A Perfect Noel
by C Wilson Trull
It is a strange sensation to look down at your own body and see your insides. From stem to stern, as my father would say. Splayed open like so much gutted trout. And as the joke goes, like a book you are open and red.
Noel Chaser never realized just how morbid that joke was until now, and just how not funny it really was.
Blinking, she opened her eyes, waking from a nightmare already forgotten, and found herself stepping into another. She blinked again heavily to try and fix her sight, but the clouds were heavy from sleep, and not so easily persuaded or pushed aside. Overhead, two very bright lights glared down angrily at her. For a second she mused that she was dead. Should she go towards them like they say in the movies? But... which one? Oh the decisions a teen girl must make.
It was then that she looked down at her own body and there was no doubt left in her mind, she was dead.
She tried to scream, her mouth stretched wide, but nothing came out, not a peep. She tried to inhale but nothing would come in. Her mind raced back to the analogy of the trout again, mouths gasping for a breath of clean life giving water. She knew now how they felt, out of her depth and drowning in air.
But she wasn't drowning, she wasn't even breathing. After terror released its stranglehold on her mind, she began to reason. Remembering her father sometimes gave sage advice between the bad jokes, his voice popped in her head. "Before you can solve a puzzle, you first need to know about all of the pieces."
"If I was dead," she thought. "Why am I still here? How can I be here, I mean look at me!"
Noel looked down again and began testing her boundaries. Starting with her toes, she worked her way up, seeing what still worked. She couldn't feel anything below her chest, it was numb, feeling strangely like when your leg falls asleep. But this was all over, and she dreaded the pins-and-needles she would feel when the feeling came back.
Moving up her body, she continued her assessment, checking off parts. Her hands and arms were still working, although slowly. But she couldn't move them far. She could see the thick leather straps holding them down to the table.
What is going on? Was this some kind of sick place that kidnapped teen girls and did horrible things to them? She remembered those horror films she and her friend Trial McKenna, would sneak in to see. Her mind reeled at the visions those movies inflicted. She wished she had listened to her father who warned that they would give her nightmares.
"OK-OK-OK," she tried to calm her thoughts. "This... this is a nightmare. A really vivid, high def, effed-up nightmare."
"OK Noh," feeling the terror trying to take hold again, she fought back tears welling up. Can the dead girls even cry? "Try to remember."
"I remember..." Noel's mind fell into assessment mode again. "I remember the stupid football game."
There was a playoff game between the Loomis High Badgers and the South Idlewild Patriots. A spot in the state championship was at stake, and passions on both sides were hot.
Noel remembered also that she didn't want to go to the game. Mid terms were coming up quick, and she still had two papers to write. She was top of her class, a major feat for any freshman, but it didn't come easy for her. She worked hard for her crown of queen nerd, a position she held with honor. Football, cheerleading, really? Unless you're really good at it, how far would that get you in life?
Her friends had talked her into going, Richard Li and Trial. Trial was her best friend since preschool, fiery and forceful, like her unnaturally coloured black and red hair. Richard was a boy they met on the first day High School. He was nice, but she knew that he only hung around to get in her pants. Which means in her mind, he would be forever on the "friend-zone" list. Even though she felt that he was kinda cute.
They had talked her into going to the game, but it was after the game when things get kinda fuzzy. They had won - Go Patriots! - and some how these three social pariahs were invited to the cool kids house for a party. Visions of the party flashed though her mind like photographs tumbling to the ground. Sideways glances and whispers of "what are they doing here?" Typical teenage party angst with over testosterone laden boys and flirtatious girls. Alcohol introduced and moral choices offered. Shots fired. Laying on a bed too close to friend-zone Richard wondering what it would be like to kiss those full Asian lips.
Yeah, eww on the whole make out scene with friend-zone Richard, but "shots fired"? Like, gun shots?
Noel's mind screeched to a grinding halt and hit rewind. The stills had now been upgraded to video, as it zoomed through the crowd of teens, up the stairs of the oversize home belonging to the quarterback's parents, who just happened to be out of town. The scene? A dark master bedroom, with a super large California King bed and lots of pillows. The stars? Friend-zone Richard - a little tipsy and way too handsy - and herself - even more tipsy and also a bit handsy - laying on the bed together. Both testing the boundaries of moral teenage choices.
There was a crash of glass. The test was over, and the choice was made for them.
Two... no, THREE masked men came crashing though the bay window facing the back yard. With how loud the bass was being dropped downstairs, Noel wasn't surprised that no one heard the noise. That, or they just chalked it up to teens having a good time. Besides, the quarterback's parents can afford it. Must be nice to be rich.
Richard, who had never shown any aggressive tendencies, stood defiantly between Noel and the gunmen. It would have been swooning moment for any girl, a man defending her honor, standing between her and danger. But the cracking in his voice as he yelled at the men to get out, downgraded it to gallant, but cute.
Then they shot.
It sounded like it does on TV, silent "thwips" of rushing air, and Richard fell back hard on the bed like a limp doll. In the blink of an eye one of the larger men was on top of her. He covered her mouth just as she inhaled to scream bloody murder. There was a strange sweet smell, and Noel's vision blurred and darkened. The last thing she saw was one of the gunmen pulling three darts out of Richard's chest.
Then she woke up here. Open and red.
Voices. Noel searched the room frantically, there were voices and footsteps coming down the hall. She knew they would be through those hospital doors any minute. She jerked at the straps that held her down, but it was useless. She looked back at the doors, the voices were just on the other side! Shadows passed behind the frosted glass with the words "91 mooR ataD" in black lettering. In a panic, Noel clamped her eyes shut and decided to play possum, listening to their conversation as they entered the room.
"..he spent the whole night watching episode after episode. So he got zero sleep, and now feels like he's got a hangover." The voice was young, male and approaching her table.
"Well," a second male. Older, deeper voice. "Serves him right, staying up all night just to watch some stupid TV show that's been off the air for decades."
"Stupid?" Younger quipped back. "Are you joking? Benson is a TV classic. How can you call it stupid?"
They were both now just standing above her, Older on the left, younger on the right. And since neither freaked out that there was a disemboweled teen girl on the table, she assumed that they must have done this to her. She cracked her eyelids to get a look at them, so she could describe them to the police later. But with the overhead lighting, all she got was fuzzy dark images in white lab coats. And really, how was she gonna explain this to the police with her insides hanging out? "Yes officer, they were two blurry dark gentlemen with lab coats. Oh, that? That is my large intestine. Sorry about your shoe."
"What tha!" The younger voice fell down on Noel like a brick. Her eyes tightened as she froze in fear of being caught awake. But really, in light of everything, what more could they do to her?
"What do you make of this," the younger again. "All of the data wires are pulled out."
"Well," the older replied. "Plug them back in."
Noel's fear was building to a boiling point, moments away from jumping from the table and trying to make a break for it, her guts in tow, when a flash of light pierced the darkness behind her eyes. A warm calmness washed over her as squiggly lights danced across her vision, like the lights you see when you rub your eyes for to long. They swam into and out of her view, each a spark of energy, each a wonderful sensation beyond anything she had ever felt before. She never wanted this feeling to end.
And then it did end. Noel switched off and drifted back into the ether.
"Done." the younger man turned to a monitor suspended above the examination table. "But..."
"But what?" The older man swiveled in his chair, he wore a pair of magnification goggles that made him look a bit comical. "Serious, we need to get this done before morning and she is missed, and we are already a man down because of 'Benson'. But what?"
"Well," he peered at the monitor closely. "I loaded the data just like before, and the total should be 1.21 Terras, right? Just like every other time."
"Then why does this say 1.21.2?"
"What?" The older man sat up and leaned across the table to get a better look at the screen flickering through data. "What does that mean?"
The younger turned and looked at the teen girl laying on the table. "Its almost as if she's been gathering information while she's been offline. How the hell is she pulling data without the lines in."
Both men stared at Noel Chaser, the fourteen year old girl laying open on the table, wires and cords leading off to computers all about the room. Tensions built as each man ran scenarios of what could cause this phenomenon and what it could mean to the project, and more importantly, their jobs.
"What do we do?" the younger man broke the silence. "Do we report this?"
"We log it." the older man ruffed. "She needs to be back into the field immediately. We just need to keep an eye on her."
The older man went back to work. "We need to keep a close eye on her."