It was incredible. Bizarre. Insane. No matter what you called it, there was no doubting the strangeness. I never would have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes.
I dont remember quite when. A long time ago. Ten, maybe fifteen years, Id reckon, but it was clear as if it happened last week. I was driving back home from a nearby city, where Id been visiting my parents. The highway was empty, and the farmers pastures were barren from livestock. The sun had long ago set, and visibility was lacking.
The moon was hidden behind thick clouds, foreshadowing of a coming rain. It was a good thing Id had my highbeams fixed the week before; otherwise I might never have seen her. All I saw at first was a flash of white that stood out from the endless waves of prairie grass. It took me a moment to realize that Id just passed a person, and I hit the brakes, making a U-turn on the abandoned highway.
She didnt move when I got out of the car, nor did she reply when I called out, Hey, need a ride?
I approached her silently. Her tall, lean body was silhouetted against the pastures in the glow from my vans headlights. She stared at me unblinkingly, a soft breeze blowing her black dress around her bare ankles.
Hey, I said again. You hitchhiking?
Her lips moved slowly, struggling to form words. I wondered if she was drunk.
Hitchhiking? she said, a note of confusion in her quiet voice. The words were slightly accented, but I could not distinguish it. What is hitchhiking?
I frowned. Now it was my turn to be confused. Never mind. You need a lift?
The serene expression did not change, and she stared at me silently. Not knowing what else to do, I reached out and took her wrist. Come on, I said.
She followed obediently, her bare feet making no noise on the dusty asphalt. I led her back to the van and opened the passenger-side door. She turned to me, a questioning expression now decorating her gentle features. Hop in, I said. She did so with difficulty, as if shed never climbed into a car before.
I shut the door and went round to the drivers side. Shutting the door behind me, I turned to her conversationally. So, whats your name?
I do not know, she said slowly, measuring the words carefully. I cannot remember. Until I remember, I shall be Antariel. That damned accent again. It was confusing me. It sounded vaguely English, yet it could have been even Russian.
Antariel? I asked, starting up the engine. What kind of a name is that?
She looked at me oddly. It means lost. You did not know that? Do you, then, not speak Khiven? Or have you forgotten that word?
Uh, no, Ive never heard of Khiven. Sorry. Well, Im Matt Sarrows. Nice to meet you Antariel. I stuck out my free hand to shake.
She took my wrist in her left hand, and gently clasped my fingers in her right. Her fingers were freezing cold. Lifting my hand, she studied it reflectively, then drew it to her mouth and gently clamped her teeth down on my hand.
Hey! I cried, startled. Her teeth were extremely sharp, and although they did not pierce the skin, it still hurt. Whatre you doing?
She dropped my hand and tilted her head, her brows furrowing thoughtfully. Testing you. You are safe. You are solid. We must test, to see if the person is safe. Dont you? The words came slowly. I figured English wasnt her first language.
As she spoke I caught a glimpse of a set of razor-sharp teeth. It looked like a wolfs. That explained it. No, I dont test people, I replied, unnerved. Everyones solid. What kind of a custom is that, anyway? Where are you from?
Antariel blinked. The serene expression had returned. I do not know. I remember no place except these fields. As she spoke, she gestured outside and looked out the window.
The girl shrieked suddenly, scaring me out of my wits. I slammed on the brakes, turning to her. Whats wrong?!
Her mouth hung open in shock, and her eyes were wide in terror. The- the land! It was moving! I looked outside and it was moving!
I blinked in surprise. I was speechless. Had the girl never been in a vehicle? Then her confusion at getting in the van occurred to me, and for some reason I found the whole issue damned hilarious. I started laughing hysterically, clutching my sides, gasping for breath.
Antariel gave a shuddering sort of gasp, which I barely heard over my bouts of laughter. She looked at me with the same expression as a deer caught in headlights. Then, I still dont quite know what happened. I guess she panicked. Antariel began throwing her full weight against the door, trying to open it. By chance she hit the handle and the door swung open. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the girl tumbling out of the van, down onto the asphalt.
Forcing myself to stop laughing (the humour of the situation disappeared as quickly as it had come), I thought quickly. I pulled my minivan over to the side of the road and parked, then scrambled outside and began chasing after the retreating figure. I couldnt let her escape; it was too easy to get lost in these prairies. Shed die out there. It never occurred to me to wonder how long shed been out there already.
She was a fast runner. I was panting by the time I drew close to her, but although she turned to look at me, she didnt stop. I leapt forward and tackled her, knocking her down to the ground. For a moment she squirmed to get free, but with a sort of resignation she stopped and lay still.
I rolled off her and stood up, brushing the dirt off of my clothes. What was the point of that? I scowled at her. Do you realize how easy it would be for you to get lost out here?
Lost? repeated Antariel, staring at me from hr spot on the ground. Lost? I am lost. I am Antariel. It does not matter where I go here. When I am here I am always lost. Why do you care if I get lost?
Never mind. I sigh. Look, why dont you come with me? Ill take you to the city. Maybe theres somebody there whod know you. Maybe we can get you home- if we find out where your home is, of course.
She did not reply; instead, she got up and began walking away. Not as if she was trying to escape this time- there was no direction to her course. She just sort of walked, and I followed behind, despite by better judgement.
Thinking back to that moment, I wonder if I should have just let her go. Then none of this would ever have happened. But then I remember the rest of it and know that I did the best thing I could have.
A strong wind came up and whistled through the long grasses. Ahead of me, the wind caught Antariels long hair and blew it about wildly. Her hair reached her waist and was the colour of ebony- quite a contrast to her pallid skin. She seemed no more than a shadow as she paced in the illuminatory moonlight. Presently she stopped and turned her face to the sky. She appeared confused. The stars, she murmured. They are different. I do not recognize them. They are different, all different. I was not sure if she was talking to me, or herself, or to no one at all.
I drew up beside her silently and we looked at the stars together. All my previous thoughts, such as getting home before dawn, had left me. Instead I was content to stand there with her and stargaze. An aura of peacefulness surrounded Antariel, despite her misgivings about being in the van before. She, too, seemed to have forgotten. When she finally spoke, it startled me.
To get home, she whispered, I must remember my home. I can do this, perhaps. Maybe I can still do it. Her accent now was stronger than ever, so that she seemed almost to be speaking a different language.
How are you going to do that? I queried. I mean, if you couldnt do it before What makes you think you could now?
I could do it before. Only that I could not bring myself to do it. It might be painful. That is why I let myself go for days without remembering.
Days? How long have you been out here?
One and a half sainjas. That is, six days.
A week. Shed been out for a week without anything to eat or drink; yet she looked perfectly healthy. I remember thinking to myself how strange that was, but I never had the chance to inquire further, because of what she began to do next.
First Antariel gathered up a handful of prairie grass and swiftly knotted it. Then she set it on the ground, took more grass, and knotted it again. She continued doing this until there was a line of about a dozen on the ground in front of us. She knelt down on the ground and closed her eyes, concentrating hard. I watched curiously, wondering what she was attempting to achieve.
I did not have to wait long. She began to sing, in a different language, and as she sang, an image slowly formed in front of us, like a hologram. I realized with a start that as the image grew clearer, the bundles of prairie grass disappeared ever so slowly, one by one. Antariel was using the grass, in one way or another, to make this image.
Eventually she stood, stopped singing and watched the image with me. She seemed just as mesmerized as I. This must be her memory that she was bringing back.
When the image was done forming, it began to move, as you would see on a television screen. There was a forest- and people- many people- people that looked like her. They looked scared, wide-eyed and shouting about something. Then I saw the flames. They were running from a fire. The flames licked through the forest rapidly, turning the foliage to ashes within seconds. The clothing of one child caught on a bramble and he stumbled. The flames overtook him before anyone could get back. I could almost smell the charred flesh.
It faded as the last pieces of grass disappeared. Antariel looked thunderstruck and devastated. Her legs gave out and she collapsed onto me, weeping. Mayuri, she moaned. Mayuri! Isîle anzya el carodin. My brother is dead. Oh, Mayuri
I took her body in my arms and lowered her to the ground. So that was her memory- of her brother dying and her family fleeing from a fire ravaging the forest- presumably, their home. Antariel was right. It had been painful for her. I sat next to her, stroking her hair comfortingly, and there we sat till dawn.
(This message has been edited by moderator (edited 01-21-2003).)