In the last episode of Karen Zipslicer’s adventures, she was rescued by Lady Emerald from the police, only to fall asleep in her carriage…
Karen dreamed about Mum, and Em, and Dad, and James. In the dream Mum and Em were the same person, though sometimes she was Mum and sometimes she was Em. Dreams are like that. The same person has different faces or maybe the two faces are really the same face. Or a person has somebody else’s face but you know who they are really meant to be. Karen’s family lived together, in Mum’s palace in Lundern, which was made of green crystals, white stone, silver and gold. There was an incredibly tall tower, that pulsated with light, and its top fired sparks into the sky. Mum wore a fabulous dress, and played with James, chasing him from room to room in the palace, but Karen could never keep up and she never got to join the game. Then there were thousands of people beating at the windows of the palace, screaming to be let in. The people were not really people, they were more like babies, crying and throwing tantrums. Karen wanted to get away but she was tied up and could not move at all. Mum, Dad and James had been playing cops and robbers, and Karen was the criminal, so they captured her. The rope rubbed against her skin and burned her ankles and wrists.
Karen’s eyes opened. She was so drowsy. Where was she? On a bed. The room was dark. No windows. Alone. She fell asleep again.
She opened her eyes. “I have to wake up,” she told herself. She heard her voice inside her head. Her mouth could not move, nor her body. Her eyes closed themselves again. She heard her own breathing, so deep. Seductively deep. Sleep. Must concentrate. Sleep. So very tired. She heard the door open. Must concentrate. Footsteps. People. People coming in. People in a hurry. People with things to do. Light, seen red through her eyelids. Talking. She could hear them talking. She had to concentrate. She wanted to hear what they said. Concentrate. Concentrate, Karen.
“…how were the tests?” The voice was familiar. Whose voice was it? A light above her face. Warm light. Warm in bed. So sleepy.
A man spoke. “Physically, the girl is healthy…”
“Not a girl, a young woman,” thought Karen. Her mouth was not working but her ears worked fine.
“… and the results are good so far, but there’s more tests to be done before we can be sure. She was very deep. We’ll let her recover consciousness in her own time…”
“Must concentrate,” thought Karen.
“… to get unbiased results for the cognitive tests.”
“Testing? Testing what?” thought Karen.
“Fine. She’s too precious to take unnecessary risks. I was damn lucky to find her.” It was a woman’s voice. Em’s voice? “But she’ll be worth it – she’s beautiful…”
“Beautiful,” thought Karen. That was nice. Concentrate. Must concentrate.
“… and the perfect age. Her children will be strong, and she’ll have plenty…”
“Children?” thought Karen. She opened one eye by the smallest fraction, peering out from behind her long eyelashes. The lid weighed down like it was made of iron. Concentrate. Em was standing at the end of the bed, dressed as before and carrying her big handbag. A man was at Karen’s side, holding a lamp above her. He wore a white smock that buttoned to one side. Some kind of doctor. Karen felt blurry. Tired. Heavy as stone. Her eye closed again.
Karen heard footsteps. Door closing, darkness. So tired.
“You hear me?” Another voice. “Must get free.” She knew that voice. So tired. Concentrate. Must con…
“Ow!” That hurt. Did she make a noise or did she just imagine the yelp inside her head? That really hurts. Ow. Again. Ow. Again. Stop. Ow. Ow. Ow. Bloody Whiteley, biting her finger again. Bloody Whiteley… Whiteley!
“Wake up,” said Whiteley.
She was trying. Whiteley kept nipping her. “Stop,” she mumbled. Her finger really hurt. But she had woken up. She tried to get up. She tried again, and failed. So tired, but not just tired. Tied down. Whiteley nipped her again. Ow. “Stop, I’m awake,” slurred Karen. The words came from her mouth. She opened her eyes. Dark. Lying on a bed. In a gown. Her wrists bound by leather cuffs, strapped down at either side. She tugged at them. The cuffs held her tight. “Take them off,” she told Whiteley.
Ow. Ow. Ow. “Stop, Whiteley,” said Karen.
“Give you pain as you sleep again.” And then he bit her finger once more.
Ow. Whiteley was right. Karen had fallen asleep again. “Okay, I’m awake now.” She lifted her left hand to her forehead, and opened her eyes. Blurry. Dark. Remember. Is this a hospital? Her right hand was still pinned down. She felt leather against her face. It was the cuff, still attached to her left hand. She held it in front of her eyes. Focus. It had been chewed. “Thank you Whiteley.” The ferret had chewed through the strap that tied the cuff to the bed. Karen turned on her side and untied her right hand. The belt round the cuff was stiff, and difficult to undo. It was dark; the only light came from the gaps between the door and its frame. Freeing herself of the cuffs, she rubbed both wrists. “What are you doing here, Whiteley?”
“Hid in Lady Emerald’s bag. In trouble. Must go.” He spun around, looked to Karen, then spun around again.
“You’re not in trouble, Whiteley. There’s no police here. Where are we?”
“No no, must go.” Whiteley turned to the door, turned back, and turned to the door again.
“We’re not in trouble.” Karen yawned and stretched her arms out.
Whiteley jumped up, nipping Karen’s little finger.
“Ow. Whiteley, what’s wrong with you?”
“Not safe. Can’t wait.”
“I can’t go anywhere, Whiteley. I’ve got no clothes. I’m in bare feet and wearing only this gown.” She sat cross-legged, rubbing her feet. The bandage around her ankle had been changed. She had not remembered anyone doing that. And they must have undressed her while she slept. Somebody undressed her whilst she slept. She grabbed her gown with one fist and pulled it forward, peering underneath. Apart from the gown, she was naked.
“Hmmm.” Maybe Whiteley’s instincts were right.