Hear MeBy: Skye Warren
Even the earth conspired to keep her. Branches grabbed at her skin like talons; the beach was quicksand, dragging her down. Hope was too abstract to compete with the sound of men shouting behind her. Even her fear was drowned by the ragged beat of her heart.
“Melody!” The voice sounded closer than the thrashing of leaves and branches.
Run, run away, don’t look back.
Her eyes, already stunted by lack of food, filled with grit and precious moisture. If she made it to the water, she could float away. Even if only to drift down to the bottom, entombed in sand castles and chained by seaweed. They would take her prisoner; they would keep her safe.
A battered person was cracked soil, but dreams were like weeds. She could survive this. That was the goal she set for herself, huddled in the cold, damp cell. She had clung to it as they touched her, beat her. Trained her.
The line of frothy water was in her sights but disappointment seared her. She was too far away, the sand too thick.
An extra burst of energy propelled her two more stumbling steps. Her legs gave out. She clenched and released fistfuls of sand, not even sure she was actually crawling forward.
Coolness lapped at her fingertips, surprising her. Her mind, tired and rusty, turned that information over. She had made it. Water. Safety? No, freedom.
A slow, steady thwapping noise drew her gaze upward. A small green boat bobbed in the shallow water. Gentle waves flicked its hull, almost soothing, like the caress of a flogger. The rhythm thrummed through her. Even without the sting of impact, her mind began the slide.
No. Subspace meant security but not today. Right now it meant death, and she refused to die.
She blinked away the salt in her eyes and clawed through the water to the boat. With a strength that surprised her, she climbed over the edge, tumbling into the grimy bottom. It rocked gently with her weight then settled back into the gentle bob.
The boat wasn’t tied down anywhere, but there wasn’t an oar. Not that she had the strength to use one or a place to go.
Never mind. Her wish had been granted. She would drift out to sea, like a message in a bottle.
Her head lolled against the rim of the boat. She breathed in the pungent smell of earth and moss. Her last thought before she drifted off to sleep was fanciful. She imagined a giant plucking her from the water, unfurling her like a scroll, and reading the lines slashed into her skin.
She wondered what they would say.
* * *
Awareness washed over her, sending a small thrill through her sated limbs. There was always a sense of achievement in waking up, in knowing she’d lived through another day. She allowed herself a portion of pride. She had beaten them for one day more.
Of course, the morning was always the high point.
Every day it was the same. Bruises upon bruises. Welts upon welts. Everything ached, even now, but she knew better than to move. It wouldn’t make her feel better, and there was always the chance it would draw their attention. Anything was better than that, including lying unnaturally still on cold, damp concrete.
Except it didn’t feel all that cold or damp. It was hard to register anything above the agony in her muscles, but she felt something like cloth against her fingertips. She brushed it again, the softness foreign but seductive. Despite her worry and her hurt, she felt warm. Protected.
Instead of forcing herself into rigid stillness, she was relaxed.
A whiff of something like fresh morning air tickled her nose. That couldn’t be right. The ventilation from the small barred window high in her cell never competed with the stench of sweat and blood and fear. But there was the unmistakable smell of fresh, yeasty bread. Her mouth watered.
Her eyelids felt like they were weighted down with buckets of sand; she pried them open. Whiteness surrounded her. Not good. Loss of vision was one of the side effects of starvation. The slave in the cell next to hers couldn’t see anything for two days before she died.
Maybe she was about to die, and that was why she was hallucinating food and seeing clean white where gray and mold and pain should have been. It should have been terrifying to find herself on the brink of what she’d fought for so long. Instead, the blankness soothed her. The smells made her mouth water.
She didn’t want to die, but this didn’t feel like death.