Flash Fiction: Diagnosis (672 words)

It had been light when Jennika fell asleep, and it was dark when she woke up. It didn’t seem like enough time had passed, but her mouth was sticky from deep sleep, and her chest and arms were over-warm, like she’d been knocked out of it before her body was ready to come back up for consciousness. She blinked, and swallowed, and took a deep breath. Then she pulled herself up straight.

“Whoa,” Kynbessne said, sitting beside her in the cart bed. She put her hand on Jennika’s shoulder and the cart lurched at just the right moment to turn the gentle nudge to an insistent push back down to the blankets.

Jennika fell back on one elbow, but took another quick breath, trying to wake up. It hurt. Her throat was rough, and her head felt thick.

“There’s no rush,” Kynbessne told her. She squeezed Jennika’s shoulder. “You still have an hour before we arrive.”

Jennike blinked at her. It was a long trip between cities, but they should have passed through the gates very shortly after nightfall today. They’d made fairly good time leaving camp that morning.

“We hit a snag in the road,” Kynbessne explained. “We had to clear a fallen tree out of the way.”

Jennika stared at her. “I slept through someone chopping up a tree?”

Kynbessne blinked, then smiled. “It didn’t take too long. It was a thin tree.” She nodded over her shoulder to the driver. “Deppers just cut it into two pieces and they were small enough to roll out of the way.”

Jennika would have liked for her smile to have cleared some the tightness that was wrapping around her chest, but it didn’t. She had fallen asleep, for hours, and hadn’t woken to noise. She wasn’t sure why she had woken. She wasn’t sure when she had fallen asleep.

Jennika brushed her hand off her shoulder and sat up more carefully. Pulling her shoulders back, she stretched her chest open as far as it would go, trying to get the right amount of air into her lungs. The air had a texture as it went down her throat, and that alone was wrong. Air was supposed to be smoother than water, but today it felt like grind-paper.

And she had fallen asleep without meaning to. She had accidentally turned unconscious, unaware.

“Are you all right?” Kynbessne asked.

Jennika paused as soon as her slow thoughts registered the question. She wasn’t really, but the fact that Kynbessne had asked, that she was there to ask…

Jennika took an easier breath, remembering that she wasn’t alone anymore. She could afford a little more unconsciousness. She didn’t need to wake herself up to a panic. If something had been wrong, Kynbessne would have been shaking her out of the blankets, not firmly pressing her back into them.

“I… think so,” Jennika said.

Kynbessne’s eyes narrowed, just a little. “You sound like you swallowed a squirrel.”

“I feel like I swallowed a squirrel,” Jennika murmured. She leaned her shoulder against the cart wall. Her eyes were falling shut again. “And the tail went straight to my head, filled it all up with fluff.”

“Well, at least it’s not empty for once,” Kynbessne murmured.

It took a very long time for Jennika to realize she’d been insulted. She lifted her head as soon as she matched the words together, eyebrows snapped together, still unsure that she’d heard it right. “What?”

Kynbessne’s laugh was absolutely silent, but it shook her shoulders hard. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I just needed to know how sick you were.” She nodded to the cart bed. “You definitely need to sleep.”

Jennika grabbed the blankets and wrapped them tight around her shoulders. She laid down and snugged into the wooden bed as if it were feather deep. “Give me a minute,” she muttered. “I’ll think of a comeback.”

“Of course, you will,” Kynbessne said.

“You know what?” Jennika said. She had her eyes shut, her hands knotted around the blanket corners, tight under her chin. “Just be insulted.”

Kynbessne laughed again, barely audible, but it was enough to know she was still there.

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