The prickles of goosebumps rising through my skin woke me from what felt like a long, deep sleep. My limbs felt heavy, weighted. I rolled over onto my side, clutching the pillow closer to my head. I was covered up to my shoulders in sheets and heavy blankets, with soft, downy pillows surrounding me. As I inhaled, the scent of lavender washed over me.
I opened my eyes, wide. Save for a lonely little nightlight plugged into the wall opposite my bed and a soft light peering from under the door, the room was shrouded in a cold, empty darkness. There was no sound — just darkness. I looked around my bed. The blankets were heavy, gray. There were far too many pillows, and the bed was somewhere between a twin and full size.
This was not my bed. This was not my room.
I sat up quickly in panic. Right between my eyes a headache sprung to miserable life. Pillows fell to the floor with a soft thud. I felt nausea twisted up my gut, and I groaned dully. I covered my face with both hands, and lowered my head back down to stem the pain. I could hear someone stir in the dark.
The voice was just as unfamiliar as everything else around me. A soft fizzle, like a match lighting, and soon footfalls sounded from the other side of the room. I opened my eyes just the slightest as they drew closer, and I could make out the figure of a woman wearing a uniform, holding a softly glowing silver candle.
“My name is Sara. I’m here to help you. Are you feeling alright?” Nausea roiled my guts again.
“No. I think I’m going to puke.”
“There’s a pail next to your bed, if you need it.”
“Where am I? In a hospital?”
“Somewhat. You were brought here last night.”
I shifted the weight of my head, leaning it onto my hand nearest the wall so I could look fully at her. Like everything else, I didn’t recognize her.
I felt her reach out and grab my free hand, and she curled it around what felt like a cup. “It’s water. Please drink. It should help.” I took a slow shuddering breath, then tipped my head back to drink slowly from the cup. Sara’s hand ran slowly on my back.
Was I hung over? No, couldn’t be; I didn’t drink.
“What happened to me? Where is this?” Another pulse of pain wracked my senses. “Why does my head hurt so much?”
I handed the cup back to Sara.
“What happened to me last night?”
Sara did not respond. Instead she moved to sit on my bed, and she reached up and took both of my hands. She sat there, just holding my hands and running one of her own along them. At least, as far as I knew, she wasn’t talking; the sound of blood rushing through my skull made it impossible to tell. I slowly opened my eyes the rest of the way.
Sara was beautiful, with dark,curly shoulder-length hair and full lips. Her skin was the color of hazelnuts, like mine. But with my eyes fully open now, I could see her uniform. She wore a stark white nurse’s uniform, and around her neck from a silver chain hung a pendant. On its left side was an upside down treble clef. The other half was a bass clef, right-side up. Inside the silver heart they formed was a purple heart, fashioned from a brilliant amethyst.
My veins turned into a hot-cold river as adrenaline flooded through them.
I knew that symbol.
My throat grew tight, and I felt tears welling up at the edges of my eyes. I looked up at Sara, pleadingly, shaking my head back and forth. And as the weight of who it was that Sara was settled in my gut– what it meant for her to be here — I began to weep.
“Not me. Not me. …Why me?”
She squoze my hands gently. “Janiya, I’m sorry…”
I lived a healthy life. Didn’t drink. Didn’t smoke. Got plenty of sleep.
So then, why me?
For felt an eternity, I sat on the bed, weeping into Sara’s arms. I wept until I was empty of tears, and even then, I wept more. I wept until the pain of weeping forced me to stop, and I gasped greedily for oxygen through mucus dribbling from my nose and down my throat.
For Sara’s part, she was silent. She did not shush me; she held me, consoled me. She wiped gently at the tears on my face, offering me a handkerchief. My headache was much worse now; my face was blocked up with mucus, and my throat was parched.
“Can I – can I have another glass of water?” My voice came out blocky, raspy, hoarse. I sniffled hard. Sara nodded, released me, stood.
“I’ll also get the shaman,” she said. Chills ran through me. “He needs to come check on you. Will you be all right on your own for a moment? I’ll be right down the hall and back.” I nodded yes, and Sara left the room, taking the pitcher and shutting the door behind her.
I scrambled out of my bed, onto my feet. The shaman was necessary to give me an official statement. I couldn’t accept that. All I knew was that I had to get out of this place, now. A wave of dizziness washed over me; I caught my balance on the bedside table, knocking over the cup from earlier as I faltered and fell to the floor.
Outside the bed, the warmth and the smell of the lavender was gone. Outside, everything smelled cold. The room lacked the antiseptic scent of hospitals, but the frigidity remained. I peered into the darkness, trying to figure my surroundings. I could only make out a few things at this distance: there were a three other beds, but all were void of occupants. Their white and silver embroidered sheets were pristinely made, tucked and folded. On the other end of the room there was a sink and some towels were laid out.
I groped about in the darkness, over to the mirror over the sink. I could see I was wearing a white patient’s gown. My undergarments were gone, but thankfully, the back was closed up. I heard the door creak, and I turned toward it, my stomach filling with dread. Sara held the pitcher of water in her hands. I narrowed my eyes at the both of them.
“You are not my shaman.” The shaman for my village was very small. The man with Sara was very tall, broad shouldered. He had a long goatee, parted into two braids, tipped with silver and purple beads. They both turned toward where I stood at the sink.
“Janiya, my name is Lazarus.” I watched the man reach over and slowly turn up the lights a bit. He wore a silver tunic, embroidered in violet. He, too, wore the bass-treble-heart pendant, though his was in a necklace, surrounded by alternating silver and white beads. His voice was deep, and his eyes dark, like his skin.
I shook my head at him slowly. “You are not my shaman. I don’t know you.”
“I am the shaman of the region that currently houses you.”
“I will not accept this news from a stranger. I want my shaman. Where is my shaman?”
“Your shaman gave you to us. I need you to calm down and listen to me.”
“Why would he do that to me?” In contrast to my franticness, Lazarus was cool and collected. He gestured to my bed with his cane.
“Please sit, and we will talk.”
“Janiya, please sit.” Lazarus walked toward me; I stepped away, bumping into the sink. I started to slide away along the wall. Someone… Someone could had to stop this. This could not be happening to me. I turned toward Sara.
“Sara, what is going on? I want my shaman. I want to go home. Please let me go home.” In Sara’s eyes, I could make out pain, but it was the pain of someone who had grown jaded from witnessing this scene too many times. She walked toward me, extending her arms, but her dead empathy made me angry. I attempted to push Sara away, but fell the gesture was feeble, and I dizzily fell against her. Fresh sobs wracked my body, and Sara tried to lead me back to my bed. Instead, I collapsed to the floor, holding my head. I felt her come down with me, and she ran her hands along my shoulders. I felt an aching feeling in my chest, and tears rushed to my eyes.
“Janiya,” said Sara softly. “I need you to listen to Lazarus… He’s here to help you.” Instead of succumbing to her gesture of comfort, I pushed her away.
“How did it happen?” I managed to get that question out through my tears. I took another gaping breath, looking toward her through bleary, swollen eyes. “How long has it been?”
Lazarus spoke, in Sara’s stead. “It has not been long, but for the time being, you cannot know when or how.”
“…You can’t tell me how I died?”