Authors: Sarah Swan
Vlad must have heard me coming up, because right as I climbed up the final step, he turned around to look back. The entire upper cabin smelled like smoke, and I saw now that it was because he had a thick cigar clenched between his teeth.
“Ahh, the little girl decide to come up. Yes?” he asked in a way I thought might be friendly, for him. “Well, come on here and look outside. Yer sure to get a better view than fightin’ the fog down below.”
I followed his gaze out through the main window in front of him, and was surprised to see the rays of the sun showing through the cloud of mist. While it didn’t mean that visibility was any better than it was on the lower level, seeing the sun’s rays made the whole ship feel slightly less depressing.
“I was just wondering,” I began, “how long the trip to Traven Island is going to take?”
“Ah, feeling a little seasick, are we?” Vlad asked with a mocking edge to his voice.
“No!” I defended. “I feel fine. I just wanted to know how far away the island is from mainland, that’s all.”
“Oh, well if that’s all ye want…” Vlad looked back at me and raised an eyebrow, and, when he saw that I didn’t shift, continued on, “…I tell you the trip’ll take no more than another two hour.”
?” I exclaimed, feeling completely incredulous. From what I had seen on the maps, the island was definitely closer to shore than
“How can it take so long? There’s no way it should take that long! The island’s only a few miles from the coast!”
“Ah, in a straight path, maybe,” Vlad answered ominously, “but these be rocky waters. And in this fog, there be no telling exactly where we is. Best be careful, that’s how I like to steer. We be takin’ the long way around.”
“The long way?”
“Aye. Around the rocks, away from the shallow sea. You want to get there in one piece, don’t ye?”
“Then the long way’s all ye can expect from me. I promis’d ‘em I’d get ye there in one piece, and that’s what I intend t’do.” He nodded triumphantly to himself. “Truth be told, there ain’t nobody who should be sailin’ out in this fog. There’s no telling where you be, even with the most sophisticated equipment.” He tapped the screen of the radar with one finger, and drew another puff from his cigarette. “This thing be all but useless to me right now. It doesn’t tell where the dangerous zones are. Not at all. Right now, the only way to steer is t’follow yer instinct.”
I gulped. “Your
?” That definitely wasn’t the most reassuring thing he could have said. “You mean, the way you’re steering the boat right now, is just based on your—”
“My instinct.” Vlad nodded at me. “That be the only way to get you there on time, but to do it we gotta take the long way around. So that’s what it’ll be.”
“Well… I should probably get going then,” I said, feeling quite unnerved by what I’d just been told. “I wouldn’t want to distract you from your work.”
“Nonsense!” Vlad interjected. “It’s good fer me t’have some company up here.” He smiled stupidly at me. Just at that moment an enormous wave crashed into the side of the boat. The whole cabin lurched violently to one side, and I cried out as I was flung into the air. Desperately, I tried to shield myself from the oncoming impact. But I was moving too fast. My head hit the edge of something, and I blacked out.
I was lying somewhere hard. The surface was absolutely frigid, and the cold seeped through my jeans and jacket like they weren’t even there. I tried to open my eyes, but the light that rushed in sent piercing pain across my temples. I groaned. My head hurt, and my body felt as if it had thawed after spending half a century cryogenically frozen.
“She’s up!” someone whispered excitedly to my left. I heard the shuffling of feet, and a door open and close, as the person left. The draft that came through the doorway in that brief moment chilled me even more.
Where am I?
Getting an orientation on things was difficult, especially when all my senses were being overloaded like one of those science-fair toothpick buildings straining under too much weight. Just an ounce more, and the whole thing would collapse. That’s kind of how I felt. Any more stimulation, and I would fade back into the abyss of darkness from which I just emerged. I took a slow, deep breath.
Surprisingly, the salty air I had been expecting was gone. In its place was a very flat, very sterile smell. I was somewhere else, then… somewhere inside. Away from the coast.
I tried to open my eyes again under the bright overhead lights. This time – being prepared for the shock of the pain – I was surprised when there
any. The piercing that shot across my skull the last time, had vanished. I smiled laconically. At least that was an improvement.
It still took a few moments for my eyes to focus on the surroundings. The first thing I saw was the ceiling overhead. And, surprisingly, there was no spotlight shining down on me – as I had believed the first time I had opened my eyes. The room was quite dim. A single floor lamp standing in the corner provided the only illumination. I wondered how badly I had been concussed to have experienced such hypersensitivity when I first awoke.
Twisting my head from side to side, I saw that I was in a small, tightly crammed room. To my left, less than four feet away, was a short row of three hard plastic seats which ended at the doorway. To my right, less than a foot away, was a wall with a single window carved into it. The drapes were wide open, and it was pitch black outside. From where I lay, I could see the reflection of my legs in the dark glass. Remarkably, they were covered with a thick blanket. Despite the weight of the cloth, it felt like there was nothing there. My body was
. Apparently, no amount of layers could alleviate that discomfort.
The door beside the row of chairs swung open, and a bright flood of light from outside shone in on me. I squinted and turned away instinctively. I heard somebody come in.
“Miss Bachman?” a strong voice asked. “My name is Doctor John Frame. I have been watching over your condition since you arrived.”
I moved my arms to cover my ears – He was speaking so loudly! – but stopped halfway. There was something about his voice that caught my attention. After taking a second to process it, I realized that he was
– which meant he was likely well aware of my sensitivity to sound. But there was more to it than that. His voice was smooth, calming… therapeutic, even. I turned my head to look over at him – and had to forcibly suppress a gasp.
The doctor was
. Not young like early-forties or mid-thirties, but young like fresh-out-of-med-school young. And he was also absolutely handsome. His straight, black hair lay haphazardly on his head as if he hadn’t had the time to tame it this morning. Dark, heavy-set eyes of indistinguishable color gave him the look of someone very trustworthy. In them was a wisdom that belied his youth. His jaw wasn’t particularly heavy or deep-set, as is usually the case with very handsome men, but rather somewhat delicate. A light brush of stubble on his cheeks and chin made his face more rugged. His mouth sat squared perfectly under an elegant nose.
“Miss Bachman?” he asked hesitantly. “Are you alright?”
“Ah… it’s the light,” I stumbled, trying vainly to cover up the fact that I had been gaping at him. “It hurt my head a bit. I’m not used to it.”
Doctor Frame smiled, and gently closed the door. I felt my heartbeat increase. It was now just me and him in the small room.
“Is that better?” he asked softly. “Should I turn down the lamp?”
“No, that’s fine.”
“Good, then. How are you feeling?”
“I’m… alright,” I said, not wanting to lie to the doctor but not willing to alarm him, either. “My head kind of hurts, and light… and any noise… makes it all worse.”
“Hmm,” Doctor Frame intoned, taking a step closer to my bed. “Well, you did suffer quite a severe concussion. Those symptoms are to be expected.”
“Severe? How bad is it?”
“Nothing that you won’t recover from in the next few days, I don’t think. But we have to keep you in the clinic until then.”
“Is that where I am? I thought this was a hospital.”
To my surprise, the doctor laughed. I was taken aback, at first, but then realized that he was laughing gregariously, rather than derisively. “No, we don’t have any hospitals on the island. The closest one is back on the mainland.” He smiled reassuringly at me. “But don’t worry. I’ve seen to it that you’ve gotten all the proper care here.”
“Wait a minute,” I said slowly, trying to think back to what happened. My last memories were of saying goodbye to my parents by the car. There was nothing after that. I wasn’t even quite sure
it was I said goodbye. “You said we’re on an island?”
Doctor Frame nodded. “That’s right. Traven Island.”
A flood of memories rushed back to me. I had said goodbye to my parents near the ferry dock, when we found out they couldn’t come with me to my new school. And the ferry I had boarded in the deep fog was little more than a boat, captained by a small, not particularly competent looking man. Then there was a storm, and a wave crashed into the side of the boat, at which point I slammed my head…
“I’m at school!” I exclaimed, and tried to push myself up. For some reason, though, my body didn’t want to cooperate. All my limbs felt
, as if I had just run a twenty-four-hour marathon. And I was still cold. My effort to sit up in bed amounted to little more than some weak squirming. It was pitiful.
I felt warmth on my hand, and looked to see that the doctor had placed his hand reassuringly over mine. My heart skipped a beat. “Yes, you’re at school,” he reassured me. “I need you to relax. The injuries you suffered weren’t at all minor, and you’ll need to rest to recover your strength.” He withdrew his hand, and I felt the momentary pang of loss.
“Do my parents know what happened?” I asked. I would have expected them to be here in this little room if they did.
“Oh. Well, that’s a very empowering policy.”
“Would you like me to get one of the staff members to reach out to them?”
“Uhm… no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” They should both be driving home, and I didn’t want to worry them unnecessarily. Although, that rose another question… “How long have I been here?” It felt like it could have been days – weeks, even. And that would have meant that I’d already missed the start of the school year. This, in turn, meant that I would be far behind everybody else in terms of making friends and getting acquainted with the place. It would be terrifying trying to break into already-formed social circles, especially when most of the other kids (I assumed) had been going here since freshman year.
Doctor Frame smiled at me. “Just overnight. Don’t worry. You haven’t missed anything. I know how nerve-wracking it is coming to any new environment, not to mention a new high school. But you can relax knowing that most of the other students aren’t even on campus yet.”
“Not for another four or five days.” He raked a hand through his hair, maybe in an effort to smooth it, but all it did was add to the mess. For some reason, I found this a very appealing gesture. “Which means you have plenty of time to rest and recover. Opening days here are pretty hectic. You’ll want to be at your best when they roll around.”
“Opening days?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“A bunch of ceremonies and events put together by the administration here to welcome all the new students. It’s tailored for freshmen, mostly, but everybody participates. It’s a good way for you to get to know your classmates and everybody else you’ll be spending your time with at the school.”
“Sounds exciting,” I said drily. In my experience, anything put together by
with a connection to administration ended up being completely moronic and lame.
“You sound less than impressed,” the doctor quickly added with an equal amount of sarcasm. “Trust me, it’s not that bad. I’d know. They were doing the same thing when I was a student here.”
went here?” I asked disbelievingly.
“Yeah, why not?” he laughed. “The school’s been around for a long time, and it’s not like I’m
“…can’t picture me going to high school?”
“Well, I was a lot different back then anyway. You would have never recognized me. I had thick, round glasses covering half my face.” He connected the forefinger and thumb on both hands in a circle and raised them create make-shift goggles on his eyes. He looked so goofy doing it I couldn’t help but laugh. “And I had hair down to my shoulders that I hadn’t cut for years. In fact, by the time I graduated, I don’t think it was much shorter than yours. And there was this one video game I was absolutely obsessed with…
I think it was. Ever hear of it? Everybody called me ‘Diablo Boy’ because all I would do was play that game.” I frowned in disbelief, but he kept going. “I’d spend ten, maybe twelve hours every day in front of the computer just playing that one silly game.” He smile to himself at the memory. “I never once thought I’d end up back here, much less as a
, back then.”