Lachlan jerked awake as something dropped onto his face, fear jolting through him at the feeling of the hard surface beneath him.
He’d woken up a few times in the night, each with the same split second of panic as he thought he’d woken up in the back of the van again.
He opened his eyes, picking up the small, spherical object that had fallen on him. When he realized it was a grape, his fear gave way to annoyance.
He looked up, and sure enough, Angelina was there on one of the barstools, suppressing a laugh. Sam sat beside her, preparing to drop another grape.
“And just what do you think you’re doing?” said Lachlan.
Angelina released the laugh she’d been suppressing and burst into hysterical giggles.
“Seeing how many grapes we can drop on you before you wake up,” said Sam. “The answer is nine, by the way.”
Lachlan pushed himself into a seated position with his elbows. A few grapes rolled off him onto the floor.
“And why, exactly, are you doing this?”
“To satisfy my scientific curiosity,” said Sam, “and because it’s funny.”
Lachlan gave the two of them his best surly frown.
“Excuse me if I don’t see the humor in it,” he said.
Sam and Angelina must have picked up on something in his expression, because their amused expressions disappeared.
“Okay, okay.” Sam held up his hands. “We’ll stop.”
Angelina slid out of her stool, plunking herself onto the floor and leaning back on her hands.
“Why are you so mad about grapes?” she said.
The question could have been confrontational or accusatory, but Angelina’s tone and expression seemed genuinely curious.
Normally, Lachlan would have brushed off a question like that with a brusque retort–he wasn’t one to talk about how he was feeling, especially when he was annoyed–but there was something about the combination of being exhausted and lying on the floor that made him feel more open than usual.
Something about lying on a floor always made him feel a strange camaraderie with whoever was around him.
“I’m not mad, exactly. And it’s not about the grapes.”
“What’s it about, then?” said Angelina.
“The last time I woke up on a hard surface, I was paralyzed in the back of a murder van.”
“Huh?” said Angelina.
“It’s how I got here,” he said. “I was kidnapped by CPSI. I was drugged, and when I woke up, I was on the floor of a van so sus it probably had the words ‘free candy’ spray-painted on the side. When I woke up on the hard floor just now, I had a moment where I thought I was back in the van again.”
Sam climbed out of his stool to sit beside them on the floor.
“And I’m guessing us dropping grapes on you didn’t help,” he said.
“No,” said Lachlan.
“Sorry,” said Angelina. “I should have thought.”
“You didn’t know,” said Lachlan. “I mean, as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t drop grapes on people, but you didn’t know.”
“No,” said Angelina. “I should have thought, because I know how you feel. It was really scary for me right before I came here too. This creature–one of the sisters–attacked me; it cornered me inside this big pipe and grabbed me, and there was nothing I could do. And now I’m just on full alert all the time. Every time I see something move on the edge of my eyes, or if I see a house that’s about the same size and shape she was, I get so scared for a second.”
“Yeah,” said Lachlan, because he wasn’t sure what else to say.
Angelina had described the feeling so accurately that he couldn’t think of anything else to add on.
“I think it might be the worst feeling in the world,” said Angelina. “When something really, really bad is happening, and you can’t do anything about it.”
“Yeah, probably,” said Lachlan. “Mortal danger, big whoop. But mortal danger where you’re powerless to fight or defend yourself?”
“Bad,” said Angelina.
“I wasn’t going to put it quite so succinctly, but yeah. Bad is an apt enough descriptor.”
“I know what you mean too,” said Sam. “Right after I met Lachlan, one of those Dave things grabbed me, and my life was just… completely out of my hands. Nothing else that’s happened to me has really been comparable to that. Not even getting my fingers eaten off, or watching Lachlan die, or anything. I’m an engineer. I like to think every problem has a solution. But having my life in danger and not seeing a way out was… yeah.”
“Yeah,” said Lachlan.
“Yeah,” echoed Angelina.
“I’ve been on full alert too, like you said,” said Sam. “It’s a natural human response to being in danger. It’s millions of years old.”
“If an early hominid got attacked by a cave bear, he’d spend the rest of his life avoiding anything cave-bear shaped,” added Lachlan.
“I wish cave bears were the only thing we had to deal with,” said Angelina.
“Yeah,” said Lachlan. “The Paleolithic era. Those were the good old days.”
“Yep,” said Sam. “The good old days.”