The little slot on the door opened up, and the noise was so sudden that Ana jumped at it. It was a tray with food. There was a flimsy plastic spoon and a cup of water. The dish was some sort of mushy vegetable stew, with perhaps a little chicken, though the meat was little more than a few strings, cooked down almost to nothing.
She tried to force herself not to eat it too quickly. She had lost count of the days she had been there – over a week at least – and she had not been fed in all that time. As she licked the bowl, making sure to consume every last particle of food, she began to wonder why the Militia had changed their behavior.
If this is their version of a last meal, I’ll be very disappointed.
Yet if they did hang her, she wondered if she would die. Perhaps she would simply hang there, neck possibly broken, freezing in the wind. It was not a pleasant thought, but then, she was not expecting pleasantness.
She had seen him again, the man from her dreams. He had not come into her cell, but from her limited vantage point, he appeared occasionally out in the yard. Sometimes he was close – a few short yards from her window, and sometimes he was far away, barely visible between the trees.
The faceless man disturbed her. He had seemed so friendly in her dreams, yet in waking life, he was something very different. What she saw him do to the guards was worse. On occasion, he would merely reach out as one of them passed him, grab hold of their arm or head, and the guard would convulse. The ones he had held and then released grew more rigid, walking more mechanically, yet they also looked far more tired.
He was doing something to them, transforming them, but Ana could not tell what the end goal was.
Three hours after the food, the door slammed open. Two guards stepped forward, pointing their rifles at her.
“Against the wall!” yelled one of them. She complied. “Hands on the wall, legs spread,” he barked again. Ana had no interest in being shot, and while the guard could easily do that regardless of her actions, she decided that obedience would decrease the odds that he would.
Someone else entered the room. After a long, silent moment, she spoke. It was Lisenrush.
“Right, turn around,” she said. Ana did so. Lisenrush looked her over with a hunter’s eyes. “I want information,”
Ana nodded. “What do you want to know?”
“Many things. First of all, how did you infiltrate Port O’James?”
“I did not ‘infiltrate’ Port O’James. I lived there. I was born there.”
“How long have you been under the thrall of the Icelord?” asked Lisenrush.
“I don’t believe that I am.”
Lisenrush exhaled. Ana sensed that she appeared tired. She had not seen the Ranger-Captain many times before, but Ana did not remember her looking so sickly. Lisenrush coughed lightly.
“I am not going to torture you,” she began.
“That is good to hear,” said Ana.
“As one of the undead, I don’t expect you have a sense of pain. Frankly, as far as I know, you do not have any senses at all. However, if you do, we could find a use for you before we have you destroyed. If the information you provide us with is accurate, you will prove yourself useful.”
“And if I refuse to answer your questions?”
Lisenrush glared. “Do you intend to do so?”
Ana shook her head. “No, I just want to know where I stand.”
Lisenrush smirked. “You’re a clever one, aren’t you? There’s wit to you in a way I’ve never seen among the draugar.”
“I’ve never really stopped to chat with one before, so I couldn’t say.”
“You may not feel pain, but I know you feel hunger. I saw your plate. You didn’t leave a single speck.”
“My compliments to the chef,” replied Ana.
“I think that you’re going to want more food. I can provide that for you, but for a price.”
“So you do intend to torture me. Only through my stomach.”
“Only if you don’t tell me what I want to know.”
Ana nodded. “Here’s what I can tell you. Until I was shot by one of the Icelord’s draugar, I was a respected member of the Port O’James Law Enforcement Agency. I did not know I was undead until later that day, when the doctor told me my heart wasn’t beating and you and your men dragged me out here to spend several days in isolation, half-frozen with no food. That is what I know. I have never had any impulse to harm my fellow citizens. I have never been beyond the Thanatos Trees. I have never interacted in any way with the Icelord. But, of course, you will not believe me.”
“That is correct; I do not.”
“Well, I guess that meal’s going to have to last me a very long time. I’m glad I cleaned my plate.”
“I will be back in two days. There will be food for you if you cooperate.”
Lisenrush began to walk out the door, when Ana saw something on the back of her neck. There was a patch there, like dead skin, but not. It was a small patch of grey, and appeared utterly smooth. It was as if there were a hole in her neck, but rather than air, there was simply nothing at all.
“Have your people detected him?” asked Ana.
Lisenrush stopped in her tracks. “Detected who?”
“The faceless man.”
Lisenrush turned around. “What?”
“He’s been here for as long as I have. I think he followed me here. I see him all the time, but your people never seem to notice.”
Lisenrush stood very still for a few moments. One of the guards looked to her. “Is this some sort of trick? I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Yet Ana was sure that she had seen a flash of recognition. Somehow, they knew he was there, yet they never attempted to evade him. At best, she had seen some guards step out of the way to avoid walking into the faceless man, but they seemed to do it subconsciously, without truly seeing him there.
“You don’t see him, but you know he’s out there, deep down,” said Ana. “Ranger-Captain, I know you do not trust me, but I am far from the greatest danger on this base.”
Lisenrush regarded her, and even in those hunter eyes, Ana could see fear.
“Lock her up again. We’ll check back in two days to see if she’s more cooperative. No food without my authorization.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the guards in chorus. Lisenrush walked out, and the guards quickly exited as the door slammed shut.
Two days, thought Ana. Her stomach churned. All she could do was wait.
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2013)