Grabbing the cell phone was a last second decision. He almost walked out the door without it. He had his wallet, shoes, jacket, keys. Just a quick run to the store to pick up some condiments they needed.
He never made it home for dinner.
He didn’t hear the futile grind of the brakes against the slick ice, the crash-and-rend of metal on metal, or the air’s static caress as the car plunged inescapably downwards…or didn’t remember hearing it as the car went off the bridge, through the guard rail, skidding uncontrolled into the void of frosty fog smothering the sunset on the bay, turning the world into a thick pastel blanket of colors robbed from the land and sky without care for what shapes had held them. The car arced down to meet the ocean and he knew he was dead.
A dull, throbbing pain brought him swimming up out of the jealous, sucking darkness. He touched his head and cursed, fingers coming away scarlet. Then he noticed the sand, golden and white–Sand..? Beach? Shore? Had he..?–and scrambled to his hands and knees, raising a cloud of dry dust from the grit, casting confused glances all around with blurry eyes.
A desert of humping dunes stretched out into the quivering distance, broken occasionally by piles of sun-baked stone. Stumbling to his feet, he swung around drunkenly, finding the car lying behind him amid an outcropping of brown rock half-buried in the desert sands. The car was tilted and upside down, crumpled and shattered amid shards of glass and plastic.
He stared for a few moments more, barely registering the heat, trying to make sense of the situation. He stared up at the sky, looking for the bridge and finding clear blue, swept the horizon, looking for anything familiar and finding nothing. Not the bay, not the city, not even the ocean.
Then he noticed his left arm ached, the nerves leapt away from his touch, and beneath the shirtsleeve he found a dark, swollen bruise. His jacket lay discarded next to the battered frame of an open car door. He didn’t remember dragging himself out.
But nothing made sense and that detail was the least part of this confusion.
He grabbed the jacket, clinging to it, and continued to wander aimlessly around the wrecked car and its rocky rest, eyes staring wide in instinctual shock. Something triggered his memory of the cell phone and he stopped to dig it violently out of its nest in the jacket, flipping it open with shaking hands and checking the signal.
Nothing. No bars.
His raised his eyes, staring off into the distance across the swelling dunes, and started walking. He wandered around the rocky outcrop again, desperate, checking the cell phone signal, retracing his steps back-and-forth, stumbling and sweating profusely in the heat until his shirt was soaked through.
Then a momentary blip. He cried out in triumph and frustration, turning this way and that, holding the phone up against the sky, down against the ground, trying to recapture the ghostly bar. He climbed the few feet to the top of the outcrop, hissing and grimacing as bare skin touched the sun-hot rock. Finally he stood up at the top and held out the phone.
A bar! There was a bar! Steady and unwavering.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught the shadows of two figures on a dune nearby, heading quickly towards him. His body flooded with excitement and joy, face splitting in a wide grin, and he almost called out, almost waved to them…
…but something in their stride, in the way they looked and moved, cautioned his initial excitement and turned his legs. He bounded down from his low perch, rock to rock, and ran when he hit the desert, windmilling his arms to stay upright. They yelled angrily and gave chase, quickening their pace.
Somehow he outran them, lost them in the glowing dunes of gold and white sand he clawed his way up and rolled down. He lost his jacket somewhere, but had hung mindlessly on to the phone. By that time, wherever he was, he was lost, and he could not find the way back to his car in the unfamiliar desert.
The sky marched on towards evening.
Filthy shirt wrapped around his head like a crude turban, he wandered, feet dragging and sloshing through the fine sand that had long since invaded his shoes and rubbed his feet raw through his socks. He panted dryly and prayed for water, checked the cell, searching for a signal. Found nothing.
Then, once, a blip that did not return, no matter his frantic searching. Nothing but the silence of a connection never made when he desperately tried to call home.
The battery bar dropped a notch and he froze for a moment, hand rising to drag sweat and dirt off his lips and chin in a gesture of horrified realization and resignation before he powered it down.
Around five years later.
–June 17th, 2014–
This is a good batch. It seems to be holding up, has the right consistency, the right feel. A little thicker and rougher than I recall, or maybe that’s just my memory playing tricks on me. It’s been a long time since I felt any. But it’s holding the paint well enough, good color, doesn’t seem ready to crumble and isn’t as thick as a sheet of cardboard.
I’ve managed to invent paper. These people are advanced in certain ways, but written records and paper seem to be a new idea to them. They’ve been very curious about this project, some of them find it fascinating while some of the elders just laugh and shake their heads. Took me forever to get the mixture right, years of work trying different combinations of chemical mixtures, pulps, and drying procedures and so forth. Just glad I finally figured out their alcohol, that ended up being the key.
Sadly, how paper is made, exactly, wasn’t part of the “useless” trivia I could recall. Though I can still recall the Jeopardy theme song and half the script of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Yep, glad I remembered the important stuff.
I do feel pretty special, being the inventor of paper and the father of the written word.
I’ve stuck to trying to keep track of the days and months according to the good old Gregorian calendar. Or, basically, by making marks on the walls of my little “bamboo” hut when it seems like a day has passed. I’m really just guessing at the date, given the holes in my memory and the differences in the daily and seasonal cycles here.
Given that, this is around the anniversary of my arrival to this world, or close enough to it as I can tell. I celebrate it every three-hundred-sixty-five-and-a-quarter “days”. Did leap year last year and threw a party the locals didn’t understand–the people smile at my strange numbering of time, which I have tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to them–but we all had a good time anyways.
There are two suns, though no moon, and I don’t really understand the irregular cycle of seasons and days they produce. I suspect there may be seasons I haven’t even encountered yet, given the complex orbits that seem to be involved. One of the elders has tried to show me by drawing in the dirt, but I have not grasped it. God knows the math they’re doing in their heads is putting me to shame.
Well, I suspect it may become more natural after spending enough years here.
–June 24th, 2014–
I still haven’t managed to recharge the cell battery. I keep thinking if only I could find a magnet I could create a very small electric generator–
–but maybe I should start from the beginning.
I wandered in the desert for…days. Not really sure. Three or four perhaps. I can’t imagine having survived longer than that out there. Maybe I did. But by the time I stumbled into the village begging for water and help, I had heat stroke and dehydration and was near enough to death. It took me some weeks to recover. I don’t really remember, it was all a blur of nightmare sleep and fever and broken images I can’t quite recall. And I don’t understand their time-keeping system well enough to guess how long from what they say.
I was lucky to have come upon the village. They took care of me, nursed me back to health, even though I was a complete stranger. It could have been much worse, I was lucky not to have been sold into slavery, robbed and murdered, or just left to die.
The village is small. They grow a crop that looks like rice, but grows well in the dry climate here. Some of them herd something that looks like a yak with six legs. This is not the desert I arrived in, which lies just beyond the hills to…well, what I’m calling the East. It’s a little greener, more water, still hot though. A drier heat, though.
The mood of these people is very communal, they share nearly everything, and subsist on what they can grow and herd. I’ve gone from low-level software tech and part-time web designer to happy rice farmer.
It took a while to learn their language, though there are clearly still nuances that escape me. It is more than enough to ably communicate, however. Their language sounds vaguely Assyro-Babylonian. Or what I imagine Assyro-Babylonian would sound like, because like I’d actually know.
Actually, we’ve been teaching each other; I’ve taught them a decent amount of English, though God knows if they’ll ever hear anything like it again.
Or if I will.
–July 4th, 2014–
I have suspected this world, wherever it is, has some kind of connection, ancient or modern, with Earth, given that I have died of no exotic disease, nor have I slain these people with one of my own (the bugs, though, seem to dislike something about the way I smell or taste). This gives me some hope that I will eventually find a way home. Though I’m certain I’ve been long since memorialized and buried on Earth and everyone cried and then got on with their lives.
The natives are almost human. They have six toes, but five fingers, and a smooth, oval organ on their necks that seems to be quite sensitive to touch–the women quite enjoy having it stroked. Er, yes, well…my foreign look is apparently considered quite exotic, though it goes politely unmentioned in public, and I have had a number of curious lovers.
I also suspect that connection given my own unexplainable arrival here. And the cell phone signals.
When I had time, I would trek into the desert, sometimes accompanied by a couple of the village men. They were always curious about what I was doing, but I was never able to explain the cell phone to them, and didn’t want them to think I was some kind of sorcerer. Instead, I told them I was looking for the “metal cart” I had come with and lost in the desert.
I was never able to locate the outcropping or the car. There was just too much desert to search, and I had no clue what direction to travel or how far to go.
On my solo trips, I would use the cell phone, wander from place to place trying to find the high ground, powering it up and turning it off after a moment of searching. Only once was I able to pick up and hold a signal bar, but it dropped before I even finished dialing. I always wonder if, maybe, it went through for one moment and someone at home saw the caller id and wondered how a dead man was calling them.
Or if I was calling from beyond the grave.
I don’t know. Maybe I am.
–July 17th, 2014–
I kept up until the battery finally died. Then I formed a few more small search parties, thinking I could recharge the phone off the car battery if I could find it, until I realized it was probably long dead and I was just looking for hope.
I’ve been trying to remember how it was the ancient Egyptians and the Persians used to make batteries. I think they put a metal plate in a clay jar with salt water. But my variations on that design haven’t worked yet. If I could find a magnet, or a magnetic rock and some copper wire to wind around it maybe…well, maybe not, given my luck so far. But no one here knows of anything like that.
Sometimes, I want to tell them all about my people and our world, or they ask about my people and our customs and where I come from. I doubt I would be looked at as anything but a madman, or worse, for telling them that my people could fly through the air, cook food in a box without fire, had pictures that could move, or could talk to each other no matter how distant they were. Sometimes I do tell them stories like that, but I pretend I am telling them stories about my people’s gods.
Sometimes I wonder if I am mad. But I have the cell.
–June 21st, 2014–
The people here have a legend that tells how when they came to this land from the garden of Elon, they met demons who tricked them, who pretended to be their friends, but used their women and devoured their children, and enslaved them until they rebelled and killed the demons or drove them into the wilderness. I always thought it was just a story.
Then…frog…men…things attacked the village today. Everything was destroyed, there were only a few survivors…those lucky enough to flee, like myself. I felt…helpless. Cowardly. I’m alive. I’ve been walking alone for a few days, trying to put distance between the raiders and myself, back to owning nothing but what I’m carrying, a stranger in a strange land.
I recognized them as the things that chased me in the desert when I first arrived.
The thing is…
The thing is…I also noticed those frog-people have those same oval nodule-organs on their necks.
I think I know what happened.
For a long time I thought this was paradise. Or heaven. Other than the scorching desert bit. Friendly villagers, a simple lifestyle, no real threats or worries beyond the ones I brought with me. And now I find out there are bloodthirsty, man-eating demons…
But is that really right?
Are the people here…men? Does close enough count?
But I’m starving again, and I wonder if dead men can starve. If the river wasn’t here, I’d be dying of thirst. I’m actually trying not to follow it, because of the frog-men-demons: if they’re looking for more of us, that’s the first place they’ll check. But I keep ending up circling back towards it. I think I’ve actually circled back around towards the village. I have nowhere else to go.
Though…there’s an old hermit in the hills, a crazy-man and sorcerer, according to the villagers. I’ve never met him, never sought him out, either. Never had any reason to before this, but maybe I should. Maybe he knows if there is somewhere else I can go from here, crazy or not. I’m running out of paper, though, and paint. And it isn’t as though I can make more now.
Maybe he has a spare cot. I’m just tired of sleeping in the bushes and spending half the night wondering what is slithering through the foliage waiting to eat me, worrying that any moment I’ll be grabbed and the last thing I will see are the pointed teeth of a frog-man. Or maybe they’ll grab me, try to kill me, and I’ll end up on yet another world.
I still don’t know if I’m dead…
I’m going to go see him.
No more paper left.
Copyright (c)2009 Raven Daegmorgan