I slowed my pace. The rocky terrain wasn't easy to cross, and triggering a landslide was the last thing I wanted to do.
"I know you cannot survive at home by yourself, let alone in a distant land."
Through my thick but weathered leather gloves my wrists still felt the tingling sensation of nervousness at traversing lands I never have before, even if all this was just a muddy slope...
"I'm sorry, but we haven't the money to send you there."
The still air grew cooler, but the old trick to line my goggle lenses with spittle helped a lot – I narrowly avoided a loose clump of pebbles ready to give way.
"Ah, there's a problem with that. You came in with very bad timing, you see? Why not take a break while waiting, go work or something? It's a six-month wait."
My breaths came out in heavy, rugged puffs as I hauled myself up a ledge, soiling my weathered khaki overcoat with dark mud. I jumped up the last of it and then collapsed on my side with a sharp pain in the stomach – from now on I'll only visit flat landmarks.
"What's the point? What we have here is as good as what they have there."
I turned to face the dark, sunless skies. This place is beautiful only in the rumours about it indeed. Nothing ever told me that there was no view, the mist settling around here year-round. And then the air was anything but refreshing, so still and cold it was lifeless. Hardly any vegetation to admire or wildlife to encounter though the latter I'm thankful of...
"There's nothing to see out there; things have changed since my time."
The pain did not go away, becoming some dull, unpleasant sensation numbing my abdomen. I sat up, almost toppling back from the stinging, and saw a gash across my overcoat, its edges wet. I gingerly peeled it open, and found that the cut had also gone through my white shirt, now bright red. I fumbled with the buttons and ransacked my bag pack. Darn it! Only band-aids?
I straggled up, clutching at the wound in a desperate attempt to curb the flow. It backfired, my heart high on adrenaline pumping the warm red faster and all over my fingers. I never was the type that could look blood straight in the eye, even from little nicks – I felt weak from the sight, and couldn't move much further forward.
I dropped my bag, and struggled to shuffle forward. Now my legs were weak too, giving way from the pressure I exerted and the pain from my stomach, and I landed in a heap. It isn't that bad, come on. You'll make it through this, you'll reach the city soon enough and then it's going to be smooth sailing from then on. Yeah, you're going home one day with a smirk on your face that you've made it... what was that?
A soft rumbling, like a moody swarm of bees? A bear? No, not again! I can't face it again, it demolished my tent the last time. Oh no, it's coming closer? It's growling! What am I going to do? I can't die here! I'm too young to...
The world became blurrier and colder, darker as I pathetically moaned in panic. All the while the growling coming closer, and just as I felt nothing more it stopped.
"I keep telling you, we're going to break the rule if you stay here."
"Relax. It's not like there was any city around here to begin with..."
"That's why we should leave! We've wasted enough supplies... oh, he's coming round."
I felt a hand on my forehead – it hurt, but only because of the splitting headache. I forced my eyes open, slowly coming into focus with a young boy's face. We were in a cave lit by a warm fire somewhere to my right. His brownish black hair, and black eyes... have I seen you before?
"Yeah, you'll be fine. You were in a real mess when we found you though. Had a hard time believing anyone could've injured themselves like that. You aren't much of a traveller, are you?"
His voice was firm but gentle. I stuttered a few unintelligible words, but a sharp stab from my stomach brought me back to reality. He mopped up the mess on my face, and laid me down properly again.
"Best you don't get up or try to do anything. You're still in no shape to, and anyways it looks like the torrent outside has no intent of letting up..."
"We can still make it through the storm! Let's just go and leave him here – "
"Out of the question. We haven't had a proper look at your threads anyways. You nearly slipped off that cliff with me still riding you!"
"But – "
"No buts. Yawn~ I'd like a night too, so keep it down. Oh. As for you, stranger – if there's anything just call me out. Don't worry about proper words; I can tell the difference between you and other sounds. G'nite."
The soft yellow light was extinguished, returning the pitch black of the cave. It was like a shroud occasionally pierced by lightning. I had no idea whether I was awake or asleep, whether my eyes were open or closed... darkness and pain clouded my thought. Who is that boy, and... just who was his annoying companion?
I opened my eyes. I was still in the cave, now brightly lit with sickly light from the entrance. I got up, but my body moved very slowly and my abdomen still stung. It was wrapped up neatly in sterile white dressing. My overcoat, goggles, gloves, and shirt laid nearby, neatly folded (I still wore my long black trousers and brown shoes). I put the latter two back on.
"You've finally gotten up. Well done."
A sneering voice, somewhat genderless emerged from behind me. I whirled around, and then clutched my front after being stung for my reckless move. There was nothing but rock wall, and a parked motorcycle from the yesteryear.
"Hum. You just got up from a life-threatening injury and you want to dance already?"
Again, that sneering voice, filled with contempt. Contempt like all those back home... did someone tail me here? Where was he...
"Where – who are you?"
"No need to shout. I'm right in front of you."
The parked motorcycle in front of me swivelled its front slightly, and flickered its lamp a few times to indicate its sentience. A normal person might have leapt up and ran away from the possessed machine, but I continued to just look at it, almost dumbly. I've heard of you before...
"Hey, didn't your mother tell you it's rude to stare?"
"Er, what? Of course I'm not staring! I'm just... wondering where I've came across you before."
"Hmm? Even if we've crossed paths I doubt we have anything to do with each other."
"You... you're a motor – "
There was some crunching of soil, footsteps. The boy?
"Oh, I see you're up and getting acquainted with my mode of transport over there."
I turned around – the boy stood at the entrance. He was short, had a round boyish head, a rather light complexion and neatly smoothed out hair. He wore a tan coloured overcoat and underneath was a matching set of dark green shirt and long trousers, and a belt with various holsters. He held a small brown sack over his left shoulder and a light smile on his juvenile face.
"About time. Now fix me up and we can get moving before sunset!"
"Patience, we'll fix you up after I get my fill. I managed to only find some breakfast – you don't mind wild birds?"
"Uh, ah... how do they taste like?"
"Hm-hm. A traveller usually wouldn't worry too much about that, but rather how filling they'd be. I'll prepare them... caught quite a bounty this morning, and uh... perhaps you'd want to go outside, since you might not be comfortable with the preparation?"
He put the sack down and drew out a limp turtledove, shot squarely on its tiny head, leaving only a gaping, bloody hole where its eyes once were. I gagged at the rising scent of blood, and hobbled out. Still, it must take appreciable skill and equipment to have achieved such a shot... I know I know him somehow, that boy and that talking motorcycle of his...
I clutched my stomach, and sat down by the mouth of the cave. Huh, this place really always is misted up, the Sun's otherwise strong rays only glowing through the white shroud. Somewhat like my brain when I decided to step out of – no! I made the right choice, I argued to myself silently before nodding off again with fatigue.
The meal was pretty good; I woke up myself as the aroma of well-done meat wafted out of the cave. I ate quite a lot. Despite the meat being tougher than usual and my adversity to bones, I walloped them down. The boy just sat aside, eating only a bar of whitish candy. His motorcycle occasionally voiced its dissatisfaction at his charity but otherwise was marginally agreeable.
I laid down again after a swig of fresh mountain water from the canteen the boy brought. The wound really took a lot of energy to heal. I felt completely drained after doing one thing, so after that I had to lie down and probably doze off.
The boy just sat on a rock nearby looking at me. He now only wore a white shirt and his dark green trousers. Sometimes he would look outside as well, sigh just loud enough to be heard, and then look back at me. I didn't fall asleep this time. I wanted to get to know him better.
"Thank you... Mr?"
"Names aren't important. What's more important is that you get better soon."
"Yeah, well he looks patched up enough for me. He should be fine enough by himself, so let's make a move."
"Shush. I want to make sure I've done a good job."
"Aw, you know we're running short of time! That, and I'm not fixed up. This place's more beautiful in sight than in name – "
"You mean it the other way around?"
"Same thing. We ought to be able to get to the foot of the mountain by sunset if we make a move soon, and keep time."
"Hum... somehow I feel like not moving... yawn~ why not let's let it flow this time?"
The boy stood up abruptly with a plain face, and raised a finger as if to indicate end of argument. The motorcycle swivelled its front side-to-side as if shaking its head in defiant submission. The boy walked over to me and gave me another drink of water. I know I knew him somehow, and judging by his actions it was as if he knew me too.
He then walked over to the motorcycle and inspected its threads. After a minute of close scrutiny went to a bag attached to the rear wheels, placed his brown gloves inside and took out some black material and an assortment of tools, and sat down to tend to the front wheel. His hands were deft, and surprisingly much rougher than mine. He must have travelled a lot, but at his age?
The motorcycle continued to rant on about leaving quickly but in a less sneering tone, and sighed almost ecstatically when the patch was stuck on. The boy just worked silently, and within just a few minutes he was done. He nonchalantly chucked his tools back inside and walked out, presumably to wash his hands of the vile-smelling adhesive.
The motorcycle now cooed, almost eerily with emotion. I closed my eyes to rest, seeing that it was somehow soothed, but it chirped and was in the mood to talk.
"Hey, hey, traveller. Don't doze off just yet."
"Oh? What is it?"
"Ah, I'm ready to take on at least a full tank's worth at this rate! Don't you feel it, traveller?"
"Hmm, not really. It'd be nice if I could be patched up just as easy though."
I turned to my left, facing away from the narcissistic motorcycle and towards the entrance, hoping that the boy would return soon and I could talk to him and know him more. The skies were gloomy again, as if rain was a daily occurrence around these parts.
"Aw, don't be like that."
"Alright... what is it?"
"Ha ha, I was merely jealous that you would receive so much help from her when I was still in need of a little rethreading."
"Hmm, go figure... wait."
"We ought to be leaving as soon as she gets back though, sorry to say. It was nice having you around though. I've never seen her get so concerned over someone like that."
Again. That word.
"Wait, say that again, slowly."
"Huh? I said that she – "
"She? Your rider is a girl?"
The motorcycle's light flashed on in fright, and it swivelled around to face me. I now stood up, screw the pain. I got it! That's it! I knew who she is, and who this motorcycle, no, motorrad is too! She's –
"Yes, I am a girl. Is there a problem with that?"
She walked in, her hair rather wet and her shirt just slightly transparent at the shoulders. It wasn't raining yet, so I assumed that she took a bath to wash herself up. She walked past me, and went to the motorcycle. As she walked past a light scent of wildflowers wafted into the air. I wanted to slap myself for not noticing her femininity from even closer earlier, but that's it! I knew her!
"No, I know you! I know your motorrad too – it's just that, hmm... I can't remember your names, but I can almost swear I know you two!"
She drew out a hat with goggles, her green shirt and overcoat from one of her bags, and put them on slowly, almost apathetically.
"Then I guess I'm good to go. You've healed up well-enough to continue with your journey."
She took her motorrad by the handles, swivelled them a bit, and began walking out without even giving me a glance. If not for the same voice I would have thought this person to be the other's indifferent twin sister, or a robotic clone.
"Wait, wait! I know you two – I know I do..."
"Whether you know me or not is none of my business. I am a traveller, and I traverse the world to see the sights and sounds it has to offer. The people I meet along the way... some are great, some are bad, and some downright idiots, like you."
I winced just slightly at that remark she made with a monotonous voice.
"But they're just people I meet along the way. At the end of the meeting I'll just move on for something else I've yet to see."
She started the motorrad, engines now growling and light piercing into the descending fog.
"Wait – so they're just side dishes? Don't you care about what happens to them?"
Her inhumane words caused me to clench at my abdomen. The pain acted up again, and things quickly became so blur, my body so weak. I just fell down on my legs – helpless and thoughtless. She continued to look on uninterestedly.
"So why did you tend to me? Why didn't you just leave me as you found me if I didn't matter?"
She opened her mouth to speak but suddenly tensed up. I couldn't make out why; my hearing had dimmed down to a high-pitched ringing and my sight rapidly failing. She drew something out of one of her belt holsters, and aimed it at me. Through the cotton-fluff clouding my head I managed to hear a loud bang and a bright flash from the object held in her hand.
Pain stabbed my upper chest now. I could no longer see even with my eyes wide-open or hear with my ears uninjured. I tried to feel about with my hands but my arms wouldn't move. This is it...
... but why would she undo her work? With one last breath I slipped away into the cold oblivion.