Wind swept up and down the plains. I hid in the tall grasses, letting them swish and sway around me. I think I might have been freezing; everything was too cold, piercing, digging tiny holes into my skin.
I liked it that way.
The sky was the dull gray of an oncoming storm. Black clouds bordered the horizon. The sounds of wheat and weeds tangling themselves in each other were rustling in my ears. My hair whipped at my face, and my arms were spread out. I breathed the moist air. I could just barely smell the dirt, just barely feel the rough cloth against my body, just barely feel the cold wind eating at my fingertips. Just barely. But even the tiniest bit of sensation was not enough. I wanted more. I wanted to be screaming with cold.
But the numbness came again, licking up the last of any sensation and leaving me in a state of nothingness. I could see and hear, but I could not feel, neither in sensation nor soul. Any emotions I had had were locked up, licked up, hidden, eaten. There was no way for the emotions to come out. I could not feel again.
If the grasses clung to my clothes and slapped my face, I did not know. My fingers pushed away stalks that might not have even been there. I couldn’t tell. I began wandering again.
There was a tall white house hiding between two trees. It looked like a mansion. Pillars rose from a beautiful porch to support the gleaming white roof above. Silver handles shone from their place on the gigantic front door. I did not know how, but a second later I was standing nose to nose with a cherubic door knocker.
“Very well then.” I grabbed a wing and let the silver thump against the wooden door.
A blonde girl answered, a bright smile on her face. “Greetings, traveler. You are welcome here.”
She took my coat and led me into a perfect room with perfect decorations. Elaborate drapes made colorful shadows on the polished furniture. The girl led me to a gigantic couch.
“Are you hungry?”
“I don’t remember.”
She smiled sympathetically. I wanted her to frown. “Cake, then.”
She brought out an assortment of twenty of thirty different pastries, all perfectly decorated, with my name glazed in various forms of lacy script on each perfectly iced treat.
I thanked her, randomly chose a chocolate one, and tried it. I could taste nothing but ate it all to be polite.
“How did you come so far from the main city?” she asked.
“I got lost.”
Still smiling beatifically, she regarded me over the mound of sweets. “I see.”
I sat squirming under her shiny grin until I could think of something to say. “Who are you?”
“I am Leona, the keeper of the Last House.”
“So you keep travelers?”
“Yes, I let them stay for a while and rest, then give them directions back.” Her smile hurt my eyes. “Just as I shall help you.”
I must have fallen asleep on the chair, becuase I was wakened by a taller woman with the features as Leona.
“That is another of my names. Come,” she said, and I did. She brought me to a refreshingly plain room and served me tea. I watched her sip the drink cautiously, and pretended to do the same, but was in reality gulping it down, hoping to burn my tongue or throat. She began talking to me, and I asked no questions of her. I cannot understand why it was so easy to talk to the nameless woman, but it just was.
“Why were you standing outside yesterday? What were you trying to do?”
How could I make her understand? “I cannot feel anything most of the time. I am a half-person. To be able to live, I must do very crazy things.”
“Like standing outside in the middle of a thunderstorm.”
“Yes.” I told her of the mountains I had climbed just to feel taller than my incompetence, the rivers I had traveled down, swimming from the staleness that was so eager to catch me and stifle me again, and the seas I had crossed to run away from dreams and chase my self-created reality. I told her of the feasts I had avoided just to feel that gnawing in my stomach, reminding me I was still human and could feel hunger and pain. I did these things just to feel, to be able to know I was still alive.
She did not offer advice or comfort, only nodded her head, because she understood my numbness.
“I will solve your problem,” she said.
“I know how. It is enough for you to know that.”
She left me in the room – I cannot remember how she left – but I was alone. I fell asleep again, and when I woke I was by the front door. I stood up on the porch and surveyed the prairie before me. There was a roiling storm in the sky, twisting and turning and churning. I could see a little black speck in the grasses but couldn’t make out what it was. There were brilliant lightening flashes, directed at the little speck. Then a crack of sound, and a huge explosion.
Then all the sudden there was peace. The storm was gone. Clouds vanished; rain ceased; the sun came out and everything was blue and yellow again.
I ran to the spot the lightening had struck, and was not surprised to find my nameless woman lying there dead. Suddenly I realized I was a little cold. Just a little. So I took her cloak and wrapped it around myself and walked back to the house.
I made a fire and watched it flickering, waiting for something in front of me.
After a few hours it began to die, so I fed it the only kindling I had – the cloak.
I watched it curl up into nothing, watched it shrivel into a little speck and then vanish, watched the sparks fly up and disappear. I whispered, “Thank you.”
And I could just barely feel the warmth of the fire on my face.