So I’m not doing NaNoWriMo just like I haven’t the last couple of Novembers I’ve been a professional writer. I did write 1,662 words today. Good luck to all you NaNoWriMoers!
She woke with the taste of blood in her mouth.
The metallic ichor caused her to gag, and spray rufous. After a few exerted gulps of air, Teresa realized she had bitten her tongue. As the dark shadows of catatonia faded, she realized two things…
The air smells like blood. She drew it in through her nose and her face pinched in protest.
The blood isn’t mine. Nowhere did she feel the telltale signs of an open wound.
I don’t know where I am.
Well, that was three things…
Teresa gazed at the ceiling overhead. Ornate features came into focus. She knew the names of the delineations sculpted into the form surrounding the base of the chandelier, but they escaped her given her current state of confusion. No, it wasn’t just confusion – she ached all over. Her head housed a jackhammer, her body felt heavy and sluggish as if she had been working hard for hours. All over her body, she felt spots of warm pain – bruises, she thought, clinging to remnants of her training. It was as if this body was not hers. She focused on the thought for a moment. No, this was definitely her body. She turned her head, her vision clouding. The area behind her eyes exploded white hot, and she was forced to clamp them shut. She felt soft cotton on her cheek. It was of a good quality, but a lower thread count. It was designed to look expensive, but the thread used was rough, almost scratchy.
She eased her eyes open and took at the scene to her left. It was a murky space. The room was large – it had to be to warrant such an ornate chandelier. The space was also empty. No furniture greeted her darting eyes, and there were spots on the walls where the sun damage was not uniform. Wall hangings and missing furniture blocked the oppressive ultraviolet. A rough-hewn wooden table dominated the view, and she considered that it was out of place. A door stood agape beyond the table to reveal a washroom, and mirrored doors to a large walk-in closet.
She turned her head to the right and saw… a body.
Her body was wracked with a sharp pain, and her hip cried out in protest. She’d fallen to the floor. Painfully crossing her legs, Teresa forced herself to sit up. She sat there, heart thundering in her chest, a chest rising and falling in horror as she stared at the bed. A duvet that was once white peeked from under the quilted blankets. It was easy to see it on the low bed. Eyes stared back at her. Lifeless eyes. The corpse was turned toward Teresa, mouth open, as if it had been frozen mid-sentence, like a morbid Hallowe’en scene. A white button-down oxford, like the duvet, was stained with streaks of vermillion that had gushed from a single slash across the throat. Teresa cringed at the clichéd thought that the man had a macabre grin from ear to ear. The ashen face was devoid of life.
Teresa let out the breath she didn’t know he was holding. She closed her eyes and forced herself to breath in through her nose, and out through her mouth. Her training was kicking in, and it took several iterations before her thundering pulse returned to something resembling normal. She stared at the remains, and realized she didn’t know the man. It wasn’t as if knowing him would’ve changed anything, but the mind focused on odd things when working overtime to discern a shocking situation.
Why is there a body here? she thought, before another equally obvious introspection replaced it: Why am I here?
The realization of the juxtaposition of the living lying next to the dead was not lost on Teresa. She felt as if the bed she had occupied was one of Joseph Cornell’s surreal shadow boxes. A crooked smile flashed on her lips. Surreal was the perfect description of her situation.
Lance, Teresa thought, I need to call Lance.
Teresa slowly rose to her knees, careful not to touch anything. She ran her hands along her body. Her suit jacket was missing, and her pockets were ripped and turned out. She didn’t expect to find her cellphone, but she was in survival mode, processing everything one step at a time. She glanced around the din, and spotted a cellphone on a nightstand she hadn’t initially noticed. It was unfamiliar, and the cerise splatter that covered it had already fading to a sticky brown. She grabbed the cellphone with shaky hands, her first attempt to dial unsuccessful. It took considerable concentration, but on the second try, the call connected.
The ringing centered her mind. She rested her tired head against the side of the bed, reconsidered, and flopped against the nightstand. She couldn’t flee, she could barely hold herself upright. Somehow, even on the floor, Teresa could feel the empty, accusatory stare from the bed. She made a concerted effort to look away, instead staring at the threadbare carpet.
The phone was answered after three rings. It took long enough that she was shaking again, but quick enough that she didn’t consider why he hadn’t gotten the hell out of there.
“Bishop.” The clipped voice had barely registered when Teresa sagged against the floor, spent.
At the sound of Teresa’s voice, Lance exploded into a tirade of force and fury. Missing for hours; unauthorized operation; and chain of command were just a few of the choice words she gleaned from the outpouring cellphone speaker. The anger surprised her, and she flinched at Lance’s heated exchange. His anger was out of place for the stodgy Colonel. Teresa’s eyes wandered down her body, and stopped on an open gash on her calf. An impotent sound escaped her lips and the cacophony in her ear ceased.
“Teresa?” The voice went from vitriolic to concerned.
“My tracker’s gone,” she blurted. She stared at the long tear in her pants, and the smattering of dried blood. The familiar lump was missing. Lance had told her again and again that she was imagining the lump, but its absence was more frightening than its presence – real or not. The exponential shaking was making it hard to grip the cellphone.
“I…” she began and swallowed. “I don’t have my…” Teresa blinked tears forming at the corners of her eyes. The carpet blurred and sharpened with each blink. She clutched the bloody cellphone closer to her face, and gagged because it smelled coppery, like the room. “I don’t know where…” she tried again, but stopped when she gulped in rancid air. “You can still find me without it.” She phrased it as a declaration, but the lilt in her voice betrayed it to be a question.
“Are you all right? What’s going on?” Lance started edging back into another tirade, but his voice had shifted to something less livid, but not less frenzied.
Teresa closed her eyes. “I don’t know. I… It’s gone. I…” She gripped the cellphone in her right hand, and felt the expanding purple on her calf. Her skin felt clammy.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Teresa held the cellphone away from her ear, and when Lance’s tirade of swearing died down, he continued in a more even tone. “Your tracking information was lost within an hour or two of you leaving the home office.” She imagined his face increasing in its shade of red. “What the hell happened?” he continued, and when she didn’t respond, the volume increased. “Teresa? Teresa!”
“My tracker,” she mumbled. Her hand squeezed the gash in her calf. Why doesn’t the Colonel get it, she thought. It reminded her of when they apprehended that “man” in the park. Sometimes the man could be so dense.
“Teresa!” Lance shouted, sounding frantic. “Are you hurt?”
No, she didn’t think so… Teresa removed her hand from her calf and played with the frayed thread that used to secure a button to her shirt. No, she wasn’t in pain, it was more of a numbness. Pain equated with hurt, so she was fine, right? Besides, is wasn’t her blood.
“Blood? What blood?”
Oh, she thought, I must’ve said that out loud. Teresa worked her neck first to the left, then to the right. Each resounding crack was oddly comforting, and allowed her a modicum of familiarity. She hunched her shoulders, and surveyed her ruined pants. It could be mended, but her missing suit jacket was a match, she doubted she could find exactly the right color. Her bare arms felt the chill of the room. Knock it off, brain. Focus!
“I don’t know where I am,” she mumbled. She longed for her head to clear. The heaviness led to a blank state of being – she was empty of all that she’d learned under Lance’s reluctant tutelage. Her inability to flee the gruesome scene bothered her as much as her inability to remember how she’d gotten there. All she knew was that concentrating on the cellphone she held to her face, dried blood flaking off and sticking to her hair, was the only thing keeping her from losing her shit altogether.
Lance had gone silent, and Teresa held her breath, straining to hear. Did she lose the connection? Did the battery die? She remembered charging her phone the night before in preparation of the operation today… She sighed heavily, she wasn’t using her phone. It belonged to the corpse on the bed. Maybe if she changed hands holding the phone? No, she admonished herself, why would that even make sense? She squeezed her eyes closed, and spastically swallowed the growing lump in her throat. Nothing made any sense right now.
“You’ll find me, right?” Teresa whispered into the cellphone. She nearly dropped it when Lance’s voice returned, just as quiet, but with the force of will she came to appreciate from him.
“Damn right I will.”
* * *
The address the tech team provided didn’t make much sense. How did she end up ‘up state’ when her tracker relay ceased not far from her apartment? Then again, Teresa wasn’t making much sense, he thought.
Lance lifted his arms through his shoulder holster. He had a small team, but the group decked out in Kevlar awaiting Lance’s orders dwarfed his usual operatives. Lance gestured with his right hand – a circular motion, and pointed to the windowless panel van in the parking lot.
“East,” the nondescript special weapons and tactics officer said from the passenger seat, a global positioning unit gripped in his left hand. He grabbed the oh shit handle, and the knuckles of the hand holding the GPS pushed against the roof of the van to steady himself as Lance made a U-turn, driving through a bicycle lane, and cutting in front of a cherry luxury car.
“Watch for…” The SWAT officer swallowed the rest of what he was going to say as Lance stomped on the brakes, then the accelerator and cut off an aging station wagon. The armored SWAT team in the back of the van shifted and lurched with each zany maneuver, but their eyes, the only visible facial features, revealed only a professional disinterest in what was going on around them. Lance was had the accelerator pressed to the floor, his brows knitted in frustration. He wasn’t going fast enough.
Traffic signals were ignored, and cars braked and honked in response.
Teresa made tiny, hitched noises in his earpiece.
“Teresa, we’re five minutes out,” Lance spoke into his throat mic. The SWAT officer shook his head and turned the GPS screen toward him. The estimated time until arrival read twelve minutes.
“Five minutes, Teresa,” Lance repeated when she didn’t respond. He could hear her labored breathing. He wasn’t used to hearing this from her. After all, she was the one that stormed into his office and demanded to be part of this operation.
“We’re almost there, Teresa, just hold on.”
Lance felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. The pain in his gut stole his voice for a moment. He swore silently, and tried to make the accelerator push through the floor, as if it was something that was possible.
“Teresa, hide yourself, we’re gonna find you.”
The line was quiet, followed by a scraping sound and a gasp.
Silence replied mournfully in his earpiece.