Winded and force bent at the waist suctioning needed oxygen, a repetitive mantra of ‘get away, get away’ drove her forward one stumbled step until her body rebelled, precluding further advancement.
Minutes passed while pain shed in increments; legs to abdomen to lungs, at last releasing her to stand. A different threat, a celestial collision of forces forming nearby, mixed awe with new fear. Assaying her limited options groundward, a gathering of individual giants, a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees in uneasy alliance across centuries, formed massive ominous opaque walls to her rear, right, and left. Ahead and upward along the gentle slope to hillcrest, field grass dominated, tickled in synchronous sway by a gentle breeze deceptive and disarming in its perspiration relieving temporariness.
Not far away, the burgeoning cloud engorged on humid air and unstable conditions aloft, growing toward stratosphere touching proportions rare for this part of the country. On a steady move forward, its roiling billows blotted out the blue sky of day and accelerated the advent of evening. With fair distance of sight, an occasional flash jagged across the uphill horizon, its mumbled recoil delayed by a twenty-second count. Mind working, taking linear measure of the sky, the fugitive knew the storm followed an atmospheric trail coursing right over her current position.
In minutes, weather would own her, would shed its excess, abuse her person with its diluvial droppings, and whisk her breath away. Her feet, perhaps grounded in a hotspot of electrical polarity, exposed her to friction generated counter-charges originating somewhere inside the menacing cloud.
In normal weather conditions, open field assured while forest threatened, dark, ominous, unknown. Yet field offered no option; in an electrical tantrum, forest offered more protection against the sky borne threats; field gave weather free license to exert its will. And from field she arrived, for the moment escaping a fate far worse.
Straddling the boundary between field, forest, sky, and indecision, the lost one pushed hard against fear and prayed the forest offered a benevolent haven, or if not, hoped its residents remained ambivalent over her unintended intrusion.
Peering into the old growth wood, shapes melded into darkness not forty metres from her, spiking her fear. Only a brightening flash followed by a healthy rumble five seconds later set her in motion, plunging ahead through edging bushes on into the tree shelter, searching for a non-existent safe haven amongst the passive giants.
Fury above dropped the lost one to prone a hundred metres in; fingers interlocked over her head in vain protection. The trees tamed wind and caught rain, but stood powerless against light flashes playing tricks with jumping shadows. Sound recoiled and echoed one flowing into the next, and closer, until flash and boom melded into a continuous reverberating crescendo capable of shaking mountains.
Her body flipped to one side and folded into a foetal ball. Tears flowed and throat wailed an emotional white flag of surrender, her woeful signal unheard and unheeded by the bombastic display impressed by only its own magnanimousness. Unable to stave off the torrential onslaught of moisture any longer, the first leaks penetrated the forest canopy and redirected rainfall poured off helpless leaves.
Each slight of sound, each touch of rain, each snap of light drove her spirit further inward, seeking refuge in the only place left untried. Reality mixed with imagination mixed with shock, leaving her exposed but no longer aware.
When next she opened her eyes, streaks of daylight teased at her uncovered face, the random movement of leaves a pulsing waking signal from nearby trees. Around her, steam lifted off the sodden forest floor, bestirred to vapour by the spiking heat of the new summer’s day. The smell of dampened organics wafted in the air, reminding her of the forests of home. Sounds of a functioning forest surrounded her, the chirp of birds, the scamper of a branch-leaping squirrel, and the background thrum of omnipresent cicadas.
The brighter light of open field beaconed, allowing her to retrace her path to it, this time continuing on a slow stroll back up the incline. Seating at its crown, she took panoramic stock, evaluating her next move in this strange place, so alike in some ways, yet feeling so different. The forces of government would look for her today, and if she chose poorly, if they found their unique prize, she knew not what horrific fate they would choose for her. Xenophobia had an ugly history after all. Witnessing a different reality than long presumed upset the disbelieving, making revelation and revealer a perceived threat to all they believed and protected.
For the lost one soon to be twice ostracised for nothing more than truth, reality meant every direction offered no friends, but she refused to surrender. Beyond the forest of storm refuge, perhaps two kilometres distant and midway up another of the endless rolling hills dominating the area, a sizeable white dwelling occupied space at the centre of a field. A large red outbuilding stood alongside, while the immediate surrounding area streaked with a different colour green, a telltale sign of agriculture. She would make the dwelling her next goal.
Trudging down the hill for a second time, distant tonal bass sounds voiced in rapid succession, the sharp pronouncements of creatures excited, pushing her pace to a hurried trot. Not hesitating on entering the wood for the second time, she maintained a direct route toward goal. Despite her haste, the howls drew nearer from somewhere behind her, leaving her at most an hour.
Deep forest travel proved easy, with the old growth providing ample room for manoeuvring. This advantage faded on approach to the upslope dwelling field, where along forest’s edge, smaller greenery fought for precious growing space. Bramble bushes tore at her arms, scratching. Reaching the clearing, seeded rows of agriculture provided new easy travel lanes until at the dwelling side edge she paused, evaluating. One choice only worked for her; forward, with confidence pretended.
“Hello, can I help you?” a person unseen spoke, drawing her attention left. By the doors of the big red building, a woman of perhaps forty-five, well maintained, with long dark hair tamed by a cloth tied around her forehead, and tanned by time spent out of doors, stood holding a large hand tool. The called words confused, spoken in a language not used since school a decade and a half earlier. Her mind searched and retrieved, analysed and translated, gearing up to use this language.
“I am being chased,” the fugitive replied.
“Those dogs I hear, they tracking you sweetie? I see. Well now, around here, we don’t pay attention to what you did, why, and to whom. Work hard, mind your business, and be friendly, and you’ll do fine in these hills. I assume those after you come from the women’s prison in Windsor. They will be here soon.”
Prison? “No, I am not from a prison.”
Evaluative eyes took measure of the fugitive and came up satisfied. “We can get you out of here. You look haggard, and anyone sees us travelling about will question your appearance. Come on inside, we’ll get you out of those britches and into something presentable. By the way, I’m Margaret, and friends call me Garrett, mostly because I’d deck ‘em and plough ‘em under if they called me Maggie.”
Garrett didn’t challenge the lost one on her name; she figured the younger woman would volunteer the information when she felt comfortable. The prison denial rang false, and Garrett worried what kind of mess awaited her if caught harbouring a fugitive, but this woman looked innocent and harmless.
Clothing presented a second issue. Garrett stood a head shorter, although their waist and bust sizes likely came close on any cloth measuring tape. She settled on shorts and a large tee, taking both in hand in a rush to get moving. Rounding the hall to stairs, the vibrato pluck of the low E string meant the lost one located the cornered Gibson.
Confidence smiled back, timeless in its conveyance. When the younger woman began to play, clothes dropped out of Garrett’s hand, her jaw followed, and her body melted onto the nearest chair, enthralled. No one played this way, and hers was an informed opinion. Garrett had professional success before her hand injury, and she taught guitar theory part time at Keene State.
When play ceased, baying of dogs precluded any fall into discussion. “Change, quickly. We need to get you out of here.”
The shorts fit tight in the ass but otherwise worked. The two left the house within minutes, taking flee in Garrett’s newer F150 pickup. “They might have roadblocks, searching for you. I know a back trail up and over this hill, leading away from the searchers.
“Since I’m taking this great big risk for you, suppose you tell me something about you, like your name, and where you learned to play flawless guitar.”
“Pronunciation of my name would be hard for you,” the lost one shot back.
“All right, if you insist. Nm’thyal.”
Nm’thyal repeated, prompting a Garrett laugh. “Sorry, I didn’t mean say it again, I meant what a mouthful. I thought I noticed you had some sort of unidentifiable accent; your name confirms my suspicion. We’re from?”
“Home…you asked about guitar. Where I come from, we have stringed instruments, similar in some ways, different in others. Stringed instruments are a secondary choice for me.”
“Secondary choice? How in hell does someone who plays as you do call her guitar work ‘a secondary choice’?”
Nm’thyal, relaxing some, giggled. “What you refer to as chordophones are my primary instruments.”
“Chordo – you play piano?”
“Something resembling a piano, yes.”
“Let me see your hand.” Garrett looked over the proffered appendage, striking in its obviousness. Nm’thyal played piano all right.
“Since I’ve heard you play guitar, I’ll extrapolate how you play piano. What did you do to get your ass tossed in prison?”
“Not from prison!” Nm’thyal shot back, “not in prison!”
“Okay, okay, not in prison, I get it. Why do they pursue you?’
“Different, how do you mean different? A different reason?”
“No, different. I’m different.”
“Ah, you are an illegal alien? From what country? You look…I don’t know how to place you. You have blonde hair, striking green eyes, and are tall. These things would make me guess Icelandic. Yet, you have Southern Asia skin tones. I’m stumped.”
“Yes, I’m illegal.”
Puzzled but unwilling to push further, Garrett switched on the radio to a local rock station. Music filled the cab, drawing both passengers into a sing-along. When the song ended, Nm’thyal kept going.
“What holy shit? Where?”
“Your voice – you can sing!”
“So can you.”
“Nothing like you Nm’thyal.” Damn, what a difficult name to pronounce on the fly Garrett decided, stumbling through its pronunciation. Nahmeemtheeyul. Nah meem thee yul.
What an enigma and what a precious package, Garrett decided. Who would wish harm to this woman? Music flowed into the noontime news.
“…Authorities ask all residents of Southeast Vermont to be on alert for an unidentified woman, thought to be a potential terrorist and dangerous. Do not approach her. Notify authorities at once.
“Prior to sunrise this morning, NORAD tracked an unauthorised aircraft entering the US at high speed. The Air Force scrambled two F-15 Eagles to force the unauthorised airplane to land. From long distance, south of Woodstock, high-resolution cameras recorded a woman leave the craft and float toward the ground. Before the Eagles could close on the aircraft, the intruder turned northeast and disappeared from all tracking systems. Authorities believe the aircraft crashed in the remote forests in the White Mountains region of New Hampshire.”
“Leave the craft,” Nm’thyal scoffed. “They pushed me out!”
Creeping over a right side boulder, Garrett waited until she cleared it before stopping. “Okay, I stuck my neck out here to protect you. You seem nice, and your music talent lies beyond any measure I know, but terrorism, holy shit, terrorism! Nm’thyal, you had better start explaining right now, or I’m going to drive to the local police station and turn you in myself!”
“It wasn’t an airplane.”
“Oh, what was it, a hot air balloon doing Mach 1?”
“You waste gas. Now please shut down and I’ll take time to explain.”