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So Not Alone

- Chapter 1 -

It was the fox’s fault. Loitering with intent in the middle of the road.
   ‘Watch it, Lucy!’ Kate’s shout came too late. Lucy swerved erratically, then all Kate saw was the glint of headlights in the fox’s eyes. Heard the gears screaming, the screech of brakes, an acrid smell. Had Lucy thrown up that peach schnapps she’d been necking all night?
   Now they were tilting at such an angle Kate’s head hit the passenger door window, a smarting sting, her seat belt digging into her throat. She saw the junk in Lucy’s car spin past her: a silver USB key, a couple of old coke cans and ripped chocolate bar wrappers. The small change she kept for car parks grazed her cheek as they flashed past, followed by a rib crushing jolt and the sound of buckling metal as they crashed through the barrier that guarded the river.
   The car arced, rolled, and smashed into the darkness below them. The river water slooshed over the slowly sinking bonnet. It crawled up the windscreen. Enveloped them. Gurgling and sucking noises. A sensation of movement: of being dragged. Dragged down. Under. Swept away. This couldn’t be happening.
   ‘Lucy, get your seat belt undone.’ Oily black outside. Only a dim flickering light from the console illuminated the interior. Kate grappled between them, feeling for the buttons, knowing that the fear was just there. Her heartbeat pounded heavily in her ears, making it hard for her to breathe, aware of the water gushing into the car, spraying over them, sharp and relentless.
   ‘LUCY! Please, Lucy.’ She turned. A strange orange hue lit up Lucy’s slack face and dull open eyes. Blood dribbled from a gash across her forehead. ‘Lucy?’
   The car ground over something and juddered. Had they hit the bottom of the river? How deep were they? Kate’s breath came in stutters, yet her fingers found her seat belt catch. It sprang open. Lunging, she touched Lucy’s shoulder. Her head lolled sideways.
   ‘Lucy? Don’t muck about. Not now. Please, Lucy. Please!’
   The car lurched again and began a slow spin. Water splashed into her lap, her body recoiling from its icy bite. What the hell should she do now? Reaching down again, she undid Lucy’s belt, her trembling fingers tingling from the cold. Lucy slumped forward against the steering wheel. Freezing water was creeping up Kate’s legs, and the lights, feeble as they were, sputtered out. Total blackness. Nothing. No, no, no, no. Shudders skittered all over her body, and now she was panting. They were going to die here. Here and now.
   ‘Lucy, for God’s sake, answer me!’ No response. Kate violently shook her head. This couldn’t be happening. Fumbling for the door handle, she tried to shoulder it open. The force of the water against it made it impossible. Kick in the windscreen? How hard was that? And if she did, the water would pour in, unstoppable, filling the car even faster. Maybe then she could open the door or swim out of the window but what about Lucy? Could she pull her out too? Don’t cry now. Think. She poked Lucy harder.
   ‘I’m not kidding, Lucy. Wake up, wake up…WAKE UP!’ But she didn’t.
   It was all too fast. Water reached the roof of the car. Kate gulped a breath, grabbed at the door handle, and pushed against it with all her strength. It gradually gave way while the car slowly spun, then something crunched. It whomped back against her, sending shock waves of pain ricochetting up her arm. She felt bubbles escape past her lips. The door wouldn’t open further. How long can a person hold their breath? There was a burning feeling, a dizzying need to suck in air, that made her start to convulse. Another movement of the car and whatever had obstructed the door was gone. Hot, white sparks fizzed behind her eyes. Kicking out from the car, Kate was pulled by the current, as if a massive invisible hand had grabbed her. One shoulder smashed into something hard, immovable, forcing precious air from her lungs. It was like being in a giant tumble drier, her body slammed into rock after rock, no up or down, searing pain, the last of her air pounded from her until she took a breath…in…

Experienced her first proper kiss tonight at the party. Now relegated to her last kiss. It wasn’t even that nice. Callum Smithson. He’d been stuffing down cheesy balls and slugging back lager, and she was sure he’d burped while he’d been deep-caving with his prehensile tongue all around her mouth. His spit had slid down the back of her throat until she’d gagged and pulled from him. Coupled with the roving hand inching down her leg and hitching up her dress, that kind of ended the night. She’d pretended to need the loo when she heard him bragging to his mates that he’d be getting some tonight. She’d gone around all her friends to see if anyone could give her a lift home. Anyone? Please?
   What had happened between leaving the party with Lucy and now? Snatches of images, agony…Lucy…
   No, don’t think about that. But Kate had to…think…about…it….
   A memory of Lucy, swilling that sweet schnapps, slightly unsteady, rolling her eyes in that way she did, although there was no sound as if it was a film that’d been put on mute. Like she was watching her on the telly. The only one of her friends willing to drive her home. She said she was going now anyway and could drop her off. OK, a bit pissed. She was still standing, though, wasn’t she? Then she was gone. Pffft, her image snuffed out. Where had she gone? Did it really matter? Kate didn’t want to look any further, except she had a thought hanging like a naked, glowing bulb in her mind.
   Was she dead? Were they both dead?
   Where was she? Heaven? Hell? Lost and swept out to sea? Seventeen was far too young to die. She reached out although she had no hands, no arms, no readily visible body parts. Kate opened her eyes. How could she see this? More to the point, what the hell was she seeing? How peculiar. The fear was gone. Strange and actually rather lovely. No pain now either, a feeling yes, except warmer, fuzzier, like being wrapped in a soft, snuggly blanket.
   So back to the question. What exactly was she looking at?
   Hmmm. Scratching at a metaphorical head, if she didn’t know better, which of course she did, she would have to say she was floating somewhere in space. Now that thought was pretty funny, eh? No pearly gates and some old bearded bloke in a cotton bathrobe with a stern but kindly face, more like images sent back from the Hubble Space Telescope. All pink and purple glowing nebulas and spiralling star clustered galaxies. That was when she noticed something curious. A silvery cord that wound from somewhere near to where her heart should’ve been, far out and away, until it disappeared entirely. Ghostly. She thought of the word ghost. Was that what she was? A ghost? No, no, no. Kick that idea right out. Whatever she was, she started to tumble, as if she’d been pulled tight and then pinged free. Spinning and whirling so madly that if she’d had a body, she’d have projectile vomited everywhere, the stars twirling past her, faster and faster…

Where was she now? Swirling in a cloud of phosphorescent particles that looked like beads of ice. So beautiful, like being inside a snow globe that had just been shaken. It took a moment to absorb the fact that there was some sort of long, thin box, and she was spreadeagled or more like draped over it like a table cloth. The whirling had stopped, so that was a relief. As her eyes that she didn’t have focused, she screamed. OK, she would’ve screamed if she’d had a throat and all the necessary bits that go with that. The box had a small window. There was a face behind it. It was as if she was pinned down by a massive weight, a rare butterfly in a collector’s glass cabinet with a pin through its torso. Now the sensation worsened as she was thrust through the material of the box right into it. Right on top of, well, something that looked like a man, but clearly wasn’t: a copper-coloured man with glowing violet eyes who was now staring at her…
   …she was being sucked into him, her face melding into this other face, her eyes became his eyes, stop, stop it now! Her lips mouthed words she’d never heard, her mind unravelling like a thrown ball of wool. Something else was twisting around it, another mentality, so huge, so bizarre as if her head had been unzipped, her brain exposed like a tiny wrinkled walnut. Then this ‘other’ had squeezed itself in there with her. No room, pushing, meshing, images-terrible images-blood-twisted bodies-fighting-devastated smoking landscapes-fear…no, no, no! The speeding sun rising and setting millions of times…faces that changed, faces that didn’t, all in her mind, seeing things she couldn’t understand, didn’t want to understand, her consciousness entangled. Who was she…who was he? The ice drops, like tiny stars, shone coldly around her. Sparkled like diamonds, a girl’s best friend…she had no friends here…
   Let her go, please let her go!

- Chapter 2 -

Kate knew what it all was. She was in a coma. Of course. The simplest explanation was the best. She remembered that Sherlock Holmes quote: when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. She hadn’t been catapulted into the far reaches of space and seen some purple-eyed bloke in a space coffin…that was only a bad dream…
   Who are you?
   - What? Dear GOD!
   Kate sat up so fast, she cracked her head on something very low above her. It clanged dully.
   ‘Ouch and double ouch!’ Patting frantically at her body, she verified that at least now she had one. Her eyes were definitely open, except it was still inky black. She could barely move and to say it was chilly was an understatement. It was freezer cold.
   Who had just spoken to her? It couldn’t be. Could it? Just that single thought made the hair on the back of her neck rise, caused more goosebumps to shiver across her skin.
   She twiddled her fingers and wiggled her toes. A residue of pain swept over her entire body, like the last dying wind after a thunderstorm before it becomes calm. She moaned. The hollow note reflected back intensified her fear. Taking a deep breath, Kate tried to raise her knees, but they hit the ceiling, barely a few inches above her. Metallic feel and sound.
   Not enough space in there for her, let alone another person…
   Her mind was like scrambled eggs. Blinking rapidly, as if this might help, she pondered her options but obviously avoided the thought that there was someone else in here with her, wherever ‘here’ was.
   There was only one logical thing to do.
   And, of course, kicking at that metallic ceiling as hard as she could.
   What she didn’t expect was a small window or door to open close to her head. The sudden glare of light made her scrunch her eyes shut. Except, in that tiny moment, she’d seen the look on the face that was peering in at her. Abject terror. Then whatever she was lying on lurched, and as she opened her eyes again, she was rolled out into a room on some sort of drawer. It smelt funny.
   ‘Holy shit!’ said a querulous voice. ‘You’ve got to be kidding…’ Footsteps sped away from her, the voice high and screeching for help.
   ‘Hello?’ Kate blinked and peered around her. Then she looked down…at herself.
   A white covering wrapped her. A rectangle of card was tied to one of her big toes, poking out of the sheet. For a fraction of a second, Kate baulked at the information that her brain sent her. Her shriek came out as a hoarse croak. She was in the morgue. Wrapped in a plastic sheet, presumably her name on that bit of card? Dead? She was dead?
   Not dead now.
   Kate kicked off the sheet and scrabbled off the chilled metal. Her feet hit a cold surface. Her legs buckled beneath her. Conscious first of nakedness. Second came the awareness of bruises that purpled her entire body, of bones that protruded from places they never should. The sound of panicked steps, skidding to a halt near her but not too near.
   ‘What the…?’
   Kate pulled the plastic around her to cover her body. ‘Help me,’ she whispered, ‘please, help me.’
   ‘Oh, man,’ said the new voice, ‘this shit is going to hit the fan and no mistake-‘
   The original voice cut in: ‘Look at the state of her. What is she? A friggin zombie?’
   ‘Shut up, you idiot!’ Someone was hovering above her. ‘She must have been so cold from that river, her vital signs got missed. I’ve heard of this. Go get someone now. She needs to be in the ICU unit immediately.’
   Kate knew her body was shutting down. Was this still the bad dream? It felt real though it couldn’t be. Who had spoken to her? Please, no. ‘Help me.’
   ‘You’re going to be OK.’ There was a quaver to his voice.
   ‘Listen, man,’ said the first voice, ‘we both know no one could survive those injuries. No one. She shouldn’t be alive-’
   ‘Shut-up! She can hear you!’
   At that, Kate blacked out.

Then came snatches of hearing, tiny glimpses of anxious faces, of being hoisted, moved, lights above her, doors swinging open, antiseptic smells, more faces, shocked, horrified…
   ‘Impossible.’ A deep male voice. Hands moving her, softness beneath her, a stab in her arm, finally warmth. ‘How did we miss this?’
   ‘She was dead.’ Another more sonorous voice. ‘You saw how she came in. DOA. I mean, couldn’t get more dead than that. I pity those poor mortuary technicians. Did you see their faces? If it wasn’t unbelievably horrific, it’d be funny.’
   ‘I don’t think ‘funny’ comes into this. It must’ve been so cold in the water, her heart was beating slowly enough that the first response unit missed it, and as you said, they must also have gone by her injuries.’
   Kate felt things being done to her body, although it was as if she was suspended slightly above it.
   ‘About that. If this girl had merely and I use that word carefully, merely drowned, I’d be able to understand easier. The brain cells didn’t die because the freezing water extended their life by decreasing the cell’s need for oxygen and glucose.’
   ‘Sure. They go into a type of hibernation state-‘
   ‘But not with all this trauma…’
   ‘Holy Mary Mother of God. They were scheduled to do an autopsy later that night. What if she’d woken up as they were cutting her apart?’    
   What? What! An autopsy?
   ‘Or worse,’ the deep voice wavered, ‘by trying to find out how she died, they inadvertently killed her properly.’
   ‘That is the start of a good horror movie. Waking up in a drawer in the morgue just before they cut into you. You couldn’t make this stuff up.’
   ‘Except this time, it’s real life. Poor girl. If she survives, she’ll be traumatised for life.’
   ‘As you say, if she survives, and that’s a big ‘if’ from where I’m stood, she’ll definitely need counselling.’
   The doctors continued to work on her body. Kate could feel skin pinched, things being moved, wrappings bound around her. How long had passed since she’d woken up? Her body spasmed: a shift deep inside her. A wave of white-hot heat crept out from her gut, spiralling up each arm, caressing down each leg, up her neck, and around her head, until her hair stood on end. Fireworks were shooting out of her fingers and toes.
   There was a quick intake of breath. ‘Oh, my God! Do you see this?’
   ‘Look. Look!’
   ‘That’s not possible-‘
   ‘Where are the photos of when they bought her in?’
   There were sounds of things being shifted in a hurry.
   ‘Here.’ A deep inhalation. ‘Holy crap. Get your phone. We have to document this.’
   ‘OK, I’m on it.’ The heavy breathing was in stereo. ‘Have you any idea what’s happening?’
   ‘If you believed in God, I’d say it was a miracle.’

Can’t allow it.
   A jolt shook her. A burst of energy arced out. There was nothing she could do about it.
   ‘What the-?’ Was the man beside her tapping something? ‘Oh, you’ve got to be joking. Not now, you stupid piece of cra-‘
   ‘What’s going on?’
   ‘My phone’s playing up. I can’t believe it. The most incredible evidence of something totally unexplainable is unfolding right in front of us, and my effin’ phone is on the blink!’
   ‘Listen, we still have the original photos and the eyewitnesses. Whatever this is, we’ll get to the bottom of it. Right now, we have to attend to our patient, so get a grip and start doing your job.’

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