Down the rabbit hole again. Only she wasn’t Alice and this certainly wasn’t Wonderland. She couldn’t remember arriving, yet here she was waking up in this hell once more. The last thing she remembered was boarding the late train for Cardiff to meet the professor. Had that truly happened? She wasn’t sure. Her thoughts were a blur. The only thing she knew was that every fiber in her being was telling her to be very afraid.
The morning light was just beginning to break, the sky a mix of the darkest blue of night tinged with pink and orange around the edges. Or perhaps it was just her eyes adjusting once again. The high window only afforded a sliver of a view, a large tree obscuring most of the field of vision. The limbs stretched out casting dancing figures from dawn to dusk, haunting the corners of her mind, her dreams, and nightmares. No matter how bright it may be outside, the shadows always were there, lurking just beyond reach. It felt as though she could touch them, but they were always just out of her grasp, taking off on the fleeting winds before she could fully comprehend what was happening.
This time she found herself in a room not much bigger than a closet. A cot in one corner covered with sheets worn thin, the antiseptic smell lingering. A pillow, if it could be called that, was not a soft inviting cradle in which to lay her head, only a thin piece of foam offering minimal support to the weary mind. Nothing about these accommodations would evoke sweet dreams of rainbows and unicorns. Of course it had been many years since she dreamed of anything so serene. A wash basin and what passed for a toilet in the other corner made up the rest of the meager furnishings. A solitary light bulb dangling from the ceiling, just out of reach, and no switch to be found to control when it would illuminate or when it would plunge the occupant into darkness.
It was then she detected the sweet and salty aroma of breakfast cooking, the acidic bite of coffee brewing arousing her other senses. In this moment she could hear each drip of coffee dropping into the carafe, the sizzle of the bacon hitting the hot griddle, the cracking of the eggs, one by one. She stretched in response to the awareness of the day and her surroundings.
When she sat up she saw him standing in the doorway. The kid from second grade, crazy red hair, freckles, smelling of crackers, and those exaggerated movements. It had been 30 years since she last saw him. She couldn’t even remember his name. But here he was, threatening to draw a big red zero on her paper. What paper? She didn’t have any paper. She hadn’t written a word in how long had it been? Everything she knew she committed to memory. Leaving no physical trace, no way for the others to find answers only she possessed.
Why was he here? What was he trying to tell her? Who the hell was this kid and better yet, why was he still a kid for that matter? Trying to ignore him she pushed past and trepidatiously took off down the hall, attempting to leave him behind. The further away she got, the more he sped up to keep pace with her. She could hear his taunting, the up down inflections of his voice on the wrong words, sounded like an out of tune symphony trying desperately to get settled before a big performance. But no matter how much he talked, his voice never fell into harmony with the rest of the sounds around her.
She spotted a table with the coffee pot and cups in what must be the kitchen. As she reached for one a hand grabbed her wrist.
“What are you doing in here?” the voice growled at her.
She recoiled, being shaken out of her stupor and realized what she had just walked into.
“Sorry, I, um…” was all she could manage while backing out of where she knew she was forbidden to be.
As she ran back down the hall she began to formulate a plan, knowing she couldn’t let them retrieve the solution she guarded. If they did, the world would surely end. She glanced back over her shoulder to see if anyone had followed her. So far all seemed to be clear. Perhaps not everyone there knew of her past visits, exploits of the system, and the secrets she carried.
When she reached her room she found a folded up piece of paper laying on the bed. It wasn’t there when she left and she didn’t think anyone else had access. It proved difficult to open at first, the intricate folds reminiscent of the origami she once practiced. A series of symbols and one word written in what appeared to be the handwriting of a child. Instantly she knew what had to be done. It would take every trick up her sleeve to fight her way out, but she vowed to make her way back to the professor and complete her mission.
Uncertain of what she would find, she waited until dusk before venturing out. Armed with the knowledge of the writings on the paper she discovered the path to be mostly clear. This was not what she had expected based on past experiences. Two guards blocked the second to last door, yet she quickly subdued them and continued her endeavor. Had that been a little too easy she wondered? She had only one chance to get through the last door, to enter the code in exactly the right sequence and timing or find herself forever trapped.
Holding her breath, she trembled before she passed her finger over the lock completing the last stroke. As the door slowly opened she came face to face with the little red head boy holding a key. “This way.”
Published Summer 2016 at Wordhaus (http://www.wordhaus.com/down-the-rabbit-hole/)