Chapter 5: Morning
A hand shook the forest-creature’s shoulder, “Kai.”
“Come on, up.”
Kai rolled onto her back, blinked, then remembered where she was, bolting up and yanking the blanket to cover her chest. The room was still dark, and she could sense it was still early, as her eyes adjusted, she could make out James standing beside her bed.
“What?” She stretched, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, “What time is it?”
Kai slowly blinked, “Why?”
“First of all, I can smell you from over here.”
Maybe there is a God. Kai mused internally, I get to bathe
James stepped back, allowing Kai to climb out of the bed. She still wore her jeans and the sports bra, as she’d thought better of stripping further to sleep for this very reason.
“I’m going to assume I can trust you not to attack me?”
She nodded, he was, after all, probably six feet tall at a minimum, which was still eleven inches taller than Kai, besides that, he probably had one hundred pounds on her. An awkward second passed of the two standing motionless before Kai realized he wanted her to walk in front of him, which she did, scurrying to move up the stairs, only halting at the door. James reached around her to open it, pressing his hand to her back to push her forward. She turned to look back at him, raising an eyebrow in response. The man didn’t respond, rather he pursed his lips, stepping up beside her to lead her into the dark of the house.
The house was larger than Kai had realized, “lake house” seemed a more apt description than “cabin”, as it was quite large and rather well-furnished. The cold floor beneath Kai’s feet was polished hardwood, and the furnishings of the house all seemed modern. The kitchen, which Kai could see, seemed brand new, as did most of the furniture in the living room.
Kai found herself moving down a hallway to a large bathroom that seemed as brand new as the rest of the house. It seemed James had already set up for her, with a towel sitting on the toilet beside a folded stack of clothing. A toothbrush, the plain plastic kind Kai had seen in hotels, sat on the sink beside a half-used tube of toothpaste which was rolled and clipped with a clothespin. The normalcy of all of these things sent an unexpected jolt though Kai to the pit of her stomach. It seemed so fundamentally unfair that some people still got to live normally, to live like people, while people like herself lived like animals in the forest.
“Come out when you’re done. I’ll get you something to eat.”
Kai forced her head, which seemed to suddenly weigh a thousand pounds, to nod. She barely perceived James’s footsteps as he left the room and closed the door. It all seemed so unreal, so impossible, after all she’d done to stay free, she’d been caught in an instant, and now her very transfer to captivity was treated as fairly inconsequential. Kai undressed as quickly as she could, stepping into the shower. A third of a bar of soap, clearly cut in half, and a bottle of shampoo. The realization that these people had enough captives through that dividing soap bars into pieces was necessary was somehow the final straw, and Kai crumpled against the wall of the shower, sobbing. After a moment, she shoved her fist against her mouth, biting down on her knuckles to stifle the sound. She sat there for a long moment, eyes squeezed shut.
The taste of blood slowly roused the forest-creature to her senses, and she stood, slowly forcing herself to regulate her breathing. Kai looked down, rubbing her hand through her hair.
Dirty water trickled down the drain.
The forest-creature washed away.
The clothing fit rather well, though the shirt hung off her shoulders and reached nearly halfway down her thighs. The pants, though they sat low on her hips, stayed up without needing to be rolled. Kai realized she’d lost weight in her time alone. She’d brushed her teeth for the first time in a while as well, causing her gums to bleed rather severely. It was a miracle, she thought, that her teeth hadn’t all decayed.
She wondered if the creatures would change her appearance at all, or if they knew how to do that.
Tapping her toothbrush against the sink, Kai set it back on the counter and turned her gaze back to her knuckles. She could see an imprint of her teeth on her middle and ring finger, though she’d washed the blood away. Kai tugged her sleeve down and curled her fingers, giving a small nod.
That should hide it.
She sighed, stepping out of the bathroom and closing the door, careful to close it slowly and silently. Kai padded barefoot down the hall to the kitchen, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ears.
Kai’s head whipped to the man she thought of as “cigarette man”, who sat at the dining table, sipping from a chipped mug of coffee.
“Hello,” Kai forced the edges of her lips to twitch in a smile.
“Sit down. James’ll get you some food.”
Kai moved mechanically to the table, sitting herself on the opposite end of the oval, putting two chairs between the cigarette man and herself.
He raised an eyebrow, “Docile now, aren’t you?”
Kai bit her tongue, keeping herself quiet. Her gaze flicked around the kitchen, settling on James. He was busy making something on a functioning stove, something Kai hadn’t seen in a while. She wondered how it was working, but then realized that most power companies were still functional.
It was odd to think that most of the older members of society lived in relative normalcy.
A small serving of eggs and a piece of toast, with butter, was set in front of her. She gave what she hoped was a smile to James, “Thank you.”
He smiled in return, then stepped back into the kitchen. Kai watched him go, noting the time on the stove’s clock.
It seemed impossible that she’d only been awake forty-five minutes. Shaking her head, she turned to her food, licking her lips. She hadn’t had eggs in a long time, being too paranoid of some perceived illness to steal from birds, and she was terrified of cracking an egg and finding a half-formed bird inside.
It didn’t take long for Kai to inhale the food, it was the best meal she’d had in a while, and besides that, she wasn’t sure the next time she’d get to eat.
“We’re leaving at six,” Kai turned to James, who had spoken, “Henry and I will take you.” He paused, then pointed to cigarette man, “That’s Henry.”
Kai nodded, hesitating before speaking, “Anything I should know?”
“About?” James paused, then shook his head, “I forget you’re new to this.”
Kai slowly nodded again.
“Do what they say.” Henry said, tilting his head, “And be grateful, you’re serving a purpose greater than you know.”