Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chapter One

Who Are You


What on earth am I still doing here? she wondered.  Why is this taking so darn long?
Sevenah had been sitting in the doctor’s office for hours, slouched on the edge of a cold examination table.  This was the second time they had recalled her to the clinic for tests.  That alone was enough to make her stomach ache.  She hadn’t expected to combine the anxiety with an entire day of fasting.
“What time is it now?” she muttered to herself.
Not having developed the habit of wearing a watch, Sevenah pulled a glossy, pink cell phone from the front pocket of her faded Levis and glanced at the digital display again. 
5:38pm, it read.  Only ten minutes past the last time she had checked. 
Her arrival at the clinic had been just after 11:30 that morning at Dr. Tracy’s request, with his assurances it was nothing more than a follow-up appointment.  But the way those worry lines had deepened around his white eyebrows made her wonder.  Even more disconcerting was his agitated and distant behavior, so uncharacteristic of the warm and friendly doctor she had come to rely on over the years.
The old man was an icon in Royal City, having practiced medicine in their small, desert town for over three decades.  He had been the Williams’ family doctor since before Sevenah could recall.  Her mother had brought her to see him as a child, and still the young lady was a loyal patient at seventeen years of age, able to drive herself to the clinic.  Growing up, Dr. Tracy had treated her numerous bouts of strep throat and given her several sports exams, never forgetting a lollipop on the way out.  She trusted him.  She liked him—especially the way he welcomed her with a friendly pat on the shoulder and the kindest smile.  Today, however, those affable gestures were missing. 
Sevenah tried to convince herself the anxiety she felt was nothing more than the product of an overactive imagination.  She had even spoken to her father about it that afternoon, seeking his common-sense reassurance there was nothing to worry about—advice reliably offered over the phone.  “Relax, honey, the lab’s probably busy.  Doc said it’s just follow up tests.  Results take time; be patient.”  But six hours in a sterile room enduring ultrasounds and blood draws and repeated x-rays was torturing her tendency to fret over imagined what-ifs. 
“I thought this place closed at five,” she groaned.
Alone, listening to the grumbling complaints of an empty stomach, her fingers found their habitual place coiling lengths of her hair into ringlets.  She was blessed with her mother’s thick strands that draped over her shoulders like copper corn silk.  Her other hand tapped on the metal table in an attempt to calm agitated nerves.  The pattered rhythm proved somewhat hypnotic.  Her hazel eyes disappeared beneath apricot eyelids as she breathed out a long, heavy sigh, releasing a portion of the built-up tension in her chest.  A shiver traveled down her spine, and her muscles stiffened in response. 
It was chilly in the clinic, despite the unusually warm autumn breeze that blew across irrigated farmland outside.  Sevenah rubbed her arms briskly, wishing she had thrown on more than a t-shirt and jeans that morning.  A sweatshirt would’ve been wise; she almost never felt warm enough.  Why she didn’t carry a jacket with her more often was a puzzle, especially with the days growing shorter.  Just absentminded perhaps.  If her best friend, Ian, had been there, he would have offered his by now.  She smiled, realizing he was probably the reason she never brought her own.  Ian routinely looked out for her.  He was always in her company, always prepared like a boy scout. 
Except for today.
Sevenah had assumed he would eventually meet up with her at the clinic.  He would have gone to her house when finished with whatever responsibilities were his at home.  Then her mother should’ve directed him to town—explained that Dr. Tracy had called, personally requesting her presence that morning for follow-up tests.  She had texted her other friends a dozen times already, but no one had admitted to seeing head-nor-tail of her best friend.  Four calls to her mom had received no answer.  That was typical.  Her mother’s phone usually sat buried in a purse or a pocket if it wasn’t just plain lost altogether, a fact that proved a constant irritation to Sevenah.  She couldn’t understand why a person bothered owning a cell phone with no intention of ever answering it. 
Admittedly, a portion of her agitation was due to Ian’s absence.  It was rare for the pair to spend one day apart.  They had become attached at the hip after first meeting a little over a year ago when the young man had moved to town.  He had seemed shy and quiet at first, but had opened up to Sevenah with little effort.  Since then, they were nearly inseparable. 
Their initial meeting had occurred shortly after her first excruciating attack—the one Dr. Tracy now claimed required a second follow-up.  The chest pain had been debilitating, radiating throughout her upper body and across her back.  Her mother had rushed her to the clinic on that cold autumn day in a worried frenzy. 
Sevenah recalled crying nonstop, arms folded over her chest, squeezing against the agonizing internal pressure.  It had mattered little what position she assumed—lying, sitting, or standing—each had been equally insufferable.  Dr. Tracy had ordered x-rays, but after a while the pain had subsided as quickly as it had come on—miraculously vanished.  It was bizarre…….and embarrassing.  Her mother had taken her home, feeling both relieved and confused, before any diagnosis was rendered.  Sevenah had insisted.
A couple months later, Dr. Tracy had called requesting another set of x-rays and additional tests.  “Just a follow up,” he had explained.  Ian had accompanied her that day, only weeks after meeting him.  Everything had tested “hunky-dory,” as the old doctor liked to say.  So why another call back more than a year after the fact?  Had something critical been discovered?
Sevenah fidgeted on the elevated medical bed, her feet dangling over one side.  She stared down at her white Nikes, now a worn and faded vanilla color.  Trying to pass the time, she examined how the side seams had begun to unravel.
“Note to self—I need new shoes.” 
She hopped off the table and raised both arms toward the ceiling, reaching to stretch out her spine.  Waiting was one of her stronger points, usually.  Biding time was merely a fact of life in Sevenah’s world.  She expected delays; to say “no problem” even when it was inconvenient; to compromise; to wait her turn; to calmly keep the peace.  She found it difficult to complain under normal circumstances, but this was getting ridiculous.  Couldn’t the nurse just call with test results?
Her brow tightened trying to decide whether to track someone down or just quietly slip out and head for home.  After all, they did know where to reach her.  A squeak sounded from her sneakers with every swivel on the linoleum as she paced indecisively, searching for the courage to defy authority.  No doubt her father would hear about it if Dr. Tracy found her missing.
“That’s it, I’m leaving,” she finally announced to herself.  Enough was enough.
Headed for the door, her fingers reached for the knob.  It twisted beneath her touch, and she quickly withdrew her hand.
“It’s about time,” she breathed.
Through an opening, she spied an angry face on Dr. Tracy.  His white eyebrows were pulled low, creating a deep vertical furrow in his forehead.  The frown he wore couldn’t have appeared grimmer.
“Sevenah!” he gasped, clearly shocked by her nearness.  The door closed to only a small crack through which he spoke. 
“I uh….I apologize for the wait, but I need you to be patient—just for a while longer.  Not much longer, I promise.  Just, please…..stay here.” 
“But, Dr. Tracy,” she began.  She leaned forward meaning to speak through the opening, but he hurriedly shut the door in her face.  She heard the click of a locking mechanism.  No, no—he couldn’t have.  She tried the knob to confirm what her ears had told her.  The door was locked!  But why?
“Dr. Tracy?” she called out, twisting uselessly at the handle.  “Wait!  Wait, come back!”
A surge of fear chilled her to the bone as she slipped into fretful overdrive.  What possible, sane reason could there be for locking her inside a room?  The question was valid.  The answers, frightening.
Her mind sifted through every potential “what if,” taking only seconds to imagine a variety of rare diseases and excruciating ends she might face in the near future.  It had to be an illness—a highly contagious one.  Why else would her kind, old doctor try to quarantine her?  But she had experienced no further pain!  No other attacks!  No additional symptoms!
Sevenah dug out her phone, wishing she could call Ian.  Unfortunately, his uncle didn’t allow him to have a cell phone, and she didn’t know his home number.  There had never been any need to call him before, seeing how he was always at her house. 
“Mom.”  She muttered the word while her fingers tapped a habitual three-button sequence that led to her mother’s number.  It rang once…twice……….five times.
“Hi there!  You’ve reached the phone of Ruth Williams.  Most likely I’m screening my calls, so if you’re feeling lucky today leave your name and number and…”
“Darn it, mom!  Where are you?”
Sevenah cut off the message and then immediately tapped another memorized sequence.  It rang and rang.
“You’ve reached the phone of Roger Williams.  I’m sorry I can’t answer your call right now, but if you leave your name and number I’ll get back to you as soon as harvest ends.  Maybe sooner, provided I don’t plant another cell phone with my tractor…………..Beep!”
“Dad!  Pick up will you?  Why don’t you guys ever answer your stupid phones!  I mean what good is having a cell phone if you never keep it with you!”  She realized she sounded frantic, probably too much so, and tried to calm herself.  “Okay, Dad, I tried to call mom, but, um…….look, I’m at the clinic still.  I…I’m a little worried.  I know, I know, you’ll probably tell me there’s nothing to worry about, but I’ve been here for six hours now, Dad.  Six hours!  And, well, um……Dr. Tracy has locked me in one of the examining rooms.  Dad, that’s not normal procedure……is it?  Am I okay?  Um…….please, call me.  I love you, bye.”
She stared at the black screen on her phone, concerned that her message might either cause a great deal of unnecessary worry or not excite quite enough.  She could see her father laughing at her, figuring she was overreacting again much like her mom did on occasion.  But this whole thing certainly didn’t feel right.
She wandered over to the furthest corner and leaned against the wall.  Sliding all the way down to the floor, she curled up below a large diagram of the inner ear.  One free arm hugged both knees to her chest as she redialed her mother’s number.  Again no answer.  She didn’t leave a message, knowing how her mom would certainly panic.  It would be better for her father to say something.  He seemed to take things more evenly.  Why she hadn’t been born with his genes rather than her mother’s….
Sevenah laid her head on her knees, resigned to the fact that all she could do now was wait.  And worry.  More than ever, she craved the comforting presence of her best friend, Ian.  Anxious for his company, she recalled the first day their paths had crossed. 
Ian was a handsome boy.  His build—tall and skinny yet muscular.  His dusty-brown hair he wore short, except for long bangs that framed the most striking green eyes to ever reflect sunlight.  He was quiet, his shyness emphasized by the way his shoulders slouched forward.   
Ian had moved to Royal City just over a year ago.  It seemed he just fell from the clouds one day.  The boy behaved like an orphan—no curfew, no one to report to, never in a hurry for home, and nothing much to say. 
Sevenah had noticed him at school, leaning against a gold brick wall, watching her.  The minute their eyes had met, his gaze had dropped to the ground.  After that, she spotted him numerous times during and after school.  He was never with anyone—just hanging solo, staring in her direction.  He showed up in most of her classes aside from phys. ed. and art, and he made an appearance at the library the same time she normally studied there—probably a coincidence—seated three tables away.  After catching him looking at her from behind a copy of The Lord of the Rings, her friendly smile had caused him to bury his head in the pages. 
That brisk, autumn evening her horse, Paka, nearly trampled him on the edge of her father’s cornfield.  She thought she had scared the new kid plumb to death.
“Oh my gosh!  Are you alright?”
Sevenah slid down from her saddle, offering a helping hand to the long-legged fellow on the ground.  He had stumbled and fallen backwards when her horse had cleared the cornstalks.  As soon as he managed to scramble to his feet, his eyes dropped.  He froze in a slumped pose, looking as guilty as a child caught where he was told not to be.  She recognized the boy at once.
“It’s you,” she said.  Her gaze traveled up and down, giving him a good once-over.  He stood well above her; she guessed over six feet tall.  “You’re new here, aren’t you?”
The young man said nothing, continuing to stare at the soil around his shoes.  He seemed afraid to speak.
Sevenah tried a different approach, offering her hand for a friendly handshake. 
“Hello, my name’s Sevenah.  What’s yours?” 
He looked at her palm for a moment, hesitant, stealing a glimpse at her face before finally speaking.  His answer was scarcely audible. 
“Ian.”
“What was that?” she asked. 
“My name—it’s uh…Ian,” he mumbled again.
She could hardly hear him.  “Spell it out for me.”
His shoulders appeared to droop even more as if he was unsure how to perform her simple request.  She thought it curious.  He seemed to sound it out. 
“Uh…..I…A…N.” 
Ee-un?” she asked, pronouncing the name as most would read it.
He shook his head.  “No, I-un.” 
“Oh, with a long I.” 
He nodded and glanced at her again, this time for more than a brief second.  It struck her how evergreen his eyes were up close, like a mesh of pine needles. 
“I like your eyes.” 
He lowered his face, hiding behind long bangs.
Sevenah reached to take his hand and slipped her fingers between his.  She shook it firmly.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, I-un.” 
He looked up tentatively and smiled the nicest, warmest, most enchanting smile back.  He was endeared to her from that moment on.  Not like a boyfriend, but a good friend.  A best friend.  For some reason he felt like a long-lost companion—comfortable to be around and easy to talk to.  It didn’t take much time for him to warm up to her, and the two became near inseparable.  They were buddies, confidants, study partners, teammates, periodic accomplices in spontaneous practical jokes, and always one another’s convenient and reliable alibi.
Sevenah recalled the day she had asked to see where Ian lived.  She was growing strongly attached to him, though he was still very much a mystery. 
“I’d sure like to meet your parents.  Would you introduce me to them?”  Ian never offered personal news voluntarily, so a visit to his house seemed like a good way to learn more about him. 
Ian didn’t respond right away.  He seemed busy concentrating on lining up a pebble at the toe of his boot.  When he kicked it, they watched it travel down the dirt road leading home from school.
“My parents aren’t around,” he finally muttered.  He hopped and struck the same pebble another yard.  “I live with my uncle right now, but he’s not all that friendly.  I don’t think you want to meet him.” 
His tone had been so somber that Sevenah never again suggested a visit to his house, figuring it was a personal hardship he didn’t care to share.  Not yet anyway.  She always wondered if he actually had a home.  Or parents.  Had they abandoned him?  Were they even alive?  She never asked these questions; it was like an unspoken agreement between them.  But she felt confident he would reveal his secrets to her one day. 
Whenever school wasn’t in session, the pair usually hung out at the Williams’ farm.  Ian hardly ever left Sevenah’s side.  He never mentioned a curfew, which meant she had to tell him when it was time to go.  It was obvious he didn’t care for his own home, a fact that earned her sympathy.  Every now and then she would ask her parents to allow Ian to sleep on their couch, especially if the evening had grown late.  Of course it was a habit her mother was wary of encouraging.  It just seemed to her the young man was constantly shadowing their daughter.  Not that they minded; he was a well-mannered, helpful, and kind soul.  But the fact was…..he was a boy.  A handsome, hormone-driven, teenage boy spending the night in their house while their only daughter lie in bed just a few silent tiptoes down the hallway.  Sevenah recalled her father advocating the very first sleepover.
“Sweetheart, they’re clearly just friends.  Even I can see that.” 
“Exactly how it starts out, honey, but the next thing you know they’re kissing under the mistletoe!”  Sevenah groaned at her mother’s exaggeration.  She was sure where her overactive imagination came from. 
“Come on, Ruthy.  Ian’s never given us reason to question his intentions.  He’s a perfect gentleman.  It’s late; let the poor boy crash on the couch.”
“Even so, what about appearances?  What will the neighbors say?”
“Appearances?  Seriously?  Our closest neighbors are a mile away!”
“Alright,” her mother sighed, giving in to her husband’s judgment.  “But mark my words, Roger, this is not going to become a regular occurrence.  Understand?”
 However, the more Ian won them over, the less resistance Sevenah’s mother gave.  Soon, his periodic sleepovers became a normal part of life.  The boy was quick to lend a helping hand with farm chores in appreciation for their kindness.
Every weekday Ian walked Sevenah to and from the goldbrick high school.  On the nights he slept at his own house, he would show up at the Williams’ front gate bright and early.  He hung out on their farm on the weekends and assisted with the cows, goats, and chickens.  Mr. Williams even convinced him to drive a combine during harvest since Ian was “practically living there anyway.”
Nightfall was the best part of everyday.  When the sun began to sink behind a rolling horizon, everything came to a halt.  If Ian didn’t ride up the hill with Sevenah and Paka, he would be there waiting when she arrived.  There they sat and watched the sunset, a ritual shared faithfully every night, settled side-by-side below the drooping branches of her favorite weeping willow tree.  Sometimes they discussed the day.  Sometimes they simply stared out at a fiery sky and said nothing at all.  Regardless, Ian was always at her side. 
Always.
Except for today. 
“Where are you, Ian?  I could really use you now.”
It had grown quiet in the clinic, enough that every little hum and click sounded amplified.  The murmur of conversing voices had completely ceased, leaving a sense of exile in its place.  Sevenah lifted her head to glance at the phone in her hand, wondering perhaps if the lack of return calls was due to an inconvenient dead battery.  Not so.  Her fingers started into the same sequence to dial her mother, but stopped short at the echo of footsteps down the hallway.  They seemed to be drawing nearer. 
She got to her feet and remained pressed against the wall, troubled by a churning in her gut.  Dr. Tracy had never been one to fear, but the sound of his approach was filling her with dread nonetheless.  What sort of bad news would he deliver?  When the lock released with a click, she swallowed hard.  Maybe the doctor had contacted her parents.  Maybe they were with him now and she wouldn’t have to bear the awful news alone.
Sevenah jumped when the door swung wide open and two strangers looked in.  It wasn’t anyone she expected, but a couple of tall, burly men with tight eyes and tangled scowls.  They scanned the room before focusing in on her. 
The first man to step inside was baldheaded and dressed entirely in black from his broad shoulders to the polished shoes sticking out from beneath a pair of slacks.  His partner, sporting an airman’s jacket, ducked in next.  He had a full head of raven hair so heavily oiled it glistened under the ceiling lights.  Both were intimidating characters who headed straight for Sevenah.
“Stop!” she shrieked, thrusting out a halting palm.  “Stay back!”
The men froze in their tracks as if they shared a concern she might be a legitimate threat.  Sevenah took advantage of their hesitation and darted sideways, putting the examining table between them.  The scowlers exchanged a chary glance before continuing toward her. 
On her phone she pressed a redial button and prayed someone would answer.
“Get that bloody cell phone from her!” the bald man barked.
His partner swiped at her hand over the table, just missing the mark.  Terrified of his clawing, she tossed the device across the room, making a perfect basket in a small garbage can beside the sink.  The baldheaded scoundrel scooped it up and shoved it in his pocket, grinning slyly.  Meanwhile, his companion managed to reach across the examining table and catch his victim by the wrist.  Sevenah fought to pull away, using her body weight like a sinking anchor, but her captor held on tight, squeezing to the point of bruising.
“Ouch!  You’re hurting me!  Let go!”
He struggled to climb over the table, but Sevenah twisted her arm like a water valve, freeing herself and tumbling to the floor in the process.  She scrambled to her feet and ran to an unguarded wall, pressing her back against it.  The exit was blocked.  There was no way around these thugs.
The frightened girl demanded to know what was going on.  “Who are you?  Where’s Dr. Tracy?  What have you done with him?”
No information was volunteered.  The men spoke only to each other.
“Grab the little monster.  Braxton’s waiting.”
“No!  Stay away from me!”  Sevenah tried to appear brave despite the trembling in her voice.  She took a step away from the wall and fisted her hands as if she would fight.  “I demand to see Dr. Tracy!”
For a second she bravely stood her ground, but soon enough she was hoisted off the floor and sandwiched between one man’s bare muscular bicep and the other’s cold leather jacket.  Adrenaline coursed through her small frame, and she kicked at her abductors, screaming at the top of her lungs until a large hand covered her mouth.
With arms restrained, she flailed her legs in self-defense.  A successful dig into the bald man’s ribs had her ankles constrained as well, snatched up by another, thick arm.  The men carried her down the hall in this manner until they reached a back door marked EXIT.
It was opened from the outside.  Sevenah spied the culprit as soon as they stepped into the alley—none other than her trusted family doctor.  Her mind flooded with incredulity.  How could he be helping these two thugs?  Why?
She bit down hard on the calloused fingers covering her mouth.  When the big man pulled his hand away, cussing her for the deed, she begged Dr. Tracy to rescue her.
“Help me!  Stop them!  Please, help me!”
But he was already gesturing denial of his assistance.
“Dr. Tracy!” she implored further, unwilling to believe what the scene suggested.  “Don’t let them hurt me, please!  Come on, you know me!”
The once kind and caring old man scrunched his eyes into a hard, unfeeling stare.  His reply was saturated with revulsion; it nearly stopped her heart.
“I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care.  But I do hope you get exactly what you deserve.” 
He turned his back on an act of abduction and shut the door behind him, leaving her in the hands of two aggressive strangers. 
Her eyes pooled with moisture as she felt her will to fight dissolve.  Did she deserve this treatment?  Why would he say that? 
Her captors forced her into the back seat of a long, black limousine and then climbed in the front.  The vehicle started forward.  She blinked back rising tears as the car moved from the shadowed alleyway into a sunlit street.  With tinted windows, Sevenah assumed no one could see in to recognize her.
The sound of shuffling papers made her aware of others in the car.  Twisting her neck, she found a big, grizzled character in a dark overcoat sitting on the other end of her seat.  He bore no real expression, but his gaze was as fixed on her as the gun he held aimed at her chest.  On the bench directly across the way, a short, stout man in a white lab coat was concentrating on a clipboard gripped within his stubby fingers.  Sevenah noted his irritated countenance, magnified by thick spectacles that rested partway down his nose.  Though his smaller stature seemed less of a threat, there was something about him that reeked of authority.  Eventually he spoke, his eyes never shifting from his paperwork.
“Don’t even think about doing something stupid or I assure you, my friend here will not hesitate to shoot.  He’s done so on several other occasions without much provocation at all.  With that said, would you mind telling me exactly who you are?” 
Still grappling with the reality of her doctor’s betrayal, it took a minute for Sevenah to register the stranger’s words.  All she could manage was a timid, “Excuse me?”
Her peep was enough to grab the man’s full attention.  His fierce gaze shifted to study her through thick spectacles.  The look communicated both impatience and disgust.  Sevenah instantly loathed the man.
“I am not playing games,” he growled, sounding much like her father at the very moment you knew to come forward with the truth or pay severe consequences.  
She glanced nervously sideways at the barrel of a gun.  “My name is Sevenah.  Sevenah Williams.”
The little man narrowed his stare as if attempting to read her mind.  It was hot and stuffy inside the car and his rudeness only made it more unpleasant.  During the long moment of silence, she began to wonder if maybe he could read her thoughts.  At length, he spoke up again.
“So, Sevenah Williams—who are you?”
His persistence frightened her.  She wondered who he thought she was—who they all thought she was.  A sidelong glance passed the question to the large man beside her, hoping he might have an answer.  It seemed preposterous for anyone to feel a need to point a gun at her.  What kind of threat could they possibly imagine her to be?  Who in their right minds would consider her a danger?  Her musings were rudely interrupted.
“It would seriously benefit you to answer the question.  We have unpleasant ways of drawing out information if you choose not to cooperate.”
“I am cooperating!” she gasped, shocked he would threaten her.  “I…I don’t know what you want to hear!”
He leaned forward as if expecting her to divulge some great secret.  His voice escalated.  “I want to know exactly who you are and what you’re doing here!” 
She began again, afraid she might cry.  “I already told you, my name is Sevenah.  I live here in Royal City, on a farm with my parents.  I go to school here.  I’m seventeen, I’m a junior and…” 
He had stopped listening. 
Ah-hmmm,” he interrupted, “I know you’re lying.”  
Sevenah closed her eyes, aware that tears were spilling over, running down her cheeks. I’m not crazy, she told herself.  Everyone else has gone mad.
“We’ve been watching you for months now, ever since the first set of unusual x-rays.” 
Her eyes flashed open, stunned.  The man kept right on talking. 
“I have to admit, the second set was rather convincing.  You had Dr. Tracy fooled, that’s for certain.  He was sure it was all a curious mistake.  But I’m not so easily deceived.  We’ve monitored your activities very closely since then, and I daresay you’ve done an excellent job of hiding out among us.  You’ve managed to copy our routines perfectly.  I’m surprised you let your guard down today.  Or did we catch you at a bad time perhaps?  Did we step in before you had a chance to alter your medical results like in the past?  Or were you relying on accomplices who failed to come through?”
“What?  What are you talking about?”  She was trying to follow, but it was all nonsense he was spouting.
She flinched when his clipboard slapped against the seat.  Her eyes followed his stubby hands down to a leather briefcase where he pulled out a folder of thin, gray sheets and what looked like prints of ultrasounds. 
“These are yours,” he informed her.  He held up a series of ultrasounds, adjusting his glasses as he spoke.  “These are the images we took this afternoon.”
Sevenah scrutinized the man’s face more closely.  That’s when she realized she had seen him before—in the lab with Dr. Tracy when her x-rays had been repeated.  She hadn’t paid attention to him then, figuring he was just another technician.
A thick finger pointed to the first picture.  “This is your heart.  From what we can tell, this here is a second heart.”
“Wha—what?”  Sevenah squinted at the ultrasound.  Had she heard him say second heart?
He continued his outlandish allegations, holding up an x-ray sheet this time.
“This is your ribcage, but you can plainly see how its form is unlike any normal human ribcage.  The upper section appears to rap around the first heart while the lower portion bends slightly beneath, protecting the other organ, the one I’m sure acts as a conjoining heart.  These ribs are designed like a partially-woven shield to surround both vital organs.  I find it interesting that both hearts have two chambers and beat at exactly the same rate—totally in sync.  It sounds like one strong, steady pulse.  That’s probably why it was difficult to detect more than one.”
He immediately held up another image. 
“Your lungs are unusually formed as well.  From what I can tell, they’re layered to some extent, maybe three or four walls thick, increasing the surface area greatly.  I can imagine advantages to these differences in your anatomy, but what I don’t see is how you could possibly be who you say you are.  You are definitely not human.  So, in light of this information, would you now like to come forward with the truth?”
Sevenah’s mouth gaped.  Her head shook in tiny, quick jerks as she stared in bewilderment at the pictures.  His declaration echoed in her mind……‘You are definitely not human.’
“No, no, this is crazy.  That….that can’t be me.”  Her words were barely breathed, but overheard. 
“Make no mistake this is you.  I’m sure the next set of tests will support and clarify these findings.”
“Next tests?” she squeaked.  Once again her thoughts turned to Ian, wishing he were there.  How would he know what had happened to her?  And her parents—what would her mom think when she didn’t come home?
“Mom…” she panicked.
“That’s being handled.  I’ve plenty of questions for your parents as well.”
Sevenah’s eyes bulged wide.  Was her family in danger too?
A complaint from her stomach lingered audibly in the car.  It had been irritable for a while—grumbling, empty, and nervous.  Strangely, she no longer felt any hunger pains.  In fact, everything was numb.  She was certain her body had gone into shock.  Her fingers had no sensation, yet she was aware of how they balled into fists.  It was a purposeful action, an attempt to tighten her muscles and stop the shivers caused by a sudden onset of paralysis. 
Her eyelids closed, and her head fell back against the leather seat.  There was no sane way this could be happening.
Breathe in.  Breathe out. 
The man asked no further questions, perhaps allowing her to think it over.  Regardless of his claims, Sevenah kept coming to the same reasonable conclusion: he was wrong.  This was all a huge, ridiculous mistake.  It had to be!
They drove in silence for minutes on end.  It was difficult to measure the passing of time.  Maybe an hour had transpired.  Maybe more.  A muted conversation traveled from the front seat—the two thugs joking about personal matters.  Sevenah didn’t pay attention to what was said, preoccupied with mulling over every detail of this living nightmare.  It was preposterous!  Unreal!  An invented fantasy!  That didn’t stop genuine tears from flowing.  She didn’t bother wiping them away.  Reacting to their existence meant facing a reality she refused to accept.
When the limousine finally came to a stop, Sevenah remained still—eyes closed, head resting on the back of the seat.  She tried to convince herself that at any minute daylight would shine upon her face and draw her back into consciousness.  Everything would return to normal.  Ian would be waiting at the front gate to walk her to school, and they would share a laugh over her crazy dream.
The company waited in the parked car for five minutes.  Maybe ten.  Again, it was hard to say.  Eventually, the door creaked on its hinges beside her, causing her eyelids to flutter open. 
Nothing had changed. 
The baldheaded man who had originally carted her to the limousine was standing just outside the vehicle.  The white coat who seemed in charge of the operation grabbed his clipboard and briefcase before exiting the car.  The other backseat occupant waved his gun once in Sevenah’s direction, motioning for her to get out as well.  She slowly slid to the seat’s edge.  As she stood up next to the man in black, she whispered a word of warning. 
“Don’t touch me.  I will walk myself this time, thank you.” 
He cracked a wry grin. 
When all five occupants had exited the limo, the men escorted Sevenah across an extensive stretch of blacktop toward a large jetliner with no visible markings.  A small group had congregated beneath the plane—men and women apparently waiting their arrival.  It was obvious by the way arms flailed in the air, hands animating every word, that an intense conversation was taking place.  The debate was distracting enough to keep participants from noticing Sevenah’s approach.  It didn’t take long, however, for someone in the company to finally spot her.  One by one, heads turned until all eyes rested on the young woman. An eerie hush accompanied their curious stares. 
A cold breeze whipped at Sevenah’s hair and caused her to shiver.  It was hard to tell if the reaction was due to the chill or her circumstances.  She was prevented from continuing forward at a few strides from the small assemblage.
No one said a word until the man in charge introduced himself.
“Good evening, colleagues.  I am Dr. Braxton.  I’m looking forward to briefing you further on our unique situation.”  He gestured to Sevenah with his clipboard.  “This is the subject.  She calls herself Sevenah Williams and so far has been unwilling to cooperate.” 
“I am cooperating,” she objected out loud.
Someone from behind struck the back of her shoulder. 
Dr. Braxton went on, but his words drowned out for her.  She wondered what in the world she could do to convince them she was who she knew she was—a normal, regular teenager.  A simple, ordinary girl.  A human being!
As the briefing continued, someone reached across Sevenah’s shoulder from behind and held a rag firmly over her nose.  There was no time to squeal or struggle.  She passed out instantly.


Copyright 2012 Richelle E. Goodrich


CHAPTER TWO





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