My head lolled backwards and I was looking up into the night. I could see the sky through the branches of the leafless trees. The moon had risen, high and bright and as I tried to follow it with my eyes I realized that someone was holding me. He had me clutched against his chest and we were running fast, so very fast!
The world kept drifting in and out of focus while pulses of pain wracked my body. I tried to keep as still as possible and silently prayed that it would help but my head wasn’t the only thing that hurt. My whole body ached and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Something horrible had happened but I was so weak and confused that no matter how frantically I tried I couldn’t seem to remember what it was.
“Can you put your arms around my neck?” His voice was deep, anxious and as he said it, it echoed in my thoughts and I felt as though I had heard it twice – once out loud then again deep inside my head.
Some of the haziness was swept from my mind and suddenly I was aware of everything that was taking place. I knew I couldn’t do as he asked but 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 around my waist loosen. He shifted me onto his back then snapped a branch off of a decaying tree as we raced by.
He turned suddenly to face the opposite direction and for a fleeting moment 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.
It never came, though, 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 to be sure of what I was seeing and the will to hold on was leaving me. The strength I felt just a moment before gave way. 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 urgently called my name.
For a moment I thought I recognized him but the flicker of memory vanished before I could make any sense of it. 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. My heart wrenched when I thought of them and I began shaking with grief.
“Ssh, try not to think about them now,” the man was back and tenderly scooping me into his arms. He began running again though not with the fierce intensity he had used before I blacked out.
“Please,” I muttered and clutched at the lapel of his coat.
Somehow he knew I was asking him to stop and when he put me down I doubled over. He squatted down beside me and gathered all my hair away from my face. A moment later I began to retch into the snow at his feet. Through the darkness I could see that most of what had come up was blood, my blood, blood from all the aches inside me.
“Oh, God!” he cried out when he saw it.
It terrified me and I helplessly tried to look up at him but he tightened his grip on my hair and prevented me from turning my head.
He whispered an utterly anguished, “Please don’t. I don’t want you to see me like this. Just give me a minute.”
I wondered what he meant but the retching had made my pain exponential and before I had a chance to ask I felt myself slipping from his grip as I slumped down into the snow. 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 and kissed my forehead.
He eased me to sitting then carefully lifted me up before he began walking again. The strange feeling faded with every step and I began to feel somewhat stronger. The pain, though piercing at times, didn’t seem quite so unbearable anymore. I wanted to say something but I wasn’t sure what. My mind kept 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 where it was impossible to recall.
Without warning he put me down again and whatever was left in my belly went spattering onto the snow. The pain was back with an agonizing ferocity. 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 involuntarily moaned at the sudden release.
Slowly I fluttered 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 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 like you’ll be sick again just let me know and I will stop.” He looked down at me, “Can you walk?”
I nodded. I was still very disoriented but all the pain that I had been feeling was slipping away and dwindling into insignificance. He slipped his hand in mine and I clutched at it trustingly as he began leading us away.
“What happened?” I wondered. Without realizing it I tried to remember where I was and why I was there. There were a number of images flashing in my mind but they were shadowy and impossible 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.
He looked down at me and I couldn’t help thinking how sad and conquered he looked, “Are you tired?” he asked.
That was the last thing I remembered until hours later when I woke. It took a moment but gradually I became aware that we were 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.He didn’t seem to notice that I was awake as I studied him from where I sat and I couldn’t decide 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 squinting 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 caught in my chest and 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.”
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