The Fourth of the Thirteenth Month (Part 1)

I stared at the wall opposite me, sterile white. It hurt my eyes. I tried to blink away the sleep. I must've been asleep for a while.

I shifted my weight on the bed. The flat mattress was not made for comfort. I pulled my knees up to my chest; hugging them. There wasn't anything else in the room to look at. It was small, with a single bed taking up most of the space. The long wall opposing the bed had a single door; steel, with no window and the handle was locked. I knew it was, it was the first thing I tried.

My whole body ached slightly, and imprints of the blanket's folds marked my leg, indicating I had been asleep far too long. I wasn't sure where I was, but I didn't know where I was supposed to me. My head hurt more when I thought about it too much.

Tap, tap, tap. I froze. My stare focused on the door. The sound, although not loud, was distinct, and seemed to echo through whatever hallway lay beyond the door. Was it close? Far? My heartbeat mimicked it.

The sound continued. It was definitely getting closer. My heart picked up its pace, until it was twice as fast as the constant tapping. I changed positions again, turning to lean my back against the wall, so I could stare at the door without twisting my neck. I kept my legs to my chest, almost like a shield.

The door swung open soundlessly. A man stood in the doorway. He was dressed in a purple tailcoat with a clashing red tie and held a walking stick. My shoulders tensed and my eyes focused on the walking stick, the source of the tapping. Something not right. The walking stick seemed almost pointless, he appeared to stand fine without it.

My eyes travelled up from his walking stick to his face. It was impossible to tell his age, his face was clean of any wrinkles or blemishes, yet he had grey hair that shone silver when the harsh ceiling light reflected off it just right. Most jarring, however, was the pointed ears poking through his shoulder-length wavy hair.

"Don't stress little one. As soon as we know you're well, you can join the others for breakfast, and someone will show you your room." His voice swept over me, like a warm summer wind, soothing and inviting in such a cold, bare room. He took the two steps to the bed and used his thumb and forefinger to lift my chin to his face.

"Little one," he tutted. "Look at me." That warm summer wind comforted me. I could almost hear buzzing bees and taste the sweetness of honey and mangoes. The taste of summer. It was so close, but so far. An aftertaste that was fast fading. How could I resist?

My eyes focussed on his, and my breath caught. I didn't realise until that moment that I was avoiding his eyes. Why? They were beautiful. A dazzling silver. My racing heart had calmed, and my muscles relaxed. Any fear I had left on that summer wind, but a fog settled in my mind. Thinking was difficult. Questions I had seemed to take effort to grab onto, and when I was close, they disappeared, turning to smoke, and joining the fog.

"Good. Now listen to Yvette. Follow her. Obey here." He let go of my chin, and I nodded. Of course, I would listen to her. Why wouldn't I?

The man nodded, satisfied, and disappeared out the door. The tap of his walking stick fading with each second. At his leave, a woman that lingered next to the door stepped forward. She was plain, unnoticeable. I hadn't even realised she was there until the man left. She wore a tuxedo and held a tablet. The same pointed ears poked through medium length brown hair.

Her face was hard to focus on. The features were delicate, but her eyes were sharp. She spoke, but I couldn't quite process it. I narrowed my eyes, trying to focus, but the room was cold again. Only the fog kept me warm, and it didn't seem as thick anymore. I wanted to lie down and sleep, to pull the blanket up to my chin.

"I need your hand." Her voice sliced through the warm fog in my mind. I blinked a few times and licked my lips. They were cracked and stung at the sudden moisture.

I held out my right hand and brushed it away, grabbing for my left. A thin black band wrapped around my wrist, appearing almost moulded to my wrist. A small grey dot blinked against the black band. She tapped it with a card, and the card lit up with my face. My eyes widened.

The lady hummed, "you have blurry vision?"

I nodded, "I'm short sighted."

She sighed, and tapped the card against the wristband again, and the dot turned red. She mumbled, sounding annoyed, and typed something onto her tablet. "Take this, Mazikeen." She handed me the holographic card, and my face disappeared, turning the card to plain black. "Dr Salani will need to correct your eyesight before I take you to breakfast. Wait here."

I stared at her. My brain took a while to process her words.

"Do you understand me? Wait here. The doctor-"

"My name isn't Mazikeen." I cut her off. The words tumbling out of my mouth with barely a thought.

"It is now. Wait here. I'll be back soon." Yvette turned and left, leaving the door halfway open.

I stood up after she left, stretching my arms to the ceiling. I felt my left elbow give a satisfying crack. The took a tentative step towards the open door. Something deep inside me was tempting me forward. I have to obey Yvette. The fog resurged. I shook my head, and the fog grew thicker. Each time I pushed against it; each time I thought I was nearly rid of it, I was forced to slip back under.

Another woman entered the room, and I stumbled back a step. The back of my legs hitting the cool metal frame of the bed. She stalled in the doorway; an eyebrow raised. After a moment's pause, she shut the door behind her.

She wore a white lab coat and looked eerily similar to the first woman; plain and delicate features, pointed ears and straight hair. Her hair was black though, Yvette had brown hair. I think. I couldn't quite remember.

I sat on the bed, my feet not quite able to sit flat on the floor; only my toes reached. She stood directly in front of me, and silently held out her hand. My card. I handed it over. I knew that's what she wanted. She tapped it against my wristband, returning the dot to its original grey colour.

She handed me a cup with liquid in it. I didn't remember seeing her carrying it in. I took it without questioning her and downed it in one gulp. The fog in my mind lifted.

She tilted her head, looking at me critically, "are you feeling better now?"

I blinked a few times. Had she been talking the entire time, telling me what to do, and I just hadn't noticed? "Yeah, much better," I nodded. Everything focused in. My senses came back to life. A shiver travelled up my spine. Without the fog I was more aware of the cold in the air. My index finger ran up and down the ridges of the plastic cup.

The woman's face became more distinguished, with almond eyes, a button nose and splatter of light freckles contrasting against tanned skin. I pursed my lips, her skin was strange. It had an almost green tinge to it. I squinted my eyes, am I imagining it? Maybe the light is just making it look weird.

"Where am I? Who are you? What am I doing here? Is this a hospital? Was I hurt?" The questions fell out of my mouth in a jumble, now that they weren't inhibited by the strange fog.

The woman sighed, "you're definitely feeling better." She reached out and gripped my chin, holding it still. Her other hand pulled a small torch from her lab coat pocket, and she shone it into my eyes. I flinched at the light, but it was over and she released me before I could protest. The torch went back into her pocket, and she pulled out a small pill bottle. She shook out two small pink circular pills. She handed them to me, and replaced the cup in my hands with another filled with water. Wait, where did THIS cup come from?

I eyed the pills in my hand, "What are these?"

"Pills. They'll fix your eyesight." Her eyes narrowed.

I hesitated and my gut grew butterflies. I didn't like her stare; she was questioning me now. Did I ask one too many questions?

I swallowed the pills in one take.

Her stare didn't stop, but she seemed to relax her shoulders, "Remind Yvette you need to be dusted before she takes you to breakfast. One more mistake from her, and she'll probably get fired."

I nodded, but my stomach tensed. Dusted? The butterflies withered and died, sitting in the pit of my stomach as a ball of dread. The dust was bad idea. I wasn't sure what it was. The answer lay in a memory too far out of reach, but the thought of it riddled my body with anxious energy.

She tapped my card against my hand, and the grey circle flashed green. I took the card from her before she left. The screen was lit with my face, with writing across the bottom, 'Status: Dusted. Date: Fourth of the Thirteenth Month.'