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by Paula Shablo
Holly woke up.
The sun beat down on her, and she realized she was naked even as she was taking note of the pain of sunburn. The swell of her breasts was red, raw—close to blistering.
“What the hell?” Holly gasped, rolling to her side and making the first of many attempts to rise.
When she finally succeeded, she swayed and bent at the waist, feet apart, grasping her bare knees and gasping with pain. She was nauseated and finally lost her battle with a rising gorge, vomiting copious amounts of muck between her feet.
“Sweet Jesus!” Holly groaned. Still grasping her knees, she shuffled herself backward, wiping her feet carefully in thigh-high grasses as she went. The grass was still slightly damp with dew close to the ground, and as she brushed through it, the sweet, green smell wafted up around her.
Holly sank down in the grass and lay on her belly, letting the cool dampness of the grass soothe her burning breasts and thighs, which had apparently gotten the most exposure to the sun. She didn’t care why; it may have been positioning in relation to grass blades, for all she knew. It didn’t matter.
Everything hurt. The sunburn on her breasts was the most prominent of her pains, but she was perfectly aware of the rest of her body, and finally rolled over enough to take stock.
She was covered with bruises and scrapes. Crusted blood covered several places on her body and matted her pubic hair. An exploration of her neck and the back of her head revealed thick, sticky blood, not yet completely dried, and a large area of swelling behind her right ear.
Swelling, yes, but … well, it also felt … dented.
“I’m dead,” Holly whispered. “At least, someone believes I am.”
She sat in the grass, knees drawn up to her chest, her arms resting atop them and her chin on her wrist. She stared straight ahead.
Holly was nowhere.
Obviously, she was somewhere, but she didn’t recognize anything. She took in the vista in front of her, moving only her eyes. Rolling hills, lush green grass, various clumps of small white flowers, and off in the distance, a stone fence that meandered up and over a hillock.
“Fence,” Holly whispered. “Someone built it sometime.”
She rose to her feet again, more steadily this time, and shuffled her way back to where she’d awakened, searching the ground as she went. She was hoping for any sign of her clothing, but didn’t see anything.
“Damn it!” She was peripherally aware that she was speaking aloud, and didn’t give two cents worth of crap that it was crazy—the sound of her own voice was reassuring.
“If I don’t keep talking,” she said, “I’m probably going to start screaming.”
She certainly wanted to scream; it made perfect sense to want to scream in a situation like this, didn’t it?
“I’ve been dumped. Left for dead.”
“Obviously,” Holly replied to herself, her tone sarcastic. “Also, beaten and certainly raped.”
“I don’t want to think about that part.”
“You have to think about that part.”
“I will! But not now. Not yet. Right now, I have to think about where I am and how to get back home.”
That made sense, so she dropped that subject.
“No clothes. Shit. I’m going to be burnt all over!”
No, she decided, she was not. She got down on her knees again and began to dig in the rich, dark soil under the grass. It wasn’t terribly wet at the surface—the morning dews wouldn’t be enough for that—but as she dug deeper, it was damp enough to make it stick to her skin. She rubbed it on her face, shoulders and breasts, making a semi-effectual paste.
Then she headed for the stone fence. Fences, she reasoned, do not build themselves, which meant that wherever she was, it was a place known to people.
When she reached the fence, she discovered that it was aged and crumbling, but she was determined not to give up, and began to follow it.
The hill, which had seemed small from a distance, proved to be a bit of a climb, and Holly leaned more and more frequently against the waist high structure. In some spots, the stones had fallen, leaving gaps in the wall, but mostly it was intact.
Holly finally reached the crest of the hill. Looking down, she could see in the distance the single remaining partial wall of what must surely have been a church in the past.
“Pretty lonely church,” Holly muttered. “Who came here? There’s nothing else around!”
This wasn’t entirely true. Just to the southwest of the structure, surely less than a mile away, was a body of water too large to be called a pond, but too small to be a lake.
Holly didn’t care what anyone might call it; it was water!
At the next area of breakdown in the stone fence, she carefully maneuvered her way to the other side and headed for the water, praying for it to be cool and clean. She wanted to run, but didn’t quite dare. It was downhill, at any rate, and didn’t take long.
The water was so clear, Holly could see to the bottom, even off in the middle distance, where there was an observable drop-off into some depths. She walked right in, avoiding sharp stones, and once the water reached the tops of her aching thighs, she sank down into it, resting her buttocks on her heels.
“You’re washing away evidence,” she said, even as she plunged her whole head into the water and began scrubbing blood out of her hair.
“Shut up. I’m attracting flies.”
She had been. It was not only annoying to realize, it was disgusting. She washed herself as best she could without soap, not caring about evidence, not caring about anything but being clean.
Afterward, she moved from that place, moved to where the water wasn’t cloudy with her cleansing efforts, and drank deeply. For a moment she felt like she might vomit again, but pushed past the nausea and slowly made her way back to the shoreline.
Her milk-white fair skin had had more than enough of the sun, so she squatted down next to the water and mixed up a large amount of mud, which she smeared liberally over her face and body.
She wandered back to the “church”; it surely must have been a church at one time. She could see the remains of foundation and collapsed walls, and not far from that single still-standing section was a double door and frame, the wood nearly rotted to transparency. Once there had been door handles and hinges, but those were gone now. “Medieval salvage company,” Holly declared dismissively.
The standing section had to have been a window, Holly decided. “I’ll bet it held beautiful stained glass once,” she sighed. There was no sign of broken glass there now, so perhaps it had been salvaged, too, sometime decades in the past.
Holly sat down in the window, naked and covered with drying mud, and sighed. She looked around her at all the beautiful nothing, and tried to think about yesterday, but nothing came to her except loading and starting the dishwasher after breakfast.
She’d been planning a walk in the park with Sandy, her aged Corgi.
Did they go?
She didn’t remember.
She hoped not. Because, if they did … where is Sandy?
“God, I hope I went to the post office or something,” Holly cried. Then Sandy would be at home, with a full water dish and a bowl full of kibble.
There was just a lot of nothing after loading the dishwasher, adding detergent, spinning the dial and pressing “Start.”
Really, she couldn’t even be sure it had been only yesterday. It was morning when she woke up; the grass was still damp with dew, and the sun hadn’t had time to do a complete number on her skin yet, so she assumed she’d been there overnight.
Still, she was somewhere else before that, wasn’t she? Her clothes must have been left in that somewhere else place. Who knows how long she might have been there…
“Okay, this sucks!” Holly started to cry.
“Just stop that, right now. You have to get out of here.”
“How? I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how long I’ve been gone, I don’t know where to go!” And of course, she couldn’t stop crying.
She let herself cry. And cry. And cry some more.
Her breath came in coughing little hiccups. “Yeah.”
“I’m alive. Alive!”
Whatever else, there was that fact. She woke up. She knew who she was. The where and how—that was going to have to wait.
First things first.
“Okay, look around.”
The stone fence continued down the hill and around a bend. Whatever lay beyond that bend was obstructed from view by a copse of scrubby trees and a large rock.
“It stands to reason,” Holly told herself, “that at some point, that wall will lead somewhere.”
“Yes. Sooner or later. Hopefully, sooner.”
“I’ll follow it out of here.”
Soon enough, she would do that. Naked, covered with dry mud, she would follow the stone fence and find a way back to the world.
But for now, she sat in the window of the otherwise destroyed church, and wondered if she should pray to remember … or not.
Please visit Paula’s blog: https://pshablo.blogspot.com