It was the first time that Nils Chapman had seen prisoner 89 doing anything other than lying curled up in a fetal position. Today she was sitting, cross-legged in the center of the room. It was hot and muggy and he had to wipe the perspiration from his eyes in order to see her clearly. She was muttering something, but he had to listen for a minute to make out just what it was.
“…nine hundred seventy-four days. One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days. One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days.”
“Why are you counting the days?” he called to her through the small window in the armored door.
She locked eyes with him, but didn’t stop repeating her words.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
She stopped. “Yes.”
“Alright. I’ll get you something.”
Chapman made his way down the stone corridor toward the south wing and the kitchen. He hadn’t quite reached it, when he ran into Karl Drury going the other direction. The other man wore his usual scowl and his shirt was soaked through with sweat. He didn’t need to ask what the other man wanted.
“Why don’t you leave her alone?” said Chapman.
“Why don’t you piss off?” Drury replied and shoved him into the wall.
Chapman immediately leaned back toward Drury.
“I’m not afraid of you,” he growled, which was in fact not true at all.
“You’d better be,” the other man hissed, producing a knife from somewhere. “I could gut you right now… or maybe I’ll do it tonight, while you’re asleep.”
“Tosser,” said Chapman, but he hurried away toward the kitchen.
Purposefully waiting a good half hour before returning to the north wing, Chapman unlocked the door after he was sure that his sadistic fellow guard had gone. Prisoner 89 was sprawled across the stone floor like a ragdoll. It was no surprise that she had been raped, but the guard was shocked at how badly she had been beaten. Apparently she was not nearly as acquiescent as she had been before. Her eyes were open, but they stared at the ceiling, unmoving.
“I brought you a Roger’s Pie.”
He sat the wooden bowl containing the bun filled with meat and turnips next to her. Her eyes rolled around in her head and then looked at him. She sat up and snatched the pie from the bowl, stuffing it into her mouth.
“Have to keep my strength up,” she muttered with her mouth full. “One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days.”
“Why are you counting?”
She finished the pie, but didn’t reply to his question.
“Is your name Zurfina?”
Suddenly her eyes came alive, full of fire, of danger, and of power.
“Zurfina the Magnificent,” she said.
“Can I get you something else?”
“Why?” she asked, the now dangerous grey eyes narrowing.
“Um, I don’t know.”
“Bring me a knife!” she hissed.
“I can’t do that,” he said. “Even if it wouldn’t get me sacked, you’d hurt yourself.”
He now saw that the woman had a series of slash marks up the length of both arms and on both thighs.
“You’re trying to kill yourself.”
“I promise I’m not going to kill myself,” she said.
Chapman turned to leave and stopped in his tracks. Covering the entire wall of the cell all around the door were strange symbols, black against the grey of the stone. Though they weren’t really letters and certainly weren’t from any language that he knew, there was something nevertheless familiar about them. They seemed to swirl and move unnaturally, as if the wall was made not of stone but of rubber or something similarly malleable, and it was being manipulated from behind, creating waves and bulges.
“Kafira,” he swore, and then he jumped as he heard the woman stir behind him. When he looked at her though, she was only getting to her feet, slowly.
“What is that?” he asked, afraid to look back at the wall and afraid to keep his back to it as well.
“That is Omris and Siris,” she replied cryptically. “That is Juton and Treffia. It is Worron and Tommulon.”
“I don’t know any of those words.”
She moved so close to him that her smell gagged him. She stank of years of sweat and urine and filth, and something else.
“That’s your blood!”
“Tell no one about this,” she ordered. “Tell no one. Tell no one.”
He stepped quickly away and slammed the door shut, locking it behind him. He ran down the corridor toward the south wing, and he didn’t look back. Still, he could hear her voice behind him.
“One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days. One thousand nine hundred seventy-four days.”