Alameda General Hospital
For a time all Kruhl experienced was the darkness. She floated in the nothingness, aware that she existed but not much else. The experience was akin to sleep, but she did not dream.
The darkness gave way to light in increments, but still she did not respond. She heard a soft grunt, and for several long moments she wondered where it’d come from. Then understanding dawned on her, the sound had originated from her. The light focused, sharpened all around her and a figure emerged from without.
She opened her mouth to speak, but a soft moan escaped instead. She was in motion. Was she being wheeled around on a cart? Her stomach lurched and she felt as if she were falling.
She turned her head, a man and a woman stood on either side of her, and a metal box enclosed the three of them in every direction.
“She’s growing more lucid,” the woman said.
“So?” The man asked. “She’s restrained, what’s she going to do? Glare at us?”
She tried to sit up, but could not. Straps, held her wrists and legs in place and her head would not turn more than a thumb’s length in either direction.
A strange ding sounded and a section of the metal box in front of her parted, revealing the corridor beyond. A dark-robed figure waited without, but the pair were either not aware that the being stood outside the doors or chose to ignore it. Kruhl eyed the figure, the same one which appeared when she lost consciousness a few days earlier. The wraith neither spoke, nor moved toward them. It stood about, cowled head turned to regard them in silence.
The man took up position at her feet and the woman moved around her back and Kruhl lost sight of her. They pushed Kruhl through the opening, and she emitted the loudest most ear-splitting screech she could manage.
“Fuck,” the man cursed. “What the hell was that for?”
The dark-robed figure glided up beside her, keeping pace with them. She could not view its face beneath the cowl and the specter kept both hands enfolded in its sleeves.
“Who are you?!” She demanded of the stranger, but it did not respond.
The cowled head turned toward her and still she saw nothing save for a deep depthless darkness.
[Kruhl] A voice spoke from out of the air, coming from everywhere at once and… nowhere. The voice was unlike anything she’d ever heard. It was distorted, uneven and coarse, but reverberated through her skull with crystal clarity.
“Who are you?!” Kruhl repeated eyes peeled on the specter, but there was no response. Her captors exchanged glances peering past the mysterious figure as if it weren’t even present, but even they did not reply.
They wheeled her down the corridor and out through a set of metal-framed glass doors and out into the sunlit exterior. The apparition floated along with them remaining silent until they came to a stop.
[Where is the sword?] the robed figure asked leaning down, its head mere inches from her face. She squinted trying to get a look at its features, but if it possessed any she could distinguish nothing save for blackness. The depths of the hood were darker than the blackest night even in the daylight.
Was this her enemy? The one who transformed her and brought her to this strange land? Why then didn’t it know about the sword? Several days ago a man, calling himself Deputy Shanderly came by to question her about the sword and herself, but she refused to give him any information. She’d assumed he was a pawn of the one who’d brought her to this strange place, but what if he had been as ignorant as he seemed? Perhaps he had come into possession of the sword before her enemy could get to it.
[Where is Waldere?] It repeated the question and she peered at it with wide eyes. [You cannot keep it from me. Tell me where it is.]
“I will never tell you!” She screamed, clenching her mouth shut. Whoever this creature was and whether it was responsible for her predicament, she couldn’t say, but it was no friend.
“Goddamned fucking loon,” the woman said muttering under her breath.
Her rolling bed, lurched forward moving toward a glossy white box sitting atop two sets of black and gray wheels. Some sort of wagon, perhaps? The specter did not speak, but glided along beside her only stopping when Kruhl did.
Her female captor moved forward slipping a hand into a slender rectangular protrusion and pulled on it. A soft thump resounded from the box and the woman swung a door open, revealing the sparse interior of the carriage. Her mobile prison jerked forward again, and she grunted as her captors propelled her upward and inside. Again, the apparition followed, hunching over to fit into the low ceiling, but it remained silent. Why didn’t it act?
Her male captor climbed inside, closing the doors behind him and stepped forward, passing through the specter as if it weren’t there. The apparition shifted positions moving to stand at her feet and loomed over her in silence. She eyed the creature, her tiny human heart thumping in her chest so hard she thought it might burst free. “Whatever you are going to do, do it, or leave me be, foul creature!”
Again, the phantom did not reply, neither did it take any action. It hung there motionless, peering at her.
The bed lurched sideways and she turned to regard her male captor. He did not make eye contact or speak, instead reaching over her, a strap in hand, and secured it to a notch on the wall. He turned away, for several long moments and turned back to her a long tube on the end of which a fine needle was affixed. By now she had seen this device enough times to understand its purpose. The man would plunge the needle into the tube in her arm and the darkness would come again.
“Stop!” She screamed. “Don’t you see it?!”
The man paused, meeting her gaze with raised eyebrows. “See what?!”
“That thing,” she screamed eyes turned toward the robed figure at her feet.
He followed her gaze, his eyes filled with cold disinterest, looking through the specter, again, oblivious to it. He turned his eyes back to her regarding her with a thoughtful expression.
His features softened and she saw kindness reflected in his eyes, just before he plunged the needle into her arm.
She screamed, her face contorting into a mask of rage as she felt the numbness spread through her body. As her vision faded to dark, the robed figure leaned forward.
[I am coming for you] It spoke, its strange voice ringing through her head, just before the numbness swept her away.
Trace glanced back at the door one final time, shook his head, sighed, and studied the inert form of the girl strapped into the stretcher. An image of her gold-hued cat’s eyes, so full of fear and anger, burned in his memory.
Still, it was a shame, he thought to himself. The girl was a real looker. It made his heart hurt to think what put her in such a state. He had a daughter who was only a few years younger, and the thought of her screaming at phantoms sent a cold shiver down his spine.
He took one last look at the girl, shuddered, thoughts of those eyes lingering in his mind, and slipped out the back of the van. Closing the doors behind him, he ensured they were latched and locked before slipping around the side and hopping into the passenger side door. Allynn peered at him from the driver’s seat with an arched eyebrow. “Ready?”
He nodded without comment and she started the engine, maneuvering the van out of the parking lot and into the street beyond. Their destination was the state mental hospital about twenty-five miles to the north in Grove City.
Allynn kept silent and Trace stroked his chin, his thoughts turned to the girl again. It seemed odd that they’d be moving her so soon after she’d turned up that night. They had no idea where she’d come from, and no name aside from that ridiculous moniker she’d given them. The amount of paperwork necessary just to get her admitted must have been astronomical and once you submitted that, it’d have to go through all the usual bureaucratic channels. In his experience those sorts of things took weeks, not days. Someone must have expedited the process, but the question was why?
He shrugged and shook his head. They made those sorts of decisions above his pay grade, far be it for him to question the pencil pushers who made them.
He caught movement out of the corner of his eyes and peered back through the window in the security partition which separated the cab from the back compartment. For a second he’d thought he’d seen a dark robe-clad figure moving about, but there was nothing save for the unconscious girl. He supposed it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. The girl must have unnerved him more than he realized.