Dyed in Red

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Nepenthe

“Good night, sweetie. I hope you never wake up.”
~ Anderson (The Fourth)

SIX

I wandered down the empty, winding stone hallways. A mist of gloom hung in the air. Where was I going? What was I looking for? Or perhaps who was I looking for? Better question, where even was I? How did I get here? And…

Who am I?

Every doorknob I jiggled wouldn’t turn. With a small window at the center, all the doors were made of solid metal. I slid open every window and peeked inside, only to find vacant room after vacant room. The sliders bounced shut by a spring.

As I made another turn, I returned to where I started. Amidst a hall of tightly sealed metal doors, one was busted open. It was the room in which I woke, tied up, not remembering anything.

I stepped back in. When I gained consciousness, I was lying on the floor of what appeared to be a prison cell. Startled, I immediately pried off the cuffs on my wrists and smashed open the jail door. On second thought now, I should search the room for clues.

First strange thing, there was no bed. I couldn’t recall a single thing about who I was or how I ended up here, but I felt like a jail cell usually had a bed. At least one made of rocks or cardboard.

Second strange thing, there were spots of relatively fresh blood on the floor. Somehow, I could tell it was mine, but I had no injuries on me. No cuts, no scars, no bruises, no scratches, no nothing.

Third strange thing, my vision was perfect, but there wasn’t a single light source anywhere. No flickering lights, no torches, no fireflies trapped in glass bulbs.

Fourth strange thing, I wore thin layers in a gloomy dungeon, yet I didn’t feel cold in the slightest.

On the cell wall, dried water littered the mirror with dirty drip marks, gathering brownish-red rust at the bottom. I blew off some dust and stared at my hazed reflection. Long and silky, my jet black hair flawlessly framed my pale, corpse-like face. But the pair of hazel eyes, worriedly staring back at me, seemed so warm. My knitted eyebrows arched at a spot that perfectly complimented my face structure, and my lips tinted a light shade of rose.

For a possible captive or hostage, I was immaculate. I looked more like a groomed duchess ready for her afternoon tea party in her backyard garden gazebo. Considering my surprisingly healthy physical state, maybe I wasn’t mistreated or captured. But then why was I all alone in an elaborate dungeon? With no bed or blankets, not to mention, I could freeze to death. Where were all the guards and other prisoners?

Lots of questions, but only one sure answer: I lost my memories.

I kneeled beside the blood and tried to inspect it. It clustered by the back wall and dragged to the middle of the room, where I woke up. Some of it splattered on the wall. I tilted my head. The wall splatters looked more and more like some kind of symbols.

“Something, something, Z? Something, N, I, what?” I murmured. Although squiggly, smudged, and horrendously cursive, I could gradually tell that words scrawled on the wall. But for the life of me, I couldn’t make sense of them. The blood was all mine, so this had to be my own writing trying to remind or warn me.

“So I knew I was going to forget everything,” I told myself. “My current amnesia isn’t an accident; someone erased my memories and is keeping me here. This message must be important, then. What the hell is it?”

I reached out my right index finger and traced over the letters as if writing them. Something was odd. The lines connecting each letter were all upside down or flipped from usual. Why would I trouble myself with inventing a new font to write such an important note?

Unless I scribbled it upside down. Indeed, my hands were cuffed behind my back. The blood was all against the wall, meaning I bled and wrote while leaning against it. I slid down beside the writing, which switched my orientation and allowed me to read.

hazel, FIND zach

If this was a note to self, my name must be Hazel. And I was looking for Zach, whoever that was. That was all it said. The rest of the blood splashes, no matter how I looked at them, were actually just random splatters of blood.

But wait, was Zach friend or foe? Why was the “find” written so emphatically? Was he the enemy that I must defeat to regain my memories, or was he the friend who was trapped in here with me, or was he an ally who could cure me? I didn’t know, but at least I did know that there was someone here with me and to search for him.

After sweeping the rest of my cell room, I bit open the bottom hem of my top and tied it to my cell door. A line of thread ripped from my shirt and left a trail behind me. I began power walking through the halls, conserving energy while quickly covering more ground.

I was almost proud of myself for being so calm and methodical. Perhaps I was a detective of some sort. That could explain my current predicament. Maybe I came too close to the illegal research lab of a gang of crazy scientists who were trafficking human organs and experimenting on children, creating an undefeatable, genetically modified army to sell to power-hungry dictators who wished to conquer the world and beyond!

My eyes and hands continued to scan and check every room while my mind spiralled to craft a seven-book fantasy, sci-fi, action, thriller series with a totally shippable couple as the main characters.

To prevent me from uncovering their dirty little secret, the scientists gassed me unconscious and tossed me into a holding cell. They injected me with a serum that caused amnesia and planned to implant a chip into my brain so I’d do their every bidding. Unfortunately for them, using the power of recollecting my dear loved ones’ words and smiles at the most convenient time, I defied biology and fought to wake up, which succeeded because I had plot armour on my side.

I chuckled at my self-amusement story. My smile dropped when my sensitive ears picked up on a faint noise from above. Slowly, my gaze shifted toward the ceiling above me.

“Huh, there’s more than one floor,” I realized. No time to waste, then. I stepped into a sprint to search for a staircase or lift. With the help of my shirt’s line, I avoided repeating paths. Without running in circles like I did last time, I soon opened the window of a door and saw ascending stairs instead of another empty cell.

My eyes fixed on the doorknob that was undoubtedly locked shut. I jiggled it every which way and even tried to stick my arm through the tiny window to reach the doorknob on the other side.

“Stupid. Door. Open!” I muttered as I pulled on the knob, hard. I raised a leg and pushed against the frame.

Suddenly, a pair of piercing eyes flashed at the window, staring right at me and sending me tumbling backward with a scream. I hissed through my teeth in pain. When I glanced back up, I found myself caught like deer in headlights. That pair of pale blues seemed to cast a gleam of light down at me, illuminating me amidst the dim, lifeless dungeon.

His eyes were mesmerizing.

“You,” he said, gaze unwavering. “Who are you?”

I scurried off my butt but kept a bit of distance from the door. “I woke up here and don’t remember anything. I’m pretty sure my memories were wiped.”

The stranger hummed, eyes narrowing further. “Me, too. And for some reason, my ability isn’t working.”

“Ability?” I stammered.

He let out a low growl in annoyance. “Yes, ability. I know I have one. Are you just a normal vampire?”

“V-Vampire? What? Those things aren’t real.”

“Come on, you’re not even human. Shut up with that.” At that, he didn’t wait for my next response. In one moment, all I saw through the window were stairs. In the next moment, the metal door came flying toward me. Before my brain could process, my body seemed to have its own ideas. Right as the hinges bent outward from the force, in a quarter of a second, I bolted to the side, impeccably evading the flying metal parts.

“Breaking out of prison somehow gives me a sense of deja vu,” said the man who claimed to be a vampire. He strode out of the debris and tossed me a side glance. “You seem useless as fuck, but your reflexes are okay, and you’re the first living thing I’ve seen in days. Let’s get out of here.”

It was true that I couldn’t explain the abnormalities I’d experienced since I woke up here. And that speed and reflex just now definitely didn’t belong to a human. Neither did this guy’s strength.

“I started on the top floor. Whoever designed this prison tower was cautious of escapes. Every two floors are connected with a room of stairs like this one, but only two floors at a time. To keep heading down from here, we’ll need to find a different room of descending stairs,” he concisely explained. “I see you used the lining on your shirt to keep track of where you’ve gone. Not bad. Amateur, but not bad. I can navigate from here.”

“Okay, bossy,” I grumbled, but he sounded so sure, I couldn’t help but believe him. I snapped the thread to preserve the rest of my shirt, which had become more like a crop top. “I looked into every room I passed by on the way here. We can skip those hallways.”

He nodded. “Let’s move.”

As he zipped toward the nearest cell door down the hall opposite of where I came, I asked, “Do you remember anything at all?”

“Nope. When I came to, I laid on the floor in a cell a few floors up, and I didn’t even know my name. My vampire eyes were deactivated, and I hadn’t seen a single soul before you.”

Oh, he didn’t know his name. To be safe, I should keep my identity a secret too, not that I knew anything other than that “Hazel” was probably my name.

“How come you know you have an ability? And you know I’m not human?” I questioned, to which he first responded with a glare, then with, “When you get amnesia, you don’t forget how to walk, how to breathe, how to blink, or how to speak. You don’t forget basic functions. A vampire’s ability is one such basic function. I don’t know what it is, but I should know how to activate it. You also don’t forget what a flower or a piece of shit smells like. I still know a human’s scent.”

“Rather unnecessary to say human right after poop,” I remarked. “Okay, am I a vampire, too, then?”

“Pretty weird that you’re not sure. You were probably turned. Being a vampire isn’t one of your basic instincts. Now quit yapping and check the cells on the other side.”

“Right.” I zipped across the hall and slid open window after window, matching his pace. I glanced back at him from time to time. His dark hair bounced a little every time he braked from super speed. It was messy, but it was organized chaos that only added to his charm. Could he be Zach?

At the same time as I heard a “found it,” my arms reflexively covered my head at the loud bang of a solid metal door sent flying by one kick. Followed by a crash was an audible sigh. “You gotta stop freaking out over every noise. Hurry up.”

After we descended the level, we restarted the cycle and searched for the descending staircase. I had some inexplicable urge to converse with this person. I couldn’t hold the silence any longer and said, “We don’t remember our names, but let’s call each other something.”

“I don’t see a need for that,” he rejected.

“Alright, I’ll just call you Zach.” I peered at him, scrutinizing his body language for any tells. Perhaps he’d halt and recall that that name sounded familiar. Or he’d suddenly recover because I was the love of his life, and hearing my voice awakened his dormant memories.

Okay, I was grossing myself out with those scenarios now.

“Whatever you want,” he said instead.

Yup, didn’t work. I had no way to know if he was actually Zach or not. I continued to check room after room. “Isn’t it wasteful to have only two prisoners in this entire tower?”

“Yeah, it’s suspicious.”

“Wait, Zach, I found the stairs.”

“You’re actually calling me that?”

I envisioned how to karate kick, then, in a fluid motion, booted the door right beside its lock, driving my heel into it. So surprised to see the door fly open, I almost lost my balance and fell down the stairs that appeared before me.

“Huh, you’re slightly less useless than I thought,” Zach commented. “For a second there, you looked like you’ve been in some serious brawls.”

“Who knows? Beneath my innocent girl facade, I might be a bloodthirsty killer who uses the veil of nightfall to prey on unsuspecting night goers.”

A short chuckle escaped his lips. It seemed he was capable of expressions other than scowling. “You’re a weird thing. You talk to me as if we’re old friends even after I’ve been nothing but unfriendly.”

That sentence struck a chord somewhere deep inside me.

“Why do you talk to me as if one would with an old friend?”

By the time I shuddered, Zach was halfway down the hall. I scrambled to catch up and not be a burden, tossing my brief sense of deja vu to the back of my head. The current top priority was to get the hell out of this prison tower. It seemed the lower we went, the more massive and convoluted the floors became. One of the levels was a literal maze. Another level had creepy paintings of dolls hung on the walls. It was gradually taking what seemed like full days to find the staircase room.

“I think we’re close,” Zach said as we hopped down a flight of stairs. “I smell faint traces of other life.”

“That’s good to hear,” I said, striking down the door that led to the next floor.

We stepped out, only to see an empty level. Other than poles holding the ceiling, all I saw were the same stone walls and grounds. Across the entire floor was a set of double doors, obviously hinting that that was the ultimate exit to freedom.

“Booby traps,” I concluded.

“A hundred percent,” Zach agreed.

Just then, one of the doors cracked open. Someone in a white lab coat stepped inside. My vision zoomed in. It was a black-haired woman, watching us with crimson eyes. I then caught sight of the name tag pinned on her coat.

Mihaela Ceallakánn.

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