I stare down in confusion. My fingers curl around two smooth shafts of wood--a pair of oars. I don’t know where the oars have come from nor why my hands, littered with cuts and bruises, clutch them so tenaciously. My gaze slides beyond the oars to the small rowboat in which I sit.
On a lake.
I frown. I don’t recognize this place and I have no recollection how I’ve gotten here. Not that that’s a complete surprise. I suffer from sleep terrors and somnambulism--sleepwalking. It’s not unusual for me to wake up confused, alone, and in an unfamiliar place but it is unusual for me to be surrounded by wilderness and drifting in the middle of a fog-choked lake. I’m from Atlanta--and the closest I’ve ever been to “wilderness” is Piedmont Park--and this is far from it. I’ve always feared the woods and being outside at dusk makes me uneasy.
My frown deepens as my gaze shifts back to my marred hands. Where am I? Why is my body aching? And why do I feel a rising sense of terror, an inescapable need to get the hell away from here?
The rowboat bobs gently as I try to recall what’s happened. I was home, in bed--no, about to go to bed. I was afraid to fall asleep, afraid something might happen; afraid someone was looking for me but I can’t recall whom. My mother threatened to give me sleeping pills if I didn’t go to bed and so . . .
I fell asleep.
Or did I?
I sense the memories are there but a haze of pain obscures them. Grimacing, I rub my temples in an effort to massage away my sudden headache. Be logical, Shari. You cannot--you will not--panic. This is nothing new. I just have to do what my psychologist trained me to do. Even though I’d only met with him a handful of times before my parents pulled the expensive plug, I remember the essentials.
Priority One: Don’t panic.
Priority Two: Find help and get back home as soon as possible.
Priority Three: Safety first.
As for the memories, they’ll return at their own pace. I examine my surroundings more thoroughly. Fog, a lake, pine trees and spruce. A few dogwood and oak. No sign of the signature Atlanta skyline. It’s hilly and if I didn’t know better, I’d suspect I was in the mountains of north Georgia, but I couldn’t have wandered that far, could I? Again, I try to remember but pain blocks all attempts.
Alright, Shari, you just need to find someone to help you until the amnesia passes. My stomach growls and I clear my dry throat. Right. Maybe some food and water, too.
I dip the oars into the muddy water and pull, dragging myself across the lake towards a dock I’ve spied. Above me the stars multiply as darkness settles in. Around me nocturnal creatures stir: crickets, a hoot of an owl, the screech of birds. Relaxing sounds, ordinarily, but it only increases my fear. Something isn’t right. I’m not supposed to be here.
Wherever “here” is.
I ease up to the side of the dock. As I release the oars, a slip of yellowed paper drifts onto the dingy hull of the rowboat. I pick it up. It’s soft, crumpled. How in the world could I have missed this? Unfolding the paper, I scan the careful script. My heart jumps into my throat and cowers there.
You are being hunted, Shari.
“Hunted?” The words curdle in my stomach and my hands tremble. This isn’t my handwriting greeting me. I have a habit of talking to myself, sure, but I’d never write to myself in the third person. I devour the note, growing colder and more frightened the more I read.
Right now you must get as far from the lake as you can, and seek no help until the disorientation passes. I am impaired from telling you who is chasing you and why, but believe me when I say He is dangerous and must not find you again. He, and those He controls, will try to stop what you have been sent to do. You cannot allow this to happen. When you remember what has occurred, find the medium that can channel me.
The warning ends with no signature. My mind reels with even more questions. Who is “He” and what does the writer mean by “those He controls”?
Pain lances through my head, settling in my eyes and I back away from the swirling mist barring my memories. Whoever wrote the note is right. I have no idea what’s happening and my not knowing could mean my death.
I was wrong before. This isn’t normal at all.