We were outside and he was running; so fast, so very fast. As he held me against his chest I could see the sky through the branches of the leafless trees. My head was cocked backwards so that I was looking up into the night. The moon was very bright. At times it seemed to be darting behind the clouds and casting us in and out of shadows as we raced through the woods.
There was a great deal of pain everywhere in my body. I felt weak and confused and I tried frantically to focus my thoughts. I was vaguely aware that we were in a forest and it was winter. It was cold and I could hear the snow crunching beneath his feet as he ran. He was leaping over fallen trees and dead limbs but I couldn't feel myself being jostled about. His gait seemed effortless and I could almost sense that he was making a thousand tiny adjustments as he carried me and every one of them was intended to keep me from additional pain.
"Can you put your arms around my neck?" His voice was deep, anxious and as he said it, it echoed in my mind and I felt as though I were hearing it twice - once out loud and again deep inside my head.
It felt like a layer of haze was peeled away from my mind and I was suddenly aware of what was happening. I knew I couldn't do as he asked, yet somehow my body obeyed the compulsion to raise my arms and I clasped my hands behind his neck. As we passed a fallen tree and my fingers intertwined I felt his grip about my waist loosen. There was an effortless rhythm to his motions as he shifted me onto his back and broke a branch off of a decaying tree as we raced by.
He turned suddenly to face the opposite direction and for the most fleeting of moments I caught a glimpse of something or was it someone crashing through the forest and heading directly for us. Instinctively I buried my face in the back of his neck and braced myself for the impact.
But it never came and when I realized that it wouldn't I looked over his shoulder. There was a man lying in the snow a few feet away from where we stood. Something was protruding from his chest but it was too dark and as I tried to focus to be sure of what I was seeing the will to hold on was leaving me; the strength I felt just a moment before dissipated. I lost my grip and fell to the ground.
He dropped to his knees beside me and bent his face close to mine "Elayna," he called my name.
I studied his features for a moment and a flicker of recognition flashed in my mind but vanished before I could seize its meaning. Then there was nothing.
I felt my lips first. It was as though they were made of ice and had somehow been touched with a flame that was spreading heat across my face, sending a shiver through my scalp and to my neck and down my spine. The heat kept spreading like ripples on a pond and I was acutely aware of it flowing throughout my chest and expanding to my arms and legs.
I opened my eyes but that was all that I could do. My body didn't seem to be working. A fearful idea crept into my mind that I had died or I was dying, there in the forest lying in the snow; away from my mother and father.
I felt like something horrible had happened to them, and although I could not recall for certain I was afraid that they were dead. My heart was wrenching with the apprehension this thought brought and I began shaking with my grief. It hurt beyond bearing, not just with the emotional pain of what I thought I had lost but my body ached in every last fiber.
"Ssh, I'm here, you're safe now. There will be time to think about that later," the man was back and tenderly scooping me into his arms. "Try and be still, you are very badly hurt." He began running again but not with the fierce urgency he had used before I passed out. I didn't know it, but we were backtracking and it seemed that whatever threat was after us no longer existed.
My tears still flowed, but I was determined to control my sobs, determined to be as still as possible in the hope that the pain that was suffocating me would lessen its grip.
"Please," I muttered and clutched at the lapel of his coat.
Somehow he knew I was asking him to stop and he squatted down while placing me in a sitting position on his knee. He gathered my hair away from my face and I began to retch into the snow at his feet. Even through the darkness I could see that most of what had come up was blood. My blood; blood from all the aches inside me and I knew that what he said was true - I was very badly hurt.
Suddenly it seemed he was the one sobbing. I tried to look up at him, but he tightened his grip on my hair and prevented me from turning.
An utterly anguished "No," was whispered in my ear, "it is better that you don't. Just give me a minute." I could feel his forehead pressed to my back and felt him trembling against me. I had the impression that he was fighting to regain his composure and wondered if he was hurt too.
I didn't have time to consider anything else; the retching had made my own pain exponential and I felt myself slipping from his knee as I blacked out. The flame touched my lips again but just before I lost consciousness I saw that it was his fingertip that was pressed against them. That was where the heat seemed to be coming from, but there was something more to it than just a touch. I could taste…I could taste…something; something wonderful and warm and sweet and enlivening. It was heavenly and I smiled through my tears enjoying the sensation as it rippled through me once more.
"Ssh, ssh," he soothed. "Please don't think about it, just forget, you must forget."
I sighed with abandon as he lifted me and our trek through the forest continued. It didn't take long for the feeling to fade and for the memory of what had transpired to slip from my mind. I felt somewhat stronger then and the pain, though piercing at times, didn't seem quite so unbearable. My mind was still wandering from one incoherent thought to the next. I felt like there was something I desperately needed to remember but every time I grasped at it the thought was brushed to a corner of my mind and I couldn't retrieve it.
This time I didn't need to do anything, I was on his knee again and what was left in my belly was spattering onto the snow. The pain was back wracking my body. I could see stars behind my eyes it hurt so badly. I just wanted to let go of it all and to be swept into the darkness, nothing mattered any more except that the pain go away. I completely lost consciousness again.
He touched my lips, just a few drops. After a few moments he realized that I was not coming to and cursed out loud, "Damn it!" Another few drops, he began counting "one, two," a minute passed and still I was lying lifeless in the snow. He tried a third time and after the last few drops trickled between my lips he pulled his finger away and cradled me as he rocked me back and forth sobbing into my hair. "No, no, no…"
I gasped as I came to. For a moment it felt like there was lightning in my veins. The sensation passed as quickly as it came and I moaned at the sudden release.
"I'm so sorry," his words were barely audible, but I heard them as I began to flutter back to my senses. He took my face in his hands and tilted it from side to side studying it. I wasn't sure what he was looking for, but after a moment he began to smile, his grey eyes bright and the corners of his mouth turned up in complete and happy relief. Satisfied with what he had seen he took my wrist and checked my pulse. "Good, good," he said. "Does it hurt?"
I couldn't answer; I was absolutely transfixed by his eyes. "Oh," I felt myself grasping at some shred of a memory but I lost it when he turned away.
"Elayna," there was some urgency in his tone; "does it hurt? We need to keep moving."
He turned back to my gaze and I shook my head in confusion as his question replayed in the back of my mind. "No, I don't know, I feel, I feel fine, I think. I'm cold, just cold."
Without remark he slipped his coat off, eased me to sitting and tucked it around my shoulders, "Hold it tight, here at your chest," he swaddled me in the heavy cloth. "There, better?"
"Yes, thank you."
"We need to go, are you well enough?"
"Ok, if you feel ill again just nudge me and I will stop."
Somehow I knew that I would not be sick any more. Whatever he had done to me seemed to be setting everything within me to rights. The pains great and small were all dwindling to insignificance. Without their distraction I again tried to consider everything that had passed. I attempted to retrace the events leading to that moment. Every time I tried to puzzle it out though, I found that I was unable to focus on any one particular thought. It was as though my memories were being forced into shadowy images that I couldn't seem to make out.
"Where are we going?" It was all I could think to ask.
"I'm not sure; somewhere safe."
"I want to go home; I want my mom and dad."
"I know you do, but it is safer for you to be with me right now."
"Ok," I said trustingly.
Though he looked sad and conquered he smiled at me, "Are you tired?"
I wasn't until he asked, but suddenly I was unable to keep my eyes opened and I was soon fast asleep. When I awoke I found that I needed to brush a few tears aside. I knew I had been dreaming but of what I couldn't seem to recall. I gradually became aware that I was in a car and quite a bit of time had passed. It was still semi-dark, maybe close to dawn and I was very hungry. I was in the passenger's seat, my head tilted in his direction. His face looked stern and I couldn't decide as I my eye wandered over him whether or not I should say something. I was still buried in the folds of his coat and began to wriggle about trying to free myself.
"Here," he reached over to help and his fingertips grazed mine in the process.
"Michael?" I asked.
He paused momentarily and a look of surprise swept across his face. "Yes, Elayna, my name is Michael."
"How did I know that?"
He grinned and shook his head.
"How do you know my name?" I asked curiously. "Is it the same way that I know yours?"
He frowned suspiciously, "how do you mean?"
"I think you can see it, see it inside my head. Can you?"
"Something like that." He had an expression I didn't understand, a cross between anger and worry and disappointment. He slowed the car and pulled over. Then he reached for the dome light and flipped the switch, bathing me in the light. I couldn't help but squint at the sudden brightness as he took my face in both his hands again and studied it once more. He tilted it forwards and back and side to side. Then he looked straight into my eyes.
My breath seemed caught as I was struck again by how familiar he was. I desperately wished I could remember him and was certain that I knew him somehow.
"How do you feel Elayna?"
"I feel," I felt absolutely fine so his question seemed odd as I considered it, "confused."
"How much do you remember?"
"It seems like I can't remember anything. I want to, and I try to, but it feels like something won't let me. I'm very hungry."
He looked away and curled his fist to his lips in contemplation.
"We will stop soon, and I will get you something to eat. I still need to get you somewhere safe, so I need you to promise me to do everything I ask. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Michael, I do."