The rustling of leaves is the first sound Andrew hears. A deep breath in brings a sharp smell of ash that burns his nose.
A few more deep breaths. His mind catches to the events beforehand.
A bus. Green light. The screeching sound of tires.
His body aches. Mind spiralling into panic, breath starting to quicken. He opens his eyes to pale skies, with few branches scattering around his vision. He quickly sits up, regretting the decision almost immediately, and looks around him.
Dry and flat grassland surrounds him, with few trees and big rocks scattered about. He sees mountains in the distance.
He falls back to the ground.
The second time he awakes, Andrew tries to calm his breath. He doesn't know where he is, or how he got here, and he feels himself felling into a state of panic.
He checks himself for any injuries, but except his aching body, no limb is broken and no cuts are to be found. He fishes his phone out of his pocket, but there’s no signal. 'Awesome'. Falling deeper into panic. 'Maybe I’m dead and this is some kind of after life.' he thinks to himself. The thought doesn't calm him down.
Deep belly breaths. Just keep breathing. I need to figure out where I am, he thinks as he stand up on shaky legs. Deep breath in... and then out.
As he walks, he tries to conjure any possible explanation for how he could’ve ended up in a middle of nowhere, away from the city and that crosswalk, while ignoring any thought of death. He looks around him for any clue as to where he is.
To his right he spots a deer, or what he thinks is a deer in first glance. Then he notices it’s purely white, even its antlers. 'An albino deer?'
The deer pauses his eating and looks at him with big, shiny eyes, ears twitching in his direction. As he does not seem to be afraid of Andrew, he starts to make his way towards him quietly and slowly as possible, momentarily distracted from his attempt at figuring out where he is. Suddenly, the deer shifts his gaze to behind Andrew, and breaks into a run, disappearing from view. Confused, Andrew looks behind him.
A few meter away from his is standing a big, black wolf, big enough to reach chest, with glowing yellow eyes looking at him and a grim glare.
As a city boy, Andrew had never seen a wolf face to face before; never knew how big they can be, and why, for centuries, people were afraid of these seemingly big dogs.
He now knows they’re not just big dogs. They are beasts. Big black beasts, with glowing eyes that don’t make sense, but Andrew is in no position to inspect that topic further.
The wolf lowers his front, growling, showing his sharp teeth.
Andrew’s heart starts beating faster. His palms are sweaty. He takes a hesitant step backward, then another and then a shallow breath. The wolf stays in place, looking. 'I’m going to be okay, I’m going to be o-'
CRACK! A twig breaks under his foot, and in seconds the wolf leaps into the air towards him, mouth open and sharp teeth out.
“Shit shit shit shit!”
He begins to run.
He can hear the wolf’s large, strong paws hitting the ground with force, much more familiar and comfortable with the area than Andrew.
Not daring to look back, and with his heart stomping in his chest, he jumps over small stones and tall, unkept, yellow grass. The wolf growls behind him, fast on his heels.
After what Andrew thinks might be a minute of running, but might just be an hour, he hears a whooshing sound, a sickening CRUNCH, and then the wolf lets out a howl and a whimper.
There’s a thud of something hitting the ground and Andrew looks around and stumbles on a rock, falling to his back. Shuffling back on his feet, he sees the wolf’s body lying, with a stick stuck in his skull. 'Not stick. An arrow.' Th grass is stained red around it.
“What the fuck...” he mumbles to himself. His eyes round, lungs out of air with terror. He looks around, searching for the source of the arrow. To he left, he spots a small group of men, and as they notice him looking at them, they shout something at him. They’re too far away for Andrew to hear them though, and Andrew doesn't plan on getting any closer.
He starts walking backwards, and as they start to make their way in his direction, he breaks into a run, body moving on autopilot from terror and adrenaline.
He runs for as long as he is able, using all the power he has left to distance himself from wolves or men with bows and arrows. He runs until his legs collapse under him and his lungs feel like they’re on fire, with his clothes, soaked with sweat and dirty from dirt.
After emptying his stomach on the grass, he’s left shivering from the effort, his mouth filled with an acidic taste.
He finds a big rock he can climb on, wanting to get as far off the ground as he can in effort to avoid a similar encounter with another wolf.
As he sits on top of the rock, hugging his knees, his back resting on a bigger rock behind it, he can’t help but break down. It starts with one tear, and then another, then his whole body is shaking with sobs he tries as hard as he can to swallow.
Time passes, but he can’t let himself to abandon his position, finding out where he is be damned. his mind, going 100 miles a minute, going through the events again and again, but after a while, he feels his body going slack, and his eyelids heavy. The sun sets low in the horizon, making the scenery glow in golds and ochers, as the breeze picks up, making the air chilly, but at this point Andrew is too tired to care, as he falls asleep.
Something nudges his middle, as someone is talking above him. Groggily he opens his eyes and looks up.
“SHIT.” He scrambles backwards.
At first glance, he thinks a man made out of red metal is standing above him. As his mind awakes more he realizes it’s a man made out of flesh, wearing a full red mask hiding his face. Accompanying the mask is a helmet with a feather, a golden robe, a sword strapped to his hip and a piece of metal that might be a shield on his back. 'What the hell...?'
Another voice from the ground starts talking in what Andrew thinks is French, but he isn’t able to understand one word, which is weird, as Andrew knows a bit of French.
Looking down, and finds five similar dressed soldiers sans the mask, all looking at him. One of them is holding a tall pole with a triangle flag attached at the top.
'Where am I? I don’t know any place people dress and talk like that.'
The man with the red mask above him tries to talk to him again, only for Andrew to stare back at him, speechless and confused. After a few seconds, he opens his mouth and tries to speak, but finds his throat dry. He clears it and tries again.
“Listen, um, where... am I?” He croaks. He feels a bit pathetic.
They all look at him like he’s the weird one in this situation. Andrew licks his lips, thinking maybe they need more explanation. “It’s just... Man, that’s gonna sound fucking crazy... I was in a car ac-“
The red masked man suddenly turns around, saying something to the group on the ground. There’s a moment of silence, then the red masked man says something again, sharply this time, and they all shuffle for something in their robes. One of them seems to find what they were looking for, and throws it to the red masked man.
As he crouches down towards Andrew and offers the item to him, he realises it’s a waterskin. Andrew looks at the face embedded into the mask, trying to decide wether he can trust these group of weirdos, dressed in armour with weapons not from this century.
He can see a set of deep brown eyes looking back at him from behind the mask, and after a long moment, he decides he's too thirsty to refuse as he takes the waterskin out of the armour clasped hand, opens it and chugs the water inside.
“Thanks.” He mumbles as he offers the waterskin back to the man. The man throws it back to the group. A woman starts saying something back, only for the red masked man to cut her sharply. They mutter something unhappily between them.
The man turns back to him, looking at him expectingly, and after a moment Andrew realises he’s waiting for him to get down from the rock. Not sure what’s going on, but figuring he might get some help from these strangers, he tries to climb down, only to slip, cutting his forearm in the process. He lets out a hiss, as the other man gets down from the rock as well, his armour clanking underneath his robe.
Suddenly, the woman from earlier grabs his arms behind him, as another pulls a rope and ties them together as he thrushes around, trying to get out of their grip. “Let go of me!” He shouts, even though he already figured they don’t understand English. He tries in French, and for a moment he thinks they understand it, as they stop for a second, stunned, but they shake out of it and continue tying his hands. He tries pushing and kicking his capturers, but stops dead in his tracks as he sees a glisten in front of him. The red masked man is pointing his very sharp sword towards him.
“You have no right to do this to me. I did nothing! Fuck, I don’t even know where I AM!” He nearly shouts angrily. The eyes behind the mask stare at him, and he glares back with as much force as he can master. The man lowers his sword, and returns it back to its sheath. He says something to the group in a commanding tone, turns back, and starts walking. The group starts following, and he feels the woman behind him pushing him to start walking as well. Angrily, he starts to walk.
He doesn’t know how long they’ve been walking already, but it feels like hours. The group talks between themselves in that non-French language from time to time, but other than that, they remain silent. They have some pee breaks, but unfortunately Andrew is being supervised as he pees and does his business as well. At some point they stop as one of them draws a bow and arrow, and shoots what looks like a weird looking naked rabbit. They kill two. Andrew almost pukes at the sight. They collect the bodies, and one of them throws them over his shoulder, not caring for the blood that stains his clothes.
A while later, his legs grow tired, and his arms begin to feel stiff and uncomfortable from the awkward position behind his back. While a bit more exhausted, he feels the anger and anxiety bubbling behind the surface, ready to snap. He considers shouting at them to stop, but he abandons the idea pretty quickly. Instead he continues looking around him, trying to understand his ground.
The scenery feels... dead. From time to time he spots a burning tree or a ruin of an oriental building, their beauty still shines through, with their pastel colors, albeit dull and crumbling. He searches his brain for any place with similar architectural style in the United States, but comes blank.
Every now and again they cross a horrible smell and the sound of flies, and Andrew tries very hard not to think what’s the source of the smell, yet he still feels his stomach flip in an uncomfortable way, as if knowing the reason on its on.
As he inspects another albino deer, he hears commotion around him. The deer escapes his gaze. The woman behind him abandons her position, and they all draw their weapons, shouting gibberish at each other. He looks to his left and spots a fire.
Why are they going to fight a fire? Your swords and spears won’t put it down.
Only when the fire starts turning towards them, revealing something similar to a face, and makes their way in their direction, Andrew realises its not fire. What it is, though, he doesn’t know.
Walking backwards and losing his balance, he starts shuffling on the ground, away from this, THING.
I’m dreaming. This is only a dream. I’m dreaming, that’s all. he repeats in his head.
The strangers circle around it, almost as if used to the situation, attacking it with skilled moves. In a swift motion, the thing swings one of his arms, hitting one of them in the middle, sending them flying with a cry. Not long after, Andrew figures they killed the thing, as it sinks to the ground in a way he has never seen before, but considering he witnessed a lot of things he hadn’t seen before today, it doesn’t surprise him as much as it probably should’v.
The strangers regroup, and the woman helps the man who got hit back on his feet, with his arm around her shoulders. They look around, and spot him a few meters away, still on the ground, unable to stand up again. One of them help him to stand, and replaces the woman as being the one behind him, keeping him from running away.
Andrew reasons with himself that he should’ve been panicking right now way more than he is, but he is tire, physically and mentally.
Just when he thinks he’s about to collapse as the sun sets low in the sky, they make their way up a hill. On top of the hill Andrew spots a grand old building, if a bit ruined, but still in tact. They cross between to towers to a bridge, and at the end of the bridge there’s an archway with two soldiers dressed as his capturers standing on each side. They exchange a few words between them, and the two soldiers, who Andrew realizes are guards, look at him for a minute with the same suspicious expression. The red masked man says something to them, and they seem satisfied enough, as they continue their way through the archway. They get to a courtyard with big openings in its walls, letting branches and leaves inside, and soldiers scattered around.
Most of the soldiers don’t pay much attention to them, too preoccupied with talking to their friends, sharpening their weapons, polishing their armor or eating; their expressions tired. Those who do, shout a few words to the group, probably greetings. Then they spot Andrew in between them and eye him quizzically.
They continue to make their way through big open hallways made of stone and ornate looking stairways, gradually going up, until Andrew finds himself in front of a narrow tower with complicated checked tiles and an important looking man talking to a woman soldier. The man is wearing a grand looking gold mask, mimicking a crown-wearing face; on his body a bulky bronze armor and a red feather on his head, poking behind his mask.
The red masked man turns to the man, just as the woman makes her way out, but not before she eyes Andrew. The two men talk between them, and Andrew feels the rope digging his skin is being tugged by the man behind him. From time to time the two man glances at him.
The important looking man suddenly turns to Andrew, making his way in front of him. He asks him a question, but again, Andrew doesn’t understand. The man tries again, this time in a different language, but to no avail.
“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with all of you, but I did nothing. I just want to go home.” He tries his luck yet again.
The man looks at him curiously, and while not the result he was looking for, he’ll take what he can get. “I was crossing a road when a bus came out of nowhere. Next thing I know I’m in the middle of this shithole... There was a wolf and a-, a-...” He feels the desperation creeping into his words, and his eyes burn. “I just want to go home, man. I didn’t do shit!”
The man looks at him for another second, and then, almost dismissively, he turns around to talk to the red masked man. Desperation and anxiety quickly turn to anger, as he shouts “LISTEN TO ME!”
The man stills, and the room fills with tension. The soldier behind him tightens his grip on the rope, and pulls his head lightly up by his hair, forcing him to look at the important man who makes his way back at him with angry strides.
Andrew feels his eyes roaming all around his body, and after what feels like ages he speaks to someone in the room, and turns back to a wooden desk next to the tower’s wall. The group gets out of the tower, pulling Andrew with them reluctantly.
They make their way through more corridors and stairways, until they arrive to a high platform, with tops of trees blocking some of the view. A wooden shed is in the left corner, and under it, on the ground are laid a couple of bed rolls, and to the right there are the remains of fire.
The soldiers begin each to attend to a different task. One start relighting the fire as the darkness continues to grow around them and the air begins to get chilly. Another picks up what looks like a cauldron and heads towards the stairs leading down. The one with the dead animals on its shoulder pulls out a knife and starts skinning them. Andrew quickly shifts his gaze from that scene. The soldier who got hit starts shedding the remains of his robe and armor with the help of the woman, still wincing from certain movements.
The red masked man makes his way towards him. As he gets closer he pulls a small knife, and immediately Andrew shuffles back with protest, as his heart beats faster. The man rises his hands in a sign of peace, and slowly, as if dealing with a frightened animal, makes his way behind him. He cuts the knot of the rope, getting Andrew’s arms loose. Andrew lets out a groan, getting used to the feeling of being able to move his limbs.
“Someone sees fucking reason... Tying people like this is fucking sick, ma-“ But before he finishes the sentence, the man grabs his hands from the front in a tight grip, and calls one of the others. The other comes and ties his hands again, this time in the front.
“You all sick, did you hear me?” He scowls towards them, anger burns in his eyes, and his jaw set tightly.
They continue with their business, talking between them as they cook the meat in a stew over the fire. The red masked man removes his mask and helmet, revealing dark skin and surprisingly young face, yet serious. Andrew decides then that he’s clearly the commander of that small group.
Once finished with the cooking, each gets a wooden bowl with the mystery stew, and small flat loaf of bread. Andrew though they would release his hands to eat, but they did not. Instead, they assigned once of them to feed him, only for Andrew to snatch the wooden spoon out of his hands, murmuring about how he’s not a baby, despite having his hands tied.
He eats most of the mystery stew, despite some difficulties, and takes a few bites out of the bread which turns out to be sweet. As he starts to feel full, his fingers ache for something to hold and his lungs long for the familiar burn of cigarettes. Luckily he bough a new pack yesterday morning, before he crossed the road, or tried to. The pack is in his pocket, and as he struggles to fish it out, he hopes it's not too smashed from the commotions of the last two days. Not too bad. It adds character. he thinks sarcastically as he inspects the pack.
As he pulls out one cigarette, he notices the others look at him wearily, a few of them resting their hands on the hilts of their swords. Slowly, as to not startle them, he tries to get up without the help of his hands, and makes his way towards the fire. One of the soldiers says something and stands up as a warning, making Andrew stop in his tracks. Andrew turns to him, spreading his hands toward the man, with the cigarette held between his two fingers. After a few seconds, Andrew lowers his hands towards the fire, lights his cigarette, and takes a long drag.
Oh, sweet Jesus.
He ignores the looks they point his way, and goes back to what seems to be his bed roll. With each drag from the cigarette, he feels his body relaxing, and his mind starts to wander through thoughts about the last two days.
He still doesn’t know where he is, or how he got here. For a second he contemplates wether the big question is WHEN he is, but that makes him feel like a lunatic, so he quickly ignores that thought. He plays with the thought of this being some kind of afterlife. One hell of an afterlife I get.
He throws the remaining of the cigarette to the fire, and his eyelids begin to fall on their own accord. Maybe I’ll wake up in my bed. Or at least in a hospital bed. Maybe I’m in a coma, and this is some kind of fucked up coma dream.
As he lies down on the uncomfortable bed roll and closes his eyes, he vaguely feels someone undoing the ties of the rope again, freeing his hands.
He wakes up as someone ties his hands yet again. He opens his eyes. still in this shithole. he thinks disappointedly as he lets out a sigh.
Breakfast occurs in a similar fashion to yesterday’s dinner, with another cigarette and something akin to oatmeal.
Andrew tries to ignore them as much as he can, to show his deep anger to the situation. He wants hope, to be in a familiar place, to see a familiar face. He wants to hear English. He just wants to feel safe. God knows he doesn’t feel safe here. He feels a familiar burn behind his eyes, but ignores it wit a huff.
Just as Andrew ignores the soldiers, the soldiers ignore him; busy with their own task of getting ready for the day. The assemble their armor back on, check their weapons and bring supply for the day. The only one not joining their actions in the wounded man from yesterday. The man, similar to Andrew, sits on his bedroll, looking at his friends as they go about their business, laughing with them from time to time.
At one point the group leaves, and the two remain there, alone. Andrew can feel the wounded soldier’s eyes on him, and can hear the soldiers from the rest of the fort. Clearly they left the man behind not only because he was wounded, but also to watch Andrew, make sure he win’t escape or do something funny. Escape where, Andrew doesn’t know. It’s not like he knows the area.
As Andrew is busy doing nothing, the man gets out a book and reads for a while. From time to time soldiers not fro. The group come up the stairs, talk to the man, and stare at Andrew like he’s a wild animal on display. He ignores them as hard as he can, not wanting to feel any satisfaction of acknowledging them.
After what feels like an hour with no visitors, the man gets a bit closer, and say something to him. Andrew gives him an unimpressed look. The man lets out a huff, and what Andrew guesses is a curse, and gets back again.
The important looking man visits them once, accompanied by other important looking soldiers. One of them crouches before him, yet again trying to talk to him. Andrew gives her a little credit, as she tries many different languages, even one that sounds suspiciously like Spanish, but as he grew up in a mixed raced house and with a Spanish talking father, he knows better.
The woman gets up, and the group talk between themselves, pointing at his direction. At one point the talk becomes an argument as they shout at each other, until the important looking man gets angry and the conversation stops and they leave.
The day continues in that uneventful pattern, except the group does not come again. When Andrew feels like he cannot ignore his bladder any longer he stands up, immediately making the other follow as well with a groan. The man looks at him with sharp eyes, and Andrew knows that despite his injury, it’s very clear who would win a fight between them. He tries to figure out how to mime going to the bathroom without embarrassing himself too much, and feels his cheeks warm.
He scratches his brow and clears his throat as the other looks at him expectingly. He sighs and point to his crotch as he makes a face, and the man seems to understand, or at least Andrew hopes he does. The man leads him down the stairs and behind a similar looking wooden stable. Behind it there’s a reeking bucket, and Andrew curses his luck. The man looks unfazed, and Andrew suspects that he’s very used to no plumbing, which makes him more anxious as to where he is.
When they get back to their bedrolls, Andrew lies on his back, staring at the wooden roof and thinks that if it were to be raining, they’d all be soaked.
The time passes with Andrew feeling sorry for himself, from time to time feeling his breath quicken with panic and anxiety, until he regains his composure yet again. The other politely ignores these small outbursts, which Andrew is grateful for.
When the rest of the group finally arrives, the sky starts to darken, and the place feels a bit more alive as they talk and cook a different animal over the fire. Andrew eats quickly, almost not tasting the food, and quickly lies back down on his bedroll, wanting to end the day. As he listens to the others talk with his back to them, he feels almost empty from the exhaustion the panic and anxiety left him with. After they put out the fire, the red masked man, still wearing his armor, comes and unties his hands. Except for rubbing his sore wrists, Andrew ignores him.
Now with his hands free, and with everyone about to fall asleep he thinks he might have a chance to escape. Where to? He doesn’t know. But he reasons that there must be more people around this place, and if he’ll walk far enough he’ll get to a road. Then he’ll be able to hitchhike to anywhere that is not... here.
He waits quietly until he hears soft and not so soft snores from the others. He makes himself to wait a bit more, fighting his tired body to hold on. He turns in his bedroll to face the others, just to make sure they’re all indeed asleep and immediately faces with the woman soldier sitting on a stool, very much awake.
He awaits some more, thinking maybe she’ll decide to go to sleep in a while, and right when he’s about to fall asleep he can hear her get up from the stool. Yeah, now go to sleep. Instead, she wakes up one of the men, and only then goes to sleep. The man gets up tiredly, and takes her place on the stool. As he sits there, he looks at Andrew, noticing he’s awake. They stare at each other, with Andrew’s heart beating. At last, Andrew gives in, closes his eyes and falls asleep, defeated.
The next day comes and goes in the same fashion.
This time, what Andrew guesses is the man’s friends come and spend most of the day with him. Every time Andrew needs to the bathroom the all look at him, making him feel ashamed for disturbing them. At launch time, him and the soldier eat alone in uncomfortable silence.
Andrew spends the rest of the day napping, as he figures that every time he sleeps, they untie his hands. I don’t have anything better to do anyway. It’s better than trying to figure this whole clusterfuck out and fall into panic.
On the third day, he starts to feel himself getting desperate. Desperate for some change, someone to talk to, anything to distract him. He feels himself fall into a state of apathy, with tired eyes, despite the amount of sleep he gets. He starts talking to himself a bit, singing under his breath every song he knows to pass the time. Every now and again the soldier and his friends throw looks at him, some with pity while some with amusement or suspension.
Andrew really wants to get away from them.
On the fourth day they release his hands, while still keeping watch on him.
Andrew is too emotionally drained to feel too strongly about it.
It’s the fifth day, and the two are eating launch, when suddenly the other gets closer to Andrew and says something to him. Andrew is tired of telling people he doesn’t understand them, so he settles on staring at him.
The man, unfazed, points at himself and repeats himself, slower this time. “Bastien... Moreau...” and then he repeats it again, faster. His name, Andrew understands. He’s telling me his name.
Shocked at the attempt for interaction, Andrew mumbles the name, as if trying it out. The man nods, and says his name again, then looks at Andrew expectingly.
“Andrew Johnson” he says, slowly.
The man smiles faintly, repeating his name with a thick accent, and nods to himself.
After that, they continue their day as usual.
Come evening, when the group returns, Andrew can hear Bastien talking with the others and saying his name, which makes him to sharply look up, not used to hearing his name in a while like that. The others pause as well, and he can see the woman smile a bit.
“I got hit by a bus. That’s how I got here.”
It’s been day since the exchanged names, and Andrew decides he’s going to talk to the man, language barrier be damned.
“Not like the bus sent me flying all the way here, that’s just... that’s just stupid.” He couldn’t help but snort at himself. Bastien turns to him, startled. “I uh,” He clears his throat, “I bought a new pack of cigarettes that day, and when i crossed the street back to my apartment... yeah.”
Bastien says nothing, but looks at him, accepting his need to talk, even without someone who’ll understand his words. And just like that, as if a dam beaks inside of him, Andrew talks.
He tells Bastien about how he’s a painter, and how his apartment is filled with art supplies and days old mugs with turpentine instead of coffee. How he moved only half a year ago to live on his own. He tells him about his family. His Puerto Rican father and Jewish mother, and how he got the Jewish curls from his mother side, which now reach past his shoulders. He tells him about his older sister, Naomi. Then he tells him about the time when they were kids, when Naomi forced him to run naked in the street, because that’s the only way he’ll gain respect, in her words. About how much his parents laughed after. It makes him smile, as he remembers the amount of time they all told the story over dinner, despite his protests.
Bastien turns out to be a great listener, despite not understanding any word that came out of his mouth. When he finishes, Bastien starts talking as well, and Andrew makes up translations in his head for the stories Bastien shares.
After a while, when Bastien is in the middle of a story which sounds very dramatic, if Andrew is to be asked, Bastien’s friends arrive. He stops immediately, which makes Andrew wish they didn’t.
They tease him, as he joins their group. Hitting him lightly in the arm, laughing.
That’s how the next two days go about. Despite Bastien’s wound healing completely, he stays to keep watch. They talk, each in his own language, not understanding the other, but willing to listen non-the less.
Despite the itch for a smoke, he saves his cigarettes, realizing he’s not waking up from this dream anytime soon. The realization is like an ice bucket to the face, and it chokes his lungs, but he tries hard to ignore it.
On the third day of the new arrangement, Bastien points to Andrew’s left hand. It takes him a second to realize he’s pointing at his tattoo. A rose branch done in green ink by his friend. He thrusts his hand forward, letting him look closer at it, and then shows him some of the other tattoos he has. He rolls his shirt’s sleeve and shows him the butterfly in black on the inner side of his upper right arm; then he shoves the other sleeve to show the old style boxer on his forearm. After that he shows him his small loop earrings, and in return, Bastien shows him his own gold earrings.
After that, Bastien stands up, and from the look he throws to Andrew, he understands he needs to get up as well. Bastien leads them through the corridors. On their way, they stop to collect a big bucket, and then continue their way towards a well. Quietly, they feel the bucket with water, and with each holding one side of the bucket, the two make their way back, trying not to spill the water with their strides. It proves to be not an easy task, as the bucket is heavy and their way is filled with stairs.
When they get back, Bastien fetches what looks to be a bar of soap, and only then Andrew understands the reason for the water. He feels like crying from gratitude. His hair is dirty and and oily, hanging from his head in a tangled mess, and he’s pretty sure he stinks. He doesn’t even care for the fact that they’re in the open.
When Bastien starts to shed his clothes, Andrew does the same.
He starts with his white Converse shoes, which are not so white anymore, then his socks, which he considers burning after in the fire. Then goes his khaki shorts and his long sleeved green shirt, leaving him in his boxers. He hesitates for a moment. Fuck it, it’s not like they all didn’t see me shit already. and he pulls them down as well.
He looks over at Bastien, and sees the remaining of the wound from the fire creature, as well as other scars. He picks up a piece of fabric and wets it in the bucket, offering it to Andrew. He then does the same with another piece, and starts wetting his skin, Andrew following through. After they make sure the went over their whole body, Bastien takes the bar of soap and starts scrubbing the dirt out. Once he’s finished, he wets the soap in the water, and gives in to Andrew. He can’t recall ever being as dirty in his life as he is now. After getting to every limb and corner, he wets the fabric again, washing the soap from his skin. Once he’s finished with that, he shoves his head into the water, wetting he hair, and then scrubbing at it with the bar of soap again until all the oil gets out of his hair.
Once both relatively clean, Bastien starts washing his clothes. Andrew starts to do the same, but not before getting the pack of cigarettes, his lighter and his phone out, which is out of battery since day two. He once considered to throw it away, since there’s no use to it with no battery, but he reasons that means he accepts defeat to ever getting out of here.
With their clothes washed and hanging on a nearby branch to sun dry, they sit in the sun to dry as well.
“It’s been more than a week. Since i got it, that is.”
Bastien hums, as if understanding.
“I... want to go home. I really, really want to go home.” He feels his voice crack at the end, but he’s unable to stop. “I miss my family, Bastien. You get me?” Tears are streaming down his face now. He thinks about his family, and how much he misses them. It leads him to think about how much they must miss him. “Fuck, I was so deep in my own selfish mind that I didn’t think to even consider what they must think!” The tears come down faster.
That’s how he finds himself sitting butt naked on the floor in the middle of nowhere, with a stranger who does not speak his language, crying and sobbing for his parents. Scared he’ll never see them again. Never tell them how much he loves them and how much he’s sorry for not being able to even say goodbye. He cries that he wants to see his parents, that he wants to go home, again and again, his sobs shaking his body.
He looks at Bastien through cloudy eyes, and he looks back with sadness in his eyes, yet still not knowing how to help. He settles with putting his hand on Andrews back, and Andrew can’t help himself as he turns his way and hugs him, crying to his chest like a little boy again.
It takes about 30 minutes for Andrew to regain his breathing and stop the flowing of the tears. And Bastien lets him take his time, which Andrew is forever grateful for.
Afterwards, Bastien stands up and goes into the stables, returning with a set of clothes which he gives to Andrew, and Andrew finds himself wearing brown trousers with an orange shirt, new socks and boots. They all itch, but he ignores it.
He feels as if he’s betraying his old self by surrendering to them and wearing their clothes, abandoning his own. I guess I need to start to get used to that feeling. he thinks sadly.
That evening the others take note to Andrew’s change of clothes as they look at him with a tint of surprise.
Once they all sit around to eat, Bastien gets out of his way to sit next to him, and point to each soldier in turn, whispering their names as not to disturb their conversation.
The youngest one, who looks to be about 18 is Boniface Pellé. The oldest looking one (Andrew guesses he’s at least 35) is Didier Segal. A man with a curly moustache is Émile Roussel. The woman is Cerise Trudeau. Their leader is Chevalier Jean-Michel Leroux.
It takes Andrew a second to realize Chevalier is not part of his name, and that he’s familiar with the title, thought he does not remember what it means.
Andrew glances towards Jean-Michel, and finds him looking back at him, his dark eyes assessing him over the fire. Not wanting to back down, he looks at him head on. The moment passes when Bastien gets up and snaps Andrew’s attention.
Andrew inhales sharply, waking up with a start.
He takes a few deep breaths, calming himself down. It was just a dream.
He supposes that’s a dream as well. He’s not awake enough to think about it.
He tries to fall back asleep, but his mind is too occupied with thoughts, running through his head. Like headless chickens. he thinks.
He sits up, glancing around him. Brown eyes find his own. Jean-Michel Leroux. Chevalier Jean-Michel Leroux.
He stands up and walks toward Jean-Michel, and in turn, Jean-Michel stands as well.
“I need water.” He says, miming drinking from a glass. Jean-Michel nods, and looks for a waterskin, only to find it empty. It seems they all drank the water they had before they went to sleep, because every one he finds turns out to be empty as well.
He picks the up, shoving a couple in Andrew’s direction for him to hold, and Jean-Michel signs him to follow his way.
They make their way to the well, and fill each waterskin. Not wanting to fill them again, Andrew uses his hands us a cup and drinks from the bucket, while also using the excuse to wash his face.
After they get back and Andrew gets lies back on his bedroll and Jean-Michel sits back on one of the wooden stools near the remains of the fire, he finds that he’s still unable to sleep. For 30 minutes he tosses and turns, but to no avail.
What he really wants to do is talk to one of his friends over the phone, which what he usually did when he couldn’t sleep, but that train of thought left him feeling sad and sorry for himself, so he abandons it quickly. Instead he fishes his lighter and the pack of cigarettes he stashed under the bedroll, along with his phone, right after he washed his clothes.
Lighting a cigarette and returning the pack back, he hears a cough and looks to Jean-Michel.
He didn’t stop to consider before that the smell might bother them.
“Sorry, I should’ve realized that the smell will bother you.” He doesn’t even know why he’s explaining, as he stands up to get away from the sleeping others. But as he makes his way aside, Jean-Michel follows him.
“Of course. You gotta watch me, because if not, I’m gonna kill you all with by bare fucking hands. I couldn’t stomach seeing a wannabe rabbit getting killed, but you expect me to harm someone? Fuck that shit.” He lets out a humourless chuckle.
Jean-Michel doesn’t offer anything back, but an intense look.
Another deep drag from his cigarette. I gotta smoke less if I want to save them.
“So you’re a chevalier.” At Jean-Michel’s confused face he adds, “Yeah, Bastien told me earlier today.” He points at him and says “Chevalier Jean-Michel.” Then he points at himself. “Andrew Johnson.”
A second of silence, and then Jean-Michel nods slowly at him. “Chevalier Jean-Michel Leroux.”
“Yeah. Forgot the last name.” He says and takes the last drag of his cigarette.
Considering it the end of their little conversation, and definitely the end of his cigarette, he makes his way back to his bedroll, finally feeling his eyelids drop.
Two days after, the group stay; choosing this day as their wash day. And despite washing two days ago, Andrew chooses to wash again, still used to taking a shower almost every day.
He helps them bring three buckets filled with water, as Cerise walks away, to wash alone he reasons.
They all strip, and start to wash and scrub away. At one point Émile splashes Boniface, making them laugh at the younger’s red face and stern glare. Even Andrew lets out a small smile, but nothing else, not actually feeling as part of the group.
They’re your capturers, for fuck sake! You’re not supposed to feel part of them. He’s shocked to find that he’s almost forgot about that. If he’s true with himself, he admits that considering the whole situation, they didn’t treat him too badly. He’s lucky they didn’t kill him on the spot, just from the way he looked.
As the time passes, Andrew accepts more the option of him ending up in a different time period, or at least dreaming about it. Although it doesn’t explain the fire creature, or the glowing eyes of the wolf.
Andrew knows that in different time periods, people will execute and burn on way less than dressing a bit differently. Considering that not only he’s still alive, but also the fact that they feed him and don’t tie his hands anymore, he thinks he’ll take what he can get. That doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.
Again, they all hang their clothes to dry, and sit in the sun, just like how he and Bastien did two days ago, only this time they all sat next to each other, talking, while Andrew sat to the side in quiet.
I’m definitely not one of them.
Only then Andrew hears Bastien calls his name. Startled, he looks at him. Bastien calls his name again, waving his hand for him to join. As he shuffles closer to them, he hears Didier grumble something unhappily, and then Bastien says something back in a sharp tone. Andrew can’t help but feel that no everyone was happy with the arrangement.
Bastien ignores Didier’s sour look, points to a tree and says something to Andrew. He needs to repeat it a few more times for Andrew to understand that he’s trying to teach him their language. When Andrew tries the word on his tongue, they all laugh. Most likely from his bad pronunciation, he thinks as he feels his face get a bit warmer.
They all pointing at various objects, making it a game. Andrew doesn’t really remember most of the words, but he tries. At the end of the day he knows how to say tree, water, and what might be stone or floor, he’s yet to be sure.
On the next few days he learns how to say “I need to pee”, “I need to eat”, “I need to drink” and what he thinks is “I’m tired”, but feels like it might be something else as they all tried not to laugh too much when they taught him that one. He won’t use this one in the meantime.
Every once and again he feels the air getting sucked out of his lungs from anxiety of never returning home, which usually happens when he tries to sleep or wakes up in the middle of the night from a bad dream. Some of his dreams are filled with wolves with glowing eyes, or fire monsters.
The worst ones are of his family. Them standing next to an empty grave, crying,, his mother screaming and howling into his father’s shoulder, as he tries to remain strong for what’s left of his family. Some of them depict his mother sitting next to his hospital bed, and his sister next to her, both with tear-stained faces.
Most nights filled with these dreams, he wakes up and quietly regains his composure, not wanting to wake the others and not feeling comfortable sharing anyone with his pain; the time he cried to Bastien, an exception.
After one exceptionally bad dream, he wakes up with a start and he can’t seem to control his breathing, no matter how much he tells himself to take deep belly breaths.
Suddenly, a waterskin is being thrust into his vision. He looks up, and sees Émile looking at him with serious eyes. He takes it, and sips the water slowly, thanking him in English, not yet knowing right word in their language. Émile nods at him, as if understanding.
It makes him feel a bit better, and not long after, he’s able to fall back to sleep.
It’s midday, and him and Bastien have just finished their lunch, and are now lazy-ing in the sun, letting the food settle in their bellies.
Bastien is reading a book aloud, as if reading to Andrew, and Andrew finds himself enjoying listening to the foreign language. Finds that it calms him. He looks up at the sky, his head resting on his arms, his back on the stone floor.
I wish I had some pencil and papers. Probably easy to find charcoal around here, with all the trees on fire.
All of a sudden, the two hear people go up the stairs. While not uncommon, as some of the soldiers come to check up on them from time to time, but Bastien stops his reading non the less. As they see it’s their own group, Bastien Breaks into a surprised smile, but when they notice their red stained clothes and the fact that Didier is not among them, his smile vanishes.
Quickly, Bastien stands up and walks to the group. Andrew hears them talking in quiet voices, until Émile starts yelling. His fists are clenched, his face stained red from blood, skin warm underneath. Cerise start to yell in return. Boniface’s face is dirty, with tear-trucks exposing flushed skin.
Émile points accusing fingers at Jean-Michel, who stands there, taking all his yelling. Andrew cannot see his face from under the mask, unable to know what he’s feeling. Cerise pushes Émile back, which makes him yell louder. Then, as if sensing his gaze, Émile shifts towards Andrew.
In seconds he’s in front of Andrew, fisting his shirt and lifting him up. Andrew grabs his wrists, prying them to let go, as Émile shouts right in his face.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE, ASSHOLE!” He yells back. “WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO WITH THIS, HUH?!”
The others quickly catch Émile, pulling his arms back as he continues to thrash and yell, and Andrew feels his anger snap.
With no time to think his actions through, he swings his fist, hitting Émile in the face. Émile manages to slip an arm free, and swings it at Andrew’s way, but because of the distance he manages to only graze his face with his armored hand, leaving a few cuts.
Boniface and Cerise hurry to regain their hold on Émile as Bastien holds Andrew back as well.
Jean-Michel yells at Émile, but instead of looking back at him, Andrew can feel Émile’s eyes glare his way as he spits to the ground with a disgusted expression. That earns him a shove by his commander. Boniface and Cerise release their grip on him, and he stomps away, down the stairs, just as Bastien releases his own grip on Andrew.
Jean-Michel makes his way to Andrew, and yells at him again, and then sighs. Even without seeing his face, he knows he is tired.
“It’s not my fault he’s being a little SHIT!” He retorts back, which makes Jean-Michel to bark something back at Andrew, and then at the rest of them.
After that, they all get away from each other, each with his own grief, except Bastien who’s talking with Jean-Michel. Both with low heads, Jean-Michel murmuring soft words to Bastien. Looking at them, Andrew sees, for the first time, how gentle Jean-Michel can be when he wants to, what he hadn’t considered before, especially with the mask fixed on his face.
Before they start assembling dinner, they all wash the blood from their clothes and skin, and Andrew wonders what had happened to Didier that got them all covered in blood. Quickly he decides he doesn’t really wants to know.
Dinner is a quiet affair. Émile, finally calming down, joins them, but there’s no talking between them. For one selfish moment, Andrew feels that for the first time he’s not alone in the silence. He prefers to be alone than having them all be quiet as well.
That night, he dreams about getting eaten by the wolf; his blood staining his family who’s watching from the side, unable to help, their faces stuck in a look horror.
As he wakes up, he spots Jean-Michel awake as well. They stopped with the night watch a couple of days ago, so there’s no good reason for him to be awake, unless, like Andrew, he’s unable to sleep. He gets up, and sits on one of the stools next to the commander, and except for a glance, Jean-Michel doesn’t offer anything more.
Andrew supposes this is a good time as any for a smoke, but there’re only two cigarettes left, and he prefers to keep them a bit more.
Two his right, he can hear Boniface whimpering and mumbling in his sleep. He’s so young. he thinks. He looks to be 18, but knowing how he himself looked at 17, he knows Boniface can be younger. And already witnessing death. Andrew considers waking him up, but then what? What can he say that he’ll understand? Even if they did speak the same language, Andrew doesn’t know his struggles of being a soldier, seeing his friend die next to him, having his warm blood on his skin.
Fortunately, Boniface quiets, falling back to soft snores.
Jean-Michel says something next to him, getting his attention. The commander repeats it again, slower this time, and Andrew is proud to say he understands he’s asking him if he wants to drink.
Andrew nods, and expect Jean-Michel to fish out a waterskin. Instead, Jean-Michel stands up, and returns with a glass bottle. Alcohol.
“Trust me enough to drink with me?”
They both drink in silence, passing the bottle slowly between them lazily; non of them in a hurry to get drunk. As he takes a small sip, Andrew wonders how it is to be a commander, being responsible of soldiers. Of people’s lives. He feels very content with his path towards art.
He doesn’t drink too much, just enough to feel slightly drunk. Comfortable. Jean-Michel takes a few more sips, puts it aside, and turns to him. He says something, and Andrew spots the word ‘you’.
“Huh?” He feels a bit slow.
Jean-Michel rises his hand towards Andrew’s face, which makes him jerk backwards, confused. Slowly, not to startle him again, Jean-Michel lightly touches the cuts he received from Émile earlier today, making Andrew hiss and wince from the sting.
Jean-Michel stands up abruptly, and returns with a jar of green substance. He opens it, and immediately Andrew wished he hadn’t, because the smell of it burns his nose. Jean-Michel daps his fingers in the salve, and starts applying it gently to Andrew’s cuts. As he’s busy tending to Andrew, he finds himself looking at the other man more closely.
His dark skin glowing in blue from the moon, brows pulled together with concentration, full lips pursed. He spots a light scar on his left cheekbone.
He’s... pretty. he thinks, just as the other’s brown eyes find his, looking at him with a questionable expression. He feels his cheeks getting warm, and prays Jean-Michel will blame the alcohol for his blush.
Jean-Michel gets back and closes the jar, tossing it to his own bedroll, and they sit in silence yet again.
Something feels different, though. Maybe it’s the alcohol, but Andrew feels himself opening up a bit, wanting to talk. So talk he does.
He tells him everything he told Bastien. Jean-Michel talks a bit himself, his voice low, and every now and again Andrew understands a word, grinning every time it happens.
They stay up for at least an hour, before Andrew finds himself falling asleep as he sits. Jean-Michel shakes him lightly, telling him to sleep, which Andrew understands as well. He smiles a small smile when he lies on his bedroll, right before falling asleep.
one morning, a few days after, just as the group finishes their breakfast. A group of soldiers come rushing up the stairs with an urgent hurry, making the group jump to their feet.
They say something breathlessly, and quickly descending the stairs again, leaving the group with stunned expressions. Andrew, used to not understanding what’s going on around him already, watches their faces, painted with shock.
They all drop what they are holding, rushing downstairs, following the soldiers from before; leaving Andrew confused behind them. He stands up, getting down the stairs slowly after them, passing empty corridors filled with big openings and branches with green leaves.
He catches with them in the main courtyard, as Jean-Michel talks with the important looking man with the big mask.
As he makes his way towards Cerise, Bastien, Boniface and Émile and looks around him, he sees everyone’s faces are tired, so tired, but relived. Some sporting small smiles, but even they’re bittersweet.
He asks them “what?”, as it’s the only word he knows to ask them what is going on. Unsure how to respond to him at first, Cerise points to her sword, mimes fighting, and then crosses her arms, making an X shape. No more war.
Unaware there was a war to begin with, Andrew doesn’t know what he should feel.
He doesn’t have much time to decide, it seems, as the main doors of the fort open, revealing the bridge he crossed when he was still tied up. He notices shouts are coming from the door, and takes a few steps closer, curios.
What he sees makes him feel delusional. A short woman with a glowing hand, a man holding a pole with fire shooting out of its end, a huge, grey skinned... beast with horns and a woman with a bow, who seems to be normal enough until Andrew spots her pointy ears, all fighting what looks like two screeching green creatures. His feet feel as if stuck to the stone floor, heart beating fast, breath quickens and eyes round, he remains stuck there, as soldiers rush to the bridge to help the group of... he doesn’t even know.
Suddenly, there’s a loud PANG, and as if jumping from the ground, the green creature lands in front of him, making him fall back as he screams in terror.
I’m going to die! he thinks as he shuffles back, away from the screeching creature. Then, as if out of nowhere, the creature’s torso is being slashed to two by the grey skinned creature’s axe, splashing what might be black blood on Andrew.
slick with sweat and shaking from panic, he feels his belly protest angrily, and in a second, he empties his breakfast on the stone floor.
He stays there on the floor, shivering, despite the fight being over with both of the creatures slain.
At some point, he feels blanket being laid on his shoulders, as he’s still shivering. He looks up, and sees Cerise offering him water. He accept with a shaky hand, feeling tired. She pats his shoulder with a serious expression, and walks away.
He sees legs crossing his vision in a blur, not really paying any attention to what’s going on around him, his mind stuck on what he saw earlier, all of it. Some of it looked even like... magic.
A couple of boots stop in-front of him, just as he empties the waterskin. He looks up, and sees the horned giant and the woman with the glowing hand, who Andrew assumes is a dwarf, accompanied by Jean-Michel, Cerise, Bastien and the important looking man. The woman trie to talk to him using a new language they have yet to try. They all look at him expectingly. After a moment, the horned giant tries a different language, but Andrew only shakes his head, feeling disappointed with himself. He sees Cerise’s and Bastien’s face fall a bit, as Jean-Michel gives a sigh. The two strangers turn to the others with sheepish expressions.
That night Andrew falls into heavy sleep, his mind still tired from the events of today to conjure bad dreams. When Boniface shakes him awake the next morning, it’s to the sight of the others packing their equipment.
He turns to them with a confused face, and Boniface fishes a small notebook and a pencil, as he scribbles something on the page.
“You do know that if someone doesn’t know a language, it also means they can’t read it, do ye?”
Boniface shoved the notebook toward his face, reaping the same word. On the page theres a bad drawing, but undoubtedly a drawing of a house. Home.
“You’re going home.”