By Amber Andersen
Disclaimer: These characters are completely mine. This fic is an alternative story, containing two women in love. There's nothing explicit, but if you're under 18, or offended by homosexuality, you might wanna skip this one.
Summary: A woman, Alianna has been cursed by a sorceress to go through each reincarnation, remembering all of her lives clearly. She is slowly going insane, then she meets Rickie, a kind cashier.
No trace remained of my history. Oh, you will never know how much I just wanted to die in that moment! So many lives, so many memories. I can picture myself sitting in a bar, calmly sipping a beer or a soda, anything at all as long as it was cold and warm, warming my body but chilling my mind. Then the glass breaks in my hand, for I have shattered it! I stare at the blood, which drips, from my hand like an endless fountain. Red, redder than anything I can remember seeing in my eternal existence. The blood seems to drip backwards now, up my arms and into my mouth, choking me. I try to scream and dimly I realize I must be hallucinating for how can crimson tears stave the air from your lungs?
I fall forward into the broken diamonds and begin to shiver and twitch, so that I must be dying. Images nearly kill me with their power, and I can only hope that maybe, just maybe, this seizure will release me.
But it does not: when has it ever?
A belly dancer, a slave-girl, a fine aristocratic lady ruled by her domineering husband, a Roman housewife, and over 2000 years ago, a High Priestess. To this day I don't know why the sorceress let me have a life that garnered me some respect and stature. All the others were lowly, degrading positions in life where I'd be lucky to get a scrap of stale bread and rotting meat from the beloved male figures of society.
And why, in the present, have I been hurled into the middle of this woman's life instead of starting from infancy? How am I no longer tied to anyone on this plane, male or female?
Is her strength weakening?
I woke. Clutching the sheets to my chest, my eyes remained fixed on one picture in the otherwise ordinary, two-room apartment.
Blankness in its simplest form, shaped by the contours and frailties of the bumpy paint chips. I had often found peace in this wall; it soothed me. Numbly I concentrated on it until my breathing slowed and I could think somewhat clearly.
A dream. I remembered that much. Something to do with a bar, and broken glass. I was completely distraught in it, verging on suicidal. I could remember the memories I experienced, the convulsions that shook me to my core.
"Thank God it wasn't real," I said aloud to the silent room.
I got out of bed gingerly, hoping that my still quivering limbs would support me.
A red stain engulfed the space just beneath my pillow. With a shiver, I reached out to brush it with my fingertip, wincing at this movement. I was an inch away before I noticed my hands.
Infinitesimal shards of glass were buried in their depths, and I wondered in vain how I could have not noticed the sharp agony that burns and buries me.
"What the fuck is happening to me?" I whispered. "Now I can't even remember something that happened one god-damned day ago?"
With difficulty I stood, and somehow I managed to stagger into the tiny kitchen, holding my arms out in front of me in supplication. Clamping my wrists around the faucet, I turned the water onto hot, plunging my mangled limbs into the healing liquid.
"It's only a dream," I sobbed, forcing the screams that threatened to overwhelm me into the darkest abyss of my soul. "It's only a dream, it's only a dream, it's only a dream."
I noticed immediately that the woman standing before me was not exactly of this world. Her bandaged hands were shaking furiously, and she avoided looking at me for any length of time. I ran her items through the scanner without looking at them. She fascinated me. Her dark-brown hair seemed somehow to mold and change in front of my eyes.
"Okay, that'll be $31.52." I said, as cheerfully as possible.
"Thank you," she murmured softly. She rummaged in her purse for the money as I watched. She glanced up at me for an instant before looking away again. The woman tried to hand it to me, but her hands shook too badly. It fell out of her hands and landed on the counter.
I picked up the money quickly then gently placed my hands on top of hers.
"It's all right," I said gently, leaning in closer to her. I hoped that I could force this woman to look at me for longer than five seconds.
It worked. She lifted her head and stared at me for a moment without saying anything.
"Thank you," she said finally. She ran a hand through her hair nervously. She looked at the assorted groceries, all bagged and ready to be put into the shopping cart. She gazed at them helplessly then down at her hands, then back at her hands.
"I'll take them to your car for you," I said in a rush, not wanting to let this woman with the old eyes get away from me. "I have a break in a few minutes, anyway," I added.
"I-" she started, then stopped. She backed away from the counter a few steps, and appraised me. "Why are you doing this?" she asked, almost in anger but more in awe than anything else. "Why do you wanna help me?"
I stood in silence. "Because you look like you could use some kindness in your life," I said finally, hoping that didn't come out as pitying and sympathetic as it sounded.
I received a small smile for my troubles. "If you say so," she muttered, turning towards the cart. "Will you put these in for me?" she said. "If that's not too much trouble for you," she interjected hastily. "It's just . . ." She lifted both hands up a little. "My hands . . . hurt too much."
"I'll be glad to help," I said, even as I put them in the cart. "It's my job, after all," I said, grinning.
"Yeah," she almost whispered. "I guess it is."
In my current life I was a receptionist at a high-tech office building. From what I can remember of Jessica Gardner's life before I plunged into it, the pay was pretty good. As of late, I had been unable to go to work because of my episodes. This had been going on for about a week; I was, shall we say, a recent visitor to her body. So far I'd told them I had a really bad flu, and I was able to survive because of all the sicktime Jessica had accumulated. A part of me felt bad for subjecting this formerly healthy body to frequent (and agonizing) visions.
But I had far too many other problems at the moment to torture my soul for inflicting such pain on my body.
This female checker, for one thing. From the name tag I found out her name was Rickie, and to say that I was surprised when she calmed my trembling limbs would be an understatement. Up until that point it was all I could do to get through my shopping list, and by the time I reached the checkout line, I'd broken out into a cold sweat and my hands and face felt like fire.
I shivered as I led the checker outside. I'm not sure if was the cool air, or the checker herself. She threw me, quite frankly. It'd been a long time since I'd ever been able to talk to any women, let alone let them wheel my groceries home. All of my husbands/masters/fathers/brothers had hardly ever let me talk to females, and if they did, they always made sure I never formed any close friendships. They knew about me, you see. They knew that it'd be an icy night in hell, before I ever willingly let them touch me.
I hadn't had the energy or strength to try and pry the glass shards from my wrists, so I'd wrapped them in gauze as best I could, not really wondering when or how I was going to be able to get medical attention. The nearest hospital was 5 miles away, and my reluctance to submit my body to the agony of holding a steering wheel was matched only by my adamant refusal to walk five miles in fifty-five degree Fahrenheit weather. If I hadn't desperately needed food and beverages, I do think I would have lain in my bed all day, just trying to make the pain, both internal and external, cease.
But I did, eventually, and shopping was pure torture. As I passed by the other patrons, they would usually look away or go the direction. I must have really looked like death warmed over.
Rickie, however, was quite different. She not only looked me in the eyes, but also forced me into conversation, despite the fact I could barely concentrate on what she was saying. It was through pure force of will that I managed to float in and out of our conversation, managing intelligent, but simple phrases: "Thank you," and "Yeah," being the extent of my contributions. Intelligent in that they made sense.
And now I was letting her walk me home. I knew she picked up the sweat on my forehead and the flush of my cheeks; she seemed a perceptive girl.
"We're almost there," I wheezed, pointing vaguely in the direction of my home. "It's just a few more . . ." I paused, catching my breath.
"Are you alright?" Rickie asked, stopping hastily. "Oh my god, your hands!"
I laughed crazily and looked down at my hands, which were indeed bleeding all over the pavement. I glanced at Rickie from my blurred vision, trying in vain to remain upright.
"226, Terrace Street," I whispered. "Apartment . . . keys . . . back pocket . . ." were all I could moan before the darkness had me in its grasp.
You have no idea how odd it is to escort a stranger home, only to have her faint two blocks from her apartment. And I still didn't even know her name!
I let go of the handles of the cart and quickly knelt beside the fallen woman, feeling her forehead and trying to check her pulse. Being no doctor, I couldn't actually find it.
"It's okay," I whispered, half to myself and half to her. "It's okay, you're gonna be okay."
I placed a hand on her cheek, shaking her slightly.
"Come on, wake up," I pleaded. "The last thing I need is for a customer to faint on me." After receiving no response, and becoming more panicked by the minute, I decided that the first thing I needed to do was get her into her apartment, where it was warmer. Leaving the cart on the sidewalk, I managed to lift her off the freezing sidewalk, though she weighed a ton.
Slinging a limp arm around my shoulders, I staggered forward, stopping every couple of minutes to rest and cool off a little. The woman was, literally, burning up.
"I am so not cut out for this," I moaned. "Why did I have to be so nice and-" I stopped, noticing a street-sign reading Terrace Street.
"Okay," I said softly, thinking aloud. "Assuming 226 is the apartment number, not the street, and assuming there aren't too many complexes on this street, it shouldn't take me too long to find." I hope. I thought inwardly.
Sure enough, the street numbers began in the 1200s and there was only one apartment building. Identical box-like houses adorned the rest of the street. I got her up the stairs and finally reached 226. Leaning the woman against the wall, I awkwardly felt in the back pocket of her jeans, discovering the keys shortly. Her wallet fell out, and I opened to find that her name was Jessica Gardner.
"Great," I sighed in relief. "I was getting sooo tired of calling you 'woman' and 'she.'"
I opened the door and laid Jessica on the floor until I could find some blankets or something to cover her up with. Throughout our excursion, she hadn't moved or made a sound.
Spying the phone on the kitchen counter, I picked it up and dialed 911.
"Answer," I muttered. "Please answer soon, she's not-"
"Hello, 911 Emergency." a male voice said.
"Hi, my name's Rickie Sanders," I said, the urgency in my voice palpable as I glanced at Jessica. I took the phone over to where she lay and wrapped my free hand around her wrist, squeezing reassuringly.
"I'm at Jessica Gardener's apartment, she's running a high fever, but she's freezing cold. I don't really know what to do. She has bandages on her hands, and they were b-bleeding earlier." My voice shook a little.
"Just calm down, Ms, Sanders. We'll take care of your friend. Can you tell us where you are?" I told him the address, and he asked, "How long has she been like this?" the man asked.
"I don't really know, maybe half an hour. She was able to shop, but when I tried to help her get home, she passed out. What should I do? Should I cover her in a blanket or something?"
"That'll have to do until we send an ambulance," the man said gravely.
"Okay," I answered. "How long till you get here? I'm really worried." I said, gasping slightly.
"We should be there in a few minutes. The hospital is very close," he answered. "Just try to stay calm until then, okay? Rub cold water on her face and put blankets on."
"Okay," I replied, a little calmer. "Thank you, sir."
I hung up the phone and went into the back of the small apartment. I took the blankets off Jessica's bed and laid them on top of her. I went to the sink a filled a cup with cold water. I dabbed it on her face, being careful not to touch her hands.
"You're gonna be fine, Jessica." I whispered. "Just fine."
She stirred as I spoke and groaned loudly, turning her face away from my hands. Making a visual effort, she opened her eyes and looked up at me for a moment without speaking.
"Cold," Jessica said hoarsely, licking her lips. "So cold . . ."
"You have three blankets on you, Jessica," I said soothingly. "The paramedics are on their way. You passed out on the way home. Had a devil of a time lugging you up here." I joked half-heartedly.
She began to chuckle, but stopped abruptly as if the movement hurt her.
"Not Jessica," Jessica said, so quiet I could barely hear. "Alianna . . . long, long time . . . so sleepy."
She lapsed into silence, and fell unconscious again, for which I was grateful, for I hadn't a clue how to reply.
I opened my eyes with difficulty, blinking a few times to clear my vision. I was lying in a white bed, with white walls. An IV dripped fluids into my left arm, and my hands had been rebandaged and hurt like hell. I wished I could remember how I'd landed here. The last thing I remembered clearly was walking home with that kind cashier, Rickie. I wondered where she was.
"She probably ran away once she found out how sick I was. They're all the same." I muttered bitterly. I stared up at the ceiling, and said softly, "That's what you wanted, didn't you? You will never allow me any happiness or peace. You just wanna to watch me suffer, wherever you are."
I stopped talking, exhausted by the effort. The light blue hospital gown chafed my skin. I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but it wasn't long before I heard the door open. I opened my eyes and watched as a male doctor entered the room, flipping through a chart.
"What's up, doc?" I asked, grinning. "Can I get the fuck out of here anytime soon?"
"Ah, you're awake." he replied nonchalantly. "Good thing too; you gave us quite a scare."
"Oh yay, do I get a cookie?" I asked sarcastically, still stinging over Rickie's departure. "Wait a minute. Did you say us?"
He looked at me for awhile, a small smirk on his face. "What, did you think you were here all by yourself? A young lady accompanied you in the ambulance. She was quite frantic. Who is she? A sister?" <P< "Something like that," I said, amazed. I tried to sit up, crying out as my hands and my head screamed in protest. "Ah!"
The doctor swiftly crossed the room, and placed reassuring hands on my shoulders. "You have to rest," he said quietly. "You've been through quite an ordeal."
I tried to touch my head, but he placed a firm hand on my wrist. "You shouldn't move those for awhile." he cautioned.
"Where is she?" I questioned. "Is she still here?"
"She's in the room next door," he replied. "Sleeping."
"Sleeping?" I asked incredulously. "How long have I been out?"
He gazed into my eyes, gauging my mental state, I assume.
"You've been unconscious for 2 days," he answered finally.
"Two days?!" I almost screamed. "What happened? How could I be so sick?"
"You don't remember?" At my headshake, he continued, "From what our team can tell, you had several small shards of glass embedded in your hands." he said somberly. "The wounds had not been treated properly, and became infected. You aggravated them by -" He checked his notes. "Walking around in forty degree weather, and then going to the grocery store!" He glared at me.
"F-forty?" I asked weakly. "I checked the weather report. I was sure it said fifty."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Gardner, you assumed wrong." He sighed, clicking his tongue like a mother hen. "It frustrates me to no end when I receive patients who obviously could have avoided anything serious if they'd only taken care of themselves! What did you do, just drop into bed after cutting your hands to ribbons?"
"S-something like that," I said, averting his eyes. I certainly couldn't tell him I'd been in a bar, had a seizure, crushed the glass from the strain, and then drove home, only remembering the incident from a dream, could I?
"Will my hands be okay?" I asked, after a moment's silence. "And my head?"
"You got a mild concussion. You hit the ground pretty hard," he said. "Your hands . . . well, the glass struck tendons. We performed surgery, which was successful. But it'll be several weeks before you can use them without pain. You'll-"
"Hello?" a voice said from the doorway. I looked up and smiled broadly. Rickie stood there at the door. Her clothes were rumpled, and it appeared she was wearing the same outfit from two days earlier.
"Hi," I said sheepishly. "I was just getting my tongue-lashing from the doc here."
"Well, you deserve it," Rickie replied, grinning. "You were pretty messed up."
I glanced at the doctor, silently begging him to leave. "So he was telling me."
Doc took the hint and went to the door as Rickie came in. "I have other patients to check on. Don't wear her out now!" he admonished Rickie, teasing.
"I won't," she answered.
She came to sit in the chair a foot from the bed, and looked at me.
Now that she was actually here, I had no idea what to say. Thanks for saving my life, how did your boss like you just walking away from your job? I finally decided on a simple, "How are you?"
Rickie shrugged. "Better than you, I think. You're the one who fainted and was unconscious for two days."
"Yeah." I agreed. I looked down at the blanket, suddenly shy. "Thanks for bringing me here. From what the doc was saying, sounds like I woulda died if you hadn't."
"No problem." she answered. She seemed at a loss for words, thinking about something. "So how are you feeling?"
"I feel much better," I replied, glad to have something to say. "I'm coherent, at least." I joked. "Afraid I wasn't much of a customer to you back at the store. I was out of it."
"Yeah, I guess you were." Rickie said. She paused, then stated, "When you fainted . . ."
"Yes?" I prompted.
"You woke up briefly." she continued. "You said some pretty weird stuff."
Rickie shrugged uncomfortably. "You told me your name wasn't Jennifer; it was Alianna."
I must have looked pretty shocked, because she said quickly, "See, I told you it was weird. I guess you were delirious."
"No, it's not that," I murmured. "It's just . . ." I trailed off, unsure of how to continue. Could I trust her with the truth, that I hadn't been called Alianna in 2000 years? Maybe part of it, I decided. "I haven't told anyone that name in a very long time." I said softly. "It's kind of a nickname from my childhood."
"What does it mean?" she asked.
I swallowed, and looked at her intently. "Ancient one." I said. "It means ancient one."
"That's an interesting name," Rickie replied, an eyebrow arched. She seemed unshaken by what was, for me, a difficult revelation. "Where does it come from?"
I didn't hear her, absorbed in a memory that stood out clearly - and painlessly - in my mind.
"You have such old eyes for one so young, little one," my father said tenderly, stroking my hair affectionately. "My Ali." "Da, what does that mean?" I asked curiously. "You call me that often." He chuckled, a sound musical to my ears. "I would have thought your mother would have told you! Ali . . . Alianna. In our native language, it means full of joy. " Coming out of my flashback with a little shake, I realized that Rickie had asked me a question.
"I'm sorry, what?" I asked. "I was . . . thinking."
She laughed a little. "Obviously! You had the most serious expression on your face. I asked you where you got your name from?"
I don't know if my nerves were wracked from remembering my childhood, or if I was tired, but for whatever reason, I answered her sharply. "I told you it was a nickname from my youth; can't we just leave it at that?" I snapped, annoyed.
Rickie looked shocked, and her face fell a little. "Well, excuse me for caring." she muttered, standing. She had turned away, almost out the door, before I thought to call, "Rickie, wait!"
She half-turned, a little impatient. "What?"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to avoid your question; it's just . . ." I swallowed and inwardly damned myself for being unable to stand up next to her, face to face. I felt so helpless, trapped in a hospital bed. "It's very hard for me to remember my childhood without getting a little sensitive. My parents are . . . gone. Dead." It's hard for me to clearly remember anything at all. I thought wryly. "Oh," she said. "I didn't know."
"It's alright," I answered. "It was . . . a long time ago."
"I need to go soon," Rickie said suddenly. "I have to change out of these clothes and eat something. I'll come back later." The last statement held a hint of doubt.
"Yes," I said instantly. "Please."
I headed to the nurses' station and told them I was going to leave for a while.
"Just tell Alianna I'll be back in a few hours," I said.
"Oh hun, you look worn out." the nurse clucked sympathetically. "I'll be glad to help you."
"Thank you," I said gratefully. I turned away, and got into the elevator.
I wondered what the woman had meant by saying I looked worn out. Must be something to do with that whole sleeping in the same clothes for two days thing. I thought dryly.
I drove home and took off my filthy pants and shirt, dropping them in a heap in front of the door. Dimly I wondered why Alianna hadn't noticed the stains on the bottom of my shirt and jeans. Well, it's not like she was able to see the bottom half of me. I reprimanded myself.
I reached the privacy of my own bathroom and stripped out of my remaining undergarments, rubbing a sore spot on my arm tenderly. I turned on the scorching hot water, at last free to let the images from that harrowing ambulance ride drown me.
"You can't see me, can you?" Ali had chuckled. "You don't see anything but your own selfish little agony? You know what you are to me?! You know who you are, you bitch!" She tried to sit up, and the attendants attempted to force her back, but she seemed to possess a supernatural strength born of fever.
"Who am I, Jess?" I'd asked, playing along. I hoped she'd calm down soon.
"You are nothing!" she roared. "You don't own me anymore; I'll be free, I can feel it!"
"Okay, I'm nothing," I answered, forcing my voice not to tremble. "I am nothing, and you will be free soon."
"That's right," she replied, grabbing onto my forearm and squeezing tightly. The pain of scarcely a few moments ago seemed to have vanished. "That's right." She gasped and sank back onto the stretcher, worn out.
Gently, I released her hand from my arm and backed away a few steps, watching with a mixture of horror and pity as Jenny began to sob softly.
"Don't touch me," she murmured feebly to the man putting an IV into her arm. "Don't hurt me; I never did anything to you. I didn't mean to, I just wanted revenge."
Watching for a few seconds more, I considered it safe to approach her.
"Shh, you just gotta rest now, sweetie." I shushed her, placing what I hoped was a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Everything's gonna be fine, I promise."
She smiled when I called her sweetie, and gazed at me with a dreamy expression on her perspiring face.
"Hello, darling," she whispered. "How long has it been since we last saw each other? I've missed you. I thought after the blood stained the carpet, and the naughty woman laughed . . ." Jessica trailed off, sighing. Her voice that of a small child's. "You were gone forever." I had to lean forward quite close to catch that last line, and when I did, I stiffened imperceptibly.
"I'm right here." I said, my voice sounding like it came from a deep cavern. "I'm here with you now. I won't leave you again."
She smiled that dreamy smile once more, and her eyes slid shut.
The water began to scorch my skin, and too late I realized that I had turned the faucet to its highest setting. Quivering with some undefined feeling, I reached out, in slow motion, and punched the faucet hard, shutting off the water. I stood shaking in the now cool shower, breathing heavily.
Almost involuntarily, I ran my hands down my still steaming body and stumbled out of the bathroom. I collapsed onto my bed arm throbbing.
After some time had passed, I got up and went into the front room. After making myself some lunch, I plopped down into an armchair and furrowed my brow in concentration.
"Alianna," I whispered. "Where have I heard that name before?"
I thought about it for a few minutes, but finally gave up. I ate the sandwich and chips slowly, still thinking. I was studying to become a history major at the college nearby, and I usually had a ton of names and dates rolling around in my head.
But what was it about hers that drove me crazy trying to remember?
"It's just an unusual name, that's all," I said softly. "Her parents were probably hippie freaks or something."
Alianna. The ancient one.
"Oh, bloody fuck!" I yelled, standing suddenly. "I've got to know!" I stepped away from my sandwich and chips, leaving them forgotten on the floor.
I went to my computer and turned it on, drumming my fingers impatiently on the table. I clicked on an encyclopedia and typed in "Alianna". It took a moment to find the results, and I waited anxiously.
When it finally loaded, there was only one result. I highlighted it, titled "origins, history, myths"
Must not be very long, I noted. They usually separate those topics into different articles.
I read the following:
Alianna (b. 23 B.C., d. 0? A.D) Alianna was born in 23 B.C. as a nobleman's daughter in Italy. She is an unusual woman in history because she's the earliest recorded instance of homosexuality. At the age of 16, she flat out refused to marry her intended groom. She left Italy with her maid of honor, Kendra. Alianna's father renounced her, but felt honor-bound to send her money.
But in 0 A.D., something very strange occurred. According to legend, Alianna came home from the marketplace and found her wife bleeding to death. She swore revenge and went to the castle of a family of supposed sorcerers, including the Sorceress Raven. It is said that Alianna grief-stricken and half-mad stood over Raven's daughter with a dagger. Alianna could not bring herself to kill an innocent, but Raven entered the room and almost immediately struck Alianna with a powerful bolt of "magic".
Alianna fell forward with the knife still in her hands, stabbing the little girl. Raven threw the woman off her child, furious.
"I curse you!" Raven shouted. "I curse you with every ounce of pain that plagues me now! You shall live a multitude of lives, and I will never let you forget this day, or any other!" She knelt swiftly, grasping Alianna by the throat, lifting her off the ground.
"And when you die," she hissed. "If ever I allow you that luxury, you will die alone, as I am alone."
"I'm already alone!" Alianna had gasped, struggling to escape Raven's hands. "You killed her! You killed Kendra!"
"Kendra?" Raven scoffed. "The small dark-haired girl? I simply transported her to a place out of my way."
"Oh?" Alianna growled. She painfully lurched away from the sorceress, glaring at her, and sobbing loudly. "And when I f-found her d-dying in our home, was that enough out of the way for you?"
"No," Raven whispered, growing pale. "It couldn't be," She stared at Alianna accusingly. "My spells never fail!"
"This one did!" Alianna moaned. "Because of your 'accident' my wife is gone!"
"And because of yours I have no daughter!" Raven screamed. "She gazed at her child, lying in bed, eyes wide with shock.
"I don't care!" she muttered to herself. "You will rot!" With a cackle that could almost be mistaken for a sob, she vanished.
Leaving Alianna, who had been trying to get up, writhing in agony.
"I'm . . . so . . . sorry," she moaned. "I couldn't save . . ." A particularly painful spasm racked her body, leaving her frozen.
"Them." she whispered. And the darkness took her for its prize.
-Myths and Magic: Gaul
From all reports, Alianna died shortly after, but no one actually witnessed her passing. Some say she still wanders through each life, searching for peace. The name Alianna is a rare one, but not many parents are eager to name their daughters something with such ill-fated origins. "Alianna" has taken on the connotation "ancient one", which is ironic; before her death, it meant "full of joy."
David Beatly, 1988
I finished the article with a little shiver, and brushed away the cold sweat coating my brow.
"It can't be the same person," I murmured, peering at the monitor suspiciously. "It can't be."
I got up, and opened the door of my apartment, gulping the fresh air into my lungs like I'd been running a marathon.
"Oh God," I said, realizing something. "She's been alive for over 2000 years." I continued. "And remembers all of them."
* * *
The days flew by, and before I knew it, two days had passed since I'd visited Alianna in the hospital. My discovery of her true history made me wary and cautious. What would I say to her when I saw her again? 'How does it feel being two thousand years old? Did you know that you're the oldest living human on the planet?'
I couldn't face her. For once, I was positive I wasn't to find out her secret. And if she'd tried to tell me, I would have called her insane.
So why did I believe the woman mentioned in the encyclopedia was Alianna, the Alianna lying in a hospital at the moment?
Maybe I saw her. I looked into her eyes and glimpsed a sadness so terrible, so intense that my own eyes burned at the memory.
They were the same person.
What the hell was I gonna do about it?
I became aware of somebody watching me, and I fought to open my eyes. The painkillers had me in their grasp, and I slid into the watery ocean of dreams with barely a murmur.
Several hours, I awoke fully and gasped in surprise when I spotted Rickie, fast asleep in a chair beside me. She breathed slowly and evenly, and I watched in amazement as she turned slightly, a little drool on the corner of her mouth. I wanted nothing more than to hug her and croon, "You are the so precious!" I wanted to stroke her hair and kissed her forehead, whispering, "Thank you."
In the moment before I completely entered the land of the living, attacks visited me. I remembered them at the last possible second, and struggled to keep them at bay.
"They don't control me," I whispered. "They don't control me; I control them." These words became my mantra, my anchor to sanity. I moaned loudly, waking Rickie.
She came to consciousness with lazy abandon, which became alert as she saw my agitation.
"Ali?" she questioned urgently. "Ali, look at me."
I couldn't reply, caught by the storm. I twitched and goose bumps sprang from my flesh. I could still see, though. Through a rapidly growing haze, I watched as Rickie got up from the chair and tried to stop my trembling.
"Alianna," she said. "You'll be just fine, okay? This will pass soon."
The attack finally ceased, but I still heard the its faint whispers, like the beating of drums in the distance.
I licked my lips feebly. "Worst one yet," I muttered, not intending Rickie to hear me.
But she did, and a flicker of . . . something cast a shadow over her features for an instant. I blinked, and it disappeared.
"Thanks for trying to help," I said gratefully. "But my kind of problem doesn't really have a . . . cure." I said carefully. "I just have to ride them out."
"I had no idea they'd be this bad," she remarked.
"What?" I asked sharply.
She cleared her throat, and admired the floor tiles for a long moment.
"What did you say?" I repeated. "How do you know anything about them?" My voice became dangerously soft. She doesn't know, she doesn't know, she doesn't know. I uttered. She knows plenty of people with memory problems. Who have lived 2000 years. Who have been cursed by an evil sorceress . . . Aw, crap. Who am I kidding? "I said . . ." Rickie trailed off, extremely uncomfortable. She tried again. "I said . . ."
"Rickie!" I cried, losing all patience. "Answer me, please! How do you know anything about it?"
"I know!!" she yelled. She sucked in a burst of air. "I know." she repeated, softer. "I looked up your name in an encyclopedia," she continued. "It told me your history, how your name meant 'full of joy.' How your wife, K-"
"Don't," I interjected in agony. "Don't say her name."
"How she died, and you wanted the sorceress to die," she said, apologetic. "But Raven enchanted you to -"
I cleared my throat. "Rickie, you don't have to tell me my history," I murmured. "Believe me, I know it. I was there."
"Alianna, how can you bear it?" Rickie burst out. "How can you keep living?"
"I have to," I said firmly. "I have to live, or I have no hope of ending it."
A silence hung between us, cold and accusing.
And then, "Why couldn't you tell me?"
I didn't answer for a while. "It hurts too much," I said. "It hurts to breathe, to think, to feel. I can't share that pain with anyone, not even - "
"Not even you." I replied. "I have 2000 years of history choking me, every second of every day. I'm fighting constantly to keep from going insane, and I think I was afraid that if I . . . told anyone, it would kill me."
"But it hasn't." she responded.
"No," I answered. "Not yet."
"A joke," I said. "My attempt at humour."
"Oh," Rickie said. "Haha."
Something about her rather sarcastic reply made me giggle. A giggle turned to a chuckle, a chuckle to a laugh, and a laugh to full-blown hysterics.
Rickie joined me, and soon we were laughing loudly for no reason whatsoever.
"I'm sorry," I gasped, breathless. "I just c-can't - you're just so -"
Impulsively I leaned over and kissed her. Rickie froze for a moment then returned the kiss, her lips like water to my parched soul. It became more passionate, and I reached out a hand to stroke her hair. As my fingers brushed her strands, I heard Kendra's voice in my thoughts.
"You love me, don't you?" she asked.
I began to pull away, and she opened her eyes, questioning. Someone entered the room, humming softly. I heard them stop abruptly, and I let go completely, embarrassed.
"Ali?" Rickie whispered, not hearing the man who I now recognized as my doctor behind us. We were still nose-to-nose.
"Mmhhm," The doctor cleared his throat, and Rickie jumped up quickly.
"I'm g-gonna go," she stuttered, almost running for the door.
"W-" I began.
"I need time," she said firmly, with an anger that silenced me. She chuckled sarcastically. "We seem to do this a lot, don't we? 'I'll be back; I'm not leaving you.'" Rickie mocked herself.
"We do," I responded, smiling. "I l- I'll see you soon, then."
Rickie left without replying.
I had to steady myself; I almost told her I loved her.
The doctor dumped his clipboard on the bedside table, and glared at me. "If you're going to exert yourself with your girlfriend when you're supposed to be recovering, at least don't do it when it's time for your checkup." he said irritably.
"Sorry," I said sheepishly, but I could not conceal a smile. I'd had much harsher responses to my lesbianism.
"Now that's that out of the way," he continued. "I need to change your bandages and give you more antibiotics. Then you're going to take a walk with a nurse. You've been in bed too long."
"Oh, that's great!" I exclaimed eagerly. "I'm so tired of laying here!"
"I know," he replied sympathetically. He changed the bandages gently, ignoring my gasps of pain. "She should be here - ah, here she is now."
"Hello," a brown-haired, blue-eyed nurse said, wheeling a silver wheelchair with black cloth sides in front of her. "Why don't you just get in -"
"I can do it myself," I jumped in as the doctor left. "See?" So saying, I threw back the covers and stood triumphantly. For about five seconds, at least. Black dots sparkled in front of my vision, and I felt myself falling. The nurse grasped me by the shoulder and set me down in the wheelchair with ease.
"What -" I asked. "My legs feel like they've been in a blending machine," I murmured. "Why?"
"You've been in bed for four and a half days, Miss Gardner." she said promptly. "You didn't expect to just get out of bed and sing a song, did you?"
"G? - No, I guess not." I said, staring down at my near-useless legs angrily. Being called Alianna by Rickie had made me used it my real name; "Gardner" threw me off for a moment.
"So can we go now?" I asked.
"Of course." She turned the wheelchair, and guided it out of the bedroom.
Freedom. I thought. Finally.
It wasn't exactly blue skies and chirping birds, but I was glad to just get away from my prison of white walls and endless thoughts.
"Where are we going?" I asked. The nurse, Chelsea read her nametag, didn't seem to be going to some random location.
"The gym." Chelsea answered. "You'll stretch your legs there, maybe do some walking. We'll also work on those hands a bit."
"Okay," I said, uncertain. My hands still felt numb from the strong painkillers they had me on, and I strongly doubted my legs could support my weight.
Once we reached the gym, however, some of my anxiety subsided. It was a comfortable room, with orange mats against the walls and on the floor. Assorted weights took up one corner, but most of the room featured metal bars parallel to each other, ideal for walking.
"But how will I hold onto the bars?" I questioned.
"I'll hold your arm." Chelsea replied. "You need to work on using them again, anyway. It should be all right if you only hold something for a few minutes."
She didn't give me an opportunity to reply, because she was too busy helping me out of the chair, despite my protests.
"Sit down," she instructed, pointing to a mat.
I plopped onto a mat, and she sat down across from me.
"Okay." Chelsea said. "Give me your hands."
I held my hand out to her, and she looked at it for a second. "He put on the kind you can replace easily." she said thoughtfully. "I'm gonna take them off, carefully. This might hurt a little."
It hurt a lot, actually. I shut my eyes and thought of Rickie's lips on mine until she finished. When I opened them, I let out a horrified moan. I always closed my eyes when the doctor changed; now, faced with my mangled limbs right in front of me, I wanted nothing more than to run away.
Stitches covered my palms, which in turn were caked with dried blood. The holes from the glass, but I could still see the scars clearly, purple and blotchy. Tentatively I tried to wiggle my fingers, but Chelsea stopped me with a quick motion.
"Take it easy," she said softly. "We'll do this nice and slow."
I took a deep, cleansing breath and nodded.
"Move your index finger for me." she said. "Can you do that?"
"I'll try." I whispered. I focused all my energy and making my finger move, even a fraction of a centimeter. After several seconds, I succeeded.
"I did it!" I shouted. "I actually did it!"
Chelsea grinned. "That's a great start." she said. "Let's continue."
The rest of the exercises were rewarding, but at the end they certainly didn't feel like it. An hour passed, and I was able to flex both hands with little difficulty. The efforts exhausted me.
The nurse asked gently, "Do you think you can do the leg exercises, or should we go back?"
I rested for a few minutes, before replying, "I can do them."
She helped me stand and guided me over to the metal bars. I grasped onto the bars firmly and stared down at my shaking legs, daring them to betray me.
I can do this. I thought. I can do this.
In reality, I couldn't. As soon as I tried to take a step, I had to cling to the bars steadfastly. My vision blurred, and when I refocused, I saw Raven standing next to me, smirking. I blinked and Chelsea reappeared.
"I'd like to stop now," I panted. "I'm too tired."
"Of course." she said quickly. "Are you all right? You're sweating, and your face is red."
I turned with an effort, and stumbled into the wheelchair a few feet away, not noticing that fear forced my legs into motion. Chelsea stared, unsure what to do. Once she saw I was safely in the wheelchair, she came up behind it, and wheeled me out of the gym.
Once we reached the room, I collapsed into bed, sweating and panting heavily. I sent the nurse away after she gave me a glass of water and apologized for pushing me too hard.
"S'alright." I murmured. "I'm good."
She finally left, and I realized I had gone the entire walk without thinking of either Rickie or Kendra, but now they plagued me both.
Except for seeing Raven. I reminded
myself. Mustn't forget that one, can we?
My wife, lying on the floor, her teeth red with blood. The light in her eyes slowly fading. The gaping wound in her stomach draining her life's blood.
Kendra saw me and tried to smile, but the effect was more of a corpse's last attempt at humor than my beloved's normally joyous grin. I choked down the bile rising in my throat, and quickly reached her side. I took her hand, kissing it. With my free hand, I stroked her hair. Her head was cold, yet damp with sweat.
"Shh," I soothed her when she tried to speak. "What happened, love? Who-" My voice cracked, and I forcibly held down the sobs. "Who did this to you?" I tried again.
"She . . ." Kendra swallowed, coughing. "You . . . love . . . me . . . don't . . . you?" "Always," I swore. How could she even question that?
"The witch . . ." she whispered. "annoyed, a fly . . . swatting a fly . . ."
"Don't try to speak," I murmured, bending over and kissing her tenderly. As I drew away, I felt her blood staining my lips. "I love you," I said. "I will stop her, I promise."
I held her in my arms, knowing it wouldn't make any difference now. Her breathing slowed, until finally it died away completely. I cradled her in my arms for several minutes, unwilling - or unable - to accept the fact that my soulmate was gone.
After what seemed like hours, I rose from her body, staring at it - her, I thought firmly. She's still with me.
I wandered around the room, pausing only to rest my eyes on my lover's dead body. I voluntarily would have done this forever, if only to kill myself with guilt, but eventually the logical part of my brain returned.
Remember your promise, it said.
"No," I said aloud, every muscle aching with the effort of not falling down on the cold hard ground and screaming for all eternity.
You promised to kill her, it accused. Are you afraid?
"No," I repeated, my voice raw. I turned away from Kendra. Despite the promise still ringing in my ears, I crashed to the floor, scraping my knees. Keening back and forth, I finally allowed the dams to break, and the tears to fall.
I sat up suddenly. My eyes darted around the room, and I noted it was the middle of the night. Before I knew what I was doing, I began to scratch myself, methodically.
"They don't know who she is," I said. "They can't see her, not like I can. I can see her, and everyone else is hidden in fear. I feel all pain, and no one knows. No one knows! NO ONE." I did this for an eternity - or should I say I? - for it wasn't me who said those things. Me, the self I have been for centuries, retreated into the smallest recesses of my mind, replaced by this manic creature that knew no logic.
This alien I had become soon started to scream, screaming herself raw. And I swore myself into nothingness.
I drove around the city aimlessly. Where can I go? I thought. Where can I go when I need to stop thinking?
The answer came to me instantly. My job. The store often calmed me when nothing else worked. Just stand, and scan. Scan all the bar codes, and then read off the total amount. Simple. Easy.
As soon as I entered the store, however, a cashier came up and told me the manager needed to see me.
"For what?" I asked.
"For what?" he repeated incredulously. "Rickie, you haven't been here in four days. Don't play dumb."
He cuffed me on the shoulder with a "sorry, kid" expression and walked off.
I approached my boss' office with trepidation. I couldn't exactly afford to be fired. The computer had been a gift from my grandparents; my own family couldn't afford to pay my way through college. I had got in through a scholarship. My major remained undecided, but I was strongly considering the combined major of history and ancient literature.
He opened the door, as I was about to knock. "You wanted to see me?" I asked, my hand still raised. He grabbed my wrist and gently but firmly pushed me into his office.
Papers covered every inch of space, and he tugged on his light-gray beard before saying gruffly, "Lemme cut to the chase, Wallace."
"I know," I said heavily, sitting as he shoved a mass of papers out of my way.
"We're going to have to let you go," he said. "You haven't shown up in several days, and when you did, you were extremely-"
The phone on his desk shrilled loudly, saving me from any further humiliation.
He sighed as he picked it up, indicating with a hand that I needed to stay put. He turned away, and for a few minutes he said nothing, just listening.
"Oh," he said softly. "Yes, she's here. I'll tell her." He hung up the phone and looked at me gravely.
"What?" I asked, full of foreboding. My heart pounded loudly in my ears.
"Your friend at the hospital, she's had some kind of seizure." he said, the words acid dropping into my heart. "She's slipped into a coma, and they don't when -"
"Or if," I said faintly. I gazed at the room with a terrible feeling of devastation.
"Or if," he repeated. "Rickie, I'm so very sorry. She must mean a lot to you."
"I have to see her," I blurted out, rapidly approaching hysteria. I stood up and paced the room. "She's gonna to fucking die, isn't she? She's gonna die and I won't be there!" I faced him, and chewed on my lip nervously.
"Rickie!" he exploded.
"What!" I screeched.
"She's not dead yet! You still have time! Go to the hospital and be with her."
"You'll let me?" I asked, plaintively.
"Of course!" he bellowed. "It's obvious you care about this girl. Besides-" He said with an ironic smile. "You're already fired. I can't hold you here."
"Thank you," I replied, vaguely surprised to be glad I'd been fired. I turned to go, then asked, "Sir, can I please have my job back? After this is all over?"
He growled crankily, then said, "We'll see, Wallace."
"Oh, thank you," I said softly, still weighed down with thoughts of Alianna. My boss was famous for not giving second chances.
I left the store, slightly more cheerful. At the forefront of my mind hovered my fear and worry for Alianna, but not being fired was definitely nice.
My minor job-buzz vanished entirely when I entered Alianna's room. She lay supine on the bed, her hair matted to her forehead. Her body glistened with sweat, and through the light sheet covering her; I could clearly see that someone had tied her to the bed. I found myself walking to her, trying one last time to save her, to be her friend. Just before I sank to my knees, I felt cold hands latch onto my shoulders and squeeze.
I tried to turn my head to see who could possibly hold me with such strength, but the cold spread from my shoulders down to my entire body, and I fell hard to the floor, momentarily paralyzed. Blinking away my dizziness, I watched as a woman in a waist-length, long-sleeved, light green dress approach Alianna.
"S-stop," I tried to say, but I was too weak.
As though in a dream, the mysterious woman, who I realized must be Raven, levitated Ali off her bed, snapping her bonds easily. Alianna floated out of the room, and the lights flickered as Raven followed her. The lights died away, and I lay in darkness. I wondered what Raven had done to the hospital staff. Several minutes passed, and Raven returned for me. I struggled feebly, but it was pointless. I too was levitated off the ground and into the hallway. Oddly enough, Raven's concentration wavered for an instant, and I almost fell. She regained control almost immediately, and I soon found myself into the hospital parking lot.
Raven ceased being gentle and roughly "threw" me into the back seat of a white SUV, right on top of Alianna, who hadn't moved at all during any of this adventure.
"Where are you taking us?" I finally managed to speak. I moved off of Alianna, and huddled next to her. I averted my eyes; I wanted to spare her some modesty. The gown revealed her long legs, and I could see the swell of her breasts beneath the partly transparent material. It obviously wasn't made for the personal comfort of the patient. Her arms and face were covered with scratch-marks, bleeding slightly.
Raven glared at me for a moment, dark blue eyes blazing.
"To Hell," she said shortly. It was the first time she'd spoken.
She slammed the door, and climbed into the front seat. "She should be waking soon," Raven said as she started the engine and drove away from the hospital.
I remained silent.
"When she does, don't expect too much conversation." She continued. "The charm I placed on her prevents her from speaking."
"Oh, you mean you don't want to hear her screams as you torture her?" I asked sarcastically.
"What I don't want," Raven hissed angrily. "Is for Alianna to start her 'poor me; you killed my wife' routine once again. It gets tiresome." She guided the car onto the freeway.
"Gets tiresome?" I asked dubiously. "You only heard it the one time! And you killed her before she could tell you what really happened."
I saw Raven's lips tighten in the front mirror, but swallowed, too angry to be cautious. "You know what I think?" I said. "I think you're afraid that if you let Alianna speak, you'd find out that you were wrong. You'd realize that she didn't mean to hurt your little girl, and you certainly didn't mean to hurt K-"
"Shut up!" Raven yelled. "I refuse to listen to this! You'd better quit pestering me, girl, or I'll do worse then freeze you."
I did shut up, but my mind remained active.
There must be some way to end this peacefully. I thought. It was a double accident; why can't Raven see that?
I turned away from the window, taking a deep breath. I gazed at Alianna, unable to stand the depressing thoughts that raced through my mind like a restless cheetah. When Alianna wakes, she won't be able to say anything. Raven's driving us to her version of Hell, which is probably pretty horrible. And I'm in a car with a crazy sorceress and an unconscious, tormented woman.
I stroked Alianna's arm, able for one moment to ignore the rain pounding on the windows, and focusing all my energies on Alianna.
"Please wake up," I whispered. "I don't want to go through this alone. You gotta wake up, okay?" I waited a few minutes. "Honey, please," I murmured softly. "I need to talk to someone besides that loony bird-lady. You're it."
"I'm it." I said, my voice shaking. "I'm the only one who can get us out of this."
By no means was I giving up on Ali waking eventually, but for the moment I was all alone.
Alone with a scary witch who wanted Alianna and possibly me dead.
"I love my life," I moaned.