Lethean Shroud

 

Rayanna leaned back from the table as the grisled stranger settled across from her. The lantern and rifle took up more than half of the meager space between them. As she pressed herself as far away as she could, the chair’s gnarled branch spindles knuckled into her back.

As he stretched out his hand, she flinched.

“Jumpy, ain’t ya?” He completed his gesture to indicate her tattered sleeves. “An accident, or so you said. How ’bout you tell me the whole story. What sort of business you got in this area?”

A trickle slithered down her back, tracing her spine. How can I explain what I do remember, especially when there’s so much I don’t? “Why don’t you tell me your name?”

“You give me your story, and mebbe I’ll tell you who I am.” He lifted the rifle and cradled its stock in his calloused grip. “The whole truth, mind you. I won’t stand for any lies here.”

“Well, uh, you see, it’s hard to do that.” She dropped her quaking hands to her lap, and twisted them together under the table. “I don’t know how much I can really tell you.”

He stiffened, the wrinkles deepening in the scowl which seemed permanently etched onto his face. “And why’s that?”

She aimed her gaze directly into his gray eyes. “Because I don’t remember anything before the accident.”

“Amnesia’s a pret-durn convenient excuse to keep from telling me what you’re doing out here.”

She raised a trembling hand to the crusty wound on her head. “No, really. I hit my head and woke up out here in the woods. It was cold, so I made a campfire. Must’ve dozed off from the head injury, and then …” Rayanna raised her forearms to the table and glanced across them. “The fire woke me back up with a very nasty set of burns.”

“Hmm.” He squinted, peering over the injuries on her head and arms. “So where abouts was your campsite? We can get your identification from there.”

“I don’t know.”

“Whaddya mean you don’t know?”

She shrugged and sighed. “I don’t know for sure I WAS camping. I just figure that’s the only reason to be in a forest. Wish I did have something to tell me who I am and where I came from.”

“So, are you a liar or are you really named Anna?”

“It seemed like it could be my name. But I can’t really remember anything for certain before the–”

“The accident. So you keep saying.” He raised a brow.

The lantern flickered, its battery light appearing to writhe almost like a flame between them. She’d told him part-truths, but they’d have to be enough. How could she mention waking in the other sorts of accidents, spattered in the blood of missing victims? Or the massive, dark beast which ran the police car off the road?

The stranger scanned her head to toe. “Now, I guess I’ll have to decide if you’re a liar … or a victim.”

*** TO BE CONTINUED ***

 

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