World of Radiation

Trauma

Continued from ‘Rescuer

Warmth envelops me. It curls around me and holds me, offering its security and comfort. Yet, the pain of my shoulder, my leg, my back, and my throat burn despite the blanket. They pierce through the veil of bliss. They draw me back to consciousness where I lay on the ground in a room, lighted with a faint glow.

I blink the blur from my eyes and the world materializes before me. It takes shape. It comes to life with the round shapes of sleeping bodies next to me. On either side of me they lay, their bodies being the warmth I felt that was so comforting, and yet I don’t feel nearly as secure knowing where the warmth comes from.

Moving as slow as possible, I draw myself out from under the blanket. I take care not to stir the two sleepers on either side of me as I peel away from them. Despite the ache in my legs, I stand. They shake beneath me, threatening to topple me back to the ground, but I force them to obey.

Tip-toeing through the mass of bodies, I move for the exit. A door stands in one wall. It calls to me, offering its escape from this strange reality I’ve found myself in.

A snore pierces through the quiet air.

I freeze. My heart pounds in my chest as I remain motionless, waiting for the sound to grow into an alarm, to give away my escape, but it doesn’t. The room dies back to the soft sighs of sleepers.

With my heart still beating wildly in my chest, I cross the last few feet of the room and reach for the door. My hand wraps around the handle. I twist the knob and ease the door towards myself.

A hand clasps around my wrist.

I gasp. My heart kicks into overdrive and I meet the almond eyes of the girl who rescued me.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Her voice is calm, unthreatening, almost caring.

“You can’t-” My voice shakes. I take a couple breaths and try again. “You can’t keep me here.”

Her expression drops, holding just a hint of sadness. “You’re right and we have no intention to do so.”

I hold her gaze a moment, trying to read if she’s telling the truth. After all, if she weren’t going to keep me here, why would she stop me from leaving?

“But this door won’t offer you the freedom you’re looking for.”

My brows furrow as confusion wraps around me. “What do you mean?”

Her chest expands and deflates as she breathes and pries my hand from the door. She returns it to me and twists the door knob herself. With one hand out in front of me, she opens the door.

Beyond the open door is nothing. Nothing but air, at least.

I lean forward, craning to look out and down.

Rubble piles up below. A mountain of stone, metal, and other remnants of what used to be the other side of the door. A small mountain, to be sure. At least three stories below us and my heart seizes at the reminder that I almost stepped through the doorway.

The girl closes it once more, releasing an agonized creak into the small room.

A few of the girls grumble and turn in their sleep, but no one wakes, no one joins us.

“I’m glad you’re awake,” the girl with the amber eyes tells me, drawing my attention back to her.

“Awake,” I repeat, still trying to understand what she means by that.

She tips her head sideways. Her silky black hair tumbles in front of her shoulder, hanging like a perfect waterfall. “Yeah. We fished you out of the river last night. Don’t you remember?”

“The river…” My throat clenches at the memory of inhaling water. My arms burn at the reminder of struggling for the surface. My eyes sting with the memory of mud. “I fell into the river.”

“Yeah.” She leans towards me as if trying to catch my eye. “How’d you end up in the river?”

Tears pool in my eyes as I recall the man clutching me, his knife ready to bleed my life from my body.

A hand touches my injured arm. “Oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

I jerk away from her, shaking my head. “Don’t touch me!” I pinch my eyes closed. My hands curl into my hair as the memory floods my senses, the struggle quickens my heart. My breathing picks up, heaving my chest with panicked, shallow breaths. “Don’t touch me!”

“It’s okay,” the girl coos. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be okay.” She touches my arm.

“No!” I scream, jolting back from her. Tears stream down my cheeks, blurring my vision, as I trip over one of the girls.

“Hey!” She grumbles, her voice thick with sleep. She shoves me in the arm.

“Stop!” I screech, my voice hoarse, my throat sore. I crawl away from her.

“What the hell’s going on?” Someone demands.

I scramble across the ground, the dim room a myriad of shapes and dull colors. “I have to get out,” I murmur, my damaged hands sliding across the floor. “I have to get away.” Panic clutches my heart, fogging my thoughts.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I think she’s suffered some trauma,” the familiar voice of the amber-eyed girl explains.

“Trauma?”

“What kind of trauma?”

“Is she going to be okay?”

I bump into a wall. My fingers slide along the smooth surface, searching for a door, a window, an exit, anything! “Leave me alone,” I mumble, my voice shaking and weak.

A commanding voice cuts through all of them. “Back away! All of you!”

A hush falls over the voices, leaving me in the deafening thudding of my blood in my ears. The sudden quiet scares me. What happened to everyone? I whip around, slamming my back to the wall while sitting on the ground.

Dozens of confused and scared faces stare back at me, one face closer than the others. She crouches down in front of me. On my level, she meets my eyes with a sense of calm security, of strength.

“No one is going to hurt you.” She rests her arms on her legs and holds her palms open to me. “We are here to help you. You’re safe here. We won’t touch you.”

“Unless she wants us a to,” a girl responds in a coy way.

The girl in command, snaps her head around and barks “hush.”

No one counters her, allowing her to turn back to me. “How about we get you some fresh air?”

Next Installment: Pack Mentality

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