I wake up gasping for air.
It is pitch black. I cannot see.
I get to my feet with great difficulty. My body feels heavy like it’s covered in sweat and my hair is plastered to my cheeks. I hear the sloshing sound of water as I move and freeze, puzzled. Where am I?
I realise at once that I am knee deep in water. The chill seeps through my clothing and skin causing me to shiver.
As my eyes scan the darkness I begin to make out shapes. Trees? I wonder hesitant to move. I wish I had better vision in the dark.
For a long while I am still, afraid to move. I try to think back; try to recall what happened and where I might be. No memories come.
Staying in one place will not help me recognise where I am, I decide finally. My surroundings are a touch lighter than before, as if a small light has been turned on somewhere nearby, though I don’t know where from.
I push one hand into the glimmering water and feel something tangle around my fingers. Quickly, I jerk my hand away. My eyes dart to the water and I’m surprised to see a body-shaped object lying near me.
My heart races in my chest and I shriek, running away and stumbling over something beneath the surface. I end up falling back into the cold water in my panic. I grope around in the water to push myself up and feel something hard touch the tips of my fingers.
A whimper escapes my throat but I wrap my hand around what feels like a hilt and pull it above the surface. It glints in the dim light and I see it is a dagger. I struggle to my feet again, careful to hold the blade away from me.
Once I am upright and steady I stop and turn around to see that whatever it was has not moved. I creep back over to the mound lying in a shallower portion of the water. My heart continues thrumming quickly in my ribs. My brain screams at me to turn around—leave while I have the chance.
I stop a few feet from the lump and kick it over carefully with the toe of my shoe.
Two eyes shine up at me and my breath catches inside my lungs. It is a girl, a young one by the looks of it. Her hair is a tangled mess round her head. It reaches out in the black water as if it is trying to grab me and drag me to her.
She is dead.
I do not know who she is, or was. If she was good she deserves a cremation and her ashes scattered back to the earth. If she was a criminal she deserves nothing more than a fast burial. There would be no chance for the skull to crack in the cremating flames—no chance for her spirit to be freed of her body.
Either way I cannot bury or burn her. The water prevents a fire from being started, and the ground is much too moist to dig a grave.
I dig through the water with my free hand, feeling for stones which I know are there. I find two roughly the same size and close her eyelids, placing the stones upon them gently.
Once I am finished I step back and turn away, walking through the water aimlessly.
A soft glow is beginning to find its way through the trees and I see that I am in a clearing in a forest. It isn’t a large clearing, but it is probably noticeable from higher elevation.
I look up and push my drying hair from my eyes. Everything has a dawn-grey tint to it and it makes everything seem eerie as I walk forward. I spend some time searching through the murky water, hoping to find a hint of something that will make me remember why I am here.
Other than the dead girl and a slaughtered dog no one but me is in the glade.
I am certain I have not been walking for as long as it feels like. The sun is just raised enough in the sky that I can see the top of it over the gaps in some trees. The grey tint that had covered the world shortly before is gone now, replaced by a soft pink and orange blush.
The water is not as deep as it was. It only reaches to my calves now, though in some places there are deep gaps in the earth where it reaches up to my knees again. The first time I’d fallen into one I screamed then felt foolish. It’s only a hole, I told myself, nerves causing me to laugh in relief.
I notice that the ground is sloping upward now. The water is lessening as I go up the hill. There are still puddles here and there, but for the most part it is dry.
I would like to build a fire, I think as I walk on. And to dry my clothes.
When I reach the top I stop, looking at my surroundings. Not far ahead there is what appears to be a reservoir.
I don’t think there is anyone around, but I am careful to be quiet as I make my way to the other side of the structure.
I am not prepared for what I see when I reach the opposite end.
Bodies are lying everywhere. Dead. They are scattered all the way down the hill into a small village that is overflowing with blood-tinted water, much like the clearing I came from. Some of the buildings are crumbled and that, along with the water, confuses me.
I turn around and see a gaping hole in the reservoir. It looks like it was smashed open by something large, which leads me to believe it was not done accidentally.
I walk forward toward a cluster of dead. The scent is enough to make me gag.
I kneel down beside a dead woman. Her hair is dark like the girl in the clearing and she has the same thin frame. I wonder if they could be related. I brush a bit of hair from her face and pull my hand away quickly, gasping and leaping backwards.
Her face is covered in dried blood and her skin is sunken in where her eyes were gouged out.
I swallow and stare at her wide eyed before laying her hair gently over her face again.
As I make my way into the town I wonder what she did to deserve such a cruel death.
Bodies litter the streets. Water is flooding the paths. By the looks of the people they can’t have been gone long—only a few days at most.
My boots splash through the water as I make my way down a small slope. It is strange how this town is set up. If you start from the woods, as I have, you go up a large hill to where the reservoir is placed. If you pass by it the ground begins to slope down again, though more subtly, to the village. There is a path which goes round the knoll in the centre and leads back to the woods. It looks like it would be easier to climb than straight up to the reservoir—the way which I came.
My shoes squish into the reddish hued mud as I step around a dead man. He is elderly looking; his skin is shrivelled with age. His eyes stare up at me and I shudder nervously and hurry on.
I stop in front of a large building with a cross on the front. It reminds me of a church I’ve seen before and leaves me wondering how I got here again.
One of the doors is open slightly and I push it open wider. A squeak sets me on edge and I flinch, holding the dagger I found out in front of me. I nudge the door with the toe of my boot and it creaks again. My heart settles and I walk inside.
The walls are a cream-white colour which would usually be relaxing and charming. Flowers and candles make a futile attempt to fill the place with happiness, though I can tell it is no longer a place of reconciliation. The portraits hanging are safe from the water, but not from the wall which has crumbled. Bits of ceiling have fallen in as well.
The front corner is dark and I cannot see what is in it although light spills in through stained glass windows. The sunbeams cast patterns on the wet floor. A fancy cross hangs at the front of the church, just above where the preacher would speak. A small decorative table sits beneath the cross on the raised stage floor. The ceiling above is a wooden dome which cuts off and blends into the high roof of the rest of the church.
I walk forward, noting that some of the pews are tipped over and smashed. My palms sweat and I tighten my grip on the dagger. My eyes scan the area around the hole in the wall and a small whimper escapes my throat.