“Life is tough, my darling…”
I am cold.
The first thing that I register is the cold seeping into my back, my hair, my legs. I’m lying on my back, hands crossed on my chest like a corpse and hair set gently on my shoulders. Tiny pricks of cold fall across my body, which I slowly realize is snow. Then the pain comes. It spreads like a trickling stream from the crown of my head through my arms and to my toes. I cry out, arching my back, which just makes the pain flare and grow.
Breathing heavy, I settle back down as the pain lands in the base of my spine. Finally, my breathing slows, and I pry open my eyes.
Puffs of hot air travel up from my breath toward the bare treetops which are splayed above me. The world around me is silent, an unnatural peace. I prop myself up on my elbows to assess my surroundings, the past drifting into my mind like a fog. Surrounding me are tall oak trees, reaching to the sky with tufts of snow gently gathering on each branch. It’s a clearing in the middle of a forest with one giant tree stump in the middle right above my head. I scramble for the thoughts that must be hiding somewhere in my mind. I flip to my side, taking note of my favorite sweater now seeped with snow, revealing the dark stain of blood where the gash in my back is, and I take a handful of snow and press it on the wound. A soothing cold creeps through the wound, and I concentrate again on my surroundings.
From my new perspective, I spot a frozen river through the trees. Once the snow has numbed the pain, I stagger to my feet and walk a few feet out of the clearing to the river. My steps are heavy and uneven; I fall to my knees on the bank and search for a break in the ice. My intuition calls me back to the clearing, and for the first time I notice the large, brown shape on the opposite end of the clearing with some sort of sword jutting out of its center.
“What the…” I stagger over to the massive, deformed creature, seemingly some sort of mixture between a bear and a large cat. Its fangs, which were huge, are splayed in its final roar, and the beautiful sword sticking upright in a mass of brown fur and a purple dried blood. I crinkle my nose as the stench reaches me—the stench of death—and as I inspect the unbelievable creature, my brain slowly begins to grind its cogs.
I remember walking downtown from the coffee shop where Emmerson and I had lunch, a Tuesday afternoon tradition. I remember the autumn leaves swirling on the ground through the chilly September wind. I remember the warmth of my French vanilla latte on my hand as I quickly reached my car. I remember unlocking it and glancing behind me, and after that, all I remember is the image of my coffee spilling on the pavement.
It’s okay. I think, trying to rationalize what is happening. You can figure this out, just like you always do. You got this.
I absentmindedly poke at the wound on my back as I study the creature and its weirdness, and then I gently press my palm against the wound. I glance at my hand, a slight layer of blood nearly reaching my fingertips. Bending down precariously, I place the same hand on the dead creature’s fang, my hand wrapping nearly perfectly around it. The sizes match.
Suddenly, the creature jerks upward, and I jump back in alarm. I fall, unsteady still from the pain, and I watch from the ground as the creature emits a low, groveling groan, writhing in pain as the sword refuses to relent. Breathing heavy, I watch the creature, and its somber sound strikes into my heart. The beast succumbs to its fate and lays its head back down, unnaturally big, blue eyes staring into the fading light of the sky. I clamber up and approach it—slowly, slowly—as its pupil latches onto mine, and, taken by some innate force, I lay the hand which proved the beast pierced me onto its fur directly below its beautiful eye. The beast shudders at my touch, and then it lays still. It’s actually dead this time.
“Okay, now I’m sad for the thing that probably stabbed me. Great.” I speak softly, secretly hoping the sound might bring the beast back. “And now I’m talking to myself. Great sign.”
After the creature falls silent, the woods around me no longer seems peaceful. Trees seem to press in, twilight is falling, and I still have no idea where I am. Then, I realize what I have to do.
“Sorry, beastie.” I sigh, reaching up to the sword handle with both hands. Standing on my tiptoes in my old boots, I grab the handle and pull sluggishly, as the sword had begun to cauterize the wound. I hear the breaking and cracking of the dead thing’s bones and the squishing of the purple blood that begins to ooze freely after the sword is free. The edge of the sword splashes onto the ground in the blood, and I shudder.
“Okay, that is disgusting.” But I lift the sword and back slowly away. Taking one last glance at the creature, I make my way back to the river, and I plunge the sword in, breaking the ice, to clean off the blood and wash my wound. The weird purple blood mixes and swirls with my own red in the water.
Five minutes later, I regain my senses and attempt to make sense of literal nonsense. How did I get here? Where is here? Where did the sword come from, or more importantly who is its owner? Why am I here? What the hell is happening?
I could keep going, but I slow myself down. None of those questions matter. Well, not right now. What matters right now is movement, because as the snow begins to fall faster and heavier, dark begins to fall as well. I heave the sword onto my shoulder, the most comfortable position I find, and I pick a direction. And I walk.
And walk. And walk. Walk and walk and walk and think. Through the woods I go, the only thing coming to mind is every single horror movie I’ve seen that takes place in the woods. Walking aimlessly, I decide, is better than standing still and catching hypothermia, so I just keep going, wondering what Mom and Dad and Emmerson and James and everybody think has happened. I revisit the questions now that I have a moderately clear purpose, and instead of building hysteria with each question, I feel building anticipation. I hate to admit it, but the whole situation is nothing but exciting to me, and every part of it is filling me with this adrenaline in the pit of my stomach. Despite the growing dread and frustration at my lack of knowledge of anything that is going on, in a twisted way, I’m having fun. The prospect of something new and different and supernatural and strange occurring gives me a sort of strength and anticipation, but slowly the feeling of cold is overcoming the feeling of excitement. Hunger is outweighing anticipation. But the adrenaline rekindles when I see smoke drifting over the trees a few yards in front of me.
I’m already close enough to hear the crackling of the fire when I realize that this could possibly be a crazed mass murderer who brought me into this weird forest to kill me, but I reason that one, I’m too hungry to care and I smell some sort of meat, and two, I’ve got a sword. The thought of the meat being one of those creatures only reaches me as I actually approach the fire, and I nearly puke. Talk about a first impression.
But no one’s there. Apparently. There’s a fire with some sort of meat smoking next to it, a small tent with one sleeping bag rolled up and another unkempt, several bottles of water, and a few weapons strewn about on the ground, some with dried purple blood on the ends. I glance around the camp and the surrounding trees for Joe the Mass Murderer but hear nothing. I stand for a few seconds, but eventually my reason caves in to hunger and thirst. As I’m halfway through my meal and grabbing a water bottle, I notice the note stuck under the bottle. I glance at it, and then my mouth falls open mid-bite.
Written in scraggly writing, the note reads: Elizabeth, Don’t be afraid. I’ll be back soon. Do not leave the camp; do not head north; do not be afraid. Good luck. Sorry—F
I have no idea who F is. I have no idea how they know my name. I have no idea where I am, I have no idea what is happening, I have no idea of anything about anything. But what I do know is that I sure as hell am not going to listen to this note.
Knocking softly at the door, I enter before she can answer. She glares from where she appears in the hallway, and she pivots abruptly when she sees that it’s just me. I chuckle under my breath, close the door softly behind me, and follow her down the hall.
The old house creaks under my feet as I enter the living room where she’s perched on her favorite decrepit leather chair. Cozy but messy, the room is filled with squashy, mismatched furniture and the assorted collections of the ultimate traveler. I peel off my coat and set it on the chair where I sit directly across from her. I smile; she smirks.
“So, this is it then.” She laughs an airy laugh so unique. “Are you really sure about this?”
“Are you?” I respond as I fumble through my bag for my pen and paper. She laughs again which makes me do the same. It is that kind of laugh, the one that’s contagious. I’ll really have trouble with the words for that.
Everything about her personality is contagious. I suppose that’s why she’s the most successful. The way she commands the room, the way she forces intelligence, the way she laughs, walks, speaks, fights, the way she is fascinates everyone. And anytime she’s told that, she laughs.
“Pffft, of course!” She smirks, “So young and already someone wants to write about my life. How could I say no?”
She’s not young. At heart, maybe. She laughs and jokes and sasses, but she’s lived a thousand lives. Millennia. She’s old, somewhat in body and extremely in soul.
“So.” I say, opening the notebook I have been saving for this day and clicking my pen.
“So.” She says back. “Where do we start? The beginning?”
I shrug. “The beginning.”
Smirking again, she adjusts herself more comfortably. “Alright Hayden, but be sure to include the fact that…”
“Hey!” I interrupt. “This is a biography, not an autobiography. And you already gave me full permission to edit it however I want.”
“I don’t remember that!” Indignant. Perfect word to describe her. I jot it down. “But fine, whatever. Do whatever you want. But do one thing.”
I tilt my head in indication, ready to start writing.
She laughs. “Call it: The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley.”
Scribbling, I agree. “I like the sound of that.”
“Alright,” She looks a little hesitant, nervous even, to start chronicling her life, but she goes on, just as she always does.
“ I am cold.”
“…but so are you” -Stephanie Bennett-Henry
To Be Continued in The Beginning: Part 2
Featured Image found at: https://www.pexels.com/photo/cold-snow-nature-forest-5313/