Chapter 11: All Messed Up
I yawned as Mina kicked me in her sleep again, this had been a horrible night. I had not slept a wink despite my extreme fatigue. First, Mina had pulled all the covers to herself, leaving me in a constant state of chill, then I had failed to find a comfortable position with the coil springs in the mattress constantly jabbing me, not to mention the champion snorers in the bunker rasping my nerves like the shrill blast of an old rusty trombone.
I couldn’t breathe, my nose was congested with the humidity and the thickness of the air, my inhale now loud and sluggish. The kick was the last straw, this was simply unbearable, I missed my bed, my room, even the damn alarm clock I cursed at every morning. I moved slowly out of bed, taking care not to wake up Mina. My ankle felt better, the swelling seemed to have gone down, but the pain was still there. I was careful stepping on my foot as I went up the stairs, but I felt my salvation was near. I could almost smell the fresh breeze outside, the idea of being able to breathe again energized me.
“Where do you think you are going Sierra?” asked a man in his thirties who was standing just outside the door, blocking my way to oxygen. He was obviously on guard duty.
“I need some fresh air. Will you please move?” I said in a rather assertive tone.
“Are you nuts, you can’t go out all on your own. You know that.”
“The last time I checked I was over eighteen and did not need adult permission to go out,” I said.
“But, you are not yourself, are you?” he asked, cocky. “Under these circumstances, I cannot let you wander on your own without Baran’s permission,” he said with an all-knowing attitude. He irritated the hell out of me.
“Look, I need some fresh air. I’m suffocating inside there, do you want Baran to know that you deprived me of some fresh air when I already suffer from a sprained ankle and a severe concussion?” My logic didn’t even make sense to me, but I was trying my best.
“I’m sorry Sierra, I can’t. But, if you want I can have somebody wake him up?” he asked, now less sure of himself. “Or, perhaps somebody could accompany you? It’s dangerous out there,” he said.
“We are in the middle of nowhere, it’s not as if the Drakons are around,” I shouted. Now, it was no longer about the fresh air, it was about my freedom. I felt suffocated for a different reason altogether.
“What’s going on here?” came a familiar voice. Damn, he was awake. It was Baran, right in the flesh, standing in his wrinkled sweatpants, with his bare chest and feet.
“Uhm, Sierra wanted to go out, and I couldn’t allow that, not without your permission,” the guard muttered.
“You did well, what’s this about Sierra?” Baran asked, raising an eyebrow. “It’s the middle of the night, why aren’t you sleeping? Are you in any pain?” he asked. The concern in his face would have fooled me if I hadn’t known any better.
“I couldn’t sleep. I have a stuffy nose. I need to go out for a bit, that’s all,” I said. “Please, Baran. I need this,” I added, even if it killed me.
“You always have a problem with your cute little nose. I wondered how you’d sleep down there,” he said, as if he knew me tremendously well. Apparently, he did. He sauntered towards me with a tender smile on his face. He took my head in both hands, and slowly lowered his lips, kissing me on the forehead. “I love you, don’t ever forget that. If this is what you need, then this is what you’ll get. Just be careful,” he said. He’d just nodded his permission to the guard.
“Thanks,” I murmured as I stepped outside. He was confusing me, his lips felt as familiar as his words of love. I was losing my mind. There was only one thing left to do, and that was to find Seth. I had to escape, with the flimsy cloths I had on me, with the sprained ankle, and with the confused mind constantly playing games with me.
I was in the middle of nowhere, and the only way out of here was to drive one of the trucks. I checked the vehicles parked outside, they were not locked, but none of them also came in handy with a set of keys in the ignition. It was not as if college had given me the necessary knowledge on how to start a vehicle without the damn keys.
Frustrated, I sat down on the ground, I knew slipping away unnoticed was no longer an option. They would find me, and then I would have lost Baran’s trust which would make it impossible to get out of here later on. I had to be wise and prepare the perfect setting for my escape. Having said that, I didn’t want to go inside, not as of yet. Though there was a slight breeze in the air, it was far less chilly than it was in the bunker and I could finally breathe. I curled up behind a tree just like in the woods, almost expecting Seth to find me. And, I closed my eyes, savoring the silence of the night as fatigue finally took over my body.
I woke up to the sound of moving trucks, the sun was already up, it was obviously late morning. Nobody had disturbed me; it was also apparent that they’d let me be knowing full well I’d fallen asleep here. In fact, somebody had covered me from my shoulders to my feet. Probably it was Baran’s doing, and the knowledge did not sit well with me.
I stretched lazily on the hard ground, thrilled to discover that my ankle was no longer throbbing. My stomach growled over and over again, sounding like an orchestra. How much time had passed since that dinner with Grandma? I had no earthy idea. I flinched with the horrid memory. I folded the sheet and put it on the spot where I’d slept last night. This was my new bed now, and they’d best respect that. The hunger pangs guided my actions as I moved inside the building. I followed the smell of newly baked bread like a starving puppy and ended up in the kitchen.
“Uhm, can I have some bread?” I asked the woman who was kneading dough.
“Sure, Sierra darling. Take whatever you need. Hope your head feels better,” she said as she continued focusing on her task.
“Thanks,” I muttered as I walked towards the bread on the table. When I was about to take a piece of bread, the woman’s hands curled around my wrist, holding me too firmly for my liking.
“What are you doing?” I asked angrily, as I tried to break her hold.
Her eyes were closed; her body was shaking as if in a trance.
“Sierra, my child. Listen to me, and listen well,” she said in my grandma’s soothing voice.
“Grandma? Grandma, is that you. You are alive! Thank God, where are you, where am I?” I said, bombarding her with questions.
“I don’t have much time child. I can hardly hold onto this body. I don’t know where you are, but you need to get out of there. And, I can’t help or protect you as I can’t travel in between the worlds.”
“What worlds? What is this place?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, child. But, it’s another world created by all the deaths. Everything and nothing will be the same, so you have to be strong. You will be tested.”
“Are you telling me this is all real, and I’m not dreaming or in a coma?”
“Yes, child. It is kind of real, at least until you get out of there.” My hands started sweating when I heard that, it was a lump of information that got stuck in my throat. How could this be all real, it was all so hard to digest.
“Okay,” I said taking a deep breath, I could do this, I had to do this. “There is some crazy stuff going on in here, with the Drakons, and the humans rebelling against them. You had mentioned the Drakons before, what is going on in here?”
“Did you see the dragons with your very own eyes?” Grandma asked, worried.
“Yes, I did. One of them captured my friend, although I had no idea that he was a friend in the first place.
“So, the Uruloki is awakened in that world. This is very bad,” she said.
“Are you sure we are not dead?” That would have been sad, but more logical than all this.
“No child, we are not really dead. Just sleeping, until we can be awakened again.”
“What do I need to do to get out of here, to come back home?”
“You need to fulfill the mission, dear child. Only then will the doors to home will open for you.”
“What mission?” I asked, but the hand on my wrist let go, and the woman continued kneading the bread as she whistled a song.
“Grandma?” I said, touching the woman, hoping she was still somewhere in there.
“Sierra, are you okay? Is it your head again? Shall I call Baran?” the woman asked, worried.
“Damn it, she’s gone,” I said, trying to hold back my tears.
What if I was simply mad and hallucinating? But, would a mad person know she was mad? That was unlikely. The simplest explanation, as hard as it might be, was just to accept the truth in Grandma’s words. She had always possessed some wisdom, her eyes shining with some inexplicable knowledge of the unknown, of the universe. What if her behavior in the last few days, her weird ramblings were not a symptom of some physical sickness, but her concern of what was to come. And, indeed trouble had come with the speed of a bullet, hitting me square in the face. The fact was, I was somehow thrown into a different world, a different reality and I needed to get out of here, fast.
“Sit down dear. You are hurt, the dizziness, and confusion are all part of your head injury. You’ll feel much better in time, don’t you worry. I’ll bring you some bread and cheese, the hunger I’m sure is not helping,” she said as she gave me a slice of bread topped with cheese.
I started eating, as I tried to make sense of Grandma’s words. I missed her so much, and I needed to fulfill some damn mission if I wanted to see her or home ever again. Where was the justice in that? I wanted my life back home, my friends, my family. I just wanted to be that carefree college girl, dating a handsome guy, having fun with her two best friends, her only concern being the secret crush on the bad boy, or what grade she was going to get on her finals.
Nothing about this damn accursed place appealed to me. I wanted to learn about the rebels, but I didn’t want to be one. Yeah, sure I liked the dragons in fantasy books, but I surely didn’t want to be hunted by one. I didn’t really feel close to Mina, whom I felt was a poor substitute for Payal and Abby. And worse still, I had no clue about the mission. Grandma seemed perturbed by the existence of the Drakons, was the mission about extinguishing their race?
Damn it, how was I supposed to do all that? I had paid enough attention to Prof. Martinek’s lectures to know that rebellions lasted for years and rarely ended in victory. How could I, a girl with no fighting skills whatsoever, help the rebellion win? What was going on in here, who was I, who was Grandma? I was frustrated with so many questions and so few answers.
“Hey, Olga! Baran’s asking when we can have lunch? The boys will be back in an hour and they’ll be quite hungry,” somebody asked right behind me.
I knew that voice, I knew it like my own, as I had listened to it every day, at every lunchtime, at every break from class, at every after-school gathering and in the weekends, and at home over the phone. I turned around, my heart pounding with excitement. Here was my help, the one who was going to help me preserve my sanity while I discovered the nature of the mission, and fulfilled it.
“Payal,” I shouted as I threw myself at my best friend.
It was the slap on my face which alerted me to something gravely wrong in the situation. “Get away from me. Are you out of your fucking mind?” she said, pushing me forcibly away. Her eyes had darkened with white-hot anger, raw hatred spilled out from behind her dark pupils. “I’m keeping away from you because Baran commands it, but don’t you dare force it, bitch, because I’m looking for an opportunity to bury you,” she said, her tone brokering no doubt about her feelings. She left without another word.
“What just happened?” I asked in shock.
“Don’t you remember Sierra girl? Payal hates your guts.”
“But, why?” I asked.
“Because you’ve stolen Baran from her,” she said. “That’s why.”
“I did what?” I croaked. Payal had never been interested in Baran. Why would she be interested in him in this world?
Everything and nothing will be the same... Those were Grandma’s words. How those words mocked me! One good thing had come out of this episode though, now, I could understand her meaning much better. Indeed, nothing was the same here. That had been a good lesson in the taking.