There was silence for a moment then letters enlarged onto the screen. ‘My, my, my. Such a direct question.’
Travis ground his teeth and worked to stay calm. “Yeah, and what’s the answer?”
Letters put themselves together from blocks and splashed pink against a sudden yellow green. ‘More the opposite. You’re just the Jiminy, Travis. She’s the boss.’
That explained a lot to Travis. If she’s mad and I get mad, then she’s making me mad by being mad, right? So, if I try to be happy when she’s mad, will that make her less mad? And if that’s right, then I have to figure out how to keep it together when she starts to lose it?
He continued to gaze at the screen. The view remained on the window. it felt so wistful, and terrified at the same time. She knows they’ll be waiting for her out there. What can I do to change the situation? My first reaction would be to catch them alone and beat each one to a pulp, but that’s not gonna work. Size counts and this girl’s a twig compared to those thugs. I gotta be smart about this.
‘Point for you’ scrolled across the wall as Travis was concentrating.
“Yah, right,” he answered without really paying attention. There had to be a way. He was on a time limit. It might be, at most, another day that they’d keep her here. After that, she’d be back in the general population, which meant those girls would be looking her up again. Travis scanned the screen for things that could be used as a weapon, or modified into one. A sense of unease stirred as he studied the view on the wall. Why is this bothering me? If we have a weapon, we can protect ourselves better, right? He thought about that sibilant voice he’d heard earlier. The venom and hate hidden in the words, seemed to slap him in the face as he recalled them. The more he thought about them, the less palatable the idea of a weapon became. He was so deep int thought that he almost missed the slight tremor in the floor.
Travis looked up, and saw that she’d stood up. The perspective was much more ‘downward’ as the girl looked at the IV in her arm, then at the tray holding a paper cup filled with ice and a clear liquid. The hand appeared at the bottom of the view, and picked the cup up. There was a faint slurping sound, and the cup was set back on the tray as the view shifted left and up towards come closed cupboards. They slowly enlarged on the wall screen as she walked towards them. What’s she doing? The arms reached up to the leftmost cupboard doors, then slowly began to open them. The screen swung back towards the partly open door and back to the doors rapidly.
Forget it, I’m not gonna let that little creep win. ‘Oh I’m going to win, and you’re going to fail again, just like you did with Kimberly, and everyone else in.’
“Just shut up you”, Travis yelled at the screen. His fists clenched and he leaned forward, jaw clenched, ready to rumble. “Come out where I can see you! We’ll settle this right here, right NOW!”
‘Oh come on’ the light spelled out slowly, mockingly. ‘Seriously, you’re going to punch out a wall. Let’s see you do it sport. This ought to be really amusing. Come on, fatso, what do you have?’ The taunting mauve letters had Travis seeing red.
In his rage he drew back his fist and slammed it into the wall. It hurt. A lot. Travis didn’t care, all he cared about was pounding that miserable mocking sign into paste. Four more hard shots against the unyielding wall had him in pain that he couldn’t ignore. it was then a sound reached his ears. Someone was crying. Her voice was making small gulping growls as if frustration was bubbling out of her, and her helplessness was driving her into a self-inflicted frenzy. “Let go, girl. I said let go! Marnie! Help! She got the scissors!” The urgency of the words penetrated the red haze. He looked at the screen. It was blinking off and on as her eyes opened, then closed.
She was screaming, helpless rage pouring out of a throat made hoarse by the self hate he heard coming from her. “What the..?! What’s going on!?”
‘I’m glad you asked, JIMINY. That’s all you, out there. Congratulations. You make my job so easy I have to laugh.’ The letters were a deep brown red like congealed blood. They seemed to pulse larger, and more ominous with each agonized, self-loathing scream. It took Travis a moment to connect the information together. I did this. I got mad and she got mad with me. No, I made her get mad. My temper became her temper. The weight between Travis’ shoulders was heavier than ever. I’m so sorry. His rage evaporated like mist. Over the screen, he could her the helpless sobs of the girl, and they bored into him with the realization that he’d allowed it to happen.
He looked at the screen, hating it. Slow down, what you’re feeling is part of what she’s feeling. I don’t know why, but it’s like we’re seeing things the same way. Or, are we? Travis started thinking more. He didn’t like thinking, reacting was a lot easier, but it also had gotten him a lot of regrets. Why am I here? That asshat sign said I was in-between, what did he mean by that? It’s like I’m getting half of everything what’s said. The other half isn’t being talked about. And he’s trying to get her to give in to that junk he kept spewing. Why? What is the big deal about all that? What am I missing? I can’t think. I get mad and want to hit something.
Travis stalked around the round grey room clenching and unclenching his hands as he tried to understand more about the so-called rules that the sign wouldn’t talk to him about. He’d occasionally glance at the screen and the hands at the bottom would close and open every so often. He saw the screen change to stare at a frosted over window often while he moved about the room. Every so often the hands, or feet, or body would fidget, as if wanting to move, but there’d be a lurch and a soft whimper that stopped further motions. The seeming helplessness of the situation displayed on the curved wall, and his own restless frustration at the predicament reflected his own thoughts and feelings. He slowed down, eyes riveted to the screen.
Is that it? Is that I’m what I’m feeling is projected? He looked at the screen again. It did say that I had to learn on the fly. I hope that means asking questions too.
“So what’s the deal? Why is she agitated when I am?”
The nurse shook her head and walked out of the room. Five minutes later she was back with a hand mirror. “The swellin’s gone down some, but you took a bad one from them girls,” the nurse said as Travis watched the mirror move to the girls hands.
She was right. Her right eye was nearly swelled shut by the ugly purple bruise that started on her cheek below her eye and spread around it. Butterfly tape was on the cheekbone below the eye. The other side of the face hadn’t been touched, and it was a plain face with a few scrapes on the nose that hadn’t been covered with a band-aid. The lower lip was split on the right side of the face, the same as the eye. It had two butterfly bandages just below it to hold the wound closed. She held the mirror as the other hand lifted the edge of the blue hospital smock, to expose the stomach, which was purple with bluish purple centers more pale that the surrounding bruises. That was where the kicks had landed. Most were hard enough that they were still bleeding slightly, which accounted for the change in color at the center.
Travis thought he’d be more nervous to see the girl’s body, but rage was all he really felt. Those three women had done a thorough job of hurting her. The warmth seem to increase, not uncomfortable, but like pressure was building. Like steam beginning to over pressure the valves like in one of those old movies. God help me, all I want to do is hurt them! I want to hurt them so bad! The breeze that started up sounded like a heated whisper with the warmth in the room. Travis was still angry, but the whispering bothered him. Was there someone else? He got off the platform, and tried to follow the sound. Against one portion of the curving wall it got loud enough to hear just barely.
Travis strained to hear things, and his stomach suddenly felt cold. His anger still burned hot, but a niggling doubt entered him as he heard the words. “Go ahead, they deserve it. They hurt you, hurting them back isn’t wrong, it’s payback. What goes around comes around. It isn’t your fault if they bring it on themselves, right? All you have to do is take things into your own hands. Control your own destiny and make them pay the same way they tried to make you their slave.” Damn straight, thought Travis.
“Or,” the whisper added, almost as an afterthought, “you could just give in, let go. They’d make all the decisions and you wouldn’t have to worry about anything any more. Just give everything up, and then nothing could touch you. you could hide behind all their decisions and never have to make one again. After all, with that kind of power they have, yours isn’t near enough to protect yourself, and your cousin Nar’vell, he never was much to you. Get him to pass you the stuff and you’ll be riding high in here. Those girls would need to protect you because you’d be the source for everything, and you could keep a secret. Nar’vell wouldn’t tell, especially if he thinks you like him. Just give up and let everyone around you protect you for what you can do for them.” The voice was soft, gentle, and felt magnetic. Travis had to fight the urge to press up against the wall to get closer to it. he pushed away from the wall in confusion, trying to clear his thoughts.
What, who the heck is that? I thought I was supposed to be the, well, the guy up here, the conscience thing. ‘Yes and no’ light spelled out on the grey screen in red-outlined black block letters. “What do you mean?” Travis asked angrily. It was just like when he got here. Nothing was explained, he had to stick his foot in the crap to find out it existed. Why couldn’t he just be told how to do the job and not have to go through all this stupid finding out the hard way.
‘Because it’s the rules. No help, no explanation unless you ask. then just the straight truth. After all, why should I give all the information to the opposition free of charge?’ the letters had a condescending air to them, like someone who felt infinitely superior to Travis, which really pissed him off. It was the same way that twiggy little Bobby Zillis kept talking to him on the job, like he was so stupid that he had to be told how to tie his shoes every day.