A helicopter bursts through the birdsong and mountain scenery, cutting a line across the sky. It’s a surgery, Jorah thinks, all sharp precision, splitting the forest’s sunset calm into the past and the future.
She stands on a rise at the centre of the trail as it fades from sight, then takes out her phone and snaps another photo to send Ella.
Subject: Appalachian Trail (9)
Jin . . . remembers?
Jin remembers . . . remembers . . .
But then it’s gone.
Darkness and a quiet, ragged breathing.
Nine photos—one a day—and Ella hasn’t responded. Lying in her tent, Jorah wonders if the messages are even going through, or if Ella’s just so angry still she’s ignoring them.
But then, she doesn’t really expect a response. She doesn’t want one.
She tells herself the photos are needles, sewing away at the holes of her dreams from an earlier time.
I have a life, each message asserts. I am more than our relationship.
Jin remembers . . . pain?
Pain and needles, and . . .
In the night, Jorah dreams of waves which rise up from the ground and strike all the cities from the map.
Jorah rides one, and it brings her to Ella’s apartment, to her bedroom, to the bed they’d often shared.
Ella lies there crying, begging forgiveness and love, but Jorah doesn’t care. She’s unable to stop moving forward; the wave lifts her up and on with a terrible, water-driven hunger.
No breath any more.
Cold steel at the edge of the darkness, and voices.
He pushes, and with a screeching buckle there is light and scent and terror like a drug in the air.
The salty copper taste of flesh and blood.
Jorah sits up shivering with cold and perspiration, sure that in the moment just before her dream turned to morning she had heard a distant booming thunder like the white caps of waves falling in on themselves.
She collapses her tent, packs and shoulders her bag, and hurries on down the trail. Remembering the dream, she takes another photo and sends it to Ella.
I am here, Jorah imagines it saying. I am here, I am coming, I am sorry. Do not forget me. Love.
Jin. Jin and Maggie and Alexander.
Jin, Maggie, and Alexander remember.
Jin remembers pain and needles, but Maggie and Alexander think of flight. Flight, rending metal, and a foreign man they’d watched succumb to death, there at the hospital. A soft-spoken southerner had brought him in—they remember that as well, his words of magic and vodoun subverted, a spell of healing turned to evil by the words of shadowed figures just beyond the edge of sight. Maggie had escorted him out, and he had touched her arm and said, I’m sorry, child, before walking away. His voice as pale and fetid as his skin, as his eyes.
And then flight, and tearing metal and flesh, until they spiralled down with a shattering crunch that was followed by stillness and green silence.
Pinpricked darkness cycling into brightness in the skies twice over. No breathing, no movement, no pain.
Two days and as many dreams and photos later, Jorah finds the helicopter half-buried in the earth a few hundred yards from the trail, its rotors mangled and its windows shattered.
She remembers how she’d thought it like a surgery. That its flight started the dreams. She scrambles through the brush, shouting “Hey! Hey!” until she sees the pilot slumped over on the controls with his uniform ripped and reddened, jerky flesh dangling loosely from his shoulders.
Jorah staggers backwards, gulping down air like she’s just come up from drowning. She fumbles for her phone—no reception—and drops it in the leaves when she tries to put it back in her jacket.
Looking for the phone gives her time and a reason to calm down. He might be dead, but she will still need to call somebody and tell them of the accident.
She doesn’t even think about Ella.
Jin, Maggie, and Alexander remember.
They remember pain, and flight, and spirals, and sound. They remember, and know they remember, but most of all they know hunger.
And there, in the green stillness, movement. Scattered leaves and a deep, ragged breathing.
The first one takes Jorah in the side when she’s still bent over, looking for her phone.
She tumbles to the ground with it on top of her, screaming as its ragged, blunted teeth tear into her flesh. She beats at it with her fists until somehow she gets out from under it and onto her feet.
It is—was—a woman. She’s dressed in the same uniform as the pilot, and approaches Jorah with unseeing eyes and a half-open, bloody mouth. Her skin grey with death.
Jorah screams again, this time in more than pain, and backs right into the second one, which wraps its arms around her shoulders and pulls her to the ground with a rigid, morbid strength.
Subject: RE: Appalachian Trail (12)
body: hey, u alright? haven’t seen a pic in a few days let me know, ok? Miss u babe
Jin. Jin, Maggie, and Alexander.
Jin remembers pain and needles, green flames and sibilant whispers. Maggie and Alexander, flight and rending metal.
Jorah remembers . . . waves. Waves and pain and struggle, but most of all Ella.
They all remember all these things, and know they remember them. It is easier, now they are together.
But the hunger is worse.
Jorah turns them to the city, and remembers, and they walk in its direction. One step after another.
Green silence. Lurching movement. No pain, no breathing.
Hunger and love, and a horrid, implacable longing.
Stewart C Baker is an academic librarian, haikuist, and speculative fiction writer. His fiction and poetry can be found in various magazines and via his website at http://infomancy.net. Stewart lives in Northwest Oregon with his family—although if anyone asks, he’ll say he’s from the Internet.
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