The sun was high in the sky when I woke. I was lying on a rock in the middle of grassy plains, wearing a torn and muddy party gown. I had no idea where I was or how I’d gotten there.
Frowning, I tried to think back to the night before. Thinking gave me a headache so I gave up.
There was a groan beside me, a little to the left. I scooted to the edge of my giant rock and looked over it. There was a boy lying in the grass. As I watched him, he blinked open his eyes and yawned. Squinting against the bright glare of the sun, the boy came fully away with a start. He looked up quickly with the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen.
I opened my mouth to introduce myself, but found I couldn’t recall my name.
The boy stood slowly, carefully. Bracing himself against the rock for support, he looked around at the plains. Without a word, he climbed up onto my rock and sat down.
“Where do you think we are?” I managed to ask, but my throat was sore, so my voice came out scratchy and weak as if I hadn’t spoken or had water in a great while.
The boy shrugged. He was silently studying our surroundings, sucking on his lip ring.
“What do you think they want with us?”
The boy looked at me for a long moment. I was beginning to wonder if he was mute when he said, “Why do you think it was a ‘they’?”
“If someone didn’t bring us here, then how did we get here?”
I shook my head. “I don’t drink.”
The boy didn’t say anything as he glanced back over the plains where the grass blew in the wind. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and I realized his nails were painted black.
“If this was a kidnapping, why would they just dump us here?” I wondered aloud.
The boy shrugged.
“Perhaps it’s a sacrifice?”
The boy looked at me then. “Sacrifice?”
I glanced around. “Lions?”
The boy rolled his eyes and looked away again, still playing with the rings in his lip.
I was suddenly really nervous. The boy seemed to think I was ridiculous, but what if it was a sacrifice? It would be dark soon, and bad things happened in the dark.
“I don’t like this.”
The boy cast me a droll stare, but didn’t say anything.
“You don’t talk much, do you?”
The boy sighed dramatically. “Shut up, will you? I’m trying to figure out a way to escape.”
“By staring at the horizon?”
The boy gave me a withering look.
“Well, someone’s got a thorn up their ass,” I muttered.
The boy must have heard me, but he showed no signs of it. He continued studying the distance. “Since I woke up on the ground, we can assume it isn’t rigged,” he said aloud.
I had a feeling he wasn’t talking to me, but I answered anyway. “Rigged?”
“Mined,” the boy explained. “Bombs. Booby traps.”
“But for good measure…” He leaned over the edge and picked up a biggish rock. He stood and threw it. Nothing happened. “No explosions. See? Not rigged.
“Oh.” I repeated.
The boy hopped down from the boulders we were on.
“What are you doing?”
“Exploring. I want to see how far the plains go.”
“That would take you hours. Days, even.”
The boy shrugged. “I’ll be back.”
“And if you’re not?”
“Then I’m dead.”
“And I have no chance of getting out.”
“I’m going with you.”
The boy raised his eyebrows. Then he shrugged. “Fine. Come on, then.”
I jumped off the rock to follow the nameless boy.
We set out in a random direction. Or, at least, I thought it was random. But the boy walked with a determined stride as if he knew exactly where we were going.
I walked a couple paces behind, watching him. He had a mop of black hair that hung into his eyes. He kept sweeping his bangs back, but they’d just fall right back into place. The boy’s walk was confident. He strode with a swagger that defied our situation.
“Why are you not scared?” I asked him.
He glanced back at me. “I see nothing to be scared of.”
“We woke up in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere with no memories. How does that not call for at least a little fear?”
A grin seemed to tug on his lips. “I see no cause for worry. Yet,” he amended. “We’ll get out of here.”
“You and I get along like chocolate ice cream and mustard,” I muttered.
The boy laughed. “That’s disgusting.”
“I’ll get us out of here.”
“We’re lost,” I said.
“No, I’m going to get us to civilization.”
“We’re lost,” I repeated.
The boy shook his head. “I will save us.”
“We’re going to die out here,” I stated.
“We’re not,” the boy argued.
I sighed, thirst burning in my throat. My mouth was dry and my tongue felt like cotton. My stomach grumbled, hunger clawing at my insides. “We need food,” I said. “Food and water.”
“Well, I don’t see any out here, so we’ll just have to wait.”
I sighed again.
We trekked for what felt like centuries before the tall grasses started to thin. Night had fallen and it felt like we were going in circles.
“How long have we been walking?” I asked, my feet sore.
“About six-and-a-half hours.”
“How can you tell?”
“The moon’s position in the sky.”
We finally stumbled into a patch of small grass, a clearing in the plains.
The boy cursed colorfully under his breath.
“Now will you admit we’re lost?”
The boy gave me a scathing look. “No.”
“We’re lost.” I said for the third time, earning myself another scornful look. “You should really adjust your attitude, boy.”
The boy turned away, focusing on the grass. He knelt in the center of the clearing, eyebrows pulled down in confusion.
“What is it?”
“This place is familiar.”
“You’ve been here?” I asked, surprised.
The boy shrugged, standing. “I don’t remember.”
I looked around at the clearing. “I’ve never seen it before in my life.”
“I think I’ve had a recurring dream about this place…” The boy turned and gave me a wide-eyed once-over. “You were there.”
“You’ve dreamt about this?”
The boy frowned. “I think… I remember.”
“I woke up in this field. It was raining. You appeared and told me I was in grave danger…”
“Are you sure it was me?”
The boy nodded, deep in thought. “You gave me something of yours to help guide me.”
The boy reached under his shirt, freezing, eyes widening farther.
“What?” I repeated.
“A necklace…” Slowly the boy pulled a necklace out from beneath his shirt. It was beautiful, a rock of both amethyst and blue topaz on a silver chain.
“How did you get that?” I demanded. I didn’t recognize it through the fog in my brain that was shielding my memories, but I felt a strong pull towards it.
“I have no idea.”
I narrowed my eyes on him. “Did you have it on the rock?”
“I-I think so.”
I huffed. “Let’s get out of here.”
Suddenly lightning flashed across the sky, cracking the indigo canvas. Thunder rumbled.
We both glanced towards the sky.
A raindrop splashed onto my cheek and I wiped it away. Within seconds, the rain picked up and my already-destroyed gown was drenched. My wet hair clung to my face.
The boy bit his lip, thinking, his eyebrows knit together.
“You look constipated,” I told him.
“And you look like a drowned rat,” he returned.
Fair enough, I thought.
He glanced to the left, fingering his lip ring. “I think it’s that way.”
“The way out?”
“How do you know?”
“Just… a feeling.”
“The necklace?” I guessed. He was still gripping it in his hand.
The boy looked at me, deliberating. Then he nodded. “When I’m facing that way, it gets warm.”
“Lead the way, then.”
The boy headed to the left, hacking his way through the tall grass.
It could have been my imagination or the thunder, but I could have sworn I heard a growling to my right, coming from something hiding deep in the grass. I stopped, listening.
“Are you coming?”
“I thought I heard something.”
“Probably just the wind.”
“Maybe.” We continued walking until I heard the growling again. I stopped. “It’s definitely not the wind.”
The boy paused, listening hard. There it was, again. He glanced in the direction the growling came from.
The growling got louder.
The boy parted the grass and I immediately wished he hadn’t.
A creature was crouched there, tail trashing, yellow eyes glowing in the dark as it watched us.
“What the hell is that thing?”
“Definitely not the wind!” I shouted as we started running.
The beast chased after us, snarling. It had the body of a lion, the head of a tiger, the tail of a snake, the hooves of a horse, and the horns of a ram. It’s sharp teeth dripped ropes of red saliva, probably red from its last meal. It’s yellow eyes were bright as it pursued us through the grass.
The beast’s hot breath was directly on our necks. I felt a heavy weight slam into me and I hit the ground hard. Banging my chin, I tasted blood. I managed to maneuver onto my back so I was facing the monster. I didn’t see my companion anywhere.
Suddenly there was a rustle to my left and a girl appeared. She had war paint on her face, two thin straps holding a bag on her back that covered her breasts because she was shirtless, tight black pants, and her black hair cropped extremely short. She was wielding a machete and a small dagger. Without hesitation, she attacked the animal and drove it back. Once the monster had disappeared, she held out a hand to help me up. “Hey, my name’s Ira.”
“Um, hi… I don’t know my name.”
Ira didn’t even blink at that, as if she was used to it. “Well, that’s unfortunate.”
“Boy!” I called, looking for my companion. Not knowing his name was incredibly inconvenient.
The boy appeared the, looking disheveled. “I thought it had eaten you.”
“I’m alive,” I said. Then I gestured to the newcomer. “This is Ira. She saved me.”
Ira inclined her head to the boy. “I take it you two don’t know your names.”
The boy nodded.
Ira smiled slightly. It was a wild kind of smile, to match the crazy light in her green eyes. “Not the first I’ve seen. I live out here. These fields are my home. I used to be like you.”
“You woke up here once, with no memories?”
“How come you know your name?”
“Ira isn’t my real name. I named myself.”
“And you never found a way out?”
“Eight years. Trust me, kids. You’re not gonna get out.”
“How old are you?” The boy asked rudely.
Ira shrugged. “No clue.”
“How do you know it’s been eight years?”
“I have my ways.”
“So you’ve been searching for eight years for an escape?”
Ira shook her head. “I began to lose hope after two, but I kept looking for three more after that. I gave up after five years of looking. I’ve searched every inch of these plains. I know everything about this place.”
“Can you tell us what the hell that monster was?”
Ira grinned. “It doesn’t have a name.”
“What do you know about it?” I asked.
“It guards its den with its life. I killed one a while back and explored its den. Found baby ones of them. Killed them. Nothing else in the dens.”
“There’s more than one of those things?”
Ira nodded. “There are other things, too.”
“Things you really hope you don’t encounter, but since you’re stuck here, you probably will.”
“We’re not stuck!” The boy said with such conviction it shocked Ira for a moment. Then she grinned.
“Face it, you’re never getting out.”
I changed the subject. “Eight years and you never got your memory back?”
Ira shook her head. “Never.”
“That won’t be us,” the boy said. “I’m getting out of this place.”
Ira shrugged. “You’re welcome to try.”
The boy glanced at me. “You coming?”
I met Ira’s amused gaze. “Yeah.” I turned to follow the boy then swung back around. “Come with us,” I said to Ira.
Ira raised her eyebrows. “Sure, why not. I love a good adventure, even if it is totally futile.”
The boy gave her a dirty look. “We will get out of here.”
Ira shrugged. “Lead the way, if you’re so sure.”
The boy closed his eyes and squeezed the necklace in his hand. He spun slowly in a circle. He stopped and opened his eyes. Pushing past Ira, he stalked off into the grass.
Ira looked at me, shrugged, and followed him with a smirk. Ira was sure he would fail and while I desperately wanted to get back to wherever it is I came from, I shared her doubts. I wanted to know my name and return to my life, but if Ira had been stuck here for almost a decade, the boy I’d woken up with and I had no hope of escape.
The boy trudged on, regardless. He didn’t seem to care that Ira had no faith in him and that we seemed to be making no progress. He kept looking at the necklace like it was a compass.
“Does he know what he’s doing?” Ira asked.
“No,” I answered. “He’s following a vaguely-remembered dream he had about a necklace I gave him.”
“So you know him previously?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know. But he says I gave him that necklace in a dream, but how else would he have gotten it?”
Ira nodded, giving me a weird look. Her smug expression vanished to be replaced by a thoughtful one. “Interesting.”
Ira shook her head. “I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Your friend. He just… he seems like he knows exactly where he’s going.”
“He thinks he does.”
“You don’t seem to like him.”
Perceptive, I thought bitterly. “He’s an arrogant ass.”
Ira laughed. “I picked up on that.”
We walked for a long time. The sky grew steadily darker, the moon traveling higher in the sky.
“Dude, we’ve been walking for hours,” I said. “I’m tired. Can’t we rest? Find our way out when it’s light?”
The boy gave me a long look, then shrugged. He turned to the half-naked girl beside me. “Ira, do you know of any places to sleep?”
Ira led us to an underground burrow. “No beasties will get us here.”
We lay down and I was out instantly.
“Rise and shine, sleepyhead.”
I blinked open my eyes, shivering. I saw Ira leaning over me.
“Time to get moving,” Ira said. “Your boy-toy here is getting impatient.”
The boy shot her a scornful look. “I’m not her boy-toy.”
Ira ignored him, helping me to my feet.
We left the burrow and started heading in the same direction as last night.
Ira whistled a soft tune. When I asked, she said she remembered it from her childhood. She said her mother used to sing it to her when she was little, before her mother passed away. I asked how the remembered that and she replied, “It comes back in bits and pieces, the memories.”
The boy ignored us both. Or, I thought he was ignoring us. I let my mind wander, but when I focused to ask where he thought we were headed, I thought I saw the boy watching me.
We walked for miles, to the point where my feet ached and a migraine pounded inside my skull.
“Boy, you are exhausting. Can’t you see your girlfriend is about to topple over?”
The boy glanced back at me. “She’s not my girlfriend. I don’t even know her name.”
“You don’t even know your name,” Ira said. “And she gave you a necklace. For all you know, she could be your girlfriend.”
“I wouldn’t date someone so repugnant.” I said.
The boy narrowed his eyes at me, but didn’t say anything. He turned back to his path and continued walking.
Ira shot me a sympathetic look. “I am so sorry, if he turns out to be your boyfriend.”
I shrugged and whispered back, “At least he’s cute.”
Ira laughed. “It’s his personality that’s lacking.”
“True that,” I agreed.
The boy lead on and I let my mind wander while we walked. My feet felt like they were going to fall off. Instead, I tried to focus on my lost memories. When that gave me a fierce headache, I focused on the tall grass around us.
“Ouch,” the boy yelped, dropping the necklace to hang back around his neck.
“What is it?” I asked, moving up to walk beside him.
“I think we’re close.”
“The stone on the necklace just got really hot.” He held out his hand for me to see an angry red mark on his palm. It was shiny, like he’d been burned.
“We’ll get you some ice once we’re out of the fields.”
The boy nodded, clenching his hand and wincing.
“Can you feel its warmth against your chest?”
The boy nodded. “It’s burning my skin through my shirt.”
“I guess we’re almost there, then.”
The boy nodded. “Let’s get out of here.”
We walked for another hour without seeing any exits, the stone growing steadily hotter. The boy had to take it off and stow it in his pants’ pocket.
Just before nightfall we reached a bubbling brook.
“What is water doing here?” The boy asked.
“For the monsters to drink. Other than blood, of course.” Ira said.
“Guys, it’s flowing that way.” I pointed north.
“And?” The boy asked.
“Maybe there’s a lake or something down there.”
“And?” The boy repeated.
“I doubt there would be a lake in the plains. That means we’re near freedom.”
The boy huffed and started walking north.
“You’re welcome,” I muttered.
After a while of hiking, the boy stopped, pointing. “Hey! Is that… are those trees over there?”
I followed his finger with my gaze and sure enough, there was a line of trees in the distance.
“Good work, boy,” Ira said. “Now good luck getting past the monsters.”
“What do you mean?” I glanced back at the shirtless girl.
“Well, you didn’t think it would be that easy, did you? I mean, granted, you— surprisingly— found the way out in, like, two days or whatever when I’d been searching for eight years. But if whoever brought us here truly didn’t want you to escape, there’s probably something guarding the exit.”
A lump of dread settled in my stomach. I desperately wanted to escape, but Ira had a point.
The boy glanced back at me and we exchanged a look. He sighed. “Topless girl’s right,” he said gruffly.
“Of course I’m right,” Ira said.
“Well, we don’t have any weapons,” I said. “Except for the ones Ira has.”
“Then we just have to be smarter than the beast.”
Ira handed me her machete and gave the boy a dagger that was strapped to her thigh. Then she took a long sword off her back, wielding it expertly.
“How did you get these?”
Ira shrugged. “Had them when I woke up.”
“They didn’t take your weapons?”
Ira shook her head. “Guess they figured I wouldn’t get close enough to the exit to ever use them.”
“So I guess that means we’re not a sacrifice, if they let you keep your weapons to kill the monsters.”
“Let’s go, girls,” the boy said and started moving toward the treeline.
“How do you plan on killing this beast?” I asked him. “You don’t know how to use that thing and we don’t know what we’re up against.”
“We have to take our chances.”
I sighed in aggravation. “Well, here’s to our suicide mission.”
The boy shot me a look. He continued walking in silence.
We reached about one hundred paces away from the trees without seeing a single monster.
“This doesn’t feel right,” I said.
“There’s no way it’s going to be this easy.” Ira agreed.
“Who cares?” The boy said. “We can see the road through the trees. We just need to get there.”
“There has to be something blocking the way. Some obstacle. Maybe it’s booby trapped.”
“Or maybe,” the boy said, gripping his knife. “We’re free.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?” Ira asked. “Please tell me you’re not that stupid.”
“A man can hope.”
Ira sighed. “No offense, but I don’t want to get this close only to die today.”
“I’m with Ira,” I said. “It means death if we just try to walk out of here. We’re completely unprepared.”
The boy held up his blade. “We have a chance.”
“You don’t even know how to use it.” Ira said.
“You stab,” the boy said flatly.
Ira shook her head, rolling her eyes. “There’s no reasoning with him,” she said to me. “Get ready to die, girl.”
Sighing, I held my machete tighter. “Lead us into our graves, boy.”
The monster didn’t appear until we were less than fifty paces away from the trees. It came crashing down, roaring viciously, three rows of sharp teeth glinting in what was left of the daylight. Its hide was jet-black, with dark blue stripes. Its claws were longer than my entire body. Its tail thrashed, covered in prickly venomous spikes.
“Run!” Ira shouted, but there was nowhere to run to.
We’re dead, I thought dimly. This thing is going to eat us.
Suddenly a weight slammed into me and I realized the boy had knocked me to the ground.
“Stay down!” He yelled. He stood, brandishing his knife.
“Hey!” I yelled and tossed him my machete. I was surprised when he caught it easily. He moved with such grace one he had the blades in his hands that I wondered what and who he had been in his previous life, the one outside of the plains. Someone who handled sharp objects, obviously.
Between Ira and the boy, the monster was dead within forty-five minutes.
Ira came and helped me up. I dusted off my gown, but it was already a torn mess. Trying to straighten it would have been useless.
“Shall we?” I asked, gesturing to the trees.
The boy turned and led the way out onto the paved road on the other side of the trees.
“Free at last.” Ira said.
“Hey!” I called, pointing down the road. “Aren’t those headlights?”
“Let’s go flag a ride,” the boy said.
“Free at last,” Ira repeated quietly, awed. She turned to us. “Thank you.”