This is a serial series I will be posting every week on Thursday.
Maxine was dreaming but she was only tangentially aware of it. The rain was still pounding and the wind was blowing but she wasn’t sure if she was in the middle of a storm or observing it from somewhere else. She drifted back and forth between one location and the next, simultaneously aware of being wet and cold and warm and dry. Her confused brain tried to make sense of up and down, light and dark. If she was able to form cohesive thoughts, she would say she was in one hell of a quagmire.
A sudden stillness awakened her. Am I in the real world or am I still dreaming? she thought to herself. When she tried lifting her head, the throbbing pain that ran from her right temple all the way down to her right elbow told her she was very much awake. A cool, soft voice that made her think of luxurious satin and dark chocolate made her even more aware that she was awake and not alone.
“Well, it looks like our mysterious passenger is awake.”
Maxine tried to move quickly to a sitting position and found herself in a small dark room on a pile of woolen blankets. She grimaced against the pain and tried to see who was talking to her. A tall shape moved from behind a backlit desk. If she didn’t know any better, she would say she was in a captain’s quarters on a ship but that couldn’t be right. She could make out that the shape was that of a tall man with thick dreadlocks and wide shoulders. He moved around the table and she could see he wore what she could only describe as cowboy-gladiator-Keith Richards attire. The shiny metal of his necklaces matched the armor on his forearms and the buckles of his pointed boots.
He stared at her and she realized he was waiting for her to speak. She tried her voice and rasped out, “Uh, um. Where am I?”
“You’re the one who snuck on here like a parasite, hidden in the bowels of my ship until the terror of the storm drew you out like a rat. Don’t play games with me, girl.” His accent was strange. Maxine usually had an ear for foreign accents from spending her college summers working at a gift shop in Marina Del Rey and then joining a tour agency in Pasadena after graduating. But his… it wasn’t anything she had heard before.
“I’m not playing games!” Moving her jaw made her head hurt, but she pushed on. “I don’t know how I got here, seriously.” She thought about mentioning the painting but she wasn’t sure if that had been real. She put her head in her hands, wanting to escape back into that dream. Maybe if she could will herself back to sleep, she would wake up again on that green sofa in that warm little antique store, safely waiting out the storm.
The man was silent and Maxine looked up again, just in time to see a small look of compassion disappear from his face. His deep voice was stern but maybe just a little softer when he asked. “What’s your name?”
Maxine debated whether it was safe to tell him her name and decided a half-truth was her safest option. Her brain, exhausted from the ordeal of dreaming, not dreaming, accents, and pain could only come up with one name. “Waters. My name is Maxine Waters.” Really, Maxine? That’s the best you could do?! She waited for him to question her answer but he simply nodded.
“Odd name but we don’t have many normal names around here. I’ll have Falcon bring you something to eat. If you try to leave this cabin, I’ll know, so I suggest you stay here. You’ll tell me your story when you’ve rested some more.” She could hear the assurance in his voice but she wasn’t sure if it was meant to be kind or a threat.
Falcon? she thought, leaning back against the wall. Where am I? For real…what the hell happened in that store? Images of being pushed to the wall by a stubborn wind, the strange shopkeeper, and splashes of invisible water rushed back to her memory like a geyser. She was just trying to put the pieces together when someone yelled “IT’S BACK!” and the ship shuddered with a loud BANG!
The dreadlocked man reappeared at the door he had just exited and commanded her to get up and come on deck. “Do you know how to use a sword? We’re going to need your help. We’re under attack!”