I was drifting. I couldn't tell what was up or down, if it was dark or light, if I was warm or cold... I was frightened, and sad... very, very sad... I could almost remember why. How long would this take? I had an idea that I might be in pain, but the weightlessness made me unsure of anything.
I hope this works, I thought.
But what was it I hoped would work? I tried to remember. There was something important happening or something important that was going to happen and I desperately wanted to remember... I had to remember. But I couldn't remember, and the harder I tried the more elusive the memories felt. I was hoping for something, but what was I hoping for? And I had been wondering something just a moment ago, but now I didn't even know what I was wondering about. I continued to float and gradually the fear and sadness faded. I held onto them. I had a feeling that, no matter how painful those feelings were, I wanted to keep them with me. I couldn't remember why. The sensation that I might be in pain faded, too. For that I was glad. Why should I be in pain?
I had an idea that at one time I did know what was going on. But it eluded me now.
Where was I? Fresh fear flooded through me when I suddenly realized that I didn't know where I ought to be let alone where I was. I didn't even know who I was. And every moment the memories that I had been grasping at faded further. Moments ago they were just below the surface, on the tip of my tongue I might have said. Now they were deeper, like knowing I'd had a dream but not being able to recall what that dream was. And now...
Gone. Completely and utterly erased.
I floated now empty of everything, my entire world a vast void of emptiness.
I could have been floating for seconds or years. There was nothing by which to gauge the passing of time.
Then something changed. As I floated I felt like I was dreaming. In my dream I saw a man, an incredibly handsome man with wavy blonde hair. The alabaster skin on his exposed neck, face, and arms was ravaged by scars. His eyes were dark and sad. His expression was one of resigned hopelessness. It was painful to see. I had an urge to comfort this man I didn't know.
I noticed a small woman, then. She was a little clearer than the beautiful blonde man in this dream. She was small, slight, and every bit as pale as he was. Her short black hair was striking against her white skin. She, too, had dark eyes, but hers were happy. No, not happy... ecstatic! Her eyes sparkled and a brilliant smile lit up her face. I realized - as sometimes happens in dreams - that I was looking at myself. My dream self went up to the man. He looked at me warily, like he was afraid I was going to attack him. Then wonder replaced the caution and sadness in his eyes. I reached out my hand to him and he took it immediately. My smile widened into a broad, elated grin.
I gasped, and then realized I could suddenly feel my body. I hadn't known until this moment that I had been unable to feel anything. I also hadn't realized that I had been holding my breath. For how long? It must not have been very long because I didn't feel like I needed the oxygen.
The air tasted funny; kind of musky, salty, moist, and earthy. Like dirt, and pine, and the sea, and plants, and a million other things. Some I recognized but most I didn't.
I wondered briefly about the dream I had just had. It had been a very good dream. Was I asleep? That seemed the best explanation for how bizarre everything seemed right now. But I didn't feel like I was asleep. I lay still, not sure if I really wanted to wake up all the way. Maybe my dream would return.
I could see light, though I hadn't opened my eyes yet. It had a strange purplish hue that I couldn't quite name. Just like I couldn't quite recognize what some of those flavors were in the air. There were noises, too. The sound of waves crashing, wind blowing through branches, leaves rustling, frogs croaking, crickets chirping, and millions of other sounds I couldn't place.
As I lay there with my eyes still closed I gradually became more aware of my body. The floating sensation was almost completely gone. I realized that I was thirsty, very thirsty. My throat felt bone dry. I opened my eyes to see where I was, hoping there was some fresh water nearby.
I was lying curled on my side on a sandy shore. The waves were breaking nearby, running up the beach towards me only to run out of energy and give up a couple feet away. It was nighttime, but everything seemed very clear. The moon must be full and very bright; it seemed as bright as daytime.
I blinked and looked harder. It was strange how I could see all the little droplets of water spraying from the waves offshore. Impossible that I could distinguish every grain of sand on the beach, even the dust in the air. But that wasn't so important. I was thirsty and I didn't see any drinkable water around here.
I sat up slowly, surprised at how easy it was. The moment I thought about sitting I was rising, like there was no effort involved.
The thirst was building, starting to burn in my throat. Why was I so thirsty? It must be because of the seawater. Maybe I'd been swimming and the salt dehydrated me. That seemed like a logical explanation. There had to be fresh water around here somewhere. If I followed the shoreline I should be able to find a creek. My thirst was getting downright distracting.
I stood and looked around. Behind me there was a pile of broken wood and some rope in a jumbled mess. I had been lying on a good deal of the wood. Strange that it hadn't been uncomfortable. It didn't look like driftwood, more like some sort of raft had crashed into the shore during the last high tide or a recent storm. Maybe I had been on that raft. Maybe I was from a shipwreck. That might explain the memory loss. A tragic accident? Repressed memories? Or a head injury? Only I didn't feel injured anywhere. I felt fine, except for being very thirsty.
Horribly, unbearably, maddeningly thirsty.
Burning thirst began to choke me. My curiosity about the wood and where I was, my past, the dilemma of not knowing my own name, all of it faded. I simply had to find something to drink. I didn't know how I could be so thirsty. Surely I must be too dehydrated to even stand.
Something caught my eye then and the urgency of my thirst receded slightly as curiosity took over. Something was carved on one of the planks of wood nearest to me. I examined it curiously.
ALICE, FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS
Was that for me? If things were as they appeared, if that wood had been a raft and I had been on that raft, perhaps someone had written that message for me.
"Alice," I said the name out loud to see if it sounded familiar at all. But I was distracted by the sound of my voice. It sounded so... melodic, inhumanly beautiful. It didn't sound like me, but I couldn't remember what my voice was supposed to sound like.
Something else caught my attention; a strange, spicy, pleasant scent. I leaned forward and inhaled through my nose. The scent came from the wood. It was strongest in the indentations where the words had been carved. How strange...
Inhaling through my nose triggered something. The thirst flared in my throat again, stronger than before. It burned and I clutched at my neck trying to put out the flames from the outside. My skin felt remarkably firm and smooth, but I didn't pay attention to that. I had to find something to drink, and now.
Instincts that I didn't know I had took over. Before I had time to realize what I was doing I was rushing down the beach, much faster than I should be able to, sifting through the different scents I happened across. I found a freshwater creek, as I had expected, but it didn't smell right to me. Maybe there was something wrong with that water. I passed over it without even bothering to take a sip. I smelled some smoke on the breeze, probably from a campfire. I inhaled deeper and caught another scent that went along with it.
Instantly I launched into a sprint. I flew over the ground, my feet barely touching the sand. My mind was focused only on the delicious scent I was following. I didn't recognize it, but I knew that whatever it was would quench my thirst. I had to find it, and nothing could stop me. The burn in my throat was maddening, as though I'd swallowed a mouthful of hot coals. I could hear the source of the smell now, gentle breathing and two distinct thudding hearts. A tiny portion of my brain was suddenly panicking.
What was I thinking? What was I doing? I knew what my next course of action would be, what it had to be, and it was horrifying. The tiny portion of sanity fought to stop me. But the rest of my mind was no longer in my control. A few more moments and I came upon a small tent with a smoldering fire out front, two adults sleeping inside. Nobody else was in sight or hearing.
It all happened very quickly. In less than a second I was the only one in the tent breathing. The tiny portion of sanity in the corner of my mind was nowhere near strong enough to stop me from quenching my thirst.
It wasn't until after I was finished - my scorching need faded but not completely satisfied - that I fully comprehended what I had done. Though I still didn't know who I was, I now knew what I was.
I felt sick at the thought.