coats irritably. “Or cooperative.”
There it is. I knew this would come up. I smile thinly. The man hovering over me, the one with the baritone voice that’s actually worth listening to, looks at me immediately. It’s like he can tell a shift in the atmosphere, like he knows the changes in my mood before they happen.
“Run Procedure 1, will you?” he says softly. “I’d like to see this for myself.”
The white-coat who’d been trying to adjust the numerous tubes springing from my skin scurries back to my side and continues his work. He seems nervous. I keep smiling, though I know something bad is coming. It has to be, if they’re using the word ‘procedure’. The beginnings of fear and anxiety and panic begin to race through me. My fingers shake, so I clench my hands into tight fists to subdue them.
I close my eyes.
I’m just going to Listen. I’m going to Listen to everything and let it all seep away.
I can hear every noise in the room: beeping machines, shuffling feet, the breathing of the men. But I can hear more than that. I can hear . . . I can hear thoughts. Or at least, that’s what I think they are. I can hear a whole range of thoughts from one man’s rumination over his uneaten lunch, to the baritone-voiced man’s enticing emotions and musings.
“Almost ready, sir.” one of the men says.
My fear rises to a new level. I know what’s coming. I know it’s going to be bad. I can hear the baritone-voiced man’s anticipation for what is coming next. And with that, a final beep from one of the machines resounds across the room and I lose every thought I’ve ever had.
I feel more pain. More, more, more pain. I try to move, try to escape, but it doesn’t work. So I just scream. Scream until my throat goes raw. Scream until my eyes open wide and I stare at the man with the wonderfully rich voice. I stare right at him and roar “I will kill you! My, how interesting. I will kill you! This is a rather unexpected event. I will kill you! The other subjects haven’t done anything quite like this before.”
I heave for breath as the man’s thoughts invade my mind and spill out through my mouth. “The other subject is a very talented individual, but this boy-” And then the man gives me the oddest look and my brain runs dry. So I turn to look at the next white-coat, the one whose thoughts are easier to understand.
“What in the Lord’s name is going on?” I shout at the top of my lungs as they keep pumping those damned chemicals into me. “Is this kid supposed to be some sort of psychic?” I strain against the bonds holding me, but they prove, yet again, to be fortified well against whatever strength I can proffer.
I look back at the baritone-voiced man. I growl, baring my teeth in a feral snarl. “I . . . will . . . How interesting . . . fucking . . . How . . . kill . . . terribly . . . you!” I spit the words like they're poison in my mouth.“-fascinating.”
“Sedate him, will you? I’ve seen enough.” The man says, still watching me. He’s smiling now. He doesn’t bother to hide it, knows he doesn’t have to since I spilled all of his thoughts out through my mouth. I wish I could move. I wish I could do a lot more than what I'm doing right now. I want to . . . I want to . . .
I notice more liquids flooding through the tubes. The chemicals burst into my arms and my neck and my legs and everywhere- Oh, God! They’ve lit me on fire! Oh, God! I scream and flail but it’s no use because I’m still bound down. The best I can do is bruise myself in an attempt to break free. So I scream and I scream and I scream until I can’t anymore, until my throat is too raw for me to make a sound. I can feel myself slowing down with the sedatives. My eyelids begin to grow heavier, but no, I don’t want to go to sleep.
No, I don’t want to go to sleep!
I’m afraid of the dark.
When I wake again, my brain feels fuzzy. I can’t tell how much time has passed. The word is still in my brain, lodged there like a splinter jammed just far enough under the skin that I can’t rip it out. Miranda. What does it mean? I don’t know.
I look around as best as I can. The room is empty. They seem to have . . . moved me. That’s strange. That’s never happened to me before. I’m- I’m lying on the ground and I’m not bound down anymore! But the moment hope begins to pound through my veins, I sit up and realize that I’m nowhere near as free as I thought I was.
This room: it’s the size of a closet and padded like I’m a crazy. Sure, I’m not restrained by leather straps and metal bindings anymore, but they might as well have locked me in a coffin for how claustrophobic this new place is. There are stains along one part of the left wall and when I look closer, I wonder if it’s blood. I pick at it with a ragged fingernail and it flakes away nicely. Okay, maybe it is blood. A creepy sense of nausea tingles in my stomach and my throat, threatening me with the prospect of suddenly being sick all over myself.
It’s back, that hiss, a ghost of a whisper.
It’s a girl’s name. I know that. But who could it belong to? I wonder if she was a childhood friend. Yes, that’s it. That seems most reasonable. That’s why I remember the name so well. That's why I keep saying it out loud over and over like a mantra to keep myself safe from the cold and the dark places of my brain. Miranda: she was a girl I knew when I was about five, a girl with brown hair and the largest eyes. A girl with long, vicious limbs who loved to dance.
I shift and press my palms against the wall where I imagine a door might be. I shut my eyes and I Listen again. This time I can do it without pain or distraction. I sit where I am for some time, just Listening and waiting for someone. I begin to wonder if the white-coats have left me here forever with no chance of escape from this pitiful room. But just when I think that perhaps I should try to sleep while I’ve still got the chance, I hear something.
“Dammit, why do I have to be the one to do this?” I mutter involuntarily. Someone’s coming for me and for the first time in my life, I feel a wave of excitement. I grin to myself. I know what I’m going to do. I don’t know if I have any chance of, well, succeeding. But it’s worth the try.
I know I’m sitting right in front of the door, though it’s supposed to be hidden. I scoot back a little and wait for the person to try to open the door as sneakily as they can. The moment the door starts slipping open, the moment they think they can get in without me getting out, I lunge. I pry my fingers around the side of the door and yank it open. My captor is met with knuckles and teeth and when I back away, they’re on the floor gasping as the life-blood runs out of them.
It’s almost a pity. But it's a white-coat, so it doesn’t matter if they live or die.
I dash down the hall, my bare feet almost soundless against the floor. I concentrate carefully. It’s hard to Listen constantly when I’ve never actually tried to hone it as a skill. So as I proceed down the network of hallways. Sometimes I’m able to take the guards by surprise. Sometimes I’m not. But always I win the fight. These people, these stupid people, don't imagine a skinny boy in white clothing like me to escape. And they certainly don’t expect the inevitable rip of each and every one of their throats as I dig my teeth into their flesh. Then again, I never was cooperative.
Blood runs from my mouth. I wipe my hand against my lips to keep myself from gagging. Their blood tastes disgusting. But I can’t keep myself from fighting this way, the only way I know how. I shake my head to clear it. I despise all these unnecessary thoughts. I have to stay focused. I order myself to keep moving.
I jump in surprise when the ceiling lights suddenly turn a gory red. Sirens blare deafeningly. I know what that means. They’ve found the beginning of my trail of destruction. Fine. I don’t care. Let them follow me for as long as they can. I am leaving this awful place. I tell myself to keep my mind clear and Listen carefully. I know now: they can't stop me. God help them if they so much as try.
So I keep pressing forward. No matter how I try to ignore it, everything keeps coming back to one thing, the one thing I can't forget.