The sound of the surf wakes me before the voice does.
“Hello? Anyone here?”
Gingerly, I sit up. My muscles ache with disuse, my tongue feels swollen, my mouth pasty. A thrumming fills my head as if the body is reproaching the mind for daring capitulate to sleep. Greenery meets my eyes. Long-leafed bushes, tall trees. The remains of a fire long gone, the carcass of a wooden bowl, long ago eaten by the soft underbrush.
Instinctively, I know — these are things I’ve seen before, and these are things I don’t want to see again.
I get to my feet and peek over the leaves. A man has dragged his small boat all the way into the tawny sand, away from the sea of blood. Crimson rivulets run down his naked legs, splashes dot the blinding white of his short tunic. His eyes widen at the sight of me.
“Ah,” he says in a husky voice. “A nymph has been sent to aid my rest.”
A nymph? I look down at my own tunic, streaked with green as if the ground once tried to grab me and pull me under. My arms are the same golden tone as his, my dark hair the same waving shape as his brown one.
I am no nymph. I merely am.
“Will you share your food and drink for a night, island wonder?”
At his words, I remember more. I am on an island. An island so small you can cross it with your eyes closed and never get lost. And it’s the only piece of land I’ve ever seen — I recall that now, too — and he’s just a face of a few I’ve ever met. I help them, then sleep once they’re away from the shore until the next one comes along.
“Are you on a journey?” I ask.
He smiles wide and approaches, taking my question as an invitation. “I am, young maiden. I’ve been set on a quest by the Gods, and you’ll be remembered once I’m gone. I’ll tell of your beauty, of your voice, of the soft smile on your lips and those tresses made of midnight dreams.”
But I don’t want to be a sonnet or a tale. I don’t want to be remembered, I want to be. And when he’s gone, I will cease.
Until the next one comes along.
Why shouldn’t I have more than this strange life made of sleep? Why did I grow hateful of this place, if I wasn’t meant to leave?
“May I join you in your journey, hero?” I ask, taking his hand in mine. “Your boat is not so small that it can’t fit two.”
He studies me intently for a few moments, then his features twist in derision and he pulls his hands free. “Nay.”
“But why?” I plead.
“This is my journey, not yours, temptress. Do not think to hamper my voyage. Do not think I’m so weak as to fall for your eyes of starlight.” Sitting by the old fire, he juts his chin forward. “Now feed me, nymph, before I force your blood to feed the island.”
Narrowing my eyes, I do as he says. And later, when he’s satiated and asleep, I drop a rock on his head.
After relieving him from his sword, I push his boat into the water. It doesn’t have oars, only a single guiding pole in the back, but it finds no trouble in taking me away from the beach and into the blood of the sea. A gift from the Gods, indeed!
The sun sets and then appears again. The sea is vast, but it doesn’t cow me. I can see the pebbles and corals of the bottom, tinted in hues of dark red through the water. I can see the fish darting back and forth. I can see the crabs and the stars, and then I can see the plants. Short, at first, undulating in the currents, then yearning for the surface until reeds are caressing the sides of my boat. Soon, they’re so thick I cannot continue.
Stepping over the edge, I find solid ground under my probing feet. The sword comes in handy then, as I hack through the tall grass that fades into trees and vines and brushes so tall and full of thorns they dare to hide the Gods’ light.
Eventually, I stumble into a clearing inside this world of shadows. A fire roars inside a circle of stones, the smell of smoke a slam to my senses. Two children sit by its side, clad in simple loincloth.
“Hello,” I say. “May I join you — for I am weary and need to rest.”
The boys look at each other, then nod in unison.
“Thank you,” I tell them, sitting heavily on the forest floor.
“How did you make it here?” one of them asks.
I lift the sword. “I used this.”
Their mouths form perfect o’s of wonder.
“Will you take us with you when you leave?” the second boy asks.
I frown at this. This is my journey — the fact that I was allowed off the island tells me so. Something prods my gut, a nagging that intensifies as I look into their young, guileless faces.
What would a journey be without deceit to lure me away? Every epic has a trickster, and these two must be mine, sent to test me, to make sure my quest away from the island remains true of heart.
I am not so easily fooled and can hear the contempt tinting the word as it rolls off my tongue and falls free of my lips. It tastes like blood and rocks and stones:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Raised in Spain and currently living in East Asia, M.Z. Medina loves everything speculative and fantasy. She is a writer and an avid MMORPG player who yearns for the day she can become a true Cat Lady. Her stories have appeared in different anthologies and you can find her online at http://mzmedina.wordpress.com/