Rain drummed on the ancient glass panes of Annika’s bedroom. In another life, the sound would lull her to sleep, but she didn’t have that luxury anymore. This night was like many others: Annika would lie awake, afraid to close her eyes for fear of what she might see when she did. A dreamless sleep—nowadays, that’s all she ever wanted. She got it sometimes, and those times were a blessing, but Annika had a feeling that tonight she wouldn’t be so lucky.
Betraying her better judgement, she closed her eyes and was immediately greeted with bright stadium lights. Not again, she pleaded, please not again! Annika flung her eyes open. Not much time had passed, thankfully. It was still dark and raining. 30 minutes at the most. She crossed her arms over her chest, her left hand instinctively moving to the scar on her collarbone. Crossed arms are a natural position when defending oneself. Of all the moves Annika learned in her years trapped in that stadium, this was the only one she could utilize to comfort herself. Her left index finger traced the scar. It was fully healed but her skin still sometimes remembered the pain she endured getting it and the scar on her left thigh.
Annika got injured in some way during her matches, be it a bruise or scratch or strained muscle. The only scars she sustained were from that match. The odds were stacked against her, but she still won. She always won, but it meant nothing to her. Bruises faded, scratches healed, and strains could be iced, but the mental scars never left her.
The clock on her nightstand read 5:17 AM. There was no point in trying to sleep now, so she got out of bed. Most of the house would still be asleep, but that didn’t matter to Annika. The way the other girls acted around her was odd. Not rude, though, they always made her feel welcome in the manor. They had given her the cute nickname of Anni, even though Annika was sure Annika was only the name her captors had given to her.
Mabel was awkward around her. Oxalia was kind, but there was always a hint of sadness in her eyes when she looked at her. Faye chose her words carefully. Leaf, well, Leaf avoided her at all costs, it seemed. If Annika walked into a room, Leaf would become quiet. If Leaf walked into a room where Annika was, she would walk out. Leaf’s behavior in particular was odd and sometimes hurtful but Annika hoped it would go away with time.
Annika made her way downstairs. The wooden stairs creaked and groaned with every step she took. The house was old, but she liked it. It was a nice change from the cold sterility of the stadium’s underbelly and a definite upgrade from living in the woods for months.
She walked into the kitchen, hoping to have a glass of water or a piece of fruit but stopped short when she heard voices inside.
“We needed a good rain. The dirt was getting dry.” It was Oxalia, talking about her garden. Annika liked Oxalia’s garden. It was relaxing to just sit there and watch her work the earth. Annika would usually hand her tools or water the plants.
“Maybe. I hope it stops soon, though. The roof might start leaking, and I don’t know if we have enough buckets this time.” That was Faye. When it came to the house, Faye was always worrying.
The two were silent for a few moments. Annika could hear rain pattering on the greenhouse’s tin roof. She liked the sound.
“You were asking about books on plants,” Faye said, “I have a few. There were more, but I sold them. I didn’t think anyone would read them, really, that’s why I got rid of them.”
“I’ll take a look sometime today,”Oxalia said.
The girls didn’t say much more after that. Annika realized she was standing by the doorway for quite a while and tiptoed in the other direction into the living room. She chose a plush lounge chair near the doorway and settled in. Nearly all of the furniture in the manor smelled of old attics, but that was one of the many things that Annika liked about the old house.
She briefly closed her eyes, and when she opened them, it was bright. Not the bright lights of the stadium, but the sun coming through the windows of the living room. It stopped raining and the sun was out. How long was she asleep?
“Oh, didn’t know you were in here.” Annika turned to see Mabel standing in the doorway holding a broom and dustpan. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” Annika croaked, her voice raspy from tiredness and disuse.
“There’s tea in the kitchen. I haven’t made breakfast yet but I’m thinking oatmeal. How’s that sound?”
Annika nodded in approval and got out of her chair, her long legs slightly sore from being folded under her while she napped.
The rooster-shaped clock in the kitchen read 6:50. Steam slowly seeped out of the kettle on the stove, the Irish Breakfast that was boiled inside giving the room a familiar morning aroma. Annika grabbed a cup from the cabinet and poured herself some tea. The cup warmed her hands as she took a sip.
This would be the 7th time this week that Annika was unable to sleep through the night. She’d gone the entire week with only 13 hours of sleep in total. She didn’t want to tell the other girls about her problem because then, she’d have to go into detail about her time in the fighting pits, and that’s not something Annika wanted to remember for a while.