Tress looked both ways before she crossed the street, as she had always been taught. This procedure had never failed her before, so she stuck with it. But today was the last day of anything approaching normal in her life.
The van screeched around the corner, out of nowhere. Tress didn’t even have time to register the color before it struck her, and she immediately lost consciousness.
Tress opened her eyes to darkness and silence, aside from the steady drip-drop-drip of a leaky faucet. Her head ached more than anything she could have imagined before now, a steady throbbing like a helmet, along with the occasional sharp ice pick pain in her right temple. The ice pick was so unpredictable; that’s what made it so bad. She couldn’t brace for it.
She began to test her muscles, to see what her body was currently capable of doing. Her fingernails scratched at the rough sheet that she lay on. This seemed to be her limit. Her legs wouldn’t move at all, and her arms remained too heavy to lift. Even her pounding head would turn neither right nor left.
The sweat beading on her face told her that she couldn’t take any more exercise, as feeble as it was. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe slowly through her mouth. Eventually, she fell back asleep.
Eons later, she woke again. Light shone through her eyelids, and before she opened them, all she saw was red. She thought that was fitting. She felt red.
She opened her eyes. A bare lightbulb hung over her, dangling from a chain. Her head was still too heavy and painful to move, and her eyes wouldn’t travel much farther than straight ahead. She tried to move again, and her fingernails still scratched what felt to be the same bedsheet, but nothing else seemed to be in working order.
She felt a wetness building behind her eyes and in the back of her throat, and took some deep breaths to stave off the tears that she knew she hadn’t the strength to wipe away. This wasn’t a hospital. No one who cared about her probably knew a thing about her whereabouts. The deep breaths weren’t helping.
The single lightbulb shimmered behind a layer of tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks, desperate to seek the easiest route to the shells of her ears. Tress struggled to keep her eyes open as long as she could, but eventually, she had to blink, and the twin trails of moisture trekked their way downward.
This time, she managed to stay conscious until the tears dried, much longer than the first time.
The third time Tress woke to motion. Someone was pushing and pulling her body, dressing or undressing her. A brief panic gripped her heart before she realized that this had to have happened at least once before, because she could feel that she wasn’t wearing the long-sleeved blouse that she had left the house in. And it’s not like I could stop them, anyway, she thought. The mysterious person never moved close enough for Tress to see anything but a shock of unruly dark hair.
When whatever was to be done was done, the person left the room without a word. Tress heard the sighing of an old hinge before the click of the door latch. She wondered why tears were so far from her mind at this moment. Wouldn’t a normal person be in a near-constant state of terror?
The tears came as if called. This time not merely a single track per side; this time a measurable volume of tears flowed for minutes on end before she fell asleep again.
This time, voices. She could hear them murmuring in the hallway outside her room. Tress wished desperately that they would open the door so she could hear, even if they were only going to continue to ignore her.
Her wish was answered. She welcomed the sound of the door hinge because it meant company. It meant possibilities.
It meant an injection in the IV in her right arm that she hadn’t been able to feel. As her eyes began to feel heavy, she heard the first voice in her room.
“Don’t worry about cleaning her up after. He’ll just put her in the incinerator with the rest of the biohazard. We’ll find another one; maybe they’ll work out better.”