I must have fallen asleep.
I'm laying in a bed. As I open my eyes I am greeted by a familiar ceiling, set of walls, and stupid bedside table lamp.
It's the room I just escaped from.
I sit up and feel a cloth fall off of my wet face. It's covered in blood. Probably my blood, I realize, since my face was in such poor condition. Someone must have been trying to clean that hideous side of my face for me.
But no one is here now.
It feels as if no time has passed since I was injected with that mystery drug, but I'm fairly certain that I've been out for at least a day. Looking towards the door I see that it's opened just a crack and that sunlight is pouring in. It must be daytime.
Summoning the strength to stand is easier this time. I'm on my feet and heading to the door without much more than a wobble. As much as I hate to admit it, I guess I did need to rest. My strength seems to have returned and I'm thinking much more clearly. That forced sleep worked miracles on my mental state and I'm not quite as scared.
I wonder if that's a good thing.
I open the door and peer out into the hallway. I can hear movement coming from one direction and smell something cooking. Just like last night, I have the strange knowledge of this scent being breakfast food- bacon and eggs, I think- but I have no memory of ever eating those things. I also remember that these smells are comforting to me. This alone is enough to encourage me to wander down the hallway in the direction of the smells.
Finding the kitchen isn't hard. I walk down the hall a bit until I find an empty dining room. There are about 12 chairs set out around one long table. Behind the head's chair is a large window. The trees outside are carrying armfuls of colorful flowers, indicating that it must be springtime. The sun is soft and new, so I assume it must be morning. But these are all assumptions. I can't remember for the life of me what season it was before I woke up in this strange house.
Similarly, I have to wonder why these windows are still in tact. Hasn't anyone tried to escape? Throw a chair at one of those windows and suddenly you'd have a perfect escape route.
But I try to shovel that thought to the side. Once in the dining room I'm able to easily locate the kitchen. It's attached to this room. I'm too curious not to look, so quietly head to the kitchen and peek in. There are only three people there and I recognize all three from last night. The girl with bluish skin, Esia, the girl with the freaky arm, Semafi, and the man Eleo. Esia seems to be the one cooking while Semafi tries to get dishes out of the cupboards and Eleo is cleaning up after them. I'm only able to watch for a few seconds before Esia turns to look over her shoulder at me.
"Oh! Rosau is awake. Thank goodness."
"Aw, really? That means I'll need twelve plates... frick."
Semafi seems a bit disappointed, but I choose to ignore her. In comparison, Esia's warm smile and greeting make up for Semafi's attitude problem. Esia flips an egg over before moving back from the stove, just enough so I can see what she is cooking.
"Semafi, dear, go set the table. Eleo, would you help her?"
"Certainly, Miss Esia. Come along, Miss Semafi."
"Tch... you can stop calling me that, Eleo..."
I realize that Semafi is essentially one-handed. Though her fuzzy arm looks very strong she is carrying absolutely nothing with it and has yet to so much as twitch the clawed fingers since I arrived. She can only carry a few forks and knives in her other hand while Eleo is taking most of the twelve plates. The way we swap places seems seamless and perfect; they walk into the dining room as I shuffle into the kitchen.
Esia motions for me to stand next to her.
"Don't worry, breakfast won't bite. Do you like eggs and bacon, Rosau?"
"Ah... mm. I think so..."
"What does she mean, 'I think so'? Don't you even know if you like something or don't, Rosau? It's just a yes or not question!"
Semafi seems to have a talent for being rude, as she interrupts Esia's attempts to have a casual conversation with me. In some ways I am a bit grateful for that. The way that Esia is being so calm and kind feels very strange when you factor in the fact that I'm 99% sure I have been kidnapped. How can she act so calmly? Surely she was kidnapped too. If not, then is she the mastermind behind this? I don't think I could rest at night if she was the culprit. It would feel like a bad ending to my trauma.
Esia must have noticed a look of distrust on my face since she smiles gently in my direction.
"Don't mind Semafi, Rosau. I was a bit confused when I first woke up too. But don't worry too much. You'll start remembering more soon."
This gives me reason to hope that Esia isn't the mastermind. It sounds like she woke up here too and had the same memory issue as I did. It's a bit reassuring somehow, to think that I'm not the only one in this situation. There are nice people like Esia here too.
"I sorry about the other night. You seemed pretty panicked and we didn't want you to do anything rash. Do you feel any better?"
"Ah... mm. Sorry."
Wait, why am I apologizing? I shouldn't feel bad for trying to preserve myself, should I? Esia seems to understand. Though, I am a bit bothered by her phrasing.
"The other night? How long have I been asleep?"
Esia looks thoughtful for a moment, considering her answer.
"Two days, I think...? I don't know... honestly, I've lost track of time since I woke up in here. It's rather frustrating..."
Oh, you think it's frustrating. Two days is a long time to be sleeping. It also makes a cold stone of worry drop into my stomach. I was asleep for two days and Esia talks like she's been here longer... If we've all been kidnapped then why is it that no one has come to get us yet? Is anyone even looking for us?
My stomach twists into a knot.
Who would look for me?
I don't remember anyone in my life before I woke up in that room.
Is there anyone out there to even miss me?
"Rosau?" Esia must have seen the look on my face. She has flipped all of eggs and bacon to a plate and turned the stove off while I visibly worry. I feel her hand on my shoulder and am surprised by how ice cold her touch is. It completely contrasts her warm personality.
"It's okay. I know you're really scared... And to tell the truth, I'm really scared and worried too. But it's okay. Everything is going to turn out just fine."
She speaks confident words in that soft, timid voice. Just like her touch contrasts her personality, Esia's confidence contrasts her voice. It's kind of a funny mix and I feel the silly combination loosening the knots in my stomach.
"Okay... Right, sorry..." I breath in and out again. I won't accomplish anything through thinking alone. I need to take a bit of action. "Thanks, Esia."
"Mm, no problem. You're not alone here, Rosau."
Hearing that is reassuring. I feel a smile tugging at my lips but the movement causes my cheek to wrinkle just enough to aggravate my face. Just enough to remind me that even if I'm not alone, I am in good company with half of my face ripped off and a missing eyeball that is still unaccounted for.
"Can I help with breakfast?" I quickly change my own subject before I can get very gloomy. Esia looks hesitant at first to ask me to do anything but does eventually give a nod and the grateful smile that matches her words.
"That would be lovely. Could you take this plate into the dining room? Keep a paper towel on it to keep it a bit warm."
Esia hands me a warm plate of the fresh food she just finished frying. As I take it and turn around I hear her already beginning to crack more eggs into the frying pan. With the sound of sizzling bacon and eggs behind me I march to the doorframe that connects the dining room and kitchen, being mindful of the plate I'm carrying. Making the mistake of looking up, I find myself staring into two bright red eyes.
The sound of a body hitting the floor yanks me out of my confusion.
I am left to stare at the mangled body of a young boy that has fallen from the ceiling and landed right at my feet. As if his disturbing red eyes were not enough his joints all seem to have been snapped and then reset into awkward angles. He is now face first on the floor and not moving.
I am not moving either.
Stunned and horrified, I'm unable to so much as let out a squeak. I can only stare at the body that has interrupted my trip away from crazy trauma land.
"Rosau? Is everything okay?"
I hear Esia's voice from over my shoulder. She is probably wondering why I have stopped at the border between the kitchen and the dining room. I would love to respond to her but the words I need to describe this situation are just as stunned as I am. They're stuck in my throat, too scared to be spoken.
"Geez, she can't even walk? What a reject."
Semafi nonchalantly insults me. I swear that it has become her favorite past time.
"Th, there's... body, a body, from the ce, ceiling-!"
I squeeze the words out of my throat in protest to Semaf's cruelty. At least she's good for something, even if it's just inspiring me to speak up.
"From the ceiling?"
Semafi and Eleo exchange looks before approaching. Both of them look down at the mangled body that is at my feet, their expressions thoughtful... And then they just shrug.
"Oh, that is simply too bad."
"Welp, I guess I'm only setting eleven seats after all. More bacon for me."
The comment about bacon sparks a reaction in the boy. He twitches and lifts his arm, which bends backwards at the elbow.
"I have willed my share of bacon to Guafe."
He speaks to Semafi in an overly dramatic tone before making an odd sound (I think it was meant to be his dying breath?) and letting his arm drop to the floor again.
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be worried anymore.
"Is... Is he okay?"
"Oh, never mind him, Miss Rosau. Here, allow me."
Eleo reaches out and takes the plate of bacon and eggs from me. I can barely protest as he gently pries it away from my grasp. Just as the plate is officially switching ownership the boy bolts up suddenly and snatches it.
"Haha! I did it! Guafe, I got the bacon!"
"Quick, Cefu, let's escape!"
"On it! Make way!"
He hobbles off, his movements made awkward by how his limbs bend backwards and don't allow for a normal running motion. In the end he just drops to the ground and scuttles away like a crab, with the plate balanced on his head.
"CEFU! Cefu, you brat! Get back here!" Semafi is obviously upset. She takes off after the boy as he crab walks away. I'm sure she could have easily caught up with him, but another character enters the scene. Her hair is bright red and cut in sharp angles and, though her face and torso have no obvious deformities, her arms are an immediate cry for attention. They're both been cut at the elbow and have metal cylinders attached. This girl has no hands at the end of her arms.
She holds out one arm and squeals with delight as an umbrella shoots out of the end and opens, blocking Semafi's path.
"Run, Cefu, run run RUN!" She cries excitedly, "I've got your back!"
"Hold it right there! Guafe, put that umbrella away right this instant!"
"Can't, I don't have hands to close it! Ehehehe!" The girl, who must be "Guafe", doesn't seem the slightest bit bothered by what's been done to her body... She actually seems to be having some fun.
"Grrr... Eleo! Get them!"
"Ah, I will. Let me finish setting the table."
"This isn't the time! There's no point in the table being set if there's no frickin food to eat at it!"
"Oh, that's okay, Semafi." Esia calls calmly from the kitchen, "I figured they'd snatch that plate anyway. I've got plenty more prepared."
Semafi doesn't accept this answer.
"Those brats won't get away with this!" She repeats, denying the peaceful solution. "Soldiers! Assemble!"
I don't know when they arrived, but three other kids walk into the dining room. One of them is Kniffy, the young girl with braids and needles from last night, and behind her is another boy roughly her age, his hair blond. Between them is a boy with dark messy hair and bandages covering most of his face; he looks to be no older than six years old.
"What is it, Semafi?" Kniffy asks with concern, her expression voicing her confusion at the sight of Guafe blocking the path with her umbrella.
"Cefu got the food! Get him!"
"Eh? Th-the food? But that's our breakfast... Okay, I'm on it!" Alarmed, Kniffy begins to run down the hall Cefu went in, calling to him desperately. "Cefuuu!"
"I'll rescue our breakfast, Kniffy!" The boy her age joins in. It only takes them a few seconds to catch up with the crab boy, as evidenced by the sound of laughter and yelling coming from the direction all of the kids went.
"Shoot! Cefuuu! I'm comiiing!" Guafe turns around to go to her friend's rescue but her efforts are dashed by that umbrella. She cannot fit through the doorframe and begins to whine accordingly. "Oh nooo! Cefu, they're captured meee!"
"We've done no such thing! Geez! Hold still, I'm coming." Semafi huffs in frustration and goes to help Cefu retract the umbrella.
The chaos seems to die down. As it does, I realize that I have not moved since it began. I'm only reminded that I should move when I hear a soft giggle just beyond my shoulder. Esia is trying to exit the kitchen with two plates of bacon and eggs, but I'm blocking the way.
"It's okay. I'm sorry for not warning you about them." Esia smiles, unbothered by anything that has happened, "The boy is Cefu and the girl is Guafe. They're both very energetic."
"Yeah, 'energetic'..." Borderline annoying, I'd say. "Does this happen every morning?"
"Most of them, yes." I follow Esia as she walks to the table and sets the plates down. "But you know, when mornings start like this... It's hard to stay down for long."
I give a small nod, but say nothing. I can't say anything.
Just as quickly as the chaotic bacon stealing event began it all comes to an end. Esia claps her hands, the eyes inside of her palms closed tight, and all of the children come to order. Everyone scrambles to their assigned seat, with the head's chair open. I remember Semafi complaining about needing to set more than eleven sets of silverware out so had prepared myself for eleven people to come. However, there are only ten; the girl Slip joined when called and brought along another girl with an extra set of arms. I'm the eleventh person, even though I was under the impression I would be the twelfth.
But I don't bring this up. Instead, I avoid the head's seat and sit down next to the boy with the bandaged head and Kniffy.
Breakfast begins the moment that everyone is seated. There are no formalities as everyone digs at the three plates full of food that have been spread up and down the table. Esia occasionally leaves to get drinks or bring in cut up fruit and I am pestered with conversation. Slowly, even though I had never formally introduced myself, I come to know everyone at the table.
As Esia returns with a glass of orange juice, she stops by Slip's table. I see her lean over Slip just a bit, then duck to look under the table before standing and smiling. I can barely make out what they're saying to each other.
"Good, the bruising isn't even noticeable. How's your arm?"
"Fine. I finished cleaning it according to the manual."
"That's good. I wish I understood guns better..."
Their conversation claims my interest, but I don't realize that I've been listening in until Esia looks at me with all of those creepy eyes.
"Rosau? Can I get you anything?"
I shake my hand and wave a hand, wishing I could dissolve my guilt.
"I'm fine. Don't worry about it."
"... She was probably listening, Esia."
Dammit, Slip, I was trying to pretend I was guilt free! I don't have long to feel guilty before Esia giggles and smiles.
"Oh, don't look ashamed, Rosau. They were curious things of me to say."
She doesn't seem mad at all.
"I can't get on your case for listening in when I myself tend to accidentally overhear all of the conversations in this house."
Esia draws attention to her large and awkward ears by pinching them with her fingers.
"Slip has artificial legs. And um... Well, you wouldn't happen to know about guns, would you, Rosau?"
"Esia, it's okay. I'll figure it out..."
Slip's cheeks turn a bit red. I realize that she's been looking a bit uncomfortable ever since Esia started talking about what is... 'wrong', with her. Is she sensitive about it?
"Your legs are fake? I never noticed."
I don't know why, but I sort of hope that saying that will help. I don't know if they're noticeable since I haven't looked at her feet before.
It seems to do the trick. I see Slip's tense shoulders relax and Esia smiles again.
"See? They look fine." "Yeah... Thank you."
Slip manages a tiny smile. I guess she really is sensitive about her legs... And I wasn't lying. Technically. I've been focused on everyone's faces, wondering if I'm the only one who got screwed over in that category.
The thought reminds me of how disgusting I must be to look at. I'm surprised with myself for not being more concerned with my face. The pain is mostly gone now though.
I wonder if my lack of concern should be causing me concern.
"But you see, Rosau, Slip's arm... Seems to have a gun built into it. But no one here knows much about guns..."
"It's fine. I'm getting the hang of it. And it's more of a cannon."
"It's not fine! If we don't take good care of it then... Then what if it blows up in your face one day?"
Esia looks very worried. I feel bad that I can't do much to help, but I don't really remember much about guns. I have one of those "mysterious feelings" that I've never seen one before. Not in person, anyway. Things like that feel foreign to me.
Though I've got to wonder why Slip has a gun built into her arm. She obviously didn't choose to have it done.
"It'll be fine, Esia. I've unloaded the bullets. I just need to be careful."
"Okay... Don't do chores until we find the safety..."
Esia notices my curious look and tries to answer my unasked question.
"It's triggered when she does anything that would have used to her hand... The gun is..."
"Esia! Esia, can I have another glass of orange juice?"
"Oh! Coming, Edwin!
... Well then. See you both."
With that, Esia leaves. I let my gaze linger on Slip, not wanting to rudely abandon our conversation just because Esia is gone. I wonder if Slip feels the same way as she looks at me, looks away... And then goes back to eating.
I guess Slip isn't a good talker without Esia... I don't press and instead go back to eating my breakfast.
It's when turning back to my meal that I notice something... Something I'm shamed to have not taken note of before. That boy next to me has bandages all over his head. I wonder for a moment if he has some sort of injury.
He's also not eating his eggs and bacon, even when they've been piled on his plate.
"Hey, um... Are you not hungry?" I figure it can't hurt to ask. Everyone at the table seems to give up on their conversations and direct their attention to me and this kid. I feel like more a freak show than I really am.
"Um... Rosau, that little boy doesn't talk." Kniffy speaks up from my other side, "He's been quiet since he came here... So he's not going to answer your question."
I feel my new found frown tug at my sore skin. "Doesn't talk?"
"He seems to be mute. He's tried to make sounds before, but his voice is hoarse... I think they did something to his throat..." Kniffy explains sadly. I don't bother asking who 'they' is and instead give the boy an apologetic look. I feel kind bad for bringing that up.
"Sorry... Do you not like eggs and bacon? You should still eat."
[ It hurts my throat. ]
My first instinct is to look around the table. I haven't been here long, but I have everyone's voices pretty ingrained in my head. That wasn't any of them.
[ I don't like the orange juice either. It stings. ]
My gaze settles on the only person whose voice I don't know: the little boy. His lips haven't been moving, though, so how could he be speaking?
"Would you rather something softer with a glass of water?" I take my chances and respond to the voice anyway. All conversations stop once again and all eyes are on me.
"Rosau? Who are you talking to?"
"She's a lunatic, Esia. Talking to air isn't weird for lunatics."
Semafi grumbles at Esia's concern.
"That voice... Didn't you hear it?"
"EH-SEE-AH. I told you. She's crazy. If you can't hear it with those jumbo ears then it isn't a real sound. It's just in her head."
I scowl at Semafi, even when it hurts my face. She's pretty rude and unhelpful.
[ Can you hear me? ]
"Yeah, I can. Who are you?"
Then answer anyway. Suck it, Semafi, I don't care if you call me crazy. I won't be rude.
[ Rick. My name is Rick. I'm here. ]
The little boy next to me grabs my arm and I jump from surprise. I suppose I did suspect it all along, so I'm embarrassed to be so jumpy.
"Rick, huh?" I look down at him, managing to smile. "My name is Rosau, Rick. Guess I'm the only one who can hear you, huh?"
[ Uh-huh. No one else can hear me... Can you really get me better food? ]
I giggle and nod.
"Hey, Esia? Is there porridge or something? Rick says this food hurts his throat."
"Rick? Huh...? Oh..."
Thank goodness Esia catches on quickly. She leans forward, so that she can peek at Rick and smile.
"Of course, Rick. I'm sorry for not realizing. One second."
She rises from the table. I feel a bit bad for giving Esia more to do, so I stand up and follow after her. Hot on my tail is Rick, who grabs my hand in his so that I know he's following. Conversations begin once more at the breakfast table as the three of us enter the kitchen.
"Interesting that you can hear him. That's quite the relief. I was worried I'd never know what to do for him."
As Esia begins searching cabinets for oatmeal I see that they are all completely stocked. That strikes me as a bit odd. For a bunch of kidnapped freak shows, we seem to be living quite comfortably.
[ They restock every two days. The cabinets are always stocking. ]
Rick responds to my unvoiced thoughts. Curious, I decide to pull a quick experiment and think to him rather than speak.
Is that so? Convienent.
[ Yeah. ]
His response confirms my theory. Rick has been given the ability to read minds. So why can only I hear him? And better yet, how in the heck did he get an ability like that? That's more abnormal and unbelievable than Semafi's freaky arm.
[ It's not everyone. I can't read Semafi's mind or Kniffy's. And I can't read Slip's either. ]
That doesn't make it any less strange.
"Here we are! Rick, dear, I have some blueberries in the fridge. Do you think you could handle some?"
He nods. [ I love blueberries! Are there strawberries? ]
I can't help but giggle a bit at that big and hopeful grin that's peeking out from those lope-sided bandages.
"He wants to know if there are any strawberries too."
"Of course! Excellent choice, Rick. I'll just prepare this... Oh. Hm."
"What is it?"
I notice Esia is looking at the counter. There's another plate of bacon and eggs sitting there, untouched. Before I can wonder for too long who it is that didn't get their breakfast, Esia speaks up in a mumble.
"That's going to get cold... I wish Ticker would have come this morning..."
"Oh? That's right, you haven't quite met... Ticker was the young man who caught you the other night. I suppose you don't remember him?"
Not really. I remember he was kind of rude to me and I heard his voice, but I never saw his face or anything.
"No... why doesn't he come here to eat?"
I distract myself. I'm worried that I might speak rudely of him if I'm not careful and I get this feeling Esia really likes this Ticker guy.
"I don't know... He's kind of shy, like a cat."
She giggles at her own comparison.
"But you really should try to meet him... Oh! Why don't you take him his breakfast?"
I don't have much time to argue. Esia picks up the plate and gently passes it off to me. Rick watches all of this anxiously, looking somewhat nervous when I accept the responsibility of this breakfast plate.
[ Are you leaving? ]
I smile weakly and shake my head. I'll be back. Enjoy your breakfast, okay?
[ Okay... Come back soon, Rosau. ]
I nod at him, before heading off to find this Ticker guy.
Only to quickly remember that I have no idea where he is. You'd think I would ask about that, but I realize that I was a bit side-tracked with assuring Rick I'd be back soon.
As I walk down the hallways with a plate full of warm food I decide to try being optimistic. It sounds like people have been in this house for a long time, so I should learn the layout so that I know my way around. I choose to go in the direction that will pass "my" room and read the names on the other doors as I walk by. My hands are full and they're all closed, so I don't know if they have rooms exactly like mine.
I see a door with "ESIA" on it and one with "SLIP" very close by. Semafi and Cefu are in this direction as well. It's stupid of me, but I begin turning onto random hallways and exploring random rooms as I wander around. I'll probably get lost, but ah well. It'll be an adventure, right?
My adventure takes me through a huge living room and a large bathing room with huge tubs full of hot water. There are a number of unlabeled and closed doors, as well as one or two bathroom doors propped open. I peek through a pair of closed glass doors and see a library that must be two or three stories high and at one point I could swear that I passed an enclosed garden.
But I'm not seeing any Tickers. Whatever they... He, looks like. Actually, on the note of ticking, have I even seen any clocks? I don't think so. How am I supposed to tell time here?
"Okay, I'll be right back. Hang on a moment, kay?"
Somewhere up ahead I hear a voice. One that I recognize; it's Ticker's voice. The jerk from the other night. I turn to try to locate the source and smack my face against an opening door.
Dammit, I hate this guy.
He looks behind the door he just opened in my face. I wish I had dropped the plate so karma could bite him back, but I have a firm grip on the edges despite my pain. There are some faces that weren't meant to hit doors and I think mine was once. I feel a sticky peeling sensation as I pull away and see dried blood speckle the wooden door.
Ew. I must be a seriously gross sight. Were people really eating breakfast so happily while sitting with a girl whose face was bleeding a bit? I'm not sure how I feel about that.
"Oh. You're the new girl."
"Thanks for noticing..."
I lift my head to get a good look at the young man who has shown no signs of caring about his crime against me. If only I was in a better mood, I might have gotten a kick out of the way he looks. His clothes are brown and made of grungy fabrics, but still manage to look freshly sewn. The colorful fabric of his tie and the occasional trinket sewn to the sleeves or around buttons stands out as a result and I realize that must be the point of this look. But most distinguishing are the dirty brown cat ears that poke out of his similarly colored messy hair. It's almost comical in comparison to my mutilated face. I turn to look for a tail.
"There's no tail."
I shrug it off. His tone is sharp and rude. He's about as much as a jerk as you'd expect from someone who opened a door in your freshly mauled face and then never even sounded sorry about it. I decide to be the grown-up here and offer the plate.
"Here. Esia made breakfast. She wanted to be sure you got your share."
I manage a smile, hoping that his rudeness is something I can get passed. Judging by his unchanging expression, though, that's going to take a lot of work. Dunno if I care enough.
He regards me cautiously, as if I'm an alien.
"Did you hit your head or something, Loud New Girl?"
"As a matter of fact, a door was just opened in my face about thirty seconds ago."
Whoops. I don't remember myself being so snaky. Oh wait, that's right. I don't remember anything about myself. That thought throws a bit of timber onto the fire of irritation this guy is setting off in me, as much as I try to smother it.
"Well that's a shame. Guess you were just a psycho after all. Guess I'll call you 'Psycho Chick' from now on?"
My mouth drops open, stretching the tender skin on my face. I can't believe for a moment just how... Stupid jerkishly dumb this guy is. I just gave him a fantastic opening for an apology! And then he throws insults at me?
Then he chuckles, holding the plate on one hand to cover his smile with the other.
"That expression looks really creepy on your face."
And those eggs and that bacon would really bring out the colour of your bad personality. Before I can act on my developing plan to ruin his outfit and his breakfast, Ticker speaks up again.
"Seriously, though, I'm kind of disappointed. You showed up throwing such a fit. I thought you might keep your head."
"I did! I've calmed down, haven't I?"
"But that's the problem."
He shakes his head.
"That's not keeping your head at all. You've been kidnapped. Is being calm and nonchalant about it really the best course of action?"
I hear him sigh. There's a moment of silence where I suppose he expects me to think his words over. I hate myself for falling into his trap... But he has a point. What am I doing? Eating breakfast and getting to know everyone, exploring this house to prepare to be here... I don't think it's wrong of me to get to know my surroundings and keep a bit calm, but I realize that I was just about to settle down here.
The last time I was awake I was pitching a fit and doing all I could to get out of here.
Today I'm doing nothing.
I scowl at my own stupidity.
"Now there's a look that suits you better."
Looking up, I see that Ticker has set the plate down and begun unfolding something from his pocket. He reaches out towards my head and I feel him ruffling my hair, then a light 'click' of thin metal. When he pulls his hands back again I find that my artificial eye is peering out of a thin black veil.
"There. Don't go scratching your face, okay? And keep that on. The kids'll appreciate it when you keep them occupied.."
"You're a creep. One moment you act like I should fight against this game of house, now you're helping me play better?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"I'm not against it. I mean, if you go back to being loud and crazy then I'll let Kniffy knock you unconscious again. Just suggesting that you find a balance."
He grabs the plate and prepares to go back into the room. I feel like he's been lecturing me and somehow I can't stand that feeling, so I stomp forward and push the door closed before he can open it far.
"A balance, right? Then you'd better come for supper! You suck at this game of house. And you suck at escaping."
I snap back at him. He gives me another one of those looks that make me feel like an alien, then pulls the door open again. He's strong. I can't resist his strength in the slightest. Even when I try to at least slam the door shut on his fingers, Ticker manages to hold off my weight and control the door's closing.
Now I'll be in a bad mood all day. Slamming his fingers in the door would have felt so satisfying.
When I arrive back at the kitchen I am swept up in a whirlwind of afternoon activities. No one comments on my new veil, but I can see its effect almost immediately. The children flock to me while insisting that we play some sort of game. Playing tag or hide and seek hardly seems appropriate in this situation, but how can I not agree? I take this time to get a better grasp on their names and... "differences".
I come to conclude that six of the others here qualify as "children", if not in age then in mentality. Edwin is the messy haired boy that follows Kniffy around. He can be no more than ten years old and shows no signs of an obvious deformity. Kniffy is similar in age, and though her deformities are hidden I do know that she at least has needles under her fingertips and can remove them like one might a pen cap. Rick is the little six year old boy that I met earlier in the day and all I know about him is that he has limited telepathy with me alone and reason to keep half of his face covered.
Guafe, the bright haired girl with an umbrella up one arm and I don't know what's up with the other, tells me that she is thirteen years old. She hardly acts it, in my opinion. She is in the same age range as Cefu, whose body was broken so he can crab walk from the ceiling with ease.
The five of us play whatever games we can for the rest of the day. It seems to be the norm for these kids. Rather than try to escape this place, or worry about it for that matter, they have all been playing children's games. The thought bothers me, but Esia seems so relieved to have a chance to relax that I can't bring myself to pester her with my concerns. Instead, I help entertain the kids until supper time.
After supper, I am excused from doing the dishes not by Esia but by Kniffy.
"Rosau is still recovering and she was running around a lot today already! She needs an early bed!"
I'm feeling fine, but Esia buys into this and has me retire to my bed early. I appreciate the gesture much more once I'm laying on my bed.
I sit up and scold the thought from my mauled head. I can't accept that so easily, I remind myself. I can't just give up and declare this place my home, where 'my' bed is. This is my prison. I've been taken here against my will and can't seem to get out.
"My prison..." I remind myself in a soft voice. It helps me calm down, enough that I'm able to lay back against the bed again and drift off to sleep. Tomorrow I will look for a way out again. At the very least, I should check that big old library I passed earlier today. I should read up on some things. Maybe about guns, for Slip's arm... Yes. I'll accomplish a lot more tomorrow. For now, I need to sleep...
When I wake up, I somehow snow it is still evening. I somehow have the knowledge that it only a bit passed midnight. At first I am wondering why I woke suddenly in the first place, but then I hear footsteps. The sound of bare feet thudding against the wooden floor. My body tenses and I sit up in bed, scanning my room for signs of danger. There is only one way in here, and that door is still closed.
I breath a sigh of relief. The footsteps have passed. I guess I was overreacting. People are allowed to wander this house at night without their shoes on. Convinced I've no reason to worry, I lay back again and gaze up at the ceiling.
And at a pair of bright red eyes.
I shriek and sit up quickly again. I've pulled my blankets around me, but I hardly think they are going to offer me any sort of protection against whatever is looking down at me. I am about to enter full fledged panic mode again and probably require Kniffy's drugs to knock me out when I hear laughter. Nothing malicious, like a Saturday morning cartoon villain, but sincerely amused laughter.
"Relax, Rosau! It's me! Cefu!"
"You're on my ceiling!"
"Yup! Pretty cool, huh? I'm like a spider man!"
"The door is closed!"
"The ceiling vent is open."
Clearly this justifies sneaking into my room and watching me sleep from my ceiling. I want to tell the kid off, but I don't think he's trying to be malicious or perverted. I conclude that he is just stupid to the social implications of a boy hanging off of a girls' ceiling.
"Two more people woke up tonight. Since the doors here lock from the inside, we can't meet the new residents until they wake up and come out themselves."
Cefu's explains the footsteps I heard earlier without me needing to ask. I nod my head slowly, though my thoughts are still processing what he said. Two more people... With Ticker, there are currently twelve of us freaks in this house. Now there are fourteen. Our doors lock only from the inside, which I suppose is not very strange in a normal house... but this is a house full of kidnapped people. Why would you give the people you kidnapped the option of locking you out?
"You woke up on the same day as me, Rosau. I got up in the afternoon, though. So I think it's a 'two people a day' sort of thing."
Two people a day. I recall on the night that I woke up that there were only six people present. Kniffy, Eleo, Esia, Semafi, Slip, and eventually Ticker. Cefu claims he was awake back then, so I guess he was on the ceiling and I never noticed. That means eight of us total were there. That leaves four people in our party unaccounted for at that time, but two days passed. I guess that Edwin, Guafe, Rick, and that four armed girl came in groups of two during that time...
"Fourteen of us..."
"It's a lot, isn't it? And having two of us wake up every day is too perfect. It's been happening for about a week now."
"A whole week..."
I breathe out. My stomach sinks. A week has gone by since the first person woke up, and none of us have been rescued... I wonder the same gloomy thought again... Does anyone even know to look for us?
"Everyone is playing house. I think it's a good idea to keep us all calm, but I don't want to keep waiting calmly for rescue. Obviously, help isn't coming any time soon!"
Cefu's words feel like a punch in my stomach. I stay quiet.
"But Rosau, you talked to Ticker, right? I saw you this afternoon."
Okay, Cefu, you and I need to talk about your serial stalking. For now, I keep listening.
"And you can hear Rick. You must be really special. I think you're the key to getting out!"
This is completely unfounded. Something twists in my stomach, telling me that these words and that faith is misplaced. I'm not the type of person you can believe in. I don't know anything about myself, but that instinctive knowledge in the back of my head tells me I can't even trust myself. The fact that I know this so automatically is frightening.
"Why are you saying all of this? And why now? You could have waited until hanging off the ceiling in front of me wasn't super creepy."
"I don't want to worry everyone by not believing we'll be rescued. Openly, anyway. But I want your help in finding a way out of here."
Once again, I am wondering "why me", but I bite my lip. I look up into those red eyes again. They're obviously fake. Something horrible has been done to this boy's bones and body, and his eye sockets were not excluded from the horror. But I can see honest trust in his mangled expression. He talks about not wanting to worry others, like their hope of rescue is a fragile thing, but I think his hope of escaping must be just as fragile. I don't know how I know, but I can tell he is losing faith in his ability to escape.
"Okay. I don't know what I can do, though."
"That's okay! I don't either!"
His expression twists into a smile. When hanging upside-down, it almost looks like a giant frown. It does somehow inspire some relief in me.
"I think we should explore the house better. It's huge! I can look through the ceiling ducts and vents, but I have trouble seeing from the ground."
Being stuck in an eternal crab walk must suck.
"Okay. I'll look around by foot tomorrow."
"Rooms that people are in have names on them. We should find out if any doors with names are unaccounted for."
"Right. Then we can be there when they wake up, too."
He nods with that poor crippled neck of his. I nod back. The footsteps in the hallway return. I imagine that they've either calmed the new people down or had Kniffy drug them. They must be returning to bed now... the thought makes me yawn.
"Well then. Meeting adjourned. Now get out of my room, I want to sleep."
"Aw. But you look cute when you sleep, Rosau.
Cefu grins and scuttles away. I wait until I see him retreat into the ceiling before I lay back again. I lay awake for a few minutes longer, thinking through everything he just told me. About this strange alliance. Fourteen of us are all stuck in a house, kidnapped and mauled horrifically, and only two of us have a pact to escape. Three if you count Ticker, but I don't. Jerk opened a door in my face. I drift off to sleep, imagining scenarios where I get my door-opening revenge on Ticker's face.