He wakes up but finds he can’t move. With only his radio by his side, he wonders what on earth is going on…
Echoes | Lost
I wake under the embrace of an oak tree. Before opening my eyes I savour the sharp air, allowing it to sneak in past the lining of my nose, and caress the thick trunk of my throat, then deep down into drowsy lungs. Some misty fragrance must have dragged me from my dreams. Sweet sensations linger still around me.
I try to open my lips. Dry and sticky, they don’t wish to be parted. I cough and I lurch into full consciousness. If that’s what it is.
Next to me I am aware of something small falling, or falling over. I feel an uncomfortable lump on my hips. Above me the leaves rattle slightly, and so noisily. I choose not move. My arms are not restrained but don’t seem inclined to shift. I cough again and notice my chest catch at the air, bucking, frustrated.
The leaves rattle again, and I notice their autumn colours, faded greens, yellows and oranges, are being invaded by the slowly rising sun. My perception is like a dream, all jumbled and out of sequence.
I wonder how long I had slept. My body feels solid and awkward. I manage to twitch a finger on my right hand, then another. And my thumb. Then the other hand joins in, like a dance macabre, moving independently of the rest of me.
I realize that my eyeballs hurt, as though they’ve been scraped in grit. Then I blink, for the first time. Without lifting my head, I try to look down at the length of my body and find that I can only see as far as my chest.
Over the lumpy edge, in the distance, is a rolling sea of mist jostling with stark and shedding trees. Leaves are flying in all directions, although I can detect no wind, except on my crusty fingers.
Is this a memory? How did I get here? How long have I been here? part of me doesn’t think these questions are important, and I begin to submit. Thinking seems too hard, too slow.
I try to lift myself up using my elbows but I can’t make my arms respond. Fading muscles try to dig into the earth beneath me. I can force a faint motion, but it seems beyond me.
I hear a voice. Fear leaps within me, making my cough buck again. I stop all attempts at movement and focus very hard on the sounds. I think it is a word. Or the start of a word.
I hang on to the sibilance, riding its long tail. It teases me with its slow crescendo, hypnotising my attention, wrapping itself around my brain, seducing me with its single-mindedness.
I lose control over all of my other senses as I concentrate on the sound. No longer can I feel the soil beneath me, smell the air or taste the numbness of my tongue. The sound invades my entire consciousness, occupying every crevice and corner of memory, every remnant of dreams. It expands down the back of my neck and seems to take hold of my spine until finally I hear a single word.
Although I barely have any of myself left to think beyond the voice, I have just enough to sense that the sound is old, very old. And it’s not the voice of humankind, or any other creature I know.
My eyes are briefly alert again and I notice the bark of the tree under which I am sheltered. It’s moving slowly. I realise that all around the mist and the leaves and the sun wading through all move at great speed. I notice the colours of the leaves change rapidly from gold, to black, to withered dusty grey, then pale greens emerge before flourishing into bright colours and back to faded yellows and gold. I wonder if these are the memories of the oak tree above and around me.
I look up at the trunk and see cracked and gnarled lips move slowly whilst all around charges with wild abandon, as I am caught in some binding incantation.
I look down at my hands and see that they are dry and crooked, digging into the soft earth. I try to see beyond my chest again, or at least lift my leg. But, with a rising gag of fear, the voice of the tree in my head, and the swirling, galloping landscape around me, I find I cannot.
“Look mum.” The little girl ran over to the edge of the meadow. “Muummee!”
“Coming, coming.” The little girl’s mother laughed, giddy with the fresh morning air and the promise of a beautiful day in the country.
The little girl stopped at the stile and looked over to the other side, pointing her pink, pudgy finger at the little knot of trees clustered together.
“Oh yes, I know, we’ve seen it before remember, isn’t it beautiful.” Her mother declared, closing eyes to enjoy the feel of the breezes across her face.
“I know but look, there’s another tree growing from the ground. A big fat one,” the little girl giggles at the thought. “just like daddy.”
“Oh don’t be mean sweetie, poor dad!” The little girl’s mother walked over to the stile, brushing her beautiful hair from her face, and followed the direction of her daughter’s pointing finger. “Hm, it’s a root darling, and a really big one. The trees are trying to find water. It must be very dry up here.
“But where’s daddy?” The little girl looked behind and around her mother.
“Don’t know. He went to the village to get his radio mended. Said he might stay with his brother overnight.”
“Don’t you mind?”
“Oh no, they don’t see each other very often.” A smile pinched at her face and she felt an excitement trickle down her spine. “I quite liked your father’s brother you know. Once upon a time.”
“Mummy!” The little girl looked shocked. She was silent for a moment, her head wobbling on her hand, her leg flicking out from the stile. Then, she too smiled.
“At least he has his radio with him, that’ll keep him company wherever he is. I put a nice pink sticker on it yesterday. It made him laugh!”
“He’s a big softie.” The mother’s treachery hid deep beneath her levity.
As they giggled, they both noticed the little portable radio lying, half embedded within the base of the oak tree, just where the new root extended out. A pink sticker was just visible on the side.
“Oh Mummy, isn’t that daddy’s radio?”
“Ah yes!” The mother held out her hand for her daughter. “Come along now, we’ve someone to meet in the village. Someone I haven’t seen for a very long time.”
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook for Mac app.
Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, published on Wattpad, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes and elsewhere, and on this blog.
More next week…
There are a few more stories in this series:
Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts