Guardian

By distraughthallelujah All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Romance

Wish

“Hey, are you there?”

The hushed whisper was more than enough for my tired ears. I didn’t bother moving this time, and for a moment I was silent. I decided I should probably talk, or he might think I’m dead again and leave me in the darkness, which would kill me further if this numb state was not already death. Jeffrey’s beautiful voice had returned for me.

“Jeffrey!” I breathed. “Yes, I’m here!”

“So I gave myself a quick tour of the building, and as far as I can tell, you’re the only live person here. I mean, there are others, not necessarily people, or maybe people at some point, that may or may not have been alive at some point. Anyway, the point is, there’s one woman I found, and she wasn’t in a chair in the room like you are. She was in this tube-like thing in a dark room, and there were monitors and everything. The liquid in the tube seemed to be glowing. I didn’t look too closely, because… well, she was stark naked. But she had kind of brown hair.”

I could almost feel his blush. It was so warm.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully. I wondered briefly about that woman before that thought gave way to the relief I felt knowing that there were not hundreds of people like me feeling this pain.

“Are you…” his question was soft, and if he finished it at all, I could not hear the end of it. I waited for a moment before I’d ask him to complete his question. He was silent for a so long that I thought of saying something if only to break the silence. Finally, he finished his question.

“Do you still want to die?”

It was a simple question. If only it had been one to which I knew the answer.

“I don’t know,” I answered honestly. I could not tell him what swayed the mind that I had so firmly set. “I suppose… I would really like to see the sky sometime,” I answered after a moment’s thought. It was as close to the truth as I could think. Another question rose in my throat. I ran the tip of my tongue over the edge of my chapped lips before asking. “What color is it today?”

“Actually, it’s not really anything special today,” Jeffrey said with a sigh. “It’s been drizzling all morning. Everything’s wet and gloomy. It’s actually a lot like in here. It reminds me of a hospital, with all the hallways and endless white.”

“Rain,” I murmured. It meant something I thought I could relate to. “The sky is crying.”

“Hm?” he hadn’t heard. It was not something I had said for him to hear anyway.

“Nothing,” I said. He didn’t need to know. “Could you tell me something else?”

“Sure,” Jeffrey said eagerly. I think he enjoyed telling me about his world. He didn’t brag about it, but I could feel that somehow he wanted to tell me if only so that I would not be left out. He felt that it was all he could do for me, and he wanted to help me. It could have been my imagination, but I was indescribably happy for his help, whatever he could do, whatever his intentions. Already I had heard so much to ease my pain. He was like an angel sent for me.

“What do I look like to you?”

That had not been the question I meant to ask. Instead, it was something I had thought about more than once since his first visit. Was I disgusting? When he had first seen me, he had thought I was dead. Was that because I was ugly? Was my skin peeling off, decaying away with nothing to touch? Could I even feel any more if I did have something to touch, or was that numb too?

“Well…” his hesitation scared me. I had thought it was bad.

“Pitiful,” he said finally. I was surprised. Pitiful wasn’t that bad. “Your skin is really pale… you look white as a sheet.” White… pale… but not quite gray. “Your hair is kind of short, I guess, for a girl. It’s kind of messy and a little dirty, but so is mine. Your fingernails are like witch nails, they’re so long. I’ll bet you could scratch someone’s eyes out with those things. Let’s see… I’m not sure what I would call what you’re wearing, but it’s not colorful at all. In fact, everything about you is a little monotone. Sorry,” he added quickly, possibly sensing my disappointment.

But I had expected worse. My alabaster being could be called beautiful, in some warped alien world. Perhaps that was wishful thinking as well. ‘White’ did not necessarily mean ‘alabaster,’ and most certainly did not suggest beauty.

“That’s not so bad,” I murmured.

“It’s weird,” Jeffrey’s voice continued. That made me curious to hear what he had to say next. “It’s like… you’ve got this headpiece thing across your eyes, just before the back of the chair thing, but I can almost feel like you’re looking at me. It’s like you can actually see me.”

“If I could see, I would not ask you to describe myself,” I said, a little smile gracing my lips. Jeffrey seemed reluctant, but I heard his agreement.

“And your lips are blue,” he continued. “Is it cold in there?”

This question stopped me to think. I had always, I supposed, been cold; except for the fire. Was it something I had grown to dismiss as well, or something so gradual that I had never noticed even when it began? I almost felt numb. I could barely feel my toes. Perhaps it was cold, or perhaps the fire was numbing me as well as my sense of touch?

“No,” I answered. “I don’t think so.”

But was I? Was I lying? Why could I not distinguish between warm and cold? Perhaps I was neither. Could I even be called human at this point? Could I be called alive?

“You look really thin, too,” Jeffrey continued. Maybe it would have been best if he had stopped sooner. I didn’t want to hear any more, even though it was spoken with his beautiful, colorful voice. “I mean, they feed you, right? They’ve got to, otherwise you’d be dead.”

If not, I’d be dead. He said that, so it must be true. Was I dead, then? I had only remembered eating perhaps twice since the time I had come. Meals did not come with the fire. I had not remembered ever being hungry, though. Perhaps the first few weeks I had felt the shock of hunger, but it had been soon after that the fire turned me numb.

“And there’s some sort of electrical current in the chair, stimulating your muscles, right? They must let you out sometimes, to walk around or something? I mean, they let you go to the bathroom, right? They have to. I mean, human cruelty is one thing, but that’s torture and murder, plain and simple. I mean, you’d be dead.”

I’d be dead, he repeated. Why wasn’t I? Or was I? Was this death? What was death?

“Plus, if you’d been here for so long, you’d go insane. Hey, that’s a thought; you haven’t gone insane, have you? I suppose not. You seem pretty sane to me. That’s a surprise, because I don’t think I could stay sane. You must be really brave to still be sane after everything they’ve done to you. I don’t know how long you’ve been there, but from the looks of you, I’d guess an awfully long time. I really respect that, at least.”

“Oh.”

I think it may have been my tone, but he shut up immediately. Somehow I could tell he wanted to take those words back, some form of regret. Had I caused him to regret what he had said? I was sorry. How could I say that? But then again, what he said unnerved me. He had said it, I had heard it. I was cold, but I was cold inside. I must be dead, I thought, if I had not eaten, had not walked, had not gone insane. Perhaps I was dead. Maybe I was a danger to him. The dead absorbed the living, didn’t they? Tried to take more life? I would not take his life.

“I was thinking,” I said.

“Well, that proves it, then,” Jeffrey said quickly. “Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ You’re thinking, so you must be. It’s science, so it must be true.”

“Thank you,” I said. I was happy he was here, but for the first time in a long time, maybe I actually wanted to be alone. Only then could I think properly. If only I had this to ponder before in the loneliness, but now I had to ask him to leave once more. I was sure he would come back. Wouldn’t he? Of course he would. He had to.

“I think I should be alone,” I said. Maybe I didn’t phrase it right.

“Oh.” Jeffrey was awkward. “Yeah, sure. Maybe I can come back tomorrow. Will you—well I guess you’ll be here, huh? I’ll try to find out what happened for you. I want to know why you’re here just as much as you do, I guess. They say curiosity killed the cat, but it’s just a saying really. I guess I should get going. I have more work to do. See you later!”

His hand reached for the button, but he paused and the air shivered around his fingers.

“Oh, and I thought about your name,” he said suddenly. “I mean, 1677-192 isn’t really a proper name, and I was thinking about it, and I thought that if I ever had a daughter—and I know that sounds weird, but I’m not a pervert, I swear—I would name her Miley. I thought it was a pretty name, but I haven’t laid any claims to it really, so I thought… maybe you could have it.”

My eyes widened behind my visor. They became full with the familiar wet warmth.

“I get it if you think it’s creepy to be named by some guy you barely know,” Jeffrey said quickly. “I mean, it’s not like I’d let my little sister call me anything. I just thought that if you wanted a name, maybe I could help you out, because I wasn’t sure you knew a lot of names since you’ve been cooped up here for a while.”

“Yes,” I said softly.

“Well, so, it’s just an idea, and I have other names if you like, so if you want to go over them next time I see you and we can work one out, that’s fine. I hope I didn’t off—”

“Yes,” I repeated. “I want that name.”

“Miley?” Jeffrey questioned.

“Yes, please,” I said. “Please… call me Miley.”

“Okay, then. Miley it is.” Jeffrey was smiling. I was sure of it. “I should go now. Anyway, see you later! Have a nice… well, good luck, Miley!”

Click.

And he was gone again. Maybe he wouldn’t come back.

But I had a name now. I was Miley.


“We have a problem.”

“To be honest, I’m not especially worried when you talk about having problems.”

“But this one is a really big problem.”

“Is someone setting fire to the building? Did someone go crazy and begin murdering his team? Is there a riot going on in Lab 3 or is something dangerous escaping?”

“Er…” Hesitance dripped from the words. “No, but…”

“Then I really don’t give a damn.” It was firmly spoken, but too dangerously cheerful.

“But sir, it’s working. 1677-192, she’s showed remarkable progress. I was questioning her as usual, sir, and she got angry. The floor shook underneath her. For a moment, I could feel her anger. And… she looked at me, sir. Through the visor, I could feel her eyes, almost like the power of the universe contained behind that visor. It seemed mighty flimsy for a moment, sir, so I had to get out quickly. But I think maybe that she’s develop—”

“What you are trying to say, doctor…” the shadow paused and turned, sweetly menacing, “is that for the first time in four years, she’s shown remarkable progress and you… ran away?”

Maybe that particular detail could have been kept to himself.

“She was on the monitors the whole time, I swear,” the doctor said quickly. “I have the report and the video feed in my office. Apparently she grew angry, and her injection that was being prepared in the next room shattered completely. The whole unit was basically liquefied, sir, I mean glass and all. After I left, she calmed down, but we didn’t have enough time to get the next one prepped, so her injection was a bit la…” he winced. That could have been held back too.

“Your incompetence amazes me every time, doctor.” The shadow was amused. In this case, that was not good. The shadow was a person, but obscured by such darkness that he himself could have merely been a phantom conjured from the depths of the mind. The doctor could only just make out his folded hands. “The whole purpose of this experiment was to get beyond the mind, doctor. By reverse stimulation, the mind would create for itself new surroundings. This was the plan. If the plan is not turning out well, then I will find out who is to blame.”

The shadow’s eyes turned amusedly to meet the doctor’s eyes.

“And I will kill him,” he finished smoothly, with just enough threat left hanging to hopefully keep a certain someone on his toes should the situation have a recurrence.

The doctor took his chance. He saluted briefly, his hand shaking, and left.

In the darkness, a soft smile was formed on half-shadowed lips. Perhaps this time…


The footsteps came once more. The door opened with the same sound, the same dull creaking as the hinges swung through each other. I heard the sounds begin, the murmurs of comfort, just as usual. The murmurs I loathed passing through my ears, though I wished I could not hear them. Sound was my world, but when sounds become muted, what would be left of my world? I listened to the words this time. It’ll be all right. You won’t feel a thing.

But I knew better, didn’t I? There was a time I believed in the whispers, but even now I rolled my eyes in the face of such foolishness. I knew it lied. The same lie was never believed twice, never believed four times, and never, ever believed a hundred or a thousand.

The hand on my arm. For a moment, I savored the warmth of life I could not feel in my own skin, and then came the coldness in the crease of my elbow. How many scars had I now? These little pinpricks almost too small for the eye to see, containing a lifetime of secrets, hidden away in the cold folds of my white skin?

It may have been my imagination once more, but my skin resisted the needle. Like ice, it broke past the resistance and slid into my veins. I nearly shivered and breathed out as the ice was replaced by sparks, and the fire grew with every inch it traveled. It spread up my arm almost tentatively, not like the kind warmth you get when you wrap your fingers around something warm.

Something warm? Yes… I had felt that once. My nose had been red from the cold, but there had been a smile on my face. A woman’s kind face as she handed me the mug. The cup in my gloved hands radiated warmth so deep that I could nearly smell it when I breathed in. I saw thin wisps of steam rising from the mug in the cold air. Thank you.

I opened my eyes. The door had already shut, the footsteps receded long ago. The memory still burned vividly in my mind, though. Had it been…? Yes. I remembered now. My last vision of snow. Oh, but winter was beautiful – the frost painted ever-so-carefully with a practiced hand on every window, the laughter, the snowmen, the snowball fights. I vaguely remembered presents under a tree. That’s right; Christmas. So that was what my last Christmas was like. How wondrous. Would I ever have another Christmas?

But I vaguely remembered something else, too. It had been dark and cold. There had been so much screaming. The woman who had given me the cup of warmth was on the ground, and she wasn’t moving. Somewhere, a child was crying. Men in white robes gathered around, silent and phantomlike in the snow. Their breaths made mist in the air. White robes…

But that was all I could remember. It escaped from my mind every time I tried to pull at more, like the wisps of steam from the cup had escaped into the air so silently, so softly. Slipping away constantly, bit by bit, until it had stopped completely. It was an old memory, once that hurt when I thought about it. Even now my head throbbed slightly, as of a light scolding from a mother for breaking a picture in the hallway. Mother had said no running in the house.

But no, I could not remember. Though I did wish, I could not find it. Had I had a mother at all, or could I have been here forever, longer than the four years I had thought? My entire life in the blackness had made everything fade from view, but what if I did not have anything to begin with? The fragments that were mine, like the glass of the picture, were all I had.

Blood seeped from the open wound that ran down my finger. I should not have touched the glass, should not have tried to pick it up… I should have waited for mommy…

The headache was fiercer now. Maybe a warning? I could not focus anymore. The memory slipped out of my hold. It made me wonder how much of it was a memory and how much of it was simply wishing I had a memory? My wishes went a long way… my imagination made it real… I could imagine my first time eating a hot dog-… it slipped through the bun, fell to the ground. I cried while my mother fussed over the stain of ketchup on my shirt. “Don’t eat that now, it’s dirty, darling…”-or when I had lost my first tooth-…“Come see, mommy! It fell out! I was just eating, and I bit down hard and I thought I felt something funny, so I reached in and there it was!” My mother was busy, but she stopped to look. “What a grown-up little lady! Go put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy, or she won’t see it and you won’t get a shiny new dime!”…-but they would still be snippets, single lines. Not enough for a lifetime.

What had I missed, I wondered? Everything I had forgotten… my mother’s face… and yet, I felt a comfort in knowing that I knew what little I did. I was awoken from my memories by the splitting pain I received every time I delved deeper into a recollection. Slowly, the pounding went away, but was done for now. I had remembered something, if something small. How much I wished to go back to a normal life! Jeffrey had said he had a little sister, Rebecca, only three years old and so serious. If I had been Rebecca, I would have been laughing every minute of every day with such boundless mirth! Reveling in my existence, everything as it should be!

But reality was harsh, harsher than I expected to come back to. However, only moments after my rude awakening came the familiar click of the speakers, and then the happy voice that had become my only solace. He was back. I heard a shuffle of papers that made me wince, sounding just like what accompanied the cold voice when he sought answers, but I knew it was Jeffrey. The shuffle of papers was still different, done with an excited hand rather than a perfunctory one.

“Miley, you there?” he asked eagerly.

Oh, the excitement in his voice, the emotion in my new name! It sent shivers up my spine with every emotion I heard in his voice, his voice that told me so much in a single word. How nice it must be to have a voice like that, I thought; a voice full of brilliant colors like a sunset, like the ever-changing sky. This was Jeffrey’s voice, the voice of the living.

“Of course,” I answered. More paper shuffling.

“So I couldn’t find anything on ‘1677-192’, which I thought was weird, but I guessed it was under a computer file with a passcode unlike whatever I could find in some old archives. So I kept looking, but there was just nothing under those numbers. But, I thought ‘okay, but there has to be something somewhere and sure enough’…”

“What could you find?” I asked breathlessly as he trailed off. By the sound of paper, he must have found something. Why did he wait in telling me?

“That’s just it!” His voice burst suddenly like a firework in my ears as he had explained fireworks to me before, a fiery explosion of color accompanied by the sound of celebration. “I found absolutely nothing!”

What was this feeling? Disappointment? It was heavy in my heart. I did not blame Jeffrey, but for a moment my hopes had been high, but now… why? Why had he mentioned it? But no, there was something in the way he said it that made me think. Absolutely nothing… how was ‘nothing’ so important? I had tasted nothing, and it had been tasteless, so why would he say it with such excitement? Unless, perhaps… there was something else. I went through his words again. He had searched, but there had been nothing… he had been very clear: absolutely nothing.

A light seemed to light dimly in the depths of my mind.

“Why would a laboratory have no written records of an event or patient?” I wondered aloud. “Unless… they were purposefully trying to hide something from prying eyes.” There was a clatter of sound, like a dance of joy. I had never seen one, but I was sure it must have been a sight to behold. Another thing I wanted to see when my eyes opened.

“Yes, yes! Miley, I could kiss you!” A kind of warmth I don’t remember feeling before spread like a good fire through my skin. I was blushing, and I could nearly feel his blush as well. I still wondered how his revelation helped. Maybe they were hiding something, it was possible, but if we had not found out what, then what use was that information?

“So,” Jeffrey continued, “I’m going to find out what they’re hiding!”

“No.” I didn’t know why I spoke then, but the answer had set deeply into my mind, the next word to say, almost before he had begun to speak. All I could think of was the nothing I had felt, the colors I had not seen. They would not steal those colors from him as they had from me. Enough was enough; Jeffrey could not pursue it further. The thought burned in my mind. I felt the soft not-footsteps as I had before, thrumming, humming like an earthquake at my hands.

“What’s that?” Jeffrey asked. He sounded… wrong.

I relaxed, without even realizing I had tensed. The not-footsteps stopped.

“I’m sorry,” I said softly, “but no. I don’t want you to…”

I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t explain why. He didn’t know what he meant to me, what his voice meant for me. He couldn’t understand, not when he had seen the colors. There was no way he could know my colorless vision. He was my angel… and I would not see the wings torn from his back. He would help me, so be it; but he would not be harmed. He would not be harmed. I would not take his life, not for mine. Never for mine.

“I’ll be fine,” Jeffrey said. He was nonchalant. “Don’t worry about me, Miley. I promised I’d help you, didn’t I? I’m not just doing this for you anyway – I’d sure like to know why you’re here, too. I’ll be back when I find out something big, and I’ll be sure to tell you. I’ll come back, Miley; I promise.” A click. The door. I was left for the silence to deafen me once more.

Somehow his words were weighted. I could not explain to him, not in my own words, the importance of his return. I could not use borrowed words… not without being truthful. I could not explain the feeling, more joy than I had ever felt, that took me over whenever the familiar click was followed by his voice and not the cold one. The mystery just before he speaks, wondering if it would be him. It was not something that should be butchered by words.


“A new problem has come to our attention.”

This time the shadow turned with interest, not like before.

“I assume the doctor has been… moved to another project?” the shadow asked, almost amused. The new figure in the doorway was not the doctor, not the cold voice. New; different.

“Yes, sir.” The answer was quick. Explicit. The shadow liked this new doctor.

“Tell me, new doctor: what is this problem?” The shadow rested its light-deprived comfort, lounging against a shadow chair. His gaze, only just visible as a slight glint from the sunlight filtering in through the open door, was set on this new doctor in anticipation. The new doctor was younger. His voice was youthful, not whining, but no-nonsense. Yes; very likable indeed.

“The janitor boy has been speaking to the patient.”

Interest sparked in the shadow’s eyes.

Speaking, you say?”

“Yes, sir. And the patient has been speaking back, sir.”

The shadow ran his tongue over his teeth thoughtfully. For years now, her answers had been simple, had not changed. Why differences beginning only now, with first a different answer and now, it seemed, a different persona altogether? The difference unnerved him very slightly. It was unlike her to speak only now. Was it possible that his methods had not proved useful? Perhaps this cleaning boy was the key to unlocking her secrets where he could not?

“Who, exactly, is this cleaning boy?” the shadow asked leisurely. The new doctor was prepared and had everything memorized. He cleared his throat.

“His name is Jeffrey Harrison Noble. His family is wealthy and lives in Virginia. His mother, Elsie Noble, is on a three-week business trip to Ireland. His father, Ryan Noble, is staying home to care for the daughter, three-year-old Rebecca Noble, who apparently is going through a serious bout of influenza. They have no pets although Jeffrey had a hamster before Rebecca was born. Jeffrey Noble finished high school a year early but has not begun college and instead decided to move out early, much to his parents’ distress. He rents a cheap room on the second floor of 192 Castle Street two blocks from here, owned by the landlady, an elderly widow named Amber Santiago. He walks to work every day and apparently wears size 10 Converse sneakers.”

“Well, well, well.” The shadow was impressed. “Perhaps you have promise, new doctor. Please; come with me. I am certain that there can be something done about this… problem.” The shadow headed for the light. The doctor stood to attention as the shadow strolled out of the darkly-lit room, only his back visible. The doctor reached for the doorknob.

The door shut behind them, leaving the room cast into perfect blackness once more.


The next time Jeffrey came, I was asleep. I could rarely feel sleep these days, but when it came, I was happy to have it. This time, however, my dreams were dark and vivid.

I dreamed I stood on a rooftop overlooking a wide river. My eyes were glossy, set on the horizon before me. All I could remember was just wanting to touch it for as long as I lived, wanting to feel the horizon like silk against my skin. My toes hung over the concrete lip, and I raised my arm out to the horizon, reaching. My mouth had stretched into a happy smile, almost touching the horizon. I could almost feel it, almost. I reached, and reached a little further, and I took a step toward it – and fell towards the winding spider web of shadow below.

The horizon faded from view. Colors swirled about me. I fell endlessly, the dark ground never appearing closer, as I tumbled through the air. The wind felt cool on my skin, and my hair blew above me freely. I felt as though I could fly, happy and content. The horizon spiraled into view once more, in all its glory. I reached, and the ground came up to meet me. I heard someone call my name, and everything went black.

I opened my eyes suddenly. Blackness. For a moment I was frightened. My muscles tensed. Then I realized I was back in my room, in my chair, unmoving, and he was calling my name.

“Miley?! Miley, are you okay?”

There was worry in his voice. I remembered now. I had not replied. Perhaps he thought me dead. Though my mind was quick to respond, my lips were slow to move. At first, I formed the words, but no sound came. I breathed in, moved my weighted tongue…

“I’m here,” I said. I heard Jeffrey release the breath he had been holding anxiously. He had worried for me, and that made me happy. He had worried for me. I waited to hear what he had to say, but his heartbeat was fast. He needed to calm down for a moment before speaking; I could hear the tremor in his voice. Had he thought he was too late? I had left already, without him? No… I could not leave my angel. I could not leave without him.

“Miley, I found something interesting.” His voice was controlled. Not easily, I noted. “That woman I mentioned to you earlier? I found it just now when I came in to talk to you; a file was left open on this computer. It’s the only one; the others are encrypted shut. Someone must have forgotten to turn it off, but that also means they could be back at any moment. Let me make this quick. The file is about this woman, uh… Rosemary Winters. Her number is 1677-183. This is… this is really crazy. It says she’s been here since 2002, so… eight years.”

A black-gloved hand on my shoulder. “Where are you going, little girl?”

“But that’s not the craziest part. It says that in that time, she was the only project deemed ‘successful.’ The thing is, I still haven’t figured out what the project is or anything else… oh, it also says here that she showed remarkable progress after four years, and she was sent home… wait, that can’t be right. Sent home two years after she arrived? This record has to be wrong. This says that Rosemary Winters showed remarkable progress after four years, but she went home two years after arriving. It says something about enhanced brain activity…”

Your mother is right here, little girl. “Mommy!” “Sweetheart!” No. Not my mother. Black glove, white coat… white coat… they lied; not my mother. One of them, lying to me…

“It says she returned to her family after two years and was paid for her work, and that’s it,” Jeffrey finished. I heard the sigh as he leaned back. “There’s nothing here about you, but I guess you’re not the only important thing here. What could be going on?”

“The white coats,” I said in a voice no more than a whisper.

“Hm?” Confusion. I shut my eyes.

“The white coats. They came, and they took her. They gave her back. A changeling…” My voice failed me. It couldn’t be. Someone who looked like her? Mother… why could I not remember your face? In my memories there was a blur… all I remembered was laughing eyes, and hair that tickled my neck when she leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Mother came back, and she didn’t. Not mother. Not mother?

“I can’t really hear you unless you speak up,” Jeffrey’s voice said.

“Nothing,” I murmured, loud enough for him to hear. I could imagine his eyebrows meeting on his forehead, confused. I am sorry, Jeffrey, but until I understand these memories myself, I cannot say anything to you. I am sorry… so sorry…

“Anyway,” he continued. “I’ll leave this as is and see if I can find something about you instead of just about her, because right now we should focus on your story. I promise I’ll find out something good, and I’ll come right back. Okay? Are you all right, Miley?”

I was silent. He was leaving again. Because I would not say? I could not say. I could not explain the white coats that took her. I could not explain her face. I could not explain what had happened in the winter of 2002, eight years ago. I could not explain what I did not know.

“Yes. Thank you, Jeffrey,” I said. I knew my voice was unreadable; the same dull monotone I had picked up from the cold voice, four years of speaking. I had learned and now no one could tell what I felt. The sounds that came from my lips were gray, gray sounds that left a cold feeling in the air. This was my voice; my cold, gray voice.

“I told you, call me Jeff.” He was so nice, so compassionate. So warm, so human.

“Maybe,” I replied. I wished him good luck. He needed it, I did not.

“I think we should have some sort of signal that one of us is leaving, like a secret spy thing,” Jeffrey said eagerly. “Like, I know you can’t see me, but we could salute with two fingers and then touch our hearts, or something, meaning that the other is always thinking about you. I mean, it’s sort of corny, but when you get out, I can teach you. It’d be like a secret farewell handshake!”

I smiled a bit. Jeffrey was happy. His smile, for I could almost see it, made me smile in turn.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes; I will touch my heart. I am thinking of you.”

“Me too,” Jeffrey replied. He was blushing warmly again. “Bye!”

He drew two fingers to his brow and then tapped his heart. I wondered only briefly how I knew that he did this. He then switched the microphone off as usual, and the door shut behind him. My hand trembled. Yes; I will touch my heart.

And I wish good luck for you. I wish with all my heart.

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