This story is by Emily Dupree and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
“Can you sit up?” Without waiting for a response, a grim woman in a faded cotton print dress and “Hi, I’m Stella” name tag tugged at the blankets and pillows propping up a slim young woman. The young woman winced and sat propped up in the corner while surveying the room in confusion through heavy-lidded eyes.
Though the volume was turned down low, the panicked noise of static and miked conversations on the telly buzzed through the thin walls over other, more muted sounds. Applause. The start of a speech. A moment of hush interrupted by the noise of a tap and screams. Only a few words permeated the vintage wallpaper. No comment… time… embassy… days… they can… nothing.
“It’ll only take a few minutes.” Stella reached out and switched on the bedside lamp.
“Is your name really Stella?” she whispered.
“Might as well be. Why?”
“You don’t look like one. Maybe Agatha or…”
“It doesn’t matter, and he’ll be here in a moment. Try to focus, Penelope.”
Penelope tipped her chin up and scratched at the lace lining her negligee. It hung loosely on her thin frame. She sagged against the mountain of pillows and lifted a hand to her pounding forehead.
“Don’t fuss with the bandage, you’ll muss your hair.” Stella reached over the bed and closed the blinds against the glare of sunset.
“Alright,” Penelope whispered as she allowed her hand to slide into her lap; the door opened and a tall, broad-shouldered man stepped in.
“Agent Sanderson. May I speak with you?”
“Come in, I was just leaving.” Stella gave a meaningful nod and stalked to the door before pulling it closed with a distinct click.
“Lights.” Sanderson dragged a lamp from across the room and turned it on. “Not enough light in here. You okay?” He pointed the beam towards the bed.
Eyes closed, the young woman nodded against her pillow. Sanderson pulled a chair up next to the bed and smiled down at her.
“Just some routine questions to begin with. You are Penelope Noble? Aged 27. Adopted at three days old?”
Penelope shifted uncomfortably and squinted at Sanderson. “I don’t remember. I told… Shouldn’t you be the junior partner in this… inquiry — you look a little young, Agent.”
He tensed his jaw, and his dimples fled. “My partner’s outside the door. This will only take a few moments. Do you remember anything about your accident?”
“Have you heard the news at all — about the assassination attempt two days ago?”
“Not really, I’ve been out like a light. Comatose.”
“Yeah. Do you have any memories surrounding that time at all?” He leaned forward and stared intently at her face.
“Agent, when I find out, you’ll be the second to know.”
“Very funny. Would you believe you are the foreign president that got shot?”
“Me? No. At least I don’t think so. I would at least know another language, wouldn’t I?”
“You are right about not being the foreign president — at least you know that much. You may have saved her life, though. Somehow you found out about a CIA black op and managed to get to that stage in time. The bullet grazed you and went into her shoulder. Are you sure you don’t remember anything about how you found out?”
“I just woke up. I didn’t have much time to think about it. I didn’t even know my name, but Stella? She told me my name is Penelope. Isn’t that awful?”
He grimaced. “Not my place. Maybe if you take a look at yourself by that vanity there.”
Penelope nodded, and Stella reappeared to help him half-lift, half-walk her to the stool in front of the vanity.
She leaned in toward the mirror. Her skin was pale from pain blood loss, but the unflattering contrast between the white bandage and dark brown hair left her vaguely resembling a geisha doll.
Her foot tapped the air for only a moment as she caught and controlled the impatient tic. “I don’t know.”
Agent Sanderson left immediately while Stella helped Penelope back into bed and gave her a few dusty white pills. Stella turned off the lights and left.
Penelope leaned back relaxed into the mountain of pillows. Her eyes were only closed a moment before she frowned.
I don’t remember waking up in the hospital. Or how I got home. I heard a voice, though. As I laid there watching myself on a cold white bed, lips brushed my forehead and begged me not to give up. I tried to move; I needed to.
She shook from the effort as she stood and made her way toward the door in the darkness. She sank to the floor just as SWAT with flashlights came in. A man and a woman leaned down to grab her as consciousness fled.
“Agent Sanderson? Stella?”
A rough, close voice breathed, “No, Agent. We’re still searching for them, but you’re safe now. Let’s get you back to the hospital.”