The road took a swerve and the car eased into a stretch illuminated only by the headlights. Pine trees white against the colorless background buckled under a high wind and she could just catch their crowns so high above. The world wasn’t clearing and she felt trapped on this narrow road, in this car going somewhere that meant nothing to her. She was going in the wrong way regardless of the promise.
Her body shifted away from him patiently pulling on his thin cigar providing the same scent she had breathed with familiarity on his coat. Her heated temple rested against the cool glass of window. Her head was static, memories heavily faded. Lolling with the motion of the car she thought her fingers someone else’s. She opened and closed her palm, flexing her digits. There was a sense of something amiss, something that had been there in her hand but was now gone taking away with itself her feel, her touch. Her skin hurt and she rubbed a thumb against it feeling nothing.
Soon he chose to break the silence “I’m Ambrose by the way in case you fear riding with nameless strangers. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you that before. It seems stupid now, but…”
She could feel his eyes on her back, waiting, wanting to ask more, to know. “Neave. My name is Neave.”
“Are your folks Irish?”
Neave shifted again so she could face him.
“I think they just liked the name. It isn’t spelled like you would if it was Irish. What about you, were your parents religious? Were you named like after Saint Ambrose?”
He laughed and his laughter was even hoarser than his voice. “No, they were not that religious. I like to think Ambrose Bierce served for inspiration. My mother…she was a scholar. She taught Latin and Greek almost her entire life. That and maybe she thought the name sounded posh.”
Ambrose cleared his throat, his grin waning away. His lips became thin, the lines around them more pronounced now that the dimples of his smile were gone. His eyes under a furrowed brow returned to the road.
Neave disregarded her own half-smile and returned her attention to the dial. Time had scarcely passed since they had left the near accident. “Where are we?”
“Just outside of Tallbridge. See there? That’s Wrell mountain. People sometimes call it “the moaning mountain” because of how the wind whistles through the valleys.”
Neave inched in her seat, inclining her head to catch the slowly rising hills in the distance. There was not a flicker of light there and the mountain looked wild and undisturbed, but she knew of villages hidden within its folds.
“Inside the cave lived a Fox.”
Ambrose looked at her. “I’m sorry?”
“It’s an old story my grandmother used to tell. Local folklore I think. I remember it originated in a village somewhere high in the mountain.”
Ambrose steered the car left leaving the main road. The tires hit gravel and they started to climb a narrow dirt road between the trees. “What is it about?”
Neave shook her head. “Not sure. It was a really long time ago when I first heard it. I think it made me both scared and sad.” Her skin goosed up when she thought long and hard about it. It too was amiss, not fully formed, partial. Memories of the past were easier to access and process. The now was a blur haunted by them and not all were happy memories.
“Here’s the house.”
The headlights broke through the dark revealing a small cottage visibly a faded white, a side of it overgrown with ivy, red and brown and orange, an Autumn coat. It had been here for a long time and Neave could sense the coziness it provided along with seclusion. She followed Ambrose through the dark alley, tiny sharp rocks sticking in her soles, and past the makeshift swing still wet with tiny droplets. The light and warmth seeping from inside the house came with a voice.
“Where the hell have you been? I tried calling but you’ve left your phone and…”
Neave shut the door behind her awkwardly stepping inside and facing the petite woman with her arms akimbo.
“Sierra this is Neave. I nearly ran her over on the farm road.”
Sierra’s face changed. She took hold of Neave and led her further into the living room sitting her down on the coach by the fireplace.
“What were you doing at this hour in the fields?”
Neave took the warmth of the fire for a second to defrost her thoughts.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”
Ambrose sitting across from her shook his head in dismay. “You never said…I assumed…”
“You never asked.” She still wore his coat and it was enough but Ambrose was pale, wet strands of hair falling in his dark eyes.
Sierra reached over to the cabinet placed between the couch and the armchair and produced a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of red wine. She poured a healthy dose for Neave, none for herself and for Ambrose filled an elegant glass with the wine.
The alcohol burned her throat, not a sensation Neave was used to. It loosened her and the fire, the stillness of everything around her, the disappearing numbness from fingers and limbs altogether softened her. She glanced at the phone hanging on the wall, a landline most definitely dead and then at their phones on display on the table. There was no one to call however. Relationships were strained, a thread of her memory knew that.
“Do you want to?” Ambrose asked, his voice gentle.
“I don’t want to bother anyone.”
“What’s the last thing you remember?” Sierra probed.
“Nothing. I find only nothingness and the more I try to remember the more distant I feel.”
Sierra found her hand, warm against her still cold one. “Think hard. Last image, last sound.” Ambrose lighted a candle and placed it on the table in front of Neave. The scent filled her nostrils, sweet and heavy. She inserted it into herself within seconds, deep breaths to calm herself bringing more of the opium scent into her body and mind.
Neave closed her eyes following Sierra’s voice to continue breathing deep. She could hear a door getting closed, the rattle of a key chain, the muffled barks of a dog behind that door.
“It’s my house in Lowview.” It was her hand closing the door, turning the key. “I’m at the door and Enok is barking.”
“How does your door look? Describe it to me.” Sierra said.
“It’s just a normal door. White but the paint around the handle is peeling and you can see the original green underneath it. It has scratch marks from Enok, deep into the wood.”
“Is there a date somewhere?”
A car had unlocked behind her and the key was in her hand. She was walking towards it, climbing in it, starting it. The dial caught her attention. “October 16th,” she whispered.
The scent was removed from her and replaced by that of burning wood and sharp whiskey.
“There is your start. But you’re still missing three days and they seem gone for good.” Sierra blew the candle free of its dancing flame.
Neave shook her head feeling lonely without Enok. How could she forget about Enok?
‘The way I see it you have two choices,” Ambrose said rubbing his greying goatee. “You could go home tomorrow, forget all about this and return to normal. Call it an episode.” He swirled the dark red wine in its thin glass. “Or you could try to discover where you went and what you did during those three days.”
“I told you, I want to go home.” She spoke with urgency, one that threatened to tumble-down what little defence she had left.
He cocked his head to one side. “But aren’t you curious?”
Neave remembered the thing that was amiss, her fingers closing in on thin air hoping to grab something that wasn’t there but had been.
Ambrose stood up and circled around the couch she was sitting in. His hand fell heavy on her shoulder, the squeeze a new seal.
“Tomorrow we’ll find out what happened. You have my word.”