Freezing water. So freezing she opened her eyes and screamed into the wet darkness. And that sound was also terrifying.
Without conscious thought, she waved her arms through the cold depths and sensed which way was up. Her body was weighed down by clothes, coat, and boots. She kicked off the boots and flailed for the surface. She’d been too long under, and her lungs started to burn.
Finally, her head broke the surface. She sucked in the cold night air. When she had breath in her lungs again, she tread water and looked around.
The open river had a slow current, moonlight glistening like scaly skin on the surface. The far bank was dark and lined with trees. A bridge to her left showed vehicle lights blinking through the rails as people drove by unaware.
Suddenly, the area along the middle of the bridge turned dark. It wasn’t simply that a shadow fell – it was as if the very existence of the area was replaced by pure blackness. As if someone had cut out a chunk of reality and left a blank void. She looked left and right where the bridge ran to the banks, but everything there looked normal. Only the middle of the bridge was…erased.
She continued to watch as the gap in existence suddenly filled with an entirely different scene. Now the area showed a blue sky with puffs of white cloud, and now the bridge was under construction. Men dressed in an old-fashioned style walked along the construction zone, laughing and shouting to each other as they lay brick over the metal bones of the bridge. A brick fell over the edge and plummeted toward the water, but it disappeared where the edge of the scene returned to normal reality.
In the blink of an eye, the scene collapsed on itself and returned to normal. Cold night covered the entire bridge once again, and modern vehicles sped over the length of it.
The chattering of her teeth forced away her shock. Now truly terrified, she spun in the water and swam for the nearer shore. Her fingers and toes were numb by the time she touched down. The rocks in the riverbed cut her feet, but she was so cold she hurried out of the water. At last on the pebbly bank, she leaned over with hands on her knees to catch her breath.
She looked at her right hand. A cloth was wrapped around it, and a stain of red covered her palm. Pulling the cloth to see underneath, she saw and felt a deep cut in her palm.
I have to sit down, she thought.
Looking around in the darkness, she took a few wobbly steps to sit on an old, washed ashore buoy. She was shivering, so she crossed her arms in her coat, hugging herself for warmth. Then she noticed a torn knee of her dark pants. Her socks must’ve pulled off in her boots, and her bare feet looked ghostly white in the darkness. Her long, blond hair dripped around her shoulders.
And in that moment, her mind finally alerted her to the biggest problem.
Who am I? she thought. What’s happened to me?
Alone in the dark, soaking wet, she sat and looked around in confusion. And fear.
I’m… I was… It’s right there in my mind! she thought frantically.
She felt something poking her ribs from an inside coat pocket. Reaching in, she pulled out a small leather satchel. She placed the satchel on her lap and saw it was quite old. A top fold was tied down by a strip of leather. It took some time to untie this with frozen fingers and one barely working hand, but she finally got the tie off and flopped open the top fold. This exposed a set of silver, ancient-looking knives.
“Advance!” a voice shouted over the water.
She gasped and looked back.
Another strange, out-of-place scene hovered in a gap that broke reality. It was daytime in this area of green trees. Most notably, an army of men wearing bright red coats charged the riverbank. A soldier in front waved a sword.
“No,” she told herself. “This can’t be real.”
Suddenly, the scene collapsed on itself and returned to normal. No charging men. Only the shadowed trees along the riverbank.
I have to get out of here, she thought.
Her fingers fumbled with the ties of the leather satchel, then she shoved it back into her coat. As she did, she felt a wet piece of paper inside the pocket. She pulled this out and held the paper in the moonlight.
It was a quickly scribbled note: ‘If you’re reading this, the crossing probably left a lag in your memory again. If you see things, ignore them. They can’t hurt you. Head north until you remember. Avoid any authorities. Do not get caught. He will kill you this time. – Vedanleé (you)’
Her hands shook, but not because of cold.
Now she remembered.