World of Dirt
THE END OF MY WORLD STARTED THE MOMENT I OPENED MY EYES. I don’t mean like when I was born, only when I awoke to find the fibers of a strange smelling fabric roughly two inches from my pupils. My head was throbbing with a deep pain that rattled my eyeballs. I would have moaned, but my throat was parched shut. Instead, I worked on turning over so I could see where in the world I was.
My limbs felt at least ten pounds each, and it took all of the juice I could squeeze out of my drained muscles to flop onto my back. I was staring through hazy vision at what looked like reed rafters, a little hut made of grass and fronds. It was well lit, but it was natural light, blistering on my left, making me squint my eyes.
I didn’t realize how much I was shaking until I was startled by the sound of my own chattering teeth. I could tell the weather outside was fairly warm, but it felt like I saved a bit of winter inside my veins. I curled into a ball, shivering violently. A thin blanket was suddenly placed onto me. I readily wrapped it around myself, as if it could block out the cold that was already inside of me. “Leave me alone…” I croaked, wishing the cold away. I was confounded at how hoarse my voice was. It sounded like I had a throat full of gravel.
I’d never been in so much pain.
What was stranger, my hair was matted down with sweat, and I could feel it running down my back and bathing my face. But I was so cold…
I rolled onto my side, wishing for nothing but sleep. But my head pounded maliciously. My bones were probably made of nothing but fatigue itself. All I wanted was to sleep, but who could rest with this? I clawed at the blankets, my muscles itching. I needed to move, but I barely could. I pulled on the blankets, as if it were possible to wrap them around my skeleton. I couldn’t control my shivering, I felt trapped inside a body that I couldn’t manage.
“Calm,” an angel ordered. It had to be an angel; the voice was smooth as honey, slipping through my ears. It was so soothing that it was impossible not to listen to it. I instantly stopped thrashing, but my quivering still clattered my brain against my skull. Arms embraced me, wrapping the blankets neatly around me, and I almost felt warm. My trembling lessened, and soon it wasn’t bad enough to trigger an earthquake anymore. The pounding in my head subsided even, and soon it was only as bad as if I’d been smacked in the brain stem with a two-by-four a few times.
“Calm down, Bold One,” the angel crooned. A hand caressed my sweaty forehead. “You’ll feel better soon.”
My eyelids were dropping like they were made of granite, the voice lulling me unwillingly to sleep. I wanted to know who this was, why I was here, what happened to me. “Who?” I managed, sounding like a shovel digging into a mound of dry, dusty gravel.
“Don’t speak. You need to rest.” With every word I was closer to sleep. Finally, I slipped under, losing my grip on reality.
The second time I was awakened by a thought. I’d slept dreamlessly, like the universe and all of its thoughts and ideas just disappeared, so this was startling. Your name is Charlotte Saige Dashing. My eyes shot open, focusing on the thatch roof above me. The air smelled like a storm brewing nearby.
I was alone… wherever I was.
I pulled myself into a sitting position, which took a bit of effort considering it felt like a Jeep Wrangler just ran over my stomach. Clutching said stomach, I warily examined my surroundings. I was lying on a small mat, a faded shade of red, which was dropped in the corner of a little hut-like building that seemed to have walls of clay or dirt. There was one door, leading outside, and a small window behind me with bars that looked a lot like bamboo, but I knew they weren’t. Pots and bowls made of clay were scattered around the floor.
I heaved myself to my feet, trying to make sure my knees wouldn’t buckle under me. The air was rather crisp, and I looked down to see that I was wearing only jean shorts and an orange tank top. Because of this discovery, I snatched the thin blanket off the little mat, wrapping it around myself.
I shuffled – I would have preferred to stalk out and demand confidently who in the world had the nerve to abandon me in some unfamiliar hut, but seeing that it took all of my strength not to keel over, trundling through the dirt was the best I could manage – out the little door. Honestly, I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe I thought there would be some sort of village or camp, but was I saw was downright disappointing. There was dirt. And more dirt. It was the same dirt in all directions, touching the burnt orange and melted purpled sky on every horizon.
If it wasn’t because the white clothes stood out among the endless brown dirt, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him. He was standing still as a statue, back facing me, staring out to the sliver of sun that was peering over the horizon. A small breeze blew, tugging at my blanket and ruffling my sweat-embroidered hair. Without even turning, the boy – who must have been a few years older than me at the least – addressed me.
“And so the dead rises,” he said casually. After waking up from something that felt like hypothermia in the middle of a derelict world of dirt, I wasn’t sure if I should take the boy seriously or not. I settled on shuffling closer, wincing at each creak and pop my joints made. My back was having its own New Year’s celebration.
The one thing that was in my jostled mind came to my mouth first. “Where am I?” I asked the boy.
“Illusory,” the boy answered with a tone that suggested I was supposed to take meaning in the word. I didn’t reply. Abruptly, the boy turned. I stumbled back a half a step in surprise, wincing once again at the jolts of pain from the sudden movement. The boy’s eyes were blood red. I blinked, disoriented. Was I expecting something different? That’s not normal… is it? I couldn’t remember. I could only stare as he approached. “Are you feeling better?” he asked, his eyes twinkling with curiosity. I tore my eyes away and clutched my head, striving for my voice.
“I, uh… what happened to me?” I stammered. My body felt shaky and my stomach felt jittery. My brain was sluggish and vision hazy, like I was standing in a cloud.
“We found you out in the Snow Lands,” the boy answered. “We nursed you back to health.” His smile was proud, as if I would thank him. All I could think of though, was:
“Our watchers found you and took you to me.”
“Watchers?” I replied incredulously.
“Our watchers have the duty of watching for visitors.”
“Visitors… you mean like me?” The boy nodded auspiciously, glad to see my brain was starting to work.
“Like you, Bold One,” he repeated. He pressed his hand to my heart, and a current of warmth flowed through it. Bewildered, I took an involuntary step backward. The boy dropped his hand, deflated. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
“I’m not frightened,” I defended, probably a little too quickly. The boy’s face lit back up. “So, um…” I floundered. “Why did these, ah… these…”
“Watchers,” the boy confirmed.
“Right… why did they bring me to you?”
“I am a healer,” he replied simply. “My duty is to—”
“Lemme guess: heal?” The boy nodded again.
“To heal visitors,” he made clear.
I said something really intelligent, like, “Oh. Okay.”
More confused than I was when I first woke up, I edged around Red Eyes and teetered over to the other side of the hut. On the horizon was an outline, hazily running down the purple sky. At the other end of the world was the sun, now slightly bigger. It was a sunrise. I could already feel the land beginning to wake, warming up.
“Come,” Red Eyes said directly behind me. I whipped around, right away regretting it as my muscles contracted defiantly. How did he move without any sound? Red Eyes blinked, surprised by my surprise, and caught me as I crumpled to the ground, groaning in pain. “Please, rest. Then we will get you back to our village.”
“Village?” I managed.
“Yes.” Red Eyes half dragged, half walked me back into the hut, and I dropped onto the mat and shuddered. “Rest. You will feel better,” he insisted. But I was nowhere near sleep. My head was spinning like a cartwheel and I felt like I was going to combust right there on the spot. Red Eyes knelt next to me, and without warning, blew a soft, yellow powder into my face. Sneezing and starting to shiver, I endeavored to form a comprehensible sentence.
“What – ACHOO – was that, ah, fo— fo- ACHOO?” I demanded, or at least, tried to.
“You need to sleep,” Red Eyes persisted. Without realizing it, my eyelids started weighing heavier, and I slipped down onto my back. When I attempted to rise again and protest, Red Eyes pushed my head down. “Come now, Bold One. You are too weak. Regain your strength.”
“Who… who are you?” I stuttered, my words coming out like dribbling syrup.
“I am Bennonai. Rest now.”
“Who am I?”
“I do not know, Bold One. I cannot answer that question for you.”
The third time I woke up I was really getting sick of it. My brain still felt like stew simmering in a crock pot, but my stiff muscles weren’t so sore. First, the world was black. Then I remembered to open my eyes.
There was a low plaster roof above me, a dark shade of white. The air was cool, but not cold, and it carried the same scent of rain. But wherever I was, there were no clouds in the sky, according to the light pouring through the window above my head. I sat up, my hair falling around my face. Apparently I was in a bed with large wooden knobs and plush comforters, the color a tinted, rosy pink. “What…”
I felt better already; my voice wasn’t broken, my head wasn’t throbbing, my brain was starting to spark back to life, and I didn’t wake up shivering violently, which was a nice plus. A small analog clock ticked mundanely above a wooden table with a vase and flower on it. Other than the consistent tick, tick, tick, the room was eerily quiet. Because of this, I didn’t notice Red Eyes until he spoke.
“Sleep well?” I was so startled I would have jumped out of my socks, had I been wearing any. He sat on a little wooden chair with carvings all around it, which probably would have looked stunning when new, but were now faded, worn-down designs of the originals. “Please, calm, Bold One.” Calm? I was so angry I wondered if steam shot from my ears.
“Where am I?” I spat.
“Please,” Red Eyes insisted, rising slowly from his chair. “Do not become irate. You are in our village. There is no need for fear.” I stared, perplexed. What was with the way he spoke? It was like he was reading from a fourteenth century book. “You will be safe here.”
“Who are you?” I pulled my feet out from under the covers. I was still in my shorts. Red Eyes blinked.
A memory of what I said before I passed out rushed my head. I blushed crimson when I remembered what I’d asked him. What kind of idiot does he think I am, asking who I was?
“Now it’s my turn,” Bennonai announced. “Who are you?” I paused, on my knees on the bed.
“Ch… Charlotte,” I told him unsurely. Bennonai smiled.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Charlotte.”
I wasn’t sure how to reply. I said the first thing that came to my mind. I evidently had a habit of doing that. I tried not to speak, but the words just spilled from my lips. “I think I, that is… I like to be called, um, Lotty.” The moment the words came out they sounded stupid, but the name Lotty just felt right. Bennonai nodded.
“Lotty,” he verified. “Okay.” He smiled again, and for the first time, his blood red eyes might have actually convinced me I was safe at the moment.