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Posted:|| April 3, 2014 Views: 958|
Chapter 1 of the book The Trining
Amnesiac awakens on the shore of a crimson sea
"AWAKENED TO SLEEP"
by Jay Squires
I opened an eye to the grass-tufted, sandy terrain slanting down to the glare of a scarlet sea. My other eye was scrunched against the ground. I ached and felt incredibly weak. Where am I? How did I get here? I tried to assess things. My shoes were wet, my trousers damp and I was shirtless. I had another thought, but my mind didn't want to experience it. Where did I come from? I felt suddenly adrift, alone. My heart raced at the thought of it.
My focus gathered on something else, something immediate: a soft pressure on my back prevented easy movement. It was fairly evenly spread from my shoulders to below my hips. I closed my good eye in concentration, straining to hear or feel the movement of breathing against my back. Nothing. As weak as I was, I felt I had a good chance, given the element of surprise, to overpower whatever it was by suddenly pushing up with a twist to the side. I'd give it a while, though. Get my bearings.
I watched a breeze raise occasional little puffs, as wispy as smoke, from the sandy surface. It was carried aloft for awhile then fell like mist back to the surface. My mind struggled with the image. I'd never seen nor heard anything like it before. Obviously, the deep redness of the sea was an illusion, some kind of refraction of the sun's rays, bouncing off algae.
On the sand next to my face, I saw movement: a creature the size of a thumb-knuckle, wobbled up on his two-jointed back legs, made a gurgling sound and extended a foreleg toward my nose. All better judgment vanished; howling, I pushed up violently from the sand. A sudden, excruciating pain attacked my right ribcage, but my terror awakened a power in me that muted the pain. Scrambling to my knees, I arched my back, uncoiling unrealized strength in my thighs and hips and launched whatever hugged to my back over my head and shoulders and into a white fabric heap four or five feet away.
Not taking my eyes off it, I stood unsteadily, covering my now throbbing ribs with my left hand. From the midst of the mound of white fabric, I thought I heard a whimper, but higher pitched, more like a whinnying. I watched the mound curiously, but alert for any untoward lurching up from underneath.
"Listen, whoever you are under there, I don't know what your game is, but don't do anything stupid." I kept my eyes trained on the white pile until I experienced a puzzling vibration in the soil under my feet and before I could respond, felt a flurry of light blows to my back and just as I spun around I thought I saw the white fabric sucked into the sand.
My fist balled, I began a roundhouse swing and even before I saw the blurred image of my aggressor, I connected squarely on the jaw of a stunned and beautiful girl-child who was neither human nor beast. The physical act of delivering the punch caused me to yowl in pain and reach for the newly reopened wound on my ribcage. I put my hand over it and blood oozed through my fingers. My knees weakened, almost buckled. Kneeling down beside her and with the palm of my free arm flattened on the ground, I steadied myself. I tried to shake the dizziness from my head. I couldn't allow myself to lose consciousness. Think! Think! I had to keep my mind active. What gave me the injury? How can I have such an injury and not remember getting it? Unless ...
I grimaced down at the almost-human-like thing. Unless she ambushed me, injured me so badly that the pain of it blotted out all memory of when I got to this strange place—how I got here. My first memory was opening my eyes, a few minutes ago and seeing the red sea.
This thing that I had flattened—she wouldn't be the only one here. She was young. There had to be mother and father somewhere. Or a husband. She could be married. Someone—I glanced at her—or something, would be out looking for her. I swept my gaze across the sand dunes that swelled, then dipped then rose again away from us toward the horizon off to my left. I looked back in the other direction toward the blood-red sea, and then down at whatever lay in front of me.
Whatever she was, she was unconscious, flat on her back, the lids of her enormous eyes (I guessed to be at least twice the size of the normal human eye), were three-quarters closed with gold irises that ricocheted like marbles in a pinball machine. Her white gown, amazingly unsullied for all it had been through, draped her body while one corner of it was still buried in the sand from which she and it had moments earlier apparently emerged.
I couldn't imagine a bald female could be attractive, but she was. The crown of her head was large and well formed with no discernible indentations or bumps. She had a broad forehead, seemingly the broader for having no eyebrows. Beneath the thin bridge of her nose, her nostrils flared, and that bizarre whimpering, whinnying sound I'd heard earlier came again from her parted, full cerulean lips.
Judging from her frame and the freshness of her features, I estimated her to be no more than seventeen years old. So… I co-cocked a child with a right hook! I studied the arms and legs that protruded from the fortuitously arrayed covering. Her limbs, while neither skinny nor fat, seemed to betray a natural musculature. It was no wonder I had tossed her off me so easily and her subsequent blows on my back were as gentle as rain.
I had little to fear of this child-creature. I knelt down and took a closer look at her facial features. Beneath her at-half-mast eyelids, her irises were slowing now from the original frantic bouncing and bobbing of earlier. She was taking in air through her flared nostrils and releasing it with now more muted whimpering.
While I watched this child, her eyes shot fully open. She gasped and, as I pulled away from her, she dug her heels into the sand and, pushing off with legs and arms, began scrabbling backwards like a crab, dragging the garment with her and all the while never taking her huge eyes off me. After about ten yards she seemed to get tangled in her cloth, her arms gave way and she fell to her back. Instantly she rolled over and got to her feet with difficulty, drawing the garment around her. With a horrified look, she turned and began to run, but after only twenty yards or so she stopped and bent over panting and gasping for air.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I shouted, pressing harder on my wound. “Don’t be frightened.”
She slowly straightened up and turned to face me. I thought for a moment that she was considering my attempt at pacifying her. She stared at me. Then she suddenly spewed out what must have been a vicious invective with a torrent of words I'd never heard of, but whose intent I had no trouble imagining. "Pondria! Monster! Go back—leave my people alone!"
Go back! I stared at her, open-mouthed. "I'd love to go back. If you'd just—" I took a breath, feeling my consciousness trying to slip away from me. —"just point me in the right direction …." Surely she could see I was not a threat to her … or anyone, for that matter!
But, she was a threat to me! Gathering her garment around her, clutching it with one hand at the throat, I knew at that moment, that she zealously accepted the transfer of power. She lowered her large, well-shaped head, and, like a battering ram, aimed it at my midsection as her legs churned through the sand toward me.
Her head didn't have a chance to find her target, though. Taking in a deep, readying breath, I made an awkward, staggering attempt at planting my feet just before I felt them, and then my consciousness, floating away from me.
The pungency of burning wood opened my eyes. I tried to raise my head, but couldn't. Simply turning it to the side failed. I was incredibly weak. My last memory was of a hard, white head hurtling toward me. When was that? It could have been minutes, hours, days ago. Since then, I had a sense of drifting in and out of awareness. At one point I seemed to be conscious of movement—my hips and my heels scraping against the ground. She had to have dragged me somewhere. My eyes were so heavy. Need … to keep … them open. Need to … but, I couldn't. I drifted back from awareness where it was easier.
My head was raising. There was pressure at the back of it. "Eat," I heard. I opened my mouth, but felt it sag to the side. Something warm was now on my tongue. I moved it to where my teeth were and chewed. It was tangy. Something else on my tongue. Salty. I chewed, enjoying the crunchiness that spread juice throughout my mouth. "Sleep now," the voice demanded and my head was lowered back to the ground.
How much later it now was, I had no idea, but, opening my eyes was no longer an impossible task. Moving the head or the rest of the body would be harder, I sensed, but not impossible. Five feet overhead, a rock surface curved like a dome. Was this a cave? I smelled salt in the air. Distantly, I heard waves. Closer to me, I heard the friendly snapping and crackling of a fire, felt its warmth on that side of me. With some difficulty I turned my head toward it. Blinking away the glare, I saw, not entirely distinct from the shadows flickering on the wall, the one who would have wholeheartedly dismembered me at some indeterminate time ago. The expression on her face didn't suggest any deviation from that plan, now. She gnawed something she held tightly in her palm, but never took her unblinking amber eyes off mine. I had so many questions to ask her, but, not sure I could move my head, I was in no position to arouse her ire.
I seemed to be mending, though. There was no scorching pain in my side. I felt for a bandage. Not only was there none … there was no trace of the wound either, or a scab. I ran my fingers over it. There wasn't even a ridge of a scar. Had I been out of it that long? I was still weak, but being on my back for an extended period would account for that. Maybe with a little more recuperation I'd be able to remember how I got here. How much of the strangeness of this place—not the least of which was my captor/nurse—was pure hallucination brought on by fever and infection from my injury. Was my wound also a hallucination? She had been so easy to overpower earlier. A few more days rest and I'd be able to easily defend myself. In fact, I'd be able to demand answers of her.
I brought my head back to the front and closed my eyes.
The heat from the fire woke me. I was amazed how easy it was to move my head and arms. Testing my limits I tried sitting up. My back and joints were stiff, but I managed it. I made a quarter turn to face her.
She stiffened, making a guttural sound like an animal and, in a flash, retrieved a long, gnarled spear she had apparently been hewing to a sharp point during all the long hours and days it took me to regain enough strength to attack her. Why hadn't she saved herself the trouble in the first place and simply let me die? She held the point just out of my reach, but trained on—and within a sudden lunge of—my bare chest. Her eyes never left me.
"You are recovered," she announced, but as her mouth shaped the delivery of the words I noticed that her words came just a fraction of an instant later than the movement of her lips. The effect was as jarring as watching a movie in which the audio was out of sync with the actor's mouth. And, there was something else. It was like she wasn't comfortable with the words she spoke, like she was translating each word as she uttered it.
She continued, throughout, to glare at me.
"Why am I recovered?" I asked. "Why'd you let me? Are you trying to fatten me up before you eat me?"
She cocked her head.
I lay back. "What's the matter? Cat's got your tongue?" My words definitely disturbed her. Gingerly, I rolled over to my side, facing her. "You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?"
She smiled a very brief smile. "The tables say you will come among my people speaking words of our language but in a way we don't understand." Again, she was speaking in that puzzling, out-of-sync way. "Why would I eat you? And, the cat … why would a cat get my tongue? You are trying to confound me."
Clearly, my words, or how I used them, were troubling to her. And, now I knew why they troubled her. But, to improve my chance at surviving there were still many questions I needed the answers to. One thing I knew for sure: her imagination had endowed me with superhuman powers, powers to confound her people. To her, I was probably a superhuman, evil entity and it was her responsibility to destroy me. Why was it her sole responsibility? Where were her people? She'd been away from them for days, perhaps a week or more, yet no one had come to see if she was alright. Of course, I had been unconscious for most of that time. So, a lot could have happened that I wasn't aware of. For the time being, though, I had to be very circumspect in trying to get the answers I needed. It was too soon to test my strength or stamina against the sharp tip of a spear, however makeshift. I had to proceed cautiously.
"It's called slang," I ventured. "I'm not trying to confound you. It's just the way we talk."
"Why?" she asked, and I saw it was out of curiosity, not frustration. "I see your cat, but I don't see him getting a tongue. What will he do with a tongue?"
It was my turn to be frustrated, but I had to remember she was carrying the spear. There was something about the way she said: "I see your cat." She didn't mean: "I understand about the cat." I was sure of that. What she probably meant—and quite literally—was "I have the picture in my mind of a cat." I was confident that was a slip-up on her part.
"You say this person is going to come into your village, or town, or city and mix in with—"
"Mix in …" she repeated, and shook her head.
"You know, move among your people speaking the same language you speak—but… but …" and, I purposely trailed off.
"Yes! Yes, but in a way we don't understand."
I would test my idea. "So, he carrots English, like you. What could he radish that you wouldn't understand?" With each vagrant word I inserted, I concentrated on visualizing the vegetable. If I was right she would get the drift of the sentence contextually.
"What is this Eng-Glish?" she asked, after a glance at the ceiling.
I feigned a smile of condescension "Why, it's what you and I have been …" Here, I took on the body language of one who was searching for the right word, while I concentrated on the image I had substituted.
"We have been carroting this Eng-Glish?"
I smiled and nodded the affirmative, but energetically thought—"No!"
She scowled. This carroting … it is slang, isn't it? Kalushe! It's like the cat that gets my tongue." She grasped the spear, which she had been comfortable enough to leave resting in her lap for a while. She tightened her grip on it now. "Kalushe! You are confounding me. The Table said you would confound my people." She jabbed the spear at me, keeping it barely out of my reach. "Down!"
I deferred to the wisdom of her spear and rolled to my back.
Staring up at the ceiling, I wondered just what I had gained with my little charade. What I was sure of was that English was not her language. Furthermore, had my language been German, or French, that would be what she would have communicated with me in. If I were correct on both I'd have to conclude that she had the amazing ability to sponge up not only my words but also my thoughts, and somehow convert them to her own language symbols to understand them, then translate them back into English. That might explain her frustration over my use of slang. It slowed down or stopped the process of finding the corresponding symbol in her language. Even in the best of circumstances there was a definite lag time which accounted for the strange lack of synchronization between the spoken word and the lips that spoke them.
Moving my eyes more than my head, I was able to see her, sitting cross-legged on the other side of the fire. Her eyes were now closed, but her hand still gripped the spear lying across her lap and her body seemed poised in readiness. Bringing my gaze back to the ceiling, I listened to the sea drawing in like a deep breath over and around the unseen rocks below. And then like an exhale or a long sigh it withdrew. I found myself listening intently.
The sea, on some emotional level, was trying to tell me something. Why was I suddenly feeling a deep affinity with the sea? When I first woke on the sand of this strange place, my trousers and my shoes were wet … so, I evidently had come from the sea. I was a good distance away from the surf, though. Had I fallen off a ship, somehow washed up to the shore and then stumbled or crawled as far from the water as I could before I passed out? That was the only thing that made any sense. It puzzled me that I had no shirt on when I woke.
"You can put it on now," she said, startling me.
Something landed in a soft heap beside me. I held up a gray polyester shirt, wrinkled, salt-stained, but wearable.
One more question to put with the others. Tomorrow I could begin again looking for answers.
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