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Sound of Silence
The darkness wrapped around her like arms, pulling her down into it. The shadows crept along the floor. The tendril-fingers reached out for her hands, telling her that it was alright without ever saying a word. She knew it wasn't alright, though (it had never been alright), and ran as fast as she could, sprinting down the decrepit hallways. Doors flew open as she ran past them, the entire building reacting to her own fear, trying to offer her somewhere to hide. But the only places they had to offer were the same places she was running from; the sterile, white-washed walls and bed sheets tucked in perfect corners, cold rooms, strangers patting her forehead and telling her she was safe, sliding needles under her skin to make her sleep...
A wall rose up in front of her. The end of the hallway. She wasn't sure how she could have been so stupid. She knew that there was no fire escape here; this was a dead end! She'd known it, but she'd run towards it anyway! To her left was a set of double doors, wedged slightly open, the only set not responding to her. She had learned well enough to be suspicious of anything resistant to her power by now, but there was no other option. The darkness crept ever closer.
Through the doors and into a marginally brighter hallway, bare bulbs swung from the ceiling, making her dance to avoid the shifting shadows they created. Once more, all of the doors flung themselves open as she kept running. That was all she knew how to do--run. Run as fast and as far as she could. A sign hung down at another junction of hallways, indicating that she would find "surgery" to her right. Cold scalpels and gasses that made her see fairies dancing above her, made fear rise up in her throat. The darkness roared and she turned into surgery.
The entire world shifted. She was used to it, by now; the hospital never stayed the same for very long. It twisted in on itself, turning short hallways into labyrinths or making her run on the ceiling for a while. Being used to such a thing and not being disoriented by it, however, were two very different things. The operating room formed itself around her, boxing her in, as she hit the ground hard and gasped for breath. She didn't have time for this! There was no time to breathe. There was only time to run away from him--
"Anna, wake up, come on!" The woman's voice was so very different from the last one Anna had heard in the hospital that it forced her awake. The face slowly appeared, hovering over her; short, curly brown hair, dark eyes, tan skin, the smell of the ocean...Alexis. "We don't want to be late today."
Anna slowly sat up and Alexis took two steps away. She was already dressed, of course, ready to go in her t-shirts and shorts, whereas Anna still lay there in her nightgown. She tilted her head curiously at Alexis.
Alexis looked back at her sister. "First day of junior year? Remember? I'm driving us today, mom already left for work. Come on, I've got your notebook and your whiteboard already."
Anna smiled in appreciation and pushed herself out of bed as Alexis left. Anna hadn't spoken since she was a child, and always carried a notebook and whiteboard with her so that she could communicate. Not that she ever needed them; Alexis usually spoke for her, able to tell her thoughts and find her words.
Anna got dressed as quickly as she could with her hands still shaking. She'd been having those dreams--nightmares--for as long as she could remember, always running through the same building, always with the doors opening and closing themselves at her whim. At least, she thought, the wheelchair hadn't been following her this time.
True to form, Alexis already had their backpacks packed, and stood waiting by the door. She reached over and tucked a loose strand of Anna's hair back where it belonged, behind her ear. They were twins, both sixteen years old, but there was only the most basic physical resemblance between them. While Anna kept her brown hair long and loose, Alexis had cut most of her's off after it got tangled in a tree branch while she was climbing. Alexis was tall and lean, tan from too many summers spent in the sun; Anna was short and bird-like, as pale as milk. Anna wore long flowing dresses and skirts, but Alexis preferred the easy maneuverability of t-shirts and basketball shorts. Alexis was days spent on the shore and in the park; Anna was the cool floor of the library on a rainy day.
None of that necessarily made Alexis a particularly spectacular driver, as evidenced by the way Anna clutched the car door when they finally swung into Alexis's parking spot in the student lot. Anna clambered out of the car as fast as she could, dragging her backpack with her, shaking still. Alexis snorted.
"I'm not that bad," She rolled her eyes, elbowing Anna as they stopped off in the main office to get their schedules. Anna raised an eyebrow at her, trying to broadcast her thoughts through to Alexis. Alexis gasped. "Oh, nice, Anna. Nice language. You know, maybe it's good that you can't talk."
It was a topic that had become a running joke between the two of them, because for all intents and purposes, Anna could talk to Alexis, through words (and expletives) that echoed in her mind. Anna wasn't bitter over her mutism. According to their mother, she'd left the twins alone in a room in a haunted house when they were four, and a demon had stolen Anna's voice. In Anna's opinion, this spoke more towards their mother than anything else.
The line moved quickly and both girls stood together in front of the secretary, who smiled back at them as she rifled through a folder.
"Here you are, girls," She held a slip of paper up to each of them. "Anna and Alexis Tacey."
They held their papers together, just to check what they had. The problem was immediately apparent, and Alexis's face fell. Directly under Anna Tacey, the slip of paper read: "1P: AP Calculus"; but under Alexis Tacey was: "1P: Lifetime Sports".
"What is this?!" Alexis shrieked, shoving the schedule back towards the secretary. "I think there's been a mistake!"
"No mistake, Alexis," The secretary shook her head and pushed the paper away again. "It's just the way things fell this year."
"No! No...heh, there's been a mistake. I do not think you quite understand our...situation, Mrs. Isra. Let me remind you that Anna cannot speak and needs me to be there. Now, with this information, I think you'll realize that there's a misunderstanding and sort this whole thing out for us," Alexis smiled like a shark.
Mrs. Isra, however, had been the secretary at a high school for far too long to be cowed into doing a student's wishes--not when the system was behind her. "I'm really very sorry, Alexis, but there is absolutely nothing that can be done."
"You can transfer one of us into the class! I'll go into calculus, Anna, I won't make you take P.E. again," Alexis lowered her voice to pat Anna's hand, trying to reassure her. Anna's mouth moved like a fish, looking for a way to make sounds.
Mrs. Isra leaned forward on her elbows. "Now, this may come as a shock to you, Miss Tacey, but this semester, AP Calculus is full, just like lifetime sports. Neither of you can transfer. And that is the end of the matter. I strongly advise that you let it lie. You wouldn't want to wind up in the principal's office on the very first day of the year, now, would you?"
Alexis started to answer her, but Anna caught her arm again, shaking her head. There was no need for her to get so upset, Anna's eyes said; she would be alright by herself. It was a math class, when did she ever talk in math class, and really, Alexis, you're lucky they've let you back in after that stunt you pulled last year with the spray paint.
Alexis sighed and stormed out of the office, pushing past the already-frightened freshmen. Anna smiled some sort of attempted apology to Mrs. Isra before darting out after Alexis.
They walked to class together, Alexis trekking all the way around the school just to make sure Anna got to the calculus room alright. She'd have to do sprints to get to the gym in time for first period--but then again, she'd never had perfect attendance anyway.
Alexis kissed her on the forehead. "Alright, I'll come right back and get you after the bell rings. We've got first lunch. All the rest of our classes are together, so all you've got to do is get through this one class...we can do this."
Anna smiled and nodded. She waved as Alexis walked away, giggling just a little; she wasn't entirely sure that Alexis wasn't more afraid of being alone than Anna was.
Anna sat in the middle of the room, by herself at one of the two-people tables. A sudden wave of awkwardness washed over her; she'd never been alone. Alexis was always her partner. She'd never made friends--it seemed to be quite difficult when she couldn't ever talk back and writing out her opinions took far too long to do.
"Hey, mind if I sit here?" The boy's voice made Anna jump nearly a foot in the air. She jerked her head up off her desk to find a young man, her age, standing beside the empty chair. He had bright green eyes--the very first thing she noticed.
She nodded and hastily swept her stuff away. She tucked her backpack under her seat, pulling her whiteboard and notebook over in front of her.
"Thanks," The boy smiled and sat down. He held a hand out to Anna. "Dakota Warin. Nice to meet you."
Anna nodded back. He was very, very cute, she realized. He had a mop of curly black hair, barely covering the tips of his ears. She hastily scribbled something out on her whiteboard and held it up to him.
"'Nice to meet you too, I'm Anna Tacey,'" He read out haltingly. He laughed. "What's with the board, Anna?"
She blushed. She knew it because she could feel the heat rising up from her heart and flooding into her face, a warmth just in front of her cheekbones. She tried to play it off. She touched her throat with one hand and shrugged, as if to sign 'what can you do?'
He nodded, like he understood. "Laryngitis? It's a pain. I got it last year. It only lasts about a week, though--or, it did for me, anyway. Hope you feel better."
Anna smiled. She started to write something else down (she wasn't quite sure what yet--she was deciding between 'thank you' and
'are you single'), but the class bell rang, cutting off any kind of "conversation" they could have had.
The whole hour and a half passed in perfect silence. The drone of the lecture nearly lulled Anna to sleep; Dakota found himself elbowing her more and more as time went by. She was losing color in her face as well, he noticed, and she hadn't had all that much color to begin with.
"Hey, what lunch do you have?" He asked as they started to pack up for the transition. She held up one finger. "Same. You mind if I walk with you?"
Anna shook her head, yawning. She wasn't quite sure why she was so tired. He stayed close to her side as they left the room. Her head was starting to droop lower and lower onto her collarbone, as though she were falling asleep while standing up. The world, Anna noticed, was beginning to spin around and turn into starbursts of color, like it did in her nightmares.
"Hey! Who're you?!" Alexis's voice wasn't strong enough to bring Anna up out of the darkness, not this time. Her footsteps echoed closer and closer. "What'd you do to my sister?!"
Anna knew, in some part of her mind that was still connected to her body, that she'd hit the ground very hard. She knew that Dakota and Alexis were both kneeling over her and someone else was shouting for the nurse or an administrator or anyone who knew what to do.
"I don't know, she just...I don't know!" Dakota shouted back. Panic edged his voice.
"What do you mean, you don't know?!" It wasn't Alexis speaking.
Anna sat up slowly, looking around. She wasn't entirely sure of where she was. Her head was absolutely throbbing. It only took her a moment to realize she wasn't in the hallway at school or in her room at home. The darkness in the room was too complete to be anywhere familiar.
She fumbled with the sheets for a moment--she was in a bed, wherever she was, and pinned down tight, as if someone had tried to use the bed covers as a restraint. Probably that nurse with the blonde hair; he never seemed to run out of ideas for how to keep her down. Not that any of them ever worked.
The lamp was exactly where she'd thought it would be--immediately to the left of the bed. It lit up as soon as her hand got close to it. A buzzer sounded off somewhere and she flinched, throwing her hands up over her ears. There were no shadows in this room anymore, she suddenly realized. Just bright white light. It was still somehow terrifying.
She pushed herself out of the bed, tripping over the wires and cords attached to a machine right beside the safety railings. There was the same sickly smell of chemicals, of morphine and lime green anaesthetics. This room was just like all the others. Except for one thing, catching her attention: on the farthest wall, directly opposite the bed, someone had written "ALEXIS". Only once. The handwriting was so shaky it must have been a child with a crayon, Anna reasoned, or someone completely insane.
Anna crept towards the door, going on her tiptoes. The floor was like ice beneath her toes. She had to get out, though, no matter how cold it was--she'd heard his voice, the man she was running from, and she had to leave before he showed up.
"I gave specific instructions that she is to be kept in that room at all times!" That was him, a voice like gravel, dark from smoking for too many years. A smooth face, like a baby's, blue eyes, hiding all of the darkness inside him...the voice was its only outlet.
"Yes sir, Dr. Aisling, sir, but she--" Blondie's voice trembled. She'd started calling that blonde nurse Blondie when...well, she wasn't quite sure when. It wasn't important. They were just outside her door, inches away. Did they know she was crouched there, listening in? Had the buzzer told them she was awake?
She didn't care. She didn't have the time to care. If she threw the door open, she thought she could probably hit them with it, and then run as fast as she could for the nearest exit.
Anna took a deep breath and flung the door open. She fully expected there to be shouts and arms reaching out for her to pull her down, needles slipping under her wrists, the darkness waiting for her, the sickly smell of green...
But there was nothing.
They weren't standing there. The hospital was brightly lit for once, but just as empty as it always was. Their voices had been so clear, she'd heard them! No, it didn't matter. She just had to go. There was no sign of the darkness or of people. That meant she could finally get out.
When she turned around, though, something on the wall by the door caught her eye. A plaque beside the door announcing the patient's name. It was engraved into a slate, as if it was just a permanent fixture of the hospital. Anna Tacey.
She back stepped as quickly as she could, gasping. She'd never been here in her life. There was no possible way they could know her name, not to have engraved it. But she had been here--she knew that man's voice, Dr. Aisling, and she'd known Blondie...but she'd never seen this building, she'd never slept in that room!
The hospital didn't twist like she had expected it to, no matter how far down the hallway she went. It was normal. There were no shadows, there was no roaring, there was only her.
Anna nearly jumped a foot in the air at the noise before spinning around. A wheelchair rocked to a stop not a foot away from her. She clutched her chest and glared at it; it rolled back a little bit, almost sheepishly, as if it hadn't meant to frighten her. Anna raised an eyebrow and patted the armrest.
It rolled along after her down the hallway, the squeaking slowly turning into a friendly chatter. It might as well have been Alexis talking in her ears.
Until, of course, it started repeatedly ramming itself into a door. Anna stopped and went back; she didn't see anything particularly remarkable about it. But the wheelchair persisted. She tried the handle. Much to her surprise, it was unlocked, and the door swung open easily. She looked down at the wheelchair, which rolled back a few paces to let her go first.
It was someone's office. There was a fire in the hearth and three walls of full bookshelves. The desk was perfectly organized. The blinds were even pulled back from the window to let the sunlight in. She couldn't see much outside the window--a dead courtyard, another wall of the hospital directly opposite.
It was the desk that caught her attention, the closer she got. There was a name plate sitting on the edge: "Robert Aisling, M.D." Anna's lip curled instinctively; he was the man outside her door. He was the man she was running from. This was his office. She looked back over her shoulder as if she was afraid he might materialize feet away. Her only companion was the wheelchair, still sheepishly stuck in the doorway, rocking back, motioning her out.
She stuck her tongue out at it. She wasn't going to run now. Not with such a perfect opportunity to get her revenge on him. There was a plain manila folder sitting on the desk. Had he left it there? Anna picked it up and started thumbing through the contents.
She fell into one of the chairs. It was a folder about her. There were dozens of medical reports, the results of hundreds of tests, transcripts of conversations had with her and her mother...and one single faded, scratched photograph.
Anna herself was in the photo. She was younger then, maybe ten or eleven, she wasn't sure. Her mother stood off to the side, staring far beyond the photographer. Distant as always. That was normal. It didn't surprise Anna. No, what shocked her was where she stood: behind a wheelchair. There was a girl identical to Anna sitting there. Her legs were hidden beneath a blanket. But there was absolutely no doubt that it was Alexis.
Anna forced herself to stop staring at this Alexis--this wrong, false Alexis. She wasn't real so there was no point looking at her anymore. A boy stood to Anna's left, a mop of curly dark hair dripping over his ears, a broad grin stretched across his face--he looked just like Dakota, she thought. Sunshine filtered down through a tree behind them. There was only one other person in the snapshot: a full-grown man in a white lab coat and a doctor's identity tag. He had one hand on Anna's shoulder and one on the boy's, smiling. His hair was strawberry blonde but starting to grey at the roots, no matter how young his bright blue eyes tried to make him out to be.
Aisling. That was him. Anna wanted to recoil just looking the photo; he'd touched her shoulder. He'd touched her. She wanted to scream and shove him away from her past self. He had no right to touch her, not after everything he'd done!
She threw the entire folder down, the picture still in her shaking hand. She looked up at the open window and felt a lump rise up in her throat. She could see down into the courtyard; there, that was where the picture had been taking, by that gnarled and black tree right there.
There was a dark, gravelly laugh behind her. "Ah, Anna. I was wondering how long it would take you to find your way here."
"You took your sweet time getting her here, didn't you?" It was an unfamiliar voice that greeted Anna as she opened her eyes.
"Believe me, I would have had her here as soon as she started swaying if Ohio here hadn't insisted on going to get her stuff," Alexis snarled. She jerked a thumb towards Dakota.
He rolled his eyes. "Dakota. And she's awake now anyway."
Alexis, apparently, hadn't been aware of this. She whipped around and dropped onto the bed beside of Anna, taking her hand.
"Hey," She whispered. "How are you feeling?"
Anna wished she could talk to describe the too-vivid nightmares, the nausea in her throat, her racing heart...instead, she just shook her head.
"No, of course you aren't," Alexis clucked her tongue. "Don't worry. I'm going to take us home and you can rest up there. Sound good?"
Anna nodded. She started to prop up on her elbows, looking around. They were somewhere in the school. She just didn't know where.
"Here you go, Miss Tacey--your pass to leave," An older woman came back into Anna's field of vision, holding a slip of paper out to Alexis. "Feel better soon, dear."
Anna forced a smile. She was still shaking when she tried to stand; Dakota had to rush to help catch her.
"Would you like to borrow my wheelchair, just to get her into the car?" The older woman offered. She had to be the school nurse, Anna realized.
"Yeah, that would probably be--” Alexis started to nod, running a hand through her hair. Anna dug her nails into Alexis's palm, trying to get her attention. "Anna, what's going on? Come on, it's just a wheelchair. No, look, you'll be fine. What are you talking about? No, forget it. Ohio'll push you out. I'll go get the car."
Alexis shoved past Dakota, digging in her pockets for her car keys. The nurse laughed a little behind her hand. Dakota meanwhile, set about trying to coax Anna into the wheelchair. He lifted her up a little and dumped her into it; she was too weak to try to fight back.
Sure enough, Alexis skidded to a stop and unlocked the car doors just at the end of the wheelchair ramp outside the school. Dakota bundled Anna into the backseat, tucking her bags in around her.
He smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow, Anna. I'll get the calculus homework for you, if you want."
Anna smiled back and nodded her approval. He shut the door, still smiling and waving at them, even as Alexis gunned the engine and sped out of the lot. Apparently she hadn't gotten the message about Anna's nausea.
As per usual, their mother wasn't home. Their father had left shortly after the twins' "incident" with the demon, citing the fact that his wife thought a phone call was more important than their childrens' safety. Neither really remembered much about him, but they didn't hate him for leaving. Alexis had always threatened to do the same. Anna knew that if it wasn't for her, Alexis would have run away years earlier. But Anna had to be taken care of by someone.
Alexis had just finished tucking Anna into her bed and handing her the television remote when the house phone rang downstairs. Alexis swore.
"I'll be back in a minute. That's either mom, or...yeah, probably a telemarketer. Wait here. I'll make you some soup," Alexis kissed her on the forehead again and sprinted out. She closed the door behind her.
It didn't take Anna long before she realized something was wrong. The noise on the television was dull and muted, no matter how loud she made it; the problem was with her ears. The door seemed so far away, as well...she sat straight up. She could see herself in the mirror, futilely trying to call for Alexis, trying to use something that was broken. She knew how to form words with her lips, how to touch her tongue to the roof of her mouth, but she didn't know how to make the cords in her throat work.
She threw the sheets off and stumbled out of bed. She tore one of her sketches off the wall, along with a pen, desperate to send a message somehow. She could hear Alexis yelling on the phone downstairs--their mother, then. The closer Anna got to the door, though, the dimmer the room became. The darkness couldn't have followed her, not here, no, it couldn't...
She scribbled on the paper with spidery handwriting. If she could get to the stairs, throw it down to Alexis, she would save her...Alexis always saved her. But she couldn't get to the door. She fell to the ground, reaching out for the door, shoving the paper with its plea towards the crack at the bottom of the door, praying Alexis had heard her hit the floor. Alexis would read it, surely she would--'help me', it said.
Front doors? Since when had there ever been front doors? It was the hospital. There were the waiting chairs, hard blue plastic that made your back stiff and your joints ache, and there was the reception desk, where nurses painted their nails instead of checking on the nervous families. Incredulous, Anna pushed down on the handle of the door. It flew open; the sunlight nearly blinded her.
She laughed. Light washed over her as she stepped outside. Everything around her was dead, and the building was crumbling behind her, but she was free. There was light. She went running down a lopsided path towards a fence, towards a road. Roads meant people. Maybe the false-Alexis or even the real-Alexis was out here somewhere, and the Dakota from the photograph, and her father! And the darkness couldn't chase her, not out here. There was too much room. Too many places for her to hide. Anna closed her eyes and took a deep breath--so this was freedom. She was safe from it. It couldn't follow her anymore.
No, it couldn't. But he could.
The arms wrapped around her so fast, she didn't have time to react. One curled around her neck and tightened at her throat, his hand slapping over her mouth. The other arm pinned her hands to her sides. He pinned her back against him. He was stronger than she was, she had no power out here, he had the advantage for once.
Dr. Aisling jerked around, kicking at her legs to make her turn back to face the hospital. The ruined building, the dead plants, the people that weren't there anymore, that didn't exist in any world. "This is what you did, Anna! This is the mess you've made!"
She screamed. For the first time in her life, she screamed, made a real vocal noise. There was no one there to hear her, she knew, but maybe the impossible would happen. Maybe there was someone.
In a flash they were back in the hospital, back in her room, back in the room with "ALEXIS" scrawled on the wall. How had they done that? She hadn't done it. She had never wanted to go back. She never would have taken them back.
Then the darkness rushed through the door. Dr. Aisling was there still, somewhere. He had to be. But the darkness was too pressing. It spilled over her, yanking at her arms, twirling around her hair. She screamed again and threw her hands up to her head as the noises started. They were voices, disjointed snippets of hundreds of conversations rushing into her mind at once, transitioning without any warning. Dr. Aisling's, Alexis's, her mother's, her father's, Dakota's...her own.
"Mr. and Mrs. Tacey? I'm Dr. Aisling."
"Are they going to be alright?"
"We've done all we can for Alexis, but it's unlikely she'll ever walk again. There's a hairline fracture on her lower vertebrae."
"But your other daughter, Anna...she's been showing some interesting traits. I'd like to continue to examine her, if it's alright with you."
"What do you mean it isn't your fault, Sarah?! You left them there to answer your phone!"
"It was my mother!"
"Anna, take care of Alexis for me. I love you."
"Anna, Anna, slow down! We gotta wait for Alexis!"
Squeak squeak squeak. "I'm coming, Ohio, don't worry about me!"
"Anna, listen to me. There are some very bad people in this hospital. I need you to use your power right now. Warp the hospital, flatten it--do whatever you can. They've already killed Dakota and they'll come for you, too, do you understand me?"
Squeak squeak squeak. "Anna, don't listen to him! There aren't any bad people--it's him, it's Aisling! They're trying to use you like a weapon! I heard him telling--"
"That's enough out of you, Alexis. I had hoped it wouldn't come to this."
The scream made Anna sit straight up, barely avoiding being hit in the head by the door as Alexis rushed in. Anna was sobbing hysterically; there wasn't any breath left in her body. What had happened? What was that?
"Anna, Anna, what's wrong? What happened? Please!" Alexis pleaded, kneeling down beside Anna.
Anna flung herself straight into Alexis's arms, breathing in the familiar ocean-spray scent. "Oh, Alexis, thank god you're okay."
Wesley Chapel, Florida
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