Fifteen - Ira

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I tried to memorize the steps that I took from my room to wherever Stuart was taking me. After a few right and left turns, it became impossible to keep track. I held a hnad next to my temple – I was nervous that the blindfold would slip, then not even Stuart would be able to calm me.

"You're fine, Ira." Stuart gently nudged my shoulder and turned me to the right. My face warmed at the contact, and my hands clenched in response. "Just in here."

I heard the quiet squeak of a door in front of me, and Stuart's hand returned to my shoulder. He steered me to what he said was a chair and helped me sit down.

"Now," he continued, "what I'm going to do is give you a small injection that we think will help with the flexibility of your pupil muscles. It might take a few minutes for it to take effect, but I'll have to take off your blindfold to run some tests. Would that be okay with you?"

"Yes." I swallowed and nodded. The constant darkness was becoming suffocating, and I might have a chance of getting out of here if my eyes were functioning. The scheming nine-year-old in me that escaped from human traffickers had been speaking to me ever since I agreed to let Stuart run his medical trials on me. I trusted him more than any of the other doctors, but still had doubts about how genuine he was.

"I have the lights dimmed. I'm so sorry." Slowly he peeled off my blindfold, making me flinch and screw my eyes tightly shut. "Focus on your breathing, Ira. It'll be over quickly."

Stuart told me to open my eyes, and the pain that seized me was like a thousand volts through my brain. It was hard to follow his instructions as he put eye drops in and told me to look this way and that. The best I could do was to hold in a scream and cooperate even though I could barely understand Stuart's words. He broke up his instructions with reassuring me that everything was okay, and I slowed my breathing to match the pace of his words. I could almost imagine them lining up to form a wave lapping against a beach.

"Ira."

"Huh?" I slurred, still in a numb daze.

"I said, you can close your eyes now." Through my painful vision, I thought I saw a smile.

"You're done? The injection?" I snapped my eyes shut promptly and Stuart put the blindfold back just in case. As the world darkened, I noticed that my fingers were hurting from being clenched so hard into fists, and my face was angled up at an uncomfortable angle. I relaxed my body a little. "That was quick."

"Now we wait." I heard the squeak of a chair nearby.

"I have a question," I said before Stuart could ask me one. "When was the last time you were off this island?"

"Just over a year ago," he said after a moment's hesitation. "Before I started here."

"Anyone from the outside world ever wonder where you are, what you're doing?" I asked.

Stuart was tapping his hands on the desk next to me now. "Some people ask questions more than others, but they know I've moved to a small island in the Pacific Ocean."

"So you have to keep your mouth shut." I sighed when there was no reply like I'd expected. "Don't you ever get sick of chatting to people in pain and people inflicting pain? Don't you just want some peace and quiet?"

Stuart let out a small exhale. "You and Doctor Nita are the closest I have to conversational equals. Except you don't trust me one bit."

"Should I?" I asked.

"Ira, don't ask me that question. You have chosen to not want to trust me."

"Seriously?" I crossed my arms. "Do you really want to help me?"

"I do," Stuart replied.

"Then why do you work here?"

He cleared his throat. "If I don't, then who will?"

"What do you mean?" I said with a frown.

Stuart hesitated. "I mean..." He then lowered his voice. "I mean what I just said."

"You—" I began, but Stuart shushed me. My nervousness rose again, half from what Stuart was doing and saying, and half from the fear of being monitored. Every room in the underground laboratory had an audiovisual recording. It was one of the first things that Doctor A proudly told me.

"Ira, would you be okay if we have a look at your eyes now?" Stuart asked, back at full volume. I heard him stand up in preparation.

"Do I have a choice?" I asked.

"You always have one."

"That's new," I muttered. I heard my hair rustle as Stuart began to remove my blindfold. Against my closed eyelids, the sound was admittedly quite relaxing. The canvas before my eyes slowly lit up red, brighter and brighter as Stuart took off the mask completely. My breathing quickened.

"How are you feeling?" Stuart asked.

"Yeah, awesome," I said sarcastically, prising one eye open a slit. The migraine didn't come. I opened the other eye to cold, fluorescent light. The lab had tiles, scrubbed squeaky clean. My heart and lungs slowed their pumping.

"Well done." Stuart pulled his chair in front of me and apprehended me with lively green eyes. "Do you feel any pain?"

I rubbed my temples out of habit. "I-I don't think so."

"Look up," he told me. "If you can, look up at the light."

I nodded and looked up, blinking reflexively. Stuart made sure to not cast a shadow over me as he observed the behaviour of my pupils. After a while, he smiled and nodded, gesturing for me to look down again. He entered his observations on the computer on the desk next to me.

"How does it look?" I asked, trying to see what he was typing.

Stuart remained silent as he finished his report, before smiling at me and saying, "Good so far." He was about to say more, but loud footsteps came towards us from the corridor. We both look towards the door, startled.

"Stuart, are you in here?" a muffled male voice came with a knock on the door. I jumped in my skin. I was not expecting a visitor.

The door opened before Stuart could answer. A man with messy blond hair entered the lab. He looked like he'd just been to the surf, but he also had dirt on his legs. The guy's dark hazel eyes reluctantly focused on me. He didn't smile – in fact, he looked pissed that I was also in the room. "Ira. What a surprise."

My insides clenched before I recognised that deceiving face of his. He was the one who made drinks for Celestia and made her sick. He was the first person to suggest taking Celestia to the Dell Island hospital, where she never came out. His name was engraved in my memory, like a curse I'd never forget – Desmond.

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