Chapter 8A Chapter by Kate P. Lamb
Erika woke to dazzling sunlight and a throbbing headache. Slowly sitting up, she looked around, blinking away the remnants of confusion and grogginess from her dream. But, was it a dream? Something in the back of her mind told her that there was something horribly wrong with her surroundings. Months of travelling had honed her survival instinct, and things were definitely amiss.
Looking around, it took her a couple of minutes to realize what it was: she was lying beneath a large rowan tree, situated on a vaguely familiar knoll overlooking a vast field, and in the distance…
“The temple!” She gasped, leaping to her feet, and causing something to fall from her lap onto the emerald grass. Erika knelt down and slowly picked up the leather-bound journal she had become so accustom to seeing in the evenings, being scribbled in by firelight by the moody rogue she’d grown so fond of. Her fingers brushed against the weather worn binding, then leafed through the yellowed pages to find the entry from the night previous. She looked to the page next to it, and tears began flowing at the words she found etched there.
…Though we made Powys in good time, Erika went missing. Cyrus has questioned me again and again about what I saw. It makes no sense how she could have disappeared before my eyes like she did. She was just beyond my reach, and the image of her reaching toward me will forever be seared into my memory…
Erika held the journal to her chest and felt tears run down her cheeks. She’d disappeared, it said, right in front of him. She remembered now, the feeling of being swept away into a world that felt entirely familiar, and at the same time, entirely wrong. She had been thrown back into her own time, her own world. Now that she understood what was awry, she could pick out the things that had set her on edge. The air was smoggier, and though she sat in the middle of a field, the low rumble of traffic could be heard, like distant thunder or the roar of a nearby waterfall.
With a heaviness setting in her heart, Erika set off slowly toward the temple. From there she could probably find some way to get back to the lodge, and somehow explain to her father and to Emily where she’d been for the last several months. If they were still in Wales, that was.
After several more minutes’ pondering, Erika began to make her way back toward the temple. Even from this distance, she could see the supports that her father’s team had erected to keep the building standing-- large beams holding up walls, and entire constructs cleverly designed to allow the archaeologists access to even the highest turret of the temple.
Erika picked her way easily across the grassy landscape, however when she reached the asphalt of the road that separated her from the site, she felt clumsy. It was then that she realized that she was still wearing her traveller’s cloak. The dirk resting against her thigh clanked softly, as if to remind her that it too was still on her person. At least now I know it wasn’t just a fantastic dream. The redhead mused, though the news did not bring any comfort. If anything, it only caused the dull ache in her stomach to sharpen.
It was then that she heard someone calling her name. Looking up, she was overjoyed to see Emily running toward her, closely followed by her father, who’d been notified by the other girl’s cry of surprise. Within seconds, Erika found herself ensnared in a myriad of tight hugs, and bombarded with concerned inquiries. Erika shifted in seeming discomfort, and at the same time, twitched her cloak over the arm that held the journal to her side, hiding it from view.
“Where have you been!? We have been looking for you for hours!”
“Are you alright?”
“How did you get out of the temple without me seeing?”
“Where did you get that cloak from?”
“Why are you so tanned, how long have you been out here?” Erika silenced the onslaught by raising her hand, and looking into both pairs of worried eyes.
“Can I get some food?” She asked wearily. The question seemed to rouse her father’s parental instincts, because he wrapped an arm tightly around her shoulder, and whisked her toward the dig site, saying something about explaining things when she’d had food and rest. His presence brought a certain comfort to Erika, and she allowed herself to relax against him.
Once inside the cabin, supplied with a mug of hot tea and a plate of sandwiches, Erika was once again subjected to concerned looks and inquiries from her father and best friend. She gave herself more time to come up with an excuse by eating and drinking, her brow furrowed. They said she had been gone for hours, but she had been gone for months, she was sure. What was going on? She couldn’t possibly tell them the truth; she’d be sent to a psych ward. The longer she spent in the familiar presence of her father and friend, the harder it was to believe that it had actually happened. The only thing that kept her memories concrete was the dirk against her leg, and the heavy woollen cloak still draped about her shoulders. Sighing heavily, Erika looked up at them with the air of someone about to confess.
“While I was in the temple I found a secluded area; I don’t remember where it is anymore. I must have dozed off, because when I woke up, it was light out. So I snuck out again, in case I ran into Dad. I didn’t want to get into trouble for sneaking off in the middle of the night. I couldn’t find Em, so I just walked into a nearby town, and bought the cloak, as a souvenir. The time must have gotten away on me, I’m really sorry for worrying you both.” She said with complete sincerity, her eyes imploring forgiveness. Both Emily and her father stared at her critically for several minutes, before Emily nodded, getting up to take away the dishes. Erika looked at her father, still gazing at him with wide, innocent eyes. She could see him trying to piece together anything that sounded fishy, and there was a lot of fishiness in her story. However, he soon broke into the weary, crinkly smile she remembered.
“You scared the hide off me, Erika be more careful. Your old man can’t take too many more shocks.” He chastised gently, and then accepted the hug she offered, chuckling at his daughter’s apparent absentmindedness. Erika sighed in relief that they both bought the story, softly excused herself to the room she shared with Emily, half-feigning fatigue.
Once behind the security and privacy of the heavy oak door, Erika slid to the ground and buried her face in her arms, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. She wasn’t entirely sure why she was crying, relief of being home again, or sorrow from being ripped away from her friends, but still, the tears flowed. Eventually, she crawled to her bed and, curling protectively around Adel’s journal, allowed sleep to claim her.
For the remainder of her time in Wales, Erika could either be found in the temple, in the back room that her father forced her to show him, or by the tree where she woke up. It was if she was searching for something, though she would never say what. She would wander around the chamber, running her fingers over the scar in the rock where Adel’s sword had been, and looking about the place she found his journal, which she kept hidden. At the tree she would sit back down exactly where she had woken and close her eyes, staying there for hours at a time. She always wore the cloak, however when Emily had glanced the dagger on her thigh, she was forced to hide that as well.
Her friend and father worried about her. She rarely ate, rarely spoke, and when she did, it did not seem like it was the Erika they knew speaking. She would lock herself in her and Emily’s bedroom for hours at a time, and neither knew what she was doing when she was in there. Her behaviour was abnormal for the usually fiery woman, and the fact that she seemed to be somehow defeated scared them.
One day, while Erika was once again in the temple, Emily tentatively approached her. She hadn’t come into the ruins since Erika disappeared, however her concern for her friend trumped her resentment of the place. Erika was by the ominous-looking wall at the back of the chamber, the one that have Emily chills every time she looked at it. Erika was running her hand over the stained rock, murmuring inaudibly to herself. The cloak she never took off was still around her shoulders, although it seemed to hang more loosely on her. Her hair hung in matted tangles about her shoulders, and did not hold its usual glossy sheen. When Emily finally came around to face her, she could see that her friend’s face had become haggard with exhaustion. Dark rings and deep grooves lined beneath her eyes, making her seem much older. She didn’t seem to notice Emily, her gaze still fixated on the wall.
“Erika,” Emily hedged, chewing on her lip. Erika didn’t seem to hear, so she tried again, and managed to earn the woman’s attention. “Is everything alright? You never really talk about the day you went into town… Did something happen that you’re not telling us?” Erika blinked owlishly at her friend, and for an instant, Emily could see the flicker of the old Erika in her eyes. Then, the weary new Erika returned, and she shook her head.
“No, nothing happened, Emily. I just went into town and bought some memorabilia…” She murmured. Her voice was slightly hoarse from lack of use. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look it. You’re exhausted, Erika. What do you keep looking for, anyway? This wall is so gross, and it’s creepy in here.” She wrinkled her nose, looking balefully at the wall in question. Erika returned her gaze to it, and began running her fingertips over it again, apparently lost in her own world. This time, however, Emily could hear her murmurings, eliciting a frown of confusion and deep concern.
“There has to be a way, I got through once, there has to be a way back…” Erika murmured over and over again, searching the wall for any sign of… Anything. Emily sighed, walking away from her. She wasn’t right anymore; she needed to get away from this place; maybe that would make her back to normal. Sighing, she walked out of the temple, and back toward where Dr. O’Callaghan was digging.
“She’s still not saying anything. She’s in the back room again muttering to herself about needing to ‘go back.’ I really think this place is unhinging her. I think we should bump up our flights home, and get her out of here.” She told him.
Erika stared numbly out the taxicab’s window, watching the rain as it pattered down gloomily against the glass. Emily and the driver were in a deep conversation about the scores of some sport or another, leaving Erika to her own thoughts. She had the bag she used as a carryon cradled in her lap, within it, the journal. She had pitched a fit when the customs agent tried taking it, and ended up getting herself and Emily detained for a few hours while they unceremoniously picked through it with white latex gloves. When Erika got it back, she spent another hour going through it to make sure that it wasn’t damaged, much to Emily’s increasing chagrin. Now Erika’s fingertips lightly caressed the worn leather cover, her thoughts befuddled and increasingly forlorn.
She fought vehemently about going back. She couldn’t, she didn’t want to. But the fact that she fought seemed to only urge Emily and her father to pursue this sudden decision more rigorously, and finally, Erika was dragged, still fighting, into her dad’s pickup and taken to the airport. Now she seemed even more unresponsive than before. Emily cast a worried glance into the rear view mirror at her friend, chewing on her lip, wondering if this was the right decision after all.
Once they reached the room that they shared, Erika went directly into her bedroom and shut the door behind her. Emily stared at her from the front entrance, and then sighed. So much for getting Erika back when she got home. She thought despairingly, dragging her luggage into the living room. Maybe she’ll get better when she gets back into her routine.
Weeks passed. Erika spent the majority of her time in the archaeology department’s library at her school, flipping through old tomes coated in layers of dust. During class, she gained some of her once ever-present enthusiasm, simply because she couldn’t resist the pull of her life’s passion. However, this passion was soon influenced by her obsession. She switched her focuses to archaeological findings solely in the British Isles, along with lore and other folk stories. Her professors were impressed that she chose a specialization so early in her professional career; however, Emily, and later Dr. O’Callaghan once he received word, did not see this as quite as good a sign.
Erika finally left the library on a Saturday afternoon. The warm spring air greeted her, so different from the temperate climate in Wales. She blinked the sunlight from her eyes, and donned a pair of sunglasses out of childhood habit. Descending the sandstone steps of the library, she began walking home, her head buzzing with the information she had just read.
In one of the older, less sought-after books in the far back corners of the library, Erika had found evidence of the nomadic tribes that had wandered across the Isles. They were referred to as ‘gypsies,’ though Erika figured that was just ethnocentric viewpoints of the author. The book told of how several of the tribes fought the monarchies of the time to try to keep their culture, instead of being assimilated into the vastly expanding cities. One such village was wiped out by the resulting conflict, and the book described it. Apparently, the commanding General kept everything documented, and the author of this book managed to unearth them.
…The rivers run red with blood this day. All about me there is screaming. Men bellow their war cries, and the women shriek in fear, not for themselves, but for their children. None are spared. The men, and even some of the women, fight valiantly, but their rebellious courage is no match for our tactical prowess. Entire families are cut down by my soldiers. One woman pleaded for the life of her son. He was naught but an infant. I thought, for a brief moment, of taking the boy in. Surely, he was too young to remember such things when he grew into a man. Nevertheless, my orders were clear; no survivors. Such a pity, the mother was very pretty, and the boy very smart. They could have been promising members of civilized society. Ultimately, the words my men speak around the campfires at night as they exchange stories ring true: gypsies can never be trusted…
Erika had felt sick as she read this. She was sure this wasn’t the tribe from which she had been captured; there would have been mention of hostages, and survivors. Sighing, she paused by a streetlight, rubbing her eyes of the vivid imagery that those words harnessed. Something about that excerpt bothered her more than it should have. How many times had she read similar scripts, one as ruthless as the next? She knew firsthand how difficult that time was.
Then why did she miss it so much? Nothing here seemed right anymore, none of her life interested her as it used to. Something just always seemed wrong. She shook her head, crossing the street when she heard the signal that was meant for the blind, not bothering to look up.
“Watch out!” The cry jarred her from her stupor moments before a body flung itself against her, one strong, oddly familiar arm around her waist to pull her out of the way of a speeding car, horn blaring, its driver flipping them off as he spoke on his Bluetooth. Erika sat up slowly once her saviour relinquished his hold on her. Her elbows were scraped up, and the knees of her jeans were torn and bloodied. Her bag, still somehow on her shoulder, sat in a rigid heap beside her, filled with book rentals.
“Are you stupid? Didn’t you learn how to cross the street as a kid? You almost got killed!” Now he was berating her. She frowned, feeling something bubble. Oh, that was annoyance, of course, she felt that a lot when… Suddenly, she looked up into the man’s face, and a soft gasp escaped her. Their eyes locked, teal and green widening at the same moment.
© 2011 Kate P. Lamb
Kate P. Lamb
Calgary, AB, Canada
AboutEnjoy reading and spending time with Nature. Studying for my BA as of Fall 2012, then hopefully onto graduate school to become a Naturopathic Doctor. Published poet, working on a fiction novel and ano.. more..