Sentient is a story about a young woman whose ability to communicate with animals leads her on a journey to take down a food Industry that is destroying the country. Taking place in the dystopian future of 2044, Sentient delves into the lives of several unique characters, both human and animal.
Awake. At least, so it seemed. She wasn't really sure anymore. Bray Hoffman adjusted her eyes at the white ceiling. She felt claustrophobic. Shit. She was still here. She was indeed awake.
Taking a breath, she felt heaviness against her chest. A white sheet, its fabric like sandpaper against her skin, imposed on her body. She pushed it down to meet her waist. She felt hot and tired. Feeling sweat beads line her forehead, she wiped them away with the back of her hand. She must've had a nightmare. Why couldn't she remember it? An empty plastic cup called to her from the tray table to her left, and she remembered:
"Fucking medication," she whispered.
"Did I hear someone say medication?" A nurse entered the room.
The nurse's voice muffled behind a surgical mask that covered her mouth and nose. Her white uniform provided near camouflage against the white-washed walls behind her. She stood over Bray with long, black hair that grayed as it neared the top of her head.
Bray sat up in bed, leaning her forearms against the mattress. She heard the voices of some other teenagers in the hallway. They were arguing. One had apparently stolen the other's brush. Bray wished there was a window to escape out of right about now. Well always, really. The hospital had remodeled their psych unit with an absence of windows, to reduce the risk of jumpers. She remembered when they had windows.
"Here," the nurse said, bringing her back into the present, "I need to see you take them."
"I know!" Bray snapped at her.
"And don't forget to put your mask on if you're going to stay awake."
"Why on earth do we have to keep wearing these?" Bray asked as she picked up a similar mask to the one the nurse had wrapped around her face.
"You know why...so you don't get sick. It's the law."
"It's the law," Bray mocked. "I don't think the law matters in this case. I'm already locked away. What are they gonna' do if I don't wear it? Wrap me up in a strait jacket?"
"Very funny," the nurse said, grinning. "Now c'mon. Take your meds."
She picked up the clear plastic cup. She was tired of taking medications. She hated the way they made her feel. The way it felt when the pills traveled down her throat and into her system, the way they took her away from her feelings and limited her abilities.
"I feel like these pills are slowly killing me," Bray admitted.
"Don't be dramatic. You're only seventeen."
"I'm serious. No one takes me seriously around here. Like last night. Remember, I told you that girl was out to get me. She showed me a piece of glass and said she was going to cut me with it."
"And how do you suppose she got the piece of glass?"
"Probably smuggled it in, I don't know."
"Bray." The nurse was losing her patience. "You know everyone gets a body scan before they come in here. Now if you're really feeling threatened, you know you can-"
"Talk to the doctor, blah, blah, blah," Bray interrupted.
"And I feel like you're just stalling, so take your meds!"
"I'm not!" Bray remembered the image of that tall, white girl who stood above her bed while she was sleeping last night."You know I'm not like all these other kids here. They're all violent and crazy and-"
"You're not crazy," the nurse chimed in. "Nonetheless, you need to let me do my job and you need to take your meds."
Bray paused and glared at the nurse.
"Take your meds!" The nurse raised her voice, startling Bray.
"Okay," she gave in.
Lifting up the cup to her face, she stopped just before tossing the pills into her mouth. She remembered back to the age of 12. She almost gagged the first time she had to take them.
"Is something wrong?" The nurse asked.
"No," Bray responded, wondering how she could she get away with it. Could she toss them in and then push them over to the side of her mouth? No, the nurse would check for that. She knew what she needed to do. She was tired of feeling nothing. She was really just tired of being here. And now she felt unsafe, like that girl might attack her tonight. If she skipped her medications, she could more readily think up a plan.
Swallowing the pills, she opened her mouth to the nurse and displayed the emptiness inside.
"Very good!" The nurse pulled away and turned toward the door.
"What time is it?" Bray asked.
"Uhh…" The nurse observed the digital object wrapped around her wrist. "7:17."
"Yep." The nurse turned back to face her.
"So I slept all day?"
Damn it, I have to get this shit out of my system.
Bray watched the nurse leave the room. She pulled herself from the bed, dropped her feet against the cold tile floor, and quickly stepped into the bathroom.
Shutting the door, she turned toward the toilet. No time to waste. She pulled her hair back away from her face and stepped up to the toilet bowl. Bending over, she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She pushed her two left fingers into her mouth. She felt her heart race. She was scared, but she did it anyway.
Her fingers pressing as far back into her throat as they could go, she felt it. Her stomach pulled. She gagged. The liquids lifted from within, against gravity, and raced upward until they pushed through her throat. The hot wetness hit her fingers before she could move her hand away, and then fell out and into the toilet.
She spit out the remaining pieces of foodstuff and bile. She glanced at the contents of the bowl, piecing through the undigested breakfast, and then she saw them. She counted one...two...three pills. It had worked.
After washing her hands, she journeyed out into the hall. The yellow walls stunk of chlorine. Why were they so fucking paranoid about disease?
Why were they so fucking paranoid about disease?
Then, Bray saw her. Roxie, the girl that threatened her last night, was sitting in a chair down the hall with her legs folded. She was staring up at the ceiling. Her hair was tied back with a string from the craft room. Suddenly, the girl turned in Bray's direction. Bray's heart quickened and she tried diverting her attention away.
"Hey voice girl!" Roxie screamed down the hall.
Everyone called Bray "voice girl", she guessed because she was presumed to hallucinate, which made no sense to her since everyone seemed to be here for the same reason.
Roxie stood up and walked toward Bray, twisting her arms through the air like snakes shifting through grass.
"I'm talkin' to you, girl." Roxie slithered.
Bray turned to face the nurse's station. She started to walk toward one of the nurses when she felt a slight yank. Roxie had grabbed her hair. Bray stopped and stood, trying not to provoke her. She felt her hair tighten in Roxie's grip as Roxie pulled her into an empty room and pushed her up against a wall. Roxie stepped close and breathed into Bray's left ear. She held a jaded piece of glass near Bray's eye.
"You best keep your eyes open tonight if you want to live. Got it?"
Bray nodded her head. Her heart raced. A tear gathered in her eye.
Roxie let go of Bray's hair and stepped past her, sliding down the hall and laughing.
Bray took a deep breath and pretended everything was okay. She stepped up to the front desk.
"What's up, Bray?" One of the workers asked her.
"I need to use the phone."
"Who you callin'?"
"Harlem," she grinned.
The nurse entered the hallway from an open office to the right of the desk.
"She wants to call Harlem," the desk worker spoke to the nurse.
"Oh," the nurse responded. "That's fine," and led Bray down the hall to a narrow, empty room.
Bray walked in and sat on a wooden stool beside a lone end table. The walls inside the room were empty. One of the teens had told her that the framed art that once hung on the walls was taken down and used as weapons.
"You've got five minutes," the nurse stated and then walked away.
Bray watched the nurse leave the room. The open passageway into the hall stood without a door. They didn't want teens having secret conversations on the phone, so the door was removed from its hinges. She yearned for privacy.
She picked up the phone and dialed Harlem’s number. Her heart pulsed. "Please answer," she whispered.
"Hello?" His voice felt warm.
"Hey." She smiled. She missed him.
"Hey, how's it hangin' in there?"
"Oh my God." She shook her head. "I can't do this anymore."
"Do what?" he asked.
"C'mon, you know what I'm talking about. We've only got like five minutes to talk."
"Okay." He paused. "What's up?"
"I need out."
"You help me," she demanded.
"What?" His voice lifted. "Bray, how the hell am I supposed to do that? I'm not your parent."
"No, thank God! And you know they're not going to do anything, since they're the ones that put me here."
"I know." His tone fell downhill. "But there's not really much I can do."
"You can get me out."
"I don't know. It's not like I have this all figured out. Just come for a visit, and then we'll just go."
"Bray, you're living in a fantasy world."
"Maybe I am." She paused. "But it's worth a shot. Please, Harlem. I'm serious. This place is gonna be the end of me."
"What makes you say that?"
"Roxie is threatening me again. I tried telling them, but they don't give a shit. They think I'm just crazy like everyone else, but I'm telling you, Harlem. She just walked up to me in the hall and told me I better keep my eyes open tonight if I want to live," Bray cried. "I don't even feel safe here anymore."
"Jesus," Harlem gasped, "I'm sorry, Bray."
"Please, Harlem, please get me outta' here."
Beep...Beep...Beep...Bray feared that sound.
"Your time is up...Your time is up..." a female, automated voice repeated. Connection was lost.
"Fuck!" Bray slammed the phone down onto the table. Stepping backwards in frustration until her back hit the wall, Bray covered her face with her hands and broke down.