Hovering in from the sixteenth canopy and buttressed by real personages.
The man with the rifle remembered the girl with the argyle socks holding his hands and telling a story about satyrs, centaurs, and cowardly demons. He also remembered being immersed in darkness and falling down into a cavern so deep the bottom was beyond seeing. He did not remember landing on a cushion of feathers and animal pelts. He did not remember the removal of his clothes, the bathing of his body, or the tucking in of his enervated body into an alcove of silk and buffalo hides. After waking up from what felt like a week-long sleep, the man with the rifle took to his new surroundings like a jackal that emerges from a tranquilizer-dart-induced slumber and finds itself in a vat of cheese. Incredulity and panic clutched at his mind. He surveyed the “room” for his personal belongings, mainly his rifle and notebook.
“Oh good, you’re awake,” a voice called out from a nearby place.
The man with the rifle knew this voice; he’d heard it before many times. It was the same voice that told the story about mythological creatures — it was the same one that coaxed him into leaping off of the top of a cliff. He was about to climb out from under the bedding when he realized he wasn’t wearing anything. He cleared his throat, hoping the still disembodied voice would appear and tell him what had happened and the whereabouts of his clothes.
A pair of hands parted the pale green curtains. A triangular face with near-black eyes poked through, widening the gap between the curtains. The girl with the argyle socks.
“Don’t worry, your weapons and diary are in a safe place.”
“What diary? I don’t have a diary.”
The girl with the argyle socks pushed the curtains aside and stepped into the alcove.
“Where I come from, when a man writes, ‘Dear A-Woman’s-Name’ on the top of a piece of paper in a bound notebook, it’s a diary.”
The man with the rifle retreated back under the silk and buffalo skins when the girl with the argyle socks approached him. Before he could ask for information regarding his clothes, the girl slipped in along with him, and then said that she hoped he didn’t mind. Silk and buffalo were reserved for guests and she didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to experience them.
“Your clothes are being washed and mended. We’ve been here for nearly five days.”
“Where is here?” the man with the rifle pressed his back against the back wall of the alcove.
Panic replaced incredulity.
“Relax. Nobody is going to be feasting on your well-traveled body.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I made them promise.”
The man with the rifle may have heard a few stories about the girl with the argyle socks’ people, but whether or not they were a tribe of integrity and trustworthiness was unconfirmed. That he was still alive and cared for was no guarantee that they would let him go unscathed. He asked her exactly what happened between the storytelling and the present moment.
The girl with the argyle socks turned towards the man with the rifle and then lay flat on her stomach. She propped herself up with her forearms and detailed the last three days. The young man who was placed in the care of the man with the rifle was indeed precious cargo. The story that the girl with the argyle socks began telling caused the young man to vibrate with blinding amber light.
“We didn’t think there were any more like him left; and don’t worry, he is safe too. His body carries within it the ability to fold space and time…like making a shortcut between two places. Right before he turned too bright for me to keep my eyes open, I let go of one of your hands and reached for his foot. I, uh, might have thought of home right as I touched him because we appeared on top of a cliff with a backdoor to my world.”
“And so you pushed me–”
“No, I did not push you. I had to give that man a good shove but you…you came willingly. You followed me.”
The man with the rifle wanted to believe the girl with the argyle socks, but he couldn’t remember diving head-first into a dark hole. He was taught never to venture into an environment in which you didn’t have an escape route.
“I gave you a choice. I said, ‘I could get out of your hair right now and you’d never have to put up with me again, or you can follow me down there and have a rest. You know you need it’.”
50-50. Either he went of his own accord or she compelled him. It almost didn’t seem to matter anymore because he had been tired for so long he’d forgotten what mental strength felt like. The girl with the argyle socks then continued with the sequence of events.
“I told my uncle and brother that you saved my life and in exchange, they were to spare yours. I said we both needed a bath, food, and rest.”
He was clean, he was warm, he was dry, and two large eyes were imploring him to give their owner the benefit of the doubt.
“Who is Alexandra?” the girl with the argyle socks turned onto her right side and rested her head on the palm of her right hand.
The girl with the argyle socks grumbled and sat up.
I don’t know if this letter will reach you or if it’ll sit crumbled up in the bottom of the wishing well. Maybe you are still alive, maybe you’re not. Maybe you had time to go underground, maybe you got lost. The last thing I ever wanted to say to you is the last thing I would want to say to anyone. You never needed me. You were always the stronger one, the prouder one. I could never be enough for you — you were always a step ahead, a lifetime ahead. So don’t carry around any guilt or shame on my behalf. If we meet again, I hope you had the life you wanted. And maybe I will have found a small corner of the world for myself.”
The man with the rifle was silent. He felt the girl with the argyle socks nudge his left calf with her foot–her bare-skin foot. She wasn’t wearing the socks. He turned his head to the left at the same time she turned to look at him. He wasn’t the only one who had been bathed. The girl who currently wasn’t wearing argyle socks had received a similar treatment as he could see that her skin was the color of light honey. Her brown hair was still as long as her rib cage but it no longer looked like a wolverine had curled atop her head.
“Well? First love, last rites?”
“First fairy tale, last romantic hero.”