Victoria Stratton fluttered her eyes open, and then becoming conscious of the event that she was experiencing, she drew in a contented breath. She was waking up, and the simple, innocuous action of waking up was always much anticipated, because it introduced a new day. She never woke up grumpy or pissed off, she always awoke with a positive attitude; Hello new day, what do you have in store for me? With a lazy stretch of her rested limbs, Victoria curled her hands under the pillow, and as the stretched and rested limbs folded into a comfortable foetal position, a strange thought hit her. She always slept well, normally slept like a baby, a seventeen-year-old baby, because she studied hard, worked hard, and sleep was always well deserved; although something was different. She was normally aroused by her alarm clock, or if she slept through the alarm, her mother would pop her head in and advise, Come on Vicky, get up! Feeling gloriously relaxed, Vicky caressed her face deeper into the pillow as she pondered, Alarm clock? Did I hear it? … Mom, did I see mom? She glanced at her bedside drawer to see what time it was, although something was definitely different, because her alarm clock wasn’t on the drawer. She swung her head to see whether her mother was at the door, but she wasn’t, because the door was closed. And strangely, the door didn’t seem like her bedroom door. Her pink dressing robe wasn’t hanging off the left hook in the door, and her Atlanta Braves baseball cap wasn’t hanging off the right hook, and a more thorough scrutiny of the door helped her to understand that the robe and the baseball cap weren’t hanging, because there were no hooks in the door. Vicky shook her head in confusion, then she gazed around the room, and the cursory gaze helped her to understand that this was not her room.
Victoria sat up.
She had slept very well, but she had slept very well in a room that wasn’t hers, and she was sitting up in a bed that wasn’t hers.
And there was a little tickle on her neck.
She felt her neck, and she was surprised to find that she was wearing a woollen scarf. She wasn’t really a scarf-wearer; indeed she only wore scarves on the really cold winter mornings, and she definitely never slept with a scarf curled around her neck.
Victoria gazed around the room again, this room that wasn’t her bedroom; and she noted that the room was large, at least twice the size of her bedroom, although it was sparsely furnished. The bed she was sitting in was a huge King-size, so it certainly wasn’t her bed; and apart from the bedside drawer, the only other piece of furniture in the room was a chest of draws sitting by the east wall. The head of the bed abutted the west wall, and heavy, dark drapes hung on the south wall, which seemed to indicate that the room had only a single window. Confused and a little mystified, Victoria nervously tapped the fingers of her right hand on her bottom lip, because her bedroom had two windows; one on the east wall and one on the south wall.
Frowning, Victoria tried to remember the previous night, tried to recall what she had been doing, although no memory came to her. A thought pinged into her mind, and she wondered whether she was dreaming. She pushed her hand into one of the soft, fluffy pillows, could feel herself doing it; the pillow squashing with the pressure, then fluffing out again when she withdrew her hand. She ran her right hand up her left arm, and she could feel that as well, so this wasn’t a dream. Nobody else was in the room, and she didn’t remember walking into this room, didn’t remember climbing into this bed, so she closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to recall her last movements. A memory began circulating slowly, and it grew more solid until it became a scene in her mind. She saw herself stretching and curling, then sitting up in this very bed, a scarf around her neck. Something strange was happening, because that wasn’t the memory that she had tried to recall, that memory was from only a few moments ago.
Victoria opened her eyes and pushed out of bed, and then tensed. She had woken up in a room that wasn’t hers, and she noted with alarm, except for the scarf, she wasn’t wearing anything else. She always bedded down wearing something, whether it be pajamas, a nightie or even a singlet and panties in the warmer weather, but on this day, the day that followed a night she couldn’t remember, she had awoken wearing nothing but a woollen scarf. A moment of panic hit her, although surprisingly, the panic disappeared quickly, as a lazy thought swirled around in her mind; Fear not, there is nought to fear bar fear itself…
The lazy thought didn’t mean anything to her, although it seemed to quell her panic, and even though she was apprehensive about her nudity, she tip-toed across to the window, slid inside the drapes, then after looking out the window, she rocked back in surprise.
She had woken up fully rested in the middle of the night, dressed in only a scarf, and another thought rushed into her mind, Drugs, drugged? … Although she felt fine, didn’t feel woozy or sluggish, she felt, felt…liberated. Freedom comes from liberation, and maybe she felt liberated because she was free of clothes. The windowsill was at navel-level, and Victoria readied herself to scamper away from the window if she saw anyone outside, because that could prove embarrassing. Anybody outside could look up, and they would see a topless girl gawking back at them. Victoria crinkled her nose in confusion; Huh, look up?
This room was obviously on the first floor of the building, because she was gazing down, and she realised, she was gazing down at a property she had never seen before. A building sat to her left, the building looking like a small, stately schoolhouse. The grounds appeared massive, with dense congregations of trees stretching back as far as she could see, the trees separated by a gravel driveway that ran right down from the entrance to the property to the smaller building.
Victoria gazed left and right, hoping to see signs of activity, although everything was still and silent. She rubbed her right hand over the scarf, enjoying its softness and warmth, then she pushed back through the drapes and walked over to the chest of draws. A set of neatly laid out clothes sat on the chest of draws, and Victoria picked up the white shirt. It looked brand new and it had a small emblem on the pocket on its right side. The emblem was a red circle, and inside the circle sat four capitalised letters in black; AOTU. She placed the shirt back on the draws and ran her hand over the skirt, impressed by it. The skirt was pleated and featured thick, vertical, alternate navy blue and charcoal stripes. Victoria picked up the navy-blue blazer, noting that it had the feel and smell of being brand new, and on the right-hand pocket, the same emblem was displayed. Strangely, on the left side, a gold-plated name tag with black lettering was pinned to the blazer. She stared at the name tag; VICTORIA.
She started to fret, Goodness, am I in danger… although the fleeting moment of danger seemed to disappear just as quickly as it had arrived, because the same strange phrase floated into her mind again; Fear not, there is nought to fear bar fear itself…
Vicky looked around the room, then turned her focus back to the emblem on the white shirt and navy-blue blazer. She had woken up naked in a building she had never seen before, so she assumed that she had every right to be terrified, although as she tickled her fingers over the jacket’s emblem, she became immersed in an embracing feeling of tranquillity. She began to understand how Dorothy must have felt when she woke up in the land of Oz, because she didn’t know how she had gotten to this place, she didn’t remember going to bed, didn’t remember undressing completely and then curling a scarf around her neck; although rather than feeling frantic, she felt comfortable. When she realised she was naked, she began to panic, although that strange phrase floated into her mind and changed the feeling of panic to a feeling of liberation; and when she saw her name on the name tag she fretted that she might be in danger, but as she skimmed her hands over the clothes, the sense of danger had been swept aside by a feeling of tranqulity.
Victoria noticed that brand new underwear and a pair of white anklet socks also sat on the draws.
Since she wasn’t wearing anything except the scarf, putting the clothes on made sense, because quite obviously, with her name displayed on the name tag, these clothes were meant for her, or at the very least, they were meant for someone whose name was Victoria. It was also obvious that the clothes were a uniform, possibly a school uniform. She knew that it wasn’t her school uniform, although she became a little concerned as she tried to remember what her school uniform had looked like. She tried to picture the uniform, tried to call up an image, but no, blank, a blank, empty space. No memory, no memories, so she closed her eyes and concentrated harder, and she tensed as images slowly floated into her mind.
In the memory, she saw herself stretching and curling, then sitting up in the bed, a scarf around her neck, and bizarrely, the memory moved forward and showed her standing inside the drapes and gazing down, then it showed her inspecting the clothes on the chest of draws. The memory slid forward to show her standing still with her eyes closed and her body tensed, and even though it didn’t make sense, she became aware that the memory had flowed forward to be the actual moment she was in.
A little startled, she dressed quickly, and a new emotion gently swept through her, for she suddenly felt calm and at ease, enjoying the feel of the new clothes. She was pleasantly surprised that everything fitted her perfectly, right down to the smart black shoes.
After dressing to greet a new day, or night, grooming was required, although as she gazed around the room, she noted that there wasn’t a mirror available for her. She walked over to the ceiling-high wardrobes on the north wall and pulled the first door open, and she saw that it was empty. She opened the other two doors, both empty as well. In each of the wardrobes, clothes hangers hung, and they were noticeable because they were hung so neatly that it looked like somebody had deliberately spaced them evenly. A set of four draws sat at the base of the middle wardrobe, and Victoria pulled each draw open, all the draws empty. Confused yet strangely comfortable, she skimmed her hands through her long, golden hair and then her face creased in surprise. Normally when she awoke, her hair would feature the unruly tangles and knots that lying on your head for eight hours usually provided, although on this night, her hair felt as if it had just been brushed.
Feeling grand in her new uniform, she walked across to the door, grabbed the handle, then paused. A thought flitted across her mind as she tarried; what would she see when she opened the door?
Someone had brought her to this place, taken all her clothes off, wrapped a scarf around her neck, then placed her in the bed.
Fear not, there is nought to fear bar fear itself…
Victoria cocked her head in surprise, because she didn’t feel fearful of what she may encounter, she simply felt curious, and that in itself was strange. Being a teenage girl, many situations made her feel uncomfortable, situations like men staring at her when she was on a train by herself, or teenage males hanging out the windows and yelling crude comments at her as they whizzed past in a car, or walking down a dark street at night by herself and hearing footsteps behind her Confronting situations made her timid and fearful, yet she was in the most confronting situation she had ever been in, and she didn’t feel scared, she felt curious. Waking up naked in a strange room should mean that she’d be terrified, but Fear not, there is nought to fear bar fear itself … Victoria felt a swirl of emotions embrace her, and she puffed her chest out, because she suddenly realised, she felt different, or, or changed. She felt confident and assured, felt as if she could handle any situation she encountered, and bizarrely, and also quite amazingly, she felt unbreakable. If a man on a train was staring at her right now, she would say boldly, I can guess what you’re thinking … and then she’d punch him on the nose, and if teenage males yelled crude comments at her, she would punch all of them as well, and if she heard creeping footsteps behind her as she was walking down a dark street at night, she’d be thinking, Scared, me? No … maybe you’re the one who should be scared … She felt bold, brave and unbreakable, and again, she wondered whether she’d been drugged. She’d never taken any drugs, although she was aware that drugs could alter your state of mind. Victoria felt a blush light up her cheeks as a naughty thought skipped across her mind; If I have been drugged, find out what it was, because, gee, because, wow … Energised and emboldened, Victoria drew in a stabilising breath, then she turned the handle and opened the door.
A hallway greeted her, and without hesitation, she stepped into it. In her current state of bristling positivity and confidence, she imagined that if someone charged at her, she would glare at them and say threateningly, Behave yourself, or else …The flooring was polished timber boards, and the walls were painted in a subtle cream. Her room sat between two other rooms, and as the doors were ajar, she peeked into both rooms. No-one was in either room, and from her cursory glance, the rooms were identical to hers; large rooms with heavy, dark drapes on the south wall, and the only furniture being the King-size bed, the bedside drawer and the chest of draws.
Three rooms sat across the hallway, and her curiosity burnt bright, although she did take a moment to think about what she was doing. She was in a building that she’d never been in before, and she was looking in the rooms, so there was a chance that someone might leap out at her, and the thought that skipped into her mind made her smile; Yeah, come on then, come at me! Feeling like an action-movie hero or a Super-hero, she walked across the hallway, and as the doors were ajar, she looked in each one. No-one in any of the rooms, and again, they were identical to hers except that the heavy drapes hung on the north wall.
Victoria walked down the hallway and turned down a smaller hallway which ran north. At the end of the hallway, she saw a closed door. She opened the door and saw a collection of wash basins, four on each side, and a curious thought struck her. The designer of this bathroom had been neglectful, for there weren’t any mirrors above the basins. Her neck gave a suggestion of a tickle, and she ran her right hand over the scarf, then she pushed through the door at the end of the basins and found herself standing in a huge room. On the right-hand side stood five toilet cubicles, while the left-hand side featured five shower cubicles. The floor was tiled, and the foot-square white tiles were so clean that they sparkled. Similar white tiles ran halfway up each wall, and Vicky noticed that there was only one small window in the large bathroom. The window sat just below the ceiling on the east wall, and strangely, it was painted black. Vicky pondered; No mirrors, window blacked out; what is this place?
Even more curious, Victoria walked out of the room, up the small hallway, onto the main hallway, and then she headed for the stairs which were situated at the eastern end. On her way, she passed two more rooms on her left side, both with doors ajar, both identical to the room she had woken up in. As she walked, she skimmed her hand over the polished railing and peered over.
No activity below her, no sounds, everything still and silent except for the clunking of her shoes on the floorboards.
She skipped down the stairs and looked around. On the eastern side of the stairs sat three rooms, all of which had their doors closed, and she was tempted to peek in each one, but the greater temptation was to investigate the other building she had seen from the window in her room. She walked through the entrance and pushed through the glass door, then walked down a narrow gravel pathway that led to the other building, when something suddenly occurred to her. She stopped, turned, and then stared at the building she had just left.
The building was in total darkness.
With a burning curiosity, she walked back to the glass door and peered in. No lights on, total darkness. She allowed her mind to flitter back, and she realised that she couldn’t remember seeing a light anywhere; not in the room she had woken up in, not in the hallway, not in any of the other bedrooms, not in the wash area or toilet and shower areas either.
Although she had seen everything, clearly. She remembered identifying the charcoal and navy-blue colouring of her skirt, remembered the colouring of the walls in the hallway, remembered reading her name tag and the emblem on the shirt and blazer, reading them apparently, in total darkness.
She skimmed her right hand over the scarf again, then faced the other building. She walked down the narrow pathway and stood in front of the building, then gazed around. Manicured lawns ran for at least two hundred yards until the trees began. The driveway ran for at least eight hundred yards, and with so many trees on either side, they looked like small forests. Steel gates sat at the beginning on the driveway, and for as far as she could see, the property was bordered by an eight-foot-high rendered brick wall. She noted that the steel gates featured evenly spaced bars, the apex of the bars shaped like arrowheads. Victoria assumed that the owners of the property didn’t want any unwelcome guests coming on to the property, or as she thought in a moment of sober reflection, maybe they didn’t want anybody leaving.
The grounds, the buildings, everything was foreign to her, although strangely, she did feel comfortable in the new surroundings.
She looked at the quaint, single-story building in front of her, and she saw two bowl lights shining and illuminating the steps that led to the entrance. The lights shone brightly, because it was night-time, deep night-time, the sky a dark and eerie black. Between the lights, affixed to the fascia at the front of the building, the emblem was displayed, the same four letters sitting proudly in the circle; AOTU.
Victoria glanced at the emblem on her blazer, and she lightly skimmed her fingers over her name tag as she thought about her current situation. She was standing at the foot of the steps, preparing to walk up them and enter a building she had never seen before.
Wearing a new school uniform.
And a scarf.
And her neck still tickled.
It wasn’t an annoying or irritating tickle, nor was it a pleasant or giggling tickle, it was a something else tickle. Maybe it was a prophetic tickle.
Victoria wasn’t concerned about her current situation, she was just curious, and she suddenly realised, aroused. The uniform, the name tag, her name… Where, where am I?
She stepped onto the first step, and a confusing emotion rattled around in her mind.
It hadn’t been her room that she had woken up in, and indeed, this wasn’t her school; although the emotion lingered and seemed to be expanding, because strangely, bizarrely, these new surroundings seemed like, like …
Victoria drew in a breath, then continued up the steps, because the emotion had now settled comfortably in her mind. This seems like, it, it seems like … home.