“Kor, what have we here?”
A man leans over and dominates my vision. I start, stifling a scream. The hallucinations have left me drained. My blanket is my only protection. I can only glare at him.
The man’s breath stinks like days-old fish. His jaw has bristles and scars. His clothes are shabby with patches of fabric. I try to reply, but am seized by another stomach cramp. The pain has me doubled over and trying hard not to cry.
“Fern poisoning,” the man seems to know what he is talking about. “Rest at my caravan.” He speaks an accented englis, filled with a jumble of odd tastes and colors. He must be one of the wanderers, in-betweeners. No actual home.
And what a caravan it is. Filthy, the canvas mildewed and musty. Canines slink about, flea-bitten brown-furred ferals with their rib-cages showing. I shiver while a young woman gives me a bitter herbal infusion to calm my stomach. My insides settle, eventually.
I try to sleep. The man keeps on peeking in, worrying me. His face leers and he keeps smiling. There are strange sounds later, like a woman’s muffled shrieks. They slash across in my mind with white talons of light.
I am going to run away.
I am going to leave.
Heart pounding in my chest, each thud a painful punch, I creep to the fire place. The spit turns slowly, pulled by the scrawny dogs. Gou. They pant, thirstily. Their eyes are rheumy, ill.
I grab the handle of the knife still stuck deep into the haunch of meat. It is warm. I tug it and it refuses to budge.
The scrawny gou catch sight of me and my scent. They begin to whine and scrap the earth with their paws. The spit looks as if it is going to topple over.
Courage gives me strength and I pull as hard as I can.
The knife slides out, covered with juices and red blood.
The gou yelp. Someone coughs in the caravan. A phlegmy cough.
I dart away into the darkness, holding the knife. I am free.
Where am I going now?
The knife is my talisman. Like the offerings hung on the tree. This time, it is a wish made real.
Where am I going now?
Who am I?
A heretic and a runaway.
I savor those words as I run, my breath turning white in the chill morning air.