I couldn’t believe it: I had managed to get on my feet. Not soon enough as to hide from those footsteps, however: and there they were, in front of me. There were three: one of them looked like a woman in her forties, and she wore a long apricot silken robe; beside her stood a girl a little shorter than the woman, her red hair long down on her back, her ivory dress gleaming on the sunlight. An animal followed the two women, soaring slightly above the dead leaves: it looked like a fox but at the same time it couldn’t have been further from a fox; it was too big and too human. No fox could ever look so majestic; and foxes are quite majestic themselves. I hoped they wouldn’t invisibly tie me again, now that I had been able to set myself free: and I liked them already, it would be a shame to have to hate them. They looked puzzled, and the older woman said:
‘What are you doing here?’
I had no idea what I was doing there. How could I answer such a question, when I’d very much like to ask her the same thing. ‘I have no idea…’ They were still looking at me ever more puzzled.
‘But how did you get here?’, asked the girl, stepping forward.
‘I…’ should I tell them? would they think I was crazy? it seemed as if they weren’t regular people either, so I gave it a try: ‘I was driving with my partner, with my girlfriend, and…’ I tried to remember the details: it was all foggy. ‘And then we had a tyre blow out, I think. We didn’t have the time to check it because we were… we were dragged by some… some people, some beings, I don’t know: we were dragged into the forest, but I don’t really remember how…’
‘Not again…’ said the girl with a sigh, but that wasn’t directed at me: it was directed to the two other that had come with her. I didn’t understand what she meant by that, but I was too shy to ask.
‘I don’t understand why, though… I thought we had made it clear the last time’ the woman answered. Their conversation did not include me: I was silent and observing.
‘You know them’ said the non-fox. ‘They might have done it just because, but it is likely they had a reason. She might be one of the Others: they certainly didn’t leave her here with all her limbs free, and still there she is, standing up, moving freely. A regular human being couldn’t do that’ said the non-fox, and then it looked at me: ‘Excuse me, what is your name? And where are you from?’
‘My name is Sophie’ I promptly answered. ‘I’m from…’
The non-fox interrupted me to say: ‘Mind you, my dear, that we mean where you really are from, not where you live now.’
I thought it funny that the non-fox would feel the need to specify that. ‘I was born in the northernmost forest in this land’ I said, knowing that they would understand what it meant: by the way they talked about me it felt as if they’d known it already.
‘Oh, well, that makes it plain’ the non-fox went on, talking to the women. It then looked at me: ‘And what are you doing here, if I might ask? What did you intend to accomplish by coming here?’
I was confused by the question. Why would I have any specific purpose? It was a touristic region, wasn’t it? Thousands of people travelled there every year, why would my coming be of a different kind? ‘Well, if you must know, I was simply travelling with my partner. A friend of ours lent us a cabin nearby and we decided to come down and stay there for a week, maybe. But we never got to the cabin.’
‘Oh dear, you should’ve thought it through’ said the woman. I wished I had known her name, but I had forgotten to ask: and after all, I didn’t feel I was in position to ask for other people’s names. ‘We haven’t been very amicable to the Others over the last millennium, didn’t you know that?’
I didn’t. I must have known it as a kid, but I had entirely forgotten the whole thing. I didn’t even know who they were supposed to be. ‘No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know there were people like you here, and I’m not even sure who you are’ I said, compelled to be honest by some mysterious force. ‘I just want to find Cam — Cam is my partner’s name. I just want to find her, I woke up and she wasn’t here anymore and I’m worried.’
‘Well, you should be worried’ said the girl, and seeing the fright in my eyes she completed ‘But not too much. I’ll bet she’s fine. Follow us.’