Sweeney took my wrists out of the restraints. He stood behind Phillips with his arms crossed over his chest. She was pulling the corner of my eyelid to the side and was flashing a light into my eye. It made my vision blur into a hazy fog. She looked over her shoulder at Sweeney, and he uncrossed his arms.
“Go get her something to eat,” she told him. “I’ll keep a watch on her down here.”
“She’s a bit of a fighter,” he said.
“I think I can handle it,” she said.
Sweeney let out a huff of breath and walked toward the stairs. Phillips got off of the side of the bed. She reached into the pocket of her lab coat. She placed a cellphone to her ear and turned her back to me.
“Ben,” Phillips said. “I have something you need to do.”
She had a phone, and it got reception. I needed to rip that phone out of her hands and call the police. I would lock myself into that bathroom, and wait for the cops to come.
My head was throbbing as I sat up straighter. I held my head in my hands as pain radiated from behind my eyes to the back of my skull. I pulled the blankets off of my lap and there was a tug at my skin. I glanced down to see the IV sticking out of my arm. I held onto the pole as I swung my legs off the side of the bed.
“She has nothing here,” Phillips said. “You’ll need to get it all: a brush, deodorant, shampoo.”
I slid forward so that my toes touched the cold floor. I held onto the pole to steady myself as I pulled myself up onto my feet. My knees wobbled, and I held onto the bed to maintain my balance. The wheels of the IV pole squeaked as I took a small step forward.
“For clothes,” Phillips said. She turned around, and when she saw me she rolled her eyes. “For clothes, I’d say she’s a size four. I have to go. Be here in an hour.”
Phillips hung up the phone and slipped it into the pocket of her coat. She shook her head as she walked toward me. She put her hands on my shoulders and pushed me down onto the bed. I swatted at her hands. I kicked my foot out, and she jumped out of the way. She reached down and grabbed both of my ankles. She turned my body so that I was lying across the bed. I balled up my fist, and punched Phillips in the jaw. She yelped and held onto her face.
She was leaning over me, and her cellphone was poking out of her pocket. I grabbed it. Her eyes grew wide when she saw I had her phone. I swiped my finger across the screen to see that she had it protected by a password. My hands were shaking as I tried to get back to the menu screen to find the “emergency call” button.
Phillips wrapped her fingers around my neck. She pushed her hand down onto my throat, and I gasped for breath. I reached to pry her off with my fingers. Phillips gritted her teeth as she squeezed my neck tighter. I threw my legs out and tried to kick her off of me. Phillips let go of my throat with one hand and snatched the phone away from me. She let go of me and she shoved the phone back into her pocket. I gasped for breath and held onto my throat.
“Please!” The warm tears were running down the side of my face. “Please, you don’t have to do this.”
“I know that,” Phillips said. “We do this because we want to. It’s like getting to be God. It’s a lot of fun.”
“Where are my eyes?”
Phillips shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter.”
The door clicked as it opened. I sat up and wiped the tears off my face with the back of my hand. I pushed myself back until I was resting against the pillows. When Sweeney came into view, he had a bowl in his hands. He handed it to me, and I looked down to see it was full of macaroni and cheese. It looked like the cheap stuff out of a box that I would make after class. The warmth from the bowl spread through my hands.
Phillips had her hand at her jaw. She moved it down, and I could already see it start to swell and a bruise was beginning to form. She pressed into the swollen flesh with her fingers and flinched.
“What happened?” Sweeney asked.
“She stole my phone and punched me,” she said.
“I warned you.” He sat down in his office chair. “You need to eat, Diana.”
My stomach clenched as I looked down at the bowl of macaroni.
“I’m not hungry,” I said.
“I said you need to eat,” he said.
“And I said that I am not hungry.”
“Eating is not an option,” Phillips said. “I suggest that you eat what Dr. Sweeney makes you or we’ll have to put a feeding tube down your throat.”
I looked over at Sweeney. His elbow was resting against the armrest of his chair. He was leaning back. I could barely see his smile as his hand was covering most of his face. He nodded his head, and I looked down at the bowl.
“There’s no point in being stubborn,” Phillips said. “We will always get what we want.”
“I want to go home,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
There had to be someone looking for me. I don’t know how many days I’ve been gone, but my Mom must have tried to call me a few times. She usually calls me at least once a week while I am away from home at university. She must be worrying that I haven’t picked up. My roommate must be concerned that I have not been home, but what if she has yet to notice? My coach must know I am gone. I never miss practice.
My eyes burned as a few more tears ran down my cheeks. I wiped them off my face, and took in a sharp breath. Phillips placed her hand on my knee. I looked up to see that she now had an ice-pack pressed against her jaw.
“This is the best thing to happen to you,” she said. “You were blessed with something special, and now you will be worshipped because of it. You will have everything you want in life as long as you behave.”
“I want to see my Mom,” I said.
“Who knows what the future will hold,” she said. “That’s a big privilege you need to work your way up to.”
“Work my way up to?” I raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Sweeney said. He shifted his weight in the chair so that he was leaning forward. “I need to know that I can trust you, and you can start by eating your lunch.”
I didn’t want to eat, but I knew that I had to. They were going to force me if I kept resisting. I also needed my strength if I was going to get out of here.
Phillips watched me eat a few mouthfuls before she walked around my bed and over toward Sweeney. She sat down on the desk next to his computer. Sweeney followed her with his eyes and swiveled around in his chair so that his back was to me. Phillips crossed her legs, and I saw her skirt rise. I looked back down at the bowl and tried to drown out what they were saying. Phillips let out a few high-pitched laughs.
When I finished eating, I reached over and set the bowl on the nightstand beside the bed. Sweeney turned around in his chair when he heard me moving. I settled back into the bed, and he turned back to Phillips.
A dull ring echoed through the room. Phillips slid off of the desk.
“That must be Ben,” she said. “I’ll bring him right down.”
She hurried up the steps and closed the door. Sweeney wheeled himself over to me. I brought my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around myself.
“You’re going to listen to everything Ben says,” he told me. “This dinner is one of the most important nights of my life. I will not have your behaviour ruin this for me.”
“I will not pretend that I am happy to be here,” I said. “You will have to bring me to that dinner kicking and screaming.”
He shrugged. “I’d have to kill you then.”
My heart sunk in my chest. My jaw dropped, and his lips curled into a smile.
“There’s no point in keeping you alive if I don’t get into this club,” he said. “This will have all been for nothing.”
Sweeney leaned forward and his warm breath fanned across my face. I dug my fingers into my skin.
“You better hope I get accepted,” he said.
The door opened and two sets of footsteps come down the stairs. I pushed my forehead against my knees. I tried to take in a few deep breaths to try and slow down my heart rate. I could hear Phillips talking softly, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. A male voice mixed in with hers.
“Nice to see you again, Benjamin,” Sweeney said.
I peered over my knees to see Sweeney reach out and shake a man’s hand. He looked to be a few years older than me. He had dark hair and pale skin. He had on a leather jacket, and a scarf wrapped around his neck. I saw a backpack and a pile of plastic bags sitting along the wall.
“My pleasure, Dr. Sweeney,” he said. “I’m glad to help out.”
“This will do a lot of good,” Phillips said. “She’s going to need a lot of help to be settled in two weeks.”
“She was bruising herself when we had her restrained,” Sweeney said. “You’ll need to keep an eye on her.”
Phillips reached out and put her hand on Sweeney’s shoulder. She flashed him a smile.
“Let’s go upstairs, Oliver,” she said. “We have a few phone calls we need to make.”
“Alright,” he said. “Take good care of her, Ben.”
Ben looked over at me, and I squeezed my eyes shut. I listened as Sweeney and Phillips walked up the stairs. The bed dipped, and I opened up my eyes to see Ben sitting on the edge of the bed. He looked over his shoulder. He turned back around to face me when the door clicked shut.
“I’m not like them,” he said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m not like Oliver or Bethany.”
I furrowed my eyebrows, and Ben let out a laugh.
“Dr. Sweeney and Dr. Phillips,” he said. “They believe that they’ve brainwashed me into being their perfect little pet, and they want me to do the same to you.”
Ben pulled off his jacket and the scarf off. He had on a white T-shirt, and I could see a dark section on the skin on his arm. I couldn’t stop myself from reaching out and grabbing his arm. I ran my fingers along the dark patch to feel that it was rough and scaly.
“What did they do to you?” I asked.
“She’s been replacing my skin with the skin of a reptile,” he said.
He took my fingers off of his arm. I pulled my hand back and held it to my chest. Ben leaned uncomfortably close. His bright blue eyes came into focus. There was another piece of dark skin poking out of the collar of his shirt.
I swallowed past the lump forming in my throat. Was this what the rest of my life was going to be? Put on display as people examine me? Ben and I just met each other but our focus was on the modifications that were made to our bodies.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Diana Slater,” I said. “How long have you been like this?”
“I’ve been here way too long,” he said. “Almost three years.”
A wave of nausea hit me, and I curled my fingers into my gown.
“Three years?” I asked. “Why are you still here? Why haven’t you gotten out?”
“How do you suggest that I do that?” he asked. “I’ve tried. You know, you’re so lucky that your surgery is so close to the dinner. Bethany didn’t care if I bruised myself after my surgery, so I was restrained for what felt like months. It taught me something very important though.”
“The key to surviving this is outsmarting them. That’s what I am going to teach you.”