Chapter 4:

AM I ABSOLUTELY FINE?

TOTALLY FINE.


"SALUTATIONS, #21!"Bookmark here

"SALUTATIONS, #5!" Bookmark here

My new friends were so nice!Bookmark here

Ever since LROP and KIP offered a bed at their biggest public shelter which hosted new friends, our conversations of encouragement never left my ears.Bookmark here

The cool winds of winter celebrated my arrival, along with the inevitable claps of hyperactive friends joining me on this journey. The walls which signaled the warmth of an embrace guided me through confusion. The next thing I witnessed was a breathtaking sight of a large room filled with bunk beds already claimed by new friends of all colors and ages.Bookmark here

I found my bed, which had a large label of my number sticking out like a sore thumb. Obviously, this attracted mingling curiosity, so I was greeted instantly with the harmonic voices of adolescents and young adults. Bookmark here

The cool winds blended with the angelic praises of the people.Bookmark here

It was peaceful.Bookmark here

And everyone was beautiful for being their best selves. Bookmark here

I later learned the friend sleeping on the bed above mine was #5. She was a little younger than me, with an attitude meant to spite others, and yet a soft heart was all I dug out after an hour's worth of rapport. She had the most adorable pigtails, which made everyone assume her age incorrectly. Bookmark here

Asides from a rather pessimistic initial first impression, the hours of chitchat paid off when she revealed how she found this city. Bookmark here

"IF YOU DON'T MIND ME ASKING, #21- WITHOUT THE INTENTION TO OFFEND, AND OF COURSE IF IT DOES, PLEASE LET ME KNOW- HOW DID YOU FIND THIS CITY?"Bookmark here

Her shiny eyes mirrored mine. We both smiled.Bookmark here

"THANK YOU FOR ASKING, #5, I'M HAPPY TO ANSWER," I cocked my head and reminisced of the mysterious trail, "I SAW A TRAIL. IT WAS SNOWING WHEN I LEFT THE COTTAGE I WOKE UP IN AND I DIDN'T KNOW WHERE ELSE TO GO, Y'KNOW?"Bookmark here

"Oh my fucking God, that was what I-" Bookmark here

She abruptly paused and realized what she had said.Bookmark here

I gasped in horror. Bookmark here

And it didn't take long for the rest of the lingering crowd around us to follow suit. Bookmark here

For she had broken two very important rules. However, as much as I was concerned, it was understandable. After all, most of us haven't been fully rehabilitated or were taught the ways of our new home. Old habits linger.Bookmark here

That's why we are here. So we can be fixed and be happy.Bookmark here

I smiled. The rest of our new friends smiled.Bookmark here

We're very forgiving people. Bookmark here

Coincidentally, there was a guard standing near our doorway. He heard the commotion, bowed his head to excuse himself, and walked by all of our new friends to grab #5.Bookmark here

"H-hold on wait, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to curse or offend anyone religious!"Bookmark here

"IT'S OK, #5," I said in a posthaste as the officer's fingers wrapped around her wrist, "THIS IS REHABILITATION. THEY'RE ONLY GONNA DO WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU. I'M EXCITED THAT YOU'LL FIND HAPPINESS SOON!"Bookmark here

The cheers of our friends approved my message. It was clear that all of us were happy for her. Bookmark here

The officer's grip tightened around #5's wrist as he attempted to drag her away from the crowd. A feisty woman she was, with nails of a lion and screams of a warrior. That reminded me of my mother.Bookmark here

Hold on.Bookmark here

My eyes furrowed as the crowd blended with my surroundings and I began to feel weak.Bookmark here

My mother, a face beyond recognition seeped into my memories. The calls of desperation. The scene of her running in fear with a younger me through the dense forest before her efforts went in vain. The screams of a frightened child echoed. I witnessed LROP toss my mother onto the ground and force-fed the same pills #64 engulfed.Bookmark here

Then, I was back to the cheers of my roommates and the disappearance of #5. Bookmark here

"#21, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?" asked one of them, his set of glistening teeth greeting me.Bookmark here

"Y-yes, thank you for asking..." I smiled.Bookmark here

As the sun rose to kiss the petals of our remaining flowers clinging onto life, I forgot the number of times I had counted whenever its radiant warmth blessed our presence. A few days had gone by without our sunshine, replaced by the wrath of a light snowstorm that kept us inside the shelter, huddling with one another for comfort. Bookmark here

Everyone was beautiful.Bookmark here

I reminded myself as I watched gestures of kindness shared amongst the people.Bookmark here

The festivities had recently left us and new beginnings were ready to welcome our new ways of life.Bookmark here

I excused myself and yawned at the sight of my roommates clapping with compliments bouncing off of each other. With a flicker of my eyes, the lights were out and I was in bed.Bookmark here

Stress was an understatement. I heard #5's pleas for help. Bookmark here

And the more those traumatic screams merged with my mother's, the less I could remain asleep. The blankets trapped me from escaping this nightmare as I tossed and turned restlessly. Bookmark here

My eyes shot open from another vision of my younger self waking up in the same cottage.Bookmark here

Except it wasn't as damaged as what I remembered seeing a few weeks ago. Bookmark here

What is going on...Bookmark here

I stretched my legs and sat up, wincing at the muscle cramp I received in my right foot. For Dolly's sake, these types of inconvenient suffering were a nuisance. Bookmark here

My eyes finally adjusted to the darkness that engulfed our room. Snores of the unconscious and one of my roommates mumbling gibberish to himself even though his eyes were shut. Bookmark here

It's time to retrieve answers. Even if it meant I would be punished for wanting to know the truth behind these memories. My footsteps essentially glided across the room before reaching the door. Bookmark here

It wouldn't budge, much less the sound of a creak or rumble. It was completely locked from the outside, and I presumed there had to be a guard on standby. Bookmark here

I considered the vents, but presumedly those would cause unnecessary noise and wake everyone up.Bookmark here

But still, I didn't have other options. The snores only got louder. Someone then farted, its thundering noise and horrible stench that could've knocked me unconscious weren't damaging enough to jolt a person awake.Bookmark here

I suppose this was faith's way of convincing me it was worth the risk. Bookmark here

My eyes scanned for a vent that's closest to my bed. It was at a corner away from the majority of sleepers thankfully, so I grabbed my blankets quietly and tiptoed to its area.Bookmark here

After I set the blankets down, my hands felt the rough edges of the vent. I turned around to make sure no one was watching, then I opened the damn thing.Bookmark here

The fact that it was so easy for anyone to do this made me question why its accessibility wasn't stricter. Bookmark here

Of course, Karma decided to snitch the moment I had such thoughts. An alarm went off, scaring the living daylights out of everyone. A few of the girls screeched, a boy bumped his head on the bedframe, and someone else rolled off their bed with their blankets wrapping them into a burrito. Bookmark here

"OUTSIDE," six guards immediately barged in, "OUTSIDE! NOW! NOW! NOW!"Bookmark here

Confused sleepers with their worrisome expressions all stood behind one another as the guards walked them out.Bookmark here

Had I not reacted faster, I would've been caught with my hands covered in dirt. Thankfully, I booked and hid inside the closet behind everyone's luggage. Bookmark here

"IS THAT ALL OF THEM?"Bookmark here

"YES SIR, IT LOOKS LIKE NOBODY IS HIDING UNDER THE MATTRESS."Bookmark here

"NO ONE UNDER THE BEDS EITHER."Bookmark here

I held my breath when I heard one of the guards approach the closet. I could feel my hands sweating with anxiety as he opened the door. Bookmark here

Time paused.Bookmark here

"NO ONE IN THE CLOSET, SIR."Bookmark here

"THANK YOU FOR RESPONDING," replied the first guard. "MAY YOU PLEASE LOCK UP THE VENTS?"Bookmark here

"WILL DO," the guard turned away from the closet and sauntered to the vent as the rest of the group left the room. And then, it was quiet.Bookmark here

This was my only chance. Bookmark here

Eyeing a knife that greeted me from one of the unzipped luggage, my fingers gripped it as I cautiously stepped out of the closet.Bookmark here

The poor guard did not hear me.Bookmark here

Without hesitation, I struck him. My knuckles slammed onto the side of the man's head as he stumbled. Before he got the chance to turn around, my knife met his spine. Bookmark here

I made sure to give him another punch to ensure he remained unconscious. If I was going to get caught, I would not want it to be immediate.Bookmark here

Within seconds, I found myself crawling inside the vent covered with dust and cobwebs, introducing me to claustrophobia. I heard distant chants of other guards in various rooms trying to find the culprit. It looked like they haven't caught on to the fact that one of their members remained injured. Bookmark here

Finally, my eyes gazed out another exit. Peering past the opening I noticed the room looks completely different than the rest of the shelter. Bookmark here

It resembled a manager's office. Filled with crumpled papers on the floor and stacked documents on a desk, there was an open cabinet with pictures of faces whom I recognized.Bookmark here

Those faces were of those that recently entered the shelter. Bookmark here

I pushed the vent open and crawled out, tilting my head from side to side to ensure no one else was discreetly watching. With my instinct confirming I was alone, I stood up.Bookmark here

"#21."Bookmark here

Ah, what a regretful decision. Of course, the presence of a demon would've gone unnoticed. Bookmark here

It was a voice familiar to my ears.Bookmark here

"KIP."Bookmark here


Bookmark here

Bookmarked
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