Part Ten: Alia's Caretaker

I zone out until the receptionist announces "Okay, you may see them now." Friend helps me stand up. As soon as I do my vision goes black and I feel like I've gained a thousand pounds. I start to fall, but he catches me and I recover before he can tell the receptionist to take me to the hospital.

"Are you sure you can do this? Do you have to talk to them now? Can it not wait?" he whispers.

"Yuh..." I manage to get out.

Friend shakes his head, but takes me through some side doors. I still can't see very well, but based on the judgemental silence that fills the room I'm guessing Scary Guy and Mean Lady are here.

"What is your business?" Scary Guy asks.

Friend replies for me. "Sir, ma'am." He tries his best to bow while holding me up. "Thank you so much for sacrificing your precious time to meet with us. We are both honoured. We asked to meet with you because Alia has something she really wants to say. She did not give me as much as a clue to what it is, so if it's unimportant or offensive, my deepest, most sincere apologies." I hope they don't expect me to speak that formally, but I think over the years I've lowered their expectations enough that all I have to do is pay attention to what's going on.

"Well, Alia, what do you have to say?" That's a good question. I probably should've asked the miracle person that. Wait, did Scary Guy use my new name? That's another thing Miracle must've changed. He never would've accepted my new name on his own. I'm not sure how I feel about him calling me 'Alia.' I want people to call me by me new name, but it feels like my old life and new life are mixing together and soon it will be like my new life never had a chance to exist.

"And why are you alone? What are you even wearing?!" Mean Lady yaps.

"Stop leaning on your friend. Stand alone, powerful, and confident. Or flop on the floor. It doesn't matter. As long as you show your power."

What power? I don't know what Miracle's planning, but I'm pretty sure it will end badly for me. Maybe I should leave now while I have the chance. But where would I go? No matter what I do it seems I'll always be someone's puppet.

"Let go of me please," I mutter. Friend hesitantly releases me. I fall to my knees, but manage to stay upright.

Scary Guy laughs. "I see you're finally showing some respect." Drop dead. Why is being in a position that makes you easier to kill, anyway? I don't understand his constant need to show he has power over everyone.

"What to I say?" I whisper to distract myself from flashing a rude gesture.

I wasn't quiet enough, because Friend hears me. "What?! You— you don't even—"

He collapses. Did I do that? Was it Miracle? I didn't try to knock him out, but I didn't try to knock Mean Lady out, either. I hope I didn't hurt him.

"Oh my, whatever cold I've caught must be contagious." My vision's cleared up enough that I can see Scary Guy and Mean Lady don't believe me at all.

"Repeat after me: This is a warning. You will all die at the hands of, huh, you know, I never really thought about what to call myself. Shaida the Conqueror? Is that too common? Oh well, they'll be too dead to make fun of me. Wait, don't repeat that. Just say they'll all die at the hands of Shaida the Conqueror. Actually, no. Just tell them they'll all die. Death is inevitable."

Everyone will die? "What about—"

"Your kid? He'll be fine. I promise I won't hurt him. I moved him to a place similar to this, except the people are actually decent. Your other kid's still dead. Now hurry up."

"I have a warning: Death is inevitable. Everyone will die at the hands of Shaida. that's all, I think." That was a bad idea. I should not have done that. Scary Guy and Mean Lady are still processing what I said, but once it hits them they'll arrest me and torture me until I tell them everything, which I can't because I know nothing. I wish I could die now. There's no other way I'll get out of this.

Somewhere outside, a door crashes shut. The door to the room I'm in opens and I hear a familiar voice. "—you think you'd feel if one by one, your organs were filled with green liquid until they exploded! The less important organs would go first, and then—" Rachel pauses, noticing I'm in the room. "HEY, ALIA! GUESS WHAT?! I GOT ARRESTED! by these losers, so it's not quite as cool, but it still counts!"

I'd like to turn around, but I don't think I'd be able to without losing my balance. Mean Lady raises an eyebrow. "You know this person?"

"She tried to kill someone!" a guard who brought Rachel here exclaims.

"Yeah, and I was really close, too! Except I was super unprepared so it didn't work out." Rachel tried to murder someone? Why? And why here? I didn't think she'd be the type to murder a person. I hope my life's a nightmare and I'll wake up soon.

"Are you in trouble too, Alia?" Rachel asks. I nod numbly. "Awesome! Oh, hey, you know what we should do? Lets do a jail break!"

Since that seems like the best option I try to stand up, but only end up flopping in Rachel's general direction.

"Not again, Alia." Rachel runs over, scoops me into her arms, and dashes towards the exit screaming "RACHEL IS ALL! ALL IS RACHEL! FLEE, RACHELLIANS, OR I WILL REMOVE YOU FROM EXISTANCE AND BEING ALIVE-NESS!" For some reason no one stops her. She manages to make it outside and continues to sprint down the road. "BOW DOWN AND TREMBLE BENEATH THE EXTREME AWESOMENESS OF THE MIGHTY RACHEL!" I wonder if she has any idea where we're going.

Suddenly the ground under her feet disappears as we're launched into the air. "What's going on?" Friend asks. Friend... It takes me a few seconds to realise what I did. I left Friend unconscious with Scary Guy and Mean Lady. They could have tortured or killed him and it would've been my fault. Every inch of me is filled with guilt. How could I possibly apologise for this?

"UNHAND ME, YOU D— Oh, hello delivery boy. Yeah, could you please put me and my friend down somewhere green? Ooo, how about a nice, big field. But not one with snakes. Those things are creepy," requests Rachel.

"Who are you?" Friend asks, bewildered.

Rachel pouts and pulls out a knife. "You don't remember me? I was the one you gave the stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby knife to. It was a bad stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby knife, though. It didn't do the job. This stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby knife's a lot better. The hilt's green."

"I— I... That's not what I meant. I meant, uh... Could you please put the knife away?"

"Put me down first, delivery boy, and don't drop me or I'll stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stab you. I know what you're thinking. 'How can Rachel stab me while she's falling? Well... Rachel can stretch." She makes her arms grow long enough that they wrap around us three times. This startles Friend so much he almost drops Rachel, causing me to lose my balance and start slipping.

Rachel's freakishly long arms catch me before I can fall too far. Her eyes light up and she screeches "Drop Alia and you'll be in a lot more pain than if I just stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stabby stabbed you!"

Friends sets his jaw and flies to the nearest field, seemingly as fast as he can. Wind whizzes past us and I feel a second away from passing out.

After what feels like an eternity we land. Friend puts Rachel down and backs away from her, nearly tripping over himself in his rush to put some space between them.

Rachel lets go of me. Immediately I fall to the ground and throw up. Or, more accurately, I dry heave. Nothing comes out except a bit of saliva.

"I'm not sure what happened, but I'm guessing the hospital's out of the question." Friend shifts his glare between Rachel and me.

"Oh, no. Not at all. You can go to the hospital. You can go to all the hospitals. Knock yourself out. That way you'll have a reason to be in the hospital! That's great! Bye now. Fly away, delivery boy. Break a leg. Or a neck. Whatever works. Bye bye!" Rachel waves her hands at him in a shooing motion. When he doesn't move she points at the sky. He still does nothing. Rachel decides to try a different tactic. She inches towards him, miming breaking something in half and whispering "Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap. Snap."

Friend takes a step back, shaking his head. "Wha— what's wrong with you?!"

Rachel recoils as if she's been slapped. She clenches her fists. Her eyes light up, then return to normal. Her face shows no emotion as she whispers "Nonametoo."

"What? What does that even mean?"

Nonametoo appears in front of Rachel, hissing, growling, and clenching her teeth. Her hands claw the air and her wild orange eyes dart around before landing on Friend.

"I— I— I— who— I— wha—" he stutters, his eyes nearly bursting from his skull. "I—" Nonametoo charges and he runs. She chases him halfway across the field before he takes off and flies out of sight.

Rachel scared my friend away. I think this upsets me, but I can't tell. My stomach aches. My mind's foggy. My body's so weak and I'm so exhausted I think I'm finally dying. I hope it ends soon. Content, I lie my head on the grass and close my eyes.

I hear Nonametoo come back. "How'd I do? Was I scary enough? If you want, I can find out where he lives and make sure he never comes back. I might need to take a few breaks, though."

"It's fine," Rachel replies. "Alia knows him and their relationship seems to be somewhat positive, but he's annoying and cowardly. He definitely would've gotten us caught. We're running from the law, by the way."

"Ooo, that sounds fun! Can I come? Oh, also, the green from the grass really brings out how gorgeous you are."

"You're the best, Two, but you can't come. The more people, the higher chance we'll get caught. Plus, you're bright yellow and translucent. You really stand out. You can watch out of my eyes, though. Front row seats!"

"Awesome!" Nonametoo cheers. "I love you."

"I love your unending energy," Rachel responds. It's quiet for a few seconds before she remembers me. "So, Alia, who was that delivery boy guy person? I'm sorry for scaring him away, but based off everyone else here I'm having a hard time believing he's not an evil, sadistic serial killer. At the very least, he works in customer service, so there must be some kinds of problems caused by being screamed at and expected to perform miracles. How long has he had that job? Alia? ...Again? You know, I'm starting to think there might be something wrong with you. Medically. Are you feeling okay? Alia? Why aren't you getting up? Why aren't you moving? Alia? Alll-lee-ah? Alia!"

I feel hands on the side of my face. Rachel turns my head from side to side. "Alia..." She taps my cheek. "Alia, wake up." I want to tell her I'm fine, but I can't move. My body's fallen asleep while my mind remains awake.

Rachel lifts my arm and drops it a few times. "Alia! Alia, wake up! Wake up! Alia!" She puts her hands on my shoulders and shakes me, gently at first, but harder as time goes by. "ALIA, THIS IS RACHEL SPEAKING. WAKE UP. IF YOU CAN'T WAKE UP, THEN, UM... STAY UNCONCIOUS." She switches to muttering to herself. "No, no. What did Rachel do? Rachel broke her friend. Her pretty little Alia."

I hear Rachel flop down next to me and her break down in tears. "No... Rachel was supposed to help her Alia, not hurt her Alia. Rachel failed. No, no... Rachel can't lose her Alia. Rachel needs her Alia. No..." My mind catches up with my body and I slip into unconsciousness.

When I wake up, Rachel's still talking. "Alright, breathing pattern's changed, eyes and eyelids moving, almost awake, gotta get..." She scurries away and comes back as my eyes start to open. "Ah! Open eyes! Drink this, Alia!" she yells as she splashes a liquid I assume is water into my mouth.

This takes me by surprise and I start to gag as soon as some of it hits the back of my throat. I was lying on my back, but I roll to my stomach and dry heave.

"No, Alia! That's the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do!"

I try to tell her I'm sorry and that it was an accident, but my throat's so dry all that comes out is a scratchy whimper. Besides the water Rachel threw at me, I don't think there's any liquid in my mouth. My brain feels like it's on fire and my bones as if they're made out of dust. Why aren't I dead?

"There, there." Rachel pats me on the back and rolls me over. She helps me sit up against something. A tree? Are we in a forest? I'm able to move my head a bit, with added pain, but my vision still hasn't cleared. I see mostly dark green with some light shining through, and brown lines reaching towards the ground. How did we get here? I don't remember seeing a forest when we were in a field.

Rachel walks over to something black, white, and red... and moving. Noname. Rachel asks her a question and Noname points to a light splotch on the ground. Rachel goes to it, picks something up near it, and fills the cup in her hand. She brings it back and hands it to me, but when I try to hold it my hands shake, spilling some of the water. Rachel supports the cup and helps me bring it to my lips. My throat stings as I swallow, but I know if I keep drinking I should feel at least a little better soon.

Over Rachel's shoulder, I watch as Noname disappears, reappears holding some sort of light coloured package, puts the package down, and disappears again. Rachel follows my gaze. "Noname's getting those from out of my mind! Isn't that cool?! My mind's amazing! I can store as much as I want in there, though it does get a bit uncomfortable. We, uh... surprise permanently borrowed these huge ugly bags and supplies to put in the huge ugly bags when my plan to kill your husband failed! And those dumb guards only arrested me for attempter murder! They had no idea I, um, stole all that stuff!"

My husband was the person Rachel tried to kill? Why? Did I accidentally ask her to? Did she do it for me?

"Good job!" Rachel takes the cup away and puts it on the ground. She gets another cup out of a bag. This one's filled with slimy yellow sludge. It looks a lot like how I imagine Nonametoo would look if she fell into a meat grinder.

"Now it's time for you to eat this!" Rachel holds the crushed Nonametoo out to me. I shrink back.

"Wuh..." I wheeze. My voice cracks and as hard as I try, I can't make another sound.

Rachel pats my head. "Poor Alia. Don't worry. I'll fix you! Maybe you'll be even better than before, and become giant and have glowing eyes and become ULTIMATE ALIA! Oh, yeah, and this is squished fruits. They're pretty good."

Noname appears beside her and hands her a spoon. Rachel scoops some fruit out and puts it in my mouth. Without thinking, I spit it all out, making sure none's left in my mouth.

"Did it... go bad?" Noname inquires. Both her and Rachel wear identical expressions of concern. Their eyebrows are slightly furrowed, their left ones raised a little, and their lips tensed.

No, there's nothing wrong with the food. I'm just not used to eating. When I lived with my husband, every bite of food came with a price. It was always a trap, even when he promised that meal would be free. Often, when he wanted an excuse to torture me, he'd force me or trick me into eating.

Since I never got punished for drinking anything non-alcoholic, beverages became my only source of nutrition. They barely kept me alive, but I was so terrified of the consequences of eating I trained myself to expel any food that entered my mouth as quick as possible. I'm so used to being hungry I barely notice the pains any more.

"Are you okay?" Rachel asks. I shake my head. "I'm sorry about that, but could you please try to eat this? For me? I know it's difficult, but if you could do that, that would be amazing. Do you think you could?"

Their eyes bore into me; Rachel's green and Noname's black, both waiting for my reaction, like I'm a skittish animal they're trying to lure. I want to eat the food. I want to feel better, but I'm not sure I can do this with them watching me.

"Cah...can... I..." I rasp. My throat's still raw and it hurts to speak. Rachel and Noname continue to stare at me, more confused. I point at them and cover my eyes. They still don't do anything, so I take the cup and spoon out of Rachel's hand and try to crawl behind the tree I was sitting against.

Noname realises what I'm trying to do. "No, Alia. We need to make sure you actually eat."

I crawl back around and sit down, staring at the cup in my hand until everything around me disappears. I need to eat. I'm hungry. This is food. Food is good. I should eat this. I should eat this. I should— No, I can't— No. Rachel and Noname aren't going to hurt me.

I make myself put some of the food in my mouth and fight against the instinct to spit it out. They're not going to hurt me. They're not going to hurt me. They don't want anything from me. They're not going to hurt me.

I force myself to chew. See, that's not so bad. It tastes good. Sweet and mild. Now all I need to do is swallow it. I let out a whimper and tears start to form at the thought. I can't. I can't. I can't I can't. I swallow hard before I can talk myself out of it.

As the fruit slides down my throat the water I drank rises up to meet it and I have to clamp my hand over my mouth to avoid throwing up. Tears stream down my face as I make myself swallow until there's nothing left in my mouth but the bitter taste of stomach acid. I think I would have let myself vomit if Rachel and Noname weren't still staring at me. Part of me wishes they'd stop; I'm not their science experiment, but I'm also glad they're there. I don't want to be alone. I want people who will protect me. I want to feel safe.

"You're doing so good," Rachel tells me. "You're so brave."

The second bite's easier because if I was back at my husband's house it would already be too late for me. Still, I can't get rid of the feeling freezing my head, pressing down on my shoulders, and squeezing my stomach that I've brought a horrible mistake upon myself.

By the time I finish the fruit I'm shaking like a leaf and can't see through my tears. Rachel smoothes my hair and pries the cup away from me. "You did amazing. I'm so proud of you. You should be proud of yourself, too. I'm sure that must've taken a lot of effort. I won't ask anything more of you today. If you'd like another cup of water or anything else, just ask. I'm going to prepare the sleeping area. You should try to get some rest, but if you can't, that's fine."

I nod. The weight in my stomach makes me feel warm and heavy, and my dread is lessening ever so slightly. However, I don't intend on falling asleep. I have a plan and I need to stick to it. I'm sure it won't bother Rachel too much.

Slouching even more against the tree, I watch as Rachel, Brandon, and Nonametoo set up and Noname continues to get bags from Rachel's mind. They tie plastic tarps to the trees above our heads and lay one out on the ground. Then Rachel and Brandon hold open giant cloth pouches as Nonametoo stuffs them with pillows. They place these pouches on top of the tarp, with pillows filling the gaps and throw more pillows on top. How many bedding stores did Rachel rob? To finish it off, they throw blanket upon blanket onto the pouches, until they're no longer visible. It resembles a blanket fort pyramid made by a child that collapsed as they were running to show their parents.

For a second, behind the pile, I think I see the girl who's not a real nurse spreading out the blankets more evenly. I wonder if she's another one of Rachel's imaginary friends or if she's a figment of my own imagination and never existed at all. Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me.

Brandon and Noname disappears back into Rachel's mind and she walks over to me. "Do you want to try to go to sleep?"

I nod again. Rachel carries me to the sleeping area, allowing me to support myself as much as I'm able to. She puts me down, tosses a bunch of blankets on me, and, after a second of hesitation, walks away.

Peeking through the covers, I watch as Noname hands Rachel the rest of the bags and Rachel finds a place for them. By the time they're done, we're surrounded by a thick circle of oversized, ugly hand bags.

Rachel glances at me. I close my eyes and try to relax my face. "Did I do good?" she whispers.

"Purses?" asks Noname.


As they speak I slowly move my head into a more natural position. Neither of them seem to notice. I hope I'll be able to stay still. I can feel my feet sliding into the gaps between the pouches and I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up the act if the rest of me starts to slide with them.

"You did great, Rachel, and I truly mean that. From what I got from your memory about the information you read about her, I didn't think she's eat at all and thought it was possible she might run away. You did good. She did amazing. You should... What you did is an eye. The green of a mist covered, dewy field in a mountain morning positivity wise; a deep, warm brown with hints of gold when the rising or setting sun hits them, um, whatever the other thing was called wise."

I hear clapping. "I can't remember, either, but I did a good thing!" Rachel's voice is filled with the glee of a small child.

"You and Alia worked together to do a good thing."

"Will she be my friend even more now? Is this how I can make friends?"

"Rachel, be nice to improve others' lives. Don't do it for a reward or in exchange for something. If you do, you're not really nice. Make friends by chance, not by calculation."

I don't remember falling asleep, but I know I must've at some point. They sky's turned dark. I hope it's not too late to carry out my plan.

If I roll off the sleeping area, my weight should cause it to lower me to a relatively soft landing. I'd have to get rid of the blankets first, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem. It might take me a while to get over the bags and I still probably won't be able to move very fast. However, if Rachel wakes up it will take a while to look through the blankets and realise I'm not there. The sounds of the wildlife should cover up my leaving, and in a big forest it's so easy to get lost. There's only one more thing I need.

Before I can complete even part of my plan, I realise I can't move. Something's holding me down. I'm trapped. My first instinct is to struggle, but I don't want to alert anyone that I'm awake.

From what I can tell, whatever's restraining me is beside me and at least as long as my body. Part of it's holding my head against it and another's wrapped around my back, pinning my arms to my side. In this position, there's no way of telling how big it is.

I nod my head, shrug my shoulders, and move my legs. I don't seem to be tightly bound, in fact, I don't think the things holding me are even attached to the big object. I might be able to—

No! Stop thinking like this. You're only going to get yourself hurt. You should know better by now you can't make things better. They'll only get worse if you fight. Go back to sleep. Pretend everything's fine and maybe your punishment will be less painful.

No. I made a plan and I need to stick to it. Either way, it'll be the last thing I do. I roll over, surprisingly with no resistance. I'm let go.

I fall and hit the ground hard. I get a face full of dirt and bang my knee on a rock. I'm outside. Of course I'm outside. I saw the sky when I woke up.

I look up to make sure the sky's still there. It is, but there's leaves blocking most of it. Trees? I'm in a forest? That makes sense. That is where I fell asleep.

No, you ate the food, and something bad's happened. This is your fault. Don't make things worse. Pretend you rolled off the ledge in your sleep if questions are asked.

Fighting against what I've trained myself to do and the weight in my stomach, I peek over the top of the sleeping area. The same sleeping area I fell asleep in. I see copper hair glowing in the moonlight. The hair that belongs to the same person who was there when I fell asleep.

I see Rachel, fast asleep, her limbs spread out and head tilted to the side. Of course Rachel's still here. Of course I'm still here. Rachel wanted to kill my husband. She wouldn't let anything bad happen to me.

I'm stupid. I'm so, so, stupid. I assume the worst without any evidence. I'm useless and dumb. I don't work right. I'm not good for anything. It's good I'll be gone soon. No one will miss me. Not even Rachel. She'll find some other, new, better, more interesting friend to follow and commit murder for. Or maybe she'll get herself some professional help. I think we both need it.

I crawl towards the ring of bags. The food in my stomach reminds me of when I was pregnant. Except now, if I find toys in the bags, I can play with them. I can play with all the toys. No one's going to stop me because 'that's not what wives do.' And there's not going to be a baby. I wish there never were babies. That would be better for everyone.

The first ten bags contain cloth and other boring items, but in the eleventh there's a whole bunch of green spheres! I sit down and dump them all in my lap. There's so many! In different sizes, too! I pick up one in each hand. They're so smooth and cool. Probably made out of glass. Glass things are dangerous. Not for kids.

I move onto other bags. They're all boring too. Rachel's an exciting person. Why doesn't she have exciting stuff? Several bags later, I realise the bags have another compartment inside of them! Rachel must put her toys in them to keep them safe! I unzip the compartment, reach in, and pull out a small container. We're getting closer! Inside the container is a... a knife.

A knife. Right, I had a plan. I can't believe I forgot. I'm so broken. Too broken.

I re-sheath the knife, tuck it into my bra, and crawl out of the ring of bags, into the deep, dark forest.