The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 27

I heard the cops when they were still a few blocks away—I didn’t think I would’ve been able to if I was still human.

How did James know they were going to bring me to the hospital? I didn’t think I looked malnourished; if anything I looked better now than I did upon my arrival there. Maybe I was muddy and wet and cold, sure, but it was nothing resting in a hotel room overnight couldn’t fix. I could take a hot shower or run a steaming bath, make myself cheap hotel coffee then curl underneath the blankets after.

Would they need to run tests? Maybe that’s what James meant. I was impulsive, and both he and...Zacharias seemed to know that. James probably configured I’d blurt out something ambiguous that would need further physical examining. I still had no clue what I was going to say to them. My mind was racing a million miles a minute.

I was scared.

I opened my eyes, but only saw a haze of scarlet due to the scarf. I was able to make out blurred silhouettes of inanimate objects and orbs of lights that still gave off a glare like the sun. The rain was beginning to freeze me deep into my bones, making my marrow feel like ice water. The rain no longer felt cleansing, just chilling.

The sirens were getting closer. There were a lot of cops—at least five individual vehicles that sounded off-key with one another. They must’ve thought whoever had made the call would still be here when they arrived. Little did they know I cooperated just so I could help him escape. A favour for a favour, even though my return was carefully thought out by someone else.

Tires screeched as they turned down the street into my neighbourhood. I let out a cry as the sirens blared like a live concert in my ears, sending painful, electric impulses through my head. Pressure built behind my eyes and my teeth were grinding so hard against each other I’d probably chip one of them. Another drawback to enhanced senses, I supposed.

“Oh, God.” I mumbled as I dug my face into the wet ground, feeling soil and grass blades tickle my nostrils. I wanted to crawl away to shelter myself from the heightened sound, but I promised James I’d listen to him. I’d lay there, helpless. Once the police pulled to a stop, I told myself, the sirens would cease.

From my peripheral I could make out disco-lights of red and blue. Tires that had once screeched as they turned the corner now screeched to a stop directly in front of my...home. One or two keep going, however, with their sirens still wailing. I felt my body weaken and tingle, as though some sort of chemical trickled through my veins. Hypothermia, maybe?

No. I heard a door being opened, followed by someone talking into a radio—a woman with a strong, accented voice. She said something I couldn’t pick up on, because for a second I was too hung up on the fact I was in the presence of another woman. It made me feel heaps safer, because she could sympathize with me and bring me comfort a man, now, never could.

“Ma’am!” She called as she ran onto the grass. I played a woman in distress well—not that it was a challenge to pretend to be zonked and incapacitated with a blindfold around your eyes and your wrists tied behind your back. However, when you’re guilty of something, you always feel as though everyone can read right through you and see what you’re hiding. “Ma’am, are you responsive?”

I could hear more footsteps behind her. I had to put on a good show. I clenched my fingers, digging one of my bare feet into the soft grass. “Yes.” I called out weakly. Luckily, my voice sounded hoarse. So far no lie.

“Good,” I felt her hand on my back, and distinctly felt metal from her ring finger. She was married. I couldn’t help but think this would help her sympathize with me more. “Are you injured?”

“I—I don’t think so.” I stammered, then felt her hands grab onto my wrists. Her fingers didn’t knit the fabric, so I knew she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to untie me. I felt another hand—a male hand without callouses—on my back as he used what I assumed to be a knife to cut through the scarf.

Once my hands were free, I was instantly untying the scarf around my eyes so they wouldn’t think it needed to be cut through. I only had one souvenir from my mom, and it was this scarf. I was not going to let them desecrate it.

Once it was untied, I held it in my hands then placed it into my sweatpants pocket. I laid on my side, but the two cops stayed behind me; perhaps realizing that I was going through something monumental. Colossal. Boundless. After—technically—twenty four days of captivity, I was back. However, I supposed it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been twenty four months...twenty four years. I realized, in a way, I got off lucky.

But no less damaged, though.

“Ma’am,” the officer asked, and I felt her hand on my shoulder. She handled me like a skittish animal. If only she knew how ironic it was. “Can you sit up?”

I was surprised that when I went to put my hands on the ground to push myself into a sitting position, I felt fatigued as though I had just been through something strenuous. Now I didn’t have to play weak. I wondered vaguely if James knew something like this would happen, but then discarded the thought. He couldn’t have predicted the future.

The officer kept her hand on my shoulder, as if some of her strength could seep into me through the fabric of my hoodie. I was appreciative of her gentle but firm touch. It just felt nice to be touched by someone other than Zacharias...to be allowed to be touched by someone else without criticism or scrutiny.

I sat up, and my breaths started to become laboured. I was soaked from the rain, and when I turned to look at the officers who were crouched on the grass with me, I felt bad that they were soaked too. I was shaking, lips trembling as my eyes tiredly started to shut. The officer who spoke to me, a black woman, looked at me as if I was some strange creature born form a bizarre phenomenon.

Then she took off her police jacket and wrapped it around my shoulders like a blanket. I tightened my lips as I stared at her, suddenly unable to produce sound. I began to glance around my neighbourhood, trying to take it all in before I was taken away from it again. I found it strange to believe that I had lived in this decrepit, shady area and was able to feel safe. It was the people you assumed were safe that you had to watch out for.

I missed home.

In surrounding windows I could see bright golden lights followed by curious people peeking out at my home through their curtains. One couple across the street opened the front door and watched the scene with blunt interest in their threshold. I probably would’ve done the same, because I was naturally curious. But it didn’t feel so nice to be on the receiving end of your neighbours microscopes, given they had probably thought I was murdered.

“Ma’am,” the officer asked again, replacing her hand on my shoulder. Her eyes, as dark as her skin, stared into mine without judgement. I felt my eyes begin to water, and I mouthed a belated thank you that she nodded to. “Do you remember your name?”

I nodded. “E-Edie Bartem.”

“Good. Do you mind if I call you Edie?” I shook my head. “Perfect. Okay, Edie. Are you able to stand?”

I nodded, but I must’ve looked somewhat feeble. She wrapped her hand around my bicep, and the male officer walked to my other side and did the same thing. I was, although a little embarrassed, grateful that they helped me up. They hoisted me to my feet like I weighed nothing. Once I was standing, I swayed. They didn’t release their grips on me.

“Are you okay to walk, Edie?” The female police officer asked kindly. I nodded, but my knees trembled and shook as we started walking across the grass. I hugged her jacket tighter around me. It was a windbreaker, and it was water-resistant, but it was thin and did little to provide me more warmth. However, her act of kindness would not be soon forgotten.

My vision became blurry, and I thought that maybe it was just the rain as I tried to blink the blurriness away. But even after I blinked, I was still unable to see properly. I noticed that my eyes were even starting to sting, and pressure in my head continued to gradually increase. My limbs started to feel rubbery. I brushed it off as being very, very cold.

But once my ears started to ring I grew very, very nervous.

I didn’t want to demote myself to crying out to the two officers helping me. We were walking leisurely across the grass anyway, just to satisfy the pace my feet decided they wanted to keep up with. But still, I felt like everything was going a million miles a minute; rushing before my eyes like cars on a highway.

My stomach was stirring, whirring and churning. My throat began to feel uncomfortable, my mouth starting to water. I tried to swallow down the excess saliva, tried to brush off what I was feeling, but I couldn’t just push down my symptoms forever. Suddenly, I no longer felt cold. In fact, I felt very hot; like I was burning a fever.

Then my stomach began to rise in my throat and was projected through my mouth.

“Edie!” the female officer cried as I vomited. I didn’t vomit up much food, given I hadn’t eaten in a few days; I had forgotten to. It was mostly bile; acidic, burning, vile.

I had one last sudden burst of strength and energy, because I ripped myself free from the officers. I collapsed onto the grass, the police jacket sliding off from my shoulders and onto the grass beside me. My hands and knees kept me sturdy as my vomit continued to come up and up, like a volcano finally erupting. At some point, the female officer knelt down on her jacket and held back my soaked hair. With her other hand she rubbed my back in circles, telling me I was doing great and that I would be okay.

Once I was finished vomiting I coughed violently, and tears were leaking from my eyes as my head still throbbed. There seemed to be silence amidst the ringing of my ears, as if the whole town was hushed just for this occasion. I didn’t doubt that it was the most interesting thing to happen here in years.

Five stars for improv.

“I don’t feel so good.” I muttered, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. I started to hunch forward, leaning and leaning, as my vision dissolved into black specks that joined together to create one big ebony portrait. I felt as if I was falling into the depths of Zacharias’ fervent, glossy pupils.

The female officers hands caught me before my face could plummet into my own vomit. Then, my light burnt out and I was gone.

When I woke up, I expected there to be panic and madness, but instead there was serenity and calm...there was grey.

My eyes slowly blinked open, and dimmed fluorescent lights hung above my head. Upon the initial moment of opening my eyes, they stung and I had to shut them for a few seconds until I attempted to open them again. I blinked a few times to adjust to the paleness, and once I was adjusted I felt fine; like I was floating.

I wriggled my toes, and was pleased when I still had use of them. I felt them brush against thin fabric, and I knew I wasn’t in a hotel room; nor was I in my bed. I felt miserable that I wasn’t in my bed for a brief moment. I wished I could just curl up in it and sleep forever. But at least I wasn’t still on my front lawn, giving my neighbours a good show.

I started to observe my surroundings. Bare, eggshell walls. A dulled-down rainbow curtain closed me in to my little section of the room, and from beside me I heard some heavy breathing. I knew I was in a hospital—well, I knew the moment I opened my eyes. But it felt so weird, to be in a room that didn’t belong to Zacharias.

It felt weird to no longer be under his control. I had only been under his rule for twenty-four days, but those days dragged on and I felt like I had been entrapped in his cabin my whole life. I grappled with myself to grasp what life had been like before him, but it was as if my memories had been temporarily wiped. I tried to think hard, but the harder I thought, the more I upset myself.

The metal rings of the curtain scraped against the metal rod as someone stepped into my section of the room. I looked up and managed a small smile as I saw a young nurse. She was pretty—blonde with bright blue eyes, wearing floral scrubs.

She seemed shocked at my smile, but nonetheless returned it. She had braces on her teeth with light blue elastics to mimic her irises. She slowly stepped into the room, closing the curtain behind her. “Hi, how are you feeling?”

“Better.” I told her, and my voice was croaky and hoarse. I cleared my throat, tried to repeat my answer with more strength, but it came out sounding just as raspy as before. She managed a laugh, and I gave her an apologetic smile.

“That’s good. I’m glad to hear it,” she said, then stood beside my bed. She smoothed the sheets. “Are you cold or anything? Would you like another blanket? Or better yet, would you like a cup of water?”

I nodded, pointed to my throat, and sniffed, then jerked as I felt a tube in my nose. The nurses eyes widened as I moved a hand to feel what was in my nose. I touched the tube and felt as it extended over my cheek it was taped down to. I gave the nurse a funny look, and she gently peeled my hand away from my face.

“It’s a nasogastric tube. You had nothing in your stomach, and we needed to feed you as soon as possible,” I nodded, letting out a puff of air. “Would you like a cup of water?” I nodded again.

“Okay. I’ll find the doctor and let him know you’re awake. I think he’ll be pleased to know you’re cognizant.” She said pleasantly, then left my section, closing the curtain behind her.

She left me alone again, and I sighed as I laid back. I found my hand subconsciously playing with the nasogastric tube, finding it hard to wrap my head around the fact that the tube went in though my nostril, then down my throat and into my stomach. I knew I hadn’t been eating much, and I hadn’t even felt hungry; but still, I was malnourished.

But now, I felt safe. And how outlandish it felt. I hadn’t felt safe in so long. I had been terrified and edgy for twenty-four days, never knowing how to prepare myself from one moment to the next. Now, I had my freedom back. Now, I could function on my own free will. I knew, as I stared at the fluorescent light above me, it didn’t fucking matter that I hadn’t valiantly escaped on my own. What did matter was that I was out of that hell.

I rested my hand over my heart, turning my head onto the cheek without the tube taped to it, and I smiled to myself. I never thought I’d be rid of that gothic dollhouse; Zacharias had convinced me I never would be. And now, I was back in civilization—my territory. I’d move into a big city. Start fresh, save up for college, start my own life ruled by myself. I was going to be okay.

I was strong. Beneath my frailty, I was strong.

The metal rings scraped against the metal rod as someone walked into my section. Again, I looked to the person and offered a small smile. It was the doctor. He looked like he was attractive in his younger years, with a reasonable height and a slim build. He had a warmth to him, which was only enhanced by his wedding ring. He returned my smile right away, a cup of water in his hand; his clipboard tucked beneath his bicep.

I sat up as he handed me the styrofoam cup, and I downed it before he sat down on the bed. I placed it on the dresser beside me, thanked him, then wiped the water that dripped down my chin with the back of my hand. I gave the doctor a funny look, cocking my head to the side. “Didn’t they put out a ban to relatives and hospital staff sitting on the patients beds eight years ago?” It felt nice to be able to talk again. The doctor knew exactly what I was doing—cracking a tease to put myself at ease.

He took out his clipboard, smiling as he placed it on his lap. “No one follows those rules, goodie-two-shoes,” he laughed, and I chuckled too. “I’m Doctor Vanderway, and you will be my patient this morning—”

“Aren’t you supposed to call patients residents now?” I asked before I could stop myself. It wasn’t even funny, but I had to suppress hard laughter.

The doctor gave me a flat look, but I knew he was amused—or, at least, he was pretending to be because he had to be polite. “What would you prefer?” I told him I wasn’t picky. “Actually, can you tell me your full name? Then, after, would you tell me your mothers name? Then your fathers?”

“Edie Bartem, no middle name. Edith Bartem, no middle name. Dwayne Joel Bartem.” I struggled to push out my parents names.

“Perfect. Can you tell me what year it is?”

“Twenty-eighteen.”

“How about the date? This isn’t critical, however. Confusion will be understandable in this case.”

I rubbed my lips together, noticing how dry they were. It was late June a week before I was taken, and I was kidnapped on the second day of July. It was early morning so technically it was twenty-five days later. “The twenty-seventh of July?”

Vanderway nodded, wrote something down. He was impressed. “Spot on. Do you remember your age?”

“Nineteen.”

“When is your birthday?”

“September fifteenth.”

“Okay, perfect. Everything seems to be in order,” he looked at his watch, then flashed me an apologetic smile. “Sorry. You’re my last patient. After I’m done here I get to go home to three sleeping kids.” Either he was younger than I thought, or he had kids late.

“That’s awesome,” I said. “How old?”

He pulled out his stethoscope, and was about to put the plugs in his ears. “Six, twelve and sixteen. Absolute angels,” Vanderway said. He talked of them with such fondness that I felt a spark of jealousy at my own slack father. “All girls. All of them are daddy’s girls.”

I smiled at him. “There’s no greater gift, I bet.” And he gave me a big smile, nodding. I had to look down at my lap as I smiled to myself. I wished I had close friends and family. I might’ve had someone sitting in the empty chair to my left.

He did what felt like a checkup to make sure everything was in order, and was content when nothing seemed to be out of place. He told me that while I was being rushed here via ambulance I had been given a shot of adenosine to slow my heart rate, and he warned me that when I left the hospital I may be off balance, and may also be sensitive to the sunlight—if it stopped raining by the time I was released.

“There will be a detective here later on after you get more rest to ask you questions. You’re the buzz around this hospital,” Vanderway sat back down on the hospital bed after hanging up one of the tools he shoved into my ears to see if they were okay. He hadn’t spotted anything abnormal, which made me feel relieved. “You haven’t experienced any head trauma, however, so I wasn’t able to buy you any extra time.”

I laughed. “Better to get it over with sooner than later, I guess,” I swallowed, cleared my throat. “Did you run any blood tests?” Of course I chose to ask that after I was already in the clear.

“No, we have not done that. Do you think it would be necessary to run one?”

“Oh, no. Not at all,” I furrowed my brows. “Sorry, I don’t know why I asked that.”

“You must be exhausted. You went into shock. You could imagine the impact that had on the officers that had arrived on scene,” he rolled his eyes. “That’s what everyone has been saying, but I think they’re ignoring the person it Impacted the most: you.”

I gave him a sad smile. “I’m fine. I feel better,” And I did. “At least we have free health care...”

He barked a laugh. “Yes, Edie, indeed,” he patted my thigh, before he stood up off of my bed. “But I shall be leaving you. Get lots of rest.”

I nodded. “I will.” And he disappeared past the curtains.

I didn’t want to lay down just yet. My mind was swirling around so many things, and although I was tired I was almost certain I was wired for sound. I could not sleep, not under these circumstances. Being back in town was still too new and too fresh. I felt the need to enjoy it

The doctor suddenly walked back into my section again. My eyes widened as I looked up at him. I pulled my knees up to my chest, and again he sat on the edge of my bed. “I’m sorry. I know this is inappropriate, but I cannot leave without telling this to you.”

I gave him a worried look as my lips tremulously smiled.

“My eldest daughter, when she was young, was kidnapped,” my eyes widened again. He laughed, waving his hand in the air. “One day she ran away—she was seven at the time. She was such a rebel, the hardest one to raise until that point. But it was late and dark, and it was rainy; much like tonight. Anyway, my wife and I were a mess over it. We thought she had been taken. Called the cops and everything, but they couldn’t put out a red alert until it had been twenty-four hours. We were terrified,

“About two hours after calling the cops, however, she was returned home by my brother-in-law. Turned out he was using his old hunting truck and had just returned from hunting—it was November. He had caught a deer, and was covered in blood. My wife had called him and left a couple of voicemails, and when he got them he started driving around looking for her with a dead deer in the back of his truck. He found her about ten blocks away from our house,

“She had never seen his truck, and he decided he was going to make sure she never ran away again. Covered in blood with a balaclava over his head, he pulled up next to her and got out of the vehicle. She instantly started running, but he caught her. She was kicking and screaming and crying, and he forced her to get in the back seat. He put on child lock and everything and started driving. He wouldn’t talk to her, but kept looking at her in the rearview mirror. She was terrified,

“So you could imagine her confusion when he pulled up in front of our house. The moment she heard the door unlock she was out and running up our pathway. She was screaming bloody murder when I opened the door, and she leapt into my arms. My wife talked to her brother, hugged him and somewhat scolded him for scaring the living shit out of her. However, we never once scolded our daughter because we knew there was no need. She learned.”

I bit my lip, unsure where he was going with his story.

He placed his hand on one of my knees and stood up. He met my eyes, and I felt something stir in the pit of my stomach. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry you had to live through twenty-four days of incarceration only to have nobody hold their arms open for you to run in to when you escaped.”

He was apologizing for my father.

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