Cover by A. R. Shellnut
This chapter was a real chore to edit, but I like it. I’m sure it still needs more work, but I’m pretty happy with it as a second draft. Comments, thoughts, and suggestions are welcome as always.
My Patrons continue to be an awesome bunch of people. They’re a great source of motivation and encouragement. You guys rock!
The hospital room felt a bit chilly. Most rooms felt chilly to her when she stayed still for too long. This time she could not even guess how long she had been still.
Sometimes she remained aware long enough to feel the passage of time, but at other times she could just barely tell she was no longer asleep. Most of the time she just slept. At least, it felt like most of the time. Her sense of time had fallen by the wayside long before she had been admitted to the hospital. Now she had to contend with florescent lights turning on at all hours of the day and night as doctors and nurses checked on her and she had no chance at all to see the sun to reset her internal clock.
She doubted her internal clock had the energy to care these days, and as much as she hated having no sense of time she had other worries more urgently demanding her attention. At the moment she could not even muster the strength to open her eyes. Either she was completely paralyzed for some reason that made absolutely no sense to her, or someone placed tape on her eyelids to keep her from staring at nothing. She wondered which of her theories was worse, but exhaustion made it difficult for her to decide on one.
Apathy forced her to wait for something to happen around her or for sleep to drag her back under. In the mean time she had the sounds of monitoring machines to keep her company. She did not know exactly what the machinery was monitoring, but being monitored at all seemed to her to be bad news. The annoying beep, beep of a heart monitor was not present, but there was still the undeniable hum of running machinery and a feeling deep in her gut telling her she was being watched. If she ever had the chance she would have to find out what they were looking for while she was stuck laying here.
Rina waited. She expected to fall back to sleep quickly and with relative ease since she had done little else for more than a week, but this time nothing happened. She waited and sleep eluded her for the first time in weeks. She did not know if she should be concerned about this sudden change or if she should be overjoyed that she could now stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time.
She decided this would be fantastic news if she did not feel trapped in place and incapable of changing this fact. Like her eyelids, the rest of her body seemed to ignore any and all signals from her brain. She might be paralyzed from head to toe, or the doctors might have given her something to keep her from moving. Neither option made any sense to her. She hoped that her doctors were not cruel or negligent enough to leave her unable to move while she could wake up at any time.
She was stuck, unmoving and unseeing, with nothing but the sound of the machinery in the room to keep her company or provide her with entertainment. Once she was able to move and speak again she needed to tell someone about this. Having unmeasurable amounts of time to think about these unusual forms of torture and then having no way to vent her frustration made her want to be a little more harsh. Without a way to distract herself from her own helplessness, her negative emotions started to fester and make her need to express herself in some way even more dire.
She now understood that she needed to be here, even if she did not particularly like her current circumstances. She managed to fail at caring for herself even on the most basic level and now she had to live with the consequences. Food and water dropped low on her priority list as the need to sleep took over everything. The days blurred together in her mind so she had no idea when she last ate a bite of food or had a sip of water. At this point she needed some help to get back on track. Now she just wanted to get back to moving around on her own so she would not need the help.
Someone came into the room. Rina forced her thoughts to quiet down a bit so she could listen to what was going on around her. Without her eyesight she needed to listen for clues regarding her health status. Hearing anything of value seemed unlikely. As far as this person thought she was still sleeping and they would not talk have any reason to talk. Focusing on her sense of hearing and nothing else made her want to jump up and start pacing around the room, but of course she could not move at all to help herself cope.
There was a rustling of paper. The doctor, nurse, or perhaps even orderly was reading something. She decided she would just assume it was a nurse for the sake of her own sanity — or what remained of her sanity at this point. Doctors usually did not bother to come around unless there was someone waiting for a diagnosis to or someone needed to be cut open or sewed up. With no cutting or sewing happening while she was stuck like this, no doctor would pay her a visit until someone knew she was awake.
The person sighed heavily. Rina felt the nurse leaning over her. She could not help imagining she was being stared at by this person. At the moment being watched felt like a comfort. She found it to be a bit strange to feel comforted by being watched when normally this would bother her. She hoped their eyes were not unkind. She hated how her inability to interact with her surroundings changed her perception of everything including herself.
“Rina?” The voice of the nurse was deep and masculine, not at all what she envisioned of the nurse in her mind’s eye.
She tried to take the abrupt change in her mental landscape in stride. The change happened rapidly with so little outside stimulation to distract her from the process. She tried to do something, anything to prove that she heard him.
“I can tell from the read out that you’re awake right now. Can you give me a sign that you can hear me?”
She tried. She tried to speak. She tried to lift her hand. She tried to twitch anything and everything, but she had no luck. Extra effort did not change the fact that she was stuck in this pathetic, unmoving state. Now she struggled to think of a way to prove that the read out was correct, but nothing could break her out of this state of isolation.
She never wanted to speak to someone so badly in her life.
When she regained her senses Yuzuki had no idea how much time had passed between the moment everything went black and now. She also had no idea how she and her father made it to the bottom of the tree. Time has obviously passed between the two moments, but her mind melded the two together seamlessly. She wondered if she actually blacked out for the entirety of the lost time or if she just rejected reality right out of her memory. Gradually she pulled herself back into awareness. She could see and hear again long before she allowed herself to feel anything.
Takeshi grabbed her by her upper arm and started dragging her away from the tree. She wanted to protest, but her footfalls brought throbbing pain into her cheek and her jaw. She then remembered she wanted to avoid speaking. Arguing with her father could only make him more angry, and he might manage to confuse her with his twisted logic.
What was going to happen to her? She tried to stay strong. Making and executing an escape plan required all the strength she could muster.
Her arm hurt where his fingers held her bicep in a bruising vice-grip. The syncopated throbbing from her arm and her jaw made her dizzy and her legs wobbled. She struggled to think of anything other than the pain. The temptation to just shut down grew greater with every footfall.
Maybe she needed to shut down. She lacked the strength to overpower him. Outsmarting him would not be possible if she continued to just give him the advantage. The playing field needed to be leveled, and she had a plan to wear away at his advantage.
She went limp. Her legs stopped moving and she sagged away from him. This felt childish even to her, but she was his child so perhaps she just act the part to ruin his plans. She watched him carefully to gauge his reaction and was pleased to notice his face start to flush with frustration. Refusing to cooperate seemed to be enough to start chipping away at his plans.
He let go of her arm and she tumbled to the ground before she could catch herself. She looked up at him through her hair while he seethed.
“What do you think you are doing?” he raged.
She looked up at him with wide, innocent eyes as though she could not possibly fathom what he was talking about. She dared not open her mouth now and ruin everything.
“Get up,” he demanded.
She did not budge. Her body remained limp and useless. His temper flared and she felt the control of the situation slipping out of his grasp. Soon she could snatch it away from him.
His voice rose in volume along with his temper. “Get up!”
She continued to play the part of a lifeless, unheeding, limp creature. He played right into her hands. She took care to keep her expression blank.
“Stupid bitch,” he grumbled as he kicked her in the ribs.
She tried not to flinch, but failed miserably. Her breath stopped for a moment and sparks jumped before her eyes. Her side hurt terribly and she did not dare to take in a breath for a moment until the pain from her lungs craving oxygen got the better of her.
His anger was in control now. That part of her plan had worked out just fine, but the new pain in her side made her wonder if her plan had ever been all that great. She could only handle so much physical abuse and her tolerance for pain was not high enough for her just be able to shrug off blows from someone so much larger and stronger than her.
With no other options jumping out at her she needed to continue on this course. Without another plan changing course meant giving up, and she did not want to think about what giving up would mean for her both physically and mentally. As bad as things might seem at the moment she had to imagine she would end up suffering far more in the long run by surrendering.
For now she would continue to play the part of a dumb and limp piece of dead weight for him to lose his temper over and hopefully he would decide she was not worth the trouble. She would just have to find a way to stay strong at the same time. Her energy would need to remain conserved while he drained his away.
Her only hope might be in outlasting him, or perhaps just frustrating him to the point that he could not be bothered to carry on with his plan to steal her away from her home any longer. She had to keep these hopes alive in her heart or she knew she would end up falling into despair and giving up on her only chance. She tried to just ignore the possibility of her father getting fed up enough to finally kill her.
He swore a few more times, but did not kick her again. Then he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. She hung there just as limp as before. She was not going to do anything to make this easier or more comfortable for either of them. She could endure it and she could only hope that he would decide to stop wasting his time.
The way she was hanging as Takeshi walked made her feel as though all of her blood was rushing to her head and throbbing in her aching jaw and cheekbone. Her breathing came a little easier now as she was fortunate enough not be be resting her weight on her sore ribs.
Being carried this way was a bit disorienting. She tried not to let it bother her, but that was easier said than done. She needed a new plan, and fast. Hauling her around like this might irritate him for a while but eventually he would grow accustomed to it and she would be back at square one in terms of making him make mistakes through anger. All the while she was moving further and further away from her home and into unknown territory.
She allowed herself to zone out for a bit to see if she would get any bright ideas that were being blocked out by the pressure to think of something quickly. After a few minutes of trying to thinking with her eyes closed she decided it might be worthwhile to take in her surrounding just in case something opportune might happen to pass by.
As much as she tried to keep her mind open to any possibilities that might just appear to her, she found herself panic twisted in her gut over and over again. She found herself stuck in the same damaged logic loop, merely reminding herself that she really needed to think of something out of the ordinary to save herself from her doom. This needed to stop. Getting caught in her worries and insecurities had led her into trouble before. She never had a chance to be clever because she always locked up under pressure. Frightened and unable to take decisive action, she realized she made herself an easy target for her father’s dark intentions. She never outgrew her paralyzing fear of somehow thinking of the wrong thoughts and now she was paying a dire price.
She had to do something, but she had to think of it first. She stared down at the ground through her tangled hair. They were somewhere deep in the forest now. The ground was cool, shady and covered in brown fallen leaves and needles. Nothing she saw gave her a spark of inspiration.
So far Takeshi seemed to accept that he would have to carry her, but if she moved too much he would know she was not in any sort of catatonic state and he might have other ideas in mind for her then. She preferred not to take any more of a beating today, so she tried to hide her ability to even form a plot from him.
While doing little more than feeling sorry for herself she spotted her new plan. He had a knife on his belt. She failed to notice it before now as she had not considered looking for weapons because she felt certain she could not win in a physical fight.
She was a fool to have missed something right before her eyes. Obviously the assessment of her not being a very clever child were not completely unfounded. With all the mistakes she made today she could hardly believe she even survived this long.
She needed that knife. More than that she needed to get her hands on that knife without alerting Takeshi to the fact that she now possessed a weapon.
With the basis for a plan finally in mind she was able to start thinking clearly again. The helpless, despairing sort of panic found itself eclipsed with another fretful, yet productive variety. The idea she forming in her mind was incredibly risky. Before now she had tried to play it safe, which admittedly still caused her to end up with a swollen face and possibly a few cracked ribs. Now she was taking a serious risk with her plan to actually threaten him with physical harm. She would need to move quickly and decisively, and do more than merely threaten to harm him if she wanted to escape a near certainty of having him snap her like a twig.
It was such a little knife. He might not even notice if it was gone. Maybe she could just slip it out and hide it in her sleeve until she saw a chance to use it.
Then again, it was such a little knife. She might still be in a lot of trouble even with the knife counting in her favor.
She tried to stop herself from being a coward. Now she needed courage. Almost as soon as she had resolved to do something utterly, almost stupidly brave she decided she was being foolish and ended up talking herself out of it. That could not happen this time, she resolved. There was far too much on the line to be meek, mild, and hesitant.
Her resolve needed to be hardened, and quickly. She had an opportunity presented to her and it would not do her any good to lose it without at least making an attempt.
The only way she could do this without being noticed was to move with great delicacy. She moved slowly at first so he would not notice her arm shift from its long held position. Her eyes never left the knife. Feeling around for it would be a dead give away so she needed to have a clear view of her target, and hope that her hand-eye coordination would not fail her while she was being jostled by his gait. As her hand drew closer her heart rate picked up to the point that she heard blood rushing in her ears. To make matters even worse her jaw and ribs decided to join in with her heart and start pounding away until she could barely think over the sickening sensation of her own heart beating.
Finally, after what felt like an intense eternity, her fingertips brushed against the handle of the knife. This was it. Just a little bit further and she had a grip on the handle.
Slowly, so very slowly, she slid the knife from his belt and tucked it within her sleeve. The advantage finally belonged to her, and now she needed to use it.
The longer she waited the further she was carried from home and the less the advantage actually helped her. She need to know where to run if she found the chance.
She took all of the strength she had left in her body and wound it up into a coil inside of her. Then she unleashed all of that energy as a flailing, kicking tantrum that would make any toddler proud. She managed to put enough force behind this sudden fit to actually throw herself off of his person and onto the ground.
Somehow she landed without hurting her ribs any further and quickly scrambled to her feet. Her first instinct was to just turn and run, but she knew he would catch her in next to no time at all.
For a moment they stared at each other. Looking into his eyes made her feel uneasy. That stare of his scared her enough that she found that the only thing she could possibly do was turn and run.
So she did.
She ran and did not even care if she was running towards her home or not. She did not care that a second ago she had resolved to stand and fight because running would not work. She could not stand to be under his dark gaze for any longer. Her heart seemed to be pounding in her ears in rhythm with her footfalls. Even if she could not see or hear him she still felt him chasing after her. She ran as fast as she could with her hand still tightly gripping the handle of the knife, knowing full well that she would be caught again at any second.
He grabbed her and she pulled away with all her might. Her sleeve tore but she managed to spin away from him.
Now she took the opportunity to brandish the knife at him. She hoped he took the threat seriously because she felt deep down in her bones that she would cut him hard and deep if he gave her half a chance.
He seemed to know it too as he did not immediately grab for her again.
“Stay away from me,” she squeaked out.
She only spoke at all with great effort. She wanted to keep her voice from betraying her nerves and failed badly. Somehow she managed to keep herself from shaking. She always shook like a leaf over the smallest confrontations. Now she was up against insurmountable odds and she felt eerily calm.
“All I want is to be left alone, so go away and I won’t have to hurt you,” she said with more confidence.
He laughed in her face.
“You? Hurt me?”
He loomed over her and she felt her confidence shrinking as his shadow grew.
“You couldn’t touch me in a thousand years.”
She did not take her eyes off of him for a second, but he still managed to grab her and take the knife out of her hand. He pressed it against her throat and held her arm twisted behind her back.
“Now you aren’t going to pull any more stupid stunts, are you?” he whispered in her ear.
The world started to go fuzzy around the edges as her heart continued to beat out of control.