She wakes slowly, painfully, and she’s greeted by… light. The smell of antiseptic.
Where – ?
The walls and the lighting are too bright, too clinical. They make her raise her hand to shield her eyes, and suddenly, she knows. “Why am I in hospital?” she tries, her mouth dry and sticky from disuse. She looks to her side, but the only company she has is a forlorn-looking, nearly empty plastic water jug. Ah, the good old NHS.
She glances around – at the nurses and healers bustling round the ward, at the patients in the other beds, and then down at herself. She seems to be in one piece, luckily, but on her finger, something shines. A ring. A ring she can’t remember. She slides it off, bringing it closer to her face and staring at it in bewilderment. It’s not a wedding ring, thank God, so there isn’t some poor husband wondering where the hell she is; no, it’s simpler, silver twining around to embrace itself in a way that reminds her of…
She shakes her head. No, it’s gone. The memory should be there, but it’s gone, and she can’t find it and drag it back. She grits her teeth, feeling somehow like she’s failed herself. She sits there, mutely admiring the ring, the creases and grooves carved along it. She prays it wasn’t a gift. She checks inside it in case there’s an inscription, but finds nothing.
A nurse a few feet away seems to notice her predicament, and gives her a bright smile, hurrying over. Blonde hair, heavy eyeliner, very white teeth. “You’re awake,” she says with a clap of her hands, as if she’s a happy seal; the other claps and the honking don’t come.
The words are sluggish, croaked from a dry throat that’s as tired as the rest of her. She squints at the pretty, overly cheerful nurse, still confused and now also in pain from the lights. “Why am I here? What’s” – it comes out as more of a choking wheeze, so she tries again – “what happened?”
The nurse frowns, her eyes turning sombre. “You… really don’t remember, do you?” When she shakes her head, the other woman links her hands as if in prayer. Her patient wonders what kind of ordeal she’s asking to be guided through. “There was… an incident. You were found by the side of the road. We’re not entirely certain, but we think there might have been a vehicle involved.”
“Shit.” She catches herself. “I’m sorry, that was…”
The nurse smiles, shakes her head. “Take your time to adjust. The doctors are going to be along soon to do some tests, and the healers should come afterwards.”
The healers. There are a couple of them on the ward already, a man and a woman. The man is wiry and slight, dark-haired, and he’s sitting on the edge of a patient’s bed, what looks like a pocket watch open and lying in his palm. The woman is Asian, tall, with dyed red hair. Scholars, she remembers suddenly, seeing the watch chain going into the woman’s pocket – mages, with all the training. The female healer catches her eye and smiles at her. She tries to smile back, but it comes out a little shaky.
She’s always been a little nervous of them – healers, so businesslike and imposing, and Scholars in general. The thought of having so much power – being born with it – scares her a little. Magic, half of her whispers with a secretive delight. The other half of her is petrified at the thought. She knows a few – nearly everyone does – and they’re good people, but when she thinks about it too hard, she gets nervous.
“Do they know who hit me?” She’s almost afraid to ask.
Another shake of the head, and dammit, the woman’s talking about a car accident and that small, placidly understanding smile barely budges; it does soften, however, grow a little more sympathetic, and her eyes become sadder. “As said, you were by the side of the road. There was no one to tell us what happened.”
She opens her mouth to speak. Shuts it again. Her gaze drifts to the wall, away from the expectant, sad eyes of the nurse.
She answers to it; knows, suddenly, that it’s her name. Guinevere Smith. Guin. That’s something sure, something steady underneath her feet, and she swears she knows how to find her way home from here, but everything else… God.
Guin realises she isn’t exactly being good company, and she forces a smile. “Yes?”
“I’m Cecily. I’ll be looking after you for a while,” the nurse – Cecily – tells her. There’s a pause. “Are you OK?” Cecily asks, edging forwards and frowning at Guin like she’s an animal she’s afraid to spook.
Guin hesitates to reply, because she honestly doesn’t think she is. She squints, licks her lips nervously. “Those tests? Look, I think I need them. I… I can’t remember anything of this year.”
Somehow, in that big, sterile hospital ward, after the tests and endless questions, she falls asleep. Her dreams are odd.
She dreams of wings – not hers, someone else’s, on shoulders, but it makes no sense and everything is blurring, unsteady, she’s only seeing pieces and edges of things – and sunsets, and green tea, and…
She wakes struggling to breathe. There’s a hole in her chest where her heart should be, and her blood’s rushing in her ears. Her hands are shaking, and there’s a lump in her throat. It’s a bone-deep hurt, an ache and an emptiness that can’t seem to be filled – a sadness that crawls in and feels like it’s eating her from the inside.
The ward is mostly dark except for what little light is coming through the door, the main corridors no doubt well-lit and crowded; she hears snatches of words, sees people hurrying past the door, and she can’t help but wonder who’s come in now, who’s going home tonight. In the ward itself, there’s only a solitary light illuminating a desk several beds away: the nurses’ station.
Water. She needs water.
She reaches out to her bedside table before she’s entirely aware what she’s doing. Her fingertips brush the plastic jug, but she knocks it off the edge of the table instead of gripping it.
Under her breath, she lets out a stream of curses, still panting a little. Hopefully she hasn’t woken anyone. She glances around to make sure. Three beds away, someone rolls over, but that’s it. Silence, except for snoring and the distant noises of the corridor.
She bends, straining for a few seconds before she realises she’ll probably have to get out of bed to mop up the spillage. She grunts at the aches and pains the action brings. She’s alright, mostly; just a few bruises and one sprained wrist. No-one’s quite sure why she was unconscious when they found her, or why it took so long for her to wake up.
When she looks up from the jug and the small, steadily growing pool of water, there’s a woman standing next to the bed, watching her levelly.
This nurse must be on duty for the night shift – she’s a new one, not the cheery smiler but a redhead, with a bobbed haircut and broader shoulders, and a thinner, turned-down mouth. On the wrong face, it could look permanently disapproving, but it suits her. She looks strong, reliable, like she could carry you out of a burning building and would still be there afterwards, calm, feet planted on the ground. Stupid as it is, Guin wants to trust her just from looking at her. She gets up, walks through the ward and comes to crouch beside the bed, picking up the cup before looking Guin in the eye. Her face is concerned. “Miss Smith?”
“I…” She sits up, and she’s still wheezing. She really shouldn’t be wheezing, the tests were all clear and they say her body’s doing far better than her brain… “I’m sorry. Just an accident. Don’t worry about it, I’ll deal with it…”
The nurse smiles; it’s small, unwavering, steady as the rest of her. She puts a hand on her shoulder, forcing her to relax. “You won’t. You need your sleep more than I do. I’ve only been up three hours.”
She goes to get paper towels for the spilled water, and Guin lies back down, looking at the ceiling and pretending that the thought of someone waiting on her, doing things for her, doesn’t make her feel awkward and more than a little unhappy. She hears the woman’s footsteps – she’s all but sneaking through the ward in an attempt not to wake the patients – and thinks of the small oasis of light that is the nurses’ station, holding out against the dark.
The ache in her chest stays, immoveable and permanent, until she slides out of consciousness again. She doesn’t dream, and she’s glad of it.
And so our story begins. This was actually meant to be uploaded last Tuesday, but things had been rather hectic and I admit, I forgot. Readers who’ve been on the blog a while will recognise some of this text, but the whole novel’s been revised and added to, so expect to see new content and changes very soon.