The ceiling fan turned clockwise. It was in stark juxtaposition with what the rest of the room was doing – staying perfectly still. Laska followed the blades with her eyes until she became nauseatingly dizzy. A muffled set of footsteps ascended the stairs and her bedroom door creaked open. Laska sat up slowly and made eye contact with Marcus. She smiled and he grinned back.
"Doing okay up here?" he asked softly with the gravelly whisper-voice Laska loved.
"Now that you're here, definitely," Laska replied happily. Marcus sat next to her, making the bed shift. She rolled toward him. "How are you?"
"I'm just fine. I – I have a message though. I think you're gonna want to hear this…"
Suddenly worried, Laska sat upright. Marcus grimaced, his boyish features hardening.
"…I hate to be the one to have to tell you this…" he trailed off, taking a shaky breath. "They're coming for you and you need to get out of here. They…they want to scan your brain. They – they think you know something important. Something they need to know in order to control the world. They…they want to dissect your brain, Laska. It's…it's just very important that we leave."
By this time, Laska had fallen back on her bed, sinking softly into the white goose-down comforter. Somehow, she knew this was bound to happen. With fear rising, she leapt up.
"Alright, well we better pack." Laska grabbed a backpack and quickly filled it with underthings, T-shirts, and denim. She threw on two sweatshirts, clambered down the stairwell into the hallway, and quickly made her way to the kitchen. Marcus followed, biting his lip and furrowing his worried brow.
"Let's see…we'll need some food," she grabbed cans – peaches, ravioli, beef soup – "and some water…" Laska was rushing around hurriedly. How had this happened? How had they found where she was staying? Maybe someone gave her location away…but who would've done that?
Just as Laska started systematically running through everyone in her courses, a shattering sounded from the front room. Oh god, they're here, she thought. She and Marcus were too late. Frantically hoisting the backpack over her shoulder, Laska made a mad dash for the sliding-glass back door.
"Marcus! Hurry!" she shouted, her voice breaking. "They're here!" Footsteps clattered behind her but Laska didn't turn to make sure the boy followed her. She took the porch steps in one bound and decided to hop the fence into her neighbor's backyard, landing with a thud on some sweet-smelling bushes. Marcus soon appeared at her side.
"Okay, be really quiet," he whispered. "They're searching the house." Laska's panic rose.
"We have to go! We've gotta get away from here! They'll follow the noise. They had to've seen!" She stood and jerked her head around wildly, searching for an acceptable path and decided to sprint across the small swatch of lawn and hop the next fence, encountering a bed of jagged rocks and cutting her knees and left palm. Laska heaved herself and leapt up, traversing this lawn as well and scaling the next low fence as well just as a shout sounded behind her. She didn't turn to see – she knew it was them. She found herself on one of the manicured neighborhood trails, which meandered through what was left of the woods.
Laska glanced back once to make sure Marcus was following and then she kept running. The can-laden backpack suddenly felt too heavy so Laska dropped it mid-run and kept going. She had to escape the white-coated men who wanted to take her away. Movement registered in her peripheral vision and Laska felt a surge of adrenaline and fear. It was merely Marcus, catching up. She felt a measure of relief but then realized that the hairs on the back of her neck were prickling.
"They saw us, Laska!" Marcus shouted somewhere near her right ear. Shit! Laska tried to speed up, her chest burning, her lungs fit to explode. She dared not glance behind her at the pursuers as she wound around the neatly wood-chipped trails that eventually let out at a set of soccer fields. Laska kept up her pace and flew down a hill, across an empty field, nearing an elementary school parking lot, and suddenly felt her knees give way. She rolled, disoriented and thought that they'd catch her now and take her away. They'd take all sorts of scans of her brain and find out what was in there that they needed. They'd take the greyish matter out in slices and put it on slides under microscope lenses. Then they'd discard her, used and worthless. They'd cut her open and use her organs for experiments. They'd pull her apart with all sorts of frightening implements. She used the last of her breath to scream.
"Marcus!" And then the world faded as white-coated men descended upon her.
The persistent blip woke Laska. She blinked her eyes into focus and realized she was tucked into a bed. It was unfamiliar and though the room seemed to have been decorated as "normal" as possible, it was clearly a hospital bed. Why was she here? She didn't feel sick…a short woman with chocolate brown hair entered the room. She was wearing a white coat, which made Laska immediately anxious. The blipping increased in frequency.
"Hi there, Miss Laska," the woman said warmly, checking her clipboard and attending to the IV that connected Laska's arm to a sack of clear fluid. Uneasiness rose in the back of Laska's throat again. With a pang of uninhibited fear, she realized that the white-coated woman was probably one of them and was trying to sedate her for surgery. Laska jerked in order to rip out the IV but realized that her wrists were trapped by restraints. She screamed.
The brown haired woman's eyes widened but she kept her calm and called a code. Immediately, nurses arrived and Laska continued to scream and struggle unsuccessfully as they stuck her with a syringe.
The next time Laska woke, he was there. Thank God they let Marcus in, Laska thought. She was worried sick but he always had an uncanny way of calming her down with his kind smile and wide, innocent eyes. He smiled and squeezed the hand of her needle-free arm.
"Good morning," Marcus greeted her. Laska smiled as warmth flooded her. Marcus was her only real friend. She found herself briefly reminiscing about her high school days, when Marcus would help turn her backpack right-side out, lift her off the ground, chase the bullies away. He was always protecting her. And he was bound and determined to save her from these whack-job doctors who wanted to study her neural pathways.
"Hi Marcus. Wh-why am I here? Where..where am I?" She needed to know. Even if the news was dire. Marcus hesitated.
"In the hospital…though I can't be sure if these doctors are working with them – the ones who want your brain. I have my suspicions though…" he trailed off and glanced out the large window on the left wall. The sky was bright white – an overcast morning with the sun threatening to peek through. Marcus' sharp jawline was outlined gracefully with the contrast of bright light and shadow.
Laska felt the dread rising in her throat. There was a moment of silence.
"What do I do, Marcus?" She asked in a small voice. He snapped out of his reverie and leveled his gaze with hers.
"We have to find a way out of here. Just to be safe. Unless we can be sure these doctors are okay." It was that moment that the heavy door again opened, silently. It was the same brunette doctor from before. Her large eyes dominated a small face.
"Hello there. How are you feeling, Laska?" she asked in a sugary, high-pitched voice. Laska tried to calm her breathing. Perhaps if she played along for a while, an opportunity to escape would arise.
"Fine," she answered, trying to keep a straight face.
"Good, good. We were a little worried there earlier, weren't we?" The doctor checked Laska's vitals and made notes on her clipboard. Laska swallowed slowly around the lump in her throat and heard the beeping increase again as the doctor continued to hover around the IV bag, making sure the liquid was flowing freely. Laska focused on even breathing.
"Alright, well. I'm Dr. Mallory." Laska stayed motionless. "So, Laska, do you know why you're here?" Dr. Mallory asked as she pulled up a stool with her foot and took a seat beside Laska's hospital bed. Laska tried to recall what had happened before she woke up in the hospital. With another wave of adrenaline and panic, she remembered the chase through her neighbors' backyards and across the field. But could she trust this Dr. Mallory with the story? Perhaps this doctor was working for them but hadn't yet caught on to just who Laska was.
"I…I was running," she answered simply. "And I remember falling down." She bit her lip, embarrassed at the weakness. She would have to work up more stamina if she wanted to outrun them in the future. They must have caught up to her. This must be their hospital. Laska tried to cap her panic but was suddenly very angry with Dr. Mallory for trying to play her for a fool.
Dr. Mallory was nodding. "Yes, yes, sweetie…were…were you being chased, by chance?" This was it. She knew. Laska shook her head quickly, attempting to keep the anger off of her face. Dr. Mallory's eyes flashed up from her notes, a small frown on her face as she made notes on her clipboard.
"Okay, Laska, I'm going to send in a very nice man named Dr. Clarke. Dr. Clarke is going to ask you some more questions. Is that okay?" Laska sighed deeply. She wanted nothing more than to escape with Marcus, who was loitering in the far corner of the room, looking restless and uncomfortable.
Laska quickly glanced at the window, addressing her options as far as that outlet went. They were clearly several floors up – okay maybe on the third floor. The top of an evergreen wiped its branches across the glass. Probably not the best option, but if necessary, Laska figured she would climb down the tree.
"Laska? Is that alright, sweetie? I'm gonna send him in, okay?" Dr. Mallory continued and then stood to leave. Laska prepared herself to face another one of them. A tall, grey-haired man entered the room slowly, trading places and exchanging hellos with Dr. Mallory.
"Hello Laska. I'm Dr. Clarke and I've got some questions about your…experience yesterday." Laska sat still, staring straight forward. For a moment, the beeping filled the silent room. He continued. "Now, I need to know if you felt that you were being…pursued. Was someone chasing you across that field?" Laska looked up to see what Marcus thought she should do but was met with an empty wall. Where had he gone? Surely he couldn't have made it out when the door was open? But she was so focused on keeping calm and trying to guess the doctors' intentions that she must have missed his exit. Perhaps he'd gone to investigate. She hoped.
"Did you hear me, Laska?" Dr. Clarke was asking.
"Yes," she answered simply.
"Yes you heard me or yes you were being pursued yesterday?"
"Yes," she answered again, in no mood for cooperating.
"Laska, I need to know." Dr. Clarke's voice took on a deeper, commanding tone. Laska felt her anxiety rising.
"Yes, I was being chased," she answered quickly and quietly. Dr. Clarke nodded, his wrinkled features softening.
"Thank you, Laska. Now, may I ask who was chasing you?" Laska shut her eyes tightly, willing him to go away. If only she could move her arms. Then she could take the three paces to the window quickly and haul open the glass. Did it open? Laska frowned, searching the pane for a latch.
"Laska…" Dr. Clarke trailed off, his voice patient but edged with exasperation. Laska shifted her gaze back to the doctor. She scowled at him and suddenly wished Marcus was here. He could tell off this nosy, brain-dissecting, organ-harvesting doctor and Laska would just sit here and laugh, ready to make a getaway as soon as they finished berating this whack-job of a doctor.
Laska felt herself smiling at the thought of Marcus – short, sweet-faced Marcus – yelling at this tall, aged man, telling him what an evil person he was.
"What do you find amusing, Laska?" Dr. Clarke inquired calmly, poised to take notes.
"My friend Marc-" Laska snapped her mouth shut as she remembered who she was talking to.
"Oh. What about you friend?" Laska sat silently. There was no way this lunatic was getting any more information about her. Dr. Clarke frowned and changed the subject.
"Tell me about your pursuers. Were they…from the government?" He hesitated. Laska imagined that all of her muscles were relaxing. She focused on calming herself down, one muscle group at a time until she was sure she would be frozen in this position forever. Maybe the doctor would leave, thinking she'd slipped into a coma. Dr. Clarke was waiting for an answer he would never get, and yet he continued his torrent of questions anyway.
"Were they a gang?" He paused again. "An institution?" Another pause. "…Doctors?" Laska's eyes widened suddenly without her permission. She struggled to hold down her panic as sweat broke out on her forehead. Dr. Clarke made a note.
"I understand your apprehension in my presence then," Dr. Clarke told her sympathetically. "I can assure you that I wasn't one of the doctors chasing you though, nor do I work for them." He knew too much without her so much as uttering a word. He couldn't be trusted. Laska knew better than to trust strange men.
Laska longed for Marcus. He would know what to do.
"You don't trust me, do you?" Dr. Clarke asked, suddenly dropping the here-let-me-help-you doctor voice. Laska shook her head. That information was no secret. "Well that's very wise of you. There aren't many people in this world worthy of our trust. But I promise I'm not a sinister figure here. I'm not here to take anything away from you. I'm here because I happen to know a lot about schizophrenia."