By Donna Marie Robb

Sarah came awake slowly. Her vision was blurred. She blinked to clear it.

Where am I, she wondered as she looked around. It was a hotel room; it had to be, but was a queer oval shape. Colorful pictures of lakes and gardens decorated the walls. There were no windows that she could see. It must still be nighttime, Sarah thought, as she glanced around for a clock. But it wasn't completely dark; a subtle white glow seemed to be seeping from the walls.

She wasn't sleepy but strangely energized, as if she'd already had a full night's rest. But she couldn't understand why her body seemed to have a delayed reaction to her mind's commands.

Did I take any medication last night that didn't agree with me, Sarah wondered as she tried to recall just what she had done last night.

The door opened. Sarah blinked as the glow in the walls and ceiling brightened. The light stung her eyes. She sat up and realized she was naked. Blushing in frustration, she hurriedly wrapped herself in the bed sheet.

"Good. You are finally awake," said the person who had entered, a woman in a white lab coat.

"I..." Sarah's voice sounded strange to her ears. "What... what happened?"

The woman smiled with mild sympathy. "You have been through quite a lot." She handed Sarah something that looked like a plain white jumpsuit. "Put this on, and I'll take you for a walk around the facility."

Although the garment was a simple one that she just slipped on, Sarah felt awkward, as if she hadn't dressed herself for some time.

Have I been in a coma? She wanted to ask the woman that question as she followed her out into the hallway, but the words evaporated on her tongue.

"My name is Amanda," the woman said, pointing to her badge, which read, "Amanda Cohen, MD." "You will be staying here for awhile until you can adjust. I'll be observing you."

"Observing me?" Sarah swallowed. "So this is a hospital?"

"In a way it is."

The walls of the hallway glowed with the same subtle light as her room. Dr. Cohen led her into an exercise room filled with lights and running machines. "We will work in here together a little each day," Dr. Cohen said. "You must rebuild your strength."

They moved on through the facility. There were still more of those glowing white walls lined with pastoral pictures. Sarah and Dr. Cohen entered a large atrium filled with flowers, shrubs and trees. Roses, daisies, lupine, morning glories... Sarah struggled to name the countless flowers and drew a blank on the rest. Along one wall stretched an enormous aquarium filled with tropical fish of varying sizes, shades and designs. The sudden brilliant colors of this place made her eyes water. She blinked hard to focus.

The atrium itself was shaped like a pyramid, its slanting walls stretching up to dizzying heights. Light seeped in from a skylight covering the tiny, distant ceiling. That was the first natural light that Sarah had seen since she had awakened. Why didn't this place have any windows? The tinkling sound of a small brook bubbled somewhere amongst the greenery.

"Feel free to come in here whenever you feel the need," said Dr. Cohen. "But for now, come with me. It is time for you to eat."

Eat? Now that she thought about it, Sarah realized that she was hungry. How long had she been in the coma?

As they passed the aquarium, a sudden thought jolted her. I promised to take Jill whale watching this weekend.

This weekend? Jill? The image of a cute, dark-haired child with a missing front tooth flashed through her mind.

"Jill! My baby!" The words flew from her mouth before she could stop them. "I- I promised I'd cut down on the extra hours I was putting in at work, that I'd spend more time with her. And Roger..."

Roger! She could almost see him standing before her, a tall ruddy-faced man with a boyish smile. How he used to putter around the house and the garage whistling "You Are My Sunshine." Sarah smiled as she thought about her husband. He was never one to sit still and read or watch television. He always had to be working on a project, whether it was the car, laying bricks, building a bookcase or painting a room. To him, the house that they had lived in for nearly the ten years of their marriage was his masterpiece... one that he would never finish.

"My family. How long. . . ? I think Roger and I had a fight." The words came out in a blur of tears and emotions. "I had been working late, and the house was a mess. I was cranky, and Jill didn't want to do her homework and I... Are they all right?"

Dr. Cohen smiled and patted her shoulder. "They are fine. Don't worry about them. For now you need to focus on yourself. Come. You will feel much better after you've eaten something."

Sarah was led into what appeared to be a kitchen. There were other people in white lab coats sitting at small metallic tables and chatting. They all looked up and grew instantly silent as Sarah and Dr. Cohen entered the room.

"Our subject has finally awakened," Dr. Cohen said, showing Sarah to an empty table. "It is now time for her to eat."

Sarah could almost feel their eyes burrowing into her, staring at her almost in shock, as if she had just sprouted tentacles and an extra head.

"Is there anything you'd like to eat?" asked Dr. Cohen.

Sarah's mind fumbled over possible choices. She was craving a pizza but remembered that she was struggling to keep her weight down and fought back that desire. Besides, she didn't think that a hospital would serve pizza.

But then Dr. Cohen did say anything, didn't she?

She finally decided on a broiled breast of chicken with vegetables and a salad with lemon herb tea to drink. She looked around as Dr. Cohen walked over to what appeared to be a wall panel with blinking lights. She pushed a few buttons. After several seconds, the panel drew back, revealing a steaming hot meal and a cup of tea... just what Sarah had ordered.

What kind of hospital was this?

The food tasted real enough, although chewing at first was difficult. Sarah bit her tongue a number of times before her full enjoyment of the meal could set in. Still, her acute awareness of all the staring eyes made her uncomfortable. Why were these people, who were apparently part of the medical staff at this hospital, so fascinated with her? Hadn't they ever seen a patient like her before? And where were all the other patients?

It was difficult to tell day from night in this windowless hospital with the eerie, glowing walls. Sarah was aware of the passing of the day by her mealtimes and the exercise routines Dr. Cohen gave her. Her free time, which she had much of, was spent in the atrium. After many hours she would grow tired.

Sarah was disturbed by the fact that Roger and Jill never came to visit. Didn't they miss her? She wavered between anger and depression. And why hadn't she been released yet? There seemed to be nothing wrong with her body. Dr. Cohen checked her over regularly and claimed that she was in perfect health, even "better than before," whatever that meant.

During her time in the atrium, Sarah struggled to piece together her memories. Fragments came to her: packing a suitcase, driving someplace, a truck barreling toward her, but they quickly evaporated.

I can't stay here forever! I must get away. If Dr. Cohen won't release me, I'll release myself. I must return to Roger and Jill and let them know that I'm all right. There has to be a way out of this place.

She hadn't seen any doors but the only rooms she knew of were the place that she slept, the adjoining bathroom, the exercise room, the atrium and the kitchen. There was a large panel opposite the food processor where the staff seemed to enter and exit. She would wait until she was feeling slightly tired — an indicator that it was probably night in the outside world — and slip through there, see where it led.

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