She was beginning to dream again. With the heat came the dreams, and with the dream would eventually raise memory. There were bits and pieces, sometimes images, more words. She would see colors – blue, green, shades of pink, possibly the color of cheeks or roses, then she would feel things. There were soft things, hard things, painful things… things she both longed to remember and things she was happy to forget. The words though… the words were of the utmost importance.
Danger was the first word.
It scared her until her body shook her awake, but even in the wakeful hours of bright sunlight and dew, she found the word “danger” still lingered within her. It left a bitter, copper taste in her mouth, which she tried to physically spit out, but to no avail.
The sticky dew was no help, and it had her squirming relentlessly. Then her eyes fell on a mass of darkness, curled on the ground beside her.
There was a thump.
She stopped and pressed a hand to her chest. She couldn’t recall such a feeling, or a word to describe it. It went just as quickly as it had come, and soon her mind was focused back on the mass next to her. It barely moved, and she could scarcely say it moved at all.
But as she reached out to investigate further, a little flash caught her attention. There, attached to the end of what should’ve been fingers, were claws. She made a little gasping noise, and held her hand up to the light, turning and turning the claws until she had investigated every edge and corner of them.
Had she always had these things?
Then, there was a grunt, and the mass on the ground stirred. The Witch shuffled back, claws extended out to put a serrated wall between herself and whatever was rising from the ground. The mass, now a full grown man, shook – an animal shaking off leaves and dirt from where he had slept. His brown hair was sticky with the dew and something crusty and black. Then, his face angled up to meet hers.
The shriek echoed through the forest, erupting into a cacophony of sounds and animals. The Hunter’s brow shot up, and his mouth formed an unpleasant line with the loose, broken lip dangling off the bottom. He shook his head and held a finger to his lips.
“Hush. Quiet, Witch.”
She fell silent and carefully studied his mouth. He could speak, too?
“Who… are you?”
The Hunter sat up, rolling his neck until it made a cracking sound, then he sighed.
The word formed in her mind, cloudy and foggy. There was something attached to it, something very real and very there, but just out of her mind’s grasp. She sat in silence for a long time, just trying to clear the fog and pull that image forward, but to no avail.
The Hunter grunted, his face now tight and accentuating the scars with what looked like annoyance.
The Witch shook her head. That wasn’t right. The name was familiar, but there was something else… something that name seemed to cover up.
“Emily.” She said.
The Hunter froze in his morning ministrations.
She clicked her claws together, trying to form the sounds again… slower.
“… em… Emily. I, Emily.”
The Hunter’s lips broke from their line into what might have once been a smile. He rushed toward her, a crouched creature with an ugly face.
She shuffled back, screeching and slashing claws before he could even get close. The Hunter stopped, and pressed a hand to his chest.
She didn’t move.
He hit his chest more forcefully.
She shook her head this time.
He yelled, raising his voice much louder than he needed,
“Hunter. Remember me?”
Her mind rushed and slowed, rushed and slowed, until it was throbbing in her skull. Why couldn’t she remember that word? Why couldn’t she remember that word? Then another word rose amongst the chaos.
Then she remembered.
He nodded, and the smile returned to his lips, though wrinkles broke the laced pattern of his brow. He was worried, and so was she.
How could she forget so much, and remember so much, all at once? And why?
Her Hunter hadn’t looked at her again since they had woken up. Her memories from the past were still foggy, a thick haze she couldn’t seem to wade through, but while her memories as an infected faded, something else long forgotten was beginning to rise within her.
She had remembered a name, her name. Avove all, she was no longer just the Witch, she was Emily, and if she remembered nothing else the rest of her life, she would’ve been content with just a name. She had proof that she actually had been a person once. Emily felt and carried the warmth she could only imagine now.
Though this new information was satisfying, that lingering haze had her growing more and more curious about the past. Who was she really? Who lingered just below her gray skin? She studied her hands, the palms scarred up and down from what she could only assume were her own claws. How many of these scars were from this life, and how many had she earned in her old one? She wanted to know. Somewhere deep down, there were answers. She just needed to figure out how to access them.
Then, a gruff voice broke through her thoughts,
She looked up to see the Hunter, pacing back and forth on all fours, making much more noise than the Witch deemed necessary.
She shook her head, even though he wasn’t looking at her to see it.
Emily peered over at the Hunter, his pacing was uncoordinated. His hands and feet seemed uncertain of their next fall, hovering in the air much longer than they should’ve been. He was nervous.
Emily then recalled the way he had lunged to her at hearing her name – her actual, human name – as if he was excited, as if he had been waiting for her to remember it.
“Hunter? Your name… only Hunter?”
The Hunter froze in his pacing, giving her a chance to catch the side of his face, and the way his lids and sockets twitched with unused muscles. It looked so painful. She wondered if and how he could see at all, but a little niggling at the back of her mind had her feeling a strange sense of déjà vu. She felt like she knew the answer already, she just couldn’t recall how.
The Hunter said, “No.”
Short, resolute. He didn’t want any more questions, and even if she asked, she probably wouldn’t get an answer anyway. The Hunter was too busy trying to remember how to pace properly to recall a name. His arms were bent at unnatural angles, as if they were contorting on their own. It was separate from what he wanted them to do, which was simply to pace back and forth.
Emily sat, waiting for something more, squirming in anxiousness when nothing did. In the meantime, she let her mind wander and ponder things she still had no answer to.
Why was she remembering, and more importantly, why was she forgetting, too?
She held her arms out in front of her, studying the deep red lines she hadn’t noticed latticing her arms in a beautiful, ugly mixture of purple and gray. They were so in-between, much like a scar, a wound between being there and disappearing. Her eyes flicked back to the Hunter, who was now stopped in his pacing, staring at her, slack-jawed. His sockets were right on her, daunting and angry with their little pulps peeking out at her.
She couldn’t remember ever seeing something or someone so ugly, so animal. Then, another flash of memory: moonlight, rough hands, warmth, and light… bright, bright light in a dark room.
A room in a house she had lived in, in a former life from ages ago.
She had to go back. That would be where the answers were. She stood up, eliciting a growl from the Hunter who crawled up to her feet. In response, she presented her claws, though she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. Something inside her, deep, deep down within her chest, there was a slight twinge. Something was changing inside her, but she just wasn’t sure what.
She looked to the Hunter, and she could see something was changing inside him, too.
He growled again,
“Where are… you going?”
She shook her head and pointed towards a break in the woods where they had walked through before.
The Hunter shook his head before nudging against her knees in the opposite direction, deeper into the woods, and farther away from her goal.
“No… bad. Need to keep… going.”
Bad? How was it bad? Her home was there. She knew it. It was familiar and safe. She recalled it smelling like vanilla or lavender a long time ago. It was a memory which burned her nose with its strength. There had to be more. She had to remember if it was vanilla or lavender. She pushed against his face, and he pushed back.
He growled, much louder, and pressed his shoulder against her, too, causing her to stumble back a few steps. He wasn’t going to let her pass… at least, not without a fight.
She brandished her finger blades, giving him a hiss of her own. The Hunter sat up until he was simply squatting, quiet and still, a statue. She pointed passed him, back toward the path she knew would lead where she needed to go.
“Home. I need home.”
The Hunter shook his head, resolutely. So, fight it was. The Witch released a screech and stepped forward, not before a loud crackling of gunfire erupted within the woods. Behind the Witch, a tree whined with agony, having taken the shot for her. She turned to investigate, which the Hunter took as his chance. He easily rose from his squat and shot forward, scooping the writhing Witch in his arms.
Emily continued to screech and thrash. She was getting farther and farther from her goal, farther and farther from the chance of her memories. Then, as if on cue, another shot rang close by. A memory surfaced from within the haze.
A man… no. A group of men, with guns and knives, watched them as they ran into the woods. A man at the front of the group, poised with a knife pointed in their direction, not unlike her claws, watched with a promise gracing his lips.
‘I will find you.’
And he had.
It really was bad.