Chapter One - Questions
What does it mean to be alive? It’s an age-old conundrum with various answers. Some are universal. To touch, taste, smell, see, hear and feel. It might be the gentle fingers of a mother, stroking the soft skin of her newborn. Or, is it the taste of a sumptuous meal on your tongue? What about the smell of summer rain, freshly mown grass, your lover’s scent? Maybe it’s drinking in the vibrant colors of the sky at sunset, or the shimmering moon as it peaks over a snow covered mountain. Perhaps the answer is joyous squeals of children’s laughter as they play without worry, still cocooned away inside naiveté. Experiencing a moment of pure ecstasy when you climax, or the soul-crushing sorrow when you lose a loved one? The rush of endorphins flooding your body while bungee jumping or skydiving.
I could go on and on, but you get my drift. Being alive is all of those things, and a host of numerous others. What one person considers living may be the stuff of nightmares to another, but in the end, it’s all about breathing. Blood flow...Heartbeats…
Why, are you wondering, do I pose such a loaded question? To stir debate? Engage your brain cells? Force a deep conversation about life in general?
Oh, no, nothing so lofty. It’s quite simple, really. I just want to know. Want to feel. Want to see.
Want to anything again.
Because I’m lost, wandering, disoriented, disjointed and distorted. I’m no longer associated with anything. The sensations of all senses elude me. Mere blips of faded memories tumble around me. I can’t recall how it felt to be kissed or hugged. What a belly-laugh was like. How boredom felt. Bone-weary tiredness. Nothing. I feel…nothing.
Oh, did I fail to mention why?
Because I’m no longer among the living. At least, I don’t think I am. To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I don’t remember my name, my age, or even my sex. I don’t feel. I can’t smell. I hear, but sounds don’t register emotional responses anymore. I see, but it’s all in muted grays, no vibrant colors.
No sense of time, space, awareness. I just…float. Yeah, float. Like a weightless cloud drifting through the limitless universe. No purpose. No destination. No set trajectory. No rhyme or reason. I don’t know where I am, how I arrived at this point, this numbed state. Ebony nothingness has swallowed me whole. I’m not sure of anything.
Can you, will you, help me? I need to know. Want to know. Have to know. Who am I? Where am I? How do I escape this black void?
Please, help me.
I’m begging you…
My head whipped from side to side as I tried to figure out where I was. Goosebumps spread over me and my feet felt strange. I looked down and discovered it was because I stood in wet mud. A small gasp escaped when I noticed I was naked and outside in the darkest part of the night. Moonlight streamed through the gnarled trees that surrounded me from every angle, illuminating the area like floodlights. The chill of the night air breezed across my bare skin, and the hair on my arms, legs, and torso stood erect. My nose twitched as it took in all the smells of the wet woods. The mold, the damp pine needles, the rotting leaves and mud under my feet hit me all at once. Then, I caught a whiff of something else. Something I had never smelled before yet seemed to instinctively know what it was.
Terrified, I closed my eyes and willed myself to wake up. I had to be dreaming again. I clenched my hands together at my sides and tried to make my legs respond to my instructions to stand still, but they moved on their own. My eyes flew back open. My body wound seamlessly through the tangle of underbrush and vines, my steps sure and steady. The moon’s silvery rays lit up the path, and I saw every detail of the forest, from the tiniest leaf to the farthest limb. My feet glided with ease, and my footfalls were silent. The odor was stronger now. My ears picked up the sounds of the forest—things impossible for me to hear. A squirrel high above me in the trees hunkered down in its nest for the night. The sound of scurrying feet to my left I somehow knew was a small field mouse scuttling through the leaves on its way to its warm den. I heard heavy, raspy breathing in front of me from some creature—type unknown but obviously large—judging by the respirations. I let go of the fear inside me, knowing I must be dreaming, and I embraced the warm power surging through my body.
Once I gave in and stopped trying to control my limbs, my pace quickened and I moved deeper into the forest. The scent was stronger now, accompanied by a strange sound. It took a few seconds for me to recognize it as whimpering. A woman’s faint voice drifted across the air, and I sensed her pain and fear.
“Do as you wish, you foul, unholy creature. I ain’t gonna tell you the location.”
Horror pounded inside my head when I realized it was the voice of Nana. My legs pumped in a flat-out run. My feet barely touched the wet ground as I zigzagged through the forest toward her feeble voice. Anger licked a fire inside me, igniting the muscles of my entire body. The forest whizzed by in a blur as I charged through it. Her words were forceful, but I sensed the raw terror behind them. Hearing them infuriated me and filled me with blinding rage.
In seconds, I spotted a break in the tree line and Nana’s frail body on top of a mound of damp grass to my right. Her favorite nightgown hung in tattered pieces, her gray head of hair loose, splayed out behind her like a white blanket. Her breath came in great gasps and her withered, wrinkled hands clutched something to her chest. She turned her head and looked at me, her cloudy eyes wild with fright. My leg muscles contracted and propelled me across the open area from the edge of the tree line. In one giant leap, I was right next to her. When I landed, my body shook with emotion.
She spoke again. “The torch has passed on, and I ain’t needed no more. What you want from me, I ain’t never gonna give. End it. I ain’t afraid to die. I know where I’m goin’ when I do, and you’ll surely never step foot there!”
An inhuman, piercing scream ripped through the forest, the sound so loud the ground beneath us shook from the intensity. Fury pulsed through me as a roar burst from my lips. My mouth filled with hot, rust-flavored liquid and spilled out down my chin, soaking my neck with its sticky heat. Warm flesh gave way underneath my strong bite. The sound of it, as I tore pieces away from the body, made my heart pound with glee. Hunger for more overrode everything else. The scent of the rusty blood drove me mad with rage. My fingers dug deep into the exposed flesh, tearing and pulling chunks off of the writhing body.
Another shriek, louder than the one before it, rang out in the darkened woods. This time, it was full of pain and not anger.
And this time, it was human.