I jolt awake to sudden, ferocious burning all across my shoulder, and I can’t help crying out in pain. What’s happening, where am I? I look around me in confusion. A cave. How did I get here? I’m shirtless, but I don’t remember undressing. Someone’s crouching beside me, a bottle in their hand, the contents of which they’ve just tipped against the raw, bloody bite-marks the lizard-beast left behind. Oh. That’s right, I nearly died.
“Hey, you’re okay, I’m here to help,” the person reassures me. Their voice is feminine, concerned, but hard, confident. A voice? An actual human voice? English, even? The accent is British, Southern, like mine. How is that possible? Am I dreaming?
I try to turn my head to get a better look at the speaker, but the pain flares even brighter and my vision dims. I slump back to the ground.
“It hurts,” is all I can say.
“I bet it does,” she replies.
This is the first time I’ve spoken to another person since I left home. I’ve imagined meeting someone before, but I had hoped to do it in better circumstances. What does that mean, though? Are there people on this world? The concept excites me, but God, my shoulder hurts.
“Lizard got you bad,” she continues. “It’s a nasty bite, but you should be up and about in a couple of days.”
I tentatively raise my good arm to my bare shoulder, lightly touching my fingers against the wounds where the lizard’s teeth punctured my skin. The sting is tremendous as they make contact. It looks like she’s bathed it in some sort of alcohol, but she gently pushes my hand away and begins wrapping a soft white bandage around the wound. That hurts too, but I manage to turn my head, and smile at her gratefully, seeing her for the first time in the light of the fire she’s built near the cave mouth.
She smiles back, her brown eyes brightening for a moment beneath her dark, matted fringe. Her clothes are old and worn-out, much like mine, but she seems to carry a little more spark than I ever had – like she still has hope that things could go back to the way they were. It occurs to me that she’s pretty, in a roughshod sort of way, and then I chastise myself for thinking that so quickly. This matters more than that.
“Thank you,” I croak.
“You’re the first person I’ve seen for over a year,” she replies. “How could I possibly have let you die?”
The first person? Her, too?
“Are you… like me?” I ask.
She laughs. “And what does that even mean?”
“I mean… do you have to move between worlds like I do?”
She stops laughing and stares at me with wide eyes. “You can do it too?” she whispers.
“Can? Like I said, I have to,” I reply. “I get the call and then I have to, otherwise it’d drive me mad.”
“And then you just… go?” she asks.
There’s a pause, and she presses a little hard on the bandage. I wince involuntarily.
“Sorry!” she says quickly, frowning. “It’s been a while since I did this.”
“How did you learn? Were you a nurse, before?”
She shakes her head and chuckles very softly. “A Girl Guide. We did a first aid course.”
I laugh loudly – possibly a little deliriously. It’s just that the mention of something so mundane, so ordinary in the middle of all this is somehow hilarious. “Well,” I say, lifting myself up a little as she finishes tying the bandage in place. “You’re doing a fine job.”
She shrugs. “They tell us to be prepared, so I try.”
“What’s your name?” I ask. I want to know everything about her. I haven’t spoken to anyone for so long, I’m desperate to find out everything about this new person who’s arrived so fortuitously into my life.
“You should get some rest, Felix. You’ll be safe here.”
She moves away towards the fire. I’m dying to ask her more, but she’s right, I really should rest. The pain has faded somewhat now, and it’s replaced by a thick, heavy tiredness. I stare at the cave ceiling for a while, tracing the ridges of the stone, my mind wandering as my eyes start to close. What happens if I get the call as I lie here, and another lizard-thing shows up? I’ll be dead.
Sleep comes to claim me, bringing with it troubled dreams.