It had been hours. Days. Weeks. Months even. Time had no meaning here; that was quickly apparent. You could fall asleep and dream of universes and life and generation after generation and kings begetting kings and losing kingdoms and trading crowns. You could sit and watch the face of a beautiful woman who stares back into your eyes and you can lose yourself for what feels like lifetimes. Consumed with guilt, unexplainable, a sense of mystery like the sore against a lip that a tongue can’t stop fondling, a sore that each day festers from the gnawing. And after waking, it’s grown a skin but hasn’t been forgotten, and there’s something altogether satisfying about squeezing it between teeth and peeling it back like wet fabric from flesh.
He came back from his doze. Perhaps he’d slept. There were no dreams. There were no memories. There was still her face, watching him, and there was still that soreness, raw in the way that fingers against untouched skin singe like electricity; pain along nervous highways.
He did not know when the voices began, but eventually, he noticed the sounds. When he awoke, there were whispers amongst the trees and the soft rustle of branches as if in a distant wind. At first there weren’t words, only sibilants and breaths, the kind that tickled his ears and smoothed his skin. Memories of a romance.
When he finally began to make sense of the words, he’d forgotten his fear of voice, of tone, of breaking the silence, but he still didn’t trust himself to speak. Like a cry awakening him from a dream, he was afraid.
That was the word for a while. There were variations thereof, different languages perhaps, different tongues and tones, all that made some sort of inner sense to him. Sometimes the breeze through the trees was only a breeze and sometimes it formed into words and eventually he strained so hard to hear them.
He did not feel welcome.
He did not ask who he–
who the voice was. It seemed fitting that the wind should have a voice and speak. He did not ask who he himself was, which seemed the more important question.
there’s been no mistake,
it whispered next.
As if reading his thoughts, perhaps. Should he discover himself, should he remember, should he find something more concrete than the smoke, would it break again? Was this rebirth? Was this a reconstruction or reincarnation? Was this a conception?
something like that.
He’d risen to his feet almost before he knew it, searching for the voice. There must be a source, he thought now. He could feel no breeze but heard a voice. There must be a source, and there must be some kind of answer.
He opened his mouth to speak, but in the formless way of expectation amidst repression, like choking back vomit over an open bowl. He made a hollow whimpering that only he could hear.
The voice grew silent. There was no breeze against his cheeks. There was no sound against the branches of the trees.
He reached a single hand forward into the night. Again, expectation amidst repression, his hand trembled. The air had a texture now. He expected to meet a face, a branch, the wet maw of an unseen beast with a mouth like his own, only larger. Such things existed, he was sure. Anything could exist here.
The anticipation made his fingers feel electric, and again the words formed in his throat, but thick.
He coughed and the sound came out harsh and he thought he could feel it against his hand.
He wanted something to touch that wasn’t his words or his fear, and so with something like a cough and a sob he asked, Hello?
And from the abyss, there was a voice that echoed,
Who are you? Where are you? The words hurt his throat, as if the utterance, for the first time, scratched against unused skin. But they felt good to say.
don’t you see?
then open your eyes.
Tell me who you are. I can see you if you tell me. He remembered the way he saw in the soft light as his fingers reached across the ground and against her cheeks. The forest around him rose from the shadows to the same dim light that lit the ground before him when he sat. He could see the outline of close tree trunks, he could see the spackled ground, and he waved his hand and watched his fingers move at his command. See? I can see. Just come into the light.
but you have to know yourself to see.
Branches chattered above him. He looked up and he saw the suggestion of their interlocking and it sounded like laughter.
i don’t matter. you’re all that matters here
There was only silence. Again the branches, the laughter.
Come into the light! His fragile shout crumbled to a hacking cough.
Who are you?
who are you?
I don’t know. He paused and studied his palms. I don’t know.
who are you?
I don’t know, he yelled again, and again he coughed. Who am I?
and you’re a killer.